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Ranking The Top 100 NBA Players, Part 4: 40-21

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Here there be point guards, a few Hall-of-Fame shooting guards, and a some centers who can't defend.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed Part 1Part 2 or Part 3, click on them links. After the section on each guy is his ranking on last year's list and also his ranking on Sports Illustrated's list.

40. Luol Deng, SF, Miami: 2014 was a lost season for Deng. He started off with Chicago, when he clearly didn't want to be there after their medical staff botched his procedure so badly that he almost died. He was traded to Cleveland and quickly checked out once he saw how dysfunctional that operation was. It will be intriguing to see how Deng will function as a third option in Miami, but he obviously has big shoes to fill, and you wonder if he'll ever be the guy he was, or if he's just too worn down from all the minutes he played under Tom Thibodeau.
Last Year Rank: 22 SI Rank: 55

39. Lance Stephenson, SG, Charlotte: There's no doubt last season ended poorly for Stephenson. He embarrassed himself and his team with some of his antics against Miami in general and LeBron James specifically. He clashed with teammates behind the scenes and helped destroy the team from the inside. Despite all of that, his talent is unmistakable. He led the league in triple-doubles, he can handle the ball well for a wing and he's a plus defender. A change of scenery was needed.
Last Year Rank: 55 SI Rank: 73

38. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State: His agents might be trying to pump up Thompson as the best two-way shooting guard in the league and someone deserving of a max contract, but they should really pump the brakes on that until he actually cracks an above average PER. Thompson can be shut down by elite defenders and he remains one of the league's streakier shooters. His playmaking and ball handling need to improve, but there's no question when he's feeling it, the Warriors are practically unguardable.
Last Year Rank: 40 SI Rank: 54

37. Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston: Rondo has been in limbo for the past two seasons. He missed the first half of the 2014 season recovering from an ACL tear and now suffering a broken hand in camp that will keep him out a few weeks. Reports continue to surface that a trade is imminent and that Rondo wants out, but he continues to insist that he doesn't. Rondo is capable of being the best all-around point guard in the league when he's right, but he won't be able to find that form with the supporting cast he has around him.
Last Year Rank: 13 SI Rank: 40

36. Joe Johnson, SG, Brooklyn: Johnson was steady as ever during the regular season and the Nets' best player in the playoffs as well as being their emotional ballast in a rocky season under first time coach Jason Kidd. He was probably expecting a lot more help from fellow stars Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce than he wound up getting. Johnson is one of the best clutch shooters in the league, but he may find himself overwhelmed by the burden he'll be asked to carry at this advanced stage of his career.
Last Year Rank: 39 SI Rank: 51

35. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland: Irving is certainly capable of detonating as few in the league can when he's got it going and he did average a career-high in assists (only 6.1, but still), a career low in turnovers (2.7) per game while playing a career-best 71 games. However, his shooting went south, he still showed zero leadership on the floor and his defense was non-existent. How will it work with a ball-dominant wing in James? Catching and shooting hasn't been Irving's forte.
Last Year Rank: 20 SI Rank: 21

34. Chris Bosh, C, Miami: I've always been lower on Bosh than most, but it's partly his fault and partly due to how he's been misused. Instead of playing close to the basket, he decided to be a rich man's Andrea Bargnani. He has one of the best mid-range jumpers in the league, but doesn't shoot the three well enough to justify being out there as much as he's been. He's also stopped rebounding. Bosh was the key to that offense passing from the high post, but he got away from that last season. As a defender, their aggressive trapping scheme has worn him down as well.
Last Year Rank: 33 SI Rank: 18

33. Brook Lopez, C, Brooklyn: Speaking of bigs who don't rebound ... here's Brook Lopez, the premier scoring center in the East but a fellow who missed virtually the whole season last year with a broken foot and one who saved himself numerous clashes with Kidd and Garnett in the process. He's gone from the oven to the frying pan with coaches though, as new boss Lionel Hollins has already questioned his toughness. I wonder if he and Mason Plumlee can play together?
Last Year Rank: 30 SI Rank: 36

32. Manu Ginobili, SG, San Antonio: Had a decent bounce-back regular season and then, when even fan-boys like me weren't expecting it, a phenomenal playoff run to cement his legacy as one of the greats. Ginobili is a shooting guard in name only as he's more of a passer at this stage of his career, but he can still do a bit of everything and the only true weaknesses in his game are stamina and durability. He is 37 and coming off a stress fracture in his leg.
Last Year Rank: 38 SI Rank: 41

31. Al Horford, C, Atlanta: Got off to a good start, but like Lopez, he too was lost for the lion's share of the season with a torn pectoral and missed the playoffs entirely. That's two straight years he's been out, and it's a shame because Horford is one of the most underrated dudes in the league and someone who can do it all from a skills standpoint. Mike Budenholzer quietly has the makings of a very good roster on his hands, and Horford will the hub on which it revolves at both ends -- if he can just stay healthy.
Last Year Rank: 25 SI Rank: 25

30. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Sacramento: It's hard to put up the numbers he put up last season and Cousins seems destined for a steady run of All-Star appearances. But I honestly consider it a charity to have him this high. I don't trust him, I don't trust his character and I find him petulant and selfish. His defense comes and goes, mostly the latter, he takes himself out of games by mentally arguing calls and he throws up a lot of unnecessary jumpers. Cousins might be the most talented big-man in the league, but I don't think it's a coincidence that his teams haven't come anywhere near the playoffs.
Last Year Rank: 86 SI Rank: 27

