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 13 days, 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
Donovan Mitchell left Louisville after his sophomore year. He was drafted late in the lottery by the Utah Jazz, and will go down as one of the best draft day steals of the past two decades. The 6'4" combo guard has established himself as a top five shooting guard in the league at only 22 years old. There are flashes of Dwyane Wade in him, and you can't say that about anybody else that's come into the league since the Miami Heat Mayor himself.
For as amazing as Mitchell was in his debut season as a rookie, he's been even better in his sophomore campaign. The would-be senior in college has boosted his averages in every major category (points, rebounds, and assists) even after he got off to a slow start at the beginning of the 2018-19 season.
Donovan Mitchell Statistics
Rookie Year (2017-18): 20.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.7 APG
Second Year (2018-19): 23.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 4.1 APG
Mitchell has catapulted the Jazz from a mediocre team stuck in the NBA purgatory of not being good enough to compete for a championship, and not being bad enough to land a top five pick into the stratosphere of a team that has a legitimate chance at winning the Larry O'Brien trophy in the next three years. His duo-ship with the Freakish Frenchman Rudy Gobert is among the best guard-and-big combos in the league. If the supporting cast of role players who know their role well (Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio, and Derrick Favors) can perform above what is expected of them, then Donovan can take this team over the top through his takeover the game mentality which few players his age possess.
Not only has Donovan Mitchell made the Utah Jazz a legitimate title contender since his arrival in June of 2017, but he's also transformed them into an exciting team to watch. Traditionally the Jazz have played a relatively boring brand of basketball, but Mitchell is capable of so many exciting plays due to his sheer athleticism that makes fans's eyes pop out of their head and say to themselves, "How... the fuck... did he do that?!?"
The gif above is the perfect example of just how freakishly talented and athletic Mitchell truly is. Not only does he have the natural ability to drive the lane, euro-step around a much taller and wider Trevor Ariza, then hoist up a floater that is hardly short of going in through the basket, but he's gifted enough (both mindfully and athletically) to recognize the ball is just short of going in, then in a split second is able to turn on his second-jump-turbo-boost to rise up and put three Rockets defenders on an absolute poster.
Utah got lucky when Mitchell fell to them with the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but we as fans got even more lucky when Spida decided that he was going to be the face of their franchise. He's only going to get better from here.
14. Kemba "Can Do Cool Crossovers But I May Never Win A Playoff Series / Cardiac Kemba" Walker
Kemba Walker toys with defenders, makes them look funny, teases them into reaching, leaves them in the dust, etc. etc. etc. Simply put, he's one of the world's finest ball handlers. Walker dribbles the basketball as if the ball were a yo-yo, and he was the Guinness World Record holder for the coolest yo-yo tricks.
It is as if every single time he steps onto a basketball court his mindset doesn't alter. It doesn't matter if he's at Rucker Park, Staples Center, Madison Square Garden, or a local Lifetime gym; he is going to cross the living shit out of whoever is in a defensive stance directly in front of him.
Walker's right up there with the likes of Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and James Harden when it comes to Spalding handling wizardry.
In the above video we see Walker giving the young Atlanta ball-handling protégé, Trae Young, a taste of his own medicine, and a free lesson on how to make your defender look silly in a matter of seconds.
A few things on Kemba Walker's crossover:
- Kemba's unparalleled when it comes to shifting his momentum.
- He teases his defender strictly through his eyes and shoulders by pointing them in a false direction.
- Watch him simultaneously point his shoulders towards, and stare down the left side of Young's body.
- This quick action tricks Young into believing that Kemba's heading that direction because his momentum is suggesting that that is the only possible angle he can take.
- The problem is: Kemba's extraordinary balance defies geometry.
- In a split second, Kemba transforms what looks like a lead dribble to the left side of Trae's body into a killer crossover that goes across the front of Young's body, and results with Kemba snatching the ball with his off hand (his left).
- Important note: The crossover is attacking Young's high leg (his right).
- This forces Young to drop his leg down in order to get back in the picture with Kemba, which allows Walker a step ahead of Trae to attack the rim.
- Now the only thing between Kemba and the basket is a 41 year old Vince Carter, a man who was never recognized as a bonafide rim protector even when he was 25 years old.
Words can not do justice to Kemba's mind-bending crossover compilation, so I've attached a highlight reel above that will at least make you reconsider the established notion that Kyrie's the best ball handler in the game right now, if not of all-time.
The list of people that Kemba both aims to crossover during his career, and already has ankle-mutilated throughout the course of his career is similar to Arya Stark's list of people she plans on killing in Game of Thrones. If you're on the list: you're fucked. If you're not on the list, then don't do anything that will lead to said person putting you on that list, because then you'll be fucked. That's not the only similarity that Kemba and Arya share, they're also clutch with daggers: Arya in the literal sense, and Kemba in the metaphorical manner.
I don't know, I'm just really excited for my favorite television program which returns in twelve (!!!) days, and I really like to watch Kemba Walker play basketball. They're both integral parts to the teams in which they are on, Kemba even more so than Arya. The Hornets would be held in the same regard as the Cavaliers, Suns, Bulls, and Knicks if it weren't for Kemba Walker being at the helm of their roster. The HBO series Game of Thrones would still be held in the same regard as The Sopranos if Arya Stark didn't exist within the Thrones universe.
Kemba, much like Arya (sorry, but this comparison isn't going to ever end, it's concretely stuck in my mind), has gotten better throughout his career. And he's having his best season ever this year (Arya's worst season may have been season 7 when she acted like a psychopath anytime she encountered her sister she hadn't seen in several years, Sansa), but the Hornets still are just outside of the playoff picture.
Kemba Walker Statistics
Career: 19.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 5.5 APG, 41.7% FG, 37.7% 3PT, 83.4% FT
This Season: 25.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 5.8 APG, 42.8% FG, 35.3% 3PT, 84% FT
Kemba's risen to the challenge of shouldering the load for the Hornets year-in, and year-out, but this season has been special for him. People are finally recognizing him as a potential All-NBA candidate, and as one of the best point guards in the league. And it's about damn time, considering the sheer level of talent he possesses. It is not his fault that Michael Jordan doesn't know how to draft on a consistent enough basis (I like Miles Bridges and Malik Monk, but it'll take time for them to develop into their full potentials).
While the Hornets continue to battle mediocrity for the time being, it will be beyond interesting to see which uniform Kemba will be wearing in the 2019-2020 season. Could he team up with LeBron in LA? Could he end up in New York in a Knicks uniform? Will he shock the world and head to the Spurs or somewhere else unimagined, but still incredibly effective? Only time, and Kemba will tell.