A panel of my esteemed SB Nation colleagues ranked the NBA's top 100 players ... for the year 2017. Projecting four years out is a fool's mission, but it's fun -- especially with Jonathan Tjarks sticking his neck out there by putting Andre Drummond at No. 3, trailing only LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
But not everyone agreed with the pick; Tom Ziller, in particular, offered a thoughtful reaction in today's edition of The Hook:
I'm skeptical of two pieces that made Drummond's rookie season so spectacular, though: his elite rebounding and his lack of turnovers. Last season, Drummond snared 15.4 percent of his own team's missed shots, one of the best marks in the league. Drummond should remain a strong rebounder throughout his career: he's agile, long and tough with massive hands. But the level of offensive rebounding Drummond provided last season is typically not sustainable for players not named Reggie Evans, Dennis Rodman or Moses Malone. Evans is the only current player with multiple seasons above a 15 percent offensive rebound rate. Kenneth Faried is a good example of a player who was extraordinary on the offensive glass as a rookie (16.5 percent) only to dip down to very good in his second season (13 percent). That could happen to Drummond on both ends. (He was an outrageous defensive rebounder, too.)
The most unbelievable thing about Drummond as a rookie was his low turnover rate. He didn't touch the ball as a threat to score a whole lot, but still. For a young, raw big man to have a turnover rate of 12 percent is totally unexpected and a huge boon. For comparison's sake, Dwight Howard's turnover rate has never been lower than 15 percent.
I can't think of another writer I respect more than Ziller. And hey, if we really want to be honest, there's a good chance he's right and Drummond's production will come back to earth -- especially considering how few minutes he played last year. But ... what if it doesn't?
Reading Ziller's column, I'm reminded of another comparison I recently read about a young superstar in a different sport: Angels outfielder Mike Trout. Even though Trout was widely regarded as baseball's No. 1 prospect before his rookie season, no one expected he'd be a legitimate MVP candidate as a rookie, or that he'd sustain that caliber of production his second season.
So why did everyone lower the ceiling on his potential? In part because it's uncomfortable predicting greatness. From Eddie Bane, scout and player personnel assistant for the Red Sox, talking to Grantland's Jonah Keri:
"You always look at player comps in this business," Bane said. "None of our guys wanted to put down the comp that you'd expect in this case, because it's just too much pressure. We should have done it, though. We should have put down the comp that a lot of people have put down since then. You look at Trout, you see Mickey Mantle."
Can Andre Drummond be the next Mickey Mantle? The next Mike Trout? I have no idea, but I certainly hope so.
It's hardly an apples-to-apples comparison (even accounting for different sports, Drummond mostly came off the bench and missed several weeks, while Trout racked up 600-plus plate appearances). But still, at the risk of stating the obvious, if Drummond becomes a star, it'll be because he keeps doing what we've already seen him do, not because of some developmental leap we think he might make.
Maybe that makes him the third-best player in the league four years from now. Maybe that makes him the next Dennis Rodman or Moses Malone. Or hell, maybe that just makes him the next Reggie Evans. But we already know what he can do, the only question is what he will do with more minutes. And 49 days from now, we'll finally start to find out.