10/22 Wizards @ Trailblazers Rapid Reactions

Final Score: Wizards 125, Trailblazers 124 (OT)

Washington Wizards:

  • Kelly Oubre Jr. played what was not only his best game of the (young) season, but in recent memory. The third-year man out of Kansas produced in all aspects this evening. With Ian Mahimi leaving the game early with back spasms, the Wizards came out of halftime fully committing to the small ball game. This meant bringing Oubre Jr. into the starting lineup and ramping up his minutes, playing a total of 39 including overtime. He posted 22 points (9/13 from the field) but his hustle and defensive presence brought a much-needed intensity to this Washington team. On top of all that, Oubre hit a smooth three pointer midway through overtime to keep momentum on the Wizards’ side.
  • While the first win was one to remember for the Wizards, some of the issues throughout were not. With Dwight Howard not making the five-game west coast trip, the pressure has been on Mahimi to both produce and stay out of early foul trouble. Both those expectations quickly evaporated as the center collected two fouls in four minutes to open up the game, followed by him leaving thereafter with a back injury, and not returning. In the two previous games, this would mean more time for Jason Smith in the center role. But with the Trail Blazers playing hard inside, Smith’s lack of defensive abilities had a role with the Wizards going small ball in the second half with Jeff Green (who also had a great game off the bench) and Markieff Morris handling center duties. The offensive rebounds continued to be an issue throughout but seemed to be better handled in the second half. Washington needs to find answers whether from Mahimi himself, the small-ball offense, or even third-string center Thomas Bryant.
  • Bradley Beal and Markieff Morris both had fantastic games tonight. Beal had his best game of the season last year at Portland, dropping 51 points and looked to follow that up with a strong performance this year. He did just that, dropping 25 points (including 5 three pointers), 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Something that may not be noticed by many is that as the Wizards turned to the small-ball lineup, Beal went quiet for a majority of the second half- but found himself grabbing rebounds when it mattered most. Of course, most importantly, Bradley Beal hit a game tying three point shot with 6 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime, and rightfully that is probably how his night will be remembered. Markieff Morris hit a career high 6 threes, with 4 coming either late in the 4th quarter or overtime. His threes came at crucial times for the Wizards as well and was a major key in the team securing this win.

Play of the Game: With 32 seconds left in OT, and the Blazers within two, John Wall took the ball down the court. Looking to end the game and leave Portland without much of a chance, John Wall pulled off an incredible midrange shot with 10.2 seconds left- leaving many wondering, “did he call glass?”

Portland Trail Blazers:

  • Big-men Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkic both had themselves great games in the paint, taking advantage of the Wizards going with smaller lineups. The lack of a true center for Washington left many opportunities down low that these two made the best of. Aminu, with 16 points and 15 rebounds, stressed the Wizards’ defense as he also forced them to acknowledge his presence beyond the arc with three makes on five attempts. Nurkic posted 22 points and 18 rebounds, bullying Washington down low with his physicality and presenting his team with second chance opportunities, as half of his rebounds were offensive boards. The Blazers needed a big game from their front court and they certainly delivered this evening.
  • Nik Stauskas’ huge game was a pleasant surprise for Portland. They know the spark he can bring off the bench, but his physical play and well-timed threes helped carry an offense that for the most part, struggled from deep. He also managed to grab eight rebounds and three assists in a season-high thirty minutes. On top of his Play of The Game, the shooting guard assisted on the McCollum three near the end of OT that could have been a game changing play. Stauskas provided great energy and scoring off the bench for this Trail Blazers team.
  • While the back-court did eventually show up for Portland, this game may have been decided earlier and possibly even in a different direction had that been earlier. While their two stars finally turned it on when it mattered most, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum still finished a combined 12-46 shooting on the evening. Had either of them started hitting shots sometime before, there may not have been a need for overtime. With that being said, the two played incredible late. The two were responsible for 11 of the 13 points scored in overtime. One play that could be a debatable decision, however- Damian Lillard driving to the basket and attempting a heavily contested layup with the team only needing one point to tie. It could be argued that he should have went for the smarter play and attempted to create more contact to get a foul call. At the same time though, the point guard had to race across the court to even give them a chance and did seem at one point he had a good lane to the basket. Ultimately, Portland having no timeouts really hurt their options in those closing seconds of overtime.

Play of the Game: With the game tied at 108 and nearing the end of regulation, the Trail Blazers won a jump ball and were looking to put themselves ahead. Damian Lillard found Nik Stauskas in the corner for a crazy three point shot that left 13 seconds on the clock and the Wizards looking for answers. (It was very close between this one and the CJ McCollum shot with a few seconds left in overtime, but that one shouldn’t have been as impactful had Wall made his free throws, so I went with this one.)

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The young big who needs more minutes

Zach Collins

Zach Collins.

Boom. I won’t make you read the entire article. You also probably guessed it was him from the feature image of this page. If not, well then get some observational skills, darn it!

What has Zach Collins done in only two games which has me falling head over heels for him? What can we expect from Zach Collins going forward and why isn’t Zach Collins getting more minutes? Why do I keep referring to him by his first and last name?

All good questions. I will try and answer each of them. Let’s tackle question number one.

 

Collins is from the School of Highhandsianism

A graduate of Hands High High School, Collins does everything to mitigate his somewhat underwhelming wingspan. Comparatively, most 7 footers in the NBA have a wingspan which exceeds their height. Or at least, the best shot blockers have wingspans that are abnormally larger than their height.

Collins bucks this trend. He stands a legitimate 7 feet tall, but has a 7’1″ wingspan. Not ideal. So why does he excel as a rim protector? Why was he able to get 6 blocks against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first game of his season?

Collins has a great standing reach of 9’3.” For comparison, Anthony Davis, last season’s league leader in blocks, had a standing reach of 9’0.” Collins compares well to other shot blockers like Capela (9’2.25″) and Myles Turner (9’4″). What’s more, Collins uses his reach to his advantage, and mitigates the fact that he has an underwhelming wingspan.

During his first game versus the Lakers, Collins had his hands up high before the offensive player attempted his shot. In fact, out of his incredible 6 blocks, he had his mitts raised up twice before the shot was attempted. By my count, this is a good ratio.

Below, watch Collins keep those puppies high and give Josh Hart no chance at this layup.

In this next clip, watch Collins stifle the crafty Rajon Rondo. Collins uses his tall frame to cut off Rondo’s angle for a rightside layup. Rondo has to adjust and for a scoop shot on the left side of the hoop, and Collins still blocks him. He embarrassed a former All-Star and veteran point guard.

The high hands aspect of Collins’ game is a mindset for him. How do we know? Collins does this on the offensive end of the court as well. If you close eyes and think really hard, you can hear an old high school coach yelling at some unskilled big man to “keep that ball high! You’re too tall to bring it down low where guards can slap at it!”

Here, Collins catches the ball in the paint while cutting to the rim. He does need to bring the ball down to collect himself for a dunk. Instead Collins says to himself, “wait a second, I’m 7 feet tall. I’m just gonna keep this bad boy up high and slam it home, cuz…duh.”

