What in the world is going on with this Wizards team?
Hey! The rebounding wasn’t an issue! You wan’t to know why? Because there practically weren’t any to grab! The Clippers shot a blistering 54% from the field and 55% from beyond the arc. Washington had one defensive lapse on top of another, and there was a lacksidasical effort all across the board tonight. This season (so far) was perfectly summed up in a John Wall mishandled ball in which he lost and then simply stood next to the grapple for the ball, watching his teammates wreslte to grab his own error.
Otto Porter has caught his share of criticism from head coach Scott Brooks throughout past games, and didn’t do much tonight to change his stance on Porter’s play. In thirty minutes, the forward made six shots on 33% shooting, along with a few boards and assists. The poor effort, along with the early exit of Markieff Morris, spelled early disaster for this team. HOWEVER, that does not excuse the accompanying white flag that came from the remaining starters in the game.
Although it is very early in the season, there seems to be the possibility of some possible locker-room dysfunction already. Accountability was an issue last season, and in a year where it has already gone not-so-according to plan, this could be an problem that tears a team apart. In what feels like a make-or-break year for the head coach, and even some players on the team, this is not a good look for what was figured to be a promising year for this group.
Play of the Game: This feels like a game not-so-deserving of one. In fact, I am incredibly tempted to put a “Not Play of the Game”. In a bad performance, usually there is still a bright spot, but today there isn’t a whole lot of positives surrounding this team currently.
Los Angeles Clippers:
This was a performance that should get Clippers fans excited for the outlook of their team. The feelings surrounding this franchise coming into the season were mixed, with some thinking this was a bridge season until the team could find its next star, and others intrigued by the possibilities and potential this cast presents. This performance, and especially the success of shooting from deep, shows the ability of this team even without a true “superstar”.
The Clippers got great production off the bench, especially from fan favorite Boban Marjanovic tonight. That bench stumped both the starting and reserve units of the Washington team this evening. Combined with a great defensive efforts from their starters, this is a recipe for the type of team LA will have to be if they want to be a serious threat in the West come late in the year.
A great point was brought up during the Clippers broadcast late in the third quarter- “This team doesn’t have a superstar caliber player, and that may not be the worst thing in the world”. Doc Rivers through these few games has shown tremendous coaching in the lineups and skill he has brought out of his players. This team will need to embody the old fashioned “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” style, and they have the potential to do so.
Play of the Game: With 2:40 left in the first quarter, Bradley Beal grabbed a rebound and attempted a layup to make it a one score game. Avery Bradley flew in to swat the ball away, setting the defensive tone early and keeping the Wizards behind.
Same reaction, different game, right? Four games in, the Wizards own the worst rebounding differential in the NBA. Tonight, Washington had neither Dwight Howard or Ian Mahimi to start at center, technically giving Jason Smith the “start”, although he only saw 11 minutes. Maybe it’s Thomas Bryant time? I mean this team BADLY (and I repeat, BADLY) needs a defensive presence under the rim, or will continue to find themselves on the losing end of both the rebounding stats and the box score. Jeff Green, Markeiff Morris, and Jason Smith simply aren’t getting the job done, understandably.
The starters played low minutes tonight, a good call by head coach Scott Brooks after a long game in Portland and what is only the second game of a five game West Coast trip. Washington seemed to resist throwing in the towel until late in the third when Steph Curry caught fire. (Again) John Wall only played 27 minutes, and no other starter played more than that. While this may be an L, and a foreseeable one at that, one positive is that hopefully this gives the Wizards an extra edge for their next couple of games.
It felt helpless for this team tonight, didn’t it? Washington went into halftime with 71 points and STILL was down nine. It seemed like althroughout the first half the game went almost bucket for bucket. No real runs by this offense, just a bucket or two to keep them sitting eight or so points away. That was, until the third quarter- an entirely different story. This Wizards team kept the pace, with almost 100 points midway through the third, but man… Steph Curry. That’s all I have to say. It’s tough to be on pace to smash your highest scoring game this season and STILL be down considerably.
Play of the Game: See below in the Warriors’ Play of the Game.
Golden State Warriors:
As a Wizards fan, my basketball fandom heart hurts a little everytime they play the Warriors. Similarly to when they played Toronto with Kahwi Leonard the other night, I think “*insert player Washington passed in the draft* could have been on this team.” But, instead we draft the likes of- well, I don’t even want to get into it. The pain is only a google search away. ANYWAYS, the Warriors deserve credit (which they get) for building such a juggernaut of a roster. Key players have stayed for years and the team focuses immensely on player development and chemistry. Some feel like they have to get to know new bench players every year for the team too, which is also true, but is another display of the roster brilliance. It just always works, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
Steph Curry and Kevin Durant were fantastic this evening. Steph was *this* close to beating his career high. Oracle doesn’t take much to get loud for in the first place, so you can imagine the atmosphere when Steph came within two of breaking the all-time threes record. (That he broke himself previously, twice) He even played efficiently driving to the basket, and it was absolutely his night. Durant made his presence known all over the court, with a couple of slams that got the crowd and the team going, as well as some beautiful fadeaway midrange shots against some flawless defense. The Warriors took advantage of some great switches and mismatches in the first half, but just simply heated up in the second half.
Draymond Green took a role that was both surprising and incredibly unselfish tonight. He played the role of facilitator, with 12 assists and only 5 points. With Steph and Klay both having the hot hand, Draymond took it upon himself to find a role best for the team tonight as opposed to finding his own shot and risk taking away the incredible flow the offense carried. This brand of unselfish basketball shows Golden State’s true potential, as sometimes individual performances seem to be prioritized, but that was not the case in this one.
Play of the Game: I’m gonna lay it to you straight, I don’t have one- for either team. This was the kind of game that if you’re a Warrior fan you LOVE (understandably) and if you’re a Wizards fan, you shake your head at. There seemed to be so many shots taken and so many makes that it’s hard to pick one. You could take ANY of Steph’s threes or Durant’s midrange beauties. For the Wizards- there were a few Bradley Beal makes that were sweet? Maybe a Keef 3 pointer or two? Regardless, this style of throw-it-up, defenseless basketball is tough to keep up with. That doesn’t make it a less entertaining game, but truly analyzing a game like this is harder. Although, maybe that’s because I’m on the East Coast- and tired.
