Predicting the Top 100 Players for the 2020-21 NBA Season

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2020

Predicting the Top 100 Players for the 2020-21 NBA Season

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Not so long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, it was decided that the eve of the 2020-21 NBA regular season would be the perfect time to drop Bleacher Report's ranking of the top 100 players.

    And so, here we are.

    Before we get started, if you haven't pored over our previous three installments, check them out now:

    Your usual friendly reminder: Players are ranked based on where we think they'll finish the season. Their entire bodies of work are fair game. This includes injuries. Anyone who isn't slated to play this year won't make an appearance, and final placements are impacted by injuries, major setbacks in the rearview and, wherever necessary, potential regression due to age.

    Preseason performances did not hold any bearing in the results. Rookies are also excluded. It is too hard to gauge the value of players without NBA samples. The 2020 draft class doesn't have a bound-to-be-top-100-from-the-jump player, so this shouldn't ruffle too many feathers. But in case you're looking for, say, LaMelo Ball, there you go.

    Please, please, pretty please remember that making the top 100 at all is a gargantuan feat and that the margins between non-stars are astoundingly thin. Any exclusions or unpopular finishes are not declarations of war. Triple-double promise.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, yours truly is not journeying solo down this rabbit hole. Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal, Sean Highkin, Grant Hughes, Bryant Knox, Greg Swartz and Bryan Toporek were kind enough to score every player you see here. So while any sentiments that incite teeth-gnashing, wall-punching, curse-word-cascading rage are mine, these results are ours.

    Let's rank.


    Note: Rankings from after the first leg of the 2019-20 regular season (pre-bubble) are provided for context, but that panel was substantially smaller, so there will be a greater variance of outcomes in many instances.

Notable Exclusions

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    If not for injuries that figure to limit their availability or cost them the entire season, each of these players would've received top-100 consideration:

    • Jonathan Isaac
    • Jeremy Lamb
    • Klay Thompson

    Apologies to the NBA rookies for giving them the boot. To kind-of, sort-of, not-really make up for it, here are a few new kids on the block who have feasible paths into the top 100 this year:

    • LaMelo Ball
    • Anthony Edwards
    • Tyrese Haliburton
    • Isaac Okoro
    • Patrick Williams
    • James Wiseman

    Just for kicks, here are some second- and third-year cases who weren't strongly considered but are worth keeping an eye on:

    • Marvin Bagley III
    • Donte DiVincenzo
    • Cameron Johnson
    • Kevin Porter Jr.
    • Cam Reddish
    • Landry Shamet
    • Gary Trent Jr.
    • P.J. Washington
    • Coby White

Just Missed the Cut

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    These players all wound up outside the top 100 but finished within striking distance of the final cut:

    • Harrison Barnes
    • Will Barton
    • Aron Baynes
    • Patrick Beverley
    • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
    • Seth Curry
    • Derrick Favors
    • Evan Fournier
    • Marc Gasol
    • Danny Green
    • Tim Hardaway Jr.
    • Montrezl Harrell
    • Gary Harris
    • Luke Kennard
    • Paul Millsap
    • Marcus Morris Sr.
    • Kelly Oubre Jr.
    • Norman Powell
    • JJ Redick
    • Duncan Robinson
    • Derrick Rose
    • Ricky Rubio
    • Dennis Schroder
    • Lou Williams
    • Ivica Zubac

100-96: Sexton, Ball, Bledsoe, Valanciunas, Horford

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    100. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Fully appreciating Collin Sexton demands the proper perspective. Judge him against the baseline for floor generals and you'll leave unimpressed, if not completely disenchanted. Accepting him for what he actually is—a combo guard who errs on the side of off-guard—allows everything to change.

    Sexton's scoring impact is real.

    Only five other players cleared 20 points per game and matched or exceeded his efficiency on twos (50.1 percent) and threes (38.0 percent) while attempting as many treys (255): Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram, Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton and Karl-Anthony Towns.

    Sexton still needs to throw more meaningful passes—he did better when dribbling inside the arc—and provide a trace of defensive resistance. That's fine. Young players are allowed to be imperfect, he doesn't turn 22 until January, and most of all, his present is promising enough to bet on his future.


    99. Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 56

    Lonzo Ball has long been a source of division. It is fitting, then, that he returned some of the most variant rankings from our panel.

    Separating Ball from his lamentable performance during the bubble isn't difficult. Tougher to reconcile is the sustainability of last year's overall shooting (career-high 37.5 percent from three) and how even the best version of himself can be optimized.

    Giving Ball the keys makes too much sense on the run. He is a visionary in transition. His utility is more suspect when things slow down and the offense needs someone to get through the teeth of set defenses. He shot 33.9 percent on drives last year—worst among 130 players to average five or more per game—and New Orleans' half-court efficiency dropped substantially during his minutes on the floor.

    Without honing his threat level off the dribble, there is only so much he can do for everyone else when the pace grinds to a slog.


    98. Eric Bledsoe, New Orleans Pelicans

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 40

    Playoff basketball may be a small sample, but it is also the entire reason teams navigate the regular season. Someone can flop only so many times on the most important stage before it catches up to them.

    It is catching up with Eric Bledsoe now. He is coming off three consecutive postseasons in which he severely hamstrung the Milwaukee Bucks offense, albeit not entirely on his own. All-Defensive impacts are hard to find, but his no longer overshadows an increasingly problematic fit at the other end.

    Whatever thrust he plays with on-ball is offset by the issues he poses off it. He shot 26.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last season and didn't covert nearly enough of his wide-open looks (34.1 percent) to make defenses pay. It seems like only a matter of time before what ails him in the playoffs infects his entire body of work.


    97. Jonas Valanciunas, Memphis Grizzlies

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 67

    Jonas Valanciunas has merged the throwback with the contemporary better than many of the league's other traditional big men. Feasting inside, and on punier humans, is still his foremost strength. He is both hefty and handy: light on his feet, heavy with his shoulders. He closed 2019-20 as one of just nine players shooting 50 percent while using at least three post-ups per game.

    Screening and rim-running have always acted as sort of a middle ground for conventional bigs, and Valanciunas continues to rank among the best finishers in those situations. His 1.24 points per possession as the roll man last season placed in the 76th percentile, and he has ranked lower than the 75h percentile just once since 2015-16 (2017-18).

