The great debate to be had will always rest on the shoulders of legends.
To put an end to these conversations once and for all, let us acknowledge one simple fact: none of these players being compared are of the same position. How can we compare two players when their goals, roles and sizes are so drastically different?
We can't. Which is exactly why the next debate begins with a question that can be answered.
Who are the best players in the NBA at each and every position? From point guard to center and all the way back, that question will be answered within the following slides.
10. Jose Calderon, Toronto Raptors
Ty Lawson may be the guy who is on the rise, but that's not what this is about. This is a conversation about the best point guards in the NBA right now, and over the past two seasons, Jose Calderon has been one of the elite few.
Calderon finished the 2012 season with an average of 8.8 assists per game. That number ranked fourth amongst point guards and topped stars such as Deron Williams, Ricky Rubio and Tony Parker.
Jose Calderon's assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.50 just so happens to rank first in the NBA. Like it or not, Calderon is one of the best point guards in the NBA.
9. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
It's tough to leave Tony Parker out of the top five, but it must be done. His weak play in the Olympic games is incredibly concerning as the injury is not to the usual bone or muscle. It's to the eye.
Nevertheless, we must address the ability. Parker is a three-time NBA champion and the 2008 Finals MVP for a reason. He is one of the best ball handlers in the game and would rack up double-digit assists if it weren't for such incredible ball movement the Spurs always seem to display.
If his eye is okay, Parker is Top 5. With uncertainty, he drops out.
8. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
The "Russell Westbrook isn't a point guard!" argument has grown old. He averaged 8.2 assists per game in 2011 and 8.0 in 2010. Let's put that to rest.
The fact of the matter is, Russell Westbrook is a young player looking to carve out his role in a star-studded lineup. He is in fact an excellent passer and when in the facilitating mode, cannot be stopped. He's also an elite perimeter defender, which even still doesn't do him justice.
Until his decision-making improves, turnovers go down and pass-first mentality returns, however, Westbrook falls. Simply note that he's one of top five players at this position, just not one of the Top 5 point guards.
7. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving won the 2012 Rookie of the Year award by virtue of the fact that he played like an NBA veteran. He was unfazed by the big moments, fearless in the face of double-teams and had no qualms about passing up contested shot attempts.
His .469/.400/.872 slash line doesn't hurt either. Kyrie Irving is ready for the NBA.
6. John Wall, Washington Wizards
John Wall joined Chris Paul and Deron Williams as the only three players in the NBA to average at least 16 points and eight assists per game. He was the only player in the league to also average greater than four rebounds.
John Wall may have a high level of turnovers, but he is already an elite point guard in this league. Apologies to those expecting the Washington Wizards to make the postseason within two years after drafting Wall.
Put your college jealousies aside and move forward.
If you're looking for the best player at the point guard position, Derrick Rose is your guy. If you're looking for the best point guard, Rose drops down a bit.
We often criticize Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder for his shoot-first nature and shooting guard style of play. The fact of the matter is, Derrick Rose is a near carbon copy player who has an identical career assist-per-game average to Westbrook.
So let's end that debate while biases are tempered.
With all of this being noted, Derrick Rose is in fact one of the top five point guards in the NBA. Although his facilitating is often limited to his drive-and-dish tendencies, his ball handling and scoring abilities offer a true wildcard.
The fact that he can lock down any opponent he defends sure doesn't hurt, either.
During Derrick Rose's 2011 MVP campaign, the Chicago Bulls' superstar posted averages of 25.0 points and 7.7 assists per game. The former Memphis Tigers star also emerged as one of the true clutch performers in the NBA, coming through when it mattered most on a number of occasions.
Unfortunately, Rose and the Chicago Bulls fell to the Miami Heat during the 2011 NBA Eastern Conference Finals. Rose, meanwhile, fell even harder when he suffered a torn ACL as a result of an ill-advised drive towards the end of a Game 1 blowout against the Philadelphia 76ers; an injury that came on the heels of multiple failed early returns from less severe leg injuries earlier that season.
For Rose to maintain his superstar status, he must prove that he can play with a proper understanding of his body. Should he fail to do so, the limitless potential will run out quickly for the 23-year-old point guard.
2013 will be a life changing season for Chicago's native son.
2012 Season Averages
23.10 PER, 21.8 PPG, 7.9 APG, 3.4 RPG, 0.9 SPG
Deron Williams has long been one of the most under-appreciated players in the NBA. Despite posting career averages of 17.6 points and 9.2 assists per game, Williams was often forgotten in the conversation of the game's elite point guards.
Not even an unstoppable pick-and-roll attack with Carlos Boozer in Utah could save him from relative obscurity.
Despite his lack of recognition, Williams has been a top five point guard in the NBA since leading the Utah Jazz to a Western Conference Finals berth in 2007. He's continued that path of destruction with career postseason averages of 21.1 points and 9.6 assists in 44 playoff games.
Quietly but surely, "D-Will" has established himself as one of the best postseason performers in the NBA. His most recent averages of 24.3 points and 10.2 assists in 10 games during the 2010 playoffs, which included an untouchable average of 11.1 free throw attempts per game as a point guard, only further solidified that status.
