NBA Position Power Rankings, End of Regular Season Edition: Ranking Top 100
You've seen how the league's best point guards stacked up against one another, learning whether Russell Westbrook or James Harden reigned supreme and how far down in the pecking order Stephen Curry sits on the heels of back-to-back MVPs.
You've counted down toward the best shooting guard of the bunch, moving past plenty of high-scoring 2s along the way. You've realized it's awfully difficult to displace LeBron James from the top of the small forward rankings, even if plenty of young wings are gunning for his title.
You've worked to find out whether Draymond Green or someone else sits atop the power forwards rankings, and you've seen which of the many up-and-coming centers fills in the premier spot for that positional hierarchy.
If you haven't, you should. We'll still be here with the final part of the series when you're done.
Now, it's time to mix everyone together, with only a few necessary caveats. Players are listed at the position at which they were featured in their individual edition of these rankings, and the order of those countdowns must stick here. The No. 8 small forward can't jump past the No. 7 small forward, for example*.
By analyzing all aspects of the on-court work these players produced in 2016-17, we're here to put the top 100 overall players in order. The goal is to identify those we'd most want to build around based on results from the current campaign, so long-term upside and prowess in the distant past are irrelevant.
*Klay Thompson and CJ McCollum serve as the lone exceptions, since they were close in the shooting guard rankings and trended significantly in opposite directions after the April 3 publication.
100-96: Barnes, Russell, Lin, Vucevic, Bradley
100. Harrison Barnes, PF, Dallas Mavericks
Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
Impressive as Harrison Barnes' scoring average may be during his first full season as the leader of an offense, the points largely qualified as empty ones. They came along with middling efficiency levels and a failure to contribute in many other areas, though the fact he could score in volume still grants him placement that outpaces what his advanced metrics might otherwise indicate.
99. D'Angelo Russell, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks
This was a season of progress for D'Angelo Russell, even if some Los Angeles Lakers fans have grown impatient with his ongoing development. The young guard still experiences plenty of momentary mental lapses, but they're typically trumped by his preternatural skill as a shot-creator and distributor. Few guards are this comfortable squeezing the ball into tight spaces and hitting pull-up jumpers before celebrating their 22nd birthdays, which Russell won't get to do until the 2017-18 seasons is nearly complete.
98. Jeremy Lin, PG, Brooklyn Nets
Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks
Had Jeremy Lin been able to stay healthy, the Brooklyn Nets would've found more success. And correspondingly, he would've fared better in these rankings. But alas, availability is a skill in and of itself, and Lin's ability to boost the team's net rating by 4.2 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor—all the way to a much-more-respectable minus-2.9—was partially negated by his inability to suit up in more than 36 contests.
97. Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic
Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks
The script flipped for Nikola Vucevic in 2016-17, as the center traditionally known for his offensive acumen and deft touch from the blocks/elbows suddenly found himself struggling on offense but thriving on defense. He never quite got his shot to fall, leading to a drop-off of 3.6 points per game from 2015-16, but he helped mitigate the damage by becoming a much more disciplined defender. Instead of just sticking to a small space around the hoop, the 26-year-old was free to drift around the half-court and impact the proceedings in myriad ways. Was he a Defensive Player of the Year candidate? Absolutely not. But he was still an asset.
96. Avery Bradley, SG, Boston Celtics
Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
Avery Bradley's reputation would have him ranked much higher, especially during a season in which he took five triples per game and connected at a 39 percent clip. But his defense was legitimately troublesome off the ball, leading to a below-average finish in both ESPN.com's real plus/minus (RPM) and NBA Math's total points added. That's partially due to context (covering up for Isaiah Thomas, taking on tough assignments, etc.), but Bradley was far less impactful this year, and his placement at No. 96 is already generous, given his poor statistical standing across the board.
Honorable Mentions: Malcolm Brogdon, Vince Carter, Evan Fournier, Joe Ingles, Wesley Matthews, Khris Middleton, Kelly Olynyk, Julius Randle, Terrence Ross, Dennis Schroder
95-91: Redick, Harris, Patterson, Kidd-Gilchrist, Sefolosha
95. JJ Redick, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
Per-Game Stats: 15.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks
Though JJ Redick is a better defender than most think, his value still stems almost solely from his ability to space the floor for the Los Angeles Clippers. And even if he showed a newfound proficiency for hitting pull-up jumpers after a single dribble, his overall numbers still slipped after leading the league in three-point percentage last season. Redick took six shots per game from downtown and connected at a 42.9 percent clip, which would've looked much better if it wasn't coming in conjunction with fewer trips to the stripe and a drastically diminished ability to convert around the rim.
94. Tobias Harris, PF, Detroit Pistons
Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks
Two things are keeping Tobias Harris from potential stardom. First is the Detroit Pistons system, which doesn't allow him to take over possessions and put his full arsenal of skills on display. With Andre Drummond often clogging up the middle, he's thrust into more of a traditional wing role than he would like. Second is his lack of perimeter shooting, since connecting on just 34.7 percent of his three-point tries doesn't look good in the modern NBA, which basically requires all high-quality forwards to either serve as defensive aces or space the floor—ideally both.
93. Patrick Patterson, PF, Toronto Raptors
Per-Game Stats: 6.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks
Nothing about Patrick Patterson's game stands out. But in this case, that may be a good thing. It's easy to see why the Toronto Raptors have long sought an upgrade at power forward, because Patterson's all-around game works even better when he's asked to serve as a malleable backup who can blend in with any lineup. Whether he's spacing the floor, playing herky-jerky defense, finding open teammates or attempting to work around the hoop, he can fill major and minor roles for short spurts and ensure that Toronto doesn't feature a glaring liability at the 4.
92. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Charlotte Hornets
Per-Game Stats: 9.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks
Though his jumper remains a work in progress failed experiment, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist retains value through his point-preventing chops. Cody Zeller was the only member of the Charlotte Hornets to record a higher defensive box plus/minus (DBPM), and ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus (DRPM) indicated that only four small forwards were better on the less glamorous end. If Kidd-Gilchrist was able to show even a hint of progress as a scoring wing, he'd leave the tail end of the rankings in his rearview mirror.
91. Thabo Sefolosha, SF, Atlanta Hawks
Per-Game Stats: 7.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Thabo Sefolosha was never going to maintain his early-season success on offense. Through his first 10 appearances, he averaged 8.0 points and 1.9 assists while shooting 55.9 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from downtown, but that was always too good to be true. During the remaining portion of the campaign, he put up just 7.0 points and 1.7 dimes while connecting on 42.0 percent of his field-goal attempts, once again forcing the vast majority of his value to come on the defensive end.
90-86: Monroe, Johnson, Anderson, Dedmon, Thompson
90. Greg Monroe, C, Milwaukee Bucks
Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.5 blocks
A trimmed-down, slimmed-down version of Greg Monroe turned into a fringe Sixth Man of the Year candidate for the Milwaukee Bucks, even if he probably won't end up on any ballots. With quick feet and active hands, he was able to do away with his reputation as a defensive sieve, impacting the proceedings by constantly jumping into passing lanes and racking up 1.1 steals per game. Considering he played just 22.5 minutes during his average appearance, that thievery rate is even more elite than it may initially seem.
89. Amir Johnson, PF, Boston Celtics
Per-Game Stats: 6.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks
Amir Johnson won't ever score many points for the Boston Celtics—he topped 15 just three times in 80 games—but that's not from where his value comes. The power forward is an athletic defender who can ice pick-and-rolls before recovering to contest shots around the rim. His rebounding proficiency also helps account for Al Horford's problems in that department, thereby unlocking more possibilities on both ends for the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed.
88. Ryan Anderson, PF, Houston Rockets
Per-Game Stats: 13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks
Will Ryan Anderson ever do much on the defensive end? Absolutely not. Does he add value on the boards? Nope. Can he serve as a secondary distributor to ease the responsibilities endured by James Harden? That's a negative. But his ability to make shots from well beyond the three-point arc stretches out a defense for the driving assaults of the bearded guard, and his reputation (and gravitational pull) persisted during a season in which he shot 40.4 percent from downtown on an even seven attempts per game.
