B/R's Top 100 NBA Players Entering the 2018-19 Season

Dan Favale and Adam FromalFeatured Columnist IOctober 15, 2018

B/R's Top 100 NBA Players Entering the 2018-19 Season

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    After endless follow-up texts, emails, phone calls and WhatsApp messages, we're happy to report that we have scooped NBA breaking-news superstar Damian Lillard. Per multiple sources close to the situation, our ranking of the league's top 100 players has arrived.

    Should you be looking to feel angry or personally attacked before jumping into our ultra-official pecking order, please consider revisiting all the lead-up installments of the NBA 100 series:

    Try to avoid placing too much stock in position designations. Specific labels are now a gray area. We get it. Our classifications have come from depth-chart interpretations and with (major) support from Cleaning the Glass' possession data. They have no impact on where someone stands within this triple-digit hierarchy; they're purely for the purpose of identification.

    Players are once again being evaluated as if we're trying to acquire them for the entire 2018-19 season. Predictive notions—forecasted leaps, regressions, fits with new teams and new running mates, etc.—are going to be a thing.

    To account for projected sample sizes, anyone at risk of remaining on the bench until Jan. 1 or later has been removed from the playing field. DeMarcus Cousins and Kristaps Porzingis, among others, need to know that they are loved and that they matter. They're just not up for consideration here.

    Note: The text for most players is taken from position rankings, some of which has been edited for length and context. 

We Need to Mention...

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    Jarrett Allen, C, Brooklyn Nets

    Jarrett Allen is potentially what happens when you give Clint Capela extra back-to-the-basket footwork and a corner three-pointer. Keeping him outside the top 100 was a labor of conservation. He needs to show a little more oomph on the defensive glass and refine all the offensive tools we're definitely maybe sure are for real.

             

    Carmelo Anthony, PF, Houston Rockets

    Carmelo Anthony has a path back to the top 100: Ditch any urge to go it alone on offense, gorge on wide-open spot-up threes and establish himself as an eager screen-and-roller who perhaps steals some minutes as a small-ball 5.

    Houston is almost assuredly the place for him to perfect this tactical U-turn, but his incomplete transmutation with the Oklahoma City Thunder saddles him with the burden of proof. He must successfully remodel his game first and earn the acclaim for it later.

             

    Wendell Carter Jr., C, Chicago Bulls

    It's December. Robin Lopez is still getting minutes. Jabari Parker has flopped at the 3, and his minutes are trickling into the power forward carousel. Wendell Carter Jr. is playing well, but not enough. Fans and pundits are calling for more of the do-a-little-of-everything big man. Cristiano Felicio thinks they're referring to him.

    Carter gets more minutes as the year wears on, continuing to impress, but never receives the court time necessary to infringe upon the Rookie of the Year conversation. Chicago finishes the year on brand, its future both brightened and beclouded by an underutilized stud.

    Sound about right?

             

    Dewayne Dedmon, C, Atlanta Hawks

    A lanky center who uses reach over power to secure defensive boards, has the mobility to hang in space and just shot 35.5 percent on 3.3 three-point attempts per 36 minutes? What's not to love? Atlanta's timeline.

    Dewayne Dedmon would get more applause under different circumstances. He helps the Hawks win. They're trying to lose. He enters 2018-19 as trade bait whose expansive usefulness will be obfuscated by an overt tank destined to spend more time grooming John Collins, Omari Spellman and maybe even Alex Len.

            

    Spencer Dinwiddie, PG, Brooklyn Nets

    Spencer Dinwiddie is, fundamentally, the Nets' best guard—and perhaps their best player. He complements nifty change-of-pace half-court handles with custodial vision, and his 6'6" frame stands up to some wings. James Harden and Chris Paul were the only other players last season who surpassed 15 points, eight assists, one steal and two three-point makes per 36 minutes.

    Dinwiddie needs to up his profile as a shooter and finisher around the rim. His three-point clip fell below league average amid more volume, he converted under 58 percent of his looks inside three feet and he's not yet a full-service pull-up threat. He'll wedge his way into this top-100 discourse if and when he finds his go-to footing.

            

    De'Aaron Fox, PG, Sacramento Kings

    De'Aaron Fox has the tools to make a meteoric rise. His initial burst is difficult to plan around, and he looked more at home last season when finishing in traffic than fellow rookie floor generals Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr.

    That Fox didn't shy away from his pull-up jumper or shrink in crunch-time minutes bodes well for the Kings. They can worry about his overall efficiency later. His dearth of hesitance is the more important harbinger for now. Here's hoping Sacramento gives him a longer leash despite adding Yogi Ferrell.

            

    Serge Ibaka, PF, Toronto Raptors

    Serge Ibaka is officially out of place at power forward. The Raptors have the flexibility to give him more time at the 5 after trading Jakob Poeltl, but the arrival of Greg Monroe suggests they're not committed to making him a full-time 5. And if they're going to field five-out lineups, Pascal Siakam is the more interesting man in the middle.

    It doesn't necessarily matter where Ibaka plays. He's been a non-elite at the defensive end for years. That won't change. He doesn't have the side-to-side portability incumbent of post-modern bigs. He's now mostly a conventional frontcourt floor spacer. That's fine. Teams need shooting up front. But he drilled just 33.5 percent of his spot-up triples after Jan. 1—which, despite a late-season uptick, begs the question of whether that will be the next part of his game to incur decline.

             

    Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Memphis Grizzlies

    Jaren Jackson Jr. would be Rookie of the Year material if the Grizzlies were prioritizing development over Western Conference survival. They're not.

    Memphis is very much still Mike Conley and Marc Gasol's show. It remains to be seen how much playing time and offensive freedom Jackson will receive from the jump. The opportunity he deserves may not be available unless the Grizzlies drop outside the playoff picture.

            

    Josh Jackson, SF, Phoenix Suns

    From Jan. 1 on, with the Suns in full tank mode, Josh Jackson averaged 17.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 steals. They relied on him even more after Devin Booker was shut down, during which time he gained an invaluable feel for half-court orchestration.

    Where Jackson finishes 2018-19 largely depends on whether he can improve his three-point and foul-line clips while surviving defensively against bigger wings.

               

    James Johnson, PF, Miami Heat

    Do-it-all big men like James Johnson have become necessities. Miami's offense leans on him as a pseudo-guard in the half-court, and he is a defensive locomotive. But his performance last season was laced with regression, and he isn't getting any younger.

    Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk open the door for a role reduction even if Hassan Whiteside earns extra time on the pine. Johnson's mismatchy-ness is also capped by a shaky outside stroke. He hit a respectable 42.9 percent of his mid-range looks last season but remains a three-point wild card and below-average pull-up shooter.

             

    Zach LaVine, SG, Chicago Bulls

    Zach LaVine's offensive pluck merits more than a snippet of respect. Recovery from a torn ACL and tendinitis in his left knee remove the certainty from his above-the-rim barrages, but he doesn't totally need them. He is Jamal Crawford-esque in his self-aplomb, both to his detriment and gain.

    Tough shots are LaVine's stasis. Pull-up jumpers have accounted for more than 40 percent of his attempts in each of his first four seasons. The readiness with which he carries himself off the dribble countermands the sub-ordinary efficiency he posts on those looks, while a trustworthy clip off the catch allows him to fork over control of the offense to ball-dominant partners.

    That composite comfort bears real value to the Bulls. They need someone to shoulder late-game shot creation but who won't entirely disappear as Carter, Parker and Lauri Markkanen increase their volume. Though LaVine fits the description to a large extent, complete mastery of this role requires defensive and playmaking help he has yet to contribute.

              

    Dejounte Murray, PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Dejounte Murray is only off this list because he tore his right ACL. Unlike DeMarcus Cousins and Kristaps Porzingis, his setback came late in the process, just before this pecking order went live. He had already made the cut as one of the league's top 15 point guards and flirted with top-60 status on this ladder.

              

    Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas Mavericks

    No superstar in recent memory has done a better job than Dirk Nowitzki of segueing from superstar lifeline to prominent accessory. His transition into his twilight may be the best-ever of its kind.

    Binging on standalone threes ensures the Mavericks have no problems when both catering to the youth and transferring a share of the offense to Harrison Barnes. Nowitzki is probably best suited at the 5, but Dallas is calculated with his minutes at the 4. Running him next to mobile bigs like Dwight Powell and, now, DeAndre Jordan permits a modicum of defensive survival.

    In the end, though, Nowitzki is a 40-year-old on his final leg. He doesn't offer much resistance on defense beyond his rebounding, and the Mavericks' evolving food chain, which must now incorporate Luka Doncic, will continue to erode his volume.

              

    Jabari Parker, SF, Chicago Bulls

    Parker would have a stronger case if the Bulls weren't obligated to slot him at small forward—not an airtight one. He has polished off his three-point touch, and the 20.1 points per game he averaged in 2016-17 suggest he has the armory to be the lifeblood of an offense. But his availability remains a problem.

    Two ACL injuries are too steep for an anecdotal omission. Parker has missed fewer than 30 regular-season games just once in four seasons. Combine that with near-nonexistent evidence of his capacity to play anywhere other than power forward, including at center, and the wait for him to crack a top-100 ladder persists.

              

    Terry Rozier, PG, Boston Celtics

    Awarding Terry Rozier more than a cursory nod places too much weight on last season's stretch-run surge. He averaged 14.7 points and 5.0 assists while hitting 37 percent of his threes after Kyrie Irving left the rotation to address his knee injury, but he shot just 36.5 percent overall and only slightly moved Boston's offensive needle.

    It was the same story in the playoffs. Rozier barely shot 40 percent from the floor, and his outside accuracy dipped. He had his moments—just ask Eric Bledsoe—but the Celtics gradually became more dependent on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

    Don't get this twisted: Rozier may have that it factor. But his admittance is borderline even without Irving, Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward to slice into his playing time and usage. Coexisting with all three of them sets the stage for a regressive encore to 2017-18.

            

    Pascal Siakam, PF, Toronto Raptors

    Siakam is fixing to join the next wave of indispensable small-ball 5s. His passing and defensive rotations are ahead of schedule, and an average presence on the glass has not prevented him from anchoring stingy lineups at center. Toronto allowed under 96 points per 100 possessions whenever the 6'9" Siakam manned the middle last season, according to Cleaning the Glass.

              

    Andre Roberson, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Andre Roberson initially finished inside the top 100, but he's expected to miss an additional two months after encountering complications during his recovery from left knee surgery. He also toed the line of exclusion beforehand. Defensive specialists who cannot shoot are only so valuable when they're playing half-season segments.

    But Roberson isn't just another niche stopper. He is a shoo-in for All-Defense honors and Defensive Player of the Year hopeful at full strength. He mainly traffics in backcourt asphyxiation, but he's the player the Thunder call upon to badger, sometimes torment, the Giannis Antetokounmpos and Kevin Durants.

              

    Andrew Wiggins, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Untapped potential no longer earns Andrew Wiggins the benefit of the doubt. He's still just 23, but he's entering Year 5. The unknown and unfinished are now warning signs.

    Minnesota's uninventive offense is partially responsible for Wiggins' stunted progress. Coach-president Tom Thibodeau bottlenecked the chain of command by acquiring Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague last summer, and the Timberwolves don't manufacture enough off-ball movement among non-bigs to sufficiently involve everyone.

    But Wiggins is not a blameless party. His efficiency on spot-ups and pull-ups declined from 2016-17 to 2017-18 despite assuming a simpler role, and he's made next to no headway at the defensive end. 

             

    Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks

    Trae Young is the ultimate coin toss. His slight 6'2" build could instantly become an issue. His yo-yo shot-making could be thwarted by NBA defenses. Atlanta could suffer pangs of regret for passing on Doncic. That could all happen. Young could also thrive amid NBA spacing.

    Merely launching off-the-dribble missiles provides value, and cleaner lanes play into his wildly underrated passing ability. Coupled with the carte-blanche volume the Hawks will bestow upon him, Young should not be written out of the Rookie of the Year race and the top-100 status that honor usually guarantees.

            

    Cody Zeller, C, Charlotte Hornets

    Dirty-work superheroes are always underappreciated. Steven Adams is the player who comes closest to bucking the trend, and even he's short on recognition.

    Cody Zeller falls into identical territory. He works his butt off to set screens and purposefully rove around the defensive end. His rebounding numbers are unspectacular, but he mimes Robin Lopez's commitment to boxing out opponents for the benefit of his teammates. Zeller even promises a basic amount of spacing; he shoots enough long twos to decongest the paint and register as a pick-and-pop partner.

100-96: Collins, Thomas, Beverley, Redick, Smith

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    100. John Collins, PF, Atlanta Hawks

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 21

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.1 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 18.3 player efficiency rating (PER), 62.15 total points added (TPA), minus-0.49 real-plus minus (RPM)

    John Collins is not the fringe top-100 talent his inexperience might infer. This nod could be a year early for the sophomore trampoline but is not an unfounded swing.

    Contextualizing the performance of young players on bad teams is always maddening. And the Hawks are going to be baaad. But Collins' game is not subject to artificial inflation, mostly because he's not counting-stats dependent. He's a mover and shaker. He crashes the glass hard, susses out spots as directed on offense and moves around enough at the defensive end to buy into his development.

    Atlanta needs to see whether Collins can widen his offensive wheelhouse to include more complicated footwork on drives and maybe a baby pull-up or floater. It won't be the end of the world if he can't. It's more important that his corner-three marksmanship holds, and that his defensive activity enables him to be viewed as a combo big rather than a stigmatized tweener.

              

    99. Isaiah Thomas, PG, Denver Nuggets

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 29

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 2.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 12.6 PER, minus-91.90 TPA, minus-4.23 RPM

    Isaiah Thomas will never recoup the stardom he has lost between 2016-17 and now. But he can still be a mega-impactful player if his hip is at more than 75 percent. 

    Fitting in with the Nuggets will be a process. Coming off the bench gives him the chance to mirror featured alpha activity, but he will be displaced whenever he gets to run with the starters—specifically Nikola Jokic.

    Undersized off-ball options are rarely right as rain. Most are unaccustomed to the job description. They've deleveraged their smaller stature by controlling the offense from its point of origin. Thomas has more experience in dual-purpose waters than most pound-for-pound workhards thanks to his time with the Boston Celtics. It just didn't show during his brief stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers.

    Over 20 percent of Thomas' looks came as catch-and-fire threes in 2016-17, on which he shot 41.2 percent. He also finished in the 80th percentile of efficiency on cuts amid not-insubstantial exposure. His stock retains its boom-or-bust turbulence, but if he's healthy, Denver could have a veritable Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

               

    98. Patrick Beverley, PG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 30

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 12.3 PER, 4.12 TPA, minus-1.12 RPM

    Patrick Beverley would have returned from November microfracture surgery on his right knee before the end of last season if it were up to him. He is the player who will run through a brick wall (and an All-NBA point guard or five) whether his team is down by five or ahead by 50.

    Playing within the Clippers' backcourt pileup on the heels of major surgery alters how we interpret this fight. His ability to fit beside ball-dominant attackers remains one of his best qualities. But the Clippers are combing through younger projects (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Tyrone Wallace) and may show larger affinities for Avery Bradley, Milos Teodosic and Lou Williams.

    Beverley will make the most of whatever spin he's given—or whichever situation he's traded into. Asking him to pilot the half-court offense for longer stretches pushes the bill too far, but he remains a spot-up wiz and will revel in the toughest defensive assignments until both his legs fall off.

              

    97. JJ Redick, SG, Philadelphia 76ers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 34

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.9 PER, 0.00 TPA, 0.55 RPM

    JJ Redick is among the hardest players to place.

