#NBATwitter is at its finest during the first and last week of the season. This year, there is a different kind of troll on Twitter. This troll is the one who will says things like…
“I will NOT overreact to the first week of the season because I am NOT a #casualfan.”
“Here we go, now everyone will start making their Kembaisatopfive point guard case.”
“ALREADY tired of the #LeBronforMVP narrative and it’s been one game.”
Well guess what, I AM going to be that guy.
Although the 2018-19 season has been alive for two days, there are some things we can observe and report on. I’m talking about 3-point shooting bigs, baby. Who are the guys who spent all summer working on their trey ball and are ready to show it off? You know, the guys who make us say, “Hold up, when the hell did this happen?!” The Jonas guys. The Aron Baynes guys. The *gulp* DeMar DeRozan guys. Allow me to enlighten you.
1. Jarrett Allen, 2-3 from 3 versus Detroit
If you weren’t already scared of the Brooklyn Nets towering center, well, now you should be. Allen went 2-3 from deep during his season opener. But, this is no fluke. Allen spent his summer working on his 3-point shot. Don’t believe me? Check out Allen draining a corner three during the 2018 Summer League.
If JA can take around 3 3-pointers per game for the entire year, and hit between 31-33 percent of his shots, then we are all done for. To be clear, do not expect Allen to hit north of 34 percent from deep. It takes years for some big men to learn how to consistently drain three-balls. But if anything, Allen is already trending in the right direction.
2. Andre Drummond, 1-3 from 3 versus Brooklyn
Allen was not the only center in his game who tried to show off their new 3-point prowess. Andre Drummond, who had reportedly been working on his jumper, attempted 3 shots from behind the arc, and canned one of them.
And guess what…it didn’t totally suck… Watch the clip from his opening game versus the Nets. Drummond jumps too far forward, but his upper body forms looks okay. The bench goes nuts too! This could totally take my beloved UConn alumni’s game to the next level, and have people talking about him as a top 15-20 player. Remember, Drummond became one of the League’s more potent passing bigs last year, and has his eyes set on improving another area of his offensive game. Do not doubt him.
3. Julius Randle, 2-4 from 3 versus Houston
We see you, J. Randle.
Before the season started, I had a gut feeling that LeBron and the Lakers may miss Randle. Still, letting Randle walk is an easy price to pay for landing The King. Randle only took 45 treys last season, and emphasized being the most efficient player he could be. It worked. He shot 55 percent from the floor last year, and had a 60 percent true shooting percentage.
Will this gamble work out? Randle turned his career narrative around last year, and became a covetable asset. He did so by taking shots near the paint; something he excels in. Will this new offensive mindset alter Randle’s game for better or worse? Take a look at his 3-point shots from his first game of the year and decide for yourself.
During his first made 3-pointer, Randle doesn’t look pretty. His left foot flares forward, the ball dips too low, and I don’t know what the hell his right (non-shooting) hand is doing. But, the ball goes in.
On to 3-pointer number two. In this clip, Randle again dips the ball too low. Do not be too alarmed by his body positioning, however. Most lefty shooters point their body this way during jump shots. If you don’t believe me, then watch some IT clips.
The verdict? It isn’t pretty, but Randle made half of his four 3-point attempts. Regardless of his form, Randle has an undeniable touch. Expect him to shoot around 32-34 percent from deep this year but on less than 4 attempts per game. Yet, if he slumps at any point, do not be alarmed if Randle abandons his 3-point shot altogether.
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.
Now that LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a long term rebuilding process ahead of them. The quickest way to turn the franchise around is to turn their older proven players into young players and draft picks. While the Cavaliers have a lot of players on the roster with negative trade value, the two players they have with plus trade value is Kevin Love and Kyle Korver.
Kevin Love to Pacers for Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison, future first-round pick.
When many expected the Pacers to be tanking for the number one draft pick last season, they surprised everyone and finished with the number five seed in the playoffs with a 48-34 record, while pushing the Cavaliers in a seven game series. Victor Oladipo made his first all star appearance and the team played well around him. However, the Cavaliers took him out in their playoff match up and forced the roles players to try and beat them. Adding Love would give the Pacers a second scoring option and a dangerous pick and pop game with Oladipo.
