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The Case For And Against: Predicting the Next Best Player In The NBA

Fadeaway World

Fadeaway World

With all of the recent hype around Giannis Antetokounmpo, and with Kevin Durant saying Giannis could be “the best player to ever play,” the conversation has come up about who the best player in the NBA will be in five years. Could it be Giannis? There is definitely a chance, but unlike KD, I have also given alternative options for who the best player in the world can be in five years. After presenting their cases, I will propose to you my final percentage chances of who the best player in the world will be in five years with an explanation. I have also put their age in five years beside their name to save you the trouble of adding five to their current ages.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, 27

Mar 9, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) during the game against the Miami Heat at BMO Harris Bradley Center.  Milwaukee won 114-108.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Case for Giannis:

At the young age of 22, Giannis Antetokounmpo has already stolen the versatility crown from LeBron James. At 6’11”, 220 pounds with a 7’3” wingspan, The Greek Freak is the Milwaukee Bucks best scorer, leading the team in points per game in 2016-2017. He is the team’s best playmaker, leading them in assist percentage. He is the team’s best defender, leading them in defensive real plus-minus. And he is even the team’s best big man on both sides of the ball, leading them in points per possession on rolls and opposing field goal percentage within six feet.

Positionally he is a tweener in a positive way, being able to play and defend all the way from one to five. He was 18th in real plus-minus last season, and is starting off the 2017-2018 with great, but definitely unsustainable 38.3/9.7/5 with 2.7 steals per game numbers on 70.9% true shooting.

The Case Against Giannis:

Shooting, shooting, shooting. That has been Giannis’s problem for his whole career and it does not seem to be getting better. Last year Giannis shot just 27.2% from three and shot just 33.3% on wide open threes. This problem is a major one, as teams can simply layoff of him without needing to worry about him knocking down too many wide open threes. If Antetokounmpo improves his three-point shooting, the title of best player in the world could definitely be his, but if he continues to struggle from three, his offensive game would likely not improve very much.

2. Anthony Davis, 28


The Case for AD:

Let’s do some math here: what is prime Dwight Howard plus a mid-range game, guard skills and a winning personality? Anthony Davis. Much like Dwight defensively Davis is quite the versatile force of opposing offenses. Try to drive on him? Well within six feet, Davis reduced offenders’ field goal percentages by 7.8% in 2016-2017. Try to switch him onto a guard by putting him in the pick and roll? In pick and rolls, Davis’s opponents average just .69 points per possessions. Try to stretch him to the perimeter? Outside of 15 feet, Davis reduces opponents’ field goal percentages by 5.1%.

Offensively, Davis is similarly versatile, on drives he uses his guard-like handles to finish at the rim with a 62.4% true shooting percentage. As a pick-setter, Davis has the athleticism on rolls and the shooting touch on pops to make him a threat. Last season Davis had the 17th highest RPM in the league, and this season in a tiny sample size, he’s averaging 31.7/17.3/2.7/1.7/1.7 on 62.4% true shooting, and 45.5% from three.

The Case against AD:

Since his rookie season, Davis has suffered an extensive injury history. Davis has missed time with injuries of the (sing it with me) head, shoulders, knees and toes, and has played over 70 games just once in his career. As well as his injury history, Davis’s offense has also struggled in the past two seasons. Despite having a Swiss army knife of offensive gifts, in 2016-2017 Davis’s ORPM was just .45 and in 2015-2016, it was just .1. The source of these low numbers is his 50% field goal percentage over those two years, which is on the low side for a big man.

The reason for his low field goal percentage is his newfound three-point shooting.

Despite not shooting it before in his career, in 2015 Davis started shooting threes, and has shot 9.1% of his shots from three from 2015 to 2017, hitting them at just 31%. This lowered his field goal percentage, and effective field goal percentage, which would have been 51.9% if not for Davis’s three-point shooting. So in order to improve his offensive game Davis must either get better at the three or stop taking them entirely. So far in 2017-2018, it looks as if he has chosen the former, shooting a career-high 17.7% of his shots from three and hitting them at a great clip. If he keeps this up, Davis’s offensive problems will disappear.

