Things are getting a little sassy as we sprint toward the finish of our Top 99 NBA Players of 2015 rankings. This time, we debate Stephen Curry's likeness to Monta Ellis, Kyrie Irving's likeness to Terrell Brandon and Rudy Gay's likeness to Martell Webster. Like we said: SASSY.
99-91 | 90-82 | 81-73 | 72-64 | 63-55 | 54-46 | 45-37 | 36-28
27. Stephen Curry
Curry's first two seasons were frightening similar; assuming the 23-year-old makes a leap at some point -- I'm guessing it'll happen right around the point when Monta Ellis is traded or David Lee's elbow wound heals over -- he'll begin to draw All-Star consideration out West. One of the league's best shooters, a credible playmaker and someone who can hopefully learn from Mark Jackson how to defend the point guard position. There's a lot to like about Steph Curry. -- Ziller
SHARP: Hold on: We're really just going to assume Mark Jackson will be able to teach defense to a small, relatively average athlete? Curry's a great scorer, but he's been lucky to play next to Monta Ellis. If he's the focal point of a team's offense, he won't be that hard to stop ... which only means that his matador defense will be that much harder to ignore.
PRADA: I'm more down on Steph than most, though not as much as Sharp apparently. He's a nice player, a solid starter and a good secondary scoring option, but like Sharp said, he doesn't defend and the usage issue is legitimate. The Curry/Monta debate always amuses me because they're such polar opposites. Monta is a high-usage/middling-efficiency scorer, while Curry is a middling-usage/high-efficiency guy. Curry should be higher than Monta simply because of age, but really, we're just talking about two overranked guards that are different and look better or worse than they are simply by association.
ZILLER: Only 38 players who qualified for the scoring title had usage rates over 24 percent last season. So he's not exactly a "low-usage" guy. He's in roughly the 90th percentage in possessions used. (He happened to have the No. 5 True Shooting percentage among those high-usage regulars, by the way. Monta Ellis was ... No. 29.)
26. Kyrie Irving
We really don't know very much about Irving, and no, a handful of healthy games against crappy non-conference competition at Duke doesn't count. If he is as good as he is supposed to be, though, he already has all the elements a pro point guard needs. He's incredibly quick, he finishes well around the rim and he's more under control than most 19-year-old point guards are. He'll never be as athletic as John Wall, as explosive as Derrick Rose or as surgical as Chris Paul, but he borrows a lot of elements from all their games and brings them together in a really nice package. --Prada
SHARP: This seems about 15 spots too high for a poor man's Chris Paul. In Cleveland, he'll remind people a lot more of Terrell Brandon than CP3, and if he's asked to be the savior over the next couple seasons (which seems likely), things could get ugly by the time 2015 rolls around.
PRADA: Terrell Brandon in Cleveland was really damn underrated and definitely a top-30 player in the NBA in the mid-90s.
SHARP: But Terrell Brandon wasn't playing in the same league as D-Rose, Deron Williams, CP3, John Wall, Tyreke Evans. In league full of great point guards, it's going to be hard for Kyrie to stand out.
25. Kobe Bryant
It was time, you guys. Granted, Kobe's got more mileage on his legs than just about anyone on this list, but he's also pathologically dedicated to keeping himself younger, and possibly incapable of facing life after basketball. Those factors combined mean he'll stick around for a few years longer than you might expect. He may never be a top five player again, but that doesn't mean he'll be invisible. Honestly, he'd be higher on this list if I didn't think his ego would turn him into an increasing liability as the years pass.
But even if he takes 10 more shots per game than he should, Kobe will not fade away nearly as quickly as Ziller hopes -- especially if/when the Lakers land a young superstar like Dwight Howard or Chris Paul. -- Sharp
ZILLER: If Kobe plays 2,500 minutes per season -- a level he's hit in every season since 2000 except 2004, when he was 53 minutes short -- then in four years he will be No. 3 all-time in regular season minutes played, behind Kareem and Karl. He's already No. 2 in playoff minutes, about one long postseason or two short ones behind Kareem. And while Manu Ginobili is going to shrivel up and disappear by then, Kobe is going to remain one of the top 25 players in the league? What are you, an All-Defense team voter?
