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.

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.

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.

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.

Avery Bradley is the 44th 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: You know about the defense. Avery Bradley is going to be the next Tony Allen in that he’ll never let you forget that he’s First Team All Defense. Make your peace with that, it’s going to be our next five years as basketball fans. He’s that good. But let’s talk about Bradley’s offense.

Avery Bradley attempted five three-pointers as a rookie. He was Tony Allen on offense. Downright useless. And then things started to turn.

Bradley worked himself into a consistent 35-36% shooter on a high volume of three-pointers. Boston scored 1.07 points per possession on his spot ups last season, well above average for any player or possession. He’s a willing cutter who’s always in the right position, and his passing as an off-guard is a legitimate asset especially on a team with a shoot-first point guard in Isaiah Thomas. Bradley could’ve easily made a living in the NBA off of his defense alone, but over the past few years, he’s become an above-average offensive player in his own right.

In a league desperate for D-AND-three players, that’s an absolute boon for the Celtics. Bradley is now legitimately good enough to be the centerpiece of a Kevin Love trade. He’s one of the rarest breeds of small NBA guards: a complete two-way player. Nobody at his height should be this good on both ends of the floor, but Bradley is, and that makes him legitimately one of the 50 best players in basketball.

Why He’s Below No. 43 (Steven Adams): Different strokes for different folks. Centers who can do what Adams does are slightly rarer than guards who can do what Bradley does. The two could be flipped depending on personal preference, but you could create Bradley in the aggregate with two wings on the right team. You can’t do that with Adams.

And hey, Bradley has flaws on both ends of the court. Bigger guards can post him up, he is only 6’2” but is forced to cover bigger guards because he shares a backcourt with Thomas. He’s also not a great dribbler, he has to be on the court with a ball-handler for his value to be maximized.

These are all minimal issues, but they add up with a low-ceiling player like Bradley. He’s never going to explode and give you 50 points to carry your team to a win on his own. Case in point: he has scored 30 or more points in only two NBA games. He’s played six seasons.

Jabari Parker is the 45th 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: Here are Jabari’s stat lines for each 20 game stretch of Milwaukee’s season:

  • Games 1-20: 9.5 PPG/3.8 RPG/0.9 APG, .474 FG%/.000 3FG%/.893 FT%
  • Games 21-40: 12.1 PPG/4.7 RPG/1.5 APG, .468 FG%/.000 3FG%/.745 FT%
  • Games 41-60: 15.2 PPG/6.4 RPG/2.3 APG, .535 FG%/.200 3FG%/.750 FT%
  • Games 61-82: 17.8 PPG/5.5 RPG/2.0 APG, .485 FG%/.320 3FG%/.753 FT%

So let’s see, we’ve got a former No. 2 overall pick in a functional rookie year improving his scoring by at least two points per game every quarter of the season without sacrificing efficiency. He’s slowly adding a three-pointer as the season goes on, his rebounding and assist totals steadily improve as well, and a year after tearing his ACL he plays in 76 games. This player is only 21-years-old.

In other words, coaches lock up your forwards, Jabari Parker is coming to town.

As Parker learns to pass, he’s going to become one of the best scorers in basketball. Those assist totals are far more relevant than they appear, if Parker turns into at least an above-average passer he’s going to be better than Carmelo Anthony ever was. Defenses have to devote so much attention to him and Milwaukee’s cutters are so athletic that a selfless Parker is going to lead to plenty of open layups. The fact that his totals kept improving last summer indicates that he’s getting a lot closer to that level than he should be at this point in his young career.

Why He’s Below No. 44 (Avery Bradley): Jabari Parker is the most flawed player on this list. He can’t play defense and even if his three-point shot is improving it’s never going to be a major feature in his game. Bradley can do everything Parker can’t and a lot of what we he can, even if his ceiling isn’t as high.

He has a scary injury history and plays on a team that uses positions as a suggestion rather than a rule. That’s fine when it comes to winning basketball games, but without clearly defined roles Parker’s development is not going to move as smoothly as it could’ve.

And one season does not a trend make. Sure, Parker played 76 games last year, but his conditioning is far from perfect and he has a torn ACL on his resume. That doesn’t mean he’s going to miss games, but he’s also not someone who can play 36-38 minutes every night. He’s going to hang closer to 30, and as much playing time as that is, it’s 15-20% less than other top players and his value goes down accordingly.