This is part four of a seven-part series on my analysis of Sports Illustrated’s top 100 NBA players of 2014. As we get deep into the list and analyzing some of the top players in the league, analysis must go beyond just numbers, but future potential of the player and things brought to the table that cannot be seen every night on the box score. The amount that sets these players apart from each other is so small that all factors must be considered to accurately rank these athletes. To see my first three installments, you can click below.
Now…let us continue.
|40. John Wall||40. Pau Gasol|
|39. Mike Conley||39. Paul Millsap|
|38. Paul Millsap||38. Andre Iguodala|
|37. Kawhi Leonard||37. Mike Conley|
|36. Pau Gasol||36. Kevin Garnett|
|35. Zach Randolph||35. Paul Pierce|
|34. Josh Smith||34. David West|
|33. Andre Iguodala||33. Kawhi Leonard|
|32. Paul Pierce||32. Josh Smith|
|31. David West||31. Zach Randolph|
40. Pau Gasol (PF, Los Angeles Lakers)
For all those who are looking for nice words about Pau Gasol, you’re reading the wrong article. Gasol receives a lot of criticism (most of it deserved) from not only Lakers fans, but fans and basketball experts around the world. Last year was his worst statistical season as a professional. Last season he averaged 14.6 points (career worst) and 9.2 rebounds per game (worst in six years) and shot a career-low 46 percent from the field. In addition, he finished the year with a player efficiency rating of 16.7 (league average is 15), which ranks 27th among the league’s power forwards and 93rd among all players. To boot, he only played in 49 games last season as he struggled with various injuries. He has been deemed soft by many fans and critics as he at times fails to show the tenacity and authority we are used to seeing out of a typical NBA big man. Now, you may be asking yourself, “If you have nothing nice to say about him, why is Pau Gasol ranked so high?” Despite all of these downfalls, Pau Gasol still remains one of the league’s premier big men. Everyone has a bad year. Pau was plagued by injuries last year and when he did play he was hardly at full strength, so his dip is statistics is natural. He also remains one of the smartest players in the league and has a remarkable passing ability. His 4.1 assists per game average last season led the league among power forwards. As he comes back from injury and is presumed to be at full strength, a majority of the offensive load will fall on him with Kobe Bryant likely out for the start of the season. He has shown that he has the ability to do this, now he has to prove that he can handle being the go-to player for a small amount of time. Can he do it?
39. Paul Millsap (PF, Atlanta Hawks)
Paul Millsap is nothing short of a beast. During his time with the Utah Jazz, Millsap has proved to be both a consistently quality producer on the offensive end while posing as a threat on the defensive end to anyone who enters the lane. Last season he averaged 17.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He also finished last season with a PER of 19.9, which ranks eighth in the league among power forwards. With the Jazz not having a true point guard since the departure of Deron Williams, it is nothing short of impressive that Millsap has continued to produce the same numbers all throughout his career. Although a great producer with the Jazz, Millsap could greatly benefit from a change of scenery in Atlanta. With the combination of Jeff Teague feeding him the ball and Millsap being the go-to scorer, we could see Millsap’s numbers skyrocket from his previous seasons. Trying to replace Josh Smith is a tall order, but Millsap is one of the best to attempt to do just that; he is one of the league’s strongest power forwards who gives his all every night. He earns the No. 39 spot.
38. Andre Iguodala (SF, Golden State Warriors)
We all know Andre Iguodala can jump through the building and provide some of the most spectacular dunks we have ever seen … but that is not why he is ranked so high on this list. At the end of the day, while high-flying dunks are extremely entertaining, they are worth just as much as a well-executed pick-and-roll that results in a boring layup: two points. As much of an extremely prolific high scorer we see Iguodala as, he only averaged 13 points last season and has never averaged more than 19 points per game for his career. No, Iggy makes it this high on the list is because of something that cannot be seen every night in the box score: his defense. Andre Iguodala is one of the league’s best defenders. His incredible athleticism, quickness and strength gives him the ability to lock down some of the league’s best players. His steals average of 1.7 last season ties him for the lead among small forwards. Now with Golden State, he brings his superior defensive prowess to a team that is primarily offensive minded. Having Iggy on the floor will give the Warriors a defensive edge that they did not have last year and will allow them to compete better with teams like the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, both of whom have incredibly talented forwards in LeBron James and Kevin Durant and while stopping these players is almost impossible, Iguodala’s defensive skills will make it tougher for premier players to excel. The addition of Iguodala to the Warriors makes them a serious contender and we should expect great things from this defensive specialist. He comes in at No. 38.
37. Mike Conley (PG, Memphis Grizzlies)
Mike Conley is the most underrated player in the league. As the point guard of a Memphis Grizzlies team that has a vast amount of talent, he controls the floor with poise and composure. Last season he averaged 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game last season while being one of the key factors that led the Grizzlies to a very impressive 56-26 record last year. In addition, Conley finished the year with a PER of 18.3, good for 10th best among the league’s point guards. Not only did Conley perform well during the regular season, but his play greatly improved during the postseason. During the 2013 playoff campaign, Conley averaged 17 points and 7.1 assists in 15 games, a vast improvement from his regular season numbers. His improved play during this time shows that he has the ability to excel during high pressure situations. With the Grizzlies looking to have success in a very competitive Western Conference this season, Conley’s play will have a large part in the performance of the team. With all key players returning to the team, Conley has the potential to have another great season, show us all what he is capable of and no longer be known as an underrated player, but one of the league’s best guards.
