As we endeavor to
embarrass our future selves predict who will be the best NBA players in 2021 this week, it seemed appropriate to flash back to the last time we pulled this nonsense engaged in this exercise. Back in 2013, a collection of SB Nation NBA writers predicted who would be the top 100 players in 2017.
It is now 2017. So let’s find out how we did back then.
Of course, to help us determine that, we need to have some sort of idea of who the actual top 100 NBA players of 2017 are. This is somewhat controversial, but we do not present the list solely for the purposes of arguing. (We do that elsewhere on this website.)
This list was only developed as a way to learn from our predictions of four years ago. What types of players did we overvalue or undervalue? What is the actual difficulty in predicting players’ futures — assessing how players will age, how they will develop, who will get injured?
We share those learnings in a separate piece. Here, we just lay out the top 100 players of 2017 to use as our baseline for that effort. In parenthesis: our projected rankings for these players four years ago.
100. Rodney Hood (NR)
Hood probably would have been 30 spots higher if this list had been made in 2016. Basketball is weird.
99. Julius Randle (14)
Randle remains one of the most divisive young players in the NBA. His free agency is coming up soon and should be educational.
98. Andre Roberson (NR)
It’s hard to know where to rank defense-only players given the fact that defense is undervalued and easier to purchase on the market. But Roberson is such a good defender that he definitely belongs in the top 25 percent in the league.
97. Wilson Chandler (NR)
Wilson Chandler quietly puts up solid numbers in Denver when he’s healthy and not playing in China. Keep in mind that being the No. 97 player in the league puts you on what would be 20th team All-NBA. Coming in here is a compliment for sure, but it’s not that high of a compliment.
96. Ryan Anderson (67)
Anderson’s contract is gnarly — too gnarly to move, in fact -- but he’s quite a productive and useful player.
95. Robin Lopez (NR)
Lopez is a good defender who offers high-efficiency, low-volume offense. Quite a useful big man in today’s NBA.
94. Will Barton (NR)
Microwave bench scorers who don’t demand to start are valuable.
93. Zach Randolph (NR)
He still gets buckets and rebounds well into his 30s.
92. Jonas Valanciunas (18)
Valanciunas has never really put it all together -- I am among those who swore he’d be an All-Star someday -- but as with Lopez and others, he does enough to be quite useful at worst.
91. D'Angelo Russell (NR)
This is some projection to be sure, but Russell has a few tools that should serve him well, even if never becomes the star the Lakers originally saw him becoming.
90. T.J. Warren (NR)
One of my favorite young players in the league.
89. Nerlens Noel (25)
The less we talk about Nerlens Noel at this point, the better.
88. Jae Crowder (NR)
We’re not really considering contracts in this exercise. If we were, the ultra-affordable Crowder would be even higher. As it is, he’s a valuable wing defender and shooter who fits into a role. That’s so useful.
87. Pau Gasol (NR)
Gasol’s status is debatable at this point. But even though he’s a major minus on defense at this stage of his career, he gets buckets and rebounds. He can still pass like a maestro, too.
86. Khris Middleton (NR)
This may be too low for Middleton, a classic three-and-D who serves the defense-first Bucks quite well.
85. Dirk Nowitzki (NR)
Dirk is still doing it.
84. Enes Kanter (52)
Kanter would have been a prime player in the ‘90s or early ‘00s. These days, he’s a value reserve scorer and rebounder. You still need good reserves in the NBA!
83. Trevor Ariza (NR)
A leggy, energetic and smart defender who is just perfect for the Rockets’ frenetic style (provided it continues to be frenetic under the yoke of Chris Paul).
82. Joe Ingles (NR)
Slow Mo Joe is a cerebral, skilled forward who can shoot and pass quite well. He should take on extra importance with Gordon Hayward gone.
81. Dwight Howard (15)
There’s a serious argument to be made that Howard doesn’t belong on this list. But I value interior defense and rebounding enough to find him a spot.
80. Robert Covington (NR)
Covington is one of the best success stories in the NBA.
79. Cody Zeller (86)
Zeller has largely met expectations in Charlotte. I’m not sure there’s another leap up for him, but he’s already solid.
78. Aaron Gordon (92)
Someone, please, for the love of the Basketball Gods and all that is holy, figure out how to use Aaron Gordon in the NBA.
77. Zach LaVine (NR)
Someone, please, for the love of the Basketball Gods and all that is holy, let Zach LaVine come back as bouncy as ever.
