As we head into the beginning of the 2018-19 NBA season, we’re rolling out our Top 100 players, based not only on last year’s performance, but on this year’s expected production, too.
To help choose and rank the players, we enlisted the help of two assistant coaches, one from the East and one from the West, and got thoughts from those coaches on each player. Those thoughts, from the coach representing that players’ conference, are included.
(Note: Rookies were not eligible for this list.)
NBA TOP 100 RANKINGS: Nos. 100-80
79. Nicolas Batum, Hornets
Batum is emblematic of the Hornets’ issues. He was outstanding during Charlotte’s postseason run in 2015-16, and the team rewarded him with a five-year, $120 million contract thereafter. But Batum has not been nearly as good since, and was a below-average wing last year, with just 11.6 points on 41.5 percent shooting after an injury-marred start to the season. This has long been the knock on Batum — his focus and interest level increase when he is in a contract year, and fades when he is not. He has an array of skills as a scorer and passer when he is engaged, and because the Hornets still owe him $76 million over three years, they’d better get him engaged.
Coach’s view: “He does not drive to the rim anymore. He does not want to put it on the floor and move into traffic, which is too bad because at his size (6-8), he can be a really good finisher in there. He just does not seem to want to do it, though. He was also a very good corner-3 shooter when he was in Portland, but that has disappeared from his game, too. He should be due for a bounce-back year, he has too much talent to be as mediocre as he was last year.”
78. Andre Iguodala, Warriors
Iguodala will turn 35 in January and, with averages of 6.0 points and 28.2 percent 3-point shooting, he’s showing signs of his age. Still, the Warriors gave him a three-year, $48 million deal in the summer of 2017, with the understanding that his veteran presence, shutdown perimeter defense and ability to slide into three different positions when there’s an injury make him more valuable than his stats. The Warriors were not a better offensive team with Iguodala on the floor for the first time in the last three years, but they were a much better defensive team (by 6.8 points per 100 possessions).
Coach’s view: “If he were on any other team, you might be ready for him to call it quits. He is still very strong and can wrestle anyone on the perimeter, and does as well as any guard when it comes to switching on a bigger guy and still holding his own in the post. But his offense kind of fell apart last year, and I am not sure he is going to bounce back and get it together. For the Warriors, though, he is still a guy who is going to give you great minutes.”
77. Darren Collison, Pacers
Collison was an underrated part of the Pacers’ dazzling success last year, overshadowed by the rise to stardom of backcourt mate Victor Oladipo. But, at age 31 and in his second stint with Indiana, Collison played relentlessly to his strengths, averaging 12.4 points and 5.3 assists, shooting a league-high 46.8 percent from the 3-point line. He did not make mistakes with the ball — in 46 of his 69 games, he committed one or zero turnovers. As a veteran, Collison was brought in to be a placeholder point guard, and Indiana drafted fellow UCLA Bruin Aaron Holiday this offseason to eventually take over for Collison. In the meantime, Collison has been quite a productive placeholder.
Coach’s view: “He has always been a really good spot-up shooter, but playing with Oladipo kind of put him on another level. He does everything you want out of a vet point guard — really good in the pick-and-roll, gets everyone involved, makes his shots.”
76. Kyle Kuzma, Lakers
Kuzma was a steal in the 2017 draft, averaging 16.1 points for the Lakers in 77 games. He was inconsistent over the course of year, as would be expected of a rookie, especially when defenses started paying attention to him. The arrival of LeBron James and the expected emergence of Brandon Ingram might set Kuzma back, but if he can carve out a role off the bench with a rebuilt Lakers group, he should continue to be a valuable contributor.
Coach’s view: “He was a tweener, not really a small forward, but not big enough to be a power forward. That hurt him a lot on the defensive end, especially. He got better defensively as the year went on, but he was only so-so, at his best. He needs to play the 4 — he can even play the 5 some. I’m not sure how that will fit with LeBron and Brandon Ingram, but he needs to be on the floor.”
75. Thaddeus Young, Pacers
Young’s numbers were mediocre (11.8 points and 6.3 rebounds), and his 3-point shooting is obviously lacking for the modern game (32.0 percent). But he has a nose for loose balls, moves well without the ball, especially in the pick-and-roll, and brings a defensive toughness to a team that needs that sort of leadership.
