The biggest factor that contributed to this ranking was each player’s potential along with current play. For example, Aaron Gordon did not make this list because he does not possess All-Star potential. R.J Barrett, on the other hand, although he has All-Star potential, has not shown enough in his short career.
15. De’Aaron Fox:
Although De’Aaron Fox has not taken that extra step this season, he is still one of the best young point guards in the league. Swipa, along with Russell Westbrook and James Harden are the only three players averaging at least 20.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.4 steals a game.
His lightning fast speed along with his acceleration allows Fox to blow by any defender. Swipa uses his touch and power to finish at the rim as he shoots 67% from within three feet. To put this into perspective, Russell Westbrook has never shot over 65% in his career from within three feet. His ability to get to the rim makes Fox one of the toughest guards to cover.
Fox was an above average from behind the arc last season, shooting 37% which was better than Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, James Harden and D’Angelo Russell. This season, however, Fox is shooting 31% from deep on 153 attempts. His 31% shooting ranks 162 out of the 176 players who have taken over 150 threes this season. His poor shooting allows defenders to give him more space, making it more difficult for Fox to blow past them. Swipa will certainly need to improve his shot, not just to become an outside threat, but also to keep defenses honest.
Unfortunately for Fox, he has not been surrounded by a great supporting cast in his first three seasons. If Sacramento is able to build a well-rounded roster around Fox, we may finally be able to see how good he can be.
14. D’Angelo Russell
At only 24 year of age, D’Angelo Russell has already played on four different teams. D-Lo was drafted 2nd overall by the Lakers but struggled in his time with Los Angeles. In Brooklyn, Russell broke out scoring 21.1 points per game and 7.0 assists in route to becoming an All-Star. This season, Russell has put up an impressive 23.1 points and 6.3 assists, albeit on two of the worst teams in the NBA.
Russell is one of the most creative scorers in the game, able to create his own shot in numerous ways. Although he is a great off-ball scorer, D-Lo has not been able to show his effectiveness this season considering his lack of playmakers surrounding him. Playing with Karl-Anthony Towns in the future, Russell will only see his off-ball scoring rise. Although he is one of the best pure scorers in the game, Russell only shoots 43% from the field, the worst FG% of any player scoring over 22.0 points per game. That being said, his efficiency can only go up when he’s sharing the court with Towns.
If looking solely on offensive talent, Russell would no doubt crack the top 10, however, Russell’s defense is the reason he finds himself this low. D-Lo ranks 9th to last in the NBA in defensive box plus/minus. When he is on the court, the Timberwolves allow 4.9 points more per 100 possessions than they do when he is on the bench. As good as Russell and Towns will be offensively, they are just as bad defensively. For the Timberwolves to become contenders, Russell will have to improve defensively.
13. Jaylen Brown
In his first three seasons, Jaylen Brown failed to even scratch the surface of how good he could be. This was not all his fault considering he was the 4th option behind Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford. This season, however, Brown is averaging 20.4 points on 49% shooting from the field and 38% shooting from behind the arc. Although he was not an All-Star, Brown has certainly established himself as one of the best two-way players the league has to offer.
If basketball IQ was a measurable stat, then Brown would be at the forefront of that category. His ability to see what is happening on the floor at all times makes him an extremely effective player. His contribution to the Celtics goes even beyond the stat sheet, and if the Celtics become NBA Champions, it will be in large part due to Brown.
Brown is an elite on ball defender, often guarding the opposing team’s best wing player. When matched up against some of the best offensive players Brown has got the best of them. Kawhi Leonard shot 1/7. James Harden shot 0/5. LeBron James shot 3/8. Paul George shot 1/5. Anthony Davis shot 3/8. Although these are small sample sizes, it highlights how sturdy of a defender Brown is. Off-ball, Brown still has a ways to go. Especially in the corner, he is often caught ball-watching allowing defenders to cut for an easy two. Nonetheless, Jaylen is one of the better perimeter defenders on this list and will only improve.
