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Top 100 Players in the NBA

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 21, 2012

Top 100 Players in the NBA

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    The NBA is brimming over with great players, but who takes the cake as the best of the bunch? Better yet, who are the young (and occasionally relatively old) men who populate the top 100? 

    Those are the questions that these rankings attempt to answer. Starting with the first player left off and continuing with the next 100, these are the 100 best players in the NBA right now. 

    Offensive spark plugs, defensive stoppers and versatile players will reign supreme. The amount of talent is simply staggering. 

    Enjoy reading through the rankings and feel free to leave civil comments. 

Second Left Off: J.J. Hickson

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 7.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.5 steals

     

    J.J. Hickson's stats are deceptively low this season now that he's been rejuvenated by the Portland Trail Blazers. Since the young power forward with the still-high ceiling was acquired by the team, he's been averaging no less than 14.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 blocks and 0.6 steals, good for a PER of 20.5. 

    Although the sample size of 16 games is rather small, that still justifies inclusion in these rankings. 

    Hickson is a great finisher at the rim, but he still needs to take fewer jump shots if he's going to become a more efficient offensive player. 

First Left Off: Wesley Matthews

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 25

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.4 steals

     

    Sticking with the Portland Trail Blazers for the second-straight spot in these rankings, we come to Wesley Matthews, the talented young shooting guard from Marquette. 

    Matthews has been in a season-long shooting slump, but he's still managed to produce at a fairly high level for the Blazers. Many people, including myself, predicted a major breakout for the guard, but his true shooting percentage dropped from 58.2 percent as a second-year player to just 54.7 percent this year. 

    Despite the lack of success from the field, Matthews' prowess from long range paid off and kept his scoring average in the teens, even if it did drop by 2.4 points per game from his previous campaign. That coupled with his slightly above average defensive play, thanks to his high energy making up for his lack of athleticism, earns him the No. 100 spot. 

100. Arron Afflalo

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.6 steals

     

    Arron Afflalo was supposed to be one of the larger prizes during last summer's down-year free agency market. He's justified his new contract but hasn't made the Denver Nuggets ecstatic that they re-signed him quite yet. 

    The 26-year-old shooting guard stepped up a bit more for his team on offense, scoring 15.1 points per game. But unfortunately for the team, he wasn't able to increase his output on that end of the court without allowing his defense to suffer. 

    Afflalo is still a solid defender, but he allows a lot of points in the fast-paced games that Denver typically plays and almost never steals the ball. 

99. Antawn Jamison

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 35

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    While Antawn Jamison is no longer the star player he was back in the prime of his career, most of which was spent in the Washington Wizards, the presence of Kyrie Irving in the Cleveland Cavaliers' backcourt has kept Jamison from falling into irrelevance. 

    Averaging 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as a 35-year-old is quite impressive, even if that impressiveness is diminished by the fact that he shoots a putrid 40.7 percent from the field. If Jamison was able to put the ball in the basket at the same rate as an average-shooting power forward, he'd be way higher up in these rankings. 

    The main problem with Jamison though, the real reason that he's stuck at No. 97 though, is his complete lack of defense. Going into the season, John Hollinger wrote the following about the 13-year veteran: 

    Jamison has never been renowned for his D, but when faced with a hopeless Cleveland team last season he basically decided it wasn't worth the bother. While opposing power forwards had a 17.3 PER at his expense, according to 82games.com, it was really the mailed-in rotations that showcased his apathy. His shockingly laissez-faire defense was reminiscent of his Golden State days, with halfhearted rotations on the perimeter and no effort whatsoever to protect the basket from the weak side. Cleveland gave up 5.37 points per 100 possessions more with Jamison on the floor, according to basketballvalue.com -- and remember, this wasn't the '94 Knicks he was dragging down, it was the 2010-11 Cavs. That takes some doing. 

    Although Jamison has been doing a little bit better in those respects, it's still hard to even call what he plays on that end of the court "defense."

98. Jared Dudley

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    Team: Phoenix Suns

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Jared Dudley has always been an efficient player on offense, but what really allowed him to take a step forward this season was his defense. An owner of a career defensive rating of 110, Dudley brought that number down to 110 this season and has helped make up for some of the defensive gaps that Steve Nash's presence on the court creates. 

    On offense, the former Boston College small forward has shot nearly 49 percent from the field while outscoring everyone on this year's Phoenix Suns squad except for Marcin Gortat. 

    Dudley may not be the most gifted athlete and struggles to create his own shot from time to time, but the passing brilliance of his point guard allows him to remain one of the few above-average offensive options in the desert. 

97. Klay Thompson

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 22

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    In just one compressed season, one in which rookies are supposed to struggle more than normal, Klay Thompson went from No. 11 pick in the draft and stuck in a bad situation, to lighting it up on a nightly basis and earning a spot among the top 100 NBA players. 

    All it took was the inevitable injury to Stephen Curry's balky ankles and a midseason trade that shipped off Monta Ellis to the MIlwaukee Bucks. After those two pieces fell, the Golden State Warriors' offense belonged to the rookie out of Washington State. 

    Thompson is an incredible three-point shooter. He's made 42.4 percent of his attempts from downtown, a number that's all the more impressive when you consider the fact that he's taking four shots from behind the arc per game. 

    Although he struggles on defense, Thompson's offensive contributions are more than making up for his defensive shortcomings. Since becoming a starter, the rookie is averaging 17.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest. 

96. Gordon Hayward

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Position: Shooting guard, small forward

    Age: 22

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 3.6 rebonds, 3.1 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Perhaps the most impressive thing about Gordon Hayward's NBA career thus far has been his ability to make people start thinking of him as a contributing member of the Utah Jazz and not just the baby-faced superstar at Butler who almost knocked down the buzzer-beating three-pointer from half court in the NCAA title game against Duke. 

    Hayward has developed into quite the versatile player, more than capable of lining up his 6'6" frame at either shooting guard or small forward on any given night. 

    In a dramatic turn of events following his lackluster rookie campaign, Hayward has shown confidence in his game and the same sneaky athleticism that always seems to surprise people. Then again, he does look like the 12-year-old son of an upper-class family, so it's unsurprising that his athleticism is "sneaky." 

    Expect him to continue to rise up these rankings in the coming years, even when considering the upcoming influx of solid rookies after the 2012 NBA draft. 

95. Luis Scola

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 31

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.5 steals

     

    Luis Scola is still a solid player on offense, despite being on the wrong end of 30. He's averaging 15.9 points per game thanks to his brilliant post moves and is shooting 49.5 percent from the field, which is somewhat uncharacteristic for the career 51.1 percent shooter. 

    But his rebounding and defense, or lack thereof, are dragging down his overall value. 

    After averaging at least eight rebounders per game each of the last three seasons, Scola's boards have dropped to just 6.6 per game. His total rebounding percentage of 12.1 is even more telling, as it's easily the lowest mark of his career. 

    On defense, Scola has played below average, but not awfully throughout the year. That said, his most impressive defensive contribution was holding Kevin Love to zero points total for a two-game stretch. Let's just gloss over the fact that he only did so by goading Love into stepping on his face and getting suspended for those two contests. 

94. Jeff Teague

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.6 steals

     

    Jeff Teague is a tremendous ball hawk, one of the best thieves in the entire NBA. His 1.6 steals per game leave him trailing only Russell Westbrook, Tony Allen, Andre Iguodala, Iman Shumpert, Paul Millsap (whaaaaaat?), LeBron James, Mike Conley and Chris Paul in the category. 

    The young point guard many have been the less-talked about Teague this season, seeing as his younger brother Marquis was constantly in the news while running the show for the Kentucky Wildcats, but he was a steady source of production all year for the Atlanta Hawks. 

    Teague never looked back after breaking out during the playoffs last season and has continued to do most things at a good, but not great level. He shoots the ball efficiently in small doses, plays good defense, passes the ball to the open teammate and knows when to get out of the way. 

    The former Wake Forest floor general will never be an All-Star point guard, but he's proven that he deserves to be a starter in this league. 

