If there’s one thing to be learned about the NBA, it’s that a championship can’t be won on the back of one player. How obvious was this last season in the playoffs when Russell Westbrook was injured and the Thunder relied completely on Kevin Durant isolations? Even with Durant being one of the top three players in the league, he couldn’t will a team to a playoff series victory by himself.
For every spectacular play a Batman makes, there’s a Robin somewhere on the team that made the play possible. Let’s be honest, Kobe needed Shaq, Jordan needed Pippen, Malone needed Stockton (he actually needed more than that, unfortunately), LeBron needed Wade, so on and so forth. Most barbershop discussions center around the best player in the NBA, but what about the second option? Some of these second options can even contend as some of the best players in the league.
This piece isn’t about rating players based on talent — it’s about which ones have mastered this particular role on their specific team. With this in mind, lets rank the top 15 second options in the NBA.
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15. KEVIN MARTIN
Kevin Love has been pleading for some sort of offensive help in Minnesota for years. Finally that help has arrived in the form of Kevin Martin. Martin often looked confused and disgruntled with OKC last season, which led to him having one of the worst seasons of his career. Martin decided to join the Timberwolves and coach Rick Adelman, who coached Martin for multiple years with the Kings and Rockets. While Kevin Love can do everything on the floor, Kevin Martin is there to knock down all the open shots on the perimeter. The reunion has gone as planned, so far.
After only putting up 14.0 PPG last season, Martin is scoring 19.7 PPG this season on 43 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent shooting from deep. The offense is scoring 4.4 more points per 100 possessions with Martin on the floor (per 82games.com), which is in part because of Martin’s ability to space the floor. Per SportVU, Martin is shooting 43.1 percent on catch and shoot three-pointers, which is higher than Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony. Kevin Love finally has a reliable option on the perimeter that can consistently knock down shots when all the attention is on the MVP candidate big man.
Martin just looks more comfortable on the floor, he’s always been a big time scorer and he’s getting the chance to showcase that in Minnesota. Martin has also been extremely valuable in spacing the floor for the Timberwolves, teams have to know where he is at all times. Martin is resurrecting his career in Minnesota, in part to being the second option to Kevin Love.
14. ROY HIBBERT
When the defense is all over Paul George (like they should be every possession), it’s nice to have a 7-2, 280-pound road block to throw it down to in the post. Enter Roy Hibbert, who easily became one of the better big men in the NBA with his 17.0 points and 10.0 boards in the playoffs last season. Hibbert is the main reason that Miami went out and signed Greg Oden this offseason. People can argue that Lance Stephenson is the second option in Indiana. While Stephenson has improved this season, Hibbert still boasts a 20.6 usage rate, compared to 18.9 for Stephenson.
This season, Hibbert is averaging 12.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, with a defensive rating of 91.4 (per SportVU). He’s one of the best rim protectors in the NBA, next to Anthony Davis and has yet to really breakout (scoring wise). Offensively, the Pacers are scoring 9.4 points more per 100 possessions with Hibbert on the court (per 82games.com). Defensively, the Pacers give up 4.3 less points per 100 possessions when Hibbert is on the court (per 82games.com). No matter what side of the ball, Hibbert is a benefactor for the Pacers when he’s on the floor. He doesn’t have to be scoring to be effective; Hibbert’s presence makes the Pacers a better team.
The Pacers thrive off of defense and this is where Hibbert is so important. He might not stand out when you think of second options, but he’s a necessary piece to arguably everything the Pacers do. Per SportVU, opponents are only converting on 40.9 percent of their attempts at the rim on Hibbert, which is better than Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan and Serge Ibaka. Paul George is without a doubt the sheriff in Indiana, but the sheriff would be nothing without his deputy, Roy Hibbert.
13. BRADLEY BEAL
After taking a scary fall about a week ago, I thought my article would once again be decimated and ruined by injuries. Thankfully, an MRI revealed Beal suffered a left knee bruise and the injury isn’t thought to be serious. Back to business. Bradley Beal has one job when he’s on the court and that’s to drop jumpers. Playing along the explosive John Wall, one can find Beal camping the three-point line like a cobra, waiting for the right time to strike. As soon as Wall drops into the lane, Beal’s eyes light up like a Christmas tree as a pass zips through defenders and into the shooting hand of Beal as he raises up and drops one in. Buckets. That’s what you will likely see from the Wizards if you catch them on a good night, considering jump shots account for 88 percent of Beal’s offense (per 82games.com). If John Wall is the crazy barbarian running into the fire, than Beal is the silent sniper waiting for his time to shine.
