Miami Heat vs San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio Spurs, con siete puntos del argentino Emanuel Ginóbili,

venció anoche al actual campeón, Miami Heat, por 113-77, como local, y

se adelantó 2-1 en las finales de la Liga Estadounidense de Básquetbol

(NBA). Disfruta las mejores imágenes del tercer partido de las finales de la NBA entre Miami Heat y San Antonio Spurs.

NBA Power Rankings: Melo-Less Knicks Surge Past Thunder

Welcome back to The Crossover’s Power Rankings, where we won’t judge you for thinking the Pistons will win the NBA Finals. After reshuffling the deck last week, this week features slightly less chaos. A couple teams moved down five spots, Denver’s up seven, and—SPOLIER—the Knicks are higher than the Thunder. Let's get straight to this week's rankings.

(All stats and records through Nov. 12).

30. Chicago Bulls (2–9)
Last Week: 27

Chicago will host the 2020 All-Star Game. Perhaps Lauri Markkanen will be in it. So there's that, Bulls fans.

29. Dallas Mavericks (2–12)
Last Week: 30

LeBron James is now Dennis Smith Jr.’s hype man. That’s kinda cool.

28. Atlanta Hawks (2–11)
Last Week: 28

Jeremy Evans is signing with the Hawks’ G-League team. Great excuse to waste some time today watching these dunk contest highlights:

27. Sacramento Kings (3–9)
Last Week: 29

De’Aaron’s Fox’s game-winner with 13.4 seconds left against the Sixers game made him the youngest player in the last five seasons to make a game–winning shot in the last 30 seconds of a game. He’s going to sink one of those in the playoffs one day.

26. Indiana Pacers (6–8)
Last Week: 24

Victor Oladipo is doing with the Pacers what I thought Harrison Barnes would do with the Mavericks. He’s getting his on a nightly basis, and making some good impressions around the league.

25. Phoenix Suns (5–9)
Last Week: 26

Unless Devin Booker goes for 70 again, last week's win over the Timberwolves (where Booker and TJ Warren combined for 70) could be the highlight of the season.

24. Utah Jazz (6–7)
Last Week: 22

With Rudy Gobert shelved for at least a month, the Jazz could fall out of the playoff picture quickly in the West. If Gobert heals slowly, does Utah embrace the tank?

23. Brooklyn Nets (5–8)
Last Week: 25

They’re No. 1 in pace, so at least they’re entertaining to watch.

22. Los Angeles Lakers (5–8)
Last Week: 19

Lonzo Ball has taken a lot of heat this season, so it was, dare I say, nice to see him make history with his triple-double. He is an incredible talent, and hasn’t yet really flashed the athleticism or shooting ability he did at UCLA. It’s only been 13 games, give him time.

21. Charlotte Hornets (5–7)
Last Week: 16

Lord, Carry Them Now.

20. Miami Heat (6–7)
Last Week: 21

There are signs of life, and the most encouraging one is Dion Waiters, who dropped 21 in a close win over Utah and finished with a game-high +24 plus/minus. Waiters and Hassan Whiteside are beginning to play like they did at the end of last season.

19. Philadelphia 76ers (6–6)
Last Week: 20

Just when you thought you couldn’t love Joel Embiid any more...

18. L.A. Clippers (5–7)
Last Week: 13

I saw DeAndre Jordan miss a putback dunk the other night. Has that ever happened before?

17. New Orleans Pelicans (7–6)
Last Week: 17

Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday have taken turns going for 34 or more over the last three games. There aren’t many teams in the league that can boast the kind of scoring versatility.

16. Denver Nuggets (8–5)
Last Week: 23

Last week I wrote: My initial thought when I saw Nuggets–Thunder on the calendar for this Thursday was, "There’s a twenty-point win for OKC." Let’s see how things went this week for Denver:

I’m a moron.

15. Orlando Magic (8–5)
Last Week: 18

Last year, there were some who thought Magic assistant Chad Forcier might help Aaron Gordon catapult his game to the next level just like he did in San Antonio with Kawhi Leonard. That may be what’s happening this season.

14. Milwaukee Bucks (6–6)
Last Week: 14

I saw a man float this week:

13. Oklahoma City Thunder (6–7)
Last Week: 10

The league’s second-best defense after the Celtics? Not the Warriors. No, not the Spurs. It's the Thunder, allowing 98.5 points per 100 possessions! Who said Russ and Melo can’t check guys?

(By the way, Raymond Felton has made eight of his last 16 shot attempts.)

12. New York Knicks (7–5)
Last Week: 15

The consensus appears to be that the Knicks are having more fun without Melo than Melo is having without the Knicks. And so far, more success too. The story this week was the same as last week: As long as Porzingis is suiting up, you’re not looking forward to playing New York right now. Not even the most optimistic Knicks fan saw this coming.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (6–6)
Last Week: 7

The Blazers have one of the league’s best closers in Damian Lillard, but things have been going horribly wrong in crunch time of late. Portland looked all out of sorts down the stretch against Brooklyn last week, turning the ball over and missing rebound opportunities. That came one game after an awkward attempt at a game-winner from C.J. McCollum that wouldn’t go. Perhaps Dame Time is still adjusting to Daylight Savings.

10. Cleveland Cavaliers (6–7)
Last Week: 9

LeBron is averaging 33 points per game this month on nearly 60% shooting. Save for one impressive performance by Jeff Green, it’s been all about the King in November.

9. Toronto Raptors (7–5)
Last Week: 12

The Raptors looked poised to finally put an end to Boston’s winning streak, but ran out of gas in the second half. That might continue to happen as they search for production outside of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The two can only do so much.

8. Washington Wizards (7–5)
Last Week: 11

I’m so confused about the Wizards. They look really good out there, but have some strange losses on their résumé? so far this season, including last Tuesday's defeat vs. the Mavericks. I'm keeping them this high out of respect to Andrew Sharp.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves (7–5)
Last Week: 4

J.R. Smith said it best the other night, when he noted that “everyone’s beating everyone” in the NBA this season. The Timberwolves lost to the Suns (gah!) this week, just as I was getting excited about them, but the Suns have also beaten the Wizards, who have beaten the Pistons and almost the Warriors. Somehow, Phoenix is a five-win team, and just as crazily, the Timberwolves are only 7–5 despite playing like they’re 9–3.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (7–5)
Last Week: 8

The biggest bargain in the league might be Tyreke Evans at $3.29 million.

5. San Antonio Spurs (8–5)
Last Week: 5

In their win against the Clippers, the Spurs had three guys (LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green and Rudy Gay) go for 20 or more, which marked the first time since 1997 that three Spurs other than Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard went for 20+ in a game. Crazy!

4. Detroit Pistons (10–3)
Last Week: 6

Even Luke Kennard is getting in on the fun. This team is deeper than you think.

3. Boston Celtics (12–2)
Last Week: 3

It’s been 26 days since the Celtics lost a game, and to make matters worse for their opponents, Masked Kyrie is returning.

2. Houston Rockets (11–3)
Last Week: 2

James Harden is averaging 11 three-point attempts per game this season. The only player averaging more is Eric Gordon, who averages 11.2. There were a lot of teams that wouldn’t take that many as a whole just a few years ago.

1. Golden State Warriors (12–3)
Last Week: 1

They’ve won nine of 10. Remember when Golden State began the season 1–2? Me neither.

NBA Power Rankings: Melo-Less Knicks Surge Past Thunder

Welcome back to The Crossover’s Power Rankings, where we won’t judge you for thinking the Pistons will win the NBA Finals. After reshuffling the deck last week, this week features slightly less chaos. A couple teams moved down five spots, Denver’s up seven, and—SPOLIER—the Knicks are higher than the Thunder. Let's get straight to this week's rankings.

(All stats and records through Nov. 12).

30. Chicago Bulls (2–9)
Last Week: 27

Chicago will host the 2020 All-Star Game. Perhaps Lauri Markkanen will be in it. So there's that, Bulls fans.

29. Dallas Mavericks (2–12)
Last Week: 30

LeBron James is now Dennis Smith Jr.’s hype man. That’s kinda cool.

28. Atlanta Hawks (2–11)
Last Week: 28

Jeremy Evans is signing with the Hawks’ G-League team. Great excuse to waste some time today watching these dunk contest highlights:

27. Sacramento Kings (3–9)
Last Week: 29

De’Aaron’s Fox’s game-winner with 13.4 seconds left against the Sixers game made him the youngest player in the last five seasons to make a game–winning shot in the last 30 seconds of a game. He’s going to sink one of those in the playoffs one day.

26. Indiana Pacers (6–8)
Last Week: 24

Victor Oladipo is doing with the Pacers what I thought Harrison Barnes would do with the Mavericks. He’s getting his on a nightly basis, and making some good impressions around the league.

25. Phoenix Suns (5–9)
Last Week: 26

Unless Devin Booker goes for 70 again, last week's win over the Timberwolves (where Booker and TJ Warren combined for 70) could be the highlight of the season.

24. Utah Jazz (6–7)
Last Week: 22

With Rudy Gobert shelved for at least a month, the Jazz could fall out of the playoff picture quickly in the West. If Gobert heals slowly, does Utah embrace the tank?

23. Brooklyn Nets (5–8)
Last Week: 25

They’re No. 1 in pace, so at least they’re entertaining to watch.

22. Los Angeles Lakers (5–8)
Last Week: 19

Lonzo Ball has taken a lot of heat this season, so it was, dare I say, nice to see him make history with his triple-double. He is an incredible talent, and hasn’t yet really flashed the athleticism or shooting ability he did at UCLA. It’s only been 13 games, give him time.

21. Charlotte Hornets (5–7)
Last Week: 16

Lord, Carry Them Now.

20. Miami Heat (6–7)
Last Week: 21

There are signs of life, and the most encouraging one is Dion Waiters, who dropped 21 in a close win over Utah and finished with a game-high +24 plus/minus. Waiters and Hassan Whiteside are beginning to play like they did at the end of last season.

19. Philadelphia 76ers (6–6)
Last Week: 20

Just when you thought you couldn’t love Joel Embiid any more...

18. L.A. Clippers (5–7)
Last Week: 13

I saw DeAndre Jordan miss a putback dunk the other night. Has that ever happened before?

17. New Orleans Pelicans (7–6)
Last Week: 17

Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday have taken turns going for 34 or more over the last three games. There aren’t many teams in the league that can boast the kind of scoring versatility.

16. Denver Nuggets (8–5)
Last Week: 23

Last week I wrote: My initial thought when I saw Nuggets–Thunder on the calendar for this Thursday was, "There’s a twenty-point win for OKC." Let’s see how things went this week for Denver:

I’m a moron.

15. Orlando Magic (8–5)
Last Week: 18

Last year, there were some who thought Magic assistant Chad Forcier might help Aaron Gordon catapult his game to the next level just like he did in San Antonio with Kawhi Leonard. That may be what’s happening this season.

14. Milwaukee Bucks (6–6)
Last Week: 14

I saw a man float this week:

13. Oklahoma City Thunder (6–7)
Last Week: 10

The league’s second-best defense after the Celtics? Not the Warriors. No, not the Spurs. It's the Thunder, allowing 98.5 points per 100 possessions! Who said Russ and Melo can’t check guys?

(By the way, Raymond Felton has made eight of his last 16 shot attempts.)

12. New York Knicks (7–5)
Last Week: 15

The consensus appears to be that the Knicks are having more fun without Melo than Melo is having without the Knicks. And so far, more success too. The story this week was the same as last week: As long as Porzingis is suiting up, you’re not looking forward to playing New York right now. Not even the most optimistic Knicks fan saw this coming.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (6–6)
Last Week: 7

The Blazers have one of the league’s best closers in Damian Lillard, but things have been going horribly wrong in crunch time of late. Portland looked all out of sorts down the stretch against Brooklyn last week, turning the ball over and missing rebound opportunities. That came one game after an awkward attempt at a game-winner from C.J. McCollum that wouldn’t go. Perhaps Dame Time is still adjusting to Daylight Savings.

10. Cleveland Cavaliers (6–7)
Last Week: 9

LeBron is averaging 33 points per game this month on nearly 60% shooting. Save for one impressive performance by Jeff Green, it’s been all about the King in November.

9. Toronto Raptors (7–5)
Last Week: 12

The Raptors looked poised to finally put an end to Boston’s winning streak, but ran out of gas in the second half. That might continue to happen as they search for production outside of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The two can only do so much.

8. Washington Wizards (7–5)
Last Week: 11

I’m so confused about the Wizards. They look really good out there, but have some strange losses on their résumé? so far this season, including last Tuesday's defeat vs. the Mavericks. I'm keeping them this high out of respect to Andrew Sharp.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves (7–5)
Last Week: 4

J.R. Smith said it best the other night, when he noted that “everyone’s beating everyone” in the NBA this season. The Timberwolves lost to the Suns (gah!) this week, just as I was getting excited about them, but the Suns have also beaten the Wizards, who have beaten the Pistons and almost the Warriors. Somehow, Phoenix is a five-win team, and just as crazily, the Timberwolves are only 7–5 despite playing like they’re 9–3.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (7–5)
Last Week: 8

The biggest bargain in the league might be Tyreke Evans at $3.29 million.

5. San Antonio Spurs (8–5)
Last Week: 5

In their win against the Clippers, the Spurs had three guys (LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green and Rudy Gay) go for 20 or more, which marked the first time since 1997 that three Spurs other than Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard went for 20+ in a game. Crazy!

4. Detroit Pistons (10–3)
Last Week: 6

Even Luke Kennard is getting in on the fun. This team is deeper than you think.

3. Boston Celtics (12–2)
Last Week: 3

It’s been 26 days since the Celtics lost a game, and to make matters worse for their opponents, Masked Kyrie is returning.

2. Houston Rockets (11–3)
Last Week: 2

James Harden is averaging 11 three-point attempts per game this season. The only player averaging more is Eric Gordon, who averages 11.2. There were a lot of teams that wouldn’t take that many as a whole just a few years ago.

1. Golden State Warriors (12–3)
Last Week: 1

They’ve won nine of 10. Remember when Golden State began the season 1–2? Me neither.

Ray Allen Q&A: New Book, Celtics Break-Up and Game 6 Memories

Ray Allen is ready to tell all.

The NBA’s all-time leader in three pointers and Hall-of-Fame lock has authored a book—with a foreword from Spike Lee!— detailing his life and career. From the Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love will dive deep into Allen’s transformation from a star at UConn to a lethal threat in the NBA, with much more in between. Oh, and expect some words on his departure from the Celtics, too.

Allen last played in the NBA in 2014 with the Miami Heat, only officially announcing his retirement in November 2016 after flirting with championship contenders as a free agent. Since hanging up his shooting sleeve, Allen has kept busy traveling the world and the spending time with his children.

“People always ask me if I’m going to get into coaching,” Allen told The Crossover. “I have four young boys. That’s my team right now. I have to make sure I have an impact on them.”

In anticipation of his memoir, Allen caught up with us to discuss why he didn’t come back for one more season, his Game 6 shot against the Spurs, and more.

Rohan Nadkarni: The last time we saw you on the court was the 2014 NBA Finals, and I think we all expected you would come back. Was there one big reason why you decided to end your career at that point?

Ray Allen: Well, I think as much as people still wanted me out on the floor, and I’ve always prided myself on the type of shape I was in, so I never looked at it as I was wearing down or getting tired. But I did play 18 years. And 18 years is a long time. I had to work twice as hard just to stay in front of everything, and the recovery gets tougher. And it was harder because as much as I was putting in, I wasn’t getting out of it. And I had to decide if I wanted to play again, I was living in Miami, and the team broke up. Miami became younger so that wasn’t an option, so if I played it was going to be for a team that had a chance to win. So that was going to require me to pick up and move. I wasn’t sure if I was willing to do that. I had already moved my kids. There wasn’t a situation where I could put myself in where I had the opportunity to win and I was going to be able to play. It was going to be a new city to move my family to, it was going to be an adjustment around me. I didn’t want to have to put them in that predicament. I sat back, waited and watched to see if anything made sense, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t worth it for me to move my kids again and then possibly be in a situation I wasn’t really happy with.

RN: Dwyane Wade described the last year of the Big Three as a “bad marriage.” What was the vibe on that team? Was that year tougher than most on all the guys?

RA: It certainly was tough on all of us as players. Organizationally, I don’t think they ever adjusted. Most of the guys, having gone to so many Finals, me being an older player, having played a lot of basketball the last five, six years, organizationally and coaching wise they didn’t adjust. We had the oldest team in the NBA, and on top of that, we had such a bad schedule. Every holiday we were away from home. Every situation we were in we were fighting to just stay above board, trying to figure out how to sleep or rest our bodies. We wore down, we were tired, and we were definitely tired at the end. We still were good, and we still made it to the Finals.

RN: In what way do you mean the organization didn’t adjust?

RA: With a team as old as we were, and with as much basketball as we’d played, we were still doing a million appearances, we still were having all the practices, and doing all the things that typically wear you down by the end of the year. Just being on your feet so much. The team didn’t learn how to manage our bodies better. When your players have played in June the last three or four years, by this time you have to figure out how get people off their feet. We don’t need to have a practice. We don’t need to have a shootaround. We just have to be mental. From those aspects, you wear yourself down long term.

RN: NBA fans have discussed a lot over the years what happened to your Celtics teammates after you left Boston. You and Paul Pierce had a chance to hash things out this summer. How much of a relief was that for you to get the ball rolling with Paul?

RA: It’s not something that I was worried about, let’s put it like that. I just set out to have a conversation with him. It was coincidental that we were there. I didn’t need to do interviews on TV or try to defend myself. I won a championship when I left, and that’s all of our objectives when we sign up to be a part of a sports team.

RN: Was there anything that was said over the years that hurt you?

RA: Well, we just finished writing the book and I will certainly talk about it. That’s something I’m going to talk about in-depth in my book.

RN: It was almost a novelty to shoot threes the way you did for parts of your career. Now you see some teams shooting almost 40 a night. Do you ever wish you could play in this era where you could shoot even more?

RA: I started in an era when coaches pretty much hated the three and wanted you to do everything else. The game has certainly evolved. When we were young, we were excited that we were getting the salaries that we were getting and some of the older players would be in the league and say, “Wow, these guys are getting paid this much money!” But now that same thing is happening over again. It’s just the generation you’re in, you have to take care of it and grow it for the next generation. Hopefully you had an impact on the game while you played it. And in my era or while I played, it’s important to say that. Because regardless of what happens to any record I had, in my era, while I played I held a few NBA records.

RN: You were always a legend for the work you put in before games. Where did your work ethic come from? What experiences helped build that mindset?

RA: I learned from other people’s examples. I don’t know where I got it from, but I always learned to look around me and see things people did do and the things people didn’t do and allowed that to influence me as a player. I just knew that I was always afraid to fail. I was afraid of not being good. I always had this thought that tomorrow I wouldn’t make a shot. I wasn’t going to make another shot. Whether it was a free throw or three pointer. So the first thing in the morning I would wake up and go right to the gym. Because I felt like if I didn’t go do it I was going to suck the next night. There was this constant cloud over my head. I had to go the gym to make it work and make it happen.

RN: You’ve been a little bit more outspoken politically since you retired. Obviously it’s a crazy time, and you see players and coaches in the NBA speaking constantly. What do you think of that mix of sports and politics? Are you more comfortable speaking out?

RA: I feel extremely comfortable. People try censor me all the time on social media. “You need to stick to basketball!“ “I’m not following you anymore because you’re getting political.” And it amazes me that somebody would tell you to say only what they want to hear. The fact that I speak up against any politician or government official—it’s our duty as Americans to hold the people in office accountable. When I say something on social media, this is not for the Allen household. This is for the people of America. We all have to stand up. I don’t believe it’s getting political when you say something that’s for the greater good. You’re just being a concerned citizen. That’s what a democracy is all about. And for somebody to come on my wall, on any social media, and say “stick to basketball,” it’s an insult and I’m very offended. We as athletes, many of us have foundations, we have families, we are philanthropic in the communities that we live in. We have a stance, we have beliefs. We play basketball at a high level but it’s offensive if that’s all you think we care to talk about.

RN: Some people hail the NBA as the most progressive sports league. Do you find that to be the case? Or do you hope to see even more coming from the NBA?

RA: If you look around professional sports, you see athletes from lots of sports stepping up and speaking out. One thing about athletes in general is, no matter what’s happening in government, we are the voice of the people. Just like when you do media, you’re asking us questions because there are things fans want to know, they want answers. When we step up and speak out, we hold the mantle for a lot of people and how they feel. Because they may not have they voice or the podium to be able to speak out.

When I speak out against something I don’t believe in, it’s not because I’m a millionaire or because I’m an NBA player. I’m not saying it because I’m comfortable. We speak out because, even with all the money we make, we all have poor family members. We all have cousins, aunts, uncles, who aren’t as well off. Yeah, we help out as much as we can, but you can’t help everybody out. We want to make sure the system works for them. We want to make sure that programs are in place to help those less fortunate. We see people in America who are struggling. It’s not that we want to give things away to them, and we want to be a kickstand for them. Some people just don’t have the opportunity that others have. Some people are born 50% through the race. Some people start in the negative. If it doesn’t get level, we at least want to give people a chance to at least get into the race.

RN: What do people ask you about more, He Got Game or the Game 6 shot?

RA: You know, that’s a good question. I would say, recently it’s more of the Game 6 shot. Interestingly enough, people always ask me if I remember it. I’m like, “Uh, which shot are you speaking of? I don’t know which one you’re talking about.” Do I remember it? Somebody did this huge picture and I have it on on the wall in my house. It’s boarded all over the wall. We actually forget that it’s there half the time. For me it’s not about the shot as much as the preparation. That lifelong preparation that went into me being in that situation. I think it’s the Game 6 shot more than anything that people ask me about. They always tell me where they were when it happened. It’s pretty interesting, as much as I hit the shot, it’s more about where people were and how it affected their life more than anything else.

RN: What was going through your mind when you told security to get those ropes off the court?

RA: It’s like one of those situations when you get sick, and you focus more. That’s kind of where our mindset was. We were in a really tough situation. Typically when you’re in a tough situation, things start to splinter. People start pointing fingers. People figure out ways to make things worse. In basketball, everybody wants to do it themselves. You want to take that shot to get the lead back. We circled the wagons and got more focused. It was anger, but it was a focused anger. Everybody knew what we had to do. And we couldn’t sit back and play the woe is me card.

Ray Allen Q&A: New Book, Celtics Break-Up and Game 6 Memories

Ray Allen is ready to tell all.

The NBA’s all-time leader in three pointers and Hall-of-Fame lock has authored a book—with a foreword from Spike Lee!— detailing his life and career. From the Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love will dive deep into Allen’s transformation from a star at UConn to a lethal threat in the NBA, with much more in between. Oh, and expect some words on his departure from the Celtics, too.

Allen last played in the NBA in 2014 with the Miami Heat, only officially announcing his retirement in November 2016 after flirting with championship contenders as a free agent. Since hanging up his shooting sleeve, Allen has kept busy traveling the world and the spending time with his children.

“People always ask me if I’m going to get into coaching,” Allen told The Crossover. “I have four young boys. That’s my team right now. I have to make sure I have an impact on them.”

In anticipation of his memoir, Allen caught up with us to discuss why he didn’t come back for one more season, his Game 6 shot against the Spurs, and more.

Rohan Nadkarni: The last time we saw you on the court was the 2014 NBA Finals, and I think we all expected you would come back. Was there one big reason why you decided to end your career at that point?

Ray Allen: Well, I think as much as people still wanted me out on the floor, and I’ve always prided myself on the type of shape I was in, so I never looked at it as I was wearing down or getting tired. But I did play 18 years. And 18 years is a long time. I had to work twice as hard just to stay in front of everything, and the recovery gets tougher. And it was harder because as much as I was putting in, I wasn’t getting out of it. And I had to decide if I wanted to play again, I was living in Miami, and the team broke up. Miami became younger so that wasn’t an option, so if I played it was going to be for a team that had a chance to win. So that was going to require me to pick up and move. I wasn’t sure if I was willing to do that. I had already moved my kids. There wasn’t a situation where I could put myself in where I had the opportunity to win and I was going to be able to play. It was going to be a new city to move my family to, it was going to be an adjustment around me. I didn’t want to have to put them in that predicament. I sat back, waited and watched to see if anything made sense, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t worth it for me to move my kids again and then possibly be in a situation I wasn’t really happy with.

RN: Dwyane Wade described the last year of the Big Three as a “bad marriage.” What was the vibe on that team? Was that year tougher than most on all the guys?

RA: It certainly was tough on all of us as players. Organizationally, I don’t think they ever adjusted. Most of the guys, having gone to so many Finals, me being an older player, having played a lot of basketball the last five, six years, organizationally and coaching wise they didn’t adjust. We had the oldest team in the NBA, and on top of that, we had such a bad schedule. Every holiday we were away from home. Every situation we were in we were fighting to just stay above board, trying to figure out how to sleep or rest our bodies. We wore down, we were tired, and we were definitely tired at the end. We still were good, and we still made it to the Finals.

RN: In what way do you mean the organization didn’t adjust?

RA: With a team as old as we were, and with as much basketball as we’d played, we were still doing a million appearances, we still were having all the practices, and doing all the things that typically wear you down by the end of the year. Just being on your feet so much. The team didn’t learn how to manage our bodies better. When your players have played in June the last three or four years, by this time you have to figure out how get people off their feet. We don’t need to have a practice. We don’t need to have a shootaround. We just have to be mental. From those aspects, you wear yourself down long term.

RN: NBA fans have discussed a lot over the years what happened to your Celtics teammates after you left Boston. You and Paul Pierce had a chance to hash things out this summer. How much of a relief was that for you to get the ball rolling with Paul?

RA: It’s not something that I was worried about, let’s put it like that. I just set out to have a conversation with him. It was coincidental that we were there. I didn’t need to do interviews on TV or try to defend myself. I won a championship when I left, and that’s all of our objectives when we sign up to be a part of a sports team.

RN: Was there anything that was said over the years that hurt you?

RA: Well, we just finished writing the book and I will certainly talk about it. That’s something I’m going to talk about in-depth in my book.

RN: It was almost a novelty to shoot threes the way you did for parts of your career. Now you see some teams shooting almost 40 a night. Do you ever wish you could play in this era where you could shoot even more?

RA: I started in an era when coaches pretty much hated the three and wanted you to do everything else. The game has certainly evolved. When we were young, we were excited that we were getting the salaries that we were getting and some of the older players would be in the league and say, “Wow, these guys are getting paid this much money!” But now that same thing is happening over again. It’s just the generation you’re in, you have to take care of it and grow it for the next generation. Hopefully you had an impact on the game while you played it. And in my era or while I played, it’s important to say that. Because regardless of what happens to any record I had, in my era, while I played I held a few NBA records.

RN: You were always a legend for the work you put in before games. Where did your work ethic come from? What experiences helped build that mindset?

RA: I learned from other people’s examples. I don’t know where I got it from, but I always learned to look around me and see things people did do and the things people didn’t do and allowed that to influence me as a player. I just knew that I was always afraid to fail. I was afraid of not being good. I always had this thought that tomorrow I wouldn’t make a shot. I wasn’t going to make another shot. Whether it was a free throw or three pointer. So the first thing in the morning I would wake up and go right to the gym. Because I felt like if I didn’t go do it I was going to suck the next night. There was this constant cloud over my head. I had to go the gym to make it work and make it happen.

RN: You’ve been a little bit more outspoken politically since you retired. Obviously it’s a crazy time, and you see players and coaches in the NBA speaking constantly. What do you think of that mix of sports and politics? Are you more comfortable speaking out?

RA: I feel extremely comfortable. People try censor me all the time on social media. “You need to stick to basketball!“ “I’m not following you anymore because you’re getting political.” And it amazes me that somebody would tell you to say only what they want to hear. The fact that I speak up against any politician or government official—it’s our duty as Americans to hold the people in office accountable. When I say something on social media, this is not for the Allen household. This is for the people of America. We all have to stand up. I don’t believe it’s getting political when you say something that’s for the greater good. You’re just being a concerned citizen. That’s what a democracy is all about. And for somebody to come on my wall, on any social media, and say “stick to basketball,” it’s an insult and I’m very offended. We as athletes, many of us have foundations, we have families, we are philanthropic in the communities that we live in. We have a stance, we have beliefs. We play basketball at a high level but it’s offensive if that’s all you think we care to talk about.

RN: Some people hail the NBA as the most progressive sports league. Do you find that to be the case? Or do you hope to see even more coming from the NBA?

RA: If you look around professional sports, you see athletes from lots of sports stepping up and speaking out. One thing about athletes in general is, no matter what’s happening in government, we are the voice of the people. Just like when you do media, you’re asking us questions because there are things fans want to know, they want answers. When we step up and speak out, we hold the mantle for a lot of people and how they feel. Because they may not have they voice or the podium to be able to speak out.

When I speak out against something I don’t believe in, it’s not because I’m a millionaire or because I’m an NBA player. I’m not saying it because I’m comfortable. We speak out because, even with all the money we make, we all have poor family members. We all have cousins, aunts, uncles, who aren’t as well off. Yeah, we help out as much as we can, but you can’t help everybody out. We want to make sure the system works for them. We want to make sure that programs are in place to help those less fortunate. We see people in America who are struggling. It’s not that we want to give things away to them, and we want to be a kickstand for them. Some people just don’t have the opportunity that others have. Some people are born 50% through the race. Some people start in the negative. If it doesn’t get level, we at least want to give people a chance to at least get into the race.

RN: What do people ask you about more, He Got Game or the Game 6 shot?

RA: You know, that’s a good question. I would say, recently it’s more of the Game 6 shot. Interestingly enough, people always ask me if I remember it. I’m like, “Uh, which shot are you speaking of? I don’t know which one you’re talking about.” Do I remember it? Somebody did this huge picture and I have it on on the wall in my house. It’s boarded all over the wall. We actually forget that it’s there half the time. For me it’s not about the shot as much as the preparation. That lifelong preparation that went into me being in that situation. I think it’s the Game 6 shot more than anything that people ask me about. They always tell me where they were when it happened. It’s pretty interesting, as much as I hit the shot, it’s more about where people were and how it affected their life more than anything else.

RN: What was going through your mind when you told security to get those ropes off the court?

RA: It’s like one of those situations when you get sick, and you focus more. That’s kind of where our mindset was. We were in a really tough situation. Typically when you’re in a tough situation, things start to splinter. People start pointing fingers. People figure out ways to make things worse. In basketball, everybody wants to do it themselves. You want to take that shot to get the lead back. We circled the wagons and got more focused. It was anger, but it was a focused anger. Everybody knew what we had to do. And we couldn’t sit back and play the woe is me card.

Ray Allen Q&A: New Book, Celtics Break-Up and Game 6 Memories

Ray Allen is ready to tell all.

The NBA’s all-time leader in three pointers and Hall-of-Fame lock has authored a book—with a foreword from Spike Lee!— detailing his life and career. From the Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love will dive deep into Allen’s transformation from a star at UConn to a lethal threat in the NBA, with much more in between. Oh, and expect some words on his departure from the Celtics, too.

Allen last played in the NBA in 2014 with the Miami Heat, only officially announcing his retirement in November 2016 after flirting with championship contenders as a free agent. Since hanging up his shooting sleeve, Allen has kept busy traveling the world and the spending time with his children.

“People always ask me if I’m going to get into coaching,” Allen told The Crossover. “I have four young boys. That’s my team right now. I have to make sure I have an impact on them.”

In anticipation of his memoir, Allen caught up with us to discuss why he didn’t come back for one more season, his Game 6 shot against the Spurs, and more.

Rohan Nadkarni: The last time we saw you on the court was the 2014 NBA Finals, and I think we all expected you would come back. Was there one big reason why you decided to end your career at that point?

Ray Allen: Well, I think as much as people still wanted me out on the floor, and I’ve always prided myself on the type of shape I was in, so I never looked at it as I was wearing down or getting tired. But I did play 18 years. And 18 years is a long time. I had to work twice as hard just to stay in front of everything, and the recovery gets tougher. And it was harder because as much as I was putting in, I wasn’t getting out of it. And I had to decide if I wanted to play again, I was living in Miami, and the team broke up. Miami became younger so that wasn’t an option, so if I played it was going to be for a team that had a chance to win. So that was going to require me to pick up and move. I wasn’t sure if I was willing to do that. I had already moved my kids. There wasn’t a situation where I could put myself in where I had the opportunity to win and I was going to be able to play. It was going to be a new city to move my family to, it was going to be an adjustment around me. I didn’t want to have to put them in that predicament. I sat back, waited and watched to see if anything made sense, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t worth it for me to move my kids again and then possibly be in a situation I wasn’t really happy with.

RN: Dwyane Wade described the last year of the Big Three as a “bad marriage.” What was the vibe on that team? Was that year tougher than most on all the guys?

RA: It certainly was tough on all of us as players. Organizationally, I don’t think they ever adjusted. Most of the guys, having gone to so many Finals, me being an older player, having played a lot of basketball the last five, six years, organizationally and coaching wise they didn’t adjust. We had the oldest team in the NBA, and on top of that, we had such a bad schedule. Every holiday we were away from home. Every situation we were in we were fighting to just stay above board, trying to figure out how to sleep or rest our bodies. We wore down, we were tired, and we were definitely tired at the end. We still were good, and we still made it to the Finals.

RN: In what way do you mean the organization didn’t adjust?

RA: With a team as old as we were, and with as much basketball as we’d played, we were still doing a million appearances, we still were having all the practices, and doing all the things that typically wear you down by the end of the year. Just being on your feet so much. The team didn’t learn how to manage our bodies better. When your players have played in June the last three or four years, by this time you have to figure out how get people off their feet. We don’t need to have a practice. We don’t need to have a shootaround. We just have to be mental. From those aspects, you wear yourself down long term.

RN: NBA fans have discussed a lot over the years what happened to your Celtics teammates after you left Boston. You and Paul Pierce had a chance to hash things out this summer. How much of a relief was that for you to get the ball rolling with Paul?

RA: It’s not something that I was worried about, let’s put it like that. I just set out to have a conversation with him. It was coincidental that we were there. I didn’t need to do interviews on TV or try to defend myself. I won a championship when I left, and that’s all of our objectives when we sign up to be a part of a sports team.

RN: Was there anything that was said over the years that hurt you?

RA: Well, we just finished writing the book and I will certainly talk about it. That’s something I’m going to talk about in-depth in my book.

RN: It was almost a novelty to shoot threes the way you did for parts of your career. Now you see some teams shooting almost 40 a night. Do you ever wish you could play in this era where you could shoot even more?

RA: I started in an era when coaches pretty much hated the three and wanted you to do everything else. The game has certainly evolved. When we were young, we were excited that we were getting the salaries that we were getting and some of the older players would be in the league and say, “Wow, these guys are getting paid this much money!” But now that same thing is happening over again. It’s just the generation you’re in, you have to take care of it and grow it for the next generation. Hopefully you had an impact on the game while you played it. And in my era or while I played, it’s important to say that. Because regardless of what happens to any record I had, in my era, while I played I held a few NBA records.

RN: You were always a legend for the work you put in before games. Where did your work ethic come from? What experiences helped build that mindset?

RA: I learned from other people’s examples. I don’t know where I got it from, but I always learned to look around me and see things people did do and the things people didn’t do and allowed that to influence me as a player. I just knew that I was always afraid to fail. I was afraid of not being good. I always had this thought that tomorrow I wouldn’t make a shot. I wasn’t going to make another shot. Whether it was a free throw or three pointer. So the first thing in the morning I would wake up and go right to the gym. Because I felt like if I didn’t go do it I was going to suck the next night. There was this constant cloud over my head. I had to go the gym to make it work and make it happen.

RN: You’ve been a little bit more outspoken politically since you retired. Obviously it’s a crazy time, and you see players and coaches in the NBA speaking constantly. What do you think of that mix of sports and politics? Are you more comfortable speaking out?

RA: I feel extremely comfortable. People try censor me all the time on social media. “You need to stick to basketball!“ “I’m not following you anymore because you’re getting political.” And it amazes me that somebody would tell you to say only what they want to hear. The fact that I speak up against any politician or government official—it’s our duty as Americans to hold the people in office accountable. When I say something on social media, this is not for the Allen household. This is for the people of America. We all have to stand up. I don’t believe it’s getting political when you say something that’s for the greater good. You’re just being a concerned citizen. That’s what a democracy is all about. And for somebody to come on my wall, on any social media, and say “stick to basketball,” it’s an insult and I’m very offended. We as athletes, many of us have foundations, we have families, we are philanthropic in the communities that we live in. We have a stance, we have beliefs. We play basketball at a high level but it’s offensive if that’s all you think we care to talk about.

RN: Some people hail the NBA as the most progressive sports league. Do you find that to be the case? Or do you hope to see even more coming from the NBA?

RA: If you look around professional sports, you see athletes from lots of sports stepping up and speaking out. One thing about athletes in general is, no matter what’s happening in government, we are the voice of the people. Just like when you do media, you’re asking us questions because there are things fans want to know, they want answers. When we step up and speak out, we hold the mantle for a lot of people and how they feel. Because they may not have they voice or the podium to be able to speak out.

When I speak out against something I don’t believe in, it’s not because I’m a millionaire or because I’m an NBA player. I’m not saying it because I’m comfortable. We speak out because, even with all the money we make, we all have poor family members. We all have cousins, aunts, uncles, who aren’t as well off. Yeah, we help out as much as we can, but you can’t help everybody out. We want to make sure the system works for them. We want to make sure that programs are in place to help those less fortunate. We see people in America who are struggling. It’s not that we want to give things away to them, and we want to be a kickstand for them. Some people just don’t have the opportunity that others have. Some people are born 50% through the race. Some people start in the negative. If it doesn’t get level, we at least want to give people a chance to at least get into the race.

RN: What do people ask you about more, He Got Game or the Game 6 shot?

RA: You know, that’s a good question. I would say, recently it’s more of the Game 6 shot. Interestingly enough, people always ask me if I remember it. I’m like, “Uh, which shot are you speaking of? I don’t know which one you’re talking about.” Do I remember it? Somebody did this huge picture and I have it on on the wall in my house. It’s boarded all over the wall. We actually forget that it’s there half the time. For me it’s not about the shot as much as the preparation. That lifelong preparation that went into me being in that situation. I think it’s the Game 6 shot more than anything that people ask me about. They always tell me where they were when it happened. It’s pretty interesting, as much as I hit the shot, it’s more about where people were and how it affected their life more than anything else.

RN: What was going through your mind when you told security to get those ropes off the court?

RA: It’s like one of those situations when you get sick, and you focus more. That’s kind of where our mindset was. We were in a really tough situation. Typically when you’re in a tough situation, things start to splinter. People start pointing fingers. People figure out ways to make things worse. In basketball, everybody wants to do it themselves. You want to take that shot to get the lead back. We circled the wagons and got more focused. It was anger, but it was a focused anger. Everybody knew what we had to do. And we couldn’t sit back and play the woe is me card.

Activist Athletes Will Not Be Silenced This Time

Like so many of the other institutions of politics and culture that we thought were durable, and like so many of the norms in politics and culture that we thought were permanent, the sports-entertainment industrial complex woke up a year ago to face a different world than the one it had known the night before. The election of Donald J. Trump to be president—a man who, in his previous foray into professional sports had managed to kill off an entire football league—apparently on a platform that could be summed up fairly as, “Let’s rip everything to shreds and throw the shreds up in front of an electric fan and see how the pieces fall together,” meant that nothing was safe in this country from disruption for disruption’s sake.

The activism that exploded among athletes this year did not begin when the polls closed last November. The killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 prompted demonstrations across the spectrum, most notably among the members of the Miami Heat, who took the court wearing hoodies. The Black Lives Matter movement, which was created in response to repeated acts of police violence against ordinary citizens, already had a foothold among athletes long before the surreal possibility of President Donald Trump became a stunning reality. The powder was primed. Trump’s election was the match to the fuse.

Since then, we’ve seen athletes decline to visit the White House because of its current temporary occupant; again, this is nothing new. But the current temporary occupant also owns a whole bunch of hotels, and according to the Washington Post, at least 16 professional teams, including the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs and the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, are refusing to stay in them. That is very new. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has become the center of a noxious controversy about the proper decorum with which to observe the National Anthem before our ballgames, a bizarre tradition that I’ve never fully understood. Unfortunately, this has obscured Kaepernick’s original intent, which was to call attention (again) to police violence, and it also has obscured the obvious fact that Kaepernick’s political stance has caused him to be blackballed from the NFL. The open question is whether or not this sudden burst of athlete activism will continue, or if it will it peter out over the next decade the way the previous era of the activist athlete did in the 1980’s. My guess is that it will go on, for a number of different reasons.

First, the current president is not going anywhere any time soon, and his only real political gift is starting messy political fights and then stepping back to watch the carnage. He bungled into the middle of the anthem controversy, called professional football players “sons of bitches” to the delight of his fans, and guaranteed that the controversy would intensify going forward. He is not likely to develop a gift for conciliation in his early 70’s, so one of the most obvious causes of the recent protests will be with us for a few more years, at least.

Second, it was easy to turn off the last outburst of activism among high-profile athletes. All you had to do was either stop paying attention to them or buy them off, both tactics at which the corporate class in America had had plenty of practice. The former was easy; all you had to do was coordinate three television networks. The second was even easier. As the money grew larger, the risk of losing it grew larger still. When Michael Jordan made that infamous remark about how Republicans also bought shoes, he was speaking for a generation of athletes whether they thought he was or not. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, political statements by athletes were crushed with cold efficiency. Craig Hodges, a gifted three-point shooter, was outspoken in his politics, even presenting President George H.W. Bush with a letter about problems in the inner-city, when the Chicago Bulls visited the White House. In 1992, the Bulls cut him and Hodges, in an eerie precursor of what’s happening to Colin Kaepernick today, found himself unable to get a job in the NBA.

TIMELINE: SPORTS UNDER TRUMP

However, silencing athletes is not that easy to do any more, Kaepernick’s situation notwithstanding. The generations of young athletes coming up today are more aware of the world around them because they are the first generations to come of age in the middle of the great acceleration that has come with the Internet. Many of them were raised in virtual communities as real to them as the brick-and-mortar neighborhoods where they lived. They have had news and information coming at them at frightening speeds and from every direction, and they’ve adapted to the reality of the new information age arguably better than the people who own the teams, or run the colleges, where they now compete.

I remember covering the lawsuit that Ed O’Bannon lodged against the NCAA and being told by people on O’Bannon’s legal team how important it had been for them that O’Bannon had reached out on social media to other athletes, building a community of support for the action he had taken. “These kids,” said Sonny Vaccaro, a legendary figure in the basketball underground for decades, “they know a lot better than the coaches and administrators how to coordinate things.”

It’s impossible to imagine how the various public protests that have broken out in stadiums and arenas would have been possible if not for the ability of athletes to coordinate their actions on social media. In addition, any pushback from the other side, such as Houston Texans owner Bob McNair’s ridiculous statement about letting his “inmates run the prison,” gets spread around almost the moment it occurs, and if there’s one thing that athletes are good at in their day jobs, it’s rapid response.

The phenomenon of instant communication and virtual community will have one more effect going forward that was not available to, say, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, when they got run out of sports after their demonstration on the victory stand at the 1968 Olympics. There is another generation of athletes coming up, and another one after that, each more tech-savvy than the previous one. The deluge of information is going to intensify as the technology accelerates its delivery. Kids today have the entire world, and all of its problems and issues, right there in their pocket. Everything is immediate, whether it’s a flood in Bangladesh, or a boy shot down on the sidewalk in Florida. Nothing is out of reach.

One of the other benefits of this technology is that it has pretty much transformed the phrase, “Stick to sports” into a meme for mockery. Two of the main voices of resistance over the past year have been NBA coaches —Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, and Steve Kerr of the Warriors. Both of them have made more sense on more issues than many of the people who get paid to spout off on TV, and many of the people who get elected to make laws for the rest of us. Neither seems inclined to stick to sports any time soon. Frankly, anyone who laments the involvement of “politics” in sports is too ignorant to opine about either one. The moment that baseball segregated itself, politics was there. The day that the Dodgers and Giants moved to California, politics was there. Every time a team holds up a city for a new ballpark or arena, politics are there. Popovich and Kerr, and Colin Kaepernick, and the people who are supporting him, probably see this more clearly than anyone else and, this time, my guess is that the impulse behind the protests won’t be so easily dispersed, or bribed into silence.

And besides, as I said, Donald Trump is still president. This remains a fact. The next controversy is only a tweet away, god help us.

Activist Athletes Will Not Be Silenced This Time

Like so many of the other institutions of politics and culture that we thought were durable, and like so many of the norms in politics and culture that we thought were permanent, the sports-entertainment industrial complex woke up a year ago to face a different world than the one it had known the night before. The election of Donald J. Trump to be president—a man who, in his previous foray into professional sports had managed to kill off an entire football league—apparently on a platform that could be summed up fairly as, “Let’s rip everything to shreds and throw the shreds up in front of an electric fan and see how the pieces fall together,” meant that nothing was safe in this country from disruption for disruption’s sake.

The activism that exploded among athletes this year did not begin when the polls closed last November. The killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 prompted demonstrations across the spectrum, most notably among the members of the Miami Heat, who took the court wearing hoodies. The Black Lives Matter movement, which was created in response to repeated acts of police violence against ordinary citizens, already had a foothold among athletes long before the surreal possibility of President Donald Trump became a stunning reality. The powder was primed. Trump’s election was the match to the fuse.

Since then, we’ve seen athletes decline to visit the White House because of its current temporary occupant; again, this is nothing new. But the current temporary occupant also owns a whole bunch of hotels, and according to the Washington Post, at least 16 professional teams, including the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs and the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, are refusing to stay in them. That is very new. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has become the center of a noxious controversy about the proper decorum with which to observe the National Anthem before our ballgames, a bizarre tradition that I’ve never fully understood. Unfortunately, this has obscured Kaepernick’s original intent, which was to call attention (again) to police violence, and it also has obscured the obvious fact that Kaepernick’s political stance has caused him to be blackballed from the NFL. The open question is whether or not this sudden burst of athlete activism will continue, or if it will it peter out over the next decade the way the previous era of the activist athlete did in the 1980’s. My guess is that it will go on, for a number of different reasons.

First, the current president is not going anywhere any time soon, and his only real political gift is starting messy political fights and then stepping back to watch the carnage. He bungled into the middle of the anthem controversy, called professional football players “sons of bitches” to the delight of his fans, and guaranteed that the controversy would intensify going forward. He is not likely to develop a gift for conciliation in his early 70’s, so one of the most obvious causes of the recent protests will be with us for a few more years, at least.

Second, it was easy to turn off the last outburst of activism among high-profile athletes. All you had to do was either stop paying attention to them or buy them off, both tactics at which the corporate class in America had had plenty of practice. The former was easy; all you had to do was coordinate three television networks. The second was even easier. As the money grew larger, the risk of losing it grew larger still. When Michael Jordan made that infamous remark about how Republicans also bought shoes, he was speaking for a generation of athletes whether they thought he was or not. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, political statements by athletes were crushed with cold efficiency. Craig Hodges, a gifted three-point shooter, was outspoken in his politics, even presenting President George H.W. Bush with a letter about problems in the inner-city, when the Chicago Bulls visited the White House. In 1992, the Bulls cut him and Hodges, in an eerie precursor of what’s happening to Colin Kaepernick today, found himself unable to get a job in the NBA.

TIMELINE: SPORTS UNDER TRUMP

However, silencing athletes is not that easy to do any more, Kaepernick’s situation notwithstanding. The generations of young athletes coming up today are more aware of the world around them because they are the first generations to come of age in the middle of the great acceleration that has come with the Internet. Many of them were raised in virtual communities as real to them as the brick-and-mortar neighborhoods where they lived. They have had news and information coming at them at frightening speeds and from every direction, and they’ve adapted to the reality of the new information age arguably better than the people who own the teams, or run the colleges, where they now compete.

I remember covering the lawsuit that Ed O’Bannon lodged against the NCAA and being told by people on O’Bannon’s legal team how important it had been for them that O’Bannon had reached out on social media to other athletes, building a community of support for the action he had taken. “These kids,” said Sonny Vaccaro, a legendary figure in the basketball underground for decades, “they know a lot better than the coaches and administrators how to coordinate things.”

It’s impossible to imagine how the various public protests that have broken out in stadiums and arenas would have been possible if not for the ability of athletes to coordinate their actions on social media. In addition, any pushback from the other side, such as Houston Texans owner Bob McNair’s ridiculous statement about letting his “inmates run the prison,” gets spread around almost the moment it occurs, and if there’s one thing that athletes are good at in their day jobs, it’s rapid response.

The phenomenon of instant communication and virtual community will have one more effect going forward that was not available to, say, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, when they got run out of sports after their demonstration on the victory stand at the 1968 Olympics. There is another generation of athletes coming up, and another one after that, each more tech-savvy than the previous one. The deluge of information is going to intensify as the technology accelerates its delivery. Kids today have the entire world, and all of its problems and issues, right there in their pocket. Everything is immediate, whether it’s a flood in Bangladesh, or a boy shot down on the sidewalk in Florida. Nothing is out of reach.

One of the other benefits of this technology is that it has pretty much transformed the phrase, “Stick to sports” into a meme for mockery. Two of the main voices of resistance over the past year have been NBA coaches —Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, and Steve Kerr of the Warriors. Both of them have made more sense on more issues than many of the people who get paid to spout off on TV, and many of the people who get elected to make laws for the rest of us. Neither seems inclined to stick to sports any time soon. Frankly, anyone who laments the involvement of “politics” in sports is too ignorant to opine about either one. The moment that baseball segregated itself, politics was there. The day that the Dodgers and Giants moved to California, politics was there. Every time a team holds up a city for a new ballpark or arena, politics are there. Popovich and Kerr, and Colin Kaepernick, and the people who are supporting him, probably see this more clearly than anyone else and, this time, my guess is that the impulse behind the protests won’t be so easily dispersed, or bribed into silence.

And besides, as I said, Donald Trump is still president. This remains a fact. The next controversy is only a tweet away, god help us.

'They're still beating everybody': Spurs off to 4-0 start

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 25: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs is defended by James Johnson #16 of the Miami Heat during a game at American Airlines Arena on October 25, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

"Oh My Goodness", la jugada de Manu Ginóbili que despertó todos los elogios

El bahiense marcó 14 puntos en la victoria de los Spurs ante Miami Heat

-FOTODELDIA- MIA02. MIAMI (EE.UU.), 25/10/2017.- Dion Waiters (d) de los Miami Heat en acción ante Danny Green de los San Antonio Spurs durante un partido de la NBA hoy, miércoles 25 de octubre de 2017, en el American Arena en Miami, Florida (EE.UU.). EFE/RHONA WISE

MIA02. MIAMI (EE.UU.), 25/10/2017.- Pau Gasol (i) de los San Antonio Spurs en acción ante Bam Adebayo (d) de los Miami Heat durante un partido de la NBA hoy, miércoles 25 de octubre de 2017, en el American Arena en Miami, Florida (EE.UU.). EFE/RHONA WISE

MIA02. MIAMI (EE.UU.), 25/10/2017.- Danny Green (i) de los San Antonio Spurs en acción ante Dion Waiters (d) de los Miami Heat durante un partido de la NBA hoy, miércoles 25 de octubre de 2017, en el American Arena en Miami, Florida (EE.UU.). EFE/RHONA WISE

MIA02. MIAMI (EE.UU.), 25/10/2017.- Rudy Gay (d) de los San Antonio Spurs en acción ante Justice Winslow de los Miami Heat durante un partido de la NBA hoy, miércoles 25 de octubre de 2017, en el American Arena en Miami, Florida (EE.UU.). EFE/RHONA WISE

MIA02. MIAMI (EE.UU.), 25/10/2017.- Manu Ginobili (d) de los San Antonio Spurs en acción ante Justice Winslow de los Miami Heat durante un partido de la NBA hoy, miércoles 25 de octubre de 2017, en el American Arena en Miami, Florida (EE.UU.). EFE/RHONA WISE

MIA02. MIAMI (EE.UU.), 25/10/2017.- Pau Gasol (i) de los San Antonio Spurs en acción ante Bam Adebayo (d) de los Miami Heat durante un partido de la NBA hoy, miércoles 25 de octubre de 2017, en el American Arena en Miami, Florida (EE.UU.). EFE/RHONA WISE

MIA02. MIAMI (EE.UU.), 25/10/2017.- Pau Gasol (i) de los San Antonio Spurs en acción ante Bam Adebayo (d) de los Miami Heat durante un partido de la NBA hoy, miércoles 25 de octubre de 2017, en el American Arena en Miami, Florida (EE.UU.). EFE/RHONA WISE

MIA02. MIAMI (EE.UU.), 25/10/2017.- Bam Adebayo (d) de los Miami Heat en acción ante Pau Gasol (i) de los San Antonio Spurs durante un partido de la NBA hoy, miércoles 25 de octubre de 2017, en el American Arena en Miami, Florida (EE.UU.). EFE/RHONA WISE

MIA02. MIAMI (EE.UU.), 25/10/2017.- Dion Waiters (d) de los Miami Heat en acción ante Danny Green de los San Antonio Spurs durante un partido de la NBA hoy, miércoles 25 de octubre de 2017, en el American Arena en Miami, Florida (EE.UU.). EFE/RHONA WISE

Con otra buena actuación de Manu Ginóbili, San Antonio Spurs estiró su gran arranque en la NBA

En el United Airlines derrotó por 117-100 a Miami Heat; el bahiense anotó 14 puntos en 21 minutos de juego para la cuarta victoria seguida del equipo de Gregg Popovich

NBA: gran partido entre Miami Heat y San Antonio Spurs, con Manu Ginóbili en acción

Esta noche, a las 21, hora de la Argentina, se enfrentarán en el United Airlines; televisa ESPN 3 y en la web se puede ver por NBA League Pass y en ESPN Play

NBA Power Rankings: Trying Hard Not to Overreact to Opening Week

Well, we’re only a week into the NBA season and we’ve already got a Twitter controversy, a head coach firing (both of those happened to the same team!), a buzzer-beater, a double-ejection, and quality Raymond Felton minutes. We're really checking all the boxes.

