Pascal Siakam is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. The big man can take you outside and knock it down as well as put it on the floor. Siakam relentlessly runs the floor and is a quality passer for a big.
Danny Green is just a good basketball player. He is exactly what you want in a wing for today’s brand of basketball. Perfect fit next to Lowry.
When Jonas Valančiūnas took off for that sky hook in the 2nd quarter and put it in I stood up and yelled. I love that man so much.
I didn’t like the all-bench lineups for the extended amount of time they played. Nurse might be able to get away with it in short stretches but shouldn’t look to it often.
Kyle Lowry is the BEST Point Guard in the East right now. This man is playing incredible basketball. The command he has of the offense and the leadership that is clearly on display is second to none in the conference right now at the position.
Lowry had two passes in the first quarter that were just stellar. The bounce pass to Siakam and then the touch pass to Valančiūnas.
This Raptors team does everything well. They shot 48% from the field, 40% from three and hit 85% of their free throws. They don’t have a weakness offensively.
Who’s Up: Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam
Who’s Down: Serge Ibaka
Next Up: Monday @ Bucks
You can never count out a Rick Carlisle led basketball team. They always play with great energy on both ends, are fundamentally sound, and don’t beat themselves. Whenever Toronto would pull ahead Dallas would grit their teeth and get back in it.
Luka doesn’t have elite quickness or athleticism, but this guy has poise beyond his years and his patience with the ball in his hands is already elite.
Harrison Barnes made his season debut tonight. He definitely looked a bit rusty shooting just 5-17, but he will provide a much-needed scoring presence for this team.
Wes Matthews looked like an actual all-around player again in this game. Until tonight, I wasn’t sure if he could do anything inside the three-point line anymore.
Jalen Brunson is definitely a guy. He didn’t shoot well tonight, but make no mistake about it, this 2nd round pick can play in this league.
Deandre Jordan is the ever consistent 7-foot monster. You know exactly what you are going to get from him. Tonight, he gave 18 and 15 on 50% shooting.
Dallas really played a decent game, but just could never overcome the slow start. Dennis Smith didn’t play tonight, might have been a different outcome with his electric game in the Dallas backcourt.
Confusing game all-around for Minnesota. In some ways, the Wolves stood in with Toronto on their own court, but in this league, it’s not about hanging with teams. It was a game of runs, and in the end, the Timberwolves didn’t have a big enough fourth quarter run in them.
The Timberwolves shot very well from deep. Minnesota was 15-30 from three. The entire team was hot from downtown. Butler led the way by going 4-7 from three, and Tolliver connected on 3-5 triples from deep. In the end, the three-point barrage wasn’t enough to get Minnesota the win, but it’s something to build on.
Jimmy Butler was brutal from the free-throw line. What happens in this game if Butler knocks down his foul shots? Butler was 5-10 from the line, where he is a career 83.4% shooter. Butler has recorded 20 points in each game he’s played in this season, but he could’ve done a lot more damage tonight.
Karl-Anthony Towns looked like he didn’t want to be on the court tonight. Towns has been very active so far this season, but tonight was a different story. KAT was a no-show on offense and wasn’t in the flow of the game. Towns’ offensive start to the season has to be a major concern going forward.
Josh Okogie had an interesting game. There is no doubting Okogie’s ability on the defensive end of the court. He is already an elite player on that end of the court. It’s the offensive end where Okogie is a huge question mark. Okogie started the game by shooting 0-9 from the field, forcing too many shots up. Then, Okogie caught fire, by hitting two straight threes and throwing down a massive putback. Okogie finished 4-14 from the field. If Okogie can learn when to shoot the ball and when to give it up, it will make him much more valuable to Minnesota.
This Toronto team is legit. I know, it’s been said before, but this year is truly different. With Kawhi Leonard in, and LeBron and out of the East, the Raptors have as good of a shot at going to the NBA Finals as any Eastern Conference team.
Kawhi Leonard is back. After missing almost a full year of basketball, Leonard looks like he hasn’t missed a step. Leonard recorded 35 points on 15-23 shooting from the field tonight, ridiculous efficiency. If Leonard continues to perform at this high of a level, he will definitely be in the MVP conversation at the end of the season.
