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  • There's a familiar face at No. 1 of our Top 100 NBA players of 2017 and two agonizing debates in the top five: Kevin Durant vs. Stephen Curry and Chris Paul vs. Russell Westbrook.
By Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney
September 15, 2016

SI.com is proud to offer our list of the Top 100 NBA players of 2017, an exhaustive exercise that seeks to define who will be the league's best players in the 2016-17 season.

Given the wide variety of candidates involved and the deep analytical resources available, no single, definitive criterion was used to form this list. Instead, rankings were assigned based on a fluid combination of subjective assessment and objective data, including: per-game and per-minute statistics, splits, advanced metrics, play-type data and more. This list is an earnest attempt to evaluate each player in a vacuum. As a result, future prospects beyond this season did not play a part in the ranking process. Our sole concern was how players are likely to perform in the coming season alone.

Injuries and injury risks are an inevitable component of that judgment. Past performance (postseason included) weighed heavily in our assessment, with a skew toward the recent. First-year players were not included for that reason, among others. A predictive element also came into play with the anticipated improvement of certain younger players, as well as the possible decline of aging veterans. Salary was not taken into consideration. Otherwise, players were ordered based on their complete games—offense and defense both, along with everything in between.

NBA
The biggest snubs from SI.com's Top 100 NBA players of 2017

This season’s list welcomes 23 newcomers while sending off Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and a host of others. Some players who had made every previous Top 100 cut fell out of the mix entirely. A few made unexpected pushes for first-time inclusion. Injuries and age-related decline also shook up the middle of our ranking dramatically, transforming tiers that had previously been dominated by Top-100 mainstays.

To jump to the top 10 portion of our list, click here.

Even with all those changes, rounding out the top 100 included some tough calls. The list of notable omissions is dotted with players both well regarded and largely deserving, though lines ultimately had to be drawn somewhere. For those interested in understanding more about the ranking process and the limitations of this exercise in general, make a quick detour here.

NBA
Fell-off list: Biggest absences from SI.com's Top 100 NBA players of 2017

Please feel free to take a look back to SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2016, 2015 and 2014. A special thanks, as always, to those resources that make researching a list like this possible: Basketball-Reference, NBA.com, Nylon Calculus, Synergy Sports, and 82Games. 

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Looking for a seat on the Devin Booker hype train? If so, be prepared to squeeze in between the likes of LeBron James and Drake. The buzz around Booker, a 2015 lottery pick, has steadily climbed since he made the most of Phoenix’s lost year to average 19.2 PPG and 4.1 APG after the All-Star break. His brief cameo at the 2016 Las Vegas Summer League was met with rave reviews, as he displayed the knockdown shooting stroke that got him drafted, some nice playmaking instincts in traffic, and a fiery competitiveness that suggests he’s only just getting started. At 19, Booker is the youngest player and only teenager on this year’s Top 100, a fact that should inspire awe and caution alike. Development at this stage tends to come in fits and starts, and Booker will need to reclaim his role in Phoenix’s backcourt with veterans Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight back from injury. Still, Booker possesses enough natural talent, scoring ability and comfort on the ball to make betting on a sophomore breakthrough feel like a safe proposition. (Last year: Not ranked)

+ Booker’s rookie stats compare favorably to Bradley Beal’s age-19 numbers
+ Picked at No. 13, Booker ranked fourth in his class in points per game
His atrocious -3.87 Defensive Real-Plus Minus ranked 171st out of 174 guards
– Booker's 3P% tumbled hard as his usage increased after the All-Star break
 

 

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The “Butt Dunk” was one of the most ingenious Slam Dunk Contest entries ever. Ever. But Aaron Gordon is already much more than a dunker. Make no mistake, the bounce and energy behind Gordon’s slamming prowess is the central force in his overall game at this point: he puts his leaping ability and high activity level to good use in myriad ways, pursuing second-chance points, clearing the defensive glass, skying for the occasional weakside help block and even pushing the pace in transition by himself occasionally. Although Gordon was only a part-time starter in his second season, he got a lot done in the minutes he filled, grading out well in all of the major advanced stats. As he enters Year Three—and prepares to play for his fourth coach (counting interims) and alongside a host of new frontline additions—the 20-year-old Gordon looks poised to blossom from role player into priority. If he can continue to show progress on his corner three and playmaking for others, Gordon has a shot at being the type of versatile, do-everything forward that gives opponents nightmares. (Last year: Not ranked)

