In these last days before the season starts, we’re adrift in a vast ocean of baseball playoff races and ruminations on what we’ve learned about each team from the week’s football games, clinging to Media Days and dispatches from the MUSCLEWATCH to keep from drowning. In days like these, the only way to stay afloat is to begin ranking, whether it’s all-time greats or every player in the game, so the team at Today’s Fastbreak decided to get in on the act, with a little spin of our own.
We’ve pulled together 30 of our writers to draft franchise players from among everyone currently active on an NBA roster. You can think of it as a top 30 players exercise, but extra consideration was paid to age, upside, injury history, potential chemistry issues and even marketability. As such, placement may vary widely from a player’s consensus rank, and even individual selection criteria fluctuate based on individual definitions of “franchise player.” So if there’s a pick you particularly disagree with, or a player who was excluded, remember it’s a subjective choice, not a profound truth about the league. And be sure to pay attention to who made those bad picks, so you can tell them just why they screwed up on Twitter.
1. Anthony Davis by Kieffer Katz
If this exercise were for real, if we were building franchises that would compete against each other for years to come, if our draft picks would bring home MVP awards, championships, All-Star appearances and merchandising revenue, having the first pick would have been a blessing. Instead, it kind of…sucked? It felt like staring with doleful eyes at the sprinkles, gummy bears and chocolate fudge at the ice cream parlor, right after your parents have admonished you to pick just one topping. In the end, no matter how good everything else may look, it’s always going to be peanut butter cups.
DeMarcus Cousins is one of the two best centers in the NBA, and he’s only 25 years old. On the court, his skill with the ball paired with his size and strength make him look like an Ent doing drop steps through a crowd of Uruk-hai. He’s also my favorite player. But there was no way to justify taking him with the first pick. Russell Westbrook is the league’s most dynamic player, coming off an MVP-caliber season at the age of 26. He plays like Miles Teller played drums in Whiplash; doing everything with an unhinged ferocity that belies the sophistication and dexterity he brings to the game. He’s also one of the game’s most marketable stars. And there was no way to justify taking him with the first pick.
Anthony Davis spent the last three years as LeBron’s heir-apparent, waiting to take the mantle of best player in the world. This fourth season will likely prove an extended coronation ceremony as he shakes off the last shreds of his rookie season’s chrysalis to take his place as the league’s rightful monarch. Anthony Davis is the peanut butter cups at the ice cream parlor. Anthony Davis is the last slice of your grandmother’s pumpkin pie, hidden behind the grocery store Dutch Apple at Thanksgiving. Anthony Davis is the one king-sized bed at the ski cabin you’re sharing with 20 friends, standing out amongst a sea of twins. No matter your personal feelings, no matter the other options, there was never another choice with the first overall pick.
You can follow Kieffer on Twitter @HuffDongson
2. LeBron James by Dave Hogg
I would have taken LeBron at No. 1, so I’m thrilled to get him at No. 2. He’s 30 years old, and he’s already been in the NBA Finals six times, including the last five in a row. Yes, he’s only 2-4 in the finals, but who else has gotten two Cavaliers teams anywhere near a championship?
He’s also one of the older guys who will likely be drafted in this exercise, but he isn’t exactly slowing down. Last season, he averaged 30.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.5 assists in the playoffs.
Is he the same player who destroyed a great Pistons team with a 48-point game in 2007? No, but he’s still the best player in the league and the automatic first choice for the 2016 Olympic team. I’m thrilled to have him as the centerpiece of my franchise.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @Stareagle
3. Kevin Durant by Jack Magruder
Nonetheless, I’m going with Kevin Durant. Durant, who has been under the radar since undergoing three foot surgeries in six months, was cleared last week for full basketball activities and will be a participant once Thunder training camp opens.
That KD has been absent from the NBA marquee may have led some people to forget that he’s a freakishly athletic scoring prodigy who is actually younger than Curry. Here’s a brief recitation of his dominance of the Association to date: in his MVP campaign in 2013-14, Durant averaged an ungodly 32 points 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists. That season also elevated Durant into a historic group of only 13 players, including His Airness, LBJ and Oscar Robertson, who have averaged over 30 points and five assists a game.
Sure, it’s reasonable to consider Curry ahead of Durant, in the case of a tie-breaker, on postseason results. However, KD has brought it in the playoffs when it’s been needed most. Flashback to the 2014 first round against Memphis when down 3-2, and coming off the absurd headline in The Oklahoman labeling him “Mr. Unreliable,” Durant dropped 36 on the Grizz in Game 6 en route to a series victory in seven. Plus, KD has had plenty of other postseason success, even if he doesn’t yet have a title.
Also, Durant just seems like a cool and nice guy. Although he discourages it, Durant’s “Slim Reaper” nickname ranks up in the pantheon of great NBA nicknames like the Black Mamba, Chocolate Thunder and Two-Face (ok, I made that one up about DeAndre Jordan). His heartfelt speech at his MVP press conference ranks as one of the most poignant moments in recent sports history. Last, and perhaps most important, Draymond Green has claimed that the Slim Reaper is the best trash talker in the league.
All told, Durant is playoff-tested, unmatched in terms of a combination of size and scoring potential, improving his defense and fully healthy. I’ll take him on my team for this year and beyond.
You can follow Jack Magruder on Twitter @JackMagruder
4. Stephen Curry by Daniel O’Brien
At No. 4, it’s time to pluck the best guard in the league off the board. Stephen Curry is 27 years old and still in the thick of his prime, so he’s a worthwhile investment to start a franchise with.
If it was 1995 or even 2005, I might have gone in a different direction and selected a bruiser like DeMarcus Cousins or Blake Griffin. But it’s 2015, and I’m choosing the guy who can fill it up efficiently from three-land and also empower his teammates as a playmaker. Curry has never shot worse than 42 percent from beyond the arc, and he’s averaged 8-plus assists per 36 minutes the past couple of seasons. With at least five more prime seasons ahead of him, he’s a safe, yet exciting top five selection.
You can follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielO_BR
5. DeMarcus Cousins by Rob DiRe
BOOGIE, BOOGIE, BOOGIE, BOOGIE , ROCKIN’ EVERYWHERE
I found you, Mr. Boogie. The instant the draft order came out I leapt for joy. It would have been hard to justify taking him with a top three pick, but I didn’t think he would last to seven. Five was perfect.
Cousins was fifth in points per game and third in rebounding in 2014-15, plus 11th in blocked shots. Before the Mike Malone disaster, he was the anchor of a defense that was playing well, even if the tendency to lose interest on that side of the ball came back later in the season. Among the top 35 rebounders in the league — arbitrary stopping point to separate the big men — Cousins was fifth in assists per game and fourth in steals per game. Also, he has the best nickname in the league.
Along with Marc Gasol, Boogie is the best true two-way center in the game, and he’s only 25 years old. If he didn’t have major psychological issues and wasn’t on the Kings – -a true “chicken or the egg” scenario if not for his publicized problems at Kentucky — it would be much easier to think of him in the same conversation as Anthony Davis. Get him in my organization with my coach, and we will be fine.
You can follow Rob on Twitter @robdire