B/R NBA 200: Ranking NBA's Best Players of 2013-14 Season
Who ruled the NBA during the 2013-14 season?
As we've moved through each of the nine positions, both the five traditional spots and the four non-traditional ones, that's the question that's been tossing and turning in the back of our minds. If you missed any of the individual positional rankings, you can find all of them here.
But now it's time for the final order.
No longer are we comparing Chris Paul to Stephen Curry, James Harden to Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love to LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard to Goran Dragic. Everyone is being thrown into the same pot now, whether his name is LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis or something else entirely.
It's also worth noting that the playoffs do not factor into these rankings, as the scores were compiled during the regular season.
The NBA 200 metric identifies the players who performed best during the 2013-14 season. Potential doesn't matter, and neither does reputation. It's all about what happened this season, and this season only. All positions are graded using the same criteria (though rim protection was added into the equation for bigger positions), but the categories are weighted differently to reflect changing roles:
- Non-Scoring Offense: Facilitating and Off-Ball Offense
- Defense: On-Ball, Off-Ball and Rim Protection
- Intangibles: Conduct and Durability
For a full explanation of how these scores were determined, go here. And do note these aren't your father's classification schemes for each position. Players' spots were determined not by playing style, but by how much time they spent at each position throughout the season, largely based on data from 82games.com, and we're expanding the traditional five to include four combo positions.
In the case of ties, the order is determined in subjective fashion by ranking the more coveted player in the higher spot. That was done by a voting committee comprised of myself, Associate NBA Editor Joel Cordes, NBA Lead Writer D.J. Foster, National NBA Featured Columnist Grant Hughes, NBA Lead Writer Josh Martin and Associate NBA Editor Ethan Norof.
Notable Injured Players
In order to qualify for the rankings, players must have suited up at least 20 times and spent 400 or more minutes on the court.
That means that a few superstars were left out of the rankings, as well as a handful more notable players. Pinpointing where they would've ranked had they remained healthy is a futile task, but they deserve mention nonetheless.
With the qualifications out of the way, the following players would've had a solid chance of making the NBA 200, though nothing is actually guaranteed:
- Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
- Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
- Carl Landry, Sacramento Kings
- Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
- JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets
- Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers
- Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
- Emeka Okafor, Phoenix Suns
- Quincy Pondexter, Memphis Grizzlies
- Jason Richardson, Philadelphia 76ers
- Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
- Greg Smith, Chicago Bulls
200-196: Smith, Roberts, Felton, Fournier, Miller
200. Ish Smith, Phoenix Suns64/100
Continuity does wonderful things. Smith played for the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies in 2010-11, the Golden State Warriors and Orlando Magic in 2011-12, the Magic and Milwaukee Bucks in 2012-13 and now the Phoenix Suns in 2013-14. He received the most playing time of his career, and he became one of the better bench bargains in the league.
199. Brian Roberts, New Orleans Pelicans64/100
Roberts has to be pleased with the niche he's carved out for himself. He'll thrive as a backup point guard, whether he remains by the bayou or signs on with a new team once he hits the open market. But still, that's a great role for a guy who went undrafted out of Dayton in 2008 and played in both Israel and Germany before joining forces with NOLA.
198. Raymond Felton, New York Knicks64/100
The decline has been fast and furious for Felton, who became a punchline during the 2013-14 season. Had he stayed distraction-free and completely healthy, thereby earning a "10" in the intangibles section, he'd still barely have been a top-30 floor general.
197. Evan Fournier, Denver Nuggets64/100
The Nuggets have to be pleased with Fournier's development, as he became a significantly more well-rounded player during his second go-round in the Association. It's easy to forget since he already has two seasons under his belt and played professionally before he was drafted, but the swingman won't turn 22 until the 2014-15 season is about to begin.
196. Andre Miller, Washington Wizards64/100
The 2013-14 campaign was a disaster for Miller. He had trouble getting along with a first-year head coach who was only a decade older than him, his playing time suffered, and his performance followed suit before he joined the Wizards.
195-191: Antetokounmpo, Blatche, Sefolosha, Patterson, Anderson
195. Giannis Antetokoumpo, Milwaukee Bucks64/100
Antetokounmpo may not be dominating the league right now, but it's easy to see him doing so down the line. His first season with the Bucks proved that he was significantly further along his developmental curve than many expected, a statement that applies to both sides of the ball.
194. Andray Blatche, Brooklyn Nets64/100
If Blatche's career is a roller coaster, it most certainly didn't peak during the 2013-14 season. Those high points came in 2010-11—and at times during last season—but the positive, feel-good story didn't resurface all that often during the most recent go-round. He remains an offensive stud, but he's too much of a liability in other areas to gain all that much playing time on a competitive team.
193. Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City Thunder64/100
As the young players in OKC continue to develop, Sefolosha is starting to be phased out of the lineup. He's still a valuable defensive contributor with a penchant for the athletic play, but it won't be long before his stranglehold on the starting 2-guard spot is loosened rather significantly.
192. Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors64/100
Patterson is by no means a glamorous player, but he's a workhorse who plays within his own limitations. The development of a more potent three-point stroke in Toronto helped turn his 2013-14 campaign around, and defenses have to pay attention to him when his jumper is starting to heat up.
191. James Anderson, Philadelphia 76ers65/100
Anderson was a decent enough stopgap option for the Sixers during a year filled with tanking. But he didn't distinguish himself in any notable way, which is going to make it awfully difficult for him to have a repeat season going forward. Hopefully he enjoyed this one.
190-186: Mayo, Henry, Wroten, Sims, Miles
190. O.J. Mayo, Milwaukee Bucks65/100
Mayo didn't decline in 2013-14. He plummeted. Once a promising offensive spark plug, he was more of a liability than anything else during his first season with Milwaukee, which helps explain why he lost his starting gig about a third of the way through the year.
189. Xavier Henry, Los Angeles Lakers65/100
After bouncing around with the New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies, Henry finally found an excellent opportunity in purple and gold this year. He thrived early in the season, but injuries and a failure to attack later in the campaign prevented him from looking like a long-term keeper.
188. Tony Wroten, Philadelphia 76ers65/100
Wroten received far more opportunities to put up numbers during his sophomore season in the City of Brotherly Love than he did during his rookie go-round with the Memphis Grizzlies, and he looked like a promising player at times. Though he wasn't able to maintain his success for long stretches of the season, there were more than a few games in which he absolutely exploded and put all his potential on display.
187. Henry Sims, Philadelphia 76ers65/100
It's hard to tell what Sims' future looks like, even if he's enjoyed a decent present. While his numbers look good and he grades well in the scouting criteria, he's also the product of opportunity, as no other team in the NBA would have realistically given him this many minutes during his second season. And with Nerlens Noel set to return next season, everything is up in the air.
186. C.J. Miles, Cleveland Cavaliers65/100
Miles is by no means a star player, nor is he going to earn that designation at any point in the future. He's more of a journeyman who is still in the midst of figuring out which system is the best at maximizing his talents. Cleveland has come close to doing so, but it can get better.
185-181: Davis, Nicholson, Dalembert, Mozgov, Ross
185. Glen Davis, Los Angeles Clippers65/100
Davis is a talented offensive big man with a hulking body that he can use to play adequate defense and make some sort of contribution on the glass. When playing for a struggling team like the Magic, that's enough to earn quite a few minutes; when playing for a contender like the Clippers, it's enough to be a reserve.
184. Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic65/100
Even though he received slightly less playing time as a sophomore than he did during his rookie season, Nicholson seems to be thought of highly within the Magic offices. And for good reason, because he's shown off a well-rounded game that seems primed for a breakout if he's ever made into more of a featured player.
183. Samuel Dalembert, Dallas Mavericks65/100
Dalembert wasn't a glamorous addition for the Mavericks during the 2013 offseason, but he definitely proved to be a worthwhile signing. The center is by no means a star, but his consistent contributions on both ends of the court, both before and after a shot went up, paid dividends.
182. Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets65/100
"Mozgoving" used to mean being dunked on with ridiculous force from so far away from the basket that hand-to-rim contact wasn't quite possible. It still does, but perhaps we should expand the definition to include quality play on both ends of the court. Mozgov is still only 27 years old and has started to showcase far better offensive skills while remaining a big presence on the boards and at the rim.
181. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors65/100
Toronto fans have to be thrilled about what Ross has shown during the 2013-14 season. His 51-point effort notwithstanding, the swingman still displayed well-rounded talent, and it appears highly likely that he could develop into a scoring stud down the road.
180-176: O'Quinn, Aminu, Calathes, Williams, Williams
180. Kyle O'Quinn, Orlando Magic66/100
O'Quinn—a physical big man who has become somewhat of a rebounding, rim-protecting and intimidation specialist—shouldn't be here. He started playing basketball in 10th grade, went to Norfolk State and arrived in the NBA as a relatively unknown second-round pick. But here he is.
179. Al-Farouq Aminu, New Orleans Pelicans66/100
Aminu isn't the most glamorous player out there, and he was often substituted out for a bigger offensive threat within the NOLA organization. However, the 23-year-old still has time to grow into his 6'9", 215-pound frame, becoming more than an off-ball defender and noteworthy rebounder. His game might not be pretty, but it was moderately effective in 2013-14 with the potential to lose the adverb going forward.
178. Nick Calathes, Memphis Grizzlies66/100
Perhaps the most surprising featured player in the rankings of any position, Calathes was a second-round draft pick for the Minnesota Timberwolves back in 2009 and bounced around in Greece and Russia before coming to the Association. He may not be a highly coveted player and doesn't get much attention from the national media, but his first year was filled with a surprising amount of success.
177. Lou Williams, Atlanta Hawks66/100
The 2013-14 season has been a rough one for Williams, who suffered through injury recoveries, bouts of ineffectiveness and subsequent benchings before regaining his form. But the future is brighter for the 27-year-old combo guard, as he's continued to display the same skills that made him a special offensive player, just not quite as often as usual.
176. Mo Williams, Portland Trail Blazers66/100
Arguably the league's best passer off the bench, Williams has struggled to adapt to the inefficient shots that the Blazers often grant him. His scoring just isn't particularly valuable at this stage of his career, which forces his overall value to decline as well.
175-171: Thompson, Humphries, Harris, Bass, Smith
175. Jason Thompson, Sacramento Kings66/100
Thompson continued to bounce in and out of the Sacramento Kings starting lineup throughout the 2013-14 campaign, but he put up steady numbers all the while. There isn't much upside left in the 27-year-old combo big man, although being a known commodity isn't a bad thing when it involves posting decent scoring (7.1) and rebounding (6.4) averages night in and night out.
174. Kris Humphries, Boston Celtics66/100
Humphries' first season in Beantown has to be considered a marginal success. He established himself as a rebounding threat who could make limited contributions in specialized areas on both ends on the court, and he continued playing tough, physical, tone-setting basketball whenever Brad Stevens gave him any sort of run.
173. Devin Harris, Dallas Mavericks66/100
Had Harris been healthier, he likely would have been more effective during his return to the Mavs, the team with which he began his career back in the mid-2000s. Fortunately for Dallas, he's still more than capable of breaking down lesser defenders off the dribble and is willing to exert plenty of energy on both ends of the court.
172. Brandon Bass, Boston Celtics66/100
Bass essentially revealed his ceiling during the 2013-14 season. Even with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the Brooklyn Nets, even with Rajon Rondo missing much of the year, he wasn't able to step up and become a key offensive contributor, instead filling the exact same role he'd taken in the past.
171. J.R. Smith, New York Knicks66/100
Smith was more of a distraction than an asset for the 2013-14 Knicks. Though he's still a great basketball talent and had a solid offensive season, he experienced a precipitous fall from winning a major award last year to barely making the cut in the NBA 200 this season.
170-166: Shumpert, Andersen, Allen, Collison, Wolters
170. Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks66/100
Is it time to start reevaluating Shumpert's potential? He's always been viewed as a high-ceiling player, but three seasons in, we're still a few stories shy of that ceiling. A regression on both ends of the court didn't allow him to change that.
169. Chris Andersen, Miami Heat66/100
The midseason signing from 2012-13 is still paying off for the Heat. Andersen knows his role, and he thrives in it, wreaking havoc on defense and making the occasional offensive contribution without ever overstepping his bounds. He may be a role player, but he's a valuable one.
168. Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies66/100
A defensive ace with a self-aware offensive game, Allen remains a valuable piece of the Memphis puzzle. Without him in the lineup, the "grit and grind" mentality wouldn't be as applicable, and he remains one of the true mental leaders within the organization.
167. Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder66/100
Collison continued to pour his heart and soul into the OKC franchise, just as he has since he was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics with the No. 12 pick of the 2003 NBA draft. He remains a model glue guy for any frontcourt player, and struggling big men trying to figure out how to maximize their effectiveness in a non-featured role should watch tape of him whenever possible.
166. Nate Wolters, Milwaukee Bucks67/100
An unheralded second-round draft pick, Wolters got an early opportunity when it seemed like everyone in Milwaukee was injured, and he capitalized on it. There weren't many flashes of future stardom, but he was a steady, intelligent and athletic presence in the backcourt who should have a lengthy career as an upper-tier role player or low-level starter.
165-161: Watson, Crowder, Thompson, Kanter, McRoberts
165. C.J. Watson, Indiana Pacers67/100
Watson is a strong ball-handler and consistent player who fits in nicely with the Pacers' defensive schemes. While he won't win games for them, he also won't lose them, as he ensures the bench unit isn't quite as detrimental as it's been in years past.
164. Jae Crowder, Dallas Mavericks67/100
Crowder already looks like a second-round steal for the Mavericks, solely because of his defensive abilities. And chances are, his all-around game would fare even better if that's the type of style he was asked to play. He may be a role player, but he's a valuable one who might not always be locked into that limited spot.
163. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers67/100
Based on his work ethic and the improvements he'd already shown during his first few seasons in the NBA, Thompson should've been right up there in the hunt for Most Improved Player. Instead, he regressed, failing to show any defensive development and doing nothing to prevent the screeching halt of his offensive improvement.
162. Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz67/100
Kanter's first foray into a bigger role for the Utah Jazz was an adventure. He didn't stick in the starting five, as it was quite clear he had some significant developing to do on both ends of the court, particularly when he was playing defense. Fortunately, though, the potential is still there in spades.
161. Josh McRoberts, Charlotte Bobcats67/100
A veteran who knows his role, McRoberts has just about maximized his talent. He knows his game and he sticks to it, thriving when he's shooting from the outside and involving his more athletically inclined teammates on a regular basis.
160-156: Kidd-Gilchrist, Plumlee, Brewer, Chandler, Chandler
160. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats67/100
While his offensive development has been rather disappointing for a No. 2 pick, MKG has been a key part of the Charlotte Bobcats' turnaround. His scoring makes him a bit of a liability on one end, but his defense and rebounding fit right in with the team's grind-it-out mentality.
159. Miles Plumlee, Phoenix Suns67/100
Plumlee could probably look even better in a role that features him more on the offensive end, but he was perfectly content to go from an afterthought with the Indiana Pacers to playing valuable basketball with the Suns. Without his consistent presence at the 5, the frontcourt would've been far weaker in the desert.
158. Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves67/100
Another niche player, Brewer found himself in a perfect situation with the 'Wolves. Though his individual numbers—at least the box-score ones—declined, he was valuable because of his defense and ability to stretch out the other team with his transition offense.
157. Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets67/100
There were flashes of the well-rounded brilliance that once made the 27-year-old small forward such a promising player, but Chandler never put all the pieces together. A lack of aggressiveness and injury woes prevented him from becoming quite as valuable as expected.
156. Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks67/100
Chandler regressed rather significantly during his latest season, which can be blamed on age, health and the overall futility of the pieces supporting him. Though he remained a viable starting center, he slipped into the lower end of those players, and it's hard to see a big turnaround coming in the near future. It'll be rather difficult for him to live up to his $14.6 million salary in 2014-15.
