By Alex Rikleen
Special to Yahoo Sports
It’s never too early to start thinking about next season. Ok, maybe it is too early, but we love this game, so we’re doing it anyway. These are early rankings for next year, and can be used either as draft guide or keeper rankings for an early deadline.
The first round is as loaded as it’s been in at least a decade. Anyone in the top eight is a completely justifiable selection at number one overall.
The second tier, from picks nine through 22, is loaded with uncertainty. Kyle Lowry will probably become a free agent this offseason. Paul George and Jimmy Butler will feature heavily in trade conversations – and their fate impacts Isaiah Thomas’ role for the 2017-18 Celtics, who might bring on an A-minus-list star offensive threat, or they could select a point guard in a loaded draft. Former perennial top-three selections Chris Paul and LeBron James finally fall out of the first round due to the Clippers’ uncertain future and James’s dreadful per-36 figures since the All-Star break.
Rookies are excluded from this ranking for two reasons. First, it’s impossible to predict their performance without a sense of where they will land. Second, most seasons, drafting a rookie is not a good idea – over the past five seasons, only one season saw more than two rookies who were worth owning the whole season. The payoff for drafting the right rookie can be large, but it’s frequently unclear which those will be in October.
Assumes nine-category settings
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo – I’m not being contrarian. Give me first pick and I’ll show you how serious I am.
