Sports Illustrated released its top 100 players for the 2015-16 NBA season in increments throughout this week, finishing with the top 10 on Thursday. Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney were the two men behind the endeavor, and they did a fine job overall.
I don’t claim to be more of a basketball expert than Golliver and Mahoney, but I did have some issues with their order and inclusions. You may agree, you may disagree, and that’s totally fine. Either way, feel free to leave a comment below or reach me on Twitter @jaredtjohnson21.
Anyway, here were 10 of my gut reactions when reading the list.
1. Victor Oladipo deserved to make the top 100.
Before proceeding with the list, Golliver and Mahoney listed several snubs who just missed the top 100. Victor Oladipo was the one name they listed that I thought was easily deserving of a spot.
Oladipo averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists with above-average defense last year. Granted, it was for the 25-win Magic, but teammate Tobias Harris (No. 78) did make the list despite similarly impressive stats and worse defense. Nikola Vucevic (No. 67) is a double-double machine but a defensive sieve, so I would’ve expected Victor to be around Vucevic, especially considering the list is based on the upcoming season.
2. Andrew Wiggins at No. 91 and Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 100 both feel low.
I have no problem with calling Wiggins the 91st-best NBA player…during the 2014-15 season. He was a wide-eyed rookie who was inconsistent and mostly inefficient for a Minnesota Timberwolves team without much talent around him. His scoring average (16.9 points per game) was impressive nonetheless, and his defense showed flashes.
Now, heading into his second year, I’m expecting no less than a huge leap from the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014. He’s working hard in the weight room to add strength to his 200-pound frame, which should help him immensely on both ends of the court.
He’ll be the best player on the Timberwolves and has an outside shot at the All-Star Game in 2015-16.
Antetokounmpo, in my opinion, was also already a top 100 player last year, but considering how much he improved from his first to second year, I think a spot closer to 50 would’ve been more appropriate for the 20-year-old athletic freak’s upcoming season:
His raw stats probably won’t explode again like they did last year with Greg Monroe now on the Milwaukee Bucks’ roster and Jabari Parker back from injury, but his merits to the Bucks will become much more evident with a burgeoning two-way game.
3. I’m fine with DeMarre Carroll at No. 81 and Tristan Thompson at No. 70.
However, I’m glad to see that wasn’t the case.
I covered the Atlanta Hawks all last season, watching most of their games. Carroll was easily the Atlanta Hawks’ No. 5 option in their starting lineup, and was guarded accordingly. He was very good defensively, but not elite as many made him out to be. When Thabo Sefolosha was healthy, he was the team’s best perimeter defender, not Carroll.
In the playoffs, when DeMarre stepped up his offense, you could see his defense slipping, which was unfortunate.
With Thompson, the amount of acclaim he got during the playoffs was just too much. The guy is great on the offensive glass and switching to defend perimeter players, but what else does he do well? Even with the salary cap exploding, he’s not worth anything close to a max contract right now (around $12 million annually is what I would’ve paid for him this offseason), and I’m glad the Cleveland Cavaliers realize that.
If anything, I would switch Carroll’s and Thompson’s spots. Both are capable role players who can help their teams, but can’t be entrusted with a bunch of responsibility.
4. Kobe fans will complain about his ranking (No. 54), but they shouldn’t. Derrick Rose (No. 60) fans have a bit more reason for complaint.
Kobe Bryant just doesn’t quite have it anymore, folks.
He still attracts a bunch of defensive attention simply because he’s Kobe, and could be using that attention to create a bunch of shots for his teammates, but old habits die hard. It’s difficult to change a career-long volume-shooting mentality to one of deference in the final years. The 37-year-old’s efficiency is appalling, and his defense isn’t a positive anymore, either.
Even as a champion of the Tim Duncan-is-greater-than-Kobe movement, it’d be fun to watch the former Los Angeles Lakers superstar totally go all-out for the team in what could be his last season. Averages like 15 points and seven assists per game on 45 percent shooting would be awesome to see, but I’m not expecting that.
26-year-old Derrick Rose, on the other hand, still has the requisite athleticism, dribbling and finishing ability to be an All-Star again, despite numerous injuries. Last season, his skills seemed really rusty, and I expect some more of that rust to be shaken off this season.
5. I have no idea what to think about Joakim Noah’s No. 43 ranking.
Continuing with the Chicago Bulls injury theme, Joakim Noah‘s No. 43 ranking was one that had me confused. On one hand, he made the All-NBA First Team in 2014, but wasn’t even close to being a top 50 (maybe not even 100?) player last year, in my opinion. Noah’s elite defense fell off in 2014-15 and he struggled to score at the rim all year after an offseason knee surgery.