    Broadening his range beyond the three-point line has now ensured those parts of his game will never be closed off. He has shot better than 35 percent from deep in two of the past three seasons while averaging at least one attempt per game. Everything he does isn't quite matchup-proof, but he has never been harder to marginalize.


    96. Al Horford, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 81

    Al Horford's nosedive to the fringes of the top 100 is not a given. Injuries and clumpy spacing played a huge part in last season's decline.

    Age and an undefined opportunity with the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder could mean the regression continues. Just as likely, though, is a renaissance.

    Horford helped anchor super-efficient lineups in Philadelphia whenever he played without Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. His half-court mobility wasn't up to par from years past, but the crux of his offensive game shouldn't be upended by a dip in speed.

    Rebooting his stock may really be as simple as letting him work down low without someone else trying to occupy the same space and committing to letting him shoot and attack out of pick-and-pop situations.

95-91: Crowder, Graham, Harris, Hield, Robinson

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    95. Jae Crowder, Phoenix Suns

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Jae Crowder tantalizes more in concept than practice. He is among the coveted wing prototypes, as someone capable of defending the 2-3-4 spots and raining triples, but his impact is not always 100 percent non-detrimental. His three-point splits are all over the place—he's at 34 percent shooting from deep for his career—and there can be a Wesley Matthews-eque trade-off to having him on the floor; a couple of possessions will seemingly always end in his attempting to do something inexplicable off the dribble.

    In the aggregate, though, Crowder is worth whatever obstacles he self-imposes. Lineup diversification is probably his crowning strength. Defensive perception also tends to outstrip reality in those instances, but he is often the vessel through which teams achieve four- or five-out combinations without nuking their stopping power.

    Crowder-at-the-4 arrangements have generally proved effective with the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Miami Heat. The Suns have the personnel around him to suggest they'll get similar results. It's likewise possible he picks up where he left off from beyond the arc with the Heat (44.5 percent clip). Because, for all his turbulence, blisteringly hot outside shooting is also part of the Jae Crowder experience.


    94. Devonte' Graham, Charlotte Hornets

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 66

    Abandoning ship on Devonte' Graham by the end of last season was always a cringe-worthy decision. Kemba Walker's departure left him to power Charlotte's entire offense, the lone off-the-bounce hub among a roster of players who depended on him to generate space and shot opportunities.

    Traditional efficiency was the cost of that purpose. He shot under 40 percent inside the arc and below 50 percent at the rim (10th percentile). There should be no penalty for involuntarily operating beyond your means. Graham is overtaxed as a No. 1, but he had no choice. And he still canned 34.4 percent of his pull-up triples despite a midseason drop-off.

    LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward will allow Graham to settle into a more natural role. He is Terry Rozier-esque in catch-and-shoot spots, and his off-the-bounce attacks will carry even more weight when he's not facing the full fury of the defense. Just as important is knowing that in the absence of Ball, Hayward or both, the Hornets have a secondary creator with the chops to raise up the offense on his own.


    93. Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Everything Joe Harris does is scalable. His reputation revolves around his three-point shooting—and not without cause. The 43 percent clip he's posted from downtown since 2016-17 leads all players who have launched at least 1,300 long-range attempts.

    Harris' utility doesn't end there. Not even close. He has leveraged the chaos his outside touch induces into a more well-rounded bag. He can put the ball on the deck not just in wide-open spaces but also to navigate traffic. His vision on the move has improved each year, to the point he's now in the habit of throwing nifty passes. And his defensive effort, though not lock-down, holds up well enough for him to try to guard 3s.

    Certain non-stars can be tough to differentiate from their situations. Harris isn't one of them. He hasn't created the situation with Brooklyn, but his is a skill set that can subsist anywhere, alongside anyone.


    92. Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 69

    Kings head coach Luke Walton elected to explore the limits of Buddy Hield's game last year. He found them pretty quickly. Hield is not someone who should be tasked with initiating the offense. His value is rooted in his range and the number of situations in which it holds up.

    Coming around screens, in transition, on the catch, off the dribble—it doesn't matter. Hield's shooting just translates. It also endures. Even the worst application of his skill set cannot stunt his touch. Look at last year as the case in point. He still recovered in time to shoot 39.4 percent from long range.

    Wider discussions such as this one can work against him. Rankings tend to value from-scratch creation or all-encompassing imprints most. Hield doesn't fit into either box. He doesn't need to. If you're not going to define how a team plays, fitting into whichever way it does is the next best thing.


    91. Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 91

    Mitchell Robinson defends with chaotic energy, a disorderly aplomb that is both the core of his upside and undoing.

    Not many bigs can cover such an immense amount of ground. This is not a direct comp—repeat: This is not a direct comp—but Robinson has an Anthony Davis-like feel to his half-court presence. He can be everywhere without neglecting anywhere, someone just as capable of erasing jumpers and containing ball-handlers in space as he is of swallowing shots at the rim.

    New York's defensive rating improved by 4.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the court last season, and it was no accident. His activity can elevate an entire lineup. But availability is a skill, and Robinson has yet to show the restraint and consistency to stay on the floor.

    From allowing players too wide a berth in space and overaggressive contests to puzzling decisions off the ball and outright frustration fouls, he remains his own worst enemy. If and when that changes, his value relative to the rest of the league will, too.

90-86: White, Markkanen, Tucker, Bertans, Capela

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    90. Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 98

    Derrick White has already shown enough to drift in and out of fringe stardom. His defense spans both guard spots and most wings, and he has effectively played the part of game manager and occasional shot-maker at the other end. Left unchanged, with a good bill of health, he will have a long, impactful career.

    Offensive aggression is his ticket to something more. Can he make defenses suffer for dropping so far beneath him? Can he get to the rim more? And finish at a higher clip once he does?

    White's performance during the Disney restart suggests he can. He was less inclined to pass up shot opportunities from the perimeter, and he shot 66.7 percent inside the restricted area, up from 57.8 percent pre-bubble. Seven games is not a lot to go on. White is still up against the burden of proof. But the question of whether he has this type of leap in him no longer exists.


    89. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 94

    Lauri Markkanen's finish is very much conditional. He will not deserve a top-100 spot if he closes this season like he did last year. Injuries have not helped his cause, but he has yet to sustain the multilevel shot-making required to provide the offensive boon on which his appeal is grounded.

