Now that the NBA Draft has passed and free agency has begun, we’re going to hold a league-wide player draft. Basically, if you were starting a team and you could pick any NBA player, who would be your franchise player? Our writers, Seth Birkan and Jeff Dennhardt, each selected their top 30 choices for drafting a new franchise and who they would build around based on age, what they’ve accomplished already, and future projections.
Also the numbers listed are Player Efficiency Rating as well as Estimated Wins Added, which measures the number of wins a player adds to a team’s season total above what a ‘replacement player’ would produce. Thoughts? Opinions? Comment below!
There are only two players to consider with the top pick, James and Kevin Durant. James is still only 27 years old (the same age Michael Jordan won his first title), a 3-time MVP, 8-time All Star, and one of the best defensive players in the league. James has already been to three NBA Finals, and now has his first championship ring. Any argument about his play faltering in clutch moments has largely been dispelled this postseason as he simply dominated. No player provides more of match-up problem than James, and he will dominate the NBA landscape for the foreseeable future.
It’s either LeBron James or Durant here. James has been great this season and was a freight train in the Finals, but I’m taking Durant. 4 more years! 4 more years!
Durant and James battled it out in the NBA Finals, and even though his team lost 4-1, it’s obvious how good Durant is. He is essentially unguardable offense, capable of hitting any type of shot from anywhere on the floor. Durant has already won three consecutive scoring titles, and is only 23 years old. This season, Durant improved his passing, which makes him even more effective on offense, and once he learns how to use his body better and position himself to receive the ball, he will become even more dominant.
Obvious next choice.
Generally point guard is the most valuable position on the court, and there is no one better at the position than Paul. He posted the second highest PER last season, and just as James makes those around him better, Paul has the same effect. The only knock on him, is he as yet to make a deep postseason run, but given a stronger supporting cast, he is fully capable of carrying a team through the playoffs.
Most teams win championships with dominant big men, and there’s none better than Howard right now.
Beyond the headaches he’s caused this past season, Howard is still the most dominant center in the league. At only 26, he’s already been named Defensive Player of the Year three times and an All-Star six times. He carried the Magic to the NBA Finals in the 08-09 season, and essentially controls the paint, eliminating the opposing team’s frontcourt players. Howard has become much better on offense making him that much more valuable.
Love is really becoming an all-around player. He’s a beast on the boards and can score from both inside and outside.
It will take a while before Rose sees the court again as well as how his knee responds, but he is still one of the special talents in the league. He’s the youngest MVP ever and the ultimate competitor. Very few players in the league care as much about winning as Rose does, which makes him one of the best teammates to have – a true franchise player. Once Rose learns to trust his teammates, his ability to distribute the ball as well as score, will make him one of the most dangerous players in the league.
He’s still young, but his past knee problems cause me a little concern as to his longevity. Still, he’s the league’s top PG and took a sputtering Clippers team and made them a contender.
Love is the best rebounder in the league, but also steadily improving his offensive game. He has developed into the best power forward in the league, expanding his game from working on the block to extending his range to the three-point line. While not overly athletic, he has a great understanding of the game. Last season Love had TEN, 30-and-15 games, more than the rest of the league combined.
This is contingent on Rose returning to his full abilities in the next two seasons. Rose is far and away the best player on the team with the league’s best record for two seasons in a row and already has an MVP under his belt.
Davis has yet to play a game in the NBA, but he it’s evident how well his game will translate to the league. He will quickly become one of the better defenders in the league, and has he learns to play within his body, his offense will develop.
Bynum is one of the most dominant big men in the game. He already has two championship rings and is only 24. However, he’s proven to be a bit of a head-case and will only reach his full potential if he’s able to mature.
Westbrook receives an inordinate amount of criticism for his style of play, but the fact of the matter is, he is one of the most explosive scorers in the league. Labeled as a point guard, he is more of a hybrid between the one and two positions. Westbrook is one of the best athletes in the league, already playing in one NBA Finals at the age of 23, and a finalist for the 2012 Olympic Squad. He has a lot of room for growth, and with more seasoning, will only improve.
Davis may be the next big NBA star. He’s tall, athletic, can block shots, and has a sweet stroke. Davis is one of the most complete NBA prospects in a while and has the potential to be a dominant player.
Bynum’s only 24 years old, but has already been in the NBA for seven seasons. Beyond Howard, he is the other dominate center in the league. The problem with Bynum is he sometimes lacks focus and discipline, but there are so few dominant big men that his value is exceptionally high.
Westbrook has been up and down this post season, but he’s only 23 and helped take OKC to the Finals. His offense has improved steadily and as he matures he should be able to cut back on the mistakes he makes and excel at PG for the next several seasons.
Last season’s Rookie of the Year, Irving demonstrated why he was the number one overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He averaged 18.5 points per game on 47% shooting along with 5.4 assists per game last season. As his game develops, he will become one of the better point guards in the league.
