B/R NBA 200: Ranking the Top Swingmen of 2013-14 Season
They aren't guards, and they aren't forwards.
Joe Johnson, Arron Afflalo and the rest of the swingmen featured in this article don't fit those traditional position molds, but they deserve recognition, nonetheless. After all, they have to bounce between various spots in the lineup and still manage to make stellar contributions to their respective teams.
Only one player here earned an All-Star nod this season (Johnson), but is he the No. 1 player at the position? Is there a chance Afflalo or one of the other standouts took over that top spot?
The NBA 200 metric identifies the players who performed best during the 2013-14 season. Potential doesn't matter, and neither does reputation. It's all about what happened this season—and this season only.
All positions are graded using the same criteria (though rim protection was added into the equation for the bigger positions), but the categories are weighted differently to reflect changing roles, with max scores in parentheses:
- Scoring (22)
- Non-Scoring Offense: Facilitating (10) and Off-Ball Offense (10)
- Defense: On-Ball (20) and Off-Ball (20)
- Rebounding (8)
- Intangibles: Conduct (5) and Durability (5)
For a full explanation of how these scores were determined, go here. And do note that these aren't your father's classification schemes for each position. Players' spots were determined not by playing style but rather by how much time they spent at each position throughout the season—largely based upon data from 82games.com—and we're expanding the traditional five positions to include four combo positions.
In the case of ties, the order is determined in subjective fashion by ranking the more coveted player in the higher spot. That was done by a voting committee comprised of myself, NBA lead writer D.J. Foster, national NBA featured columnist Grant Hughes, NBA lead writer Josh Martin and associate NBA editor Ethan Norof.
Below, you can find the publication schedule for the rest of the NBA 200 series. Remember that we're not using traditional positions but rather subdividing them in order to account for the positionless schemes used by many NBA teams:
- Small forwards: Monday, May 5
- Power forwards: Wednesday, May 7
- Combo bigs: Monday, May 12
- Centers: Wednesday, May 14
- Combo forwards: Friday, May 16
- Top 200 Players: Monday, May 19
16. Evan Fournier, Denver Nuggets
The knock on Evan Fournier coming into the NBA was that he couldn't connect from beyond the arc. He started disproving that during his rookie campaign, but the 2013-14 season cemented his improvement in this area, as he became much more confident taking heat checks and coupling his athletic drives with pull-up triples.
Fournier was capable of running the offense for short stretches when everyone in the Denver Nuggets backcourt seemed to be injured, but he still wasn't an elite distributor. There are flashes of potential in that facet of his game, but his handles need to get lower and tighter before the Frenchman excels as a pass-first player.
This was a struggle throughout the 2013-14 season. Fournier constantly bit on fakes, failing to play disciplined basketball either on or off the ball. He was prone to being caught out of position, and his athleticism could only do so much to make up for his shortcomings.
Fournier is an aggressive rebounder who isn't afraid of contact. He does more than rocket through opposing players while staying well below the rim, preferring instead to use his hops and challenge for anything within his vicinity.
Somehow, someway, Fournier actually stayed healthy during the 2013-14 campaign. He's not exactly a fragile player, but the injury imp really seemed to have it out for Denver this season, knocking virtually everyone out of action at some point or another.
The Nuggets have to be pleased with Fournier's development, as he became a significantly more well-rounded player during his second go-round in the Association. It's easy to forget since he already has two seasons under his belt and played professionally before he was drafted, but the swingman won't turn 22 until the 2014-15 season is about to begin.
15. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
An inconsistent shot and a tendency to disappear for multiple offensive possessions in a row didn't do much to improve Giannis Antetokounmpo's status as a scoring threat for the Milwaukee Bucks. He has all the tools necessary to thrive down the road, but his rawness in this area definitely showed up more often than not.
Even though he's still developing, remarkably uninvolved and only 19 years old, The Greek Freak is a precocious talent without the ball. He has an intuitive understanding of offensive positioning, capitalizing on any defensive lapse with an intelligent cut to the basket. Once defenses have to respect his shot, he'll be truly deadly off the ball.
