On Wednesday night, Draymond Green recorded his fourth triple-double of the season and didn’t play a minute in the fourth quarter. That is significant, because for the last decade, LeBron James has defined the point forward position. But now Green is redefining it.
We aren’t quite ready to call him the best small forward in the NBA, much less the best small forward in the Western Conference. LeBron and Kevin Durant are going to be hard to knock off those mantles.
But the Warriors’ Swiss army knife is posting superior averages than both of them in rebounds (8.8 for Green; 7.7 for James; 7.6 for Durant) and assists (7.1 to James’ 6.5 and Durant’s 4.3). In addition, his 3-point shooting (.375) is superior to LeBron’s (.278). And of course, there are their respective team records.
What’s more, Green has been the linchpin for the Warriors’ suffocating defense, and he’s been on an absolute tear recently with 3.7 steals and 2.3 blocks over his last three games. If you want to talk about a small forward who gets it done better than anyone at his position at both ends of the floor, that conversation begins with Dray.
In the previous edition of the Most Improved Player Rankings, Stephen Curry topped the list. In this edition, we’ve expanded the field from 5 to 10 players and have a new name on top. Betcha can’t guess who it is.
1. Draymond Green, F, Warriors: For all the talk about the Splash Bros., Green finished second last year in the race for Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player — and he is in the mix again for both awards. He’s improved his averages in scoring, shooting percentages, rebounding, assists (almost double) and blocks. Jerry West, one of the architects of this Warriors team and one of the smartest men in basketball, said Dray was one of the top 10 players in the league and “the most underrated player in the NBA, period.”
2. Stephen Curry, G, Warriors: Not to take anything away from Green, but what he’s doing wouldn’t be possible without Curry, who is on another planet right now. He is on track to have the best shooting season in NBA history — joining the 50-40-90 club with the highest scoring average in the club’s illustrious history. Forget the fact that he’s averaging nearly 10 PPG more than he did last season; at this rate he will shatter last season’s record-setting mark of 286 3-pointers by more than 100. Now that’s what I call a rainmaker. Or better yet, a monsoon maker.
3. C.J. McCollum, G, Trail Blazers: In the first quarter on opening night, McCollum scored 22 points – and since then he’s provided sustained production. The former Lehigh standout has made the leap from a reserve role last season to a top-20 scorer in the league. McCollum’s assist-to-turnover ratio has been improving all season and he was even able to get a game clinching block Tuesday on Jrue Holiday. The third-year player has been remarkably consistent, scoring fewer than 15 points only three times.
4. Will Barton, G, Nuggets: If you’re wondering who is the surprise breakout player of the year, no question it has been Barton. (McCollum knew he would have an opportunity; Barton did not). The former second-round pick and D-Leaguer also started last year as a reserve for the Blazers before landing in Denver as a ‘throw-in’ in the Arron Afflalo trade. But Barton has made a huge impact off the bench for the Nuggets; he’s posting career highs across the board and discovered an impressive 3-point stroke (.391). The Sixth Man Award frontrunner is averaging 18 points and 7 rebounds this month.
5. Hassan Whiteside, C, Heat: He has seven double-doubles along with a triple-double against Minnesota that included 10 blocks, but his impact can’t be confined to a single box score. Whiteside is leading the NBA with 3.9 BPG (the last time a player finished with more was Dikembe Mutumbo in ‘95-’96 with 4.49). “Wiltside,” as he’s affectionately known in Miami, has more blocks on his own than four other teams, and his ability to control the paint has propelled the Heat to a 96.5 defensive efficiency rating, the best mark of any team in the last four years other than the Spurs current 91.8.
6. Kent Bazemore, F, Hawks: Bazemore is the only player on this list to have missed five games due to injury, but his gritty play and improvement warrant recognition. The former NCAA Defensive Player of the Year has had to navigate trades and injuries since entering the league, but he’s averaging career highs across the board in coach Mike Budenholzer’s ‘Spurs East’ system. Following his ankle injury, Bazemore regained his starting job after making his first seven shots against the Thunder, and Monday he scored a career-high 28 points. With top 50 ranks in 3PTM and STL, he has become one of the best 3-and-D players in the league.
7. Kemba Walker, G, Hornets: With only modest improvements in PPG, 3PM, REB, and STL, the casual fan might not have noticed the improvement Walker has made this season. But anyone who lives in Charlotte or partakes in online sports gambling knows he has become one of the best PGs in the league. Kemba has done it by posting career highs in FG% and 3FG%, even besting the marks he set at UConn when he led the Huskies to a championship. Compared to last season, he’s making 19 percent more of his shots in the paint and in and 10 percent more above the foul line.
8. Avery Bradley, G, Celtics: Matched up against Steph Curry and Golden State on Friday, Bradley had one of his best games of the season. Curry shot a season-low 33 percent, turned the ball over eight times, and the Dubs narrowly escaped with a double OT win. Bradley has emerged this season as one of the league’s best perimeter stoppers, forcing opponents to shoot a paltry 31 percent from outside 15 feet while averaging 0.5 more steals per game than last season. He has improved in raw scoring numbers and efficiency, posting career highs is FG%, 3FG%, and FT%. On top of that, he’s shooting 55 percent on his patented one dribble pull-up threes – and that’s downright Curryish. (Better, actually.)
9. Otto Porter, F, Wizards: Chances are, when you think about all the great finishers in the league, a few names come to mind. Now it is time to add a new one. Among non-centers, nobody in the NBA shoots a better percentage in the restricted area than Porter (73.1 pct). After averaging only 19 minutes per game last season, Porter has emerged as an efficiency monster. He’s roughly doubled his numbers from last season, and his role only figures to increase with Bradley Beal’s injury. John Wall needs a second banana who can space the floor, and Porter is only shooting 27 percent from deep. But last Saturday, the Mavs sagged off and dared Porter to shoot. He responded by going 4-of-8 from deep for a career-high 28 points.
10. Andre Drummond, C, Pistons: The 22-year-old is posting rebound totals we haven’t seen since The Worm was winning championships with MJ. He has 22 double-doubles in 27 games, including three games with 20 points and 20 rebounds. Drummond has doubled his steals per game from last season, ranking first in the NBA among centers. His overall improvement is undeniable, and he has teammates in Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who also are deserving of recognition for this award.
Kaveh Eslampour is an occassional contributor to SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.