While it’s still very early in the 2016-17 NBA season, we’re starting to get an idea of which players belong in the initial MVP discussion. Some are the superstars who are always mentioned in these conversations, while others are a bit more surprising.
Each week, Basketball Insiders is going to look at the MVP race’s top 10 candidates. Check back each Thursday to see how your favorite player stacks up against competitors across the league. Here are our first MVP rankings of the season:
1. James Harden
This offseason, Patrick Beverley told Basketball Insiders that he expected James Harden to “win MVP and lead us to the Finals.”
Some laughed at the quote, but the Harden critics are pretty silent right now. Coming off a dismal 2015-16 campaign, the Rockets went out and added a new coach in Mike D’Antoni along with two key rotation players in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. Not to mention, Harden restructured his contract and shifted to the point guard position. That’s a lot of change in one summer, and it would’ve been understandable if it took time for Harden to adjust.
Instead, he’s playing the best basketball of his career. Through 11 games, Harden is averaging 28.7 points, 12.6 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals. He’s been more efficient too, shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from behind the arc. With Harden off the court, the Rockets are scoring 88.4 points per 100 possessions. But with Harden, they’re scoring 113 points per 100 possessions. That’s a massive difference and demonstrates just how valuable Harden is to this team.
While Houston is only 7-5, they’ve played a difficult schedule – with eight of their first 12 games on the road. This could be an indicator that their record will improve once the schedule softens up. At this point, Harden’s monster numbers give him the edge over his peers.
2. LeBron James
After the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA championship, James reclaimed his spot as the best player in the world. Even so, we still seem to take his greatness for granted. The Cavs are 9-2 and look like a team that could be ready to play in the Finals tomorrow. While all of the talk this season is surrounding the Golden State Warriors, James is continuing to dominate and another Finals appearance seems very likely.
Currently, James is averaging 23.4 points, 9.6 assists and 8.9 rebounds. Aside from the statistics, he’s the player with the best combination of size, defense, athleticism and playmaking in the league.
While James has Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, he’s still the main reason for the Cavs’ success. Ultimately, James becoming MVP won’t come down to his own statistics. Everyone knows he’s one of the best in the league and he can physically do whatever he wants. The Cavaliers’ record likely decides James’ MVP fate. He’s always going to be in the MVP conversation, but this year his candidacy is reliant on how his team does rather than his (seemingly imminent) individual success.
3. Chris Paul
The Clippers have the best record in the NBA and arguably the best point guard in the league. Possessing the longest standing “Big Three,” it’s hard to determine who’s most valuable between Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. However, Paul’s on-court presence and leadership along with his efficient passing and shooting make him the most viable candidate of the three.
Currently, Paul is averaging 18.3 points, 8.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds through 12 games. While 18 points might not jump off the stat sheet like some other numbers on this list, Paul is leading the league in player efficiency rating (31.5), steals (3.1), defensive rating (91) and win shares (3). He’s also second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.76 and third in offensive rating (131.7). Couple his leadership with his production all over the court and the argument for Paul is pretty easy to make.
If the Clippers and Paul can maintain this level of play, he has a strong case.
4. Russell Westbrook
While Westbrook has continued to post excellent numbers, his team’s record has come back down to Earth. After starting the season at 6-1, they’ve now evened out at 7-5. But you can’t deny his statistics are amazing and he’s extremely valuable to the Thunder. He’s almost averaging a triple-double, posting 31.8 points, 9.8 assists and 9.5 rebounds per game. Along with this, he’s been more efficient this year, shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from three (five percent better than last year).
In order for Westbrook to really be in contention for MVP, he’ll have to vault Oklahoma City into a high playoff spot, which is going to be difficult. Without Kevin Durant, he can put up bigger stats, but if he can’t get Oklahoma City into the playoffs, he isn’t in this conversation. However, if OKC exceeds expectations, he’ll be the odds-on favorite for MVP.
5. DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan has started the season better than anyone expected. Previously known as an inefficient scorer on a good Raptors team, DeRozan has looked like a different player this year. Currently averaging 33.3 points per game on 50.6 percent shooting, DeRozan has become a premier one-on-one scorer. Even with his lack of three-point shooting, he’s making a higher percentage of his overall shots and scoring with ease with mid-range shots and finishes at the rim. And, most importantly, he has Toronto playing pretty well at 7-4.
DeRozan is showing how efficient he can be in the mid-range, even with a player defending him. His ability to create his own shot is one of the best in the NBA and might be the closest thing to Kobe Bryant we’ve seen. If he continues leading this team to a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference, we can expect him to continue to get love in the MVP race.
