Two weeks ago, Press Basketball published a ranking of the best player on each NBA team for the 2017–18 season, from LeBron James to D’Angelo Russell. Amidst the many responses (and Devin Booker stans), a few people wondered who was the worst second-best player on each NBA team. One thing led to another, and eventually curiosity ranked the KAT.
Below is a ranking of all 30 second bananas for the new NBA season. Any ranking is fun to argue over, but these rankings turned out to be pretty enlightening, too. The NBA is a league driven by stars, perhaps more than any other major sport. And in a star-driven league, a ranking of the top stars turns out to be a pretty good facsimile for a ranking of the teams themselves.
Let’s take a look at the rankings and draw some conclusions at the end…
Golden State Is Not Fair
1. Steph Curry, Golden State
You can argue whether Curry or Durant is second best, but they’re both top five players and that’s what makes Golden State so dangerous.
But it’s not just that. If we did a third piece (narrator: they didn’t) ranking the third-best players, Draymond Green would be a runaway winner. So too Klay Thompson among fourth bananas and Andre Iguodala with fifth wheels. If anything, the gap between one and two on each list just gets bigger and bigger.
That’s why the Warriors are so unfair. It’s not just the two superstars at the top but also the depth. Think of it this way: if the worst happened and Golden State lost Curry or Durant for the season, they’d still have a top-three best player, Draymond would still be a top-three second banana, and Klay and Iggy would still be top-three third and fourth players. Even without Steph or KD, the Warriors would still be deeper and better than every team in the NBA.
Of course, 73–9 already proved that.
Everyone Wants a Second Superstar
2. Chris Paul, Houston
3. Paul George, Oklahoma City
4. DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans
5. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota
You can tell how good these stars are because you could argue for each of them over their superstarrier teammates any given night. We talked about these four teams all offseason, in part because they’re all so much better than they were a year ago because of their star acquisitions.
You’ll notice they’re all out West. Eight of the top-nine second bananas are in the West. The conference disparity is real. The Thunder, Pelicans, and Wolves have all struggled at times, but they’re three of the five teams with a pair of legitimate superstars, so don’t count on them falling away so easily.
Everyone’s Favorite Underrated Players
6. Mike Conley, Memphis
7. Kevin Love, Cleveland
8. Paul Millsap, Denver
None of these guys are actually underrated after years of Basketball Internet complaining how underrated they’ve always been, but they’re still awesome. Conley has the highest ceiling of the trio as we saw last May, high enough that perhaps Marc Gasol should have been here. He can take over the game for stretches. Love and Millsap can’t quite do that, but they’re the best traditional power forwards in a league that doesn’t really play guys at the four anymore.
The Second Bananas
9. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
10. Al Horford, Boston
11. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto
12. C.J. McCollum, Portland
13. Bradley Beal, Washington
14. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia
15. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio
Every player on this list is a star. Each brings a lot to the table, but they each take something off too. Some of them don’t play defense. A couple can’t shoot. A few can’t seem to stay healthy. All of them feel like second bananas.
Well, all of them except Ben Simmons. He’s the lone rookie that counts as his team’s best or second-best player, and that’s because he’s not exactly playing like a rookie. It’s probably foolish to rank Simmons this high so soon, but not many guys average 18/10/8 with three stocks over their first ten games and it might seem just as foolish to rank Simmons so low a year from now.
You can order the rest how you like. I’d push Costco Kobe DeRozan down a few spots with LMAo if I was being really honest, but the order of this group isn’t really the point of the exercise.
It’s worth noting the gradual slide of the Boston Celtics because of the season-ending injury to their would-be best player. Gordon Hayward would’ve ranked 12th among best players; Kyrie ranked 16th. Irving should have been the sixth-best second player; Horford is 10th. Horford would have been one of the very best third stars. Instead it’s probably Marcus Smart, and he may not even rank in the top half of the league’s third bananas. That’s what happens to a non-Warriors team when a star gets hurt. Everyone has to play one level up. Even if the guys at the top overachieve, it’s the depth that can really suffer if the folks at the end of the bench don’t step up too.
