For the second consecutive year, ESPN is conducting a massive player ranking project with their team of NBA experts and bloggers. The project, dubbed NBA Rank, rates essentially every player in the game on a 0-10 scale and compiles those ratings to rank the top 500. It makes extensive use of Twitter through the hashtag #NBArank, highlighting reactions from fans and experts alike as the names fall into place.
The Bucks have seen their entire roster show up already, with Monta Ellis the highest rated player at #46 (6.74 average rating). Brandon Jennings comes next, sitting at #61. Three spots below Brandon is a player who used to don a Milwaukee jersey, but now sports the threads of the defending NBA Champs: Ray Allen.
These two players are at opposite ends of the respective career arcs; Ray Allen's Hall of Fame-worthy career could finish in the next year or two, while Brandon Jennings should be a fixture in the NBA for many years. But the NBA Rank project aims to rank players by their pure skill level. It's not about who has had the better career or figures to be more productive over the next few seasons, it's about who's the better player today (at least, that's my understanding). Framed in such a manner, I ask who you would rate higher: Brandon Jennings or Ray Allen?
Ignoring his oft-mentioned potential, Jennings remains a dynamic player who can single-handedly win a game for his team, but an undeniably flawed one as well. He oscillates between scoring ninja and wanton tornado of chaos, never lacking in excitement what he lacks in consistency. He doesn't score efficiently, which hurts his case in against a guy like Ray Allen, one of the most effortless scorers in the game. But he also doesn't give away possessions, a critical skill for a point guard.
In fact, Brandon's position is essentially a point in his favor as well. Some of the greatest players of all time have been shooting guards, but in reality, the off-guard is basketball's least important position. Many players can have long careers as shooting guards despite lacking any auxiliary skills. Point guards have more extensive responsibilities, and many shoulder scoring loads as big, if not bigger, than the guys playing next to them. Given the role each plays for his team, the position battle lends favor to Jennings.
But when it comes to how well each guy plays his position, the gap is minimized, if not reversed. Jennings' 18.4 PER last season was definitely nice to see, but it ranked only 13th among PGs who played at least 25 MPG. His TS% was actually below-average for that pool of players (his 2nd-ranked turnover rate helps his overall metrics tremendously). Meanwhile, Ray Allen's 14.8 PER was 18th among SGs playing at least 25 MPG, but his TS% was 2nd-highest at a stellar 60.7%. True shooting is arguably the most important stat for a scoring 2-guard, so Ray's low PER is easier to overlook.
In context, Allen is one of the best at doing what he does: putting the ball through the net. His ability to hit from any spot on the floor with a lightning-quick jumper makes him a deadly scorer alongside a capable distributor...but is that latter point actually a knock on his ability as a player? Only one player from the aforementioned SG pool had a higher percentage of his field goals assisted. Ray Allen doesn't "create" his own shot, he's just exceptionally good an knocking down the ones he's given.
Conversely, Brandon Jennings is responsible for "creating" shots for himself and others with regularity. The former he does with alacrity, but they don't find the bottom of the net nearly as often as the attempts from Allen's fingertips. Is Jennings' greater responsibility to his offense enough to offset his lagging efficiency?
Defensively, Jennings' reputation has taken a turn for the worse after making a good name for himself as a rookie. He gambles prodigiously, and while he does have decent steal rates to show for it, he also loses track of his man from time to time. Allen has never been known as a good defender (at times being labelled as downright awful), but his effort was notable while with the Boston Celtics and he wasn't quite the turnstile many thought him to be. It feels like a wash in this regard, though I'll continue to insist that point guard defense doesn't really matter.
Deciding between Brandon Jennings and Ray Allen requires a weighing of each's respective duties and the degree to which they excel in fulfilling them. Jennings is a capable if nondescript floor general who lacks consistency, but can explode at any time. Allen is as dependable a shooter as you'll ever find, but his game is limited at this point in his career.
Who would you rank as the better player at this very moment? If you were building a team to compete this season, which of these two guys would you pick? The subtle differences between these questions make it a complicated issue, so I leave it up to you: who do you choose?