155-151: Stuckey, Robinson, Lamb, Hickson, Johnson
155. Rodney Stuckey, Detroit Pistons68/100
Stuckey wasn't able to live up to the excitement he produced at the beginning of the season, but he was still a valuable offensive contributor for the Pistons. His driving ability suits him well, even if he'd become all the more dangerous with the development of an outside shot.
154. Nate Robinson, Denver Nuggets68/100
Robinson, still only 29 years old, should bounce back when he's fully recovered from the ACL tear, but it's not like he was playing at a particularly high level. Even if he'd stayed fully healthy and maintained his numbers and style of play for the entire 2013-14 campaign, he'd trail 10 combo guards in these rankings.
153. Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder68/100
The former Husky made terrific strides during his second season in the NBA, developing as a facilitator and figuring out how to play more effective defense on a consistent basis. He may never be a superstar, but that's not exactly what OKC needs, seeing as how Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are already on the roster. His development at least helped validate the decision to let Kevin Martin go.
152. J.J. Hickson, Denver Nuggets68/100
Before the unfortunate end to his season, Hickson was in the process of establishing himself as a nice bargain in the Mile High City. Though defense wasn't exactly his forte, the big man was a nice asset on the boards and a quality contributor offensively, one who created quite a few highlight plays with his athletic and brutal dunks.
151. James Johnson, Memphis Grizzlies68/100
It's hard to believe the arc that Johnson endured during just the 2013-14 season. He was waived by the Atlanta Hawks right before the start of the season, ended up playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the D-League through the middle of December, then was picked up by the Grizzlies and excelled. Talk about perseverance.
150-146: Farmar, Blake, Frye, Anderson, Speights
150. Jordan Farmar, Los Angeles Lakers68/100
When healthy, Farmar was a nice piece for the Lake Show. However, that didn't happen very often during an injury-plagued return from playing for Anadolu Efes, the Turkish squad for which he suited up throughout the 2012-13 campaign.
149. Steve Blake, Golden State Warriors68/100
Blake struggled after leaving his comfortable purple-and-gold threads behind, but he's still a valuable veteran presence who can create offense for others and keep a defense honest with his three-point shooting. While he lacks upside, the floor is pretty high for a backup point guard.
148. Channing Frye, Phoenix Suns68/100
From a statistical standpoint, Frye's season was largely similar to the one he posted in 2011-12, which is impressive enough after sitting out an entire season with an enlarged heart. But he got better as a three-point shooter this year, and he did so for a team with a lot more offensive talent. Just maintaining his production was highly beneficial for the desert-based franchise.
147. Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans68/100
Had Anderson remained healthy throughout the season instead of suffering fluke injuries, he likely would've found himself ranked significantly higher. The scoring might have regressed slightly, but he'd be more effective on the boards and defensively. My best guess is that a 5-of-5 in durability—as opposed to the 1-of-5 he received—would've pushed his overall score to about 75, which would leave him just shy of the top 10 at his position.
146. Marreese Speights, Golden State Warriors69/100
After spending the first five seasons of his career playing with the Philadelphia 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers, Speights finally looked as though he found a solid home in Golden State. He wasn't a heavily used member of the rotation, but he excelled when he was on the court, especially at times when he was allowed to create his own offense.
145-141: Jack, Cole, Middleton, Lee, Splitter
145. Jarrett Jack, Cleveland Cavaliers69/100
Giving Jack a four-year deal for $25 million, as the Cavs did this past offseason, was a mistake. But don't let an egregious salary detract from your evaluation of a valuable veteran guard who can provide a scoring boost off the bench.
144. Norris Cole, Miami Heat69/100
Cole is one of the better backup guards in the Association. He's a self-aware player who understands it's not in his nature to take over games offensively, instead providing steady contributions and focusing his energy on the less-glamorous end of the court.
143. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks69/100
Middleton didn't get many opportunities to thrive as a second-round pick for the Detroit Pistons in 2012-13. But he broke out after being traded to Milwaukee this past summer, showcasing a consistent three-point stroke that gave him the niche he needed to crack—and remain in—an NBA rotation.
142. Courtney Lee, Memphis Grizzlies69/100
It should say a lot that Lee managed to displace Tony Allen from the starting lineup. He's a solid defender and an offensive contributor, one that Memphis sorely needed thanks to a complete dearth of quality outside shooting. He's by no means a star, but he's a star among role players.
141. Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs69/100
Apparently, Splitter's career didn't take a nosedive after he was brutally stuffed at the rim by LeBron James during the 2013 NBA Finals. The Brazilian big man's season was inhibited by his ability to stay healthy, but he did show improvement in virtually every facet of the game. He won't turn 30 until 2015, so there's still a bit of time before he starts losing the athleticism he currently possesses.
140-136: Young, Henson, Barnes, Augustin, Redick
140. Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers69/100
Young has been one of the league's most valuable scorers off the bench, but he still needs to improve his all-around game if he hopes to gain an even bigger role. Though his on-ball defense was on point, more effort guarding someone without the rock would help, as would a willingness to distribute the ball to open teammates. Swaggy P should never change, but Nick Young should.
139. John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks69/100
Henson was a shot-blocking menace, rebounding stud and solid offensive contributor while playing at Chapel Hill. The NBA has proved to be a bit of a reality check during his first two professional seasons, but the tools are all still there. Yet, for some reason, the Bucks seem awfully hesitant to take advantage of them on a consistent basis.
138. Matt Barnes, Los Angeles Clippers69/100
Pigeonholed into a role in which he could play stellar defense, focusing the bulk of his attention on that end of the floor, Barnes excelled during the 2013-14 campaign. Although his offense regressed slightly from his first few seasons in the Staples Center, he still continued the late-season renaissance he's enjoyed ever since taking his talents to Hollywood.
137. D.J. Augustin, Chicago Bulls69/100
So, who expected this? Augustin went from being a castoff in Toronto to finding a home and absolutely thriving for the Bulls, all in the course of the 2013-14 season. There's no award for in-season turnarounds, but he'd be a leading candidate if such an accolade existed.
136. J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers69/100
Redick might have enjoyed an even more impressive season if he'd been able to avoid the pesky clutches of the injury imp. But even with the back injury shortening his 2013-14 season, he was still able to showcase his offensive value, both as a spot-up shooter and as a capable ball-handling scoring threat.
135-131: O'Neal, Turner, Davis, Morris, Allen
135. Jermaine O'Neal, Golden State Warriors70/100
When he was healthy, O'Neal proved to be an impactful member of the Dubs' frontcourt. He was a consistent source of mediocre offensive production and stellar defense, while his single-game explosions tended to spark the team on rare occasions. A 23-point, 13-rebound outing against the Brooklyn Nets in late February was perhaps the best example.
134. Evan Turner, Indiana Pacers70/100
The 2013-14 campaign was a mixed bag for Turner, who thrived as a centerpiece in Philadelphia before declining in his new yellow jersey. He should be a prized commodity once he hits the open market this summer, but expectations have to be tempered because his success was largely a result of the system in which he played as well as a lack of competition for minutes among teammates due to a sheer dearth of NBA-caliber players on the Philadelphia roster during the first half of the year.
133. Ed Davis, Memphis Grizzlies70/100
A defensive stud who knows his limits on offense, Davis is eventually going to receive more minutes and begin to experience a bit of a breakout. He failed to stick with the Toronto Raptors at the start of his career, and the Grizzlies have yet to fully commit to seeing what he could offer in a more featured role. It'll happen at some point, though a new location might be needed once more.
132. Marcus Morris, Phoenix Suns70/100
Although he was severely overshadowed by his twin, Markieff, this particular forward had a season to remember as well. Morris was granted fewer opportunities within the Phoenix rotation, but he managed to make them count by playing solid defense and consistently creating his own looks offensively.
131. Ray Allen, Miami Heat70/100
The Heat's vaunted depth took a blow when Allen became a more limited player in 2013-14. Still capable of catching fire from beyond the arc, the future Hall of Famer was increasingly uninvolved and uncharacteristically struggled for long stretches of the season. He's still valuable, but he's not as valuable as he has been in the past.
130-126: Green, Gordon, Bradley, Burke, Johnson
130. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors70/100
Green was an all-around stud during his career at Michigan State, but that didn't translate into anything more than a second-round selection in the 2012 NBA draft. However, the defensive spark plug has used his two professional seasons to emerge as a draft gem, thanks primarily to his contributions on the less glamorous end of the court.
129. Eric Gordon, New Orleans Pelicans70/100
Gordon might be one of the most disappointing players in the NBA, assuming you still remember the 2010-11 campaign in which he averaged over 22 points per game for the Clippers. He still has a few years left to live up to his egregiously high salary before he hits the open market again, but the expectations now have to be severely lowered.
128. Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics70/100
For the first time in his career, Bradley wasn't an offensive liability for Boston. He didn't exactly thrive as a scorer, much less as a distributor, but his shot improved to the point that he could be relied on for the occasional high-scoring exploits.
127. Trey Burke, Utah Jazz70/100
The first point guard to earn a "passing" grade, Burke is only going to improve as he gains his sea legs with the Utah Jazz. A confident young player, he's still figuring out how to take advantage of his skills and make up for his weaknesses (namely his 6'0" frame and lack of elite shooting skills).
126. Amir Johnson, Toronto Raptors70/100
Though Johnson gets less attention than a handful of players north of the border, he was still a consistent contributor for the upstart Raptors. His individual impact seems to fall in line with his overall profile, as it flies well under the radar but still holds quite a bit of value.
125-121: Valanciunas, Hill, Mills, Livingston, Belinelli
125. Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors70/100
At times during the 2013-14 campaign, it looked as though Valanciunas was going to be a draft bust. At other times, he looked like a future All-Star. The overall product leans more toward the latter than the former, but it's quite clear he's a bit behind his expected developmental curve.
124. Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers71/100
This particular big man should be known for more than his hairstyle—more players should go for the dreadlocks-and-headband look, but that's beside the point. He's an incredible rebounder who puts up efficient scoring numbers and delivers energy to the Los Angeles Lakers. Will that be enough for him to find a permanent home in Tinseltown?
123. Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs71/100
Mills just keeps getting better and better in his role off the San Antonio bench. The Aussie is a vintage example of Gregg Popovich's ability to maximize the talents of relatively limited players, as he's turned into quite the offensive spark plug without being too much of a liability on the defensive end.
122. Shaun Livingston, Brooklyn Nets71/100
That brutal knee injury Livingston suffered while playing for the Los Angeles Clippers back in 2007 is now but a distant memory. The 6'7" combo guard no longer possesses an inordinate amount of upside, but he's carved out a nice niche for himself with the Nets while establishing himself as a player for whom fans almost universally root.
121. Marco Belinelli, San Antonio Spurs71/100
If you're looking for the perfect testament to Popovich's mastery on the sidelines, look no further than this swingman. Belinelli knew he was coming to a system that would maximize his offensive talent, and that's exactly what happened during the best year of his career.
120-116: Sullinger, Vucevic, Crawford, Sessions, Nelson
120. Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics71/100
Is Sullinger a keeper in the Boston frontcourt? There's not a definitive answer to that question yet, but the progression he showed throughout his sophomore season should have Danny Ainge leaning toward a positive reply. He has quite a long way to go on defense, but his ability to put up points and stretch the court is something sorely needed by the Celtics.
119. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic71/100
Still only 23 years old, Vucevic has plenty of time to live up to his lofty potential, but it's potential that is clearly limited by a lack of athleticism and an unwillingness to bang around down low as often as necessary. If he beefs up just a bit more, more mentally than physically, the extra toughness would pay large dividends.
118. Jordan Crawford, Golden State Warriors72/100
While it's a shame that Crawford was traded away from Beantown just as he was growing comfortable in a distributing role, he's shown that he has the tools necessary to be a crucial backcourt cog down the road. The scoring confidence will always be there, and now the passing chops are, too.
117. Ramon Sessions, Milwaukee Bucks72/100
Yes, Sessions is a backup. But he's an elite player off the bench when filled with confidence, as he can light up the scoreboard in short bursts with his outside shooting, all the while remaining a solid distributor. Even though he's just 28 years old, Sessions is a known commodity and should continue to function as such for years.
116. Jameer Nelson, Orlando Magic72/100
Nelson is presumably in the process of being phased out by the Magic, serving as a mentor for Victor Oladipo before his contract expires and he hits the open market in 2015. But all the while, he continues to be an upper-tier placeholder with a nice offensive game.
115-111: Foye, Vasquez, Hawes, Varejao, Boozer
115. Randy Foye, Denver Nuggets72/100
It's amazing what happens when Tyrone Corbin isn't calling the shots. After escaping from his limited role with the Utah Jazz, Foye proved he was still a valuable commodity, one capable of improving into a quality supporting piece on the offensive end.
114. Greivis Vasquez, Toronto Raptors72/100
It's amazing how far removed we already are from Vasquez's standout 2012-13 season. He's since been shipped off to the Kings, then the Raptors, and he's been unable to retain a starting gig in the latter destination. A valuable guard nonetheless, Vasquez continues to shine in his areas of strength.
113. Spencer Hawes, Cleveland Cavaliers72/100
Hawes is perhaps the best example of a stretch 5 that we have in the NBA. Unfortunately, though, he's a bit too specialized, as he's not the most impressive player when his shot isn't falling. The 26-year-old probably won't break out at any point in the near or distant future, but his three-point stroke will continue to make him valuable.
112. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers72/100
Varejao will make $9.7 million next season before he hits the open market in the summer of 2015, and some clarity will be needed before the latter event. Was a disappointing 2013-14 season the result of injuries and a lack of opportunities, or was it the start of a permanent decline? It's impossible to be sure just yet.
111. Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls72/100
This was the season that everyone got on the same page, recognizing that Boozer was putting up largely empty stats. He scored because no one else could, and his sole value often came on the boards. In fact, the Bulls were significantly worse on both ends of the court when he played, which means the word "amnesty" is going to be used quite often when his name is brought up this offseason.
110-106: Knight, Carroll, Jones, Marshall, Chalmers
110. Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks72/100
Knight is still tracking in the right direction, and he should only improve next year when the Milwaukee Bucks aren't such a futile squad. Pairing him with a few more potent offensive players will only help draw away from the inordinate amounts of defensive attention he received in 2013-14.
109. DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks72/100
One of the more underrated contributors in the Association—because, let's be real here, not many people watch the Al Horford-less Hawks—Carroll has become a nice glue guy who specializes on the defensive end. And with a developing three-point stroke, he now qualifies as a three-and-D player.
108. Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets72/100
Going into the 2013-14 season, power forward was viewed as a huge weakness for the Rockets. But thanks to the emergence of Jones, who provided them with solid defense, great rebounding and efficient offense, the hole was filled, thereby alleviating one of the roster's main worries.
107. Kendall Marshall, Los Angeles Lakers73/100
Is there any reason he can't be a left-handed version of in-his-prime Andre Miller? Marshall will always lack foot speed, and shooting is a work in progress, but he's a heady player with insane court vision. That's a great set of building blocks for any young floor general.
106. Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat73/100
Chalmers is exactly the right point guard to play with a Big Three. He doesn't do more than he's capable of, and he thrives in his role as a spot-up shooter, occasional ball-handler and solid defender. Maybe Chalmers would do better as more of a lead player, but his career has gone quite swimmingly thus far.
105-101: Lin, Tucker, Meeks, Henderson, Green
105. Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets73/100
While the Jeremy Lin who excelled with the New York Knicks is now a distant memory, it's become abundantly clear that the Harvard product has a long future in the NBA. He's already a great role-playing offensive producer, and there's still plenty of time left before he hits his true athletic prime.
104. P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns73/100
It's players like Tucker who can change the fortunes of a franchise on a single-season basis. He's not a superstar and never will be, but by emerging as a contributing rotation member who makes above-average contributions in multiple areas, Tucker can swing at least a few games.