Coach’s view: “What I liked about him is that they almost never called plays for him. And that did not affect him one bit. He would just go out there and work off their pick-and-roll, find open spaces on the baseline and either rebound or be there to bail out Victor Oladipo if he was in trouble. You could guard their pick-and-roll just right, have everything go right, and then Thaddeus would step in and get some junk points off it. He is the kind of guy who can frustrate you that way.”
74. Marcus Smart, Celtics
Smart and the Celtics had an extended back-and-forth over his contract, and while it appeared Boston might allow Smart to land elsewhere, it was decided that his defensive grit would be useful off the bench as the Celtics hope to make a Finals run. Smart’s offensive shortcomings — he is a career 36.0 percent shooter (that’s from the field, not the 3-point line) — are well-known, but Smart’s on-off numbers last year showed he was a positive for the offense. The margin was thin (0.5 points per 100 possessions), but he had such a major defensive impact (4.6 points per 100 possessions) that his value is clear.
Coach’s view: “He is a better passer than he gets credit for, and I think that’s why the offense is not that bad with him on the floor. He can be a little streaky, so you always feel you need to guard him and not just go 4-on-5 out there. He takes advantage of that. He has good vision, and that gets everyone involved.”
73. Jeff Teague, Timberwolves
Teague just turned 30, and after an excellent showing in his one season with the Pacers, he regressed a bit with Minnesota. He averaged 14.2 points and 7.0 assists, pretty ordinary numbers for a guy in the middle of a three-year, $57 million deal. He was better in the second half of the season, and when the Wolves go ahead and trade Jimmy Butler, Teague will be expected to carry a bigger offensive load. All things considered, though, that might not be great for the team.
Coach’s view: “What would worry me is he seemed to lose a step. He was relying a lot more on the midrange shot than driving to the rim. That’s not really his game. He can’t afford to lose that step. Let’s see if he attacks the rim more this year.”
72. Lauri Markkanen, Bulls
Toiling in the depths of the Bulls’ tank job, Markkanen offered some hope for the future with his scoring (15.7 points) and perimeter shooting (36.2 percent from the 3-point line). Throughout the year, he was inconsistent, struggled with a back injury, was badly in need of improved conditioning and showed himself to be a mess on the defensive end. But he’s a 7-footer and only 21 years old. A frontcourt built around Markkanen and incoming rookie Wendell Carter Jr. could develop nicely.
Coach’s view: “Typical big guy stuff, typical young mistakes for a big guy. There was a lot more positive than negative with him last year, especially his shooting. But he can rebound, and he developed a couple of nice head-fake moves that he did not have early in the year. He will need another year to really put it together, but he’ll be a lot higher on a list like this within two years.”
71. Will Barton, Nuggets
Barton averaged 15.7 points last season to go with 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists, the best season of his six-year career. The Nuggets awarded him a four-year, $52 million contract last summer. He forged his reputation as an offensive sparkplug off the bench, but he was most effective in the 40 games he started last year. But with youngsters Garry Harris and Jamal Murray blossoming, Barton will return to a bench spot this year and fight off Isaiah Thomas for minutes.
Coach’s view: “The big difference with him is that he has become a good 3-point shooter (37.0 percent last two years). You used to be able to back off him and you knew he was going to drive, drive, drive. But he’s a decent shooter now, so you have to close out on those shots.”
70. Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves
It was frustration with the approach Wiggins has to the game that initially sent Wolves star Jimmy Butler into “trade-me” mode, especially as Wiggins just gets started on his five-year, $148 million max contract. That’s a lot for a guy who has shown no significant improvement in his time in the league, and averaged just 17.7 points on 43.8 percent shooting as a fourth-year player. That’s frustrating, because Wiggins has the athletic talent to be a top-flight attacker of the rim, yet prefers to kick back and shoot 3s. He should be a very good rebounder, but averages just 4.4 per game. He should be an excellent defensive player, but lacks focus and basic basketball IQ. Butler has not endeared himself to Wolves fans, but there’s little question that he is not alone in being frustrated by Wiggins’ lack of improvement.
Coach’s view: “He is one of the better finishers in the league at his position, but he just did not go to the rim very much. And really, we used to be OK with him going to the rim because he would sometimes attack without a plan, but he is so gifted that he could still make a play, even without knowing what he was going to do. But someone told him he is a 3-point shooter, I guess, and that is great for you if you’re trying to defend them. You want him taking all the 3s he wants.”