76. Jabari Parker (26)
Someone, please, for the love of the Basketball Gods and all that is holy, don’t let Jabari go out like Brandon Roy. We’ve been hurt too many times.
75. Steven Adams (NR)
While I am concerned about the loss of the mustache, I remain confident Adams will bounce back from a down year to provide strong supplemental scoring and plenty of rebounding and defense for the Thunder.
74. Danilo Gallinari (64)
Gallo is an extremely competent scorer, and scoring matters a great deal in the NBA.
73. James Johnson (NR)
What a career twist in Miami!
72. Andre Iguodala (NR)
71. Serge Ibaka (19)
The Serge Ibaka Drop-off has been greatly exaggerated. He was one of the most valuable Raptors down the stretch of last season, and his defense remains key.
70. Jeff Teague (76)
I don’t know exactly why the Wolves paid Teague so much more than what Ricky Rubio would have cost, but that doesn’t mean Teague is bad. He’s a good scorer and able to fit in around more talented teammates.
69. Dion Waiters (73)
Praise be the Clutch God, the King of Onions, the Master of Daggers.
68. Tristan Thompson (55)
Flexible defense from your big man is still highly important, as is rebounding.
67. Ricky Rubio (30)
Defense and passing are really important skills for a point guard, it turns out.
66. Reggie Jackson (NR)
Jackson is a tough player to rank. This grade requires you to believe the Jackson that led Detroit to a good record and playoff berth two years ago is the real Jackson. We’ll see.
65. Markieff Morris (NR)
64. Victor Oladipo (44)
Oladipo isn’t equal value in a trade for Paul freaking George, but we shouldn’t hold that against him. He’s a solid two-way two guard in a league full of them.
63. Nicolas Batum (61)
Batum didn’t actually have a down year after signing his big contract, and 15-6-6 is nothing to sneeze at.
62. Dennis Schroder (74)
You never know. Being freed from the shackles of having a role on a good team could be wonderful for Schroder’s numbers.
61. Nikola Vucevic (69)
Vooch puts up numbers on a mystifying Orlando team.
60. Gary Harris (NR)
Harris is quickly climbing the two-guard rankings. There aren’t many you’d rather have at this point.
59. JaMychal Green (NR)
It’s hard to know whether Green is a product of Memphis’ morphing system or whether he’d be this good anywhere.
58. Patrick Beverley (NR)
Perhaps the best defender at point guard in the league, and a reliable shooter. His fit in Los Angeles will be fascinating. He’s not really a Doc Rivers type.
57. Eric Gordon (47)
Gordon stayed healthy in 2016-17, and that’s always been the only thing holding him back. He’s a dynamo scorer who can shoot and get to the rim.
56. Jrue Holiday (23)
He has to learn how to properly feed Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins. If he does, Holiday should be just the third banana New Orleans needs.
55. Dwyane Wade (60)
Dwyane Wade at 60 percent is better than most two guards at 100 percent.
54. Evan Fournier (NR)
Efficient, young 17-point scorers don’t grow on trees!
53. Tobias Harris (41)
Lost in the Pistons’ disaster season is the fact that Harris continues to be a really solid NBA forward.
52. George Hill (NR)
I’m not sure how Hill will succeed in Sacramento -- or what success would even look like there — but he proved his worth in Utah last year.
51. J.J. Redick (NR)
Trust the Process.
50. Myles Turner (NR)
Perhaps Turner deserves to be much higher on this list. He should get a big bump in usage rate this season. Let’s see how he deals with those extra possessions on offense.
49. Carmelo Anthony (33)
In the top-100 list in our hearts, Hoodie Melo is No. 1.
48. Otto Porter (97)
Porter will get extra scrutiny because of his enormous contract, but ignoring the money, he was incredibly valuable for a good Wizards team last season.
47. Avery Bradley (78)
How much losing Bradley hurts the Celtics will be an interesting plot line to follow this season.
46. Clint Capela (NR)
The perfect center for James Harden and probably Chris Paul.
45. Brook Lopez (17)
When do they build the Brook Lopez statue in Brooklyn?
44. Joel Embiid (NR)
Is 44 Embiid’s rank in today’s NBA, or the number of games he’ll play next season? Your call.
43. Goran Dragic (NR)
Dragic was a key engine behind Miami’s shocking run to the edge of the playoff race. He’s goooood.
