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Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant ranked among top five in SI’s Top 100

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A brief analysis of the four Golden State Warriors in the Sports Illustrated (SI) 2017 Top 20. Who’s No. 1?

There’s something about ranking a player. Even though I don’t personally care if some stranger says Stephen Curry is ranked No. 1 or No. 5, I still find myself drawn to these annual rankings like moths to a flame, especially when these ranking are published by a media giant like Sports Illustrated. You can find the full Top 100 rankings here and it is worth the click to see what SI’s Rob Mahoney and Ben Golliver have written.

Rather than broadly reviewing the whole list, since this is after all a Warriors-centric blog, I’ll highlight only our players. In addition to the SI analysis, for perspective I’ll include the players ranked directly above and behind them as well as where they were ranked in the last annual iteration.

For the Warriors, it’s no surprise that all of our starters except Zaza Pachulia are listed in the top 100. But where exactly? Let’s take a look:

#44 – Andre Iguodala (no change from last year)

Ranked ahead of: Isaiah Thomas, PG, Celtics

Ranked behind: Nicolas Batum, SF, Hornets

It’s interesting to read the analysis of why Iguodala lands here:

Iguodala barely scores but aces nearly every other criteria—leading first and foremost with defense. The most dangerous wings in the league are Iguodala’s purview…players operating against Iguodala have to contend with one of the NBA’s best isolation defenders without the aid of play structure. Iguodala wins those one-on-one battles enough to actively discourage opponents from running sets his way. It’s a caliber of coverage that actually seeps into the way opponents call plays and make decisions at the most fundamental levels.

No surprises for those of us who have been watching the Warriors: he loses some standing for his limited scoring, but more than makes up for it with his heady defense and ability to impact the game without needing the ball. A minor discount is probably applied for his age and durability. No complaints on this one. For a man on the back end of his career, Iguodala is still incredibly effective in limited minutes. The one knock that has haunted his career continues to affect him in rankings like this, he just doesn’t score much. Expect him to fall further next year.

#19 – Klay Thompson (#26 last year, the biggest leap of any Warrior)

Ranked ahead of: DeAndre Jordan, C, Clippers

Ranked behind: Al Horford, C, Celtics

Thompson continues to develop and improve his game. Where Iguodala’s offensive acumen is shrouded by his stellar defense, Thompson displays the best of both worlds. His defensive metrics aren’t stellar, but the eyeball test generally puts him among the best wing defenders in the NBA. You can’t say that offense is his calling card because of this, but … offense really is his calling card. Thompson averaged approximately 24 points per 36 minutes, and shot an absurd true shooting percentage (TS%) of .597 while taking about 47 percent of his shot attempts from 3-point range. Speaking of 3s, he shot slightly over eight per game and made them at a pleasant clip of 42.5 percent. This would have been a huge story in the NBA last season, if it wasn’t for Stephen Curry. Oh, and let’s not forget that time he scored 37 points in a single quarter.

Klay Thompson is the perfect No. 2 option, a lights-out shooter with permanent confidence who never kills his team’s flow, never steps on the alpha dog’s toes, and remains ready to take over at a moment’s notice if the offense stalls out. Well, that perfect No. 2 option just became the most overqualified No. 3 option in the NBA. The 26-year-old Thompson (22.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 APG) should make the adjustment to life with Kevin Durant just fine. Offensively, Thompson might get fewer shots, but they should be cleaner.

Again, I strongly suggest clicking over to SI and just reading the full analysis. The other critical point made looking forward for Thompson is that, at least on paper, he is a fantastic fit next to Kevin Durant. Thompson has struggled a fair bit attacking set defenses off the dribble. Having a dynamic player like Durant next to him and Curry allows him the freedom to not force the action. This should result in more efficiency, even as he gets fewer touches.

For his next year, I expect him to remain around this rank. He is being put in an excellent position to succeed moving forward, but as long as he lives in the long shadows of Durant and Curry it will be difficult for Thompson to separate himself as a top ten player in the NBA. Maybe a 38-point quarter would help?

#13 – Draymond Green (#16 last year)

Ranked ahead of: Kyle Lowry, PG, Raptors

Ranked behind: DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kings

Every single year of his career, Green has dramatically improved. Need him to handle the ball more and be able to push the offense after a defensive rebound? Done. Most impressively, Green is one of the rarest of NBA players: a guy who said he was working on a 3-point shot … and it actually worked! He shot a very respectable 38.8 percent from deep last year (a career high for him) while carrying a heavy load on both ends of the court.