103. Jodie Meeks, Los Angeles Lakers73/100
Mike D'Antoni is great at making role players seem like something more, but Meeks is here to stay as a quality rotation member. It was his development around the basket that allowed him to break into a new realm of value, not three-point shooting enhanced by a coach's system.
102. Gerald Henderson, Charlotte Bobcats73/100
The perimeter shooting—or lack thereof—still makes Henderson a limited player, but he's been a valuable commodity for the upstart 'Cats. Solid on-ball defense and an attacking mentality when his team has the ball have both aided him rather significantly.
101. Jeff Green, Boston Celtics73/100
So much for the All-Star potential Green flashed in 2012-13. He was an adequate featured player for Boston, but his scoring was exposed and his defense suffered due to the extra energy he was forced into using on the offensive end of the court.
100-96: Harris, Oladipo, Lopez, Garnett, Calderon
100. Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic73/100
For the second year in a row, Harris excelled after the All-Star break, though he struggled—relatively—before it. Is his career doomed to this "one step backward, one step forward" trend, or is this just a strange coincidence? It's too soon to tell, though the Magic should be paying close attention to the beginning of the next campaign, which just so happens to be a contract year for the 21-year-old forward.
99. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic73/100
Just imagine how dangerous Oladipo is going to be when he develops a jumper. And given his work ethic, it does seem like more of a "when" than an "if." The defensive tools and athleticism are already there in spades.
98. Robin Lopez, Portland Trail Blazers73/100
Lopez is by no means a glamorous player, but he gets the job done for Portland. When he's on the court, Rip City can count on solid rebounding numbers, having a defensive presence on the interior and getting offense from an efficient source who won't try to do too much. He's a great example of a player who's maximizing his physical gifts.
97. Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn Nets73/100
When the decline comes, it comes hard and fast. Such was the case for KG this year, as he was troubled by the ill effects of Father Time and the pesky injury imp who so often travel in tandem. His first season with the Brooklyn Nets—and potentially his last—just didn't let him spend as much time on the court as he would have liked, and his leadership skills were often relegated to the bench.
96. Jose Calderon, Dallas Mavericks73/100
Even though he's 32 years old and moving out of his athletic prime, Calderon is a point guard who makes Dennis Green proud. He's exactly who we've always thought he is—a pesky player who thrives as an efficient shooter.
95-91: Gortat, Nene, Beverley, Burks, Dunleavy
95. Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards73/100
Gortat was a big difference-maker for the Wizards after he was acquired in a trade right before the start of the season. His defensive presence and ability to connect on efficient looks around the rim both gave the team new elements, helping to steer it into the playoffs for the first time since Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler were leading the Wiz in 2007-08.
94. Nene, Washington Wizards73/100
Although he doesn't get much credit and too many basketball fans are unaware of his last name (Hilario), Nene remained a valuable contributor this year for the Wizards, who finally found their way to the promised land. He wasn't healthy for much of the season, but he was a veteran presence on a young team—one who provided great defense and a steady dose of offense.
93. Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets73/100
This former second-round pick should always wear the mask he donned during the middle of the season, one that made him look like he was coming straight out of a horror movie. That represents his style of play perfectly—physical, unrelenting, tenacious and terrifying, at least to opposing ball-handlers.
92. Alec Burks, Utah Jazz74/100
Has Burks lived up to the expectations associated with being a lottery pick in the 2011 NBA draft? Not really, but he's getting better and better as his career progresses and becoming a valuable part of the Utah Jazz rotation. This season wasn't truly special, but it was nothing to scoff at either.
91. Mike Dunleavy, Chicago Bulls74/100
The Chicago swingman used the 2013-14 campaign to establish himself as one of the more underrated commodities in the NBA. He wasn't supposed to do much more than spread the floor when he was whisked away from the Milwaukee Bucks this past offseason, but he did a lot more than that.
90-86: Evans, Marion, Korver, Pekovic, Bogut
90. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans74/100
Evans just needs to find stability so he can eventually climb back up the ranks—both the overall ones and the positional ones. After a ridiculously good rookie season in 2009-10, the Memphis product has continuously declined thanks to shifting positions, changing coaches/teammates and an undefined role.
89. Shawn Marion, Dallas Mavericks74/100
Can you imagine how bad the Dallas defense would've been if Marion hadn't been able to stay on the court for the vast majority of the season? Even if he's no longer the fantasy basketball superstar he was in his prime, The Matrix still does all the little—and big—things for the Mavericks, just not in remarkably high volume.
It's easy to call Korver a shooting specialist, but doing so would be a mistake. His perimeter sniping is easily his best attribute, but he's also a solid passer who does an adequate job on the less glamorous end of the court. Korver could easily be a liability there, but he refuses to let that happen.
87. Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves74/100
Even though the Minnesota Timberwolves gave Pekovic a big contract (five years, $60 million) this past offseason, it's tough to see him remaining a crucial part of their plans so long as Kevin Love is on the team as well. The T-Wolves can't afford to have two rim-protecting liabilities on the floor, so either Pekovic gets better or someone else will take his place and attempt to replicate his physicality and offensive prowess.
86. Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors74/100
When Bogut actually works, he's a dominant defensive force who sucks in rebounds like a vacuum cleaner and provides limited offensive contributions. Unfortunately for the Dubs, though, he doesn't always work. He hasn't played anything even resembling a full campaign since the 2007-08 season, his third in the Association.
85-81: Hinrich, Jackson, Collison, Green, Martin
85. Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls75/100
It's hard to fault Hinrich for knowing exactly whom he is and acting accordingly. The veteran is a perimeter marksman who handles the ball well and can make a significant defensive impact for the Bulls night in and night out. Nothing more, and nothing less.
84. Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder75/100
Jackson has blossomed into an offensive threat who can function as a sixth man or a spot-starter at either guard position. He's a valuable piece in the Thunder's championship-contending roster, and they're lucky to have him on such a cheap deal until the close of next season. Then he's invariably going to get paid some big bucks, assuming he continues his positive developmental trends on both ends.
83. Darren Collison, Los Angeles Clippers75/100
The Clippers could've declined rather significantly while Chris Paul was injured, but Collison made sure that wouldn't happen. Whether he's been in the starting five or coming off the bench to replace either a point guard or shooting guard, he's served as exactly the type of offensive spark plug that this elite Western Conference team needed.
82. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs75/100
If you expected Green to continue breaking out after his exemplary performance in the NBA Finals last year, you were sorely mistaken. The swingman has continued to play well, but he hasn't been much more than an elite "three-and-D" player. That said, there's quite a bit of value in that.
81. Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves75/100
Martin continues to cement himself as a secondary scorer, even though he's now starting to move out of his prime. Given his three-point shooting and ability to work his way to the free-throw line before sinking those ensuing foul shots, the shooting guard remains an efficient point producer capable of exploding for gaudy totals every once in a while.
80-76: Favors, Pierce, Matthews, Green, Morris
80. Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz75/100
Sometimes, it's hard to remember that Favors is only 22 years old. He may have four seasons under his belt now, but he's an inexperienced player still trying to figure out how to make the most of his starting opportunity. The rebounding is there, but the more glamorous pieces are still in the process of being honed. This should be the worst ranking Favors earns in the next couple of years, though, as he still oozes potential.
79. Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets75/100
Pierce shifted from a featured role with the C's to a system that distributed the ball among nearly every player on the court. It depressed his overall value—something that likely wouldn't have happened had he remained in that featured spot—but The Truth was by no means a bad player in 2013-14. He remained an efficient offensive contributor and a solid, albeit underrated, defender whenever he stepped onto the court.
78. Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns75/100
It's not often that a single player puts himself in contention for two major awards (Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year), but that's exactly what this Morris twin did during his breakout season with the Suns. Not only did he grow leaps and bounds on offense, but he provided some of the league's most valuable contributions off the bench.
77. Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers75/100
Although the Blazers managed to shock the world—especially early on in the season's proceedings—that wasn't due to a complete explosion from Matthews. He did manage to improve and become an even more valuable player, but his defensive reputation was a bit overblown when compared to other standout stoppers.
76. Gerald Green, Phoenix Suns75/100
Green was easily one of the most improved players in the Association, showcasing a stellar stroke from the perimeter and maintaining the springs-for-legs athleticism that has allowed him to thrive for limited stretches in the past. He was one of the true keys to Phoenix's remarkable season.
75-71: Butler, Beal, Gibson, Jennings, Hill
75. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls75/100
Was Jimmy Butler overhyped going into the season? Absolutely, but don't let that detract from your evaluation of the promising, young 2-guard. He's an incredible defensive player who's still getting his sea legs on offense, and the Bulls should feel lucky to have control of his services going forward.
74. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards75/100
It's hard to believe that Beal still won't be able to legally consume adult beverages until late June. He's already finished two seasons in the NBA and established himself as a high-quality offensive contributor, but he's nowhere near reaching his lofty ceiling. Keep following this kid.
73. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls75/100
In the past, Gibson was a high-upside player who specialized at defense. But this season, he developed quite a few offensive skills, showing both that his ceiling may ultimately be even higher than previously thought and that he's starting to get within reaching distance of it.
72. Brandon Jennings, Detroit Pistons76/100
The southpaw has flashes of brilliance every once in a while, ones that remind us of the precocious rookie who scored 55 points in the seventh game of his NBA career. But they're too few and far between, and the lack of consistency diminishes what is otherwise a still-promising talent.
71. George Hill, Indiana Pacers76/100
Solid. That's the best word to describe Hill, who is in the perfect situation to thrive with the Pacers. He's not asked to overexert his limited scoring and distributing talents, but he's instead able to play efficient offensive basketball while focusing on his defense and rebounding.
70. Dion Waiters, Shooting Guard, Cleveland Cavaliers
Dion Waiters is going to be an elite scorer one day, but he has to figure out when to be aggressive and when to tone it down. He started to do exactly that during the second half of the 2013-14 season, especially when Kyrie Irving was out of the lineup. Waiters has all the tools to thrive on this end, but they've rarely been taken out of the shed at the same time.
A tremendous off-ball threat with a knack for both cutting and spotting up, Waiters is quite adept at drawing defensive attention away from a teammate with the rock. He's also a solid passer, capable of making both simple and flashy deliveries as he attacks the basket. Once he cuts back on the turnovers, he'll look even better.
While the Syracuse product can play adequate on-ball defense, he often helps out teammates and makes rotations like he's wearing ear plugs. There just isn't much communication, which means the shooting guard is often out of position and unable to up the Cleveland Cavaliers' chances of preventing points.
If you just look at Waiters' rebounding numbers, it would be awfully hard to distinguish him from many other 2-guards throughout the Association. And yes, that applies to his per-game numbers, per-minute marks, percentages and SportVU stats.
Clashes with teammates. Benchings by Mike Brown due to a lack of effort. Plenty of frustration. Waiters has the talent, but his intangibles weren't all that great during a difficult season with the Cavs.
Waiters is a roller-coaster ride for the Cavaliers. During both his rookie and sophomore seasons, he was incredibly frustrating before the All-Star Game before breaking out in a big way after it. If he ever figures out how to maintain that performance for a whole season, the All-Star break might not be, well, a break.
69. Vince Carter, Swingman, Dallas Mavericks
Vince Carter just refuses to go away, as this season cemented his role as a three-point shooter who would occasionally attack the basket and either finish the play in emphatic fashion or draw contact and convert at the charity stripe. His athleticism is more spotty than it was in his prime, but by relying on his strengths and refusing to live in the past, he's staved off a serious scoring decline.
Carter isn't a terrifying sight when he's spotting up, but he's actually earning points in this category for his cutting and facilitating skills, which have both improved as he's aged. Though he's no longer capable of recording double-digit assists like he did in his prime, he's become increasingly careful and smart with the ball.
If you look solely at Vinsanity's defensive rating, you'll be confused. It's a context-dependent stat—one that doesn't account for him trying to make up for the liabilities in the starting lineup while shutting down ball-handlers and forcing them to exploit other matchups.
Every once in a while, Carter soars into the air for a vintage rebound that requires athleticism which is more characteristic of the Gerald Greens of the world. But even when he's not reminding us of his Half-Man, Half-Amazing days, Carter is an asset on the glass for the Dallas Mavericks, particularly on the offensive end.
There has been no pouting, whining or pleas for a change of scenery. Instead, Carter has done everything in his power to win basketball games while making the most of his waning physical gifts.
Watching Carter defy Father Time has been one of the more enjoyable aspects of the 2013-14 season. The 37-year-old refuses to become the bane of Dallas' efforts and is instead doing everything he can to play smart basketball at all times.
68. Michael Carter-Williams, Point Guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Michael Carter-Williams' scoring prowess declined after he shocked the world at the start of his rookie campaign, but he still spent his first go-round in the Association proving he could do more than excel in transition. A lanky athlete who has no fear attacking the rim, MCW was able to put up points in bunches. Now he desperately needs an outside shot to complement his driving game.
Not much of an off-ball shooting threat, MCW functioned as a capable cutter and tremendous distributor throughout his first season with the Philadelphia 76ers. While turnovers popped up too often, it's still impressive to generate more than a handful of assists per game while playing with a collection of D-League talents and a few legitimate NBA players.
If the Sixers' tanking ways were bad for one aspect of Carter-Williams' game, it would be this one. He was given free rein to gamble incessantly, even when those risks came at the expense of the team's overall efforts. As a result, he racked up steals but failed to develop all of the defensive fundamentals he'll need to thrive down the road, especially as he transitions out of that vaunted Syracuse zone mentality.
Those long arms and 6'6" frame help quite a bit. MCW had a better rebounding season than any other point guard in the league—gaining a slight edge over Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo because of games played—and there was even an 11-contest stretch in March that saw him average 9.5 boards per outing.
Maybe the Sixers kept him out of the lineup a bit too often, knowing that his presence on the court would only add the undesired winning outcomes. Regardless, MCW missed a significant amount of time during his rookie campaign, failing to suit up due to a shoulder injury and a knee problem that led to infection.
At the beginning of the 2013-14 season, MCW looked like a future All-Star. After running into the rookie wall and seeing his shooting percentages follow an Icarian route, it's time to temper those expectations. Carter-Williams has that type of potential, but there are plenty of glaring flaws he'll need to fix in the coming years.
67. Jamal Crawford, Shooting Guard, Los Angeles Clippers
The dribbling. Oh, the dribbling. Jamal Crawford is so incredibly potent off the bounce thanks to those flashy handles that have basically made his career. They allow him both to create separation on the perimeter and to drive into the teeth of the defense where he either finishes or draws contact.
You'd think a 34-year-old veteran who has spent plenty of time throughout his career running the point would be a quality distributor. But you'd be wrong. Crawford just doesn't often look to pass, instead doing everything he can to create his own shot and heat up. On the flip side, though, he's just about as threatening as an off-ball presence gets at this position.
The Los Angeles Clippers often have to hide Crawford on lesser offensive players, because he can be taken to school and taught a few lessons if he ever gets caught in a one-on-one situation. His off-ball work is passable, but disaster often results when he's asked to guard someone in isolation.
Rebounds? What are those? Crawford averages just over three rebounding opportunities per game. Not actual rebounds, but opportunities.
While he's a quality leader who gets crowds and teammates excited, Crawford wasn't able to remain healthy throughout 2013-14. A strained left calf and Achilles injury knocked him out of the lineup down the stretch.
One of the best bench scorers in basketball, Crawford remained the same player he's been for years—a dynamic shot creator who can heat up like he's a microwave set on high. His ability to create offense for himself is not only helpful to the LAC cause, but it also makes for a highly entertaining spectacle when the dribbles start getting fancier and fancier.
66. Ricky Rubio, Point Guard, Minnesota Timberwolves
Ricky Rubio is a pretty atrocious shooter, but he's at least able to put points up on the board. The Spaniard is fairly adept at drawing contract and getting to the line, and his three-point stroke isn't awful when he's given space by the defense. Still, scoring isn't exactly a strength for this third-year member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
This category brings out the best and worst of Rubio. On one hand, he's such a non-threat as an off-ball scorer that defenses can essentially forget about him and play five-on-four basketball. But facilitating also matters here, and few are better at racking up assists. Some of the angles Rubio sees make you sit and wonder if he's operating on a different set of geometric rules than the typical Euclidian ones.
