The art of list-making has become a staple in the world of sports and the NBA is no exception. It seems as though watching and enjoying our favorite players is no longer meeting our basketball viewing needs. Fortunately, society has embraced our drug addict like needs and we are more than welcome to pose our own opinions regarding who is better than who and thousands of other questions similar to it.
With the NBA and it’s superstars becoming more and more connected to the public through social media, lists and rankings of these superstars have been positioned at the forefront of much debate and conversation. However, much of the debate lies within one’s carefully calculated formula, or lack there of, for determining overall greatness and success.
The formula that I have developed for forming an opinion of a particular player and subsequently ranking them is simple, yet thoughtful. To begin, I look at the amount of success a player has achieved at this point in their career. Success can be defined by championships, scoring titles, individual statistics and of course the fingerprint said player has left on the game. Next, and perhaps most important, I give the player the overwhelmingly overlooked eye test. Statistics and box score numbers are one thing, but you can’t tally what a player brings to the court in terms of decision-making skills, developing their teammates performance or the passion for the game on a scouting report or stat sheet. The eye test, however, is where most of one’s bias unveils itself when having these types of debates. Therefore, it is important to remember that personal views on the game will always be present. And finally, I look into the player’s overall game. Is the player simply a scoring machine? Or, does he also distribute the ball effectively and hold himself to the same defensive standards as he does on the offensive end? A complete game usually signifies a complete player.
With the formula explained and present, here are the NBA’s top 5 players:
DISCLAIMER: Players who have been hindered by injury over the years will not appear on this list. (Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo)
5. Anthony Davis PF – New Orleans Pelicans
After bursting onto the NBA scene two seasons ago as a rookie, Anthony Davis made it clear that he was an all-around superstar. Standing at 6’10” and weighing 220lbs, Davis displays both the power and finesse of a dual threat low-post presence. In just two seasons, Davis as elevated his overall game quicker than anyone could have anticipated.
Now in only his third NBA season, Davis has lifted his averages from 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest as a rookie to now 24.9 points and 12.9 rebounds per contest, making him one of few players to be considered an automatic double-double threat.
Although he has clearly cemented himself as an offensively gifted talent, Davis truly shines on the defensive side of the ball.
Currently averaging 4.4 blocks and 2.3 steals per contest, Davis possess a Bill Russell style of play unmatched in today’s NBA.
In a league where individual defense has been placed on the back burner, Davis prides himself on his ability to alter shots, defend the low post and of course collect every missed shot off of the glass.
Davis has improved his overall game astronomically over the last two seasons and doesn’t look like he will be regressing any time in the foreseeable future. He has put the young and talent Pelicans roster on his back and will soon be an elite force in the tough Western Conference.
4. Russell Westbrook PG – Oklahoma City Thunder
Explosive doesn’t even begin to describe Russell Westbrook’s overall abilities and talent. At only 6’3” and just under 190lbs, Westbrook has claimed his throne as the most athletic player in the league. The most interesting thing about Westbrook that many critics overlook is that he seems to be playing out of position for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although a bit undersized, Westbrook shows that he has the shooting ability, inside scoring presence and play making skills of a well-rounded shooting guard. Unlike most current point guards, Westbrook has averaged nearly 5 rebounds per contest throughout his career and numerous triple-doubles. He also possesses an open court game only to be matched by a LeBron James and perhaps a healthy Derrick Rose.
Throughout his six (now on seventh) year NBA career, the explosive point guard has averaged 20.1 points, 6.9 assists and 4.9 rebounds per contest making him one of very few all-around outstanding floor generals in the league. His body of work on the defensive end of the floor is also something to examine as well as appreciate. While totaling nearly 2 steals per contest throughout his career, Westbrook has proven to be a matchup nightmare for many NBA point guards. His strength and athletic abilities allow him to overpower many of the league’s point guards as well as many undersized shooting guards. Westbrook has even shown the ability to defend the opposing team’s best player regardless of position.
Westbrook, alongside fellow superstar Kevin Durant, has also led the Thunder to three Western Conference Finals appearances as well as one NBA Finals appearance. Unfortunately, the Thunder as well as every other team, has been plagued with the dominate matchups of the San Antonio Spurs and the (former Big 3) Miami Heat. However, much success is in the near future for the young superstar regardless of whether or not he decides to return to Oklahoma City after his contract is up.
