The most notable up and comers in the NBA are dominant big men who can do just about everything on the floor. There’s been a fierce debate on NBA Twitter about who the best player is and now it’s time to rank them.
When Karl-Anthony Towns came out of Kentucky, it was obvious we had never seen anything like him. He could shoot 3s, score in the post, drive from the perimeter, and even hit pull-up jumpers. In 2017, players unlike anything we’ve ever seen before are littered across the league. Guys like Giannis Antetokuonmpo, Joel Embiid, and Nikola Jokic have dominated the league in a truly unique manner. Debates have broken out over who the alpha of that group really is. Today we will settle those debates. However, this piece is not going to delve into advanced stats nor the subjective eye test.
Given the uniqueness of the players in question, it’s only fair that the system to judge them by is equally unique. The evaluation system is entirely predicated on head-to-head stats. It’s critical to remember this is not a macro evaluation of a player’s worth to a team. Rather, this is a different way to evaluate who the alpha/king is.The players that will be evaluated are: Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokuonmpo and Karl-Anthony Towns. Continuing with the theme of “The King”, the players will be tiered by using labels which would reflect their class in this hypothetical feudal society.
#5 – Peasant
Head-to-head game stats: 12 games, 10.3 PPG 4.3 RPG 1.7 APG 1.5 BPG slashing 38.6%/28.6%/84%
To be perfectly frank, I never expected Kristaps to do particularly well in this evaluation given a multitude of factors (not the least of which being his situation). However, he wasn’t just unproductive against his peers, he was experiencing Emmanuel Mudiay levels of inefficiency. Once you dig deeper into the game logs, it doesn’t get prettier. He gave up 40 points to Nikola Jokic, and routinely gives up big point totals to other players.
I acknowledge that the Knicks defense as a whole was bad but against players at his position, he was frequently overmatched and overwhelmed. Porzingis has the potential to overtake the position of The King, however he’s simply too inefficient to make a lot of noise in this setting yet.
#4 – Knight
Head-to-head game stats: 5 games, 20.2 PPG 10.2 RPG 2.2 APG 2.4 BPG slashing 39.4%/26.6%/75.9%
Joel Embiid’s head-to-head stats are basically what happens if Kristaps was on any other team but the Cavs, Warriors, and Knicks. Embiid was surprisingly inefficient and despite the raw production, it really hurts his case. However, he has the transcendent talent and raw ability to easily take over as the King of the Unicorns. He’s essentially KAT, but a way better defender. The inefficiency, isn’t the only reason he isn’t ranked higher, rather he only played 5 games against other Unicorns in 2017. Further analysis of that tiny sample size would be unfair, if not for the fact that Linsanity lasted a month.
#3 – Duke
Head-to-head game stats: 17 games, 14.9 PPG 7.9 RPG 4.6 APG .6 BPG slashing 55.3%/34.7%/74%
As much as I’d like Jokic to rank higher on this list, he just hasn’t performed to his full potential against his peers. The Joker is one of the worst defenders in the NBA, and so it’s even more paramount that he maintains his production and efficiency offensively. That offensive skill simply hasn’t been there against fellow Unicorns. He’s been efficient, yet unproductive. While it’s true that many of his games came before he was transitioned into a full-time starter. He also was slightly underwhelming after that and his numbers are inflated by a 40-point outburst against Porzingis. His path to domination of his peers is relatively easy, all he really has to do is command more touches and up his 3-point %.
#2 – Next in line of successsion
Head-to-head game stats: 14 games, 18.9 PPG 7.5 RPG 4.5 APG 1.9 BPG slashing 48.7%/16.6%/82.7%
Giannis is yet another example of how one-dimensional this rating system truly is. However, while it can be argued that he’s a better building block than KAT, he’s been noticeably worse when matched up against him. Should Giannis develop a jumper, he will probably be able to surpass Towns disturbingly easily. Moreover, despite all of his natural touch and ability, he still lacks the ability to score consistently a big in the mold of Unicorns. His efficiency was notably lower against Unicorns and he wasn’t able to capitalize on his length nearly as well as he was able to against other players.
Part of what makes Giannis so intriguing in his future is that he still hasn’t scratched the surface of his offensive potential. To truly maximize his production against other players of similar athletic stature, he needs to be able to hit perimeter jumpers. He was atrocious when playing against guys who could challenge him from the perimeter, which dropped his FG% by 3.5%. Given how frequently he could be matching up with other Unicorns in the playoffs (Embiid and Porzingis), it’s imperative he learns how to play them.
#1 – King
Head-to-head game stats: 18 games, 23.5 PPG 12.1 RPG 2.6 APG 2.2 BPG slashing 52.2%/38.4%/84.2%
What did you expect? KAT has every single offensive tool in the book and can use them all effectively. He can drive to the basket and create his own shot off the dribble as well as drain 3s. There has never been a player at his overall size as adept as he is from every area from the floor. Towns is too much for most other Unicorns to handle. He can take slower bigs (Jokic and Embiid) off the dribble and bully weaker bigs (Giannis and Kristaps) in the post. KAT was also able to maintain a surprising level of efficiency and production despite playing “equal” opponents.
The only real complaint about Towns at this point is his lackluster defensive acumen. Despite the tutelage of Tom Thibodeau, Towns has had real trouble stopping bigs on the perimeter. KAT often lost focus off the ball which led to sloppy closeouts behind the arc and he was frequently off the dribble or just shot over. Whatever gripes one may have about his work on the defensive end may be legitimate. but his dominance against his peers offensively is unequivocally unparalleled.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com