What Do Player Rankings Mean?

The player rankings of the major recruiting networks have recently been updated, as the fall evaluation period is around the corner. What do the national player rankings mean? For those that thought they played well enough to crack the rankings, but didn't make it or dropped, Ballislife examines what may have been the cause. 

Editor's Note: This story was first published in September 2013 and has been modified to relate to today's high school player.

All of the recruiting networks (Rivals.com, 247Sports.com, ESPN.com, On3.com) have recently updated their national player rankings. So what does it mean for a player in the rankings, the ones who felt they should be ranked higher, and the ones who didn't make it? Below we give players and their parents a snapshot of what it means and what lessons 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 a credible 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 into the NBA and have a shot at a solid pro career. What they do from draft night thereafter often times has less to do with talent and more to do with timing, environment, and intangibles.

Rivals.com had 7-footer B.J. Mullens from Canal Winchester (Ohio) as its No. 1 prospect in 2008. Mullens had obvious size and skill, but never developed into something you'd expect from the No. 1 ranked player in a fairly strong class. He was 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 most evaluators place more emphasis on future projection rather than actual production. So exactly what does national player rankings project? Talking to national recruiting analysts over the years, it's a projection of their ability to play in the NBA. That's what the focus is on, not how good or dominant a player will be in their first collegiate contest.

When we evaluate and give input with regards to national player rankings, we tend to take high school and grassroots production into account rather than just long-term NBA potential or what he might project 5-7 years from now in pro basketball. The popular player rankings players and fans look at or discuss on social media are based mainly on projection with height, athleticism, shooting ability, IQ, toughness and work ethic as big factors.

Since 2008, the shortest player to earn a No. 1 rankings by Rivals.com happened two years later when 6-foot-2 Josh Selby of Lake Clifton (Baltimore, Md.) was pegged at the top of the final rankings. Selby was a talented, albeit, undersized shooting guard and certainly wasn't a consensus No. 1 recruit. ESPN.com and the Hoop Scoop (which we had input on at that time) ranked him fifth. We certainly wouldn't have had him No. 1 in that class. The year before John Wall of Word of God (Raleigh, N.C.) was No. 1 (and one of the better guard prospects of the last 20 years). After Selby the only players in the 6-foot-3 range to be ranked No. 1 were Austin Rivers of Winter Park (Fla.) in 2011 and Isaiah Collier of Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) in 2023. The point being, 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 evaluators couldn't overlook his lack of size and undervalued his other traits.

Players Who Thought They Should Be Ranked Higher

ESPN.com ranked 100 players in order, One3.com and Rivals.com rank its top 150 players and 247Sports.com naturally ranks 247. 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 in person away from their geographical home base so often. They are likely to see the top tier players such as a Wall or Collier on many occasions, because players with that level of talent are going to get invited to the events most of the top talent evaluators frequently attend, such as shoe-company sponsored circuits and USA Basketball camps, and because they are more likely to play for high profile AAU teams that travel across the country.

At the 2013 Nike Extravaganza in Southern California, we vividly remember a long-time scout was upset to find out 6-foot-3 Evan Zeller of 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 eventually signed with Cal State Monterey Bay. 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 the player participates in events near where the scout lives or he plays on a winning high school or club 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 solid 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 accolades. All of them know the game, but place varying degrees of emphasis on what factors ultimately determines a player's national ranking, including the opinions of others and production vs. potential.

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, while 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 terd, you should watch another kid instead."

There have been some instances over the years where talented players 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. It may not be verbalized all the time, but it shows, and remember the earlier point, decision-makers talk to one another.

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. As we state often, make sure you get an honest opinion from someone who won't benefit if you make it to pro ball and someone who won't be hurt if you don't. We can't emphasize that enough.

Were you prepared this spring and summer? Did you let any recruiting analysts or college 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 a John Wall, Isaiah Collier 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.

Ronnie Flores is the National Grassroots Editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores


One Reply to “What Do Player Rankings Mean?”

  1. This article provides valuable insights into the evaluation of players from across the country. As an aspiring journalist with experience, I find this information highly beneficial for enhancing my Basketball IQ through digital resources. Emphasizing perspective is crucial when reporting on high-level basketball.

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