Top 100 NBA players of 2015: Snubs
Creating a defined list inevitably leads to snubs, the likes of which run deep with our ranking of Top 100 NBA players of 2015.
In some sense, stopping at 100 is an arbitrary end point. There isn't a dramatic difference between our final pick and those players who narrowly missed the cut, and one could make a compelling case for many of those omitted to claim one of the last spots. Beyond that, there are handfuls of relevant players who are well regarded but noticeably absent, unseated by the sheer number of qualified candidates. The list below is a combination of those two groups -- a collection of 25 notable omissions, though not squarely a queue of those players next in line.
A quick introduction for those not familiar with some of the "advanced" statistical measures used below:
PER is a per-minute summary of a player’s efficiency and performance, weighted so that a league-average player registers a 15. It generally skews in favor of big men and does not account for defensive contributions that don’t show up in the box score.
Win Shares -- A metric that uses box score data to estimate the total number of wins a given player contributes. Last season, Win Shares ran on a scale of -0.9 (Tony Wroten) to 19.2 (Kevin Durant), but only 15 players finished with more than 10.
RAPM (Regularized adjusted plus-minus) -- A variation of plus-minus that compares the on-court impact of every NBA player to a league-average standard (0). Regularization and adjustment help to reconcile much of the statistical noise that exists in raw plus-minus measures drawn from a single season. The version of RAPM used here is curated by Jeremias Engelmann.
Tony Allen, Grizzlies
Scorers matched up with Allen are assured a long, uncomfortable outing. Even in a hyper-competitive league of pro athletes, Allen's tenacity stands apart. The Grizzlies' resident stopper gets up and into his man, sliding in a perfect crouch while controlling his mark with handsy play. The only way he can be shaken in coverage is by his own limitation: Allen is such a meager (and in some cases, destructive) offensive player that he puts a cap on his minutes and, by extension, his overall impact. That weakness keeps the remarkable defender and rebounder out of the Top 100. -- Rob Mahoney
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
The hype surrounding the Greek Freak still far exceeds his on-court production, which is to be expected given his fascinating rags-to-riches personal history, his drool-inducing wingspan and his wide-eyed, fan-friendly personality. Still, the hype is justified. At 19, the 6-9 forward put up only middling stats -- standard and advanced -- on the league’s worst team; his 1.2 Win Shares, for example, tied him with fellow Bucks rookie Nate Wolters. The difference, of course, is that Antetokounmpo’s ceiling is “superstar” while Wolters’ is “serviceable." One only needs to watch Antetokounmpo cover 40 feet with two dribbles and then extend for a transition dunk to realize that he is capable of physical acts that few can match. It seems like a matter of when, not if, Antetokounmpo puts it all together, and his strong Summer League showing suggests a true breakout might not be as far away as everyone expected. -- Ben Golliver
Avery Bradley, Celtics
Bradley’s development was a bright spot for the rebuilding Celtics last season. Though he missed 22 games in another injury-plagued campaign, Bradley produced the best of his four seasons and was rewarded with a four-year, $32 million contract as a restricted free agent. Already known as one of the league’s most relentless on-ball defenders, Bradley took on a larger offensive role and hit 39.5 percent from beyond the arc while averaging a career-high 1.3 three-pointers per game. The 19th section in the 2010 draft is neither a true point guard nor projects as a lead scoring option, but the full return of Rajon Rondo from ACL surgery and the addition of rookie No. 6 pick Marcus Smart should enable Bradley to do what he does best in 2014-15: contribute offensively off the ball and make life miserable for opposing guards on the other end. In the long term, the fierce pairing of Smart and Bradley should serve as the foundation for Boston’s post-Rondo identity. -- B.G.
DeMarre Carroll, Hawks
When he arrived in the NBA five years ago, Carroll was unable to score at a decent clip and a lack of shooting range left him floundering for efficiency. His underlying feel for the game went untapped because of a deficit in skill and experience. So he worked. First Carroll applied himself as best he could defensively, where he came to walk the line between assertive individual play and respect for his team's principles. Then he grew as a cutter, learning in his move from team to team how to complement different kind of creators. Finally, at 27 on a Hawks team that challenged his limits, Carroll hoisted 268 three-pointers after attempting just 95 total in the previous four seasons. Better yet: Carroll made 36.2 percent, rounding out his skill set as an off-ball role player. -- R.M.
