Scared money don’t make none. These words echoed throughout our hearts and souls in this seemingly perfect off-season. Two consecutive years now OKC has had a summer that did nothing short of inspiring the entire state into believing greatness was coming, but for the second consecutive start to the season something is wrong. Yes, Russ missed the first two games, but losing at home to the Kings and then another second-half collapse to the Celtics have given birth to that familiar worry we have felt as Thunder fans all too often. Don’t press the panic alarm yet though, there are some simple steps this team can take and get back on the right track in this wild wild west.
Let’s start with the obvious. Terrance Ferguson needs to play less. MUCH MUCH LESS. He is playing about 20 minutes per game and shooting a whopping 18.8% from the field and less than 10% from three. The 2nd year guard has looked lost and is a net negative for OKC right now. He doesn’t even appear to want the ball on offense at times just standing in the corner as if he were Andre Roberson. I have no quarrels with getting your young 20-year-old minutes to develop him, but 20 minutes a game from someone who is a net negative is absurd.
Now we need someone to start in place of Ferguson. We need a guy who can step in right away and contribute. Someone with experience and has something this team desperately needs. SHOOTING! Alex Abrines needs to start and play close to 30 minutes a night. He adds a different element to this team none of the other guys can provide right now. He isn’t shooting stellar right now, but we know the Spaniard can catch fire quickly.
Lastly, OKC has to hit free throws. Everyone knows OKC doesn’t have great shooters. We all understand that this team doesn’t have great free throw shooters necessarily. But 64%???? That is just awful and good for dead last in the NBA. Andre Roberson has yet to step foot on the floor and this team is last in free throw percentage. It’s unacceptable. It is early and they won’t continue to be this bad, but in order for this team to compete with the best of the best, they have to hit free throws. They don’t have the luxury of elite shooters on the wings to get them back in the game. This team is going to win games through swarming defense, relentless attacks on the rim and taking advantage at the line.
OKC is not in panic mode. Fans should be worried, players should be on edge, and Billy Donovan should be squirming in his seat a bit. The panic button is starting to vibrate a bit. It’s over in the corner of the office looking enticing. Don’t press it. Resist the urge. This team has two All-Stars and elite athletes across the board. They will be fine. But hey, if they lose to the Suns Sunday. Sound the alarms.
Year 11. It’s actually been that long. My heart can’t believe it. I remember several years ago when my dad and I were sitting on the couch watching ESPN together. A regular occurrence. A topic came up about whether OKC would get an NBA team someday and I remember looking at my dad asking him if he thought it would ever happen. He responded with a sort of bluntness that put me into a mini depression. He said he couldn’t see it happening because frankly, we are Oklahoma. That shook me. Flash forward to the not so distant future and it was announced the Sonics were coming to us. Talk about the greatest gift of my life and it was given to me by some rich dude named Clay Bennett I didn’t even know existed. All I knew was my dream was coming true. Look at us now. 11 years later and we are firmly supplanted in NBA lore forever. So for our 11th season I am going to put out 11 predictions that I can say with absolute certainty will come true. Bookmark them. Take a screenshot and come back to me when they have all come to pass. Let’s go.
1. Russell Westbrook won’t reach 20 triple doubles this season.
Triple doubles are hard. I don’t care what Colin Cowherd says. Russ will probably miss a bit of time this season and might start slow. 20 triple doubles seem like a lot in a season where Russ should be asked to do less than previous years.
2. Steven Adams will have 100 moments this season where he looks like the biggest human on the planet.
He was voted the toughest player by GM’s. Players say he is the strongest man in the league and he is somehow the offspring of Khal Drogo. The man is the world’s most beautiful force of nature.
3. TFerg will shoot 40% from three this season.
Before you call me crazy just know this man shot 44% from three post All Star break. I believe in TFerg and his Gatorade commercials awkwardness
4. Abdel Nader won’t quite be as weird Singler, but he will come close.
The former Celtics legend will don No. 11 in addition to his throne at the end of the bench. I don’t know a lot about Nader honestly, but I have heard grumblings of potential weirdness ensuing.
5. Dennis Schröder will run away with 6th man of the year honors.
Showcasing his skills in the starting lineup while Russ misses a few games will give him the early season hype train advantage. When Russ returns this man will terrorize opponents bench lineups.
6. Michael Cage will be blatantly and painfully biased in every Thunder broadcast.
Disclaimer: I like Michael Cage. Not for his abilities as a broadcaster or his viewpoints, but just for the sheer enjoyment of the Cage experience. My dad and I frequently text each other memorable “Cage quotes” from games. It’s fun. Give it a shot
7. OKC will be the 3 seed, but the media will act like it’s a disappointment
The irrational hate against us is so weird. Bill Simmons started it and since he is slowly drifting off into irrelevance others have taken up the mantle. It won’t stop this year.
8. Billy Donovan will be a Coach of the Year candidate.
As a Billy Donovan truther I believe he hasn’t been given a shot to prove how good of a coach he can be. With continuity entering his 4th season we will finally find out if this guy can be a coach in this league.
9. 2 Pat will start more games than Grant. (and it won’t be close)
2 Pat can shoot, is a versatile defender and an underappreciated passer. He will blend in nicely with the other starters.
10. PG and Russ will make All NBA teams
PG is 100% healthy and Russ will be Russ. Better chemistry and not having the insane amount of pressure of last year will allow these guys to play without a massive weight on their shoulders. Expect greatness.
11. Russell will set a new career high in snarls this season.
Previous career high is unknown so I will allow you to set that number yourself. I promise whatever number you set he will beat it.
I was recently able to speak with Down To Dunk and OKC Dream Team podcast host Andrew Schlecht. We talked about a number of Thunder topics including which young wing might pop, how Russell can change, how great Steven Adams is and much more! If you aren’t listening to Down To Dunk or OKC Dream Team, you need to start right now!!! It’s great content for any Thunder fan. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewKSchelcht. I hope you enjoy this!
Tyler: I noticed on your twitter account you threw a poll out asking who the best reserve wing for the Thunder will be. Abrines, Ferguson and TLC were the three guys listed and Ferguson finished last. You have been talking TFerg up on the pod saying he will shine off the bench. Why do you think people refuse to get excited about his second season?
Andrew: It’s all based on Summer League. Summer League is a tough place to analyze anybody. I mean, you can see little things here and there, and I remember the first time I thought Steven Adams was going to be good was when I saw him in summer league setting screens like he did. Ferguson not shooting the ball well played into that. They gave him a completely different role then what he will have on the Thunder, like being a facilitator, and you could just see him thinking about everything. That’s what raised a lot of red flags. We have to realize he will play the same role as last year while being stronger and having more experience. The coaching staff and the players like Russell and PG love this guy. Billy has always kind of favored athleticism, and at the end of the day I think it will be between TFerg and Abrines, and I think he will lean toward TFerg.
Tyler: Speaking of Billy, I tend to think of myself as a Billy Donovan truther. I have always tried to focus on the positives he has done. My theory is simply having continuity from one season to the next will be huge. He hasn’t had two years in a row with that consistency. Do think that will help him, and what could we see from Billy this year?
