Sporting News' NBA Top 100: Ranking basketball's best players (80-100)

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NBA player rankings (80-100) (SN Illustration)

As we head into the beginning of the 2018-19 NBA season, we’re rolling out our Top 100 players, based not only on last year’s performance, but on this year’s expected production, too.

To help choose and rank the players, we enlisted the help of two assistant coaches, one from the East and one from the West, and got thoughts from those coaches on each player. Those thoughts, from the coach representing that players’ conference, are included. 

(Note: Rookies were not eligible for this list.)

NBA TOP 100 RANKINGS: Nos. 60-79

100. Montrezl Harrell, Clippers

Harrell averaged 11.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in just 17.0 minutes per game, earning him a two-year, $12 million commitment from the Clippers. Expect this to be a bargain. Harrell got better over the course of last season, his third in the NBA, and is a productive post scorer from inside the paint. He showed a bit of midrange ability, too, a new wrinkle for his offensive game. He’s undersized for a center (6-8), but can be solid as either a 4 or 5.

Coach’s view: “He is not DeAndre Jordan, but from an offensive standpoint, he can do some similar things. Big-time energy, all the time, and I think that is what Doc Rivers loves about him. He has been lost in the shuffle at times in his career, but if he gets a chance, he will put up good numbers.”

99. Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks

Smith averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 assists, playing with size, strength and speed even as a rookie. He was not intimidated, which was mostly a good thing — though, sometimes, it forced him into bad shots or careless turnovers. Smith must become a better shooter, both from the 3-point line and in the midrange, because his 39.5 percent shooting just won’t be acceptable. He should benefit from playing with Luka Doncic, who will alleviate some of the ball-handling pressure.

Coach’s view: “He was a rookie, and the two things you worry about with rookies are defense and shooting. He needs to get a lot better at both of those. There was a lot made about his wingspan not being particularly big and that does hurt him on closeouts, but he can get better just by learning to pressure the ball and just by gaining experience. He’s going to take some steps forward this year.”

98. John Collins, Hawks

Collins had a very solid rookie season, averaging 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds, shooting 57.6 percent from the field. He mostly played power forward, and while he has a polished game around the rim, his biggest development should come as a high-post and 3-point shooter.

Coach’s view: “They did a good job of bringing him along slowly last year. They did not give him too much and kept him focused on the things he does well. He has a long way to go on the defensive end, because he reaches and fouls way too much. He’s got to get better at positional defense. But he had the effort on that end of the floor, so there’s some hope that he can be even just a pretty good defender. Offensively, he has a chance to be very good, especially as a cutter working off of ball movement.”

97. Dennis Schroder, Thunder

Schroder averaged 19.4 points and 6.2 assists last season, but the numbers came inefficiently (51.5 true-shooting percentage) and for the worst team in the East. Schroder is a score-first point guard who will have to make some adjustments playing for a Thunder team that has high aspirations and its own score-first point guard, Russell Westbrook.

Coach’s view: “He’s 25, so you can’t really talk about potential anymore. But it just always seems that he could be a better player than he is, he has more ability than he’s taking advantage of. He could be better defensively, and he’s got to be able to make shots. Getting out of Atlanta, getting into a new culture, maybe that happens, but it could be an awkward fit with Westbrook.”

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96. Hassan Whiteside, Heat

That Whiteside is an All-Star candidate who barely cracks the league’s Top 100 shows just how vexing a player he can be. He averaged 14.0 points and 11.4 rebounds, plus 1.7 blocks, and led the league in rebounds just two seasons ago, but coach Erik Spoelstra liked having Kelly Olynyk on the floor more, and Whiteside averaged just 15.4 minutes in Miami’s first-round playoff loss. He is entering Year 3 of a four-year, $98 million contract, and he is a big part of the reason the Heat have so little room to improve.

Coach’s view: “He can be a nice presence in the paint, but you can see that he gets caught out of position so many times that it hurts what they’re trying to do defensively. If you send cutters at him or go backdoor, you can get him confused pretty easily, and you can see how that frustrates Spo. There’s talent there, but he is old enough now (29) to think he’s not going to fully put it together.”

95. Taurean Prince, Hawks

Prince showed ample potential as a 3-and-D wing last year, averaging 14.1 points and making 38.5 percent of his 3s. He is long and tough, and he has gotten better on both ends of the floor in his first two seasons.

Coach’s view: “That team is not going to be great, but they have some good pieces, and I think Taurean is part of that. He can guard four positions. You can switch him, and he is a terrific catch-and-shoot player. If Trae Young can create the way they think he can create, Taurean is going to be one of the guys who benefits most from that.”

94. Dejounte Murray, Spurs

Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green are gone, but there is reason to think the guard spot is in good hands with the Spurs, thanks to the addition of DeMar DeRozan and the way Murray played in the second half of last season. Murray started 48 games, mostly after the All-Star break, and averaged 10.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists as a starter. More impressive was his defense — his 7-0 wingspan allows him to guard multiple positions and swallow up opposing point guards. His shot needs work (about two-thirds of his attempts came within the paint), but for a 6-5 point guard who is only 22, a Year 3 bounce should be on the way.