The confidence was there, most notably when he stepped into the starting lineup and made Carmelo Anthony's life difficult early in the season. He can guard plenty of positions and seems to showcase a defensive mentality, but inexperience undermines a lot of the effort that he does put forth. Nonetheless, the hustle plays he makes are beyond amazing.
Long arms and monstrous hands tend to help, huh? Antetokounmpo shows good vision after missed shots, but his physical tools allow him to emerge as one of the truly elite rebounders at this combo position. Then again, he'd be pretty darn elite for a small forward as well.
There are some people who seem genuinely happy to play basketball, and The Greek Freak is one of those guys. He plays with a contagious enthusiasm, and he managed to stay healthy for the vast majority of his rookie season in Milwaukee.
Antetokounmpo may not be dominating the league right now, but it's easy to see him doing so down the line. His first season with the Bucks proved that he was significantly further along his developmental curve than many expected, a statement that applies to both sides of the ball.
14. Xavier Henry, Los Angeles Lakers
It's easy to feel as though Xavier Henry was a letdown, as he began the 2013-14 campaign in spectacular fashion as a scorer before forgetting that he was supposed to remain aggressive. So much athleticism went to waste down the stretch, which prevented him from truly excelling in this category.
Henry finished the 2013-14 season with more turnovers than assists, which is never good for a player who spends a lot of time with the ball in his hands. He's a competent spot-up threat, but he's easier to close out on because defenses know that he's not going to make them pay with a savvy pass to take advantage of the rotating second lines.
The Los Angeles Lakers were significantly better at preventing baskets when Henry was on the court, but then again, that's not saying much. He has enough athletic tools to excel on this end of the court, but a bit more discipline is necessary before he can become a truly excellent stopper.
For whatever reason, Henry isn't particularly willing to use his size on the glass. Even though he stands at 6'6", it's relatively rare to see him pull down a board over another player. He prefers to capitalize on the easier rebounds.
Henry missed the end of the season while recovering from wrist surgery, and a knee injury kept him out of the lineup during January and February. As was the case for many members of the Lake Show, he couldn't stay healthy.
After bouncing around with the New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies, Henry finally found an excellent opportunity in purple and gold this year. He thrived early in the season, but injuries and a failure to attack later in the campaign prevented him from looking like a long-term keeper.
13. C.J. Miles, Cleveland Cavaliers
C.J. Miles remains a great per-minute scorer, just as he was during his first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. With athleticism and good touch from the outside, he's a tough player to contain during his limited spurts of activity on the court.
Almost all of Miles' contributions in this category come from his threatening nature on the outside. That aforementioned touch forces defenses to remain vigilant when he's spotting up, and in turn, his putrid passing is a little less obvious.
While not a standout defender, Miles is at least capable of providing the Cavs with solid one-on-one defense. It's when you ask him to move that trouble ensues, as he's only decent at tracking players through screens and off-ball motion.
You can't expect to see Miles pulling down a ton of boards. He's more than capable of looking like a quality rebounder at any given time, but he also cherry-picks on occasion, choosing to move down the court in speedy fashion with the intent of getting a fast break started.
Ankles can take a long time to heal. The Cavs learned that in 2013-14, thanks primarily to Miles. The swingman was knocked out of action in mid-February and then waited until March 18 to play for two minutes against the Miami Heat before he stepped limped out of the lineup once more.
Miles is by no means a star player, nor is he going to earn that designation at any point in the future. He's more of a journeyman who is still in the midst of figuring out which system is the best at maximizing his talents. Cleveland has come close to doing so, but it can get better.
12. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
How many players are capable of exploding for 50 points? During the 2013-14 season, only five guys—Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kevin Durant (twice), Corey Brewer and Terrence Ross—were able to do so. The final name on the list was too inconsistent to move into the realm of the first three, but how about that level of scoring upside?
Ross, who had trouble recording more assists than turnovers in any given game, isn't much of a passer. In fact, he's not particularly adept with the ball in his hands, no matter the situation, and he's still developing as a cutter. The athleticism and fear-inspiring shooting stroke are there, but consistency would be nice.
There are two concepts that have prevented Ross from truly thriving on the less glamorous end of the court: pick-and-roll sets and spot-up shooters. He has trouble with both of those situations, which is pretty natural for a young player breaking into the rotation.