Andrew: Yeah, I think it’s a good point. Billy has been in the NBA for three seasons now and had three completely different teams. I don’t even know what kind of coach he is to be honest, and I don’t think he has been given a shot to show that yet. I have been in the locker room and have seen the stuff he has put on the board, but it doesn’t really seem like it has translated onto the court. I think we will find out what kind of coach Billy is this year. We have seen really good things from him like the 2016 run to the West Finals. As we both know they were one Klay Thompson flamethrower away from the Finals. Then onto the next playoff run. I don’t think he was good against Houston, and I don’t think he was very good this last year. I think he is a good coach. I know that Russell and Paul George believe in him, and that can be half the battle sometimes with your superstars. I think he will finally get a fair shake.
Tyler: Russ and Paul believing in him is huge, but let’s say the team underachieves this year again. Do you think their trust in him will begin to wane and you could see some potential stress on his job?
Andrew: Yeah, I think that is something you’d have to look at. He will have two years left on his contract. He is heading into that year where you have to figure it out. I know that Sam Presti loves him, and that is a big deal. If the ownership group and GM believe in the coach they usually get to stick around. If they don’t then they usually go find somebody else, but I’m under the belief that Sam Presti has found his guy in Billy Donovan and they are going to give him a real chance to prove it. I don’t think anything would happen this season unless they lost in the first round again, but I wouldn’t anticipate that. If that were to happen and they were the 6th seed and lost in the 1st round, then I think the following season he would be under the microscope. But as of right now I don’t think he is in any danger.
Tyler: Let’s talk about Russell. He is such an interesting player. At worst he is the 8th best player in the world, but he does have some flaws. I recently published an article about these and how he can improve to maximize the team’s potential. There are a couple things I want your thoughts on. There are about four or five possessions a game that Russ simply wastes rather than continue the flow of the game or get other guys involved, and we see him force a three or force an early shot. Second, when he is off the ball he doesn’t really move, but there have been instances where he will float around or come off a screen, set a quick screen and immediately go on the attack. Why hasn’t he been willing to do a little more of that in his career especially since Durant left?
Andrew: Yeah, the screening stuff has been there his whole career. I did a study with Michele Berra and Vantage Sports during the 2016 season when Durant was still on the team, and Russ just never screened at all. He would some out of timeout plays, but to me it’s just a lack of willingness. That is where it lies. Is he willing to set the screens? Billy loves off the ball movement. He values screening and Russell hasn’t really been a guy to do that at all. They do have a guy now who can handle the ball better than anybody they have had in while in Dennis Schroder. If Russell is going to change then this will be the season to do it, and we can kind of see what the rest of his career will look like if he is willing to play off ball. I think it’s really all about him being willing to shoot threes off the ball. If he can just be willing to catch and shoot more, his three point percentage will go up.
As far as the possessions he will waste or the dumb possessions. That isn’t going to go away. That is part of what makes Russell, Russell. He is a reckless player at times, but sometimes being that reckless will lead to greatness. I will just point to the 2017 season against Denver when he hit the record for triple doubles and hit that amazing shot to win the game. That same recklessness that takes dumb shots earlier at the end of the third quarter is the same that wins the MVP and that game in Denver. I don’t think the organization has any interest in eliminating that or trying to get that out of him because they know you kind of have to take the good and the bad with Russ.
Tyler: That remind me of a game that same season against Washington where Russ was having an awful shooting night, but hit two clutch threes at the end of the game. I think it was Nick Gallo that asked Russ about his mentality. Russ just gave a smile and gave one of my favorite quotes saying, “I ain’t ever gonna stop”. That’s Russell Westbrook right there.
Andrew: That’s exactly right. You want him to stop taking the dumb shots and forcing things, but that’s just Russell. In some ways the Thunder have created a monster with him, but also, they have a guy who won MVP two seasons ago and not many teams have that. It’s always going to be a wild ride with Russell Westbrook as your alpha dog.
Tyler: Is Steven Adams the greatest interview ever?
Andrew: He’s awesome. He’s really down to earth and tries to answer your question. He’s really smart, and that is one of the most underplayed things about him. He might have the best basketball mind on the team. He knows the game so well and is such a student of the game. He is incredibly funny and great in the locker room, but if you want a technical basketball question answered, he’s the guy to talk to. He will really give you an insightful answer.
Tyler: How confident are you one of the young guys is going to pop in the near future on a 1-10 scale?
Andrew: An 8. I think they have some really talented guys. TFerg is at the top of that list. The Thunder really like Hamidou Diallo, and they have him on a nice contract.
Tyler: I was surprised by how polished Diallo looked in Summer League.
Andrew: He showed quite a bit. He was impressive no question about that. You also have to take into account that he was told to just go out there and play. If I had to bet I would put him behind TFerg and Abrines in terms of who will become a top 8 rotation player.
Tyler: To close us out I have a few rapid fire True/False questions for you.
Tyler: First, OKC will finish as a top three seed in the regular season.
Tyler: Russell Westbrook will finish top three in MVP voting.
Tyler: The national media will end their irrational hate of OKC after this season.
Tyler: The Thunder’s new City Edition Jerseys will be worse than last years.
A Kyle Singler emergency pod will probably not happen if he gets jettisoned.
I go to a University in Indiana and Andrew gave some insight in how to deal with the irrational Paul George hate. Shouts to him for that.
The future of Abrines is quite murky with the Thunder after this year.
After talking to Andrew I want to meet Steven Adams more than ever.
I’d like to thank Andrew for agreeing to chat with me for a while. I have been a big fan of his for a few years now, and it was great to chat Thunder basketball with him. I look forward to listening to Andrew in the future and perhaps chatting with him again. One last time, if you aren’t listening to Down To Dunk or the OKC Dream Team podcasts YOU NEED TO START RIGHT NOW!
I love this point on Adams Summer League. It makes me wonder how many NBA dreams were crushed by a bruising Steven “Khal Drogo” Adams screen. ↑
This is the part where I try not to cry during our chat. ↑
Thank goodness. Any coach who casually drinks from the prop Gatorade in the post-game presser is a coach I want to have. ↑
It’s fun and it’s about Russ. Definitely worth checking out. ↑
Are you really a Thunder fan if that shot doesn’t give you chills? ↑
Other favorite Russel Quotes are “Sting for Who” and “Shoes make an outfit” ↑
It is my dream to ask Steven a question and him respond by referring to me as “mate”. ↑
Here we learn to go to Tim Duncan before Andrew for fashion advice… ↑
Andrew assured me he won’t be on the team come September. ↑
Before I begin I want to preface this with the fact I believe Russell Westbrook is at worst the 8th best player in the world. Where you have him in that top eight is not important. I will also say I truly have a deep fandom and passion for Russell the player and person. He is our ride or die in Oklahoma, and I would want no one else leading the way. He is the King of the Prairie for a reason, but he has to change in order for this team to rise in the West. I’m not talking wholesale changes. That would be ludicrous. But Russ does have to adjust his game this year in order for this team to reach their ceiling. Criticizing Russ has become almost like treason in Oklahoma. It isn’t right or wrong; it’s just the reality of the fandom. Saying Westbrook needs to evolve isn’t a harsh criticism though because nearly every Hall of Fame caliber star wanting to get over the hump and win a championship has to evolve. While it is wrong to say Russ hasn’t changed over the years, it is equally incorrect to suggest he doesn’t need to change anymore. While we could nitpick every minute detail of Russ’s game, I’m just going to lay out a couple of ways he can improve and evolve next year.