Once Griffin develops a jump shot, he is going to be one of the hardest players to guard in the NBA. His unmatched athleticism allows him to dominate above the rim, and he’s still only in his second season.
Wall was the next big John Calipari guard, but his development over his first few seasons has been stunted a little by the lack of talent surrounding him. Nonetheless, it is easy to see how talented Wall is, easily one of fastest guards baseline-to-baseline. He’s still extremely young with tons of potential. Given proper coaching and surrounding players, Wall is a great centerpiece for a team.
Rondo’s EWA is a bit misleading here because he isn’t a score-first player, but anyone who watched the Conference Finals can tell you Rondo is one of those players who makes everyone around him play above their level. Add to that the fact that he was actually one of the better shooters from the 10-15 ft. range and you have an excellent basis for a franchise.
Griffin is only in his second season, and already one of the better power forwards in the league. Once he develops his outside shooting to go along with his explosive athleticism around the rim, he will be a force. Griffin is only 23 and already top flight rebounder, but he has some things to improve on.
The latest rumors have DWill remaining with the Nets, and he’s the right kind of player to build your team around. His ability to score as well as make his teammates play better is a huge asset and combining him with a big man (Howard?) has the potential to lead to deep playoff runs.
Cousins has demonstrated why he is one of the better prospects in the NBA at only 21 years old with some huge games. Like Bynum, there are some motivation and discipline issues, but he is an extraordinary talent. The problem with Cousins is he has the ability to dominate and over-power players, but in other game’s he might be invisible. The hope is as he matures, he will develop some more consistency, which could propel him into the upper-echelon of NBA talent.
Expect Wall to become a breakout star when he leaves NBA purgatory in Washington. He’s one of the most athletic guards in the NBA and can blow by virtually any defender. Once he improves his jump shooting, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Wade is thirty year’s old and the beating he takes will eventually catch up to him, but for now he is still playing at a high level. He posted the third highest PER this season despite playing on a team dominated by James. Wade has already won an NBA Championship, and understands what it takes to win.
Irving played at an extremely high level in his first year in the league and did so with very little from his supporting cast. He has nowhere to go but up and will be a key piece for Cleveland in the next several years.
Rondo had a stellar postseason, highlighted by Game 2 against the Heat, where he put on one of the best playoff performances in recent memory. No point guards sees the floor better than Rondo, and he has become very good at penetrating with the ball. Although, he does not excel on offense, Rondo is one of the best point guard defenders, and is willing to defend anyone regardless of the size matchup.
While Harden didn’t have the greatest Finals and still has yet to be a full-time starter, the Thunder don’t make it past the first round without him. He’s young and will continue to improve his game.
Anthony is one of the best scorers in the league as well as clutch shooters, the knock on him has been his inability to progress his teams through the playoffs. At 28 years of age, Anthony still has many good years left, and if playing in the right system, he is capable of carrying a team single-handedly.
Although he isn’t the smartest player in the NBA, Smith has an incredible amount of talent. With the right coach, I think he has the ability to become one of the league’s top 10 players. And remember, he’s still only 26.
The third Thunder player on this list, Harden is often overshadowed by Westbrook and Durant, but he has come into his own. He is one of the premier shooting guards in the league, capable of scoring off the dribble as well as beyond the arc. Harden won Sixth Man of the Year this season, but given an expanded role, he could carry a team’s scoring.
The Kings have been quietly building a good team in Sacramento, and Cousins figures to be a major component of their plans for years to come. Dominant at times and distant at others, if Cousins can learn to control his emotions and mature, he may well become one of the league’s star big men.
Smith is only 26 years old, but has been in the league for eight seasons. This past season was his best yet, and he fills the stat sheet like few other players can. The Hawks have been to the playoffs five straight seasons, and Smith has factored greatly into this. He is an excellent defender and one of the best athletes in the league.
While Wade is definitely past his prime, he’s still a star player, as evidenced by winning his second Championship this year. His biggest knock is his age, which has clearly slowed his abilities, but he’s still one of the best players in the game.
Williams has been quiet the past season or so in Brooklyn, but he is still one of the best point guards in the league. He is one of the stronger point guards and excels at drawing contact. Williams has been a featured player on the U.S. Olympic Squads, and will likely play in this summer’s games.
So far, Anthony’s style of play hasn’t proved a successful in winning an NBA Championship. But, he’s too great of a talent to be left off this list. When building a franchise, you need a superstar, and Anthony is just that. However, it may take a bit of extra maneuvering to get the right pieces around him to win.
Jefferson is one of the more underrated players in the league, but he is a true throwback 20-and-10 center. He has a variety of moves in the post as well as one of the softest touches around the basket. Jefferson rarely turns the ball over and is consistent as they come.