Ross is a good rebounder, but he's not a great one. Not afraid to use his hops when the situation arises, the second-year pro will be able to make the transition toward elite status if he learns to anticipate the trajectory of missed shots.
The former Washington Husky works hard on and off the court, allowing him to remain a positive influence on his Raptors teammates while improving and staying healthy. It's surprising whenever he misses a game, as he did during the middle of the season against the Golden State Warriors with a slightly sprained ankle.
Toronto fans have to be thrilled about what Ross has shown during the 2013-14 season. His 51-point effort notwithstanding, the swingman still displayed well-rounded talent, and it appears highly likely that he could develop into a scoring stud down the road.
11. Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder
Jeremy Lamb can still act a bit disengaged on the court, settling for long jumpers rather than using his underrated athleticism to attack the rim. However, he still emerged as a valuable scorer off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season, particularly when he was handling the ball and creating looks for himself.
Not only is Lamb a dangerous spot-up shooter who stretches out defenses, but he can pass the ball quite well for a swingman. I'm not entirely sure where this skill came from, as he was an unwilling passer at Connecticut, but he's done a nice job of making the most advantageous decisions while maintaining control of the rock.
Lamb is better at team defense than functioning as an individual stopper, which is a bit rare for such a young player. Nonetheless, the 21-year-old actually does manage to make the already stellar Thunder better on defense when he's on the court, as he consistently displays a great understanding of positioning.
An aggressive pursuer after a missed shot, Lamb has shown signs of improvement on the glass. He often takes the right angles, even though opponents have a tendency to beat him to those spots and wrestle the ball away.
Lamb sometimes appears a bit unenthused when he's suiting up for the Thunder, which has been a concern ever since the world started analyzing his potential before the 2012 NBA draft. He can be a passionate player, but that doesn't mean he always is.
The former Husky made terrific strides during his second season in the NBA, developing as a facilitator and figuring out how to play more effective defense on a consistent basis. He may never be a superstar, but that's not exactly what OKC needs, seeing as how Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are already on the roster. His development at least helped validate the decision to let Kevin Martin go.
10. Evan Turner, Indiana Pacers
Evan Turner scored a lot of points with the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half of the season, but that didn't make him a great scorer. He was largely the product of opportunity—opportunity that came within an up-tempo system and wouldn't be taken away no matter how many times he missed. Playing for the Indiana Pacers exposed his supposed scoring prowess rather quickly.
Although turnovers can be highly problematic for Turner, he still has good passing instincts. Even when he's in the middle of heavy traffic, he keeps his head up and seeks out the open man. Additionally, he is smart enough to make the right cuts when he's working without the ball.
This number may be deceptively low, as Turner played in a Philly system that prioritized offense over defense for much of the season. He wasn't surrounded by players capable of helping him out, and his individual and team numbers both suffered as a result. This swingman isn't a stellar stopper, but he is a competent defensive player.
Remember when Turner averaged 9.2 rebounds per game during his final season with the Ohio State Buckeyes? It's not hard to do so after watching him attack the boards in the NBA like his life depends on grabbing each and every rebound.
Turner wasn't the happiest player in the world when he was losing what seemed like every game in Philly, but it's not like anyone else was, either. His penchant for expressing unhappiness and delighting in the thought of his upcoming free agency almost docked him a point here, but context is necessary and works in his favor.
The 2013-14 campaign was a mixed bag for Turner, who thrived as a centerpiece in Philadelphia before declining in his new yellow jersey. He should be a prized commodity once he hits the open market this summer, but expectations have to be tempered because his success was largely a result of the system in which he played as well as a lack of competition for minutes among teammates due to a sheer dearth of NBA-caliber players on the Philadelphia roster during the first half of the year.
9. Ray Allen, Miami Heat
Ray Allen has always been a potent three-point shooter—duh, seeing as how he's the all-time leader in the category—but he's been more dependent than ever on his work beyond the arc. Last year was the first time over half his shots had been from downtown, and he took them at an even higher rate in 2013-14. Unfortunately for the Miami Heat, he couldn't connect on those looks quite as often.
Do you actually think a defender is ever willingly going to let Allen roam unchecked around the three-point arc? Absolutely not, because he still has that excellent reputation as a spot-up shooter who can swing the momentum of a game with one flick of his wrist.
