The Crossover is proud to offer our list of the Top 100 NBA players of 2018, an exhaustive exercise that seeks to define who will be the league's best players in the 2017-18 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. This list is an attempt to evaluate each player in a vacuum, independent of their current team context as much as possible. A player's prospects beyond the 2017-18 season did not play a part in the ranking process.
Injuries and injury risks are an inevitable component of this judgment. Past performance (postseason included) weighed heavily in our assessment, with a skew toward the recent. First-year players were not included. 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. You can read more here on the limitations of this kind of ranking. To see our 25 biggest snubs from this year, click here.
Please feel free to take a look back to SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2017,2016,2015 and 2014. A special thanks, as always, to those resources that make researching a list like this possible: Basketball-Reference, NBA.com, ESPN.com, Nylon Calculus, and Synergy Sports.
100. D’Angelo Russell, Nets
We’ve seen hints of a team-changing playmaker and shooter lurking within Russell, buried beneath questionable judgment and short-term priorities. Every year of experience brings hope that his potential might come more fully to bear. Young players are perpetually caught between their want for freedom and their need for structure. Russell didn’t find the right mix in Los Angeles, though he might in Brooklyn—a franchise as invested in cultivating talent as any in the league. The firepower is there. The star power, too. But first Russell must learn the value of his smallest contributions and the goals they work toward. Averages of 19.6 points, 6.0 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per 36 minutes are promising. If Russell can apply that same production toward winning margins, it could be something more. — Rob Mahoney
99. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lakers
A change of scenery couldn’t come at a better time for Caldwell-Pope (13.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.5 APG), whose progress seemed to stagnate amidst Detroit’s dysfunction. Cast as a prototypical 3-and-D wing, the 24-year-old shooting guard shot below league average from deep for the fourth straight year and posted a 107.7 defensive rating that was nearly seven points worse than Detroit’s mark when he was on the bench. Naturally, critics might wonder: If a “3-and-D wing" is both a subpar shooter and a minus defender, what is he?
It’s quite possible that Caldwell-Pope was simply the victim of bad circumstances. The 2013 lottery pick possesses the right mix of size, quickness, length and energy to effectively defend both point guards and wings, and he spent huge portions of his court time surrounded by weaker defensive links. In L.A., Caldwell-Pope should also benefit from an up-tempo, free-flowing style thanks to his comfort in the open court, his solid athletic tools, and his gradual development as a secondary pick-and-roll playmaker. — Ben Golliver
98. Patrick Patterson, Thunder
We have more than three years of data showing that the Raptors—one of the best teams in the East during that time—were at their best when Patterson (5.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.2 APG) was around. Not even heavily involved, per se, but around. The beauty of Patterson’s game is that it never needs to be schemed to fit or featured. The flow will find him. Possessions will naturally redirect themselves through Patterson when they stall, or find him as an open shooter on the perimeter. His positioning will help account for a teammates’ blown assignment, patching up what should have been a breakdown. A screen he sets will trigger the chain of events that ultimately leads to a score, albeit without any formal credit. When a possession begins, no one knows fully what’s coming. Patterson is flexible in ways that are perfectly suited for sorting out the ensuing chaos through every possibility and permutation. — RM
97. Ryan Anderson, Rockets
Anderson (13.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG) is hardly the only stretch–four in the NBA, but he’s easily the stretchiest. Thanks to Houston’s all-out approach to three-pointers under coach Mike D’Antoni, the 29-year-old Anderson regularly found himself spotting up so far beyond the arc that he was off the screen during television broadcasts. All told, he attempted 5.1 deep threes per game (from 25+ feet), easily tops among the league’s frontcourt players, while somehow maintaining a 40.3% three-point shooting clip. Elsewhere, Anderson’s game is less forceful: he’s extremely limited as a playmaker, he can be overpowered at his position, and he’s easy to pick on defensively in playoff matchups. Although he spent last summer facing doubts over his pricey contract and persistent injury issues, the nine-year vet logged more than 2,100 minutes in 2016-17, his most since 2012-13. Anderson’s value is contingent upon playing with skilled creators in a wide-open system, and he’s found a perfect home in Houston. — BG
96. Elfrid Payton, Magic
As long as the Magic are mired well outside the East’s playoff picture, most observers will regard Payton (12.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6.5 APG) solely by his inability to shoot. That scarlet letter remains his defining trait and it will keep him from becoming a franchise-level floor general, but he made noteworthy progress filling out the other facets of his game in his third season. An attack-minded point guard with good size, quickness and set-up instincts, the 23-year-old Payton has improved significantly as a finisher despite the poorly-spaced lineups that usually surround him. And although he has long been blamed for Orlando’s inefficient offenses and was briefly moved to a reserve role by new coach Frank Vogel, Payton led the Magic in net rating and upped their offensive rating by more than nine points when he took the court. Payton fares well across the major advanced stats thanks to a do-everything nature that has produced eight career triple-doubles. As with many Magic players who have been stuck playing in anachronistic configurations and enduring multiple coaching changes, there’s a nagging sense that there’s more to Payton’s game than he’s been able to display to date. — BG
95. Taj Gibson, Timberwolves
Gibson has damn near perfect approval ratings among teammates and ex-teammates, which has a lot to do with how he carries himself. When a season reaches its breaking point, you want Gibson around to mediate matters with fairness and candor. When a game is getting tight, you want Gibson involved to dig in and help bust something loose. Tenacity is a skill. In Gibson’s case, it informs his entire style of play—from defending full possessions until a rebound is secured to making every effort necessary to help create a good look for his own team’s offense. It’s amazing how little has changed in Gibson’s game (10.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 0.9 APG) over the years. He might not yam on dudes with quite the same frequency, but everything is still predicated on the same dirty-work buckets and intelligent coverage. — RM
94. Julius Randle, Lakers
Randle (13.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.6 APG) has been a tease through three seasons, a strapping and assertive power forward whose effectiveness has been undercut by his weak shooting range, lack of length and poor defensive awareness. His highlight-reel fast breaks and downhill attacks have been offset by forced shots in traffic and clanged jumpers. His double-doubles have been diminished by a steady stream of breakdowns that contributed to his atrocious 113.3 defensive rating.