Play a little more off the ball
Great players need to have the ball in their hands, but great players also know how to impact the game away from it as well. Russ hasn’t really shown an aptitude as a screener or cutter, but there have been flashes where him simply moving away from the ball is devastating for the defense. Just floating around and staying active can lull your defender to sleep at times or cause confusion, and when that happens Russ can make them pay.
Russ can also screen from time to time. Rarely will you see him do it, and he shouldn’t do it often. But something as simple as a dribble hand off or a quick screen for George or others can give them that space needed to take advantage.
Here Russ does a mixture of a dribble handoff and ball screen because he was so close to George when he passed it. But look at the space George has coming off of it. Durant had switched to Russ, and Klay was sitting at the free throw line when George came around. George goes full steam ahead right at Klay and gets the bucket. When two players like Russ and PG work together like that it puts an incredible strain on the defense.
Russ can afford to play off the ball a little more this year than in the past because of the acquisition of Dennis Schröder. In his young career Schröder has proven to be a competent scorer and facilitator. He is adept at running an offense and at times shows off the same flashiness we love about Russ. Schröder will be an integral cog in the OKC offense this season allowing Russ to rest and at times play alongside him away from the ball. Russ could benefit from less ball handling responsibilities, and we could see more plays like this from Schröder.
Critical Decision Making
There is nothing more thrilling than a Westbrook go ahead pull-up three. We have all gone berserk when he knocks them down. However, I have found myself praying too many times for a flailing three to somehow drop in crunch time. It’s not only in crunch time. There are a few spots throughout the game where Westbrook takes horrible shots. Sometimes they go in, but it doesn’t change the fact a pull up three off a ball screen for one of the leagues worst three point shooters isn’t a good shot. Neither is a possession where Russ dribbles out the majority of the shot clock and is forced to heave one. These videos below come in the clutch and demonstrate how his decision making in critical moments needs to improve.
While there isn’t much time left in this game there is plenty of time for OKC to try and get a better look, whether it’s a quick two or a game tying three. As you can see Melo was wide open on the opposite wing, but instead Russ took a wild pull up three.
In this instance OKC is down 4 with 1:40 left. Plenty of time to still win this thing. Russ forces a tough pull up three trying to draw a foul, but instead only draws backboard.
This is from a few years ago, so as you can see it isn’t a new phenomenon.
Russ is a fantastic player and simply incredible to watch. I love every second of Russell Westbrook, the good and the bad. Yes, he has the ultra will to win, and the fire of competition burns so brightly inside him that we look past these things. But it’s okay to point out there are a few things he needs to improve for this team to rise in what is about to be an all out war for supremacy in the Western Conference.
In every relationship there needs to be consistency. In order for a relationship to flourish someone has to be intentionally consistent. Now, consistency isn’t the most flashy thing to look for and may not be one of the first traits you think of when describing your dream significant other, but without it a relationship falls apart. It’s the straw that stirs the drink. In basketball, consistency within a franchise or a player is not always the biggest attention getter. While important, it won’t garner many headlines. Nick Collison is the embodiment of consistency. Putting himself on the grinder day after day knowing he won’t be getting any love on the next edition of SportsCenter. Nick Collison went to war with OKC on his chest every year since the team got here. We never heard a complaint or a grumble, all we heard was the refs whistle as he drew yet another charge. He was the ultimate fan favorite who battled with Dirk, Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol and so many others while stepping up and taking on the dirty work each and every night. Nick Collison became Mr. Thunder and the consistency he brought is gone.
It’s been a few months since “The Old Man” announced his retirement and the thought of an OKC roster without him still feels unholy. “The Old Man” is a term of endearment given to Commanding Officer William Adama by his crew in the popular show Battlestar Galactica. In the twilight of Collison’s career my father and I attributed this affectionate nickname onto one Nick Collison. The commanding officer of this team is gone now so to speak and the man who led with a cool confidence is no longer our face of consistency. It will be impossible to gaze onto the Thunder bench next season and not feel a little empty at times knowing Mr. Thunder is no longer sitting there with his hair given to him by the basketball gods. When you feel this way just remember that while he is no longer physically on the court taking a charge or making a backdoor pass look sexy, his presence on the court is manifested by Russell Westbrook who called Nick Collison a mentor. He is seen in Steven Adams as well and every single one of his former teammates. Can we pause for a minute and remember how hilarious Collison was in those Stache Bros videos campaigning for a Russ MVP? Nick had a way of influencing every teammate he had with one thing he did better than everyone else. He was consistent.
OKC felt a strong connection with Nick from the beginning. Perhaps it was the way we felt drawn to a true unsung hero. Oklahomans feel underappreciated on a national scale all the time. His perfect hair played a major part of course as it sat upon his head with impunity. Nick Collison made looking completely ordinary a cool thing, but most of all OKC fans appreciated his consistency. It was a trait he passed down to every teammate he played with. It was something this franchise will embody even now that he is gone because Nick Collison left a legacy and he will always be remembered as Mr. Thunder.
Well, the doldrums of the NBA offseason did not last too long. The NBA world was rocked as Kawhi Leonard got shipped to Toronto. Conversely, DeMar DeRozan is now headed to San Antonio. Still, we must strive forward and continue on with the untouchables list.
If you missed the Eastern Conference list, then click here.
1. Dallas Mavericks – Luka Doncic
This is a no brainer. The Mavs just surrendered a future pick for the Slovenian point-forward. Doncic has the potential to be a transcendent NBA player. This pick and roll maestro will enter the league as one of its premier passers. If you need a reminder on just how good Doncic is, I dug up his ProCity Hoops profile for you.
2. Denver Nuggets – Nikola Jokic
What gave this one away? Jokic just signed a 5 yr/$147 million deal. The center finished last season with a better field goal percentage that Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins. Plus, he is one of the best passers in the game, regardless of position. Jokic finished 15th in assists per game last year, and 12th for total assists. Wow. This kid isn’t going anywhere.
3. Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry
Let’s get this out of the way. No one on this roster is getting traded anytime soon. This team has a few more finals appearances on the horizon, despite any players that LeBron guy lands in LA. While I do not expect a trade, I still chose Steph here. Trading him would be detrimental to the team’s fan base. You simply cannot throw away a home grown kid like Steph and expect everything to be okay.
4. Houston Rockets – James Harden
Did you expect anyone else? Here is a clip of every stepback J Harden hit last season.
5. Los Angeles Clippers – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Although it is merely summer league, this rookie has looked awesome. His octopus tentacles doubles as arms nowadays, and he used them for stealing basketballs. Offensively, he has the potential to play both guard positions. Jerry West has a steal on his hands.