Ideally the Cavaliers would like to avoid any bad long term contracts but still bring in veterans that can help the team. Both Young and Collison are in the final year of their respective deals and can help the team this season. Any trade involving Love should return the Cavaliers a first round pick. Like many expect, if the Cavaliers are clearly out of the playoff picture by the trade deadline, they could unload both Young and Collison to playoff contenders or teams looking to remove bad contracts in exchange for more draft picks.
Kyle Korver to the 76ers for Jerryd Bayless, future second-round pick.
After having a successful season last year, the 76ers are determined to build off of that and make a run at the finals. After losing Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova in free agency they need to add shooters to space the floor for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Korver is former 76er who could easily fill Belinelli’s role in the rotation, no problem. Bayless is out of the rotation and the 76ers have plenty of future second round picks they can afford to give up to add an excellent shooter.
Like Korver, Bayless is on an expiring contract and the Cavaliers could look to buy him out. Korver has value around the league but he has limited value for the Cavaliers. The minutes Korver would be playing could go to younger players. Unlike any trade for Love, the Cavaliers won’t get back much draft capital for Korver but a future second round pick for a team that lacks youth and draft picks is a solid return for a 37 year old player.
Kyle Korver to the Wizards for Jason Smith, Jodie Meeks, future second-round pick.
Much like the 76ers, a large part of the Wizards offense is based on spacing the floor with three point shooting. Otto Porter and Bradley Beal are two of the better three point shooters in the league but with John Wall, the Wizards can never have enough shooters. Meeks was suppose to help provide shooting but last year he had a down season and is suspended for the first 19 games of the 2018-2019 season. Like a lot of teams in the eastern conference, the Wizards view the conference wide open and are pushing all the chips in. Adding Korver at the cost of a second round pick and two players out of the rotation is a steal for the Wizards.
For the Cavaliers this deal is similar to the one with the 76ers in terms of return value. Both Meeks and Smith are in the last year of their respective deals and would be buyout candidates. Their combined salary is a tad less than Bayless’ contract so the Cavaliers might favor this deal over the 76ers one in order to save some money. Korver should fetch the Cavaliers a second round pick and getting back expiring contracts makes the deal all the better.
Kevin Love to Thunder for Carmelo Anthony, Terrance Ferguson, two future second-round picks.
Obviously this would be a huge shocker if it happens. Anthony has a no trade clause he would have to waive in order to be traded but if the Cavaliers promise to buy him out he will waive it. The Thunder have a payroll with the luxury tax penalty of over $300 million dollars. If they can trade Anthony for nothing, they could save about $100 million dollars. However, if the Thunder want to add a third star player, using Anthony’s contract is the best way to do so. The Thunder don’t have a first round pick they can trade till 2022 so they would have to get creative in their negotiations.
In any Love trade, the Cavaliers would want back a future first round pick. However, with the Thunder’s limited future draft picks the Cavaliers could accept last year’s first round pick, Ferguson and a pair of second round picks. While it’s not an ideal package, moving Love to the western conference would be preferred. The Cavaliers could give Ferguson the minutes he needs to develop that he isn’t getting in Oklahoma City. Swallowing Anthony’s almost $28 million dollar salary is tough but the Cavaliers are better offer doing that and getting back assets verse keeping Love on a rebuilding team.
J.R. Smith to the Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca, Emeka Okafor, Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins.
The truth is no one wants Smith, well maybe that’s not true. The Pelicans have gone under a major transformation this offseason with the loss of DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo in free agency while adding Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton. However, the Pelicans have yet to add some scoring along the wing. While Smith is a headache at times, he can score and shoot. While Smith is owed $15.7 million dollars next season, the Pelicans can save about $11.8 million dollars if they waive him before June 29th.
The Cavaliers would love to move on from Smith at the cost of the nothing. All four players the Pelicans would send back in the trade are either entering a contract year (Ajinca and Miller) or have non-guaranteed contracts (Okafor and Liggins). The Cavaliers can waive the non-guaranteed contracts of Okafor and Liggins immediately, while they could try to buy out Ajinca. Keeping Miller would be a solid addition for the Cavaliers. Miller is a good wing defender and shot a career high 41% from three last season. For the Cavaliers to dump Smith without taking back any long term salary is a perfect trade for them.
