Chief Sports Editor
With opening night in the NBA less than a month away, preseason predictions and analysis are beginning to flood out of sports media outlets. Last week, ESPN released its annual list of the top 100 players for the upcoming season. Here, we analyze which players ESPN ranked too high and who got shortchanged.
Ben Simmons (rank: 18), Philadelphia 76ers
There is no denying that Simmons will be a dominant force in the NBA for years to come. He has a nearly unprecedented combination of size, athleticism, vision, and feel for the game. However, as the whole league witnessed in the playoffs last season, Simmons can only impact the game so much without a reliable jumpshot outside of 15 feet. He will stuff the box score and win the Sixers a handful of games this year on his own, but in order to be a top-20 player in the league, he will have to demand respect from defenses while playing off the ball in order to create space for teammates Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz, another perimeter player who still has to answer questions about his own jumper.
Otto Porter Jr. (38), Washington Wizards
Porter is a key piece to a Wizards team that perpetually underperforms relative to its talent level. He is a prototypical 3-and-D wing in the modern NBA, shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc last season. However, despite that mark (ranking 3rd in the league), he ranked 99th in three-point attempts with just 4.1 per game. In order to justify a top-40 ranking, he will need to be more assertive offensively and up his number of attempts. It would also be helpful to the Wizards if he could increase his rebounding numbers and play more minutes as a small-ball power forward.
Eric Bledsoe (56), Milwaukee Bucks
Bledsoe forced his way out of Phoenix early last season and landed in a more win-now situation in Milwaukee. While the Bucks fought toe-to-toe with the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, Bledsoe faltered and was overmatched by Terry Rozier. With Malcolm Brogdon back to full health, Bledsoe may find himself coming off the bench under new head coach Mike Budenholzer. Despite recording two steals per game, the advanced metrics indicate that he is an mediocre defender, and his inability to stretch the floor (35 percent from beyond the arc last season) makes him an imperfect fit alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Kevin Durant (T-4 with Antetokounmpo), Golden State Warriors
It is hard to be underrated when you are ranked in the top five. However, Durant has shown throughout his career, and especially the last two years, that he is one of the top two players in the league, only rivaled by LeBron James. He has won the Finals MVP the past two seasons, set a career-high in blocked shots last year, and is arguably the most gifted scorer to ever play the game. What more does he have to prove? If he is tied with anybody, it’s LeBron, not Antetokounmpo.
DeMar DeRozan (39), San Antonio Spurs
Sure, DeRozan would’ve been a better fit in the ‘90s NBA than in today’s game, ruled by the three-point shot, but he’s still an All-Star caliber player. For the past several years, he has been the centerpiece of one of the best teams in the league that has only been overmatched by LeBron in the postseason each year, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Albeit a below-average outside shooter and mediocre defender, DeRozan is a natural scorer and capable facilitator. Folks in Toronto would take issue with DeRozan finishing behind the likes of Khris Middleton (35), Otto Porter Jr. (38), and even Bradley Beal (29). Despite being dealt by the only team he’s ever known this offseason, DeRozan should be rejuvenated by playing under Gregg Popovich, who knows how to get the most out of players who live inside the arc better than anyone.
Paul Millsap (59), Denver Nuggets
After playing in just 38 games in his first season with the Nuggets last year, Millsap could be the X-factor that delivers Denver its first playoff appearance since 2012-2013 if healthy. A bruising power forward who can stretch the defense and act as a tertiary creator, he is capable of forming the league’s best passing frontcourt alongside Nikola Jokic. He is just a season removed from his fourth consecutive appearance in the All-Star Game, and while he may not get back there this year in the competitive Western Conference, No. 59 is surely too low for Millsap.