Does Rubio rack up steals like a kid in a candy store? Absolutely, but don't let that fool you into thinking he's an elite defender. The Minnesota floor general has a gambling addiction and usually looks completely lost when he's not being asked to guard a straight-up isolation set. Whether he's going under/over a pick or chasing a man without the ball, it usually doesn't end well.
Rubio is unquestionably one of the best rebounding point guards in the business. Not only does he crash the boards frequently, but he's able to grab the ball away from bigger players surprisingly often. While Minnesota's floor general might pick and choose his spots, he does so quite well.
There's nothing to complain about here, as Rubio seems to play with a contagious joie de vivre. And since recovering from his ACL tear during his rookie season and taking time into his sophomore campaign to recover, he's been the very picture of health in the Minnesota lineup.
There just aren't many point guards like Rubio. An elite distributor with lackluster shooting skills, he's very much an old-school player going to work in a new-school game. It works for now, but Rubio has to get better as a scorer if he's going to make any sort of leap in the future.
65. Thaddeus Young, Power Forward, Philadelphia 76ers
Even though defenses were able to key in on him significantly more often in 2013-14, Thaddeus Young's three-point shot allowed him to remain a valuable scorer. There's still plenty of work to be done on that front, but the ability to knock down over one triple per game made the athletic forward into far more than a homing missile with sights set on the rim.
Between his aggressive cuts and willingness to fire away from downtown, Young emerged as a big-time off-ball threat for the reeling Philadelphia 76ers. He wasn't particularly effective night in and night out, but defenses were forced to pay him mind out of fear that he could explode and cement an embarrassing fate that night.
Young might have been overmatched against bigger power forwards, but his quickness and anticipation allowed him to look like a solid off-ball defender. Of course, the fact that Philly let him be overly aggressive and basically forget about playing defense at the rim helped as well.
Aggression seems to apply to every facet of Young's game. The glass was no exception, as he often went through other bodies en route to where a missed shot would end up, and he did everything in his power to create as many rebounding opportunities as possible.
There were rumors early in the year that Young wanted out of Philadelphia. Then there were rumors that he felt left behind when Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner were traded away at the deadline. But through it all, Young kept playing hard and staying healthy.
Though the Georgia Tech product couldn't lead his team to victory after victory as a featured option, he proved that he was more than a transition/cutting threat who played lackluster defense. His offensive repertoire expanded in 2013-14, and he proved that he's valuable enough to remain a part of what should be a quicker-than-expected rebuild in the City of Brotherly Love.
64. Kenneth Faried, Power Forward, Denver Nuggets
Kenneth Faried occasionally fancies himself a mid-range shooter, but he's at his best when fully committed to an unrelenting assault on the basket. During the second half of the season, the long-haired power forward suddenly had all the pieces click, and he became a valuable and efficient scorer for the Denver Nuggets, one who could get to the rim at will and finish a surprising number of post moves.
Faried is only an adequate passer, and calling him a stretch 4 would be a laughable statement. But he still has value when he's not scoring because he sets good, hard, solid screens while forcing defenses to account for his whereabouts at all times. Lose sight of Faried for even a split second, and you'll easily find him again. He'll just be hanging on the rim and getting ready to run back to the other end of the court.
This is still a work in progress for the Morehead State product, as he often seems disengaged when he's not guarding a man with his back to the basket or working in isolation. Faried is also a bit too aggressive when trying to block shots. He has some fantastic results (am I right, Dion Waiters?), but he also gets caught out of position and fouls too often when trying to protect the hoop.
Of course college basketball's leading rebounder over the past 40 years is going to be a quality player on the boards in the Association. His slightly undersized frame (6'8", 228 lbs) can prevent him from recording gaudy totals against bigger matchups, but he can generally be relied upon for right around eight or nine boards any given night.
Faried wasn't pleased with Brian Shaw's schemes early in the season, sometimes clashing internally with the first-year head coach. But he controlled himself, keeping that omnipresent smile plastered across his face, and eventually came around to his coach's teachings before creating any sort of actual problems.
After stagnating early in the year and making it seem as though he wasn't a part of Denver's future, Faried exploded after the All-Star break. It was perfect timing, as he's up for an extension soon and will presumably get a big one after flashing extremely high potential quite often down the stretch. If his defense can improve in 2014-15, you're looking at a guy who will rank far higher next year.
63. Rajon Rondo, Point Guard, Boston Celtics
Rajon Rondo's three-point stroke, while much improved from where it's been in the past, is still pretty awful. And the rest of his scoring game hasn't made up for the flaw, as the Boston Celtics floor general has struggled to put up points since returning from his ACL tear. Rondo would typically earn a slightly higher score in this category, but his shooting hasn't been pretty since coming back from such a major injury.
Although he isn't much of an off-ball threat thanks to the complete lack of a consistent jumper, Rondo is still one of the best distributors in basketball. His passing numbers are right up where they were before the ACL woes, particularly because he's never been better at minimizing turnovers since first being thrust into a a featured role early in his career. Whether or not he's at full strength, Rondo is one of the best assist men in the Association.
Rondo is typically one of the standout defenders at his position. In fact, he put together four All-Defensive seasons in a row before missing the honor due to missed games in 2012-13. Since returning from the ACL tear, he's been a fantastic on-ball defender, but a lack of mobility has prevented him from making much of an impact in the off-ball category. Chalk this one up to circumstance, and expect Rondo to bounce back in a big way during the 2014-15 campaign.
Well, there's been no decline here. Rondo just keeps piling up the rebounds as well as any point guard in basketball, just as he has for years. The combination of instincts, vision and long arms serves the 28-year-old floor general quite well.
Don't make the mistake of thinking Rondo loses a point here because he chose to attend a birthday party rather than support his team. That was interesting but overblown. More problematic is the surly nature and lack of bonding with most teammates. Oh, and the whole missing well over half the season thing.
Remember, this ranking is based solely on the 2013-14 season. Rondo's grade is hindered by missed time and numbers that understandably declined as he tried to work himself back to peak form. When healthy, the Boston 1-guard is easily a top-10 point guard in the Association, and that's a spot he'll almost certainly regain in 2014-15.
62. Josh Smith, Combo Forward, Detroit Pistons
It's inconceivable that such a physically gifted player could have such awful shot selection. Josh Smith should attack the rim whenever possible, but instead he's convinced himself that he's a jump-shooter, and the results are horrific. Though he can still put up points in bunches when he plays the right way, it's impossible to overlook the fact that among every qualified player in NBA history who has taken over three triples per game, only Antoine Walker (1999-00) shot a worse percentage from beyond the arc.
Though Smith can't shoot spot-up jumpers—well, he can shoot them; he just can't make them—he's an athletic cutter who constantly keeps defenses on their toes. Nobody wants to end up on a poster, after all. Additionally, Smoove is a good passer, but he commits too many turnovers to be considered great.
Even though the Detroit Pistons weren't a particularly effective defensive squad, it's tough to pin the blame on Smith. He protected the rim extremely well for a combo forward, and his off-ball defense was quite excellent. Smoove always had an innate ability to travel around the half-court set at high speeds, blocking shots, stealing passes and wreaking havoc. A new location didn't change that.
As a 6'9", 225-pound combo forward who can jump through the roof, Smith is definitely able to make an impact on the boards. Although his numbers aren't particularly impressive, they look far better in context. Smith spent his time playing next to Andre Drummond (the best rebounder in basketball this season) and Greg Monroe, and he still managed to convert quite a few opportunities.
Is refusing to play the right brand of basketball bad for your team? Absolutely, which is one of the reasons Smith's on-court conduct suffered. At some point, a player has to be held accountable for his complete and utter unwillingness to play intelligent, beneficial basketball.
In terms of raw potential, Smith is still an All-Star talent. There's a chance he could actually make the Midseason Classic next season, though the percentages are dwindling now that he's 28 years old and still refusing to listen to the critics. And at this point, there are a lot of them.
61. Rudy Gay, Combo Forward, Sacramento Kings
Rudy Gay was an awfully overrated scorer with the Toronto Raptors when he couldn't even shoot above 40 percent, basketball's version of the Mendoza Line. But once he was traded to the Sacramento Kings, he suddenly became one of the best scorers in basketball, upping his per-game average despite taking more than three fewer shots per game.
Gay still isn't a potent spot-up threat. In fact, his improvements in Sacramento came largely because he stopped shooting the three-ball. However, he's an athletic and intelligent cutter who can also distribute the ball out quite nicely among his teammates. If only he could do so without coughing it up, though.
While Gay has the physical tools to excel as a defender (and he does when greeted with a man-to-man situation), he lacks the discipline necessary to thrive off the ball. The combo forward was especially susceptible to spot-up shooters, and he often loafed on the less glamorous end, failing to exert the energy required to get involved.
Gay is a solid rebounder. Nothing less, and nothing more. He can be relied upon for more than a handful of boards during any given game, and they'll generally come on both types of glass, even if he doesn't excel on either.
Although he was a negative offensive contributor north of the border and even banned box scores from the Toronto locker room, Gay was more of a punchline than a distraction. Then he went to Sac-Town and became a much better teammate, staying healthy all the while.
The Raptors may have improved quite a bit when Gay was traded away to the Kings, but the combo forward improved dramatically as well. He started taking the right shots, allowing him to live up to his lofty two-way potential for the first time since he left the Memphis Grizzlies. Perhaps it won't look too awful now if he decides to opt into the final year of his deal, which just happens to be worth over $19 million.
60. Joe Johnson, Swingman, Brooklyn Nets
Joe Johnson did everything he could to lead the scoring charge for the Brooklyn Nets this year, but there were just too many mouths to feed. Even though he was fairly efficient thanks to his three-point stroke and isolation play, the volume just wasn't high enough for him to truly dominate this category.
A tremendously dangerous scorer off the ball, Johnson forces defenses to keep their eyes on him at all times. He can easily hit shots from the perimeter if left open, and he's such a savvy cutter—thanks to his veteran experience and scoring smarts—that even the tiniest lapses by opposing defenses result in buckets.
Johnson has always been a solid defensive player, particularly when he was thriving with the Atlanta Hawks, and that hasn't changed now that he's well into his 30s. Apparently, Iso Joe applies to both ends of the court.
This particular swingman is better than his per-game numbers indicate, as they're rather pedestrian. Standing at 6'8", Johnson has more size than most players at his position, and he takes advantage of that by constantly attacking the glass and trying his darnedest to compile as many rebounding chances as possible.
Not only has Johnson stayed healthy throughout the 2013-14 season (a rarity for these Nets), but he's also been motivated to turn the lackluster season around. Rather than sulking and showing a distinct lack of enthusiasm, as he did at the end of his tenure with Atlanta, he's been passionate through and through.
Even though Johnson had a fine season, it's still a bit ridiculous that he was named an All-Star, even in the weak Eastern Conference. Not only is there a non-All-Star ahead of him at his own position in these rankings, but Johnson's overall ranking—the one for which positions don't matter—isn't indicative of a Midseason Classic nod.
59. Trevor Ariza, Small Forward, Washington Wizards
Trevor Ariza basically proved that it was possible to remain on fire over the course of an entire NBA season. He was unconscious from beyond the arc from start to finish, and his work inside the perimeter wasn't too shabby either. If he were just a bit better from mid-range zones, he'd be a truly dangerous scoring threat.
You simply can't leave Ariza open in the corners. His above-the-break shooting is terrifying enough, but he really makes defenses pay when he sneaks away to the most efficient areas outside the paint. The small forward's passing could stand to improve, but it does remain somewhat adequate.
Ariza's defensive reputation gives him a bit too much credit. Then again, his numbers also sell him a little short. He's often asked to cover for lesser defenders, and the haphazard nature of his positioning can make him a bit prone to mental lapses. Above all else, the Washington Wizards are far better at preventing points when he plays.
It's tough to find small forwards who are better at rebounding than Ariza, but it is possible. He's just an incredibly consistent player on the boards who can be counted on for a handful of successful haul-ins each time he receives significant run.
Ariza is a vocal leader who also happens to set an example with his actions. One of the reasons he's so valuable to the Wizards is his ability to serve as a mentor for the young players who figure so heavily into Washington's future.
About as unheralded a player as you'll find in this section of the rankings, Ariza deserves a lot more recognition than he receives outside of the D.C. area. A tremendous locker room asset who provides steady contributions on both ends of the court, this small forward was a large part of the reason Washington experienced so much success in 2013-14.
58. Luol Deng, Small Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers
Luol Deng was much more effective as an oft-used scoring threat with the Chicago Bulls than a tertiary piece with the Cleveland Cavaliers. His three-point shot deserted him in both locations, but he attacked the basket significantly more often in his first home, allowing him to remain fairly efficient by virtue of easy looks at the rim and shots from the charity stripe.
There's not much reason to fear Deng off the ball. He's struggled as a cutter now that his age is starting to creep up near 30, and his shot isn't threatening enough to garner much attention. When he's not scoring, his lone source of offensive impact comes as a distributor, and he even struggled in that area with Cleveland.
At least this has remained steady throughout a tumultuous 2013-14 campaign. Deng excels as a shutdown wing defender, especially when opponents make the mistake of trying to post him up. That's just a recipe for disaster, although it's not exactly easy to find a method of attack that leaves the small forward all that vulnerable.
It's tough to find a better offensive rebounder at the 3 than Deng. He's a master at flying in, working around defenders and earning his team another possession after a missed shot. Though his work on the defensive glass declined when he was traded, he's so good in this area that he still receives a high score.
Deng's Achilles problems haven't kept him out for many games, but they have severely impacted his play. That's probably the best explanation for his post-trade decline, as Deng is too passionate to suddenly stop trying because he's playing for a team without a shot at a title.
Chicago Deng would've been either the No. 3 or No. 4 small forward in the NBA, as well as a player with the potential to rank in the top 30. Cleveland Deng isn't even a top-10 player at his position. And here's the average, though I suspect he'll rebound rather nicely when he's fully healthy.
57. Arron Afflalo, Swingman, Orlando Magic
Arron Afflalo was completely dominant before the All-Star break (19.4 points on 46.3 percent shooting), but he fell off a bit during the second half of the season. He couldn't maintain his success inside the arc, which led to a declining scoring average. This was more of a regression to the mean than anything else, as Afflalo is a top-notch scoring threat but not a truly elite one.
Of all the qualified swingmen—a group of 33 players, 17 of which made the top 200 overall—only Afflalo received a perfect score for off-ball offense. He's a potent shooter, one who threatens each and every defense he faces, and he excels in spot-up situations. On top of that, he's a deadly cutter when he chooses to use that skill.
Afflalo hasn't become the two-way stud many expected him to morph into back when he was with the Denver Nuggets. His on-ball defense is spectacular, but he can struggle to position himself in the right spots when he's working off the ball and trying to cut off passing lanes.
Afflalo is as good at cherry-picking rebounds as anyone. He rarely pulls one down when another player is challenging him—just about 11 percent of the time, in fact—but he's quite good at beating players to spots and ensuring that he's first in line to corral the board.
There are no complaints about the Orlando Magic swingman's demeanor on or off the court. Only his health comes into play here, as Afflalo's ankles were a bit balky throughout the latter portion of the 2013-14 campaign.
This is what the Magic needed from Afflalo. When the year began, he was viewed as a trade chip for this rebuilding squad, one who could easily be exchanged for draft picks or younger talent. But after asserting himself as a serious All-Star candidate, Afflalo forced general manager Rob Hennigan to start viewing him as a building block.