The premier modern fours stretch the court and protect the rim; Randle, 22, currently does neither. LA must hope, then, that Randle can find success by breaking the mold, taking advantage of his wide-shouldered physique, scoring mentality and ball-handling skills to physically punish and collapse opposing defenses. The arrivals of pass-first point guard Lonzo Ball and stretch–five Brook Lopez should help, giving Randle plenty of driving opportunities from the elbow, more room to ply his trade in the basket area, and easier scoring chances in transition. Nevertheless, Randle’s chances of reaching his ceiling and pulling down a big-dollar contract as a 2018 free agent will be determined primarily by his ability to improve his shooting and refine his one-on-one repertoire. If he can’t keep defenses honest and score more efficiently, the 2014 lottery pick may never be fully unleashed. — BG
93. Lou Williams, Clippers
As a professional scorer, Williams (17.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.0 APG) is clearly valuable but short of vital. Part of the appeal is that nothing needs to be built around him. Possession of the ball and a few seconds to spare is usually enough; Williams is so crafty at dancing his way into scoring opportunities that years of scouting reports have done little to stop him. Opponents know that Williams is waiting for them to lunge so that he might draw a foul. Still they’re convinced to jump whenever Williams creates enough separation for an open jumper, leaving them floating for a few helpless seconds as Williams lines up his play. His capacity to draw fouls (8.3 free throw attempts per 36 minutes) made Williams one of the most effective pick-and-roll scorers in the league last season despite his high usage—an unusual combination for a nominal role player. It works, though decidedly less so in the altered conditions of the postseason. — RM
92. Patty Mills, Spurs
Mills is easy to overlook, what with future Hall of Famer Tony Parker running San Antonio’s show for years and 2016 first-round pick Dejounte Murray lining up as a potential point guard of the future. But the Australian marksman outplayed both last season, easily posting better individual advanced stats than Parker while also boasting a team-best +12 net rating.
Although the 28-year-old Mills (9.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.8 RPG) isn’t the best one-on-one creator or the most natural playmaker for others, he has fully settled in to San Antonio’s system, balancing his off-the-dribble shooting ability with improved offense initiation while seamlessly shifting between back-up and starting roles. Much of what he accomplishes on both ends owes to his frenetic energy; Mills keeps moving when he doesn’t have the ball and only needs a sliver of daylight to launch a catch-and-shoot three or sneak through a seam to the rim. Despite his lack of size, he’s an especially pesky and attentive on-ball defender too. San Antonio smartly rewarded him with a four-year, $50 million contract this summer, keeping him in place as a functional bridge between Parker and Murray (or whoever else comes next). — BG
91. James Johnson, Heat
It wasn’t until his eighth season, his sixth team, and a 37-pound weight loss that Johnson finally found his place in the league. The Heat had the perfect culture to guide him; Miami’s rigorous standards for effort and conditioning demanded more of Johnson than any team ever had before. In turn, Johnson transformed. So many of the captivating flashes in his game became full-blown features. That development would mean a lot to the career of any journeyman, but especially to a marvel like Johnson. Up until this point, Johnson had been a rogue element. Last season established him as an every-night contributor—a big, physical combo forward (12.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.6 APG) who can fly around the court defensively and do a little bit of everything. The body of work is a touch slim for any ranking higher than this, though Johnson could solidify his standing in time. — RM
90. Patrick Beverley, Clippers
The discussion around Beverley (9.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.2 APG) usually begins with his smothering on-ball defense or his knack for riling up opponents, but the hard-nosed point guard is more accurately viewed as a complete, two-way contributor. Although the former second-round pick and one-time international journeyman isn’t equipped to beat defenses with his own offense, he has become an ideal backcourt running mate for a ball-dominant star—on offense—thanks to his dependable spot-up three-point shooting, capable pick-and-roll game, and propensity for making hustle plays. “When you’re going into the alley or if you’re trying to find a pick-up game, you want him with you,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said during the playoffs, following the death of Beverley’s grandfather. “Whatever we want to do, we want Pat. He has an amazing spirit and determination. Enormous heart.”
Defense, of course, is where the 29-year-old Beverley first made his name and where he continues to shine brightest. Last season, he ranked second among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and earned All-Defensive First-Team honors. The biggest knock on Beverley, who projects as the Clippers’ starter after being traded this summer, remains his durability: He’s missed nearly 30% of his team’s games during his NBA career. — BG
89. Nikola Vucevic, Magic
After five losing seasons, Vucevic is covered in red flags. There is no denying his production (14.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.8 APG), but there is qualifying it; of the 105 players in the league to attempt at least 10 shots per game last season, Vucevic ranked No. 101 in True Shooting Percentage. His biggest contributions ring a bit hollow. He’s a decent shooter but not so consistent (or so stretchy) as to make that shot a real weapon. That he sees the ball as much as he does but gets to the line so infrequently (2.1 attempts per game) undercuts his best efforts. We can only assume that a change of scenery would help given Orlando’s rotten lineup combinations of the last few years, but just how valuable is Vucevic if his role doesn’t call on him to produce in volume? Decent touch and terrific rebounding are enough to get Vucevic on this list. The bigger questions concerning his game, however, prevent him from moving up very far. — RM
88. Marvin Williams, Hornets
He never made an All-Star team or pulled down a max contract like one might expect from a No. 2 overall pick, but Williams (11.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.4 APG) remains a useful and reliable pro after 12 years in the league. A proven three-point shooter with enough size, strength and agility to defend both forward positions, the 31-year-old fits well in the modern game as a stretch-four who can’t be easily exploited on the other end. Although Williams’s efficiency and consistency took a step back from his strong contract year in 2015-16, he remained a disciplined, complementary option who stuck tightly to his role as a spacer. Williams’s specific fit in Charlotte helps illustrate the many different ways he adds value. What’s more, Williams can shift between steady starter or sixth man roles should the need arise, making it easy to envision him filling quality rotation minutes deep into his 30s. — BG
87. Rodney Hood, Jazz
For a player with a subtle game, a no-drama personality, and a pre-draft reputation for being a known quantity, Hood (12.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.6 APG) has been surprisingly difficult to project as he’s worked his way through his rookie contract. Injuries are primarily to blame, of course, as the 24-year-old wing missed 21 games in 2016-17 and never recaptured the consistency and overall offensive prowess he displayed during the previous season. Going forward, Hood figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Gordon Hayward’s free-agency departure: Utah’s fourth-leading scorer last season should enjoy career-high levels of touches and shots, and he could easily wind up leading the team in scoring in 2017-18.
