Top 100 NBA Players of 2016: Snubs
Creating a defined list inevitably leads to snubs, the likes of which run deep with our ranking of Top 100 NBA Players of 2016.
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. In alphabetical order:
First Team All-Defense. When an NBA lifer like Kobe Bryant and a new-school statistic like Defensive Real-Plus Minus agree that you’re an elite defender, you’re an elite defender. Allen, the Grizzlies’ 33-year-old lockdown wing stopper, ranked No. 3 league-wide in DRPM in 2014–15, and he pulled in his fourth career All-Defensive selection after helping lead Memphis to the league’s No. 4 defensive efficiency ranking. A floor-cruncher on offense due to his lack of range and limited distribution ability, Allen had to be removed from the rotation during a second-round playoff series against the Warriors for matchup purposes. That, plus the fact he’s missed 48 games over the last two seasons, kept him outside SI’s Top 100. — B.G.
The past few seasons have seen Asik drift from from being a standout defensive big to just another quality defender among many. The rest of his game just couldn’t take that hit while maintaining top-100 performance. Asik offers defense, elite rebounding (he finished third in total rebound rate), and little else. Any kind of concession in those strengths makes his negative offensive game that much harder to bear, thus limiting how many minutes he can realistically play and curbing his overall utility. — R.M.
One of many players to benefit from Golden State dumping coach Mark Jackson for Steve Kerr, Harrison Barnes posted career highs in points, PER, Win Shares and True Shooting Percentage in 2014–15, his third NBA season. The 23-year-old former lottery pick rejoined the Warriors’ starting lineup, replacing Andre Iguodala, and he feasted on the many open looks generated by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. At 6’8”, Barnes has prototypical wing size, but he’s also effectively swung up to play a smallball four, further stretching the court for the space-obsessed Warriors. Although Barnes could be in line for a monster rookie contract extension, and maybe even a max offer sheet if he makes it to restricted free agency next summer, his middle-of-the-pack status in the Warriors’ pecking order contributed to his snubbing this year. — B.G.
Although Jamal Crawford, 35, plays with a child-like joy and occasionally looks like he’s discovered the Fountain of Youth, it’s possible that age is finally creeping up on the shoot-first two guard. The 2014–15 season was his least productive since his disastrous one-year stop in Portland back in 2011–12, and he saw his playing time cut noticeably by coach Doc Rivers. The Seattle native remains perhaps the most entertaining ball-handler in the league and a four-point play magician, but he also had the dishonor of ranking dead last among 91 shooting guards in Defensive Real-Plus Minus. With J.J. Redick, Austin Rivers and off-season trade acquisition Lance Stephenson all vying for backcourt minutes alongside All-Star point guard Chris Paul, Crawford’s role is likely to further diminish, barring injuries. Rough shooting numbers in the 2015 playoffs, plus the fact that L.A. was significantly better on offense and defense without him last season, sealed his fate here. — B.G.
Chandler is a good player at as many as three positions—an attractive quality for the purposes of this kind of exercise. Cracking the top 100, however, all but requires the kind of specific strength that Chandler’s game lacks. He’s an NBA-caliber athlete but not especially explosive, a useful defender though not exactly notable, a serviceable shooter but ultimately not a reliable one, a good rebounder for his position but nothing more and a nice supporting part albeit with limited upside. There’s no doubt that Chandler is the kind of all-around contributor who would prove valuable to any number of systems. His case for the top 100 simply falls short amid talented players with higher ceilings and more established specialties. — R.M.
Without question, last season saw significant slippage from Manu Ginobili, 38, who never quite managed to be the same situational piece of dynamite that he was during San Antonio’s run to the 2014 title. The legendary Argentinean sixth man didn’t see his per-game numbers fall off a cliff, necessarily, but the eye test was less kind to him, particularly during the playoffs. Ginobili’s 16.2 PER was the lowest since his rookie campaign, his 3.7 Win Shares were the fewest of his career, and his eight points per game and 34.9% shooting in the playoffs represented career-lows. Try as he might to ignite the Spurs’ tough first-round series against the Clippers, he just couldn’t do it. If not for San Antonio’s monster summer, which included the re-signing of Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard plus the addition of All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, one wonders if Ginobili would have hung it up rather than re-up on a two-year, $5.7 million contract. — B.G.