 

Collins is from the School of Defensive Instinctualism

I know what you are wondering. What about those four other blocks? Excellent question.

Upon review, those four other blocks display awesome defensive awareness by Collins. Most bigs (I’m looking at you, Kelly Olynyk) need years to learn how to play the game defensively. Collins picked up on defensive positioning and timing almost immediately.

His block against Lonzo Ball summed this up well for me. In this play below, Collins is defending Kyle Kuzma in the pick and roll. Lonzo is the ballhandler. The instant Collins sees that Kuzma is not popping for a three, he drops back into the paint. His spacing is perfect. Collins is in position to contest Ball’s shot and prevent Kuzma from receiving a dump off pass.

This play looks simple. It is not. So many big men in the league cannot read and react this quickly. Next time you are bouncing around League Pass, watch big men during this defensive play. Often times they overcommit to the ballhandler and allow an easy dump off pass. Or, they stick to the roll man to prevent a lob, and allow a layup.

Even LeBron screws up this defensive spacing…

 

Ugh, that Nurkic signing…

If you are wondering why Collins is not getting more minutes, look no further than Jusuf Nurkic’s 4 year/$48 million deal.

When you pay a center, especially one you traded for, an annual salary of $12 million a year, do not expect them to come off the bench too often. Portland may feel obligated to go with Nurkic, who is a good offensive player in his own right. Yet, Collins has feel for the game as a passer and a developing offensive game.

Collins is also the better floor spacer. Sure, Collins is still finding his footing as a stretch (and switch) five, but he shows a ton of promise. Compare Nurkic and Collins 3-point shooting from last season.

Totals Table
Rk Player Season G MP 3P 3PA 3P%
1 Zach Collins 2017-18 66 1045 35 113 .310
2 Jusuf Nurkic 2017-18 79 2088 0 7 .000

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/21/2018.

Although not efficient, Collins at least attempted a sizeable amount of triples and projects to be a competent shooter from beyond the arc. Nurkic wants to shoot treys this year as well, but looks far behind Collins in his development

Additionally, Collins projects as a better defender than Nurkic. Nurkic gets roasted on pick and rolls, but is actually not as bad of a rim protector as many people think.

Yet, management will likely stick with Nurkic in the starters role, at least for the time being. That would be totally reasonable; Nurk is a starting caliber center. Is there a point, however, where they consider relegating Nurkic to the bench? As of now, Collins is playing 21 minutes per game while Nurkic is playing 20. Will this split grow even wider? I hope so.

Collins has flashed glimpses of promise that secure his as a better long term prospect than Nurk. Despite them both being young (Collins is 20, Nurkic is 24), Collins has shades of Al Horford in his game. It’s still wayyyyy too early, but depending on how the season goes for Portland, Collins could be given more minutes to speed up his development.

 

His nickname problem…

What do we do here?

Do we rock with Z-Co as a play on Z-Bo? Would that be too Portlandy? Do we call him ZC but morph it into Zeese? Like Z and C meshed together?

Or, do we call him Zachary, like we’re his parents and mad at him for not eating all of his veges?

I’ll stick with Zach Collins for now, but am open to suggestions.

Five NBA Stars that won’t be on the same team next year

NBA Stars

The NBA landscape is always changing. There was clear evidence of that once again this summer. LeBron headed to the Lakers, Cousins joined Golden State, and Anthony Tolliver returned to Minnesota. This trend seems to be picking up steam in the NBA, rather than losing momentum. Next offseason will provide more changes in the NBA, but it could be a historic amount of star players swapping teams. Here’s five NBA stars that won’t be on the same team next year.

 

Jimmy Butler

What a rollercoaster ride it is being a Timberwolves fan. That’s right, I’m a Wolves fan. Possibly the biggest mistake that I’ve ever made, but I love it. The Timberwolves just ended a decade-plus playoff drought last season. Now, it looks like they could be in for another long run. While Minnesota is positioned to make the playoffs in the West with a healthy Jimmy Butler, if the team doesn’t advance past the first round come April, things will get even uglier than they already are.

It’s no secret that Jimmy Butler is a free agent next summer. It seems he’s made it known himself. This summer has been full of storylines about the Timberwolves with Butler not being happy with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler is seemingly unhappy with the young guns’ work ethic. So, now the entire Wolves fanbase is panicking about whether Butler will leave after just two years with the team. While the issues with the Wolves can be worked out with a solid season, it appears Jimmy Buckets is headed to the exit doors.

 

Kevin Durant

Surprise, surprise. Kevin Durant isn’t going to finish his career in Golden State. Sure, he could be taking one-year deals with the team to maximize his future earnings, but Durant is also keeping the door open to leaving the team he’s won two rings with. Durant seems to be taking a LeBron-like path in his career. He left a team that he never won a championship with to join a championship-caliber team. Now that he has two rings, maybe three after this season, Durant could look to try and win elsewhere, much like LeBron did returning to Cleveland.

Maybe next summer is too soon for Durant to bolt the Bay Area, but with the reported tension in the Warriors’ locker room last season, I think Durant will be in a different uniform come next season.

 

Kemba Walker

Poor Kemba Walker. As one of the top-tier point guards in the NBA, Walker has made the playoffs just twice in his seven-year career. Walker hasn’t been surrounded by great talent in Charlotte and it’s time for him to leave next summer. Kemba is an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019, and he needs to go someplace with a better supporting cast. Walker has the talent to lead a team to the postseason and do some damage, but it’s not happening in Charlotte.

Kevin Love

Kevin Love just signed a huge contract to supposedly stay in Cleveland with the Cavaliers. Love signed the contract because he got a great financial deal. What we aren’t sure of is why the Cavs offered Love the contract. Is it because Cleveland views him as an important piece of their future? Is it because Love would be easier to trade on a long-term contract? We won’t get a true answer until the next two-three years play out. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t take a guess.

If I was a betting man, I think Kevin Love was signed in Cleveland to be traded. The Cavaliers have the potential to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, but they aren’t contending for a title anytime soon. The Cavs are bound to go into a rebuild and that would mean unloading Love for future assets. That is exactly what I think will happen next summer in Cleveland.

 

C.J. McCollum

If the Blazers don’t do any damage in the playoffs this season, it’s time to get some scenery changes underway. The Blazers are stuck in the middle of the pack in the West and can’t seem to perform in the playoffs. If similar happenings occur this season, the Blazers will shift their attention to a different gameplan. Switching that gameplan would involve trading Lillard or McCollum. I can’t see the Blazers trading Lillard, so McCollum would be the option.

McCollum is a high-tier shooting guard that is a very valuable player in the NBA. However, with Lillard and McCollum paired together, the Blazers haven’t been able to do much damage in the postseason. It will be time for the Blazers to make a change and trading McCollum is the gut-wrenching move that they will need to make.

 

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3 “Don’t Give Up On Me” players to watch next year

NBA Sleepers

We all have that player.

