Sports Illustrated is proud to offer our list of the Top 100 NBA players of 2020, an exhaustive exercise that seeks to define who will be the league's best players in the 2019-20 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 his current team context as much as possible. We’re not evaluating Kemba Walker as a Celtic, but as a concept. A player's prospects beyond the 2019-20 season do not factor into our ranking process.
Injuries and injury risks are an inevitable component of this judgment. That proved especially painful this season, as Kevin Durant,DeMarcus Cousins, and John Wall—three fixtures of the Top 100—did not make the cut specifically as a result of their long-term injuries.
Past performance (postseason included) weighed heavily in our assessment, with a skew toward the recent. Incoming rookies 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’s list, click here.
Please feel free to look back to SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014. This is the first version of the Top 100 to be made without Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver), now of the Washington Post, who was instrumental in establishing the values of this ranking. Feel free to send him any disagreements you may have concerning a list he had nothing to do with.
Andrew Wiggins scores, but to what end? One of the great sins of the box score is the way it conflates points with value. Scoring is an obvious, irrefutable good. Yet what goes unsaid in every scoring total is that the shots that made it possible could have gone to better use. This has always been part of the problem with Wiggins, who can get you 18 points per game but so often settles on his way there. Last season, there were 48 players in the NBA that averaged 18 points or more. Forty-seven of them were more efficient than Wiggins (49% true shooting), which effectively negates the point of him getting so many shots in the first place. If a player is going to rebound as infrequently, make plays as unevenly, and defend as inconsistently as Wiggins, they should be a better scorer than he is. The only thing keeping him in the Top 100 mix is the possibility for change. Even after five NBA seasons, Wiggins is just 24 years old. An upturn combined with a more mindful approach could give his career the reboot it so badly needs.
Terrence Ross has found a comfortable role as a microwave scorer for a Magic team that desperately needs him. It’s both an essential role and a protected one; by allowing Ross to come off the bench, he’s given more freedom to work and less friction to work against. The character of a team’s offense is different once a few starters step off the floor. The caliber of the opposing defense changes when working against their second- or third-best perimeter defender rather than their first. Coming in off the bench is nothing new. This level of latitude, however, is. Last season, Ross took about as many shots per minute as DeMar DeRozan or Jamal Murray, and in the process, found the best version of himself: brash but not self-destructive, dynamic but not overbearing. Ross is a creative, 6’7” wing who shot 38% from three last season and competes defensively. Every team could use a player like that, but perhaps Orlando most of all.
DeAndre Jordan, who was thrice selected for All-NBA honors and twice named an all-league defender, did not try very hard with the Knicks last season. He didn’t seem to care about defense so much as the appearance of defense, or rebounding so much as the tabulation of rebounds. After years of minding his role, Jordan tried his hand as a playmaker. Yet for every slick feed to a backdoor cutter, there were three that bounced into the hands of defenders or skipped out of bounds. Trying new things is healthy. Those new things just come at a cost when a center without much playmaking experience decides to channel his inner Nikola Jokić. If Jordan gets back to doing what he does best—starting with playing actual, attentive defense rather than chilling and chasing blocks—then he could outperform this ranking. Yet even if he does, he’s still a 31-year-old center reliant on athleticism in a league that’s strategically unkind to players of his kind.
There is a humility to working as a rim-running center, in knowing that the most important work you do will almost always go unnoticed. What makes Jarrett Allen special is that he keeps doing it without getting antsy and without complaint. Actual deference to the team is rarer than you might think. Most players are willing to make certain concessions so long as they’re still allowed some other freedoms. Allen lives in a more rigid box, in part because the Nets needed an interior balance for all their perimeter shooters. So he started games but sometimes didn’t finish them. He ran his lanes and found his spots regardless of whether he was getting touches. He dropped against pick-and-rolls and put his 9’2’’ standing reach in between the ball-handler and the basket. And, in the end, he averaged 15 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks per 36 minutes as the starting center for a playoff team. There are obvious stylistic limitations to playing the way Allen does; some were on display in the Nets’ first-round loss. There are also self-evident advantages in leaning on a big, shot-swatting center to make the most of a basic script.
