The guys at Sports Illustrated are unveiling their ranking of the top 100 NBA players, and of course, there are several former Kentucky Wildcats listed.
Devin Booker (100), Brandon Knight (98), Enes Kanter (88), Nerlens Noel (84), and Eric Bledsoe (49) were all listed in the first 70 picks on the list list. SI noted the hype surrounding Booker at such a young age, and how his 19.2 PPG last season aided that hype.
SI said that Booker’s teammate, Knight, has room to improve even though he’s already ranked in the top 100.
As for Kanter, SI said that his low-post scoring ability combined with his rebounding ability makes him terrifying. But he can’t protect the rim and isn’t quick, which hurts him immensely on the defensive end. Noel, is praised by SI for playing beyond his years on the defensive end.
The top-ranked Cat thus far is Bledsoe, who SI called a defensive menace that can be a force on that end of the floor.
Here’s what SI said about each player.
Looking for a seat on the Devin Booker hype train? If so, be prepared to squeeze in between the likes of LeBron James and Drake. The buzz around Booker, a 2015 lottery pick, has steadily climbed since he made the most of Phoenix’s lost year to average 19.2 PPG and 4.1 APG after the All-Star break. His brief cameo at the 2016 Las Vegas Summer League was met with rave reviews, as he displayed the knockdown shooting stroke that got him drafted, some nice playmaking instincts in traffic, and a fiery competitiveness that suggests he’s only just getting started. At 19, Booker is the youngest player and only teenager on this year’s Top 100, a fact that should inspire awe and caution alike. Development at this stage tends to come in fits and starts, and Booker will need to reclaim his role in Phoenix’s backcourt with veterans Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight back from injury. Still, Booker possesses enough natural talent, scoring ability and comfort on the ball to make betting on a sophomore breakthrough feel like a safe proposition.
Knight's game struggles to satisfy when used in volume. Last season, Knight dropped a career-high 19.6 points per game as he helped to initiate offense for the hapless Suns. Implicit in his role were problems of scale. Putting the ball in Knight’s hands on a full-time basis runs a team headfirst into his limitations: the inconsistency of his mid-range shooting, the rashes of turnovers, the costs of the plays he doesn’t quite see developing. These issues could be quieted were Knight positioned to play a lesser role, though tradeoffs in control offset directly with his production. The very thing that sets him apart—that nice scoring total—is a function of his skill set being pushed beyond its optimal range. Teams could do worse. Knight is very much the kind of worker that brings an atmospheric benefit, to say nothing of the fact that he’ll be 25 years old next season and could plausibly improve. It’s unfortunately worth noting, however, that injuries have cost Knight 49 games over the past two seasons. One month it’s his hip, the next his ankle. There’s the outline of a good player here, but one qualified by periodic unavailability, ordinary defense, and the concessions of volume.
Enes Kanter’s basketball biography would be titled, "From Unstoppable To Unplayable (And Back Again)." The 2016 playoffs provided the latest example of Kanter’s vacillating worth: After relentlessly pounding the Spurs in the West semis, the Thunder’s polarizing big man was played off the court by the Warriors in the West finals. Kanter’s story is similar to many other big men who are trying to find a home in the changing NBA game: he’s a terror on the boards and he’s a low-post scoring machine, but his lack of rim-protecting ability and his molasses lateral quickness make him a major liability on the other end. Oklahoma City smartly moved Kanter (12.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG) to the bench last season, where he drew Sixth Man of the Year buzz by having his way with second-unit big men offensively and hiding (to a degree) defensively. The off-season departures of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka will force Billy Donovan to make wholesale changes next season, which could be both good and bad for the 24-year-old Kanter. On the plus side, he should expect more minutes, more shots and more time playing with pick-and-roll partner Russell Westbrook. Unfortunately, though, his funnel-like defense will also be on full display now that Oklahoma City no longer has much protective length. Most likely, the debate over Kanter’s worth will remain unresolved by this time next season, although the volume of discourse could be significantly louder now that more will be asked of him.
NBA history tells us that 20- and 21-year-olds are not meant to be impact defenders. Their spectacular plays are generally overwhelmed by their physical and mental shortcomings. It’s a testament to the singularity of Noel that he’s now made our list over the past two seasons in spite of that. So rare is his defensive profile that it begs exception; his steal rate in each of his first two seasons ranks among the best of all time for a big, and only truly elite company (Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson) matched his output in terms of blocks and steals. It was only with Noel on the floor that the Sixers, lacking as they were, came anywhere close to defensive respectability. To get all of this from a player still feeling his way through team defensive concepts is stunning. Noel isn’t in the Top 100 because he gets every nuance just right. He’s included—and ranked this favorably—because of all that he’s able to offer in spite of his mistakes.
This ranking is a recognition of the risk that still prizes the player that Bledsoe can be when healthy. Very few high-level guards can match Bledsoe’s defensive pressure. He’s a menace to opposing ball handlers, to shooters curling around screens, and to bigger wings looking to bully their way to the basket. To add those qualifications (along with impressive rebounding) to his already robust offensive game makes Bledsoe one of the most purely capable guards in the league.