Though he hasn't been a standout defender for years now, age is sapping his already limited lateral quickness and ability to recover after getting beat off the first step. The veteran is still a good on-ball defender, capable of preventing his man from getting much penetration, but he has trouble keeping up with heavy movement.
Allen hasn't been an excellent rebounder since the late 1990s and early 2000s, and this season was no exception. He actually recorded more goose eggs in the column than numbers greater than six, which is fairly unacceptable for a 6'5" player who spends nearly 30 minutes per game on the court.
Allen is nothing if not a hard worker. He's kept himself in great shape late into his NBA career, and you can be 100 percent sure he's following his established routine before each and every game he plays for the Heat.
The Heat's vaunted depth took a blow when Allen became a more limited player in 2013-14. Still capable of catching fire from beyond the arc, the future Hall of Famer was increasingly uninvolved and uncharacteristically struggled for long stretches of the season. He's still valuable, but he's not as valuable as he has been in the past.
8. Marco Belinelli, San Antonio Spurs
As a scorer, Marco Belinelli has never looked better than he did during his first season with the San Antonio Spurs. He's always been a deadly shooter, but Gregg Popovich's system allowed him to earn plenty of easy opportunities, ones he tended to capitalize on early and often.
Not only is Belinelli a deadly shooter, but he's one who forces defenses to pay attention to him. And when you do that while playing for the Spurs, you're putting a lot of pressure on the opposition, which already has to account for the brilliant ball movement and player motion. (If only his passing and cutting lived up to the same standard.)
The Spurs have a knack for making players look better defensively, and the Italian sniper fell right in line with that notion. Though he was better on the ball than he was off of it, Belinelli still did a great job sticking with opposing guards and small forwards after they used screens to break free of his clutches.
While Belinelli pulls down a decent number of rebounds each game, it's rare to see him do so when there's another player within arm's length. Few players across the league managed to have a lower percentage of their boards come while contested.
With the exception of his first few seasons in the Association, the 28-year-old has normally been a healthy player. The 2013-14 season was no exception, as he stayed in the San Antonio lineup for much of the year, providing the bit of consistency it so desperately needed.
If you're looking for the perfect testament to Popovich's mastery on the sidelines, look no further than this swingman. Belinelli knew he was coming to a system that would maximize his offensive talent, and that's exactly what happened during the best year of his career.
7. Mike Dunleavy, Chicago Bulls
If only Mike Dunleavy knew when to take a few steps backward. He's a great shooter from beyond the arc, but his efficiency is slightly depressed by the locations from which he chooses to fire away. Too many attempts come from right inside the arc, and it would be highly beneficial if he managed to turn those into triples.
Dunleavy is a threatening presence beyond the arc, but he hasn't been effective enough as a spot-up shooter to become a primary focus of attention. Well over 100 players in the Association are scoring more points per possession in that situation, which isn't quite doing the trick for the Chicago Bulls swingman.
It helps to play alongside a gaggle of great defenders, but Dunleavy has emerged as a stellar stopper in his own right. Few players throughout the league have been more effective on the ball, as Dunleavy has rarely been beaten in isolation or when guarding a pick-and-roll set.
You might not expect it, but Dunleavy is one of the most physical rebounders at his position, as contact doesn't faze him in his pursuit of the ball. Though he spends a bit too much time on the perimeter to win the per-game or per-minute race, the quality of his rebounds is quite impressive.
When was the last time you heard Dunleavy complaining? When was the last time you heard somebody complaining about Dunleavy for reasons other than a poor game? Your answer to both of those questions is probably something like "never."
The Chicago swingman used the 2013-14 campaign to establish himself as one of the more underrated commodities in the NBA. He wasn't supposed to do much more than spread the floor when he was whisked away from the Milwaukee Bucks this past offseason, but he did a lot more than that.
6. Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks
Kyle Korver is pretty good at shooting the basketball. Though he's a limited scorer, it's quite telling that the Atlanta Hawks swingman was able to knock down at least one three-pointer in 127 consecutive games, which easily broke the previous record. No matter how much defenses keyed in on him, he could still hit the looks.
