Basketball. Season. Is. Back. For many in sports, those are four of the greatest words they can hear. For a faithful fanbase out in Salt Lake City, and the rest of the state of Utah, those words bring more excitement and anticipation this year than they have in some time.
Coming off an offseason that witnessed the departure of He Who Must Not Be Named, their first All-Star in years, many automatically ruled out the Utah Jazz from any contention talks. But to ever place doubt in general manager Dennis Lindsey, head coach Quin Snyder, or the ownership of Gail Miller is the first and last mistake one should make. Although the Jazz started out last year looking anything but great: injuries ravaged the team, new players were learning how to gel in a new and unique system, and the first half of the schedule was unforgiving while pieces were attempted to be put together. The Jazz got Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert back on the floor, watched as esteemed point guard Ricky Rubio became more comfortable with his new team and learned how to play under Quin Snyder, witnessed the ascension of a little known rookie out of Louisville start playing like a superstar in Donovan Mitchell, and saw the development of sharpshooter Joe Ingles’ franchise-record breaking season of most made threes.
The Utah Jazz had hope with all the pieces starting to come together, yet early in the new year still didn’t see the result show on the scoreboard or in the standings. That is, until the night of January 22, when the course of the season was changed. Utah didn’t just lose to the lowly Atlanta Hawks on that cold January night, they played their worst basketball of the season in an all-around pathetic and embarrassing effort. That performance was truly a wake-up call for a team that knew they were better than the dismal product they displayed. Their response? Winning the next 21 of 23 games, and finishing the season winning 29 of 35 to propel themselves into a fifth seed playoff berth where they unseated the Oklahoma City Thunder in round one and even won a game in the second round series to the first-seeded Houston Rockets.
The Utah Jazz shocked the basketball world last year with their inspirational play in the second half. They proved that they still belonged among the West’s heavyweights after losing their one and only All-Star in the prior offseason. While proving to the basketball world they belong, however, the Jazz aren’t necessarily in the company to rival the Golden State Warriors and advance out of the Western Conference playoffs. But could they be?
Continuity was the theme of the Utah Jazz’s 2018 offseason. GM Dennis Lindsey’s main goal was to retain free agents so that Utah can continue to build as one, something that isn’t seen in the basketball universe as much as it used to be. Jazz fans saw the return of notable free agents such as Derrick Favors and Dante Exum, brought back Raul Neto, and guaranteed the contracts of Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh. On top of these moves, the Jazz also snagged controversial Dukie Grayson Allen in the latter part of the first-round of the draft. They will see the return of Jae Crowder, Alec Burks, and Royce O’Neale, as well as a couple of players who may or may not get minutes this year in Georges Niang and Naz Mitrou-Long.
None of those names are necessarily flashy when put in context with the rest of the NBA, yet they are proven to be valuable assets in Coach Quin’s chess match. In order for the Utah Jazz to go above and beyond this season, they will rely on many of these names to take the next step. Favors has already proven himself at the four and to backup Gobert at the five if need be, but can Favors start consistently sinking the corner three that he has been working at? Exum and O’Neale proved to be valuable rotational players in the playoffs last year in guarding superstar players such as Paul George and James Harden; but Exum has yet to play a fully healthy season, which has surely impacted his growth, and O’Neale has aspects of his game he can make even better. Burks did not get many minutes during the regular season last year, but was an energetic shot in the arm for Utah’s offense in the playoffs, and will surely want to prove he’s deserving of more minutes this year. If Burks can play solid D and take smart shots approved by Quin and the rest of the coaching staff, he likely will gain minutes. Crowder fit seamlessly into the Jazz system after being traded from Cleveland, but was neither bad nor good, just average. After trimming down over this offseason, he is also one the Jazz will rely on to consistently get up shots. When Sefolosha went down for the season with a knee injury, the loss of his leadership presence was felt, and players admitted so. Lastly, the addition of Allen will be intriguing on how this roster is managed over the course of the season. Allen has shown glimpses of being great during the preseason, shooting the three consistently and getting to the basket with ease, yet his defense is lacking. Quin Snyder has said as much, stating that if Allen doesn’t improve his transition defense he will not be getting many minutes to start the year.
That’s the overall summary of the current look at the players of the Utah Jazz entering a season with high expectations. Players can only develop and get better as long as they stay healthy, which will be key for this year’s Jazz team. The loss of Rudy Gobert in the early part of last year was felt. The loss of Ricky Rubio in the second round of the playoffs all but eliminated Utah’s chances of potentially beating Houston. The Jazz have one of the deepest rosters in the league, but each player will play an important role in Snyder’s system, and it will be integral for the Jazz to be at full health throughout the course of the season.