The Bledsoe Trade
16. Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee
Sure, Eric Bledsoe is already the second-best player in Milwaukee in less than a week. Jabari Parker is still rehabbing, and a healthy Bledsoe is easily better than even Khris Middleton’s or Malcolm Brogdon’s best day. Already you can see how much speed and dynamism he adds to Milwaukee’s guard rotation.
So how good is Bledsoe? At his best, you could probably place him somewhere between seventh and tenth on this list, a borderline top ten point guard with a penchant for defense and a mini-LeBron on offense. Of course the same player has averaged only 55 games over the past four years with a 33 percent three-pointer and has never really featured on a winning team.
At 16, Milwaukee is the lowest ranked team on the list assumed to be a playoff lock. That’s not great. But once Jabari is back, he, Middleton, and Brogdon will rank among the top third-, fourth-, and fifth-best options, and that’s the strength of this Bucks squad now. One Freak at the top and a deep, long team of athletes around him.
The Old School Centers
17. Dwight Howard, Charlotte
18. Andre Drummond, Detroit
19. Hassan Whiteside, Miami
It’s tough to imagine an old school seven-footer being the best player on an NBA team in 2017, and these guys found that out the hard way. Twenty years ago, each of them would’ve been 12-time All Stars and first ballot Hall of Famers. Now it just feels like they get in the way.
Dwight actually is a surefire Hall of Famer, and he looks terrific in Charlotte. It’s crazy that a decade ago, you could have made a sane argument (and some did) for starting a franchise with Howard over LeBron James. He’s a weird dude and he’s not particularly likable, but he’s still terrific.
Drummond gets the nod over Whiteside in hopes that this free throw thing is real. And the thing is, it pretty much has to be. Drummond was a career 38 percent free-throw shooter coming into this season. He had 40 attempts his first 10 games. Binomial probability gives Drummond about an 8.4 percent chance of making at least half of those, but Drummond hit 30 of them, an incredible 75 percent. The odds of a 38 percent free-throw shooter randomly having a 30-of-40 streak are not good — like around one in a million. So you’re telling me there’s a chance.
Drummond is still 24 and could still be a really valuable player if he isn’t such a black hole on free throws. The advanced metrics always make Whiteside look better than the eye test. At some point it matters that you never pass, block your shots out of bounds, and guys don’t seem to love playing with you. Either way, these three are very close and very good at what they do. It’s just hard to know if what they do is still valuable in 2017.
The Point Guards that Can’t Shoot
20. Ricky Rubio, Utah
21. Elfrid Payton, Orlando
Derrick Favors? Joe Ingles? Rodney Hood? Nikola Vucevic? Evan Fournier? All nice players, but we’ll go with the point guards. Having a good point guard no longer guarantees you anything as deep as the position is these days, but it’s nearly impossible to win without at least a decent point guard in 2017.
Rubio will always be more valuable on the court than any stat can encapsulate. He just makes his teammates better, and he’s a very good point guard, whether he can shoot or not. Payton averaged a tidy 14/7/8 line post-All-Star Break, but let’s see if he can keep that up when it’s not garbage time all game. Neither of these guys can shoot a three to save their life, but they’re both good starting point guards anyway.
The Very Expensive Shooting Guards
22. Victor Oladipo, Indiana
23. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Los Angeles Lakers
24. Tim Hardaway Jr., New York
25. Wes Matthews, Dallas
If you were building an NBA team in 2017, would you want to spend $18 million of your precious cap room on an average shoot-first-shoot-second two guard? Me neither, but that’s the going rate for the guys here.
They all shoot well enough, each of them between 35 and 36 percent from downtown last season. They’re fine passers. They’re okay defensively. They don’t draw many fouls. There’s just not much to write home about. Put one of these guys on the Spurs, Cavs, Rockets, Warriors… are they the fourth-best player? Do they even start? Are they Jamal Crawford with starter minutes?
This Is Why Your Team Is Awful
26. T.J. Warren, Phoenix
27. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn
28. Robin Lopez, Chicago
29. Taurean Prince, Atlanta
30. Buddy Hield, Sacramento
You can rank this quintet any order you like, and you could talk yourself into another option or three on any of the teams, too. And not because there are so many good choices, but because there are so very few.
