We're back for another round of the Top 99 NBA Players of 2015. Check the links below if you've missed previous editions. Today, we start with Ty Lawson, wind our way through some point guards and centers, and end up with an unnamed member of our team admitting that Danny Granger is "a little bit flawed as a superstar." Dig in!
54. Ty Lawson
Ty Lawson was too good to caddy for Chauncey Billups, and the former Tar Heel got a chance to shine after the 2011 trade deadline. Sorta. The Nuggets acquired Raymond Felton in that deal, too, and while Lawson became the team's starter, he only played 31 minutes per game after the All-Star break. That's better than the 24 he got behind Billups, but to really get that production up, he needed Felton cleared out, too.
And Felton has been cleared out, traded to Portland for Andre Miller, who could be flipped or waived. This is undisputedly Lawson's team to run. And while half the roster that ended 2010-11 may be playing in China when the Nuggets get back on the court, expect Lawson's considerable playmaking skills to push his status as one of the bright young point guards up further. -- Ziller
PRADA: Lawson's great, but can he hold up as a starting point guard for a full season, or is he simply a change-of-pace guy? One year ago, we were hyping up Aaron Brooks, a similar small-but-quick point guard. Look what happened there.
SHARP: As a lover of all things Tar Heels and/or D.C. hoops, I'm always on #TeamTy, but I feel like his ceiling is somewhere back in the mid-70s. On a good team he'd be a 6th or 7th man to come off the bench for 20-25 minutes-a-night. On a bad team he can start and push the tempo, but he'll be outclassed against a third of the league's point guards.
The biggest problem: If Ty ever becomes effective enough to force teams into game-planning for him, how does he score, then? He can't get his shot off if he's covered on the perimeter, and he's too small to score at the rim consistently. The better he gets, the more attention he'll get, and the more that mitigates his strengths.
ZILLER: Lawson is like Brevin Knight compared to Aaron Brooks. And that answers Sharp's question: if Lawson is drawing attention, he's shown the ability to put the ball in good spots. He can help Danilo Gallinari fulfill that "next Peja" talk.
53. Jrue Holiday
There are so many potentially great young point guards in the NBA, but room needs to be made for Jrue Holiday simply because of his age. Holiday was just 20 years old last year, but he still turned in an above-average season in helping the 76ers make the playoffs. For him to do that at his age is really quite remarkable, especially because point guards often take time to develop.
As a point of comparison, look how Holiday's first two seasons compare to former Sonics great Gary Payton early in their careers. Holiday has the advantage in pretty much every category, and that's despite being two years younger than Payton at this stage of their careers. Granted, you have to throw in a bump for any point guard's stats because we're playing in the no-handcheck era, but that's still a good omen for 76ers fans. The best part is that Holiday's game is not too far off from Payton's, with his ability to defend and his size. Heck, they both even have the same flat, but effective three-point shot. -- Prada
SHARP: Hold up, did we just say Jrue Holiday's about to become Gary Payton?
PRADA: Hold up, where did I specifically say that? Just saying, Jrue's numbers over the first two years of his career were better. Worth noting of course that a) Payton was a late-bloomer, and b) we're playing in the no-handcheck era.
ZILLER: How does UCLA fans not go insane when they see Russell Westbrook and Holiday in the NBA? And it's not like Holiday is playing for some coach who is falling asleep during games and giving his players free reign. He's playing like this under Doug Collins. Ben Howland is ruining basketball.
52. DeAndre Jordan
Okay: A total gamble, yes, and there's a good chance DeAndre could sign a $70 million deal in the next few years before gaining 40 pounds, and disappearing. That's a definite maybe here. But assuming he doesn't become Chris Wilcox, and assuming he sticks with the Clippers, DeAndre Jordan could team with Blake Griffin to form the nastiest frontline combo we've seen in a decade. Athletically, he's already the most impressive big man this side of Dwight Howard; throw in the benefit of playing next to Blake Griffin (and against him in practice every day), and there's a lot to be excited about. Would you really rather have Andrew Bogut than DeAndre Jordan in 2015?
PRADA: I feel like a broken record because I said it earlier, but there are way too many Clippers too high on this list. Also, there's something amusing about suggesting Jordan reaches his potential assuming he stays with the Clippers.
ZILLER: At age 22, Jordan averaged 10 points, 10 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes. At age 22, Darko Milicic averaged 11 points, nine rebounds, 2.5 blocks and four fouls per 36 minutes. Sweet pick, Sharpie!
51. Andrew Bogut
When Bogut was healthy during the 2009-10 season, he was a legit All-Star caliber center; it's no small matter that he made All-NBA third team behind Dwight Howard and Amar'e Stoudemire. He has upcoming competition at the position in the Eastern Conference (Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe), but the biggest challenge to Bogut's future is that damn arm he busted into a million pieces at the end of the 2010 season.