Los Angeles Lakers
It remains to be seen whether Kyle Kuzma, a 30% three-point shooter last season, can really stretch the floor. What’s more credible is the way he scores from the seams. There is an improvisational bent to Kuzma that lends itself to the rapidly evolving nature of an NBA game. When he sets out with a live dribble, Kuzma might have an idea of where he wants to go or what move he wants to use, but there’s no fixed course. Everything is adaptable, in part because Kuzma can get to a wide array of runners and leaners whenever needed. He’s not really a post-up player or strictly a spot-up player. He does his best work in the spaces in between by making the most of what a defense gives him, which bodes well for a season in the Lakers’ positional clutter. This is both a feature and a bug. Were Kuzma a more defined scorer, it might be easier to build systems and lineups around him. Instead, he’s best suited getting buckets in a less scripted—and thus less focal—role.
Over the past three years, Joe Harris has emerged from the fringes of the league to make his claim as one of its best shooters—and thus an inherently valuable player. Harris is a sort of proto-Redick, only taller and more bearded. Both have led the league in three-point shooting with nearly identical percentages. Both leverage the threat of their shooting to give a possession momentum, in large part by sprinting through actions that require a defense to respond. Both are somewhat limited defensively, but reasonably responsible within a team role. Yet Harris, by virtue of being seven years younger, is still learning the nuances of all he can do on offense and what he must do to survive on defense. The difference between the two isn’t that one is a better shooter than the other. It’s that one is still learning the game and figuring out where he fits in.
San Antonio Spurs
A breakout candidate from the 2018-19 season finally gets his shot. Dejounte Murray didn’t play a single game for the Spurs last year due to a torn ACL, but the factors that made him a player of intrigue have held strong. Even after a lost year, Murray will start his third NBA season at just 23 years old. Already he has an All-Defense selection under his belt for the way he devoured opposing ball-handlers. Whether that’s repeatable on a surgically repaired knee remains to be seen, though the outlook is promising for a young player given a full year off to recover. At this stage, Murray’s offense is all upside, which is to say most of it is still embryonic. If his jumper comes along, Murray’s agility would be even more devastating. If he can rein in his handle, Murray should be able to get anywhere he wants to go. There’s a lot left to do, but on a timeline and trajectory that feel plausible.
Blessed be the end-to-end centers, who speed up fast breaks rather than slow them down. Bam Adebayo is at his best when he runs and he knows it. Better yet: he styles his game accordingly, whether that means running a lane for his teammates or bringing the ball up himself. The whole thing makes for quite a show. Adebayo has more speed, bounce, and body control than a 6’10” player rightly should. All he needs is a cohesive way to bring all those attributes together on an even more frequent basis. Once he really harnesses the force of his shot-blocking, he could anchor one of the NBA’s top defenses. If Adebayo puts his ball skills to best use, he could be a key finisher and facilitator for a high-functioning offense. These things take time. In the interim, Adebayo is 22 years old and already a lot to contend with.
The catalyst behind Spencer Dinwiddie’s success is his genuinely excellent isolation game, which is loaded with quirks to keep defenders from anticipating where he’ll go next. It helps that, at 6’6”, Dinwiddie doesn’t need all that much space to fire up a jumper. A slight step back or to the side would do just fine, forcing a defender to dance with every move Dinwiddie makes. Considering how much of his work is done strictly on the perimeter, he draws an uncanny number of fouls—less an indicator of pure speed than off-the-dribble ingenuity. By skill set, Dinwiddie is probably more CJ McCollum than Damian Lillard, in that he’s better suited to punching-up an offense with scoring than running one full time. It’s not as if he can’t generate good looks for others. That work just might not come as naturally as when Dinwiddie creates for himself.
San Antonio Spurs
As a second-year player filling in a starting role, Derrick White scored well enough to demand that the Nuggets adjust their coverage in a playoff series. This is an expression of the most fundamental kind of basketball value. If opponents don’t take White seriously, he will exploit them. It all seems simple enough until making the adjustment forces an opponent out of their comfort zone—demanding a cross-match they’d rather not make, or pulling a perimeter defender away from some other noteworthy assignment. Yet teams like the Nuggets make those changes because staying in front of White is more challenging than it might seem. He isn’t lightning quick or exceptional as a shooter. He’s just 6’4’’ and clever—a combination that can get White into the lane and take his attempts over the top. Where White’s career takes him is difficult to predict, seeing as he’s already 25 years old. It’s possible that his development could hit an early plateau, though a stint with Gregg Popovich for Team USA this summer—a catalyst for career growth if there ever was one—can’t hurt. At worst, we’re looking at a stout-defending combo guard with enough shake to his game to keep things interesting.