In a world dominated by the Golden State Warriors, the West has a plethora of mighty teams and superstar players. Houston will be up there; OKC will remain one of the better teams; Portland will try and prove they still belong; Denver has a great young team that is surely on the verge of breaking through; New Orleans will attempt to have my MVP pick in Anthony Davis lead them back to the playoffs; the Lakers picked up some guy named LeBron in the offseason; Minnesota is a playoff team with Jimmy Butler, but everyone knows about that ongoing drama; then you have the rest of the West fill in, as the Clippers, Spurs, and maybe even Memphis will be fighting for the latter playoff spots.
The Western Conference is going to be a war this year. You should not sleep on this Utah Jazz team, which is typically the norm around this time of year. The Utah Jazz have a top defense, an offense that can break out at any given time, led by one the league’s more underrated coaches and a roster of unselfish players hungry to make a statement to the league; as the great Jerry Sloan once said, get your ice picks out, because basketball season is back.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
#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.
#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.”
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.
#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.”
#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:
#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.
Thanks for checking out the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. Share the article and let me know what you think in the comments below!
Tony Parker is now a Charlotte Hornet and it couldn’t feel any weirder. TP is and always will be a Spur, but it doesn’t change the fact we have to watch him in a Hornet jersey for the next two years. It always feels uncomfortable watching a player whose career is wound tightly with one franchise leave at the end. Unfortunately, not every star finishes with the franchise we identify with them the most like Kobe and Magic with the Lakers, Duncan and the Spurs, or Bird and the Celtics. We tend to almost erase the end from our memories. In this article we are going to dive into the uncomfortable, and look back at five of the most NBA Awkward Endings.
Malone was a staple of Salt Lake City. He spent years fighting for a title while becoming one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game. The “Mailman” as they came to call him was drafted in 1985 and spent 18 years in Utah. Even though Malone is most often brought up in the “best player to never win a title” debate we forget this is a 14-time all-star, 14-time All-NBA selection, 4-time all-defensive selection and a 2-time MVP. Malone spent the last year of his career however, chasing that elusive ring with Shaq and Kobe. His 19th and final season was spent in an NBA Finals loss at the hands of the Pistons. While Utah fans understood his quest, the feeling in their stomachs seeing Malone in a Lakers jersey couldn’t have been pleasant throughout that season.
This is the man with the cornrows. The man who stepped over Ty Lue in the Finals. The legend who in the end said he would be a Sixer until the day he died. He spent the first 10 of his 14-year career in Philly and he became a larger than life athlete. The MVP jumped around a lot in his final years in the league. He played in Denver which was weird at first, but in the end I think we got used to it. Things got real awkward when he played in Detroit. It was unsettling seeing him in that jersey. The next phase of a weird ending came when he donned a Grizzly jersey for just three games! He even played in Turkey for a while before finally hanging up the shoes for good.
Shaquille O’ Neal
Am I allowed to speak for everyone when I ask if we can just forget the carousel Shaq took us on at the end of his career? It was the strangest thing watching a once unstoppable force of nature jump around the league so quickly. He wasn’t an abomination in Phoenix, but after the trade to Cleveland he was a shell of his former self. The final move of his 19-year career was with Boston where he… well let’s just forget it and remember The Diesel for what he was.
Hakeem gave the Rockets 17 wonderful years and the only championships the franchise has ever known. A two-time Finals MVP and 12-time All-Star Hakeem didn’t finish his career in Houston. After the 2000-01 season the Rockets felt his career needed to come to an end. Hakeem thought differently and spent his last season in Toronto where he played for Lenny Wilkens and with future Hall of Famer Vince Carter. This was one of the strangest sights ever for NBA fans and most forget it ever happened.
The most iconic American sports figure ever Michael Jordan spent two awkward years playing in Washington. I remember getting my picture taken with the awe inspiring statue of this man outside the United Center. There may not be a sports figure attached to a franchise like Jordan is to the Bulls. Five MVP’s, an undefeated Finals record and perhaps the greatest career in sports history didn’t mean he was immune to an uncomfortable ending. Seeing Jordan return in 2001 to play in a Wizards uniform had to almost physically hurt. It felt like you were cheating on the man, but you couldn’t be since he was the one wearing the jersey.
Day two of the Utah and Sacramento NBA Summer League provided less enticing basketball. The first night brought excitement in Sacramento with the Kings playing what will actually be their NBA lineup competing in front of a packed Golden One Center. Night one was also the debuts of many high-profile rookies including Jaren Jackson Jr., Trae Young, Marvin Bagley III, Lonnie Walker IV, Grayson Allen, and more. However, night two saw some players take a rest. De’Aaron Fox, Lonnie Walker IV, and Grayson Allen were all among the players who didn’t play in the second night of the Summer League. Teams were being cautious as they don’t want to overwork the young players and cause an injury early in their career. But, there were players that did play. Let’s get into the studs and duds from day two of the NBA Summer League.
