By, leonard | Sept. 2, 2019, 7:01 p.m.
Welcome to the first annual Goat & Dagger NBA player rankings. This list is a projection of how we think the theoretical player rankings will pan out by the end of the 2019-20 regular season. So you’ll see a few rookies, like Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barret on the list but won’t see guys like Kevin Durant, John Wall, or Klay Thompson, who are projected to miss the season due to injury.
Instead of trying to digest all 100 players at once, we split the list into six tiers to group players with similar skill and overall impact levels together. First up, tiers six thru four. Enjoy. 💯
100. Lonnie Walker IV - San Antonio Spurs | G
Tough to peg how many minutes he’ll play in a crowded Spurs backcourt, but he’s arguably the highest upside prospect
on the team. A potential future All-Star who could top out as an elite offensive player and plus defender.
99. Danny Green - Los Angeles Lakers | G/F
Green will shoot spot up threes and relieve LeBron by opposing teams’ top wing players during the regular season. He can go through cold streaks with his jump shot, but should get plenty of clean looks this year.
98. Brandon Ingram - New Orleans Pelicans | F
Still somewhat of an enigma, we do know that Ingram plays his best in a point guard lite role. With Lonzo Ball, Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors as fellow shaky outside shooters, and no shortage of lead guards, Ingram could end up the odd man out in New Orleans. Likely either him or Lonzo Ball will be on another team in a year or two, as New Orleans moves from accumulating assets in the abstract to figuring out how to best mix and match them on the court.
97. Mitchell Robinson - New York Knicks | C
Foul troubles plagued the rookie big man, but the Knicks hope they have a hybrid of peak DeAndre Jordan and Serge Ibaka here.
96. Kyle Kuzma - Los Angeles Lakers | F
A solid outside shooter with a nice touch under the basket, the Lakers are hoping he can be more of a shot creator this season, as the Anthony Davis trade has obviously hurt their depth. Was overmatched in limited minutes at center last year.
95. PJ Tucker - Houston Rockets | F
At 34, Tucker is right to ask for an extension now. Perfect 3&D player next to James Harden. He can still defend any position except for point guards at a high level. Would fit well on any team.
94. Joe Ingles - Utah Jazz | F
Probably was stretched thin having to be the second offensive option last year for a Jazz team with no shot creators outside of Donovan Mitchell, Ingles should have a more polished season than ever this year with Mike Conley and Bogan Bogdanovic in the fold. A great catch and shoot player, Ingles remains underrated on the pick and roll, where his chemistry with Rudy Gobert has blossomed. Not a great athlete, he remains an irritant on defense and can get in guys heads over the course of a playoff series.
93. Joe Harris - Brooklyn Nets | G
One of the best outside shooters in the league, Harris hit 47.5% of his threes last year, shooting the majority of those above the break and in a variety of settings. He drives to the basket at a higher rate than people assume. Closer to Bogan Bogdanovic than Kyle Korver.
92. RJ Barrett - New York Knicks | G
The third overall pick in the draft will look to lead the hodge-podge Knicks thru what will likely be another sub 30 win season. His offensive aggression coupled with his size and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect and the Knicks should give him and Knox as many touches as possible this year. If Summer League play is any indication, RJ will struggle at first but should start to relax and become more efficient as the season progresses.
91. Serge Ibaka - Toronto Raptors | F/C
No longer the force he was with the Thunder, Ibaka remains a solid protector and outside shooter. Never really developed much of a passing game. If Toronto struggles this year, he could be moved to a contender.
90. Eric Gordon - Houston Rockets | G/F
It’s disappointing that Gordon is probably the best wing James Harden has had to play with but he remains a good player. He can hit threes of any variation or length, can still get to the foul line a bit, and is a physical albeit slightly slow defender. He’s 31 now, and probably is better suited to a sixth man role, but will likely start for Houston this year.
89. Marcus Morris - New York Knicks | F
One of 42 Knicks power forwards on the year, the long underpaid Morris (by his own fault) signed a one year prove-it deal. He wants another deal. If he doesn’t get the minutes to put up counting stats, and the team flounders, he could get bought out. Still brings a pinch of isolation scoring, still thinks he’s a lot better than he actually is.
