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Breaking Down The Rookie Seasons Of The 2013 Lottery Class

In a society where patience has gone out the window and only instant gratification matters, the poor play of the 2013 rookie class has many ready to write them off entirely. But while there isn’t an Anthony Davis in the bunch, this year’s draft had plenty of good young players who, for a variety of reasons, were not ready to make an immediate impact in the NBA. With so many freshman and sophomores taken in the lottery, the draft is a long-term project anyway.

If you look at this year’s lottery as a whole, one thing stands out. If a team is good enough to contend for a playoff spot, it’s hard for a rookie to get minutes. If a team is bad enough to where they can afford to give rookie a bunch of minutes, he will be putting up inefficient numbers on a bad team. From a statistical perspective, it’s hard for a rookie to be impressive in either situation. Chalk it up as a learning experience for all these guys.

1) Anthony Bennett: Pretty much nothing has gone right for Bennett since he was the surprise No. 1 pick last June. The GM who drafted him has already been fired, while shoulder surgery in the offseason caused him to show up to training camp out of shape. It was hard for him to find minutes on a Cleveland team that thought it was contending for the playoffs, and when he got on the floor, he didn’t do much besides hoist up a lot of shots and play abysmal defense.

The first thing he needs to do is get in better shape, since there aren’t many 6’8 260 forwards in the NBA. He has the talent - in college, he showed a rare combination of explosiveness, ball-handling and shooting ability for a 6’8 guy. The biggest challenge for him is learning how to impact the game without having the ball in his hands. The Cavs guards aren’t moving the ball too much - if you are going to score, you had better rebound, run the floor and move off the ball.

2) Victor Oladipo: Oladipo had a solid rookie season for a Magic team that had nothing but time to develop him. Going forward, the question is whether they commit to developing him as a PG or move him off the ball. While he has the length and athleticism to swing between both guard positions, he averaged only 4.1 assists on 3.2 turnovers as a rookie, an indication of a player not comfortable creating offense for others. Who they draft with their two lottery picks in 2014 will say a lot.

3) Otto Porter: Like Bennett, Porter hit the trifecta for a rough rookie season. He was drafted to a team with playoff aspirations, he had multiple veterans ahead of him on the depth chart and he got injured in training camp. He essentially took a redshirt season as a rookie, which isn’t the worst thing for a 20-year old who needs to put some weight on his frame. Porter has plenty of skill, the question is whether there will be minutes and touches for him in Washington next season.

4) Cody Zeller: The unexpected emergence of Josh McRoberts consigned Zeller to a small role as a rookie, playing 17 minutes a game behind McRoberts and Al Jefferson upfront. Like most rookie big men, Zeller needs to put on weight in the off-season in order to survive in the NBA paint. His 73 percent mark from the free-throw line is a good sign - he needs to be an outside-in 7’0 who plays in the high post and uses the threat of the perimeter jumper to open up the drive.

5) Alex Len: Like a lot of the guys in this year’s draft, Len was the victim of his NBA team exceeding expectations as a rookie. Instead of playing for draft position, the Suns ended up in playoff contention until the last week of the season, leaving little time to develop a raw 20-year-old lottery pick. Len is big (7’1 255), athletic and reasonably skilled and he’s five years younger than Miles Plumlee, which tells you how patient you need to be with young centers.

6) Nerlens Noel: After tearing his ACL toward the end of his freshman season at Kentucky, Noel was never going to have a big rookie season in the NBA. The Philadelphia 76ers took him as a long-term project and kept him off the floor the entire season. Noel showed plenty of promise at Kentucky, but he was also incredibly skinny as well as very raw on the offense. Larry Sanders didn’t start turning the corner in the NBA until he was 24 and Noel is still only 20.

7) Ben McLemore: McLemore wasn’t in Kansas anymore as a rookie, as he went from a featured role in Bill Self’s offense to scraping for shots next to Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. He’s got the stroke and athleticism to be an excellent SG in the NBA, but he has a long way to go in terms of shot selection and not too many guys to learn from in Sacramento. Going forward, he needs to focus on defense and moving the ball and the shots will come (hopefully).

8) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Caldwell-Pope got plenty of opportunities in the dumpster fire that was the Pistons season, but he didn’t do all that much with them. With Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith clogging up the paint, Caldwell-Pope had to serve as one of their main floor spacers and he shot only 30 percent from three-point territory. Like the rest of the Pistons, he would benefit from unwinding the logjam upfront and playing with more shooters around him.

9) Trey Burke: Burke broke his finger in the preseason and by the time he returned to the lineup, the Jazz season was essentially over. No rookie in this year’s class walked into more responsibility than Burke, who played 32 minutes a night in Utah and had the ball in his hands most of the time. He made the players around him better - averaging 5.6 assists on 1.9 turnovers as a rookie - he just needs more help on the offensive end from whoever Utah drafts this season.