    Chicago's coaching change might benefit him more than anyone—save for maybe Wendell Carter Jr. Too much of Markkanen's shot variance seemed to originate as last-ditch, late-clock grenades under head coach Jim Boylen. That, coupled with worse-than-you-think three-point shooting—35.3 percent over the past two seasons—threatens to capsize his value. He just barely qualifies as a floor-spacer.

    Glimpses into a more assertive and overall together player prevent Markkanen from falling outside these predictive exercises. For now, anyway.

    Hitting his threes at a higher clip should open up the rest of his game—specifically his chances to get past defenders who overplay his outside touch. Even if he cannot capitalize on those moments with an in-between jumper, the prospect of better outside shooting and more volume at the rim makes a world of difference.


    88. P.J. Tucker, Houston Rockets

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 74

    The context in which the Rockets used P.J. Tucker for much of last season, as a de facto center, eventually became his identity. He turned into this exemplar for microball, most valued for defensive stamina and range that contradicts his size.

    But the bandwidth to play (way) up represents only one of his many layers. So few are as adept at reading the tea leaves; he is more positionless than undersized because his defense is tied to decision-making and timing.

    Strip away his minutes at center, and even at the 4, and he will be comparably effective shadowing pure wings or cutting off guards. This is optionality at its most absolute. For as much as Tucker is built to revolutionize, he's also wired to fit anywhere, period.


    87. Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 94

    Historically ridiculous three-point shooting is incredibly valuable. Who knew?

    Davis Bertans fits into a player archetype that can be confused for one-dimensional. He isn't moving the defensive needle in the right direction and doesn't have a vast array of counters if his outside shot isn't falling or his volume gets bottled up.

    That's not the same as inflexible. Bertans hasn't just perfected his greatest skill; he has broadened it. He makes threes of all stripes: from standstill positions, off motion, outside 27 feet, even within ultra-tight spaces.

    Nearly a quarter of Bertans' triples last season qualified as contested (defender between two and four feet). His 40.4 percent clip on these looks ranked second among every player to launch at least 100 such triples, trailing only Duncan Robinson (who, by the way, is probably our panel's biggest snub).

    This isn't one-dimensional shooting. It is functional shooting that forces defense to contort—not just on plays he finishes, but on every single possession.


    86. Clint Capela, Atlanta Hawks

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 89

    Like so many other non-shooting bigs, Clint Capela is frequently judged primarily on his limitations. Screen-setting, rim-running, paint-protecting rebounders are considered more replaceable than ever, and his reputation took a blow when the Rockets treated Robert Covington, rather than Capela himself, as the best asset in a four-team trade with Atlanta, Denver and Minnesota.

    The latter is not telltale of anything. Houston at the time was a perfect storm of extremes. Capela became a stylistic hindrance because the team acquired a more expensive one in Russell Westbrook.

    More credit should be given to Capela for mastering the role he has to play. Offenses needn't deviate to keep him happy, and his rebounding is otherworldly for someone with a frame that can theoretically be displaced by brawnier bigs. And while he isn't matchup-proof, it is not by chance that many of the defenses he has spearheaded enjoyed above-average finishes.

    He isn't going to rescue four net negatives on his own, but he can patrol the area around the rim with minimal emergency provisions.

    Putting him so far outside the top 75—though still higher than he ended last season—is a necessary hedge. He is still working his way back from a right heel injury and on an Atlanta team that has ample alternatives at center.

    Playing time isn't always a barometer for usefulness, but given John Collins' iffy defensive fit versus true bigs and Onyeka Okongwu's inexperience, Capela's volume will be directly reflective of both his own specific value and the importance of the style he plays.

85-81: Allen, Richardson, Porter, Bridges, Covington

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    85. Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 85

    Including Jarrett Allen at all counts as relentless optimism. Opportunity is part of the evaluation process, and his is not assured. DeAndre Jordan ended last year as the starter and isn't going anywhere, and Nets head coach Steve Nash has said Kevin Durant will play some 5. Allen is not in danger of falling out of the rotation, but his 26.5 minutes per game could suddenly become closer to 20 or less.

    More troubling than any friendship politics, though, is last season's lack of development. Allen's three-point experiment ended, and he didn't add any self-sustenance to his arsenal. After converting 44.9 percent of his hook shots in 2018-19, his hit rate on those looks dropped to 40.4 percent. Jordan doesn't have a much deeper toolbox, but he is the better passer.

    This doesn't render DJ the superior player overall. He doesn't crack our top 100 for a reason. Allen is the more switchable defender. He may get overpowered on occasion, but he has the side-to-side amble to neutralize threats in space.

    All of that said, Allen is clinging to top-100 status himself.


    84. Josh Richardson, Dallas Mavericks

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    The idea of Josh Richardson is way more valuable than his placement lets on. He plays exhaustive, in-your-jersey defense across roughly four positions, wields operable three-point touch and provides a dash of self-creation. That is not the description of a barely top-100 player. It's more like top-50.

    But Richardson is coming off a down year. Whether that drop-off was owed to lingering hamstring issues, a clumsy team fit or actual regression we can't be sure. It might be some combination of all three.

    Landing with Dallas ensured Richardson will have the chance to show last year was but an anomalous blip. His offensive game shines brightest within optimal spacing. He needs room to maneuver coming out of pick-and-rolls and breathing room when getting his shot off. The Philadelphia 76ers didn't have it—not enough of it, anyway. The Mavericks promise a more friendly environment, one in which Richardson will have the airspace to maximize self-creation and properly weaponize his spot-up jumpers.


    83. Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Defense may dictate Michael Porter Jr.'s opportunities in his sophomore campaign. Cobbling together closing units would become a much easier process if he's doing everything his tools suggest he can, namely using his speed to contain on the perimeter and rotate toward the basket. His playing time stands to continue waxing and waning if his execution and engagement do, too.

    Or maybe not. The Nuggets are heavily invested in him. Jrue Holiday or, perhaps, Bradley Beal would be on the roster if they weren't married to his outlook. They can't afford to not play him, particularly after bidding farewell to Torrey Craig and Jerami Grant.

    Which, to be clear, is far from a bad thing. Porter has the look and feel of a transcendent scorer. He is super quick, can let 'er rip over the top of just about anyone and has no bones about stroking spot-up jumpers. Only five other players have averaged more than 20 points per 36 minutes on a true shooting percentage above 60 before their age-22 seasons: John Collins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, Kevin Durant and Shaquille O'Neal. Porter played by far the lowest-volume role of the bunch, but this still attests to the upside on which Denver is counting.