Jonas Valanciunas provided a huge punch off the bench. Valanciunas recorded 16 points and 9 rebounds off the bench to lead Toronto’s bench scoring. Playing in just 20 minutes, 5 of the 9 rebounds Valanciunas grabbed were offensive rebounds.
The Raptors are the Spurs of the East. Their ball movement is unmatched. Almost everyone on their team is willing to make the extra pass. This team-centered basketball can take them very far, just ask San Antonio.
Kawhi Leonard rested tonight with the Raptors playing the second night of their back-to-back. Head coach Nick Nurse did a good job of preparing for nights without the former All-Star. In this game, Toronto went with a back-court heavy approach, relying on the likes of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanFleet. The team evidently wanted to run a portion of the offense through Serge Ibaka after his last performance, who was mostly placed into the Leonard role. The forward seemed to do well in spots, with 16 points and 9 rebounds, but also created good mismatches with well-timed switches.
Speaking of the backcourt, Fred VanFleet once again showed up greatly for the Raptors on a night they needed it. While he won’t pop out on the stat sheet, he took the ball down the court on many possessions, allowing Kyle Lowry to play off-the-ball and set up the offense in some favorable positions. The loss of Demar Derozan, who could handle both guard positions when called upon, opens the door for VanFleet to be more active as a passer and play-maker.
Another ripple effect of resting Leonard this evening was greater minutes to young players. Four of the five other forwards on the roster played above 24 minutes, and scored above 10 points. However, on the downside, the Raptors had 17 turnovers total. Many of these were untimely, resulting in 30 points off turnovers for the home team. This is expected when playing younger players, but is something Toronto will look to clean up as they plan to have additional rest nights for Kawhi Leonard.
Play of the Game: With less than 2 seconds left on the shot clock, and 14.6 left in the game, Fred VanFleet hit a incredibly tough midrange shot to essentially put the Wizards away. This pushed the Raptor lead to 4 and made it a two possession game, sealing the win.
Rebounding issues were still evident, a problem carrying over from their first game against the Heat. This can be attributed to both the loss of Dwight Howard and Ian Mahimi finding himself in foul trouble once again. In the first half, the Wizards were giving up easy points inside the paint on top of a extra handful of offensive rebounds. The team seemed to have a better grip on the issue in the second half, but there a few plays late in the 4th quarter that swung momentum in Toronto’s direction with second chance points. Washington finished with 15 less rebounds than the Raptors, but they hope that issue will naturally resolve itself with the return of Howard.
Bradley Beal passed Gilbert Arenas as the all-time franchise leader in 3 point shots made tonight. After four years of injuries hampering a promising career, Beal stepped up for the Wizards last year playing all 82 games, plus 6 in the playoffs. Gilbert Arena set the record in his 8th season, but shooting guard broke this record in his 7th season. The incredible part is, Beal could have broken it in his sixth season, had the Wizards won their series against Toronto or even extended it to game 7. Congrats to Bradley Beal!
The Wizards have found themselves ultimately snake-bitten by crazy plays with seconds left to go in both their games. After a back-breaking Kelly Olynyk putback in their last one, Washington watched Fred VanFleet crush them with a fantastic shot that gave Toronto a 4 point lead with seconds left. The team is all too familiar with these kinds of loses from last year, but the good news is- it’s only the second game of the season. The Wizards have plenty of time to learn and defend better in these crucial late game situations.
Play of the Game: With the Wizards down 12 after a poor run from their bench unit, John Wall came off the bench looking to ignite a spark on the team with only eight minutes left. The point guard drove to the basket for a contested layup, missing his shot, but Kelly Oubre Jr. flew in over Pascal Siakam for the slam and got fouled in the process. The play ignited the crowd and the team, fueling their late game run.
If you didn’t watch the Celtics/Raptors game last night then you are a fartface who deserves to be grounded for a week.
