B/R NBA Player Rankings: Top 15 Power Forwards for 2019-20

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2019

B/R NBA Player Rankings: Top 15 Power Forwards for 2019-20

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    Our journey through the NBA's top players entering the 2019-20 regular season has reached power forwards. You know the drill: Let's rank them.

    But first, be like the cool kids and check out all our other NBA 100 installments:

    Possession data from Cleaning the Glass will be used to determine which umbrella a player falls under, but it isn't an end-all. Positions can be changed from last season if a team's depth chart calls for it.

    Anthony Davis is determined not to play his best position, so he'll make his cameo here. Al Horford is now Joel Embiid's frontcourt partner, which makes him a 4.

    Jayson Tatum qualified as a 3 last year, but it looks like he'll start alongside Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward. He was billed as the power forward in those lineups last season, and the Boston Celtics' depth chart demands small-ball combinations. Tatum is a 4 for our purposes. Kristaps Porzingis defends 5s, so we're calling him a 5. 

    Take these decisions with a grain of salt. The increase in interchangeable defenders makes it difficult to pigeonhole positions with exactness. Focus more on a player's ranking relative to the field that's up for discussion. That will say more about his value than whether he'll see most of his reps at a given spot.

    Everything else is the same: Power forwards are evaluated as if they're being acquired for the entire 2019-20 season. This includes the playoffs. But players won't be docked if they're on lottery teams. The degree to which they can positively impact winning at the highest level is all that counts.

    Preseason performances have not meaningfully impacted these rankings. Injuries matter and will factor in as needed. Rookies are left out. A handful are bound to crack the overall top 100 by season's end, but passing judgment on players without NBA reps under their belt is a no-win exercise.

15-11: Markkanen, Randle, Sabonis, Covington, Collins

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    15. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

    Lauri Marrkanen's sophomore season should not be remembered as a total letdown. All things considered, he made a year-long tumult.

    A sprained right elbow sidelined him until December, at which point he struggled to recapture his offensive form. But then he hit his stride more often. From Dec. 21 to March 1, a span covering 31 appearances, he averaged 21.2 points and 9.9 rebounds on 59.1 percent true shooting.

    This mini-tear culminated with a 31-point performance in a four-overtime slugfest against the Atlanta Hawks, after which Markkanen tailed off. Chicago shut him down because of fatigue before April.

    It should be easier for Markkanen to stand out this year. Better point guard play might help him more than anyone on the roster. Too many of his possessions last season seemed to end in late-shot-clock post-ups to nowhere. Having Coby White and Tomas Satoransky to push the pace and manage the clock should spare him from similar misuse.

    Granted, Markkanen still has to to expand his game. The Bulls aren't exactly working from a position of strength at point guard just yet. They need him to be more of a passing threat on his drives, and it'd go a long way if he could get comfortable with taking more jumpers off the bounce.


    14. Julius Randle, New York Knicks

    Julius Randle's defensive struggles are tough to overlook. He has sufficient moments in one-on-one situations, but he fouls like it's his job and is a near-nonexistent helper.

    Running Randle out at the 5 is akin to throwing a parade at the rim. It is that hole that most warps his value, lending itself to an absence of definition: You can't hope to use him as a defender at the 5, but is he really fit to play the 4?

    The answer after last season is a resounding yes. Randle has always been a wrecking ball with dancer's feet, but he's exerted better control over the outcome of his possessions. He can lead the charge on fast breaks, barrel through defenders in the half court, spin through traffic, cross over lumbering bigs, hit the occasional step-back and annihilate the rim.

    Working through so much variety is a magnet for inefficiency, but Randle is exempt. He's shot better than 68 percent at the rim in each of the past two seasons while subjecting himself to difficult finishes over sky-scraping bigs. Last year was the first time he fully dipped his feet into the three-point pool, and it went well. He hit 34.4 percent of his long balls on 2.7 attempts per game and was even better off the catch (35.8 percent).

    Watching Randle is still a roller coaster ride. He is both savant and saboteur. But he's a legitimate offensive stud—the type of player who can stat-stuff his way to All-Star consideration in the East. 

    To wit: Randle was one of just seven players last season who cleared 24 points and 3.5 assists per 36 minutes with a true shooting percentage above 60. His company? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James.


    13. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

    Domantas Sabonis played well enough to curry favor over Myles Turner for half of last season. He was—and still is—someone the offense can run through. His play around the basket is a mixture of physicality and grace, he works the hell out of dribble handoffs, and he's a pinpoint passer on the move and out of traffic.

