Gary Harris

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

NBCsports.com’s 50 best players in 5 years: Players 40-36

Leave a comment

What is the NBA going to look like in five years? Who will be the game’s best players? The All-Stars, the guys on the cover of 2K24, the guys with signature shoe deals?

As a fun summer project, the NBA team at NBCSports.com put our heads together, pulled out our crystal balls, and tried to project forward who would be the 50 best players in the NBA in five years — in the summer of 2024. We took into account a player’s age, his potential ceiling and how likely he is to reach it, injury history, and more. The team working on this included Dan Feldman, Tom Haberstroh, Rob Dauster, Tommy Beer, Steve Alexander, and Kurt Helin (and thanks to Tess Quinlan and Mia Zanzucchi for the design help).

There were plenty of disagreements (and we don’t expect you to agree with all of our list), but here it is.

Here are the links to players 50-46 and 45-41. These are players 40-36 on our list.

40. LeBron James

LeBron James wants to play in the NBA with his son, who’s set to graduate high school in 2023.

They have a chance to make that happen.

It starts with LeBron already remaining elite into his mid-30s. That gives him a lot of runway to decline and remain a viable NBA player.

Before LeBron this year, 16 players made an All-NBA team in their age-34 season. A whopping eight of them still played in the league five years later. That’s a huge number for that age demographic.

But we’re projecting LeBron to do more than just stick in the league for a couple of seasons with his son. We’re expecting him to remain quite good.

Picking a 39-year-old for a list like this is always dangerous. Injuries become more likely. Declines can be sharp. There’s a decent chance LeBron is completely finished well before 2024.

Only Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dirk Nowitzki (appointed by the commissioner this year) were All-Stars in their age-39 seasons or later. Karl Malone and John Stockton are the only other players to even near that level while so old.

LeBron might be the special player to join that group.

He’s an unprecedented athlete with his combination of size, strength, speed and coordination. There’s so much room for his athleticism to slip and remain good enough. Not that LeBron is idly letting himself deteriorate. He invests heavily in taking care of his body. Perhaps most importantly, in recent years, LeBron has carefully selected when to exert full effort.

LeBron also has the most basketball intelligence in the league. Even as his physical tools erode, here’s betting he finds ways to thrive.
—Dan Feldman

39. Marvin Bagley III

The biggest knock on Marvin Bagley III: He’s not Luka Doncic.

Bagley will likely never live down the Kings drafting him No. 2 last year ahead of Doncic, who ranks way higher on this list. But Bagley is the on track to make his own name in the NBA.

With quick hops and amazing elevation, Bagley finishes above the rim so effortlessly. It’s easy to see that translating to other areas of his game – primarily defense.

Bagley isn’t as overwhelmed defensively as it seemed he’d be entering the league. He has shown nice timing for blocking shots. Sure, he must improve his awareness and get stronger. But that’s true of nearly every young big.

Offensively, Bagley has also shown more skill than expected. His shooting range and ball-handling are trending in the right direction.

Bagley will probably never catch Doncic. Bagley might not surpass No. 4 pick Jaren Jackson Jr. or No. 5 pick Trae Young, either.

But Bagley is a highly intriguing young player. That ought to be appreciated.
—Dan Feldman

38. Gary Harris

In 2017-18, Gary Harris posted 5.5 win shares. Here’s a complete list of other shooting guards who are younger than 25 and have had such a productive season:

At 24, Harris is a rare combination of young and established at the NBA’s most talent-scarce position.

The base of his game is 3-point shooting and defense – the highly coveted skills that allow him to fit into any situation. But he also has enough all-around ability that a 3-and-D label sells him short.

After continuously rising his first four years in the NBA, Harris backslid while playing through injury last season. He just wasn’t nearly as sharp on either end of the floor. That got largely overlooked because the Nuggets had their best season in several years. Harris provided enough.

He should be healthier and better going forward. If he picks up where he left off a year ago – not guaranteed, but definitely possible – he could even develop into an All-Star.
—Dan Feldman

37. James Wiseman

Wiseman has a chance to be really good. He stands 7-foot. He has the kind of length, mobility and athleticism that should allow him to thrive at the five in the modern NBA. He is a capable defender with the potential to be very, very good with some added strength and a bit of motivation. And he is skilled enough where he has the potential of one day doing all four things modern fives are asked to do – protect the rim, switch ball-screens, space the floor to the three-point line, be a lob target as a roll-man in ball-screens.

The biggest question with Wiseman is what he expects out of himself. In the words of one NBA draftnik, “he thinks he’s Giannis when in reality he’s a lot closer to Myles Turner.” There is nothing wrong with being Myles Turner. Turner just turned 23 years old and he is coming off of a season where he averaged 13.3 points, 7.2 boards and an NBA-best 2.7 blocks while shooting 38.8 percent from three. He’s really good. You are going to see him in this top 50.