The aforementioned doomed team, the Suns, are the big mover this week, down to No. 30 after beginning the year at No. 23. On the bright side, the Nets are fun and good, and move up five spots. It’s hard to find a good balance between overreacting and pretending a team has shown you nothing new in three or so games, but we’ll try below.

(All stats and records through Oct. 22).

30. Phoenix Suns (0–3) | Last Week: 23
Eric Bledsoe issued a trade request with a 20-character tweet, and then the head coach was fired an hour later. That’s rock bottom.

29. Chicago Bulls (0–2) | Last Week: 30
Kind of difficult to move up in the power rankings when one of your forwards breaks your other forward’s face in practice, but here we are.

28. Atlanta Hawks (1–2) | Last Week: 28
Bright side: The Hawks led the Hornets late and played the Nets hard. Reality: Charlotte went on a 24–0 run to beat Atlanta, and then Dennis Schroeder suffered a painful injury (in a loss to the Nets.)

27. New York Knicks (0–2) | Last Week: 25
Kristaps Porzingis has been a goddamn machine out there, but that’s about where the fun ends. Jeff Hornacek’s rotation is super-weird right now for a rebuilding team; Willy Hernangomez didn’t even play against the Pistons, which is very dumb, and Frankie Smokes only saw eight minutes in the season opener! Whenever he gets that ankle right, he should probably see the floor.

26. Indiana Pacers (1–2) | Last Week: 27
I feel bad about this:

That’s it.

25. Orlando Magic (2–1) | Last Week: 29
They picked up a wire-to-wire win over the Cavs! Mario Hezonja hit a few threes! This might be the pinnacle.

24. Los Angeles Lakers (1–2) | Last Week: 22
This is a team that barely beat the Suns. The Suns! I think there will be some bright spots this season, and more games like Friday’s near-triple-double for Lonzo Ball, but the Lakers just don’t look good right now.

23. Sacramento Kings (1–2) | Last Week: 24
De’Aaron Fox looks legit. This team has actually played some pretty good defense through three games, and has some guys who can score the ball. Maybe they won’t be so bad? Maybe?

22. Philadelphia 76ers (0–3) | Last Week: 20
Man, Markelle Fultz just doesn’t look right out there. And, aside from Simmons, Redick and Embiid, neither do the Sixers. Let’s pump the brakes on the playoff talk. Don’t bring the car to a full stop. Just slow it down a little.

21. Dallas Mavericks (0–3) | Last Week: 21
How did they manage to lose to the Kings? I know I said a nice thing about the Kings earlier, but Dirk Nowitzki and Co. should be able to handle a rebuilding team.

20. Brooklyn Nets (2–1) | Last Week: 25

Russell looks legitimately awesome so far, and the Nets will need him now that Jeremy Lin’s done for the year with a torn patellar. Brooklyn should be scrappy this season.

19. Charlotte Hornets (1–1) | Last Week: 17
HE’S NOT DEAD, DWIGHT!

18. Detroit Pistons (2–1) | Last Week: 19
The Pistons went on a 21–4 run in the fourth quarter on Friday after Andre Drummond fouled out. Just saying...

17. Denver Nuggets (1–1)| Last Week: 13
These are apparently the new Denver Nuggets, a team that can hold squads under 80 points and get a win without getting a single point from Nikola Jokic.

16. Miami Heat (1–1) | Last Week: 12
So, yeah, the Heat haven’t exactly picked up where they left off. The good news is, at least Hassan Whiteside looks like he’s feeling better!

15. Utah Jazz (2–1) | Last Week: 18
You don’t want these problems with confirmed insane person MEAN JOE INGLES.

14. New Orleans Pelicans (1–2)| Last Week: 15
Brow and Boogie look good enough to carry this team to the playoffs. Now, let’s just protect Anthony Davis at all costs. He got clocked in the face Sunday.

13. Portland Trail Blazers (2–1) | Last Week: 14
Portland currently ranks in the top three in net rating, but they’ve beaten up on the Pacers and Suns to get there. They certainly impressed against the Bucks, but I’m not quite sure they’re on that level yet. Side note: Is Meyers Leonard not a thing anymore? Two straight games with a DNP-CD. We need to get him back in the lineup for his annual battle with DeMarcus Cousins.

12. Memphis Grizzlies (2–0) | Last Week: 16
Any time you frazzle the Warriors like that, you’re deserving of a big jump. Oh, you thought I was talking about Steph and KD’s ejection? Hell no. I’m talking about this insane move by Marc Gasol.

11. L.A. Clippers (2–0) | Last Week: 11
The Clippers’ New Big Baby is hurt (I’m so sad), but at least Blake Griffin’s MVP campaign is off to a roaring start! Oh yeah, and there’s never been a more perfect Clipper than J.B. Smoove:

10. Boston Celtics (1–2)| Last Week: 6
We all (unfortunately) saw last week how cruel sports can be. Boston's championship dreams are potentially shattered. This is just not the same team without Gordon Hayward.

9. Washington Wizards (2–0)| Last Week: 9
Just when you thought Otto Porter actually wasn’t good, Otto Porter was totally good against the Pistons. We’re no closer to answering our question about whether or not Otto Porter is good than we were two weeks ago.

8. Milwaukee Bucks (2–1) | Last Week: 10
Whoooo boy, those Giannis MVP picks are looking HOT right now. 37/13/3. 34/8/8. 44/8/4. What an insane start to the season.

7. Toronto Raptors (2–0) | Last Week: 7

“We’re going to the Eastern Conference Finals, boys; that’s all I have to say.” — Aubrey Drake Graham, October 21, 2017. Book those hotel rooms in Cleveland.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves (2–1) | Last Week: 8
Wiggins with cornrows is simply something this world was not ready for. He’s played so well in the early going it’s easy to forget Jimmy Butler is even on this team! And how about THIS:

If you look closely you can see Melo requesting a trade to Houston:

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (1–2) | Last Week: 4
Ah, yes, speaking of Melo...it turns out the Thunder still have a few kinks to work out with their big three. That’s totally normal—chemistry takes a little while to build. That loss to Minnesota actually said a lot about the level these three can lift the team to: OKC was dead in the water before a raucous comeback. This will be the first of many thrillers they’re involved in.

Wait, before you go, watch this. But not out loud at work.

4. San Antonio Spurs (2–0) | Last Week: 5
Kawhi remains out, but this team looks just fine. Dejounte Murray can really play.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (2–1) | Last Week: 2
This is not an overreaction to the Magic loss. Houston has just charged out of the gate to establish itself as the clear second-best team in the league so far. The LeBron–Flash reunion tour is going to experience some growing pains along the way, but in the end the bus will still make it to the conference finals.

2. Houston Rockets (3–0) | Last Week: 3
Only Chris Paul’s left knee can slow the Rockets now. Some of you laughed when I talked up the importance of the P.J. Tucker acquisition, but look at the minutes he gave them against Golden State! He finished as a game-high +20 to boot. He’s obviously not going to do that every night, but he’s going to be valuable in games like that. This team is deep enough, and talented enough, to remain the second-best team in basketball even without CP3.

1. Golden State Warriors (1–2) | Last Week: 1
What? You thought a tough week would knock the Warriors out of the top spot? They could start 0–9 and they still might top these power rankings. They’ll be just fine, even if their skin is thin at times. Besides, did you see this crap Klay Thompson pulled?

China has changed this man.

NBA Power Rankings: Trying Hard Not to Overreact to Opening Week

Well, we’re only a week into the NBA season and we’ve already got a Twitter controversy, a head coach firing (both of those happened to the same team!), a buzzer-beater, a double-ejection, and quality Raymond Felton minutes. We're really checking all the boxes.

The aforementioned doomed team, the Suns, are the big mover this week, down to No. 30 after beginning the year at No. 23. On the bright side, the Nets are fun and good, and move up five spots. It’s hard to find a good balance between overreacting and pretending a team has shown you nothing new in three or so games, but we’ll try below.

(All stats and records through Oct. 22).

30. Phoenix Suns (0–3) | Last Week: 23
Eric Bledsoe issued a trade request with a 20-character tweet, and then the head coach was fired an hour later. That’s rock bottom.

29. Chicago Bulls (0–2) | Last Week: 30
Kind of difficult to move up in the power rankings when one of your forwards breaks your other forward’s face in practice, but here we are.

28. Atlanta Hawks (1–2) | Last Week: 28
Bright side: The Hawks led the Hornets late and played the Nets hard. Reality: Charlotte went on a 24–0 run to beat Atlanta, and then Dennis Schroeder suffered a painful injury (in a loss to the Nets.)

27. New York Knicks (0–2) | Last Week: 25
Kristaps Porzingis has been a goddamn machine out there, but that’s about where the fun ends. Jeff Hornacek’s rotation is super-weird right now for a rebuilding team; Willy Hernangomez didn’t even play against the Pistons, which is very dumb, and Frankie Smokes only saw eight minutes in the season opener! Whenever he gets that ankle right, he should probably see the floor.

26. Indiana Pacers (1–2) | Last Week: 27
I feel bad about this:

That’s it.

25. Orlando Magic (2–1) | Last Week: 29
They picked up a wire-to-wire win over the Cavs! Mario Hezonja hit a few threes! This might be the pinnacle.

24. Los Angeles Lakers (1–2) | Last Week: 22
This is a team that barely beat the Suns. The Suns! I think there will be some bright spots this season, and more games like Friday’s near-triple-double for Lonzo Ball, but the Lakers just don’t look good right now.

23. Sacramento Kings (1–2) | Last Week: 24
De’Aaron Fox looks legit. This team has actually played some pretty good defense through three games, and has some guys who can score the ball. Maybe they won’t be so bad? Maybe?

22. Philadelphia 76ers (0–3) | Last Week: 20
Man, Markelle Fultz just doesn’t look right out there. And, aside from Simmons, Redick and Embiid, neither do the Sixers. Let’s pump the brakes on the playoff talk. Don’t bring the car to a full stop. Just slow it down a little.

21. Dallas Mavericks (0–3) | Last Week: 21
How did they manage to lose to the Kings? I know I said a nice thing about the Kings earlier, but Dirk Nowitzki and Co. should be able to handle a rebuilding team.

20. Brooklyn Nets (2–1) | Last Week: 25

Russell looks legitimately awesome so far, and the Nets will need him now that Jeremy Lin’s done for the year with a torn patellar. Brooklyn should be scrappy this season.

19. Charlotte Hornets (1–1) | Last Week: 17
HE’S NOT DEAD, DWIGHT!

18. Detroit Pistons (2–1) | Last Week: 19
The Pistons went on a 21–4 run in the fourth quarter on Friday after Andre Drummond fouled out. Just saying...

17. Denver Nuggets (1–1)| Last Week: 13
These are apparently the new Denver Nuggets, a team that can hold squads under 80 points and get a win without getting a single point from Nikola Jokic.

16. Miami Heat (1–1) | Last Week: 12
So, yeah, the Heat haven’t exactly picked up where they left off. The good news is, at least Hassan Whiteside looks like he’s feeling better!

15. Utah Jazz (2–1) | Last Week: 18
You don’t want these problems with confirmed insane person MEAN JOE INGLES.

14. New Orleans Pelicans (1–2)| Last Week: 15
Brow and Boogie look good enough to carry this team to the playoffs. Now, let’s just protect Anthony Davis at all costs. He got clocked in the face Sunday.

13. Portland Trail Blazers (2–1) | Last Week: 14
Portland currently ranks in the top three in net rating, but they’ve beaten up on the Pacers and Suns to get there. They certainly impressed against the Bucks, but I’m not quite sure they’re on that level yet. Side note: Is Meyers Leonard not a thing anymore? Two straight games with a DNP-CD. We need to get him back in the lineup for his annual battle with DeMarcus Cousins.

12. Memphis Grizzlies (2–0) | Last Week: 16
Any time you frazzle the Warriors like that, you’re deserving of a big jump. Oh, you thought I was talking about Steph and KD’s ejection? Hell no. I’m talking about this insane move by Marc Gasol.

11. L.A. Clippers (2–0) | Last Week: 11
The Clippers’ New Big Baby is hurt (I’m so sad), but at least Blake Griffin’s MVP campaign is off to a roaring start! Oh yeah, and there’s never been a more perfect Clipper than J.B. Smoove:

10. Boston Celtics (1–2)| Last Week: 6
We all (unfortunately) saw last week how cruel sports can be. Boston's championship dreams are potentially shattered. This is just not the same team without Gordon Hayward.

9. Washington Wizards (2–0)| Last Week: 9
Just when you thought Otto Porter actually wasn’t good, Otto Porter was totally good against the Pistons. We’re no closer to answering our question about whether or not Otto Porter is good than we were two weeks ago.

8. Milwaukee Bucks (2–1) | Last Week: 10
Whoooo boy, those Giannis MVP picks are looking HOT right now. 37/13/3. 34/8/8. 44/8/4. What an insane start to the season.

7. Toronto Raptors (2–0) | Last Week: 7

“We’re going to the Eastern Conference Finals, boys; that’s all I have to say.” — Aubrey Drake Graham, October 21, 2017. Book those hotel rooms in Cleveland.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves (2–1) | Last Week: 8
Wiggins with cornrows is simply something this world was not ready for. He’s played so well in the early going it’s easy to forget Jimmy Butler is even on this team! And how about THIS:

If you look closely you can see Melo requesting a trade to Houston:

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (1–2) | Last Week: 4
Ah, yes, speaking of Melo...it turns out the Thunder still have a few kinks to work out with their big three. That’s totally normal—chemistry takes a little while to build. That loss to Minnesota actually said a lot about the level these three can lift the team to: OKC was dead in the water before a raucous comeback. This will be the first of many thrillers they’re involved in.

Wait, before you go, watch this. But not out loud at work.

4. San Antonio Spurs (2–0) | Last Week: 5
Kawhi remains out, but this team looks just fine. Dejounte Murray can really play.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (2–1) | Last Week: 2
This is not an overreaction to the Magic loss. Houston has just charged out of the gate to establish itself as the clear second-best team in the league so far. The LeBron–Flash reunion tour is going to experience some growing pains along the way, but in the end the bus will still make it to the conference finals.

2. Houston Rockets (3–0) | Last Week: 3
Only Chris Paul’s left knee can slow the Rockets now. Some of you laughed when I talked up the importance of the P.J. Tucker acquisition, but look at the minutes he gave them against Golden State! He finished as a game-high +20 to boot. He’s obviously not going to do that every night, but he’s going to be valuable in games like that. This team is deep enough, and talented enough, to remain the second-best team in basketball even without CP3.

1. Golden State Warriors (1–2) | Last Week: 1
What? You thought a tough week would knock the Warriors out of the top spot? They could start 0–9 and they still might top these power rankings. They’ll be just fine, even if their skin is thin at times. Besides, did you see this crap Klay Thompson pulled?

China has changed this man.

NBA Power Rankings: Trying Hard Not to Overreact to Opening Week

Well, we’re only a week into the NBA season and we’ve already got a Twitter controversy, a head coach firing (both of those happened to the same team!), a buzzer-beater, a double-ejection, and quality Raymond Felton minutes. We're really checking all the boxes.

The aforementioned doomed team, the Suns, are the big mover this week, down to No. 30 after beginning the year at No. 23. On the bright side, the Nets are fun and good, and move up five spots. It’s hard to find a good balance between overreacting and pretending a team has shown you nothing new in three or so games, but we’ll try below.

(All stats and records through Oct. 22).

30. Phoenix Suns (0–3) | Last Week: 23
Eric Bledsoe issued a trade request with a 20-character tweet, and then the head coach was fired an hour later. That’s rock bottom.

29. Chicago Bulls (0–2) | Last Week: 30
Kind of difficult to move up in the power rankings when one of your forwards breaks your other forward’s face in practice, but here we are.

28. Atlanta Hawks (1–2) | Last Week: 28
Bright side: The Hawks led the Hornets late and played the Nets hard. Reality: Charlotte went on a 24–0 run to beat Atlanta, and then Dennis Schroeder suffered a painful injury (in a loss to the Nets.)

27. New York Knicks (0–2) | Last Week: 25
Kristaps Porzingis has been a goddamn machine out there, but that’s about where the fun ends. Jeff Hornacek’s rotation is super-weird right now for a rebuilding team; Willy Hernangomez didn’t even play against the Pistons, which is very dumb, and Frankie Smokes only saw eight minutes in the season opener! Whenever he gets that ankle right, he should probably see the floor.

26. Indiana Pacers (1–2) | Last Week: 27
I feel bad about this:

That’s it.

25. Orlando Magic (2–1) | Last Week: 29
They picked up a wire-to-wire win over the Cavs! Mario Hezonja hit a few threes! This might be the pinnacle.

24. Los Angeles Lakers (1–2) | Last Week: 22
This is a team that barely beat the Suns. The Suns! I think there will be some bright spots this season, and more games like Friday’s near-triple-double for Lonzo Ball, but the Lakers just don’t look good right now.

23. Sacramento Kings (1–2) | Last Week: 24
De’Aaron Fox looks legit. This team has actually played some pretty good defense through three games, and has some guys who can score the ball. Maybe they won’t be so bad? Maybe?

22. Philadelphia 76ers (0–3) | Last Week: 20
Man, Markelle Fultz just doesn’t look right out there. And, aside from Simmons, Redick and Embiid, neither do the Sixers. Let’s pump the brakes on the playoff talk. Don’t bring the car to a full stop. Just slow it down a little.

21. Dallas Mavericks (0–3) | Last Week: 21
How did they manage to lose to the Kings? I know I said a nice thing about the Kings earlier, but Dirk Nowitzki and Co. should be able to handle a rebuilding team.

20. Brooklyn Nets (2–1) | Last Week: 25

Russell looks legitimately awesome so far, and the Nets will need him now that Jeremy Lin’s done for the year with a torn patellar. Brooklyn should be scrappy this season.

19. Charlotte Hornets (1–1) | Last Week: 17
HE’S NOT DEAD, DWIGHT!

18. Detroit Pistons (2–1) | Last Week: 19
The Pistons went on a 21–4 run in the fourth quarter on Friday after Andre Drummond fouled out. Just saying...

17. Denver Nuggets (1–1)| Last Week: 13
These are apparently the new Denver Nuggets, a team that can hold squads under 80 points and get a win without getting a single point from Nikola Jokic.

16. Miami Heat (1–1) | Last Week: 12
So, yeah, the Heat haven’t exactly picked up where they left off. The good news is, at least Hassan Whiteside looks like he’s feeling better!

15. Utah Jazz (2–1) | Last Week: 18
You don’t want these problems with confirmed insane person MEAN JOE INGLES.

14. New Orleans Pelicans (1–2)| Last Week: 15
Brow and Boogie look good enough to carry this team to the playoffs. Now, let’s just protect Anthony Davis at all costs. He got clocked in the face Sunday.

13. Portland Trail Blazers (2–1) | Last Week: 14
Portland currently ranks in the top three in net rating, but they’ve beaten up on the Pacers and Suns to get there. They certainly impressed against the Bucks, but I’m not quite sure they’re on that level yet. Side note: Is Meyers Leonard not a thing anymore? Two straight games with a DNP-CD. We need to get him back in the lineup for his annual battle with DeMarcus Cousins.

12. Memphis Grizzlies (2–0) | Last Week: 16
Any time you frazzle the Warriors like that, you’re deserving of a big jump. Oh, you thought I was talking about Steph and KD’s ejection? Hell no. I’m talking about this insane move by Marc Gasol.

11. L.A. Clippers (2–0) | Last Week: 11
The Clippers’ New Big Baby is hurt (I’m so sad), but at least Blake Griffin’s MVP campaign is off to a roaring start! Oh yeah, and there’s never been a more perfect Clipper than J.B. Smoove:

10. Boston Celtics (1–2)| Last Week: 6
We all (unfortunately) saw last week how cruel sports can be. Boston's championship dreams are potentially shattered. This is just not the same team without Gordon Hayward.

9. Washington Wizards (2–0)| Last Week: 9
Just when you thought Otto Porter actually wasn’t good, Otto Porter was totally good against the Pistons. We’re no closer to answering our question about whether or not Otto Porter is good than we were two weeks ago.

8. Milwaukee Bucks (2–1) | Last Week: 10
Whoooo boy, those Giannis MVP picks are looking HOT right now. 37/13/3. 34/8/8. 44/8/4. What an insane start to the season.

7. Toronto Raptors (2–0) | Last Week: 7

“We’re going to the Eastern Conference Finals, boys; that’s all I have to say.” — Aubrey Drake Graham, October 21, 2017. Book those hotel rooms in Cleveland.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves (2–1) | Last Week: 8
Wiggins with cornrows is simply something this world was not ready for. He’s played so well in the early going it’s easy to forget Jimmy Butler is even on this team! And how about THIS:

If you look closely you can see Melo requesting a trade to Houston:

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (1–2) | Last Week: 4
Ah, yes, speaking of Melo...it turns out the Thunder still have a few kinks to work out with their big three. That’s totally normal—chemistry takes a little while to build. That loss to Minnesota actually said a lot about the level these three can lift the team to: OKC was dead in the water before a raucous comeback. This will be the first of many thrillers they’re involved in.

Wait, before you go, watch this. But not out loud at work.

4. San Antonio Spurs (2–0) | Last Week: 5
Kawhi remains out, but this team looks just fine. Dejounte Murray can really play.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (2–1) | Last Week: 2
This is not an overreaction to the Magic loss. Houston has just charged out of the gate to establish itself as the clear second-best team in the league so far. The LeBron–Flash reunion tour is going to experience some growing pains along the way, but in the end the bus will still make it to the conference finals.

2. Houston Rockets (3–0) | Last Week: 3
Only Chris Paul’s left knee can slow the Rockets now. Some of you laughed when I talked up the importance of the P.J. Tucker acquisition, but look at the minutes he gave them against Golden State! He finished as a game-high +20 to boot. He’s obviously not going to do that every night, but he’s going to be valuable in games like that. This team is deep enough, and talented enough, to remain the second-best team in basketball even without CP3.

1. Golden State Warriors (1–2) | Last Week: 1
What? You thought a tough week would knock the Warriors out of the top spot? They could start 0–9 and they still might top these power rankings. They’ll be just fine, even if their skin is thin at times. Besides, did you see this crap Klay Thompson pulled?

China has changed this man.

Crystal Ball: 2017-18 NBA Awards Predictions

With the NBA season inside-your-jersey close, The Crossover asked its writers to give their awards predictions for the 2017–18 season.

The MVP races features some familiar faces (hello, LeBron and Steph), but there’s plenty of new names also in the running for awards this season. Can Rudy Gobert take home his first Defensive Player of the Year title? Will one of the Clippers’ many new guards win Sixth Man of the Year? And will Dennis Smith Jr. steal the spotlight from Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons and claim top rookie honors?

We asked our writers to predict who will take home the hardware. Check out our predictions for the 2017-18 season below.

?

Most Valuable Player

Lee Jenkins: LeBron James, Cavaliers. In each of the past four years, someone other than LeBron James has won MVP, even though in all of those four years it was generally accepted that James was actually the best player. Come winter, the regularly scheduled hype train circles the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, until spring dawns and the refrain echoes: “Oh, I guess LeBron is still better.” It is a strange dynamic. MVP is the NBA’s most significant individual award, yet James has somehow transcended the trophy. His candidacy is too boring, too obvious. But Westbrook and Harden now have superstar sidekicks, like Steph Curry/Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard is nursing a troublesome thigh injury. James, sans Kyrie Irving, may have to be the choice this time.?

Ben Golliver: Stephen Curry, Warriors. How is it that Stephen Curry, the man who received every single first-place MVP vote in 2016, has only the 10th–best odds, according to one oddsmaker, of taking home the 2018 trophy? This feels like a classic case of the NBA intelligentsia outsmarting itself. After all, Curry is a consensus top-four player, he’s virtually guaranteed to play for the league’s best team and, as coach Steve Kerr noted this week, he happens to be smack in the middle of his prime.

Some forecasters are worried that Curry and Kevin Durant will split Golden State’s share of the votes, or that voters will regard Durant as the Warriors’ top candidate, or that one-man armies like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo will have better individual stories, or that Russell Westbrook and James Harden will put up better individual numbers. All fair concerns. But Curry is a very compelling (fake) dark horse candidate because he’s the central force of the league’s best offense, he’s the league’s best shooter and a perennial 50/40/90 candidate, he’s the most popular player on the league’s most dominant team (Durant’s nightmare PR summer only widened the gap), and he’s become remarkably durable after early-career ankle issues (he’s missed an average of 3.2 games over the past five seasons).

MVP voters do tend to punish superteams: LeBron James didn’t win in 2011 and no Warriors player finished among 2017’s top five. However, voters came back around to pay James the respect he deserved in 2012 and 2013, and it will be hard for anyone to deny Golden State an MVP winner if the Warriors rack up 70 wins and the rest of the league is struggling to reach 60. If a backlash to Westbrook’s stats-based 2016 MVP case does emerge, Curry is perfectly positioned to benefit because he checks every box: winning, narrative, stats, advanced stats, intangibles, memorable moments, personality and impact. Sleep on Curry’s MVP candidacy at your own risk.

Andrew Sharp: Stephen Curry, Warriors. A month ago my pick would've been Kawhi, but his quad injury is lingering while the Rockets look poised to blitz the West for the No. 2 seed, and that's enough to give me pause. Instead, give me Steph. He's the most valuable player on the best team the league has ever seen, and this shouldn't be all that complicated.

Yet it is complicated, obviously. After winning unanimous MVP two years ago and ultimately falling apart in the Finals, two years of passive aggressive Curry skepticism gave way to a nation of critics openly second-guessing his talent and resenting his success, even among certain superstars. All of that criticism was dumb, but some of it stuck. For the past year or two it hasn't been cool to discuss how incredible Curry has been. Even Steve Kerr finished the NBA Finals talking about the value of Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

There are two ways this could play out from here. On one hand, it wouldn't be surprising if Curry never won another MVP. He's got too much help to make a compelling case, he's already won the award twice, and the skepticism around the league is still too pervasive.

On the other hand, maybe this is the year of the backlash to Curry backlash, where everyone realizes that he's the most valuable weapon in basketball. And as the Warriors put together the most dominant four-year run in NBA history, maybe it becomes cool and smart to state what's always been obvious: None of this is possible without Steph.

Rob Mahoney: LeBron James, Cavs. The setup for this season feels like the kind of opportunity LeBron would relish. A star teammate requesting to leave his well-constructed conference powerhouse is not a slight James could take lightly. One could imagine James feeling as if the world—and a certain ex-teammate—could stand to be reminded of what he’s capable of. On top of that, Isaiah Thomas’s extended absence will demand more of LeBron than before, albeit in ways he could clearly deliver. This award often boils down to how much James cares to win it. When he has a ready-made contender playing the long game for a return to the Finals, vying for the MVP might seem needless. But if he has something to prove, we could see LeBron again meld ridiculous efficiency with the extraordinary excess of superstar production.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. Will James play in enough games to win this award? That’s what the MVP race could come down to. The King usually takes his fair share of breaks during the regular season, and rightfully so, considering James has played over 50,000 minutes in his storied career. But with the NBA’s new resting rules, James may play in a few more contests this season. And with the added motivation of an insane summer—Kyrie wanting out, contenders loading up, Draymond running his mouth—this could be the year James returns to the MVP mountaintop. LeBron, the best basketball player in the world, hasn’t won MVP in four seasons. That has to bother him on some level, right? James knows how hard it will be to beat the Warriors in a potential finals rematch, so perhaps he looks at the MVP race as another way to pad his legacy.

Jeremy Woo: Kevin Durant, Warriors. The argument that Kevin Durant and Steph Curry will steal MVP votes from one another until the end of time (or until someone breaks up the marriage) is a popular one. But I suspect the KD we saw dominate in the Finals, completely comfortable in the Warriors’ system and making a difference on both ends of the floor will be present once again. New star pairings are set to alter the landscape, but what’s to say 70-ish wins and a scoring title won’t get it done for Durant? Neither of those things is out of the question, and yes, that’s extremely scary. Here’s hedging that Year Two in the Bay is even more fruitful, and that KD can delete all his burner accounts and let himself live. (By the way, this is Kevin Durant).

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Rookie of the Year

Jenkins: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. The team will be mediocre, the scoring average will be modest and the headlines will be made for all the wrong reasons. But voters watch the games and they’ll see a culture-changing point guard who manipulates the tempo and the defense, inventing open shots and turning average players into productive ones. The Lakers need more snipers to take advantage of Ball’s passing skills, but he’ll make them fast and fun. In ’87-88, Mark Jackson averaged 10.6 assists per game for the Knicks in his first season out of St. John’s, a rookie record. Ball probably can’t reach that mark, not with these Lakers, but he eventually will.

Golliver: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. This award should come down to two skilled playmakers who will enjoy major minutes and leading offensive roles: Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons. While Simmons is bigger, a year older and lucky enough to play with a franchise center (when healthy) in Philadelphia, Ball is set up to make an immediate impact in L.A.

The UCLA product joins a Lakers roster that is geared to play his preferred up-and-down style and that is essentially designed around his distributing ability. While young athletes like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma are all seeking to run with him in transition, Ball will also benefit from the presence of veteran center Brook Lopez, who represents a stable source of half-court offense, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who can take on the toughest backcourt defensive match-ups.

L.A. will likely finish well outside the West’s playoff picture, but Ball could potentially rank among the league’s top assist men if he stays healthy and plays as many minutes as expected. He will also come out of the gate with significant buzz thanks to his father’s incessant chirping and his own strong showing at Las Vegas Summer League. Finally, Ball’s Rookie of the Year candidacy will get a bump from sheer visibility, as the Lakers are set to make an absurd number of national television appearances. Although he might fall short of “Phenomenon” status as a rookie, Ball will surely turn heads and generate plenty of headlines.

Sharp: Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks. The rookie class is loaded with potential stars, but almost all of them have weaknesses that will limit them in Year One. Ben Simmons and De'Aaron Fox can't shoot, while Lonzo Ball's shooting is quietly an issue of its own, and his defense could be horrific. Jonathan Isaac is going to be elite on defense but his offense will take longer. Jayson Tatum probably won't be consistent enough to earn regular minutes for a contending Celtics team. Josh Jackson will be a work-in-progress on both ends of the floor in Phoenix.

You know who will be awesome, though? Three players: Bogdan Bogdanovic in Sacramento, John Collins in Atlanta, and Dennis Smith in Dallas. Bogdan is a rookie in name only—he's 25 years old—and Collins is on the Hawks during a lost season. So give me Smith, the most explosive player in the class, who's about to get a ton of opportunities running the Rick Carlisle pick-and-roll and dunking his way into America's heart.

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons is unlike the vast majority of rookies in that NBA opponents legitimately do not know how to guard him. His very presence creates problems; to have a special playmaker this tall and this strong demands all kinds of uncomfortable cross-matches, pushing defenses well outside the comfort of their typical scheme. The turnovers will flow freely and the shooting percentages will fluctuate dramatically. Such is the way of the rookie. But along the way, Simmons will storm his way into the paint in a way that many opponents will be powerless to stop.

Nadkarni: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. I’m a Lonzo believer, and the Lakers won’t have to be good, only exciting for Ball to start talk of L.A.’s comeback. There’s so much noise surrounding this rookie class. Ball’s dad. Markelle Fultz’s shot. Ben Simmons’s debut. People hardly talk about how talented this class actually is. Ball will be given the keys to the Lakers‘ offense, and he should have the most freedom of any top-five pick. Without great pressure on him to win, Ball will also be able to play through his mistakes. With Luke Walton likely counting on him to make things happen, Ball should rack up enough numbers to take home Rookie of the Year.

Woo: Ben Simmons, 76ers. It’ll certainly be an interesting year for rookies, and I like Simmons over Lonzo Ball here in what is technically his rookie season based on what ought to be a gentler learning curve. Simmons spent a year studying up and gets to spend the majority of his time at the playmaking controls on an improving team in a softer conference. Although Simmons’s jump shooting woes will be nitpicked all season, his size and knack for transition play will let him score enough to balance out useful assist and rebound totals that will be there from day one.

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Sixth Man of the Year

Jenkins: Eric Gordon, Rockets. There hasn’t been a repeat winner since Detlef Schrempf and, yes, Kevin McHale. Gordon lapped up his first season in Mike D’Antoni’s system, sinking a career-high 3.3 three-pointers per game, at a 37.2% clip. Expect him to get even more open shots now because it’s not just James Harden setting him up. He’ll have Chris Paul feeding him as well. The Rockets employ two of the league’s best playmakers and Gordon should be the primary beneficiary, provided he stays upright on the perimeter. Health has always been a question for Gordon, but last year he logged 75 games and discovered the sixth-man role. It suits him well.

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Williams was sensational in 2016-17, posting a career-high 17.5 PPG on a career-best 59.3 True Shooting Percentage. He finished third in the Sixth Man race despite being traded midseason and splitting votes with teammate Eric Gordon. A classic candidate for this award due to his dependable volume scoring, shot creation, three-point range and highlight-making style, Williams joins a Clippers roster that needs a second-unit offensive linchpin following a major summer shake-up.

The 30-year-old guard is firmly in his prime, and he clearly benefits from the league’s stylistic shifts towards pace, space, spread lineups and offense-first approaches. With more room to work one-on-one and fewer people nagging him about his one-way game, the 2015 Sixth Man of the Year award is even better positioned to win it again in 2018. There’s a decent chance Williams pushes his scoring and usage to even greater heights this season, especially if L.A. finds itself scrambling to cover for injury-prone starters like Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley.

Sharp: Will Barton, Nuggets. The Nuggets will need the help in the backcourt, and Barton will be there all year to provide buckets off the bench. If he can stay healthy and the Nuggets improve as much as expected, Barton gets the slight edge over Eric Gordon in Houston or Greg Monroe in Milwaukee.

Mahoney: Andre Iguodala, Warriors. One of these years, the voters will get this one right. There’s more to being a bench player than scoring, even if the history of this award wouldn’t suggest it. Iguodala does it all. When Golden State needs a dedicated wing defender, Steve Kerr turns to Iguodala. If a situation calls for the Warriors’ best lineups, they build around Iguodala as a pivot point. His playmaking is the catalyst between brilliant scorers, his ball-handling a vehicle for the most unstoppable offense in the league. No bench player in the league is better than Iguodala, and none is more important. So why bother voting for anyone else?

Nadkarni: Milos Teodosic, Clippers. I’m all in on Teodosic, the slick-passing Euro rookie who is actually 30 years old. Teodosic’s passing is an art form, and he will keep the lights on in Lob City with frequent setups for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. It’s unclear how good the Clippers will be this season, but they definitely have the potential to be a League Pass favorite. Teodosic is a big reason why. If he racks up the assists and hits enough threes, he’ll compete for this award. Jamal Crawford is running on fumes. Andre Iguodala is getting up there. And Eric Gordon could be counted on less with the addition of Chris Paul in Houston. The circumstances are breaking right for Milos.

Woo: Tristan Thompson, Cavs. We’ll see how long the Kevin-Love-at-center experiment lasts, but Thompson is in great position to log his usual heavy, meaningful minutes for a very good Cavs team over the course of the year. Yeah, he was bad in the Finals, but remains one of the league’s premier energy bigs and a crucial cog for a Cleveland team that runs deeper, but remains thin up front. He will be productive, he will be nasty, and the Cavs will win the East again. Yes, this award usually goes to a random guard with a high shot volume... but we can dream.

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Most Improved Player

Jenkins: Brandon Ingram, Lakers. This pick is closely entwined with the Rookie of the Year winner, pushing Ingram over Myles Turner, a strong candidate given Indiana’s dearth of scorers. A 6’9” wing with a Durantian physique, Ingram averaged 9.4 points and shot 29.4% from three last season, well below expectation for the second overall pick in the ’16 draft and supposedly the safest choice. At times, especially early, Ingram looked deferential and aloof. He also didn’t have anybody to make rookie life easier for him. Enter Ball, who will pass ahead to him in transition and kick out to him for three. All the Lakers will benefit from Ball, but none more than Ingram.

Golliver: Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers. All signs point to Jusuf Nurkic enjoying a monster season in Portland: He’s set to start, he’s entrenched as a lead scoring option, he’s playing with two lead guards who value his contributions, he’s angling for a possible max contract, he’s healthy, and he’s significantly lighter after a summer of hard work. Now, contrast that with his situation last season. In Denver, he was fighting with Nikola Jokic for starts, minutes and touches, and he was stuck without a real point guard to set him up. Then, following a long-awaited trade to Portland, he enjoyed a mini-breakout only to suffer a leg injury that sidelined him for most of the playoffs.

Nurkic’s strong closing push helped the Blazers secure the West’s final playoff spot, and it put him on the national map for the first time during his career. The Bosnian center enters this season with real momentum, and a similar late-season explosion in 2015-16 helped set up Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2017 Most Improved Player campaign.

Sharp: D'Angelo Russell, Nets. The criteria for this award is anyone's guess, but given the last three winners—Giannis Antetokounmpo, C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler—it appears we're setting on one point: the Most Improved Player is PRETTY GOOD. We're not talking surprising improvements among bench players (Joffrey Lauvergne in San Antonio!) or a mid-career renaissance from an also-ran starter (Pacers' Victor Oladipo!). So with that in mind, I was wrestling with three former Lakers lottery picks: Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and D'Angelo Russell.

Ingram should be better this year, and he's got a chance to land in the Butler/Giannis category eventually. But the Lakers are still a mess, and it will be hard for him to stand out in the middle of another 50-loss season. Similar logic applies to Randle. His numbers should be better than Ingram, but his impact on winning is questionable. Also, his ceiling's lower, so that may undermine some of the progress.

Russell has a much better shot at making some meaningful progress in the East. The Nets have no incentive to tank, and Russell will have the keys to the offense, with more structure around him than he ever found in Los Angeles. Here's to betting that he'll open some eyes over the final few months of the season to steal the win here.

Mahoney: Rodney Hood, Jazz. Utah’s offense, in the absence of Gordon Hayward and George Hill, has to turn somewhere. Who better to fill that void than Hood? The 24-year-old wing has teased over his first three NBA seasons with tantalizing displays of shot creation. A little consistency (and some better health) could change everything. Hood clearly has the talent. Soon, he’ll have the ball in his hands for a team that very much needs him to take the next step.

Nadkarni: Gary Harris, Nuggets. I thought Harris’s teammate, Nikola Jokic, should have won this award last season. But with Jokic now on most people’s radars, Harris could be the next Nugget on the verge of a breakout. Denver should be frisky in the West this year, with the addition of Paul Millsap giving them one of the most skilled frontlines in the Association. Jokic’s passing and Millsap’s spacing should make Harris’s life a lot easier, giving him room to operate alongside teammates more than willing to share the ball. Harris shot a blistering 42% from three last season, and if he comes anywhere close to maintaining that pace, he will become a serious problem for opposing defenses.

Woo: Clint Capela, Rockets. Playing on the receiving end opposite big man-friendly Chris Paul should be catnip for Capela, who managed a significant step forward from 2015–16 to last season while playing about five more minutes per game. Now 23 and the Rockets’ best bet to anchor the inside of a suddenly intriguing defense, expect another uptick in playing time and an opportunity to average a double-double. Alongside Paul and James Harden, working comfortably in a system that creates extra possessions like clockwork, Capela stands to benefit the most of anyone on the Rockets and is a fun breakout candidate at the very least.

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Defensive Player of the Year

Jenkins: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. From 1992 through 2014, traditional post players dominated this award, the only exceptions being Gary Payton and Ron Artest. In the past three years, with versatile wings blanketing almost every position, it shifted to Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. But Rudy Gobert has been right behind them, the NBA’s best rim protector and shot blocker. With all of Leonard’s scoring responsibilities in San Antonio, it’s hard to imagine he can still be the league’s stickiest defender. So the race likely comes down to Green and Gobert. Last year, the nod went to Green, though many advanced stats favored Gobert. Rudy’s team is obviously worse, with the Gordon Hayward defection to Boston, but he’ll stifle just the same.

Golliver: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Admittedly, part of picking Rudy Gobert comes down to a belief that voters will decide to spread the love around. Last year, the Jazz center finished second to Draymond Green, who himself had been runner-up to Kawhi Leonard in each of the two previous seasons. Gobert is next in line to receive the baton because he captains an elite Utah defense, he posts strong block and rebound stats, his defensive advanced stats are always off the charts, and his ability to dissuade, alter, contest and swat shots is easily observable to diehard and casual viewers alike.

Gordon Hayward’s summer departure will likely hurt the Jazz’s record and offensive efficiency, but it sets up the franchise to play to Gobert’s strengths and it sets up Gobert to receive full credit for their success. GM Dennis Lindsey spent the off-season adding a litany of hard-nosed types to complement his massive center, and coach Quin Snyder surely understands that continuing to prioritize defense will be Utah’s best hope at remaining in the West’s playoff picture. Gobert will only be more important to his team this season, which is saying a lot given his off-the-charts impact last year.

Sharp: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Only two other defensive players affect the game the way Gobert does. And since Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green have won this award the past two years, it may be time for the Stifle Tower to get some love. If he stays healthy and his defense is dominant enough to keep the Jazz in the playoff race, everyone else is coming in second.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. When in doubt, give it to the league’s best defender. The speed and skill of the NBA game leaves bigs with almost no room for error; as soon as the ball-handler turns a corner into open space, the rotating big is expected to corral all possibilities across a wide swath of real estate. No player covers the full scope as effectively as Green. It’s not his foot speed that separates him, though Green is certainly quick enough. It isn’t his height or wingspan, either, both of which would be dwarfed by other players at his position. What most distinguishes Green is the way his brain works—reading, anticipating, and reacting within a fraction of a second. His best defensive performances are works of legitimate genius.

Nadkarni: Draymond Green, Warriors. This award should belong to Green as long as the Warriors’ Death Lineup exists. Green makes all of that work by guarding every position on the floor. He's a once-in-a-generation talent on defense. Draymond will bang against your biggest body down in the post, or erase your best perimeter scorer from the top. He’s the unquestioned engine for a championship-level defense. In the small-ball era, I don’t think you can put a rim-protecting center in the same league as Green.

Woo: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Gordon Hayward’s departure should give us an even better sense of just how meaningful Gobert’s defensive contributions are to his team. Changes and all, the Jazz should remain among the league’s top defensive units. Gobert will lead the league in blocks again and stay among the elite rebounders, and he’ll continue to scare guys away from the basket on a nightly basis. The last few playoff spots in the West are wide open, and Utah’s continuity and defined style of play should benefit them even if they struggle to score (they almost definitely will). But that’s where the big man comes in. Gobert should finally take home his first Defensive Player honors in what’s become an annual three-horse race with Draymond and Kawhi.

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Coach of the Year

Jenkins: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Even though Hayward played for him at Butler, and Irving wanted to play for him in Boston, this won’t be an easy job. The Celtics chipped away at their hardscrabble identity this summer with the exodus of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. They are far more skilled, though, and Stevens is a master at putting gifted scorers in motion. If anyone can blend Irving’s solo act into a team structure, while keeping Hayward and Al Horford integral to the offense, it’s Stevens. The Celtics lost plenty of leadership in their locker room, but they retained enough on their sideline.

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. This candidacy writes itself: “Danny Ainge gave him a whole new roster and Brad Stevens put it all together to make the Celtics an overachieving contender yet again.” Start bracing now for the Boston media hype machine to dole out this narrative nonstop for the next six months.

Despite the inevitable oversaturation to come, Stevens is worthy of the hype. He’s consistently set up key players for career years, found unorthodox lineup combinations that magically work, and milked maximum value from fringe guys. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are two stars who could easily ascend to new heights under Stevens this year, and his system will get tons of credit, and deservedly so, if the Celtics manage to remain near the top of the East despite losing five of their top seven guys by minutes played during a busy off-season.

The Celtics might have trouble blowing away expectations—given that they were a No. 1 seed last year and landed Irving in one of the biggest deals of the summer—but reaching 53-55 wins with a reshaped roster could be enough to earn the well-respected Stevens his first Coach of the Year award.

Sharp: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Watch this video and tell me you'd rather vote for Brad Stevens or Gregg Popovich:

If the Heat finish in the top half of the East, Spoelstra gets the coach of the year award that he probably should've won last year, too.

Mahoney: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. The premise that made the Heat one of the most surprising teams in the league last season remains unchanged: Miami is poised to outperform the talent level of its roster. Spoelstra is a critical reason why. It can be difficult to determine where Heat culture ends and Spoelstra’s influence begins. That, in a way, is what makes his contributions so valuable. Few coaches in the league work in such perfect concert with a larger organizational philosophy. In Spoelstra’s case, that manifests in pushing players beyond their career standards, elevating the group on the sum of personal bests.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Spo obviously deserved this award last season, and I need to make at least one homer pick after passing on Bam Adebayo for rookie honors. There is a serious path for Spo to win this award, however. The Heat don’t exactly have someone who you would call a star, even if Dion Waiters is calling himself one. Without the top-end talent he’s grown accustomed to, Spo still coaxed a top-five defense from this team last year, and an offense that was top-ten after the All-Star break. If the Heat prove their 30–11 run to finish 2017 wasn’t a fluke, Spo should finally be rewarded for the job he’s doing with a group of cast-offs.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. In keeping with tradition, I decided I’m just gonna keep picking Stevens until he actually wins this award. It’s gonna happen eventually. Although the Celtics won’t emerge fully-formed, meshing new players and developing talent presents an appealing task that could and probably should lead to 50-plus wins in a crappy East. People sure do laud Stevens’ wizardry when it comes to both the on-court details and locker room balance, but it’s mostly because those things are true. This feels like his year.

Crystal Ball: 2017-18 NBA Awards Predictions

With the NBA season inside-your-jersey close, The Crossover asked its writers to give their awards predictions for the 2017–18 season.

The MVP races features some familiar faces (hello, LeBron and Steph), but there’s plenty of new names also in the running for awards this season. Can Rudy Gobert take home his first Defensive Player of the Year title? Will one of the Clippers’ many new guards win Sixth Man of the Year? And will Dennis Smith Jr. steal the spotlight from Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons and claim top rookie honors?

We asked our writers to predict who will take home the hardware. Check out our predictions for the 2017-18 season below.

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Most Valuable Player

Lee Jenkins: LeBron James, Cavaliers. In each of the past four years, someone other than LeBron James has won MVP, even though in all of those four years it was generally accepted that James was actually the best player. Come winter, the regularly scheduled hype train circles the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, until spring dawns and the refrain echoes: “Oh, I guess LeBron is still better.” It is a strange dynamic. MVP is the NBA’s most significant individual award, yet James has somehow transcended the trophy. His candidacy is too boring, too obvious. But Westbrook and Harden now have superstar sidekicks, like Steph Curry/Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard is nursing a troublesome thigh injury. James, sans Kyrie Irving, may have to be the choice this time.?

Ben Golliver: Stephen Curry, Warriors. How is it that Stephen Curry, the man who received every single first-place MVP vote in 2016, has only the 10th–best odds, according to one oddsmaker, of taking home the 2018 trophy? This feels like a classic case of the NBA intelligentsia outsmarting itself. After all, Curry is a consensus top-four player, he’s virtually guaranteed to play for the league’s best team and, as coach Steve Kerr noted this week, he happens to be smack in the middle of his prime.

Some forecasters are worried that Curry and Kevin Durant will split Golden State’s share of the votes, or that voters will regard Durant as the Warriors’ top candidate, or that one-man armies like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo will have better individual stories, or that Russell Westbrook and James Harden will put up better individual numbers. All fair concerns. But Curry is a very compelling (fake) dark horse candidate because he’s the central force of the league’s best offense, he’s the league’s best shooter and a perennial 50/40/90 candidate, he’s the most popular player on the league’s most dominant team (Durant’s nightmare PR summer only widened the gap), and he’s become remarkably durable after early-career ankle issues (he’s missed an average of 3.2 games over the past five seasons).

MVP voters do tend to punish superteams: LeBron James didn’t win in 2011 and no Warriors player finished among 2017’s top five. However, voters came back around to pay James the respect he deserved in 2012 and 2013, and it will be hard for anyone to deny Golden State an MVP winner if the Warriors rack up 70 wins and the rest of the league is struggling to reach 60. If a backlash to Westbrook’s stats-based 2016 MVP case does emerge, Curry is perfectly positioned to benefit because he checks every box: winning, narrative, stats, advanced stats, intangibles, memorable moments, personality and impact. Sleep on Curry’s MVP candidacy at your own risk.

Andrew Sharp: Stephen Curry, Warriors. A month ago my pick would've been Kawhi, but his quad injury is lingering while the Rockets look poised to blitz the West for the No. 2 seed, and that's enough to give me pause. Instead, give me Steph. He's the most valuable player on the best team the league has ever seen, and this shouldn't be all that complicated.

Yet it is complicated, obviously. After winning unanimous MVP two years ago and ultimately falling apart in the Finals, two years of passive aggressive Curry skepticism gave way to a nation of critics openly second-guessing his talent and resenting his success, even among certain superstars. All of that criticism was dumb, but some of it stuck. For the past year or two it hasn't been cool to discuss how incredible Curry has been. Even Steve Kerr finished the NBA Finals talking about the value of Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

There are two ways this could play out from here. On one hand, it wouldn't be surprising if Curry never won another MVP. He's got too much help to make a compelling case, he's already won the award twice, and the skepticism around the league is still too pervasive.

On the other hand, maybe this is the year of the backlash to Curry backlash, where everyone realizes that he's the most valuable weapon in basketball. And as the Warriors put together the most dominant four-year run in NBA history, maybe it becomes cool and smart to state what's always been obvious: None of this is possible without Steph.

Rob Mahoney: LeBron James, Cavs. The setup for this season feels like the kind of opportunity LeBron would relish. A star teammate requesting to leave his well-constructed conference powerhouse is not a slight James could take lightly. One could imagine James feeling as if the world—and a certain ex-teammate—could stand to be reminded of what he’s capable of. On top of that, Isaiah Thomas’s extended absence will demand more of LeBron than before, albeit in ways he could clearly deliver. This award often boils down to how much James cares to win it. When he has a ready-made contender playing the long game for a return to the Finals, vying for the MVP might seem needless. But if he has something to prove, we could see LeBron again meld ridiculous efficiency with the extraordinary excess of superstar production.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. Will James play in enough games to win this award? That’s what the MVP race could come down to. The King usually takes his fair share of breaks during the regular season, and rightfully so, considering James has played over 50,000 minutes in his storied career. But with the NBA’s new resting rules, James may play in a few more contests this season. And with the added motivation of an insane summer—Kyrie wanting out, contenders loading up, Draymond running his mouth—this could be the year James returns to the MVP mountaintop. LeBron, the best basketball player in the world, hasn’t won MVP in four seasons. That has to bother him on some level, right? James knows how hard it will be to beat the Warriors in a potential finals rematch, so perhaps he looks at the MVP race as another way to pad his legacy.

Jeremy Woo: Kevin Durant, Warriors. The argument that Kevin Durant and Steph Curry will steal MVP votes from one another until the end of time (or until someone breaks up the marriage) is a popular one. But I suspect the KD we saw dominate in the Finals, completely comfortable in the Warriors’ system and making a difference on both ends of the floor will be present once again. New star pairings are set to alter the landscape, but what’s to say 70-ish wins and a scoring title won’t get it done for Durant? Neither of those things is out of the question, and yes, that’s extremely scary. Here’s hedging that Year Two in the Bay is even more fruitful, and that KD can delete all his burner accounts and let himself live. (By the way, this is Kevin Durant).

