Each year as summer wanes and the new NBA season approaches, SI.com releases a list of the Top 100 NBA Players. As of mid-afternoon on September 11th, the list has been populated from players 100-31. Three Portland Trail Blazers players have made the grade so far.
Power forward Al-Farouq Aminu ranks 81st, sandwiched between Terry Rozier of the Boston Celtics and Dennis Schroder of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Author Rob Mahoney praises Aminu’s defensive skills.
If you prefer a conservative defensive style—as the Blazers do—then Aminu can muck up passing lanes and slow down top-scoring forwards. If you’d rather rely on switching, he’ll float from opponent to opponent without missing a beat. At the same time, Aminu would look right at home blitzing and recovering against the pick-and-roll, where his length makes a chore of even the most basic outlet pass. One can be a specialist and still have a highly transferable skill set.
Center Jusuf Nurkic comes in at number 64, north of Tobias Harris of the Los Angeles Clippers, just south of fellow pivot Jonas Valanciunas from the Toronto Raptors. Ben Golliver chronicles Nurkic’s rise with the Blazers.
Nurkic helped Portland improve from No. 21 to No. 8 in defensive rating, he dramatically increased his FG% around the basket, he cut his turnover rate, and he learned to swallow his pride when pulled for match-up purposes in late-game situations. All that progress didn’t help him avoid being torched by Anthony Davis in the playoffs, but it did earn him a four-year, $48 million extension this summer. Next up on the to-do list: ease up on the low-percentage runners, floaters and flip shots that drive Blazermaniacs berserk.
Finally (so far). shooting guard CJ McCollum takes the 33rd spot, just above rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz, just underneath Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets. Of McCollum, Golliver says:
In many ways, McCollum, 26, has developed into an ideal No. 2 scoring option: he can create a shot, he can run the offense for a bench-heavy lineup, he can attack mismatches, he can shoot the three, he can draw attention when he’s off the ball, and he has a good feel for when to defer versus when to take over. Despite this, Portland’s hard ceiling has led observers to wonder whether he would be better suited to running his own team or whether Lillard would be better off paired with a bigger, longer and more defensive-minded partner. Here’s a more compelling hypothetical: How far could Lillard and McCollum go together if GM Neil Olshey ever gave them a league-average supporting cast? Chances are, the Jennifers of the world would need to find new material.
The article has more on all three Trail Blazers, plus all the other candidates between 31 and 100. The Top 30 players will be revealed over the next couple days. Stay tuned to see where Portland’s All-NBA point guard Damian Lillard ranks.