15. CARMELO ANTHONY, HOUSTON ROCKETS
His 2017-18 campaign was far from a rousing success, and that’s putting it kindly. Carmelo Anthony struggled mightily to acclimate with Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the rest of the Thunder last year. On the season, Anthony averaged a career-low 16.2 points per contest on a career-worst 40.4 percent shooting clip. What’s more, statistically, in the playoffs, Oklahoma City was a way better team with him on the bench, as his almost-hard-to-believe -32.8 net rating proves.
Regardless, Anthony still warrants respect as one of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen. He may not be the superstar he once was, but he can still get buckets at a decently effective rate. Additionally, there’s at least a non-zero chance he can regain some level of productiveness playing with the Houston Rockets, as their style, focused on isolation basketball and run at a slower pace than the Thunder, should be a better fit with Anthony’s skill-set.
That’s all to say, it’s still too early to completely throw in the towel on Anthony, even as he heads into his age-34 season.
14. KYLE KUZMA, LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The No. 27 pick of the 2018 draft, Kyle Kuzma had a shockingly productive rookie season for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Utah product averaged 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.1 threes per contest, shooting 45.0 percent from the floor and 36.6 percent from deep.
Kuzma displayed utmost confidence as a bucket-getting stretch-4, and playing next to LeBron James, his game should reach another level in 2018-19. His main issues are on the defensive end, where Kuzma lacks some toughness both as a ball-stopper and rebounder. But as he continues to mature physically, that should become less and less of a problem.
13. LAURI MARKKANEN, CHICAGO BULLS
Markkanen arrived to the NBA with more acclaim than Kuzma as last year’s No. 7 pick. Ultimately, though, the two floor-spacing bigs ended up having similar seasons. The Finnish power forward averaged 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 triples nightly on 43.4/36.2/84.3 shooting splits. He ranked in the 87th percentile in pick-and-pop jumper accuracy, scoring 1.20 PPP on such looks, per Synergy.
Although Markkanen was heralded as the best shooter in his draft class, he proved he had a lot more to his game than just spot-up prowess in his first year. The 7-foot sharpshooter had 56 possessions as the pick-and-roll ball-handler in 2017-18, producing 0.96 PPP on those opportunities – enough to give him a “good” rating in that play-type, according to Synergy. Markkanen also received a “good” rating on put-backs, cuts and dribble hand-offs for the year, proving the big man is far from a one-trick pony.
With another offseason of training and a year of experience under his belt, Markkanen should be even better in 2018-19. Don’t be surprised if he’s putting up 20 per night for the low-key-sort-of-interesting Bulls.
12. NIKOLA MIROTIC, NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
A year ago, Nikola Moritic ranking this highly among the league’s top power forwards would have been preposterous. He had some flashes early on in his career, but overall, he was way too inconsistent to warrant a second thought as a potentially game-altering big man.
But that changed in 2017-18.
For the first time since he reached the NBA, Mirotic put together a start-to-finish strong campaign, without most of the bouts of inconsistency that used to plague him, and contributing on the defensive end more than he ever had before. For the year, the Montenegrin/Spanish power forward averaged 15.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.5 triples per contest, shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three. It wasn’t just his regular season that was impressive, however, as Mirotic’s play got even better in playoff action. Over a nine-game postseason run with the New Orleans Pelicans, the beardless version of Mirotic put up 15.0 points, 9.6 boards, 1.7 helpers and 2.4 three-points per game, hitting a ridiculous 43.1 percent of his threes, and playing the role of third fiddle beautifully to AD and Jrue Holiday’s first and second fiddle.
Next to Davis and another player coming up on this list, Mirotic should have a likewise productive year coming up, provided he can maintain an acceptable level of consistency. We think he will.
11. DERRICK FAVORS, UTAH JAZZ
At this point in his career, Derrick Favors should probably be playing center full-time, as his game – predicated upon a decent short mid-range jumper, tough rebounding and rim protection, and rugged post moves – translates better to a modern 5 than a 4. Favors had a chance to prove he could produce as a starting center this past season, when his frontcourt mate, Rudy Gobert, missed 11 outings in November – and he did just that. Over that stretch, Favors averaged 16.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks nightly, while converting an impressive 61.0 percent of his field-goal attempts and 77.1 percent of his free throws. More importantly, the Utah Jazz went 7-4 in that span, proving that Favors wasn’t just scoring empty baskets, but truly impacting game outcomes.
Nevertheless, even despite the evidence showing Favors should be playing one spot up on the positional chart, he and Gobert manage to make things work just fine when they’re on the floor together. With their bulky frontcourt in the game, the Jazz posted a strong +8.0 net rating last season, according to NBAWowy.
So he may not be the most natural modern power forward, but Favors’ two-way impact earns him his lofty spot in this ranking.