56. Manu Ginobili, Shooting Guard, San Antonio Spurs
Manu Ginobili has never relied on athleticism to produce points, which means it shouldn't be even remotely surprising that he still fares well in this category at the ripe old age of 36. With his Eurostep, creative finishes and knack for figuring out openings in the defense, Ginobili is still scoring at a high rate while maintaining his efficient percentages.
The Argentine shooting guard is still one of the best in the business at dishing out assists. Those left-handed passes are things of beauty, and he sees the game develop in ways that other less talented distributors can't even imagine. Oh, and he's quite good at making defenses nervous without the ball.
Age hasn't treated Ginobili so kindly in this department. He's never been the best defender at his position, but not even the vaunted system of the San Antonio Spurs can make up for his flaws at this stage of his career. Whether he's playing on or off the ball, he's been a bit of a liability.
Vision helps Ginobili here, as he sees the ball bouncing off the rim before the two objects actually collide. His numbers are slightly more impressive than they appear to be on the surface level, as he's a good rebounder in traffic and converts on many of his chances.
Ginobili is always a positive on-court influence, but only when he's actually on the court. Thanks to a strained left hamstring and the typical maintenance days Gregg Popovich gives to his veterans, that hasn't happened quite as frequently as we'd like.
So much for a decline. Ginobili's demise was discussed ad nauseam during last season's playoffs, but he derailed that train of thought with another vintage offensive season for the Spurs. His creativity on the court will never get old, even as he continues to age.
55. Roy Hibbert, Center, Indiana Pacers
A 7'2" center should be better at scoring, but sometimes it seems like Roy Hibbert couldn't throw the ball in the basket if the rim were replaced with an oversized hula hoop made for Hagrid. He does tend to create a high percentage of the shots he makes for himself, but the inefficiency and lack of output is shocking for a man with so many physical blessings.
Even though Hibbert shoots a low percentage, defenses can't just forget about him. He's big enough that he can just dunk if he's left alone, after all. On top of that, Hibbert is a willing screener whose big body makes it tough for defenders to get around him quickly.
Hibbert seemed like a Defensive Player of the Year lock early in the season, but his candidacy slipped when he was exposed during the second half of the campaign. He's as good as it gets guarding the rim—seriously, not one player in the NBA 200 received a higher rim-protection score—and his on-ball defense is superb. However, he gets in trouble when asked to stray away from the paint, as his lack of mobility is problematic.
While he does manage to come away with a respectable number of rebounds—respectable for a power forward who isn't elite on the glass—Hibbert's numbers look worse when compared to his aforementioned height. It's almost inconceivable that a player who towers over everyone on the court and spends much of his time right around the basket can routinely struggle to crack double digits.
Hibbert might gripe about his role in the offense, but he generally does so when the team is struggling. Most of his complaints are timed in a way that they're intended to get the Indiana Pacers off the schneid. So while I don't support his actions all the time, they're at least understandable and not worth losing points over.
It was a confusing season for the 27-year-old big man, who emerged as a serious award candidate early in the year while sparking a historically excellent Indiana defense. But as the year progressed, he regressed on both ends of the court, emerging as an overrated center who couldn't score, rebound or defend more versatile players. The average is—obviously—somewhere in between, but the truth likely lies closer to the early-season version of Hibbert.
54. Andre Drummond, Center, Detroit Pistons
It's not easy to shoot above 60 percent from the field, but Andre Drummond did so for the second consecutive season. Except this time he upped his scoring output—both in terms of per-game and per-minute numbers—while creating a lot more offense for himself. The 20-year-old big man's reputation has him as a pick-and-roll finisher, but unless you tortured yourself watching the Detroit Pistons on a consistent basis, you might not have realized that he improved dramatically in the post.
Drummond still can't pass to save his life, but defenses have to respect him when he moves toward the hoop and sets screens. An athletic player with massive ups and a soft pair of hands, Drummond is a constant threat to finish alley-oop plays so high above the rim that jaws hit the floor.
Although he has all the tools to be an NBA All-Defensive Team player, Drummond is a young big man still trying to figure things out. His rotations are weak, his anticipations sometimes come too soon and he generally plays an undisciplined brand of defense. Once his off-ball work catches up to what he can do in simple man-on-man situations, the world will be his oyster.
Drummond may have lost the rebounding crown to DeAndre Jordan, but he was the best player in the league on the boards in 2013-14. He barely missed out on the per-game title despite spending less time on the court, and a significantly higher percentage of his rebounds were of the contested variety. He's No. 1 in my book.
Gone is the indifference and lack of enthusiasm Drummond showed during his one collegiate season at Connecticut. The center may only be 20 years old, but he's already displaying leadership traits while remaining healthy.
There are quite a few teams who probably regret letting Drummond pass them by in the 2012 NBA draft. It was an understandable decision at the time, given the lack of improvement he showed at UConn, his indifference and the raw nature of his game, but it sure looks bad in hindsight. He's already developing into a top-tier center, one who will get even better with age.
53. Al Horford, Center, Atlanta Hawks
Al Horford is quite adept at scoring from the blocks and the elbows, where his mid-range jumper is one of the more underrated options the NBA has to offer. Versatility is the name of the game for this particular Florida product, who excelled as the No. 1 scoring option for the Atlanta Hawks, although he did have to rely a bit too much on the passes of teammates to generate offense.
The only thing holding Horfod back in this category was an aberration of a shortened season that saw his passing skills decline. He wasn't able to rack up assists as often, despite the ball-movement-heavy nature of the Atlanta offense, and he turned the ball over more than in the past, which negated some of the incredible work he did stretching out defenses with his jumper.
Horford is a solid defender who understands plays before they develop, which helps him anticipate action off the ball with time to spare. He's also a quality on-ball defender who can use his size to his advantage, but he struggles protecting the rim. Despite not being incredibly involved in the at-rim proceedings, Horford barely kept opponents below 50 percent.
A good rebounder, Horford doesn't put up enough monstrous games to be considered a great one. Though he only had 29 opportunities to rack up numbers in 2013-14, he topped out at 16 but only managed to get past 11 four times in those 29 attempts. On the flip side, he failed to record even seven boards on eight separate occasions.
It's all about health here, as Horford tore his pectoral muscle for the second time in three years. That's a strange injury, one that isn't exactly common among NBA players, but it's a painful blow that is the equivalent of a season-ending malady.
Had Horford remained healthy, the Hawks would've had a far more successful season. Sure, they snuck into the postseason with the No. 8 seed and a losing record, but this team was poised to claim the No. 3 seed before the center was injured. He's a dominant individual whose versatility helps everyone on the court. Well, everyone except the opposition.
52. Isaiah Thomas, Point Guard, Sacramento Kings
Isaiah Thomas has become an absolute scoring stud. The diminutive point guard has been one of just a few 20-point scorers at the position, and he does so while A) shooting a solid percentage from the field, B) showcasing a decent stroke from downtown, C) getting to the free-throw line with remarkable frequency and D) hitting those freebies. Once his outside shooting catches up to his mid-range game, the sky is the limit.
While he's a solid spot-up shooter, he's not especially threatening because the three-ball is the weakest aspect of his scoring game. Defenses can focus on other players when he isn't handling the rock. And as for Thomas' passing, it's likewise solid, but nothing special.
Evaluating Thomas' defense is tricky. While he's matador-like in his ability to usher offensive players into the paint, he's quite effective working off the ball. Thomas is an unrelenting bundle of energy who constantly forces the issue, whether he's closing out on shooters, bolting around screens or just pestering players without the ball.
What do you expect from the man who's tied with Nate Robinson as the shortest player in the NBA? Throughout the history of the Association, only a dozen players have ever been listed below Thomas' 5'9" frame. That's not an excuse for the point guard, though, as he still manages to pull down a respectable number of rebounds each outing.
A fiery competitor who can sometimes follow in DeMarcus Cousins' footsteps and get engaged in a bit of extracurricular activity, Thomas hasn't done anything meriting the loss of even a single point. He's used those competitive instincts for good.
How's this for an impressive turnaround? In the summer of 2011, Thomas was Mr. Irrelevant, drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the final pick of the proceedings. Less than three years later, he pops out as a top-15 point guard in the entire NBA.
51. Jeff Teague, Point Guard, Atlanta Hawks
As soon as Al Horford went down, Jeff Teague's numbers began to decline. Without the added luxury of having another offensive hub in the lineup, his scoring was a bit exposed. That said, Teague has still posted stellar scoring numbers throughout the year, driven largely by his unrelenting confidence and ability to drive into the teeth of the defense.
Teague is one of the biggest reasons that the Atlanta Hawks generate assists on what seems like nearly every made field goal. He controls the ball movement and has the ability to rack up gaudy dime totals on a nightly basis, which is made all the more impressive by the lackluster nature of his supporting cast and the injury woes that beset Atlanta throughout the year. If only his perimeter shooting actually made defenses feel threatened...
If you put Teague into a one-on-one situation, he's going to struggle. But in a switch-heavy defensive scheme that allows him to spend plenty of time tracking non-ball-handlers around the court, he thrives. Few point guards have been better fighting through screens and closing out on spot-up shooters.
Teague doesn't spend much time around the basket, but he's quite adept at tracking down long rebounds. It's when he ventures in among the big boys that he's unable to make much of an impact on the glass, and contested rebounds aren't exactly his biggest strength.
By nature, point guards are supposed to be vocal leaders, but it's rare to see Teague in a role that asks other players to look toward him for direction. He's by no means a hindrance to the Hawks' efforts, and he has been getting more vocal, but it's just not quite enough for the perfect score.
Teague began the year in All-Star fashion, but he declined as the year went on. The responsibility of controlling the ball and directing offense took its toll, forcing his efficiency and the volume of his output to trend in the wrong direction. It's still unclear if Mike Budenholzer views him as a franchise centerpiece, but he could do far worse.
50. Greg Monroe, Combo Big Man, Detroit Pistons
Greg Monroe struggled when Andre Drummond's presence pushed him outside the paint, but he was still a fantastic scorer when he was given space right around the basket. Though he's too reliant on his spin move, the man they call Moose has a devastating set of post maneuvers, allowing him to create his own offense and make a considerably high percentage of his shots.
Although he's not much of a spot-up threat, Monroe spent his college days playing under John Thompson III at Georgetown, which means he's probably going to be a good passer. And he is, though he wasn't able to handle the ball and function as a distributor as often as he has in the past.
Monroe doesn't stand out defensively in any one area. He's neither great nor awful at off-ball defense, on-ball defense or when protecting the rim, although he was far better when the Pistons matched him up against opposing 5's. After all, posting up against Moose does usually tend to be a mistake.
Even though he's declined slightly both as an offensive and defensive rebounder, Monroe is still pretty darn good on the boards. He's a physical player after a missed shot, one who's in no way afraid to fight through contact and work his way to a contested rebound.
Even during a year filled with disappointing results, turmoil among the coaching staff and front office, players making poor decisions and another lottery pick, Monroe kept his mouth shut and went about his business. He just stayed healthy and quietly put together a season that flew well below the radar.
So long as he can play like a true center, he's going to function as an elite scorer and a solid defender, but the Pistons didn't always let him line up at the 5. Management is the reason Monroe's stock fell slightly during his fourth professional season, as he never truly settled in as a power forward. As a result, there should be major question marks about where this future restricted free agent will suit up next year.
49. David Lee, Power Forward, Golden State Warriors
David Lee has always been a great scorer out of the frontcourt, and that narrative rang true once more during his latest season with the Golden State Warriors. A crafty player with excellent footwork and phenomenal touch, Lee isn't exactly easy to contain when he gets the ball in a one-on-one situation.
That one-on-one ability makes it awfully difficult for defenses to throw double-teams at Stephen Curry or attempt to trap him. Schemes still have to prevent Lee from catching the ball on the elbow or one of the blocks, and they also have to make sure the power forward doesn't wreak havoc with his passing, limited as it may be this year.
Lee has been lambasted for his defensive efforts, and for good reason. He's a liability, one that must be hidden almost all the time, with the exception of one-on-one situations against less talented players. Sometimes he lucks into the right positioning, but Lee's sole defensive contributions come from his 6'9", 249-pound frame that can get in the way of a player trying to finish a close-range attempt.
Few players are better at using their bodies to hold position after a missed shot. Lee might not be able to sky over other rebound-seeking hands, but he always seems to come down with the boards. This was his worst rebounding season in years, and he was still one of the best out there.
Lee hasn't been able to stay healthy over the last few years, and at some point a series of fluke injuries needs to be considered something more than bad luck. Did we reach the tipping point when nerve inflammation in his right hamstring took him out of the Dubs lineup down the stretch?
If you're looking for a speciality star, Lee would qualify. He's a fantastic offensive commodity who excels on the boards, but he's absolutely awful when asked to play defense. Lee wouldn't thrive on just any team, because he needs to be played situationally while surrounded by the right teammates, ones who can cover up for his weaknesses.
48. Gordon Hayward, Swingman, Utah Jazz
Gordon Hayward has been able to score in volume as the go-to option for the Utah Jazz, but he'd likely look even better if he were joined by a few more scoring standouts (or even one, for that matter). His efficiency has dipped because defenses keyed in on him so frequently, but he still maintained respectable percentages.
Even though Hayward is a respectable off-ball threat, it's facilitating that earns him the bulk of his points in this category. While he was a solid distributor during his first three seasons in Salt Lake City, he made a monumental leap this year, racking up many more assists (and a much higher assist percentage) without turning the ball over too often.
On-ball defense can be a struggle for Hayward at times, although his responsibilities on the other end are partly to blame for draining much of his energy. It's during off-ball defense situations where he makes up for those deficits, as his long arms and exceptional athleticism help him disrupt many plays. Chase-down blocks, anyone?
You can never accuse Hayward of exerting lackluster effort on the glass. He constantly seeks out rebounds and understands that his job requires him to make a significant impact in this area, something he does far more often than not.
Hayward has embraced a true leadership role for the Utah Jazz, and he spurs his troops by example. He's a hard worker who carries himself with professionalism, and it obviously helps that he's proved to be quite durable.
Without Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson in the Utah lineup, Hayward became the de facto No. 1 player. Although there were aspects of the role that he struggled with—primarily the ability to score efficiently while drawing the lion's share of defensive attention—he still had what can only be considered a breakout season for the Jazz.
47. Jrue Holiday, Point Guard, New Orleans Pelicans
Part of what made Jrue Holiday so special during his final season with the Philadelphia 76ers was his willingness to attack the basket with reckless abandon. But before he got injured, the New Orleans Pelicans floor general was hesitant to put his head down, instead relying on an inefficient mid-range game that didn't allow him to thrive as a scorer.
Holiday isn't exactly a terrifying off-ball threat, and defenses can often forget about him when he gives up possession of the ball. But that doesn't happen too often, seeing as the point guard is an incredible passer. He's continued to get better and better during his NBA career, and the healthy portion of the 2013-14 campaign was his distributing piece de resistance.
Holiday does a great job remaining in his defensive stance and making only smart gambles. If he were a blackjack player, he'd be one of those guys who refused to hit on anything more than a 12, which does sometimes inhibit his ability to make off-ball plays and jump the passing lanes. However, he does have a few notable weaknesses—navigating pick-and-roll sets and locating spot-up shooters quickly enough to contest those jumpers.
Not only does Holiday do a better job grabbing contested rebounds than most point guards, but he also grabs boards with remarkable volume. Though he's not quite on the level of a Michael Carter-Williams or Russell Westbrook, he's one of the few floor generals capable of routinely challenging upper single digits.
Durability is a tough category for Holiday, who played in only 34 games before succumbing to a stress fracture in his right tibia and the subsequent surgery that knocked him out for the rest of the 2013-14 season. It's the first year of his career that Holiday has experienced a major injury, but it's significant nonetheless.
Expect Holiday—a first-time All-Star during the 2012-13 campaign—to rebound with a strong season next year, especially now that he's surrounded with talent by the bayou. But this go-round was a rough one, largely because of that unfortunate season-ending injury. A perfect durability score, after all, would've earned the UCLA product a top-10 spot.
