I’ve been blogging about hoops since 2002 on a myriad of cyberspace addresses (waaaay too many to list). This shit happens EVERY YEAR when I go to drop my NBA previews: Justin gets off to this crazy, blazing start, then trails off. Every year. Without fail.
At least this year, I have an excuse: my real, 9–5 CAREER (not a “job”… a “CAREER”) has precluded me from being as active as I want to be.
So here’s the thing: instead of doing one post for each player (which I concede was ambitious but nonetheless somewhat effective in driving traffic), I’ll do four or five players each post. But there’s a catch:
Four players… not necessarily from the top four teams, or my four favorite players for that matter… will get their own post.
This will all be done before opening tip on Tuesday, Oct. 25. If I had a contract, I’d sign it in blood.
Just as a reminder: these rankings aren’t in a skill order. For example, Tyler Johnson is not the 28th best player in the NBA. What I’ve been doing is writing about my favorite and/or most interesting player from that team.
Let’s recommence, shall we?
19. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
My Fave Video
I think the best way to describe “Point Gee-Aw-Ness” (if you don’t get it, it means you missed me and my boy “Big Hak” discussing Eastern Conference win totals during our podcast this past Sunday) is a longer, more athletic, less offensively-polished version of Kevin Durant. The last one is a major differentiator, but yes: the Greek Freak is a more impressive physical specimen than one of the most impressive physical specimens in modern NBA history.
I mentioned this when I talked about Zach LaVine whenever the hell I wrote last: I hate when teams take players (specifically versatile, athletic wings) who have the chance to be dynamic and try to pigeon-hole them into the one spot. Antetokounmpo might be the most extreme case yet. Can he play the point guard position? Sure… but there’s inevitably going to be this awkward transition where he’ll be more likely to think than act. Put him out on the wing, and it’s just ACT.
You know how good Giannis is? The Bucks are a mess. They’ve lost Khris Middleton for a significant period of time. They don’t know how to use Greg Monroe or Jabari Parker. They’re about to give major minutes to Tony Snell.
And you know what? If he breaks out like he’s more than capable of doing… and a couple teams ahead of them (cough, Hornets, cough) slip just a bit… the Bucks could be a playoff team in the East.
18. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
My Fave Video
Walker’s not a top-five point guard by any means. However, when it comes to creating space, I challenge you to name five guys in front of him. Other than that, he’s basically Damian Lillard Lite in every respect: generally great in the clutch, good bad-shot maker, inspiring leader. However, we’ll find out this year if the Hornets can win a playoff series with Walker as their unquestioned best player.
Quite frankly, he’s the only player that’s even remotely exciting on the Hornets. There’s nothing sexy about Frank Kaminsky‘s footwork, Nic Batum‘s intangibles or Marvin Williams‘ Marvin Williams tendencies. We’re not even going to talk about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s shooting form since there may be kids present. Hak tried to make a case for Ramon Sessions replicating Jeremy Lin‘s numbers from last year, but I think that’s a stretch.
Do I think the Hornets can make the playoffs? They’re pretty much the definition of a .500 team. They’ll be right there, but the bottom of the East is tougher this year.
17. James Harden, Houston Rockets
My Fave Video
When deciding who would be the last team out in the West, it really came down to one question… who do I trust more between a re-invigorated Harden and “feeling some kind of way” Russell Westbrook?
Both have something to prove. Very quietly, Harden is developing an “uncoachable alpha dog” reputation. If he can’t absolutely thrive with Mike D’Antoni giving him the keys to the offense, I don’t know what to tell you. That said, I actually think the team around Harden this year will give him more room to operate. Between Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and sneaky-good signee Eric Gordon, the Rockets will definitely be able to put the “space” in “space and pace”.
The issue? The bottom of the West is tough. I don’t think it’ll be like last year when 45 wins had you in the five spot. Hell, 45 wins this season might not be enough to make the postseason in the West.
Even with Harden’s offensive brilliance, I don’t think the Rockets will be able to defend well enough. The metaphorical playoff club is at full capacity.
16. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
My Fave Video
Am I the world’s biggest Butler fan? Honestly, he won by default since I’m not really in love with any of the Bulls, but I respect his game. I respect anyone who can play at or damn near an elite level on both ends of the floor. I always like watching players who never take the game for granted and do all those little things that turn me into a cliche-writing ass-clown.
But as Hak and I touched on during the “poddie”, the Bulls are going to have one of the worst three-point shooting guard/wing rotations in modern NBA history. Rajon Rondo basically has a defensive strategy named after him. Teams have used that strategy on newly-acquired point guard Michael Carter-Williams from time to time during his career. While I think Dwyane Wade will certainly knock some down (as he did against Charlotte in the playoffs), let’s not pretend he’s a sniper, either. Yes, I’m well-aware of Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, but let’s be real: do you really want those guys on the floor at the same time in long stretches?
I think Jimmy’s the unquestioned leader of this team, and he’s talented enough to lead them back into the playoffs. However, if you’re a Bulls’ fan, know that your season will be over before May hits.
15. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
My Fave Video
I love how Westbrook plays. For 48 minutes at a time, he makes it his mission to eviscerate the opposing point guard… or, in the case of Golden State, whoever’s guarding him.
Speaking of which, I think last year we got a preview of an “in his feelings” Russ. I really think he took it personal when Stephen Curry came out of nowhere and captured the unofficial point guard title, along with the nation’s imagination. Seemed as though he was dismissive in nearly every interview.
So, in some way I think we all knew something like this was coming… just not to this level of, “Now I do what I want”-ness.
There’s no questioning Westbrook’s intensity, nor his status as a top 5–10 player in the NBA. However, despite the savvy off-season moves meant to bolster a team WITH Kevin Durant, replacing 28 points per game is never easy. Ask Kobe Bryant how easy it was without Shaquille O’Neal for those first couple of seasons.
And, I just realized something: if the Thunder do grab the eight seed… and the Warriors pretty much do what everyone thinks they’ll do…
Just a reminder: tune in on Sunday 3PM EST to catch the live version of the “T”is Silent podcast. Big Hak and I will go over analyze Western Conference over/under win totals and other crazy stuff.