87. Dewayne Dedmon, C, San Antonio Spurs
Per-Game Stats: 5.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks
Dewayne Dedmon did everything on defense for the dominant San Antonio Spurs. He could protect the rim against any assignment, even when he was asked to curtail dribble penetration by hedging hard and then recovering toward the interior. He could stay disciplined against post-ups and avoid cheating too far away from spot-up shooters. He could even switch onto wings and guards for short spurts, helping make up for the limitations of some veteran backcourt members. According to ESPN.com's DRPM, he was one of the league's five most effective defenders, regardless of position.
86. Tristan Thompson, C, Cleveland Cavaliers
Per-Game Stats: 8.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.1 blocks
The lack of development from Tristan Thompson is staggering. He's still not a true defensive stopper around the basket, can't pass to save his life and rarely makes shots from beyond the restricted area. Even at the free-throw stripe, he shot a career-worst 49.8 percent. But at least he can still thrive on the offensive glass, creating plenty of second-chance opportunities for a dynamic Cleveland Cavaliers offense and finishing a number of glass-cleaning plays on his own.
85-81: Ginobili, Green, Gordon, Curry, Roberson
85. Manu Ginobili, SG, San Antonio Spurs
Per-Game Stats: 7.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
Father Time is undefeated, but Manu Ginobili is giving him a run for his money. The 39-year-old shooting guard is occupying a smaller role than ever for the San Antonio Spurs, but that's allowed him to stay remarkably efficient on a per-minute basis. He can still pick apart defenses with awe-inspiring creativity, and his detailed understanding of head coach Gregg Popovich's defensive schemes enables him to be in the right places at the right times.
84. Danny Green, SG, San Antonio Spurs
Per-Game Stats: 7.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks
Basically the definition of a "three-and-D" wing, Danny Green rarely does anything that falls outside those two overarching categories. He's a bona fide stopper against opposing shooting guards and small forwards, and he dropped in 37.9 percent of his deep attempts while taking 4.6 per game—6.2 per 36 minutes. He could stand to improve that percentage and start contributing in other facets, but the Spurs can't complain while he sticks to his specialities.
83. Eric Gordon, SG, Houston Rockets
Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks
At one point the favorite for Sixth Man of the Year in spite of his woeful defense, Eric Gordon spent the second half of the season backsliding. After the All-Star break, he averaged a mere 14.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 37.6 percent from the field and 33.9 percent from downtown. He'll need to regain his first-half level for the Houston Rockets to make a deep playoff run, and doing so would allow him to jet back up toward the top 50.
82. Seth Curry, PG, Dallas Mavericks
Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.1 blocks
In his breakout season, Seth Curry thrived as a shot-creator and spot-up shooter for the Dallas Mavericks while also holding his own on defense. Quick hands and a knack for proper positioning allowed him to become a two-way asset, and that point-preventing prowess caught the attention of everyone within the organization. As Wesley Matthews told Bleacher Report, "He's always been able to shoot the ball. He's crafty and makes plays...What's really underrated about him is his ability to defend."
81. Andre Roberson, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
Per-Game Stats: 6.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 blocks
Speaking of defense, few players throughout the Association were more effective on that end than Andre Roberson, who detailed his work ethic and defensive mentality in a fantastic piece by Fred Katz for the Norman Transcript. But no matter how ferocious Roberson might be while hounding opponents, he can only rise so high when his jumpers are just as likely to clank off the side of the backboard as swish through the bottom of the net.
80-76: Nurkic, Carroll, Johnson, Gallinari, Covington
80. Jusuf Nurkic, C, Portland Trail Blazers
Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.1 blocks
It was a tale of two seasons for Jusuf Nurkic, who struggled to get off the bench for the Denver Nuggets after an early-season experiment featuring him next to Nikola Jokic fizzled. But his attitude and game both changed after a midseason swap sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers, with whom he averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.9 blocks while shooting 50.8 percent from the field before a non-displaced right fibular fracture ended his regular season. He's tracking toward much higher placement, but a sample of 20 games in Rip City isn't much to work with.
79. DeMarre Carroll, SF, Toronto Raptors
Per-Game Stats: 8.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks
DeMarre Carroll can do all the little things for the Toronto Raptors, though it has to be slightly disappointing he's taken such a backseat role. There's no hint of stardom, which flies in the face of the potential he showed during his breakout season for the Atlanta Hawks in 2014-15. But at least he's avoided becoming anything even resembling a liability, which has allowed him to continue staving off Norman Powell and the Raptors' other youthful wings for a while longer.
78. James Johnson, PF, Miami Heat
Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks
James Johnson was tragically misused with the Toronto Raptors, and Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra did such a nice job unlocking his potential that both men have emerged as primary contenders for major awards—Sixth Man of the Year for Johnson and Coach of the Year for Spoelstra. In South Beach, Johnson gets to show off his athleticism and versatility on defense but also his all-around offensive excellence, which allows him to take over for Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters as a drive-and-kick ball-handler capable of leading Miami's second unit.
77. Danilo Gallinari, PF, Denver Nuggets
Per-Game Stats: 18.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks
Though Danilo Gallinari became an afterthought once the Denver Nuggets turned their offense over to Nikola Jokic, he did showcase what he could do in a lesser role. He was always miscast as a No. 1 option, because he can thrive as a secondary scorer who puts up points while spotting up, cutting to the hoop and creating his own looks. With less defensive attention, Gallinari's ability to generate free-throw attempts and score efficiently looks even better, though it's concerning he failed to make defensive strides with his extra energy reserves.
76. Robert Covington, SF, Philadelphia 76ers
Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.0 blocks
Meet one of the league's most underrated defenders. Though Joel Embiid got much of the credit for the Philadelphia 76ers' defensive strides, it was this forward who consistently made a positive impact on the proceedings with his penchant for filling virtually any role. Without Robert Covington on the floor, the Sixers allowed 109.9 points per 100 possessions. With him, the defensive rating plunged to 103.3.
75-71: Booker, LaVine, Young, Ibaka, Wiggins
75. Devin Booker, SG, Phoenix Suns
Per-Game Stats: 22.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks
The potential here is incredible—obviously, since Devin Booker joined Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, David Robinson and David Thompson as one of only six players to score 70 points in a game. But we still can't look past his woeful defense and overall inefficiency. Even with that masterpiece included—he shot just 42.3 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from downtown while letting his turnovers run rampant. He has the ability to shoot up these rankings, but he's not there yet.
74. Zach LaVine, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks
Zach LaVine's defense still lagged well behind where it needed to be before he tore his ACL, but the Minnesota Timberwolves 2-guard made palpable offensive improvement. Without the 'Wolves trying to pigeonhole him into the lineup as a makeshift point guard, he thrived as a spot-up sniper who could still keep defenders off balance with the threat of his ultra-athletic bursts to the basket. Now, Minnesota just has to pray the athleticism doesn't fade away during his recovery from the devastating knee injury.
73. Thaddeus Young, PF, Indiana Pacers
Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks
In the past, Thaddeus Young has primarily served as an offensive threat by virtue of his cutting and ability to find the rim in transition. But he was used more infrequently on offense by the Indiana Pacers, instead dedicating his energy to defense, where he was often asked to function as a secondary rim protector and versatile forward who could dash around the court to impact passing lanes and poke the ball free from unsuspecting handlers. He's no longer anything close to a star, but he's still effective.
72. Serge Ibaka, PF, Toronto Raptors
Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.6 blocks
The Toronto Raptors didn't get the version of Serge Ibaka they were looking for. Since he arrived in a midseason trade with the Orlando magic, the power forward has averaged 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting just 45.9 percent from the field (though he has shot a respectable 39.8 percent from three-point territory). Even more problematically, he posted a negative DBPM for the first time in his career, failing to make a substantial impact on a team that needed exactly that from its starting 4.
