B/R NBA 200: Ranking the Best Overall Players Heading into 2016-17
Does he enter 2016-17 as the league's top-ranked player, or can another superstar such as Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard knock him from his lofty perch? Where do the premier members of the 2015-16 rookie class—Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, Devin Booker and Kristaps Porzingis—fit among the more established contributors now that they're entering their sophomore seasons?
We've already ranked the league's best guards, wings and bigs within their own positional groupings. Now, put everyone in a definitive order, ranging from the league's impressive backups and low-end starters to the superstars and studs on the rise.
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 or playoff performance (too variable)—it's all about what happened this past regular season only.
In this edition, we're looking at every single player from every single position, all mixed together. 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:
- Non-Scoring Offense: Facilitating and Off-Ball Offense
- Defense: On-Ball, Off-Ball and Rim Protection
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 by how much time they 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 B/R Associate NBA Editor (Joel Cordes).
With 200 bigs considered, you can click "Next" to start the whole list or skip ahead to Players 140-111 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.
200-195: Mills, McDermott, Lyles, Marjanovic, Leonard, Lamb
200. Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs (PG)
Patty Mills spent his 2015-16 campaign hovering between a sniping role and a more well-rounded one. He handled himself nicely in plenty of defensive situations and consistently did what was asked of him by the San Antonio Spurs. But more than half of his field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc, and that's the most telling number of all.
199. Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls (SF)
It's no longer difficult to view Doug McDermott as a legitimate NBA player with significant upside, especially now that the defensive concerns have dwindled 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.
198. Trey Lyles, Utah Jazz (PF)
The Utah Jazz should be excited about Trey Lyles' immense two-way potential, but the sharp-shooting big has plenty to work on as his career progresses. He must pick his rebounding opportunities more wisely, show better instincts while playing interior defense and prove he can maintain his impressive shooting percentages with a bigger role.
197. Boban Marjanovic, Detroit Pistons (C)
Boban Marjanovic played well enough as a rookie and a high-upside gamble—one the Detroit Pistons chose to go for. No one truly knows whether the 28-year-old can continue to look this good when filling a larger role, but it's a risk worth taking after he thrived in small doses and posted a jaw-dropping player efficiency rating of 27.7—better than any rookie not named Wilt Chamberlain among those who logged at least 500 minutes.
196. Meyers Leonard, Por. Trail Blazers (CB)
A strong breakout candidate heading into the 2015-16 season, Meyers Leonard failed to live up to the hype. Injuries didn't help, but it was troubling that his shooting percentages declined across the board, he stopped protecting the rim and he couldn't maintain his skill on the boards while filling a bigger spot in the rotation. He's still filled with potential, but we now have to temper the long-term expectations.
195. Jeremy Lamb, Charlotte Hornets (SM)
Jeremy Lamb carved out a decent niche 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.
194-189: Len, Bjelica, Zeller, Roberson, Chandler, Ross
194. Alex Len, Phoenix Suns (C)
Even if Alex Len doesn't develop a jumper, he'll retain value as a dominant rebounder and solid defensive presence who can score easy buckets around the basket. That halt in growth would keep him in the smaller role he currently occupies for the Phoenix Suns, but it's better than flaming out entirely. Of course, learning how to shoot would open so many new doors.
193. Nemanja Bjelica, Minnesota 'Wolves (PF)
All things considered, this was a successful rookie year for Nemanja Bjelica. Not only did he prove he belonged in the NBA, but he carved out an important niche as a floor-spacing big man who could hold his own on the boards. He won't earn more playing time until he shows he can play adequate defense, but this is a solid start for the 28-year-old.
192. Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets (C)
Cody Zeller certainly hasn't justified the No. 4 pick that the Charlotte Hornets (then the Bobcats) spent on him in 2013's NBA draft, but he's still managed to become a solid rotation big. His rebounding and defense give value, and he can finish plays around the hoop while picking the right spots. Of course, without developing more offensive versatility or morphing into an interior-defense specialist, he won't become anything close to a star.
191. Andre Roberson, OKC Thunder (SM)
The living embodiment of a specialist, Andre Roberson's defense ensured he received a large role for the Oklahoma City Thunder. No matter the situation, he was capable of making his assignment work. It was just unfortunate that things were so similarly unbalanced on the scoring end.
190. Tyson Chandler, Phoenix Suns (CB)
Signed to be a leader for the young Phoenix Suns, Tyson Chandler declined immensely as soon as he arrived. Not even Phoenix's magical training staff could turn back the clock: He couldn't assert himself as a game-changing defensive presence, took on a smaller role and failed to inspire like one might expect of such a strong veteran. He still has three years remaining on his contract, and the Suns can't be thrilled with their investment.
189. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors (SF)
Terrence 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: 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.
188-183: Green, Randle, Bryant, Mudiay, Mack, Cauley-Stein
188. JaMychal Green, Memphis Grizzlies (PF)
Perhaps the Memphis Grizzlies should be thankful for that pesky injury imp. Painful as it may have made their 2015-16 campaign, the thinned-out roster created an opportunity for JaMychal Green to receive more minutes, and he made the most of it. As soon as he was thrust into a larger role, he began playing with confidence on the offensive end and gradually improving as a defender, offering hope he could lock down a rotation spot going forward.
187. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers (CB)
On one hand, Julius Randle's early NBA career has been disappointing, thanks to his atrocious shooting percentages and defensive woes. On the other, he's still just 21 years old and has shown flashes of brilliance in a number of areas. It's impossible to tell whether he'll be a star or bust at this stage of his career, though the true answer likely lies somewhere in between.
186. Kobe Bryant, Retired (SF)
Don't take this as a shot against Kobe Bryant's career as a whole; he'll still go down as one of the 15 best players in NBA history. However, 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.
185. Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets (PG)
Emmanuel Mudiay's rookie season was always going to be a learning experience. It was far too easy to (rightly) predict the 19-year-old point guard would struggle with his shot, find himself overwhelmed on defense and turn the ball over too often. But the weaknesses didn't prevent this Denver Nugget from showing his lofty upside on a regular basis.
184. Shelvin Mack, Utah Jazz (PG)
Shelvin Mack was a nondescript third-string point guard in search of a bigger opportunity than the Atlanta Hawks could provide. But as soon as he was traded to Salt Lake City, he broke out in a larger role as a feasible starter who could legitimately hold his own on both ends. No one would mistake Mack for a star, but he would have ranked far better had we only included his time with the Utah Jazz.
183. Willie Cauley-Stein, Sac. Kings (CB)
Willie Cauley-Stein did enough as a first-year big that he should be viewed as one of the few building blocks in the Sacramento Kings organization. Already a defensive menace, he proved an adept finisher who could make timely bursts to the basket and keep the opposition wary. He has plenty of room for growth on both ends, but there's no longer any reason to believe he'll only be a one-way player.
182-177: Patterson, Allen, Calderon, Bayless, Bogdanovic, Miles
182. Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors (PF)
Patrick Patterson was by no means a liability, but his lack of upside and contributions in only a select few areas is the primary reason the Toronto Raptors needed an upgrade at the 4. He was not a dominant floor-spacing presence, a great complementary defender beside Jonas Valanciunas or a player capable of creating his own offense. Thus, he wasn't going to boost this team on his own merits.
181. Lavoy Allen, Indiana Pacers (PF)
The very definition of a non-glamorous big, Lavoy Allen is a defensive presence who won't harm his team on offense. His solid screens free up teammates, and he can create the occasional interior shot for himself, but he's content to stay out of the way for most possessions while conserving energy for the other end.
180. Jose Calderon, Los Angeles Lakers (PG)
We've known who Jose Calderon is for years, and that perception didn't change in 2015-16. Now in a backup role with the Los Angeles Lakers, he's a deadly off-ball shooter and deft distributor who operates in limited capacity, and those skills have value so long as his squad isn't relying on his defensive chops—or lack thereof.
179. Jerryd Bayless, Philadelphia 76ers (CG)
Jerryd Bayless sunk to a new low on the defensive end, but his offense was valuable when used properly. The Milwaukee Bucks benefited from his presence as a perimeter sniper, and he could help with the ball-handling responsibilities when Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks' true point guards needed breathers. Glamorous production wasn't there, but at least he filled his offensive niche well.
178. Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets (SM)
Bojan 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 looks around the hoop, knock down a spot-up jumper or distract a defense for other talented teammates. Bogdanovic is inconsistent and still adjusting to NBA life, but the tools are there.
177. C.J. Miles, Indiana Pacers (SF)
So long as C.J. 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 Indiana 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.
176-171: Portis, Anderson, Russell, Harkless, Sullinger Powell
176. Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls (CB)
The Chicago Bulls should be thrilled about what they've found in Bobby Portis. He thrived as an all-around defender during his rookie season (so long as he wasn't the last line on the interior), held his own on the boards and showed flashes of modern offensive excellence. As he gains jump-shooting consistency, he should establish himself as a franchise centerpiece capable of contributing in almost every way imaginable.
175. Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs (CF)
Kyle Anderson could be yet another San Antonio Spurs franchise centerpiece, having asserted 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).
174. D'Angelo Russell, L.A. Lakers (PG)
It's not difficult to see D'Angelo Russell brimming over with immense upside, but it was often held in check during his inaugural campaign. Part of the problem was the Los Angeles Lakers coaching staff's inability to give him consistent minutes or put him in situations that lead to success, but the raw nature of Russell's game proved detrimental as well.
173. Maurice Harkless, Por. Trail Blazers (CF)
The bad news for Maurice 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.
172. Jared Sullinger, Toronto Raptors (C)
It wasn't hard to see flashes of improved play from Jared Sullinger throughout his age-23 season, but he won't be a starting-caliber big man until he can shore up defensive weaknesses and connect from the outside more consistently. Right now, it's still a great strategy to force the ball into his hands and wait for him to shoot a jumper. That's not what the Toronto Raptors will want from a bruising big who's capable of becoming one of the NBA's better rebounders.
171. Norman Powell, Toronto Raptors (SG)
Few young players possess this type of two-way upside—the 23-year-old has established himself as a quality perimeter defender who can knock down shots from beyond the arc. Had Norman Powell maintained his quality of play but logged enough minutes to better showcase his durability and rebounding, he'd have challenged for a spot just outside the overall top 100.
170-165: Dudley, Felton, Smart, Biyombo, Tucker, Scola
170. Jared Dudley, Phoenix Suns (PF)
Despite his ability to stretch the court with tremendous shooting ability, Jared Dudley is miscast as a power forward. Even in today's NBA, it's a mistake to put him at the 4 for 94 percent of his minutes, and the Phoenix Suns shouldn't make that mistake in 2016-17 now that they're bringing him back to the desert. If Dudley hadn't been asked to protect the hoop or rebound like other big men, he'd have risen much higher up these rankings.
169. Raymond Felton, L.A. Clippers (CG)
After previously drawing fanbase ire for uninspired play and fitness at various NBA stops, Raymond Felton revitalized his career with the Dallas Mavericks. At his best handling the ball and either working in pick-and-roll sets or driving to the hoop, he shouldn't be a starter for a competitive team. But Felton's newfound ability to also play the 2 has made him an intriguing choice to lead any second unit, as he'll now do for the Los Angeles Clippers.
168. Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics (CB)
Until Marcus Smart develops a reliable jumper—just something that can keep defenders honest—he won't live up to his lofty potential. It's blindingly obvious he has star potential, given his rebounding chops, distributing skills and impressive perimeter defense. But surviving the modern NBA is difficult when you're a detrimental floor-spacing presence, especially in the backcourt.
167. Bismack Biyombo, Orlando Magic (C)
As his free-throw shooting and willingness to draw fouls improves, Bismack Biyombo is becoming more of a two-way player. But his offense still lags well behind his spectacular defense. The 24-year-old is already one of the NBA's best per-minute defensive and rebounding presences, making anything he offers on offense tantamount to gravy.
166. P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns (SF)
P.J. 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.
