The 53 Best Franchise Players In The NBA 201617 Edition
14K. PorzingisNY22PF+0.0D. NowitzkiY. Jianlian39.7 7Anthony DavisNO24PF+1.8K. GarnettD. Favors45.6 PLAYERTEAMAGEPOS2017 +/- VS. PROJ.BEST CASEWORST CASEUPSIDE WAR A few years ago, Kevin Love would have ranked much higher on this list. But a couple of good-but-not-great seasons since joining the Cavs have dropped his standing within the league significantly. Ditto Blake Griffin — though Griffin’s problems have largely been the result of injuries, not underperformance. Griffin’s strong start to 2016-17 suggests he might be moving up the rankings soon. Also, check out Minnesota, with two point guards in this group. Ricky Rubio has always been a tantalizing player for statheads, but often a disappointing one; even this year, he’s been injured and played poorly in the two games he did suit up for. Kris Dunn is younger, but still a rookie, and he’s also been uneven in 2016-17 thus far. How he, Rubio and Wiggins perform will go a long way toward determining whether the T-Wolves live up to the playoff-bound expectations CARMELO set for them in preseason. We’re starting to enter the territory of elite players. Then again, the NBA is a notoriously top-heavy league, so all of the names in this group are still probably too young (Hi, Aaron Gordon), too old (Kyle Lowry) or too otherwise flawed to be the No. 1 player by value over the next six seasons. But this portion of the list features some fascinating possibilities for future league leaders, including John Wall and his breakneck speed, Damian Lillard and his endless range, and Kristaps Porzingis and Ben Simmons, who both have freakish star potential. (Though we won’t really see what Simmons can do this year until he returns from a foot injury.) And although Chris Paul slipped down to No. 12 from eighth place last year, he’s played like a man possessed in the early going this season. (Maybe the Clippers can win a ’chip with a star point guard after all!) Based on “upside WAR” — wins above replacement with negative seasons zeroed out — over next 6 seasons. 25Marcus SmartBOS23PG-7.7D. HarperJ. Givens32.3 6-YEAR PROJECTION 46Nicolas BatumCHA28SF-1.1A. EnglishR. Davis21.4 6-YEAR PROJECTION 51A. WigginsMIN22SF-1.9S. A.-RahimM. Beasley19.9 49Gorgui DiengMIN27C+2.1J. NoahS. Pollard20.2 PLAYERTEAMAGEPOS2017 +/- VS. PROJ.BEST CASEWORST CASEUPSIDE WAR 16Damian LillardPOR27PG+1.5R. AllenB. Roy39.2 36Blake GriffinLAC28PF+5.5P. GasolB. McAdoo24.2 Two weeks into the NBA season, it’s still too soon to come to many sweeping conclusions about the state of the league. Maybe the talent-stuffed Warriors will continue to underperform like so many superteams have before them; maybe they’ll click and start dominating. Maybe the Clippers really are the best team in basketball; maybe they’ll still have to reckon with the trend of point guard-led teams underperforming in the playoffs. Bottom line is, there’s a lot of basketball left to be played.In some ways, then, it feels more relevant at this stage of the season to check in on the state of the game at the player level. So we thought we’d use our CARMELO projections to update an analysis we did last year: finding the league’s top 50 (or thereabouts) franchise building blocks. These rankings are based on preseason projections, ordered according to how much value each player is expected to produce1Specifically, how much positive value; we quantify a player’s upside by adding up his wins above replacement and zeroing out negative seasons. over the following six seasons (including 2016-17). But for each player, I’ve also listed how much a player is exceeding (or underperforming) his preseason projected box plus/minus so far this season. We’re only a few games into the NBA’s infamously long regular season, but some players could play themselves up or down the list based on how they’ve performed thus far.In keeping with last year’s 53-player ranking, here are the 53 best franchise players in the NBA for 2016-17, according to CARMELO: 6-YEAR PROJECTION Top NBA franchise players: Nos. 53-41 26Kyrie IrvingCLE25PG-4.1S. CurryB. Gordon32.0 11Dr. GreenGS27PF+1.3L. NanceR. Reid43.1 13Ben SimmonsPHI20PF—C. BoshA. Bennett42.0 39Ricky RubioMIN26PG-7.0J. KiddA. Hill23.8 20Aaron GordonORL21PF-1.4L. DengM. K.-Gilchrist34.0 PLAYERTEAMAGEPOS2017 +/- VS. PROJ.BEST CASEWORST CASEUPSIDE WAR 34Kris DunnMIN23PG-1.5D. LillardL. Jackson26.0 Top NBA franchise players: Nos. 30-21 22Jimmy ButlerCHI27SG+2.4D. MajerleJ. Howard33.7 37Joel EmbiidPHI23C-0.1J. NoahM. Bradley23.9 44K. C.-PopeDET24SG+1.9H. HawkinsH. Barnes21.5 2R. WestbrookOKC28PG+6.2M. JordanG. Hill63.1 40J. WinslowMIA21SF-3.3K. GarnettM. K.-Gilchrist23.7 Based on “upside WAR” — wins above replacement with negative seasons zeroed out — over next 6 seasons. PLAYERTEAMAGEPOS2017 +/- VS. PROJ.BEST CASEWORST CASEUPSIDE WAR 41D. ValentineCHI23SF-6.1K. HinrichR. Gaines23.2 35Kevin LoveCLE28PF-3.4J. SikmaS. A.