Kelly Oubre Jr. played what was not only his best game of the (young) season, but in recent memory. The third-year man out of Kansas produced in all aspects this evening. With Ian Mahimi leaving the game early with back spasms, the Wizards came out of halftime fully committing to the small ball game. This meant bringing Oubre Jr. into the starting lineup and ramping up his minutes, playing a total of 39 including overtime. He posted 22 points (9/13 from the field) but his hustle and defensive presence brought a much-needed intensity to this Washington team. On top of all that, Oubre hit a smooth three pointer midway through overtime to keep momentum on the Wizards’ side.
While the first win was one to remember for the Wizards, some of the issues throughout were not. With Dwight Howard not making the five-game west coast trip, the pressure has been on Mahimi to both produce and stay out of early foul trouble. Both those expectations quickly evaporated as the center collected two fouls in four minutes to open up the game, followed by him leaving thereafter with a back injury, and not returning. In the two previous games, this would mean more time for Jason Smith in the center role. But with the Trail Blazers playing hard inside, Smith’s lack of defensive abilities had a role with the Wizards going small ball in the second half with Jeff Green (who also had a great game off the bench) and Markieff Morris handling center duties. The offensive rebounds continued to be an issue throughout but seemed to be better handled in the second half. Washington needs to find answers whether from Mahimi himself, the small-ball offense, or even third-string center Thomas Bryant.
Bradley Beal and Markieff Morris both had fantastic games tonight. Beal had his best game of the season last year at Portland, dropping 51 points and looked to follow that up with a strong performance this year. He did just that, dropping 25 points (including 5 three pointers), 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Something that may not be noticed by many is that as the Wizards turned to the small-ball lineup, Beal went quiet for a majority of the second half- but found himself grabbing rebounds when it mattered most. Of course, most importantly, Bradley Beal hit a game tying three point shot with 6 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime, and rightfully that is probably how his night will be remembered. Markieff Morris hit a career high 6 threes, with 4 coming either late in the 4th quarter or overtime. His threes came at crucial times for the Wizards as well and was a major key in the team securing this win.
Play of the Game: With 32 seconds left in OT, and the Blazers within two, John Wall took the ball down the court. Looking to end the game and leave Portland without much of a chance, John Wall pulled off an incredible midrange shot with 10.2 seconds left- leaving many wondering, “did he call glass?”
Portland Trail Blazers:
Big-men Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkic both had themselves great games in the paint, taking advantage of the Wizards going with smaller lineups. The lack of a true center for Washington left many opportunities down low that these two made the best of. Aminu, with 16 points and 15 rebounds, stressed the Wizards’ defense as he also forced them to acknowledge his presence beyond the arc with three makes on five attempts. Nurkic posted 22 points and 18 rebounds, bullying Washington down low with his physicality and presenting his team with second chance opportunities, as half of his rebounds were offensive boards. The Blazers needed a big game from their front court and they certainly delivered this evening.
Nik Stauskas’ huge game was a pleasant surprise for Portland. They know the spark he can bring off the bench, but his physical play and well-timed threes helped carry an offense that for the most part, struggled from deep. He also managed to grab eight rebounds and three assists in a season-high thirty minutes. On top of his Play of The Game, the shooting guard assisted on the McCollum three near the end of OT that could have been a game changing play. Stauskas provided great energy and scoring off the bench for this Trail Blazers team.
While the back-court did eventually show up for Portland, this game may have been decided earlier and possibly even in a different direction had that been earlier. While their two stars finally turned it on when it mattered most, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum still finished a combined 12-46 shooting on the evening. Had either of them started hitting shots sometime before, there may not have been a need for overtime. With that being said, the two played incredible late. The two were responsible for 11 of the 13 points scored in overtime. One play that could be a debatable decision, however- Damian Lillard driving to the basket and attempting a heavily contested layup with the team only needing one point to tie. It could be argued that he should have went for the smarter play and attempted to create more contact to get a foul call. At the same time though, the point guard had to race across the court to even give them a chance and did seem at one point he had a good lane to the basket. Ultimately, Portland having no timeouts really hurt their options in those closing seconds of overtime.
Play of the Game: With the game tied at 108 and nearing the end of regulation, the Trail Blazers won a jump ball and were looking to put themselves ahead. Damian Lillard found Nik Stauskas in the corner for a crazy three point shot that left 13 seconds on the clock and the Wizards looking for answers. (It was very close between this one and the CJ McCollum shot with a few seconds left in overtime, but that one shouldn’t have been as impactful had Wall made his free throws, so I went with this one.)
Kawhi Leonard rested tonight with the Raptors playing the second night of their back-to-back. Head coach Nick Nurse did a good job of preparing for nights without the former All-Star. In this game, Toronto went with a back-court heavy approach, relying on the likes of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanFleet. The team evidently wanted to run a portion of the offense through Serge Ibaka after his last performance, who was mostly placed into the Leonard role. The forward seemed to do well in spots, with 16 points and 9 rebounds, but also created good mismatches with well-timed switches.
Speaking of the backcourt, Fred VanFleet once again showed up greatly for the Raptors on a night they needed it. While he won’t pop out on the stat sheet, he took the ball down the court on many possessions, allowing Kyle Lowry to play off-the-ball and set up the offense in some favorable positions. The loss of Demar Derozan, who could handle both guard positions when called upon, opens the door for VanFleet to be more active as a passer and play-maker.
Another ripple effect of resting Leonard this evening was greater minutes to young players. Four of the five other forwards on the roster played above 24 minutes, and scored above 10 points. However, on the downside, the Raptors had 17 turnovers total. Many of these were untimely, resulting in 30 points off turnovers for the home team. This is expected when playing younger players, but is something Toronto will look to clean up as they plan to have additional rest nights for Kawhi Leonard.
Play of the Game: With less than 2 seconds left on the shot clock, and 14.6 left in the game, Fred VanFleet hit a incredibly tough midrange shot to essentially put the Wizards away. This pushed the Raptor lead to 4 and made it a two possession game, sealing the win.
Rebounding issues were still evident, a problem carrying over from their first game against the Heat. This can be attributed to both the loss of Dwight Howard and Ian Mahimi finding himself in foul trouble once again. In the first half, the Wizards were giving up easy points inside the paint on top of a extra handful of offensive rebounds. The team seemed to have a better grip on the issue in the second half, but there a few plays late in the 4th quarter that swung momentum in Toronto’s direction with second chance points. Washington finished with 15 less rebounds than the Raptors, but they hope that issue will naturally resolve itself with the return of Howard.
Bradley Beal passed Gilbert Arenas as the all-time franchise leader in 3 point shots made tonight. After four years of injuries hampering a promising career, Beal stepped up for the Wizards last year playing all 82 games, plus 6 in the playoffs. Gilbert Arena set the record in his 8th season, but shooting guard broke this record in his 7th season. The incredible part is, Beal could have broken it in his sixth season, had the Wizards won their series against Toronto or even extended it to game 7. Congrats to Bradley Beal!
