Top 50 Player Adjustments, Part One

Over the summer of 2012 (aka: one of the best summers of my life), I began the assignment of ranking the top 50 players in the NBA. In theory this is not an incredibly difficult task. Anyone could sit down and spend an afternoon making a list of the best players and call it a day. That’s the easy route. I didn’t take the easy route. Although it was a lot of fun, it was also a lot of work to look at individual statistics for about 100 players, sift through old articles all over the internet, watch highlights on YouTube, re-watch playoff games and then write nearly a thousand words each on the 50 players I ultimately decided to put in. Even though I had a riot doing all of that and engaging in a bunch of fun NBA related debates along the way, it was a breath of fresh air when I finally finished it all on the first day of the 2012-13 season. This coming summer I’m going to do it all over again, but since we’re roughly half way through the regular season, I thought it would be appropriate to go back and evaluate my work.

To go back and in just two weeks redo everything I had done previously was tough, especially considering this same task took me a few months to complete the first time around. So what you’ll see here is indeed a two-part list of the top 50 players in the NBA according to me, a fan who cares way too much for his own good. Just don’t expect nearly as many statistical nuggets, relevant notes, or total words as my initial rankings.

If you aren’t familiar with my rankings, I suggest you click here to review the criteria I used to rank the players a few months ago. So without further ado, here are the adjusted top 50 player rankings

NOTE #1: I tried not to react too much to anything that’s happened so far this year, but there are certainly going to be some changes I made that will probably draw some criticism (Hell, I’m not even completely happy with everything I did). I welcome it. The fun part about sports is that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If we all thought the same way it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

NOTE #2: I sincerely hope this doesn’t end up 10,000 words, but I can’t make any promises.

Here’s who got bumped from my original top 50: You’d think in a contract year Paul Millsap (#47 previously) would be having a career year, but he’s actually having a down year compared to the previous two…Roy Hibbert (#44) is averaging 9.9 points and 8.3 rebounds, which is all fine and dandy until you consider the following four things: (1) Both of those numbers are down from last year, (2) He’s 26 years old and has no injury history, so there really isn’t a good reason why those number should be done, (3) He’s averaging a pedestrian 9.9 points on putrid 42% shooting, (4) This wouldn’t be a problem if he wasn’t 7’2 and the starting center on an eastern conference contender… Monta Ellis (#43) gets bumped because there is only so much value I can place on a guy who scores 18 points per game on 18 shots per game when he is supposed to be “the guy.” Look out for that previous sentence to appear again soon… Ricky Rubio (#42) is playing like he spent a little too much time backyard wrestling rather than playing basketball when he was rehabbing his knee… Eric Gordon (#41) has been ravaged with injuries, and until he proves he can stay completely healthy I have to keep him off the list… Does Indiana really miss Danny Granger (#36) that much?… Remember that huge game Manu Ginobili (#27) had this year? Yeah, me neither… Steve Nash (#18) just doesn’t look like Steve Nash anymore… Andrew Bynum (#15) just doesn’t look like Andrew Bynum anymore. He looks more like Frederick DouglassDirk Nowitzki (#12) just doesn’t look like Dirk Nowitzki anymore. But let me say this, I hate my own decision to leave him off, and I’d still want to go to war with Dirk Nowitzki in the playoffs… whatever that counts for.

Now it’s time to get to the twelve toughest omissions, in no particular order whatsoever.

Nikola Pekovic/Nikola Vucevic: Who would’ve thought that two Europeans named Nikola would be quality NBA centers?

Brandon Jennings: “There is only so much value I can place on a guy who scores 18 points per game on 18 shots per game when he is supposed to be ‘the guy.’”- Sonny Giuliano

Jan 23, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (center) looses the ball while driving to the basket against New Orleans Hornets forward Ryan Anderson (left) and Anthony Davis (right) during the second half at the AT

Ryan Anderson/Anthony Davis/Greivis Vasquez: Maybe the name is a bit of a letdown (New Orleans Pelicans isn’t completely terrible, but doesn’t Bayou Ballers have a pretty nice ring to it?), but the future is definitely bright in New Orleans. If not for nagging injuries, Davis could very well be in the rookie of the year race. Ryan Anderson is doing typical Ryan Anderson things (17 points, 7 rebounds per game, 1st in the league in 3 pointers made). And has there been a bigger surprise this year on an individual level than Greivis Vasquez. When he was in Memphis it seemed like he was destined to thrive as an overconfident bench player. Now in a starting role, he is running a very young Hornets team and doing extremely well. The most interesting statistic of the year might be that Greivis Vasquez is 3rd in assists this year.