10) CJ McCollum: Another lottery pick whose rookie season was short-circuited before it got a chance to get going. Damian Lillard and Mo Williams do everything McCollum does but better and the Trail Blazers were contending for a homecourt advantage in the playoffs for most of the season. Williams is likely gone in the off-season, but with Lillard entrenched in Portland, the question is whether McCollum is going to play next to him or be his backup.  

11) Michael Carter-Williams: One of the real surprises of this year’s rookie class, Carter-Williams had the 76ers flirting with respectability in the first few months of the season. Once they dumped Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner, leaving Thaddeus Young as the only proven NBA player in the rotation, things got real bad real quickly. No rookie was going to fix that mess and a 6’6 PG with his athleticism and floor vision has a bright future ahead of him.

12) Steven Adams: The Thunder drafted the 20-year-old Adams as a project, so the respectable numbers he gave them as a backup center were a pleasant surprise. He’s a genuinely massive human being with excellent athleticism who isn’t asked to do much on the offensive end. Of course, it also helps to be replacing Kendrick Perkins. Oklahoma City is a notoriously patient franchise - they are probably grooming Adams to be the starter when Perkins contract is up in 2015.

13) Kelly Olynyk: After a dominant showing in Summer League, Olynyk was hit with a taste of reality in the NBA. While he put up good offensive numbers and he rebounded the ball well coming off the bench, he was never really in contention for ROY. The question is how he fits with Jared Sullinger upfront - does Boston need two offensive-minded big men who can’t move their feet on defense? There may not be minutes for them both long-term.

14) Shabazz Muhammad - Like fellow rookie Gorgui Dieng, Muhammad spent most of his first season with the Timberwolves from the bench watching the playoff push. In the limited minutes he did get, Muhammad showed one thing did translate from his UCLA days - this is a guy who knows how to get his FGA’s. Per-36 minutes, he took 17 FGA’s and made them at a 46 percent clip. Muhammad may never be a great defender, but he’ll be getting buckets off the bench for a long time.

2014 First Round Picks (Which Teams Own The Picks?)

While RealGM has an excellent database of the draft picks that have been traded between teams, I wanted to put together a summary more focused on the upcoming draft. For the sake of clarity, this version will only deal with the first round.

Atlanta Hawks- Have the right to swap their own pick with Brooklyn’s. At this point, it appears Atlanta will just keep their own and move on.

Boston Celtics- Have their own first and the less favorable of Atlanta and Brooklyn, likely Brooklyn right now. They have a future first from the Sixers as well, but it only goes this year if Philadelphia makes the playoffs. We all know that will not happen.

Brooklyn Nets- No matter what, they lose their pick without getting one in return.

Charlotte Bobcats- Their own first goes to Chicago as long as the Bobcats stay remotely on track (top-10 protected) but they pick up Portland’s unless the Blazers effectively lose out. The lingering question is Detroit- if the pick is 1-8, the Pistons keep it but if it’s 9th or worse it goes to Charlotte. My gut feeling is that once Detroit knows they will not make the playoffs we will see a push to the bottom reminiscent of the 2012 Warriors.

Chicago Bulls- Have their own pick and Charlotte’s unless the Bobcats collapse. The Sacramento pick they acquired in the Luol Deng trade is top-12 protected so it will not come this year.

Cleveland Cavaliers- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Dallas Mavericks- One of the more interesting situations in the league. By having top-20 protection on their pick (it goes to Oklahoma City if it falls 21-30 this year), the Mavs could lose their pick if they make the playoffs. Right now, the bottom seeds in the West look to be about even with the 3-4 spots in the East, so it could go either way.

Denver Nuggets- They keep the better of their pick and New York’s, sending the worse one to Orlando.

Detroit Pistons- Keep their pick if it is eighth or better, otherwise it goes to Charlotte. I fully expect them to understand the incentives and lose enough to retain it.

Golden State Warriors- Their first goes to Utah no matter what.

Houston Rockets- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Indiana Pacers- Their pick is going to Phoenix as a part of the Luis Scola trade from last summer.

Los Angeles Clippers- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Los Angeles Lakers- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Memphis Grizzlies- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Miami Heat- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Milwaukee Bucks- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Minnesota Timberwolves- The pick is top-13 protected, meaning they have to make the postseason or have the best record of any non-playoff team to send it to Phoenix. At this point, it looks like the pick will be No. 13 and thus the Wolves will keep it.

New Orleans Pelicans- Their pick goes to Philadelphia unless it lands in the top-five. It will be hard for the Pelicans to jump enough of the teams “ahead” of them, but they still have a shot of jumping them in the lottery itself.

New York Knicks- They lose their pick no matter what, though the destination could change.

Oklahoma City Thunder- They have their own pick and get Dallas’ first if it ends up between 21 and 30, certainly a possibility.

Orlando Magic- Retain their own pick and get the less favorable of Denver and New York’s selections. This could end up swinging on whether the Knicks can make the playoffs- if they do, the pick falls a few spots to No. 15.

Philadelphia 76ers- They keep their own pick as long as they miss the playoffs (just a formality at this point) and pick up one from New Orleans as long as it falls outside the top five.

