It’s that time of year again, when athletes and sportswriters alike amble towards training camp and the taste of real NBA basketball slowly turns into a reality. To take us there, we’ve got NBA rankings, and this week Sports Illustrated has begun release of their top 100 players in the NBA today.
Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney and Ben Golliver took to the task, which they admittedly called a difficult one, since the difference between the 79th-best and 87th-best NBA player is negligible. Nonetheless, the two still ranked two Nets players between 100 and 51: Andrei Kirilenko at 85, and Joe Johnson at 51. SI also confirmed that Kevin Garnett would not make the top 100.
I love Kevin Garnett’s intensity and willingness to sacrifice his body for the good of the team as wonderful as the next guy. It’s the reason I ranked him first in last year’s preseason Knicks-Nets Power Rankings. But given how his body broke down near the end of last season, him falling out of the top 100 isn’t surprising nor unfair. That said, Garnett did have a staggering impact on Brooklyn’s defense once he switched to center full-time in 2014, with the team allowing just 95.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and 105.9 points per 100 with him off in the calendar year.
Most every pick in the top 100 has its own questions, and both are curious choices at their respective spots. Kirilenko ranks in the top 100 despite missing 37 of 82 regular-season games with back injuries, and watching his production fall off a cliff with the Nets, even after adjusting for playing time. Still, Kirilenko is one of the league’s most versatile defenders and smartest players, so if healthy, he could justify that ranking.
Johnson at 51 is a bit more curious. It’s not wholly unfair, since the NBA is flush with young talent, and Johnson’s on the wrong side of 30. But he was also far and away the team’s best player last season, earning team MVP honors in a vote from The Brooklyn Game and YES Network contributors.
Johnson also didn’t have the biggest statistical year. He ranked a paltry 95th in win shares, an estimate of how many wins a player added to his team’s success, and his PER didn’t even crack the top 100. But Johnson was the team’s rock, leading them in scoring in an otherwise wildly inconsistent year and thoroughly dominating a Toronto Raptors defense in their seven-game first-round series.
A 51 ranking means that Johnson ranks near the top third of NBA starters, which isn’t far off. But it also means that Deron Williams and Brook Lopez both rank above him, two defensible but difficult choices to make: Johnson is Brooklyn’s iron man and both Lopez and Williams have both dealt with numerous injuries.