DeMar DeRozan is the 38th Best Player in Basketball

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Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s Great: DeMar DeRozan does two things very well: he gets to the basket, and he draws fouls. He does them better than just about anyone. he makes 63% of his shots within three feet of the basket. Only centers do that. James Harden is the only other guard in that class. Speaking of Harden, only he and DeMarcus Cousins shot more free throws last year. If you want someone to do those two specific things, you’d be hard pressed to find someone better than DeRozan.

But give DeMar credit, he’s trying to expand his game. He took almost two three-pointers per game last season and made almost 34% of them. That’s not good, but we’re talking about someone who takes more long-two’s than just about anyone in basketball. Any time he takes a step back and tries for the extra point is a good thing, and he’s finally hitting them at least at a league-average rate. That threat is largely responsible for his career high in points per game last year.

And hey, at least he tries on defense now! With his length he can almost always affect shooters, but he’s tall enough to switch onto most modern forwards. He’s a versatile C- defender which makes him a C+ or so overall. Teams can live with that considering what he provides on offense.

Why He’s Below No. 37 (C.J McCollum): C.J. may not be as big as DeMar, but he tries way harder on defense and is getting a lot better at just staying in front of guys and being helpful. That counts for something considering McCollum’s shooting makes him a more valuable offensive player. If a tiebreaker were necessary, it would go to C.J. for his passing as well.

DeRozan’s skill set is just so specific, you need to build around it and that’s a tough ask for someone who can’t shoot three’s or pass. That’s why the Raptors were so much better without him on the floor, their net rating jumped from +3.0 with him to +7.6 without him. Part of what made the Toronto bench so good was how freely they were able to move the ball without worrying about DeRozan’s isolations.

Take this stat, lineups with Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph averaged 22.7 assists per 100 possessions. That’s more than any team averaged over the entire season and it’s not close. But the Raptors as a whole, including DeRozan’s minutes, were 28th in the league in assists per 100. That’s the DeRozan effect. It’s manageable with the right players around him, but if his team isn’t careful it’s just so easy to devolve into strict isolation basketball.

K.C. Jones is the 13th Best Coach in NBA History

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Throughout the Offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 15 coaches in NBA History

Total Seasons: 11

Total Championships: 2

Regular Season Record: 552-306

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .643

Playoff Record: 81-61

Playoff Winning Percentage: .570

 

Why he’s great: Pride is the downfall of many great coaches. Jones’ predecessor in Boston, Bill Fitch, was arguably a more accomplished coach than him. But he had to run the Celtics his way, and it eventually cost him the team. Jones’ best trait as a coach was his least noticed: he knew how to stay the hell out of the way.

There’s something to be said for that. How much coaching does Larry Bird really need? Jones was smart enough to keep a steady hand on the Celtics without becoming overbearing, allowing them to operate as adults without risking an undisciplined locker room because he knew the veterans would keep it in line. Pat Riley was never able to do that. Phil Jackson is struggling with it right now. No matter how great a coach is, he has to know when to trust his team to figure things out naturally.

His reputation could’ve been much greater. He was fired after only three seasons coaching the Washington Bullets despite winning 155 games and making the NBA Finals. Had he been able to coach them through the decade, he likely would’ve been there to win the 1978 championship instead of Dick Motta. Had he won a title with an aging Wes Unseld instead of Bird, he might get a bit more respect from casual fans. Still, I’m not sure Jones is complaining about winning two rings and leading arguably the greatest team ever in the ’86 Celtics.

 

Why he’s not higher: Coaching Larry Bird is a double-edged sword. He doesn’t need much coaching, but he also doesn’t need much coaching. How much credit are we going to give someone who sat at the head of the best organization in basketball? He always had great players and, if anything, probably should’ve won at least one more championship.

The peripherals on most of his teams are also questionable. Every one of his Celtics teams won more games than their Pythagorean expectation would suggest, meaning they likely received an unsustainable amount of luck through things like bad bounces, 50/50 balls, officiating and so on. Not one of his non-Boston teams ever finished higher than 9th in offensive efficiency, and his short tenures with Seattle and Washington indicate potential discord we weren’t aware of.

