Rather than accepting that the new NBA season is still more than seven weeks away and just watching the NFL, my mind is still purely fixated on basketball. After all, why would I watch inferior sports live, when I could just stick it on NBA TV for 24 hours a day. Somewhere between my fourth and fifth Hardwood Classic of the day yesterday, I had the great idea of creating a list of the top 50 players in the NBA today. Since there isn't really a good time to create a list like this, I thought why the hell not now since there really is nothing else to talk about at this point in the NBA calendar. So here I present to you, my list of the top 50 players entering the new 2016-17 season.
Before we start, I want to clarify a few things, just in case I get abused on Twitter for not including your favorite player.
1. This is not a list of who I would pick to play in game 7 of the NBA Finals or who I would pick to win me a game of pickup. Or even a list of who has the best stats. This ranking is based on who I think has the biggest positive impact on a game of basketball.
2. That aforementioned impact is based on how I think a player would perform if they were thrown into a game tomorrow. This can be judged based on all the prior performances, with a recency bias in play, as to not favor the dinosaurs of the NBA.
3. Injuries do matter. They mostly matter when a player's performance has been affected by injuries. In this case it can be assumed that injuries will continue to alter that player's game. A good example of this would be Derrick Rose. Injuries also matter if a player has missed significant time in recent seasons, so much so that it is hard to judge that player's progression. A good example of this is Bradley Beal. Players like Eric Bledsoe and Joakim Noah who missed large chunks of the most recent 2015-16 season also take a dip down the rankings.
4. 'Choking' is a stupid concept and is not a factor that will influence these rankings.
5. I am a Celtics fan, so if you think my beloved men in green are too high, that's why.
And that's it.
Some notable exclusions from this list in no particular order are: Steven Adams, Tristan Thompson, Goran Dragic, Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tony Parker, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard, Kristaps Porzingis, Chandler Parsons and Chris Bosh (obvious reasons for him). All of them were incredibly tough cuts from the list, so don't yell at me too much.
So after all that build up, here are numbers 50 to 41. Make sure to check back here over the coming days to see numbers 40-1, as well as all my other excellent NBA content!
50. Serge Ibaka, Orlando Magic
It's difficult to get a read on exactly how good Serge Ibaka is, considering that throughout his entire career he has played as the third wheel to one of the greatest tandems in NBA history. Nobody truly knows how good he is. This season will be the first time we actually get to see what Ibaka's ceiling is, when he leads an incredibly confusing Magic team. But until he proves that he is more than just a third wheel, he will rank 50th on this list.
Ibaka's value in the NBA revolves around his defensive prowess. He's a brilliant shot blocker, who may have only blocked 1.9 shots per game this season, but changes countless attempts per game. According to NBA.com causes his opponents to shoot 5.3% worse from 6 feet and in. He's an intelligent defender, with great timing and instincts. With his athleticism and quick feet, he is one of the best switching big men in the league too, which is arguably the most important defensive skill in today's NBA. His defense is still isn't perfect, he struggles to defend savvy operators in the low post, shown off by the way he got torched by LaMarcus Aldridge in the Western Conference semifinals.
Offensively, throughout his NBA career Serge has evolved into an above average shooter. When he first entered the league, he was as raw as DeAndre Jordan, now he is able to stretch out and hit jumpers with ease, a real testament to his work ethic. With that jump shot, he has become one of the few 'unicorn' big men in the league, that can both protect the rim and stretch the floor. No team can have enough players like Ibaka. That side of his game is still far from complete though. He can't post up, make plays in space (which explains his poor pick and roll statistics) or create his own shot to save his life.
49. J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
J.J. Redick is really only good at one thing in the NBA. It just so happens that the one thing he is good at is the single most important skill in the NBA and he's really fucking good at it.
Redick isn't just a great shooter, he's unbelievable. People mistake him for being a simple catch and shoot player and while that is, in a nutshell what his game is, he does a lot more than just stand in the corner and jack up open shots. If you watch Clipper games on a regular basis, you will know that J.J. Redick never stops moving. He's never not zooming around pin-downs and flying past defenders who fall asleep for a tenth of a second, to get just open enough to launch a triple. And when he launches those triples, he makes them at a league-high rate. Last season J.J. Redick led the entire league in three-point percentage, after he canned 47.5% of his attempts from downtown. In fact, he is so good at what he does that according to Synergy, on spot up attempts last season, Redick scored 1.52 points per possession. For reference, the Warriors, who were the top scoring team in the league last season, scored just 1.14 points per possession.
Contrary to public opinion, Redick is also a gutsy defender. Sure, he's a scrawny white dude from Duke, but he works his ass off on that end of the floor. Unlike other sharpshooters, Redick actually tries, even if he doesn't have the athleticism or body to deal with a lot of the shooting guards throughout the league. He has improved year to year, so much so that he holds the man he is marking to shoot 5.7% lower than their regular percentages every time he steps out on the court.