Jerome Robinson was considered but, he does not have SGA’s ceiling. Tobias Harris was also in competition here, but his trade value is high enough to warrant being available. Check out SGA’s scouting report.
6. Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James
7. Memphis Grizzlies – Jaren Jackson Jr.
This was an easy selection. Triple J has looked like he will immediately be an elite rim protector in this league. On the other side of the ball he has shown promise by draining 8 thress during his first summer league game. His full report is here.
More importantly, however, it seems as though Memphis is looking to make the playoffs. They added Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple this offseason and drafted NBA ready Jevon Carter. In a loaded Western Conference, is this feasible? Memphis should be looking to unload Conley and Gasol instead of making the postseason.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns
Kat is my most underrated player in this league. He put up statistics last year that have never been done before. Not one player in league history has put up a stat line of 54 percent FG%, 42 percent 3P% on at least 14 field goal attempts and 3.5 three-point attempts.
Offensively, he is the best scoring center in the league and it is not even as close as we think. Check out how his numbers from last season rank against the premier offensive centers in the league last year.
If you considered Andrew Wiggins for this list, seek help. Take a “me” day. With Jimmy Butler a free agent flight risk, KAT is the selection to go with.
9. New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis
The Brow is the future of the NBA. A 6’11” power forward (who should be playing center) who can shoot from all three levels and has DPOY potential? Sign me up. Davis was only 22-years-old when he led the NBA in both blocks and PER. He has an MVP season in him somewhere, hopefully the Pelicans can unlock it for him.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook
I debated Paul George here for a second. Why? A big name free agent signing like that in OKC will be rare going forward. What message would it send to the league if OKC just shipped him off? Despite this, Westbrook gets the nod. Not only is he an MVP player, but he is the heart and soul of Oklahoma basketball.
11. Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker
Because, duh. Devin Only two players have put up 24 point per game, 4 assists per game on 38 percent 3P shooting during their first 5 seasons in the league. One of them is Devin Booker. The other…Steph Curry.
DeAndre Ayton was never seriously considered here. He is a heck of a talent but, it is easier to find a rim protecting, three point shooting big than it is someone with Booker’s talent and ceiling. Josh Jackson was never truly in consideration.
12. Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard
I struggled with this pick. Half of me thinks that Portland should just blow it up. The West has gotten even harder and they look to be a team with a second round ceiling. Why pursue the same result every year, if that result is not winning a title?
The other half of me thinks that Portland may have just enough assets to acquire a third star. Zach Collins still has a ton of potential and Portland is very high on him. Anfernee Simons balled out during summer league and turned the heads of many executives. Gm Neil Oshey should certainly consider bringing Kevin Love back to his home state. Send a package of prospects and picks over to Cleveland. Buddy up Love with McCollum and Dame, go all in.
13. Sacramento Kings – De’Aaron Fox
This selection was harder than it looked. Marvin Bagley is the Kings new toy. The 2nd overall pick in last year’s draft was not ranked as the #2 overall prospect by many scouts. Yet, the Kings loved Bagley and his desire to actually want to play in NoCal. I had Bagley ranked behind duke teammate Wendell Carter, and through summer league is appeared that I was right to do so.
Fox is a different story. He will help rebuild a culture in Sac’Town. Fox may possibly be the quickest end to end player in the league, and he has a developing jumper. Having already shown leadership and clutchness, I would be willing to trade Bagley before Fox.
14. San Antonio Spurs – DeMar DeRozan
Aw. So sad, DeMar.
Yesterday I wrote that no one on the Raptors should be untouchable, and apparently GM Masai Ujiri agreed with me. San Antonio clearly wants to take advantage of the remaining years that they have with Pop (bad decision.) So, they went out and traded Kawhi for DeMar. Shipping him off now would only would blow my mind, literally. GM R.C Buford had made brilliant moves for the Spurs for almost two decades now, but this move was horrendous.
15. Utah Jazz – Donovan Mitchell
Spida Mitchell made a bunch of GMs look dumb last year. He looks like a modern day D Wade. Mitchell has an All-NBA ceiling and I cannot wait to watch him develop. Gobert was never truly in contention here. In fact, I would consider trading the big man at his peak value.
During last year’s playoffs, we saw how stretch bigs can draw rim protectors away from, well, the rim. Ask Joel Embiid to explain what Al Horford did to him. Gobert will be less and less effective in the playoffs as teams play smaller. For now though, rejoice in having one of the most exciting players in the game back in Utah.
Now that LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a long term rebuilding process ahead of them. The quickest way to turn the franchise around is to turn their older proven players into young players and draft picks. While the Cavaliers have a lot of players on the roster with negative trade value, the two players they have with plus trade value is Kevin Love and Kyle Korver.
Kevin Love to Pacers for Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison, future first-round pick.
When many expected the Pacers to be tanking for the number one draft pick last season, they surprised everyone and finished with the number five seed in the playoffs with a 48-34 record, while pushing the Cavaliers in a seven game series. Victor Oladipo made his first all star appearance and the team played well around him. However, the Cavaliers took him out in their playoff match up and forced the roles players to try and beat them. Adding Love would give the Pacers a second scoring option and a dangerous pick and pop game with Oladipo.
Ideally the Cavaliers would like to avoid any bad long term contracts but still bring in veterans that can help the team. Both Young and Collison are in the final year of their respective deals and can help the team this season. Any trade involving Love should return the Cavaliers a first round pick. Like many expect, if the Cavaliers are clearly out of the playoff picture by the trade deadline, they could unload both Young and Collison to playoff contenders or teams looking to remove bad contracts in exchange for more draft picks.
Kyle Korver to the 76ers for Jerryd Bayless, future second-round pick.
After having a successful season last year, the 76ers are determined to build off of that and make a run at the finals. After losing Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova in free agency they need to add shooters to space the floor for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Korver is former 76er who could easily fill Belinelli’s role in the rotation, no problem. Bayless is out of the rotation and the 76ers have plenty of future second round picks they can afford to give up to add an excellent shooter.
Like Korver, Bayless is on an expiring contract and the Cavaliers could look to buy him out. Korver has value around the league but he has limited value for the Cavaliers. The minutes Korver would be playing could go to younger players. Unlike any trade for Love, the Cavaliers won’t get back much draft capital for Korver but a future second round pick for a team that lacks youth and draft picks is a solid return for a 37 year old player.
Kyle Korver to the Wizards for Jason Smith, Jodie Meeks, future second-round pick.
Much like the 76ers, a large part of the Wizards offense is based on spacing the floor with three point shooting. Otto Porter and Bradley Beal are two of the better three point shooters in the league but with John Wall, the Wizards can never have enough shooters. Meeks was suppose to help provide shooting but last year he had a down season and is suspended for the first 19 games of the 2018-2019 season. Like a lot of teams in the eastern conference, the Wizards view the conference wide open and are pushing all the chips in. Adding Korver at the cost of a second round pick and two players out of the rotation is a steal for the Wizards.
