Ranking draft prospects by tiers

Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid are all believed to be top-tier prospects. Getty Images

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If there is one idea that rings true in virtually every draft it is this: Using the word "consensus" around the NBA draft is a bit of a joke.

Occasionally, a prospect emerges who is so clearly better than anyone else in the draft -- see Anthony Davis in 2012, Blake Griffin in 2009, LeBron James in 2003, Yao Ming in 2002, Tim Duncan in 1997, Shaquille O'Neal in 1992 -- but more often than not, choosing who to draft, even at the top, can be a conflict-ridden enterprise.

This year is no exception. We are two weeks away from the draft, and there are still major debates running internally within every front office in the league. If teams can't agree, internally, on the order of draft prospects, how can we create a "consensus" ranking?

As hard as it is for NBA draftniks to believe, there is very little agreement within teams, let alone between them, on draft night.

Last year's lack of consensus centered on the weaknesses of the draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers were deciding between six players a week before the draft, and they finally decided to take Anthony Bennett on the day of the event. There was a feeling that you couldn't go right no matter who you chose in last year's draft.

This year, the opposite is true. With so many elite prospects to choose from, it's a wealth of prospects that seems to be throwing execs and scouts for a loop.

"I'm not sure you can go wrong," one NBA exec whose team is selecting in the top 5 said. "Wiggins, Embiid and Parker. I think they're all going to have great careers. I don't see how any of them fail if they can stay healthy."

So, with no clear consensus, who do you choose to draft?

NBA teams watch prospects play thousands of hours of games. They go to practice. Go to camps. Hire guys from MIT to create statistical solutions. Work out players, give them psychological tests, do background checks and conduct personal interviews. And still, there is very little consensus.

Factor in the debate between taking the "best player available" versus "team needs" and the situation muddies itself further.

To make sense of all this, the past few years I've chronicled a draft ranking system employed by several teams called the tier system. In the tier system, teams group players, based on overall talent, into tiers. Then, the teams rank the players in each tier based on team need. This system allows teams to draft not only the best player available, but also the player who best fits a team's individual needs.

A more detailed explanation of how the tier system works can be found here.

So what do the tiers look like this year? After talking to several general managers and scouts whose teams employ this system, here is how things are shaping up. Note that players are listed alphabetically in each tier.

Tier 1

Joel Embiid
Jabari Parker
Andrew Wiggins

Last year, we didn't have any player in this category. This category is usually reserved for guys who are sure-fire All-Stars or "franchise" players. Since 2009, only Griffin, John Wall and Davis have been ranked in this slot. This year, there are three players in Tier 1 -- as many as there have been in the last five years combined. All of them received Tier 1 votes from every GM, exec and scout I surveyed. So if there is any consensus out there, it's that there are three really great prizes in this year's draft.