May 19, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Kenyon Martin (2) fouls San Antonio Spurs point guard Gary Neal (14) during the first half of game three of the Western Conference semi finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE

ESPN NBA Rank: Gary Neal slides to No. 171

ESPN has officially embarked on their quest to rank the top 500 NBA players for the upcoming season. As each Spur is listed, I will provide a synopsis and a brief take on why they deserve (or don’t) this ranking.

Unbeknownst to the naked eye, Gary Neal was an effective stop gap point guard despite only distributing an assist on 15.1% of his possessions on the floor and lacking the acuity expected of most point guards.

He scored 27.1 points and tallied 8.5 assists at point guard per 48 minutes according to 82games.com — those numbers resulting in a sparkling 21.3 PER. Of course, those numbers may not be completely reliable in judging his point guard prowess, as he logged some time with Manu Ginobili who technically held the reigns to the offense when Tony Parker was sidelined, but they are interesting statistics nonetheless.

In most ways, Neal’s sophomore season was identical to his rookie season as he simply traded as a few notches in shooting percentage for assists. He didn’t do anything to justify parting ways but his defense may be a pressing liability for the duration of his career. The Spurs allowed 98.1 points per 100 possessions while Neal was off the floor — an efficiency slightly better than the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls — and 104.8 per 100 possessions with Neal on the floor (slightly worse than the Toronto Raptors.)

That difference may have been the impetus behind Neal’s fall to the 171th spot in ESPN’s NBA Rank project.

My take. Neal’s fall isn’t a major one and there are some concerns on whether he will be able to hold up at point guard. But that may not be an issue this year if Patty Mills develops into a capable backup point guard. Most importantly, Neal maintained his shooting proficiency and graded as a top 100 player in terms of points per possession on pick-and-rolls, spot-ups, hand offs, off screens and isolations.

Other Spurs already ranked: Matt Bonner (198) | Patty Mills (309) | James Anderson (424) | Cory Joseph (458) | Derrick Byars (488)

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