The Wizards have found themselves ultimately snake-bitten by crazy plays with seconds left to go in both their games. After a back-breaking Kelly Olynyk putback in their last one, Washington watched Fred VanFleet crush them with a fantastic shot that gave Toronto a 4 point lead with seconds left. The team is all too familiar with these kinds of loses from last year, but the good news is- it’s only the second game of the season. The Wizards have plenty of time to learn and defend better in these crucial late game situations.
Play of the Game: With the Wizards down 12 after a poor run from their bench unit, John Wall came off the bench looking to ignite a spark on the team with only eight minutes left. The point guard drove to the basket for a contested layup, missing his shot, but Kelly Oubre Jr. flew in over Pascal Siakam for the slam and got fouled in the process. The play ignited the crowd and the team, fueling their late game run.
• The so-called “chemistry issues” reported previously in the week as a result of the Jimmy Butler trade talks don’t appear to be an issue among the team. Josh Richardson, a mentioned trade asset, played the most minutes and was the teams top scorer.
•Goran Dragic, while struggling in the scoring department, still made his presence felt greatly on the court tonight. The point guard has never been quite known to be a scoring machine, but it was good to see Miami can still rely on him in that role.
•Key bench players produced tonight, with three producing nine points a piece, while creating assists and grabbing rebounds. Dwayne Wade struggled tonight however shooting once again.
Miami’s Play of the Game: With .2 seconds left in the game, Kelley Olynyk scores the game winning bucket off a Dwayne Wade miss. Olynyk was known for being a “Wizards Killer” already, draining 3’s to put Washington away in the 4th quarter of their series against Boston a few years back.
•Not having Dwight Howard or the presence of a starting-quality center hurt the Wizards greatly tonight. Ian Mahimi, who Scott Brooks had previously talked about having his trust, only played 15 minutes tonight. Howard will bring a defensive presence to the backcourt on his arrival.
•Austin Rivers’ role could be seen more clearly tonight, and it was evident he will be a great asset in keep John Wall and Bradley Beal fresh. He can play both guard positions and allowed for the offense to run smoothly, keeping whichever player he was teamed with in the backcourt, aggressive throughout.
•Tomas Satoransky may have a lesser-than-expected role this year. Sato found his minutes reduced last year in the playoffs and did not seem to have Scott Brooks’ trust even with his play throughout the year in John Wall’s absence. The guard played only 14 minutes tonight, and while that may be attributed to the starters’ production, it is something to watch.
Wizards’ Play of the Game: With 4:50 left in the second quarter, John Wall drove to the basket and threw down a beautiful slam over Tyler Johnson to take the lead.
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.
This is it. We can do this, ladies and gentlemen. Free agency is winding down, the NBA draft has been done for what seems like ages, and summer league is wrapping up as well.
Now more than ever, we need thought provoking NBA content. Well, say no more fam.
1. Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young
When I first glanced at this roster, I threw up a little in my mouth. But then I took a deep breath, dry heaved some more and decided to look again. Things aren’t as bleak as they seem.
Trae Young, John Collins, Taurean Prince, Kevin Huerter. The Hawks have the start of something promising or at the very least, intriguing. Is anyone on this roster truly untouchable? Probably not. Still, with management trading back and still drafting Trae Young, all signs point to him as being the least likely to be traded.
2. Boston Celtics – Jayson Tatum
The rookie standout is the obvious answer here. Do the Celtics want to trade any of their core? Nope. Still, I cannot imagine Danny Ainge trading Tatum for any realistic option out there right now. (Anthony Davis cannot come to the Cs via a DPE rule.)
Tatum’s duel with LeBron in the game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final is something we could see in a 30 for 30 one day. The kid is that special.
3. Brooklyn Nets – Jarrett Allen
Just when I thought I was done throwing up…
All jokes aside, the Nets are finally headed in the right direction. They own their future picks and have acquired then developed some good prospects. Spencer Dinwiddie revived his career in Brooklyn, and other reclamation projects await.
Jarrett Allen has looked like a good gamble so far. There is a reason he only played 20 minutes per game last year but, his per-36 minutes suggest a bright future lies ahead.
So this is the question: What makes Miles Bridges more untradable than Malik Monk?
Monk had a disappointing rookie season. Sure, he showed flashes during the last month or so of the season. Yet, Monk proved to be more of a project than what scouts originally thought.
Bridges may not project as the safer long term prospect however, he has a two-way ceiling higher than Monk’s. Offensively, Bridges looks to be equally as dynamic as Monk, despite these two having different skill sets. It is on the defensive side of the ball where Bridges separates himself, as he has the potential to defend four positions on the court.
5. Chicago Bulls – Wendell Carter Jr.
I struggled with this selection as well. Lauri Markkanen set rookie records for three-pointers last year. Plus, Coach Hoiberg ran a bunch of the offense through him, something that displayed Markkanen’s playmaking ability. So why did I side with Carter Jr here?
Lauri Markkanen may learn NBA defensive spacing but, he simply lacks to physical tools to be an effective two-way player. With the game getting quicker, I can imagine future playoff scenarios where Markkanen gets played off of the court. Who does Markkanen guard when a team like the Sixers trots out Embiid, Simmons, Redick, Fultz and Covington. Carter Jr won’t ever get played off of the court. His three-point stroke and playmaking look to be just as good as Markkanen’s as well.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers – Collin Sexton
Has anyone made an “I wanna Sexton you up” meme yet? No? Great.
Cleveland has players that are the opposite of untouchable. They should be looking to gain value for Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and others. Yet, Sexton remains untouchable. The former Alabama guard is a locker room blessing. Sexton can reset the culture in Cleveland while becoming their point guard of the future. Cedi Osman was in contention here as well.
7. Detroit Pistons – Andre Drummond
If I were the GM of the Detroit Pistons, Andre Drummond would not be untouchable. That does mean I would be looking to unload him however, I prefer my centers to be able to switch pick and rolls, as well as space the court. Yet, Drummond is probably the most unlikely player Detroit is willing to part with.
Blake Griffin was a Stan Van Gundy guy, not someone new management particularly wanted. I am not suggesting his trade value is high enough to warrant a move but, crazier things have happened. This summer, Drummond has posted videos on his Instagram account draining threes. Perhaps he will bring this skill to the Pistons this year, and truly earn this hypothetical untouchable title.
