Before the 2013-14 NBA season tipped off, Ball So Hard endeavoured to put an end to the debate of who reigns supreme in the league by bringing you the Ball So Hard 50. As the halfway mark of the NBA season approaches, it is time to reflect on the season that has been so far and reassess our rankings. Who has exceeded expectations? Who has fallen short? Find out below.
30. David Lee
In the NBA, success is often determined by how well each player on a roster compliments the abilities of his peers.
And that is exactly what David Lee is: the perfect complimentary player for the Golden State Warriors.
His offensive game (19.2 points per game, fifth amongst power forwards) of slick moves around the rim, and soft hands in the pick and roll make him the perfect partner for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s outside shooting, and Andrew Bogut’s defensive presence in the frontcourt.
Lee is a great example of a third option on a championship contending team. He is a great scorer who hits at an efficient clip (52.2% field goal percentage, 18th in the league), has a knack for grabbing rebounds (9.9 per game, 12th) and plays within himself, never taking shots out of his range and always helping facilitate the Warriors fluid offence.
Last season, Lee was the Warriors’ only representative at the All-Star game, and while Curry is likely to be the only Warrior suiting up in New Orleans this year, Lee will remain one of Golden State’s most important players as they make their playoff push.
29. Klay Thompson
Previous ranking – unranked
The “Splash Brothers” grabbed the attention of NBA fans last season with their incredible shooting abilities as they set a new NBA record for most made threes by a pair of teammates.
But the less applauded member of the duo, Klay Thompson, is steadily making a name for himself as a player in the league.
In his third season, Thompson has evolved from just three-point shooter to a viable second scoring option for the Warriors, averaging a career high 19.0 points per game (sixth amongst shooting guards).
The three-point shooting is still there. So far this season, Thompson has hit the second most threes in the league (136, only three behind Curry), hitting three shots from deep per game at a 41.3% clip (22nd in the league).
But Thompson is also steadily improving other aspects of his game. He is averaging career highs in assists (2.5), steals (1.0) and free throws made (1.8) and attempted (2.3).
While they are marginal improvements, it is progress none-the-less. And it is that progress that has helped Golden State enter the championship conversation this season.
Thompson’s shooting abilities have helped a Warriors team that could always score, but he has also developed into an effective defender and facilitator.
If he can continue to add layers to his game, Thompson could find himself in an All-Star game sooner rather than later.
28. Rudy Gay
Since signing a five-year, $82 million contract extension with the Grizzlies in 2010, the league’s teams have been playing hot potato with Rudy Gay as his production has failed to match the size of his salary.
Gay has never been the most efficient scorer in the NBA, but through 18 games shooting a career worst 38.8% from the field, and with DeMar DeRozan’s game continuing to develop, the Toronto Raptors shipped Gay to the Sacramento Kings, his third team in as many seasons.
But since joining the Kings, Gay has looked like a completely different player.
In 21 games with Sacramento, the former eighth overall pick is shooting a career high 52.3% from the floor and bumped his scoring up to 20.1 points per game.
The trio of star centre DeMarcus Cousins, breakout guard Isaiah Thomas and Gay has meshed better than anyone expected, with Gay’s game improving out of sight.
Along with his improved scoring, Gay is also averaging more assists and fewer turnovers than his time in Toronto.
While there is speculation about his future, with Gay contemplating whether or not to pick up a $19 million player option in the offseason or look for more guaranteed money by signing a new deal, NBA fans should enjoy the new and improved Rudy Gay while it lasts.
27. Andre Iguodala
From a statistical standpoint, Andre Iguodala is having one of the least productive seasons of his career.
His 10.1 points per game are the lowest since his rookies season, 1.6 steals the second fewest, 4.7 assists the third worst, and 4.3 rebounds and 0.3 blocks the least since he was drafted in 2004.
But the former lottery pick is having potentially the biggest impact on a team he has had in his career.
The Warriors have always been a team that could score points. From the likes of Baron Davis and Monta Ellis to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State have always been blessed with prolific scorers. But their lack of defence has always been their Achilles heel.
Since joining the league of out the University of Arizona, Iguodala has always been one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.
And he has brought that defensive approach to basketball to Oakland, helping transform the Warriors into one of the league’s best defensive units.
Golden State currently hold their opponents to the 12th fewest points per game, and own the fifth most efficient defence in the league.
Besides his defensive abilities, what makes Iguodala’s season so impressive is his willingness and ability to fit into whatever role the Warriors need him to do.
Whenever Curry needs a breather, and with no true backup point guard on the roster, Iguodala becomes the Dubs go to primary ball handler.
While on any given night, it is just as likely to see Iguodala post double digits in points, assists or rebounds. Whatever the Warriors need from him.
Not to mention the pair of game-winning jumpshots he has hit already this season.
When it boils down to it, the only numbers that matter in the NBA are in the win/loss column. And the Warriors currently sit at 27-18 in a tough western conference, thanks in large part to the play of Iguodala.
26. Lance Stephenson
Previous ranking – unranked
Growing up on the playgrounds of Brooklyn, New York, Lance Stephenson earned the nickname “Born Ready” as he held his own against grown men as a teenager, and starred for Abraham Lincoln High.
However, after a turbulent career at the University of Cincinnati, Stephenson fell to the 40th pick in the 2010 Draft.
Couple that with his unspectacular play through his first two seasons and some legal issues, and many would consider Stephenson to be lucky to still be playing NBA basketball.
But Larry Bird saw the potential in Stephenson and stuck behind his selection.
Fast-forward another two years, and that faith is beginning to pay of in spades.
This season, the speedy Pacers’ guard is averaging career highs in points (14.2), rebounds (7.0, which leads all guards in the league) and assists per game (5.3). While his 49.6% field goal and 34.4% three point percentages are also the best of his career.
Stephenson also leads the NBA in triple-doubles this season.
The 6’5” off guard has slowly become an indispensible member of Indiana’s championship hopeful team.
He has permanently displaced former All-Star Danny Granger from the starting line-up, and only narrowly missed out on a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team as a reserve.
The Pacers will have a task on their hands trying to keep their high-energy, one-man fast break under contract next season, as Stephenson is surely set for a bumper pay rise from the $1 million he will make this season.
But don’t expect Indiana to let him walk easily, they know just how valuable Stephenson is.