Top 100 players of 2014: Nos. 100-51
The Point Forward is proud to offer our list of the top 100 players in the NBA, an exhaustive exercise that seeks to define who will be the best players in the 2013-14 season.
Given the wide variety of players involved and the deep analytical resources available, no single, definitive criterion was used to form this list. Instead, rankings were assigned based on a fluid combination of subjective assessment and objective data. This is an earnest attempt to evaluate each player in a vacuum. As a result, future prospects beyond this season did not play a part in the ranking process, while the influence of team context was minimized to whatever extent was possible. Our sole concern was how players are likely to perform this season alone.
Injuries and injury risks are thus an inevitable component of that judgment. Past performance (postseason included) weighed heavily in our assessment, with a skew toward the recent. Rookies were not included for that reason, among others. A predictive quality also came into play with the anticipated improvement of certain younger players, as well as the possible decline of aging veterans. Otherwise, players were ordered based on their complete games — offense and defense both, along with everything in between.
Naturally, rounding out the top 100 included some tough calls. The list of notable omissions is dotted with players both well regarded and largely deserving, though lines ultimately had to be drawn somewhere — in many cases based on extremely minor differences. With those exclusions squared away, dive into our list here with Nos. 100-51, followed by Nos. 50-31 on Tuesday, Nos. 30-21 on Wednesday, Nos. 20-11 on Thursday and Nos. 10-1 on Friday. For those interested in understanding more about the ranking process and the limitations of this exercise in general, make a quick detour here.
A quick introduction for those not familiar with some of the “advanced” statistical measures used below:
PER (Player Efficiency Rating) – PER is a per-minute summary of a player’s efficiency and performance, weighted so that a league-average player registers a 15. It generally skews in favor of big men and does not account for defensive contributions that don’t show up in the box score.
Win Shares – A metric that uses box score data to estimate the total number of wins a given player contributes. Last season, Win Shares ran on a scale of -1.5 (Michael Beasley) to 19.3 (LeBron James), but only 10 players finished with more than 10.
RAPM (Regularized adjusted plus-minus) — A variation of plus-minus that compares the on-court impact of every NBA player to a league-average standard (0). The adjustment helps account for much of the statistical noise that exists in raw plus-minus measures.
100. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic (C, 22)
2012-13 stats: 33.2 MPG, 13.1 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 51.9 FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 17.8 PER, 5.7 Win Shares, -0.4 RAPM
Vucevic is far from a complete player, but he’s shown room for growth and already rebounds in bulk. He was the youngest player to average a double-double last season and bolstered his credentials by ranking fourth in total rebounding percentage. That’s a great starting point for a quality big man, and with that foundation (along with legitimate mid-range-shooting chops), Vucevic has earned the playing time and opportunity needed to work on the rest of his game. He has the basic tools to address some of his weaknesses — the ambidexterity to improve his shooting percentage at the rim, the mobility to become a better defender — and is likely to improve in his second season of regular rotation minutes. — Rob Mahoney
99. Jarrett Jack, Cleveland Cavaliers (G, 29)
2012-13 stats: 29.7 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 5.6 APG, 3.1 RPG, 45.2 FG%, 40.4 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 15.9 PER, 5.6 Win Shares, -0.7 RAPM
Wanted: one steady veteran point guard capable of advising elite up-and-comer. Cleveland didn’t need to post an ad on Craigslist for everyone to see its mental wheels turning: If Jack can work well playing both with and behind Stephen Curry in Golden State, as he did in 2012-13, why can’t he do the same with Kyrie Irving? Indeed, Jack seems like just the man for the job, as he possesses the size, strength and quickness to play either backcourt position. Jack finished third in the Sixth Man Award voting last season, and though he’s never quite cut it as a full-time starter, he’s ideally suited to be a third guard. Jack oozes with moxie and tends to look for his own offense more often than not. That mentality might be problematic for some teams, but the Cavaliers, who ranked No. 23 in points per possession last season, can use a little potency and swagger off the bench as they chase their first playoff appearance of the post-LeBron James era. — Ben Golliver
98. Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks (G/F, 32)
2012-13 stats: 30.5 MPG, 10.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 45.7 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 13.9 PER, 6.4 Win Shares, +0.7 RAPM
It’s easy to write off Korver as merely a shooter, but he moves so well off the ball and is so exceptionally accurate with his shot that he bends defenses with his every cut and curl. Korver also doesn’t overstep his role; he passes out of unfavorable situations and understands his own limitations. What he does well legitimately makes his team better and what he does poorly (one-on-one defense, lack of shot creation) can be managed. That makes Korver a catch in the role-player set. — R.M.
