Here’s the situation: you’re an NBA GM and you’re trying to draft from entire pool of NBA players to make your team as successful as possible. This obviously slightly rates how players are valued. Would you rather select Kobe Bryant at age 34 with a $30 million salary coming off of a torn achilles, or 24 year old James Harden, set to make $15 million next year? Would you rather have Dwyane Wade at age 31, making nearly $19 million, or 20 year old Kyrie Irving who’s still on his rookie deal? Further, would you rather have Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose, coming off a torn ACL? Age, contract size, injury history, and potential all factor into your decision. Position matters too. Point guard is a very deep position, but center is not. But as the Heat showed us last season, small ball can work fine. If you have Lebron James, at least.
Running a successful NBA franchise isn’t easy. Well, it might be, but we’ll never know, when teams are run by people like this. After all, only nine different franchises have the title in the past 32 years. Going into each season, there’s usually only 3 or 4 teams that have a realistic shot at winning the title. Underdogs stand little chance when they have to beat a team four times out of seven. Usually the better team will advance in the playoffs. The league today is very top heavy– so much, that LeBron recently advocated contracting the league. The league wouldn’t be so uneven if not for teams habitually overpaying bad players (looking at you, Wizards), teams having to deal with whining superstars (sorry, Magic), and teams trading all their young assets for injured players (we know how you feel, 76ers). That’s why the size of contract, character of the player, and the injury history are all important in deciding who to build an NBA franchise around. Without further ado…
Best of the Rest:
Looked destined to be a star after his rookie year, but has regressed each year on the woeful Kings. Someone will surely overpay him in free agency this summer after he didn’t receive a contract extension from the Kings. While he may not be a star, plenty of teams could use a 6’6″ scoring guard, who can put up 18 a night. More importantly than rediscovering his rookie form, Evans should sort out the character issues, as many simply view him as a chucker.
Just last year, Nash would have cracked the top 60, after averaging 14-11 every night, but after injuries and a slow season this year, it looks like age is finally catching up to Nash. Maybe the situation in LA is just toxic, but it’ll be interesting to see what Nash can do next year with Kobe sidelined by injury. That might be just what Nash needs to develop chemistry with Pau and Dwight, assuming Dwight stays of course.
Initially, I had Manu much higher on the list, but after double checking his numbers, I couldn’t put someone averaging 12-5-3, albeit very efficiently in the top 60. Meanwhile, Ginobili has been quite injury-prone, playing 60 and 34 regular season games in the past two seasons, respectively. It’s tough to see Manu playing starter-quality minutes past next season, as he’ll be 36 next year.
You think Ellis is a pretty good player, until you realize he makes the same money as Rondo. Ellis seems more destined to be a stud 6th man, maybe a rich man’s J.R. Smith. Actually a rich man’s J.R. Smith would probably be Kobe. More like a mix between a taller rich man’s Nate Robinson and poor man’s Allen Iverson. What the hell does that mean? I have no idea. Which is just one reason why it’s so difficult to figure out what to do with Ellis.
People forget just how young Favors is. He’s still only 21, and has been stuck behind Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap. That’s no shame–they’re both very good players, but Favors was touted by Chad ford as a cross between Amare Stoudemire (not such a great comparison in hindsight) and Dwight Howard. He’s very productive, putting up 10-7 in just 23 MPG, and the Jazz would be foolish to keep giving him only mop up minutes. Kanter is another guy who has been ultra productive in the limited minutes he’s received, and he’s only 20 years old. If the Jazz do this thing right, they’ll have Favors and Kanter down low for the next decade.
These guys are all solid players. The key word there is solid. Unfortunately it’s tough to take Joe Johnson seriously when he’s making more money than Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose….Should I continue? He’s the fourth highest paid player in the league! Gay is the 17th highest paid and Boozer is the 20th highest paid player in the league. Their salaries are laughably high, and no team can afford to take on those types of deals.
Group 11a: Young Complimentary Pieces That You’re Embarrassed to Admit You’re Hoping Will Make “the Leap”
60. Jeremy Lin
He wasn’t a fluke last year, but it’s foolish to expect him to be a top 6 or 7 point guard. Luckily, the Rockets got James Harden, so Lin hasn’t faced major scrutiny all season long, and Harden makes the game much easier for everyone on the Rockets. If the Rockets go out and get Dwight this summer, Lin would be a very nice third option on a contending team in the West. A nice payback to the Knicks who decided to go with a 40 year old and fat point guard over him.