88. Gary Harris - Denver Nuggets | G
Struggled last year with consistency due to injuries and a crowded Nuggets guard rotation, he’s still only a year away from a near 50-40-85 line in the ’18 campaign. A 3 & D wing with a little more offensive dynamism and less defensive versatility than most. Could be trade fodder, as the Nuggets have too many rotation level players and wouldn’t mind teaming Nikola Jokic with another star.
87. Kevin Knox - New York Knicks | F
Was historically inefficient on offense last year, and one of the worst defenders in the league. The Knicks like the second year forward’s poise and steadiness. I see shades of Tobias Harris in Knox, the raw ability is there for him to turn into a top offensive threat. Will be a rough situation in New York this year, as the team doesn’t understand the instability that vets on one year deals looking for the next deal can bring.
86. Jeff Teague - Minnesota Timberwolves | G
Teague is like a solid check down oriented NFL quarterback, he’s unexciting, conservative, and can only go as far as his supporting cast will take him. He still gets to the line, and almost achieved a 4/1 assist to turnover ratio last year. Could be traded if Minnesota can’t improve this year.
85. Evan Fournier - Orlando Magic | G/F
Still only 26, Fournier remains a versatile offensive threat who can do anything in a pinch. He’s probably best suited as the third or fourth offensive option if starting for a team. A lot of Orlando’s young players are still raw, so he’ll be relied upon as a shot creator this year as Orlando looks to build on last year’s playoff appearance.
84. Montrezl Harrell - Los Angeles Clippers | F/C
Plays like a pure rim running center, ala Clint Capela or Javale Mcgee, but with less size and more energy. Developed great pick and roll chemistry with Lou Williams last season that hopefully the Clippers still have room for this year. Shouldn’t be starting.
83. Goran Dragic - Miami Heat | G
Heading into his 12th year, but only his sixth as a starter, Dragic should still have some juice this year. Has spent the majority of his Heat career in somewhat awkward fits with ball dominant wings with shaky outside shots who like to slow the pace down. Could help Miami push for a low playoff spot this year.
82. Ricky Rubio - Phoenix Suns | G
Possibly the biggest enigma in the league. I love the games where he’ll just all of a sudden hit every jump shot and lock down Russell Westbrook or whoever else. Has just never been able to put it all together for more than a 20 game stretch or so and is somewhat of a disappointment considering the hype he entered the league with. He plays his best as an improviser, and is somewhat miscast on a Phoenix team where he’s expected to be more of a system player who makes the right reads, ala Jeff Teague.
81. Taurean Prince - Brooklyn Nets | F
Prince didn’t have the upside the Hawks want out of their forwards, so he moves on to a Brooklyn team where he can continue to be a solid role player. Not exactly a lock down defender, he’s nevertheless capable of defending a few positions adequately. Hits open corner threes and has spurts off juice off the bounce. Will soak up some of Durant’s minutes this year with the Nets.
80. Jarrett Allen - Brooklyn Nets | C
A high energy rim runner and rim protector, Allen needs to put on a little bit more muscle and add a little more nimbleness to his pick and roll finishes. Splitting minutes with DeAndre Jordan, who got a buddy contract from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, has to be a bit of a downer for Allen. Still, he could jump 15 to 20 spots in these rankings next year.
79. Danilo Gallinari - Oklahoma City Thunder | F
Still one of the best pure scorers around, Gallinari is now in his 12th season, and on an expiring deal. It’s unclear exactly what the Thunder’s immediate goals are, but could be in for a big season as the top option, or could be moved to a contender. Probably will be a bench guy before too long.
78. Deandre Ayton - Phoenix Suns | C
Phoenix is hoping new point guard Ricky Rubio can keep Ayton in rhythm on offense this year, as that was a concern last season. Nikola Vucevic is a more realistic option than Joel Embiid in terms of career trajectory. A throwback big, Ayton should focus on complimenting his post game with some outside shooting and facilitating. Him and Devin Booker excel at different paces, which could be an issue going forward.
77. Lonzo Ball - New Orleans Pelicans | G
A big “prove it” year for Ball. Shows advanced feel for the game as a passer, but his terrible outside shooting and inability to penetrate in the half court don’t bode well for his half court game. Should benefit from being in a smaller market. Great defensive player. The Pelicans have a lot of odd fitting parts. Most of their guys are built for the fast break, but there might be too many non shooters on the roster and guys who need the ball in their hands. Ball or Brandon Ingram likely won’t be on the team in a year or two.
