We are now two-thirds of the way through SBNation.com's Top 99 NBA Players of 2015. More big men enter the picture, with Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe and a 33-year-old Amar'e Stoudemire entering the discussion. Wait ... Amar'e Stoudemire? Oh Sharp, you rascal!
36. Brook Lopez
Lopez was beyond disappointing last season ... until Deron Williams came to town. After the All-Star break, Bro-pez averaged 22.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and shot 52 percent. He'll be up there with Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins in terms of high-scoring centers, and while he doesn't rebound as well as DMC or defend as well as Howard, he's the rare above-average, young center. You can't underrate that.
I'm most intrigued about where the Nets go in free agency. Do you keep an overachiever in Kris Humphries, chase a veteran like David West or Carl Landry heavily or shoot even higher, looking toward Nene, Marc Gasol or Tyson Chandler? What the Nets do here, and whether the team can keep D-Will, will determine exactly how Lopez progresses. -- Ziller
PRADA: I'm still not wild about centers who can't rebound, especially in 2011 when much more of team's offenses are being initiated by perimeter players. How much does it help that Lopez puts up points when he's not rebounding, needs others to set him up and is slow defensively?
SHARP: He's tall and young and skilled, and sadly, there aren't more than five other big men in the NBA that can claim the same. So I guess he goes here by default? If he gets better with a full season of Deron Williams, then he could be top 25. If he disappears (or gets injured--
he's only missed 8 games he hasn't missed a game in his entire career), then maybe this is 30 spots too high.
35. Derrick Favors
OK, I admit that this one is a little out there, especially after Favors wasn't all that great as a rookie. But 19-year-old big men rarely are, especially when they're stuck in a really bad situation in New Jersey. If you caught any Jazz games after the trade deadline, you saw his potential in limited bursts. Four years from now, he'll have grown so much physically and should be playing everyday minutes.
Call it a hunch, but I think you'll see why the Nets took him over DeMarcus Cousins in the 2010 draft. Cousins will always be a better scorer, but Favors' defensive potential is off the charts, and with the NBA game now more suited to pick and roll instead of straight post-ups, Favors will still find a way to score enough to be a very good third- or fourth-option player.
Ziller's going to say how hard it is for us to project defense, but I say hogwash to that. Why can't we project defense? Why can we definitively say Cousins will mature and then turn around and say that we can't definitively say Favors will become the kind of defensive big man anchor that wins championships? (Really, I'm just trolling Ziller the Kings fan now, but the point still stands). -Prada
SHARP: Think of it this way: If Derrick Favors was in next year's draft, with Anthony Davis, Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, and Andre Drummond on the board, would he go above any of them?
PRADA: I'd pick him over Davis and Barnes for sure. Probably Sullinger too. But I also have a Favors mancrush.
ZILLER: Cousins had a higher rebound rate than Favors last season ... and that's with DMC creating offense out on the perimeter most of the season, leaving his offensive rebounding painfully low. Cousins rebounded 24 percent of defensive board opportunities, and Favors was at 19 percent. And Cousins spent most of his minutes with elite rebounder Samuel Dalembert or solid rebounder Jason Thompson, while Favors often shared the court with Bro-pez. Rebounding is a big part of defense for big men. And Cousins looks better right now. So maybe DMC will be the superior scorer and the better defender. Think about that, Mr. P.
34. Amar'e Stoudemire
Okay okay okay. The mockability is high on this one, mainly because Amare's got the creakiest set of knees this side of Nene. On the other hand... Another four years won't kill him, and while he may be slower in 2015, he'll also have better teammates, and won't be asked to do nearly as much as he did for this year's Knicks team. If Amar'e can learn to pick his spots and contribute while playing less minutes, there's no reason he can't thrive over the second half of his career. Okay, feel free to mock me now. -- Sharp
PRADA: Love Amar'e, but yeah, his body isn't holding up that long, and he has the kind of game that fades quickly once his athleticism goes. This isn't to say he's unskilled, because he's actually very skilled, but his skills depend on his body being in the shape it's in and that's a tough thing to bank on in four years.
ZILLER: No, this is a good pick. Explosive big men with one leg and limited contributions outside of scoring are usually awesome when they are 33 years old. Solid choice, Sharpie.
33. Pau Gasol
Gasol will be turning 35 in the summer of 2015, and that's pretty old for a finesse big man. There were five 35-or-older centers in the league last season, but only Marcus Camby really contributed to his team. Add in power forwards and Antonio McDyess or Kurt Thomas is your top 35-or-older guy. It's not a great list.
But Gasol's so good now that a drop-off shouldn't kill him too much -- he'll still be effective enough to be a plus starter, and barring injury could be a sleep All-Star reserve nod. I think. (As a Kings fan, I hope he takes up bourbon and jazz flute and forgets all about basketball.) -- Ziller
PRADA: So basically, you spent your blurb telling me that finesse 35-year-old big men don't hold up. Good omen!
SHARP: As much as I hate Pau, this is a great pick--assuming the Lakers trade for Dwight Howard and Pau spends the next five years playing 30 minutes a night next to the most dominant big man of this generation. Then and only then, this pick makes a lotta sense.
