By LIAM NGO, Reporter
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (SCPDA)—Basketball is an non-stop changing game. Just in the last year we have seen the evolution of small ball and what looks to be the start of the extinction of traditional big men. The NBA has become a league where players learn how to shoot they get out. Every offseason there are new centers and power forwards that are determined to come into the new season with a deadly jump-shot. Those who cannot get it done from the perimeter simply do not play, a prime example being last year’s NBA Finals when Golden State Warriors seven-footer Andrew Bogut was benched for Warriors six-foot-seven small forward Draymond Green. This series set a precedent which changed the way individuals are looked at in the league. While in that series traditional center Timofey Mozgov played fantastic, the Cavaliers did not have a deep enough bench to compete with the quickness of the Warriors’ one point guard, one shooting guard, and three small forward lineup. This changed the way players are viewed, particularly big men. This is why I have decided to give a revised list of the top ten players in the NBA.
The top player on this list is an obvious choice. He is the best player in the world and dominates even the best of his competition; Stephen Curry. The former Most Valuable Player looks like a man amongst boys when he steps onto the court. This is not due to his size, he is rather small for an NBA player standing at six-foot-three. This is due to his incredible ability to shoot the ball from ridiculously far and create shots not only for himself, but for others too. He is also a great hustler on defense, pressuring opposing point guards to cough up the ball quite a bit. Curry is leading the NBA in scoring with nearly 30 points per game, he is 11th in assists, fourth in steals, and fifth in three point field goal percentage. This world champs’ numbers make the argument for number one on this list.
The second player on my list is another predictable one; Lebron “King” James. Two years ago there would be no question that Lebron is at the top of this list but now number two is debateable. Lebron is one of many victims whose careers have been hurt by Father Time. Don’t get me wrong, even now Lebron is one of the most athletic people in the world but it pales in comparison to what he used to be. Although Lebron can still jam the ball, he is not a posterizer like he once was. He now has adopted more of a post up game, letting his three point skills fall to the floor. However, this post game is effective allowing Lebron to put up 40 almost every night against Andre Iguodala in the NBA Finals. Although he is not putting up quite the same numbers in the regular season, Lebron is averaging a good 25 points at the fifth overall standings in scoring, fourth in rebounds amongst small forwards, 16th in assists (first for small forwards), sixth in blocks amongst small forwards, and seventh in steals amongst small forwards. While he is still a great player, King James is looking more like a prince.
The third player is another reigning NBA MVP; Kevin Durant. The “Durantula” has had a fair share of injury problems. However, when healthy he is among the league’s elite. When the Thunder are equipped with Durant their win percentage is above .700 and without him it dips under .500. He brings so many things to the table, being one of the league’s best scorers inside and out. The six time all-star is third in scoring, first in rebounding amongst small forwards, second in field goal percentage amongst small forwards, and second in assists amongst small forwards.
The fourth player on this list is another MVP, however, not in the traditional sense. This player was the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard. While Leonard does not have the craziest stat line, his strength comes in his lockdown defense. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year is the premier perimeter defender in all of the NBA. His ability to take the other team’s star out of the game, combined with his three point shot and athleticism, Leonard has joined the league’s elite. The former NBA Champion is top 20 in scoring, number eight in steals (second amongst small forwards), seventh in rebounds amongst small forwards, fourth in blocks amongst small forwards, and second in three point percentage.
The fifth player on this list is the teammate of the third player; Russell Westbrook. Last year’s scoring champion is without a doubt the most explosive player in the NBA. Russell Westbrook is a point guard pocket-knife, he can rebound, pass, drive, and he is a semi-decent shooter. Westbrook came into his own last year with the absence of Kevin Durant and at times, Serge Ibaka. Carrying the team on his back, Westbrook was on a tear coming into the playoffs making the one-man team very dangerous. However, a Pelicans victory on the last game of the season eliminated the Thunder from joining in the post-season fun. However, Westbrook’s hot play did not stop with the new season. The Thunder are dark horses of the Western conference lead by Durant and Westbrook, that have a shot at a championship run. The explosive point guard is first in steals, second in assists, first in rebounds amongst point guards, and sixth in scoring.
The sixth player on this list is quite the character. This NBA Champion is coming into his own as a superstar despite being disliked by the general public. If you couldn’t tell already this player is Draymond Green, one who was in the spotlight after the NBA finals where he bashed Lebron James and the Cavs. Draymond Green is one of the best defenders in the league, with his tenacious post defense and brilliantly timed double teams. The most impressive aspect of his game is the strange predicament he came from. There are not many six-foot-seven power forwards, and of those that exist not many can do what Draymond Green can. Draymond is similar to Charles Barkley in the way he uses his weight to overcome his lack of height in order to get rebounds. However, unlike Barkley, Green has a three point shot added to his arsenal. He uses all of these tools to become the ultimate triple double machine, boasting nine of them at the midway point in the season which is over a third of all the total triple doubles in the league. This undersized, defense oriented superstar is first in triple doubles, seventh in blocks amongst power forwards, ninth amongst scoring in power forwards, fourth in rebounds amongst power forwards, fourth in steals amongst power forwards, and sixth in assists amongst the whole league (the only forward in the top 10 in assists).
