Ranking the top 100 NBA players — 55. Jonas Valanciunas, Pelicans
Jonas Valanciunas does not get the credit he deserves. He’s an absolute monster for New Orleans. He can bully smaller defenders at the rim, or stretch slower centers out to the 3-point line. He’s light on his feet, a truly good passer, and capable of hitting tough shots when the offense stalls around him. New Orleans couldn’t have found a better fit for the roster around him. Valanciunas also vacuums up rebounds with the best of them and he’s a rock-solid rim protector inside.
Ranking the top 100 NBA players — 54. Clint Capela, Hawks
Clint Capela regressed slightly last season, but he’s still the ultimate two-way roll man. He sets great screens, finishes above the rim with ease, rebounds the ball as well as anyone in basketball, and blocks shots. He’s a “star in his role” kind of player, and the Hawks just are not much of anything without his presence in the middle. He’s the only semblance of strength for a porous defensive team.
Ranking the top 100 NBA players — 53. Kyle Lowry, Heat
Kyle Lowry, still doing his thing. Injuries have derailed his playoffs run, but the Heat benefited immensely from Lowry’s presence all season. He doesn’t turn the ball over, he makes crisp and unselfish reads as a passer, and he’s still liable to bury you with a 3-point barrage on any given night. He’s starting to get up there in years, but you won’t find many players who can impact the game with sheer cleverness like Lowry.
Ranking the top 100 NBA players — 52. Marcus Smart, Celtics
Marcus Smart won Defensive Player of the Year and finally put the pieces together on offense. He took over the point guard reigns in Boston to great effect, while his absurd five-position capability on defense has deservingly been the talk of awards season. Boston is the best defense we’ve seen in a long time, and Smart is arguably the best defender on the roster. That’s star stuff.
Ranking the top 100 NBA players — 51. Robert Williams III, Celtics
Robert Williams finally found the next gear, and the results were mesmerizing. He’s smack dab in the middle of an all-time defense, providing league-best shot blocking while also switching screens and guarding in space. He’s a tornado, tearing apart opposing offenses with his length and athleticism. He’s also an important part of Boston’s offense due to his ability to finish efficiently at the rim.