Time for my fourth annual top 10 players in the NBA…something that’s undoubtedly going to get some debate going. Now, before we begin, a few clarifications: 1) I’m going to leave Paul George and Kyrie Irving off. It’s too hard to predict where they might fit among these stars coming off their injuries. Kyrie won’t even be back until January. As for Derrick Rose…he just isn’t there anymore. Sports Illustrated ranked him 60th in the league and 18-3-5 on 40-28-81 shooting splits is not worthy of anywhere near the top-10. Hopefully Rose can find a way to get himself fixed sooner rather than later but his post-injury history is not promising. Just a few years back, in my first player ranking on Bases and Baskets, I had him fourth-best in the league.
Second, this is a predictions article first and foremost. Seeing as it is not 2016, this is a forecast of who will be the best 10 players in the league for 2015-2016. And part of being one of the 10 best players in the league means, to me, that you are a player who you can build an organization around. This means that one of my personal favorite players in the league, Draymond Green, doesn’t (yet) make the cut. He’s arguably the best second or third player you could possibly dream up, but he isn’t yet a first option. Basketball is a scorer’s game and these top 10 players #GETBUCKETS. So here’s my ranking of the top 10…
10. Jimmy Butler
The 2015 Most Improved Player went from being known as a hounding defender to one of the league’s premiere two-way players. 13 points per game on 39-28-76 shooting splits to 20 points per game on 46-37-83 splits. He made a jump from mediocrity to borderline elite offensively and we already know he is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders (2x All-Defensive Second Team player). The newly-minted $92 million man is one of the league’s best 10 players.
9. Blake Griffin
The Clippers couldn’t pull it out in the 2015 conference semis against the Rockets but Blake Griffin absolutely made his presence felt. 27-12-5 for the series after just averaging 24-13-7 against the Spurs in what was arguably the playoffs most scintillating series. Blake is only behind Anthony Davis as the league’s best (traditional) power forward.
8. Carmelo Anthony
The Knicks were a couple losses away from being the league’s worst team last season. Melo did take the year off once he realized the situation was not going to improve but it says something about either Anthony or New York that one of the league’s best 10 players is on such a horrible team. He followed the money and Phil Jackson was supposed to right the ship but for now Melo’s biggest chip is 2016 free agency and hoping New York will lure another one of the players on this ranking. When a future Hall of Famer says you’re one of the five toughest players he’s ever guarded and probably the most well-rounded scorer, you should be winning championships not lottery tickets.
7. Chris Paul
Chris Paul was formerly known as the best point guard in the league, but one Stephen Curry has been coronated after a season of destroying Paul’s ankles. The meme-worthy double behind-the-back that made CP3 look like he was playing Twister was the final straw. Nonetheless, the Clippers PG is still a mainstay in the top-10 best players in the league at age 29. For the season, he mailed in 19-5-10 with 1.9 steals per game on very nearly 50-40-90 shooting. He’s definitely below the four mega-stars in the NBA and as for the other two, he just hasn’t got it done in the post-season. Maybe the Clippers got shafted with a brutal first round matchup in 2015—of which CP3 performed like a magician—but both of the other two players have managed greater post-season success.
6. James Harden
Last season’s near-MVP validated Daryl Morey’s plan to build around a guy who the Oklahoma City Thunder thought was disposable. 27-6-7 on 44-38-87…those are eerily LeBron James numbers. (LeBron’s four years in Miami: 27-8-7 on 54-37-76.) Just imagine…Oklahoma City could have had three of the best six players in the NBA. Wow.
5. Russell Westbrook
Anyone who has read this blog knows that I have a love-hate relationship with one of the league’s most electrifying players. I wrote back in May 2012 that OKC needed to trade Westbrook to win the title. “The Thunder will only be a Conference Final team with him on the roster,” I wrote. So far, that has proven to be true but no one would have foreseen the horrendous injuries that OKC has battled since then. And for February, March, and April, Westbrook put up nearly 30-10-10. For the season, he was 28-7-9 on 43-30-84 shooting. As an individual talent, he’s easily a top-tier player. If that talent can translate to team success remains to be seen. Maybe this year is OKC’s year…but then again we’ve been saying that for the past three years.
4. Anthony Davis
There isn’t much to say about Anthony Davis that hasn’t been said already. A point guard in a 6’10” frame with a polished jumper and now weighs in at 253? With the $145 million extension to match his talent, expect nothing less than 25-10 with 3 blocks a game from the league’s premiere (traditional) power forward.
Through diet/lifting, Anthony Davis added 12 pounds this summer, now up to 253: http://t.co/ine0G8FS0j pic.twitter.com/PgronLG9yf— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) August 27, 2015
3. Stephen Curry
2015 has been Steph Curry’s year. If there’s an award to win, he has won it. And while the Warriors were far from favorites to win the title at the beginning of the year, Curry led them to notoriety rather quickly. FiveThirtyEight statistically anointed them one of the greatest teams in NBA history. While it would be remiss to ignore the All-Star caliber supporting cast around Curry, he was the engine that drove the team (even if Draymond Green was, as Steve Kerr said, the heartbeat of the team). Until Anthony Davis is able to realize some post-season success, Steph Curry has to sit comfortably ahead of him. One could even make a strong argument for Curry landing in the No. 2 slot ahead of KD.
2. Kevin Durant
He had a tough year due to injury, but Durant has earned and proven to be the second-best player in the league until further notice. It’s really that simple.
1. LeBron James
He almost mailed in a superhuman win in the 2015 NBA Finals. Once Kyrie went down it was simply LeBron vs. A Powerhouse Team. It wasn’t a fair matchup and the Warriors showed that even when you have a blueprint for LeBron (make him a scorer not a facilitator) you have to change that up. The best plan against LeBron is two-fold: 1) change your plan and 2) hope he’s having an off-night. Switching Draymond, Harrison Barnes, and ultimately Andre Iguodala onto the greatest player in the world worked but that was the luxury that no other team in the NBA has. 36-13-9 in the NBA FINALS. 30-11-9 in the PLAYOFFS. Somehow this dude still manages to get bombarded with criticism… But we all know who the best player in the world is.