As I’ve already mentioned, stand-out big men are a key to winning, and Jefferson is one of the best. His 12.7 EWA outranks many of the above-listed players, partly because a great center is hard to come by. Jefferson would be a great start to any team looking to win a Championship.
Parker is still playing at an extremely high level, orchestrating the highly-efficient San Antonio Spurs offense this past season. Very few players are as crafty as Parker nor run the fast break as well, which is why you can surround him with any type of player and he will make it work.
Again, a big man gets the nod. Monroe made a huge leap in his play from his rookie to his sophomore year. With some improvements to his offensive game, Monroe has the potential to be a great player. The foundation is there, and he’s is only 22 years old.
Gordon is one of the better shooting guards in the league, capable of scoring from most places on the floor as well as excelling on the drive. He capable of being a perennial 20 points per game scorer, and will get better as he improves his rebounding and defense.
Gay is one of the hottest free agents on the market this offseason, and for good reason. He needs to work on his shot selection, but is already a pretty effective offensive weapon. He’s a long wing and can easily get to the rim. With some improvement in his defensive game, Gay has the potential to be more in the 10-15 range of this list.
Bryant is low on the list because of his age, but no other player on this list boasts career accolades like his. The consummate winner and the ultimate competitor, Bryant is still playing at a high level, but at 33, there are only so many year’s left. Bryant is a Hall-of-Famer, but for these purposes, his value is diminished.
Parker’s maturity and basketball IQ is one of the highest on the list. Although he’s a bit older, at 30 he still has plenty of good years left.
Aldridge is also 26 years old, and one of the better scoring forwards in the league. He has an exceptional turn-around jumper as well as a good mid-range game.
Not much needs to be said about Bryant. He’s this far down the list because he only has 2 or 3 seasons left in him. But, you could still build a Championship-caliber team around him.
Gay had a strong return from last season’s injury, and is generally considered one of the better wing defenders in the league. His offensive game has developed nicely, making him a strong two-way player. Something Gay has improved on, but still needs to work on is passing the ball and incorporating his teammates.
Aldridge is arguably the best true 4 in the league. Things just haven’t seemed to gel for him in Portland, which is mostly due to the injury plague that has affected the team for years. Aldridge is 26, so he still has plenty of years to get better, and now would be a great time to start building around him.
Curry has had a difficult time staying on the court lately, but he is very talented when is. Curry is an excellent scorer, a very good three-point shooter, and a good rebounder. Curry is only 24 years old, and if he can stay on the court, he will develop into a poor man’s Russell Westbrook.
Although he’s be affected by the injury bug recently, Curry is a great player. He’s a pure shooter and, though he’s a little undersized, he has the ability to carry a team.
Favors is only 20 years old, but is already developing into one of the better defensive big men in the league. While his role has been limited thus far, when given expanded minutes, he has shown why the Jazz were adamant about acquiring him in the Deron Williams trade. His Per 48 minutes numbers are 19.8 points per game, 14.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 1.3 steals. Once he learns how to defend without fouling, he will become an elite defender.
Another misleading EWA, as Gordon has played only with a miserable Clippers team and was very limited wit the Hornets this past year due to injury. Gordon looks to be the star of the future for NOLA, and with a bit more development, he will likely end up one of the league’s best SGs.
Hibbert has gradually improved many aspects of his game. His range has extended into the paint, and he has developed a couple moves in the low-post. He is only 25 year’s old, so he has room for more improvement, particularly on defense and rebounding, but in terms of pure centers in the league, he is one of the better young ones.
With some improvements on offense, Hibbert has the ability to dominate. He’s an excellent defensive center, but to lead a franchise you need the ability to score at will.
Monroe is not a star center, but he is continually improving. Something that separates Monroe from other centers is his ability to pass the ball. His skills compare similarly to Marc Gasol’s, minus the defensive stats. Monroe will be a front-court starter for a long time, and if surrounded with good guard player, his skill set could really shine.
Gortat has become an excellent weapon for the Suns the past 2 seasons. How much of this is due to playing with arguably the league’s best passing PG I can’t say, but Gortat has proven himself a capable C.
Before tearing his ACL, Rubio was posting some serious assist numbers. His offense has a ways to go, but at only 21 years old, he has time to improve some. Where Rubio is already excelling is on defense, where he is able to use his size and quick hands to force turnovers and tough shots. Rubio is best suited in a system where he can dictate the offense and set up other players for scoring.
Although his rookie season was cut short by an ACL injury, Rubio has already proven himself in the international game and had a great start to the season. Like others, he has to develop more of an offensive game, but his court vision is up there with the best in the league.
While it was difficult to exclude guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce, or Kevin Garnett, for the purposes of this exercise, all of them are advanced in age that it made more sense to take younger guys that will be in the league for many more years.