Basketball, more than any of the other major sports, is about the individuals. Stars drive the revenue, stars attract the fans, stars win championships. Yet separating the cream of the crop might just be the hardest it has ever been. The glut of talent around the NBA is at an all-time high and nit-picking your way to a discrete top-ten is downright impossible. So I needed to lay out some standards by which I have chosen my list:
- These rankings are the ten best players in the NBA, NOT the ten most valuable. – Salaries and contracts carry no weight, nor does position scarcity (i.e given the depth at point guard and the lack of talent at center, an average center is more valuable than an average point guard).
- Stats matter, but only to an extent – Kevin Love is not going to put up the same caliber of stats this season as last season. Does this mean he has regressed? Is he a worse player than he was a year ago? No, he’s just playing for a championship, not being the alpha-dog on a faulty pretender (I’m looking at you, Kobe).
- Win one game – The single biggest criterion for me is who I would pick to win one game of basketball.
So, without further ado…
1) LeBron James (Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers)
2013-2014 Stats: 27.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 56.7% FGP
Thus far in LeBron’s career, he has disproved every single criticism that has been heaped upon him. Not a winner? Two rings later, I would strongly beg to differ. Not a good outside shooter? He shot 37.9% from outside the arc last season. Didn’t like the way he left Cleveland without winning a ring? Well, he’s back and poised for more.
Stop talking about what LeBron is not and start appreciating just how great he is. The most complete package of speed, strength, size, and overall athletic ability this league has ever seen, LeBron has no holes in his game. Lebron is the best passer and perimeter defender in basketball and can effectively guard all five positions. Don’t worry about the early struggles with Cleveland, he will figure them out. The only thing to worry about? Due to his durability and his teams’ continual progression late into the season, his career minutes have reached an alarmingly high number. David Blatt will have to be able to manage Lebron’s minutes better.
2) Kevin Durant (Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder)
2013-2014 Stats: 32.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 50.3% FGP
That gaping hole in the 2014-2015 season thus far is the absence of KD from the league. The slim reaper (let it happen), possesses the smoothest scoring ability we have ever seen from a nearly seven-footer. He is not only the best scorer in basketball, but also the quietest off-court star this league has seen in awhile; we’ll see if that changes with the “Return 2.0” looming after 2016.
Coming off an MVP season, Durant, just 25 years old, might gain the “best player in the league” title sooner than later. The only thing KD has yet to achieve? That elusive title may not be far off, the only question will be whether he gets his ring in Oklahoma City or elsewhere.
3) Anthony Davis (Forward, New Orleans Pelicans)
2013-2014 Stats: 20.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, 2.8 BPG, 51.9% FPG
Anthony Davis’ stats thus far this season indicate that monstrous jump that would be expected from the gifted big man in his third year. With the ability to control the paint against anybody he faces in the entire league, Davis might just be a rare cross between Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon. Though ESPN may be overreacting just a tad to Davis’ leap this year, he already is the third best player in the league and not as far behind the top two as some may be led to believe.
4) Stephen Curry (Guard, Golden State Warriors)
2013-2014 Stats: 24.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 8.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, 47.1% FGP
Find me a better shooter from the point guard position… ever. I’ll wait. Curry’s greatest weapon, though, is his ability to pull up off the dribble in traffic. He is literally unguardable within thirty feet of the basket. Ill take Steph over CP3, Tony Parker, or any point guard in the league (its hard to believe some thought Curry would be a “tweener in the NBA because of his lack of ball skills and passing).
His comparatively high turnover rate, though a concern, is just as much a product of the system he plays in than any innate flaw. Simply put, if I want to win one game of basketball, give me Curry and I will take my chances.
5) Blake Griffin (Forward, Los Angeles Clippers)
2013-2014 Stats: 24.1 PPG, 3.9 APG, 9.5 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 52.8% FGP
Long gone are the days when Griffin was just a high-flying, uncontrollable dunk artist. Griffin’s expanded range and refined post-game have transformed him into a bonafide NBA superstar (and, yes the best player on his team). A night-in, night-out walking double-double, Griffin, alongside Chris Paul, has helped transform the Clippers organization from a joke to a legitimate NBA finals contender. It doesn’t hurt that he can dunk on anyone at any time, though. His improved foul shooting has been integral to his continued development into a star.
6) Chris Paul (Guard, Los Angles Clippers)
2013-2014 Stats: 19.1 PPG, 10.7 APG, 2.5 SPG, 4.3 RPG, 46.7% FGP
Still the best floor general in the NBA, Paul is who he is; an older guard who lost much of his quickness with injury and deterioration. Yet it should speak volumes about his basketball IQ and pure ability that he is still the sixth best player in the NBA. Still leading the most efficient offense in the league, Paul is by no means a washed-up veteran. He can still be dominant in spurts and often intentionally defers for the betterment of the team. Paul isn’t going to turn the ball over and can still be the best player on a championship team.
7) Carmelo Anthony (Forward, New York Knicks)
2013-2014 Stats: 27.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 45.2% FGP
But… but… he’s not a winner. No team is ever going to win a championship with Melo, but Carmelo Anthony is still one of the deadliest scorers in the NBA and consistently attacks the glass with ferocity. Anthony is one of the strongest players in the NBA and can beat you off the dribble, shooting, and on the glass. When Melo is on, good luck doing anything to slow him down. When looking for a scapegoat for the struggles in New York, look past the heavily-scrutinized Anthony and point the finger elsewhere. Twenty seconds on the clock, down one point, give me Carmelo Anthony.
8) Russell Westbrook (Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder)
2013-2014 Stats: 21.8 PPG, 6.9 APG. 1.9 SPG, 5.7 RPG, 43.7% FGP
Always playing the part of sidekick to KD, Russ has often been the butt of scrutiny for his insistence on shooting. Now though, with both him and Durant sidelined, fans are getting a taste of what they’re missing. Westbrook is the most electric guard in the NBA – with arguably the best straight-line speed in the league. One day, Westbrook might just be handed the reigns to his own team (it may just be OKC), and only then will we truly be able to quantify this guy’s talent.
9) Demarcus Cousins – (Center, Sacramento Kings)
2013-2014 Stats: 22.7 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.4 BPG, 49.6% FGP
The temper tantrum-happy Cousins has come into the 2014-15 season on an absolute tear. He has become the premiere scorer at the center position and might soon create an interesting rivalry with The Brow. With an array of moves in the post, a solid midrange jumper, and a body sculpted to be an NBA bully (in a good way), Boogie has minimized the off-the-court issues thus far and dominated ever since his stint with Team USA this summer. With the rejuvenation of the big man in the league, it will be interesting to see if a real contender comes chasing for the dominant big man in the coming years.
10) James Harden (Guard, Houston Rockets)
25.4 PPG, 6.1 APG, 4.7 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 45.6% FGP
Just looking back at the James Harden trade, the Thunder got absolutely robbed. Completely fleeced. Kevin Martin no longer plays for them, Jeremy Lamb is not a serviceable player, and the picks have amounted to little. Yet it may cost Oklahoma City something far more valuable than a few wins here and there; it may be the ultimate reason Kevin Durant bolts next offseason.
Meanwhile, Harden might be the third best pure offensive talent in the NBA. His knack for getting to the free throw line and his aggression highlight a jack of all trades skillset. Is this the year Houston makes a run in the playoffs in the dangerous Western Conference? If so, Harden is going to be the reason why.
Cleveland Cavaliers, Featured, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, NBA All Stars, NBA News, NBA Teams & Players, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings