Sixers are really good, but not quite ready. They followed up their 18-point loss to the Celtics, Tuesday, with a commanding 19-point W tonight over the Bulls, but there’s still a lot of growing to do here.
Markelle Fultz ain’t it. I know, I know, it’s only game 2 for them and he’s coming off an injury, but he’s playing about 30 minutes a night and his 17 combined points on 7-22 from the field as the #1 overall draft pick a year ago, just isn’t going to cut it. The crowd did go crazy when he hit his only 3 of the night late in the 4th quarter, though, so the fans obviously love him and are willing to be a little more patient with him than I am. Go figure.
Ben Simmons is really good. He can virtually do whatever he wants on the floor except shoot a jump shot. Logging his first triple double of the season with 13, 13, & 11 assists, don’t be surprised if he does that kind of thing often this year, you should probably just expect it.
Joel Embiid picked up right where he left off last season. His 4 blocks and 1 steal to go with his 30 & 13 double double make him an extremely early candidate for DPOY. His trash talk is still A1, too, if you were wondering.
Defense is a foreign concept. The Bulls led 41-38 after the 1st but would only score 67 points over the next 3 while allowing Philadelphia to put up almost 90. Everybody was lost out there and Fred Hoiberg had no idea what to do either. *Long Sigh*
Jabari showed flashes of quality scoring and rebounding, but clearly he’s out of shape. His 15 off the bench tonight can definitely come in handy throughout the season, but he’ll need to shoot better than 7-16 and improve on defense if he wants to stay in the rotation. And for $20 million this year, he better.
Bulls are going to live and die by the 3. They opened the game 6-11 from behind the arc and looked to be on their way to a hot night. They only knocked down 5 more in the game, finishing 11-33 from deep. When they’re hitting their shots they can be a really fun team to watch, but those inevitable cold stretches are going to be brutal.
Bobby Portis is going to be a problem for whoever is guarding him all season. He’s the Bulls best player right now, and did it all tonight scoring 20 and grabbing 11 boards. He also had 1 block, 1 steal and dished 2 dimes, too.
Zach LaVine looks good. Back for his first full season since the ACL injury, he seems to have the same bounce he had before. He scored 30 on 11-19 shooting, and played hard and seemingly unbothered by the knee injury from a year ago. He could be in a huge year barring any health issues.
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!
Sure, McGee made a positive impact on last year’s NBA Finals. During those same playoffs, Rondo proved he still has a ton of game left, as he toyed with a blazing hot Portland team. Caldwell-Pope had a decent year as well. And Lance, well Lance was doing Lance things, for better or for worse. Are these the sexiest signings to pair with LeBron James? No.
Want to know what is sexy? Those four signings were all one year deals.
Want to know what is even sexier? I am going to tell you why not going for broke this year is the best move the Lakers could have made, and do so in 3 reasons.
1. LeBron James and the need for rest
When Michael Jordan retired from the NBA to pursue professional baseball, most of sports fandom was either confused or shocked. Or both. As LeBron approaches Jordan’s legacy, many analysts and pundits alike are keen on bringing up the fact that MJ simply walked away from the game. He did so at the height of his powers, no less.
LeBron can do something similar without actually leaving the game. The King has played 239 playoff games in his career. 239. Woah. Some simple math tells us that James has tacked on about 3 extra seasons onto his career so far (2.91, to be exact.) In total, Lebron has played about 18 seasons of professional basketball already!
Are the Lakers expected to win the title this year? Hell no. A Western Conference Finals appearance would be a huge success, while a semi-finals loss is the most likely outcome. By saving the extra miles on LeBron, Los Angele fans get to see him extend his prime. But, there may be a bonus as well…
LeBron is a rational man. Presumably, he signed with LA knowing that they would not truly compete for the title next year. But a man chasing Jordan has to pursue something, right? I fully expect for Lebron to have his sights set on the NBA MVP next year. He will not walk away from a single season without anything to show for it. If Kawhi is added to the Lakers, it only enhances his odds due to a greater chance at overall team success, something voters consider heavily. LeBron could win the MVP for a 5th time, and do so during season 16; a feat which had never been accomplished before.
