Ok most of them aren’t as good as these legends but let’s get to it anyway.
Players that didn’t “qualify” this year
Danny Granger (Indiana Pacers)- When Granger went down early last season most people wrote off the Pacers as legitimate contenders. Well then some guy with two first names stepped up, evolved into an all-around dominate cornerstone type player and things moved on. I’m interested to see what the Pacers do with Granger this year. I wrote about it more in depth here.
Next Generation (Fantasy wise)
Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz)- On a talent/accomplishments level, Hayward does not belong on any Top 5 list anywhere. But when the Jazz decided to not bring back Paul Millsap OR Al Jefferson, not sign a single quality free agent, and draft a 6’0”, unathletic point guard in the first round it didn’t leave many options on offense. This is going to mean a big bump in Hayward’s minutes and a new freedom to chuck. For those fantasy guys out there, Hayward will be a guy you can draft really late and get quality bulk stats out of based purely on the amount of minutes he’ll play. Think Chandler Parsons from last year.
SIDE NOTE: It is clear the Jazz are tanking. They didn’t even attempt to bring back Millsap, Jefferson, Mo Williams, or Randy Foye or sign any worthwhile free agents. They obviously want Wiggins right? WRONG! They are bombing to get Jabari Parker. Think about it: He’s going to be a top 5 pick (possibly first before Wiggins reclassified), he has a reputation for being a very nice kid, he’s smart and going to Duke, and, most importantly, he’s freakin’ Mormon!! He’s like Utah’s Superman or the second coming of John Smith. Imagine this conversation after he gets drafted…”Hey guys, I was walking and I found this golden playbook that’s full of plays that will surely lead us to a championship” “Awesome Jabari, show us!” “Um no I can’t. Um, only I can read them plus I forgot where I put them” “Who cares? We’re sold!”
NEXT GENERATION (Real life)
Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors)- Although it’s impressive he started 81 games for a playoff team, Barnes’ numbers didn’t really *pop* out at you at any point in the regular season (9 pts, 4 rebs in 25 minutes with pretty level month-to-month consistency). Overall his performance was that of a typical 7th overall pick. But when the playoffs came around something clicked. He went from scoring double digits in less than half his games to failing to do so in only 3 of 20 playoff games. His performance in a crucial game 4 against San Antonio (26 and 10) showed the world his importance to this young Warriors squad. Unfortunately, the signing of Andre Iguodala could stunt his growth. It will be tough to put Curry (a must), Iggy (a must), and both Klay Thompson and Barnes on the floor at the same time. Hopefully those short yet successful stints where Barnes played the 4 in the playoffs are something the Warriors can mix in regularly. A team with those four on the court plus Andrew Bogut could be dangerous…in theory. I just want to see it work live.
Tobias Harris (Orlando Magic)- Raise your hand if you’ve watched this guy play. Yeah me neither. I do remember him being a part of the Redick trade and thinking “Hmmm…People are still named Tobias?” But in his first game with Orlando he played as many as his previous six with Miwaukee and immediately became one of their most productive players. Post trade he averaged 17 and 8.5 (5 and 2 in 11 minutes with the Bucks) which puts his trade on a long list of “What the hell was Milwaukee thinking?” enigmas. Yes, the Magic didn’t have….how do you say?….legitimate options… and of course he got more minutes (and thus, touches) than he may have gotten in another system buuuuuut there’s no arguing with these outputs: 30, 19, and 5 against his former team, a combined 45 and 22 in two games against Houston, 30 and 11 against Washington in the middle of their two month .500 binge. Those are big boy numbers.
JUUUUUUUUST A BIT OUTSIDE
Nicolas Batum (Portland Trailblazers)- The Frenchman was one of eight players to average 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists (he also had a steal and block per game AND the first 5×5 game since 2006 but who’s counting?) last season which were all career highs. So while Damian Lillard was getting all the attention, and Bad Luck Lamarcus was getting ignored (he’s used to it by now), Nicolas Batum was playing his butt off on both ends of the court and generally being the glue guy keeping this team in the playoff race.
