January 13, 2019

AKABAS | The Top 50 Players in the NBA: Part 2

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If you’re interested in which guys were 27 through 50 on my list, my criteria for these rankings, or the meaning of the different statistics I’m referencing in this article, check out Part 1. Additionally, after flubbing some players’ rankings in Part 1, I’ve decided to keep my Top 50 in a Google Doc, so that I can both correct my previous mistakes and continue to update the list throughout the season. All stats are current as of 1/11/19.


26. Marc Gasol – I think he’s a tad overrated. He’s no longer the elite rim protector that he used to be (opponents are shooting a very high 64% at the rim on shots defended by Gasol, and he hasn’t been near the best in the league for several seasons), and he only shoots 44% on post-ups (the 7th worst percentage among the 34 players with at least 50 post-up attempts this year). He attempts to blend the games of a prototypical modern center and a prototypical old-fashioned center, but he’s not particularly good at the old-fashioned part anymore. His shooting and passing, though, sustain his value.
16-4-9, 1.5 threes, 1.3 steals, 1.4 blocks, 36% 3PT, 50% eFG, 19th in RPM

25. Tobias Harris – Before Gasol’s offense fell off a cliff recently, I had made Tobias the cut-off from Part 1 to Part 2 because everyone from him onwards could absolutely be one of the top two offensive options on a championship team. Harris is more than a supporting player, he’s the leading scorer on the seventh best offense in the NBA. He’s efficient, versatile, rarely turns the ball over, and can create for himself. Of the 101 NBA players who have attempted at least 100 pull-up jumpers this season, Harris is second field goal percentage on pull-ups, and the only one shooting above 50% on pull-up threes. Additionally, he’s shooting nearly 50% on post-ups over the past two seasons.
21-2-8, 50-43-89%

24. Ben Simmons – A successful Simmons outside shot is so rare that each one feels like national holiday, which was a real problem in the playoffs last year against the Celtics, when Boston was able to defend him with center Al Horford, who could protect the rim and contain Simmons simultaneously. He’s doubled down on his refusal to shoot this year, taking less than half as many shots from outside 10 feet as he did last year (which was a small number to begin with) and replacing them with more shots at the rim. That’s driving his efficiency up, but his inability to even threaten a mid-range shot is more of an issue than a strength. Until he adds that to his game, his adaptability to different types of lineups remains limited; the 76ers have been catastrophically bad this year when Simmons has played without Embiid or Butler. At least he doesn’t pump fake on his free throws.
16-8-9, 57% FG, 58% FT, 45th in RPM, 20.72 PER, 16-8-9 on 49% eFG with 4.4 turnovers per game in 2018 Postseason, 0 career three pointers, destroyed a dude on Twitter who mocked his shooting

23. Kemba Walker – The biggest improvement to Walker’s game has been finishing drives, where he’s shooting over 50% for the first time in his career. He’s fine, but not great, on catch-and-shoot threes (35%), and nearly all advanced metrics point to him being a minus on defense, so without any solid playoff history to work with, he can’t go any higher on the list than this.
25-6-4, 3.2 threes (5th in the league), 52% eFG, leads the league in crunch time points (on 51% eFG), 34th in RPM, 21.95 PER

22. Russell Westbrook – Of the 199 players who have taken at least 60 catch and shoot attempts, Westbrook is dead last in shooting percentage. That makes him essentially useless when he’s not a team’s primary ball-handler, and fairly destructive even when he is. On the other hand, he was the second best player on a 2012 Thunder team that made the finals and a 2016 Thunder team that easily could’ve won the title, so he is clearly capable of being a top player on a contender. Even then, though, Westbrook’s poor shooting contributed to Oklahoma City’s downfall both of those years.
21-10-11 (leads the league in assists), 4.8 turnovers, 2.5 steals (leads the league), 42-24-63%, 45% eFG, 33% FG in crunch time, Top 10 in RPM each season from 2015-2018, 29th in RPM, 19.99 PER, below 50% eFG and >3.3 turnovers per game for 11 consecutive seasons, 29-7-12 on 44% eFG with 5.2 turnovers in 2018 Postseason, 26-7-7 on 44% eFG over last eight postseasons

