Reason no. 228 why I love writing the just-about-annual “Who Has The Highest Trade Value In The NBA?” column: Derrick Rose, January 23, 2015.
After Rose upended LeBron’s budding MVP Award dynasty in 2011, Chicagoans loved him as much as the ’85 Bears and judging people for putting ketchup on hot dogs. He’s likable enough and humble enough that Adidas paid him $185 million just to wear its sneakers. He plays the league’s most important position in the pace-and-space era — the slash-and-kick creator, the relentless penetrator who (on paper) relies on speed/athleticism/craftiness to create shots for himself and 3s for teammates. And he’s only 26 years old. He SHOULD be entering his prime.
And yet …
Rose has suffered two season-ending knee injuries already. He hasn’t looked like a franchise player, much less an MVP candidate, in 33 solid months and counting. His body hasn’t allowed him to play 12 consecutive games since the month before Grantland launched. This season, he’s shooting 42 percent from the field and a yucky 32 percent from 3, his PER has dipped to 85th in the NBA (it’s even lower than Kobe Bryant’s much-maligned season), and he isn’t even averaging FOUR free throw attempts per game. Iggy Azalea’s boyfriend gets to the charity stripe more than Derrick Rose.
I don’t ever remember saying to myself, “I wish Derrick Rose would reinvent himself as a shooter.” The same qualities that made his MVP season special make Russell Westbrook so special right now: abject fearlessness, abject recklessness, and an absolutely freakish level of athletic ability. If you made up an adjective to describe Westbrook or MVP Rose, it would be “freakocious.” A ferocious freak, basically. Sadly, that quality has disappeared from Rose’s game. It’s gone.
What if it comes back? That’s one of many reasons why Chicago wouldn’t trade him yet.
Then again, NBA history says it’s probably never coming back, that you can’t reclaim greatness after it hibernates for that long. Rose might be damaged goods. Throw in his whopping salary and none of the other 29 teams, at least right now, would make a fair offer for Derrick Rose.
And that’s the point of this column, and the concept of “trade value” in general. It’s all about degrees. For nearly every NBA season since 2001, I spent way too much time trying to determine which player was most untradable. If you peruse the different years — and we collected all of those columns on this page, by the way — you’ll see some pretty fascinating snapshots of the 21st-century NBA. For instance …
2001’s untouchables: Duncan, Garnett, Kobe, Iverson, T-Mac, Shaq.
2006’s untouchables: Wade, LeBron, Duncan, Yao, Dirk.
2011’s untouchables: LeBron, Dwight, Durant, Rose, Griffin.
You’ll also read retroactively embarrassing points like these …
2001 — no. 22: Darius Miles … “Baby KG.”
2003 — no. 11: Stephon Marbury … “Living proof that the light bulb can go [on].”
2007 — no. 11: Carlos Boozer … “You’re saying, ‘Wait a second, Boozer ahead of Dirk???’”
2010 — no. 32: Stephen Curry … “More sophisticated offensively than we hoped.”
Guys ascend, guys descend, guys get injured, guys blossom late, guys figure it out, guys endure. You just never know. We are only trying to figure out everyone’s trade value. And in Rose’s case, Chicago owes him $18.9 million this season, $20.1 million next season and $21.3 million for 2016-17. Gulp. If you feel like antagonizing a buddy who loves the Knicks (and why wouldn’t you?), text him the following three questions in succession.
Would you want the Knicks to do an unprotected 2015 pick swap with Chicago for Rose?
(They’d say no. Quickly. They might even write back, “Stop, please, I’m in enough pain.”)
Would you trade Stoudemire’s expiring for Rose?
(They’d say yes … but begrudgingly, and only after mentally passing the “We definitely can’t get Gasol or Aldridge this summer, right?” checkpoints.)
Would you trade Stoudemire plus an unprotected 2018 first for Rose?
(Silence … sadness … disbelief … and then, “No. Can’t do it.”)1
And here’s the reality: Even the Dolan-era Knicks at their Dolaniest wouldn’t trade an asset for Rose without knowing if he could stay healthy, or if he’ll regain enough confidence in his knees to start brazenly attacking the rim again. (Thinking.) You’re right, Isiah would have totally traded for Rose. My bad.
Anyway, I couldn’t believe that Rose missed the final Trade Value cut even after I expanded the list to a record-high top 60. A top 60!!!! Eight years ago, I could barely eke out 40 names. Check out the nine-man rotations for the Western no. 1 seeds in 2007 and 2015.
2007 Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Erick Dampier, Devin Harris, Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, DeSagana Diop, Greg Buckner, Devean George.
2015 Warriors: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, David Lee, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston.
Are you kidding me??? Would the ’07 Mavs even make the playoffs in the West in 2015? We’re riding a talent boom that rivals the MJ/Hakeem/Barkley/Robinson era in the early 1990s — way too many quality guys, way too many salary bargains, way too many options. I’m more pumped for this column than Steve Ballmer after a triple espresso. So let’s go. Take off your hats, and please rise for the Trade Value National Anthem.