8. Indiana Pacers – Victor Oladipo
I won’t get into too much detail about this because Josh Eberly of HOOPmag already did it for me:
Perimeter players in the 3PT era, 25 or under to be All-Defense 1st & All-NBA in the same year:
Victor Oladipo Kawhi Leonard Paul George Chris Paul LeBron James Ron Artest Kobe Bryant Jason Kidd Gary Payton Michael Jordan Sidney Moncrief Dennis Johnson
Why not first time All-Star and former All-NBAer Goran Dragic? Dragic can opt out of his contract after next season and will be a 33-year-old point guard. If anything, Miami should be tryingto ship Dragic off to a fringe contender looking for that next piece.
Bam Adebayo came to mind here but, paint protecting rim runners are becoming easier and easier to find nowadays. 24-year-old defensive wings who drain 37% of their threes and hit 45% from the field are not easy to find, however. Throw in Richardson’s cheap contract and Miami has a piece they should hold onto.
10. Milwaukee Bucks – Giannia Antetokounmpo
Ask Tim Hardaway Jr to explain this one.
11. New York Knicks – Kristaps Porzingis
Want to know how many NBA players shot 39% from deep last year while also blocking 2.4 shots per game? One. Don’t overthink this one, people. Kevin Knox will be an awesome player and is on a cheap deal. Frankie Smokes is already an elite perimeter defender with promising offensive development. Still, KP is the way to go here.
12. Orlando Magic – Mo Bamba
Rookies seem to be dominating this list, and I do not know if I am comfortable with that.
Aaron Gordon took a step forward with his three-point shooting ability last season yet, he still has so much more to develop if he wants to truly take advantage of his elite athleticism. With both Bamba and Jonathan Isaac looking great in summer league, I would move off of Gordon for a top-20 pick.
Jonathan Isaac has shown promise lately however, he does not have the ceiling that Bamba has. Bamba is the most boom or bust player of this bunch, but Orlando needs a star and Bamba is worth making untouchable.
13. Philadelphia 76ers – Ben Simmons
Let the debate begin!
I love Embiid’s game and potential. In my opinion, he has a higher ceiling than Simmons. Embiid could be an MVP and DPOY winner. Yet, I like my untouchable players to be on the court. Out of 328 possible regular season games, Embiid has played 94 of them. Folks, he has only played in 28 percent of his games. Unfortunately, 7’1″, 260 lbs centers tend to progress towards injuries, not away from them.
Ben Simmons has an MVP ceiling as well. At one point during his career he will be the best passer in the game. Defensively, he can be elite too. Simmons has all the tools to be transcendent and a gambling man will bet that Simmons will find a way to fix that jumper. Factor in his health, and Simmons is my pick here, although I would not trade either.
14. Toronto Raptors – No one
Why should anyone on this roster be untouchable? Toronto is at a crossroads. With LeBron out of the East, they need to take a risk and go all in.
I have been a fan of the “DeMar for Kawhi” fake trades. Kawhi is simply a better player than DeMar DeRozan and would raise Toronto’s chances of winning. If the team can package Lowry and other assets for an upgrade, do it. Could they need to sell off OG and other young prospects for an experienced difference maker? Go for it.
If not now, when? Toronto has a very small window to win. If there is a move out there that makes them better for even one season, they must do it.
15. Washington Wizards – Bradley Beal
Surprised you, right?
Bradley Beal had a better year than John Wall last year, straight up.
I will take Beal’s numbers here over Wall’s any day of the week. Plus, Washington should be looking to move off of Wall’s contract. John Wall will be paid $37 million dollars in 2019-2020. Compare that to Beal who will be making $10 million less! Remember when I was throwing up earlier…
…John Wall will be making $43 million when he is 31-years-old! That type of money cripples franchises from making other important acquisitions. The point guard position is the saturated one in the game today, making Wall expendable in the long term. Bradley Beal is the guy to hang onto.
Before we get into the “Top 25 Players in the NBA,” I need to preface by saying this is if everyone is healthy in the league. For example, I did not lower Kawhi Leonard’s rank because he barely played last season. So, here it is, my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#25: Ben Simmons
I have already prepared myself for the reactions to the 25th ranked player in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. People are going to say that Simmons is already a top-20, or even top-15 player in the NBA. However, why? I am not saying that Simmons is not going to be a top-10 player in the league one day, but I do not understand how people already have him ranked so high.
Simmons had a very good rookie year in the NBA. Averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game, Simmons ran away with the Rookie of the Year. What makes Simmons’ stats even more impressive is the fact that he did not make a single three last season. With the way the modern NBA is trending, having a non-shooting ball-handler is uncommon.
While Simmons did not make any threes last season, that did not slow him down. Take a look at the GIF below.
It never seemed to matter how far off Simmons’ defender played him last season. Simmons would always find a way to get to the basket and finish at a high clip. Converting on 69.8% of his shots at the rim, Simmons was well-above the 63.1% league average. Just because Simmons is currently ranked 25th in my rankings, it will not be long before he slides into the top-15, and the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#24: LaMarcus Aldridge
NBA fans often forget how dominant LaMarcus Aldridge really is. Remember his days in Portland? The dude was a walking double-double. Then, he gets out of the spotlight in San Antonio and people forget about him. Aldridge is still one of the most dominating big men in the NBA.
Averaging 23.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, it is time to acknowledge how talented Aldridge is. LMA led a Kawhi-less Spurs team to the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. Yes, Gregg Popovich is a mastermind, but teams do not make the playoffs in the West without talent on the court.
Aldridge’s 29.1% usage rating last season was the highest it has been in his career with San Antonio. Aldridge made it work too. Developing his game to continue to fit the modern NBA, Aldridge posted the highest offensive rating of his career. Fans often forget about how good Aldridge is, it is time to continue to acknowledge that fact.
#23: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is one of my favorite players to watch in the entire NBA. His skill set for a center is wildly unheard of, but wildly productive. I mean, come on, how many NBA centers can make this pass?
Jokic’s basketball IQ and passing ability alone make him one of the top centers in the NBA. However, there is so much more to his game. With averages of 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game, Jokic brings it all to the table.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in his game last season was his three-point shooting. The Joker attempted a total of 280 threes last season, connecting on 39.6% of the attempts. Jokic has made it a point of emphasis to continue to adjust his game to stay up-to-date with the modern NBA.
Last season, 27.7% of Jokic’s attempted field goals were from three-point territory. The season before, just 16.3% of his shots were from three. This is a good sign for the Nuggets and their big man. Jokic has been able to adapt and stay productive while the league changes. This is why Jokic is in my top-25 and why Denver just inked him to a max contract.