Phoenix Suns- They have their own pick and Indiana’s on lock and appear likely to pick up Washington’s since the Wizards should make the playoffs. Minnesota’s pick has top-13 protection, so I expect the Suns to only end up with three this year.

Portland Trail Blazers- Their pick is going to Charlotte unless the Blazers have a truly epic collapse.

Sacramento Kings- Their pick has top-12 protection, so the Kings look like they will keep it even if they rattle off some late-season wins.

San Antonio Spurs- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Toronto Raptors- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Utah Jazz- They have both their own pick and Golden State’s.

Washington Wizards- They will send their pick to Phoenix barring a major letdown.

Top-60 Players In NBA Today (Considering Everything)

For years now, I have wanted to do a piece evaluating NBA players on their value using a different rubric than the other quality entries out there. Rather than focusing on single season expectations like NBA Rank or a larger picture like Bill Simmons’ omnipresent Trade Value series, the goal here is look at overall long-term value without factors like a player’s connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.

With a hat tip to Dave Cameron’s Trade Value pieces on Fangraphs, this logic parallels a “Fantasy Draft” in the NBA 2K or Madden series where all of the players with their current contracts get thrown into a big pool and selected by the whole league with blank rosters at the outset.

What I considered when making the list:

Player quality: How good a player is now as where they could be moving forward. Teams win championships with MVPs and top tier talent is the most valuable commodity in basketball, especially with individual max contracts. Truly elite players also typically translate into at least regular season success. For guys currently younger than their peak, their ceiling and the likelihood of reaching that ceiling matter a great deal. Versatility and longevity were major factors as well.

Player age: Since everyone on this list is a good basketball player, how much total value they will contribute to their teams comes more in both duration of success rather and degree. This factor takes older high quality players like Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki out since there are similarly good players who will have longer remaining careers.

Contract: Since the NBA has a salary cap, luxury tax and Collective Bargaining Agreement to shape how teams can be built, the financial commitment to each player means a great deal. While the years and total dollars matter significantly, it is hard to understate the importance of “team control” through Restricted Free Agency since it allows a franchise to retain a player unless he undertakes extraordinary measures. For example, Dwight Howard and Andre Drummond will likely be free agents the same summer, yet Detroit can keep Drummond as long as they are willing to match any offer. Houston would love the same opportunity.

Positional value and scarcity: I value primary scorers, elite defenders and primary ballhandlers more than just about anything else on the floor because of how hard they are to find. True centers get pushed up as well because of how few of them are left in the league and the reverse is true for power forwards that cannot defend another position.

Durability/Injury Status: Players must be on the court in order to contribute. As such, a guy being more or less likely than others to miss meaningful time was considered in the process.

What was not considered when making this list:

Any specific connection between player and team: Certain players have higher or lower values for specific franchises due to their history with the franchise or the surrounding area (like Derrick Rose in Chicago or Kobe Bryant with the Lakers).

Effect selecting or not selecting a player would have on management’s reputation: One of my biggest gripes with Simmons’ consistently strong Trade Value column comes from players making it higher on the list since a GM would not trade them since it would make them look bad. Darko on the Pistons years ago and Andrea Barngnai under the Colangelo regime stand as classic examples.

For the record, only players currently on NBA contracts were considered for inclusion so Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Dante Exum and company must wait until 2014.

60. Eric Bledsoe (PG, 23 years old, 1 year / $2.6m + RFA): An elite athlete even by NBA standards, Bledsoe has one more year to convert that physical potential into dominance on the floor. His defense should come along well even without much of a safety net in Phoenix while his shot creation and distribution still need plenty of work.

59. Taj Gibson (PF, 28 years old, 4 years / $38m): A rare commodity as a strong defensive power forward who is capable on offense. Coming into the league at 24 means that Gibson’s first big contract will carry him all the way to his 32nd birthday, which carries both positives and negatives in terms of this exercise since it covers his best years, but means his value may be reduced by the time he comes off the books.

58. Patrick Beverley (PG, 25 years old, 2 years / $1.7m + RFA): Like teammate Chandler Parsons, some of Beverley’s appeal comes from his insanely manageable contract. With two years remaining and restricted free agency on top of it (with full Bird rights, no less), adding a player who can be both productive and inexpensive makes a ton of sense. While some may say he has a lower upside than other PG’s, Beverley still has plenty of room to grow and has been effective on both sides of the ball, a genuinely rare combination at the position.

57. Carmelo Anthony (PF/SF, 29 years old, 1 year / $22.4m): On the short list of the best offensive players in the entire league and No. 6 on my theoretical MVP ballot last season, Carmelo gets hurt by the combination of his porous defense, incredibly high salary, and likely descent from his physical peak. As Zach Lowe noted recently, a full max contract for Carmelo after this season would likely make him the highest paid player in the entire league during his early thirties. He will provide value in the immediate but it comes at a heavy cost.

56. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (SF/SG, 20 years old, 3 years / $16.2m + RFA): If he can develop a reliable jumper from any distance, Kidd-Gilchrist could become one of the best swingmen in the entire league. The question is whether he can put that together because otherwise he has too many limitations to become a truly elite player. Love his defensive potential and willingness to be a cog in a successful team.

55. Dennis Schroeder (PG, 20 years old, 4 years / $7.5m + RFA): An excellent performance at the Nike Hoop Summit propelled the German prospect into the first round of the 2013 Draft, though not all the way into the lottery. He performed at a high level in a quality international league at just 19 and did a very good job against elite talent in the pre-draft process. Getting his jumper on track would make Schroeder even tougher to handle on pick and rolls and create new lanes for teammates. Seeing him as starter-quality at PG within two seasons makes him a necessary inclusion with his contract and potential.

54. Nikola Pekovic (C, 27 years old, 5 years / $60m): Finally getting the lucrative contract he was looking for allows us to look at Pekovic with a more certain vision of his future. Being a great offensive rebounder allows Pekovic to create more scoring opportunities and he puts an absolute beating on his opponents in the paint each game. That kind of physical presence helps give Minnesota an identity and gives a little more leeway to their perimeter players.

53. Paul Millsap (PF, 28 years old, 2 years / $19m): A change in scenery and big man teammates may finally give us a better idea of how good Paul Millsap can be. Signing such a cheap contract helps since so many of his power forward brethren are getting expensive deals.

52. LaMarcus Aldridge (PF, 28 years old, 2 years / $30.4m): With two All-Star selections and greater notoriety, it feels like Aldridge finally gets the appreciation he deserved years before. A capable scorer and solid rebounder, it would be great to see LMA take a step up in one phase of the game to earn a spot in the elite at his position as he enters his prime.

51. Andre Iguodala (SF/SG, 29 years old, 4 years / $48m): Four months older than Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala benefits from having a skill set that should age pretty well and a locked in contract at a fair price. I am excited to see how he meshes with a Golden State core that has so many potent offensive players and could benefit from a versatile and dedicated defender.

50. Chandler Parsons (SF, 25 years old, 2 years / $1.5m or 1 year / $927k + RFA): The player with the second most interesting contract situation in the entire league has already shown his value as a complementary scorer and underrated passer. Having one or two more seasons at a ludicrously low salary makes him one of the best bargains in the entire NBA.

49. Omer Asik (C, 26 years old, 2 years / $16.7m): Such a compelling player because he has been an elite rebounder and defender while providing very little other than rebounding on offense. His unusual three-year contract looks even better now since the seasons equal out for bookmaking purposes after the Bulls did not match. At only 26, Asik still has time to work on his free throws and maximize the opportunities he creates as an offensive rebounder.

48. Chris Bosh (PF/C, 29 years old, 1 year / $19m): While we generally understand that LeBron James will elect to become a free agent by opting out of the final two years of his deal, I do not have the same certainty when it comes to Chris Bosh. For the record, Bosh could pick up one or both of the next two seasons at a combined value of $42.7 million. An All-Star big man and a crucial piece of Miami’s success, Bosh’s embracing of playing further away from the hoop has made him both more effective and less valuable in a more traditional system.

47. George Hill (PG, 27 years old, 4 years / $32m): Like Mike Conley, George Hill finally had a year where he put his good things together and showed what his prime could look like. Hill has plenty of room to grow as a playmaker and having strong surrounding talent should help that process. It would be great if he could reduce his turnovers, which have stayed shockingly consistent after his rookie season.

46. Damian Lillard (PG, 23 years old, 3 years / $10.8m + RFA): Last season’s Rookie of the Year needs to show that he has more potential than most older rookies. While he did beautifully on offense last year, his defense needs a ton of work. Fortunately, that kind of development happens with some frequency for young players in the league so he can be a key part of Portland’s rosy future.

45. Ty Lawson (PG, 25 years old, 4 years / $48m): A key player on Nuggets’ teams that have made the playoffs in each of his four professional seasons, Lawson became the engine of George Karl’s offense. He was able to generate assists and points even when saddled with swingmen (and Andre Miller) with limited scoring ability in half-court sets. Following Mike Conley’s lead and getting better on D while continuing the offensive barrage marks the best chance he has of getting to the next level as a contributor.

44. Victor Oladipo (SG, 21 years old, 4 years / $21.5m + RFA): The second pick in this year’s draft has shown a fascinating set of skills during his time at Indiana and could have even more depth to his game based on his surprising assist totals in Summer League and the early pre-season. Oladipo’s defense and energy allow him to be a pest and contributor from the get go while his offense continues to improve.

43. JaVale McGee (25 years old, 3 years / $34m): After two years with stronger rebounding, McGee fell off a little bit last season while continuing to be a monster at blocking shots. Improving as the roll guy in pick and roll situations and shooting better than 60 percent from the line would be useful developments since he appears to be quite limited as an offensive player.

42. DeMarcus Cousins (C, 23 years old, 5 years / $66.9m): Before his poorly timed extension, I had Cousins at 33 on this list because of his immense potential and the possibility of him being a game-changing Center [link]. Signing his new contract transferred the risk from Cousins to the Kings, making him less valuable under this approach.