76. Spencer Dinwiddie - Brooklyn Nets | G
Dinwiddie has gotten better every season he’s been in the league and earned a nice contract extension this year. Shows flashes where he can be a dominant scorer when necessary, but it’s not his disposition. An accommodating, selfless player who can excel at either guard spot, on or off ball, Dinwiddie fits nicely on just about any NBA roster.
75. Zach LaVine - Chicago Bulls | G
Questionable shot selection, poor passing vision for a guard, bad defense, and has never played on a team that has won more than 31 games, LaVine clocks in currently as an empty stats guy. Still a great athlete, LaVine has the tools to be a better defender. After adding veterans like Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young, and Otto Porter, and promising to heavily feature their high IQ young front court of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter, the Bulls want to make the playoffs this year. If LaVine can’t adapt, and young guard Colby White develops quickly, LaVine could be on his way out of Chicago before long if he can’t make his game more efficient.
74. Steven Adams - Oklahoma City Thunder | C
More of a guy whose scrappy instincts prevent offenses from getting to the rim than an actual rim protector, Adams remains a solid two way center for the Thunder. Shows niftier touch on floaters and runners than you’d expect for a guy his size. Should help a Thunder team that still features a lot of veterans eek out more wins than expected.
73. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - Oklahoma City Thunder | G
Showed shades of being Shawn Livingston Pre Injury 2.0 last year. I don’t quite see him as a future franchise player the way some do, but he should be a very good point guard before long. If he ever does reach top 20 status, it would be because of his size, instincts, and commitment to adding something new to his game every year. I wouldn’t wish Chris Paul as a mentor on anyone, not a knock on Paul but I’m not sure if that’s his style. Hopefully Shai will be able to have free reign on the Thunder before long.
72. Otto Porter - Chicago Bulls | F
Was somewhat unfairly maligned by Wizards fans who saw him as undeserving of a max contract, Porter showed more of what he can do on offense with the Bulls last year, excelling as a playmaker in his own right who more aggressively hunted for his own shot. Although a little slow on his feet and not really capable of guarding the opposing team’s best wing player, he still adequately defends multiple positions. Should help the Bulls push for a playoff spot sooner rather than later.
71. Derrick White - San Antonio Spurs | G
Already a good defender, White improved his shooting and playmaking last season. The Spurs backcourt is a little crowded on big guards with average to below average outside shots, but White will get a crack at minutes to start the season.
70. Andre Drummond - Detroit Pistons | C
He gets his rebounds, for sure, but Drummond’s effort still seems to wax and wane even after nearly a decade in the league. Maybe all that time with the Pistons will do that to you, I don’t know. He’s not much more than average defensively despite his reputation, and never turned into an elite pick and roll player. Maybe some of that has been playing with Reggie Jackson for the last few years. Flashed more playmaking abilities that the Pistons have been utilizing less since the Blake Griffin trade. The counting stats are always nice for Drummond, but he remains a disappointment in the longer consideration.
69. Robert Covington - Minnesota Timberwolves | G/F
Although he can be a little undisciplined with his three point shooting, he still is one of the best shooters in the league on open corner threes. Might be one of the best five perimeter defenders in basketball. Has had injury issues, and if he misses a lot of time, a Wolves team thin on defenders could struggle more than expected this year.
68. Josh Richardson - Philadelphia 76ers | G/F
Had stretches where he was Miami’s best player last year. More of a jack knife on offense than he gets credit for, Richardson can create his own shot and nearly sported a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio last year. A lockdown defender, he should seamlessly replace Jimmy Butler on the end for a Philly team that will play a versatile, but very large, almost experimental style of play this year, as it will be a challenge for Brett Brown to figure out which lineups bring out the best in his players.
67. Marvin Bagley III - Sacramento Kings | F/C
Bagley will get to play a lot more of his minutes with De’Aaron Fox this year, and it will be great to watch the two franchise cornerstones develop more chemistry this season. The Kings were mocked for taking him as he was a relatively safe choice at #2 in the 2018 Draft, Bagley averaged 14.9 points and 7.6 rebounds on a 39 win Kings team that played in a loaded Western Conference. A powerful finisher in the pick and roll and after offensive rebounds, he flashed a soft touch on post moves as well. Needs to work on his defensive awareness and playmaking, but could be a top 35 player before long.
