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Editorial

Which NBA Team Has the Worst Best Player in 2017–18?

Not every team can have megastars, but some teams are in far better shape than others…

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LeBron James is the best best player on any NBA team. He’s better than the best Spur and the best Buck, although Kawhi and Giannis will see about that soon enough. He’s certainly better than anyone on the Pacers or Magic or Hornets. The Cavs’ best player is better than your best player.

Some teams have LeBron or Giannis. Some even have a couple star players. They’re the ones that get printed on the season tickets, the guys holding the ball with five seconds left in a tie game. But not every team has a superstar or even a star. Some barely have any good players at all.

We did this exercise a year ago and found a surprising conclusion: ranking the star player on each team turned out to be pretty analogous to just ranking the teams themselves. In a star-driven NBA, teams can only go as far as their superstar takes them.

So who are the brightest stars in the NBA universe? And what team has the “worst” best player for the 2017–18 season?

***

The Best of the Best

1. LeBron James, Cleveland
2. Kevin Durant, Golden State
3. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio

Is Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry the best player on the Warriors? Durant is much bigger, and all that extra size helps him become an elite defender for stretches if necessary and lets him exert more of himself on the game on offense. And second, you could sanely argue KD over LeBron after last June, but no one would even try to argue for Curry over LBJ. So Durant it is, with LeBron still in first and Kawhi nipping at their heels.

***

We Got Next

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee
5. Anthony Davis, New Orleans
6. James Harden, Houston
7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City

Focus more on the tiers than the order within. You’ve already seen all the summer #NBARank stuff at every other site. These four are undoubtedly next in line, but you can choose your own order.

Giannis looks like The Next Big Thing, and it looks like next might be now. Maybe this ranking is reactionary to an incredible opening two weeks… or maybe he’ll be in the top tier by season’s end. What are the odds on Antetokounmpo not winning an MVP at some point in his career? 10-to-1? 25-to-1? By the way, Greek Freak was 24th on this list just one year ago.

Of course, the other three guys in this tier were First Team All-NBA last season, so you need no introduction. Davis plays the most defense, and Russ is the least efficient, so that’s the order. These are the best players in the NBA without a ring. They’re the ones trying to wait out LeBron and the Ws.

***

The Long-Shot MVPs If Everything Breaks Right

8. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota
9. John Wall, Washington
10. Rudy Gobert, Utah
11. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

I once heard Jimmy Butler described as, “LeBron, but if he were human.” Butler put up a 24/6/5 last year while guarding the opponent’s best guy each night and single-handedly dragged a terrible team to the playoffs. He simply does everything, the sort of player we would worship if he didn’t play the same sport as the aliens holding down spots one-to-four on the list.

Wall does everything except shoot and nicked seven MVP votes already last season. He might get more this year if he ends up the best player on the best team in the East. Gobert somehow led the league in both offensive and defensive rating and may be the one player in the league that transforms a team into a top-five defense all on his own.

Where does Blake belong? You could probably place him anywhere from eight-to-17 and be right any given day, and that’s precisely the problem. Good Blake is awesome but too often we’re stuck with Jumper Blake, Disinterested Blake, or Injured Blake.

***

The Fighting-for-Third-Team-All-NBA Guys

12. Kyle Lowry, Toronto
13. Marc Gasol, Memphis
14. Damian Lillard, Portland
15. Nikola Jokic, Denver
16. Kyrie Irving, Boston
17. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia

The NBA is awesome and loaded with talent. Everyone here is a franchise player, but none of them will be showing up on MVP ballots or fighting for a First Team All-NBA spot anytime soon, and that says more about the rest of the league than it does about them.

There’s three bigs and three guards here, so let’s compare apples to apples. Kyle Lowry put up 2015 Curry numbers last year before getting hurt. He is the best guy playing in Canada. Kyrie Irving went from great second banana to best player with a trade and a gruesome injury. He needs to prove he can do it without LeBron before moving ahead of Dame or Lowry.

Joel Embiid will either move up this list or fall off of it completely in a few months. Let’s hope for the former, because he’s an incredible talent who’s still learning and getting better every game. I ranked Nikola Jokic 29th on this lista year ago, behind the likes of D’Angelo Russell and rookie Ben Simmons. I’ll take the fall for that, but at least give me credit for calling him the best Nuggets player a year ago. Marc Gasol tops these three big men for now because he’s done it before and done it on both ends. You can argue for Mike Conley over Gasol. They’re 1a and 1b and probably end up in about the same spot on the list either way.