#22: DeMar DeRozan
Another season has gone by and another season has ended for DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors at the hands of “The King.” After going into the playoffs as the top seed in the East, the Raptors did not even manage to win one game against Cleveland in the second round. However, this does not alter DeRozan’s playing ability.
Last season marked the fifth straight year that DeRozan posted at least 20 points per game. Recording 23 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game, DeRozan solidified himself as one of the game’s top two guards. Having his usage rate drop from 34.3% in the 2016-17 season to 29.6% in the 2017-18 season, DeRozan remained effective attempting the most threes in his career, and connecting at the second-highest clip on those shots in his career.
In addition, DeRozan posted a 9.6 win share stat, making him one of the most valuable players in win shares in the league. Most of the stats speak for themself. DeRozan gets to his spots on offense, and he takes advantage of his matchup. There was little debate in my mind when deciding if DeRozan belonged in the “Top-25 Players in the NBA” list.
#21: Rudy Gobert
Mark Rudy Gobert down as one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Gobert is not a flashy player by any means, which is why he is seldomly mentioned in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” conversation. Just because Gobert is not a three-point shooting five does not mean he is not one of the best centers in the league.
Gobert does most of his damage on the defensive side of the ball. Averaging 2.3 blocks per game last season, Gobert solidified himself as one of the best paint-protectors in the league. However, there is more to his game than his defense. Gobert recorded 13.5 points per game last season while shooting 62.2% from the field, a career-high. Yes, most of these points came on dunks or lobs from the “Spanish Unicorn,” but that is where Gobert does his damage.
It is mind boggling why Gobert is not talked about more often. His stellar 122 offensive rating and 99 defensive rating should put him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” with few questions asked.
#20: Victor Oladipo
Who would have thought that one year ago at this time that we would have Victor Oladipo in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA”? What a year it was for Oladipo with the Indiana Pacers. Oladipo silenced all his haters averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. Vic led the Pacers, who were a projected lottery team, to the fifth seed in the East and took LBJ and the Cavs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
I had trouble finding a spot for Oladipo in the rankings because of how unexpected last season was. But, when you look at all the numbers as a whole, he definitely deserves to be in the top-20. In addition to his gaudy offensive numbers, Oladipo averaged 2.4 steals per game, ranking him first in the NBA last season. The winner of the Most Improved Player is bound for another successful 2018-19 season. His determination to win was on full display right after the game seven loss to the Cavs. The first thing he did after the game was text his trainer asking him when the work started up again.
#19: Paul George
Well, Thunder fans, PG13 is there to stay. Congratulations. One year after you traded for a “rental,” the team has convinced a top-20 player in the NBA to stay in Oklahoma City. Now, Thunder fans may be wondering why George ranks lower than others have him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. Averaging 21.9 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game, PG13 had an interesting season adjusting to the OK3.
In my opinion, George hasn’t been the same since his gruesome injury with Team USA. He has not been as explosive and does not show the same burst he showed in those playoff battles against LeBron and the Heat. This was to be expected based on the injury, but that is the biggest reason he is 19th in the rankings. In addition, George has never been a great clutch player, often underperforming in crucial situations.
This season, George shot 42.2% from the field in the fourth quarter. In addition, he shot 38.3% from three in the fourth quarter. Now, do not get me wrong, 38% from three is not a bad number, but it is lower than his 40.1% from three throughout the season. Finally, who can forget game six of the playoffs last season against the Utah Jazz. In an elimination game, George juiced just five points. Paul George is a great player, I am not trying to say he is not, but for me 19 is where PG13 belonged on the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list.
#18: Karl-Anthony Towns
The Big KAT had a terrific third season in the NBA, and now he is going to get paid. Karl-Anthony Towns is reportedly in negotiations with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a five-year, max contract. Towns made his first all-star appearance last season and he is not looking back.
Documenting 21.3 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per game, Towns was one of the most versatile offensive bigs in the NBA. Notice how I said offensive, because his defense is a whole different discussion. Towns shot 42.1% from three-point range last season, the highest percentage of any Wolves player. Ranking 14th in the NBA in percentage from downtown, Towns has adjusted his game with the modern NBA.
Helping lead the Wolves to their first playoff series in over a decade, Towns had a disappointing playoff series. Averaging just 15.4 points per game and shooting under 50% from the field and under 30% from three, Towns had a less than pleasing first playoff series of his career. However, in games three, four, and five of the series against the Rockets, Towns was back to averaging 21 points a night. He struggled mightily in the first two games, but seemed to overcome his struggles and put it past him.
As one of the most versatile bigs in the NBA, Towns already ranks in the top-20. But, it will not be long before he is in the conversation for the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#17: Klay Thompson
Mark me down as a firm Klay Thompson believer. What he does every night for the Golden State Warriors is invaluable. Thompson is one of, if not the best, shooter in the NBA. Averaging 20 points per game last season on 44% shooting from three-point range, Klay solidified himself as the best third option in the NBA. Imagine what Klay could be doing as the first option on a team? He is a free agent in 2019, could we see him as a first option?
Getting past his future with the Warriors, when we look at Klay Thompson’s game, it is nothing but good things. We all know about his stellar shooting and his ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the court, but what some people do not know about is his defensive ability. Watch below as Klay Thompson absolutely locks down Paul George as the shot clock expires. Not many people can hang with a top-level offensive player like PG13, but Klay Thompson can.
#16: Joel Embiid
Trust the Process. Well, the process is working. It will not be long before Joel Embiid is a top-10 player in the NBA. Playing in 63 games last season, the Kansas big man averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds per game. Embiid did work in every facet of the game shooting over 48% from the field and recording 1.8 blocks per game. However, there is still work to do if Embiid wants to be a top-10 or top-5 player in the NBA.
The first thing is development from three. In his “rookie” season in the NBA, Embiid shot 36.7% from three, a very respectable percentage for a big man. However, last season, that percentage dropped to 30.8%. There is potential for Embiid to have his downtown shooting percentage climb, and he will need it to climb to take the next step.
In addition, speaking in general terms, Joel Embiid has the mindset and attitude of a top-level NBA player. Embiid cares about one thing and one thing only: winning. Whether you like it or not, Embiid’s trash talking on the court helps him gain an edge and it causes problems for opponents. Joel Embiid is on his way. Even though I do not have him ranked as my top center, it should not be long before “The Process” claims that spot in “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
I already know it is coming. People are going to think I am crazy for putting Cousins ahead of Embiid. Since these rankings are not taking injuries into the picture, Cousins still ranks as my top center. People forget of how dominant Cousins is. Players feed the ball down low and Boogie gets a bucket, it is usually as simple as that.
