NBA 'list season' has powered on as we approach the official start of the 2019-20 NBA season and ESPN is the latest to get in on all the player ranking fun. On Monday ESPN released the first part of their Top 100 NBA players list, containing players No. 100 through No. 51, with two Bulls players making the cut.
ESPN's "NBArank: 100 to 51" was based off of which players would contribute most to their team's ability to win in the regular season and playoffs, as voted on by ESPN's NBA staff. The first Bull to make the cut was the steadying presence that is Otto Porter Jr., checking at No. 90 on the list.
Porter has shown up on pretty much all of the offseason NBA player ranking lists, so it is not shocking to see him make the cut, however, his No. 90 ranking is somewhat surprising considering he was ranked inside the top 40 (No. 38) last season. ESPN's Kevin Pelton had this explanation for OPJ making the cut.
Porter is a solid complementary piece, a capable defender who scores with high efficiency in a limited role...There's little question that the Bulls could use a player such as that alongside Zach LaVine...
-Kevin Pelton on Otto Porter Jr.
With Porter being ranked 52 spots lower than last year, the assumption would be that ESPN's panel is expecting a bit of regression from Porter.
Pelton does mention in his excerpt on Porter that the small forward shot better than 43% from 3-point range in each of the last two seasons before dropping to 37% in the first section of the 2018-19 season. Although Porter finished the season with his 3-point percentage above 40%, it did take a scorching hot shooting effort during his Bulls tenure (48.8% from 3-point range over 15 games) to get near his usual standards.
It is understandable if the slight drop in 3-point percentage resulted in Porter taking a fall in the rankings but 40+ spots definitely feels like too steep of a drop in the NBArank for a player who is projected to add 6.2 wins to your team via ESPN's Real Plus-Minus statistic.
The second Bulls player to make the list so far was guard Zach LaVine, who came in at No. 55 on the list.
Obviously ESPN's NBArank feels—as most of Bulls Nation does—that LaVine has shown considerable growth over the past year, considering the fact that he jumped all the way to No. 55 on the list after not being ranked last year.
In 2018-19 LaVine had an All-Star caliber season, putting up 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game on 46.7% shooting from the field, all career-highs.
ESPN's Zach Lowe commented that the best way for the Bulls' "ceiling and position in the trade market" to change was if LaVine was to transform himself into more of an all-around player rather than "an empty-calories hog".
This statement has some truth to it because while LaVine's 22.6% assist rate was the highest he's posted since his rookie year (when he played PG full-time), he also finished with the second-highest turnover rate of his career at 14.2%. However, that is less of an issue than his defense and shot selection.
Cutting down on the turnovers would be ideal but as we have seen with players like James Harden, high turnover rates are just the name of the game when you are a score-first, high-usage superstar.
For LaVine, as Lowe hints at, it is everything else that needs work. His oft-discussed defense took a small step forward last season and it showed up in his improved defensive rating (112.4 in 2019 vs 114.7 in 2018). Of course,112.4 is by no means a good defensive rating, so there is much work to be done. But with the better, veteran talent and an improved Wendell Carter Jr. flanking him, we have every reason to believe LaVine will be a solid defender in 2020, justifying his spot on the list.
What was most intriguing about LaVine and Porter's respective rankings were how drastically different they were from Sports Illustrated's 2020 NBA 100 list.
On SI's list, Porter was at No. 57 while LaVine came in at No. 90, showing just how drastically different the evaluations of the Bulls talent has been on the national stage. But it is nonetheless encouraging to see multiple Bulls on ESPN's NBArank list as the franchise is looking for a bounce-back season, and there is (finally) acknowledgment that the Bulls have a stable core of young talent.
Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen was noticeably absent from the 100-51 section of ESPN's NBArank after coming in at No. 66 last year, so the assumption here is that Markkanen will be ranked as a top 50 player by ESPN's panel, quite a leap for the young Finnish forward heading into his third year in the league.
October 23 can't get here fast enough.
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