2015-2016 NBA Preview (Arbitrary Predictions, Pointless Superlatives, Memes)

ONE DAY. We’re one day away from the opening night of the 2015-2016 NBA season. It’s that time of the year. Time for Jusuf Nurkic using his ass, time for Spurs ball movement, time for Derrick Rose injuring a part of the body you didn’t even know existed. This is my season preview. Here, I’ll predict the standings in each conference as well as all major awards races. To piece things together, I threw together a few superlative teams. Those are just for fun.

For example…

The “Keep Gettin’ Dem Checks” All-Stars

these guys continue to find a way, against all odds, to collect an NBA paycheck.

  • Kobe Bryant: The Black Garter Snake will be the highest paid player in the league this season. That’d be chill if it was 2008.
  • Gerald Wallace: The Celtics will pay Crash $10.5 million this season and while he’s always good for a few comments to the press, that’s not worth $10.5 million.
  • Richard Jefferson: No, you don’t need to Google Richard Jefferson to verify he’s still in the league. He is. He’s on the Cavs.
  • Carlos Boozer: The Lakers were the “winners” of the Boozer waiver wire sweepstakes. Boozer will collect $13 million this year.
  • Anderson Varejao: On the last year of his deal, Varejao will squeez $9.7 million out of the Cavs despite being their fourth, maybe fifth, best big guy.

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Now onto conference predictions, let’s start in the West. Because it’s better.

Western Conference

  1. Golden State Warriors: They were one of the very best teams in league history last year by any measure, and the gang is all back. There may be trendier picks to finish first in the West, but for now, logic says go with the Dubs. I expect Harrison Barnes to play more minutes and break out in a contract year.
  2. Houston Rockets: I’m all-in on Morey’s team, though they’ll be infuriating to watch due to how many free throws they’re going to take. Love what the Ty Lawson acquisition does for this team, and for James Harden. Trevor Ariza will shoot the ball better.
  3. San Antonio Spurs: I’m not concerned about Aldridge and Duncan perhaps not being perfect fits next to each other. Pop is smarter than me or you and he’ll figure it out. Kawhi Leonard, likely to see his usage jump up a bit, is a dark-horse MVP candidate.
  4. Oklahoma City Thunder: There are questions, such as whether or not they can stay healthy and who the hell the primary 2-guard will be. But Durant looks great, and having Kanter’s ability to score down low is only going to open things up for KD.
  5. Los Angeles Clippers: The bench will be better, right? There’s not much to dislike about the Clips, who’ll continue to improve defensively under Doc, I just like four teams in the West more.
  6. Phoenix Suns: My surprise team. I get that there are chemistry issues. I get that Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe may not be the perfect pairing. I’m aware that Markieff Morris wants a trade. Still, tons of talent and a great coach, so I’ll put my money on them figuring it out.
  7. Memphis Grizzlies: Play well throughout the season, fight like hell in the playoffs, ultimately lose due to lack of perimeter firepower, rinse, repeat. I don’t expect much else from the Griz, though perhaps contract year Mike Conley will take on a bigger scoring load.
  8. New Orleans Pelicans: This team just cannot catch a break when it comes to injuries. Anthony Davis will keep them in the hunt, as will Tyreke Evans if he plays like he did last year. But they really can’t afford to get off to a slow start in the brutal West.
  9. Utah Jazz: I think their 2nd half was a fluke? No, but I think the W/L numbers are a bit unsustainable. They benefited from a six-game winning streak where the only halfway decent team they beat was Houston. They’re very, very good on defense, but they simply need some semblance of playmaking or shooting from their backcourt. Trey Lyles was an interesting pick with both Devin Booker and Cameron Payne on the board.
  10. Sacramento Kings: They should be fine offensively under coach Karl. Rondo will be motivated, and they’ll get some wing scoring out of Gay, McLemore, and Bellinelli. Then there’s of course DeMarcus Cousins, the best center in the NBA. If this team can somehow sneak into the playoffs, he should probably win MVP.
  11. Dallas Mavericks: Wesley Matthews will need to pick up most, if not all, the scoring lost by Monta Ellis going to Indiana. They also won’t have Tyson Chandler. I only see them making the playoffs if Deron Williams somehow finds the fountain of youth.
  12. Denver Nuggets: I like the Nuggets to surprise and be a competitive team all year, assuming Gallo stays healthy. Emmanuel Mudiay was my #2 player in the draft and I genuinely think he’s an elite point guard prospect along the lines of Rose, Irving, Westbrook, etc. He’ll be thrown into the fire right away.
  13. Los Angeles Lakers: There are plenty of reasons to watch this team, and a few to think they won’t be completely screwed moving forward (Russell, Randle, and Clarkson appear to be really nice pieces). But Byron Scott is still the coach, and Kobe is still around halting the rebuild.
  14. Minnesotta Timberwolves: Will be regular entertainment for League Pass subscribers everywhere, but let’s tamper expectations for this year. They’re still a ways away from competing for a playoff spot in the West.
  15. Portland Trail Blazers: They’re going to be really, really bad. But Damian Lillard should have an opportunity to put up some pretty insane numbers, making this is a somewhat interesting team to follow.

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The “What do five fingers say to the face?” All-Stars

these guys take not giving a fuck to a whole new level. they get angry, quickly, and are the most likely to smack the shit out of you.