Cousins was having a career-year before going down with injury last season. Posting 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game, Cousins looked primed to appear in his first playoff series. Unfortunately, the NBA Gods had different ideas. But, the injury does not take away from the player Cousins is. DeMarcus Cousins is, plain and simple, dominant. His footwork on the low-post and his continued development from three make him the most effective center in the NBA and 15th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#14: Draymond Green
There are fans of the NBA who cannot stand Draymond Green, and I am in the same boat. However, I respect him as a player and the energy that he brings to the game. It hurt me to put him 14th in these rankings, but it was what he deserved. Green affects the game in so many ways that the Warriors would not be the same without him. He does it on offense, defense, leadership, and of course, in trash talking.
There is not a player in the NBA that I can think of who plays with more energy than Draymond Green. Green is pure heart and effort every time the ball goes up in the air. Yes, his passion for the game can get him in trouble from time to time, but his passion is usually used positively. Green averaged 11 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game last season. However, it is what does not show up in the box score that makes Green a difference maker. Green’s 105 defensive rating and 6.1 defensive win shares make him one of the top defenders in the NBA.
Another part of Green’s game that makes him so good is his ability to play the five. The Warriors made the small-ball lineup a thing, using Green at the five. This death lineup is what makes the Warriors so good. Teams can try to put Green in a pick-and-roll when he is at the five, but Green has the ability to switch onto guards and shut them down. It is unfair at times and part of the reason he ranks 14th in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#13: Damian Lillard
“Dame Dollar.” “Big Game Dame.” Whatever you want to call him, Damian Lillard is a special talent. While he has never found much success in the postseason, Lillard is one of the best guards in the NBA. His shiftiness and sudden explosion make him a must-watch. Filling it up with 26.9 points and 6.6 assists per game last season, Lillard had arguably his best season in his career.
Lillard made 227 threes last season, just two less than his career-high, which he posted in 2015-16. Dame kept defenders guessing last season. If the defense came up and pressed Lillard, he would explode past them and finish at the rim. If the defense laid off, Lillard would pull up from Mars and drain a long three in your face. Don’t believe me? Check out his game-winner against the Lakers below and think again. There’s no reason that Lillard should not be in the top-15 of any “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#12: John Wall
Why is everyone starting to hate on John Wall? He gets hurt for one season and everyone is starting to act like he is falling off. No way. Not a chance. John Wall is still one of the most dominant and explosive points guards in the association. Even after injury last season, Wall managed to post 19.4 points and 9.6 assists per game. No, he was not his normal self, but that is expected coming off an injury that sidelined him for more than a month.
No matter what anyone says, there shall be no John Wall slander. Wall is one of the toughest covers in the entire league, and when he brings out the gang signs, it is over. The speedster has never been a great three-point shooter or defender, and he might never be. However, the way he attacks the rim and creates for his teammates, Wall deserves to be 12th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#11: Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Buckets. All kinds of rumors are surrounding Butler and the Timberwolves this summer. There have been recents reports that Butler will not re-sign with the Wolves. There has been reports that he is unhappy with the effort shown by Karl Towns and others. If you need a refresher on the whole situation, I broke it down in an article. Anyways, on to Butler as the player. Butler is the second-best two-way player in the NBA (behind Kawhi.) There are no words to describe his value to the Timberwolves last season. Without him, the Wolves would have been in the lottery and nowhere near a playoff team.
To further prove that point, Butler missed 23 games last season. The Timberwolves were 10-13 without Butler last season. With him, the Wolves were 37-22. Butler was one of just a handful of Timberwolf players that decided to play defense last season. Butler’s defense was so good that the Wolves held opponents to 7.2 points lower in offensive rating when Jimmy was on the floor. Jimmy, along with other veterans like Taj Gibson, was the main reason the Wolves did not allow 150 points per game.
In addition, Jimmy got his buckets. His 22.2 points per game led the Timberwolves. Furthermore, Butler was who the Wolves went to when the team was in dire need of a basket. Butler was the go-to man down the stretch and led the Timberwolves to the playoffs.
#10: Chris Paul
What could have been. That will be the question in NBA and Rockets fans head for the months leading up to the 2018-19 season. The Rockets were one game away from defeating the “undefeatable” Golden State Warriors. Then, Chris Paul went down with an injury at the end of game five that kept him out of game six and seven. Paul’s value to the Rockets was much more than scoring, finding teammates, and defending. Paul was a leader on and off the court for Houston.
Multiple times throughout the season, the Rockets looked like they would fall apart during a game; however, they held on. Why? Chris Paul. Paul kept the team together in games that were spiraling out of control. Paul got the team buckets when they needed them most, and he controlled the game like a true floor general. While CP3 posted his second-lowest assist total of his career, the ball was out of his hands a lot. People wondered how he and James Harden would co-exist. And to put it lightly, I think they did just fine.
Chris Paul seems to fit in nicely with whoever he plays next to. He is the true definition of a great leader and a great teammate. The only thing preventing CP3 from being ranked higher than 10 is the other unearthly players sitting higher in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#9: Kyrie Irving
Another great “what if” story from the NBA last season. The Boston Celtics took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics did so without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. So, Boston fans everywhere are dreaming over what could have been for the team last season if even Irving stayed healthy. In his first season post-LeBron, Irving averaged 24.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. His handles and offensive wizardry continued to dazzle in Beantown.
I have Irving ranked as my third best point guard, behind Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry. However, at just 26-years-old, Irving is bound to soon be the top point guard in the league. It is amazing what Irving is doing at such a young age. If injuries stay out of his way, top-5 is on the way for the former Duke guard in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#8: Giannis Antetokounmpo
For the longest time, the Greek Freak was on his way. Well, it is official, he has arrived. Now the best player in the East with LeBron gone, Antetokounmpo is just what his nickname says “a freak.” Giannis recorded 26.9 points and 10 rebounds per game last season. Every season that he has been in the NBA, Antetokounmpo has made a jump in PPG from the previous season. If that continues, it will not be long before Giannis is averaging 30 PPG.
In addition to his ridiculous scoring numbers, Giannis is a terrific passer and defender. Averaging 4.8 assists per game last season, Giannis made defenses pay when they doubled him. On defense, he recorded 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. His length and athleticism makes him a top-five two-way player in the NBA. Before you start debating whether Giannis should be ranked as the top player in the Eastern Conference without LeBron, chew on this:
#7: Russell Westbrook
For the second season in a row, Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double. I do not care what you think of stat-padding or anything of that nature, averaging a triple-double is impressive. The amount of energy Westbrook puts forth every night is next to none. Westbrook plays with a similar intensity as Draymond Green. Ever since Kevin Durant left the Thunder, it seems like that energy has doubled. Westbrook is out to prove something, and he wants to prove it with a championship.