While Hood is generally savvy and patient in pick-and-rolls and a reliable shot-up shooter, he’s almost certainly underqualified to be an alpha scorer for an above-average offense at this point. The 2014 first-round pick just isn’t quite dynamic enough off the dribble, he doesn’t get to the line with sufficient regularity, and he doesn’t yet possess a deep catalogue of ball-handling moves in isolation. Defensively, Hood is solid and versatile, capable of guarding twos and threes. He may not be able to replicate his All-Star predecessor’s success, but Hood is easily Utah’s best short-term hope if he can stay on the court. — BG
86. Nerlens Noel, Mavericks
There’s a delicate balance at the heart of Noel’s game. Reach, athleticism, and timing make Noel (8.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG) a natural candidate for rim protection—arguably the most important element of a center’s defensive repertoire. The potential is there. Yet every year, Noel is pulled out of conservative defensive position by pursuit of the ball. His results are uncanny: Noel effectively co-led the league in steal percentage last season (3.1%), matching ball hawks like Chris Paul and Tony Allen. The proficiency with which Noel makes deflections and chases down steals is an incredible gift for a player his size. It also makes him less predictable within the context of a team structure. When the last line of defense is always on the move, the system itself can lose its shape. If Noel, who is just 23, ever finds the equilibrium between these skills, he could become one of the best defenders in the league. As it stands, he’s still incredibly disruptive—the kind of player who can blow up a pick-and-roll by either attacking a ball handler or by erasing a shot in the air. That’s more than enough. Everything else is upside. — RM
85. Robin Lopez, Bulls
The function of a center—even in the age of stretchy, playmaking bigs—remains firmly rooted in defense. This is where Lopez delivers; on every possession he guarantees skillful coverage on the back line, employed through a legit seven-foot frame. It takes a fair bit of dancing and maneuvering on the part of a ball-handler just to get a shot up and over Lopez. Mobility isn’t the only way to cover in space. A colossus like Lopez (10.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG) can exercise a lot of influence on the game through reach alone. Lopez knows this, and does well to keep his feet when challenged. By letting his positioning do the work, Lopez ended up challenging more shots than any player in the league last season and blocking a similar percentage of opponents’ shots to DeAndre Jordan. Smart, restrained movement from a player who understands his limitations can do wonders. Lopez obviously isn’t the right fit for teams who want mold-breaking dynamism out of their centers; an 18-foot set shot is about as ambitious as Lopez gets. Having him around, however, allows for the creators on the team to do what they do best while buttressing the rest of the team’s operations. — RM
84. Wilson Chandler, Nuggets
Chandler plays a stealthy scoring game that blends easily into the background. What seems like a casual bucket or two winds up as 15 points of self-generated offense—the kind of support that every team needs. Give Chandler an ad-libbed screen in the middle of a possession and he’ll slow-play his way to a score, shifting angles and directions until he has room for a mid-range jumper. His entire approach is adaptive. Take away one land and Chandler will fidget his way into another. The fact that he only occasionally gets all the way to the rim frees up Chandler to make full use of his in-between game. It works unusually well. Of the players to initiate at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions last season, Chandler (15.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 APG) finished as the single most efficient pick-and-roll scorer. Some of that is a product of just how far he flies under the radar, though to get that kind of scoring from a wing doesn’t pose any particular liabilities is a nice lift. — RM
83. Eric Gordon, Rockets
What a relief it is to see Gordon healthy again. His best role still involves only moderate ball-handling, but what’s important is that Gordon’s body has again given him the option; it’s been years since the 28-year-old has moved this smoothly, which works to open up Gordon’s game (16.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.5 APG) beyond spot shooting alone. That diversity led the Rocket to winning Sixth Man of the Year honors last season. Still, everything builds off his jumper. It’s no surprise that Gordon’s effectiveness waned along with every shooting slump last season, including a months-long lull after the All-Star break. So long as he’s hitting, defenses have to chase his shot aggressively—opening up other avenues for creation in the process. The sheer force of Gordon’s deep range demands that opponents cover even more ground to contest. But if those shots don’t fall, Gordon just doesn’t have all that much else to keep his game afloat. — RM
82. Robert Covington, Sixers
Nerlens Noel might be gone, Jahlil Okafor might be unplayable, and a laundry list of other fringe players might have moved on after brief cups of coffee, but The Process era did manage to unearth a legitimate gem in Covington (12.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG). The undrafted forward firmed up his reputation as one of the best multi-positional defenders in the NBA last season, ranking fourth overall in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and finishing (a very distant) fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting despite playing for the 28-win Sixers. One of just 10 players to average at least one assist and one block per game, Covington’s length, mobility and strength make him a nuisance for point guards and power forwards alike. Whereas other defense-first wings like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Andre Roberson do not appear in our Top 100, the 26-year-old Covington earned the nod because he should be something better than completely hopeless on offense. Theoretically, the return of franchise center Joel Embiid and the arrival of playmaking ball-handlers like Ben Simmons and MarkelleFultz will help create easier scoring opportunities in transition and cleaner catch-and-shoot looks, thereby simplifying Covington’s responsibilities and bolstering his woeful shooting numbers. — BG
81. Tobias Harris, Pistons
The door is wide open for Harris, a gifted scoring forward (16.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.7 APG) who shifted in and out of the starting lineup in 2016-17, to put together a career year in Detroit. Really, this is a simple case of supply and demand as the Pistons’ No. 25 offense lost two starters—Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris—who combined to take 25 shots per game. There are plenty of touches and shots to be had, even after key newcomer Avery Bradley gets his share, and the 25-year-old Harris is the most proven and efficient offensive player among Detroit’s varied crop of threes and fours. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy dumped Harris to the second unit for stretches of last season in hopes of balancing his scoring and fielding bigger frontline configurations. Given Detroit’s new roster construction and shallower pool of established talent, Harris should return to a full-time starting role, adding isolation scoring and a degree of spacing to Detroit’s bread-and-butter spread pick-and-roll. While Harris’s status as a tweener forward does cost him defensively, especially against power forwards, the Pistons’ meandering retooling effort has evolved to the point where the organization must treat him like a core piece, playing to his strengths and working to cover his weaknesses. — BG
80. Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors
There’s an unmistakable sadness to the flatlining of Valanciunas (12 PPG, 9.5 RPG), a huge, crafty and efficient scoring center whose signature skills aren’t truly essential to his team’s guard-dominated attack and whose defensive limitations make him an obvious demotion target in the postseason. The 25-year-old Lithuanian big man has posted nearly identical numbers for three straight seasons, a sign of his workhorse mentality and inherent dependability, but also of his carefully-carved niche and his inability to win an expanded role in crunch time. Moved to the bench midway through both of Toronto’s postseason series last year, Valanciunas averaged just 22.6 MPG in the playoffs, a career low. He is simply a casualty of basketball’s new style of war: The Raptors’ defensive rating was far better without him during both the regular season and the postseason, and midseason acquisition Serge Ibaka is a natural fit as a smallball center. While Valanciunas appeared to be an obvious trade chip, he survived president Masai Ujiri’s busy summer and will run things back for a sixth year in Toronto. If recent history is any indication, he’ll go about his Goliath-like business by flirting with a double-double average before ceding the court to more mobile Davids once the season is on the line. — BG
79. Markieff Morris, Wizards
What Morris (14.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.7 APG) lacks in any single, standout attribute, he makes up for in broad suitability. Most any team could make use of his skill set. There is always a need for bigs who can dabble in guarding wings (which Morris does competently), and particularly those who match up physically with the league’s most dangerous tweener forwards. Morris has the game to post smaller players and work around bigger ones, though his better judgment (and full investment) comes and goes. There’s also the matter of his pending criminal trial, which could result in jail time with a conviction or a minimum 10-game suspension in the event of a plea deal. This is a inextricable part of who Morris is. — RM
78. Reggie Jackson, Pistons
Based solely on his play during an injury-hampered 2016-17 season, Jackson (14.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 5.2 APG) doesn’t belong in the NBA’s Top 200 or possibly even its Top 300. Dogged by a knee injury that cost him 30 games, the 27-year-old point guard was one of the league’s biggest disappointments, posting a team-worst -8.8 net rating as the Pistons finished with a bottom-six offense and slid back into the lottery. His struggles to get to the foul line, his major regression as a finisher in the basket area, and his greater reliance on long twos were all byproducts of his compromised athleticism and quickness.
While Jackson still faces some lingering health concerns, he’s a solid starting point guard when his body is right. At his best, Jackson is a tireless, headstrong attacker off the dribble and an experienced, confident pick-and-roll practitioner whose two-man game with Andre Drummond formed the basis of a decent offense for a playoff team in 2015-16. If he returns to full health, he should outplay this ranking. However, if Jackson remains limited as he works his way through the final three years of a 5-year, $80 million contract, Detroit’s long-term outlook becomes incredibly bleak. — BG
77. Victor Oladipo, Pacers
Instead of emerging as a true co-pilot on Russell Westbrook’s magical ride, Oladipo (15.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.6 APG) joined the rest of the Thunder in the backseat. Upon arriving in Oklahoma City by trade last summer, the 25-year-old guard seemed poised to play the Robin role and step forward as a lead playmaker when the 2017 MVP went to the bench. But the anticipated breakthrough never materialized, as Oladipo’s game mirrored his good-but-not-great showing during his first three years in Orlando. Then, in his first trip to the playoffs, Oladipo’s shot abandoned him and he proved to be only a bit player.
There’s some fool’s gold to Oladipo. He’s quick and leaps well, but doesn’t translate those tools into consistent, efficient isolation offense. He can get by as a spot-up shooter, but isn’t a knockdown threat. He can generate offense in pick-and-rolls, but doesn’t light up the highlight tapes with his vision. He’s got a strong frame, but hasn’t yet delivered on pre-draft prognostications that viewed him as an elite defender. While his offseason trade to Indiana should offer him more shots, touches, and opportunities to initiate the offense, he will likely struggle with the burdens of being a lead backcourt scorer. — BG
76. Dennis Schröder, Hawks
Not every productive sub can assume starting duties without missing a beat. Schröder pulled it off, all while scoring more often and more efficiently than he did previously. His 2016-17 season was an achievement of scale—proof that Schröder was ready for a different level of responsibility and consideration. The Hawks had asked more of him by trading away Jeff Teague. Schröder, by most metrics, delivered.
It’s reasonable to wonder, however, just how much further Schöder (17.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 6.3 APG) can go within this sort of role. His credentials off the dribble speak for themselves; only Isaiah Thomas averaged more drives to the basket, per NBA.com, and yet Schöder still converted 50.4% of his shots off those drives. What’s off is his sense of timing. Schröder is a reasonably effective playmaker who tends to irk his teammates by when he chooses to pass and when he does not. Lobs are sometimes thrown a beat too late. Shooters who were open just a moment previously find themselves covered once Schöder finally decides to send the ball their way. Schöder just isn’t a natural playmaker. Passing is a part of his game born of expectation rather than instinct. Other players have forged fine careers playing that way, though it does curb Schröder’s ability to actually lift an offense with his play. — RM
75. Danny Green, Spurs
Green plays in a way that draws a lot of attention to what he cannot do. He still has little recourse when opponents decide to run him off the three-point line, a predicament that pushes Green well out of his comfort zone. His perimeter shooting—Green’s (7.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.8 APG) most valuable contribution to an offense—is now in the midst of a two-year lull. Yet at minimum, Green is one of the most stifling defenders on the floor in every game he plays. Coaches can swing him freely to cover perimeter players of all kinds. Starting a defensive liability at point guard? Have Green corral opposing ones with his length instead. Need to preserve the energy of a ball-dominant creator? Cross-match Green to find the most advantageous matchup possible. The league has its share of defensive stoppers who undermine their own teams through offensive inability. Green is a cut above. Through cold streaks and all, he converted 38% of his three-pointers last season. — RM
74. Dwyane Wade, Bulls
The Flash hasn’t completely extinguished, but he’s getting deeper and deeper into the fizzle. Wade (18.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.8 APG) wasn’t nearly as effective as his box score stats suggest during his first season in Chicago, ranking well outside the top 100 in both Win Shares and Real Plus-Minus while missing out on the All-Star Game for the first time since 2004. Even with the benefit of playing alongside an A-lister in Jimmy Butler, the future Hall of Famer posted career-lows in FG% and True Shooting Percentage, and he saw his Player Efficiency Rating drop for the fifth straight season. Far too often, Wade’s approach to transition defense recalled post-Achilles Kobe Bryant, and he made waves in the media when his frustration with his younger, less talented teammates spilled over.