If you can’t remember the Trade Value rules, check the sidebar to the left.2 Here’s who we bounced from our previous top 50 list in the spring of 2013 (I know, it’s been awhile):
Greivis Vasquez (no. 50) grabbed the last spot from Kawhi Leonard, which was the seventh-biggest mistake of my entire life … Chandler Parsons (no. 48) signed a Mavs deal that was intentionally designed to be untradable, so, I mean … Enes Kanter (no. 45) may never make an All-Star team, but once caused a drunk Clippers fan in my section to scream “HEY, ENES — YOU’RE A PENIS!!!” … #freekennethfaried (no. 43) … Jrue Holiday (no. 40) is Darren Collison with better defense and a better agent … don’t worry, you’ll find David Lee (no. 38) and Deron Williams (no. 37) on 2015’s Worst Contracts List (coming soon!) … Dallas stole Rajon Rondo (no. 36) and Tyson Chandler (no. 35) while inadvertently proving their marginal trade value … I knew Larry Sanders (no. 34) had entered the Tyson Zone after a friend tricked me into thinking Larry nicknamed his bong “Hank Kingsley” … the freaking Spurs will freaking steal Nikola Pekovic (no. 32) within the next three freaking years and it’s already freaking pissing me off … OKC came damned close to acquiring Brook Lopez (no. 24) for the “everything must go!” closeout price of Jeremy Lamb and Kendrick “The Walking Illegal Screen” Perkins last week3 … and Ricky Rubio (no. 22) needs a basketball exorcism with priests and everything.
This year’s Honorable Honorable Mention Trade Value guys: Patrick Beverley (restricted free agent), Gordon Hayward (too pricey), Monta Ellis (free agent), Ryan Anderson (awesome shooter, fell off a cliff defensively), Al Jefferson (peaked last year, still commands double-teams), Robert Covington (?!?!?!), Gorgui Dieng (wow, was I wrong about the Burke-for-Shabazz/Dieng trade), Kyle O’Quinn (a stealth sleeper to get overoveroveroverpaid in July), Aaron Gordon (I’ll buy your Gordon stock if you’re selling), Enes Kanter (I’m still intrigued), Patrick Patterson (the NBA’s premier Slightly Overpaid Stretch 4 Bench Guy) and two Celtics just because I’m a huge homer (Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger). That’s a no. 7 seed in the East!
Speaking of my beloved Celtics: Only four teams failed to put anyone in this year’s top 60: Boston, Charlotte, Philly and the Lakers. Never, not in the history of the Trade Value column, have the Celtics or Lakers failed to place anybody. (Sigh.)
The good news for Boston fans: We have 55 first-round picks and 146 second-round picks in the next eight drafts. Would you allow me two irrelevant paragraphs discussing Boston’s Honorable Honorable Mention guys? You would? That’s so gracious of you! Thanks!
Kelly Olynyk: My daughter thinks he looks like a priest and yells out “Father Kelly Olynyk!” every time he makes a 3. Great nickname, you have to admit. Does it make up for the fact that the Celtics drafted Father Kelly over the Greek Freak? NOOOOOOOO! Of course not. But here’s our best chance to see what would have happened to Andrea Bargnani’s career if Bargs never went full-scale Bargs on us. Two seasons from now, Father Kelly will average 17.5 PPG, make 39.7 percent of his 3s and snooker the Celtics into some mega-extension that will give my father his first heart attack. You wait.
Jared Sullinger: Speaking of Boston trades, my father (a Celtics season-ticket holder since the 1973-74 season) visited for Thanksgiving right when Kevin Love started noticeably struggling in Cleveland — as opposed to now, when Kevin Love is noticeably struggling in Cleveland. But we were driving around and I mentioned that I was hoping that Cleveland would panic-trade Love, and that maybe we had a chance for a package that included Sully, Jeff Green and a future first-rounder. That led to this exchange:
Dad: “I wouldn’t trade Sullinger straight-up for Love.”
Me: “Wait … what?”
Dad: “You don’t go to the games. I go to the games.”
Me: “What does that mean?”
Dad: “Sullinger knows how to play. He reminds me of Paul Silas. He’s the next Paul Silas.”
(Postscript: Just three days later, I checked my father into a nursing home.)
And now, our toughest 2015 Trade Value omissions, from “least tough” to “toughest.”
Julius Randle: Multiple 2014 lottery teams worried about Randle’s surgically repaired foot … and in November, Randle broke the leg attached to that foot. Translation: UH-OH. Then again, it’s a good sign for Randle’s future that (a) Boston offered Rondo for Randle and Steve Nash’s expiring contract, and (b) the Lakers said no. Some major Derrick Coleman–meets–Z-Bo upside remains. I can’t quit you, Julius. I can’t quit anyone named Julius, actually.
