We are approaching the end of the Top 99 NBA Players of 2015 ranking. It's time for the truly wackadoo picks to pop up. Thankfully, Andrew Sharp has you covered.
18. Tyreke Evans
Call me a homer, but that rookie production isn't to be forgotten: he tallied 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game in 2009-10, famously becoming the fourth rookie to do so. The fanfare around the mark was overblown and possibly a bit destructive -- it clearly put unneeded pressure on the kid -- but that's not what ruined his 2010-11 season. That'd be plantar fasciitis, an ailment that has felled many a great player. After some rest, his foot is better. Hallelujah.
The thing with Evans is that he's in that zone where two elite point guards who happen to be above him on this very list made a hefty leap. Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook were exemplary rookies ... but truly became stars in their third seasons. (Rose was MVP, Westbrook was an All-Star in the deep West.) Evans had a lost sophomore season, but even if you give him the extra season, there's plenty of time between now and 2015 to catch up.
Rose and Westbrook are legit stars. Evans was better than both as a rookie. What makes anyone think he won't join them? -- Ziller
PRADA: I've never really liked Evans, but even I think you can throw out last season because of the injuries. I suspect he'll be putting up the kind of numbers that make him worthy of being this high on the list. My bigger issue is whether he can be a leader or whether he'll fall victim to being too spoiled to inspire his teammates to success. The Kings have definitely coddled him a bit since he came into the league, and there are a ton of other strong personalities on the roster who won't be too happy if that continues.
SHARP: I don't necessarily doubt that he can be as explosive as Westbrook and Rose, but he's going to need all kinds of leeway from his team to make it happen. The reason Rose works in Chicago is because his teammates worship him, and they're fine with him monopolizing the offense. The reason Westbrook's best year also became his most tumultuous was because his teammates (depending on who you believe) weren't totally okay with how he ran the offense. Assuming Evans can be as explosive as the two most explosive scoring guards in the league is already a big "if", but assuming he'll do it without sabotaging the Kings' chemistry is even more of a risk.
ZILLER: Et tu, friends? Everyone knows that the "no one likes playing with Tyreke" business is a fabricated narrative spit out by ESPN, which hates both small towns and the West Coast, and therefore doubly hates Sacramento, and which trumps up drama at every turn, and which had the 2002 Western Conference Finals fixed just because they could. Don't be sheeple, guys.
17. Rajon Rondo
I don't really see Rondo's jumper getting fixed by 2015, but in all other areas, I suspect his game will progress. As Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen continue to get older, Rondo will assume even more responsibility, and therefore his production will continue to grow. Heck, it's been happening already, and the Big 3 still have plenty left in the tank.
I guess one could say this is an overranking based on Rondo's play in the second half of the year last year after the Kendrick Perkins trade, but I see no reason why that would be a long-term setback. Keep in mind that Rondo was also playing through foot injuries, which certainly didn't help his production. -- Prada
ZILLER: But what happens when everyone outside of Boston ignores Rondo's weirdness due to new love for floppy-haired Ricky Rubio? I actually think Rondo needs some post moves -- we know he can't shoot, we know he's long as Hell. Even if he can't overpower opponents, he's such an incredible passer and has such wonderful vision that if he's a minor threat to score down low, he'll exploit every bit of attention help defenders give him. And it'd prevent opponents from sagging off of him all of the time.
16. Carmelo Anthony
The internet loves to point out how overrated Carmelo is, and I'm not even sure he'd make the Top 20 in 2011. Having said that... This list is for 2015, when I assume the Knicks will have added either Chris Paul or Deron Williams, adding about three or four years to Carmelo's prime. And while everyone knocks Melo's efficiency, remember that he's one of the three or four best closers in the NBA, and that skill isn't going to disappear over the next few years.
His defense and passing is what keeps him from going any higher, but he's going to be deadly enough in 2015 to justify a spot in the Top 20. There are only a handful of true assassins in the NBA--guys capable of creating for themselves and taking over in the final two minutes of the game. People poke holes in his game to prove he's not one of the five or six best players in the NBA, but so many people have said he's overrated that at this point, he's a little underrated. Go back and watch Game 2 of the Celtics series if you don't believe me. -- Sharp
PRADA: Eh, probably about right.
ZILLER: Sharp's blurb, but shorter: Carmelo isn't one of the best 20 players right now, but he'll be the rare forward that gets better into his 30s -- he'll be 31 in 2015 -- because the Knicks will sign one of the best point guards in the league despite not having a GM right now and possibly having no space if there's a hard cap and also they have no trade assets, which is what they needed to nab 'Melo. Also, he's a unicorn and had a really awesome playoff game against a broken, ancient team, you guys.
Carmelo should be in the 40s on the list.