93. David West

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 31

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    It's amazing how far David West managed to fall in such a short time. Before the season, he was considered one of the prizes of the free agent class. 

    West was supposed to be the power forward who could push the Indiana Pacers over the top and make them true contenders for the NBA title this season, but instead he's performed well below his normal standards and is accordingly ranked at only No. 93. 

    The question of West's level of production seems to have finally been answered. He's a solid player, but he appeared to be a near All-Star because of the greatness of Chris Paul. It's not just West's minutes that have dropped off; it's his pace of production as well. 

    If we look at per-36 minute numbers, the power forward has seen his scoring average fall by 4.2 and his PER has gone from 20.4 in 2010-2011 to 17.1 this season, his lowest mark since 2004-2005. 

92. Jrue Holiday

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    Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 21

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 13.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    Jrue Holiday, now in his third season at the NBA level and only just able to legally consume alcohol, still has a high ceiling, but the climb towards it has been a steady one instead of one marked by large leaps of progress. 

    If anything though, Holiday has taken a bit of a step backwards this season. I still believe that's more of a reflection on how balanced this Philadelphia 76ers team is than it is on his potentially declining skills. 

    Holiday is scoring the most points per 36 minutes of his career and his turnover percentage declined dramatically, dropping from 16.7 to 13.1 this year. Although he's scoring points at a lower rate, he's picked up the slack on defense and helping form a backcourt duo with Andre Iguodala that is quite difficult to score against. 

91. Goran Dragic

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 25

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.3 steals

     

    Another young point guard in what seems to be a league increasingly full of them, Goran Dragic sure managed to seize his short window of opportunity when Kyle Lowry went down with injury. Seeing as he'll be a free agent at the end of this season, Dragic is going to be able to make bank this summer. 

    In his 25 games as a starting point guard, Dragic managed to average an insane 18.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 0.2 blocks and 1.8 steals per game. Those numbers are probably slightly inflated by the novelty of him running the show and the lack of a detailed scouting report in a compressed season, but he proved that he can be a legitimate starting point guard. 

    If Dragic can prove that he's consistent while cutting down on his turnovers, he's going to shoot up these rankings. 

90. DeAndre Jordan

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: Center

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 7.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, 0.5 steals

     

    Even though DeAndre Jordan is only 23 years old, I'm about ready to give up on his ability to ever become a true offensive threat. It seems as though he scores every single one of his baskets on a put-back slam dunk or an alley-oop, and he hasn't made any discernible progress on his ability to create for himself. 

    Fortunately for Jordan though, he's pretty damn good at what I described above and seems to show up on SportsCenter quite a bit. While he may never live up to his supposed ceiling, Jordan's small doses of offense and great defensive skills do make him a solid big man to own. 

    Only JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard and Serge Ibaka have blocked more shots per game than Jordan, and his 102 defensive rating is quite impressive since he plays for a team with the moniker "Lob City." 

89. Isaiah Thomas

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    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    How Isaiah Thomas managed to go from Mr. Irrelevant to No. 89 in this set of rankings is beyond me. Remember, this is a guy who is generously listed at 5'9" and might be able to be posted up by Muggsy Bogues or Spud Webb. 

    But Thomas has made the most of his minutes throughout the season and done a remarkable job of carving out a role for himself in a crowded Sacramento Kings backcourt. 

    In the 33 games that the diminutive point guard has started, he's averaged 15.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Those numbers have been even more impressive recently. Since the calendars turned to April, Thomas has put up 16.2 points, 2.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists per contest. 

    This guy has staying ability. 

88. Jason Terry

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    Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 34

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.2 steals

     

    Maybe Jason Terry would have managed to work his way further up the rankings if he had tattooed a "No. 1" on his bicep. 

87. Elton Brand

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    Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 33

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 10.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.6 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    The second of five Philadelphia 76ers that will eventually appear in these rankings, Elton Brand has continued his age-induced offensive decline during the 2011-2012 season, but he's still a good enough player on both sides of the court to make it to No. 87. 

    Brand remains a nightly threat to put up a double-double, even if we're looking at 10 points and 10 rebounds instead of the 20 and 12 earlier in his career. He has not experienced a similar defensive decline though. 

    Although this number is significantly aided by the overall defensive intensity of the Sixers, Brand's defensive rating of 96 is easily the best mark of his career. The only players that beat him out in that category this season are Carlos Boozer, Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett

86. Tyreke Evans

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    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Position: Point guard, shooting guard, small forward

    Age: 22

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.4 steals

     

    Is it safe to say yet that Tyreke Evans will never match the numbers he put up as a rookie when he joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the only players to average at least 20 points, five assists and five rebounds per game as a first-year player?

    I think so. 

    The emergence of Marcus Thornton and Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt, coupled with the dominance of DeMarcus Cousins in the post has really eaten away at Evans' numbers, even if he does still have tremendous potential. 

    Now that his points, rebounds, steals and assists have all declined for back-to-back seasons, it's time for Evans to start focusing on averaging either 20 points, five rebounds or five assists per game and not all three at once. 

85. Chauncey Billups

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 35

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.5 steals

     

    Before Chauncey Billups was lost for the season, he was making the Los Angeles Clippers quite happy that they claimed him off the waivers after the New York Knicks let him go. Now that he's a free agent, he's a bit of a risky pickup thanks to the fact that he's 35 years old and coming off a major, season-ending injury. 

    Billups may miss way too many shots, but he's not afraid to take and make the big ones, especially when they're launched from downtown.

    His leadership alone would justify a place in these rankings. 

84. Marcus Thornton

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    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 24

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.4 steals

     

    It's amazing how quickly Marcus Thornton has established himself as a great scorer. After he was traded from the New Orleans Hornets to the Sacramento Kings last season and finally received an opportunity to do what he did best, the shooting guard averaged a surprising 21.3 points per game. 

    Questions still persisted about whether his scoring output was a function of small sample size though. After all, Thornton played only 27 games for his new team last year. 

    But this season, Thornton has averaged 18.7 points per game nearly maintained his per-36 minute pace. My only gripe is that he's more of a volume scorer than an efficient scorer, seeing that he's shooting just 43.8 percent from the field this season. His low mark though is more acceptable because of how often he takes shots from three-point range (2.1 makes on 6.1 attempts per game). 

    Now if only he'd play defense. 

83. Rodney Stuckey

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    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Position: Point guard, shooting guard

    Age: 25

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Greg Monroe hasn't been the only bright spot in Detroit this season. Rodney Stuckey may not be a star, but he's still been a very solid player throughout the year and should finally have made Pistons fans appreciate the fact that he's on their team. 

    Stuckey isn't terribly efficient from the field but he does minimize his turnovers, averaging only 1.9 per game during the 2011-2012 season despite a usage rate of 24 percent. 

    Although he's not a great athlete, Stuckey is physical enough that he gets to the line quite often. On the other side of the court, that physicality allows him to match up against opposing shooting guards and not get beat off the dribble quite as often. He's still not a great defender though. 

82. Drew Gooden

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    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 30

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Drew Gooden really took advantage of Andrew Bogut's absence from the Milwaukee Bucks' frontcourt and re-established himself as a viable big man thanks to his best season in years. 

    Gooden hasn't put up a PER of over 19, as he's doing this season, since he was a young buck playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2004-2005 season. 

    With his trusty jump hook in the post, Gooden has averaged 13.9 points per game to mitigate his declining rebounding skills. His numbers as a starter are even more impressive: 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest. 

81. Jarrett Jack

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    Team: New Orleans Hornets

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 28

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    Although he isn't the highest ranking member of the New Orleans Hornets, Jarrett Jack has been the biggest healthy bright spot for the team this season. 

    It seems as though Jack is perennially underrated due to his lack of elite-level upside. But the point guard is perfectly capable of calling his own number and scoring at a high level or dishing the ball to his open teammates and hoping they can actually knock down their jump shots. 

    His 6.3 assists per game should seem especially impressive because he's been passing to a cast of should-be bench warmers for the most part. 