I was convinced that Jared Sullinger was going to be a superstar. The dude was a man among boys in college and I thought it would translate to the NBA. Plus, he had soft touch you rarely see in big men. Welp, I was wrong. Dead Wrong. As of now, Sully is playing in China AKA basketball’s version of The island of misfit toys.

Who else could be headed that way? Time will tell. As of now, I am here to tell you all about some players you should not give up on yet. We begin with a former lottery pick who plays for the Miami Heat.

 

Justise Winslow

It seems as even though his own team wants to move on from him…

Fortunately, Winslow survived the draft day trade rumors and is still playing ball in Miami. This is certainly good for the former Duke product, as playing alongside someone like Coach Spo can only help Winslow achieve his potential.

Why am I still so high on Winslow? Although he has failed to display them consistently, the lefty has all of the traits you want in a starting wing. Take his shooting ability, for example.

On paper, Winslow’s shooting stats don’t pop out at you. Take a deeper look, however. Justice took 54 percent of his triples from the corner last season, and nailed 40 percent of them. He has the potential to stretch defenses, which is covetable in today’s game.

Winlow can do more than simply bang corner threes, though. Miami can and has run some of its offense through Winslow. His passing vision is underrated, but I like Winslow more for his ability to score via the pick and roll. I lined up this YouTube video so all you have to do it click play, then watch Winslow consecutively weave his way into nice scoring opportunities off of screens.

Defensively, Winslow has some hidden tools as well. Sure, we know about his strong frame, quick feet, and solid wingspan. Yet, his timing as a shotblocker may prove worthy as coaches turn to super-small ball lineups. Again, I did the work so you don’t have to. Click play and watch until the end to see how Winslow can serve as a Jerami Grant/Draymond Green rim protector.

With his spacing, pick and roll potential, and defensive versatility, Miami should continue to be patient with Winslow. Other teams would be wise to poach him as well.

 

Willie Cauley-Stein

Before last season, people were ready to give up on WCS. The former Wildcat has loads of potential, but reports suggested that he may be obtainable. Check out what the plugged in Marc Stein had to say about Cauley-Stein during the 2016-17 season.

“Keep an eye on Kings big man Willie Cauley-Stein. Word is Sacramento is open to moving the second-year big man, who wants more of a role than he has under new Kings coach Dave Joerger’

Interesting, indeed. Of course, WCS stuck around and had a good year as a starter last season. Still, Sacramento is stacked with big men. They already have Harry Giles, Skal Labissiere, Deyonta Davis, and drafted Marvin Bagley III. If Giles and Skal take steps forward this year, Sacramento may choose to let WCS walk in free agency and opt to retain future cap space.

Yet, Cauley-Stein is certainly worth an investment. WCS is as nimble as they come for big men. He is a near 7-footer with a 7’3″ wingspan and runs like a wide receiver. Probably because he used to be one. The athletic tools are there for him to switch on screens and also defend the paint.

We catch a glimpse of this nimbleness in Cauley-Stein’s per-36 numbers. Now, there is a reason guys do not play 36 minutes, but this statistic can still be a useful projection tool. So, what do his numbers look like?

Per 36 Minutes Table
Season Age Tm G STL BLK PTS
2015-16 22 SAC 66 1.2 1.7 11.8
2016-17 23 SAC 75 1.3 1.1 15.5
2017-18 24 SAC 73 1.4 1.2 16.4
Career 214 1.3 1.3 14.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/4/2018.

Glance at his steal and block numbers, also known as STOCK. Averaging over one steal per game and one block per game indicates that WCS has active enough hands and feet to switch onto guards. There is another number which stands out to me, however.

Cauley-Stein may be more than a gravity puller on pick and rolls. The guy may actually be a facilitator as well. When I saw his assists numbers from last year, I was encouraged to go back and watch some more film. After all, big men who get 2.4 or more assists per game deserve more film study.

To clarify, I do not expect Cauley-Stein to operate from the pick and roll the same way Al Horford and Blake Griffin do. Yet, WCS can make the right pass. He often finds himself with a tons of space, because opposing teams want him taking jumpers. What happens when WCS finds himself in these situations. Good stuff.

Consider this clip of him playing against the Warriors and their tough defense. WCS is actually be pressed really hard by Andre Iguodala. What does he do? Cauley-Stein actual does a little crossover, then fires a bullet pass to a cutting Bogdanovic for a floater. I know. I had to watch it a couple times too.

Fast forward to the 1:03 mark of that same clip. David West is giving WCS a lot of space, and for good reason. The Kings decide to run some off-ball stuff for Bogdanovic again. This time WCS makes a smart bounce pass to BB as he cuts in for a layup.

The Kings know that WCS only draws attention as a screener. Everyone dares him to shoot, so Sacramento has drawn up some off-ball stuff for other players to do when WCS has the ball near the free throw line. If they were smart, Sacramento would look to do more of this and even get Marvin Bagley involved in some big-to-big passing as well. Don’t give up on the guy just yet, I expect him to turn his career trajectory around during the 2018-19 season.

 

Shabazz Napier

I know. Here goes my UConn bias again. Despite having earned another contract, Napier hasn’t lived up to the hype of a former first-round pick. Yet, I would argue that Napier has 6th man written all over him. Think Dellavedova during the Cavs title run.

Why am I still high on Napier? Excellent question. Yes, I know he has bounced around to four teams in what will be five years. But, Napier has a skill set that matches what today’s head coaches are looking for. Plus, he experienced a minor breakout year in Portland. As the stats tell, last season was his best yet.

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm Pos G MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT% TRB AST PTS
2014-15 23 MIA PG 51 19.8 1.7 4.5 .382 0.8 2.3 .364 .786 2.2 2.5 5.1
2015-16 24 ORL PG 55 10.9 1.2 3.7 .338 0.6 1.9 .327 .733 1.0 1.8 3.7
2016-17 25 POR PG 53 9.7 1.4 3.5 .399 0.6 1.7 .370 .776 1.2 1.3 4.1
2017-18 26 POR PG 74 20.7 3.0 7.2 .420 1.1 2.9 .376 .841 2.3 2.0 8.7
Career 233 15.7 1.9 4.9 .395 0.8 2.3 .363 .802 1.7 1.9 5.7
2 seasons POR 127 16.1 2.3 5.6 .415 0.9 2.4 .374 .824 1.8 1.7 6.8
1 season ORL 55 10.9 1.2 3.7 .338 0.6 1.9 .327 .733 1.0 1.8 3.7
1 season MIA 51 19.8 1.7 4.5 .382 0.8 2.3 .364 .786 2.2 2.5 5.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/4/2018.

Even more impressive are his numbers as a starter. When filling in for Dame Lillard, Napier put up a stat line of 16, 4 and 4 while banging 38 percent of his triples. Not bad.

So why wasn’t Napier more successful in Portland? I will answer my own question with another question. If C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard were your two best players, would you try and squeeze in more minutes for Shabazz Napier? Me neither.

It may be hard for Napier to find minutes in Brooklyn as well, but I like his chances. The Nets have done a wonderful job with player development as well as targeting under-the-radar guys with untapped potential. If the Nets acquired Napier, they did so for a reason. He will play behind Russell and Dinwiddie, but Napier will wiggle his way into some playing time eventually.