Gordon’s career, once promising enough for him to be the returning centerpiece of the Chris Paul blockbuster, has leveled out into starter-caliber mediocrity. He’s fine, really. Gordon was a terrific shooter for the Pelicans last season whenever he could get his feet set and decidedly less useful when called into greater creative responsibility. The pick-and-rolls he initiates don’t tend to go anywhere in particular, making his handle better used for attacking close-outs than initiating offense. Ultimately, he gets by. Gordon just doesn’t have enough to add defensively (where he’s competitive but undersized and not as agile as many of his positional peers) or on the game’s margins (where he rated as one of the worst rebounders in the league) to make up for his somewhat limited functionality. — R.M.
Only the basketball gods could be so cruel as to end the most fruitful stretch of Jennings’s career with a ruptured Achilles. The Jennings we saw at the turn of the calendar year had the makings of a top-100 player; for 13 magical January games, Jennings averaged 26.1 points and nine assists (on improved shooting percentages) to profoundly positive overall impact. That stretch proved inscrutable. We never were quite able to figure out how long the surge in Jennings’s play might last or how painfully he might have regressed to the mean. Now that concern comes secondary, as any expectations for Jennings must be reset relative to his injury. If the 25-year-old guard really is the player we last saw in January, he need only to prove it by picking up where he left off. — R.M.
There are a number of reasons to believe that Rockets forward Terrence Jones could be in for a breakout season in 2015–16: he’s established himself as an NBA-caliber talent, he fell off the radar last year due to a nerve injury that cost him more than half the season, he should get more run this year following the off-season departure of Josh Smith to the Clippers, and he possesses the athleticism to keep up with Houston’s fast-paced approach and the inside/outside versatility that is en vogue among power forwards. Jones, 23, is a productive rebounder on both ends who does most of his scoring in the basket area, finding second-chance points, cutting into space behind the defense and serving as a release valve when teams load up on James Harden or Dwight Howard. The 2012 first-round pick looks like a strong bet to make future versions of this list. — B.G.
The first time I played Laser Tag, I didn’t know the rules and wound up spending the entire session shooting my own team’s targets. That memory of self-inflicted failure comes to mind every time Enes Kanter’s defensive stats flash across the screen. Before Utah traded Kanter to Oklahoma City at the deadline, the 6’11” Turkish center made the Jazz’s defensive efficiency 4.1 points worse. After the trade, Kanter made Oklahoma City’s defensive efficiency 6.3 points worse. For the season, Kanter’s -3.87 Defensive Real Plus-Minus was the worst among all traditional fours and fives (including Andrea Bargnani). The slow-footed, late-to-react Kanter wasn’t actually scoring points on his own team’s hoop, but it sometimes felt that way. Although Kanter’s solid low-post scoring and high-volume rebounding proved sufficient to land him a four-year, $70 million offer sheet in free agency, which the Thunder felt compelled to match, there just wasn’t room for such a blatantly one-way profile in the Top 100. Perhaps a year surrounded by Oklahoma City’s embarrassment of riches back at full strength will help even out Kanter’s game. — B.G.
Martin can shoot. That point has never really been up for debate since his rise with the Kings of the mid-2000s and it wasn’t in contention in the 39 games Martin played for the Timberwolves last season. More complicated is the calculus of how Martin’s all-around scoring game, which leverages his quick-firing ability to draw free throws and get to the basket, measures up against what he takes away from a team defense. Some matchups make Martin a bigger problems than others. Overall, he’s so flimsy in coverage he had to be bumped him down in our rankings and out of the top 100 for the sake of fitting players with more balanced games. — R.M.
Mirotic’s game comes alive when he has the ball in his hands and an opportunity—any opportunity—to score. Sometimes his zeal for putting points on the board causes him to hold the ball too long or miss a teammate as they spring open. More generally, it imbues every move Mirotic makes with the kind of confidence-bordering-on-brashness that helps it to succeed. A power forward who doesn’t hesitate from the perimeter is a clear value in itself. When opponents have to cover bigs who are comfortable in making snap decisions on the perimeter, their defensive rotations have little room for error. Solid improvement would make Mirotic a compelling case for next season’s list. — R.M.
“Maddening” is the watchword with Nene, a physical, athletic big who can do so much but often chooses not to. A player with his post-up skills and mid-range mobility shouldn’t be so inconsistent. Yet Nene ebbs and flows from an extreme of play-to-play dominance to one of near invisibility—a significant problem for a player likely to lose 15–20 games in any particular season to injury. Were Nene, whose defensive value is one important constant, either inconsistent or injury prone, he’d be an easy inclusion. That he qualifies as both makes him difficult to count on. — R.M.
