DeMar DeRozan is the 38th Best Player in Basketball

DeMar 50

Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s Great: DeMar DeRozan does two things very well: he gets to the basket, and he draws fouls. He does them better than just about anyone. he makes 63% of his shots within three feet of the basket. Only centers do that. James Harden is the only other guard in that class. Speaking of Harden, only he and DeMarcus Cousins shot more free throws last year. If you want someone to do those two specific things, you’d be hard pressed to find someone better than DeRozan.

But give DeMar credit, he’s trying to expand his game. He took almost two three-pointers per game last season and made almost 34% of them. That’s not good, but we’re talking about someone who takes more long-two’s than just about anyone in basketball. Any time he takes a step back and tries for the extra point is a good thing, and he’s finally hitting them at least at a league-average rate. That threat is largely responsible for his career high in points per game last year.

And hey, at least he tries on defense now! With his length he can almost always affect shooters, but he’s tall enough to switch onto most modern forwards. He’s a versatile C- defender which makes him a C+ or so overall. Teams can live with that considering what he provides on offense.

Why He’s Below No. 37 (C.J McCollum): C.J. may not be as big as DeMar, but he tries way harder on defense and is getting a lot better at just staying in front of guys and being helpful. That counts for something considering McCollum’s shooting makes him a more valuable offensive player. If a tiebreaker were necessary, it would go to C.J. for his passing as well.

DeRozan’s skill set is just so specific, you need to build around it and that’s a tough ask for someone who can’t shoot three’s or pass. That’s why the Raptors were so much better without him on the floor, their net rating jumped from +3.0 with him to +7.6 without him. Part of what made the Toronto bench so good was how freely they were able to move the ball without worrying about DeRozan’s isolations.

Take this stat, lineups with Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph averaged 22.7 assists per 100 possessions. That’s more than any team averaged over the entire season and it’s not close. But the Raptors as a whole, including DeRozan’s minutes, were 28th in the league in assists per 100. That’s the DeRozan effect. It’s manageable with the right players around him, but if his team isn’t careful it’s just so easy to devolve into strict isolation basketball.

K.C. Jones is the 13th Best Coach in NBA History

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Throughout the Offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 15 coaches in NBA History

Total Seasons: 11

Total Championships: 2

Regular Season Record: 552-306

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .643

Playoff Record: 81-61

Playoff Winning Percentage: .570

 

Why he’s great: Pride is the downfall of many great coaches. Jones’ predecessor in Boston, Bill Fitch, was arguably a more accomplished coach than him. But he had to run the Celtics his way, and it eventually cost him the team. Jones’ best trait as a coach was his least noticed: he knew how to stay the hell out of the way.

There’s something to be said for that. How much coaching does Larry Bird really need? Jones was smart enough to keep a steady hand on the Celtics without becoming overbearing, allowing them to operate as adults without risking an undisciplined locker room because he knew the veterans would keep it in line. Pat Riley was never able to do that. Phil Jackson is struggling with it right now. No matter how great a coach is, he has to know when to trust his team to figure things out naturally.

His reputation could’ve been much greater. He was fired after only three seasons coaching the Washington Bullets despite winning 155 games and making the NBA Finals. Had he been able to coach them through the decade, he likely would’ve been there to win the 1978 championship instead of Dick Motta. Had he won a title with an aging Wes Unseld instead of Bird, he might get a bit more respect from casual fans. Still, I’m not sure Jones is complaining about winning two rings and leading arguably the greatest team ever in the ’86 Celtics.

 

Why he’s not higher: Coaching Larry Bird is a double-edged sword. He doesn’t need much coaching, but he also doesn’t need much coaching. How much credit are we going to give someone who sat at the head of the best organization in basketball? He always had great players and, if anything, probably should’ve won at least one more championship.