  • Marcus Smart: Just ask Matt Bonner or that racist guy who yelled at him in college. It’s a good thing Smart plays in a level-headed city with little racism. OH WAIT.
  • Lance Stephenson: I really shouldn’t need to explain this one. Lance is the realest though.
  • Matt Barnes: I really shouldn’t need to explain this one either.
  • Hassan Whiteside: Dude is a HOT HEAD. There’s a chance he makes an All-Star team, there’s also a chance he assaults Erik Spoelstra and is immediately hauled off to jail.
  • DeMarcus Cousins: Boogie doesn’t take shit from anybody. He wilds the fuck out on an almost nightly basis. At the start of last year, it appeared he grew out of it, but, NOPE. Tiger don’t change its stripes.

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The “Bill Walton” All-Stars

the opposite of the above team. these guys are so calm, it’s almost like they’d rather burn one and play some Dead b-sides.

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  • Kawhi Leonard: He doesn’t speak or show emotions. After the Finals, D-Wade literally said, “Kawhi Leonard, I don’t even know how he sounds. But he’s a bad boy.”
  • Glen Davis: “Yo, DeAndre…”
  • Klay Thompson: Klay is very chill on the court. He also got busted for weed in college to which students responded, he twists the tightest ones on campus.
  • Wilson Chandler: I’ve never seen his face change once. He also plays in Denver.
  • J.R. Smith: If you think J.R. is a hot head, that’s on you. The dude catches a buzz the night before playoff games.

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Eastern Conference

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers: What’s the over/under on regular season games played for LeBron? I’m guessing he plays 64.
  2. Atlanta Hawks: I believe both Miami and Chicago have a better shot at beating Cleveland in a series, but the Hawks should be the 2nd best team in the East night-to-night. I don’t think the loss of Carroll will hurt thatmuch. They have a great coach, a great PG, and probably the best big man duo in the league. The Hawks will be fine.
  3. Chicago Bulls: We’ll see how Hoidberg handles his frontcourt minutes. It appears as if Mirotic and Gasol will be his starters, with Taj Gibson and the ghost of Joakim Noah spelling them. Regardless, there’s a ton of talent on this team when you factor in Jimmy Butler, whatever Derrick Rose is, and rookie Bobby Portis. If I’m Cleveland, I wouldn’t want to see them in the second round.
  4. Miami Heat: How this team gels remains a question mark, but Dragic-Wade-Deng-Bosh-Whiteside should be as good of a starting five as any in the East outside of Cleveland. Justise Winslow figures to play major minutes given the durability issues Wade & Deng present. He’s going to make some highlight reel plays, but can he dribble?
  5. Washington Wizards: Otto Porter Jr. stepping into Paul Pierce’s minutes should be a boost. But this team’s playoff chances hinge on how their bench guys play and whether or not Beal is healthy and focused. An improved John Wall will help, but how much better can he really get?
  6. Indiana Pacers: I really like the way George Hill played last year. Paul George is back. Monta Ellis was added. Hibbert should give them something. I LOVE the selection of Myles Turner at #11. In other words, I like Indy’s chances to snag a playoff spot.
  7. Boston Celtics: I doubt the Celtics win 55 like their second half pace from a year ago would suggest, but 45 seems to be a safe bet. That’ll surely get them in, given the rest of the conference. Amir Johnson adds some much-needed interior defense and a more aggressive Marcus Smart will make the starting five more potent offensively.
  8. Toronto Raptors: Their interior defense is going to be a major problem, but hopefully the Lowry-DeRozan-Carroll trio can pick up some slack. The bottom of the East will be a bit better, so I’d expect the Raptors to take a slight step back.
  9. Milwaukee Bucks: Will Jason Kidd actually give real minutes to John Henson? The Bucks are a team on the rise and they’ll be fun to watch but they’re the odd man out here for me. They can’t shoot. How much better will Greg Monroe really make them?
  10. New York Knicks: I expect the Knicks to be A LOT better. They have to be, right? Carmelo will be ready, Robin Lopez and Kyle O’Quinn will help. I think Jerian Grant emerges as their best guard sooner rather than later. Porzingis is the wild card. If he has a year one impact, they could sneak in.
  11. Detroit Pistons: I want to have faith in Van Gundy and Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. I want to think that their awful start to last season that buried them won’t happen again. And I really like the selection of Stanley Johnson. But this is going to be a team that runs through Reggie Jackson.
  12. Charlotte Hornets: They looked great in the preseason, and should have a decent frontcourt rotation. But the loss of MKG is going to kill their defense and it’s hard to trust an attack led by Kemba Walker with questionable shooting to contribute much.
  13. Orlando Magic: On the rise. A lot of exciting young talent. I’m not sure how they’re going to defend the post, though. They’re probably just one year and a good draft pick away from contending for the playoffs.
  14. Brooklyn Nets: Knowing the Nets, they’ll probably find a way to get good seasons out of Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, and Thaddeus Young…thus sneaking them into the playoffs. Nets fan, that would be bad. I know they don’t have their own pick this year, but this franchise needs to accept the fact that its quick-fix failed and blow everything up (starting with the GM & coach).
  15. Philadelphia 76ers: Nerlens Noel is that dude. He’s so much fun to watch terrorize the offense at all levels. That’s all I can say about this team.

