4. Mikal Bridges (No. 33)
I’d like to preface this by saying I am fully on board with the Mikal Bridges hype train. I admire his ability to be the ultimate ironman role player, never missing a game and willing to sacrifice his own personal game for the benefit of the team. There’s real hope he can become a true first option as well, as Bridges averaged a phenomenal 26.1 points across 27 games with the Nets to end last season.
For this reason, I believe Bridges deserves the hefty bump 16 spots up in the rankings. That being said, I’m not so sure I’d rush to put him above DeRozan at this juncture. Just because Bridges was playing well, doesn’t mean the Nets were piling on wins. Posting a 12-15 record to finish the season — including a handful of end-of-season victories from tanking teams — I’m going to need to see Bridges maintain consistent success before I buy too much stock into his recent hot streak.
Both of these promising players have a lot left to prove before they deserve to be ranked ahead of DeMar DeRozan.
3. Paolo Banchero (No. 30)
For the previous two entries in this list, I can see the arguments for why they’d be ranked so high. Beal is a seasoned scorer and an accomplished veteran. Bridges is an extremely promising two-way talent. But with Paolo Banchero here at No. 30, I have to say I’m a little dumbfounded to see the sophomore forward ranked so high. ESPN’s Pelton attempts to deliver his explanation for their decision to put Paolo so high here:
"“Banchero became the first No. 1 pick since Ben Simmons in 2017-18 to win Rookie of the Year, leading all first-year players with 20 PPG. Banchero especially excelled at drawing fouls. He was just the third rookie this century to average more than seven free throw attempts per game (7.4).”"
Banchero is a top-30 player because… he excelled at drawing foul calls? The same reason ESPN has tried to discredit the postseason effectiveness of players like James Harden, Trae Young, and Luka Doncic in the past? I just find this bizarre. 20 points per game isn’t even an outstanding bar to set in today’s NBA. Not only did DeMar easily clear this benchmark, but even another seven other players between him and Banchero exceeded Paolo’s offensive output. Banchero certainly has the potential to be a top 30 player, but including him among the ranks of the NBA’s elite right now is asinine.