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Ranking the NBA's Top 100 Players, Part 3: 60-41

This crew could win a title, but only if a certain gimpy point guard stays healthy and plays well.

Sorry Derrick, I had no choice.
Sorry Derrick, I had no choice.
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here. After each player's caption, there's their ranking in last year's column and their ranking in according to Sports Illustrated.

60. Trevor Ariza, SF, Houston: Hasn't been the most consistent performer over the years, but the league's preeminent "3 & D" guy when he's got it going. He got too expensive for the Wizards' blood after a great 2014 season, and Houston had cap dollars to throw at him after missing out on Chris Bosh and not willing to match Chandler Parson's offer sheet at Dallas. Washington wants to keep their cap sheet clean for a run at hometown kid Kevin Durant in 2016.
Last Year Rank: N/A SI Rank: 83

59. Ty Lawson, PG, Denver: One of the league's most underrated talents, toiling in the anonymity. Lawson excels at getting to the basket and quarterbacks an attack that is among the league's highest scoring crews year in and year out, despite not having any All-Star performers. Defense is just a rumor to him though, same as it is for the rest of his mates.
Last Year Rank: 50 SI Rank: 44

58. David West, PF, Indiana: Ol' Frowny did what he could to drag that sorry lot past the Hawks and Wizards, but he ran out of steam against Miami, lacking the necessary support from Hibbert and the bench. West finds ways to score despite being one of the least athletic fours in the league and he gets by on his smarts and experience on both ends. Some part of him must miss the Chris Paul days in New Orleans though.
Last Year Rank: 42 SI Rank: 47

57. Marcin Gortat, C, Washington: Gortat is one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the league and a better athlete than he gets credit for. Consistency is always an issue with him though, and he is prone to foul trouble at times. His rebounding was very impressive last season, as he saved Nene a lot of work in that regard. How will he play now that he got paid?
Last Year Rank: N/A SI Rank: 58

56. Gordon Heyward, SG, Utah: Heyward was asked not only to initiate a lot of the offense last year but also to shoot from further out than ideal, as the Jazz were lacking at guard and scoring options anywhere. With Dante Exum on board to join Trey Burke and Alec Burks, Heyward will get to slide over to the front court and play off the ball more. After the extension he just signed, the Jazz really need more from Heyward.
Last Year Rank: 61 SI Rank: 57

55. Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando: Quietly progressing into the fringes of stardom, but he's stuck on a team of callow youngsters where points are at a premium and no one knows how to close out a ballgame. Has yet to play with a real point guard or a legit four man, and he missed a third of the season with injuries last year. He's only 23, and there'd be a bidding war for his services if he was ever on the market.
Last Year Rank: 63 SI Rank: 89

54. Wesley Matthews, SG, Portland: Can do a bit of everything offensively, including posting up smaller dudes, and he's in a perfect situation where he gets to feast on open looks in an up-tempo offense as the third or fourth option. Matthews can be an above average defender when he wants to be. He loses minutes sometimes just because the Blazers play the other starters to death so someone has to sit in the name of giving subs token run.
Last Year Rank: N/A SI Rank: 72

53. Bradley Beal, SG, Washington: Made incremental progress in his second full season in most facets of his game and, impressively, he didn't fall off in any area in the playoffs. If anything, he was slightly better. Beal doesn't quite have Dion Waiters' first step and needs more help from his point guard to get off a quality look, but he's still the better prospect overall and it's worth noting that he's only 20.
Last Year Rank: 88 SI Rank: 76

52. Tyreke Evans, SG, New Orleans: Evans' career was on the crossroads when the Pelicans traded for him to be their sixth man, but an early injury to Jrue Holiday opened the door for him to play a lot of point, which boosted his numbers across the board. A decent playmaker who's reminiscent of a bigger Monta Ellis, but somehow even worse from downtown. To Evans' credit, he doesn't hoist up too many of them anymore, and offers a smidge more defensive resistance. Should look to Manu Ginobili for inspiration with Holiday back.
Last Year Rank: N/A SI Rank: 84

51. Andre Drummond, C, Detroit: A conservative view of Drummond is that he should be shown videos of DeAndre Jordan and, "See what he does, you go do that," except Drummond is already at that level now and just turned 21. Clearly, Stan Van Gundy wouldn't have taken the Pistons job if he didn't think he had a potential Dwight Howard on his hands. If Drummond can ever learn a couple of moves, the sky's the limit.
Last Year Rank: N/A SI Rank: 37

50. Zach Randolph, PF, Memphis: Took on an added role initiating a lot of the Grizzlies offense when Marc Gasol was injured, and his assists nearly doubled from the season before. He continued to show veteran leadership that kept the team together through some tumultuous times. However, Randolph had an awful first round series against the Thunder and got himself suspended for Game 7.
Last Year Rank: 26 SI Rank: 42

