Give And Go: Breaking down the top 100
Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
This week: Reviewing some of the most contentious debates from The Point Forward's ranking of the top 100 players for the 2013-14 season. All players discussed below either ranked between No. 30 and No. 100 or were not included on the list. We've already ranked Nos. 100-51, 50-31 and 30-21. Check back for Nos. 20-11 on Thursday and our top 10 on Friday.
Here's the schedule for our top 100 list:
1. Which player ranked from 30 to 100 has the best chance of significantly outperforming his ranking?
Ben Golliver: Anthony Davis (No. 41). The Pelicans' 20-year-old big man hits a number of key criteria to leap ahead of current reasonable expectations: He's young, he's already productive, his playing time should increase, his team should be better than it was last year and there are no obvious impediments to his growth. Even though I think our ranking showed him a significant amount of respect, given that he has played fewer than 1,900 NBA minutes, there's a reasonable chance that Davis is a sexy pick among number crunchers for the 2014 All-Star team. A spot in the top 25, maybe even the top 20, heading into the 2014-15 season is also within reach.
How quickly the Pelicans can get into the playoff mix will help determine when Davis starts to receive national recognition, but it doesn't take a lot of digging to realize that he's on the fast track. Consider this: Davis posted a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 21.7 and a Win Shares of 6.1 during his age-19 season (yes, it should be noted that he missed almost a quarter of the season with various injuries). Basketball-Reference's database indicates that no one else has ever done that at age 19. When you start relaxing the standards -- lowering the PER and Win Shares thresholds -- the names that come up are a who's who list of perennial All-Stars and future Hall of Famers: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. If you relax the age standard to determine which rookies have posted his PER/Win Shares combination, that list of 17 players includes Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson.
That heady company suggests that Davis is primed to enjoy a leap -- a major one -- soon. Will it be this season? Will it be next season? We all eagerly wait for that answer.
Rob Mahoney: Derrick Favors (No. 87). Davis is a great pick, but an even safer bet might be a developing big man far lower in our rankings. Utah's Favors, 22, was pushed down to No. 87 because he doesn't quite have the defensive intuition to be a consistent difference-maker or the comfort level on offense to make good use of his size. Neither will be remedied overnight, though there's reason to think that a full season of starter's minutes could help ease him along.
Given all the natural advantages Favors possesses (quick feet, good hands, a standout combination of size and leaping ability), the slightest gains in basketball comprehension will go a long way. Even without grasping the full nuance of defensive coverage, Favors is enough of a shot-blocking threat (he ranked fifth in block percentage last season) to cast a shadow on many plays. He can be manipulated by clever ball handlers and savvy post-up players, but he's fast enough to work through an initial mistake to still make an impact on a play's result. If he were making better reads even just a bit more often, Favors would start his climb up our list. If he comes along more dramatically, he could find himself in Andre Drummond (No. 63) territory soon.
2. Which player ranked from 30 to 100 is least likely to return to next year's list of the top 100 players?
Mahoney: Amare' Stoudemire (No. 85). This ranking was perhaps a bit charitable, as Stoudemire's drawbacks have come to encroach rather dramatically on his value. His efficiency last season for the Knicks was outstanding (57.7 percent shooting, manageable turnover rate, 6.9 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes), but Stoudemire, 30, is a terrible defender and poor rebounder who could soon face serious minutes restrictions.
Players who log a mere 20 minutes a game can only do so much good, and that's before we account for potential complications with Stoudemire's knees (which underwent two surgeries in roughly two months last season) as a means of both triggering his decline and keeping him off the court entirely. Once Stoudemire's mobility goes, that's the ball game; even his post work relies heavily on being able to face up opponents and beat them to a particular scoring angle, and his ability to accomplish even that much could soon be diminished. Tack on the possibility of his defense going from quite bad to altogether insufferable, and Stoudemire's case to maintain this level of effectiveness starts to get sketchy.
Golliver: Danny Granger (No. 72). My first pick was also Stoudemire, so kudos on your intelligence. Indiana's Granger fits a similar profile (knee problems, multiple years removed from peak production, turning the corner on 30, his contending team has found a way to win consistently without him). There's one added variable: his contract. Stoudemire is locked in through 2014-15 at huge numbers ($21.7 million this season, $23.4 million next season) and that means two things: 1) he will be very difficult to trade, and 2) New York will be inclined to make things work however it can.
Granger, though, has a much more uncertain future. His $14 million contract expires this summer, which means he can look forward to a season's worth of trade rumors and then a potentially tough free-agent market if he experiences more issues with his knees this season. Will the Pacers trade his contract for a younger piece that might help put them over the top? Will they decide to use him off the bench, cutting into his productivity? Will they let him walk this summer so that Paul George can get his expected max payday? If they do, will contenders be lining up for Granger's services? If so, will they envision him as a starting-caliber player or as more of a niche guy? If not, what happens then?
Besides the obvious -- staying healthy -- it's hard to chart a best-case scenario for Granger. Even if he comes back and has a stellar season, is there room for him in Indiana? Is there money for him? Would he take a discount to stay and compete for a title? That limbo makes me think Granger's standing league-wide could be headed for a slide.
3. Which player ranked from 30 to 100 is the most volatile? In other words, which player has the highest ceiling above his ranking while also possessing serious crash-and-burn potential?