What will he bring to this squad? Napier can facilitate, but is more of a scoring guard. He takes 41 percent of all his shots from three, and drains a good amount of them. Napier’s assist percentage is not too high for a distributor, but this is because he is often asked to lead the second units in scoring. Yet, he is a natural scorer who relies on his shiftiness and sneaky athleticism to get buckets.

Oh, and the shiftiness is real. Watch this eurostep and pass which leads to a three-ball.

In fact, I recommend watching the whole clip.

If Napier can find minutes next season, he can display his talent. Not only is he one of the most clutch players out there, he is also one of the hardest workers. Don’t bet against this man.

 

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Who is the next NBA Star to be Traded?

Kemba Walker

After the Kawhi Leonard trade that sent him to Toronto and DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio, the Thunder dumped Carmelo Anthony on the Hawks in order to lighten their luxury tax bill. With free agency for the most part behind us, teams will start revving up trade talks before training camp starts. The question is, now that Leonard has been dealt, who is the next star player to find himself in a new city.

 

Kevin Love

Possible trade partners: Blazers, Wizards, Pacers

Best trade offer: Love to the Blazers for Evan Turner, Anfernee Simons, future first-round pick (top 10 protected).

The Blazers are over the luxury tax and need to make a deep run in the playoffs to make it worth wild. The western conference has gotten stronger this offseason and the Blazers are being left behind. Adding Love, who grew up in Oregon, would give the Blazers a third star to pair with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Turner hasn’t been an ideal fit with Lillard and McCollum and has negative trade value. Pairing him with the high upside Simons and a first round draft pick should be enough to get the Cavaliers to trade away the 30 year old, injury prone Love.

Just because the Cavaliers recently signed Love to a contract extension, that doesn’t mean they won’t trade him if the right offer comes along. The extension is a win-win for Love and the Cavaliers. For Love, he has locked up an additional $120 million dollars. For the Cavaliers they have a star player on the roster long term if they choose to do a quick rebuilding. However, if the team struggles and they decide to take the long term rebuilding approach, a new team will like that Love is locked up through the 2022-2023 season. Assuming the Cavaliers trade Love, the Blazers can offer back a solid package. Turner has only two years left on his deal and is a good locker room guy. Simons is a 19 year old kid with some athleticism and upside to him, that should get plenty of minutes on a rebuilding team. The first round pick would give the Cavaliers another asset to help rebuild around Simons, Larry Nance Jr., and Collin Sexton.

Kevin Love
USA Today Sports

 

Kemba Walker

Possible trade partners: Knicks, Nets, Suns

Best trade offer: Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky to the Knicks for Joakim Noah, Kevin Knox, future first-round pick (top seven protected).

For the Knicks, this is the kind of move that pushes all the chips all in for a chance to make a run as the top team in the eastern conference starting in 2019. Finally being able to shed Noah’s contract for the 2019 offseason, the Knicks will have a projected $46 million dollars in cap space with the cap holds for Walker and Kristaps Porzingis. Both Lamb and Kaminsky are free agents after the season and should be renounced. The Knicks can use the cap space to add a third star in free agency and still have enough room left over to add another starting caliber player, then resign Walker and Porzingis using their bird rights. While giving up the first round pick and the promising Knox is a tough pill to swallow, getting rid of Noah’s $19.3 million dollar salary for the 2019-2020 season is critical.

Given all the bad contracts on their roster, the Hornets best course of action might be to trade Walker for young assets, bad contracts and rebuild long term. Taking back Noah’s contract isn’t ideal but they could work towards a buy out in order to save some money. Like Knox, Miles Bridges had an impressive summer league and looks like a future impact player. The Hornets would likely have two lottery picks next year to go along with Malik Monk, the 11th pick in the 2017 draft, Bridges and Knox that can help jump start their rebuilding process. The best part about this deal for the Hornets is it keeps them out of the luxury tax; which is critical for a rebuilding team.

 

Jimmy Butler

Possible trade partners: Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Nets

Best trade offer: Butler to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, future first-round pick (top three protected).

With the reports that Butler is frustrated with the young Wolves players and won’t resign with the team this coming offseason, they should look to move him for the right package. So, who wouldn’t love to play on the wing with LeBron James in Los Angeles. If the Wolves fear they will lose Butler next summer they could look to trade him for a younger player and an expiring contract given their long term cap issues. With both Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns up for contract extensions next season, the Wolves will be very deep in the luxury tax penalty in 2019. Caldwell-Pope is a 3&D guy who can help this season and is on an one year deal. Ball is only 20 and while his rookie season was a disappointment to some, maybe a change of scenery will help. For the Wolves, Butler didn’t really fit their long term plans while a trio of Ball, Towns and Andrew Wiggins (all 23 or younger) could turn into the next great big three.

Now the James is a Laker, the team’s mindset has totally changed. Ball is no longer the focal point of the team. The Lakers can finally have enough with LaVar Ball and ship Lonzo off to Minnesota much easier now; especially if it lands them a star player. Butler would be able to play off the ball better than Ball and guard the other team’s best player. The Lakers would now have two star players and several of their young players still on the roster, setting them up for a big summer in 2019 where they could add a third star.

Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns
USA Today Sports

 

Karl-Anthony Towns

Possible trade partners: Celtics

Best trade offer: Towns, Jeff Teague for Kyrie Irving, Aron Baynes, Robert Williams, Kings 2019 first-round pick (top one protected).

Reportedly, Butler wants to team up with Irving, his best friend, this offseason. Also reportedly, Butler has grown frustrated with the young Wolves players. If the Wolves want to keep Butler long term, getting Irving would certainly help. While giving up Towns is tough, the Wolves would get back two big men in the trade, a likely top five pick and the multi time all-star Irving. Baynes would provide some size and veteran leadership, while Williams is a raw and athletic 20 year old kid. If the Wolves can resign Butler and Irving next summer and add a nice prospect with the Kings 2019 first round pick, this trade will be a steal for them.

The report that Butler wants to team up with Irving next season has to be concerning for the Celtics as well. However, the Celtics won 55 games and went to the eastern conference finals last season despite Irving missing 22 games in the regular season and not playing a minute in the post season. The combination of Teague and Terry Rozier would give the Celtics solid enough production to replace Irving. The biggest factor for the Celtics is they would have control of Towns as he is a restricted free agent next season. The Celtics have struggled at times rebounding the ball when Al Horford is playing at center. Meanwhile, Towns’ has averaged 11.7 rebounds per game for his career. Lastly, Horford can become a free agent after the season and at 33 years old, the Celtics may not be so inclined to give him a long term deal at a big salary given they have to think about locking up Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum in the coming years.

 

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Well, the doldrums of the NBA offseason did not last too long. The NBA world was rocked as Kawhi Leonard got shipped to Toronto. Conversely, DeMar DeRozan is now headed to San Antonio. Still, we must strive forward and continue on with the untouchables list.

If you missed the Eastern Conference list, then click here.

