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Tiered NBA Rankings: Wings, Part 1

In an attempt to fill the time before the NBA season, I’ve decided to try to place players in tiers based on their expected production from next season. If you missed the Big Men, go here and here.

Big men are easy to qualify, and smaller guards can be ranked together, but what about all of those players in the middle? The traditional positions are useless, so in an attempt to put these players into one group, they will all be labeled as wings.

Much like the big men, the wings will be judged on several stats (along with some admitted biases): usage percentage, true shooting percentage, assist percentage, turnover percentage, rebound percentage, points created per game (combining points scored per game and points created by assist per game), defensive box score plus minus and the combination of steals and blocks.

These statistics can be daunting at first glance, but after looking at them for a while, understanding what is high or low for a statistic should come easy. To speed up the process, here’s quick rundown.

Any usage percentage over 20 percent is greater than average. Russell Westbrook led the league at 38.4 percent last year, and most of these guys will fall somewhere in the middle. The average true shooting percentage was 53.4 percent last season, but this varies between players that shoot closer to the basket and players that shoot farther away from the basket. Assist percentage is the percentage of teammate field goals a player assists on while on the floor. This combined with usage percentage can give an estimate of how much the player controls the offense. Rebound percentage for a wing varies significantly, but the closer to double digits the better.

With those qualifications out of the way, take a look at some of the wings closer to the bottom of the league than the top.

Wings 1

I won’t dwell too much on the bottom of the list except to say two things: Gerald Henderson probably doesn’t deserve to be this low (but someone has to finish last) and Dion Waiters might be the worst player on the list.

Henderson is a fine player, but he doesn’t do anything exceptionally well. He doesn’t score well, he doesn’t rebound at a high percentage and he’s not a special passer unless you’re a lady in the stands not paying attention.

 

Thunder fans are the last group of people not related to Waiters that believe he can still be good, but I’ve seen enough of him on the team I root for. Waiters can’t shoot, defend or rebound, and the only shot he can create is an inefficient long-range two-point attempt that he usually misses. If he plays more than other guards on the roster, then this won’t be the last time I rant about his play. (Spoiler: this won’t be the last time I rant about his play.)

Wings 2

I was tempted to put Zach LaVine in the last tier, but there is a reason to expect a serious improvement this year. Although he produced some highlights last year, his production was mostly awful last season, but with better health from the roster, a decreased role in the offense and a summer of training with an NBA staff, LaVine could be a very useful player for the Timberwolves this season.

Julius Randle’s stock may be a little low right now, but with good reason. Randle missed all but 14 minutes of last season (which is why I didn’t bother putting in his stats) and didn’t show much to swoon about in Summer League. He will still probably be bad this season (most young players are), but he could be one of the few bright spots for the Lakers this season.

Wings 3

Marco Belinelli was a good player for the Spurs, but he will now be in Sacramento where players’ careers go to die. He’s never been a good defender, and surrounded by players not programmed to move the ball as quickly as possible, his shooting numbers will probably decline.

Kevin Martin’s true shooting percentage was only 54.9 percent despite a three-point percentage just under 40 percent. He’s a good shooter, but doesn’t do anything else well. Admittedly, I may be projecting some feelings onto Martin that aren’t warranted due to certain people saying he would have turned people’s thoughts on the James Harden trade had Oklahoma City decided to keep him, but his defensive numbers speak for themselves.

I often make fun of Evan Turner because of his terrible shooting, but he was one of the Celtics’ best players last season. He’s still a miserable shooter, but he created almost 22 points per game for his team and was one of the better rebounders on the list.

Wings 4

These two players are on opposite trajectory career paths. Robert Covington is a 24-year old prospect that has shown ability to shoot from long range, rebound at a decent rate and not be completely worthless on defense. The 76ers signed him to a team-friendly contract that guarantees him $2 million the next two seasons and a team option on the third year. If Covington can continue to improve on his production last season, that may be one of the better contracts in the league.

Jamal Crawford isn’t one of my favorite players to watch, but he’s able to carry the Clippers’ second lineup by himself. He has one of the highest usage percentages in the league almost rarely turns the ball over while maintaining an average efficiency level. Crawford’s issue is his inability to stop anybody on the defensive end, and at 35 years old, there’s little hope of him improving.