71. Andrew Wiggins, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Per-Game Stats: 23.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks
According to NBA Math's TPA, only three players provided more negative value than Andrew Wiggins in 2016-17: Brandon Ingram, Matthew Dellavedova and Isaiah Whitehead. Why? Because averaging 23.6 points isn't a positive in the advanced metrics when it comes with a below-average true shooting percentage. He didn't contribute in any other areas, he provided only two more assists than turnovers, and he played some of the league's worst defense unless left in a one-on-one situation. Fortunately, context helps him; it's still impressive to average 23.6 points on a roster that needed scoring to come from somewhere. The potential remains, but thinking Wiggins is anything close to an All-Star at this early stage of his career is foolish.
70-66: Parker, Adams, Iguodala, Anthony, Harris
70. Jabari Parker, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
Per-Game Stats: 20.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks
Somehow, Jabari Parker came back from his first ACL tear with more athleticism than ever. It paid off for the Milwaukee Bucks, as the 22-year-old peppered defenses with perimeter jumpers while thriving as a rim-runner and transition threat. Averaging 20.1 points and growing in other areas, he looked like a bona fide contender for Most Improved Player before a second ACL tear in February ended his campaign. The Bucks have to hold their collective breath and hope the next rehabilitation process goes as smoothly as the first.
69. Steven Adams, C, Oklahoma City Thunder
Per-Game Stats: 11.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.0 blocks
Though Steven Adams looked like a breakout candidate during the 2016 postseason, he regressed on offense throughout the 2016-17 campaign. He was a bit more involved for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but that proved problematic when he couldn't finish plays around the rim as easily, turned the ball over far more often and struggled to maintain chemistry with Russell Westbrook. Westbrook often dropped nifty feeds in the pick-and-roll for his larger teammate, but Adams also misjudged his routes to the rim and threw the OKC offense off on some occasions.
Per-Game Stats: 7.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
The Golden State Warriors smartly cut back Andre Iguodala's minutes, but he was the same two-way force whenever he found his way onto the floor. He still serves as a legitimate spark plug for any of the team's barnstorming small-ball lineups and is capable of switching to guard multiple players and setting the table for the talented shooters around him. According to NBA Math's TPA, he joined Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and JaVale McGee(!) as one of four Dubs with positive scores on both ends.
67. Carmelo Anthony, SF, New York Knicks
Per-Game Stats: 22.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks
Carmelo Anthony is no longer a superstar. He's a tremendous offensive presence who can create his own looks at any point in the game while still finding open teammates—when he feels like it, at least. But it's getting harder for him to shoulder a massive workload, and his defensive intensity is worse than ever. This season, the possessions in which he buckled down and decided to prove himself on that end came fewer and further between. The impact just isn't there anymore.
66. Gary Harris, SG, Denver Nuggets
Per-Game Stats: 14.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.1 blocks
Thanks to his cutting excellence, his proficiency as a jump-shooter, his ability to finish plays creatively around the rim and his status as one of the Denver Nuggets' premier perimeter defenders (that's more a reflection on the Nuggets' roster than his own talent), Gary Harris established himself as the second building block in the Mile High City. His chemistry with Nikola Jokic was off the charts, and his willingness to burst toward the hoop in anticipation of on-target feeds seemed to inspire the rest of his teammates, propelling Denver toward the top of the offensive-rating leaderboard.
65-61: Batum, Wade, Rubio, Williams, Noel
65. Nicolas Batum, SG, Charlotte Hornets
Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks
Versatility has always been Nicolas Batum's calling card, and the Charlotte Hornets keep putting him in position to thrive by letting him function as a secondary ball-handler alongside Kemba Walker. But Batum's defense is drying up as age saps some of his athleticism and endurance—and that's not the most troubling part of his profile. The biggest cause for his drop out of the semi-elite tier stems from an inability to shoot better than 33.3 percent from three-point range.
Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks
Don't take this as an affront to Dwyane Wade's career, which should leave him as a first-ballot lock for the Hall of Fame. But he just wasn't the same player during his first season with the Chicago Bulls. He struggled to hold his own defensively and quickly came back to earth after early-season flame-throwing from beyond the arc. His ability to contribute in so many difference facets of the game remains valuable, but it's telling that Chicago's net rating fell by 4.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, even as he spent 69.6 percent of his minutes operating with Jimmy Butler.
63. Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Per-Game Stats: 11.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.1 blocks
How good is Ricky Rubio's passing? Well, he scored just 11.1 points per game while shooting 40.2 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from downtown. And he still finished behind only 15 other point guards in ESPN.com's offensive real plus/minus (ORPM). Rubio's distributing makes the Minnesota Timberwolves offense work, and it tends to struggle without his on-target feeds that often create opportunities for his teammates that wouldn't otherwise exist.
62. Lou Williams, PG, Houston Rockets
Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks
Lou Williams serves as a tremendous example of a role player maximizing his abilities. The combo guard can't play defense, but he's still effective because he's so good at putting up points efficiently. Whether he's attacking the hoop or spacing the floor with his three-point stroke, he's almost always lighting up the scoreboard. However, he falls down the rankings a bit for his inability to fit in with the Houston Rockets, averaging only 14.9 points while shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from downtown after a midseason trade forced him to take off his purple-and-gold uniform.
61. Nerlens Noel, C, Dallas Mavericks
Per-Game Stats: 8.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks
Nerlens Noel is contagious. Teammates can't help but try harder when they witness his effort-aided defensive showings. He forces guards to attempt more lobs around the rim, because they're suddenly more confident in their teammates' finishing abilities after witnessing his athletic displays. Noel didn't have a massive role with the Dallas Mavericks after he was surprisingly sent there before the trade deadline, but his impact goes well beyond per-game numbers.
60-56: Payton, Drummond, Mills, Dieng, Plumlee
60. Elfrid Payton, PG, Orlando Magic
Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.5 blocks
Elfrid Payton still can't connect on jumpers, which allows defenders to duck under screens and sag off him to affect passing lanes. But his defense trended in the right direction throughout 2016-17, as he finally grew more comfortable guarding pick-and-roll ball-handlers and stayed more disciplined against spot-up shooters. His shooting stroke might prevent him from turning into a star, but he's doing everything else well enough to become a legitimate starting 1.
59. Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons
Per-Game Stats: 13.6 points, 13.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks
Andre Drummond's reputation might have some laughing at this low placement. But the big man's impact is falling off, in spite of his gaudy rebounding figures. He can't anchor an offensive unit and is somehow more effective at the charity stripe than when he takes post-up attempts. His defense leads to steals and blocks, but he's also porous around the basket, which is troubling when the Detroit Pistons' scheme often has him as the last line of defense. Outside of his rebounding, there's just not much too love for the 23-year-old whose development has completely stagnated.
58. Patty Mills, PG, San Antonio Spurs
Per-Game Stats: 9.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.8 steals
Patty Mills can flat-out shoot the basketball. The San Antonio Spurs' sixth man averaged just 9.5 points and 3.5 assists, but he did so in nearly mistake-free fashion. While knocking down 43.9 percent of his field-goal attempts and 41.3 percent of his triples, he turned the ball over just 2.1 times per 36 minutes—a big part of the reason he finished No. 12 among point guards in ESPN.com's ORPM. Defense remains a work in progress for the 28-year-old, but that's the only negative to his game.
57. Gorgui Dieng, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Per-Game Stats: 10.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.2 blocks
Shooting 43.4 percent on two-pointers from beyond 16 feet. Connecting at a 44.9 percent clip from between 10 and 16 feet. Hitting 64.1 percent of your looks from within three feet. Knocking down 37.2 percent of your three-point tries. When a player can combine those skills with excellent defense, he's quite valuable. Gorgui Dieng does, and his reputation only doesn't match his production because he fades into the background when surrounded by Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns.