Brandon Jennings: His 2014-15 splits will be studied by social scientists 350 years from now …
With Josh Smith (25 games): 12.6 ppg, 6.4 apg, 37-33-85%
Without Josh Smith (15 games): 20.0 ppg, 7.2 apg, 44-40-83%
(By the way: Pistons fans keep asking me how to handle Smith’s dramatic return to Detroit on January 31. I agree with my Grantland Basketball Hour cohost Jalen Rose — a five-minute standing ovation for Josh would deliver the message in the snarkiest way possible. Especially if fans were strewn about the arena dressed as ghosts in Josh Smith/Pistons jerseys and calling themselves “The Ghosts of Brickmas Past.”)
Kemba Walker: Maybe he’s a little too overpaid/me-first/one-dimensional/metric-unfriendly right now, and maybe he doesn’t have a conventional position … but he’s competitive enough and fearless enough that he could thrive on a contender someday. In other words, meet the next Monta Ellis.
K.J. McDaniels: I love K.J. enough that he briefly cracked the top 60 before the Unofficial Trade Value Committee (my buddy House and another buddy whose name cannot be revealed) forced me to swallow four anti-hyperbole pills. So I will just say that McDaniels kinda sorta maybe reminds me a little bit in a roundabout way of SCOTTIE FUCKING PIPPEN. Whoops, the pills are wearing off already. But you gotta love how K.J. wagered on himself, and how now it might pay off with an $80 million free-agent deal in 2016 unless his mom screws things up. By the way, OKC punted on its second first-round pick last June and took D-Leaguer Josh Huestis three spots ahead of McDaniels, which would have been OKC’s worst move of the decade if not for … well, you know.
Shabazz Muhammad: Got himself into terrific shape, shed the “lottery bust” tag and probably forced HBO’s Real Sports to cross him off of Bernie Goldberg’s “FUTURE INVESTIGATIVE SEGMENTS” list. So what’s his NBA destiny? The current Vegas odds: Good Stats/Bad Team Guy (60 percent chance), Future Game-Swinging Sixth Man On A Contender (20 percent chance), and “Bernie Goldberg Is Still Getting Involved” (20 percent).
Timofey Mozgov, Rajon Rondo: Yes, we live in a world in which (a) Mozgov just fetched a better trade haul than Rondo, and (b) it wasn’t totally crazy. (In a related story, if Timofey Mozgov is the answer, then I don’t want to know the question.) A willing suitor like Sacramento couldn’t risk paying full price for Rondo just to watch him flee to New York or L.A. in four months. (That’s why the Celtics were stuck with Dallas’s pupu platter offer of three role players, a giant cap exception and a protected first-rounder for an under-30 impact guy who went toe-to-toe with LeBron and Wade in the 2012 East finals.) And Cleveland COULD risk overpaying for the eminently forgettable Mozgov because GM LeBron wanted to mortgage the future for a rim protector, no matter how mediocre that rim protector actually was. I mean, what could go wrong there? Is it too late to work GM LeBron into the Randy Orton RKO montage?
Dennis Schroder: Didn’t you always want “The German Rondo” in your life? I know I did. Wait, the Celtics passed on Schroder for Father Kelly, too? That’s it, I’m pouring a drink.
Roy Hibbert: You put up with his ugly post-ups and his ghastly offensive numbers (2014-15: 11.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 45% FG) because he’s still the King of Verticality. Can you think of a better reason why the post-George Pacers have stayed in the top 10 for defensive efficiency? Hibbert’s “Opposing FG% At The Rim” numbers (41.1 percent in 2015) have ranked among the best for years. For whatever reason, it’s always more fun when someone scores at the rim on Hibbert than anyone else. They should change the 2015 Slam Dunk Contest to the “Try To Dunk On Roy Hibbert” Contest.
Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams: I’d feel better about Philly’s 19-year rebuilding plan if I liked these two young’uns more. Noel still has a half-decent chance to become Theo Ratliff 2.0.4 Or I’m drunk again. It’s one or the other. And you rarely see point guards with the 23-year-old MCW’s size and speed, but his shooting makes Ricky Rubio look like 2006 Steve Nash. For his career (104 games), MCW can’t even crack the 40-30-70 Club unless you make some rounding liberties. He’s Michael Brick-Williams. The bad news: Since 1960, MCW is one of only TWO players who averaged more than 34 mpg in their first two seasons without cracking 40 percent FG or 70 percent FT. The good news? The other guy was Jason Kidd. So … I don’t know.
Kenneth Faried: Top 10 guys on unhappy-to-hopeless teams that I’d be trying to steal in trades if I were a GM right now (à la Jeff Green, who’s already making Memphis happy): (1) Faried, (2) Ben McLemore, (3) Moe Harkless, (4) Jose Calderon, (5) Nikola Pekovic, (6) Jason Thompson, (7) Channing Frye, (8) Jeremy Lin, (9) Wilson Chandler, (10) Nik Stauskas. Actually, I’d be trying to steal everyone on the Kings — you always want to trade with a team that’s an internal tire fire. Stauskas? Stauskas?
