By Jesse Blanchard
50. Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards
Otto Porter Jr. is a star in his role, which until now has been a polite way of saying someone excels in a limited capacity. This summer, having received a four-year, $106 million contract, Porter is paid like a star in any role.
Shooting and defense are the primary tools of Porter’s trade. His value lies in the versatility and judiciousness in which he and the Washington Wizards deploy those gifts.
Last season, Porter averaged a modest 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists and steals each per game, shooting 43.4 percent from three and 51.6 percent overall.
Advanced stats, however, paint an even more impressive figure with a 62.8 True Shooting Percentage and Win Shares/Win Shares per 48 minutes (9.4/.173) greater than John Wall (8.8/1.49) and Bradley Beal (8.5/.152).
No one would suggest Porter is more valuable than either of the Wizards’ backcourt stars, but he’s still an interesting case for where advanced stats meet the eye test.
Such staggering efficiency generally indicates there’s room for an increased workload before the percentages wade into the territory where shots are better redistributed. Still, it’s telling Porter’s already middling usage rate (15.1 percent) evaporated even further in the playoffs (13.5 percent).
Part of this is because Porter is a perimeter player on a team featuring Wall and Beal, who have carte blanche to move across the court offensively as they see fit, limiting the real estate and touches Porter has access to. But some of it is attributable to a handle, vision and shooting form best kept away from heavy duress.
Last year, Porter was an elite spot-up shooter from all areas of the court with enough stability in his shot to attack closeouts with one or two-dribble pull-up jumpers. But that’s different from a shooter who runs off designed pin-downs and pick-and-rolls to create space for a shot.
It’s difficult to see where in his skill package a team might want to intentionally direct more shots to, but his ability to convert from the perimeter, get out in transition, or read the defense for cuts or offensive rebounds makes him enough of a threat without it.
Otto Porter won’t turn the ball over, but with a 6.7 percent assist rate and low volume of shots, he hasn’t done much with it in his hands either.
And that’s perfectly fine with Wall and Beal on hand. In a way, he functions like a wing version of the Serge Ibaka head coach Scott Brooks had in Oklahoma City.
Defensively, Porter isn’t a lockdown on-ball defender. But he’s solid-to-good in a lot of matchups and at a mobile 6-foot-8, he’s a valuable team defender capable of switching across multiple matchups, empowering defensive schemes. So, while his defense might not always pop watching on screen relative to someone like Patrick Beverley, who can tear into and suffocate one position, his value bears out in its overall impact.
Porter may not be a star, but he’s an elite role player the Wizards can bank on. Now, he’s paid like it.
49. Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
Finally healthy, Jrue Holiday returned to the form that earned him an Eastern Conference All-Star nod in 2013. Just as important for the Pelicans, he returned to New Orleans on a five-year, $126 million contract.
Holiday can’t quite lean on any one aspect of his game to ignite it into full blown stardom, but his 15.4 points, 7.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game are better than solid all-around production; especially when combined with strong defensive prowess.
At 6-foot-4 with long arms, Jrue Holiday can engulf average point guards and bother the better ones as well as can be expected. He can also moonlight at the shooting guard spot some, which the Pelicans are counting on with the acquisition of Rajon Rondo.
The question this season, beyond health, is whether the Pelicans’ roster provides enough room to optimize Holiday with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Rondo on board.
At 35.6 percent from the three-point line last season, Holiday isn’t so strong a shooter that he can shine when limited to that role. Nor is he a devastating scorer who can carry offenses for stretches on his own, leading second units. He needs decisions-making touches without first option responsibilities. Preferably in a setting with the real estate to attack from different spaces.
In this way, his pairing with Davis—an elite player whose game is as accommodating as it is impactful—was sound in concept. Holiday works best when allowed to blend all the aspects of his game into an overall tantalizing package—not exactly hiding flaws, because there aren’t many, but amplifying the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Holiday struggled to find the right balance to his game with Davis and Cousins after the trade last season. Sharing the court with two high usage players narrowed his options to one or two specific actions on any given play, separating a skills package that needs to remain bundled to shine. With Rondo in the lineup, that decision making and freedom figures to be dampened even further.
Still, Holiday is an impactful two-way player at arguably the league’s most critical position. An ideal Pelicans team would feature Holiday initiated pick and rolls moving defenses and flowing into touches for Cousins or Davis and Holiday’s ability to balance his game with the Twin Towers’ alignment figures to determine the Pelicans’ season, if not the course of its franchise.
48. Brook Lopez, Los Angeles Lakers
Brook Lopez has found stable footing on once unsteady feet, thriving in a league that has worked to deemphasizing his greatest strengths and working dutifully in one the NBA’s shakiest situations as the best player on the Brooklyn Nets the past few seasons.
He’s done so by adapting a complete, classical big man skills package to the realities of modern basketball and the needs of mediocre teammates.
So, while Lopez won’t be the latest in a long line of great Lakers big men—or even Dwight Howard, for that matter—he stands tall as a quality addition and stabilizing force for this young Los Angeles team.