The peripherals on most of his teams are also questionable. Every one of his Celtics teams won more games than their Pythagorean expectation would suggest, meaning they likely received an unsustainable amount of luck through things like bad bounces, 50/50 balls, officiating and so on. Not one of his non-Boston teams ever finished higher than 9th in offensive efficiency, and his short tenures with Seattle and Washington indicate potential discord we weren’t aware of.

If Jones had a more distinctive brand of coaching we might be able to overlook that, but there just honestly isn’t much evidence to suggest he was a particularly great coach outside of his great players. So by accomplishment he has to make this list, but it’d be unfair to rank him any higher than this.

Kemba Walker is the 39th Best Player in Basketball

Kemba 50

Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s Great: Kemba Walker has been miscast as a point guard for his entire career. In the past the Bobcats/Hornets have relied on him to initiate their offense and it’s failed. The system dragged, they were forced to play slow isolation ball and Walker seemed like a good stats, bad team guy. And then everything changed when Nic Batum became his backcourt mate.

Suddenly Walker could be a scorer and only a scorer, and boy howdy did he do it well last season. His assist rate hit a career low, but his points, field goal percentage and three-point percentage were all career highs. With Batum (and to a lesser extent Jeremy Lin) on the floor he finally got a chance to learn to move without the ball because for the first time in his career, someone else on the floor was capable of having the ball in their hands. He developed a decent right corner-three that became something of an off-ball trademark (48% from that right corner).

This is the player Walker was meant to be. He’s simply not a point guard, and if he has to be the only ball-handler on an offense it’s going to fail. But if he’s paired with some quick-twitch passers that allow him to do the things that he does well, he’s suddenly a near-All Star caliber player.

Why He’s Below No. 38 (DeMar DeRozan): Because DeRozan does everything Walker does but slightly better. Walker is good at getting to the rim, DeRozan is great. Walker is good at drawing fouls, DeRozan is great. The list goes on and on. DeRozan is basically just the better Walker.

Case in point: they share a major flaw: shot selection. Walker’s is better than DeMar’s, as DeRozan barely ever shoot’s three’s, but for Kemba to shoot in the mid-30’s percentage wise on virtually every region of long-two’s is simply unacceptable considering his volume. You can’t go 33-99 from a two-point region of the court and continue taking those shots. It’s bad basketball.

And it’s not as though Walker plays defense either. At least DeRozan is long and can challenge shots, but it takes real effort to hide Kemba defensively. It’s not that he’s outright terrible, but he’s too small to guard any position besides point guard and his effort doesn’t cut it against most of them. As his athleticism starts to wane that’s going to become a real problem. Actually it already is one. Walker is a one-dimensional scorer.

What if Miami Won the Derrick Rose Lottery?

Derrick Rose Heat

Every Wednesday, Pick and Popovich will dive down the rabbit hole and explore a different NBA “What if.” The only rule is that the scenario must come from a place that is somewhat realistic and grounded in at least somewhat believable rumor or hearsay. Otherwise, anything goes. 

Miami operates with a firm “best player available” rule. Michael Beasley may be a better fit as a forward next to Dwyane Wade, but through the draft process it becomes clear that Memphis point guard Derrick Rose is the better prospect. So when their No. 1 pick comes up in the 2008 NBA Draft, they don’t hesitate to take Rose and figure out the fit a bit later.

That hastiness doesn’t do Rose or the Heat any favors. He looks good when given the chance to attack the rim as he’d like, but with Wade monopolizing the ball those opportunities are few and far between. The tension is so thick that Rose’s hometown team, the Chicago Bulls, eventually calls Miami to make an offer for Rose. The Heat refuse, and Chicago winds up very thankful that they did. After all, had they acquired Rose they never would have entered the 2009 NBA Draft in position to draft a far better point guard, but coach Vinny Del Negro’s frustrating year and Chicago’s roster without scorers gives them the league’s seventh worst record and a desperate need for playmaking. So they grab Davidson’s Stephen Curry and never look back.

Year 2 of the Rose era is more of the same, and by season’s end the team becomes determined to deal him if their lofty free agency goals are met. So to clear the cap space necessary to sign Chris Bosh and LeBron James to join Dwyane Wade, they trade Rose to Minnesota for a future draft pick.