Tobias Harris: Why I Might Rejoice If My Celtics Offered Him $70 Million For Four Years As A Restricted Free Agent This Summer: He doesn’t turn 23 until July … he’s already a steady 18-and-7 guy … he’s a stretch 4 who makes 3s (2015: 41 percent) … he’s competitive as hell … there’s a decent chance he could evolve into a 50-40-80 guy … he’s never played for a good coach in his life … he loves taking and making big shots … you can never go wrong with anyone named “Tobias” … and he already has his own “Buzzer Beater” YouTube Montage.
DeAndre Jordan: He’s one of the worst two free throw shooters in NBA history. (No, seriously.) He’s a surprisingly mediocre one-on-one defender, as craftier scorers like Al Horford and the Gasols keep proving. He gets yanked from crunch time more often than you’d think. And the Clippers haven’t run a single play for him since Coach Doc showed up. (Big “but” coming.) BUT — he’s been a top-five rebounder and a top-eight rim protector for two straight seasons. And he’s only 26. And he happens to be Blake Griffin’s best friend. And he has GM Doc making the final decision here.
(I’ll spell it out for you: This summer, DeAndre will become the most expensive player-who-can’t-score in NBA history. Congratulations in advance, Clippers Nation!)
Taj Gibson: Our leading contender for 2015’s David West Award, given annually to the playoff guy who draws so many “He’s underrated!” comments that he becomes weirdly overrated.5 (Also not helping: Gibson hasn’t played well lately.) His biggest competition: Jamal Crawford, still an elite Heat Check Guy at age 34 … only he’s a lousy defender and a 40 percent shooter, and he’s been playing crunch time for a contender only because of reasons like “We’ve whiffed on every pick we’ve made since Blake Griffin,” “We only sign free-agent perimeter guys if they’ve been washed up for at least two years” and “We used our limited trade assets to try to salvage the career of the coach’s son.”
Dante Exum: Let’s just say that I haven’t asked anyone, “Have you seen the Australian Kobe yet?” lately. The good news: He’s only 19. The bad news: Poor Dante didn’t just hit the rookie wall, he crashed into it at 85 mph and had to be airlifted away from the accident. We have an international basketball junkie and irrational Exum fan working at Grantland named Danny Chau. His latest Exum stance: “Very unhappy with his development, but I will die on this hill.” He’s like Dido in the “White Flag” video.
Harrison Barnes: No ESPN employee is allowed to say that Steve Kerr’s coaching staff has been SIGNIFICANTLY better than Mark Jackson’s coaching staff (for obvious reasons). So let’s just say that, after looking like Marvin Williams 2.0 last season, the 22-year-old Barnes is suddenly good at basketball again. Maybe it’s a miracle.
Three Young Bigs: This isn’t Mark Wahlberg’s next movie, just three young bigs who could absolutely play crunch time in any 2015 playoff game. Anyway, Donatas Motiejunas shone for Houston when Dwight Howard went down and might secretly be an 18-9 guy. Steven Adams saved the Harden Trade from being The Worst Trade In NBA History; instead, it’s just The Second-Worst NBA Trade Of This Century.6 And Mason Plumlee … wait, which Plumlee is this? (Checking.) Oh yeah, it’s the guy on the Nets who needs more minutes but still has KG blocking him! I love how Mason and Miles keep passing the “Rich Man’s Plumlee” tag back and forth.
Marcus Smart, Elfrid Payton: 2015’s copresidents of the “If They Learn How To Shoot, Look Out!” Club. Love their defense, love their athleticism, love their competitiveness. Smart’s absolute worst-case career scenario is Tony Allen 2.0. (I think he can do better — when you’re THAT competitive, it should work out for you.) And Elfrid has played better lately, although he hasn’t vindicated my rookie of the year pick (whoops), or my preseason decision to invest in 10 of his rookie Panini cards with my buddy Mendelson. (I’m a huge dork — don’t ever forget this.) Unfortunately, an angel loses its wings every time Elfrid Payton shoots a free throw. Come on, Elfrid. Jesus.
Ben McLemore: Turns 22 next month. Hold on, lemme check my “One Of The Three Texas Teams Will Steal Him Someday And Turn Him Into A Valuable 50-40-80 Guy” checklist.
• Lottery pedigree (CHECK)
• Younger than you think (CHECK)
• Drafted by the wrong team (CHECK)
• Never had a good coach or good point guard (CHECK)
• Fits easily into a specifically useful role (CHECK)
• Will be available soon because his current team is dumb (CHECK)
(Shaking my head.)