The seventh player on this last is one of the deadliest offensive players in the league: James Harden. On paper, Harden should be number one on this list. With an incredibly stacked stat line, on offense and defense, Harden looks like he is the best in the league. However, the stats do not tell the whole story. Despite being fourth in blocks amongst shooting guards and fifth in steals amongst shooting guards, Harden is an effortless defender. By this I mean he does not try very hard on defense. Despite a good defensive stat line Harden is what I like to call a “highlight defender,”. He regularly takes defensive possessions off, though tries when he can get a SportsCenter top 10 block or steal. In short, Harden does not lock down on defense, just simply waits until he can pull off a flashy play. While it is selfish of him to do this on defense, Harden is nothing but a great teammate on the other side of the ball. Harden, first in assists in the whole league, is one of the best playmakers in the NBA. Harden is also second in scoring in the league, thanks largely in part to his creative and effective dribble moves. In addition to his deadly jump-shots, Harden attacks his opponents with an efficiency on offense that is unmatched. Harden also boasts an impressive first in rebounds amongst shooting guards.
The eighth player on this list is last year’s NBA Most Improved Player, Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler is one of the streakiest players in the NBA. When Butler is on he is one of the league’s most dangerous scorers. When Butler is off he leaves the Bulls drowning without their team’s best player. Even with these inconsistencies Butler is still a phenomenal player. An athletic bundle of energy, Butler can score from anywhere on the floor and lockdown elite players on defense. Butler when from being a role player two seasons ago to a superstar. Butler’s incredible work ethic is admirable, and is without a doubt the reason he rose through the NBA ranks so quickly. Butler is 11th in scoring (third amongst shooting guards), third in rebounding amongst shooting guards, fifth in assists amongst shooting guards, second in steals amongst shooting guards, and fourth in blocks amongst shooting guards.
The ninth player on this list is by far the youngest person on this list. At age 22 Anthony Davis is one of the game’s most dynamic player. He is an amazing rebounder, shot-blocker, and an inside and mid-range scoring. Not to mention that he has a developing three point shot that is getting better and better every year. Davis is considered the future of the NBA, signing a record-breaking $145 million dollar contract extension active next year at the end of his rookie contract. Being a point guard in high school (before he hit his growth spurt), Davis has amazing guard skills that are most likely the reason his game is so versatile. He can work off the block, face-up, and even at the perimeter. Davis is just the right combination of offense and defense. His only problems are injuries and experience. Davis has a clear injury problem, having 14 injuries since he has been in the league. Although all of them are minor, they are just enough to have him as a frequent flyer on the bench watching his team play without him. Another thing is Davis lack of experience, which mostly relates to the inability to win games. Although the Pelicans made the playoffs last year, the got there on one win and were swept by the Warriors. Davis has a very solid supporting cast in New Orleans with Jrue Holiday and an amazing, versatile Tyreke Evans. However, Davis has not yet learned how to put the team on his back like a Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan. This young star is tenth in scoring, ninth in rebounds (second amongst power forwards), second in blocks, seventh in assists amongst power forwards, and fifth in steals amongst power forwards.
The tenth player on this list might be the most shocking: Kyle Lowry. Lowry’s play this year has been phenomenal, and is largely attributed to his recent weight loss. Over the off-season Lowry had significant weight loss that made headlines all over. Formerly known for being “chubby” even though he was in the NBA, Lowry made a lifestyle change. How much he lost was not disclosed, although he stated that his pants no longer fit and that it was nice to have a six pack. Lowry has elevated his game to a new level of play. Although he played amazing the first half of last year, earning a starting spot in the all star game, he could not stay the long haul and fell off starting in February. He has made starter in the all star game this year for the second time in a row, but there is no indication that his great play will end. Lowry is now in the best shape of his life and looks ready to dominate the NBA for the future years to come. The newly skinny star is fifth in scoring amongst point guards, fourteenth in assists, third in steals, and fourth in three pointers made.
This list was hard to compile, but I decided it based on statistics and how I have seen them affect games. Some players who almost made it were: Paul George, Blake Griffin, Demar DeRozan, and John Wall. George had a great first quarter of the season but cooled off way too much. Griffin has been too injured for me to consider him. Demar has been playing like a top 10 player, but has not been at that level long enough for me to have him in there. John Wall has turned it on recently, but had a terrible start to the season.