    Knockdown shooters who move like pinballs in the half-court are essential to a team's floor balance—especially when they deed over the offense to a non-shooting point guard like Ben Simmons. Few players are more gifted in this vein than Redick. 

    But the grounds for a better spot are steep. Redick is more than minimally dependent on offensive primaries to streamline his output, and a move to Philly's bench could corrode the impact he has on the overall offensive product.

             

    96. Dennis Smith Jr., PG, Dallas Mavericks

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 20

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 rebounds

    Advanced Metrics: 12.8 PER, minus-89.78 TPA, minus-3.09 RPM

    Rookies need to be forgiven for general inefficiency. Dennis Smith Jr. is no different. He carried an almost unprecedented workload for the Mavericks last season. Only six other first-year players have ever matched his usage. Neither he nor Dallas should be fazed by his ugly shooting percentages.

    Sophomore shortcomings are similarly easy to overlook. But the Mavericks need to see him wield a steadier hand. His accuracy around the basket perked up down the stretch, but his free-throw and three-point shooting never stabilized.

    Among the 57 rookies who have ever posted a usage rate of at least 25, Smith's true shooting percentage ranks 54th. DeMarcus Cousins (46th), LeBron James (45th), Kemba Walker (56th) and Russell Westbrook (44th) all finished outside the top 40, so Smith is not doomed. He still has that superstar quality. And again: His baptism-by-fire was atypical. But his progression is worth a note relative to that workload.

95-91: Ariza, Gordon, Anderson, Lopez, Kuzma

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    95. Trevor Ariza, SF, Phoenix Suns

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 33

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 11.8 PER, 69.21 TPA, 1.66 RPM

    Jumping from Houston to Phoenix jeopardizes Trevor Ariza's value at both sides of the court. Playing time shouldn't be an issue—at least not right away. The Suns are trying to win. But they don't supply him with as many strategic luxuries.

    Open and wide-open threes made up more than 60 percent of Ariza's field-goal attempts last season. He's joining a Phoenix offense that finished middle-of-the-road in uncontested frequency and that didn't make enough threes, period. He will be somewhat responsible for reworking their shot profile without having James Harden or Chris Paul to feed him.

    And whereas the Rockets had the personnel to cap Ariza's time on the most prolific defensive assignments, the Suns do not. Mikal Bridges is a rookie, and Josh Jackson struggled to match up with bigger wings last year. The toughest tasks will fall to Ariza. Expect his stock to bend in the face of responsibility that belies his age.

             

    94. Eric Gordon, SG, Houston Rockets

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 29

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.2 PER, minus-43.80 TPA, 1.99 RPM

    Eric Gordon is important to what the Rockets do—now more than ever after the departure of Ryan Anderson.

    His parking-lot range is a virtue. Only Damian Lillard canned more shots from 27 feet and beyond last season. Gordon doesn't actually have to shoot anymore. Defenses need to account for his position and an off-the-dribble gust he didn't have in New Orleans.

    Take Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Knight off the Rockets roster, and Gordon skates deeper into the top 100. But he is most valued for his offensive volume, which has, for the time being, been compromised by Houston's offseason additions.

              

    93. Kyle Anderson, SF, Memphis Grizzlies

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 25

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 7.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.9 PER, 156.60 TPA, 3.12 RPM

    Ben Golliver recently rated Kyle Anderson as the league's 88th-best player in SI.com's top-100 ranking. He noted that the forward has "developed workarounds" to make up for his biggest weakness—the long ball. 

    Our view on Anderson is slightly harsher, if only because the fit in Memphis isn't perfect. He'll have a harder time overcoming his jump-shooting wrinkles in certain lineups. The Grizzlies have implanted some additional spacers into their rotation, but the court will contract if most of Dillon Brooks, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, JaMychal Green and Jaren Jackson Jr. aren't downing threes at above-average clips.

    Anderson will stick in the top 100 if Memphis' offense flatlines. He taps into his length that effectively on the defensive end, and the departure of Tyreke Evans demands someone pad their assist totals as a tertiary playmaker.

                  

    92. Brook Lopez, C, Milwaukee Bucks

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 30

    2017-18 Per-Game: 13.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.4 PER, 18.13 TPA, 0.29 RPM

    The Bucks desperately need a certified pick-and-pop option at the 5. Brook Lopez will stretch defenses for Giannis Antetokounmpo with his three-point range, and the strides he made as a passer during his final season in Brooklyn (before being relegated to The Land of the Forgotten in L.A.) should let head coach Mike Budenholzer experiment with some Al Horford Lite setups in the post.

    Lopez's rebounding and shot-blocking fluctuate between perfectly fine and underserved. He doesn't need to drastically improve his consistency in Milwaukee; he will outstrip last season's performance either way. He's a career floor-spacer who has averaged 20 points or more per 36 minutes like clockwork. He belongs here.

               

    91. Kyle Kuzma, PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 23

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 14.2 PER, minus-65.22 TPA, minus-1.53 RPM

    Kyle Kuzma's outsized rookie season has messed with his projections. The Lakers unearthed a late first-round gem in him, but at 23, he doesn't have as much room for growth as the typical sophomore.

    Even his offensive output must be accepted with granular skepticism. He didn't fortify Los Angeles' splits with an unencumbered green light, per Cleaning the Glass, and the introduction of more ball-handlers, including LeBron James, will diminish his influence on the possession-by-possession operations.

    Kuzma's brand of scoring is still an asset. He shot 37.5 percent on an immodest number of spot-up threes, so blending into lineups with three other ball-dominant bodies shouldn't pose a huge problem. And he boasts an air of self-sufficiency that will, in time, let him spearhead arrangements lighter on star power. Of the 61 players who burned through 80 isolations last season, only James Harden averaged more points per possession than Kuzma.

90-86: Gasol, Favors, Gallinari, Ayton, Collison

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    90. Pau Gasol, C, San Antonio Spurs

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 38

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.0 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 18.9 PER, 114.76 TPA, 1.01 RPM

    Other teams would see Pau Gasol's frosty mobility as a two-way drawback. The Spurs, specifically on the offensive end, welcome it. They're inclined to grind in the half court anyway, and Gasol's keen eye offers an air of unpredictability not found in LaMarcus Aldridge's post touches.

    Stretching his range beyond the three-point line has extended his career and, above all, prolonged his practicality. He is a spacing lifeline, both as a pick-and-pop partner and bystanding shooter. His defense falls apart if he's asked to wander beyond the paint, but he holds his own as a standstill rim protector—idleness that the Spurs encourage, and that Gasol parlayed into a career-high rebounding rate last season.

    Drop him into any rotation outside of San Antonio, and it changes the end result. Gasol's value is specific to his situation. He has found his quintessential, if only, landing spot and will be a net positive player on at least one end of the court until he leaves.

             

    89. Derrick Favors, C, Utah Jazz

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.1 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 18.8 PER, 115.9 TPA, 0.53 RPM

    Derrick Favors is one of the NBA's steadier players—a big man who can line up at either power forward or center and provide consistent production on both ends of the floor with a high floor and a relatively low ceiling.

    With healthy legs underneath him, Favors is a physical specimen who can overpower opponents with both strength and explosion. He's also learned how to maximize his role with the Utah Jazz, but it's that same role that limits his upside as an individual, asking him to do plenty of dirty work and rarely featuring him within the offensive flow.

             

    88. Danilo Gallinari, SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 30

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 13.8 PER, minus-19.32 TPA, minus-0.28 RPM

    Hounded by injuries, Danilo Gallinari floundered during his initial stint with the Los Angeles Clippers. Those per-game marks you can see above may seem palatable, but they came while the versatile forward connected on just 39.8 percent of his field-goal attempts and shot 32.4 percent from beyond the arc. He wasn't healthy enough to stay in front of his defensive assignments, and his offensive contributions could be properly categorized as "woeful."

    But the 30-year-old enters the 2018-19 season without any restrictions, and that should allow him to show off those all-around capabilities that elevated his stock with the Denver Nuggets. In working order, Gallinari is a dangerous offensive threat who can score in nearly any situation, and his willingness to switch between responsibilities boosts his defensive standing.

               

    87. Deandre Ayton, C, Phoenix Suns

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 20

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats (NCAA): 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.9 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 32.6 PER, 221.42 TPA

    Deandre Ayton is the real deal.

    Sure, his defensive flaws are enough to prevent him from earning top-100-lock status, but we still expect him to contribute enough on the boards and as a scoring machine that he'll fit in with a little room to spare. For all the easy buckets he'll cede while picking up the nuances of big-man defense (one of the toughest skills to learn in the NBA), he'll elevate the Phoenix Suns offense with his blend of inside-outside scoring.

    Maybe.

    Ayton's potential perimeter prowess, in part, made him the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft, but he didn't showcase those skills in NBA Summer League. Then again, even if he keeps his jump shooting on the backburners and thrives on the interior, he'll still be an undeniable force who helps elevate the Suns out of the Western Conference basement.

                 

    86. Darren Collison, PG, Indiana Pacers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 31

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 18.8 PER, 84.76 TPA, 2.24 RPM

    Darren Collison remains one of the NBA's most overlooked commodities, constantly providing substantial value for the Indiana Pacers because his offensive efficiency trumps his defensive porosity. Not only did he lead the league in three-point accuracy (46.8 percent on three attempts per game) during the 2017-18 season, but he also recorded turnovers on just 10.9 percent of his possessions.

    Twenty-two different qualified players shot better than 40 percent from deep and recorded cough-ups on fewer than 12 percent of their plays (numbers Collison cleared with room to spare). He, Kyrie Irving and Fred VanVleet were the only three to do so while generating more than three assists per game.

85-81: Fultz, Iguodala, Aminu, Vucevic, Olynyk

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    85. Markelle Fultz, PG, Philadelphia 76ers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 20

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 7.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 12.4 PER, minus-15.78 TPA, minus-2.16 RPM

    Let's get bold up in here.

    Markelle Fultz might not have done much to justify top-100 placement during his tumultuous rookie campaign with the Philadelphia 76ers, but it's not tough to see why you should buy into a sophomore surge. This 20-year-old is only a calendar removed from serving as the top overall pick of the 2017 NBA draft, and he still has the jaw-dropping athletic traits that boosted his stock into the stratosphere. He can break down opponents off the dribble (a self-creating skill the Sixers sorely need) and hold his own defensively against quick guards, and that's without the benefit of a reliable jumper.

    If Fultz's offseason shooting drills pay off, this will look laughably low (shoutout Drew Hanlen). He very well could rediscover the form that allowed him to connect on 41.3 percent of his triples at Washington, and that would allow him to keep defenders so off balance that he could waltz his way back into that Philadelphia nucleus of star power.

    Even if he doesn't, health alone should revitalize his career and remind the world why initial expectations were so high.

                 

    84. Andre Iguodala, SF, Golden State Warriors

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 34

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 6.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 11.2 PER, 6.73 TPA, 1.41 RPM

    Going on 35, Andre Iguodala may be past defending the LeBron Jameses of the NBA Finals. Then again, maybe not. He shot 37.8 percent from deep during the postseason, and the Warriors still liberally use him to cover point guards and wings.

    A left leg injury hampered his availability this past June, but he still got his me-versus-the-best-player-ever licks in. Only Kevin Durant averaged more possessions per game guarding Lonzo Ball's newest sidekick.

    Essentially, Iguodala remains an exhaustive defender who can piece together half-court offensive possessions in a pinch without ever concerning himself about his usage or scoring totals. Every team wants that type of player.

               

    83. Al-Farouq Aminu, PF, Portland Trail Blazers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 9.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 12.0 PER, 45.83 TPA, 2.0 RPM

    Al-Farouq Aminu is developing into more than a defensive ace. The Portland Trail Blazers are now benefitting from more consistent three-point shooting from their point-preventing power forward, which forces defenses to cover him in the corners. Feast your eyes upon his perimeter numbers over the last five years:

    • 27.1 percent on 0.6 attempts per game
    • 27.4 percent on 1.7 attempts per game
    • 36.1 percent on 4.3 attempts per game
    • 33.0 percent on 3.5 attempts per game
    • 36.9 percent on 4.9 attempts per game

    As Spencer Lund wrote for RealGM.com, the growing confidence is palpable and allows him to fix other offensive warts:

    "This season has seen his shooting make an about-face. ... It's also partially why he's sporting a career-low turnover percentage (10.7)—no more driving into an expectant defense.

    "The biggest thing for him now is confidence. A few misfires to start a game shouldn't dissuade him from continuing to shoot, a huge step for any shooter, but particularly one who struggles with inconsistency. There have already been signs he's turned that confidence corner."

                 

    82. Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 19.7 PER, 92.87 TPA, 2.23 RPM

    Sliding Nikola Vucevic any lower is plainly wrong. He doesn't have much in his defensive tool belt save for some pesky hands, but he's been one of the NBA's productive big men for almost a half-decade. DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid are the only other players since 2014-15 averaging at least 19 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per 36 minutes.

    Vucevic would be a shoo-in to outperform his placement if the Magic weren't the Magic. Opportunity should become an issue in a frontcourt that must also account for Mo Bamba, Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. Vucevic will be more impacted by the logjam than anyone.

    Going on 28 in October, he's playing out a contract year outside of Orlando's long-term timeline. His stock could suffer from a deliberately diminishing role and, perhaps, an eventual relocation.

             

    81. Kelly Olynyk, C, Miami Heat

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 17.8 PER, 102.75 TPA, 3.34 RPM

    In an alternate universe where he's not jockeying for minutes with Bam Adebayo, James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk lands much higher. But he has never sniffed 25 minutes per game and isn't about to start now unless the Heat throw Whiteside into exile.

    Think of Olynyk as a next-level Patrick Patterson from his days with the Toronto Raptors—a semi-switchy big who can shoot, pass and sometimes put the ball on the floor while coexisting with any frontcourt running mate placed beside him. If he ever holds up defensively against behemoth 5s without needing Johnson as a buffer, Miami will have a frightening cheat code on its hands.

80-76: Caldwell-Pope, Mirotic, Fournier, Jordan, Russell

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    80. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Los Angeles Lakers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 25

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 13.2 PER, 51.36 TPA, 0.56 RPM

    At this point, we know who Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is. A capable defender who can lock down opposing wings and constantly shows the desire to cover tough matchups. He's also a viable three-point option. Maybe he's not one of the Associaton's elite marksmen, but he's more than serviceable.

               

    79. Nikola Mirotic, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 18.7 PER, 19.28 TPA, 3.15 RPM

    Everything might depend on Nikola Mirotic's facial hair. He'd been growing out his beard for quite some time (at least throughout his Chicago Bulls tenure), but that changed when he was spotted at practice with a baby face April 4.

    Prior to getting out the razor, he'd suited up in 25 games for the New Orleans Pelicans, averaging 12.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.9 blocks while shooting 38.6 percent from the field, 29.9 percent from downtown and 76.6 percent at the stripe. After removing the follicular forest, he caught fire for a five-contest stretch: 25.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks per game while slashing 56.3/46.5/100.

    Those numbers aren't sustainable, but they did show the quality of his fit alongside Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis. Plus, he kept scorching scoreboards during the Pelicans' two-round playoff run.

              

    78. Evan Fournier, SG, Orlando Magic

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 25

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.5 PER, minus-18.77 TPA, minus-0.02 RPM

    Evan Fournier showed flashes in other areas during his sixth NBA season—depressing his turnovers while continuing to serve as a competent secondary facilitator and displaying quicker hands and instincts in the passing lanes. But the 25-year-old's appeal still comes primarily from his well-rounded nature as a scoring threat.