Justin Jackson – Sacramento Kings
The second year player out of UNC showed out against the Golden State Warriors. The Kings team managed to score just 54 points, but 20 of those points were recorded by Jackson. The forward shot 7-11 from the field, including 2-5 from three-point range. In addition to his scoring, Jackson managed 5 rebounds and limited his turnovers to just one. It was a solid performance for Jackson one night after scoring just five points.
Deyonta Davis – Memphis Grizzlies
Deyonta Davis is looking to make a big jump for the Grizzlies this upcoming season. Davis appeared in 62 games for Memphis last season recording 5.8 points per game playing just 15.2 minutes per night. Davis dominated the Utah Jazz in night two of the Utah Summer League. Solidifying himself with 17 points, Davis shot 8-9 from the field while playing just 23 minutes. Davis also grabbed 6 rebounds and was a game-high +18 when he was on the court. If Davis can continue to prove himself in the Summer League and the NBA, it won’t be long before Davis becomes a household rotational player in the league.
Tony Bradley – Utah Jazz
Tony Bradley had himself a game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The 2017 first-round pick was projected to be a project, and he was just that in his first season with the Jazz. Bradley appeared in eight games with Utah and it was clear he needed to mature his basketball skills. Well, if his second game in the 2018 NBA Summer League is any indication, Bradley did just that. Posting 18 points and 14 rebounds in 23 minutes was single-handedly the best performance by any Jazz player. In addition, Bradley was a +16 in the game, one that the Jazz lost by three. The rest of the Summer League will be big for Bradley as he continues his development as an NBA center.
Derrick Jones Jr. – Miami Heat
The high-flying Derrick Jones Jr. did it all for the Miami Heat on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. The high-flyer finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 steals. Jones didn’t have his three-point shot falling, but it didn’t matter. He got looks at the rim with ease, and he looked too good to be playing in the Summer League. If DJJ can continue his development, he can turn into a solid rotational player for the Heat this upcoming season.
Josh Hart – Los Angeles Lakers
Josh Hart should be dominating Summer League action, plain and simple. After logging meaningful minutes with the Lakers last season, there is no reason Hart shouldn’t be killing the competition. However, Tuesday night, Hart recorded just one point on 0-4 shooting from the field. He only played 14 minutes, but Hart needs to be better, especially when he’s been talked about as an asset in a Kawhi Leonard trade package.
Marvin Bagley III – Sacramento Kings
One night after electrifying the hometown Kings crowd, Bagley laid an egg. Was it because De’Aaron Fox wasn’t getting him easy looks? Was it because he was playing in a back-to-back? Who knows, but it was not a good game for Bagley in his second pro outing. Bagley shot 3-16 from the field and 0-5 from three recording a lackluster 7 points. While Bagley had a rough night, it was his second pro game, no need to worry in Summer League.
Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks
Another game, another rough Trae Young experience. For the second night in a row, Young struggled, especially shooting the ball. Connecting on just 5-16 shots from the field, and just 1-5 from three, Young is looking like the guard from the second half of the Oklahoma season, not the first half. On a positive note, Young played better in the fourth quarter getting to the basket and finishing in the lane. He also made some nice passes to teammates, who didn’t convert their shots. With it being just his second pro game, give Young some time Atlanta.
A look at some of the performances from this years top prospects:
Sacramento Kings (98) vs Los Angeles Lakers (93):
While De’Aaron Fox might’ve been the best player on the floor and posted the prettier statline for the Sacramento Kings on Monday night, it was Marvin Bagley who was the games main attraction. Bagley had himself an impressive debut. He poured in an efficient 18 points along with 6 rebounds and a game-high 3 blocks in 24 minutes of action. Oh, and he also had a filthy poster in the first quarter.
The Kings first-round pick from the 2017 Draft also made his Kings debut yesterday after missing his entire first year with a knee injury. He played 25 minutes and finished with 13 points and 3 rebounds on a 6-10 shooting night.
Like Fox for the Kings, Josh Hart was another returning player in this game who had himself a big game, but we’re not here to talk about them. We’re here for the rookies, specifically, Moe Wagner. First-round pick Moe Wagner gave his team 23 points and 7 rebounds, but struggled shooting the ball (6-18 from the floor, 2-9 from three). He did go 9-10 from the line however and had a team-high 2 steals and 1 block in 27 minutes.
Atlanta Hawks (88) vs Memphis Grizzlies (103):
Jaren Jackson Jr:
Jackson showed out Monday night. He gave Memphis fans a glimpse of what’s in store for the regular season and even amazed fans with his tribute to Steph Curry, burying 8 threes on 13 attempts and even sinking a hail mary half-court buzzer beater to end the 2nd quarter. It was the complete opposite of Trae Young’s performance. Jackson finished the contest with 29 points (9-15 FG), 3 rebounds and 2 blocks in 23 minutes.