97. Matt Barnes, Los Angeles Clippers (F, 33)
2012-13 stats: 25.7 MPG, 10.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 46.2 FG%, 34.2 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 15.5 PER, 6.3 Win Shares, +0.9 RAPM
How many players come off as detestable as Barnes while also achieving “He can play for my team any day” status? Not a lot. His bad-boy persona and off-court drama might have cost him real money as a free agent in 2012, but he played his way into a nice three-year, $10.2 million payday this summer. The Clippers had some choices to make about who stays and who goes after their first-round exit, and retaining Barnes appears to have been a top priority. One of the league’s most notorious instigators, Barnes is a pesky defender who can contribute offensively without needing the ball. He posted a healthy +6.8 net rating and his 2012-13 PER and Win Shares both represented career highs. Nothing he does is pretty, and not much of what he says is fit to print, but he’s the type of nuisance role player who makes sense for a veteran-dominated team looking to win now. — B.G.
96. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs (G, 26)
2012-13 stats: 27.5 MPG, 10.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 44.8 FG%, 42.9 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 14.1 PER, 5.9 Win Shares, +0.4 RAPM
Green is one of the league’s better three-and-D types, a classification that makes him amenable to most any team or system. The ability to guard multiple positions allows Green to complement his perimeter teammates through defensive cross-matching, while his elite three-point shooting helps the Spurs clear space for a high-functioning offense. Within that system he’s shown a knack for both scripted and unscripted offense, thriving in structure and chaos. Players who perform well under both conditions are rarer than they should be, but Green has an excellent feel for when to follow assigned cutting routes and when to break free for needed improvisation. — R.M.
95. Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns (G, 23)
2012-13 stats: 20.4 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 3.1 APG, 3.0 RPG, 20.4 MPG, 44.5 FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 17.5 PER, 3.7 Win Shares, +1.7 RAPM
Bledsoe has star potential with his rare package of strength, speed and agility, but at the moment his talents are a bit too solvable to rank any higher than this. His tenacious on-ball defense, quickness off the dribble and furious cutting can be weaponized properly in the right situation, as was the case last season with the Clippers. But without ideal supporting parts (as will be the case this year in Phoenix), Bledsoe’s somewhat limited court vision and inability to shoot off the dribble become more problematic. He’ll surely improve in time, and he’s already made gains as a spot-up shooter. But his shortcomings will be in play in the interim, even as Bledsoe still gets plenty of mileage out of kineticism alone. — R.M.
94. Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets (F, 24)
2012-13 stats: 36.3 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 48.6 FG%, 38.5 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 15.3 PER, 7.0 Win Shares, -0.1 RAPM
Parsons was Houston’s second-leading scorer last season, thanks to drastically improved shooting from Year 1 to Year 2. The former second-round pick has become synonymous with value, as he stands to make less than $1 million this season. That fact is particularly funny, given that Parsons served as chief recruiter in Houston’s pursuit of Dwight Howard. Can’t management cut him off a little finder’s fee? The arrival of Howard means Parsons should slide naturally into a No. 3 scoring role, an occupation that should fit him nicely. Parsons rose to the occasion as his minutes increased in the playoffs (18.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 39.7 minutes). That’s a positive sign for the future, considering the Rockets’ goals, – B.G.
93. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves (G, 22)
2012-13 stats: 29.7 MPG, 10.7 PPG, 7.3 APG, 4.0 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 36.0 FG%, 29.3 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 16.2 PER, 3.0 Win Shares, +3.2 RAPM
Bag on Rubio’s shooting if you will, but few see the floor as fully as he does and fewer still combine that level of playmaking with impact defense. Even at this early stage in his development, he’s a transformational player. His presence on the floor translates to smoother offense (despite not projecting as much of a scorer) and more stifling defense, all of which makes him a worthy building block for Minnesota despite his obvious flaws. Even mediocre shooting numbers would go a long way in propelling Rubio up this list, but in his current form he’s still a skilled, helpful two-way player. — R.M.