    Posting 17.8 points per game with a 57.7 true shooting percentage is impressive enough. But Fournier ranks so prominently here because he can put up those buckets as a spot-up shooter (95th percentile for points per possession), a cutter (95th percentile), a pick-and-roll ball-handler (81st percentile) or an isolation attacker (80th percentile).

    If you give this French swingman the rock in the half-court environment, he can force scoreboard operators to stay busy.

             

    77. DeAndre Jordan, C, Dallas Mavericks

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 30

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 15.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 20.2 PER, 104.67 TPA, 3.34 RPM

    DeAndre Jordan is not the player the Mavericks thought they had signed in 2015. His influence at the defensive end has long been overstated, and he's only drifting further away from linchpin mode.

    Last season wasn't just a case of his falling victim to an inferior Los Angeles Clippers squad. He's lost some of his oomph. Opponents shot 4.4 percentage points better around the rim with him on the court, according to Cleaning the Glass, while the Clippers' defensive rating improved by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when he took a seat.

    Playing without Chris Paul hurt Jordan's finishing out of the pick-and-roll, and Dallas poses only so much of an upgrade. Head coach Rick Carlisle always find ways to create space, but rookie Luka Doncic and sophomore Dennis Smith Jr. will be Jordan's primary connections. As long as their development remains a priority, he's in line for another minor drop-off.

              

    76. D'Angelo Russell, PG, Brooklyn Nets

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 22

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.2 PER, minus-10.17 TPA, minus-2.42 RPM

    Perhaps continuity could serve D'Angelo Russell well, as he still possesses the vision and scoring instincts necessary to become a significant offensive weapon for the Brooklyn Nets. Even if his career has thus far been disappointing, that's understandable for a player operating in amorphous schemes that never allowed him to gain much of a rhythm.

    Now, for the very first time in his professional career, Russell enter a season healthy while working in harmony with an incumbent head coach (the promising Kenny Atkinson). Count us among the believers.

75-71: Valanciunas, VanVleet, Barnes, Anunoby, Markkanen

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    75. Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 26

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 22.5 PER, 52.56 TPA, 0.99 RPM

    Jonas Valanciunas is tiptoeing around fossilization in Toronto. He's a coin toss to close games depending on the matchup, and the Raptors have done nothing to suppress their commitment to small-ball arrangements.

    But Valanciunas should be safe for now. He's the steadiest center Toronto has on the payroll. Neither Ibaka nor Siakam is an automatic shooter, and lineups with them at the 5 will want for rebounding and, probably, rim protection.

    Valanciunas at least cleans up the glass, and the space manufactured by the Raptors' excess of wings and playmaking guards will let him eat out of the pick-and-roll. He might actually outplay—not to mention outperform—his fellow bigs if he delves deeper into his three-point exploration.

                

    74. Fred VanVleet, PG, Toronto Raptors

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 24

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.9 PER, 61.68 TPA, 3.4 RPM

    Only 29 unique quintets logged at least 300 minutes throughout the 2017-18 calendar. Just seven of them posted double-digit net ratings, and the Toronto Raptors' all-bench unit, headlined by Fred VanVleet, was one of them, outscoring opponents by a whopping 19.2 points per 100 possessions.

    To be fair, though, VanVleet is a backup in name only. He was among the NBA's most effective point guards on a per-possession basis, suited up in myriad crunch-time scenarios alongside Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and thrived on both ends of the floor.

              

    73. Harrison Barnes, SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 26

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.8 PER, minus-110.16 TPA, minus-1.90 RPM

    Harrison Barnes' place in the league is almost impossible to peg.

    His self-sustaining offense has been a pleasant surprise since his arrival in Dallas. He closed 2016-17 and 2017-18 inside the 70th percentile of efficiency on isolation possessions. Last year, he connected on 42.9 percent of his looks when using between three and six dribbles—not great but in line with marks from Durant (43.4 percent) and Donovan Mitchell (43 percent).

    Barnes' game nevertheless wants for a certain depth. He rarely gets to the free-throw line and has yet to develop into much of a playmaker. Fifty-two players have made at least 75 appearances and maintained a usage rate north of 25 over the past two seasons. Among that group, Barnes ranks 38th in free-throw-attempt rate and 51st in assists per 36 minutes.

    Meaningful improvement isn't out of the question. He's 26, and this will be only his third season as a featured cog. But the path to quasi-reinvention is complicated by Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Both profile as tentpole ball-handlers whose developmental arcs knife into Barnes' volume.

              

    72. OG Anunoby, PF, Toronto Raptors

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 21

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 5.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 10.0 PER, 18.03 TPA, 0.59 RPM

    OG Anunoby's placement is a volatile one, though not necessarily because of his on-court skills. We already know he's an elite defender capable of bodying up against physical behemoths and sliding his feet to stay in front of quicker guards. The Toronto Raptors were 1.8 points per 100 possessions stingier with him on the floor as a rookie, and his DRPM was distinctly positive.

    No, opportunity could be the issue. He only played 20 minutes per game during his inaugural campaign (still miraculous, considering his expedited ACL recovery), and that might be around the ceiling in 2018-19. With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green aboard, as well as Serge Ibaka to roam the frontcourt as an incumbent 4, Anunoby may not have enough chances to play major minutes and increase his national profile, per-minute excellence be damned.

                 

    71. Lauri Markkanen, PF, Chicago Bulls

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 21

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.6 PER, minus-78.6 TPA, minus-1.58 RPM

    As you might expect from any player after an up-and-down rookie season, Lauri Markkanen has distinct areas of needed improvement. He's a limited passer who can be baited into poor decisions on the block, and his defensive warts often hinder the Chicago Bulls on the preventing end. Until he adds more muscle, he'll continue to get pushed around, ceding both deep positioning and second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass.

    But Markkanen is ahead of schedule on the scoring side, even if he could stand to play with a bit more urgency on some possessions. Few players this young have shot the ball so well, as he's now the only 7-footer (not just looking at rookies) to hit 36 percent of his triples while taking at least five per game. Based on his sterling efforts at the stripe (84.3 percent), that's by no means fluky.

70-66: Bazemore, Dragic, Randle, Teague, Batum

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    70. Kent Bazemore, SG, Atlanta Hawks

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 29

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 14.5 PER, 18.32 TPA, 1.18 RPM

    Remember when Kent Bazemore was so overpaid that his four-year, $70 million deal seemed virtually untradeable? We don't blame you if your memory is failing, because the rediscovery of this swingman's shooting stroke, as well as his continued excellence on the defensive end, has made him an asset for the Atlanta Hawks.

    The 29-year-old will make $18.1 million for his efforts in 2018-19. While FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO forecast projects slippage on both ends of the floor that leaves him worthy of only $13.1 million, it also indicates that he played at the level of a $21.8 million contributor last season. Even if he's slightly overpaid, he's still a valuable enough presence that the Hawks can either use or shop him during their full-tilt rebuild.

               

    69. Goran Dragic, PG, Miami Heat

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 32

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.6 PER, minus-4.74 TPA, 0.4 RPM

    Maybe this seems low for a reigning All-Star in the Eastern Conference, but Goran Dragic's inclusion in the midseason festivities was either based on rewarding the Miami Heat for team success or giving the veteran point guard a legacy berth. His individual contributions didn't merit that type of accolade, as evidenced by his lackluster advanced metrics and the undeniable fact that Miami was actually a point per 100 possessions better when he wasn't on the floor.

    That's not to say Dragic isn't a talented floor general, of course.

    His reputation at this stage of his career, especially as he moves deeper into his 30s, is predicated more on past exploits than expected production moving forward. He'll continue to post solid counting numbers for the Heat, but an inability to finish as many plays around the hoop (referring more to volume than accuracy) and shoddy defensive work keeps his stock from rising much higher than this position.

               

    68. Julius Randle, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 23

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 19.9 PER, 45.76 TPA, 0.58 RPM

    Just imagine what might happen if Julius Randle demonstrated a consistent ability to knock down shots from the perimeter. Defenders already know he wants to attack the basket off the bounce, but he's still so quick and physical that he's able to get past them and convert looks around the hoop—something he's now doing with his right hand more frequently than ever before.

    But if he could force them to play even tighter...

    Randle made strides in many areas during his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and the vast majority should carry over to his Pelicans days. He's a competent defender, a gifted frontcourt passer and a constant threat to probe the interior of the opposition. Now, he just needs to do better than shooting 35.1 percent from 10 to 16 feet, 25.6 percent on even longer twos and 22.2 percent from beyond the arc, which is by no means an unreasonable ask for a man who hasn't yet celebrated his 24th birthday.

                

    67. Jeff Teague, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 30

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.4 PER, 9.24 TPA, 0.69 RPM

    On one hand, Jeff Teague is preparing to play a game in his 30s for the first time, and that's bad news for a jitterbug point guard whose escapades are largely predicated on his ability to manipulate defenses—scoring opportunities and passing lanes alike—with his speed. On the other hand, he's now entering Year 2 with the Minnesota Timberwolves, which means continuity under head coach Tom Thibodeau and a roster that's returning just about every key piece.

    Teague could trend in either direction, but we expect him to remain among the upper-tier-but-not-quite-elite backcourt members because of his continued ability to knock down looks around the basket. When he's hitting his floaters and touch shots just outside the paint, as he did by connecting on 39.4 percent of his shots between three and 10 feet, he confuses defenses into giving him open opportunities all over the floor. Until that number dips, a significant decline won't feel imminent.

                 

    66. Nicolas Batum, SG, Charlotte Hornets

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 29

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 14.4 PER, 56.86 TPA, minus-0.5 RPM

    Nicolas Batum isn't a star. The money left on his deal borders on ridiculous: $24 million in 2018-19, $25.6 million in 2019-20 and a $27.1 million player option in 2020-21. He's coming off a season plagued by injuries in which he slashed just 41.5/33.6/83.1 while averaging 11.6 points—the fourth-lowest tally of his 10-year NBA career.

    Yet Batum remains a French army knife whose malleability makes him enduringly valuable to the Charlotte Hornets' cause. Though he may not excel as a defender, secondary distributor, spot-up shooter or go-to scorer, he can capably fill each and every role on any given night.

65-61: Smart, Gordon, Doncic, Prince, Gasol

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    65. Marcus Smart, SG, Boston Celtics

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 24

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 10.8 PER, minus-16.14 TPA, 0.96 RPM

    If you're looking for a sharpshooting guard, Marcus Smart is not going to be one of your top choices. Among the 540 players who suited up in 2017-18, this 24-year-old finished No. 441 in true shooting percentage—the product of connecting on field-goal attempts at a 36.7 percent clip, hitting 30.1 percent of his triples (while taking 4.6 per game) and knocking down just 72.9 percent of his free-throw hoists.

    But if you want someone who can fill virtually any other role, Smart is a viable option. He's a solid rebounding guard, excels in the distributing game, plays physical defense against a number of positions and is among the Association's best at hustle plays, constantly hitting the hardwood in pursuit of 50/50 opportunities and sacrificing his body for the betterment of the Boston Celtics.

    Smart's offensive flaws aren't going away anytime soon, and they severely depress his ceiling. But the rest of his game ensures a lofty floor that will always be useful at the sport's highest level.

                

    64. Aaron Gordon, PF, Orlando Magic

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 23

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.5 PER, 0.0 TPA, 0.72 RPM

    As Mohamed Bamba—and, to a lesser extent, Timofey Mozgov—join the capable bodies who already populate the Orlando Magic frontcourt (Nikola Vucevic and Jonathan Isaac), Aaron Gordon may once again be pushed into an uncomfortable role. Try as the Magic might, he's not a natural small forward and struggles offensively when asked to fill such a role on a regular basis.

    Unfortunately, that could mean we see the less-than-ideal version of Gordon once again, as we did following a brief hot stretch at the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign. Lest we forget (and we're not, hence his earlier-than-expected appearance in these rankings), he averaged 16.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.7 blocks after calendars flipped to 2018, slashing a miserable 38.4/27.3/63.8.

    He's certainly better than those numbers indicate. But will the Magic let the 23-year-old maximize his many talents or continue trying to make him something he's not?

            

    63. Luka Doncic, SG, Dallas Mavericks

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 19

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats (Euroleague): 14.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 22.8 player efficiency rating (PER), N/A total points added (TPA), N/A real plus-minus (RPM)

    Forecasting rookies is always hard, but predicting Luka Doncic's first NBA march is particularly difficult. Will the Mavericks pencil him in as a shooting guard? Let him run some point? Use him at the 3 in smaller lineups? How much control will he actually have over an offense that must also feed Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr.?

    We can't be sure of anything this early in the game. But Doncic begins his career with an idyllic profile. Every team in the league is after a 6'7" wing who can jump-start pick-and-rolls, drain jumpers off the bounce and seamlessly flitter between on- and off-ball duties. Doncic won't have the green light Smith did during his debut, but his wide-ranging offensive utility should shine through enough to justify his inclusion here.

    Note: Doncic's shooting guard designation was made before the Dallas Mavericks went with a new-look starting five that features him at the 4. Consider this your reminder that positions are fluid verging on pointless.

               

    62. Taurean Prince, SF, Atlanta Hawks

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 24

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 12.8 PER, minus-35.32 TPA, minus-1.72 RPM

    Taurean Prince is getting tons of love here, and deservedly so. He shined in 2017-18 after the Hawks turned over a larger share of the offense to him.

    In his final 31 appearances last season, Prince averaged 17.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals while drilling 37.9 percent of his triples. His secondary playmaking remains a nice surprise. He coughed up possessions on 27.3 percent of his pick-and-rolls, but he was brand new to half-court creation. His mistakes will dwindle amid better spacing—shout-out, Trae Young—and with more reps.

    Replicating last season's closing surge will be tough, as Prince will cede touches to Young, Kent Bazemore and Jeremy Lin. But the Hawks' power structure is hardly set in stone. He will have plenty of opportunities to broaden his offensive scope, especially if the Hawks trade Bazemore. Prince's defense buoys the rest of this projection. He has the chops to switch between shooting guards and small forwards, and he should stand up against 4s once Atlanta receives more consistent play from its centers.

                  

    61. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 33

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 17.4 PER, 71.41 TPA, 1.55 RPM

    Marc Gasol will have the chance to make this look silly. Or he could make this seem a little too aggressive. Aging bigs are always difficult to place.

    Gasol should be fine on offense. Memphis needs to pare down his post-ups, but he can work over defenses as a standstill passer and shooter. His question marks lie at the other end. Many of Gasol's contemporaries are too explosive and rangy for him to get by on high IQ and positioning alone. The Grizzlies haven't been demonstratively better with him on defense since 2015-16, and it will only get harder for him to make plays from outside the foul line.

    Partnering with Kyle Anderson, a healthy Mike Conley and Jaren Jackson Jr. could keep Gasol afloat. But bigs who don't play like wings on offense are most valuable as defensive fulcrums. Gasol isn't that anymore.

60-56: Young, Williams, Bledsoe, Saric, Barton

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    60. Thaddeus Young, PF, Indiana Pacers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 30

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 14.8 PER, 78.21 TPA, 1.09 RPM

    Thaddeus Young lacks the offensive star quality that foments sweeping recognition. His game is rooted in the absence of ego, but the resulting flexibility gets capped by his tweener range.

    Only once, in 2016-17, has Young cleared 35 percent shooting from beyond the arc. He connected on nearly 44 percent of his long twos last year but provides neither the consistency nor reliability to space the floor as a spot-up weapon. His handles are fine—just not at the level of a pick-and-roll triggerman. Most of his damage will be done in transition, as a secondary screener or when opportunistically moving off the ball.