These are virtually inevitable trends for a former scoring champ who never mastered the three-point shot and who turned 35 in January. Given that Wade makes no sense for the tanking Bulls, this summer appears to represent a crossroads. The three-time champ still has enough scoring chops and savviness to help a winning team, but he’s best suited to a narrower role that will protect his body and channel his energy. As Chicago eventually progresses towards a buyout of his $23.8 million contract, it will be fascinating to see whether Wade is mentally prepared to transition to life as a super-sub after a long and decorated career on center stage. — BG
73. Dwight Howard, Hornets
The past five months have been damning for Howard (13.5 PPG, 12.7 RPG), who was benched during the fourth quarter of Atlanta’s first-round playoff series and then abruptly traded to Charlotte for one of the league’s worst contracts in Miles Plumlee. The MVP candidate and NBA Finalist from Orlando is a long-lost memory. The days of him being a co-superstar in L.A. and Houston are in the distant past. The hometown hero angle in Atlanta never took. And now Howard is left battling with Cody Zeller for minutes on a Hornets team that won 36 games last year.
Even at 31, Howard remains one of the league’s most productive rebounders and biggest bodies, and a reunion with former Magic assistant Steve Clifford should help him hit the ground running in Charlotte, his third stop in three seasons. But the league has transitioned away from his preferred low-block isolation style on offense, and his athleticism, mobility and stamina have waned in recent years. Although he’s still capable of playing big minutes for an elite defense, as evidenced by Atlanta’s No. 4 defense last year, he’s increasingly vulnerable to exploitation in the playoffs like most traditional centers. Howard’s seniority and relationship with Clifford should make him a starter to open the season, but on a good team the 13-year vet would be best deployed in a reserve role, whether or not he’s willing to admit it. — BG
72. Greg Monroe, Bucks
Moving to the bench was a gift for Monroe. Rarely do opposing second units have the height to answer him inside, which presents all sorts of advantages beyond simple post-ups. There are free possessions every game for Monroe to gobble up on the offensive glass. As the NBA has evolved, Monroe (11.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG) has also learned how to flash into position opposite a teammates’ drive or pick-and-roll—making himself available just at the right time. That’s no small thing when the player in question is 6'11" with sound footwork and a soft release. Those kinds of developments make Monroe one of the league’s better-acclimated traditional centers. Some elements of his game will always be out of phase with the era he plays in. Yet unlike other post-up bigs, Monroe at least passes well enough to get by and has worked to make himself an adequate defender. The Bucks explored every avenue to trade Monroe in recent years and still his presence made them a better team on both sides of the ball. — RM
71. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
There is only so much benefit of the doubt that can be given to a living legend in an exercise such as this. The reality is that Nowitzki is 39 years old, a liability on one side of the floor, and coming off his worst-shooting season since his rookie year. That injuries complicated matters for Nowitzki (14.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG) last season does little to help his case; any player this deep into his career is likely to be slowed by all kinds of aches and pains. Performing at a high level only gets that much more challenging for Nowitzki with every passing season, and his ranking has to reflect that.
It also needs to encapsulate Nowitzki’s value as a cultural pillar. It always means something to a franchise to have a Hall-of-Famer around, but it means even more when that Hall-of-Famer is also a legendary worker. Nowitzki is as positive an influence on team chemistry as one can find: a no-maintenance, easy-going teammate who could work with almost anyone. Teams can still draw on his scoring in the post and at the elbow. Defenses still have the utmost respect for his shooting, which in turn frees up lanes and angles for Nowitzki’s teammates. There’s just no way for a defense to fully account for a big with Dirk’s shooting ability and reputation—much less his unblockable release. Slide him over to center (as Dallas did for half of Nowitzki’s minutes last season) and the impact of his shooting is that much more pronounced. — RM
70. Cody Zeller, Hornets
Rarely does a non-superstar prove to be as indispensable as Zeller (10.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.6 APG) was for the Hornets last season. With Zeller, Charlotte went 33-29. Without him, they went 3-17. With Zeller on the court, the Hornets had a +5.4 net rating, similar to the 55-win Rockets. With him off the court, the Hornets dropped to a -3.6 net rating, nearly as bad as the 31-win Knicks. The 24-year-old center even managed to rank fifth at his position in Real Plus-Minus just four years after his selection was booed by fans on draft night.
While those disparate splits can be explained in part by Charlotte’s thin frontcourt rotation, Zeller deserves more credit than he gets as a useful, flexible and thoroughly modern big man. Mobility is central to his value on both ends: Zeller moves freely and decisively as a pick-and-roll target, he switches defensively on to smaller players without too much trouble, he offers timely weakside help, and he runs the court with ease. Given the space his movement creates in the paint and the higher pace his presence facilitates, lineups featuring Zeller at center may very well outperform lineups featuring the recently-acquired Dwight Howard next season. — BG
69. Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers
Following a midseason trade, it took Nurkic (10.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.9 APG) just a few weeks to go from a disgruntled, underachieving cast-off in Denver to a beloved, full-fledged phenomenon in Portland. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the good times and monster stat lines were cut short by a leg injury that cost the 23-year-old Bosnian center the final seven games of the regular season and limited him to one brief postseason appearance. Still, the pre-injury flashes of excitement and dominant play were very real, as the monster 7-footer provided badly-needed frontcourt scoring, space-eating interior defense, and mega doses of swagger to an otherwise listless Blazers campaign.
With the possibility of a monster payday on the horizon, Nurkic approaches the final year of his rookie contract in “prove it” mode on numerous fronts: He must prove that he can stay healthy after missing 87 combined games over his first three seasons, he must prove that immaturity issues a thing of the past, he must prove that his late-season scoring surge is sustainable once he’s targeted by rival game plans, he must prove that his improved conditioning can help ease his turnover problems and foul trouble, and he must prove that he can be the full-time backline stopper for a decent defense. If he succeeds on most or all of those fronts, the Blazers should be on track for their most successful season of the post-LaMarcus Aldridge era. — BG
68. Myles Turner, Pacers
In just two seasons, Turner has dealt with a coaching change, a front-office shake-up, a position switch, a point-guard carousel, and the departure of his team’s franchise player. Through it all, the 2015 lottery pick has done an admirable job of rolling with the punches as he settles into life as a two-way impact starting center. With an outside-in offensive game and excellent shot-blocking instincts, the 21-year-old Turner projects as the rebuilding Pacers’ highest priority next season.