42. LaMarcus Aldridge (21)
Aldridge has been a relative disappointment in San Antonio, but he’s still among the better power forwards in the NBA.
41. Harrison Barnes (40)
There are 24-30 All-Stars in any given season, depending on injuries. So consider that Barnes is just a bit outside that range. He’s not Kevin Durant, and he’s not really modern wing in the sense that he can’t draw fouls or get to the rim, but he’s pretty good.
40. Al Horford (37)
Horford had a slow start with Boston, but he quickly became a key cog and fan-favorite.
39. Andre Drummond (3)
I don’t even want to start talking about this.
38. Hassan Whiteside (NR)
The Instagram King and 20-10 machine!
37. Kevin Love (11)
It’s going to be really interesting to see how Love is featured in a post-Kyrie world.
36. Eric Bledsoe (46)
Bledsoe had one of the best quiet seasons in the league in 2016-17. His talents are being shrouded in bad Phoenix.
35. Devin Booker (NR)
Booker is also in Phoenix, but his spectacular offense is able to pull attention because of the gaudy numbers.
34. Kristaps Porzingis (NR)
Porzingis is already the best Knick (Hoodie Melo plays for no one), and he had an All-Star case a year ago. Odds are he gets there this season.
33. Andrew Wiggins (8)
The divisive Andrew Wiggins. Twenty-three points on not-inefficient shooting, though?
32. Kemba Walker (96)
31. C.J. McCollum (NR)
Just need a little more defense and a trade to the East to get him onto the All-Star team.
30. Bradley Beal (38)
Health and a new coach unlocked the Bradley Beal experience for all to enjoy. Keep it up.
29. Mike Conley (51)
Still the most underrated player in the NBA, seven years running.
28. Marc Gasol (35)
If he weren’t on the wrong side of 32, he’d be a few spots higher.
27. Paul Millsap (91)
Ditto Millsap, who should nonetheless be a solid influence in Denver’s revamped attack.
26. DeAndre Jordan (100)
Jordan took a huge step forward in Blake Griffin’s absence last year, and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares without Chris Paul running the show.
25. DeMar DeRozan (NR)
The mid-range god.
24. Kyle Lowry (NR)
You wonder how Lowry feels about the Cavs-Celtics point guard swap. Does Lowry see a path through either or both teams now?
23. Nikola Jokic (NR)
Jokic had the fastest rise in reputation I think I’ve ever seen.
22. Blake Griffin (10)
Griffin is divisive. I think he can still be a top-10 player if he’s in a good place mentally. Still, I don’t know where his head is. No. 22 seems safe.
21. DeMarcus Cousins (22)
Incredible numbers and everyone will be watching him.
20. Isaiah Thomas (NR)
Note that I ranked Thomas one spot below Irving before the blockbuster trade. The gap is larger taking the future into account; I’m looking only at a moment in time. I do think Jae Crowder makes up that gap in this moment in time, and I believe the other assets close the longer-term gap as well.
19. Kyrie Irving (6)
But still, Kyrie is better right now.
18. Gordon Hayward (80)
Hayward hasn’t played with a point guard like Kyrie since his very early days in Utah (Deron Williams). It might be a wild adjustment.
17. Rudy Gobert (NR)
16. Klay Thompson (83)
And so does shooting.
15. Damian Lillard (42)
Dame is probably a top-5 most exciting player to watch.
14. Draymond Green (NR)
New Pippen remains an absolute treasure on the overpowered Warriors.
13. Chris Paul (16)
The fit in Houston could be awkward while CP3 and James Harden figure things out, but CP3 always figures things out.*
(* Applies only from October to mid-April.**)
(** Sorry, that was rude.)
12. Paul George (13)
11. John Wall (20)
10. Jimmy Butler (58)
9. Karl-Anthony Towns (NR)
I’ll be shocked if Towns isn’t an All-Star and first team All-NBA center. He’s here.
8. Giannis Antetokounmpo (79)
7. Anthony Davis (7)
FUTURE MVP. (What a huge season for A.D.)
6. Russell Westbrook (4)
5. James Harden (9)
Eternal MVP bridesmaid.
4. Kawhi Leonard (24)
Legitimately in the running for the best player in the world.
3. Stephen Curry (12)
Greatest shooter ever by a substantial margin.
2. Kevin Durant (1)
Neck-and-neck for Greatest Player Alive status.
1. LeBron James (2)
... but LeBron is still the king. And maaaybe the G.O.A.T.