Bogut came back in time to start the 2010-11 season, but missed some November games as the wrist and lower arm remained a problem. His shooting numbers plummeted, with no more striking comparison found than in his free throw percentage: 63 percent in 2010, 44 percent in 2011. Prada wrote on Bogut's continued pain. The good news? The Aussie claims comfort now. We'll see if he can get all the way back and play at an All-League level for the next few seasons. If so, this ranking may be too low. If he continues to struggle, then I'm being too generous. -- Ziller
PRADA: I still can't shake the feeling that Bogut will never be the same player after that horrific wrist injury. One of the keys to his awesome 2009-10 season is that he became a relatively efficient scoring option on the block. With his injury affecting his patented lefty hook, that fell apart in 2011. Can it ever return?
SHARP: The last time he played more than 70 games was three years ago, and the track record for injury-prone big men doesn't really improve as they get older. He wasn't the 51st player in the NBA last year, so why would we expect him to be better with another few seasons of wear and tear on his body?
ZILLER: Because he was still injured last year?
50. Tony Parker
We forget that the former NBA Finals MVP is only 29 years old, seeing as he's been around for forever. After having a tough year in 2009-10 thanks to a foot injury, Parker bounced back with one of his strongest years last year, then has followed it up with a great performance at EuroBasket. There's always the concern that his quickness will go quickly, but I think he's crafty enough to still be effective into his 30s. The new hand-check rules certainly help too. -- Prada
ZILLER: I like this pick; Parker at 33 should remain among the top 10 point guards in the NBA, you'd have to think. Over the past few years, he's been a shining beacon of the success scoring point guards can have in the league.
49. Ricky Rubio
There are two things that will forever haunt Ricky Rubio. First, the insane levels of hype that preceded his entry into the 2009 NBA Draft. Second, he was born 10 years too late. Had he come into the NBA in 2001 instead of 2011, he'd have been a revelation.
Instead, he arrives in the era of Superfreak Point Guards, and next to Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, etc., La Pistola looks strangely limited. In other words, where his peers have expanded what we expect from superstar point guards, it's inevitable that Rubio will struggle to meet expectations. It's not his fault that he's not a mutant point guard from the future, and it's not his fault that he won't ever be as good as the player we imagined back in 2009. But that's how Rubio could be a top 50 player in the NBA in four years, and we'll still think of him as one of this generation's biggest disappointments. -- Sharp
PRADA: Unless you're Rajon Rondo and you play with three future Hall of Famers, you better be able to score as a point guard in today's NBA. Ricky Rubio can't score, which is kind of a problem.
ZILLER: If he can defend well, Kevin Love becomes as good as we think he'll be and Derrick Williams transitions well, he could be averaging 10 assists and two steals a game in no time. But the seven points per game isn't going to look very good, is it?
48. Nicolas Batum
As Prada joked when I made the pick, the Portland soccer moms have gotten to me. We "drafted" our selections in the Top 99 before EuroBasket began, but Batum's performance for France (13.5 points, 2.4 steals in 30 minutes while shooting 61 percent playing off of Tony Parker) has boosted my confidence. Batum is the type of player who does everything well enough to almost never be a drain on his team, and that means his value will remain high. He's also just 22 -- in four years, he'll just likely be entering his prime. I have drunk all of the Kool-Aid. -- Ziller
PRADA: I know, I know, Batum is still young. But every year, we have to hear from the Portland people how Batum is on the verge of becoming a star and not just your run-of-the-mill three-and-D guy, and every year, something happens to prevent that. With Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews around, will Batum even get enough minutes next year?
47. Kevin Martin
Martin remains pretty one-dimensional, but boy is he elite at that one dimension. Last year might have been his best, as he took on even more usage offensively while still maintaining his amazing efficiency. He continues to be among the league leaders in free throw attempts, which is the kind of skill that doesn't really fade much over time. He also showed signs of being an even more complete offensive player, posting a career high in assist rate.
He's never going to be a great defender, and he'll always need plays run for him to be his best, but so did Reggie Miller. He turned out alright, didn't he? -- Prada
SHARP: When you made this pick, I believe I said, "Kevin Martin seems like the type of guy who will slowly fade to obscurity, and everyone except Kings fans will forget he ever even existed. Let alone that he scored 20 ppg in the NBA." I'm sticking to my guns here.
PRADA: Don't make me do a Martin vs. Miller stat comparison. Oh whoops, I just did.
ZILLER: Miller vs. Martin stat comparisons were the reason I once compared Roy Hibbert to Rik Smits. Whoops.
46. Danny Granger
Seriously guys, if this list has taught us nothing else, it's that I secretly love the Pacers. Granger's definitely the most defensible pick of all them, though. As a superstar, he's probably a little bit flawed, but he's still one of the best 50 players in the league, and he's still young, so in 2015 he'll be every bit as quietly awesome as he was in 2010. Right? GO PACERS. -- Sharp
PRADA: So you're saying that Martin will fade into obscurity, then put Danny Granger higher than him? Just checking.
ZILLER: "As a superstar, he's probably a little bit flawed" has become the biggest laugh line of the Top 99. Congrats, Sharp.
Tune in for Nos. 45-37 on Tuesday. The final 18 will be revealed next week, but you're not going to want to miss any ridiculous picks in the run-up!