Young had a less than spectacular start to his NBA career. He started off the game by air-balling his first two three-point attempts, then ended the first quarter with an 0-6 shooting performance before ending the game 4-20 from the floor and 1-11 from three with 16 points. His playmaking didn’t make up for his woeful shooting either, dishing out just 3 assists and turning the ball over twice in the process. The good news is Trae Young will have a chance to bounce back from that performance later today when his Hawks take on the Spurs.
Miami Heat (68) vs Golden State Warriors (79):
No rookies to watch out for in this one, but Derrick Jones Jr. (24 points, 11 rebounds on 4-5 from three) and Bam Adebayo (14 points and 14 rebounds) had themselves big games that Heat fans can get excited about.
San Antonio Spurs (76) vs Utah Jazz (92):
Allen was the crowd favorite Monday, and despite not shooting the ball well (4-16 FG, 2-6 3PT), he did contribute in other ways. He had 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1 steal in just 16 minutes. Allen’s court vision was on full display in this game and his gritty hustle should please Jazz fans as his game has the makings to be a perfect fit in Utah’s system.
Like Young and Allen, the Spurs 18th pick just couldn’t find a rhythm. He played 24 minutes and recorded 7 points, shooting 3-16 and had the worst plus-minus among all players in the game with a -20. Walker didn’t do much to get himself high percentage looks in this game and that was the result.
Summer League schedule for Tuesday, July 3rd:
San Antonio Spurs vs Atlanta Hawks at 7:00pm ET
Miami Heat vs Los Angeles Lakers at 9:00pm ET
Memphis Grizzlies vs Utah Jazz at 9:00pm ET
Golden State Warriors vs Sacramento Kings at 11:00pm ET
The 2018 NBA Awards show is tomorrow night. The first ever awards show was hosted by Drake last summer. This summer is a bit different. Anthony Anderson will be the host tomorrow night with thousands of NBA fans tuning in on TNT. The best thing to do before the show tomorrow night is to make predictions. Let’s get into NBA Awards Predictions.
Most Valuable Player: James Harden
Candidates: James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis
The MVP race was made a lot closer at the end of the season with LeBron’s ridiculous run to finish the last part of the regular season. If this award also included the postseason, LeBron would be the winner. However, since it is a regular season award, James Harden will win without a sweat.
Harden finished the regular season averaging a career-high 30.4 points per game on 44.9% shooting from the field. Harden also recorded 8.8 assists per game and 5.4 rebounds per game. Leading Houston to the top seed in the Western Conference makes Harden the easy choice for MVP for the 2017/18 season.
Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons
Candidates: Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum
The Rookie of the Year award will be one of the most scrutinized awards tomorrow night. There was a never-ending debate throughout the regular season about what being a rookie actually means. Even Donovan Mitchell got in on the action wearing the definition of a rookie shirt. However, because the NBA considers Simmons a rookie, he takes home the award.
In his first (or second if you like controversy) season in the NBA, Simmons blew away the doubters. Everyone that said he couldn’t shoot, was I guess right, but it didn’t matter. Simmons still averaged 15.8 points per game, 8.2 assists per game, and 8.1 rebounds per game. He did all of this without making a single three-pointer.
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams
Candidates: Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, Fred VanVleet
This Sixth Man of the Year award was an easy choice. Lou Williams had one of the best seasons a sixth man could possibly have. Averaging 22.6 points per game on 35.9% shooting from deep is unheard of out of a sixth man. There is no question about who should be receiving this award tomorrow night.
The winner of Coach of the Year will be another close race. However, the tipping point is that the award, once again, is a regular season award. That being said, Dwane Casey, who led the Raptors to a 59-win season should be the winner. Yes, the Raptors got swept in the second round of the playoffs. But, that doesn’t matter. This is a regular season award, so Casey should be the winner.
Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo
Candidates: Clint Capela, Spencer Dinwiddie, Victor Oladipo
If Victor Oladipo doesn’t win the Most Improved Player award, NBA fans are going to burn a building down. Oladipo was hands down, the most improved player this season. After being a cap dump for the Thunder in the Paul George trade, Oladipo led the Pacers to the fifth seed in the East. Oladipo averaged a career-high in points, assists, rebounds, steals, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage. Those are the most important stats in basketball. If that doesn’t win Oladipo most improved player, I don’t know what would.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert
Candidates: Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis
The only reason that Gobert wouldn’t win Defensive Player of the Year tomorrow night is because of his injury. Gobert missed 26 games this season for the Jazz. However, when he played, the Jazz were the best defensive team in the NBA, and it wasn’t close. Blocking 2.3 shots per game, Gobert did more on the defensive side of the ball than what shows up on the stat sheet. Gobert alters shots at the rim like no other big man in the NBA does. That, along with his shot blocking skills, should win him Defensive Player of the Year.