For the Cavaliers this deal is similar to the one with the 76ers in terms of return value. Both Meeks and Smith are in the last year of their respective deals and would be buyout candidates. Their combined salary is a tad less than Bayless’ contract so the Cavaliers might favor this deal over the 76ers one in order to save some money. Korver should fetch the Cavaliers a second round pick and getting back expiring contracts makes the deal all the better.
Kevin Love to Thunder for Carmelo Anthony, Terrance Ferguson, two future second-round picks.
Obviously this would be a huge shocker if it happens. Anthony has a no trade clause he would have to waive in order to be traded but if the Cavaliers promise to buy him out he will waive it. The Thunder have a payroll with the luxury tax penalty of over $300 million dollars. If they can trade Anthony for nothing, they could save about $100 million dollars. However, if the Thunder want to add a third star player, using Anthony’s contract is the best way to do so. The Thunder don’t have a first round pick they can trade till 2022 so they would have to get creative in their negotiations.
In any Love trade, the Cavaliers would want back a future first round pick. However, with the Thunder’s limited future draft picks the Cavaliers could accept last year’s first round pick, Ferguson and a pair of second round picks. While it’s not an ideal package, moving Love to the western conference would be preferred. The Cavaliers could give Ferguson the minutes he needs to develop that he isn’t getting in Oklahoma City. Swallowing Anthony’s almost $28 million dollar salary is tough but the Cavaliers are better offer doing that and getting back assets verse keeping Love on a rebuilding team.
J.R. Smith to the Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca, Emeka Okafor, Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins.
The truth is no one wants Smith, well maybe that’s not true. The Pelicans have gone under a major transformation this offseason with the loss of DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo in free agency while adding Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton. However, the Pelicans have yet to add some scoring along the wing. While Smith is a headache at times, he can score and shoot. While Smith is owed $15.7 million dollars next season, the Pelicans can save about $11.8 million dollars if they waive him before June 29th.
The Cavaliers would love to move on from Smith at the cost of the nothing. All four players the Pelicans would send back in the trade are either entering a contract year (Ajinca and Miller) or have non-guaranteed contracts (Okafor and Liggins). The Cavaliers can waive the non-guaranteed contracts of Okafor and Liggins immediately, while they could try to buy out Ajinca. Keeping Miller would be a solid addition for the Cavaliers. Miller is a good wing defender and shot a career high 41% from three last season. For the Cavaliers to dump Smith without taking back any long term salary is a perfect trade for them.
In the end, with James moving on to Los Angeles the Cavaliers are facing a long rebuilding process. Any player on the roster other than Collin Sexton is reportedly available for trade and the Cavaliers should move anyone else for young players and draft picks in order to jump start the rebuilding process.
Before we get into the “Top 25 Players in the NBA,” I need to preface by saying this is if everyone is healthy in the league. For example, I did not lower Kawhi Leonard’s rank because he barely played last season. So, here it is, my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#25: Ben Simmons
I have already prepared myself for the reactions to the 25th ranked player in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. People are going to say that Simmons is already a top-20, or even top-15 player in the NBA. However, why? I am not saying that Simmons is not going to be a top-10 player in the league one day, but I do not understand how people already have him ranked so high.
Simmons had a very good rookie year in the NBA. Averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game, Simmons ran away with the Rookie of the Year. What makes Simmons’ stats even more impressive is the fact that he did not make a single three last season. With the way the modern NBA is trending, having a non-shooting ball-handler is uncommon.
While Simmons did not make any threes last season, that did not slow him down. Take a look at the GIF below.
It never seemed to matter how far off Simmons’ defender played him last season. Simmons would always find a way to get to the basket and finish at a high clip. Converting on 69.8% of his shots at the rim, Simmons was well-above the 63.1% league average. Just because Simmons is currently ranked 25th in my rankings, it will not be long before he slides into the top-15, and the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#24: LaMarcus Aldridge
NBA fans often forget how dominant LaMarcus Aldridge really is. Remember his days in Portland? The dude was a walking double-double. Then, he gets out of the spotlight in San Antonio and people forget about him. Aldridge is still one of the most dominating big men in the NBA.
Averaging 23.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, it is time to acknowledge how talented Aldridge is. LMA led a Kawhi-less Spurs team to the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. Yes, Gregg Popovich is a mastermind, but teams do not make the playoffs in the West without talent on the court.
Aldridge’s 29.1% usage rating last season was the highest it has been in his career with San Antonio. Aldridge made it work too. Developing his game to continue to fit the modern NBA, Aldridge posted the highest offensive rating of his career. Fans often forget about how good Aldridge is, it is time to continue to acknowledge that fact.
#23: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is one of my favorite players to watch in the entire NBA. His skill set for a center is wildly unheard of, but wildly productive. I mean, come on, how many NBA centers can make this pass?
Jokic’s basketball IQ and passing ability alone make him one of the top centers in the NBA. However, there is so much more to his game. With averages of 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game, Jokic brings it all to the table.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in his game last season was his three-point shooting. The Joker attempted a total of 280 threes last season, connecting on 39.6% of the attempts. Jokic has made it a point of emphasis to continue to adjust his game to stay up-to-date with the modern NBA.
Last season, 27.7% of Jokic’s attempted field goals were from three-point territory. The season before, just 16.3% of his shots were from three. This is a good sign for the Nuggets and their big man. Jokic has been able to adapt and stay productive while the league changes. This is why Jokic is in my top-25 and why Denver just inked him to a max contract.
#22: DeMar DeRozan
Another season has gone by and another season has ended for DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors at the hands of “The King.” After going into the playoffs as the top seed in the East, the Raptors did not even manage to win one game against Cleveland in the second round. However, this does not alter DeRozan’s playing ability.
Last season marked the fifth straight year that DeRozan posted at least 20 points per game. Recording 23 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game, DeRozan solidified himself as one of the game’s top two guards. Having his usage rate drop from 34.3% in the 2016-17 season to 29.6% in the 2017-18 season, DeRozan remained effective attempting the most threes in his career, and connecting at the second-highest clip on those shots in his career.
In addition, DeRozan posted a 9.6 win share stat, making him one of the most valuable players in win shares in the league. Most of the stats speak for themself. DeRozan gets to his spots on offense, and he takes advantage of his matchup. There was little debate in my mind when deciding if DeRozan belonged in the “Top-25 Players in the NBA” list.
#21: Rudy Gobert
Mark Rudy Gobert down as one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Gobert is not a flashy player by any means, which is why he is seldomly mentioned in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” conversation. Just because Gobert is not a three-point shooting five does not mean he is not one of the best centers in the league.
Gobert does most of his damage on the defensive side of the ball. Averaging 2.3 blocks per game last season, Gobert solidified himself as one of the best paint-protectors in the league. However, there is more to his game than his defense. Gobert recorded 13.5 points per game last season while shooting 62.2% from the field, a career-high. Yes, most of these points came on dunks or lobs from the “Spanish Unicorn,” but that is where Gobert does his damage.
It is mind boggling why Gobert is not talked about more often. His stellar 122 offensive rating and 99 defensive rating should put him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” with few questions asked.
