Karl-Anthony Towns’ foul trouble hurt Minnesota. Towns was in foul trouble all night for Minnesota. Gorgui played well while Towns sat, but Towns is obviously the better player. The Wolves struggled with Aldridge all night and having KAT in foul trouble didn’t help the Wolves in that aspect.
Wiggins had lots of positives, but some negatives. I don’t understand what Wiggins finds so intriguing in taking long twos. It’s not a good shot, but it’s a shot Wig continues to take. However, Wiggins was engaged. He was active for most of the game and was at his best when attacking the rim and freely shooting the three.
Tolliver took one shot, and it wasn’t a three. Anthony Tolliver was brought in to shoot threes. Well, tonight, he didn’t shoot any. The Wolves need to run sets to get Tolliver looks from deep, especially when the starters are out of the game.
Wolves miss bunnies at the rim. Minnesota missed way too many short shots against San Antonio and it cost them. Butler, along with Rose and others couldn’t seem to get easy shots around the rim to fall. Hopefully it’s just the gitters of opening night, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Rose isn’t the guy the Wolves want shooting the ball at the end to tie the game. Rose was 3-12 from the field and was inconsistent all night. Despite a decent look to tie the game, the ball needs to be in Jimmy’s hands late in the game.
All in all, it was a solid opening night for Minnesota. Despite the loss, the Wolves showed fight and effort, something they didn’t show in the preseason. There is no doubt that Butler lit a fire under the team, and it was good to see everyone come out and play hard.
The Spurs aren’t going away. Despite trading Kawhi Leonard and losing multiple players to injuries, this San Antonio team is still good. DeRozan led the Spurs with 28 points, scoring from everywhere.
LaMarcus Aldridge records 21 points and 19 rebounds. LMA dominated the Wolves on the glass, especially on the offensive boards, recording eight offensive rebounds.
19 offensive rebounds won the Spurs the game. San Antonio outrebounded Minnesota 19-14 on the glass and down the stretch, it showed.
San Antonio protects their home court. The Spurs don’t lose at home, and tonight was no different. The Spurs consistently have one of the best home records in the NBA each season.
Rudy Gay provided a huge punch with 18 points in just 23 minutes. Gay shot 8-12 from the field and hit a three-pointer. That, along with his seven rebounds gave San Antonio a great boost.
That noise you just heard? That was me pushing my chips on the table and making a huge bet. Yup, I am all in on Lonnie Walker IV on being the next great San Antonio Spur. In fact, he could end up squeezing his way into the Spur’s Mt. Rushmore of players.
Before you scream “WHAT ABOUT GINOBILI? OR PARKER?!” give me a chance to explain. Of course, those guys are Hall of Famers in their own rights, and deservedly occupy a place in Spur’s lore alongside Gervin, The Admiral, Duncan and others (I’ll leave Kawhi out of this, the wound is still too sensitive.) So, why am I so high on Walker?
I am going to show you a handful of videos which will delineate why he has every tool Gregg Popovich desires in a prospect.
Before I mesmerize you with clips of Walker draining both off-ball and on-ball triples, or footage of him manipulating the pick and roll, I’ll give you a tour of his skillset. Fortunately, I covered Walker extensively for this site during the draft days. You can see his whole profile here. For now, indulge me by perusing my 2-minutes-or-less scouting report on him.
We know the physical measurements. Walker stands at 6’4″ with a 6’10.5″ wingspan and owns a muscular frame which should only get stronger. His hops were among the best in his draft class. His feet are agile to hang with speedy guards. Walker has the strength and length to protect the rim as a guard, something which is en vogue in today’s game. Phew, the athletic skill set is covered. Now, onto his talent.
In college, Walker flashed a little bit of everything. Can he shoot stepback 3-pointers? Yes. Can he sidestep for triples ala J.R Smith? Yup. Can he shoot off the catch? You betcha. Pick and roll potential? Sure. Does he have court vision? Another yes.
Defensively, Walker has shown potential as well. This past NBA Summer League he blocked Caleb Swanigan like it was a routine play. He uses his wingspan to poke away balls for steals and has instincts that look to be more than promising. Walker could guard three positions on the court and evolve into a plus defender.
Like all players, Walker has weaknesses. Perhaps “concerns” is a better word. Walker has a tendency to stop the ball and despite having underrated vision, he perpetually looks to score before anything else. Can these habits be worked out? I think so. Plus, his pick and roll game revolves around him scoring the ball, and he needs to work on the facilitating aspect in that area.
Okay. Done. The 2-minutes-or-less scouting report is done.
We can now get to the juicy stuff. No one likes staring at words all day. So, I will provide some video evidence to prove Walker has superstar potential. Furthermore, I will demonstrate how his pliability as a player makes him the ultimate model Spur.
Evidence # 1 – Spacing Potential
Do you want to know the brilliance of Coach Pop’s offensive philosophy? In actuality, the man simply may not even have one. He seems to always adapt to the personnel on hand. For instance, The Spurs used to be champions of pace and space, especially when they battled the Miami Heat in recent NBA Finals. Last season, Pop stuck to his midrange guns in order to maximize and revitalize the talent of star player LaMarcus Aldridge.
The question remains, however: How will Walker fit into a system of Pop’s choosing?
Next season, Pop will most likely continue to emphasize the midrange game. After all, he just added midrange specialist and Kobe Bryant imitator DeMar DeRozan. Still, if you were to think that this means floor spacing will no longer be at a premium, you would be wrong. We need to look no further than Danny Green for proof.
In the last two seasons, Green, who plays the same position as Walker, took 62.5 percent of his shots from behind the arc. Compare that to Trevor Ariza, who took around 70 percent of his shots from deep last year as he played for the triples-hoisting Houston Rockets. Can Walker keep this pace?
The numbers indicate he can. Walker took 50.9 percent of his shots from deep. This rate doesn’t match Green’s exactly, but it is trending in the right direction. That is quite a large number of threes to take for a college hoops player. Yet, look at the film. It will show you his potential to be an off-ball floor spacer.
Below, Walker uses an off-ball screen to get open for a triple. Everything he does here is textbook. His footwork is excellent, his elevation is perfect, and he releases the ball precisely where he should.
Need more evidence. Click below and watch Walker drain catch and shoot bombs for about 45 seconds.
The Spurs will always rely on wing floor spacers, and Walker can slide right into that role. However, what if they want someone who can create their own shot?
Evidence #2 – Pick and Roll Scorer
While watching this year’s Summer League, I was impressed by Walker’s ability to score out of the pick and roll. Yes, he has not shown too much passing ability as a ball handler, but if Kawhi Leonard can get there, so can Walker. Let us not forget that the most important part of the game is putting that round thing inside of the other round thing.
The Spurs rely on the pick and roll just as much as any other team. It opens up various parts of their game. Sure, they also can deploy incredible ball-moving sequences, but the PnR game is still alive in San Antonio. Walker has shown immense talent in one aspect of it: scoring.
With Pops current offensive scheme, he will love Walker’s ability to drain midrange jumpers off of picks. Watch below for further proof.
Walker drags his man right into a behemoth of a big. Once Walker is defended by a bigger, slower player, he realizes he can bury a jumper. The sagging big defending Walker gives him this shot, and he sinks it.