    That dearth of offensive panache does not detract much from Young's standing. His defense keeps him firmly in the green—closer to a top-50 player than not.

    He has quick hands and is serviceable across the wing and big-man stations. He'll break up plays both on the ball and in the passing lane, and the scope of his assignments imitate defensive depth and performance that belies the Indiana Pacers roster.

    Among players to log at least 500 minutes last season, Robert Covington, Larry Nance Jr. and Victor Oladipo were the only ones to average more deflections than Young per 36 ticks. Nobody else on the Pacers came close to matching his face time versus Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he forced turnovers on 11.5 percent of the isolations he defended—tops in the league out of everyone to guard at least 100 of these possessions.

             

    59. Lou Williams, SG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 31

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 22.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 20.2 PER, 53.24 TPA, 0.61 RPM

    Lou Williams' numbers are bound to suffer from the Clippers' backcourt surplus. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Jerome Robinson, Milos Teodosic and a healthy Patrick Beverley will all eat into his usage. His downtick will be more stark than anticipated if both Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris last the entire season in Los Angeles.

    And yet dragging Williams any lower feels criminal—even with his non-factor defense taking center stage. He was too friggin' good last year. He piloted the offense, earned frequent trips to the charity stripe and hit a ridiculous number of tough jumpers. Five other players cleared 24 points and five assists per 36 minutes while matching Williams' true shooting percentage, and they're all megastars: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard.

              

    58. Eric Bledsoe, PG, Milwaukee Bucks

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 19.7 PER, 99.31 TPA, 2.55 RPM

    Bledsoe already looked like a quality fit alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, taking on more of an off-ball role that allowed him to focus on playing pesky perimeter defense and thriving as a cutter (84th percentile for points per cutting possession). And he should be more comfortable in 2018-19. Rather than joining the Milwaukee Bucks as a midseason addition, he'll have the luxury of continuity.

    But Bledsoe needs to work on a few notable flaws before he can climb into the top 10 point guards.

    Most importantly, he has to find a way to rekindle his scoring efficiency, either by getting to the line more frequently or learning to hit triples at better than a 34.7 percent clip. His free-throw rate was the lowest it's been since his days with the Los Angeles Clippers, though a jump could be hard to come by when he's ceding possessions to Antetokounmpo and other ball-handling teammates.

             

    57. Dario Saric, PF, Philadelphia 76ers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 24

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.8 PER, 67.24 TPA, 0.33 RPM

    Dario Saric kept in theme with the Philadelphia 76ers' 2017-18 season by exceeding expectations.

    Concerns over how he would fare as an ancillary option have retreated into nothingness. Markelle Fultz's injury-ravaged rookie season simplified the transition, but it was no half-measure. Saric still deferred to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons without issue.

    More than 45 percent of Saric's field-goal attempts came as spot-up triples, on which he shot 41 percent. He'll need to make more of his touches in transition as the 76ers incorporate other ball-handlers, namely Fultz. Saric has become someone they count on to swish rapid-fire looks coming around screens and make the occasional open-lane beeline.

    Getting more comfortable off the dribble is the next step in his development. That sounds disingenuous to the talent around him, but the Sixers remain top-heavy. The bench placed dead last in points scored per 100 possessions prior to the All-Star break and is fixing for reversion following the losses of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.

    Fultz should take the edge off that strain. T.J. McConnell, too. Neither is the solution on his own. McConnell isn't wired to let 'er rip off the bounce in volume, and Fultz is a fledgling by NBA standards. Saric has shown some expert vision within the half-court and looks smooth on his methodically paced drives. If he can increase his pull-up exposure and efficiency (26.9 percent), he's Philly's ticket to rolling out bench-heavy mobs that include neither Embiid nor Simmons.

             

    56. Will Barton, SG, Denver Nuggets

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.2 PER, 54.11 TPA, 0.74 RPM

    Good luck figuring out Will Barton's role with the Nuggets. Yes, he's expected to start. But most of his time came at the 1 and 2 spots last season, according to Cleaning the Glass. His promotion should translate to a co-op at shooting guard and small forward. Then again, Denver is not especially flush at point guard beyond Jamal Murray and Isaiah Thomas. Barton could once again absorb more reps as the primary floor general.

    Either hybrid role suits him. He shot better than 75 percent on cuts and almost 40 percent on spot-up threes last season. Like Denver's other most prominent ball-handlers, he's no stranger to working away from the action, predominantly off Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap or Mason Plumlee.

    Still, his table-setting should not be underestimated. He averaged more assists per 36 minutes than Murray last year and turned the ball over at a fairly low clip when running pick-and-rolls. The Nuggets may not have anyone more adept at shape-shifting offensive identities.

55-51: Evans, Ball, McCollum, Covington, Rubio

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    55. Tyreke Evans, SG, Indiana Pacers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 29

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 21.1 PER, 114.38 TPA, 3.46 RPM

    Can Tyreke Evans provide an encore to his career performance in 2017-18? The short answer: Maybe. For the longer answer, we turn to Indy Cornrows' C. Cooper:

    "During the playoffs, Darren Collison's low-volume efficiency and safe shot-creation from the regular season struggled to cover for Oladipo going 12-of-50 from the field over the middle three games of the series, connecting on just 7-of-26 shots across that same span with only two makes coming outside the paint.

    "Evans, on the other hand, committed turnovers at a higher rate, but his ability to drain threes off the dribble and draw and shake opponents to and from the ball with head fakes and hesitations has the potential to put undue stress on the nail defender when given the opportunity to manipulate the pick-and-roll with Indiana's first-time All-Star situated on the opposite slot."

    Surrendering touches to Oladipo will curtail Evans' production. The Pacers may not even deign to play him 30 minutes per game if he's coming off the bench. But if he keeps hitting pull-up jumpers at superstar clips and orchestrating half-court possessions, he'll settle into this spot without much issue. He might even make it look foolishly low.

              

    54. Lonzo Ball, PG, Los Angeles Lakers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 20

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 12.5 PER, 63.23 TPA, 1.12 RPM

    Lonzo Ball was already a valuable presence for the Los Angeles Lakers, thriving as a wizardrous facilitator and defensive ace who showcased a preternatural feel for positioning while using his quick hands to disrupt plenty of plays. Even bereft of any consistency from the perimeter while struggling at the stripe far more than he did during his brief UCLA tenure, he was a boon to the Purple and Gold.

    What happens if he remembers how to shoot? What happens if he grows under the supervision of LeBron James? Even if he stagnates and remains healthy, he'll be a sneakily valuable floor general. And it's not like the 20-year-old with monumental upside is just going to tread water, especially when his shooting slashes can't reasonably fall any lower.

               

    53. CJ McCollum, SG, Portland Trail Blazers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 21.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 17.0 PER, 23.51 TPA, minus-0.33 RPM

    CJ McCollum is still among the NBA's smoothest scorers—a mid-range savant with a devastating floater who boasts the evenness on pull-up jumpers of a No. 1 option. He could feasibly finish 2018-19 as one of the more underrated players on this list.

    At the same time, McCollum doesn't get to the line nearly enough (3.1 attempts per game last season). Nor does he shoulder as much playmaking responsibility as many of his contemporaries. His most incriminating weakness, though? Defense.

    Among all Blazers players last season, no one rated as a less valuable stopper, according to NBA Math's defensive points saved. McCollum is closer to serviceable in some of Portland's more conservative schemes but unlikely to hang when switching or getting around screens, or when left to his own devices in space.

              

    52. Robert Covington, SF, Philadelphia 76ers

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 12.9 PER, 131.61 TPA, 5.45 RPM

    Robert Covington can be an infuriating offensive player. He rarely needs to branch out from hitting spot-up jumpers and finishing straight-line drives, yet he sometimes struggles to do even that. He couldn't buy a basket during the Sixers' playoff run.

    Covington's defense is worth his offensive uncertainty. He covers every type of wing while staging more-than-occasional battles with opposing point guards. He earned his first-team All-Defensive billing last year. Kyle Anderson and LeBron James are the only wings who saved more points, according to NBA Math.

    By the way: Covington's offensive warts aren't that dire. He splashed in 37.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys last season while shooting an adequate 45.3 percent on drives. It'd be nice if he could match JJ Redick's pinball shooting around screens, but he's far from a total non-factor on offense.

              

    51. Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.1 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.4 PER, 76.39 TPA, 2.39 RPM

    Surrounded by a stifling defense with perimeter stoppers galore and a top-tier anchor in Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio's free to gamble incessantly on the perimeter, playing with and maximizing the style he's always sought in previous stops. His passing chops pay off in the pick-and-roll game when feeding Donovan Mitchell, and his developing catch-and-shoot comfort could reap major rewards in 2018-19.

    Slowly but surely, Rubio's reputation as a dismal marksman could begin shifting. He knocked down 41.0 percent of his deep looks while taking 3.5 per game during the 2018 portion of the calendar, benefitting tremendously from the opposition's unwillingness to cover him (2.5 of those attempts per contest came without a defender within six feet).

    If adversaries are forced to respect his stroke, his numbers might decline while simultaneously creating heretofore unseen openings for his teammates.

50. Brandon Ingram, SF, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Robert Laberge/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 21

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Advanced Metrics13.8 PER, minus-53.65 TPA, minus-1.59 RPM

    Come swim out in the deep end with us. The water's great.

    Brandon Ingram is worth this nod. Watch him, and you'll see he has a great feel for the game. He isn't a pull-up maestro, but he gets to his spots when working off the dribble.

    Some of the numbers are starting to catch up with the eye test. From Jan. 1 onward, Ingram averaged 16.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists while canning 45.3 percent of his three-pointers. He needs to dramatically increase his outside volume before being dubbed a league-average shooter, but he finished in the 75th percentile of spot-up efficiency.

    Plopping him next to LeBron James should do wonders.

49. Myles Turner, C, Indiana Pacers

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 22

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.8 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.6 PER, 25.71 TPA, 0.43 RPM

    Blame injuries and Victor Oladipo if you must. 

    The former prevented Myles Turner from suiting up in more than 65 games for the Indiana Pacers during the 2017-18 campaign.  The lack of continuity made it increasingly difficult for him to build upon his sophomore efforts. The latter's breakout pushed the big man out of the spotlight, to the point that he's no longer widely recognized as one of those young up-and-comers sure to serve as the future of his position. 

    But even with slight regression taking hold of Turner throughout portions of his third-year efforts, he kept displaying the two-way abilities that make him such a tantalizing prospect. How many big men are comfortable swatting shots on the interior, running the floor and hitting threes? 

    Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid and Turner were the lone qualified men to average at least 0.9 triples and 1.8 blocks (arbitrary cut-offs, sure) in 2017-18. Expand the temporal restrictions to include all of NBA history, and just Eddie Griffin, Serge Ibaka, Andrei Kirilenko, Raef LaFrentz, Kristaps Porzingis (twice) and Rasheed Wallace join the exclusive club. 

    Turner is already a unique figure with a mouthwatering skill set. He's also far from realizing the full extent of his well-rounded potential, so don't forget about his ability to team up with Oladipo and push the Pacers even higher up the Eastern Conference standings.

48. Mike Conley, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 31

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.4 PERminus-16.96 TPAminus-0.66 RPM

    Don't lend much credence to the numbers you see above because Mike Conley clearly wasn't operating at 100 percent even before injuries officially shortened his season to a meager 12 appearances. He's a far better shooter than his 38.1/31.2/80.3 slash line would indicate, especially while we're not too far removed from a 2016-17 season in which he experienced an offensive breakthrough that never seemed too unsustainable. 

    On the flip side, Conley will celebrate his 31st birthday in early October. His days of peak athleticism may be firmly rooted in the past, and his status as the unquestioned linchpin of the Memphis Grizzlies offense could be changing in an expeditious fashion.

    He's better than his 2017-18 efforts might indicate, but expecting a full return to 2016-17 glory could be overly optimistic.

47. Steven Adams, C, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 25

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 20.6 PER, 165.34 TPA, 1.39 RPM

    Steven Adams is so much more than an entertaining interview, even if his per-game numbers for the Oklahoma City Thunder may not hint at extreme levels of positive value. His willingness to accept a smaller role that focuses on dirty work and often unseen contributions is an integral piece in and of itself. Without his screen-setting excellence, put-back attempts and boxouts (but ceding rebounds to Russell Westbrook), the Thunder wouldn't be nearly as successful on either end of the floor. 

    The 25-year-old has shown flashes of offensive ability, to be clear. Oklahoma City just doesn't have to lean upon him while Westbrook maintains astronomical usage rates and Paul George struts his stuff. But take a gander at the only nine players to suit up in at least 50 games and score more than one point per post-up play while going back to the basket at least once per contest:

    • Taj Gibson: 1.8 possessions, 1.12 PPP
    • Jonas Valanciunas: 2.0 possessions, 1.09 PPP
    • Steven Adams: 1.4 possessions, 1.08 PPP
    • Trey Lyles: 1.2 possessions, 1.05 PPP
    • LeBron James: 2.4 possessions, 1.04 PPP
    • Mike Scott: 1.0 possessions, 1.03 PPP
    • Karl-Anthony Towns: 4.1 possessions, 1.02 PPP
    • Wesley Matthews: 1.1 possessions, 1.01 PPP
    • Montrezl Harrell: 1.9 possessions, 1.01 PPP

    We know about Adams' prowess on the glass. We're fully aware of his defensive abilities—skills that allow him to anchor the OKC schemes by shutting down the interior and switching onto some smaller assignments. We're not forgetting about his picking acumen, which let him sit behind only Rudy Gobert in screen assists per game.

    But Adams is more than those primary skills, no matter how much his skill set is curtailed by the Thunder's roster construction.

46. Paul Millsap, PF, Denver Nuggets

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 33

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 17.0 PER, 16.14 TPA, 1.54 RPM

    Last season's left wrist injury clouds Paul Millsap's potential peak with the Denver Nuggets. He missed more than half of the year, and many of the games he played were rife with unscripted freelancing. It sometimes seemed as if he was hijacking possessions.

    Extra reps will cure this case of unfamiliarity, and the Nuggets did cobble together some nice lineups with Millsap. They outscored opponents by more than eight points per 100 possessions over the final month of the season whenever he and Nikola Jokic shared the floor.

    A huge chunk of Millsap's individuality still stands to be extinguished in Denver. He's getting older, the offense runs through Jokic and Jamal Murray's workload will only increase. Gary Harris doesn't need a certain number of touches, but Will Barton does. Michael Porter Jr. could bite into Millsap's on-ball quota if his back ever gets right.

    Feasting on the break will help keep the Nuggets' old head involved. The outlook only gets foggier from there if his featured-act volume comes down.

    Denver does not dabble in a ton of pick-and-roll action, and Millsap has never been much of a diver. He doesn't have the lower-body burst to be an oversized cutter and isn't someone you have jack up threes after coming around screens. His outside touch is touch-and-go—even from standstill positions. He's shooting 32.3 percent on zero-dribble threes since 2015-16.

    Deploying him at the defensive end will leave a mark. Millsap straddles the line between interior anchor and periphery switcher as well as any 33-year-old. But the move to Denver was always going to mute his offensive celebrity. This should be the season he slides into a more adjunctive role.

45. Jamal Murray, PG, Denver Nuggets

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    Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 21

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.1 PER, minus-10.35 TPA, 0.29 RPM

    A not-so-subtle leap is being cooked into Jamal Murray's placement, which might be a tad problematic when looking at the Denver Nuggets' makeup. Their offense already runs through Nikola Jokic, and Isaiah Thomas complicates the pecking order even as a second-unit sparkplug.