Turner is not yet ready to take the reins from Paul George as The Man given his limited low-post arsenal and still-developing frame, but the oft-cited comparisons to fellow Texas product LaMarcus Aldridge look increasingly apt. He’s got a smooth shooting stroke, excellent length and a good motor, and he led the Pacers’ regular rotation players with a +3.2 net rating. Although Turner (14.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.3 APG) might still be two years away from possessing the strength necessary to be an imposing low-post isolation defender and go-to scorer on the block, he’s clearly ahead of schedule compared to most young bigs. Despite Turner’s disappointing showing in Indiana’s humbling first-round loss to Cleveland, there are only a few other 22-and-under centers—Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic and Kristaps Porzingis—with higher ceilings. — BG
67. Derrick Favors, Jazz
This range is no place for one of the more balanced bigs in the league. Yet here we find Favors—a strong defender with a well-developed offensive game—dropped by the most frustrating season of his professional career. Layered, complicating leg injuries sapped Favors (9.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.1 APG) of his mobility. The calculated shuffling that made Favors a versatile defender turned stiff. The vertical imposition that made him a bother around the basket never had the same lift. The problem for Favors wasn’t just his games missed (32) or limited minutes (23.7 per game); life as a big man is far more complicated when one leg can’t be fully trusted to launch or pivot, the toll of which cost Favors so much of what makes him effective. Hopefully this is the sort of ranking that will look overly cautious by season’s end. Yet in projecting how much and how well Favors is likely to play over a single-season time frame, one has to pay serious consideration to the sort of chronic injury that rendered Favors a shell of his former self. — RM
66. Marcin Gortat, Wizards
It’s almost too easy to take Gortat (10.8 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.5 APG) for granted. The league has plenty of bigs who are more technically skilled than Gortat. There are greater post threats out there and more instinctive defenders, rangier shooters and more intuitive passers. What earns Gortat his place in the league is in the breadth of his reliability. Every night, Gortat’s team benefits from quality returns across the board. In a league with so many one-way bigs, Gortat gets by on both ends. Lineups featuring Gortat have defended well whenever Washington could put a group of competent professionals around him, despite the fact that there are better rim protectors and more agile players at his position. Scoring comes more easily for players like John Wall and Bradley Beal when Gortat is around, whether due to the hard screens he sets (Gortat finished second in the league in screen assists) or his persistent availability. Gortat doesn’t have a particularly wide range offensively, but he compensates by playing to the areas where he can actually present a threat and keeping a direct lane open between himself and the ball. There’s nothing particularly sensational about his ability to make catches he should make and flip in shots on the move. All the same, everything around Gortat is made easier by his ability to do so. — RM
65. Pau Gasol, Spurs
This is a complicated juncture for Gasol, who is caught somewhere between starter and reserve. What matters most is that he’s still effective. Even at 37 years old, Gasol (12.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.3 APG) brings such healthy variety to an offense that he serves to build out its options. Most every team could benefit from an intermediary who sees the floor as well as Gasol does. It’s nice to have a shooter, a post player, and a roll man. It’s nicer still to have a big who can do all three while reading the floor as he goes. The Spurs, unsurprisingly, did as good a job of maximizing Gasol’s play as any team in recent years. Gasol is slow of foot but still contributed to the best defense in the league. The mechanisms of San Antonio’s offense empowered Gasol as a spot-up shooter, where he returned more points per spot-up possession than every big in the league save for Channing Frye. A lighter minutes load kept his production lean and consistent. Relying too much on Gasol can be limiting, but through the Spurs we saw the value of his role made right. — RM
64. Devin Booker, Suns
In just his second season, Booker (22.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.4 APG) proved that he has already mastered the art of volume scoring, becoming the first age-20 player to average 22 points since Kyrie Irving in 2013 and dumping in an absurd 70-point performance against the Celtics that stands as the highest total scored by any active player. However, the rest of Booker’s portfolio—scoring efficiency, playmaking for others, defense, winning—still needs considerable work. Phoenix’s rising shooting guard finished outside the top 100 in PER and outside the top 200 in three other major advanced statistical categories (Win Shares, Real Plus-Minus and WARP).
Booker, much like Andrew Wiggins at this time last year, is far better and more tantalizing in theory than in practice. While he’s clearly talented, fresh and exciting, his shiny scoring exploits are dimmed by his ultra-green light and by the fact that he’s yet to play in a meaningful game because his team is so bad. Once Booker evolves into a more complete player and transforms Phoenix into a respectable team, he will be fully worthy of the hype many have already bestowed upon him. — BG
63. George Hill, Kings
Hill is the best of his kind: a smart, disciplined player who pairs perfectly with a playmaking wing. He can run an offense when asked, but Hill is at his best when part of a more balanced attack. Let the offense flow, and the ball will find its way back to him. Hill (16.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 4.2 APG) is a natural when it comes to sliding into place on the perimeter, bolstering the creation of his teammates with a strong spot-up option. Should the defense close out aggressively (as one would expect given Hill’s 40.3% shooting from three), Hill can comfortably trigger the next move in sequence: a straight-line drive, a secondary pick-and-roll, or a simple swing pass. Hill is the kind of guard any team would want on the weak side, and a better-than-advertised initial playmaker to boot. What really cements Hill’s universal appeal, however, is his defense. Hill is 6'3" with a 6'9" wingspan—a reach that envelops smaller guards and allows Hill to swing easily between positions. Even some small forwards are fair game. Don’t be discouraged by the fact that Hill is neither the model of a pure point guard nor an especially prolific scorer. Everything that he is and does creates possibilities. — RM
62. Trevor Ariza, Rockets
He wasn’t the MVP runner-up, the confrontational point guard, the pricey super-stretch four, the breakout big or one of two new microwave-scoring Sixth Man of the Year candidates. With so many big personalities and new faces, it’s no wonder that Ariza (11.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.2 APG) was easy to take for granted in Houston last season. As always, though, the 32-year-old small forward’s durability, reliability, consistency and well-honed Three-and-D game were central to the Rockets’ success.