When given the freedom to lead an offense, some young players wind up leaning into their worst impulses. Zach LaVine, to his credit, has sought to correct his. After years of settling for pull-up jumpers, one of the league’s most dazzling athletes came back from an ACL tear and made it a point to drive. LaVine took more shots at the rim than ever before. He got to the line for six free throw attempts per game—a top-20 mark that compares favorably with Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, and Kemba Walker. Even if we grant that playing for a bad team allows LaVine to play through his mistakes and pile up points (and pile them up he did, to the tune of 23.7 per game), it’s meaningful that he boosted his scoring efficiency in spite of his circumstances. LaVine isn’t perfect. But it’s so much easier to stomach his awful defense and learning-on-the-job playmaking when he’s able to both convert difficult shots and create easy ones.
Los Angeles Lakers
Any player who relies on three-point shooting as much as Danny Green does (they comprise nearly 70% of his shot attempts) will trudge through some uneven play, perhaps even a poorly timed slump in the thick of the Eastern Conference finals. Those lows—in which no shot seems to fall—are painful. They’re also only a glimpse of a much larger picture, starting with an 82-game regular season and possibly extending through a deep playoff run. An acceptance that Green’s shot (and thus his primary means of contributing to an offense) might fail him at an inopportune time prevents him from ranking higher. Everything else, however, solidifies his case as one of the most impactful role players in the league. Green can blanket a star point guard or hound an All-NBA wing; he has a knack for getting stops in transition, negating some of the most efficient looks in basketball; and even when his shot isn’t falling, most opponents would rather not cheat away from a shooter of Green’s stature. The ingredients of his game are simple. But damn if they aren’t effective.
Ranking a player like Jonas Valančiūnas is, at its core, an assessment of the traditional big in the modern league. There are certain contemporary accents to Valančiūnas’ skill set: the odd three, patches of rim running, and a combination of size and skill that’s conducive to switch-busting. Yet at his core, Valančiūnas is a seven-footer most comfortable with hand-to-hand combat. There is still a place for that sort of player in today’s NBA, though their mileage will vary. Young teams without much in the way of stars or infrastructure can lean on Valančiūnas to produce, just as the Grizzlies did. Yet where winning teams—like the Raptors—are concerned, there are diminishing returns to what Valančiūnas can offer beyond 20 minutes or so. Too many teams can string him out in space or force him into uncomfortable mismatches. Too many bigs can wrestle with him in the post, paring down his biggest advantage. All of this leaves Valančiūnas as something of a niche player, albeit the kind that can make room for 19.9 PPG and 10.7 RPG from the comfort of that niche.
Jeff Teague’s brand is competence. There will be times where he leaves his team a bit wanting, but far more where he quietly—and reliably—keeps an offense running as it should. There are better point guards. There are also many with flaws far more egregious than any of Teague’s, and far more detrimental. The 2018-19 season was effectively a lost season for Teague: destabilized (and ended) by injury, complicated by Jimmy Butler’s forced exit, and subject to an uncharacteristic dip in shooting from most areas of the floor. Still, Teague managed a career-best 8.2 assists per game (tied for third in the league) in the relative chaos. While he was on the floor, players like Karl-Anthony Towns (+2.4% true shooting) and Robert Covington (+6%) were noticeably more efficient. The more indecisive streaks to Teague’s game will always be a bit frustrating. Yet on balance, he helps his teammates along without ever threatening to disrupt the natural order. Not every point guard needs designs for stardom. Some can just show up and quietly go to work.
What makes Andre Iguodala a bit of a wild card on this list is that he can be such a magnificent grouch. Few in the league better understand what makes for winning basketball. Yet if Iguodala isn’t in the right locker room or even in the right mood, his cantankerousness could cause more problems than it ever did for the Warriors. We know how incredible Iguodala was for Golden State—not just in play, but intellectually and spiritually. But will he be the same kind of influence in Memphis when no game really matters? Or for a mid-level playoff team where certain teammates are pulling their own way? Iguodala can be a high-impact player in the most difficult games and series on the board. In question is whether he really wants to trudge through the rest of them, especially for a team with less certain prospects than the dynastic Warriors.
New Orleans Pelicans
Calibrating these rankings to account for injury is difficult enough. Brandon Ingram, however, faces an even greater uncertainty after his 2018-19 season ended early due to deep venous thrombosis, a complication from blood clotting with potentially life-changing implications. There have been no official updates from either the Lakers or Pelicans as to Ingram’s status, though the fact that he was included in a trade for Anthony Davis—an event that requires he pass a physical or have it waived by his new team—could be read as a positive sign. This ranking does reflect a level of caution. At the very least, Ingram has averaged 56 games played over his last two seasons due to ailment and injury. The ramifications of that have to be considered before debating the merits of Ingram’s game.