 

1. Dallas Mavericks – Luka Doncic

This is a no brainer. The Mavs just surrendered a future pick for the Slovenian point-forward. Doncic has the potential to be a transcendent NBA player. This pick and roll maestro will enter the league as one of its premier passers. If you need a reminder on just how good Doncic is, I dug up his ProCity Hoops profile for you.

 

2. Denver Nuggets – Nikola Jokic

What gave this one away? Jokic just signed a 5 yr/$147 million deal. The center finished last season with a better field goal percentage that Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins. Plus, he is one of the best passers in the game, regardless of position. Jokic finished 15th in assists per game last year, and 12th for total assists. Wow. This kid isn’t going anywhere.

 

3. Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry

Let’s get this out of the way. No one on this roster is getting traded anytime soon. This team has a few more finals appearances on the horizon, despite any players that LeBron guy lands in LA. While I do not expect a trade, I still chose Steph here. Trading him would be detrimental to the team’s fan base. You simply cannot throw away a home grown kid like Steph and expect everything to be okay.

 

4. Houston Rockets – James Harden

Did you expect anyone else? Here is a clip of every stepback J Harden hit last season.

5. Los Angeles Clippers – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Although it is merely summer league, this rookie has looked awesome. His octopus tentacles doubles as arms nowadays, and he used them for stealing basketballs. Offensively, he has the potential to play both guard positions. Jerry West has a steal on his hands.

Jerome Robinson was considered but, he does not have SGA’s ceiling. Tobias Harris was also in competition here, but his trade value is high enough to warrant being available. Check out SGA’s scouting report.

 

6. Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

Moving on.

 

7. Memphis Grizzlies – Jaren Jackson Jr.

This was an easy selection. Triple J has looked like he will immediately be an elite rim protector in this league. On the other side of the ball he has shown promise by draining 8 thress during his first summer league game. His full report is here.

More importantly, however, it seems as though Memphis is looking to make the playoffs. They added Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple this offseason and drafted NBA ready Jevon Carter. In a loaded Western Conference, is this feasible? Memphis should be looking to unload Conley and Gasol instead of making the postseason.

 

8. Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns

Kat is my most underrated player in this league. He put up statistics last year that have never been done before. Not one player in league history has put up a stat line of 54 percent FG%, 42 percent 3P% on at least 14 field goal attempts and 3.5 three-point attempts.

Offensively, he is the best scoring center in the league and it is not even as close as we think. Check out how his numbers from last season rank against the premier offensive centers in the league last year.

Per Game Table
Rk Player Season G FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FTA FT% TRB AST PF PTS
1 DeMarcus Cousins 2017-18 48 8.5 18.0 .470 2.2 6.1 .354 6.3 11.9 .530 .530 8.2 .746 12.9 5.4 3.8 25.2
2 Joel Embiid 2017-18 63 8.1 16.8 .483 1.0 3.4 .308 7.0 13.4 .527 .514 7.4 .769 11.0 3.2 3.3 22.9
3 Al Horford 2017-18 72 5.1 10.5 .489 1.3 3.1 .429 3.8 7.3 .514 .553 1.7 .783 7.4 4.7 1.9 12.9
4 Nikola Jokic 2017-18 75 6.7 13.5 .499 1.5 3.7 .396 5.2 9.7 .538 .554 4.2 .850 10.7 6.1 2.8 18.5
5 Karl-Anthony Towns 2017-18 82 7.8 14.3 .545 1.5 3.5 .421 6.3 10.8 .585 .596 4.9 .858 12.3 2.4 3.5 21.3
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2018.
If you considered Andrew Wiggins for this list, seek help. Take a “me” day. With Jimmy Butler a free agent flight risk, KAT is the selection to go with.

9. New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis

The Brow is the future of the NBA. A 6’11” power forward (who should be playing center) who can shoot from all three levels and has DPOY potential? Sign me up. Davis was only 22-years-old when he led the NBA in both blocks and PER. He has an MVP season in him somewhere, hopefully the Pelicans can unlock it for him.

 

10. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook

I debated Paul George here for a second. Why? A big name free agent signing like that in OKC will be rare going forward. What message would it send to the league if OKC just shipped him off? Despite this, Westbrook gets the nod. Not only is he an MVP player, but he is the heart and soul of Oklahoma basketball.

 

11. Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker

Because, duh. Devin Only two players have put up 24 point per game, 4 assists per game on 38 percent 3P shooting during their first 5 seasons in the league. One of them is Devin Booker. The other…Steph Curry.

DeAndre Ayton was never seriously considered here. He is a heck of a talent but, it is easier to find a rim protecting, three point shooting big than it is someone with Booker’s talent and ceiling. Josh Jackson was never truly in consideration.

 

12. Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard

I struggled with this pick. Half of me thinks that Portland should just blow it up. The West has gotten even harder and they look to be a team with a second round ceiling. Why pursue the same result every year, if that result is not winning a title?

The other half of me thinks that Portland may have just enough assets to acquire a third star. Zach Collins still has a ton of potential and Portland is very high on him. Anfernee Simons balled out during summer league and turned the heads of many executives. Gm Neil Oshey should certainly consider bringing Kevin Love back to his home state. Send a package of prospects and picks over to Cleveland. Buddy up Love with McCollum and Dame, go all in.

 

13. Sacramento Kings – De’Aaron Fox

This selection was harder than it looked. Marvin Bagley is the Kings new toy. The 2nd overall pick in last year’s draft was not ranked as the #2 overall prospect by many scouts. Yet, the Kings loved Bagley and his desire to actually want to play in NoCal. I had Bagley ranked behind duke teammate Wendell Carter, and through summer league is appeared that I was right to do so.

Fox is a different story. He will help rebuild a culture in Sac’Town. Fox may possibly be the quickest end to end player in the league, and he has a developing jumper. Having already shown leadership and clutchness, I would be willing to trade Bagley before Fox.

De'Aaron Fox
USA Today Sports

14. San Antonio Spurs – DeMar DeRozan

Aw. So sad, DeMar.

Yesterday I wrote that no one on the Raptors should be untouchable, and apparently GM Masai Ujiri agreed with me. San Antonio clearly wants to take advantage of the remaining years that they have with Pop (bad decision.) So, they went out and traded Kawhi for DeMar. Shipping him off now would only would blow my mind, literally. GM R.C Buford had made brilliant moves for the Spurs for almost two decades now, but this move was horrendous.

 

15. Utah Jazz – Donovan Mitchell

Spida Mitchell made a bunch of GMs look dumb last year. He looks like a modern day D Wade. Mitchell has an All-NBA ceiling and I cannot wait to watch him develop. Gobert was never truly in contention here. In fact, I would consider trading the big man at his peak value.

During last year’s playoffs, we saw how stretch bigs can draw rim protectors away from, well, the rim. Ask Joel Embiid to explain what Al Horford did to him. Gobert will be less and less effective in the playoffs as teams play smaller. For now though, rejoice in having one of the most exciting players in the game back in Utah.