46. Klay Thompson, Shooting Guard, Golden State Warriors
Only four different players in NBA history have ever hit at least 200 three-pointers in one of their first three professional seasons: Aaron Brooks, Kyle Korver, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson. But thanks to his 2013-14 season, which continued to see him excel from beyond the arc, Thompson is now the only man to do so twice.
Failing to respect Thompson's shot is a big mistake, one that defenses are quite hesitant to make. He is half of the Splash Brothers' backcourt pairing, after all. Unfortunately, though, the Washington State product's passing isn't nearly on the same level as his spot-up shooting.
Thompson has quickly become a two-way stud, as his perimeter defense was one of the many reasons Mark Jackson's squad ended up with one of the top point-preventing units in the Association. He thrived both on and off the ball, and the only gripe is that he sometimes spends time conserving energy rather than trying to jump lanes and recover to his man.
It's pretty understandable that Thompson doesn't rack up the rebounds, but that's not going to boost his score. Keeping him inside the arc on offense is nonsensical, and he often takes on the tougher perimeter assignments while playing defense.
Thompson rarely finds himself in the news for anything other than stellar play, and he's stayed quite healthy throughout his NBA career. 2013-14 was no exception.
The third-year pro is coming into his own for the Golden State Warriors. Though the focus still deservedly remains on his perimeter shooting, he's improved his all-around game and continues to thrive as an underrated defender. The Dubs have to be excited about his future.
45. DeAndre Jordan, Center, Los Angeles Clippers
Does DeAndre Jordan score a lot for the Los Angeles Clippers? Not at all. Does he ever create his own offense? Nope, not really. Is he efficient? It's hard to argue he isn't, seeing as he led all qualified players in field-goal percentage and effective field-goal percentage during the 2013-14 season.
An awful passer, Jordan still holds some value on the offensive end because he can set solid screens and is a constant threat to finish the play with a thunderous alley-oop slam. If you don't believe me, you're more than welcome to ask Brandon Knight what he thinks.
Doc Rivers sure did a nice job turning the uber-athletic big man into a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and it only took one season. Though he can still be beaten out on the perimeter by more versatile centers who are capable of handling the ball, he did an excellent job playing help defense and protecting the rim at all times. Few players were more defensively involved than Jordan.
Did you actually expect the league leader in rebounds per game to receive anything less than a perfect score in this category?
Jordan's body must be made of something other than typical human material. The 6'11" center puts even more stress on his joints than most big men because of his high-flying habits but still hasn't missed even a single game over the past three seasons.
One of the most improved players throughout the NBA, Jordan became so much more than a shot-blocking alley-oop finisher during the 2013-14 season. His offensive game remained quite limited, though it was certainly efficient, but his rebounding productivity skyrocketed while he became a much smarter defender capable of making an impact without swatting a shot.
44. Kawhi Leonard, Small Forward, San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs' ball-sharing system prevents any one player from standing out as a scorer, but Kawhi Leonard has done his darnedest to excel nonetheless. By coupling his stellar three-point shooting with a penchant for finishing at the rim, Leonard was extremely efficient. Then he added in an excellent mid-range game, which basically maximized his level of production as a non-featured option.
If there's any area in which Leonard needs to improve, it's this one. He's not a player who inspires sheer terror when moving without the ball, and his passing is lackluster at best. Rarely do you see Leonard make even one pass that the average small forward couldn't have successfully completed.
Leonard entered the league as a bit of a defensive specialist back in 2011, and he's maintained that point-preventing prowess despite gaining abilities in other areas. Few players in the league are better at locking down a wing player throughout an entire game, and his effectiveness is by no means limited to man-on-man situations.
It's tough to find a small forward who rebounds in traffic so well that over 30 percent of his successful ventures on the glass come with another player in his vicinity. But I'll give you a hint so you don't end up trying to find one for too long: Leonard qualifies.
Does the 22-year-old talk enough to generate bad publicity? He just quietly goes about his business for the most part, though he's not escaping with a 10-of-10 score this year. Injuries did get to the San Diego State product, as he missed 14 games in the middle of the season with a fracture of his fourth metacarpal.
The Spurs just aren't fair. Eventually, Tim Duncan is going to retire (I think...), and Leonard will step into the superstar role, leaving the model franchise maintaining its spot among the NBA elite. The small forward is only missing opportunity to thrive as a scorer, because he's already showing out in nearly every facet of the game.
43. Andre Iguodala, Small Forward, Golden State Warriors
It's almost inconceivable that Andre Iguodala's offense dropped off this quickly. He actually elevated his percentages, but a serious dip in usage prevented him from ever gaining much rhythm in the Golden State Warriors' system. Iggy was forced to be a last resort on the offensive end, and it was rather difficult for him to score in double digits on most nights.
Iguodala has remained an elite facilitator for his position, even if he doesn't have the ball in his hands enough to rack up eye-popping assist totals. Let's put it this way: Iggy is so strong as a distributor that the Dubs have actually felt comfortable letting him run the point when the other top-notch options are either injured or need a quick rest.
Wing players aren't typically going to garner Defensive Player of the Year consideration, but Iguodala deserves a bit for the stellar work he's done on the less glamorous end of the court. Golden State is a struggling defensive team when Iggy is on the bench; when he plays, the team's defensive rating is right up there in contention for the No. 1 spot throughout the Association.
Iguodala isn't particularly active on the glass, partially because he's a transition threat who can either finish the coast-to-coast play or lead a multi-player drive, but he does an excellent job capitalizing on his opportunities. His work on the offensive glass has been on par with the rest of his career, even if he's struggled a bit more than usual on the other end.
You'll rarely hear about Iguodala complaining, unless a bobblehead is involved. Only injuries affect him negatively here, as a sore hamstring at the start of the season forced Golden State to work from behind the eight ball right off the bat.
Consider Iguodala one of the non-stats All-Stars. His box scores aren't always pretty, but he impacts so many areas of the game that aren't going to show up as either points, rebounds, assists, steals or blocks. He did experience a slight offensive decline, but his defense keeps his value right up there.
42. Serge Ibaka, Power Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder
It's time that we stop expecting Serge Ibaka to develop into anything more than a good, but not great, scorer. Even though Russell Westbrook's prolonged absence gave him a chance to emerge as a terrific complementary option, Ibaka only slightly increased his output while coupling that with a corresponding decrease in efficiency.
Ibaka isn't a true stretch 4, but he's one of the more dangerous pick-and-pop threats in the Association, which always makes defenses think just a bit more. If only he could couple that with some advanced passing skills, as he's most certainly not one of the better playmakers on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In terms of rim protection, Ibaka is fantastic. He rejects a lot of shots and does a tremendous job altering quite a few more. However, he's still learning how to rotate properly, and he can often be caught out of position or forced into biting for a fake, leaving him susceptible to a quick counter move.
For whatever reason, Ibaka doesn't get noticed for his rebounding. It's easier to focus on his jumper and shot-blocking prowess. Nonetheless, the Congolese power forward produces exceptional rebounding totals night in and night out, a statement that applies to both ends of the court.
A rather understated player who leaves his passion on the court, Ibaka rarely generates headlines, much less negative ones. He hasn't created any distractions for OKC, and he's stayed quite healthy throughout the 2013-14 season.
Ibaka still hasn't developed into a superstar, even though Westbrook's knees have given him chances to do so, but he's an extremely solid player on both ends of the court. The power forward knows his role, and he excels in it while making marginal improvements each and every year. 2013-14 was no exception.
41. Marc Gasol, Center, Memphis Grizzlies
Marc Gasol doesn't stand out in any one way as a scorer. He doesn't dazzle in the post, his mid-range game doesn't leave him among the elite group of big men and he's not athletic enough to finish plays above the rim on a regular basis. However, the versatility and combined impact from all facets of his scoring game makes for an impressive overall product.
Sometimes Gasol looks like a point guard trapped in a 7-footer's body. The passes he makes are just ridiculous, ones that almost no other frontcourt player in the league would think to attempt. Whether he's getting caught in the air and whipping the ball to a corner, dishing out behind-the-back dimes to backdoor cutters or leading a man on a charge down the lane with a perfectly timed bounce pass, he's remarkably entertaining as a distributor.
Even though Gasol received top marks for on-ball defense, excelled as an off-ball defender and was adequate protecting the rim, he's normally more effective. David Joerger's system eliminated the Memphis Grizzlies' instinctive understanding of positioning and rotations at the beginning of the year, which was the foundation of Gasol's excellence. Then he had to recover from an MCL injury. The 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year is better than this grade—which has to be based solely on the 2013-14 season—would indicate.
Here's Gasol's biggest weakness. Despite his size, the Spanish big man elects to pursue mostly rebounds he knows he can grab, showing relative indifference to 50/50 balls and boards that might require an inordinate amount of contact.
Only durability works against Gasol here, as the MCL sprain kept him out for a significant portion of the 2013-14 season. The Memphis big man does all the little things well and is more than content playing winning basketball at the expense of individual statistics.
Unfortunately for Gasol, the 2013-14 season didn't treat him too kindly. Adjustments to Joerger's system made for a rough opening salvo, and an MCL sprain derailed his campaign right after that. But he rebounded nevertheless, reasserting himself as a truly elite center. Had he stayed healthy, it's easy to think he would've ranked significantly higher in the final rankings.
40. Deron Williams, Point Guard, Brooklyn Nets
Gone are the Utah Jazz days when Deron Williams could routinely challenge the 20-point barrier while making over half of his shots from the field. In their place lies the Brooklyn Nets version of D-Will, one who can still light up the scoreboard but relies far more heavily on his outside shooting than his devastating crossover.
Finding a point guard more dangerous without the ball in his hands is the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack; it exists, but it's pretty darn elusive. Then again, the assists have been becoming increasingly elusive as well for Williams, who is finding it difficult to maintain his grasp on elite status.
D-Will's defensive skills don't often get focused on, but he's left no doubt during the 2013-14 season that he's an above-average stopper in most aspects. Not only are the Nets significantly better at preventing points when he plays, but his off-ball defense got better and better as the season wore on.
You'd think such a big floor general would make more of an impact on the glass. Sadly for Brooklyn, Williams has never shown off much desire to help out on the boards, and he's content just grabbing up loose balls when no one else gets there first.
Williams' reputation as a coach killer hasn't irritated his relationship with Jason Kidd, but there are times when he seems rather testy on the court. The bigger problem, though, is his health. Ankle problems severely inhibited him throughout the season, and it's not like this is anything new.
The 29-year-old is clearly entering the declining phase of his career a bit early, but a fantastic second half has allowed hope to enter back into the equation. The 6'3" point guard has been an offensive and defensive spark plug for the Nets, even if wear and tear are keeping him from looking truly elite.
39. David West, Power Forward, Indiana Pacers
If you watch enough Indiana Pacers games, you start to get the sense that David West doesn't really care about scoring. He does it because the team needs him to put up efficient points, but that's by no means his priority when he's out on the hardwood. And even still, West is able to catch everyone by surprise with a few crucially timed mid-range jumpers.
Few players set better screens than West. He's a physical behemoth, and he's going to deliver at least one bone-crunching pick each game that frees a ball-handler for so long he could take a quick nap before driving or pulling up. Though West's off-ball scoring isn't enough for him to crack double-digits in this category, he's a consummate professional who does all the little things on offense.
Whether he's getting into his defensive stance and moving sideways to stay in front of a smaller player or bodying up and taking the brunt of a post-up situation, to the extent that his chest is probably bruised after a game from the constant shouldering, West is a defensive asset. Age has sapped some of his athleticism and quickness, but his only true weakness comes when he's left alone in the paint and asked to protect the rim.
West is a solid rebounder. Nothing less, and nothing more. He doesn't go out of his way to make an impact on the boards, but he's a physical player who can work through contact quite nicely.
A leader through and through, this particular power forward has a no-nonsense attitude both on and off the court. He demands excellence from himself, and it's easy to get the feeling that the rest of his teammates are scared to give anything less than their best.
West doesn't care about statistics; he just concerns himself with wins. And that shows in his play, as he's one of the most likely players in the Association to remain perfectly content while doing all the little things on both ends of the court. Even if he's not the best player on the Pacers, he's the heart and soul of that team.
38. Lance Stephenson, Shooting Guard, Indiana Pacers
Lance Stephenson's outside shot just keeps trending in the right direction, and the rest of his offensive game is following suit. The 2-guard has an attacking mentality—though that's sometimes detrimental—and he can score at a high level both in transition and the half-court set.
Not only did Born Ready improve to become a mediocre spot-up shooter, but he remains an effective, aggressive and violent cutter who forces defenses to pay attention to him at all times. On top of that, his distributing skills appeared to be much better throughout the 2013-14 season, even if he occasionally had trouble maintaining possession of the rock.
Stephenson's individual numbers aren't excellent, but that's not entirely problematic. He takes on tough assignments, and he also acts like a whirling dervish on the court, playing relentlessly difficult defense regardless of who has the ball. He understands that team defense can be just as impactful as individual work.
He can occasionally be a selfish rebounder, stealing chances away from his teammates to pad his stats, but the Indiana Pacers have to love his aggressive mentality on the glass. Stephenson legitimately thinks he's going to get every rebound possible, and the result was arguably the greatest season on the boards by a guard since the turn of the century.
Stephenson's antics can get a bit annoying. He has a penchant for showmanship, but it's not always a positive for the Pacers. His passion can get a bit too passionate, and his aggressiveness can get a bit too aggressive.
Stephenson was a breakout star for the Pacers, showcasing his two-way skills throughout the entire season. His ball-handling abilities—both in terms of creating shots for himself and for others—gave the offense a new dynamic, and his defensive mentality fit right in with the overall scheme.
37. Chandler Parsons, Small Forward, Houston Rockets
If you're seeking out a beautiful shooting chart, just go check out Chandler Parsons. He can knock down three-point attempts above and below the break, and he makes getting to the rim a priority. Rarely does Parsons settle for a mid-range look, because he's well aware it's the least efficient area of the court.
Parsons has made strides as a distributor each and every year of his professional career, and this season was no exception. Not only did he cut back on his turnover percentage—particularly by keeping his dribbling tighter—but his assist percentage rose yet again. The Houston Rockets seem increasingly comfortable when Parsons runs the show.
Already a borderline-elite on-ball defender, Parsons needs to become a bit more disciplined when he's attempting to corral scorers who are dangerous when they don't have possession of the ball. His length does allow him to close out on spot-up shooters, but he's not always in the right position when a lot of motion is involved.
It's hard to stand out when surrounded by players who also excel in this category, but Parsons still manages to post excellent numbers as a rebounder. Whether there's another player fighting with him for control of a missed shot, the former Florida Gator tends to do a good job pulling in the ball.
A sore knee in January and back spasms in December kept Parsons out of a few games, but he was still quite durable from start to finish. In fact, the only part of him that didn't really make it through the season was his hair, as he chopped it off to pay homage to a 10-year-old with cancer.
When Parsons left Florida and was the No. 38 pick in the 2011 NBA draft, he was average at everything and great at nothing. Three seasons later, he's become great at quite a few things and above average at just about everything else. He's a prototypical Swiss army knife who should make Houston feel like it does actually have a third member of a Big Three.
36. Pau Gasol, Combo Big Man, Los Angeles Lakers
Pau Gasol got off to a shockingly slow start during the 2013-14 campaign, but he rebounded his way to success by the end of the year. Even if the Los Angeles Lakers couldn't take advantage of his scoring, the big man still managed to post numbers that made his 2012-13 season pale in comparison. The post moves, mid-range jumpers and dives to the basket all suited him well after the shaky start.
Although Gasol's range doesn't extend as far as that of some other power forwards, combo big men and centers, he's able to spread out the court and keep defenses honest whenever his shot is falling. It also helps that he's a savvy passer, one who can create offense for his teammates from the elbows and force the Lake Show to run things through him at times.