80. Ramon Sessions

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 11.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    Ramon Sessions should move up the rankings next season if he stays as the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. He should, seeing as he's been very good ever since he went from backing up Kyrie Irving on the Cleveland Cavaliers to leading the show in the Staples Center. 

    In his 20 games in purple and gold, 16 of which he's started, Sessions has averaged 13.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game while remaining highly involved in the offense. 

    His 19.0 PER in L.A. shouldn't come as any surprise since he's always been solid and just hasn't received too many minutes in the past. 

79. Kenneth Faried

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 22

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 9.9 points, 7.4 rebonds, 0.7 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    The third of the five rookies that will appear in these rankings, Kenneth Faried is helping to prove that undersized players can dominate on the boards and that Morehead State can produce good basketball players. 

    Faried started the season off slowly as he adjusted to balling at the NBA level, but he became a starter a while back and hasn't made the Denver Nuggets regret that decision for even a second. Since he moved into that role, the Manimal has nearly averaged a double-double with 10.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. 

    A high-energy player who isn't afraid to soar above the rim on offense, Faried is also a solid defender. His defensive rating of 103 is solid by any method of evaluation and is topped only by Chris Andersen. 

78. JaVale McGee

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: Center

    Age: 24

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 11.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 2.2 blocks, 0.6 steals

     

    Let's just say that JaVale McGee's ranking would be significantly higher if his I.Q. was positive. 

77. Mike Conley

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 24

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 0.2 blocks, 2.2 steals

     

    Mike Conley's two best attributes on the basketball court would have to be his distributing ability and his nose for steals on defense. 

    Now in his fifth season out of Ohio State, Conley is still developing as an overall defensive player, but he has tremendous hands that have allowed him to steal the ball away 2.2 times per game, leaving him trailing only Chris Paul among all eligible players. 

    Conley is still working on developing a reliable offensive game when it comes to shooting but his passing skills don't leave too much to be desired. His assist percentage has increased for the fourth-straight season and now sits pretty at 30.4 percent, while his turnover percentage took a slight uptick to a still-respectable 14.4 percent. 

76. Jose Calderon

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    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 30

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 10.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    Speaking of great passers...

    Jose Calderon needs to be considered one of the best pure passers in the game today, although the shortcomings of the rest of his game leave him well below many of the others that qualify for that description. 

    Calderon's 44.1 assist percentage trails only Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash, which is fairly lofty company. 

    The only problem is that he's not a gifted scorer and he plays lackluster defense. Calderon would seem even better than he already does if he played on a team with better scoring options, but sometimes that just can't happen. 

75. Paul George

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: Shooting guard, small forward

    Age: 21

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.6 steals

     

    When he's not glowing in the dark while dunking a basketball or jumping over a seven-foot human being, Paul George is playing lockdown defense and continuing to improve on both sides of the ball. 

    George's 99 défensive rating leaves him just outside the top 20 players in the NBA in that respect, but that's quite impressive for a second-year swingman out of Fresno State. 

    The 21-year-old has also dramatically increased the efficiency of his offensive game, utilizing his athleticism more than his jump shot and making better decisions. This has allowed him to improve his true shooting percentage from 54.2 to 55.8 and his PER from 13.0 to 16.4. 

    Now he just needs to cut down on his turnovers. 

74. Ricky Rubio

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 21

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 0.2 blocks, 2.2 steals

     

    Ricky Rubio is one of the hardest players in the NBA to rank for two reasons:

    1. He's just 21 years old and spent half of a compressed season defying the naysayers who predicted an immediate downfall when he finally arrived in the NBA. 

    2. With the exception of his 8.2 assists per game, Rubio is statistically unimpressive on offense, yet the impact he made on the Minnesota Timberwolves is undeniably positive. 

    The flashy Spanish floor general made everyone on his team happy to be playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves, made the team relevant, stole the ball away quite often and was a joy to watch. This was all as a rookie. 

    I for one cannot wait to see what this kid's future holds.

73. Tony Allen

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 30

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 10.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.7 steals

     

    If I was only looking at offensive production, there would be no way for Tony Allen to make it into the top 100. But fortunately for this Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard, defense is said to win championships. 

    "Trick or Treat" Tony Allen is always more treats than tricks on the defensive end of the court. Although I suppose that if you're on the opposing team, he's full of tricks. 

    For yet another season, Allen remained one of the league's elite lockdown perimeter defenders and has posted a defensive rating of 101 this season, his first with the Memphis Grizzlies. That number is made more impressive by the fact that only Hamed Haddadi (in limited action) and Marc Gasol have posted better marks. 

72. Shawn Marion

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    Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 33

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 10.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    Speaking of great defenders in the NBA, I can't possibly leave off one of the more versatile defensive stoppers in the league. 

    Even though Shawn Marion is 33 years old now, he's still capable of contributing in the scoring and rebounding columns while shutting down whoever he's asked to guard. 

71. Nicolas Batum

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    It seems as though every year is a predicted breakout season for Nicolas Batum. 

    Well, that breakout hasn't occurred yet, but he has gradually improved and earned the No. 71 spot in my rankings. 

    The French small forward has improved his points, rebounds, steals and blocks per game yet again, although his assist totals have declined ever-so-slightly. The biggest difference in his game this season has been a renewed focus on the defensive end. 

    Because of his length, athleticism and 6'8" frame, Batum has long been viewed as a potentially great defender, but the pieces just haven't come together completely. The puzzle is starting to come into shape this season though. 

70. Lou Williams

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    Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 25

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 14.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Yes, Lou Williams is a remarkable offensive player. He's posted a PER of 20.28 despite shooting just 40.6 percent from the field and has inserted himself firmly in the race for a runner-up finish in the Sixth Man of the Year voting. 

    The only reason that Williams is stuck just inside the top 70 and not any higher is his defense. The only argument I need was provided for me by Williams' teammate, Andre Iguodala (via si.com)

    "It makes no sense to me why so many good scorers can't defend. Like Lou Williams. He's one of the toughest guys to guard in the league, but he can't guard anybody. I don't get that."

69. Kris Humphries

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    Team: New Jersey Nets

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 27

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    I'd like to use this slide to demonstrate why Kanye West would make a terrible NBA general manager. 

    Kris Humphries has been having a fantastic season, averaging a solid double-double and providing tremendous hustle on a subpar New Jersey Nets squad. 

    Yet Kanye doesn't recognize Humphries' talent and would like to have him released from the Nets. After all, Humphries and Kim Kardashian got married while Kanye was in love with Kim. Using his friendship with Jay-Z to his advantage, the rapper wanted the Nets owner to "drop him from the team." 

    Kanye told it all in one of his recent singles, a song called "Theraflu." 

    "And I’ll admit, I fell in love with Kim
    ‘Round the same time she had fell in love wit’ him
    Well, that’s cool, baby girl, do ya thing
    Lucky I ain’t have Jay drop ‘im from the team."


68. Andrea Bargnani

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    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Position: Center

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.6 steals

     

    Andrea Bargnani may be a talented scorer, but that's only out of necessity and comes at a detriment to all other parts of his basketball ability. I'm still not sure that he's heard of defense, and that's being said with full recognition of the drastic improvement he's made on that end of the court.

    The other problem I have with Bargnani, one of the main reasons he's not ranked any higher in fact, is that his points wouldn't come this easily on a decent team. This Toronto Raptors squad is bereft of scoring options, with the exception of Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan on some nights.

    Bargnani scores so much almost because he has to. He's a gifted offensive player, but he isn't a gifted basketball player, if that makes sense.  

67. Gerald Wallace

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    Team: New Jersey Nets

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 29

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    You'd think that upgrading from Raymond Felton to Deron Williams at point guard would do wonders for Gerald Wallace's game, but he's been embroiled in a shooting slump ever since he was traded to the New Jersey Nets during the middle of the 2011-2012 season. 

    Wallace increased his scoring average to 15.3 points per game after the trade, but he's shooting only 41.1 percent from the field. 