In the end, with James moving on to Los Angeles the Cavaliers are facing a long rebuilding process. Any player on the roster other than Collin Sexton is reportedly available for trade and the Cavaliers should move anyone else for young players and draft picks in order to jump start the rebuilding process.
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!
While LeBron James and Paul George grab all the headlines for this year’s free agency frenzy, DeMarcus Cousins is an interesting name to watch. Coming off a torn Achilles injury that he suffered in January, Cousins might have a problem securing a long-term contract at the maximum value.
Based off the reported $101 million dollar cap figured for the 2018-2019 season, Cousins’ maximum starting salary is $30.3 million dollars in the first year. There are several teams who could create the cap space in order to sign him to a max deal. However, many of them aren’t likely suitors for him, forcing him either to return to the Pelicans on their terms or work out a sign-and-trade.
Sacramento Kings & Philadelphia 76ers
For obvious reasons, neither of these teams will bring in Cousins. There is obviously bad blood between the Kings organization and Cousins. While the 76ers have no need for Cousins as Joel Embiid is entering the first year of his new contract.
Los Angeles Lakers
They aren’t likely to sign Cousins given their focus on LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Even if they strike out on all three, they will likely save their cap space for next summer’s free agency class.
The drafting of Wendell Carter Jr. combined with Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez, there simply isn’t a need for Cousins. Instead the Bulls are likely to use their cap space to re-sign Zach LaVine and take on bad contracts via trade in order to acquire more draft picks.
In total rebuild mode, the Hawks have no plans to sign Cousins. They are reportedly planning on using their cap space to take on bad contracts in exchange for draft picks.
There was a chance that the Pacers would sign Cousins but with Thaddeus Young opting into his deal for the 2018-2019 season, and with the report that the Pacers plan to target Magic restricted free agent Aaron Gordon with a max offer; the Pacers aren’t an option for Cousins anymore.
Many expected the Mavericks to be the favorite to sign Cousins. However, they have turned their focus to DeAndre Jordan. Assuming Jordan ends up in Dallas on July 1st, Cousins will have one less suitor.
According to reports, Cousins is likely to return to the Pelicans on a two-year deal. Given the lack of other free agent options, this may be the best spot for Cousins. Things could fall apart if Cousins is determined to get a max value deal and the Pelicans don’t want to risk that kind of money given the Achilles injury. This would leave Cousins forced to find a team willing to do a sign-and-trade with the Pelicans.
Potential Trade: Gordon Hayward for Cousins.
Reportedly, the Celtics have had talks with the Spurs to trade for Kawhi Leonard but refuse to trade Jaylen Brown or Jason Tatum in the deal. The Celtics view them as future superstars and want to keep both. In order to reach their ceilings, both will need plenty of playing time. That means Hayward could be on his way out of town. If the Celtics want to play Al Horford more at power toward this season, they could convince the Pelicans to swap Hayward for Cousins. The Pelicans need a wing scorer and could throw out a line-up of Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, Hayward, Nikola Mirotic, and Anthony Davis. While the Celtics could roll out a line-up that stacks up to the Warriors with Kyrie Irving, Brown, Tatum, Horford, and Cousins.
Potential Trade: Otto Porter Jr., Jason Smith, Jodie Meeks, future first-round pick for Cousins.
After the Wizards traded Marcin Gortat away, the team is clearly not done re-making the center position. Rumors have been out there that John Wall wants to play with Cousins again after their time at Kentucky. While the Wizards are over the cap and luxury tax, which will make a sign-and-trade very difficult, they could make it happen. Much like in the Celtics deal, the Wizards could offer the Pelicans a wing player with 3&D ability in Porter and two serviceable veterans on expiring contracts. Since Hayward is clearly a better player than Porter is, the Wizards would have to offer a future first-round pick in the deal as well. If LeBron James goes to the Western Conference, a Wizards team with a trio of Wall, Bradley Beal and a healthy Cousins should be one of the favorites to come out of the east.
Cousins could try to work out a sign-and-trade somewhere else but the Celtics and Wizards are the two teams that could offer the best packages back to the Pelicans. Cousins could take a mid-level exception somewhere if the Pelicans won’t facilitate a sign-and-trade, but that has almost no chance of happening.
