Kemba Walker in his 60 point scoring outing against the Philadelphia 76ers. Photo via Chuck Burton
For the Celtics fans, there was a good amount of representation on the list. The Celtics were tied for the second-most players on the list with 4 other teams, those being the 76ers, the Raptors, the Clippers, and the Jazz. All five teams had a total of five representatives, and only trailed one team who had 6, the Brooklyn Nets.
Marcus Smart was the first name to pop up at number 82. Jaylen Brown was found a little bit higher at number 68. Gordon Hayward just missed out of the top 50 in his position at 59. And Jayson Tatum made it all the way up to number 35 out of the top 100 hundred players.
However, perhaps the most notable placement on the list was the Celtics' fifth and final member Kemba Walker, who was placed at number 20. His position on the list raised many eyebrows of NBA fans and one major question: Is Kemba Walker a top 20 NBA player???
Before getting into that discussion, there are a few things to note. It is important to keep in mind when looking at this list is the set of rules Sports Illustrated set for themselves going into it.
Injuries played a major role in the rankings. Star players returning from serious injuries were placed with somewhat of a prediction on how that injury would affect their 2020 season. The biggest surprise was Golden State Warrior Klay Thompson being ranked 58th (!!!) on the list just ahead of Gordon Hayward. I don't know about you guys but even coming off of an injury that seems extremely low to me but I guess we will just have to wait and see how Thompson bounces back moving forward.
Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors. Photo via Steve Mitchell
Anyways, players who are expected to miss the entirety of next season were left off the list entirely. This group included highly talented players that may or may not have ended up affecting Walker's position at number 20, such as Kevin Durant and Demarcus Cousins. Another guideline the writers put in place was that they were ranking each player based on their own individual talent and nothing else. In their own words:
This list is an attempt to evaluate each player in a vacuum, independent of his current team context as much as possible. We're not evaluating Kemba Walker as a Celtic, but as a concept. A player's prospects beyond the 2019-2020 season do not factor into our ranking process."
One last thing to know is that rookies entering the NBA were not included either, with most likely an "unknown quantity" type mindset instilled. So no, Zion Williamson was not thrown in the top 20 already.
Zion Williamson facing off against his former Duke teammate RJ Barrett in the NBA Summer League. Photo via Garrett Ellwood
With all of this out there, let's start to analyze the top 20 and Kemba Walker. Looking at just Walker first, I don't think there is any question he is a top 20 if not a top 15 player in the league.
For a while now Walker has been severely underrated as a player most likely due to his market and the rosters he has been surrounded by. The only other players that have been as consistently good and just as consistently overlooked have been people like Damian Lillard and Mike Conley, though things seem on the rise for Lillard moving forward.
After Walker had a career year last year, I can only imagine he will improve in his newfound position as the leader of the Boston Celtics. In his 2019 outing, Walker averaged 25 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and a field goal percentage of 43%, all of which lead to his first-ever appearance on the all-NBA roster as a guard on the third team.
With there only being a grand total of 15 players included on the All-NBA teams, it would seem pretty unfair to overlook Walker's position there and push him anywhere lower than number 20. And like I said before, he will be in a much better position with a much bigger spotlight on the parquet of the TD Garden all of which I believe he will take full advantage of.
That being said, let's look at the player's around Walker and talk about the idea that he might even be too low on the list to begin with.
In viewing the top 10, all of these players seem pretty reasonable: 1. Giannis Antetokumpkounmpo 2. Kawhi Leonard 3. LeBron James 4. Stephen Curry 5. James Harden 6. Anthony Davis 7. Joel Embiid 8. Nikola Jokic 9. Paul George 10. Damian Lillard
With Kevin Durant being injured, all of these players seem like locks for the top ten. Although, I personally would put them in a different order. Had Durant not been injured, he as well would have been a lock for the top ten and if inserted as is Walker would be pushed out of the top 20. However, if we're going strictly by Sports Illustrated's rules for just next season this top ten is not problematic to me at all.
In my opinion, the problems arrive in numbers 11-20, where the back half is extremely questionable: 11. Jimmy Butler 12. Russell Westbrook 13. Karl Anthony Towns 14. Rudy Gobert 15. Kyrie Irving 16. LaMarcus Aldridge 17. Draymond Green 18. Al Horford 19. Blake Griffin 20. Kemba Walker
Butler, Westbrook, Towns, Gobert, Irving and Griffin are all completely fine in this area of the list. Although some of them are known to have pretty big chemistry and locker room issues, if we're looking at their pure talent as basketball players, all of them deserve to be recognized this highly.
Now, let's get into a deeper discussion. LaMarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green, and Al Horford are all very questionable players for a top 20 position and there are numerous players lower on the list who could easily fill those slots. Not only do I think Walker should be moved up, but others such as Chris Paul, Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell, and a handful of others all have equal or better arguments to be positioned higher.
I don't want anyone to get me wrong, all 3 of the players I just mentioned are extremely valuable NBA talents. However, in my personal opinion, they all would fit better in the early 20s. In terms of Horford and Green especially, they are much more complementary than they are individual talents such as all of the players surrounding them and if we're going by Sports Illustrated's rules, we are looking at them as "independent of their current context."
So to answer the question: yes, I think Kemba Walker is easily a top 20 player in the NBA for the 2020 NBA season. Not only that, but I think he should be even higher on the list looking at the season he had last year, the position he is set for next year, and at the few players ahead of him. But that's just me.
The question is: What do YOU think? Where would you rank Walker in the top NBA players in the 2020 season? And are there any players whose rankings just shocked you on sight??? Let me know what you think in the comments below.