    That player is only so valuable at power forward if he's not shooting threes. And so far, the Pacers haven't put him in that position. He needs a spacing buffer to be at his most effective—in addition to a primary ball-handler. Indiana's offensive rating dropped to the 38th percentile last season when he played without Victor Oladipo.

    Criticism of Sabonis' defense is overdramatic. He moved around well last season, and he's looking svelte this year. The combination of his playing power forward and losing Thaddeus Young hurts, but Sabonis is more than capable of anchoring the back line in bench-heavy units. Indiana scraped together impressive minutes with him in the middle and Young on the bench last season.

    Something else must give for Sabonis to be worth the money he is seeking and will probably get in his next deal. Playoff-proofing himself by uncorking more threes is a good place to start—if head coach Nate McMillan allows it.


    12. Robert Covington, Minnesota Timberwolves

    All-NBA defenders who toe the line of positionless and hit threes at above-average clips are a rotation's dream. They do not always work in an offense without a star, but part of their appeal is they fit alongside every star.

    Robert Covington is one of those players: a billboard for three-and-D specialists who make more than a niche impact. 

    He isn't a deadly shooter in the conventional sense. Pin-balling around screens isn't his thing. He needs more time to get his shot off than a Danny Green or JJ Redick. But he's hitting 37.2 percent of his treys over the past two seasons, mostly on zero-dribble shots that hint at an understanding of his limitations. What he lacks as a ball-handling option and lights-out finisher he makes up for with hard-run beelines toward the basket.

    Covington's wheelhouse is broader at the other end. Defensive impact is not solely measured by steals and blocks, but he has a knack for amassing both. Over the past three seasons, no other non-big has matched Covington's steal and block percentages in comparable playing time. 

    On or off the ball, he's always in the middle of breaking up possessions. His willingness to help around the rim is uncommon for a wing. The way he guards is surgical. It is the kind of defense that makes the team better. Minnesota ranked in the 86th percentile of points allowed per 100 possessions with him on the court.

    A right knee injury looms over everything. Covington made just 35 combined appearances with Philadelphia and Minnesota and underwent surgery in April. This is the same knee in which Covington tore his meniscus at the end of the 2016-17 season. 

    Expressing concern is fair. So, too, is Covington's placement. If he's anywhere near normal this season, the Timberwolves have a contender-friendly core piece on their hands.


    11. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

    John Collins' offensive game is so much more than rim runs and putbacks. Atlanta has him shooting threes—he hit 49 percent from the corners last year—and he looks more comfortable while making plays with the ball in his hands.

    Don't be surprised if he's given more responsibility off the dribble this year. The Hawks seem to be pushing him in the direction of Blake Griffin. He may be tasked with running a few pick-and-rolls.

    Atlanta might find out this is an overextension. That's OK. Collins is still a useful offensive player if he's not jump-starting pick-and-rolls and dribbling into above-the-break triples. His ceiling will be more impacted by what he becomes on the defensive end. As Early Bird Rights' Jeff Siegel said on the Hardwood Knocks podcast (14:23 mark):

    "There was like a six-week stretch right after the [All-Star] break until the end of the season, where all of a sudden he was making rotations and being vertical at the rim. All of those basic rim-protection things at the 4, where you're sort of the weak-side shot-blocker, none of those things were in his game for the first year-and-a-half of his NBA career. 

    "Things are starting to turn around, but if he doesn't continue to make massive improvements defensively, there's going to be a real question of whether he is a part of this team's long-term contending future. You can get away with having one bad defender on a high-end, contending playoff team, and that's gonna be Trae Young ... But if you also have to scheme around a bad power forward on defense, that's not going to work long term.”

    For now, especially in the Eastern Conference, Collins' combination of pogo-stick offense and floor spacing puts him right at the cusp of being a top-50 player. Without turning into Detroit Pistons Griffin 2.0 or a close-to-average defender, he doesn't have the headway to climb much higher.

10. Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets

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    Paul Millsap's value lies with his capacity to complement. Not all aging stars are so skilled at fitting the needs and identity of their team over time. 

    On the Denver Nuggets, this has meant offensive concession. The 34-year-old did look to deviate in 2017-18, but he was new to the team and plagued by injuries. His usage drop has since come without damaging his utility. 

    Millsap looked more comfortable with roaming around the half court without the ball last season, and his usually below-board outside touch has inched closer to above average. He's shooting a combined 37.4 percent on spot-up treys since he signed with Denver.