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The “Ricky Davis” All-Stars

a group of guys who are decent players but think they’re waaaaay better than they actually are.

  • Shane Larkin: Have you ever seen Larkin dribble or shoot? He thinks he’s Iverson, only, he’s a marginal NBA role player. FOH.
  • Dion Waiters: Dion Waiters is the best scorer on the Thunder or at least he is according to Dion Waiters.
  • Nick Young: If you thought Swaggy P wasn’t making this team, where the hell have you been?
  • Brandon Bass: “No Pass Bass” as they call him. Bass isn’t quite the egomaniac some of these guys are but every single time he touches the ball he either takes a J or drives straight at the hoop for a dunk he’s incapable of finishing.
  • Joakim Noah: Yo, Joakim, you just lost your job to NIKOLA MIROTIC. Stop with the screaming. Your All-NBA days are long behind you.

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Individual Awards

MVP: James Harden

I’m going with Harden because I believe he’s averaging 30+ on ridiculous efficiency numbers. Having Ty Lawson is really going to help him. His defense improves every year. The Rockets have a chance to emerge as the best team in the league and if that happens it feels like this will be a given (a la Steph last year). Obviously, guys like Curry and Davis and Durant should be right in the hunt. I don’t think LeBron is going to play enough games to really be consdiered heavily. DeMarcus Cousins and Kawhi Leonard are dark horses for me.

Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard

Sorry, Draymond, but Kawhi should’ve won this last year. He’s a savage defensively. Keep an eye on Nerlens Noel though…(but his team sucks)

6th Man of the Year: Isaiah Thomas

Thomas would’ve won this last year had he played with Celtics all season. He’s the best player on a likely playoff team and he comes off the bench every night, only to carry the offense from that point forward.

Most Improved Player: John Henson

It’ll come down to whether or not Kidd gives him the minutes. He’s a stud defensively, hits the glass hard on both ends, and has really developed a few nice post moves. He’s a double-double guy with 2+ blocks per if he gets the chance.

Rookie of the Year: Karl-Anthony Towns

Boring, but some of us (cough cough) thought he was the surefire #1 pick and a future superstar before last season even started, but then Chad Ford and everyone else at ESPN insisted that Okafor was the clear #1. Towns will get plenty of minutes and get plenty of looks offensively. Though i do think Emmanuel Mudiay and Jahlil Okafor are both going to have similar opportunities.

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Coach of the Year: Jeff Hornacek (Suns)

If the Suns make the playoffs like I think they will, it has to be Hornacek. The usual suspects like Pop and Doc will be in the hunt, and there will be a ton of eyes on Billy Donovan and Fred Hoidberg as well. Also, Brad Stevens is a beautiful man and I’m currently gazing into his eyes thanks to the blow-up doll I made.

And finally…

The “F*ck Duke” All-Stars

Because we all hate Duke. you should root against these guys. just be nice to Justise Winslow, that guy is awesome.

  • Kyrie Irving: Real talk, Kyrie is actually overrated (as I said in my top 100, statistically, he’s Isaiah Thomas).
  • Austin Rivers: That time he wore that fresh creamsicle Bucs hat is and will always be the highlight of his career.
  • Gerald Henderson: Fuck you, nobody’s forgotten. Also, he’s not very good and can’t shoot.
  • Josh McRoberts: The wackest player in the NBA, no debate.
  • Jahlil Okafor: Not Jahlil’s fault, but I really hate how you assholes anointed him the best big man prospect of the decade when he wasn’t even the best in his own class.

Good luck to your team this season! Unless you root for the Lakers, Nets, Knicks, or Heat. In that case, I hope all the horrible things in the world happen to you and only you.

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The Top 100 NBA Players of ’15-’16 (Part 2, #’s 50-1)

Here, I finish my ranking of the top 100 NBA players coming into the season. You can find Part 1, where I rank #’s 51-100, right here.

This’ll be a long one so let’s get right into it.

“I’m in favor of drug tests. As long as they’re multiple choice.” – Kurt Rambis

#50) Khris Middleton (Wing, Bucks, 24 y/o)

Middleton has become a plus defensive player who’s also one of the best deep shooters in the league, making him well worth the 5 year/$70M extension the Bucks gave him. He’s deadly from the corners (52.3%), and he takes a significant volume of his shots from there.

You’d like to see Middleton show a bit more playmaking ability but the rest of the Bucks team moves the ball fairly well so it’s not a major issue. His shooting is so important for a playoff team that can’t really shoot for shit outside of him.

#49) Nerlens Noel (Big, 76ers, 21 y/o)

Nerlens is already a defense force. He blocks shots, rotates all over the floor, and gets a ton of steals from using his length to intercept passes. His offensive game is obviously still a work in progress but he flashed an improving midrange game towards the end of last year. On the boards, Noel relies on pure athleticism right now. We could be talking about one of the top five rebounders in the league as he improves his positional play.

Noel is a clear building block for a team that has struggled to find those despite a plethora of lottery picks over the last few years. Having Okafor next to him will only help.