    82. Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Mikal Bridges is already on the All-Defensive track. He scraps to get over screens, and opponents struggle to elude his forever arms. His closeouts are essentially teleportation, and they're emblematic of the energy with which he plays. He alone can tie together certain wing combinations that might otherwise prove ineffective, if not disastrous.

    Offensive consistency is the vehicle Bridges will use to take his next step. He has so far teased a greater impact in glimmers and glints and sometimes prolonged stretches, but it never sticks. He invariably retreats into the backdrop, previously at the expense of playing time.

    Something appeared to give by the end of last season. After entering Phoenix's starting lineup for good, he averaged 12.0 points and 2.4 assists per game while banging in 40 percent of his threes and upping his threat level on the move. He broke out the occasional pull-up triple, improved his decision-making when dribbling into traffic, kept the ball moving and continued to find cracks in the defense away from the ball. It was a breakthrough stretch, and it lasted long enough to portend a breakthrough year.


    81. Robert Covington, Portland Trail Blazers

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 84

    Robert Covington is a finishing touch actualized, the player teams pine for when they plan to be really good, because he only ever nudges them further in that direction.

    Four-position defense always has curb appeal, but Covington provides more than optionality. His impact is comprehensive. He's more likely to bust up a play away from the ball or erase a teammate's mistake than shut down any singular assignment.

    Covington's offensive value is more elemental, though no less important. His low usage is indicative of his maintenance. He will help as much as his catch-and-shoot touch allows him. That correlation didn't bode so well last year. He converted just 33 percent of his spot-up threes while splitting time with Minnesota and Houston. But that doesn't seem like a red flag so much as temporary deviation. He hit 39.4 percent of those looks in 2018-9 and 37.9 percent in 2017-18, and wings have a way of discovering their range when they're next to Damian Lillard.

80-76: Ingles, Wall, Adams, Herro, Dragic

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    80. Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 77

    Age would be a bigger concern for Joe Ingles if he didn't play a style so suited for it. His defensive impact has never been tied to north-south burst or lateral athleticism. Space and anticipation are his calling cards. It helps that he usually has Rudy Gobert behind him, but he also stymies the possessions of those quicker and stronger by ensuring he's almost never out of place.

    Some semblance of defensive regression may still be unavoidable. Ingles is 33, and the 2020 postseason wasn't his finest hour at the less glamorous end. On the bright side: If he does fall off, he can still hang his hat on offense.

    Shooting tends to age well, and he's among the most efficient outside marksmen. Among every player to attempt at least 1,000 triples over the past four seasons, only Joe Harris, Kyle Korver, JJ Redick, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are hitting theirs at a higher clip. Ingles diversifies his portfolio with a playmaker's touch. He tosses quick passes on the catch, and defenders seem to get lulled into a trance by the slow to moderate speed at which he operates inside the arc.


    79. John Wall, Houston Rockets

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Nobody in this entire field is harder to project than John Wall. Figuring out how anyone will perform following a major injury is tough enough, but he's coming back from a ruptured left Achilles, and he is only now getting his first exposure to organized basketball since December 2018.

    That he has always been reliant on speed and athleticism only fans the flames of confusion. Post-Achilles-injury Kevin Durant at least has the option of shooting over everyone. Wall doesn't have that luxury. Nor has he shown the touch to exploit it even if he did.

    His preseason performance, though not considered here, suggests he won't suffer this drastic drop-off in burst. That would be huge. But the NBA season is long, and three outings do not allow for too much extrapolation.

    Perhaps this is still too pessimistic. Wall is more than this athleticism. His playmaking is more feel and vision than a physical tool, and he's converting 38.7 percent of his catch-and-fire triples since 2015-16. He has a roadmap to success even if he isn't entirely his former self.


    78. Steven Adams, New Orleans Pelicans

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 57

    Opinions vary on Steven Adams' value, but his diligence is beyond approach.

    In the absence of outside range on offense, he pairs his screening and finishing on rolls with a nifty floater. His post game isn't worth extensive exploration, but he has shown he can punish mismatches and take advantage of lineups that afford him the space to operate.

    Adams is more of a seamless fit at the other end of the floor.

    He's not the most laterally quick big, but his brawn and IQ make him a human eclipse. He can cover a lot of east-and-west ground without needing an explosive side-to-side gait. And while his rim-protection numbers don't scream impenetrable anchor, he is a functional deterrent. Opponents have taken noticeably fewer shots at the basket with him on the floor in all but one of his seven seasons.


    77. Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Tyler Herro's spot should not be viewed as hyperbole or as an overreaction to his postseason explosions during Miami's romp to the Finals. It is an investment in the depth of his shot-making.

    Plug-and-go touch has limitless use. Herro promises plenty of it after just one season. He put down 44.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes in the regular season and 41.6 percent during the playoffs. But the Heat also empowered him to attack off the dribble, and even as he launched some questionable looks and struggled to remain efficient, his comfort level shined through.

    Herro likewise showed a knack for putting more pressure on the basket. His shot selection can still stall out before the cup, but he increased his volume inside three feet during the playoffs, over which time he also busted out a wide range of twitchy, mega-difficult finishes.

    Putting this much faith in a second-year jump is never the safest venture, but unless the Heat acquire another shot creator, Herro will have the requisite opportunity to continue his offensive upturn.


    76. Goran Dragic, Miami Heat

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Goran Dragic was excellent during the regular season and brought it up a notch in the playoffs, averaging 19.1 points while dropping in 50.9 percent of his two-pointers. There were stretches during the Heat's push to the Finals in which he was their most important offensive player—no small feat when playing beside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

    Positioning him so close to the top 75 carries some risk going into his age-34 campaign given his injury history and that he's coming back from a left plantar fascia issue.

    But the Heat exited the Finals needing another shot creator even when factoring in his likely return. They didn't add one. That lack of a contingency to Butler and Adebayo guarantees Dragic volume, and his mix of passing flair and on-the-move shot-making will forever keep defenses on tilt.

