Kobe Bryant: 'Don't need to defend' No. 93 placement in ESPN's #NBArank

ONTARIO, Calif. -- Early in the second half of the Los Angeles Lakers' 105-97 preseason loss to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, a fan shouted from the stands at longtime star guard Kobe Bryant: "You ain't no 93!"

The fan was referencing Bryant's No. 93 ranking in ESPN's #NBArank project, which counts down the NBA's top players for this upcoming season.

Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and the third all-time leading scorer in NBA history, laughed when asked whether he'd heard such comments from fans defending him.

"Yeah, I heard a couple of them," he said with a smile after scoring 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting in nearly 22 minutes. "I don't need to defend that [ranking]. Nobody does, really."

Pressed on what he thought of the ranking, Bryant said, "Please don't ask me about silly stuff like that."

After the release of last year's rankings, in which he was No. 40, Bryant voiced his displeasure.

"I've known for a long time [that] they're a bunch of idiots," Bryant said last October, referring to the ranking as "silly" and "laughable."

For the 2015 edition of #NBArank, 101 members of the ESPN Forecast panel (analysts, writers, researchers, editors, etc.) predicted how much each NBA player would contribute to his team's ability to win games, factoring in both his quality of play and minutes played.

The panel, founded in 2008, has been ranking NBA players since the lockout of 2011.

In the first three editions, Bryant ranked seventh, sixth and fourth (in a special edition of #NBArank published shortly before his Achilles injury).

In the past three editions of #NBArank, Bryant, coming off a serious injury each time, has ranked 25th overall in 2013, 40th in 2014 and 93rd this year.

For these three editions, #NBArank has focused on predicting player performance for the upcoming season, which has contributed to Bryant's decline in the rankings.

"This is our prediction for how much Kobe will be able to contribute this year and how effective he'll be," said Royce Webb, director of content analytics for ESPN Digital and Print Media.

"This ranking puts him much higher than advanced stats suggest. For instance, if you look at real plus-minus, which includes both offense and defense, and factor in how many minutes he's likely to play, those stats project that he'll be about the 163rd-most valuable player this year. He's projected to add only about two wins this season to the Lakers' total. Our voters decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and move him up to 93rd."

Every other team has at least one player ranked higher than Bryant, meaning he is the lowest-ranked "best player" on any team.

Bryant's past three seasons all have been cut short by injury. And in the 41 games Bryant has played over the past two seasons, he has averaged 21.1 points per game while shooting less than 38 percent from the field.

That's the worst field goal percentage over any two-year stretch in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55) in which a player averaged at least 20 points per game, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Of the 172 players who took at least 500 shots last season, only Utah Jazz guard Trey Burke shot worse from the field.

ESPN's real plus-minus, which measures a player's impact on team performance per 100 possessions, placed Bryant 301st in the NBA and 55th among shooting guards last season. And Bryant, a 12-time all-defense selection, most recently in 2011-12, rated among the 25 worst defenders in the NBA last season, according to real plus-minus.

Bryant, 37, has made just shy of $54 million over the past two seasons, by far the most of any player, and he's slated to be paid a league-high $25 million this season.

Since 2012, ESPN has worked with economists David Rothschild, Justin Rao and Etan Green at Microsoft Research to refine its survey techniques. The 2015 #NBArank ballot was created in consultation with PredictWise, which was founded by Rothschild in 2010. PredictWise aggregates data from prediction markets, polls and social media to provide forecasts on sports and politics.