56. Mason Plumlee, C, Denver Nuggets
Per-Game Stats: 10.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.1 blocks
The Denver Nuggets acquired Mason Plumlee because he gave them another starting-caliber center to use behind Nikola Jokic, ensuring there wasn't too much of a drop-off when their burgeoning star needed a breather. And that's the exact role Plumlee filled, continuing to show off his tremendous skill as a passer, even if his rim protection was exposed by Denver's inability to prevent dribble penetration. He only averaged 9.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists in the Mile High City, but that's due far more to opportunity than skill.
55-51: Johnson, Gay, Holiday, Gasol, Beverley
55. Tyler Johnson, PG, Miami Heat
Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks
Tyler Johnson's touch allowed him to shoot 37.2 percent from downtown while taking 3.4 attempts per game. His athleticism allowed him to create enough easy opportunities around the hoop for him to connect on 59 percent of his looks from within three feet. And most importantly, his ability to work on or off the ball allowed head coach Erik Spoelstra to play him with any set of teammates, turning him into a super-sub who should garner significant consideration for Sixth Man of the Year (in the event James Johnson doesn't).
54. Rudy Gay, SF, Sacramento Kings
Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.9 blocks
Rudy Gay continued his strong play from recent years before an Achilles injury ended his season and cast doubt on any future growth. That's a brutal injury to recover from; it forces players into sharp declines as they rehabilitate and regain their former levels over the course of years—if at all. But if Gay is able to reascend the NBA hierarchy, he'll get to this rather impressive position, which resulted from an improving shot selection and ability to translate his athleticism into quality defense.
53. Jrue Holiday, SG, New Orleans Pelicans
Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks
Health has always been the biggest issue for Jrue Holiday, so it's undeniably encouraging that he suited up in 67 contests for the New Orleans Pelicans. Plus, some of his absences were for personal reasons rather than injury concerns. When he was active, Holiday showed all the skills that once made him an All-Star point guard: terrific passing vision, hounding on-ball defense and the ability to create his own shots off the bounce.
52. Pau Gasol, C, San Antonio Spurs
Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.1 blocks
Shoutout to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who realized how to best deploy Pau Gasol. By limiting his offensive involvement and rarely pushing the ball into him on the blocks, Pop left Gasol more energy for the defensive end. And by focusing on shutting down a limited area rather than stretching out toward the perimeter and being exposed, Gasol was able to become a two-way force for the Spurs, even at the ripe old age of 36.
51. Patrick Beverley, SG, Houston Rockets
Per-Game Stats: 9.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks
Kudos to Patrick Beverley for accepting his role with nary a complaint. Shifting to the 2 hasn't been problematic for the intense backcourt stalwart, who has continued defending the opponents' best guard and thriving as a spot-up shooter. He's the ideal complement to James Harden, especially as he grows more comfortable making an offensive impact without the ball in his hands and excelling in the pick-and-roll when he does gain possession.
50-48: Caldwell-Pope, Porzingis, Lopez
50. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Detroit Pistons
Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
There was only so much Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could do on a team with limited spacing and trouble protecting the interior. He emerged as the Detroit Pistons' best perimeter defender while also shooting 35 percent on his 5.8 three-point attempts per game. That number isn't ideal, but it's easy to see future improvement, given his stroke and the inevitability that Detroit eventually figures out how to optimize its roster. Already, Caldwell-Pope is the team's best player, and there's still room for plenty more growth.
49. Kristaps Porzingis, PF, New York Knicks
Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.0 blocks
Just imagine what Kristaps Porzingis might be able to do if the New York Knicks knew how to use him. Even though he can step out to defend the three-point arc, he should be spending more time around the hoop. Even though he can space out the floor and serve as a spot-up shooter, he should have the rock in his hands more than playing with Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose would ever allow. The youngster still turned in a quality season, but he fell far short of expectations, and it's not even his fault.
48. Brook Lopez, C, Brooklyn Nets
Per-Game Stats: 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.7 blocks
Brook Lopez turned into a three-point shooter for the Brooklyn Nets in 2016-17, taking 386 deep attempts throughout the season after posting a combined 31 throughout the rest of his career. Now, the Nets need him to become a three-point maker. A 34.7 percent clip isn't quite high enough to justify the heavy usage, if only because Lopez is such a dynamic offensive weapon inside the arc. Most bigs might be happy with that percentage, but his touch from the elbows and blocks makes him a unique exception.
47-45: Zeller, Ariza, Whiteside
47. Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets
Per-Game Stats: 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks
Cody Zeller allowed opponents to shoot 53 percent at the rim, but he was constantly involved, contesting 6.8 shots per game despite averaging only 27.8 minutes. And that was the weakest part of his all-around arsenal, since he fared well against stretch 4s and jump-shooting centers, finished third in screen assists per appearance and tended to do all the little things well. It's telling that the Charlotte Hornets fell out of the playoffs while he was injured, then tried to climb back into the race when he returned.
46. Trevor Ariza, SF, Houston Rockets
Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks
There's only one issue with calling Trevor Ariza a "three-and-D" wing: He shot just 34.3 percent from beyond the arc in 2016-17. Fortunately for the Houston Rockets, he still fit the "D" part of the billing with his stifling efforts and managed to contribute in other areas as well. Perhaps most impressively, he kept serving as a solid secondary—or even tertiary—distributor while minimizing his turnovers. He was one of just seven qualified players to average at least two assists without coughing the ball up even once per contest.
45. Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat
Per-Game Stats: 17.0 points, 14.1 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.1 blocks
Get out the pitchforks. Hassan Whiteside averaged 17 points and led the league in rebounds per game. How can he possibly sit outside the top 20, much less the top 40? Well, the big man did put up big per-game numbers, but his offense was actually detrimental to the Miami Heat, who didn't start making a playoff push until they stopped using him as a focal point and instead leaned upon a drive-and-kick scheme. His defense is good—often bordering on great—but his inability to pass or carry a team as a scorer limits his value, especially when he continues to play as if he thinks he's the No. 1 option.
44-42: Hill, Teague, Howard
44. George Hill, PG, Utah Jazz
Per-Game Stats: 16.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks
Early in the season, George Hill appeared to be an All-Star candidate, thriving during his first season leading the Utah Jazz offense. But whether due to injuries or natural regression, he couldn't maintain the pace from the opening salvo. Still, there are reasons to be encouraged. For example, the 30-year-old shot 42.5 percent on his treys after the All-Star break and continued to make a sizable impact as a facilitator for an offense always in need of quality setup passes.
43. Jeff Teague, PG, Indiana Pacers
Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks
Now we're taking a step up, because there was a good bit of separation between Jeff Teague and George Hill during the 2016-17 campaign, even if they're only separated by a single slot in these rankings. The Indiana Pacers point guard functioned as a terrific table-setter throughout the year, keeping the offense flowing with his knack for dashing into the teeth of a defense and either finishing with touch or finding an open teammate. Averaging 7.8 assists while surrounded by new teammates isn't easy, but Teague did exactly that while still keeping his turnovers in check.
42. Dwight Howard, C, Atlanta Hawks
Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.2 blocks
The Atlanta Hawks managed to grab 26.3 percent of available offensive boards in 2016-17 while Dwight Howard was on the floor, which beats out all but five teams in the season-long standings. The 31-year-old wasn't a featured offensive option during his first season with his hometown squad, but he still made a solid impact with his rim-protecting defense and ability to crash the boards on both ends. In fact, he was good enough to dictate a philosophical shift from head coach Mike Budenholzer, who had firmly favored transition defense over second-chance points ever since taking the Atlanta job.
41-39: Crowder, Dragic, Turner
41. Jae Crowder, SF, Boston Celtics
Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks
Jae Crowder's numbers are more a function of his willingness to accept a lesser role than his own skill set. He can thrive in every area on the offensive end, even if he's most comfortable locking down on defense against the opponent's best wing. As he told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, "I don't put a ceiling on my game. Once the opportunity presents itself, I try to just step up to the opportunity. But we run a lot of stuff for Isaiah [Thomas] on the court and that just limits me on the offensive end a lot, so it is what it is."