Bradley Beal has been doing just that this season, averaging 17.7 PPG on 41 percent shooting from the field, but more importantly 45 percent shooting from deep. Bradley Beal has been a spark plug for the Wizards and is the perfect complement to John Wall. Per 82games.com, the Wizards are scoring nearly six more points when Beal is on the floor, compared to Beal being off the floor. John Wall is top three in assists this season with 8.8 per game and the superb play of Bradley Beal as his sidekick is a main reason.
12. MARC GASOL
Marc Gasol should be back before the end of January, recovering from an MCL sprain in his left knee. Gasol was just cleared for “light court work” (whatever that entails), so he should be back soon and the 15-19 Grizzlies will welcome him with open hands. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year creates a powerful combination in the paint with Zach Randolph, two of the only true powerful big men left in the league.
Gasol has only appeared in 13 games this season, but in those games he’s averaging 16.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. The Grizzlies are known for having stalwarts in the paint and not much shooting on the outside, leaving Zach Randolph as option No. 1 and Marc Gasol as No. 2. Especially with the injury to Gasol, Randolph has remained the top option. Marc Gasol will return to the court soon and things in Memphis should start to look more like the Western Conference Finals Grizzlies instead of the current Grizzlies team that is in the basement of the Western Conference.
11. PAUL MILLSAP
Is anyone paying attention to the Atlanta Hawks this season? While making this list, I almost smacked myself when I realized I didn’t add Paul Millsap at first. Atlanta might be the quietest third seed in basketball, even if it’s the Eastern Conference, at 18-17. Let’s mention that Atlanta is the only team not named Miami or Indiana with a record above .500 in the Eastern Conference. Paul Millsap is a huge part of this, coming over from Utah in the offseason. Al Horford is without a doubt the first option on this team, even though he’s having major injury issues and is done for the year. Now that he’s done, you could look at Jeff Teague as the team’s first option and primary ballhandler.
Millsap is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.6 points and 8.7 rebounds on 47 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent shooting from deep. Millsap has never averaged more than one three per game in his career, his previous career-high was .5 threes pre game in each of the last two season. As he is unshackled from the big man game in Utah, Millsap is taking 2.6 threes per game and knocking down 1.1 per game. Coming to the ATL has truly been a coming-out party for Millsap and his full array of talents are on display. Millsap is almost like a better version of Josh Smith, because he actually knocks down his threes. Atlanta doesn’t garner a lot of national TV attention, but if you ever catch a Hawks game, keep an eye on Millsap.
10. GORAN DRAGIC
This was a tough decision between Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, the two literally go hand-in-hand. This season, Dragic has a usage rate of 23.7 percent, while Bledsoe’s usage rate is 24.5 percent. If you look at their stat lines, they are literally identical. Bledsoe and Dragic have identical assist averages, true shooting percentages and efficient field goal percentages. While you could argue either for this list, I decided to lean Goran Dragic’s way. Jeff Hornacek has defied the odds and should be in contention for Coach of the Year with the way Phoenix is playing in a nasty Western Conference. This isn’t discussed much, but Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe should start being considered as one of the best backcourts in the league.
To date, Dragic is averaging 18.9 points and 5.8 assists on 49 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent from deep. Dragic has a PER of 20.5, which is the highest of his career. One of the most telling stats is how ineffective the Phoenix Suns become offensively when Dragic is on the bench. Per 82games.com, the Suns are 11.5 points per 100 possessions better when Dragic is on the floor. Dragic has been performing at a high level for a while now, but now that the Suns are getting attention, people are noticing. The duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic is deadly and it’s only been together for not even half of an NBA season. Just imagine what these two can do together with a couple of years together.
