Top 100 players of 2014: Nos. 100-51
74. Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs (C, 28)
2012-13 stats: 24.7 MPG, 10.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 24.7 MPG, 56.0 FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 18.7 PER, 8.2 Win Shares, +3.7 RAPM
Far too many consider Splitter to be a mere sidekick for Tim Duncan or a prop for a LeBron James highlight, but the Spurs’ center is one of the few big men capable of both high-level team defense and highly efficient pick-and-roll play. That combination makes him more or less ideal for the modern NBA, where the ability to navigate the space in the lane on both offense and defense is paramount. When looking to score, Splitter does a terrific job of hesitating on his rolls to the rim — a simple delay that allows him to capitalize on the gaps in the opponent’s coverage. The result? An impressive 66.3 percent shooting in pick-and-roll scenarios, with a healthy dose of drawn fouls to boot. Splitter also brings that same understanding of space and timing to wall off opponents from the paint, where he’s just quick enough to help against opposing guards before then recovering to his assigned man on-point. That he strikes that balance so consistently makes him quite a catch, no matter his limitations. — R.M.
73. Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves (G, 30)
2012-13 stats: 27.7 MPG, 14.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 45.0 FG%, 42.6 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 16.0 PER, 7.0 Win Shares, +0.3 RAPM
Martin isn’t particularly strong, he isn’t a natural distributor, he definitely isn’t someone you can rely for rebounding and he most definitely isn’t an impact defender. What does that leave? At this stage of his career, an efficient complementary scorer with great range and, until injuries hit in 2011-2012 and his role narrowed in 2012-13, the ability to get to the free-throw line early and often. Last season, after being acquired from Houston in the James Harden trade, Martin was the sixth man and No. 3 scoring option on a Thunder team that ranked No. 2 in offensive efficiency. Oklahoma City posted a better offensive rating and a better net rating with Martin than at any point during the Harden era. There’s no question that Oklahoma City missed Harden’s playmaking ability when Russell Westbrook went down with a season-ending knee injury in the playoffs, as Martin failed to step up into a secondary scoring role behind Kevin Durant. That turn of events shouldn’t erase the Thunder’s top-notch body of work in the regular season, and Martin’s role in it. Minnesota made Martin a very generous offer this summer, and he will reunite with Rick Adelman, who oversaw some of Martin’s best work in Houston. – B.G.
72. Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers (F, 30)
2012-13 stats: 14.8 MPG, 5.4 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 28.6 FG%, 20.0 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 4.0 PER, -0.1 Win Shares, +1.0 RAPM
Note: Granger played only five games because of a knee injury
Danny who? If you happened to blink in February and March, you missed Granger’s brief and unsuccessful comeback from left-knee problems. And if you didn’t check in with the Pacers until the postseason, when Paul George was already certified as an All-Star and regarded as one of the game’s top up-and-comers, you could be forgiven for not even noticing Granger’s absence. Could the stage be set for an out-of-nowhere comeback to quality play? Granger is only 30, and he missed just seven games combined the previous two seasons. His PER was well above average every season from 2009-12, and he’s shot consistently well from three-point range. With George’s emergence and some added depth this summer, Indiana is in a position to ease Granger into whatever role he can handle. Hanging over his return are the financial realities: This could very well be his swan song in Indiana because his $14 million contract expires after the season and George will be due for a max extension. — B.G.
71. Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls (F, 31)
2012-13 stats: 32.2 MPG, 16.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 47.7 FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 17.1 PER, 5.7 Win Shares, -1.1 RAPM
Boozer is far from an ideal first-option scorer, but players (like him) who can successfully act as an offensive funnel are of greater value than their raw numbers suggest. Chicago’s offense was problematic when leaning too heavily on Boozer, but there’s something to be said about his possession usage, flexibility and passing as a means for avoiding disaster. He’s good in a pinch and even better when paired with a top shot creator (such as Derrick Rose, for example). Regardless, he is a consistent source of both points and rebounds, which helps counter the fact that his defense remains a total mess. Boozer doesn’t move well laterally, and even after a few years under Tom Thibodeau, he still winds up conceding space and points on pretty basic play actions. That he’s too short to contest shooters and too slow to keep his man in front of him tends to create some pretty glaring problems, though a defense as good as Chicago’s can still account for both while sustaining elite marks. — R.M.