165. Luis Scola, Brooklyn Nets (CF)
Unfortunately, the Toronto Raptors often misused Luis Scola. There's no way the 6'9" career power forward should be at the 3 for 29 percent of his minutes—his previous high-water mark was a mere 1 percent in 2008-09—but myriad 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 the floor rather than go to work in the post.
164-159: West, Harris, Barea, Barnes, Leuer, Lee
164. David West, Golden State Warriors (CB)
Now moving from one contender to another by signing with the Golden State Warriors, David West still won't receive heavy run. But his limited activity allows him to remain an elite defender, strong role-filling rebounder and efficient source of offense. It's hard to pick glaring flaws, but that's partially because the team that rosters West knows how to prevent those from emerging.
163. Devin Harris, Dallas Mavericks (SG)
Calling Devin Harris a shooting guard is accurate but also a bit misleading. He spent a significant amount of time lining up at both point guard and small forward, and that versatility may have been his most valuable aspect, since he failed to stand out positively or negatively in any singular category.
162. J.J. Barea, Dallas Mavericks (PG)
Given J.J. Barea's knack for creating his own shot, it shouldn't be surprising that the Dallas Mavericks scored an additional 2.1 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. But given his diminutive frame and undisciplined defense, it also shouldn't be surprising they gave up 4.7 more points per 100 possessions at the same time.
161. Matt Barnes, Sacramento Kings (SF)
Though Matt Barnes' actions make him a bit of an enigma, his value is certain. Even when he can't shoot from the outside, he remains crucial 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.
160. Jon Leuer, Detroit Pistons (CB)
Jon Leuer is perfectly suited for his job as a floor-spacing power forward next to Andre Drummond in the Detroit Pistons' four-out, one-in design, but his role with the Phoenix Suns was a bit less clear. Though he improved dramatically on defense and continued to shine as a stretch 4, he was sometimes asked to do too much on a young, injury-riddled team.
159. Courtney Lee, New York Knicks (SG)
Lee was a Memphis Grizzlies sharpshooting specialist who often conserved energy on the offensive end. Once traded to the Charlotte Hornets, he began asserting himself on defense and became a bit more involved on the glass, though his shooting numbers declined ever so slightly. Either way, he was a solid rotational guard without much glamor to his game, and that shouldn't change in his new job as the potential starting 2 for the New York Knicks.
158-153: Winslow, Waiters, Parker, Dellavedova, Davis, Stephenson
158. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat (SF)
So long as you're willing to look past his woeful shooting, Justise 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 rebounding, cutting and occasional passing. If he can find more touch from the outside, he'll become a star.
157. Dion Waiters, Miami Heat (SG)
Dion Waiters started playing the right way during the playoffs: He began deferring to his superstar teammates rather than hogging the ball, grew as a facilitator and used his energy reserves to play high-quality defense. But for these rankings, it was too little, too late. During the regular season, Waiters kept cementing his reputation as a shoot-first player who missed far too often for a volume-shooting role.
156. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks (PF)
Jabari Parker certainly hasn't lived up to being the No. 2 pick of the 2014 NBA draft, but he's getting closer to a potential star. Lest we forget, he's really only had 1.5 seasons in the Association, and you can easily see him getting more confident on the offensive end. Now, it's time to get better on defense (i.e. start trying) and figure out how to fix the perimeter stroke.
155. Matthew Dellavedova, Mil. Bucks (CG)
Matthew Dellavedova blossomed into a legitimate rotation member during his third NBA season. His perimeter shooting, defensive awareness and vision were significantly better, to the point he was one of the Cleveland Cavaliers' most reliable snipers, stoppers and distributors. He's by no means a star, but any team could use him, regardless of how much his role shrunk during the 2016 NBA Finals.
154. Ed Davis, Portland Trail Blazers (CB)
Ed Davis' biggest skill may be his innate understanding of his own strengths and weaknesses. Whereas some young players try to do too much, he's willing to play his game by finishing short attempts around the hoop and conserving his energy for defense. It's no fluke the Portland Trail Blazers were 1.2 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the floor.
153. Lance Stephenson, N.O. Pelicans (SF)
The strategy doesn't work for every team, and the Los Angeles Clippers were one such example, given the sheer dominance of their healthy starting lineup. But Lance 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.
152-147: Carter-Williams, Williams, Johnson, Diaw, Chalmers, Thomas
152. Michael Carter-Williams, Mil. Bucks (PG)
It's clear: Michael Carter-Williams' selection as 2014 Rookie of the Year was more due to opportunity and a weak class of first-year players. He has value as an on-ball defender, tremendous rebounder and ball-handling threat, but his limited shooting and mental struggles on defense have prevented him from turning into even a mid-level starter.
151. Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers (CG)
If you're looking for a one-way player, Lou Williams would certainly qualify. He's a deft scorer who doesn't hesitate to create his own looks off the bounce, but that's all he brings. He often leaves his team playing four-on-five defense, which negates a significant amount of overall value.
150. Tyler Johnson, Miami Heat (CG)
Could Tyler Johnson have reached an even higher level if his balky left shoulder hadn't required surgery? His outside-inside scoring game offers hope he could someday become a leading scorer on a competitive team, and he shows the right mentality on the point-preventing side. The 24-year-old guard is still a work in progress, but he's already shown distinct improvement since his rookie season.
149. Boris Diaw, San Antonio Spurs (PF)
Boris Diaw remains a unique commodity: a big man who has immense skill levels shooting jumpers and handling the rock. He can create his own looks and find teammates on the move, both of which will aid him in his new Salt Lake City home. Plus, he remains a surprisingly effective defender who can stand his ground in most situations. Diaw is by no means glamorous and would struggle to fill a bigger role, but he's good at what he does.
148. Mario Chalmers, Free Agent (PG)
Mario Chalmers improved immensely once playing home games on Beale Street, becoming a quality offensive presence and an adequate defender when Mike Conley wasn't on the floor. But that improvement came largely because he started at such a low point. If we only looked at his limited work with the Miami Heat, he might not have made a hypothetical NBA 300.
147. Lance Thomas, New York Knicks (SF)
Lance Thomas, by virtue of playing for a nondescript New York 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.
146-141: Johnson, Crawford, Green, Livingston, Richardson, Turner
146. Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons (SM)
Don't let Stanley Johnson's shooting woes distract from the positive parts of his rookie season. The Detroit 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.
145. Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers (SM)
Though Jamal Crawford was important to the Los Angeles 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 besides scoring.
144. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs (SG)
Last season was a forgettable one for Danny Green, but only because the three-point stroke that made him one of the league's most dangerous three-and-D contributors all but disappeared. Though the inability to produce momentum-swinging treys hindered his ability to stand out, his overall efforts, especially on defense, ensured his value.
143. Shaun Livingston, G.S. Warriors (CG)
It's tough to survive in the modern NBA with a shaky perimeter jumper, and Shaun Livingston made just two of his 12 attempts from beyond the arc in 2015-16. But this lanky guard knows how to make up for his weakness by exerting effort on defense and getting to his spots in the half-court set, from which he can knock down any mid-range jumper or post up.
142. Josh Richardson, Miami Heat (SG)
Josh Richardson asserted himself as one of the 2015 NBA draft class' gems. Despite being selected 40th by the Miami Heat, he became an impact defender and tremendous marksman, earning a substantial role by the time his first professional campaign drew to a conclusion. He's one of the top 10 rookies in the NBA 200, regardless of position.
141. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers (CB)
If there's such a thing as a three-and-D big man (a designation typically reserved for wings), Myles Turner looks like he could eventually fit the mold. His three-point shooting left plenty to be desired during his first professional campaign, but the Indiana Pacers should remain confident in his development. He stood out in various areas and displayed many of the telltale signs that deep range is coming in the not-too-distant future.
140-135: Warren, Sefolosha, Smith, Allen, Covington, Pachulia
140. T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns (SF)
Developing a reliable jumper did wonders; T.J. 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 must develop on defense and continue proving himself in a bigger role, but it's abundantly clear he's an impressive offensive talent.
139. Thabo Sefolosha, Atlanta Hawks (SF)
Thabo Sefolosha isn't a glaring liability on offense, so his ability to drain occasional triples and score on athletic cuts to the hoop guarantees 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.
138. Ish Smith, Detroit Pistons (PG)
As soon as Ish Smith gave the Philadelphia 76ers a legitimate presence at the 1, the offense started to experience a semblance of flow. His defense and lack of shooting confidence prevent him from emerging as a bona fide starter on a quality team, and he'll now settle in as a convincing backup for the Detroit Pistons. He maximized his talents in 2015-16.
137. Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies (SM)
Tony Allen is by no means the Memphis Grizzlies' best player. He just embodies everything "grit and grind" is supposed to entail, sacrificing himself 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.
136. Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers (PF)
Establishing himself as one of the league's more underrated and overlooked players despite failing to live up to his own standards from downtown, Robert Covington displayed two-way versatility. It was a mistake to leave him alone in the middle on defense, but his ability to guard multiple positions was just as valuable as his shot-creating work and floor-spacing ability at the 4. Making just over $1 million in 2016-17, Covington is one of the NBA's great bargains.
135. Zaza Pachulia, Dallas Mavericks (C)
The Golden State Warriors landed a bargain when they acquired Zaza Pachulia over the offseason. He may not be a scoring threat or floor-spacing presence, but he doesn't need to be on a roster with so many offensive studs. And while he can't pass as well as the man he replaces (Andrew Bogut), his rebounding and defensive effort will help the Dubs avoid too much backsliding.
134-129: Afflalo, Gordon, Collison, Okafor, Korver, Teletovic
134. Arron Afflalo, Sacramento Kings (SG)
He has value as a non-traditional backcourt scorer (thank you, post-ups) who can also fill the archetypal role as a perimeter shooter, and he at least tries hard as an off-ball defender. But as the Sacramento Kings will now discover, Arron Afflalo is no longer able to fill a volume-scoring role. His point-preventing and assist-creating flaws leave him as little more than a low-end starter who is trending in the wrong direction as he adjusts to life on the unfortunate side of 30.
133. Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets (SM)
Don't be fooled by the negative context surrounding Eric Gordon. It's true he didn't develop into the superstar he was meant to become while with the Los Angeles 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.
132. Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings (PG)
Darren Collison may have filled a backup gig, but he played with the talent of a first-unit option. This shouldn't be surprising, since he was coming off a strong 2014-15 campaign before the Sacramento Kings decided to push him to the pine in favor of Rajon Rondo. If he could grow a bit more disciplined on the defensive end, his enduring quickness and shooting touch would make him a legitimate mid-tier starter.
131. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers (C)
If you look at the good, Jahlil Okafor is a dominant interior scorer despite being only 20 years old. He's also a phenomenal rebounder whose defensive woes didn't prevent him from being a somewhat adequate deterrent at the rim. If you look at the bad, Okafor is a limited shooter whose immobility and lack of range prevents him from thriving in the modern NBA—not to mention the character concerns after his off-court issues. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, as this center can turn into a star if he's put in the right situation and develops as expected.
130. Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks (SG)
If you were expecting a repeat of 2014-15—a season that saw Kyle Korver average 12.1 points per game while shooting 48.7 percent from the field, 49.2 percent from downtown and 89.8 percent from the free-throw line—you shouldn't have. Even as he suffered inevitable regression, the sharpshooter remained one of the Association's most dangerous perimeter threats and continued to serve as an underrated player in almost every other facet of the game.
129. Mirza Teletovic, Milwaukee Bucks (PF)
Some players are well-rounded contributors; Mirza Teletovic is a specialist. He can hold his own on the glass and thrived finishing plays around the basket, but his value still stems almost solely from his ability to knock down jumpers. If he goes cold, he stops spacing the floor and can't contribute in many other areas, so it's a good thing that rarely happens.
128-123: Harris, Schroder, Booker, Olynyk, Crabbe, Grant
128. Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets (SM)
Gary Harris should have received a little more love Most Improved Player race, 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.
127. Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks (PG)
Sometimes, Dennis Schroder looks like a future star: He can burst past almost any defender and does have stretches where he complements his driving game with a good-looking perimeter stroke and intense on-ball defense. It's the other times that depress his score and have keep him from emerging as an upper-tier floor general at this early stage of his NBA career.
126. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (SG)
It's clear that Devin Booker will develop into an offensive stud. He showed flashes of that potential throughout his rookie season, even if he had trouble maintaining respectable shooting percentages and forgot to involve his teammates at times. Defense is the far bigger concern, since it's tough to find anything positive to say. He'll be valuable even if he's a one-way player, but the Phoenix Suns would prefer two-way strides.
125. Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics (C)
As a floor-stretching center, Kelly Olynyk was quite valuable in Beantown. His improved efforts on the defensive end made him even better, so long as head coach Brad Stevens didn't leave him alone in the painted area. But if the former Gonzaga standout wants to make the proverbial jump, he needs to grow as a passer and improve both his interior defense and rebounding.
124. Allen Crabbe, Portland Trail Blazers (SM)
Allen 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 whether in a different zip code or right around the iron, trying to fight past bigger players. Sure, he experienced some defensive regression, but Crabbe's offensive strides more than made up for it.
123. Jerami Grant, Philadelphia 76ers (CF)
The Philadelphia 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.
122-117: Jack, Mirotic, Burks, Ariza, Williams, Matthews
122. Jarrett Jack, Atlanta Hawks (PG)
Before tearing his ACL, Jarrett Jack was a solid presence for the Brooklyn Nets. His role forced his shooting percentages into unnecessarily low territory, but he held his own as a shot-creator—both for himself and his teammates. There are plenty of worse options than this primary backup.
121. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls (PF)
Nikola Mirotic's shooting makes him a quality rotation piece, as few power forwards can work off the dribble or take catch-and-shoot attempts en route to a 39 percent clip from beyond the arc. He's also comfortable pumping and taking a step in for a long two, but defenders are quickly catching on to the fact he's unable to do much damage if his jumper is out of the equation. That has to change if he wants to keep earning bigger minutes for the Chicago Bulls.
120. Alec Burks, Utah Jazz (CG)
Once the future of the Utah Jazz's shooting guard position, Alec Burks has been hampered by near-constant injuries and the emergence of Rodney Hood. He's learned to function at the 1 while operating with a more limited role, but that hasn't prevented this 6'6" guard from exerting himself as a positive offensive force, thanks primarily to his three-point shooting and foul-drawing ability.
119. Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets (CF)
Trevor 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 Houston 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.
118. Deron Williams, Dallas Mavericks (CG)
Deron Williams isn't an All-Star anymore, and the days of 20-point, 10-assist outings are long gone (he had just two in 2015-16). So he instead minimizes mistakes and provides timely contributions with spot-up shooting and drives to the hoop. Williams can put together flashes of his old ability, just not sustained stretches.
117. Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks (SM)
Achilles injuries are typically devastating to NBA players, and it's not like Wesley Matthews is a spring chicken anymore. He just completed 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.
116-111: Payton, Rondo, Faried, Kanter, Plumlee, Joseph
116. Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic (PG)
Elfrid Payton hasn't turned into a star, and it's unlikely he will until he becomes a significant threat from the outside and learns how to remain more disciplined while playing off-ball defense. But there's no doubt this young floor general is slowly improving, and his development was most notable when watching him finishing plays around the hoop.
115. Rajon Rondo, Chicago Bulls (CG)
Rajon Rondo may be the NBA's most unique player at this stage of his career, especially now that his improving jumper belies a reputation that defenders can sag off. He's a talented passer with great rebounding vision and defensive instincts, but he still chases assists at the expense of making proper plays, and his defense is often uninspired, which prevents him from realizing the full extent of his enduring potential.
114. Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets (PF)
The Denver Nuggets' frontcourt depth has led to diminished minutes for Kenneth Faried, and that makes it hard for him to establish himself as one of the NBA's 100 best players—a designation he's enjoyed in previous seasons. But the limited run has also allowed him to make the most of his opportunities and play with even more passion on the offensive end. Now, if only that would translate to defense.
113. Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder (C)
Enes Kanter finished behind only Jamal Crawford and Andre Iguodala in Sixth Man of the Year voting, and he really was that valuable. His offense and rebounding more than negated his defensive inadequacies, as he could camp underneath the basket and wait for shots to go up, then elevate and create a second-chance finish with ease. He completely changed OKC's tone when in games, though the Thunder presumably would've preferred to go without the tone-deaf defense.
112. Mason Plumlee, Portland Trail Blazers (C)
Mason Plumlee plays a brand of basketball completely devoid of glamor, and he accordingly fails to capture much national media attention. But that didn't make him any less valuable to the Portland Trail Blazers since his offensive efficiency, yeoman's work on the glass and defense (at least, certain aspects of it) all quietly aided the cause.
111. Cory Joseph, Toronto Raptors (CG)
This 25-year-old has become exactly what you want in a backup guard, thriving regardless of the role he's asked to fill. When at the 1, he's capable of minimizing his mistakes and generating easy looks for himself and others while playing solid off-ball defense. When at the 2, he can use his energy on defense to provide stellar off-ball work.
110-105: Green, Rose, Johnson, Jefferson, Clarkson, Lin
110. Jeff Green, Orlando Magic (CF)
At some point, coaches will realize they have to curtail Jeff 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 Los Angeles Clippers were 5.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he was on the floor—a fate the Orlando Magic must now avoid.
109. Derrick Rose, New York Knicks (PG)
Get used to this Derrick Rose, because it's the one we're likely to see going forward. Despite appearing in 66 contests, he completed only a single dunk and was forced to use his declining explosiveness in more acrobatic fashion around the hoop. Developing a consistent jumper would do wonders for his game, because his drives don't inspire the same level of fear they did before his injury woes.
108. Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics (PF)
Amir Johnson may be the most self-aware player in the NBA. He's fully cognizant of his strengths and weaknesses, and he never tries to push the envelope by expanding his game. Rather than shooting jumpers, he bides his time until he can work on the interior, remaining incredibly efficient as a result. This mentality prevents his ceiling from rising too high, but it ensures a high floor as well.
107. Al Jefferson, Indiana Pacers (CB)
Injuries and age (Al Jefferson will turn 32 during the 2016-17 campaign) have reduced his quickness on the blocks, forcing him to function as a jump-shooter. He's mitigated this by spending more time at the 4, as well as trying to exert more energy on defense. But it's clear Jefferson is no longer the same player who once made...wait, his 67.1 career win shares (No. 31 among active players) never helped him make a single All-Star team? Unfortunately, that's not likely to change now as he prepares for a backup role with the Indiana Pacers.
106. Jordan Clarkson, L.A. Lakers (SG)
After his rookie season, it was quite possible Jordan Clarkson was the product of opportunity on a struggling Los Angeles Lakers squad devoid of quality guards and overall talent. But his sophomore campaign should erase those concerns, as Clarkson coexisted with D'Angelo Russell and Kobe Bryant while continuing to establish himself as an offensive threat.
105. Jeremy Lin, Brooklyn Nets (CG)
Quietly, Lin was one of the league's most valuable sixth men. As strong as Kemba Walker was as Charlotte Hornets starting point guard, Lin was nearly as important because he could come into the game—either alongside Walker or as his replacement—and keep the offense flowing. Turnovers are no longer holding him back, and he's willing to play within a diminished role that lets him exert all his energy in shorter spurts.
104-99: Aminu, Mahinmi, Casspi, Gibson, Young, Smith
104. Al-Farouq Aminu, Por. Trail Blazers (CF)
Al-Farouq Aminu already has six years 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.
103. Ian Mahinmi, Washington Wizards (C)
The Washington Wizards landed one of the league's best backup bigs when they signed Ian Mahinmi to a four-year deal worth $64 million this offseason. He's nothing more than a role player on offense, but his game-changing defensive abilities will help shore up the second unit and ensure that leads aren't hemorrhaged away by the non-starters, as they so often were in 2015-16.
102. Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings (CF)
Talk about being underrated by the public. Omri 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.
101. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls (PF)
Taj Gibson's days as a star player have long past, even if he appeared to be tracking that way in previous seasons. He's a role player, but that's not an insult. The power forward is valuable as an ace defender and rebounder off the bench, and he doesn't try to do too much on the offensive end.
100. Thaddeus Young, Indiana Pacers (PF)
Miscast as one of the offensive leaders in Brooklyn, Thaddeus Young should be at home with the Indiana Pacers, who traded for him shortly after the 2015-16 season ended. The up-tempo system will allow him to act like a homing missile to the rim, and the franchise's defensive inclinations could inspire him to exert a little more energy on the point-preventing side.
99. J.R. Smith, Free Agent (SG)
The mercurial J.R. Smith accepted his role with the Cleveland Cavaliers and thrived in it. Though he had to cede touches to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, he made the most of his possessions by blossoming into a three-and-D shooting guard capable of and—even more importantly—willing to make the right play at the right time. It's no fluke that his team was better with him on the floor.
98-93: Barton, Thompson, Bazemore, Iguodala, Noel, Barnes
98. Will Barton, Denver Nuggets (SG)
Will Barton finished fifth in the voting for Most Improved Player, trailing only C.J. McCollum, Kemba Walker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry. You could make a legitimate case he should have ranked even higher, given his transition from a seldom-used role player who occasionally dazzled crowds with transition slams into a reliable scoring presence and key rotation member. Barton didn't make the cut for last year's NBA 200, finishing with a grade of 62 that left him at No. 229. Now, he's one of the league's 100 best players.
97. Tristan Thompson, Cle. Cavaliers (PF)
Tristan Thompson averaged 3.3 offensive rebounds in 2015-16, making him the sixth player in league history to average at least three during each of their first five professional campaigns. His offense is strong enough to ensure he receives substantial playing time, but he could experience a significant breakout if his defense forced head coach Tyronn Lue to hand him even more minutes.
96. Kent Bazemore, Atlanta Hawks (SF)
Kent Bazemore proved he could thrive in a far bigger role: The Atlanta 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 distant memories.
95. Andre Iguodala, G.S. Warriors (SM)
Continuing to accept his role as a sixth man, Andre Iguodala served as a key cog in the Golden State 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.
94. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers (CB)
Though playing Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor together was untenable, Noel is much further along in his development and can serve as a true game-changing presence on defense, especially as he grows more disciplined. He may never become an all-around offensive threat, but his finishing ability ensures he's not too much of a liability. Here's hoping the overstuffed Philadelphia 76ers' frontcourt doesn't hinder his long-term growth.
93. Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks (CF)
Harrison Barnes collapsed during the NBA Finals, but that doesn't count against him here. Though the experience sullied his reputation, putting 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.
92-87: Beverley, Dieng, Ginobili, Caldwell-Pope, Vucevic, Ibaka
92. Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets (PG)
By hitting 40 percent of his triples and thriving as a spot-up shooter, Patrick Beverley became a much more versatile contributor. He maintained his defensive excellence and also turned into a complementary guard for Houston Rockets' star James Harden. So long as Beverley starts to prove this shooting improvement wasn't a fluke, he'll reap the benefits when defenses begin to pay him proper respect.
91. Gorgui Dieng, Min. Timberwolves (CB)
It's easy to understand how Gorgui Dieng flies so far beneath the radar. Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins are all more recognizable names, and we'll soon be able to add Kris Dunn to that list. Heck, Shabazz Muhammad's name may still resonate more, even though he was 46 spots shy of making NBA 200. But if you watch much Minnesota Timberwolves basketball, you'll know just how impactful this young big has become while accepting his role with nary a complaint.
90. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs (SG)
Manu Ginobili sees angles most other players can't fathom, and he possesses the innate body control to squeeze either himself or the ball through those tight spaces. Even as age saps his athleticism and leads to a diminished role, he remains productive because of his craftiness and enduring skill.
89. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, D. Pistons (SG)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hasn't yet become the perfect fit for head coach Stan Van Gundy's four-out, one-in ideologies, and he won't until he hones his three-point stroke. But his cutting ability, knack for creating his own looks and engaged defense still make him an asset in the scheme. He's a jumper away from throwing his name into the mix as one of the league's elite 2-guards.
88. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic (C)
Is Nikola Vucevic still a centerpiece for the Orlando Magic? It's hard to answer, since he remains one of the most talented/established players on the roster. But now he has to fight for playing time with a host of new frontcourt players. Even though this 7-footer will only be 26 years old at the start of 2016-17, he may already have hit his peak unless he's moved to a location better suited to his many skills.
87. Serge Ibaka, Orlando Magic (PF)
The pessimistic view: Serge Ibaka is a player experiencing stunted development and failing to live up to his promise as a rim-protecting stud who could space the court from beyond the arc. But the Orlando Magic should be more optimistic after acquiring him, pointing to his enduring status as a Defensive Player of the Year contender, finishing ability, rebounding effectiveness and mid-range jumper.
86-81: Bradley, Redick, Turner, Porzingis, Adams, Porter
86. Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics (SG)
Avery Bradley remains one of the league's most committed defensive presences, as he is willing and able to pick up a tough assignment for the full length of the hardwood. Preventing points is his enduring specialty, but he continues to grow as a perimeter sniper and finisher around the hoop.
85. J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers (SG)
If you looked at J.J. Redick's sniping ability and ignored everything else, he'd still be a valuable player. During his career year, he became one of just seven qualified shooters in NBA history to hit at least 45 percent of their threes while taking at least five per game—numbers he exceeded by a substantial margin. But after factoring in his underrated defense and ability to score from inside the arc, he's better still.
84. Evan Turner, Portland Trail Blazers (SM)
Evan 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.
83. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks (CB)
The New York Knicks couldn't be happier with the 2015 NBA draft's No. 4 pick. Even though he was booed on the night of that selection, he thrived in so many different facets of the game and eventually trailed only Karl-Anthony Towns in Rookie of the Year voting. A 7'3" big who can move like a wing, shoot threes and protect the rim is every coach's dream, and Kristaps Porzingis is well on his way to making those become reality.
82. Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder (C)
It's easy to assume Steven Adams' greatest skill is getting under an opponent's skin and forcing him into careless mistakes (or getting tossed from a contest). But that's not fair to his developing game, since Adams' overall defensive efforts and terrific screen-setting aided the Oklahoma City Thunder rather significantly. Now, in the wake of Kevin Durant's departure, we get to see if the offensive growth he displayed in the playoffs is sustainable in a larger role.
81. Otto Porter, Washington Wizards (SF)
Otto 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.
80-75: Randolph, Johnson, Gortat, Parker, Monroe, Beal
80. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies (CB)
The cracks in the facade are emerging. Zach Randolph couldn't muster up his typical dominance in post-ups, finishing in just the 52.9 percentile. He struggled to turn as many rebounding opportunities into actual boards as during his prime years too, and he was atrocious both while protecting the rim and playing interior defense. His physicality and sheer force of will ensured that he remains a strong starting big, but Randolph's days as a double-double lock appear to be firmly rooted in the past.
79. Joe Johnson, Utah Jazz (SF)
Yes, Joe Johnson was waived by the Brooklyn 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 Miami 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.
78. Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards (C)
Especially under the new cap climate, the five-year, $60 million deal Marcin Gortat signed before the 2014-15 season is looking like a bargain. Instead of declining drastically during his age-31 season, the big man kept producing on defense and dominating as a frequently used roller. It helps that John Wall's feeds often put him in prime position, but Gortat's strength and timing have helped him stave off the advances of Father Time for at least another year.
77. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs (PG)
Tony Parker is no longer an All-Star floor general, but his craftiness and fundamental understanding of his team's schemes have allowed him to remain a solid starter well into his 30s. He'll never stop knocking down mid-range jumpers and positioning himself well on the defensive end, and those tools have allowed him to combat his slowly rusting wheels.
76. Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks (C)
Will the Milwaukee Bucks continue to experiment with Greg Monroe in their lineups, or will they look to trade him? The offense was distinctly better with him on the floor in 2015-16, but his defensive woes and lack of athleticism make him a questionable fit on a youthful Milwaukee roster that should be focused more on preventing points. There's no doubt Monroe can thrive in today's NBA despite lacking modern range, but he requires the right fit and is not currently experiencing that.
75. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards (SG)
At some point, Bradley Beal will have to develop if he's going to justify the hype and money. No one is denying his prowess as a perimeter scorer, but his inability to stay on the floor (this time, due to a sore left shoulder, stress reaction in right leg, fractured nose, concussion and sprained pelvis), defensive regression and non-elite shooting inside the arc have to temper the excitement about unrealized potential. Fortunately for the Washington Wizards, it may only take one healthy season for him to expedite his development and prove the doubters wrong.
74-69: LaVine, Howard, Fournier, Lopez, Jokic, Gay
74. Zach LaVine, Min. Timberwolves (CG)
Once the Minnesota Timberwolves figured out Zach LaVine was best suited as a 2-guard playing next to a primary floor general, everything clicked. He developed into a dangerous spot-up threat and transition terror who could use his energy and athleticism advantageously instead of trying to involve teammates in a way that didn't maximize his strengths. For example, Minnesota produced a minus-0.8 net rating when Rubio and LaVine shared the court, as opposed to a minus-11.3 net rating when LaVine was on and Rubio off, per NBAWowy.com.
73. Dwight Howard, Atlanta Hawks (C)
After signing with the Atlanta Hawks, Dwight Howard will have a chance to mitigate two distinct weaknesses: passing within a system and spacing out the court. But even during a rough 2015-16 that was filled with chemistry concerns, back problems and some diminished production, he still continued as a high-quality center in multiple areas. Turning those weaknesses into strengths would actually be gravy for Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer.
72. Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic (SM)
Evan Fournier signed a five-year deal for $85 million this offseason to stay with the Orlando Magic, 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.
71. Robin Lopez, Chicago Bulls (C)
All it takes to summarize Robin Lopez's increasing value is this: Along with Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon, he was sent to the Chicago Bulls this offseason for Justin Holiday and Derrick Rose. (Joakim Noah also traveled between the Bulls and Knicks, though he did so by signing a free-agent deal.) Lopez was rather easily the best involved.
70. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (C)
The No. 41 pick of the 2014 NBA draft, Nikola Jokic played his inaugural season a year late and finished behind only Kristaps Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns in Rookie of the Year voting. Truthfully, he should've leapfrogged Porzingis, though he couldn't while playing in a smaller media market. He's immediately become the true centerpiece of the Denver Nuggets' young roster, contributing in every area and making it a matter of "when" he makes his first of many All-Star appearances.
69. Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings (SF)
Rudy 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 a bona fide All-Star. As it stands, he'll have to be content just barely making the NBA's top 70.
68-63: Ellis, Morris, Gordon, Harris, Teague, Deng
68. Monta Ellis, Indiana Pacers (SG)
Monta Ellis remains almost as productive as in his prime. According to NBA Math's total points added, he added 16.51 points to the Indiana Pacers cause, which is the No. 3 score of his career. The production is just coming in different fashion, as he's suddenly become more valuable on defense than offense and needs to fix a broken jumper.
67. Marcus Morris, Detroit Pistons (SF)
The Detroit Pistons attempted to pigeonhole Marcus Morris into a role as a 3 rather than letting him play as a combo, 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 power forward spot? Either way, he became one of the better players who failed to capture national attention.
66. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic (CF)
It's still unclear what the Orlando Magic plan to do with Aaron Gordon. He needs a defined role on offense that doesn't ask him to take so many perimeter jumpers, and it would expedite his development to lock him in at a singular position rather than asking him to grow in so many different areas. The offseason additions of so many frontcourt pieces don't make this any clearer. But at least the Magic already know he's a high-quality defender who plays with relentless hustle.
65. Tobias Harris, Detroit Pistons (CF)
Gone are the days in which Tobias Harris was an underrated forward waiting to break out in the right situation. He's now established as a significant offensive threat, and his defense is getting to the point he's no longer a glaring liability who forces coaches to shrink his role in the rotation.
64. Jeff Teague, Indiana Pacers (PG)
Jeff Teague was due for regression after his All-Star campaign in 2014-15. His floaters and touch shots around the basket didn't fall quite as frequently, and he deferred more to teammates when his field-goal percentage began dipping. But even regression didn't push him below the realm of solid starters.
63. Luol Deng, Los Angeles Lakers (CF)
This 31-year-old forward is no longer in his prime, and he's having trouble remaining a valuable scorer as his percentages slip, despite averaging fewer points than he has since his rookie season in 2004-05. But Luol Deng is still a strong starting option because of his versatility and ability to shut down tough matchups on the defensive end, both of which will play well in his new role with the Los Angeles Lakers. Slotting him solely at the 3 would be beneficial in the future, but his willingness to slide over a spot in the lineup for the betterment of the team speaks volumes.
62-57: Holiday, Bogut, Valanciunas, Hill, Williams, Duncan
62. Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans (CG)
Jure Holiday's a gifted distributor with the size to line up at either guard position. He can finish around the basket and knock down mid-range shots, using his size and strength to create easy opportunities. He's a talented on-ball defender, even if he struggles immensely away from the action. He's also a tremendous rebounder. He just can't stay on the court, which is making it harder for him to build up a jump-shooting rhythm.
61. Andrew Bogut, Dallas Mavericks (C)
Andrew Bogut's chemistry with the Golden State Warriors was finely tuned, and it remains to be seen if he can have the same sort of impact now that he's joined the Dallas Mavericks. But if they know how to maximize his talents, they'll get a big man who's comfortable with the ball in his hands, capable of setting bone-rattling screens and prone to DPOY-caliber defense. Bogut doesn't spend much time scoring, but looking only at his points-per-game average belies his incredible all-around talent.
60. Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors (C)
The 24-year-old center still has time to grow, but his development has slowed in recent seasons and prevented him from becoming a truly elite scoring threat or defensive presence. That's perfectly fine, though. Even if he never lives up to the potential that made him a top-five pick in the 2011 NBA draft, he's turned into a quality starting center who can contribute on both ends.
59. George Hill, Utah Jazz (PG)
Gone are the days in which George Hill was a defensive specialist who often served as an offensive liability. He's becoming one of the more threatening spot-up 1-guards, and he rarely makes possession-ending mistakes when tasked with some ball-handling responsibility. So long as he's not asked to be an offensive leader, he'll get the job done. And now that he's been traded to the Utah Jazz, we can be sure that won't be the case.
58. Marvin Williams, Charlotte Hornets (PF)
Memo to whoever employs Marvin Williams during the duration of his new four-year, $54.5 million deal: He is not a small forward. Though he was once a draft bust while attempting to work on the wings, he's experienced a career resurgence as a stretch 4 who can knock down triples and protect the rim for sustained stretches. It may be tough to accept that his NBA tenure has experienced such an extreme 180-degree shift, but he's now a highly productive player.
57. Tim Duncan, Retired (C)
A consummate professional, Tim Duncan ended his career with one of his best defensive seasons and by willingly accepting a smaller offensive role that would lead to more team success. It's the perfect summation of a tenure that always involved sacrifices. He may not have played like a Hall of Famer throughout his swan song while avoiding a public farewell tour, but Duncan is as big a lock for the Hall of Fame as anyone has ever been. He retires as the best player of his generation and a clear top-10 player in the sport's history.
56-51: Knight, Parsons, Anderson, Dragic, Oladipo, Gallinari
56. Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns (CG)
The Phoenix Suns weren't competitive in 2015-16, but it's hard to pin much of the blame on Brandon Knight. Before a sports hernia knocked him out prematurely, he was a strong offensive presence who could contribute in a variety of ways, and his off-ball activity ensured he wasn't an overwhelming defensive liability. There's plenty of room for improvement, but Knight's age-24 season deserves more respect.
55. Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies (CF)
Chandler Parsons entered the league in 2011 as a player who wasn't great (or terrible) at any one facet of the game. He's since carved out his niche as a versatile offensive player who can hold his own in most other areas. His shooting helped the Dallas Mavericks immensely while he was healthy, but issues with his right knee have to be past tense if he's to continue trending upward in Memphis.
54. Ryan Anderson, Houston Rockets (PF)
Ryan Anderson is a specialist, but he's a damn good one. It also helps that offense is his speciality, since he can contribute even when not knocking down one trey after another. If he was willing (and/or able) to play even a little defense around the rim, he could suddenly vault into the All-Star conversation, but it seems like that ship has sailed for this 28-year-old power forward.
53. Goran Dragic, Miami Heat (PG)
Ever since he was traded to the Miami Heat midway through 2014-15, he's had trouble justifying the All-NBA Third Team selection he received one year earlier. The beginning of 2015-16 was particularly rough, but Goran Dragic rebounded nicely during the season's second half, reminding the NBA that he could be a dangerous offensive commodity capable of holding his own on defense. He's still a terrifying transition threat, even if his perimeter shooting has dried up.
52. Victor Oladipo, OKC Thunder (SG)
Though Victor Oladipo hasn't yet blossomed into a household name, his constant improvement has made him a valuable commodity. The defensive lapses are fewer and further between, and his offensive value keeps creeping up as he hones his jumper and continues to excel as a slasher in the Dwyane Wade mold. We might not be too far away from a breakout into the All-Star conversation, even if he certainly hasn't justified that to this point.
51. Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets (CF)
If Danilo Gallinari's reputation hasn't caught up to his actual production, that's because he's unable to stay healthy. Among an ACL tear, a failed rehab, a torn meniscus and torn ankle ligaments, he's spent more time healing than playing for the Denver Nuggets in recent seasons. Fortunately, he's been fantastic while healthy, emerging as a premier scoring threat capable of tough defense on almost every possession. He just needs to showcase that skill for longer durations.
50-45: Rubio, Hood, Bledsoe, Wiggins, Lopez, McCollum
50. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves (PG)
Ricky Rubio may not be able to shoot, but the Minnesota Timberwolves were far better when he was on the floor. The offensive and defensive ratings improved by 5.9 and 2.3, respectively, because he does almost everything else well—rebounding, passing, defending, etc. The 25-year-old has become the model for how to succeed at the point with a shaky jumper.
49. Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz (SG)
Rodney Hood has developed nicely on the offensive end, though his shaky outside stroke and lackluster passing chops leave plenty of room for improvement. He also plays solid defense, even if he won't blow anyone away. Hood isn't yet a star, but it's easy to see one in the near future. It's tough to expect more out of a second-year shooting guard who was selected No. 23 in the 2014 NBA draft.
48. Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns (PG)
An underrated defender and a blossoming dual threat on offense, Eric Bledsoe was beginning to assert himself as one of the league's overlooked stars before his left knee let him down. Had he remained healthy and maintained his level of performance in each category, his overall score of 84 would've left him trailing just six other floor generals.
47. Andrew Wiggins, Min. Timberwolves (SM)
While Andrew Wiggins wasn't an efficient scorer and struggled to become a positive defensive presence during his second professional campaign, it was still blindingly obvious he has special talent. Few players are capable of filling such a big offensive role so soon, and this swingman always seemed to produce at least one play per game that made it clear just how good he can be. The Minnesota Timberwolves have to hope a new coaching staff can expedite that development.
46. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets (C)
After staying healthy for the last two years and further establishing himself as an offensive threat who can at least be an interior defender in the right schemes, Brook Lopez has created an interesting conundrum for the Brooklyn Nets. There's no doubt he's a valuable piece, but is he worth keeping around past the 2016-17 trade deadline just to serve as a team leader before eventually transition into a smaller role once the rebuild nears completion?
45. C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (CG)
C.J. McCollum was the 2015-16 season's Most Improved Player, and not just because he received a much larger opportunity. That certainly helped, but this Lehigh product also grew as a perimeter sniper and shot-creating threat while becoming a better facilitator for the rest of his young Rip City teammates. He's already an offensive stud, and he's a strong defensive game away from having the impact of a true superstar.
44-39: Conley, Gobert, Griffin, Jackson, Gasol, Crowder
44. Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies (PG)
It's hard to pinpoint a distinct flaw in Mike Conley's game, even if he doesn't emerge as an elite point guard in any one area. He's a solid scorer who can get buckets from all over the court; he turns most of his rebounding chances into actual rebounds; he's a deft passer who manages to minimize his mistakes. And were it not for his Achilles injury, he would've emerged as a clear-cut top-10 point guard in 2015-16.
43. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (C)
Rudy Gobert could sit down on offense and still remain a valuable big capable of qualifying for NBA 200. He's that talented on the defensive end, especially when he's allowed to remain in the paint and swat away any attempts from those who dare drive into his territory. That said, his pick-and-roll game is improving, and he remains quite adept at drawing whistles when smaller players can't body up against him.
42. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (PF)
Imagine that Blake Griffin had maintained his performance levels in each category but stayed healthy enough for a perfect durability score. In that situation, his overall grade of 85 would've moved him up to No. 6 in the big-man rankings and the top 20 overall.
41. Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons (PG)
Remember when Reggie Jackson was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Detroit Pistons midway through the 2014-15 campaign, then broke out once he realized he could be a dual-threat? That was no fluke. Last year's follow-up campaign was about asserting himself as a legitimate All-Star candidate who can impact the offense in multiple ways.
40. Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs (C)
Pau Gasol was a constant double-double threat with some strong defensive numbers, and that helped him make the sixth All-Star roster of his career. But his impact was a bit misleading. While he was helpful to the Bulls in many ways, his numbers masked some of the distinct flaws in his game that Chicago was constantly trying to account for. Now, we get to see if the San Antonio Spurs can cover them up more successfully.
39. Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics (SF)
Even without a consistent perimeter jumper, Jae Crowder has asserted himself as one of the NBA's best values. When the Boston Celtics signed him to a five-year deal worth $35 million, they knew he was bubbling over with untapped potential. Rapid growth has made him a fringe All-Star candidate pretty early on; his defense alone justifies the money he's owed.
38-33: DeRozan, Thomas, Hayward, Bosh, Love, Nowitzki
38. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors (SM)
It's easy to look at DeMar DeRozan's point totals and think this swingman is an All-Star lock. But his offense comes without efficiency when officials swallow their whistles, and his defense is usually detrimental to the Toronto Raptors. He can bounce between frustrating opponents and frustrating his own fans in no time at all, and he won't earn that lock status until he gains more consistency.
37. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics (PG)
Isaiah Thomas made his first All-Star roster in 2015-16, and it's tough to argue with his selection. Only four point guards from the Eastern Conference are ranked ahead of him, thanks to his volume scoring, impressive durability and underrated defensive ability. Thomas might not look like an NBA star, but he's quickly becoming one in Beantown.
36. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz (SF)
Versatility is the name of the game, and Gordon Hayward managed to contribute in every area imaginable. Even without a consistent perimeter jumper, he can create his own offense and serve as the unquestioned No. 1 option for the Utah Jazz while also accounting for the roster's (previous) lack of pure point guards with his playmaking.
35. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat (CB)
Chris Bosh was arguably the Miami Heat's best player before his second bout with blood clots ended another season prematurely. He's a fantastic floor-spacing threat who can do more than just hold his own on defense, and his versatile production often serves as the impetus behind team success. But the lineup congealed in his absence during the second half and now has to figure out 1) when he'll be able to return and 2) how it can re-deploy him when quite a few players emerged.
34. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers (CB)
Kevin Love has been disappointing since becoming the third member of the Cleveland Cavaliers' Big Three, yet he has remained a highly valuable power forward by virtue of his sharp-shooting, passing, nose for rebounding and improved defensive presence. Those two notions are not mutually exclusive.
33. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (CB)
Apparently, Dirk Nowitzki's scoring chops are eternal. Age hasn't prevented him from thriving as a go-to option for the Dallas Mavericks, and he's just as comfortable as ever when firing away from the perimeter or providing his squad with timely buckets. His team—yes, the Mavs unequivocally belong to him—was 7.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.
32-27: Middleton, Irving, Antetokounmpo, Whiteside, Horford, Gasol
32. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks (SM)
Khris Middleton still flies beneath the radar, but that should change while he continues to thrive as a volume-scoring wing who plays with plenty of efficiency. He's developed into an all-around threat capable of leading an offense and setting up teammates, and his second season in that role could see a return to form on the defensive side.
31. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers (PG)
Keep in mind this ranking doesn't include the playoffs, where Kyrie Irving proved himself a legitimate superstar and polished off the championship run with a game-winning three in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. If he can keep that up, he'll challenge for one of the top three spots at his position. But Irving's lackluster play at the beginning of the year and struggles getting back to peak form prevent him from ascending too high here.
30. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Mil. Bucks (SF)
The Greek Freak continues to live up to his nickname. He's well on his way to full-fledged superstardom via offensive creativity and an incredible ability to finish around the hoop, all while supplementing offense with impressive defensive play. Throw in some of the most Vine-worthy moments produced by any NBA player, and it's not hard to see why he's quickly becoming such a fan favorite.
29. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat (C)
It's all coming together for Hassan Whiteside, whose NBA career is now hitting full stride after a delayed start. He's accepted that blocking shots isn't the only way to play high-quality defense, adjusting his positioning as necessary. He's knocking down mid-range shots when opponents grant him enough space, and his touch around the basket is only getting better. As if that's not enough, he's one of the three best rebounders in the league. If he can learn how to pass or command more respect with his jumper, even the sky might not be the limit.
28. Al Horford, Boston Celtics (C)
This center meant absolutely everything to the Atlanta Hawks. His passing and versatile scoring made him an unquestioned centerpiece in the team's ball-sharing offense; his ability to control passing lanes while protecting the hoop allowed the defense to focus on luring opponents into the paint before trapping them in no-man's land. It remains to be seen whether he'll be a perfect fit in his new home with the Boston Celtics, but there's little doubt he ended his Peach State career as one of the league's elite bigs.
27. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (C)
Marc Gasol still functions as one of the league's best all-around players. There's literally nothing he does poorly, so long as you're willing to accept mid-range shooting as a valuable substitute for three-point marksmanship. Injuries forced him down the NBA's totem pole, and his age—he celebrates his 32rd birthday in January—may make it tough for him to climb back up. But even this slightly diminished version would be a strong All-Star candidate when healthy.
26-21: Favors, Batum, Drummond, Wade, Walker, Anthony
26. Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz (CB)
Derrick Favors rarely gets discussed as a game-changing presence and didn't seem to draw much All-Star consideration, but his all-around excellence has made him the No. 1 player for a Utah Jazz team on the rise. That may not remain true as Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood continue to develop, but Favors' excellent defense and consistent offensive contributions have made him the centerpiece up to this point in the rebuild, even if he by no means enjoys the same name recognition.
25. Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets (SM)
It's not that Nicolas Batum was a bad player while in Rip City, so much as the Portland coaching staff failed to use him like the Hornets did. During his first season with the Charlotte Hornets, he was allowed to serve as a primary ball-handler, creating shots for both himself and his teammates while enjoying something close to autonomy. That newfound freedom allowed him to make the proverbial leap into All-Star territory, even if he ultimately didn't receive that honor for the Eastern Conference.
24. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (C)
Andre Drummond is tantalizingly close to emerging as a superstar, but he won't get there—at least in terms of raw production—until he fixes his free-throw woes and becomes a more disciplined defender. His work on the offensive glass and sheer physical dominance allow him to serve as the centerpiece of the Detroit Pistons' four-out, one-in strategems, but his per-game numbers give the impression his development is further along than it actually is.
