We're back from Labor Day weekend, and ready to plot the future of the NBA once again as our Top 99 Players of 2015 series rolls on. In case you missed it last week, someone actually picked Rodney Stuckey and a 40-year-old Steve Nash. I'm not going to say who, but be forewarned that those aren't even close to the most insane decisions he made in this project.
See previous editions:
99-91 | 90-82
To tweet about the rankings, we're using the hashtag #nba2015.
81. Shabazz Muhammad
Muhammad is the clear-cut top prospect in the high school class of 2012, now that Andre Drummond has moved into the class of 2011 and is at UConn right now. (Another awesome part of what NCAA regulations and the NBA age minimum have created: last-minute decisions on whether to enter college or go to prep school.) Muhammad is a physical wing with a scorer's mentality. So he'll fit right in once he makes the NBA.
UCLA, Kentucky and Arizona are among his suitors, and while the first option on that list means he's not a surefire No. 1 pick in 2013 (or 2014, if the age minimum is extended), he'll be near the top and as such put into an immediately fertile situation. He should only need a year or two to get his sea legs enough to be seen as a real impact player. -- Ziller
PRADA: You know I approve of this pick. It's a young man's game, and there's no reason Muhammad can't be great right away.
SHARP: I feel like we should've picked him 40 spots higher, but none of us had the guts. Then again, I think Prada put Austin Rivers in the Top 5, so I guess it evens out.
80. Darren Collison
Collison's first full year as a starter had its ups and downs, but I'm confident he'll remain an above-average player for quite some time. He wasn't nearly as efficient or productive in Indiana as he was with the Hornets as a rookie, which I attribute to the league figuring him out a bit. That's natural, especially since few paid attention to him when writing their scouting reports prior to his rookie season.
Despite all the increased defensive attention and despite those ups and downs, Collison turned in a second straight above-average season at the age of 23. He seems destined to be this generation's Sherman Douglas -- a guy who is usually above-average and is better than you think, but may never get the attention he deserves because there are so many other great point guards in the league. That means putting him here is probably a safe bet. - Prada
SHARP: This generation's Sherman Douglas probably won't even be starting on the Pacers with George Hill around. Also, Sherman Douglas averaged 18 and 8 in his second season (as opposed to 13 and 5 for Collison). So yeah, even if we lower the bar to "Sherman Douglas in 2015", it's still a stretch to put Collison in that category. He's awesome as a backup point guard, I just have a hard time imagining him thriving as a starter in the long term.
ZILLER: Traded for an overpaid Trevor Ariza, potentially replaced by George Hill. He screams potential.
79. JaVale McGee
All hail the JaValevator! I have serious reservations about putting JaVale McGee in the Top 100 of any list, ever, but here are his credentials for 2015: He'll be 27 years old, smack in the middle of his prime. He'll still be one of the most athletic big men the NBA has ever seen. And if you assume that he'll get even a little bit more basketball smart over the next few seasons, he could be a serious weapon as a role player for a playoff team. Like a poor man's Tyson Chandler.
The key for McGee will be finding the right situation. If Washington gets better over the next few seasons, it could be with the Wizards. If not, he'll need to find another team with a solid cast of talent that cares about winning. McGee is 23 years old, but he's still painfully susceptible to bad influences (BLATCHE!) and as such, he's prone to violent swings of momentum, and depending on when you watch him, he either looks like a star-in-the-making, or a completely hopeless space cadet.
This pick is me hedging my bets that he'll fall somewhere between the two once he hits his prime. -- Sharp
PRADA: You can understand why the Wizards are reluctant to trade McGee, because size wins in this league and McGee is big. You just have to worry about giving him a second contract before he puts it all together, which the Wizards will need to do next summer.
ZILLER: This pick comes with the implicit suggestion that the NBA will add a team in Manila and allow the Wizards to play them al 82 games, right?
78. Brandon Roy
Don't worry: I've ensured that we can arrange a Roy trade to the Suns.
A year to 18 months ago, Roy would have been top 25 on this list at worst, even with those old knee injuries. But the torn ACL just before the 2010 playoffs and double knee surgery midway through last season have sunk Roy's stock like it was ... well, an actual stock. Despite visions of a reborn Roy spurred by that amazing playoff comeback against the Mavericks -- the one game in the entire playoffs anyone made Dallas look mortal, save the first 36 minutes or so of Game 2 of the Finals -- most believe the shooting guard has peaked. That's believable.
But with plenty of time to rest and rehabilitate, there's no reason Roy can re-envision his game as a conduit and enabler for his incredibly talented partner LaMarcus Aldridge and a rotating cast of solid sharpshooters. You know, Tracy McGrady eventually figured it out. Roy has been forced to come to terms with his own mortality much younger, and if he commits to this new reality, he can be reborn. -- Ziller
PRADA: That trade to the Suns better happen for Roy's sake.
SHARP: If Grant Hill can do it ... Whether it's with the Suns or someone else, as long as Roy gets a change of scenery (and a chance to remake his identity), he should be able to enjoy a pretty lucrative second life as a rock solid starter on a contender. And that would be awesome, because Roy seems like a pretty great dude, and watching him become Penny Hardaway the past few years has been no fun for anyone. Here's to hoping there's another chapter for him.
ZILLER: Oh my goodness, you guys didn't make fun of me! Whew.