21. Jrue Holiday – He’s ranked highest of the four point guards we’ve seen so far because he’s likely the best defender of the group, easily the best spot-up shooter (41.6% this year on catch-and-shoot 3s), and easily had the best playoff performance last year.
21-8-5 (5th in the league in assists), 3.5 turnovers, 1.7 steals, 48-33-77%, 53% eFG, 4th in the league in minutes, 16th in RPM, 24-6-6 on 56% eFG in 2018 Postseason

20. Bradley Beal
24-5-5, 2.5 threes, 2.7 turnovers, 54% eFG, 3rd in the league in minutes, 24.3 points on 53% eFG over last two postseasons

19. Blake Griffin – The last time it was really fun to watch Blake Griffin play basketball, I owned a flip phone. He’s always only had one post move (continuously commit borderline offensive fouls until he’s under the basket, then finish with a righty layup)… but now it’s the foundation of his game. Watching him slowly transform from a high-flying dunker into a physical embodiment of the phrase “ground and pound” has been about as depressing as watching a mustang being used as a bulldozer, but he is undoubtedly a top three power forward, and at least his shot doesn’t look like oral surgery anymore.
25-5-8, 2.3 threes, 3.8 turnovers, 48-36-75%, 54% eFG, 5.7 FT makes (8th in the league), leads the league in charges drawn, 37th in RPM, 20.93 PER

18. Jimmy Butler – He’s semi-rejuvenated a slumping 76ers team (which is 16-8 with him this season, but 11-8 without him), but he also seems like a massive dick. After one of the poutiest requests for a trade we’ve ever seen in Minnesota, he’s already creating chemistry problems in Philadelphia. If a public school was trying to give themselves the highest odds of winning a “Public School of the Year” award, they probably wouldn’t go hire a teacher who refused to show up to back-to-back classes at their former school and got into a fight with the principal within a month of working at their current school. Being a dick matters in other professions — it should matter here too.
19-4-5, 2.0 steals (4th in the league), 47-38-84%, 52% eFG, 4th in RPM in 2018, 26th in RPM, 20.89 PER, 19-4-7 on 47% eFG over last two postseasons

17. Chris Paul – I know the Rockets have been on a tear without him, but over the past two seasons Houston is still only 23-16 without him in the line-up (about a 4-seed win pace) versus 66-18 with him (a Top 25 all-time great team pace). When Paul plays without Harden this year, the Rockets outscore their opponents by 6 points per 100 possessions, but they’re outscored by 20 points per 100 possessions when neither ball handler is out there. His injury in Game 5 against the Warriors in the playoffs last year might have cost the Rockets a title. They need him.
16-8-4, 2.1 steals, 49% eFG, Top 3 in RPM each season from 2016-2018, 30th in RPM, 23-8-5 on 55% eFG over last four postseasons

16. Al Horford
12-4-6, 1.4 blocks, 57% eFG, 11 straight postseason appearances, three Conference Finals appearances in last four years, 15-4-7 on 62% eFG over last two postseasons

15. Kyle Lowry – With Lowry on the court, the Raptors have scored 117 points per 100 possessions this season, which would be the best offense of any team in this century, but they drop to a league-average offense when he sits. His assist to turnover ratio is the highest of the 20 players averaging at least 6.0 assists per game, and he has recorded assists on nearly 21% of his drives this season, which is five percentage points higher than any of the 59 players with at least 250 drives.
14-10-4 (2nd in the league in assists), 1.5 steals, 33% 3PT, 53% eFG, Top 10 in RPM each season from 2016-2018, 8th in RPM, 17-8-4 on 63% eFG in 2018 Postseason, 17.9 points per game on 49% eFG over last five postseasons