40. Goran Dragic, PG, Miami Heat
Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
Good luck keeping Goran Dragic away from the basket. The veteran point guard embarked upon 11.9 drives per game (more than anyone but Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder) and shot 52.8 percent on them. Couple that with all his passes in the Miami Heat's drive-and-kick schemes, and you can see why he had such an effective offensive season. If he played even the tiniest modicum of defense, he'd be a lock for much higher placement.
39. Myles Turner, C, Indiana Pacers
Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 2.1 blocks
One of the league's most improved players, Myles Turner managed to grow across the board. He was a more disciplined defender who could hold his own around the hoop and run out to cover spot-up shooters. He was a better passer who didn't look hopelessly overmatched in the face of a double-team. He was a much better shooter, particularly when he stepped out to the perimeter. His ceiling is immense, but Turner is proving his floor is rather high, too.
38-36: Embiid, Aldridge, McCollum
38. Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
Per-Game Stats: 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 2.5 blocks
If Joel Embiid suited up in more than 31 contests, he'd be a lock for Rookie of the Year and on the verge of establishing himself as a top-20 player. But, as mentioned before, availability is a skill, and that—along with turnover and fouling issues—served as one of the few knocks against the first-year center for the Philadelphia 76ers. When he was healthy, he showed every tool imaginable, whether he was knocking down three-point jumpers or protecting the rim better than anyone in the NBA not named Rudy Gobert.
37. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, San Antonio Spurs
Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.2 blocks
LaMarcus Aldridge's game has completely changed during his tenure with the San Antonio Spurs. He no longer commandeers possessions by dribbling with a defender on his back but instead thrives as a catch-and-shoot floor-spacer who fits seamlessly into head coach Gregg Popovich's system. He no longer serves as a defensive liability but instead protects the rim remarkably well and can often be used as the last line between foes and the rim. His role is smaller, but his game is more complete than ever.
36. CJ McCollum, SG, Portland Trail Blazers
Per-Game Stats: 23.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks
Though DeMar DeRozan is heralded as the mid-range master, CJ McCollum isn't far behind him. He shot 50.7 percent between 10 and 16 feet, as well as 45.3 percent on even longer twos, and he created so many of his own looks. No player throughout the league makes mid-range scoring look easier, because while DeRozan gets his shots off through sheer physicality, McCollum pulls up with the silkiest stroke imaginable.
35-33: Bledsoe, Horford, Porter
35. Eric Bledsoe, PG, Phoenix Suns
Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.5 blocks
Playing for the lowly Phoenix Suns prevented Eric Bledsoe from getting enough attention during his spectacular season. The 27-year-old is a hard-nosed, physical defender, and that's not even his primary calling card. That, of course, would be his dynamic offensive presence, as he's able to penetrate into the heart of a defense on one possession and then pull up for a jumper on the next. In 2016-17, Bledsoe may have established himself as the league's most underrated floor general.
34. Al Horford, C, Boston Celtics
Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.3 blocks
Al Horford just keeps doing everything—well, everything except rebounding as effectively as most centers. Operating in a new system and playing alongside a bevy of new teammates, the big man became one of only seven players to average at least 14 points, six rebounds and five assists this season. It's a club occupied by just himself, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nicolas Batum, Jimmy Butler, James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, so it's not like the 30-year-old is keeping bad company these days.
33. Otto Porter Jr., SF, Washington Wizards
Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Sure, Otto Porter Jr. benefits from plenty of John Wall's on-target feeds that hit him right in the pocket, thereby setting up easier looks from the perimeter. But he still has to make those shots. And he has. Porter ranks in the 97th percentile as a spot-up shooter, converting frequently enough to score a staggering 1.31 points per possession. Among the 81 players who suited up in at least 40 games and used spot-up shots on no fewer than 30 percent of their possessions, only CJ Miles has produced points at a higher rate.
32-30: Irving, Love, Thompson
32. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Per-Game Stats: 25.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks
Only a handful of players (if any) are more entertaining with the ball in their hands, as Kyrie Irving can put on dazzling dribbling displays and make shots with a very high degree of difficulty. He also thrived in last year's playoffs. But those factors don't have much bearing here, since we're only concerned with production during the 2016-17 campaign. That's bad news for Irving, whose defensive woes prevent him from rising too much higher on the leaderboard. And for additional perspective, just look at where he ranks in some overarching metrics: No. 31 in NBA Math's TPA, No. 56 in ESPN.com's RPM, No. 41 in RPM wins and No. 31 in value over replacement player (VORP). The numbers, as they say, don't lie.
31. Kevin Love, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks
Can we give Kevin Love some credit for his defensive strides? The power forward will never be mistaken for a legitimate stopper or rim-protecting presence, but his positioning and willingness to fill in gaps for the Cleveland Cavaliers is crucial to a defense that often lacks effort. ESPN.com's DRPM has Love trailing just 15 power forwards, even if that flies in the face of his one-way reputation. It just goes to show that players can make positive impacts even if they're not the ones ending possessions or ripping the ball away from the opposition.
30. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors
Per-Game Stats: 22.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks
First, let's note that there's nothing to be ashamed of when you finish anywhere inside the top 30. It means that if the talent were redistributed throughout the NBA, you'd likely be one of the first-round selections (assuming potential wasn't taken into account). No. 30 may seem like a disrespectful placement for Klay Thompson, but we have to keep that in mind and take the entirety of his game into account. He's one of the league's best shooters and an ace on-ball defender, but his inability to develop as a rebounder or distributor and unwillingness to play high-quality off-ball defense hold him back. Those factors are easy to overlook when casually watching games, but they do matter.
29-27: DeRozan, Beal, Walker
29. DeMar DeRozan, SG, Toronto Raptors
Per-Game Stats: 27.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks
DeMar DeRozan has maximized what a mid-range scorer can do. But shooting 26.6 percent from downtown and typically eschewing deep looks altogether doesn't bode well, no matter how many trips to the stripe he might make. The 2-guard still scored "only" 1.3 points per field-goal attempt, leaving him behind the league's other top-five scorers: Russell Westbrook (1.32), James Harden (1.54), Isaiah Thomas (1.49) and Anthony Davis (1.37). This would be less concerning if DeRozan was a standout in any other area of the game, but he's an atrocious defender and a limited overall player when he's not scoring.
28. Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards
Per-Game Stats: 23.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks
Bradley Beal averaged a career-high 23.1 points, and he did so while completely altering his shooting profile. The changes—passing up on long twos in favor of finding teammates and constantly stepping back to take more triples—helped him shoot 40.4 percent from downtown (on a staggering 7.2 attempts per game) and a career-best 53.8 percent on his twos. He became a complete offensive player and still didn't experience any defensive backsliding, setting him up for some Most Improved Player hype while he climbs closer to the top of the 2-guard rankings.
27. Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Hornets
Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks
There was a brief midseason lull before the All-Star break during which Kemba Walker looked fatigued. The weight of carrying the Charlotte Hornets offense, which is wholly dependent on his pick-and-roll prowess, was too much and slowed him down on both ends. But Walker returned from the mid-year festivities with a vengeance, averaging 24.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists after the break while shooting 43.6 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from downtown and 87.6 percent at the charity stripe.
26-24: Hayward, Millsap, Lillard
26. Gordon Hayward, SF, Utah Jazz
Per-Game Stats: 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks
Everything about Gordon Hayward's game is impressive, but it's what catches you by surprise that often helps him stand out most. At least once a game, the 27-year-old goes streaking in from the weak side and finishes a thunderous alley-oop slam that steals momentum and fires up his troops. And with a similar frequency, he can lock down opposing wings as well as anyone, though he doesn't have the stamina to fill that two-way role from start to finish. More so every year, Hayward is becoming a complete player and unquestioned star.