The 26-year-old Green was one of the driving forces behind the most successful regular-season team in history, a hybrid big man whose skillset and ultra-high motor defy comparison. In fact, his overall stat line—14/9/7/1/1—has not been matched in all five categories in NBA history, and the closest all-around comparison is Larry Bird during his 1987 MVP season.

We are in unicorn territory here. The fact that he posted a stat line unseen since Larry Bird won the MVP is hardly surprising to me. Gone is that day when our community had tense debates about how much to pay this guy. Along with his unique stat sheet stuffing game play, Green is consistently referred to as the “heart” of this Warriors team. As I wrote before, I’m pretty convinced that Green will be even better this year as the team leans more heavily on him on the defensive end, while the decreased emphasis on the other end of the floor should allow him cleaner looks.

#3 – Stephen Curry (#4 last year)

Ranked ahead of: Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder

Ranked behind: Kevin Durant, SF, Warriors (wow…I wrote that and it felt weird; and good. So very very good!).

Curry had a phenomenal year. A GSoM member (sorry, I can’t recall who it was) used to have a signature line that said: “There’s no such thing as off the chart, you just need a bigger piece of paper.” Welp, Curry made a bunch of statisticians get out a bigger piece of paper last season where he was the centerpiece of our league-breaking offense! Completely shattering the 3-point record (his own anyways, so no one got mad), and giving hope to regular-sized people worldwide. His Vine presence was equally impressive, with numerous plays each game that defy explanation. I’ll just assume that if you are here, reading this, you are familiar with Curry’s body of work, nonetheless, here is an excerpt from SI:

The reigning Most Valuable Player had a compelling case as the league’s Most Improved Player, which is particularly insane when considering the scaling difficulty of improvement at the highest levels of stardom. Along the way, Curry was the self-evident best player on the winningest team in NBA history and showed how many considerable, tangential benefits can be drawn from the way he drives. Clear career bests in shots taken at the rim, free throw attempts, and team offensive efficiency showed the contrast of a great player becoming that much greater—a fact made all the more pronounced by the way Curry’s game changed following his postseason knee injury.

Out of the entire team, I think Curry is most looking forward to Durant joining us here. His post-season injury helped bring our amazing season to a disappointing end. It’s funny (not the “haha” kind) that after such an impressive season, the most powerful memories for me are watching Curry struggle to find that magic again only to come up short right when it was needed most. With Durant on board, Curry is going to be able to run a little more freely (no word yet on the crazy unforced turnovers). Now, when they double up on Curry, instead of Harrison Barnes waiting to catch the ball, it’s going to be a guy who’s much more troublesome to ignore; which brings us to…

#2 – Kevin Durant, SF, Warriors (#4 last year)

Ranked ahead of: Steph Curry, PG, Warriors

Ranked behind: LeBron James, Flopper, Cavaliers

Kevin Durant is an absurdly good basketball player. With the handles, agility and shooting touch of a primary ballhandler, and the length of a frontcourt player, he presents a challenge for every player in the NBA, on both ends of the court. By just about anyone’s expectation, Durant is going to push our lineup even further into the land of the absurd. SI is excited, too:

Perhaps the single most exciting reason to watch the NBA this season is to see what Durant is capable of once he’s immersed in a smart, unselfish and balanced attack. … Durant’s size and two-way positional versatility give him an edge over Curry in the ‘vacuum’ test...Only one player since 1972 has matched his 2015–16 production (28.2 PPG/8.2 RPG/5 APG) in all three categories: Larry Bird (1985, 1987, and 1988)

At this point in his career, you know what Durant is going to bring to the table. He does a bot of everything, and does it all very well. Assuming no injuries, I think it’s pretty reasonable to expect Durant’s production to slip a bit, but there’s no doubt he’ll play a critical role in our team’s success or failure.

So that’s it. No Shaun Livingston, but David West got an honorable mention. Otherwise those are our “only” players to land in the Top 100. I’m not mad at any of the rankings I saw, but don’t let that stop you!

If you’re concerned that we didn’t land the No. 1 position, let’s look at what Sleepy Freud had to say:

[T]he Warriors currently have the four best 7+-foot-wingspanned ball handling/passing point forwards in the NBA not named LeBron James. That is insane. Oh, and just for fun let’s throw in arguably the three best shooters in the NBA, including the two best 3-point shooters in NBA history.

So, even though James earned the No. 1 spot, it was only through a Herculean effort in the NBA Finals. I hope I don’t anger the Warriors readers when I say that I think James deserved it last year. Looking ahead is a much different story, and I think we should be pretty much okay once the season starts next month, don’t you?