The Substance Report is an official rankings that I thought was necessary to come up with to determine which players throughout the league are most valuable to their team. Each day, for the next week or so, there will be an article dedicated to a single player that demonstrates both his value to the league, but more importantly, the weight on his shoulders on his own team.
An example of the rhetorical questions to ask yourself throughout the readings of the ranking is something along the lines of, "What would the Warriors look like without Stephen Curry? How much worse off would they be as a team? Could they still win an NBA Championship if they just released him to the depths of a fiery hell? Would Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson's efficiency go up because they would have more shot opportunities with Steph out of the rotation?" and other important meditations similar to that nature.
This is what the rankings look like so far.
30. Lou "Two Girls and They Get Along Like I'm Lou Will" Williams
29. Domantas "Arvydas's Son" Sabonis
28. Montrezl "Holy Shit That Guy Tries Hard" Harrell
27. Mike "Never Leaving Memphis Because Cash Rules Everything Around Me C.R.E.A.M.!" Conley
26. Klay "Not Just Steph's Sidekick" Thompson
25. Trae "Ugliest Player in the League" Young
24. Ben "Kendall Jenner's Bae / Fresh Prince" Simmons
23. Nikola "Diet Jokic" Vucevic
22. Karl-Anthony "Who Was the Last Good Player With Two First Names?" Towns
21. Blake "Pray My Knees Will Be Okay Come April" Griffin
20. Devin "Should I Just Become a Point Guard?" Booker
19. Anthony "'I'll Tell On You To Rich Paul!' / AD" Davis
18. Russell "I Didn't Know a Professional Could Take Their Job Too Seriously / Why Not?" Westbrook
17. Joel "The Cameroonian Clown / The Process" Embiid
16. Bradley "Will Somebody Please Trade John Wall Already?" Beal
15. Donovan "Still Salty About His 2nd Place Spot In The ROTY Contest / Spida" Mitchell
14. Kemba "Can Do Cool Crossovers But May Never Win A Playoff Series" Walker
13. Luka "Thick and Slick / Halleluka" Dončić
12. Kawhi "Typically Silent, But Mostly Deadly / Klaw" Leonard
11. Kevin "Will Tell You He's Not Going To New York, But He's Probably Going To New York / KD" Durant
10. Stephen "How Does The Greatest Shooter Ever Not Have An Actual Usable Nickname Yet? / Chef" Curry
9. LeBron "Will Trade You In a Heartbeat / King" James
8. Rudy "Frenchman Who Looks Like He Can Lay Some Serious Pipe / The Steiffel Tower" Gobert
7. D'Angelo "Instagram Is My Second Profession / Loading" Russell
6. De'Aaron "Now You See Me, Now You're Admiring My Luscious Hair" Fox
5. Paul "Smoother Than Silk Until The Playoffs / PG-13" George
T-4. Damian "Dame Dolla / Dame Time" Lillard
Damian Lillard is clutch. Damian Lillard is resilient. Damian Lillard is loyal. Despite all of that, he is somehow still under looked, undervalued, and underrated. I refuse to fall into that category of people who underestimate one of the four best guards of the decade.
I APPRECIATE YOU, DAME, AND I'M NOT AFRAID TO SAY THIS EITHER: Damian Lillard is better than your favorite point guard.
And above all else, Damian Lillard is more important to his team than any other point guard in the league right now.
Imagine being a member of the Portland Trail Blazers: Would you ever pass to anybody without the name Lillard on the back of their jersey? I don't know if I would. And I'm a guy that adores C.J. McCollum, along with my two #DukeInTheNBA boys: Rodney Hood and Seth Curry. But still, I don't know if I'd ever run a set without Lillard being the one and only focal point. No offense to those talented scorers, but you have to think about it logistically:
- Dame can shoot from anywhere on the floor (literally).
- He can get to the rim at will, and has become a much better finisher over the last couple years.
- He's the only player ever to compete in every All-Star Weekend activity in the same season. (Yep, you read that right: Dame participated in the former Rookie vs. Sophomore game, Skills Challenge, 3-Point Contest, Dunk Contest, and All-Star Game.)
- He can do whatever you need him to do, whenever you need him to do it.
Dame possesses one of the five tightest handles in the league, and this ability to control the rock translates to his take-over demeanor of being able to dictate the flow of the game. It also assists him in his ability to get to his favorite spots on the floor (spoiler: every spot is his favorite spot on the floor).
There are very few players in the history of the game that I would rather have taking the final shot than Damian Lillard, and if that doesn't tell you enough about his unbelievable talent, then I don't know what else will.
The Trail Blazers would likely be far out of the playoff race if it weren't for Lillard's consistent brilliance. The likes of McCollum, Aminu, Harkless, Kanter, Leonard, and Turner would never be a roster that could compete for a championship if it didn't include Lillard as well. He is irreplaceable for the city of Portland, and he's made it clear that he'll never leave to go ring chasing like other superstars have in the recent past. This is one of the many reasons we should appreciate Dame for not just the guard he is, but the human as well.
T-4. Kyrie "Swerving" Irving
Quick hypothetical situation alert, let's say some random stranger were to come up to me and ask, "What is love?" I would immediately turn to them and answer, "Kyrie Irving dribbling a basketball."
That's the only love I've ever known. That's what chemistry at its finest looks like. It's Uncle Drew spinning a Spalding ball through his ambidextrous set of hands, and ricocheting the orange sphere off of the ground with the most perfect and delicate amount of force humanly possible.
If you're reading this article for unbiased, and objective journalism, then I apologize in advance. But the section of this piece is going to be a 1,000 word orgasm praising the angel that exists within the inside of Kyrie Irving's soul. I don't know if any amount of words can do Kyrie's talent justice, so I'll just let this GIF help me out.
From the moment he stepped on the floor at Duke as a highly touted freshman, and played a total of 11 games for the Blue Devils, I immediately knew that he would change the game of basketball forever and ever.
I'd never seen a player that young be that gifted since Kevin Durant at Texas. Like KD, he could score whenever he wanted to, and made defenders look like it was the first time they'd ever attempted to prevent someone from scoring on them or dribbling around them.
I thought that it would surely take time for Kyrie to translate this innate ability to make defenders look ridiculous to the NBA level, but his Rookie of the Year campaign suggested otherwise.
Seven years later, he's one of the two best point guards in the world, and is leading an incredibly talented Boston Celtics team to an impressive playoff run following a roller coaster ride of a regular season. Kyrie was at the center of a lot of the media's focus and attention this season for the wrong reasons. He had several different moments where he made divisive comments, but all of that chemistry bull shit is out the window now that the playoffs have arrived.
Kyrie Irving is back to playing like one of the best basketball players in the world, and is making unbelievably difficult shots look routine. The first round sweep of the Pacers looked almost too easy, but now he's facing a real challenger in the Milwaukee Bucks who have maybe the most unstoppable player in the world.
Kyrie showed in Game 1 that he's ready to step up to the challenge, and demonstrate that his fundamentals are more important, impressive and valuable than Giannis's athleticism.
Kyrie's one of the best of all-time at getting to his spot after splitting a defense's hedge off of a pick and roll/pop situation, stopping on a dime, and rising up into his drifting jumper. There were a few plays in Game 1 where he had a guard or forward on him, backed him down with a couple of dribbles, then spun right into his best Kobe impression and hit a contested fadeaway. How many guards (let alone point guards), in the history of the game, have been able to hit these kinds of shots? In the shortest answer possible, not many. His release point, feel for the game, and knowledge about his defenders allows for him to take these Mamba-esque jumpers.
Throughout the season there was this intensely incorrect narrative that Boston may have been a better team without Kyrie Irving. Kyrie's spent the last five games demonstrating the fact that that notion was preposterous and idiotic. He's the primary reason that the Celtics have become the team that most NBA experts anticipated the league to fear at the beginning of the season. You cannot replace Kyrie Irving, and this is a fact that continues to be evident through his masterful sorcery on the hardwood throughout the playoffs.
Quick side note to end: I have this really odd fantasy that I'd like to share with you.
In this fantasy, there is a string of events that will definitely never happen, but would light the NBA world on fire if they did. First, Danny Ainge takes one too many tabs of acid, then watches John Wall's high school Hoopmixtape, and trades Kyrie Irving for John Wall's untradeable contract.
This would ultimately result in the world's number one Basketball Wizard (aside from maybe Chris Paul) playing for a team that is literally named the Wizards. It's too good to be true, and too odd for anyone other than myself to think of. I'm not saying I want Kyrie to leave the Celtics, but if this were to happen then it would be the best example of a player personifying his team's name in the history of sports. Unless LeBron signed with the Sacramento Kings or something like that.