How Players Are Ranked Based on Excitement
There is currently no all-encompassing metric to measure how exciting a player is. Some might say that it should be based on All-Star fan votes, but unfortunately, the data on fan votes is highly affected by marketing and shoe deals. And in some cases, video games and media.
This article attempts to quantify how exciting a player is based on, regrettably, qualitative measurements on how exciting they are in a given attribute or skill. For the purposes of this analysis, I decided to remove clutch because the excitement factor on this skill is way too difficult to measure. Measuring clutch excitement will make this article longer than it needs to be.
As a result, I've come up with seven factors to consider on how exciting a player is—ball-handling, shooting, dunks, passing, defense, attitude and hype. And don't get me wrong, this is not an attempt to measure how good a player is at each category because that should only be based on stats. To reiterate, each attribute will be graded on how exciting each part of a player's game is. Put simply, these are things which we subconsciously take into account in deciding whether to watch an NBA player's game or not.
Putting hype and attitude as metrics is due to the idea that when controversy or narratives surround a player, it makes you want to watch the player's game more. Compare a player who's in trade talks the past week to a player whom we didn't know just got picked up from the G-League. We will watch the former's game instead of the latter, regardless of their actual basketball ability.
So this is what this ranking is all about—not how talented a player is, but how much they make us want to watch them play.
10. Nikola Jokic
The Joker managed to squeeze himself into this list because of how unique he is as a player. The triple doubles he racks up and the exciting passes only build up more anticipation to watch the Nuggets play. Post Carmelo Anthony, I wasn't sure the Denver Nuggets would ever be watchable again for at least a couple of decades. But when they developed Jokic into an All-Star, the Nuggets are exciting again—finally. Here are Jokic's grades:
Ball Handling: 90
9. James Harden
Despite Harden being once again the clear-cut MVP candidate for the second year in a row, the reason why he's not that exciting is because of how he gets the stats he has. Yes, Harden scores high on ball handling and shooting metrics because of his signature step-back three-pointer, which is impossible to guard in the modern NBA. But the guy doesn't score particularly high on dunk and on defense. Harden's grades:
Ball Handling: 93
8. Kawhi Leonard
I know what you're thinking—why is the most mild-mannered NBA superstar in this list? Kawhi should be in the no-nonsense list of superstars (where Tim Duncan would be number one any day) instead of being in this mix. But he's here, and here's why: His defense is the most fun thing to watch among everybody, and his offensive game has gained more and more acclaim over the past few seasons.
Kawhi's offensive game is more like Michael Jordan's game in his late Chicago years or his last years in Washington. He has one of the best mid-range games, and he can grip the ball effortlessly with one hand. Gripping the ball constantly with one hand has proven to be a factor in being an all-star—ask MJ, T-Mac and Shaq. Here are the Claw's grades:
Ball Handling: 85
7. Luka Doncic
And here is the NBA media's favorite player—the boy wonder. What's great about Luka is he reminds you of LeBron when he was a rookie—super hyped but somehow exceeded expectations. Right now, Doncic is the darling of the NBA media, and this has cast a huge shadow over other talented rookies who are under-exposed such as Trae Young, DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley. Despite the baby treatment Luka is getting from everybody, he is one talented and exciting player. He not only excites but leads to good stats and wins—he is the ideal cornerstone for an NBA franchise.
I'm going ahead and giving Luka the baby treatment here by saying that his stepback jumpers late in games and awesome passes have made the Dallas Mavericks no longer about Dirk Nowitzki's retirement tour (although to some degree it still is) but instead, now about passing the torch from one international legend to a future international sensation. Here's how Luka did:
Ball Handling: 89
6. Steph Curry
Again, this is a surprisingly low rank for an existing NBA legend. Steph is already being hailed as the greatest shooter the NBA has ever seen, but he is low on this list because he didn't do well in the dunk department and on defense. And yes, when he dunks, it does generate some excitement because of how rare these occurrences are, and because of how miserably he's failed at it at times (but not as miserable as China Klay), but these two metrics pulled his grade down on this list. Here's how Steph Curry did:
Ball Handling: 95
5. Paul George
Last year, Paul George would probably not make it into this list. But because of his having a superstar-level season where he should be the MVP over James Harden or Giannis (this is another debate), he's climbed up over the excitement ladder and become a top-five for the NBA. Now his offense is near T-Mac or Kobe exciting. Maybe it won't ever be as exciting as Kobe, but he is making offensive moves this year (especially the floater over Gobert to win the game) that are building his case up as one of the league's most watchable players. Offense and defense, PG is a very exciting player to behold. Here is how he scored:
Ball Handling: 85
4. Kevin Durant
Durant has perhaps already surpassed LeBron at this point as the best player in the league, and that's because his offensive game is not just exciting, but very efficient as well. Before he drew much hate after his move to the Warriors, Durant was already one of the most exciting young players in the league. He's no longer considered young, but the excitement he generates has not wavered.
He has even brought more excitement to his defense. He was aspiring to be named an all-defensive player, but he's often overlooked due to how good his offensive game is. Durant may not be the NBA's scoring leader, but no doubt about it, he is the best offensive player in the NBA today. This is why he ranks number four on this list:
Ball Handling: 82
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
He's high on this excitement ranking, but several would argue that he's number one. The only reason he isn't number one right now is because of his shooting, which isn't the most exciting thing in the world. But everything else about his game is fun to watch. The non-stop dunks, the insane alley-oops, the gigantic strides, the unbelievable blocks—he is one player you will love to see play every single game. And we are so blessed to have the Greek freak play in today's NBA.
Ball Handling: 85
2. Russell Westbrook
And now, the number two guy on this list which many readers will have to disagree on—Russell Westbrook. He may not have the cleanest, most flawless game in the NBA, but his games are ALWAYS watchable. Not only does this guy give his all, but he also has the athletic gifts all the scrappy NBA bench warmers wish they had.
I'm not a fan of Russell Westbrook, but he's high on this list because he fits as a very exciting player, combining talent with the attitude and hype surrounding him. Talent—he's as good as it gets (except for the shooting). Attitude and hype—the guy is nasty on and off the court, he's brash, he's not filtering anything he says, and his daily triple double creates so much hype. Here's how Mr. "Why Not" scored:
Ball Handling: 88
1. LeBron James
Lastly, we come to discuss the most scrutinized and most polarizing player of all time, LeBron James. LeBron seems to be immune to any sort of criticism at this point. He's probably the one paying off Skip Bayless to keep criticizing him just so he has something to prove during regular season games. But being ranked as the most exciting player in the league—perhaps for the past decade—is the underlying reason why we somehow cannot relinquish his status as the best player in the world.
What more do we need to see? This season, Giannis and Durant have surpassed the King in terms of both stats and wins. LeBron is still my favorite player, but I've already come to accept that he's no longer the league's best. Stephen A. Smith planted the seeds on live television that we have to start accepting that LeBron's era as the best has sailed after last season.
But the excitement the King generates over his games is still today, unparalleled. Whether it's an insane dunk, a one-legged corner three, a half-court standstill heave, or his patent spin move in the fastbreak—the Chosen One is still the NBA's most watchable one. Behold, King James' grades:
Ball Handling: 87
Mikey Karlovsky on July 09, 2019:
Yea man, but overall great article. Love the game of basketball and I see that you do as well!
Greg de la Cruz (author) on July 09, 2019:
I agree! I should have written this post-2019 playoffs.
Mikey Karlovsky on July 09, 2019:
Love the post but I would have to say Damian Lillard should've made the cut.