Earning a perfect score for off-ball offense is quite the challenge. Korver fell just short of doing so, as his cutting inside the arc isn't nearly on par with the off-ball work he does on the perimeter. Additionally, his passing often gets overshadowed by his shooting, but he's quite adept at swinging the ball around the outside of the half-court set and throwing good entry passes.
Here's another area that often fails to get recognition because Korver's three-point marksmanship is so delightfully distracting. While he's not the best at shadowing other shooters, he's more than capable of playing good man-to-man defense—so long as there's help defense behind him, though.
Korver spends too much time on the perimeter to be a true standout rebounder, but he does a nice job collecting boards on a regular basis. His 6'7" frame surely helps, but he's also a smart player who anticipates bounces and rushes to those spots, knowing it's more beneficial for him to start a fast break rather than to finish it.
Health is the only negative here. Back spasms hurt his ability to remain on the court during March, but reports that it was because he spent too much time carrying the perimeter-shooting burden have yet to be confirmed.
It's easy to call Korver a shooting specialist, but doing so would be a mistake. His perimeter sniping is easily his best attribute, but he's also a solid passer who does an adequate job on the less glamorous end of the court. Korver could easily be a liability there, but he refuses to let that happen.
5. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs
Will Danny Green ever be able to match his record-setting performance against the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals? Probably not, but he used the ensuing campaign to continue honing his three-point stroke. There aren't many players who can A) score right around 10 points per game, B) take the vast majority of their shots from beyond the arc and C) shoot well over 40 percent from downtown.
When it comes to passing, Green is just adequate enough to make sure he can keep the ball moving in the San Antonio Spurs offense. The bulk of his points in this category come from his status as a premier spot-up shooter—one who can't be left alone in any situation.
This would be where the other half of Green's value lies. Whether he's playing on or off the ball, the swingman does a fantastic job shutting down the opposition with his length, athleticism and carefully honed instincts. The matchup almost doesn't matter.
Green's rebounding rates are quite impressive, though there's always a chance they could decline if he spent more time on the court.
Only injuries are working against Green in this category. An injured foot that required a walking boot in late March hindered him late in the season, and a finger injury was the culprit behind his missed games in January.
If you expected Green to continue breaking out after his exemplary performance in the NBA Finals last year, you were sorely mistaken. The swingman has continued to play well, but he hasn't been much more than an elite "three-and-D" player. That said, there's quite a bit of value in that.
4. Vince Carter, Dallas Mavericks
Vince Carter just refuses to go away, as this season cemented his role as a three-point shooter who would occasionally attack the basket and either finish the play in emphatic fashion or draw contact and convert at the charity stripe. His athleticism is more spotty than it was in his prime, but by relying on his strengths and refusing to live in the past, he's staved off a serious scoring decline.
Carter isn't a terrifying sight when he's spotting up, but he's actually earning points in this category for his cutting and facilitating skills, which have both improved as he's aged. Though he's no longer capable of recording double-digit assists like he did in his prime, he's become increasingly careful and smart with the ball.
If you look solely at Vinsanity's defensive rating, you'll be confused. It's a context-dependent stat—one that doesn't account for him trying to make up for the liabilities in the starting lineup while shutting down ball-handlers and forcing them to exploit other matchups.
Every once in a while, Carter soars into the air for a vintage rebound that requires athleticism which is more characteristic of the Gerald Greens of the world. But even when he's not reminding us of his "Half-Man, Half-Amazing" days, Carter is an asset on the glass for the Dallas Mavericks, particularly on the offensive end.
There has been no pouting, whining or pleas for a change of scenery. Instead, Carter has done everything in his power to win basketball games while making the most of his waning physical gifts.
Watching Carter defy Father Time has been one of the more enjoyable aspects of the 2013-14 season. The 37-year-old refuses to become the bane of Dallas' efforts and is instead doing everything he can to play smart basketball at all times.
3. Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets
Joe Johnson did everything he could to lead the scoring charge for the Brooklyn Nets this year, but there were just too many mouths to feed. Even though he was fairly efficient thanks to his three-point stroke and isolation play, the volume just wasn't high enough for him to truly dominate this category.