Ranked as my number two point guard on the list, it is Westbrook’s explosiveness and offensive abilities that get the job done. Averaging 25.4 points per game last season, Russ shot 44.9% from the field. His 5.5 offensive win shares makes you realize just how great Russ is on that side of the ball. If Westbrook could develop a 36-40% three-point shot he would be virtually unstoppable. The only chance teams have of stopping Russ is letting him shoot and hoping he misses. Because once he gets to the rim or on the fastbreak, it is game over.
#6: Kawhi Leonard
The summer of LeBron was quickly flooded by the summer of Kawhi. After requesting a trade out of San Antonio, fans have been on the edge of their seats waiting to find out where Leonard will land. Leonard has been on the record saying he wants to be in Los Angeles, but there might not be a deal that makes sense for the Spurs/Clippers/Lakers. Wherever Leonard lands, the team will be getting the top two-way player in the game.
After basically sitting out an entire season, it is easy to forget just how good Kawhi is. He is nicknamed “The Klaw” for a reason. Kawhi absolutely shuts down the opposing team’s best player each and every night. He has made a living on the defensive side of the ball. His defense is what got him into the NBA. Kawhi was never a great offensive player coming into the league, but his defense was enough to get him a spot.
Since he has been in the league, Kawhi has developed his offense. Kawhi is now one of the biggest offensive threats in the NBA. His ability to knock down shots and over power people on the way to the rim make him such a scary matchup. If Kawhi Leonard played last season, and we were able to see his further improvement, he very well could have made the top-5 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#5: James Harden
Yes, your eyes are not lying. I have the MVP ranked fifth in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. James Harden is great, that is not a question, but there are just players that do more than Harden. Harden makes his living on the offensive side of the ball, and in particular, at the free-throw line. Harden attempted over 10 free-throws per game last season. His 8.7 points per game that come from the stripe accounted for 28.6% of his total points.
There is no doubt there is a skill in getting to the free-throw line, but sometimes the way Harden gets to the line is hard to watch. His flopping and wild body movements draw the refs into a ton of whistles when there is really no contact. This, along with his sub-par defense, which is recently improved, made Harden land in the five hole in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#4: Steph Curry
The former two-time MVP and unanimous MVP has a great story. The sharpshooter was labeled as “too small” coming into the draft. People thought that he was just a cinderella story that went to Davidson, and they predicted Curry would fall off the map. Well, Golden State took a chance on Steph, and boy has it paid off. Curry takes the most threes out of anyone in the NBA. Curry attempted 501 threes last season in just 51 games, that is almost 10 threes a game. And, while he attempts those 10 threes a game, he connects on 42.3% of them.
Hats off to Steph Curry. The NBA has arguably changed because of guys like Curry who attempt threes in bunches. Curry has no problem pulling up and shooting from anywhere on the court. He is one of the deadliest offensive players the NBA has ever seen. Widely regarded as one of the best shooters in the history of the NBA, there was little doubt to put Curry in the four spot in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#3: Anthony Davis
When DeMarcus Cousins went down with an injury last season, most thought the Pelicans playoff hopes were over. Anthony Davis had different ideas. Davis averaged 28.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season. He continued to develop his game to fit the modern NBA, shooting 34% from three. In addition to the offensive work he put in, Davis showed his worth on defense too. Recording 2.6 blocks per game, Davis made any player think twice before testing him in the paint.
Davis has the potential to be one of the all-time greats. Yes, I said it. At just 25-years-old, Davis is showing how good he can be. If Davis can continue to develop his three-pointer and start winning more playoff games, he will be first on the list before too long.
#2: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is great. There is no other way to put it. What KD does on a nightly basis is unheard of. The two-time champ is the best pure scorer the game has ever seen. Durant fills it up in so many different ways. He will take you off the dribble and finish at the cup. Durant will explode by you just to stop and pop from mid-range. Or, he will not worry about dribbling at all and just take a 30-foot bomb that he knocks down with ease.
There are so few words as to how one would describe Kevin Durant and the way he can score. So, I am going to leave it as that. As the best pure scorer the NBA has ever seen, KD will go down as an all-time great.
#1: LeBron James
LeBron James tops off my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list. When I said it was hard to describe Kevin Durant? It is even harder to describe LeBron James. What LBJ did this past season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading the team back to their fourth straight finals appearance is only supposed to be possible in movies. LeBron James single-handedly dragged the Cavs to the finals, and that is an understatement. And if it was not for J.R. and his foolishness in game one of the NBA Finals, who knows how that series plays out.
LeBron James is simply great. Perhaps the greatest to ever play the game. Now, in Los Angeles, LABron will continue to cement his legacy as the best player in the NBA.
Thanks for checking out the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. Share the article and let me know what you think in the comments below!
The third edition of the “Creating NBA Lineups” column is here! Make sure to check out the first and second edition of the column at the bottom of the page after reading this post. This week, the rule is to create the best NBA lineup from this year’s rookie class. Although it may seem easy to just plug in the top picks from the draft, the lineup is a lot more complicated than it may seem.
PG: Luka Doncic
Point guard or shooting guard. Whatever you want to call him. Luka Doncic is going to be special. Being the Most Valuable Player in the second-best basketball league in the world is no small feat at 19 years old. Doncic can do it all on the offensive side of the ball. His ability to create for himself and his teammates is impressive at such a young age. Doncic is the perfect player to lead this fictional lineup to the top.
SG: Troy Brown
Shooting guard was the toughest position to choose. I decided to put Doncic at point guard, and with all the offensive potential this team will have at the other positions, a versatile defender fits right in at the two. Brown is a competitive, young player out of Oregon. He has upside on offense, but he will make an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball. Brown can guard one through four at all times and that versatility makes him a perfect fit on this team.
SF: Miles Bridges
Miles Bridges will be a great small forward in the NBA, with the potential to turn into a star. Bridges can fill it up on offense, with unlimited scoring potential. His defensive potential gives him the chance to play the four in small-ball lineups. In addition, he will feed off Doncic nicely, who will get him a lot of open looks.
PF: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is cut from a different cloth. The dude is all defense and effort. Oh, and by the way, he can shoot threes too. Jackson Jr. has the ability to switch one through five, giving him great value to any team. With his physicality and body type, Jackson Jr. will give this lineup a lockdown defender that can stretch the floor.