Here, Walker truly impresses. His defender sticks with him and goes over the screen. Walker knows he has a step on him anyways, and decided to pull up on a dime. The rim protector is waving his arms like a dummy. The guard defending Walker contests him, but Walker is not bothered. In fact, he continues to hit the shot while getting fouled.
What frightens me the most about this (I say frighten because I am not a Spurs fan) is picturing Walker doing this in late-game situations. When 3 minutes remain in a game, teams tend to lean on their scorers to take their man off the dribble and simply get a bucket. If Walker can do this routinely, he could develop into a feared closer.
Example #3 – Cutting
When thinking of Spurs basketball, I often envision someone getting a pass from Boris Diaw for an open, backdoor layup. Despite relying on a more compact offensive court, Coach Pop will continue to looks for easy hoops. Walker has off-ball possibilities and athleticism to be the benefactor of this style of play.
When you get a chance, go watch some Walker dunk highlights. I won’t show them here, but I will show you a very Spursian Summer League play.
In this clip, Walker takes advantage of a typical Spurs set. The man with the ball has two floor spacers to his right. On the left side, a player sets a back pick for Walker. The rim protector and switch man is caught sleeping and Walker flies in for a layup. Can you picture LaMarcus Aldridge or adept passer Pau Gasol doing this? I can.
Walker’s offensive instincts in this area are appealing. Keep your eyes on him for this entire play. At points, Miami ran an NBA style horns set, which features shooters in the corners. Walker does not idle. Instead, he waits for the perfect time to cut to the hoop and make a bucket. Pops will utilize Walker’s instincts nicely.
Example #4 – Pick and Roll passing/Vision
This is an area of concern for Walker, but do not worry about it too much. If he wants to see the floor in San Antonio, Walker will need to move the ball more. He is still developing this part of his game, but Walker has shown he possesses the vision necessary to do so.
In the clip below, Walker will use his screen to find an open teammate.
You didn’t see that guy standing in the corner, did you? Neither did I. Walker did, however, and that is all that matters. The next sequence shows more of the same.
Is what Walker doing here overly magnificent? No. But it does show he can see other players on the court and make the right read. Do you want to know the next step in his career? Click here to see Kawhi Leonard show his versatility as a pick and roll passer. If Walker can do that, his ceiling rises exponentially.
Example #5 – Defense/Defensive Instincts
You have to be a special player to get playing time for Coach Pops if you do not play hard defense. Fortunately for Walker, he has the defensive tools to see the court.
Defending the fast break is something which is very hard to do. It does not reveal too much about a player’s overall ability, as these plays do not happen in the half court, obviously. It can, however, demonstrate a player’s instincts.
In a 4 on 2 situation, Walker defends beautifully. I am a proponent of taking a gamble in this situation, and Walker does. It results in a steal as he reads the ball handlers eyes in order to pick off the pass.
In the next clip, Walker looks reminiscent of a former Spurs wing. He uses his length to effortlessly poke away the ball. Active hands are a Spurs staple.
Walker loves to compete on the defensive end of the floor, which is a must for Popovich. In addition to that, Walker has elite defensive tools. His learning curve to NBA defensive schemes will be tough, but it is for most rookies. Regardless, Walker possesses the smarts to come out on top here.
I love this kid.
Remember when Dion Waiters was getting drafted? Or how about Terrence Ross? Scouts were a little weary of these kids, but they said they both had superstar potential. Well folks, Walker has the same potential but comes at less of a risk.
His work ethic is wonderful. The measurables are off the charts for his position. His shooting is where it needs to be and his pick and roll facilitating game has glimpses of hope. Defensively, we could be looking at a plus defender.
It is his flat-out scoring ability which gives him superstar potential, however. How many players in the NBA can hit the shot shown in the gif below?
A one-dribble, stepback going to his right with a defender in his grill? Sign me up.
Lonnie Walker will end up being the steal of this draft. He is Zhaire Smith, but minus the “if he ever develops a consistent jumper” part. He’s Donte Divincenzo with a higher ceiling. Think Mikal Bridges but with an offensive repertoire that extends beyond catch and shoot threes, or a Grayson Allen with better hops and untapped potential.
You’ll forget about Kawhi soon enough, Spurs fans.
Before the 2001 NBA draft, future hall of famer Tony Parker was merely a skinny Parisian kid who was making some minor waves overseas. He was an unknown diamond in the rough.
At the time, former New York Times reporter Mike Wise predicted he was a chance to scrape into the first round of the draft, but nothing more. Standing at a meager 6-foot-1, Parker didn’t even start in his debut season for French club Paris Basket Racing. However, after earning the starting role and putting up 14.7 points and 5.6 assists per game. After the breakout year, the time was right for the 19-year-old to make the move stateside.
When the big night did arrive and the San Antonio Spurs did nab the Frenchman with the 28th pick, he was the typical giddy teenage soon-to-be millionaire basketball player.
“I’m excited, I’m happy. Playing with a good team, play with superstars, very exciting. Can’t wait to meet them and play with them” he said in his post-draft interview.
Parker entered the Spurs fold at the ideal time, as incumbent point guard Avery Johnson bolted to Denver that summer, leaving the starting position wide open for head coach Gregg Popovich’s newest draft pick.
His maiden regular season in the big leagues wasn’t a mind-boggling one by any means, as he put up 9.2 points, 4.6 assists and 1.2 steals a night in the starting role. Although he did log the third highest minute total – behind legends Tim Duncan and David Robinson – on a team that won 58 games, which provided a crucial building block for the soon-to-be All-Star.
Parker used that stepping stone to explode in his first ever NBA playoffs. As we know now, it was a sign of things to come. San Antonio was eliminated in the second round by Kobe and Shaq’s Los Angeles Lakers, but Parker announced himself to the world, averaging 15.5 points and 4 assists while nailing 37 percent of his 3’s.
It was an awesome showing by the Parisian – if the Big Fundamental, who was already a fully-fledged star, didn’t take much notice. As Parker explained to ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin back in 2014.
“[Duncan] didn’t talk to me for a whole year. It was kind of weird coming from France and you have your superstar player that doesn’t talk to you as a point guard, it’s kind of tough, you know? Because you’re supposed to talk to everybody.” Parker said.
As Robinson’s star-studded career reached its twilight, Tony Parker – who only just snuck into the first round of the draft just a year earlier – was already Popovich’s undisputed second fiddle. Still just a tender 20-years-old, he carried his playoff momentum into his sophomore season, a campaign that ended with the first of four championship runs.
Now, Manu Ginobili had joined Parker and Duncan as the future of the organization, one that blossomed into the winningest in 21st-century hoops. By the 2004-05 season, the trio had just won their second NBA title, with Parker at the helm every step of the way. A year later, the skinny French kid was an All-Star for the first time.
Parker was averaging 18.9 points and 5.6 assists per outing, those shifty in-and-out dribbles, floaters and mid-range jumpers, up-and-under layups and crisp passes had become second nature for Spurs viewers, and so had winning games consistently.
The following season the Spurs capped off their third championship in six years, on the back of an all-time NBA Finals performance by the 24-year-old. Tony Parker played a hefty 37.8 minutes per night and put up 24.5 points, 5 rebounds and 3.3 assists, shooting a blistering 56.8 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from long-range, spring-boarding his squad to a finals sweep over Cleveland.