Phoenix, Brooklyn, Chicago, Atlanta, and Sacramento are going to be really bad. Go ahead and combine all five rosters — could you find a starting five that contends for the playoffs? Even in the East?
Last year’s worst second-best players included names like Jrue Holiday, Nikola Vucevic, Joel Embiid, and Devin Booker. Those are good players! A year ago, there was hope. With these five teams, the only hope is for a high lottery pick next summer. The other end of the spectrum has expanded too. Last year, guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan were top-seven second bananas. This year guys like Boogie, KAT, and PG-13 took their spots. The good teams got much better, and the bad teams got much worse. There is a chasm between the top of the league and the bottom.
Scroll back up and look through the list one again, focusing on the teams instead of the player names. It’s not a terrible power ranking of the real-life NBA, is it? The Warriors are at the top, with the Rockets just behind them. The Rockets, Thunder, Timberwolves, and Pelicans made the biggest jumps from a year ago, just as they did in our minds. The Cavs and Spurs fell off from last year. The Hawks, Bulls, and Knicks bottomed out completely.
The NBA is a star-driven league, so perhaps it’s not surprising that we can determine so much just be looking at the top couple stars on each team. Depth matters, along with coaching and defense and all the other stuff, but it still comes down to the stars at the end of the day.
Who’s the top third banana outside of the Warriors? A year ago it was Kevin Love, and that’s part of why the Cavs have been in three straight Finals. Who’s Cleveland’s third-best player now? It will be Isaiah Thomas by playoff time, but who is it right now and are they even among the top half of the league’s third bananas? No wonder the Cavs are struggling so much.
Is Carmelo Anthony a great third banana? Could Otto Porter or Andrew Wiggins be the best non-Warriors third banana by the playoffs? For all the great pairs around the league, we are seriously lacking in threesomes. That’s why the Warriors are so darn good, and that’s why this is such an interesting season anyway because it’s so hard to figure out who their top contender is. One role player making the leap (think Gary Harris or Marcus Smart) could send a team to another level, one key injury could doom a sure playoff team, and one superstar leap (Giannis or Porzingis) could change everything.
This wouldn’t work in any other sport. Just having Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell isn’t enough to make the Pittsburgh Steelers a sure contender. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols can’t drag the Los Angeles Angels to the playoffs. Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic haven’t returned Manchester United to greatness.
But basketball is different. Just five guys share the court, and a couple players can dominate the shots or have a supersized impact on defense. One star isn’t enough to make a team, but two just might be.
So next time you need to decide which NBA teams are best, do like the astronomers of old and turn your gaze upon the stars. But instead of focusing on the one shining brightest, look for the second star to the right — that might be the one to lead you to the Promised Land.
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.
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.
Press Roundtable Vol. 1 | The First Stretch
Staff writers and contributors alike gather to answer 10 intriguing questions about the young NBA season.
It’s still early in the 2017–18 season and, as we approach December, there are a plethora of interesting storylines developing around the association. We’ve gathered some of our staff writers and contributors to answer 10 questions pertaining to the league as a whole. Have at it, team.
1. Who was your preseason MVP pick and how’s that looking?
Andrew Miller: Kawhi Leonard. It’s not looking great right now because he hasn’t suited up yet for the Spurs, but give it time! He’s still one of the best best two-way players in the league.
Ivan Mora: Giannis. It’s looking good despite their drop in the rankings. If Westbrook with a sixth-seeded Thunder did it, Giannis can easily achieve it as well with the stat line he’s averaging. Let’s just hope Bledsoe can help bring the Bucks into the fold as a top five team in the East.
Julian McKenzie: LeBron James. With Kyrie Irving gone to Boston, and no Isaiah Thomas until the new year, it was clear that LeBron James would have to shoulder a larger load than usual for the first few months of the season. In a sport where the wear and tear on knees and legs should slow players down once they reach double-digit seasons, LeBron is having his best scoring season since 2010, in which he won the second of his four MVP titles. In his 15th NBA season, LeBron is top 10 in points per game, assists per game, field goal percentage, and player efficiency rating. I still expect him to be in the MVP conversation at season’s end, along with current clubhouse leaders in Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden.