Kemba Walker: Sure, Kemba might not be carrying the Bobcats on his back like he did with Connecticut a couple years ago, but he has been the second biggest bright spot for the Bobcats franchise. In case you were wondering, the biggest bright spot is the prospective name change back to Hornets, and potentially rocking the old school teal pinstripe uniforms.

J.J. Hickson: I still have a place in my heart for one of my favorite Cavaliers of the LeBron James era (soon to be continued?) and what’s not to like about Hickson? In just 29 minutes per game, J.J. Hickson is averaging 13.0 points and 10.8 rebounds, and is third in double-doubles with 26.

Omer Asik: The Billy Rosewood look-alike is making the most of his increased minutes in his first season as a Rocket. He still lacks a strong offensive game, but the big Turk rebounds the ball at a high rate and is a defensive presence in the middle.

Mike Conley: On one of the most disruptive defensive teams, it all starts with Mike Conley who has developed into one of the best defensive point guards in the league, on top of being a quality game manager and big game player. With Rudy Gay gone and Tony Allen not displaying much of an offensive repertoire, Conley will likely shoulder a larger offensive burden.

David West: The ever-changing status of David West’s value is currently sitting at “underrated.” He was a borderline All-Star this season, and was my 2nd toughest cut from the Top 50.

JR Smith: This one might draw some criticism considering JR Smith was considered by many an All-Star snub. That may be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that JR Smith is a volume scorer who shoots 40%, and has had way too many 7 for 18 type shooting nights to be considered in any higher regard.

I’m looking at this top 50 list as if it were a freezing cold swimming pool. You can’t tiptoe your way into it; you’ve got to dive right in. So here we go!

50. Jamal Crawford (Previously Unranked)
Let me start this off by saying this cut-off spot was a dead heat between JR Smith and Crawford, but there was only room for one of the two. Both Smith and Crawford have had buzz worthy seasons; each of the two got a little too much hype, and a little too much talk sounding like “Even though he’s coming off the bench he’s been the 2nd best player for his team this year,” leading me to believe that people have quickly forgotten about reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler and the most marketable under 25 player in the NBA, Blake Griffin; each player benefited from a strong opening month of season (After November, JR Smith has shot 39% and Jamal Crawford has shot 40 %.) Ultimately, I decided on Crawford over Smith because I trust Crawford late in games over Smith. Plus, I like the name Jamal better than Earl.

49. Ty Lawson (Previously #46)
When Andre Iguodala came over to Denver in the offseason (we’ll be getting to him in a jiff) I expected Denver to be an offensive machine of some sort (In their defense, Denver is 4th in the league in points per game. I guess my expectations were a little bit out of hand). Maybe I slightly overrated that pick-up. Or maybe I overrated the potential progression of Ty Lawson, whose shooting and free throw percentages have dropped.

48. John Wall (Previously #37)
The good news for sports fans in the Washington area: When John Wall is healthy and in the lineup, your team is significantly better. Smile! The bad news for sports fans in the Washington area: John Wall has only been on the court in 13 games this year. To make matters much worse in Washington, Robert Griffin III and Stephen Strasburg can’t stay healthy either. Maybe don’t smile.

47. Joe Johnson (Previously #35)
Joe Johnson’s Financial Advisor: “Joe, why are you buying a yacht? Didn’t you watch the 30 For 30 about how athletes recklessly spend all of their money and end up broke?”

Joe Johnson: “Yeah, I saw it. But did you check out my bank account? I’ve already been paid over $100 million in my career, and I’ve still got $87 million coming on my current contract!”

Joe Johnson’s Financial Advisor: “I understand that Joe, but in the last two months you’ve bought a yacht, two houses, a fire truck, an aquarium and ownership in an Italian soccer team. You’re spending way too much money.”

Joe Johnson: “You don’t get it. I’m an above average player with no exciting qualities to my game and a general lack of charisma. Yet somehow, I’m the sixth highest paid player in the whole NBA. I can buy whatever the f*** I want!”

46. OJ Mayo (Previously Unranked)
Mark Cuban is a billionaire. I’m far from it. But oddly enough, Cuban and I have something in common. Most likely, both of us are probably surprised by the free agency developments from the summer of 2012. Mark Cuban probably didn’t expect to have to settle on OJ Mayo, who was coming off a two year stretch of disappointing basketball, as his marquee free agency pick up. Maybe Cubes knew something that I didn’t know, because I didn’t expect Mayo to get back to the level he was playing at during his time at USC and his first couple of years in the league. 