    Tack on touches for Will Barton, now a projected starter, along with Gary Harris, and Murray may never typify the most conventional point guard role. That's fine. He doesn't need to. And the Nuggets have never tried grooming him as such. 

    Every one of their playmakers has essentially been developed as an off-guard around Jokic. Murray is no different. Close to 18 percent of his touches last season came off spot-up opportunities, on which he averaged 1.18 points per possession—good for the 88th percentile.

    That doesn't mean the Nuggets won't look to expand his role. They will. They need to. Their depth has its limits, and Murray showed a slightly better feel for decision-making out of the pick-and-roll and looked a lot more comfortable firing up shots on a dime. 

    From Jan. 1 until the end of the season, in fact, he averaged 17.4 points, 3.9 assists and 1.0 steals per game while basically slashing 46/40/89. Combine this with the late-game resolve he flashed—he shot 45.5 percent on crunch-time threes after the All-Star break—and Murray has the tools to finish 2018-19 as one of the NBA's most dangerous offensive weapons.

44. Clint Capela, C, Houston Rockets

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 24

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.9 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 24.5 PER, 124.08 TPA, 2.14 RPM

    Sure, Clint Capela can be played off the floor by spread offenses that feature shooting from every spot in the lineup, which is particularly problematic against Golden State.

    Throughout the 2017-18 season, the Houston Rockets were 1.5 points per 100 possessions better with this center on the floor; their net rating rose all the way to a sky-high 9.2 and proved just how deadly they could be with Capela helping lead the charge.

    But that narrative didn't hold against the Dubs. 

    During the regular season, the net rating fell by a team-worst 50.3 points per 100 possessions with the Swiss 5 and Golden State sharing the hardwood. In the playoffs, it only dropped by a more reasonable 2.2, but that's still a negative trend, one that shouldn't catch anyone by surprise. 

    Of course, we shouldn't judge Capela based on his play against a singular organization. He's still a net positive for Houston, given his defensive abilities in the painted area, his tremendous nose for boards and his elite skills as a roll man. Even though the Rockets are deadly in isolation play, they consistently veer toward pick-and-roll stylings because this 24-year-old sets such brutal screens and has both the timing and soft hands necessary to convert when receiving feeds around the hoop. 

    Maybe he's still a limited presence. Perhaps he's a byproduct of James Harden and Chris Paul's excellence.

    He's still quite good at filling his role.

43. Josh Richardson, SF, Miami Heat

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 25

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 13.6 PER74.97 TPA0.96 RPM

    Though the Miami Heat's far-reaching depth has prevented Josh Richardson from averaging even 13 points per game during his three-year career, he's already made one thing clear: He is a legitimate star on defense, and head coach Erik Spoelstra believes he deserves more recognition, per Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald

    "I think unquestionably, he's an All-NBA defender. I think it's a shame. I don't think his name out there. I don't think people recognize the kind of defender he is except for the teams that he plays against. I think they see it.

    "Night in, night out he's going to have three of the toughest covers in the game...and he doesn't even blink. And that's the expectation and how he's developed that potential. He's become a very disciplined, dynamic defender, one that can really guard multiple positions in a totally different way. He will challenge Dwyane [Wade] as far as a shot-blocking two guard if he's able to play that many years down the line. He's going to rack up a lot of blocks. And as we call them, one-on-one kills."

    Perhaps the 24-year-old's regional reputation will go national this season. We're already giving him plenty of credit in these rankingsspoiler alert: He's the only member of the Heat in our overall top 50and not just because he coupled that pestilent defense with a 37.8 percent clip from beyond the arc. 

    He's just that good on defense.

42. Otto Porter, SF, Washington Wizards

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 25

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 18.3 PER, 176.2 TPA4.96 RPM

    Otto Porter Jr.'s remarkable spot-up shooting from the 2016-17 season was never sustainable. Players aren't supposed to knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers frequently enough to post 1.31 points per possession and fall in the 97th percentile

    But regression didn't knock Porter too far down the totem pole. Boosting the Washington Wizards with 1.15 points per spot-up possession in 2017-18, he still sat in the 85th percentile while ranking 30th in such attempts throughout the league. Coupling that frequency with the per-possession output expected from an average contributor (1.01), he still ranked No. 20 in spot-up value added. 

    That isn't too shabby for a player who's so much more than an off-ball threat. 

    Porter is a solid rebounder. He can also switch between multiple positions defensively during a single trip down the floor. He's comfortable swinging the ball around and hitting cutters, even if he'll rarely take control of a play and serve as a primary facilitator. 

    In other words, he's an ultimate glue guy. Somewhat sneakily, he even ranked second in Washington for cumulative TPA over the last three seasons (466.27), narrowly falling behind John Wall (469.67) and outpacing Bradley Beal by a substantial margin (195.07). 

    Maybe he's benefiting from the offensive abilities of his two All-Star teammates, but he's still filling his role to near perfection.

41. Joe Ingles, SF, Utah Jazz

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    Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 31

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 14.4 PER, 159.34 TPA, 3.5 RPM

    If the Utah Jazz need a stop against an opposing wing, they can call on Joe Ingles.

    He was a sterling defender throughout the 2017-18 campaign, but his coup de grace came in a first-round matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Throughout that series, he got under Paul George's skin and kept him in check. With impressive lateral quickness and tremendous instincts, Ingles doesn't cede space easily and rarely lets his mark sneak between him and the basket. 

    But that isn't all he provides. 

    A steady presence in the pick-and-roll game who can connect on pocket passes and keep his eyes up in search of feed opportunities, Ingles always manages to rack up a respectable number of assists. Last season, only nine players listed at 6'8" or taller averaged more dimes. If that isn't enough, he's also one of the most dangerous marksmen in the Association. 

    Last season, only 11 qualified shooters took at least five triples per game and connected on at least 40 percent of those attempts. Ingles cleared those benchmarks with room to spare, recording a 44.0 three-point percentage while taking 5.7 treys per contest—numbers just he, Raja Bell, Stephen Curry (three times), Kyle Korver, Peja Stojakovic and Klay Thompson have ever reached during a qualified go-round. 

    So, what do you get when you take a historically great shooter and make him a game-changing passer as well as a bona fide stopper? You get a player who deserves a lot more national respect.

40. Khris Middleton, SF, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 20.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 17.4 PER, 23.93 TPA, 1.4 RPM

    The mid-range game won't go out of style while Khris Middleton is in the NBA. 

    Even though his three-point percentage nosedived in 2017-18, the Milwaukee Bucks swingman was a valuable scorer nevertheless. He proved adept at making tough two-point jumpers that provide a different type of spacing. Though his efforts don't decompress the opposition's defense quite as much as triples might, shooting 54.5 percent from between 10 and 16 feet is valuable, especially when also hitting 45.2 percent of even longer twos. 

    Middleton might be miscast as a No. 1 scoring option, but he doesn't have to function as such in Brewtown. Instead, he can thrive as a complementary figure alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe, still initiating some plays but largely feeding off the opportunities created by his teammates while conserving some of his energy for defense.

    His malleability is as important as any singular skill. 

    The 27-year-old has yet to appear in an All-Star Game, but he's now in a position to change that. In the midst of his athletic prime and comfortable with the surrounding environmentparticularly if offseason continuity pays off for the Antetokounmpo-Bledsoe-Middleton triohe's starting to put up per-game numbers that showcase the immense talent careful observers have already recognized.

39. Gary Harris, SG, Denver Nuggets

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 24

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.5 PER, 41.81 TPA, 1.85 RPM

    Gary Harris might not throw up glamorous per-game numbers and doesn't always grade out as a beneficial defender, but his importance to the Nuggets should be clear enough to anyone watching. Not only is he a solid stopper who typically draws tough assignments from head coach Mike Malone, but he's willingly accepted an offensive role that constantly features him in off-ball situations.

    Perhaps the Michigan State product wouldn't be thought of so highly if he didn't have Jokic feeding him the rock with picture-perfect dimes, but that's a hypothetical about which we don't have to worry. He does play alongside Jokic, and he shot an impressive 50.5 percent from inside the arc off the big man's passes while connecting on 40.7 percent of the relevant three-point attempts.

    Of course, Harris also deserves credit for the synergistic relationship. He's become a devastating dual threat away from the primary action, capable of thriving on cuts (84th percentile) and spot-up jumpers alike (81st percentile). Defenders constantly get caught in pickles, unwilling to cede back-door cuts along the baseline but simultaneously attempting to remain cognizant of his catch-and-shoot acumen.

    Developing more off-the-bounce skills would lead to further movement up the leaderboard, but Harris is already in a solid spot as an ideal complementary 2-guard for one of the league's best offenses.

38. Tobias Harris, PF, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 26

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 17.1 PER, 40.36 TPA, 1.25 RPM

    It sometimes gets lost in his journeyman resume, but Tobias Harris has developed into one of the league's most potent scoring forces. He has shored up his outside shooting and gradually taken on provisional pick-and-roll initiation. He even wet his feet as a rim-runner while with the Detroit Pistons.

    Extending his offensive utility has offset Harris' non-attacking style. He saw more of his looks come at the rim after joining the Los Angeles Clippers, but he doesn't have the first step to lean on point-blank volume and the higher-end free-throw-attempt rates they usually promise.

    To be sure, Harris has the footwork and handle to get around some defenders—particularly on the catch. Even then, he's more inclined to settle for pull-up jumpers and floaters or probe angles around the basket for layup opportunities.

    Others would see their offensive ceiling capped by this approach. It works for Harris. Leveraging an operable jumper helps. He posted a 60.2 effective field-goal percentage on catch-and-shoot looks last season while basically matching LeBron James' and Victor Oladipo's efficiency on pull-up attempts.

    Subprime defense leaves Harris planted in the fringe-star territory. He's less of a liability at the 4 but a net negative all the same. Los Angeles coughed up 114.6 points per 100 possessions when he played power forward, according to Cleaning the Glass.

    Improving upon that mark won't be easy as Harris logs time beside Marcin Gortat and Danilo Gallinari. A little role stability might help, but the Clippers cannot guarantee anything. They're a candidate for a midseason pivot, and Harris is entering a contract year. His offense will float his stock—which, in his case, works out just fine.

37. Devin Booker, SG, Phoenix Suns

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 21

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 24.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 18.1 PER, 19.49 TPA, minus-0.95 RPM

    Devin Booker is a conundrum.

    Despite what many catch-all metrics indicate, he's most certainly not a net negative for the Phoenix Suns. He posted a shoddy RPM, barely crested above the league average in TPA and made his team 0.7 points per 100 possessions worse while on the floor during the 2017-18 campaign. But that doesn't alter his status as a promising young talent already able to score in remarkably effective fashion while still operating as a willing facilitator.

    Plus, we can reasonably expect massive strides in 2018-19 because of a drastically different situation, as Danny Chau of The Ringer summarized:

    "For the first time in his career, Booker has a team with a functioning roster that more or less makes sense at each position. For once, after dealing with three coaches in three seasons, he'll have one who has the front office's full support in Igor Kokoskov. He has the outline of the ideal modern basketball player: a 6-foot-6 initiating wing with limitless range on his jump shot and the ability to run the pick-and-roll and spot up in a second's notice. These are the tools that every team needs to build around. That outline will be easier to spot and embrace once the shock of his $158 million contract subsides."

    Booker remains a puzzling presence who needs to polish his defensive warts. He has to prove he can do more than submit gaudy numbers on a losing team. He must coexist with other offensive talents rather than maintain massive usage figures.

    But his sheer talent is already abundantly clear, and that makes it so much easier to look past the troublesome numbers and expect value moving forward.

36. Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 25

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 22.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 18.4 PER, 101.85 TPA, 1.25 RPM

    Bradley Beal had some trouble maintaining his lofty shooting percentages in 2017-18, but he still made appreciable strides that will have positive long-term effects. Assuming he shores up his shot profile moving forward, he'll be able to capitalize on increased efficacy as a distributor and shot-creator. This will likely happen when the Washington Wizards endure fewer injuries and aren't tasking their stars with carrying strange lineups.

    During the 2016-17 campaign, Beal required assists on 48.6 percent of his two-point makes and 80.3 percent of his successful triples. One year later, those numbers dipped to 35.5 and 78.4 percent. Both were career lows, and the eye test backed up these observations as the former Gator seemed far more comfortable breaking down defenders off the bounce.

    Plus, we can't overlook his passing strides. Averaging a personal-best 4.5 dimes, he was often asked to initiate the offense within Washington's half-court schemes. He handled that request nicely while also hitting more shooters in the pocket.

    Beal is now an established offensive weapon who can do damage in multiple facets of the game. He's also an improving defender who didn't let his increased responsibilities prevent him from making the necessary effort on the stopping side. Though he's by no means a preventing ace, just playing like less of a liability allowed him to squeeze ahead of Booker...for the time being, at least.

35. Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons

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    Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 25

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.0 points, 16.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.6 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 22.9 PER, 289.35 TPA, 1.45 RPM

    A plea to the Detroit Pistons: let Andre Drummond run the show as a point center more frequently. 

    This big man remains one of the best rebounders seen in the modern NBA, capable of preventing second-chance opportunities on one end and corralling plenty of offensive boards on the other. He's an improving defender who's able to make up for his lack of rim-protection skills with mobility, quick hands in the passing lanes and that nearly unsurpassed ability to end possessions after a missed shot (an often overlooked portion of the defensive game).

    And though his post-up game needs significant work after sitting in the 41st percentile for points per possession in 2017-18, his understanding of his own skill set assists his overall offensive performance; rarely will he overextend himself. 

    All of that is obvious if you watch even the tiniest bit of—Jalen Rose voice—Detroit basketball. But less clear is how effective Drummond can be with the ball in his hands, operating with autonomy from the top of the key. 

    He received such opportunities far less frequently with Blake Griffin aboard. But during the opening salvo, he showed what he could do. From the start of the NBA calendar through the end of January, he averaged 3.9 assists, highlighted by six games in which he recorded at least seven dimes.

    Let's see more of that. Drummond can handle the rock in transition. He can squeeze the ball into tight spaces and find open cutters. Most importantly, he averaged an additional 0.3 assists in Detroit victories despite spending slightly less time on the floor.

34. Blake Griffin, PF, Detroit Pistons

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    Chris Schwegler/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 29

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 21.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 19.6 PER, 110.91 TPA, 2.11 RPM

    Blake Griffin is underrated. There, we said it. And we mean it.

    The NBA's push toward like-sized wings who face up on offense and switch on defense has hoodwinked more than a few into thinking the game has left Griffin behind. It has not. He's just miscast at the power forward slot.

    Most of his time should come at center, where he'd be no less of a defensive letdown and his offensive toolbox would be more of a matchup nightmare. That transition is long overdue—and it will stay that way. DeAndre Jordan blocked Griffin's conversion in Los Angeles. Andre Drummond is impeding it now.

    Chaining Griffin to the 4 cheapens his peak. It does not lower his floor. He remains a to-die-for offensive talent.

    Griffin's bag of tricks has deepened with the league's evolution. He has extended the range on his jumper and worked off-the-dribble playmaking into his arsenal. He ran 2.4 pick-and-rolls per game after being traded to the Detroit Pistons—just as many as Nicolas Batum piloted for the Charlotte Hornets.

    Stop-and-pop jumpers will never be Griffin's strength. They became an inefficient crutch with the Clippers to start the post-Chris Paul era, and nothing changed with the Pistons.

    Things should be different in 2018-19 beside a healthy Reggie Jackson. More off-ball work will look good on Griffin. He hit a respectable 35.6 percent of his spot-up treys last year, and his stint as a full-blown point big will serve him so much better as the secondary ball-handler.

