This year's All-Star Game was a blast, continuing the high-scoring trend we've seen lately in these yearly exhibitions. Russell Westbrook's great performance helped the West to a win, and a new record was set for combined points in an All-Star Game, 321 total points. It's hard to blame the players for not playing too much defense, playing too hard is how you end up with needless injuries, like Kobe Bryant's broken nose courtesy of Dwyane Wade in the 2012 All-Star Game. Fans vote in players they love to see put the ball in the basket, and it'd be silly to deny them that right. Only two players playing in this year's game have averaged less than 15 points per game this year, one being Tim Duncan of the Spurs, who scored 14.5, a reflection of how few minutes he plays rather than eroding skills. The other is Kyle Korver of the Hawks, the three-point specialist in the middle of a historic season-long hot streak. I in no way blame anyone for voting these high-scorers to the game, I believe it is current All-Star Kyrie Irving's commercial alter ego, Uncle Drew, who taught the world that "getting buckets" is the name of the game.
We can debate whether that's true, but either way, it's also important to remember the players who impact the game in other ways, whether that be passing, rebounding, or shutting down the other team's top scorers. So let's take a look at the 10 players who impact the game most without scoring 15 points per game.
(Note: This list only includes players who have appeared in 50 games, and excludes the All-Stars previously discussed.)
10. Roy Hibbert
9. Tony Allen
These are two of the older players on this list, and are both admittedly a bit past their primes. Hibbert's prime passed with his horrid second-half and playoffs last year; he provides nothing offensively and not a whole lot in the rebounding department, but his shot-blocking prowess is still about as good as it gets in the NBA. His defense is one of the few things that have let the Pacers, predicted by most to finish close to last in the East, maintain a respectable record. Tony Allen's late-career prime was probably last year, culminating with his very memorable hard-nosed defense on Kevin Durant in the epic seven game playoff series between the Thunder and Grizzlies. His play has slipped a bit this year but he's still one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and an incredibly important cog in the new and improved version of the Grit-N'-Grind Grizzlies.
8. Paul Pierce
Pierce's numbers continue to shrink as he gets older, but I think this season in Washington has been a lot better than last season in Brooklyn. His numbers shrinking are more of a result of a lower minutes load than anything else, and the advanced metrics rank this season much higher than last year in Brooklyn, or the final (for now) season in Boston. His three-point shooting numbers are still terrific, and his veteran presence is invaluable to the young Wizards. He's still a serious threat in the fourth quarter, and his old-man game should be studied by aging players for years to come.
7. Rudy Gobert
The Frenchman (or Stifle Tower as some have come to call him) has taken a huge step forward in his second year with the Utah Jazz. In his rookie year, he was pretty much as raw as you can be on the offensive end and still get playing time, a reflection of his insane shot-blocking ability. He's not going to draw double teams in the post any time soon, but his repertoire on the offensive end has definitely grown. He has improved his court vision and become a much better passer, and his skills around the rim look to be on an upwards trend. He's a terrific shot blocker and inside presence, so his offensive game doesn't need to really improve by all that much for him to be a consistently impactful player in the league.
6. Hassan Whiteside
I had to break my rule for this guy, he's only played 25 games and started 10, but he's way too much of a story to not bring him up. There's not much left to say about his incredible emergence. It's surreal to see a seven-footer signed off the streets to come in an absolutely dominate the way he has. Unlike Hibbert, his dominance reaches multiple facets of the game. No shot around the rim is safe from his freakishly long and rubbery arms, he is a tenacious rebounder who refuses to be pushed out of position on defense and can leap over players to get the board on the offensive end, and finally, he runs the floor in a way that puts most other big men to shame. If he can keep putting at numbers at this absurd rate he can be an All-Star next year, but even if his numbers dip he has arrived as one of the more productive big men in the league.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis has taken a slight step backwards in his outside shooting, but outside of that, he has delivered on all the potential he showed last year on his way to becoming a basketball cult hero. The twenty year-old Greek Freak has been a fiend slashing to the rim, with his unholy blend of speed and height, and length. He's bumped up his scoring, rebounding, and assisting rates, and the advanced metrics are crazy about his defense. A lot of the what the metrics reflect is the Bucks improved defense as a team, but his individual defense has also improved. The key to the Buck's top five defensive rating has been putting a five long-armed athletic players on the court at all time, clogging up passing lanes and making it easier for players to get into help position when needed. Giannis fits perfectly into that scheme, and is top ten in the league thus far in terms of Defensive Win Shares among non-bigs. Considering how far he's progressed in two years, it's terrifying to think what he might be in five years, and even more terrifying to think that he'll only be twenty-five at that time
4. Andre Drummond
Drummond's season got off to a seriously shaky start, leading many to wonder if everyone was wrong to hype him up as a Orlando-era Dwight Howard type force on the boards and on defense; but as is the story with the entire Pistons team this year, the release of Josh Smith has allowed him to come into his own and start dominating once again. The rough start to the season has his metric stats for this season thrown off and ranked as a drop-off from his rookie and sophomore seasons, but I don't think anyone who's watched him over the past two months would have any serous criticisms about his development. His free-throw shooting is still embarrassing, and he'll never be a player where you can consistently throw him the ball down low on the block, but he is one of the better big men in the league, and he and Greg Monroe form an incredible front-court duo in The Palace.
3. Draymond Green
Draymond Green's last nine months have been pretty unbelievable. Before these past few months, he was a decent young rotation player on a good team, with serious doubts about his offensive game and whether or not he could fit definitively into one of the forward spots. But last years first-round playoff series with the Clippers started the national recognition of the Draymond renaissance. Drayman played great defense, and did an impressive job of stretching the floor from the power forward spot. The Warriors bowed out in seven games, but the team and Draymond earned a lot of respect for themselves. Under Steve Kerr this season, Draymond has continued his outstanding play, and has blossomed into quite possibly the best inside-outside defender in the league. He can shut down wings, he can shut down power forwards, and he plays with the kind of heart that inspires teams and fan bases. Basketball-Reference Defensive Win Shares stats credits him as THE most impactful defender in the NBA. It's truly been an unbelievable ride for Draymond over these past few months, he makes his eleven points per game count as much as anyone I can remember watching.
2. Tyson Chandler
1. DeAndre Jordan
It's really hard to rank these two guys, and honestly I wouldn't blame anybody for flipping these top two spots. Tyson Chandler brought in the era of the modern big men; they're not post up players, but they dominate the paint, create chaos on the glass on both side of the floors, and bend defenses by dunking over everyone on rolls to the basket. Chandler was key to the Dallas Maverick's incredible run to win the 2011 Finals, and after having some up and down years with the Knicks, he has found his way back to Dallas, and picked up right where he left off. He has brought back a level of defensive intensity that Rick Carlisle's team was missing ever since he left. But now stepping into the ring, DeAndre Jordan, Chandler 2.0. DeAndre is such a freak athlete and is such a dominant force on the glass that it's really difficult to figure out how he slipped into the second round the year he was drafted. His offense game is the furthest thing from polished, but Jordan is on his way to leading the league in rebounds per game for a second straight year, and is posting a truly impressive 2.4 blocks per game.
The advanced metrics have these guys basically tied in terms of impact, Chandler's Win Shares per 48 minutes is noticeably better than Jordan's, but Jordan has played a significantly higher minutes load than Chandler. The ultimate factor in my decision is that Jordan has been a monster in the couple of games that his front court mate Blake Griffin has missed this year, carrying the team on his back often times. Both of these guys are just absolutely incredible big men, the kind that any NBA team would be lucky to have. These are the guys that define the modern NBA big man, able to impact the game in huge ways without demanding the rock.