1) LeBron James
LeBron James is far and away the best player in the NBA and it’s not even close. This season, his player efficiency rating is 31.60, nearly three points better than the next best player, Kevin Durant. Recently, James became the first player ever to score at least 30 points and shoot better than 60 per cent in six-straight games. He is well on his way to winning his fourth MVP and another trip to the NBA finals. Nobody is going to say James is the best ever, but he is without doubt the best of his generation.
2) Kevin Durant
(Oklahoma City Thunder)
The best of the rest starts with Kevin Durant. Durant has three-straight scoring titles and is on his way to a fourth, leading the league with 28.9 points per game. However, Durant is much more than a pure scorer. Over the past few seasons, Durant has rounded his game out by adding rebounding and defensive prowess to his already impressive offensive skills. Currently, he is shooting better than 50 per cent from the field, 40 per cent from beyond the three point arc and 90 per cent from the free throw line. If he can keep these averages up he would join Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash as the only players to accomplish the feat for an entire season. The gap between him and the number one spot is still huge but he is closing it gradually.
3) Chris Paul
(Los Angeles Clippers)
Chris Paul is the best floor leader in the NBA. Paul can score and get his teammates like no other player in the game. Paul’s decision making sets him apart from other players on this list as he makes the game so much easier for everyone else by getting his teammates the ball in areas of the court where they will get high percentage shots. Paul is the best defender at the guard position — he is pretty strong for someone who is only six-feet tall. His aggressiveness on the ball and his reading of the game allow him to rack up a lot of steals. The Clippers won 17- straight games with him at one point this season before his injury. The Clippers lost seven of nine during Paul’s time on the sideline.
4) Kobe Bryant
(Los Angeles Lakers)
If it were not for the ineptitude of Lakers this season, Kobe Bryant would probably rank higher. Even at the age of 34 — when his former rivals are either on the bench of a non-contender (Vince Carter), playing in China (Tracy McGrady) or out of the league (Allen Iverson) — Bryant remains one of the five best players in the NBA. Bryant still attacks the basket, runs the floor and defends. This is both a testament to Bryant’s talent and work ethic — you won’t find many more gifted players in the past or the future. Though it is well-noted that Bryant can be selfish and short-fused, when your team is not likely to make the playoffs and your teammates do not care, a true leader will take charge.
5) Carmelo Anthony
(New York Knicks)
The Knicks have started the season off really strong and Carmelo Anthony’s move to the power forward position has been a big reason why. Anthony creates a matchup nightmare for other players — if you put a bigger, stronger player on him, he will get past them with his quickness. If you try and guard him with a more traditional small forward, he will use his size and strength to bully them inside. Anthony’s ability to use both his strength inside and his improved shooting touch from outside makes him the most versatile scorer in the league. In the past 10 years, Anthony ranks first in field goal percentage and second in total makes among all players who have taken at least 20 field-goal attempts in the last 15 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime.
(Oklahoma City Thunder)
Russell Westbrook is that player people either love or hate. Westbrook’s talent is undeniable and the numbers he puts up are amazing. However, he is also prone to making boneheaded plays and is constantly seen throwing hissy-fits on the bench, being escorted by assistant coaches to the locker room to “cool off.” Westbrook’s behavior — and lack of fashion sense — aside, he still remains the most athletic guard in the NBA. He consistently gets to the basket and finishes over people. His size and strength make him a very good ball defender. His decision making and jump shot can still improve, but that doesn’t stop him from being the second-best guard in the game.
(San Antonio Spurs)
Tony Parker plays for arguably the most successful franchise of the past decade in the NBA. Parker has three NBA titles and a Finals MVP as well. This makes Parker the second-most decorated player on this list. What keeps him from being higher is the suggestion that he may be the product of a system that is successful with or without stars. This season both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli have missed substantial time with injury and fatigue, leaving Parker to carry the load. How has he done? The Spurs have the best record in the NBA and Parker has been the best player on that team. He should be second in the MVP race come the end of the season.
I struggled ranking Dwayne Wade. Wade’s career averages are Hall of Fame worthy, not to mention his two NBA titles and a finals MVP in 2006. However, he is clearly not the same player anymore. The recklessness he played with early in his career has left him a shadow of the physical player he once was. Still, he plays great defence, shoots a high percentage and will give baskets at the end of the game when they are most needed. But don’t expect Wade to be on these kinds of lists for much longer, especially if LeBron leaves after next season and the pressure is back on Wade to be the man.
9) Blake Griffin
(Los Angeles Clippers)
Blake Griffin has gotten away with simply using his superior athleticism, but he lacks the offensive skills of a Kevin Love or the defensive presence of a Serge Ibaka. His main offensive move is to get dunks near the basket on easy shots created by Chris Paul. What he does bring is an intimidation factor so teams continue to double-team him making it easier for his teammates. If he ever develops any fundamental skills, such as shooting free throws with consistency, playing good position defence and developing some post moves, he could be a top-three player. Until then, he is an athletic freak who can be bullied into having bad games by savvy veteran teams — see San Antonio’s 4–0 sweep in playoffs last season.
10) Zach Randolph
The last player in this top 10 is probably the most underrated player in the NBA simply for the fact that he plays in Memphis. Zach Randolph has averaged at least 20/10 seven times in his career, and when you consider nobody is doing that this season, it’s very impressive. He is the best player on a team many people think could go to the conference finals in the West. He is an unstoppable force down low and has led his team to fourth place in the tougher Western Conference.
Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan and Rajon Rondo all can make claims for the 9th or 10th spot on the list. But missing significant portions of the season and lack of team success hurts all of them.