41. Klay Thompson (SG/SF, 23 years old, 2 years / $3.4m + RFA): Potentially underrated because of Stephen Curry’s remarkable play during the stretch run last season, Klay Thompson is an excellent complementary offensive player due to his shooting. Making 40% of threes while attempting more than 6 per game has only been done by eleven players in the last decade, putting Thompson in interesting company. His defense should come along and could be helped in a big way by pairing with Andre Iguodala for a few seasons.

40. Enes Kanter (C, 21 years old, 2 years / $10.2m + RFA): Despite being 20 years old for most of the regular season, Enes Kanter was the sixth-best offensive rebounder in the entire NBA last year. While that may appear to be an aberration, he was 11th the season before so it appears to be a legitimate strength in his game. At this point, getting better at turning those boards into points would be a huge step since they yield so many easy looks. He should get better defensively over the next few seasons as well.

39. Kosta Koufos (C, 24 years old, 2 years / $6m): After starting his career as a young, raw big man prospect who looked to be a better scorer than defender, Kosta Koufos was a top-30 rebounder last year and top-10 in the lockout year while providing value on defense and scoring at a nice clip. Starting his sixth season on his fourth team, it can be difficult to remember that Koufos is only four months older than new teammate Ed Davis who gets plenty of ink on his potential moving forward.

38. Iman Shumpert (SG, 23 years old, 2 years / $4.3m + RFA): Despite missing 60 games in his two seasons, Shumpert has shown an interesting combination of skills that make him a valuable piece as a surprisingly weak position. His quality defense shines through even on the Knicks and making 40 percent of threes last season show the potential to be a “3-D” contributor with the potential to become a more complete offensive player.

37. Derrick Favors (PF/C, 22 years old, 5 years / $55m): Instead of getting paid after we find out how well he does in an increased role this season, Derrick Favors already got his big extension from the Jazz. His tantalizing potential made that a reality. Despite increasing his Rebound Rate and FT% each of his three seasons, now would be an excellent time for Favors to become truly destructive and establish himself as either a power forward or a center defensively. That clarification will help Utah and everyone else determine his best role as he develops.

36. Tiago Splitter (C/PF, 28 years old, 4 years / $36m): I cannot figure out if 28 seems too young or too old for Splitter. He has only played three years in the league and has done an excellent job hitting the ground running. After a year of adjusting to playing next to Tim Duncan, Splitter earned his fair extension by continuing to rebound well while also reducing his turnovers in a meaningful way. A little uptick on the boards or from the field could improve his standing among the big men in the league.

35. Ed Davis (C/PF, 24 years old, 1 year / $3.2m + RFA): After playing nearly 25 minutes per game his rookie season, Davis’ minutes have gone down each season despite his improvement on the court. Naturally, some of this stems from factors out of his control like being traded to Memphis though it shows the underutilized potential in his game. A solid scorer and respectable rebounder who feels more like a C than a PF at the moment.

34. Bradley Beal (SG, 20 years old, 3 years / $14.5m + RFA): We see many talented players make a jump after their rookie seasons thanks to having already made the adjustments on and off the court and growing more familiar with what it takes to be a pro. If Beal builds off the second half of his rookie season that largely coincided with John Wall’s return to health, he could be a special supporting talent incredibly quickly. Scoring 16.5 points per game on 47 percent shooting and 45.5 percent from three during that stretch shows what Beal can be. At just 20 years old, Beal is the second-youngest player on this list to have played in an NBA game and possesses the handles and passing ability to become far more than just a shooter.

33. Greg Monroe (C/PF, 23 years old, 1 year / $4.1m + RFA): Finally having playoff-caliber surrounding talent should make a quality passing big man like Monroe an even better player. It would be great to see him improve on both generating free throws and making them once he gets to the line even though shooting them in the low 70’s for a big is not too shabby. With just one season left on his rookie deal and Restricted Free Agency looming, Monroe should have all the motivation he needs to have a monster season.

32. Andrew Bynum (C, 26 years old, 2 years / $24m): Bynum sits at the top of a group of young big men with question marks because he has already shown that he can produce at an elite level. His strange injury history and behavior stuff hurts him but the quality of play he has shown on the floor (particularly at such a young age for a big man) makes him the one I would be most interested in rolling the dice on, particularly with such little guaranteed money.

31. Ricky Rubio (PG, 23 years old, 2 years / $9m + RFA): Already an elite passer at just 23 years old, Ricky Rubio needs to convert more of his own scoring opportunities to keep defenses on the toes while improving on defense in order to enhance his value to his teams. A three-point shot or better finishing at the basket would make a world of difference.

30. Mike Conley (PG, 26 years old, 3 years / $26.7m): After coming into the league extremely young for a PG, Conley finally put it all together in a strong 12-13 campaign. His defense helped make Memphis even tougher to score against while his offense continued to impress. If Conley can continue to improve from here, he could push his way into the larger discussion of the best young talents in the league.