Six years after drafting him, Gregg Popovich stood on top of the world with his star point guard. In an interview with Reuters’ Steve Ginsberg, Pop explained what he told his point guard on the stage as the trophy presentation took place.
“I reminded him that when we gave him his first workout, we didn’t think he was tough enough and we sent him home,” Popovich said. “Then we set up another interview, another workout where we stacked it and had some people go after him physically and he was fantastic in that one.
“I reminded him of that and he had a big laugh. And I said, ‘Now you’re standing here on the stage with the finals MVP trophy,’ and he just kept laughing. He couldn’t believe it.” he said.
While the Spurs stayed relevant as ever for the next six seasons, that fourth championship ring eluded Parker and his usual band of talent. However, the wily guard continued to cement his resume as one of the best point guards to play the game. He averaged 18.8 points and 6.7 assists, featuring in three All-Star games and three All-NBA squads.
Tony Parker was in career-best personal form throughout those six seasons. He exploded on the Minnesota Timberwolves for a personal best 55 points in a 2008 tilt and posted a career-high 17 assists against New Orleans back in 2012. The personal accolades were coming in abundance, but there was one final title-winning run for that same kid who couldn’t even start for Paris Basket Racing back in France.
After falling at the last hurdle of a grueling seven-game series against LeBron James’ legendary Miami Heat in the 2013 Finals, Parker and the Spurs got their revenge in 2014. San Antonio slapped the Heat to the tune of a five-game series win, and the now 31-year-old was his usual productive self – pumping out 18 points and 4.6 assists per game while shooting a sizzling 41.6 percent from 3-point land throughout the series.
After that last outburst from the hall of famer, it Father Time was slowly but surely catching up with him. However, like all of the best players, Parker quickly adjusted his game to remain effective for a few more years.
A career 32.6 percent 3-point shooter, he was never a high-volume shot taker from behind the arc (1.3 attempts per game), but he re-calibrated as the NBA as the NBA game evolved into a long-range game. Parker nailed 42.7 percent of his triples in 2014-15 and backed that up by hitting 41.5 percent in 2015-16.
Now, after his final two seasons in Texas failed to cover him in glory, Tony Parker will likely finish his all-time great career in Charlotte after signing a 2-year, $10 million deal this summer. Bringing an end to one of the most underrated but brilliant careers San Antonio – or the NBA in general – has ever seen.
Kudos Tony Parker, thank you for 17 years of magic.
The year is 1995. Hakeem Olajuwon just followed up one of the greatest individual seasons in ‘94 with an equally as great postseason run the following year. The Rockets plowed through the best the West had to offer. From the high-powered offense of the Utah Jazz led by Stockton and Malone, to Barkley’s ‘93 runner up champions, the Phoenix Suns, league MVP David Robinson’s hungry San Antonio Spurs, and eventually crushed the young tandem of Shaq and Penny in the finals, all while Hakeem dominated the box score series after series. Truly, one of the all-time great runs in NBA history.
But fast-forward 8 years later and another giant out West is giving teams all they can handle. Tim Duncan played like a man possessed in 2003. He went head-to-head with some of the games top talent at the time. Squaring off against a young, athletic frontcourt in Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion in Phoenix. Had his hands full with a behemoth in Los Angeles, Shaquille O’Neal, who was accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Kobe Bryant. He dueled with the master of the fadeaway jumper Dirk Nowitzki down in Texas, and finally, annihilated J.Kidd’s Nets in the finals while putting up some of the most remarkable numbers in finals history.
So who had the greater the playoff run?
Was it Hakeem for defeating FIVE 50+ win teams and dragging the 6th seeded Rockets to their second straight championship? Or was it The Big Fundamental who took a young Tony Parker (20 years old) and an on-the-way-out David Robinson (37 years old) to the promise land and did it with no teammate averaging more than 15 points throughout the entire playoffs?
Well, we’re going to have to dig deeper. Starting with each players first round, working our way through the semi and conference finals, and all the way to the championship round.
Though the Suns might not have had any All-NBA or All-Defensive selections, they did have a Rookie of The Year winner in Amare Stoudemire, and two All-Stars in Stephon Marbury and Shawn Marion. Behind those three, the Suns finished 44-39 for an 8th place finish in the Western Conference.
The Spurs won the series in 6 games though it probably should’ve been over sooner if Suns didn’t steal the first matchup in San Antonio on a game-winning heave from Marbury.
Duncan had two monstrous performances coming at the most critical time of the series.
Game 5: 23 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 blocks in an 92-84 win.
Game 6: 15 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 4 blocks in an 87-85 win to closeout the series.
Duncan’s 20 defensive rebounds in game six were the most defensive rebounds in a single playoff game. He also finished the series with 21 total blocks. To put that into perspective, the Suns as a team had 35 blocks. It was just a dominating performance on both ends of the floor.
As mentioned earlier, the Rockets finished the season as the 6th seed, so right out the gate the odds were stacked against them.
They found themselves facing a tough and scrappy 60-win Jazz team that was equally good defensively (8th in defensive rating) as they were offensively (4th in offensive rating). John Stockton and Karl Malone – both members of the All-NBA first team that season – had the high pick-and-roll down to a science. Getting past them in the opening round would be a battle.
Hakeem did everything you could ask for on the offensive end and more.
He had two 40-point performances and two more 30-point games. And after going down 2-1 in the first three games, he helped Houston fight off elimination in the two biggest games of the series by averaging 36.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists while converting 12.0 field-goals on 19.0 attempts (63%).
This would be the first of three MVP candidates Hakeem would conquer throughout the playoffs.
After getting bounced in the semi-finals by the Lakers the previous season, Duncan and the Spurs would have their revenge the following year.
The Lakers finished the season 50-32 and posted the 4th best offensive rating in the league. Going up against the defending champs and one of, if not the, best duos of all-time would certainly be a handful. And dealing with the massive giant known as Shaq down low would be no less difficult.
Duncan was otherworldly in this one. He played a brilliant offensive game, giving L.A. buckets in a variety of ways, held his own against Shaq on the defensive end, and led the team minutes, points, rebounds, and assists.
As expected, his two best games of the series came in the final two games:
Another series and another offensive juggernaut standing in front of Houston.
The Phoenix Suns finished 3rd in offensive rating, second in pace and had two all-stars in Charles Barkley and Dan Majerle. The offensive trio of Majerle, point guard Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley – member of the All-NBA second team – led the franchise to its third straight 55+ win season and the third overall best record in the NBA. This was a team that was determined to get back to the finals and redeem their ‘93 loss to the Bulls.
After going down 3-1 in the series, the Suns smelt blood and this one looked all but over.
Finding themselves facing adversity and on the brink of elimination yet again, Hakeem played out of his mind in the final three games, extending the series to a deciding game 7 on the road.
His averages during that stretch: 30.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.0 steals on 50% shooting.
Olajuwon closed out game 7 with a 29-11-4 (pts,rebs,asts) and the Rockets won 115-114 on a Mario Elie game-winning three-pointer, also known as “The Kiss of Death.”
The Houston Rockets became just the fifth team in NBA history at the time to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win the series.
Led by the All-Star tandem of Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki – who were also apart of the All-NBA teams (Dirk second, Nash third) – the Dallas Mavericks had an offense that was built to outshoot opposing teams and run up the scoreboard.