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Rookie of the Year

Jenkins: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. The team will be mediocre, the scoring average will be modest and the headlines will be made for all the wrong reasons. But voters watch the games and they’ll see a culture-changing point guard who manipulates the tempo and the defense, inventing open shots and turning average players into productive ones. The Lakers need more snipers to take advantage of Ball’s passing skills, but he’ll make them fast and fun. In ’87-88, Mark Jackson averaged 10.6 assists per game for the Knicks in his first season out of St. John’s, a rookie record. Ball probably can’t reach that mark, not with these Lakers, but he eventually will.

Golliver: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. This award should come down to two skilled playmakers who will enjoy major minutes and leading offensive roles: Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons. While Simmons is bigger, a year older and lucky enough to play with a franchise center (when healthy) in Philadelphia, Ball is set up to make an immediate impact in L.A.

The UCLA product joins a Lakers roster that is geared to play his preferred up-and-down style and that is essentially designed around his distributing ability. While young athletes like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma are all seeking to run with him in transition, Ball will also benefit from the presence of veteran center Brook Lopez, who represents a stable source of half-court offense, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who can take on the toughest backcourt defensive match-ups.

L.A. will likely finish well outside the West’s playoff picture, but Ball could potentially rank among the league’s top assist men if he stays healthy and plays as many minutes as expected. He will also come out of the gate with significant buzz thanks to his father’s incessant chirping and his own strong showing at Las Vegas Summer League. Finally, Ball’s Rookie of the Year candidacy will get a bump from sheer visibility, as the Lakers are set to make an absurd number of national television appearances. Although he might fall short of “Phenomenon” status as a rookie, Ball will surely turn heads and generate plenty of headlines.

Sharp: Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks. The rookie class is loaded with potential stars, but almost all of them have weaknesses that will limit them in Year One. Ben Simmons and De'Aaron Fox can't shoot, while Lonzo Ball's shooting is quietly an issue of its own, and his defense could be horrific. Jonathan Isaac is going to be elite on defense but his offense will take longer. Jayson Tatum probably won't be consistent enough to earn regular minutes for a contending Celtics team. Josh Jackson will be a work-in-progress on both ends of the floor in Phoenix.

You know who will be awesome, though? Three players: Bogdan Bogdanovic in Sacramento, John Collins in Atlanta, and Dennis Smith in Dallas. Bogdan is a rookie in name only—he's 25 years old—and Collins is on the Hawks during a lost season. So give me Smith, the most explosive player in the class, who's about to get a ton of opportunities running the Rick Carlisle pick-and-roll and dunking his way into America's heart.

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons is unlike the vast majority of rookies in that NBA opponents legitimately do not know how to guard him. His very presence creates problems; to have a special playmaker this tall and this strong demands all kinds of uncomfortable cross-matches, pushing defenses well outside the comfort of their typical scheme. The turnovers will flow freely and the shooting percentages will fluctuate dramatically. Such is the way of the rookie. But along the way, Simmons will storm his way into the paint in a way that many opponents will be powerless to stop.

Nadkarni: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. I’m a Lonzo believer, and the Lakers won’t have to be good, only exciting for Ball to start talk of L.A.’s comeback. There’s so much noise surrounding this rookie class. Ball’s dad. Markelle Fultz’s shot. Ben Simmons’s debut. People hardly talk about how talented this class actually is. Ball will be given the keys to the Lakers‘ offense, and he should have the most freedom of any top-five pick. Without great pressure on him to win, Ball will also be able to play through his mistakes. With Luke Walton likely counting on him to make things happen, Ball should rack up enough numbers to take home Rookie of the Year.

Woo: Ben Simmons, 76ers. It’ll certainly be an interesting year for rookies, and I like Simmons over Lonzo Ball here in what is technically his rookie season based on what ought to be a gentler learning curve. Simmons spent a year studying up and gets to spend the majority of his time at the playmaking controls on an improving team in a softer conference. Although Simmons’s jump shooting woes will be nitpicked all season, his size and knack for transition play will let him score enough to balance out useful assist and rebound totals that will be there from day one.

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Sixth Man of the Year

Jenkins: Eric Gordon, Rockets. There hasn’t been a repeat winner since Detlef Schrempf and, yes, Kevin McHale. Gordon lapped up his first season in Mike D’Antoni’s system, sinking a career-high 3.3 three-pointers per game, at a 37.2% clip. Expect him to get even more open shots now because it’s not just James Harden setting him up. He’ll have Chris Paul feeding him as well. The Rockets employ two of the league’s best playmakers and Gordon should be the primary beneficiary, provided he stays upright on the perimeter. Health has always been a question for Gordon, but last year he logged 75 games and discovered the sixth-man role. It suits him well.

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Williams was sensational in 2016-17, posting a career-high 17.5 PPG on a career-best 59.3 True Shooting Percentage. He finished third in the Sixth Man race despite being traded midseason and splitting votes with teammate Eric Gordon. A classic candidate for this award due to his dependable volume scoring, shot creation, three-point range and highlight-making style, Williams joins a Clippers roster that needs a second-unit offensive linchpin following a major summer shake-up.

The 30-year-old guard is firmly in his prime, and he clearly benefits from the league’s stylistic shifts towards pace, space, spread lineups and offense-first approaches. With more room to work one-on-one and fewer people nagging him about his one-way game, the 2015 Sixth Man of the Year award is even better positioned to win it again in 2018. There’s a decent chance Williams pushes his scoring and usage to even greater heights this season, especially if L.A. finds itself scrambling to cover for injury-prone starters like Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley.

Sharp: Will Barton, Nuggets. The Nuggets will need the help in the backcourt, and Barton will be there all year to provide buckets off the bench. If he can stay healthy and the Nuggets improve as much as expected, Barton gets the slight edge over Eric Gordon in Houston or Greg Monroe in Milwaukee.

Mahoney: Andre Iguodala, Warriors. One of these years, the voters will get this one right. There’s more to being a bench player than scoring, even if the history of this award wouldn’t suggest it. Iguodala does it all. When Golden State needs a dedicated wing defender, Steve Kerr turns to Iguodala. If a situation calls for the Warriors’ best lineups, they build around Iguodala as a pivot point. His playmaking is the catalyst between brilliant scorers, his ball-handling a vehicle for the most unstoppable offense in the league. No bench player in the league is better than Iguodala, and none is more important. So why bother voting for anyone else?

Nadkarni: Milos Teodosic, Clippers. I’m all in on Teodosic, the slick-passing Euro rookie who is actually 30 years old. Teodosic’s passing is an art form, and he will keep the lights on in Lob City with frequent setups for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. It’s unclear how good the Clippers will be this season, but they definitely have the potential to be a League Pass favorite. Teodosic is a big reason why. If he racks up the assists and hits enough threes, he’ll compete for this award. Jamal Crawford is running on fumes. Andre Iguodala is getting up there. And Eric Gordon could be counted on less with the addition of Chris Paul in Houston. The circumstances are breaking right for Milos.

Woo: Tristan Thompson, Cavs. We’ll see how long the Kevin-Love-at-center experiment lasts, but Thompson is in great position to log his usual heavy, meaningful minutes for a very good Cavs team over the course of the year. Yeah, he was bad in the Finals, but remains one of the league’s premier energy bigs and a crucial cog for a Cleveland team that runs deeper, but remains thin up front. He will be productive, he will be nasty, and the Cavs will win the East again. Yes, this award usually goes to a random guard with a high shot volume... but we can dream.

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Most Improved Player

Jenkins: Brandon Ingram, Lakers. This pick is closely entwined with the Rookie of the Year winner, pushing Ingram over Myles Turner, a strong candidate given Indiana’s dearth of scorers. A 6’9” wing with a Durantian physique, Ingram averaged 9.4 points and shot 29.4% from three last season, well below expectation for the second overall pick in the ’16 draft and supposedly the safest choice. At times, especially early, Ingram looked deferential and aloof. He also didn’t have anybody to make rookie life easier for him. Enter Ball, who will pass ahead to him in transition and kick out to him for three. All the Lakers will benefit from Ball, but none more than Ingram.

Golliver: Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers. All signs point to Jusuf Nurkic enjoying a monster season in Portland: He’s set to start, he’s entrenched as a lead scoring option, he’s playing with two lead guards who value his contributions, he’s angling for a possible max contract, he’s healthy, and he’s significantly lighter after a summer of hard work. Now, contrast that with his situation last season. In Denver, he was fighting with Nikola Jokic for starts, minutes and touches, and he was stuck without a real point guard to set him up. Then, following a long-awaited trade to Portland, he enjoyed a mini-breakout only to suffer a leg injury that sidelined him for most of the playoffs.

Nurkic’s strong closing push helped the Blazers secure the West’s final playoff spot, and it put him on the national map for the first time during his career. The Bosnian center enters this season with real momentum, and a similar late-season explosion in 2015-16 helped set up Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2017 Most Improved Player campaign.

Sharp: D'Angelo Russell, Nets. The criteria for this award is anyone's guess, but given the last three winners—Giannis Antetokounmpo, C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler—it appears we're setting on one point: the Most Improved Player is PRETTY GOOD. We're not talking surprising improvements among bench players (Joffrey Lauvergne in San Antonio!) or a mid-career renaissance from an also-ran starter (Pacers' Victor Oladipo!). So with that in mind, I was wrestling with three former Lakers lottery picks: Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and D'Angelo Russell.

Ingram should be better this year, and he's got a chance to land in the Butler/Giannis category eventually. But the Lakers are still a mess, and it will be hard for him to stand out in the middle of another 50-loss season. Similar logic applies to Randle. His numbers should be better than Ingram, but his impact on winning is questionable. Also, his ceiling's lower, so that may undermine some of the progress.

Russell has a much better shot at making some meaningful progress in the East. The Nets have no incentive to tank, and Russell will have the keys to the offense, with more structure around him than he ever found in Los Angeles. Here's to betting that he'll open some eyes over the final few months of the season to steal the win here.

Mahoney: Rodney Hood, Jazz. Utah’s offense, in the absence of Gordon Hayward and George Hill, has to turn somewhere. Who better to fill that void than Hood? The 24-year-old wing has teased over his first three NBA seasons with tantalizing displays of shot creation. A little consistency (and some better health) could change everything. Hood clearly has the talent. Soon, he’ll have the ball in his hands for a team that very much needs him to take the next step.

Nadkarni: Gary Harris, Nuggets. I thought Harris’s teammate, Nikola Jokic, should have won this award last season. But with Jokic now on most people’s radars, Harris could be the next Nugget on the verge of a breakout. Denver should be frisky in the West this year, with the addition of Paul Millsap giving them one of the most skilled frontlines in the Association. Jokic’s passing and Millsap’s spacing should make Harris’s life a lot easier, giving him room to operate alongside teammates more than willing to share the ball. Harris shot a blistering 42% from three last season, and if he comes anywhere close to maintaining that pace, he will become a serious problem for opposing defenses.

Woo: Clint Capela, Rockets. Playing on the receiving end opposite big man-friendly Chris Paul should be catnip for Capela, who managed a significant step forward from 2015–16 to last season while playing about five more minutes per game. Now 23 and the Rockets’ best bet to anchor the inside of a suddenly intriguing defense, expect another uptick in playing time and an opportunity to average a double-double. Alongside Paul and James Harden, working comfortably in a system that creates extra possessions like clockwork, Capela stands to benefit the most of anyone on the Rockets and is a fun breakout candidate at the very least.

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Defensive Player of the Year

Jenkins: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. From 1992 through 2014, traditional post players dominated this award, the only exceptions being Gary Payton and Ron Artest. In the past three years, with versatile wings blanketing almost every position, it shifted to Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. But Rudy Gobert has been right behind them, the NBA’s best rim protector and shot blocker. With all of Leonard’s scoring responsibilities in San Antonio, it’s hard to imagine he can still be the league’s stickiest defender. So the race likely comes down to Green and Gobert. Last year, the nod went to Green, though many advanced stats favored Gobert. Rudy’s team is obviously worse, with the Gordon Hayward defection to Boston, but he’ll stifle just the same.

Golliver: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Admittedly, part of picking Rudy Gobert comes down to a belief that voters will decide to spread the love around. Last year, the Jazz center finished second to Draymond Green, who himself had been runner-up to Kawhi Leonard in each of the two previous seasons. Gobert is next in line to receive the baton because he captains an elite Utah defense, he posts strong block and rebound stats, his defensive advanced stats are always off the charts, and his ability to dissuade, alter, contest and swat shots is easily observable to diehard and casual viewers alike.

Gordon Hayward’s summer departure will likely hurt the Jazz’s record and offensive efficiency, but it sets up the franchise to play to Gobert’s strengths and it sets up Gobert to receive full credit for their success. GM Dennis Lindsey spent the off-season adding a litany of hard-nosed types to complement his massive center, and coach Quin Snyder surely understands that continuing to prioritize defense will be Utah’s best hope at remaining in the West’s playoff picture. Gobert will only be more important to his team this season, which is saying a lot given his off-the-charts impact last year.

Sharp: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Only two other defensive players affect the game the way Gobert does. And since Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green have won this award the past two years, it may be time for the Stifle Tower to get some love. If he stays healthy and his defense is dominant enough to keep the Jazz in the playoff race, everyone else is coming in second.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. When in doubt, give it to the league’s best defender. The speed and skill of the NBA game leaves bigs with almost no room for error; as soon as the ball-handler turns a corner into open space, the rotating big is expected to corral all possibilities across a wide swath of real estate. No player covers the full scope as effectively as Green. It’s not his foot speed that separates him, though Green is certainly quick enough. It isn’t his height or wingspan, either, both of which would be dwarfed by other players at his position. What most distinguishes Green is the way his brain works—reading, anticipating, and reacting within a fraction of a second. His best defensive performances are works of legitimate genius.

Nadkarni: Draymond Green, Warriors. This award should belong to Green as long as the Warriors’ Death Lineup exists. Green makes all of that work by guarding every position on the floor. He's a once-in-a-generation talent on defense. Draymond will bang against your biggest body down in the post, or erase your best perimeter scorer from the top. He’s the unquestioned engine for a championship-level defense. In the small-ball era, I don’t think you can put a rim-protecting center in the same league as Green.

Woo: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Gordon Hayward’s departure should give us an even better sense of just how meaningful Gobert’s defensive contributions are to his team. Changes and all, the Jazz should remain among the league’s top defensive units. Gobert will lead the league in blocks again and stay among the elite rebounders, and he’ll continue to scare guys away from the basket on a nightly basis. The last few playoff spots in the West are wide open, and Utah’s continuity and defined style of play should benefit them even if they struggle to score (they almost definitely will). But that’s where the big man comes in. Gobert should finally take home his first Defensive Player honors in what’s become an annual three-horse race with Draymond and Kawhi.

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Coach of the Year

Jenkins: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Even though Hayward played for him at Butler, and Irving wanted to play for him in Boston, this won’t be an easy job. The Celtics chipped away at their hardscrabble identity this summer with the exodus of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. They are far more skilled, though, and Stevens is a master at putting gifted scorers in motion. If anyone can blend Irving’s solo act into a team structure, while keeping Hayward and Al Horford integral to the offense, it’s Stevens. The Celtics lost plenty of leadership in their locker room, but they retained enough on their sideline.

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. This candidacy writes itself: “Danny Ainge gave him a whole new roster and Brad Stevens put it all together to make the Celtics an overachieving contender yet again.” Start bracing now for the Boston media hype machine to dole out this narrative nonstop for the next six months.

Despite the inevitable oversaturation to come, Stevens is worthy of the hype. He’s consistently set up key players for career years, found unorthodox lineup combinations that magically work, and milked maximum value from fringe guys. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are two stars who could easily ascend to new heights under Stevens this year, and his system will get tons of credit, and deservedly so, if the Celtics manage to remain near the top of the East despite losing five of their top seven guys by minutes played during a busy off-season.

The Celtics might have trouble blowing away expectations—given that they were a No. 1 seed last year and landed Irving in one of the biggest deals of the summer—but reaching 53-55 wins with a reshaped roster could be enough to earn the well-respected Stevens his first Coach of the Year award.

Sharp: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Watch this video and tell me you'd rather vote for Brad Stevens or Gregg Popovich:

If the Heat finish in the top half of the East, Spoelstra gets the coach of the year award that he probably should've won last year, too.

Mahoney: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. The premise that made the Heat one of the most surprising teams in the league last season remains unchanged: Miami is poised to outperform the talent level of its roster. Spoelstra is a critical reason why. It can be difficult to determine where Heat culture ends and Spoelstra’s influence begins. That, in a way, is what makes his contributions so valuable. Few coaches in the league work in such perfect concert with a larger organizational philosophy. In Spoelstra’s case, that manifests in pushing players beyond their career standards, elevating the group on the sum of personal bests.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Spo obviously deserved this award last season, and I need to make at least one homer pick after passing on Bam Adebayo for rookie honors. There is a serious path for Spo to win this award, however. The Heat don’t exactly have someone who you would call a star, even if Dion Waiters is calling himself one. Without the top-end talent he’s grown accustomed to, Spo still coaxed a top-five defense from this team last year, and an offense that was top-ten after the All-Star break. If the Heat prove their 30–11 run to finish 2017 wasn’t a fluke, Spo should finally be rewarded for the job he’s doing with a group of cast-offs.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. In keeping with tradition, I decided I’m just gonna keep picking Stevens until he actually wins this award. It’s gonna happen eventually. Although the Celtics won’t emerge fully-formed, meshing new players and developing talent presents an appealing task that could and probably should lead to 50-plus wins in a crappy East. People sure do laud Stevens’ wizardry when it comes to both the on-court details and locker room balance, but it’s mostly because those things are true. This feels like his year.

Crystal Ball: 2017-18 NBA Awards Predictions

With the NBA season inside-your-jersey close, The Crossover asked its writers to give their awards predictions for the 2017–18 season.

The MVP races features some familiar faces (hello, LeBron and Steph), but there’s plenty of new names also in the running for awards this season. Can Rudy Gobert take home his first Defensive Player of the Year title? Will one of the Clippers’ many new guards win Sixth Man of the Year? And will Dennis Smith Jr. steal the spotlight from Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons and claim top rookie honors?

We asked our writers to predict who will take home the hardware. Check out our predictions for the 2017-18 season below.

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Most Valuable Player

Lee Jenkins: LeBron James, Cavaliers. In each of the past four years, someone other than LeBron James has won MVP, even though in all of those four years it was generally accepted that James was actually the best player. Come winter, the regularly scheduled hype train circles the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, until spring dawns and the refrain echoes: “Oh, I guess LeBron is still better.” It is a strange dynamic. MVP is the NBA’s most significant individual award, yet James has somehow transcended the trophy. His candidacy is too boring, too obvious. But Westbrook and Harden now have superstar sidekicks, like Steph Curry/Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard is nursing a troublesome thigh injury. James, sans Kyrie Irving, may have to be the choice this time.?

Ben Golliver: Stephen Curry, Warriors. How is it that Stephen Curry, the man who received every single first-place MVP vote in 2016, has only the 10th–best odds, according to one oddsmaker, of taking home the 2018 trophy? This feels like a classic case of the NBA intelligentsia outsmarting itself. After all, Curry is a consensus top-four player, he’s virtually guaranteed to play for the league’s best team and, as coach Steve Kerr noted this week, he happens to be smack in the middle of his prime.

Some forecasters are worried that Curry and Kevin Durant will split Golden State’s share of the votes, or that voters will regard Durant as the Warriors’ top candidate, or that one-man armies like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo will have better individual stories, or that Russell Westbrook and James Harden will put up better individual numbers. All fair concerns. But Curry is a very compelling (fake) dark horse candidate because he’s the central force of the league’s best offense, he’s the league’s best shooter and a perennial 50/40/90 candidate, he’s the most popular player on the league’s most dominant team (Durant’s nightmare PR summer only widened the gap), and he’s become remarkably durable after early-career ankle issues (he’s missed an average of 3.2 games over the past five seasons).

MVP voters do tend to punish superteams: LeBron James didn’t win in 2011 and no Warriors player finished among 2017’s top five. However, voters came back around to pay James the respect he deserved in 2012 and 2013, and it will be hard for anyone to deny Golden State an MVP winner if the Warriors rack up 70 wins and the rest of the league is struggling to reach 60. If a backlash to Westbrook’s stats-based 2016 MVP case does emerge, Curry is perfectly positioned to benefit because he checks every box: winning, narrative, stats, advanced stats, intangibles, memorable moments, personality and impact. Sleep on Curry’s MVP candidacy at your own risk.

Andrew Sharp: Stephen Curry, Warriors. A month ago my pick would've been Kawhi, but his quad injury is lingering while the Rockets look poised to blitz the West for the No. 2 seed, and that's enough to give me pause. Instead, give me Steph. He's the most valuable player on the best team the league has ever seen, and this shouldn't be all that complicated.

Yet it is complicated, obviously. After winning unanimous MVP two years ago and ultimately falling apart in the Finals, two years of passive aggressive Curry skepticism gave way to a nation of critics openly second-guessing his talent and resenting his success, even among certain superstars. All of that criticism was dumb, but some of it stuck. For the past year or two it hasn't been cool to discuss how incredible Curry has been. Even Steve Kerr finished the NBA Finals talking about the value of Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

There are two ways this could play out from here. On one hand, it wouldn't be surprising if Curry never won another MVP. He's got too much help to make a compelling case, he's already won the award twice, and the skepticism around the league is still too pervasive.

On the other hand, maybe this is the year of the backlash to Curry backlash, where everyone realizes that he's the most valuable weapon in basketball. And as the Warriors put together the most dominant four-year run in NBA history, maybe it becomes cool and smart to state what's always been obvious: None of this is possible without Steph.

Rob Mahoney: LeBron James, Cavs. The setup for this season feels like the kind of opportunity LeBron would relish. A star teammate requesting to leave his well-constructed conference powerhouse is not a slight James could take lightly. One could imagine James feeling as if the world—and a certain ex-teammate—could stand to be reminded of what he’s capable of. On top of that, Isaiah Thomas’s extended absence will demand more of LeBron than before, albeit in ways he could clearly deliver. This award often boils down to how much James cares to win it. When he has a ready-made contender playing the long game for a return to the Finals, vying for the MVP might seem needless. But if he has something to prove, we could see LeBron again meld ridiculous efficiency with the extraordinary excess of superstar production.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. Will James play in enough games to win this award? That’s what the MVP race could come down to. The King usually takes his fair share of breaks during the regular season, and rightfully so, considering James has played over 50,000 minutes in his storied career. But with the NBA’s new resting rules, James may play in a few more contests this season. And with the added motivation of an insane summer—Kyrie wanting out, contenders loading up, Draymond running his mouth—this could be the year James returns to the MVP mountaintop. LeBron, the best basketball player in the world, hasn’t won MVP in four seasons. That has to bother him on some level, right? James knows how hard it will be to beat the Warriors in a potential finals rematch, so perhaps he looks at the MVP race as another way to pad his legacy.

Jeremy Woo: Kevin Durant, Warriors. The argument that Kevin Durant and Steph Curry will steal MVP votes from one another until the end of time (or until someone breaks up the marriage) is a popular one. But I suspect the KD we saw dominate in the Finals, completely comfortable in the Warriors’ system and making a difference on both ends of the floor will be present once again. New star pairings are set to alter the landscape, but what’s to say 70-ish wins and a scoring title won’t get it done for Durant? Neither of those things is out of the question, and yes, that’s extremely scary. Here’s hedging that Year Two in the Bay is even more fruitful, and that KD can delete all his burner accounts and let himself live. (By the way, this is Kevin Durant).

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Rookie of the Year

Jenkins: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. The team will be mediocre, the scoring average will be modest and the headlines will be made for all the wrong reasons. But voters watch the games and they’ll see a culture-changing point guard who manipulates the tempo and the defense, inventing open shots and turning average players into productive ones. The Lakers need more snipers to take advantage of Ball’s passing skills, but he’ll make them fast and fun. In ’87-88, Mark Jackson averaged 10.6 assists per game for the Knicks in his first season out of St. John’s, a rookie record. Ball probably can’t reach that mark, not with these Lakers, but he eventually will.

Golliver: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. This award should come down to two skilled playmakers who will enjoy major minutes and leading offensive roles: Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons. While Simmons is bigger, a year older and lucky enough to play with a franchise center (when healthy) in Philadelphia, Ball is set up to make an immediate impact in L.A.

The UCLA product joins a Lakers roster that is geared to play his preferred up-and-down style and that is essentially designed around his distributing ability. While young athletes like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma are all seeking to run with him in transition, Ball will also benefit from the presence of veteran center Brook Lopez, who represents a stable source of half-court offense, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who can take on the toughest backcourt defensive match-ups.

L.A. will likely finish well outside the West’s playoff picture, but Ball could potentially rank among the league’s top assist men if he stays healthy and plays as many minutes as expected. He will also come out of the gate with significant buzz thanks to his father’s incessant chirping and his own strong showing at Las Vegas Summer League. Finally, Ball’s Rookie of the Year candidacy will get a bump from sheer visibility, as the Lakers are set to make an absurd number of national television appearances. Although he might fall short of “Phenomenon” status as a rookie, Ball will surely turn heads and generate plenty of headlines.

Sharp: Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks. The rookie class is loaded with potential stars, but almost all of them have weaknesses that will limit them in Year One. Ben Simmons and De'Aaron Fox can't shoot, while Lonzo Ball's shooting is quietly an issue of its own, and his defense could be horrific. Jonathan Isaac is going to be elite on defense but his offense will take longer. Jayson Tatum probably won't be consistent enough to earn regular minutes for a contending Celtics team. Josh Jackson will be a work-in-progress on both ends of the floor in Phoenix.

You know who will be awesome, though? Three players: Bogdan Bogdanovic in Sacramento, John Collins in Atlanta, and Dennis Smith in Dallas. Bogdan is a rookie in name only—he's 25 years old—and Collins is on the Hawks during a lost season. So give me Smith, the most explosive player in the class, who's about to get a ton of opportunities running the Rick Carlisle pick-and-roll and dunking his way into America's heart.

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons is unlike the vast majority of rookies in that NBA opponents legitimately do not know how to guard him. His very presence creates problems; to have a special playmaker this tall and this strong demands all kinds of uncomfortable cross-matches, pushing defenses well outside the comfort of their typical scheme. The turnovers will flow freely and the shooting percentages will fluctuate dramatically. Such is the way of the rookie. But along the way, Simmons will storm his way into the paint in a way that many opponents will be powerless to stop.

Nadkarni: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. I’m a Lonzo believer, and the Lakers won’t have to be good, only exciting for Ball to start talk of L.A.’s comeback. There’s so much noise surrounding this rookie class. Ball’s dad. Markelle Fultz’s shot. Ben Simmons’s debut. People hardly talk about how talented this class actually is. Ball will be given the keys to the Lakers‘ offense, and he should have the most freedom of any top-five pick. Without great pressure on him to win, Ball will also be able to play through his mistakes. With Luke Walton likely counting on him to make things happen, Ball should rack up enough numbers to take home Rookie of the Year.

Woo: Ben Simmons, 76ers. It’ll certainly be an interesting year for rookies, and I like Simmons over Lonzo Ball here in what is technically his rookie season based on what ought to be a gentler learning curve. Simmons spent a year studying up and gets to spend the majority of his time at the playmaking controls on an improving team in a softer conference. Although Simmons’s jump shooting woes will be nitpicked all season, his size and knack for transition play will let him score enough to balance out useful assist and rebound totals that will be there from day one.

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Sixth Man of the Year

Jenkins: Eric Gordon, Rockets. There hasn’t been a repeat winner since Detlef Schrempf and, yes, Kevin McHale. Gordon lapped up his first season in Mike D’Antoni’s system, sinking a career-high 3.3 three-pointers per game, at a 37.2% clip. Expect him to get even more open shots now because it’s not just James Harden setting him up. He’ll have Chris Paul feeding him as well. The Rockets employ two of the league’s best playmakers and Gordon should be the primary beneficiary, provided he stays upright on the perimeter. Health has always been a question for Gordon, but last year he logged 75 games and discovered the sixth-man role. It suits him well.

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Williams was sensational in 2016-17, posting a career-high 17.5 PPG on a career-best 59.3 True Shooting Percentage. He finished third in the Sixth Man race despite being traded midseason and splitting votes with teammate Eric Gordon. A classic candidate for this award due to his dependable volume scoring, shot creation, three-point range and highlight-making style, Williams joins a Clippers roster that needs a second-unit offensive linchpin following a major summer shake-up.

The 30-year-old guard is firmly in his prime, and he clearly benefits from the league’s stylistic shifts towards pace, space, spread lineups and offense-first approaches. With more room to work one-on-one and fewer people nagging him about his one-way game, the 2015 Sixth Man of the Year award is even better positioned to win it again in 2018. There’s a decent chance Williams pushes his scoring and usage to even greater heights this season, especially if L.A. finds itself scrambling to cover for injury-prone starters like Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley.

Sharp: Will Barton, Nuggets. The Nuggets will need the help in the backcourt, and Barton will be there all year to provide buckets off the bench. If he can stay healthy and the Nuggets improve as much as expected, Barton gets the slight edge over Eric Gordon in Houston or Greg Monroe in Milwaukee.

Mahoney: Andre Iguodala, Warriors. One of these years, the voters will get this one right. There’s more to being a bench player than scoring, even if the history of this award wouldn’t suggest it. Iguodala does it all. When Golden State needs a dedicated wing defender, Steve Kerr turns to Iguodala. If a situation calls for the Warriors’ best lineups, they build around Iguodala as a pivot point. His playmaking is the catalyst between brilliant scorers, his ball-handling a vehicle for the most unstoppable offense in the league. No bench player in the league is better than Iguodala, and none is more important. So why bother voting for anyone else?

Nadkarni: Milos Teodosic, Clippers. I’m all in on Teodosic, the slick-passing Euro rookie who is actually 30 years old. Teodosic’s passing is an art form, and he will keep the lights on in Lob City with frequent setups for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. It’s unclear how good the Clippers will be this season, but they definitely have the potential to be a League Pass favorite. Teodosic is a big reason why. If he racks up the assists and hits enough threes, he’ll compete for this award. Jamal Crawford is running on fumes. Andre Iguodala is getting up there. And Eric Gordon could be counted on less with the addition of Chris Paul in Houston. The circumstances are breaking right for Milos.

Woo: Tristan Thompson, Cavs. We’ll see how long the Kevin-Love-at-center experiment lasts, but Thompson is in great position to log his usual heavy, meaningful minutes for a very good Cavs team over the course of the year. Yeah, he was bad in the Finals, but remains one of the league’s premier energy bigs and a crucial cog for a Cleveland team that runs deeper, but remains thin up front. He will be productive, he will be nasty, and the Cavs will win the East again. Yes, this award usually goes to a random guard with a high shot volume... but we can dream.

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Most Improved Player

Jenkins: Brandon Ingram, Lakers. This pick is closely entwined with the Rookie of the Year winner, pushing Ingram over Myles Turner, a strong candidate given Indiana’s dearth of scorers. A 6’9” wing with a Durantian physique, Ingram averaged 9.4 points and shot 29.4% from three last season, well below expectation for the second overall pick in the ’16 draft and supposedly the safest choice. At times, especially early, Ingram looked deferential and aloof. He also didn’t have anybody to make rookie life easier for him. Enter Ball, who will pass ahead to him in transition and kick out to him for three. All the Lakers will benefit from Ball, but none more than Ingram.

Golliver: Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers. All signs point to Jusuf Nurkic enjoying a monster season in Portland: He’s set to start, he’s entrenched as a lead scoring option, he’s playing with two lead guards who value his contributions, he’s angling for a possible max contract, he’s healthy, and he’s significantly lighter after a summer of hard work. Now, contrast that with his situation last season. In Denver, he was fighting with Nikola Jokic for starts, minutes and touches, and he was stuck without a real point guard to set him up. Then, following a long-awaited trade to Portland, he enjoyed a mini-breakout only to suffer a leg injury that sidelined him for most of the playoffs.

Nurkic’s strong closing push helped the Blazers secure the West’s final playoff spot, and it put him on the national map for the first time during his career. The Bosnian center enters this season with real momentum, and a similar late-season explosion in 2015-16 helped set up Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2017 Most Improved Player campaign.

Sharp: D'Angelo Russell, Nets. The criteria for this award is anyone's guess, but given the last three winners—Giannis Antetokounmpo, C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler—it appears we're setting on one point: the Most Improved Player is PRETTY GOOD. We're not talking surprising improvements among bench players (Joffrey Lauvergne in San Antonio!) or a mid-career renaissance from an also-ran starter (Pacers' Victor Oladipo!). So with that in mind, I was wrestling with three former Lakers lottery picks: Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and D'Angelo Russell.

Ingram should be better this year, and he's got a chance to land in the Butler/Giannis category eventually. But the Lakers are still a mess, and it will be hard for him to stand out in the middle of another 50-loss season. Similar logic applies to Randle. His numbers should be better than Ingram, but his impact on winning is questionable. Also, his ceiling's lower, so that may undermine some of the progress.

Russell has a much better shot at making some meaningful progress in the East. The Nets have no incentive to tank, and Russell will have the keys to the offense, with more structure around him than he ever found in Los Angeles. Here's to betting that he'll open some eyes over the final few months of the season to steal the win here.

Mahoney: Rodney Hood, Jazz. Utah’s offense, in the absence of Gordon Hayward and George Hill, has to turn somewhere. Who better to fill that void than Hood? The 24-year-old wing has teased over his first three NBA seasons with tantalizing displays of shot creation. A little consistency (and some better health) could change everything. Hood clearly has the talent. Soon, he’ll have the ball in his hands for a team that very much needs him to take the next step.

Nadkarni: Gary Harris, Nuggets. I thought Harris’s teammate, Nikola Jokic, should have won this award last season. But with Jokic now on most people’s radars, Harris could be the next Nugget on the verge of a breakout. Denver should be frisky in the West this year, with the addition of Paul Millsap giving them one of the most skilled frontlines in the Association. Jokic’s passing and Millsap’s spacing should make Harris’s life a lot easier, giving him room to operate alongside teammates more than willing to share the ball. Harris shot a blistering 42% from three last season, and if he comes anywhere close to maintaining that pace, he will become a serious problem for opposing defenses.

Woo: Clint Capela, Rockets. Playing on the receiving end opposite big man-friendly Chris Paul should be catnip for Capela, who managed a significant step forward from 2015–16 to last season while playing about five more minutes per game. Now 23 and the Rockets’ best bet to anchor the inside of a suddenly intriguing defense, expect another uptick in playing time and an opportunity to average a double-double. Alongside Paul and James Harden, working comfortably in a system that creates extra possessions like clockwork, Capela stands to benefit the most of anyone on the Rockets and is a fun breakout candidate at the very least.

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Defensive Player of the Year

Jenkins: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. From 1992 through 2014, traditional post players dominated this award, the only exceptions being Gary Payton and Ron Artest. In the past three years, with versatile wings blanketing almost every position, it shifted to Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. But Rudy Gobert has been right behind them, the NBA’s best rim protector and shot blocker. With all of Leonard’s scoring responsibilities in San Antonio, it’s hard to imagine he can still be the league’s stickiest defender. So the race likely comes down to Green and Gobert. Last year, the nod went to Green, though many advanced stats favored Gobert. Rudy’s team is obviously worse, with the Gordon Hayward defection to Boston, but he’ll stifle just the same.

Golliver: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Admittedly, part of picking Rudy Gobert comes down to a belief that voters will decide to spread the love around. Last year, the Jazz center finished second to Draymond Green, who himself had been runner-up to Kawhi Leonard in each of the two previous seasons. Gobert is next in line to receive the baton because he captains an elite Utah defense, he posts strong block and rebound stats, his defensive advanced stats are always off the charts, and his ability to dissuade, alter, contest and swat shots is easily observable to diehard and casual viewers alike.

Gordon Hayward’s summer departure will likely hurt the Jazz’s record and offensive efficiency, but it sets up the franchise to play to Gobert’s strengths and it sets up Gobert to receive full credit for their success. GM Dennis Lindsey spent the off-season adding a litany of hard-nosed types to complement his massive center, and coach Quin Snyder surely understands that continuing to prioritize defense will be Utah’s best hope at remaining in the West’s playoff picture. Gobert will only be more important to his team this season, which is saying a lot given his off-the-charts impact last year.

Sharp: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Only two other defensive players affect the game the way Gobert does. And since Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green have won this award the past two years, it may be time for the Stifle Tower to get some love. If he stays healthy and his defense is dominant enough to keep the Jazz in the playoff race, everyone else is coming in second.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. When in doubt, give it to the league’s best defender. The speed and skill of the NBA game leaves bigs with almost no room for error; as soon as the ball-handler turns a corner into open space, the rotating big is expected to corral all possibilities across a wide swath of real estate. No player covers the full scope as effectively as Green. It’s not his foot speed that separates him, though Green is certainly quick enough. It isn’t his height or wingspan, either, both of which would be dwarfed by other players at his position. What most distinguishes Green is the way his brain works—reading, anticipating, and reacting within a fraction of a second. His best defensive performances are works of legitimate genius.

Nadkarni: Draymond Green, Warriors. This award should belong to Green as long as the Warriors’ Death Lineup exists. Green makes all of that work by guarding every position on the floor. He's a once-in-a-generation talent on defense. Draymond will bang against your biggest body down in the post, or erase your best perimeter scorer from the top. He’s the unquestioned engine for a championship-level defense. In the small-ball era, I don’t think you can put a rim-protecting center in the same league as Green.

Woo: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Gordon Hayward’s departure should give us an even better sense of just how meaningful Gobert’s defensive contributions are to his team. Changes and all, the Jazz should remain among the league’s top defensive units. Gobert will lead the league in blocks again and stay among the elite rebounders, and he’ll continue to scare guys away from the basket on a nightly basis. The last few playoff spots in the West are wide open, and Utah’s continuity and defined style of play should benefit them even if they struggle to score (they almost definitely will). But that’s where the big man comes in. Gobert should finally take home his first Defensive Player honors in what’s become an annual three-horse race with Draymond and Kawhi.

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Coach of the Year

Jenkins: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Even though Hayward played for him at Butler, and Irving wanted to play for him in Boston, this won’t be an easy job. The Celtics chipped away at their hardscrabble identity this summer with the exodus of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. They are far more skilled, though, and Stevens is a master at putting gifted scorers in motion. If anyone can blend Irving’s solo act into a team structure, while keeping Hayward and Al Horford integral to the offense, it’s Stevens. The Celtics lost plenty of leadership in their locker room, but they retained enough on their sideline.

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. This candidacy writes itself: “Danny Ainge gave him a whole new roster and Brad Stevens put it all together to make the Celtics an overachieving contender yet again.” Start bracing now for the Boston media hype machine to dole out this narrative nonstop for the next six months.

Despite the inevitable oversaturation to come, Stevens is worthy of the hype. He’s consistently set up key players for career years, found unorthodox lineup combinations that magically work, and milked maximum value from fringe guys. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are two stars who could easily ascend to new heights under Stevens this year, and his system will get tons of credit, and deservedly so, if the Celtics manage to remain near the top of the East despite losing five of their top seven guys by minutes played during a busy off-season.

The Celtics might have trouble blowing away expectations—given that they were a No. 1 seed last year and landed Irving in one of the biggest deals of the summer—but reaching 53-55 wins with a reshaped roster could be enough to earn the well-respected Stevens his first Coach of the Year award.

Sharp: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Watch this video and tell me you'd rather vote for Brad Stevens or Gregg Popovich:

If the Heat finish in the top half of the East, Spoelstra gets the coach of the year award that he probably should've won last year, too.

Mahoney: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. The premise that made the Heat one of the most surprising teams in the league last season remains unchanged: Miami is poised to outperform the talent level of its roster. Spoelstra is a critical reason why. It can be difficult to determine where Heat culture ends and Spoelstra’s influence begins. That, in a way, is what makes his contributions so valuable. Few coaches in the league work in such perfect concert with a larger organizational philosophy. In Spoelstra’s case, that manifests in pushing players beyond their career standards, elevating the group on the sum of personal bests.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Spo obviously deserved this award last season, and I need to make at least one homer pick after passing on Bam Adebayo for rookie honors. There is a serious path for Spo to win this award, however. The Heat don’t exactly have someone who you would call a star, even if Dion Waiters is calling himself one. Without the top-end talent he’s grown accustomed to, Spo still coaxed a top-five defense from this team last year, and an offense that was top-ten after the All-Star break. If the Heat prove their 30–11 run to finish 2017 wasn’t a fluke, Spo should finally be rewarded for the job he’s doing with a group of cast-offs.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. In keeping with tradition, I decided I’m just gonna keep picking Stevens until he actually wins this award. It’s gonna happen eventually. Although the Celtics won’t emerge fully-formed, meshing new players and developing talent presents an appealing task that could and probably should lead to 50-plus wins in a crappy East. People sure do laud Stevens’ wizardry when it comes to both the on-court details and locker room balance, but it’s mostly because those things are true. This feels like his year.

Crystal Ball: 2017-18 NBA Awards Predictions

With the NBA season inside-your-jersey close, The Crossover asked its writers to give their awards predictions for the 2017–18 season.

The MVP races features some familiar faces (hello, LeBron and Steph), but there’s plenty of new names also in the running for awards this season. Can Rudy Gobert take home his first Defensive Player of the Year title? Will one of the Clippers’ many new guards win Sixth Man of the Year? And will Dennis Smith Jr. steal the spotlight from Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons and claim top rookie honors?

We asked our writers to predict who will take home the hardware. Check out our predictions for the 2017-18 season below.

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Most Valuable Player

Lee Jenkins: LeBron James, Cavaliers. In each of the past four years, someone other than LeBron James has won MVP, even though in all of those four years it was generally accepted that James was actually the best player. Come winter, the regularly scheduled hype train circles the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, until spring dawns and the refrain echoes: “Oh, I guess LeBron is still better.” It is a strange dynamic. MVP is the NBA’s most significant individual award, yet James has somehow transcended the trophy. His candidacy is too boring, too obvious. But Westbrook and Harden now have superstar sidekicks, like Steph Curry/Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard is nursing a troublesome thigh injury. James, sans Kyrie Irving, may have to be the choice this time.?

Ben Golliver: Stephen Curry, Warriors. How is it that Stephen Curry, the man who received every single first-place MVP vote in 2016, has only the 10th–best odds, according to one oddsmaker, of taking home the 2018 trophy? This feels like a classic case of the NBA intelligentsia outsmarting itself. After all, Curry is a consensus top-four player, he’s virtually guaranteed to play for the league’s best team and, as coach Steve Kerr noted this week, he happens to be smack in the middle of his prime.

Some forecasters are worried that Curry and Kevin Durant will split Golden State’s share of the votes, or that voters will regard Durant as the Warriors’ top candidate, or that one-man armies like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo will have better individual stories, or that Russell Westbrook and James Harden will put up better individual numbers. All fair concerns. But Curry is a very compelling (fake) dark horse candidate because he’s the central force of the league’s best offense, he’s the league’s best shooter and a perennial 50/40/90 candidate, he’s the most popular player on the league’s most dominant team (Durant’s nightmare PR summer only widened the gap), and he’s become remarkably durable after early-career ankle issues (he’s missed an average of 3.2 games over the past five seasons).

MVP voters do tend to punish superteams: LeBron James didn’t win in 2011 and no Warriors player finished among 2017’s top five. However, voters came back around to pay James the respect he deserved in 2012 and 2013, and it will be hard for anyone to deny Golden State an MVP winner if the Warriors rack up 70 wins and the rest of the league is struggling to reach 60. If a backlash to Westbrook’s stats-based 2016 MVP case does emerge, Curry is perfectly positioned to benefit because he checks every box: winning, narrative, stats, advanced stats, intangibles, memorable moments, personality and impact. Sleep on Curry’s MVP candidacy at your own risk.

Andrew Sharp: Stephen Curry, Warriors. A month ago my pick would've been Kawhi, but his quad injury is lingering while the Rockets look poised to blitz the West for the No. 2 seed, and that's enough to give me pause. Instead, give me Steph. He's the most valuable player on the best team the league has ever seen, and this shouldn't be all that complicated.

Yet it is complicated, obviously. After winning unanimous MVP two years ago and ultimately falling apart in the Finals, two years of passive aggressive Curry skepticism gave way to a nation of critics openly second-guessing his talent and resenting his success, even among certain superstars. All of that criticism was dumb, but some of it stuck. For the past year or two it hasn't been cool to discuss how incredible Curry has been. Even Steve Kerr finished the NBA Finals talking about the value of Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

There are two ways this could play out from here. On one hand, it wouldn't be surprising if Curry never won another MVP. He's got too much help to make a compelling case, he's already won the award twice, and the skepticism around the league is still too pervasive.

On the other hand, maybe this is the year of the backlash to Curry backlash, where everyone realizes that he's the most valuable weapon in basketball. And as the Warriors put together the most dominant four-year run in NBA history, maybe it becomes cool and smart to state what's always been obvious: None of this is possible without Steph.

Rob Mahoney: LeBron James, Cavs. The setup for this season feels like the kind of opportunity LeBron would relish. A star teammate requesting to leave his well-constructed conference powerhouse is not a slight James could take lightly. One could imagine James feeling as if the world—and a certain ex-teammate—could stand to be reminded of what he’s capable of. On top of that, Isaiah Thomas’s extended absence will demand more of LeBron than before, albeit in ways he could clearly deliver. This award often boils down to how much James cares to win it. When he has a ready-made contender playing the long game for a return to the Finals, vying for the MVP might seem needless. But if he has something to prove, we could see LeBron again meld ridiculous efficiency with the extraordinary excess of superstar production.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. Will James play in enough games to win this award? That’s what the MVP race could come down to. The King usually takes his fair share of breaks during the regular season, and rightfully so, considering James has played over 50,000 minutes in his storied career. But with the NBA’s new resting rules, James may play in a few more contests this season. And with the added motivation of an insane summer—Kyrie wanting out, contenders loading up, Draymond running his mouth—this could be the year James returns to the MVP mountaintop. LeBron, the best basketball player in the world, hasn’t won MVP in four seasons. That has to bother him on some level, right? James knows how hard it will be to beat the Warriors in a potential finals rematch, so perhaps he looks at the MVP race as another way to pad his legacy.

Jeremy Woo: Kevin Durant, Warriors. The argument that Kevin Durant and Steph Curry will steal MVP votes from one another until the end of time (or until someone breaks up the marriage) is a popular one. But I suspect the KD we saw dominate in the Finals, completely comfortable in the Warriors’ system and making a difference on both ends of the floor will be present once again. New star pairings are set to alter the landscape, but what’s to say 70-ish wins and a scoring title won’t get it done for Durant? Neither of those things is out of the question, and yes, that’s extremely scary. Here’s hedging that Year Two in the Bay is even more fruitful, and that KD can delete all his burner accounts and let himself live. (By the way, this is Kevin Durant).

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Rookie of the Year

Jenkins: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. The team will be mediocre, the scoring average will be modest and the headlines will be made for all the wrong reasons. But voters watch the games and they’ll see a culture-changing point guard who manipulates the tempo and the defense, inventing open shots and turning average players into productive ones. The Lakers need more snipers to take advantage of Ball’s passing skills, but he’ll make them fast and fun. In ’87-88, Mark Jackson averaged 10.6 assists per game for the Knicks in his first season out of St. John’s, a rookie record. Ball probably can’t reach that mark, not with these Lakers, but he eventually will.

Golliver: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. This award should come down to two skilled playmakers who will enjoy major minutes and leading offensive roles: Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons. While Simmons is bigger, a year older and lucky enough to play with a franchise center (when healthy) in Philadelphia, Ball is set up to make an immediate impact in L.A.

The UCLA product joins a Lakers roster that is geared to play his preferred up-and-down style and that is essentially designed around his distributing ability. While young athletes like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma are all seeking to run with him in transition, Ball will also benefit from the presence of veteran center Brook Lopez, who represents a stable source of half-court offense, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who can take on the toughest backcourt defensive match-ups.

L.A. will likely finish well outside the West’s playoff picture, but Ball could potentially rank among the league’s top assist men if he stays healthy and plays as many minutes as expected. He will also come out of the gate with significant buzz thanks to his father’s incessant chirping and his own strong showing at Las Vegas Summer League. Finally, Ball’s Rookie of the Year candidacy will get a bump from sheer visibility, as the Lakers are set to make an absurd number of national television appearances. Although he might fall short of “Phenomenon” status as a rookie, Ball will surely turn heads and generate plenty of headlines.

Sharp: Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks. The rookie class is loaded with potential stars, but almost all of them have weaknesses that will limit them in Year One. Ben Simmons and De'Aaron Fox can't shoot, while Lonzo Ball's shooting is quietly an issue of its own, and his defense could be horrific. Jonathan Isaac is going to be elite on defense but his offense will take longer. Jayson Tatum probably won't be consistent enough to earn regular minutes for a contending Celtics team. Josh Jackson will be a work-in-progress on both ends of the floor in Phoenix.

You know who will be awesome, though? Three players: Bogdan Bogdanovic in Sacramento, John Collins in Atlanta, and Dennis Smith in Dallas. Bogdan is a rookie in name only—he's 25 years old—and Collins is on the Hawks during a lost season. So give me Smith, the most explosive player in the class, who's about to get a ton of opportunities running the Rick Carlisle pick-and-roll and dunking his way into America's heart.

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons is unlike the vast majority of rookies in that NBA opponents legitimately do not know how to guard him. His very presence creates problems; to have a special playmaker this tall and this strong demands all kinds of uncomfortable cross-matches, pushing defenses well outside the comfort of their typical scheme. The turnovers will flow freely and the shooting percentages will fluctuate dramatically. Such is the way of the rookie. But along the way, Simmons will storm his way into the paint in a way that many opponents will be powerless to stop.

Nadkarni: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. I’m a Lonzo believer, and the Lakers won’t have to be good, only exciting for Ball to start talk of L.A.’s comeback. There’s so much noise surrounding this rookie class. Ball’s dad. Markelle Fultz’s shot. Ben Simmons’s debut. People hardly talk about how talented this class actually is. Ball will be given the keys to the Lakers‘ offense, and he should have the most freedom of any top-five pick. Without great pressure on him to win, Ball will also be able to play through his mistakes. With Luke Walton likely counting on him to make things happen, Ball should rack up enough numbers to take home Rookie of the Year.

Woo: Ben Simmons, 76ers. It’ll certainly be an interesting year for rookies, and I like Simmons over Lonzo Ball here in what is technically his rookie season based on what ought to be a gentler learning curve. Simmons spent a year studying up and gets to spend the majority of his time at the playmaking controls on an improving team in a softer conference. Although Simmons’s jump shooting woes will be nitpicked all season, his size and knack for transition play will let him score enough to balance out useful assist and rebound totals that will be there from day one.

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Sixth Man of the Year

Jenkins: Eric Gordon, Rockets. There hasn’t been a repeat winner since Detlef Schrempf and, yes, Kevin McHale. Gordon lapped up his first season in Mike D’Antoni’s system, sinking a career-high 3.3 three-pointers per game, at a 37.2% clip. Expect him to get even more open shots now because it’s not just James Harden setting him up. He’ll have Chris Paul feeding him as well. The Rockets employ two of the league’s best playmakers and Gordon should be the primary beneficiary, provided he stays upright on the perimeter. Health has always been a question for Gordon, but last year he logged 75 games and discovered the sixth-man role. It suits him well.

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Williams was sensational in 2016-17, posting a career-high 17.5 PPG on a career-best 59.3 True Shooting Percentage. He finished third in the Sixth Man race despite being traded midseason and splitting votes with teammate Eric Gordon. A classic candidate for this award due to his dependable volume scoring, shot creation, three-point range and highlight-making style, Williams joins a Clippers roster that needs a second-unit offensive linchpin following a major summer shake-up.

The 30-year-old guard is firmly in his prime, and he clearly benefits from the league’s stylistic shifts towards pace, space, spread lineups and offense-first approaches. With more room to work one-on-one and fewer people nagging him about his one-way game, the 2015 Sixth Man of the Year award is even better positioned to win it again in 2018. There’s a decent chance Williams pushes his scoring and usage to even greater heights this season, especially if L.A. finds itself scrambling to cover for injury-prone starters like Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley.

Sharp: Will Barton, Nuggets. The Nuggets will need the help in the backcourt, and Barton will be there all year to provide buckets off the bench. If he can stay healthy and the Nuggets improve as much as expected, Barton gets the slight edge over Eric Gordon in Houston or Greg Monroe in Milwaukee.

Mahoney: Andre Iguodala, Warriors. One of these years, the voters will get this one right. There’s more to being a bench player than scoring, even if the history of this award wouldn’t suggest it. Iguodala does it all. When Golden State needs a dedicated wing defender, Steve Kerr turns to Iguodala. If a situation calls for the Warriors’ best lineups, they build around Iguodala as a pivot point. His playmaking is the catalyst between brilliant scorers, his ball-handling a vehicle for the most unstoppable offense in the league. No bench player in the league is better than Iguodala, and none is more important. So why bother voting for anyone else?