75-71: Smart, Gordon, Wood, Lopez, Grant

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    75. Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 54

    Marcus Smart plays with the cadence of a Fast & Furious movie. There is no preamble, no subtlety. There is only parachuting cars out of planes and strapping Pontiac Fieros to rocket engines. It is a style that lends itself to extreme variance—the highest highs and the lowest lows.

    Bumps and wrinkles are all part of the Marcus Smart experience. In the end, the successes almost always outweigh the failures. His ill-advised heat checks can be aggravating, but are they really, actually, totally ill-advised when he's draining 40.1 percent of his pull-up threes?

    Either way, you live with the results. Smart is worth the occasional opportunity lost on offense when he's so impossibly good at the other end.

    He defends like a typhoon that can think for itself, selectively determining just how much hell to unleash, and his 6'3" frame knows no bounds. If the NBA has its first guard win Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1995-96 anytime soon, the most likely recipient is no mystery. Smart alone is capable of ending the drought.


    74. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 73

    It seems like Aaron Gordon is used differently, and inexpertly, on offense every single year. The calls for him to operate exclusively as a play-finisher in transition and on lobs have continuously gone unanswered. Out of necessity or stubbornness—or some combination of both—his offensive profile has mirrored that of an inefficient wing player.

    Time is running out for Gordon to overturn that designation. He is entering his seventh season. At some point, his usage has to reflect his skill set. Whether that will ever include a more serviceable floor game remains to be seen. He shot under 41 percent on drives and posted an effective field-goal percentage of 32.7 on pull-up jumpers last season.

    All hope still isn't lost. The Magic tapped into his playmaking by the end of 2019-20 and seem prepared to do so again. Gordon is making reads from the block and has flashed better passing feel and flair out of the pick-and-roll even if he's not a bona fide scoring threat in those situations.

    His shot distribution and overall efficiency still suggest he's been miscast, but 6'8" players who can facilitate and defend every frontcourt spot are going to leave their mark. Gordon has shown that, and he's a consistent set three-pointer away from proving much more.


    73. Christian Wood, Houston Rockets

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 72

    Small samples are the enemies of surety, which means Christian Wood's breakout 2019-20 campaign is best digested with a metric ton of salt. He averaged 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 blocks while converting 40.0 percent of his threes after Detroit traded Andre Drummond, but that tear spanned all of 13 games. It isn't yet clear how his production will hold up in a larger role over a longer term.

    Watch him, though, and the offense feels real.

    Wood is comfortable squaring up for standstill triples, fanning out behind the rainbow, running into quick catch-and-fire opportunities, slipping to the basket off screens, beating closeouts off the dribble and even driving baseline, through traffic, and creating his own looks at the rim. He has shown some slightly more advanced decision-making as a passer. He can throw dimes from set perimeter positions to teammates cutting toward the basket and exhibited, in spurts, a knack for finding shooters while on the move.

    Defense will have plenty of say in how high Wood climbs. He covers a lot of ground, but it's ungoverned, shimmying between levels of helpful, innocuous and detrimental. Still, the extent to which he can score already solidifies him as one of the league's most dynamic bigs.


    72. Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 58

    Brook Lopez is coming off a season in which he thrived despite declining in the most obvious part of his game: outside shooting.

    He converted 40.0 percent of his threes over his final 19 regular-season appearances and buried 39.6 percent of his triples in the playoffs, but he still finished the year hitting just 31.2 percent of his wide-open treys—second-worst in the league among 88 players who fired up at least 125 long-range looks with a defender six or more feet away. (Giannis Antetokounmpo was the only person to down them at a lower clip.)

    Volume has value independent of outcome. Lopez re-sculpts the shape of the floor just by planting himself beyond the arc, sometimes from super-deep distance. But this is less about the concerns attached to his uneven shooting last year (though they're fair) and more about how he stayed so imperative amid it.

    Lopez did not stumble by chance or mistake into his second-team All-Defensive selection. Where many of the switchiest bigs depend on side-to-side burst, he uses wide, low-to-the-ground stances. Smaller, quicker ball-handlers are hard-pressed to get around his length, and he is a case-specific virtuoso.

    The amount of space he leaves between face-up scorers varies by a player's strength—his speed, his outside touch, his willingness to pull up off the dribble, etc. His rim protection remains big-time, but so, too, does his deterrence. His presence changes the way offenses attack. Milwaukee's opponents reached the rim noticeably less often and attempted more mid-range jumpers with him on the floor.

    If he's not matchup-proof, he's pretty damn close.

    Baking in some regression is not unwarranted. Lopez is 32, and again, his three-point clip for most of the year failed to impress. But the Bucks can go to him in the post when his outside looks aren't falling, and his defensive impact is predicated upon corporeal tools—length, size and stance—that don't dwindle with age. He is well-positioned to prove similarly indispensable.


    71. Jerami Grant, Detroit Pistons

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Jerami Grant is betting he has the tools to climb up this list. He left Denver for Detroit in search of a larger offensive role after spending his career working predominantly away from the ball, as a spot-up option, cutter and transition threat. The Pistons will presumably give him the opportunity to create for himself, perhaps even for others.

    At the moment, it's tough to see the outline of the player Grant wants to be. He's never looked especially comfortable on-ball. Soaking up more responsibility could feasibly, if not likely, prove to be an overextension. Or maybe it's the springboard into effective expansion. His ranking here is more reflective of a median outcome: little to no change in either direction.

    Grant is one of the league's preeminent three-and-D weapons. He's shooting 39.1 percent from deep over the past two seasons, and though his rebounding leaves much to be desired, he can switch across nearly every position and be thrown at bigger wings. If he can't develop into the more well-rounded offensive option he's trying to be, the Pistons can at least hold out hope he remains the same player he was with the Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder: a pretty damn good one.

70-66: Drummond, Ibaka, Dinwiddie, Conley, Carter

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    Paul Beaty/Associated Press

    70. Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 88

    Grabbing boards remains essential to Andre Drummond's value, and he does it better than almost anyone in league history. He owns the absolute highest rebounding rate among every player who has made at least 15 career appearances. That's not insignificant. It is also harder to pinpoint his value beyond that.

    Drummond's pick-and-roll finishing is less efficient than you'd think. Playing him is an implicit commitment to posting up with uncomfortable volume. Shoddy ball containment on the perimeter in Detroit muted some of his impact at the other end, but he is not going to be the foothold of an elite defensive unit. Somebody has to crash the glass though, and he has refined his playmaking outside the post. He may be clinging to top-100 value, but he's still here. That's not insignificant, either.


