This opening spot almost went to Lauri Markkanen — hey he looks like he could be the next Dirk Nowitzki — but then he hurt his elbow and put his near future up in the air. So let’s slide in Porter, who, frankly, deserves more love. He doesn’t score like a lot of the guys above him on this list, but he finished in the top 20 in VORP last year at 3.4 and was actually a 3.9 VORP player in 2017.
After being named Rookie of the Year, Evans kind of disappeared into that Kings vortex that has taken everybody but DeMarcus Cousins down the last decade or so. Last season’s move to Memphis seemed to save him, as he started shooting more threes and averaged 19.4 points per game. Now he’s a Pacer, and he could serve as a fine running mate to Victor Oladipo. This is a bet on talent.
All right, we may be speculating a bit, but there’s reason to believe in Ingram. He improved by leaps and bounds in his sophomore campaign, as he averaged 16.1 points per game. The Duke grad is still only 21, and he has the size and skills that made him the second overall pick. He could be in the running for Most Improved this year.
Dragic’s numbers dipped a bit last year, but he still had a fine season. The point guard may never have 10.3 win shares again, like he did back in the day for Phoenix, but he’s the best player on the Heat and still one of the top 50 players in the NBA.
The Rockets gave Capela a big contract this offseason, which may have surprised some. However, if you’ve watched Houston play, you know how vital Capela can be. Though the Swiss center is a little limited on offense — he mostly dunks and lays the ball up — his .652 effective field-goal percentage led the league. He also makes an impact on defense with his size and was second in the league in blocks per game last year.
DeMarcus Cousins is gone, but Anthony Davis isn’t alone in New Orleans. Holiday has become one of the best point guards in the NBA. Last year, he set a new personal best with 19.0 points per game, and he’s averaged 1.6 steals per game in his career. That puts him in the top 100 in NBA history.
People like to say the Thunder got fleeced in the James Harden trade, but at least they got Adams out of the deal. The New Zealand center has emerged as a physical force who can contribute on both ends of the court. He actually ranked 15th in win shares last season, and he’s still only 25.
McCollum is the Robin to Damian Lillard’s Batman, but don’t forget that Robin is technically a superhero too. Though his career got off to a slow start, he’s averaged over 20 points per game the last three years. Also, two seasons ago he led the NBA in free-throw percentage (.912), which is fun.
Marc’s brother Pau would have appeared on this list for many years, but those days are gone. In truth, the younger Gasol’s time as a top 50 player is probably coming to a close soon as well. However, defense has been a calling card for Marc in his career, and he’s still 7-foot-1. Size doesn’t go away.
Middleton is getting close to being one of those guys whom hoop heads talk about being underrated so much that he becomes properly, and perhaps over, rated. He’s a solid shooter who just averaged over 20 points for the first time last season, but he also brings the assists, boards and steals to some degree. If the Bucks become a title contender, Middleton will be a big part of the reason why.
With so much veteran talent and rising sophomore Jaylen Brown on the roster, expectations for Tatum as a rookie weren’t that high. Then the third-overall pick showed his skill, becoming a key cog in the lineup. He wasn’t a top 50 player last year, but he was close. And barring an unexpected slump, he’s deserving of that designation this season.