9. RYAN ANDERSON
Let me preface this by saying that we all wish Ryan Anderson a speedy recovery after being diagnosed with a cervical stinger after a collision with Boston Celtics Gerald Wallace. There has been no timetable set for his return. However, he still deserves to be included on this list, injury or not.
Ryan Anderson is packing quite the scoring punch for the Pelicans this season, while having the best season of his career. There are a lot of options in New Orleans with Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans all commanding the ball. While Holiday is the man distributing the ball, Anthony Davis is the option in the post and Ryan Anderson is the sniper from beyond. You can go either way with this one, but Anderson is more of a second option to me as he takes advantages of open shots created by Holiday, Davis and Evans.
This season, Anderson is scoring a career-high 19.8 PPG and grabbing 6.5 RPG, while shooting 44 percent from the floor and a career-high 41 percent from deep. Not to mention, Anderson has hit 59 of 62 free throw attempts this season, which puts him at 95 percent — efficient huh? Becoming a serious threat from deep this season, Anderson has shot better than 50 percent from deep in eight out of the 22 games he’s played in this season. That kind of consistency is even something that Ray Allen and Stephen Curry have to respect.
8. TIM DUNCAN
Surprise, surprise, the Spurs are one of the best teams in the NBA once again. As long as Parker, Duncan and Ginobili are still suiting up than you can bet on the Spurs being near the top of the Western Conference. People can argue who the “second” option is in San Antonio, but Timothy Theodore Duncan is the man. I mean, it’s his 17th season in the NBA for crying out loud. What 17-year NBA veteran can still be considered even a third or fourth option on a title contending team? None. You can usually find those veterans at the end of the bench or title chasing in Miami. He’s been the one of the most consistent players in the NBA for years now.
Tim Duncan is only playing 29.3 minutes per game this season. Everyone is aware how much Popovich limits the minutes he gives to his Big Three, so this is no surprise. Duncan is putting up 14.5 points, 9.7 boards, 3.1 assists and 1.9 blocks per game. If Duncan was able to play more minutes per game, his per-36 stats show numbers like 17.6 points and 11.7 boards. Year after year, we all write off the Spurs and especially the elder statesman in Tim Duncan. And every year, we wind up coming back and realizing what a mistake we have made.
After a demoralizing NBA Finals defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat, everyone thought the “Big Three” of the Spurs was finished and the Spurs would no longer contend for a title. The Spurs are 27-8, which is second in the Western Conference and have an identical record as the Oklahoma City Thunder, who just lost to the Utah Jazz in a game where Kevin Durant took over 30 shots. The Spurs are still one of the powerhouses in the NBA and the consistently of NBA legend Tim Duncan is the real reason.
7. MONTA ELLIS
Monta Ellis’ career has been rejuvenated in Dallas and it’s been one of the better stories of this season. After wasting the better half of two season in Milwaukee playing with Brandon Jennings, Ellis has finally found a new home with the Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki. The knock on Monta Ellis has always been his shooting percentage, but that’s not the case this season. After shooting 42 percent from the field last season, Ellis has improved that to 45 percent this season. Ellis also shot his second-worst percentage from deep last season at 29 percent, which has been improved to 31 percent this season. As long as Nowitzki remains in uniform, Monta Ellis will be the second option however.
Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki create the perfect dual scoring threat. Dirk is more of a methodical and fluid scorer, while Monta is the complete opposite. An off-the-wall, electric fast gunner with an uncanny ability to make shots that have no business touching the bottom of the net. Monta Ellis is putting up 19.9 PPG this season, while also dishing out 5.9 APG. Ellis has a knack for getting to the rim and this season is no different. Monta Ellis is converting on 52.2 percent of his drives, which trumps Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday and James Harden. That gunner’s mentality is turning in some good numbers so far this year, huh? Monta Ellis is the perfect opposite to pair with Dirk Nowitzki and together the two may have Dallas headed back to the playoffs in a tough Western Conference this season.
6. KLAY THOMPSON
Oh, the Splash Brothers. Are there any two other players in the NBA that are as deadly from beyond the arc as Klay Thompson and Steph Curry? Combined, the Splash Brothers shoot 42 percent from the three-point line. Klay is shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc and Curry is shooting 41 percent. Who are you going to guard? If you focus on Curry then Thompson will drop bombs from deep and if you focus on Thompson then Curry will just slice up the defense. Pick your poison.
