Group M: “Come on! You Know This Guy Is One Of Our Cornerstones. Stop Laughing!”
48. Victor Oladipo
Usually the top rookies shoot up the trade value rankings. There’s almost always a few rookies who look good enough to be deemed untouchable by their team after the season. This past year’s rookie class may not really have anyone in that category. There are not any true stars. There were hardly any guys who will start for the majority of their careers. One of the only rookies to look halfway decent was Oladipo. He put 13-4-4, not exactly stellar. And he’s the same age as Favors and Valanciunas. He was the most athletic player in last year’s class, so that gives him a fair amount of potential. Hopefully the Magic won’t screw it up though, playing him at point guard any longer.
47. Kemba Walker
Having reached the playoffs for the first time, the HORNETS can finally breathe a sigh of relief at their Kemba pick a few years ago. Even though their playoff birth has much more to do with getting Al Jefferson and him having a career year, Walker still looked like a guy you can build around. His numbers aren’t bad–he puts up 18 and 6 assists–but what is more impressive is his attitude. In the first round against the Heat, even though everyone in the world knew the Heat would easily win the series, Walker still didn’t look scared. He challenged LeBron without the help of an injured Al Jefferson. We know about Walker’s leadership abilities from his days at Uconn. Walker might never be a top tier point guard, but he’ll never quit on his team. In three years, it might be not be surprising if you’d rather have Walker over Kyrie.
46. Derrick Favors
Favors signed a 4 year/$49 million extension last season. If on a cheaper deal, Favors could’ve been higher on this list. I think. But, really, does anyone know what to make of Derrick Favors? He hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in the NBA. For a while, the Jazz had Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson, so Favors understandably received little playing time. Now, the Jazz built their frontline around him and Kanter. Favors has produced, I guess. He nearly averages a double-double, 14 and 9, with an above-average PER. The idea of him as a cornerstone piece though, which is what the Jazz are banking on, is probably not what you want. Favors is still only 22. Maybe he turns the corner in the next year or two and becomes a perennial All-Star. Who knows.
45. Jonas Valanciunas
Maybe it’s not fair. Valanciunas scores fewer points, grabs fewer rebounds, blocks fewer shots, and has a worse PER than Favors. And they’re both the same age. Valanciunas is not ahead of Favors necessarily in talent or skill. Valanciunas is still on his rookie deal, so that factors in. More importantly though, the Raptors, maybe just because they’re in the East, have made significant progress with him. They won 48 games last year and then Valanciunas gave the Nets fits in the first round. Like Favors, the jury is out on whether Valanciunas is a true cornerstone piece, or can be the third best player on a championship team. Nonetheless, he is only 22 years old, and in today’s NBA, it’s not easy to find young, competent centers, who are also athletic.
44. Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic is gonna get paid. In two years when his rookie deal expires, he’s headed for a big deal, and deservedly so. At just 23 years old, Vucevic may be the best young big man no one talks about. He puts up a double double, 14 and 11, but receives little attention because he plays on the Magic. He’s not a polished scorer, but Vucevic is one of the best rebounders in the game. Everyone remembers his 29 rebound game two years ago. Between Vucevic and Oladipo, the Magic at least have some pieces to build around. Vucevic could get around $50 million in two years. Can you win if he’s your highest-paid player? We’ll see. I’m going to say no.
43. Nerlens Noel
Is this too high? Too low? Hard to tell since we still have yet to see Noel play an NBA game. Still, Noel is a 20 year old center who should’ve been the #1 pick before tearing his ACL two years ago. We know that he can rebound and block shots. We also know he still needs to put weight onto his frame. Next year, Noel could either move himself into the top 20 or out of the rankings altogether, depending on his play. He should be the Sixers starting center from day one. It’s worth asking: if Noel was in this year’s draft, would you rather have him or Embiid? They’re the same age, and Noel’s injury is nothing compared to what Embiid’s injury history.
42. Michael Carter-Williams
Usually, the Rookie of the Year is much higher on this list. His numbers are more inflated than any rookie in recent memory. Putting up 17-6-6 is incredible for a rookie, except when your team loses 26 straight games. There’s no telling how good, or mediocre, MCW would be on a real NBA team. If redrafting the 2013 draft class, Carter-Williams would be the top pick, without question, but how much does that really mean? Carter-Williams looks like a potentially very good player. Whether he is All-Star caliber is another matter.
Group L: “All We’re Saying Is He’s Not Untouchable.”