Heading into next season, Noah seems ready to bounce back. I’m assuming he does so, but I just don’t know how much.
6. I’m glad they didn’t overdo it with the Rudy Gobert hype (No. 39).
During the offseason, it’s easy to exaggerate players’ reputations after not watching them play for awhile.
Rudy Gobert, who burst onto the scene during the latter half of the 2014-15 campaign, is one of those guys whose reputation seems to have benefited from the time off. Yes, he’s a beast finishing and defending at the rim, but he’s a beast with weaknesses.
The 7’1″ Gobert is still a below-average free throw shooter (62.3 percent) and was 20-of-92 (21.7 percent) on field goal attempts farther than three feet from the rim last year. He offers zero spacing and needs to add some more bulk (only 220 pounds) to become an even more intimidating presence down low on both ends.
Gobert is only 23 years old and has only a half-season of starters’ playing time under his belt, so he has tons of time to improve. Let’s just wait a little bit before considering him a superstar, as Golliver and Mahoney wisely seem to be doing.
7. I think they’re sleeping on Paul George (No. 20) a little bit
Remember when Paul George was considered an MVP candidate during the first half of the 2013-14 season? He was leading the Indiana Pacers to an amazing record by heading up the offense and locking up the opponent’s best perimeter player on the other end of the court.
Of course, there was the severe leg break that occurred just over a year ago in a Team USA scrimmage. George missed almost all of last season, but returned to action for six games in April and played decently, although some of his athleticism wasn’t back yet.
However, pretty much all of that explosiveness has returned now:
George was a top 10 player before his injury. I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt with a spot closer to 10 than 20.
8. Draymond Green all the way up at No. 16?
If I’m building a team and already have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as my top two offensive options, and I can choose ANYBODY in the NBA to be my No. 3 guy, I might pick Draymond Green. He’s an elite, versatile defender, a solid rebounder and a heady passer who works perfectly in a limited offensive role. To be honest, he had one of the best role-player seasons in NBA history in 2014-15.
However, I take these sort of player rankings as “if the NBA was re-distributing its players for one season and all 30 teams had a draft, how would it shake out?”
In said draft, I don’t think there’s a chance Draymond gets picked anywhere near No. 16. Hypothetically, the top 30 picks are all their teams’ best players, which means Green should be a league-average best player.
If you’re depending on Green as your best player, how good is your team? Pretty bad, I think.
There’s a place for elite role players, but I think it’s closer to a ranking in the 30s than the low teens.
9. Tim Duncan (No. 11) Above DeMarcus Cousins (No. 14)?
Let’s get this straight: Tim Duncan is still a wonderful player even at age 39, and deserved recognition in the top 20 to 25 players.
But at 11? Ahead of DeMarcus Cousins, a still-improving 25-year-old who averaged 24, 13 and 4 last year? Come on.
Timmy’s a better defender, although not by that much anymore (Boogie actually beat him in defensive real plus-minus last year). Cousins is less efficient on offense, but his dominance in the paint is extremely tough to game plan against, and it’s heading towards the dominance Duncan enjoyed 10 to 15 years ago. I would’ve put Boogie in the top 10.
Lifetime achievement awards are a nice gesture, but I don’t think this one was warranted.
10. Solid top 10, but I still don’t like the idea of Stephen Curry (No. 4) and James Harden (No. 5) ahead of Chris Paul (No. 6).
I really didn’t have any big problems with their top 10. Below is what Golliver and Mahoney had, with my personal picks in parentheses:
1. LeBron James (LeBron James)
3. Anthony Davis (Kevin Durant)
5. James Harden (Stephen Curry)
6. Chris Paul (James Harden)
7. Russell Westbrook (Russell Westbrook)
8. Blake Griffin (Blake Griffin)
10. Kawhi Leonard (Kawhi Leonard)
As you can see, we had nine of the top 10 players in common, with some minor tweaks in there. I guess my main issue with their list would be Paul being a little bit too low.
I’ve trumpeted CP3’s greatness before, but he’s been consistently producing at a elite level on both ends of the court for about eight years in a row now. Curry just had his first season challenging Paul’s spot as the league’s premier point guard, and his defensive ability is still just okay, compared to very good for Paul. In my opinion, the very slight advantage I’d give to Curry offensively isn’t enough to overcome the much bigger difference on defense:
As for Harden, he’s also a relatively new kid on the block compared to Paul. Although his scoring and passing ability are top-notch, he’s a defensive stiff in relation to Paul.
I do see the arguments for Curry and Harden, since both are 27 years old or younger while Paul is 30 and the ranking is based on the 2015-16 season. But I still have to side with CP3 here.
Note: All statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.