3. Kevin Love PF – Cleveland Cavaliers
In a league where athleticism and above the rim play has become the main selling point, power forward Kevin Love has managed to use fundamentals and basketball IQ to his advantage as he has slowly progressed into an elite NBA player. Very few, if none at all, players in today’s game have been able to own the three-point line as well as the glass the way Love has throughout his six (now seventh) year career. Averaging 19.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per contest, Love has proven to be one of the toughest matchups for opponents since his arrival in 2008.
Playing his first six seasons with the under achieving Minnesota Timberwolves, Love put up MVP type numbers season after season. He has established himself as one of the leagues best outside shooters as well as one of the two or three best rebounders.
The most likable characteristic of Love’s overall game is his attention to detail and fundamentals. Most of the league’s top rebounding big men rely on their height and athleticism to collect missed shots off of the glass. Love, however, uses his high basketball IQ and mastery of basic fundamentals to out rebound his opponents night in and night out. His devotion to fundamentals echos the play of NBA legend Larry Bird. Bird, similar to Love, was never the most athletic player on the court. However, he was able to score from any place on the floor and also out rebound his opponents by perfecting his fundamentals and working harder than any other player. This is not, however, a comparison between Love and Bird’s overall greatness. It is simply an observation that need not be overlooked.
Love’s only weakness found on the court is his defensive abilities. Although Love has without question become a more skillful defender, he still lacks the on ball presence needed to one be remembered as an NBA legend.
Now as a member of the “New Look” Cleveland Cavaliers, Love will look to continue his success on the glass and beyond the arch.
2. Kevin Durant SF – Oklahoma City Thunder
The “Slim Reaper” finally wins the coveted MVP award and all eyes are on KD to take the next step in becoming an NBA champion. Over the course of Kevin Durant’s career he has become one of the most lethal scorers the game has ever seen. In recent years he has become more than just a three-point sharp and shooter by developing his ball handling in the half court offense as well as adding a decent post presence to his game. KD has also become a far better rebounder than most NBA enthusiasts ever thought possible.
Durant has averaged 27.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest over his young career, making him an obvious offensive weapon with four scoring titles under his belt. Durant is one of few players in the game today, and arguably in the history of the league, who has the ability to score from any spot on the floor at any given time. He possesses a deadly deep ball and has drastically improved his ability to score in the pant and on the run. Standing at a conservative 6’9” and weighing in at a generous 215lbs, Durant possesses a unique skill set coupled with supreme athletic ability the likes of which have rarely been displayed on the court.
Durant has positioned himself as the second best player in the league not only because of his scoring abilities, but also because he has led the once Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder) back to the elite ranks in the NBA.
With rumors beginning to circulate regarding KD leaving Oklahoma City, many Thunder fans may want to cherish the time they have left with the young superstar. However, where ever Kevin Durant plays success will be sure to follow.
1. LeBron James SF – Cleveland Cavaliers
The King has returned to his castle and the city of Cleveland can take comfort in the fact that the best player in the world is back on their side. LeBron is without question the top player in the NBA today. Arguably the most well-rounded player in the history of the league, James continues to wow basketball fans with his unmatched abilities.
Now in his twelfth NBA season, King James has averaged an incredible 27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per contest throughout his career, making him an all-around elite player. Interestingly enough, James doesn’t necessarily have a particular strength to his game. He simply does everything incredibly well. He has become an elite scorer, a very good rebounding small forward, an unselfish distributer of the ball, and above all else a lockdown defender. His overall game is comparable to a mid-career Scottie Pippen in the sense of being able to do everything well on the court.
The “yeah but” rebuttal in reference to LBJ’s greatness was always the fact that he was becoming the “Ring-less King.” Now with two NBA championships and four MVP awards, LeBron has silenced most of his critics and now looks to rival some of the greatest players of all time. The question now is not how great LeBron is, but rather, how great can he become. It still seems as though the “Chosen One” doesn’t quite understand how talented he is or how great of a player he can be. However, returning to the city that raised him gives his historic career a fresh start.