45. Rudy Gay (Previously #32)
44. Nic Batum (Previously on Toughest Omissions)
Here is how I justify putting Nic Batum ahead of Rudy Gay: Batum is two years younger, a better outside shooter (the numbers so say), a better facilitator on the offensive end, arguably a better defender, completely willing to punch opponents below the belt if need be, and from a salary cap standpoint, he has a much more desirable contract. Additionally, part of the criteria I use is the role a player fills on their respective team, and how well he fills that role. Gay and Batum can do all of the same things on a basketball court, only Batum is viewed as one of the best complimentary pieces in the NBA and Rudy Gay is going to be billed as the go-to-guy in Toronto (to some degree he had this same label in Memphis). Maybe Gay will go all James Harden on me and make me regret saying this, but I’m not buying any stock in “Rudy Gay as the best player on an NBA team.”

43. Anderson Varejao (Previously Unranked)
I left Varejao off the list the first time around because in the previous two seasons he’d only played in 56 games. So what’s the difference this year, a season cut short at only 25 games? Well, it was pretty clear that Varejao would likely have been an All-Star if he’d stayed healthy (14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds per game gets him in even on a bad team). Even more important than that is the fact that the Gina Montana lookalike could’ve very well ended up the feature piece in a trade that would drastically swing the title picture. For the last six years you could argue that Varejao was one of the very best role players in the league. He knows his niche and never tries to do something he can’t do. I can’t think of any contender that couldn’t use a healthy Andy Varejao.

42. Kenneth Faried (Previously on Toughest Omissions)
You know what Kenneth Faried is? He’s the slightly undersized Anderson Varejao on speed. I swear that was meant as a compliment. I love watching Kenneth Faried play basketball. He’s actually one of my favorite players to watch. He brings energy that not every player brings, and the stats show it pays off. Faried is 11thin the league in rebounds in only 29 minutes per game and might be the leading candidate for the “Most Difficult Player to Box Out Because He’s Running Around Like a Damn Maniac Award… presented by Kia.”

Feb 2, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) brings the ball up court against the Utah Jazz at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

41. Damian Lillard (Previously Unranked)
18.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists. Those are pretty impressive numbers for a rookie point guard, right? I’d say that’s probably a Rookie of the Year worthy stat line, agreed? Actually, that’s definitely a Rookie of the Year stat line, because that stat line doesn’t belong to Damian Lillard. It belongs to Kyrie Irving. Those were Kyrie’s numbers last year. Lillards numbers? 18.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists. I’m not saying Lillard is Kyrie Irving, I’m just saying these numbers made me go “Hmmm.”

40. DeMarcus Cousins (Previously #40)
I decided to leave DeMarcus Cousins right where I had a few months ago because in my eyes nothing about him has changed in the last… well, I guess since he was a freshman at Kentucky. He’s still immensely talented. He’s still unquestionably nuts. He’s still on the absolute worst possible team he could be playing for. Until Cousins either gets traded or improbably grows up, he’s not going to reach his full potential.

39. Carlos Boozer (Previously Unranked)
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that I would move Boozer up 20 or so spots from my first list. In retrospect, I looked at the massive contract he got back in 2010 and saw how Booz was underperforming, and I penalized him for that. He shouldn’t have completely been left off the first time around. Statistically, Boozer is putting up basically the same numbers as he had the previous two years in Chicago, only now in Derrick Rose’s extended absence, his consistent double-double numbers are all the more impressive.

38. Brook Lopez (Previously Unranked)
Three reasons why Brook Lopez didn’t make the list the first time around: 1. He played in only five games in the 2011-12 season; 2. Over the previous two seasons he posted embarrassing rebounding numbers (6.0 in 2010-11, 3.6 in his five games in 2011-12); 3. Despite his impressive repertoire, his teams have always sucked. A bonus fourth reason was because his brother Robin had much cooler hair. This season Lopez returned, he’s healthy and is up to 39 on the midseason list. Why? He’s one of the most talented offensive big men in the league, he’s rebounding at an acceptable rate (7.2 per game), he’s established himself as a rim protector, and thanks to some offseason moves (both personnel wise and the geographical move to Brooklyn) the Nets are relevant once again. I’ll give a good chunk of the credit to Brook Lopez since Deron Williams has been disappointing this year (just ask Avery Johnson how he feels), and really, how much credit can you give to the always stoic Joe Johnson?