Vince Carter, Grizzlies
Aging gracefully is a concept foreign to most superstar athletes. Carter, though, has transitioned nicely into a reduced role. Those same skills that once made Carter a dynamo have been repurposed to more moderate effect. He remains a brilliant shot creator who is capable of propelling an offense for stretches. The jumper that once enabled step-back after step-back has been stabilized for spot-up use. Those creative instincts that buoyed his team's offense now allow Carter to attack on the catch, exploiting the same weaknesses and setting up his teammates in the same ways. There are times when Carter gets too caught up in the lofty responsibility of getting buckets, perhaps as a vestige of his former life. But in general Carter churns out offense more reliably (if less explosively) than most sixth-man types, while contributing as a defender and rebounder. -- R.M.
Michael Carter-Williams, 76ers
Channing Frye, Magic
Frye isn't just an accurate shooter but one with a reputation, and in some ways the latter matters more. Valuable are those marksmen who can both hit open looks and consistently command the respect of defenses. We saw that gravity in action in the Suns' play last season, when Frye's tug on opposing big men helped clear room for guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to motor their way to the rim. It's almost absurd how effective Frye is in the rhythm of a pick-and-pop. His moves after setting the screen are pointed and direct, creating space for the ball-handler as quickly as possible and positioning Frye for a clear opportunity. Even without all that much else to offer (Frye is otherwise a limited offensive player, a merely decent defender and a somewhat lacking rebounder), that appeal gives him considerable value -- $8 million annually by the Magic's estimation. -- R.M.
Kevin Garnett, Nets
There is no more depressing name on this list. Garnett's body is spent, worn down from year after year of iron-man superstardom. Now his minutes must be carefully maintained to avoid a complete breakdown. The reality is that Garnett played fewer regular-season minutes last season than Utah's Jeremy Evans and Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins, not to mention Brooklyn's own Mirza Teletovic. If Garnett is still a captain, that role is executed as often from a distance as from the hardwood. On those occasions that Garnett did play, however, he was still a fine contributor: a nightly double-double per 36 minutes with a tangible defensive influence. The problem is that opponents no longer pay Garnett much mind on offense, leaving him unattended to crowd the paint or challenge more threatening scorers. -- R.M.
Eric Gordon, Pelicans
The 2013-14 season marked the first time in years that Gordon’s health was the least of his team’s concerns. Sure, he missed nearly a quarter of the season, but his 64 appearances were the most he has made since his rookie season in 2008-09, and his sporadic absences paled in comparison to New Orleans’ long-term losses of Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith. In fact, Gordon logged more minutes than any Pelican besides Anthony Davis. His contributions, though, generally fell under the “mediocre” heading, and he was shut down in mid-March because of a left-knee injury that required yet another surgery. In July 2012, the former No. 7 pick received a maximum rookie extension (four years, $58.4 million) based on the belief that he was one of the best up-and-coming scoring guards in the league. Gordon didn't return to that form or anything close to it last year, but at least he was back on the court. -- B.G.
Gerald Green, Suns
It took nine years, seven NBA teams and two seasons abroad, but Green finally put together the type of season that he dreamed of when he made the preps-to-pros leap in 2005. The 2007 Slam Dunk Contest winner added some layers to his well-earned reputation as a high flyer by finding a perfect fit in Phoenix’s fun-and-gun system. Green feasted off the Suns’ drive-and-kick ability, joining Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as the only minutes-qualified players to hit 40 percent of their three-pointers on at least six attempts per game. The task at hand is to prove that last season -- a career year across the board -- was no fluke. A repeat performance would set up the 2015 free agent for the biggest payday of his nomadic career. -- B.G.
Jeff Green, Celtics
Green has both ardent fans and harsh critics, in part because his inconsistent play merits both. His good-but-not-great offensive game can be a difficult fit because his so-so work off the ball makes him tricky to implement as a role player and his merely decent creative game isn't conducive to high usage. Green is similarly amorphous on defense in that he's not a natural cover for either small forwards or power forwards. The former No. 5 pick is a useful player who can look brilliant at times, but he's not as valuable as his versatility might suggest. -- R.M.