Brandon Anderson: My preseason MVP was Kawhi Leonard. That’s going… not great. But my sleeper pick was Giannis so I’m feeling pretty okay with that one.
Will Strickland: LeBron Raymone James is my easy bake default choice almost every year, so I was looking to lean toward him again.
But I thought James Edward Harden, Jr., The Ultimate NBA MVP Bridesmade over the past couple seasons, finally gets married to his first Maurice Podoloff.
So far so good on that front.
Phil Boileau: Mine was Giannis… His numbers are making it happen, but the losses keep piling up. I also didn’t see Kyrie doing what he is doing or Harden getting his team back when CP3 was out. I have to feel that the Bucks will bounce back so I still feel okay with it.
2. The Celtics currently have a 16-game winning streak despite dealing with injuries to key players like Gordon Hayward, Al Horford and Kyrie Irving. Are they the team to finally knock off LeBron James’ Cavs in the playoffs?
Miller: I think this is the year that we see a Finals without LeBron. Getting Isaiah Thomas back will be a huge boost for the Cavs but they just haven’t shown an ability to really turn up the heat when they need to. JR and Wade have to get themselves going at some point.
Mora: I really think they can. Even when Cavs get IT back, they won’t stop a more balanced offense in the Celtics. With Kyrie now playing with a greater sense of purpose, he will keep up his intensity through the season. I’m calling it: The Celtics will be Eastern Conference champs.
McKenzie: We can pencil in a Celtics-Cavaliers Conference Finals from now, barring anything catastrophic taking place with either team. The Cavaliers are expected to figure it all out come playoff time and the Celtics are built for a deep playoff run of their own. On paper, the Celtics should be good enough to beat LeBron, even if they get IT. But it’s so hard to make these takes in November.
Anderson: I guess for this one we are supposed to assume the Cavs actually make the playoffs? Kidding, kind of, but it does feel like these Cavs are in some trouble. Still, I’m sticking with the Wizards. They’re the one team that seems to really believe they can take down Cleveland, and the one team the Cavs seem to fear a bit too. LeBron still thinks he can just brush off the Celtics anytime he feels like it.
Strickland: The preamble to the question was cute, but in reviewing the variables in the Celtics’ new equation, a couple things stood out: Hayward led a team to a playoff series win, but it was a 35-year-old Joe Johnson who took and made the winning shots. Horford anchored a 60–win team who was unceremoniously swept in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals. Kyrie Irving has yet to see, play or win a playoff game without LeBron James.
While all early signs point to GangGreen reigning supreme once again in the East, it is a daunting task to beat LeBron James-led squads in the Eastern Conference four times as the past decade has shown us.
Boileau: Tough to say without Hayward this year. As a general comment I’d have to say yes (depending on how quickly the Bucks and 76ers can grow). Even though the Celtics are cruising like a Snoop Dogg video, LeBron is still the king and the throne is still spoken for.
3. Who has been your favourite player to watch so far?
Miller: That’s possibly the hardest question of all. Guys like Giannis and Porzingis are mesmerizing at times, but for me it’s probably been Ben Simmons. I was a huge critic of his when he played at LSU and didn’t quite expect him to adjust to the NBA this quickly.
Mora: Ben Simmons, hands down. I was excited for him to come back and compete for Rookie of the Year since he was out all last year and he has NOT disappointed. While the 76ers are still figuring some things out, expect great things from Simmons. Possibly an eighth seed playoff berth with him behind the wheel.
McKenzie: Giannis. The size, the strength, the ability to practically Eurostep his way to the basket in three strides from mid-court (only a slight exaggeration). He might be MVP one year before I said he would (I predicted he’d win in 2019).
Anderson: It’s gotta be Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. It’s just a joy to see them both healthy on the court together and I hope they stay healthy forever. Obvious honorable mention to Giannis. Those are the three guys I’ll stop the channel on every time.
Strickland: Joel Embiid.
The possibilities are tantalizing.
The storyline is compelling.
And his social media life is the stuff of millennial gold.