(Also, here’s how smart the Spurs are: I am convinced they took a “chance” on Austin Daye, even though he isn’t good at basketball, because they know they need to screw up every so often. Why? So the other 29 teams won’t get suspicious every time they pursue someone they actually like. Almost like a world-class poker player chasing a hand with no good cards just to throw people off. That was the Austin Daye move. It was the Spurs saying, “We have a four of hearts and an eight of diamonds … we’re gonna stupidly chase a straight and RAISE. See, we’re not perfect! We’re dumb sometimes!” And it pays off for those moments 13 months from now when McLemore is mired in a shooting slump and they call the Kings just to, you know, see what’s up. I’m onto you, San Antonio.)
DeMar DeRozan: We’re so loaded from a Trade Value standpoint, I couldn’t squeeze in a 20-point scorer from a playoff contender who (a) has a bargain contract, (b) plays the league’s weakest position (2-guard), (c) made the 2014 All-Star team, and (d) gets to the line as relentlessly as anyone who doesn’t have a smelly beard.
(Hold on, lemme start it for you, Toronto fans: DEMAR DEROZAN WAS SNUBBED! NOBODY BELIEVES IN US! THIS LIST IS FLAWED! TYPICAL AMERICAN MEDIA MEMBER DISCOUNTING T-DOT! SIMMONS SUCKS! Can we keep going now? Thanks.)
Derrick Rose: My final verdict: Chicago can’t trade him yet … and nobody would make them a real offer, anyway.
(Cut to Vivek and the Kings saying, “Wait a second, you don’t think we’d make a dumb offer for Derrick Rose??? You don’t think we’d offer Collison, Thompson, Williams’s expiring and an unprotected future no. 1 for Rose right now? We just fired a competent coach so we could turn our team over to Ty Corbin! We wouldn’t trade assets for Derrick Rose???? ARE YOU BAITING US????”)
And on that note, it’s finally time for the top 60. If you want to check out everyone’s salaries, click on the footnote at the end of each category title below. Without further ado …
GROUP N: “You’re Just Lowballing Me Because He Expires Soon”7
60. Brandon Knight
2015’s “Wait, What?” MVP. Did you know he’s the best player on a potential no. 5 seed? Did you know he turned 23 in December? Did you know he’s averaging 18.2 points with 45-40-89 percent splits right now? Did you know he’s a restricted free agent who might get the max this summer? Wait, what?
Important note: With the NBA’s salary cap about to morph into 30 Jerry Bruckheimer action movie budgets, we can’t blindly toss around the phrase “max player” anymore. Durant is a max player no matter what the market is. Same for LeBron and Harden and Marc Gasol and maybe 15 other guys. But Knight could get the max only because these next three summers are going to seem like everyone made NBA Live rosters with the rules turned off. Is Brandon Knight a max player? No way. But he might be something I just made up: “a market max player.”
59. Greg Monroe
For an earlier draft of this piece, I wrote that “if Greg Monroe was a junk food item, he’d be Pop Chips’ sweet potato flavor.” In other words, he made you spend an inordinate amount of time wondering why his flavor doesn’t work. Who doesn’t love sweet potatoes? Who doesn’t love lefty big men who post up AND pass from the high elbow? But then the Josh Smith trade happened and Monroe not-so-magically started ripping off 20-13s after the Pistons finished their basketball chemo treatments. And now he’s absolutely a market max guy. Josh Smith is like Haley Joel Osment in Pay It Forward.
58. Paul Millsap
Wins himself three different honors: “Best Free-Agent Bargain of the 2010s” (Atlanta stole him for $19 million over two years, which seemed utterly insane even at the time); “Best Secretly Successful Player” (for career win shares of active NBA players, Millsap is one of only five under-30 guys in the top 50); “Best Table Test Guy” (hold this thought) and “Best Night-To-Night JumboTron Surprise” (he never jumps out if you’re watching him in person, then you look up with nine minutes left and say, “Wait, Millsap has 18 and 8 right now?”).
On the Table Test thing: The 2015 Hawks are extraordinarily well coached and play beautifully together, but it’s their collective Table Test factor that makes them special. Nobody takes anything OFF the table on that team. Even if none of the Hawks possess the freaky gifts of, say, Russell Westbrook, their self-awareness is off the charts. They know exactly what they can and can’t do. And their coach exploits the “what they can do” part accordingly. They’re an indie movie that figured out how to SEEM big-budget; they could have been directed by Richard Linklater.
57. Draymond Green
56. Goran Dragic
Draymond is Golden State’s best defender, feistiest player and locker-room alpha dog, as well as one of the few stretch 4s who defends everyone from Jimmy Butler to Blake Griffin.8 Even if Mark Jackson was trying to start trouble for longtime nemesis Joe Lacob by dramatically calling Green a “max guy” on TV, he wasn’t wrong — Green is definitely a market max guy.9 Same for Dragic, the ideal slash-and-kick guard for the pace-and-space era, as well as the logical choice to carry Ginobili’s legacy for all “twisting in-traffic lefty drives that always seem like travels even though they aren’t” plays.
