Top 100 of 2017, 71-80: Because Kobe has to be on here somewhere

USA TODAY Sports

A 39-year old Kobe Bryant cracked the Top 100 Players of 2017 list, but where did he end up? Also, two players that play the same position for the same team end up near each other on the list.

You knew we couldn't do a list of the top players in the NBA by a certain date without including five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba emerged in the 70s when it was all said and done, along with several other emerging young stars, including two Hawks point guards.

To get to know the panelists and read about what this whole list is about, see the Top 100 of 2017 index page.

80.  Gordon Hayward

Hayward has yet to take the step forward, but he's steadily improved and will have a chance to make a major leap next season after the Jazz let Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson go. He's going to be in the prime of his career in four years, and while he needs to become more consistent, he has the makings of an excellent pick-and-roll game. He'll get his chances to fail this season, and in the long haul, that'll be good for his development. -PRADA

ZILLER: Gordon Hayward will only reach his full potential when the Jazz sabotage his excellent broadband connection and prevent him from playing World of Warcraft. My column:

FLANNERY: I like Hayward and think he'll be higher on this list. I'm the only person who still thinks the Jazz have a decent young nucleus, aren't I?

TJARKS: Just wait until you see where I picked Derrick Favors. There are a few Jazz apologists out there.


79.  Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a saint. He has freakishly big hands and a freakishly long name. Unfortunately, it's been hard to see him play unless you flew to Greece and scouted him specifically. Nevertheless, he has tremendous potential because he's so young and has ridiculous physical skills. He might never amount to anything in the NBA, but the Bucks liked him enough to draft him early in the first round, so I'll just trust the Bucks' judgement.

Wait, what have I done? -KACZMAREK

ZILLER: This pick is a perfect encapsulation of the NBA. He could totally be one of the top 100 NBA players in 2017, or he could have a Basketball-Reference page that looks like Martynas Andriuskevicius'.

O'DONNELL: I have more faith in Antetokounmpo turning into a top 100 player in 2017 than any of us being able to pronounce or spell his name correctly by that time.

FLANNERY: Slow clap for Ziller for not going with the obvious Maciej Lampe comp.

PRADA: Sorry to our copy editors for this section.


78.  Avery Bradley

I'm a little stunned that -- spoiler alert -- Eric Bledsoe went so much higher than Avery Bradley. We saw that Bradley's really not an NBA point guard once Rajon Rondo went down, but Boston survived and I think Bradley deserves quite a bit of credit. He's a stud defender, and if Tony Allen has taught us one thing, shutdown perimeter defense is mighty important, even in the absence of offensive touch. Bradley will be valuable throughout his career so long as he continues to make life Hell from his marks. -ZILLER

PRADA: Ah yes, this generation's Quinton Ross. Great pick.

FLANNERY: The thing about Avery is he's still so young. He won't turn 23 until November and he's shown flashes of having a nice offensive game to complement his maniacal defensive tendencies. Of course, he's also shown flashes of being totally lost with the ball in his hands. This is a big year for him.


77.  Nikola Pekovic

Pekovic was really good last year without Kevin Love in Minnesota. He posted a PER a shade over 20, shot 52 percent from the field, made his free throws and proved to be an above-average rebounder. Oh, he's also 6' 11 and 290 pounds. Even if he never turns into a good rim protector, his sheer size and shooting touch around the rim will make him valuable. -O'DONNELL

ZILLER: Total value pick (assuming he's not in prison for cannibalism by then).

PRADA: Not sure his body will hold up this long. ::Stares into the distance:: I mean, he's a ... great pick. Yes. That's what I meant to say. Great pick. Best center in the NBA. ::sobs:: Please don't hurt my family.

FLANNERY: KNEEL BEFORE PEK!


76.  Jeff Teague

Good player, gets better every year and now has some long-term security. I'd like to see Playoff Teague Mode engaged on a regular basis, but he's at the point where he should be able to figure all that out. I wouldn't mind a better jumper though. -FLANNERY

PRADA: It was a little weird how the Hawks left him hanging this summer, only to match the Bucks' reasonable contract offer. It doesn't seem like they're completely sold on his future. With Dennis Schröder breathing down his neck, will he even be starting in four years?

KACZMAREK: I really, really like Jeff Teague. I'm not sure how good he is, but I really like him.

PRADA: As a human being?


75.  JaVale McGee

I'm not that comfortable with this pick, but JaVale has to be on this list somewhere. He's got the talent to be a dominant presence around the rim on both sides of the court. He'll turn 30 late in 2017, so he should (in theory) be more mature.  -TJARKS

ZILLER: The worst part is that this is almost definitely a proper pick.

RT @MIKEPRADASBN: NO IT'S NOT.

KACZMAREK: JAVALLLEEEEEEEEE

RT @MIKEPRADASBN: HOW IS JAVALE RANKED AHEAD OF PEKOVIC?


