The dregs of the NBA offseason is a prime time for player rankings. The Athletic’s Seth Partnow put a bit of a different spin on it, instead putting the top 125 NBA players into five tiers.
Partnow makes it very clear that this massive endeavor is not meant to be an absolute ranking of players. Instead, he looks at a number of different factors to put these players into these tiers that are “intended to reflect value towards winning a title next season.”
Furthermore, Partnow uses some advanced metrics to determine an estimated wins total over three regular seasons and how much that production is worth in terms of salary over that time frame:
I started with a few holistic metrics, multi-year versions of Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus and Player Impact Plus/Minus, adjusted up or down based on contextual factors, playoff performances and insights from knowledgeable people in a variety of media, public analytics and team-side roles. But ultimately, it was primarily my best judgment weighing those factors and inputs.
If you want to see his full methodology, check it out here.
Again, the tiers are “contract-agnostic” with certain special factors taken into account like age, injuries, fit, playoff performance, and more.
So, how do the Bulls fare in this exercise? not great. Only two members of the entire roster show up in this list of the top 125 players, and they’re both in Tier 4 (roughly top-80).
These two players are Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr.
At this point, LaVine is widely considered to be the Bulls’ best player, but his teams have never won anything in his career and he personally never is reflected well in terms of analytics. LaVine shows up in Tier 4B, in a sub-tier of ‘Offensive Lead Guards’ alongside Caris LeVert, D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams and Spencer Dinwiddie. Out of these guys, though, LaVine comes in last in terms of estimated wins (5.9) and production value ($18.86 million) over the next three years.
LaVine has obviously improved his game over the years in terms of scoring and playmaking, and I think he’s underrated by these metrics and in general. But it’s fair to doubt his ability as a lead offensive initiator, and the defensive issues have been there all along. I think LaVine would ultimately serve best as a high-end No. 2 or No. 3 guy on a contender, but right now he’s the Bulls’ top gun.
As for Porter, he’s also in Tier 4B, but in the ‘Shooter’ category with Bojan Bogdanovic, JJ Redick and Joe Harris. Unlike Lavine, with Porter the advanced metrics love him. He clocks in at 20.4 estimated wins for a $65.41 million value over three years, which is the best among this group.
That seems crazy after what actually happened this past season, but Partnow addresses why Porter grades out so well:
Otto Porter Jr. might be a surprising inclusion here, but he is among the more underrated deep shooters in the league, with the versatility to knock down both open spot-ups and more difficult shots off movement. In fact, according to the Second Spectrum data shared with The Athletic by a league source, Porter is the all-time leader (post-2013) in 3-point shooting off of movement, slightly ahead of and in the company of Redick, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson, Duncan Robinson and Davis Bertans. In fact, the main thing keeping Porter from being much higher on the tiers (he’s 11th in 3-year RAPM and 31st in 3-year PIPM among active players) is his consistent inability to stay on the floor, averaging fewer than 1,500 minutes over the past three seasons as he’s dealt with a variety of injuries.
Of course, that last bit is key. Porter’s injury issues nuked this past season and have been lingering for a while, so it’s hard to feel confident about his production moving forward given the injury history. I still think the Porter trade made sense, but it’s currently looking like a backfire.
Looking at the Bulls as a team compared to the rest of the NBA, they’re one of just three teams with only two players in these rankings (Cavaliers, Timberwolves). The Knicks and Hornets bring up the rear with just one player apiece.
There’s reason to think the Bulls are in somewhat better shape than this suggests. The Jim Boylen factor has to be taken into account, and there are young players on the roster who could develop with better coaching from Billy Donovan and better availability, though we can’t count on either of these things.
Ultimately it’s clear the Bulls have a simply-identified need: a lot more talent. Producing that is way less simple, let’s hope Arturas Karnisovas and Co. are up to the task.