Golliver: Andrew Bynum (No. 60). This one seems open and shut. I have 2011-12 Bynum (healthy) as no worse than the No. 4 center in the NBA entering this season, trailing only Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol. That puts him somewhere in the top 10-20 range. Clearly, the only place 2012-13 Bynum (never healthy) could be ranked is the Greater Philadelphia Pro-Am Bowlers League.
Bynum is not the only star player dealing with serious recent injuries -- Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, etc. -- but he is different because: 1) he has constantly changing timelines based on his inability to ramp up his activity; 2) his agent admitted publicly that he put on a significant amount of weight this summer; 3) the NBA market had a chance to judge his value in free agency and the final terms (two years, $24.8 million, with the second year fully nonguaranteed) were significantly below the max or near-max that he would have commanded if healthy, suggesting a serious level of concern with his current state; 4) he has multiple body parts (both knees) in question; and 5) he hasn't made any recent promises about what he thinks he will be capable of once he gets back on the court. All of those things individually would be concerning; together, it's a nightmare. Good luck, Cleveland.
Mahoney: Tyreke Evans (No. 65). There are a number of good candidates to pick from beyond Bynum (who rather easily takes the lead on this question), but I'm inclined to examine the full range of possibilities for Evans. Despite career averages of 18 points, five assists, and 4.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, Evans has never registered a positive on-court impact by way of regularized adjusted plus-minus, and only once (in four years) improved his team's overall performance in his on/off splits. For all of his evident talent, there's just limited data to support the notion that what Evans does on the floor actually turns out to be a positive for his team. His style of play more or less confirms the premise; Evans can be a bit of a ball hog even at his most productive, employs a fairly blunt driving style, doesn't cut consistently enough when not in control and isn't a good perimeter defender. Evans puts up some impressive numbers, but former Kings coaches Paul Westphal and Keith Smart were never able to find the optimal balance in his role and abilities.
I'm optimistic that Monty Williams might have better luck figuring out Evans in New Orleans, largely because Davis, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, and Eric Gordon form a well-rounded support staff. If all clicks into place, it's entirely possible that Evans could be underrated here. Few players are capable of contributing across the board as he does, and a fresh start with a new team could go a long way toward unlocking his potential. But our ranking could also wind up as a rosy projection for such a peculiar player -- a talent that remains unsolved after various roles in four seasons.
4. Which player included in our "notable omissions" list will place the highest in next year's rankings?
Mahoney: Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors' 21-year-old center brings some strong baseline credentials into his second NBA season. He was a borderline case for this year's rankings, omitted largely based on his still-developing feel for the game. In that regard, he's not too far separated from Favors. Neither big man is in the right place quite consistently enough on defense, but Valanciunas is a more developed offensive player while Favors' physical gifts allow him to make more of an immediate impact as a rebounder and shot blocker. I just see Favors taking a bigger step forward this year, while Valanciunas might need a little more time to get fully acclimated.
Golliver: Jeff Green. I definitely like both Valanciunas and second-year Wizards guard Bradley Beal as upside picks for all of the obvious reasons. I'll go with Green, though, even if I'm not his biggest fan. This is mostly about my expectations for his setup on a rebuilding Boston team. I look at that roster and think -- snap take -- that if the 27-year-old forward doesn't provide the scoring, no one will, especially during Rajon Rondo's absence. Although we generally took care to avoid rewarding players who put up big numbers on bad teams in this year's ranking (J.J. Hickson, etc.), there's a chance that Green is asked to do so much that what he can accomplish as the go-to guy starts to outweigh what he wasn't able to supply in a supporting role.
Do I expect Green to totally change his game and blossom into a fringe All-Star candidate? No, not really. But I do expect him to play hard and put up career numbers across the board. I think that could be enough to repair his reputation a bit, even during what will surely be a trying year for his team.
5. Which 2013-14 rookie will place the highest on next year's list?
Golliver: Victor Oladipo. All of the factors that make the No. 2 pick a logical early favorite for the Rookie of the Year award make him the "smart money" on this question. The 21-year-old guard should play tons of minutes in Orlando and enjoy lots of touches. He can score, and he posted good shooting numbers in college. He has a professional attitude and work ethic that should serve him well come "rookie wall" time.
Oladipo is almost a "process of elimination" pick: Cleveland's Anthony Bennett, Phoenix's Alex Len and Philadelphia's Nerlens Noel all have injury questions, while Washington's Otto Porter, Sacramento's Ben McLemore, Detroit's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Portland's CJ McCollum either won't get the same opportunity as Oladipo or aren't as equipped to make an impact from Day One. None of the other candidates -- Charlotte's Cody Zeller, Utah's Trey Burke, Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams and Boston's Kelly Olynyk -- necessarily jump off the page as strong challengers, although all should get their feet wet in plenty of minutes.
My final top three in order: Oladipo, Zeller and Bennett. (I guess we should also allow for the possibility that no '13-14 rookies crack next year's top 100.) Mahoney: I agree on Oladipo, though he's in no way a lock to make the cut after a single season. His defensive chops should help him stabilize in the NBA more quickly than other prospects, but I'm not keen on his first-year efficiency if he indeed winds up playing point guard. Even if he does have the skills to make his transition to the point worthwhile over the long term, getting up to NBA speed is a challenge in itself, as is learning to handle the length and strength of NBA defenders. Oladipo should be a fine NBA player in time, but expecting a spot in the league's top 100 players by next year strikes me as a bit bold. (It's worth noting that just three members of the 2012 rookie class ranked on this year's list: the Pelicans' Davis at 41, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard at 47 and Pistons center Andre Drummond at 63).