69. Julius Randle, Pelicans
Randle made a big leap last season, averaging 16.1 points and 8.0 rebounds but, most significant, he finally found his offensive comfort zone by using his strength in the paint. Randle took the bulk of his shots within three feet of the rim and made, according to Basketball-Reference.com, 73 percent of those shots, easily a career high. Because of his physicality, Randle can play small-ball center, and pairing his style with that of star forward Anthony Davis will go a long way toward determining whether the Pelicans can thrive after making the postseason last year.
Coach’s view: “I think early in his career, Julius wanted to be a stretch-4 type. He was dying to show he can shoot in the midrange and be a pick-and-pop option. I like what he did last year in just saying, ‘That’s not who I am,’ and instead, he went out and did what he does best. He’s got a lot of muscle. He is not tall or long, but he’s smart, and he does not get outworked.”
68. Jusuf Nurkic, Trail Blazers
With few alternatives, Portland re-signed Nurkic this summer to a four-year, $48 million contract that will allow the team to keeps its defense — the key to its overall improvement last season — intact. Nurkic is a low-post, back-to-the-basket big man who can easily work over smaller defenders (14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds last year). He only rarely shoots from outside the paint, and he is a bit of an anachronism in today’s game, but works well with point guard Damian Lillard. The Blazers have made good use of Nurkic’s scoring ability around the rim, and he is a consistent defensive anchor.
Coach’s view: “He can get clumsy around the rim sometimes — he has bad streaks where he fumbles the ball, he blows layups, he makes things more difficult than they ought to be. But he limited those mistakes more this year. He was much more consistent and decisive with the ball. I think the problem is, you can’t use him much in the playoffs, because if you have a guy who can shoot, you can play small against them. But they need him during the year.”
67. Josh Richardson, Heat
After a Year 2 slump, Richardson bounced back to have his best season in Year 3, his first full season as a starter. He struggled early in the season, but finished with averages of 12.9 points and 45.1 percent shooting from the field (37.8 percent from the 3-point line), all positive, productive numbers. But Richardson makes his biggest mark as an individual defender, using his length (6-10 wingspan) and anticipation to shut down opponents. Richardson does not make many mistakes defensively, but he still does well in forcing turnovers (1.5 steals per game).
Coach’s view: “He contests everything, and I love that about him. He can get out to the arc to defend 3-point shooters, and he does that consistently. He does not give up on a play. He has a good sense in the lane, too. He gets his hands on a lot of balls, but you are not going to catch him out of position. He just needs to be OK offensively — and he is better than OK, he just needs to be more consistent — because his defense is so good.”
66. Nikola Mirotic, Pelicans
The Bulls moved on from Mirotic after drafting Lauri Markkanen and going through an early-season Mirotic-Bobby Portis dustup. The Pels, desperate for depth, pounced and were the clear beneficiaries — Mirotic averaged 14.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in New Orleans, and helped keep the team afloat after the DeMarcus Cousins injury. Mirotic shot well for the Bulls (42.9 percent from the 3-point line) and not-so-well for the Pelicans (33.5 percent), but he was valuable as a floor-stretcher alongside Anthony Davis and bounced back in the postseason (43.1 percent from the 3-point line on 5.7 attempts per game). Mirotic will likely anchor the second unit for New Orleans, but he figures to get starters’ minutes.
Coach’s view: “He made some big improvements on the defensive end, and that helped them out a lot more than people realized. They were one of the better defensive teams in the West in the second half last year, and you saw what they did to Portland in the playoffs. He does not have a defensive reputation, but he can chew up space, he is strong and he can keep his guy in front of him. If he can be an average or slightly above average shooter, he is going to keep having an impact.”
65. Lou Williams, Clippers
What a strange year for Williams. He’d gone from the Lakers to the Rockets at the 2017 trade deadline, then was wrapped up as part of the mega-package the Rockets needed to bring in Chris Paul, meaning Williams was back in LA, this time with the Clippers. Playing for his sixth team in his 13th season, Williams had the best year of his career, averaging 22.6 points and 5.3 assists, both career highs. With LA only on the fringe of the playoff mix, it appeared certain Williams would be traded again at the deadline, but instead, the Clippers pulled him off the block and, weirdly enough, gave him a three-year contract extension. Williams capped that by winning Sixth Man of the Year for the second time in his career.