Sorry. That was my adrenaline from last night’s game talking, not the two cups of coffee I had this morning.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a Boston Celtics fan. But, I sincerely try my hardest to be unbiased when observing the game I love. The only thing worse than a partisan basketball writer is a partisan basketball writer who is a #casualfan (which is my new favorite NBATwitter hashtag, by the way.)
The Cs looked great in the first half of last night’s game, but waned in the second half. They missed the same midrange jumpers they were hitting in the first two quarters. Their effort on the glass fell back to Earth and they should not have gotten so switch-happy when defending Kawhi (Jaylen Brown did a great job, let that man do his thing!)
Yet, one tiny nugget of NBA goodness stood out to me. One play. One brief moment that makes you say, “Oh, if they nail down this set, then they could have something dangerous here.”
So, what is the set I’m talking about?
Play – Horns Give
1. Al Horford: Passing big man extraordinaire who can roll for lobs or pop for treys.
2. Kyrie Irving: Goes by “Uncle Drew,” one of the best at-rim finishers in the game, sniper.
3. Gordon Hayward: Underrated wing who can beat you multiples ways one-on-one.
Brad Stevens waited until the second quarter to break out this bad boy. But do not be fooled, the Celtics have been working variations of this play for a while now. So, what happened?
1. The pass: In most horns sets, the ballhandler uses the high screener for a pick and roll. Not today. Kyrie places a nice, high pass to Horford on the right elbow.
2. The movement: After the pass, Kyrie cuts left to use another high screen from Hayward, this time on the left elbow.
3. The fake: Except, Kyrie does not really use this screen, because Hayward never sets it. Hayward feigns the screen and cuts to the right block instead.
4. The result: The tall Horford simply passes over his defender to get Hayward the ball down low. Hayward makes a quick pivot and spins away for an 8-foot jumper over Kawhi. Boom.
Why is this so special?
This trio of personnel is more than incredibly talented, they are incredibly multifaceted.
Horford can pop to shoot threes, or roll for a lob to the hoop. Either way, Serge Ibaka must stay draped over him. This opens up the floor. Horford is also one of, if not the best, passing big man in the game. In this play, he can be used as the screener, scorer, or passer, making him a triple threat.
Irving is one of the most underrated players in the League when moving off the ball. Last season, Irving finished in the 81st percentile for off-ball movement, scoring 1.15 Points Per Possession (PPP.) Given his deep range, Irving must be stuck to defensively as well.
Hayward is the key, however. In his last full season (2016-17) Hayward finished better than both Lebron and KD in field goal percentage in the post. During that same year he shot 39 percent on catch and shoot 3-pointers, making his popability a threat. What is most special, though is Hayward’s ability to cut.
During the 2016-17 season, Hayward finished in the 84th percentile on cuts. He scored a stupidly efficient 1.44 PPP during that time as well. The dude can kill you in several ways when involved in these types of sets.
What will we see going forward?
During last year’s preseason, we saw some of this action being tested out. This horns set started the same way. Irving begins by passing to Horford at the elbow. Then he cuts left, but this time Hayward does not fake a screen. Instead, he comes to get a dribble handoff (DHO) from Horford.
Hayward drives then kicks the ball back out to Horford, who popped. Horford, being the brilliant facilitator he is, finds Kyrie in a gap down low, and Kyrie drains the jumper. Watch below.
In this next clip, the trio involved is Hayward, Terry Rozier and Aron Baynes. Use your imagination to swap Irving for Rozier and Horford for Baynes.
This time, Hayward gets the give. Rozier, in the role of Irving, cuts to the hoop after he makes the pass to Hayward. Next, Baynes screens for Hayward and rolls to the hoop. By doing this, Baynes sucks the defense towards the rim, and allows Hayward to drain an easy pull up J.
We’re only two games into the season, but Hayward has looked lethal on his pull ups. And guess what? Last season, Irving scored a wild 1.58 PPP on cuts, which placed him in the 95th percentile. Oh, and Horford shot 41 percent on catch and shoot triples last year.
So, what’s the ultimate point I am trying to get across? The Celtics will use this play to peak effectiveness because each variety of it results in a high percentage shot. Maybe it will be Hayward taking a pull up. Or Kyrie cutting to the hoop. Or Horford pops for a 3-pointer.