A smart and tested 13-year vet, Ariza fully understands and precisely executes his job: He defends the opposing team’s top wing, he waits patiently for his offense to come via spot-up shots and transition opportunities, he keeps his mistakes to a minimum, and he does it all again the next night. Remarkably, Ariza has missed just three total games during his three-year tenure in Houston, and he finished No. 11 in minutes played in 2016-17. Every contender would be glad to have him. — BG
61. Ricky Rubio, Jazz
For all of Rubio’s apparent limitations, the Timberwolves were a top-10 offense last season under his direction—and a few points better when Rubio (11.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 9.1 APG) was actually on the floor. We cannot ignore the fact that Rubio’s unreliable shooting and unwilling trigger would create certain problems in a playoff setting. Yet more generally, his vision nourishes an offense. Rubio pulls off passes that are beyond most players, simultaneously continuing a possession’s progress and leading his teammates into scoring position. He is one of the best in the league in assisting for layups and dunks, making up for the fact that he doesn’t create (or convert) many of those looks for himself. The deficits in Rubio’s game blink in neon. Around them, a functional offense lives in a healthy grow.
Rubio is a particular sort of player best served by specific types of teammates. One could argue easily, however, that the Wolves were never able to provide them – that if we take Rubio’s work in a vacuum, as we endeavor to for this list, he may have been underserved by his circumstances. Working with Rubio means living with his 10-12 points per game. It also means depending upon everything he does to keep an offense running smoothly while benefiting from the turnovers and stops brought about by his sharp defensive instincts. — RM
60. Jrue Holiday, Pelicans
It’s hard to fully grasp how imposing Holiday is until you watch him hound some poor, undersize point guard punching the clock in a random regular season game. Denial is a Holiday specialty. Nothing seems amiss until it comes time to get the ball to Holiday’s man, and the way is shut by an aggressive, 6'4" defender with a 6'7" wingspan. Sneak a pass through and any shot still has to arc over Holiday’s reach. Any drive has to create enough room so that Holiday—supposing an opponent can get by him in the first place—can’t disrupt a play from the side or from behind.
When the applications for Holiday (15.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 7.3 APG) start there, his scoring and playmaking are almost gravy. The latter may be understated even by a solid assist average (7.3 per game). Through his passing, Holiday managed to pull nearly three three-pointers a game from a cast of misfiring teammates. Isaiah Thomas, who ran one of the most prolific three-point-shooting offenses in the league, averaged slightly fewer. That said, it’s a bit odd that Holiday had as much trouble as he did playing alongside Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins last season. The versatility of Holiday’s game and positioning should make him useful in all sorts of situations. Those short-term snags were somewhat understandable given the magnitude of the mid-season changes involved, though this will be a season to watch as Holiday wages a season of his playing prime with a team that very much needs his guidance. — RM
59. J.J. Redick, 76ers
Although he’s reversing the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s journey by leaving L.A. for Philadelphia, Redick (15 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.4 APG) will nevertheless have his life flipped-turned upside down once he suits up for the Sixers. For the last four years, Redick played alongside an elite point guard in a star-studded and veteran-dominated Clippers starting lineup that annually ranked among the NBA’s most efficient offensive units. With the Sixers, the 33-year-old sharpshooter is set to join a roster built around a trio of recent lottery picks—Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz—who have combined to play less than 800 minutes. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has ranked dead last offensively in each of the last four seasons.
The Sixers made their one-year, $23 million investment in Redick this summer hoping that his constant off-ball movement, quick-trigger catch-and-shoot acumen, and elite three-point shooting range would help rookie ball-handlers Simmons and Fultz adjust to the NBA level. While often overmatched physically and athletically at the two, Redick is a solid and disciplined defender who brings a level of experience not otherwise found on Philadelphia’s roster. On both sides of the ball, then, this looks like a clean fit between team need and player skillset. Redick hasn’t yet displayed major signs of age-related decline, but playing without the benefit of Chris Paul’s masterful orchestration may alter the perception of the 11-year vet’s staying power. — BG
58. Clint Capela, Rockets
Don’t confuse the simplicity of Capela’s role for expendability. Think of it this way: there are a finite number of viable bigs in the NBA. Among them, only a portion—and a smaller portion than one might think—really understands how to set and hold a good screen. Only a portion of that group has the athleticism (and energy) to roll consistently. An even smaller subset has the hands to catch and finish as Capela does, and an even smaller one, still, has the bounce to reach the lobs that Capela dunks easily. The thought that anyone could do what Capela (12.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.0 APG) does needs to be qualified: Anyone with this rare combination of height, quickness, coordination, athleticism, attitude, and instincts could do what Capela does. There are so few like him, despite the fact that the low-usage, rim-running center archetype is as valuable as ever. What more could a superteam want than a big who defends, rebounds, and commits to keeping the offense moving without any insistence of his own reward? — RM
57. Gary Harris, Nuggets
A surprising number of fans—and even people within the league—haven’t yet caught on to the fact that Harris is one of the NBA’s best shooters. When ‘wide open’ last season by NBA.com’s designation, Harris sank an incredible 50.6% of his three-pointers. Overall, he leveled out at 42% from beyond the arc, good for eighth overall. Thus begins the case for Harris (14.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.9 APG) as an exceptional off-ball threat. A shooter of his caliber is exactly what any offense would want to balance the floor for its offense. What makes Harris all the more difficult to cover is that he might slip away at any moment; a momentary diversion is all Harris needs to dart into open space and fundamentally change a possession. Great playmakers see the game through a certain geometry, timing out which teammates are available when. Great cutters, like Harris, can make sense of the inverse. On every possession, Harris parses the spaces between players to find which ones—if sprinted through at just the right time—might prove fruitful. Operating in that way demands a certain caliber of playmaking, but it’s Harris who finds the means to produce 17.2 points per 36 minutes. — RM
56. Serge Ibaka, Raptors
The Magic traded for him in hopes that he would provide a clear defensive team identity. Then, the Raptors acquired him with an eye towards substantially improving their lineup versatility against the East’s top playoff contenders. On both counts, the 27-year-old Ibaka (14.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG) left his new teams wanting more. In Orlando, he proved unable to solve the many fit questions around him and failed to transform a space-deprived offense that needed more than a complementary frontcourt scorer. In Toronto, he couldn’t recapture the game-changing, two-way play he regularly showcased during his Oklahoma City tenure.