PRADA: At this rate, Kobe's going to feud with Mike Brown and demand a trade to a team where he can just chuck shots up. Hey, Mike D'Antoni still coaches the Knicks ...
ZILLER: Also, as someone fixing to turn 30 who tries to work out regularly: trust me, all that work in the gym adds up, too. It isn't easier to recover from a hard workout when you'e 37. It's better to be dedicated like Kobe than lazy like Eddy Curry -- far, far better -- but the body can only take so much.
24. Joakim Noah
I might have overrated Jo No based on what I perceive to be his elite defensive skill -- it's always hard to tell if it's as good as it looks, because Noah is such an odd player -- but I'm certainly comfortable that, barring injury, Jo will remain a borderline All-Star and above-average starter at the very least. His rebounding is superlative, his role understanding great and he's been a plus player in the playoffs (despite a bit of trouble this year). He's a great fit with Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose, and it appears he'll remain their teammate for a while. Who'd have thought in 2007 that Noah would be the third best player in that draft? -- Ziller
PRADA: There are a lot of very good centers that Noah is going ahead of right now. He's one of those guys who is really valuable to his own team (his passing in the half court allows Derrick Rose to focus on scoring, and his mobility defensively is big for the Bulls' strong-side zone defensive scheme) but if you put him somewhere else, maybe he isn't. Honestly, I'm not sure how to rank those kinds of guys. Little help?
ZILLER: I will say that I'm a little nervous about having Noah this far above Serge Ibaka.
23. Dirk Nowitzki
What, you think the 2011 NBA Finals MVP will become irrelevant in four years? Dirk may be 37 in 2015, but he's so skilled that I doubt he loses much. -- Prada
ZILLER: If he rests every summer -- something he didn't do this year -- he can play until he's 60. Whether he will remain in the NBA after his current contract expires in 2014 is a legit question, though. He has his title. If the Mavericks slip as the rest of the core (Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry) fade away, what's the point in staying? Next to Steve Nash, Anthony Randolph and my pick Manu Ginobili, Dirk might be the player on this list most likely to be out of the NBA by 2015.
SHARP: I'm with TOMZILLA. Dirk could conceivably play forever, but four years from now I'm not sure it'll be worth it to him. Especially as the Mavs get older, I could totally see Dirk retiring to Germany and falling off the grid entirely. At some point he's going off into the sunset still basking in the afterglow of the 2011 Playoffs, and except for the occasional drunk photo that surfaces on Deadspin, we'll never hear from him again.
PRADA: Does Dirk really seem like the kind of guy who would bolt the NBA if he still had something left, especially after everything the Mavericks' organization has done for him over the years?
22. Andrew Bynum
Bynum as a Laker is a mixed bag of injuries, immaturity, irrelevance and occasional flashes of dominance. We know this. But if the Lakers ever pull the trigger and actually trade him, Bynum will be asked to do a lot more wherever he ends up, and that might be exactly what he needs. Between the added opportunity (on a team with less stars) and the added motivation (the Lakers giving up on him), Bynum could be transformed in, say, Orlando, and we could be talking about a completely different, much better player.
His knees will be a question mark for his entire career, but if he stays healthy, there's no reason why he can't enjoy five or six years as a legit All-Star center on a good (maybe not great) playoff team. If he stays with the Lakers, everything I just said is invalid, he's 20 spots too high here, and he could spend his entire career pouting and fighting injuries.
Isn't predicting the future fun?! -- Sharp
ZILLER: You could say this for every player, but it seems especially true of Bynum: his career could go any which way from this point forward. He could become a dominant low-post beast and an All-NBA caliber center ... or he could continue to get injured roughly once a year and end up a sad story. It's in fate's hands, really. (No one is more excited, by the way, than I am about the coming ego battle in L.A. END THIS LOCKOUT SO I CAN SEE BYNUM AND KOBE KILL EACH OTHER!)