***

The Eastern All-Stars

18. Kemba Walker, Charlotte
19. Myles Turner, Indiana
20. Goran Dragic, Miami
21. Kristaps Porzingis, New York

A Western team featuring one of these lads would be floundering deep in the lottery. In the East, three of the four will lead their team to the playoffs.

Kemba Walker is the new Mike Conley, a guy that gets a little better every season and someone that has become one of the most underrated and overlooked players in the league. Goran Dragic gets the Heat nod because of the way he dominated EuroBasket this summer en route to MVP honors and a Slovenian title. Hassan Whiteside just can’t take over games like that.

Myles Turner edges Kristaps Porzingis in the battle of 2015 draft bigs, for now. Maybe Porzingis will make this look silly by year’s end, but Turner was clearly the better player last season. He was more efficient on offense and far more valuable on defense, even if he’s not as sexy as KP.

 

***

The Up and Comers

22. Harrison Barnes, Dallas
23. Tobias Harris, Detroit
24. Aaron Gordon, Orlando

Pause for a second and remember what list these guys are on. Barnes, Harris, and Gordon are young dynamic up-and-coming wings, two of them 25 and AG a young 22, but how are their teams supposed to compete with the ones led by LeBron, Giannis, Russ, and the other mutants above?

Harris and Gordon lead the NBA’s two most surprising teams. We entered the season thinking the Pistons and Magic might battle for the East eight-seed and instead they’re tied for the best record. October basketball is wonderful. Are Harris and Gordon even their best players?

Detroit homers swear Harris is their guy and he looks the part this season with 21 points per game on sizzling shooting. Gordon has matched that scoring average with some of the hottest shooting in the NBA and superb defense after returning to his natural position at the four. We’ll see how both of them hold up once the shooting cools off, but the NBA is better for having budding star wings at two forgotten Eastern teams.

Harrison Barnes might still be the worst American pro basketball Olympian of all time.

***

The Role Players Posing As Best Players

25. George Hill, Sacramento
26. Brook Lopez, Los Angeles Lakers
27. Dennis Schroeder, Atlanta
28. Zach LaVine, Chicago

It’s getting ugly. George Hill and Brook Lopez are below average NBA starters. They would make wonderful fifth starters as role players on a good team. Masquerading as the best player instead could make for a long season for fans, but Hill and Lopez aren’t exactly the guys fans are there to see. Remember, rookies and sophomores typically aren’t actually good yet. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, De’Aaron Fox, and Buddy Hield will have to wait their turn.

Dennis Schroeder was the best player on his team at EuroBasket this summer, leading Germany to a surprise upset of France and a quarterfinal exit, but has he really shown much improvement for a guy in his fifth NBA season? He’s yet to have a season with better offensive than defensive rating.

That’s true for Zach LaVine too, who we’re cheating a bit by ranking him a few weeks before his return because it’s too depressing to pick another Bull. LaVine is atrocious defensively but a big time scorer with a 39 percent three-pointer and athleticism for days.

***

The Young Stars that Aren’t Actually Good Yet

29. Devin Booker, Phoenix
30. D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn

Russell was the second pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Booker went 11 picks later. Both of them had huge moments amidst tumultuous sophomore seasons. Booker scored 70 in a game against Boston, and Russell hit an emotional game winner on the day his grandmother died. The two played each other Tuesday night and put up 65 points combined with a few highlight-reel plays.

But highlights don’t make a player good, and neither of these guys actually contributes a ton to winning basketball yet. Heck, neither of them was even supposed to be their team’s best player. It should have been Eric Bledsoe for Phoenix if they hadn’t seen him home, but that’s much better for tanking since Bledsoe would’ve been ranked 22nd. Russell takes Jeremy Lin’s spot, but the Nets didn’t exactly plummet down the list.

 

So which of these 21-year-olds is better right now? It’s closer than you think. Both are horrible defenders who turn the ball over way too much. Each is a good creator and a strong scorer, though not exactly efficient. Both are average shooters, and Russell’s almost as good as Booker.

So who’s the “worst” best player in the NBA for 2017–18? Tie goes to the guy who’s worse at the more important position on both offense and defense. That’s D’Angelo Russell.

