Sure, Durant on the Warriors is unfair. He is a more explosive offensive player with career-highs of 25.6 points and 5.5 assists per game in 2018-19. In that setting, his defense becomes catastrophic, as was the case against the Cavs. — BG. Make no mistake, though — the NBA will be Antetokounmpo's league for quite some time. Instead, he largely no-showed in the embarrassing second-round sweep against Cleveland, struggling badly in Game 2 and getting benched in Game 3. While his defensive impact was muted given his propensity for risk-taking and brain farts, Bledsoe’s presence kept the Bucks’ season from being derailed by Malcolm Brogdon’s long-term injury. The 2016 No. Place Thompson on a team with average talent and a need for him to play a leading role, and there’s no telling exactly how things would turn out. The 21-year veteran still has more to offer, both on and off the court. The 24-year-old has a preternatural sense of where to be and when. A full, uncomplicated recovery can’t always be taken on faith. During the 2018 playoffs, they posted a 123.7 offensive rating and a staggering +24.8 net rating, as Iguodala’s excellent feel, commitment to the pass, precise defense, and opportunistic shot-making continued to make him an ideal fifth option. For all the careful planning that goes into an NBA game, sometimes it’s up to players like Saric to help a team find their flow. Sabonis (11.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.0 APG) was allowed to played to his strengths and develop in his own time. Although their agonizing Game 7 meltdown was impossible to explain, Harden and the Rockets left this season with proof that their approach was good enough to win a title. Additionally, Houston gutted out a pair of tight wins over Golden State in the West finals, with Harden scoring 30 points on the road in Game 4 to right the ship after an ugly blowout. Just last season, there were only four true bigs who played more than 2,000 minutes at age 32 or older: Gasol, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Marcin Gortat. They need only to have the right combination of skills at the right time, as Favors often does. He not only produced more, but did so under more challenging circumstances. Here’s the final installment of this site’s 2019-20 awards series, including Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player. — RM. Why did anyone doubt him? The former role player has completely rewired himself as an alpha scorer since his breakout 2014-15 season, but there are real questions about how far he can carry a team in the playoffs. San Antonio’s recent actions suggest, however, that they perceived a hard ceiling to his utility given his floor-cramping nature and limited raw athleticism. You could transplant his skill set to any roster in the league and find room for him to thrive. — RM. Branded a snake and a bandwagoner for leaving Oklahoma City to join Golden State in 2016, Durant has struggled to shake those labels despite winning two titles, making two iconic three-pointers in the Finals, and claiming two Finals MVPs. Harris is a dual threat and more. Are you a Stathead, too? Throughout a brilliant 16-game winning streak, Irving proved that he could thrive as an alpha rather than as a sidekick, that he could balance his scoring and distributing without rubbing his co-stars the wrong way, that he could be the major personality on a winning team despite his quirks, and that he could play big minutes on an elite defense. All sorts of lineups make sense when George can defend the best player across three positions. Atlanta is one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA. This content is currently not available in your region. Now 21, the Canadian product is a prime example of the Stephen Curry Generation: young guards who are encouraged to launch three-pointers at a rate that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. Otherwise, players were ordered based on their complete games. There’s no real substitute for that level of situational awareness, which enables Paul to function effectively in any lineup and in any style. Covington (12.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.7 SPG) warps around the court like a podcast played at double speed, he relishes contact like a middle linebacker, and he shadows scorers feint-for-feint like a professional dancer. The result? Davis doesn’t really have that in his game, and that’s fine; allowing others to handle the ball frees Davis of the responsibility, allowing him to instead use his speed to its greatest advantage. Driving lanes are contested. A predictive element also came into play with the anticipated improvement of certain younger players, as well as the possible decline of aging veterans. He has a natural aptitude for rotation, which involves reading the floor and timing out plays as they progress. — BG. Our reasoning for presenting offensive logos. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Anthony Davis would never behave like Leonard did because they understand and accept that being an A-list superstar requires comporting oneself like a chief executive. What matters most, though, is that he’s never a target. — BG. The Suns have thrown every conceivable monkey wrench at Booker (24.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.7 APG) during his three seasons: changing coaches, trading away veterans, tanking for months, and whiffing on high draft picks. Some of those skills are less reliable than others in Johnson’s case, though their intersection alone makes him valuable. One can practically hear his creaking joints when he tries to back down some younger, springier center, and there is no disguising his slow-motion coverage of the pick-and-roll. His next steps—improving as a three-point shooter, getting to the line more frequently, and growing as a facilitator—are refinements rather than quantum leaps. Give Drummond (15 PPG, 16 RPG, 1.6 BPG) credit for seeking methods to evolve his game rather than settling for the dunk-and-rebound stereotype. If Johnson’s all-around play seemed a bit flat last season, that’s because it was—down to his every step. Horford could be at his absolute best in Boston, if only because the organization seems to value him fully. You might think of Batum as a strong defender, but his investment on that end comes and goes. The good news is that he projects as such a potent offensive weapon that he only needs to become a passable defender to emerge as the face of Chicago’s youth movement. The usual limitations regarding point guards don’t really apply; he’s tall (a listed 6’4”), he’s long (his wingspan, at the time of his drafting, was measured at 6’7”), and he’s too strong to be pushed around. The jury is still out, even within the league. “Slo Mo” might not be the best nickname in pro sports, but it’s certainly the most accurate. The lesson, contrary to the extreme reaction at the time, was not that the Wizards are better off without Wall. One fills minutes capably and predictably. He’s a few rungs removed from the league’s truly elite defenders, but Gibson might well come up with the stops to save your season. Playing alongside either can be a great gig for a specialist. Stephen Curry and James Harden not only have all the markers of elite play, but a deeper superstar body of work and the postseason receipts to validate it. Love, though, is not just a role player. The last time we saw Conley really do his thing, he was bombing away from beyond the arc with the frequency of Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, and Devin Booker—all while hitting better than 40%. Unlike Griffin, he’s an easy piece to fit. Things could really take a turn as his play elevates; we’re not far from Eastern Conference contenders stocking some big-bodied “Embiid stopper” by necessity. Each of his forays into traffic is an improbable enterprise. The Spurs sharply cut his minutes when facing the Warriors in the playoffs, and then decided not to match the Grizzlies’ offer even though they had a major hole on the wing. Golden State coach Steve Kerr says Curry is "at his peak" physically and mentally, so expect some eye-popping numbers. Cutting off his access to the basket is easier said than done; even last season’s Rockets, who switched as capably as any team in the league, couldn’t entirely deny Gobert’s rolls, cuts, and put-backs. His case is the inverse of Dončić and Young’s; Graham went from almost off the radar to legitimate NBA rotation player, but that jump isn’t as meaningful as breaking into the elite company others reached. Despite never starting in his first two seasons and being known primarily as a defensive pest, Rozier sent Milwaukee packing from the first round, nailed seven threes in Game 1 against Philadelphia to set the tone in the conference semis, and held tough when LeBron James cranked it up in the East finals.
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