B/R NBA 200: Ranking the Top Wings Heading into 2016-17
Despite the many great players who line up at other NBA positions, it's often the wings who generate more fan interest: The battle between LeBron James and Kevin Durant is an all-time contest, and Kawhi Leonard has suddenly inserted himself into the conversation. With Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and others bursting onto the scene, the group is gaining even more talent.
Does James earn the No. 1 spot heading into the 2016-17 campaign, or is it time for royalty to be dethroned? Is Carmelo Anthony still an elite talent as he prepares to share the court with a studly sophomore (Kristaps Porzingis) and the newly acquired Derrick Rose? Is Paul George an MVP candidate after proving his brutal leg injury is nothing more than a distant memory?
We aren't projecting how well everyone will perform during the upcoming season, but where they are as 2016-17 gets underway. Thus, we use the end of last season as our starting point. Not every player starts out on level footing, either; the NBA 200 metric identifies those who performed best during the 2015-16 regular campaign*. Potential doesn't matter, and neither does reputation nor playoff performance (too variable)—it's all about what happened this past regular season only.
In this edition, we're looking at swingmen (SM), small forwards (SF) and combo forwards (CF). All positions are graded using the same criteria (rim protection was added into the equation for bigger positions), but the categories are weighted differently to reflect changing roles, with max scores in parentheses:
- Scoring (22 for swingmen, 20 for small forwards and 25 for shooting guards)
- Non-Scoring Offense: Facilitating (10 for swingmen and small forwards, seven for combo forwards) and Off-Ball Offense (10)
- Defense: On-Ball (20 for swingmen and small forwards, 18 for combo forwards), Off-Ball (20 for swingmen and small forwards, 17 for combo forwards) and Rim Protection (five for combo forwards)
- Rebounding (eight for swingmen, 10 for small forwards, 13 for combo forwards)
- Durability (10)
For a full explanation of how these scores were determined, go here. And do note these aren't your father's classifications for each position. Spots were determined by how much time a player spent at each position throughout the season, largely based on data from Basketball-Reference.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, three B/R National NBA Featured Columnists (Grant Hughes, Zach Buckley and Dan Favale) and a B/R Associate NBA Editor (Joel Cordes).
There are 56 guards considered, so you can click "Next" to start the whole list or skip ahead to Wings 40-31 if you want.
Note: All statistics come from Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise indicated. Injury information comes from Pro Sports Transactions. In order to qualify for the rankings, players must have suited up in at least 30 games and logged no fewer than 500 minutes. This intro was adapted from last year's edition.
*Thus, a "retired-in-the-offseason" player like Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant will still show up here as well. Even though they're (sadly) not playing again, they're a valuable placeholder that helps show where 2016-17's bunch stacks up in comparison at the start of the season.
56. Doug McDermott, SF, Chicago Bulls
When you're nicknamed "Dougie McBuckets," you must be able to score. Doug McDermott efficiently could, shooting 45.2 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from downtown and 85.7 percent at the free-throw line. But the Chicago Bulls didn't grant him a large role, and averaging single-digit points while playing almost exclusively off the ball only goes so far in this competition.
McDermott had no trouble draining spot-up jumpers during his sophomore campaign, and defenses acted accordingly by the end of the year, refusing to grant him much space as he floated around the perimeter. It's his passing that holds him back, since he barely looked to set up teammates on the rare occasions the ball found its way to him.
Though he was supposed to become a glaring defensive liability (and offensive superstar) once he left Creighton, McDermott has acquitted himself nicely on the point-preventing side. He's by no means an asset, but there isn't any one area he struggles in so severely that opposing teams can target that weakness.
Despite his 6'8" frame, McDermott seemed to have zero interest in rebounding. He averaged just 2.4 per game and 3.8 per 36 minutes, failing to hit double digits even once as a sophomore. His perimeter-based role prevented him from grabbing many offensive boards, but a complete lack of desire on the defensive glass was far more detrimental.
Only a sore right knee held McDermott out of the Bulls lineup, and even that kept him inactive for a grand total of one game. His constant activity on offense ensured a high physio load, per ICE data provided by B/R Insights, and his permanent presence in games paid off.
It's no longer difficult to view McDermott as a legitimate NBA player with significant upside, especially now that the defensive concerns have dwindled down a bit. He'll never be a two-way stud, but his spectacular shooting paid dividends during his sophomore season, and he's getting more comfortable with the nuances of off-ball offense.
55. Jeremy Lamb, SM, Charlotte Hornets
Jeremy Lamb once looked the part of an intriguing scoring prospect because he could use his athleticism to convert plays around the hoop and his shooting touch to space out a defense. During his fourth NBA season (and first with the Charlotte Hornets), only the former skill was present. Lamb hit just 30.9 percent of his deep attempts, making his biggest weakness blindingly obvious.
Lamb was mediocre in both elements of this category—off-ball offense and facilitating. He could scare defenders with his cutting ability and ensure they didn't stray too far, but his spot-up work wasn't up to snuff. He could also capably set up his teammates in small doses, but he turned the ball over too frequently and wasn't given many chances to fill a distributing role.
For the first time in his four-year career, Lamb posted a positive defensive box plus/minus (0.1), indicating he was slightly better than a league-average defender. His primary strength came in spot-up situations, where he refused to gamble and did a tremendous job contesting almost every look. Allowing just 0.74 points per possession, he finished in the 93.3 percentile, trailing only Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the Charlotte roster.
Lamb put up sterling per-minute rebounding numbers, but he received only 18.6 ticks per game. That makes it impossible to prove he'd have maintained his rates in a larger role, and it doesn't help that a relatively low percentage of his boards came in contested fashion.
A sprained right ankle hampered him at the beginning of the year. Then, a sprained right big toe continuously plagued him during the 2016 portion. Lamb only suited up 66 games and filled a small role for the Hornets, so his activity level wasn't where it needed to be.
Lamb carved out a decent niche for himself with improved defensive effort and multifaceted contributions, but it'll be tough to make the proverbial leap without a convincing jumper. Anyone who splits time at shooting guard and small forward must serve as either a defensive ace, a specialist in some other area or a player who can space the floor—Lamb wasn't any of those.
54. Andre Roberson, SM, Oklahoma City Thunder
Andre Roberson was a last resort for the Oklahoma City Thunder, averaging just 4.8 points per game and 7.8 per 36 minutes. But he managed to avoid negative plays by rarely taking triples, converting nearly half of his field-goal attempts and occasionally creating his own looks in transition. Calling him an average scorer is a stretch, but at least he's not actively harmful.
Standing in the corners, Roberson was often a non-threatening presence who failed to distract a defense from the scoring exploits of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Plus, it's not like the Thunder wanted him to dribble the ball and attempt distributing.
This is why Roberson received such hefty playing time. When guarding someone with possession, he was one of the NBA's most dangerous defenders. Even when he was working away from the action, he was disciplined and beneficial, rarely engaging in inopportune gambles and still jumping passing lanes at the proper times.
Though it's tough to stand out for your rebounding on a squad that boasted board-crashing threats at every position, Roberson still managed to hold his own. Whether he was lining up at the 2 or 3, he wasn't afraid to get physical and box out a bigger player. He could stand to get more efficient with his opportunities, but his relentless nature often paid off.
A sprained right knee limited Roberson to 70 appearances in 2015-16, and his willingness to stand in a corner on offense didn't help this rating. He finished in the 62.77 percentile for total physio load, per ICE data provided by B/R Insights.
The living embodiment of a specialist, Roberson's defense ensured that he received a large role for the Thunder. No matter the situation he landed in, he was capable of making his assignment work. It was just unfortunate that things were so similarly unbalanced on the scoring end.
53. Terrence Ross, SF, Toronto Raptors
Every once in a while, Terrence Ross shows flashes: He can drain a few triples in a row, attack the rim with ferocity and create his own shots to give Kyle Lowry and/or DeMar DeRozan a reprieve. But the overwhelming inconsistency of his play makes it tough for the Toronto Raptors to give him time to generate any rhythm.
Defenses respect Ross' ability to thrive as a spot-up shooter and cutter, which requires near-constant attention when he's working without the ball. His passing, however, leaves much to be desired. It's never a good thing when a wing player struggles to record more assists than turnovers.
Ross can get beaten in isolation and occasionally strays too far from his primary assignment. But he's still an incredibly active defender who always seems to insert himself in possessions with timely help and constant energy. Experience will help him further refine his technique, but the desire to play quality defense—perhaps driven by his need to impress Toronto head coach Dwane Casey—already makes him an asset.