    When he needs to, Millsap can create on his own. He will cook in the post and, on most nights, remains a mismatch off the dribble at his position. Bigs attacking the basket on closeouts is standard, but Millsap has a little side-to-side pizzazz. He can effectively navigate traffic and is usually good at finding shooters on kick-outs off drives and out of double-teams.

    Much of Millsap's offensive impact will go overlooked. He doesn't have the runway for extra volume alongside Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and healthy Will Barton. 

    This is fine. Millsap's importance is not tied explicitly to offensive opportunity. For all he can do, he's more indispensable at the less glamorous end. He is among the few bigs who can serve as the back line of defense without planting himself in the paint, and he has a way of filling the gaps in the process. 

    Denver hemorrhaged points last year with Jokic at center when Millsap was on the bench, and Andre Drummond and Draymond Green were the only players to match his defensive rebounding, steal and block rates in as many minutes.    

9. Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Few players are as useful on the offensive end as Danilo Gallinari. He is seldom confused with a star but blurs the line between primary scorer and sidekick. His shot profile is inclusive: heavy on spot-up opportunities but dotted with fairly reliable self-creation and a penchant for drawing fouls.

    Gallinari's offense has never tilted closer to full-blown stardom than it did last season. With respect to Lou Williams, Gallinari was the Los Angeles Clippers' best player, both before and after the Feb. 6 Tobias Harris trade. He drilled 44.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes and 36.4 percent of his pull-up triples, a mixed bag of range he leveraged into off-the-bounce attacks that demonstrated his combination of force and finesse.

    Among the 96 players who churned through 400 or more drives last year, Gallinari ranked second in drawn-foul frequency, behind only Blake Griffin and just in front of Giannis Antetokounmpo. And while he isn't the same playmaking threat as his counterparts, he did defer enough to steal time as a secondary pick-and-roll triggerman.

    Such a balancing act could, in theory, lend itself to an identity crisis. Gallinari's does not. He is plug-and-play, with the serviceability of a fringe star. In any given year, he can rank much higher on the NBA's individual ladder. That includes this season. We just can't bank on it.

    Approximating last year's performance is not a given. Gallinari should have no trouble with playing off Chris Paul, but the Oklahoma City Thunder will struggle to cobble together lineups that feature three shooters. Someone like Gallinari needs space to shoot and attack.

    Availability is also a constant concern. Last year was just the third time in Gallinari's career he missed fewer than 15 games—and the first time since 2012-13.

    Even if we ignore his injury history, he faces the same uncertainty in Oklahoma City as Paul. His expiring contract is an attractive trade asset, and failing a midseason relocation, the Thunder could always shut him down if they fall far enough outside the playoff picture. Slightly tempering expectations is smart.

8. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Toe surgery, coupled with some back and shoulder issues, annihilated Kevin Love's season, costing him the chance to feast while playing on a team without another worthwhile focal point. The Cleveland Cavaliers are not so stranded now. 

    Collin Sexton's three-point shooting has glittered up his value, and the Cavaliers enter 2019-20 with three rookies to groom: Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr. and the injured Dylan Windler (leg). Cedi Osman is not an afterthought. 

    Love will not be lost in the shuffle. He is Cleveland's best player. He will shoot better than 41.2 percent on twos in a season free from injury and doesn't need superstar minutes to clear double-digit rebounding totals. 

    Also, playing time won't be an issue. The Cavaliers are light on frontcourt prospects, and Love won't single-handedly corner the team into mediocrity. They were outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the court last year. That's a far better mark than their minus-11.1 net rating without him but a rebuilding team's differential all the same.

    That's sort of the point. Floor-spacing bigs will always have utility; stretch 4s are no longer anomalies. Love is a more of a mismatch at the 5, but lineups with him in the middle have little hope of evading defensive disaster. 

    Yes, his passing is still remarkable, and he's a threat out of the post. But "Remember the last time he was a focal point?" was a question for last year, when the Cavaliers had neither a prayer of winning nor a youthful base to develop. And even then, it was fair to wonder whether the absence of proven setup men would drag him down. That concern remains. 

    Really good players get theirs on bad teams. And make no mistake: Love is really good. A midseason trade to the right team might even improve his case. His offensive fit is universal. But the difficulty of placing him isn't about his supporting cast or team outlook. It is a more uncomfortable issue. What do we make of a star whose best stuff has been almost standardized?     

7. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

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    Jayson Tatum's sophomore backslide continues to be overblown. He did not spend the year on an archaic-shot bender. His mid-range spree was a real thing at the beginning, but he mostly evened out his distribution by the end of the season.

    Long twos accounted for 22 percent of his total looks—same as his rookie season. He attempted more mid-range jumpers overall, but not by much. They made up 39 percent of his shots, up from 35 percent in 2017-18.

    Preliminary concern is fine. Tatum bails out on too many drives and settles with uncomfortable frequency in the half court. Fewer of his looks came at the rim last year, and his free-throw-attempt rate dropped by nearly nine percentage points. That isn't normal.

    It also isn't cause for panic. Tatum was saddled with more responsibility amid the Boston Celtics' jumbled pecking order. He went from finishing 27.3 percent of his offensive possessions on spot-ups as a rookie to just 18.2 percent as a sophomore. Drops in efficiency should be the expectation when young players are tasked with creating more of their own shots.

    Time is on Tatum's side. He doesn't turn 22 until March, and his second-year production was still better than ordinary. The list of sophomores to match his 15.7 points per game and three-point volume and efficiency is more standout than not: Jamal Murray, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Wesley Matthews, O.J. Mayo, Ben Gordon, Steve Francis, Jason Terry, Michael Dickerson and Dirk Nowitzki

    Going from Kyrie Irving to Kemba Walker at point guard should help Tatum and everyone else in Boston. The Celtics aren't a more talented team, but their hierarchy is easier to parse. Tatum will have the opportunity to improve his playmaking, aggression on drives and pull-up jumper. If he doesn't, this exact version of him is still pretty good. Secondary scorers with proven three-point touch who can be shifted around on the defensive end are not disappointments.

6. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

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    Pascal Siakam will be viewed in less flattering terms for those who believe last season's mega-leap was owed to Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors' overall depth. The different ways in which he scored starkly reject this premise.

    True, close to 57 percent of his made baskets came off assists. That's not a lot for a forward-center. More of Karl-Anthony Towns' buckets were assisted (64.5 percent). 

    Relative to his career-high but still moderate usage, Siakam showed plenty of independence in his third year. He averaged about as many drives as Lowry, Kevin Durant and Khris Middleton and was second on the Raptors in iso volume.

    Toronto even experimented with Siakam at the helm of the pick-and-roll, and it worked. Among 199 players who initiated at least 50 pick-and-rolls, he placed third in points scored per possession, trailing only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Klay Thompson. Siakam's reps weren't extensive, but wow.

    Building upon his Most Improved Player campaign won't be easy. Lowry has said Siakam will be the offense's go-to option, but the Raptors replaced Leonard and Danny Green with mostly non-shooters. There won't be as much space to work with.

    Even so, forecasting a downturn makes little sense. The Raptors are so sold on Siakam's shooting (36.9 percent on threes last year), ball-handling and defensive optionality that head coach Nick Nurse has considered using him at small forward.

    Uncharted territory is always scary. Siakam will need to hit more off-the-dribble jumpers if he's going to be a No. 1 or spend real time on the wings, and any regression from 33-year-old Lowry and 34-year-old Marc Gasol makes his job that much harder. Still, the Raptors won the minutes they played without Green and Leonard last season when Siakam was on the floor. Ranking him this high is far from an overestimation.

5. Al Horford, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Al Horford is 33 and entering his 13th season. Ergo, he is not new. Yet, somehow, he's not entirely known. The impact he has on his team is eternally underrated and underappreciated. The mere suggestion that he's a top-25 player is met with varying levels of irritation and ire, followed by box-score retellings.

    Basketball Twitter may deserve some blame. So many players turn into folk heroes, and the word superstar is tossed around with cavalier abandon. Almost everyone is guilty of speaking in hyperbole at points, including myself, which makes it harder for some to accept what isn't a consensus.

    But this isn't an excuse for rejecting Horford's star claim. He's been one of the league's most valuable players long enough for this not to be an overstatement. He isn't an in-your-face superstar, but his do-everything, dominate-nothing style is part of his charm.