Rudy Gay (Toronto Raptors)- Nope, not in my Top 5. He just doesn’t make a big enough impact on a team. Does Toronto really look that dangerous now that Rudy Gay is on the team? Not in my opinion. He’s scored 30 points three times in the last two seasons combined which is terrible for a guy predominantly known for his offense. On a lighter note, he did get a couple triple doubles after the trade and his acquisition has quietly made Toronto one of the most athletic teams in the NBA. Demar Derozan, Gay, reigning Summer League MVP Jonas Valanciunas, and Terrence Ross can each boom out with the best of ‘em. Ville de Lob!!
Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)- I was thiiiiiiis close to putting Leonard in the Top 5 over Andrei Iguodala that’s how much I like him. Shouldering a seemingly bigger load with each passing game, he was the Spurs unsung hero in the playoffs. I think the conversation in the locker room sounded something like this.
Pop: “Hey Kawhi, I know it’s your second year and all but do you mind being the third scoring option since Manu hasn’t hit a shot in weeks? And don’t forget to crash the boards too because, outside of Timmy, we’re a bit thin on the glass? And, if you can remember, please try to make a high percentage of your shots, you know we don’t want to take shots away from Tony.”
A wide-eyed Kawhi: “Yeah…umm sure coach”.
Pop: “And if you could stay incredibly humble and sit back while Danny Green gets all the “stepping up in the clutch” attention.
Cue to Danny Green surrounded by ladies and nodding
Danny Green: “Yeah boiiiii”
Kawhi: “Yeah of course. Anything for the team.”
Kawhi goes to exit the locker room
Pop: “Oh one last thing. I almost forgot. You’ll be guarding Lebron too.”
5. Andrei Iguodala (Golden State Warriors )
Iguodala is going for round two of his “Sign with an outer fringe team and pray” strategy and, shockingly, considering Denver is all 3’s and dunks, this year looks to be more entertaining than last.
Here’s why Golden State will be a much better fit for Iggy than Philly or Denver ever was.
- With the 76ers, Iguodala was asked to be the team’s go-to scorer AND facilitator. He is a great player, don’t get me wrong, but he just does not have that skill set. He can’t be a team’s best scorer. He is a GREAT secondary scorer but a very below average lead guy. Steph Curry is establish as the team’s go to scorer. So now Iggy can sit back, never have to deal with a double team, and drive and kick to the Splash Brothers.
- In Denver, Iggy had the privilege of playing in a system where anybody and everybody was expected to score but was forced to be the one and only best defender on the team. Andre Iguodala is an elite wing defender but without any help behind him around the rim there’s not much a guy can do. On top of that his role in the offense was a little too 3 happy for an average 3-point shooter. In GSW he will still be there best outside defender but Curry and Thompson, although young, are no slouches. More importantly Andrew Bogut is one of the best defending big men in the league. Furthermore, the Warriors offense, despite being known as deadly shooters, takes an average number of 3’s per game which means Iggy can blend right in with his slashing style.
4. Paul Pierce (Brooklyn Nets)
FACT: Paul Pierce is getting older. He’s 35 now.
FACT: He has lost half a step. It showed in the playoffs against the Knicks last year. The Celtics were decimated by injuries, everyone knew they were going to Pierce, and he couldn’t quite get the separation his old man game thrives on.
FACT: Paul Pierce has still got it.
After Rondo went down, the Celtics had no choice but to run their offense through Paul Pierce and the team responded by winning 13 of their next 17 games. Entrusted with more than a fair amount of offensive responsibility (be the best scorer and passer, please) Pierce increased his assists by about 2 per game and accumulated 3 triple doubles (he had one in the previous six seasons combined). Despite that Pierce still gets a fraction of the respect that other greats of his era get. Let’s put Pierce’s longevity into perspective; three other players from his draft class are Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, and Rashard Lewis. Those guys can’t hold Pierce’s jockstrap at this point.