But Turner knows what he is and what he isn’t, and he isn’t Giannis. If Wiseman embraces the fact that he can be a top five center in the NBA doing the four things I listed above at an elite level, then he’ll make himself a lot of money while making some NBA GM very, very happy.
—Rob Dauster

36. Aaron Gordon

Because he plays in Orlando with a franchise that seems to be in a constant state of rebuilding, because his game improves incrementally every year rather than by the massive leaps we see from him on the court, fans tend to overlook Aaron Gordon. He’s just the Dunk Contest guy to many.

We shouldn’t — Gordon is a damn good player. Not just a phenomenal athlete, although he is that, too, but Gordon is a player. He averaged 16 points and 7 rebounds a game last season, shot a career-best 34.9 percent from three, saw his assist numbers improve again (16.6% assist percentage), has the handles to create his own shot, has the versatility to play the three or the four, and he’s a quality defender on the perimeter or in the post. All that and he will turn just 24 right before training camp opens, he will be in his prime at age 28 in 2024. He’s a guy who fits the direction the NBA is headed: A versatile 6’9” player who is skilled and can help a team a lot of ways.

The question remains: Can Gordon take the next step and be a trusted go-to scorer in the crunch time of games? Can he get there with his incremental improvement, or will it take a big leap?

Gordon puts in the work. We’ll see if he can reach that level, and we’ll see if Orlando management can put a team around him that would better complement and showcase what Gordon can do. If that comes together, we should have an All-Star level player in Gordon in 2024. A guy who is a top two (or maybe three, depending on the roster) player on a very good team. We’ll just have to see if he (and the Magic, or eventually another team) can get there.
—Kurt Helin

Report: Thunder trading Jerami Grant to Nuggets for first-rounder

Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images
3 Comments

Raise the alert level on the Thunder trading Russell Westbrook.

This doesn’t prove anything about Westbrook. It doesn’t match the significance of Oklahoma City shipping Paul George to the Clippers.

But the Thunder are moving ahead in a teardown by trading Jerami Grant to the Nuggets for a draft pick.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Grant (due $9,346,153 next season and holding a player option for the same salary the following year) was too expensive for Oklahoma City’s liking. It’s impossible to evaluate the trade fully without knowing the protections, but getting a first-rounder looks nice for the Thunder given where they are in team-building.

Considering Oklahoma City must replace Grant on the roster and projecting that to be with a minimum-salary free agent, this trade puts the Thunder in line to save $29,710,941 in salary and luxury tax next season. The tax isn’t assessed until the final day of the regular season, so there’s plenty of time for that number to change.

The Thunder are now just $3,695,790 into the tax (counting that minimum-salary free agent), and they face the repeater rate. I’d be shocked if they don’t avoid the tax entirely.

Oklahoma City’s spending limitations are Denver’s gains.

Grant can play all three frontcourt positions. He gives the Nuggets someone capable of defending bigger wings now and maybe replacing Paul Millsap as starting power forward down the road. Both are important as Denver looks to continue its ascension around Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.

The 25-year-old Grant has been up-and-down 3-point shooter in his career, but he has generally trended in the right direction. He made a career-high 39% of his 3s last season. If he maintains that, this will be an excellent addition. If not, the Nuggets will still welcome his defensive versatility and overall activity.

Denver has sat on the mid-level exception despite having the ability to use it in full and remain out of the tax. The Nuggets will use a trade exception to acquire Grant, leaving the mid-level exception available. But using it now would push Denver into the tax. Would ownership greenlight that?

The Nuggets are one of several teams that should believe they have a chance to win a title next season. Star talent is dispersed. This should be the time to spend, though the market for free agents worth the mid-level exception is shrinking fast.

One team no longer in the championship chase: Oklahoma City. The Thunder can can remain competitive with Westbrook, Danilo Gallinari (who’ll take Grant’s spot at starting power forward), Steven Adams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Andre Roberson (if healthy). But if immediate competitiveness were the goal, the Thunder wouldn’t have traded Grant for a draft pick. They clearly have other aims.

Reports: Denver picks up $30 million option for Paul Millsap

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

After surveying the free agency landscape, the Denver Nuggets decided to bank on internal improvement — Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray will be a year older, they add Michael Porter Jr. to the mix, get Gary Harris healthy — and keeping financial flexibility next season and beyond.

The Nuggets are picking up the $30 million option on Paul Millsap‘s contract, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Denver Nuggets have exercised a $30 million option on forward Paul Millsap’s contract for next season, bringing back a key player for the franchise’s pursuit of a Western Conference title, league sources told ESPN on Saturday.

Denver can keep Millsap, hold onto its $9.2M mid-level exception and still stay out of the luxury tax next season.

The move has been confirmed by Michael Singer of the Denver Post.

The Nuggets had talked to Millsap’s representatives about not picking up his option then re-signing him to a longer-term deal that would have paid less money per year but more money over multiple years. That never came together in a deal that worked for all sides.

Nuggets fans saw their team as the No. 2 seed and an up-and-coming team in the West and those fans wanted the Nuggets to make a big splash in free agency (especially with the Lakers and others doing just that). Specifically to go after Tobias Harris. This move by Nuggets management was a recognition, after looking at the market with sober eyes, that the smart move was to count on internal improvement, fill a need with the mid-level exception (and in a summer with more than 200 free agents there will be value at that number), and be ready to make big moves in the future.