Taken together, the two chapters of Ibaka’s underwhelming 2016-17 season strongly suggest that his most effective and forceful days are behind him. Once a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and shot-blocking leader, his block rate has now decreased for five straight seasons. Surprisingly, both the Magic and Raptors posted better defensive efficiency ratings with Ibaka off the court than with him on, and Toronto’s small-ball units with Ibaka at center did not fare well defensively against the Cavaliers in the second round. Ibaka’s three-point shooting range and his ability to play both the four and five helped him pull down a three-year, $64 million contract from the Raptors this summer, but even that payday was a reminder of what could have been. Had the 2014 version of Ibaka hit the market this summer, he would have easily commanded a nine-figure deal. — BG
55. Jeff Teague, Timberwolves
Sizing up Teague feels an awful lot like hearing an urban legend. He has made an All-Star team and appeared in the playoffs for eight straight years, and yet the most memorable moment of his career might have been when he was spotted clutching a pizza box all by himself after being left behind by the team bus. He shared his only career Player of the Month award with four other people. He was traded for a mediocre first-round draft pick while on a below-market contract just one year after guiding a 60-win team. He was so thoroughly unassuming in Indiana last season (15.3 PPG, 4 RPG, 7.8 APG) that even the Pacers’ official website took care to note his silent and emotionless demeanor.
And yet Teague somehow posted PPG/RPG/APG numbers in 2016-17 that were only matched or exceeded by five A-listers—LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul and John Wall. Clearly, the 29-year-old point guard is not on that level, but he makes for an intriguing addition to Minnesota’s overhauled and upgraded starting lineup. An adept pick-and-roll initiator with three-point range and the ability to get to the line, Teague will give the post-Ricky Rubio Timberwolves a natural scoring threat at the one. Although he’s nothing to write home about as a defender, Teague gets by well enough to make Minnesota’s three-year, $57 million contract look like a reasonable, if slightly generous, investment. By signing on with the Timberwolves—an organization that’s desperate to snap its playoff drought—Teague surely understands that he will be judged next season not by his own numbers but by his ability to keep his many weapons satisfied. — BG
54. Avery Bradley, Pistons
It remains a great curiosity that Bradley—a 6'2" guard who had never been much of a rebounder—effectively doubled his per-game rebounding average last season. What isn’t is the motivation; gang rebounding became a team need based on Boston’s lineup construction, and Bradley (16.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.2 APG) is just the sort to stretch and bend his game to whatever end is needed. Mentality separates Bradley from his peers. There are quicker guards out there, but it’s Bradley who’s picking up his man at three-quarter court, turning every dribble into a battleground. There may be players closer to a loose ball, but Bradley is the one who makes up enough ground to snatch a possession away. There are better shooters and smoother ball-handlers, and yet Bradley has worked those skills and more to bring his greater game toward its reasonable limit. As a result, the NBA has reached a consensus: Bradley is one of those defenders (and one of those opponents in general, really) that nobody wants to face. — RM
53. Otto Porter, Wizards
Porter should host a self-help seminar at the NBA’s annual rookie symposium entitled, “If I can pull in a $100 million contract, you can too.” Indeed, his first four NBA seasons have been a blueprint in how to make it: He has taken incremental steps forward every season (13.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.5 APG) last year), he has embraced major defensive responsibilities, he has honed a reliable three-point stroke, he has meshed with star players and settled into his spot on the pecking order, and in so doing he has made himself indispensable. Given the choice between recommitting to Porter by matching a four-year, $107 million max offer sheet or watching their playoff ceiling cave in, the Wizards unsurprisingly gritted their teeth and paid up.
Even as recently as two years ago, this profitable chain of events seemed unlikely. But the 24-year-old Porter shook off a rookie-year injury and built himself into the prototypical 3-and-D wing the Wizards envisioned he would become when they selected him at No. 3 in 2013. An advanced stats darling thanks to his ultra-efficient shooting and low turnover rate, Porter makes for a perfect fit alongside Washington’s pair of ball-dominant star guards. Thanks to near impeccable health for all three players, that trio shared the court for more than 2,000 minutes last season, posting a sterling +7 net rating. The Wizards’ core of the future is set. — BG
52. Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers
There are players in the league who make a show of their effort level. Thompson makes a job of it. All game long he works through second, third, and fourth actions, always toward some targeted purpose. There is no activity in his game merely for activity’s sake; Thompson (8.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.0 APG) both draws from an incomparable motor and uses it judiciously. That smart hustle wrings everything out from a functionally limited skill set. Thompson is never suited to take more than a dribble or two, doesn’t have range beyond eight feet, and doesn’t contribute much of anything as a passer. Still he earns his keep, one hard-fought rebound or unexpected floater at a time. One of the best offenses in basketball played to its potential when Thompson was involved, and through him came Cleveland’s best chance of mounting a stout defense. Thompson gives a team options in its defensive game-planning. He demands nothing in the way of style or system, which in a postseason setting makes him a valuable chess piece. Trapping, hedging, dropping, and switching are all on the table. Simply dictate the terms of engagement and let Thompson go to work. — RM
51. Andre Drummond, Pistons
There’s been a whiplash effect when it comes to judging Drummond (13.6 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 1.1 APG), who followed up his first All-Star selection and postseason appearance in 2015-16 (No. 29 on our 2017 list) with a less-than-stellar 2016-17 campaign that felt like a step backwards. Is he a max-level franchise center capable of overwhelming opponents with his size and strength on a nightly basis? Or, is he doomed to disappoint because he reached his statistical peak at a young age and is now just another traditional center stuck adjusting to a league that increasingly prefers versatility over pure size? How should one weigh the value of his elite offensive rebounding against his indisputably poor defensive impact numbers and worse-than-atrocious free-throw shooting? What’s more trustworthy: His stellar PER or his middling Real Plus-Minus? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how much should any center be blamed when his starting point guard completely falls apart without warning?
Theoretically, the 24-year-old Drummond’s performance in 2016-17 should represent his basement. Reggie Jackson’s injury compromised their proven pick-and-roll partnership and forced Drummond into too many lower-efficiency post-up opportunities. Defensively, Drummond struggled with awareness, decision-making and rim-protection on an individual level, and yet the Pistons’ frontcourt personnel didn’t offer much in the way of help either. Despite his warts, Drummond’s athleticism and sheer size would surely be put to much better use on a roster that possessed average talent, depth and chemistry. A reliable, healthy floor general to feed him would go a long way, too. As it stands, Drummond must prove that his unique strengths can consistently translate to a greater degree of team success or he must evolve into a more complete all-around impact-maker before he can be regarded as one of the NBA’s brightest rising stars again. — BG