Nadkarni: Milos Teodosic, Clippers. I’m all in on Teodosic, the slick-passing Euro rookie who is actually 30 years old. Teodosic’s passing is an art form, and he will keep the lights on in Lob City with frequent setups for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. It’s unclear how good the Clippers will be this season, but they definitely have the potential to be a League Pass favorite. Teodosic is a big reason why. If he racks up the assists and hits enough threes, he’ll compete for this award. Jamal Crawford is running on fumes. Andre Iguodala is getting up there. And Eric Gordon could be counted on less with the addition of Chris Paul in Houston. The circumstances are breaking right for Milos.

Woo: Tristan Thompson, Cavs. We’ll see how long the Kevin-Love-at-center experiment lasts, but Thompson is in great position to log his usual heavy, meaningful minutes for a very good Cavs team over the course of the year. Yeah, he was bad in the Finals, but remains one of the league’s premier energy bigs and a crucial cog for a Cleveland team that runs deeper, but remains thin up front. He will be productive, he will be nasty, and the Cavs will win the East again. Yes, this award usually goes to a random guard with a high shot volume... but we can dream.

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Most Improved Player

Jenkins: Brandon Ingram, Lakers. This pick is closely entwined with the Rookie of the Year winner, pushing Ingram over Myles Turner, a strong candidate given Indiana’s dearth of scorers. A 6’9” wing with a Durantian physique, Ingram averaged 9.4 points and shot 29.4% from three last season, well below expectation for the second overall pick in the ’16 draft and supposedly the safest choice. At times, especially early, Ingram looked deferential and aloof. He also didn’t have anybody to make rookie life easier for him. Enter Ball, who will pass ahead to him in transition and kick out to him for three. All the Lakers will benefit from Ball, but none more than Ingram.

Golliver: Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers. All signs point to Jusuf Nurkic enjoying a monster season in Portland: He’s set to start, he’s entrenched as a lead scoring option, he’s playing with two lead guards who value his contributions, he’s angling for a possible max contract, he’s healthy, and he’s significantly lighter after a summer of hard work. Now, contrast that with his situation last season. In Denver, he was fighting with Nikola Jokic for starts, minutes and touches, and he was stuck without a real point guard to set him up. Then, following a long-awaited trade to Portland, he enjoyed a mini-breakout only to suffer a leg injury that sidelined him for most of the playoffs.

Nurkic’s strong closing push helped the Blazers secure the West’s final playoff spot, and it put him on the national map for the first time during his career. The Bosnian center enters this season with real momentum, and a similar late-season explosion in 2015-16 helped set up Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2017 Most Improved Player campaign.

Sharp: D'Angelo Russell, Nets. The criteria for this award is anyone's guess, but given the last three winners—Giannis Antetokounmpo, C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler—it appears we're setting on one point: the Most Improved Player is PRETTY GOOD. We're not talking surprising improvements among bench players (Joffrey Lauvergne in San Antonio!) or a mid-career renaissance from an also-ran starter (Pacers' Victor Oladipo!). So with that in mind, I was wrestling with three former Lakers lottery picks: Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and D'Angelo Russell.

Ingram should be better this year, and he's got a chance to land in the Butler/Giannis category eventually. But the Lakers are still a mess, and it will be hard for him to stand out in the middle of another 50-loss season. Similar logic applies to Randle. His numbers should be better than Ingram, but his impact on winning is questionable. Also, his ceiling's lower, so that may undermine some of the progress.

Russell has a much better shot at making some meaningful progress in the East. The Nets have no incentive to tank, and Russell will have the keys to the offense, with more structure around him than he ever found in Los Angeles. Here's to betting that he'll open some eyes over the final few months of the season to steal the win here.

Mahoney: Rodney Hood, Jazz. Utah’s offense, in the absence of Gordon Hayward and George Hill, has to turn somewhere. Who better to fill that void than Hood? The 24-year-old wing has teased over his first three NBA seasons with tantalizing displays of shot creation. A little consistency (and some better health) could change everything. Hood clearly has the talent. Soon, he’ll have the ball in his hands for a team that very much needs him to take the next step.

Nadkarni: Gary Harris, Nuggets. I thought Harris’s teammate, Nikola Jokic, should have won this award last season. But with Jokic now on most people’s radars, Harris could be the next Nugget on the verge of a breakout. Denver should be frisky in the West this year, with the addition of Paul Millsap giving them one of the most skilled frontlines in the Association. Jokic’s passing and Millsap’s spacing should make Harris’s life a lot easier, giving him room to operate alongside teammates more than willing to share the ball. Harris shot a blistering 42% from three last season, and if he comes anywhere close to maintaining that pace, he will become a serious problem for opposing defenses.

Woo: Clint Capela, Rockets. Playing on the receiving end opposite big man-friendly Chris Paul should be catnip for Capela, who managed a significant step forward from 2015–16 to last season while playing about five more minutes per game. Now 23 and the Rockets’ best bet to anchor the inside of a suddenly intriguing defense, expect another uptick in playing time and an opportunity to average a double-double. Alongside Paul and James Harden, working comfortably in a system that creates extra possessions like clockwork, Capela stands to benefit the most of anyone on the Rockets and is a fun breakout candidate at the very least.

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Defensive Player of the Year

Jenkins: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. From 1992 through 2014, traditional post players dominated this award, the only exceptions being Gary Payton and Ron Artest. In the past three years, with versatile wings blanketing almost every position, it shifted to Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. But Rudy Gobert has been right behind them, the NBA’s best rim protector and shot blocker. With all of Leonard’s scoring responsibilities in San Antonio, it’s hard to imagine he can still be the league’s stickiest defender. So the race likely comes down to Green and Gobert. Last year, the nod went to Green, though many advanced stats favored Gobert. Rudy’s team is obviously worse, with the Gordon Hayward defection to Boston, but he’ll stifle just the same.

Golliver: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Admittedly, part of picking Rudy Gobert comes down to a belief that voters will decide to spread the love around. Last year, the Jazz center finished second to Draymond Green, who himself had been runner-up to Kawhi Leonard in each of the two previous seasons. Gobert is next in line to receive the baton because he captains an elite Utah defense, he posts strong block and rebound stats, his defensive advanced stats are always off the charts, and his ability to dissuade, alter, contest and swat shots is easily observable to diehard and casual viewers alike.

Gordon Hayward’s summer departure will likely hurt the Jazz’s record and offensive efficiency, but it sets up the franchise to play to Gobert’s strengths and it sets up Gobert to receive full credit for their success. GM Dennis Lindsey spent the off-season adding a litany of hard-nosed types to complement his massive center, and coach Quin Snyder surely understands that continuing to prioritize defense will be Utah’s best hope at remaining in the West’s playoff picture. Gobert will only be more important to his team this season, which is saying a lot given his off-the-charts impact last year.

Sharp: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Only two other defensive players affect the game the way Gobert does. And since Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green have won this award the past two years, it may be time for the Stifle Tower to get some love. If he stays healthy and his defense is dominant enough to keep the Jazz in the playoff race, everyone else is coming in second.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. When in doubt, give it to the league’s best defender. The speed and skill of the NBA game leaves bigs with almost no room for error; as soon as the ball-handler turns a corner into open space, the rotating big is expected to corral all possibilities across a wide swath of real estate. No player covers the full scope as effectively as Green. It’s not his foot speed that separates him, though Green is certainly quick enough. It isn’t his height or wingspan, either, both of which would be dwarfed by other players at his position. What most distinguishes Green is the way his brain works—reading, anticipating, and reacting within a fraction of a second. His best defensive performances are works of legitimate genius.

Nadkarni: Draymond Green, Warriors. This award should belong to Green as long as the Warriors’ Death Lineup exists. Green makes all of that work by guarding every position on the floor. He's a once-in-a-generation talent on defense. Draymond will bang against your biggest body down in the post, or erase your best perimeter scorer from the top. He’s the unquestioned engine for a championship-level defense. In the small-ball era, I don’t think you can put a rim-protecting center in the same league as Green.

Woo: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Gordon Hayward’s departure should give us an even better sense of just how meaningful Gobert’s defensive contributions are to his team. Changes and all, the Jazz should remain among the league’s top defensive units. Gobert will lead the league in blocks again and stay among the elite rebounders, and he’ll continue to scare guys away from the basket on a nightly basis. The last few playoff spots in the West are wide open, and Utah’s continuity and defined style of play should benefit them even if they struggle to score (they almost definitely will). But that’s where the big man comes in. Gobert should finally take home his first Defensive Player honors in what’s become an annual three-horse race with Draymond and Kawhi.

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Coach of the Year

Jenkins: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Even though Hayward played for him at Butler, and Irving wanted to play for him in Boston, this won’t be an easy job. The Celtics chipped away at their hardscrabble identity this summer with the exodus of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. They are far more skilled, though, and Stevens is a master at putting gifted scorers in motion. If anyone can blend Irving’s solo act into a team structure, while keeping Hayward and Al Horford integral to the offense, it’s Stevens. The Celtics lost plenty of leadership in their locker room, but they retained enough on their sideline.

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. This candidacy writes itself: “Danny Ainge gave him a whole new roster and Brad Stevens put it all together to make the Celtics an overachieving contender yet again.” Start bracing now for the Boston media hype machine to dole out this narrative nonstop for the next six months.

Despite the inevitable oversaturation to come, Stevens is worthy of the hype. He’s consistently set up key players for career years, found unorthodox lineup combinations that magically work, and milked maximum value from fringe guys. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are two stars who could easily ascend to new heights under Stevens this year, and his system will get tons of credit, and deservedly so, if the Celtics manage to remain near the top of the East despite losing five of their top seven guys by minutes played during a busy off-season.

The Celtics might have trouble blowing away expectations—given that they were a No. 1 seed last year and landed Irving in one of the biggest deals of the summer—but reaching 53-55 wins with a reshaped roster could be enough to earn the well-respected Stevens his first Coach of the Year award.

Sharp: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Watch this video and tell me you'd rather vote for Brad Stevens or Gregg Popovich:

If the Heat finish in the top half of the East, Spoelstra gets the coach of the year award that he probably should've won last year, too.

Mahoney: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. The premise that made the Heat one of the most surprising teams in the league last season remains unchanged: Miami is poised to outperform the talent level of its roster. Spoelstra is a critical reason why. It can be difficult to determine where Heat culture ends and Spoelstra’s influence begins. That, in a way, is what makes his contributions so valuable. Few coaches in the league work in such perfect concert with a larger organizational philosophy. In Spoelstra’s case, that manifests in pushing players beyond their career standards, elevating the group on the sum of personal bests.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Spo obviously deserved this award last season, and I need to make at least one homer pick after passing on Bam Adebayo for rookie honors. There is a serious path for Spo to win this award, however. The Heat don’t exactly have someone who you would call a star, even if Dion Waiters is calling himself one. Without the top-end talent he’s grown accustomed to, Spo still coaxed a top-five defense from this team last year, and an offense that was top-ten after the All-Star break. If the Heat prove their 30–11 run to finish 2017 wasn’t a fluke, Spo should finally be rewarded for the job he’s doing with a group of cast-offs.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. In keeping with tradition, I decided I’m just gonna keep picking Stevens until he actually wins this award. It’s gonna happen eventually. Although the Celtics won’t emerge fully-formed, meshing new players and developing talent presents an appealing task that could and probably should lead to 50-plus wins in a crappy East. People sure do laud Stevens’ wizardry when it comes to both the on-court details and locker room balance, but it’s mostly because those things are true. This feels like his year.

Crystal Ball: 2017-18 NBA Awards Predictions

With the NBA season inside-your-jersey close, The Crossover asked its writers to give their awards predictions for the 2017–18 season.

The MVP races features some familiar faces (hello, LeBron and Steph), but there’s plenty of new names also in the running for awards this season. Can Rudy Gobert take home his first Defensive Player of the Year title? Will one of the Clippers’ many new guards win Sixth Man of the Year? And will Dennis Smith Jr. steal the spotlight from Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons and claim top rookie honors?

We asked our writers to predict who will take home the hardware. Check out our predictions for the 2017-18 season below.

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Most Valuable Player

Lee Jenkins: LeBron James, Cavaliers. In each of the past four years, someone other than LeBron James has won MVP, even though in all of those four years it was generally accepted that James was actually the best player. Come winter, the regularly scheduled hype train circles the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, until spring dawns and the refrain echoes: “Oh, I guess LeBron is still better.” It is a strange dynamic. MVP is the NBA’s most significant individual award, yet James has somehow transcended the trophy. His candidacy is too boring, too obvious. But Westbrook and Harden now have superstar sidekicks, like Steph Curry/Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard is nursing a troublesome thigh injury. James, sans Kyrie Irving, may have to be the choice this time.?

Ben Golliver: Stephen Curry, Warriors. How is it that Stephen Curry, the man who received every single first-place MVP vote in 2016, has only the 10th–best odds, according to one oddsmaker, of taking home the 2018 trophy? This feels like a classic case of the NBA intelligentsia outsmarting itself. After all, Curry is a consensus top-four player, he’s virtually guaranteed to play for the league’s best team and, as coach Steve Kerr noted this week, he happens to be smack in the middle of his prime.

Some forecasters are worried that Curry and Kevin Durant will split Golden State’s share of the votes, or that voters will regard Durant as the Warriors’ top candidate, or that one-man armies like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo will have better individual stories, or that Russell Westbrook and James Harden will put up better individual numbers. All fair concerns. But Curry is a very compelling (fake) dark horse candidate because he’s the central force of the league’s best offense, he’s the league’s best shooter and a perennial 50/40/90 candidate, he’s the most popular player on the league’s most dominant team (Durant’s nightmare PR summer only widened the gap), and he’s become remarkably durable after early-career ankle issues (he’s missed an average of 3.2 games over the past five seasons).

MVP voters do tend to punish superteams: LeBron James didn’t win in 2011 and no Warriors player finished among 2017’s top five. However, voters came back around to pay James the respect he deserved in 2012 and 2013, and it will be hard for anyone to deny Golden State an MVP winner if the Warriors rack up 70 wins and the rest of the league is struggling to reach 60. If a backlash to Westbrook’s stats-based 2016 MVP case does emerge, Curry is perfectly positioned to benefit because he checks every box: winning, narrative, stats, advanced stats, intangibles, memorable moments, personality and impact. Sleep on Curry’s MVP candidacy at your own risk.

Andrew Sharp: Stephen Curry, Warriors. A month ago my pick would've been Kawhi, but his quad injury is lingering while the Rockets look poised to blitz the West for the No. 2 seed, and that's enough to give me pause. Instead, give me Steph. He's the most valuable player on the best team the league has ever seen, and this shouldn't be all that complicated.

Yet it is complicated, obviously. After winning unanimous MVP two years ago and ultimately falling apart in the Finals, two years of passive aggressive Curry skepticism gave way to a nation of critics openly second-guessing his talent and resenting his success, even among certain superstars. All of that criticism was dumb, but some of it stuck. For the past year or two it hasn't been cool to discuss how incredible Curry has been. Even Steve Kerr finished the NBA Finals talking about the value of Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

There are two ways this could play out from here. On one hand, it wouldn't be surprising if Curry never won another MVP. He's got too much help to make a compelling case, he's already won the award twice, and the skepticism around the league is still too pervasive.

On the other hand, maybe this is the year of the backlash to Curry backlash, where everyone realizes that he's the most valuable weapon in basketball. And as the Warriors put together the most dominant four-year run in NBA history, maybe it becomes cool and smart to state what's always been obvious: None of this is possible without Steph.

Rob Mahoney: LeBron James, Cavs. The setup for this season feels like the kind of opportunity LeBron would relish. A star teammate requesting to leave his well-constructed conference powerhouse is not a slight James could take lightly. One could imagine James feeling as if the world—and a certain ex-teammate—could stand to be reminded of what he’s capable of. On top of that, Isaiah Thomas’s extended absence will demand more of LeBron than before, albeit in ways he could clearly deliver. This award often boils down to how much James cares to win it. When he has a ready-made contender playing the long game for a return to the Finals, vying for the MVP might seem needless. But if he has something to prove, we could see LeBron again meld ridiculous efficiency with the extraordinary excess of superstar production.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. Will James play in enough games to win this award? That’s what the MVP race could come down to. The King usually takes his fair share of breaks during the regular season, and rightfully so, considering James has played over 50,000 minutes in his storied career. But with the NBA’s new resting rules, James may play in a few more contests this season. And with the added motivation of an insane summer—Kyrie wanting out, contenders loading up, Draymond running his mouth—this could be the year James returns to the MVP mountaintop. LeBron, the best basketball player in the world, hasn’t won MVP in four seasons. That has to bother him on some level, right? James knows how hard it will be to beat the Warriors in a potential finals rematch, so perhaps he looks at the MVP race as another way to pad his legacy.

Jeremy Woo: Kevin Durant, Warriors. The argument that Kevin Durant and Steph Curry will steal MVP votes from one another until the end of time (or until someone breaks up the marriage) is a popular one. But I suspect the KD we saw dominate in the Finals, completely comfortable in the Warriors’ system and making a difference on both ends of the floor will be present once again. New star pairings are set to alter the landscape, but what’s to say 70-ish wins and a scoring title won’t get it done for Durant? Neither of those things is out of the question, and yes, that’s extremely scary. Here’s hedging that Year Two in the Bay is even more fruitful, and that KD can delete all his burner accounts and let himself live. (By the way, this is Kevin Durant).

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Rookie of the Year

Jenkins: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. The team will be mediocre, the scoring average will be modest and the headlines will be made for all the wrong reasons. But voters watch the games and they’ll see a culture-changing point guard who manipulates the tempo and the defense, inventing open shots and turning average players into productive ones. The Lakers need more snipers to take advantage of Ball’s passing skills, but he’ll make them fast and fun. In ’87-88, Mark Jackson averaged 10.6 assists per game for the Knicks in his first season out of St. John’s, a rookie record. Ball probably can’t reach that mark, not with these Lakers, but he eventually will.

Golliver: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. This award should come down to two skilled playmakers who will enjoy major minutes and leading offensive roles: Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons. While Simmons is bigger, a year older and lucky enough to play with a franchise center (when healthy) in Philadelphia, Ball is set up to make an immediate impact in L.A.

The UCLA product joins a Lakers roster that is geared to play his preferred up-and-down style and that is essentially designed around his distributing ability. While young athletes like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma are all seeking to run with him in transition, Ball will also benefit from the presence of veteran center Brook Lopez, who represents a stable source of half-court offense, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who can take on the toughest backcourt defensive match-ups.

L.A. will likely finish well outside the West’s playoff picture, but Ball could potentially rank among the league’s top assist men if he stays healthy and plays as many minutes as expected. He will also come out of the gate with significant buzz thanks to his father’s incessant chirping and his own strong showing at Las Vegas Summer League. Finally, Ball’s Rookie of the Year candidacy will get a bump from sheer visibility, as the Lakers are set to make an absurd number of national television appearances. Although he might fall short of “Phenomenon” status as a rookie, Ball will surely turn heads and generate plenty of headlines.

Sharp: Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks. The rookie class is loaded with potential stars, but almost all of them have weaknesses that will limit them in Year One. Ben Simmons and De'Aaron Fox can't shoot, while Lonzo Ball's shooting is quietly an issue of its own, and his defense could be horrific. Jonathan Isaac is going to be elite on defense but his offense will take longer. Jayson Tatum probably won't be consistent enough to earn regular minutes for a contending Celtics team. Josh Jackson will be a work-in-progress on both ends of the floor in Phoenix.

You know who will be awesome, though? Three players: Bogdan Bogdanovic in Sacramento, John Collins in Atlanta, and Dennis Smith in Dallas. Bogdan is a rookie in name only—he's 25 years old—and Collins is on the Hawks during a lost season. So give me Smith, the most explosive player in the class, who's about to get a ton of opportunities running the Rick Carlisle pick-and-roll and dunking his way into America's heart.

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons is unlike the vast majority of rookies in that NBA opponents legitimately do not know how to guard him. His very presence creates problems; to have a special playmaker this tall and this strong demands all kinds of uncomfortable cross-matches, pushing defenses well outside the comfort of their typical scheme. The turnovers will flow freely and the shooting percentages will fluctuate dramatically. Such is the way of the rookie. But along the way, Simmons will storm his way into the paint in a way that many opponents will be powerless to stop.

Nadkarni: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. I’m a Lonzo believer, and the Lakers won’t have to be good, only exciting for Ball to start talk of L.A.’s comeback. There’s so much noise surrounding this rookie class. Ball’s dad. Markelle Fultz’s shot. Ben Simmons’s debut. People hardly talk about how talented this class actually is. Ball will be given the keys to the Lakers‘ offense, and he should have the most freedom of any top-five pick. Without great pressure on him to win, Ball will also be able to play through his mistakes. With Luke Walton likely counting on him to make things happen, Ball should rack up enough numbers to take home Rookie of the Year.

Woo: Ben Simmons, 76ers. It’ll certainly be an interesting year for rookies, and I like Simmons over Lonzo Ball here in what is technically his rookie season based on what ought to be a gentler learning curve. Simmons spent a year studying up and gets to spend the majority of his time at the playmaking controls on an improving team in a softer conference. Although Simmons’s jump shooting woes will be nitpicked all season, his size and knack for transition play will let him score enough to balance out useful assist and rebound totals that will be there from day one.

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Sixth Man of the Year

Jenkins: Eric Gordon, Rockets. There hasn’t been a repeat winner since Detlef Schrempf and, yes, Kevin McHale. Gordon lapped up his first season in Mike D’Antoni’s system, sinking a career-high 3.3 three-pointers per game, at a 37.2% clip. Expect him to get even more open shots now because it’s not just James Harden setting him up. He’ll have Chris Paul feeding him as well. The Rockets employ two of the league’s best playmakers and Gordon should be the primary beneficiary, provided he stays upright on the perimeter. Health has always been a question for Gordon, but last year he logged 75 games and discovered the sixth-man role. It suits him well.

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Williams was sensational in 2016-17, posting a career-high 17.5 PPG on a career-best 59.3 True Shooting Percentage. He finished third in the Sixth Man race despite being traded midseason and splitting votes with teammate Eric Gordon. A classic candidate for this award due to his dependable volume scoring, shot creation, three-point range and highlight-making style, Williams joins a Clippers roster that needs a second-unit offensive linchpin following a major summer shake-up.

The 30-year-old guard is firmly in his prime, and he clearly benefits from the league’s stylistic shifts towards pace, space, spread lineups and offense-first approaches. With more room to work one-on-one and fewer people nagging him about his one-way game, the 2015 Sixth Man of the Year award is even better positioned to win it again in 2018. There’s a decent chance Williams pushes his scoring and usage to even greater heights this season, especially if L.A. finds itself scrambling to cover for injury-prone starters like Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley.

Sharp: Will Barton, Nuggets. The Nuggets will need the help in the backcourt, and Barton will be there all year to provide buckets off the bench. If he can stay healthy and the Nuggets improve as much as expected, Barton gets the slight edge over Eric Gordon in Houston or Greg Monroe in Milwaukee.

Mahoney: Andre Iguodala, Warriors. One of these years, the voters will get this one right. There’s more to being a bench player than scoring, even if the history of this award wouldn’t suggest it. Iguodala does it all. When Golden State needs a dedicated wing defender, Steve Kerr turns to Iguodala. If a situation calls for the Warriors’ best lineups, they build around Iguodala as a pivot point. His playmaking is the catalyst between brilliant scorers, his ball-handling a vehicle for the most unstoppable offense in the league. No bench player in the league is better than Iguodala, and none is more important. So why bother voting for anyone else?

Nadkarni: Milos Teodosic, Clippers. I’m all in on Teodosic, the slick-passing Euro rookie who is actually 30 years old. Teodosic’s passing is an art form, and he will keep the lights on in Lob City with frequent setups for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. It’s unclear how good the Clippers will be this season, but they definitely have the potential to be a League Pass favorite. Teodosic is a big reason why. If he racks up the assists and hits enough threes, he’ll compete for this award. Jamal Crawford is running on fumes. Andre Iguodala is getting up there. And Eric Gordon could be counted on less with the addition of Chris Paul in Houston. The circumstances are breaking right for Milos.

Woo: Tristan Thompson, Cavs. We’ll see how long the Kevin-Love-at-center experiment lasts, but Thompson is in great position to log his usual heavy, meaningful minutes for a very good Cavs team over the course of the year. Yeah, he was bad in the Finals, but remains one of the league’s premier energy bigs and a crucial cog for a Cleveland team that runs deeper, but remains thin up front. He will be productive, he will be nasty, and the Cavs will win the East again. Yes, this award usually goes to a random guard with a high shot volume... but we can dream.

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Most Improved Player

Jenkins: Brandon Ingram, Lakers. This pick is closely entwined with the Rookie of the Year winner, pushing Ingram over Myles Turner, a strong candidate given Indiana’s dearth of scorers. A 6’9” wing with a Durantian physique, Ingram averaged 9.4 points and shot 29.4% from three last season, well below expectation for the second overall pick in the ’16 draft and supposedly the safest choice. At times, especially early, Ingram looked deferential and aloof. He also didn’t have anybody to make rookie life easier for him. Enter Ball, who will pass ahead to him in transition and kick out to him for three. All the Lakers will benefit from Ball, but none more than Ingram.

Golliver: Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers. All signs point to Jusuf Nurkic enjoying a monster season in Portland: He’s set to start, he’s entrenched as a lead scoring option, he’s playing with two lead guards who value his contributions, he’s angling for a possible max contract, he’s healthy, and he’s significantly lighter after a summer of hard work. Now, contrast that with his situation last season. In Denver, he was fighting with Nikola Jokic for starts, minutes and touches, and he was stuck without a real point guard to set him up. Then, following a long-awaited trade to Portland, he enjoyed a mini-breakout only to suffer a leg injury that sidelined him for most of the playoffs.

Nurkic’s strong closing push helped the Blazers secure the West’s final playoff spot, and it put him on the national map for the first time during his career. The Bosnian center enters this season with real momentum, and a similar late-season explosion in 2015-16 helped set up Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2017 Most Improved Player campaign.

Sharp: D'Angelo Russell, Nets. The criteria for this award is anyone's guess, but given the last three winners—Giannis Antetokounmpo, C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler—it appears we're setting on one point: the Most Improved Player is PRETTY GOOD. We're not talking surprising improvements among bench players (Joffrey Lauvergne in San Antonio!) or a mid-career renaissance from an also-ran starter (Pacers' Victor Oladipo!). So with that in mind, I was wrestling with three former Lakers lottery picks: Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and D'Angelo Russell.

Ingram should be better this year, and he's got a chance to land in the Butler/Giannis category eventually. But the Lakers are still a mess, and it will be hard for him to stand out in the middle of another 50-loss season. Similar logic applies to Randle. His numbers should be better than Ingram, but his impact on winning is questionable. Also, his ceiling's lower, so that may undermine some of the progress.

Russell has a much better shot at making some meaningful progress in the East. The Nets have no incentive to tank, and Russell will have the keys to the offense, with more structure around him than he ever found in Los Angeles. Here's to betting that he'll open some eyes over the final few months of the season to steal the win here.

Mahoney: Rodney Hood, Jazz. Utah’s offense, in the absence of Gordon Hayward and George Hill, has to turn somewhere. Who better to fill that void than Hood? The 24-year-old wing has teased over his first three NBA seasons with tantalizing displays of shot creation. A little consistency (and some better health) could change everything. Hood clearly has the talent. Soon, he’ll have the ball in his hands for a team that very much needs him to take the next step.

Nadkarni: Gary Harris, Nuggets. I thought Harris’s teammate, Nikola Jokic, should have won this award last season. But with Jokic now on most people’s radars, Harris could be the next Nugget on the verge of a breakout. Denver should be frisky in the West this year, with the addition of Paul Millsap giving them one of the most skilled frontlines in the Association. Jokic’s passing and Millsap’s spacing should make Harris’s life a lot easier, giving him room to operate alongside teammates more than willing to share the ball. Harris shot a blistering 42% from three last season, and if he comes anywhere close to maintaining that pace, he will become a serious problem for opposing defenses.

Woo: Clint Capela, Rockets. Playing on the receiving end opposite big man-friendly Chris Paul should be catnip for Capela, who managed a significant step forward from 2015–16 to last season while playing about five more minutes per game. Now 23 and the Rockets’ best bet to anchor the inside of a suddenly intriguing defense, expect another uptick in playing time and an opportunity to average a double-double. Alongside Paul and James Harden, working comfortably in a system that creates extra possessions like clockwork, Capela stands to benefit the most of anyone on the Rockets and is a fun breakout candidate at the very least.

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Defensive Player of the Year

Jenkins: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. From 1992 through 2014, traditional post players dominated this award, the only exceptions being Gary Payton and Ron Artest. In the past three years, with versatile wings blanketing almost every position, it shifted to Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. But Rudy Gobert has been right behind them, the NBA’s best rim protector and shot blocker. With all of Leonard’s scoring responsibilities in San Antonio, it’s hard to imagine he can still be the league’s stickiest defender. So the race likely comes down to Green and Gobert. Last year, the nod went to Green, though many advanced stats favored Gobert. Rudy’s team is obviously worse, with the Gordon Hayward defection to Boston, but he’ll stifle just the same.

Golliver: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Admittedly, part of picking Rudy Gobert comes down to a belief that voters will decide to spread the love around. Last year, the Jazz center finished second to Draymond Green, who himself had been runner-up to Kawhi Leonard in each of the two previous seasons. Gobert is next in line to receive the baton because he captains an elite Utah defense, he posts strong block and rebound stats, his defensive advanced stats are always off the charts, and his ability to dissuade, alter, contest and swat shots is easily observable to diehard and casual viewers alike.

Gordon Hayward’s summer departure will likely hurt the Jazz’s record and offensive efficiency, but it sets up the franchise to play to Gobert’s strengths and it sets up Gobert to receive full credit for their success. GM Dennis Lindsey spent the off-season adding a litany of hard-nosed types to complement his massive center, and coach Quin Snyder surely understands that continuing to prioritize defense will be Utah’s best hope at remaining in the West’s playoff picture. Gobert will only be more important to his team this season, which is saying a lot given his off-the-charts impact last year.

Sharp: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Only two other defensive players affect the game the way Gobert does. And since Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green have won this award the past two years, it may be time for the Stifle Tower to get some love. If he stays healthy and his defense is dominant enough to keep the Jazz in the playoff race, everyone else is coming in second.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. When in doubt, give it to the league’s best defender. The speed and skill of the NBA game leaves bigs with almost no room for error; as soon as the ball-handler turns a corner into open space, the rotating big is expected to corral all possibilities across a wide swath of real estate. No player covers the full scope as effectively as Green. It’s not his foot speed that separates him, though Green is certainly quick enough. It isn’t his height or wingspan, either, both of which would be dwarfed by other players at his position. What most distinguishes Green is the way his brain works—reading, anticipating, and reacting within a fraction of a second. His best defensive performances are works of legitimate genius.

Nadkarni: Draymond Green, Warriors. This award should belong to Green as long as the Warriors’ Death Lineup exists. Green makes all of that work by guarding every position on the floor. He's a once-in-a-generation talent on defense. Draymond will bang against your biggest body down in the post, or erase your best perimeter scorer from the top. He’s the unquestioned engine for a championship-level defense. In the small-ball era, I don’t think you can put a rim-protecting center in the same league as Green.

Woo: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Gordon Hayward’s departure should give us an even better sense of just how meaningful Gobert’s defensive contributions are to his team. Changes and all, the Jazz should remain among the league’s top defensive units. Gobert will lead the league in blocks again and stay among the elite rebounders, and he’ll continue to scare guys away from the basket on a nightly basis. The last few playoff spots in the West are wide open, and Utah’s continuity and defined style of play should benefit them even if they struggle to score (they almost definitely will). But that’s where the big man comes in. Gobert should finally take home his first Defensive Player honors in what’s become an annual three-horse race with Draymond and Kawhi.

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Coach of the Year

Jenkins: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Even though Hayward played for him at Butler, and Irving wanted to play for him in Boston, this won’t be an easy job. The Celtics chipped away at their hardscrabble identity this summer with the exodus of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. They are far more skilled, though, and Stevens is a master at putting gifted scorers in motion. If anyone can blend Irving’s solo act into a team structure, while keeping Hayward and Al Horford integral to the offense, it’s Stevens. The Celtics lost plenty of leadership in their locker room, but they retained enough on their sideline.

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. This candidacy writes itself: “Danny Ainge gave him a whole new roster and Brad Stevens put it all together to make the Celtics an overachieving contender yet again.” Start bracing now for the Boston media hype machine to dole out this narrative nonstop for the next six months.

Despite the inevitable oversaturation to come, Stevens is worthy of the hype. He’s consistently set up key players for career years, found unorthodox lineup combinations that magically work, and milked maximum value from fringe guys. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are two stars who could easily ascend to new heights under Stevens this year, and his system will get tons of credit, and deservedly so, if the Celtics manage to remain near the top of the East despite losing five of their top seven guys by minutes played during a busy off-season.

The Celtics might have trouble blowing away expectations—given that they were a No. 1 seed last year and landed Irving in one of the biggest deals of the summer—but reaching 53-55 wins with a reshaped roster could be enough to earn the well-respected Stevens his first Coach of the Year award.

Sharp: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Watch this video and tell me you'd rather vote for Brad Stevens or Gregg Popovich:

If the Heat finish in the top half of the East, Spoelstra gets the coach of the year award that he probably should've won last year, too.

Mahoney: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. The premise that made the Heat one of the most surprising teams in the league last season remains unchanged: Miami is poised to outperform the talent level of its roster. Spoelstra is a critical reason why. It can be difficult to determine where Heat culture ends and Spoelstra’s influence begins. That, in a way, is what makes his contributions so valuable. Few coaches in the league work in such perfect concert with a larger organizational philosophy. In Spoelstra’s case, that manifests in pushing players beyond their career standards, elevating the group on the sum of personal bests.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Spo obviously deserved this award last season, and I need to make at least one homer pick after passing on Bam Adebayo for rookie honors. There is a serious path for Spo to win this award, however. The Heat don’t exactly have someone who you would call a star, even if Dion Waiters is calling himself one. Without the top-end talent he’s grown accustomed to, Spo still coaxed a top-five defense from this team last year, and an offense that was top-ten after the All-Star break. If the Heat prove their 30–11 run to finish 2017 wasn’t a fluke, Spo should finally be rewarded for the job he’s doing with a group of cast-offs.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. In keeping with tradition, I decided I’m just gonna keep picking Stevens until he actually wins this award. It’s gonna happen eventually. Although the Celtics won’t emerge fully-formed, meshing new players and developing talent presents an appealing task that could and probably should lead to 50-plus wins in a crappy East. People sure do laud Stevens’ wizardry when it comes to both the on-court details and locker room balance, but it’s mostly because those things are true. This feels like his year.

Crystal Ball: 2017-18 NBA Awards Predictions

With the NBA season inside-your-jersey close, The Crossover asked its writers to give their awards predictions for the 2017–18 season.

The MVP races features some familiar faces (hello, LeBron and Steph), but there’s plenty of new names also in the running for awards this season. Can Rudy Gobert take home his first Defensive Player of the Year title? Will one of the Clippers’ many new guards win Sixth Man of the Year? And will Dennis Smith Jr. steal the spotlight from Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons and claim top rookie honors?

We asked our writers to predict who will take home the hardware. Check out our predictions for the 2017-18 season below.

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Most Valuable Player

Lee Jenkins: LeBron James, Cavaliers. In each of the past four years, someone other than LeBron James has won MVP, even though in all of those four years it was generally accepted that James was actually the best player. Come winter, the regularly scheduled hype train circles the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, until spring dawns and the refrain echoes: “Oh, I guess LeBron is still better.” It is a strange dynamic. MVP is the NBA’s most significant individual award, yet James has somehow transcended the trophy. His candidacy is too boring, too obvious. But Westbrook and Harden now have superstar sidekicks, like Steph Curry/Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard is nursing a troublesome thigh injury. James, sans Kyrie Irving, may have to be the choice this time.?

Ben Golliver: Stephen Curry, Warriors. How is it that Stephen Curry, the man who received every single first-place MVP vote in 2016, has only the 10th–best odds, according to one oddsmaker, of taking home the 2018 trophy? This feels like a classic case of the NBA intelligentsia outsmarting itself. After all, Curry is a consensus top-four player, he’s virtually guaranteed to play for the league’s best team and, as coach Steve Kerr noted this week, he happens to be smack in the middle of his prime.

Some forecasters are worried that Curry and Kevin Durant will split Golden State’s share of the votes, or that voters will regard Durant as the Warriors’ top candidate, or that one-man armies like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo will have better individual stories, or that Russell Westbrook and James Harden will put up better individual numbers. All fair concerns. But Curry is a very compelling (fake) dark horse candidate because he’s the central force of the league’s best offense, he’s the league’s best shooter and a perennial 50/40/90 candidate, he’s the most popular player on the league’s most dominant team (Durant’s nightmare PR summer only widened the gap), and he’s become remarkably durable after early-career ankle issues (he’s missed an average of 3.2 games over the past five seasons).

MVP voters do tend to punish superteams: LeBron James didn’t win in 2011 and no Warriors player finished among 2017’s top five. However, voters came back around to pay James the respect he deserved in 2012 and 2013, and it will be hard for anyone to deny Golden State an MVP winner if the Warriors rack up 70 wins and the rest of the league is struggling to reach 60. If a backlash to Westbrook’s stats-based 2016 MVP case does emerge, Curry is perfectly positioned to benefit because he checks every box: winning, narrative, stats, advanced stats, intangibles, memorable moments, personality and impact. Sleep on Curry’s MVP candidacy at your own risk.

Andrew Sharp: Stephen Curry, Warriors. A month ago my pick would've been Kawhi, but his quad injury is lingering while the Rockets look poised to blitz the West for the No. 2 seed, and that's enough to give me pause. Instead, give me Steph. He's the most valuable player on the best team the league has ever seen, and this shouldn't be all that complicated.

Yet it is complicated, obviously. After winning unanimous MVP two years ago and ultimately falling apart in the Finals, two years of passive aggressive Curry skepticism gave way to a nation of critics openly second-guessing his talent and resenting his success, even among certain superstars. All of that criticism was dumb, but some of it stuck. For the past year or two it hasn't been cool to discuss how incredible Curry has been. Even Steve Kerr finished the NBA Finals talking about the value of Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

There are two ways this could play out from here. On one hand, it wouldn't be surprising if Curry never won another MVP. He's got too much help to make a compelling case, he's already won the award twice, and the skepticism around the league is still too pervasive.

On the other hand, maybe this is the year of the backlash to Curry backlash, where everyone realizes that he's the most valuable weapon in basketball. And as the Warriors put together the most dominant four-year run in NBA history, maybe it becomes cool and smart to state what's always been obvious: None of this is possible without Steph.

Rob Mahoney: LeBron James, Cavs. The setup for this season feels like the kind of opportunity LeBron would relish. A star teammate requesting to leave his well-constructed conference powerhouse is not a slight James could take lightly. One could imagine James feeling as if the world—and a certain ex-teammate—could stand to be reminded of what he’s capable of. On top of that, Isaiah Thomas’s extended absence will demand more of LeBron than before, albeit in ways he could clearly deliver. This award often boils down to how much James cares to win it. When he has a ready-made contender playing the long game for a return to the Finals, vying for the MVP might seem needless. But if he has something to prove, we could see LeBron again meld ridiculous efficiency with the extraordinary excess of superstar production.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. Will James play in enough games to win this award? That’s what the MVP race could come down to. The King usually takes his fair share of breaks during the regular season, and rightfully so, considering James has played over 50,000 minutes in his storied career. But with the NBA’s new resting rules, James may play in a few more contests this season. And with the added motivation of an insane summer—Kyrie wanting out, contenders loading up, Draymond running his mouth—this could be the year James returns to the MVP mountaintop. LeBron, the best basketball player in the world, hasn’t won MVP in four seasons. That has to bother him on some level, right? James knows how hard it will be to beat the Warriors in a potential finals rematch, so perhaps he looks at the MVP race as another way to pad his legacy.

Jeremy Woo: Kevin Durant, Warriors. The argument that Kevin Durant and Steph Curry will steal MVP votes from one another until the end of time (or until someone breaks up the marriage) is a popular one. But I suspect the KD we saw dominate in the Finals, completely comfortable in the Warriors’ system and making a difference on both ends of the floor will be present once again. New star pairings are set to alter the landscape, but what’s to say 70-ish wins and a scoring title won’t get it done for Durant? Neither of those things is out of the question, and yes, that’s extremely scary. Here’s hedging that Year Two in the Bay is even more fruitful, and that KD can delete all his burner accounts and let himself live. (By the way, this is Kevin Durant).

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Rookie of the Year

Jenkins: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. The team will be mediocre, the scoring average will be modest and the headlines will be made for all the wrong reasons. But voters watch the games and they’ll see a culture-changing point guard who manipulates the tempo and the defense, inventing open shots and turning average players into productive ones. The Lakers need more snipers to take advantage of Ball’s passing skills, but he’ll make them fast and fun. In ’87-88, Mark Jackson averaged 10.6 assists per game for the Knicks in his first season out of St. John’s, a rookie record. Ball probably can’t reach that mark, not with these Lakers, but he eventually will.

Golliver: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. This award should come down to two skilled playmakers who will enjoy major minutes and leading offensive roles: Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons. While Simmons is bigger, a year older and lucky enough to play with a franchise center (when healthy) in Philadelphia, Ball is set up to make an immediate impact in L.A.

The UCLA product joins a Lakers roster that is geared to play his preferred up-and-down style and that is essentially designed around his distributing ability. While young athletes like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma are all seeking to run with him in transition, Ball will also benefit from the presence of veteran center Brook Lopez, who represents a stable source of half-court offense, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who can take on the toughest backcourt defensive match-ups.

L.A. will likely finish well outside the West’s playoff picture, but Ball could potentially rank among the league’s top assist men if he stays healthy and plays as many minutes as expected. He will also come out of the gate with significant buzz thanks to his father’s incessant chirping and his own strong showing at Las Vegas Summer League. Finally, Ball’s Rookie of the Year candidacy will get a bump from sheer visibility, as the Lakers are set to make an absurd number of national television appearances. Although he might fall short of “Phenomenon” status as a rookie, Ball will surely turn heads and generate plenty of headlines.

Sharp: Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks. The rookie class is loaded with potential stars, but almost all of them have weaknesses that will limit them in Year One. Ben Simmons and De'Aaron Fox can't shoot, while Lonzo Ball's shooting is quietly an issue of its own, and his defense could be horrific. Jonathan Isaac is going to be elite on defense but his offense will take longer. Jayson Tatum probably won't be consistent enough to earn regular minutes for a contending Celtics team. Josh Jackson will be a work-in-progress on both ends of the floor in Phoenix.

You know who will be awesome, though? Three players: Bogdan Bogdanovic in Sacramento, John Collins in Atlanta, and Dennis Smith in Dallas. Bogdan is a rookie in name only—he's 25 years old—and Collins is on the Hawks during a lost season. So give me Smith, the most explosive player in the class, who's about to get a ton of opportunities running the Rick Carlisle pick-and-roll and dunking his way into America's heart.

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons is unlike the vast majority of rookies in that NBA opponents legitimately do not know how to guard him. His very presence creates problems; to have a special playmaker this tall and this strong demands all kinds of uncomfortable cross-matches, pushing defenses well outside the comfort of their typical scheme. The turnovers will flow freely and the shooting percentages will fluctuate dramatically. Such is the way of the rookie. But along the way, Simmons will storm his way into the paint in a way that many opponents will be powerless to stop.

Nadkarni: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. I’m a Lonzo believer, and the Lakers won’t have to be good, only exciting for Ball to start talk of L.A.’s comeback. There’s so much noise surrounding this rookie class. Ball’s dad. Markelle Fultz’s shot. Ben Simmons’s debut. People hardly talk about how talented this class actually is. Ball will be given the keys to the Lakers‘ offense, and he should have the most freedom of any top-five pick. Without great pressure on him to win, Ball will also be able to play through his mistakes. With Luke Walton likely counting on him to make things happen, Ball should rack up enough numbers to take home Rookie of the Year.

Woo: Ben Simmons, 76ers. It’ll certainly be an interesting year for rookies, and I like Simmons over Lonzo Ball here in what is technically his rookie season based on what ought to be a gentler learning curve. Simmons spent a year studying up and gets to spend the majority of his time at the playmaking controls on an improving team in a softer conference. Although Simmons’s jump shooting woes will be nitpicked all season, his size and knack for transition play will let him score enough to balance out useful assist and rebound totals that will be there from day one.

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Sixth Man of the Year

Jenkins: Eric Gordon, Rockets. There hasn’t been a repeat winner since Detlef Schrempf and, yes, Kevin McHale. Gordon lapped up his first season in Mike D’Antoni’s system, sinking a career-high 3.3 three-pointers per game, at a 37.2% clip. Expect him to get even more open shots now because it’s not just James Harden setting him up. He’ll have Chris Paul feeding him as well. The Rockets employ two of the league’s best playmakers and Gordon should be the primary beneficiary, provided he stays upright on the perimeter. Health has always been a question for Gordon, but last year he logged 75 games and discovered the sixth-man role. It suits him well.

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Williams was sensational in 2016-17, posting a career-high 17.5 PPG on a career-best 59.3 True Shooting Percentage. He finished third in the Sixth Man race despite being traded midseason and splitting votes with teammate Eric Gordon. A classic candidate for this award due to his dependable volume scoring, shot creation, three-point range and highlight-making style, Williams joins a Clippers roster that needs a second-unit offensive linchpin following a major summer shake-up.

The 30-year-old guard is firmly in his prime, and he clearly benefits from the league’s stylistic shifts towards pace, space, spread lineups and offense-first approaches. With more room to work one-on-one and fewer people nagging him about his one-way game, the 2015 Sixth Man of the Year award is even better positioned to win it again in 2018. There’s a decent chance Williams pushes his scoring and usage to even greater heights this season, especially if L.A. finds itself scrambling to cover for injury-prone starters like Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley.

Sharp: Will Barton, Nuggets. The Nuggets will need the help in the backcourt, and Barton will be there all year to provide buckets off the bench. If he can stay healthy and the Nuggets improve as much as expected, Barton gets the slight edge over Eric Gordon in Houston or Greg Monroe in Milwaukee.

Mahoney: Andre Iguodala, Warriors. One of these years, the voters will get this one right. There’s more to being a bench player than scoring, even if the history of this award wouldn’t suggest it. Iguodala does it all. When Golden State needs a dedicated wing defender, Steve Kerr turns to Iguodala. If a situation calls for the Warriors’ best lineups, they build around Iguodala as a pivot point. His playmaking is the catalyst between brilliant scorers, his ball-handling a vehicle for the most unstoppable offense in the league. No bench player in the league is better than Iguodala, and none is more important. So why bother voting for anyone else?

Nadkarni: Milos Teodosic, Clippers. I’m all in on Teodosic, the slick-passing Euro rookie who is actually 30 years old. Teodosic’s passing is an art form, and he will keep the lights on in Lob City with frequent setups for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. It’s unclear how good the Clippers will be this season, but they definitely have the potential to be a League Pass favorite. Teodosic is a big reason why. If he racks up the assists and hits enough threes, he’ll compete for this award. Jamal Crawford is running on fumes. Andre Iguodala is getting up there. And Eric Gordon could be counted on less with the addition of Chris Paul in Houston. The circumstances are breaking right for Milos.

Woo: Tristan Thompson, Cavs. We’ll see how long the Kevin-Love-at-center experiment lasts, but Thompson is in great position to log his usual heavy, meaningful minutes for a very good Cavs team over the course of the year. Yeah, he was bad in the Finals, but remains one of the league’s premier energy bigs and a crucial cog for a Cleveland team that runs deeper, but remains thin up front. He will be productive, he will be nasty, and the Cavs will win the East again. Yes, this award usually goes to a random guard with a high shot volume... but we can dream.

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Most Improved Player

Jenkins: Brandon Ingram, Lakers. This pick is closely entwined with the Rookie of the Year winner, pushing Ingram over Myles Turner, a strong candidate given Indiana’s dearth of scorers. A 6’9” wing with a Durantian physique, Ingram averaged 9.4 points and shot 29.4% from three last season, well below expectation for the second overall pick in the ’16 draft and supposedly the safest choice. At times, especially early, Ingram looked deferential and aloof. He also didn’t have anybody to make rookie life easier for him. Enter Ball, who will pass ahead to him in transition and kick out to him for three. All the Lakers will benefit from Ball, but none more than Ingram.

Golliver: Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers. All signs point to Jusuf Nurkic enjoying a monster season in Portland: He’s set to start, he’s entrenched as a lead scoring option, he’s playing with two lead guards who value his contributions, he’s angling for a possible max contract, he’s healthy, and he’s significantly lighter after a summer of hard work. Now, contrast that with his situation last season. In Denver, he was fighting with Nikola Jokic for starts, minutes and touches, and he was stuck without a real point guard to set him up. Then, following a long-awaited trade to Portland, he enjoyed a mini-breakout only to suffer a leg injury that sidelined him for most of the playoffs.

Nurkic’s strong closing push helped the Blazers secure the West’s final playoff spot, and it put him on the national map for the first time during his career. The Bosnian center enters this season with real momentum, and a similar late-season explosion in 2015-16 helped set up Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2017 Most Improved Player campaign.

Sharp: D'Angelo Russell, Nets. The criteria for this award is anyone's guess, but given the last three winners—Giannis Antetokounmpo, C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler—it appears we're setting on one point: the Most Improved Player is PRETTY GOOD. We're not talking surprising improvements among bench players (Joffrey Lauvergne in San Antonio!) or a mid-career renaissance from an also-ran starter (Pacers' Victor Oladipo!). So with that in mind, I was wrestling with three former Lakers lottery picks: Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and D'Angelo Russell.

Ingram should be better this year, and he's got a chance to land in the Butler/Giannis category eventually. But the Lakers are still a mess, and it will be hard for him to stand out in the middle of another 50-loss season. Similar logic applies to Randle. His numbers should be better than Ingram, but his impact on winning is questionable. Also, his ceiling's lower, so that may undermine some of the progress.

Russell has a much better shot at making some meaningful progress in the East. The Nets have no incentive to tank, and Russell will have the keys to the offense, with more structure around him than he ever found in Los Angeles. Here's to betting that he'll open some eyes over the final few months of the season to steal the win here.

Mahoney: Rodney Hood, Jazz. Utah’s offense, in the absence of Gordon Hayward and George Hill, has to turn somewhere. Who better to fill that void than Hood? The 24-year-old wing has teased over his first three NBA seasons with tantalizing displays of shot creation. A little consistency (and some better health) could change everything. Hood clearly has the talent. Soon, he’ll have the ball in his hands for a team that very much needs him to take the next step.

Nadkarni: Gary Harris, Nuggets. I thought Harris’s teammate, Nikola Jokic, should have won this award last season. But with Jokic now on most people’s radars, Harris could be the next Nugget on the verge of a breakout. Denver should be frisky in the West this year, with the addition of Paul Millsap giving them one of the most skilled frontlines in the Association. Jokic’s passing and Millsap’s spacing should make Harris’s life a lot easier, giving him room to operate alongside teammates more than willing to share the ball. Harris shot a blistering 42% from three last season, and if he comes anywhere close to maintaining that pace, he will become a serious problem for opposing defenses.

Woo: Clint Capela, Rockets. Playing on the receiving end opposite big man-friendly Chris Paul should be catnip for Capela, who managed a significant step forward from 2015–16 to last season while playing about five more minutes per game. Now 23 and the Rockets’ best bet to anchor the inside of a suddenly intriguing defense, expect another uptick in playing time and an opportunity to average a double-double. Alongside Paul and James Harden, working comfortably in a system that creates extra possessions like clockwork, Capela stands to benefit the most of anyone on the Rockets and is a fun breakout candidate at the very least.

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Defensive Player of the Year

Jenkins: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. From 1992 through 2014, traditional post players dominated this award, the only exceptions being Gary Payton and Ron Artest. In the past three years, with versatile wings blanketing almost every position, it shifted to Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. But Rudy Gobert has been right behind them, the NBA’s best rim protector and shot blocker. With all of Leonard’s scoring responsibilities in San Antonio, it’s hard to imagine he can still be the league’s stickiest defender. So the race likely comes down to Green and Gobert. Last year, the nod went to Green, though many advanced stats favored Gobert. Rudy’s team is obviously worse, with the Gordon Hayward defection to Boston, but he’ll stifle just the same.

Golliver: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Admittedly, part of picking Rudy Gobert comes down to a belief that voters will decide to spread the love around. Last year, the Jazz center finished second to Draymond Green, who himself had been runner-up to Kawhi Leonard in each of the two previous seasons. Gobert is next in line to receive the baton because he captains an elite Utah defense, he posts strong block and rebound stats, his defensive advanced stats are always off the charts, and his ability to dissuade, alter, contest and swat shots is easily observable to diehard and casual viewers alike.

