Why Carmelo will continue to struggle in Houston

Carmelo Anthony

There has been a lot of Carmelo hate lately. Conversely, this has led to a weird Carmelo revival. People are suddenly defending the star forward and claiming that NBATwitter has been too hard on him. Is there any truth here?

It would be a challenge to find some serious basketball pundits who have denigrated the entire career of Melo. Rather, people are just predicting that Carmelo is on the back 9 of his career. In fact, the guy may be on the last hole…

To continue the golf metaphor, perhaps Melo can pull off a final hole-in-one. What is more likely, however, is that Anthony continues to struggle. After all, how many times have we seen players take a steep decline in production? Sometimes it happens in a blink of an eye. One year, you’re hitting good percentages from the field, the next year you’re dealing with age-induced injuries and trying to find your rhythm. It’s natural.

Should we be reading the tea leaves with Carmelo Anthony? I certainly am. At least, I am confident in saying that his time in Houston will replicate his time in Oklahoma City. Before I get deep into my explanation, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.

In OKC, Carmelo played alongside Russell Westbrook, a ball-dominant guard with one of the highest usage rates in the league. His other co-star, Paul George, commanded a large percentage of the offense as well.

In Houston, Carmelo will play alongside James Harden, a ball-dominant guard with one of the highest usage rates in the league. His other co-star, Chris Paul, commands a large percentage of the offense as well.

See my point? The Westbrook-George duo combined for a usage rate of 59.8 percent. Last season, the Harden-Paul combo combined for a rate of 60.6 percent.

Am I going to make the old-man-on-the-porch/basketball-fundamentalist argument that there isn’t enough ball to go around? Kind of. As I have stated before, Carmelo relies on getting to the line to be an effective scorer. That means he needs the ball. Allow me to quote myself:

“For 12 out of the 15 seasons he played, Carmelo shot either at or below league average for field goal percentage. Surprising, I know. He is always within a couple of percentage points of the average, but tends to be slightly below…

Now let’s discuss three point percentage. Again, Melo saw himself finish at or below league average for 11 out of 15 seasons. 10 of these seasons were actually below league average. To be fair, Melo did not start hoisting a high volume of threes until his 2010 season. So, what do the stats look like from that point on?

…For 5 out of those  seasons, Melo shot at or below league average. “

In other words, Melo is an average shooter for his career. Blame this on the putrid teams he played on in New York. Blame it on shot selection and bailing out his team. I don’t care. The numbers are the numbers. He’s played on good teams and bad ones. In terms of skill, he is a brilliant shooter with a wonderful stroke. In reality, however, when the lights come on, Carmelo is a statistically average NBA shooter.

So what is my number one reason he will struggle in Houston?

 

1. Free Throw Rate

We know that Melo has picturesque shooting form. Yet, his shooting percentages do not reflect it. Despite this, Melo has been an effective scorer for much of his career. Notice the difference between shooter and scorer.

Why did Melo maintain efficiency prior to the OKC years? Great question.

I decided to look at Carmelo’s career averages for every year except the one he spend in Oklahoma. What were his averages?

Melo shot 45 percent from the field, which is about the league average depending on the year. From three he shot 34.6 percent and did so on 3.5 attempts per game. These averages are, well…average. In fact, his 3-point percentage is slightly below league average (usually 36 percent.)

So how was he efficient? Carmelo took 7.2 free throws per game and drained 81 percent of them. That’s about 6 extra point from the stripe per game, which is very impressive and would rank in the upper-echelon of the league. To see the stats, click here or look below.

melo stats.PNG

The advanced stats paint an even clearer picture. For that same time period, Carmelo had a free throw rate average of 37.1 percent. That means that for every 100 shots he takes, he also takes 37.1 free throws. Compare this to James Harden, often the league leader in free throw attempts. Harden had a skyhigh free throw rate of 50.2 percent last season.

As their usage percentages already indicated, Harden and Paul need the ball in their hands. A lot. Harden needs it to do one of the three things he does incredibly well: drive & dish, shoot off-the-dribble threes, or get to the line. CP3’s usage rate is also very high.

What was Anthony’s free throw rate in Oklahoma City? It was 16.5 percent, which was 19 percentage points below his career average and by far the lowest of his career! See the correlation here? It is no wonder he had a challenging season in OKC. Melo never got the chance to play his game.

The same will surely happen in Houston, as Melo does not truly fit into coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense…which leads me to my next point.

 

2. How does Carmelo fit in?

D’Antoni’s offense predicates itself on two distinct offensive philosophies:

1. High pick and roll. There are 3 shooters on the perimeter, at least one in the corner, often two. Capela sets a screen and Harden/ Paul reads and reacts. If the defense is drawn in, the ball handler finds the roller for a lob or kicks to an open shooter. If the defense stays home, the ball handler gets to the rim for a bucket or foul. Boom.