Millsap is also critical to what the Nuggets do. He averaged 12.6 points and 7 rebounds a game, shot 36.5 percent from three, but more importantly was the Nuggets defense was 2.7 points per 100 possessions better when Millsap was on the court. In the playoffs, the Nuggets were +10.5 per 100 when Millsap was on the court, he is the glue that makes it all work.

Whatever the West looks like next season, the Nuggets are going to be a threat. Millsap is a big part of that.

In other Nuggets news, they will keep their options open with Trey Lyles.

Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
2 Comments

Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

image

The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Marcus Smart headline All-Defensive teams

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
7 Comments

NBA teams scored more points per possession this season than ever.

But a few players stood out for slowing the offensive onslaught.

The All-Defensive teams (first-team votes, second-team votes, voting points in parentheses):

First team

Guard: Marcus Smart, BOS (63-19-145)

Guard: Eric Bledsoe, MIL (36-28-100)

Forward: Paul George, OKC (96-3-195)

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (94-5-193)

Center: Rudy Gobert, UTA (97-2-196)

Second team

Guard: Jrue Holiday, MIN (31-28-90)

Guard: Klay Thompson, GSW (23-36-82)

Forward: Draymond Green, GSW (2-57-61)

Forward: Kawhi Leonard, TOR (5-29-39)

Center: Joel Embiid, PHI (4-72-80)

Also receiving votes: Danny Green, TOR (19-28-66); Patrick Beverley, LAC (14-20-48); Myles Turner, IND (1-37-39); P.J. Tucker, HOU (1-36-38); Pascal Siakam, TOR (0-24-24); Derrick White, SAS (4-7-15); Russell Westbrook, OKC (2-5-9); Jimmy Butler, PHI (2-5-9); Chris Paul, HOU (1-5-7); Robert Covington, MIN (1-3-5); Paul Millsap, DEN (0-5-5); James Harden, HOU (2-0-4); Al Horford, BOS (0-4-4); Kevin Durant, GSW (0-4-4); Malcolm Brogdon, MIL (1-1-3); Josh Richardson, MIA (0-3-3); Kyle Lowry, TOR (0-3-3)
Stephen Curry, GSW (1-0-2); Thaddeus Young, IND (0-2-2); Anthony Davis, NOP (0-2-2); Ben Simmons, PHI (0-2-2); Donovan Mitchell, UTA (0-2-2); Derrick Favors, UTA (0-2-2); Joe Ingles, UTA (0-2-2); Jaylen Brown, BOS (0-1-1); Kyrie Irving, BOS (0-1-1); Ed Davis, BRK (0-1-1); Gary Harris, DEN (0-1-1); Nikola Jokic, DEN (0-1-1); Andre Drummond, DET (0-1-1); Andre Iguodala, GSW (0-1-1); Jordan Bell, GSW (0-1-1); Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LAC (0-1-1); Mike Conley, MEM (0-1-1); Kyle Anderson, MEM (0-1-1); Bam Adebayo, MIA (0-1-1); Khris Middleton, MIL (0-1-1); Brook Lopez, MIL (0-1-1); Terrance Ferguson, OKC (0-1-1); Damian Lillard, POR (0-1-1); De’Aaron Fox, SAC (0-1-1); Ricky Rubio, UTA (0-1-1); Bradley Beal, WAS (0-1-1)

Observations:

  • This voting could foreshadow a tight Defensive Player of the Year race. The three finalists for that award – Rudy Gobert, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo – each received a high majority of votes, but not unanimity, at their positions. Or Gobert could just cruise to another victory.
  • I have no major complaints about the selections. I would have put Danny Green (who finished fifth among guards) on the first team, bumped down Eric Bledsoe and excluded Klay Thompson. I also would have give second-team forward to P.J. Tucker (who finished fifth among forwards) over Kawhi Leonard. Here are our picks for reference.
  • P.J. Tucker came only one voting point from the second team. If he tied Kawhi Leonard, both players would have made it on an expanded six-player second team.
  • Leonard hasn’t defended with the same verve this season. He remains awesome in stretches, particular in the playoffs. But his effort in the regular season didn’t match his previous level. Defensive reputations die hard.
  • It’s a shame Thaddeus Young received only two second-team votes. My general rule is you can complain about a lack of votes for only players you picked, and I didn’t pick Young. But he came very close to P.J. Tucker for my final forward spot, Young had a stronger case than several forwards ahead of him.
  • James Harden got two first-team votes. Did someone think they were voting for All-NBA? Stephen Curry also got a first-team vote. Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard got second-team votes. Nikola Jokic got a second-team vote. Kevin Durant got a few second-team votes. There’s plenty of All-NBA/All-Defensive overlap with other frontcourt players. There could easily be an incorrectly submitted ballot.
  • But that still leaves a second Harden first-team vote with no other plausible explanation. Someone must really love steals, guaring in the post and absolutely no other aspects of defense.
  • Jordan Bell got a second-team vote at forward. He’s a decent defender, but someone who played fewer minutes than Dirk Nowitzki, Bruno Caboclo and Omari Spellman this season. Bell also primarily played center. Weird.