Gordon Hayward’s summer departure will likely hurt the Jazz’s record and offensive efficiency, but it sets up the franchise to play to Gobert’s strengths and it sets up Gobert to receive full credit for their success. GM Dennis Lindsey spent the off-season adding a litany of hard-nosed types to complement his massive center, and coach Quin Snyder surely understands that continuing to prioritize defense will be Utah’s best hope at remaining in the West’s playoff picture. Gobert will only be more important to his team this season, which is saying a lot given his off-the-charts impact last year.

Sharp: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Only two other defensive players affect the game the way Gobert does. And since Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green have won this award the past two years, it may be time for the Stifle Tower to get some love. If he stays healthy and his defense is dominant enough to keep the Jazz in the playoff race, everyone else is coming in second.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. When in doubt, give it to the league’s best defender. The speed and skill of the NBA game leaves bigs with almost no room for error; as soon as the ball-handler turns a corner into open space, the rotating big is expected to corral all possibilities across a wide swath of real estate. No player covers the full scope as effectively as Green. It’s not his foot speed that separates him, though Green is certainly quick enough. It isn’t his height or wingspan, either, both of which would be dwarfed by other players at his position. What most distinguishes Green is the way his brain works—reading, anticipating, and reacting within a fraction of a second. His best defensive performances are works of legitimate genius.

Nadkarni: Draymond Green, Warriors. This award should belong to Green as long as the Warriors’ Death Lineup exists. Green makes all of that work by guarding every position on the floor. He's a once-in-a-generation talent on defense. Draymond will bang against your biggest body down in the post, or erase your best perimeter scorer from the top. He’s the unquestioned engine for a championship-level defense. In the small-ball era, I don’t think you can put a rim-protecting center in the same league as Green.

Woo: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Gordon Hayward’s departure should give us an even better sense of just how meaningful Gobert’s defensive contributions are to his team. Changes and all, the Jazz should remain among the league’s top defensive units. Gobert will lead the league in blocks again and stay among the elite rebounders, and he’ll continue to scare guys away from the basket on a nightly basis. The last few playoff spots in the West are wide open, and Utah’s continuity and defined style of play should benefit them even if they struggle to score (they almost definitely will). But that’s where the big man comes in. Gobert should finally take home his first Defensive Player honors in what’s become an annual three-horse race with Draymond and Kawhi.

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Coach of the Year

Jenkins: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Even though Hayward played for him at Butler, and Irving wanted to play for him in Boston, this won’t be an easy job. The Celtics chipped away at their hardscrabble identity this summer with the exodus of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. They are far more skilled, though, and Stevens is a master at putting gifted scorers in motion. If anyone can blend Irving’s solo act into a team structure, while keeping Hayward and Al Horford integral to the offense, it’s Stevens. The Celtics lost plenty of leadership in their locker room, but they retained enough on their sideline.

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. This candidacy writes itself: “Danny Ainge gave him a whole new roster and Brad Stevens put it all together to make the Celtics an overachieving contender yet again.” Start bracing now for the Boston media hype machine to dole out this narrative nonstop for the next six months.

Despite the inevitable oversaturation to come, Stevens is worthy of the hype. He’s consistently set up key players for career years, found unorthodox lineup combinations that magically work, and milked maximum value from fringe guys. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are two stars who could easily ascend to new heights under Stevens this year, and his system will get tons of credit, and deservedly so, if the Celtics manage to remain near the top of the East despite losing five of their top seven guys by minutes played during a busy off-season.

The Celtics might have trouble blowing away expectations—given that they were a No. 1 seed last year and landed Irving in one of the biggest deals of the summer—but reaching 53-55 wins with a reshaped roster could be enough to earn the well-respected Stevens his first Coach of the Year award.

Sharp: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Watch this video and tell me you'd rather vote for Brad Stevens or Gregg Popovich:

If the Heat finish in the top half of the East, Spoelstra gets the coach of the year award that he probably should've won last year, too.

Mahoney: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. The premise that made the Heat one of the most surprising teams in the league last season remains unchanged: Miami is poised to outperform the talent level of its roster. Spoelstra is a critical reason why. It can be difficult to determine where Heat culture ends and Spoelstra’s influence begins. That, in a way, is what makes his contributions so valuable. Few coaches in the league work in such perfect concert with a larger organizational philosophy. In Spoelstra’s case, that manifests in pushing players beyond their career standards, elevating the group on the sum of personal bests.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Spo obviously deserved this award last season, and I need to make at least one homer pick after passing on Bam Adebayo for rookie honors. There is a serious path for Spo to win this award, however. The Heat don’t exactly have someone who you would call a star, even if Dion Waiters is calling himself one. Without the top-end talent he’s grown accustomed to, Spo still coaxed a top-five defense from this team last year, and an offense that was top-ten after the All-Star break. If the Heat prove their 30–11 run to finish 2017 wasn’t a fluke, Spo should finally be rewarded for the job he’s doing with a group of cast-offs.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. In keeping with tradition, I decided I’m just gonna keep picking Stevens until he actually wins this award. It’s gonna happen eventually. Although the Celtics won’t emerge fully-formed, meshing new players and developing talent presents an appealing task that could and probably should lead to 50-plus wins in a crappy East. People sure do laud Stevens’ wizardry when it comes to both the on-court details and locker room balance, but it’s mostly because those things are true. This feels like his year.

Crystal Ball: 2017-18 NBA Awards Predictions

With the NBA season inside-your-jersey close, The Crossover asked its writers to give their awards predictions for the 2017–18 season.

The MVP races features some familiar faces (hello, LeBron and Steph), but there’s plenty of new names also in the running for awards this season. Can Rudy Gobert take home his first Defensive Player of the Year title? Will one of the Clippers’ many new guards win Sixth Man of the Year? And will Dennis Smith Jr. steal the spotlight from Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons and claim top rookie honors?

We asked our writers to predict who will take home the hardware. Check out our predictions for the 2017-18 season below.

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Most Valuable Player

Lee Jenkins: LeBron James, Cavaliers. In each of the past four years, someone other than LeBron James has won MVP, even though in all of those four years it was generally accepted that James was actually the best player. Come winter, the regularly scheduled hype train circles the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, until spring dawns and the refrain echoes: “Oh, I guess LeBron is still better.” It is a strange dynamic. MVP is the NBA’s most significant individual award, yet James has somehow transcended the trophy. His candidacy is too boring, too obvious. But Westbrook and Harden now have superstar sidekicks, like Steph Curry/Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard is nursing a troublesome thigh injury. James, sans Kyrie Irving, may have to be the choice this time.?

Ben Golliver: Stephen Curry, Warriors. How is it that Stephen Curry, the man who received every single first-place MVP vote in 2016, has only the 10th–best odds, according to one oddsmaker, of taking home the 2018 trophy? This feels like a classic case of the NBA intelligentsia outsmarting itself. After all, Curry is a consensus top-four player, he’s virtually guaranteed to play for the league’s best team and, as coach Steve Kerr noted this week, he happens to be smack in the middle of his prime.

Some forecasters are worried that Curry and Kevin Durant will split Golden State’s share of the votes, or that voters will regard Durant as the Warriors’ top candidate, or that one-man armies like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo will have better individual stories, or that Russell Westbrook and James Harden will put up better individual numbers. All fair concerns. But Curry is a very compelling (fake) dark horse candidate because he’s the central force of the league’s best offense, he’s the league’s best shooter and a perennial 50/40/90 candidate, he’s the most popular player on the league’s most dominant team (Durant’s nightmare PR summer only widened the gap), and he’s become remarkably durable after early-career ankle issues (he’s missed an average of 3.2 games over the past five seasons).

MVP voters do tend to punish superteams: LeBron James didn’t win in 2011 and no Warriors player finished among 2017’s top five. However, voters came back around to pay James the respect he deserved in 2012 and 2013, and it will be hard for anyone to deny Golden State an MVP winner if the Warriors rack up 70 wins and the rest of the league is struggling to reach 60. If a backlash to Westbrook’s stats-based 2016 MVP case does emerge, Curry is perfectly positioned to benefit because he checks every box: winning, narrative, stats, advanced stats, intangibles, memorable moments, personality and impact. Sleep on Curry’s MVP candidacy at your own risk.

Andrew Sharp: Stephen Curry, Warriors. A month ago my pick would've been Kawhi, but his quad injury is lingering while the Rockets look poised to blitz the West for the No. 2 seed, and that's enough to give me pause. Instead, give me Steph. He's the most valuable player on the best team the league has ever seen, and this shouldn't be all that complicated.

Yet it is complicated, obviously. After winning unanimous MVP two years ago and ultimately falling apart in the Finals, two years of passive aggressive Curry skepticism gave way to a nation of critics openly second-guessing his talent and resenting his success, even among certain superstars. All of that criticism was dumb, but some of it stuck. For the past year or two it hasn't been cool to discuss how incredible Curry has been. Even Steve Kerr finished the NBA Finals talking about the value of Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

There are two ways this could play out from here. On one hand, it wouldn't be surprising if Curry never won another MVP. He's got too much help to make a compelling case, he's already won the award twice, and the skepticism around the league is still too pervasive.

On the other hand, maybe this is the year of the backlash to Curry backlash, where everyone realizes that he's the most valuable weapon in basketball. And as the Warriors put together the most dominant four-year run in NBA history, maybe it becomes cool and smart to state what's always been obvious: None of this is possible without Steph.

Rob Mahoney: LeBron James, Cavs. The setup for this season feels like the kind of opportunity LeBron would relish. A star teammate requesting to leave his well-constructed conference powerhouse is not a slight James could take lightly. One could imagine James feeling as if the world—and a certain ex-teammate—could stand to be reminded of what he’s capable of. On top of that, Isaiah Thomas’s extended absence will demand more of LeBron than before, albeit in ways he could clearly deliver. This award often boils down to how much James cares to win it. When he has a ready-made contender playing the long game for a return to the Finals, vying for the MVP might seem needless. But if he has something to prove, we could see LeBron again meld ridiculous efficiency with the extraordinary excess of superstar production.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. Will James play in enough games to win this award? That’s what the MVP race could come down to. The King usually takes his fair share of breaks during the regular season, and rightfully so, considering James has played over 50,000 minutes in his storied career. But with the NBA’s new resting rules, James may play in a few more contests this season. And with the added motivation of an insane summer—Kyrie wanting out, contenders loading up, Draymond running his mouth—this could be the year James returns to the MVP mountaintop. LeBron, the best basketball player in the world, hasn’t won MVP in four seasons. That has to bother him on some level, right? James knows how hard it will be to beat the Warriors in a potential finals rematch, so perhaps he looks at the MVP race as another way to pad his legacy.

Jeremy Woo: Kevin Durant, Warriors. The argument that Kevin Durant and Steph Curry will steal MVP votes from one another until the end of time (or until someone breaks up the marriage) is a popular one. But I suspect the KD we saw dominate in the Finals, completely comfortable in the Warriors’ system and making a difference on both ends of the floor will be present once again. New star pairings are set to alter the landscape, but what’s to say 70-ish wins and a scoring title won’t get it done for Durant? Neither of those things is out of the question, and yes, that’s extremely scary. Here’s hedging that Year Two in the Bay is even more fruitful, and that KD can delete all his burner accounts and let himself live. (By the way, this is Kevin Durant).

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Rookie of the Year

Jenkins: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. The team will be mediocre, the scoring average will be modest and the headlines will be made for all the wrong reasons. But voters watch the games and they’ll see a culture-changing point guard who manipulates the tempo and the defense, inventing open shots and turning average players into productive ones. The Lakers need more snipers to take advantage of Ball’s passing skills, but he’ll make them fast and fun. In ’87-88, Mark Jackson averaged 10.6 assists per game for the Knicks in his first season out of St. John’s, a rookie record. Ball probably can’t reach that mark, not with these Lakers, but he eventually will.

Golliver: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. This award should come down to two skilled playmakers who will enjoy major minutes and leading offensive roles: Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons. While Simmons is bigger, a year older and lucky enough to play with a franchise center (when healthy) in Philadelphia, Ball is set up to make an immediate impact in L.A.

The UCLA product joins a Lakers roster that is geared to play his preferred up-and-down style and that is essentially designed around his distributing ability. While young athletes like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma are all seeking to run with him in transition, Ball will also benefit from the presence of veteran center Brook Lopez, who represents a stable source of half-court offense, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who can take on the toughest backcourt defensive match-ups.

L.A. will likely finish well outside the West’s playoff picture, but Ball could potentially rank among the league’s top assist men if he stays healthy and plays as many minutes as expected. He will also come out of the gate with significant buzz thanks to his father’s incessant chirping and his own strong showing at Las Vegas Summer League. Finally, Ball’s Rookie of the Year candidacy will get a bump from sheer visibility, as the Lakers are set to make an absurd number of national television appearances. Although he might fall short of “Phenomenon” status as a rookie, Ball will surely turn heads and generate plenty of headlines.

Sharp: Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks. The rookie class is loaded with potential stars, but almost all of them have weaknesses that will limit them in Year One. Ben Simmons and De'Aaron Fox can't shoot, while Lonzo Ball's shooting is quietly an issue of its own, and his defense could be horrific. Jonathan Isaac is going to be elite on defense but his offense will take longer. Jayson Tatum probably won't be consistent enough to earn regular minutes for a contending Celtics team. Josh Jackson will be a work-in-progress on both ends of the floor in Phoenix.

You know who will be awesome, though? Three players: Bogdan Bogdanovic in Sacramento, John Collins in Atlanta, and Dennis Smith in Dallas. Bogdan is a rookie in name only—he's 25 years old—and Collins is on the Hawks during a lost season. So give me Smith, the most explosive player in the class, who's about to get a ton of opportunities running the Rick Carlisle pick-and-roll and dunking his way into America's heart.

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons is unlike the vast majority of rookies in that NBA opponents legitimately do not know how to guard him. His very presence creates problems; to have a special playmaker this tall and this strong demands all kinds of uncomfortable cross-matches, pushing defenses well outside the comfort of their typical scheme. The turnovers will flow freely and the shooting percentages will fluctuate dramatically. Such is the way of the rookie. But along the way, Simmons will storm his way into the paint in a way that many opponents will be powerless to stop.

Nadkarni: Lonzo Ball, Lakers. I’m a Lonzo believer, and the Lakers won’t have to be good, only exciting for Ball to start talk of L.A.’s comeback. There’s so much noise surrounding this rookie class. Ball’s dad. Markelle Fultz’s shot. Ben Simmons’s debut. People hardly talk about how talented this class actually is. Ball will be given the keys to the Lakers‘ offense, and he should have the most freedom of any top-five pick. Without great pressure on him to win, Ball will also be able to play through his mistakes. With Luke Walton likely counting on him to make things happen, Ball should rack up enough numbers to take home Rookie of the Year.

Woo: Ben Simmons, 76ers. It’ll certainly be an interesting year for rookies, and I like Simmons over Lonzo Ball here in what is technically his rookie season based on what ought to be a gentler learning curve. Simmons spent a year studying up and gets to spend the majority of his time at the playmaking controls on an improving team in a softer conference. Although Simmons’s jump shooting woes will be nitpicked all season, his size and knack for transition play will let him score enough to balance out useful assist and rebound totals that will be there from day one.

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Sixth Man of the Year

Jenkins: Eric Gordon, Rockets. There hasn’t been a repeat winner since Detlef Schrempf and, yes, Kevin McHale. Gordon lapped up his first season in Mike D’Antoni’s system, sinking a career-high 3.3 three-pointers per game, at a 37.2% clip. Expect him to get even more open shots now because it’s not just James Harden setting him up. He’ll have Chris Paul feeding him as well. The Rockets employ two of the league’s best playmakers and Gordon should be the primary beneficiary, provided he stays upright on the perimeter. Health has always been a question for Gordon, but last year he logged 75 games and discovered the sixth-man role. It suits him well.

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Williams was sensational in 2016-17, posting a career-high 17.5 PPG on a career-best 59.3 True Shooting Percentage. He finished third in the Sixth Man race despite being traded midseason and splitting votes with teammate Eric Gordon. A classic candidate for this award due to his dependable volume scoring, shot creation, three-point range and highlight-making style, Williams joins a Clippers roster that needs a second-unit offensive linchpin following a major summer shake-up.

The 30-year-old guard is firmly in his prime, and he clearly benefits from the league’s stylistic shifts towards pace, space, spread lineups and offense-first approaches. With more room to work one-on-one and fewer people nagging him about his one-way game, the 2015 Sixth Man of the Year award is even better positioned to win it again in 2018. There’s a decent chance Williams pushes his scoring and usage to even greater heights this season, especially if L.A. finds itself scrambling to cover for injury-prone starters like Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley.

Sharp: Will Barton, Nuggets. The Nuggets will need the help in the backcourt, and Barton will be there all year to provide buckets off the bench. If he can stay healthy and the Nuggets improve as much as expected, Barton gets the slight edge over Eric Gordon in Houston or Greg Monroe in Milwaukee.

Mahoney: Andre Iguodala, Warriors. One of these years, the voters will get this one right. There’s more to being a bench player than scoring, even if the history of this award wouldn’t suggest it. Iguodala does it all. When Golden State needs a dedicated wing defender, Steve Kerr turns to Iguodala. If a situation calls for the Warriors’ best lineups, they build around Iguodala as a pivot point. His playmaking is the catalyst between brilliant scorers, his ball-handling a vehicle for the most unstoppable offense in the league. No bench player in the league is better than Iguodala, and none is more important. So why bother voting for anyone else?

Nadkarni: Milos Teodosic, Clippers. I’m all in on Teodosic, the slick-passing Euro rookie who is actually 30 years old. Teodosic’s passing is an art form, and he will keep the lights on in Lob City with frequent setups for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. It’s unclear how good the Clippers will be this season, but they definitely have the potential to be a League Pass favorite. Teodosic is a big reason why. If he racks up the assists and hits enough threes, he’ll compete for this award. Jamal Crawford is running on fumes. Andre Iguodala is getting up there. And Eric Gordon could be counted on less with the addition of Chris Paul in Houston. The circumstances are breaking right for Milos.

Woo: Tristan Thompson, Cavs. We’ll see how long the Kevin-Love-at-center experiment lasts, but Thompson is in great position to log his usual heavy, meaningful minutes for a very good Cavs team over the course of the year. Yeah, he was bad in the Finals, but remains one of the league’s premier energy bigs and a crucial cog for a Cleveland team that runs deeper, but remains thin up front. He will be productive, he will be nasty, and the Cavs will win the East again. Yes, this award usually goes to a random guard with a high shot volume... but we can dream.

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Most Improved Player

Jenkins: Brandon Ingram, Lakers. This pick is closely entwined with the Rookie of the Year winner, pushing Ingram over Myles Turner, a strong candidate given Indiana’s dearth of scorers. A 6’9” wing with a Durantian physique, Ingram averaged 9.4 points and shot 29.4% from three last season, well below expectation for the second overall pick in the ’16 draft and supposedly the safest choice. At times, especially early, Ingram looked deferential and aloof. He also didn’t have anybody to make rookie life easier for him. Enter Ball, who will pass ahead to him in transition and kick out to him for three. All the Lakers will benefit from Ball, but none more than Ingram.

Golliver: Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers. All signs point to Jusuf Nurkic enjoying a monster season in Portland: He’s set to start, he’s entrenched as a lead scoring option, he’s playing with two lead guards who value his contributions, he’s angling for a possible max contract, he’s healthy, and he’s significantly lighter after a summer of hard work. Now, contrast that with his situation last season. In Denver, he was fighting with Nikola Jokic for starts, minutes and touches, and he was stuck without a real point guard to set him up. Then, following a long-awaited trade to Portland, he enjoyed a mini-breakout only to suffer a leg injury that sidelined him for most of the playoffs.

Nurkic’s strong closing push helped the Blazers secure the West’s final playoff spot, and it put him on the national map for the first time during his career. The Bosnian center enters this season with real momentum, and a similar late-season explosion in 2015-16 helped set up Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2017 Most Improved Player campaign.

Sharp: D'Angelo Russell, Nets. The criteria for this award is anyone's guess, but given the last three winners—Giannis Antetokounmpo, C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler—it appears we're setting on one point: the Most Improved Player is PRETTY GOOD. We're not talking surprising improvements among bench players (Joffrey Lauvergne in San Antonio!) or a mid-career renaissance from an also-ran starter (Pacers' Victor Oladipo!). So with that in mind, I was wrestling with three former Lakers lottery picks: Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and D'Angelo Russell.

Ingram should be better this year, and he's got a chance to land in the Butler/Giannis category eventually. But the Lakers are still a mess, and it will be hard for him to stand out in the middle of another 50-loss season. Similar logic applies to Randle. His numbers should be better than Ingram, but his impact on winning is questionable. Also, his ceiling's lower, so that may undermine some of the progress.

Russell has a much better shot at making some meaningful progress in the East. The Nets have no incentive to tank, and Russell will have the keys to the offense, with more structure around him than he ever found in Los Angeles. Here's to betting that he'll open some eyes over the final few months of the season to steal the win here.

Mahoney: Rodney Hood, Jazz. Utah’s offense, in the absence of Gordon Hayward and George Hill, has to turn somewhere. Who better to fill that void than Hood? The 24-year-old wing has teased over his first three NBA seasons with tantalizing displays of shot creation. A little consistency (and some better health) could change everything. Hood clearly has the talent. Soon, he’ll have the ball in his hands for a team that very much needs him to take the next step.

Nadkarni: Gary Harris, Nuggets. I thought Harris’s teammate, Nikola Jokic, should have won this award last season. But with Jokic now on most people’s radars, Harris could be the next Nugget on the verge of a breakout. Denver should be frisky in the West this year, with the addition of Paul Millsap giving them one of the most skilled frontlines in the Association. Jokic’s passing and Millsap’s spacing should make Harris’s life a lot easier, giving him room to operate alongside teammates more than willing to share the ball. Harris shot a blistering 42% from three last season, and if he comes anywhere close to maintaining that pace, he will become a serious problem for opposing defenses.

Woo: Clint Capela, Rockets. Playing on the receiving end opposite big man-friendly Chris Paul should be catnip for Capela, who managed a significant step forward from 2015–16 to last season while playing about five more minutes per game. Now 23 and the Rockets’ best bet to anchor the inside of a suddenly intriguing defense, expect another uptick in playing time and an opportunity to average a double-double. Alongside Paul and James Harden, working comfortably in a system that creates extra possessions like clockwork, Capela stands to benefit the most of anyone on the Rockets and is a fun breakout candidate at the very least.

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Defensive Player of the Year

Jenkins: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. From 1992 through 2014, traditional post players dominated this award, the only exceptions being Gary Payton and Ron Artest. In the past three years, with versatile wings blanketing almost every position, it shifted to Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. But Rudy Gobert has been right behind them, the NBA’s best rim protector and shot blocker. With all of Leonard’s scoring responsibilities in San Antonio, it’s hard to imagine he can still be the league’s stickiest defender. So the race likely comes down to Green and Gobert. Last year, the nod went to Green, though many advanced stats favored Gobert. Rudy’s team is obviously worse, with the Gordon Hayward defection to Boston, but he’ll stifle just the same.

Golliver: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Admittedly, part of picking Rudy Gobert comes down to a belief that voters will decide to spread the love around. Last year, the Jazz center finished second to Draymond Green, who himself had been runner-up to Kawhi Leonard in each of the two previous seasons. Gobert is next in line to receive the baton because he captains an elite Utah defense, he posts strong block and rebound stats, his defensive advanced stats are always off the charts, and his ability to dissuade, alter, contest and swat shots is easily observable to diehard and casual viewers alike.

Gordon Hayward’s summer departure will likely hurt the Jazz’s record and offensive efficiency, but it sets up the franchise to play to Gobert’s strengths and it sets up Gobert to receive full credit for their success. GM Dennis Lindsey spent the off-season adding a litany of hard-nosed types to complement his massive center, and coach Quin Snyder surely understands that continuing to prioritize defense will be Utah’s best hope at remaining in the West’s playoff picture. Gobert will only be more important to his team this season, which is saying a lot given his off-the-charts impact last year.

Sharp: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Only two other defensive players affect the game the way Gobert does. And since Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green have won this award the past two years, it may be time for the Stifle Tower to get some love. If he stays healthy and his defense is dominant enough to keep the Jazz in the playoff race, everyone else is coming in second.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. When in doubt, give it to the league’s best defender. The speed and skill of the NBA game leaves bigs with almost no room for error; as soon as the ball-handler turns a corner into open space, the rotating big is expected to corral all possibilities across a wide swath of real estate. No player covers the full scope as effectively as Green. It’s not his foot speed that separates him, though Green is certainly quick enough. It isn’t his height or wingspan, either, both of which would be dwarfed by other players at his position. What most distinguishes Green is the way his brain works—reading, anticipating, and reacting within a fraction of a second. His best defensive performances are works of legitimate genius.

Nadkarni: Draymond Green, Warriors. This award should belong to Green as long as the Warriors’ Death Lineup exists. Green makes all of that work by guarding every position on the floor. He's a once-in-a-generation talent on defense. Draymond will bang against your biggest body down in the post, or erase your best perimeter scorer from the top. He’s the unquestioned engine for a championship-level defense. In the small-ball era, I don’t think you can put a rim-protecting center in the same league as Green.

Woo: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. Gordon Hayward’s departure should give us an even better sense of just how meaningful Gobert’s defensive contributions are to his team. Changes and all, the Jazz should remain among the league’s top defensive units. Gobert will lead the league in blocks again and stay among the elite rebounders, and he’ll continue to scare guys away from the basket on a nightly basis. The last few playoff spots in the West are wide open, and Utah’s continuity and defined style of play should benefit them even if they struggle to score (they almost definitely will). But that’s where the big man comes in. Gobert should finally take home his first Defensive Player honors in what’s become an annual three-horse race with Draymond and Kawhi.

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Coach of the Year

Jenkins: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Even though Hayward played for him at Butler, and Irving wanted to play for him in Boston, this won’t be an easy job. The Celtics chipped away at their hardscrabble identity this summer with the exodus of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. They are far more skilled, though, and Stevens is a master at putting gifted scorers in motion. If anyone can blend Irving’s solo act into a team structure, while keeping Hayward and Al Horford integral to the offense, it’s Stevens. The Celtics lost plenty of leadership in their locker room, but they retained enough on their sideline.

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. This candidacy writes itself: “Danny Ainge gave him a whole new roster and Brad Stevens put it all together to make the Celtics an overachieving contender yet again.” Start bracing now for the Boston media hype machine to dole out this narrative nonstop for the next six months.

Despite the inevitable oversaturation to come, Stevens is worthy of the hype. He’s consistently set up key players for career years, found unorthodox lineup combinations that magically work, and milked maximum value from fringe guys. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are two stars who could easily ascend to new heights under Stevens this year, and his system will get tons of credit, and deservedly so, if the Celtics manage to remain near the top of the East despite losing five of their top seven guys by minutes played during a busy off-season.

The Celtics might have trouble blowing away expectations—given that they were a No. 1 seed last year and landed Irving in one of the biggest deals of the summer—but reaching 53-55 wins with a reshaped roster could be enough to earn the well-respected Stevens his first Coach of the Year award.

Sharp: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Watch this video and tell me you'd rather vote for Brad Stevens or Gregg Popovich:

If the Heat finish in the top half of the East, Spoelstra gets the coach of the year award that he probably should've won last year, too.

Mahoney: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. The premise that made the Heat one of the most surprising teams in the league last season remains unchanged: Miami is poised to outperform the talent level of its roster. Spoelstra is a critical reason why. It can be difficult to determine where Heat culture ends and Spoelstra’s influence begins. That, in a way, is what makes his contributions so valuable. Few coaches in the league work in such perfect concert with a larger organizational philosophy. In Spoelstra’s case, that manifests in pushing players beyond their career standards, elevating the group on the sum of personal bests.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Spo obviously deserved this award last season, and I need to make at least one homer pick after passing on Bam Adebayo for rookie honors. There is a serious path for Spo to win this award, however. The Heat don’t exactly have someone who you would call a star, even if Dion Waiters is calling himself one. Without the top-end talent he’s grown accustomed to, Spo still coaxed a top-five defense from this team last year, and an offense that was top-ten after the All-Star break. If the Heat prove their 30–11 run to finish 2017 wasn’t a fluke, Spo should finally be rewarded for the job he’s doing with a group of cast-offs.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. In keeping with tradition, I decided I’m just gonna keep picking Stevens until he actually wins this award. It’s gonna happen eventually. Although the Celtics won’t emerge fully-formed, meshing new players and developing talent presents an appealing task that could and probably should lead to 50-plus wins in a crappy East. People sure do laud Stevens’ wizardry when it comes to both the on-court details and locker room balance, but it’s mostly because those things are true. This feels like his year.

2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings

Golden State has sparked two simultaneous arms races in the NBA, one stylistic and one structural. On the court, the Warriors’ preferred approach—pace, space and ball movement—has swept through the league. Off the court, their collection of stars has set off a wave of roster movement among top contenders. Rival stars and executives reached the same conclusion this summer: There’s no way to beat the champs at their own game without approximating their talent.

Scoring reached its highest point in 25 years last season, and it could go even higher with so many aspiring superteams on the horizon. Here’s how the booming NBA shapes up in terms of entertainment value, fromto “Yawn-inducing" to "FOMO-inspiring.” Criteria include projected success, style of play, firepower, age, health, coaching and personality.

Without further ado, The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings:

30. Chicago Bulls. The Three Alphas era was a miserable failure, so Chicago moved on from Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The Zero Alphas should be irrelevant until at least 2020.

29. Indiana Pacers. Paul George forced his way out of town after years of unsuccessful retooling efforts. Indiana is left to pray that Myles Turner grows up quickly.

28. Atlanta Hawks. GM Travis Schlenk took the plunge on a rebuild, and suddenly the “Spurs of the East” became the “Nets of the South.” Hard-working, anonymous and terrible.

27. Orlando Magic. During its perpetual rebuild, Orlando has stumbled upon all sorts of different ways to lose. None have been satisfying in the slightest.

26. Detroit Pistons. New downtown arena; same lackluster vibe. While Stan Van Gundy reshaped his starting lineup, he really needs to detonate the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond duo.

25. Dallas Mavericks. The devastating, pretty offenses built around peak Dirk Nowitzki are gone forever. Deliberate Dallas was the only team to average fewer than 100 points last season.

24. Brooklyn Nets. Former lottery pick D’Angelo Russell is a rare source of hope for Brooklyn fans, who should finally be able smile occasionally.

23. Sacramento Kings. Watch out, Vlade Divac: DeMarcus Cousins isn’t around to blame anymore. Sacramento’s shaky front office has built an ill-fitting, underwhelming roster of has-beens and not-yets.

22. Phoenix Suns. A futile tank job and an empty off-season leaves Phoenix right back where it was a year ago: selling Devin Booker as the future and hoping that his unpolished teammates prove useful.

21. Charlotte Hornets. Without a stabilizing top-20 star, Charlotte has yo-yoed in and out of the playoffs. Gambling on Dwight Howard screams, “What have we got to lose?”

20. Memphis Grizzlies. A nuclear apocalypse couldn’t stop Mike Conley and Marc Gasol from getting buckets. But it’s just not the same without Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to share in the Grit-and-Grind.

19. New York Knicks. Phil, Carmelo and Rose were all jettisoned, leaving Kristaps Porzingis as the new King of New York. Unfortunately, the Latvian sensation’s bleak cast is full of paupers, not princes.

18. Utah Jazz. The NBA’s least watchable good team. Rudy Gobert captains a pulverizing defense, but Gordon Hayward’s defection means that an already clunky attack will regularly stall out.

17. Toronto Raptors. There’s a fine line between familiar and stale. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and company are approaching the wrong side of that line, even as they crank out winning seasons.

16. Miami Heat. Moxie trumps star power on South Beach these days. Goran Dragic plays until he bleeds, Dion Waiters shoots until his arm falls off, and Erik Spoelstra coaxes top effort from his defense.

15. LA Lakers. If the dozens of reporters who painstakingly captured his every move at Media Day are any indication, Lonzo Ball will be a full-fledged phenomenon from day one.

14. New Orleans Pelicans. Born of desperation, the unconventional Twin Towers pairing of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will try to make hay in a league of Lilliputians.

13. Washington Wizards. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are all coming off career years with their sights set on the East finals. Can the Wiz count on pristine health for their starters again?

12. San Antonio Spurs. Come for Kawhi Leonard’s isolation scoring savvy. Stay to savor the league’s most precise and energetic defense.

11. Philadelphia Sixers. The highest-variance team on this list due to Joel Embiid’s injury history. When their grand franchise center is healthy, frisky Philly is as captivating as anyone outside Oakland.

10. Portland Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum bring the sizzle, but the frontline was lacking in steak until Jusuf Nurkic came on the scene. The brash 7-footer buoys Portland’s playoff hopes.

9. Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic’s breakout second season transformed Denver into a pass-happy offensive juggernaut overnight. The ball doesn’t just move, it teleports.

8. LA Clippers. No Chris Paul means no title contention, but the highlight-reel plays will live on. Blake Griffin should relish being The Man, and Milos Teodosic’s passing will have everyone gushing.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves. The hype wave that engulfed Karl-Anthony Towns last fall was four months premature. A year older and wiser, the superstar big man is ready this time.

6. Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo accelerates like LeBron, dunks like Durant, and continually improves like Kawhi. He’s ready to lead Milwaukee to the second round.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James is stuck carrying an aging rotation until Isaiah Thomas is healthy. Small ball should keep the offense humming, but the reworked Cavs will require patience.

4. Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens made his name by squeezing every ounce out of mediocre talent. Now, he gets to enjoy maximizing an exciting pair of new All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will prevent Russell Westbrook from drifting back into one-man band gimmickry. OKC’s new trio will be engrossing whether it booms or busts.

2. Houston Rockets. Mike D’Antoni and James Harden made a better pairing than anyone expected, and now Chris Paul arrives as a second elite playmaker. More three-point records will fall.

1. Golden State Warriors. The Dubs Dynasty seeks its third title in four years with help from an upgraded bench. As if Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green really needed reinforcements.

2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings

Golden State has sparked two simultaneous arms races in the NBA, one stylistic and one structural. On the court, the Warriors’ preferred approach—pace, space and ball movement—has swept through the league. Off the court, their collection of stars has set off a wave of roster movement among top contenders. Rival stars and executives reached the same conclusion this summer: There’s no way to beat the champs at their own game without approximating their talent.

Scoring reached its highest point in 25 years last season, and it could go even higher with so many aspiring superteams on the horizon. Here’s how the booming NBA shapes up in terms of entertainment value, fromto “Yawn-inducing" to "FOMO-inspiring.” Criteria include projected success, style of play, firepower, age, health, coaching and personality.

Without further ado, The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings:

30. Chicago Bulls. The Three Alphas era was a miserable failure, so Chicago moved on from Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The Zero Alphas should be irrelevant until at least 2020.

29. Indiana Pacers. Paul George forced his way out of town after years of unsuccessful retooling efforts. Indiana is left to pray that Myles Turner grows up quickly.

28. Atlanta Hawks. GM Travis Schlenk took the plunge on a rebuild, and suddenly the “Spurs of the East” became the “Nets of the South.” Hard-working, anonymous and terrible.

27. Orlando Magic. During its perpetual rebuild, Orlando has stumbled upon all sorts of different ways to lose. None have been satisfying in the slightest.

26. Detroit Pistons. New downtown arena; same lackluster vibe. While Stan Van Gundy reshaped his starting lineup, he really needs to detonate the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond duo.

25. Dallas Mavericks. The devastating, pretty offenses built around peak Dirk Nowitzki are gone forever. Deliberate Dallas was the only team to average fewer than 100 points last season.

24. Brooklyn Nets. Former lottery pick D’Angelo Russell is a rare source of hope for Brooklyn fans, who should finally be able smile occasionally.

23. Sacramento Kings. Watch out, Vlade Divac: DeMarcus Cousins isn’t around to blame anymore. Sacramento’s shaky front office has built an ill-fitting, underwhelming roster of has-beens and not-yets.

22. Phoenix Suns. A futile tank job and an empty off-season leaves Phoenix right back where it was a year ago: selling Devin Booker as the future and hoping that his unpolished teammates prove useful.

21. Charlotte Hornets. Without a stabilizing top-20 star, Charlotte has yo-yoed in and out of the playoffs. Gambling on Dwight Howard screams, “What have we got to lose?”

20. Memphis Grizzlies. A nuclear apocalypse couldn’t stop Mike Conley and Marc Gasol from getting buckets. But it’s just not the same without Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to share in the Grit-and-Grind.

19. New York Knicks. Phil, Carmelo and Rose were all jettisoned, leaving Kristaps Porzingis as the new King of New York. Unfortunately, the Latvian sensation’s bleak cast is full of paupers, not princes.

18. Utah Jazz. The NBA’s least watchable good team. Rudy Gobert captains a pulverizing defense, but Gordon Hayward’s defection means that an already clunky attack will regularly stall out.

17. Toronto Raptors. There’s a fine line between familiar and stale. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and company are approaching the wrong side of that line, even as they crank out winning seasons.

16. Miami Heat. Moxie trumps star power on South Beach these days. Goran Dragic plays until he bleeds, Dion Waiters shoots until his arm falls off, and Erik Spoelstra coaxes top effort from his defense.

15. LA Lakers. If the dozens of reporters who painstakingly captured his every move at Media Day are any indication, Lonzo Ball will be a full-fledged phenomenon from day one.

14. New Orleans Pelicans. Born of desperation, the unconventional Twin Towers pairing of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will try to make hay in a league of Lilliputians.

13. Washington Wizards. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are all coming off career years with their sights set on the East finals. Can the Wiz count on pristine health for their starters again?

12. San Antonio Spurs. Come for Kawhi Leonard’s isolation scoring savvy. Stay to savor the league’s most precise and energetic defense.

11. Philadelphia Sixers. The highest-variance team on this list due to Joel Embiid’s injury history. When their grand franchise center is healthy, frisky Philly is as captivating as anyone outside Oakland.

10. Portland Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum bring the sizzle, but the frontline was lacking in steak until Jusuf Nurkic came on the scene. The brash 7-footer buoys Portland’s playoff hopes.

9. Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic’s breakout second season transformed Denver into a pass-happy offensive juggernaut overnight. The ball doesn’t just move, it teleports.

8. LA Clippers. No Chris Paul means no title contention, but the highlight-reel plays will live on. Blake Griffin should relish being The Man, and Milos Teodosic’s passing will have everyone gushing.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves. The hype wave that engulfed Karl-Anthony Towns last fall was four months premature. A year older and wiser, the superstar big man is ready this time.

6. Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo accelerates like LeBron, dunks like Durant, and continually improves like Kawhi. He’s ready to lead Milwaukee to the second round.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James is stuck carrying an aging rotation until Isaiah Thomas is healthy. Small ball should keep the offense humming, but the reworked Cavs will require patience.

4. Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens made his name by squeezing every ounce out of mediocre talent. Now, he gets to enjoy maximizing an exciting pair of new All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will prevent Russell Westbrook from drifting back into one-man band gimmickry. OKC’s new trio will be engrossing whether it booms or busts.

2. Houston Rockets. Mike D’Antoni and James Harden made a better pairing than anyone expected, and now Chris Paul arrives as a second elite playmaker. More three-point records will fall.

1. Golden State Warriors. The Dubs Dynasty seeks its third title in four years with help from an upgraded bench. As if Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green really needed reinforcements.

2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings

Golden State has sparked two simultaneous arms races in the NBA, one stylistic and one structural. On the court, the Warriors’ preferred approach—pace, space and ball movement—has swept through the league. Off the court, their collection of stars has set off a wave of roster movement among top contenders. Rival stars and executives reached the same conclusion this summer: There’s no way to beat the champs at their own game without approximating their talent.

Scoring reached its highest point in 25 years last season, and it could go even higher with so many aspiring superteams on the horizon. Here’s how the booming NBA shapes up in terms of entertainment value, fromto “Yawn-inducing" to "FOMO-inspiring.” Criteria include projected success, style of play, firepower, age, health, coaching and personality.

Without further ado, The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings:

30. Chicago Bulls. The Three Alphas era was a miserable failure, so Chicago moved on from Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The Zero Alphas should be irrelevant until at least 2020.

29. Indiana Pacers. Paul George forced his way out of town after years of unsuccessful retooling efforts. Indiana is left to pray that Myles Turner grows up quickly.

28. Atlanta Hawks. GM Travis Schlenk took the plunge on a rebuild, and suddenly the “Spurs of the East” became the “Nets of the South.” Hard-working, anonymous and terrible.

27. Orlando Magic. During its perpetual rebuild, Orlando has stumbled upon all sorts of different ways to lose. None have been satisfying in the slightest.

26. Detroit Pistons. New downtown arena; same lackluster vibe. While Stan Van Gundy reshaped his starting lineup, he really needs to detonate the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond duo.

25. Dallas Mavericks. The devastating, pretty offenses built around peak Dirk Nowitzki are gone forever. Deliberate Dallas was the only team to average fewer than 100 points last season.

24. Brooklyn Nets. Former lottery pick D’Angelo Russell is a rare source of hope for Brooklyn fans, who should finally be able smile occasionally.

23. Sacramento Kings. Watch out, Vlade Divac: DeMarcus Cousins isn’t around to blame anymore. Sacramento’s shaky front office has built an ill-fitting, underwhelming roster of has-beens and not-yets.

22. Phoenix Suns. A futile tank job and an empty off-season leaves Phoenix right back where it was a year ago: selling Devin Booker as the future and hoping that his unpolished teammates prove useful.

21. Charlotte Hornets. Without a stabilizing top-20 star, Charlotte has yo-yoed in and out of the playoffs. Gambling on Dwight Howard screams, “What have we got to lose?”

20. Memphis Grizzlies. A nuclear apocalypse couldn’t stop Mike Conley and Marc Gasol from getting buckets. But it’s just not the same without Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to share in the Grit-and-Grind.

19. New York Knicks. Phil, Carmelo and Rose were all jettisoned, leaving Kristaps Porzingis as the new King of New York. Unfortunately, the Latvian sensation’s bleak cast is full of paupers, not princes.

18. Utah Jazz. The NBA’s least watchable good team. Rudy Gobert captains a pulverizing defense, but Gordon Hayward’s defection means that an already clunky attack will regularly stall out.

17. Toronto Raptors. There’s a fine line between familiar and stale. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and company are approaching the wrong side of that line, even as they crank out winning seasons.

16. Miami Heat. Moxie trumps star power on South Beach these days. Goran Dragic plays until he bleeds, Dion Waiters shoots until his arm falls off, and Erik Spoelstra coaxes top effort from his defense.

15. LA Lakers. If the dozens of reporters who painstakingly captured his every move at Media Day are any indication, Lonzo Ball will be a full-fledged phenomenon from day one.

14. New Orleans Pelicans. Born of desperation, the unconventional Twin Towers pairing of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will try to make hay in a league of Lilliputians.

13. Washington Wizards. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are all coming off career years with their sights set on the East finals. Can the Wiz count on pristine health for their starters again?

12. San Antonio Spurs. Come for Kawhi Leonard’s isolation scoring savvy. Stay to savor the league’s most precise and energetic defense.

11. Philadelphia Sixers. The highest-variance team on this list due to Joel Embiid’s injury history. When their grand franchise center is healthy, frisky Philly is as captivating as anyone outside Oakland.

10. Portland Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum bring the sizzle, but the frontline was lacking in steak until Jusuf Nurkic came on the scene. The brash 7-footer buoys Portland’s playoff hopes.

9. Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic’s breakout second season transformed Denver into a pass-happy offensive juggernaut overnight. The ball doesn’t just move, it teleports.

8. LA Clippers. No Chris Paul means no title contention, but the highlight-reel plays will live on. Blake Griffin should relish being The Man, and Milos Teodosic’s passing will have everyone gushing.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves. The hype wave that engulfed Karl-Anthony Towns last fall was four months premature. A year older and wiser, the superstar big man is ready this time.

6. Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo accelerates like LeBron, dunks like Durant, and continually improves like Kawhi. He’s ready to lead Milwaukee to the second round.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James is stuck carrying an aging rotation until Isaiah Thomas is healthy. Small ball should keep the offense humming, but the reworked Cavs will require patience.

4. Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens made his name by squeezing every ounce out of mediocre talent. Now, he gets to enjoy maximizing an exciting pair of new All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will prevent Russell Westbrook from drifting back into one-man band gimmickry. OKC’s new trio will be engrossing whether it booms or busts.

2. Houston Rockets. Mike D’Antoni and James Harden made a better pairing than anyone expected, and now Chris Paul arrives as a second elite playmaker. More three-point records will fall.

1. Golden State Warriors. The Dubs Dynasty seeks its third title in four years with help from an upgraded bench. As if Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green really needed reinforcements.

2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings

Golden State has sparked two simultaneous arms races in the NBA, one stylistic and one structural. On the court, the Warriors’ preferred approach—pace, space and ball movement—has swept through the league. Off the court, their collection of stars has set off a wave of roster movement among top contenders. Rival stars and executives reached the same conclusion this summer: There’s no way to beat the champs at their own game without approximating their talent.

Scoring reached its highest point in 25 years last season, and it could go even higher with so many aspiring superteams on the horizon. Here’s how the booming NBA shapes up in terms of entertainment value, fromto “Yawn-inducing" to "FOMO-inspiring.” Criteria include projected success, style of play, firepower, age, health, coaching and personality.

Without further ado, The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings:

30. Chicago Bulls. The Three Alphas era was a miserable failure, so Chicago moved on from Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The Zero Alphas should be irrelevant until at least 2020.

29. Indiana Pacers. Paul George forced his way out of town after years of unsuccessful retooling efforts. Indiana is left to pray that Myles Turner grows up quickly.

28. Atlanta Hawks. GM Travis Schlenk took the plunge on a rebuild, and suddenly the “Spurs of the East” became the “Nets of the South.” Hard-working, anonymous and terrible.

27. Orlando Magic. During its perpetual rebuild, Orlando has stumbled upon all sorts of different ways to lose. None have been satisfying in the slightest.

26. Detroit Pistons. New downtown arena; same lackluster vibe. While Stan Van Gundy reshaped his starting lineup, he really needs to detonate the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond duo.

25. Dallas Mavericks. The devastating, pretty offenses built around peak Dirk Nowitzki are gone forever. Deliberate Dallas was the only team to average fewer than 100 points last season.

24. Brooklyn Nets. Former lottery pick D’Angelo Russell is a rare source of hope for Brooklyn fans, who should finally be able smile occasionally.

23. Sacramento Kings. Watch out, Vlade Divac: DeMarcus Cousins isn’t around to blame anymore. Sacramento’s shaky front office has built an ill-fitting, underwhelming roster of has-beens and not-yets.

22. Phoenix Suns. A futile tank job and an empty off-season leaves Phoenix right back where it was a year ago: selling Devin Booker as the future and hoping that his unpolished teammates prove useful.

21. Charlotte Hornets. Without a stabilizing top-20 star, Charlotte has yo-yoed in and out of the playoffs. Gambling on Dwight Howard screams, “What have we got to lose?”

20. Memphis Grizzlies. A nuclear apocalypse couldn’t stop Mike Conley and Marc Gasol from getting buckets. But it’s just not the same without Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to share in the Grit-and-Grind.

19. New York Knicks. Phil, Carmelo and Rose were all jettisoned, leaving Kristaps Porzingis as the new King of New York. Unfortunately, the Latvian sensation’s bleak cast is full of paupers, not princes.

18. Utah Jazz. The NBA’s least watchable good team. Rudy Gobert captains a pulverizing defense, but Gordon Hayward’s defection means that an already clunky attack will regularly stall out.

17. Toronto Raptors. There’s a fine line between familiar and stale. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and company are approaching the wrong side of that line, even as they crank out winning seasons.

16. Miami Heat. Moxie trumps star power on South Beach these days. Goran Dragic plays until he bleeds, Dion Waiters shoots until his arm falls off, and Erik Spoelstra coaxes top effort from his defense.

15. LA Lakers. If the dozens of reporters who painstakingly captured his every move at Media Day are any indication, Lonzo Ball will be a full-fledged phenomenon from day one.

14. New Orleans Pelicans. Born of desperation, the unconventional Twin Towers pairing of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will try to make hay in a league of Lilliputians.

13. Washington Wizards. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are all coming off career years with their sights set on the East finals. Can the Wiz count on pristine health for their starters again?

12. San Antonio Spurs. Come for Kawhi Leonard’s isolation scoring savvy. Stay to savor the league’s most precise and energetic defense.

11. Philadelphia Sixers. The highest-variance team on this list due to Joel Embiid’s injury history. When their grand franchise center is healthy, frisky Philly is as captivating as anyone outside Oakland.

10. Portland Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum bring the sizzle, but the frontline was lacking in steak until Jusuf Nurkic came on the scene. The brash 7-footer buoys Portland’s playoff hopes.

9. Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic’s breakout second season transformed Denver into a pass-happy offensive juggernaut overnight. The ball doesn’t just move, it teleports.

8. LA Clippers. No Chris Paul means no title contention, but the highlight-reel plays will live on. Blake Griffin should relish being The Man, and Milos Teodosic’s passing will have everyone gushing.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves. The hype wave that engulfed Karl-Anthony Towns last fall was four months premature. A year older and wiser, the superstar big man is ready this time.

6. Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo accelerates like LeBron, dunks like Durant, and continually improves like Kawhi. He’s ready to lead Milwaukee to the second round.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James is stuck carrying an aging rotation until Isaiah Thomas is healthy. Small ball should keep the offense humming, but the reworked Cavs will require patience.

4. Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens made his name by squeezing every ounce out of mediocre talent. Now, he gets to enjoy maximizing an exciting pair of new All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will prevent Russell Westbrook from drifting back into one-man band gimmickry. OKC’s new trio will be engrossing whether it booms or busts.

2. Houston Rockets. Mike D’Antoni and James Harden made a better pairing than anyone expected, and now Chris Paul arrives as a second elite playmaker. More three-point records will fall.

1. Golden State Warriors. The Dubs Dynasty seeks its third title in four years with help from an upgraded bench. As if Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green really needed reinforcements.

2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings

Golden State has sparked two simultaneous arms races in the NBA, one stylistic and one structural. On the court, the Warriors’ preferred approach—pace, space and ball movement—has swept through the league. Off the court, their collection of stars has set off a wave of roster movement among top contenders. Rival stars and executives reached the same conclusion this summer: There’s no way to beat the champs at their own game without approximating their talent.

Scoring reached its highest point in 25 years last season, and it could go even higher with so many aspiring superteams on the horizon. Here’s how the booming NBA shapes up in terms of entertainment value, fromto “Yawn-inducing" to "FOMO-inspiring.” Criteria include projected success, style of play, firepower, age, health, coaching and personality.

Without further ado, The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings:

30. Chicago Bulls. The Three Alphas era was a miserable failure, so Chicago moved on from Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The Zero Alphas should be irrelevant until at least 2020.

29. Indiana Pacers. Paul George forced his way out of town after years of unsuccessful retooling efforts. Indiana is left to pray that Myles Turner grows up quickly.

28. Atlanta Hawks. GM Travis Schlenk took the plunge on a rebuild, and suddenly the “Spurs of the East” became the “Nets of the South.” Hard-working, anonymous and terrible.

27. Orlando Magic. During its perpetual rebuild, Orlando has stumbled upon all sorts of different ways to lose. None have been satisfying in the slightest.

26. Detroit Pistons. New downtown arena; same lackluster vibe. While Stan Van Gundy reshaped his starting lineup, he really needs to detonate the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond duo.

25. Dallas Mavericks. The devastating, pretty offenses built around peak Dirk Nowitzki are gone forever. Deliberate Dallas was the only team to average fewer than 100 points last season.

24. Brooklyn Nets. Former lottery pick D’Angelo Russell is a rare source of hope for Brooklyn fans, who should finally be able smile occasionally.

23. Sacramento Kings. Watch out, Vlade Divac: DeMarcus Cousins isn’t around to blame anymore. Sacramento’s shaky front office has built an ill-fitting, underwhelming roster of has-beens and not-yets.

22. Phoenix Suns. A futile tank job and an empty off-season leaves Phoenix right back where it was a year ago: selling Devin Booker as the future and hoping that his unpolished teammates prove useful.

21. Charlotte Hornets. Without a stabilizing top-20 star, Charlotte has yo-yoed in and out of the playoffs. Gambling on Dwight Howard screams, “What have we got to lose?”

20. Memphis Grizzlies. A nuclear apocalypse couldn’t stop Mike Conley and Marc Gasol from getting buckets. But it’s just not the same without Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to share in the Grit-and-Grind.

19. New York Knicks. Phil, Carmelo and Rose were all jettisoned, leaving Kristaps Porzingis as the new King of New York. Unfortunately, the Latvian sensation’s bleak cast is full of paupers, not princes.

