30 Players in 30 Days: Spots 3–13

We’re almost inside of the top 10 of the “T” is Silent NBA Previews. Yippee! Thank goodness the season doesn’t start for another two weeks.

What’s that, you say? The season starts tomorrow!? Well, at least we’ve done both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference win totals’ podcasts…

Oops on that one, too. Justin caught a bug, negating Big Hak and I’s ability to knock out the Western Conference win totals podcast. The plan is to knock the podcast out either before or after our over-30 hoops league game tomorrow night. Once I know, you’ll know.

But, back to these previews. As I’ve stated multiple times, these rankings have no bearing on a player’s ability (although, yes, the top two players—if I ever get there—arguably are the two best players in the league). I’m doing these rankings based upon where I believe they’ll end up finishing.

I’ll leave two for later tonight.

13. Brandon Jennings, New York Knicks

Fave Video

I listened to the video and caption, watching every single shot from his 55-point explosion way back in his rookie season. If you knew nothing about basketball and I told you one of the rookie point guards in this game would go on to win back-to-back MVP awards, you’d have to believe it was Jennings, right?

By the way, for the non-basketball informed, the other rookie in this game was Stephen Curry, who barely played.

It’s sad that he’s never re-captured that moment from his rookie year. His inconsistent jumper and frail physique add up to him being merely an inefficient spark plug at this stage of his career. But when he’s on… he’s a captivating player.

He won’t come close to replicating that night during his rookie year as a Knick. You might see a couple games where MSG inspires him to a rando 25 or 30 point night. It just boggles my mind how he could never ramp his game up to play this way on a consistent basis.

That said, I’m excited if I’m a Knick fan. We know that Carmelo Anthony finally has a solid supporting cast, and we also know Derrick Rose won’t be missing any time for legal reasons. We think Kristaps Porzingis is the deal (or at least I think so). We think that role players like Joakim NoahCourtney Lee and Jennings will produce.

I think they’ll be safely in the 45–50 win range.

12. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz

My Fave Video

I admit it: I missed on Hayward. After watching his heroics at Butler, I was convinced he’d be a nice, solid role player who wouldn’t take much off the table. I’m not ashamed to admit I severely underrated his athleticism that went along with his craftiness.

Ironically, the biggest hole in his game right now is what I thought would be his biggest strength: efficiency. Because he’s been saddled on a team without many facilitators, he’s been forced to take tough, borderline irrational shots at times.

Having more competent wings and guards like George HillDante Exum and the immortal Joe Johnson should help… especially since he’s set to miss some time with a broken finger.

Out of any team in the West, I think the Jazz have the highest upside. They have the depth, defensive efficiency and coaching (quietly, Quinn Synder is turning Utah around) to make the jump from a non-playoff team to as high as the fourth spot. I’m tempering my expectations because of injuries to Hayward and Derrick Favors, but be on the look out for Utah.

11. Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies

My Fave Video

Are you shocked? Given my affinity for the Mavs, you should be. However, the older I’ve become, the more I realize that the NBA, like any other company, is a business. Why give out a max deal to a guy who couldn’t stay on the court during the most important time of the year… two years straight!?

When he was out there for the Mavs, I thought he brought a different dimension to their team. He was an extra ball-handler, a capable defender, and even had the ability to thrive a small-ball four next to Dirk Nowitzki.

Given Harrison Barnes‘ struggles in the preseason so far, I’m definitely going to miss him. I’m not saying he’s Memphis’ “missing piece”, but he undoubtedly makes them better… even if Memphis now has arguably the two most egregiously-payed players in the NBA.

That said, the Parsons’ addition—along with a healthy Marc Gasol will more than likely propel them to the four or five spot in the West.

10. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

We’ll come back to Beal. My man Big Hak has bars prepped for this one.

9. Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks

My Fave Video

When the Hawks drafted Schroeder, I thought there was a chance he could be special. The jury’s still out, but this season could go a long way in wrapping up deliberations.

He’s a blur in the open-court and has a knack for finding the rim. For those doubting whether a score-first point can thrive in a pass-first system, consider that Jeff Teague came into the league with a similar label. It took him awhile to transition into a floor leader.

Making the change from Schroeder to Teague and transitioning from Al Horford to the suddenly underrated Dwight Howard were the Hawks’ big-time off-season moves. Other than that, they’ll be a club that will move the ball and defend effectively. They won’t move the needle much nationally, but they’ll flirt with 45-50 wins without you even noticing.

8. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

My Fave Video

Go ahead, put your hard-earned’s on LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and the Stephen Curry/Kevin Durant ticket for MVP. George might be the best value, particularly if he can push the Pacers into the East’s second seed convo.

