50. De'Aaron Fox
This spot could just as easily have gone to a solid contributor on a championship-caliber team, such as Marcus Smart or Montrezl Harrell, but De’Aaron Fox takes the slight edge. Before the 2020 NBA season was suspended indefinitely, Fox and the Sacramento Kings were vying for their first playoff appearance since 2006. De’Aaron has improved each of his three years and is just scratching the surface of his potential as an elite guard in the NBA. However, after averaging 37.1% from three in the 2018-19 season, he has come back down to earth at only 30.7% in 2020. The undeniable speed and explosiveness of his game make him a serious threat for defenders; if Fox can become a more reliable shooter, we will be hearing his name next to the best point guards in the league. Surrounded by young talent–Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III, and Bogdan Bogdanovic–Fox is poised to be the head of a young Kings team set to make many future playoff runs.
49. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
(Oklahoma City Thunder)
Coming into the season, the Thunder were projected to finish with a record of 33-49. Instead, Oklahoma City surpassed 33 wins on February 5 and was on a trajectory to finish with a record comparable to last year’s Russell Westbrook and Paul George led Thunder team. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been an integral part of the Thunder’s surprising success, serving as the team’s leading scorer at 19.3 points per game. After a promising rookie season playing in L.A., he was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Paul George to the Clippers. Gilgeous-Alexander is a versatile guard who has the size to play forward in small-ball lineups and serve as a multi-positional defender. Showing flashes of skillful playmaking, finishing, and footwork abilities, Shai fits perfectly in Head Coach Billy Donovan’s system. In addition, he has the opportunity to develop under all-time great Chris Paul. However, with trade rumors surrounding Chris Paul’s name, expect Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to grab the reins of the team in the very near future.
48. LaMarcus Aldridge
(San Antonio Spurs)
LaMarcus Aldridge may not be the player he once was, but his veteran presence is still very much felt around the league. LaMarcus steps up when it matters most–on January 10, 2019, he notched a career-high 56 points to go along with four blocks in a double-overtime victory over the Thunder. It’s no fluke Aldridge has made the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons in the NBA. Although he is not the flashiest player, he has been a big reason the Spurs have made the playoffs the last two years in a talent-loaded Western Conference. As a traditional big man, LaMarcus has also evolved his game to better fit into an increasingly shooting-driven league, averaging over two three-point attempts a game in 2020 and making a respectable 38.9% of them. There will always be a place for a solid veteran like LaMarcus Aldridge in the NBA.
47. Nikola Vucevic
Nikola Vucevic made his All-Star debut last year and spearheaded Orlando’s first playoff appearance since the Dwight Howard days. He has also led the team in rebounds and points per game for the previous two seasons. Vucevic was on the verge of bringing the Magic to the playoffs two years in a row before the hiatus was implemented. It’s hard to find any fault in his offensive game–his footwork and post moves are great, he has a remarkably consistent mid-range jumper, and he has the ability to step out and hit the three. In Orlando’s first game of the 2019 playoffs, they defeated the future champions, Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors, proving that they can compete with the best. Nikola struggled throughout the series against the Raptors defense, but bounced back, putting up 22, 14, and 6 in game three, despite losing by five. If the young core of Markelle Fultz, Aaron Gordon, Mo Bamba, and Jonathan Isaac can continue to develop around Nikola Vucevic, we may see the team move toward becoming a serious playoff contender.
46. D'Angelo Russell
After bouncing around the NBA for a couple of years, it looks as though D’Angelo Russell has finally found his home with the Timberwolves. Russell appeared to have cinched stardom following his All-Star season leading the Nets to the playoffs in 2019. He served as a catalyst, reviving the franchise, which would later attract the attention of star free agents. Even considering everything D’Angelo did for the Nets, no team would pass up an opportunity to land Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Upon arriving at Golden State, it did not take long to see that Russell had no viable future with the Warriors, and so he found himself traded to Minnesota at the deadline. Outside of basketball, D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns are close friends and previously hinted at teaming up. Due to Towns’ wrist injury, we were only afforded one game of the duo. Although they lost, we got a glimpse of their potential as one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Russell can generate his own offense, helping to open up the floor, allowing more, and higher quality shots. Having a reliable shooter to pair alongside Towns is especially beneficial as the Timberwolves rank 28th in three-point percentage among NBA teams. D’Angelo’s defense isn’t quite there, but he plays hard and brings invigorating leadership onto the court. His unsuccessful stints with the Lakers and Warriors leave us scratching our heads; however, if he can capitalize on this opportunity in Minnesota, D’Angelo Russell could become a perennial star in the league.