25. Paul Millsap, PF, Atlanta Hawks
Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.9 blocks
With Paul Millsap on the bench, the Atlanta Hawks score 98.4 points per 100 possessions (what would be No. 30 in the league-wide standings) and allow 103.4 over the same stretch (No. 5). When he's playing, those numbers shift to 105 (No. 17) and 103 (No. 4), respectively. Thanks to his undying versatility and willingness to fill any role for head coach Mike Budenholzer, Millsap has continued to serve as the fulcrum upon which both Atlanta's offense and defense are balanced. His impact goes well beyond his per-game numbers, even if the way he fills the box score is already impressive.
24. Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
Per-Game Stats: 27.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks
Though he still treats screens like they're brick walls and can get tortured as an isolation defender, Damian Lillard overcomes his defensive deficiencies with offensive prowess. Few players can score in such volume while maintaining impressive levels of efficiency, but Lillard does exactly that by thriving in any and all scoring situations. His primary skill, though, may have to be his pull-up shooting; Lillard was one of 18 players to take at least 500 pull-up attempts in 2016-17, and he was within the top 10 for effective field-goal percentage among that group.
23-21: Griffin, Conley, Jordan
23. Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
Per-Game Stats: 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks
So many players get credit for their versatility, but Blake Griffin's often seemed to get overlooked in 2016-17. Perhaps it was because the Los Angeles Clippers fell far from the top of the Western Conference after their hot start. Maybe it was because of the big man's injuries. Regardless, Griffin became one of only seven qualified players to average at least 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a steal, joining Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. Not too shabby, right?
22. Mike Conley, PG, Memphis Grizzlies
Per-Game Stats: 20.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks
No one in the history of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise, even dating back to the Vancouver years, has had a better offensive season than the one Mike Conley just finished putting together. Per NBA Math's TPA database, he had the organization's top mark in offensive points added (286.48), which also ranked behind only 12 other players during the 2016-17 campaign. Whether he was dishing the rock to open teammates or knocking down triples of his own, the 29-year-old appeared to be on a mission to prove his exorbitant contract was, in fact, justified.
21. DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers
Per-Game Stats: 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.7 blocks
Given DeAndre Jordan's excessive size and athleticism, he should at least be a decent pick-and-roll finisher. And he is. Functioning as a roll man on 19.5 percent of his plays, Jordan scored a mind-numbing 1.52 points per possession. Not only did that leave him in the 99.1 percentile for this particular play type, but it left him 0.14 points per possession clear of anyone else who used at least 100 relevant possessions. Throw in Jordan's excellent interior defense, and you have a studly center who just doesn't score as much as most of the league's other top-30 contributors.
20. Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves
Per-Game Stats: 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.3 blocks
If defense didn't matter, Karl-Anthony Towns would be a lock for the top 10. He's become an undeniable offensive force, especially since he averaged 28.4 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists after the All-Star break while shooting 59.7 percent from the field, 43.4 percent from downtown and 84.1 percent from the stripe. Those are the numbers of an unabashed superstar, which is exactly what Towns has become on the scoring end—someone capable of raining in jumpers and torturing foes with a never-ending supply of moves on the interior.
But defense does matter.
No matter how you spin it, Towns has been a negative on that side. He occasionally looks strong in on-ball situations, but head coach Tom Thibodeau's scheme has been too complicated for him. He frequently winds up out of position, which places far too much responsibility on the shoulders of his teammates, many of whom aren't defensive stalwarts in their own rights.
By ESPN.com's DRPM, Towns was the league's least effective defensive center, though that seems like an exaggeration. NBA Math's defensive points saved is more generous, though it's worth noting his slightly above-average score is partially because his impressive defensive rebounding factors into the equation. Finally, the Minnesota Timberwolves allow an additional 7.2 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor.
Until this changes, there's only so high he can rise.
19. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies
Per-Game Stats: 19.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.4 blocks
Marc Gasol has always been a versatile player, but never quite like this.
In the past, he's tormented the opposition by thriving inside the arc. Whether he was creating his own looks from the block, finding open teammates as they slash toward the hoop (sometimes in a way that made it seem like he had eyes in the back of his head) or controlling the paint on defense, he owned everything happening within the half-court set, so long as it was occurring near or in the painted area.
But now, he's expanding his range.
Gasol, who had gone 12-of-66 from deep (18.2 percent) throughout his career prior to 2016-17, decided to morph into a three-point marksman. Taking 3.6 treys per game, he connected on 38.8 percent of his deep looks.
Most players ease into new roles. But not Gasol. He chose to jump straight into the water rather than dipping a toe. Only 34 qualified shooters could match his combination of volume and efficiency, and not one man joined him in the group while playing the majority of his minutes at the 5.
18. John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards
Per-Game Stats: 23.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 10.7 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.6 blocks
John Wall means everything to the Washington Wizards offense.
His scoring sparks the team, as does his tremendous passing. Few players are so adept driving at full speed while keeping their eyes searching for teammates on the perimeter, and no one other than LeBron James is better at hitting those players in the sweet spot upon finding them. His work in the pick-and-roll creates so many easy opportunities for the Wizards, who either feast upon close-range looks or wide-open threes in the corners.
Plus, Wall is a solid, albeit unorthodox, defender. He gambles excessively and intentionally allows some dribble penetration, but only because he knows he can use his athleticism to recover and swipe the ball away or swat the ensuing shot attempt. Taking this approach, he joined Draymond Green as one of just two players to average at least 2.0 steals and 0.5 blocks in 2016-17.
Of course, there's still one legitimate weakness: Wall can't shoot from the perimeter.
These woes haven't gone away with age. The 26-year-old couldn't shoot better than 32.7 percent from three-point zones, which lets defenders sag off him and mitigate the impact of his speedy bursts to the basket.
17. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Sacramento Kings
Per-Game Stats: 27.0 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks
The transition to the New Orleans Pelicans wasn't always easy for DeMarcus Cousins.
Despite the promise of the "fire and ice" duo, he and Anthony Davis required some adjustments when they started playing together, if only because both prefer working from the left blocks and elbows, which creates inherent spacing concerns.
After the shocking trade away from the Sacramento Kings, with whom Cousins had spent the entirety of his professional career, the mercurial center averaged 24.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks. Impressive numbers, sure, but less impactful when they come without shooting improvement upon his time in SacTown (shooting 45.2 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from downtown and 77.7 percent at the line in New Orleans). Throw in turnover struggles and positioning issues on defense, and it's easier to see why Cousins struggled to spark wins in his new location.
Of course, that will change in the future.
As he forges cohesion with his new teammates and the New Orleans front office is allowed to build around both him and Davis with the right complementary pieces, he'll have a chance to end the playoff drought that's made him the career leader in NBA Math's TPA among players with zero postseason appearances.
16. Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets
Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks
Nikola Jokic may already be the NBA's best offensive center, and not just because he's the leader among all big men in ESPN.com's ORPM by a fairly wide margin—his score of 4.44 ranks No. 12 throughout the NBA, while DeMarcus Cousins (3.57) is up next at No. 16.
The 22-year-old is clearly the supreme passer at his position, capable of baiting defenders into overplaying him with a high release point that imitates his shooting stroke but ends with him lobbing feeds to cutters. His distribution inspired an abrupt offensive shift for the Denver Nuggets, placing the ball in his hand and constantly featuring wings darting to the hoop around him. He's a triple-double threat every night, and his season-long averages would look even better if it hadn't taken the team so long to realize he was its best player.
But Jokic is also a terrific shooter, despite what his 32.4 percent clip from long range might indicate. Among the 60 players who took at least five shots per game from within 10 feet but used those looks to account for no more than 70 percent of their overall shots (essentially weeding out the players who only finish dunks to generate offense), just LeBron James and Kevin Durant posted higher field-goal percentages.