    As SI.com's Rob Mahoney wrote:

    "Everything about Horford is complementary. In a locker room, Horford is the kind of show-don't-tell leader that keeps a team on track without them ever really knowing it. Teammates adore him. Coaches sing his praises. It's very easy to like someone who does so much for the sake of the team and so little for himself. Out on the floor, Horford is the eyes of the offense and the mouthpiece of the defense. You could do worse than to literally run sets around Horford: put him in the high post, cycle cutters around the floor, and enjoy as Horford sets up an easy score just when the defense breaks. In a jam, that same playmaking becomes a team's best way out of trouble. Reading the floor isn't all that challenging for seasoned pros. Reading it quickly enough to keep an offense on the fly is a different bag—one that Horford has been carrying with ease his entire career."

    Putting Horford this high is riskier than in years past. He's older, and while he defends well in space and transition, the Philadelphia 76ers are dubbing him a full-time power forward next to Joel Embiid. He'll need to hit more threes to keep defenses honest, and he won't face ideal matchups in Philly.

    Still, Horford has made a name for himself as one of the better options against Giannis Antetokounmpo, not to mention Embiid himself. Defensive assignments don't get any tougher. 

    From there, everything else Horford does adds up—not always in the traditional box score, but as part of the bigger picture. He owned the Boston Celtics' second-highest net-rating swing last season and was first in that same category in 2017-18.

4. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

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    Draymond Green is already one of the best defensive players ever and is among the NBA's top playmaking bigs. This season, the Golden State Warriors need him to be so much more.

    Losing Kevin Durant to free agency, Klay Thompson to an ACL injury and Andre Iguodala to D'Angelo Russell-related bookkeeping has left the defense vulnerable, if not completely naked. Green has his work cut out for him if he's going to spearhead even a near-average D. He and Kevon Looney are the roster's only two (healthy) plus-stoppers.

    Entire defenses cannot survive on the back of a single player. But Green is almost an entire system unto himself. He is seemingly wherever a play needs to be made. 

    Nobody is better at short-circuiting possessions away from the ball, and his rotations around the rim are not of this world. Even when he's behind a play, he's never out of it. He is long with great hands and able to strip the ball from bizarre angles. Open jumpers turn into lightless looks when he's closing. It seems like he is everywhere. 

    Golden State will need peak Green to hold its own next season. He's already resumed his playoff diet in anticipation of that—the same diet he credits with helping him lose 23 pounds in six weeks before last year's postseason, through which he was mostly spectacular.

    Lean-and-mean Draymond won't spare the Warriors defense from transition pains. They will feel this offseason's overhaul. Lineups with him at center thrived last year before they sputtered in the playoffs—but will be difficult to get back to now. Peak Green is still good enough to limit the fallout.

    The same holds true on offense. He averaged a career-best 8.5 assists per game in the postseason and will have even more influence this year. The Warriors are not bereft of shooting, so his downhill sprints retain their value, and he'll be right at home if they're incorporating more pick-and-rolls for Russell and Stephen Curry. 

    Convincing him to score more will be the bigger issue. Shooting is not his first inclination. He can get to the rim, but his struggles from the perimeter are well-established. 

    Remove his outlier accuracy in 2015-16 from the equation, and he's a career 30.9 percent three-point shooter, who has fared even worse than that over the past three years (30 percent). And yet, his playmaking alone is worth all the trouble. He has the vision to feasibly anchor one-star units. For all this year definitely won't be, it should be a reminder of how important Green remains to every aspect of the Warriors' identity.

3. Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons

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    Don't call Blake Griffin's 2018-19 display a career revival. Injuries and a large contract are too often conflated with a decline. He never surrendered his stardom.

    Last year was part of a mid-career remake. He's been building toward all-everything offense for quite some time, and that transition was accelerated when he joined the Detroit Pistons, a team in urgent need of a star who could do more than pass and finish.

    By the surface numbers, Griffin's production was familiar: a career-high 24.5 points to go with 5.4 assists per game on improved three-point shooting and volume. The manner in which his offense was generated—and how he generated offense for others—was less recognizable.

    Griffin ran more pick-and-rolls per game than Eric Bledsoe. He hit more pull-up threes than Trae Young. If you're not impressed by him out-voluming a rookie, he also drained more than all but seven players in the league. 

    He finished in isolation about as frequently as Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Zach LaVine and Damian Lillard. He assisted on a higher percentage of his team's baskets when in the game than Stephen Curry.

    All that, and Griffin still found time to rank fourth in post-up possessions per game.

    His first full season in Detroit was a master class in across-the-board volume, and regression shouldn't be a part of his forecast. No, he can't be expected to play in 75 games. This marked the first time he did so since 2013-14, and the every-night availability took its toll. He finished the season with a bum left knee that required surgery. 