#20: Victor Oladipo
Who would have thought that one year ago at this time that we would have Victor Oladipo in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA”? What a year it was for Oladipo with the Indiana Pacers. Oladipo silenced all his haters averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. Vic led the Pacers, who were a projected lottery team, to the fifth seed in the East and took LBJ and the Cavs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
I had trouble finding a spot for Oladipo in the rankings because of how unexpected last season was. But, when you look at all the numbers as a whole, he definitely deserves to be in the top-20. In addition to his gaudy offensive numbers, Oladipo averaged 2.4 steals per game, ranking him first in the NBA last season. The winner of the Most Improved Player is bound for another successful 2018-19 season. His determination to win was on full display right after the game seven loss to the Cavs. The first thing he did after the game was text his trainer asking him when the work started up again.
#19: Paul George
Well, Thunder fans, PG13 is there to stay. Congratulations. One year after you traded for a “rental,” the team has convinced a top-20 player in the NBA to stay in Oklahoma City. Now, Thunder fans may be wondering why George ranks lower than others have him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. Averaging 21.9 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game, PG13 had an interesting season adjusting to the OK3.
In my opinion, George hasn’t been the same since his gruesome injury with Team USA. He has not been as explosive and does not show the same burst he showed in those playoff battles against LeBron and the Heat. This was to be expected based on the injury, but that is the biggest reason he is 19th in the rankings. In addition, George has never been a great clutch player, often underperforming in crucial situations.
This season, George shot 42.2% from the field in the fourth quarter. In addition, he shot 38.3% from three in the fourth quarter. Now, do not get me wrong, 38% from three is not a bad number, but it is lower than his 40.1% from three throughout the season. Finally, who can forget game six of the playoffs last season against the Utah Jazz. In an elimination game, George juiced just five points. Paul George is a great player, I am not trying to say he is not, but for me 19 is where PG13 belonged on the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list.
#18: Karl-Anthony Towns
The Big KAT had a terrific third season in the NBA, and now he is going to get paid. Karl-Anthony Towns is reportedly in negotiations with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a five-year, max contract. Towns made his first all-star appearance last season and he is not looking back.
Documenting 21.3 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per game, Towns was one of the most versatile offensive bigs in the NBA. Notice how I said offensive, because his defense is a whole different discussion. Towns shot 42.1% from three-point range last season, the highest percentage of any Wolves player. Ranking 14th in the NBA in percentage from downtown, Towns has adjusted his game with the modern NBA.
Helping lead the Wolves to their first playoff series in over a decade, Towns had a disappointing playoff series. Averaging just 15.4 points per game and shooting under 50% from the field and under 30% from three, Towns had a less than pleasing first playoff series of his career. However, in games three, four, and five of the series against the Rockets, Towns was back to averaging 21 points a night. He struggled mightily in the first two games, but seemed to overcome his struggles and put it past him.
As one of the most versatile bigs in the NBA, Towns already ranks in the top-20. But, it will not be long before he is in the conversation for the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#17: Klay Thompson
Mark me down as a firm Klay Thompson believer. What he does every night for the Golden State Warriors is invaluable. Thompson is one of, if not the best, shooter in the NBA. Averaging 20 points per game last season on 44% shooting from three-point range, Klay solidified himself as the best third option in the NBA. Imagine what Klay could be doing as the first option on a team? He is a free agent in 2019, could we see him as a first option?
Getting past his future with the Warriors, when we look at Klay Thompson’s game, it is nothing but good things. We all know about his stellar shooting and his ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the court, but what some people do not know about is his defensive ability. Watch below as Klay Thompson absolutely locks down Paul George as the shot clock expires. Not many people can hang with a top-level offensive player like PG13, but Klay Thompson can.
#16: Joel Embiid
Trust the Process. Well, the process is working. It will not be long before Joel Embiid is a top-10 player in the NBA. Playing in 63 games last season, the Kansas big man averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds per game. Embiid did work in every facet of the game shooting over 48% from the field and recording 1.8 blocks per game. However, there is still work to do if Embiid wants to be a top-10 or top-5 player in the NBA.
The first thing is development from three. In his “rookie” season in the NBA, Embiid shot 36.7% from three, a very respectable percentage for a big man. However, last season, that percentage dropped to 30.8%. There is potential for Embiid to have his downtown shooting percentage climb, and he will need it to climb to take the next step.
In addition, speaking in general terms, Joel Embiid has the mindset and attitude of a top-level NBA player. Embiid cares about one thing and one thing only: winning. Whether you like it or not, Embiid’s trash talking on the court helps him gain an edge and it causes problems for opponents. Joel Embiid is on his way. Even though I do not have him ranked as my top center, it should not be long before “The Process” claims that spot in “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
I already know it is coming. People are going to think I am crazy for putting Cousins ahead of Embiid. Since these rankings are not taking injuries into the picture, Cousins still ranks as my top center. People forget of how dominant Cousins is. Players feed the ball down low and Boogie gets a bucket, it is usually as simple as that.
Cousins was having a career-year before going down with injury last season. Posting 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game, Cousins looked primed to appear in his first playoff series. Unfortunately, the NBA Gods had different ideas. But, the injury does not take away from the player Cousins is. DeMarcus Cousins is, plain and simple, dominant. His footwork on the low-post and his continued development from three make him the most effective center in the NBA and 15th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#14: Draymond Green
There are fans of the NBA who cannot stand Draymond Green, and I am in the same boat. However, I respect him as a player and the energy that he brings to the game. It hurt me to put him 14th in these rankings, but it was what he deserved. Green affects the game in so many ways that the Warriors would not be the same without him. He does it on offense, defense, leadership, and of course, in trash talking.
There is not a player in the NBA that I can think of who plays with more energy than Draymond Green. Green is pure heart and effort every time the ball goes up in the air. Yes, his passion for the game can get him in trouble from time to time, but his passion is usually used positively. Green averaged 11 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game last season. However, it is what does not show up in the box score that makes Green a difference maker. Green’s 105 defensive rating and 6.1 defensive win shares make him one of the top defenders in the NBA.
Another part of Green’s game that makes him so good is his ability to play the five. The Warriors made the small-ball lineup a thing, using Green at the five. This death lineup is what makes the Warriors so good. Teams can try to put Green in a pick-and-roll when he is at the five, but Green has the ability to switch onto guards and shut them down. It is unfair at times and part of the reason he ranks 14th in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#13: Damian Lillard
“Dame Dollar.” “Big Game Dame.” Whatever you want to call him, Damian Lillard is a special talent. While he has never found much success in the postseason, Lillard is one of the best guards in the NBA. His shiftiness and sudden explosion make him a must-watch. Filling it up with 26.9 points and 6.6 assists per game last season, Lillard had arguably his best season in his career.