Live Life, Young Lion and #DoWork!
Boileau: Honestly… Ben Simmons. He plays the game with a patience that I can only relate to LeVeon Bell with the Pittsburg Steelers. High level IQ and maturity for his age.
4. Lonzo Ball has had a mostly poor start to his NBA career after playing very well in college. Is it just confidence that’s killing his game?
Miller: There are a million miles between the level of collegiate basketball and the NBA. His defensive problems, from what I’ve seen so far, appear to be effort problems rather than confidence. If an attacking player gets the better of him, rarely will he try to recover and turn the play around. In terms of his horrible shooting, I think that’s a mix of confidence and pressure. Playing off the bench against second-unit guards is something Luke Walton should take a good look at if Ball can’t shoot his way out of the slump.
Mora: Not at all. He’s a good player. It’s the unnecessary added pressure from his dad that’s probably getting to his head. He’s not a leader, but that’s okay because he’s a great player. Just needs more time to get his groove back. He’ll be fine as long as these unrealistic expectations for him drop a bit.
McKenzie: I think it’s a combination of confidence and adjusting to the NBA as a whole. While he has ways to go, it’s not like he’s been totally awful. For what it’s worth, Lonzo has two triple-doubles to his tally, and is the youngest player in league history to do so.
Anderson: Lonzo has had a “mostly poor start” because of perception and unfair expectations. How many 19-year-old point guards come in and dominate the NBA their first 10 games? The answer you’re looking for is zero. Point guards have the longest learning curve of any position, and Lonzo has done a lot of good things on a bad team, including being the youngest player in history to record a triple-double. The shooting is a problem, particularly near the rim, but if he gets that figured out he’s still going to be very good.
Strickland: Nothing is killing this kid’s game. He’s 20. Yes, I know his boss won a title without the Association’s MVP in arguably the greatest NBA Finals performance history in 1980, but he’s an outlier in an entirely different strata. Ball is a rookie playing in what could be the league’s Golden Era of point guards, still learning the game on a bad team. Refusing to give his paterfamilias oxygen as a contributing factor in his shaky start is optional over here.
Boileau: I’ve been saying it for a while. The kid doesn’t bend. Sounds stupid but he’s too straight up and gets killed on defensive assignments because he can’t use that height and length well enough. His shot is fine but he needs more “dog” in him. Some angry yoga would be his salvation… but it’s not a real thing.
5. As things stand, the Grizzlies have the eighth seed in the West. Will that stay the same? Who’s going to end up with it?
Miller: Both conferences are basically wide open at this point (other than a few certainties) but things can change in a heartbeat. The Clippers went from the first seed to the 13th in a matter of 10 games.
Mora: Probably not. The Thunder just have too much star power not to be in the playoffs. Expect a swift change with the Thunder in possibly at six or seven, leaving the Grizzlies out of the playoffs.
McKenzie: I can tell you this: The Blazers should be better than eighth, but perhaps not better than fifth or sixth.
Anderson: I had the Jazz, Grizzlies, Blazers, Clippers, and Pelicans fighting for the last two playoff spots in approximately that order, but it was always going to come down to a couple key injuries. Portland is the most durable team of the five, and already the Jazz and Clippers have suffered some big injuries. I’d probably pick Portland and Memphis for the final two spots if I chose today.
Strickland: The bottom of the playoff seedings rung, regardless of conference, generally isn’t decided in November… and it’s not going to be now. Case in point? At the time of writing this, Memphis is ensconced in eighth, though seeing a first-round series between presumptive top seed and current champ Golden State vs. the retooling Oklahoma City Thunder would be a ratings bonanza.
Boileau: Yeah, the Blazers were just in the eighth spot and now look at them. They will battle with a few teams but they have a solid rotation and one of the top coaches, in my opinion. Nurkic will continue to improve… and look at that defense!
6. What the heck is wrong with the Thunder? After amassing two more stars around Russell Westbrook, the club is off to a rocky 7–9 start.
