LM Otero/Associated Press
11. Indiana Pacers
Stars: Domantas Sabonis
Star Prospects: Myles Turner
Other Notable Players: Aaron Holiday
The Indiana Pacers are led by a big man who isn’t what you’d call explosive, but his reflexes, fundamentals and basketball IQ make him one of the more delectable playmaking bigs in the NBA.
Defensively, Domantas Sabonis emerged outside of shot-blocking ace Myles Turner’s shadow in his absence, placing third among power forwards in defensive real plus-minus, per ESPN.
Turner was arguably the NBA’s best defender in 2019 with an eye-popping 2.7 swats per game. Less of a traditional big, he doesn’t prevent the offense from spacing. Shooting 38.8 percent from three, Turner ranked in the 89th percentile among bigs in 2018-19. Following an ankle injury, he has regressed this season and may become a source of trade speculation because of Sabonis’ breakout and his cap-friendly deal. Turner is projected as only an average starter by FiveThirtyEight.
Aaron Holiday’s playing time and impact have been lessened thanks in part to the arrivals of Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb. With the return of Victor Oladipo, he may fall even further down the pecking order.
10. Miami Heat
Star: Bam Adebayo
Star Prospects: Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn
Other Notable Players: Duncan Robinson, Derrick Jones Jr., Justise Winslow, Chris Silva
The Miami Heat have never needed top-10 picks to acquire talent. The organization plucked an All-Star with the 14th selection in the 2017 draft and unearthed the NBA’s 10th-best three-point shooter without a pick. Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson joined the unlikely group headlined by Jimmy Butler that is fourth in the Eastern Conference.
But the riches hardly stop there. No. 13 overall pick Tyler Herro is shooting 39.6 percent from three-point range on 5.6 attempts per game. Not to be outdone, the undrafted Kendrick Nunn flaunts back-to-back Rookie of the Month titles.
Some of these difference-makers may be dealt for a backcourt star to help Jimmy Butler across the finish line. For now, they are pushing him close to contention.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves
Star: Karl-Anthony Towns
Star Prospects: Jarrett Culver
Other Notable Players: Andrew Wiggins, Josh Okogie
Since dealing Kevin Love, the Minnesota Timberwolves have had a number of chances to put together a group of generational talent. Karl-Anthony Towns remains their bedrock. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo surpasses his 27.0 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, but KAT does it at a crisp 51.1/40.6/80.7.
The 2015 No. 1 overall pick hasn’t done nearly enough to get this team to contend, though. It’s been let down by 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, who has sputtered after an enticing start. With a usage rate in the 95th percentile, Wiggins rewards his team’s confidence with an effective field-goal percentage in the 38th percentile.
Josh Okogie was an excellent find on the wing but has been one of the league’s worst scorers in terms of efficiency. No. 6 overall pick Jarrett Culver has been a promising addition as one of the league’s best offensive rebounders. Like Okogie, Culver leaves a lot to be desired, shooting just 45.7 percent from the free-throw line as well as placing in the 9th percentile from mid-range.
8. Atlanta Hawks
Star: Trae Young
Star Prospects: John Collins
Other Notable Players: Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish
The Atlanta Hawks passed on Luka Doncic.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can drool over one of the NBA’s most hypnotizing offensive savants. In just his second season, Trae Young earned a starting place in the NBA All-Star Game. He ranks second in assists per game (9.0) and fourth in scoring (29.0 points per game). Young ranks in the 100th percentile in usage and assist percentage and owns the best offensive real plus-minus, per ESPN.
The future beyond Young is murky. Averaging 19.3 points and 10.2 rebounds in 30.5 minutes per game with 54.9 percent shooting, John Collins appears to be the Karl Malone to Young’s John Stockton. However, his future could be limited in Atlanta. A 22-year-old with his upside should be untradeable, and yet the Hawks were reportedly interested in Clint Capela, among others.
Kevin Huerter has impressed and developed into one of the NBA’s best shooters, hitting 39.9 percent of his threes on 5.6 attempts per game. He’s been the perfect complement to Young, making 58.0 percent of his corner threes (97th percentile).
It’s too soon to judge the fourth overall pick, De’Andre Hunter, who is being developed as a three-and-D specialist. High-volume scorer Cam Reddish has disappointed, as he ranks in the 4th percentile in effective field-goal percentage, including in the 20th percentile at the rim.
7. Boston Celtics
Star: Jayson Tatum
Star Prospects: Jaylen Brown
Other Notable Players: Robert Williams III, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Romeo Langford, Tacko Fall
The game’s brightest future star has emerged in Boston, averaging 29.7 points and 15.7 rebounds with 75.0 percent shooting.