Brandon is a lifelong sports fan across NBA, NFL, soccer, baseball, college sports, Olympics, reality TV, and Netflix binge watching. He’s a proud North Dakotan (which is almost Canadian) trying to make it as a freelance writer and consultant. You can find his words at Medium or on Twitter @wheatonbrando. Brandon was last seen at SI’s The Cauldron, Sports Pickle, Bleacher Report, Yahoo, and that one long email chain with your other sports geek friends.

Editorial

An Ode to the 2007-2008 Warriors

A reminder that joy and excellence are not foreign concepts to those living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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A reminder that joy and excellence are not foreign concepts to those living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sometimes messy can be better than perfect, right?

Well, no. Perfect is better than messy, but when it comes to sports, the picture gets murkier. Sports has a way of instantly anchoring in time, era and context – we’ll always remember where we were when Baron Davis yammed on Andrei Kirilenko. That sort of deal.

When you factor in context like that then yeah, messy can feel pretty damn perfect.

The “We Believe” Warriors, they of the 8-seed-playoff-upset and the sea of yellow towels and raucous Oracle Arena, were feted all of last season. It was a reminder that joy and excellence were not foreign concepts to those living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

However, the real peak of that iteration of the Warriors occurred the next season, this 2007-08 team that’s easy to forget now, was actually the first of the “We Believe” teams to play a full season together. That team has always been this Warriors fan’s favourite for the entirety of my life, that’s for sure, and it’s easy to understand why.

They didn’t make the playoffs. Let’s start there.

They didn’t make the playoffs, becoming the first team in NBA history to win 48 freaking games and not qualify, because, as you know, the 07-08 season happened sometime over the last 20 years while the Leastern (nice!) Conference couldn’t pull its head out of its own ass. They didn’t make it, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. They finished two games behind the Denver Nuggets for ninth in the Western Conference, and three games ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth in the East.

These Warriors rode the previous season’s playoff high and played 82 games, or 3,936 minutes, at the league’s fastest pace and in front of an attendance that ranked sixth in the NBA while employing a motley crew of preposterously entertaining characters, each seemingly more insane than the previous one.

Seriously, just take in the following. Rookies Brandan Wright, C.J. Watson, and Marco Belinelli hadn’t become the mere expiring contracts they would eventually be, while Patrick O’Bryant wasn’t a full-on bust yet, but they were mere appetizers here. Matt Barnes played almost 20 minutes trying to drive all the way out to Temecula if that’s what it needed, Mickael Pietrus was a knockdown shooter, Austin Croshere was the token white guy, at the same time that Andris Biedrins lead the NBA (!!!!) with a 62.5 field goal percentage. (This Warriors fan called him Prom King back then. He would always don the same gelled hairdo you had for prom. Just look at this.)

Only Jason Richardson was missing from the previous year’s roster, but it didn’t matter. Al Harrington was the foremost irrational confidence guy in a team full of them, Stephen Jackson was the God personified, Monta Ellis had it all,and our point guard followed his all-time dunk over Kirilenko by turning in the best season of his career that ultimately, much like the team he so brilliantly led, fell short of notching him an All-Star berth (he still smiled though).

It had no reason to work the way that it did, but goddamn if it didn’t, and if it didn’t constitute the greatest thing in the world for us Warriors teens. They were a cartoon of a team, and we mean this in the best of ways. The 2007-08 Warriors played their NBA games like they played ball in NBA 2K, and if you can’t see the beauty in this then we probably can’t ever be friends.

This Warriors team that season were, ultimately, just like the young man I was a decade ago: frustratingly irregular, talented but lazy, and ultimately they fell short, much like we all do.

However, when they clicked, boy did that machine click. Golden State scored the most points per game in the NBA on the league’s fourth-ranked offense. Biedrins, as mentioned, had a career year and Ellis shot over 60 per cent from the field for the entire month of February. Seriously! Head coach Don Nelson’s system was ultimately player-proof as the numbers and successes of players like Corey Maggette, Reggie Williams, Corey Crawford, Cartier Martin or Anthony Morrow would attest in later years. But okay, sure, let’s keep this focused on our favs.

The Warriors didn’t play any real kind of defense, none whatsoever, let’s mention this too. That’s probably why they were doomed. “You need to play defence in the NBA to have success”, they said. However, we say “That’s what made them thrilling!”. In 2007-08, Golden State was the bastard stepbrother of Mike (No) D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds Or Less Phoenix Suns”, who somehow never changed as he grew up and graduated college—well, almost graduated. They didn’t make the playoffs, remember? It’s a loss in the penultimate game against big freaking brother, the Suns, that doomed them.