If Jones had a more distinctive brand of coaching we might be able to overlook that, but there just honestly isn’t much evidence to suggest he was a particularly great coach outside of his great players. So by accomplishment he has to make this list, but it’d be unfair to rank him any higher than this.

Kristaps Porzingis is the 40th Best Player in Basketball

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Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s Great: Last season, as a rookie, Kristaps Porzingis had a game in which he made two three-pointers, blocked seven shots, grabbed 14 rebounds and turned the ball over only three times. That has never happened in NBA history. I repeat, that has NEVER happened in NBA history. Here’s the proof. Keep in mind, this happened when he was a rookie.

And things like this are going to keep happening. Nothing can be taken off of the board. Might the Knicks try him as the ball-handler in a pick-and-roll? Is he mobile enough to play small forward in ultra big lineups? Imagine a super villain cloned Dirk Nowitzki, but some of Hakeem Olajuwon’s DNA was already in the vile and then they just stuck a bit of flubber on his shoes for fun. That’s pretty much what we’re looking at with KP.

There is absolutely no precedent for what Kristaps Porzingis might one day become. We’re talking about an all-time rim protecter who projects as a future knockdown shooter. He’s 7’3”, but he still played in 72 games as a rookie. As far as we can tell, he’s a one-of-a-kind player who’s going to be durable enough to stay on the court enough to prove it.

Why He’s Below No. 39 (Kemba Walker): We have no idea when Porzingis is going to hit his peak because his peak simply doesn’t exist in NBA history. There’s no timetable for his development. He might turn into a superstar as early as next season. He also might just be a slightly better version of his rookie self, someone good for 16 or 17 inefficient points and a mixed bag of rebounding, passing and shot-blocking. No. 40 is splitting the difference. Kemba Walker is a star right now. He already is who he’s going to be as a player, and that’s much easier to project.

And it’s not as though Porzingis is a flawless super player. He’s so skinny that bigger forwards and centers can still bully him. His basketball IQ still has a long way to go and there are still certain defensive rotations that make him look lost. And for all of the blustering about what his shot is going to be, over his last 20 games of last season he made fewer than 30% of his three’s.

We have to be honest about who Porzingis is right now, a gawky pseudo-rookie barely out of his teens without a stable organization to guide him. He’s going to be great. But right now, he’s just good.

J.J. Redick is the 41st Best Player in Basketball

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Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s GreatJ.J. Redick might’ve just had the second-best shooting season in NBA history. He became just the second player ever to make at least 200 three-pointers and shooting 47.5% or better from long range. Only Kyle Korver has ever done that, but you completely didn’t notice because of everything Stephen Curry did.

But shooting is far from Redick’s only contribution. He’s one of the more underrated defenders in basketball. Opposing shooters shot 3.3% worse against Redick than against an average defender and the Clippers’ defense was 3.3 points per 100 possessions worse without Redick on the floor than with him. He’s one of the more physical defenders of his size in basketball and he never gets any credit for it.

He can even dribble a little bit! He made 53.4% of shots on drives last season and averaged two per game. That’s not a huge number, but it’s added value. Most catch-and-shooters can’t move with the ball. That Redick can makes him that much more dangerous.

Redick’s reputation is based largely on opinions formed when he was in college. It’s stupid. He’s one of the best two-way players in basketball and it’s time we started treating him like it.

Why He’s Below No. 40 (Kristaps Porzingis): Because all of those things Redick does well, Porzingis does too. And Porzingis is 7’3”. A 7’3” shooter/dribbler/defender is more important than a  6’4” shooter/dribbler/defender.

Plus, Redick is getting older. He’s 32 and has played 10 seasons. Shooting ages well, but other skills don’t. He’s going to start wearing down, and his foot was hurt far worse than anyone believed at the time. There’s every reason to believe that he’s going to get better and have a great season, but most of the players on this list are in their 20’s. Redick is at a disadvantage against them.

