How the pros do it: Ranking NBA draft prospects by tiers

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Consensus is a word that should be used carefully when you talk about the NBA draft.

Occasionally a prospect emerges who is clearly better than anyone else in the draft (see Anthony Davis in 2012, John Wall in 2010, Blake Griffin in 2009, LeBron James in 2003, Yao Ming in 2002, Tim Duncan in 1997, Shaquille O'Neal in 1992), but more often, if you put 10 GMs into a room and ask them who the best player in the draft is, you'll get three or four answers.

The debates get louder and more diverse as you move further down the draft.

This year is no exception. With less than a week to go before the draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves are debating whom to take at No. 1 -- Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor or D'Angelo Russell. If the Wolves, who employ dozens of full-time pros who work at this all year, can't figure it out, how can we create a consensus ranking?

We want to believe that there's a Big Board in the sky that knows all. It doesn't exist. Reasonable minds can differ on prospects, and as much as we all love ranking players 1-100, it's not the best or most preferred way to do it.

This year, five players have a case to be picked No. 1 -- Towns, Okafor, Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Kristaps Porzingis.

Whom do you choose to draft? And how?

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

When you factor in the debate between taking the best player available and which player a team needs most, the situation further muddies itself.

To make sense of all this, the past few years I've chronicled a draft ranking system called the tier system, which several teams employ.

By this method, teams group players into tiers based on overall talent, then rank the players in each tier based on team need. A more detailed explanation of how the system works can be found here.

So how do things break down? After I talked to several GMs and scouts whose teams employ this system, here is how the tiers look this year.

Players are listed alphabetically in each tier.

Tier 1

Karl-Anthony Towns, F/C, Kentucky