59. Ryan Anderson
Anderson has been more or less what the Hornets were expecting when they signed him last summer. He knocks down 3’s, stretches the floor the Eric Gordon and Greivis Vasquez, and doesn’t play a lick of defense. While his rebounding is slightly down and almost dare I say approaching Brook Lopez level, he has a manageable contract and provides enough offensively to offset his defensive woes.
58. Kenneth Faried
57. Kawhi Leonard
Arguably the two best players out of the 2011 draft class not named Kyrie Irving. Both these guys are on very good teams, and are hustle player starters. Faried should lead the league in rebounding sometime before his career is over, and Leonard has shown a much more competent offensive game than anyone anticipated when he came into the league. Somehow, in a prime example why only 8 franchises have the title in the past 33 years, Leonard slipped to 15th and Faried slipped to 22nd in the 2011 draft, behind the likes of Jan Vesely, Jimmer Fredette, the Morris Twins, Jan Vesely, Bismack Byombo, and Jan Vesely. And Jan Vesely.
56. Mike Conley
Conley is another guy that is sneaky young. People associate him with Greg Oden since they tore it up together at Ohio St. and came into the league together. And while Oden looks like he’s 50, people forget Conley is still only 25 years old. He’s already been in the league five years, and has steadily improved his shooting since coming in. Conley is a very above average point guard. Unfortunately, the position is so stacked, people often forget about him.
55. Danilo Gallinari
Gallinari had been an integral part of Denver’s landing the three seed this year, until he tore his ACL. At this point, it’s tough to say the Nuggets didn’t win the Carmelo trade right? I mean they have to be looking around the West right now, thinking “it’s us and OKC” for the next decade. The Spurs and Lakers are always good, but in terms of young talent, the Nuggets are right behind OKC.
54. Nicolas Batum
My lasting impression of Batum will always be the lethal blow he dealt in the Olympics, but beyond that, Batum’s game has continually progressed. However, the Blazers aren’t good enough to have Batum only average 14-6-5, for the $46 million they’re paying him. If the Blazers are going to make any sort of playoff run in the next few years, they know they can count on Aldridge and Lillard, but Batum has to be a more reliable scorer for them.
Group 11b: Head-case Point Guards who Think They’re worth Max Money
53. Brandon Jennings
52. Kyle Lowry
Jennings came into the NBA with few fans, as most people had already labeled him immature, but his 55 point game as a rookie drew the attention of the league. Unfortunately since then, the only attention he’s received has been for his terrible attitude. I don’t know what kind of management thinks pairing Jennings with Monta Ellis is a good idea. Two undersized scoring guards who are notoriously selfish players never works. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry is on a bargain deal, making under $6 million this year, but has been a disappointment in Toronto. Plus he’s had a history of causing problems–the type of problems you only deal with from a star.
Group 10: Borderline All-Stars Who Probably Shouldn’t be Your 2nd Option
51. Eric Gordon
Gordon has been a huge disappointment this year. You have to wonder what’s going on inside his head. He had “his heart set on Phoenix” this summer after they signed him to an offer sheet that the Hornets matched, and he’s had problems with Monty Williams since. Most people consider New Orleans one of the most up-and-coming teams in the league. Meanwhile, Phoenix is one of the worst teams in the NBA with no clear plan. Not only has Gordon been injured, but he’s shooting a meager 41% from the field, and looks to be on his way out of NOLA.
50. Danny Granger
Granger is a free agent after this season, and despite the stupidity of most NBA GM’s, it’s still tough to imagine Granger receiving a great deal. His production has steadily decreased since 2008, and now with his injury, Paul George has taken the role as the lead guy in Indiana. Granger would be a nice pickup for a team like Utah that is on the verge of the playoffs and has zero perimeter presence.
