Sports Illustrated has unveiled the first half of it’s “Top 100 NBA Players of 2019” list and Phoenix Suns forward Trevor Ariza has cracked the list at #77.
Ariza signed a one-year $15 million contract with the Suns in July. The 33-year-old veteran of 14 NBA seasons averaged 11.7 points and 4.4 rebounds with the Houston Rockets a season ago. Here’s what SI had to say about Ariza:
It’s easy to bag on Ariza considering how his season ended, but one bad shooting night doesn’t undo all that came before. Ariza (11.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG) was one of the most important players to one of the NBA’s best teams. In the Western Conference finals alone, he was Houston’s best chance of challenging Kevin Durant—a counter to Golden State’s reluctant isolations. Throughout the year, it was Ariza’s defense that gave the Rockets their elasticity. Tucker may have been the point of differentiation from big lineups to small ones, but Ariza was the constant between them.
The Rockets will miss him, and Ariza them. Scoring comes easily when James Harden and Chris Paul do so much of the thinking for you. Some 82% of Ariza’s field goals—and damn near all his threes—were assisted last season. His best work comes as a beneficiary, making it difficult to assess his value in a vacuum. Houston barely needed Ariza to dribble, much less create. Most other teams—Phoenix included—would be exposed to a different level of risk. Never underestimate the superstar safety net.
A pair of former Suns were also included on the list. P.J. Tucker was 85th:
Former Rockets wing Shane Battier was famously dubbed the “No-Stats All-Star” for his vital defense and glue-guy game; Tucker (6.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG) is his pudgier heir apparent in Houston. By traditional individual measures, the 33-year-old forward was an afterthought, ranking outside the NBA’s top 300 in PER while placing seventh on the Rockets in points and sixth in touches. But the impact stats told a much different story: Tucker improved the Rockets’ efficiency on offense and defense during the regular season and the playoffs, he boasted a stellar +10.8 net rating, and he ranked No. 87 league-wide in Real Plus-Minus. By February, he had forced his way into the starting lineup, holding that spot throughout the Rockets’ run to the West finals. Not bad for roughly $8 million per year.
Tucker, like Battier before him, has carved his niche through pure feistiness. Although he is listed at just 6’6”, he was regularly deployed as a center when coach Mike D’Antoni sought to maximize his lineup’s spacing and switchability. To compensate for his lack of length and shot-blocking ability, Tucker consistently forced opponents to work hard for post position, contested rebounds with abandon, and delivered hard fouls as needed. True to his tough-minded reputation, the former second-round pick also led the Rockets in drawn charges and recovered loose balls. While Tucker might never claim glory like James Harden and Chris Paul, he surely possesses his superstar teammates’ gratitude.
And SI put Eric Bledsoe at #53:
In the beginning, Bledsoe (17.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 5.0 APG) requested a trade from the Suns on Twitter—“I don’t wanna be here”—and then tried to deny it by pretending he was merely bored at a hair salon. In the end, he was outplayed and outtalked in the playoffs by Celtics guard Terry Rozier, who confused Bledsoe with a long-forgotten NFL quarterback who shared his surname. In between those memorable memes, the powerful, scoring-minded point guard managed to squeeze in a nice season, providing stability and talent to a Milwaukee backcourt that desperately needed both.
Following a November trade to Milwaukee, Bledsoe quickly found his fit alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, boosting his new team’s offensive rating by nearly eight points when he took the court. While his defensive impact was muted given his propensity for risk-taking and brain farts, Bledsoe’s presence kept the Bucks’ season from being derailed by Malcolm Brogdon’s long-term injury. On balance, his Milwaukee experience revealed that his eye-popping stats from his Phoenix days were inflated, but that he was capable of being an above-average starting point guard on a winning team. Even if it’s not yet clear whether he’s a long-term answer in Milwaukee, the 28-year-old Bledsoe proved to be a heck of a midseason acquisition.