33. Jaylen Brown, SG, Boston Celtics

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 21

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 13.6 PER, minus-4.3 TPA, 1.39 RPM

    A malleable ball of clay who can already capably fill so many different roles for the Boston Celtics, Jaylen Brown showcased the well-rounded nature of his upside throughout a run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017-18. While Irving and Gordon Hayward were watching in street clothes, he averaged 18.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in the playoffs, doing so while shooting 46.6 percent from the field, 39.3 percent from downtown and 64.0 percent at the stripe.

    If the Celtics need someone who can control a possession and create his own look, Brown is there. If they need a spot-up threat, he's ready on the wings, waiting to use his impressive and replicable form to splash sphere through nylon for three points. If they need a defensive stop, he can parlay his physicality and instincts into solid work against myriad positions, often switching along the perimeter to fit in perfectly with the Beantown schemes.

    We have no idea what peak Brown might look like. His development could veer in so many different directions, all based around the needs of the deep Celtics roster. Maybe he'll focus on one end, or perhaps he'll morph into an all-around standout.

    But none of these outcomes, whether the more limited or fully realized ones, should be viewed negatively. After all, he's flashed enough across-the-board upside that all iterations of peak Brown should boast immense value.

32. Jayson Tatum, PF, Boston Celtics

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 20

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 15.3 PER, 48.76 TPA, 2.92 RPM

    Jayson Tatum finished his rookie season as a definitively positive, decidedly underutilized NBA player. How do we not crystal-ball a monstrous leap for his sophomore crusade?

    Finding his niche within the Boston Celtics' unfairly deep power structure could get a little complicated. Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are returning at the same time. Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Terry Rozier aren't just going to exit stage left.

    Tatum is arguably the least affected by Boston's potpourri of playable instruments. He spent most of his rookie year fitting in beside everyone else. Almost 47 percent of his offensive possessions came in transition and on spot-ups, and more than one-third of his shots were put up without taking a dribble. He is a plug-and-play superstud—with the battle-tested chops to be so much more.

    Playing out the postseason sans Hayward and Irving became Tatum's springboard to instant stardom. He split No. 1 duties with Brown and shined as a square-one playmaker. His assist rate spiked, and more importantly, he posted an effective field-goal percentage of 54.5 when using between three and six dribbles. For comparison's sake, Stephen Curry notched a 55.4 effective field-goal percentage on those same looks.

    Tatum has earned even more faith at the less glamorous end. The Celtics allowed just 100.3 points per 100 possessions when he played power forward last year, according to Cleaning the Glass. His strength, conditioning and timing will only get better. Boston will have no choice other than to augment Tatum's involvement amid its own rotation expansion. He's ready for it.

    Consider this: Eight rookies since 2009-10 have logged as many minutes as Tatum (2,438) and matched his value over replacement player (1.8): Curry, Tyreke Evans, Blake Griffin, Brandon Jennings, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons and Karl-Anthony Towns. And Tatum, at 19, was at least one year younger than anyone else to make the cut. He's special.

31. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, San Antonio Spurs

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    Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 33

    2017-18 PER-Game Stats: 23.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 25.0 PER, 163.87 TPA, 3.14 RPM

    LaMarcus Aldridge should see his usage tumble as the San Antonio Spurs stagger into their post-Kawhi Leonard transition. DeMar DeRozan is the more convenient inception point, and Dejounte Murray is coming. Aldridge will get his post-ups, but he'll be more lieutenant than force-fed centrum.

    Role reductions are unfailingly advertised as demotions. This one shouldn't be. Aldridge's segue is more of a simplification. Engineering something out of nothing was his modus operandi last season. More than 27 percent of his total attempts came off turnarounds, and he averaged 8.7 looks per game in which defenders were within two to four feet of his person—most in the league.

    San Antonio's spacing will be a labor of ball and body movement. Joe Ingles hit almost as many threes last year (204) as this season's projected starting five (205). Aldridge will still reap the benefits of DeRozan's arrival. Defenses bend to his change-of-pace face-ups and have to plan around his knack for finding the ball when he's not on it. Aldridge will get more pick-and-pops, rim runs and cleaner post-ups.

    Any regression he suffers is bound to come on defense. The Spurs lost three of their most important stoppers—Leonard, Kyle Anderson, Danny Green—and after qualifying as a center in 2017-18, per Cleaning the Glass, Aldridge will now have to log more time at the 4.

    Standstill rim protection has its place at power forward when Pau Gasol isn't your center. San Antonio allowed more than 109 points per 100 possessions when he played beside Aldridge without Anderson, Green or Leonard in the lineup, according to Cleaning the Glass.

    The Spurs will make it work anyway. Jakob Poeltl will let Aldridge hang back behind the free-throw line, and they'll have room for more dynamic frontcourt combos when Davis Bertans, Dante Cunningham or Rudy Gay is at the 4. Aldridge's value from last season should remain intact at both ends.

30. Jrue Holiday, SG, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 17.8 PER, 128.7 TPA, 3.73 RPM

    Yes, Jrue Holiday is a shooting guard now.

    Despite his longstanding status as a 1-guard, he's played the 2 enough with the Pelicans to validate a different listing. Basketball Reference recorded a 1/40/59 split between the three smallest positions in 2017-18. Cleaning the Glass indicated 60 percent of his minutes came at shooting guard, and the presence of Elfrid Payton ensures Holiday will continue filling a void on the wings, just as he did while operating with Rajon Rondo.

    But no matter where Holiday plays these days, he's effective. Anthony Davis wasn't the only player who assumed more responsibilities after DeMarcus Cousins went down with a ruptured Achilles.

    After Cousins' last game in a New Orleans uniform (Jan. 26), the 28-year-old Holiday averaged 19.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.2 assists while shooting 49.2 percent from the field, 34.5 percent from downtown and 76.0 percent at the stripe. As if that weren't enough, he doubled down on his reemergence as a celestial presence by outplaying both Lillard and McCollum in an opening-round sweep of the Trail Blazers.

    Holiday functioned as a dangerous dual threat on offense, capable of either scoring with aplomb or setting the table for his teammates. He also never stopped playing pestilent perimeter defense, which should be evidence enough that we're finally seeing what a healthy version of this veteran backcourt presence can do for a team willing to trust his far-reaching talents.

29. John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 19.1 PER, 45.40 TPA, 1.17 RPM

    John Wall will remain difficult to evaluate against the league's elite forever and ever and ever. Wherever he falls either feels too high or too low. That's his brand.

    Sticking him here has an "Are you drunk on hatorade-and-vodka?" tinge to it. He is one of the Association's premier table-setters, and the "can't shoot" trope remains a smidge overblown. He's hitting an acceptable 34 percent of his treys since 2013-14. 

    But something about Wall's season-long performance invariably leaves you expecting more—hence this hedge.

    Though the Washington Wizards don't actively hide him on defense, his physical tools should translate to more than a bunch of steals and fleeting examples of exhaustive stopping power. He has played himself out of being a total three-point liability. But he has never cleared 35 percent shooting from beyond the arc in consecutive seasons, and his unending love affair with long two-pointers is maddening—particularly down the stretch of close games.

    Last year's roller-coaster ride acts as an uncomfortable tipping point.

    He didn't look right after receiving platelet-rich plasma injections in his left knee at the beginning of the season and barely made it back in time for the playoffs following surgery on that same knee toward the end of January. His first step lacked its usual explosion, and the lift on his stop-and-pop jumpers just wasn't the same. He canned 30.0 percent of his pull-up jumpers, down from 37.9 in 2016-17.

    Losing Marcin Gortat—or rather, the idea of Gortat—also figures to compromise Wall's offense. Neither Dwight Howard nor Ian Mahinmi will manufacture space beyond rolls to the basket; Gortat at least had range from 10 to 16 feet. Wall will still find ways to hit his divers and corner shooters, but he could struggle to grind out his own breathing room.

28. Donovan Mitchell, SG, Utah Jazz

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    David Sherman/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 22

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.7 PER, 57.85 TPA, 2.15 RPM

    Donovan Mitchell came out swinging during his rookie season and didn't let up until the conclusion of the Utah Jazz's two-round playoff run, during which he proved his scoring talents could translate nicely to the postseason portion of the calendar. That's impressive enough for a first-year player, but it's perhaps even more notable the 22-year-old got better as he jelled with his teammates and coaching staff.

    As one of many examples, take a gander at the month-by-month progression of his finishing ability no further than five feet from the basket:

    • October: 42.3 percent on 3.7 attempts per game
    • November: 54.2 percent on 4.8 attempts per game
    • December: 73.6 percent 6.7 attempts per game
    • January: 60 percent on 5.0 attempts per game
    • February: 47.1 percent on 5.1 attempts per game
    • March: 61.1 percent on 6.0 attempts per game
    • April: 52.4 percent on 7.0 attempts per game
    • Playoffs: 57.8 percent on 9.9 attempts per game

    If you were expecting a linear progression with a ceaseless positive trend, you were overly optimistic. But baking in Mitchell's ever increasing willingness to attack the basket and upped responsibilities within the stratagems employed by head coach Quin Snyder, this is still almost unmitigated growth.

    He became more and more of a reliable finisher throughout his rookie go-round, culminating in extreme volume and respectable efficiency during a postseason run in which so much defensive attention was focused squarely on him. And that alone should have you plenty excited to see how he might develop in Year 2.

27. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 20.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.1 PER, minus-31.2 TPA, 1.81 RPM

    Sure, we could regale you with stories about Klay Thompson's three-and-D prowess, even if the latter part of that categorization often gets undersold by advanced metrics. He's one of the deadliest snipers in the sport's history, and his willingness to assume tough assignments against opposing guards—both of the point and shooting varieties—opens so many possibilities for the Golden State Warriors.

    Instead, let's focus on his role within the offense run by head coach Steve Kerr.

    During the 2017-18 season, 25 players suited up in at least 50 games and scored no fewer than 20 points per contest. Among that group, Thompson was entirely unique because he so rarely needed to control the rock. Perfectly content to run around the floor seeking spot-up opportunities and dribble infrequently, this wing required only 1.7 minutes of possession per game—rather easily the lowest mark among the 25 relevant contributors:

    1. Klay Thompson, 1.7
    2. Karl-Anthony Towns, 2.0
    3. LaMarcus Aldridge, 2.2
    4. Anthony Davis, 2.3
    5. Paul George, 2.8
    6. Joel Embiid, 2.8
    7. Khris Middleton, 3.1

    The other 18 high-scoring threats all used more than double Thompson's time of possession. So while he might be viewed as a dangerous spot-up threat, he's really occupying a category of his own: volume-scoring pure spot-up shooter.

    This is helpful in and of itself, but it's particularly valuable when he's operating alongside so many other offensive standouts who need control of the rock to maximize their effectiveness.

26. DeMar DeRozan, SG, San Antonio Spurs

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 29

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 23.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 21.0 PER, 99.02 TPA, 1.66 RPM

    Can DeMar DeRozan regain his All-NBA form after an offseason trade sent him from the Toronto Raptors to the San Antonio Spurs?

    On one hand, he no longer has the pleasure of suiting up alongside security blanket/close friend Kyle Lowry. He presumably won't be allowed to operate with such autonomy, and his greatest skill (knocking down contested mid-range jumpers) overlaps with the preferred game of incumbent power forward Aldridge. Spacing could be a concern, hindering the stronger side of the floor for a one-way threat.

    On the other hand, head coach Gregg Popovich has maximized the talents of so many lesser players in previous go-rounds, and he's built a system that not only allows those mid-range attempts but actively encourages them in some scenarios. Perhaps DeRozan could even translate some of his physical talents into positive work on the defensive end.

    We don't yet know the level of play we should expect from this 29-year-old—which is thoroughly unsurprising after so many years of metrics and the eye test yielding such disparate results. But after DeRozan fully accepted the Raptors' egalitarian offense in 2017-18, buying into the teachings and submitting the best individual campaign of his career, we should probably lean toward a more positive slant.

    Consider DeRozan's placement a volatile one, as he could trend significantly higher or lower in the early stages of his Spurs tenure.

25. Kevin Love, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 30

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 22.4 PER40.45 TPA3.40 RPM 

    Remember the last time Kevin Love was an offensive focal point? Way back in 2013-14? When he was on the Minnesota Timberwolves, and when Al Jefferson was 11th in points per game, and when Michael Carter-Williams was empty calories-ing his way to Rookie of the Year?

    Nostalgia is one helluva vice, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are preparing to indulge it.

    They billed Love as their present and future with a four-year, $120.4 million extension—potential ulterior motives notwithstanding. He enters 2018-19 as LeBron James' offensive successor, so expect his usage to explode. Additional post touches will fatten up his scoring and assist totals, and his rebounding numbers should receive a boon from an inevitable surge in playing time.

    Putting Love this high is neither an obligation or a no-brainer. It's a dice roll. Transitioning back to power forward threatens to sabotage his already wretched defensive value. And Cleveland's point guard corps casts a thick haze over the extent to which his offense can blossom.

    Love wasn't spraying pull-up jumpers from all over the court during his Minnesota heyday. His floor spacing is predicated on having someone to set the table. He had Ricky Rubio in 2013-14. He has George Hill and Collin Sexton now.

    Quality catch-and-shoot looks will be hard to come by. His 2018-19 should play out a lot like LaMarcus Aldridge's 2017-18, as a lifeline who gets his but must do so in the hardest possible ways.

24. Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Hornets

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 22.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 20.6 PER, 179.48 TPA, 3.81 RPM

    Kemba Walker continues to be among the NBA's most underappreciated stars. People have this tendency to portray him as a lower-rung alternative to Kyrie Irving or a wannabe star. He's so much more than that.

    Using Walker's improved shooting as a reference point is flat-out insulting now. It implies his beefed-up accuracy is still new or fated to disappear. It's neither.

    Just seven other players with a minimum of 25 appearances since 2015-16 are clearing 20 points and five assists per 36 minutes while canning at least 38 percent of their three-point attempts. Most of them are perennial All-Stars: Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Tyreke Evans, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul.

    At 6'1", Walker is not an automatic finisher around the rim. The Charlotte Hornets have seldom had the frontcourt shooting necessary for the brand of floor balance that would offset his lack of size or vertical pop.

    That only makes Walker's offensive ascension so much more impressive. He's reached All-Star heights with a hefty reliance on his off-the-dribble the craft. Curry, Paul, James Harden and Damian Lillard were the only other players last season to shoot at least 36 percent on more than four pull-up three-pointers per game.

    Additional respect should likewise be attached to Walker's defensive stands. He's not an All-NBA gnat, but the Hornets aren't compelled to cover for him with Nicolas Batum or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist nearly as much as they could be. Walker routinely chases around Irving, Lillard, Lowry, John Wall et al. and has shown the close-out recognition required for him to help onto standstill wings. He's earned a ritzier reputation.

23. Draymond Green, PF, Golden State Warriors

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 16.1 PER, 147.11 TPA, 4.04 RPM

    Three championships, one Defensive Player of the Year award and countless examples to the contrary later, Draymond Green's status continues to be obfuscated by the Golden State Warriors' superstar goulash. He is a product of his environment, or distinctly inessential, or overrated, or some combination of everything.

    These dismissive takes remain an exercise in asininity. Green proved he wasn't above regular-season indifference last year. His defensive default veered away from unflagging fury toward inconstant diligence. But that changes nothing.

    Green ratcheted up his stick-to-itiveness for the playoffs and is one of Golden State's life jackets even at three-quarters speed. No one on the team guarded more isolation possessions, averaged more deflections or contested more shots at the rim.