It's tough for a 6'7" small forward to be worse on the glass. Ross is almost never involved after a shot goes up, and it seems like he's genuinely afraid of having to grab a board with another player in the immediate vicinity.
His left thumb flared up a few times throughout his fourth NBA season, limiting him to 73 appearances. That, combined with his willingness to serve as a mere decoy on offense, proved too detrimental for him to receive a perfect durability score.
Ross' offensive inconsistency has prevented him from realizing much of his lofty potential, but his newfound willingness to lock down on defense has ensured he remains a quality rotation member. The good news is he's already operating at a solid level. The bad news is a number of distinct weaknesses—none bigger than his woeful rebounding—that he actually needs to work on.
52. Kobe Bryant, SF, Retired
We knew Kobe Bryant could still score in volume while creating his own shots—see: final game of career, 60 points. Maintaining any levels of efficiency, however, is another story. Bryant was far too willing to pull the trigger during his age-37 season, and it's impossible to call him an elite scorer when he knocked down just 35.8 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Not only was Bryant often unwilling to pass to unproven teammates, but defenses quickly realized it was a beneficial strategy to leave him open on the perimeter.
On the ball, Bryant showed flashes of his All-Defensive self from years past. He was willing to lock down in isolation amid a battle of wills, though his declining physical tools made even that difficult. It's away from the action that he struggled most, since he was prone to watching the ball and letting his mark slip away for an uncontested bucket.
Bryant averaged fewer than five rebounds only four times during his illustrious career: 1.9 as a rookie, 3.1 as a sophomore, 4.3 over the course of six games in 2013-14 and 3.7 in 2015-16. It's almost like he stopped trying on the glass, willing to sacrifice that skill in an effort to preserve his beaten-down body.
Throughout the season, Bryant refused to succumb to back injuries, sore shoulders, a strained right Achilles and more. Despite all that plagued him in previous seasons—and the fact his shoulder always seemed to be wrapped up after games—he suited up 66 times. It was his diminished role (28.2 minutes per game) and ball-watching, energy-preserving defensive tendencies that prevented perfection.
Don't take this as a shot against Bryant's career as a whole; he'll still go down in NBA history as one of the 15 best players to take the court. Fun as the farewell tour was at various points, it overshadowed the diminished quality of Bryant's play. He devolved into an inefficient shooter who was a clear negative on defense, performing at a role-player level despite his prominence in the Los Angeles Lakers' plans.
51. Bojan Bogdanovic, SM, Brooklyn Nets
Perhaps he doesn't play with as much confidence as when suiting up for Croatia, but the Brooklyn Nets are also to blame for not giving Bojan Bogdanovic a significantly bigger role. He can score from all over the court (he'll look even better when his finishing ability improves against NBA defenders), and he's already comfortable creating an impressive number of his own shots.
Bogdanovic has only spent two seasons stateside, but defenders already know they have to pay mind when he's spotting up on the perimeter. According to ICE data provided by B/R Insights, he tied for No. 80 with Draymond Green for combined effective field-goal percentage in spot-up scenarios and gravitational pull. Just don't ask him to facilitate.
If you wanted to score, you needed to attack Bogdanovic off the ball. He allowed 0.97 points per possession in spot-up situations, which left him in the 49th percentile. The swingman was much more effective in isolation, where those numbers stood at 0.77 and 68.9, respectively. Unfortunately, many teams chose only to exploit the weakness.
Producing just 5.4 rebounding chances per game is troubling for a player who spends significant time at the 3. Converting 59.3 percent of them is a huge positive, but we get back to troubling territory when we remember a mere 0.6 successful boards per game came in contested fashion.
Bogdanovic played in 79 games for the Nets, only missing time with a sprained left ankle. He showed two-way intensity during his 26.8 minutes per contest.
Bogdanovic may not become a star—no matter what his Rio performance says—but he's not an atrocious defender, and his offensive tools are diverse. He can create his own look around the hoop, knock down a spot-up jumper or distract a defense for another talented teammate. Bogdanovic is inconsistent and still adjusting to life in the Association, but the tools are there.
50. C.J. Miles, SF, Indiana Pacers
Until C.J. Miles converts looks around the basket, he won't maximize his jump-shooting ability. He was uncharacteristically average from beyond the arc in 2015-16, and that was especially troubling while he shot 56 percent from within three feet and 37.8 percent from between three and 10 feet.
Miles' shooting percentages didn't skyrocket in spot-up positions, since he was often more comfortable creating off the bounce than waiting for offense to come to him. Unfortunately for the Indiana Pacers, that comfort with the rock didn't lead to many assists—he generated fewer than one per game and had even more turnovers.
Though Miles isn't traditionally viewed as a high-quality defender, that didn't stop him from aiding the cause. His off-ball work wasn't anything special, but few wings were better in on-ball scenarios. Miles finished in the 89.7 percentile for isolation defense, and he tended to make the right decisions when caught in pick-and-rolls.
If Miles happened to be in the area, he had a decent chance of recording a rebound. His innate sense of positioning played well, as did his impressively strong hands. But Miles rarely strayed among the trees, preferring to let teammates crash the glass while he feasted on the occasional long opportunity.
Thanks to a sore right ankle, a sore lower back, illness, an upper respiratory infection, a strained right calf and a sore right shoulder that ended his season prematurely, Miles was only able to suit up in 64 games. No matter how hard he played while on the floor, that's too many absences.
So long as Miles was able to fill his preferred role—isolation responsibilities on defense while creating his own shots on the more glamorous end—he could be valuable to the Pacers. But if you put him in almost any other situation, he blended into the background as a nondescript wing who didn't have a primary calling card.
49. Kyle Anderson, CF, San Antonio Spurs
Averaging only 10.1 points per 36 minutes without sterling levels of efficiency won't cut it at a wing position, but Kyle Anderson's scoring woes stem from two problems. First, he can't shoot the ball, hitting only 32.4 percent of his deep attempts as a sophomore for the San Antonio Spurs. Second, head coach Gregg Popovich rarely puts the team in a situation that asks for Anderson to let fly.
Anderson's saving grace on offense is his court vision, which partially negates his lack of floor-spacing ability and allows the Spurs to put the ball in his hands. While moving in what seems like slow motion, he has an innate ability to perceive action before it occurs and feed the ball into the proper space, which resulted in 3.6 assists and only 0.8 bad-pass turnovers per 36 minutes.
Despite his lack of lateral quickness, Anderson developed into a true stopper, capable of making the right decision in the middle of virtually any scenario. He always seems to be in the proper spot, and his understated strength makes it tough for bigger players to bully him. Anderson even held opponents to 48.2 percent shooting at the rim, which made him one of the better rim-protecting combo forwards we analyzed for these rankings.
Anderson doesn't play enough to generate a plethora of rebounding opportunities, but he's one of the league's best at converting chances into actual boards, regardless of which players are in his immediate vicinity. Astoundingly, he had a 66 percent conversion rate as a sophomore on 4.7 chances per game. No member of the Spurs posted a higher percentage.
Injuries aren't what hold Anderson back, as only illness (for a single early-February contest) and Popovich's lineup decisions kept him off the court. It's the extreme lack of playing time that matters here, since it's impossible to post just 16 minutes per game and produce the same total physio load earned by the league's most active players.
Anderson could be yet another Spurs franchise centerpiece, asserting himself as a lockdown defender and creative offensive player with a serious nose for rebounding during his sophomore season. Had he spent more time on the floor, he likely would've rocketed up these rankings by virtue of recording more points, assists and boards. Still, it's tough to complain about his placement this soon in his career, especially because developing a consistent jumper remains a distinct possibility (see: Leonard, Kawhi).
48. Maurice Harkless, CF, Portland Trail Blazers
Some players struggle to shoot efficiently, and some shoot so poorly their teams are better off if they stop trying. Maurice Harkless fell into the latter category for the Portland Trail Blazers, making only 39 of 140 treys attempted throughout 2015-16. That's a mere 27.9 percent, and his woeful perimeter contributions thoroughly negated his interior work as a finisher.
Unless Harkless was cutting to the hoop—something he did quite well from the wings—he wasn't worth monitoring. Defenses could react accordingly, and they also didn't have to spend much time worrying about his work as a facilitator.
No matter how ineffective a marksman, Harkless retained value because he was an asset on the defensive end. Rip City allowed 0.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, and that's not a fluke created by his teammates. Though he could struggle navigating pick-and-roll sets, he never stopped hustling and often managed to make proper rotations that threw an opponent off its primary plan.