This time around, Williams will be on a much more complete team than the New Jersey Nets had been in 2011 and 2012. The recently relocated Brooklyn Nets have padded the roster with sharpshooters and pick-and-roll scorers, which should spell nothing short but a skyrocket in terms of appreciation.
The fact that Deron Williams has evolved into one of the top 10 defenders at the position pushes his value even higher.
2012 Season Averages
20.34 PER, 21.0 PPG, 8.7 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG
The legion of Los Angeles Lakers haters will go out of their way to claim Steve Nash's position is too high. When you consider the fact that Nash remains the only rival to Rajon Rondo as the best facilitator in the game, that belief loses weight.
Most have already overlooked how masterful Steve Nash was in 2012. Despite playing with an unbelievably weak Phoenix Suns team, whose top scorers were Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley, Nash led the franchise to a 33-33 record.
Had the team not suffered a final week loss to the Utah Jazz, they would have found themselves in a tie for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Credit Steve Nash with yet another MVP-caliber season.
While Nash's individual defense will turn heads for all the wrong reasons, he's rather underrated as a team defender. While he's a minimal threat to pick an opponent's pocket, Nash knows how to work with teammates on double-teams and rotations.
The first of many underrated aspects of the surefire Hall of Famer's career.
Steve Nash's point-per-game averages do not suggest that he is an elite scorer. The true fact of the matter is, from a statistical standpoint, Nash is one of the top 10 shooters in the history of the NBA.
Nash ranks eighth all-time on the three-point field goal percentage list, having shot 42.8 percent for his career. That's over a 16-year span, which clearly trumps the 44.1 percent shooting Stephen Curry has displayed in just three injury-shortened season.
It has also come at a far more consistent rate than Jason Kapono's 44.2 percent.
To pad his strong resume as a shooter, Steve Nash has the highest career free throw percentage in NBA history. He is one just three players to shoot at least 90 percent from the charity stripe, tallying an incredible 90.4 completion rate.
Throw in the fact that Nash's connected on 49.1 percent of his career field goals, including his 53.2 percent shooting in 2012, and you get the picture.
Steve Nash is one of the top five facilitators of all-time. He's also one of the top 10 shooters to ever live. The fact that he's playing at the same level today as he was five years ago should answer why he's ranked so high.
2012 Season Averages
20.29 PER, 12.5 PPG, 10.7 APG, 3.0 RPG, .532/.390/.894
When studying Chris Paul, it's nearly impossible to find a specific point of weakness.
Paul is an elite perimeter defender whose ball handling and facilitating abilities are amongst the game's best. He's also one of the better scorers at his position, rounding out the most complete skill set of any individual at the point.
The question is, what is that truly sets Chris Paul apart from the other point guards in the NBA? He's far from the only player with a well-rounded skill set and is relatively undersized for his position.
Consider "CP3" to be the face of the pitbull prototype.
Whether verbally or physically, Chris Paul always seems to be getting into someone's face. He'll do anything from diving for loose balls to taking a charge on a much bigger opponent. Once the Wake Forest alum is back on his feet, expect an earful on what just went down.
Then expect CP3 to cross you over and finish with a smooth J when you try to one him up.
That's exactly what makes Chris Paul the superstar he is. The talent is enough to warrant serious consideration for elite status, but it's the mind state he brings to floor every time out that elevates that talent to a legendary level.
One way or another, Chris Paul will get the best of his opponent.
2012 Season Averages
27.09 PER, 19.8 PPG, 9.1 APG, 3.6 RPG, 2.5 SPG
We've long said that if Rajon Rondo could shoot, he'd be the most unstoppable force at the point guard position. During the 2012 NBA postseason, we discovered that Rajon Rondo could not only shoot, but was capable of taking over a game as a scorer.
For evidence, look no further than his 44 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and three steals against the Miami Heat during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Pad that argument with Rondo's historic 18 point, 20 assist and 17 rebound triple-double.
To say Rondo can do it all would be an understatement. That was his fourth of an eventual 10 triple-doubles during the 2012 season—including four during the postseason.
Not even LeBron James scratched that surface.
Although some would still argue on Steve Nash's behalf, Rajon Rondo has firmly established himself as the best facilitator in the game. He had a string of 28 consecutive games with double-digit assist numbers. He finished with exactly 10 in just two of those games. The first two of the streak.
Rondo finished the season with an average of 11.7 assists per game, tops in the NBA. He also dished out at least 15 assists in 11 separate games, including two games with 20. Rondo added four more 15-plus assist games during the postseason.
Just for further statistical brilliance, understand that Rondo finished with at least 12 assists in 31 of his 55 games played during the regular season. He was in double-figures during 43 of 55 appearances.
For those concerned with his high turnover rate, take note that Rondo had the fourth-highest assist to turnover ratio at 3.21.
Rajon Rondo may not be the name you want to see, but you can't debate the results. Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the NBA.