McRoberts is a subtle contributor—so subtle, in fact, that his irrelevance by way of traditional counting stats (McRoberts holds career averages of 10.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes) is legitimately disconcerting. What reassures is the lingering trend that when McRoberts plays, his team improves. The offense of the 2013–14 Bobcats might have only been mediocre with McRoberts in the mix but it suffocated without him. In the 17 games he played last season for Miami after returning from a torn meniscus, McRoberts gave similar relief to the Heat’s scoring efforts.
That influence is an expression of the right set of skills applied in a purposefully unobtrusive way. McRoberts is most comfortable and effective as a facilitator. He’s a good enough shooter from distance (36.5% over the past two seasons) to give defenders pause in leaving him and so skilled with the ball as to break down a defense from the outside. Nothing in his game fits the big man prototype. Thankfully he came up as a player into an era of flexible, motion-oriented basketball that could enable his playmaking. — R.M.
As with all of Orlando’s young prospects, it’s difficult to determine exactly how much credence to give Victor Oladipo’s numbers. At face value, 18/4/4 sounds great for a second-year combo guard still getting his feet wet, but there’s a nagging feeling of emptiness because the Magic failed to hit 30 wins in the East for the third straight year. Oladipo, 23, has yet to prove he does anything great, aside from 360 degree dunks, of course. While his explosiveness and defensive potential are alluring, he’s still stuck in the “prove it” stage for now. — B.G.
This snubbing isn’t so much an apology for missing the cut as it is a head’s up that Jabari Parker, 20, is officially on the radar. The No. 2 overall pick in 2014, Parker has All-Star potential as an alpha scorer with an old-school polish to his offensive game. He looked headed for an entertaining Rookie of the Year run-off with Andrew Wiggins, the eventual winner, before he suffered a season-ending ACL injury last December. Although Milwaukee made due just fine without its prized rookie forward in 2014–15, there’s a very good chance that the Bucks will soon live and die by Parker’s contributions. — B.G.
Opponents won’t guard Payton’s jumper until it toes respectability. In the meantime, his otherwise well-rounded play might still pave a way for Payton to join the top 100 in the near future. The 21-year-old guard showed off a certain gumption in his ball handling last season that allowed him to make creative use of tight driving lanes full of sagging defenders. Payton has the imagination and vision to see such plays through. A little more practical experience will only help in those efforts. Payton brings the passing, the rebounding, the ball handling and the defensive enthusiasm already. Now he needs only to bring it all together. — R.M.
No center in the league wants to guard Pekovic, a 285-pound mammoth, when he’s healthy. Unfortunately, that never seems to be the case. Pekovic hasn’t played more than 62 games in a single campaign since his rookie season, and over the last two years he managed just 85 games combined. Burly, efficient post scorers present a unique challenge for modern NBA centers. It’s just a shame that Pekovic can’t ruin the night of his opponent more often than his body allows. — R.M.
One of the under-the-radar winners of the summer, Mason Plumlee enters 2015–16 with a new lease on life. Rather than backing up center Brook Lopez, a former All-Star, in Brooklyn, the 6’10” Plumlee now pencils in as Portland’s starter after a draft day trade. Rather than playing for a grumpy old-school disciplinarian in Lionel Hollins, Plumlee will now take directions from Terry Stotts, who should put his end-to-end agility and pick-and-roll finishing ability to better use. Rather than relying on the cast of also-rans who will replace Deron Williams at point guard, Plumlee will take his feeds from All-Star Damian Lillard, who has every reason to cultivate interior scoring options following the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge. This could all set up very nicely for Plumlee, 25, who was productive last season (14.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes) and will be extension-eligible next summer. — B.G.
If it weren’t enough that Rondo has been in marked decline for years, that his reluctance to shoot has become a bigger problem than ever, that his finishing ability and free-throw shooting have fallen off a cliff, that his interest in playing defense comes and (mostly) goes, and that his attitude makes him a trying sort in any locker room, Rondo sealed his exclusion when he played such a poor, petulant half-season in Dallas that the team opted to finish its run without him. The Mavs didn’t trade or even release Rondo. They simply opted, in the middle of their first-round playoff series against the Rockets, that they would be better off without a player who had done everything possible to get himself removed from Game 2.
Champion Rondo at your own risk. So many still get caught up in the idea of what Rondo was back when his difficult ways were more the quirk of a transcendent talent. His ACL tear may have been the breaking point. Rondo hasn’t at all been the same player since, which cost him many of those aspects of his flawed, remarkable game that had made him so effective in the first place. No one questions his playmaking—only how worthwhile a fantastic passer might be when the rest of his game is riddled in tradeoffs. — R.M.