Minnesota is thrilled with the return on their meager investment. Rose turns his career around playing next to Kevin Love and even competes for an MVP award in Minnesota. It is eventually won by James, who goes on to win a total of five straight, but the Rose-Love combination finally gives the Timberwolves some hope in the post-Kevin Garnett era.

As his five MVPs suggest, LeBron wins quite a bit in Miami. They win the Eastern Conference in his first season with the team and the championship in his next two. But eventually, the Curry-Tom Thibodeau combination overcomes the old and worn down Heat in 2014. They lose to San Antonio in the NBA Finals, but in asserting themselves as the new conference leaders they essentially force LeBron’s hand in leaving Miami for Cleveland.

James, Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins on one side, Curry, Jimmy Butler and Thibodeau on the other. No one can imagine a more intriguing Eastern Conference rivalry, especially with the winner likely to take on Rose and Love’s Timberwolves in the NBA Finals.

 

Kristaps Porzingis is the 40th Best Player in Basketball

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Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s Great: Last season, as a rookie, Kristaps Porzingis had a game in which he made two three-pointers, blocked seven shots, grabbed 14 rebounds and turned the ball over only three times. That has never happened in NBA history. I repeat, that has NEVER happened in NBA history. Here’s the proof. Keep in mind, this happened when he was a rookie.

And things like this are going to keep happening. Nothing can be taken off of the board. Might the Knicks try him as the ball-handler in a pick-and-roll? Is he mobile enough to play small forward in ultra big lineups? Imagine a super villain cloned Dirk Nowitzki, but some of Hakeem Olajuwon’s DNA was already in the vile and then they just stuck a bit of flubber on his shoes for fun. That’s pretty much what we’re looking at with KP.

There is absolutely no precedent for what Kristaps Porzingis might one day become. We’re talking about an all-time rim protecter who projects as a future knockdown shooter. He’s 7’3”, but he still played in 72 games as a rookie. As far as we can tell, he’s a one-of-a-kind player who’s going to be durable enough to stay on the court enough to prove it.

Why He’s Below No. 39 (Kemba Walker): We have no idea when Porzingis is going to hit his peak because his peak simply doesn’t exist in NBA history. There’s no timetable for his development. He might turn into a superstar as early as next season. He also might just be a slightly better version of his rookie self, someone good for 16 or 17 inefficient points and a mixed bag of rebounding, passing and shot-blocking. No. 40 is splitting the difference. Kemba Walker is a star right now. He already is who he’s going to be as a player, and that’s much easier to project.

And it’s not as though Porzingis is a flawless super player. He’s so skinny that bigger forwards and centers can still bully him. His basketball IQ still has a long way to go and there are still certain defensive rotations that make him look lost. And for all of the blustering about what his shot is going to be, over his last 20 games of last season he made fewer than 30% of his three’s.

We have to be honest about who Porzingis is right now, a gawky pseudo-rookie barely out of his teens without a stable organization to guide him. He’s going to be great. But right now, he’s just good.

J.J. Redick is the 41st Best Player in Basketball

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Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most. 

Why He’s GreatJ.J. Redick might’ve just had the second-best shooting season in NBA history. He became just the second player ever to make at least 200 three-pointers and shooting 47.5% or better from long range. Only Kyle Korver has ever done that, but you completely didn’t notice because of everything Stephen Curry did.

But shooting is far from Redick’s only contribution. He’s one of the more underrated defenders in basketball. Opposing shooters shot 3.3% worse against Redick than against an average defender and the Clippers’ defense was 3.3 points per 100 possessions worse without Redick on the floor than with him. He’s one of the more physical defenders of his size in basketball and he never gets any credit for it.

He can even dribble a little bit! He made 53.4% of shots on drives last season and averaged two per game. That’s not a huge number, but it’s added value. Most catch-and-shooters can’t move with the ball. That Redick can makes him that much more dangerous.

