King Arthur had the Holy Grail. Ahab had his white whale.
I have the Perfect Big Board.
Now, to most people, the Perfect Big Board would be getting every prospect correct in the right order. That is an impossible dream. No, the Perfect Big Board is one that accurately conveys all the information it seeks to convey. The current model of Big Boards don’t come close to doing that.
What do I mean?
Big Boards right now are just lists of prospects. Sometimes they’re split into tiers, sometimes they’re not. But they’re just lists. It’s easy to make a list of “best players right now.” It’s easy to make a list of “who will be the best in five years.” There will certainly be disagreement, but at least every player is being judged on the same criteria, and all people judging know what they’re judging.
But what happens when the list is supposed to reflect who is the best right now, who will be the best in five years, the floor, the ceiling, the probability of each possible outcome, and everything else that goes into a prospect’s value, all at the same time?
An incomprehensible mess that doesn’t reflect anything well, is impossible to judge in the moment, and is impossible to judge looking back.
“In metric, one milliliter of water occupies one cubic centimeter, weighs one gram, and requires one calorie of energy to heat up by one degree centigrade—which is 1 percent of the difference between its freezing point and its boiling point. An amount of hydrogen weighing the same amount has exactly one mole of atoms in it. Whereas in the American system, the answer to ‘How much energy does it take to boil a room-temperature gallon of water?’ is ‘Go f*** yourself,’ because you can’t directly relate any of those quantities.” – Josh Bazell, Wild Thing
The way current big boards are done is the American system. How does a list accurately order a boom/bust freshman, a safe freshman who won’t be good for five years, a ready-now older rotation player, and an athletically-limited sharpshooting wing? The answer is go f*** yourself because you can’t directly relate any of those quantities. See the problem?
A New Style of Big Board
Back in 2016, I took my first attempt at a different style big board. Looking back on it, I just ended up creating something that was unapproachable from any angle. So for the past two years, I went back to the classic tier list system. It’s easy to say something should be replaced. It’s not easy to replace it with something better.
Right now, there’s no good way to reflect “this prospect is undraftable but will be good in 5 years”. There’s no good way to reflect “two of these ten players will be good but there’s no way to know which two”. A good big board needs to reflect the uncertainty inherent in projection, even if people want certainty.
This year, I have developed a completely different style of big board. If you are looking for just a list of prospects, this is not the big board for you. Rather, this seeks to break down the draft into comparable quantities. Once you get past the absolute top prospects, the draft becomes much more a matter of what you are looking for in a prospect.
A good big board also needs to have built-in context. We often talk about players as “top 5 pick” or “lottery pick” or “second rounder,” but what those terms mean will change wildly from draft to draft. Trying to keep tiers objectively the same from year to year is basically impossible, especially given how they can be filled with completely different quantities.
Finally, a good big board also needs to be understandable. My 2016 big board failed that test miserably. And going into this year, that is again my biggest concern. Doing something a certain way for the first time is always going to engender some level of confusion. My hope is that six months down the line, it still makes sense and doesn’t devolve into the incomprehensible mess I seek to avoid.