Be Like Kyrie: NBA Sidekicks We'd Love to See Running Their Own Team
This isn't to say the Boston Celtics are his squad. Gordon Hayward is a better player. Al Horford has a case as the more valuable regular-season weapon. But Irving asked to be traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers at least in part to play a larger role, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst.
Plus, neither Hayward nor Horford has the point guard's magnetic pull. Most will come to associate Celtics green with him before they do Hayward or Horford. We have to assume Boston's situation qualifies as the alpha-dog act Irving desired.
Even if it doesn't, he enjoyed three years of that status in Cleveland before LeBron James came back around. Other marquee names have yet to have that opportunity.
This one's for them.
To be absolutely, positively, transparently clear: These players shouldn't necessarily be demanding a trade from their current digs. This exercise is purely for sport—a collection of headlining talent that has yet to be the unquestioned No. 1 for seasons at a time.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Career Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 44.1 percent shooting
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 23.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks, 48.2 percent shooting
Bradley Beal's past beef, or bickering, or occasional disagreement, with John Wall doesn't play into this selection. Imminent free agency doesn't impact the equation either; Beal is one season into a five-year pact.
Silky-smooth scorers like him who can run point are just natural first-option candidates.
Granted, Beal's solo stints haven't been definitively positive. The Wizards tallied a middling 106.5 points per 100 possessions last season in the 320 minutes he played without Wall. They were even worse in 2015-16 with him as the lone wolf, mustering a 101.4 offensive rating—bottom five efficiency—over 465 minutes, according to NBA Wowy.
But Beal's shooting percentages are solid when he plays without Wall, and the big-picture stats won't be pretty when, last season, the lineup in which you went stag most logged 38 total minutes and included Trey Burke and Jason Smith. It would be interesting to see what he can do as the highest-usage ball-handler from the opening tip.
At the very least, it'd be a treat to see Beal unleashed as the go-to crunch-time option. Wall carries that distinction now, because why wouldn't he? But Beal has never averaged more field-goal attempts per 36 minutes of clutch basketball than his backcourt partner; the closest he ever came was in 2013-14.
This dynamic isn't changing anytime soon. Wall just signed a four-year extension with the Wizards, and Beal won't reach free agency until 2021. Barring a surprise trade—or, more likely, relocation demand—they're stuck together for the foreseeable future.
And hey! Beal should be cool with that. When you're the No. 2 for a volume passer like Wall, the offense will always feel more like an equal-opportunity venture than a monopoly.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Career Per-Game Stats: 9.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks, 43.5 percent shooting
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.4 blocks, 41.8 percent shooting
Remember back in 2015 when, as the Stephen Curry revolution rolled on, Draymond Green's star status was up for debate and interpretation? How about when "Is he a max-contract player?" was actually a question?
Two championships, All-Star selections and a Defensive Player of the Year award later, Green is a staple among the elite's elite. SI.com rated him as a top-10 player leading into 2017-18—ambitious placement that isn't the least bit unwarranted.
Overlooking Green's rise is easier than ever. Point totals couldn't be lower on his list of priorities, and he plays beside two top-five players in Curry and Kevin Durant.
Some will use Green's situation to detract from his vacuum value—slants that are as inane and lazy and diluted as the "Kawhi Leonard is a system player" tropes. Curry and Durant are the brighter stars, but Green is not foreign to playing like the Golden State Warriors' best player. Even when he's not, even when it seems like he's ceding status or coasting, he's molding his team's identity.
As Rob Mahoney wrote while justifying Green's top-10 placement for SI.com:
"It would be nice if Green finished slightly better around the rim. Otherwise, he is exactly the player he needs to be to catalyze the team game around him. The way Green reads the floor on the move makes it almost useless to trap his point guard (as is so tempting with Stephen Curry). His passing is good for approximately 18 points a night between twos, threes, and free throws, a handful coming through assists at incredible angles. His shooting—while touch and go—offers just enough tug on the defense to keep things moving at all times. And most important of all: Green plays an all-encompassing brand of defense that allows any lesser defenders around him to play to their strengths.
Alone time isn't a thing for Green. He saw just 318 minutes without Curry and Durant in 2016-17, during which time Golden State's offense cratered. But the defense retained its adaptability, and as the Warriors' leader in assists per 100 possessions each of past two seasons, the leap to leading man at the other end is a small one.
Green would never turn into the from-scratch scorer most alpha options are supposed to be, but a point big who switches everything on defense can be the face of a really good team. The time he spent piloting Golden State without Curry in 2015-16, according to NBA Wowy, is proof.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Career Per-Game Stats: 15.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks, 45.9 percent shooting
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 23.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks, 48 percent shooting
C.J. McCollum embodies everything offenses look for in a No. 1 option. It just so happens Damian Lillard does, too.
Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey, to his credit, plays up this interchangeability—or, if you're a pessimist, redundancy. McCollum gets plenty of run as the starring man. He played 987 minutes without Lillard last season and, according to NBA Wowy, topped 1,000 minutes on his own the year before.