As for the actual basketball: any player who can score when given the opportunity holds a certain baseline value. The question with Ingram is whether—given all the appeal of a smooth, 6’9” creator—he can do so in a way that carries a team to solvency. Sure, Ingram can put up points if you feature him within the offense. He averaged 18.3 points a game a night for the Lakers last season. But should a team really build its offense around a player of middling efficiency that doesn’t necessarily collapse the defense? And if you don’t put the ball in Ingram’s hands, is his ho-hum work as a shooter and cutter really conducive to high-level play? It would be entirely reasonable to find optimism in all that Ingram can do. It just seems more likely that Ingram will continue to float along, impressing on some nights and fading into the background on others.
Al-Farouq Aminu is the sort of defender who would feel right at home in any system. Not only does that make him more valuable in a vacuum, but also within the context of a game or series. If there’s a need for his team to adjust defensive styles on the fly, Aminu can shift from showing to trapping to switching without issue. There is a freedom in that—particularly in a league where changing a team’s style of coverage so often requires changing the lineups involved. If anything, Aminu can sometimes feel that squeeze on the other end of the floor, where his cuts, hustle plays, and iffy long-range shooting can only offer a team so much. Spacing becomes an issue when Aminu shares the floor with other below-average shooters. So long as a team can minimize those instances, it can benefit from the better, more cohesive defense that Aminu makes possible.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Once or twice a game, Jaren Jackson Jr. will do something on the court that is genuinely alarming for a player of his size (6’11”). Sometimes it’s a step-back three over LeBron James. On another night, he might use his length to break up what looked to be a sure thing: a layup or dunk attempted without worry that anyone was even within range. Sometimes his most notable plays don’t even seem all that spectacular. They’re still catnip for coaches, in part because Jackson’s best work exhibits a preternatural sense of timing. Jackson doesn’t even really know what he’s doing in the grand scheme of things, and still he’s able to get the jump on opponents all the same. Overplays and lapses are part of the package with any 20-year-old big. You accept them gladly with Jackson because of his fascinating potential and all it might mean.
Marcus Smart makes his debut in the SI Top 100 after his most impressive season to date—and his first in which he managed to shoot better than 40% from the field. Specialists are notoriously hard to rank, for the simple reason that they can provide different teams with dramatically different value. Smart simplified that analysis by more fully rounding out his game. Not only did he shoot 36% from beyond the arc, but he did so at volume, hitting just 11 fewer threes for the season than Kevin Durant did. Smart’s attempts obviously come much easier. What’s important, though, is that his career-best shooting wasn’t some fluke of infrequency. Smart is a better shooter than he was previously, and a more stable playmaker, and a better finisher. There is still an unpredictability to Smart’s game, only it doesn’t manifest in the kinds of wild swerves that would derail possessions. All of which only serves to qualify what we already knew to be true: that Smart is one of the sport’s most suffocating defenders, capable of swinging games even before his offense gave him a chance.
Los Angeles Clippers
In the history of this list, we’ve tried to reward in some small way the players whom other pros enjoy playing with. Patrick Beverley gets a slight bump by the opposite logic, as the kind of defender no sane person wants to play against. There’s not a fear factor with Beverley so much as an awareness of all the trouble he’ll cause. Forget the easy looks you were hoping to find; by challenging the routine—bringing the ball upcourt, initiating the offense, etc.—Beverley can rock an entire offense off its center. On the other side of the ball, the veteran guard is a more substantive contributor than he’s given credit. Beverley is at his best when he shares custody of an offense, but not because he can’t run his own pick-and-rolls or manufacture points when needed. Some players simply understand their limitations enough to know when to step aside.
Last season was a mild renaissance for Serge Ibaka at age 29, who found the verve in his game after a few sleepy years for the Magic and Raptors. It’s hard to say exactly why. Ibaka played largely the same role for the same team he had previously, though with the benefit of more support—and the ease of reduced pressure. Maybe that was enough. Other bigs could relieve Ibaka on his rougher nights. Kawhi Leonard and the evolving Pascal Siakam could carry Toronto for stretches and take some of the stress out of Ibaka’s contributions. When shielded in that way, Ibaka again became a game-changing player for a championship run. He isn’t a particularly impactful scorer, a high-volume rebounder, or even the shot-blocking force he used to be. Ibaka is simply the kind of adaptive big who can be a significant net-positive in four playoff series against four distinct opponents—among them the Sixers, Bucks, and Warriors.