    69. Serge Ibaka, Los Angeles Clippers

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 55

    Serge Ibaka is a more complete and consistent player after spending three-plus years with the Toronto Raptors. Last season was arguably the best of his career, a rarity for an age-30 big who used to rely a great deal on his athleticism.

    Ibaka averaged 15.0 points per game while nailing 38.5 percent of his threes and 45 percent of his mid-range jumpers. He is clearly a center on defense these days, but that's only a problem if you can't give him enough space to rebound. His assist totals will never show it, but he's a more capable passer on the move.

    What becomes of Ibaka if he's not afforded 12 to 14 shots per game? It's a fair question. His influence stalls out if he's not scoring. That may not be an issue on the Clippers, as they're not used to rolling out a floor-spacing 5. If nothing else, Ibaka's threat level from beyond the arc will put extra strain on defenses.


    68. Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 46

    Spencer Dinwiddie's raw efficiency can be a turnoff. He has shot lower than 34 percent from deep in each of the past three years and hit just 27.7 percent of his pull-up treys last season. That certainly matters, though it isn't nearly as concerning if he keeps finding the net on 37-plus percent of his spot-up threebies.

    Regardless, the direct, unceasing pressure he puts on the basket is more paramount. He is not the most efficient finisher, but the ruin he wreaks upon the defense spurs trips to the line and higher-quality opportunities for those around him. And while he works with some changes in pace, his attacks are more streamlined than spectacle. He isn't trying to dance with the ball and hunt for broken ankles; he's unsettling the larger defensive picture, rather than just his man, and acting on it.

    Coexisting with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert may abbreviate the most valuable part of Dinwiddie's game. But it won't devolve, totally, in significance. His specific brand of creation, in fact, may be the one best suited to tie lineups that feature three to all four of them together.


    67. Mike Conley, Utah Jazz

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Left hamstring and right knee issues limited Mike Conley to 47 appearances last year (the latter of which hit him just before the playoffs), and he wasn't himself for a good chunk of them.

    Working through rust always takes time, but his initial struggles had more to do with his change of scenery. Utah was not Memphis, and it took Conley a while to adapt. Simply going from playing with a lifetime's worth of bigs who popped to a premier roll man required alterations.

    Conley was back on his well-balanced grind by the end of the year. He averaged 17.0 points and 4.9 assists while dropping in 41.9 percent of his treys over the final quarter of the regular season and then rediscovered more of his off-the-bounce shot-making inside the bubble. He buried 50 percent of his pull-up treys (11-of-22) through five playoff appearances.

    Expectations can be adjusted for Conley ahead of his age-33 season, but the player he finished 2019-20 as is who the Jazz thought they were trading for in the first place. He is hardwired to negotiate roles, the rare point guard who can put pressure on the defense to the gain of everyone around him and has a magnetic pull away from the ball.

    His fit with the Jazz is only more defined now. Donovan Mitchell-as-point guard arrangements are a thing, which frees a healthier, more acclimated Conley to do what he struggled to last year: pump up lineups heavy on second-stringers that don't include his backcourt co-star.

    Only now it seems fated to work.


    66. Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Including Wendell Carter Jr. among the top 100 players, let alone just the top 25 bigs, might be the biggest risk of the entire process. He has been neither healthy nor productive enough to base this decision off his previous body of work.

    Consider this the Billy Donovan bump. Former Bulls head coach Jim Boylen oversaw a drastic decline in confidence from his young big. There were nights where it felt like Carter passed up more shots than he actually took. His preseason numbers aren't pretty, but he's more willing to fire away.

    Failing a major offensive jump—he should have the chance to facilitate more under Donovan—defensive effort still gives Carter a plausible path into the top 100. He is super shifty in space, and his rim protection will improve in a less aggressive scheme that doesn't call for him to chase as many 4s (which he's fully capable of doing).

65-61: Warren, Bogdanovic, Bogdanovic, Murray, Love

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    65. T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 99

    T.J. Warren's 2019-20 campaign was far more than his supernova performance during the Disney restart. To be sure, that scoring barrage matters. How could it not? He averaged 31.0 points per game while slashing 58/52/89. The Indiana offense should not reconstruct its hierarchy with him at the tippy top, but the extra on-ball reps he shouldered are proof of a safety net. The Pacers can survive at something less than full strength because he's capable of moonlighting as someone more than a third or fourth option.

    Granted, any role Warren assumes will include buckets. He is programmed to look for his shot. His improved three-point touch has only made it easier to fill the box score within the flow of an offense. He's hitting 41.4 percent of his treys over the past two seasons, and even with his bubble masterpiece factored in, nearly two-thirds of his made baskets last season came on assists.

    That his first year with Indiana included a more consistent defensive motor only heightened his utility. In the span of just a couple of seasons, he's gone from one dimensional to, potentially, one size fits all.


    64. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Bogdan Bogdanovic can be easy to miss. His impact is hardly kept in secret, but it's not spectacle, either. He generates offense as a form of alleviation, the guy next to the guy.

    This is not to say Bogdanovic's workload is effortless or even opportunistic. He separates himself from other second and third wheels with an air of self-creation. Not every non-star can score at all three levels. Even fewer can do it as efficiently. Just take a gander at his profile from last season:

    • At rim: 61 percent (49th percentile)
    • Short mid-range: 48 percent (86th percentile)
    • Long mid-range: 52 percent (91st percentile)
    • All mid-range: 50 percent (90th percentile)
    • All threes: 37 percent (58th percentile)

    Moving to Atlanta should only increase Bogdanovic's chances to exploit cursory defensive focus. Trae Young has immeasurable pull with the ball in his hands, and the floor games of Danilo Gallinari and John Collins will draw attention all their own.


    63. Bojan Bogdanovic, Utah Jazz

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 64

    Bojan Bogdanovic is the consummate secondary scorer. He offers glimpses of more complicated shot-making but is both content and positively lethal working off ball-dominant playmakers.

    Joining the Jazz has resulted in a simpler role than he held with Indiana, but the change is symbiotic: He isn't burdened with the same from-scratch volume, and in exchange, they have gotten one of the league's most efficient sidekicks. Only three other players last season averaged at least 20 points while shooting better than 40 percent from deep on as many three-point attempts per game: Paul George, Jayson Tatum and Karl-Anthony Towns.