The tepid free-agent market that greeted J.R. Smith this summer was surely influenced by skepticism that his “best behavior” act in Cleveland was a legitimate transformation. Why should anyone believe that Smith, 29, was capable of sustaining reliable production after the quality of his play dropped so dramatically following his 2013 Sixth Man of the Year season in New York? After all, it’s quite a bit easier to walk the straight and narrow when LeBron James’s legacy and a Larry O’Brien trophy are at stake, but few organizations offer that type of persistent peer pressure and potential to win big. Even in Cleveland, Smith’s play was prone to wild swings in effectiveness, and he couldn’t resist drawing headlines and raising eyebrows. In the 2015 playoffs alone, he received a two-game suspension for delivering a cheap shot on Boston’s Jae Crowder, he rode a PhunkeeDuck to the locker room during the Finals, and he pulled out his cell phone to take a selfie with James during a postgame press conference. The flags are just a little bit too red here, even though Smith had a series-changing impact in the Eastern Conference finals. — B.G.
If it’s true what Tupac Shakur says—“for every dark night, there’s a brighter day”—then we better start up the “Lance Stephenson for NBA MVP” campaign right now. Nights don’t come much darker than Stephenson’s 2014–15 season, which saw him freefall from hyped free-agent signing to benched bit player. It was all bad: Stephenson, 24, never fit in with his new Charlotte teammates, he couldn’t hit a shot (especially from outside, where he shot an almost-unbelievable 17.1%), and he never earned the trust of coach Steve Clifford. After playing at a near All-Star level with the Pacers in 2013–14, Stephenson ranked outside the top 250 in PER and Win Shares, and outside the top 450 (!) in Real Plus-Minus and WARP during his one season with the Hornets. The whole episode would make a lot more sense if Stephenson had suffered a catastrophic injury he forgot to tell everyone about, but his midseason groin strain doesn’t seem significant enough to qualify, even if it did cost him nearly a month. Regardless, Hornets GM Rich Cho shipped him to the Clippers as soon as humanly possible this summer. L.A. will look to use its winning culture to help Stephenson rediscover his playmaking ability and high-energy defense. — B.G.
Before coming to the NBA, Walker had a lifetime of experience to confirm the idea that good things happened when the ball was in his hands. Life in the pros has offered no corroboration. In four years we’ve seen very little to suggest that Walker is a competent NBA scorer, his impressive averages more a product of volume attempts than bankable skill. We’re talking Nick Young levels of chucking at truly crummy efficiency. Of those players who took at least 15 shots from the field per game last season, the only one to post a lower true shooting percentage than Walker (48.6%) was Kobe Bryant (47.7%).
Walker just doesn’t give the ball up. He dances, he crosses, and he does everything necessary to set up a relatively clean jumper. The returns just aren’t good enough to justify his process, especially when it’s not as if he’s supplementing his case with high-level court vision or especially stingy defense. The only big-picture quality really working in Walker’s favor is his amazingly low turnover rate—the coincidental byproduct of his self-driven style. — R.M.
Selected to the Top 100 in each of the last two years, West falls off the list this year due to the one-two blow of age-related decline and a distinct change of scenery. West, 35, has seen his scoring and Player Efficiency drop in each of the last two seasons, and his somewhat surprising, angst-infused departure from Indiana signaled an end-of-career urgency to chase a ring. The 6’9” power forward will take up that cause with the Spurs, where he joins a frontcourt that is absolutely loaded with contributors: Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner, among them. How, exactly, West fits into the rotation puzzle remains to be seen, but his leadership, experience, toughness and willingness to sacrifice financially (he effectively took an $11 million pay cut in moving from Indiana to San Antonio) make him a natural addition to the Spurs’ team-first culture. — B.G.
Honestly, Celtics center Tyler Zeller doesn’t get much attention outside of Massachusetts, and that’s hardly a travesty. The skinny 7-footer was only a part-time starter for coach Brad Stevens last year, and he averaged just 21.1 minutes per game with modest numbers (10.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG). However, Zeller, is an advanced stats darling who rates in the top 100 by PER, Win Shares and WARP, and places just outside the Top 100 in Real Plus-Minus. The 25-year-old North Carolina product has scaled up his per-minute production in each of his three seasons, and he should continue to provide excellent value on his $2.6 million rookie contract this year. A durable, hard-working, disciplined center like Zeller is certainly worth keeping in the fold, even if his individual ceiling isn’t sky-high. — B.G.