Over time, the Warriors and this writer grew up and cleaned their act up, and learned not to mess up as often as they used to. Regardless, this 07-08 team has maintained an alluring sense of awe and wonder, constantly pulling. us. back. in. These current Warriors, the supernova of supernovas, may have perfected basketball (or thereabout), but the messiness of a decade ago still appeals to this now adult fan: it’s comforting to know that you’re not alone in messing up, that those you look up to also do it.

Clean up they did. They drafted Steph Curry, because it was the smart thing to do and, when it had become clear it should be his team, when it was clear they believed in him and his faulty ankles, they traded away Ellis and our Lord Stephen Jackson and received Andrew Bogut in return. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing. Sometimes you need to study for the stats exam even if it’s fucking great to just play the PS4 all day long with the homies.

But then the Warriors went ahead and added Kevin Durant, whose legal name might as well have been Kevin Freaking Durant. Now all of a sudden, college doesn’t feel so bad.

You can’t ever front on KD.

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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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Editorial

Progression is Power: On Social Justice in the NBA

The path to becoming the most progressive major sports league in the world hasn’t been a simple one.

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Art by Meaghan Engels

Cyntoia Brown and Trayvon Martin. Two names that went viral on social media, two teens that were both failed by the American criminal justice system, two lives that ended far too young, and two people that gained the attention of NBA All-Star LeBron James. Trayvon Martin was tragically gunned down while returning from the corner store with a drink and candy in his hand. His killer was never brought to justice, but instead was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter. Cyntoia Brown was 16 when she shot and killed a man that had solicited her for sex after being forced into prostitution. She was tried as an adult and sentenced to 51 years to life for first degree murder. James chose to reach out to his roughly 30 million followers across his social media platforms to demand justice for these individuals. But this story doesn’t start with Martin and won’t end with Brown. This story is more about the social justice movement in the NBA that has been in the making for decades, inspired by individuals just like these.

Earlier this year the NBA placed itself into a category of its own in an unprecedented move across the sports community. Commissioner Adam Silver and Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts co-signed a letter for players encouraging their social awareness and pledged their full support. In an excerpt obtained by ESPN, part of the letter reads:

None of us operates in a vacuum. Critical issues that affect our society also impact you directly. Fortunately, you are not only the world’s greatest basketball players — you have real power to make a difference in the world, and we want you to know that the Players Association and the League are always available to help you figure out the most meaningful way to make that difference.

To the public the NBA might look like a leader in the industry, but it has never been a short or easy journey. To understand how far the league has come we have to look back at its controversial past.

I’ll start with the more recent history of the Chicago Bulls NBA championship visit to the White House in 1992. A dashiki-donned Craig Hodges showed up with a handwritten letter to former United States President George H. W. Bush opposing the administration’s treatment of the poor and minority communities. That same year Hodges was then waived by the Bulls and failed to receive an offer or tryout from any of the other 29 teams. Hodges was only 32 at the time and not only a three-time three-point shootout champion, but a two-time NBA champion. Four years later he filed a $40 million lawsuit against the league and its teams claiming they blackballed him. In his complaint he listed reasons that included his association with African-American social activist Louis Farrakhan, and his criticism of other African-American professional athletes not using their wealth and influence to enact change, most notably calling out former teammate Michael Jordan.

That same year the league saw more controversy when Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the American anthem in protest against a country and flag he deemed a symbol of oppression and a conflict with his Islamic beliefs. The league’s commissioner at the time, David Stern, handed Abdul-Rauf a suspension that carried a $31,707 fine for each game missed. It seemed like a clear message from the league to its players: Either stay in line or there will be consequences.

It then took almost a decade for Steve Nash to place himself in the middle of political controversy by sporting a shirt during the Mavericks’ pregame warmups that read: “No War. Shoot for Peace.” Progression was happening slow in the social athletic world, but two years later the Wizards’ Etan Thomas echoed his sentiments and developed his own reputation as a political activist by delivering a powerful anti-war speech at a rally.

The cries of players’ voices did not go unnoticed as the NBA started to see entire teams rally around social justice causes. Nash (traded to the Phoenix Suns) was placing himself in the center of controversy again—this time being joined by the team’s managing partner. Together, the two of them lead the “Los Suns” movement. The team sported custom jerseys for a playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs in support of the Hispanic community that was facing Arizona’s highly controversial law heavily criticized for encouraging racial profiling.