Harkless was an aggressive defender as soon as opponents gained possession, and that didn't change after the shot went up. He was always willing to challenge bigger players and aid frontcourt teammates, which led to an impressive number of contested boards.
He may only have missed four games, but his lack of offensive involvement and diminished playing time kept him from racking up a perfect durability score. Without lining up for more than 1,500 minutes over the course of a season, there was only so much he could do.
The bad news for Harkless is that we're not including his exemplary work during the playoffs, which saw him respond nicely to a big increase in playing time without seeing his per-minute efforts decline on either side of the court. The good news is that he still got to leverage that work into a big new contract.
47. P.J. Tucker, SF, Phoenix Suns
Though P.J. Tucker continues to prove his improved marksmanship in 2013-14 was nothing more than a fluke, he has continued to thrive as an off-the-bounce scorer. Only 35.7 percent of his two-pointers were assisted in 2015-16, which supplants his rookie season as the lowest mark of his career. Tucker won't ever blossom into a go-to scorer, but that figure-it-out ability makes him a nice secondary option when sets break down.
Even though it's been a while since Tucker made his triples at an impressive clip, defenders still respect him—a reputation aided by his slightly better shooting in spot-up situations. Now, if only he could improve as a distributor, since his new career high stands at only 2.2 dimes per contest.
It's impossible to thrive on defense when you're undisciplined away from the primary action. Such was the case for Tucker, who was often eviscerated in spot-up situations that capitalized upon his lack of foot speed and his unfortunate willingness to gamble. Opponents torched him for 1.06 points per possession, which left him in the 30.4 percentile.
Tucker has long been one of the NBA's best rebounding forwards, and that didn't change during his age-30 season. The Phoenix Suns often used him as a primary crasher after a shot went up—an ability stemming from his willingness to seek out contact and record more than two contested boards per game.
A bruised chest caused Tucker to leave a Jan. 21 contest against the San Antonio Spurs early, logging only 6:03 of action. But that was the closest he came to missing a game despite averaging 31 minutes and playing a physical part in Phoenix's plans.
Tucker is no longer on the verge of becoming a three-and-D forward. He struggles shooting from the perimeter and is way too much of a liability in off-ball situations. However, he has his own unique ways of contributing, and his stellar rebounding, isolation defense and ability to create shots within the arc ensure he remains valuable.
46. Luis Scola, CF, Brooklyn Nets
Volume and complete reliance on his teammates hold Luis Scola back as a scorer. He's wholly dependent on them to create looks for him outside the post, and his old role with the Toronto Raptors didn't allow him to stand out. Though Scola was quite efficient from all areas of the floor, he averaged just 8.7 points—the second-lowest mark of his nine-year NBA career.
Scola has worked on improving his outside touch, and that paid off in 2015-16, as he shot 40.4 percent from downtown while taking 2.1 attempts per game. However, it took a while for defenders to catch on, which means his floor-spacing impact still wasn't where it needed to be. It was, however, still far better than his putrid passing chops.
When Scola was playing power forward, the Raptors couldn't protect the rim without hemorrhaging points. He allowed opponents to shoot 56.9 percent from that area and only contested 3.1 shots per game, both of which make him one of the worst interior defenders at the position. At least he was a bit better when moving out to the perimeter to use his smarts.
Even though Scola averaged a career-worst 4.7 rebounds, that number was depressed by his lack of playing time. He produced an incredible number of chances and wasn't deterred by interior physicality. Had he not deferred many of his chances to the rebounding guards and bigs on his team, he could've posted an elite total.
A sore left knee was the only significant injury Scola suffered in 2015-16, though the 36-year-old did sit out a few times to rest for the stretch run. At least in terms of the energy he exerts on a nightly basis, it doesn't seem like this veteran is slowing down.
Unfortunately, the Raptors often misused Scola. There's no way the 6'9" career power forward should be used at the 3 for 29 percent of his minutes—his previous high-water mark was a mere 1 percent in 2008-09—but the myriad big-man options forced head coach Dwane Casey's hand. Scola still held his own, but his role prevented him from looking as strong as he could, especially when he had to space out the floor rather than go to work in the post.
45. Matt Barnes, SF, Sacramento Kings
Scoring has never been Matt Barnes' game, and that only got worse in 2015-16 during his final season with the Memphis Grizzlies. For the first time in his career, he failed to make 40 percent of his field-goal attempts, and he didn't make up for the eyesore with extra three-point shooting or work at the charity stripe. Barnes was just a massive liability.
Barnes' history as a mediocre deep threat yet deft cutter forced defenders to stick with him even as he laid bricks, but he's still no better than average as an off-ball player. Ditto for his passing, which can see him rack up a few assists each game at the expense of a few poor decisions.
It's defense that allows Barnes to keep getting so much work. He's not just a pesky presence on the point-preventing end; he's an intelligent and physical defender who can read and react to almost every scheme. Interestingly enough, one-on-one situations were the lone type of problematic plays, as Barnes finished in the 12th percentile for isolation defense and the 24.7th percentile when guarding post-ups.
Barnes has the requisite size (6'7") and toughness to excel on the glass, and that's exactly what he does. His contested rebounding doesn't quite stack up against the best of the bench at small forward, but he still posts respectable totals and doesn't fail in any one situation.
Barnes was suspended twice during 2015-16—once for two games after confronting Derek Fisher away from the court, and once for a single game after he followed John Henson back to the locker room. He'd be losing a point if we were measuring conduct, but those absences—and the three games missed because of his balky hamstrings—weren't enough to detract from actual durability.
Though Barnes' actions make him a bit of an enigma, his value is anything but uncertain. Even when he can't shoot from the outside, he remains a crucial piece because of his athleticism and versatile defensive play. It also doesn't hurt that he's a glass-eating asset. Barnes' reputation continues to lag well behind his actual contributions.
44. Justise Winslow, SF, Miami Heat
Justise Winslow couldn't shoot during his rookie season, knocking down a pathetic 27.6 percent of his three-point attempts for the Miami Heat. He was always dependent on his teammates' passes, and he was often viewed as the last resort in Miami's offensive schemes, since it was rare to find anyone who was less comfortable shooting.
The only positive here is Winslow's athleticism, which sometimes allows him to break free of a defense's gaze and explode to the basket. It's certainly not his limited passing, which isn't aided by his weak dribbling skills. It's definitely not his limited shooting either, since every defender was sagging off him by the end of the year.
It usually takes some adjusting before an elite college defender can dominate in the pros. That wasn't the case for Winslow, who immediately settled in as his team's premier perimeter stopper. Unless an opponent got him caught against a roll man in a pick-and-roll set, he was going to snuff out the opposition's best attempts.
Without needing to expend his energy as a scorer, Winslow was free to crash the boards with reckless abandon. He needs to convert at a much higher percentage of his chances going forward—since his inefficiency is ultimately an unnecessary drain on his tank—but it's impressive enough a first-year player can be so involved and thrive in the face of pressure from bigger players.
A troublesome left ankle kept Winslow out for four games, but that was it. He never seemed to run into the dreaded rookie wall and maintained a sizable role in Miami's plans from day one.
So long as you're willing to look past his woeful shooting, Winslow experienced unbridled success during his rookie year. He immediately settled in as a true lockdown defender, and he was capable of contributing in other ways too—primarily through his rebounding, cutting and occasional passing. If he can find more touch from the outside, he'll become a star.
43. Lance Stephenson, SF, New Orleans Pelicans
Lance Stephenson was kept on a leash with the Los Angeles Clippers but broke out once joining the injury-riddled Memphis Grizzlies on a chance to create far more of his own offense. While averaging 19.2 points per 36 minutes—nearly double the 10.8 he produced with LAC—he shot 47.4 percent from the field, 35.5 percent from downtown and 81.5 percent from the charity stripe.
Even as he thrived on Beale Street, defenses wanted Stephenson to operate without the ball. They afforded plenty of space on the perimeter and used his weak three-point shooting as an excuse to provide extra traps on the strong side. Plus, they wanted to keep him away from the ball so he couldn't make the most of his creative passing.
Stephenson has the physical tools necessary to shine on defense, but he doesn't have the discipline. He loves gambling as much as any player in the NBA, and many risks backfire in a way that leaves his team in a four-on-five situation. If Stephenson was guarding someone in isolation, he was fine. Throw something more complicated in his direction, and his decision-making waned.
Stephenson was one of the league's best rebounding guards once upon a time with the Indiana Pacers, but he's struggled since putting on a different uniform, and the transition to small forward didn't help. He plays the same way—recklessly pursuing anything in his vicinity—but his numbers don't quite stack up at the bigger position.
