SBNation.com's wholly reasonable Top 99 NBA Players of 2015 series continues. In this edition, our heroic editors fight over Al Jefferson, make up by romancing the legend of Thaddeus Young and give out as many backhanded compliments to Tyler Hansbrough as is possible. Enjoy!
72. Danilo Gallinari
Gallinari will be in the middle of his age-based prime in 2015 at 27, and maybe he'll have settled into his destiny as the next Peja Stojakovic. Gallo's rate of three-pointers did calm down a bit under George Karl in the second part of the 2010-11 season, and his efficiency increased at the same time (from .347 in New York to .370 in Denver). That's well within the margin of error, so we'll see if it's real going forward ... provided that we're closer to a third of Gallinari's shots being three-pointers than a half.
That'd be a good thing because Gallo is actually adept at drawing fouls -- in Denver last season, he drew more than eight per 36 minutes, after drawing a pretty solid six in New York. That's the type of action that can turn Gallinari from a nice supplemental scorer into a brilliant potential first-option on the right team. (Think Kevin Martin.) By placing Gallo at No. 72, I'm betting on the middle path ... which is actually just like Kevin Martin, honestly. -- Ziller
PRADA: Going from New York to Denver may be the best thing that happens to Gallinari, because you know George Karl will facilitate the development of his whole game more than Mike D'Antoni. A solid pick.
SHARP: I think the "middle path" is right on for Danilo, especially because I don't see him evolving into a no. 1 scorer for Denver. Eventually, you have to think the Nuggets will add somebody else to handle the bulk of the scoring load, and Gallo will spend the following few years playing the Kukoc to someone else's Jordan. Also, if Gallo wants to become the next Peja, he needs to stop endorsing energy strips and start smoking cigarettes. All European players should smoke cigarettes. Part of the mystique, I think.
71. Paul Millsap
In case you thought getting more responsibility following the departure of Carlos Boozer would be a bad thing, think again. Millsap turned in his best season last year, upping his per-36 minute scoring average by three points and continuing to be a really solid offensive rebounder. He continues to improve his perimeter jumper too, which is his ticket to being a complete player rather than just that limited guy who produces well as a sub. At 29, Millsap will still be young enough to be an impact player too.
The only reason he isn't higher is because of the crowded Jazz frontcourt, which includes Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and now Enes Kanter. Will Millsap get enough minutes to show his skills?
ZILLER: Millsap is a popular trade rumor subject now based on having a more favorable contract than Jefferson and lacking the ceiling of Favors or Kanter. But if the Jazz can lose Jefferson for value (in the backcourt, please), Millsap could end up as Utah's top scorer for the next four years. That kind of production at a reasonable salary is a huge asset for Utah.
SHARP: He's like a poor man's Antawn Jamison.
SHARP: Yeah, that's all I have to offer on this one.
70. Wesley Matthews
What can we say about Wes Matthews that hasn't already been said about vanilla ice cream? He's a good scorer, he's a decent athlete, he works hard, and in four years, he'll probably be exactly what he is now: An totally unspectacular, unsung hero of the NBA's upper middle tier. He's not a hot fudge sundae (D-Wade), there's no dash of chocolate and caramel (Carmelo), and he's not even cookies and cream (Steph Curry), but vanilla ice cream is never a bad choice, and Wes Matthews will be a key player in Portland for at least the next five years, and probably longer.
PRADA: I like Wesley Matthews, but there are always at least five other Wesley Matthewses floating around the league at any given time. (Those five right now, for the record, are Arron Afflalo, Courtney Lee, O.J. Mayo, Carlos Delfino and Jodie Meeks).
ZILLER: As Prada implies, you can find a Wesley Matthews pretty easily, though Wesley Matthews is probably the kings of Wesley Matthewses right now.
69. Al Jefferson
Al Jefferson is exactly the same player he was three or four years ago, and I think that bothers a lot of folks who were expecting more. We thought Jefferson could be one of the next great power forwards, and instead we got an above-average, sub-All-Star, quasi-Zach Randolph. The disappointment resonates more than Al's actual performance does.
The production is pretty good. He's not as efficient as he needs to be, but he's also been far too heavily depended upon his entire career, even when paired with Deron Williams for much of last season. If the Jazz (or whatever ends up with him) can knock back his usage a bit more, he can become a really solid scorer-rebounder for a good team.
Or, he can continue to be the top scorer on bad teams. Fortune can't touch us all. -- Ziller
PRADA: At what point do we start to accept that a team with Jefferson starting at one of the power positions is destined to be bad? The one area Ziller didn't mention in his write-up -- defense -- is the one reason why this is way too high for Jefferson. One-dimensional offensive players who have to be spoon-fed the ball on the left block to succeed and don't defend aren't my cup of tea.
ZILLER: You're conflating circumstance with causation. The Celtics, Wolves and Jazz were not bad because Jefferson was a starting big man. He was the best or second-best player on every one of those teams. Those teams also happened to be completely shallow. (And let's not forget that Al was a starter for a Jazz team last year that was a pretty sure bet for a playoff spot before Jerry Sloan retired and Williams was traded. Those moves surely weren't Al's fault.)
PRADA: I don't think it's a completely ridiculous claim. Sure, it's not only Jefferson's fault those teams were bad, but as long as bigs are as important to a team's defensive scheme as they are in today's NBA, can you really be that good with Jefferson's atrocious defense anchoring your team? You also can't downplay Deron Williams' frustration with having to accommodate Jefferson as he struggled to adjust to Utah's motion-heavy offensive sets. These things aren't Al's fault per se, and dooming a player to Loserville is a bit much, but to imply he's blameless is to imply the team dynamics don't come into play at all.