C: DeAndre Ayton
DeAndre Ayton is a flat out beast. The dude is huge. He has all the physical traits necessary to succeed in the NBA. Ayton was the easy choice at center for this fictional team as he gives the squad a low-post scorer with the ability to knock down shots. Ayton will also be the main rebounder on the team, something they lack at the other positions.
It’s quite the team that can be created from NBA rookies. While each rookie goes to their separate team, combining rookies onto one team can make a very scary lineup. This team has it all. There is flair, shooting, defense, versatility, rebounding, and much more. It could take some time for the team to develop, but once they do, nobody is stopping them, not even Golden State.
For every John Wall, there is a Marquis Teague. For every DeMarcus Cousins, there is a Daniel Orton. For every Devin Booker, there is a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
When it comes to John Calipari, we have all seen the documentaries, read the articles, listened to the early morning ESPN rants. Say what you want about the man, but he is undoubtedly the best recruiter to ever do it. But in the words of my favorite meme: “Y tho?” Calipari gets it. He knows that these high school studs have had shady characters whispering hoop dreams into their ears ever since 9th grade. So, why not embrace the one-and-done mentality. Coach Cal did/does just this, and it has resulted in some of the most heralded recruiting classes in history.
I. The Sales Pitch
Spend one year at UK, then go to the NBA.
Unquestionably, this is the sales pitch Calipari throws at his recruits. The dude is not exactly coy about it, either. But, does it hold merit? Can he turn these high school phenoms into NBA stars? Can he even turn them into NBA starters? Can he *gulp* even turn them into NBA players at all?
The numbers tell a tricky tale. I looked at every college-player-turned-pro that Calipari has brought in since his tenure at Kentucky began. All in all, 32 of his players have played in the NBA since Cal convinced them to become a Wildcat. For what it’s worth, these guys were top recruits. 20 of these 32 recruits were listed in the top ten for their class, according to ESPN’s rankings. Furthermore, 10 of the 32 were in the top five! So, how did their NBA careers pan out?
II. The Results
The classes from 2010 to 2017 churned out exactly 4 All-Stars (Wall, Boogie, KAT, AD). Devin Booker and Jamal Murray look primed for future bids, while it is still too early to make a call on guys like Fox, Randle, Monk and Bam. Perhaps more importantly, let’s figure out how many of these players are busts. Personally, I believe bust to be a subjective term but, one that is relative to draft position. For example, Kidd-Gilchrist is a bust. He was drafted second overall and it’s time to call a spade a spade. He has career averages of 9, 6 and 1, while shooting 47% from the field and hitting literally 0.1 threes per game. He isn’t the defensive menace people expected him to be either. Is this what Charlotte thought they were getting when they drafted him second, after Anthony Davis?
How many other busts are there and who are they? I counted six. In order of draft class, they are, Orton, Knight, MKG, Teague, Goodwin and Young. Plain and simple, these guys either busted their way out of the league or, have massively underproduced. In other words, if redrafts were happening for each respective class only 1 of these players (MKG) would be taken in the top 20!
What about names like Bledsoe and Randle? I broke this list down into people who are not All-Stars (yet), but still NBA caliber players. They are the two aforementioned players as well as Kanter, Noel, Lyles, Booker, Murray, Skal, Fox, Monk and Bam. Notice that these hoopers all declared when they were freshman…
III. The Pattern
So what do we make of this list? Things clear up when observing what year of college these players were in when they were drafted. Every single All-Star left as a freshman. Intriguingly enough, every player I labeled a “bust” also left after their freshman campaign. Is there a reason for this? In back-to-back-to-back years, John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague were all brought into UK. They were each an ESPN top 10 recruit and with the exception of Knight, the top point guard in their class (Knight was second only to that Irving guy). Do you think that Brandon Knight commits to UK if he believes John Wall is sticking around another year? Me neither. But here’s another question. Do you think Knight would have returned for his sophomore year if Teague had never committed to UK? There is some element of pressure for these top recruits to turn pro after one year because, like it or not, some other NBA-worthy stud is coming for your spot next year.
Don’t believe me? Then let’s look at the stretch of centers who ran through Kentucky from 2010 to 2017.
– 2009: Boogie Cousins and Daniel Orton (ESPN 4th and 13th overall recruit)
– 2010: Enes Kanter (23rd)
– 2011: Anthony Davis (1st)
– 2012: Nerlens Noel and Willy Cauley-Stein (1st and 40th)
– 2013: Dakari Johnson (7th)
– 2014: Karl Anthony-Towns (9th)
– 2015: Skal Labissiere and Isaac Humphries (2nd and 49th)
– 2016: Bam Adebayo (5th)
– 2017: Nic Richards (17th)
Good luck finding playing time if you stick around an extra year.
IV. The Freshman-Sophomore Theory
Out of every center on that list, Cauley-Stein is the only one who stayed multiple years at UK and has experienced NBA success. Johnson stayed a few years and has played a total of 30 games in the NBA, all coming this year. Humphries hasn’t even sniffed the league. Look at some guys who may have felt pressured to leave prematurely. Orton may have heard the hype from Enes Kanter (who ironically did not play at UK) and decided to turn pro. Noel would have had to compete with both WCS and Johnson for minutes. Skal knew that Bam was coming to town. Conversely, Bam surely was aware that Richards, as well as other talented frontcourt players, would soon be wearing Wildcat blue.
Finally, let’s look at everyone UK player that has declared for the NBA draft. This time, however, we will look through a special lens and only look at players who were non-freshman when they left. The list:
– 2012: Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb (18th and 42nd pick)
– 2015: WCS, the Harrison Twins and Johnson (6th, 44th, UD and 48th)
– 2016: Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress (34th and UD)
– 2017: Isaiah Briscoe and Isaac Humphries (UD and UD)
Only two of these players are seeing meaningful minutes in today’s game (Ulis and WCS.) Sure, Andrew Harrison has started games for the Grizzlies this year; however, let’s not kid ourselves. The only players who currently deserve time in the Association are Ulis and Cauley-Stein. Jones flamed out, while Lamb, Johnson, Poythress, Briscoe, Humphries and the Harrison brothers are “cup of coffee” guys at best.
Simply put, if you want to make it in the NBA, do not stay at Kentucky past one year. But, if you are going to leave as a freshman, you better be damn good. It’s no coincidence that all 6 busts left after only a single year. Piece of advice; don’t commit to Kentucky if you are not sure you will be ready for the NBA after a single season. After all, 13 out of the 32 Calipari/Kentucky players who have declared for the draft are currently fighting for the NBA careers. That’s a 40% bust rate folks. Beware.