6. Kawhi Leonard
Last year’s MVP runner-up, Leonard has once again shown that he can be the Spurs’ go-to scorer while remaining extremely efficient and tenacious on defense. There’s no question that Leonard’s humble attitude and quiet confidence make him extremely likable. It’s easy to root for an unselfish guy who puts his team first, just wants to win and leads by example (especially when taking over games). The Spurs sit at 9-3 on the season and a lot of that is due to Leonard’s outstanding execution on both offense and defense.
Leonard is averaging 25 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.4 steals while shooting 45.3 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from three and 95.4 percent from the free throw line. His efficiency on offense and elite defense make him a nightmare for opposing coaches.
7. Damian Lillard
Lillard has been excellent through 12 games, averaging 29.8 points, five rebounds and 4.6 assists. But the difference-maker is his leadership. When discussing Lillard’s impact, fellow Blazers guard C.J. McCollum told Basketball Insiders: “His versatility and ability to lead everyone while staying true to who he is and what he stands for is special. Obviously, he’s a great player, but he hasn’t let success change his foundation and that’s what makes him who he is.”
Lillard has improved vastly from last year. Along with the noticeable scoring increase, he’s also shooting the ball more efficiently. Lillard is taking almost the same amount of shots as last year, but he is averaging five more points and shooting five percent higher from the field.
He’s creating more opportunities for teammates, spacing the floor better and, perhaps most important, driving to the paint like an NBA superstar should. His ability to get to the charity stripe is an addition to his game that we hadn’t fully seen. He’s now ranked fifth in the NBA in free throw attempts and averages 3.3 more attempts per game than last year.
Like Westbrook, Lillard will need some help from his teammates and a very good record to win the MVP award. But if Lillard continues to put up monstrous numbers while keeping his efficiency up, he could certainly be in the running.
8. Kemba Walker
Walker is another point guard who’s off to a great start. His team sits a 7-3 and he’s clearly Charlotte’s number-one option. Shooting 49.1 percent from the field and averaging 25.8 points per game, Kemba is not only scoring, but he’s also been terrific on defense. He’s averaging 1.9 steals on a team that’s allowing under 100 points per game. The Hornets rank fourth in defensive rating, an improvement over last season despite losing some key rotation players over the summer. A lot of the credit should be given to Walker as he’s held all opposing point guards to under 20 points per game.
Walker and the Hornets are off to a tremendous start. If they can continue to stay in the top three or four teams in the Eastern Conference, anticipate seeing Walker in this conversation throughout the season.
9. Kevin Durant (and Stephen Curry)
It’s strange to think of Durant or Curry being ninth in any sort of ranking. But because of Golden State’s struggles early on, it’s hard to rank him above players who have done more with less or have a better record thus far. Because Durant plays with Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, it’s hard to separate how “valuable” he is to his team. Of course, Durant’s averaging 27.9 points, eight rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks with his incredible efficiency. But his teammate Curry averages the same amount of points per game.
Every night, either one (or both) could step up for Golden State, and that’s why neither player will likely win the award. By teaming up, they have a great shot at hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy together, but they’ll take MVP votes away from each other. Either way, Durant and Curry will be in this conversation as long Golden State continues to win.
10. Blake Griffin
Griffin has been the unsung hero for the Clippers this season. After coming back from injury, many questioned whether he could get back to dominating the power forward position. His mid-range game looks extremely polished and he has been physically imposing in the post, making him hard to defend. On the other side of the ball, his defense has also been impressive. The Clippers are playing like the best team in the league and a big reason for that is Griffin’s revitalization.
Currently, Griffin is averaging 20.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, four assists and 1.3 steals per game, while shooting 48.4 percent from the field. He’s continuing to improve as a player while helping this Clippers team to an NBA-best 10-2 record. But, as is the case with the Warriors, the fact that L.A. has two MVP candidates in Paul and Griffin likely hurts each individual’s odds of actually winning the award. Still, Griffin deserves a ton of credit for producing at such a high level in a strong bounce-back campaign.
NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong
Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.
It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.
Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.
Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.
1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.
A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.
Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part. Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.
Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.
Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.
Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.
Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.
Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.
The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.
The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.
To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.
For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.
To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.
Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.
On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.
Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?
Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.
Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.
In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.
For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards
Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.
It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.
Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.
The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.
But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.
Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old
Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.
But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.
Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.
Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old
Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.
And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.
While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.
If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.
Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old
Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).
Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.
Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.
Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old
Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.
Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.
But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.
Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.
Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old
Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old
Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old
With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.