92. Shawn Marion, Dallas Mavericks (SF, 35)
2012-13 stats: 30.0 MPG, 12.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 51.4 FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 18.0 PER, 5.3 Win Shares, -0.7 RAPM
Marion has long been a master of subtlety, and he quietly persists as one of the NBA’s most versatile defenders. He draws an opponent’s top wing threat by default but often shifts over to defend big men or slides up to corral speedy point guards. Length and savvy allow him such freedom, as Marion, who is tough to lure out of sound defensive position, remains one of the best at contesting shots without overcommitting. He’s also a solid rebounder for his position and still a capable scorer, though most of his points come through impromptu post-ups or periodic floaters. Neither is an especially consistent weapon (he’s best served as a fourth or fifth option because of his problems creating offense), but Marion’s slippery moves toward the basket make him difficult to fully lock down. — R.M.
91. Brandon Jennings, Detroit Pistons (G, 23)
2012-13 stats: 36.2 MPG, 17.5 PPG, 6.5 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 39.9 FG%, 37.5 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 16.1 PER, 5.8 Win Shares, -2.5 RAPM
This summer should have been a humbling experience for Jennings, but something tells me he won’t see it that way. It’s not often that an organization decides to part with its former top-10 pick who started for four years and twice guided his team to the playoffs, especially when the market set his worth at a relatively modest $24 million over three years. That’s what happened to Jennings, who was dumped in a sign-and-trade to Detroit so that Milwaukee, which deemed him not good enough to be worth the hassle, could start fresh. Jennings is a flashy playmaker with shot-selection issues and an almost delusional level of self-confidence. His reputation will get a boost if he finds a way to make the Pistons’ unusual puzzle pieces fit on offense. — B.G.
90. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls (G, 23)
2012-13 stats: 26.0 MPG, 8.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 46.7 FG%, 38.1 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 15.2 PER, 7.0 Win Shares, +1.0 RAPM
Butler’s claim to a spot on this list is a thin one: He barely played during his rookie year before enjoying a breakout sophomore season in which both his traditional stats and advanced numbers still looked fairly pedestrian. His performance on the eyeball test was another matter entirely, particularly during the playoffs, when he played tenacious defense, accepted every challenge and upped his scoring as his minutes increased. His play against the Nets and Heat produced a chorus appreciation from impartial observers and envy from fans of other teams. That chorus swelled to a shrieking mob when he went off for 21 points and 14 rebounds and played all 48 minutes in Chicago’s Game 1 win over Miami in the second round. Butler’s NBA existence is headed for another shake of the Magic 8 Ball in Year 3 thanks to Derrick Rose’s return, but his hungry, team-first approach should ease that transition. — B.G.
89. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors (G, 23)
2012-13 stats: 35.8 MPG, 16.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 42.2 FG%, 40.1 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 12.7 PER, 4.3 Win Shares, -0.6 RAPM
The lesser-known Splash Brother didn’t ascend to stardom like Stephen Curry, but he did succeed in putting himself on the NBA map during his second season. Leave Thompson at your own risk: He shot a healthy 40.1 percent from three-point range despite averaging more than six attempts per game. The only other player who accomplished that feat last year? You guessed it: Curry. What stood out about his role in Golden State’s playoff run was his fearlessness. His offensive contributions ebbed and flowed, but he had some incredible high-water marks (21 points and five threes in Game 2 against the Nuggets in the first round; 34 points and eight threes in Game 2 against the Spurs in the second round). He has the size and desire to be a plus-defender as he develops, too. There could be a transition period as Golden State figures out how to integrate Andre Iguodala, but a knockdown, quick-trigger shooter such as Thompson will be helpful under almost any circumstances. — B.G.
88. Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns (G, 27)
2012-13 stats: 33.5 MPG, 14.7 PPG, 7.4 APG, 44.3 FG%, 31.9 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 17.5 PER, 5.7 Win Shares, +2.0 RAPM
Though not quick or skilled enough to be a spectacular player, Dragic has the off-the-dribble resources to act as a solid lead guard. His game is grounded in peculiarity; Dragic surprises both opponents and teammates with his offbeat moves off the dribble. But it’s through that unique timing that Dragic is able to stutter and squirm his way to the basket — the area of the floor that most defines his value. Once Dragic gets deep enough into the paint, every deke and fake becomes especially effective, allowing him open passing lanes, clean looks inside and an opportunity to draw fouls. That skill enables him to make up for some iffy shooting off the bounce and generally slow-footed defense, though not to a degree that would justify a higher ranking than this. — R.M.