+ He is younger entering his third season than when Blake Griffin made his NBA debut
+ He led the Magic with 72 dunks last season, nearly double his next closest teammate
He played the four most of last year, but will likely shift due to Ibaka, Biyombo's arrival
Although he’s made strides at the line (up to 66.8% last year, there’s still work to be done 

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Knight's game struggles to satisfy when used in volume. Last season, Knight dropped a career-high 19.6 points per game as he helped to initiate offense for the hapless Suns. Implicit in his role were problems of scale. Putting the ball in Knight’s hands on a full-time basis runs a team headfirst into his limitations: the inconsistency of his mid-range shooting, the rashes of turnovers, the costs of the plays he doesn’t quite see developing. These issues could be quieted were Knight positioned to play a lesser role, though tradeoffs in control offset directly with his production. The very thing that sets him apart—that nice scoring total—is a function of his skill set being pushed beyond its optimal range. Teams could do worse. Knight is very much the kind of worker that brings an atmospheric benefit, to say nothing of the fact that he’ll be 25 years old next season and could plausibly improve. It’s unfortunately worth noting, however, that injuries have cost Knight 49 games over the past two seasons. One month it’s his hip, the next his ankle. There’s the outline of a good player here, but one qualified by periodic unavailability, ordinary defense, and the concessions of volume. (Last year: 78)

+ Creates offense primarily for himself, but isn’t solely a gunner
+ Reasonably effective tough-shot maker despite his shortcomings
High usage rate has yet to translate to team’s offensive success
– 
Seems to have leveled out as a merely solid three-point shooter

J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Even at 39, Ginobili is the kind of playmaker around whom all seem to flourish. Small, scoring guards are allowed to follow their bliss. Spot shooters find the ball in their hands off of wild, whip passes and quick swings alike. The misdirection running throughout Ginobili’s game makes him all the more effective in setting up rolling bigs a beat earlier or later than the defense might expect. You live with the reckless streaks and the porous defense because he brings a dimension to the game that no other role player can. The step Manu lost along the way changed his game but couldn’t derail it. Still he found the angles to average 17.6 points (on strong shooting percentages), 5.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 steals per 36 minutes in his 14th season with the Spurs. (Last year: Not ranked)

+ High-level playmaker capable of running an offense or filling a seamless facilitator
+ Outstanding spot shooter with a counter driving game defenses have to respect
Side effects of his game include: rapid aging and vocal strain on the part of his coach
At a stage in his career where his minutes (and games) need to be carefully monitored

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The Cavaliers' title was validation for the much-maligned Smith, whose immaturity on and off the court made him a target for critics over the years. To secure his first ring and become one of the world’s most famous shirtless men, Smith (12.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.7 APG) had to evolve from a streaky freelance scorer early in his career into a narrower 3-and-D role. Playing alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Smith has virtually abandoned his off-the-dribble game, morphing instead into a valuable floor-spacing shooter. While his usage rate, free throw rate, assist rate and dunks all fell to career lows, Smith knocked down a career-high 204 three-pointers at a blistering 40% clip. Defensively, the 31-year-old Smith is still quick enough to put effective pressure defense on the perimeter, and he ramped up his effort level as the Cavaliers closed in on the title. Getting the best out of Smith requires the right circumstances—no bright lights, a veteran-dominated locker room, stars to create clean looks for him—but he proved last season that he could play big, valuable minutes on a team that won it all. (Last year: Not ranked)

+ His +166 raw plus-minus in 21 playoff games trailed only LeBron James (+209)
+ James credits him with an assist on “The Block” because he got back in transition
He has attempted fewer FTs in the last three years combined than he did in 2013
As of press time, he had yet to come to terms on a new contract with the Cavaliers

 