49. Arron Afflalo, SG, Denver: Had a fantastic first half of the season for Orlando and should've been an All-Star, but he lost his competitive spirit as the losses mounted and eventually he was in tank mode along with the rest of the team. Afflalo was no doubt disappointed to not be dealt to a contender around the trading deadline last February and figures to be further disillusioned playing for a Denver club stuck in the ultra-competitive West.
Last Year Rank: N/A SI Rank: 81

48. Taj Gibson, PF, Chicago: One of the best defenders in the league and a fellow who can score in more ways than you think, Gibson has been the guy playing down the stretch for Chicago ever since Thibodeau took over the coaching job, despite Carlos Boozer's pedigree and salary. He's been over-extended the last couple of seasons with Chicago looking to him to create his own shot at times on post-ups because they've been so depleted, but it's telling that he was a complete non-starter for them in any trade talks.
Last Year Rank: N/A SI Rank: 75

47. DeAndre Jordan, C, LA Clippers: Jordan's offensive game still hasn't developed at all - his range is still the length of his arms - but Doc Rivers has gotten more value out of him than any of his predecessors by emphasizing the other end of the floor and challenging Jordan to be among the league leaders in rebounds and shot blocks. Jordan still found himself in foul trouble at times in the playoffs, and he's still unplayable against teams that like to go small, but at least he's found a way to succeed at his niche and protect the sieves surrounding him.
Last Year Rank: N/A SI Rank: 38

46. Chandler Parsons, SF, Dallas: Parsons thrived last season as the third-banana in Houston's go-go-go offense and earned plaudits as the league's best bang for the buck. Fast forward a summer and all of a sudden he's Dallas' highest-paid player, making more than Dirk Nowitzki. It doesn't seem right, but playing with "The Diggler," and Monta Ellis should buy him similar room to what he's grown accustomed to and he'll get much better coaching, to say the least, with the Mavs.
Last Year Rank: 44 SI Rank: 56

45. DeMar DeRozan, SG, Toronto: It kind of got lost in the shadow of Kyle Lowry's career-year, but DeRozan quietly improved all of his numbers and made his first All-Star Team for the Raptors, boosting his PER from 14.7 in 2013 to 18.4 last season. He's still not much of a shooter, but has an all-around game where he fills up the box score and he knows how to get to the line despite his wiry frame. A so-so defender who has trouble with stockier guys who take him down low, that area of DeRozan's game suffered with the Rudy Gay trade.
Last Year Rank: 92 SI Rank: 61

44. Pau Gasol, PF, Chicago: Has struggled through a couple injury-plagued and frustrating seasons under Mike D'Antoni where his role wasn't always defined playing with Dwight Howard or he was stuck leading a young, hopeless roster and playing for a coach who he clearly didn't care for. Gasol has lost a couple of steps and it's fair to wonder if he'll ever be able to stay healthy again, but playing for a contending Chicago team filled with accountable, no-nonsense veterans should rejuvenate him and having Gibson behind him should make it easier to keep his minutes reasonable.
Last Year Rank: 9 SI Rank: 49

43. Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago: Can't go any higher than 43 for Rose, not after two major knee surgeries in two years. Not only was he awful in the FIBA World Cup against inferior competition, but few remember that he was similarly horrid in the first few games for the Bulls last year before going down again. He's got to prove he can stay healthy for a year. If he can even return to 85 percent of what he was, the Bulls might win the East.
Last Year Rank: 16 SI Rank: 23

42. Paul Millsap, PF, Atlanta: An undersized four who's hardly an overwhelming athlete, Millsap keeps refining his arsenal year after year and now has a solid three-pointer to complement the rest of his weaponry. Set career-highs in most categories for the Hawks, including rebounds, assists and steals and had to be their best player with Horford out. With the big guy set to return, it'll be fascinating to watch Mike Budenholzer design sets incorporating both of their skill sets. Millsap and Kyle Korver have to be licking their chops.
Last Year Rank: 48 SI Rank: 34

41. Nicolas Batum, SF, Portland: Reminiscent of Shawn Marion in his prime in that he's primarily thought of as a defender and transition scorer who can get lost in half-court sets, but Batum's a much more dangerous three-point shooter who can get hot from all over instead of just the corners. He can post up at times over shorter people or drive past bigs, but his aggressiveness comes and goes and playing with three other gifted scorers doesn't compel him to give his all consistently. His defense is somewhat overrated too. Batum is an incredibly skilled player capable of being the best guy on the court on any given night despite his shortcomings.
Last Year Rank: 87 SI Rank: 43

Continued in Part 4