Missing 13 games and logging only 15.8 minutes per contest in Los Angeles doomed Stephenson. Though he played intense basketball at all times, he was on the court so infrequently that his total physio load, per ICE data provided by B/R Insights, left him in just the 15.76th percentile.
The strategy doesn't work for every team, and the Clippers were one such example, given the sheer dominance of their healthy starting lineup. But Stephenson is best deployed as a sixth man who can come in and take the reins on offense, forcing his squad to live with the bad in order to gain the good. For every possession filled with overdribbling and out-of-control decisions, he'll torture a defense with his athleticism and raw skill a few times more.
42. Lance Thomas, SF, New York Knicks
During his first four NBA seasons, Lance Thomas went a combined 7-of-23 from beyond the three-point arc. In 2015-16 alone, he took 109 attempts and drained 44 for the New York Knicks, good for a 40.4 three-point percentage. Though he still wasn't a volume scorer, struggled to create his own looks and finished poorly around the hoop, that massive improvement alone made him a valuable commodity.
It didn't take long for defenses to react to Thomas' shooting, since he finished last season as a true marksman with one of his position's higher gravity scores, per ICE data provided by B/R Insights. His passing, however, was virtually nonexistent—he recorded more assists than turnovers in only 33.9 percent of his outings.
Isolation plays and spot-up shooting often give wing defenders the most trouble, but Thomas proved an exception at both. The latter was his weaker scenario, since he allowed 0.87 points per possession and finished in the 77th percentile. But when opponents were foolish enough to challenge this 6'8" small forward in isolation, he held them to a mere 0.58 points per possession—good for the 94th percentile.
Thomas has enough height to become a significant aid on the glass, but he's quite poor at converting his limited chances. He only turned 47.8 percent of his opportunities into actual rebounds, which left him as one of four Knicks below 50 percent—Lou Amundson (45.9 percent), Kevin Seraphin (48.1) and Jerian Grant (48.7).
A sore left knee and a concussion were the first maladies to plague Thomas, but a sprained left MCL in early March was the most detrimental. That injury ended his season prematurely, limiting him to just 59 games to display his relentless two-way energy.
Thomas, by virtue of playing for a nondescript Knicks squad that faded after showing substantial improvement early in the year, flew well under the radar during his fifth professional season. But while other players were drawing attention, he was continuing to improve his defensive chops and cement his reputation as a dangerous perimeter shooter.
41. Stanley Johnson, SM, Detroit Pistons
Stanley Johnson was unable to remain efficient but showed a propensity for creating his own shots. While other first-year wings deferred to their teammates and let opportunities come to them, he actively tried to seize the moment and pick up the scoring slack. Only 34.6 percent of his made two-pointers were the result of assists, though that number would admittedly be a lot more positive if he'd knocked down more than 41 percent of his two-point attempts.
Why would a defender bother guarding Johnson on the perimeter? So long as he kept him in the periphery to prevent backdoor cuts, he was easy to cheat off. And it's not like he was much better with the ball in his hands, since the sporadic plays he made as a distributor were often negated by his cough-up tendencies.
Johnson didn't take long to assert himself as a bona fide stopper. He was fearless from day one, taking on the toughest perimeter assignments and showing no concern when matched up against one of the NBA's established stars. He still needs to better interpret pick-and-rolls on the fly and contest every spot-up jumper his man attempts, but he's well on his way to future Defensive Player of the Year consideration.
It's possible Johnson would've recorded even more rebounds if he didn't spend so much time playing alongside Andre Drummond. Not only did he defer to his bigger teammate, but Drummond's presence pushed him to the perimeter in head coach Stan Van Gundy's four-out, one-in schemes. Johnson still showed off his physicality against bigger defenders, as well as his carom-reading ability in space, but there wasn't quite enough of it.
Though a sprained right shoulder knocked Johnson out of the lineup for nine games in late February and early March, that was the lone injury he suffered as a rookie.
Don't let Johnson's shooting woes distract from the positive parts of his rookie season. The Pistons would've preferred he remain above basketball's version of the Mendoza Line—he shot just 37.5 percent from the field—but they could live with the rim-clanging ways as he became a standout defender and rebounder who could at least hold his own in many offensive areas.
40. Jamal Crawford, SM, Los Angeles Clippers
Scoring was supposedly Jamal Crawford's calling card during his latest Sixth Man of the Year campaign, but the numbers don't really support that theory. There's no doubt Crawford's ball-handling ability and shot-making skills allow him to score from anywhere on the floor against any type of defense. But last season, more than ever, he struggled to remain efficient and could sometimes shoot the Los Angeles Clippers right out of a game.
Only his distributing holds him back in this category; Crawford is a turnover-averse contributor. But the swingman didn't often look for his limited teammates off the bench, preferring instead to create his own looks and dribble out an entire possession in search of the right—or, in many cases, least wrong—opportunity.
Crawford wasn't an atrocious defender in on-ball situations, but he was pretty awful. The same can't even be said about his off-ball tendencies, which featured as little effort as possible while he prepared for the next offensive possession.
At 6'5", Crawford doesn't possess tons of size against shooting guards. The Clippers still asked him to play 49 percent of his minutes at the 3—even 2 percent at the 4 in super-small lineups—and his lack of verticality was even more apparent. Of course, it's not like Crawford has ever excelled on the glass anyway.
Crawford only missed three games for rest and to let a bruised calf heal, but his lack of activity on defense depressed his overall work rate. According to ICE data provided by B/R Insights, he finished in the 58.42nd percentile for total physio load, making it impossible to earn a perfect durability score.
Though Crawford was important to the Clippers as the one bench player they could count on when injuries struck, it still feels a bit strange that he won a major award, especially because the team actually saw its net rating decline by 6.2 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. Crawford was good in his niche role, but he didn't do much else when he wasn't scoring.
39. T.J. Warren, SF, Phoenix Suns
T.J. Warren does everything you could want from a low-volume scorer. He can hit from every range on the floor, including three-point territory after an offseason of work between his rookie and sophomore go-rounds. He can finish around the rim. He can create his own looks in small doses and serve as a spot-up threat. It's only a lack of opportunity that holds Warren back, since he was granted just 9.4 shots per game.
Warren is an incredible scoring force who tortures defenders with some creative finish after starting off-ball. But opponents don't have any reason to fear his passing, since that offensive innovation applies only to his scoring touch—Warren isn't a confident dribbler or passer, and that shows.
Warren's thoroughly mediocre in most scenarios, and he's flat-out awful when attacked in an isolation set. But at least he's always willing to try, and that allows him to partake in more off-ball action and make a slightly bigger impact on the Phoenix Suns' stopping ability.
Warren has to do a better job converting his opportunities as he continues to develop. He's quite adept at creating them and always seems to end up in the right spot when tasked with working on the interior, but he brings the ball too low and allows other players to steal his boards away when he's not missing the initial try by a fingertip.
It looked like Warren was going to prove himself a durable player during his first full season with the Suns—he bounced between the NBA and the NBA D-League as a rookie. But he fractured his foot after 47 appearances, thus ending his year early and forcing the world to wonder.
Developing a reliable jumper did wonders; Warren was already a creative shooter who could connect on a dizzying array of floaters, push shots and unorthodox finishes inside the arc, but his perimeter marksmanship forced defenses to respect him more than ever. The small forward has to develop on defense and continue proving himself in a bigger role, but it's abundantly clear he's an impressive offensive talent.
38. Thabo Sefolosha, SF, Atlanta Hawks
Thabo Sefolosha can score in transition, and he's occasionally good for a spot-up jumper from the corner. But he's by no means a dangerous scoring presence. The Atlanta Hawks handed him a minuscule role and asked him to thrive in it, which is exactly what he did by averaging just 6.4 points but shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 39.9 percent from downtown.
This is another situation that saw Sefolosha benefit from his willingness to accept a role. He's a perfectly adequate passer when swinging the ball around the perimeter to turn good shots into great ones, and he usually makes the right decisions in transition. But he's never going to serve as an offensive hub, and defenders would prefer he stand on the perimeter as they focus on others.
Sefolosha has staked his reputation on defensive prowess, and 2015-16 may have been his best season ever. He posted a 2.8 defensive box plus/minus, which ties 2009-10 with the Oklahoma City Thunder as his highest mark ever. With a score of 1.62 in ESPN's defensive real plus/minus, he finished No. 9 among small forwards. According to NBA Math's defensive points saved, he was the No. 19 overall defender.