#48) Isaiah Thomas (G, Celtics, 26 y/o)

#47) Kyrie Irving (G, Cavaliers, 23 y/o)

Hear me out…”Player A” and “Player B” per 36 minutes/rates that last three seasons…

Player A: 21.7 Pts, 5.8 asts, 45.0% FG, 21.0 PER, .280 FTr, .148 WS/48

Player B: 20.8 pts, 6.0 asts, 43.9% FG, 19.5 PER, .382 FTr, .143 WS/48

Player A is former #1 overall pick and supposed “transcendent point guard talent” Kyrie Irving. Player B is Celtics 6th man Isaiah Thomas. I don’t doubt Kyrie’s potential. He’s a big, athletic guard with a ridiculous handle and perfect shooting form. But right now all the numbers say he’s a good volume scorer who doesn’t really create for others or player defense. He’s not a superstar right now. He’s a good second option or very good third option.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just the Celtics get the same out of Isaiah Thomas for half the money. Kyrie ranks ahead because of the upside his physical profile suggests, but it’s players like Thomas we should be comparing Kyrie to, not guys like Paul, Curry, and Westbrook. At least for now.

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#46) Chandler Parsons (Wing, Mavericks, 26 y/o/)

Parsons was very good for Dallas last year, in fact, it was probably the best season of his young career. He’s a great shooter from anywhere on the floor. He’s made his release a lot quicker, not that it really matters seeing he’s 6’ 9”.

Parsons functioned as a point forward of sorts at Florida but we haven’t seen his playmaking skills translate to the pro game. I think he’ll need to flash those if Dallas hopes to be as good offensively as they were a year ago.

#45) DeMar DeRozan (Wing, Raptors, 26 y/o)

There are a lot of reasons to not like DeMar DeRozan. His shot selection is questionable at best, and he’s not good enough of a jump shooter to even come close to justifying said shot selection.

But there are only a handful of guys who defend the opponent’s top wing for 35 minutes a night and still give you a reasonably efficient 20 points (DeRozan gets to the line A LOT). DeRozan’s overall skill level has also improved. He’s more than just a cutter now. He can handle and create for himself or teammates.

#44) Danny Green (Wing, Spurs, 28 y/o)

How can you not love Danny Green? A second-round pick who rather than try to do too much, groomed himself into one of the best shooters and perimeter defenders in the game (he’s another “3 & D” guy, as the kids would say). Green probably could’ve gotten more money elsewhere but elected to sign an extension with the Spurs, a team whose halfcourt offense is perfect for him.

62% of Green’s shots come from deep. Considering he makes them at a rate higher than most players make from midrange, that’s an effective strategy.

#43) Jeff Teague (G, Hawks, 27 y/o)

Teague’s been a pretty solid player his whole career, but the offensive juggernaut that was the ’14-‘15 Atlanta Hawks really boosted some of his numbers (career-highs in PER, true shooting, assist %). He’s always good defensively as well.

Teague isn’t an insane athlete or elite shooter so he’s not as aesthetically pleasing as some other top PG’s but he’s certainly one of the better ones in the league (I only have 8 ranked higher, and it’s a really deep position right now).

#42) Al Jefferson (Big, Hornets, 30 y/o)

Big Al has never quite developed the overall dominance we hoped for but he’s always been one of the best post scorers in the league, though his numbers took a slight hit last year in a Charlotte offense that had no shooting, allowing defenses to collapse on him every time he touched it. He had a FG% of less than 49.0 for the first time in his career.

Jefferson is in a contract year. At just 30, he could be in for one more huge payday if he puts up his usual numbers. Having Kaminsky next to him at times will help get him some space and one-on-one matchups on the block.

“Mick Jagger is in better shape than far too many NBA players. It’s up in the air whether the same can be said of Keith Richards.” – Bill Walton

#41) Eric Bledsoe (G, Suns, 25 y/o)

Bledsoe is an explosive athlete and tenacious defender (when he wants to be). Other than Westbrook, I don’t think there’s another guard who puts as much physical pressure on an opponent at both ends. Bledsoe has made serious strides as a point guard and shooter. The fact that he’s missed the AS game the last two years is a testament to just how many great guards there are in the West.

Long-term, I like Bledsoe alongside Knight much more than I like Bledsoe alongside Dragic. The Suns have quietly built a good core and there’s no reason they can’t make the playoffs this year, even in the West.

#40) Kyle Korver (Wing, Hawks, 34 y/o)

All Korver does is shoot threes, so what? He made 49.2% of them, and well over 50% on threes from the corners. Having a guy like Korver who can stand far away from the motion of an offense and require a defender to play him tight essentially allows you to play a more open game in the backcourt. This was how Atlanta was able to get such favorable looks for Millsap and Horford.

Korver was well-deserving of last year’s All-Star selection. He’s led the league in 3pt% the last two years, and hasn’t shot below 41% from deep since ’08. Regardless of his defense or your team’s makeup, your winning percentage gets a boost from Korver taking five or six triples a game. He doesn’t even really need to be open, either. All of his 3pt shooting numbers are insane. 50.3% on catch-n-shoots, 46.3% on pullups, over 43% on CONTESTED attempts.

#39) Giannis Antetonkounmpo (N/A, Bucks, 20 y/o)

Having Giannis this high, I’m assuming some improvement will happen, not that he isn’t already very good. A 6’ 11” 20 year-old with guard skills is not something you see every day. Giannis’ shooting needs to improve. He needs to at least show some willingness to pull up from outside the paint. Right now he scores off sheer length, though he’s improved his back-to-basket game tremendously.