Miller: What’s that old saying about too many cooks? For the record, I do think they’ll figure it out eventually, but when you glue three guys together who have always been the first option on a team (call Russ 1b when KD was still with the Thunder) you’re bound to have some teething issues. The closing of games has just been a confusing nightmare so far. I’m not convinced that Billy Donovan is the man to lead this team to where they need to be, but time will tell.
Mora: Team chemistry—especially after a solo dominant performance from Westbrook. He needs to adjust his game. He will, just needs time. It’s like a completely different ballgame. Going from a Big 3 to a leadership role back to acclimating with a Big 3. Too much talent for them not to fix it. They will. We just have to be patient.
McKenzie: OKC is still trying to figure out how three ball-dominant alpha males, including the reigning MVP, can co-exist. Their lack of depth hurts—especially when the notable pieces they gave up for Paul George (Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo) are thriving on a playoff team in Indiana.
George, a pending UFA, might be the biggest loser in all this: He leads the league in steals but in terms of scoring, he’s having a down year. You could argue this was to be expected because he has to share with Russell and Carmelo Anthony, but they’re not even a consistent .500 ball club yet.
Anderson: I’m not sure anything much is wrong with the Thunder other than that these things take time. They remind me a bit of a poor man’s 2011 Miami Heat where they just haven’t gotten comfortable playing together on offense yet. The underlying numbers are all good, and the defense has been strong outside of comically bad crunch-time numbers. OKC has the fourth-best point differential in the NBA. They’re fine.
Once the new guys in Paul George and Carmelo Kyam Anthony stop seeing themselves as guests, actually become furniture in the house that Christopher Emmanuel Paul built and accent what the MVP does for this team, the final result can be scary.
There is a lot of professional courtesy going on in that locker room right now. Someone’s feelings (Hi, Hoodie Melo) may have to be hurt as they resign themselves to the role of primary scorer off the bench to find some sort of cohesion while giving the Thunder an opportunity to compete at the top of the conference.
Boileau: One word: Melo. He lost games for the Knicks. They traded him. They got better, Thunder got worse. In an ideal world they trade him for Kevin Love, but I can’t see the Cavs doing that…
7. Does losing Rudy Gobert (for a while) kill any chance the Jazz had of making the playoffs?
Miller: I’d say so. Gordon Hayward’s departure left their playoff future up in the air, and without Rudy Gobert the team just doesn’t have the talent to make it in an insanely loaded Western Conference.
Mora: Unfortunately, yes it does. They’ll be back stronger than ever.
McKenzie: Losing Gordon to free agency. Both Rudy and Joe Johnson are out for the rest of November at least. But as long as Gobert isn’t lost for the season, their year isn’t lost. They can still salvage a spot.
Anderson: Losing Rudy definitely hurts the Jazz. The question is how much. It looks like he’ll miss 15 to 20 games, but this next two week stretch before December is the key. The schedule is very soft here, so Utah needs to eke out wins however possible before an absolutely brutal December schedule. The Jazz can still be a strong defense around Ekpe Udoh, and maybe this injury will force a kick start to their anemic offense. If not, they’ll be out of it by year’s end.
Boileau: People like to sleep on Favors. His ideal position is center, so as long as he is healthy (a big if), they will be good. This team is also way deeper than people give them credit for. They will fight for eighth.
8. Is Joel Embiid the best trash talker in the NBA?
Miller: I’m not sure you can be the best trash talker in a league where you haven’t even played 50 games over the last three years. He’s definitely the one who spends too much time trying to talk shit, that’s for sure.
Mora: Probably not. That award goes to Draymond Green, but he is the most fun to watch on and off the court. He doesn’t back down nor should he. I trust The Process.
McKenzie: With regards to social media? Yes.
Anderson: Yes. Joel Embiid has mastered the era of social media in ways LeBron can only ever dream of doing. It’s Joel’s world now. We’re all just living in it.
Strickland: In a league where it is a lost art, perhaps.
Social media allows room for several layers of shade to aid in enhancing the garbation, as The King can, but won’t, attest.
Boileau: No… that is Charles Barkley. But to be fair, we also don’t hear half of what players say.
