Deron Williams, Brook Lopez crack SI’s Top 50 NBA Players

Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez, Deron Williams
Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez, Deron Williams

The best Brooklyn Nets player is the 36th-best player in the NBA, according to Sports Illustrated.

Yesterday, Sports Illustrated began rolling out its list of the top 100 players in the NBA, listing two Nets between 51 and 100: Andrei Kirilenko (85th) and Joe Johnson (51st), adding that Kevin Garnett just missed the top 100.

Today, they continued their rankings by revealing nos. 50 to 31, and the two best Nets make the cut: Deron Williams at 45 (one spot above former Nets forward Paul Pierce), and Brook Lopez, at 36.

Here’s what SI’s Rob Mahoney had to say about Lopez:

If not for durability concerns — Lopez broke his right foot twice in the last three seasons — he would be ranked higher as the rare center who can carry an offense.

Brooklyn scored at a top-10 rate in 2012-13 with Lopez as its definitive leader in usage. That first-option role coincided with his most efficient season from the field (52.1 percent) since his rookie year and impressive production in the regular season and playoffs. Lopez followed that effort with absurd efficiency from the post before his latest foot injury ended his ’13-14 season after only 17 games. He has had three surgeries since: two to repair damage in his foot and another to address a tendon in his ankle.

Lopez says he was cleared to play in late July. If he picks up where he left off, he would not only be a vaunted offensive player but also a burgeoning defender who shows a better understanding of how to use space to his advantage. Lopez was a genuine help to Brooklyn’s defense last season. That more well-rounded game makes it easier to forgive his troubles on the glass.

The Nets are incredibly hard to rank, particularly those two players. Williams and Lopez have both proven at different points in their careers that they can be top-30 talents, but both have been hobbled by serious injury over the last two years. Their talents and issues makes any ranking of them seem both unfair and favorable at the same time.

Williams, who underwent surgery on both ankles in May, is slated to begin scrimmaging with his teammates today after a successful dodgeball tournament Monday night. Lopez has been working out with the team in their non-mandatory pre-camp workouts. “Missing Brook, that’s 20 points a night, and a big man that can score on anybody in this league,” Williams said about his teammate Monday. “That right there changes the landscape of things, just putting him right back in the lineup.”