37. Greg Monroe (Previously #39)
There is a new rule pertaining to Greg Monroe… whenever you are talking about him, you have to be super quiet since that’s how he carries himself on and off the court. Most people don’t realize that Monroe is an extremely gifted offensive player, a top 15 rebounder and has an extremely high basketball IQ. He goes to work night after night for an exceedingly crappy team. He’s a true professional.

36. Andre Iguodala (Previously #23)
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we? There is a history of players greatly benefiting from their time with USA Basketball. In the season immediately following the 2008 Summer Olympics, LeBron James won his first MVP Award, made his first All-Defensive team and led Cleveland to 66 wins in the regular season. Kobe Bryant won his first post-Shaq title and Finals MVP. Dwight Howard won his first Defensive Player of the Year Awards en route to leading the Magic to the NBA Finals. Dwyane Wade, coming off knee surgery, led the league in scoring, improved his scoring average by 6 points per game, and took Miami to the playoffs. Chris Bosh, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul all improved statistically. Let’s run through this again only in the 2010-11 season after the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Derrick Rose won the MVP, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led the Thunder to the Conference Finals, and Kevin Love had a 53 game double-double streak. When you play with Team USA, you see how the best players in the world compete day in and day out, and you take your game to the next level. I expected Iguodala to make that kind of jump after a summer in London and a trade to Denver. He hasn’t.

35. Paul George (Previously on Toughest Omissions)
“When Danny Granger is out of Indiana, don’t expect the Pacers to drop off too much. George will be well capable of being the man in place of Granger.” This is what I said about Paul George on September 9th, 2012. Indiana is currently 28-19, tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference, and only three and a half games back of first place. I know what I’m talking about every once in a while.

34. Serge Ibaka (Previously #49)
After Oklahoma City traded James Harden a few days before the beginning of the regular season, the big question other than “Why does Kevin Martin’s jump shot look so squirrelly but still go in” was “Is Serge Ibaka ready to establish himself as something more than a destructive shot blocker?” The answer is yes. Serge is still far from an offensive savant, but he’s scoring 13.8 points per game on 56% shooting, both improvements from last season.

Jan 18, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago Bulls small forward Luol Deng (left) drives to the basket against Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

33. Luol Deng (Previously #34)
For some reason, Luol Deng is one of my favorite players in the league. He went to Duke, and he plays for a rival team of LeBron James, but it’s hard for me not to appreciate one of the most underappreciated players in the game. Deng has stepped up his game big time in the absence of Derrick Rose, and does so logging huge minutes every night for the last three seasons. He’s the only player in the league playing 40 minutes per game this year. He’s a damn work horse.

32. Al Jefferson (Previously #33)
Utah is 26-22 and in the Western Conference playoff picture despite the terrible lack of explosiveness on the perimeter. Their most effective backcourt player, Mo Williams, has missed half of the Jazz games, so Utah’s success is in large part because of the play of Big Al and the rest of the Utah frontcourt. In a league where slash and kicks and screen and rolls are the popular offensive options, it doesn’t hurt to have someone like Jefferson to throw it inside to and watch go to work.

31. Al Horford (Previously #31)
30. Josh Smith (Previously #28)
Since it seems as if the Atlanta Hawks are primed to make a move before the trade deadline, it’s time for another rousing fun-sized round of, “Make up fun fake trades on ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine that will likely never happen.” Get psyched!

Trade #1: Atlanta gets Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace; Los Angeles gets Josh Smith and Al Horford.

NOTE: Dwight’s from Atlanta so there is a chance Atlanta could lure him into making a commitment to stay long term and being the face of the franchise (As fickle as he is, I could see it happening). Additionally, you can’t convince me this trade doesn’t make Los Angeles a whole lot better. They keep a good young player in Horford for four years, and J-Smoove is a free agent this summer so the Lakers don’t need to take on his salary if they don’t want to.

Trade #2: Atlanta gets Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye; Phoenix gets Josh Smith and Devin Harris.

NOTE: Again, this one isn’t too radical. Phoenix is going nowhere, so why not make this move and either clear some cap space while completely rebuilding, or retain a top 30 player in the offseason. Atlanta gets two good, young, European players who could give the Hawks a burst going into the stretch run of the season. Plus, Atlanta gets really big if they start a lineup with Horford at the four and Gortat at the five. A team like Miami might have some trouble with that.

Trade #3: Atlanta gets Dwyane Wade; Miami gets Al Horford and Louis Williams.

NOTE: I had to.

Whoa, we’re almost 4,000 words in! Why don’t we wrap this up and tackle the rest of the list next week. Deal? Deal!