3. Kawhi Leonard, 30


The Case for Kawhi:

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Though LeBron currently holds the title of the league’s best player and Giannis holds the title of the league’s most versatile player, Kawhi Leonard holds the title of the league’s best two-way player. Offensively Kawhi is one of the best scorers in the league. With 25.5 points per game on 61% true shooting last year, Leonard is able to be an effective scorer in multiple facets. He shoots the three at a solid 38% clip, was in the 93rd percentile for pick and roll scoring, had a 61.3% true shooting percentage on drives, averaged an impressive 1.29 points per possession on runners and floaters, and is an above average isolation, post up and mid-range scorer too.

Defensively Kawhi Leonard had a 1.25 DRPM last year and has won two Defensive Player of the Year trophies in 2015 and 2016. As a stellar scorer and defender, Leonard supplements the San Antonio Spurs on both sides of the ball, and had the fifth best RPM in the league last year.

The Case Against Kawhi:

Injuries have always been Kawhi Leonard’s biggest problem. Last year Leonard played just 74 games and in his six completed season in the NBA, Kawhi has played an average of just 69 games per the Spurs 82. Kawhi has even missed the beginning of the season and all of the preseason with a quad injury. With an injury history like that, who knows how many minutes Leonard will play in five years under Gregg Popovich? Could Leonard have some healthy seasons in his future? Yes, but there still are some understandable worries about Leonard’s health.

4. Karl-Anthony Towns, 26

Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Case for KAT:

Never before has there been a centre with the full scoring toolbelt of Karl-Anthony Towns. Not only does Towns have the good ol’ fashion big skillset, shooting 54.7% on post ups, scoring 1.23 points per possession in the pick and roll and shooting 56.5% from the elbow last season, but he also has the ability to score efficiently in multiple ways from the perimeter. He shot 36.5% from three last season, and had a terrific 58.6% true shooting percentage on drives. He was 18th in the league in ORPM, and at the age of 21, it is safe to say KAT has not reached his full potential yet.

The Case Against KAT:

Though offensively it is hard to find a player as gifted as KAT, defensively, you can currently find truckloads. Last year Towns was last in the league among centres in DRPM and was below average at defending pick and rolls and was an underwhelming rim presence for someone with a 9’5” standing reach, with opponents shooting just two percent lower with him at the rim within six feet. To successfully secure the “Greatest Player in the League” title, Karl-Anthony Towns will need to work on about half of his game. Hopefully these defensive numbers are due to a lack of NBA experience, and will improve to league average in a couple years.

5. Other


The Case for the Others:

With plenty of great proven young players in this league like Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis, etc., and some young high potential prospects in and out of the league like Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Luka Doncic, Michael Porter, etc. entering their prime in about five years, it is not set in stone that the best player in the league in five years will be one of the four aforementioned players.

The Case Against the Others:

In the case of Jokic and Porzingis, in the same size tenure as Karl-Anthony Towns, despite being very good, the two have simply performed worse and proved less. They should still have very good NBA careers, but they are almost surely eliminated from this conversation.

With the young guns, it is simply hard to project the career of an NBA player who has played five games or less in the NBA. Could the best player in the world be one of these players? Yes, but it is impossible to pinpoint which one.

Final Chances

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo: 40%
2. Karl-Anthony Towns: 30%
3. Kawhi Leonard: 10%
4. Anthony Davis: 10%
5. Other: 10%

With Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis both having considerable injury problems, they simply did not have the best cases and therefore ended up with ten percent each. The other players also ended up with ten percent, as it is hard to predict something we don’t know. The final 70% is divided between Antetokounmpo and Towns. Giannis got ten percent more than Towns, due to his ability to affect offenses as both a scorer and a playmaker, rather than just a scorer.

Antetokounmpo is also a positive defensive player, which is more than Towns can say. The only hang up with Giannis is his wonky jump shot. If he does not fix it to at least league average, it is likely that Giannis will not get the title, but if he does, nothing should stand in his way. In the end, Antetokounmpo ends up with the largest, but not the majority.