23. Dwyane Wade, Chicago Bulls (SG)
At some point, you can't keep referring to a player as "vintage." Once it seems like every game is turning back the clocks, maybe it's because they're permanently turned back. Such was the case for Dwyane Wade, who was even better in the playoffs after spending the regular season dominating on offense and producing spurts of capable defense. He's no longer an MVP candidate, but he keeps making his team—now, shockingly, the Chicago Bulls—a lot better.
22. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets (PG)
Somehow, Kemba Walker's reputation still lags well behind actual production. Now that he's finishing around the rim with aplomb and knocking down perimeter jumpers, he's become a true two-way threat capable of exploding for an efficient 20 points on any given night while keeping his turnovers under control. Walker may not have an All-Star selection on his resume, but rest assured that he played like one in 2015-16.
21. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks (CF)
Carmelo Anthony changed in 2015-16, and the results led to lower scoring outputs that gave a misleading impression he was on the decline. In reality, he was willing to sacrifice his individual glory for the betterment of the team by facilitating teammates' growth, becoming a more willing passer and sliding over to the 4 (as he had a few years prior). His season was beneficial in the present, and it should set the table for even more growth going forward.
20. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls (SG)
Jimmy Butler never found his rhythm from beyond the arc, but he made up for that by attacking the basket and constantly getting to the charity stripe. Given his ability to knock down pull-up jumpers and finish around the basket, it borders on unfair that he's able to rack up 7.1 free-throw attempts per game and convert them at an 83.2 percent clip.
Though he's not a scheme-altering off-ball presence, Butler still fares well in this category because of his improvement as a passer. As a rookie, he averaged just 1.4 assists per 36 minutes for the Chicago Bulls. Since then, he's trended up each and every season, and 2015-16 contained the biggest jump—up from 3.0 to 4.7 without a proportional increase in turnovers.
Gone are the days in which Butler competes for Defensive Player of the Year as one of his position's true lockdown candidates. He can still fill that role every few games, but he shoulders too much offensive responsibility to have full energy as the stopper each night. Of course, Butler is still an excellent defender. He just needs to show a lot more discipline away from the ball, and the possessions he takes off don't aid his cause.
Butler has one of the three highest rebounder ratings at his position, but he still falls well short of the No. 1 ranked shooting guard. A direct comparison will let you see why he's doomed to lose a point in this category: He creates 0.3 more rebounding chances per game, but he turns those into 0.2 fewer contested and 0.6 fewer uncontested boards than the top-ranked 2-guard.
A balky left knee kept Butler out 15 games. Tendinitis and a sprain prevented him from putting on the uniform in early February, and he wouldn't return until the beginning of March. Shortly after his return, he aggravated the preexisting injury, though his recovery was much shorter that time.
If it seems like the Bulls are still trying to figure out how to use Butler, it's because they are. He doesn't have unlimited energy, and it's been a guessing game as to whether he should exert himself as the unquestioned leader of the offense or as a wing stopper on the other end. Vacillating between the two has made it unclear just how good he can be if he enjoyed a more consistent role, though he's one of the league's better two-way players and can thrive enough either way.
19. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (C)
DeAndre Jordan's minor strides at the stripe helped mitigate the negative impact of his free-throw shooting, but his enduring woes were still damaging. However, they didn't cancel out the benefits of his incredible efficiency, since Jordan once again joined Wilt Chamberlain as one of the only two qualified players in NBA history to shoot at least 70 percent from the field.
The potential for an offensive rebound keeps defenders watching him, as does his propensity for rolling down the lane and finishing with an unstoppable alley-oop jam. But beyond that, Jordan doesn't offer much on offense.
Impressive as Jordan's 2.3 blocks per game may be, he's finally getting better as an all-around defender, recognizing it's better to make the right play rather than the one that will show up in a box score. It's still possible to fool this center around the basket or get the better of him with perimeter dribbling, but his rotations are much sharper at this stage of his career.
Drummond was the only player to average more rebounding opportunities than Jordan's 20.3. Only Drummond and Whiteside topped DJ's 5.1 contested rebounds per game, and he finished ahead of the pack for uncontested boards. He's unquestionably at the top of the class, even if he produced the No. 2 score in our rebounding metric.
Pneumonia and team-mandated rest combined to keep him out of the lineup for only five games—the first time in four seasons Jordan missed a contest.
Without their starting center, the L.A. Clippers were outscored by 4.6 points per 100 possessions. With him on the floor, that net rating jumped all the way to plus-9.1. He was that impactful, given his tremendous defense, astronomical rebounding totals and efficient offense around the hoop.
18. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (C)
Karl-Anthony Towns was only a rookie in 2015-16 and still hasn't celebrated his 21st birthday. He wasn't quite good enough from beyond the arc, hitting only 34.1 percent of his deep attempts, and he relied a bit too much on his teammates' setup passes. But Towns was potent from every other range, had no trouble putting the ball on the floor and showed every tool imaginable en route to winning Rookie of the Year. He's just the eighth qualified first-year player in NBA history to average at least 18 points with a true shooting percentage north of 58 percent.
Towns made too many careless mistakes with the ball, though he showed the vision necessary to make upper-tier feeds when fully focused. The same applies to his floor-spacing ability, since consistency eluded him even as he displayed what will one day make him an elite stretch big.
Although Towns was solid protecting the rim (opponents shot just 49.6 percent against him on 8.9 shots per game) and could hold his own in simple sets, playing NBA defense did force him to endure some growing pains. He had trouble against spot-up shooters and often found himself out of position against roll men, both of which were easy weaknesses for the opposition to exploit.
Credit Towns for giving 100 percent every time a shot went up, but he'll have to learn that not every carom is worth pursuing. Though his ability to rebound in traffic and beat players to spots bodes well for the future, he fell just shy of the efficiency levels necessary to join the six centers who earned all 15 points in this category.
Rookie wall? What rookie wall? Playing in 82 games and logging 32 minutes per contest, Towns posted one of the league's 10 highest total physio loads, per ICE data provided by B/R Insights.
It's admittedly shocking to see Towns listed as the No. 2 center, as the No. 6 big man and among the league's top 20 overall players. But just go watch some tape, because he was legitimately that good. Despite being less than a year removed from playing for John Calipari, Towns excelled in virtually every area and had no distinct weaknesses. After the All-Star break, he was the only NBA player to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists while making more shots than he missed, per Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey.
17. John Wall, Washington Wizards (PG)
Good luck keeping John Wall away from the basket. His tight handles and relentless physicality allow him to seek out the rim in transition and the half court alike. Plus, he's a strong finisher once he gets into the restricted area. Only a shaky jumper holds him back—Wall's 35.1 percent clip from downtown somehow represents substantial improvement.
Wall was one of just three point guards to receive a perfect score as a facilitator, and he only loses points because his off-ball work can be lackluster. Defenders have to respect his cutting ability, but they can stray to help teammates without fear of him as a spot-up shooter.
Using his athleticism and instincts, Wall can become a disruptive force. He's quite adept at providing help defense in thunderous fashion, and his quick rotations can interrupt the opposition's schemes. But Wall still isn't the most disciplined player off the ball, and his gambles often backfire. The actual production doesn't yet live up to the potential.
Wall is pickier about when he goes after rebounds, but he's remarkably good at converting them. Averaging 4.9 rebounds on 7.4 chances, he turned a gaudy 66.2 percent of his chances into actual boards. Perhaps he should think about showing a little more aggressiveness, because he has the tools necessary to be one of the Association's best boarders.
Wall missed the season's final five games when a swollen right knee required surgery to remove calcium deposits, but that was hardly enough to make him lose a durability point. During the 77 contests he did play, he averaged 36.2 minutes and a high physio load for the position.
This point guard was the Washington Wizards in 2015-16, just as has been the case for a few years now. Without him, the team was on the wrong end of a minus-3.9 net rating that jumped to 1.0 when he was on the floor. Wall could stand to be more disciplined on defense and needs to continue improving his jumper, but he's such a deft distributor and incredible athlete that he remains ultra-valuable.
16. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (PG)
Damian Lillard can go through some cold stretches, but he's one of the league's most talented shooters. Only one player in the league—you can guess who—is better at pulling up from beyond the arc and swishing the shot. Lillard knocked down 37.5 percent of his deep looks while taking 8.1 per game and creating more than half of them off the bounce.
No sensible defender would ever leave Lillard free on the perimeter—doing so is a recipe for an automatic three-point swing. Only the point guard's carefree passing held him back here, since he could occasionally get undisciplined with the ball and make unforced mistakes.
Lillard's biggest weakness continues to come on the defensive end, where he often loses focus and conserves his energy for offense. Attacking him in isolation isn't the greatest plan, but involving him in a pick-and-roll set or off the ball is an easy way to score against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Rip City's uptempo play helped create plenty of rebounding chances for the Blazers, but Lillard failed to stand out. He put up solid numbers and didn't hesitate to grab contested boards when those opportunities arose, but he rarely did more than you'd expect from an average 1-guard.
This was Lillard's fourth professional season, and it was the first time he missed a single game. A sore left plantar fascia knocked him out of action as the calender flipped over to 2016, but he'd only sit out of seven contests before recovering. Seventy-five appearances and 35.7 minutes per game is nothing to complain about.
Need a big bucket? Lillard's your guy. Need a defensive stop? You're best looking in someone else's direction. The Portland floor general remains one of the league's best offensive players, but he'll fall just short of the elite point guards until he becomes more of a two-way presence.
15. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs (CB)
LaMarcus Aldridge wasn't allowed to stop the ball and create his own shots nearly as often in the San Antonio Spurs' system as he'd previously done with the Portland Trail Blazers. No problem. He just learned how to thrive as a spot-up shooter and hit a career-best 51.3 percent of his field-goal attempts while constantly working his way to the free-throw stripe. If this is what happened in Year 1, it's terrifying to think of what he can do in this follow-up season.
Aldridge's lackluster passing is the only thing holding him back here, since he was often the odd man out in San Antonio. While most players are capable of whipping the ball around the key and anticipating where their teammates will be, his reaction times are a little slower, thereby allowing the defense to catch up to its assignments and force him into more turnovers.
Setting a new career high in defensive box plus/minus, Aldridge was an integral part of a historically excellent defense. Freed from some of his immense offensive responsibility, he used understated athleticism to hold opponents to 48.4 percent shooting at the rim, and that was still one of his biggest weaknesses. (Perhaps, "worst strengths" would be the more appropriate phrasing.)
The improvements Aldridge made during his last few seasons with the Blazers stuck once he came to San Antonio. Though he didn't spend as much time on the floor and couldn't produce as many gaudy numbers, he did a fantastic job holding his own against bigger players and standing his ground when boxing out opponents.
Aldridge missed time with a sprained left ankle, migraines and back spasms, and he also got to experience the Spurs' strategy of healthy scratches. He still participated in 74 games and wasn't in serious danger of losing a durability point.
Before the All-Star break, Aldridge averaged 17.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists with a 55.4 true shooting percentage. After the midseason festivities, he posted 19.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists per contest with a 58.5 true shooting percentage. It was abundantly clear he was gaining comfort in his new digs, to the point that he became a true featured option in the playoffs.
14. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings (C)
Players with this much skill aren't supposed to be so physically imposing. DeMarcus Cousins is a deadly combination of the two extremes, making it virtually impossible to guard him for multiple possessions. As soon as an opponent settles into a comfort zone, Cousins changes up his methods and restarts the defender's adjustment process. It was only when he fell into the trap of shooting too many triples that he could be stopped.
Cousins is a phenomenal passer, but he can get too careless with the ball. Even still, the Sacramento Kings are comfortable letting him serve as a primary playmaker and allowing him to lead in transition, which results in the occasional triple-double. It's his floor-spacing work that's a bit problematic, since it's in a defense's best interest to turn him into a supposed stretch 5.
Though Cousins has the physical gifts necessary to thrive on defense, he takes too many possessions off and lazily chases spot-up shooters who frequently move around the perimeter. That, along with his lackluster rim protection, sometimes makes him a defensive liability.