29. Harrison Barnes (SF, 21 years old, 3 years / $9.8m + RFA): After dropping in the draft because of his disappointing collegiate performance, Barnes had a rookie season that showed his potential even if he cannot become a lead scorer or lock-down defender against NBA talent. Shooting 35.9 percent from deep in his first year with the longer three-point line bodes well for how Barnes can adapt to the professional game.

28. Nerlens Noel (C/PF, 19 years old, 4 years, $14.3m + RFA): My No. 1 rated player in the 2013 draft class actually got more valuable by falling all the way to the sixth pick even if he may miss this season. That drop took a little under $10 million off of his four-year deal. Noel can be a difference-maker on defense immediately while developing on offense.

27. Al Horford (C/PF, 27 years old, 3 years / $36m): A surprisingly consistent player considering how most players develop over the course of their career- his third, fourth and fifth seasons had nearly identical WS/ 48 (which takes out factors like Minutes Played which have varied for Horford). I would love to see him play with a quality point guard, or a more collaborative elite scorer since either could bring out new wrinkles of his game.

26. Blake Griffin (PF, 24 years old, 5 years / $95m): A great player who falls a little because of his gigantic contract and questions surrounding how he will develop his game. A power forward without range on his jumper creates problems for spacing and Griffin simply has not made that a weapon in his offensive arsenal four years into his NBA career. Being a strong but not transcendent rebounder helps quite a bit and his elite athleticism provides a base for the improvement that should come.

25. Kenneth Faried (PF, 23 years old, 2 years / $3.6m + RFA): One of the most underrated players in the league over the past two seasons. Simply put, his rookie year was special and he had some great flashes during a sophomore campaign marred somewhat by injury. Even though the power forward position has become more stacked in recent seasons with players like Love, Griffin and Aldridge, Faried stands out because of his combination of excellent rebounding, competent offense and solid defense. Having that package with two more years on a super cheap deal and then Restricted Free Agency helps propel him over more expensive players of a similar caliber.

24. Tony Parker (PG, 31 years old, 2 years / $25m): The oldest person on this list, Tony Parker combines magical play with a very nice contract. In fact, he is young and crafty enough to play for years to come as long as his body acquiesces.

23. Larry Sanders (C, 24 years old, 5 years / $47.1m): Already a strong defender and rebounder, LARRY SANDERS! may be hurt this season by the downgrade at point guard from Brandon Jennings to Brandon Knight. While Jennings’ willingness to pass left much to be desired last year, it may be hard for Knight to get the ball to Sanders in the best spots for him to succeed on that end. Regardless, SANDERS! is an impact player on defense who can be the anchor on a defense with a reasonable long-term contract.

22. Roy Hibbert (C, 26 years old, 2 years / $29.2m): If we see the Hibbert that battled in the playoffs rather than the one from most of the regular season, he could become a game-changing player on a truly great team. A potential candidate for Defensive Player of the Year last season due to his role in Indiana’s team success on that end, Hibbert should be both more aggressive and more efficient on offense to help carry more of the scoring load on the Pacers.

21. John Wall (PG, 23 years old, 6 years / $87.5m): Even though getting the max felt like an inevitability for John Wall despite his injury history, locking him up to a five-year full max contract still carries plenty of risk. Expanding on his phenomenal second half of the 12-13 season could firmly put Wall into the conversation of best young PG’s in the league even without a reliable long-range jumper. He has turned his biggest weakness into a neutral point at a young age and has a great sense of how to run an NBA offense while getting his teammates engaged.

20. Jonas Valanciunas (C, 21 years old, 3 years / $11.9m + RFA): Over the course of the coming season, we could see Valanciunas make the biggest jump of any player already in the Top 25 of these rankings. Valanciunas has plenty of skill and the athleticism to make opposing centers struggle on both ends of the floor. At this point, we just need to see his potential turn into even better production in real NBA games.

19. Serge Ibaka (PF/C, 24 years old, 4 years / $49.4m): At this point, Ibaka stands as the closest to complete of the young power forwards in the league. His defense garners plenty of attention and praise while his offense has come along the past few seasons. Last season, Ibaka was the best shooter on the Thunder from 16-23 feet while attempting about the same amount of those shots as Kevin Durant.

18. Jimmy Butler (SG/SF, 24 years old, 2 years / $3.1m + RFA): With another year of proving himself, Butler could very well end up in the conversation with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George a little later on the list. He has immense potential as a defender and exactly the right coach to maximize his abilities on that end, yet improving his offense offense will likely end up making Butler a more central player in the league down the line.

17. Brook Lopez (C, 25 years old, 2 years / $30.4m): For a player with a pretty well established niche and reputation, Brook Lopez did an excellent job showing he can be an all-around player instead of just a scorer. Improving both his block rate and rebound rate in the same season indicates the potential to alter the game on defense and getting lessons from Kevin Garnett may accelerate that process.