Regardless, NBA defenses should start planning for this play now, because it will only get better with practice.
The starting lineup does not seem to be hitting their stride- quite yet. By both the starters and bench alike, there is some hesitation and some unnecessary passing done by both units. Kyrie is not known for his facilitation and setting others up. A score-first point guard is an asset when he is hitting his shots, but when cold, can bring an offense down tremendously. However, it is only the second game of the season and the chemistry presumably will be drastically better come late in the year.
Throughout the game, and especially in the second half, it seemed the Celtics struggled with how to defend the Leonard-led offense. This comes with the aforementioned chemistry issues, but both placing Tatum on him and double-teams did not seem to slow him down considerably. Leonard makes opportunities for everyone on the court, instead of previous Raptors teams where it was a back-court heavy approach, and this may be a problem for the Celtics.
Boston brought themselves very close in the end but ultimately was the reason for their demise. Jayson Tatum picked up two charging fouls against Kyle Lowry, and the Celtics offense began to miss shots late. The Raptors took advantage of the momentum created as a result, and made key shots that kept both Boston out of it and the crowd into it.
Play of the Game: With 2:53 left in the game, Kyrie Irving weaved through the defense towards the paint only to pass it behind him to a wide-open Al Horford. The center, at the top of the key, drained the clutch three to bring the team within two.
Serge Ibaka had one of his best games in recent memory. He seems to gel well with his new role with the team, looking very comfortable on the court. Ibaka scored 21 tonight, but provided a presence defensively and remained active on the boards. Leonard missed a two-pointer late that Ibaka rose up for a putback to keep the Raptors ahead.
The Raptors lack a real center on the roster, splitting time between
Jonas Valanciunas and Pascal Siakam. It seems to still be working well for Toronto, as they still remain active on the boards and do not allow an excessive amount of points in the paint. This is especially true against a team like Boston, who lacks a strong, physical center- with Horford being known more as a scorer.
The acquisitions of both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have already proven to be great for this Raptors team. Leonard, obviously, allows for the team to run a more efficient style then they have ran in previous years. He makes his teammates better, and that includes the other former San Antonio player. Danny Green thrives off the opportunities given to him within the offense, and both bring a championship mentality to the Toronto locker room.
Play of the Game: With 1:14 left in the game, Jayson Tatum drove hard to the basket being pursued by both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Tatum threw hit shot up, only to be blocked hard by both Raptors players, to kill any momentum Boston was creating late.
Get your jokes in now and laugh while you can because the fiery curse surrounding the Toronto Raptors is about to be extinguished. In recent years they have been a laughingstock and the butt of many jokes because of their routine postseason collapses, but for the 2018-19 season the Toronto Raptors will reign supreme at the top of the food chain in the Eastern Conference. The acquisitions made by the Raptors this off-season have made them more versatile, athletic and most importantly, more talented.
Many of you are thinking Boston is the clear favorite in the East or maybe even Philly, but it should be Toronto. They are coming off a 59 win season while being the only team in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating. Philly and Boston were both in the top five for defensive rating as well, but neither of these teams finished in the top 10 in offense. Toronto was the most balanced team in the NBA last regular season and upgraded into an even stronger monster this off-season.
The acquisitions of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green will transform what is already an elite defense into an impregnable fortress. Adding the best perimeter defender in basketball to a team already 5th in defensive rating is incredible and Danny Green is a great defender in his own right. Wings like Leonard, Green, OG, Miles, and Powell, can guard multiple positions on the perimeter allowing the Raptors defense to be able to switch with ease.