2. Isolation basketball. If the defense doe their job for 16-17 seconds, Harden or Paul will take their man one-on-one.

Think I’m oversimplifying this? Guess again. Read what Jared Dubin of The Ringer had to say about this:

“38 players finishing at least two possessions per game out of isolation, per NBA.com, there are only two averaging more than 1.2 points per play: Harden at 1.24 and teammate Chris Paul at 1.23. “

Yeah, that’s pretty damn good.

What’s more, Harden finished in the 95th percentile for isolation plays. It figures that 35 percent of his offense came this way. Paul finished in the 90th percentile and 29 percent of his offense was generated in iso.

Carmelo? Well he finished in the 58th percentile for isolation plays while using it 18 percent of the time. If you think that D’Antoni is going to defer to Carmelo during iso plays, guess again. He has two of the best iso scorers in the league, and neither of them are go by the alias “Hoodie Melo.”

Of course, we also know that the Rockets take a ton of threes. I mean, they take an ungodly amount of triples. They took 50 percent of their field goals from deep last year. The next closest team were the Brooklyn Nets (surprising, right) at 41 percent.

Wait a second, Carmelo is a great 3-point shooter, right? Why can’t he just take 7 threes per game? Allow me to answer.

As stated earlier, Melo is an average 3-point shooter at best. This can still be an asset however, the Rockets will surely ask him to take 7 threes per game. The guy he is replacing, Trevor Ariza, took 6.9 triples per game last year. Things should work out, right?

I’m not sold.

Carmelo first started truly making triples a part of his game at age 26. This is the year he got shipped from Denver. It is also the first year he took over 3 threes per game. I was generous and decided to get his 3-point attempt rate average starting from age 26 and lasting through his last season in New York (or, his first season before OKC.)

Melo had a 3-point attempt rate of 23.9 percent. This means that out of all of his shots, he took 23.9 percent of them from beyond the arc.

In OKC, Melo saw his 3-point attempt rate jump to 40 percent, the highest of his career by 10 percentage points! Needless to say, things did not work out for Melo in Oklahoma. Last year in Houston, Ariza had a 3-point attempt rate of 70 percent. Wow!

Will Melo be expected to take 70 percent of his shots from deep? No. But, we know the Rockets jack up threes. If Melo is asked to take 55-60 percent of his shots from three, will it work? I’m skeptical. This would be a drastic change for a man whose entire career had allowed him to pound the air out of the ball instead of catching and shooting. But, speaking of the Ariza guy…

 

3. Uhhhh defense…dummies

The Rockets finished 6th in defensive rating last year. If you think they simply tried to outscore opponents, you were watching closely enough.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Carmelo is a horrible defensive player at this point of his career. In fact, Bleacher Report once listed Carmelo as the second worst small forward defender in the NBA. What’s worse is that this ranking came in 2017. Do we think Melo is going to become a better defender in 2018-19? Nope.

But what about Trevor Ariza? Just how important to this Rockets team was he. Upon first glance, the metrics do not wow you. Yet, watch him pass the eye test. Ariza can switch onto multiple defenders, is a high-IQ player and gives effort.

Watch him switch onto Jordan Bell, a springy big, and then cover the ground to take a charge from Draymond Green. Will Carmelo do that for the Rockets next season. We all know the answer to that. Yet, these are the types of plays that win teams games.

gif.gif

Next up, watch him play defense on Kevin Durant AKA the best pure scorer in the league right now. How many guys can actually keep stride with KD and then contest him into a miss? Good luck, Melo.

kd d.gif

Close your eyes for a second. Imagine D’Antoni gameplans for Carmelo’s defensive woes. So, he decided to stick him on Jordan Bell during the postseason matchup versus the Warriors. Now imagine Steph Curry bringing the ball up the court. What does he do? He simply points to Bell to set a pick. Melo is switched onto Curry. Ouch.

This will happen repeatedly in Houston. Teams will exploit Melo until he gets played off the court. Be prepared, Rockets fans. Between his defense and inability to adapt to playing with other high usage players, things could get very rough down in Houston.

 

Recent Articles:

The Next Step for Russell Westbrook

The Brooklyn Nets have the NBA’s Deepest Backcourt

Top 25 Players in the NBA

Top 25 Players in the NBA

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.

Ben Simmons Drive

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?

Nikola Jokic 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.

Victor Oladipo Trainer

#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.

Klay Thompson Defense

#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.”

#15: DeMarcus Cousins

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.

Damian Lillard Three

#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.”

Chris Paul
Getty Images

#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:

Giannis Antetokounmpo Dunk

#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!