Heavy in point guards and centers…part II of the three part series for best players in the NBA is here! (You can view Part I here.) Players 11-20:
20. Tony Parker
If it weren’t for Big Al, Tony Parker would be the most underrated players in the league. A 12-year NBA veteran and four-time NBA champion, Parker rarely gets the respect he deserves prior to being crowned a champion. The other aspect is that with Gregg Popovich as coach, it’s difficult to truly judge an individual player’s value within a team system that runs so smoothly. Duncan didn’t make my top-30 simply because his minutes will continue to drop, but that’s no knock against the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer.
19. Damian Lillard
Not-so-quietly becoming one of the league’s most dependable clutch scorers, the Oakland native burst onto the NBA scene in 2012. With a Rookie of the Year award, NBA All-Star vote, and playoff appearance already under his belt, Lillard still has untapped potential. His incredible Game 1 in the first round of the 2014 playoffs against Houston was the first time a player went for 30+ points and only one turnover in their playoff debut. He finished that series with a game-winning buzzer beater. Lillard’s only problem is that the point guard position is stacked with more All-NBA talent.
18. Joakim Noah
The face of the Chicago Bulls in Derrick Rose’s time on the sideline over the past few years, Noah’s fiery personality has instilled a ferocity within the Bulls’ defense. Jonathan Abrams wrote a feature on this heart of Chicago a couple weeks ago that illuminated the started-from-the-bottom-now-we-here story behind Noah. The 2014 Defensive Player of the Year is quietly one of the best passing bigs in the game. His assist numbers have increased every single year he’s been in the league (starting in 2007-08): 1.1, 1.3, 2.1, 2.2, 2.5, 4.0, 5.4.
17. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk’s Mavs competed with the eventual 2014 champion San Antonio Spurs better than LeBron James’ Miami Heat did. That says a lot about the leadership and one-legged fade-aways from the 36-year-old German. While his defense has always been rather comical (a recent example), every shot chart of Dirk is video-game like. That shot won’t go away this year, and with Tyson Chandler on board, some people see the Mavs entering the fray with the likes of the Warriors and Rockets in the teams knocking on the door of the West’s elite.
16. Rajon Rondo
This was probably the toughest decision in terms of ranking because like Derrick Rose, Rondo’s injury history leaves something of a question mark in his 2014-15 capabilities. However, if opening night for the Celtics and a rout of the Nets was any indication—with the usual near-triple-double numbers from Rondo—there’s no reason he has left the discussion for top NBA point guards. Now, whether or not he stays with the C’s remains to be seen…
15. DeMarcus Cousins
23-12-3 in 2013-14 and you probably didn’t even know it. Cousins may be in the running with Lance Stephenson for the Ron Pandaworld Peace Crazy Man award, but he boogies down low. One of the best offensive centers in the NBA, Boogie Cousins will make a very strong case to earn his first All-Star appearance. If the Sacramento Kings can make a push for Rajon Rondo, you might be looking at a second playoff threat in Northern California.
14. Marc Gasol
Marc and his brother, Pau, were heavily hyped prior to the 2014 FIBA World Cup as a legitimate threat to dethrone the United States. They didn’t even make the Final. Despite an impressive start, Marc did not impress in Spain’s matchup with France, going 1-of-7 from the field and grabbing four rebounds and no assists. Memphis can never seem to make that jump come playoffs, but Gasol’s value as an all-around big (offense, defense, leadership) puts him firmly in the top-15 NBA players of 2015.
13. Dwight Howard
Howard’s numbers have definitely cooled off since his 21-13-2 and two blocks days as a member of the Orlando Magic. The whole Los Angeles fiasco made one of the most likable players in the NBA suddenly become hated by the league’s largest fanbase. His free-throw shooting hovers around 50 percent, so D12 leaves much to be desired in terms of a polished offense. But defensively, he is still as good as it gets. Paired with the player one spot ahead of him, Howard is a post-game away from being a true franchise player…and still only 28 years old.
12. James Harden
He told us this off-season that he’s going to spend more time focusing on his defense. Those YouTube montages with him almost literally falling asleep on defense were awful. He can’t be considered a top-10 player with such an anemic defensive ability. Maybe he shows us something different this year but I need to see it to believe it. His offensive skill-set, however, is top-notch. Harden's shooting range and playmaking combine with a knack for getting to the free-throw line at will. (Harden was second only to Kevin Durant in free throw attempts per game in 2014, with 9.1 FTA per game.)
11. LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Portland Trailblazers to a scorching hot start in 2014. Yes, they did cool off as the season wore on, but LMA came back in the post-season with a vengeance. He destroyed Dwight Howard and James Harden’s Houston Rockets in the first round as nothing short of an offensive juggernaut. His final numbers for that series: 30 PPG, 11 RPG, 2 APG, 3 BPG, and 82 percent from the line. Sure, he cooled off against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in the Conference semis, but he proved his singular value last season in both the regular and the post-season. I know I won’t be overlooking Portland’s foundation in 2014-15.