2012 Season Averages
17.55 PER, 11.9 PPG, 11.7 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.8 SPG
10. Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic
While he's certainly not equal compensation for Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic should be thrilled to have acquired Arron Afflalo. He's one of the game's elite perimeter defenders and is just as efficient on offense. His crafty ball handling and smooth mid-range J makes for a beautiful combination.
Afflalo's ceiling is debatable, but that's not the point here. Right now, Arron Afflalo is a top 10 shooting guard in the NBA.
9. Courtney Lee, Boston Celtics
Courtney Lee has become a popular name in NBA circles upon signing with the Boston Celtics. The truth is, not very many people are actually as acquainted with his game as they say. Piece of advice: get to know him.
Courtney Lee is an excellent perimeter defender whose footwork and patience is mature beyond his years. He's also a lights out shooter from the perimeter whose shot selection displays just as much wisdom.
8. Jason Terry, Boston Celtics
Jason Terry comes in as one of the most overlooked names in basketball. This plays right into his attack, as he sneaks in for the deadly three-pointers and slashing attacks when each team least expects it. Although he won't be working with Dirk Nowitzki in 2013, expect more of the same as Terry reminds the world of why he's an NBA champion.
Shooting, ball handling and pocket picking; what more could you ask for?
7. Eric Gordon, New Orleans Hornets
It appears as if fans have jumped on board the Eric Gordon express ever since he was swapped for Chris Paul. The truth of the matter is, we have no idea how good this kid actually is. He's been injured so many times in his young career that the sample size is far too weak to judge.
Nevertheless, the skills are there. Gordon has a solid jump shot with three-point range. He also possesses the upper body strength necessary to penetrate off of the dribble and finish in traffic. Upside is the best word here.
6. Monta Ellis, Milwaukee Bucks
Monta Ellis is one of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA. He is just as likely to take you off of the dribble and make a phenomenal finish in traffic as he is to knock down a jump shot from any angle. Due to the unpredictable nature of his attack, Ellis has established himself as one of the best offensive players in the game.
Ranking second to Kobe Bryant in terms of scoring amongst shooting guards is a nice way to prove it. Dishing out six assists and swiping 1.5 steals per game only adds fuel to a fast-rising fire.
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year was outstanding in the first three rounds of the 2012 NBA postseason. The bearded one averaged 17.6 points per game over that span and the name James Harden became synonymous with hitting the big shot.
Unfortunately, that success could not carry over to the NBA Finals as Harden shot a mere 37.5 percent from the floor while averaging 12.5 points per game. For that reason, James Harden remains a step behind another Sixth Man of the Year award winner.
Throughout the duration of the regular season, Harden wowed all who watched him. Not only did the second unit leader finish with an average of 16.8 points per game, but he had a tremendous slash line of .491/.390/.846.
Harden's true shooting percentage of 66.0 offers insight as to how dominant he truly was.
What was most impressive about the Arizona State alum's 2012 campaign, however, was not his scoring. Instead, it was the fact that Harden emerged as the true secondary point guard of this team with Eric Maynor injured and Derek Fisher not joining the team until late in the season.
His average of 3.7 assists, which ranked fourth amongst shooting guards, does not come close to telling the story of how decisive he was with the ball. James Harden not only led the second unit, but often times stepped up to lead the starters as well.
2012 Season Averages
21.13 PER, 16.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.0 SPG
At 6'7", Joe Johnson instantly becomes a tough task for any defender to handle. When you combine Johnson's size with lights out jump shooting, crafty ball handling and a point guard's court vision, it becomes clear why the Arkansas alum is a six-time All-Star.
We often through the term "versatile" around at the first sight of a player who can do more than just one thing well. Joe Johnson, however, identifies with the term in a much more than adequate manner.
Johnson has been one of the top five assist men at his position in each of the past five seasons. He's also finished in the upper five in terms of scoring in each of the past four years.
It's safe to say that Joe Johnson has earned his place on this list after years of consistent top-tier production.
With Johnson hitting Brooklyn this season, expect fans to take notice of what truly is a tremendous talent. Also expect some memorable finishes as the Brooklyn Nets prove to the world why their multi-million dollar investment in J.J. was worth the keesh.
Moving up this list is not out of the question.
2012 Season Averages
18.50 PER, 18.8 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.7 RPG, 38.8% 3PT
When you're a member of a system like Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs enforce, individual statistics are guaranteed to be tempered. This is the one and only reason why Manu Ginobili's career scoring average is at 15.2 points per game.
Had he played for a star-driven franchise, Ginobili would be right up there with Kobe and Dwyane Wade dropping in 25 a night. Blink once and he'll do just that in a mere 25 minutes of playing time.
Manu Ginobili's minutes took a serious hit in 2012, as the Argentinian guard battled a series of injuries throughout the regular season. Every time the San Antonio Spurs needed him to step up, however, the 2008 Sixth Man of the Year made his mark.
For instance, Ginobili opened the Spurs' series with the younger Oklahoma City Thunder on a high note by putting up 26 and 20 points respectively in Games 1 and 2. He also dropped in 34 points, seven assists and six rebounds on 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc in a heartbreaking Game 5 loss.
