Give And Go: Best calls, biggest mistakes from our top 100 players of 2014 list
3. Which top 100 snub is now the most glaring?
Golliver: Our list of potential omissions from September includes a number of good answers to this question: Magic guard Arron Afflalo, Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Warriors center Andrew Bogut, to name three. The best answer here, though, is a snubbed snub: Blazers guard Wesley Matthews. Yes, that’s right: We left Matthews out of the top 100 and didn’t include him on the snubs list either.
I recall that he merited a brief discussion for inclusion during the offseason, but was passed over in part because he had cultivated a reputation as a reliable, but unspectacular, complementary guard. The first two months of Matthews’ season, however, have been nothing short of spectacular. He is second in the NBA with a 125 offensive rating, ranks third in true shooting percentage (63.1) and is enjoying career highs in scoring, rebounding, PER and the major shooting categories. He’s always been a committed defender, and that hasn’t changed this season, even with his scoring numbers on the rise.
His three-point shooting (42 percent on 6.5 attempts per game) has been the foundation for his off-the-charts efficiency numbers and a huge factor in Portland’s top-ranked offense. But he’s also expanded his post game and done well to limit his turnovers. Finding new ways to be effective — and cutting out lots of the fat — has helped him post big numbers without requiring more touches, allowing the ball movement that drives Portland’s “flow” offense to remain intact.
Matthews’ name has percolated in the discussion for Most Improved Player and he’s performed at about as close to an All-Star level as a relatively anonymous player can get. Even if his shooting numbers regress down the stretch of the season, Matthews should head into the 2014-15 season as a top-50ish candidate.
Mahoney: In addition to Afflalo and Beal, I’ll give due to Indiana’s Lance Stephenson — a wild player who has focused his game in all ther right ways this season. Ultimately, though, I’m giving the nod as the biggest snub to the aforementioned Bogut, who was omitted largely for injury concerns. If I can be so ridiculous as to quote myself:
In full and healthy form, Bogut is an easy inclusion in the top 100. But until he proves he can return to that level, Bogut has been too frequently out of the lineup to be depended on, to say nothing of his now-marginal offensive contributions.
Addressed on all counts. For starters, Bogut has played 37 of Golden State’s 38 games and anchored the back line beautifully for a top-five defense. He’s averaging a solid 27 minutes, very much in the vicinity of fellow difference-makers Tim Duncan, Nene and Tyson Chandler. It’s possible that Bogut might never again play the 35.3 minutes he averaged in his last full season with the Bucks, but he doesn’t have to. As long as he’s on the floor consistently enough for the Warriors to develop defensive chemistry around him, he registers well into the top 100.
That Bogut’s shooting percentage has skyrocketed from 45.1 to 62.8 only enhances his case. We’re well beyond the point of Bogut’s being a post-up force, or even much of an active participant in the Warriors’ hot creation. But Bogut needs to be able to catch and finish (or catch and dish to an open shooter, as he often does) in order to punish defenses for overloading on Stephen Curry, and he has succeeded wildly in that regard this season.
4. Has the first half of 2013-14 proved James Harden to be the best shooting guard?
Golliver: The placement of Heat guard Dwyane Wade (No. 8) and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (No. 9) over Rockets guard James Harden (No. 11) sparked a debate that wound up actually involving Wade, Harden, Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Rockets center Dwight Howard, among others. For now, I’m OK with Harden’s moving past Bryant, who recovered from his Achilles injury only to go down again with a knee injury, but there’s still no way I’d choose Harden over Wade.
The thrust of my Wade/Bryant-over-Harden thinking at the start of the year was that Harden needed to thoroughly outperform his elders if he wanted to unseat them. That just hasn’t happened. Harden remains a reliable No. 1 scoring option and a phenomenal foul-drawer, but his much-maligned defense deserves all the criticism it has received, and more. He’s also making less than a third of his three-pointers despite chucking up six per game. Wade continues to rank above him in PER, and their career list of accomplishments — titles, All-Star Game appearances, etc. — obviously aren’t comparable because of the age difference.