In the end, the odds are that Cousins re-signs with the Pelicans on a short-term max money deal, allowing both parties to see how Cousins bounces back from the Achilles injury while allowing him to sign a long-term deal in a year or two. However, the Wizards should be viewed as a dark horse team that could work out a sign-and-trade deal to pair up Cousins with his Kentucky teammate Wall as the team is at a breaking point.
Check out Free Agent Deep Dive: Boogie Cousins here!
With all this LeBron and Kawhi drama going on, Boogie Cousins is sitting somewhere like “Uh Guys, remember me? I’m pretty good and also a free agent…”
Cousins’ next deal (and injury recovery) would be the biggest story of the summer if it weren’t for those two pesky forwards. I know some are worried about Boogie’s achilles tear. After all, it has been well reported that people do not usually return to their former self after an injury like this. Check out what The Ringer had to say about it:
Do not fret, I have done some research and am here to reassure you that signing Cousins to the max will be a good deal. In fact, I have five good reasons.
1. The Pre-Injury Season Was Unbelievable
Allow me to roll off some statistics that were all career highs for Boogie:
Stocks (3.2, tied)
There was some legitimate MVP talk for Cousins before he went down with injury. The Pelicans were doing just fine in the West and starting to click. Not only did it seem as though Boogie learned to coexist with AD but, it appeared as though he was reaching peak form. His efficiency was the highest we have ever seen.
Pretend Cousins returns as only 85% of the player he once was, it would still be an excellent player. Look at the stats and feel encouraged that he was trending north towards more efficient basketball.
2. Aging Well
While he is still only 27-years-old, Boogie has been aging the way you would want a monstrosity of a center to age.
This is important to monitor as his achilles tear will certainly impact part of his game. Still, this year’s stats show that an achilles tear may not have as large as an impact as once thought. Boogie has relied less on his burst than ever before, and his shot selection shows it.
Woah. Look at all the lines and arrows and highlighting. Let me explain this to you. This year Boogie took 37% of his shots from 0-3 feet and 34% of his shots from three. More importantly; however, is how he has taken less mid-range and short-range shots. Cousins takes only 4.1% of his shots from 10-16 feet, 6.9% of his shots from 16 ❤ feet, and 17% of his shots from 3-10 feet. Overall, Cousins is spending more time right at the rim or behind the arc, and less time shooting from spots that provide the least value.
How does this mesh with his ruptured achilles, and therefore presumable lack of burst?
Cousins has maximized his point value by taking shots from the most efficient spots on the court. This will neutralize the physical limitations his achilles tear will have on his game. Boogie also spends a lot of time with the ball in his hands. In fact, Cousins had the ball in his hands for 2.59 seconds on average, second for the center position behind Julius Randle. What does this mean? Cousins does not rely heavily on things that require much burst, such as alley-oops, backdoor cuts, and pindown actions. He is a methodic, ball handling big who has a style of play an achilles tear may not disrupt.
3. Achilles Tear? Boogie Can’t Jump Anyways
Surely, this tear will limit Boogie’s verticality. His ability to elevate may shrink by 3-4 inches. Fortunately, this will not be a big factor for Cousins, as he can’t jump anyways!
Cousins had one of the worst max verts for centers in combine history (27.5) inches. FiveThirtyEight reported that Cousins is always among league leaders in players getting blocked. When asked about it, Cousins responded that it was “because I can’t jump.”
So here is the point. Boogie’s verticality was a negative factor for him before the injury. Will potentially losing a few inches on his vertical really have a major impact on this non-jumper? I think not.
4. Style of Play Mitigates the Impact of an Achilles Tear
Ah, it is finally time to get into the meat and potatoes of this discussion. Who is Demarcus Cousins? What is his style of play?
Boogie has never relied on quickness to score buckets. Contrarily, he has relied on bullying his opponents with his size. What makes him special is not his quick feet but, his nimble feet. Trust me, there is a huge difference. Cousins moves like a ballerina from someone his size. Watch him utilize his strength and nimble feet in this gif.