36. Kevin Garnett (PF, Brooklyn Nets)
I simply cannot rank Kevin Garnett as high as SI has. KG simply is not the player he once was and although he still remains productive, he only shows flashes of greatness at his old age. Last season Garnett averaged 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds last season, both his lowest marks since his rookie year. At 37 years old he simply does not have the quickness or ability to put up consistently high numbers. The Big Ticket has now become the Ticket Stub. Despite all this, Garnett still remains one of the better power forwards in the league. Last season, although averaging some of his lowest numbers of his career, KG finished the year with a PER of 19.2, which ranks him 13th best among the power forwards. His trademark turnaround jumper is still deadly and he has served as both a leader in the locker room and on the court for the Timberwolves and the Celtics throughout his career. Now moving on to the Brooklyn Nets with teammates Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, he looks to end his career with a bang and attempt to acquire one more championship. KG is a proven winner who will stop at nothing to reach his goal and on the veteran heavy Nets team, he will prove to be very useful and productive in the late years of his career. This future Hall of Famer earns the No. 36 spot.
35. Paul Pierce (SF, Brooklyn Nets)
It baffles me how Paul Pierce continues to be productive … I mean isn’t he almost 70 years old? All jokes aside, the fact that Paul Pierce has been able to consistently produce at such a high level for 15 seasons is nothing short of incredible. Last season Pierce averaged 18.6 points and 6.3 rebounds while at the same time collecting 4.8 assists per game. Those are incredible numbers for anyone in the league, not to mention a 35-year-old. In addition to these staggering numbers, Pierce finished last season with a PER of 19.1, good for fourth in the league among small forwards. Paul Pierce, like his teammate Kevin Garnett, is a proven leader and winner who still has a lot to offer in this league. He continues to shoot the ball with precision while averaging 43 percent from the field, which ranks 12th among small forwards. Now joining KG in Brooklyn, the two look to combine forces with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson to bring a championship to the Big Apple (because the Knicks certainly aren’t doing a very good job). With an all-star cast surrounding him, Pierce’s playoff experience and savvy, along with his continuously solid production is invaluable. If history tells us anything, Pierce will continue to produce as he has for his entire career with the hopes of leading Brooklyn to success. Paul Pierce comes in at No. 35.
34. David West (PF, Indiana Pacers)
David West is simply one of the most menacing forces in the NBA. Last season he averaged 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and was one of the key factors that led the Pacers far into the playoffs without the help of Danny Granger. He finished last season with a PER of 20.1, which ranks sixth in the league among the power forwards. The 32-year-old continues to post high numbers and to impress all that come by. He proved to be a serious threat to the defending champion Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals last season by continuously scoring in the paint and knocking down jumpers and at the same time dominating in the rebound department. By inking West to a three-year, $36 million deal this summer, the Pacers certainly see him as part of their future and feel he can contribute for a long time. With Danny Granger’s return and joined by Paul George and Roy Hibbert, the Pacers and David West have the potential to have a very special season. We can expect West to contribute the same numbers he has while continuing to serve as a serious threat on both the rebounding and defensive fronts. David West earns the No. 34 spot.
33. Kawhi Leonard (SF, San Antonio Spurs)
Kawhi Leonard is a special player and the Spurs are very lucky to have him. Last season Leonard averaged 11.9 points and six rebounds per game, but it’s not about what Leonard did during the regular season that gets him the 33rd spot on this list, it’s what he did during the playoffs. During the postseason last year he was nothing short of unbelievable while averaging 13.7 points and 6.9 rebounds which included an astounding 22-point and 11-rebound effort in Game 6 of the Finals. This young man has so many refined skills to his game and going into just his third year, he becomes even more impressive. He is one of the most ferocious and menacing defenders in the league and his rebounding skills have only gotten better from the time he was a rookie. His athleticism allows him to get to the basket at will and while the Spurs offense is not designed for Leonard to take a majority of their shots, he still has the ability to score in bunches. Under the tutelage of legendary coach Gregg Popovich, Leonard will continue to get better and better as the years go on. Going into next season, Pop has said that he will give more offensive responsibility to Leonard. We will now be able to see truly what this young man is capable of. Kawhi Leonard is the future of the Spurs and he earns the No. 33 spot.
32. Josh Smith (PF, Detroit Pistons)
Josh Smith is one of the league’s most spectacular athletes whose prowess the Pistons are lucky to have. Last season Smith averaged 17.5 points, which ranks second in the league among power forwards, and 8.5 rebounds per game last season. He remains to be one of the most difficult players to guard due to his superior athletic ability and his knack for knocking down jumpers inside the arc. He can blow by defenders and throw down an emphatic dunk or sit on the elbow and knock down jumper after jumper. Now joining the Pistons, he will be the team’s go-to scorer and has the potential to have the best year of his career. In this time of the Pistons organization they desperately need a player like J-Smoove, who can score down low and the outside. Joined by elite guard Brandon Jennings, the two should be a very exciting combination to watch as the Pistons attempt to avenge the past bad seasons and make a playoff run. If they wish to accomplish their goal, they must look to Josh Smith.
31. Zach Randolph (PF, Memphis Grizzlies)
Zach Randolph remains one of the league’s most illustrious players. Last season Z-Bo averaged 15.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. He finished the season with a PER of 17.9, which ranks 17th in the league among the power forwards. Even in his 12th season, he continues to have a great impact on games with his superior rebounding ability and shooting. While leading the league in offensive rebounding, Randolph helped the Grizzlies to a convincing first round victory over the Clippers but was somewhat silent during the series against the Spurs. Going into next season, the Grizzlies are poised to be serious contenders in the Western Conference and their success hinges on the consistent play of Randolph. The No. 31 spot goes to one of the league’s best: Zach Randolph.