Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
55. Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 40.2 percent shooting
Ball-dominant guards who cannot shoot threes or consistently finish around the rim aren't supposed to be assets. Look at what's happened with Rajon Rondo, the All-Star-turned-mercenary. Or Monta Ellis, the tolerable-scorer-turned-unemployed-afterthought.
Ricky Rubio has staved off an identical career curve because his craftiness still outweighs his shortcomings. Defenses know he isn't trying to shoot, which puts him in a hole when orchestrating predictable pick-and-roll sets. But they don't know where the ball will be flung next. He is opportunistic in transition, dribbles in and out of the paint with ease and maintains his handle long enough for plays to develop.
More recently, Rubio has become better at pump-faking closeouts or showing extra hesitation as he nears the rim. This puts extra pressure on defenses to keep him off the line—where he's a career 83 percent shooter—while affording friendlies another beat to gather position for a last-second dish.
Sending a third player to cut toward the basket within pick-and-rolls, as the actual screener pops out, helps manufacture additional space and scoring opportunities around him. And when his offensive game isn't working, Rubio has his defense. He'll take too many gambles, but he is deceptively big (6'4") and party-crashes enough one-on-one sets to cajole rival backcourts out of their elements.
54. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Los Angeles Lakers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats:
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could easily be excluded from this list altogether...if you're in the business of writing off 20-somethings who verged on primo-breakout status for half the 2016-17 campaign.
Before suffering a strained rotator cuff in his left shoulder on Jan. 12, Caldwell-Pope averaged 14.9 points, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game while putting down 40.4 percent of his three-pointers—including 44 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys. No Pistons starter registered a better net rating, he emerged as a viable pick-and-roll trigger man and his defensive assignments varied more than anyone.
Caldwell-Pope will enjoy more complementary helping hands with the Lakers. Lonzo Ball is immediately—[LaVar Ball voice]—the most unselfish point guard he's ever played alongside. Unlike Andre Drummond, Brook Lopez has range that extends beyond the restricted area, out to the three-point line. Caldwell-Pope will have the room and surrounding shooters to wage more meaningful drives.
Touches could become an issue. Caldwell-Pope will be the third pick-and-roll option behind Ball and Brandon Ingram, so his passing and scoring numbers won't wow. But he doesn't need to be a volume anything. He'll see more backdoor opportunities—a la Avery Bradley and Gary Harris—and have a greater opportunity to clarify what has become a blurry, if simultaneously overrated and underrated, defensive reputation.
53. Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.6 blocks, 48.0 percent shooting
Consider this a gift. Serge Ibaka could check in even lower.
This isn't to insinuate he's not a worthwhile contributor. He is. He owns his role. He'll block shots and hit threes.
The problem: That's about all he does at a high level, and the Raptors will hamstring his ability to keep sending back attempts at the rim by consigning him to power forward.
Ibaka is a 5 in today's NBA. He doesn't switch as well on defense like contemporary 4s, and the total absence of an off-the-dribble game curtails his offensive potential.
Build upon his maxed-out skill set, and Ibaka will climb. But again: Toronto doesn't have the roster malleability to guarantee him swathes of minutes at center, where his best shot at evolving into something more than a rather-ordinary stretch big lies.
52. Brook Lopez, Los Angeles Lakers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.7 blocks, 47.4 percent shooting
Advanced Metrics: 20.4 PER, 1.95 RPM, 70.34 TPA
Lopez is the entire shebang on offense. The Nets gave him the go-ahead from three, and he unleashed almost 400 attempts, of which he drilled a respectable 34.6 percent. Head coach Kenny Atkinson's motion offense also tunneled into his untapped vision. Lopez never encountered so many off-ball options before and proved both willing and capable of making better reads.
Cake in two blocks per 36 minutes, and he became the billboard for everything teams seek in a 7-footer who cannot whip from body to body on defense like a wing. And if he were in Brooklyn, he would be ranked higher. But he's promised nothing in Hollyood.
The Lakers have every incentive to chase wins with their first-rounder headed to Boston or Philadelphia, but Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac figure more prominently into their future. The addition of Andrew Bogut—not to mention the prospect of rolling small with Julius Randle or maybe even Kyle Kuzma at the 5—could portend a musical-chairs rotation up front that gnaws into Lopez's court time.
51. Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks
2016-17 Per-Game Stats:
Harrison Barnes began his tenure with the Mavericks by successfully making the changeover from offensive subordinate to featured scorer. His usage rate soared by more than nine percentage points, yet his shooting slashes scarcely dimpled under the extra weight.
Isolation possessions accounted for fewer than nine percent of Barnes' total offensive plays during his final season with the Warriors. That share almost tripled with the Mavericks. Jamal Crawford was the only player to budget more of his touches for one-on-one sets.
Barely half of Barnes' made baskets came off assists, and a whopping 17.8 percent of all his attempts came late in the shot clock, with anywhere between four and seven seconds left on the ticker—tops among 365 players to make at least 10 appearances.
That he shot 48.2 percent on those looks is a minor miracle. Ditto for his efficiency in isolation. Of the 23 players to chew through 175 or more one-on-one possessions, Barnes' 45.7 percent clip trailed only DeMar DeRozan and Kyrie Irving.
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