It's tough for any Atlanta wings to thrive on the boards, since head coach Mike Budenholzer actively has them pass up rebounding opportunities in favor of other responsibilities. But Sefolosha still handled himself nicely when he wound up around the basket, hauling in a respectable number of contested boards and creating plenty of chances.
A pesky ankle injury and a sore right wrist were problematic for Sefolosha, limiting him to 75 games played. But it was even more troublesome that he spent so much time walking around on the perimeter as better shooters dove through screens and tried to free themselves up.
Sefolosha isn't a glaring liability on offense, so his ability to drain the occasional triple and score on athletic cuts to the hoop guarantees that defenders must pay him some mind. Still, he makes his living as a defensive ace, and the 32-year-old was arguably better than ever on that end.
37. Tony Allen, SM, Memphis Grizzlies
Tony Allen is never the Memphis Grizzlies' first resort on offense. (He's never the second or even the third.) But he can score in transition and finish some slashes in the half court while making up for his merely average ability outside the paint.
According to ICE data provided by B/R Insights, Allen took just 41 spot-up threes throughout the season and hit them at a 36.6 percent clip, allowing defenders to cheat off at all times. And his passing wasn't much better—he struggled to dribble in traffic and recorded more turnovers than dimes.
Though he couldn't repeat his All-Defensive first-team selection from 2014-15, Allen did make the second team. This swingman refuses to regress on the point-preventing end, taking tough assignments every night and using his physicality to make every shot difficult. Even when he's struggling with a one-on-one matchup (something that happened more frequently in 2015-16), his off-ball work still gets the Grizz humming.
You shouldn't be surprised that a physical wing such as Allen thrives on the glass. He loves opportunities to box out bigger players, and he typically converts them before getting the ensuing transition kick-started.
Allen's knees and hamstrings gave him trouble throughout the 2015-16 campaign, holding him to just 64 games played—the third consecutive year he's failed to push past the 70-game benchmark. He might've been able to overcome those absences and lose just a single point if he'd been more active on offense, but his ball-watching habits don't pay off.
Allen is by no means the Grizzlies' best player. He just embodies everything "grit and grind" is supposed to entail, sacrificing his body at all times and doing all the little things that help lead to victories. This swingman will never earn All-Star love or throw up gaudy point totals, but he can still make a positive impact on a nightly basis as the team's heart and soul.
36. Eric Gordon, SM, Houston Rockets
Eric Gordon still hasn't developed into a dominant inside-out scorer—he hit only 52.4 percent of his shots inside three feet and struggled to make many of his twos from outside the paint. But he can create many of his own looks and thrives from downtown, which allows him to remain valuable in spite of his stunted development. Few are this deadly from long range while staying so active.
This may be surprising, but Gordon's gravity doesn't reflect his ability from beyond the arc. That's partially because his spot-up shooting is actually worse than his work off the bounce—he made only 35.3 percent of his spot-up triples in 2015-16, per ICE data provided by B/R Insights. At least his passing helps him find success when he's not scoring.
Perhaps Gordon finally realized he needed to devote some of his energy to defense, as he certainly wasn't using all of it on offense as a secondary piece. He excelled chasing through screens (95.8th percentile) and recovering after a dribble handoff (90.6th percentile). And while he could get a bit too aggressive in the passing lanes, his level of off-ball involvement granted him heretofore unseen defensive value.
Averaging 2.2 rebounds per game and 2.4 per 36 minutes is bad enough for a point guard. It's despicable for a player who spent 73 percent of his time at the 2 and 27 percent at the 3.
It's basically a rule that Gordon must get hurt at some point during the NBA calendar, and 2015-16 was no exception. He played only 45 games during his final campaign with the New Orleans Pelicans, missing time to recover from a fractured right ring finger that eventually knocked him out for the season and led to surgery.
Don't be fooled by the negative context surrounding Gordon. It's true he didn't develop into the superstar he was meant to become while with the Clippers. It's beyond dispute that he can't stay healthy and failed to justify the exorbitant salary he previously received. But it's also a fact that he's a legitimately dangerous shooter and distributor who's improving on the defensive end and continuing to carve out a nice role as a secondary offensive threat.
35. Gary Harris, SM, Denver Nuggets
No longer wandering aimlessly and deferring far too frequently, Gary Harris finally started playing with confidence during his sophomore season. His shooting percentages skyrocketed, but it's even more important that he learned how to pick the moments to attack. Even though his teammates created more of his successful looks in 2015-16, that was because he freed himself from the defense by running through screens instead of passively waiting for something to happen.
Harris must improve his passing chops to become dominant in this category. He still doesn't seem comfortable dribbling through the teeth of a defense, which means he's content to either swing the ball around the horn or seek his own shot. Until the Denver Nuggets can trust him as an improved distributor, his role will remain limited.
Already undersized for a shooting guard, the 6'4" Harris is woefully overmatched when lined up against opposing 3s. It shouldn't be surprising that he was posted up too frequently and had trouble providing strong contests against players who tended to tower above him. The effort is usually there, but the impact lags well behind.
In order to become a beneficial rebounder, Harris will need to grow more comfortable fighting through contact. He was adept at dashing to long caroms and beating bigger players to the right spots, but he rarely skied over the opposition's frontcourt to record anything but an "easy" one.
Only a mid-December concussion hampered Harris, keeping him out for a grand total of six games. That's no reason to complain about his durability after he otherwise stayed healthy while seeing his minutes per game jump from 13.1 as a rookie to 32.1 as a sophomore.
Harris should have received a little more love in the race for Most Improved Player, even if he didn't deserve to actually win the award. He was far more comfortable as a shooter, and that was reflected in the massive improvement that saw him knocking down 46.9 percent of his field-goal attempts, 35.4 percent of his threes and 82 percent of his freebies. There's plenty more room for growth, but Harris quickly went from draft bust to potential centerpiece in no time at all.
34. Allen Crabbe, SM, Portland Trail Blazers
While Allen Crabbe is an off-ball scorer who relies on proper feeds from teammates, he's also excellent in that role. He became a strong three-point threat during his breakout season but thrived from virtually everywhere on the floor as well. Whether he was inside three feet (71.1 percent shooting), between 10 and 16 feet (51.4 percent) or at 16 feet to the arc (44.3 percent), he was always efficient in small doses.
It's a shame Crabbe couldn't pass, because he thrived in the other half of this category—off-ball offense. He was rarely used as a facilitator by the Portland Trail Blazers, and he didn't just record a paltry 1.2 assists per game. He also remained so uninvolved that he rarely earned secondary dimes or made passes that led his teammates to the charity stripe.
Crabbe's defense slipped from his sophomore season, though that backsliding stems primarily from his increased offensive responsibility. We've seen this time and time again: Young players often experience regression on one end when they're used more frequently on the other. Crabbe struggled in pick-and-roll coverage and wasn't always involved away from the primary action, but Rip City can expect an upward trend to begin his fourth season.
Don't expect Crabbe to make much impact on the boards. He rarely creates rebounding opportunities, and the ones he does stem from situations where he's alone near a missed shot. When another player is in his immediate vicinity, he'll almost never collect the rock.
Despite experiencing a massive uptick in playing time, Crabbe stayed healthy enough to see 81 of the Blazers' 82 regular-season games. Only a brief illness kept him out of the lineup, and it's tough to count that against him.
Crabbe just looked more confident during his third professional season. Maybe it was the hair. Or maybe it was an improved shooting stroke that allowed him to rise and fire from every area of the court, whether he was in a different zip code or right around the iron and trying to fight past bigger players. Sure, he experienced some defensive regression, but Crabbe's offensive strides more than made up for those problems.
33. Jerami Grant, CF, Philadelphia 76ers
Scoring was a struggle for Jerami Grant during his second season with the Philadelphia 76ers, and he often put up points out of sheer necessity. On an offense with even a bit more talent, his mediocre skills would've been marginalized to the point he wasn't allowed to attempt nearly as many shots—scoring 9.7 points on 7.8 shots per game just isn't ideal.
The positives here are twofold. First, Grant is a capable cutter who distracts a bit of attention on his bursts to the basket. Second, he's a decent passer who can make the proper reads out of the post and when swinging the ball around the perimeter, leading to a respectable number of secondary assists despite just 26.8 minutes per game and lining up at both forward spots.
Grant was a versatile defender who could hang with perimeter players, cut off passing lanes and bang bodies with frontcourt stalwarts. But he was at his best when protecting the rim, allowing opponents to shoot just 46.1 percent at the hoop while facing 4.9 shots per game. Christian Wood was the only Sixer to post a lower number, and he squared off against only 2.8 shots per contest over the course of a meager 17 appearances.