2. A changing NBA landscape
It pains me to say this, truly: Deep down, we all know who will win the 2018-2019 NBA Finals. My favorite team, the Boston Celtics. Okay, you can laugh a bit. In all seriousness, the winner will most likely be the Golden State Warriors.
Houston may have a healthy CP3 this time around, but they also lost core pieces such as Trevor Ariza (Phoenix) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Clippers.) Maybe the Rockets can add Carmelo, but I am skeptical that he would put them over the top. Philadelphia is a fun choice, and their chemistry will only grow, but can they get past a Celtics team that is adding a healthy Kyrie and Gordon Hayward? Cs versus Warriors. Pencil it in. Helluva series.
After next year, however…things get dicey.
Especially for some NBA contenders, and players who want to compete in the finals.
In the 2019-2020 NBA Offseason:
Golden State could lose Klay Thompson/Kevin Durant
Boston could lose Al Horford and/or Kyrie Irving
Minnesota could lose Jimmy Butler
San Antonio could will lose Kawhi Leonard
In the 2020-2021 NBA Offseason:
Golden State could lose Draymond Green, Iggy, or Shaun Livingston
Houston could lose Eric Gordon
Boston could lose Gordon Hayward/Al Horford
What’s the point? There is a very good chance that the superteams LeBron will face during the 2018-2019 season and playoffs will not be intact in the near future. Can the Warriors afford to max out 4 players? Bill Simmons, also known as the “Durant Whisperer,” recently went on a podcast and intimated that Durant could leave the Warriors in the not-so-distant future.
If Houston brings back Capela, will they be able to keep their key pieces as well? Will Kyrie and Gordon Hayward come back to a Cs team brimming with younger talent? These are all reasonable questions to ask. Even Philadelphia could have a Fultz problem, or lose the perpetually underrated JJ Redick, who is only getting better with age.
NBA player movement has never been as rampart. Lebron James has almost single handedly ushered in a new era for professional basketball; one where players leverage their stardom to decide where they want to play.
Despite a playoff drought which has lasted seemingly forever, this is not the year for Lakers fans to want a shot at the title.
3. Cap space, cap space, and more cap space.
It would not be an article from me if I did not provide a graphic of a team’s future salary obligations, right? Without further ado…
See those beautiful red rectangle things I drew? That represents how much money the Lakers owe their players in both 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. At first glance, it does not seem like they have too much cap space next year. Yet, check out what Zach Lowe said about the impending cap spikes:
Very important information buried in the NBA's salary cap memo sent to teams: projection for 2019-20 cap up to $109 million, and then $116 million for 2020-21. Cap is set at $101.9M for upcoming 2018-19 season.
As of now, Magic Johnson and co. have about 28 million dollars in cap space to spend next year. If they trade away young assets Svi Mykhailiuk or Isaac Bonga, they can obtain enough space to make a free agent a max offer, or get damn close to it. Playing in LA with the best player of a generation may help persuade players to forget about a couple million dollars.
Imagine they sign Kawhi Leonard next offseason. According to Sam Vecenie, Kawhi could come at a max price of 32.4 million dollars during his first year. That would still leave LA with around 21 million dollars to spend the following offseason. Sure they have to decide if they want to match any restricted free agency deal for Brandon Ingram. Yet, if they use the stretch provision to get off of Luol Deng’s ugly contract, or trade him into space, they could get near the cap room to possibly bring in another big name free agent.
Oh, and you will want to check out the potential free agent crop for the next two years:
I’m not a gambling man, but I am betting that the Lakers land at least one of these guys over the next two years. They have the cap space, talent, and destination appeal to do it.
Not impressed by the names “Redick,” “Middleton,” “Harris, “Randle,” or “Dragic?” Not including Kevin Love, LeBron just took a team of scrubs to the NBA Finals, and lost two of those games in the finals minutes or overtime. The King doesn’t need much, just a handful of trusty knights who won’t miss free throws or mismanage the clock.
The NBA landscape changes faster than ever now, and it is a zero-sum game. In other words, if a team loses a star player, that means another team is gaining a star player.