Does he blow by anyone? Nope. Instead, he actually slows down to use a nifty crossover to get past Denzel Valentine. Then he initiates contact with Bobby Portis, which creates the separation he needs to get his shot off, despite having limited lift. The guy is a physical beast who moves like Jerry Rice. An achilles tear will take away from his quickness; however, it won’t stop plays like this from punishing opponents repeatedly.
When he has a favorable mismatch, Cousins will pick on the little guy until he gets a good shot. Check out him flinging around the 210 pound, muscular David Nwaba like he’s a 6th grader. After watching the film, I was surprised at how often Cousins plays bully ball. Yet, he has the soft touch to make opponents pay.
Here is one more for you. Does Cousins simply blow by Nurkic? Negative. He simply bumps him out of the way, ignoring the fact that Nurkic is literally 280 pounds! Would a torn achilles disallow Boogie from doing this against just about every other center in the league?
As Cousins ages, he will rely more on the DHO (dribble handoff) game. He does this a bunch, as it utilizes his big frame for screen setting. Cousins has turned into a masterful popper on the DHO, and buries sagging defenders from beyond the arc. This part of his game should be unaffected from the injury.
5. What other Options do the Pelicans Have?
I know. I hate this rationale too. But, it is a fair question to ask.
New Orleans has not been known for attracting too many free agents. To acquire talent, they have traded for their other stars or starters (Boogie, Holiday, Mirotic.) As GM Daryl Morey is fond of talking about, teams must up their risk profile to beat the Warriors. The NBA is all about acquiring top-end talent; talent that can take you to the finals. If not Boogie, then who?
At his best, Cousins is an MVP candidate, All-NBA center and top-10 player in this league. He is a matchup nightmare for teams, and when engaged, even plays a little defense. His offense is good enough that it makes up for his defensive deficiencies, allowing coaches to leave him on the court versus small lineups. We will have to wait and see if his leash gets shortened as teams single him out during postseason PnRs.
The injury concern is a reasonable aspect to consider. I get it. Yet, Boogie’s game has never relied heavily on a quick first step and burst, something an achilles tear seems to impact the most. Yes, defensively he will probably get even worse. Thankfully, he has Rondo, Holiday and AD to help him through this part of his game.
Give my man the max. It is a risk, but one that New Orleans has to take. Their window is now. They do not have any promising young assets, picks or future cap space. Place your trust in perhaps the most untrustable man in basketball.He’ll be good for it.
For every John Wall, there is a Marquis Teague. For every DeMarcus Cousins, there is a Daniel Orton. For every Devin Booker, there is a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
When it comes to John Calipari, we have all seen the documentaries, read the articles, listened to the early morning ESPN rants. Say what you want about the man, but he is undoubtedly the best recruiter to ever do it. But in the words of my favorite meme: “Y tho?” Calipari gets it. He knows that these high school studs have had shady characters whispering hoop dreams into their ears ever since 9th grade. So, why not embrace the one-and-done mentality. Coach Cal did/does just this, and it has resulted in some of the most heralded recruiting classes in history.
I. The Sales Pitch
Spend one year at UK, then go to the NBA.
Unquestionably, this is the sales pitch Calipari throws at his recruits. The dude is not exactly coy about it, either. But, does it hold merit? Can he turn these high school phenoms into NBA stars? Can he even turn them into NBA starters? Can he *gulp* even turn them into NBA players at all?
The numbers tell a tricky tale. I looked at every college-player-turned-pro that Calipari has brought in since his tenure at Kentucky began. All in all, 32 of his players have played in the NBA since Cal convinced them to become a Wildcat. For what it’s worth, these guys were top recruits. 20 of these 32 recruits were listed in the top ten for their class, according to ESPN’s rankings. Furthermore, 10 of the 32 were in the top five! So, how did their NBA careers pan out?
II. The Results
The classes from 2010 to 2017 churned out exactly 4 All-Stars (Wall, Boogie, KAT, AD). Devin Booker and Jamal Murray look primed for future bids, while it is still too early to make a call on guys like Fox, Randle, Monk and Bam. Perhaps more importantly, let’s figure out how many of these players are busts. Personally, I believe bust to be a subjective term but, one that is relative to draft position. For example, Kidd-Gilchrist is a bust. He was drafted second overall and it’s time to call a spade a spade. He has career averages of 9, 6 and 1, while shooting 47% from the field and hitting literally 0.1 threes per game. He isn’t the defensive menace people expected him to be either. Is this what Charlotte thought they were getting when they drafted him second, after Anthony Davis?