It's never a bad thing when a player averages 6.3 rebounds per 36 minutes and spends significant time (55 percent of his minutes) at small forward. But Grant's contributions were even more valuable because he was so good at boxing out bigger players and fighting for contested boards. The only thing keeping him from a perfect score is his overaggressiveness when a shot goes up, since he tries to chase some opportunities that are too far out of reach.
Grant fought through a strained left calf, concussion and bruised right knee to miss just five games, and he was relentlessly intense while on the floor. His limited playing time depresses his total work load, but his per-minute rates elevate him right back up.
The Sixers weren't able to use Grant as he was meant to be deployed, but they still squeezed plenty of value from his 6'8" frame. A defensive ace capable of filling many different roles and still finding time to throw down a couple of thunderous dunks, he needs to be a specialist who doesn't feel the need to fire away from beyond the arc. If that happens, or he suddenly morphs into a stretchier player, his ceiling is surprisingly high.
32. Trevor Ariza, CF, Houston Rockets
Trevor Ariza hasn't quite been able to reach his old efficiency levels in his diminished role with the Houston Rockets. He doesn't shoot often enough to establish a rhythm, since he's wholly dependent on spot-up passes, and there are usually better options on the floor. Ariza can knock down jumpers when those opportunities arise, but it would behoove him to work on his mid-range game so he could create a few more of his own chances.
Despite serving as an elite shooter for so many years, Ariza no longer has the same gravitational effect on a defense. According to ICE data provided by B/R Insights, 398 players provided a stronger pull—a number no doubt affected by the constant attention paid to James Harden and the corresponding inability to react to Ariza. That, coupled with his struggles creating for his teammates, dropped him in this category.
Gone are Ariza's days as a lockdown defender. The 31-year-old's declining lateral quickness makes it tougher for him to keep up with smaller players, and the Rockets' desire to play him at power forward doesn't help. Had he qualified for NBA 200 as a small rather than a combo forward, we'd get to ignore his rim protection and avoid docking him three of his nine lost points.
This is the fourth consecutive season Ariza's rebounds per 36 minutes have trended in the wrong direction, though they still leave him in decent territory for a man who spends some of his time at the 3. That's especially true because he doesn't hesitate to pursue contested boards and is talented at staving off bigger players.
Playing in 81 games? Lining up for 35.3 minutes per contest? Doing this on the heels of nearly identical numbers in 2014-15? Nothing to see here.
Ariza is a player on the decline: His rebounding, defense and shooting all fall short of their peak levels, and that's not just because the Rockets have forced him to spend more time operating as a power forward than ever before. But it's not all bad news, because even this lesser version has remained a key rotation member who can contribute on both ends.
31. Wesley Matthews, SM, Dallas Mavericks
Wesley Matthews couldn't quite live up to his previous exploits from downtown, but he was still an above-average three-point marksman. It was inside the arc that was so problematic, since he didn't have the same spring when finishing plays around the basket and occasionally shied away from contact. A field-goal percentage of just 38.8 percent won't cut it while Matthews averaged fewer points than he has since his rookie season with the Utah Jazz.
Primarily serving as a spot-up player, Matthews did a terrific job warping a defense with his mere presence. Even as he struggled for consistency, his reputation allowed him to maintain a strong gravitational pull. He was less talented in the distributing department, as the Dallas Mavericks rarely let him work with the ball long enough to find an open teammate.
Attacking Matthews in isolation is a terrible idea. He allowed just 0.6 points per possession, which left him in the 92.2nd percentile last season. But opponents found a weakness and constantly probed it: Matthews was completely overmatched in the post, giving up 1.11 points per possession (8.4th percentile). Between that and his diminished close-out ability against spot-up shooters, he was no longer quite the standout defender as in years past.
Setting a career low in rebounds per 36 minutes (3.2), Matthews often neglected responsibilities on the glass. He wouldn't bother crashing the boards when the painted area was already crowded, and he'd let some longer opportunities slip by him to a player exerting more energy.
Even though Matthews was working his way back from a torn left Achilles, he managed to play in 78 games for the Mavericks. That Achilles only flared up once, and he suffered exactly zero significant injuries during the return campaign.
Achilles injuries are typically devastating to NBA players, and it's not like Matthews is a spring chicken anymore. This was his age-29 season, and his previous levels of durability had ensured his tires had already worn off plenty of tread. Regression was inevitable as he fought to recover his athleticism, and that should make his actual contributions all the more impressive in spite of the noticeable flaws—poor shooting from two-point territory, diminished rebounding and easily perceived defensive weaknesses.
30. Jeff Green, CF, Orlando Magic
Based on Jeff Green's play, he fancies himself a scorer who should take every shot available. In reality, he's a volume shooter who needs to cut back on the three-point attempts and learn which looks play to his strengths. Green can create his own offense and put up the occasional big numbers, but inconsistency prevents him from standing out.
Defenders have to pay attention because Green's so willing to fire away and can balance out his scoring with athletic cuts to the hoop. They don't have to worry about his passing nearly as often, since he rarely posts big assist numbers and has trouble finding open teammates. Far too often, he changes his mind at the last minute and fails to hit his target between the numbers.
At 6'9" and with plenty of athleticism, Green should be a great defender. He's not, and it's probably because he struggles to remain disciplined when chasing shooters around the perimeter. Throw one screen at Green, and he can muscle his way through. Put any more in his area, and he can fall too far behind the action.
This is where Green's athleticism pays off. Despite playing on teams that produced fewer rebounding opportunities than the average squad, he fared rather well in every portion of this category. He doesn't produce enough chances to measure against the elites, but he's not dissuaded by contact, grabs an impressive percentage of the available boards and goes for most loose balls in his vicinity.
A lacerated forehead after he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers was the only injury that kept Green out of the lineup, but he played just 28.2 minutes per game and had trouble posting top-tier physio rates because of lackluster defensive effort and his tendency to waste offensive possessions by standing in the same spot.
At some point, teams will realize they have to curtail Green's usage and eliminate his bad habits. He's a talented player who can make positive contributions in diverse areas, but he often tries to do too much and can detract from his team's efforts. It's no fluke the Clippers were 5.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he was on the floor—a fate the Orlando Magic must now avoid.
29. Al-Farouq Aminu, CF, Portland Trail Blazers
Don't be fooled by Al-Farouq Aminu's random scoring outbursts and excellent three-point shooting during the Portland Trail Blazers' playoff experience. He's still a limited offensive player who's best around the basket but can struggle when asked to utilize his jumper on a regular basis or create his own shots. The regular-season profile is far more representative of his skill set.
Aminu simply isn't a great spot-up shooter. According to ICE data provided by B/R Insights, he only hit 36.4 percent of his treys in that situation, and his lackluster gravitational pull reflected mediocrity. The same applies to his passing, as he can occasionally make plays on the move but is just as likely to commit an unforced error and create a transition opportunity for the opposition.
It's a bad idea to attack Aminu when he's guarding a pick-and-roll. He'll typically make the right decision when against a ball-handler, forcing him to make an inopportune pass. He's also capable of bodying up against a roll man and preventing an easy feed. He's similarly skilled when protecting the rim, though he fails to stand out against the work of some peers. Aminu doesn't dominate any one area, but distinct weaknesses are tough to find.
Some players just know how to use their bodies and play bigger than their frames should allow. Aminu uses his 6'9" frame and his derriere to stave off rebounding pursuits from larger players until the ball is in his mitts. Few players at his position are better at grabbing contested boards.
Aminu didn't log even 30 minutes per game, but he didn't miss a single contest for the Blazers while playing with energy on both ends.
Aminu already has six years of NBA experience, so it's tough to remember he won't celebrate his 26th birthday until late September. The combo forward is still getting better, and that was on clear display as his offensive confidence grew later in the year, carrying over into the playoffs. Aminu remains a defensive/rebounding specialist who provides hustle plays on the scoring end, but that reputation may change before too long.
28. Omri Casspi, CF, Sacramento Kings
If you wanted to name Omri Casspi as the NBA's most underrated shooter, you'd get few arguments from us. Despite never getting mentioned as one of the elites from beyond the arc, this member of the Sacramento Kings knocked down 40.9 percent of his triples while taking four per game. More impressive still is the fact he did so while creating 14.3 percent of his own makes.