The caveat: Portland's offense hasn't performed especially well during those stretches. It treads water, it survives, it sometimes crashes. It seldom explodes.
Caveat to the caveat: Screw caveats.
McCollum's offensive game is tailor-made to pilot an offense. He doesn't burn through isolations but is a fairly efficient, turnover-free machine when he attacks from square one. A strong, seemingly endless mix of floaters, run-arounds, catch-and-fires, pull-ups and cuts renders him unguardable.
Among the 63 qualified players to average five or more drives last season, McCollum ranked seventh in points per attack. He made as many tightly contested three-pointers as Curry, amid similar volume, with a noticeably more accurate clip. And he's one of the few who should have license to let 'er rip from mid-range; his 47.7 percent hit rate ranked eighth among 158 players to launch 100 of those looks.
Lines start to blur when viewing McCollum as primary setup man, but he has the handles to make it work. He is a change-direction threat out of the pick-and-roll, and his per-minute assist rate skyrockets when Lillard takes a breather.
Give McCollum his own team, and the offense will be good, even if it takes some time. And who knows, maybe he'll soon put this theory to the test. Anything could happen on the trade market if the Blazers get lost in the Western Conference shuffle for a third straight season.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Career Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.9 blocks, 43.6 percent shooting
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.0 blocks, 45.0 percent shooting
Certain people around the NBA believe Kristaps Porzingis "would benefit from playing with Carmelo [Anthony]—or another No. 1 scorer—for at least one more season," according to ESPN.com's Ian Begley. One of these people is Young Kristaps himself.
"He's an All-Star, an incredible player, and I've learned so much from him," Porzingis told NBA.com's Shaun Powell of Anthony in August. "There's still so much for me to learn from him. I would love to have him around and keep playing alongside him."
This sentiment is adorable—and most definitely convenient. Anthony trade talks are basically nonexistent these days, per Begley, so it wouldn't behoove Porzingis to trash someone who probably isn't going anywhere. Not that he would, of course. He and Anthony genuinely appear to like each other, and the New York Knicks' offense is a raging inferno whenever they line these two up at the 4 and 5. (The defense is a different story.)
Still, it's time. Porzingis needs his own team if New York isn't going to get someone worthy of casting a shadow over him. Derrick Rose was not that player. Tim Hardaway Jr. isn't, either. Anthony might be if he were five to eight years younger. He's not. Their timelines run divergent to one another, and the Knicks have artificially capped Porzingis' ceiling long enough with a parade of overpaid and ill-fitting collaborators—not to mention a former team president, in Phil Jackson, who clearly didn't understand what he had in this 7'3'' myth.
No one's saying Porzingis' foray into me-time will be pretty. It probably won't be. But he's a skyscraper with the range and gait of a wing, so the trial-by-fire learning needs to get underway. That Porzingis' usage rate actually dipped as a sophomore is criminal. The risk of fielding a subpar offense around a towering hub who still needs to hone his vision and interior presence isn't a good enough reason to delay the experiment.
Besides, who's to say it fails? Porzingis-plus-bench units outscored opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possessions last season. Sub-350-minute samples aren't irreversibly telltale, but they're large enough to indulge the results.
And the Knicks, based on these results, are sabotaging their rebuild by shilly-shallying Porzingis between second- and third-wheel duty.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Career Per-Game Stats: 19.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks, 45.3 percent shooting
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 22.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 46.8 percent shooting
Fate has proven time and again that Klay Thompson isn't supposed to have his own team.
He could have been the face of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the Warriors turned down a 2014 swap for Kevin Love. (It worked out pretty well for them, huh?) They also rebuffed the Indiana Pacers' Paul George-for-Thompson proposal this past June—a far easier decision when working off their second title in three years, but an intriguing wrinkle nonetheless.
Trades that could have been aside, Thompson is just so damn perfect for the Warriors' superstar hodgepodge.
How many 20-something All-NBA talents would seamlessly retreat to fourth-option status? How many wouldn't bristle about touches when more than 83 percent of his made baskets are coming off assists?
Better yet: Who in the flinging-flanging heck accepts this role and then sees his per-minute shot volume and scoring average go virtually unchanged because he's such a deadeye spot-up shooter and timely cutter?
Championships and NBA Finals appearances are supposed to make everything better, but Thompson has fallen down two rungs on Golden State's ladder since Green's breakout and Durant's arrival. Irving couldn't handle dropping down one, to be the No. 2 for probably the greatest player ever, all while winning a championship and making those Finals appearances.
Thompson's acceptance and subsequent mastery of his role are unique. Ripping him off the Warriors feels wrong when the stars, quite literally, align to perfection. But we're talking about one of the best shooters in NBA history and someone who has cleared 20 points per game for three years running.
The curiosity is there. It's built in—particularly after that close call with Minnesota. And one day, before his prime is out, Thompson might get his own team. It won't be anytime soon, but by the time he's a free agent in 2019, the Warriors will be facing unmanageable luxury-tax bills.
If they feel compelled to choose between him and Green a year or two after that, Thompson could find himself in the driver's seat, as an unchallenged No. 1, for the first time of his career.