 

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Top 25 Players in the NBA

Top 25 Players in the NBA

Before we get into the “Top 25 Players in the NBA,” I need to preface by saying this is if everyone is healthy in the league. For example, I did not lower Kawhi Leonard’s rank because he barely played last season. So, here it is, my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”

 

#25: Ben Simmons

I have already prepared myself for the reactions to the 25th ranked player in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. People are going to say that Simmons is already a top-20, or even top-15 player in the NBA. However, why? I am not saying that Simmons is not going to be a top-10 player in the league one day, but I do not understand how people already have him ranked so high.

Simmons had a very good rookie year in the NBA. Averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game, Simmons ran away with the Rookie of the Year. What makes Simmons’ stats even more impressive is the fact that he did not make a single three last season. With the way the modern NBA is trending, having a non-shooting ball-handler is uncommon.

While Simmons did not make any threes last season, that did not slow him down. Take a look at the GIF below.

Ben Simmons Drive

It never seemed to matter how far off Simmons’ defender played him last season. Simmons would always find a way to get to the basket and finish at a high clip. Converting on 69.8% of his shots at the rim, Simmons was well-above the 63.1% league average. Just because Simmons is currently ranked 25th in my rankings, it will not be long before he slides into the top-15, and the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”

 

#24: LaMarcus Aldridge

NBA fans often forget how dominant LaMarcus Aldridge really is. Remember his days in Portland? The dude was a walking double-double. Then, he gets out of the spotlight in San Antonio and people forget about him. Aldridge is still one of the most dominating big men in the NBA.

Averaging 23.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, it is time to acknowledge how talented Aldridge is. LMA led a Kawhi-less Spurs team to the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. Yes, Gregg Popovich is a mastermind, but teams do not make the playoffs in the West without talent on the court.

Aldridge’s 29.1% usage rating last season was the highest it has been in his career with San Antonio. Aldridge made it work too. Developing his game to continue to fit the modern NBA, Aldridge posted the highest offensive rating of his career. Fans often forget about how good Aldridge is, it is time to continue to acknowledge that fact.

 

#23: Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic is one of my favorite players to watch in the entire NBA. His skill set for a center is wildly unheard of, but wildly productive. I mean, come on, how many NBA centers can make this pass?

Nikola Jokic Pass

Jokic’s basketball IQ and passing ability alone make him one of the top centers in the NBA. However, there is so much more to his game. With averages of 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game, Jokic brings it all to the table.

Perhaps the biggest improvement in his game last season was his three-point shooting. The Joker attempted a total of 280 threes last season, connecting on 39.6% of the attempts. Jokic has made it a point of emphasis to continue to adjust his game to stay up-to-date with the modern NBA.

Last season, 27.7% of Jokic’s attempted field goals were from three-point territory. The season before, just 16.3% of his shots were from three. This is a good sign for the Nuggets and their big man. Jokic has been able to adapt and stay productive while the league changes. This is why Jokic is in my top-25 and why Denver just inked him to a max contract.

 

#22: DeMar DeRozan

Another season has gone by and another season has ended for DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors at the hands of “The King.” After going into the playoffs as the top seed in the East, the Raptors did not even manage to win one game against Cleveland in the second round. However, this does not alter DeRozan’s playing ability.

Last season marked the fifth straight year that DeRozan posted at least 20 points per game. Recording 23 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game, DeRozan solidified himself as one of the game’s top two guards. Having his usage rate drop from 34.3% in the 2016-17 season to 29.6% in the 2017-18 season, DeRozan remained effective attempting the most threes in his career, and connecting at the second-highest clip on those shots in his career.

In addition, DeRozan posted a 9.6 win share stat, making him one of the most valuable players in win shares in the league. Most of the stats speak for themself. DeRozan gets to his spots on offense, and he takes advantage of his matchup. There was little debate in my mind when deciding if DeRozan belonged in the “Top-25 Players in the NBA” list.

 

#21: Rudy Gobert

Mark Rudy Gobert down as one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Gobert is not a flashy player by any means, which is why he is seldomly mentioned in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” conversation. Just because Gobert is not a three-point shooting five does not mean he is not one of the best centers in the league.

Gobert does most of his damage on the defensive side of the ball. Averaging 2.3 blocks per game last season, Gobert solidified himself as one of the best paint-protectors in the league. However, there is more to his game than his defense. Gobert recorded 13.5 points per game last season while shooting 62.2% from the field, a career-high. Yes, most of these points came on dunks or lobs from the “Spanish Unicorn,” but that is where Gobert does his damage.

It is mind boggling why Gobert is not talked about more often. His stellar 122 offensive rating and 99 defensive rating should put him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” with few questions asked.

 

#20: Victor Oladipo

Who would have thought that one year ago at this time that we would have Victor Oladipo in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA”? What a year it was for Oladipo with the Indiana Pacers. Oladipo silenced all his haters averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. Vic led the Pacers, who were a projected lottery team, to the fifth seed in the East and took LBJ and the Cavs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

I had trouble finding a spot for Oladipo in the rankings because of how unexpected last season was. But, when you look at all the numbers as a whole, he definitely deserves to be in the top-20. In addition to his gaudy offensive numbers, Oladipo averaged 2.4 steals per game, ranking him first in the NBA last season. The winner of the Most Improved Player is bound for another successful 2018-19 season. His determination to win was on full display right after the game seven loss to the Cavs. The first thing he did after the game was text his trainer asking him when the work started up again.

Victor Oladipo Trainer

#19: Paul George

Well, Thunder fans, PG13 is there to stay. Congratulations. One year after you traded for a “rental,” the team has convinced a top-20 player in the NBA to stay in Oklahoma City. Now, Thunder fans may be wondering why George ranks lower than others have him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. Averaging 21.9 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game, PG13 had an interesting season adjusting to the OK3.

In my opinion, George hasn’t been the same since his gruesome injury with Team USA. He has not been as explosive and does not show the same burst he showed in those playoff battles against LeBron and the Heat. This was to be expected based on the injury, but that is the biggest reason he is 19th in the rankings. In addition, George has never been a great clutch player, often underperforming in crucial situations.

This season, George shot 42.2% from the field in the fourth quarter. In addition, he shot 38.3% from three in the fourth quarter. Now, do not get me wrong, 38% from three is not a bad number, but it is lower than his 40.1% from three throughout the season. Finally, who can forget game six of the playoffs last season against the Utah Jazz. In an elimination game, George juiced just five points. Paul George is a great player, I am not trying to say he is not, but for me 19 is where PG13 belonged on the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list.

 

#18: Karl-Anthony Towns

The Big KAT had a terrific third season in the NBA, and now he is going to get paid. Karl-Anthony Towns is reportedly in negotiations with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a five-year, max contract. Towns made his first all-star appearance last season and he is not looking back.

Documenting 21.3 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per game, Towns was one of the most versatile offensive bigs in the NBA. Notice how I said offensive, because his defense is a whole different discussion. Towns shot 42.1% from three-point range last season, the highest percentage of any Wolves player. Ranking 14th in the NBA in percentage from downtown, Towns has adjusted his game with the modern NBA.