18. Utah Jazz. The NBA’s least watchable good team. Rudy Gobert captains a pulverizing defense, but Gordon Hayward’s defection means that an already clunky attack will regularly stall out.

17. Toronto Raptors. There’s a fine line between familiar and stale. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and company are approaching the wrong side of that line, even as they crank out winning seasons.

16. Miami Heat. Moxie trumps star power on South Beach these days. Goran Dragic plays until he bleeds, Dion Waiters shoots until his arm falls off, and Erik Spoelstra coaxes top effort from his defense.

15. LA Lakers. If the dozens of reporters who painstakingly captured his every move at Media Day are any indication, Lonzo Ball will be a full-fledged phenomenon from day one.

14. New Orleans Pelicans. Born of desperation, the unconventional Twin Towers pairing of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will try to make hay in a league of Lilliputians.

13. Washington Wizards. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are all coming off career years with their sights set on the East finals. Can the Wiz count on pristine health for their starters again?

12. San Antonio Spurs. Come for Kawhi Leonard’s isolation scoring savvy. Stay to savor the league’s most precise and energetic defense.

11. Philadelphia Sixers. The highest-variance team on this list due to Joel Embiid’s injury history. When their grand franchise center is healthy, frisky Philly is as captivating as anyone outside Oakland.

10. Portland Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum bring the sizzle, but the frontline was lacking in steak until Jusuf Nurkic came on the scene. The brash 7-footer buoys Portland’s playoff hopes.

9. Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic’s breakout second season transformed Denver into a pass-happy offensive juggernaut overnight. The ball doesn’t just move, it teleports.

8. LA Clippers. No Chris Paul means no title contention, but the highlight-reel plays will live on. Blake Griffin should relish being The Man, and Milos Teodosic’s passing will have everyone gushing.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves. The hype wave that engulfed Karl-Anthony Towns last fall was four months premature. A year older and wiser, the superstar big man is ready this time.

6. Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo accelerates like LeBron, dunks like Durant, and continually improves like Kawhi. He’s ready to lead Milwaukee to the second round.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James is stuck carrying an aging rotation until Isaiah Thomas is healthy. Small ball should keep the offense humming, but the reworked Cavs will require patience.

4. Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens made his name by squeezing every ounce out of mediocre talent. Now, he gets to enjoy maximizing an exciting pair of new All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will prevent Russell Westbrook from drifting back into one-man band gimmickry. OKC’s new trio will be engrossing whether it booms or busts.

2. Houston Rockets. Mike D’Antoni and James Harden made a better pairing than anyone expected, and now Chris Paul arrives as a second elite playmaker. More three-point records will fall.

1. Golden State Warriors. The Dubs Dynasty seeks its third title in four years with help from an upgraded bench. As if Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green really needed reinforcements.

2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings

Golden State has sparked two simultaneous arms races in the NBA, one stylistic and one structural. On the court, the Warriors’ preferred approach—pace, space and ball movement—has swept through the league. Off the court, their collection of stars has set off a wave of roster movement among top contenders. Rival stars and executives reached the same conclusion this summer: There’s no way to beat the champs at their own game without approximating their talent.

Scoring reached its highest point in 25 years last season, and it could go even higher with so many aspiring superteams on the horizon. Here’s how the booming NBA shapes up in terms of entertainment value, fromto “Yawn-inducing" to "FOMO-inspiring.” Criteria include projected success, style of play, firepower, age, health, coaching and personality.

Without further ado, The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Entertainment Rankings:

30. Chicago Bulls. The Three Alphas era was a miserable failure, so Chicago moved on from Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The Zero Alphas should be irrelevant until at least 2020.

29. Indiana Pacers. Paul George forced his way out of town after years of unsuccessful retooling efforts. Indiana is left to pray that Myles Turner grows up quickly.

28. Atlanta Hawks. GM Travis Schlenk took the plunge on a rebuild, and suddenly the “Spurs of the East” became the “Nets of the South.” Hard-working, anonymous and terrible.

27. Orlando Magic. During its perpetual rebuild, Orlando has stumbled upon all sorts of different ways to lose. None have been satisfying in the slightest.

26. Detroit Pistons. New downtown arena; same lackluster vibe. While Stan Van Gundy reshaped his starting lineup, he really needs to detonate the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond duo.

25. Dallas Mavericks. The devastating, pretty offenses built around peak Dirk Nowitzki are gone forever. Deliberate Dallas was the only team to average fewer than 100 points last season.

24. Brooklyn Nets. Former lottery pick D’Angelo Russell is a rare source of hope for Brooklyn fans, who should finally be able smile occasionally.

23. Sacramento Kings. Watch out, Vlade Divac: DeMarcus Cousins isn’t around to blame anymore. Sacramento’s shaky front office has built an ill-fitting, underwhelming roster of has-beens and not-yets.

22. Phoenix Suns. A futile tank job and an empty off-season leaves Phoenix right back where it was a year ago: selling Devin Booker as the future and hoping that his unpolished teammates prove useful.

21. Charlotte Hornets. Without a stabilizing top-20 star, Charlotte has yo-yoed in and out of the playoffs. Gambling on Dwight Howard screams, “What have we got to lose?”

20. Memphis Grizzlies. A nuclear apocalypse couldn’t stop Mike Conley and Marc Gasol from getting buckets. But it’s just not the same without Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to share in the Grit-and-Grind.

19. New York Knicks. Phil, Carmelo and Rose were all jettisoned, leaving Kristaps Porzingis as the new King of New York. Unfortunately, the Latvian sensation’s bleak cast is full of paupers, not princes.

18. Utah Jazz. The NBA’s least watchable good team. Rudy Gobert captains a pulverizing defense, but Gordon Hayward’s defection means that an already clunky attack will regularly stall out.

17. Toronto Raptors. There’s a fine line between familiar and stale. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and company are approaching the wrong side of that line, even as they crank out winning seasons.

16. Miami Heat. Moxie trumps star power on South Beach these days. Goran Dragic plays until he bleeds, Dion Waiters shoots until his arm falls off, and Erik Spoelstra coaxes top effort from his defense.

15. LA Lakers. If the dozens of reporters who painstakingly captured his every move at Media Day are any indication, Lonzo Ball will be a full-fledged phenomenon from day one.

14. New Orleans Pelicans. Born of desperation, the unconventional Twin Towers pairing of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will try to make hay in a league of Lilliputians.

13. Washington Wizards. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are all coming off career years with their sights set on the East finals. Can the Wiz count on pristine health for their starters again?

12. San Antonio Spurs. Come for Kawhi Leonard’s isolation scoring savvy. Stay to savor the league’s most precise and energetic defense.

11. Philadelphia Sixers. The highest-variance team on this list due to Joel Embiid’s injury history. When their grand franchise center is healthy, frisky Philly is as captivating as anyone outside Oakland.

10. Portland Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum bring the sizzle, but the frontline was lacking in steak until Jusuf Nurkic came on the scene. The brash 7-footer buoys Portland’s playoff hopes.

9. Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic’s breakout second season transformed Denver into a pass-happy offensive juggernaut overnight. The ball doesn’t just move, it teleports.

8. LA Clippers. No Chris Paul means no title contention, but the highlight-reel plays will live on. Blake Griffin should relish being The Man, and Milos Teodosic’s passing will have everyone gushing.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves. The hype wave that engulfed Karl-Anthony Towns last fall was four months premature. A year older and wiser, the superstar big man is ready this time.

6. Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo accelerates like LeBron, dunks like Durant, and continually improves like Kawhi. He’s ready to lead Milwaukee to the second round.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James is stuck carrying an aging rotation until Isaiah Thomas is healthy. Small ball should keep the offense humming, but the reworked Cavs will require patience.

4. Boston Celtics. Brad Stevens made his name by squeezing every ounce out of mediocre talent. Now, he gets to enjoy maximizing an exciting pair of new All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will prevent Russell Westbrook from drifting back into one-man band gimmickry. OKC’s new trio will be engrossing whether it booms or busts.

2. Houston Rockets. Mike D’Antoni and James Harden made a better pairing than anyone expected, and now Chris Paul arrives as a second elite playmaker. More three-point records will fall.

1. Golden State Warriors. The Dubs Dynasty seeks its third title in four years with help from an upgraded bench. As if Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green really needed reinforcements.

Report: Dwyane Wade Plans to Sign With Cavaliers

Dwyane Wade is planning to sign with the Cavaliers once he formally clears waivers on Wednesday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports. Wade's deal will be for one year and will pay him $2.3 million, per The Vertical's Shams Charania.

On Sunday, Wade reached a buyout agreement with the Bulls after spending one season in Chicago. Wojnarowski reported Sunday that the Cavaliers, Spurs, Heat and Thunder were all potential destinations for Wade.

If Wade does indeed sign with Cleveland, Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon is reporting that the Cavaliers would likely try to trade one of the 15 players they currently have under contract to avoid additionally luxury tax penalties that would come with placing a player on waivers to make room for Wade.

Wade's contract will pay him less than the veteran minimum of $2.55 million, a deal the Cavaliers struck to avoid additional luxury tax penalties. Wade will still make more than $18 million this season, as he will earn $16 million of the $23.8 million he was owed by Chicago for 2018-18 as part of the buyout agreement.

Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and the Remaking of Oklahoma City

Wade, 35, played four years with James when both were members of the Miami Heat. The two reached four finals together, winning two, and remain close friends.

Last season, Wade averaged 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in his 14th year in the league. He is a 12-time All-Star and three-time champion.

Top 100 NBA Players of 2018: Nos. 100-51

The Crossover is proud to offer our list of the Top 100 NBA players of 2018, an exhaustive exercise that seeks to define who will be the league's best players in the 2017-18 season.

Given the wide variety of candidates involved and the deep analytical resources available, no single, definitive criterion was used to form this list. Instead, rankings were assigned based on a fluid combination of subjective assessment and objective data. This list is an attempt to evaluate each player in a vacuum, independent of their current team context as much as possible. A player's prospects beyond the 2017-18 season did not play a part in the ranking process.

Injuries and injury risks are an inevitable component of this judgment. Past performance (postseason included) weighed heavily in our assessment, with a skew toward the recent. First-year players were not included. A predictive element also came into play with the anticipated improvement of certain younger players, as well as the possible decline of aging veterans. Salary was not taken into consideration. Otherwise, players were ordered based on their complete games. You can read more here on the limitations of this kind of ranking. To see our 25 biggest snubs from this year, click here.

Please feel free to take a look back to SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014. A special thanks, as always, to those resources that make researching a list like this possible: Basketball-Reference, NBA.com, ESPN.com, Nylon Calculus, and Synergy Sports.

• Complete Top 100 breakdowns: 100-51 | 50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1

100. D’Angelo Russell, Nets

We’ve seen hints of a team-changing playmaker and shooter lurking within Russell, buried beneath questionable judgment and short-term priorities. Every year of experience brings hope that his potential might come more fully to bear. Young players are perpetually caught between their want for freedom and their need for structure. Russell didn’t find the right mix in Los Angeles, though he might in Brooklyn—a franchise as invested in cultivating talent as any in the league. The firepower is there. The star power, too. But first Russell must learn the value of his smallest contributions and the goals they work toward. Averages of 19.6 points, 6.0 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per 36 minutes are promising. If Russell can apply that same production toward winning margins, it could be something more. — Rob Mahoney

99. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lakers

A change of scenery couldn’t come at a better time for Caldwell-Pope (13.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.5 APG), whose progress seemed to stagnate amidst Detroit’s dysfunction. Cast as a prototypical 3-and-D wing, the 24-year-old shooting guard shot below league average from deep for the fourth straight year and posted a 107.7 defensive rating that was nearly seven points worse than Detroit’s mark when he was on the bench. Naturally, critics might wonder: If a “3-and-D wing" is both a subpar shooter and a minus defender, what is he?

It’s quite possible that Caldwell-Pope was simply the victim of bad circumstances. The 2013 lottery pick possesses the right mix of size, quickness, length and energy to effectively defend both point guards and wings, and he spent huge portions of his court time surrounded by weaker defensive links. In L.A., Caldwell-Pope should also benefit from an up-tempo, free-flowing style thanks to his comfort in the open court, his solid athletic tools, and his gradual development as a secondary pick-and-roll playmaker. — Ben Golliver

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98. Patrick Patterson, Thunder

We have more than three years of data showing that the Raptors—one of the best teams in the East during that time—were at their best when Patterson (5.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.2 APG) was around. Not even heavily involved, per se, but around. The beauty of Patterson’s game is that it never needs to be schemed to fit or featured. The flow will find him. Possessions will naturally redirect themselves through Patterson when they stall, or find him as an open shooter on the perimeter. His positioning will help account for a teammates’ blown assignment, patching up what should have been a breakdown. A screen he sets will trigger the chain of events that ultimately leads to a score, albeit without any formal credit. When a possession begins, no one knows fully what’s coming. Patterson is flexible in ways that are perfectly suited for sorting out the ensuing chaos through every possibility and permutation. — RM

97. Ryan Anderson, Rockets

Anderson (13.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG) is hardly the only stretch–four in the NBA, but he’s easily the stretchiest. Thanks to Houston’s all-out approach to three-pointers under coach Mike D’Antoni, the 29-year-old Anderson regularly found himself spotting up so far beyond the arc that he was off the screen during television broadcasts. All told, he attempted 5.1 deep threes per game (from 25+ feet), easily tops among the league’s frontcourt players, while somehow maintaining a 40.3% three-point shooting clip. Elsewhere, Anderson’s game is less forceful: he’s extremely limited as a playmaker, he can be overpowered at his position, and he’s easy to pick on defensively in playoff matchups. Although he spent last summer facing doubts over his pricey contract and persistent injury issues, the nine-year vet logged more than 2,100 minutes in 2016-17, his most since 2012-13. Anderson’s value is contingent upon playing with skilled creators in a wide-open system, and he’s found a perfect home in Houston. — BG

96. Elfrid Payton, Magic

As long as the Magic are mired well outside the East’s playoff picture, most observers will regard Payton (12.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6.5 APG) solely by his inability to shoot. That scarlet letter remains his defining trait and it will keep him from becoming a franchise-level floor general, but he made noteworthy progress filling out the other facets of his game in his third season. An attack-minded point guard with good size, quickness and set-up instincts, the 23-year-old Payton has improved significantly as a finisher despite the poorly-spaced lineups that usually surround him. And although he has long been blamed for Orlando’s inefficient offenses and was briefly moved to a reserve role by new coach Frank Vogel, Payton led the Magic in net rating and upped their offensive rating by more than nine points when he took the court. Payton fares well across the major advanced stats thanks to a do-everything nature that has produced eight career triple-doubles. As with many Magic players who have been stuck playing in anachronistic configurations and enduring multiple coaching changes, there’s a nagging sense that there’s more to Payton’s game than he’s been able to display to date. — BG

95. Taj Gibson, Timberwolves

Gibson has damn near perfect approval ratings among teammates and ex-teammates, which has a lot to do with how he carries himself. When a season reaches its breaking point, you want Gibson around to mediate matters with fairness and candor. When a game is getting tight, you want Gibson involved to dig in and help bust something loose. Tenacity is a skill. In Gibson’s case, it informs his entire style of play—from defending full possessions until a rebound is secured to making every effort necessary to help create a good look for his own team’s offense. It’s amazing how little has changed in Gibson’s game (10.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 0.9 APG) over the years. He might not yam on dudes with quite the same frequency, but everything is still predicated on the same dirty-work buckets and intelligent coverage. — RM

94. Julius Randle, Lakers

Randle (13.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.6 APG) has been a tease through three seasons, a strapping and assertive power forward whose effectiveness has been undercut by his weak shooting range, lack of length and poor defensive awareness. His highlight-reel fast breaks and downhill attacks have been offset by forced shots in traffic and clanged jumpers. His double-doubles have been diminished by a steady stream of breakdowns that contributed to his atrocious 113.3 defensive rating.

The premier modern fours stretch the court and protect the rim; Randle, 22, currently does neither. LA must hope, then, that Randle can find success by breaking the mold, taking advantage of his wide-shouldered physique, scoring mentality and ball-handling skills to physically punish and collapse opposing defenses. The arrivals of pass-first point guard Lonzo Ball and stretch–five Brook Lopez should help, giving Randle plenty of driving opportunities from the elbow, more room to ply his trade in the basket area, and easier scoring chances in transition. Nevertheless, Randle’s chances of reaching his ceiling and pulling down a big-dollar contract as a 2018 free agent will be determined primarily by his ability to improve his shooting and refine his one-on-one repertoire. If he can’t keep defenses honest and score more efficiently, the 2014 lottery pick may never be fully unleashed. — BG

93. Lou Williams, Clippers

As a professional scorer, Williams (17.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.0 APG) is clearly valuable but short of vital. Part of the appeal is that nothing needs to be built around him. Possession of the ball and a few seconds to spare is usually enough; Williams is so crafty at dancing his way into scoring opportunities that years of scouting reports have done little to stop him. Opponents know that Williams is waiting for them to lunge so that he might draw a foul. Still they’re convinced to jump whenever Williams creates enough separation for an open jumper, leaving them floating for a few helpless seconds as Williams lines up his play. His capacity to draw fouls (8.3 free throw attempts per 36 minutes) made Williams one of the most effective pick-and-roll scorers in the league last season despite his high usage—an unusual combination for a nominal role player. It works, though decidedly less so in the altered conditions of the postseason. — RM

92. Patty Mills, Spurs

Mills is easy to overlook, what with future Hall of Famer Tony Parker running San Antonio’s show for years and 2016 first-round pick Dejounte Murray lining up as a potential point guard of the future. But the Australian marksman outplayed both last season, easily posting better individual advanced stats than Parker while also boasting a team-best +12 net rating.

Although the 28-year-old Mills (9.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.8 RPG) isn’t the best one-on-one creator or the most natural playmaker for others, he has fully settled in to San Antonio’s system, balancing his off-the-dribble shooting ability with improved offense initiation while seamlessly shifting between back-up and starting roles. Much of what he accomplishes on both ends owes to his frenetic energy; Mills keeps moving when he doesn’t have the ball and only needs a sliver of daylight to launch a catch-and-shoot three or sneak through a seam to the rim. Despite his lack of size, he’s an especially pesky and attentive on-ball defender too. San Antonio smartly rewarded him with a four-year, $50 million contract this summer, keeping him in place as a functional bridge between Parker and Murray (or whoever else comes next). — BG

91. James Johnson, Heat

It wasn’t until his eighth season, his sixth team, and a 37-pound weight loss that Johnson finally found his place in the league. The Heat had the perfect culture to guide him; Miami’s rigorous standards for effort and conditioning demanded more of Johnson than any team ever had before. In turn, Johnson transformed. So many of the captivating flashes in his game became full-blown features. That development would mean a lot to the career of any journeyman, but especially to a marvel like Johnson. Up until this point, Johnson had been a rogue element. Last season established him as an every-night contributor—a big, physical combo forward (12.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.6 APG) who can fly around the court defensively and do a little bit of everything. The body of work is a touch slim for any ranking higher than this, though Johnson could solidify his standing in time. — RM

90. Patrick Beverley, Clippers

The discussion around Beverley (9.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.2 APG) usually begins with his smothering on-ball defense or his knack for riling up opponents, but the hard-nosed point guard is more accurately viewed as a complete, two-way contributor. Although the former second-round pick and one-time international journeyman isn’t equipped to beat defenses with his own offense, he has become an ideal backcourt running mate for a ball-dominant star—on offense—thanks to his dependable spot-up three-point shooting, capable pick-and-roll game, and propensity for making hustle plays. “When you’re going into the alley or if you’re trying to find a pick-up game, you want him with you,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said during the playoffs, following the death of Beverley’s grandfather. “Whatever we want to do, we want Pat. He has an amazing spirit and determination. Enormous heart.”

Defense, of course, is where the 29-year-old Beverley first made his name and where he continues to shine brightest. Last season, he ranked second among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and earned All-Defensive First-Team honors. The biggest knock on Beverley, who projects as the Clippers’ starter after being traded this summer, remains his durability: He’s missed nearly 30% of his team’s games during his NBA career. — BG

89. Nikola Vucevic, Magic

After five losing seasons, Vucevic is covered in red flags. There is no denying his production (14.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.8 APG), but there is qualifying it; of the 105 players in the league to attempt at least 10 shots per game last season, Vucevic ranked No. 101 in True Shooting Percentage. His biggest contributions ring a bit hollow. He’s a decent shooter but not so consistent (or so stretchy) as to make that shot a real weapon. That he sees the ball as much as he does but gets to the line so infrequently (2.1 attempts per game) undercuts his best efforts. We can only assume that a change of scenery would help given Orlando’s rotten lineup combinations of the last few years, but just how valuable is Vucevic if his role doesn’t call on him to produce in volume? Decent touch and terrific rebounding are enough to get Vucevic on this list. The bigger questions concerning his game, however, prevent him from moving up very far. — RM

88. Marvin Williams, Hornets

He never made an All-Star team or pulled down a max contract like one might expect from a No. 2 overall pick, but Williams (11.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.4 APG) remains a useful and reliable pro after 12 years in the league. A proven three-point shooter with enough size, strength and agility to defend both forward positions, the 31-year-old fits well in the modern game as a stretch-four who can’t be easily exploited on the other end. Although Williams’s efficiency and consistency took a step back from his strong contract year in 2015-16, he remained a disciplined, complementary option who stuck tightly to his role as a spacer. Williams’s specific fit in Charlotte helps illustrate the many different ways he adds value. What’s more, Williams can shift between steady starter or sixth man roles should the need arise, making it easy to envision him filling quality rotation minutes deep into his 30s. — BG

87. Rodney Hood, Jazz

For a player with a subtle game, a no-drama personality, and a pre-draft reputation for being a known quantity, Hood (12.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.6 APG) has been surprisingly difficult to project as he’s worked his way through his rookie contract. Injuries are primarily to blame, of course, as the 24-year-old wing missed 21 games in 2016-17 and never recaptured the consistency and overall offensive prowess he displayed during the previous season. Going forward, Hood figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Gordon Hayward’s free-agency departure: Utah’s fourth-leading scorer last season should enjoy career-high levels of touches and shots, and he could easily wind up leading the team in scoring in 2017-18.

While Hood is generally savvy and patient in pick-and-rolls and a reliable shot-up shooter, he’s almost certainly underqualified to be an alpha scorer for an above-average offense at this point. The 2014 first-round pick just isn’t quite dynamic enough off the dribble, he doesn’t get to the line with sufficient regularity, and he doesn’t yet possess a deep catalogue of ball-handling moves in isolation. Defensively, Hood is solid and versatile, capable of guarding twos and threes. He may not be able to replicate his All-Star predecessor’s success, but Hood is easily Utah’s best short-term hope if he can stay on the court. — BG

86. Nerlens Noel, Mavericks

There’s a delicate balance at the heart of Noel’s game. Reach, athleticism, and timing make Noel (8.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG) a natural candidate for rim protection—arguably the most important element of a center’s defensive repertoire. The potential is there. Yet every year, Noel is pulled out of conservative defensive position by pursuit of the ball. His results are uncanny: Noel effectively co-led the league in steal percentage last season (3.1%), matching ball hawks like Chris Paul and Tony Allen. The proficiency with which Noel makes deflections and chases down steals is an incredible gift for a player his size. It also makes him less predictable within the context of a team structure. When the last line of defense is always on the move, the system itself can lose its shape. If Noel, who is just 23, ever finds the equilibrium between these skills, he could become one of the best defenders in the league. As it stands, he’s still incredibly disruptive—the kind of player who can blow up a pick-and-roll by either attacking a ball handler or by erasing a shot in the air. That’s more than enough. Everything else is upside. — RM

85. Robin Lopez, Bulls

The function of a center—even in the age of stretchy, playmaking bigs—remains firmly rooted in defense. This is where Lopez delivers; on every possession he guarantees skillful coverage on the back line, employed through a legit seven-foot frame. It takes a fair bit of dancing and maneuvering on the part of a ball-handler just to get a shot up and over Lopez. Mobility isn’t the only way to cover in space. A colossus like Lopez (10.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG) can exercise a lot of influence on the game through reach alone. Lopez knows this, and does well to keep his feet when challenged. By letting his positioning do the work, Lopez ended up challenging more shots than any player in the league last season and blocking a similar percentage of opponents’ shots to DeAndre Jordan. Smart, restrained movement from a player who understands his limitations can do wonders. Lopez obviously isn’t the right fit for teams who want mold-breaking dynamism out of their centers; an 18-foot set shot is about as ambitious as Lopez gets. Having him around, however, allows for the creators on the team to do what they do best while buttressing the rest of the team’s operations. — RM

84. Wilson Chandler, Nuggets

Chandler plays a stealthy scoring game that blends easily into the background. What seems like a casual bucket or two winds up as 15 points of self-generated offense—the kind of support that every team needs. Give Chandler an ad-libbed screen in the middle of a possession and he’ll slow-play his way to a score, shifting angles and directions until he has room for a mid-range jumper. His entire approach is adaptive. Take away one land and Chandler will fidget his way into another. The fact that he only occasionally gets all the way to the rim frees up Chandler to make full use of his in-between game. It works unusually well. Of the players to initiate at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions last season, Chandler (15.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 APG) finished as the single most efficient pick-and-roll scorer. Some of that is a product of just how far he flies under the radar, though to get that kind of scoring from a wing doesn’t pose any particular liabilities is a nice lift. — RM

83. Eric Gordon, Rockets

What a relief it is to see Gordon healthy again. His best role still involves only moderate ball-handling, but what’s important is that Gordon’s body has again given him the option; it’s been years since the 28-year-old has moved this smoothly, which works to open up Gordon’s game (16.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.5 APG) beyond spot shooting alone. That diversity led the Rocket to winning Sixth Man of the Year honors last season. Still, everything builds off his jumper. It’s no surprise that Gordon’s effectiveness waned along with every shooting slump last season, including a months-long lull after the All-Star break. So long as he’s hitting, defenses have to chase his shot aggressively—opening up other avenues for creation in the process. The sheer force of Gordon’s deep range demands that opponents cover even more ground to contest. But if those shots don’t fall, Gordon just doesn’t have all that much else to keep his game afloat. — RM

82. Robert Covington, Sixers

Nerlens Noel might be gone, Jahlil Okafor might be unplayable, and a laundry list of other fringe players might have moved on after brief cups of coffee, but The Process era did manage to unearth a legitimate gem in Covington (12.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG). The undrafted forward firmed up his reputation as one of the best multi-positional defenders in the NBA last season, ranking fourth overall in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and finishing (a very distant) fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting despite playing for the 28-win Sixers. One of just 10 players to average at least one assist and one block per game, Covington’s length, mobility and strength make him a nuisance for point guards and power forwards alike. Whereas other defense-first wings like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Andre Roberson do not appear in our Top 100, the 26-year-old Covington earned the nod because he should be something better than completely hopeless on offense. Theoretically, the return of franchise center Joel Embiid and the arrival of playmaking ball-handlers like Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz will help create easier scoring opportunities in transition and cleaner catch-and-shoot looks, thereby simplifying Covington’s responsibilities and bolstering his woeful shooting numbers. — BG

81. Tobias Harris, Pistons

The door is wide open for Harris, a gifted scoring forward (16.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.7 APG) who shifted in and out of the starting lineup in 2016-17, to put together a career year in Detroit. Really, this is a simple case of supply and demand as the Pistons’ No. 25 offense lost two starters—Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris—who combined to take 25 shots per game. There are plenty of touches and shots to be had, even after key newcomer Avery Bradley gets his share, and the 25-year-old Harris is the most proven and efficient offensive player among Detroit’s varied crop of threes and fours. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy dumped Harris to the second unit for stretches of last season in hopes of balancing his scoring and fielding bigger frontline configurations. Given Detroit’s new roster construction and shallower pool of established talent, Harris should return to a full-time starting role, adding isolation scoring and a degree of spacing to Detroit’s bread-and-butter spread pick-and-roll. While Harris’s status as a tweener forward does cost him defensively, especially against power forwards, the Pistons’ meandering retooling effort has evolved to the point where the organization must treat him like a core piece, playing to his strengths and working to cover his weaknesses. — BG

80. Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors

There’s an unmistakable sadness to the flatlining of Valanciunas (12 PPG, 9.5 RPG), a huge, crafty and efficient scoring center whose signature skills aren’t truly essential to his team’s guard-dominated attack and whose defensive limitations make him an obvious demotion target in the postseason. The 25-year-old Lithuanian big man has posted nearly identical numbers for three straight seasons, a sign of his workhorse mentality and inherent dependability, but also of his carefully-carved niche and his inability to win an expanded role in crunch time. Moved to the bench midway through both of Toronto’s postseason series last year, Valanciunas averaged just 22.6 MPG in the playoffs, a career low. He is simply a casualty of basketball’s new style of war: The Raptors’ defensive rating was far better without him during both the regular season and the postseason, and midseason acquisition Serge Ibaka is a natural fit as a smallball center. While Valanciunas appeared to be an obvious trade chip, he survived president Masai Ujiri’s busy summer and will run things back for a sixth year in Toronto. If recent history is any indication, he’ll go about his Goliath-like business by flirting with a double-double average before ceding the court to more mobile Davids once the season is on the line. — BG

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79. Markieff Morris, Wizards

What Morris (14.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.7 APG) lacks in any single, standout attribute, he makes up for in broad suitability. Most any team could make use of his skill set. There is always a need for bigs who can dabble in guarding wings (which Morris does competently), and particularly those who match up physically with the league’s most dangerous tweener forwards. Morris has the game to post smaller players and work around bigger ones, though his better judgment (and full investment) comes and goes. There’s also the matter of his pending criminal trial, which could result in jail time with a conviction or a minimum 10-game suspension in the event of a plea deal. This is a inextricable part of who Morris is. — RM

78. Reggie Jackson, Pistons

Based solely on his play during an injury-hampered 2016-17 season, Jackson (14.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 5.2 APG) doesn’t belong in the NBA’s Top 200 or possibly even its Top 300. Dogged by a knee injury that cost him 30 games, the 27-year-old point guard was one of the league’s biggest disappointments, posting a team-worst -8.8 net rating as the Pistons finished with a bottom-six offense and slid back into the lottery. His struggles to get to the foul line, his major regression as a finisher in the basket area, and his greater reliance on long twos were all byproducts of his compromised athleticism and quickness.

While Jackson still faces some lingering health concerns, he’s a solid starting point guard when his body is right. At his best, Jackson is a tireless, headstrong attacker off the dribble and an experienced, confident pick-and-roll practitioner whose two-man game with Andre Drummond formed the basis of a decent offense for a playoff team in 2015-16. If he returns to full health, he should outplay this ranking. However, if Jackson remains limited as he works his way through the final three years of a 5-year, $80 million contract, Detroit’s long-term outlook becomes incredibly bleak. — BG

77. Victor Oladipo, Pacers

Instead of emerging as a true co-pilot on Russell Westbrook’s magical ride, Oladipo (15.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.6 APG) joined the rest of the Thunder in the backseat. Upon arriving in Oklahoma City by trade last summer, the 25-year-old guard seemed poised to play the Robin role and step forward as a lead playmaker when the 2017 MVP went to the bench. But the anticipated breakthrough never materialized, as Oladipo’s game mirrored his good-but-not-great showing during his first three years in Orlando. Then, in his first trip to the playoffs, Oladipo’s shot abandoned him and he proved to be only a bit player.

There’s some fool’s gold to Oladipo. He’s quick and leaps well, but doesn’t translate those tools into consistent, efficient isolation offense. He can get by as a spot-up shooter, but isn’t a knockdown threat. He can generate offense in pick-and-rolls, but doesn’t light up the highlight tapes with his vision. He’s got a strong frame, but hasn’t yet delivered on pre-draft prognostications that viewed him as an elite defender. While his offseason trade to Indiana should offer him more shots, touches, and opportunities to initiate the offense, he will likely struggle with the burdens of being a lead backcourt scorer. — BG

76. Dennis Schröder, Hawks

Not every productive sub can assume starting duties without missing a beat. Schröder pulled it off, all while scoring more often and more efficiently than he did previously. His 2016-17 season was an achievement of scale—proof that Schröder was ready for a different level of responsibility and consideration. The Hawks had asked more of him by trading away Jeff Teague. Schröder, by most metrics, delivered.

It’s reasonable to wonder, however, just how much further Schöder (17.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 6.3 APG) can go within this sort of role. His credentials off the dribble speak for themselves; only Isaiah Thomas averaged more drives to the basket, per NBA.com, and yet Schöder still converted 50.4% of his shots off those drives. What’s off is his sense of timing. Schröder is a reasonably effective playmaker who tends to irk his teammates by when he chooses to pass and when he does not. Lobs are sometimes thrown a beat too late. Shooters who were open just a moment previously find themselves covered once Schöder finally decides to send the ball their way. Schöder just isn’t a natural playmaker. Passing is a part of his game born of expectation rather than instinct. Other players have forged fine careers playing that way, though it does curb Schröder’s ability to actually lift an offense with his play. — RM

75. Danny Green, Spurs

Green plays in a way that draws a lot of attention to what he cannot do. He still has little recourse when opponents decide to run him off the three-point line, a predicament that pushes Green well out of his comfort zone. His perimeter shooting—Green’s (7.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.8 APG) most valuable contribution to an offense—is now in the midst of a two-year lull. Yet at minimum, Green is one of the most stifling defenders on the floor in every game he plays. Coaches can swing him freely to cover perimeter players of all kinds. Starting a defensive liability at point guard? Have Green corral opposing ones with his length instead. Need to preserve the energy of a ball-dominant creator? Cross-match Green to find the most advantageous matchup possible. The league has its share of defensive stoppers who undermine their own teams through offensive inability. Green is a cut above. Through cold streaks and all, he converted 38% of his three-pointers last season. — RM

74. Dwyane Wade, Bulls

The Flash hasn’t completely extinguished, but he’s getting deeper and deeper into the fizzle. Wade (18.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.8 APG) wasn’t nearly as effective as his box score stats suggest during his first season in Chicago, ranking well outside the top 100 in both Win Shares and Real Plus-Minus while missing out on the All-Star Game for the first time since 2004. Even with the benefit of playing alongside an A-lister in Jimmy Butler, the future Hall of Famer posted career-lows in FG% and True Shooting Percentage, and he saw his Player Efficiency Rating drop for the fifth straight season. Far too often, Wade’s approach to transition defense recalled post-Achilles Kobe Bryant, and he made waves in the media when his frustration with his younger, less talented teammates spilled over.

These are virtually inevitable trends for a former scoring champ who never mastered the three-point shot and who turned 35 in January. Given that Wade makes no sense for the tanking Bulls, this summer appears to represent a crossroads. The three-time champ still has enough scoring chops and savviness to help a winning team, but he’s best suited to a narrower role that will protect his body and channel his energy. As Chicago eventually progresses towards a buyout of his $23.8 million contract, it will be fascinating to see whether Wade is mentally prepared to transition to life as a super-sub after a long and decorated career on center stage. — BG

73. Dwight Howard, Hornets

The past five months have been damning for Howard (13.5 PPG, 12.7 RPG), who was benched during the fourth quarter of Atlanta’s first-round playoff series and then abruptly traded to Charlotte for one of the league’s worst contracts in Miles Plumlee. The MVP candidate and NBA Finalist from Orlando is a long-lost memory. The days of him being a co-superstar in L.A. and Houston are in the distant past. The hometown hero angle in Atlanta never took. And now Howard is left battling with Cody Zeller for minutes on a Hornets team that won 36 games last year.

Even at 31, Howard remains one of the league’s most productive rebounders and biggest bodies, and a reunion with former Magic assistant Steve Clifford should help him hit the ground running in Charlotte, his third stop in three seasons. But the league has transitioned away from his preferred low-block isolation style on offense, and his athleticism, mobility and stamina have waned in recent years. Although he’s still capable of playing big minutes for an elite defense, as evidenced by Atlanta’s No. 4 defense last year, he’s increasingly vulnerable to exploitation in the playoffs like most traditional centers. Howard’s seniority and relationship with Clifford should make him a starter to open the season, but on a good team the 13-year vet would be best deployed in a reserve role, whether or not he’s willing to admit it. — BG

72. Greg Monroe, Bucks

Moving to the bench was a gift for Monroe. Rarely do opposing second units have the height to answer him inside, which presents all sorts of advantages beyond simple post-ups. There are free possessions every game for Monroe to gobble up on the offensive glass. As the NBA has evolved, Monroe (11.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG) has also learned how to flash into position opposite a teammates’ drive or pick-and-roll—making himself available just at the right time. That’s no small thing when the player in question is 6'11" with sound footwork and a soft release. Those kinds of developments make Monroe one of the league’s better-acclimated traditional centers. Some elements of his game will always be out of phase with the era he plays in. Yet unlike other post-up bigs, Monroe at least passes well enough to get by and has worked to make himself an adequate defender. The Bucks explored every avenue to trade Monroe in recent years and still his presence made them a better team on both sides of the ball. — RM

71. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks

There is only so much benefit of the doubt that can be given to a living legend in an exercise such as this. The reality is that Nowitzki is 39 years old, a liability on one side of the floor, and coming off his worst-shooting season since his rookie year. That injuries complicated matters for Nowitzki ?(14.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG) last season does little to help his case; any player this deep into his career is likely to be slowed by all kinds of aches and pains. Performing at a high level only gets that much more challenging for Nowitzki with every passing season, and his ranking has to reflect that.

It also needs to encapsulate Nowitzki’s value as a cultural pillar. It always means something to a franchise to have a Hall-of-Famer around, but it means even more when that Hall-of-Famer is also a legendary worker. Nowitzki is as positive an influence on team chemistry as one can find: a no-maintenance, easy-going teammate who could work with almost anyone. Teams can still draw on his scoring in the post and at the elbow. Defenses still have the utmost respect for his shooting, which in turn frees up lanes and angles for Nowitzki’s teammates. There’s just no way for a defense to fully account for a big with Dirk’s shooting ability and reputation—much less his unblockable release. Slide him over to center (as Dallas did for half of Nowitzki’s minutes last season) and the impact of his shooting is that much more pronounced. — RM

70. Cody Zeller, Hornets

Rarely does a non-superstar prove to be as indispensable as Zeller (10.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.6 APG) was for the Hornets last season. With Zeller, Charlotte went 33-29. Without him, they went 3-17. With Zeller on the court, the Hornets had a +5.4 net rating, similar to the 55-win Rockets. With him off the court, the Hornets dropped to a -3.6 net rating, nearly as bad as the 31-win Knicks. The 24-year-old center even managed to rank fifth at his position in Real Plus-Minus just four years after his selection was booed by fans on draft night.

While those disparate splits can be explained in part by Charlotte’s thin frontcourt rotation, Zeller deserves more credit than he gets as a useful, flexible and thoroughly modern big man. Mobility is central to his value on both ends: Zeller moves freely and decisively as a pick-and-roll target, he switches defensively on to smaller players without too much trouble, he offers timely weakside help, and he runs the court with ease. Given the space his movement creates in the paint and the higher pace his presence facilitates, lineups featuring Zeller at center may very well outperform lineups featuring the recently-acquired Dwight Howard next season. — BG

69. Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers

Following a midseason trade, it took Nurkic (10.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.9 APG) just a few weeks to go from a disgruntled, underachieving cast-off in Denver to a beloved, full-fledged phenomenon in Portland. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the good times and monster stat lines were cut short by a leg injury that cost the 23-year-old Bosnian center the final seven games of the regular season and limited him to one brief postseason appearance. Still, the pre-injury flashes of excitement and dominant play were very real, as the monster 7-footer provided badly-needed frontcourt scoring, space-eating interior defense, and mega doses of swagger to an otherwise listless Blazers campaign.

With the possibility of a monster payday on the horizon, Nurkic approaches the final year of his rookie contract in “prove it” mode on numerous fronts: He must prove that he can stay healthy after missing 87 combined games over his first three seasons, he must prove that immaturity issues a thing of the past, he must prove that his late-season scoring surge is sustainable once he’s targeted by rival game plans, he must prove that his improved conditioning can help ease his turnover problems and foul trouble, and he must prove that he can be the full-time backline stopper for a decent defense. If he succeeds on most or all of those fronts, the Blazers should be on track for their most successful season of the post-LaMarcus Aldridge era. — BG

68. Myles Turner, Pacers

In just two seasons, Turner has dealt with a coaching change, a front-office shake-up, a position switch, a point-guard carousel, and the departure of his team’s franchise player. Through it all, the 2015 lottery pick has done an admirable job of rolling with the punches as he settles into life as a two-way impact starting center. With an outside-in offensive game and excellent shot-blocking instincts, the 21-year-old Turner projects as the rebuilding Pacers’ highest priority next season.

Turner is not yet ready to take the reins from Paul George as The Man given his limited low-post arsenal and still-developing frame, but the oft-cited comparisons to fellow Texas product LaMarcus Aldridge look increasingly apt. He’s got a smooth shooting stroke, excellent length and a good motor, and he led the Pacers’ regular rotation players with a +3.2 net rating. Although Turner (14.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.3 APG) might still be two years away from possessing the strength necessary to be an imposing low-post isolation defender and go-to scorer on the block, he’s clearly ahead of schedule compared to most young bigs. Despite Turner’s disappointing showing in Indiana’s humbling first-round loss to Cleveland, there are only a few other 22-and-under centers—Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic and Kristaps Porzingis—with higher ceilings. — BG

67. Derrick Favors, Jazz

This range is no place for one of the more balanced bigs in the league. Yet here we find Favors—a strong defender with a well-developed offensive game—dropped by the most frustrating season of his professional career. Layered, complicating leg injuries sapped Favors (9.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.1 APG) of his mobility. The calculated shuffling that made Favors a versatile defender turned stiff. The vertical imposition that made him a bother around the basket never had the same lift. The problem for Favors wasn’t just his games missed (32) or limited minutes (23.7 per game); life as a big man is far more complicated when one leg can’t be fully trusted to launch or pivot, the toll of which cost Favors so much of what makes him effective. Hopefully this is the sort of ranking that will look overly cautious by season’s end. Yet in projecting how much and how well Favors is likely to play over a single-season time frame, one has to pay serious consideration to the sort of chronic injury that rendered Favors a shell of his former self. — RM

66. Marcin Gortat, Wizards

It’s almost too easy to take Gortat ?(10.8 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.5 APG) for granted. The league has plenty of bigs who are more technically skilled than Gortat. There are greater post threats out there and more instinctive defenders, rangier shooters and more intuitive passers. What earns Gortat his place in the league is in the breadth of his reliability. Every night, Gortat’s team benefits from quality returns across the board. In a league with so many one-way bigs, Gortat gets by on both ends. Lineups featuring Gortat have defended well whenever Washington could put a group of competent professionals around him, despite the fact that there are better rim protectors and more agile players at his position. Scoring comes more easily for players like John Wall and Bradley Beal when Gortat is around, whether due to the hard screens he sets (Gortat finished second in the league in screen assists) or his persistent availability. Gortat doesn’t have a particularly wide range offensively, but he compensates by playing to the areas where he can actually present a threat and keeping a direct lane open between himself and the ball. There’s nothing particularly sensational about his ability to make catches he should make and flip in shots on the move. All the same, everything around Gortat is made easier by his ability to do so. — RM

65. Pau Gasol, Spurs

This is a complicated juncture for Gasol, who is caught somewhere between starter and reserve. What matters most is that he’s still effective. Even at 37 years old, Gasol ?(12.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.3 APG) brings such healthy variety to an offense that he serves to build out its options. Most every team could benefit from an intermediary who sees the floor as well as Gasol does. It’s nice to have a shooter, a post player, and a roll man. It’s nicer still to have a big who can do all three while reading the floor as he goes. The Spurs, unsurprisingly, did as good a job of maximizing Gasol’s play as any team in recent years. Gasol is slow of foot but still contributed to the best defense in the league. The mechanisms of San Antonio’s offense empowered Gasol as a spot-up shooter, where he returned more points per spot-up possession than every big in the league save for Channing Frye. A lighter minutes load kept his production lean and consistent. Relying too much on Gasol can be limiting, but through the Spurs we saw the value of his role made right. — RM

64. Devin Booker, Suns

In just his second season, Booker (22.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.4 APG) proved that he has already mastered the art of volume scoring, becoming the first age-20 player to average 22 points since Kyrie Irving in 2013 and dumping in an absurd 70-point performance against the Celtics that stands as the highest total scored by any active player. However, the rest of Booker’s portfolio—scoring efficiency, playmaking for others, defense, winning—still needs considerable work. Phoenix’s rising shooting guard finished outside the top 100 in PER and outside the top 200 in three other major advanced statistical categories (Win Shares, Real Plus-Minus and WARP).

Booker, much like Andrew Wiggins at this time last year, is far better and more tantalizing in theory than in practice. While he’s clearly talented, fresh and exciting, his shiny scoring exploits are dimmed by his ultra-green light and by the fact that he’s yet to play in a meaningful game because his team is so bad. Once Booker evolves into a more complete player and transforms Phoenix into a respectable team, he will be fully worthy of the hype many have already bestowed upon him. — BG

63. George Hill, Kings

Hill is the best of his kind: a smart, disciplined player who pairs perfectly with a playmaking wing. He can run an offense when asked, but Hill is at his best when part of a more balanced attack. Let the offense flow, and the ball will find its way back to him. Hill (16.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 4.2 APG) is a natural when it comes to sliding into place on the perimeter, bolstering the creation of his teammates with a strong spot-up option. Should the defense close out aggressively (as one would expect given Hill’s 40.3% shooting from three), Hill can comfortably trigger the next move in sequence: a straight-line drive, a secondary pick-and-roll, or a simple swing pass. Hill is the kind of guard any team would want on the weak side, and a better-than-advertised initial playmaker to boot. What really cements Hill’s universal appeal, however, is his defense. Hill is 6'3" with a 6'9" wingspan—a reach that envelops smaller guards and allows Hill to swing easily between positions. Even some small forwards are fair game. Don’t be discouraged by the fact that Hill is neither the model of a pure point guard nor an especially prolific scorer. Everything that he is and does creates possibilities. — RM

62. Trevor Ariza, Rockets

He wasn’t the MVP runner-up, the confrontational point guard, the pricey super-stretch four, the breakout big or one of two new microwave-scoring Sixth Man of the Year candidates. With so many big personalities and new faces, it’s no wonder that Ariza (11.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.2 APG) was easy to take for granted in Houston last season. As always, though, the 32-year-old small forward’s durability, reliability, consistency and well-honed Three-and-D game were central to the Rockets’ success.

A smart and tested 13-year vet, Ariza fully understands and precisely executes his job: He defends the opposing team’s top wing, he waits patiently for his offense to come via spot-up shots and transition opportunities, he keeps his mistakes to a minimum, and he does it all again the next night. Remarkably, Ariza has missed just three total games during his three-year tenure in Houston, and he finished No. 11 in minutes played in 2016-17. Every contender would be glad to have him. — BG

61. Ricky Rubio, Jazz

For all of Rubio’s apparent limitations, the Timberwolves were a top-10 offense last season under his direction—and a few points better when Rubio (11.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 9.1 APG) was actually on the floor. We cannot ignore the fact that Rubio’s unreliable shooting and unwilling trigger would create certain problems in a playoff setting. Yet more generally, his vision nourishes an offense. Rubio pulls off passes that are beyond most players, simultaneously continuing a possession’s progress and leading his teammates into scoring position. He is one of the best in the league in assisting for layups and dunks, making up for the fact that he doesn’t create (or convert) many of those looks for himself. The deficits in Rubio’s game blink in neon. Around them, a functional offense lives in a healthy grow.

Rubio is a particular sort of player best served by specific types of teammates. One could argue easily, however, that the Wolves were never able to provide them – that if we take Rubio’s work in a vacuum, as we endeavor to for this list, he may have been underserved by his circumstances. Working with Rubio means living with his 10-12 points per game. It also means depending upon everything he does to keep an offense running smoothly while benefiting from the turnovers and stops brought about by his sharp defensive instincts. — RM

60. Jrue Holiday, Pelicans

It’s hard to fully grasp how imposing Holiday is until you watch him hound some poor, undersize point guard punching the clock in a random regular season game. Denial is a Holiday specialty. Nothing seems amiss until it comes time to get the ball to Holiday’s man, and the way is shut by an aggressive, 6'4" defender with a 6'7" wingspan. Sneak a pass through and any shot still has to arc over Holiday’s reach. Any drive has to create enough room so that Holiday—supposing an opponent can get by him in the first place—can’t disrupt a play from the side or from behind.

When the applications for Holiday (15.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 7.3 APG) start there, his scoring and playmaking are almost gravy. The latter may be understated even by a solid assist average (7.3 per game). Through his passing, Holiday managed to pull nearly three three-pointers a game from a cast of misfiring teammates. Isaiah Thomas, who ran one of the most prolific three-point-shooting offenses in the league, averaged slightly fewer. That said, it’s a bit odd that Holiday had as much trouble as he did playing alongside Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins last season. The versatility of Holiday’s game and positioning should make him useful in all sorts of situations. Those short-term snags were somewhat understandable given the magnitude of the mid-season changes involved, though this will be a season to watch as Holiday wages a season of his playing prime with a team that very much needs his guidance. — RM

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59. J.J. Redick, 76ers

Although he’s reversing the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s journey by leaving L.A. for Philadelphia, Redick (15 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.4 APG) will nevertheless have his life flipped-turned upside down once he suits up for the Sixers. For the last four years, Redick played alongside an elite point guard in a star-studded and veteran-dominated Clippers starting lineup that annually ranked among the NBA’s most efficient offensive units. With the Sixers, the 33-year-old sharpshooter is set to join a roster built around a trio of recent lottery picks—Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz—who have combined to play less than 800 minutes. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has ranked dead last offensively in each of the last four seasons.

The Sixers made their one-year, $23 million investment in Redick this summer hoping that his constant off-ball movement, quick-trigger catch-and-shoot acumen, and elite three-point shooting range would help rookie ball-handlers Simmons and Fultz adjust to the NBA level. While often overmatched physically and athletically at the two, Redick is a solid and disciplined defender who brings a level of experience not otherwise found on Philadelphia’s roster. On both sides of the ball, then, this looks like a clean fit between team need and player skillset. Redick hasn’t yet displayed major signs of age-related decline, but playing without the benefit of Chris Paul’s masterful orchestration may alter the perception of the 11-year vet’s staying power. — BG

58. Clint Capela, Rockets

Don’t confuse the simplicity of Capela’s role for expendability. Think of it this way: there are a finite number of viable bigs in the NBA. Among them, only a portion—and a smaller portion than one might think—really understands how to set and hold a good screen. Only a portion of that group has the athleticism (and energy) to roll consistently. An even smaller subset has the hands to catch and finish as Capela does, and an even smaller one, still, has the bounce to reach the lobs that Capela dunks easily. The thought that anyone could do what Capela ?(12.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.0 APG) does needs to be qualified: Anyone with this rare combination of height, quickness, coordination, athleticism, attitude, and instincts could do what Capela does. There are so few like him, despite the fact that the low-usage, rim-running center archetype is as valuable as ever. What more could a superteam want than a big who defends, rebounds, and commits to keeping the offense moving without any insistence of his own reward? — RM

57. Gary Harris, Nuggets

A surprising number of fans—and even people within the league—haven’t yet caught on to the fact that Harris is one of the NBA’s best shooters. When ‘wide open’ last season by NBA.com’s designation, Harris sank an incredible 50.6% of his three-pointers. Overall, he leveled out at 42% from beyond the arc, good for eighth overall. Thus begins the case for Harris (14.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.9 APG) as an exceptional off-ball threat. A shooter of his caliber is exactly what any offense would want to balance the floor for its offense. What makes Harris all the more difficult to cover is that he might slip away at any moment; a momentary diversion is all Harris needs to dart into open space and fundamentally change a possession. Great playmakers see the game through a certain geometry, timing out which teammates are available when. Great cutters, like Harris, can make sense of the inverse. On every possession, Harris parses the spaces between players to find which ones—if sprinted through at just the right time—might prove fruitful. Operating in that way demands a certain caliber of playmaking, but it’s Harris who finds the means to produce 17.2 points per 36 minutes. — RM

56. Serge Ibaka, Raptors

The Magic traded for him in hopes that he would provide a clear defensive team identity. Then, the Raptors acquired him with an eye towards substantially improving their lineup versatility against the East’s top playoff contenders. On both counts, the 27-year-old Ibaka (14.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG) left his new teams wanting more. In Orlando, he proved unable to solve the many fit questions around him and failed to transform a space-deprived offense that needed more than a complementary frontcourt scorer. In Toronto, he couldn’t recapture the game-changing, two-way play he regularly showcased during his Oklahoma City tenure.