Giannis is also a terror on defense and on transition, despite that fact that he’s still learning the game. I would argue he was pretty close to being a top 50 player last year, and he’s obviously nowhere near his ceiling yet.

#38) Kyle Lowry (G, Raptors, 29 y/o)

Horrible slump. Lowry is taking a lot of Twitter heat for it. It seemed like once the general public finally started recognizing Lowry’s ability, he stopped playing well. But looking at what he’s done over the course of his career, the second-half of last season is an outlier, not the real Kyle Lowry. And maybe he just got pissed that he was one of, like, two guys on his team playing defense.

He shoots the ball well and does a good job setting things up, though last year the Raptors offense wasn’t exactly assist-friendly. Lowry will likely find more space to attack the hoop with some of the floor-stretching Carroll will bring to the lineup.

#37) Derrick Favors (Big, Jazz, 24 y/o)

The first of THREE Jazz players in my top 50. The team was so good defensively after the Kanter trade, and Favors was a big part of that. He handles good post scorers very well and has the athleticism/size combo to be a great rim protector, not that he really needs to be seeing as they have Gobert.

Favors has also become a reliable and efficient low-post scorer. He can keep you honest from midrange and overpower you on the block. He’s very hard to defend. Looking at some of the power forwards I have a few slots ahead of him, I’m really thinking Favors has a chance to outplay them this year.

#36) Gordon Hayward (Wing, Jazz, 25 y/o)

I really don’t care how inefficient Gordon Hayward is. He’s been asked to function as a high usage point forward for Utah his whole career. And here’s the thing, HE WAS ACTUALLY REALLY EFFFICIENT LAST YEAR.

He’s got an awkward, streaky shot. But he had a 50% eFG last year. You’ll take that out of a guy who has to work in the volume Hayward does. He’s of course very capable of running the offense, though he’s not great off the dribble so I think Utah needs to cut back on his one-on-one drives. He works on defense and uses his length to help make up for his lack of lateral quickness. Just a very good all-around player who’s worth the $15M Utah will pay him this year.

#35) Andrew Wiggins (Wing, Timberwolves, 20 y/o)

Wiggins had a great rookie year and I’m personally not concerned with the streaky shooting. The coaches put him in “let him do whatever he wants and he’ll learn from it” mode. Wiggins finished the year averaging 16.9 points and 4.6 boards on 43.7% FG%, very respectable numbers. He also flashed his athleticism on the other end.

Developing a more consistent jumper will go a long way for Wiggins, and his release suggests that will happen. At the very worst, Wiggins is going to a volume scorer and plus defender. He’s not going to be LeBron or Durant statistically, but he’s got a good shot at being a slightly better Paul George.

#34) Pau Gasol (Big, Bulls, 35 y/o)

Pau had a very nice first year in Chicago, even if his defense was questionable at times. He had a career-best season in terms of rebounding. His ability to score from anywhere inside the arc helped a Bulls team that can have a very ugly offense. I don’t think he’s in danger of losing any minutes with Hoidberg in town.

Gasol quietly continues to add to his Hall-of-Fame worthy resume. A couple more seasons like he had last year, and it should be a lock.

“The new moron in town is Chad Ford of ESPN.com” – Mark Cuban

#33) Dirk Nowitzki (Big, Mavericks, 37 y/o)

As expected, Dirk’s volume and usage continues to decline with his age, but his effectiveness has not. One of the most prolific scorers of the last 20 years is still more than capable of getting his smooth jumper up from any spot and angle. Dirk isn’t carrying you to a title, but he’s still a damn good offensive cornerstone.

I would expect Dirk to play a similar role to last year. You figure Wesley Matthews takes at least 75% of Ellis’ field goal attempts. I don’t think Dallas wants to put much more of a scoring burden on Dirk’s aging shoulders.

#32) Zach Randolph (big, Grizzlies, 34 y/o)

Z-Bo since ’03 (his first year getting real minutes)…

18.7 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 19.6 PER, 52.3% true shooting.

He’s a wrecking ball down low, always has been, and still is. He was as good as ever last year for Memphis and he’s not a player who relies on athleticism, meaning he’s going to continue to age well. It’s ridiculous that he’s only made 2 All-Star teams. I expect 18 & 10 out of Z-Bo, again.

#31) Paul Millsap (Big, Hawks, 30 y/o)

Everyone finally realized just how good Millsap is last year thanks to the Hawks dominating for most of the season. He’s a capable one-on-one defender and scorer from both midrange and down low. He uses angles and leverage well to help make up for his less than ideal height.

Putting him, Z-Bo, Dirk, and Pau next to each other is just a coincidence, but I genuinely feel Millsap is the best of that bunch right now.

#30 Andre Drummond (Big, Pistons, 22)

#29) DeAndre Jordan (Big, Clippers, 27)

#28) Rudy Gobert (Big, Jazz, 23)

Let’s look at what these three did last year per 36 minutes…

Drummond: 16.2 pts, 15.9 rbs, 2.2 blks, 51.4% FG, 38.9% FT, 21.4 PER

Jordan: 12.1 pts, 15.7 rbs, 2.3 blks, 71.0% FG, 39.7% FT, 21.0 PER

Gobert: 11.4 pts, 12.9 rbs, 3.2 blks, 60.4% FG, 62.3% FT, 21.6 PER

How close to one another are these three? Here’s why I gave the edge to Gobert…

He’s the NBA’s best rim protector. Not only does he block more shots, but he’s much quicker on his feet than Drummond or Jordan. He can step out further than they can. He’s longer and he has better timing. Both Jordan and Drummond make spectacular blocks, but the team defensive numbers when they’re on the court vs when they’re off aren’t very encouraging. Gobert is also by far the best free-throw shooter of the bunch. You don’t have to take him out. Would Jordan shoot 71% from the field if the majority of his points didn’t come on put backs and alley-oops from CP3? Probably not. Drummond has the best offensive skill set of the three, though Gobert appears to be developing a post game.

#27) Serge Ibaka (Big, Thunder, 26 y/o)

Serge has become a legitimate stretch big who also happens to be on of the league’s best rim protectors. That’s a very valuable combo. He shot 37.6% from deep on over 3 attempts a game. We are yet to see what OKC is with a healthy Russ, a healthy KD, and an improved Serge. Watch out.

He’s probably never going to tighten up his footwork and become truly dominant in the post, so continuing to hit threes is important for his scoring output.

#26) Damian Lillard (G, Trail Blazers, 25 y/o)

Lillard, much like Kyrie, is a shoot-first point guard who doesn’t play much defense. So why do I have Lillard slotted 20 spots higher?

Well, the easy answer is because he’s better, but that’s probably not enough for the Kyrie stans. Lillard is a much more potent distributor. He’s put up slightly better assist numbers despite not spending almost his entire career in an offense completely based around his dribbling (Kyrie). Without Aldridge, Lillard is going to have to create even more. The Blazers will be bad, but I think Lillard’s going to average 24 & 8 with better shooting numbers than his slump-ridden 3rd NBA season. To each is his own, but I’d take Lillard over Kyrie without thinking twice.

Oh, and Dame can spit.

“I can be bought. If they paid me enough, I’d work for the Klan.” – Charles Barkley

#25) Chris Bosh (Big, Heat, 31 y/o)

Bosh was great last year before that unfortunate heart ailment was discovered. He’s still as good defensively one-on-one down low as anybody in the league. Without LeBron eating up possessions, Bosh took nearly 5 more attempts a game and averaged over 20 for the first time since he was a Raptor.

Bosh, who’s developed 3-pt range, does a nice job with his shot selection. He can still take guys in the post, and does so every now and then. Miami will need his A-game if they want to have any shot at a top 2 or 3 seed in the East.

#24) Klay Thompson (Wing, Warriors, 25 y/o)

First off, Klay is much better defensively and on the break than he gets credit for. His size and fluidity are big parts of this. But let’s be honest, Klay is good because he can light you up in a hurry.

His shooting percentages from everywhere one the floor saw a big jump playing in Kerr’s system. He needs very little space to get his shot off and can do so falling back or leaning off the catch. There’s no reason to think Klay’s shooting numbers from last year were a fluke.

#23) Dwyane Wade (G, Heat, 33 y/o)

60 games of Wade is better than 80 games of almost any other player in the NBA. He flops, and he’s annoying, but he’s also still one of the best one-on-one scorers around. Never a very good 3pt shooter, Wade makes up for it by being perhaps the best midrange scorer in the league. He nails step back jumpers and has a back-to-the-basket game reminiscent of Gary Payton. He’s crafty and strong, even though he’s not quite as explosive anymore.

Wade was outstanding last year, as per usual. His scoring efficiency took a predictable hit as he didn’t have LeBron to create wide-open fastbreak layups for him, but he still had a respectable 48.3% eFG.

#22) Mike Conley (G, Grizzlies, 28 y/o)

Conley is probably the best defensive PG in the NBA. Pair that with the fact that he’s a pretty damn good halfcourt floor general who shoots 35%+ from deep every year and you have the formula for a very effective NBA point. Could the Grizzlies use a little more improvisational ability out of Conley? Sure, but it’s not his fault they’ve failed to address their lack of solid one-on-one perimeter guys.

I only have four PG’s ranked higher than Conley.

#21) Dwight Howard (Big, Rockets, 29 y/o)

Dwight never became as good as he should have. Some of that has to do with injuries, and some of it has to do with his struggles at developing a truly great post game (he’s gotten better, but still…). With that said, Howard is still one of the best plus-minus defenders in the league and he can take over lesser team inside when he wants to.

He figures to average around 16 & 12 again on something close to 60% FG. Howard never became the transcendent superstar many of us expected, at least not for more than a couple years, but he’s still well on his way to a HOF career and one of the 25 best players in the league.

#20) Al Horford (Big, Hawks, 29 y/o)

Horford stays healthy, and the Hawks play well. Surprise, surprise. #20 may seem high for a guy who only averaged 15 & 7 but Atlanta’s depth and balanced attack limited both Horford’s minutes and chances.

He’s the best midrange shooter in the league. Horford hit 49.4% of his shots in between 16’ and the 3pt arc last year. That’d be ridiculous for a superstar wing, much less a big guy who also defends at an elite level. Horford is Atlanta’s best player, and that’s saying something.