    But even with the addition of Derrick Rose, the Pistons aren't built for Griffin to do less. Slowing down isn't in his cards—at least not yet.

2. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Players are usually ripped when they show an aversion to taking up the mantle at their best position. And indeed, Anthony Davis has taken flak for his attachment to power forward.

    In the grand scheme of things, though, his preference is inconsequential. Sure, the Los Angeles Lakers likely wouldn't have Dwight Howard if Davis were more in love with playing center. But he will close games there anyway, and more critically, time spent at 4 does nothing to depress his value.

    Many other bigs would labor through some sort of defensive trade-off. Power forwards are verging on wings nowadays. With a move from the 5 to the 4, the physical grind is so often replaced by a mobility deficit. Davis is immune to this trade-off. He can fly around the half court like a borderline wing and use atypical length and speed to still help out, or anchor the defense, at the rim. He is more of a positional stopper than anyone who's 6'10" is supposed to be.

    Davis' role on offense as a power forward can be approached with similar indifference. His dives to the rim won't be as decongested next to Howard or JaVale McGee, but he's so quick, it doesn't matter. He can slip by defenders and through crevices, and his long arms allow him to finish at odd angles farther away from the basket.

    Three-point shooting is a sticking point, albeit not a big one. Power forwards are expected to fire away from beyond the arc. Davis isn't what you'd call a shooter, but he's not a non-shooter. He's put in 33.6 percent of his deep balls over the past two seasons on 2.3 attempts per game. Last year, through 56 appearances with the New Orleans Pelicans, he splashed in 37.7 percent of his spot-up triples.

    If Davis stays on the wrong side of league-average efficiency from three, then so be it. He's honed his off-the-dribble work enough to offset a lack of range. He used to seem recklessly under control when facing up. He now has an element of finesse to his handles. His initial burst is tough to contain, and he can stop on a dime.

    This comfort with working off the bounce farther from the hoop has opened up his game. He averaged a personal-best 3.9 assists per contest while notching the third-highest free-throw-attempt rate of his career last season, to go with 25.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 2.4 blocks and 59.7 true shooting.

    That LeBron James has said the Lakers will play through Davis is revealing. It may be another preseason ruse, but the sentiment itself is not without merit. For as much as Davis' departure from New Orleans and his lack of playoff success have soured certain perceptions of him, he is the kind of superstar who could scale up James' deference.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Last year's MVP is last year's MVP, so don't call Giannis Antetokounmpo the MVP. He doesn't plan to talk about his 2021 free agency, supermax eligibility next summer or general future with the Milwaukee Bucks. He believes he can win the title without a three-ball, but he wants to develop one to make life easier on his teammates, whose lives on the court are already made infinitely easier by his transition romps and ability to reach the rim on command.

    For almost anyone else, this could all be written off as athlete-speak. With Antetokounmpo, it is something different, and you can sense that difference in how he carries himself on the court. 

    Every play, on both ends of the floor, is Antetokounmpo's will in miniature. His averages of 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game last season made up the first line of its kind—which makes sense. Unprecedented is Antetokounmpo's normal.

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the one player who has come closest to matching his 2018-19 output. And yet, he was a big man, a center. The 6'11" Antetokounmpo is big, but he's not a big man positionally. Nor is he a guard. Or a forward. He straddles the margins between all three, the hybrid of hybrid.

    Finding fault with his range has become reductive. He really may not need a jumper. Among 211 players who completed at least 150 drives last season, no one shot a higher percentage than Antetokounmpo (63.6). He seems solvable on some nights, specifically during playoff series, but defenses couldn't stop him from shooting a career-high 76.9 percent at the rim or from posting one of the league's five best free-throw-attempt rates. These numbers held mostly strong in the playoffs. It takes entire team efforts to slow him. (See: Raptors, Toronto.)

    Antetokounmpo's dominance is such that, if he shot close to average from three on modest volume, the best-player-alive discourse would feel pointless. That could still happen. He shot 33 percent on 3.5 attempts per game over his final 30 appearances last year. That isn't efficient enough to scare opponents silly, but it's reasonable enough to coax some attention out of individual defenders.

    Encouraging still, almost two-thirds of his three-point attempts last season came as pull-up jumpers. He's comfortable, albeit not efficient, with putting up deepies off the dribble. Not that it particularly matters. Antetokounmpo's placement isn't conditional upon his developing an outside shot. With or without it, he's the best the NBA has to offer.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball InsidersRealGM and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.


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