Redick’s reputation is based largely on opinions formed when he was in college. It’s stupid. He’s one of the best two-way players in basketball and it’s time we started treating him like it.

Why He’s Below No. 40 (Kristaps Porzingis): Because all of those things Redick does well, Porzingis does too. And Porzingis is 7’3”. A 7’3” shooter/dribbler/defender is more important than a  6’4” shooter/dribbler/defender.

Plus, Redick is getting older. He’s 32 and has played 10 seasons. Shooting ages well, but other skills don’t. He’s going to start wearing down, and his foot was hurt far worse than anyone believed at the time. There’s every reason to believe that he’s going to get better and have a great season, but most of the players on this list are in their 20’s. Redick is at a disadvantage against them.

And Redick’s skills are inherently complementary. Yes, he can dribble, but he can dribble in the way that Scooby Doo can speak. It’s technically true but would you want Scooby Doo giving a lecture on particle physics? No, because his English is great for a dog but crappy by normal standards. Redick’s best skills work far better with great teammates than they do with crappy ones. He never has to defend the best guard on the other team, he gets plenty of open three’s, these are things that happen when you play with Chris Paul. Redick can’t be blamed for that, but he loses some credit. Paul makes everyone look great.

Don Nelson is the 14th Best Coach in NBA History

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 30: Head coach Don Nelson of the Golden State Warriors yells against the Memphis Grizzlies during an NBA game on March 30, 2009 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 15 coaches in NBA History

Total Seasons: 30

Total Championships: 0

Regular Season Record: 1335-1063

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .557

Playoff Record: 75-91

Playoff Winning Percentage: .452

 

Why he’s great: Arguably the greatest offensive coach of all time, Nelson coached parts of 31 NBA seasons and his offense finished among the top-5 in points per possession 13 times. He did it with players in Milwaukee you’ve never heard of and he did it with superstars in Dallas and Golden State, but the one thing those teams had in common was pace.

Along with Rick Adelman, Nelson was among the first coaches to embrace pace-and-space offenses. His Warrior teams finished in the top-10 for three point attempts every season he was there and often ended up much further, and he was largely responsible for developing an offense around the greatest shooting big man of all time, Dirk Nowitzki.

Though he never won a championship as a head coach, Nelson did orchestrate one of the greatest upsets in playoff history when his 2007 Warriors beat the 67-win Mavericks in the first round. Though his offense took center stage, Nelson’s strategy to use smaller defenders on Dirk Nowitzki unnerved Dallas, proving his versatility as a coach.

Timing proved to be Nelson’s greatest enemy, as his Mavericks managed to make the Finals the year after he left but did it largely by beating an Amar’e Stoudemire-less Phoenix team in the Western Conference Finals. Had he stuck around, he may have pushed Dallas over the top against Miami. In any case, he laid the groundwork for that finals team and even the 2011 version that won the championship.

 

Why he’s not higher: Nellie’s stubbornness proved to be his undoing on multiple occasions. Had he been willing to play Chris Webber at power forward instead of center he might have been able to keep him and build the sort of contender Webber eventually found in Sacramento. It’s also fair to wonder why Steve Nash improved so significantly after leaving Nelson for Phoenix. For whatever reason, many players who seemed logical fits in his system ended up thriving without him.

His lineup choices were also often rigid and too focused on star power and offense. Veteran Antoine Walker started all 82 games of the 2003-04 season for Nelson due to his reputation as a scorer, but he posted miserable .428/.269/.554 shooting splits and was among the worst defensive players in basketball. Had he been willing to play youngsters Marquis Daniels and Josh Howard more instead, the Mavericks may have finished higher than 26th in defensive efficiency.

That was Nellie’s fatal flaw. Though he wasn’t necessarily a bad defensive coach, he was so fixated on offense that he made decisions that ultimately caused more harm than good. Had he been more willing to try to coax scoring out of defensive players, his teams might have had more playoff success and he could have a championship ring.