SI completed their top 100 players list today with "transformational" Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry being ranked fourth, just ahead of 2015 NBA MVP runner-up James Harden of the Houston Rockets and so-called point god Chris Paul of the L.A. Clippers.
It's hard to quibble too much with Curry's position in the list as New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (third), Oklahoma City Thunder wing Kevin Durant (second), and Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James (first) are all extremely talented players who all have strong cases for the top spot.
In the video accompanying the rankings package, list co-creator Rob Mahoney explained that the "transformational" Curry was fourth despite the possibility of having a repeat of his MVP 2014-15 campaign because:
- LeBron James is the best player in the league.
- Kevin Durant is the other player in the league who can make players better and deserves benefit of the doubt.
- Anthony Davis has the most potential, will be a better player this year and was the best player in the first round series between the Warriors and Pelicans.
I think I'll be a little cooler on Durant than Mahoney and Ben Golliver until I see how he actually returns from injury, but again I'm not going to quibble about a rankings list when I think the pieces the Warriors have put together make up the best overall unit in the league; what Curry does for this team is remarkable and makes the entire system work, as described well by Mahoney.
Stephen Curry plays a form of basketball judo in which every bit of a defender's momentum is used against them. The threat of the pull-up jumper is so constant and so real (Curry shot 42.3% last season on pull-up threes, which in itself would rank seventh in the NBA) that it draws defenders close in anticipation of the shot. From there the dance begins...The floater, the scoop layup, and the step-back jumper are all in play if the situation calls for it. Curry, though, knows well that his tug on a defense is often only the first step in a series that will create an opening elsewhere. The ball leaves his hands willingly—impressive in itself given how explosive a scorer Curry can be.
Nevertheless, I do think the placement of Draymond Green at #16 just behind Carmelo Anthony at #15 makes for interesting fodder for discussion — that's not just an offense vs. defense debate, but a scoring vs. every-damn-thing else debate. Mahoney alluded to that in his explanation of Green's ranking.
Just last season, 120 NBA players scored more points per game than Green did. We're here to tell you that it hardly matters. Some players get buckets. Green does damn near everything else, from setting physical screens to routing the offense with expert passing to playing elite defense across all positional lines. At the point that Green makes a profound difference for the Warriors and could do the same for any other team in the league, what does it matter that he shaves an opponent's point total or bolsters a teammate's rather than pad his own?...His poise alone is notable. Bigs forced to dribble into the next layer of defense will sometimes teeter from the self-fulfilling fear of losing control. Green always seems to have his wits about him and, for a player who winds up handling the ball and threading passes as often as he does, posts impressively modest turnover numbers.
Although the accompanying video package with selections 30-10 included Golliver pre-emptively countering the argument that he was ranked too high — including a mention of Green just being more well-rounded than Kevin Love — if Carmelo Anthony is a spot ahead of him.
In their discussion of Anthony, Mahoney even acknowledged that he's not a great defender, not particularly well-cast to defend players at the four spot, has health concerns, and is aging — it makes me genuinely wonder how many general managers would take Anthony over Green right now.
But Mahoney made the key point about this entire list: it's about who could succeed and contribute in the widest variety of situations, not necessarily who did the most last year. That sort of helps to explain why a player like Klay Thompson was ranked #26 despite putting up some historically impressive numbers, being selected All-NBA Third Team, being an All-Star starter, and arguably being the best shooting guard in the game right now (or if a qualifier makes you feel better, the best "all-around shooting guard") — as with Andrew Bogut (#76) and Andre Iguodala (#44), some shortcomings (and lapses) do make you wonder how many situations they'd succeed in especially once you move into the realm of superstars. Golliver mentioned some of Thompson's ongoing shortcomings in his blurb on why he was #26.
Thompson, it should be noted, is more than a one-trick pony: he showed improvement as a finisher and got to the foul line more often last season, and he did his part to fulfill Kerr's mandate to keep the ball moving...Although his defensive versatility is easy to overlook on a Warriors roster loaded with flexible cover men, Thompson can guard ones, twos and threes, which proved to be a huge asset during Golden State's title run.
Thompson isn't without his faults and limitations, of course. While he's ideally cast as a complementary option rather than as a No. 1 scorer, he found himself in foul trouble at various points during the playoffs, is prone to moments of inattentiveness, and occasionally disappears (or at least fades from the foreground), most notably during the final four games of the Finals.
Ranking players is a fun exercise, but of course the bigger question is how the whole package fits together. The beauty of the Warriors is having five (or six, if you want to adamantly make the case for Harrison Barnes) top 100 players who complement each other exceptionally well. But it all begins with their MVP, who makes everything open up on the offensive end in ways that the league has never seen before.
For more on these rankings, check out our previous post about Barnes, Bogut, and Iguodala.