Miami has carefully managed Wade’s playing time, giving him nights off and using him just 33 minutes per game, and you can bet he will be a major factor again in the playoffs. Can we say the same thing about Harden? That remains to be seen. His Rockets have a good chance to finish among the West’s top four, but I’d bet against a conference finals appearance. If things play out according to those expectations, Wade will almost certainly place above Harden on my list of top 100 players for 2015.
Mahoney: It’s close between Wade and Harden, and any team would be lucky to have to make the choice between them. But, like Ben, I’m sticking with Wade for the moment. I’m not quite convinced of any reason to definitively prefer Harden.
There is no contest defensively. Wade might be lazy in transition, but in the half court he’s far more attentive and competitive than Harden while doing more damage in the passing lanes. He also brings a quality to his help defense that few guards can match. Miami has built and sustained a unique defensive system around Chris Bosh’s mobility coupled with Wade’s and LeBron James’ standout abilities in rotation. The very thought that a defense would be built around Harden is pretty laughable at this point. Houston has had trouble even when going out of its way to hide him on the less pressing threats available. That’s half the game, and a half that doesn’t reflect well on Harden in any capacity.
But even if we focus solely on the offensive end, Harden doesn’t create enough of an advantage, if he has one at all. They have essentially identical usage rates for the season, making any direct comparison of production and efficiency more stable. Take a look:
Similar output on similar usage, all told, but Wade is the much more efficient shooter and Harden gets to the line with far greater frequency. Where in this comparison am I to see evidence of Harden’s supremacy, particularly to a degree that would overcome his defensive disadvantage?
James inevitably gets pulled into this conversation because much of Wade’s work comes alongside the MVP. According to NBA Wowy, though, Wade’s effective field goal percentage slips only slightly (from 54.7 to 53.4) when James is off the floor — still exceptional and still noticeably more efficient than Harden. Without James, Wade’s assist and turnover numbers also improve modestly, further complicating the argument that playing alongside James would in any way mitigate his production or responsibility.
This is all quite silly, because again: Wade and Harden are magnificent players. But if I’m forced to pick between the two for a single season absent all other context, I’m still taking Wade.
5. Who are your top 10 players of the season so far?
Golliver: My new top 10, in order:
10. Stephen Curry
9. Kevin Love
8. Dwyane Wade
7. Tim Duncan
6. LaMarcus Aldridge
5. Paul George
4. Tony Parker
3. Chris Paul
2. Kevin Durant
1. LeBron James
The top four remain the same, in the same order, with Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant being excluded right now because of injury-related uncertainty. A healthy Westbrook still cracks the top five for me, and a healthy Bryant would be a top 10 guy. The biggest risers are George and Aldridge, who have been on the fringe of the MVP discussion and will make solid All-NBA team selections.
Bump up Love (No. 13) and Curry (No. 15) to replace Bryant and Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony and that’s a pretty nice list. Anthony, Harden and Clippers forward Blake Griffin fall just outside the top 10 cut line.
Mahoney: My new top 10:
10. James Harden
9. Tim Duncan
8. LaMarcus Aldridge
7. Dwyane Wade
6. Tony Parker
5. Kevin Love
4. Paul George
3. Chris Paul
2. Kevin Durant
1. LeBron James
Bryant wasn’t much in play for me, but I ruled out Westbrook until we can see how and when he returns. Curry and Dwight Howard were both tough exclusions, and beyond them Anthony, Griffin and Dirk Nowitzki deserve honorable mentions.
George made the biggest jump into the top 10, leapfrogging a mess of quality players from his initial No. 25 ranking. Such is the gravity of meeting the superstar standard on offense. This season, only nine players have matched George’s 17.2 shot attempts, and among them only Kevin Durant has posted a higher effective field goal percentage. To broach that volume while also making huge gains in efficiency is an incredible achievement, particularly for a well-rounded player who was already exceptional on defense.
|Top 100 NBA Players (originally published back in September)|