Coach’s view: “The shot was what scared most teams away when he was coming out of college. It’s still a big question mark. But he is already a lockdown perimeter defender, he has good instincts and he does not foul like a lot of guys his age. He is not a natural playmaker. Sometimes that gets him into trouble and he forces bad passes or bad shots. He should eliminate that with experience. He’s got a ton of upside.”

93. Enes Kanter, Knicks

Kanter started 71 games, finishing with impressive numbers: 14.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 59.2 percent shooting. A decade or two ago, he might have been a star, but as a big man who can’t defend or step out to shoot a 3-pointer, he is not an ideal fit in today’s league. However, Kristaps Porzingis is recovering from knee surgery, which means Kanter will fatten up on stats again this year. 

Coach’s view: “What’s surprising is that he just has shown no ability or willingness to be a better defender. He knows why he does not play more, but he has not addressed it. He has a short wingspan, and he is not a natural shot-blocker. But he could do better defending in space, he could get smarter. None of that has happened. As great as he is scoring in the post, he’s limited by his D.”

92. Tyreke Evans, Pacers

This will be Evans’ 10th season, but he has played just a total of four playoff games. That should change now with Indiana, a team that should not only make the playoffs, but has a chance to advance. Evans reclaimed his career in Memphis last season as a sixth man, averaging 19.4 points and making a career-high 39.9 percent of his 3s.

Coach’s view: “I hope it works out for him with the Pacers, but you have to be afraid that last year was a fluke. He is not the athlete he once was, and he always relied so heavily on his ability to drive to the rim. Can he come back and shoot 40 percent from the 3-point line again? If he can, he’s going to do wonders for that Indiana bench. If he is that kind of shooter again, they’ll win 50-plus games.”

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91. Evan Fournier, Magic

Fournier has established himself as a very good offensive player who can knock down 3-pointers and is not afraid to take difficult shots — sometimes a little too unafraid, as he chucks up too many bad looks. He is, like so many pieces on this Magic roster, a one-way player. Fournier can score, but his defense is terrible.

Coach’s view: “He’s a very good midrange shooter. It’s a lost art, and you can argue over whether players should be taking those 18-footers at all, but he makes them. You’d rather have him putting it on the floor, but he’s a very good shooter. The problem is, he’s the guy you want as your third scorer, as a J.J. Redick type. But he’s their best offensive player. You can’t win that way.”

90. Kelly Olynyk, Heat

Logic dictated that if Olynyk got more minutes and a consistent role once he left Boston, he would produce some better numbers. Sure enough, he had a bump in playing time with the Heat and justified their $50 million investment in him with 11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds, both career highs. He got better as the season went on, and he played 29.2 minutes per game in the playoffs. He’ll see a bigger numbers boost if that kind of playing time keeps coming his way.

Coach’s view: “Their offense was just completely different when he was on the floor. He is not a rebounder or a defender — that’s never going to be his strength. But he moves the ball and creates so much space for everyone with his shooting, you have to have him on the floor.”

89. Spencer Dinwiddie, Nets

It’s been a long road back from an injury-plagued career for Dinwiddie, but he showed his ability (12.6 points and 6.6 assists per game) and his leadership in Brooklyn last year when the Nets lost Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell. He was a candidate for the league’s Most Improved Player award, but if he is going to make real strides this year, he will need to be a better shooter (38.7 percent from the field, 32.6 percent from the 3-point line).

Coach’s take: “I thought he wore down last year. He had just never played that much, and it caught up to him. He was a terrific player in November and December, and that makes me think he just needs to get his conditioning right. He can be a really good guard in today’s game because he can handle the ball or play off the ball. He has good size (6-6), and he can be a much better shooter than what he’s show so far.”

88. Fred VanVleet, Raptors

VanVleet’s numbers were not overwhelming (8.6 points in 20.0 minutes), but he knocked down 41.4 percent of his 3s, was a clutch shooter and defender and ranked third on the Raptors in plus/minus (4.6), only behind All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. He was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate last season, and he will be again in 2018-19.

Coach’s view: “He was a difference-maker off the bench, but that unit will be different now, so there could be some challenges. They could start him in a small-ball lineup, but I think he is really effective leading that second unit. I expect they’ll leave him there. He’s never going to be a big-time scorer or playmaker, but he thrives on giving you ball pressure, and he is just so steady.”

87. Kyle Anderson, Grizzlies

The most prominent beneficiary of Kawhi Leonard’s injury-addled season — besides, maybe, the Raptors — was Anderson, who got a significant boost in playing time and was able to show off the better parts of his all-around game, with averages of 7.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 26.7 minutes. Anderson is a very good defensive player who is notoriously slow of foot, but he makes up for it with IQ.

Coach’s view: “The problem is obvious, and that is he’s afraid to shoot. I think Memphis made a smart gamble on him, because he is really, really close to being a terrific player on a lot of levels. But he has to have some confidence in that shot. We played them 4-on-5 basically when he was on the floor because he is afraid to shoot. He has got to get over that.”