14. Damian Lillard
26-6-5, 3.0 threes, 44-39-90%, 52% eFG, 6.0 FT makes (7th in the league), 20th in RPM, 23.35 PER, 24-5-4 on 45% eFG and 89% FT over last four postseasons

13. Klay Thompson – I often hear people say that Klay only scores efficiently because he plays with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, which simply isn’t true. In 11 games without Curry or Durant since 2015, Klay has averaged 28 points on 53% eFG and 42% 3PT. He’s also shot 48% on post-ups over the past four seasons — he’s just fine on his own. If he were in DeRozan’s place on the Popovich-coached Spurs he might come close to leading the league in scoring.
22-2-4, 2.7 threes, 52% eFG, 19.6 points per game on 56% eFG in 2018 Postseason

12. Victor Oladipo – This is our next cut-off; everyone in my Top 12 could absolutely be the best player on a championship team.
20-5-6, 1.7 steals, 43-34-73%, 50% eFG, 79% eFG in crunch time, led the league in steals in 2018, 6th in RPM in 2018, 32nd in RPM, 23-6-8 on 51% eFG in 2018 Postseason

11. Nikola Jokic – Denver has the best record in the West despite having no other Top 30 players on my list and three of their starters missing extended time, which makes no sense, but I’m painfully leaving Jokic out of the Top 10 for two reasons: (1) Even though he’s second among all centers in the league in steals, opponents are shooting 62% against him at the rim (which is actually an improvement from prior seasons), while Embiid, on the other hand, is simply dominant on that end of the court. (2) He’s scored in the single digits seven times this season, which is too often for an MV… actually, f*** it.

11. Joel Embiid – He’s drawn 60 fouls in the post this season (only four other players have drawn more than 20), but he only shoots 47% on post-ups and records assists on just 4% of his post touches (both below average among players with at least 50 post-ups this season).
27-4-13 (3rd in the league in rebounding), 3.5 turnovers, 1.9 blocks, 49-30-81%, 52% eFG, 8.0 FT makes (2nd in the league), leads the league in shots defended at the rim (on which opponents shoot a paltry 54%), leads the league in real-estate owned in Andre Drummond’s head, 21st in RPM, 25.67 PER, 21-3-13 on 46% eFG with 3.6 turnovers per game in 2018 Postseason

10. Nikola Jokic – I mean did you see this pass? Or this pass? Or this pass? We need a buddy cop movie starring Jokic and Jamal Murray where they only have one gun between them so they have to keep passing it back and forth on backdoor cuts during the shootout scenes. It would be like Central Intelligence but good.
19-8-10, 1.5 steals, 50-33-84%, 54% eFG, Top 10 in RPM each season from 2016-2018, 4th in RPM, 26.05 PER

9. Paul George – Public opinion has flipped from “Why would Paul George choose to be Westbrook’s sidekick?” to “Paul George is unequivocally the best player on the Thunder” even faster than Donald Trump flipped from taking responsibility for the government shutdown to blaming the Democrats for it.
27-4-8, 3.4 threes (3rd in the league), 2.2 steals (2nd in the league), leads the league in total loose balls recovered and deflections, 53% eFG, 3rd in RPM, 23.73 PER, 26-4-7 on 50% eFG and 91% FT over last three postseasons

8. Kyrie Irving – Here’s our next cut-off; everyone in my Top 8 can absolutely go out and efficiently score 30 points in a Finals game. Irving is third among all guards in NBA history behind Michael Jordan and Jerry West in career Finals points per game. It’s a true cliché that defense gets tougher in the playoffs, so you need someone who can get buckets. Kyrie can do that, and, even more so, Untucked Jersey Kyrie can do that.
23-6-5, 2.6 threes, 1.6 steals, 49-41-86%, 56% eFG, 2nd in the league in crunch time field goals (on 55% eFG), 5th in RPM, 24.58 PER, 28.1 points per game on 52% eFG and 92% FT over 2016 and 2017 Finals


Check back next week for the Top 7!