NBA Pre-Postseason Player Tiers 3 and 4: All-Star point guards, 4 Celtics and some Thunder – The Athletic

Seth PartnowApr 11, 2024

By the end of next week, the offseason will have begun for nearly half of the NBA.

As the playoffs progress, more and more teams will have gone, as they say, fishing. In less than a month only around a quarter of the league still will be playing.

But everyone will still be working.

NBA Player Tiers: ’20 | ’21 | ’22 | ’23: Tier 5| T4| T3 | T2 | T1

Rust never sleeps and neither does roster evaluation. Though the NBA tends to have two major flurries of roster movement — either from the draft through the July free agency period or in late February leading into the trade deadline — properly using those windows requires preparation and strategizing. Some of that prep is the intelligence-gathering process of figuring how the rest of the league values players, both yours and their own. This defines the moves that are possible.

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But more important for a franchise is correctly deciding which kinds of acquisitions and transactions are desirable. That determination requires context, more specifically answers to questions such as “Where are we now and what do we need to get to where we want to go?”

Perhaps reductively, the operative questions are “Who do we want to keep?” and “Who do we want to get, if possible?” Addressing either requires a hard-eyed evaluation of both a team’s current roster and the talent and impact of other players around the league. I say “hard-eyed” because it can be overwhelmingly tempting to take overly rosy, best-of-all-possible-worlds views of both the talent on hand and what a new player might add.

The exercise of creating these assessments is why the Player Tiers exist.

“Why not rankings instead?” is a common question, and the reasons for being more categorical are twofold.

First, ranking players can often be highly inefficient. Time spent arguing over whether Giannis Antetokounmpo or Nikola Jokić is a better player can be diverting for fans and is relevant for media voting on postseason awards. But for 28 teams in the league, the answer is “Who cares?” Regardless of whether the arguments for one or the other prevail, if either player is available, mountains should be moved to get them. Time is a scarce resource, and at least at the strategic level, digging any deeper than “both are awesome” is wasted.

The second reason is that for players of similar overall level, which one is “better” is much more about which has a more favorable situation. Jokić will likely win this season’s MVP over Antetokounmpo (among others) in large part because Denver’s stability both enables and reflects his greatness in a way the season-long turmoil in Milwaukee has not for Antetokounmpo.

That’s the “Why?” of tiering players. The “When?” is continuous. As more information emerges about each player, mostly in the form of additional games played, it’s a necessity to understand not just how good a player has been in the past, but also how good they are now and what that trajectory might imply about how good they will be in one, two or three years time.

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Of course, it’s not practicable to go through the entire exercise of sorting players into tiers daily. Most of the in-season adjustments are informal. But with the end of the regular season almost upon us, now is a good time for a broader update, both because taking this view is very useful in terms of setting expectations heading into the postseason while also identifying players who have a lot to gain or lose over their upcoming playoff runs.

For details on the broad methodology, take a look at the intro pieces I’ve done as part of the full offseason rankings each of the last four years, but here’s a quick refresher:

• The tiers are intended to represent the players most useful toward winning a championship, and doing so in the next season or two. Thus, they are heavily playoff weighted in a way that penalizes some players (such as Domantas Sabonis) while benefiting others (Jimmy Butler, for example).

• The tiering is meant to be both age and contract agnostic. This is not an attempt at trade value rankings. To reiterate, being overpaid is not considered a sin in these tiers beyond the fact certain player archetypes who will be both heavily compensated but also likely see diminished value in the postseason are downgraded because that combination makes building a genuine contender around or even with them more difficult.

• I give players finishing their first year an upward adjustment based on the degree to which even productive rookies tend to be ineffective but often improve greatly by their second year in terms of helping their teams win minutes. Two of this year’s rookies (Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama) have been legitimately impactful and thus are placed in Tiers 3 and above. Meanwhile, Brandon Miller has been both promising and has shown great improvement in Charlotte, landing him in Tier 4. When I do the full 125 player list this offseason, a few other rookies, such as Amen and Ausar Thompson, and Jamie Jacquez, will also appear.

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• Beyond this “rookie bump,” I do not make any aging curve related adjustments up or down, other than the degree to which injuries or age appears to have already diminished a veteran player.

• Little differences matter lots at the top.

• The size of each tier is informed by past research suggesting the league’s hierarchy is reasonably stable in terms of shape. In most seasons, there are three to seven players at a Tier 1 level, corresponding to producing in accordance with the 35 percent “Supermax.” So the effort is made to have somewhere in that range of players in Tier 1. Tier 2 more or less rounds out the top 20. Tier 3 is the rest of the top 40-50, while Tier 4 is in the Top 75-80 range.

In this exercise, I cut Tier 4-plus off at the Top 80 players because who doesn’t like a nice round number? Of those 80 players, 67 were in last offseason’s top four tiers as well. Three of the new admittees are rookies, which means only 10 players have bumped up. So far.

Today we’re rolling out Tiers 3 and 4, which is an intriguing group because the top of Tier 4 is somewhat of a ceiling for role players. I probably got a little overexcited about Mikal Bridges post-deadline run in Brooklyn, and while he’s been plenty good for the Nets this year, it seems clear he isn’t enough to drive winning as a top option.