Casting aside Tacko Fall’s per-36-minutes numbers, the Celtics are well equipped to contend now and in the future with All-Star Jayson Tatum as their key. Tatum has not only become one of the NBA’s best scorers (21.5 points per game), but he’s also one of its most versatile, ranking in the 94th and 91st percentiles at the 3 and 4.
Joining him is swingman Jalen Brown. The two combine to help outscore their opponents by 9.5 points per 100 possessions. Known primarily for his talents as a defender, Brown is efficient as a shooter—a plus that has spiked with his usage. In addition to becoming an above-average finisher and three-point shooter, Brown has emerged as one of the very best in the mid-range.
The Celtics have a solid foundation of veteran stars to supplement those two blossoming wings, but they also have an excellent crop of role players. Grant Williams adds plenty of body to the perimeter and the paint, and Robert Williams III may flourish into a great shot blocker. Carsen Edwards is a jitterbug point guard who scores more than he should for someone his size, and Romeo Langford may live up to his status as the 14th pick.
6. Phoenix Suns
Star: Devin Booker
Star Prospects: Deandre Ayton
Other Notable Players: Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr, Ty Jerome, Jevon Carter, Cameron Johnson
Arguably the NBA’s most significant All-Star snub, Devin Booker is a star. His 27.2 points, 6.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game don’t tell the whole story. He’s been remarkably efficient, placing in the 96th percentile in points per attempt, 92nd at the rim and 91st in mid-range.
Deandre Ayton’s numbers have been impressive. Averaging 17.9 points with 11.7 rebounds per game, Ayton surpasses all but three players. His efficiency has dipped, though, specifically at the rim (36th percentile).
The Suns also have Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges. Johnson has already taken his place as the shooter they desired but doesn’t offer much else. Bridges places in the 6th percentile in usage but the 89th percentile in points per shot attempt. Give him the ball.
5. Philadelphia 76ers
Star: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons
Star Prospects: Matisse Thybulle
Other Notable Players: Furkan Korkmaz, Zhaire Smith
The controversy surrounding The Process has lingered well after the departures of Sam Hinkie and Bryan Colangelo. The conflict in playing style between superstars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid looms large as the 76ers face what could be the tipping point in their relationship on the court.
Philly placed Josh Richardson and Al Horford with its two stars in hopes of challenging Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. While the Sixers’ size and pace may fare better in the postseason, they have underwhelmed in the regular season, sitting just sixth in the conference.
Embiid has continued his ascension into one of the league’s best with his third All-Star selection. Averaging 23.0 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, he remains a physical force not many can impede and a shot-blocker few can circumvent.
The consternation about Simmons’ three-point stroke may follow him throughout his career, but he’s otherwise balling out like a superstar. An elite defender who can slide to all five positions, Simmons is one of two players under 24 to post 16.7 points, 8.2 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game (Magic Johnson, thrice).
Speaking of elite defenders, the 76ers hit the jackpot with the 20th overall pick, Matisse Thybulle. Ranking in the 99th and 100th percentiles for blocks and steals per game, he is also fifth in the NBA in deflections per 36 minutes. He’s been better than expected on offense as well, ranking in the 80th and 90th percentiles in mid-range and corner threes.
4. Dallas Mavericks
Star: Luka Doncic
Star Prospects: Kristaps Porzingis
Other Notable Players: Jalen Brunson
Perhaps no team in the NBA is better suited to tackle the next decade than the Dallas Mavericks. Only Oscar Robertson (thrice) and Russell Westbrook have put together better regular-season numbers than Luka Doncic, who is at 28.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game.
The dark-horse candidate for MVP has his Mavericks flying higher than we expected. He’s posting usage rates and assist percentages in the 100th percentile while spending time at the 1, 2 and 3.
Owner Mark Cuban took a calculated risk in acquiring frontcourt mate Kristaps Porzingis, who’s beginning to find his fit with Doncic, ranking in the 93rd percentile in efficiency differential when playing the 4. He has also shot supremely well when playing next to a traditional 5, converting in the 98th percentile at the rim and 89th percentile from three.
Porzingis continues to struggle when covering the 5 but will ascend as a shot-blocker and difference-maker on the defensive end, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Jalen Brunson’s efficiency has dipped in his sophomore campaign as his usage has climbed, but he’s still continuing to punish opponents in the mid-range at a rate of 48.0 percent (89th percentile). As his three-point accuracy improves, so will his value.