As a team, they finished first in the following categories: offensive rating, points, free throw percentage, and turnovers. They also finished third in three-point percentage at 38%.
A good ‘ol fashioned defense vs offense matchup down in Texas. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, Tim Duncan played for San Antonio, not Dallas.
The Big Fundamental had multiple “holy s***, he had how much?” performances in this showdown. From a 40-15-7 with one block and one steal in game one – a game that San Antonio lost – to a 32-15-5 with three blocks in the following matchup, and then followed that up with a ludicrous 34-24-6 with six blocks and two steals in the third game.
Yes, you read that right. Tim Duncan had 34 points, 24 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 blocks and 2 steals in game freaking three. Wilt Chamberlain, who?
But hold on, we’re not done.
In those three games, he shot 37-for-60 from the floor for a field goal percentage of sixty-one percent! Spurs went 2-1 in that stretch and eventually found themselves up 3-1 in the series after Duncan delivered a 21-20-7 with 4 blocks performance in game four.
His dominance “calmed down” in games five (23-15-6) and six (18-11-4). The Spurs ended the series in six games after Dirk Nowitzki suffered a knee injury in game three and was sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs.
Duncan ended the series with 100 total rebounds. The next closest? Michael Finley with 38. If that’s not enough then how about this: Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki and starting center Raef LaFrentz combined for 99 total rebounds.
No one expected the Rockets to get this far, but if any team was equipped to tame Hakeem and crush Houston’s spirit, it was the San Antonio Spurs.
Not only did they have the league MVP, David Robinson, but his frontcourt teammate, Dennis Rodman, made All-Defensive first team that year. Oh, David Robinson was also apart of that same defensive team.
On the season, San Antonio finished top 5 in both defensive rating and offensive rating, and had the league’s best overall record at 62-20. It was obvious Hakeem would be in for a long series… or so we thought.
Hakeem downright embarrassed Robinson. He gave it to him inside and outside, showing him every move in his arsenal and putting on an offensive clinic. And it didn’t stop there. Hakeem went down on the other side and held Robinson well below his season averages. This was the MVP of the National Basketball Association and Hakeem made him look completely insignificant.
To say Hakeem had Robinson’s number would be an understatement. Hakeem had Robinson’s entire soul, and if you don’t believe me then maybe you’ll believe his teammate, Dennis Rodman.
“Before those games, he looked so f***ing scared in the locker room, he couldn’t stop shaking.” That was a direct quote from Rodman himself from his book Bad As I Wanna Be.
I mean, just look how demoralized David Robinson is in this photo.
Olajuwon had three 40-point games in the series. He led his team in nearly every category – points, rebounds, blocks, assists, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and minutes. He ended up with a whopping 212 points and had as many blocks (25) as the Spurs did as a team.
He put the finishing touches on the series and David by averaging 40.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 5.0 blocks on 63% in games five and six to put the Spurs away and send the Rockets to their second straight finals appearance.
Robinson still hasn’t fully recovered from that beat-down.
The New Jersey Nets were the best defensive team in the NBA. Ran by their All-Star floor general, Jason Kidd, the Nets had reached the finals just a season ago but were swept by the Lakers. If the Nets thought going up against Duncan and the Spurs would be any less difficult than dealing with Shaq and Kobe, then they were about to be in for a rude awakening.
Duncan did a lot in this series, and I mean A LOT.
After six games, he tallied 145 total points, 102 rebounds and 32 blocks – the most blocks in a 6-game series in playoff history. The Nets as a team only had six more blocks than Duncan did.
Timmy had himself another 30-20 performance in game 1. He dropped 29-17-4-4 in game 5. In game 6 he was screwed out of two blocks, so what should’ve been a quadruple-double ended up being a 21-20-10-8. Still ridiculous, I know, but why couldn’t they just give him the damn quadruple-double!? It’s all on footage, you can’t sit here and tell me those two blocks don’t count. Watch it for yourself if you don’t believe me.
Anyways, the Spurs sent the Nets packing in six games. Duncan led both teams in points, rebounds and blocks, he played an enormous role in effectively shutting down New Jersey – the Nets shot 37% from the floor as a team – and he was awarded with his second finals MVP.
It’s just a shame they robbed him of a quadruple-double.
Though Hakeem didn’t lead his team in nearly every statistical category like Duncan did against New Jersey, he did closeout the deadliest offensive team in the league and the only team to beat the Bulls from ‘91 to ‘98 in just four games.
After outplaying the league’s MVP in the previous matchup, Hakeem would now have to do the same against the runner-up, Shaquille O’Neal.
He did. In every game.
Olajuwon became 1 of 6 players in history to score at least 30 points in every game of a playoff series. And scoring wasn’t all he did. Take a look at his stat lines in each game.
Game 1: 31 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 blocks and 2 steals.
Game 2: 34 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 blocks, and 1 steal.
Game 3: 31 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals.
Game 4: 35 points, 15 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals.
Hakeem also scored 56 field goals, giving him the record for most made field goals in a 4-game series.
Oh, and he also had one of the most forgotten game-winners in NBA history in game 1.
Olajuwon and the Rockets did it. He was an NBA Champion once again and captured his second straight Finals MVP trophy. The Rockets became the lowest seeded team to ever win it all.
As head coach Rudy Tomjanovich shouted after game four, “don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”
You’re damn right, Rudy.
In the end, both Hakeem and Duncan ran through an entire conference without a single All-Star teammate, came away with the Larry O’Brien trophy, and gave us two of the greatest individual playoff performances in the process.
Olajuwon – and the Rockets – defeated 7 members from the All-NBA team (4 first team, 2 second team, 1 third team), 4 All-Defensive representatives (2 first, 2 second), the top 3 MVP candidates (Robinson, Malone, Shaq) and ended up with the third most points ever scored (725) in a single playoff run.
We can’t knock Duncan for playing lower seeded teams or only going up against one MVP candidate, because after all, HE was the MVP that year and HIS team lost the least amount of games. But, Duncan – and the Spurs – did win every series comfortably, never requiring a game 7 and without having any other player average more than 15 points throughout the run.
Well, the doldrums of the NBA offseason did not last too long. The NBA world was rocked as Kawhi Leonard got shipped to Toronto. Conversely, DeMar DeRozan is now headed to San Antonio. Still, we must strive forward and continue on with the untouchables list.
If you missed the Eastern Conference list, then click here.
1. Dallas Mavericks – Luka Doncic
This is a no brainer. The Mavs just surrendered a future pick for the Slovenian point-forward. Doncic has the potential to be a transcendent NBA player. This pick and roll maestro will enter the league as one of its premier passers. If you need a reminder on just how good Doncic is, I dug up his ProCity Hoops profile for you.
2. Denver Nuggets – Nikola Jokic
What gave this one away? Jokic just signed a 5 yr/$147 million deal. The center finished last season with a better field goal percentage that Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins. Plus, he is one of the best passers in the game, regardless of position. Jokic finished 15th in assists per game last year, and 12th for total assists. Wow. This kid isn’t going anywhere.
3. Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry
Let’s get this out of the way. No one on this roster is getting traded anytime soon. This team has a few more finals appearances on the horizon, despite any players that LeBron guy lands in LA. While I do not expect a trade, I still chose Steph here. Trading him would be detrimental to the team’s fan base. You simply cannot throw away a home grown kid like Steph and expect everything to be okay.
4. Houston Rockets – James Harden
Did you expect anyone else? Here is a clip of every stepback J Harden hit last season.
5. Los Angeles Clippers – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Although it is merely summer league, this rookie has looked awesome. His octopus tentacles doubles as arms nowadays, and he used them for stealing basketballs. Offensively, he has the potential to play both guard positions. Jerry West has a steal on his hands.
Jerome Robinson was considered but, he does not have SGA’s ceiling. Tobias Harris was also in competition here, but his trade value is high enough to warrant being available. Check out SGA’s scouting report.
6. Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James
7. Memphis Grizzlies – Jaren Jackson Jr.
This was an easy selection. Triple J has looked like he will immediately be an elite rim protector in this league. On the other side of the ball he has shown promise by draining 8 thress during his first summer league game. His full report is here.
More importantly, however, it seems as though Memphis is looking to make the playoffs. They added Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple this offseason and drafted NBA ready Jevon Carter. In a loaded Western Conference, is this feasible? Memphis should be looking to unload Conley and Gasol instead of making the postseason.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns
Kat is my most underrated player in this league. He put up statistics last year that have never been done before. Not one player in league history has put up a stat line of 54 percent FG%, 42 percent 3P% on at least 14 field goal attempts and 3.5 three-point attempts.
Offensively, he is the best scoring center in the league and it is not even as close as we think. Check out how his numbers from last season rank against the premier offensive centers in the league last year.
If you considered Andrew Wiggins for this list, seek help. Take a “me” day. With Jimmy Butler a free agent flight risk, KAT is the selection to go with.
9. New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis
The Brow is the future of the NBA. A 6’11” power forward (who should be playing center) who can shoot from all three levels and has DPOY potential? Sign me up. Davis was only 22-years-old when he led the NBA in both blocks and PER. He has an MVP season in him somewhere, hopefully the Pelicans can unlock it for him.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook
I debated Paul George here for a second. Why? A big name free agent signing like that in OKC will be rare going forward. What message would it send to the league if OKC just shipped him off? Despite this, Westbrook gets the nod. Not only is he an MVP player, but he is the heart and soul of Oklahoma basketball.
11. Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker
Because, duh. Devin Only two players have put up 24 point per game, 4 assists per game on 38 percent 3P shooting during their first 5 seasons in the league. One of them is Devin Booker. The other…Steph Curry.
DeAndre Ayton was never seriously considered here. He is a heck of a talent but, it is easier to find a rim protecting, three point shooting big than it is someone with Booker’s talent and ceiling. Josh Jackson was never truly in consideration.
12. Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard
I struggled with this pick. Half of me thinks that Portland should just blow it up. The West has gotten even harder and they look to be a team with a second round ceiling. Why pursue the same result every year, if that result is not winning a title?
The other half of me thinks that Portland may have just enough assets to acquire a third star. Zach Collins still has a ton of potential and Portland is very high on him. Anfernee Simons balled out during summer league and turned the heads of many executives. Gm Neil Oshey should certainly consider bringing Kevin Love back to his home state. Send a package of prospects and picks over to Cleveland. Buddy up Love with McCollum and Dame, go all in.
13. Sacramento Kings – De’Aaron Fox
This selection was harder than it looked. Marvin Bagley is the Kings new toy. The 2nd overall pick in last year’s draft was not ranked as the #2 overall prospect by many scouts. Yet, the Kings loved Bagley and his desire to actually want to play in NoCal. I had Bagley ranked behind duke teammate Wendell Carter, and through summer league is appeared that I was right to do so.
Fox is a different story. He will help rebuild a culture in Sac’Town. Fox may possibly be the quickest end to end player in the league, and he has a developing jumper. Having already shown leadership and clutchness, I would be willing to trade Bagley before Fox.
14. San Antonio Spurs – DeMar DeRozan
Aw. So sad, DeMar.
Yesterday I wrote that no one on the Raptors should be untouchable, and apparently GM Masai Ujiri agreed with me. San Antonio clearly wants to take advantage of the remaining years that they have with Pop (bad decision.) So, they went out and traded Kawhi for DeMar. Shipping him off now would only would blow my mind, literally. GM R.C Buford had made brilliant moves for the Spurs for almost two decades now, but this move was horrendous.
15. Utah Jazz – Donovan Mitchell
Spida Mitchell made a bunch of GMs look dumb last year. He looks like a modern day D Wade. Mitchell has an All-NBA ceiling and I cannot wait to watch him develop. Gobert was never truly in contention here. In fact, I would consider trading the big man at his peak value.
During last year’s playoffs, we saw how stretch bigs can draw rim protectors away from, well, the rim. Ask Joel Embiid to explain what Al Horford did to him. Gobert will be less and less effective in the playoffs as teams play smaller. For now though, rejoice in having one of the most exciting players in the game back in Utah.
Before we get into the “Top 25 Players in the NBA,” I need to preface by saying this is if everyone is healthy in the league. For example, I did not lower Kawhi Leonard’s rank because he barely played last season. So, here it is, my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#25: Ben Simmons
I have already prepared myself for the reactions to the 25th ranked player in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. People are going to say that Simmons is already a top-20, or even top-15 player in the NBA. However, why? I am not saying that Simmons is not going to be a top-10 player in the league one day, but I do not understand how people already have him ranked so high.
Simmons had a very good rookie year in the NBA. Averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game, Simmons ran away with the Rookie of the Year. What makes Simmons’ stats even more impressive is the fact that he did not make a single three last season. With the way the modern NBA is trending, having a non-shooting ball-handler is uncommon.
While Simmons did not make any threes last season, that did not slow him down. Take a look at the GIF below.
It never seemed to matter how far off Simmons’ defender played him last season. Simmons would always find a way to get to the basket and finish at a high clip. Converting on 69.8% of his shots at the rim, Simmons was well-above the 63.1% league average. Just because Simmons is currently ranked 25th in my rankings, it will not be long before he slides into the top-15, and the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#24: LaMarcus Aldridge
NBA fans often forget how dominant LaMarcus Aldridge really is. Remember his days in Portland? The dude was a walking double-double. Then, he gets out of the spotlight in San Antonio and people forget about him. Aldridge is still one of the most dominating big men in the NBA.
Averaging 23.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, it is time to acknowledge how talented Aldridge is. LMA led a Kawhi-less Spurs team to the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. Yes, Gregg Popovich is a mastermind, but teams do not make the playoffs in the West without talent on the court.
Aldridge’s 29.1% usage rating last season was the highest it has been in his career with San Antonio. Aldridge made it work too. Developing his game to continue to fit the modern NBA, Aldridge posted the highest offensive rating of his career. Fans often forget about how good Aldridge is, it is time to continue to acknowledge that fact.
#23: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is one of my favorite players to watch in the entire NBA. His skill set for a center is wildly unheard of, but wildly productive. I mean, come on, how many NBA centers can make this pass?