15. Dwyane Wade
Wade might be the biggest injury risk of the players currently under 30 on this list, but only because no one took a chance on Greg Oden. Otherwise, with or without LeBron James next to him, Wade is among the top three perimeter players in the NBA when healthy. He has a career PER of 25.7, good for No. 2 among active players (behind LeBron) and sixth all-time (behind MJ, LeBreon, Shaq, David Robinson and Wilt). And consider that PER underrates defense, where Wade is all-World.
Everyone focuses on how The Decision to join Wade in Miami will affect LeBron's legacy and his chance of being deemed the G.O.A.T. someday. But what about Wade? His legacy has been odd throughout his career, but becoming co-Batman with LeBron has seemingly excised him from top-10 all-time conversations while he may very well belong. I love Magic Johnson as much as the next guy, but ... isn't Wade on that level? Shouldn't he be in the conversation with Kobe as best post-MJ guard in the NBA?
Wade is so much better than we realize. Here's to hoping he's still on top of his game and the game in 2015. -- Ziller
PRADA: Wade is truly phenomenal, and if he's healthy, I think he is still a top-10 player in four years. I just don't have a ton of confidence his body will hold up. Over the next four years, he will be playing 40 minutes a night while carrying a huge offensive load for a Heat team with only three high-usage scorers. He'll be doing that while advancing deep into the playoffs every year. It's not out of the question to say he'll be asked to play 40 hard minutes a night for 400 games over that time. Wade dealt with nagging injuries last season. He'll surely deal with many more over the next four.
SHARP: His knack for making plays and hitting big shots will keep him relevant, especially if he sticks by LeBron's side. But the way he plays, careening into the lane seven or eight times a game, is ultimately what'll spell his downfall. Even this year, you could see his body breaking down. If he stays healthy, this seems like a good spot for him. But there's no way his body holds up for another four years, right?
14. Austin Rivers
OK, I admit: one reason to make this pick was to piss off Sharp the UNC fan. But I also think there exists a world where Austin Rivers is one of the top players in the league. The NBA is built for speedy, athletic lead guards like Rivers who can explode to the basket and finish with contact. Rivers' somewhat erratic point guard skills are concerning, but they're less of an issue in today's NBA, where the best point guard in the league averages 6.7 assists per game for his career.
If Russell Westbrook can be as good as he is, I see little reason why Rivers would not be. Obviously, it could not work out for him. Rivers could stink at Duke, or he could be drafted by a team that insists he become more of a pure point guard. But I really don't think this pick is as nuts as the peanut gallery below will make it out to be.
SHARP: Hahahahahahahaha. [Deep breath] Hahahahahahahahahaha.
SHARP: If you were going to take a young guy here, you could've taken Shabazz Muhammad, Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis, Quincy Miller ... ANYONE. All of those guys would've been more defensible than Austin Rivers. Kobe may have to come to D.C. and slap you himself. Austin Rivers is coming into Duke with more hype than anybody in the country, but here are the facts: He's 6'3 and 175 pounds, he needs the ball in his hands to score, he dribbles too much for a shooting guard, he's not an insane athlete, he doesn't pass or defend particularly well, and he's going to Duke, where he's a lock to be transformed into a whiny finesse player. Okay, so that last one wasn't really a fact, but you see my point. Maybe he'll prove me wrong, but Austin Rivers seems like he'll be an overhyped, softer version of Marcus Banks. Or maybe a shorter, less athletic version of J.R. Smith.
Dominating college will be hard enough, but imagining him as one of the 15 best players in the NBA is just ridiculous. Even Doc Rivers is like, "Whoa hey there Mike, are you f***ing kidding me?"
ZILLER: I'm just going to let Sharp's position stand.
13. Russell Westbrook
I'm not a Russell Westbrook fan, only because I love Kevin Durant. But Westbrook's gifts are undeniable. Athletically, he's one of the two or three most imposing guards in the NBA, and in 2015 he'll be hitting his peak. Whether it all happens in Oklahoma City is another question, but if he can turn the corner and learn how to pick his spots better and take over at the right times, he and Durant could be the most dominant scoring duo of this generation, and he'll be a perennial All-Star in the Western Conference.
If not, and Westbrook gets traded, he's still got enough talent to make his mark on his own. Ziller knows better than anyone that Westbrook's stats are eerily similar to those of Derrick Rose, and in the right situation, he could be the anchor on a playoff team, and one of the leading scorers in the NBA. -- Sharp
PRADA: He's 22 years old. In 2015, he'll be 26. He's coming off a year where he averaged nearly 23 points and 8.5 assists per game. He's not the purest of point guards, but he's a good kid that wants to win, not someone like Stephon Marbury. I think he and Durant will figure it out, and I see no reason why he'll fall any lower than this on this list.