2. James Harden – The safe choice.
3. Stephen Curry – More durable than Durant.
4. Kevin Durant – Still the best per-minute fantasy player.
5. Anthony Davis – Boogie helps him miss fewer games.
6. Russell Westbrook – The top is so loaded; he can’t do this again, right?
7. Karl-Anthony Towns – Top 5 post All-Star break, 22 years old.
8. Kawhi Leonard – Fell behind Towns due to late-season rests.
9. Damian Lillard
10. John Wall
11. Nikola Jokic – Top 12 per-36 post-All-Star break, 22 years old.
12. Chris Paul – Should fall (age/injuries) after George and Butler situations clear up.
13. Jimmy Butler
14. Paul George
15. Kyle Lowry – Injury history is my only justification for having him this low.
16. DeMarcus Cousins
17. LeBron James – He fell outside the top-50 in per-36 post-All-Star break.
18. Kristaps Porzingis – There is no statistical basis for listing him higher, but I’d take him at 12.
19. Isaiah Thomas – His value is closely tied to Celtics’ moves, and most possibilities hurt him.
20. Gordon Hayward
21. Kyrie Irving – Injuries. Always.
22. Rudy Gobert
23. Draymond Green
24. Otto Porter – His career trajectory reminds me of Draymond Green; not a flash in the pan.
25. Hassan Whiteside
26. CJ McCollum – If you think this is too low, tell me what category he improves in from 2016-17.
27. Klay Thompson – “First do no harm, then lead the league in threes”
28. DeAndre Jordan – Forces you to punt FT%, but too good to pass up.
29. Myles Turner
30. Marc Gasol – Has never had two healthy seasons in a row; slowed down the stretch.
31. Kemba Walker
32. Kevin Love – Makes Kyrie Irving look like a paragon of health; top 15 if you think he stays healthy.
33. Joel Embiid – Top ten player if healthy. Trust The Process.
34. Mike Conley – Always underrated, even here. My algorithm told me to rank him higher.
35. Brook Lopez – Moving his game outside the paint extends his career
36. Bradley Beal
37. Al Horford – Still only 30, last time he was outside the top-40 was 2008-09.
38. Paul Millsap – Will he be reinvigorated in a new home?
39. Robert Covington – Could lead the league in steals and/or “stocks” (steals + blocks).
40. Eric Bledsoe – Only 27, but entering eighth season with a history of knee injuries.
41. Jeff Teague – If George is gone, becomes best scorer on the Pacers.
42. Jrue Holiday – Falls if he signs outside of New Orleans.
43. DeMar DeRozan – Who shoots fewer threes in 2016-17?
44. Trevor Ariza – Every important member of the Rockets is under contract to return in 2017-18.
45. Nikola Vucevic – Back as a full-time starting center from the jump, he should improve upon 2016-17’s numbers.
46. Goran Dragic
47. LaMarcus Aldridge – He showed signs of decline, but he is only one season removed from the top-25.
48. Khris Middleton
49. Gary Harris – Denver’s wing logjam bumped him down from low 40s.
50. Nicolas Batum – Still only 28, with no major change in production over the past three seasons
51. Blake Griffin – Injury history; unclear what team he will play for; three consecutive seasons of decline…
52. Jae Crowder – There are more Celtics’ offseason scenarios that hurt him than help him.
53. Jusuf Nurkic
54. Serge Ibaka – No longer an elite shot-blocker, his best days are behind him.
55. Avery Bradley – Another Celtic likely to be harmed by the offseason.
56. Zach LaVine – Hopefully the ACL injury doesn’t permanently change him.
57. Gorgui Dieng – Quietly, has posted three straight seasons ranked between 45 and 55 in 9-cat.
58. Ricky Rubio – Been a top-60 player three of the last four seasons.
59. Tobias Harris
60. Carmelo Anthony
61. Nerlens Noel – Noel was the steal of the 2017 trade deadline, and he’ll prove it.
62. Patrick Beverley
63. Danilo Gallinari – Major health risk lowers his standing.
64. Victor Oladipo
65. Harrison Barnes – 2016-17 ended on a rough patch, but few players drafted this late can average 20 points.
66. Pau Gasol – Still productive, but old, and Spurs tend to ease burden on veterans.
67. Jabari Parker – Officially an injury risk
68. Andre Drummond – The late season collapse is concerning.
69. TJ Warren
70. Markieff Morris
71. Devin Booker – High turnovers kill him in 9-cat; top-50 in 8-cat.
72. Jeremy Lin
73. George Hill – 2016-17 was the third time he missed at least 15 games.
74. Dwyane Wade
75. Jonas Valanciunas – Several stretches below 25 minutes per game was a concerning development.
76. Clint Capela
77. Andrew Wiggins – His post-All-Star surge gives reason for confidence.
78. Elfrid Payton – Five triple-doubles since the All-Star break highlight his upside.
79. Eric Gordon
80. D’Angelo Russell – If the Lakers use a top-three pick to draft a point guard, Russell falls outside the top-100.
81. Dwight Howard – Big, bruising centers are rarely this effective for this long.
82. Marvin Williams – Poor Hornets’ health propelled his renaissance season, not safe to bank on a repeat.
83. Dirk Nowitzki
84. Buddy Hield – Expect the Kings to choose their point guard specifically to complement Hield.
85. Josh Richardson – If he gets the opportunity, can be a 1-1-1 threes/steals/blocks guy
86. Julius Randle
87. Evan Fournier – Presumably the Magic add some offensive talent to distract defenses.
88. James Johnson – There is not a lot of precedent for a 30-year-old 8-year vet having a career year.
89. Marcin Gortat
90. Thaddeus Young
91. Malcolm Brogdon
92. Aaron Gordon
93. Richaun Holmes – A healthy Embiid hurts him, but he could pass Jahlil Okafor on the depth chart.
94. Rajon Rondo – Which version Rondo will 2017-18 bring?
95. Frank Kaminsky
96. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
97. Seth Curry – JJ Barea and the offseason are obstacles to Curry’s full-time role as starting point guard.
98. Andre Iguodala
99. Lou Williams – His fantasy numbers were better on the Lakers than the Rockets.
100. Dennis Schroder
Narrowly missed the cut: JJ Redick, Marcus Smart, Tyler Johnson, Nuggets’ wings (Will Barton, Jamal Murray, Wilson Chandler)
Notable exclusions: Rudy Gay, out until January 2018; Whoever becomes the Kings’ starting point guard
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Note: Jusuf Nurkic was originally omitted but was added at No. 53 after initial posting.