Defenses and fans were rather similar, because both failed to recognize the damage Casspi was doing from downtown. Despite his stellar numbers—and he's admittedly better at creating his own looks than spotting up—he didn't produce an impressive gravitational pull, and that prevents him from emerging as an exceptional floor-spacing threat away from the ball.
Casspi is another one of those players who failed to stand out: He was never a game-changing defensive presence, but he also never made the Kings that much worse when on the floor.
The 6'9" forward had never averaged more than 4.5 rebounds per game, and it had been four seasons since he'd topped an even four caroms. Until 2015-16 that is—he recorded 5.9 boards per outing while thriving as a contested rebounder. The big difference was his relentless pursuit, since he took it upon himself to treat every moderately close loose ball like a do-or-die situation.
Casspi played only 69 games for the Kings and logged just 27.2 minutes per contest. He missed time for various reasons—illness, sore upper back, wisdom teeth extraction, a sore left ankle and a strained right hamstring that ended his year. Nonetheless, Casspi was so relentlessly intense on both ends that he barely made the cutoff for the perfect durability score.
Talk about being underrated by the public. Casspi never gets discussed as a high-quality rotation forward, but that's exactly what he was during the 2015-16 season. He thrived as a perimeter shooter and maintained his efficiency levels inside the arc; he played solid defense across the board and broke out as a rebounder. There weren't any distinct flaws to counteract the significant strengths, and that leaves him just outside the league's top 100 overall players.
27. Kent Bazemore, SF, Atlanta Hawks
Kent Bazemore faded down the stretch, but his season as a whole still left him an above-average shooter. He was a bit streaky from the outside and typically relied on the Atlanta Hawks' stellar ball movement to free him up on the perimeter, but his athleticism also allowed him to emerge as a transition threat. This was the first time Bazemore filled a major role for an entire season, and he proved he could thrive as a tertiary scorer.
If he wants to improve, Bazemore must get better as a consistent perimeter sniper and stop turning the ball over too frequently. He can make plays when putting the ball on the floor, but he also has a tendency to attempt overly aggressive feeds that never find their marks. Averaging 2.4 turnovers per 36 minutes isn't a huge negative, but it's worse for a player who rarely works with the ball.
Bazemore's athleticism allows him to provide help defense via weak-side shot-blocking, and he's shown no issue switching positions to take on tougher assignments. His only major weakness is a willingness to gamble in the passing lanes and stray too far from his mark. He allowed 1.11 points per possession to spot-up shooters, which left him no higher than the 19.1st percentile.
Don't be fooled by the gaudy numbers—5.1 rebounds per game and 6.6 per 36 minutes. The vast majority of Bazemore's boards came in uncontested fashion, and that severely detracts from those averages. Athletic as this small forward is, he should be more comfortable elevating in traffic.
A sprained ankle and a bone bruise in his right knee held Bazemore back at various points, but he still suited up for 75 contests. Despite increasing his per-game average by 10.1 minutes during his first full season with the Hawks, he remained quite durable and active.
Bazemore proved he could thrive in a far bigger role: The Hawks trusted him to serve as a floor-spacing, three-and-D presence on the wings. He still has room for improvement, but that ability to avoid the natural trade-off between volume and efficiency was a great start in this burgeoning career. The days of his being known solely for his bench celebrations are now distant memories.
26. Andre Iguodala, SM, Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala possesses scoring talent, but his role involved more spot-up shooting and distributing than ever before. This depresses the value of a player with limited perimeter touch but the athleticism necessary to put a defense on its heels. For the second time in his career, Iguodala averaged fewer than 10 points per 36 minutes, and this was the first time since his rookie year.
As a facilitator, Iguodala is beyond reproach. He has the unique ability to break down defenders at bigger positions and hit open teammates in tight spots as he actively looks to fill a playmaking role. All the while, he manages to minimize turnovers stemming from bad passes. It's only his off-ball work that holds him back, since Iguodala's perimeter shooting was often the preferred poison of Golden State Warriors opponents.
Iguodala possesses every tool of a top-notch defender: He has the necessary size (6'6", 215 lbs) and strength, and his instincts are fine-tuned at this stage of his career. He can read and react to almost every situation, though he did get thrown off by the presence of multiple off-ball screens in a quick sequence. Perhaps most importantly, he actually plays like he wants to contribute on defense.
Though he doesn't create as many opportunities as some of the league's best rebounding swingmen, Iggy's incredibly efficient with the ones he does generate. An astounding 63.5 percent of his chances turned into actual boards, and that narrowly edges out Draymond Green for Golden State's top conversion rate.
Iguodala's left hamstring and left ankle gave him trouble during the back end of the 2015-16 campaign, limiting him to 65 appearances. That, coupled with a role that afforded him only 26.6 minutes per game, was too damaging for a perfect durability score.
Continuing to accept his role as a sixth man, Iguodala served as a key cog in the Warriors' successful quest for a record 73 wins. His willingness to look for teammates before calling his own number helped spark the second unit and allowed him to play in the vaunted "Death Lineup," while his commitment to defense was similarly huge. Iguodala doesn't get the touches necessary to look like an All-Star any longer, but that doesn't mean he's declined too significantly.
25. Harrison Barnes, CF, Dallas Mavericks
Though the Golden State Warriors would surely have preferred Harrison Barnes remember how to finish around the hoop, they couldn't complain about his ability to score efficiently in small doses. This North Carolina product was never the first, second or third option in any of the Dubs' offensive schemes, but he was a solid bail-out choice when sets broke down and he was spotting up from mid-range zones or beyond the arc.
It's impossible to have too strong a gravitational pull on a Golden State squad that already features Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry yanking defenders toward them, but Barnes did his darnedest by serving as a deadly spot-up sniper. Defenses did have to respect his presence, even if they didn't have to feel the same way about his distributing. (It's tough to find open teammates when dribbling requires you look at the ball.)
Barnes was a solid defender against smaller players, switching on most screens without hampering the Dubs' stopping power. But he was overmatched when at power forward in the many small-ball lineups, particularly when asked to defend the rim. As Golden State's last line of defense, he allowed opponents to shoot 59.3 percent at the hoop while guarding 3.3 attempts per game—easily the worst mark of any Warrior who faced at least two shots per contest.
Although he occasionally bit off more than he could chew while fighting for contested boards in the midst of bigger players, Barnes was constantly active and quite good at boxing out. He didn't just feast upon easy opportunities while averaging 4.9 rebounds.
For the first time in his professional career, Barnes missed more than four games. He actually missed 16—the product of a nasty sprained ankle early in the season. Even still, his physio intensity was so high, per ICE data provided by B/R Insights, that he finished in the 85.33rd percentile for total physio load, thereby retaining durability perfection.
Barnes collapsed during the NBA Finals, but that doesn't count against him here. Though the experience sullied his reputation and put a magnifying glass to his flaws and stunted growth, it shouldn't detract from the regular season. Barnes was a valuable piece to the record-setting puzzle, spotting up successfully, playing solid defense, doing dirty work on the boards and showcasing versatility that helped make smaller lineups work. Now, he gets to try filling a bigger role with the Dallas Mavericks.
24. Evan Turner, SM, Portland Trail Blazers
Evan Turner isn't a modern scorer—he struggles to shoot from the outside and would prefer to launch up mid-range attempts created off the bounce. But he retains value because he's good at filling that unorthodox role and goes solo for a tremendous amount of his offense. Few swingmen require assists on only 30.3 percent of their made two-pointers.
As a spot-up threat, Turner is basically nonexistent. He can make plays as a cutter, but defenses don't have to fear him on the perimeter with his hands on his knees. It's his facilitating that's terrifying, since he's one of the league's best non-backcourt distributors, capable of completing tough passes while moving at full speed across the lane and through traffic.
Turner has stealthily developed into a plus defender, thanks primarily to his intuitive understanding of pick-and-roll sets. The Boston Celtics loved when he got switched onto a ball-handler, since he allowed just 0.62 points per possession and finished in the 92.3rd percentile. This wasn't some low-usage fluke, either. Pick-and-roll ball-handlers accounted for 27.6 percent of his defensive possessions.
Despite spending significant time at shooting guard, Turner has never failed to average at least six rebounds per 36 minutes. The vast majority of his boards come in uncontested fashion, and he benefits from playing for a team that produces an above-average quantity of rebounding opportunities, but the sheer volume is indisputable.
Turner was one game shy of achieving perfect attendance—an eye injury in early April knocked him out of the lineup.