74.  Dennis Schröder

This may be an overreaction to a brilliant Summer League, but sometimes, you just know court vision when you see it. Schröder has a long way to go to become a better shooter and decision-maker, but his vision is special and his ability to change speeds so easily is remarkable for a 19-year-old. The biggest reason I didn't rank him higher, besides the whole overreacting to Summer League thing, is that he may not be a starting point guard yet because the Hawks locked up Jeff Teague for four more years. -PRADA

ZILLER: A guaranteed League Pass All-Star, if nothing else.

O'DONNELL: Schröder was supposedly a skateboarder before focusing on basketball. I want to live in a world where an NBA star competes in the X-Games in his downtime.

FLANNERY: Oral history of Dennis Schröder please.

KACZMAREK: I'm all in on Dennis as long as we get a Schröder and Bebe sitcom at some point.


73.  Dion Waiters

Waiters will always be tied to Bradley Beal, since they both play shooting guard and were drafted one after another. They had nearly identical PER's in their rookie seasons, but for vastly different reasons. Waiters got a bump from his high usage and Beal got a bump from his three-point shooting. Waiters has some exceptional off-the-dribble skills, but he has to improve his shot selection and efficiency in order for those skills to be of any use. We know that Beal is going to be a great shooter. Waiters' ability to create and attack the basket could be just as valuable, but it's going to take some real improvement.

Ranking Waiters here is admittedly taking a bit of a leap of faith, but his talent is real. We'll see if he can make the most of it. -KACZMAREK

O'DONNELL: If Waiters pans out (I think this is a reach, but who knows), we'll have an approximation of what it would have been like had the Bulls kept around Ben Gordon to pair with Derrick Rose. As long as the young man gets buckets at a fairly efficient rate, he should be OK.

PRADA: I'm a little skeptical that Waiters will mesh well with Mike Brown's defense-heavy approach. He seems like the guy Brown will use as the whipping boy to get the attention of the rest of his club.


72.  Kobe Bryant

Kobe will be 39 when the 2017-18 season begins. That's very old, but players that age have had good seasons in the past ... and we're talking about Kobe. It's the one aspect of basketball he has a clear advantage over every single player in league history: durability. All that work he puts in -- the vampire blood transfusions, the experimental Achilles repairs, the human soul consumption -- is meant to boost his longevity. He's as good at 34 as he was at 30. There's a chance he'll be as good at 39 as he is at 34. I'm not betting against him.

Besides, there's no way he's retiring when he can still walk and doesn't own seven championships. And there's no way he's winning two titles between now and 2017, so ... -ZILLER

O'DONNELL: If Kobe isn't on the Nets a year from now, I'll be shocked.

PRADA: Actually, he'll probably be playing for Benetton Treviso.

FLANNERY: Does anyone seriously doubt that Kobe will still be playing somewhere at this point?

TJARKS: I'm picturing Kobe as Charlize Theron in Snow White, feasting off the blood of younger shooting guards to fight off the aging process. Watch out, Nick Young!

KACZMAREK: I assume Kobe will be playing Shaq's role on TNT by this point. He'll sit there and demand absurd statistics from star shooting guards before he'll ever consider them good enough. "You know, James Harden needs to be averaging 30 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and four steals per game for me to really think he's the best shooting guard in the league."


71.  Marcus Smart

The difference between NBA players and the guys in Europe usually comes down to size and athleticism. We know Marcus Smart has that much. At 6'4 and 226 pounds, you won't find a point guard as big as him. Everything else is a work in progress, but that's OK for someone born in 1994. Smart would have been a top pick in the 2013 draft based on his physicality alone, and he could retain that status even in a loaded 2014 draft if he shows improvements in the areas that plagued him. Oklahoma State's offense was a well-documented disaster last season, and Smart's outside shot wasn't much better. You can live with that from a college freshman. I'd rather bet on someone with the body and athleticism to make it than a polished 19-year-old who won't get any bigger or faster. -O'DONNELL

PRADA: You guys think Ricky made an... intelligent pick here?

TJARKS: Smart has the size to play shooting guard full-time and he's one of the rare guards who can impact the game as a rebounder and defensive player. Efficiency is a concern, but I think a lot of that was the Oklahoma State offense, which basically asked him to create 1-on-5. The main thing I'll be watching next season is his shot selection.

PRADA: I watched Smart a lot last year in the draft lead-up, and I don't see it. He's a stocky point guard who isn't a good shooter, isn't the best driver and plays free safety defensively. He has a reputation for being a great leader, and he could get in better shape and become quicker, but he looked a lot like a modern-day Andre Miller to me. That's not a compliment for a college kid. I think he made a big professional mistake not coming out this year, when the weakness of the draft class would have made him a top-five pick.

FLANNERY: Are you saying the league doesn't need a successor to Andre Miller? Because that, sir, is crazytalk.

INTRO | TOP 99 OF 2015 REVIEW | 100-91 | 81-90 | 61-70 | 51-60 | 41-50 | 31-40 | 21-30 | 11-20 | 1-10

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