16. Dwight Howard (C, 27 years old, 3 years / $64.4m): In 10-11, Howard put together a simply fantastic season and propelled Orlando into the fourth seed in the Eastern Conferene at just 25 years old. Just two years after that point, we have to see if Howard can return to that form on a team similarly well-suited to maximize his talents. Playing with an elite scorer in a system where he can thrive should tell the world definitively whether D12 belongs in the discussion of elite big men for their time.

15. Kevin Love (PF/C, 25 years old, 2 years / $30.4m): Despite leaving plenty to be desired on defense both through the eye test and statistics, Love has been a fantastic player when healthy the last few seasons. An incredible rebounder and prototypical power forward offensively in today’s NBA means Love can play a major part on an elite team. Having an opt-out after next season hurts his value a little since he can elect to head wherever he likes as an Unrestricted Free Agent in 2015.

14. Joakim Noah (C, 28 years old, 3 years/$36.7m): Playing in the shadow of Derrick Rose has led to some lack of admiration for the impact Joakim Noah has on games. He plays excellent defense at the most important position on the floor for that while also contributing as a scorer and rebounder. His reasonable contract and consistency of production (even when hurt!) puts him at the head of this group of big men

13. Kawhi Leonard (SF, 22 years old, 2 years / $4.7m + RFA): Likely the centerpiece of the next iteration of the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard brings defensive talent and effort to make life insanely difficult for opponents while also rebounding at a quality clip for a swingman. Improving his ability to create for himself and others would help Leonard become a transcendent player and even more deserving of building around instead of being one of the best supporting pieces in the league.

12. Chris Paul (PG, 28 years old, 5 years / $107m): The best Point Guard in the world, CP3 falls down the list a little because I am absolutely terrified of his knees. Long-term excellence separates elite talents at this point in the list and the risk associated with his injury history makes Paul a little less valuable than the amazing players ahead of him.

11. Marc Gasol (C, 28 years old, 2 years/$30.7m): The best two-way big man in the league last season and Defensive Player of the Year contender should still have plenty of years of productive play as long as his body cooperates.  Also keep in mind that Gasol, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard and Darko Milicic were all born in 1985. There are not many guys in the league right now that could make every team better immediately regardless of roster composition and Gasol features prominently on that list. Moves down a little bit because of his age and lack of time under team control.

10. Paul George (SF/SG, 23 years old, 6 years / $93.3m): Already an impressive defensive player and the frontrunner to become the league’s best perimeter stopper as he gets older, Paul George needs to develop more on offense to move into the superstar tier. Totally deserving of his max extension as long as his game progresses like it should at just 23.

9. Stephen Curry (PG, 25 years old, 4 years / $44m): The best shooter in the league right now (possibly ever) finally starts the contract extension he signed last summer after a stirring playoff run. Being an impossible cover makes him an even more dangerous distributor since teams cannot afford to lapse. His underappreciated defensive instincts should allow the Baby-Faced Assassin to build on last year’s success and become a lynchpin for seasons to come.

8. Kyrie Irving (PG, 21 years old, 2 years / $12.6m + RFA): While already a strong offensive force as a primary ballhandler and scorer, Irving has the physical tools to make a Rose-esque leap on defense with a head coach that can get it out of him. Still ludicrously young and improving, Irving has another two seasons on his rookie deal and then team control through his mid-twenties.

7. Andre Drummond (C, 20 years old, 3 years / $8.3m + RFA): Even with only 10 NBA starts under his belt, Drummond earned this high of a spot because of his combination of insane potential and ridiculously cheap contract. Since blocks and rebounds were both recorded, only three players have ever grabbed at least 21 percent of possible rebounds and blocked at least six percent of the shots they faced: Marcus Camby in 05-06, Greg Oden in 09-10 (when he only played in 21 games) and Andre Drummond last season. That’s it. Even moving those lines down to 20 percent and 5.5 percent adds in a strong group including Ben Wallace (2x), Dikembe Mutombo (3x), Shaq and Dwight Howard (2x). Achieving that with so much room to grow on offense makes Drummond a special talent worthy of this place on the list.

6. James Harden (SG, 24 years old, 5 years/$80m): After an eye-opening final season in Oklahoma City, Harden showed that he could make a huge impact with a heavier load and weaker surrounding talent in Houston last year. His herky jerky offensive game makes him a brutal cover and he has become excellent at both getting to the line and making those free throws. Any increase in skill or effort on defense would be another huge positive for a guy with so much remaining potential.

5. Russell Westbrook (PG, 24 years old, 4 years/$64.8m): An argument can be made for Russell Westbrook being the most underappreciated elite player in the NBA today. He has the physical tools and intensity to be an impactful player on defense and provides a chaotic positive force on offense. At only 24 on Opening Day, Westbrook has plenty of time to work out the kinks in his game and become an even better facilitator.

4. Derrick Rose (PG, 25 years old, 4 years / $77.8m): A guarantee of a return to his pre-injury form would potentially jump Rose to the third spot considering how good he was during his MVP season. Rose’s combination of defensive ability, offensive capability, and the desire to improve puts him at a higher level than any other young point guard while he still has plenty of room to grow into an even better player. A richer contract than most of the players ahead of him along with the injury uncertainty puts him just outside the top ten for the time being.