New York Knicks
Ranking a player like Julius Randle is as much a basketball evaluation as a question of philosophy. Those who believe that all production is created equal could only be impressed with his stat line: 21.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG and 3.1 APG. This is the stuff of stardom. Those who would qualify those sorts of vanity stats, however, would see Randle as a more complicated figure. This ranking leans toward the latter interpretation. There isn’t that much evidence to suggest that Randle actually made the Pelicans all that much better last season—only that he managed to accumulate the kinds of base-level stats that earn a player attention and get him paid. That isn’t to say that Randle was selfish or ill-intentioned. Randle played with force and made the most of his role. Yet even production like his can only count for so much when achieved through blunt, straight-line creation and spacey defense to offset. It’s not entirely his fault, but there are reasons why Randle hasn’t yet been to the playoffs or been on a team that won more than 35 games.
Portland Trail Blazers
Last time we saw Jusuf Nurkić in uniform, he was carted off the court with a gruesome compound fracture in his left leg. The closest that Portland has come to offering a timetable for his return was through general manager Neil Olshey, who noted during a telecast of the Las Vegas Summer League that Nurkić “won’t be back until February, maybe”—a loose forewarning that the Blazers’ best option at center could miss half of the regular season. It should go without saying that a fully healthy Nurkić would rank higher than No. 78. His play last season was the surest of his career on both sides of the ball. Nurkić made stronger moves to the rim instead of relying on poorly balanced flip shots. His defense was not only attentive, but more reliable than ever. The trouble lies in reconciling that player—the one Nurkić was—with the one he’ll be when he returns and the costs of missing so much time in the interim.
Los Angeles Clippers
In a first-round series against a team with two MVPs and three other All-Stars, Montrezl Harrell was often one of the best players on the floor. An impact series against the Warriors is quite an endorsement; Golden State is the kind of team that singles out its more flawed opponents, but instead it difficult to keep up with a center as kinetic as Harrell. It’s fair to wonder if we’ve already seen Harrell—a 6’8” center with great per-minute production—in his best possible role. What’s inarguable is his effectiveness in it. Harrell will come off the bench and outwork his opponents, but along the way he’ll face up to take them off the dribble or finish over the top when they try to stop him. There’s real finesse to his game, only supercharged.
In the long tradition of super subs, very few have been as productive as Domantas Sabonis was for the Pacers last season. Averaging 14.8 points (on 63% true shooting) and 9.3 rebounds in just under 25 minutes per game is some awfully quick work—the kind that could easily translate to any number of teams and systems. Certain considerations need to be taken into account with Sabonis (namely: how to support him defensively), but the accessibility of his game is a big part of its appeal. Simple action and decent spacing can give Sabonis all he needs to be effective against most opponents. The next step is outfoxing teams in the playoffs, where a defense will sit on all his favorite spots and anticipate his inevitable move back to his left hand.
The question with players like Lauri Markkanen is this: When does offensive production translate to winning production? It’s not exactly his fault that the Bulls went 22-60 last season, but it’s also not as if Chicago was anywhere close to breaking even during his minutes on the floor. Young players can be thrilling. They can be promising. Not often are they actually that conducive to winning basketball games, which is the foremost criterion in the making of this list. This ranking reflects a sort of optimism in Markkanen turning the corner this season. He’s entering his third year after showing meaningful progress, he’ll be 23 years old at season’s end, and he’s already showcased his talents to the tune of 18.7 PPG and 9.0 RPG. Markkanen has a chance to be one of the premier stretch bigs in the league. First he just needs to break even.
P.J. Tucker is a tree stump of a stretch five, standing just 6’6” but effectively immovable. It’s more than just strength that sets him apart. Tucker understands perfectly how his stance can give him the leverage he needs to withstand a bruising post-up. He’s as sharp as any player in the league when it comes to anticipating an opponent’s moves and beating them to a spot. In some ways, the work of a top individual defender and a top team defender draw on different skill sets—or, at the very least, the same skills applied differently. Tucker dazzles in both respects and across positions. Any defender who could credibly guard the best forwards in the league is valuable on those merits alone. That Tucker also unlocked Houston’s most important and transformative lineups amplifies that value considerably.