    The talent around him is used to downplay his offense, but he's led the reigning champs in assists per 36 minutes for the past three seasons. The Warriors don't handle him like an accessory. Last year, Green averaged about as many minutes per game without Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (10.0) as Durant did without Draymond and Curry (10.3)—through which time Golden State was a net plus, per Cleaning the Glass.

    Three-point shooting is Green's biggest wart. Defenses have no qualms about giving him a solar system's worth of space. He has connected on at least 34 percent of deep balls only once and nailed just 33.0 percent of his wide-open treys last season.

    The Warriors can and will continue to deal. Green gives them more of their identity than Durant. After Curry, he's their second-most important player—for the time being anyway.

22. Gordon Hayward, SF, Boston Celtics

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    Kent Smith/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 2.0 points, 1.0 rebounds

    Advanced Metrics: 7.3 PER, minus-1.2 TPA, minus-1.47 RPM

    Should we be concerned about Gordon Hayward returning to a Boston Celtics squad that now has to dole out minutes to Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, none of whom had broken out when he signed in Boston last summer? Absolutely not. 

    Here's what Favale wrote when we spotted him at No. 14 overall in the preseason countdown for the 2017-18 edition of our top 100 players:

    "Possession allocation could become an issue if [Kyrie] Irving really coordinated his departure from the Cavaliers because he wants more touches. But he has extra freedom in Boston by default and might not stress about the chain of command when no one on the Celtics casts a four-time-MVP-sized shadow.

    "Above all else, Hayward has the skill set to navigate the minefield of possible warts. He boasts a doctorate in assimilation. Over half of his buckets were assisted last year, while more than one-quarter of his total shot attempts came off the catch. No one in the league ran as many pick-and-rolls (419) while finishing more than 100 possessions as a cutter."

    Nothing has changed in the year since. Hayward's ability to regain his previous form is a bit concerning after the devastating ankle injury that ended his inaugural Celtics campaign within mere minutes. But that's a separate issue than blending into head coach Brad Stevens' rotation. In many ways, the flexibility of his game should ensure a higher floor as he works back to tip-top shape. 

    In a best-case scenario, the 28-year-old will resume his pre-injury fireworks by contributing in seamless, across-the-board fashion. But even if he can't quite get there, he's talented enough in off-the-ball situations that he'll thrive as a complementary piece.

21. Al Horford, C, Boston Celtics

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 32

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.1 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 17.6 PER, 182.16 TPA, 3.89 RPM

    Al Horford's per-game numbers won't boggle your mind or convince you he has the impact of a bona fide superstar. To prove that, let's take a quick peek at where he ranks in each of the major categories among all players qualified for the 2017-18 minutes leaderboard: 

    "How can this center possibly be an All-Star when he doesn't even rank within the top 20 of any major category? He's obviously overrated. Right?"

    Well, now let's glance at the complete list of players who matched his entire line by contributing in the same across-the-board fashion: 

    • Giannis Antetokounmpo
    • Blake Griffin
    • LeBron James
    • Nikola Jokic
    • Ben Simmons
    • Russell Westbrook

    We're not even looking at his monumental defensive impact, which left him trailing only Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and Paul George in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. Nor are we worried about his unselfish play and willingness to assume lesser offensive roles as younger contributors emerge for the Boston Celtics. 

    Even on that per-game basis, Horford stands out and joins a group of obvious studs. His appeal may be a bit less clear on the surface level, but it's there when you look for it.

    No digging is required. 

20. Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana Pacers

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 26

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 23.1 PER, 250.09 TPA, 5.91 RPM

    Throughout the Indiana Pacers' first-round series against James and the Cleveland Cavaliers—a series in which they outplayed the victors, we should note—Victor Oladipo didn't seem the least bit shaken by the spotlight. Pick out a key moment, and you're more likely than not to see the breakout 2-guard backing up well beyond the three-point arc before attacking the basket with every ounce of his staggering athleticism.

    Precious few players can go one-on-one against James and convert opportunities at the basket, but Oladipo did. Consistently. By the time Cleveland had won in seven games, he had embarked upon 11.1 drives per contest and shot 54.5 percent from the field on such plays—numbers only four other players (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, James and Holiday) in the postseason matched.

    Of course, this wasn't some new development. During the regular season, he converted 52.1 percent of his shooting attempts on 10.8 drives per game. Once more, just four men matched his combination of volume and efficiency: James, Holiday, Irving and James Harden.

    Don't expect 2018-19 to prove this was a fluke.

    After years of trials and tribulation with the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder, Oladipo has parlayed all his different experiences into this ascent up the individual hierarchy. He's a defensive ace who can shoot 37.1 percent from downtown (with immense volume—5.8 attempts per game in 2017-18) and thrive when attacking the teeth of the opposition. Even so, he doesn't have to sacrifice his distributing skills.

    In other words, he's a bona fide star.

19. Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 32

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 19.5 PER300.50 TPA, 5.18 RPM

    Finally, after years of frolicking in an ultragray area, we can officially say it: Kyle Lowry is not the Toronto Raptors' best player. That honor now belongs to a healthy Kawhi Leonard. 

    For more than a half-decade, though, this imaginary crown was worn by Lowry. Many regularly argued in favor of DeMar DeRozan, but he never challenged his running mate for the distinction. Not really.

    Even last season, with DeRozan playing at his peak, Lowry comfortably remained Toronto's most important body. Just look at his league ranks from last year across a handful of catch-all-metrics:

    • PER: 37
    • Value over replacement player (VORP): 9
    • Real-Plus Minus Wins: 9
    • TPA: 8

    Three out of four categories view Lowry as a top-10 player, bar none. Average all four together, and he grades out as a top-16 talent. (DeRozan falls inside the top 32.) 

    Accounting for some regression is fine. Lowry is 32, his defensive energy dropped a tick at times last year, and kitchen-sink glances are not irreversible end-alls. But anyone who doesn't entertain his case as a borderline top-five point guard and top-20 player overall is kidding themselves.

18. Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 22

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 21.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 24.9 PER, 320.98 TPA, 4.24 RPM

    Imagine if Karl-Anthony Towns fixed all his flaws in an expeditious fashion. 

    We're not just referring to his disappearance during the Minnesota Timberwolves' foray into the playoff field. He's a shoddy defender who cedes easy opportunities to adversaries even after making concerted efforts to improve under the supervision of head coach Tom Thibodeau. He has trouble passing willingly and often throws the ball off target, though that may be a byproduct of not getting quite enough touches in the Minnesota schemes. His "nonchalant attitude" has reportedly rubbed Jimmy Butler the wrong way.  

    And yet, he still makes a ginormous impact—the product of generational tools on the scoring end. 

    Towns didn't just average 21.3 points during his third season; he did so while shooting 54.5 percent from the field, 42.1 percent from downtown and 85.8 percent from the charity stripe. That's a slash line only he and 2007-08 Yao Ming have ever recorded, though his predecessor did so while going a whopping 1-of-1 from beyond the rainbow for the Houston Rockets. 

    This up-and-comer is simply an offensive machine—and a remarkably fine-tuned one at that. He's capable of tormenting foes with his back to the basket, pulling up for jumpers created off the bounce and spotting up along the arc. He can passively wait for his moments to come or work to create them, and he's successful traveling down either avenue. 

    In other words, Towns would remain one of the league's best centers even if he were forced to endure total stagnation on both ends of the floor. His offensive repertoire is already that potent. And considering his age, stagnation probably won't be his career trajectory.

17. Kyrie Irving, PG, Boston Celtics

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 26

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 25.0 PER, 239.45 TPA, 2.39 RPM

    Irving's inaugural campaign with the Boston Celtics begs him to finish higher. He thrived as a lifeline for a squad that became unexpectedly dependent on two youngsters, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and visibly upped the energy he expended at the defensive end.

    This success amid a change of scenery cannot be overstated. Irving was supposed to suffer in some form after ditching his LeBron James-sized safety net. He didn't. In more ways than one, it was he who rescued the Celtics.

    Yes, they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals without Irving. And sure, on some level, it's fair to wonder whether Al Horford is more indispensable. But Boston wouldn't have been equipped to navigate Gordon Hayward's absence all year without someone to ferry the shot-creation load.

    Horford is not that guy. At the time, Brown, Tatum and Terry Rozier weren't the answer either. The Celtics had Irving. And Marcus Morris. But mostly Irving. He answered the call.

    Prior to Irving's season-ending knee injury, Boston's offensive output plunged by more than seven points per 100 possessions when he took a seat. His crunch-time detonations were unreal—and needed. Only six other players attempted more shots in clutch situations, and he still managed to post a true shooting percentage within the vicinity of 60 (58.8).

    Sustainability is all that holds back Irving. Even if he doesn't miss a beat following surgery on his left knee, he could incur some unintended role regression as Boston integrates Hayward and panders to the rises of Brown and Tatum.

16. Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 23

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 24.4 PER, 349.79 TPA, 5.97 RPM

    If you're still holding out against Nikola Jokic's stardom, stop.

    Please. Stop. We're begging you.

    Embrace the awesomeness that is his Hermione Granger-inspired bag of passing tricks and recognize what an immense impact he has on the Denver Nuggets offense. Recognize that his defense, while not as great as the last line on the interior or at the point of attack, isn't as detrimental as the widespread narrative may indicate. He's great at positioning and ending possessions after one shot. Realize that his status doesn't just depend on advanced metrics, but also that vaunted eye test he passes with such flying colors on the rare days Denver graces a national television channel. 

    It's that last part that's so key. 

    Jokic's game lends itself nicely to numerical knock-out blows. He does everything well and everything efficiently, and his combination of scoring, rebounding and passing pushes him into nearly uncharted territory for a player his size (6'10", 250 pounds). But we don't even need to focus on those, due to the litany of highlight-reel assists he compiles with his ESP-driven feeds to Gary Harris and the Nuggets' other wings. 

    Sure, he lumbers down the court. He jumps like prime Zach Randolph and rarely dunks. He still puts on an absolute show that should win over even those hesitant to accept the consensus conclusions screamed out by the numbers.

15. Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz

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    Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 26

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 2.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 20.7 PER, 155.69 TPA3.82 RPM

    Some centers are defensive stalwarts who block shots with aplomb and shut down their claimed territory. Others are forces of nature, so dominant that their mere presence forces significant alterations to opposing schemes. 

    Rudy Gobert, without even the tiniest sliver of doubt, falls into the second category. 

    The Utah Jazz were a solid defensive squad last year in just about every situation, allowing only 105 points per 100 possessions when the French center was on the pine. But when he was on the court, the defensive rating plummeted to 97.7. No one could figure out how to score against him with any semblance of consistency because he shut down the interior so capably, gobbled up rebounds and deterred drivers from even entering his domain. 

    But contrary to popular belief, Gobert isn't merely a one-way player. 

    Though he doesn't score many points, he's extraordinarily efficient with the touches he does receive and understands how to maximize his massive frame. Not only did he lead the league in screen assists per game during the 2017-18 campaign, but the gap between him (6.2) and No. 2 Steven Adams (4.9) was as large as the chasm separating Adams from No. 17 Ed Davis (3.6). As if that weren't already enough, he threw foes further off balance by thriving as a roll man; he scored 1.28 points per possession in that situation—enough to sit in the 87th percentile

    Don't expect to see Gobert launching threes anytime soon. He won't take over as a go-to scorer, either. That just doesn't preclude him from boasting immense two-way value.

14. Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 24

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.8 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 22.9 PER, 103.36 TPA, 5.1 RPM

    Joel Embiid is already a 7-footer with three-point range who can create for both himself and others. He's an exceptional defender who can capably switch onto smaller foes and protect the rim against bigger ones. His game is remarkably complete for such a young center who's missed so much on-court action due to injuries. 

    And yet, he can get that much better. 

    First and foremost comes staying healthy. Availability is a skill, and it has to remain at least somewhat concerning that he improved dramatically by suiting up in 63 games during the 2017-18 campaign. If he can keep playing 30 minutes per contest and limit his absences to around 10, he'll be all the more valuable for the Philadelphia 76ers. 

    But that's certainly not the only area that needs work. Nor is it the area in which he has the most control.

    Embiid is already adept at taking three-pointers, but actually making them is a different story. He connected at just a 30.8 percent clip during his sophomore-ish season, and he was only able to muster 0.86 points per spot-up possession (30th percentile). Though he's confident enough firing away that he absorbs defensive attention, the Philadelphia offense would benefit substantially from more swishes and fewer clanks. 

    Additionally, he's showing signs of growth as a distributor but has to do a better job depressing his turnovers. He's far too lackadaisical with his off-target kick-out passes and remains susceptible to double-teams converging from the weak side and swiping away at the rock. 

    We're picking at nits here. But that's only because Embiid has risen into the realm of superstars and can still climb so much higher.

13. Ben Simmons, PG, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 22

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 20.0 PER, 261.29 TPA, 2.89 RPM

    Oversized point guards are a dream, but the 6'10" Ben Simmons is something more—the fantasy other fantasies spend time fantasizing about.

    Around three-quarters of Simmons' rookie-year minutes came at the 1, according to Cleaning The Glass. Not one of them felt like the Philadelphia 76ers were reaching or forcing the issue. Simmons is at home with the ball in his hands and adjusted to the reactive flow of NBA defenses with the poise and polish of a veteran in his prime.

    Parts of his offensive game will always seem solvable until he develops a pull-up jumper, a floater or any sort of familiarity outside the restricted area. But only a handful of defenses have the tools to make Simmons and the Sixers pay for his absence of range—and even they will be hard-pressed to slow him down.

    Simmons doesn't create space so much as he invents it. The ease with which he sees over the top of defenders allows him to work impossible angles. He's probably one of the league's five- or seven-best passers already.

    And he doesn't have to hastily work in a jumper so long as his first step gets him around defenders and he's comfortable finishing in traffic. Almost half of his attempts came inside three feet, where he shot better than 74 percent.

    Expanding his range would grant Simmons instant entry into the superstar clique. But his defense might have the same effect. He's disciplined in a way most early 20-somethings are not, and the Sixers have zero qualms about moving him around. 

    Consider the 10 players he spent the most time guarding last year (by total possessions): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, LeBron James, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Otto Porter Jr., Russell Westbrook, Andrew Wiggins, Taurean Prince, Jaylen Brown and Khris Middleton.

    Left alone, Simmons is one of the NBA's most versatile players. Throw in some modest improvement between his rookie and sophomore seasons, and it becomes difficult to position him too far outside the top-10-player discussion.

12. Paul George, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 18.7 PER, 145.6 TPA, 2.9 RPM

    Though the "three-and-D" label is typically bestowed upon players who haven't achieved stardom, Paul George should be considered one of the NBA's premier members of that two-way category. His ability to create his own shots and take over as a go-to scorer gives him value beyond those facets of the game, but his primary skills come in the two aforementioned areas. 

    As a shooter, George is a deadly presence who requires constant attention. He can knock down triples off the bounce. He can shoot in rhythm when passes hit him right in the pocket, and he's adept at catching slightly off-target feeds from a driving Russell Westbrook before recovering and finding nothing but twine. Hitting 40.1 percent of your shots from outside the rainbow is never easy; it's particularly challenging when you're taking a whopping 7.7 attempts per game. 

    And yet, George might be better at the "D" part. 

    Not only is he capable of guarding a wide variety of foes in on-ball scenarios, but he wreaks unmatched havoc when operating away from the primary action. Though plenty of players are capable of jumping passing lanes and racking up deflections, few are able to do so with such remarkable frequency, to the point that his mere presence can force plays to unfold on another portion of the court. Fewer still can gamble incessantly but still recover to their assignments. 