21. Chris Bosh
A perennial All-Star who can score inside or in the mid-range, who can rebound his tail off and who seems to be a good character guy, and who will have turned 31 in 2015? I'll take him as the No. 21 player in that year, even if the Heat have to be broken up and he finds himself without two wing men. Bosh is a better David West with a calmer temperament, and West is probably going to sign an eight-figure contract off of a major injury at ... age 31. What's not to love? (Other than all the cornball personality quirks.) -- Ziller
SHARP: What about when the Heat lose another title and Miami trades Bosh to a losing team? Won't he spend the next few years going through the motions and fading toward mediocrity? If this season was any indication, widespread ridicule won't motivate him much, and after a few more years, it could sap his desire entirely. Nobody likes to get booed and ridiculed, but nobody on the high end of this list seems less equipped to deal with it than Chris Bosh.
PRADA: Bosh is easy to make fun of, but he still put up 19 and 8 with tremendous scoring efficiency while anchoring the league's fifth-best defense. Erik Spoelstra raved about his pick and roll defense, and I think it's legit. Sure, he could stand to rebound a bit better and be a bit meaner, but I'm not sure why people expected him to light it on fire last year.
As to the specific scenario, if Bosh is traded to some terrible team, he'll probably just do whatever he was doing in Toronto.
20. Anthony Davis
So at this point, Davis is a little skinny. I get it. But after a year with John Calipari, he'll toughen up and be the kind of running stretch four that has become en vogue in the NBA these days. Think about the ways a team could use Davis defending the pick and roll. He's quick enough to trap any ball-handler, and he's also quick enough to switch if need be, contest jumpers and prevent that guy from getting to the rim. If Davis commits to it, he could have a bigger defensive impact than offensive impact. -- Prada
SHARP: Great pick.
[/looks up YouTube clips]
No seriously, GREAT PICK.
[looks up Davis' height and weight]
Eh, I'm not so sure about this pick.
19. Rudy Gay
Everyone sort of forgot about Rudy Gay when the Grizzlies went on their playoff run this season, but teamed with Zach Randolphn, Marc Gasol Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Tony Allen, and possibly Josh Selby, Rudy has a chance to finally capitalize on all that potential over these next few years. We've been waiting on that next step for a few years, and it's still a toss-up as to whether it ever happens. But he's been improving every year in the league, he's still only 25 years old, if the Grizzlies are going to blossom into legitimate contenders over the next few years, it'll have to coincide with Rudy Gay coming into his own and becoming the All-Star that catalyzes all those pieces in Memphis. So basically, I'm betting on the Grizzlies here.
Because why not? Life's more fun when we all have an excuse to pay attention to Memphis. -- Sharp
ZILLER: If Rudy Gay and Martell Webster switched places in 2006, would Webster be on an $80-million contract and would Gay be fighting Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley for minutes?
PRADA: Come on Ziller, that's absurd. I'm no huge Rudy Gay fan, but he really became a more complete player last year before getting hurt. Nineteen's kind of high, but it's not that high.
SHARP: Rudy Gay's been close to 20 ppg since his second season in the NBA, and Martell's hasn't averaged more than 10 since 2007. Rudy's bigger, longer, and more athletic. Also more durable.
ZILLER: We'll see about durability. Gay's better than Webster, but scoring almost 20 points per game on middling efficiency and offering no other production above positional average -- and some would argue Gay's defense has been well below average -- is not special. I'm saying that had Webster been given Gay's opportunities instead of being stuck in Nate McMillan's slowdown offense and cramped rotation, he'd quite possibly be scoring this much on this efficiency while doing little else well. Gay is not special as an NBA player. He's definitely not more valuable than a Stephen Curry.
SHARP: The real question is: Wouldn't you rather build around Rudy Gay on the wing than try to make it work with Tyreke Evans?
On Tuesday, we waltz with the penultimate set of rankings, Nos. 18-10.