And Redick’s skills are inherently complementary. Yes, he can dribble, but he can dribble in the way that Scooby Doo can speak. It’s technically true but would you want Scooby Doo giving a lecture on particle physics? No, because his English is great for a dog but crappy by normal standards. Redick’s best skills work far better with great teammates than they do with crappy ones. He never has to defend the best guard on the other team, he gets plenty of open three’s, these are things that happen when you play with Chris Paul. Redick can’t be blamed for that, but he loses some credit. Paul makes everyone look great.

Don Nelson is the 14th Best Coach in NBA History

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 30: Head coach Don Nelson of the Golden State Warriors yells against the Memphis Grizzlies during an NBA game on March 30, 2009 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 15 coaches in NBA History

Total Seasons: 30

Total Championships: 0

Regular Season Record: 1335-1063

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .557

Playoff Record: 75-91

Playoff Winning Percentage: .452

 

Why he’s great: Arguably the greatest offensive coach of all time, Nelson coached parts of 31 NBA seasons and his offense finished among the top-5 in points per possession 13 times. He did it with players in Milwaukee you’ve never heard of and he did it with superstars in Dallas and Golden State, but the one thing those teams had in common was pace.

Along with Rick Adelman, Nelson was among the first coaches to embrace pace-and-space offenses. His Warrior teams finished in the top-10 for three point attempts every season he was there and often ended up much further, and he was largely responsible for developing an offense around the greatest shooting big man of all time, Dirk Nowitzki.

Though he never won a championship as a head coach, Nelson did orchestrate one of the greatest upsets in playoff history when his 2007 Warriors beat the 67-win Mavericks in the first round. Though his offense took center stage, Nelson’s strategy to use smaller defenders on Dirk Nowitzki unnerved Dallas, proving his versatility as a coach.

Timing proved to be Nelson’s greatest enemy, as his Mavericks managed to make the Finals the year after he left but did it largely by beating an Amar’e Stoudemire-less Phoenix team in the Western Conference Finals. Had he stuck around, he may have pushed Dallas over the top against Miami. In any case, he laid the groundwork for that finals team and even the 2011 version that won the championship.

 

Why he’s not higher: Nellie’s stubbornness proved to be his undoing on multiple occasions. Had he been willing to play Chris Webber at power forward instead of center he might have been able to keep him and build the sort of contender Webber eventually found in Sacramento. It’s also fair to wonder why Steve Nash improved so significantly after leaving Nelson for Phoenix. For whatever reason, many players who seemed logical fits in his system ended up thriving without him.

His lineup choices were also often rigid and too focused on star power and offense. Veteran Antoine Walker started all 82 games of the 2003-04 season for Nelson due to his reputation as a scorer, but he posted miserable .428/.269/.554 shooting splits and was among the worst defensive players in basketball. Had he been willing to play youngsters Marquis Daniels and Josh Howard more instead, the Mavericks may have finished higher than 26th in defensive efficiency.

That was Nellie’s fatal flaw. Though he wasn’t necessarily a bad defensive coach, he was so fixated on offense that he made decisions that ultimately caused more harm than good. Had he been more willing to try to coax scoring out of defensive players, his teams might have had more playoff success and he could have a championship ring.

Derrick Favors is the 42nd Best Player in Basketball

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Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s Great: More than any other player in basketball, you know exactly what to expect out of Derrick Favors every night:

  • 16-20 points.
  • 8-10 rebounds.
  • B+ or better defense.
  • Brick wall screens.

Boom. It’s that simple. That’s what you’re getting. Favors scored in single digits only six times last season despite averaging only 16 points per game. That’s consistency at the highest level, though he’s still more than capable of carrying an offense for a game or two.

It’s nearly impossible to accurately measure Favors’ impact as a rim protector because he plays next to Rudy Gobert, but that in itself makes a point about the quality of his overall defense. He’s slowly becoming a switcher, learning the nuance of guarding smaller players in bits and pieces over the past year and a half. He’s above-average already and getting better. Should Utah decide to dedicate more of their defense to switching or blitzing, Favors is up to the task.