9. The Pistons have started the season 11–6. Are they for real?
Miller: Results speak for themselves. Andre Drummond looks rejuvenated and Tobias Harris has been quietly playing himself into All-Star consideration. Avery Bradley has been fantastic in Detroit so far, too—he’s scoring a mega-efficient 18 points per game and still being one of the top perimeter defenders.
Mora: As much as I hate to admit it, they are. I refused to believe it, but after really analyzing their roster and watching their games, they have a solid offense and roster. People forget they have Avery Bradley. Combine him with Reggie Jackson and you have an amazing, undervalued back court. Will they keep it up? I don’t know. Way too early to tell, but for now they’re a real threat in the East.
McKenzie: Considering how most of the Eastern Conference’s stars upped and left for the West, it’s nice to see a team like the Detroit Pistons surprise us with a winning record to start the year. Ask me this question again closer to the All-Star break.
Anderson: The Pistons are real enough. Andre Drummond is a different player when he’s making free throws, and Reggie Jackson is back. Detroit’s not 10–3 any longer but they look like a solid Eastern playoff team, for whatever that’s worth. Their ceiling is a home playoff series and a surprise first-round upset.
Strickland: When the Macho Man Stanley SVG adjusted the way they played the game offensively, not so much to match everyone else’s desire to match what the Warriors do, but to be more effective in how Andre Drummond is incorporated, the dynamic at the Hot -N-Ready Box changed dramatically.
The team was bound to be improved defensively by the addition of Avery Bradley, who brings a toughness and determination the Motor City had embraced already. But it seems that Tobias Harris and Reggie Jackson have accepted their roles in the pecking order, Stanley Johnson, Ish Smith and Anthony Toliver are thriving off the bench and Drummond has actually shown a desire to improve his free throw shooting to limit his presence as a late-game on-court liability.
In short, the Pistons are playing harder, smarter and more together than they have in some time. In turn, the results have been favourable so far.
Season-long sustainability is the next question.
Detroit may answer it vociferously this year.
Boileau: Nope. Sell high, kids. There is not enough star power to maintain this.
10. We’ve already had one coach fired this season (Phoenix’s Earl Watson)—who’s the coach on the hottest seat right now?
Miller: That’s gotta go to one Mr. Glen “Doc” Rivers. The Clippers have had bad injury luck (again) this season, but even then, a team with two All-Stars and a decent supporting cast should be more than capable of at least treading water. A lot of the blame the last few seasons has been on CP3, or Blake, or DeAndre, but eventually the captain of the ship has to take responsibility for getting his crew in the best position to succeed.
Mora: Probably Carlisle. At 2–13, the Mavs are sinking fast. They need a change quickly and the coaching staff might be the first ones to bite the dust.
McKenzie: Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.
Anderson: Tyronn Lue. Someone has to take the fall, and LeBron knows how this stuff works.
Strickland: Gonna reach a bit on this one, but there may be some merit to the thought that Glenn Rivers won’t survive this season unless the Clippers do something significant in the playoffs, providing that they even make it. Few believed the drop-off in productivity and wins would be THIS precipitous without Chris Paul, but an early season swoon due to losing eight of their last nine games doesn’t bode well for future fortunes.
Granted, injuries to starters Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverly and 30-year-old rookie PG Milos Teodosic aren’t helping. Yet a team that still fields Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the frontline, along with the presence and play of other relatively solid NBA veterans should be a bit more competitive than the Clippers are as currently comprised.
Boileau: Lue. Why he hasn’t been fired yet is beyond me.
You can find all of our roundtable contributors on Twitter:
Andrew Miller: @AndrewMillerNBA
Ivan Mora: @moraivan
Julian McKenzie: @jkamckenzie
Brandon Anderson: @wheatonbrando
Will Strickland: @WallStrizzle1
Phil Boileau: @SportingPhil
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…
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.
BIGS N smalls | The Break | Episode 11
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Dads & Draft Picks | The Break | Episode 9
Progression is Power: On Social Justice in the NBA
Detroit Pistons talk with Duncan Smith — TWT 107
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
BIGS N smalls | The Break | Episode 11
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Western Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 1
Eastern Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 2
NBA & More Mailbag with Josh Howe — TWT 102
Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview with Keith Parish — TWT 101
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