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Fournier doesn’t much bother with frivolities like defense or rebounding, but through four NBA seasons he’s carved out a niche as a smooth scorer. The man gets buckets; defenses that lose sight of Fournier for even a moment are likely to get burned by him sliding into an open jumper on the weak side or darting around a screen toward the rim. Slot in Fournier as a complementary scorer and he can fill in the gaps while giving an offense some flourish. Scoring specialists, by type, tend not to be the most judicious with their shot selection. Fournier’s case is helped by the fact that he stands as an exception, both in terms of where he takes his shots and how. The mid-range has never much called to him. Fournier takes 42% of his shots from behind the arc and another 30% at the rim, creating a distribution that buoys his shooting percentages. There’s also enough patience in his game to work around would-be isos and iffy, contested jumpers for better looks. Sixty-four NBA players averaged at least 15 points per game last season. Among them, Fournier ranked ninth in true shooting. (Last year: Not ranked)

+ Excellent three-point shooter and one of the best (41.1%) above the break
+ Racks up points within a role, doesn’t need to deviate to be effective
No-show defender who hasn’t shown much aptitude in coverage
Only a so-so passer, capping the value of his work off the dribble

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

To be big, mobile, and active goes a long way in the modern NBA. Those underlying qualities alone make Zeller a helpful team defender—quick enough to cover the necessary ground and long enough to contest shots at the rim. Those strengths are mirrored, too, on offense through the speed of Zeller’s rolls and the strength of his finishes. Zeller doesn’t command the ball nor could he do all that much with it if he did. Most of his modest scoring comes by diving through open space and making himself available. Its an endeavor more of persistence than creativity, yet on balance it offers just the kind of dependable, straight-line action that many NBA offenses need. In lieu of the spectacular, Zeller operates fills a predictable lane with solid, two-way play. (Last year: Not ranked)

+ Balanced, unassuming contributor who doesn’t take anything off the table
+ Found his comfort zone as soon as his team gave him the space needed to succeed
After three years in the league, Zeller has yet to show any reliable shooting range
Most comfortable as an NBA player in a limited, tertiary role

Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The eye test (9.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.8 APG) can lead to all sorts of conflicting conclusions about Mason Plumlee. In the first round of the playoffs against the Clippers, the 26-year-old Duke product was a force, grabbing rebounds by the dozens, dishing assists like a point guard, and going head-to-head with DeAndre Jordan. In the next round against the Warriors, though, Plumlee looked hapless as he struggled mightily to finish around the hoop and was regularly pushed out of the paint. So which is it? On balance, the advanced stats treat Plumlee’s all-around game kindly, as he ranked in the top 70 in Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares and Real Plus-Minus last season. Terry Stotts deserves credit for playing to his center’s strengths, turning him loose as a high-post distributor and keeping him out of less efficient post-up isolations. Perhaps the biggest question about Plumlee concerns his ceiling: Can he get much better if he’s not a true one-on-one option, if he’s not a scoring threat outside five feet, and if he grades out as a shaky pick-and-roll defender? (Last year: Not ranked)

+ His 226 assists ranked third among centers behind Pau Gasol and Al Horford
+ His mobility makes him a target in pick-and-roll scenarios and secondary transition
His 18.8 turnover % was the highest among centers who played at least 2,000 minutes
Opponents regularly break out the “Hack-a-Shaq” to exploit his career 58.3 FT% shooting

 

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Only Matthews would return from a ruptured Achilles tendon to lead his team in minutes played. His resolve is undeniable. Matthews has forged a career from grit, both in the macro sense as an undrafted player and in the micro sense of working his way through every possession. None of that has changed. Last we saw Matthews, he was doggedly chasing Kevin Durant around the floor, doing all he could to bother a superstar with a seven-inch height advantage. What has changed is the dividends of Matthews’s hard work; try as he might, Matthews could never explode off the dribble or connect on open shots like he did prior to his injury. At his best last season, Matthews was a quality spot shooter and a hard-working defender. That alone isn’t generally enough to rank in the league’s top 100 players. As such, we’re projecting some improvement for Matthews in his second full season back from debilitating injury. To return as quickly as Matthews did shredded all reasonable timetables. To average 34 minutes in 83 total games (between the regular season and playoffs) shattered even optimistic projections. Yet recovering from an Achilles tear—to the extent that one can—takes more time and more rest. This season should mark the return of a more able Matthews, if still one noticeably diminished from his prime years. (Last year: 99)