Cousins does everything you could ask on the boards. He's impossible to move when he sets his feet, and that allows him to both rack up contested rebounds and convert a high percentage of opportunities. Plus, Cousins realized that grabbing a defensive board allowed him to jump-start a transition attack, so he was even more motivated.
A strained Achilles, strained lower back, sprained left ankle and bruised right knee kept Cousins out of the lineup for a total of 14 contests. But the artist known as "Boogie" also missed three games due to suspensions—one for elbowing Al Horford in the head, one for yelling at head coach George Karl during a timeout and one for receiving his 16th technical foul of the season.
We're still left wondering just how good Cousins could be if he experienced some organizational stability and got his above-the-neck game together, as he did for Team USA during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Now that Joerger has been hired, the center is about to embark with the sixth head coach of his career. (2016-17 will only be his seventh season.) Hopefully, this will be the one who forces him to play to his strengths and stay focused on both ends for the duration.
13. James Harden, Houston Rockets (SG)
It almost doesn't matter that James Harden's shooting percentages declined as he averaged a career-best 29 points for the Houston Rockets. What makes him so dangerous is his ability to earn whistles and finish plays at the free-throw stripe, and he made 10.2 trips per game there while converting 86 percent of his freebies. As a result, he became one of just 13 qualified players in NBA history to average at least 29 points with a true shooting percentage north of 59.
There's zero chance a defender will ever willingly leave Harden open on the perimeter, and most schemes require constant attention to his mere presence. His passing is similarly spectacular, as he routinely challenges for double-digit assists even when carrying such an immense scoring load.
And this is where Harden falls apart. Though he can occasionally make an impact in passing lanes, he's prone to just about every bad habit imaginable—his effort is poor in transition, he often refuses to play help defense, he gets torched in on-ball situations and he doesn't even seem to care. All the criticisms about his one-way play are 100 percent legitimate.
You can't be a nightly triple-double threat without elite rebounding chops. Harden's ability to haul in contested rebounds is astounding for a man who stands just 6'5", and yet it's not even the most impressive part of his work on the boards. Converting 57.5 percent of your opportunities while generating over 10 per game is flat-out insane for any guard.
Harden played all 82 games and led the league in both total minutes (for the second consecutive season) and minutes per game.
Criticize Harden's defense (or lack thereof) all you want—you're perfectly justified in doing so. But so long as you're harping on his flaws, make sure you acknowledge that he's a historically excellent offensive player who can carry a team almost single-handedly. This bearded 2-guard may be a one-way player, but he's still one of the NBA's most valuable contributors.
12. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (CB)
Perhaps his shoulder was never 100 percent, because Anthony Davis struggled to finish around the hoop at the same rate of his first three professional seasons. He still shot 69.7 percent from within three feet, but that was the worst mark of his career and slightly depressed his overall efficiency even as he got more comfortable taking mid-range jumpers and threes. It's not like this young superstar gives us too much to complain about.
The weakest part of Davis' game is his passing, and he recorded more turnovers than assists for the third time in four seasons. The strides he made in 2014-15 were completely gone, replaced by slow instincts and hesitance to feed the ball into small spaces. We know he has the talent to improve in this area—ditto for his jump-shooting—but that hasn't happened yet.
Scoring against Davis around the rim is tough. The lanky forward held opponents to 47.7 percent shooting at the hoop while facing 6.1 shots per game. But if he wasn't helping around the basket, he wasn't quite so elite, especially struggling when defending roll men (39.6 percentile).
Davis is an incredibly consistent force on the glass. Even though he doesn't generate as many chances as some of the league's other elite rebounders, he's unfairly good at converting those. He hauled it in 66 percent of the time when within the vicinity of a rebound, giving him the No. 6 conversion rate among the 94 players who average double-digit rebounding chances.
For the fourth time in four years, Davis failed to break the 70-game threshold. He suited up only 61 games and missed contests with a strained right hip, shoulder injury, bruised back, concussion, right big toe injury and then season-ending injuries to his left knee (which required surgery) and labrum in his left shoulder. It's lucky for him he's so active while on the floor.
Perhaps everyone was a bit too quick to call Davis the next MVP (yours truly included). But it's also hard to hold diminished development against him during a season in which he was constantly injured and trying to carry a New Orleans Pelicans squad that was also devastated by ill health at all times. Davis is still one of the NBA's premier talents and—stop me if this sounds familiar—he should be a big factor in the 2016-17 MVP race.
11. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors (SM)
Few shooters like Klay Thompson have ever graced the NBA. He made 42.5 percent of his triples while taking 8.1 attempts per game in 2015-16—numbers matched only by a fellow Splash Brother throughout league history. The only issue here is his universal dependency on the rest of the Golden State Warriors, since the strength of his teammates frees him up and their passes put him in the right position to succeed. That's not to say Thompson couldn't lead a team in a different situation—just that context hurts him in this metric.
As one of the league's deadliest shooters, Thompson gets a perfect score in off-ball offense. It's his facilitating that's less than perfect, as he experienced some backsliding after progress in 2014-15. He generates plenty of secondary assists in the Dubs' movement-heavy schemes but rarely serves as the initial playmaker.
The best thing about Thompson's defense is his willingness to guard the toughest assignments at multiple positions. He's listed as a swingman here because he spent the vast majority of his time bouncing between shooting guard and small forward, but he was perfectly willing to switch over to a point guard and show off his lockdown ability there.
For the first time in his professional career, Thompson was an above-average rebounder for his position. He's still not great at converting the opportunities he produces, but to his credit, he was willing to box out bigger players and grab tougher boards than ever before.
A sore back and a sprained ankle kept Thompson out for one game apiece, but that was it. The rest of the season, he was on the floor for 33.3 minutes per contest and spent that time in constant motion. His defensive responsibilities and off-ball work on offense ensured an incredible work rate for the position.
There's no longer any doubt Thompson has emerged as one of the league's best two-way players, even if he's a limited facilitator and does the majority of his scoring in an off-ball setting. Few have ever been able to shoot this well, and the list dwindles further when you include this swingman's ability to lock down multiple positions. He wasn't the MVP, but the Warriors wouldn't have hit 73 wins—or come close—without him.
10. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks (PF)
Paul Millsap is capable of creating his own looks from anywhere on the court and can destroy a defense with a veritable arsenal of moves. Whether he's knocking down jumpers, using a devastating pump fake and driving to the hoop or working away from the primary action, he scores in just about every conceivable way. Were it not for a surprisingly shaky perimeter stroke, he'd have a chance to establish himself as one of the NBA's best scorers.
Millsap's passing earns a perfect score in the facilitating subsection, as he kept the ball moving in the Atlanta Hawks' pass-heavy schemes without turning it over too often. Especially when you include his 0.7 secondary assists per game (the third-most of any power forward analyzed for NBA 200), he was unquestionably elite. His floor-spacing ability, however, wasn't quite up to the same standard during a season in which he shot just 31.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Although he wasn't a top-tier rim protector (allowing 49.2 percent shooting at the hoop), Millsap could do everything at an above-average level on defense. His versatility and quick hands helped the Hawks force action toward the painted area—because he could trap them and prevent easy outlet passes. Without his ability to guard opponents on the interior and perimeter, Atlanta couldn't have functioned at such a high level.
Millsap's long arms and the springs in his legs have always helped overcome his lack of height for the position (6'8"), but this was his best season yet as a rebounding force. Though his conversion rate couldn't stack up against the best of the bunch, his ceaseless effort and ability to successfully pull down boards in traffic helped him stand out more than most.
After playing 81 games, Millsap's durability shouldn't be questioned. According to ICE data provided by B/R Insights, only Drummond, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris and Paul George finished with higher total physio loads.
Millsap was the Hawks. His play represented everything that helped this team remain near the top of the Eastern Conference, whether by his diverse offensive contributions featuring skill and ball movement or his defensive versatility that helped anchor unique schemes. There's no telling whether he'll be able to maintain this level of play during his age-31 season, but he was a top-10 player in 2015-16.
9. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (PG)
Chris Paul's incredible efficiency remained in 2015-16: Despite creating 88.5 percent of his looks from inside the arc and 66.4 percent of his triples, Paul shot 46.2 percent from the field, 37.1 percent from downtown and 89.6 percent from the charity stripe. It's only his willingness to function as a pass-first player that prevents him from earning a perfect score.
If Paul isn't the perfect offensive option, he's close to it. Defenses have to respect his spot-up ability and craftiness off the ball, and yet they'd still prefer he's without possession. For the third season in a row, Paul averaged double-digit dimes without turning the ball over more than 2.6 times per game—a feat only two others have ever achieved even once throughout NBA history.
When it comes to off-ball defense, Paul falls just shy of excellent. He's prone to cheating too far from his man, seeking out opportunities for steals. He then gets caught up in screens away from the rock a bit too often. But his on-ball work is superior to that of most every NBA floor general, especially when opponents make the mistake of challenging him in isolation.
Paul is masterful at reading caroms before they occur and beats everyone to the right spot, thereby earning a transition opportunity with no outlet pass needed. But he shies away from contested boards, preferring to conserve his energy for areas in which he's more valuable.
A sore right groin plagued him during the season's opening month, then inflamed rib cartilage held Paul back later on. His campaign ended prematurely with a fractured right hand in the playoffs, but that only happened after he'd logged 74 appearances and continued to showcase better-than-before durability.
Paul is no longer the gold standard at point guard, but he's not far off. He has no true weaknesses—those pesky off-ball screens notwithstanding—and his leadership helps propel the Los Angeles Clippers to success in the face of unforeseen hardships. If any young floor general wants to watch a master at the craft, he/she should study tape of Paul's utter control of an offense, constant hesitation moves and eye fakes.
8. Paul George, Indiana Pacers (CF)
Paul George couldn't maintain sterling percentages while he averaged a career-best 23.1 points, but his ability to get to the free-throw line and convert at an 86 percent clip allowed him to retain impressive efficiency levels. George still struggles to knock down mid-range attempts, but that is nearly negated by shot-creating prowess and the volume of his contributions.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Those are one of George's few offensive flaws, since he averaged 3.4 per 36 minutes despite not filling the role of a traditional playmaker. He's capable of playing like a point forward, but he forces the Indiana Pacers to live with plenty of mental mistakes when he grows too aggressive.
The most detrimental part of George's defense came while at power forward and left as the last line of defense. The 6'9" combo forward allowed opponents to shoot 54 percent in that scenario, 2.9 times per game at the hoop.
George has always been a strong rebounder, and last season was no different. Though he could occasionally be overaggressive and challenge those clearly in a superior position, his desire often paid off, resulting in more chances per game than any other qualifying combo forward.
The concerns over George's horrifically broken leg are now firmly rooted in the past. Not only did he play 81 games, missing just one to recover from a lower leg bruise, but he also spent 34.8 minutes per contest on the floor. In no time at all, he went from staving off injury concerns to finishing in the top 10 for total minutes played.
No matter where the Pacers played George, he was excellent. Early in the year (read: prior to Myles Turner's development into a rotation big), he spent more time at the 4 and tortured bigger players with his quickness and shot-creating ability from the perimeter. Late in the season, he slid back to his natural 3 spot and thrived as a ball-hounding defender who could run the show as a dual-threat option on offense. It all worked.
7. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors (PG)
Kyle Lowry can struggle with his mid-range jumper, but his finishing ability and knack for peppering a defense with perimeter shots more than makes up for shortcomings. This Toronto Raptors point guard is constantly on the hunt for buckets, and he's not afraid to use his physicality and improved physique to drive into the teeth of a defense, where he can either complete the play or draw a whistle. Never before has he been so adept at working his way to the free-throw stripe.
Lowry's passing is problematic, as every defender knows not to leave him open on the perimeter. He's careful with the ball and rarely makes mistakes when he facilitates, but he's a bit too hesitant looking for teammates when he focuses on driving toward the hoop. This is a minor flaw but enough to keep him from perfection compared to the league's other premier point guards.
