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 12 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
14. Kemba "Can Do Cool Crossovers But May Never Win A Playoff Series" Walker
13. Luka "Thick and Slick / Halleluka" Dončić
"He's not athletic enough to play with today's generation of NBA players."
"He never played in college! How are we supposed to know if he can create his own shot against superior defenders?"
"Diet James Harden? More like glorified Sebastian Telfair."
A lot of so-called NBA scouts had numerous concerns regarding the do-it-all Slovenian combo guard/forward prior to the 2018 NBA Draft. In his debut season with the Dallas Mavericks (at just 20 years old, mind you), Luka has proved all the haters that they were drastically wrong about him.
His ascension began almost immediately. After having a terrible debut game against the Phoenix Suns in which the Mavericks lost by a total of 21 points where Luka recorded only 10 points, and four turnovers, the Thick and Slick Rookie bounced back in a major way. He carved up the Minnesota Timberwolves for 26 points, 6 boards, and three dimes while shooting 50% from the field. Not bad for a 19 year old who was facing possibly the most criticism and scrutiny in the entire 300 player league. From there, the Don's confidence and performance level only went up.
(Side note: Basketball Reference has a bunch of HILARIOUS nicknames listed on their profile page for him like Matador, Cool Hand, The Don, Wonder Boy, and Swaggy L. The fact that somebody tried to nickname a chunky Slovenian kid "Swaggy L" is just beyond me.)
For the first time since Dirk Nowitzki's legs decided to give up on trying, Dallas had a franchise centerpiece that they could build around for a decade and a half. The reliance of Dennis Smith Jr. becoming a superstar point guard no longer weighed on Dallas's front office hopes. They had acquired an even better playmaker and shooter than the young sophomore guard out of NC State.
There was even some time throughout the first half of the season where Dallas actually looked like they could contend for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference. Eventually though, that hope dwindled down the drain, and so the front office decided to make an Earth-shattering move near the trade deadline. The Mavs dealt Dennis Smith Jr., and Deandre Jordan, among others, in return for the New York Knicks superstar big man, Kristaps Porzingis, and streaky three point shooter Tim Hardaway Jr.
The two overlooked foreign studs were a match made in European heaven. Dallas had instantly become a force in the Western Conference for at least a decade, or at least they would achieve that status once Kristaps was cleared to play following his knee injury.
(Now seems like a good time to mention the allegations against Kristaps Porzingis that have been recently brought up in the last several days. If these allegations are in fact true, then I want to note just how despicable, revolting, inhumane, and disgusting Kristaps Porzingis is for performing these alleged actions and saying what he allegedly said. Rape is not something that should ever be taken lightly. It is one of the most, if not the most, horrible things that one human can do to another. The short and long term effects of it are incalculable. With that being said, I truly pray and hope that these remarks are false because nobody deserves to be treated that way, nor treat anybody that way. It is an unfortunate fact that this is the world that we live in, and if I could change it, then I would immediately to do so.)
The trade that shook the world didn't just effect the NBA news cycle for nearly a week, it also displayed Dallas's admission of tanking for the rest of the 2018-19 season. By abandoning two starters in DSJ and Deandre Jordan, the Mavs admitted that it was time to concentrate on their rebuild once again.
In the famous trade that occurred on draft night between the Atlanta Hawks and the Mavericks, which resulted in Trae Young and Luka swapping places, the Mavs also attached a top-5 protected first round pick in the 2019 draft. This means that if the Mavericks get a top 5 pick in this year's draft, then they get to keep it and draft whomever they desire with the promised pick overlapping to the 2020 draft for the Hawks. If their pick falls outside of the top 5, then it goes to Atlanta. So, realistically, the Hawks could have two picks in the lottery if the Mavericks are not bad enough to retain their own pick this year. In hindsight, the Trae-for-Luka trade isn't as horrendous as it seems, especially when you consider how magnificent Trae Young has been over the past couple of months.
Despite Young's resurgence throughout the course of the last several weeks, if I did have a vote for the Rookie of the Year award, it would go directly to Luka. He's just been more consistent over the course of the season, and has displayed that he has several moves in his arsenal which are nearly unstoppable. He's also played some of his best games of the season against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The thing that sets Luka apart from the rest of his rookie class (Young, Ayton, Bagley, etc.) is that he's posting better rookie numbers than LeBron James did in his 2003-04 rookie season... That's just fucking frightening.
Luka vs. LeBron
Luka: 21.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 5.9 APG, 42.5% FG, 32.7% 3PT, 71% FT
LeBron: 20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 41.7% FG, 29% 3PT, 75.4% FT
He's proved that he can play against the best of the best, and make them look just as silly as anybody else throughout the league. The man is a walking mismatch. If you try to put a big on him, like, say Draymond Green, he's going to lull him to sleep with his crossovers then by blow by him for a floater. If you try to put a smaller guard on him, like, say Stephen Curry, then he can either back him down in the high post or shoot over the top of him from the perimeter. In a few years, we'll be watching Luka do some of the things that this year's should-be-MVP James Harden is doing. I don't think he'll ever average 36 PPG, because I don't think anybody will ever do that again (unless it's Harden just being himself next season because Giannis wins the MVP this year), but by then he'll definitely be displaying the same amount of "I'm In My Mother Fucking Bag," moves that the world's best player is showcasing right now.