Coach’s view: “The reality is, he is one of the worst defensive guards in the league. I know he can score. He is very good at getting into the paint, and he has made himself a tough midrange shooter. He can knock down the elbow jumper easily. But I think he is overrated just because the defense is so bad. He gives up as much as he scores.”
64. J.J. Redick, Sixers
There’s always going to be value in a 41.5 percent career 3-point shooter, especially one who has made himself into a plus defensive player the way Redick has. Philly has been experimenting with using Redick off the bench, which would be a huge boost to the second unit. But that could be problematic for the team’s young starters, who relied on Redick’s off-the-ball movement, the floor spacing his shooting provides and his veteran leadership last season. Redick averaged 17.1 points last season, a rarity in that it was a career high in his 12th year. He’s 34, so it might be best for the Sixers if the team shifts more of the offense toward its younger stars. But Redick is still a reliable security blanket.
Coach’s view: “No matter what they do with their lineup, he is going to be on the floor to close out games. He has to be. There were so many times he took big shots for them, or saved possessions that had gone sideways. It’s a cliché, but he does all the little things, getting loose balls and being in the right place defensively, setting screens. He has a lot of value for them.”
63. Ricky Rubio, Jazz
Much of how you project Rubio this season depends on whether you consider his shooting performance from last season — he posted career highs in points per game (13.1), shooting percentage (41.8) and 3-point shooting (35.2) — to be a fluke. Considering Rubio’s reputation as a clang-happy shooter, it likely is. But having left Minnesota behind and joining with offensive dynamo Donovan Mitchell in Utah, Rubio got more and more comfortable playing off the ball and taking advantage of open looks. In the final 38 games of last season, he made 42.2 percent of his 3s, which is a significant sample size. Rubio is an outstanding defender, so if he can maintain his shooting numbers, he will be one of the West’s best point guards. If he slides back to his norm, he’s still pretty good.
Coach’s view: “Rubio is not that good of a pick-and-roll point guard — it is something that Mitchell does better. So (Mitchell) is going to have the ball in his hands, and Rubio needs to find ways to play off that. I don’t know that he can shoot like he did last year again, but if he does, they’re going to be one of the top three or four teams in the West.”
62. Dario Saric, Sixers
In his sophomore season, Saric showed he’s been worth the Sixers’ wait. He averaged 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds, and he made 39.3 percent of his 3s. He struggles a bit defensively, especially if he has to switch, but that weakness didn’t hurt the Sixers too much last year.
Coach’s view: “He is an underrated guy because, to me, he should be a bigger focus of what that team is doing. But they don’t call a lot of stuff for him. There is (Ben) Simmons, there is (Joel) Embiid, everyone’s worried about (Markelle) Fultz. Saric gets lost in the shuffle. But he’s very opportunistic. He is one of the best spot-up shooters in the league, especially at his size (6-10). He probably should be a 20-point-per-game scorer, but that’s not going to happen with that roster.”
61. Eric Bledsoe, Bucks
Three games into last season, Bledsoe forced a trade out of Phoenix and got himself to a winning situation with the Bucks. He gave the team a much-needed boost at the point guard spot, averaging 17.8 points and 5.1 assists, and helped improve the overall defense. Bledsoe is not much of a shooter (34.9 percent from the 3-point line in 71 games with the Bucks, and 33.7 percent for his career) and never really fulfilled the potential he seemed to have early in his career, but he has shown he can be a useful starter on a good team.
Coach’s view: “It’s sort of a typical thing where a young guy wants to attack the rim all the time but as he gets older, he wants to shoot from the outside. That’s Bledsoe. He looked like he was going to be Russell Westbrook early on, and he was quick enough and strong enough to just keep attacking. But he does not want to go to the rim as much now. He is not quite as quick as he used to be.”
60. Jamal Murray, Nuggets
Murray made an impressive second-year leap, averaging 16.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists, while shooting 37.8 percent from the 3-point line. He was one of the league’s most efficient spot-up shooters (1.18 points per possession), but he also has good finishing ability at the rim. Considering he shot 90.5 percent from the free throw line, he should attack the rim more often.
Coach’s view: “He’s one of the guys who is ready to take that next step, and I think a lot of us thought it was strange that they went out and gave Will Barton a contract, then signed Isaiah Thomas. Murray can play off the ball, but they need to have him be a bigger and bigger part of the offense. Defensively, he has a long way to go. The team is a mess guarding the pick-and-roll, and that’s not all Jamal’s fault, but he needs to be better with ball pressure.”
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