Wings 5

K.J. McDaniels showed defensive potential last season for the 76ers. He has the size, strength and athleticism to guard several positions and may have the opportunity to do that this season in Houston. His offense is lacking, but there are few players that are ready to produce on both ends of the floor in their rookie season.

Mirza Teletovic is a shooter, and he isn’t shy about doing it. He only played 40 games last season, but over 60 percent of his shots came from behind the three-point line. He signed with the Phoenix Suns this summer, and two years ago the Suns made Channing Frye over $30 million by showcasing him in pick-and-pops which led to many made threes. Teletovic has some of the same potential has Frye behind the three-point line, but he’s a better rebounder. Wings 6

Tony Allen is the most fascinating player in the league that isn’t thought of as a superstar. At one point in his career, he averaged over 11 points per game on a true shooting percentage of almost 60 percent. Now, Allen is in the conversation as the best wing defenders in the league, but his offense causes parents to cover their small children’s eyes. Allen can accurately be described with two YouTube videos:

And then of course this one:

Lance Stephenson might have been the worst player in the NBA last season. In fact, in my first post at the site, I dubbed Stephenson as the Least Valuable Player in the league.

But Stephenson isn’t as bad as he showed last season, nor is he as good as he was his last season in Indiana. He has the opportunity to carry the second unit with Crawford, but Stephenson has the play-making ability that Crawford doesn’t have. He has always been a good passer with a career assist percentage of 20.7 percent, and was one of the better defenders on the Pacers when they had one of the historic defenses before collapsing in style.

Wings 7

Before throwing your computer seeing Kobe Bryant with the players he’s listed with, I had him listed far lower before reconsidering (I understand that probably didn’t help).

At this point in his career, Kobe is a terrible shooter and chooses to hoist up shots at an alarming rate. Over the last two seasons (of which Bryant has only played in 25 percent of the games), Bryant is averaging over 19 shots per game, and shooting under 38 percent! 

Bryant’s spot in this tier is because offensively he does everything else well. His assist percentage is high, his turnover percentage is low and he grabs a high percentage of rebounds. He lost his legs long ago defensively, but offensively, Bryant is still a decent player.

Eric Gordon had a better three-point percentage than field goal percentage last season. His true shooting percentage was only just above average because of his miserable 38 percent two-point percentage and his reluctance to get to the line. It’s tough to blame Gordon for the free throw woes due to his injury history, but it’s one of the reasons he isn’t higher on the list.

Ben McLemore was compared to Ray Allen coming out of college, but the comparison is far off after two seasons. Allen had the ability to create off the dribble as well as shoot at an elite level, while McLemore has a tough time dribbling unless it’s a straight line to the basket. McLemore did increase his shooting numbers significantly in his second season, however. His field goal percentage (38 percent to 44 percent), three-point percentage (32 percent to 36 percent) and free throw percentage (80 to 81 percent) all rose causing his true shooting percentage to shoot up almost seven percentage points.

Wings 8

Mike Dunleavy is one of the biggest irritants in the league – with last season’s playoff series with the Bucks as an example – but he also produces quantifiable numbers on the court. He shot just under 41 percent from three on over 4 attempts per game last season, and has averaged over four rebounds per game over the course of his career. He may not be able to be an on-ball stopper on par with Tony Allen, but his off-ball defense is as good as almost anyone in the league.

Jeff Green is one of the biggest teases in the league. He has the size, athleticism and ability with the ball to get past defenders with similar skillsets, but is a poor mid-range shooter and a below-average three-point shooter. He doesn’t have the foot speed to stay with quicker players defensively, and doesn’t have the strength to keep bigger players off the offensive glass. His destiny might be to lead second units as a top option, which is something that Memphis could desperately use.

Anthony Morrow is everything people think Eric Gordon is but without the pedigree. Gordon was a much better player earlier in their respective careers, but now Morrow is as good a shooter as Gordon from the outside and finishes almost 50 percent of his shots from inside the arc. Morrow is a below-average defender to put it kindly, but has an elite skill that is coveted in today’s game.

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