For more than one-quarter of the NBA’s players, the 2019-20 season is done. As the league plans to resume in late July in Orlando, Florida with 22 of the 30 teams, players from the other eight teams now have plenty of time to work on their games for next season. Those players will end up getting an offseason period that lasts an entire nine months.
I don’t think we should forget those players who are in the middle of their extra-long offseason, though. USAbetting has decided to rank the top 10 players who will not be returning to NBA action until the 2020-21 season begins.
1. G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
This is the only no-brainer placement on this list. Depending on what exactly you value in a player, Curry is anywhere between the best and about the seventh-best player in the entire NBA. No one else mentioned in this article has a legitimate argument as a top-10 player in the league.
Curry played just five games this year, of course, and there’s no chance the Warriors would have missed out on a spot in Orlando if Steph were healthy. He can singlehandedly prop up an offense with the threat of his three-point shooting, ball-handling and finishing at the rim. He’s a very good passer, too.
Unlike some of the other offensive aces on this list, Curry is a serviceable defensive player. He is never going to lock up opponents due to his slight physique and run-of-the-mill athletic traits, but he anticipates well and usually puts himself in good position.
2. C Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Towns is one of the best offensive big men the NBA has ever seen. He doesn’t really have any major weaknesses on that end of the floor and he has turned into a devastating three-point shooter. In his 35 healthy games this season, he made 3.3 three-pointers per game on a 41.2 percent success rate. Only two players (Duncan Robinson and Davis Bertans) topped him in both categories.
KAT’s inability to show much progress on the defensive end of the floor is definitely head-scratching, though. Scouts saw a lot of defensive potential in him when he was drafted first overall five years ago, but he remains very undeveloped. His block-to-foul ratio was a career-low 0.36 this season, which is especially bad when that number was a robust 0.56 in his rookie campaign.
Poor defense from the center position is extremely hard to overcome for teams with aspirations to make deep playoff runs. The Wolves are hoping that Towns will be able to turn his flashes of defensive potential into more consistent positive impact.
3. G/F Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
When you think of the 3-and-D player archetype in the NBA, Thompson should be the first guy that comes to mind. He is consistently among the league leaders in three-point makes every year and he has never shot worse than 40 percent from downtown in any of his eight seasons. Defensively, he uses his 6’6” size and tenacious mindset to hassle the best offensive players in the league.
What sort of player will Thompson be when he returns from his ACL rehab? It’s tough to know exactly. He might not be quite as quick laterally as he was before, which will affect his ability to move off the ball on offense and cut off driving lanes on defense.
Ultimately, Klay’s game is that reliant on explosiveness. He is not a big slasher and he rarely attempts to leap over opponents for dunks, rebounds and blocks. I think that sweet shooting stroke will remain unchanged when he ends up returning to action next season for the Warriors.
4. F Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
To be honest, Green’s performance this year with the Warriors did not impress me. Once it was apparent that Golden State’s hopes for a championship were non-existent with the injuries to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney, Green stopped trying his best and had his worst campaign in several years.
Green’s impact is contingent on him bringing 100 percent energy to the court. At his best, he is a defender capable of wrecking the opposing team’s offensive game plan with his versatility, basketball IQ and relentless motor. His offensive game is much more limited, but he runs the court well, makes great passes and rises up for strong finishes around the basket.
I suspect Green will return to his normal self in 2020-21 once Curry, Thompson and Looney are all healthy again. If Green’s 2019-20 performance is the new normal, however, he doesn’t even deserve to be in this top 10 at all.
5. G Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
You might think that a player averaging 29.6 points and 9.3 assists per game would rank much higher on this sort of list. Young is one of the NBA’s best ball-handlers, passers and shooters, and his feel for the game on offense compares favorably with the league’s top players.
Young is sort of a point guard version of Karl-Anthony Towns. Both are transcendent offensive players at their positions, but their defense needs a lot of work. The difference is, Young is worse than Towns on defense by a healthy margin. Many pundits consider him the worst defensive player in the NBA.
All in all, Young’s sparkling stats look nice on paper, but he has played 141 games in his NBA career and has only won 47 of them. I’m not ready to put him any higher than this until I know that his exploits can actually lead to winning NBA basketball.
6. G Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
LaVine, a two-time Slam Dunk contest winner, is best known for his high-flying slam dunking ability. His game is not just limited to acrobatics near the rim as the former UCLA standout is an excellent ball-handler at the shooting guard position who can get insanely hot from three-point range.
This year, LaVine put up a career-high 25.5 points per game on a solid 56.8 true-shooting percentage for the Bulls. Some of his teammates had disappointing campaigns, but LaVine continued his year-by-year improvement as an offensive player.
Like Young above him, LaVine could stand to improve quite a bit on defense. Though he has great size (6’6”) and athleticism for his position, he has a very thin frame and struggles to show focused effort a lot of the time. Also, unlike Young, he is still a developing facilitator who is better creating for himself than others.
LaVine is the Bulls’ No. 1 option right now, but I think his long-term projection on a winning team is as a No. 2 or 3 option playing next to a supporting cast with capable defenders and playmakers to cover up his weaknesses.
7. G D’Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves
Has Russell lived up to expectations as the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2015? That is a tough question. He has improved a bit every year and is now a fringe All-Star candidate at 24 years old, but I think most people were probably expecting more from him by now.
Russell is a very good outside scorer, ball-handler and passer who averaged 23.1 points and 6.3 assists per game this season for the Golden State Warriors and the Timberwolves. He is very good in those three skills, but his offensive impact is significantly hindered by his inability to get to the basket or draw fouls consistently. Defensively, Russell also struggles quite a bit.
Admittedly, ranking Russell is tough because he is really good in several areas but has some glaring weaknesses. However, I think this spot is fair for him given the amount of defensive attention he commands.
8. F Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
Griffin could make this placement look hilariously high or ridiculously low in the next year. The 31-year-old big man carried the Pistons to a playoff berth in 2018-19 with an All-NBA type season, then was limited to 18 games this season due to constant left knee issues that required surgery. He looked horrible in those 18 games.
Is Griffin ever going to be a dominant force in the NBA again? On the one hand, he was quickly developing a strong three-point shot and also becoming an amazing passer before his recent knee injuries cropped up. On the other hand, bad knees could hurt his impact in lots of different ways, from his explosiveness to his lateral quickness and his overall lower-body strength for fighting underneath the basket.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Griffin come back next season with a further toned-down game where he succeeds based on skill and craftiness, averaging something like 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. We’ll see what happens.
9 & 10 C Clint Capela and F/C John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
I decided to put these two teammates together because they are both big men who play similar roles on offense, even though they haven’t yet played a single minute on the court together. Capela was traded from the Houston Rockets to the Hawks at the trade deadline, and a heel injury kept him on the sidelines during the month leading up to the NBA’s suspension.
The fit of Capela and Collins is one I worry about. Both guys excel as pick-and-roll big men who are excellent rolling to the basket and receiving pocket passes or alley-oop lobs for strong finishes. Sure, Collins has a decent three-point stroke, but his bread-and-butter is still finishing plays inside. In an NBA where spacing is so important, I don’t know if the Hawks will be able to optimize lineups with two rolling, interior-focused big men.
Maybe Atlanta can work things out. It helps that the team has point guard Trae Young on the roster. He can make his teammates look good on offense even when the circumstances aren’t ideal.
Ultimately, the reason I have Capela one spot ahead of Collins is because his defense around the basket is far superior to Collins’. That more than makes up for Collins having a better shooting stroke.