Per 82games.com, the Warriors score an astounding 17.7 more points per 100 possessions with Klay Thompson on the floor. With Klay on the floor, the Warriors score about 110.7 points per 100 possessions, compared to 93.0 with him on the bench. Steph Curry is obviously dangerous by himself, but putting a shooter like Thompson next to him just creates problems everywhere on the court. Everytime Klay Thompson rises up for a jumper it’s like he’s throwing it into the ocean because he can’t miss.
Thompson is putting up 19.4 PPG this season on 46 percent shooting from the floor. Thompson also has 16 games this season where he has shot 50 percent or better from the three-point line. For someone who takes seven threes a game, Thompson has shown the ability to consistently knock them down with the best of them. The combination of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson might be the best shooting backcourt of all time, and it’s hard to argue with that. The Splash Brothers have a long way to go, but they’ve already made a statement in the NBA. Only time will tell how great they can become, but the duo makes Klay Thompson one of the best second options in the NBA.
5. DWIGHT HOWARD
Wait, I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t Dwight Howard come to Houston to be the man? Correct, but more importantly Howard went to Houston to compete for a ring. The unquestioned leader of the Rockets is the man with the beard, James Harden. He’s taken heavy criticism this season for little things, but that’s what happens when you become a superstar. Harden is still one of the best scorers in the league and creates a nice one-two punch with Dwight Howard in the post. With Dwight Howard, we have arguably the best center in the league. Well, with the lack of formidable big men in the league, it’s not that arguable. In his first season with the Rockets, Howard is averaging 17.8 points and 12.9 rebounds per game (third in the NBA), along with 1.8 blocks per game.
This season, Howard already has 21 double-doubles in 35 games, meaning he’s turning in a double-double 60 percent of the time he laces up his shoes. His 21 double-doubles are fifth in the NBA this season. Howard has also contributed three 30-point performances this season, along with four 20-plus rebound games this season. Say what you want about Dwight Howard, but he’s consistently performing night after night and things will only get better in Houston.
Recently, Howard has looked more fluid and comfortable in the post. Howard is converting on 58 percent of his shots, but more importantly converting on 64.4 percent of his close shots near the rim. Howard is also grabbing 3.6 offensive rebounds per game. When the Rockets just had Harden, they looked like a bottom seed in the West that would be knocked out in the first round. The acquisition of Dwight Howard has Houston entering the NBA Finals discussion. While that talk is a little premature, the Rockets have formed a solid duo with Harden and Howard. With James Harden being the man in Houston, you can’t have a better second option than throwing the ball to Dwight Howard in the post.
4. BLAKE GRIFFIN
Let me start this off by saying that I’m tired of people not giving Blake Griffin the respect he deserves. He’s one of only four players averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds this season (Cousins, Love, Aldridge). Griffin has averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds every season of his NBA career, besides last season with 18.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Blake Griffin is simply a powerhouse, but he’s developed a consistent midrange jump shot and a barrage of post moves. You can’t argue with the numbers he puts up, plus those insane dunks are just the icing on the cake. We all know Chris Paul is the man in Los Angeles right now, but Blake Griffin isn’t a bad side piece.
This season, Griffin is averaging 21.8 points and 10.5 boards. Griffin is third in the league in double-doubles this season with 24, trailing only Chris Paul (26) and Kevin Love (29). The Clippers have two of the top three double-double producing players in the league, how’s that for a statistic? Combined, Griffin and Paul have 50 double-doubles this season. Add DeAndre Jordan’s 15 double-doubles this season and that makes 65, but let’s stop there. The Clippers are full of double-double machines and Griffin is putting these numbers out every night he steps on the hardwood. Trust me, start respecting Griffin and his improved all-around game. He’s one of the top power forwards in the NBA and it’s time he starts getting treated like one.
Griffin might lead the Clippers in scoring, but we all know CP3 is the first option and the primary playmaker down the stretch.