And then there’s his low-post game, underrated both narratively and statistically. Yes, Favors only scored 0.86 points per possession on post ups last season, but he did that through injuries and on a team with some of the worst spacing in basketball. Just think about it for a second. How is a defense going to treat Favors posting up when Gobert is on the floor? They’re just going to double Favors and ignore Rudy. Favors is a good passer but not good enough to make up for one of the worst offensive players in basketball. That he can generate any scoring at all under the circumstances is simply remarkable.

Why He’s Below No. 41 (J.J. Redick): Redick can play in any lineup. Favors might not be able to. He isn’t the dinosaur some make him out to be, but he has trouble with smaller bigs like Draymond Green and is likely the odd man out defensively against small lineups in general as he and Gobert simply aren’t good enough offensively to justify playing together.

He has some range on his jumper, and there have been whispers about him developing a corner-three, but until it actually happens he’s just always going to struggle to stay on the court late in modern NBA games. Bigs have done it before, but Paul Millsaps are rare. Favors is never going to be great at defending smaller players no matter how much better he gets and he’s likely never going to provide enough spacing to share the floor with Gobert. He’d simply be better off on another team, something that shouldn’t affect these rankings, but it’s hard to know how good he really is on a Utah team with such a cramped floor.

Plus, he committed a cardinal basketball sin last season. The Jazz were better with him off of the court. Utah had a +1.1 net rating with him on the floor and a +2.0 net rating without him. I can’t offer a good explanation for that, but it’s just very damning. You can’t make the top-40 without a real reason for your team playing better without you. Roster construction plays a part, but that still looks very bad.

Steven Adams is the 43rd Best Player in Basketball

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Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s Great: How valuable is Steven Adams’ rebounding? Well let’s see. The average team received around 23.8% of their own offensive rebounds, per Nylon Calculus. Adams was worth 12.5% last season… by himself. The average qualifying center, per ESPN’s Hollinger numbers, gets around 9.9%. The Thunder scored 1.1 points per possession last season, and Adams’ rebounding gave them 2.6 more touches per 100 possessions. That’s 2.86 free points per 100 possessions Adams generates on the offensive boards… and it’s not even the most important thing he brings to the table!

That would his defense, and holy mackerel does Adams defense. Opposing shooters made shot 5.2% worse from the field against Adams than they did against a league-average defender, a number that’s impressive on its face but even more so when you think about Oklahoma City’s scheme. Adams was, more often than not, the big caught in opposing pick-and-rolls, forced to switch onto guards. Serge Ibaka got the cushier general rim-protection gig while Adams was jumping out onto the perimeter. As we saw in the playoffs, he does that very well.

Oklahoma City’s defense flat out died when Adams sat, with their defensive rating dropping from 99 points per 100 with him to over 107 without him. For all the credit Ibaka gets, Adams was really the linchpin of the Thunder defense that nearly toppled Golden State.

And hey, he’s turned himself into an effective roller! The Thunder scored an excellent 1.12 points per possession on Adams pick-and-rolls, obviously due more to Russell Westbrook, but the big man still has to do his job. Adams has found ways to generate value on offense where none previously existed, making himself far more playable late in games.

Why He’s Below No. 42 (Derrick Favors): Think of Favors as a slightly better version of Adams who can score on his own. They rebound similarly for their positions (Favors grabs 10% of offensive rebounds, but is also a power forward). He’s a little bit quicker on defense and his rolls are largely as effective as Adams’. Combine that with Favors’ low-post scoring and Adams is just a hair worse.

It’s not even that Adams is bad in the low post. The Thunder just don’t use him there. He’s more valuable as a screener offensively, so the Thunder move him around to facilitate other players. That’s fine, but there’s a cap on how important any offensive player can be when they aren’t scoring. Favors isn’t subject to it. In fact, the Jazz dump the ball into Favors and tell him to score four or five times every game.