Turner finished behind four players in Sixth Man of the Year voting, but he should've placed even higher. His ability to control the Boston offense with his passing and unorthodox scoring was invaluable, and his comfort defending pick-and-rolls added a new element to a strong Celtics defense. Turner requires the right system to support his unique talents, but he's capable of becoming a crucial piece when he finds that perfect home. It remains to be seen if the Portland Trail Blazers, his free-agency destination, can provide that.
23. Otto Porter, SF, Washington Wizards
It wasn't just Otto Porter's three-point shooting that improved during his third professional season. He also became far more comfortable firing away from mid-range. While that's not the NBA's most efficient shot, having a player capable of taking and making those looks does throw off a defense.
Porter still has plenty of room for improvement as a distributor, but the Washington Wizards have to be thrilled his assist and turnover averages per 36 minutes have trended in the right directions during each campaign. It's exceedingly rare to see Porter turn the ball over with a bad pass, though he could stand to become more aggressive when a teammate is open for a split second.
Remember that video of Porter falling asleep while defending Tony Snell away from the ball late in the 2014-15 season? Apparently, he learned from that mistake. He can give up some easy looks to shooters away from the primary action, but he's constantly on the move and seeking ways to insert himself when not guarding a dribbler.
At 6'8", Porter is an effective rebounder, constantly seeking out chances to end possessions. If he's within shouting distance of a carom, he's going to attack the ball with ferocity, boxing out or fighting around bigger players—a pursuit that's successful more often than not.
A bruised left thigh and a sore right hip were the only injuries that affected Porter in 2015-16, though they only kept him sidelined for seven games. Between the sheer number of minutes and the two-way intensity he displayed, he was one of the more active players at his position.
Porter played for a lottery team and averaged just 11.6 points, so it's understandable that his substantial improvement flew well beneath the radar. Nonetheless, he improved dramatically on both ends, to the point that he should be expected to burst onto the national scene in 2016-17. There are no obvious weaknesses to his game, and his versatile scoring ability offers up the possibility of a distinct strength that draws the attention of casual fans.
22. Joe Johnson, SF, Utah Jazz
If Joe Johnson would just stop launching long twos, he'd look like an even more talented scorer. He does everything you could want from a veteran small forward—creating his own shots with ease, knocking down a respectable number of triples and finishing around the basket with strength. But he can sometimes grow overconfident and depress his own efficiency levels while simultaneously depressing his coaching staff.
Johnson stopped passing as frequently once he joined the Miami Heat, but he remained quite competent for a player spending nearly all of his time at the 3. Throughout his career, he's been a strong spot-up threat who lured defenders in his direction and a capable ball-handler who could make life easier for his teammates. That didn't change in 2015-16, even if his more limited role made it tougher for him to rack up big numbers.
He's not known as "Iso Joe" because of his ability to defend isolation possessions. In fact, he allowed 1.03 points per possession in that situation, which left him in the 15.8th percentile. But Johnson's overall defensive abilities, while they've declined since he left his prime, still don't make him a liability, even if he's now a bit more prone to conserving energy on a few plays.
When a shot goes up, Johnson suddenly becomes afraid of contact. He's capable of beating smaller players to long caroms, but it's rare to see him competing with a frontcourt for a contested board. Producing just 0.8 of those per game won't cut it at small forward.
Johnson only played 81 games during the 2015-16 season, but he didn't technically miss a single one he was eligible for. It was only during his transition from the Brooklyn Nets to the Heat that he suffered an absence, and that's because he wasn't yet on the new roster.
Yes, Johnson was waived by the Nets midway through the year, but that's not because he was so ineffective he didn't belong on the team. His contract was bought out so he could leave the middling organization to open up opportunities for younger players while gaining a chance to join a competitive playoff squad. Once he was on the Heat, he immediately settled in as a two-way wing—a role he should continue to fill now that he's joined the Utah Jazz.
21. Evan Fournier, SM, Orlando Magic
Evan Fournier's lack of opportunity prevents him from emerging as one of the top few scorers at his position. But the diversity of his output is ridiculous, since he thrives in almost every scenario: transition, isolation, as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and a spot-up shooter, on handoffs, as a cutter, off screens, on putbacks and even uncategorized plays. Even if he's less than elite, it's almost impossible to be above average in each area—i.e., exactly what he did during his fourth pro season.
It shouldn't be surprising that a wing so adept at cutting, using screens, taking handoffs and spotting up drew plenty of attention off the ball. It's a bit more shocking that Fournier was also so solid as a passer, minimizing his turnovers even when he was serving as a secondary distributor for the Orlando Magic.
Though he was respectable when guarding a ball-handler, Fournier was too undisciplined away from the primary action. He often fell asleep and allowed his mark free for an easy look. He also wasn't physical enough to get through screens set in quick succession. Plus, he used defense to get quick breathers as he adjusted to the largest role of his career.
The good news is that Fournier grabbed more than half his rebounding opportunities and produced a respectable number of contested boards for a player who often lined up at shooting guard. The bad news is that he was still quite uninvolved after shots went up.
Fournier's penchant for watching the ball on defense made him less active than some other swingmen, but that was completely negated by the number of minutes he played. He only missed three games and logged 32.5 minutes per contest while spending his time on offense in near-constant motion.
Fournier signed a five-year deal for $85 million this offseason to stay with Orlando, and that contract already looks like a bargain. Even if he never becomes an adequate defender and eschews rebounding for transition positioning, he's so good in so many offensive areas that it won't matter. If the Magic can give him a bigger role, he's capable of establishing himself as one of the league's most threatening scorers.
20. Rudy Gay, SF, Sacramento Kings
The volume aspect of Rudy Gay's scoring is just fine, though he could stand to be a bit less free with his shooting. His ability to create looks for himself is similar, particularly for a player who never lines up in the backcourt. But Gay's percentages are lackluster at best, indicating he's too heavily used for a player with his skill set. The fewer threes he lofts up, the better.
Even when Gay struggles to shoot from the perimeter, he's capable of altering defensive schemes with his athletic cutting. His size (6'8", 230 lbs) and strength allow him to take advantage of the slightest concentration lapse. His passing, however, is not up to that standard after a season that saw him average 0.3 more turnovers than assists.
Gay's work in isolation and when guarding post-up plays indicates he has the physical tools necessary to serve as a stopper. But discipline has never been his strong suit, and that rears its ugly head when he goes a few possessions without guarding a ball-handler.
At least he uses his physicality properly in this situation. Not only does Gay produce an incredible number of rebounding chances (11.5 per game), but he converts 56.5 percent of them and stands out alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and P.J. Tucker as one of four qualified small forwards to grab at least two contested boards per outing.
According to ICE data provided by B/R Insights, Gay's combination of minutes and intensity left him just outside the top 10 percent for total physio load. He missed time to recover from gastroenteritis, a shoulder injury, a bruised left heel, a left eye injury, a sprained left ankle and another shoulder malady, but those still totaled just 12 absences.
Gay is a talented basketball player whose strengths more than make up for his weaknesses. But that doesn't make it any less difficult to wonder how much better he could be. If he were willing to cut back on the triples and commit to defense, his impact could be tantamount to that of a bona fide All-Star. As it stands now, he'll have to be content just barely making the NBA's top 70.
19. Marcus Morris, SF, Detroit Pistons
Marcus Morris' breakout season established him as an ideal forward for head coach Stan Van Gundy. He was a capable spot-up marksman who could help space the floor for Andre Drummond, and he was comfortable creating his own looks when plays broke down. Morris didn't often post gaudy totals, but needing assists on just 34.8 percent of his two-point makes was invaluable.
Morris did a nice job stretching out a defense for the Detroit Pistons' interior offense, but even in a scheme set up to provide plenty of secondary assists, he had trouble generating much and rarely made passes that led to free throws for his teammates. He is a willing passer but is prone to turnovers and not as involved as he could be.
Though Morris has spent his professional career bouncing between forward spots, the Pistons opted to use him at the 3 for 91 percent of his minutes in 2015-16. That did minimize his rim-protecting struggles but also exposed him to defending fleet-footed wings in isolation and pick-and-roll sets.
Whether we're talking about his ability to grab rebounds in traffic, knack for reading caroms quicker than other players or aggressiveness on the glass, everything about Morris' rebounding is slightly better than average.
For the third season in a row, Morris suited up at least 80 games.
Morris should not be used solely as a small forward but rather as a combo forward who can bounce between two positions. The Pistons attempted to pigeonhole him into a role as a 3, and it backfired on the defensive end. He did develop as an offensive threat, with confidence creating his own shots, but would that have happened anyway at his more natural position? Either way, he became one of the better players who failed to capture national attention.