    62. Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 70

    Dejounte Murray remains something of an offensive unknown. Though he has done a better job getting the Spurs into their half-court sets and looked at home piloting more transition opportunities during the restart, his potential scoring peak remains concealed beneath lingering questions about his jumper and rim pressure.

    Yet this ambiguity skews heavily toward a silver lining after last season, during which he shot a career high from the mid-range (44 percent) and hit 36.9 percent of his threes. Most of his jumpers went completely uncontested, but that's not exactly a drawback. Defenses are going to give him those shots. Knocking them down is a massive victory for both him and the Spurs.

    Establishing more of a presence at the rim looms as Murray's offensive swing skill. His issue is not ability so much as mindset. He has enough speed to go at and scoot by defenders when driving from above the break. Reaching the rim—and improving his free-throw-attempt rate—is almost entirely a matter of maintaining his dribble rather than settling for contested baby jumpers and turnarounds.

    A version of Murray who shoots like he did last year and is committed to finishing north-south, on top of contending for All-Defensive selections, is a possible All-Star.


    61. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 51

    Kevin Love retains all of his appeal from previous years. The rebounding, the half-court playmaking, the outlet passing, the shooting—it's all intact. It just isn't as assured of being put to use in larger doses.

    Cleveland remains in the infancy of a rebuild, and while the frontcourt rotation isn't crowded enough to instinctively eat up his minutes, the Cavs have minimal incentive to rely on him as more than a safety net for their youngsters.

    Showcasing him probably doesn't make his contract that much easier to move. Three years is a long time, and $91.5 million is a lot of money. No contract is immovable, least of all his, but exactly zero teams appear one Kevin Love away from a title. This year feels more about maintenance: play him enough to keep him involved, but not so much his remaining value is neutered by the growing pains of the kiddies or a potential injury.

60-56: Harris, Brogdon, Russell, Anunoby, DeRozan

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    60. Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 63

    Tobias Harris' stock rose by virtue of a potential return to his roots. "First thing, we've gotta get him back to being is a quick-decision player," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said, per CBS Sports' Michael Kaskey-Blomain. "I told him I saw him dribbling way too much. Tobias is so darn skilled going downhill left and right. We need to get back to taking advantage of that."

    Philly slashed Harris' pick-and-roll usage last season to keep in theme with its style. Putting him in more of those situations, perhaps at the expense of elbow touches, would assure Harris more of an opportunity to make decisions on the move rather than from a standstill. That's where he's at his best: pulling up for threes after coming around screens or subtly punishing bigs on switches (even if he tends to bail out before getting to the basket).

    The Sixers now have the requisite shooting near the top of the roster to unlock that Tobias Harris, and they'll reap even more of the benefits following the Al Horford trade. Harris held up well against opposing wings last season, but he is most dangerous at power forward. And while many of his minutes came there in 2019-20, the stage is now set for him to be more of a full-time mismatch.


    59. Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana Pacers

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 48

    Going from Milwaukee to Indiana drastically altered the conditions of Malcolm Brogdon's usage. The move was not just a matter of volume but functional difficulty. And it didn't quite suit him.

    Injuries didn't help. Brogdon battled back, hand, neck, hamstring and quad issues to varying degrees. A cleaner health bill should bump up his overall shot-making, especially when going downhill. But his dip in efficiency had more to do with his role than body.

    In Milwaukee, Brogdon was inoculated against too much defensive attention and capitalized on a steady diet of spot-up threes and wide-open lanes. In Indiana, he enjoyed no such cover, an issue exacerbated by Victor Oladipo's own lack of availability. Pull-up jumpers accounted for nearly half his shot attempts, up from sub-16 percent during his final season with the Bucks. Gone were the unimpeded lanes. He instead drew the defensive wrath reserved for primary options, forcing him to navigate more clutter.

    Indiana likewise saddled him with more floor-general responsibilities than even he could've foreseen—and help isn't necessarily on the way. As Indy Cornrows' Caitlin Cooper wrote:

    "Granted, as a former point guard himself, Nate McMillan's offense was largely built around having his point guards dribble a whole bunch mostly out of one-dimensional, standstill pick-and-roll. In the playoffs, the only player who finished with a higher time of possession than Brogdon in the first round was offensive maestro Luka Doncic, and in the absence of Domantas Sabonis, only Denver's Nikola Jokic's bested him in passes per game. That's an unrealistic workload, which should hopefully be reduced by the improved health of Sabonis and Victor Oladipo as well as the expected emphasis on connecting one action to the next with free-flowing, egalitarian ball and player movement. However, until proven otherwise by Oladipo's sloppy handle, Brogdon is still the most reliable primary ball-handler on a team lacking in elite perimeter playmaking, which means he needs to be able to hit off-the-dribbles threes with improved accuracy to thin out traffic at the nail and avoid being prioritized as a driver, especially now that teams have written the book on forcing him to his weak-hand."

    No player stands to benefit more than Brogdon should Oladipo return to form. He remains a serviceable player amid the offensive strain—his 16.5 points and 7.1 assists per game and defensive work ethic don't grow on trees—but he's much less effective when deployed more like an All-Star than an All-Star's complement.


    58. D'Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 45

    D'Angelo Russell may have finally found a spot conducive to his brand of stardom. Anyone who scores 20-plus points per game, hits off-the-dribble threes, works defenses into collective disjointedness, finds shooters out of the pick-and-roll and occasionally passes his teammates open has significant value. Until now, though, Russell's skill set has not translated to an essential impact.

    The Brooklyn Nets were more efficient with him off the court during his breakout 2017-18. The Golden State Warriors were plus-0.4 points per 100 possessions with him in the game, but their offense still placed in the 11th percentile through those stretches.

    It was the same story upon arriving in Minnesota. The Timberwolves' offensive rating jumped by 5.7 points per 100 possessions when he played, but they were working off a wildly low floor following Karl-Anthony Towns' fractured left wrist. Their DLo minutes still resulted in 25 percentile placement.

    Working in tandem with a better player should bloat his impact. He didn't get that opportunity in Golden State, where he logged just 172 possessions with Stephen Curry. Nor did he receive it after his trade to Minnesota. He and Towns tallied only 61 possessions together. Their like-a-glove fit should help Russell leave more of an overall imprint, which is at once a reassuring notion and an explanation for why he's so far behind other offensive engines.