66. Brook Lopez - Milwaukee Bucks | C
You really have to admire a guy who can so radically reinvent his game and succeed at the highest of levels. Go watch some of those Nets teams he played on, particularly the years before the Garnett and Pierce trades. The whole offense was Lopez on the block, dragging his feet to 19 points per game and 25 win seasons. Now, he’s averaging two threes and two blocks a game for a Bucks team that has legitimate championship aspirations.
65. Julius Randle - New York Knicks | F/C
I’ve always been a little lower on him than most. Yeah, he can score, but he’s one of those guys who never is in sync with a team that likes to move the ball precisely and quickly. Despite his athleticism, has never been a plus defender. For a Knicks team that should feature a lot of “your turn my turn” play from vets on one year contracts, Randle is the unquestioned top guy for now and should be in for a huge season. I bet Knicks fans will like him, “well…he’s all we got…and he’s got a motor…we like him!”
64. Bojan Bogdanovic - Utah Jazz | G/F
After years in a more complementary role, Bogdanovic was the top offensive option for the Pacers when Victor Oladipo when down last year. Buttressed by a Pacers team that was just savvy veterans always making the right plays, he excelled in the role. He’ll have less pressure with Utah on a team featuring Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell. A more physical defender inside than he gets credit for, he provides a massive offensive upgrade from Derrick Favors for a Jazz team looking to modernize its attack.
63. Ja Morant - Memphis Grizzlies | G
The second pick in the draft will be the focal point of the new, younger Memphis core alongside Jaren Jackson, Jr. and fellow rookie, Brandon Clarke. He’s probably the most polished rookie heading into the season and could make a run at the ROY award if Zion struggles. Projects to be a De’Aaron Fox/John Wall type -- fast, aggressive, high-IQ point who can run the break as well as pick and roll actions in the half court.
61. Marc Gasol - Toronto Raptors | C
Big Spain is up there in age, but like many other bigs, adding a three point shot has helped him extend his career. Limited Joel Embiid in the playoffs, which was why Toronto brought him in. If the Raptors decide their roster post-Kawhi is treading water, Gasol could be one of several Raptors players traded this year.
62. Malcolm Brogdon - Indiana Pacers | G
Almost a 50-40-90 guy, Brogdon was a better choice for the Pacers than their rumored target Ricky Rubio. Consistency, unselfishness, strong on and off ball play, and the ability to defend either guard spot are hallmarks of his game. The Pacers ethos last year was a bunch of role players playing better than the sum of their parts. Brogdon fits the casting call for such a project, and the return of Victor Oladipo obviously has Pacers fans excited for a playoff push this season.
60. Aaron Gordon - Orlando Magic | F
Gordon improved as a team defender last year, and was a big part of Orlando’s elite post All-Star break defense. A great athlete, he remains a fast break threat. Improved his playmaking this year. Feels like he could have another leap to make once Mohammad Bamba replaces Nikola Vucevic in a few years, as Gordon would excel on a faster paced team.
59. Eric Bledsoe - Milwaukee Bucks | G
There are a lot of teams where Bledsoe is a more valuable player than Malcom Brogdon, but the Bucks might’ve made the wrong choice here. Bledsoe just isn’t as good of a fit with Giannis, as he needs the ball more than Brogdon does to be successful. Produces gaudy steal numbers, but gambles for a lot of them. Could be someone the Bucks look to move in a year or two if they can’t crack the championship glass ceiling and want to shake things up a bit.
58. Jaylen Brown - Boston Celtics | G/F
The Celtics still think Kawhi-Lite is going to show up. I wouldn’t completely rule it out, as obviously with Al Horford and Kyrie Irving leaving, Boston’s wings are going to have more playmaking opportunities this year. For right now, he’s a pretty good 3&D player, but needs to show more or he risks being more or less a bigger Danny Green. His leap or lack thereof this year will be a good litmus test for the success of the Celtics season this year.
57. Marcus Smart - Boston Celtics | G
He’s the captain now. Perfect underrated-overrated seesaw guy. The longest tenured Celtic still takes a lot of bad shots and gets petty with the refs. But he’s still a menace defensively. He posted career best shooting splits and assist to turnover ratio last year. The same way Draymond Green got a lot of good press for “figuring it out” and just focusing on playing versus complaining, Smart could be in line for those kind of friendly write ups if he formally embraces a leadership role and reigns in some of his worst instincts on the court.