3. Anthony Davis (PF/C, 20 years old, 3 years/$18m + RFA): Out of all of the unfinished big men who are strong on one side of the floor, Anthony Davis has the best chance of becoming an all-around force. His late growth spurt helped give him a deeper offensive skill set and should allow him to fit in the stereotypical power forward role on offense. While he should be able to handle most interior players defensively, Davis may end up being a different kind of elite defensive player than anchors like Ben Wallace and Dwight Howard due to his slimmer build.

2. LeBron James (SF/PF, 28 years old, 1 year/$19m): Unequivocally the best player in the world right now. LeBron ends just out of the top spot because his opt-outs after each of the next two seasons combined with a proven willingness to leave his current franchise for a better overall situation make him substantially more risky for a franchise than the next guy.

1. Kevin Durant (SF, 25 years old, 3 years/$57m): At times last year I caught myself watching Durant in awe and then realizing that he still should be ahead of his prime seasons as a basketball player. Durant has become a phenomenal offensive talent who already can be efficient despite carrying a large portion of the load on that end. Any improvement on defense makes him a deadlier player and even easier to build a championship team around.

2013-14 NBA Season Preview

While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.

Tracy McGrady's Place In History

By any reasonable measure of success, Tracy McGrady had an incredible career in pro basketball. At the end of the day, “T-Mac” is not his real life. It’s a character he plays on TV. There’s nothing wrong with a good TV show; it just becomes a problem when we start to think reality operates by the same rules as one.

The NBA's Mediocrity Treadmill Since 84-85

The treadmill is somehow both more and less common than some might think. While teams tend to fall within the 30-49 win range, as would be expected in such a competitive league, the dreaded never-ending stream of late lottery picks is uncommon.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Final Edition)

Draft day has finally arrived and while everyone pines for the 2014 class already, this one has the chance to be sneaky good in the 'many quality starters' variety.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Wednesday/Quality Of Opp. Edition)

In this mock, we include the PER of each player based on the quality of opponent. Even statistics in this context can only go so far, but helps move beyond the possibility of inflation against competition that isn't even close to being NBA caliber.

Choosing Destinations For The 2013 Free Agency Class

The 2013 free agency class won't stop everything the way 2010 did and 2014 will, but it is strong and deep with many different possible outcomes. Here is what the top-30 players 'should' do.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Draft Week Edition)

Entering draft week in a draft universally labeled as weak preceding the best draft of the decade, few people are talking themselves into falling in love with any specific player as fervently as usual.

2013 NBA Draft Board

Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Otto Porter and Alex Len join Nerlens Noel at the top of our draft board.

The Eliminated (Eastern Conference Teams)

A winning record to reach the playoffs wasn't necessary this season in the Eastern Conference, which demonstrates how far the Raptors, Cavaliers, Magic, 76ers, Wizards, Pistons and Bobcats are from becoming contenders without addressing significant issues this offseason.

Nikola Vucevic Excelling, Insists 76ers Understood Potential

As Andrew Bynum is lost for the season with surgery on both knees, Nikola Vucevic continues piling up double-doubles, tied for fifth-most in the league. Maybe the 76ers indeed understood Vucevic’s capabilities, and yet leaving has released some tension, allowing him to play and learn through his mistakes, develop and focus on his game.

Grading The Deal: Bucks Win Redick Derby

This trade centers on three components: how much J.J. Redick helps the Bucks for the remainder of the season, if/how much acquiring Redick helps them retain him this summer, and how much you like the pieces Milwaukee traded to get him.

Redick Continuing To Improve As He Morphs Into Orlando's Veteran

J.J. Redick has come a long way since his rookie year when then coach Brian Hill wouldn’t give him a consistent chance to play. He’s now a valued NBA commodity and a central part of Orlando's transition period.

2013 Amnesty Primer

As we move forward with “Amnesty 2.0,” we will see the fascinating possibilities that the provision brings even as the number of teams and players left dwindles with time.

Five Second-Year Breakout Candidates

Alec Burks, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Jimmy Butler and Jordan Hamilton are five players that didn't play in the Rookie Game last season that are poised to have breakout campaigns in their second NBA go-around.

Glen Davis' Time To Star

Glen Davis will be one of the Magic's go-to guys, a challenge he has wanted for many years. The spotlight, and everything that comes along with it, will be on him this season. He can't wait to get started and is eager to prove he can handle the responsibility of being in a featured role.

Southeast Division Preview

The Southeast Division could have one team that wins the 2013 NBA Finals (Heat), and four teams that fail to even make the playoffs in the Wizards, Hawks, Magic and Bobcats.

Current Players Below The JoJo White Threshold

While the list of current surefire Hall of Famers is rather obvious, the candidacies of the next ten (Chris Paul, Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, Dwight Howard, Tony Parker, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, Tracy McGrady and Steve Nash) will be fascinating developments over the coming years.

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