25. DIRK NOWITZKI, DALLAS MAVERICKS
Father Time probably caught up to Dirk Nowitzki about three years ago. At most, the big German has one or two campaigns left before he calls it quits – he’s said as much himself…
…and yet, Nowitzki is still quite productive in a diminished role for the Dallas Mavericks.
The 20-year vet averaged 12.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 triples per contest in 2017-18, shooting 40.9 percent from three – the fourth-best rate of his career. What’s more, Nowitzki, per Synergy, ranked in the 92nd percentile as a spot-up shooter last year, scoring 1.21 PPP on those chances – the fourth-highest mark among players with at least 250 such attempts on the season. And not just that, but Nowitzki was also downright nasty from the low block; the future Hall-of-Famer scored 0.98 PPP on post-ups, the sixth-best rate among players with 150 such looks, according to Synergy. Just for reference: Nowitzki scored more efficiently from the post than guys like Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid last year, albeit on fewer opportunities.
At this point in his career, 20 years into one of the greatest runs from a big man ever, the fact Nowitzki remains so impactful – even despite having less responsibility on a nightly basis – speaks volumes about what a talent he was in his prime, and still is to this day.
24. MARKIEFF MORRIS, WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Even though his numbers took a bit of a dip last season, Markieff Morris was still an important piece for the Washington Wizards. The former Kansas Jayhawk put up 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last year on respectable 48.0/36.7/82.0 shooting splits.
Morris provides the Wizards with toughness they would otherwise be lacking without him. He’s also a decent defender, who splits his time between guarding 3s, 4s and even some 5s, while providing Washington with roughly league-average three-point shooting. So although Morris’ contributions don’t really show up on the stat sheet, he’s still someone every coach would love to have in their rotation, and a competitor the Wizards are glad to feature in their starting lineup.
23. AL-FAROUQ AMINU, PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Over half of Al-Farouq Aminu’s field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc last season (58.2 three-point attempt rate in 2017-18), which is how, despite his 39.5 percent shooting from the floor overall, he remains an effective offensive player. Aminu knocked down 36.9 percent of his triples for the year on 339 total attempts, providing an off-ball threat for the Portland Trail Blazers’ star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
A great defender and a long athlete who provides toughness in the paint, Aminu is also a plus rebounder despite his slightly undersized frame for a 4-man. Thanks to all of those factors, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that with Aminu on the floor last season, Portland outscored opponents by 4.6 points per 100 possessions. He’s been an important piece for the Blazers since his arrival three years ago, and that won’t change in 2018-19.
22. MARCUS MORRIS, BOSTON CELTICS
Like his twin sibling on the Wizards, Marcus Morris plays the part of enforcer on his team, the Boston Celtics, except, unlike his brother, he also contributes a bit more on the offensive end. Last year, Morris averaged 13.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 three-pointers per contest, while shooting 36.8 percent from deep and 80.5 percent from the charity stripe.
Though his role on the offensive end will surely change next year with the returns of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, and the emergence of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Morris will likely still be counted for some one-on-one buckets during stretches with the second unit. Besides his iso skills, Morris also ranks as a “very good” contributor in spot-up, post-up and hand-off situations, according to Synergy, so his production should be just fine in 2018-19, even while sharing the floor with so many talented offensive players.
21. JOHN COLLINS, ATLANTA HAWKS
An athletic specimen with great size for the power forward spot, John Collins was one of the top first-year contributors in the Association last season in what was a stacked rookie class. The 6-foot-10 big man averaged 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game last year, while shooting 57.6 percent from the floor and 34.0 percent from three-point range.
Collins’ outside shooting as a rookie was a pleasant surprise, as he wasn’t expected to provide much of a beyond-the-arc threat in the NBA, at least not this soon, considering he attempted one measly triple over his two years in college. But Collins did shoot a decent rate from deep, displaying solid, repeatable form on his shot, with a high release point that proved hard for defenders to contest.
Along with the surprising shooting, Collins also showed that his main skill as a prospect – his bounce – wouldn’t have trouble translating to the pro ranks. The 20-year-old was a high-flying monster on both ends of the floor, capable of throwing down impressive in-traffic dunks…
…and protecting the paint from enemy forays.
Collins’ development should be an exciting one to behold.