    He's still playing with the characteristic recklessness and intensity that earned him the nickname "Crash" though. Wallace is a great athlete, even if he's slowly losing his elite hops, and that still shows, especially on the defensive end of the court. The small forward has remained one of the best at his position on that side of the ball. 

66. Nikola Pekovic

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Position: Center

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 13.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.6 steals

     

    If Nikola Pekovic played for a team in a large media market, we'd have focused a lot more on Peksanity, and he might have had a better shot at winning Most Improved Player. 

    For a while, before injuries derailed his breakout campaign, the 26-year-old center was playing like one of the truly elite players at his position and making the Minnesota frontcourt truly terrifying. 

    Thanks to a 60.6 true shooting percentage, a huge decline in his turnover rate (looking at turnover percentage and not turnovers per game, as I would advise everyone to do) and a heavier involvement in the offense, Pekovic's offensive rating skyrocketed to 116 this season, placing him 12th among all players in the Association, regardless of position. 

65. David Lee

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 28

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 20.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    From one offensively oreinted big man to another we go, although this one is significantly more established in the league. 

    Klay Thompson wasn't the only one who picked up the slack once Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis were no longer options. David Lee has done so as well. 

    Although he's been shut down for the season, Lee was enjoying quite the offensive campaign, averaging 20.1 points per game and reminding everyone why he was such a highly sought-after free agent after his play in New York. 

    Lee is still a terrible defender, but he can score, rebound and pass almost as well as anyone that lines up at power forward. 

64. Joakim Noah

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: Center

    Age: 27

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 10.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    Now it's time to switch gears and focus a little bit on defense. After all, that's what Joakim Noah does each and every night. 

    If you're thinking of players that give it all on every single night, play with remarkable intensity and do everything they can to shut down the offensive games of their opponents, Joakim Noah and his ponytail have to be the first things to pop into your mind. 

    Noah yells and makes his veins pop out at least a dozen times per game, which may be his most impressive statistical feat. 

63. Brook Lopez

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    Team: New Jersey Nets

    Position: Center

    Age: 24

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.2 steals

     

    Brook Lopez is a great offensive player who blocks shots and doesn't do much else on defense. We'd likely have seen more development from him on that end of the court though if he'd been able to play more than five games during this injury-riddled campaign. 

    The biggest thing Lopez can do to shoot up the rankings though is work on his rebounding. If he's not the worst seven-footer at rebounding in the history of the NBA, he has to be close. 

    Lopez averaged 8.1 rebounds per game as a rookie and then increased his average to 8.6 per game as a second-year player, but he was actually worse that year. As a rookie, he pulled down 15.8 percent of his available opportunities, but that second average was boosted by increased playing time. He only grabbed 13.5 percent of the opportunities that year. 

    His rebounding percentage dropped again in his third season, this time to just 10.0 percent, and declined again to 7.7 percent this year (although the sample size warning is in effect). 

62. John Wall

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    Team: Washington Wizards

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 21

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 16.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 0.9 blocks, 1.3 steals

     

    It's way too soon to qualify John Wall as a bust because his potential is still through the roof, but it would have been nice for him to earn a higher spot than No. 62 by this point in his very young career. 

    Wall might be scoring 16.4 points per game, but the Washington Wizards would be better off if he was passing more and taking better shots, thereby raising his field goal percentage from 42.0 percent, where it currently sits. He also needs to utilize his strength more by driving to the rim instead of pulling up for jump shots early in the shot clock. 

    Then there's the turnover problem. Wall leads the league in total turnovers and is turning over the ball on a higher percentage of his possessions than he did as a rookie. 

    Wall is a tremendously gifted player who is exciting to watch, but he needs to start improving quickly. 

61. Anderson Varejao

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Position: Power forward, center

    Age: 29

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 10.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.4 steals

     

    Sideshow Bob, I mean Anderson Varejao, may be best suited for playing power forward, but he's held down the center position admirably for the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

    The 29-year-old is enjoying the best season of his career and is one of the few players averaging more rebounds than points while throwing up double-doubles almost every night. Varejao has never averaged double-digits in any stat, but now he's doing so in two of them. 

    His 51.4 percent shooting from the field makes him an efficient offensive player, even if he's used in small doses, and his 103 defensive rating, the best mark on his team, shows how good he's been on defense this season. 

    Varejao may never rise higher than this in the rankings, but he's deserving of a top-60 spot this year more than ever. 

60. Ersan Ilyasova

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    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 24

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    I have no idea how a player as skinny as Ersan Ilyasova can pull down this many rebounds. Interestingly enough though, Ilaysova has averaged more rebounds coming off the bench than he has as a starter, even though he's played more minutes per game as the latter. 

    The same cannot be said about his scoring. The young power forward is averaging 14.0 points per game as a starter this season, a role in which he will likely stay for a lengthy period of time. 

    Ilyasova's 2011-2012 season will go down in history for one reason though: his 29 points and 25 rebounds in a 92-85 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Feb. 19. 

59. Jeremy Lin

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.6 steals

     

    I'm sure many of you were wondering where Jeremy Lin would show up in these rankings, and now you have your answer. 

    The breakout point guard who came out of nowhere exploded onto the scene, sparking a Linsanity craze that was unlike anything I've witnessed in my lifetime of following sports. The crazy thing is, he deserved the hype. 

    Lin may get chewed up by critics for turning the ball over too much, but that was merely a product of the ball always being in his hands. His usage rating of 28.0 this season was ridiculously high and his turnover percentage of 21.4 reflected that. 21.4 is high, but by no means unbearably high. 

    With craftiness and sneaky athleticism, Lin should cash in this summer and continue to improve. He absolutely has the look of a legitimate starting point guard in the league, and it wouldn't shock me at all if he became a top-40 player or better by the end of the 2012-2013 season. 

58. Thaddeus Young

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    Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Position: Small forward, power forward

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    Part of what makes the Philadelphia 76ers so interesting is just how balanced they are. Thaddeus Young is already the fourth member of the team to appear and a fifth will be coming not too far down the road. 

    Young has started only one game for the Sixers this season, but don't let that diminish what he's done. Shooting an impressive 50.1 percent from the field and turning the ball over only 0.9 times per game, Young has been the epitome of efficiency. 

    His offensive rating of 110 and defensive rating of 99 are both impressive in their own rights as well. As a caveat though, this Philly team is so stingy on defense that almost everyone on the roster has a sub-100 defensive rating. 

57. Nene Hilario

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    Team: Washington Wizards

    Position: Center

    Age: 29

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 blocks, 1.2 steals

     

    Nene Hilario is having his worst season in years after he was a heavily pursued free agent this summer and eventually chose to rejoin the team he'd spent his entire career with. Then, he was traded to the Washington Wizards for JaVale McGee and started putting up slightly better numbers. 

    In the seven games he's played since the trade, Nene has averaged 14.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, much more along the lines of what we've come to expect from the long-haired big man. 

    A solid defender with quickness but not athleticism, Nene has always relied on his selflessness and strength to do his best work on the basketball court. As he develops better chemistry with John Wall next season, I'd expect for him to climb back into the top 50. 

56. Ryan Anderson

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    Team: Orlando Magic

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Another candidate for Most Improved Player, Ryan Anderson loves shooting threes. In an effort to mimic his offensive game, I'm going to leave it at that. 

55. Andrew Bogut

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: Center

    Age: 27

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 11.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.0 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    Andrew Bogut was traded to the Golden State Warriors, becoming a sort of consolation prize after their unsuccessful pursuit of Dwight Howard. Since the trade though, the oft-injured big man has yet to play a single game. 

    If healthy, Bogut is a solid offensive player and one of the better defensive centers in the league thanks to his ability to reject so many of the shots that are lofted up in his general direction. 

    The problem is that the "if" in the previous paragraph should had been written in much larger font because it's a pretty darn big "if." 

54. Ty Lawson

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 24

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.4 steals

     

    Ty Lawson is so blindingly quick that if you don't think he's one of the fastest players to ever step foot on an NBA-sponsered court, I'll have to question whether we've been watching the same player. 