+ When healthy, Matthews had the balance in his game to make him an ideal complement
+ Utterly relentless
We still don’t quite know how closely Matthews will be able to approximate his prime
Historically, Achilles injuries have not been kind to the careers of NBA players

Fernando Medina/Getty Images

Biyombo might be a specialist, but he picked the right thing to specialize in. One year after generating limited interest as a free agent, the 2011 lottery pick parlayed a strong postseason run with the Raptors into a four-year, $70 million contract with the Magic. Orlando is paying for elite interior defense: The impossibly long-armed Biyombo (5.5 PPG, 8 RPG, 1.6 BPG) aces the major advanced stats when it comes to protecting the rim, he grades out well as a pick-and-roll defender, and he plays with intensity. As a result, Toronto’s defensive efficiency improved nearly four points when he took the court last season, jumping from No. 23 in 2014-15 to No. 11 last year. Unfortunately, Biyombo, 24, is still a one-way guy: he usually looks uncomfortable with the ball in his hands, he struggles to get his shot in traffic, he’s not a viable option from outside three feet, and he can’t be deployed as a playmaker in pick-and-roll scenarios, meaning his team’s offensive efficiency tends to take a major hit when he’s on the court. As Toronto found out last season though, when he was pressed into a greater role when Jonas Valanciunas was sidelined with injury, BIyombo is just good enough at what he does to make up for what he doesn’t do. (Last year: Not ranked)

+ He ranked No. 8 in the NBA in FG% allowed at the rim last year (via NylonCalculus.com)
+ He grabbed a Raptors franchise-record 26 rebounds in Game 3 of the East finals
According to Real Plus Minus, his offensive impact ranked 63rd among 71 centers
He has registered more than twice as many turnovers as assists in each of his five seasons

 

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

In case it got lost somewhere between “He looks like Chance the Rapper” and “He started a war between Nike and Under Armour,” Kent Bazemore enjoyed a quality breakout campaign last season. This was a long time coming for the 27-year-old, who went undrafted out of Old Dominion and worked his way up from the D-League and the Summer League circuit to secure a starting role for the Hawks last season. A hyperactive, long two guard, Bazemore (11.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.3 APG) pulled in a four-year, $70 million contract this summer by proving that he could fill the 3-and-D role fairly well. Although he’s not quite a knockdown shooter or a lockdown perimeter defender, Bazemore has the physical tools, athleticism and enough newfound control to serve as a helpful contributor on both ends. His positional versatility on the defensive end, in particular, makes him a valuable piece for the Hawks and the type of guy who would find a way to fit in on just about any contender. Going forward, Bazemore is probably best served by staying in his lane, as his decision-making with the ball can be erratic and much of his offense is generated by Atlanta’s emphasis on ball movement. (Last year: Not ranked)

+ His $15.7 million for 2016-17 is more than 33 times larger what he made in 2012-13
+ Less than 3% of his field-goal attempts came within 10-15 ft. (via basketball-reference)
He rated “Below average” as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season, per Synergy Sports
 His numbers could take a hit with the losses of skilled passers Jeff Teague and Al Horford

 

