‘With the 2012/13 season around the corner, Sportskeeda presents the NBA Top 20 – a countdown of who we predict will be the NBA’s 20 best players in the upcoming season. Six of the finest basketball writers on this website put their minds together to vote for the NBA’s best, the players who will be most “valuable”, not just to their team but in determining the course of how the upcoming season unravels. Enjoy!‘
Step aside, Manu. For the first time in forever, the league has a new undisputed king off the bench. Fear the Beard, they say of the fun-loving, hot-shooting third wheel in the OKC machine, though opponents have had to fear much more from Harden the past season. There might not be a more efficient per-minute guard in the NBA. Harden’s shooting splits – 49/39/84 – suggest that he might some day break the golden threshold for NBA shooters (50/40/90) and the 39% from beyond the arc is all the more jaw-dropping because he attempts nearly 5 treys a game. His offensive output was par excellence. Sample on this – he was second in the league in True Shooting percentage (which takes into consideration 3-pt shots and FTs) behind only Tyson Chandler, though Harden’s Usage Rate was way above Chandler’s.
Harden was third in the league in Offensive Rating (125), tied with Durant for third in Basketball-Reference’s Win Shares per 48 minutes metric and seventh in Wins Produced, the metric used by the Wages of Wins journal (among the best statistical gauges of player value available today). Expect Harden’s highly efficient productivity to continue next season, and with increased minutes and more ball handling duties, Harden will finally make the jump into top-20 territory in the NBA. If he continues his hot shooting at the rim (70%, up 24 percentage points from his rookie season) and his spike in FTs attempted (6 FTpg, up from 4 attempts in his rookie season), watch out for the sound of thunder, folks.
19) Chris Bosh, PF/C, Miami Heat:
The big problem with Big Threes and Big Fours, especially the stacked lineups the Heat and the Lakers put on court, is that superstar caliber players aren’t utilized to maximize their ability, with their perceived value consequently falling (which, as a hat-tip to Phil Jackson, should be called the Pau Gasol Situation). This disabling trend is best seen in the case of Bosh, who is probably a top-10 player in the league as the focal point of a team’s offense. Bosh’s value to the Heat became evident when Bron and Wade struggled mightily against the Pacers and Celtics after Bosh’s abdominal strain in the playoffs. Bosh’s value to the Heat is not just in height and rebounds, but as an essential part of their offensive floor spacing. He’s the best mid-range player in the NBA by a stretch.
Once Bosh gets it in isolation mid-range, he becomes a nightmare guard for opposing forwards and centers, since his mid-range jumper is automatic and his shot fake is surprisingly deceptive. The likely outcome of such a play is either a Bosh drive to the hoop after the fake or a 15-18 foot jumper with the defender sagging. Often, Bosh’s aggressiveness on offense determines the Heat’s outcome although his stats don’t jump out at you from the page. Since he’ll play center for the upcoming season (or so Spoelstra maintains), Bosh is likely to present an even greater headache for opponents, since there might not be a center in the league outside of New Orleans who can match up with him. His shooting from 16-23 feet (where he attempts 5 shots a game) fell to 40% last season, a number Bosh will want to improve upon this upcoming season. He’s been a top-20 guys for a while now, and should continue to perform commensurate to his ranking for the next couple of seasons.
18) LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Portland Trailblazers:
Aldridge finished last season 7th in the league in scoring (21.7 ppg) and did so on 51% shooting from the field, making his first All-Star appearance in the process, after the unfathomable snub the year before. The knock against Aldridge is his sub-par rebounding, which the Trailblazers (25th in the league in rebounding) can’t afford. Aldridge grabbed 13% of all available rebounds when he was on the floor last season, which isn’t good enough to break the top-25 in the league in the category, though that should change with robo-rebounder Marcus Camby donning a new jersey for next season. His defense is average at the best of times, and he isn’t much of a low post defender, but Aldridge does a ton of heavy lifting for the Blazers on offense, ranking 13th in the league in offensive win shares. Besides, he’s probably got the prettiest mid-range game in the NBA and is only just entering his prime (27). With promising rookie Damien Lillard and improved play from the second richest Frenchman in the NBA, Nicholas Batum, Aldridge should be able to keep up the steady offensive onslaught. With better teammates, Aldridge should be a top-15 player soon.
17) Pau Gasol, PF, Los Angeles Lakers:
Pau Gasol is the second best exemplar of the Pau Gasol Situation. With Superman and Nash on board the Laker cruise ship, Gasol’s talents will most assuredly not be taken full advantage of. Gasol served up some brilliant all-around performances in the Olympics for those who had forgotten his incredibly versatile skill set, putting the Spaniards on his back en route to the finals against Team USA. The finals also reminded us how beautifully Gasol can find the open teammate and pass out of the post, a game that Lakers coach Mike Brown was hopefully watching closely. Pau played the second most minutes of anyone in the NBA last season, finished fifth in rebounding with a PER rating of 20.51, though his numbers took a significant tumble in the postseason. The Lakers have found that they play best when they feed Pau the ball early and often. Pau is arguably the best big man facilitator in the NBA, and running the offense through Nash and him should the prerogative next year.
Even with the inevitable divvying up of touches, Pau’s value to the Lakers is huge, which is why Lakers GM Kupchak should be thrilled he didn’t have to give up Pau for Nash/Howard. Pau should also benefit if the Lakers implement plays that involve post-to-post passing, which is a no-brainer when you’ve got a big man combo of Dwight-Pau. The Lakers have not had a PG of Nash’s class in the Kobe era, so it should be interesting to see how they use Pau and Nash in tandem. Regardless, Pau’s ability to play with Nash and Howard is crucial to Laker success.
16) Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas Mavericks:
Four power forwards between 20 and 16 should indicate the value of skilled, versatile big men even in the so-called perimeter era of the NBA. Common to Bosh, Aldridge, Pau and Dirk is the ability to shoot, and shoot well from mid-range. All four players space the floor and find the open man, allowing for teams to work through unconventional offensive sets.
While shooters typically age well in basketball terms, Dirk’s game has slipped a bit since the 2011 euphoria. Last season, he shot 45% from the field, his worst shooting percentage since his rookie season. His numbers have fallen across the board over the last two seasons, and given that he has conquered the NBA’s final frontier, one really has to wonder how much he last left in the tank. Just as Timmy slowly slipped out of the top 25 in the NBA, Dirk is likely on his way out as well. His numbers last season were good, but just not in the stratosphere we have come to expect. His Offensive Rating for last season was 110 – his worst since his rookie season – and he also logged his second lowest Win Shares/48 in the last decade. The silky smooth jumpers and one-legged fadeaways should still be around next season, but it’s more of a final hurrah than anything else. Perhaps new teammates and fresh purpose will bring back the Dirk from years past, but anytime you look to injury-hit Elton Brand and Chris Kaman for support, you know your time’s up.
Watch this space for the next installment of Sportskeeda Top 20: 15-11, which will be out on the 6th of October.
Catch the whole series here: Sportskeeda NBA Top 20