The touchstones of Brook Lopez’s game are his combination of size, shooting touch and footwork, which he’s learned to deploy in a myriad of ways as the game has changed around him. Positioning and footwork once honed for traditional post touches now work in the pick-and-roll, translating that knowledge of angles and leverage from a stationary position into a beautiful two-man game in motion.
These new applications of traditional traits are no small feat. Though the game around Lopez is faster than when he first entered the NBA, he moves through it with purpose, a 7-foot frame and soft hands. This allows him to serve as an offensive hub from the block, masking post sets by flowing into them from other actions.
Last season, he became all the more dangerous by extending his shooting range beyond the three-point line, connecting on 34.6 percent of his 5.2 three-point attempts per game. That ability to score from all three levels on the court should be a breath of fresh air for the Lakers’ young players, creating driving lanes in pick and pops and forcing weakside rotations in the pick and roll.
Defensively, he’s not ideal, but has some ability as a workable interior defender.
That he can provide such reliable structure as the best player on this young team without monopolizing resources makes him an ideal veteran to help this developing franchise.
47. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
The defining trait of this dominant Golden State Warriors run has been its ridiculous outside shooting, which is fair considering that, between Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, it boasts three of the best to ever do it.
But what truly elevates the Warriors’ firepower is the passing and high-level, quick reads connecting it all; as well as the defense that creates a snowball effect by getting the Golden State attack into transition.
In many ways, Andre Iguodala—along with Draymond Green—was the piece that helped reimagine Curry and Thompson and open the Warriors up to a bevy of options. Iguodala’s ability to handle the ball and create for others allows for players like Curry and Thompson to move between on and off ball seamlessly, utilizing the full breadth of their games…stressing defenses at all times.
At age 33, Iguoadala is slowing down. Putting the ball in his hands to run the offense is no longer an ideal option for long stretches, if only to preserve his body for the playoffs, where his presence alongside Durant and Draymond Green keys the Warriors’ defensive versatility.
But over time, Iguodala has honed his secondary skills, converting on 36.2 percent of his three-point attempts last season. He’s still an effective secondary playmaker, making reads off the ball, moving into open spaces and knowing the next two or three steps ahead based on how the defense will react when the ball swings his way.
Defensively, he’s still one of the most formidable wings in the NBA. His explosive athletic ability is waning, but his size, strength, length and mobility are still present and any slippage in physical talent is mitigated to a certain extent by extensive film study and high basketball IQ.
While his place on the Warriors makes Iguodala’s talents all the more potent, these are transferable skills to many other teams. Place him next to two stars, or a star and capable role players, and Iguodala works as the connective tissue that bolsters it all. He’s an amplifier, improving the quality of everyone’s abilities even if his don’t always show directly.
46. Carmelo Anthony, Oklahoma City Thunder
Evaluating aging stars like Carmelo Anthony is no easy task. Weighing the specter of what used to be against what remains is difficult enough, as memories of former glory skews our perceptions of a player’s current realities for better or worse.
Trying to separate Anthony from the incompetence of the New York Knicks is nearly impossible.
All the footwork, instincts, ball handling and shooting touch remain for Carmelo Anthony, and it’s still a valuable package. It’s the body that becomes less cooperative. To be a franchise cornerstone as a volume scorer requires a remarkable amount of consistency and reliability—not just night in and night out, but on a possession to possession basis.
Injuries and dwindling energy sap that reliability, but all too often the same mindset and usage remain. In New York, between a poor talent base and dysfunctional management, Anthony was still the top name on a marquee with only Kristaps Porzingis as a worthy side attraction.
Now, having been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder to play alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George, perhaps Anthony’s game can be put into its proper context. Given his lack of playmaking and defense, even in his prime, perhaps this is the configuration Anthony always needed, even before his game started to fade.
Instincts for attacking seams, finding angles and creating space are all still present, but it will be on Melo to translate them from working as the primary decision maker to attacking scrambling defenses closing out on him—not unlike Brook Lopez has, but with the potential for a greater ability to breakdown defenses and playmaking.
The Westbrook-Steven Adams pick-and-roll will still be the key action that triggers everything, and George as a sort of Kevin Durant-lite, seems like a natural fit next to Westbrook. Anthony is the question. He has the skills to work as both a pressure release valve and weakside scoring option, wreaking havoc against rotations and specific matchups; preferably from the power forward position, where he’s always shined, even if reluctantly.
Furthermore, he’ll find time and touches to indulge his volume scoring tendencies anchoring defensive-minded second units if his ego allows for being relegated to that.
Will he have the willingness to?
He’s always been game as a member of the Olympic team and Westbrook and George fall into that caliber of player. But the NBA is a higher level of competition and Anthony is no longer what he was. Anthony was once called the league’s greatest scorer for his ability to get buckets in a variety of ways. Now, he must lean on that versatility more than his volume, remaining a threat to attack in different ways on fewer possessions.