Training camps are upon us, and with the newly shortened pre-season slates, we’re just about two and a half weeks from the real deal tip off. And if you’re not excited about opening night, Kyrie vs. Lebron, then you’re just not a real fan.
20. RUDY GOBERT – POST – UTAH JAZZ
The evolution of Rudy Gobert continues this season. Last year saw Gobert crack the double-double average plateau with his scoring average creeping up above 14 points to go along with his stellar interior defense. With the Jazz’ best scorer now eating chowder in Boston, it’ll provide further opportunity for Gobert to expand his game. Its not at all unreasonable to believe the French force could average 18 or so points, along with 13 rebounds and 3 blocks.
19. NIKOLA JOKIC – POST – DENVER NUGGETS
Which is the more mythical creature believed to inhabit the rockies, Big Foot, or the Basketball Unicorn? Jokic, the former 2nd round draft pick, in his second season began to emerge as one of the more talented and versatile big men the league has ever seen. In just 27 minutes a game in an injury shortened sophomore campaign, he managed to average a shade under 17 points a game along with 9.8 rebounds, and 4.9 assists a game. At just 22 years old and a young, improving roster around him, its expected to see even bigger things from the young European.
18. GORDON HAYWARD – WING – BOSTON CELTICS
The real life Jimmy Chitwood opted to leave the great salt lake area for the safe harbors of Boston. A better than average shooter the deceptively athletic Hayward just knows how to put the ball in the hoop. In Boston he’ll go from being the primary scorer and definitive go to guy to being Kyrie’s running mate. Under the tutelage of his collegiate coach, Brad Stevens, its expected that his learning curve for changing teams will be a short one.
17. DAMIAN LILLIARD – BALL HANDLER – PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
The red headed step child of the NBA West Guard conversation. While all the focus is centered upon Steph Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook, poor Lilliard is toiling away in Portland, only averaging 27 points, 5.9 assists and 4.9 rebounds, and not even making the all star squad. Makes me think the NBA should adopt a NFL Pro Bowl style event and select 2 retired greats as captains to select 2 teams playground style.
16. JIMMY BUTLER – WING – MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Coming off a season in which he posted career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and free throw percentage, he now moves north to a coach he is more comfortable with, and steps into a situation where at 28 he is now the veteran presence on a squad where youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns have been trying to figure out how to win, and find their place in the league. One of the best 2 way players in the league, Butler should flourish where the spot light isn’t on him.
15. KLAY THOMPSON – WING – GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
One of the O.G. Splash Brothers, Thompson is both one of the most well respected players in the game, and one of the most forgotten. As the 3rd option in Golden State he still averaged over 22 points a game. Not just a spot up shooter, Thompson can be a lock down defender when tasked with that responsibility. For now he plays in the shadow of Curry and Durant, but let there be no doubt that Klay Thompson is an elite level player in this league.
14. DEMARCUS COUSINS – POST – NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
The only person stopping Boogie Cousins from being aa top 5 player in the NBA is Boogie Cousins. The fact that he lands at 14 on this list in spite of having the emotional restraint and maturity level of a sitting president is a testament to exactly how talented and skilled the big man is. He can pass, shoot the three, score on the block, defend in the post, defend the pick n roll, rebound, block shots, everything you’d ever want. He can also take spurts off, he can sulk, he can yell, he can draw techs, and he can clash with coaches and management.
13. JOHN WALL – BALL HANDLER – WASHINGTON WIZARDS
The man many identify as the best guard in the east, and some have posited as the best 2 way point in the league. While I don’t agree with those assertions, I will agree its at least a worthwhile conversation. Capable of turning any secondary break into an outright fast break, Wall can be a blur with the ball. A respectable, though not proliferate three point shooter, he averaged over 23 points a game while also dishing out over 10 dimes a game.
12. KYRIE IRVING – BALL HANDLER – BOSTON CELTICS
The eccentric New York bred point guard moves from Cleveland to Boston. After setting a new career high in field goal percentage, as well as points per game (just over 25 a game as Lebron’s sidekick), Irving will look to take the reigns of the most decorated NBA franchise and leave his own stamp. A mostly uninterested defender for the Cavs, Irving will be tasked with a more hands on approach to every facet of the game under Coach Stevens. As one of, if not the most talented scorer in the league, to see him replicate, or exceed Isaiah Thomas’ offensive production in Boston would not be a surprise.
11. PAUL GEORGE – WING – OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Thunder will hope to catch lightning in a bottle. Possibly a one year rental, George came over to OKC from Indiana where he had spent his entire career. Long rumored to be destined for the Lakers after this year, the Thunder GM Sam Presti has put all sorts of positive pressure on George to re-up by subsequently adding Carmelo Anthony, and then getting franchise uberstar Russell Westbrook to sign a 5 year $205 million extension. A triangle set up on Melo, Westbrook, and George could be real tough to defend, and even tougher for George to walk away from.