Spencer Hawes, Clippers
Alex Trebek of Jeopardy! fame would surely appreciate this one: Name the only player 6-9 or taller who shot 40 percent on a qualified number of three-pointers in 2013-14. Who is Channing Frye? I’m sorry, that’s incorrect. Who is Kevin Love? Oh, no. Who is Dirk Nowitzki? Wrong again. The correct answer is Hawes, who accomplished the feat while slopping through the lottery-bound muck in Philadelphia and Cleveland. Hawes, who signed a four-year, $22.6 million contract with the Clippers, slots in neatly as a third big man behind DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. Need someone to keep defenses from loading up on Griffin? Need extra room so that Jordan can dive down the paint to finish pick-and-rolls? Need someone to step in late in games when Jordan’s free-throw issues become burdensome? Hawes should be able to handle all of those responsibilities. It will be up to coach Doc Rivers to work around his new 7-footer’s defensive shortcomings. -- B.G.
George Hill, Pacers
Hill just isn't the type of player who can infuse life or creativity into Indiana's subpar offense. He's much more comfortable spotting up than manufacturing looks, a rarity among NBA point guards and a style that would play well alongside a wing creator. Hill does plenty of things to help good teams win, and his inability to stop his team's downward spiral last season shouldn't obscure the value his cerebral defense and complementary offense could offer under more agreeable circumstances.. -- R.M.
Jordan Hill, Lakers
Hill has been used in relatively short bursts over his five seasons, with last year's 20.8-minute average representing a career high. But there is an electricity to his game, which features prolific offensive rebounding and springy finishes in a crowded lane. Even the lower-key dimensions of Hill's game are increasingly notable, as his post work is functional enough and his reserved mid-range game has grown to be respectable. Hill is still too shaky in his decision making to register as much of a defensive presence, though. -- R.M.
Brandon Jennings, Pistons
Jennings was one of only six players to average 15 points and seven assists last season, but he has virtually nothing in common – value-wise – with the others (Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, John Wall and Ty Lawson). In fact, there’s an argument to be made that Jennings was one of the most damaging players in the league. That argument starts with his historically pathetic shooting and shot selection: Jennings joins John Starks (1998-99) and Baron Davis ('08-09) as the only players to attempt at least 14 shots while shooting less than 38 percent overall and less than 34 percent from downtown. Simultaneously, Jennings -- an undersized, undisciplined and often unmotivated defender -- ranked No. 455 out of 468 players in RAPM, and none of the 12 players ranked below him logged close to his 2,729 minutes. There’s also the inconvenient truth that Jennings’ last two coaches (Scott Skiles and Maurice Cheeks), last two interim coaches (Jim Boylan and John Loyer), and most recent GM (Joe Dumars) have all been relieved of their duties. In other words, best of luck to Stan Van Gundy. Jennings easily qualifies among the Drew League’s Top 100, but he needs to expand his game beyond glitzy passing and shameless shot-chucking if he wants to beef up his NBA rep and deliver on his 2009 lottery hype. -- B.G.
Terrence Jones, Rockets
Houston entered last season with a huge hole at power forward next to Dwight Howard. Jones eventually won the job, even though the 2012 first-round pick had logged fewer than 300 minutes as a rookie. A willing ball-handler with good athleticism and length, Jones broke out as an efficient auxiliary scorer in his sophomore season. He did the vast majority of his work around the hoop (he was 10th in overall shooting percentage, with nearly 75 percent of his attempts coming in the basket area) and made the most of his opportunities (his 8.2 turnover percentage also ranked among the league’s leaders). Though his 6-9 frame and inexperience can create matchup issues at times -- he was torched by the taller, more experienced LaMarcus Aldridge during the Rockets' first-round loss to the Trail Blazers -- Jones’ mobility makes him an intriguing player to watch. The trade of Omer Asik to the Pelicans should open up even more playing time for Jones, who has the makings of a prototypical stretch forward if he can add a dependable three-point shot. -- B.G.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Hornets
What’s more shocking: that Kidd-Gilchrist, a 6-7 small forward taken with the No. 2 pick in 2012, has made just three three-pointers in 3,527 minutes, or that he still isn’t old enough to drink liquor even though he’s about to enter his third NBA season? That double-edged sword -- an impossibly grotesque jumper coupled with seemingly impossible youth -- makes Kidd-Gilchrist one of the NBA’s biggest enigmas. Drafted out of Kentucky as an elite defender in the making, Kidd-Gilchrist has wasted little time putting his size and fundamentals to use on that end. Charlotte was the league’s biggest surprise on defense last season, posting a 98.8 defensive rating with Kidd-Gilchrist on the court and a 102.6 defensive rating with him on the bench. The requisite speed/quickness/strength/heart combination is there for Kidd-Gilchrist to develop into a special player, but his offensive development will determine his ceiling. He has a ways to go: Out of fear and necessity, 70 percent of his attempts came in the basket area, and the rest of his shot chart generally resembles a fire truck. Still, giving up on a player this early would be a big mistake. -- B.G.