For those still in doubt of Ginobili's abilities, watch the 2012 Summer Olympics. His consistent individual domination of each and every opponent, including Team USA, should offer insight as to how good this guy truly is.
Manu Ginobili should be back at the top of his game in 2013. Pick him if you're looking for a dark horse favorite to take home the Sixth Man of the Year award.
2012 Season Averages
24.18 PER, 23.3 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.4 RPG, .526/.413/.871
As a lifelong Marquette fan, it's painful to put Dwyane Wade anywhere but number one. With a clear and unbiased mind, however, it's the right thing to do.
The 2012 NBA season was highlighted by LeBron James' first career NBA Championship. What was lost in the fray, however, was D-Wade's admitted step back to allow 'Bron to shine. As admirable as that may be to those in search of friendship, that's a cardinal sin on the basketball court.
It's also a major reason Wade was so out of sync during the postseason, shooting worse than 43 percent in nine separate games.
For this reason, the most complete shooting guard in the NBA ranks in at number two. As if that's something to pout about.
"D-Wade" remains an elite slasher whose ball handling abilities are on par with the best of all-time. He's the uncrowned king of the circus shot and, after this past season, a two-time NBA champion.
In the hype of LeBron James, we often lose sight of how dominant a player Dwyane Wade had been before the "Big Three" came together. For instance, D-Wade's 2009 season when he averaged 30.2 points, 7.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.
That's in comparison's to LeBron's MVP-winning numbers of 28.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Interesting how Dwyane Wade topped "the most versatile player in the world," LeBron James, in all but rebounding, isn't it?
D-Wade is the most talented shooting guard in the NBA. He simply falls victim to the next man.
2012 Season Averages
26.37 PER, 22.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.3 BPG
Kobe Bryant may never win the debate when he's compared with Michael Jordan. What Bryant can say, however, is that he has had some of the greatest individual success in terms of longevity.
After 16 years in the league, Bryant remains one of the best players around. The fact that he finished second in scoring to Kevin Durant, who beat him out by just 0.1 points per game, should be evidence enough.
While Dwyane Wade has certainly given Kobe Bryant a run for his money at this position, there are five shining reasons why the Los Angeles Lakers' star holds onto this spot.
Bryant remains elite as a point provider and perimeter defender. He's not nearly as athletic or explosive as he once was, but Bryant remains capable of offering glimpses of physical greatness. Otherwise, he's become one of the best low-post scorers in the game and is lethal off of the dribble.
While many will refer to him as a volume shooter, I'll respond to such allegations with a question. Who on the perimeter do you want Kobe Bryant to pass to? Steve Blake, Ramon Sessions and Metta World Peace?
I'll take his 20-to-25 shots a game any day of the week. Especially considering all of his attempts come within the flow of the system and he's a nightly threat to go off for 30.
Kobe will lock down your best scorer, take over a game with his scoring and lead a team to a title. Regardless of what the naysayers have to debate his greatness, there is no logical way around what remains as close to fact as you'll find.
Kobe Bryant is the best shooting guard in the NBA.
21.95 PER, 27.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.2 SPG
10. Shawn Marion, Dallas Mavericks
Not the name you expected to see, is it? Well, analyze the facts before you judge the name, folks, as Shawn Marion remains one of the top small forwards in the game.
Although he's no longer a threat to throw up 20 points a night, he'll give you a solid 12-to-15. More importantly, he'll play some of the best defense you've ever seen and defend anyone from the 2 to the 4. The fact that he held Kevin Durant to 15-of-44 shooting through two games of the postseason should be evidence enough.
9. Gerald Wallace, Brooklyn Nets
Gerald Wallace is a player who is known for his physical defense and deceptive athleticism. He should also be known for the fact that he can go off for 30 points at any given moment, as he did during the 2011 season for the Portland Trail Blazers in an elimination game.
While Wallace lacks a true form of attack on offense, he knows how to move without the ball and space the floor. Get him out in transition and he'll show you one thing you'll never forget: the dude can finish.
8. Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers
Danny Granger of the Indiana Pacers had a down year in 2012, but he wasn't alone. The lockout shortened season made it difficult for the Indiana Pacers to truly find a flow on offense, which was entirely evident as they aimlessly moved the ball around until the shot clock expired.
With a full training camp to work with, expect Granger to return to his 20 point-per-game form. His deep shooting and powerful dribble-penetration should help him return to All-Star form.
7. Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls is the perfect combination of offensive prowess and defensive nobility. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time and makes the proper gambles on the passing lanes. All-in-all, Deng is a perfect glue guy.
Deng keeps a team together with his consistently high motor and willingness to do anything to help the team win. Toughness, leadership and selflessness are all traits that make Luol Deng such an outstanding player. Solid shooting and lockdown defending don't hurt too much, either.
6. Andre Iguodala, Denver Nuggets
Andre Iguodala is one of the top defenders in the game today. He can lock down anyone from the point to the 4 due to his elite combination of strength, quickness and athleticism. This also enables "Iggy" to dominate in the open court and throw down a pretty jam.
Paired with respected leadership qualities, Andre Iguodala is a player you'd love to play with but fear playing against.
Since entering the league in 2006, Rudy Gay has fallen victim to the burden of high expectations. Many believe Gay to be an underachiever and have rightfully questioned his motor on the court.
Considering the Connecticut alum has averaged 19.5 points and 6.0 rebounds since 2008, the results simply don't support that theory.
Rudy Gay has been an elite scorer and all-around contributor since overcoming the rookie learning curve. His effort, however, does not always appear to be consistent as Gay has been known to take a night off from a mental standpoint.
One has to imagine that, with the proper motivation and mindset, all of that could change. Rudy Gay could make it as high as number two on this list if that were the case, as his skill and durability suggest franchise player status.
Something he has not yet justified with the Memphis Grizzlies.
The truth of the matter is, Gay beat out Andre Iguodala for this spot due to his skill advantage on offense. His defensive ability is strong enough to compete with Iguodala's elite play, which suggests that Gay could reach that very level as soon as this season.
At 25, the time may be running out for Rudy Gay to become the superstar he's expected to be. If all he is now is good enough for the fifth spot at his position, however, it may not be Gay that must change.
It's the expectations.
2012 Season Averages
17.85 PER, 19.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.5 SPG
Arguably the most underrated player in the NBA, Paul Pierce has continued to build on a Hall of Fame career with outstanding poise, balance and knowhow when the game is on the line. For every 2012 Eastern Confernece Finals, there's another 2008 NBA Finals to counter that.
For those in need of a reminder, Paul Pierce won Finals MVP that year as he took home an elusive NBA championship.
Throughout the duration of his career, Pierce has been an elite scorer with under-appreciated ball handling and facilitating abilities. Such was on display when Rajon Rondo went down with an injury early in the 2012 regular season.
Pierce responded by averaging 7.1 assists per game as he helped the Boston Celtics right the ship after a disappointing opening month of basketball.
This has been Paul Pierce's lost identity throughout his illustrious 14-year career. No matter what it is that the Boston Celtics need him to do, Pierce finds a way to get the job done. He's also found a way to be LeBron James's biggest rival, despite lacking the mobility and youth James has had throughout the entirety of their joined time in the league.
Paul Pierce will go down as a great scorer, and rightfully so. His career average of 22.0 points-per-game ranks in the top 30 in NBA history. His 22,591 career points have him ranked No. 25 all-time, with a top 20 berth just 1,166 points away.
What we should learn before it's too late, however, is that Paul Pierce is one of the most well-rounded players of our great generation. An active legend.
2012 Season Averages
19.69 PER, 19.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.1 SPG
Carmelo Anthony has been one of the game's elite scorers since he first entered the league, averaging 21.0 points per game as a rookie in 2004. Since then, 'Melo has raised his career scoring average to 24.7 per contest and garnered consideration as a legitimate franchise player.
Unfortunately, Anthony falls to the third spot on this list by virtue of the fact that he's never once made the NBA Finals. In fact, the Syracuse product has lost in the first round of the postseason during eight separate campaigns.
Nevertheless, Anthony remains one of the top 15 players in the game. The fact that 'Melo has begun to display a full-fledged effort on defense points to an improvement in placement on that list.
The New York Knicks' star has made a living as a one-way player. Under head coach Mike Woodson, however, Carmelo Anthony has begun to offer an equal effort on D. The result has been outstanding team play and shocking efficiency from 'Melo on a previously ignored end of the floor.
As long as he continues to balance his attention between both ends of the floor, Carmelo Anthony may just escape the first round of the NBA Playoffs. As a result, 'Melo may even move up on this list accordingly.
If nothing else, remember Carmelo Anthony as the one of the most clutch players in NBA history.
2012 Season Averages
21.15 PER, 22.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.1 SPG
Kevin Durant may not have an MVP award in his trophy case, but he now has three consecutive scoring titles and an Olympic Gold Medal. Considering Durant is just 23-years-old, it's safe to say that the sky is the limit for the 6'9" small forward.
Although loyalists would contest Derrick Rose is more deserving of this label, Kevin Durant has ended the debate in many minds. Slightly behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant is the second-best player in the world.
Durant made the leap in 2012, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to an NBA Finals appearance. On their way to the title series, the Thunder took out the three biggest names in the Western Conference; the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. The teams who had won four of the previous five NBA titles and appeared in every NBA Finals series since the Utah Jazz made it in 1998.
The reign of dominance was ended by the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder were led by Kevin Durant.
From his final minute heroics to his extraordinary improvements on defense, Durant was absolutely phenomenal. He finished with postseason averages of 28.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.
He also scored greater than 20 points in every game he played. Durant only dropped below 25 points in three of those 20 appearances.
This came on the heels of a regular season that saw KD average 28.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. To put it simply, these are the numbers that we should expect from the "Durantula" moving forward.
If not, expect them to improve. An MVP award and NBA title appear to be in Kevin Durant's not-so-distant future.
2012 Season Averages
26.26 PER, 28.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG
LeBron James is the best player on the planet. If he were to be listed any lower than first at his position, this would be an example of highway robbery.
James's development as a leader has led to an exaggeration of his abilities in other areas, such as his jump shooting which remains inconsistent. This does not mean LeBron is not the most dangerous force in the game, however, as he is legitimately unstoppable off of the dribble and is a sure thing to finish in traffic.
He's also an outstanding passer and, arguably, the best all-around defender in the NBA.
To put it simply, LeBron James is the Magic Johnson of this era. He's virtually untouchable and through all of the criticism, has emerged as the most impenetrable force in sports. Proof would be 'Bron's past year that has included an NBA Championship, Olympic Gold Medal and both the regular season and NBA Finals MVP awards.
Love him or hate him, there's only one way to evaluate LeBron James' play on the court. "LBJ6" is the best small forward in the game and the best player in the world.
2012 Season Averages
30.80 PER, 27.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.9 SPG
10. Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks
Ersan Ilyasova is the next 20 and 10 guy in the NBA. His minutes are not always consistent, which has slightly stunted his development and hurt his ranking. Nevertheless, Ilyasova is a guy who bangs in the paint but can stretch it out to the three-point line to drop triples on opponents. It doesn't get much better than that.
9. David Lee, Golden State Warriors
David Lee has been a lock for 20 points and 10 rebounds since 2010. He's a solid jump shooter who can finish around the basket with both hands. He's also aggressive on the offensive glass, which nearly makes up for the fact that he's so terrible on defense.
8. Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz
Paul Millsap is a tough interior player who could become a fan favorite with more exposure. He bangs in the paint, fights for every rebound and hits a consistent mid-range J. As long as the TV time comes, Millsap should find his way into the eyes of many with another solid season to follow a 16.6 point and 8.8 rebound effort in 2012.
7. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin is an incredibly gifted player whose upside is as high as any player in the NBA. He's a freak athlete who can throw down monster jams and haul in countless rebounds. Griffin is also a much better low-post scorer than he's given credit for. Unfortunately, non-existent defense drops him here.
6. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Surrounded by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, we often forget how talented Chris Bosh truly is. He was a consistent 20 and 10 guy before making it to Miami and has just recently carved out his role on the team. He's still an 18 point-per-game scorer but has improved so much on the defensive end that his decreased rebounding numbers mean nothing.
Josh Smith was once Blake Griffin. A high-flying athlete whose focus was too much on the flash and not enough on the fundamental finish.
After the 2012 season, there shouldn't be any question about who the superior player truly is.
While each player could be compared on offense, the battle on defense is where this is decided. Josh Smith emerged as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate this past season, registering 1.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.
This came as a result of an improvement in his decision-making and true understanding of how to use his body on defense. Something Blake Griffin clearly hasn't found a grasp for, as he averaged just 0.7 blocks per game in 2012.
Now enough of the comparison.
Josh Smith is on this list for a variety of reasons. Not only is he an open court terror who can finish above the rim as well as any in the NBA, but he's a savvy ball handler with solid range on his jump shot.
Although he can still be found settling for looks, his shot selection has improved to the point where he's a legitimate star scorer.
Smith finished the 2012 season with career highs in points and rebounds per game, tallying 18.8 and 9.6. He also posted a career-best 9.9 percent turnover ratio, which significantly improves upon his previous best mark of 11.5.
Believe it or not, Smith also led all big men with 3.9 assists per game. That's higher than both of the Gasol Brothers and Tim Duncan.
Josh Smith has improved as a scorer, rebounder, defender and decision-maker. Another year with this type of development could push him to the top of this list.
2012 Season Averages
21.14 PER, 18.8 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.7 BPG, 1.4 SPG
Pau Gasol may have been robbed of an All-Star appearance in 2012, but don't think that's made him any worse of a player. His dominant play as a member of Spain's national basketball team should offer enough proof for that claim to hold weight.
Gasol may just be the most skilled big man in basketball. He's an outstanding passer from the post, as evidenced by his average of 3.7 assists per game. An average that ranked second amongst all power forwards and centers.
Pau Gasol doesn't need to pass to be effective, however, as he is more than capable of knocking down a 15-to-20 foot jump shot. He'll also control the glass whenever need be, which is supported by his average of 10.4 rebounds per game while playing alongside glass hog Andrew Bynum.
It has been a rough past year for the Spaniard. His play just wouldn't show it.
The true telling tale for Pau Gasol in 2013 will be the postseason. The Los Angeles Lakers' power forward averaged just 12.5 points per game during the 2012 playoffs, which came on the heels of an average of 13.1 points in 2011.
As long as Pau Gasol can build those numbers back up, there is no reason he can't hold onto this spot.
2012 Season Averages
20.51 PER, 17.4 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 BPG
Had it not been for a remarkable collapse within the Portland Trail Blazers' locker room, we may have been graced by LaMarcus Aldridge in the postseason. Should that have occurred, we'd get a great look at the man who is slowly creeping up on the elite group of players that we refer to as the league's "Top 10."
Unfortunately, Portland did miss out on the 2012 NBA Playoffs and we as fans lost an opportunity to witness the growth of LaMarcus Aldridge. Fear not, however, as Aldridge could lead the Blazers on a turnaround campaign during the 2013 season, much like he reversed his own personal fortunes from a year ago.
After being snubbed for an All-Star bid in 2011, LaMarcus Aldridge guaranteed himself a spot on the roster with averages of 21.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. He's proven to be one of the more skilled big men around, as his jump shot has deep range and passing abilities have improved since he first entered the league.
Unlike the average big man, the pick-and-roll in Portland goes through Aldridge on one of three accounts. He can either settle for the J, attack the basket or become the top of the key facilitator.
A role he has filled beyond adequately.
As a scorer, LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the few players who has a grasp for the art of the low-post attack. He can score over both shoulders and often times resorts to a beautiful fade-away jump shot.
A shot that can be described by a word that adequately fits the owner: unstoppable.
2012 Season Averages
22.73 PER, 21.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.8 BPG
Dirk Nowitzki may have seen a disappointing end to the 2012 postseason, but that doesn't mean that his name should drop any lower than second at his position. In fact, one could even make an argument that the 2011 NBA Finals MVP holds a slight edge over the name soon to follow.
After all, Nowitzki has had a recent history of mediocre regular season play and elite playoff performances.
Rather than speculating what went wrong and what may be, it's best to analyze what we already know. Dirk Nowitzki averaged his lowest point and rebound per game numbers since 2000. He also shot his worst field goal percentage since his rookie year in 1999.
And even still, Dirk Nowitzki had one of the best seasons of any player at his position.
This is exactly why Dirk finds his name so high. He had a down year which cannot yet be accounted to age, as the team that won a title in 2011 was dealt a serious blow in 2012. Nowitzki's frontcourt partner, Tyson Chandler, left for the New York Knicks and left Dirk with a surplus of minor contributors filling in from time to time.
In 2013, Nowitzki will be paired with the gritty Chris Kaman. The same Kaman that Dirk played with for the German national team.
Dirk Nowitzki hasn't gone anywhere just yet, folks. It may not be too long before we resume the singing of his praises and place him one step higher.
2012 Season Averages
21.81 PER, 21.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.2 APG
Kevin Love is widely considered to be the best power forward in basketball, and with good reason.
Love has proven to be one of the top rebounders in the NBA. The former UCLA Bruins' 13.3 snags per game ranked second in the league to Dwight Howard in 2012. Kevin Love's 15.2 ranked first in 2011, proving that consistency does exist.
The true appeal for Kevin Love, however, is his offense.
Love is a capable low-post scorer but his bread and butter is attacking the glass and putting the second chance opportunities home. Love is also an excellent three-point shooter, going 37.2 percent from distance in 2012.
Although Kevin Love's defense leaves much to be desired, his offense and rebounding are enough to earn him the top spot on this list. The question is, are we seeing what Kevin Love is capable of or what 39 minute per game numbers inflate?
I'll take the previous, as Love has proven time and time again how great of a player he can be. The next step, of course, is seeing how great of a leader he is.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have yet to make the postseason in the post-Garnett era. Is Kevin Love the one to cure those woes?
2012 Season Averages
39.0 MPG, 25.41 PER, 26.0 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 2.0 APG
10. Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
Greg Monroe may be young, but he's a far more developed player than most would give him credit for. His defense is the worst of any player on this list, but his scoring and rebounding abilities are top notch. True to Georgetown form, he's also an excellent high-post facilitator.
9. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Much like his brother Pau, Marc Gasol is an incredibly skilled player. His ability to pass from the post and score using both hands separates him from a majority of the pack. Gasol's surprising physicality further adds to a strong formulation of ability.
8. Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz
Al Jefferson of the Utah Jazz is as gifted a scorer as the you'll find at the position. His averages of 19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game suggest stardom. Hidden in Utah, however, the 27-year-old is lost in the lack of television attention.
7. Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
Roy Hibbert is an outstanding interior defender whose mere presence alters shots. At 7'2", he's a threat to disrupt any shot or passing lane. He's also a talented low-post passer and scorer who has developed a left hand, making him all the more dangerous.
6. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan is limited by age but he still contributes as well as anyone in the game. He won't dominate a game with his scoring like he used to, but his ability to pass the ball and defend his position is as valuable as any asset you could imagine.
DeMarcus Cousins had an All-Star caliber season in 2012. The former Kentucky Wildcats star posted averages of 18.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.
He also finished the year with a higher rebound per 48 minute rate than Kevin Love. It's beginning to be safe to say that DeMarcus Cousins is the best young big man in the NBA.
Cousins finished the 2012 season with more offensive rebounds than any other player in the NBA. He also finished the year with the highest points per 48 minutes played of any center in the league.
The 28.6 points per 48 also placed him above Blake Griffin, David Lee and Josh Smith.
When the minutes are averaged out, it becomes clear that DeMarcus Cousins is the superior statistical player to even the greatest of big men. While his mental maturity has yet to catch up with that of his physical, DMC has all but made himself known as the next big thing in the NBA.
As soon as he improves upon his immaturity and the Sacramento Kings improve their supporting cast, expect DeMarcus Cousins to make a legitimate run at the MVP award.