The Spanish 7-footer is capable of slowing down a man when faced with a simple on-ball matchup. But anything more complicated than that is likely to lead to a bewildered/disappointed/saddened expression on Gasol's face after he gives up an easy look at the rim. This big man may be bilingual, but he still doesn't have "help defense" in his vocabulary.
Though Gasol doesn't add all that much on the offensive glass, he's remained a dominant defensive rebounder as Father Time continues to affect his career. Few players throughout the NBA posted a better defensive rebounding percentage than this grizzled veteran.
It would've been easy for Gasol to lose his temper given the constant trade rumors and the utter futility of the Purple and Gold. Nevertheless, he maintained his professionalism and worked to get off the schneid early in the year, though a toe injury, strained groin and vertigo all kept him out of the lineup later on.
Let's not be so quick to dismiss Gasol as a washed-up veteran. Though he was injured at the end of the season, played for a pretty terrible Lakers squad, staunchly refused to play off-ball defense and was always mentioned in trade rumors, he still made valuable contributions when he was on the court. His rebounding was excellent, and it's hard to argue with the offense he puts up when healthy.
35. Monta Ellis, Shooting Guard, Dallas Mavericks
An overrated volume scorer with the Milwaukee Bucks—and, to a lesser extent, at times during his career with the Golden State Warriors—Monta Ellis thrived in his new digs. No longer reliant on an ineffective three-point stroke, Ellis attacked the basket relentlessly and finally paired some efficiency with his high-scoring nature.
Ellis isn't much of an off-ball threat unless he's cutting to the hoop, but he's a premier facilitator among the backdrop of 2-guards in the Association. Though he turns the ball over a bit too often—primarily through bad passes and careless dribbling—he still racks up assists as well as nearly anyone at the position. It only took him 20 games with the Dallas Mavericks to hit double digits three times.
Steals aren't the equivalent of good defense, and Ellis is the poster boy for that movement, even if he probably doesn't want to be. While the shooting guard does have quick hands, he gambles far too often, and the positivity of the thefts is mitigated by the number of times he's ridiculously far out of position.
You can't fault Ellis for a lack of effort on the boards. He rockets around the court like it's his job to collect every rebound that eludes the big men, which often puts him in the vicinity of a missed shot. That said, he's often late to the punch.
Though his style of play may rub some the wrong way, Ellis certainly endears himself to his teammates with his passionate efforts and unrelenting confidence. He was also remarkably durable during his first season under Mark Cuban's supervision.
A change of location can have a marvelously positive impact on a player's career. Ellis seemed to take past criticism to heart throughout the 2013-14 season, eschewing those ill-advised triples and focusing instead on his impressive driving ability at all times.
34. Kemba Walker, Point Guard, Charlotte Bobcats
Is Kemba Walker an efficient shooter? Nope, not really. But he does manage to add value from beyond the arc and spends quite a bit of time knocking down freebies at the charity stripe, so don't let that ugly field-goal percentage scare you off.
Walker's passing has taken a step in the wrong direction during the 2013-14 campaign, but he's mitigating the negative impact by showcasing more control over the ball than ever before. That, along with some smart cutting and threatening perimeter shooting, allows him to fare nicely in this category, though not too nicely.
Under Steve Clifford, everyone on the Charlotte Bobcats has become a more competent defender. Walker is no exception, even if he can still find himself out of position during the occasional possession. His weaknesses often allow shooters to free themselves from him, but he's turned into a surprisingly effective individual stopper.
Size-deficit? What size-deficit? Even though he's generously listed at 6'1", Walker manages to collect more than his fair share of rebounds, giving the 'Cats a nice boost on the glass. This is no fluke either.
It's hard to find fault with either Kemba's leadership skills or his durability. Stemming all the way back to his days with the Connecticut Huskies, the point guard has shown an innate ability to motivate his troops while staying healthy and on the court for the vast majority of the season.
Though many people haven't spent much time watching Walker lead Charlotte, it's a sight that's definitely worth seeing. He's an offensive spark plug who spent his third season in the Association figuring out how to put everything together, and now he's within sniffing distance of the true elites.
33. Zach Randolph, Power Forward, Memphis Grizzlies
Who says old-school, back-to-the-basket players are all gone? Zach Randolph spits on that notion, as he thrives when he's able to use his post moves and below-the-rim offense to put up points in bunches. Fantastic footwork, strength and touch allow Z-Bo to torture opposing defenses with regularity.
Randolph knows how to use his size, as he can set screens that give his teammates plenty of space. But he's not a stretch 4, and his passing is rather limited. Z-Bo does generate a couple of assists every game, but he's prone to making bad-pass turnovers and just losing his handle on the rock.
There are three main flaws in Randolph's defensive game: He doesn't show discipline on the blocks, he's not athletic enough to protect the rim adequately and he's too slow to close out on perimeter shooters when that situation arises.
Z-Bo was a dominant rebounder during the 2013-14 season, just as he's been throughout his prime. It's particularly difficult to keep him off the offensive glass, as he has a knack for darting in and gaining quick position after a shot goes up.
Not only has Randolph stayed out of trouble during his latest season with the Memphis Grizzlies, but he's even provided us with one of the best moments of the year—literally giving the shirt off his back to a young fan with special needs. If it were possible to earn bonus points, Z-Bo would get them.
Randolph's offensive role increased when Memphis was plagued by injuries, but the big man still had a season pretty comparable to his last few healthy go-rounds. He remains a dominant rebounder who can beat anyone on the blocks with his arsenal of post moves.
32. Kyrie Irving, Point Guard, Cleveland Cavaliers
Between the precocious confidence, unbelievable—dare I say best in the league?—handles and picture-perfect shooting stroke, Kyrie Irving is just dynamite in the scoring column. He can put up points with the best of 'em, and he's only missing consistency from his arsenal. Once he gets better at finishing around the basket and avoids the inexplicably lackluster outings, he'll earn a perfect rating here.
Although Irving doesn't always connect on his spot-up attempts, he's still such a dangerous shooter that defensive schemes center around preventing him from heating up. It's only the former No. 1 pick's passing that gets dinged here, as he hasn't been able to show much improvement over his three professional seasons.
Defense remains a big problem for the Cleveland Cavaliers floor general. While he shows good instincts as an on-ball defender, he's been awful when working on a man that isn't dribbling. Caught out of position often, Irving routinely gets abused by spot-up shooters and fails to make much of an impact in the proceedings.
The former Duke Blue Devil does a nice job getting into position for rebounds, but he's often beaten to the punch by a bigger player. Even if he's regressed on the boards during each professional season—look past those deceptive per-game averages—the signs of Irving being a huge asset on the glass down the road are still there.
Since the All-Star break, Irving has shown off much better leadership traits, but it's hard to just look past the pre-break troubles. Between the clashes with Dion Waiters, the pouting that was noticed by other general managers and a decided lack of fiery intensity, the All-Star didn't exactly have a glowing reputation. On top of that, he's had a lot of trouble staying healthy, both this year and throughout his career.
Irving should still assert his name in the "best point guard in basketball" conversation down the road, but he hasn't done so yet. The leadership/efficiency/defensive struggles all work against him, and he's not as far along the developmental curve as many either hoped or would still like to believe.
31. Al Jefferson, Center, Charlotte Bobcats
If Al Jefferson gets the ball on the left block, opposing defenses should just forget about trying to prevent him from scoring. He's just that unstoppable. Jefferson's scoring has carried an otherwise lackluster group of Charlotte Bobcats, though he still doesn't create enough offense from areas other than that aforementioned block to get the coveted perfect score.
At times it seems as though entire defensive schemes are built around preventing Jefferson from touching the ball in his sweet spot. That's when you know you're affecting the opposition even without putting the ball through the hoop. But as for his passing, it still leaves something to be desired—namely more assists.
Viewed as a defensive liability in the past, Big Al has been much better under the tutelage of Steve Clifford. Most of the improvement has come as an on-ball defender, where he's significantly more disciplined, but unfortunately it nearly ends there. He still has plenty of work to do when not guarding the man with the ball, and his rim-protecting is lackluster on a good day.
Jefferson has always been a good rebounder, but this is the first season he's bordered on great. His per-minute numbers are better than ever thanks to a huge improvement on the defensive glass that more than offsets his decline on the offensive boards. He could stand to grab more contested rebounds, though.
It took a while for Jefferson to settle into his new digs, largely because of a sprained ankle he suffered at the start of the season. Then for good measure, he aggravated it at the end of the month, which destroyed any chance he had of earning a perfect durability score.
Jefferson's exclusion from the All-Star team didn't look particularly egregious at the time of the midseason festivities, but it looks like a crying shame after Big Al flat-out dominated during the second half of the campaign. An offensive stalwart, Jefferson did everything he could to justify the surprising contract he signed this past offseason. And given the fact that Charlotte made the playoffs for the first time since 2010, he surely did.
30. Chris Bosh, Combo Big Man, Miami Heat
Whether he's served as the second or third option for the Miami Heat in 2013-14 (depending on the status of Dwyane Wade), Chris Bosh has thrived as an efficient jump-shooter whose range extends beyond the three-point arc. The 20-point outings happen with less frequency than we've seen since he broke into the league, but so do the outings when he scores less than a point per shot.
Very few players at any position received perfect scores for off-ball offense, but Bosh was one of them. His ability to spot up at the three-point arc and spread out defenses did wonders for the Heat, and he was also a solid cutter who willingly set screens for everyone on the court. The passing leaves something to be desired, but Bosh's shooting impact was just superb.
Bosh isn't best suited for protecting the rim, which creates problems when Miami leaves him as the biggest player on the court. However, he's an underrated stopper in man-to-man situations, particularly because he's a smart player who isn't easily fooled. For example, it's hard for a roll man to beat him to the basket, as Bosh tends to anticipate the play and immediately recognize whether he should drop back, trap or hedge on the screen.
It's almost inconceivable that a 6'10" combo big man who often functions as the last line of defense for the Heat can't even pull down eight rebounds per 36 minutes. Bosh still makes an impact on the glass, but it's not nearly on the level that we'd expect from a player with his size and positioning on the court.
Bosh seems to be a common punchline among NBA fans, but the Heat sure act like they love playing with him. He's a passionate, goofy, exuberant star who genuinely loves playing basketball. What's wrong with that, exactly?
If Bosh were still the No. 1 option on a team, he'd be viewed in a far different light. The big man has willingly and graciously ceded touches and offensive involvement to LeBron James and Wade, and he's thrived in his role. He only takes efficient shots, quietly does the little things and remains a crucial star among one of the most dangerous bunches in the Association.
29. Ty Lawson, Point Guard, Denver Nuggets
For the first season of his career, Ty Lawson has really struggled with his field-goal percentage. But that's only a surface-level statistic, and the Denver Nuggets are presumably quite pleased with the speedy point guard's ability to connect from downtown and get to the line. His attacking mentality has paid large dividends in 2013-14.
Lawson's height (5'11") prevents him from being much of a cutting threat, but he makes up for that with incredible passing skills and a knack for knocking down spot-up perimeter jumpers. Few players have done a better job distributing the ball on a nightly basis than this vertically challenged point guard.
Defense isn't exactly Lawson's forte, but he's prevented himself from being an extreme liability by figuring out how to navigate pick-and-roll sets. Opposing guards love pulling up after using a pick when Lawson is guarding them, taking advantage of his short stature, but the UNC product rarely makes the wrong decision when deciding whether to go under or over the screen.
Lawson doesn't typically make much of an impact on the glass, but he can consistently be counted on for either three or four boards during any given game. He speeds to the ball well when it escapes the bigger players on the court, and he shows good instincts when anticipating bounces.
Only health works against Lawson in this category, as rib injuries, groin pulls and other various maladies have kept him out of the lineup throughout the season. The Denver Nuggets point guard has avoided major blows, but the little ones add up.
Increased offensive responsibility has treated Lawson well in 2013-14. Without Andre Iguodala in the lineup, the point guard has been forced into developing more on-ball skills, particularly when it comes to utilizing his insane speed while changing directions.
28. Mike Conley, Point Guard, Memphis Grizzlies
Mike Conley is shouldering a lot more scoring responsibility than he did last year, and his efficiency is only going up. The southpaw has looked better shooting the ball from nearly every spot on the court, and he's playing with the confidence of a go-to scorer. At this point, that's a designation he's actually earned.
While he does a fantastic job avoiding turnovers, Conley hasn't exactly thrived as a passer in David Joerger's new system for the Memphis Grizzlies. He may be receiving a bunch of opportunities to rack up assists each and every game, but the holes he's presented with aren't lending themselves toward dimes with too much frequency.
Conley's reputation as an elite defender at the point guard position is slightly overblown. He's a good off-ball stopper, but he's had trouble both navigating pick-and-rolls and corralling isolation players. Going to work without the security blanket named Marc Gasol behind him did a bit of exposing during the middle portion of the 2013-14 campaign.
If you're looking for a middle-of-the-road rebounder, look no further. Conley doesn't stand out in any one way when it comes to this category, instead doing exactly what's expected of an average 6'1" NBA athlete.
Very few complaints exist here, as Conley is only being docked a point for his lack of extreme durability in 2013-14. While he's been an ironclad warrior in the past, an ankle sprain and deeply bruised thigh have both knocked him out of action this year.
Conley was a minor All-Star snub this year, and he's continued to prove it by thriving as one of the league's best two-way guards. He can push the Memphis Grizzlies to victory on either end of the court, even though he sometimes has trouble putting both sides together during a single game.
27. Eric Bledsoe, Point Guard, Phoenix Suns
Whenever he's been healthy, Eric Bledsoe has functioned as an incredibly dynamic scorer who shows absolutely no long-term retention of plays that failed earlier in the game. He can put up points attacking the basket and either finishing or getting to the charity stripe, pulling up from the perimeter or serving as a dangerous spot-up shooter.
Bledsoe's off-ball scoring is great, which makes him the constant focus of defensive attention, but he doesn't pass the ball well enough to make you think his first name is Drew. Not yet, at least. Bledsoe's distributing skills are still developing, and he'll make the leap into superstardom as soon as he shows a bit more care for the ball and an unwillingness to take too many risks.
While not a potent on-ball defender, Bledsoe moves with a calculated fluidity that allows him to insert himself in almost every play. He can sometimes give an air of nonchalance, but nothing could be further from the truth; off-ball defense is where he thrives, and he's been one of the better players in basketball when it comes to that facet of the game.
There are no weaknesses here. Not only has Bledsoe asserted himself as a deadly pound-for-pound rebounder, but he's been able to fight through contact and still come away with the ball quite a few times in 2013-14.
Bledsoe's health was problematic in 2013-14, as he suffered a devastating meniscus injury that required surgery and knocked him out of the lineup for 33 games. He's been durable in only half of his professional seasons, and that needs to change if he's going to rise up the rankings next year.
Had Bledsoe stayed completely healthy and maintained his level of performance throughout the year, he would have moved up into a tie for the No. 4 spot in the rankings. "Mini LeBron" proved he could function as a lead guard in 2013-14, and the future is quite promising.
26. Tim Duncan, Combo Big Man, San Antonio Spurs
Although Tim Duncan posted arguably the worst scoring season of his professional career, he was still able to provide the San Antonio Spurs with quite a bit of value when the ball left his hands and headed for the basket. Those mid-range jumpers are devastating, and he remains the master of using the glass. Expecting Duncan's per-minute numbers to decline significantly is just foolhardy at this point.
Do you actually think a cerebral legend like The Big Fundamental is going to struggle when he's not trying to score? Duncan sets picks as well as anyone, distributes the ball quite nicely within the San Antonio system and spaces out the court on a consistent basis. That said, he's not able to extend his range all the way out to the arc, which limits the movement of defenders.
Duncan is still a great defender, but his off-ball work is now limited by his declining lateral quickness. Though he continued to shut down players, he wasn't able to immerse himself in the flow of the game quite as often, instead hanging back around the rim more than ever before.