49. Luol Deng
Despite being a key piece for Chicago, and one of the main reasons they’ve stayed afloat with Derrick Rose this year, Deng is not capable of being Robin to Rose’s Batman. Deng has seen his name in plenty of trade rumors in the past few years, including one last year for Dwight Howard, but he’s still in Chicago. While Deng is a lockdown defender, he’s not nearly a good enough shooter to be a second option, and it’s surprising that eight years into his career, he’s still only a 32% three-point shooter this year.
48. Ty Lawson
Probably the best player on the fourth best team in the league. Lawson somehow slipped to 18th in the 2009 draft, but he’s a perfect fit for George Karl’s up- tempo style of play. When the T’Wolves drafted Rubio, Johnny Flynn, and Lawson in the first round of 2009 draft, they might’ve traded the best of the three point guards, though Rubio is still three years younger than Lawson so it’s too early to tell. Either way, Lawson is a freak athlete, a sort of mix between Nate Robinson and Russell Westbrook.
Group 9: Overpaid Above-Average Big Men Who are Perfect 3rd Options
47. Roy Hibbert
46. Zach Randolph
45. David West
Hibbert probably wasn’t worth max money, and was having a slumping season until recently, but is averaging 17-9 in April. The slump may have been due to injuries, or Danny Granger being out, but whatever it is, the Pacers need Hibbert to be himself and then some if they want to get a rematch with the Heat. David West, another guy who has had an increased workload in Granger’s absence is one of the most underrated players in the league. Quietly putting up 17-7 this season, West is often called Indiana’s most consistent player. As a free agent this summer, the Pacers would be wise to pay West what he wants, despite being 32. Zach Randolph has one of the most intriguing careers of anyone in the NBA. Despite his double-double production, it’s still highway robbery that he makes more money than Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Tony Parker.
44. Paul Milsap
43. Al Jefferson
This frontcourt is good enough to be a middle seed in the West. It’s a shame more people don’t know about Milsap and Jefferson because they play in Utah, and have been a borderline .500 team the past few years. If Utah had any semblance of a backcourt, they would be in the playoffs easily. If Utah was ever going to have a good backcourt though, they would have had to trade Milsap and/or Jefferson. These guys will have plenty of suitors this summer. Until then, they have stepped up big to carry the Jazz on the brink of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Group 8a: Freak Athlete Swingmen Who Aren’t Worth Max Deals this Summer
42. Andre Iguodala
41. Josh Smith
The ultimate glue guys on a team who will help your team defensively, on the glass, and in the locker room. Just kidding, Josh Smith won’t help you in the locker room at all. But the point is, these guys are right there with LeBron in terms of athleticism and are very good players, but not worth the money they want. But of course, someone will pay them that money! If Houston strikes out on Dwight, there is a good chance they will go after Josh Smith. For Iguodala, his numbers don’t do him justice. He may be putting up a mere 12-5-5 stat line, but he has undoubtedly helped Dever have its best season in franchise history. It remains to be seen though, whether doling out a massive contract to a guy who’ll be 30 next season is a good idea– especially a player who’s game is so predicated on his athleticism.
Group 8b: Young Bloods Who May be Destined to Rule the Paint Someday
40. Andre Drummond
39. Anthony Davis
Before the season, nobody would have imagined Drummond would have been this good. At the very most, someone may have thought Drummond would be good in the future, but he was seen as a project. He has been compared to Shaq this season for good reason based on his production. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis has quietly had a great rookie season, despite the injuries, with a PER over 21. Both guys should be absolutely dominant centers for years to come.
Group 8c: Young Bloods Who May be Destined to Rule the Perimeter Someday
38. John Wall
37. Ricky Rubio
36. Damian Lillard
These guys are all young and have shown considerable promise. They’re not in the Kyrie/Westbrook stratosphere yet, but no one would be surprised if they got there in the next few years. If anything, people have been disappointed that John Wall hasn’t made a Derrick Rose type of leap into superstardom yet. An abysmal jumper has prevented Wall and Rubio from taking that next step. When they’re able to score as well as they facilitate, they will be very hard to stop. Wall already puts up 18-8-4, and he can’t even shoot yet. He shoots 26% from the 3. Rubio shoots 28% from 3. Lillard is an example of why more players should stay in college. He has come into the league as a star from day one, and is much more polished than Wall and Rubio.
PART 2 COMING FRIDAY