    Best of all? Now that he's remaining with the Oklahoma City Thunder rather than joining the Los Angeles Lakers, we get to see what he can do with the luxury of continuity.

11. Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 28

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 26.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 25.2 PER, 359.64 TPA, 4.90 RPM

    Damian Lillard has always been that wild-card superstar—someone equally likely to chase a top-10 billing and drift outside the top 20.

    Last year saw him tilt more toward the top 10. His raw shooting percentages dipped a bit, but he made up for it with a higher assist rate amid lateral usage. And given the types of shots he traffics in, the Portland Trail Blazers will welcome his efficiency.

    Only James Harden jacked more pull-up three-pointers than Lillard, who put his down at a rate (36 percent) nearly identical to his overall mark from beyond the arc (36.1 percent). Among the 79 players to launch at least 150 shots after using between three and six dribbles, Lillard's effective field-goal percentage ranked eighth, putting him ahead of fellow from-scratch studs like Harden, Curry, Irving, Chris Paul and Kemba Walker.

    Having someone so fluent in off-the-bounce workloads used to be a luxury. The new structure and style of today's game have morphed it into a necessity, which renders Lillard an infinitely more potent force than he was two or three years ago.

    Putting him in front of Irving and Lowry—and even Simmons—is a calculated risk. Split hairs can turn Lillard's placement upside down. But he's earned the benefit of the doubt after upping his defensive intensity in 2017-18. He's making smarter reads in one-on-one situations and is no longer as prone to dying on screens.

    And if he's going to blend almost-even defense with the otherworldly shot creation and ball protection, he belongs here.

10. Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 29

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 25.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 24.7 PER, 481.39 TPA, 5.16 RPM

    Russell Westbrook is everything people want and don't want him to be.

    He is one of the league's most valuable and most infuriating players. He engendered contentious debates before Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the past two years, which included an MVP award, have only invited more. This man has incited discussion about the value of triple-doubles for crying out loud.

    Let's get one thing straight: Russell Westbrook is a superstar. He is what happens when an unstoppable force marries an immovable object and has a baby. He can carry suboptimal teams to respectability with his interminable will. His playmaking is not up to snuff with the Chris Pauls and LeBron Jameses, but his dribble-drive bursts send defenses into unmanageable havoc.

    Also: Triple-doubles are still pretty darn impressive.

    But we'd be remiss to gloss over Westbrook's most glaring wart. And it ain't his defense. His effort waxes and wanes. Whatever. That happens to high-usage lifelines. His penchant for errant off-the-dribble jumpers is more damning. 

    Pull-up attempts have accounted for at least 47 percent of Westbrook's total shots in every season since 2013-14. Only once, in 2013-14, has he notched an effective field-goal percentage north of 45 on these looks. Last year, as the league leader in pull-up attempts, he churned out a 39.4 effective field-goal percentage—a bottom-11 mark among 73 players to hoist at least 250 such shots.

    Something needs to give for Westbrook. He has to rein in his jump shots or improve his efficiency. The latter is ideal but less likely. Players don't usually take drastic leaps more than 10 years into their careers. Until something about Westbrook's approach changes, though, there will always be stretches in which he does more harm than good.

9. Jimmy Butler, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 29

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 23.7 PER, 216.4 TPA, 6.39 RPM

    The full extent of Jimmy Butler's abilities isn't appreciated nearly enough. 

    Sure, he's viewed as a volume-scoring threat who can put up big numbers by efficiently converting his looks from all over the floor. We know he's a capable distributor who's always willing to set up his teammates when those opportunities present themselves. His defense may be the most well-known skill of all, given his long-standing prowess on the less glamorous end—prowess that traveled with him from the Chicago Bulls to the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

    But combining all those elite skills into a singular package is rare. 

    So consider this: Along with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, James Harden, LeBron James, Khris Middleton, Victor Oladipo and Russell Westbrook, Butler was one of only nine qualified players last season to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. We can further cull that exclusive group in a few different ways. 

    Only four members (Antetokounmpo, Durant, Harden and James) could match Butler's 59.0 true shooting percentage. Oladipo was the only other one to join him in the club featuring players who recorded at least two swipes per contest. Thus, we've already found different iterations of the rankings that feature no overlap aside from this 29-year-old swingman. 

    Butler doesn't just do it all. He does it all well. This ranking should hold even if he's traded from Minnesota.

8. Chris Paul, PG, Houston Rockets

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 33

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 24.4 PER, 266.65 TPA, 6.99 RPM

    Chris Paul will eventually drop off the superstar radar. Maybe. We think. But don't bet on it happening anytime soon, just in case he doesn't.

    Because he might not.

    Joining the Houston Rockets looked good on Paul. He cold-turkeyed long twos like they were complex carbohydrates but didn't have to reinvent his style. Head coach Mike D'Antonio and his staff didn't task Paul with ditching his one-on-one inklings. They catered to them.

    Houston leaned on isolations more than any other team and went out of the way to stagger Paul's minutes from Harden's court time. Separating stars is always a tactical move. Teams like to limit the amount of time they spend trying to survive without a headliner leading the charge. But the Rockets' strategy played into juggling the dynamic between Harden and Paul, both of whom are accustomed to initiating actions from on the ball.

    Incorporating Carmelo Anthony into the equation will test Houston's balancing act. Paul is ready for it. He placed in the 90th and 95th percentiles of isolation and spot-up efficiency, respectively. The Rockets can work in more off-rock reps without worrying too much about curbing his impact.

    Conceding more of his touches may even leave Paul with extra juice in his legs at the defensive end—which, um, yikes. He has finished lower than sixth among point guards in defensive real plus-minus just once over the past five years (2014-15). Invest in a regressive trajectory at your own peril.

7. Kawhi Leonard, SF, Toronto Raptors

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 27

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.0 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 26.0 PER, 24.52 TPA, 0.81 RPM

    If you know what to expect from Kawhi Leonard in 2018-19, would you mind lending us your crystal ball for a little while? 

    Leonard's level would be tough enough to predict if he were remaining with the San Antonio Spurs and coming back from the mysterious quadriceps injury that limited him to only a handful of appearances in 2017-18. Perhaps he'll find the form that made him a popular MVP choice before this last campaign began and we realized the full extent of his maladies. On the flip side, he may never be the same, hindered by lingering effects and the time away from on-court action. 

    But that isn't the only variable in play. 

    Leonard is now joining a different team after an offseason trade sent him from the Spurs to the Toronto Raptors. That means learning an entirely new system. It requires building chemistry with new teammates and a new coaching staff. It means figuring out how to thrive apart from San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich and realizing how he can excel when he isn't operating with offensive autonomy. 

    An adjustment period isn't likely, so much as inevitable. 

    If you're of the belief that Leonard will pick up where he left off, again functioning as a primary challenger for the NBA's individual crown, more power to you. We are talking about a 27-year-old with Defensive Player of the Year chops who can function as a capable No. 1 option. But that's an argument that can't yet be fully substantiated, which means we have to be a bit more cautious here.

6. James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 29

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 30.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 29.8 PER, 565.39 TPA, 6.71 RPM

    Perhaps the manner in which Harden compiles statistics rubs you the wrong way. You might not care for his assaults on the hoop, during which he often seems more concerned with baiting referees into whistles than actually completing the play. You aren't a fan of that shuffling, side-stepping three-point stroke that so often invites contact and sends the bearded 2-guard to the stripe for more freebies.

    That's all well and good, but aesthetics don't win basketball games.

    Harden does.

    The shooting guard understands how to capitalize on his strengths while taking advantage of overlooked areas in the rulebook. And even after the league tried to eliminate gather-through-contact moves to deter one of his pet plays, he responded by having a dizzyingly effective offensive season that resulted in the first MVP of his illustrious career.

    Sure, he's not the league's greatest defensive wing. He often plays like a below-average contributor on that end, though the spotlight on his missteps is often too harsh and creates an overblown reputation. But even with the vast majority of his efforts coming on one end, he still submits some of the best numbers in the league.

    We're not even talking about his per-game marks, jaw-dropping as they may be. Harden finished behind only the TPA compiled by James in 2017-18. Teammate Chris Paul was the lone man with a superior RPM, while not a single soul topped this 2-guard's RPM wins.

    He's elite no matter how you choose to measure his play.

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Age at Start of 2018-19: 23

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 26.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.4 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 27.3 PER320.70 TPA4.23 RPM

    Every imaginable adjective and paranormal parallel has been used to capture the historical significance of Giannis Antetokounmpo's 2017-18 detonation. In the scramble to properly coronate feats already done, an overriding matter tends to fall by the wayside: Antetokounmpo is only getting better.

    Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes pegged the NBA's alphabet overlord as one of the select few superstars in line for a career year:

    "Giannis Antetokounmpo has a better chance of making this prediction look bad than anyone else on the list—not because he'll struggle to produce his best year to date, but because it's harder to make the case he'll be done improving after this season. His ceiling is incalculable.

    "That said, Antetokounmpo could easily put up 30 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and finally add a reliable three-point shot to his game. An MVP award is attainable, and there's no telling how impactful he might be on defense in new head coach Mike Budenholzer's schemes."

    All the same holes in Antetokounmpo's game persist. He has yet to shoot threes at a league-average clip, and his accuracy from the charity stripe and on long twos dropped last season. There remains an inexact risk in casting him as the offense's heartbeat. He'll seem solvable for protracted stretches without a three-ball or functional pull-up jumper, and his playmaking is borne more from force, via an alien gait, than exceptional vision.

    None of the nitpicking matters. Antetokounmpo doesn't turn 24 until December. He hasn't even entered his prime, and his game is imperfect, yet he's already a top-five player—a potential heir apparent to LeBron James' best-player throne. If this is Antetokounmpo unfinished, the thought of what comes next should be endlessly terrifying.

4. Kevin Durant, SF, Golden State Warriors

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 30

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 26.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.8 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 26.0 PER, 274.99 TPA, 3.61 RPM

    Even if Kevin Durant is still questing for forgiveness after joining the Golden State Warriors, he's certainly justified the choice. In two seasons with the Dubs, he's won two titles and earned a pair of Finals MVP trophies, bringing himself even closer to sitting atop the positional—and overall—hierarchy. 

    This isn't just Durant coasting alongside other top-tier talents, either. Sure, his job is easier because defenses have to pay attention to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. But he still averaged 29.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists during this latest postseason run while shooting 48.7 percent from the field, 34.1 percent from downtown and 90.1 percent at the stripe. 

    Durant's path to championship glory was simpler because of his free-agency decisions. That much is undeniable and won't change moving forward, especially with DeMarcus Cousins potentially making the Dubs that much stronger in 2018-19. But what often gets lost in this narrative are the improvements he's made to his own game. Durant worked hard to become a better, more well-rounded defender while simultaneously heightening the quality of his work as a facilitator. 

    This is the most complete version of Durant we've seen, fully primed to take over a game on either side of the court while filling myriad roles for Golden State. He's willing and able to flourish as a go-to scorer, a pass-first wing, a perimeter defender or a last line of defense.

    And given his dizzying levels of skill and physical ability, he may not be done realizing the full extent of his generational talents.

3. Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 30

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 26.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 28.2 PER, 291.05 TPA, 6.65 RPM

    For as much star power as the Golden State Warriors added over the past few years, their pecking order remains the same.

    There's Stephen Curry, a small country and then everyone else.

    Kevin Durant occasionally garners more acclaim as Golden State's top dog. He shouldn't. He is a luxury—the greatest luxury of all time but a frill all the same.

    Curry gives the Warriors their identity. Defenses bend and sometimes break just while trying to guard against the concept of what he does. His range extends beyond Earth's atmosphere, and he's as smooth when pulling up off the dribble in traffic as he is at the foul line. That he's honed a nasty floater and perfected circus-finishing around the rim is unfair. He is basketball contraband. 

    Durant is more likely to rack up Finals MVPs. His ability to rise and fire over defenders is a postseason-friendly formula Curry can't physically replicate. But even Durant is partially dependent on Curry. He enjoys fewer double-teams and turns into the NBA's best-ever afterthought for a moment or two at a time. His effective field-goal percentage predictably took a nosedive last season whenever Curry stepped off the court—both during the regular season and playoffs.

    The Warriors as a whole encounter similar setbacks without their star floor general. Their net rating plunged by nearly 12 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. No one else's absence impacted them by more than 4.8 points per 100 possessions. To have that influence over a team like Golden State is divine—and the consummate validation for Curry's standing.

2. Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 25

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.6 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 28.9 PER, 291.19 TPA, 5.55 RPM

    What can't Anthony Davis do?

    If he has a distinct weakness in his game, he masked it admirably after DeMarcus Cousins went down for the season and forced him to assume even more responsibilities on both ends of the floor. After that Jan. 26 pyrrhic victory over the Houston Rockets, the unibrowed big man averaged a mind-melting 30.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.0 steals and 3.2 blocks while slashing 51.4/33.7/83.5. As if that wasn't enough, he followed up the regular-season success by posting 30.1 points, 13.4 boards, 1.7 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.3 blocks per playoff game and slashed 52.0/27.3/82.8. 

    So to answer that rhetorical question, it sure doesn't seem like there's anything he can't do. 

    Need a frontcourt defender who can perform reliably in any half-court situation? Davis is your guy. Coveting a big man who can score from the inside or the outside, dominate in a ball-commandeering setting or wait patiently to crash the offensive glass and punish unaware players attempting to lazily box out? See the previous response. We could keep throwing out roles, and Davis would be capable of filling just about every one. 

    For quite a few seasons now, the 25-year-old has shown flashes of unabashed dominance that hint at an imminent rise to the top of the NBA's individual hierarchy. He's now the best center in the league. If you think he's going to spend more time at the 4 even with Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle in tow, he'd also be the Association's best power forward. 

    Come to think of it, we're no longer too far removed from him functioning as the best overall.

1. LeBron James, SF, Los Angeles Lakers

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Age at Start of 2018-19: 33

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Advanced Metrics: 28.6 PER, 593.09 TPA, 4.96 RPM

    A lot has been made of LeBron James' otherworldly levels of success during his 15th professional seasonfor good reason.

    He played at arguably the highest level of his career while willing the Cleveland Cavaliers to yet another appearance in the Finals. That came on the heels of a regular season in which he led the league in minutes played while refusing to miss even a single game. If anything, he hasn't received enough credit for his absurd accomplishments in 2017-18.

    According to NBA Math's GOAT rankings (based on performance relative to the league throughout the Association's history), James earned 8.991 GOAT points for his efforts during the regular season and playoffs combined. That might not mean anything to you in a vacuum, but this should: Only two of James' prior seasons have earned higher single-season scores throughout the NBA's lengthy annals. Nothing from Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain or any of the other legendary players who have graced the hardwood.

    Again, he did this during his age-33 season, with so much mileage already on his tires. No matter how much this accomplishment is hyped up, it won't be overblown. 

    In 2018-19, James is now entering an entirely new situation. He'll be thrust firmly into the Hollywood spotlight after joining the Los Angeles Lakers. He has to play against the brutal Western Conference more frequently, which could hinder his quest to make nine consecutive Finals trips. He'll be tasked with leading a collection of mismatched veteransyes, we know it's allegedly all part of the planand up-and-coming youngsters on a roster that will likely look much different at this time next year. 

    But until he shows any sign of mortality, he'll keep his stranglehold on this No. 1 spot.

    Unless otherwise cited, all stats are courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference.

    Dan Favale and Adam Fromal cover the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow them on Twitter, @danfavale and @fromal09.