29. Andre Iguodala, SF, Golden State: An RAPM darling but a PER disaster, Iguodala is right there with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard as the best wing defenders in the league and someone who's got a nice blend of skills on the other end, capable of finishing in transition, rebounding, shooting from outside or even creating the offense as a point-forward. He battled injuries all season long though and midway through the season went through an almost Rodman-ish stretch of not wanting to shoot the ball because he figured the "Splash Brothers," had that part of it covered. The Warriors need more out of him. 
Last Year Rank: 34 SI Rank: 29

28. Al Jefferson, C, Charlotte: Sometimes context and situation makes all the difference in how we perceive athletes. Jefferson fundamentally isn't much different from the player I ranked 90th last year. He's still a poor defender, but in the size-challenged East and on a team that desperately needed his inside scoring, he was a revelation. It's a shame he was compromised by a torn plantar fascia because he would've given Miami some problems in the playoffs. Jefferson will be surrounded by good defenders on the perimeter, which will mask some of his weaknesses in that end.
Last Year Rank: 90 SI Rank: 26

27. Mike Conley, PG, Memphis: The opposite of Jefferson on the defensive spectrum is Conley, the top defender at his position for a few years now. Conley's game on the other end has progressed slowly and steadily, and he's been hurt in that regard by not having more talent around him on the perimeter. He's not especially quick, but he's wily enough to get to the rim and he has a decent enough jumper. Conley will probably handle the ball a bit less with Marc Gasol back in the lineup and healthy.
Last Year Rank: 56 SI Rank: 32

26. John Wall, PG, Washington: No matter what happens the rest of their careers, Wall will always have the edge over fellow first-overall pick Kyrie Irving in that he led his club to the playoffs first, with similarly talented supporting casts. Wall is the superior defender and playmaker and has thus far been the more consistent performer. That being said, he didn't have a very good individual showing in his maiden postseason voyage, so Wizards fans are left hoping that he'll settle down in subsequent playoff trips.
Last Year Rank: 43 SI Rank: 31

25. Damian Lillard, PG, Portland: Lillard is kind of the West's answer to Irving in that he's an explosive penetrator and a streaky shooter who is hopeless in his own end. Lillard has proved more durable than Irving though, is more reliable from three, and is more ready to a supporting role when one of his teammates has it going. Lillard also has an excuse for being a terrible defender in that he's just too undersized to be of much use there. But he did get an education in what the playoffs are all about from Tony Parker last year.
Last Year List: 65 SI List: 22

24. Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles: This spot might be too generous for Bryant, who missed pretty much the entire last season with a knee injury after spending the previous offseason rehabbing a torn Achilles. At 36 years of age, it's virtually assured that Bryant's lift will be gone for good, as will any semblance of defensive resistance. The real question is how long Bryant's patience and sanity will last trying to cull competitiveness, structure and discipline from a group that includes broken down Steve Nash, Carlos Boozer (both of whom had difficulty guarding anybody even in their primes) and a bunch of youngsters. Bryant will be left missing Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and even Dwight Howard by January, if not before.
Last Year List: 15 SI List: 24

23. Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami: Wade actually enjoyed a terrific regular season in the games he played, taking off 28 of them to rest his balky knees and gear up for a playoff run. He was also generally productive in three playoff rounds, with plenty of time off between each series because the Heat made relatively quick work of their Eastern Conference competition. But once he got to the Finals, he was pretty bad for the second straight year, to the point where you almost felt sorry for him by the end. He looked pudgy and slow. ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst reported that the cartilage in his knees is so ground down that no amount of rehab or workout regimen will enable him to play more than three weeks in a row without needing the next two weeks off. The playoffs, obviously, don't work that way. Wade did reportedly go to Germany to have a blood-spinning procedure done and did get in better shape, but he's going to have such a bigger load on his shoulders without James that he'll get worn down quicker than ever. If anything, he should be used like Ginobili at this point, but the Heat seem to be inclined to treat him like Bryant instead.
Last Year List: 19 SI List: 20

22. Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto: Lowry, a malcontent in two previous stops and at times in Toronto as well, came from relative anonymity to drag a mediocre Raptors squad to the playoffs, playing by far the best of any point in his career, and out-completing and out-willing numerous bigger "name" guys along the way. Lowry is a physical bully in the Russell Westbrook mold and while he's nowhere near that level of athlete, he has that fight in him, which goes a long way against a lot of the pretty boys at that spot. As long as his competitiveness doesn't come to a boil with his own teammates or coaching staff, he's a huge asset and deserving of the contract he got.
Last Year List: N/A SI List: 30

21. Serge Ibaka, PF, Oklahoma City: Ibaka has a reputation as the league's best defender and while I don't rate him quite that good, he is a difference-maker with all the shots he blocks and alters. He's a solid rebounder and one of the league's better mid-range shooters, with three-point range in the corners now. My one criticism of his game is that he's been in the league for a while now and still hasn't developed any semblance of a post game or any other method to create his own offense. Everything he gets is created by others, and it shouldn't be that way for someone of his considerable skills.
Last Year List: 35 SI List: 19

To be concluded in Part 5