#19) Draymond Green (N/A, Warriors, 25 y/o)

We all know what Draymond can do defensively, but the key to him being able to stay on the court are his offensive improvements. You can’t leave him WIDE open from deep (33.7% on 4+ attempts a game). He’s a very effective point forward, putting up an impressive ast% of 16.1.

Draymond is probably going to get better too. You figure his shooting will improve a bit and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kerr run more plays through him given his ability to pass the ball. He’s also a fucking savage.

#18) Jimmy Butler (Wing, Bulls, 26 y/o)

He probably never should’ve removed the rearview mirror in his car, but it’s cool I guess, since Jimmy Butler is pretty good. Shooting slumps be damned, Butler finished with some impressive figures last year (46.2% FG, 37.8% 3pt). He carried Chicago’s offense at times, proving himself capable of being a one-on-one halfcourt scorer.

Butler is obviously a good defender capable of guarding multiple spots. It’s interesting how Butler, not Rose or Noah, has grown into Chicago’s true franchise player.

“I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.” – Tim Hardaway

#17) Paul George (Wing, Pacers, 25 y/o)

Came back for 91 minutes last year so it’s a tiny sample size, but he did shoot 9 for 22 from deep. If he can flirt with 40% for an entire season, he’ll be more than capable of carrying the Pacers offense. We’re just one year removed from PG-13 averaging 21.7 with 6.8 boards and providing some of the most versatile defense in the NBA.

He’s stated publicly that he doesn’t like playing the 4, but he’s going to have to in certain situations. He’s a long 6’ 9” and has made two All-Defensive teams, I don’t get his gripe.

#16) Kevin Love (Big, Cavaliers, 27 y/o)

I’m still screaming about the way the Cavs used Kevin Love last year. You don’t take one of the NBA’s best rebounders and low post scorers and make him primarily a shooter. Love’s great from deep, but there’s no reason over 41% of his attempts should be coming from there.

The Cavs have a deep frontcourt rotation, assuming Thompson is back, but Love is still clearly their 2nd best player. His averages were going to take a hit playing next to LeBron, but Love still had a disappointing season by any measure. He’ll be much better.

#15) Carmelo Anthony (Wing, Knicks, 31 y/o)

I need to see a healthy Melo show signs of decline before I bump him down much. He’s still one of the five best volume scorers in the league, and he scores with respectable efficiency from anywhere on the court. Yes, he’s a black hole, but it’s not like the Knicks are loaded with secondary guys that can carry the load for stretches.

I’m pretty sure we’ll see Carmelo score in the high-20’s once again. I’m not sure what that really means, but he’ll continue to put up some of the more impressive scoring numbers the league has ever seen.

#14) Tim Duncan (Big, Spurs, 39 y/o)

This isn’t a career achievement award; Duncan is still one of the league’s best on both ends. He wastes no effort, every rotation he makes is to the right spot and he knows himself so well offensively. A guy who can give a loaded team 13 & 9 on less than 30 minutes a night with GREAT defense? That’s valuable.

Duncan and Aldridge may not seem like the perfect fit, but they’re both outstanding individual players all-around. I’m pretty sure Pop knows more than all of us and will figure it out.

#13) John Wall (G, Wizards, 25 y/o)

If Wall were to develop even a league average 3pt shot, he’d probably move up five spots. He’s either the best or second best distributor in the NBA (CP3), and his explosiveness allows him to be an effective scorer inside the arc despite the fact that he struggles to keep defenders honest.

Wall D’s up as well. We saw in the playoffs last year just how much this team relies on him for basically everything.

#12) LaMarcus Aldridge (Big, Spurs, 30 y/o)

Aldridge is such a naturally-gifted offensive player. His smooth jumper is nearly impossible to block given his length, and his post game became great the second he entered the league. The consensus seems to be the LMA’s volume will go down in San Antonio, but I’m not so sure. Duncan’s ability to play from the high post, combined with the floor spacing the Spurs have, should free up Aldridge for a ton of one-on-one matchups on the block, where he’s basically unstoppable.

A very good individual defender as well, Aldridge’s arrival in San Antonio is going to cause a lot of problems for the West contenders that don’t have great bigs.

#11) Kawhi Leonard (Wing, Spurs, 24 y/o)

You can’t fully quantify Kawhi’s defensive impact. Well, maybe someone like Kevin Pelton or Drew Cannon can, but I sure as hell can’t with the information I have access to. But if you watch Kawhi, you don’t really need any numbers to see his impact. He’s a disruptive force. Great one-on-one, versatile, outstanding at moving over for help and intercepting passing lanes. If you’re going up against a LeBron or a Durant in a seven game series, is there a player you’d rather have on your team than Kawhi?

He gives you a lot offensively as well, even if he seemingly lost his jumper for most of last year. 36.8% from deep for his career is fine. If Kawhi can even become a top 20 or 25 offensive player, he jumps into the top 5 or 6 overall. He’s that good defensively.

