NBA's Top 10 Players: Can You Be the Best Without a Ring?
What factors do we consider when we rank one NBA player above another?
Skills, statistics, intangibles, track record, ability in the clutch and, in some instances, championship rings.
But which categories should be given the most weight?
Unfortunately, there's no straightforward, irrefutable answer to that question.
For the purposes of my list, I'll be giving this season the most weight, but will also give the previous two seasons some consideration.
In reference to categories, statistics are obviously important, but in nip-and-tuck situations, I prefer to rely on what I've actually seen—live, in-game action.
Okay, let's get it poppin'...
The following players fell just shy of the league's most elite company (in no particular order):
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
10. Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers
"CP3" is the first of four point guards who have earned spots in my top 10.
He's the best, pure ball-handler in the NBA, and he's in the best-passer discussion with Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams and LeBron James.
I love the way he probes opposing defenses and always seems to have the tempo of the game under control.
In addition, Paul has clearly improved his perimeter shooting to the point where you can never intentionally sag off of him.
He has no glaring weaknesses, but lacks the length and sheer, striking athleticism of the point guards I've ranked ahead of him. It's really splitting hairs.
9. Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls
"D-Rose" is likely one of the top-five players in the world, but he's played in just 35 games this season, while the superstar point guards ranked ahead of him have been on the court with their teammates on a much more consistent basis.
Despite the missed time due to injury, I decided to keep Rose ahead of Chris Paul because of his far superior explosiveness. In addition, CP3 has had injury issues of his own in the past, leveling the playing field.
8. Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat
I can't and won't argue with anyone who says "D-Wade" is the fifth- or sixth-best player in the game, but I promised I'd place the most emphasis on this season.
Sticking to my word, Wade has played in only 44 games, while every player ranked ahead of him has played in at least 52.
An eight-game difference may not seem substantial, but it's amplified in a shortened, 66-game season.
Wade's aggressive style of play has forced him to battle constant injuries in the past as well. I'm giving the more durable stars the nod right now.
7. Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Critics were knocking Westbrook's playmaking last postseason, but die-hard basketball fans understand that he's not a pure, passing point guard—he's an explosive, scoring point who wins games for his team with his relentless offensive style.
No one can stop Westbrook in the open floor, and with his field-goal percentage now up around 47 percent, he's almost as difficult to contain in half-court, one-on-one situations.
6. Deron Williams, PG, New Jersey Nets
If his 57-point and 20-assist games hold atop their respective leaderboards, "D-Will" will become the first player in NBA history to simultaneously capture the season record in both categories.
That's a nice tidbit to cast off into the lucrative waters of free agency.
As far as skill set at the point-guard position goes, there's nothing this versatile point guard can't do.
5. Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
How many monster statistical games can a player have in one season?
"K-Love" has been piling them up all year and doesn't seem to want to stop.
In the past couple of seasons, he was already one of the top-three rebounders in the league, but now he's also one of the premier three-point shooters.
That improved ability has helped Love transform into one of the elite all-around scorers. His on-ball defense is his only occasional weakness.
4. Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic
Sure, there's quite a bit of controversy swirling around Howard, Stan Van Gundy and the Magic, but the hoopla doesn't change the fact that Howard is the most dominant defender and rebounder in the NBA.
Another factor to consider: Howard's Magic are currently 11 games above the .500 mark (34-23) and their second-best player is Ryan Anderson.
Yes, Anderson's a solid player who is having an excellent fantasy season, but he's far from a proven star or playoff-caliber No. 2 option.
Few realize how valuable Howard really is.
3. Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
Of late, opposing teams have been able to contain Bryant with hard double-teams throughout most of the second halves of close games.
Key word: "most."
Somehow, the doubles don't seem to phase No. 24 in the final two minutes of the game.
2. Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
In the recent past, I've ranked Durant in the four-to-six range, but the overall development of his game has propelled him to the No. 2 spot.
I consider him the premier all-around scorer in the world, but his drastically improved rebounding (up to eight per game) and defense are responsible for his climb up the ladder.
1. LeBron James, SF, Miami Heat
For years, I've been ranking Kobe Bryant above James because Bryant has proven, time and time again, that he's still the best player when the game is on the line—particularly in the postseason and especially in the NBA Finals.
And this season, Bryant is leading the league in scoring at 28.1 points per game, so it's not as if he's slowing down.
So why have I changed my tune?
Because Bryant is no longer able to win games for his team on both sides of the court. He's a solid defender at this stage of his lengthy career, but nothing more than that.
LeBron James is a phenomenal defender. Last week he guarded Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter of a heated game against the Thunder and never required a double.
He locked down the most dynamic scorer in the game. He even stripped Durant's crossover a couple of times.
In addition to his spectacular defense, James is a better passer than Bryant, specifically against fourth-quarter double-teams.
Congrats, LeBron...you're finally "The King" in my book.