Top 50 Players: Honorable Mention

Over the next fifty days you can find my rankings of the Top 50 players currently in the NBA right here at Saving the Skyhook. This might seem like it’s a whole lot to read, and admittedly it is, but you can space it out, enjoy the content, and get yourself fired up for the upcoming NBA season in the process. Tomorrow when I reveal #50, the fifty day countdown to the NBA season begins. By the time you reach #1 (Oh boy, I wonder who it is), it will be October 29th and the waiting will be over. Until tomorrow, why don’t you whet your NBA appetite on a breakdown of the 17 guys who narrowly missed the cut? That sounds like a real hoot, doesn’t it?

Also, if you aren’t familiar with the criteria I use to rank the players, check it out here!

Anthony Davis
After last year predicting that Davis would propel himself into the Top 50 coming into the 2013-14 campaign, I sit here humbled and corrected. Davis’s rookie season never had a chance to pick up steam thanks to head, ankle, shoulder and knee injuries that accumulated throughout the season. He was curiously mediocre shooting outside the paint (and it’s more curious why he was shooting 20 footers for Team USA this summer) and it was apparent that just like most rail-thin big guys who enter the NBA at a young age, Davis needs to put on some weight to handle the rigors of the NBA season (For those critical of this idea, don’t forget that Dwight Howard put on 20 lbs. after his rookie season; a rookie season where not he, but Emeka Okafor won Rookie of the Year). Fortunately for Davis—the man rocking the 2nd most famous eyebrow in the world behind The Rock—he has supposedly put on 15 lbs. in the offseason, is a well above average shot blocker even without the added weight, and is a full calendar year younger than yours truly. Let me try this again: come next year, Anthony Davis will be in the Top 50.

Monta Ellis
Ellis’ NBA destiny would ideally be something similar to J.R. Smith’s or Nate Robinson’s; a dynamic scorer off the bench who could come into the game and carry his team for spurts, and even close a few games if need be. You couldn’t even call Ellis an irrational confidence guy since his confidence is rational. He’s extremely explosive and can score in bunches, but ultimately he’s not a first or second option on a great team. Now a member of the Mavericks, Ellis again finds himself on a team where there is a nightly burden to produce, and as much as I like Ellis’s competitiveness and skill set, history says Ellis lead teams don’t make the playoffs.

May 16, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler (6) argues a call with an official during the third quarter against the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Knicks won 85-75. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Tyson Chandler
I’ll go on record and say this will probably be one of my more controversial calls on the Top 50 list. You could make the case that Chandler is a good enough rebounder (10.7 per game, 4.1 offensive) and weak side defender that he should make the list. I would argue that the only two moves in his offensive repertoire are the dunk and alley-oop dunk (and this won’t change considering he’s going into his 13th season), his individual defensive prowess has been overblown (just ask Roy Hibbert), and his numbers have plummeted each of the last two postseasons.

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 on Brandon Jennings.

Yes, I just quoted myself. To be fair, Jennings averaged 17.5 points on 15.6 shots last season. But the point of digging into the archives for a Brandon Jennings quote is this; Jennings shouldn’t need to be “The Guy” on the Detroit Pistons. Take a look at Jennings’ ten best teammates were over his first four NBA seasons:

Andrew Bogut and his mangled arm, a just past his prime Michael Redd, journeyman John Salmons, Ersan Ilyasova, the always trigger happy Monta Ellis, Prince of Cameroon Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Carlos Delfino, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Drew Gooden and LARRY SANDERS! (An honorable mention honorable mention).

I’m willing to bet that a 24 year old point guard can adjust his game after a change of scenery that will allow him to be a 3rd option rather than 1st. For Jennings, this could be a godsend.

Nikola Vucevic
Got edged out of the Top 50 based on the recently made up rule that there can’t be two Nikola’s at one time who are Top 50 players in the NBA—It’s worth noting that if that Nikola spot in the Top 50 came down to a fight to the death, Pekovic would be a -2500 favorite over Vucevic. Vucevic turned out to be the biggest steal of the Dwight Howard trade, and somehow one of only four of the eleven players who were involved in the trade who are still playing for the team they were traded to. In only his 2nd year in the league, the 22 year old Vucevic averaged 13 points and 12 rebounds, a statistical feat matched this season by only one Mr. Dwight Howard.

Jeff Green
Had Jeff Green come back from an aortic aneurysm and been just another player it would have been an impressive enough accomplishment. After sixteen months off the court Green came back for the Celtics first as a role player off the bench, but was eventually given a more crucial role after Rajon Rondo was injured. At the time of the injury Green was averaging a pedestrian 9.6 points on 43% shooting and 3.2 rebounds per game. In the 38 games that followed Green seamlessly stepped into a larger role and averaged 16.4 points on 50% shooting and 4.7 rebounds. He gave Miami everything they could handle during their 23rd win in the streak (43 points, 14-21 from the field, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks) and was arguably the Celtics best player in their short lived playoff run (20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds). With Pierce and Garnett out of town and a slough of young players now in the picture, Green should once again be featured in a prominent role for the new look Celtics.

