8. DeMARCUS COUSINS
Some team out there needs to save DeMarcus Cousins from the dream-killing franchise that is the Sacramento Kings. The 23-year-old has spent three years with the Kings and is suffering as a potential All-Star trapped on a team that won’t escape the basement of the Pacific Division for a long time.
Cousins is coming off another impressive season following averages of 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per, while also shooting a career-high 47 percent from the field. He ranked near the top in rebounds per, defensive-rebound percentage and total rebounding percentage.
Although his jump shooting percentages, 29 percent last year, leaves much to be desired, no one can doubt that he’s among the most skilled big men in the league, especially as a ballhandler and facilitator. Among his career-highs last year include 2.7 dimes per game, as well as continuing to show off his skills in the open court.
He also shot 42 percent on post-up attempts and ranked 37th on transition opportunities, converting nearly 70 percent of his 82 shot-attempts.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Cousins’ 2012-13 campaign was his improved defense. He held opponents to 39 percent shooting on post-ups and pick-and-roll men to 43 percent, holding assignments to less than 42 percent shooting overall.
7. BROOK LOPEZ
While we were all enamored and shocked at how devastating a player Nate Robinson can be when he’s attempting floaters 23 feet away from the basket, Brook Lopez quietly had himself a great postseason going against the likes of Joakim Noah.
Lopez finished the Brooklyn Nets’ seven-game series loss to Chicago with averages of 22.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and three blocks per. I know, 7.4 rebounds at nearly 38 minutes per game is impressive for Lopez, even though it shouldn’t be.
One of the few knocks on Brook’s game has been his inability to rebound. He just averaged less than seven rebounds for the third consecutive season and his defensive and offensive-rebound percentages are putrid. However, he makes up for it heavily at other aspects of the game, specifically on offense and at the rim. Lopez, who finished with the fifth-highest PER in the NBA last season at 24.7, averaged at least 18 points for a fourth consecutive season and is one of the few centers in today’s game who is truly worth defending every single possession. Per Synergy, he ranked 39th in the league in PPP overall, 40th on post-ups with a 44 percent conversion rate, and 43rd as the pick-and-roll man with a 56 percent shooting percentage. There’s still room to work with on his jump shot, after shooting 39 percent on such attempts, but he is a lethal offensive threat anywhere within 20 feet of the rim.
On defense, Lopez averaged a career-high 2.1 blocks and ranked seventh in the league in total blocks with 154. There’s an obvious need for Lopez to move his feet quicker, but a 25-year-old with his skill-set is still an accomplishment that’s worthy of recognition.
6. ROY HIBBERT
The cornerstone of the Indiana Pacers top-rated defense, in terms of Hollinger’s defensive efficiency, the 7-2 Roy Hibbert is beginning to realize that he’s 7-2 and that should be terrifying news to the rest of the league.
The Miami Heat encountered that problem of Hibbert being tall throughout the Eastern Conference Finals. Unlike the previous year when the two teams met and Hibbert wasn’t aggressive to call for the ball, the Georgetown product made it a purpose to demand the ball in the low-post so that he could shoot over the top of the likes of Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem.
Hibbert averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds in the series with the Heat, finishing off the postseason with solid averages of 17 points and 9.9 rebounds per, while leading the Pacers to their first conference finals since 2004.
He was actually considered disappointing in the regular season following averages of only 11.9 points on 45 percent shooting, but something seemed to click come postseason time. Hibbert essentially turned into a combination of Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal, baby-hooking and shooting jumpers over defenders who had no chance of affecting his shot.
Hibbert ranked second in the league in offensive-rebounding percentage, garnering nearly four per contest and nearly five per 36, and second in total blocks with 206. He also held opponents to 39 percent shooting on post-up attempts, per Synergy, and shot 42 percent himself on post-ups.
Hopefully, at least not for the Eastern Conference, Hibbert figured out how to put that 7-2 frame of his to good use. He still needs to work on playing without fouling, averaging nearly four per contest, but obvious improvements are being made in his game and it’s why the Pacers are the favorite to knock Miami off the top spot of the Eastern Conference.
5. AL HORFORD
One of the league’s most underrated centers — that’s what happens when you play on a middling team like Atlanta — Al Horford quietly had himself the best season of his career last year, dropping career-highs in points (17.2) and rebounds (10.2).
It was a strong bounce-back season for Horford, who played only 11 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. His Synergy percentages are off-the-charts on both ends of the floor as his role in offense increased with a career-high in minutes per (37.2) and field-goal attempts per (14.3).
Horford ranked 83rd in PPP overall, including ranking 66th on post-up attempts, converting 46 percent of his shots, and 59th as the pick-and-roll man, shooting 51 percent on 280 attempts. He also continued to showcase his efficiency as a shooter, converting 42 percent of his jump shots, and proving to be quite the pick-and-roll player.
On his 159 makes in the range from 16-to-25 feet, where he shot 42 percent, Horford was assisted on 138 of those conversions.
On the defensive end, Horford had a career-high 4.1 defensive win shares and was the 37th-best defender in the league when it came to defending pick-and-rolls, holding opponents to 37 percent shooting on such attempts. He also held opponents who used isolations on offense to 37 percent shooting.
Unfortunately, Horford will continue to be ignored as his Hawks secure a six or seven seed and bow out in the first round. This team needs to stop being so predictable.