Helping lead the Wolves to their first playoff series in over a decade, Towns had a disappointing playoff series. Averaging just 15.4 points per game and shooting under 50% from the field and under 30% from three, Towns had a less than pleasing first playoff series of his career. However, in games three, four, and five of the series against the Rockets, Towns was back to averaging 21 points a night. He struggled mightily in the first two games, but seemed to overcome his struggles and put it past him.

As one of the most versatile bigs in the NBA, Towns already ranks in the top-20. But, it will not be long before he is in the conversation for the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”

 

#17: Klay Thompson

Mark me down as a firm Klay Thompson believer. What he does every night for the Golden State Warriors is invaluable. Thompson is one of, if not the best, shooter in the NBA. Averaging 20 points per game last season on 44% shooting from three-point range, Klay solidified himself as the best third option in the NBA. Imagine what Klay could be doing as the first option on a team? He is a free agent in 2019, could we see him as a first option?

Getting past his future with the Warriors, when we look at Klay Thompson’s game, it is nothing but good things. We all know about his stellar shooting and his ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the court, but what some people do not know about is his defensive ability. Watch below as Klay Thompson absolutely locks down Paul George as the shot clock expires. Not many people can hang with a top-level offensive player like PG13, but Klay Thompson can.

Klay Thompson Defense

#16: Joel Embiid

Trust the Process. Well, the process is working. It will not be long before Joel Embiid is a top-10 player in the NBA. Playing in 63 games last season, the Kansas big man averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds per game. Embiid did work in every facet of the game shooting over 48% from the field and recording 1.8 blocks per game. However, there is still work to do if Embiid wants to be a top-10 or top-5 player in the NBA.

The first thing is development from three. In his “rookie” season in the NBA, Embiid shot 36.7% from three, a very respectable percentage for a big man. However, last season, that percentage dropped to 30.8%. There is potential for Embiid to have his downtown shooting percentage climb, and he will need it to climb to take the next step.

In addition, speaking in general terms, Joel Embiid has the mindset and attitude of a top-level NBA player. Embiid cares about one thing and one thing only: winning. Whether you like it or not, Embiid’s trash talking on the court helps him gain an edge and it causes problems for opponents. Joel Embiid is on his way. Even though I do not have him ranked as my top center, it should not be long before “The Process” claims that spot in “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”

#15: DeMarcus Cousins

I already know it is coming. People are going to think I am crazy for putting Cousins ahead of Embiid. Since these rankings are not taking injuries into the picture, Cousins still ranks as my top center. People forget of how dominant Cousins is. Players feed the ball down low and Boogie gets a bucket, it is usually as simple as that.

Cousins was having a career-year before going down with injury last season. Posting 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game, Cousins looked primed to appear in his first playoff series. Unfortunately, the NBA Gods had different ideas. But, the injury does not take away from the player Cousins is. DeMarcus Cousins is, plain and simple, dominant. His footwork on the low-post and his continued development from three make him the most effective center in the NBA and 15th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.

 

#14: Draymond Green

There are fans of the NBA who cannot stand Draymond Green, and I am in the same boat. However, I respect him as a player and the energy that he brings to the game. It hurt me to put him 14th in these rankings, but it was what he deserved. Green affects the game in so many ways that the Warriors would not be the same without him. He does it on offense, defense, leadership, and of course, in trash talking.

There is not a player in the NBA that I can think of who plays with more energy than Draymond Green. Green is pure heart and effort every time the ball goes up in the air. Yes, his passion for the game can get him in trouble from time to time, but his passion is usually used positively. Green averaged 11 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game last season. However, it is what does not show up in the box score that makes Green a difference maker. Green’s 105 defensive rating and 6.1 defensive win shares make him one of the top defenders in the NBA.

Another part of Green’s game that makes him so good is his ability to play the five. The Warriors made the small-ball lineup a thing, using Green at the five. This death lineup is what makes the Warriors so good. Teams can try to put Green in a pick-and-roll when he is at the five, but Green has the ability to switch onto guards and shut them down. It is unfair at times and part of the reason he ranks 14th in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”

 

#13: Damian Lillard

“Dame Dollar.” “Big Game Dame.” Whatever you want to call him, Damian Lillard is a special talent. While he has never found much success in the postseason, Lillard is one of the best guards in the NBA. His shiftiness and sudden explosion make him a must-watch. Filling it up with 26.9 points and 6.6 assists per game last season, Lillard had arguably his best season in his career.

Lillard made 227 threes last season, just two less than his career-high, which he posted in 2015-16. Dame kept defenders guessing last season. If the defense came up and pressed Lillard, he would explode past them and finish at the rim. If the defense laid off, Lillard would pull up from Mars and drain a long three in your face. Don’t believe me? Check out his game-winner against the Lakers below and think again. There’s no reason that Lillard should not be in the top-15 of any “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.

Damian Lillard Three

#12: John Wall

Why is everyone starting to hate on John Wall? He gets hurt for one season and everyone is starting to act like he is falling off. No way. Not a chance. John Wall is still one of the most dominant and explosive points guards in the association. Even after injury last season, Wall managed to post 19.4 points and 9.6 assists per game. No, he was not his normal self, but that is expected coming off an injury that sidelined him for more than a month.

No matter what anyone says, there shall be no John Wall slander. Wall is one of the toughest covers in the entire league, and when he brings out the gang signs, it is over. The speedster has never been a great three-point shooter or defender, and he might never be. However, the way he attacks the rim and creates for his teammates, Wall deserves to be 12th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”

 

#11: Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Buckets. All kinds of rumors are surrounding Butler and the Timberwolves this summer. There have been recents reports that Butler will not re-sign with the Wolves. There has been reports that he is unhappy with the effort shown by Karl Towns and others. If you need a refresher on the whole situation, I broke it down in an article. Anyways, on to Butler as the player. Butler is the second-best two-way player in the NBA (behind Kawhi.) There are no words to describe his value to the Timberwolves last season. Without him, the Wolves would have been in the lottery and nowhere near a playoff team.

To further prove that point, Butler missed 23 games last season. The Timberwolves were 10-13 without Butler last season. With him, the Wolves were 37-22. Butler was one of just a handful of Timberwolf players that decided to play defense last season. Butler’s defense was so good that the Wolves held opponents to 7.2 points lower in offensive rating when Jimmy was on the floor. Jimmy, along with other veterans like Taj Gibson, was the main reason the Wolves did not allow 150 points per game.

In addition, Jimmy got his buckets. His 22.2 points per game led the Timberwolves. Furthermore, Butler was who the Wolves went to when the team was in dire need of a basket. Butler was the go-to man down the stretch and led the Timberwolves to the playoffs.

 

#10: Chris Paul

What could have been. That will be the question in NBA and Rockets fans head for the months leading up to the 2018-19 season. The Rockets were one game away from defeating the “undefeatable” Golden State Warriors. Then, Chris Paul went down with an injury at the end of game five that kept him out of game six and seven. Paul’s value to the Rockets was much more than scoring, finding teammates, and defending. Paul was a leader on and off the court for Houston.