56. Clint Capela - Houston Rockets | C
You wonder how much Capela’s value hinges on Harden’s playmaking ability. Daryl Morey is more traditional than people assume in that the major contracts given out under his regime have been to guards and centers. Maybe cycling through Montrezl Harrell types on rookie scale deals and scouring the wire for Tyson Chandler type vets might’ve been the way to go. Nevertheless, Capela is one of the best pick and roll finishers in the league, and a great rebounder and shotblocker. Centers of his ilk might be more playable in the playoffs going forward now that Golden State has broken up.
55. Gordon Hayward - Boston Celtics | G/F
At his peak, Hayward to fight to find every crevice and angle playing in a clogged Utah offense. He’s being written off too much. He’ll gain more physical confidence the further removed he is from the injury, and with Kemba Walker in for Kyrie Irving
, the Celtics will play a more egalitarian style than last year. Remains the Celtics X-Factor.
54. Buddy Hield - Sacramento Kings | G
Hield was a big beneficiary of the Kings picking up the pace with De’Aaron Fox in charge last year. He’s an elite three point shooter with a high basketball IQ who at least competes defensively. His 18.7 shot attempts per 36 minute to 2.7 free throw attempts per 36 minutes are concerning. Turning 27 in December, he’s older than you’d expect. Could turn into a sixth man type in the coming years.
53. Lou Williams - Los Angeles Clippers | G
You already know. Bartolo Colon weighs about three times as much as Lou, but the two have played at a high level at an advanced age because they know every angle, hesitation, and pause. Much like Bartolo’s change up sets up his 85 MPH fastball, Lou’s pauses, hesitations and floaters set up his drives and lobs. Lou set career highs in points and free throws attempted in his 14th year. Some of that is due to refining the subtle edges of his skills, and some of that is Doc Rivers letting him be himself more than his prior coaches who treated him as if he was unrefined because his game resembles pick up basketball. You could call Lou Williams half an era too late to the game. Should continue to do what he does and help the Clippers win a lot of regular season games.
52. Dejounte Murray - San Antonio Spurs | G
The Spurs will definitely lead the league in non Russell Westbrook or Ben Simmons 10 or more rebound games by guards, and Murray should be a big part of that effort. A versatile defender who could really up his overall value if he refined his shot, it will be interesting to see how Popovich distributes minutes in a crowded backcourt. If it pans out for Murray, he turns into a Marcus Smart and Andre Miller hybrid.
51. Harrison Barnes - Sacramento Kings | F
His fit with Sacramento is a little wonky considering their depth at the 4/5 spots, barring injury he’ll mostly be at the 3 this year. He had a pretty good shooting year last year. People might be a little down on Barnes because he kind of failed his star player audition with Dallas, but he’s still above average at most things except for passing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kings try to move him and his $100 million dollar deal if they get off to a slow start this year. Because of his lack of upside or flash, he might be a little higher on the bad contracts list than people assume.
50. Paul Millsap - Denver Nuggets | F
Millsap is still sorely needed by Denver as he’s one of their only plus defenders. Heading into his 14th year, the undersized but hard nosed forward could be looking at regression. Nevertheless, he’s still the same jack of all trades he’s ever been, even if he’s a little less switchable on defense than in years past. When Jokic was first getting into a groove in 17/18, Millsap was injured. When Millsap returned, Jokic thought he was going to have to defer and that it was Millsap’s team. Millsap made it clear he was there to help Jokic be the top guy. He could be trade fodder given his expiring contract and Denver needing a second star and almost having too many rotation quality players on their roster.
49. Jaren Jackson, Jr. - Memphis Grizzlies | F
Like most rookies, he turned the ball over and fouled a lot. But he’s an absolutely top notch prospect: a potential defensive unicorn who can shoot threes, post up, and get to the foul line. He really benefited from his half season with Marc Gasol, who knew how to get him the ball in the right spots and keep his confidence up. Memphis should be really fun to watch this year with him and Ja Morant being given full reign to master the NBA learning curve.
48. Myles Turner - Indiana Pacers | C
Turner to some extent has been labeled a disappointment by Indy fans, as his counting stats haven’t really improved much since he came into the league. Still, he’s an extremely underrated rim protector, and has one of the prettiest jump shots in the game. Indy needs to have him shoot more three pointers. Other than the shot, he’s a little more limited offensively than people assume. Despite improving his physique, he still isn’t a great pick and roll finisher or post up player. He’s also a little clunkier defending wings than you’d assume. The Pacers are going to try starting him and Domantas Sabonis together, and if it gets messy enough on the defensive end, one of them could be traded this year.
