As the 2016 calendar year comes to an end, the LWOS MC50 series captures the 50 most captivating athletes from 2016 in each sport. For LWOPB, we take a look at the 50 NBA players who drew headlines this past year, whether it be for on court accomplishments, off-season drama, or happenings off the court.
Here, we analyze the third set of 10 players. A new MC50 article will be published every Saturday morning leading up to the new year.
Most Captivating NBA Players of 2016: Part 3
It was a mixed 2016 for D’Angelo Russell. Perhaps his most memorable moment of the year was an off-court controversy involving Nick Young. On the court, he recovered from a rocky start, during which he lost his starting spot for much of the winter, to finish the season well. He was much more efficient towards the end of last season – particularly with his three-point shooting. His good form has continued into the 2016-17 season, under new head coach Luke Walton. He has become a crucial member of the Lakers‘ team offense so far; they went 3-9 during his injury absence, but they’re 8-9 with Russell on the court.
This year may turn out to define Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s career. In 2016, he converted his potential into All-Star production, after he was appointed as the Bucks‘ primary ball-handler in March. Point Giannis was born, and he hasn’t looked back. He unselfishly accepted a sub-max deal in September, allowing Milwaukee room to maneuver in future free agencies. There are signs that his team is improving, too – they are now 13-12. His supreme athleticism makes him a menace in transition and has lifted his scoring average above 20 points per game.
Has there ever been a greater gulf in player and team quality than Anthony Davis and his New Orleans Pelicans? He is clearly one of the best players in the league, but the Pelicans took nine games to get their first win this season. Davis scored over 30 per game during that stretch, including a 50-point explosion in their season opener. The Pelicans have struggled to build around their star big man, but his injuries haven’t helped. He missed the end of last season, and subsequently, he didn’t receive All-NBA honors. The Pelicans have shown signs of recovery, though, and Davis will be integral in a late-season dash towards the 2017 playoffs.
Draymond Green is perhaps the most versatile player in the NBA. He can pass, rebound, and guard all five positions. The Golden State Warriors were hit hard by his Game 5 suspension in the NBA Finals; they slid from a 3-1 lead to a 4-3 defeat in the series. Green’s major weakness is his ill-discipline, and this June, it cost his team dearly. His intensity is admirable, but he has a tendency to boil over and make dirty plays. Yet it is a credit to Green that he has transitioned from an unheralded role player to one of the most hated players in the league. You have to be good to be hated.
The Warriors’ loss in June was LeBron James‘ gain. He finally delivered a title to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, and LeBron led his team in all five major statistical categories in the Finals. We can’t forget that chasedown block on Andre Iguodala. His third Finals MVP award followed, and now only Michael Jordan (and maybe a couple of others) stands in his way on the all-time list. He’s only 31. Since that historic title, there has been a serenity to James’ play. He no longer seems weighed down by the expectations of his city, and he’s distributed the ball freely. His 9 assists per game this season are the highest of his career.
Jrue Holiday‘s career has continued to be curtailed by bad luck in 2016. He missed the end of last season with an eye injury and the start of this one with personal problems. When he’s available, he is an excellent two-way guard and a great complement to Davis for the Pelicans. He’s been extremely important to his team this season; they are 2-13 without him but 7-6 with him. New Orleans is certainly a playoff-caliber team with Holiday fit and firing, but that might be easier said than done.
2016 was an important year for the young Kiwi. Steven Adams established himself as a solid and mobile defensive center. He went deep into the playoffs with the Oklahoma City Thunder, an experience which accelerated his development. This season, with Kevin Durant gone, Adams has taken on more of a scoring responsibility. He has responded well, boosting his scoring output to about 11 points per game, while still maintaining his defensive prowess. The Thunder will rely on the 23-year-old’s continued improvement to make a playoff run in 2017.
While DeMarcus Cousins continues to exhibit his obvious talent, his Sacramento Kings are still struggling. The Kings hired Dave Joerger in the off-season; he’s the sixth coach of Cousins’ seven-year NBA career. It’s early in their relationship, but the Kings are 10-16 and look no more likely to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Although ill-disciplined, Cousins is still an elite player and the Kings rely heavily on his production. Despite that, 2016 seemingly brought Cousins no nearer to the winning formula that his Kings have lacked throughout his career.
The Washington Wizards took a step back in 2016, despite John Wall‘s best efforts. They missed the playoffs, having made the Conference Semi-Finals in each of the preceding two years. Wall almost averaged 20 points and 10 assists per game – an extremely rare feat. The athletic point guard still excels in transition due to his incredible athleticism. Over the last couple of seasons, he has boosted his outside shooting from unreliable to league-average, a big improvement on his major weakness. The Wizards are 11-14 this season – 11th in the East – and Wall has become increasingly frustrated with his teammates. In any case, Wall is too good a talent for the Wizards to perform this poorly.
Timing was everything for Bismack Biyombo. His defense and rebounding were excellent as the Toronto Raptors went on a historic playoff run. Biyombo provided energy both off the bench and as a starter when Jonas Valanciunas was injured. That spark was enough to earn him a mammoth contract with the Orlando Magic, due in part to the increased salary cap for 2016. With the Magic, however, Biyombo has struggled to stand out within a clogged frontcourt. His defensive impact remains high, but he will need to contribute more offensively to justify such a high paycheck.
All team records and stats are current as of December 17th, 2016 before play.