    That speed is a major part of the reason Lawson has matured into one of the better point guards in the league after a huge improvement in between his second and third seasons. In fact, according to these rankings, Lawson is now the 12th-best point guard in a league filled with great floor generals. 

    Lawson is a such a smart and accurate shooter that the 48 percent of his shots he's knocking down from the field is actually a career low. The only true knock I have on his game is his lack of prowess on the defensive end, which is somewhat surprising seeing as he has the quickness to stay in front of almost any opposing player. 

53. Danilo Gallinari

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    The fifth member of the Denver Nuggets to appear in these rankings, Danilo Gallinari is also the highest-ranked player on the squad. If there's a player who's going to make the New York Knicks regret the Carmelo Anthony trade, it would be Gallo. 

    Gallinari might not be the most efficient player from the field, but he makes up for it by knocking down three-pointers and hitting nearly 90 percent of his free throws while shooting enough from the charity stripe to make that relevant. 

    It's that dangerous combination of outside shooting and ability to draw fouls that makes him one of the up-and-coming small forwards in the league. If he can continue taking strides forward on defense (he definitely took one while healthy this season), that will be even more true. 

52. Ray Allen

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    Team: Boston Celtics 

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 36

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.1 steals

     

    The decline had to truly begin to matter at some point.

    Ray Allen's 14.82 PER is easily his lowest since his rookie season thanks to a decline in both scoring and efficiency. His three-point shooting and free-throw makes are both impressive, but Allen is hitting two-pointers at a far lower rate than normal. 

    He's putting the vice on opposing players when defending them, but Allen's offensive game is no longer strong enough in high quantity to get him into the top 50. It was close though. 

51. Amar'e Stoudemire

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 29

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Amar'e, please prove me wrong. I love your game, but your declining health and possible lack of the offensive skills you used to possess left me no choice. 

50. Luol Deng

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 27

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 steals

     

    It looked like Luol Deng had taken the next step and was ready to become an elite small forward in the NBA thanks to his unique combination of size, length, athleticism, shooting ability and defensive prowess, but then the All-Star break rolled around. Deng wasn't the same after it. 

    Since the midseason stoppage in play, Deng has shot below the NBA's version of the Mendoza line, knocking down only 39.8 percent of his shots from the field. He's also averaged fewer points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game despite playing more time. 

    Deng's true shooting percentage of 49.8 just isn't going to cut it, no matter how good he is at shutting down defenders. And yes, I'm holding Deng to a high standard here because he's shown us just how good he can be. 

49. Kevin Martin

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 29

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    Kevin Martin has only played in 40 games this season, but he hasn't looked like the same elite offensive shooting guard that he normally is. 

    Martin's biggest strength has always been his ability to drive, draw contact, get fouls whistled and then finish the play by shooting nearly 90 percent from the charity stripe. But this season, he settled for more three-pointers and long two-point jumpers than normal, and went to the foul line 2.1 times fewer per game. 

    That, coupled with a 41.3 percent mark from the field, dropped the scorer's stock significantly. 

48. Brandon Jennings

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    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 22

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    I'm not the biggest fan of Brandon Jennings, but I have to respect what he's done this season. He finally broke the 40-percent plateau, and his scoring has gone up accordingly to 18.9 points per game this season. 

    He's also turning the ball over very infrequently, although that could be a product of just how often he hoists up ill-advised shots. Coupling a 10.4 turnover percentage with a 26.4 assist percentage usually results in good things for a point guard. 

    The only area of Jennings' game that has declined has been his defense. Normally a solid thief and an even better preventer of buckets, Jennings has struggled in the latter while slightly declining in the former (2.3 steal percentage in 2010-2011 to 2.2 steal percentage in 2011-2012). 

47. Carlos Boozer

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 30

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    If you had told me before the season started that I'd call Carlos Boozer the 47th-best player in the NBA this late into the season, I'd have looked at you like you were crazy. 

    If you had told me before the season started that Carlos Boozer would have been one of just four players on the Chicago Bulls to have played in all 63 games thus far, I'd have looked at you like you were even crazier. 

    Well...both things have happened. 

46. Kyle Lowry

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.6 steals

     

    It's a shame that Kyle Lowry's incredible season was derailed by injury, because he would have been significantly higher in the rankings otherwise. 

    Prior to his injury, the point guard was averaging 15.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. But thanks to a desire to keep him healthy and to give Goran Dragic the minutes that he deserves, Lowry's role in the offense has declined since he got hurt. 

    Lowry is great at taking charges and always plays with heart on defense, but it's still offense where he truly shines. 

45. Stephen Curry

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 24

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    If only Stephen Curry could stay healthy. Then we'd be talking about a player with the potential to work his way into the top 20 and not one coming in at No. 45. 

    When both of his ankles are fully functional, Curry is one of the best offensive point guards in the game and incredibly fun and exciting to watch. The problem is how rare the conditional part of that statement is true. 

    Curry is deadly from long-range, and he's so quick and adept at handling the ball that he can get into the lane and make defenders look silly whenever he wants to. 

    I'm not going to talk about defense, because Curry doesn't play any. 

44. Marcin Gortat

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    Team: Phoenix Suns

    Position: Center

    Age: 28

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.5 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    It's hard for the Phoenix Suns to ask for much more out of Marcin Gortat than he's already given. Unless by some unforeseen medical technique Gortat manages to gain more athleticism, this is pretty much the peak for him. 

    Gortat has a nice touch from outside the paint and a diverse blend of post moves when he's trying to post-up a defender. He uses those tools nicely, shooting an extremely efficient 55.9 percent from the field. 

    Defensively, Gortat is solid but unspectacular and doesn't appear to have much room for growth on that side of the ball. 

43. Roy Hibbert

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: Center

    Age: 25

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.0 blocks, 0.5 steals

     

    Roy Hibbert might have made the All-Star squad, but he's been much worse ever since the break in what must be an attempt to prove that his spot should have gone to someone else (cough-Greg Monroe-cough). 

    Before the break, Hibbert averaged 13.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, but those numbers have fallen to a still respectable 12.1 points and 8.1 boards per contest since play resumed. 

    Hibbert is a terrific defender with a knack for swatting shots back to where they came from when he gets set up in position, but he's too slow and sometimes allows defenders to beat him down the court. 

    The big man should continue to improve, but he's lucky to already have that "All-Star" tag attached to his name. 

42. Monta Ellis

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    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 20.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.4 steals

     

    I've never been a fan of players who shoot way too often, and Monta Ellis definitely falls into that category. 

    For a full explanation of why I can't bring myself to push him into the top 40, I'd suggest reading this article that I wrote right after Ellis was supposedly snubbed out of an All-Star berth. 

    The word "supposedly" exists for a reason. 

41. Andre Iguodala

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    Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Position: Shooting guard, small forward

    Age: 28

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.8 steals

     

    Just outside of the top 40, as the player who kick-starts the next tier of stars in the NBA, we have Andre Iguodala, the versatile swingman who plays defense more effectively than the vast majority of players in the league. His 97 defensive rating is insane, even by the increased standards of the Philadelphia 76ers. 

    Iggy may not be scoring as much this season, but that's more of a compliment to the Sixers than a knock on his play. His usage rate has simply declined, and he's maintaining the same level of efficiency that we're used to from the swingman. 

40. Joe Johnson

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 30

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    You'd think that the owner of such a ridiculously large contract would be higher up the rankings, but so it goes for the fans of the Atlanta Hawks...

39. Paul Millsap

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 27

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.8 steals

     

    If the goal of these rankings were to identify the most underrated players in the league, then I may have been able to stop here. The average NBA fan is in no way aware of just how terrific Paul Millsap is. 

    With a 21.74 PER, the 27-year-old undersized forward has used his tenacity and fundamental skill to shoot 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line. This offensive ability results in 16.4 points per game and Millsap couples that with 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, both impressive numbers for a 6'8" power forward. 