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Anderson is perhaps the NBA’s purest form of the stretch-four archetype, both in value and complication. Much of his contributions are rooted in where he stands on the floor and how that changes the geometry of an opposing defense. Opponents that elect to guard him closely wind up pulling one of their defenders out of the rotational mix, cinching whatever room for error they might have had. Leave him unattended and Anderson, a career 37.7% three-point shooter, will burn you from the perimeter or spring inside for offensive rebounds. Stationing him on the outside is a simple way to force an opponent into compromise. Defenses, however, have a better understanding than ever of how to manage players like Anderson. Some choose to play off of Anderson and rely on a late close-out, particularly now that his three-point shooting has drifted down from the 39-40% range. Many will task a wing to guard Anderson, particularly when one of his non-shooting teammates can provide a hiding spot for an opposing big. Anderson has a decent enough post game to punish some smaller defenders, but even pulling him into that space—and away from the arc—is a mitigation of his value. Under the best of circumstances, Anderson can still tug at the defense and clear out the lane for his teammates. Under the worst, his offense dwindles to the point that his slow-footed defense eclipses his positive contributions. There’s a delicate balance to Anderson’s game that has never been more difficult to keep at equilibrium. (Last year: No. 72)

+ Put up 20.2 points per 36 minutes last year despite evolution of defense against him
+ Nudges opponents into adjustments that might not always be familiar or comfortable
Value on offense is too often counterbalanced by what he gives up defensively
Has only once in his career played 67 games over a full, 82-game season

Glenn James/Getty Images

Enes Kanter’s basketball biography would be titled, “From Unstoppable To Unplayable (And Back Again).” The 2016 playoffs provided the latest example of Kanter’s vacillating worth: After relentlessly pounding the Spurs in the West semis, the Thunder’s polarizing big man was played off the court by the Warriors in the West finals. Kanter’s story is similar to many other big men who are trying to find a home in the changing NBA game: he’s a terror on the boards and he’s a low-post scoring machine, but his lack of rim-protecting ability and his molasses lateral quickness make him a major liability on the other end. Oklahoma City smartly moved Kanter (12.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG) to the bench last season, where he drew Sixth Man of the Year buzz by having his way with second-unit big men offensively and hiding (to a degree) defensively. The off-season departures of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka will force Billy Donovan to make wholesale changes next season, which could be both good and bad for the 24-year-old Kanter. On the plus side, he should expect more minutes, more shots and more time playing with pick-and-roll partner Russell Westbrook. Unfortunately, though, his funnel-like defense will also be on full display now that Oklahoma City no longer has much protective length. Most likely, the debate over Kanter’s worth will remain unresolved by this time next season, although the volume of discourse could be significantly louder now that more will be asked of him. (Last year: Not ranked)

+ His 16.7 Offensive Rebound Percentage led the NBA last season
+ The Kanter/Westbrok duo posted an excellent off. rating (120) in '16 (via NBAWowy.com)
His -1.50 Defensive Real Plus Minus ranked 50th out of 51 centers
– He looks like he’s ice-skating in a sandbox when he switches defensively onto guards

 

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Faried is a bundle of kinetic energy that’s both a chore for opponents to contain and a challenge for his own team to fully harness. His rim running, cutting, and board crashing can define a game. Too often, though, Faried is resigned to the fits and starts that come with being a smallish big of limited ball skills and range. Those working around Faried are restrained by all he cannot do—especially on defense—to the point that his bursts of activity wash against the whole of his minutes on the floor. It’s theoretically possible to find a big who could play the perfect counterpart to Faried: a floor-stretching, shot-blocking, playmaking, full-time center. That counterpart player is also a freaking superstar. For all the value to be gained through Faried’s outstanding transition play and bulk rebounding, it speaks volumes that the conditions for his suitable fit are nothing short of a particular subset of the best players in the league. Faried is fine and flawed in any other case. (Last year: No. 86)

+ Ranked third in offensive rebound rate last season
+ Reasonably effective post player, matchup provided
Crummy defensive instincts lead him to misread rotations
Shot 32.3% on mid-range shots last season and attempted just a single three-pointer

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Effective defense needn’t be obvious or demonstrative. Johnson exercises his influence in relative quiet, shuffling through his assignments with balance and awareness. The way that Johnson moves conveys a clear understanding of space and how to navigate it; he always seems to be in the mix, shading this way or that to challenge an offense’s development. Want rim protection? Johnson will lurk behind plays and dart over to alter a layup attempt. Need pressure on the perimeter? Johnson is perfectly comfortable showing on the pick-and-roll and hanging with quicker guards until the defense resets. There’s value, too, in the fact that Johnson knows how to pick his battles. Opponents that don’t demand close coverage don’t get it. Half-hearted screens don’t automatically trigger his help, as Johnson will often guide his teammates through while maintaining good position. It’s always the little things—the box-out angles, the screening persistence, the feel for when his rotation might be needed—that separate Johnson from so many of his peers. The man has a nose for detail. (Last year: No. 89)