    57. OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 96

    OG Anunoby is now synonymous with the NBA's best three-and-D specialists. And yet, that attempt at flattery has inadvertently become a pigeonhole. Looping him under the three-and-D umbrella implies his ceiling tops out as a knockdown standstill shooter and the league's best on-ball defender. That projection was fine 18 months ago, maybe even generous. It sells him short now.

    There is more to Anunoby on offense than spot-up threes—which, by the way, he drilled at a 38.2 percent clip. He is more inclined to dribble in open space and set his sights on finishing at the rim. Defenses still appear disarmed when he puts the ball on the floor, but his downhill attacks are an actual thing.

    How much more he has to offer will be decided in due course. Self-exploration beckons with Toronto, where there is at least a moderate offensive vacuum following the departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Anunoby will be tasked with replacing some of the volume and the artistic liberties that go with it. He may not suddenly dribble into jumpers or drum up his half-court creation. On the other hand, he might. And if he does, he would go from secondary building block to possible, if not probable, All-Star.


    56. DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 53

    Assessments of DeMar DeRozan are veering too far into unreason. Players are more than their shot profile, and he remains a highly effective initiator when granted the freedom to work within his wheelhouse. San Antonio hasn't always done the best job of accentuating his strengths but remedied its position last season by having LaMarcus Aldridge restretch his game beyond the three-point line.

    DeRozan feasted from that moment onward, leveraging four-out spacing into not more mid-range jumpers but looks inside the paint. He finished the season as one of just five players averaging more than 22 points and five assists with a true shooting percentage above 60. His company: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, James Harden and Damian Lillard.

    On-court impact isn't binary, but that's not an invitation to overthink. Players who can jump-start the offense, get to their spots and draw fouls in spades are valuable. DeRozan is valuable. Living and dying by his hand is just an increasingly fragile existence.

55-51: LeVert, Aldridge, Griffin, Gallinari, Nurkic

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    55. Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 95

    Caris LeVert is best deployed without restraint. His highest highs with the Nets have come when he was given unbounded agency—creative license he has held on numerous occasions, albeit not steadily, and won't carry now. Playing with a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving means surrendering touches and status, a concession that will gauge the malleability of his skill set.

    Finding the right balance might be a matter of joining the second unit or getting drastically staggered from Brooklyn's two superstars. LeVert is not the most consistent finisher and settles for mid-range jumpers too often, but he's wired to drive an offense. His vision is underrated; teammates glean open shots through his changes in direction. And among every player to average at least three pull-up triples per game last season, only Paul George, Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum hit theirs at a higher clip.

    Invariably, though, LeVert's standing boils down to his capacity for integration. He has converted more than 33.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes only once in his four years (2017-18) and doesn't have much experience navigating off-ball traffic. That'll have to change if he's going to close games—and stick with the Nets.


    54. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 50

    Age has to catch up with LaMarcus Aldridge at some point, and it might be now. At 35, he's entering his 15th season and coming off right shoulder surgery that prevented him from joining San Antonio inside the Disney bubble. That alone doesn't spell a drastic decline, but it could. And if it doesn't, the Spurs' timeline might.

    They're currently trying to blend development for the future with a return to the playoffs, but the Western Conference is not built to reward teams that aim for the middle. The Oklahoma City Thunder and maaaybe the Sacramento Kings are the only teams that have willingly removed themselves from the postseason. More teams will follow, involuntarily or by choice, and the Spurs could be one of them, in which case playing Aldridge less or trading his expiring contract elsewhere is eminently possible, if not likely.

    In the event he continues getting 30-plus minutes every night, he'll have a real chance to outperform our panel's expectations—particularly if he continues to bomb threes. After upping his outside volume just before Christmas, he averaged 19.2 points while downing 41.2 percent of those treys. Will he continue to fire away? And is he happy to do so at the expense of his turnaround jumpers? The lack of certainty in San Antonio is grounds for toning down expectations.


    53. Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    Blake Griffin lost nearly all of last season to a left knee injury. That time away from the court, extended by the coronavirus pandemic, is either a basis for writing him out of star territory or a much-needed break that will allow him to re-explore his 2018-19 All-NBA heights.

    Somewhere in the middle probably lies the truth. Presuming Griffin returns to jump-starting pick-and-rolls and burying a bunch of pull-up threes while ferrying Detroit toward the postseason (or play-in) is too optimistic. Even if he remains healthy enough to have that kind of year, the Pistons are, we think, firing up a rebuild. A prospective return to All-Star form is cause for Griffin to play less or get shipped elsewhere.


    52. Danilo Gallinari, Atlanta Hawks

    Pre-Bubble Rank: 38

    Danilo Gallinari's offense takes no singular recurring form, which is part of what makes it so adaptable. His shooting translates across all actions—standstill, off-the-dribble or otherwise—and he is so effective at drawing contact he can be used as a situational pick-and-roll maestro.

    Injuries have dogged him throughout his career, and he turned 32 this past August, but neither age nor availability has imperiled the way he plays. Getting true wing minutes from him is more of a chore; he is now a pure 4 and should see reps as a small-ball 5 before sponging up time at the 3. But that's hardly a dilemma when his floor game continues to be a mismatch at both spots.

    Anyway, jumping through some positional hoops is invariably worth the rewards reaped. Gallinari is averaging 18.8 points per game on a 47.3 free-throw-attempt rate and a 60.8 percent true shooting percentage since 2015-16. James Harden is the only other player doing the same across as many minutes.


    51. Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers

    Pre-Bubble Rank: Unranked

    After missing most of last season while recovering from compound fractures in his left leg, this should be a year of rediscovery for Jusuf Nurkic. Except, well, it doesn't look like he needs to find himself. He didn't miss a beat while playing inside the Disney bubble. He was moving well on defense, making the same plays on offense and averaged over 30 minutes per game.

    Expectations needn't be adjusted for him this season. Portland has put more defense in front of him on the wings and is adequately stocked with players who can optimize his vision on short rolls. This placement will wind up selling him short if he works a league-average-ish three-pointer into his repertoire—he chucked triples at Disney—or the Blazers defense creeps into the top 15 riding the coattails of his drop coverage and heightened ability to stay in front of opposing 5s who put the ball on the deck.