A tremendously dangerous scorer off the ball, Johnson forces defenses to keep their eyes on him at all times. He can easily hit shots from the perimeter if left open, and he's such a savvy cutter—thanks to his veteran experience and scoring smarts—that even the tiniest lapses by opposing defenses result in buckets.
Johnson has always been a solid defensive player, particularly when he was thriving with the Atlanta Hawks, and that hasn't changed now that he's well into his 30s. Apparently, "Iso Joe" applies to both ends of the court.
This particular swingman is better than his per-game numbers indicate, as they're rather pedestrian. Standing at 6'8", Johnson has more size than most players at his position, and he takes advantage of that by constantly attacking the glass and trying his darnedest to compile as many rebounding chances as possible.
Not only has Johnson stayed healthy throughout the 2013-14 season (a rarity for these Nets), but he's also been motivated to turn the lackluster season around. Rather than sulking and showing a distinct lack of enthusiasm, as he did at the end of his tenure with Atlanta, he's been passionate through and through.
Even though Johnson had a fine season, it's still a bit ridiculous that he was named an All-Star, even in the weak Eastern Conference. Not only is there a non-All-Star ahead of him at his own position in these rankings, but Johnson's overall ranking—the one for which positions don't matter—isn't indicative of a midseason-classic nod.
2. Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic
Arron Afflalo was completely dominant before the All-Star break (19.4 points on 46.3 percent shooting), but he fell off a bit during the second half of the season. He couldn't maintain his success inside the arc, which led to a declining scoring average. This was more of a regression to the mean than anything else, as Afflalo is a top-notch scoring threat but not a truly elite one.
Of all the qualified swingmen—a group of 33 players, 17 of which made the top 200 overall—only Afflalo received a perfect score for off-ball offense. He's a potent shooter, one who threatens each and every defense he faces, and he excels in spot-up situations. On top of that, he's a deadly cutter when he chooses to use that skill.
Afflalo hasn't become the two-way stud many expected him to morph into back when he was with the Denver Nuggets. His on-ball defense is spectacular, but he can struggle to position himself in the right spots when he's working off the ball and trying to cut off passing lanes.
Afflalo is as good at cherry-picking rebounds as anyone. He rarely pulls one down when another player is challenging him—just about 11 percent of the time, in fact—but he's quite good at beating players to spots and ensuring that he's first in line to corral the board.
There are no complaints about the Orlando Magic swingman's demeanor on or off the court. Only his health comes into play here, as Afflalo's ankles were a bit balky throughout the latter portion of the 2013-14 campaign.
This is what the Magic needed from Afflalo. When the year began, he was viewed as a trade chip for this rebuilding squad, one who could easily be exchanged for draft picks or younger talent. But after asserting himself as a serious All-Star candidate, Afflalo forced general manager Rob Hennigan to start viewing him as a building block.
1. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Gordon Hayward has been able to score in volume as the go-to option for the Utah Jazz, but he'd likely look even better if he were joined by a few more scoring standouts (or even one, for that matter). His efficiency has dipped because defenses keyed in on him so frequently, but he still maintained respectable percentages.
Even though Hayward is a respectable off-ball threat, it's facilitating that earns him the bulk of his points in this category. While he was a solid distributor during his first three seasons in Salt Lake City, he made a monumental leap this year, racking up many more assists (and a much higher assist percentage) without turning the ball over too often.
On-ball defense can be a struggle for Hayward at times, although his responsibilities on the other end are partly to blame for draining much of his energy. It's during off-ball defense situations where he makes up for those deficits, as his long arms and exceptional athleticism help him disrupt many plays. Chase-down blocks, anyone?
You can never accuse Hayward of exerting lackluster effort on the glass. He constantly seeks out rebounds and understands that his job requires him to make a significant impact in this area, something he does far more often than not.
Hayward has embraced a true leadership role for the Utah Jazz, and he spurs his troops by example. He's a hard worker who carries himself with professionalism, and it obviously helps that he's proved to be quite durable.
Without Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson in the Utah lineup, Hayward became the de facto No. 1 player. Although there were aspects of the role that he struggled with—primarily the ability to score efficiently while drawing the lion's share of defensive attention—he still had what can only be considered a breakout season for the Jazz.
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