By the way, with Sasha Vujacic and Sasha Vujacic’s hair now stuck playing in Turkey, I’d like to pour a 40 out for one of my favorite NBA feuds ever: Dragic vs. Vujacic, or, as Trey Kerby dubbed it, “The Great Slovenian Feud.” We never knew why they hated each other, just that they did.
Of all the storied NBA Mystery Feuds — Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone, Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson, Doc Rivers and Bill Kennedy, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, Charles Oakley and Ty Hill, even Ha Seung-jin and Nedzad Sinanovic (my personal favorite) — Dragic-Vujacic stood out because nobody knew WHY they hated each other, just that there was a 98.7 percent chance some smoking-hot Slovenian girl was involved.10 Anyway, R.I.P. And congratulations to my new favorite NBA Mystery Feud: Blake Griffin vs. Every Non-Clipper.
GROUP M: “I’m Hanging Up and Calling You Back From a Pay Phone”11
55. DeMar DeRozan
54. Ty Lawson
I lied — DeRozan made the top 60. Just wanted to get Canadians riled up for a few minutes. In the “superbly priced starter with a glaring flaw” competition (outside shooting for DeRozan, defense for Lawson), I like Lawson just a little more. Pushing his candidacy over the top: He’s been our runaway 2014-15 Social Media MVP thanks to Reddit AMAs that mention Chandler Parsons’s sex life and push for NBA in Seattle, funny tweets that poke fun at other NBA players, and even Twitter caption contests for free Nuggets tickets. He’s a mortal lock to complain about this ranking and take at least one Twitter shot at me. I LOVE YOU, TY LAWSON! (SOCIAL MEDIA) M-V-P! (SOCIAL MEDIA) M-V-P! (SOCIAL MEDIA) M-V-P!
53. Eric Bledsoe
Needs to play 2,500 minutes in ONE season before he cracks the top 50. (Since 48 guys did it last season, we’re not asking for much here.) The good news: Bledsoe ranks third behind Westbrook and Wall in 2015’s Freakocious Guard rankings.
Quick story: A couple of weeks ago, Westbrook got a big steal in the final minute of a Wiz game, flew to the basket for the game-clinching layup and got chased down by Wall — who was running a 3.2 40-yard dash at the time — for what might have been the most exciting moment in Freakocious Guard history. I actually jumped up like there was an earthquake or something. It ended up being a draw — Wall blocked the shot but fouled Westbrook, sent him sprawling and briefly caused Earth to start rotating backward. You could have easily inserted Bledsoe into either of those spots and it would have been 98 percent as exciting. They should just turn All-Star Saturday into an indoor decathlon featuring those three guys, Anthony Davis and the Greek Freak.
52. Kevin Love
Before the season, I wrote a 230,000-word column explaining why Love was underrated. Before the season, he would have cracked the top 15 of this column. Before the season, it would have been inconceivable if you told me, “In January, someone will ask you if you’d trade Boston’s 2015 unprotected first-rounder for Kevin Love and you’d say ‘NO EFFING WAY.’” In the 1970s and 1980s, multiple superstars in their mid-twenties abruptly tailed off for two really good reasons: cocaine or knee injuries. In the 1990s and 2000s, that dropped to one reason: knee injuries. In 2015? There is NO acceptable reason why someone as good as Love would free-fall this badly. It’s dumbfounding. Look at this …
2014 (77 games): 26.1 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 4.4 apg, 46-38-82% splits, 26.9 PER
2015 (40 games): 17.7 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 43-33-83% splits, 19.2 PER
And that doesn’t cover his more-dreadful-than-ever defense, his utter inability to protect the rim, LeBron’s inability to conceal his disgust for Love’s game at times, or the Eye Test repeatedly telling us things like “He dogged it on that play” and “He seems genuinely unhappy.” And maybe he is. But Love’s Cleveland experience has been a borderline basketball tragedy; it’s made the idea of trading real assets for him (especially when he can opt out) more than a little daunting. Nobody was more fun on League Pass last season. What a shame. I miss watching Kevin Love play basketball well. And when you see those flashes … I mean …
GROUP L: “I Know, I Know, We’re Being Irrational”12
51. Victor Oladipo
50. Alex Len
Two of my favorite Class of ’13 guys. We knew Oladipo would be a tenacious defender, but he’s a better scorer/shooter than anyone expected (40 percent 3FG right now). And the extra-long, extra-lanky, sneaky-chippy and shockingly agile Len looms as an unexpected X factor if Phoenix hangs on to its playoff spot. We forgive him for being the first person to make the words “former Ukrainian gymnast” NOT seem sexy in any way.