How many other busts are there and who are they? I counted six. In order of draft class, they are, Orton, Knight, MKG, Teague, Goodwin and Young. Plain and simple, these guys either busted their way out of the league or, have massively underproduced. In other words, if redrafts were happening for each respective class only 1 of these players (MKG) would be taken in the top 20!
What about names like Bledsoe and Randle? I broke this list down into people who are not All-Stars (yet), but still NBA caliber players. They are the two aforementioned players as well as Kanter, Noel, Lyles, Booker, Murray, Skal, Fox, Monk and Bam. Notice that these hoopers all declared when they were freshman…
III. The Pattern
So what do we make of this list? Things clear up when observing what year of college these players were in when they were drafted. Every single All-Star left as a freshman. Intriguingly enough, every player I labeled a “bust” also left after their freshman campaign. Is there a reason for this? In back-to-back-to-back years, John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague were all brought into UK. They were each an ESPN top 10 recruit and with the exception of Knight, the top point guard in their class (Knight was second only to that Irving guy). Do you think that Brandon Knight commits to UK if he believes John Wall is sticking around another year? Me neither. But here’s another question. Do you think Knight would have returned for his sophomore year if Teague had never committed to UK? There is some element of pressure for these top recruits to turn pro after one year because, like it or not, some other NBA-worthy stud is coming for your spot next year.
Don’t believe me? Then let’s look at the stretch of centers who ran through Kentucky from 2010 to 2017.
– 2009: Boogie Cousins and Daniel Orton (ESPN 4th and 13th overall recruit)
– 2010: Enes Kanter (23rd)
– 2011: Anthony Davis (1st)
– 2012: Nerlens Noel and Willy Cauley-Stein (1st and 40th)
– 2013: Dakari Johnson (7th)
– 2014: Karl Anthony-Towns (9th)
– 2015: Skal Labissiere and Isaac Humphries (2nd and 49th)
– 2016: Bam Adebayo (5th)
– 2017: Nic Richards (17th)
Good luck finding playing time if you stick around an extra year.
IV. The Freshman-Sophomore Theory
Out of every center on that list, Cauley-Stein is the only one who stayed multiple years at UK and has experienced NBA success. Johnson stayed a few years and has played a total of 30 games in the NBA, all coming this year. Humphries hasn’t even sniffed the league. Look at some guys who may have felt pressured to leave prematurely. Orton may have heard the hype from Enes Kanter (who ironically did not play at UK) and decided to turn pro. Noel would have had to compete with both WCS and Johnson for minutes. Skal knew that Bam was coming to town. Conversely, Bam surely was aware that Richards, as well as other talented frontcourt players, would soon be wearing Wildcat blue.
Finally, let’s look at everyone UK player that has declared for the NBA draft. This time, however, we will look through a special lens and only look at players who were non-freshman when they left. The list:
– 2012: Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb (18th and 42nd pick)
– 2015: WCS, the Harrison Twins and Johnson (6th, 44th, UD and 48th)
– 2016: Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress (34th and UD)
– 2017: Isaiah Briscoe and Isaac Humphries (UD and UD)
Only two of these players are seeing meaningful minutes in today’s game (Ulis and WCS.) Sure, Andrew Harrison has started games for the Grizzlies this year; however, let’s not kid ourselves. The only players who currently deserve time in the Association are Ulis and Cauley-Stein. Jones flamed out, while Lamb, Johnson, Poythress, Briscoe, Humphries and the Harrison brothers are “cup of coffee” guys at best.
Simply put, if you want to make it in the NBA, do not stay at Kentucky past one year. But, if you are going to leave as a freshman, you better be damn good. It’s no coincidence that all 6 busts left after only a single year. Piece of advice; don’t commit to Kentucky if you are not sure you will be ready for the NBA after a single season. After all, 13 out of the 32 Calipari/Kentucky players who have declared for the draft are currently fighting for the NBA careers. That’s a 40% bust rate folks. Beware.
