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Jarrett Allen, C, Brooklyn Nets
Jarrett Allen is potentially what happens when you give Clint Capela extra back-to-the-basket footwork and a corner three-pointer. Keeping him outside the top 100 was a labor of conservation. He needs to show a little more oomph on the defensive glass and refine all the offensive tools we're definitely maybe sure are for real.
Carmelo Anthony, PF, Houston Rockets
Carmelo Anthony has a path back to the top 100: Ditch any urge to go it alone on offense, gorge on wide-open spot-up threes and establish himself as an eager screen-and-roller who perhaps steals some minutes as a small-ball 5.
Houston is almost assuredly the place for him to perfect this tactical U-turn, but his incomplete transmutation with the Oklahoma City Thunder saddles him with the burden of proof. He must successfully remodel his game first and earn the acclaim for it later.
Wendell Carter Jr., C, Chicago Bulls
It's December. Robin Lopez is still getting minutes. Jabari Parker has flopped at the 3, and his minutes are trickling into the power forward carousel. Wendell Carter Jr. is playing well, but not enough. Fans and pundits are calling for more of the do-a-little-of-everything big man. Cristiano Felicio thinks they're referring to him.
Carter gets more minutes as the year wears on, continuing to impress, but never receives the court time necessary to infringe upon the Rookie of the Year conversation. Chicago finishes the year on brand, its future both brightened and beclouded by an underutilized stud.
Sound about right?
Dewayne Dedmon, C, Atlanta Hawks
A lanky center who uses reach over power to secure defensive boards, has the mobility to hang in space and just shot 35.5 percent on 3.3 three-point attempts per 36 minutes? What's not to love? Atlanta's timeline.
Dewayne Dedmon would get more applause under different circumstances. He helps the Hawks win. They're trying to lose. He enters 2018-19 as trade bait whose expansive usefulness will be obfuscated by an overt tank destined to spend more time grooming John Collins, Omari Spellman and maybe even Alex Len.
Spencer Dinwiddie, PG, Brooklyn Nets
Spencer Dinwiddie is, fundamentally, the Nets' best guard—and perhaps their best player. He complements nifty change-of-pace half-court handles with custodial vision, and his 6'6" frame stands up to some wings. James Harden and Chris Paul were the only other players last season who surpassed 15 points, eight assists, one steal and two three-point makes per 36 minutes.
Dinwiddie needs to up his profile as a shooter and finisher around the rim. His three-point clip fell below league average amid more volume, he converted under 58 percent of his looks inside three feet and he's not yet a full-service pull-up threat. He'll wedge his way into this top-100 discourse if and when he finds his go-to footing.
De'Aaron Fox, PG, Sacramento Kings
De'Aaron Fox has the tools to make a meteoric rise. His initial burst is difficult to plan around, and he looked more at home last season when finishing in traffic than fellow rookie floor generals Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr.
That Fox didn't shy away from his pull-up jumper or shrink in crunch-time minutes bodes well for the Kings. They can worry about his overall efficiency later. His dearth of hesitance is the more important harbinger for now. Here's hoping Sacramento gives him a longer leash despite adding Yogi Ferrell.
Serge Ibaka, PF, Toronto Raptors
Serge Ibaka is officially out of place at power forward. The Raptors have the flexibility to give him more time at the 5 after trading Jakob Poeltl, but the arrival of Greg Monroe suggests they're not committed to making him a full-time 5. And if they're going to field five-out lineups, Pascal Siakam is the more interesting man in the middle.
It doesn't necessarily matter where Ibaka plays. He's been a non-elite at the defensive end for years. That won't change. He doesn't have the side-to-side portability incumbent of post-modern bigs. He's now mostly a conventional frontcourt floor spacer. That's fine. Teams need shooting up front. But he drilled just 33.5 percent of his spot-up triples after Jan. 1—which, despite a late-season uptick, begs the question of whether that will be the next part of his game to incur decline.
Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Memphis Grizzlies
Jaren Jackson Jr. would be Rookie of the Year material if the Grizzlies were prioritizing development over Western Conference survival. They're not.
Memphis is very much still Mike Conley and Marc Gasol's show. It remains to be seen how much playing time and offensive freedom Jackson will receive from the jump. The opportunity he deserves may not be available unless the Grizzlies drop outside the playoff picture.
Josh Jackson, SF, Phoenix Suns
From Jan. 1 on, with the Suns in full tank mode, Josh Jackson averaged 17.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 steals. They relied on him even more after Devin Booker was shut down, during which time he gained an invaluable feel for half-court orchestration.
Where Jackson finishes 2018-19 largely depends on whether he can improve his three-point and foul-line clips while surviving defensively against bigger wings.
James Johnson, PF, Miami Heat
Do-it-all big men like James Johnson have become necessities. Miami's offense leans on him as a pseudo-guard in the half-court, and he is a defensive locomotive. But his performance last season was laced with regression, and he isn't getting any younger.
Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk open the door for a role reduction even if Hassan Whiteside earns extra time on the pine. Johnson's mismatchy-ness is also capped by a shaky outside stroke. He hit a respectable 42.9 percent of his mid-range looks last season but remains a three-point wild card and below-average pull-up shooter.
Zach LaVine, SG, Chicago Bulls
Zach LaVine's offensive pluck merits more than a snippet of respect. Recovery from a torn ACL and tendinitis in his left knee remove the certainty from his above-the-rim barrages, but he doesn't totally need them. He is Jamal Crawford-esque in his self-aplomb, both to his detriment and gain.