Meanwhile, did you notice how many 2013 draft guys made this column already? (With more on the way!) Pop those champagne bottles, everyone from the 2000 draft! You’re still the worst NBA draft of this century! Congratulations to Marcus Fizer, DerMarr Johnson, Chris Mihm, Stromile Swift, Jerome Moiso, Don Shula, Mercury Morris and all the other 2000 immortals.
49. Jonas Valanciunas
48. Nikola Vucevic
Two enticing young centers with defensive flaws: Jonas needs to fix the whole “I’m playing for a contender that’s afraid to keep me out there in the fourth quarter” thing, and Vucevic needs to fix the whole “Right now, I’m a much better fantasy player than a real NBA player” thing. At gunpoint, I’d pick Vucevic only because we have to take every current Magic player’s career with a grain of salt — it’s unclear whether Jacque Vaughn should be managing a Costco, much less coaching an NBA team.
That reminds me: There’s a heated six-way race right now between Vaughn, Monty Williams, David Blatt, Byron Scott, Scott Brooks and Ty “I’m Baaaaaack!” Corbin for 2015’s coveted Vinny Del Negro Award, given annually to the bumbling NBA coach who generated the most night-to-night Twitter snark. I’m going to announce this award on Twitter with 27 seconds left to go in the regular season, but only after I accidentally called my last timeout after blowing my chance for a two-for-one. And then I’m going to have Tyreke Evans retweet me with one second left in the regular season while standing 22 feet from his computer with a hand in his face. Stay tuned.
47. Jusuf Nurkic
What if I told you that we were about to see a superior version of Marcin Gortat’s career, only with a 20-year-old Bosnian kid who was twice as athletic and four times crazier? Would you be interested in that? Here, fall in love along with me …
(One great Nurk-related What If: Denver picked him at no. 16, one spot after Atlanta whiffed on Adreian Payne. Imagine the exceedingly lovable Nurk coming off the bench for the exceedingly lovable Hawks. We’d have to hose down Zach Lowe every morning. Not to mention, wouldn’t you have watched the TNT reality series Nurk and Pero? I have a lot of regrets here.)
46. Nikola Mirotic
What a revelation. Thibs can’t keep him off the floor. He’s like a rich man’s Vlad Radmanovic after three lines of cocaine and four Red Bulls, only if Vlad Radmanovic gave a shit. I love Mirotic’s game. How do we still have 46 guys left? We just ripped off two of my favorites back-to-back!
45. Derrick Favors
Somehow he’s only 23 even though he has been in the league for 12 and a half years. I don’t get it, either. His 2015 numbers: 30.5 mpg, 15.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 55% FG, 22.8 PER … and he’s a decent rim protector, too (47.7% opp. FG%). I like the Favors–Rudy Gobert combo. There’s something here. Hold on, lemme make sure we don’t have to adjust the “Billy King’s Top Five Worst Nets Trades Ever” rankings.
DEFCON 5: The Horrendous Brook Lopez Trade That’s Coming (in progress).
DEFCON 4: Landed Deron Williams for Favors, Devin Harris, a 2011 unprotected first-rounder (no. 3 overall: Enes Kanter) and another protected first-rounder (2013: no. 21, Gorgui Dieng).
DEFCON 3: Landed soon-to-be free agent Gerald Wallace for expirings and a top-three protected first-rounder in 2012 (no. 6 overall: Damian Lillard … egads!).
DEFCON 2: Landed Joe Johnson and Joe Johnson’s Crazy Contract for some expirings, Houston’s 2013 first-rounder (no. 18: Shane Larkin, who was traded to Dallas), Brooklyn’s 2017 second-rounder, and Atlanta’s right to swap first-rounders in 2014 and 2015 (uh-oh).
DEFCON 1: KG, Pierce and Jason Terry for Wallace’s contract, some expirings, Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2014 (no. 17: James Young), unprotected first-rounders in 2016 (yes!) and 2018 (YES!), and Boston’s right to swap first-rounders in 2017 (YESSSSSS!!!!!!).
(The lesson, as always: Even Dwight Howard uses better protection than Billy King. And no, we don’t have to adjust our rankings yet.)
GROUP K: “Sorry, He’s Worth More To Us Than He’s Worth To You”13
44. The Completely Rejuvenated Pau Gasol
Big year for everyone in the “We Still Think Pau Gasol Can Be An Elite Player, He Was Just Bummed Out Playing With Kobe On A Team That Marginalized Him And Repeatedly Tried to Trade Him” Fan Club. We’ve been partying pretty much every night. And what a bargain — Chicago owes Gasol slightly less for three years than Amar’e Stoudemire made THIS year. ¡Dios mío! The best 2014 free-agent signings: (1) Gasol, (2) Paul Pierce, (3) Chandler Parsons, (four through 99) Everyone Else, (100) Spencer Hawes. I keep waiting for Doc the Coach to start feuding with Doc the GM, Fight Club–style.