Offensively, Brown can score at all three levels. Jaylen shoots 50% from 10-16 feet, better than DeMar DeRozan. He shoots 38% from three, better than C.J McCollum. He shoots 62% from within five feet, better than Andre Drummond. Brown’s explosiveness along with his improved handle allows him to get to the rim with ease. If Brown is able to add some muscle, he has the ability to become virtually unstoppable at the rim.
When looking at the players above Brown, almost all of them are the #1 option on their respective teams. Jaylen is currently the third option behind Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. This raises : how much better could Brown be if he was the go-to-player? Even if Brown never becomes the go-to-scorer, he will still impact the game in numerous ways. If he and Tatum stick together, they can make for a scary duo for the rest of the league.
12. Brandon Ingram
Much like teammate Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram has drastically improved his game since being traded. Ingram, who is a top candidate for Most Improved Player, has been exceptional this season. BI is the only player this season averaging over 24 points and 5 rebounds on 38% shooting from behind the arc. Only 22 years old, Ingram has already established himself as one of the best pure scorers in the game.
Offensively, Ingram is a walking mismatch. At six-foot-nine with a seven-foot-three wingspan, Ingram is able to get a shot off against any wing player. Ingram also has a quick first step, allowing him to blow by defenders when they over contest. Defenders are forced to pick their poison: allow Ingram to shoot a three where he connects 39% of the time, or contest which often allows Ingram to get to the rim or pull-up for an easy mid-range.
The Pelicans rank 27th in the NBA in Opponents Points Per Game, allowing 117.0 per contest. Although Ingram is not the sole reason the Pelicans struggle so much defensively, his is a large part in why they do. BI has the worst Defensive Rating and 2nd worst DBPM among the Pelicans starters (Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors). Although his length is disruptive, he is often outmuscled when guarding bigger and stronger players. In addition to this, he has poor defensive rotations and is foul-happy against fast-paced offenses.
Ingram will need to become stronger in the years to come if he wants to elevate his game on both sides of the ball. At only 190 pounds, BI often shy’s away from going up strong due to the fact that the players he meets at the rim are a good 50-60 pounds heavier than him. Defensively, he is pushed around in the post by stronger wing players. To become a more consistent inside scorer and be able to hold his own in the post, Ingram will need to bulk up.
Assuming the Pelicans match any offer Ingram receives this offseason, the trio of Ball, Williamson and Ingram will dominate the league in the years to come.
11. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Only in his second season, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a large part in why the Oklahoma City Thunder occupy the 5th seed in the Western Conference. His 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.7 blocks all rank top three among Thunder players. To think SGA is doing all of this at a mere 21 years of age is astonishing.
The following stats highlight Shai’s value to the Thunder. When SGA is on the court the Thunder score 114.5 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 2nd in the NBA. When he is off the court, the Thunder only score 105.2 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 2nd to last. His +9.7 differential is better than All-NBA players such as LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Luka Doncic among many others.
Shai averages 1.1 steals and 0.7 blocks, making him one of four guards recording 1.0 steals and 0.7 blocks a game. His six-foot-eleven wingspan enables him to disrupt opposing guards and force turnovers. His +2.6 defensive win shares ranks 3rd among shooting guards, behind only James Harden and Jrue Holiday. On the other side of the ball, SGA is recording just under 20 points a night. Considering that he is doing all of this while only knocking down 1.2 three’s a night on 35% shooting from deep is crazy! Nevertheless, If he wants to take his offensive game to the next level, he will need to improve his jumper.
Everyone above Shai is either 1st or 2nd in usage percentage among their respective teams. SGA, on the other hand, has only the 4th highest usage percentage on the Thunder. To put this into perspective, Shai scores more points per 100 field goal attempts than Trae Young. While this is not to say SGA is a better scorer than Trae, it does show how good Shai will be when he becomes the Thunder’s #1 option.
Shai will need to transition in the next few years into the franchise player for the Thunder. The Canadian sophomore has an aggressive approach to basketball but will need to be more distributive as the leader. The fact that Shai is just 21 years old and leads a top ten NBA team in scoring is impressive. The Thunder will only go as far as Shai takes them.
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