Kemba Walker is the 39th 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: Kemba Walker has been miscast as a point guard for his entire career. In the past the Bobcats/Hornets have relied on him to initiate their offense and it’s failed. The system dragged, they were forced to play slow isolation ball and Walker seemed like a good stats, bad team guy. And then everything changed when Nic Batum became his backcourt mate.

Suddenly Walker could be a scorer and only a scorer, and boy howdy did he do it well last season. His assist rate hit a career low, but his points, field goal percentage and three-point percentage were all career highs. With Batum (and to a lesser extent Jeremy Lin) on the floor he finally got a chance to learn to move without the ball because for the first time in his career, someone else on the floor was capable of having the ball in their hands. He developed a decent right corner-three that became something of an off-ball trademark (48% from that right corner).

This is the player Walker was meant to be. He’s simply not a point guard, and if he has to be the only ball-handler on an offense it’s going to fail. But if he’s paired with some quick-twitch passers that allow him to do the things that he does well, he’s suddenly a near-All Star caliber player.

Why He’s Below No. 38 (DeMar DeRozan): Because DeRozan does everything Walker does but slightly better. Walker is good at getting to the rim, DeRozan is great. Walker is good at drawing fouls, DeRozan is great. The list goes on and on. DeRozan is basically just the better Walker.

Case in point: they share a major flaw: shot selection. Walker’s is better than DeMar’s, as DeRozan barely ever shoot’s three’s, but for Kemba to shoot in the mid-30’s percentage wise on virtually every region of long-two’s is simply unacceptable considering his volume. You can’t go 33-99 from a two-point region of the court and continue taking those shots. It’s bad basketball.

And it’s not as though Walker plays defense either. At least DeRozan is long and can challenge shots, but it takes real effort to hide Kemba defensively. It’s not that he’s outright terrible, but he’s too small to guard any position besides point guard and his effort doesn’t cut it against most of them. As his athleticism starts to wane that’s going to become a real problem. Actually it already is one. Walker is a one-dimensional scorer.

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.