SHARP: I'm on #TeamPrada here. Big Al seems like a good guy, and he definitely deserves credit for making this analogy, but Prada's right: If he's on your team, there's a good chance you're team will be picking in the lottery. There's a chance that he's just a victim of circumstance, but Utah didn't exactly set the world on fire while Deron Williams was there, and Al Jefferson was the guy who was supposed to put them over the top in the West. Instead, the Jazz are rebuilding now, and in a few years, Al Jefferson will get traded again, and start over in some place like Charlotte. I'd feel bad, but he's in the middle of a $65 million extension, so I think he'll find a way to cope.
ZILLER: Whatever, the Ghost of Shareef Abdur-Rahim spits on you both.
68. Thaddeus Young
It's easy to forget that Thaddeus Young was only 22 years old last year, which makes his breakout fourth season (18.6 PER, 56.6 percent true shooting percentage, only a 9.7 percent turnover rate) all the more impressive. Young's versatility and scoring ability is going to be a huge boon for contenders over the duration of his career, assuming he stays in the league and doesn't go by way of Josh Childress. The 76ers were able to dominate so many second quarters last year because no bench players could match up with Young. In truth, few starters can either.
You might be wondering if this is a bit high for a sixth man, but it's not. First of all, Young could potentially be much more than a sixth man. Even if he isn't, though, the value of bringing that kind of matchup problem off the bench is invaluable. Good NBA teams need that player who can change the game, and Young can absolutely change games. -- Prada
ZILLER: Confession: I would take Young over Rudy Gay right now ... without considering contracts. Now consider that Young might end up signing for about half of what Gay did. Some team -- hopefully the Sixers -- should be very happy with their investment in 2015.
SHARP: The Gay comparison is perfect, especially if Young learns how to be more aggressive, and improves his shooting. Zero sarcasm: There should be more 76ers on this list.
67. Tyler Hansbrough
He's a mortal lock to spend his next 10 seasons as one of the most obnoxiously effective players in the entire league. Remember when Mike compared Tristan Thompson to P.J. Brown? That could be Hansbrough's role on a good team, only in a league where great big men are few and far between, his value will be inflated. He can score, rebound, guard in the post, and run the floor. He also works his ass off, so as the years pass, I'd be shocked if he doesn't perfect a 15-foot baseline jumper and one or two post moves. He's already obnoxiously effective as a tireless nuisance, and as he gets better, he'll only get more obnoxious. I swear that's a compliment. -- Sharp
PRADA: Yeah, OK, the PJ comparison makes a lot more sense here.
ZILLER: Now that he finally beat out Josh McRoberts in the rotation, the world is his oyster!
66. O.J. Mayo
O.J. Mayo wasn't too far behind Aaron Brooks in terms of having Completely Awful 2011 Season. Here's the rap sheet: benched, punched out by Tony Allen, suspended for PEDs, almost traded for Josh McRoberts. That's pretty rough.
He can bounce back, though: he remains a good deep-shooter, he has the tools to be a good defender and a coach who can bring that out, and most importantly, he's young. He'll be 27 in 2015, and hopefully the world around him will stabilize enough to allow him to get his sea legs. -- Ziller
PRADA: Mayo has talent and I believe he can show it, but what has he really shown in his NBA career thus far to justify this? He had a decent rookie season, an OK sophomore year and then slumped last year before an OK finish. He still has yet to prove he can beat players off the dribble with any sort of regularity. Putting him this high is definitely a leap of faith.
SHARP: O.J. Mayo's a little like JaVale McGee, where I think his projection depends entirely on where he ends up. If Memphis becomes more stable, he could thrive. If he winds up playing off-guard in Chicago, he could thrive. If, say, he winds up fighting for shots with Brandon Jennings in Milwaukee or Kemba Walker in Charlotte, things could get dicey. The Wizards are currently planning on starting Jordan Crawford or Nick Young at 2-guard, but I don't know if I'd feel comfortable with adding Mayo instead.
65. Paul George
This may be a bit high, but what we saw from George at the end of the season and in the playoffs last year shows his potential. George came out of college with the reputation of being a bit one-dimensional, but instead ended up showing off a ton of versatility, especially defensively in slowing Derrick Rose. He also was just 20 years old last year, so there's a ton of potential for improvement.
If he reaches his potential, we're talking about a really good secondary scoring option that doesn't monopolize the ball and can lock down three positions defensively. Sixty-five seems about right. -- Prada
ZILLER: I like George's defensive potential, but wonder how that will develop. I mean, projecting offense is difficult enough, and we actually have robust, public metrics on offense. Projecting defensive potential is a crap shoot. On the other end, George's offense was ... underwhelming in 2011. He's going to need to become an All-Defense level performer to justify this spot.
SHARP: THE 76ERS AND PACERS WILL OWN THE LEAGUE.
64. Luol Deng
It's kind of amazing that Luol Deng's only 26 years old because it feels like he's been in the league for a decade now, but he's still young enough to have another 8 or 9 years in the tank. In 2015 he'll be turning 30, squarely in the middle of his prime, and (probably) playing a crucial role for one of the best teams in the league.
If he stays healthy, he'll be one of the most valuable role players in the league for one of the best teams. 64 seems like a fair spot for him. -- Sharp
PRADA: I'd put him higher. He's the adjusted plus/minus king of the last five years.
ZILLER: He's definitely my favorite non-King in the league and has been since I advocated trading Peja for him in 2005. (Those were the days.) When Sharp picking him here, I kicked myself for not taking him in the top 50.
SHARP: Some Bulls fans would put him higher on this list if it weren't for all the charity work he's doing in Africa. And that's proof, my friends. This list may be the most ridiculous endeavor we've ever attempted, but it's NOTHING compared to some real insanity out there.
Stay tuned for Part Five on Thursday: it just might make you vomit!