-Rahim25.3 6LeBron JamesCLE32SF+0.5K. MaloneD. Wade50.0 Top NBA franchise players: Nos. 20-11 47B. IngramLAL19SF-0.2C. BoshA. Wiggins21.3 Based on “upside WAR” — wins above replacement with negative seasons zeroed out — over next 6 seasons. 43A. DrummondDET23C+0.7S. KempA. Biedrins22.2 Top NBA franchise players: Nos. 40-31 21D. CousinsSAC26C+1.6K. MaloneB. Griffin33.7 27G. HaywardUTA27SF+0.1C. MullinB. Roy30.1 24Kemba WalkerCHA27PG+3.8J. TerryE. Johnson32.6 33Otto Porter Jr.WAS24SF+4.3R. McCrayH. Barnes26.4 1Stephen CurryGS29PG-4.5L. BirdT. Porter73.0 23Paul GeorgeIND27SF-2.1D. WilkinsL. Hughes32.9 12Chris PaulLAC32PG+11.9J. KiddK. Johnson42.0 42Elfrid PaytonORL23PG-4.3B. DavisL. Wright22.9 8Kevin DurantGS28SF+0.4K. MaloneB. Daugherty45.1 28Nerlens NoelPHI23C—J. SikmaS. Swift28.6 6-YEAR PROJECTION Based on “upside WAR” — wins above replacement with negative seasons zeroed out — over next 6 seasons. 9G. AntetokounmpoMIL22PG+6.2K. GarnettR. Gay43.6 Based on “upside WAR” — wins above replacement with negative seasons zeroed out — over next 6 seasons. 15Rudy GobertUTA25C+0.2J. NoahD. Causwell39.5 In this neighborhood of the rankings, you’ll find a number of really solid players either entering or already in their primes, though not all of them have met expectations in the early going. Boston’s Marcus Smart, for instance, was a CARMELO favorite in 2016, but he didn’t have the star turn the algorithm expected and he’s been downright bad so far this season. (Unsurprisingly, Boston has also failed to meet preseason projections as a team this year.) But Charlotte’s Kemba Walker has been a pleasant surprise: His individual numbers have beaten CARMELO’s forecast,2He has a +6.6 BPM, compared to his projection of +3.0. and his Hornets are off to a 6-1 start. It could be another career season for a player who’s improved his BPM every year of his career. 17John WallWAS26PG+1.2J. KiddT. Evans38.0 19Kyle LowryTOR31PG-2.2G. PaytonG. Williams36.3 18D. JordanLAC29C-2.2B. WallaceE. Okafor36.6 53Jae CrowderBOS27SF+0.7D. MajerleH. Pressley19.4 5Kawhi LeonardSA26SF+5.1C. DrexlerW. Davis51.0 32D. RussellLAL21PG-0.1R. WestbrookZ. LaVine27.0 52Ed DavisPOR28PF-5.4D. DavisT. Battie19.4 30Victor OladipoOKC25SG-3.2R. AllenO. Mayo28.2 50Al HorfordBOS31C-1.3P. GasolT. Gugliotta20.0 PLAYERTEAMAGEPOS2017 +/- VS. PROJ.BEST CASEWORST CASEUPSIDE WAR Top NBA franchise players: The top 10 3James HardenHOU27SG+5.9L. JamesG. Hill62.7 4K.-A. TownsMIN21C+1.2K. GarnettJ. Smith59.4 31Paul MillsapATL32PF-1.5K. MaloneD. Roundfield28.2 45Eric BledsoePHX27PG+0.4K. LowryL. Drew21.4 38Steven AdamsOKC24C+1.7V. DivacJ. Valanciunas23.8 6-YEAR PROJECTION 29Derrick FavorsUTA26PF-5.2P. GasolS. Swift28.4 10Nikola JokicDEN22C-1.3S. KempZ. Pachulia43.2 48M. PlumleePOR27C-0.8J. NoahC. Johnson20.6 Al Horford at No. 50! That’s probably not what the Celtics were hoping for when they inked him to a $113 million contract, but he’ll also turn 31 in June and his reputation has always (slightly) exceeded his numbers. Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins is an old hobbyhorse here at FiveThirtyEight, and — although his breakout season hasn’t quite materialized yet — CARMELO thinks he’ll start to show his true skills during the 2016-17 season. He’s not alone among the talented-but-kinda-raw perimeter types in this group, which also include Elfrid Payton, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and rookies Brandon Ingram and Denzel Valentine. CARMELO has been particularly high on Payton for a few years now, though he (like Wiggins) hasn’t shown many signs of turning that potential into production thus far. Finally, the top 10. And first, the surprises: Nikola Jokic at No. 10? (Twenty-year-old big men don’t put up the kind of season he had last year very often.) Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 9? (His youth and versatility are great indicators for the future, and he’s playing even better so far this season.) Kevin Durant down at No. 8? (CARMELO is still cautious after KD’s injury-plagued 2015 season.) Anthony Davis, last year’s No. 1, dropping to seventh place? (You can read our analysis of AD’s down 2016 season here and here.) Defending NBA champ LeBron James below up-and-comers Kawhi Leonard and Karl-Anthony Towns? (This one depends how gracefully LBJ ages.)But at No. 1, we’re rolling with longtime FiveThirtyEight favorite Steph Curry. Although Curry is off to a weaker start than projected this season, his revolutionary 2015-16 season was one of the greatest performances in league history. Russell Westbrook is the greatest triple-double machine known to man (and has only added to his legend so far this season), so we’ll have to keep an eye on the Steph-Russ derby all season. But for now, Curry projects to contribute the most value of any NBA player over the next six seasons, to go with all the other Warriors high up on this list.Check out our latest NBA predictions.