3. DAMIAN LILLARD
Someone might want to explain to Dame Lillard what a sophomore slump is, because that phrase is clearly not in his dictionary. Seriously, is there anyone more cold-blooded than Damian Lillard this season? LaMarcus Aldridge is still the main option in Portland, with the big man on the block averaging 23.3 points and 11.0 rebounds this season. Let’s not forget that Aldridge has already won three Western Conference Player of the Week awards… but back to Lillard. You might as well put a picture of Lillard under the definition of clutch this season. Lillard has 74 clutch points (points in the last five minutes of a game), which is second in the NBA. He’s ahead of Chris Paul, who is known as one of the most clutch players in the NBA. But Damian Lillard affects the game in every quarter, not just the fourth.
To date, Lillard is averaging 21.9 points, 5.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds. He’s shooting 43 percent from the field and 45 percent from deep, which is much improved from his 37 percent shooting from three-point land in his rookie season. Just last night, Damian LIllard hit seven out of his 13 threes. Oh yeah, Lillard scored 41 points last night on 24 shots. Already, Damian Lillard has 21 games this season where he’s hit three or more three-pointers in a game. Lillard is also hitting 90 percent of his free-throws (167-for-186). Dame Lillard is the definition of big time, he becomes better when the game is on the line. He might not win the award, but Lillard has to be in the MVP conversation this season.
2. RUSSELL WESTBROOK
Westbrook will be out until after the All-star break, after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee a couple of weeks ago. This is a bad blow to the Thunder and the NBA in general, with all the major injuries occurring this season. However, Westbrook will be back. It looks like Westbrook will miss the better half of 30 or more games. It’s concerning with Westbrook undergoing his third surgery in eight months, but thankfully this one is more precautionary than anything. Prior to injury, Westbrook was, without a doubt, one of the best second options in the league, playing next to superstar Kevin Durant.
This season, Westbrook is averaging 21.3 points, 7.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds in almost 33 minutes per game. Westbrook is one of the most explosive weapons in the NBA, converting on 49.4 percent of his attempts at the rim (per SportVU). But, everyone is already aware of how lethal Westbrook can be. He’s shooting 40 percent from midrange this season, even though he falls in love with the midrange jumper more than Scott Brooks would like, and it’s effective when he’s knocking them down.
For a long time, all the talk was about how Westbrook was holding back Kevin Durant from winning a ring. Now all the talk is about how Kevin Durant can’t win a ring without Westbrook. It’s true that they don’t realize what they have until it’s gone. The world saw how integral Westbrook was to the Thunder’s success after his torn meniscus in the playoffs led to an early exit for a Thunder team expecting to return to the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant needs Westbrook as much as Westbrook needs Durant. Don’t count the Thunder out because of this injury; Westbrook will be back and he will take the Thunder to the top.
1. DWYANE WADE
Every season that starts is supposed to be the season that Wade falls off. He’s too old, his knees can’t hold up, LeBron James is holding him together. I won’t lie, I didn’t expect much from Wade this season. Yet once again, Dwyane Wade has shut up all the criticism and is competing at an extremely high level this season. For instance, Wade hasn’t had a game where he’s scored less than 14 points since November 16. Wade has played in 27 of the Heat’s 35 games this season as Spoelstra watches the mileage put on Wade due to his age and chronic knee issues that seem to flare up at inopportune times. Talk about taking a page out of the Popovich book. I wonder if we’ll see DNP – OLD next to Wade’s name at any times this season. Regardless, when Wade is on the court, he’s been extremely impressive.
This season, Wade is averaging 19.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG and 4.9 APG, along with 1.9 SPG. Playing next to LeBron James, Wade might be the best second option in the league. After leading the Heat for many years, Wade accepted a role as the second option and has flourished. With Wade not getting any younger, this role might have extended his career, and it certainly seems to have helped.
Dwyane Wade has done everything this season, and contrary to popular belief, hasn’t fallen off. Wade is shooting 54 percent from the field, which is the highest percent of his career. His true shooting percentage also stands at 58 percent, which is one of the highest of his career. For a guy that was supposed to fall off this season, those numbers are spectacular. Above all the criticism, Dwyane Wade is having one of his best seasons as the second option next to LeBron James, making him come in at number one on this list.
What do you think?
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