47. Lauri Markkanen - Chicago Bulls | F/C
The 22 year old looks to lead a Bulls team that imagines itself as good enough to sneak into the playoffs in the East. He’s still skinny for a 7 foot player and gets bullied defensively. He’s a great jump shooter, and has savvy feel for the offensive game. Him and Wendell Carter will form a very modern front court. He needs to work on his playmaking and overall effort levels, but he could be a top 25 guy by next year.
46. DeMar DeRozan - San Antonio Spurs | G/F
I liked that he didn’t even attempt one three per game last year. Fuck it. Will he be known as “The Guy Who Toronto Dumped To Win the Title” forever? If I was him I wouldn’t shoot one three this year. Not even a halftime heave. Get people talking about something other than Toronto. Anyways, he can still score and distribute, but the Spurs will face a pretty tough road this year to the playoffs given all the movement out West. It could get clunky out there given their lack of shooters.
45. Tobias Harris - Philadelphia 76ers | F
Harris has gradually upped his game and scope of responsibilities every year he’s been in the league. He’s good to elite at every type of offensive play, thanks to his speed and power. He showed with the Clippers that he can be a top option on a league average team. He might be in the top 10 list for guys you’d give the ball to with the game on the line. Obviously, with Jimmy Butler gone to Miami, he moves up to possibly the 2nd option on offense for a Philadelphia team with championship expectations. For all the steps forward he’s taken every year, this will be the hardest step.
44. John Collins - Atlanta Hawks | F/C
Just a complete animal on pick and rolls, transition, and the offensive glass. The jump shot was nice to see also. Despite his athleticism, he’s been a pretty poor defender, and needs to work on his reads on that end. It will be interesting to see if the Hawks unleash him more as a 5 this year, or if they continue to go with Alex Len types for the first 8 minutes of the first and third quarters. The Hawks brass wants to form their own Golden State, and they see Collins as filling the Draymond role. Consequently, you’d assume he’d be given more of a chance to show some playmaking chops this year, and maybe throw some alley oops to Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish.
43. Rudy Gobert - Utah Jazz | C
Like Clint Capela, Gobert might benefit from the Warriors breakup in that now rim protecting, rim running, centers are a little harder to run off the floor in playoff series. There aren’t really any Hamptons Five Death Lineup in the league anymore. He’s going to have to work harder this year to clean up defensive messes, but could see an uptick in offensive efficiency with Mike Conley driving the car instead of the enigmatic and erratic Ricky Rubio.
42. Trae Young - Atlanta Hawks | G
It took Young a little while to get going, but the Steph Curry comparisons didn’t seem so far-fetched by the end of the year. He’s a better passer than Curry. But, for his transcendence on the offensive end that appeared in spurts, he was possibly the worst defender in basketball last year. The Hawks know this, and are trying to plan for it. That’s why they value guys like De’Andre Hunter so much and are willing to trade up to get them, because said value is all related to how the guys cover for Young’s deficiencies. But ultimately, you can’t hide him in a series, and whether or not he ever figures out a way to move up to the “Not Good” tier of defenders will help shape Atlanta’s title outlook over the next decade.
41. CJ McCollum - Portland Trailblazers | G
Always the subject of trade rumors due to him and Damian Lillard having similar strengths and weaknesses as undersized scoring guards, Portland’s commitment to continuity and elevated success this postseason netted McCollum a new contract. Portland, to a fault (see Summer 2016 off-season), are committed to keeping players they drafted. In McCollum’s case, it might be wise to just stay the course. On his own, McCollum probably can’t net someone in a trade who doesn’t have similar defensive flaws (i.e Kevin Love). You’d like to see McCollum get to the free throw line and distribute a little more, but otherwise, he is who he is. Portland is banking on some internal growth from young players like Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons, and hoping that continuity will sneak them a title at some point, ala the 2011 Mavericks.
