Before going on with the list, what exactly are unicorns? “Unicorn” is the term used to describe big-men that can handle the ball and shoot from long distance – feats that came with the evolution of the game and traits that former bigs did not possess.
The term was coined by Warriors forward Kevin Durant when he described the 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks. “He can shoot, he can make the right plays, he can defend, he’s a 7-footer that can shoot all the way out to the 3-point line,” Durant said. “That’s rare. And block shots – that’s like a unicorn in this league.”
With that settled, here are the five best unicorns in the league:
5. Kristaps Porzingis, F, New York Knicks
The man called “The Unicorn” himself of course deserves to be in this conversation. Like Durant suggested, the Latvian does it all. Before going down due to an ACL tear, Porzingis tallied 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 2.4 blocks, and 0.8 steals.
Porzingis also shoots 43.9 percent from the field and 39.5 from beyond the arc. Porzingis is also crazy young; he is only 22 years old. The star forward, however, is still limited defensively. Porzingis ranks 67th in the league defense-wise, according NBA.com.
Still, Porzingis is only at the beginning of his career and he is already looking like the good news New York Knicks fans have been waiting for, for so many years now.
4. Karl-Anthony Towns, F, Minnesota Timberwolves
The T-Wolves are pretty lucky when it comes to drafting phenomenal big-men. First they got Kevin Garnett in 1995, then Towns 20 years later. But the potential for Towns is arguably greater than “The Big Ticket”.
Unlike young or even prime KG, the seven-foot KAT is a sniper from the three-point line. He shoots 41.4 percent from long range and has a 54.7 field goal percentage.
Despite being the second option to Jimmy Butler, the 22-year-old records 20.4 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 2.4 assists on average this season. Like KP, however, Towns has not reached his full potential defensively yet. The 22-year-old ranks 110th defensively in the NBA, but he puts up 1.5 blocks and 0.8 steals this season.
3. Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans Pelicans
Davis recently joined the MVP race after putting up superstar-level numbers. Everyone was ready to rule New Orleans out when DeMarcus Cousins was sidelined due to an Achilles tendon injury, but the six-foot-ten forward had other plans in mind.
Davis is fifth in the MVP ladder as he tallies 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.3 blocks, and 1.5 steals. “The Brow” is holding the fort for the Pelicans and his incredible efforts could be thanked for his team’s playoff-bound status.
Number-wise, 6-foot-11 Davis is unquestionably the top unicorn. The only reason why he is not higher on the list is because he is the eldest at 25, and possibly playing at his peak already.
2. Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
After a couple of frustrating years due to injuries, Joel “The Process” Embiid is finally showing what a healthy version of his self is capable of. The seven-footer is one of the quickest big-men in the league which makes him an offensive and defensive problem for his opposition each night.
The Cameroonian averages 23.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 0.7 steals this season – his longest season so far. He also belongs to the new breed of centers that can light it up from beyond the arc as he shoots 32.6 per cent from three.
Embiid is spearheading the charge in Philadelphia as the Sixers are heading to post-season for the first time since the 2011-12 season. His numbers, however, only gives us a glimpse of his maximum potential. The 23-year-old initially played on a minutes-restriction which he obviously did not like as he called it “f—ing bull–it.” He also missed 11 games as the Sixers were leaning towards caution given the injury history of their young star.
When it comes to charisma, Embiid is the winner by a country-mile. Embiid describes himself as a “troll” and anyone who wonders why should check his Twitter out.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee Bucks
Taking the top spot is Giannis Antetokounmpo who draws comparisons with a young LeBron James. The only missing from Giannis that’s preventing him from being an all-around threat is a reliable 23-foot shooting as he only averages 29.9 per cent from the downtown.
What’s scary is that the lack of a dependable long-range game does not seem to hold the “Greek Freak” back from wreaking havoc on the court. He is 10th in the MVP race after being the early favorite at the beginning of the season.
Despite the MVP ranking slide, the 6-foot-11 scores 27.2 rebounds, snatches 10.2 boards, and records 4.8 assists, records 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals thanks to his seven-foot-three wingspan. With those stats, he leads the Bucks in all categories except for steals.
To strengthen his claim as the NBA’s best unicorn, the Bucks’ point-center is only 23-year-old and with a lot of time to develop his game, it will only be a matter of time before he LeBron passes him the torch.