    Millsap's offensive rating of 113 is impressive enough, but it's his defensive rating of 102 that truly stands out. There isn't a single player on the Utah roster who can match that. 

38. Marc Gasol

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: Center

    Age: 27

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    It turns out that Marc Gasol truly was the gem of last summer's free-agency extravaganza, not that the festivities were anything special. 

    The younger brother of a certain Los Angeles power forward hasn't surpassed his brother quite yet, but he's on his way towards doing so in the future. 

    Gasol wasn't as efficient as he typically is from the field, but he did prove that he can shoulder an improved offensive burden while maintaining his skill on the other side of the court. 

37. Al Horford

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 25

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    Unfortunately, Al Horford only managed to play in 11 games this year before suffering a torn pectoral muscle, an injury from which he has yet to return. 

    That prevented the Atlanta Hawks' big man from advancing any further up the ranks, something that he had been steadily doing during his four-year NBA career. 

    Horford is one of the more versatile power forwards in the game today. He's big and strong enough to line up at center, but he also runs the floor well and dishes the ball to his teammates as well as some guards. With solid rebounding skills and a developing post game to pair with his smooth mid-range jumper, Horford is quite an effective, albeit kind of boring, player. 

36. Danny Granger

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 29

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    Danny Granger slumped hard at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season, but he's picked his game back up and has performed admirably as of late. 

    The small forward's most elite skill has to be his long-range shot. Granger never hesitates to hoist up shot attempts from well behind the three-point line because his frame and shooting style make his shot so hard to block. 

    If the best player on the Indiana Pacers could continue to improve his defensive game, as he's been doing thanks to increased intensity during that part of the game, he's only going to move up. 

35. Rudy Gay

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 25

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 19.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    Speaking of difficult-to-block jumpers, sometimes it seems as though the only thing that can swat away Rudy Gay's shot attempts are the rafters at the ceilings of the stadiums he plays in. Gay's shot seems to arc that high. 

    Gay is finally taking the next step forward and improving his defensive ability. He's always had the physical tools to shut down opposing scorers, but this is the first season that he's consistently committed to the task. 

    With insane athleticism and the ability to produce highlight after highlight, Gay just needs to focus on cutting down the bad pass-induced turnovers. 

34. Serge Ibaka

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 22

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 8.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 3.6 blocks, 0.5 steals

     

    Seeing as Serge Ibaka has recorded 221 blocks so far this season and DeAndre Jordan is in a distant second at 129, and Ibaka has blocked 3.6 blocks per game and JaVale McGee is in second at 2.2 per game, I think it's safe to declare Ibaka the undisputed rejection king of the NBA. 

    His defensive value is off the charts, and I maintain that he would be more involved offensively if he didn't play alongside Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. 

33. Eric Gordon

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    Team: New Orleans Hornets

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.6 steals

     

    I honestly thought that Eric Gordon was going to seize the opportunity of being the go-to option on the New Orleans Hornets and become one of the 20 best players in the NBA as soon as this season—but then he had to go and get hurt. 

    During the brief time that Gordon has been on the court, he's looked every bit of the incredible shooting guard that so many people thought he could become. 

    His field-goal percentage is as high as it's ever been, making him an even more potent all-around offensive player. Gordon is also managing to play defense better than he has during any other season. 

    That said, it's tough to rank him any higher simply because the high evaluation going into the season was based largely on promise, and the injury prevented him from fulfilling that for an extended period of time. 

32. Kevin Garnett

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 35

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 16.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    In an article that the beloved Boston Celtics homer known as Bill Simmons titled "The Rebirth of the Celtics," the following passage appeared: 

    They prevailed by two behind another throwback KG game (24 points, 11-of-15 shooting), which made little sense because Garnett looked salad-fork-in-the-back-finished as recently as January. I remember when Bird's body broke down (a four-year spiral that started during the '88 Detroit series and crested in the 1992 playoffs, when he could barely move), when McHale's ankles slowly betrayed him (1991), when Parish just couldn't fight off younger leapers anymore (1993). You usually know with these things. You just do. And I would have wagered anything that Garnett was more finished than Desperate Housewives.

    Guys were jumping over him (shades of Parish), his jumper was flat, and worst of all, helooked absolutely miserable. Like he didn't want to play basketball anymore. Even during his signature staredown/pointing routine before tip-offs at home games, you never felt like his heart was totally in it. When his game inexplicably rebounded in February (17.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 54% shooting), everyone attributed it to Rivers moving him to center. News flash: Garnett had been playing center since the Perkins trade. Everyone was just pretending otherwise for KG's sake. He's weird about this stuff. It's the same reason Garnett likes to be listed at 6-foot-11 when he's really 7-foot-1, or Tim Duncan always wants to be listed as a forward even though he's been playing center for the past seven years. You don't ask questions with big men; you just do whatever it takes to keep them happy.

    You know what really fueled Garnett's resurgence? He's a competitive MF'er. That's really it. The lockout ended, he couldn't get going those first few weeks … and then, suddenly, the "KG is done" talk started, and even worse, opponents started treating him differently. They stared him down after dunks, talked s**t to him, accorded him little to no respect. He probably remembered doing the same to Patrick Ewing, Derrick Coleman, Chris Webber or whomever over the years and thought to himself, I'm not ready to be That Guy yet. The flame started flickering again. As he told WEEI's Paul Flannery two weeks ago, "I hear you all calling me old. I hear you calling me, um, older. Weathered. I'm motivated. It don't really take much to motivate me, man. I'm older in basketball years, but in life I'm thirtysomething."

    The trade deadline passed with Rondo reinvested and Garnett reenergized. 

    Truer words could not have been spoken. Garnett didn't even look like a top-50 player at the beginning of the season, but now I'm mentally questioning whether or not I have him too low at No. 32. He just isn't done yet. 

31. DeMarcus Cousins

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    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 21

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    I will rarely take the side of a player during any feud between a player and his head coach, especially when the player is a notorious head case. But DeMarcus Cousins is so talented that I had to agree with the Sacramento Kings brass in their decision to keep him around. 

    The former Kentucky Wildcat really needs to work on his shooting, as 44.4 percent from the field simply won't cut it for a guy who's being thrown out onto the court as a center. But he's still got enough moves down low and enough range on his jump shot that he's scoring at a high level. 

    What stands out the most about Cousins though, is his rebounding. He's grabbing a ridiculous 11.0 rebounds per game and quite a few of them are coming on the offensive glass. In fact, the big man's offensive rebounding percentage of 14.3 leads the league, with Joakim Noah coming in slightly behind at 14.2. 

30. Al Jefferson

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Position: Center

    Age: 27

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.7 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Al Jefferson isn't the greatest help-defender, and his reaction times are awful because everything he does is so premeditated—but those are the only bad things I can say about this terrific and underrated big man. 

    With some of the best post moves in the business, once Jefferson uses his drop-step on you, it's all over and you might as well concede the two points to the Utah Jazz. 

    Jefferson is simply having another one of his trademark seasons. He's shooting right around 50 percent and averaging slightly less than 20 points and 10 rebounds again.  

29. Tim Duncan

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: Power forward, center

    Age: 35

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 blocks, 0.6 steals

     

    Tim Duncan may retire at the end of this season, but that would only be due to age and not a steep decline in production. 

    The big man may not be playing as many minutes, but he's still efficient and remains a terrific defender for the San Antonio Spurs. 

    Duncan's per-36-minute numbers are just about in line with his career averages, and his defensive rating is unsurprisingly coming in at under 100, this time just barely at 99.

    With the Spurs contending for yet another title, Duncan's time in the spotlight has not yet come to a close. 

28. Greg Monroe

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    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Position: Center

    Age: 21

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.2 steals

     

    Now we come to a young big man for the Detroit Pistons, who has been playing out of his mind this season and was absolutely snubbed for a berth in this year's All-Star game. 

    Greg Monroe has almost every tool that you could ask for in a center, even if he's not a great shot-blocker and doesn't have the range of Kevin Love or some other big players. 