Lillard made 227 threes last season, just two less than his career-high, which he posted in 2015-16. Dame kept defenders guessing last season. If the defense came up and pressed Lillard, he would explode past them and finish at the rim. If the defense laid off, Lillard would pull up from Mars and drain a long three in your face. Don’t believe me? Check out his game-winner against the Lakers below and think again. There’s no reason that Lillard should not be in the top-15 of any “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#12: John Wall
Why is everyone starting to hate on John Wall? He gets hurt for one season and everyone is starting to act like he is falling off. No way. Not a chance. John Wall is still one of the most dominant and explosive points guards in the association. Even after injury last season, Wall managed to post 19.4 points and 9.6 assists per game. No, he was not his normal self, but that is expected coming off an injury that sidelined him for more than a month.
No matter what anyone says, there shall be no John Wall slander. Wall is one of the toughest covers in the entire league, and when he brings out the gang signs, it is over. The speedster has never been a great three-point shooter or defender, and he might never be. However, the way he attacks the rim and creates for his teammates, Wall deserves to be 12th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#11: Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Buckets. All kinds of rumors are surrounding Butler and the Timberwolves this summer. There have been recents reports that Butler will not re-sign with the Wolves. There has been reports that he is unhappy with the effort shown by Karl Towns and others. If you need a refresher on the whole situation, I broke it down in an article. Anyways, on to Butler as the player. Butler is the second-best two-way player in the NBA (behind Kawhi.) There are no words to describe his value to the Timberwolves last season. Without him, the Wolves would have been in the lottery and nowhere near a playoff team.
To further prove that point, Butler missed 23 games last season. The Timberwolves were 10-13 without Butler last season. With him, the Wolves were 37-22. Butler was one of just a handful of Timberwolf players that decided to play defense last season. Butler’s defense was so good that the Wolves held opponents to 7.2 points lower in offensive rating when Jimmy was on the floor. Jimmy, along with other veterans like Taj Gibson, was the main reason the Wolves did not allow 150 points per game.
In addition, Jimmy got his buckets. His 22.2 points per game led the Timberwolves. Furthermore, Butler was who the Wolves went to when the team was in dire need of a basket. Butler was the go-to man down the stretch and led the Timberwolves to the playoffs.
#10: Chris Paul
What could have been. That will be the question in NBA and Rockets fans head for the months leading up to the 2018-19 season. The Rockets were one game away from defeating the “undefeatable” Golden State Warriors. Then, Chris Paul went down with an injury at the end of game five that kept him out of game six and seven. Paul’s value to the Rockets was much more than scoring, finding teammates, and defending. Paul was a leader on and off the court for Houston.
Multiple times throughout the season, the Rockets looked like they would fall apart during a game; however, they held on. Why? Chris Paul. Paul kept the team together in games that were spiraling out of control. Paul got the team buckets when they needed them most, and he controlled the game like a true floor general. While CP3 posted his second-lowest assist total of his career, the ball was out of his hands a lot. People wondered how he and James Harden would co-exist. And to put it lightly, I think they did just fine.
Chris Paul seems to fit in nicely with whoever he plays next to. He is the true definition of a great leader and a great teammate. The only thing preventing CP3 from being ranked higher than 10 is the other unearthly players sitting higher in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#9: Kyrie Irving
Another great “what if” story from the NBA last season. The Boston Celtics took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics did so without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. So, Boston fans everywhere are dreaming over what could have been for the team last season if even Irving stayed healthy. In his first season post-LeBron, Irving averaged 24.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. His handles and offensive wizardry continued to dazzle in Beantown.
I have Irving ranked as my third best point guard, behind Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry. However, at just 26-years-old, Irving is bound to soon be the top point guard in the league. It is amazing what Irving is doing at such a young age. If injuries stay out of his way, top-5 is on the way for the former Duke guard in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#8: Giannis Antetokounmpo
For the longest time, the Greek Freak was on his way. Well, it is official, he has arrived. Now the best player in the East with LeBron gone, Antetokounmpo is just what his nickname says “a freak.” Giannis recorded 26.9 points and 10 rebounds per game last season. Every season that he has been in the NBA, Antetokounmpo has made a jump in PPG from the previous season. If that continues, it will not be long before Giannis is averaging 30 PPG.
In addition to his ridiculous scoring numbers, Giannis is a terrific passer and defender. Averaging 4.8 assists per game last season, Giannis made defenses pay when they doubled him. On defense, he recorded 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. His length and athleticism makes him a top-five two-way player in the NBA. Before you start debating whether Giannis should be ranked as the top player in the Eastern Conference without LeBron, chew on this:
#7: Russell Westbrook
For the second season in a row, Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double. I do not care what you think of stat-padding or anything of that nature, averaging a triple-double is impressive. The amount of energy Westbrook puts forth every night is next to none. Westbrook plays with a similar intensity as Draymond Green. Ever since Kevin Durant left the Thunder, it seems like that energy has doubled. Westbrook is out to prove something, and he wants to prove it with a championship.
Ranked as my number two point guard on the list, it is Westbrook’s explosiveness and offensive abilities that get the job done. Averaging 25.4 points per game last season, Russ shot 44.9% from the field. His 5.5 offensive win shares makes you realize just how great Russ is on that side of the ball. If Westbrook could develop a 36-40% three-point shot he would be virtually unstoppable. The only chance teams have of stopping Russ is letting him shoot and hoping he misses. Because once he gets to the rim or on the fastbreak, it is game over.
#6: Kawhi Leonard
The summer of LeBron was quickly flooded by the summer of Kawhi. After requesting a trade out of San Antonio, fans have been on the edge of their seats waiting to find out where Leonard will land. Leonard has been on the record saying he wants to be in Los Angeles, but there might not be a deal that makes sense for the Spurs/Clippers/Lakers. Wherever Leonard lands, the team will be getting the top two-way player in the game.
After basically sitting out an entire season, it is easy to forget just how good Kawhi is. He is nicknamed “The Klaw” for a reason. Kawhi absolutely shuts down the opposing team’s best player each and every night. He has made a living on the defensive side of the ball. His defense is what got him into the NBA. Kawhi was never a great offensive player coming into the league, but his defense was enough to get him a spot.
Since he has been in the league, Kawhi has developed his offense. Kawhi is now one of the biggest offensive threats in the NBA. His ability to knock down shots and over power people on the way to the rim make him such a scary matchup. If Kawhi Leonard played last season, and we were able to see his further improvement, he very well could have made the top-5 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#5: James Harden
Yes, your eyes are not lying. I have the MVP ranked fifth in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. James Harden is great, that is not a question, but there are just players that do more than Harden. Harden makes his living on the offensive side of the ball, and in particular, at the free-throw line. Harden attempted over 10 free-throws per game last season. His 8.7 points per game that come from the stripe accounted for 28.6% of his total points.
There is no doubt there is a skill in getting to the free-throw line, but sometimes the way Harden gets to the line is hard to watch. His flopping and wild body movements draw the refs into a ton of whistles when there is really no contact. This, along with his sub-par defense, which is recently improved, made Harden land in the five hole in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#4: Steph Curry
The former two-time MVP and unanimous MVP has a great story. The sharpshooter was labeled as “too small” coming into the draft. People thought that he was just a cinderella story that went to Davidson, and they predicted Curry would fall off the map. Well, Golden State took a chance on Steph, and boy has it paid off. Curry takes the most threes out of anyone in the NBA. Curry attempted 501 threes last season in just 51 games, that is almost 10 threes a game. And, while he attempts those 10 threes a game, he connects on 42.3% of them.