3. Luol Deng (Chicago Bulls)
He’s not going to get any style points but he gets the job done. He’s a B+ scorer, passer, and rebounder and an A defender all while leading the league in minutes per game for two straight years. Hopefully the emergence of Jimmy Butler will provide the opportunity to alleviate his minutes. More realistically though it will just mean one more guy with an insane minutes load. But hey injuries in the playoffs have never come back to haunt the Bulls.
2. Paul George (Indiana Pacers)
There is a huge jump between everyone else and the last two players on this list (more on Kevin Durant later). We’ve now entered the realm of legitimate cornerstone players. These are guys where you can say “we’re building around Player A” and feel like your team will be in title contention at some point. Think about it. If you hear “Luol Deng is our best player” you know that’s a team that won’t seriously contend. If you hear “Derrick Rose is our best player and Luol Deng is our second best” BOOM you have a title contender. With that being said everyone before Paul George and KD are Robin’s at best, they can never be the top guy on a championship team, but could be the sidekick. With that being said, Paul George established himself as a Batman last season. He has an array of traits only the genuinely elite players in this game possess: he can shoot, drive, pass, jump sky high, defend multiple positions, he’s young, and most importantly he WANTS to be the best. He doesn’t back down from a challenge which makes him the perfect man to lead the Pacers (sorry Granger). Just watch him attack Lebron on both ends of the court. And he still has room to grow. His percentages were a little low in his break out season but he’s 22 so that will change as he gets smarter.
1. Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Hands down the best small forward in the league right now and already one of the best of all time.
- His build. He’s listed at 6’9″ (yeah right, he’s taller than that) and those spider like, knuckle dragging arms allow him to keep the ball far away from his defenders.
- He can score in every way. Catch and shoot, pull up off the dribble, off the drive, back to the basket, etc. And he’s still finding new ways to score.
- He can rebound. With his freakish length and jumping ability he can reach an incredible number of rebounds within his reach. He is quietly the best rebounder on his team, and yes that includes Serge Ibaka and the Traffic Cone Formerly None as Kendrick Perkins.
- His passing took a monstrous jump last year. Just watching the Thunder you can see him finding open players more and more often when he inevitably draws a double team. In the regular season he had a career high in assists per game by an entire assist and also increased his assist percentage by 4 points. Those numbers jumped again once Westbrook went down in the playoffs with 6.3 APG and 29.2 AST%. For comparison Chris Paul and Steph Curry were at 33%.
- He’s efficient. He joined the 50-40-90 club while cutting back on turnovers and personal fouls.
- He is squeaky clean off the court. Very few visible tattoos and he loves his mama.
- He is not nice. He is a killer who never holds back.
- He’s 24 and still striving to get better.
He’s really the perfect package from all stand points. Fans love him because he’s entertaining and dominant. Coaches and management love him because he can do everything and has a great work ethic. Sponsors love him because they don’t have to worry about him getting in trouble off the court. He just needs to get that ring.
 They traded for Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins. Jazz fans, before you get excited, remember it’s 2013.
 I think it was David Lee’s hip flexor.
 Just because I write a blog doesn’t mean I watch the Orlando Magic.
 A 5×5 is when a player gets at least 5 tallies in the 5 recorded bulk stats (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks).
 I use that loosely as they were 33-36 at one point but still technically in the playoff race.
 That’s Lob City in French for all y’all ignant folk out there.
 So the Pistons weren’t good enough for ya? What just because we are in no way a “title contender”?!
 Please stay healthy, please stay healthy, please stay healthy…
 They really had no choice. As far as guards go they had Rondo and a bunch of tweener shooting guards. Are you going to trust Bradley (rock hands), Terry (an aging, struggling, shooter), or Jordan Crawford (complete buffoon) to run your offense? Exactly, Paul take the reigns.
 Rose two years ago, Deng and Noah last year were probably all flukes.
 Assist percentage measures the percentage of teammate’s field goals that a player gets an assist on while he is on the court.