He's the complete (offensive) package, even if he's still moving into the national spotlight.
15. Paul George, SF, Indiana Pacers
Per-Game Stats: 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks
If only Paul George spent all year playing like he did down the stretch.
Maybe he was motivated by the potential to make an All-NBA team and drastically increase his earning potential. Perhaps he was trying to elevate his play and lift the Indiana Pacers into the playoffs, which he did successfully. There's a chance he was just tired of ranking well outside the top 10 and wanted to boost his stock before 2016-17 drew to a close.
Early in the season, George was a one-way asset. He struggled far more than normal on the defensive end, focusing all his energy on his high-scoring efforts, even as too many of his jumpers bounced off the rim. Then, he flipped a switch.
From the beginning of March through the end of the campaign, Indiana's star averaged a staggering 28.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.5 blocks while shooting 50.5 percent from the field, 42.2 percent from deep and 86.2 percent at the free-throw line. He was an offensive machine, and yet he still had the time and energy to resume his former status as an all-world defender.
This is the version of George that might show up throughout the playoffs. But we can't completely overlook his lackluster opening salvo in these rankings—hence a ranking that falls below the level at which he's currently playing.
14. Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans Pelicans
Per-Game Stats: 28.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.2 blocks
Anthony Davis just needs to win. Though it's hard to imagine him carrying a dismal New Orleans Pelicans roster into the Western Conference playoffs without substantial improvements from the front office, his lack of team-oriented success is one of the only major flaws on his resume.
Cue ESPN.com's Justin Verrier, who argued the same point while spinning it around the unibrowed big man's exclusion from this year's MVP conversation, then explained that Davis is still developing:
In Davis lore, his fifth season will be an important one, as it marks the point when he made the leap from a shot-blocking, alley-oop-finishing wunderkind to the midrange-shooting wing/center hybrid he has become under [head coach Alvin] Gentry. After years of dreaming up all sorts of future iterations of Davis, we now have a clear idea of the player who, health willing, figures to be a fixture in the NBA’s upper echelon for the next decade.
The biggest strides in 2016-17 came on defense, where Davis stopped going after unnecessary blocks and displayed far more discipline within the defensive schemes. He was a terror in all phases of the game—getting back in transition, coming off the weak side to help his teammates and thriving in an on-ball setting. It was the type of performance that will eventually thrust him into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, even if there are still a few too many mental lapses for him to be there quite yet.
Still, consider this: The Pelicans posted a minus-8.7 net rating without Davis, and that number rose to 1.7 when the superstar was on the floor.
13. Isaiah Thomas, PG, Boston Celtics
Per-Game Stats: 28.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks
Isaiah Thomas scored throughout games, then he scored some more. And during the last 12 minutes of action, he scored more still.
The world has literally never seen a season filled with so many efficient fourth-quarter explosions. Thomas averaged 9.8 points per final period, which actually trailed Russell Westbrook's 10.0. But when we include shooting efficiency, it's the diminutive guard who gets the nod over his uber-athletic counterpart:
During the first 36 minutes, Thomas is hard enough to slow. He's so good at darting past opponents and finishing plays creatively around the hoop, and granting him too much attention makes it easy for him to drop off a quick pass to an open teammate for an easy finish.
But in crunch time, it's tougher still. He has that extra gear and stops showing even a sliver of fear when greeted by tight and physical defense. If he needs to go to the charity stripe, that's exactly what he'll do.
And the Boston Celtics couldn't have earned the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed without his heroics.
12. Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz
- Rudy Gobert, 78.93 points saved
- Draymond Green, 51.17
- Kristaps Porzingis, 47.47
- Hassan Whiteside, 41.66
- LaMarcus Aldridge, 37.45
- Robin Lopez, 35.34
- Myles Turner, 31.83
- Brook Lopez, 30.6
- Joel Embiid, 29.87
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, 29.75
Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 12.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 2.6 blocks
It's impossible to oversell Rudy Gobert's defensive impact.
Throughout the season, the NBA as a whole shot 53.5 percent at the rim while guarded by another player. If we look at the discrepancy between a player's field-goal percentage allowed at the rim and the league average, and then multiply that difference by how many shots they faced, we can get an estimate of how many points they saved right around the hoop.
As you may have guessed, a certain behemoth from the Utah Jazz paces the Association:
Only three other players provided half as much value around the rim. Just a dozen provided more than a third.
And we haven't even touched on Gobert's ability to deter shots—or his ever-growing offensive impact, for that matter.
11. Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors
Per-Game Stats: 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks
Forget about playoff Kyle Lowry.
We're not concerned with his disappointing run during the 2016 postseason, nor are we worried about his brutal start to this year's festivities. Whatever mental blocks start preventing him from finding the bottom of the net are irrelevant here, since we're interested only in what Lowry did during the regular season, through which he established himself as the Eastern Conference's premier guard.
The 31-year-old took a step backward on defense throughout the campaign, both because age kept him from moving quite as quickly when he was asked to slide laterally, and because he was frequently tasked with covering up for DeMar DeRozan and assuming tougher assignments. But he more than made up for the deficiencies with his offense.
Putting up 22.4 points and 7.0 assists per game isn't easy. It's even tougher when you're creating so many of your own looks and still managing to knock down 46.4 percent of your field-goal attempts and 41.2 percent of your three-point tries. In fact, Lowry became one of just five players in NBA history to average those per-game numbers with a true shooting percentage north of 62 percent, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Magic Johnson.
Maybe he'll bounce back in the playoffs. Maybe he won't.
Either way, he's pretty darn good.
10. Draymond Green, PF, Golden State Warriors
Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.4 blocks
Draymond Green needn't score to have value to the Golden State Warriors.
Even if he refused to take a shot for the rest of his career, he'd have a legitimate shot at making All-Star squads—assuming they were determined solely by actual value and not more arbitrary measures. He's that good as a distributor and rebounder, even though those aren't even his primary skills.
Defense stands out most, to the point that many have him atop their Defensive Player of the Year ballots. Zach Lowe is one such example and wrote the following for ESPN.com:
He is the smartest defender I've seen since the peak 1990s Chicago teams. His anticipation is uncanny, as if he wakes up every morning to find a tape of that night's game on his doorstep, 'Early Edition'-style. He moves in sync with every action. He doesn't arrive to the collision point on time. He arrives early.
Green is the one irreplaceable part in the NBA's best defense—the main reason Golden State stiffened on that end during Kevin Durant's absence. [Rudy] Gobert would be a deserving winner, but Green's versatility gives him the edge here.
Is Green the NBA's best interior defender? Nope. Is he the best wing defender? Definitely not.
But he's the best combination of the two and able to take on any assignment for a possession.
9. Jimmy Butler, SF, Chicago Bulls
Per-Game Stats: 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.4 blocks
Without Jimmy Butler, the Chicago Bulls mustered a minus-7.1 net rating, which would barely avoid a last-place finish in the season-long standings because the mark is identical to that of the Los Angeles Lakers. But when he played, they surged to 3.0, which would push them to No. 8 overall, slightly ahead of the reigning champions.
That's a substantial difference, and it's not the least bit misleading.
Butler meant everything to the Bulls, whether he was battling on defense while picking up the slack for his backcourt teammates or sparking the offense. He was one of the few players on the roster—before or after trades—who could consistently knock down jumpers, and he managed to create his own offense efficiently even while fighting through a lack of spacing.
It's interesting, then, to think of how much better he could have been.
Just close your eyes and imagine. Well, finish reading this and then close your eyes and imagine. The Chicago front office somehow makes a good decision, electing to surround Butler with shooters who can ease some of the offensive burden and create more holes for him to burst through on his journeys to the rim. He may grow even more efficient and assert himself as a DPOY contender, even if he has to sacrifice a few points per game to do so.
8. Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers
Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 9.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.1 blocks
Point guards are supposed to decline as they move further from their 30th birthdays, but Chris Paul is an exception. And it makes sense.