DeRozan was a great player for this franchise, but if Kawhi Leonard buys in this season no one would deny he is a vast upgrade over DeRozan. He is a two time DPOY and Finals MVP that brings a tremendous level of playoff success to a team in desperate need of it. A culture change was needed in Toronto and they went all in on that change this summer with the Kawhi trade and parting ways with long time head coach Dwane Casey. Next postseason, Toronto enters with three things they didn’t have last year. Their kryptonite is gone now that LeBron has moved to LA. No longer will we see the Raptors melt when that particular man walks into the room. Second, the Raptors have a new culture. With a new head coach and new players being brought in, this Raptors team won’t have quite the same baggage as the teams of the past. And lastly, they will enter every series with that particular series’ best player. Having the best player in the series can make up for many deficiencies elsewhere and Toronto will already be the most efficient and well balanced team in their conference. With the move of LeBron, a culture change, and the best player, this is a team ready to ascend as the team to beat next year in the Eastern Conference.
This is it. We can do this, ladies and gentlemen. Free agency is winding down, the NBA draft has been done for what seems like ages, and summer league is wrapping up as well.
Now more than ever, we need thought provoking NBA content. Well, say no more fam.
1. Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young
When I first glanced at this roster, I threw up a little in my mouth. But then I took a deep breath, dry heaved some more and decided to look again. Things aren’t as bleak as they seem.
Trae Young, John Collins, Taurean Prince, Kevin Huerter. The Hawks have the start of something promising or at the very least, intriguing. Is anyone on this roster truly untouchable? Probably not. Still, with management trading back and still drafting Trae Young, all signs point to him as being the least likely to be traded.
2. Boston Celtics – Jayson Tatum
The rookie standout is the obvious answer here. Do the Celtics want to trade any of their core? Nope. Still, I cannot imagine Danny Ainge trading Tatum for any realistic option out there right now. (Anthony Davis cannot come to the Cs via a DPE rule.)
Tatum’s duel with LeBron in the game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final is something we could see in a 30 for 30 one day. The kid is that special.
3. Brooklyn Nets – Jarrett Allen
Just when I thought I was done throwing up…
All jokes aside, the Nets are finally headed in the right direction. They own their future picks and have acquired then developed some good prospects. Spencer Dinwiddie revived his career in Brooklyn, and other reclamation projects await.
Jarrett Allen has looked like a good gamble so far. There is a reason he only played 20 minutes per game last year but, his per-36 minutes suggest a bright future lies ahead.
So this is the question: What makes Miles Bridges more untradable than Malik Monk?
Monk had a disappointing rookie season. Sure, he showed flashes during the last month or so of the season. Yet, Monk proved to be more of a project than what scouts originally thought.
Bridges may not project as the safer long term prospect however, he has a two-way ceiling higher than Monk’s. Offensively, Bridges looks to be equally as dynamic as Monk, despite these two having different skill sets. It is on the defensive side of the ball where Bridges separates himself, as he has the potential to defend four positions on the court.
5. Chicago Bulls – Wendell Carter Jr.
I struggled with this selection as well. Lauri Markkanen set rookie records for three-pointers last year. Plus, Coach Hoiberg ran a bunch of the offense through him, something that displayed Markkanen’s playmaking ability. So why did I side with Carter Jr here?
Lauri Markkanen may learn NBA defensive spacing but, he simply lacks to physical tools to be an effective two-way player. With the game getting quicker, I can imagine future playoff scenarios where Markkanen gets played off of the court. Who does Markkanen guard when a team like the Sixers trots out Embiid, Simmons, Redick, Fultz and Covington. Carter Jr won’t ever get played off of the court. His three-point stroke and playmaking look to be just as good as Markkanen’s as well.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers – Collin Sexton
Has anyone made an “I wanna Sexton you up” meme yet? No? Great.
Cleveland has players that are the opposite of untouchable. They should be looking to gain value for Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and others. Yet, Sexton remains untouchable. The former Alabama guard is a locker room blessing. Sexton can reset the culture in Cleveland while becoming their point guard of the future. Cedi Osman was in contention here as well.
7. Detroit Pistons – Andre Drummond
If I were the GM of the Detroit Pistons, Andre Drummond would not be untouchable. That does mean I would be looking to unload him however, I prefer my centers to be able to switch pick and rolls, as well as space the court. Yet, Drummond is probably the most unlikely player Detroit is willing to part with.