Jeremy Lin, Lakers
Can a ball-dominant point guard with an international following and outsized expectations that surpass his ability ever catch a break? in the post-Linsanity era, Lin has been paired with A-lister after A-lister who require the undrafted Harvard floor leader to cede control and shots. First, Lin was in a short-lived, ill-advised partnership/power struggle with Carmelo Anthony, one that culminated with Lin's being dumped in favor of the gun-toting, flab-sporting Raymond Felton. Then, Lin had to accommodate James Harden's arrival in Houston and was relegated to the bench by the emergence of Patrick Beverley, who posted a better offensive rating, defensive rating and RAPM than Lin last year. Now, Lin must find a way to coexist with Kobe Bryant, who is surely eager to hoist after watching the Lakers struggle through a miserable 2013-14 season mostly without him. The good news for Lin is three-fold: 1) Lakers fans should embrace his competency and star power, 2) Lin is in a contract year and the post-Jerry Buss Lakers have made a habit of handing out ludicrous deals, and 3) he can always bounce next summer if things don’t work out with Bryant and new coach Byron Scott. -- B.G.
Shawn Marion, Cavaliers
Marion's once robust offensive game has withered so that all that remains are his kooky little hook-floaters, flea-flicker jumpers and conversions on broken plays. He's not especially great at any of the above, but together those tools give Marion just enough scoring to keep relevant. His primary appeal still comes on defense, where Marion has fought through gradual decline to keep opponents on their toes. His pride in being a stopper is evident. Marion embraces any assignment, guarding players from point guard to power forward in Dallas. That range makes Marion a real asset in a league more open to cross-matching than ever before. Trust in Marion, and let him cover for your slow-footed point guard or offense-first power forward without issue. -- R.M.
Josh McRoberts, Heat
Unfortunately, McRoberts’ role in Miami's failed attempt to retain LeBron James overshadowed his career year in Charlotte. When McRoberts agreed to sign with the Heat for the mid-level exception, he became the centerpiece of the roster upgrades that president Pat Riley had promised James after Miami's Finals defeat. James, of course, chose Cleveland over Miami. Instead of augmenting the Big Three, then, McRoberts will team with Luol Deng in an attempt to extend the Chris Bosh/Dwyane Wade partnership. McRoberts is a high-IQ power forward who contributes on both ends and isn’t afraid to deliver hard fouls. Passing was his standout quality last season, as he joined Kevin Love and Joakim Noah as the only players 6-10 or taller to average at least four assists. Even if the buzz around Miami’s season died as soon as James announces his departure, McRoberts should have every opportunity to prove that Riley made a worthwhile investment. -- B.G.
Timofey Mozgov, Nuggets
Mozgov had been primarily a defender and rebounder before emerging on offense last season. His scoring per 36 minutes jumped more than five points (from 10.6 to 15.7), no matter the overall peculiarity coursing through the Nuggets' season. Much of that production came from Mozgov's opportunism. When paired with a creative point guard, the Russian big man will earn his keep through cuts and duck-ins. That late-blooming offense enhances the appeal of an honest-to-goodness rim protector. Mozgov may not have the chops to captain a defense, but at 7-1 he does an excellent job of squaring up opponents and smothering shots around the basket. Players like Mozgov work to take away the most efficient scoring space possible. There may be no more valuable skill in the game. -- R.M.