Jokic’s basketball IQ and passing ability alone make him one of the top centers in the NBA. However, there is so much more to his game. With averages of 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game, Jokic brings it all to the table.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in his game last season was his three-point shooting. The Joker attempted a total of 280 threes last season, connecting on 39.6% of the attempts. Jokic has made it a point of emphasis to continue to adjust his game to stay up-to-date with the modern NBA.
Last season, 27.7% of Jokic’s attempted field goals were from three-point territory. The season before, just 16.3% of his shots were from three. This is a good sign for the Nuggets and their big man. Jokic has been able to adapt and stay productive while the league changes. This is why Jokic is in my top-25 and why Denver just inked him to a max contract.
#22: DeMar DeRozan
Another season has gone by and another season has ended for DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors at the hands of “The King.” After going into the playoffs as the top seed in the East, the Raptors did not even manage to win one game against Cleveland in the second round. However, this does not alter DeRozan’s playing ability.
Last season marked the fifth straight year that DeRozan posted at least 20 points per game. Recording 23 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game, DeRozan solidified himself as one of the game’s top two guards. Having his usage rate drop from 34.3% in the 2016-17 season to 29.6% in the 2017-18 season, DeRozan remained effective attempting the most threes in his career, and connecting at the second-highest clip on those shots in his career.
In addition, DeRozan posted a 9.6 win share stat, making him one of the most valuable players in win shares in the league. Most of the stats speak for themself. DeRozan gets to his spots on offense, and he takes advantage of his matchup. There was little debate in my mind when deciding if DeRozan belonged in the “Top-25 Players in the NBA” list.
#21: Rudy Gobert
Mark Rudy Gobert down as one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Gobert is not a flashy player by any means, which is why he is seldomly mentioned in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” conversation. Just because Gobert is not a three-point shooting five does not mean he is not one of the best centers in the league.
Gobert does most of his damage on the defensive side of the ball. Averaging 2.3 blocks per game last season, Gobert solidified himself as one of the best paint-protectors in the league. However, there is more to his game than his defense. Gobert recorded 13.5 points per game last season while shooting 62.2% from the field, a career-high. Yes, most of these points came on dunks or lobs from the “Spanish Unicorn,” but that is where Gobert does his damage.
It is mind boggling why Gobert is not talked about more often. His stellar 122 offensive rating and 99 defensive rating should put him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” with few questions asked.
#20: Victor Oladipo
Who would have thought that one year ago at this time that we would have Victor Oladipo in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA”? What a year it was for Oladipo with the Indiana Pacers. Oladipo silenced all his haters averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. Vic led the Pacers, who were a projected lottery team, to the fifth seed in the East and took LBJ and the Cavs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
I had trouble finding a spot for Oladipo in the rankings because of how unexpected last season was. But, when you look at all the numbers as a whole, he definitely deserves to be in the top-20. In addition to his gaudy offensive numbers, Oladipo averaged 2.4 steals per game, ranking him first in the NBA last season. The winner of the Most Improved Player is bound for another successful 2018-19 season. His determination to win was on full display right after the game seven loss to the Cavs. The first thing he did after the game was text his trainer asking him when the work started up again.
#19: Paul George
Well, Thunder fans, PG13 is there to stay. Congratulations. One year after you traded for a “rental,” the team has convinced a top-20 player in the NBA to stay in Oklahoma City. Now, Thunder fans may be wondering why George ranks lower than others have him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. Averaging 21.9 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game, PG13 had an interesting season adjusting to the OK3.
In my opinion, George hasn’t been the same since his gruesome injury with Team USA. He has not been as explosive and does not show the same burst he showed in those playoff battles against LeBron and the Heat. This was to be expected based on the injury, but that is the biggest reason he is 19th in the rankings. In addition, George has never been a great clutch player, often underperforming in crucial situations.
This season, George shot 42.2% from the field in the fourth quarter. In addition, he shot 38.3% from three in the fourth quarter. Now, do not get me wrong, 38% from three is not a bad number, but it is lower than his 40.1% from three throughout the season. Finally, who can forget game six of the playoffs last season against the Utah Jazz. In an elimination game, George juiced just five points. Paul George is a great player, I am not trying to say he is not, but for me 19 is where PG13 belonged on the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list.
#18: Karl-Anthony Towns
The Big KAT had a terrific third season in the NBA, and now he is going to get paid. Karl-Anthony Towns is reportedly in negotiations with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a five-year, max contract. Towns made his first all-star appearance last season and he is not looking back.
Documenting 21.3 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per game, Towns was one of the most versatile offensive bigs in the NBA. Notice how I said offensive, because his defense is a whole different discussion. Towns shot 42.1% from three-point range last season, the highest percentage of any Wolves player. Ranking 14th in the NBA in percentage from downtown, Towns has adjusted his game with the modern NBA.
Helping lead the Wolves to their first playoff series in over a decade, Towns had a disappointing playoff series. Averaging just 15.4 points per game and shooting under 50% from the field and under 30% from three, Towns had a less than pleasing first playoff series of his career. However, in games three, four, and five of the series against the Rockets, Towns was back to averaging 21 points a night. He struggled mightily in the first two games, but seemed to overcome his struggles and put it past him.
As one of the most versatile bigs in the NBA, Towns already ranks in the top-20. But, it will not be long before he is in the conversation for the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#17: Klay Thompson
Mark me down as a firm Klay Thompson believer. What he does every night for the Golden State Warriors is invaluable. Thompson is one of, if not the best, shooter in the NBA. Averaging 20 points per game last season on 44% shooting from three-point range, Klay solidified himself as the best third option in the NBA. Imagine what Klay could be doing as the first option on a team? He is a free agent in 2019, could we see him as a first option?
Getting past his future with the Warriors, when we look at Klay Thompson’s game, it is nothing but good things. We all know about his stellar shooting and his ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the court, but what some people do not know about is his defensive ability. Watch below as Klay Thompson absolutely locks down Paul George as the shot clock expires. Not many people can hang with a top-level offensive player like PG13, but Klay Thompson can.
#16: Joel Embiid
Trust the Process. Well, the process is working. It will not be long before Joel Embiid is a top-10 player in the NBA. Playing in 63 games last season, the Kansas big man averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds per game. Embiid did work in every facet of the game shooting over 48% from the field and recording 1.8 blocks per game. However, there is still work to do if Embiid wants to be a top-10 or top-5 player in the NBA.
The first thing is development from three. In his “rookie” season in the NBA, Embiid shot 36.7% from three, a very respectable percentage for a big man. However, last season, that percentage dropped to 30.8%. There is potential for Embiid to have his downtown shooting percentage climb, and he will need it to climb to take the next step.
In addition, speaking in general terms, Joel Embiid has the mindset and attitude of a top-level NBA player. Embiid cares about one thing and one thing only: winning. Whether you like it or not, Embiid’s trash talking on the court helps him gain an edge and it causes problems for opponents. Joel Embiid is on his way. Even though I do not have him ranked as my top center, it should not be long before “The Process” claims that spot in “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
I already know it is coming. People are going to think I am crazy for putting Cousins ahead of Embiid. Since these rankings are not taking injuries into the picture, Cousins still ranks as my top center. People forget of how dominant Cousins is. Players feed the ball down low and Boogie gets a bucket, it is usually as simple as that.