Less than two years later, the league would see one of its most recognizable pictures to date and it would be the beginning of the movement of players and teams proudly standing together in unison in an attempt to enact change for individuals being targeted—predominantly in the black community. In Florida, the Miami Heat were only a few miles away from where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed after walking through a gated neighbourhood back to his uncle’s house wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Dwyane Wade’s wife, Gabrielle Union, brought the issue to her husband’s attention and in a revolutionary move, LeBron James and Wade spent several days planning a social justice plan of action. All it took was a photo that spoke a thousand words and a hashtag that read #WeAreTrayvonMartin.

The killing of an unarmed black man, or in this case, a child of only 17 years old, is not anything new for many people in America. This time it happened to hit Wade a lot harder than he ever expected.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Wade stated, “This situation hit home for me because last Christmas all my oldest son wanted as a gift was hoodies. So when I heard about this a week ago, I thought of my sons. I’m speaking up because I feel it’s necessary that we get past the stereotype of young, black men and especially with our youth.”

This was also one of the first times where it seemed a social issue was spreading beyond individual players, beyond a single team, and was being acknowledged league-wide. Further acknowledgement towards Martin’s death was displayed by New York Knicks teammates Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. Although we may not know the depth to the role that the Heat and players across the NBA actually played in garnering attention to Martin’s death, there was still traction and at that same time a Change.org petition had already gained almost 1.5 million signatures. Wade had retweeted CNN journalist Roland Martin’s tweet asking people to keep using their voices to demand justice. A Florida lawmaker further pushed Heat players to show up to pregames in hooded sweatshirts, and although the NBA’s uniform policy didn’t allow it, James and Wade were seen with “We Want Justice” and “R.I.P. Trayvon Martin” written on their sneakers. And in yet another groundbreaking move, the National Basketball Players Association released a powerful statement not only listing the standard condolences but went further to call for a permanent resignation of the Sanford Chief of Police and a full review of its police department as well.

Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Freddie Grey. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Cyntoia Brown.

These names are far from the only ones that should have gained attention over the years, however, in the case of Eric Garner, players and teams across the league were seen protesting his killing by wearing “I CAN’T BREATHE” shirts during warmups. Under new Commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA had taken a step forward by choosing not to fine players for not wearing Adidas as the league rules require. Silver stated his respect for players voicing their personal views but added that he would still prefer they abide by the rules. Over the years he has continued to progressively lead the way in the sporting community. In addition to not fining players for violating league rules with their shirts, he had previously fought to remove Donald Sterling as L.A. Clippers owner after his racist comments went public. The NBA commissioner has also shown his support for the LGBTQ community by withdrawing an All-Star game in Charlotte after it passed a discriminatory bathroom bill, and rode on a float the past two consecutive years in New York City’s pride parade.

The players, the coaches, the owners, and Silver have all taken the NBA to new places as it’s become the most progressive across the four major sports leagues (Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association). If you’ll recall, it was not so long ago when players, most famously Michael Jordan, refused to address political issues in fear of hurting their brand or alienating some fans. Jordan has had the quote, “Republicans buy shoes too,” follow him throughout his career and life, and regardless of whether or not he actually said those words, he publicly refused to take any political stances during his time as a player. It’s uncertain whether or not the movements of players have forced the league to progress, or the NBA’s adaptability has allowed the players to. But second to the changes in the league has been most recently MJ himself. Last year, he took the opportunity to speak out for what was possibly the first time in his career.

In a statement published to ESPN entitled, “I Can No Longer Stay Silent,” MJ wrote, “As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers.”

The former apolitical player and current Charlotte Hornets principal owner and chairman also donated $2 million between the Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Whatever caused him to finally use his voice proves that change is possible.

In LeBron’s famous 2014 Sports Illustrated article, he said, “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead …”

James has arguably been the most politically vocal sports figure (especially since Donald Trump took office) and one can only conclude there’s no silencing him in the future. His and others’ voices across the NBA and the rest of the sporting community are so important today and will only continue to grow and inspire others in sports to speak up and hopefully one day provide justice to those like Trayvon Martin or Cyntoia Brown.

Progression is possible, and if the NBA is any indication, I think it simply proves the point that athletes should absolutely not just “stick to sports, and that social change is possible. I look forward to the future where sports figures, celebrities and those in positions of power will all use their voices to inspire and enact change in their communities and our society.

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