ZILLER: My point was that many big men don't hold up into their mid-30s. But Pau's better now than any I listed were at their peaks, ERGO his inevitable drop-off should leave him in the effective range.
32. Derrick Williams
I'm kind of amazed at what happened to Williams around the time of the draft. In March, all everyone could talk about was how he was a beast. In June, we're all concerned about what position he plays. Do people realize what year it is? This is the Age of the Combo Forward (or the Age of the Point Guard, but you catch my drift). Does it really matter whether Williams zips by guys from the perimeter or muscles through them in the post? Isn't every NBA team looking to force mismatches at small forward and power forward? Why does it matter whether he's a small forward or a power forward?
Bottom line: Williams was able to score at an incredibly efficient rate whether he played on the perimeter or in the post at Arizona. I see no reason why he can't do the same in the NBA, even in the outpost that is Minnesota. -- Prada
SHARP: I don't know about the Combo Forward Year, but I look at Derrick Williams and see Paul Pierce, and until he proves otherwise, that's what I'm expecting. Why do I keep agreeing with Prada?
ZILLER: Get a room. (I like Williams, but I don't like him more than players we have lower. He's not going to be a plus rebounder or passer, in all likelihood, and while he was a committed and tough defender at UA, he's at a disadvantage playing next to Kevin Love in Minnesota. So basically, he looks like a younger Danny Granger.)
31. Monta Ellis
If NBA guards were alcohol, Monta Ellis would be tequila. He's dangerous in a "OMG that night was CRAZY!" kinda way, but also in a "Oh my God, why did I attack that bouncer?" kinda way. Some guys learn to harness their skills with age, but I don't think he will.
Instead, he'll be nothing less than the deadliest, most wildly streaky scoring guard of this generation. There will be good nights. There will be bad nights. And there will be lots of losses. But god damnit, Monta will make his mark. -- Sharp
PRADA: Saying "there will be good nights. There will be bad nights. And there will be lots of losses" pretty much guarantees he is ranked way too high.
ZILLER: You're telling me you'd rather have Monta's boom-or-bust, J.R. Smithian production in four years over all but 30 other players in the NBA? Hard liquor is an appropriate excuse, I think.
30. Eric Gordon
I wanted to take Gordon in the 20s, but there are so many promising young players. I think Gordon will be an All-Star soon, and continue at the level for the next six or seven years. If James Harden is the next Manu Ginobili, I'll call Eric Gordon the next Mitch Richmond. (Kings color analyst Jerry Reynolds, who was with the team throughout Richmond's entire tenure, has made the comparison often. The only real difference: Gordon knows to make sure his toes aren't touching the three-point line when he fires.)
Gordon started his career as a pure scorer/gunner, but in picking up his usage rate to elite levels he's developed the all-around game most top shooting guards have. To wit: he averaged 4.4 assists per game last season. -- Ziller
PRADA: Gordon should have gone higher.
SHARP: Man, remembering Mitch Richmond made me think of Kansas State hoops, which made me think of... GUYS, NOBODY PICKED MICHAEL BEASLEY FOR THIS LIST.
ZILLER: Call "spoiler alert", dammit!
29. Harrison Barnes
Ultimately, I think Harrison Barnes did the right thing staying in school. He needs to work on his upper body strength, because I didn't really see enough of him getting to the rim in college. He has all the other tools and is one of the more complete players you'll ever find, but that's a big thing he needs to develop.
Once he does (and I think he can, because he has the right body frame), there's potential for Barnes to at least be a secondary scorer on a great team. The most underrated part of Barnes' game is how seamlessly it fits into a team setting. He moves beautifully without the ball, rarely forces shots unless the shot clock is winding down and is both an excellent man-to-man and team defender. In a way, that could indicate he is too high, but I think he can do all those things and still be a prolific enough scorer to crack the top 30. -- Prada
SHARP: Seriously, all this agreement is getting weird. And honestly, I should have taken Harrison Barnes at No. 10. He's got the perfect body for the NBA, he's got the athleticism, and I don't know if I've ever seen a college small forward with better mechanics on his jumpshot. When all's said and done, there's a chance he could be like a pre-injury Grant Hill. Do people remember how unbelievable pre-injury Grant Hill was?
ZILLER: I like Barnes. I think he would have been the No. 1 pick if he came out, and Cleveland would be thrilled with him. I think he'll be the No. 1 pick next season, and Cleveland will be thrilled with him.
28. Greg Monroe
Put it this way: if he'd played anywhere other than Detroit last year, there'd be approximately 300 percent more buzz around Greg Monroe and where he'll go from here. He averaged 13.7 ppg and 10 rebounds after the All-Star break last season, and he's still 21 years old. As he gets older and stronger, he's poised to become one of the best passing big men in the league, a better scorer, and one of the most versatile power forwards in the league. -- Sharp
PRADA: Monroe going 15 spots higher than Serge Ibaka is pretty questionable.
ZILLER: Monroe would be No. 2 on my list of centers under the age of 22 that I'd want most. (I mean, he's no DeAndre Jordan, but ...) I have a feeling Warriors fans are going to be apoplectic by 2015 about passing on Monroe in 2010.
We're on the cusp of the top 20! Tune in Thursday for the next round of player selections and mean-spirited jokes.