40. Nikola Vucevic - Orlando Magic | C
I’m always intrigued by guys who stay on the same middling team for close to a decade, put up 18-20 point scoring averages, and never make the playoffs. Guys like Danny Granger and Michael Redd come to mind. They’re not exactly empty stats players, but there is still a sense of their stats being less meaningful. They're not vilified so much as they're forgotten. Vucevic broke through that existential purgatory last year, as his development into a true offensive ace played a big part in Orlando making the playoffs for the first time since the Dwight era. Vucevic is now, aside from being a great back to the basket player, a legit three point shooter and an underrated playmaker who benefits those around him. Flanked by Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac, he did enough to help Orlando play at an elite level defensively after the all star break. There’s a sense that him and other veterans on the team might be placeholders. Orlando would love to have Gordon, Isaac, budding big man Mo Bamba, and Markelle Fultz lead them in the future, but are done being doormats and want their young players to grow in a playoff environment. Hence, Vucevic, and wing Terrence Ross were brought back this off-season. If things break right, Vucevic could be the best player on a top five seed this year, when a few years ago it looked like he’d have to take more of an Enes Kanter sixth man role.
39. Jamal Murray - Denver Nuggets | G
Murray is lucky enough to play with the best playmaking big in basketball in Nikola Jokic, but he’s slowly come into his own as a reliable failsafe scorer. After averaging 21 points and 5 assists this postseason, he’s clearly entrenched as the second scoring option on a Denver team that sees itself as having legitimate championship aspirations. He’s a good secondary distributor whose teammates enjoy his presence. His defense remains poor, which can be said for a lot of the Nuggets players, one of the issues likely to hold Denver back from making another leap this season. However, if Murray can continue to develop into a Likeable Kyrie Irving Lite, Denver has a puncher's chance in any playoff series by way of simply outscoring opponents.
38. Jayson Tatum - Boston Celtics | F
As was said about Jaylen Brown, Boston’s future depends on if Tatum can capitalize on his upside. I’ve always felt he was a little overvalued by Danny Ainge, but I’m willing to give him a pass for last year. The Celtics just didn’t have any rhythm last year, a lot of guys were just shooting the ball in an “ok…it’s finally my turn” vain, but it’s hard to fault anyone in that environment, especially a young player, for not being able to rise above circumstances. Tatum will get his wish this year in terms of having the ball. If he keeps shooting 20 foot jump shots, not passing, and looking indifferent at times, he could be a bust in the mold of Jabari Parker. I don’t think that will happen, but still don’t see him as a top 20 player anytime soon as many others have projected.
37. D'Angelo Russell - Golden State Warriors | G
In his second year with the Nets, Russell broke the unfair bust label of his Lakers days, and was the best player on a playoff team. Shows what strong organizational infrastructure and commitment to player development can yield. Playing with Steph Curry can’t hurt. Curry has the rare mix of omnipresence and yielding, he lets guys on his team be themselves. In other words, Russell won’t be shoehorned into the Klay Thompson “Two Dribbles or Less” role. If he can commit more on the defensive end and to driving to the basket, Russell could elevate himself from fringe all-star to a legitimate 1B on a championship contender, even if he is ultimately traded by Golden State in a year or two.
36. Kristaps Porzingis - Dallas Mavericks | F/C
I’ll take Kendrick Perkins’ word that Porzingis is a diva, but he definitely suffered unfairly with the Knicks, particularly during the last days of The Phil Jackson Triangle Offense Experiment, where he was used almost exclusively as a post up player despite being paper thin. Post injury Derrick Rose and an aging 'Melo Anthony are the best players he's played with. Playing with Luka Doncic will be liberating. Dallas will deploy Porzingis in every way imaginable on offense, and defensively he still does a great job of protecting the rim and is better than you’d expect on the perimeter. Before his injuries, Porzingis was thought of as a potential top 15 player. He didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, but his outlook isn’t quite as bright just because there are more and more young bigs who can match his size, speed, and shooting ability. Dallas is still a year or two away from a return to the playoffs.
35. Caris LeVert - Brooklyn Nets | G/F
LeVert was a huge part of Brooklyn’s improvement last year, on the court and spiritually. He can guard the opposing team's best wing, but isn’t just a 3&D player. His ability to attack the basket, shoot, run pick and roll, and draw fouls makes me think he has another dimension to unlock offensively. It took Jimmy Butler longer than most wings to turn into an elite offensive option, and the similarity in the abrasiveness and daring physicality of the two makes me think LeVert can get there. With Kevin Durant out for the year in Brooklyn, LeVert will have the opportunity. Intangibles wise, bringing in Kyrie Irving to another young locker room seems like a questionable decision. Having a guy like LeVert who busts his ass, never takes a play off or plays selfishly, could help absorb Irving into the Nets culture.