He's not a point guard, so much as a point god.
The Los Angeles Clippers leader continues to thrive on both ends, using his quick hands and quicker instincts to impact possessions at the point of the attack. Even past his athletic prime, he's generating serious hype as an All-Defensive stalwart who can guard opposing 1s better than anyone else. And yet, he's still even better on offense.
Paul just refuses to make mistakes. The game is always played at his tempo, such that he's in complete control and always able to reach the spot of his choice. Defenders react to his movements, except he knows how they'll counter and gets a few moves ahead on the hardwood chess board.
That enables him to shoot efficiently, avoid turnovers at all costs and post incredible counting stats. Simpler still, it lets him remain one of the league's most efficient point guards while still filling a high-volume role.
7. Giannis Antetokounmpo, SG, Milwaukee Bucks
Per-Game Stats: 22.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.9 blocks
What can't Giannis Antetokounmpo do?
Just for fun, let's find the most comparable players to his per-game averages in each of the five major categories:
|Player Above||CJ McCollum |
|Tristan Thompson (9.2)||Kemba Walker (5.5)||Tony Allen (1.6)||Kristaps Porzingis (2.0)|
|Player Below||Carmelo Anthony (22.4)||LeBron James (8.6)||Tim Frazier (5.2)||Paul George (1.6)||DeAndre Jordan (1.7)|
Using the closest comparisons, this means Antetokounmpo scores like CJ McCollum, rebounds like LeBron James, dishes out dimes like Kemba Walker, records steals like Tony Allen and swats shots like Kristaps Porzingis.
There's really nothing more to say.
6. Kevin Durant, PF, Golden State Warriors
Per-Game Stats: 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.6 blocks
Before an MCL sprain and bone bruise knocked him out of the lineup, Kevin Durant was having a career year. That may seem strange to say about a former MVP who likely won't finish in the top five of this season's voting, but it's still true.
Durant has averaged more points during his best years with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But he's never been this efficient, and he's certainly never been more well-rounded. Part of that stems from the quality of the teammates surrounding him on the Golden State Warriors roster, but it's also a testament to his overwhelmingly diverse skill set.
In retrospect, "The Servant," a moniker Durant himself suggested back in 2014, might be a fitting nickname. After all, the forward has been willing to fill any role requested by head coach Steve Kerr, whether he's the leading scorer, working off the ball to let Stephen Curry get in rhythm, defending an opposing wing or protecting the rim in a small-ball lineup.
Whatever he does, it works.
5. Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
Per-Game Stats: 25.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
The worst thing you can do is look at Stephen Curry's assist tally—his 6.6 dimes per game leave him two spots outside the top 10—and think he's anything worse than one of the league's most proficient distributors. His creativity and capacity to spark the Golden State Warriors' league-best offense provide all the boosts he needs.
Before showing how Curry makes all of his teammates shoot better when he's on the floor, FiveThirtyEight's Benjamin Morris went as far as calling the 29-year-old the league's best offensive facilitator:
He creates better shots for his teammates. Assists are inherently meaningless. They’re a proxy for how much a player helps his team score, sure, but they’re a crude metric from an era when better ones didn’t exist. It’s cool that [Russell] Westbrook flipped the odometer in three popular stats for the first time in a long time, but the person who touched the ball last before someone else made a shot is irrelevant. These days, we have much better data to help figure out whether a player makes his teammates better on offense. Curry does.
This analysis isn't reliant on his passing. His shooting prowess manufactures looks for his teammates, since Curry's mere presence warps a defense in his general direction and forces foes to stray further from their primary assignments.
Put all this together, and the total product indicates that Curry—even during what was sometimes referred to as a down year—remained one of basketball's greatest offensive forces throughout 2016-17.
4. Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs
Per-Game Stats: 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 teals, 0.7 blocks
There's operating within a system, and then there's whatever Kawhi Leonard does within the San Antonio Spurs' vaunted scheme.
At this point, it's erroneous to think that Leonard is confined by the typical conventions employed by head coach Gregg Popovich. He is the system, commandeering offensive possessions on a whim and taking over games for sustained protracted stretches with his shot creation and vision. Though he'll operate within the schemes for lengthy periods, he can break out of them at any time with few repercussions.
After all, why would Popovich mind? Leonard has proved himself as one of the NBA's greatest offensive commodities, becoming one of only six players—Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James and Isaiah Thomas—to average at least 25 points and three assists with a true shooting percentage north of 61. That's a group just 14 qualified players have joined throughout NBA history.
Think about that.
We're now talking about a two-time Defensive Player of the Year who's still moving toward his prime and throwing up offensive numbers matched by only a baker's dozen since the league's inception.
3. James Harden, PG, Houston Rockets
Per-Game Stats: 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 11.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
General manger Daryl Morey's desire to push toward systems featuring plenty of three-pointers and shots around the rim without any mid-range looks is basically common knowledge at this point. So too is head coach Mike D'Antoni's affinity for pushing the pace, letting plenty of treys fly and focusing on offensive production—even at the expense of the other end, in some cases.
The union of the two was sure to produce something interesting for the Houston Rockets. But James Harden is better than anyone could ever have imagined, making all their dreams come true with his ability to focus only on the most efficient shots, involve his teammates at all times and push the pace without wearing down.
If defenders sag off Harden, he can torture them with step-back jumpers worth not two, but three points. If they play too tight, he'll blow by them for an easy finish at the hoop. And if they play him straight up, he can drive to either side before creatively using his arms and body to bait his matchup into an unnecessary—and almost unavoidable—foul.
The volume of Harden's production this year is staggering. But it's perhaps even more impressive that he averaged 1.54 points per field-goal attempt—the No. 4 mark among the league's top 100 qualified scorers, behind only Rudy Gobert (1.83), DeAndre Jordan (1.79) and Dwight Howard (1.63).
Something tells me his typical shot was a bit different than theirs, though.
2. Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Per-Game Stats: 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks
Triple-doubles, triple-doubles, triple-doubles.
Did we mention triple-doubles?
That compound word can't be brought up enough, because Russell Westbrook basically rewrote the record books. He surpassed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in a single season. He joined the legendary point guard as one of only two players in NBA history to average a triple-double for the entire season. He ate, slept, breathed and lived triple-doubles.
But that's still not the word that should be associated most with Westbrook. We need to dig into the SAT vocabulary to come up with the proper selection: indefatigable.
The Oklahoma City Thunder floor general just never seemed to slow down. He played with an inexhaustible motor that allowed him to power through opponents in the first quarter and blow right by them en route to the rim during the fourth quarter of a tight contest. He didn't need rest. He didn't need to sit out of contests.
He just played hard, giving 100 percent—don't say 110 percent, because that's not possible—whenever he was on the floor. Anything less, and everyone on the OKC roster might be watching the playoffs from their couches rather than participating in the first round.
1. LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Per-Game Stats: 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks
LeBron James probably won't win MVP. He may even finish fourth in the official order, trailing each of the other stars joining him in the top four of these rankings. But that's irrelevant here, because the narratives don't matter nearly as much in a more objective countdown.
The 32-year-old forward doesn't have the triple-doubles to fall back upon. He didn't push his team well beyond expectations, like James Harden did with the Houston Rockets. He didn't finally ascend to indisputable superstardom, as Kawhi Leonard did in an attempt to prove his 2015-16 efforts weren't the least bit fluky.
Instead, he just kept performing like the NBA's best player.
This season won't go down as the best of James' career, but it's not far off that pace. He was never better as a distributor, thanks to his newfound ability to operate in the system of his choosing while surrounded by an unparalleled horde of capable shooters. He enjoyed a resurgent campaign as a defender, even if he still took a few possessions off to avoid wearing down. And he did all this without taking a big step back as a scorer, instead shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from downtown.
James may not earn any awards this offseason—a potential NBA Finals MVP notwithstanding.
But in these rankings, the crown still belongs to the king.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.