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What Do Player Rankings Mean?

The player rankings of the recruiting networks have been updated now that the fall evaluation period is in full swing. What do they mean? For those that thought they played well enough to crack the rankings, but didn’t make it or dropped, Grassroots Hoops examines what may have been the cause. 

All of the recruiting networks (Rivals.com, ESPN.com, Scout.com, 247Sports.com, etc.) have updated or are in the process of updating their national player rankings. So what does it mean for a player in the rankings, the ones who felt they should be, and the ones who didn’t make it? We’ll give you a snapshot of what it means and what you can take from it.

Players In The National Rankings

For the players in the top 10, it means there is a good chance you’ll play in the McDonald’s All-American Game, provided you’re not a fifth-year player. The Hoop Scoop is the only major rankings service that does its best to rank the players who have completed eight semesters of high school separate from those who haven’t. All the other recruiting networks bunch them together.

The evaluators are not often wrong at the top — most top 10 players do get drafted and a shot at a pro career. What they do from draft night often times has less to do with talent and more to do with timing, environment, and intangibles.

Rivals.com had B.J. Mullens from Canal Winchester (Canal Winchester, Ohio) as its No. 1 prospect in 2008. Mullens had obvious size and skill, but hasn’t developed into something you’d expect from the No. 1 ranked player in a fairly strong class. He’s not a great rebounder or defender, but had his best NBA season in 2012-2013 for Charlotte with 10.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Not bad, but the stigma of being the top-ranked player can sometimes be a burden some players are better off without.

It obviously took some time for Mullens to get acclimated to the pros, as it often does for big men, but it’s also a good time to bring up the point that some evaluators place more emphasis on future projection rather than actual production. The Hoop Scoop recently named Stanley Johnson from Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) as its No. 1 ranked prospect in the 2014 class and it’s a reflection of him being the most productive elite player in the country, more so than what he might project 5-7 years from now in pro basketball. Other rankings are based more on projections with height, athleticism, shooting ability, toughness and work ethic as big factors.

Speaking of Mullens, he’s 7-foot-1 and Johnson is 6-foot-7. In fact, 6-foot-1 Tyus Jones of Apple Valley (Apple Valley, Minn.) is the only consensus top 10-ranked prospect in the nation under 6-foot-4. Jones is an exceptional talent with great passing ability and leadership, but some evaluators still question whether or not he’s a good enough shooter and quick enough to be more than a serviceable NBA guard. The point is, the national recruiting evaluators really value size and there is less margin for error when your a smaller player (generally 6-foot-3 and under).

So, if you’re a small guard, don’t keep your hopes high that you’ll crack the top 10 of the national rankings because there’s a great chance you won’t. On the flip side, there will be a lower-ranked, smaller player who will be a better pro than some of the players in the top 10 or near it because his size was overvalued.

Players Who Thought They Should Be Ranked Higher

Rivals.com ranks its top 150 players in order, 247Sports.com naturally ranks 247, while the other major services usually rank 100. The lower you get in the rankings, especially after 50, the more subjective an already subjective process becomes. After the top 75, there is a number of players that can easily occupy the spot that particular player does. The range of players to consider and evaluate becomes much broader compared to the players who realistically have a chance to be the No. 1 player in a class.

This is important to keep in mind, because evaluators can only see players away from their geographical home base so often. They are likely to see the top tier players such as Johnson on many occasions, because those players get invited to more shoe-company based events and because they are more likely to play for high profile AAU teams that travel across the country.

At last year’s Nike Extravaganza in Southern California, a long-time scout was upset to find out 6-foot-3 Evan Zeller of Mission Viejo (Mission Viejo, Calif.) had hurt his ankle and would not be playing in the one-day event. Now it wasn’t a serious injury and Zeller, who signed with Cal State Monterey Bay, finished his senior strong. The point is, evaluators can only see so many games in a day or weekend and this particular scout had a limited opportunity to see Zeller. It happens.

For second tier players, evaluators might catch one of those players on a bad day. It could be a scenario where he thinks a similar player has shown more improvement, but in reality it might be a case of seeing him more often because he plays on a winning team. It’s easy for a scout to develop a liking for a player’s game on a wining team compared to a one whose team only plays in local tournaments or is often playing in consolation or loser’s brackets. It brings home the importance of always playing within the context of winning and doing the little things to help your team win.

Every high school player, even the great ones, will have a bad game once in a while. That’s when intangibles play a factor. Do you pout and sulk when things go wrong? Do you continue to box out and play hard on defense? Are you still a good teammate when your on the bench in foul trouble or are playing a bit less minutes than your used to? Those factors could play a role in being ranked higher, or lower, than someone with a similar game.

I know all the evaluators of the major recruiting services on a personal basis and I can tell you without any hesitation they all do a good job of seeking opinions on players that may not have seen as much as they’d like. All of them look for intangibles and don’t care much about players’ scoring average or individual high school individual accomplishments. All of them know basketball well, but place varying degrees of emphasis on what factors ultimately determines a player’s national ranking.

Players Not In The Rankings

The national recruiting analysts I refer to in the previous paragraph are credible in what they do and have a good work ethic, but they are also human.

What does that mean? 1) They have and will make mistakes once in a while. 2) They will talk to others about what they see.

Humans not only can make mistakes, but they also have an affinity for certain people and others not so much. Relationships are key in this equation. It certainly doesn’t hurt for your coaches to have a positive relationship with recruiting analysts. Secondly, it doesn’t help if your game is solid, but your off-the-court approach is viewed in a negative manner. As stated earlier, humans talk and it could be as simple as, “you need to check this kid out in the auxiliary gym, he’s the kind of kid a college wants on his team,” or “don’t waste your time watching him, he’s a dog, you should watch him instead.”

I know of at least two kids in the Class of 2014, both with college offers, who are not ranked as high as they could be because of their selfish attitude and because other kids generally don’t like to play with them.

For a player not in the rankings, take a step back and look in the mirror. Obviously, you’re confident in your ability (or just totally delusional about how good you are) if you truly expected to see yourself in one of the credible national rankings and didn’t.

Before you put the blame elsewhere, did you seek the opinion of someone other than your parents, close circle or travel ball coach? These three groups don’t always make the best evaluators because they truly care about you and/or have a vested interest in seeing you play professional basketball, so sometimes it’s hard for them to be objective.

Were you prepared this spring and summer? Did you let any recruiting analysts or coaches know where you’d be playing at? Did you put yourself in position to succeed by training properly, eating properly and resting properly? Did you play well in the viewing periods? Just as important, who saw you play well in that time besides your parents and close friends?

Not everyone is Stanley Johnson, Tyus Jones and B.J. Mullens. Every little factor makes a difference when you’re talking about being ranked in the top 100 — or falling to the dreaded No. 101.