Meanwhile, it’s possible I’m making the same, or at least a similar mistake with Derrick White this year. I have a type. In terms of players “graduating” from Tier 4 into higher groups, White is joined by Brandon Ingram, the resurgent Kristaps Porziņģis and one other guy we’ll discuss in more detail tomorrow when Tiers 1 and 2 are revealed.

Beyond those specifics, the “stickiness” from last season is largely intentional as well as being in recognition that for many players at the top end, the playoffs will be the separator.

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I’ll discuss it more tomorrow, but there was little, if anything, those like Joel Embiid, Luka Dončić or Jayson Tatum could have done this regular season to improve on their 2024 offseason landing spots.

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Team ATL BKN BOS CHA CHI CLE DAL DEN DET GSW HOU IND MEM MIA MIL MIN NOP NYK OKC ORL PHI PHX POR SAC TOR UTAPostion C PF PG SF SGTier Tier 3 Tier 4Expand allCollapse allLoadingTry changing or resetting your filters to see more.Tier 33A

Rudy Gobert

MINTiers over timeMINCTier 33A

Tyrese Haliburton

INDTiers over timeINDPGTier 33A

Chet Holmgren

OKCTiers over timeOKCCTier 33A

Kyrie Irving

DALTiers over timeDALPGTier 33A

Damian Lillard

MILTiers over timeMILPGTier 33A

Zion Williamson

NOPTiers over timeNOPPFTier 33A

Trae Young

ATLTiers over timeATLPGTier 33B

Jaylen Brown

BOSTiers over timeBOSSFTier 33B

DeMar DeRozan

CHITiers over timeCHISGTier 33B

Jrue Holiday

BOSTiers over timeBOSPGTier 33B

Lauri Markkanen

UTATiers over timeUTAPFTier 33B

Kristaps Porziņģis

BOSTiers over timeBOSCTier 33B

Pascal Siakam

INDTiers over timeINDPFTier 33C

Paolo Banchero

ORLTiers over timeORLPFTier 33C

Bradley Beal

PHXTiers over timePHXSGTier 33C

Brandon Ingram

NOPTiers over timeNOPSFTier 33C

Tyrese Maxey

PHITiers over timePHIPGTier 33C

Derrick White

BOSTiers over timeBOSSGTier 33C

Jalen Williams

OKCTiers over timeOKCSFTier 3Tier 44A

OG Anunoby

NYKTiers over timeNYKPFTier 44A

Desmond Bane

MEMTiers over timeMEMSGTier 44A

Scottie Barnes

TORTiers over timeTORPFTier 44A

Mikal Bridges

BKNTiers over timeBKNSFTier 44A

Darius Garland

CLETiers over timeCLEPGTier 44A

Aaron Gordon

DENTiers over timeDENPFTier 44A

Draymond Green

GSWTiers over timeGSWPFTier 44A

Jaren Jackson Jr.

MEMTiers over timeMEMCTier 44A

Brook Lopez

MILTiers over timeMILCTier 44A

CJ McCollum

NOPTiers over timeNOPSGTier 44A

Khris Middleton

MILTiers over timeMILSFTier 44A

Brandon Miller

CHATiers over timeCHASFTier 44A

Evan Mobley

CLETiers over timeCLEPFTier 44A

Michael Porter Jr.

DENTiers over timeDENSFTier 44A

Julius Randle

NYKTiers over timeNYKPFTier 44A

Domantas Sabonis

SACTiers over timeSACCTier 44A

Alperen Şengün

HOUTiers over timeHOUCTier 44A

Fred VanVleet

HOUTiers over timeHOUPGTier 44A

Franz Wagner

ORLTiers over timeORLSFTier 44B

Jarrett Allen

CLETiers over timeCLECTier 44B

Herbert Jones

NOPTiers over timeNOPSFTier 44B

Trey Murphy

NOPTiers over timeNOPSFTier 44B

Dejounte Murray

ATLTiers over timeATLPGTier 44B

Karl-Anthony Towns

MINTiers over timeMINCTier 44B

Myles Turner

INDTiers over timeINDCTier 44C

LaMelo Ball

CHATiers over timeCHAPGTier 44C

RJ Barrett

TORTiers over timeTORSFTier 44C

Miles Bridges

CHATiers over timeCHAPFTier 44C

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

DENTiers over timeDENSGTier 44C

Alex Caruso

CHITiers over timeCHISGTier 44C

Mike Conley

MINTiers over timeMINPGTier 44C

Cade Cunningham

DETTiers over timeDETPGTier 44C

Jerami Grant

PORTiers over timePORPFTier 44C

Josh Hart

NYKTiers over timeNYKSGTier 44C

Tyler Herro

MIATiers over timeMIASGTier 44C

Zach LaVine

CHITiers over timeCHISGTier 44C

Malik Monk

SACTiers over timeSACSGTier 44C

Immanuel Quickley

TORTiers over timeTORPGTier 4

(Illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic; Photos: Getty: Cooper Neill / NBAE, Pepper Robinson / NBAE, Nic Antaya)

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Seth Partnow provides NBA and basketball analytics for The Athletic. He resides in Milwaukee and was formerly the Director of Basketball Research for the Milwaukee Bucks. Follow Seth on Twitter @sethpartnow

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