THE TOP 10

everyone in the top 10 gets their own meme or gif, these guys are special

“The negotiation was difficult, but that’s all water under the table.” – Shawn Kemp

#10) Blake Griffin (Big, Clippers, 26 y/o)

We still don’t give Blake enough credit for how much better he’s gotten on the block, both defensively and offensively. His improving jump shot helps his game as well. And then of course he’s a specimen who is just too strong to be held down. When he jumps, he powers through contact. I don’t really care about his rebounding numbers, because they’re dramatically altered by playing next to DeAndre Jordan.

And is there a better passing big man in the game than Blake Griffin? I was really debating Blake vs. the next two guys on this list. Ultimately, I put Blake here because his skill set is still developing and he isn’t great defensively.

#9) Marc Gasol (Big, Grizzlies, 30 y/o)

The Grizzlies defense plays you tight, and the only means of escape are to funnel ballhandlers into Marc Gasol, which generally works out well for Memphis. Offensively, it all runs through him as well. He can catch the ball at the high post and his 7’ 1” body makes it nearly impossible to stop his excellent court vision and respectable jumper from there.

Gasol rightfully was named to the All-NBA 1st team last year, and finished 9th in MVP shares. I’m not sure how much better he can get at this point, but does anybody care? He’s great.

#8) DeMarcus Cousins (Big, Kings, 25 y/o)

He plays on the Kings and can be polarizing but Boogie is a legitimate superstar on both ends. He’s actually had to focus on setting up other a little more than I’d like to see to this point in his career, but that should change with Rondo now in Sac-town.

The only big who put up more impressive numbers than Boogie last year was Anthony Davis, and strangely enough, their head-to-head matchups greatly favor Cousins. He’s averaged 27 & 17 with 6 dimes on 50% FG against Davis.

#7) Chris Paul (G, Clippers, 30 y/o)

Curry and Westbrook are more exciting/likable, but Paul is still the best point guard in the league, in the classic sense. CP3 was solid last year. It was probably his best season as a Clipper. He played all 82, averaged 19-10-4 on 48.5% FG, and led the league in offensive win shares.

I think some weight will be taken off Paul’s shoulders this year. The Clips have many potent ballhandlers.

#6) Russell Westbrook (G, Thunder, 26 y/o)

Sure, Russ isn’t the perfect running mate for KD. A less ball dominant guard would be nice, but anyone asking for the duo to break-up or calling for a trade are out of their minds. “Fit” doesn’t really matter when you can pair two of the game’s true superstars together. LeBron & Wade were never perfect fits for one another in a scheme sense, but it didn’t matter.

All Westbrook did last year was win a scoring title while also leading the league in usage and putting up careers highs across the board. He was OKC. And he did this while having his most efficient season as a distributor. It’s hard to blame Russ for the turnovers and at times lackadaisical defense last year. He was asked to do soooo much.

#5) James Harden (G, Rockets, 26 y/o)

Harden is really the perfect superstar for Daryl Morey. He either forces his way into the paint and gets to the line, or takes a three (which is great when he hits 37.9% from deep).

Harden was asked to take on a larger role last year in terms of playmaking and rebounding. He answered the call, but that’s probably not ideal. With Ty Lawson in town, I expect Harden to actually score more. I’ll bet anything Harden wins the scoring title this year.

#4) Stephen Curry (G, Warriors, 27 y/o)

Steph is probably the best 3pt shooter in NBA history. He also handles the ball flawlessly, plays plus-defense, and sets up teammates at a great rate given his relatively low usage (for a superstar PG). His ascension to superstar status and team-friendly deal (he signed the dotted line one year too early), make him the NBA’s best bang-for-your-buck player.

I don’t think Steph will have any problem repeating his numbers from last year. In fact, they could take a boost seeing as he might be playing more minutes since it’s simply impossible the Warriors blow that many teams out again.

#3) Kevin Durant (Wing, Thunder, 27 y/o)

I’m always going to have concerns about a 6’ 10” guy with a history of foot issues, but that’s not why I ranked Durant this “low”. I just think the next two guys are better.

But KD is great. He’s the best scorer in the league. Continued development of his back-to-the-basket game will only make him more deadly. He’s a 6’ 10” guy with explosive athleticism who handles the ball like a point guard and shoots 40% from deep. You can’t stop that. Well, maybe Kawhi can.

#2) Anthony Davis (Big, Pelicans, 22 y/o)

Once Ant starts nailing threes, we’re all fucked. I’m pretty sure he’s going to have a quadruple-double with blocks this year. He’s just a freak. The Pellies were only an 8-seed last year. Won’t happen again. They can win a playoff series if they get matched up with anyone other than GS.

Davis continues to work on his offensive repertoire. The less than stellar team defensive numbers with Davis on the court were more a reflection of Monty Williams than AD.

#1) LeBron James (Wing, Cavaliers, 30 y/o)

You could certainly argue that Harden, Davis, Curry, and even Westbrook were better last year. You could argue any of those four plus Durant will be better this year. But I until I see a player definitively dominate more than LeBron, I can’t rank him anywhere else. He’ll be more efficient in year two with Blatt & Co.

If the Cavs don’t win the title this year, a lot of blame is going to be thrown around, but as always, most of it will unfairly go towards LeBron. He’s still the best player in the NBA. He’s the best player of his generation. For my money, he’s the best player of all-time. And after all, it’s hard to be humble when you’re stuntin’ on the Jumbo-tron.

Go Celtics.