Cousins was having a career-year before going down with injury last season. Posting 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game, Cousins looked primed to appear in his first playoff series. Unfortunately, the NBA Gods had different ideas. But, the injury does not take away from the player Cousins is. DeMarcus Cousins is, plain and simple, dominant. His footwork on the low-post and his continued development from three make him the most effective center in the NBA and 15th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#14: Draymond Green
There are fans of the NBA who cannot stand Draymond Green, and I am in the same boat. However, I respect him as a player and the energy that he brings to the game. It hurt me to put him 14th in these rankings, but it was what he deserved. Green affects the game in so many ways that the Warriors would not be the same without him. He does it on offense, defense, leadership, and of course, in trash talking.
There is not a player in the NBA that I can think of who plays with more energy than Draymond Green. Green is pure heart and effort every time the ball goes up in the air. Yes, his passion for the game can get him in trouble from time to time, but his passion is usually used positively. Green averaged 11 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game last season. However, it is what does not show up in the box score that makes Green a difference maker. Green’s 105 defensive rating and 6.1 defensive win shares make him one of the top defenders in the NBA.
Another part of Green’s game that makes him so good is his ability to play the five. The Warriors made the small-ball lineup a thing, using Green at the five. This death lineup is what makes the Warriors so good. Teams can try to put Green in a pick-and-roll when he is at the five, but Green has the ability to switch onto guards and shut them down. It is unfair at times and part of the reason he ranks 14th in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#13: Damian Lillard
“Dame Dollar.” “Big Game Dame.” Whatever you want to call him, Damian Lillard is a special talent. While he has never found much success in the postseason, Lillard is one of the best guards in the NBA. His shiftiness and sudden explosion make him a must-watch. Filling it up with 26.9 points and 6.6 assists per game last season, Lillard had arguably his best season in his career.
Lillard made 227 threes last season, just two less than his career-high, which he posted in 2015-16. Dame kept defenders guessing last season. If the defense came up and pressed Lillard, he would explode past them and finish at the rim. If the defense laid off, Lillard would pull up from Mars and drain a long three in your face. Don’t believe me? Check out his game-winner against the Lakers below and think again. There’s no reason that Lillard should not be in the top-15 of any “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#12: John Wall
Why is everyone starting to hate on John Wall? He gets hurt for one season and everyone is starting to act like he is falling off. No way. Not a chance. John Wall is still one of the most dominant and explosive points guards in the association. Even after injury last season, Wall managed to post 19.4 points and 9.6 assists per game. No, he was not his normal self, but that is expected coming off an injury that sidelined him for more than a month.
No matter what anyone says, there shall be no John Wall slander. Wall is one of the toughest covers in the entire league, and when he brings out the gang signs, it is over. The speedster has never been a great three-point shooter or defender, and he might never be. However, the way he attacks the rim and creates for his teammates, Wall deserves to be 12th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#11: Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Buckets. All kinds of rumors are surrounding Butler and the Timberwolves this summer. There have been recents reports that Butler will not re-sign with the Wolves. There has been reports that he is unhappy with the effort shown by Karl Towns and others. If you need a refresher on the whole situation, I broke it down in an article. Anyways, on to Butler as the player. Butler is the second-best two-way player in the NBA (behind Kawhi.) There are no words to describe his value to the Timberwolves last season. Without him, the Wolves would have been in the lottery and nowhere near a playoff team.
To further prove that point, Butler missed 23 games last season. The Timberwolves were 10-13 without Butler last season. With him, the Wolves were 37-22. Butler was one of just a handful of Timberwolf players that decided to play defense last season. Butler’s defense was so good that the Wolves held opponents to 7.2 points lower in offensive rating when Jimmy was on the floor. Jimmy, along with other veterans like Taj Gibson, was the main reason the Wolves did not allow 150 points per game.
In addition, Jimmy got his buckets. His 22.2 points per game led the Timberwolves. Furthermore, Butler was who the Wolves went to when the team was in dire need of a basket. Butler was the go-to man down the stretch and led the Timberwolves to the playoffs.
#10: Chris Paul
What could have been. That will be the question in NBA and Rockets fans head for the months leading up to the 2018-19 season. The Rockets were one game away from defeating the “undefeatable” Golden State Warriors. Then, Chris Paul went down with an injury at the end of game five that kept him out of game six and seven. Paul’s value to the Rockets was much more than scoring, finding teammates, and defending. Paul was a leader on and off the court for Houston.
Multiple times throughout the season, the Rockets looked like they would fall apart during a game; however, they held on. Why? Chris Paul. Paul kept the team together in games that were spiraling out of control. Paul got the team buckets when they needed them most, and he controlled the game like a true floor general. While CP3 posted his second-lowest assist total of his career, the ball was out of his hands a lot. People wondered how he and James Harden would co-exist. And to put it lightly, I think they did just fine.
Chris Paul seems to fit in nicely with whoever he plays next to. He is the true definition of a great leader and a great teammate. The only thing preventing CP3 from being ranked higher than 10 is the other unearthly players sitting higher in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#9: Kyrie Irving
Another great “what if” story from the NBA last season. The Boston Celtics took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics did so without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. So, Boston fans everywhere are dreaming over what could have been for the team last season if even Irving stayed healthy. In his first season post-LeBron, Irving averaged 24.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. His handles and offensive wizardry continued to dazzle in Beantown.
I have Irving ranked as my third best point guard, behind Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry. However, at just 26-years-old, Irving is bound to soon be the top point guard in the league. It is amazing what Irving is doing at such a young age. If injuries stay out of his way, top-5 is on the way for the former Duke guard in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#8: Giannis Antetokounmpo
For the longest time, the Greek Freak was on his way. Well, it is official, he has arrived. Now the best player in the East with LeBron gone, Antetokounmpo is just what his nickname says “a freak.” Giannis recorded 26.9 points and 10 rebounds per game last season. Every season that he has been in the NBA, Antetokounmpo has made a jump in PPG from the previous season. If that continues, it will not be long before Giannis is averaging 30 PPG.
In addition to his ridiculous scoring numbers, Giannis is a terrific passer and defender. Averaging 4.8 assists per game last season, Giannis made defenses pay when they doubled him. On defense, he recorded 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. His length and athleticism makes him a top-five two-way player in the NBA. Before you start debating whether Giannis should be ranked as the top player in the Eastern Conference without LeBron, chew on this:
#7: Russell Westbrook
For the second season in a row, Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double. I do not care what you think of stat-padding or anything of that nature, averaging a triple-double is impressive. The amount of energy Westbrook puts forth every night is next to none. Westbrook plays with a similar intensity as Draymond Green. Ever since Kevin Durant left the Thunder, it seems like that energy has doubled. Westbrook is out to prove something, and he wants to prove it with a championship.
Ranked as my number two point guard on the list, it is Westbrook’s explosiveness and offensive abilities that get the job done. Averaging 25.4 points per game last season, Russ shot 44.9% from the field. His 5.5 offensive win shares makes you realize just how great Russ is on that side of the ball. If Westbrook could develop a 36-40% three-point shot he would be virtually unstoppable. The only chance teams have of stopping Russ is letting him shoot and hoping he misses. Because once he gets to the rim or on the fastbreak, it is game over.