It’s 2018. The NBA is loaded with stars and great athletes. Some teams have multiple stars, while other teams have no stars. But, in just five short years, everything could be different, including who the top players in basketball will be. In five years LeBron James will be 38 years old, he will have slowed down by then, right? Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Russell Westbrook will all be 34 years old. James Harden will be 33 years old, and it will be time for the next generation of basketball to step in.
5. Kyrie Irving: Age in five years: 30
“Young Mamba” and “Uncle Drew.” These are just two of Kyrie Irving’s nicknames used by NBA fans around the world. Kyrie Irving is currently 25 years old, and he is averaging 24.8 PPG, 5.1 APG, and 3.7 RPG this season with the Celtics. Irving was traded from Cleveland to Boston over the summer in hopes of leading his own team to a championship. Being just 25 years old, and improving every season, Irving has the potential to turn into one of the league’s top five players. In order to get there, Irving will not only need to continue to put up points, but he will need to become an all-around player on the defensive end. When Irving is on the floor this season, the opponents hold a five-point better offensive rating than when he’s on the bench. If Irving can improve on the defensive side of the ball, he will be an even greater force to be reckoned with in the coming seasons.
4. Karl-Anthony Towns: Age in five years: 27
The first overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft is coming off of his first NBA All-Star selection in this year’s game, and it will not be his last, that’s for sure. Towns is averaging 20.4 PPG, 12.2 RPG, and 2.4 APG this season while shooting a career-best 41.4% from three-point range. Towns has helped the Wolves hold a winning record, and he is trying to lead Minnesota (without Jimmy Butler) back to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. Towns has all the potential in the world, he just needs to be better at using that potential. For example, KAT likes to have the ball in his hands, and if he doesn’t get the ball in his hands enough, he starts to take wild shots and become disengaged on defense. If Towns can learn to be more patient with the ball and find the open man when he gets double-teamed, he has the potential to be the face of the NBA in no time. Towns has the passing potential, which he shows off on the dime to Taj Gibson below, he just needs to be more patient and use that skill set.
3. Kawhi Leonard: Age in five years: 31
What a season it has been for the San Antonio Spurs and Kawhi Leonard, but not necessarily in a good way. Kawhi Leonard has played just nine games this season because of an injury, and according to several reports, tensions between him and the Spurs are growing. In all likelihood, Leonard and the Spurs will work it out. Meanwhile, all tensions aside, Leonard is already one of the best players in the NBA at 26 years old. He averaged 25.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 3.5 APG last season and was in the race for MVP. Leonard is perhaps the best two-way player in the NBA, and at just 26 years old, Leonard will keep improving like he has every season. Once Leonard gets back on the court, he will be back to his normal self, and in five years, he will be a top-five player in the NBA.
2. Anthony Davis: Age in five years: 29
My oh my. What a run it has been for Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans of late. New Orleans has won eight straight games, and they sit in the fourth spot in the Western Conference. After DeMarcus Cousins went down with an injury a little over halfway through the season, it looked like all hope was lost for the Pelicans. But, Davis put together an unforgettable month of February where he averaged 35.0 PPG, 13.0 RPG, and 1.5 APG. He was named Western Conference player of the month for February, and most importantly, he still has the Pelicans in the playoff hunt. By the way, Anthony Davis is just 24 years old. In five years, Davis will be in the prime of his career, and still destroying the competition night in and night out. More likely than not, Davis will wrap up an MVP award before his career is all said and done. Look out NBA.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo: Age in five years: 28
The Greek Freak is having his best season as a professional basketball player. However, the Milwaukee Bucks are 34-29, seventh in the Eastern Conference. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.3 PPG, 10.2 RPG, and 4.9 APG, unreal numbers for a 23-year-old. Giannis’ game continues to improve every season, and if he can add a three-point shot this offseason, he will be able to take his game and his team’s play to an entirely different level. In order to be considered the top player in the NBA in five years, Antetokounmpo will need to lead the Bucks to an NBA Finals victory, which he has the capability to do, but doesn’t have the experience yet to do it. In the coming seasons, if Antetokounmpo can continue to improve his game, we will not only be talking about where he ranks in terms of the best NBA players for that season, but his name will come up when talking about some of the best players to ever play the game.