Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka Make Bill Simmons' Top 50

Bill Simmons posted hist infamous trade value column today, and I'm happy to say that:

 

  1. Three Thunder men show up: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka.
  2. Simmons actually expanded the list to 50 players, which is his way of confirming that the collective talent level in the league continues to increase. That's good for everyone. 
You can find Simmons' story here:


If you recall, a few days back we had given a listen to Simmons' podcast where he gave up his rough draft:


Here's a brief synopsis of the guys he has on his list:
37. Serge Ibaka
We watch Ibaka on a game to game basis and so sometimes it is easy to forget how far the young Congolese has come:
"Remember that, by the time he turned 20, he had already survived a violent civil war in the Congo, been separated from his 18 siblings, survived on his own in Spain and Oklahoma City, learned his third and fourth languages and morphed into a playoff contender's key shot-blocker/rebounder despite the fact that he started playing organized basketball only five years ago."

Simmons actually bumped Ibaka up from his previous ranking, which is a good indication about how high Simmons is on Ibaka. He isn't even in the starting line-up yet, and he is about as close to being a core element in this idea of the Thunder that we cheer for.

12. Russell Westbrook
Westbrook remains in the same group that Simmons had him in before, but now it's a step above Rajon Rondo and behind Deron Williams and Chris Paul. I think that's about right; Williams and Paul still possess the ability to control an offense in a way Westbrook has not yet learned. However, putting him on the same level as Rondo is an interesting proposition. Here's what we know about Rondo - he can throw out some of the most ridiculous stat lines we've ever seen from a point guard; he can rebound a little better than Westbrook and plays much better defense. We also know that he's a big liability in the last six minutes of a game because of his inability to hit outside shots and free throws, which are two things that Westbrook does particularly well in the 4th quarter. From a physical ability standpoint though, these two guys plus Derrick Rose are pretty close. They can all be dominant in their own way.

Which one is the more likely scenario to answer which guy goes farther: Rondo becomes an efficient outside shooter, or Westbroom becomes a top flight defender? A good question indeed.

3. Kevin Durant
We know that Simmons' love of Durant has waned a bit as the phenom Blake Griffin has stolen his heart away. He's got KD at #3, but here is what he has to say:

Remember this past September...Why did so many Team USA guys make a leap afterward (Rose, Westbrook, Gay, Love, Chandler, Odom, etc.) and Durant went sideways? Am I picking nits? Were my expectations too high? Are his teammates worse than we realize? Did he already HAVE his leap, and that's as far as we're going? You'd think Westbrook's leap would have facilitated a second mini-leap from Durant, right? And further--

(Oh, that's right … he's 22. I forgot.)

Simmons catches himself getting a little bit impatient, and it is understandable.  I think that seeing LeBron James arrive on the scene kind of altered what everyone thinks about the ability of transcendant youth. However, we are only remembering the LeBron James of the past three years; we have already forgotten that James' teams in Cleveland did not even make the playoffs his first two years in the league, and that was in a heavily diluted Eastern Conference. It takes time.

Realistically though, what is the ceiling for Durant? We know he's a top five franchise altering player. What is he going to become in the next five years? I do think he has already made The Leap, and going forward we're going to see incremental jumps in his game. The thing I've enjoyed most about this second half of the season is his willingness to rebound; that is an excellent sign for a young man who is ready and willing to be whatever he needs to be to win. Next year, more strength, better defense. A post-up game. The year after that, a go-to turnaround jumper. Quicker feet. Little jumps. Lots and lots of little jumps. Top top three in a land of King James and Superman isn't too bad at all.

As for next year, you think we might see James Harden on that list? Four guys on the same team making Simmons' top 50? Can you think on that?

Lord, I hope there isn't a lock-out.

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