For three years, one of the preeminent advanced stats guys in the NBA, Seth Partnow, has placed the NBA’s best players into tiers.
Let’s see where he puts the Phoenix Suns. But please remember: this is not a ranking. He’s not saying that Mikal Bridges is #45 or #55 or Deandre Ayton is #43 or #59. He’s just saying that they’re both in the 40-60 range.
Here’s Seth in his own words…
Across a variety of metrics, over a long period of NBA history, I’ve found that there are a relatively set number of players who perform at various levels in any given season.
- Around five players per season perform at a “supermax” level, worth 35 percent of a team’s salary cap or more, as well as significantly add to a team’s championship equity.
- Another 10-15 perform at a “veteran max” level, worth 30 percent or more of the cap.
- A further 20-25 players perform at a level justifying a “rookie max” at 25 percent of the cap or higher.
- Between 30-35 produce at around 20 percent of the cap.
- Another 50 to 75 provide some additional championship equity on top of their “everyday” production, but only a minor amount.
Check this out for a much longer explanation of what goes into his thinking: The Athletic / Seth Partnow’s Player Tiers
He narrows all this down to five tiers, and this year the tiers break down like this:
- Tier 1: 1-8
- Tier 2: 9-19 (Suns: Devin Booker, Chris Paul in the mini-tier of 15-19)
- Tier 3: 20-40
- Tier 4: 41-84 (Suns: Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges in the mini-tier of 41-60)
- Tier 5: 85 to 125 (Suns: Jae Crowder, Cam Johnson)
Since there are 450 players on rosters each year, this ranking covers the top 25% of players in the NBA — which roughly equates to about 4 players per team if talent was evenly distributed around the league.
The Suns are tied for second in the league with 6 players named to these rankings (not to mention Cam Payne just barely dropping out, while Cam Johnson kinda took his place).
Only last year’s Eastern Conference winners the Boston Celtics (8) have more players on this list than the Suns.
Let’s dive a bit deeper on each of the players listed…
CP3 and Book:
Chris Paul and Devin Booker might be victims of a week-long Suns bad stretch at the worst possible moment. I had both at least a sub-tier higher midseason, but Dallas holding Phoenix to 104.1 points per 100 possessions over the final five games of their second-round series has me a little spooked about the Suns’ two main offensive cogs. In particular, the combination of Paul’s age and seeming tendency to wear down over playoff runs raises concerns about the degree to which his regular season dominance can be sustained against the sort of rangy, athletic defenders that top teams can throw at him. (For the record: Paul was a legitimate MVP candidate in my eyes before his February thumb injury).
From the Partnow point of view, Booker used to be in the lower tier (20-40 range) but this year fully moved up into the second tier. CP3 is still firmly entrenched in the 9-19ish range for the third straight year on this ranking, and probably the 17th straight year in reality.
This ranking is basically consistent with the All-NBA voting by media. Devin Booker and Chris Paul were both named to one of the three teams, meaning the media as a whole saw Book and CP3 among the league’s top 15 players. Book made first team, while Paul made third team.
But that playoff run really hurts the Suns perception in a lot of ways. Not only are the Suns no longer considered a bona-fide contender with their current roster, but players are being downgraded for the playoffs as a whole.
Mikal and DA:
Seth’s words on DA:
Deandre Ayton is worth a word here due to the oddity of his contractual situation at the end of his rookie deal. His inability to progress into Tier 3 or above this past year illustrates why I thought Phoenix was wise to not offer him a max extension before the season. However, he remains right on that border, with the most obvious area of improvement being to play with force more consistently. He took about one free throw attempt for every five field goal attempts, a ratio which ranked him 135th out of 228 minutes-qualified players, per Basketball-Reference. This is a stat dominated by bigs, with 18 of the top 25 being listed as centers or PF/C’s. Among centers, only Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba, Bobby Portis, Al Horford and Chimezie Metu were lower, all of whom made up for the lack of free throws with high 3-point attempt rates.
After showing signs of the desired aggression for much of Phoenix’s 2021 Finals run, Ayton put it on display only intermittently last season. Still, he shot over 63 percent from the floor, is a better-than-solid interior defensive presence and will be just 24 next season. Even if his current Tier leaves him just short of the level where his production would justify the “fun max” of 25 percent, available to players coming off of rookie contracts, it’s not by much. His age, still-considerable developmental upside and the likelihood that replacing him will make the Suns significantly worse, make Phoenix’s reluctance to offer such a deal harder to justify in purely basketball terms.
Seth did not have anything specific on Mikal Bridges, but did list him among a number of same-tiered players who fill similar roles.
Seth’s comments on the grouping:
Over the years I’ve done this exercise, either on the team side or publicly, the line between Tier 4 and Tier 3 has been something of a “role-player barrier” through which players who can’t function as offensive cogs cannot pass . There are some exceptions, most notably the best defensive centers and/or Draymond Green, since they’re players who all but ensure an above-average team defense on their own. Not to spoil things, but more to Greenonly Bam Adebayo and Rudy Gobert currently qualify.
So only three players have hit the top three tiers, according to Seth, among those who cannot simply create for themselves out of nothing. To move up into Seth’s Top 40, DA and Mikal will need to grow offensively at least a little bit.
Crowder and Cam:
This list is much longer, but I only snapped the section listing the two Suns players. The group of 40 is ranked here by EPM number (Estimated Plus Minus). Jae Crowder and Cam Johnson rank 12th and 19th by this metric.
Read more on Seth’s rankings here: The Athletic / Seth Partnow’s Player Tiers
What say you, Suns fans?
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