Give And Go: Best calls, biggest mistakes from our top 100 players of 2014 list
Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
This week: A look back at SI.com’s top 100 players of 2014 list, which was published in September. What’s changed over the last three-plus months? (All stats and records are through Jan. 8.)
1. After seeing almost half of the 2013-14 reagular season, which player is now the most overrated on the top 100 list?
Ben Golliver: The trickiest aspects of annual list-making are predicting breakouts, foreseeing age-related declines and deciding how to deal with injured players. The two players who were ranked the highest and have done the least are obviously Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (No. 9) and Bulls guard Derrick Rose (No. 12). But injuries are clearly the determining factor for both, and that should exclude them from the “overrated” tag. Ditto for Bucks center Larry Sanders (No. 43) and Lakers guard Steve Nash (No. 54), who have both barely played, although Sanders’ thumb injury was self-inflicted so perhaps he should be considered a strong candidate.
If we limit the scope of responses to players who have failed to live up to their rankings while being available for a majority of their team’s games, the clear answer is Nets forward Kevin Garnett (No. 28). An All-Atrocious Team selection, Garnett, 37, has had his lunch handed to him by Father Time this season after being an All-Star and an All-Defensive-type player for the Celtics last year. Playing for first-year coach Jason Kidd hasn’t made life any easier. “The most frustrating thing about me is I could see if I wasn’t hitting shots and I wasn’t in here working or taking (expletive) days off,” Garnett admitted recently. “I put time into my craft for it to come out, but then that’s rhythm on offense. And I don’t have that right now.”
When it goes, it goes fast. Garnett’s unsightly numbers — 6.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 37.9 percent shooting, an 11.4 Player Efficiency Rating (PER), a minus-3.4 net rating, a bottom-five Brooklyn defense — reflect the scope of his age-related cliff-diving. If we re-drafted this list right now, Garnett would not be a candidate for placement in the top 100, much less the top 30. The good news: Brooklyn has crawled back into the playoff picture despite a disastrous start, so perhaps Garnett’s rough year will at least pay off with a postseason trip.
Rob Mahoney: Garnett is tough to top, but for me Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire (No. 85) stands out above the rubble. Desperation has led coach Mike Woodson to play Stoudemire more than intended, often to disastrous results. His scoring frequency has dipped sharply, from a somewhat surprising 21.8 points per 36 minutes in 2012-13 to just 16.7 points this season. Stoudemire is shooting only slightly less often but has conceded that difference through a drop in shooting percentage and a career-worst free throw rate.
All from the side of the floor that was supposed to be Stoudemire’s strength. Over time, Stoudemire has devolved into an occasional catch-and-finish option rather than an offensive focal point, though it seemed conceivable that he could at least grow to be comfortable and effective in that slighter role. Even that seems to be asking too much, as Stoudemire is something of a last resort offensively, so marginalized that he no longer commands consistent defensive attention. That, combined with the Knicks’ many, broader problems, has led to New York’s scoring at an abysmal rate of 94.2 points per 100 possessions whenever Amar’e is on the floor — 7.4 points worse than the team’s season average.
On top of that, Stoudemire is as unreliable as ever on the glass and remains a truly problematic defender. That combination makes him difficult to manage over long stretches, and yet New York has leaned on Stoudemire for more than 22 minutes a game since December. It speaks volumes that even that allotment of playing time is too much.
2. Which player is now the most underrated on the top 100 list?
Golliver: I remember that Rob and I immediately had a strong sense of list-maker’s remorse with Pelicans forward Anthony Davis’ placement (No. 41), in the sense that we wanted him higher out of pure excitement for what was to come. Indeed, immediately after compiling the list, I pegged the 2012 No. 1 pick as the player I felt had the best chance to “significantly outperform” his ranking. Let’s just say that things have come together nicely for him, minus a brief absence because of a hand injury.
The freakish per-minute benchmarks that Davis was hitting as a rookie in a somewhat limited role are scaling nicely during his sophomore year, now that he’s playing nearly 35 minutes a game. Davis is averaging 19.2 points (on 52.6 percent shooting), 10.1 rebounds and a league-leading 3.1 blocks, and he ranks sixth in PER at 26.3 PER. He’s one of just six players averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds, a list that includes Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, Warriors forward David Lee, Clippers forward Blake Griffin, Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge and Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. Keeping up with that company could help him squeak into the All-Star Game, depending on who is and isn’t available because of injuries.
Perhaps even more impressive: Davis joins Shaquille O’Neal and Elton Brand as the only players to average 19-and-10 at age 20. Davis would jump into the top 25 at the very least in a re-draft, and he’s surely headed for a spot in the top 10 — and eventually the top five — for years to come.
Mahoney: Suns guard Eric Bledsoe has decimated our reservations and climbed well beyond his initial ranking at No. 95. That’s largely true because of Bledsoe’s great leap forward as a shooter off the dribble — a quality that had defined him previously and shaped the way that defenses covered him. The change has been dramatic: After shooting 31.5 percent from mid-range last season for the Clippers through set shots and the occasional pull-up, Bledsoe has climbed to 39.7 percent this year on a far more difficult assortment of attempts. That’s quite an evolution to undergo in a single season, and with it Bledsoe has cleared room and angles to drive against defenders with little choice but to respect his jumper.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Suns have unexpectedly given Bledsoe all that he needs to thrive. Guard Goran Dragic has been a terrific help in sharing Phoenix’s playmaking load, to the point of disguising the Suns’ sputtering when Bledsoe plays without him. Second-year big man Miles Plumlee has emerged from the depths of the Pacers’ bench to be an impact player on a playoff team — a reality that surpasses even the wildest expectations of his immediate performance. Channing Frye returned with gusto after sitting out a year with an enlarged heart and has done exquisitely as a stretchy, three-point-shooting big man to flesh out Phoenix’s high pick-and-roll attack. Forward P.J. Tucker has broadened into a two-way player with his marksmanship from the corners, forward Gerald Green looks the part of an NBA player after imploding in Indiana last year, and forward Markieff Morris has tightened up his game to get to the basket more consistently and boost his efficiency.
All of the above — not to mention first-year coach Jeff Hornacek’s willingness to trust Bledsoe as a creator — helped lay the groundwork for his fantastic season and offer a very optimistic view of what it means to have Bledsoe as a lead guard.
Next page: Biggest snubs, best shooting guard and new top 10 lists