2012 Season Averages
21.72 PER, 18.1 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Although limited on the offensive end of the floor, Tyson Chandler is one of the best defensive players in the game. According to the Defensive Player of the Year award he won in 2012, Chandler actually is just that.
The best defender in the NBA.
Tyson Chandler was the catalyst for a New York Knicks team who went from a cast of defensive liabilities to one of the top five units in the league. The 2011 NBA Champion's ability to run the floor is met by his fearless attack on defense.
This leads to big plays on offense and no easy buckets on D.
As previously noted, Chandler is very weak on the offensive end of things. He's a very intelligent shot selector, however, as he shot the ball 67.9 percent from the floor; the highest mark in the NBA.
Tyson Chandler went to the Dallas Mavericks and helped them bring home a title for those very qualities. Now he comes to the defensively inept New York Knicks and makes as grand a transformation as one could have dreamed of.
Until the award proves otherwise, Tyson Chandler is the best defender in basketball.
2012 Season Averages
18.66 PER, 11.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 0.9 SPG
Kevin Garnett was once in competition with Tim Duncan for the label of best power forward in the NBA. After 17 years in the league, it appears as if Garnett has made the difficult decision and permanently moved away from his previous position.
Kevin Garnett has now become one of the best centers in the NBA.
His regular season averages of 15.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game are impressive enough. What truly separates KG from the rest of the NBA, however, is his big game ability.
A trait that cannot be taught.
Garnett ended up finishing the postseason with averages of 19.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. This included 10 games with at least 20 points and another 14 with at least 10 rebounds.
As KG always seems to do, he saved his best performances when they were needed most.
During the Boston Celtics' series clinching 83-80 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, Kevin Garnett poured in 28 points and 14 rebounds with five blocks and three steals. During Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Kevin Garnett continued to tear it up with 29 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
A game that ended at 92-91 in favor of the Boston Celtics.
"The Big Ticket" continued this level of play by throwing up three major stat lines against the Miami Heat during the Eastern Conference Finals. That included 24 points and 11 rebounds in Game 3, as well as 17 and 14 with five blocks in Game 4.
To cap it off, Garnett went off for 26 points and 11 rebounds in Game 5. The Boston Celtics won all three of these games.
Throughout each game, KG was there to hit the final minute jump shot and make the momentum-shifting defensive stop. For that reason, Kevin Garnett comes in at number three.
2012 Season Averages
20.47 PER, 15.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.0 BPG, 0.9 SPG
Well, the Eastern Conference just got a whole lot more interesting.
In a move that has shaken up the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard via the Orlando Magic. In the process, L.A. sent their previous franchise big man, Andrew Bynum, to the Philadelphia 76ers.
And how about the player that the Sixers are receiving?
Andrew Bynum is coming off of a year in which he posted career highs in both scoring and rebounding. He scored an efficient 18.7 points per game behind a well-rounded offensive attack that includes an elite back-to-the-basket attack.
Bynum's ability to finish over both shoulders is just as impressive as his massive frame and brute strength when he puts those broad shoulders down.
What has truly improved for the 24-year-old is not his ability, but instead his effort. While his motor remains in question, Bynum exerted a respectable effort on both ends of the floor in 2012. He got after the offensive glass and looked to be more of a difference maker on defense.
That goal was met during Game 1 of the Los Angeles Lakers' postseason series with the Denver Nuggets, as Andrew Bynum tied an all-time record with 10 blocked shots in one postseason game.
Bynum also blocked six shots in the Lakers' Game 7 escape.
If this is the type of player that the Philadelphia 76ers are receiving, the team has instantly become a contender for the conference crown. Andrew Bynum is the second-best center in the game and only falls behind "D-12" for his lack of a consistent effort.
Once that's dealt with, we could be re-writing this list.
2012 Season Averages
23.00 PER, 18.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.9 BPG
There are a select few who will stand by Andrew Bynum in this debate due to his superior offensive prowess. Those very people are likely caught up in D-12's off-court antics, however, and have yet to truly evaluate these two players side-by-side.
Dwight Howard is right below to LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal as the most physically dominant player of the past decade. Fundamentals will come to Dwight Howard as he ages.
You can't teach these physical gifts.
Dwight Howard posted absolutely absurd averages of 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game during the 2012 regular season. He also averaged 1.5 steals per game, making him the only player in the league with at least two blocks and 1.5 steals simultaneously.
Now if only he could be that efficient at the free throw line.
Although he's not the most fundamentally sound offensive player, Dwight Howard is actually one of the best pick-and-roll guys in the league. This should work wonders for D-12 as he pairs with, arguably, the greatest pick-and-roll point guard of all-time: Steve Nash.
This should only further add to Dwight Howard's budding game, which includes a much-improved low-post attack. Perhaps teaming with Pau Gasol could lead to an infusion of skill to that athletically dominant frame.
Just be afraid, people. If Dwight Howard improves, there may not be room for any other names on this list.
24.29 PER, 20.6 PPG, 14.5 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 1.5 SPG