Tough shots are LaVine's stasis. Pull-up jumpers have accounted for more than 40 percent of his attempts in each of his first four seasons. The readiness with which he carries himself off the dribble countermands the sub-ordinary efficiency he posts on those looks, while a trustworthy clip off the catch allows him to fork over control of the offense to ball-dominant partners.
That composite comfort bears real value to the Bulls. They need someone to shoulder late-game shot creation but who won't entirely disappear as Carter, Parker and Lauri Markkanen increase their volume. Though LaVine fits the description to a large extent, complete mastery of this role requires defensive and playmaking help he has yet to contribute.
Dejounte Murray, PG, San Antonio Spurs
Dejounte Murray is only off this list because he tore his right ACL. Unlike DeMarcus Cousins and Kristaps Porzingis, his setback came late in the process, just before this pecking order went live. He had already made the cut as one of the league's top 15 point guards and flirted with top-60 status on this ladder.
Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas Mavericks
No superstar in recent memory has done a better job than Dirk Nowitzki of segueing from superstar lifeline to prominent accessory. His transition into his twilight may be the best-ever of its kind.
Binging on standalone threes ensures the Mavericks have no problems when both catering to the youth and transferring a share of the offense to Harrison Barnes. Nowitzki is probably best suited at the 5, but Dallas is calculated with his minutes at the 4. Running him next to mobile bigs like Dwight Powell and, now, DeAndre Jordan permits a modicum of defensive survival.
In the end, though, Nowitzki is a 40-year-old on his final leg. He doesn't offer much resistance on defense beyond his rebounding, and the Mavericks' evolving food chain, which must now incorporate Luka Doncic, will continue to erode his volume.
Jabari Parker, SF, Chicago Bulls
Parker would have a stronger case if the Bulls weren't obligated to slot him at small forward—not an airtight one. He has polished off his three-point touch, and the 20.1 points per game he averaged in 2016-17 suggest he has the armory to be the lifeblood of an offense. But his availability remains a problem.
Two ACL injuries are too steep for an anecdotal omission. Parker has missed fewer than 30 regular-season games just once in four seasons. Combine that with near-nonexistent evidence of his capacity to play anywhere other than power forward, including at center, and the wait for him to crack a top-100 ladder persists.
Terry Rozier, PG, Boston Celtics
Awarding Terry Rozier more than a cursory nod places too much weight on last season's stretch-run surge. He averaged 14.7 points and 5.0 assists while hitting 37 percent of his threes after Kyrie Irving left the rotation to address his knee injury, but he shot just 36.5 percent overall and only slightly moved Boston's offensive needle.
It was the same story in the playoffs. Rozier barely shot 40 percent from the floor, and his outside accuracy dipped. He had his moments—just ask Eric Bledsoe—but the Celtics gradually became more dependent on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
Don't get this twisted: Rozier may have that it factor. But his admittance is borderline even without Irving, Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward to slice into his playing time and usage. Coexisting with all three of them sets the stage for a regressive encore to 2017-18.
Pascal Siakam, PF, Toronto Raptors
Siakam is fixing to join the next wave of indispensable small-ball 5s. His passing and defensive rotations are ahead of schedule, and an average presence on the glass has not prevented him from anchoring stingy lineups at center. Toronto allowed under 96 points per 100 possessions whenever the 6'9" Siakam manned the middle last season, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Andre Roberson, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Andre Roberson initially finished inside the top 100, but he's expected to miss an additional two months after encountering complications during his recovery from left knee surgery. He also toed the line of exclusion beforehand. Defensive specialists who cannot shoot are only so valuable when they're playing half-season segments.
But Roberson isn't just another niche stopper. He is a shoo-in for All-Defense honors and Defensive Player of the Year hopeful at full strength. He mainly traffics in backcourt asphyxiation, but he's the player the Thunder call upon to badger, sometimes torment, the Giannis Antetokounmpos and Kevin Durants.
Andrew Wiggins, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Untapped potential no longer earns Andrew Wiggins the benefit of the doubt. He's still just 23, but he's entering Year 5. The unknown and unfinished are now warning signs.
Minnesota's uninventive offense is partially responsible for Wiggins' stunted progress. Coach-president Tom Thibodeau bottlenecked the chain of command by acquiring Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague last summer, and the Timberwolves don't manufacture enough off-ball movement among non-bigs to sufficiently involve everyone.
Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young is the ultimate coin toss. His slight 6'2" build could instantly become an issue. His yo-yo shot-making could be thwarted by NBA defenses. Atlanta could suffer pangs of regret for passing on Doncic. That could all happen. Young could also thrive amid NBA spacing.
Merely launching off-the-dribble missiles provides value, and cleaner lanes play into his wildly underrated passing ability. Coupled with the carte-blanche volume the Hawks will bestow upon him, Young should not be written out of the Rookie of the Year race and the top-100 status that honor usually guarantees.
Cody Zeller, C, Charlotte Hornets
Dirty-work superheroes are always underappreciated. Steven Adams is the player who comes closest to bucking the trend, and even he's short on recognition.
Cody Zeller falls into identical territory. He works his butt off to set screens and purposefully rove around the defensive end. His rebounding numbers are unspectacular, but he mimes Robin Lopez's commitment to boxing out opponents for the benefit of his teammates. Zeller even promises a basic amount of spacing; he shoots enough long twos to decongest the paint and register as a pick-and-pop partner.