+ Allowed a similar % at the rim to blocks leader Hassan Whiteside (per Nylon Calculus)
+ Critical defender on one of the NBA’s top defenses
Little in the way of ball skills; reliant on cuts, rolls, and put-backs to score
Logged just 22.8 MPG last season, with some time ceded to small-ball alternatives

Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

In Year Two, Rodney Hood completely flipped the script from “Boy, he really slid on draft night” to “Boy, a lot of teams regret that he really slid on draft night.” It’s no wonder that teams like the Thunder and Grizzlies are kicking themselves for passing on Hood (14.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.7 APG), who went to the Jazz at No. 23 in 2014. There’s a lot to love about Hood’s game: he can play with or without the ball, he can initiate in pick-and-roll settings or space on the wing, he can read team defenses and find the open man, he can swing multiple positions on both offense and defense, and he can handle playing starter minutes in the West even though he’s only 23. Meanwhile, Hood did all of that while playing on a Jazz team that had brutal point guard play and a laundry list of major injuries. There’s no telling how high his utility might climb if he was cast as a third or fourth option behind established superstars, or if Utah’s core group can make it through an entire season together unscathed. (Last year: Not ranked)

+ His 8.1 career Win Shares rank No. 1 among 2014 draft class members.
+ Hood, a lefty, studied James Harden to hone his deliberate style in high pick-and-rolls
He's a mediocre defender for his position, with room to improve
He can grow as a closer, shooting just 40% overall (and 24.2 3P%) in clutch situations

 

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

NBA history tells us that 20- and 21-year-olds are not meant to be impact defenders. Their spectacular plays are generally overwhelmed by their physical and mental shortcomings. It’s a testament to the singularity of Noel that he’s now made our list over the past two seasons in spite of that. So rare is his defensive profile that it begs exception; his steal rate in each of his first two seasons ranks among the best of all time for a big, and only truly elite company (Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson) matched his output in terms of blocks and steals. It was only with Noel on the floor that the Sixers, lacking as they were, came anywhere close to defensive respectability. To get all of this from a player still feeling his way through team defensive concepts is stunning. Noel isn’t in the Top 100 because he gets every nuance just right. He’s included—and ranked this favorably—because of all that he’s able to offer in spite of his mistakes. (Last year: No. 97)

+ Up to 52.1% shooting from the field last season
+ One of the brightest defensive prospects in the league
Among the worst in the league in true turnover percentage (per Nylon Calculus)
Still very lean; movable on hard drives, box outs, and post-ups

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

On a minute-by-minute basis, Andrew Bogut remains in the “NBA’s best defensive player” conversation: he blocks shots, contests shots, dissuades drives, handles pick-and-rolls, understands tendencies, cleans the defensive glass, and uses his fouls as well as anybody in the league. Unfortunately for Bogut, there’s no “Turn off injuries” button in real life like there is in “NBA 2K.” As a result, his superb defensive work and his entertaining playmaking from the high post get hit with big asterisks. Even last season, when he appeared in 70 games for Golden State primarily as a starter, Bogut logged fewer total minutes than numerous backup centers. The combination of an off-season trade to Dallas, a thin frontline surrounding him, and a contract that expires next summer sets up Bogut for a solid showcase year in 2016-17. The looming question, though, is whether the 31-year-old Bogut has enough left in the tank to expand out of the intentionally limited role he filled with the Warriors. (Last year: No. 76)

+ He led the entire NBA in Defensive Real Plus Minus (+5.45) this season
+ He averaged four assists per 36 minutes last season, ranking second among 7-footers
He has averaged 1,191 minutes per year (roughly 14.5 MPG over all 82 games) for the last five seasons 
Coming off season-ending knee injury in Finals, but played for Australia at the Rio Olympics