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86. Lonzo Ball, Lakers

Ask around, and you’re not likely to get more widely varying opinions on a player as you will on Ball. There were times when he had a magic touch with his ability to see the floor last year, and he is a great rebounder for his position. He missed 30 games but averaged 10.2 points, 7.2 assists and 6.9 rebounds when he did play. Alas, there is the shooting: Ball made just 36.0 percent of his field goals, 30.5 percent of his 3s and 45.1 percent of his free throws. Ball needs to be a starter and develop his ability to run a team, which will be all but impossible with LeBron James and Rajon Rondo in LA.

Coach’s view: “I am excited for his future, but I think his future is probably not with the Lakers. He has such a good way with his passing. He can create something out of nothing, and that is a rare gift. But he is going to need time and patience, and I am not sure he is going to get that with the way this team is set up now. Can he become the best player he can be as a reserve? I don’t know.”

85. Terry Rozier, Celtics

Rozier was outstanding in the absence of Kyrie Irving, helping carry the Celtics to within a game of the NBA Finals with playoff averages of 16.5 points, 5.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds. Of course, Irving is back and healthy, and it remains to be seen what Rozier’s role will be for Boston.

Coach’s view: “He is just such a tough player. He is quick but not very big, but he is gritty. He’s smart. He sees the floor. Even if he doesn’t play as much this year, he is going to make a lot of money in free agency. He left a big impression.”

84. Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors

Valanciunas was one of the best post-up centers in the league last year, scoring 1.09 points per possession on the play, an efficiency number that ranked him in the 92nd percentile. However, his defensive lapses limited his minutes to just 22.4 per game, a career low. Coach Nick Nurse is re-imagining how to use Valanciunas, playing him off the bench as an offensive wrecking ball against second units and trying to make him a better 3-point shooter. He is only 26, and a new role could help him find a place in a wide-open league that no longer values his skill set.

Coach’s view: “I thought he became a much better passer last year, and that gets overlooked. That is what is most important for him, because it used to be that the ball would go in to him and never come out. He’d stop the offense. But if he can combine his ability to score with ball movement, I think that’s where he can change his usefulness.”

83. Al-Farouq Aminu, Trail Blazers

Aminu remains Portland’s most important defensive player, a guy who can disrupt passing lanes, switch onto most positions and shut down a perimeter star. Offensively, he is still a liability, but he has at least developed a reliable 3-point shot that helps him stretch the floor. Aminu made a career-high 36.9 percent of his 3s, despite shooting just 39.5 percent overall from the field. But his defense makes him worthy of a Top 100 spot.

Coach’s view: “He’s not a natural 4, but when they play Nurkic and have that size in the middle, he can handle that spot. He has done it the last couple of years, and he has done a nice job with it. He switches very easily, and because they have such poor defense in their backcourt, they need him to be a guy who can pick up any position. I think the goal is to get him back playing the 3 this year, but I am not sure they have the horses for that.”

82. Trevor Ariza, Suns

The Rockets were roundly criticized for letting Ariza, a starter and key part of their revamped defense, escape to the Suns in free agency last year. Ariza averaged 11.7 points and made 36.8 percent of his 3s, providing his usual valuable leadership. He will now be tasked with bringing into line the wayward youth in Phoenix, which is no easy task.

Coach’s view: “He is 33, and he is pretty much a spot-up shooter now. He doesn’t get into the paint or attack that way. He is a good defensive player, but he’s getting older, and he’s not as good on that side as his reputation would make you think. So, I understand why the Rockets let him walk. But he is smart, and he is still a guy you want on your team. He is going to make those young guys better.”

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81. Domantas Sabonis, Pacers

Sabonis was not the featured piece in the deal that sent Paul George to Oklahoma City, but he did not disappoint in Indiana, where he averaged 11.6 points and 7.7 rebounds, mostly coming off the bench after a rocky first season as a starter with the Thunder.

Coach’s view: “I thought his confidence took a hit after his rookie year. I thought OKC used him all wrong. As a starter with Russell Westbrook, you could tell he just did not know where he fit in. But the Pacers got him coming off the bench, working against the second unit, and he was really solid in that role. He is very good down low and can give you points in the paint, but his game will eventually stretch to the high post, and he has the ability to be a 3-point shooter. He’s young (22). He still can add some things and is a ways from his ceiling.”

80. Andre Roberson, Thunder

Roberson played only 39 games, averaged 5.0 points and was an abysmal shooter (22.2 percent from the 3-point line). But he is on this list because he is an outstanding defender and because Oklahoma City is not the same team without him. Before Roberson was injured last year, the Thunder were sixth in the NBA in defensive efficiency (103.4), but just 15th after he was hurt (107.0).

Coach’s view: “His shot is a mess. If he could ever get to where he could make corner 3s the way a guy like Bruce Bowen did, he would be such a productive player. Because he is just such a great, instinctive defender — he gets his hands in the right spot, he does not bite on fakes, he does not reach, he has great defensive footwork and he’s so long. He’s one of the top four or five defensive players when he is out there. It’s just that he needs to be able to make a shot sometimes.”