Blake Griffin was a Stan Van Gundy guy, not someone new management particularly wanted. I am not suggesting his trade value is high enough to warrant a move but, crazier things have happened. This summer, Drummond has posted videos on his Instagram account draining threes. Perhaps he will bring this skill to the Pistons this year, and truly earn this hypothetical untouchable title.
8. Indiana Pacers – Victor Oladipo
I won’t get into too much detail about this because Josh Eberly of HOOPmag already did it for me:
Perimeter players in the 3PT era, 25 or under to be All-Defense 1st & All-NBA in the same year:
Victor Oladipo Kawhi Leonard Paul George Chris Paul LeBron James Ron Artest Kobe Bryant Jason Kidd Gary Payton Michael Jordan Sidney Moncrief Dennis Johnson
Why not first time All-Star and former All-NBAer Goran Dragic? Dragic can opt out of his contract after next season and will be a 33-year-old point guard. If anything, Miami should be tryingto ship Dragic off to a fringe contender looking for that next piece.
Bam Adebayo came to mind here but, paint protecting rim runners are becoming easier and easier to find nowadays. 24-year-old defensive wings who drain 37% of their threes and hit 45% from the field are not easy to find, however. Throw in Richardson’s cheap contract and Miami has a piece they should hold onto.
10. Milwaukee Bucks – Giannia Antetokounmpo
Ask Tim Hardaway Jr to explain this one.
11. New York Knicks – Kristaps Porzingis
Want to know how many NBA players shot 39% from deep last year while also blocking 2.4 shots per game? One. Don’t overthink this one, people. Kevin Knox will be an awesome player and is on a cheap deal. Frankie Smokes is already an elite perimeter defender with promising offensive development. Still, KP is the way to go here.
12. Orlando Magic – Mo Bamba
Rookies seem to be dominating this list, and I do not know if I am comfortable with that.
Aaron Gordon took a step forward with his three-point shooting ability last season yet, he still has so much more to develop if he wants to truly take advantage of his elite athleticism. With both Bamba and Jonathan Isaac looking great in summer league, I would move off of Gordon for a top-20 pick.
Jonathan Isaac has shown promise lately however, he does not have the ceiling that Bamba has. Bamba is the most boom or bust player of this bunch, but Orlando needs a star and Bamba is worth making untouchable.
13. Philadelphia 76ers – Ben Simmons
Let the debate begin!
I love Embiid’s game and potential. In my opinion, he has a higher ceiling than Simmons. Embiid could be an MVP and DPOY winner. Yet, I like my untouchable players to be on the court. Out of 328 possible regular season games, Embiid has played 94 of them. Folks, he has only played in 28 percent of his games. Unfortunately, 7’1″, 260 lbs centers tend to progress towards injuries, not away from them.
Ben Simmons has an MVP ceiling as well. At one point during his career he will be the best passer in the game. Defensively, he can be elite too. Simmons has all the tools to be transcendent and a gambling man will bet that Simmons will find a way to fix that jumper. Factor in his health, and Simmons is my pick here, although I would not trade either.
14. Toronto Raptors – No one
Why should anyone on this roster be untouchable? Toronto is at a crossroads. With LeBron out of the East, they need to take a risk and go all in.
I have been a fan of the “DeMar for Kawhi” fake trades. Kawhi is simply a better player than DeMar DeRozan and would raise Toronto’s chances of winning. If the team can package Lowry and other assets for an upgrade, do it. Could they need to sell off OG and other young prospects for an experienced difference maker? Go for it.
If not now, when? Toronto has a very small window to win. If there is a move out there that makes them better for even one season, they must do it.
15. Washington Wizards – Bradley Beal
Surprised you, right?
Bradley Beal had a better year than John Wall last year, straight up.
I will take Beal’s numbers here over Wall’s any day of the week. Plus, Washington should be looking to move off of Wall’s contract. John Wall will be paid $37 million dollars in 2019-2020. Compare that to Beal who will be making $10 million less! Remember when I was throwing up earlier…
…John Wall will be making $43 million when he is 31-years-old! That type of money cripples franchises from making other important acquisitions. The point guard position is the saturated one in the game today, making Wall expendable in the long term. Bradley Beal is the guy to hang onto.
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!
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.