I think PG-13 is the second-most complete swingman in the League. He can defend one through four, make tough shots and create opportunities for others. His mere presence makes the Pacers a threat to win ANY playoff series… including against the Cavs if he completely blacks out while getting support from a dangerous (if flawed) Jeff Teague/Monta Ellis backcourt and Myles Turner.

Defense is going to be somewhat of a question mark in Indiana, but I still think this roster has more upside than the Hawks.

7. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailbazers

My Fave Video

You might have tuned into our podcast and heard our “Great Point Guard Debate.” My whole thing is this: be impressed and tantalized by Kyrie Irving’s ballhandling and John Wall’s elite athleticism. Lillard’s clutch gene and leadership ability allow him to leapfrog those two on the point guard hierarchy… at least in my book.

I know, I know… Irving just won a title and was clearly the best point guard in the NBA Finals. He also had a chance to be the unquestioned man on an NBA team. Those teams never even reached 30 wins.

Meanwhile, Lillard led a team with low expectations to the second round of the playoffs. Did certain things break his way for that to happen? Of course… but he still MADE it happen.

What do the Blazers do now that they actually HAVE expectations? Many people are calling for a drop-off, but don’t sleep on the addition of Evan Turner, along with the continued evolution of C.J. McCollum and the other young Blazers. I think the West’s four seed is theirs to lose.

6. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

My Fave Video

I fell in love with Lowry back when he was a young pup for Villanova. Unrivaled tenacity, ferocious competitor and overall solid point guard. The first two qualities allowed him to develop into an all-star point guard, as he outworked his peers and even re-invented his body.

I know he’s probably on the downside of his career, but at the very least, he’ll have one last contract-year push to try to get his team to the Finals. Won’t happen, but he’ll fight until the buzzer… that is, unless he has to go to the bathroom.

The Raps are a flawed team that lacks offensive imagination, but Lowry and DeMar DeRozan somehow make it work… at least in the regular season. I think the Celtics’ adding Horford gives them a leg-up in the two seed race, but a lot of that might be dependent on the next guy on the list.

5. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

My Fave Video

Thomas’ career could end right this very instant and it would make awesome Disney fodder: pint-sized point guard who overcame the odds and became an NBA All-Star, inspiring a generation of little people to chase their dreams regardless of the obstacles.

However, I think he has one last HUGE hurdle to jump: proving a small, defensively-challenged, shoot-first point guard can lead a team to sustained success. His first two teams—Sacramento and Phoenix—gave up on him… not because they felt he lacked talent, but because they thought his deficiencies took too much off the table.

Granted, he averaged over 24 a game in a six-game series against the Hawks, but those shooting splits, though… 40-28-80 won’t get it done on any level, regardless of your size.

Hak asked an awesome question that legitimately had me stumped: can a team with Thomas as their go-to guy win multiple playoff series’?

I venture to say yes.

4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

My Fave Video

I know as a Mavs’ fan I’m supposed to hate the Spurs, but two things currently make that impossible:

  1. We’re not relevant enough
  2. Leonard

Despite his rapid ascension to NBA stardom, he’s remained super humble, a testament to the classy Spurs’ organization. Think about it: their best player in franchise history, Tim Duncan, took the high road and retired without a farewell tour. Their current best player, Leonard, drives a ’97 Tahoe. I can’t make this stuff up.

On the court, the term “lockdown defender” does Leonard a disservice. He’s not a lockdown defender as much as he metaphorically runs a Rikers Island on that end. You’re not escaping his grasp.

I wasn’t sure if he’d turn into an elite offensive player, but if he isn’t, he’s close. He lives on drives to the rim, pull-up J’s off one or two dribbles, and open threes. There’s no waste in his game. Are there players in the League at his position with more blow-by ability, more offensive moves or more ability to create space? Sure, but he still finds a way to out-produce the majority of them.

The Spurs as a whole shouldn’t see much drop-off from last year. Not a ton of difference between an old Duncan and an old Pau Gasol in my book.

Thing is, that Spurs team, and in fact the last TWO Spurs’ teams, have been exposed by teams with dynamic offensive forces. That’s why San Antonio only finishes fourth.

3. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

My Fave Video

Griffin is such a likeable, exciting player. I thought the people that made Trainwreck should have used Blake instead of ‘Bron because he’s probably got the highest comedic chops in the league.

To his credit, I think he’s transcended the “athletic, high-flying four” label. He handles the ball extremely well in the open-floor, making it easy for him to snare the board and go. He’s become a dependable mid-range shooter, and if you just happen to leave him around the three-point line… well, hell, he might just make it!

But these Clippers are getting frustrating to watch. Some of it has to do with injuries, and they actually have a legitimate claim. In fact, the last time they were fully healthy during the playoffs, they beat the Golden State Warriors in a seven-game series in 2014.

If fully healthy, maybe they can shut people and make the West interesting.

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