It might seem outrageous to put a spot up shooter on this list, ahead of more established star players like Dwight Howard, Goran Dragic and Nikola Vucevic, but trust me when I say that J.J. Redick deserves to be here.
48. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Even at age 38, Dirk Nowitzki is still kicking ass.
It's hard to know where to rank Dirk on this list anymore. In all honesty, he probably belongs outside the 50. He barely rebounds anymore and in the small ball era, he's a defensive liability. But then again, last season the Mavericks found a way to build a playoff caliber offense around him, with barely anyone to help the big German. Nowitzki showed us all just enough last season to warrant his placing in this top 50. He still averaged a solid 18.3 points per game, shooting 45% from the field and 37% from deep, which was enough to lead the Mavericks back to the playoffs for the thousandth time.
He's not the same as he once was. He can't blow by bigs at the elbow anymore or draw fouls on command. But his game has adjusted well to the new age of basketball. His sweet stroke has enabled him to become a stretch four, while his post game never fails to deliver, with his flamingo fadeaway still popping up every now and then. Dirk has regressed significantly in the past few years, but for now, he still belongs in the top 50.
47. Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs
A lot of you probably expected Pau Gasol to be a lot higher than 47th, considering that even at his old age, he is still posting ridiculous numbers. During the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Gasol has averaged 18 and 16 points, respectively, while grabbing 11 rebounds per game and shooting in the high 40s in both years. Those numbers have warranted him getting onto the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the past two seasons after a three year absence and even being named on the All-NBA second team back in 2015.
But as I mentioned, this ranking isn't about your stats or anything like that, it is about how I perceive a player's impact on the game. To me, Pau Gasol doesn't provide as much of a positive impact as he used to. Defensively, if he's not standing under the basket, he's useless, as he can't guard anyone if they aren't at least as slow as him. He doesn't provide much effort when going after rebounds anymore, he tends to just not box out anymore and instead rely on his gigantic frame to snag boards. On offense, he ranks in the 47th percentile of pick and roll bigs in the league and in the 44th percentile for posting up, both of those are pretty horrific.
But even so, Pau manages to be effective in the NBA. He's a pretty decent rim protector, he's added a useful jump shot to his offensive arsenal and even though he takes a slow, methodical approach to his offense that sometimes disrupts the flow of his team, he rarely disappoints in his quests for buckets. In terms of both ESPN's real plus-minus statistic and their RPM wins stat, Gasol ranked fifth among centers in both categories, proving that even though he is probably overrated due to his inflated stats, Pau deserves a spot in the 50.
46. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Andrew Wiggins isn't quite the 'Maple Jordan' figure he was touted as being when he entered the NBA, but he's still a pretty damn good player that has already turned into a 20 point per game scorer.
That figure though doesn't tell the full story of his offensive output though. Sure, he made 46% of his field goal attempts last season, but a lot of his shots stop the flow of the offense (or whatever Sam Mitchell calls offensive flow), as without a reliable jump shot, it's hard to fit into any offense as a wing. Last season Wiggins made just 35% of his shots from 16 feet to the three-point line and just 30% of his three-point attempts. Due to the lack of established talent on the Wolves, Wiggins was relied upon much more than he should've been, in fact, he finished the year with a usage rate of 27%. This meant Wiggins had to force the issue offensively and instead of shooting the rock, he had to get into his surprisingly good low post game (87th percentile), isolate more than he should have and had to attack the rim relentlessly. With the minimal spacing and talent around him, Wiggins did very well to have the impact on each game that he did in 2016.
Despite his 20 points per game, Wiggins' biggest strength is easily his defensive ability. With a 7'0'' wingspan and freightening athleticism, Wiggins has all the hallmarks of being an elite defensive player in the future. He is tenacious on that end of the floor and is already one of the NBA's best wing defenders.
Wiggins' advanced stats don't tell that story though, as he registered a negative DBPM and a negative defensive real plus-minus. Wiggins' horrific advanced stats are one of the core reasons he isn't further up this leaderboard. Largely due to the Wolves' poor coaching last season and the lack of talent around Wiggins registered poor advanced stats across the board. He finished just 20th among shooting guards in RPM wins, had a negative box plus-minus and value over replacement.
45. Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons
Reggie Jackson is as annoying to watch as Rebecca Black's Friday at times, but he still finds ways to be a very good point guard.
There are moments within Pistons games that just make you want to break your TV. Every few minutes, Jackson will take a bad contested jumper, or gamble on a steal that he has no chance of ever getting to or he'll miss a wide open cutter. But then the rest of the time he's really quite brilliant.