Even if he were 80 years old, Duncan would be able to snag boards like his life depended on it. Though he's not thriving when other players are within reach of the loose ball, Duncan's positioning is so phenomenal that he often beats everyone to the punch by a rather significant margin.
Unless you're named Joey Crawford, you wouldn't even think about giving Duncan anything less than a perfect score in the conduct department. It's only health that forces me to dock the future Hall of Famer a point, as the Spurs were cautious—perhaps overly cautious—with his aging body.
You can pretty much pencil Duncan in for a stellar season—one eerily consistent with the rest of his career, at least on a per-minute basis—until he finally hangs up the sneakers and moves into the post-NBA portion of his life. Heck, use pen if you must, because Duncan is one of the safest bets out there for well-rounded production.
25. Nicolas Batum, Small Forward, Portland Trail Blazers
Nicolas Batum made enormous strides inside the arc during the 2013-14 season. Buoyed by an insane ability to finish plays around the rim, the versatile small forward was able to eliminate mid-range looks from his arsenal and play a highly efficient brand of offensive basketball.
There aren't many better facilitators from this middle spot in the lineup. Batum routinely challenges the double-digit barrier in the assist column, and there was even a 10-game stretch in January where he got there three times while averaging 6.9 dimes per game.
Can you imagine how bad the Portland Trail Blazers' defense would be without Batum serving as the glue guy on that end of the court? His versatility allows him to guard multiple positions, and he routinely uses his length to erase the mistakes made by other players in the starting lineup. On and off the ball, he excels, though his numbers are tarnished by the lackluster nature of the overall Rip City product.
During the first 13 games of March, Batum took control of the glass for Portland. He recorded at least 10 rebounds in nine of those outings and averaged a stellar 12.2 boards per contest. How many small forwards are capable of doing that?
There haven't been many more durable players than Batum during the 2013-14 campaign, and he avoided any negative headlines. If you remember his episode with Juan Carlos Navarro during the 2012 Olympics, it's quite clear that he's improved his mental game and temper.
Batum is one of the more versatile players in the Association, capable of impacting a game rather significantly with either his shooting, his play at the rim, his defense on the perimeter or his rebounding. He can do it all, allowing him to establish himself as yet another player whose value isn't fully encapsulated by box-score statistics.
24. Paul Millsap, Power Forward, Atlanta Hawks
Going into the 2013-14 season, Paul Millsap had never even taken 40 three-point attempts in a single season, and his career-high in makes was just 13. But during his first year with the Atlanta Hawks, the power forward more than quintupled both of those numbers, and the development of his perimeter game opened up a whole new world of possibilities when he attacked the basket.
Millsap is a great passer at the 4, especially because he spends so much time with the ball in his hands. He's one of the few players at this position who can drive from the perimeter and keep his head up, seeking out open shooters as he attacks the basket.
Even though he's undersized at 6'8", 245 pounds, Millsap has a ginormous wingspan that allows him to insert himself in plays from behind and when moving laterally. He's an underrated defensive stopper, one who thrives on the ball, off the ball and at the rim. He doesn't stand out in any one area, but the combined product is rather impressive.
Those long arms help on the boards as well. Millsap is an aggressive player on the glass, though he's not as good at boxing out offensive rebounds as many of the other power forwards receiving impressive scores in this category. However, he's so involved after a missed shot that his numbers are still noteworthy.
A right elbow injury and a sore knee did keep Millsap out of the Hawks lineup for a handful of games in 2013-14, but he didn't miss enough action to be docked a point here. After all, he missed only single-digit outings and did what he could to fight through injury and lead a team in desperate need of, well, a leader.
Millsap was never granted an opportunity to be the man with the Utah Jazz, but he was in Atlanta as soon as Al Horford went down with a torn pectoral muscle. Granted every opportunity he asked for, the power forward showed off his versatile game and established himself as both a legitimate All-Star and one of the best bargains in the NBA.
23. DeMar DeRozan, Shooting Guard, Toronto Raptors
DeMar DeRozan still isn't a remarkably efficient scorer—which is the main reason he's "only" getting 22 of the 25 possible points here, despite averaging well over 20 points per game—but he's improving. The three-point stroke is slightly better, and an attacking mentality has allowed him to earn plenty of freebies and make up for the lackluster field-goal percentage.
There's still work to be done as an off-ball threat, but DeRozan made great strides as a distributor. Once Rudy Gay was traded to the Sacramento Kings, he got to spend more time with the ball in his hands and was able to showcase vision that was previously hidden by his shooting tendencies.
DeRozan's reputation on the defensive end might not be as sparkling as some of the more well-known standouts, but it should be. No player in the NBA has been better at shutting down players in isolation, and his only real on-ball flaw comes when he gets caught in a post-up situation without a weak-side defender giving him support.
DeRozan is on the verge of being an elite rebounding guard, but he needs to grab a few more contested boards before that can happen. For a player who spends quite a bit of time working on the glass, the 2-guard isn't as capable of grabbing contested rebounds as you might expect.
A feisty competitor who plays with his heart on his sleeve, DeRozan doesn't exactly have a penchant for drama. At least, not the kind that's detrimental to the Toronto Raptors. Between that and a fairly clean bill of health, there's no reason for negativity here.
It's been a long time coming, but DeRozan finally transitioned from a quality player whose offensive contributions were overvalued to a high-quality player whose offensive contributions were quite valuable. That's a big transition, and it's large part of the reason why Toronto moved up toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
22. Kyle Lowry, Point Guard, Toronto Raptors
If only Kyle Lowry were a little better at knocking down shots from mid-range zones. Particularly on the left side of the court, he loves pulling up and attempting jumpers, but the efficiency just isn't there. Lowry has taken massive strides as a scorer, though that's still the missing piece to the overall puzzle.
The Toronto Raptors trading Rudy Gay was the best thing that could've happened to Lowry's game. He was granted more control over the ball in half-court settings, and the increased responsibility allowed him to showcase advanced passing skills that come without those pesky little turnovers.
While Lowry is good at sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong and pestering the opposition, he still has a few glaring flaws to his defensive game. Not only does he struggle recovering to his own man after helping out a teammate, but he's prone to getting beat in isolation sets, when navigating pick-and-rolls and when getting posted up by a bigger guard.
The tough, grind-it-out mentality shows up here, as Lowry is one of the best rebounding floor generals in the Association. Unlike many players at his position, the former Villanova standout isn't afraid to mix it up with bigger players when the ball is loose.
Nothing to complain about here. Lowry is a bulldog on the court, inspiring teammates with his gritty play and relentless effort, and he's stayed healthy throughout the year. Even when plagued by a nagging injury, he's managed to suit up.
Lowry's season can be summed up in just one sentence: He easily should've been an All-Star in the Eastern Conference during the 2013-14 campaign.
21. Damian Lillard, Combo Guard, Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard can light up the scoreboard in a bunch of ways for the Portland Trail Blazers, but his pull-up jumpers are just on another level. Few players in the NBA are as proficient at going from dribble to shot to swish, and that helps make up for Lillard's struggles finishing around the basket. That's the best way for him to improve going forward, but he's already one of the premier scoring threats in the Association.
Lillard's three-point stroke improved rather dramatically during his sophomore season, and the impetus was increased confidence as a spot-up shooter. Defenses noticed, and they were forced to act accordingly. Additionally, the Weber State product has become much more careful with the ball—both when dribbling and passing—which has only helped him get better as a facilitator.
Defense is still an adventure for the guard. Though he's quick enough to play effectively off the ball, he often acts in a manner that should go hand in hand with a look of bewilderment when he's guarding a man with possession. Screens just throw a major wrench in any defensive plans he had in mind going into the half-court set.
It's a mixed bag for Lillard, who tends to go after more rebounds than most combo guards but doesn't come away with a high percentage of them. Still, you have to love the aggressiveness shown by this 6'3" guard, who seems to forget that he isn't as tall as many rebounders who are significantly more proficient on the glass.
Not only is Lillard one of the true iron men of the sport, but he always plays with passion and enthusiasm. Utilizing the entirety of his college eligibility helped him develop leadership skills that have clearly translated to the professional level.
Lillard broke onto the scene as a point guard for Rip City during his Rookie of the Year campaign, and spending more time at the 2 in 2013-14 hasn't detracted from his ability to improve. He thrives in one- and two-guard sets, but only on the offensive end of the court. The addition of defensive chops would allow him to become a true superstar.
20. Tony Parker, Point Guard, San Antonio Spurs
While Tony Parker has spent less time on the court (and at the charity stripe) during the 2013-14 season, he's made up for the diminished scoring opportunities by showing off increased skills from beyond the arc. The French floor general just keeps doing what he always does—showing off slippery skills navigating in traffic and only taking what the defense gives him.
Even though Parker is posting career-best numbers from downtown, he's not much of a spot-up threat. In fact, he doesn't do much to dissuade Gregg Popovich from running a team-based offense and avoiding thrusting the focus of the point-scoring efforts onto any one player. Parker is a great facilitator, but he's best with the ball in his hands.
Parker has never had great tools as an individual stopper, but his experience and veteran savvy allow him to play nearly perfect off-ball defense. No. 9 has a flawless understanding of the San Antonio Spurs' defensive schemes, and that allows him to find himself in exemplary position at all times.
The six-time All-Star doesn't offer much on the glass. He's always been a lackluster rebounder, but the 2013-14 season has seen him make even less of an impact after missed shots, particularly on the defensive end.
You'll never find flaws with Parker's leadership skills, but he does spend a bit too much time on the sidelines. Part of it is an aging body that takes tons of contact, and part of it is Pop's willingness to hold his point guard out of the lineup for what amounts to a maintenance day.
Parker is a system point guard, and that's not an insult. He thrives running an offense and defense that he's intimately familiar with, but he also does that better than most point guards could. It's a bit of a "chicken or the egg" scenario here, because the system makes Parker great, and vice versa.
19. Dirk Nowitzki, Power Forward, Dallas Mavericks
Please, point out the weakness in Dirk Nowitzki's scoring game now that the 35-year-old power forward is averaging well over 20 points per game and showing off a true mastery of that one-footed flamingo fadeaway. He's an elite mid-range shooter, a deadly perimeter marksman and almost a sure thing at the charity stripe.
Do you actually think opposing coaches fail to mention Dirk when drawing up the pregame schemes before a matchup with the Dallas Mavericks? Of course not, as his off-ball work makes him one of the focal points for any defense. He's also an adept passer, though he doesn't stand out in that area.
With Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon running the show for Dallas, Nowitzki can no longer act like yet another liability. He's not being hidden as often, and being forced into playing defense has been good for his level of performance. Though he doesn't protect the rim well, Dirk has veteran savvy in off-ball situations and a distinct size advantage when being worked against in the post.
There's nothing to complain about when a player grabs over six rebounds per game...unless he's a 7-footer. Dirk hasn't been a rebounding standout in about half a decade, and he's only getting worse as age continues to drain away his already limited athleticism.
If you look up the term "consummate professional" in the dictionary, you might see the German big man's face staring right back at you. And unlike last season, when the first surgery of his career knocked him out of action at the beginning of the year, Nowitzki stayed healthy this year.
Nowitzki looked like he was entering into a state of decline during the 2012-13 season, but it's abundantly clear that was the result of an injury recovery. Throughout the follow-up campaign, the Dallas superstar has bounced back in stellar fashion, regaining every bit of offensive prowess he's boasted in years past.
18. Dwyane Wade, Shooting Guard, Miami Heat
Dwyane Wade doesn't score quite as much as some of the other elite shooting guards, but he's remarkably efficient. By completely cutting the three-ball out of his game, he's been able to focus on mid-range looks and attacking the basket. That's been the impetus behind his career-best field-goal percentage.
Just as he's always been, Wade remains a dangerous slasher who can catch the ball on the move and contort however necessary to finish the play around the basket. Defenses don't have to respect him standing on the wings, but they do as soon as he starts to move. On top of that, Wade is one of the truly elite passers at his position.
When he pulls the shorts up, slaps the floor and gets ready for a man-on-man encounter (he doesn't really do the first two things), Wade is as good as it gets. But unfortunately for the Miami Heat, he's played lackluster off-ball defense, choosing to lounge around rather than fly past defenders and wreak havoc like he did in his prime.
Though he's not quite on the same level as Lance Stephenson, D-Wade is the man you should watch if you're looking for tape on how a 2-guard should attack the boards. He usually picks his spots well, but he's also able to work around box-outs and elevate over bigger players when he really puts his mind to it.
Erik Spoelstra might be keeping him out of the lineup a bit too often, but Wade still isn't the most healthy veteran. His knees are especially problematic—the issue has been rather well-publicized—but a left hamstring and Achilles injury also plagued him during the stretch run. It's unfortunate, but health is his biggest weakness now.
Wade isn't able to spend as much time on the court as he could during his prime, but he's become increasingly efficient. The 2-guard is just about as good as it gets scoring and passing the ball, and he remains an elite defender whenever he decides he wants to be one.
17. Goran Dragic, Combo Guard, Phoenix Suns
Whether you need a man to slither through the defense and find his way to the rim or pull up and hit a jumper from either the perimeter or a mid-range zone, Goran Dragic is that guy. He shouldered an inordinate portion of the scoring burden for the Phoenix Suns and still shot over 50 percent from the field.
The uptick in scoring has caused Dragic to spend less time focusing on the involvement of his teammates, but he's still managed to dish out assists frequently while avoiding those dreaded turnovers. Given the speed with which he plays, it's shocking how much care for the ball he's able to show.
Dragic might be quite the offensive spark plug, but he doesn't often carry himself like a confident defender. When he's able to settle down and focus on an individual assignment, there aren't too many problems. But forcing him to chase players is a recipe for disaster.
"Slithery" might describe Dragic with the ball in his hands, but not when he's trying to gain position on the boards. He's not afraid to chase after rebounds that are being fought for by bigger players, but it doesn't turn out well on a regular basis.
A feisty competitor who refuses to let insignificant maladies bother him, Dragic is everything you could ask a leader to be. His teammates in the desert know that he's giving 100 percent each and every night, even if he's feeling like he's not at full strength.
The Dragon was one of the Association's biggest breakout stars in 2013-14, and it's an absolute travesty that he wasn't able to make the All-Star team in the Western Conference. Nevertheless, he established himself as an offensive phenom and one of the most entertaining players to watch in all of basketball.
16. Russell Westbrook, Point Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook is one of those point guards who was just born to score the basketball. He has all of the necessary tools at his disposal—ridiculous athleticism that allows him to burst toward the rim and finish plays, loads of confidence (perhaps too much at times) and a decent stroke from the perimeter.
While Westbrook keeps getting better as a distributor, just as he has every season, he's taken a step backward when it comes to turnovers. The bad passes and lost balls are popping up with far too much frequency, which prevents him from making the most of his ability—and often undersold willingness—to find open teammates.
The dynamic floor general isn't afraid to take risks on the defensive end of the court. It makes him an incredibly dangerous off-ball defender, one who's able to track his man while taking time to jump passing lanes and wreak havoc on offensive schemes, but it also makes him a vulnerable player when his man has the rock.
It took Westbrook only 31 tries to record a literal handful of double-digit rebounding games. He's blessed with remarkable athleticism, and he puts it to good use, flying through the air en route to gaudy totals on the glass and an incredibly entertaining style of play after a missed shot.
Westbrook loses points for two things: temper tantrums and missing time. His passion is normally a good thing, but he takes it too far every once in a while. As for the latter, it's unfortunate for the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard that only the 2013-14 campaign is being accounted for; while he'd never missed a game during the first five seasons of his career, multiple knee surgeries have limited his amount of time on the court this year.
Normally, Westbrook would score even better. But don't let the unfortunate injuries change your opinion of a two-way threat who brings far more positives to the table than negatives. The OKC floor general forces you to live with the occasional bad times, but he makes up for them quite nicely.
15. DeMarcus Cousins, Center, Sacramento Kings
So much for DeMarcus Cousins being an in