Ranking the five best Washington state natives in the NBA right now

Washington
San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) drives to the basket against Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SEATTLE, Wash. — Though people don’t necessarily think of Washington as a basketball state, some of the best to ever hit the hardwood got their start in the Evergreen State. More than 15 players with WA roots have laced up in an NBA game this year, including two 2022 All-Stars.

Despite the Seattle SuperSonics being relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008, a rich basketball culture is blossoming across Washington. Every year, draft prospects enter the league from Gonzaga, Washington State, and the University of Washington—many of whom were raised in the state and decided to stick around for the college experience.

The best basketball player to come from WA is indisputably John Stockton, who remains the NBA’s all-time leader in both steals and assists while ranking fifth in games played. While it’s going to take quite a bit for him to be usurped, this next generation of Washington athletes is working tirelessly to reach the bar he set.

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Honorable Mentions: Corey Kispert (Edmonds, WA), Joe Harris (Chelan, WA; disqualified due to injury), Jaylen Nowell (Seattle, WA), Jalen McDaniels (Federal Way, WA), Malachi Flynn (Tacoma, WA).


5. Jaden McDaniels (Federal Way, WA): A 6-foot-9 forward in his second NBA season, McDaniels combines a modern skill-set with tremendous athleticism. He struggled out of the gate in his second season, but in his last 20 games, McDaniels is averaging 10.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game on 51.2% shooting from the floor and 36.4% from 3-point range.

Playing alongside two former No. 1 picks and a former All-Star in Minnesota, McDaniels needs to find his way as a role player before becoming a focal point for his team. That said, McDaniels makes an immediate impact on the defensive end, where the B-Ball Index grades him in the 99th percentile in terms of defensive position versatility. Simply put, McDaniels is already one of the most versatile defenders in basketball at just 21 years old.

There’s a good chance for McDaniels to rise on this list if he puts the puzzle pieces together as a two-way threat in this league.


4. Matisse Thybulle (Sammamish, WA): Whereas McDaniels is an excellent defender on the rise, Thybulle walked into the league as one of the best defenders in the sport. A 6-foot-5 wing who was started all four years at the University of Washington, Thybulle was named to one of the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams in only his second year.

An Australian-American who returned to the states in 2005, Thybulle spent his pivotal teenage years growing up in WA state, honing his skills after notoriously struggling to score until late in high school.

His shooting efficiency fell off a cliff this year, but he’s still managing to convert a tick under half of his field-goal attempts. Despite his offensive woes, Thybulle is a contender to spend the next 10 years making All-Defensive teams, and for that, he deserves recognition.


3. Kevin Porter Jr. (Seattle, WA): A polarizing young player with boatloads of potential, Porter Jr. is what basketball fans would refer to as a ‘walking bucket.’  A product of Seattle’s basketball powerhouse, Ranier Beach High School, KPJ is in his third season averaging 13.5 points, six assists, four rebounds, and a steal in about 30 minutes per game.

Off-court dilemmas have plagued Porter Jr. for some time now, but he’s settled with a rebuilding Houston Rockets team that’s willing to give him the time and resources to be the best version of himself. In terms of raw talent, KPJ has all the tools to become a reliable contributor for years to come.

While his overall scoring efficiency has been poor this season, Porter Jr. is adjusting to playing the point guard position while sustaining an A-grade in perimeter shooting (per B-Ball Index). Through the ups and downs, he remains one of the sport’s most promising and entertaining young players.


2. Dejounte Murray (Seattle, WA): Hanging his hat on being a stellar guard defender when entering the league, Murray has added depth to his game with each passing season. Once touted as a top prospect in terms of raw talent, he fell to the San Antonio Spurs at No. 29 in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Now in his fifth season (sixth, if you count one year lost to injury), Murray reached his first NBA All-Star game averaging 20.1 points, 9.4 assists, 8.3 rebounds, and a league-leading two steals per game. His signature play is the ‘pick-six’ in which he pokes the ball away from an opposing ball handler and surges up the court for an easy bucket on the other end.

Murray has become a legitimate floor general, running the Spurs’ offense as one of the most relied-upon creators in basketball. Though his deep jumper is still a work in progress, Dejounte is a menace from the mid-rang and can create his own shot by breaking down a defender off the dribble.

More so than anything, Murray is the heart and soul of the Spurs’ franchise at this juncture. He’s a model citizen on and off the court who shares a deep bond with the soon-to-be winningest NBA coach of all time, Gregg Popovich. If you weren’t already paying attention, watch for Dejounte Murray to solidify himself as one of the best basketball players ever to hail from the state of Washington.


1. Zach LaVine (Seattle, WA): Paving a path for the next generation of Washington basketball players is this 6-foot-5 scoring machine who made his second All-Star game this season. Born in Renton, WA, LaVine played high school basketball in Bothell and attended one year at UCLA before he was drafted 13th overall in 2014.

A career 19.6 point-per-game scorer, LaVine is an offensive threat from anywhere on the floor. His shooting range extends far beyond the 3-point line while his outstanding leaping ability and athletic ability empower him to score at will when driving to the basket. When engaged, LaVine leverages his scoring threat to generate opportunities for teammates leading to assists. This is the pivotal next step that not every microwave scorer can take.

Turning 27 on March 10, 2022, LaVine is only just entering his prime years by NBA standards. After years of posting up stellar numbers on below-average teams, he’s finally competing with a Chicago Bulls unit that has shocked the Eastern Conference. By virtue of playing for a winning group, LaVine broke the stigma of being a ‘good stats, bad team’ player by proving that his teams can win with him as a primary option.

LaVine has averaged more than 25 points per game for the last four seasons, and yet nothing he’s done in that span is more impressive than his back-to-back Slam Dunk Contest victories in 2015 & 2016. Seriously, go watch it if you’ve never seen it before (and go re-watch it if you have!).

At this point, it’s not a question of who is the best Washington native in the NBA right now: It’s a question of where LaVine ranks in the state’s best athletes overall.

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