10. DARIO SARIC, PHILADLEPHIA 76ERS
A player more well-adapted to the demands of the modern power forward, Dario Saric has blossomed into a versatile, do-it-all type for the Philadelphia 76ers. In his sophomore season, the Croatian big man put up 14.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.0 triples per contest, on healthy 45.3/39.3/86.0 shooting splits.
There was some concern about how Saric’s poor outside shooting (31.1 percent from three as a rookie) would affect the team’s offensive output with Ben Simmons’ (a total non-shooter) arrival in 2017-18, but those worries were quelled with the improvements Saric made as a shooter over the offseason. The 6-foot-10 power forward ranked in the 78th percentile (in the “very good” range, per Synergy) as a spot-up shooter last year, a marked betterment after placing in the 31st percentile in that play-type in 2016-17.
To go with his improved outside stroke, Saric maintained his status as an underrated playmaker and defender last season, and was a big part of the Sixers posting their best year since before The Process began. He’ll be counted on heavily again in 2018-19, after Philadelphia failed to land any of this summer’s marquee free agents. We believe he’ll be up to the task.
9. TOBIAS HARRIS, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Over his first six seasons, Tobias Harris made a paltry 33.2 percent of his three-pointers. In 2017-18, he upped that mark to 41.1 percent – the 14th-highest clip in the league among players with at least 300 three-point attempts on the year. Harris’ transformation from a mediocre three-point shooter to a great one completely changed his outlook as a player.
However, Harris isn’t merely a spot-up-shooting threat. The Tennessee product also put up impressive numbers as the pick-and-roll ball-handler and when attacking in isolation, placing in the 82nd percentile and 89th percentile in the two important play-types respectively, according to Synergy.
Overall, Harris has blossomed into a well-rounded scorer, who uses his quickness and pristine shooting stroke to create mismatches against traditional big men, who, for the most part, don’t have a chance of staying in front of him. Harris does still need to work on drawing more fouls (2.7 free throws per game last year, but 82.9-percent accuracy once he got there) and his rebounding (5.6 boards per contest for his career).
Nevertheless, 2018-19 will be Harris’ age-26 season, meaning he’ll be just entering his prime, so don’t be surprised if he does improve those two minor deficiencies and becomes an even more productive player next year.
8. KRISTAPS PORZINGIS, NEW YORK KNICKS
Before we begin, we’d like for it to be known that this ranking is not a reflection of Kristaps Porzingis’ abilities, but rather very real concerns about how much of 2018-19 he’s going to miss after tearing his ACL last February. The most recent reports state that the Latvian unicorn probably won’t return at least until next February, but by then, if the New York Knicks’ season is over and the playoffs are out of reach, what would the team’s motivation to bring Porzingis back be? The safer move, depending on how his rehab progresses, may be to just let his comeback take place in 2019-20, allowing the big man a full 20 months to get healthy.
Had it not been for the injury, odds are, Porzingis would have placed in the Top 3 of this ranking, with a legitimate shot at one of the two top spots – he was that spectacular last season. The 7-foot-3 rim-protecting sharpshooter was averaging a career-high 22.7 points per contest before going down, chipping in 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.9 triples nightly as well. Want to know how many other players in league history have ever put up at least 2.3 blocks and 1.8 three-pointers per contest over a single season? None, that’s how many.
Porzingis took the challenge of being New York’s best player following Anthony’s departure head on, and excelled wonderfully at the pressure-packed task. He’s extremely productive on both ends, possesses the right mentality to become a superstar and has one of the most unique skill-sets the league has ever seen.
Now it’s all about the big man coming back as healthy as possible. We hope it happens soon, so he can prove this ranking wrong.
7. PAUL MILLSAP, DENVER NUGGETS
Versatility, defensive toughness and strong isolation prowess all define Paul Millsap’s game, and when he’s in proper form, he’s one of the top big men the NBA has to offer. The problem is, he struggled to find that form for much of 2017-18, both due to his fit with the Denver Nuggets and the wrist injury that forced him to miss 44 games.
Playing next to another ball-dominant big man, even one who loves to distribute the ball as much as Nikola Jokic, didn’t go all that smoothly for Millsap in 2017-18, as exemplified by his meager 14.5-point-per-game average, or his career-worst BPM and VORP marks from last season. The fact Millsap will be in his age-33 season next year doesn’t exactly inspire confidence about his ability to bounce back, either.
Regardless, with another summer to acclimate to his new surroundings and now that he’ll be fully healthy, Millsap should be able to get back to being one of the best power forwards in the league next year. After all, it wasn’t all bad regarding the Jokic-Millsap pairing last season. Sure, Millsap’s individual numbers did suffer, but as a team, the Nuggets had an absurd +11.2 net rating with their starting frontcourt on the floor, per NBAWowy. That mark could get even better next season.
6. JULIUS RANDLE, NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
After the Lakers acquired that dude with four MVP trophies and three titles to his name, they rescinded their qualifying offer to Julius Randle, allowing him to sign with any team of his choosing without having to think, or worry, about the offer getting matched by L.A. So Randle, after an active recruitment by AD, chose the Pelicans as his next destination – a savvy move by the Kentucky product, as his skill-set should really get a chance to shine in New Orleans.
He may not be much of an outside shooter (just 37 three-point makes over the last three seasons), but Randle’s ability to grab a rebound and take the ball the length of the floor is perfect for a Pelicans team that ranked first in pace last season. Plus, a second unit with Mirotic at the 4 and Randle at the 5 should highlight both players’ strengths beautifully – the former, a floor-spacing big and the latter, a bruiser in the paint.
So even if his role is reduced a bit next season, we’re confident Randle – coming off a 16.1/8.0/2.6 season – will post another impactful campaign in 2017-18, and more than help make up for the loss of DeMarcus Cousins.