    But he's crafty around the rim, has a great nose for rebounds and is both big enough and quick enough to guard both power forwards and centers at a good, but not necessarily great, level. 

    Monroe dramatically improved his rebounding percentages as a second-year player while posting much better defensive numbers on a rather sad Detroit squad. He also was used much more heavily in the offense and still managed to post a better assist percentage than he did as a rookie. 

    In fact, that may be the most impressive thing about Monroe's game. His passing is simply off the charts for a man who stands just an inch shy of seven feet. 

27. Kyrie Irving

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Position: Point guard 

    Age: 20

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    First of all, let me just say that it would be an absolute travesty if Kyrie Irving didn't manage to take home the Rookie of the Year award despite his prolonged absence due to injury in recent days. After all, he's 45 spots ahead of the second-best rookie in these rankings. 

    Shooting an un-guard-like 47 percent from the field while posting a crazy PER of 21.12, the former Duke Blue Devil has put together one of the most impressive rookie seasons of the last decade, if not even longer. In fact, sensational may be a better way to describe it. 

    Any way you look at it, Irving has been incredible and should only move up in next year's rankings. 

26. Manu Ginobili

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 34

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    Manu Ginobili may be 34, but he definitely hasn't lost a step yet.

    I'm even more sure that he hasn't lost a Eurostep. 

25. Chris Bosh

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 28

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    All of the people who have been saying that the Miami Heat's "Big Three" officially can't be called anything but a "Big Two" anymore, need to get a grip. Chris Bosh may not be on the same level as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but he's still an absolutely fantastic basketball player. 

    With his smooth jump shot and versatility on offense, Bosh has still managed to average 18.0 points per game despite being the third option on offense. Just stop and think for a second about how impressive that is. 

    The thing that stands out about Bosh's game most this year, though, is the fact that he's now playing the best defense of his career. I guess it's easier to do that when you don't have to focus quite as much at being "the man" on offense. 

    You may be surprised, but Bosh's 100 defensive rating is only slightly worse than LeBron (98) and Wade (99).

24. Zach Randolph

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 30

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 11.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    I'm just in shock that a player who I can jump higher than is up in the top 25. 

23. Paul Pierce

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 34

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 19.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.2 steals

     

    Paul Pierce is out to prove the doubters wrong this season. All those who think that the 34-year-old is old and washed up, well, they really are wrong. 

    The truth of the matter is that Pierce is playing less minutes per game this season to preserve his health and is shooting the ball just about as well as he has throughout his career. He's still averaging just shy of 20 points per game. 

    Pierce has also been a leader on the defensively focused Boston Celtics squad by playing inspired defense, even if he doesn't like that end of the floor as much as the one you score on. 

22. Josh Smith

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.8 blocks, 1.4 steals

     

    If you're looking for a reason why the Atlanta Hawks have managed to hang around all season, look no further than Josh Smith. 

    The power forward who can also capably play small forward, literally does everything on the basketball court. He's a terrific defender who's a constant threat to play smaller than his 6'9" frame would indicate, steal the ball away or play bigger and swat away shots like a true center. 

    On offense, he's perfectly fine scoring from inside while utilizing his tremendous athleticism, and he's still a little too eager to use his below-average jump shot. He also cleans the glass quite well. 

    If there's any player in the NBA who's a threat to put up a five-by-five and isn't named LeBron James, it's Smoove. 

21. Tyson Chandler

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: Center

    Age: 29

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 11.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.5 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    It's time that we stop taking Tyson Chandler's contributions for granted. 

    The big man is a source of the most efficient offensive production in the NBA, at least according to his 70.9 true shooting percentage, 68.1 effective field-goal percentage and 130.2 offensive rating, all of which are tops in the NBA. 

    The amazing thing is that he's considered a defensive specialist for good reason. 

20. Steve Nash

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    Team: Phoenix Suns

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 38

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 10.7 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.6 steals

     

    What good would a top 20 be if it didn't include Steve Nash, a man who is going to have to be considered a legendary point guard almost as soon as he retires? 

    Nash is 38 years old and enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. The fact that he's generating 10.7 assists per game while passing to a supporting cast of teammates highlighted by the No. 43 and No. 97 players in these rankings is simply insane. 

    The point guard still resembles a matador on defense, as he just ushers players into the lane, but his offense is so breathtaking that it's impossible to leave him out of the top 20. 

19. Pau Gasol

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 31

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.3 blocks, 0.6 steals

     

    For all the negative comments about Pau Gasol's lack of toughness, he still manages to play the game of basketball with remarkably effective finesse. 

    How else do you explain his 50.4 percent shooting from the field while averaging a double-double with a PER of 20.56? 

18. James Harden

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 22

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    Now I'm guessing that James Harden's ranking is going to draw quite a few complaints, but I'm cool with that. I wouldn't have included him here if I didn't truly believe that he was a top-20 player in the NBA right now. 

    While Harden's numbers may not look incredibly impressive on the surface level, they do when you dig deeper. Most amazing of all is the fact that he's getting to the free-throw line six times per game and averaging 16.8 points on only 10.2 shots per game. 

    As a reference point, Harden is the 30th-leading scorer in the league, but he takes the 84th-most shots per game. DeMar DeRozan is 29th in scoring but takes 14.5 attempts per game, while John Wall is 31st and attempts 13.6 shots per game. 

17. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 33

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 21.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    Dirk Nowitzki struggled through the beginning of the season before picking it back up, but his struggles definitely weren't enough to knock him out of the top 20 players in the league. 

    The sharp-shooting power forward still knocks down his flamingo shots with remarkable ease, and specializes in making the impossible shots look like ones that you and I could walk outside and knock down after a few minutes of practice. 

    If you're curious, we couldn't. 

16. Blake Griffin

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Blake Griffin has now been called overrated so many times that he might be a bit underrated. For all the complaints about his softness, his attitude on the court, his sense of entitlement and his one-dimensional game, Griffin is one hell of a player. 

    The game's No. 1 highlight machine isn't showing the type of improvement that we expected to see, and has actually declined a bit after his fantastic rookie campaign—but he's still one of the few players in the game capable of averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game while providing a boost to his teammates with his passing skills.

    Griffin still needs to work on his post moves, jump shot and overall defensive play, but he's an incredible asset to the Los Angeles Clippers even as a work in progress.  

15. Tony Parker

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 29

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    This French point guard has enjoyed a sensational season, one that should have garnered significantly more MVP-talk than it did. 

    Without the consistency of Tony Parker's contributions at the point, the absence of Manu Ginobili and the more limited minutes of Tim Duncan would have prevented this team from jumping into the top spot in the Western Conference. 

    But Parker has used his speed and skill to do everything he can for this team on the court. When he needs to score, he's doing exactly that. When he sees an open teammate, he finds him. 

    Parker has the sixth-best assist percentage in the league, but his defense, even though it's best described as solid, is what prevents him from jumping above the next player on the list. 

14. Rajon Rondo

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 11.6 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.8 steals

     

    Rajon Rondo is the most unique player in the league. Yes, that includes LeBron James, Kevin Love and all the other players who might be described as unique. 

    It's hard to find another player outside of the top 10 who generates this amount of controversy. Inevitably, people will gripe that Rondo belongs in that top 10, while others let their hatred of the cocksure point guard convince them that he's not even a top-50 player. 

    But with Rondo's defensive presence, both in stopping opponents from scoring and swiping the ball away with ease, his insane rebounding abilities for a guard, his ability to score when the need should arise and his nearly-unmatched court vision (see: Nash, Steve), the guy is an absolute stud. 

13. LaMarcus Aldridge

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 21.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    Now in his sixth season in the NBA, LaMarcus Aldridge has continued to quietly go about his business and get better. The result is that he's now firmly surpassed Dirk Nowitzki and Blake Griffin as the second-best player at his position. 

    Although Aldridge's scoring numbers are done, as are his rebounding totals, that's more the result of decreased playing time than anything else. His per-36 minute numbers are up in both categories and his assist totals have skyrocketed. 

