The NBA today is as much of a copycat league as it's ever been.
It seems like every time a team goes out in search of a coach or a general manager, it ends up hiring someone with ties to the San Antonio Spurs and/or the Oklahoma City Thunder. When one squad starts piling up wins by playing small or another does so by running pick-and-roll ad nauseam, the rest of the league follows suit.
And when sweet-shooting Europeans or quick point guards make waves here and there, it becomes incumbent upon every front office to avoid being left on the outside looking in, as if building a team were equivalent to a high-stakes game of Musical Chairs.
That being said, it's often the novelties that come out on top. The Triangle is arguably the most successful offense in NBA history, but has hardly been heard from since Phil Jackson stepped away.
Teams that build patiently through the NBA draft deserve credit for doing so, but are all too frequently upstaged by others—like the Lakers, the Celtics and the Heat—that count on catching lightning in a bottle as the chief means of improving a roster.
Best of all, though, are the players whose unique on-court stylings lift their teams to new heights and make the game of basketball a joy to watch.
Like, say, these seven stars.
Rajon Rondo is living proof that, even in the modern game, a guard can be successful without a consistent jump shot.
Not just successful, but outstanding.
Of course, it helps Rondo's case that he led the league in assists last season at 11.7 per game and rebounds the ball spectacularly for his position, to the point where triple-doubles are regular occurrences rather than statistical anomalies.
What makes Rondo such a fascinating player to watch, though, is the way he handles the ball. He has enormous hands for a player his size, which allow him to manipulate the rock in ways that few point guards can.
Rondo's gigantic mitts also make it that much easier for him to gobble up rebounds, drop dazzling dimes with one hand and pick off passes with such regularity as to be named to an All-Defensive squad four years running.
Now, if only he could throw a beach ball in the ocean...
Dwyane Wade isn't much of a shooter, either, but, like Rondo, understands quite keenly how to play to his strengths.
Which is to say, he attacks the basket rather than settling for jump shots.
It's strange to think that a shooting guard would be so adverse to, you know, shooting, particularly from the perimeter. He's never averaged more than 3.5 three-point attempts per game or shot them at anything approaching a 40-percent clip in his career.
Of course, that hasn't stopped Wade from partaking in eight straight All-Star Games or being selected to seven All-NBA teams. For those honors, he can thank his own penchant for taking his shots right at the rim.
The appeal of Wade's game stems from his ability to do so deceptively. The fluidity of his movements allows him to sneak over, around and through defenders without appearing as though he's using brute force, head-turning quickness or otherworldly leaping ability in the process.
As for his flopping? Well...nobody's perfect, I suppose.
The most unique player on the planet—if not in the history of the game—may well be Wade's current teammate.
I'm referring, instead, to LeBron James. Never before has a player combined size (6'8", 250 pounds), speed, athleticism and pure skill to such otherworldly effect.
He can shoot, attack the basket, score in the mid-range, operate in the post, run the fast break, initiate and facilitate an offense, clean the glass, play and defend all five positions, and force turnovers as a help defender.
Which is to say, he does most things better than most players in the league, and he does it so frequently and so "effortlessly" that it often comes off as cliche.
Call him what you want—a freak of nature, a human freight train, a back-stabbing traitor, a champion—but there's no denying that LeBron is peerless, if only in the sense that there's nobody quite like him in basketball.
It's not every day that a legitimate seven-footer walks into the NBA with unlimited shooting range, much less one from across the pond.
Or at least it was, until Dirk Nowitzki changed the game. Nowitzki has fashioned for himself a Hall of Fame career out of being able to shoot over every shorter, quicker defender he faces and dribble around every hulking center who stands in his way.
And for doing so with flowing blond locks.
He's also the only seven-footer to put together a full season shooting 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free-throw line.
What's more, his assortment of running one-footers, turnaround jumpers in the post and gritty drives to the hoop make him one of the more entertaining players to watch. And with an MVP and a title under his belt, Dirk can comfortably claim to be the best and most successful European player the NBA has ever seen.
Speaking of fair-skinned big men who shoot threes, Kevin Love is quickly establishing himself as arguably the best power forward in basketball, if not one of the most skilled all-around players around.
Love is a solid athlete, though hardly spectacular, but has the requisite bulk (6'10", 260 pounds) to bang bodies in the post and dominate below the rim. He understands so thoroughly how to throw his weight around that he may well be the finest rebounder in the NBA, even though he lacks the hops of a Dwight Howard or the length of an Andrew Bynum.
The secret? Fundamentals. Love boxes out with the best of them and knows how to time his jumps, even if they don't carry him as high into the air as others.
Those fundamentals translate to the rest of Love's game, as well. He's a tremendous shooter—the reigning three-point shootout champ, in fact—and is even better with his back to the basket.
And when it comes to passing, few players of any size can count themselves equals with K-Love. He has an excellent feel for his teammates in the paint and his outlet passes are the stuff of urban legend.
If Ricky Rubio's knee heals and the T-Wolves' revamped roster comes together as planned, Love may yet have the opportunity to show off his game in the 2013 playoffs for all basketball fans to see.
No discussion of fundamentals would be complete without The Big Fundamental himself—Tim Duncan.
Love may be the prince of power forwards right now, but Duncan stands alone as the best to ever play the position. His extensive resume (i.e. four titles, two MVPs, 13 All-Star appearances, 12 All-NBA selections) stand as testament to as much.
What makes Duncan so unique, though, is the way he operates and has managed to remain relevant for 15 years now. That is, he does his work in a way that is neither vulgar nor flashy, yet is always efficient, understated and pleasing to the eye. He's the one who taught Kobe Bryant how to shoot a bank shot, who kept the hook shot alive and who turned level-headedness into an art all its own.
Don't forget, either, that Duncan is one of the best defensive players to shine in the NBA, as his 13 All-Defensive selections will surely corroborate.
If ever there were a player for whom the phrase "quiet domination" were an apt description, it'd be Tim Duncan.
To be fair, Duncan hasn't done all the heavy lifting for the San Antonio Spurs in his illustrious career. He must surely thank Tony Parker for lending him a rather important helping hand.
And now that Gregg Popovich has remodeled the Spurs' roster around Parker, the Frenchman's particular talents are on more prominent display than ever before.
Parker has long been among the league's elite point guards, despite the fact that he's never averaged more than 7.7 assists per game, doesn't shoot the three particularly well and, frankly, doesn't garner much attention from the national sports media for his play on account of his residency in the River City.
Yet, Parker has found himself firmly in the MVP discussion on more than one occasion. He regularly ranks at or near the top of the league in points in the paint, even though he's all of 6'2" and 180 pounds and lacks the strength and athleticism of a Derrick Rose or a Russell Westbrook.
Parker's proficiency in this regard stems from his incredible quickness with the ball and his penchant for dribbling circles around just about anyone who'd attempt to slow him down.
And with the way the Spurs get up and down the floor now, opposing teams are finding Tony to be even more cause for a headache than ever before.