The NBA season is fast approaching and we’re itching to see who takes the next step in their production next season! Moving forward with our Top 50, we’ll look at what lands each player in our Top 100 by looking at the Positive aspects for the upcoming season, as well as the Negative aspects that keep them from climbing higher on the list.
For more on our introduction, including honorable mentions, click the 100-81 link!
20) Domantas Sabonis | 6-11 – F/C – Indiana Pacers
Positive | Sabonis is one of the best rising stars in the NBA, as is evident by his back-to-back All-Star appearances and four consecutive seasons of setting a new career-high in PPG. Last season, he averaged 20.3 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 6.7 APG, and 1.2 SPG. The versatility of that stat line alone warrants a second look, now throw in nearly 54% shooting from the field and we’re approaching superstar status. Also remember, Sabonis is still only 25 years old and has shown continuous improvement.
Negative | At this point in the rankings, there’s not much negative to say about a player’s talent or potential. Sabonis has the opportunity to lead his team if he can stay healthy. Malcolm Brogdon will be the floor general, commanding the offense and handling the ball, but Sabonis is the #1 option on a rising Pacer’s squad.
19) Bradley Beal | 6-3 – G – Washington Wizards
Positive | Beal appeared in his 3rd All-Star game last season after narrowly losing the scoring title to Steph Curry. Along with his astronomical 31.3 PPG, Beal put up 4.7 RPG and 4.4 APG while playing alongside Russell Westbrook.
Negative | Beal loses his pass-first point guard and gains another scorer in Spencer Dinwiddie. Beal is clearly the #1 option still, but his scoring may take a dip with the roster change. On the flip side, his playmaking has a chance to leap back up closer to 5-6 APG, potentially balancing out his overall production.
18) Donovan Mitchell | 6-1 – G – Utah Jazz
Positive | Much like Sabonis a few spots behind, Mitchell has set a new career-high in both scoring and assists in every single season after his rookie year, except Mitchell is doing it on a perennial championship contender. He averaged 26.4 PPG, 5.2 APG, and 4.4 RPG on 38.6% shooting from distance while leading the Jazz to the best record in the West.
Negative | Mitchell is still a young player creeping closer to his prime. The only thing keeping him this low is the players ahead of him being in their prime. Mitchell is also part of a well-rounded, championship contender, potentially stunting his overall production due to fewer opportunities than other players ahead of him.
17) Russell Westbrook | 6-3 – G – Los Angeles Lakers
Positive | Much like Kyrie Irving in the last installation of this series, I’m not trying to convince you that Westbrook is the 17th best player in the NBA this season, because from a production standpoint – he’s not. He averaged a triple-double for the fourth time in five seasons last year with 22.2 PPG, 11.5 RPG, and a league-leading 11.7 APG.
Negative | Westbrook is joining stat-sheet-stuffers in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, both of which will take away from Westbrook’s triple-double opportunities. He will be the day one point guard and likely average close to a triple-double again, but I believe the 33-year-old point guard starts to see the backend of his prime this season since he doesn’t have to shoulder an entire team on either side of the ball.
16) Zach LaVine | 6-5 – G – Chicago Bulls
Positive | LaVine had a career season last year, earning his first All-Star appearance while averaging 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game before heading to Tokyo and winning a gold medal this summer. Amazingly, he also narrowly missed joining the 50-40-90 club after shooting 50.7% FG, 41.9% 3P, and 84.9% FT during the 2020-21 regular season.
Negative | Youth and team structure are the only things standing in LaVine’s way of becoming an elite player. The Bulls added a lot of firepower over the back half of last season and this offseason, and while LaVine is still option #1, I expect a more well-rounded attack from Chicago.
15) Anthony Davis | 6-10 – F/C – Los Angeles Lakers
Positive | Once again, don’t hear what I’m not saying. There are not 14 players in the NBA better than Anthony Davis from a talent standpoint. He’s arguably the best 2-way big man in the league. He can score from anywhere offensively and protect the paint better than most bigs in the league today.
Negative | However, he had a horrendous season last year compared to what we’re used to seeing, missing half of his teams’ games and putting up near-career lows in scoring, rebounding, blocks, FG%, 3P%, and FT% when he did play. Davis already has an uphill battle to return to form, and he now adds Russell Westbrook to the roster to snipe rebounds and assists. I have a hard time believing Davis’ individual production will land him much higher than 15th in the NBA this season.
14) Zion Williamson | 6-7 – F – New Orleans Pelicans
Positive | In only his second season, Zion played 61 games and averaged 27 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal per game. Arguably the best dunker in the NBA right now shot over 61% from the field and nearly 30% from distance. He also improved his FT% by 5.8 percentage points from his rookie to sophomore season. If that trend continues, Williamson will be a dangerous scorer.
Negative | With Lonzo Ball no longer on the team, Williamson has lost his favorite lob passer from the last couple of seasons. However, the young big man has shown the ability to get to the rim and to the free-throw line on his own accord. Consistent playmaking from New Orleans might be the most telling factor of Williamson’s success in the coming season.
13) Jimmy Butler | 6-7 – G/F – Miami Heat
Positive | Butler had arguably the most overlooked stat line in the NBA last season. Along with 21.5 PPG, Butler put up a career-high in both APG (7.1) and RPG (6.9) while leading the league in SPG (2.1) on a playoff-bound Heat squad. Now he has a true point guard in Lowry coming in to allow Butler to play off-ball more where he’s also comfortable, and allow him to be a true 3&D superstar.
Negative | Butler shot less than 25% from distance, but that was quite literally his only weakness. In fact, one of the strongest points of his game last season was his career-high in APG, something that may regress with the arrival of a floor-general point guard like Lowry.
12) Paul George | 6-8 – G/F – Los Angeles Clippers
Positive | After proving doubters wrong during the 2021 playoffs, George will be handed the reigns to the Clippers next season. This team will go as far as George carries them next season until Kawhi returns. George averaged 23.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, and 1.1 SPG on his way to a 7th All-Star appearance last year.
Negative | There’s not much to downplay about George’s opportunity this coming season. He’s improved as a playmaker and will have nearly full control of the offense on a clear playoff contender out West. Fatigue from being the consistent number one option for the first time in a few seasons might be the only thing slowing George down this season.
11) Trae Young | 6-1 – G – Atlanta Hawks
Positive | Young has quickly become a superstar in this league. He averaged 25.3 PPG and 9.4 APG through the regular season last year. Then Young turned it on to average 28.8 PPG and 9.5 APG during his first playoff series against the Knicks. In fact, he embraced the villain role in Maddison Square Garden, giving a Reggie-Miller-esque bow after making a big play during the series.
Negative | Young’s playmaking ability is one of his best assets, but it doesn’t come without cost. The 22-year-old point guard is always among the league leaders in turnovers per game. This is not always an end-all-be-all metric to use considering his high usage rate compared to other players, but it does hinder his stat line as well as his teams’ performance in some instances. The same can be said about Young’s 3-point shooting. While he’s a certified sniper from extra-long range, he shot under 35% from distance last season on over six attempts per game. Again, not a detrimental stat causing him to be a net-negative player, but something to keep an eye on, to say the least.
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