Carlos Boozer
Lost in the shuffle of how underwhelming the first two years of Carlos Boozer’s max contract were was how Boozer got pretty close to back on track this season. Boozer averaged 16 and 10 per game, and was the most consistent scoring option for a team that was often times shaky offensively. No matter how good Boozer plays, my good friend and Bulls fan Weston will steadfastly remind me how he sucked all kinds of suck his first two seasons in Chicago, especially in the postseason. Speaking of bad contracts…

Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson’s $119 million contract is starting to look like a bigger heist than what Ocean’s Eleven pulled in Las Vegas.

March 25, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson (11) shoots the ball against Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Jodie Meeks (20) during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Lakers 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Klay Thompson
Joe Johnson at age 22: 16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 43% FG, 83 three-pointers
Klay Thompson at age 22: 16.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 42% FG, 211 three-pointers

Uh oh, I see another egregious $119 million contract coming in 7 years!

Tony Allen
The inability to make a layup usually becomes unacceptable once you start playing JV basketball, but Tony Allen is the marquee perimeter defender on one of the best defenses in the league and the defending Western Conference runner-up, so it makes it a little easier to swallow. You don’t see time guarding Chris Paul and Kevin Durant in back to back rounds in the postseason by accident, and that alone is enough to earn Allen an honorable mention nod.

Danilo Gallinari/J.J. Hickson/Kenneth Faried
Four semi-related notes on the three Denver Nuggets:
A. I’m excited about a potential Hickson/Faried frontcourt closing out games for the Nuggets. They might be a little small, but do the Nuggets really want Timofey Mozgov or Javale McGee on the floor late in a tight game?
B. If we’re ranking under the radar free agent pickups by presumed playoff teams this summer, Denver spending only $15 million on J.J. Hickson for 3 years is right up there at the top with Chicago signing Dunleavy Jr. (2 years, $6 million), Indiana signing C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland (2 years, $4 million and 2 years, $6 million respectively), Brooklyn signing Andrei Kirilenko (2 years, $6.4 million… and a whole bunch more under the table), just about everything Portland did, and Denver again, signing Nate Robinson (2 years, $4 million).
C. In mid-March my cousin and NBA fan Paul Clark made the very bold prediction that the Denver Nuggets would win the Western Conference. When Danilo Gallinari tore his knee up on April 4th he quickly went back on that prediction. He claimed Gallinari was the key to Denver’s success. Less than a month later Denver had already been bounced from the postseason. You could argue that Denver’s playoff run ended prematurely because of a nicked up Kenneth Faried or simply because they walked the Stephen Curry buzz saw; it’s just hard to deny that a healthy Gallinari makes the Nuggets a different and more dangerous team.
D. Kenneth Faried was my toughest cut from the Top 50. Not many guys at his position play harder or run the court more relentlessly than Faried does. However, he’s not a destructive defender and still has a long way to go offensively. On the plus side, Faried seems very classy and his astute interview on Inside The NBA after he won the MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge has forever solidified him as “The Nice Boy With Dreads” thanks to my mother.

Greivis Vasquez
A word of advice: If you’re a freak like me and either live on the west coast or stay awake late enough to watch west coast NBA games, check out the Kings every once in a while. They’ll be a sneaky fun league pass team. By flipping Tyreke Evans (an honorable mention honorable mention) for Vasquez, Sacramento finally has a pass first point guard (Vasquez was 3rd in the league in assists per game last year). Mix in some Jimmer Fredette garbage time three pointers, six average power forwards competing for shots and playing time, and the favorable odds that DeMarcus Cousins will do something that gives David Stern a heart attack before he retires, the almost Sonics are worth a watch.

Nic Batum/Rudy Gay
Let’s settle this debate Monday in a Bill Simmons-esque Dr. Jack Breakdown.

Dec 14, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao (back) and Milwaukee Bucks point guard Monta Ellis (11) reach for a loose ball in the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Anderson Varejao
Varejao has averaged an impressive 11.2 points and 11.7 rebounds in his last 81 games played. Solid, right? The problem with that 81 game sample size is that it’s been compiled over a three season stretch where Varejao has been more fragile than fine china. Last season Varejao played effectively in 25 games (14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.5 steals… Again, solid) but was shut down for the rest of the season before Christmas day. Let’s see if Varejao and the last Honorable Mention candidate can stay on the court for the Cavaliers.

Andrew Bynum
Much to my chagrin, Bynum has to get at least an honorable mention spot in this annual countdown. When he’s healthy and engaged he’s arguably a top three center in the league. When he is injured he opts to grow out his hair to awkward lengths and pursue a bowling career. After a year off the court where Bynum rehabbed chronically injured knees, took a crap all over the city of Philadelphia and tried to become the next Pete Weber, he inked a 2 year deal in Cleveland this offseason, where he could very easily become yet another piece of the Cavaliers tortured history.