Rating High School Players

July 22, 2008

David Money of AlleyOopScoop.com has a great read about the Rivals.com rankings, how they are compiled, and so on. He’s done a good job of gathering info from Jerry Meyer and Justin Young, the two main guys who put together the rankings:

No area is left neglected. Year in and year out, Young and Meyer attend high school games across America. In the off season of the high school leagues, the AAU circuit winds into full motion, stocked full of America’s top talent. At events such as Bob Gibbons’ Tournament of Champions (Durham, NC), Tyson’s The Real Deal on the Hill (Fayetteville, Arkansas), Nike Peach Jam (North Augusta, GA), and the Las Vegas Summer Jam; it is not unusual to see Billy Gillispie sitting next to Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim sitting next to Billy Donovan, or Tom Crean sitting next to Ben Howland. Of course, included in this crowd is either of the Rivals.com senior analysts, Justin Young or Jerry Meyer.

I’ve been asked in the past if I’m going to put a Top 100 on the site, and I’ve thought about it a great deal. The reason I’m not entirely sold on the idea is that, frankly, beyond the top 10 players, it gets pretty subjective. I’ve seen a lot of players myself, and while it’s one thing to name the best player at an event or the best player on a team, it’s another to say, rank one player #74 and another number #75. It gets formulaic.

I’m not sure rankings really serve a purpose, being designed for the fans of schools who want some idea of how good a player is, and want hope for the future. However, a lot of Top 100 and even Top 50 players never become superstars. In 2004, one ranking had Dwight Howard as #1 (not bad), but other rankings were not so accurate: Juan Palacios was ranked higher than Jordan Farmar, Joakim Noah and Rajon Rondo, who all went pro before Palacious, which made sense after their seasons. I am not slamming the person who put together the rankings, merely pointing out the difficulty of judging talent when the talent isn’t the bona-fide, “lock” superstar variety. Longtime fans are aware that a lot of Top 50 players come into the college ranks and don’t set the world on fire.

Rankings also are subject to the overall talent level in any given year. Is the #1 player this year as good as the #1 player last year? The rankings tend to create an aura of ‘NBA Lottery’ around the top 10 or top 20 players. I saw Dwight Howard play in high school, and his talent is rare. He’s one of the best I’ve seen at that level. Ranking him #1 is almost not fair to him, because he was a future NBA All Star and potential Hall of Famer, and it was apparent even then.

The ‘star’ rating system is possibly more accurate, but does not really give enough leeway. Is a player who starts for a Division II school a ‘no-star’ or a ‘one-star’ high school player? The athletic ability (and discipline, and grades) that a player needs just to play college ball at any level would put them as very good high school player. It seems that generally the star rating system is designed to rate various level of Division I talent, but nothing lower. It’s also prey to the same issues as the ranking system, in that a ‘five star’ player of any given year is no better or worse than any other ‘five star’. A combination of the two methods helps, but seems somewhat at odds. If a player is ranked #5 and is a five star player, he is supposedly better than a five star player ranked #10 or #12. Again, it starts getting subjective. Things get skewed at the high school level. I’ve seen players who averaged 20 ppg in high school who ended up in the NBA, while other players who averaged 35 ppg barely cracked their collegiate rosters.

What ratings, rankings and evaluations should probably do is focus on each individual player, and only that player. A Top 10 or Top 20 is not so difficult, but when it comes to evaluating players higher than this, it matters more the projection of a player’s career as opposed to the rating or ‘star’. Again, those methods have some merit, and fans clamor for the ratings, but it is more valuable to say a player is a ‘potential high major star’ or ‘high major contibutor’. Splitting those descriptions tells a lot more about what the player will do.

So, I think we will adopt this method when we discuss player’s games. I think the most accurate method is to project where we think the player’s talent level is in accordance to what level they can achieve.