    While Aldridge might not be quite the offensive powerhouse that Dirk and Blake can be, even though he's not too far behind, it's his defense that pushes him up above the duo. He's by no means a spectacular number, and he doesn't post gaudy defensive statistics, but he does continue to be a solid defensive presence night in and night out. 

12. Andrew Bynum

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: Center

    Age: 24

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 12.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, 0.4 steals

     

    Although I can't say the same for his maturity, Andrew Bynum's game has made tremendous progress this season and he can now at least enter into the running for the "best center in the league" title with Dwight Howard. 

    Bynum has the ability to use his size and post moves to score 30 points in a single game, and he also has the strength and tenacity to pull down 30 rebounds. The one time he did that this season, he was barely out-rebounded by the combined forces of the entire San Antonio Spurs squad, 33-30. 

    The big man's true shooting percentage of 59.8 is right in line with his career average, but the impressive part is that he's been able to maintain that with a 7.6 minutes per game increase and a 6.2 percent increase in usage rate. 

11. Deron Williams

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    Team: New Jersey Nets

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 27

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.2 steals

     

    As much as I love Deron Williams, his stats are a little bit inflated by his role on the New Jersey Nets. Here's what I had to say about the season he's having in a recent article: 

    Does this one really need any explanation? 

    Deron Williams is one of the elite point guards in the NBA today (the fourth-best in my mind), but his stats are obviously going to be inflated by playing on a team that belongs in the D-League. Ironically enough, one of their emerging stars just happens to be a D-League call-up

    Without a healthy Brook Lopez for all but five games this year, D-Will knew he had to take over on offense and he never hesitated to call his own number. 

    The guy is a stud, but his numbers wouldn't look this gaudy on a competitive squad. 

    Williams has the passing ability to be a pure point guard and the shooting ability to call his own number every time. He's just not quite at a level that can push him into the top 10. 

10. Carmelo Anthony

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 27

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 22.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.2 steals

     

    For much of the season, it appeared as though Carmelo Anthony had lost it and the New York Knicks were going to regret trading all of their young potential to bring him home to Madison Square Garden. That was never more true than during the beginning of Linsanity, when Knicks fans went so far as to hope that he didn't return so that Jeremy Lin could continue balling out. 

    But there's a reason that 'Melo is considered one of the best scorers in the league. 

    Since the return from the All-Star break, the small forward has averaged 23.7 points per game and nailed big shots by the bunches. 

    He may be a ball-stopper, but with his increased focus on the defensive end this year, you'd be crazy to not want him on your team. 

9. Russell Westbrook

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: Point guard 

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 23.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.7 steals

     

    I've finally figured out the reason for Russell Westbrook's inexplicable decisions to pull up early in the shot clock and shoot jumpers. 

    He's so athletic, so explosive and so good at scoring that it just wouldn't be fair to the rest of the league if he always played smart. 

    Westbrook is often criticized for not getting Kevin Durant involved enough in the offense, but I refuse to criticize him for that until Durant himself does. If anything, Westbrook's desire to control the ball on offense has turned the small forward into a better basketball player, as he's forced to be more efficient and work on his facilitation skills. 

8. Kevin Love

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Position: Power forward

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 26.0 points, 13.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    Winning the battle of the former UCLA Bruins is Kevin Love. I'm sure he's going to rub this one in a lot next time he meets up with Russell Westbrook. 

    With his 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds per game, Love is putting up statistics that are best viewed as historical. That said, they may be ever-so-slightly inflated just because of garbage time and the dearth of offensive options on the Timberwolves right now. 

    The best defense I can possibly make for Love's spot at No. 8 not being too high is the fact that I seriously considered bumping him up as high as No. 5. 

7. Dwight Howard

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    Team: Orlando Magic

    Position: Center

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.1 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    Even though Andrew Bynum is quickly improving and the overall quality of centers in the NBA is slowly starting to improve, Dwight Howard remains head and shoulders above the rest of the players at his position. And those are some massive shoulders. 

    Already the three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, it wouldn't be a surprise at all if D12 added a fourth-straight trophy to his ever-growing mantle. 

    He still relies more on power than finesse on the offensive end of the court, but when you're as big and strong as he is, why would you do anything else? 

    Despite all of his off-court drama this season, it would be ludicrous to have Howard too much lower than No. 7. 

6. Derrick Rose

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    If Derrick Rose's follow-up season to his MVP campaign hadn't been quite so littered with injuries, he might have been a bit higher than No. 6. But the constant stream of bumps and bruises exposed a little something about Rose: He doesn't have the physical stature necessary to withstand his reckless playing style. 

    As much as I hate to say it, the point guard needs to dial down the aggression just a little bit and preserve his body so he can enjoy the long career that all of us want to see. 

    Now when he's healthy, Rose is simply unstoppable. There's no denying that. 

5. Kobe Bryant

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 33

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 28.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.2 steals

     

    All that I need to say here is that Kobe Bryant has retained the one skill that has carried his career this far. 

    He takes anything and everything personally and wants to prove any and all doubters as wrong as possible. 

    Now let the comments commence, because I'm sure that I somehow simultaneously managed to rank Kobe too high and too low. 

4. Chris Paul

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: Point guard

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 19.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 0.1 blocks, 2.4 steals

     

    Right now, there's no doubt in my mind that Chris Paul is the best point guard that the NBA has to offer. 

    While leading the NBA in steals and terrifying the hell out of all opposing floor generals with his defensive prowess, CP3 still manages to remain an incredible offensive player. 

    With the slight shimmies and shakes that accompany every move he makes on the court, Paul is impossible to stay in front of and almost toys with defenders for the first three quarters of the game. Sometimes it seems as though he's just messing around and facilitating effectively until it's crunch time and he knows that he needs to take over. 

    If Rose had been healthy throughout the year, it may be a different story. But if I had to choose one player to bring the ball up the court and run my offense for me, it would be Paul. 

3. Dwyane Wade

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: Shooting guard

    Age: 30

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.7 steals

     

    Yes, the Miami Heat are 12-1 without Dwyane Wade in the lineup, but don't let the small sample size and increased play of LeBron James fool you into thinking that diminishes his value. 

    Wade's PER of 26.4 trails only Chris Paul and LeBron James, and his field-goal percentage of 49.7 percent is well above his career average. The shooting guard may have an uneasy dynamic with his co-star, but he's still performing well enough that it's hard to justify leaving him out of the top three. 

    Then there's the defensive end of the court, where Wade is unsurprisingly excelling yet again. Each and every year, I'm more and more convinced that Wade is the best shot-blocking shooting guard to ever play in the NBA. 

2. Kevin Durant

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 23

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 27.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.4 steals

     

    Coming in at No. 2 is Kevin Durant, the player who should finish as the runner-up for NBA MVP

    Durant has truly improved his game in two important categories this year. His passing is better than ever thanks to his acceptance of Russell Westbrook's need to be involved in the offense. This can be shown by his assist percentage, which has jumped up to a career-high 17.5 percent. 

    But more importantly, Durant is finally buckling down on the defensive end and using his long, lanky frame to his advantage. After posting defensive ratings of 110, 109, 104 and 107 during his first four seasons in the league, Durant has dropped the number to an impressive 101. 

    He may not lead the league in scoring this season, but he's taken strides forward and has never been in a better position to win a title. 

1. LeBron James

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: Small forward

    Age: 27

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.9 steals

     

    There should really be no question that LeBron James is the No. 1 player in the league. The only knock on his game is his lack of ability in the "clutch," which is overblown at best. 

    James is almost certain to post yet another PER of over 30, the third time in his career that he'll have done so. Tracy McGrady is the only active player to break that milestone. 

    He's dominant as a scorer when he needs to be. He's one of the best passing forwards the game has ever seen. He can clean the glass like a center. He's possibly the best defensive player in the game thanks to his ability to guard point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards. 

    There just aren't many holes in LeBron's game no matter how hard you try to poke ones in it. 

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