77. Kyle Lowry
Perhaps the most underrated point guard in the league last year. Once Aaron Brooks got traded, Lowry was handed the keys to the Rockets' attack and flourished. In 14 games in March, Lowry averaged 19.8 points and 8.1 assists per game on 47 percent from the field and 42 percent (on 96 attempts) from three-point range. That production is going to be hard to sustain, but even if he produces on the level he did throughout the second half of the season (16.8/7.3, 39 percent from three), he'll be one of the better point guards in basketball. Here's hoping he gets his due sooner or later. -- Prada
ZILLER: I love Lowry. My biggest concern is with his new coach, Kevin McHale. Beyond Luis Scola, there's not a whole of post action to emphasize, but Houston has a wide open cap situation and could look to add a shot-creating center. If so, that could weaken Lowry's usefulness off the dribble, and he could fall back into basketball purgatory. Here's to hoping McHale tries to perserve Rick Adelman's offense with Lowry, Scola and Kevin Martin.
76. Carlos Boozer
Hey, he won't be dead! -- Sharp
ZILLER: Are we sure about that? There's a lot of luggage out there ...
PRADA: He's also still pretty good despite everyone randomly deciding to turn on him this year for doing the things he always did.
ZILLER: Yeah, Boozer would have been an All-Star last season had he started the season on time. Fine scorer, good rebounder, rather easy to crack jokes about.
75. Manu Ginobili
Ginobili will be turning 38 before the 2015-16 season, and while that's quite old for a wing who bakes his bread driving the lane, not to mention someone with a war story for every piece of the anatomy, I'm optimistic on Manu's NBA future. He played five seasons in Argentina and Italy before joining the Spurs in 2002; in the NBA, he's put in about 21,000 combined regular season and playoff minutes. For comparison's sake, Kobe has 48,000 combined regular season and playoff minutes ... right now. Those international minutes count too, but being a sixth man on a Gregg Popovich team all these years has allowed Manu to stay relatively fresh. In theory.
He's an athletic player, but that's not how he beats everyone all the time: he's among the most crafty players in the league, able to fool even the great defenders. The bigger concern for Manu's future is what the demise of Tim Duncan will do; Tony Parker has plenty of good years left, and will move on without hesitation if San Antonio decides to rebuild. If it comes to that, will Manu just retire a Spur and get on the path to becoming a great basketball coach? I'm betting against that, based on both the Spurs' stubbornness and Manu's dedication to playing. And if Manu's on the court, I think he'll be able to offer plenty. (This is totally different than Sharp picking Nash, by the way. Totally.) -- Ziller
SHARP: By 2015, he might actually be dead.
PRADA: It's not the minutes Manu plays that's worth noting; it's how he plays in them. When you combine all those international minutes with his all-out playing style, hoping he holds up for four years is optimistic.
SHARP: Seriously, the difference between Manu and Nash is that the past few years it feels like we've watched Manu's body fall apart right in front of our eyes. If Nash is the human counterpoint to the inevitable onset aging and injuries, then Manu's the one who reminds us that, in general, guys start breaking down in their mid-30s. I'd be amazed if he's still playing in four years, let alone contributing as a Top 100-type player. At some point, you have to think he'll just get sick of playing through injuries ALL THE TIME.
74. Bismack Biyombo
Let's just say this is a major leap of faith. We don't really know how old Biyombo actually is, and we don't know if he'll ever be even competent offensively. But it's hard to find another prospect to come out of the draft in recent years with Biyombo's defensive ability. We're talking about a guy who averaged 2.3 blocks in just 17 minutes of play, and that's in the ACB in Spain, the premier league outside of the NBA. He's not just a guy who irresponsibly goes for blocks either -- for a young guy, he has great defensive awareness and alters many more shots than he blocks.
Now, imagine if he really is just 19 years old. We're essentially talking about Tyson Chandler with even better shot-blocking ability. Now you see why I'm taking the leap of faith? -- Prada
ZILLER: I have no doubt that Biyombo is the age he claims to be -- as opposed to the Yi Jianlian situation, there's actually been some evidence (in the form of bone tests) provided to NBA teams and scouts that Bismack is 19 or 20. The leap of faith for me is more whether he can be as good defensively against bigger, stronger, more athletic players in the NBA. Those 17 minutes a game in Spain were mostly against reserves, and don't forget that just like in the NBA, there are some dud teams over there to fatten up on. We'll see. I'm rooting for him.
73. DeMar DeRozan
DeMar may never match his superstar athleticism with superstar production, but he's too athletic to be a wallflower his entire career, and his scoring (17.2 ppg in ‘10-'11) will be more than enough to keep him relevant going forward. He seems like the type of guy who's destined to be a great player on a bad team, meaning that by 2015, he'll probably be overrated and maybe mentioned in the NBA's Top 50.
He'll probably never be that valuable, but top 75 isn't asking too much, particularly since he'll get plenty of opportunities to grow in Toronto over the next few years. -- Sharp
PRADA: Seems pretty fair. For him to get higher, he's going to need to learn how to better use his athleticism.
ZILLER: Toronto could actually be quite good in a couple years. But to be great, DeRozan has to be a star. Needless to say, I think we'll know much more about DeMar's trajectory this time next year.
Next up: Nos. 72-64 on Wednesday. We promise no more Bismack Biyombos will be harmed in the making of the Top 99 of 2015.