Taken together, the two chapters of Ibaka’s underwhelming 2016-17 season strongly suggest that his most effective and forceful days are behind him. Once a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and shot-blocking leader, his block rate has now decreased for five straight seasons. Surprisingly, both the Magic and Raptors posted better defensive efficiency ratings with Ibaka off the court than with him on, and Toronto’s small-ball units with Ibaka at center did not fare well defensively against the Cavaliers in the second round. Ibaka’s three-point shooting range and his ability to play both the four and five helped him pull down a three-year, $64 million contract from the Raptors this summer, but even that payday was a reminder of what could have been. Had the 2014 version of Ibaka hit the market this summer, he would have easily commanded a nine-figure deal. — BG

55. Jeff Teague, Timberwolves

Sizing up Teague feels an awful lot like hearing an urban legend. He has made an All-Star team and appeared in the playoffs for eight straight years, and yet the most memorable moment of his career might have been when he was spotted clutching a pizza box all by himself after being left behind by the team bus. He shared his only career Player of the Month award with four other people. He was traded for a mediocre first-round draft pick while on a below-market contract just one year after guiding a 60-win team. He was so thoroughly unassuming in Indiana last season (15.3 PPG, 4 RPG, 7.8 APG) that even the Pacers’ official website took care to note his silent and emotionless demeanor.

And yet Teague somehow posted PPG/RPG/APG numbers in 2016-17 that were only matched or exceeded by five A-listers—LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul and John Wall. Clearly, the 29-year-old point guard is not on that level, but he makes for an intriguing addition to Minnesota’s overhauled and upgraded starting lineup. An adept pick-and-roll initiator with three-point range and the ability to get to the line, Teague will give the post-Ricky Rubio Timberwolves a natural scoring threat at the one. Although he’s nothing to write home about as a defender, Teague gets by well enough to make Minnesota’s three-year, $57 million contract look like a reasonable, if slightly generous, investment. By signing on with the Timberwolves—an organization that’s desperate to snap its playoff drought—Teague surely understands that he will be judged next season not by his own numbers but by his ability to keep his many weapons satisfied. — BG

54. Avery Bradley, Pistons

It remains a great curiosity that Bradley—a 6'2" guard who had never been much of a rebounder—effectively doubled his per-game rebounding average last season. What isn’t is the motivation; gang rebounding became a team need based on Boston’s lineup construction, and Bradley (16.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.2 APG) is just the sort to stretch and bend his game to whatever end is needed. Mentality separates Bradley from his peers. There are quicker guards out there, but it’s Bradley who’s picking up his man at three-quarter court, turning every dribble into a battleground. There may be players closer to a loose ball, but Bradley is the one who makes up enough ground to snatch a possession away. There are better shooters and smoother ball-handlers, and yet Bradley has worked those skills and more to bring his greater game toward its reasonable limit. As a result, the NBA has reached a consensus: Bradley is one of those defenders (and one of those opponents in general, really) that nobody wants to face. — RM

53. Otto Porter, Wizards

Porter should host a self-help seminar at the NBA’s annual rookie symposium entitled, “If I can pull in a $100 million contract, you can too.” Indeed, his first four NBA seasons have been a blueprint in how to make it: He has taken incremental steps forward every season (13.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.5 APG) last year), he has embraced major defensive responsibilities, he has honed a reliable three-point stroke, he has meshed with star players and settled into his spot on the pecking order, and in so doing he has made himself indispensable. Given the choice between recommitting to Porter by matching a four-year, $107 million max offer sheet or watching their playoff ceiling cave in, the Wizards unsurprisingly gritted their teeth and paid up.

Even as recently as two years ago, this profitable chain of events seemed unlikely. But the 24-year-old Porter shook off a rookie-year injury and built himself into the prototypical 3-and-D wing the Wizards envisioned he would become when they selected him at No. 3 in 2013. An advanced stats darling thanks to his ultra-efficient shooting and low turnover rate, Porter makes for a perfect fit alongside Washington’s pair of ball-dominant star guards. Thanks to near impeccable health for all three players, that trio shared the court for more than 2,000 minutes last season, posting a sterling +7 net rating. The Wizards’ core of the future is set. — BG

52. Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers

There are players in the league who make a show of their effort level. Thompson makes a job of it. All game long he works through second, third, and fourth actions, always toward some targeted purpose. There is no activity in his game merely for activity’s sake; Thompson (8.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.0 APG) both draws from an incomparable motor and uses it judiciously. That smart hustle wrings everything out from a functionally limited skill set. Thompson is never suited to take more than a dribble or two, doesn’t have range beyond eight feet, and doesn’t contribute much of anything as a passer. Still he earns his keep, one hard-fought rebound or unexpected floater at a time. One of the best offenses in basketball played to its potential when Thompson was involved, and through him came Cleveland’s best chance of mounting a stout defense. Thompson gives a team options in its defensive game-planning. He demands nothing in the way of style or system, which in a postseason setting makes him a valuable chess piece. Trapping, hedging, dropping, and switching are all on the table. Simply dictate the terms of engagement and let Thompson go to work. — RM

51. Andre Drummond, Pistons

There’s been a whiplash effect when it comes to judging Drummond (13.6 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 1.1 APG), who followed up his first All-Star selection and postseason appearance in 2015-16 (No. 29 on our 2017 list) with a less-than-stellar 2016-17 campaign that felt like a step backwards. Is he a max-level franchise center capable of overwhelming opponents with his size and strength on a nightly basis? Or, is he doomed to disappoint because he reached his statistical peak at a young age and is now just another traditional center stuck adjusting to a league that increasingly prefers versatility over pure size? How should one weigh the value of his elite offensive rebounding against his indisputably poor defensive impact numbers and worse-than-atrocious free-throw shooting? What’s more trustworthy: His stellar PER or his middling Real Plus-Minus? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how much should any center be blamed when his starting point guard completely falls apart without warning?

Theoretically, the 24-year-old Drummond’s performance in 2016-17 should represent his basement. Reggie Jackson’s injury compromised their proven pick-and-roll partnership and forced Drummond into too many lower-efficiency post-up opportunities. Defensively, Drummond struggled with awareness, decision-making and rim-protection on an individual level, and yet the Pistons’ frontcourt personnel didn’t offer much in the way of help either. Despite his warts, Drummond’s athleticism and sheer size would surely be put to much better use on a roster that possessed average talent, depth and chemistry. A reliable, healthy floor general to feed him would go a long way, too. As it stands, Drummond must prove that his unique strengths can consistently translate to a greater degree of team success or he must evolve into a more complete all-around impact-maker before he can be regarded as one of the NBA’s brightest rising stars again. — BG

Top 100 NBA Players of 2018: Nos. 100-51

The Crossover is proud to offer our list of the Top 100 NBA players of 2018, an exhaustive exercise that seeks to define who will be the league's best players in the 2017-18 season.

Given the wide variety of candidates involved and the deep analytical resources available, no single, definitive criterion was used to form this list. Instead, rankings were assigned based on a fluid combination of subjective assessment and objective data. This list is an attempt to evaluate each player in a vacuum, independent of their current team context as much as possible. A player's prospects beyond the 2017-18 season did not play a part in the ranking process.

Injuries and injury risks are an inevitable component of this judgment. Past performance (postseason included) weighed heavily in our assessment, with a skew toward the recent. First-year players were not included. A predictive element also came into play with the anticipated improvement of certain younger players, as well as the possible decline of aging veterans. Salary was not taken into consideration. Otherwise, players were ordered based on their complete games. You can read more here on the limitations of this kind of ranking. To see our 25 biggest snubs from this year, click here.

Please feel free to take a look back to SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014. A special thanks, as always, to those resources that make researching a list like this possible: Basketball-Reference, NBA.com, ESPN.com, Nylon Calculus, and Synergy Sports.

• Complete Top 100 breakdowns: 100-51 | 50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1

100. D’Angelo Russell, Nets

We’ve seen hints of a team-changing playmaker and shooter lurking within Russell, buried beneath questionable judgment and short-term priorities. Every year of experience brings hope that his potential might come more fully to bear. Young players are perpetually caught between their want for freedom and their need for structure. Russell didn’t find the right mix in Los Angeles, though he might in Brooklyn—a franchise as invested in cultivating talent as any in the league. The firepower is there. The star power, too. But first Russell must learn the value of his smallest contributions and the goals they work toward. Averages of 19.6 points, 6.0 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per 36 minutes are promising. If Russell can apply that same production toward winning margins, it could be something more. — Rob Mahoney

99. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lakers

A change of scenery couldn’t come at a better time for Caldwell-Pope (13.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.5 APG), whose progress seemed to stagnate amidst Detroit’s dysfunction. Cast as a prototypical 3-and-D wing, the 24-year-old shooting guard shot below league average from deep for the fourth straight year and posted a 107.7 defensive rating that was nearly seven points worse than Detroit’s mark when he was on the bench. Naturally, critics might wonder: If a “3-and-D wing" is both a subpar shooter and a minus defender, what is he?

It’s quite possible that Caldwell-Pope was simply the victim of bad circumstances. The 2013 lottery pick possesses the right mix of size, quickness, length and energy to effectively defend both point guards and wings, and he spent huge portions of his court time surrounded by weaker defensive links. In L.A., Caldwell-Pope should also benefit from an up-tempo, free-flowing style thanks to his comfort in the open court, his solid athletic tools, and his gradual development as a secondary pick-and-roll playmaker. — Ben Golliver

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98. Patrick Patterson, Thunder

We have more than three years of data showing that the Raptors—one of the best teams in the East during that time—were at their best when Patterson (5.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.2 APG) was around. Not even heavily involved, per se, but around. The beauty of Patterson’s game is that it never needs to be schemed to fit or featured. The flow will find him. Possessions will naturally redirect themselves through Patterson when they stall, or find him as an open shooter on the perimeter. His positioning will help account for a teammates’ blown assignment, patching up what should have been a breakdown. A screen he sets will trigger the chain of events that ultimately leads to a score, albeit without any formal credit. When a possession begins, no one knows fully what’s coming. Patterson is flexible in ways that are perfectly suited for sorting out the ensuing chaos through every possibility and permutation. — RM

97. Ryan Anderson, Rockets

Anderson (13.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG) is hardly the only stretch–four in the NBA, but he’s easily the stretchiest. Thanks to Houston’s all-out approach to three-pointers under coach Mike D’Antoni, the 29-year-old Anderson regularly found himself spotting up so far beyond the arc that he was off the screen during television broadcasts. All told, he attempted 5.1 deep threes per game (from 25+ feet), easily tops among the league’s frontcourt players, while somehow maintaining a 40.3% three-point shooting clip. Elsewhere, Anderson’s game is less forceful: he’s extremely limited as a playmaker, he can be overpowered at his position, and he’s easy to pick on defensively in playoff matchups. Although he spent last summer facing doubts over his pricey contract and persistent injury issues, the nine-year vet logged more than 2,100 minutes in 2016-17, his most since 2012-13. Anderson’s value is contingent upon playing with skilled creators in a wide-open system, and he’s found a perfect home in Houston. — BG

96. Elfrid Payton, Magic

As long as the Magic are mired well outside the East’s playoff picture, most observers will regard Payton (12.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6.5 APG) solely by his inability to shoot. That scarlet letter remains his defining trait and it will keep him from becoming a franchise-level floor general, but he made noteworthy progress filling out the other facets of his game in his third season. An attack-minded point guard with good size, quickness and set-up instincts, the 23-year-old Payton has improved significantly as a finisher despite the poorly-spaced lineups that usually surround him. And although he has long been blamed for Orlando’s inefficient offenses and was briefly moved to a reserve role by new coach Frank Vogel, Payton led the Magic in net rating and upped their offensive rating by more than nine points when he took the court. Payton fares well across the major advanced stats thanks to a do-everything nature that has produced eight career triple-doubles. As with many Magic players who have been stuck playing in anachronistic configurations and enduring multiple coaching changes, there’s a nagging sense that there’s more to Payton’s game than he’s been able to display to date. — BG

95. Taj Gibson, Timberwolves

Gibson has damn near perfect approval ratings among teammates and ex-teammates, which has a lot to do with how he carries himself. When a season reaches its breaking point, you want Gibson around to mediate matters with fairness and candor. When a game is getting tight, you want Gibson involved to dig in and help bust something loose. Tenacity is a skill. In Gibson’s case, it informs his entire style of play—from defending full possessions until a rebound is secured to making every effort necessary to help create a good look for his own team’s offense. It’s amazing how little has changed in Gibson’s game (10.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 0.9 APG) over the years. He might not yam on dudes with quite the same frequency, but everything is still predicated on the same dirty-work buckets and intelligent coverage. — RM

94. Julius Randle, Lakers

Randle (13.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.6 APG) has been a tease through three seasons, a strapping and assertive power forward whose effectiveness has been undercut by his weak shooting range, lack of length and poor defensive awareness. His highlight-reel fast breaks and downhill attacks have been offset by forced shots in traffic and clanged jumpers. His double-doubles have been diminished by a steady stream of breakdowns that contributed to his atrocious 113.3 defensive rating.

The premier modern fours stretch the court and protect the rim; Randle, 22, currently does neither. LA must hope, then, that Randle can find success by breaking the mold, taking advantage of his wide-shouldered physique, scoring mentality and ball-handling skills to physically punish and collapse opposing defenses. The arrivals of pass-first point guard Lonzo Ball and stretch–five Brook Lopez should help, giving Randle plenty of driving opportunities from the elbow, more room to ply his trade in the basket area, and easier scoring chances in transition. Nevertheless, Randle’s chances of reaching his ceiling and pulling down a big-dollar contract as a 2018 free agent will be determined primarily by his ability to improve his shooting and refine his one-on-one repertoire. If he can’t keep defenses honest and score more efficiently, the 2014 lottery pick may never be fully unleashed. — BG

93. Lou Williams, Clippers

As a professional scorer, Williams (17.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.0 APG) is clearly valuable but short of vital. Part of the appeal is that nothing needs to be built around him. Possession of the ball and a few seconds to spare is usually enough; Williams is so crafty at dancing his way into scoring opportunities that years of scouting reports have done little to stop him. Opponents know that Williams is waiting for them to lunge so that he might draw a foul. Still they’re convinced to jump whenever Williams creates enough separation for an open jumper, leaving them floating for a few helpless seconds as Williams lines up his play. His capacity to draw fouls (8.3 free throw attempts per 36 minutes) made Williams one of the most effective pick-and-roll scorers in the league last season despite his high usage—an unusual combination for a nominal role player. It works, though decidedly less so in the altered conditions of the postseason. — RM

92. Patty Mills, Spurs

Mills is easy to overlook, what with future Hall of Famer Tony Parker running San Antonio’s show for years and 2016 first-round pick Dejounte Murray lining up as a potential point guard of the future. But the Australian marksman outplayed both last season, easily posting better individual advanced stats than Parker while also boasting a team-best +12 net rating.

Although the 28-year-old Mills (9.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.8 RPG) isn’t the best one-on-one creator or the most natural playmaker for others, he has fully settled in to San Antonio’s system, balancing his off-the-dribble shooting ability with improved offense initiation while seamlessly shifting between back-up and starting roles. Much of what he accomplishes on both ends owes to his frenetic energy; Mills keeps moving when he doesn’t have the ball and only needs a sliver of daylight to launch a catch-and-shoot three or sneak through a seam to the rim. Despite his lack of size, he’s an especially pesky and attentive on-ball defender too. San Antonio smartly rewarded him with a four-year, $50 million contract this summer, keeping him in place as a functional bridge between Parker and Murray (or whoever else comes next). — BG

91. James Johnson, Heat

It wasn’t until his eighth season, his sixth team, and a 37-pound weight loss that Johnson finally found his place in the league. The Heat had the perfect culture to guide him; Miami’s rigorous standards for effort and conditioning demanded more of Johnson than any team ever had before. In turn, Johnson transformed. So many of the captivating flashes in his game became full-blown features. That development would mean a lot to the career of any journeyman, but especially to a marvel like Johnson. Up until this point, Johnson had been a rogue element. Last season established him as an every-night contributor—a big, physical combo forward (12.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.6 APG) who can fly around the court defensively and do a little bit of everything. The body of work is a touch slim for any ranking higher than this, though Johnson could solidify his standing in time. — RM

90. Patrick Beverley, Clippers

The discussion around Beverley (9.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.2 APG) usually begins with his smothering on-ball defense or his knack for riling up opponents, but the hard-nosed point guard is more accurately viewed as a complete, two-way contributor. Although the former second-round pick and one-time international journeyman isn’t equipped to beat defenses with his own offense, he has become an ideal backcourt running mate for a ball-dominant star—on offense—thanks to his dependable spot-up three-point shooting, capable pick-and-roll game, and propensity for making hustle plays. “When you’re going into the alley or if you’re trying to find a pick-up game, you want him with you,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said during the playoffs, following the death of Beverley’s grandfather. “Whatever we want to do, we want Pat. He has an amazing spirit and determination. Enormous heart.”

Defense, of course, is where the 29-year-old Beverley first made his name and where he continues to shine brightest. Last season, he ranked second among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and earned All-Defensive First-Team honors. The biggest knock on Beverley, who projects as the Clippers’ starter after being traded this summer, remains his durability: He’s missed nearly 30% of his team’s games during his NBA career. — BG

89. Nikola Vucevic, Magic

After five losing seasons, Vucevic is covered in red flags. There is no denying his production (14.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.8 APG), but there is qualifying it; of the 105 players in the league to attempt at least 10 shots per game last season, Vucevic ranked No. 101 in True Shooting Percentage. His biggest contributions ring a bit hollow. He’s a decent shooter but not so consistent (or so stretchy) as to make that shot a real weapon. That he sees the ball as much as he does but gets to the line so infrequently (2.1 attempts per game) undercuts his best efforts. We can only assume that a change of scenery would help given Orlando’s rotten lineup combinations of the last few years, but just how valuable is Vucevic if his role doesn’t call on him to produce in volume? Decent touch and terrific rebounding are enough to get Vucevic on this list. The bigger questions concerning his game, however, prevent him from moving up very far. — RM

88. Marvin Williams, Hornets

He never made an All-Star team or pulled down a max contract like one might expect from a No. 2 overall pick, but Williams (11.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.4 APG) remains a useful and reliable pro after 12 years in the league. A proven three-point shooter with enough size, strength and agility to defend both forward positions, the 31-year-old fits well in the modern game as a stretch-four who can’t be easily exploited on the other end. Although Williams’s efficiency and consistency took a step back from his strong contract year in 2015-16, he remained a disciplined, complementary option who stuck tightly to his role as a spacer. Williams’s specific fit in Charlotte helps illustrate the many different ways he adds value. What’s more, Williams can shift between steady starter or sixth man roles should the need arise, making it easy to envision him filling quality rotation minutes deep into his 30s. — BG

87. Rodney Hood, Jazz

For a player with a subtle game, a no-drama personality, and a pre-draft reputation for being a known quantity, Hood (12.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.6 APG) has been surprisingly difficult to project as he’s worked his way through his rookie contract. Injuries are primarily to blame, of course, as the 24-year-old wing missed 21 games in 2016-17 and never recaptured the consistency and overall offensive prowess he displayed during the previous season. Going forward, Hood figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Gordon Hayward’s free-agency departure: Utah’s fourth-leading scorer last season should enjoy career-high levels of touches and shots, and he could easily wind up leading the team in scoring in 2017-18.

While Hood is generally savvy and patient in pick-and-rolls and a reliable shot-up shooter, he’s almost certainly underqualified to be an alpha scorer for an above-average offense at this point. The 2014 first-round pick just isn’t quite dynamic enough off the dribble, he doesn’t get to the line with sufficient regularity, and he doesn’t yet possess a deep catalogue of ball-handling moves in isolation. Defensively, Hood is solid and versatile, capable of guarding twos and threes. He may not be able to replicate his All-Star predecessor’s success, but Hood is easily Utah’s best short-term hope if he can stay on the court. — BG

86. Nerlens Noel, Mavericks

There’s a delicate balance at the heart of Noel’s game. Reach, athleticism, and timing make Noel (8.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG) a natural candidate for rim protection—arguably the most important element of a center’s defensive repertoire. The potential is there. Yet every year, Noel is pulled out of conservative defensive position by pursuit of the ball. His results are uncanny: Noel effectively co-led the league in steal percentage last season (3.1%), matching ball hawks like Chris Paul and Tony Allen. The proficiency with which Noel makes deflections and chases down steals is an incredible gift for a player his size. It also makes him less predictable within the context of a team structure. When the last line of defense is always on the move, the system itself can lose its shape. If Noel, who is just 23, ever finds the equilibrium between these skills, he could become one of the best defenders in the league. As it stands, he’s still incredibly disruptive—the kind of player who can blow up a pick-and-roll by either attacking a ball handler or by erasing a shot in the air. That’s more than enough. Everything else is upside. — RM

85. Robin Lopez, Bulls

The function of a center—even in the age of stretchy, playmaking bigs—remains firmly rooted in defense. This is where Lopez delivers; on every possession he guarantees skillful coverage on the back line, employed through a legit seven-foot frame. It takes a fair bit of dancing and maneuvering on the part of a ball-handler just to get a shot up and over Lopez. Mobility isn’t the only way to cover in space. A colossus like Lopez (10.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG) can exercise a lot of influence on the game through reach alone. Lopez knows this, and does well to keep his feet when challenged. By letting his positioning do the work, Lopez ended up challenging more shots than any player in the league last season and blocking a similar percentage of opponents’ shots to DeAndre Jordan. Smart, restrained movement from a player who understands his limitations can do wonders. Lopez obviously isn’t the right fit for teams who want mold-breaking dynamism out of their centers; an 18-foot set shot is about as ambitious as Lopez gets. Having him around, however, allows for the creators on the team to do what they do best while buttressing the rest of the team’s operations. — RM

84. Wilson Chandler, Nuggets

Chandler plays a stealthy scoring game that blends easily into the background. What seems like a casual bucket or two winds up as 15 points of self-generated offense—the kind of support that every team needs. Give Chandler an ad-libbed screen in the middle of a possession and he’ll slow-play his way to a score, shifting angles and directions until he has room for a mid-range jumper. His entire approach is adaptive. Take away one land and Chandler will fidget his way into another. The fact that he only occasionally gets all the way to the rim frees up Chandler to make full use of his in-between game. It works unusually well. Of the players to initiate at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions last season, Chandler (15.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 APG) finished as the single most efficient pick-and-roll scorer. Some of that is a product of just how far he flies under the radar, though to get that kind of scoring from a wing doesn’t pose any particular liabilities is a nice lift. — RM

83. Eric Gordon, Rockets

What a relief it is to see Gordon healthy again. His best role still involves only moderate ball-handling, but what’s important is that Gordon’s body has again given him the option; it’s been years since the 28-year-old has moved this smoothly, which works to open up Gordon’s game (16.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.5 APG) beyond spot shooting alone. That diversity led the Rocket to winning Sixth Man of the Year honors last season. Still, everything builds off his jumper. It’s no surprise that Gordon’s effectiveness waned along with every shooting slump last season, including a months-long lull after the All-Star break. So long as he’s hitting, defenses have to chase his shot aggressively—opening up other avenues for creation in the process. The sheer force of Gordon’s deep range demands that opponents cover even more ground to contest. But if those shots don’t fall, Gordon just doesn’t have all that much else to keep his game afloat. — RM

82. Robert Covington, Sixers

Nerlens Noel might be gone, Jahlil Okafor might be unplayable, and a laundry list of other fringe players might have moved on after brief cups of coffee, but The Process era did manage to unearth a legitimate gem in Covington (12.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG). The undrafted forward firmed up his reputation as one of the best multi-positional defenders in the NBA last season, ranking fourth overall in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and finishing (a very distant) fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting despite playing for the 28-win Sixers. One of just 10 players to average at least one assist and one block per game, Covington’s length, mobility and strength make him a nuisance for point guards and power forwards alike. Whereas other defense-first wings like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Andre Roberson do not appear in our Top 100, the 26-year-old Covington earned the nod because he should be something better than completely hopeless on offense. Theoretically, the return of franchise center Joel Embiid and the arrival of playmaking ball-handlers like Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz will help create easier scoring opportunities in transition and cleaner catch-and-shoot looks, thereby simplifying Covington’s responsibilities and bolstering his woeful shooting numbers. — BG

81. Tobias Harris, Pistons

The door is wide open for Harris, a gifted scoring forward (16.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.7 APG) who shifted in and out of the starting lineup in 2016-17, to put together a career year in Detroit. Really, this is a simple case of supply and demand as the Pistons’ No. 25 offense lost two starters—Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris—who combined to take 25 shots per game. There are plenty of touches and shots to be had, even after key newcomer Avery Bradley gets his share, and the 25-year-old Harris is the most proven and efficient offensive player among Detroit’s varied crop of threes and fours. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy dumped Harris to the second unit for stretches of last season in hopes of balancing his scoring and fielding bigger frontline configurations. Given Detroit’s new roster construction and shallower pool of established talent, Harris should return to a full-time starting role, adding isolation scoring and a degree of spacing to Detroit’s bread-and-butter spread pick-and-roll. While Harris’s status as a tweener forward does cost him defensively, especially against power forwards, the Pistons’ meandering retooling effort has evolved to the point where the organization must treat him like a core piece, playing to his strengths and working to cover his weaknesses. — BG

80. Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors

There’s an unmistakable sadness to the flatlining of Valanciunas (12 PPG, 9.5 RPG), a huge, crafty and efficient scoring center whose signature skills aren’t truly essential to his team’s guard-dominated attack and whose defensive limitations make him an obvious demotion target in the postseason. The 25-year-old Lithuanian big man has posted nearly identical numbers for three straight seasons, a sign of his workhorse mentality and inherent dependability, but also of his carefully-carved niche and his inability to win an expanded role in crunch time. Moved to the bench midway through both of Toronto’s postseason series last year, Valanciunas averaged just 22.6 MPG in the playoffs, a career low. He is simply a casualty of basketball’s new style of war: The Raptors’ defensive rating was far better without him during both the regular season and the postseason, and midseason acquisition Serge Ibaka is a natural fit as a smallball center. While Valanciunas appeared to be an obvious trade chip, he survived president Masai Ujiri’s busy summer and will run things back for a sixth year in Toronto. If recent history is any indication, he’ll go about his Goliath-like business by flirting with a double-double average before ceding the court to more mobile Davids once the season is on the line. — BG

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79. Markieff Morris, Wizards

What Morris (14.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.7 APG) lacks in any single, standout attribute, he makes up for in broad suitability. Most any team could make use of his skill set. There is always a need for bigs who can dabble in guarding wings (which Morris does competently), and particularly those who match up physically with the league’s most dangerous tweener forwards. Morris has the game to post smaller players and work around bigger ones, though his better judgment (and full investment) comes and goes. There’s also the matter of his pending criminal trial, which could result in jail time with a conviction or a minimum 10-game suspension in the event of a plea deal. This is a inextricable part of who Morris is. — RM

78. Reggie Jackson, Pistons

Based solely on his play during an injury-hampered 2016-17 season, Jackson (14.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 5.2 APG) doesn’t belong in the NBA’s Top 200 or possibly even its Top 300. Dogged by a knee injury that cost him 30 games, the 27-year-old point guard was one of the league’s biggest disappointments, posting a team-worst -8.8 net rating as the Pistons finished with a bottom-six offense and slid back into the lottery. His struggles to get to the foul line, his major regression as a finisher in the basket area, and his greater reliance on long twos were all byproducts of his compromised athleticism and quickness.

While Jackson still faces some lingering health concerns, he’s a solid starting point guard when his body is right. At his best, Jackson is a tireless, headstrong attacker off the dribble and an experienced, confident pick-and-roll practitioner whose two-man game with Andre Drummond formed the basis of a decent offense for a playoff team in 2015-16. If he returns to full health, he should outplay this ranking. However, if Jackson remains limited as he works his way through the final three years of a 5-year, $80 million contract, Detroit’s long-term outlook becomes incredibly bleak. — BG

77. Victor Oladipo, Pacers

Instead of emerging as a true co-pilot on Russell Westbrook’s magical ride, Oladipo (15.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.6 APG) joined the rest of the Thunder in the backseat. Upon arriving in Oklahoma City by trade last summer, the 25-year-old guard seemed poised to play the Robin role and step forward as a lead playmaker when the 2017 MVP went to the bench. But the anticipated breakthrough never materialized, as Oladipo’s game mirrored his good-but-not-great showing during his first three years in Orlando. Then, in his first trip to the playoffs, Oladipo’s shot abandoned him and he proved to be only a bit player.

There’s some fool’s gold to Oladipo. He’s quick and leaps well, but doesn’t translate those tools into consistent, efficient isolation offense. He can get by as a spot-up shooter, but isn’t a knockdown threat. He can generate offense in pick-and-rolls, but doesn’t light up the highlight tapes with his vision. He’s got a strong frame, but hasn’t yet delivered on pre-draft prognostications that viewed him as an elite defender. While his offseason trade to Indiana should offer him more shots, touches, and opportunities to initiate the offense, he will likely struggle with the burdens of being a lead backcourt scorer. — BG

76. Dennis Schröder, Hawks

Not every productive sub can assume starting duties without missing a beat. Schröder pulled it off, all while scoring more often and more efficiently than he did previously. His 2016-17 season was an achievement of scale—proof that Schröder was ready for a different level of responsibility and consideration. The Hawks had asked more of him by trading away Jeff Teague. Schröder, by most metrics, delivered.

It’s reasonable to wonder, however, just how much further Schöder (17.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 6.3 APG) can go within this sort of role. His credentials off the dribble speak for themselves; only Isaiah Thomas averaged more drives to the basket, per NBA.com, and yet Schöder still converted 50.4% of his shots off those drives. What’s off is his sense of timing. Schröder is a reasonably effective playmaker who tends to irk his teammates by when he chooses to pass and when he does not. Lobs are sometimes thrown a beat too late. Shooters who were open just a moment previously find themselves covered once Schöder finally decides to send the ball their way. Schöder just isn’t a natural playmaker. Passing is a part of his game born of expectation rather than instinct. Other players have forged fine careers playing that way, though it does curb Schröder’s ability to actually lift an offense with his play. — RM

75. Danny Green, Spurs

Green plays in a way that draws a lot of attention to what he cannot do. He still has little recourse when opponents decide to run him off the three-point line, a predicament that pushes Green well out of his comfort zone. His perimeter shooting—Green’s (7.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.8 APG) most valuable contribution to an offense—is now in the midst of a two-year lull. Yet at minimum, Green is one of the most stifling defenders on the floor in every game he plays. Coaches can swing him freely to cover perimeter players of all kinds. Starting a defensive liability at point guard? Have Green corral opposing ones with his length instead. Need to preserve the energy of a ball-dominant creator? Cross-match Green to find the most advantageous matchup possible. The league has its share of defensive stoppers who undermine their own teams through offensive inability. Green is a cut above. Through cold streaks and all, he converted 38% of his three-pointers last season. — RM

74. Dwyane Wade, Bulls

The Flash hasn’t completely extinguished, but he’s getting deeper and deeper into the fizzle. Wade (18.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.8 APG) wasn’t nearly as effective as his box score stats suggest during his first season in Chicago, ranking well outside the top 100 in both Win Shares and Real Plus-Minus while missing out on the All-Star Game for the first time since 2004. Even with the benefit of playing alongside an A-lister in Jimmy Butler, the future Hall of Famer posted career-lows in FG% and True Shooting Percentage, and he saw his Player Efficiency Rating drop for the fifth straight season. Far too often, Wade’s approach to transition defense recalled post-Achilles Kobe Bryant, and he made waves in the media when his frustration with his younger, less talented teammates spilled over.

These are virtually inevitable trends for a former scoring champ who never mastered the three-point shot and who turned 35 in January. Given that Wade makes no sense for the tanking Bulls, this summer appears to represent a crossroads. The three-time champ still has enough scoring chops and savviness to help a winning team, but he’s best suited to a narrower role that will protect his body and channel his energy. As Chicago eventually progresses towards a buyout of his $23.8 million contract, it will be fascinating to see whether Wade is mentally prepared to transition to life as a super-sub after a long and decorated career on center stage. — BG

73. Dwight Howard, Hornets

The past five months have been damning for Howard (13.5 PPG, 12.7 RPG), who was benched during the fourth quarter of Atlanta’s first-round playoff series and then abruptly traded to Charlotte for one of the league’s worst contracts in Miles Plumlee. The MVP candidate and NBA Finalist from Orlando is a long-lost memory. The days of him being a co-superstar in L.A. and Houston are in the distant past. The hometown hero angle in Atlanta never took. And now Howard is left battling with Cody Zeller for minutes on a Hornets team that won 36 games last year.

Even at 31, Howard remains one of the league’s most productive rebounders and biggest bodies, and a reunion with former Magic assistant Steve Clifford should help him hit the ground running in Charlotte, his third stop in three seasons. But the league has transitioned away from his preferred low-block isolation style on offense, and his athleticism, mobility and stamina have waned in recent years. Although he’s still capable of playing big minutes for an elite defense, as evidenced by Atlanta’s No. 4 defense last year, he’s increasingly vulnerable to exploitation in the playoffs like most traditional centers. Howard’s seniority and relationship with Clifford should make him a starter to open the season, but on a good team the 13-year vet would be best deployed in a reserve role, whether or not he’s willing to admit it. — BG

72. Greg Monroe, Bucks

Moving to the bench was a gift for Monroe. Rarely do opposing second units have the height to answer him inside, which presents all sorts of advantages beyond simple post-ups. There are free possessions every game for Monroe to gobble up on the offensive glass. As the NBA has evolved, Monroe (11.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG) has also learned how to flash into position opposite a teammates’ drive or pick-and-roll—making himself available just at the right time. That’s no small thing when the player in question is 6'11" with sound footwork and a soft release. Those kinds of developments make Monroe one of the league’s better-acclimated traditional centers. Some elements of his game will always be out of phase with the era he plays in. Yet unlike other post-up bigs, Monroe at least passes well enough to get by and has worked to make himself an adequate defender. The Bucks explored every avenue to trade Monroe in recent years and still his presence made them a better team on both sides of the ball. — RM

71. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks

There is only so much benefit of the doubt that can be given to a living legend in an exercise such as this. The reality is that Nowitzki is 39 years old, a liability on one side of the floor, and coming off his worst-shooting season since his rookie year. That injuries complicated matters for Nowitzki ?(14.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG) last season does little to help his case; any player this deep into his career is likely to be slowed by all kinds of aches and pains. Performing at a high level only gets that much more challenging for Nowitzki with every passing season, and his ranking has to reflect that.

It also needs to encapsulate Nowitzki’s value as a cultural pillar. It always means something to a franchise to have a Hall-of-Famer around, but it means even more when that Hall-of-Famer is also a legendary worker. Nowitzki is as positive an influence on team chemistry as one can find: a no-maintenance, easy-going teammate who could work with almost anyone. Teams can still draw on his scoring in the post and at the elbow. Defenses still have the utmost respect for his shooting, which in turn frees up lanes and angles for Nowitzki’s teammates. There’s just no way for a defense to fully account for a big with Dirk’s shooting ability and reputation—much less his unblockable release. Slide him over to center (as Dallas did for half of Nowitzki’s minutes last season) and the impact of his shooting is that much more pronounced. — RM

70. Cody Zeller, Hornets

Rarely does a non-superstar prove to be as indispensable as Zeller (10.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.6 APG) was for the Hornets last season. With Zeller, Charlotte went 33-29. Without him, they went 3-17. With Zeller on the court, the Hornets had a +5.4 net rating, similar to the 55-win Rockets. With him off the court, the Hornets dropped to a -3.6 net rating, nearly as bad as the 31-win Knicks. The 24-year-old center even managed to rank fifth at his position in Real Plus-Minus just four years after his selection was booed by fans on draft night.

While those disparate splits can be explained in part by Charlotte’s thin frontcourt rotation, Zeller deserves more credit than he gets as a useful, flexible and thoroughly modern big man. Mobility is central to his value on both ends: Zeller moves freely and decisively as a pick-and-roll target, he switches defensively on to smaller players without too much trouble, he offers timely weakside help, and he runs the court with ease. Given the space his movement creates in the paint and the higher pace his presence facilitates, lineups featuring Zeller at center may very well outperform lineups featuring the recently-acquired Dwight Howard next season. — BG

69. Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers

Following a midseason trade, it took Nurkic (10.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.9 APG) just a few weeks to go from a disgruntled, underachieving cast-off in Denver to a beloved, full-fledged phenomenon in Portland. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the good times and monster stat lines were cut short by a leg injury that cost the 23-year-old Bosnian center the final seven games of the regular season and limited him to one brief postseason appearance. Still, the pre-injury flashes of excitement and dominant play were very real, as the monster 7-footer provided badly-needed frontcourt scoring, space-eating interior defense, and mega doses of swagger to an otherwise listless Blazers campaign.

With the possibility of a monster payday on the horizon, Nurkic approaches the final year of his rookie contract in “prove it” mode on numerous fronts: He must prove that he can stay healthy after missing 87 combined games over his first three seasons, he must prove that immaturity issues a thing of the past, he must prove that his late-season scoring surge is sustainable once he’s targeted by rival game plans, he must prove that his improved conditioning can help ease his turnover problems and foul trouble, and he must prove that he can be the full-time backline stopper for a decent defense. If he succeeds on most or all of those fronts, the Blazers should be on track for their most successful season of the post-LaMarcus Aldridge era. — BG

68. Myles Turner, Pacers

In just two seasons, Turner has dealt with a coaching change, a front-office shake-up, a position switch, a point-guard carousel, and the departure of his team’s franchise player. Through it all, the 2015 lottery pick has done an admirable job of rolling with the punches as he settles into life as a two-way impact starting center. With an outside-in offensive game and excellent shot-blocking instincts, the 21-year-old Turner projects as the rebuilding Pacers’ highest priority next season.

Turner is not yet ready to take the reins from Paul George as The Man given his limited low-post arsenal and still-developing frame, but the oft-cited comparisons to fellow Texas product LaMarcus Aldridge look increasingly apt. He’s got a smooth shooting stroke, excellent length and a good motor, and he led the Pacers’ regular rotation players with a +3.2 net rating. Although Turner (14.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.3 APG) might still be two years away from possessing the strength necessary to be an imposing low-post isolation defender and go-to scorer on the block, he’s clearly ahead of schedule compared to most young bigs. Despite Turner’s disappointing showing in Indiana’s humbling first-round loss to Cleveland, there are only a few other 22-and-under centers—Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic and Kristaps Porzingis—with higher ceilings. — BG

67. Derrick Favors, Jazz

This range is no place for one of the more balanced bigs in the league. Yet here we find Favors—a strong defender with a well-developed offensive game—dropped by the most frustrating season of his professional career. Layered, complicating leg injuries sapped Favors (9.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.1 APG) of his mobility. The calculated shuffling that made Favors a versatile defender turned stiff. The vertical imposition that made him a bother around the basket never had the same lift. The problem for Favors wasn’t just his games missed (32) or limited minutes (23.7 per game); life as a big man is far more complicated when one leg can’t be fully trusted to launch or pivot, the toll of which cost Favors so much of what makes him effective. Hopefully this is the sort of ranking that will look overly cautious by season’s end. Yet in projecting how much and how well Favors is likely to play over a single-season time frame, one has to pay serious consideration to the sort of chronic injury that rendered Favors a shell of his former self. — RM

66. Marcin Gortat, Wizards

It’s almost too easy to take Gortat ?(10.8 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.5 APG) for granted. The league has plenty of bigs who are more technically skilled than Gortat. There are greater post threats out there and more instinctive defenders, rangier shooters and more intuitive passers. What earns Gortat his place in the league is in the breadth of his reliability. Every night, Gortat’s team benefits from quality returns across the board. In a league with so many one-way bigs, Gortat gets by on both ends. Lineups featuring Gortat have defended well whenever Washington could put a group of competent professionals around him, despite the fact that there are better rim protectors and more agile players at his position. Scoring comes more easily for players like John Wall and Bradley Beal when Gortat is around, whether due to the hard screens he sets (Gortat finished second in the league in screen assists) or his persistent availability. Gortat doesn’t have a particularly wide range offensively, but he compensates by playing to the areas where he can actually present a threat and keeping a direct lane open between himself and the ball. There’s nothing particularly sensational about his ability to make catches he should make and flip in shots on the move. All the same, everything around Gortat is made easier by his ability to do so. — RM

65. Pau Gasol, Spurs

This is a complicated juncture for Gasol, who is caught somewhere between starter and reserve. What matters most is that he’s still effective. Even at 37 years old, Gasol ?(12.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.3 APG) brings such healthy variety to an offense that he serves to build out its options. Most every team could benefit from an intermediary who sees the floor as well as Gasol does. It’s nice to have a shooter, a post player, and a roll man. It’s nicer still to have a big who can do all three while reading the floor as he goes. The Spurs, unsurprisingly, did as good a job of maximizing Gasol’s play as any team in recent years. Gasol is slow of foot but still contributed to the best defense in the league. The mechanisms of San Antonio’s offense empowered Gasol as a spot-up shooter, where he returned more points per spot-up possession than every big in the league save for Channing Frye. A lighter minutes load kept his production lean and consistent. Relying too much on Gasol can be limiting, but through the Spurs we saw the value of his role made right. — RM

64. Devin Booker, Suns

In just his second season, Booker (22.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.4 APG) proved that he has already mastered the art of volume scoring, becoming the first age-20 player to average 22 points since Kyrie Irving in 2013 and dumping in an absurd 70-point performance against the Celtics that stands as the highest total scored by any active player. However, the rest of Booker’s portfolio—scoring efficiency, playmaking for others, defense, winning—still needs considerable work. Phoenix’s rising shooting guard finished outside the top 100 in PER and outside the top 200 in three other major advanced statistical categories (Win Shares, Real Plus-Minus and WARP).

Booker, much like Andrew Wiggins at this time last year, is far better and more tantalizing in theory than in practice. While he’s clearly talented, fresh and exciting, his shiny scoring exploits are dimmed by his ultra-green light and by the fact that he’s yet to play in a meaningful game because his team is so bad. Once Booker evolves into a more complete player and transforms Phoenix into a respectable team, he will be fully worthy of the hype many have already bestowed upon him. — BG

63. George Hill, Kings

Hill is the best of his kind: a smart, disciplined player who pairs perfectly with a playmaking wing. He can run an offense when asked, but Hill is at his best when part of a more balanced attack. Let the offense flow, and the ball will find its way back to him. Hill (16.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 4.2 APG) is a natural when it comes to sliding into place on the perimeter, bolstering the creation of his teammates with a strong spot-up option. Should the defense close out aggressively (as one would expect given Hill’s 40.3% shooting from three), Hill can comfortably trigger the next move in sequence: a straight-line drive, a secondary pick-and-roll, or a simple swing pass. Hill is the kind of guard any team would want on the weak side, and a better-than-advertised initial playmaker to boot. What really cements Hill’s universal appeal, however, is his defense. Hill is 6'3" with a 6'9" wingspan—a reach that envelops smaller guards and allows Hill to swing easily between positions. Even some small forwards are fair game. Don’t be discouraged by the fact that Hill is neither the model of a pure point guard nor an especially prolific scorer. Everything that he is and does creates possibilities. — RM

62. Trevor Ariza, Rockets

He wasn’t the MVP runner-up, the confrontational point guard, the pricey super-stretch four, the breakout big or one of two new microwave-scoring Sixth Man of the Year candidates. With so many big personalities and new faces, it’s no wonder that Ariza (11.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.2 APG) was easy to take for granted in Houston last season. As always, though, the 32-year-old small forward’s durability, reliability, consistency and well-honed Three-and-D game were central to the Rockets’ success.

A smart and tested 13-year vet, Ariza fully understands and precisely executes his job: He defends the opposing team’s top wing, he waits patiently for his offense to come via spot-up shots and transition opportunities, he keeps his mistakes to a minimum, and he does it all again the next night. Remarkably, Ariza has missed just three total games during his three-year tenure in Houston, and he finished No. 11 in minutes played in 2016-17. Every contender would be glad to have him. — BG

61. Ricky Rubio, Jazz

For all of Rubio’s apparent limitations, the Timberwolves were a top-10 offense last season under his direction—and a few points better when Rubio (11.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 9.1 APG) was actually on the floor. We cannot ignore the fact that Rubio’s unreliable shooting and unwilling trigger would create certain problems in a playoff setting. Yet more generally, his vision nourishes an offense. Rubio pulls off passes that are beyond most players, simultaneously continuing a possession’s progress and leading his teammates into scoring position. He is one of the best in the league in assisting for layups and dunks, making up for the fact that he doesn’t create (or convert) many of those looks for himself. The deficits in Rubio’s game blink in neon. Around them, a functional offense lives in a healthy grow.

Rubio is a particular sort of player best served by specific types of teammates. One could argue easily, however, that the Wolves were never able to provide them – that if we take Rubio’s work in a vacuum, as we endeavor to for this list, he may have been underserved by his circumstances. Working with Rubio means living with his 10-12 points per game. It also means depending upon everything he does to keep an offense running smoothly while benefiting from the turnovers and stops brought about by his sharp defensive instincts. — RM

60. Jrue Holiday, Pelicans

It’s hard to fully grasp how imposing Holiday is until you watch him hound some poor, undersize point guard punching the clock in a random regular season game. Denial is a Holiday specialty. Nothing seems amiss until it comes time to get the ball to Holiday’s man, and the way is shut by an aggressive, 6'4" defender with a 6'7" wingspan. Sneak a pass through and any shot still has to arc over Holiday’s reach. Any drive has to create enough room so that Holiday—supposing an opponent can get by him in the first place—can’t disrupt a play from the side or from behind.

When the applications for Holiday (15.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 7.3 APG) start there, his scoring and playmaking are almost gravy. The latter may be understated even by a solid assist average (7.3 per game). Through his passing, Holiday managed to pull nearly three three-pointers a game from a cast of misfiring teammates. Isaiah Thomas, who ran one of the most prolific three-point-shooting offenses in the league, averaged slightly fewer. That said, it’s a bit odd that Holiday had as much trouble as he did playing alongside Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins last season. The versatility of Holiday’s game and positioning should make him useful in all sorts of situations. Those short-term snags were somewhat understandable given the magnitude of the mid-season changes involved, though this will be a season to watch as Holiday wages a season of his playing prime with a team that very much needs his guidance. — RM

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59. J.J. Redick, 76ers

Although he’s reversing the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s journey by leaving L.A. for Philadelphia, Redick (15 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.4 APG) will nevertheless have his life flipped-turned upside down once he suits up for the Sixers. For the last four years, Redick played alongside an elite point guard in a star-studded and veteran-dominated Clippers starting lineup that annually ranked among the NBA’s most efficient offensive units. With the Sixers, the 33-year-old sharpshooter is set to join a roster built around a trio of recent lottery picks—Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz—who have combined to play less than 800 minutes. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has ranked dead last offensively in each of the last four seasons.

The Sixers made their one-year, $23 million investment in Redick this summer hoping that his constant off-ball movement, quick-trigger catch-and-shoot acumen, and elite three-point shooting range would help rookie ball-handlers Simmons and Fultz adjust to the NBA level. While often overmatched physically and athletically at the two, Redick is a solid and disciplined defender who brings a level of experience not otherwise found on Philadelphia’s roster. On both sides of the ball, then, this looks like a clean fit between team need and player skillset. Redick hasn’t yet displayed major signs of age-related decline, but playing without the benefit of Chris Paul’s masterful orchestration may alter the perception of the 11-year vet’s staying power. — BG

58. Clint Capela, Rockets

Don’t confuse the simplicity of Capela’s role for expendability. Think of it this way: there are a finite number of viable bigs in the NBA. Among them, only a portion—and a smaller portion than one might think—really understands how to set and hold a good screen. Only a portion of that group has the athleticism (and energy) to roll consistently. An even smaller subset has the hands to catch and finish as Capela does, and an even smaller one, still, has the bounce to reach the lobs that Capela dunks easily. The thought that anyone could do what Capela ?(12.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.0 APG) does needs to be qualified: Anyone with this rare combination of height, quickness, coordination, athleticism, attitude, and instincts could do what Capela does. There are so few like him, despite the fact that the low-usage, rim-running center archetype is as valuable as ever. What more could a superteam want than a big who defends, rebounds, and commits to keeping the offense moving without any insistence of his own reward? — RM

57. Gary Harris, Nuggets

A surprising number of fans—and even people within the league—haven’t yet caught on to the fact that Harris is one of the NBA’s best shooters. When ‘wide open’ last season by NBA.com’s designation, Harris sank an incredible 50.6% of his three-pointers. Overall, he leveled out at 42% from beyond the arc, good for eighth overall. Thus begins the case for Harris (14.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.9 APG) as an exceptional off-ball threat. A shooter of his caliber is exactly what any offense would want to balance the floor for its offense. What makes Harris all the more difficult to cover is that he might slip away at any moment; a momentary diversion is all Harris needs to dart into open space and fundamentally change a possession. Great playmakers see the game through a certain geometry, timing out which teammates are available when. Great cutters, like Harris, can make sense of the inverse. On every possession, Harris parses the spaces between players to find which ones—if sprinted through at just the right time—might prove fruitful. Operating in that way demands a certain caliber of playmaking, but it’s Harris who finds the means to produce 17.2 points per 36 minutes. — RM

56. Serge Ibaka, Raptors

The Magic traded for him in hopes that he would provide a clear defensive team identity. Then, the Raptors acquired him with an eye towards substantially improving their lineup versatility against the East’s top playoff contenders. On both counts, the 27-year-old Ibaka (14.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG) left his new teams wanting more. In Orlando, he proved unable to solve the many fit questions around him and failed to transform a space-deprived offense that needed more than a complementary frontcourt scorer. In Toronto, he couldn’t recapture the game-changing, two-way play he regularly showcased during his Oklahoma City tenure.

Taken together, the two chapters of Ibaka’s underwhelming 2016-17 season strongly suggest that his most effective and forceful days are behind him. Once a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and shot-blocking leader, his block rate has now decreased for five straight seasons. Surprisingly, both the Magic and Raptors posted better defensive efficiency ratings with Ibaka off the court than with him on, and Toronto’s small-ball units with Ibaka at center did not fare well defensively against the Cavaliers in the second round. Ibaka’s three-point shooting range and his ability to play both the four and five helped him pull down a three-year, $64 million contract from the Raptors this summer, but even that payday was a reminder of what could have been. Had the 2014 version of Ibaka hit the market this summer, he would have easily commanded a nine-figure deal. — BG

55. Jeff Teague, Timberwolves

Sizing up Teague feels an awful lot like hearing an urban legend. He has made an All-Star team and appeared in the playoffs for eight straight years, and yet the most memorable moment of his career might have been when he was spotted clutching a pizza box all by himself after being left behind by the team bus. He shared his only career Player of the Month award with four other people. He was traded for a mediocre first-round draft pick while on a below-market contract just one year after guiding a 60-win team. He was so thoroughly unassuming in Indiana last season (15.3 PPG, 4 RPG, 7.8 APG) that even the Pacers’ official website took care to note his silent and emotionless demeanor.

And yet Teague somehow posted PPG/RPG/APG numbers in 2016-17 that were only matched or exceeded by five A-listers—LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul and John Wall. Clearly, the 29-year-old point guard is not on that level, but he makes for an intriguing addition to Minnesota’s overhauled and upgraded starting lineup. An adept pick-and-roll initiator with three-point range and the ability to get to the line, Teague will give the post-Ricky Rubio Timberwolves a natural scoring threat at the one. Although he’s nothing to write home about as a defender, Teague gets by well enough to make Minnesota’s three-year, $57 million contract look like a reasonable, if slightly generous, investment. By signing on with the Timberwolves—an organization that’s desperate to snap its playoff drought—Teague surely understands that he will be judged next season not by his own numbers but by his ability to keep his many weapons satisfied. — BG

54. Avery Bradley, Pistons

It remains a great curiosity that Bradley—a 6'2" guard who had never been much of a rebounder—effectively doubled his per-game rebounding average last season. What isn’t is the motivation; gang rebounding became a team need based on Boston’s lineup construction, and Bradley (16.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.2 APG) is just the sort to stretch and bend his game to whatever end is needed. Mentality separates Bradley from his peers. There are quicker guards out there, but it’s Bradley who’s picking up his man at three-quarter court, turning every dribble into a battleground. There may be players closer to a loose ball, but Bradley is the one who makes up enough ground to snatch a possession away. There are better shooters and smoother ball-handlers, and yet Bradley has worked those skills and more to bring his greater game toward its reasonable limit. As a result, the NBA has reached a consensus: Bradley is one of those defenders (and one of those opponents in general, really) that nobody wants to face. — RM

53. Otto Porter, Wizards

Porter should host a self-help seminar at the NBA’s annual rookie symposium entitled, “If I can pull in a $100 million contract, you can too.” Indeed, his first four NBA seasons have been a blueprint in how to make it: He has taken incremental steps forward every season (13.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.5 APG) last year), he has embraced major defensive responsibilities, he has honed a reliable three-point stroke, he has meshed with star players and settled into his spot on the pecking order, and in so doing he has made himself indispensable. Given the choice between recommitting to Porter by matching a four-year, $107 million max offer sheet or watching their playoff ceiling cave in, the Wizards unsurprisingly gritted their teeth and paid up.