40. Al Horford
If not for Horford’s injury, he could be higher on this list. Then again, most fans forget he’s already 28 years old. Owed $24 million over the next two years is a bargain for Atlanta. It has to be a little disconcerting for the Hawks to know that they played their best basketball when he was injured–that is, in the first round of the playoffs against the Pacers. Horford’s injury allowed Pero Antic to get significant playing time and give Roy Hibbert fits on the three-point line. Maybe that was just a juicy matchup against a vulnerable team. Or maybe it was an ideal matchup against an immobile center, Roy Hibbert. Either way, when your team plays its best basketball without its best player, that raises red flags. Though it’s important to remember the Hawks had the third best record in the East with Horford, and without him, they fell to the eighth spot.
39. Paul Milsap
Quick story: during the Hawks seven game series against the Pacers, when it looked like the Hawks were going to pull the upset, my brother asked if Paul Milsap was the third best player in the East. At first I laughed. I said, “Okay, so, LeBron, Paul George…” and then stopped. Derrick Rose? Not anymore. I said Carmelo. To be fair, Carmelo is better, but it wasn’t easy to make that point when the Hawks looked like they were on the verge of upsetting the 56 win Pacers, and the hapless Knicks couldn’t even make the playoffs IN THE EAST. After Carmelo, I thought maybe John Wall, Kyle Lowry, and possibly Demar Derozan. The point was made. Well two points: 1) Paul Milsap is better than people realize and 2) the East sucks. And the Hawks got him on a real bargain deal, too.
38. Mystery Player A
Let’s do a little blind resumé comparison between two players:
Player A: 17.6 PPG, 8.8 APG, 3.5 RPG, 3.2 TPG, 43% FG, 36% 3PT, 80% FT, 19.02 PER
Player B: 19.3 PPG, 8.8 APG, 4.1 RPG, 3.6 TPG, 43% FG, 35% 3PT, 81% FT, 19.61 PER
Now let’s throw out a few more numbers. Player A is 26 years old and is owed $48 million/4 years. Player B is 23 years old and is owed $80 million/5 years. Their stats are nearly identical. Player B’s are slightly better. Just slightly. They are virtually identical, but you would never guess it. Player A is Ty Lawson. Player B is John Wall. Lawson is on an absolute bargain of a deal and gets no press, but is easily in the second tier of NBA point guards, and that is a compliment. Point guard is the deepest, most talented position in the league. Wall, on the other hand, is talked about as a player on the cusp of being elite. Lawson might be a little older, but with his contract, it’s not as clear cut as you might imagine that you’d rather have Wall.
Group K: “He’s Young, Cheap, And About To Get Paid. He’s A Foundational Piece For Us.”
37. Chandler Parsons
If this list was made in two months, Parsons could drop significantly on the list. Why? Money. He’s paid under $1 million right now, but he’s about to get paid. He’s only 25 years old and often looks like the Rockets’ best player, despite only averaging 17-6-4. Parsons is an elite shooter and a surprisingly good playmaker. It’s unclear at the moment if you can win a title with him as your third best player. Maybe the real question is whether you can win with James Harden and Dwight Howard as your 1A and 1B. Parsons will remain part of Houston’s future and is one of their top priorities this summer.
36. Lance Stephenson
Lance Stephenson is one of the most frustrating players in the league. It’ll take a very stable, veteran-heavy locker room to handle and control his antics. If he had his head on straight, he has the talent to be in the top 25 of this list, or maybe even higher. Just 23 years old, Stephenson is already All-Star caliber, despite being snubbed last season. If he gets $40-50 million this offseason, then he’d drop on this list. He’s too risky and volatile for that kind of investment. But if he were to get somewhere in the $30-35 million type of deal over three years, that would be about right. It’s impossible to forecast where Stephenson will land next season. He’s the type of guy who could flame out of the league, not because of deficient talent, but due to his mental makeup. That probably won’t happen, but any franchise thinking of investing its future in him should tread lightly.
35. Klay Thompson
Apparently, the Warriors would rather keep Klay Thompson than part with him to get Kevin Love. Thompson might be the best shooter in the league and averaged over 18 points last year, but it’s rare to be able to pair a superstar like Kevin Love with one like Steph Curry. If Klay Thompson is what is needed to get Kevin Love, the Warriors should do the trade. Thompson has great size for a scoring guard at 6’7″ and he has shown flashes of being a good defender, most notably against CP3 in the playoffs this year. Still, he is not a superstar. He mostly is just a shooter. It’s incredible that the Timberwolves have aimed so low in their trade talks for Kevin Love. The idea of Thompson as a centerpiece for such a deal is preposterous. One more thing that needs to be shot down: Thompson will never be the best shooting guard in the league.
