In its NBARank, ESPN’s annual listing of the league’s top 100, the Nets new “Big Three” is down, down, down. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons have all dropped dramatically. According the worldwide leader, KD is now ranked eighth (down seven spots), Kyrie 33rd (down 13 spots) and Ben 76th (down a whopping 48.) In addition, Joe Harris who was ranked 75th last year didn’t make the Top 100 cut. Seth Curry, however, clocks in at No. 96, but he’s down eight spots from 2021.
CBS Sports treated the Nets a little better, with Durant at No. 3, Irving at 31, Simmons at 42, Curry at 87, Harris 95. Similarly, NBC Sports, which ranks the top 20, has Durant at No. 2 (behind Antetokounmpo);
Stephen A. Smith had a near conniption when the numbers came out, noting that there aren’t five players in the world, better than KD, let alone seven!
Of course, there are good reasons for the drops. The Nets three best players played a total of 85 games last season for a variety of reasons: Durant 55 games due to a knee injury, Irving 29 because he refused to get vaccinated and Simmons a big fat goose egg having sat out the season, first in a holdout then with back pain that led to surgery.
The big surprise of course is Durant who despite a torn MCL did average close to 30 points a game. ESPN put him between Ja Morant at No. 9 and Jayson Tatum at No. 7. Among the others ahead of him were Lebron James at No. 6, Steph Curry at No. 5, Joel Embiid at No. 4, Luka Doncic at No. 3, Nikola Jokic at No. 2 and Giannis Antetokounmpo the best player in the world. Only Curry, who’s already 34 years, is older. KD turns 34 in a week.
Here’s ESPN’s logic, laid out by Nick Friedell:
When Durant played, he was one of the best players on the planet. The problem for the former MVP is that he couldn’t stay on the floor.
A knee injury cost him almost two months worth of games, and for the second straight year he was forced to miss a big chunk of the season. Durant has played in 90 out of a possible 152 regular-season games over the past two seasons. Durant, who will be 34 when the season tips, has to prove he can stay healthy in order for the Nets to vault back toward the East elite.
Friedell also wonders about KD’s commitment to the Nets after his June trade request.
Aside from health, the big question for the Nets is whether Durant will remain committed to the team. After a season full of emotional ups and downs for the organization, Durant’s trade request and the uncertainty surrounding Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons make the Nets one of the most fascinating stories in the NBA. But what happens if and when times get tough? Will old frustrations rise?
As for Irving, Friedell also cites commitment:
Will he be a fully committed member of the team? Irving is one of the most dynamic offensive guards the league has ever seen — but his ability to be a fully invested member of the team he is playing for continues to be in question. After missing most of last season for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine and missing parts of the 2020-21 season for various non-basketball reasons, Irving has to prove he can play at a high level night after night on the court and not be a distraction off it.
On Simmons, Friedell notes that all eyes will be on Simmons the night of November 22 when the Nets travel to Philadelphia:
The buildup for this game has been growing for over a year. We got a taste of what was to come last March when Simmons, who was traded to Brooklyn for a package centered around James Harden just before last season’s deadline, was at the center of loud boos and “F--- Ben Simmons!” chants throughout the night while sitting on the bench with his new teammates. There will be a lot of emotions in the building between two teams that believe they can rise to the top of the East.
In the CBS Sports rankings, reporters offer some interesting analytics, like this one on Harris by Sam Quinn:
Care to guess how many non-Splash Brothers have ever made above 41 percent of their 3s on four or more attempts per game five years in a row? Surely Reggie Miller has done it, right? Nope. Ray Allen? Sorry. Kyle Korver? Guess again ... How about Harris? And only Harris, the hipster East Coast response to Golden State’s revolution. Harris has led the NBA in 3-point percentage twice over the past four seasons: once with three superstars around him and once with none. He was well on his way to a third crown in four seasons before being felled by an ankle injury a season ago. If that ankle holds up this season, he’s going to challenge for the league’s highest mark once again.
And Collin Ward-Henninger notes of Durant:
Trade demands and Twitter activity aside, Durant is still arguably the best pure scorer in the game. He ranked in the 79th percentile or higher in isolation, pick-and-roll, spot-up and post-up scoring last season, according to Synergy Sports — the true definition of a bucket-getter. What takes Durant to the next level, however, is his continually improving playmaking ability. He averaged a career-high 6.4 assists per game last season, and led all forwards in points per possession including assists (min. 1,000 possessions), according to Synergy. At nearly 7-feet tall, Durant (who turns 34 on Sept. 29) is as unstoppable as offensive players come.
Bottom line: of course, it’s disappointing after last year’s cheat code rankings. but a lot has happened over the past 12 months and it’s not a bad thing to have five players — Durant, Irving, Simmons, Harris and Curry — ranked in the top 100 by one or the other analysis is not a bad thing. And none of it will matter starting October 19.
- NBArank 2022: Ranking the best players for 2022-23, from 100 to 26 - ESPN
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- NBA top 100 player rankings: Giannis, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant vie for No. 1; LeBron James slips - CBS Sports
- 2022: Ranking the top 20 NBA players right now - Mike DePrisco - NBC Sports