The rest of the time he's a dangerous penetrator, with a dazzling array of moves, that can nail a jump shot in your face whenever he wants. He can put a defender on skates, take anyone off the dribble and score with relative ease. Every now and then he'll throw a perfect lob to Andre Drummond after reading the defense like a book, a play that has him looking like prime Rajon Rondo. He's got all the talent in the world and Stan Van Gundy has got him like 80% of the way to being a fantastic floor general, the other 20% lies within those few horrific mistakes that he makes every game. Once he cleans those areas of his game up, he could be unstoppable.
He's taken huge strides in the past year and a bit. In 2016, he averaged more than 18 points and 6 assists (both career highs) on a respectable 43.4% shooting. He's only 26 and he still has a lot of room to grow, but until I see that growth out of him, he stays right here.
44. Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz
If you haven't bought Rodney Hood's stock yet, I strongly urge you to, because it's about to go through the roof. In today's day and age, if you are an NBA coach, you can't have enough Rodney Hoods on the court at any one time. The more rangy 6'8'' wings that can shoot it with ease and be the primary ball-handler within an offense the better. He is a model image of an ideal shooting guard in 2016.
Hood's offensive game is something to be admired. At just 23 years of age, after only 2 full NBA seasons, Hood's already a knockdown shooter that can pass and handle the rock like a veteran. Last season he made 36% of his three-point attempts, canning an average of two per game, but that doesn't even tell the whole story. On spot-up attempts, he ranked in the 81st percentile among all players and on his catch and shoot attempts, he had an eFG% of 57.7%. When operating in the pick and roll, even though he's plays as an off-guard, Hood ranks in the 77th percentile among ball handlers in pick and roll situations, which is quite outstanding. Just check out this small highlight reel of a game last year:
Hood's defensive needs to improve across the board. His awareness and defensive IQ aren't up to scratch, but at 6'8'', he almost always has a size advantage on whoever he is guarding, which limits his defensive vulnerability. Due to that size, he doesn't get exposed too much defensively.
43. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Everyone was convinced that Rudy Gobert would have a breakout, Defensive Player of the Year type season in 2016, but after missing 21 games due to injury, his progression was stunted slightly. But not so much, that he would fall any lower than 43rd place on these rankings.
Despite his injury plagued season, Gobert was still as effective as ever. At 7'2'', with a 7'9'' wingspan, as everyone already knows, the Stifle Tower is probably the best rim protector in the game today. According to NBA.com, Gobert forces his opponents to shoot 11.6% lower than their average from 6 feet and in, which is insane. His length, instincts and timing are unmatched around the league. In 2015-16, he even posted the second best defensive box plus-minus in the league, behind only Tim Duncan, proving how good he is in that aspect of his game and how important he is to the Jazz.
Gobert doesn't offer much attacking wise. He has a non-existent post game, he isn't mobile enough to be truly effective as a pick and roll target and is yet to develop a jump shot. On offense he doesn't contribute too much outside of using his sheer size to finish down low and put back one of his 11 rebounds per game.
While not a complete two-way presence, Gobert is so damn effective on defense that it doesn't really matter what he does on offense. If he does ever add to his offensive repertoire, the Stifle Tower will be shooting up the rankings.
42. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala only averages 7 points per game, 4 rebounds and 3.4 assists, but he more than deserves this ranking. As mentioned in my intro, these players are ranked on how positive a impact they have on a game, not just their stats or anything along those lines. That rule was basically invented, just so I could throw Andre Iguodala on this list.
Casual NBA fans will never realize it, but Andre Iguodala was an indispensable piece to arguably the greatest team of all-time. Even as a sixth man, Iguodala was vital to the Warriors' success. He was the perfect fifth wheel to the Warriors' death lineup, as someone that can defend anyone, be a secondary ball-handler, run the break brilliantly (except when he has a certain Mr. James bearing down on him) and even hit open jump shots.
He's one of three or four players in the entire league that can capably defend LeBron James. His grit, defensive intelligence, hustle and massive 6'11'' wingspan make him one of the best perimeter defenders in the entire league. He can defend anyone Steve Kerr assigns him and when he defends them, he locks them up. As a ball-handler, he's one of the most unselfish players in the league. He's an incredibly creative passer, that helped Golden State's snipers get open time after time every game. Even though he is perceived as a non-shooter, Iguodala managed to make 35% of his attempts last season. Although most of those were wide open due to Golden State's world-beaters drawing double teams, just knowing that he can consistently drain open looks helps to complete his well-rounded game.
He had such a positive impact on the Dubs last season that when he was on the court, the Warriors were 3.9 points per 100 possessions than when he was off. When he was subbed in for Andrew Bogut to create the Dubs' death lineup, the difference in net rating between the starting lineup and the one with Iguodala was unbelievable. Throughout the season, the starters posted a healthy net rating of +13.2, but the death lineup, remembering the only change is Iguodala, had a net rating of +44.4. If that's not making a positive impact, I don't know what is.
41. Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics
I wrote up a full breakdown of Jae Crowder's game a while back, so I won't bore you with any specifics on his game. Click here to check that out.
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