Group J: “We Can Definitely Make The Second Round With Him”
34. Goran Dragic
33. Eric Bledsoe
The 2013-2014 Suns, everyone. Who the hell ever would’ve guessed the Suns could win 48 wins last year? In the East, they would have been the three seed! In the West, they were the first team out. Their success is due largely to 3rd Team All-NBA and Most Improved Player Goran Dragic, who’s owed only $15 million over the next two years. Bledsoe had a great year when he played, averaging 18-6-5, but he missed nearly half of the season because of knee surgery. Bledsoe did awfully similar to college teammate John Wall. The Clippers would love the chance to undo that trade that sent Bledsoe to Phoenix for Jared Dudley and essentially the signing of J.J. Redick. With the same backcourt next season, the Suns should build on their success and be a playoff threat once again. Even better, the Suns have some cap flexibility, and don’t have to pay 24 year old Bledsoe until after next season.
32. Rajon Rondo
Rondo only played 30 games last season, coming off of his ACL tear. Just looking at this stats, you might trick yourself into thinking Rondo was the same player, averaging nearly 12-10-6 in those games. Rondo will be 29 next season and up for free agency at the end of the season. The prospect of paying Rondo serious money, as a 29 year old just a year and a half off from knee surgery, is questionable. We’ve seen how good Rondo is when he’s surrounded by very good players. If you’re planning on building anything around Rondo or using him as the first piece, then that may not work. Maybe the Big 3 should all exercise their player options and then at the end of next season, try to add Rondo to the mix.
31. Kyle Lowry
30. Demar Derozan
Another pair of teammates, much like Dragic and Bledsoe, responsible for revitalizing a franchise that was expected to be a lottery team, but ended up winning 48 games. Lowry is a free agent and could be headed to another team next season. He might have been the third best player in the Eastern Conference last season. Derozan, only 24 years old, made his first All-Star game and averaged over 22 points per game. He’s on a bargain deal, owed $28.5 million over the next three years. Derozan isn’t a guy who can carry his team. He might not even be a really good team’s second option. If he is your third scorer though, you are a very good team.
29. Mike Conley
Perennially the most underrated point guard in the league, Conley is an All-Star caliber point guard who routinely gets snubbed. It feels like he’s older since he came into the league after his rookie year at Ohio State, but Conley is still only 26 years old. As long as Conley, Marc Gasol, and Z-Bo are on the Grizzlies, they will contend in the West. It’s about time Conley gets his due. Conley’s name deserves to be up there with the top guys in the West: Westbrook, CP3, Parker, Lillard, and Curry.
Group I: “We Probably Won’t Trade Him. I Mean, He’s One Of The Best Bigs In The League.”
28. Al Jefferson
Raise your hand if you forgot about Al Jefferson. Yeah, everyone did. That’s what happens when you get stuck into Utah for a couple years. Jefferson had the third highest PER of all centers. The two guys ahead of him don’t really count though. One’s a head-case! And the other missed most of the season, doesn’t rebound, and is on a team that plays better without him! The Hornets’ decision to not tank and try to win actually paid off, a little bit. They signed Jefferson, he had a career year averaging 22 and 11, and led the team to the playoffs.
27. DeAndre Jordan
Okay, okay, so DeAndre Jordan isn’t Bill Russell. He still had a career year under Doc Rivers though, averaging 10-14-3. He led the league in rebounds and was third in blocks. Only 25, Jordan has one year left on his deal that owes him nearly $11.5 million. When his deal expires after next year, he’ll get a huge deal if he plays anything like last year. Doc Rivers really is one of the best coaches in the league. He transformed Blake into an MVP candidate and DeAndre Jordan into a legitimate defensive anchor. Sort of like Bill Russell!
26B. Zach Randolph
We saw how valuable Randolph was when he was suspended for Game 7 against OKC. Randolph is 32 and paid $16.5 million next season. He’s still one of the best low-post scorers in an NBA that is starved of big men that can score in the paint. Don’t underestimate Randolph’s ability. He quietly put up 17 and 10 last season, continuing to be one of the best big men in the league.
26. Marc Gasol
25. Joakim Noah
These might be the best two centers in the league. Some fans and experts will cling to Dwight, but these two are absolutely invaluable to their teams. Deciding between them is pretty much impossible. Take either guy off his respective team and see what happens. Actually, we saw what happened to the Grizzlies. Without their big man, they went 10-13. With him, they were 27-12 at one point. With Gasol healthy, the Grizzlies could and should have been a top three or four seed in the West. As for Noah, he was fourth in the MVP voting. He became a triple-double machine. He kept Chicago above water. Noah is just a winner, pure and simple. Chicago had no business winning 48 games, and Noah is more responsible for that than anyone. Both Gasol and Noah are 29 years old, but Noah gets the edge for being slightly cheaper. He’s owed a little over $25 million for the next two years and Gasol is owed a little over $15 million for next year, his last year in his current deal.
Stay tuned for the final part of the series.