12. Al Horford
I considered taking Westbrook here, but had to go with the hyper-efficient, brilliant defensively, puts everything on the table and takes nothing off Horford. He's flexible, splitting time as an undersized center and a traditional face-up power forward. (Yes, we're at the point where face-up power forwards are considered traditional and back-to-the-basket power forwards are considered throwback.) Horford won't ever be as involved on offense as the other guys this high on the list -- his usage rate rose to just under 20 percent last season, and I think it'll go up to about 22 at peak -- but when he does get the ball, he puts it in the bottom of the net. His True Shooting percentage is tremendous for a player who doesn't draw fouls (by virtue of setting up about 15 feet from the basket) and doesn't shoot threes.
Outside of scoring, he's a monster. He has finished in the top 10 in the NBA in offensive and defensive rebounding rate once each, and I'm not sure any rotation player defends the pick and roll or orchestrates team defense better than Horford. He's also a surprisingly nifty passer and a Dirk-like shooter on mid-range shots. (Horford has gone 287-555, or 51.7 percent, from 16-23 feet over the past two seasons. Nowitzki has gone 547-1130, or 48.4 percent.) -- Ziller
PRADA: Yup, strong pick here. Horford's basically the way you can tell if a fan's understanding of basketball is subtle or superficial. If you think Horford is a top-30 player in the league right now and a potential top-20 guy in four years, it means you appreciate the subtle parts of the game. If you don't, it makes me think you're only looking at the superficial elements.
SHARP: It's hard to justify putting any player in the Top 15 if you don't think that player can anchor a contender and occasionally win games all by himself. Do we really think Al Horford will have the Hawks in the playoffs in 2015, taking over games all by himself? He's a great piece who does a lot of things well, but just because he's well-rounded and understated doesn't mean he's Tim Duncan.
ZILLER: That's exactly what someone would have said about Tim Duncan in 1998. Just sayin'.
11. John Wall
As anyone who has watched summer league games can tell you, this is probably too low for Wall. Last season, as a 20-year-old rookie, he averaged 16 points and eight assists a game while playing at 85-percent health (at best) all year on a truly awful team that had no consistent scorers or ballhandlers to shoulder the load he carried. He did this all without a jump shot and with a team that had no clue how to run a halfcourt set. This summer, he's worked tirelessly on the former, and there will eventually come a time where his team will have the latter.
Of all the guys not in the top 10 on this list, Wall has the best chance of being truly special, as in MVP special. His natural tools are off the charts, and he's playing for a head coach (Flip Saunders) and a lead assistant (Sam Cassell) who certainly know a thing or two about how to get the best out of point guards in this league. It's only a matter of time until Wall learns how to manage a game while still unleashing his jaw-dropping physical tools. Once that happens, he could very well be the best point guard in a league of unbelievable point guards. -- Prada
SHARP: (Afraid to jinx this...)
ZILLER: No. 11 feels low for Wall. Hell, he's the lowest guy who could legitimately end up No. 1 on here, barely beating out ...
10. DeMarcus Cousins
Okay, we're getting a little crazy here. But DeMarcus Cousins probably has more gifts than any young big man in the NBA, and as he puts that package together, there's no reason he won't be able to compete with Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge for the big man crown every season.
Okay, there's one reason: DeMarcus Cousins might actually be insane.
But assuming he avoids sabotaging himself or others, DMC has the tools to take over the league. He rebounds well, he's the got body to defend anyone in the entire NBA, and he can score down low and/or on the perimeter. With guys like Bosh, Pau, and Dirk getting old, somebody's going to take up the mantle for scoring big men, and even though most fans probably forgot about him out in Sactown, DeMarcus is poised to be the most dominant low post scorer of the new era. (You know, that, or Derrick Coleman 2.0). -- Sharp
PRADA: This is nuts. DeMarcus Cousins over John Wall? With the way the NBA is going these days with the rules changes? Even if Cousins gets his head on straight (which is a BIG if), he's got a style of play that just isn't conducive to the modern game. The difference between Cousins and guys like Griffin and Aldridge is that they are already elite pick and roll threats, so they can play out on the floor as well as in the post. Can Cousins do that? Is he athletic enough to dive down the lane and explode for finishes? Is he smart enough to make good decisions facing the basket? Throughout his career, he's been spoonfed the ball in the low post. Can he learn to be more than that? I have my doubts.
ZILLER: I have to be the biggest DMC homer on the planet, and ... yeah. Most insane pick of this project. He could end up here, he could end up a bit higher ... or he could be a lesser version of Zach Randolph. He needs a coach to keep him disciplined on offense -- something Paul Westphal has shown little interest in doing -- and he needs a stronger conscience when it comes to blowing up at teammates and refs in frustration and making smart plays. He's like the anti-Horford: incredible potential to be a game-changer, but such a magnificent question mark in so many ways. This is a bold, bold choice, Sharpie.
The final set of Top 99 of 2015 rankings will arrive on Wednesday. R U READY?