#6: Kawhi Leonard
The summer of LeBron was quickly flooded by the summer of Kawhi. After requesting a trade out of San Antonio, fans have been on the edge of their seats waiting to find out where Leonard will land. Leonard has been on the record saying he wants to be in Los Angeles, but there might not be a deal that makes sense for the Spurs/Clippers/Lakers. Wherever Leonard lands, the team will be getting the top two-way player in the game.
After basically sitting out an entire season, it is easy to forget just how good Kawhi is. He is nicknamed “The Klaw” for a reason. Kawhi absolutely shuts down the opposing team’s best player each and every night. He has made a living on the defensive side of the ball. His defense is what got him into the NBA. Kawhi was never a great offensive player coming into the league, but his defense was enough to get him a spot.
Since he has been in the league, Kawhi has developed his offense. Kawhi is now one of the biggest offensive threats in the NBA. His ability to knock down shots and over power people on the way to the rim make him such a scary matchup. If Kawhi Leonard played last season, and we were able to see his further improvement, he very well could have made the top-5 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#5: James Harden
Yes, your eyes are not lying. I have the MVP ranked fifth in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. James Harden is great, that is not a question, but there are just players that do more than Harden. Harden makes his living on the offensive side of the ball, and in particular, at the free-throw line. Harden attempted over 10 free-throws per game last season. His 8.7 points per game that come from the stripe accounted for 28.6% of his total points.
There is no doubt there is a skill in getting to the free-throw line, but sometimes the way Harden gets to the line is hard to watch. His flopping and wild body movements draw the refs into a ton of whistles when there is really no contact. This, along with his sub-par defense, which is recently improved, made Harden land in the five hole in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#4: Steph Curry
The former two-time MVP and unanimous MVP has a great story. The sharpshooter was labeled as “too small” coming into the draft. People thought that he was just a cinderella story that went to Davidson, and they predicted Curry would fall off the map. Well, Golden State took a chance on Steph, and boy has it paid off. Curry takes the most threes out of anyone in the NBA. Curry attempted 501 threes last season in just 51 games, that is almost 10 threes a game. And, while he attempts those 10 threes a game, he connects on 42.3% of them.
Hats off to Steph Curry. The NBA has arguably changed because of guys like Curry who attempt threes in bunches. Curry has no problem pulling up and shooting from anywhere on the court. He is one of the deadliest offensive players the NBA has ever seen. Widely regarded as one of the best shooters in the history of the NBA, there was little doubt to put Curry in the four spot in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#3: Anthony Davis
When DeMarcus Cousins went down with an injury last season, most thought the Pelicans playoff hopes were over. Anthony Davis had different ideas. Davis averaged 28.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season. He continued to develop his game to fit the modern NBA, shooting 34% from three. In addition to the offensive work he put in, Davis showed his worth on defense too. Recording 2.6 blocks per game, Davis made any player think twice before testing him in the paint.
Davis has the potential to be one of the all-time greats. Yes, I said it. At just 25-years-old, Davis is showing how good he can be. If Davis can continue to develop his three-pointer and start winning more playoff games, he will be first on the list before too long.
#2: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is great. There is no other way to put it. What KD does on a nightly basis is unheard of. The two-time champ is the best pure scorer the game has ever seen. Durant fills it up in so many different ways. He will take you off the dribble and finish at the cup. Durant will explode by you just to stop and pop from mid-range. Or, he will not worry about dribbling at all and just take a 30-foot bomb that he knocks down with ease.
There are so few words as to how one would describe Kevin Durant and the way he can score. So, I am going to leave it as that. As the best pure scorer the NBA has ever seen, KD will go down as an all-time great.
#1: LeBron James
LeBron James tops off my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list. When I said it was hard to describe Kevin Durant? It is even harder to describe LeBron James. What LBJ did this past season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading the team back to their fourth straight finals appearance is only supposed to be possible in movies. LeBron James single-handedly dragged the Cavs to the finals, and that is an understatement. And if it was not for J.R. and his foolishness in game one of the NBA Finals, who knows how that series plays out.
LeBron James is simply great. Perhaps the greatest to ever play the game. Now, in Los Angeles, LABron will continue to cement his legacy as the best player in the NBA.
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A look at some of the performances from this years top prospects:
Sacramento Kings (98) vs Los Angeles Lakers (93):
While De’Aaron Fox might’ve been the best player on the floor and posted the prettier statline for the Sacramento Kings on Monday night, it was Marvin Bagley who was the games main attraction. Bagley had himself an impressive debut. He poured in an efficient 18 points along with 6 rebounds and a game-high 3 blocks in 24 minutes of action. Oh, and he also had a filthy poster in the first quarter.
The Kings first-round pick from the 2017 Draft also made his Kings debut yesterday after missing his entire first year with a knee injury. He played 25 minutes and finished with 13 points and 3 rebounds on a 6-10 shooting night.
Like Fox for the Kings, Josh Hart was another returning player in this game who had himself a big game, but we’re not here to talk about them. We’re here for the rookies, specifically, Moe Wagner. First-round pick Moe Wagner gave his team 23 points and 7 rebounds, but struggled shooting the ball (6-18 from the floor, 2-9 from three). He did go 9-10 from the line however and had a team-high 2 steals and 1 block in 27 minutes.
Atlanta Hawks (88) vs Memphis Grizzlies (103):
Jaren Jackson Jr:
Jackson showed out Monday night. He gave Memphis fans a glimpse of what’s in store for the regular season and even amazed fans with his tribute to Steph Curry, burying 8 threes on 13 attempts and even sinking a hail mary half-court buzzer beater to end the 2nd quarter. It was the complete opposite of Trae Young’s performance. Jackson finished the contest with 29 points (9-15 FG), 3 rebounds and 2 blocks in 23 minutes.
Young had a less than spectacular start to his NBA career. He started off the game by air-balling his first two three-point attempts, then ended the first quarter with an 0-6 shooting performance before ending the game 4-20 from the floor and 1-11 from three with 16 points. His playmaking didn’t make up for his woeful shooting either, dishing out just 3 assists and turning the ball over twice in the process. The good news is Trae Young will have a chance to bounce back from that performance later today when his Hawks take on the Spurs.
Miami Heat (68) vs Golden State Warriors (79):
No rookies to watch out for in this one, but Derrick Jones Jr. (24 points, 11 rebounds on 4-5 from three) and Bam Adebayo (14 points and 14 rebounds) had themselves big games that Heat fans can get excited about.
San Antonio Spurs (76) vs Utah Jazz (92):
Allen was the crowd favorite Monday, and despite not shooting the ball well (4-16 FG, 2-6 3PT), he did contribute in other ways. He had 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1 steal in just 16 minutes. Allen’s court vision was on full display in this game and his gritty hustle should please Jazz fans as his game has the makings to be a perfect fit in Utah’s system.
Like Young and Allen, the Spurs 18th pick just couldn’t find a rhythm. He played 24 minutes and recorded 7 points, shooting 3-16 and had the worst plus-minus among all players in the game with a -20. Walker didn’t do much to get himself high percentage looks in this game and that was the result.
Summer League schedule for Tuesday, July 3rd:
San Antonio Spurs vs Atlanta Hawks at 7:00pm ET
Miami Heat vs Los Angeles Lakers at 9:00pm ET
Memphis Grizzlies vs Utah Jazz at 9:00pm ET
Golden State Warriors vs Sacramento Kings at 11:00pm ET