And whether it is by trades or signings, the Lakers have as good a chance as any team of landing that star player…or *gulp*…players.
As many Wolves fans know at this point, the Minnesota Timberwolves signed forward Anthony Tolliver to a one-year contract. However, signing Tolliver to his deal came at a cost. The Timberwolves had to let Nemanja Bjelica walk, who ended up signing a one-year deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. Some fans have been complaining about paying Tolliver more money, rather than holding onto the younger Bjelica. Did the Wolves make the right move? Let’s break it down.
Last Season Basic Stats
During the 2017-18 NBA campaign, Nemanja Bjelica averaged 6.8 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game. Bjelica did so while playing 20.5 minutes a night and starting 21 of the 67 games he appeared in. In his 67 games, Bjelica managed to shoot 41.5% from three-point range, the second-highest percentage by any Wolf last year. The 41.5% from three came on 2.7 attempts per game, not a bad number for a bench player, but Bjelica should have been shooting more.
On the defensive side of the ball, Bjelica was up and down. Professor Big Shots posted a 110 defensive rating, which was the same as Jimmy Butler, but Bjelica was guarding bench players in comparison to Butler who was guarding the opposing team’s star night in and night out. The Timberwolves were a better team on defense when Bjelly was on the court, so there is potential on the defensive side of the ball; however, he will never be a great on-ball defender.
The former Timberwolf from 2010-2012 had a terrific 2017-18 season with the Detroit Pistons. Tolliver averaged 8.9 points per game and 3.1 rebounds per game while playing 22.2 minutes a night. In addition, Tolliver missed only three games last season, a huge plus for any NBA player. In his 79 games played, Tolliver shot a ridiculous 43.6% from three on 4.6 attempts per game. His totals wound up to be 159 makes on 365 attempts from three-point range, a very solid showing.
The defensive side of the ball shows similar production for Tolliver. Posting a similar 110 defensive rating as Bjelica, the Detroit Pistons were a much better defensive team when Tolliver was on the floor. Tolliver’s toughness and sheer hustle forced many turnovers leading to easy baskets for Detroit.
Furthermore for Tolliver, he finished the 2017-18 season on fire. Over the course of the final ten games of the season, Tolliver posted 17.2 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game. Starting in eight of the final ten games, Tolliver proved his worth shooting a scorching 55.1% from long range connecting on 38 of 69 threes.
Last Season Advanced Stats
In his third season in the NBA, Bjelica had a usage rate of 14.3%. With that usage rate, 49.3% of Bjelica’s attempted shots were from three. That may seem like a good amount, but it was not as high as it should have been. Bjelica often hesitated before shooting threes last season. He would put the ball on the deck, when he should really just fire from three. Bjelica was at his best last season when he was not thinking about his shot, and he just let it fly.
The GIF above shows Bjelica at his best. This shot shows Bjelly with no hesitation, and firing freely, something he did not do enough of.
In arguably his best season in the NBA, Tolliver recorded a 14.8% usage rate, similar to Bjelica. However, the big thing that sticks out with Tolliver is how many of his shots are threes. 77.3% of Tolliver’s field goal attempts last season came from three. This will provide the Wolves with a big spark. Tolliver spaces the floor and he fires on his threes at will. Just watch him stroke this three below with no hesitation whatsoever.
This is what the Timberwolves need. Someone who will freely shoot the ball and not worry about his minutes. AT is not going to go to the media and complain about minutes. He will work hard, give effort every night, and hopefully be rewarded with the minutes he deserves.
Anthony Tolliver is the right man for the Wolves this upcoming season. Yes, he is older. Yes, he is more expensive. But, Tolliver is consistent. Wolves fans will be able to know what they will get each game from AT, where Bjelica ranged mightily in his consistency. For example, Bjelica had 33 games last season where he scored five points or less. That accounts for 49.3% of the games he played in. On the other hand, Tolliver had just 21 games where he scored five or less points. And, because he played in 79 games last season, those 21 games account for just 26.6% of his outings with five or less points. The verdict is simple, the Wolves need consistency and toughness. Those two words may describe Anthony Tolliver best.