Even as recently as two years ago, this profitable chain of events seemed unlikely. But the 24-year-old Porter shook off a rookie-year injury and built himself into the prototypical 3-and-D wing the Wizards envisioned he would become when they selected him at No. 3 in 2013. An advanced stats darling thanks to his ultra-efficient shooting and low turnover rate, Porter makes for a perfect fit alongside Washington’s pair of ball-dominant star guards. Thanks to near impeccable health for all three players, that trio shared the court for more than 2,000 minutes last season, posting a sterling +7 net rating. The Wizards’ core of the future is set. — BG

52. Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers

There are players in the league who make a show of their effort level. Thompson makes a job of it. All game long he works through second, third, and fourth actions, always toward some targeted purpose. There is no activity in his game merely for activity’s sake; Thompson (8.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.0 APG) both draws from an incomparable motor and uses it judiciously. That smart hustle wrings everything out from a functionally limited skill set. Thompson is never suited to take more than a dribble or two, doesn’t have range beyond eight feet, and doesn’t contribute much of anything as a passer. Still he earns his keep, one hard-fought rebound or unexpected floater at a time. One of the best offenses in basketball played to its potential when Thompson was involved, and through him came Cleveland’s best chance of mounting a stout defense. Thompson gives a team options in its defensive game-planning. He demands nothing in the way of style or system, which in a postseason setting makes him a valuable chess piece. Trapping, hedging, dropping, and switching are all on the table. Simply dictate the terms of engagement and let Thompson go to work. — RM

51. Andre Drummond, Pistons

There’s been a whiplash effect when it comes to judging Drummond (13.6 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 1.1 APG), who followed up his first All-Star selection and postseason appearance in 2015-16 (No. 29 on our 2017 list) with a less-than-stellar 2016-17 campaign that felt like a step backwards. Is he a max-level franchise center capable of overwhelming opponents with his size and strength on a nightly basis? Or, is he doomed to disappoint because he reached his statistical peak at a young age and is now just another traditional center stuck adjusting to a league that increasingly prefers versatility over pure size? How should one weigh the value of his elite offensive rebounding against his indisputably poor defensive impact numbers and worse-than-atrocious free-throw shooting? What’s more trustworthy: His stellar PER or his middling Real Plus-Minus? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how much should any center be blamed when his starting point guard completely falls apart without warning?

Theoretically, the 24-year-old Drummond’s performance in 2016-17 should represent his basement. Reggie Jackson’s injury compromised their proven pick-and-roll partnership and forced Drummond into too many lower-efficiency post-up opportunities. Defensively, Drummond struggled with awareness, decision-making and rim-protection on an individual level, and yet the Pistons’ frontcourt personnel didn’t offer much in the way of help either. Despite his warts, Drummond’s athleticism and sheer size would surely be put to much better use on a roster that possessed average talent, depth and chemistry. A reliable, healthy floor general to feed him would go a long way, too. As it stands, Drummond must prove that his unique strengths can consistently translate to a greater degree of team success or he must evolve into a more complete all-around impact-maker before he can be regarded as one of the NBA’s brightest rising stars again. — BG

Top 100 NBA Players of 2018: Nos. 100-51

The Crossover is proud to offer our list of the Top 100 NBA players of 2018, an exhaustive exercise that seeks to define who will be the league's best players in the 2017-18 season.

Given the wide variety of candidates involved and the deep analytical resources available, no single, definitive criterion was used to form this list. Instead, rankings were assigned based on a fluid combination of subjective assessment and objective data. This list is an attempt to evaluate each player in a vacuum, independent of their current team context as much as possible. A player's prospects beyond the 2017-18 season did not play a part in the ranking process.

Injuries and injury risks are an inevitable component of this judgment. Past performance (postseason included) weighed heavily in our assessment, with a skew toward the recent. First-year players were not included. A predictive element also came into play with the anticipated improvement of certain younger players, as well as the possible decline of aging veterans. Salary was not taken into consideration. Otherwise, players were ordered based on their complete games. You can read more here on the limitations of this kind of ranking. To see our 25 biggest snubs from this year, click here.

Please feel free to take a look back to SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014. A special thanks, as always, to those resources that make researching a list like this possible: Basketball-Reference, NBA.com, ESPN.com, Nylon Calculus, and Synergy Sports.

• Complete Top 100 breakdowns: 100-51 | 50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1

100. D’Angelo Russell, Nets

We’ve seen hints of a team-changing playmaker and shooter lurking within Russell, buried beneath questionable judgment and short-term priorities. Every year of experience brings hope that his potential might come more fully to bear. Young players are perpetually caught between their want for freedom and their need for structure. Russell didn’t find the right mix in Los Angeles, though he might in Brooklyn—a franchise as invested in cultivating talent as any in the league. The firepower is there. The star power, too. But first Russell must learn the value of his smallest contributions and the goals they work toward. Averages of 19.6 points, 6.0 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per 36 minutes are promising. If Russell can apply that same production toward winning margins, it could be something more. — Rob Mahoney

99. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lakers

A change of scenery couldn’t come at a better time for Caldwell-Pope (13.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.5 APG), whose progress seemed to stagnate amidst Detroit’s dysfunction. Cast as a prototypical 3-and-D wing, the 24-year-old shooting guard shot below league average from deep for the fourth straight year and posted a 107.7 defensive rating that was nearly seven points worse than Detroit’s mark when he was on the bench. Naturally, critics might wonder: If a “3-and-D wing" is both a subpar shooter and a minus defender, what is he?

It’s quite possible that Caldwell-Pope was simply the victim of bad circumstances. The 2013 lottery pick possesses the right mix of size, quickness, length and energy to effectively defend both point guards and wings, and he spent huge portions of his court time surrounded by weaker defensive links. In L.A., Caldwell-Pope should also benefit from an up-tempo, free-flowing style thanks to his comfort in the open court, his solid athletic tools, and his gradual development as a secondary pick-and-roll playmaker. — Ben Golliver

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98. Patrick Patterson, Thunder

We have more than three years of data showing that the Raptors—one of the best teams in the East during that time—were at their best when Patterson (5.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.2 APG) was around. Not even heavily involved, per se, but around. The beauty of Patterson’s game is that it never needs to be schemed to fit or featured. The flow will find him. Possessions will naturally redirect themselves through Patterson when they stall, or find him as an open shooter on the perimeter. His positioning will help account for a teammates’ blown assignment, patching up what should have been a breakdown. A screen he sets will trigger the chain of events that ultimately leads to a score, albeit without any formal credit. When a possession begins, no one knows fully what’s coming. Patterson is flexible in ways that are perfectly suited for sorting out the ensuing chaos through every possibility and permutation. — RM

97. Ryan Anderson, Rockets

Anderson (13.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG) is hardly the only stretch–four in the NBA, but he’s easily the stretchiest. Thanks to Houston’s all-out approach to three-pointers under coach Mike D’Antoni, the 29-year-old Anderson regularly found himself spotting up so far beyond the arc that he was off the screen during television broadcasts. All told, he attempted 5.1 deep threes per game (from 25+ feet), easily tops among the league’s frontcourt players, while somehow maintaining a 40.3% three-point shooting clip. Elsewhere, Anderson’s game is less forceful: he’s extremely limited as a playmaker, he can be overpowered at his position, and he’s easy to pick on defensively in playoff matchups. Although he spent last summer facing doubts over his pricey contract and persistent injury issues, the nine-year vet logged more than 2,100 minutes in 2016-17, his most since 2012-13. Anderson’s value is contingent upon playing with skilled creators in a wide-open system, and he’s found a perfect home in Houston. — BG

96. Elfrid Payton, Magic

As long as the Magic are mired well outside the East’s playoff picture, most observers will regard Payton (12.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6.5 APG) solely by his inability to shoot. That scarlet letter remains his defining trait and it will keep him from becoming a franchise-level floor general, but he made noteworthy progress filling out the other facets of his game in his third season. An attack-minded point guard with good size, quickness and set-up instincts, the 23-year-old Payton has improved significantly as a finisher despite the poorly-spaced lineups that usually surround him. And although he has long been blamed for Orlando’s inefficient offenses and was briefly moved to a reserve role by new coach Frank Vogel, Payton led the Magic in net rating and upped their offensive rating by more than nine points when he took the court. Payton fares well across the major advanced stats thanks to a do-everything nature that has produced eight career triple-doubles. As with many Magic players who have been stuck playing in anachronistic configurations and enduring multiple coaching changes, there’s a nagging sense that there’s more to Payton’s game than he’s been able to display to date. — BG

95. Taj Gibson, Timberwolves

Gibson has damn near perfect approval ratings among teammates and ex-teammates, which has a lot to do with how he carries himself. When a season reaches its breaking point, you want Gibson around to mediate matters with fairness and candor. When a game is getting tight, you want Gibson involved to dig in and help bust something loose. Tenacity is a skill. In Gibson’s case, it informs his entire style of play—from defending full possessions until a rebound is secured to making every effort necessary to help create a good look for his own team’s offense. It’s amazing how little has changed in Gibson’s game (10.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 0.9 APG) over the years. He might not yam on dudes with quite the same frequency, but everything is still predicated on the same dirty-work buckets and intelligent coverage. — RM

94. Julius Randle, Lakers

Randle (13.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.6 APG) has been a tease through three seasons, a strapping and assertive power forward whose effectiveness has been undercut by his weak shooting range, lack of length and poor defensive awareness. His highlight-reel fast breaks and downhill attacks have been offset by forced shots in traffic and clanged jumpers. His double-doubles have been diminished by a steady stream of breakdowns that contributed to his atrocious 113.3 defensive rating.

The premier modern fours stretch the court and protect the rim; Randle, 22, currently does neither. LA must hope, then, that Randle can find success by breaking the mold, taking advantage of his wide-shouldered physique, scoring mentality and ball-handling skills to physically punish and collapse opposing defenses. The arrivals of pass-first point guard Lonzo Ball and stretch–five Brook Lopez should help, giving Randle plenty of driving opportunities from the elbow, more room to ply his trade in the basket area, and easier scoring chances in transition. Nevertheless, Randle’s chances of reaching his ceiling and pulling down a big-dollar contract as a 2018 free agent will be determined primarily by his ability to improve his shooting and refine his one-on-one repertoire. If he can’t keep defenses honest and score more efficiently, the 2014 lottery pick may never be fully unleashed. — BG

93. Lou Williams, Clippers

As a professional scorer, Williams (17.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.0 APG) is clearly valuable but short of vital. Part of the appeal is that nothing needs to be built around him. Possession of the ball and a few seconds to spare is usually enough; Williams is so crafty at dancing his way into scoring opportunities that years of scouting reports have done little to stop him. Opponents know that Williams is waiting for them to lunge so that he might draw a foul. Still they’re convinced to jump whenever Williams creates enough separation for an open jumper, leaving them floating for a few helpless seconds as Williams lines up his play. His capacity to draw fouls (8.3 free throw attempts per 36 minutes) made Williams one of the most effective pick-and-roll scorers in the league last season despite his high usage—an unusual combination for a nominal role player. It works, though decidedly less so in the altered conditions of the postseason. — RM

92. Patty Mills, Spurs

Mills is easy to overlook, what with future Hall of Famer Tony Parker running San Antonio’s show for years and 2016 first-round pick Dejounte Murray lining up as a potential point guard of the future. But the Australian marksman outplayed both last season, easily posting better individual advanced stats than Parker while also boasting a team-best +12 net rating.

Although the 28-year-old Mills (9.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.8 RPG) isn’t the best one-on-one creator or the most natural playmaker for others, he has fully settled in to San Antonio’s system, balancing his off-the-dribble shooting ability with improved offense initiation while seamlessly shifting between back-up and starting roles. Much of what he accomplishes on both ends owes to his frenetic energy; Mills keeps moving when he doesn’t have the ball and only needs a sliver of daylight to launch a catch-and-shoot three or sneak through a seam to the rim. Despite his lack of size, he’s an especially pesky and attentive on-ball defender too. San Antonio smartly rewarded him with a four-year, $50 million contract this summer, keeping him in place as a functional bridge between Parker and Murray (or whoever else comes next). — BG

91. James Johnson, Heat

It wasn’t until his eighth season, his sixth team, and a 37-pound weight loss that Johnson finally found his place in the league. The Heat had the perfect culture to guide him; Miami’s rigorous standards for effort and conditioning demanded more of Johnson than any team ever had before. In turn, Johnson transformed. So many of the captivating flashes in his game became full-blown features. That development would mean a lot to the career of any journeyman, but especially to a marvel like Johnson. Up until this point, Johnson had been a rogue element. Last season established him as an every-night contributor—a big, physical combo forward (12.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.6 APG) who can fly around the court defensively and do a little bit of everything. The body of work is a touch slim for any ranking higher than this, though Johnson could solidify his standing in time. — RM

90. Patrick Beverley, Clippers

The discussion around Beverley (9.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.2 APG) usually begins with his smothering on-ball defense or his knack for riling up opponents, but the hard-nosed point guard is more accurately viewed as a complete, two-way contributor. Although the former second-round pick and one-time international journeyman isn’t equipped to beat defenses with his own offense, he has become an ideal backcourt running mate for a ball-dominant star—on offense—thanks to his dependable spot-up three-point shooting, capable pick-and-roll game, and propensity for making hustle plays. “When you’re going into the alley or if you’re trying to find a pick-up game, you want him with you,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said during the playoffs, following the death of Beverley’s grandfather. “Whatever we want to do, we want Pat. He has an amazing spirit and determination. Enormous heart.”

Defense, of course, is where the 29-year-old Beverley first made his name and where he continues to shine brightest. Last season, he ranked second among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and earned All-Defensive First-Team honors. The biggest knock on Beverley, who projects as the Clippers’ starter after being traded this summer, remains his durability: He’s missed nearly 30% of his team’s games during his NBA career. — BG

89. Nikola Vucevic, Magic

After five losing seasons, Vucevic is covered in red flags. There is no denying his production (14.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.8 APG), but there is qualifying it; of the 105 players in the league to attempt at least 10 shots per game last season, Vucevic ranked No. 101 in True Shooting Percentage. His biggest contributions ring a bit hollow. He’s a decent shooter but not so consistent (or so stretchy) as to make that shot a real weapon. That he sees the ball as much as he does but gets to the line so infrequently (2.1 attempts per game) undercuts his best efforts. We can only assume that a change of scenery would help given Orlando’s rotten lineup combinations of the last few years, but just how valuable is Vucevic if his role doesn’t call on him to produce in volume? Decent touch and terrific rebounding are enough to get Vucevic on this list. The bigger questions concerning his game, however, prevent him from moving up very far. — RM

88. Marvin Williams, Hornets

He never made an All-Star team or pulled down a max contract like one might expect from a No. 2 overall pick, but Williams (11.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.4 APG) remains a useful and reliable pro after 12 years in the league. A proven three-point shooter with enough size, strength and agility to defend both forward positions, the 31-year-old fits well in the modern game as a stretch-four who can’t be easily exploited on the other end. Although Williams’s efficiency and consistency took a step back from his strong contract year in 2015-16, he remained a disciplined, complementary option who stuck tightly to his role as a spacer. Williams’s specific fit in Charlotte helps illustrate the many different ways he adds value. What’s more, Williams can shift between steady starter or sixth man roles should the need arise, making it easy to envision him filling quality rotation minutes deep into his 30s. — BG

87. Rodney Hood, Jazz

For a player with a subtle game, a no-drama personality, and a pre-draft reputation for being a known quantity, Hood (12.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.6 APG) has been surprisingly difficult to project as he’s worked his way through his rookie contract. Injuries are primarily to blame, of course, as the 24-year-old wing missed 21 games in 2016-17 and never recaptured the consistency and overall offensive prowess he displayed during the previous season. Going forward, Hood figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Gordon Hayward’s free-agency departure: Utah’s fourth-leading scorer last season should enjoy career-high levels of touches and shots, and he could easily wind up leading the team in scoring in 2017-18.

While Hood is generally savvy and patient in pick-and-rolls and a reliable shot-up shooter, he’s almost certainly underqualified to be an alpha scorer for an above-average offense at this point. The 2014 first-round pick just isn’t quite dynamic enough off the dribble, he doesn’t get to the line with sufficient regularity, and he doesn’t yet possess a deep catalogue of ball-handling moves in isolation. Defensively, Hood is solid and versatile, capable of guarding twos and threes. He may not be able to replicate his All-Star predecessor’s success, but Hood is easily Utah’s best short-term hope if he can stay on the court. — BG

86. Nerlens Noel, Mavericks

There’s a delicate balance at the heart of Noel’s game. Reach, athleticism, and timing make Noel (8.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG) a natural candidate for rim protection—arguably the most important element of a center’s defensive repertoire. The potential is there. Yet every year, Noel is pulled out of conservative defensive position by pursuit of the ball. His results are uncanny: Noel effectively co-led the league in steal percentage last season (3.1%), matching ball hawks like Chris Paul and Tony Allen. The proficiency with which Noel makes deflections and chases down steals is an incredible gift for a player his size. It also makes him less predictable within the context of a team structure. When the last line of defense is always on the move, the system itself can lose its shape. If Noel, who is just 23, ever finds the equilibrium between these skills, he could become one of the best defenders in the league. As it stands, he’s still incredibly disruptive—the kind of player who can blow up a pick-and-roll by either attacking a ball handler or by erasing a shot in the air. That’s more than enough. Everything else is upside. — RM

85. Robin Lopez, Bulls

The function of a center—even in the age of stretchy, playmaking bigs—remains firmly rooted in defense. This is where Lopez delivers; on every possession he guarantees skillful coverage on the back line, employed through a legit seven-foot frame. It takes a fair bit of dancing and maneuvering on the part of a ball-handler just to get a shot up and over Lopez. Mobility isn’t the only way to cover in space. A colossus like Lopez (10.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG) can exercise a lot of influence on the game through reach alone. Lopez knows this, and does well to keep his feet when challenged. By letting his positioning do the work, Lopez ended up challenging more shots than any player in the league last season and blocking a similar percentage of opponents’ shots to DeAndre Jordan. Smart, restrained movement from a player who understands his limitations can do wonders. Lopez obviously isn’t the right fit for teams who want mold-breaking dynamism out of their centers; an 18-foot set shot is about as ambitious as Lopez gets. Having him around, however, allows for the creators on the team to do what they do best while buttressing the rest of the team’s operations. — RM

84. Wilson Chandler, Nuggets

Chandler plays a stealthy scoring game that blends easily into the background. What seems like a casual bucket or two winds up as 15 points of self-generated offense—the kind of support that every team needs. Give Chandler an ad-libbed screen in the middle of a possession and he’ll slow-play his way to a score, shifting angles and directions until he has room for a mid-range jumper. His entire approach is adaptive. Take away one land and Chandler will fidget his way into another. The fact that he only occasionally gets all the way to the rim frees up Chandler to make full use of his in-between game. It works unusually well. Of the players to initiate at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions last season, Chandler (15.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 APG) finished as the single most efficient pick-and-roll scorer. Some of that is a product of just how far he flies under the radar, though to get that kind of scoring from a wing doesn’t pose any particular liabilities is a nice lift. — RM

83. Eric Gordon, Rockets

What a relief it is to see Gordon healthy again. His best role still involves only moderate ball-handling, but what’s important is that Gordon’s body has again given him the option; it’s been years since the 28-year-old has moved this smoothly, which works to open up Gordon’s game (16.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.5 APG) beyond spot shooting alone. That diversity led the Rocket to winning Sixth Man of the Year honors last season. Still, everything builds off his jumper. It’s no surprise that Gordon’s effectiveness waned along with every shooting slump last season, including a months-long lull after the All-Star break. So long as he’s hitting, defenses have to chase his shot aggressively—opening up other avenues for creation in the process. The sheer force of Gordon’s deep range demands that opponents cover even more ground to contest. But if those shots don’t fall, Gordon just doesn’t have all that much else to keep his game afloat. — RM

82. Robert Covington, Sixers

Nerlens Noel might be gone, Jahlil Okafor might be unplayable, and a laundry list of other fringe players might have moved on after brief cups of coffee, but The Process era did manage to unearth a legitimate gem in Covington (12.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG). The undrafted forward firmed up his reputation as one of the best multi-positional defenders in the NBA last season, ranking fourth overall in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and finishing (a very distant) fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting despite playing for the 28-win Sixers. One of just 10 players to average at least one assist and one block per game, Covington’s length, mobility and strength make him a nuisance for point guards and power forwards alike. Whereas other defense-first wings like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Andre Roberson do not appear in our Top 100, the 26-year-old Covington earned the nod because he should be something better than completely hopeless on offense. Theoretically, the return of franchise center Joel Embiid and the arrival of playmaking ball-handlers like Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz will help create easier scoring opportunities in transition and cleaner catch-and-shoot looks, thereby simplifying Covington’s responsibilities and bolstering his woeful shooting numbers. — BG

81. Tobias Harris, Pistons

The door is wide open for Harris, a gifted scoring forward (16.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.7 APG) who shifted in and out of the starting lineup in 2016-17, to put together a career year in Detroit. Really, this is a simple case of supply and demand as the Pistons’ No. 25 offense lost two starters—Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris—who combined to take 25 shots per game. There are plenty of touches and shots to be had, even after key newcomer Avery Bradley gets his share, and the 25-year-old Harris is the most proven and efficient offensive player among Detroit’s varied crop of threes and fours. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy dumped Harris to the second unit for stretches of last season in hopes of balancing his scoring and fielding bigger frontline configurations. Given Detroit’s new roster construction and shallower pool of established talent, Harris should return to a full-time starting role, adding isolation scoring and a degree of spacing to Detroit’s bread-and-butter spread pick-and-roll. While Harris’s status as a tweener forward does cost him defensively, especially against power forwards, the Pistons’ meandering retooling effort has evolved to the point where the organization must treat him like a core piece, playing to his strengths and working to cover his weaknesses. — BG

80. Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors

There’s an unmistakable sadness to the flatlining of Valanciunas (12 PPG, 9.5 RPG), a huge, crafty and efficient scoring center whose signature skills aren’t truly essential to his team’s guard-dominated attack and whose defensive limitations make him an obvious demotion target in the postseason. The 25-year-old Lithuanian big man has posted nearly identical numbers for three straight seasons, a sign of his workhorse mentality and inherent dependability, but also of his carefully-carved niche and his inability to win an expanded role in crunch time. Moved to the bench midway through both of Toronto’s postseason series last year, Valanciunas averaged just 22.6 MPG in the playoffs, a career low. He is simply a casualty of basketball’s new style of war: The Raptors’ defensive rating was far better without him during both the regular season and the postseason, and midseason acquisition Serge Ibaka is a natural fit as a smallball center. While Valanciunas appeared to be an obvious trade chip, he survived president Masai Ujiri’s busy summer and will run things back for a sixth year in Toronto. If recent history is any indication, he’ll go about his Goliath-like business by flirting with a double-double average before ceding the court to more mobile Davids once the season is on the line. — BG

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79. Markieff Morris, Wizards

What Morris (14.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.7 APG) lacks in any single, standout attribute, he makes up for in broad suitability. Most any team could make use of his skill set. There is always a need for bigs who can dabble in guarding wings (which Morris does competently), and particularly those who match up physically with the league’s most dangerous tweener forwards. Morris has the game to post smaller players and work around bigger ones, though his better judgment (and full investment) comes and goes. There’s also the matter of his pending criminal trial, which could result in jail time with a conviction or a minimum 10-game suspension in the event of a plea deal. This is a inextricable part of who Morris is. — RM

78. Reggie Jackson, Pistons

Based solely on his play during an injury-hampered 2016-17 season, Jackson (14.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 5.2 APG) doesn’t belong in the NBA’s Top 200 or possibly even its Top 300. Dogged by a knee injury that cost him 30 games, the 27-year-old point guard was one of the league’s biggest disappointments, posting a team-worst -8.8 net rating as the Pistons finished with a bottom-six offense and slid back into the lottery. His struggles to get to the foul line, his major regression as a finisher in the basket area, and his greater reliance on long twos were all byproducts of his compromised athleticism and quickness.

While Jackson still faces some lingering health concerns, he’s a solid starting point guard when his body is right. At his best, Jackson is a tireless, headstrong attacker off the dribble and an experienced, confident pick-and-roll practitioner whose two-man game with Andre Drummond formed the basis of a decent offense for a playoff team in 2015-16. If he returns to full health, he should outplay this ranking. However, if Jackson remains limited as he works his way through the final three years of a 5-year, $80 million contract, Detroit’s long-term outlook becomes incredibly bleak. — BG

77. Victor Oladipo, Pacers

Instead of emerging as a true co-pilot on Russell Westbrook’s magical ride, Oladipo (15.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.6 APG) joined the rest of the Thunder in the backseat. Upon arriving in Oklahoma City by trade last summer, the 25-year-old guard seemed poised to play the Robin role and step forward as a lead playmaker when the 2017 MVP went to the bench. But the anticipated breakthrough never materialized, as Oladipo’s game mirrored his good-but-not-great showing during his first three years in Orlando. Then, in his first trip to the playoffs, Oladipo’s shot abandoned him and he proved to be only a bit player.

There’s some fool’s gold to Oladipo. He’s quick and leaps well, but doesn’t translate those tools into consistent, efficient isolation offense. He can get by as a spot-up shooter, but isn’t a knockdown threat. He can generate offense in pick-and-rolls, but doesn’t light up the highlight tapes with his vision. He’s got a strong frame, but hasn’t yet delivered on pre-draft prognostications that viewed him as an elite defender. While his offseason trade to Indiana should offer him more shots, touches, and opportunities to initiate the offense, he will likely struggle with the burdens of being a lead backcourt scorer. — BG

76. Dennis Schröder, Hawks

Not every productive sub can assume starting duties without missing a beat. Schröder pulled it off, all while scoring more often and more efficiently than he did previously. His 2016-17 season was an achievement of scale—proof that Schröder was ready for a different level of responsibility and consideration. The Hawks had asked more of him by trading away Jeff Teague. Schröder, by most metrics, delivered.

It’s reasonable to wonder, however, just how much further Schöder (17.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 6.3 APG) can go within this sort of role. His credentials off the dribble speak for themselves; only Isaiah Thomas averaged more drives to the basket, per NBA.com, and yet Schöder still converted 50.4% of his shots off those drives. What’s off is his sense of timing. Schröder is a reasonably effective playmaker who tends to irk his teammates by when he chooses to pass and when he does not. Lobs are sometimes thrown a beat too late. Shooters who were open just a moment previously find themselves covered once Schöder finally decides to send the ball their way. Schöder just isn’t a natural playmaker. Passing is a part of his game born of expectation rather than instinct. Other players have forged fine careers playing that way, though it does curb Schröder’s ability to actually lift an offense with his play. — RM

75. Danny Green, Spurs

Green plays in a way that draws a lot of attention to what he cannot do. He still has little recourse when opponents decide to run him off the three-point line, a predicament that pushes Green well out of his comfort zone. His perimeter shooting—Green’s (7.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.8 APG) most valuable contribution to an offense—is now in the midst of a two-year lull. Yet at minimum, Green is one of the most stifling defenders on the floor in every game he plays. Coaches can swing him freely to cover perimeter players of all kinds. Starting a defensive liability at point guard? Have Green corral opposing ones with his length instead. Need to preserve the energy of a ball-dominant creator? Cross-match Green to find the most advantageous matchup possible. The league has its share of defensive stoppers who undermine their own teams through offensive inability. Green is a cut above. Through cold streaks and all, he converted 38% of his three-pointers last season. — RM

74. Dwyane Wade, Bulls

The Flash hasn’t completely extinguished, but he’s getting deeper and deeper into the fizzle. Wade (18.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.8 APG) wasn’t nearly as effective as his box score stats suggest during his first season in Chicago, ranking well outside the top 100 in both Win Shares and Real Plus-Minus while missing out on the All-Star Game for the first time since 2004. Even with the benefit of playing alongside an A-lister in Jimmy Butler, the future Hall of Famer posted career-lows in FG% and True Shooting Percentage, and he saw his Player Efficiency Rating drop for the fifth straight season. Far too often, Wade’s approach to transition defense recalled post-Achilles Kobe Bryant, and he made waves in the media when his frustration with his younger, less talented teammates spilled over.

These are virtually inevitable trends for a former scoring champ who never mastered the three-point shot and who turned 35 in January. Given that Wade makes no sense for the tanking Bulls, this summer appears to represent a crossroads. The three-time champ still has enough scoring chops and savviness to help a winning team, but he’s best suited to a narrower role that will protect his body and channel his energy. As Chicago eventually progresses towards a buyout of his $23.8 million contract, it will be fascinating to see whether Wade is mentally prepared to transition to life as a super-sub after a long and decorated career on center stage. — BG

73. Dwight Howard, Hornets

The past five months have been damning for Howard (13.5 PPG, 12.7 RPG), who was benched during the fourth quarter of Atlanta’s first-round playoff series and then abruptly traded to Charlotte for one of the league’s worst contracts in Miles Plumlee. The MVP candidate and NBA Finalist from Orlando is a long-lost memory. The days of him being a co-superstar in L.A. and Houston are in the distant past. The hometown hero angle in Atlanta never took. And now Howard is left battling with Cody Zeller for minutes on a Hornets team that won 36 games last year.

Even at 31, Howard remains one of the league’s most productive rebounders and biggest bodies, and a reunion with former Magic assistant Steve Clifford should help him hit the ground running in Charlotte, his third stop in three seasons. But the league has transitioned away from his preferred low-block isolation style on offense, and his athleticism, mobility and stamina have waned in recent years. Although he’s still capable of playing big minutes for an elite defense, as evidenced by Atlanta’s No. 4 defense last year, he’s increasingly vulnerable to exploitation in the playoffs like most traditional centers. Howard’s seniority and relationship with Clifford should make him a starter to open the season, but on a good team the 13-year vet would be best deployed in a reserve role, whether or not he’s willing to admit it. — BG

72. Greg Monroe, Bucks

Moving to the bench was a gift for Monroe. Rarely do opposing second units have the height to answer him inside, which presents all sorts of advantages beyond simple post-ups. There are free possessions every game for Monroe to gobble up on the offensive glass. As the NBA has evolved, Monroe (11.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG) has also learned how to flash into position opposite a teammates’ drive or pick-and-roll—making himself available just at the right time. That’s no small thing when the player in question is 6'11" with sound footwork and a soft release. Those kinds of developments make Monroe one of the league’s better-acclimated traditional centers. Some elements of his game will always be out of phase with the era he plays in. Yet unlike other post-up bigs, Monroe at least passes well enough to get by and has worked to make himself an adequate defender. The Bucks explored every avenue to trade Monroe in recent years and still his presence made them a better team on both sides of the ball. — RM

71. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks

There is only so much benefit of the doubt that can be given to a living legend in an exercise such as this. The reality is that Nowitzki is 39 years old, a liability on one side of the floor, and coming off his worst-shooting season since his rookie year. That injuries complicated matters for Nowitzki ?(14.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG) last season does little to help his case; any player this deep into his career is likely to be slowed by all kinds of aches and pains. Performing at a high level only gets that much more challenging for Nowitzki with every passing season, and his ranking has to reflect that.

It also needs to encapsulate Nowitzki’s value as a cultural pillar. It always means something to a franchise to have a Hall-of-Famer around, but it means even more when that Hall-of-Famer is also a legendary worker. Nowitzki is as positive an influence on team chemistry as one can find: a no-maintenance, easy-going teammate who could work with almost anyone. Teams can still draw on his scoring in the post and at the elbow. Defenses still have the utmost respect for his shooting, which in turn frees up lanes and angles for Nowitzki’s teammates. There’s just no way for a defense to fully account for a big with Dirk’s shooting ability and reputation—much less his unblockable release. Slide him over to center (as Dallas did for half of Nowitzki’s minutes last season) and the impact of his shooting is that much more pronounced. — RM

70. Cody Zeller, Hornets

Rarely does a non-superstar prove to be as indispensable as Zeller (10.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.6 APG) was for the Hornets last season. With Zeller, Charlotte went 33-29. Without him, they went 3-17. With Zeller on the court, the Hornets had a +5.4 net rating, similar to the 55-win Rockets. With him off the court, the Hornets dropped to a -3.6 net rating, nearly as bad as the 31-win Knicks. The 24-year-old center even managed to rank fifth at his position in Real Plus-Minus just four years after his selection was booed by fans on draft night.

While those disparate splits can be explained in part by Charlotte’s thin frontcourt rotation, Zeller deserves more credit than he gets as a useful, flexible and thoroughly modern big man. Mobility is central to his value on both ends: Zeller moves freely and decisively as a pick-and-roll target, he switches defensively on to smaller players without too much trouble, he offers timely weakside help, and he runs the court with ease. Given the space his movement creates in the paint and the higher pace his presence facilitates, lineups featuring Zeller at center may very well outperform lineups featuring the recently-acquired Dwight Howard next season. — BG

69. Jusuf Nurkic, Blazers

Following a midseason trade, it took Nurkic (10.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.9 APG) just a few weeks to go from a disgruntled, underachieving cast-off in Denver to a beloved, full-fledged phenomenon in Portland. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the good times and monster stat lines were cut short by a leg injury that cost the 23-year-old Bosnian center the final seven games of the regular season and limited him to one brief postseason appearance. Still, the pre-injury flashes of excitement and dominant play were very real, as the monster 7-footer provided badly-needed frontcourt scoring, space-eating interior defense, and mega doses of swagger to an otherwise listless Blazers campaign.

With the possibility of a monster payday on the horizon, Nurkic approaches the final year of his rookie contract in “prove it” mode on numerous fronts: He must prove that he can stay healthy after missing 87 combined games over his first three seasons, he must prove that immaturity issues a thing of the past, he must prove that his late-season scoring surge is sustainable once he’s targeted by rival game plans, he must prove that his improved conditioning can help ease his turnover problems and foul trouble, and he must prove that he can be the full-time backline stopper for a decent defense. If he succeeds on most or all of those fronts, the Blazers should be on track for their most successful season of the post-LaMarcus Aldridge era. — BG

68. Myles Turner, Pacers

In just two seasons, Turner has dealt with a coaching change, a front-office shake-up, a position switch, a point-guard carousel, and the departure of his team’s franchise player. Through it all, the 2015 lottery pick has done an admirable job of rolling with the punches as he settles into life as a two-way impact starting center. With an outside-in offensive game and excellent shot-blocking instincts, the 21-year-old Turner projects as the rebuilding Pacers’ highest priority next season.

Turner is not yet ready to take the reins from Paul George as The Man given his limited low-post arsenal and still-developing frame, but the oft-cited comparisons to fellow Texas product LaMarcus Aldridge look increasingly apt. He’s got a smooth shooting stroke, excellent length and a good motor, and he led the Pacers’ regular rotation players with a +3.2 net rating. Although Turner (14.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.3 APG) might still be two years away from possessing the strength necessary to be an imposing low-post isolation defender and go-to scorer on the block, he’s clearly ahead of schedule compared to most young bigs. Despite Turner’s disappointing showing in Indiana’s humbling first-round loss to Cleveland, there are only a few other 22-and-under centers—Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic and Kristaps Porzingis—with higher ceilings. — BG

67. Derrick Favors, Jazz

This range is no place for one of the more balanced bigs in the league. Yet here we find Favors—a strong defender with a well-developed offensive game—dropped by the most frustrating season of his professional career. Layered, complicating leg injuries sapped Favors (9.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.1 APG) of his mobility. The calculated shuffling that made Favors a versatile defender turned stiff. The vertical imposition that made him a bother around the basket never had the same lift. The problem for Favors wasn’t just his games missed (32) or limited minutes (23.7 per game); life as a big man is far more complicated when one leg can’t be fully trusted to launch or pivot, the toll of which cost Favors so much of what makes him effective. Hopefully this is the sort of ranking that will look overly cautious by season’s end. Yet in projecting how much and how well Favors is likely to play over a single-season time frame, one has to pay serious consideration to the sort of chronic injury that rendered Favors a shell of his former self. — RM

66. Marcin Gortat, Wizards

It’s almost too easy to take Gortat ?(10.8 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.5 APG) for granted. The league has plenty of bigs who are more technically skilled than Gortat. There are greater post threats out there and more instinctive defenders, rangier shooters and more intuitive passers. What earns Gortat his place in the league is in the breadth of his reliability. Every night, Gortat’s team benefits from quality returns across the board. In a league with so many one-way bigs, Gortat gets by on both ends. Lineups featuring Gortat have defended well whenever Washington could put a group of competent professionals around him, despite the fact that there are better rim protectors and more agile players at his position. Scoring comes more easily for players like John Wall and Bradley Beal when Gortat is around, whether due to the hard screens he sets (Gortat finished second in the league in screen assists) or his persistent availability. Gortat doesn’t have a particularly wide range offensively, but he compensates by playing to the areas where he can actually present a threat and keeping a direct lane open between himself and the ball. There’s nothing particularly sensational about his ability to make catches he should make and flip in shots on the move. All the same, everything around Gortat is made easier by his ability to do so. — RM

65. Pau Gasol, Spurs

This is a complicated juncture for Gasol, who is caught somewhere between starter and reserve. What matters most is that he’s still effective. Even at 37 years old, Gasol ?(12.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.3 APG) brings such healthy variety to an offense that he serves to build out its options. Most every team could benefit from an intermediary who sees the floor as well as Gasol does. It’s nice to have a shooter, a post player, and a roll man. It’s nicer still to have a big who can do all three while reading the floor as he goes. The Spurs, unsurprisingly, did as good a job of maximizing Gasol’s play as any team in recent years. Gasol is slow of foot but still contributed to the best defense in the league. The mechanisms of San Antonio’s offense empowered Gasol as a spot-up shooter, where he returned more points per spot-up possession than every big in the league save for Channing Frye. A lighter minutes load kept his production lean and consistent. Relying too much on Gasol can be limiting, but through the Spurs we saw the value of his role made right. — RM

64. Devin Booker, Suns

In just his second season, Booker (22.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.4 APG) proved that he has already mastered the art of volume scoring, becoming the first age-20 player to average 22 points since Kyrie Irving in 2013 and dumping in an absurd 70-point performance against the Celtics that stands as the highest total scored by any active player. However, the rest of Booker’s portfolio—scoring efficiency, playmaking for others, defense, winning—still needs considerable work. Phoenix’s rising shooting guard finished outside the top 100 in PER and outside the top 200 in three other major advanced statistical categories (Win Shares, Real Plus-Minus and WARP).

Booker, much like Andrew Wiggins at this time last year, is far better and more tantalizing in theory than in practice. While he’s clearly talented, fresh and exciting, his shiny scoring exploits are dimmed by his ultra-green light and by the fact that he’s yet to play in a meaningful game because his team is so bad. Once Booker evolves into a more complete player and transforms Phoenix into a respectable team, he will be fully worthy of the hype many have already bestowed upon him. — BG

63. George Hill, Kings

Hill is the best of his kind: a smart, disciplined player who pairs perfectly with a playmaking wing. He can run an offense when asked, but Hill is at his best when part of a more balanced attack. Let the offense flow, and the ball will find its way back to him. Hill (16.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 4.2 APG) is a natural when it comes to sliding into place on the perimeter, bolstering the creation of his teammates with a strong spot-up option. Should the defense close out aggressively (as one would expect given Hill’s 40.3% shooting from three), Hill can comfortably trigger the next move in sequence: a straight-line drive, a secondary pick-and-roll, or a simple swing pass. Hill is the kind of guard any team would want on the weak side, and a better-than-advertised initial playmaker to boot. What really cements Hill’s universal appeal, however, is his defense. Hill is 6'3" with a 6'9" wingspan—a reach that envelops smaller guards and allows Hill to swing easily between positions. Even some small forwards are fair game. Don’t be discouraged by the fact that Hill is neither the model of a pure point guard nor an especially prolific scorer. Everything that he is and does creates possibilities. — RM

62. Trevor Ariza, Rockets

He wasn’t the MVP runner-up, the confrontational point guard, the pricey super-stretch four, the breakout big or one of two new microwave-scoring Sixth Man of the Year candidates. With so many big personalities and new faces, it’s no wonder that Ariza (11.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.2 APG) was easy to take for granted in Houston last season. As always, though, the 32-year-old small forward’s durability, reliability, consistency and well-honed Three-and-D game were central to the Rockets’ success.

A smart and tested 13-year vet, Ariza fully understands and precisely executes his job: He defends the opposing team’s top wing, he waits patiently for his offense to come via spot-up shots and transition opportunities, he keeps his mistakes to a minimum, and he does it all again the next night. Remarkably, Ariza has missed just three total games during his three-year tenure in Houston, and he finished No. 11 in minutes played in 2016-17. Every contender would be glad to have him. — BG

61. Ricky Rubio, Jazz

For all of Rubio’s apparent limitations, the Timberwolves were a top-10 offense last season under his direction—and a few points better when Rubio (11.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 9.1 APG) was actually on the floor. We cannot ignore the fact that Rubio’s unreliable shooting and unwilling trigger would create certain problems in a playoff setting. Yet more generally, his vision nourishes an offense. Rubio pulls off passes that are beyond most players, simultaneously continuing a possession’s progress and leading his teammates into scoring position. He is one of the best in the league in assisting for layups and dunks, making up for the fact that he doesn’t create (or convert) many of those looks for himself. The deficits in Rubio’s game blink in neon. Around them, a functional offense lives in a healthy grow.

Rubio is a particular sort of player best served by specific types of teammates. One could argue easily, however, that the Wolves were never able to provide them – that if we take Rubio’s work in a vacuum, as we endeavor to for this list, he may have been underserved by his circumstances. Working with Rubio means living with his 10-12 points per game. It also means depending upon everything he does to keep an offense running smoothly while benefiting from the turnovers and stops brought about by his sharp defensive instincts. — RM

60. Jrue Holiday, Pelicans

It’s hard to fully grasp how imposing Holiday is until you watch him hound some poor, undersize point guard punching the clock in a random regular season game. Denial is a Holiday specialty. Nothing seems amiss until it comes time to get the ball to Holiday’s man, and the way is shut by an aggressive, 6'4" defender with a 6'7" wingspan. Sneak a pass through and any shot still has to arc over Holiday’s reach. Any drive has to create enough room so that Holiday—supposing an opponent can get by him in the first place—can’t disrupt a play from the side or from behind.

When the applications for Holiday (15.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 7.3 APG) start there, his scoring and playmaking are almost gravy. The latter may be understated even by a solid assist average (7.3 per game). Through his passing, Holiday managed to pull nearly three three-pointers a game from a cast of misfiring teammates. Isaiah Thomas, who ran one of the most prolific three-point-shooting offenses in the league, averaged slightly fewer. That said, it’s a bit odd that Holiday had as much trouble as he did playing alongside Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins last season. The versatility of Holiday’s game and positioning should make him useful in all sorts of situations. Those short-term snags were somewhat understandable given the magnitude of the mid-season changes involved, though this will be a season to watch as Holiday wages a season of his playing prime with a team that very much needs his guidance. — RM

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59. J.J. Redick, 76ers

Although he’s reversing the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s journey by leaving L.A. for Philadelphia, Redick (15 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.4 APG) will nevertheless have his life flipped-turned upside down once he suits up for the Sixers. For the last four years, Redick played alongside an elite point guard in a star-studded and veteran-dominated Clippers starting lineup that annually ranked among the NBA’s most efficient offensive units. With the Sixers, the 33-year-old sharpshooter is set to join a roster built around a trio of recent lottery picks—Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz—who have combined to play less than 800 minutes. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has ranked dead last offensively in each of the last four seasons.

The Sixers made their one-year, $23 million investment in Redick this summer hoping that his constant off-ball movement, quick-trigger catch-and-shoot acumen, and elite three-point shooting range would help rookie ball-handlers Simmons and Fultz adjust to the NBA level. While often overmatched physically and athletically at the two, Redick is a solid and disciplined defender who brings a level of experience not otherwise found on Philadelphia’s roster. On both sides of the ball, then, this looks like a clean fit between team need and player skillset. Redick hasn’t yet displayed major signs of age-related decline, but playing without the benefit of Chris Paul’s masterful orchestration may alter the perception of the 11-year vet’s staying power. — BG

58. Clint Capela, Rockets

Don’t confuse the simplicity of Capela’s role for expendability. Think of it this way: there are a finite number of viable bigs in the NBA. Among them, only a portion—and a smaller portion than one might think—really understands how to set and hold a good screen. Only a portion of that group has the athleticism (and energy) to roll consistently. An even smaller subset has the hands to catch and finish as Capela does, and an even smaller one, still, has the bounce to reach the lobs that Capela dunks easily. The thought that anyone could do what Capela ?(12.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.0 APG) does needs to be qualified: Anyone with this rare combination of height, quickness, coordination, athleticism, attitude, and instincts could do what Capela does. There are so few like him, despite the fact that the low-usage, rim-running center archetype is as valuable as ever. What more could a superteam want than a big who defends, rebounds, and commits to keeping the offense moving without any insistence of his own reward? — RM

57. Gary Harris, Nuggets

A surprising number of fans—and even people within the league—haven’t yet caught on to the fact that Harris is one of the NBA’s best shooters. When ‘wide open’ last season by NBA.com’s designation, Harris sank an incredible 50.6% of his three-pointers. Overall, he leveled out at 42% from beyond the arc, good for eighth overall. Thus begins the case for Harris (14.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.9 APG) as an exceptional off-ball threat. A shooter of his caliber is exactly what any offense would want to balance the floor for its offense. What makes Harris all the more difficult to cover is that he might slip away at any moment; a momentary diversion is all Harris needs to dart into open space and fundamentally change a possession. Great playmakers see the game through a certain geometry, timing out which teammates are available when. Great cutters, like Harris, can make sense of the inverse. On every possession, Harris parses the spaces between players to find which ones—if sprinted through at just the right time—might prove fruitful. Operating in that way demands a certain caliber of playmaking, but it’s Harris who finds the means to produce 17.2 points per 36 minutes. — RM

56. Serge Ibaka, Raptors

The Magic traded for him in hopes that he would provide a clear defensive team identity. Then, the Raptors acquired him with an eye towards substantially improving their lineup versatility against the East’s top playoff contenders. On both counts, the 27-year-old Ibaka (14.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG) left his new teams wanting more. In Orlando, he proved unable to solve the many fit questions around him and failed to transform a space-deprived offense that needed more than a complementary frontcourt scorer. In Toronto, he couldn’t recapture the game-changing, two-way play he regularly showcased during his Oklahoma City tenure.

Taken together, the two chapters of Ibaka’s underwhelming 2016-17 season strongly suggest that his most effective and forceful days are behind him. Once a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and shot-blocking leader, his block rate has now decreased for five straight seasons. Surprisingly, both the Magic and Raptors posted better defensive efficiency ratings with Ibaka off the court than with him on, and Toronto’s small-ball units with Ibaka at center did not fare well defensively against the Cavaliers in the second round. Ibaka’s three-point shooting range and his ability to play both the four and five helped him pull down a three-year, $64 million contract from the Raptors this summer, but even that payday was a reminder of what could have been. Had the 2014 version of Ibaka hit the market this summer, he would have easily commanded a nine-figure deal. — BG

55. Jeff Teague, Timberwolves

Sizing up Teague feels an awful lot like hearing an urban legend. He has made an All-Star team and appeared in the playoffs for eight straight years, and yet the most memorable moment of his career might have been when he was spotted clutching a pizza box all by himself after being left behind by the team bus. He shared his only career Player of the Month award with four other people. He was traded for a mediocre first-round draft pick while on a below-market contract just one year after guiding a 60-win team. He was so thoroughly unassuming in Indiana last season (15.3 PPG, 4 RPG, 7.8 APG) that even the Pacers’ official website took care to note his silent and emotionless demeanor.

And yet Teague somehow posted PPG/RPG/APG numbers in 2016-17 that were only matched or exceeded by five A-listers—LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul and John Wall. Clearly, the 29-year-old point guard is not on that level, but he makes for an intriguing addition to Minnesota’s overhauled and upgraded starting lineup. An adept pick-and-roll initiator with three-point range and the ability to get to the line, Teague will give the post-Ricky Rubio Timberwolves a natural scoring threat at the one. Although he’s nothing to write home about as a defender, Teague gets by well enough to make Minnesota’s three-year, $57 million contract look like a reasonable, if slightly generous, investment. By signing on with the Timberwolves—an organization that’s desperate to snap its playoff drought—Teague surely understands that he will be judged next season not by his own numbers but by his ability to keep his many weapons satisfied. — BG

54. Avery Bradley, Pistons

It remains a great curiosity that Bradley—a 6'2" guard who had never been much of a rebounder—effectively doubled his per-game rebounding average last season. What isn’t is the motivation; gang rebounding became a team need based on Boston’s lineup construction, and Bradley (16.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.2 APG) is just the sort to stretch and bend his game to whatever end is needed. Mentality separates Bradley from his peers. There are quicker guards out there, but it’s Bradley who’s picking up his man at three-quarter court, turning every dribble into a battleground. There may be players closer to a loose ball, but Bradley is the one who makes up enough ground to snatch a possession away. There are better shooters and smoother ball-handlers, and yet Bradley has worked those skills and more to bring his greater game toward its reasonable limit. As a result, the NBA has reached a consensus: Bradley is one of those defenders (and one of those opponents in general, really) that nobody wants to face. — RM

53. Otto Porter, Wizards

Porter should host a self-help seminar at the NBA’s annual rookie symposium entitled, “If I can pull in a $100 million contract, you can too.” Indeed, his first four NBA seasons have been a blueprint in how to make it: He has taken incremental steps forward every season (13.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.5 APG) last year), he has embraced major defensive responsibilities, he has honed a reliable three-point stroke, he has meshed with star players and settled into his spot on the pecking order, and in so doing he has made himself indispensable. Given the choice between recommitting to Porter by matching a four-year, $107 million max offer sheet or watching their playoff ceiling cave in, the Wizards unsurprisingly gritted their teeth and paid up.

Even as recently as two years ago, this profitable chain of events seemed unlikely. But the 24-year-old Porter shook off a rookie-year injury and built himself into the prototypical 3-and-D wing the Wizards envisioned he would become when they selected him at No. 3 in 2013. An advanced stats darling thanks to his ultra-efficient shooting and low turnover rate, Porter makes for a perfect fit alongside Washington’s pair of ball-dominant star guards. Thanks to near impeccable health for all three players, that trio shared the court for more than 2,000 minutes last season, posting a sterling +7 net rating. The Wizards’ core of the future is set. — BG

52. Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers

There are players in the league who make a show of their effort level. Thompson makes a job of it. All game long he works through second, third, and fourth actions, always toward some targeted purpose. There is no activity in his game merely for activity’s sake; Thompson (8.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.0 APG) both draws from an incomparable motor and uses it judiciously. That smart hustle wrings everything out from a functionally limited skill set. Thompson is never suited to take more than a dribble or two, doesn’t have range beyond eight feet, and doesn’t contribute much of anything as a passer. Still he earns his keep, one hard-fought rebound or unexpected floater at a time. One of the best offenses in basketball played to its potential when Thompson was involved, and through him came Cleveland’s best chance of mounting a stout defense. Thompson gives a team options in its defensive game-planning. He demands nothing in the way of style or system, which in a postseason setting makes him a valuable chess piece. Trapping, hedging, dropping, and switching are all on the table. Simply dictate the terms of engagement and let Thompson go to work. — RM

51. Andre Drummond, Pistons

There’s been a whiplash effect when it comes to judging Drummond (13.6 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 1.1 APG), who followed up his first All-Star selection and postseason appearance in 2015-16 (No. 29 on our 2017 list) with a less-than-stellar 2016-17 campaign that felt like a step backwards. Is he a max-level franchise center capable of overwhelming opponents with his size and strength on a nightly basis? Or, is he doomed to disappoint because he reached his statistical peak at a young age and is now just another traditional center stuck adjusting to a league that increasingly prefers versatility over pure size? How should one weigh the value of his elite offensive rebounding against his indisputably poor defensive impact numbers and worse-than-atrocious free-throw shooting? What’s more trustworthy: His stellar PER or his middling Real Plus-Minus? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how much should any center be blamed when his starting point guard completely falls apart without warning?

Theoretically, the 24-year-old Drummond’s performance in 2016-17 should represent his basement. Reggie Jackson’s injury compromised their proven pick-and-roll partnership and forced Drummond into too many lower-efficiency post-up opportunities. Defensively, Drummond struggled with awareness, decision-making and rim-protection on an individual level, and yet the Pistons’ frontcourt personnel didn’t offer much in the way of help either. Despite his warts, Drummond’s athleticism and sheer size would surely be put to much better use on a roster that possessed average talent, depth and chemistry. A reliable, healthy floor general to feed him would go a long way, too. As it stands, Drummond must prove that his unique strengths can consistently translate to a greater degree of team success or he must evolve into a more complete all-around impact-maker before he can be regarded as one of the NBA’s brightest rising stars again. — BG