Victor Oladipo, Magic
The hope with any top-two pick is that he will have an immediate, transformational impact. It rarely plays out that way in Year 1, so Oladipo shouldn’t be faulted for a rookie season that fell short of franchise-changing. The Magic won 20 games the year before he showed up and 23 games last season, and they will be hard-pressed to crack 25 in 2014-15. That rut has less to do with Oladipo’s future and more to do with Orlando’s slow progress moving out of the Dwight Howard era. The former Indiana star proved to be durable, likable and capable of compiling above-the-rim highlights on both ends in a manner that recalled a young Dwyane Wade. That combination landed him on the All-Rookie first team and kept him in the Rookie of the Year discussion (he finished second). The Magic will look to use Oladipo in even greater doses after trading Arron Afflalo to the Nuggets, and they will hope that he can find somewhere -- anywhere -- on the court from which he can score efficiently. The addition of sweet-shooting big man Channing Frye should help create space in the lane for Oladipo, who in turn must do much better at protecting the rock as he looks to make plays. Even if Oladipo has yet to provide convincing evidence that he will mature into an alpha dog, his competitive mentality and athletic tools suggest he should be able to be a key complementary contributor. -- B.G.
Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks
Nope, Stoudemire’s contract -- worth $23.4 million this season, making it one of the league’s absolute worst -- still hasn’t expired. That’s the ugly truth: The six-time All-Star is entering his fourth straight season in which his bloated salary has drawn more headlines than his play. Persistent knee injuries have reduced Stoudemire to a shell of himself, though he did play 65 games – mostly off the bench – for the decrepit Knicks last season. The bursts of rim-rattling dunks and proficient elbow shooting just aren’t enough to compensate for the many other holes (defense, passing, mobility) in Stoudemire’s game. The Knicks posted a -6.2 net rating with Stoudemire on the court, and his RAPM ranked No. 451 out of 468 players. Once his five-year, $99.7 million contract finally ends in July, his narrowing game and injury history makes it tough to envision Stoudemire's commanding even mid-level money. Perhaps he should consider pursuing a happy ending to his career by taking the veteran’s minimum on a contender, a la Rashard Lewis, his fellow preps-to-pros-to-early-decline traveler. -- B.G.
Dion Waiters, Cavaliers
Fair or unfair, Waiters is generally regarded with the suspicion and hesitance shown to a live wire. Already he sports the label of a problematic personality, an assessment made without much thought to the underlying organizational weirdness in Cleveland during his first two NBA seasons. It's undeniable that Waiters, on some level, played a part in the Cavs' basketball disarray. But Waiters still found some room for growth -- enough to play a slightly more sensible game in his sophomore season and improve his three-point shooting from 31 percent to 36.8 percent. Only a select class of players can get to the rim as Waiters does. Most are instrumental members of high-level offenses. Waiters could be just that in time. His decision making off the dribble is still a bit raw and his grasp of NBA defense is predictably lacking. Waiters, though, has already put up quality numbers on par with other sparkplug scorers despite not having the chance to develop in a steady system. -- R.M.
Nick Young, Lakers
Kobe Bryant is the Lakers, but Young is a pretty good face for what the franchise has become in Bryant’s absence. Young is heavy on swag and light on substance, a player who need not be taken too seriously and a man who seems to prefer it that way. And yet the L.A. native's happy-go-lucky approach was the best thing the Lakers had going last season, as he posted career highs in points, rebounds, assists and gossip-blog headlines. Young parlayed his single-minded scoring ability and 38.6 percent three-point shooting into a four-year, $21.5 million contract that raised a number of questions soon after being signed. Isn’t Young clearly a one-way player with a limited postseason résumé and a reputation for inconsistency? Wasn’t that career-high assist average still just 1.5? How important is his best attribute – filling it up -- now that Bryant is returning and Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and rookie Julius Randle are all joining the fray and expecting touches? As we await Young's on-court responses to those questions, the takeaway from a forgettable Lakers season seemed to be that if immediate title contention and meaningful short-term hope are both out of reach, it is handy to have someone with an infectious smile and magnetic personality. -- B.G.