70. Jose Calderon, Dallas Mavericks (G, 31)
2012-13 stats: 29.6 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 7.1 APG, 47.0 FG%, 46.1 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 18.8 PER, 7.4 Win Shares, -0.4 RAPM
Speaking of defensive liabilities, Calderon offers all the resistance of a turnstile on his better days. How much that matters depends very much on the team for which he plays. A sound system and the right teammates can mitigate the defensive damage a player like Calderon creates. But Toronto never quite had the back-line defenders to compensate for his blow-bys, while Dallas might be asking too much of new center Samuel Dalembert to make up for the concessions of both Calderon and backcourt mate Monta Ellis. Still, his defensive weaknesses aren’t so disastrous as to upend all the good that he does on offense, where Calderon is a wonderful, low-risk facilitator. Not many players can shoot or pass like Calderon, and with that combination of elite-level skills comes a unique capacity to enable his teammates. — R.M.
69. Omer Asik, Houston Rockets (C, 27)
2012-13 stats: 30.0 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 54.1 FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 14.9 PER, 5.5 Win Shares, +4.5 RAPM
The Rockets have floated the idea of testing out how Asik and Dwight Howard, two traditional centers, work together. The conventional response to the concept seems to be skepticism, but it’s clear where Houston is coming from: Asik boasted a +5.9 net rating last season, tops among Rockets starters, and his +4.5 RAPM ranked in the top 20 league-wide. That’s real impact, and returning him to the reserve role he played in Chicago for two seasons would seem to be a major waste. No matter how the lineup combinations pan out, a hardworking 7-footer who puts up rebounding numbers on both sides of the court is of great use to a high-octane, three-happy Rockets offense that won’t need his scoring much, if at all, this season. — B.G.
68. Monta Ellis, Dallas Mavericks (G, 27)
2012-13 stats: 37.5 MPG, 19.2 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.9 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 41.6 FG%, 28.7 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 16.2 PER, 4.6 Win Shares, +1.1 RAPM
No one benefited more from Brandon Jennings’ idiotic “Bucks in 6″ prediction for a first-round playoff series against the Heat than Ellis, who finally got a reprieve from “Monta Ellis have it all” wisecracks. His unfortunate self-comparison to Dwyane Wade came during his worst shooting season since his rookie year of 2005-06, and Miami’s four-game sweep of Milwaukee (plus the Heat’s run to a second straight title) confirmed yet again how much distance there is between Ellis and the truly elite players at his position. Even so, moving to Dallas should serve him well, and his multifaceted offensive game should be put to good use in an organization known for its use of analytics. If the Mavericks’ number-crunchers can persuade Ellis to think before he chucks, perhaps he can add a meaningful second chapter to a career that’s stalled over the last two years. — B.G.
67. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz (G/F, 23)
2012-13 stats: 29.2 MPG, 14.1 PPG, 3.0 APG, 3.1 RPG, 43.5 FG%, 41.5 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 16.8 PER, 5.4 Win Shares, +1.7 RAPM
Hayward is already quite versatile — a quality scorer, a defensive irritant, a capable passer — and needs only the time and opportunity to further develop his skills with the ball. He’s athletic and controlled enough to do some nice things as is, and as soon as this season Hayward could grow to be far more comfortable generating offense. If that development takes a bit more time, Hayward still offers a baseline of strong all-around play with few gaps. He’s a hard cutter and sweet shooter (41.6 percent on three-pointers, including 46.7 percent on spot-up threes). He does well defending either wing position, rebounds enough to get by and brought his scoring up to 17.4 points per 36 minutes this past season. That kind of balance gives the Jazz a lot to work with, and solidifies Hayward’s standing as one of the better up-and-coming wings in the league. — R.M.
66. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers (C, 30)
2012-13 stats: 36.0 MPG, 14.1 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 47.8 FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 21.7 PER, 3.3 Win Shares, +4.1 RAPM
Note: Varejao played only 25 games because of assorted injuries, including leg surgery
Let’s take a moment to pour one out for Varejao’s aborted 2013 All-Star candidacy. Before injuries wreaked havoc for the third year in a row, the Brazilian center jumped out to a phenomenal start by placing among the league leaders in rebounding and doing what he could to hold together a pathetic Cavaliers team defense. Known as an energy guy, Varejao was Cleveland’s leading interior scorer and he posted an eye-popping 15.4 assist percentage. He’s reached — and arguably exceeded — Andrew Bogut-esque levels of health concerns and, given his age and the fact that Cleveland took the Andrew Bynum plunge, it’s reasonable to wonder whether he will ever be able to maintain the durability needed to aid in the Cavaliers’ ascent. — B.G.
65. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Hornets (G/F, 23)
2012-13 stats: 31.0 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 47.8 FG%, 33.8 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 18.1 PER, 4.4 Win Shares, -0.2 RAPM
Figuring out how to best use Evans can be a chore, but his instincts and physicality translate to some impressive individual production. In theory, he could fill a variety of roles: an oversized point guard, a slashing wing, a one-man juggernaut off the bench, a supporting ball-handler or even a post-up facilitator. But the Kings never quite figured out how to strike the appropriate balance around Evans. That task now belongs to the Pelicans, who gave him a four-year, $44 million deal in a sign-and-trade with Sacramento. Whether New Orleans can provide the right fit for Evans remains to be seen, but its far more intriguing roster could make better use of the enigmatic guard’s flexibility. Regardless, Evans doesn’t have a great feel for running an offense and has a long way to go as a defender and shooter. He produces despite those limitations, but they do complicate matters when constructing lineups around his rare talents. — R.M.
64. Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors (F, 27)
2012-13 stats: 35.8 MPG, 18.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.5 SPG, 41.6 FG%, 32.3 3FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 15.6 PER, 4.0 Win Shares, +0.4 RAPM
The Rudy Gay Experience was an all-around bummer in 2012-13: He put up his worst scoring and shooting numbers since his rookie year of 2006-07, a particularly rough turn of events for a high-volume shooter. It wasn’t just that. In January, Gay was traded from a Memphis team that went on to make the conference finals to a Toronto team that was desperately chasing a playoff spot it couldn’t possibly reach. Many observers panned the Raptors’ move and the executive who acquired him, Bryan Colangelo, was replaced this summer. Even if his shooting numbers recover to some degree, it’s hard to envision Gay’s succeeding in carrying this team to the playoffs, even in a down year for the bottom of the East. Then what? — B.G.
63. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (C, 20)
2012-13 stats: 20.7 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 60.8 FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 21.6 PER, 4.5 Win Shares, +1.9 RAPM
Drummond is far and away one of the most difficult players to place on a list like this. His ridiculous per-minute impact as a teenager — and all the upside it foretells– suggests a player who could conceivably be regarded as a top-15 asset right now. The Pistons would reject straight-up offers for Drummond involving a good 30 players listed above him in this exercise, but the UConn product and iCarly fanboy still has plenty to prove during his sophomore season. Was his midseason back injury a one-time fluky hiccup? (He looked very good during the Orlando Summer League.) Can he handle full-time starter’s minutes for a team with playoff aspirations? Can the 37.1 percent free-throw shooter avoid falling victim to endless Hack-a-Shaqing? Can he team with Greg Monroe and Josh Smith to make the jumbo lineup a functional concept? Can his evident potential as a traditional back-line stopper translate into team-wide improvement for a Detroit squad that ranked No. 23 in points allowed per possession last season? — B.G.
62. Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia 76ers (F, 25)
2012-13 stats: 34.6 MPG, 14.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 53.1 FG%
2012-13 advanced stats: 18.2 PER, 7.4 Win Shares, +3.0 RAPM
Young’s game is sublimely understated, in part because he’s always been the second- or third-best player on mediocre Sixers teams, but also because the things that he does best generally go unseen. He’s a skilled, flexible defender who does his work early in possessions to keep opponents from getting into their plays. With that type of prevention, he registers a far greater defensive impact than is immediately visible in the box score. Navigating space and managing switches are no problem for Young, who has the versatility to defend myriad player types, whether in help or by design. His offensive game, meanwhile, has been trimmed of all fat. About 70 percent of Young’s field-goal attempts came within nine feet of the basket last season, thanks to pristine shot selection via cuts, rolls and improvised post-ups. He doesn’t step outside himself or take on responsibility he shouldn’t, admirable qualities that serve as a boon for his game. — R.M.