Ricky Rubio has played eight seasons in the NBA, and still his shot has yet to come around. That single issue forces him to play at a deficit. Whenever Rubio delivers some timely, clever pass, what goes unsaid is that they should happen even more often, if only the defense had reason to honor the threat of his scoring. Rubio shoots a passable percentage from mid-range when opponents leave him wide open and finished better around the rim last season than he ever had previously. It just isn’t enough to consistently leverage an opponent’s attention against them, forcing Rubio to work uphill to create anything at all for his teammates. There’s only so much a playmaking guard can really accomplish when he shoots just 31% from beyond the arc. That he sits at No. 73 on this list in spite of all this is a credit to everything else he has to offer. Defending at a high level, reading the floor well, and actively keeping your teammates engaged can go a long way.
Harrison Barnes is reliable, professional, and unfortunately caught in the middle. Most low-usage wings are less skilled than he is, and thus marginalized accordingly. Yet most high-usage wings are more productive, more efficient, or at least more comfortable moving the ball—three qualities crucial to maintaining a healthy defense. What’s a team to do with a player like Barnes, who is overqualified as a role player but ill-suited to be a star? Attempts by Dallas and Sacramento to strike some sort of compromise have led to mixed results. It’s encouraging that Barnes is coming off the best three-point shooting season of his career (39.4% on 5.7 attempts per game) and remains a solid, multi-positional defender. The tradeoff is that Barnes defaults to stopping the ball too often, preferring to survey a situation rather than make quick, instinctive reads. Diligent players and teams can work around that sort of tendency, though there’s a natural friction when the ball-stopper in question isn’t quite a star-level creator.
The baseline for Josh Richardson begins with his All-Defense-worthy credentials, deployable across three positions. Whichever opponent handles the ball most will find Richardson embedded deep in their personal space. There isn’t often room to dribble safely, much less make an actual move. Forget making a play when it’s challenging enough to even read the floor. Miami has leaned on Richardson for years to operate as its first line of defense, and increasingly as a prominent source of offense as well. Shot creation might not come to him naturally, though it does come—in pick-and-rolls, in curls around screens, and in any scenario that gives him even the slightest edge. Richardson has some combo guard skills. He simply needs a little help creating the space to use them, and enough help on-hand to prevent their overuse.
Thaddeus Young’s game is 100% mortar, a feat of cohesion and structure. Whatever the pieces around him, a quality team defense seems to follow. Stopping opponents is just simpler when there’s an intuitive big involved to rotate ahead of the action. Teammates on the perimeter are given license to pressure—to play even more tenaciously than they would otherwise. A coaching staff could call for any variety of coverage, secure in the knowledge that Young will execute his role and communicate with others. Young himself has some of the best hands in the business and a knack for finding his way into the thick of things. On defense, that manifests in a steal rate that’s rare among bigs. On offense, Young’s nose for the action leads him to all sorts of makeshift scoring opportunities: from shortish rolls to third-option reads to completely broken plays. It can all seem a bit random or insignificant in the moment. Yet when taken in total, it’s the kind of stuff that holds a team together.
There has always been a spark to Caris LeVert’s game, the kind that makes a drive more than a drive and a crossover more than a crossover. Many of his moves are a preview of what’s to come. You can see the flair and imagination that might catch a high-level defense by surprise. His more unconventional moves, in the right light, might seem unguardable. Before dislocating his foot in gruesome fashion last season, LeVert averaged 18.4 points, 3.7 assists, and 4.3 rebounds in a compelling 14-game showcase. (LeVert would return to play 26 more games, though in a different role after the Nets evolved in his absence.) It’s fair to wonder whether those numbers would have held, though not to deny the talents that made them possible. For as much as LeVert can still learn about the delicate work of running a team, the capacity to do so—a rare quality—is there.
Just when Jaylen Brown seemed ready to enter the next phase of his development, his game—and Boston’s entire season—went sideways. These things happen. Even successful careers in basketball can usually be traced in zigs and zags, bouncing off contextual factors and natural limitations. If Brown only turns out to be the uneven contributor he was last season, he would still help his team win. Added intrigue comes with his upward mobility. Any wing with Brown’s skill, bounce, and intelligence has the makings of a star, if only they could find the traction. To reach that point, Brown will need to find comfort in making quick decisions; refine his work with the ball; and harness his athleticism more fully. There’s a strong frame in place. Now it’s up to Brown to find what all it can bear.