Hats off to Steph Curry. The NBA has arguably changed because of guys like Curry who attempt threes in bunches. Curry has no problem pulling up and shooting from anywhere on the court. He is one of the deadliest offensive players the NBA has ever seen. Widely regarded as one of the best shooters in the history of the NBA, there was little doubt to put Curry in the four spot in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#3: Anthony Davis
When DeMarcus Cousins went down with an injury last season, most thought the Pelicans playoff hopes were over. Anthony Davis had different ideas. Davis averaged 28.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season. He continued to develop his game to fit the modern NBA, shooting 34% from three. In addition to the offensive work he put in, Davis showed his worth on defense too. Recording 2.6 blocks per game, Davis made any player think twice before testing him in the paint.
Davis has the potential to be one of the all-time greats. Yes, I said it. At just 25-years-old, Davis is showing how good he can be. If Davis can continue to develop his three-pointer and start winning more playoff games, he will be first on the list before too long.
#2: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is great. There is no other way to put it. What KD does on a nightly basis is unheard of. The two-time champ is the best pure scorer the game has ever seen. Durant fills it up in so many different ways. He will take you off the dribble and finish at the cup. Durant will explode by you just to stop and pop from mid-range. Or, he will not worry about dribbling at all and just take a 30-foot bomb that he knocks down with ease.
There are so few words as to how one would describe Kevin Durant and the way he can score. So, I am going to leave it as that. As the best pure scorer the NBA has ever seen, KD will go down as an all-time great.
#1: LeBron James
LeBron James tops off my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list. When I said it was hard to describe Kevin Durant? It is even harder to describe LeBron James. What LBJ did this past season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading the team back to their fourth straight finals appearance is only supposed to be possible in movies. LeBron James single-handedly dragged the Cavs to the finals, and that is an understatement. And if it was not for J.R. and his foolishness in game one of the NBA Finals, who knows how that series plays out.
LeBron James is simply great. Perhaps the greatest to ever play the game. Now, in Los Angeles, LABron will continue to cement his legacy as the best player in the NBA.
Thanks for checking out the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. Share the article and let me know what you think in the comments below!
Two years ago today Kevin Durant decided to pull one of the weakest moves of any NBA superstar ever. He grabbed a knife and plunged it right into the heart of the state of Oklahoma by deciding to sign with the team that had just beaten him in the playoffs, the Golden State Warriors. Two years ago today is also the anniversary of the famous cupcake photo that Russell Westbrook posted on social media. That picture foreshadowed KD’s future nickname, “Cupcake.” Much time has passed since those events, but how has Kevin Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City affected both the Thunder and Warriors for the past two seasons?
For the Warriors, they have began to rival the Detroit “Bad Boy’’ Pistons of the old days for the title of, “Most Hated NBA Team Ever.” They definitely haven’t declined in terms of how good they are. Adding Kevin Durant just added to the insane amount of talent already on their roster and NBA fans will be talking about the insane super team the Warriors were able to put together for years to come. The Warriors have found themselves as back to back champions since they have added Durant and with the signing of DeMarcus Cousins this offseason they are looking to win the championship for a third year straight in 2019. Kevin Durant has also found himself with more hardware than the two rings he’s won so far. KD won the NBA Finals MVP trophy in both the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals.
As far as draft picks and free agency goes the Warriors have done very well. As previously stated, the Warriors were able to sign DeMarcus Cousins this offseason. They have also made moves to acquire players like Nick “Swaggy P” Young. Draft-wise the only player who is notable for the Warriors is Jordan Bell. While Jordan Bell didn’t have a stellar season during his rookie year, he was able to put up some impressive numbers playing for a stacked team like the Warriors. In 57 games played, Bell averaged 1.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.6 points per game to go along with his 62.7% shooting from the field. It hasn’t been perfect for the Warriors though, they have lost a few good pieces on their roster in the past two seasons. In order to make space for Kevin Durant in 2016, Harrison Barnes found his way to Dallas and during this offseason, the Warriors lost JaVale McGee to the now LeBron-lead Lakers. The good is better than the bad has been for Dub Nation for the past two seasons and their future is looking brighter than ever.
For the Thunder, things haven’t been particularly pretty. In 2016 Sam Presti was able to trade Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis prior to KD’s departure. These would have been valuable pieces to go along with a roster lead by KD and Russ but unfortunately KD was bitten by the, “If you can’t beat em’ join em” bug and he decided to join the Warriors. This left a gaping hole in the Thunder’s roster. The Thunder fought tooth and nail all throughout the 2016-17 NBA season, eventually ending with a historic Westbrook season of 42 triple-doubles and an MVP trophy, a 47-35 record, and the sixth seed. In the playoffs the Thunder found themselves knocked out of the first round in five short games at the hands of the Houston Rockets.
In the 2017 offseason Sam Presti was THE man. Sam stunned the NBA with a blockbuster move that brought Paul George from Indiana to OKC in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. But that wasn’t the only move that Presti made, he also traded Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott for Carmelo Anthony, another good move. Or was it? The attempt of the OK3, as the trio of Melo, PG, and Russ would eventually be called turned out to be a huge flop. Melo had statistically the worst season of his career as his playstyle and ego didn’t fit in the Thunder’s system. In 78 games played Melo averaged 16.2 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, and 1.3 assists per game, all while shooting only 40% from the field and 35% from the three-point line. The Thunder ended the 17-18 NBA season the same way as the 16-17 season ended. Oklahoma City found themselves knocked out of the first-round of the playoffs but this time around it was at the hands of a young Donovan Mitchell-lead Utah Jazz team. There were a few factors that played into their first-round knockout, most notably the injury of Andre Roberson, as well as the poor play of the OK3.
Things have begun to turn around for the Thunder in the 2018 offseason with Paul George making a huge decision to stay in OKC and chase rings with Russell Westbrook rather than going to play with LeBron in L.A. Things aren’t all good for the Thunder this offseason though. Melo accepted his player option with the Thunder for $27.9 million (Though most expect him to soon find his way off of the Thunder Roster.) And with the addition of Nerlens Noel and the recent re-signing of Raymond Felton, the Thunder, as of the time this article was written have found themselves over $300 million in luxury tax. A historic moment in the NBA but definitely not a good one. Despite the misfortunes of the Thunder, they have seemed to be making a good comeback from the KD departure.
KD and Russ
Kevin Durant’s return to OKC included cupcake posters, boos, and slanderous signs all throughout Chesapeake Arena. It seems that every matchup including OKC and Golden State is a heated one, but are Russ and KD cool now? During the 2018 All-Star Break, KD and Russ were sighted cracking jokes with each other numerous times. Does this mean that Russ and KD are cool now or is it all a publicity stunt to get the media to quiet down on the Russ and KD rivalry? NBA fans might never truly know the answer to that question. One thing that NBA fans do know however is that Kevin Durant and the fabulous Golden State Warriors ruined basketball.