Virtually unbeatable in on-ball situations, Lowry knows how to leverage his frame and physicality into point-preventing prowess. He finished in the 87.5 percentile against isolation sets and the 72.6 percentile when guarding pick-and-roll ball-handlers. Throw in a willingness to sacrifice his body when providing timely help, and you have an elite defender—so long as he's not assigned to covering spot-up shooters away from the ball.
It's the quality, not the quantity: Lowry averaged "only" 4.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, but he constantly put himself in position to contribute and was one of just nine true 1-guards to haul in at least a contested board per outing while suiting up no fewer than 40 times.
Lowry played 77 games, only missing time to let his sore right elbow heal or when head coach Dwane Casey decided he needed some extra rest. When active, he was a constant presence on the floor, and his physicality made him one of the league's most durable guards.
The world has seen Lowry start strong before, only to fade away as the wear and tear of an NBA season takes its toll. That wasn't the case in 2015-16, as a svelte version of the point guard used his newfound quickness and extra durability to thrive on both ends. His annual playoff decline can't count against him for this exercise, so he was one of the NBA's 10 best regular-season players.
6. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (PF)
It's tough to complain about your power forward scoring 14.0 points per game while shooting 49.0 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from beyond the arc. Draymond Green was by no means perfect—not without scoring in greater volume or creating more of his shots—but his ability to thrive as a non-featured option helped push the Golden State Warriors to a record-setting 73 wins.
According to ICE data provided by B/R Insights, Green finished No. 80 in combined effective field-goal percentage on spot-up shots and gravitational pull, which puts him in impressive company. That doesn't even factor in his screen-setting habits, which certainly aid his off-ball offense. His passing was beyond reproach and gave him a score in our facilitating metric more than twice the mark earned by any other big man.
Green forced plenty of turnovers, thrived when switching on screens against any type of player and protected the rim with aplomb. He was a strong Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and you could make a serious argument that he should've prevented Kawhi Leonard from winning the award two seasons in a row. It's no fluke the Dubs allowed 11.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with this starter on the floor.
Kenneth Faried was the only power forward to post a higher score in our rebounding metric. The data loved Green's relentless efforts to get around bigger players and hold his positioning when he began in the better spot, and it didn't overlook him converting 62.9 percent of his chances.
Green played 81 games during the 2015-16 campaign, only sitting out for rest purposes. His massive role, omnipresent nature in the lineup and permanent physicality left no doubt he was one of the NBA's most durable players.
Curry may have pushed the Warriors to astronomical heights, but it was Green who gave Golden State its identity. His all-around defensive excellence set the tone on the less glamorous end, and his offensive skill keyed so much of what the Dubs were capable of doing. Not only did he serve as a spot-up safety valve, but his playmaking ability made it impossible to double-team guards without him picking the remaining defenders apart via an extra-man advantage.
5. Kevin Durant (SF)
If you went into a lab to engineer a player who could score more effectively than Kevin Durant, your ideal model would probably be an inferior version. Durant has every tool imaginable, given his size (6'9", 240 lbs), strength, speed, instincts and skill. He's a matchup nightmare for any defender, and he nearly joined the 50/40/90 club again while averaging 28.2 points and creating much of his own offense.
Durant's perfection doesn't end with scoring. The mere threat of him on the wings is enough to alter a defensive scheme, and ICE data provided by B/R Insights indicates his combined spot-up effective field-goal percentage and gravitational pull were greater than nearly every other player's. As if that's not enough, he's blossomed into a phenomenal playmaker who always puts teammates in advantageous positions. No combo forward had a higher score in our facilitating metric.
With his lanky arms and inhuman quickness, Durant has the tools to serve as a disruptive defensive force. He can occasionally show lackluster effort levels as he conserves energy for offensive exploits, but he's an above-average player in every situation tracked by SportVU: in isolation, against pick-and-roll ball-handlers, roll men, post-ups, spot-up shooters, hand-offs and players coming off screens.
Durant was already a tremendous rebounder, yet he upped his game by averaging a career-best 8.2 boards. Though he benefited from playing for an Oklahoma City Thunder squad that created the most rebounding chances throughout the NBA, he was one of the best at converting his own opportunities. Durant produced 11.3 chances per game and converted a staggering 72.6 percent.
Even though he entered the season with legitimate concerns about the long-term health of his troublesome foot, Durant played 72 games while filling a huge role for OKC. Better still, it wasn't even his foot that kept him out of the lineup. That job belonged to a strained left hamstring and sprained right big toe.
Given how good Durant was in 2015-16, it's staggering that four players finished ahead in the MVP voting, including one of his own ex-teammates (Russell Westbrook). We didn't hold that against a guy fighting to acquit himself of an injury that's proved so devastating to players with Durant's size. He re-asserted himself as one of the NBA's deadliest offensive threats while providing across-the-board contributions, which no doubt has his new Golden State Warriors rather excited.
4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (PG)
Good luck stopping Russell Westbrook. Despite his unreliable perimeter jumper, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is a true scoring force. No one can keep him from getting to the basket in transition—or the half-court set, for that matter—and his ability to rack up free throws is the cherry on top. Only four players produced better finishes in our scoring metric, and our top-ranked guard was the lone player to do so at the 1.
Off the ball, it's a mixed bag for Westbrook—he's a poor spot-up shooter, but his athleticism still commands a high gravity score, per ICE data provided by B/R Insights. It's his passing that truly stands out after averaging 10.4 assists without seeing his turnovers spike.
Westbrook thrives in every situation but one. He knows how athletic he is, and that leads to unnecessary gambles when guarding an off-ball assignment. Sometimes, his risks lead to easy buckets in transition, but they also prevent him from excelling against spot-up shooters. Finishing in the 8.9 percentile there is a huge negative, especially when those possessions accounted for 22.6 percent of his defensive work.
Apparently, Westbrook is a subscriber to the idea that if he collects a defensive rebound, he can jump-start a transition opportunity with his jets rather than waiting for a slower outlet pass. He does everything you could want on the glass—attacking constantly, converting a high percentage of his opportunities and pulling down boards in spite of pressure from nearby players.
Mortal things like injuries admittedly have hampered Westbrook the last few seasons, but he suited up 80 games during the 2015-16 campaign, only missing time for rest down the stretch.
Almost any other year, Westbrook would've been an MVP front-runner. According to NBA Math's total points added, the combination of his positive defense and unstoppable offense (both scoring and distributing) gave him the No. 32 individual season since 1974. But it wasn't even enough to finish at the top of his position, given the ridiculous nature of our No. 1 floor general's campaign.
3. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (SF)
Remember when Kawhi Leonard's biggest weakness coming out of San Diego State was "lack of shooting ability"? So much for that. In his fifth professional season, he averaged 21.2 points on 50.6 percent from the field, 44.3 percent from downtown and 87.4 percent at the stripe. He's now on the verge of joining the most exclusive club (50/40/90) while posting gaudy scoring totals.
Leonard has developed into a fearsome off-ball threat, but his facilitating isn't quite up to that same standard. The San Antonio Spurs don't use him as a primary playmaker, instead letting his assists stem from the ball-sharing system Gregg Popovich has fine-tuned over the years.
Even though the award is traditionally reserved for big men, Leonard has now won Defensive Player of the Year during each of the last two seasons. He's as close as it gets in a league where no player is a perfect defender against NBA-caliber wings.
A 6'7" small forward with upper-tier hops is a huge advantage. So too is having hands so large you could palm a beach ball. If a rebound is in Leonard's vicinity, he's going to come down with it, no matter how many inferior players get their smaller mitts on the leather.
Leonard played 72 games, missing time to recover from an upper respiratory infection, gastroenteritis, tightness in his left calf and a bruised right quadriceps. When healthy, he played so many minutes and was active enough that he still finished in the top 20 for total physio load, per ICE data provided by B/R Insights.
Tim Duncan retires, and San Antonio replaces the future Hall of Famer with a player on a trajectory toward Springfield. Leonard is already that good, winning Defensive Player of the Year while becoming one of the league's most dangerous offensive presences. According to NBA Math's total points added, he added 386.04 points to the cause—the No. 6 score in 2015-16, as well as a total that beats out all but two of the single-season scores produced during Duncan's legendary career.
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (SF)
LeBron James had trouble scoring outside the paint, hampered by an ineffective jumper and defenses that did everything possible to keep him from the rim. It still didn't matter. His overwhelming physicality allowed him to work into the restricted area, seemingly at will and to the point he still averaged 25.3 points with a true shooting percentage of 58.8 percent—numbers only 25 other qualified players have matched throughout the Association's history.
Even though his assist totals don't match the league leaders, James may be the NBA's best passer. His ability to make cross-court feeds and hit his targets perfectly while barreling to the basket at full speed is unsurpassed. Unfortunately for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the same can't be said about his floor-spacing acumen. According to ICE data provided by B/R Insights, he finished behind 255 players in combined effective field-goal percentage on spot-up shots and gravitational pull.
After allowing for a bit of defensive slack the last few years, James played like he was on a mission in 2015-16. He thrived in every set imaginable, though he did still take a few possessions off to recover and prepare for his typically immense offensive burden. Perhaps most impressive is that he finished in the 87th percentile when guarding spot-up shooters—an area that high-usage players often struggle in because close-outs require so much effort.
James pulling down a defensive rebound and then jump-starting a fast-break opportunity, sans outlet feed, is a pretty common sight in Northeast Ohio. So too is him bursting to the basket for a second-chance opportunity. Along with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gay and P.J. Tucker, he was one of four players to qualify as a small forward and record over two contested boards per game.
Remember when the world was fretting over the health of James' back? So much for that. He missed only six games in 2015-16, and his absences stemmed solely from maintenance-related rest rather than any specific injuries.
When James leaves it all on the court, as he did while steering the Cavaliers to their historic come-from-behind NBA title, there's no one better. Even when he's pacing himself during the regular season, he's a once-in-a-lifetime presence. This forward simply does everything well, with the lone exception of perimeter shooting. And though that's such a key part of modern offense, it almost doesn't matter for a player who can get to the rim at will during and beyond his age-31 season.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (PG)
Averaging a league-best 30.1 points per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the field, 45.4 percent from downtown and an NBA-leading 90.8 percent from the charity stripe? Shattering his own three-point record by making an additional 116 treys? Hitting 69.6 percent of his shots from inside three feet? Needing assists on just 37.2 percent of his twos and 54.7 percent of his threes? Stephen Curry's scoring was as close to perfect as possible perfect.
Per ICE data provided by B/R Insights, Troy Daniels, Jeff Teague and Seth Curry were the only players to produce higher effective field-goal percentages in spot-up situations while taking at least 20 attempts. Carmelo Anthony was the lone man to have a higher gravity score, and that was primarily due to a weak supporting cast. Curry only loses points for an unfortunate habit of throwing careless, unnecessarily fancy passes, since he had a few too many unforced turnovers.
Curry will never be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but he was one of the league's best defensive point guards in 2015-16. You might have been conditioned to believe otherwise via clips of him getting beat in isolation—where almost every 1-guard struggles—but his quick hands, strong core and knack for forcing his assignment into the right spot helped immensely.
Continuing to show an impressive eye for angles, Curry often beats everyone to the location of a carom and quickly hauls it in. But he's also not afraid to mix it up on the interior and can use that strengthened core to box out far bigger players. He's so much stronger than he looks, and the boards are one of his primary places to show it.
It wasn't until the playoffs that we saw the first cracks emerge in Curry's newfound invincibility. He played 79 games during the regular season while maintaining an incredible physio load and only missed time with a bruised lower left leg and tweaked left ankle.
Curry was the clear-cut MVP, even becoming the first player in NBA history to win the award unanimously. Setting three-point records, he redefined what the league viewed as quality offense, asserted himself as the world's best point guard and steered his Golden State Warriors to a best-ever 73rd win. Some regression can be expected going forward, but then again, do we really want to doubt Curry at this point?