43. Jeff Teague
The NBA’s best point guards in some order: Curry, CP3, Wall, Parker, Lowry, Westbrook, Conley, Lillard … and if I wanted to win basketball games in 2015, I’d take Teague over EVERYONE else. Yeah, even you, Kyrie. And you, too, Rondo.
FYI: Millsap and Teague earn a combined $17.5 million this season, nearly $6 million less than Joe Johnson … the guy who Atlanta GM Danny Ferry traded in July 2012 so he’d have enough cap space to spend smartly on guys like Teague and Millsap. Oh, and he picked up German Rondo and that sneaky-great 2015 pick swap in the Johnson trade. My god, how awkward is it gonna be when the Hawks finish 64-18 and Danny Ferry wins the 2015 NBA Executive of the Year? I’m already cringing.
42. Zach Randolph
What’s the craziest Z-Bo fact? Is it …
• Nicknamed after the lunatic from Friday?
• Had to hide in a teammate’s house for a series of days after sucker-punching Ruben Patterson?
• After nearly 35 years, finally filled Elvis’s void as the King of Memphis?
• Salary-dumped three times in three years (an NBA record)?
• Showed off a framed picture of Nelson Mandela during his Cribs episode?
• Refers to his son as “Little Z-Bo”?
• Goes out of his way to legally torment Blake Griffin whenever he can?
• Guaranteed to earn $175 million for his career if he retires after June 2017?
• That “Zach Randolph” and “drugs” is one of the most fun Google searches?
• He’s the second-best guy on the West’s most dangerous contender?
• He loves pit bulls but he’s terrified of cats?
• He’s one of 18 players to play at least 850 games, average 17 ppg and 9.5 rpg and have a career PER over 19 … and the other 17 guys were Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers?
41. Joakim Noah
In 2014, I happily voted for Noah for first-team All-NBA. In 2015, his aching knees14 (and Chicago’s recent swoon) reminded us that Noah remains Chicago’s heart and soul — not just his defense/leadership/intensity/swagger, but his underrated half-court passing that saves their offense from going De La Soul on us. And yes, I still have Chicago coming out of the East. They’re still in the “Late-October 2014 Seahawks” stage. The Thanksgiving-to-Christmas Seahawks stage is coming. You watch.
40. Markieff Morris
Now here’s a legitimately underrated basketball player! Love his toughness, love his crunch-time chops, love his stretch 4 game, love the whole “defenses keep getting confused by two Morrises” chicanery, love his dirt-cheap extension that kicks in next season (four years, $32 million). The Suns are my favorite 2015 League Pass team for obvious reasons (their breakneck style and their knack for playing ridiculously entertaining games), but it’s their menacing collective edge that I really love. These guys do everything short of grabbing the half-court microphone and cutting a WWE-style, “We’re not afraid of you, and we WILL fight you” promo.
You could imagine old-school badasses like Ricky Sobers and Jeff Ruland snarling next to the Morris Twins and The Completely Insane P.J. Tucker. It’s hilarious. I love the Suns. If you put all 30 NBA teams in the same nightclub, the Suns would be the ones that kept getting kicked out for reasons like “We didn’t like the way Blake Griffin was looking at us” and “Who does Draymond Green think he is????” We can’t have the playoffs without Phoenix. We just can’t. Change the rules right now so they get in.
39. Wesley Matthews
A 2015 market max guy with short-term trade value because he’s so useful. Last time I checked, A-list defenders with playoff experience who crank 7 and a half 3s per game and make 40 percent aren’t growing on trees. Is there a better player who has played six years or more without making an All-Star team? Hopefully, placing three Blazers in the top 40 will briefly distract Rip City fans from fretting over Nic Batum’s title-threatening and somewhat unfathomable free fall as a competent basketball player. Are we sure he’s not secretly dating a Kardashian?
38. Kyle Korver
The rare NBA player who belatedly became a star in his early thirties. If this were baseball, we’d be waiting for him to turn up in our next major Biogenesis scandal. But it’s Kyle Korver. I mean, look at him, for God’s sake. He worked his ass off and lucked out for trade value purposes for five reasons: (1) right team, (2) right coach, (3) bargain contract (makes one-third of the max), (4) the 2015 NBA loves spacing and long-range shooting (and he’s the best spacer/shooter we have) and (5) he’s on-fucking-fire.
Fact: The 50-50-90 Club does not currently exist … unless you bend the rules for Steve Kerr’s 1995-96 season.15
Fact: No NBA player ever made more than three 3s per game while making over 50 percent of them.
Korver has a chance to accomplish both. Throw in a possible All-Star Game nod and he’s the leading candidate to win my coveted Mokeski Award, which is given annually to the league’s best white player. Kevin Love losing the Mokeski to Kyle Korver????? MY GOD, WHAT IS HAPPENING????
COMING THE WEEK AFTER THE SUPER BOWL: PART 2! IF YOU WANT TO READ THE OTHER TRADE VALUE COLUMNS FROM 2001 THROUGH 2013, CLICK HERE.