Multiple times throughout the season, the Rockets looked like they would fall apart during a game; however, they held on. Why? Chris Paul. Paul kept the team together in games that were spiraling out of control. Paul got the team buckets when they needed them most, and he controlled the game like a true floor general. While CP3 posted his second-lowest assist total of his career, the ball was out of his hands a lot. People wondered how he and James Harden would co-exist. And to put it lightly, I think they did just fine.

Chris Paul seems to fit in nicely with whoever he plays next to. He is the true definition of a great leader and a great teammate. The only thing preventing CP3 from being ranked higher than 10 is the other unearthly players sitting higher in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”

Chris Paul
Getty Images

#9: Kyrie Irving

Another great “what if” story from the NBA last season. The Boston Celtics took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics did so without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. So, Boston fans everywhere are dreaming over what could have been for the team last season if even Irving stayed healthy. In his first season post-LeBron, Irving averaged 24.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. His handles and offensive wizardry continued to dazzle in Beantown.

I have Irving ranked as my third best point guard, behind Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry. However, at just 26-years-old, Irving is bound to soon be the top point guard in the league. It is amazing what Irving is doing at such a young age. If injuries stay out of his way, top-5 is on the way for the former Duke guard in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”

 

#8: Giannis Antetokounmpo

For the longest time, the Greek Freak was on his way. Well, it is official, he has arrived. Now the best player in the East with LeBron gone, Antetokounmpo is just what his nickname says “a freak.” Giannis recorded 26.9 points and 10 rebounds per game last season. Every season that he has been in the NBA, Antetokounmpo has made a jump in PPG from the previous season. If that continues, it will not be long before Giannis is averaging 30 PPG.

In addition to his ridiculous scoring numbers, Giannis is a terrific passer and defender. Averaging 4.8 assists per game last season, Giannis made defenses pay when they doubled him. On defense, he recorded 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. His length and athleticism makes him a top-five two-way player in the NBA. Before you start debating whether Giannis should be ranked as the top player in the Eastern Conference without LeBron, chew on this:

Giannis Antetokounmpo Dunk

#7: Russell Westbrook

For the second season in a row, Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double. I do not care what you think of stat-padding or anything of that nature, averaging a triple-double is impressive. The amount of energy Westbrook puts forth every night is next to none. Westbrook plays with a similar intensity as Draymond Green. Ever since Kevin Durant left the Thunder, it seems like that energy has doubled. Westbrook is out to prove something, and he wants to prove it with a championship.

Ranked as my number two point guard on the list, it is Westbrook’s explosiveness and offensive abilities that get the job done. Averaging 25.4 points per game last season, Russ shot 44.9% from the field. His 5.5 offensive win shares makes you realize just how great Russ is on that side of the ball. If Westbrook could develop a 36-40% three-point shot he would be virtually unstoppable. The only chance teams have of stopping Russ is letting him shoot and hoping he misses. Because once he gets to the rim or on the fastbreak, it is game over.

 

#6: Kawhi Leonard

The summer of LeBron was quickly flooded by the summer of Kawhi. After requesting a trade out of San Antonio, fans have been on the edge of their seats waiting to find out where Leonard will land. Leonard has been on the record saying he wants to be in Los Angeles, but there might not be a deal that makes sense for the Spurs/Clippers/Lakers. Wherever Leonard lands, the team will be getting the top two-way player in the game.

After basically sitting out an entire season, it is easy to forget just how good Kawhi is. He is nicknamed “The Klaw” for a reason. Kawhi absolutely shuts down the opposing team’s best player each and every night. He has made a living on the defensive side of the ball. His defense is what got him into the NBA. Kawhi was never a great offensive player coming into the league, but his defense was enough to get him a spot.

Since he has been in the league, Kawhi has developed his offense. Kawhi is now one of the biggest offensive threats in the NBA. His ability to knock down shots and over power people on the way to the rim make him such a scary matchup. If Kawhi Leonard played last season, and we were able to see his further improvement, he very well could have made the top-5 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”

 

#5: James Harden

Yes, your eyes are not lying. I have the MVP ranked fifth in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. James Harden is great, that is not a question, but there are just players that do more than Harden. Harden makes his living on the offensive side of the ball, and in particular, at the free-throw line. Harden attempted over 10 free-throws per game last season. His 8.7 points per game that come from the stripe accounted for 28.6% of his total points.

There is no doubt there is a skill in getting to the free-throw line, but sometimes the way Harden gets to the line is hard to watch. His flopping and wild body movements draw the refs into a ton of whistles when there is really no contact. This, along with his sub-par defense, which is recently improved, made Harden land in the five hole in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”

 

#4: Steph Curry

The former two-time MVP and unanimous MVP has a great story. The sharpshooter was labeled as “too small” coming into the draft. People thought that he was just a cinderella story that went to Davidson, and they predicted Curry would fall off the map. Well, Golden State took a chance on Steph, and boy has it paid off. Curry takes the most threes out of anyone in the NBA. Curry attempted 501 threes last season in just 51 games, that is almost 10 threes a game. And, while he attempts those 10 threes a game, he connects on 42.3% of them.

Hats off to Steph Curry. The NBA has arguably changed because of guys like Curry who attempt threes in bunches. Curry has no problem pulling up and shooting from anywhere on the court. He is one of the deadliest offensive players the NBA has ever seen. Widely regarded as one of the best shooters in the history of the NBA, there was little doubt to put Curry in the four spot in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.

#3: Anthony Davis

When DeMarcus Cousins went down with an injury last season, most thought the Pelicans playoff hopes were over. Anthony Davis had different ideas. Davis averaged 28.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season. He continued to develop his game to fit the modern NBA, shooting 34% from three. In addition to the offensive work he put in, Davis showed his worth on defense too. Recording 2.6 blocks per game, Davis made any player think twice before testing him in the paint.

Davis has the potential to be one of the all-time greats. Yes, I said it. At just 25-years-old, Davis is showing how good he can be. If Davis can continue to develop his three-pointer and start winning more playoff games, he will be first on the list before too long.

 

#2: Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is great. There is no other way to put it. What KD does on a nightly basis is unheard of. The two-time champ is the best pure scorer the game has ever seen. Durant fills it up in so many different ways. He will take you off the dribble and finish at the cup. Durant will explode by you just to stop and pop from mid-range. Or, he will not worry about dribbling at all and just take a 30-foot bomb that he knocks down with ease.

There are so few words as to how one would describe Kevin Durant and the way he can score. So, I am going to leave it as that. As the best pure scorer the NBA has ever seen, KD will go down as an all-time great.

 

#1: LeBron James

LeBron James tops off my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list. When I said it was hard to describe Kevin Durant? It is even harder to describe LeBron James. What LBJ did this past season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading the team back to their fourth straight finals appearance is only supposed to be possible in movies. LeBron James single-handedly dragged the Cavs to the finals, and that is an understatement. And if it was not for J.R. and his foolishness in game one of the NBA Finals, who knows how that series plays out.

LeBron James is simply great. Perhaps the greatest to ever play the game. Now, in Los Angeles, LABron will continue to cement his legacy as the best player in the NBA. 

 

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