NBA: Re-Ranking ESPN's Top 25 Stars

Bryant Knox@@BryantKnoxFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2012

NBA: Re-Ranking ESPN's Top 25 Stars

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    ESPN recently conducted its annual ranking of every NBA player, and needless to say, the questions have begun as to which stars truly belong in the top 25.

    Where each player ranks is up to each individual to decide, but there are a handful of spots where ESPN and the TrueHoop Network seemingly dropped the ball in their evaluations.

    The league is full of talented players, and while some were unjustly passed over by lesser talents, others were simply overrated.

    Everybody has their opinion on where each player belongs, so let the debates continue as we approach the 2012-13 NBA season.

No. 25: Andre Iguodala

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 28

    Andre Iguodala has never established himself as a permanent No. 1 option, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t filled his role well as a versatile two-way player.

    Whether it be on offense or defense, Iguodala can make his presence felt with his extreme athleticism and his gritty effort. On offense, he excels in the fast break, and on defense, he remains one of the better perimeter defenders in the entire NBA.

    Iguodala may not score 20-plus points per game, but having averaged 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists for his career, he can still fill a stat sheet with the best of them.

    Having always been a versatile player, the 28-year-old forward is going to come into Denver and give them yet another piece to an already deep rotation.

No. 24: James Harden

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 26

    James Harden may be the sixth man for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he is quickly becoming one of the best shooting guards in the entire NBA.

    At just 23 years old, the former Arizona State Sun Devil boasted the fourth-highest PER (21.13) among all two-guards for the 2011-12 season. His ability to attack the rim is continually improving, but it’s his outstanding three-point shooting that makes him a true threat.

    Harden has become known for his offensive production, but he is also a bit of a nuisance on the perimeter defensively. He rebounds well, has quick hands and can keep up with his man in most defensive scenarios.

    Heading into his fourth season, Harden is playing for a new contract. There’s no sense in speculating where he’ll land for the 2014 season, but if recent trends continue in his favor, a max-dollar deal just might be headed his way.

No. 23: Josh Smith

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 31

    Josh Smith doesn’t get enough credit for the things he does well.

    The 6’9”, 225-pound forward is arguably one of the most athletic players in the game. His ability to run the floor and rise above the rim is about as good as it gets, and his presence on the defensive end is felt both down low and out on the perimeter.

    We all know that he isn’t the best decision maker, and that he struggles shooting from deep, but in 2012, he averaged 18.8 points, 9.6 assists, 1.7 blocks and tacked on 3.9 assists as well.

    With Joe Johnson gone for the Brooklyn Nets, it’s time for Smith to step up, play up-tempo and earn himself a contract heading into the 2013-14 NBA season.

No. 22: Marc Gasol

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 24

    Once known as Pau Gasol’s younger brother, Marc Gasol has begun to truly make a name for himself as one of the better centers that the NBA has to offer.

    ESPN boosted Gasol’s rank from No. 26 in 2011 to No. 24 in 2012, but it can be argued that he deserves a bit more recognition following his well-earned first All-Star appearance.

    The 7’1”, 265-pound big man moves swiftly for his size, can handle the ball well down low and has proven to be an impact player on both ends of the floor.

    Having averaged 14.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 2012, Gasol’s numbers don’t scream stardom, but his ability to be in the right place and make the right plays has earned him a spot among the top 25 players in the NBA.

No. 21: Steve Nash

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 19

    To say Steve Nash belongs outside the top 20 sounds ludicrous considering the career he has had; however, with his minutes limited and his production decreasing, he finds himself at No. 21 on this list following his move to Los Angeles.

    Having averaged 10.7 assists in 2012, Nash is still one of the best facilitators that the game has to offer. His shooting touch takes pressure off his teammates, and having never relied on athleticism, he remains a threat 16 years into his playing days.

    The 38-year-old is a future Hall of Famer, but with the health of his back a concern moving forward, you have to wonder what his numbers will look like as he nears his 39th birthday.

    You know Nash is going to make his teammates better wherever he goes. Even among the stars in Los Angeles, the veteran will help keep everyone involved; but when it comes to remaining in the top 20, it might be time to pass the torch to those once behind him.

No. 20: Kyrie Irving

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 22

    Kyrie Irving made a huge splash in the 2011-12 season, and while the top 25 might seem high to some, his game warrants extreme recognition as he enters his sophomore season.

    The rookie point guard hit the ground running by averaging 18.5 points, 5.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds in his first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. His 39.9 percent three-point shooting makes him a weapon from the outside, but his speed and athleticism is what makes him so difficult for other point guards to defend.

    The Cavaliers needed something to grasp onto following the departure of LeBron James, and Irving has given them hope that the pain and suffering will come to an end sooner rather than later.

    Irving isn’t the first second-year player to make a huge leap in ESPN’s list—Blake Griffin was No. 10 in the rankings following his first season.

    It takes someone special to breach the top 20 with only one year under his belt, but luckily for Cleveland fans, their current face of the franchise is one special player.

No. 19: Chris Bosh

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 18

    Chris Bosh has often been viewed as the third wheel of the Miami Heat, but that's more a testament to his world-class teammates than it is a knock on his ability to compete at a high level.

    It’s true that Bosh hasn’t looked like a top-five player since his arrival in Miami, but he remains one of the more talented players in the entire NBA.

    What Bosh has going against him is that he lacks a presence down low. Without the body of most NBA bigs, he often struggles against stronger defenders.

    The truth is, Bosh is an underrated defender, as that part of his game has improved since signing with the Heat. Rebounding has been a concern the past two years, but joining stat-sheet stuffers LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would decrease the production of virtually any player in the entire NBA.

    Bosh is no longer a No. 1 option as he was in Toronto, but he is more than capable of showing his value.

No. 18: Pau Gasol

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 15

    Despite a summer full of trade rumors and speculation, Pau Gasol returns to the Lakers for the 2013 season, and he returns as the 15th-best player in the league according to ESPN and the TrueHoop Network.

    Gasol is entering his 12th season, and while he’s still one of the better power forwards in the game today, it’s clear by his performance in the 2012 postseason that he’s not getting any better at this point in his career.

    The 7’0” power forward could very well be the odd man out among the stars in L.A., but if there’s one thing going for him, it’s the institution of the Princeton offense.

    Placing Gasol at the elbow is going to allow for flexibility within the offense. His ability to attack the rim—or shoot from mid-range—will be utilized to its fullest if the team can learn the new sets quickly.

    Gasol’s best days are behind him, but if he can jell with the newcomers, he’ll prove once again to be a vital piece in the Lakers’ rotation.

No. 17: Tony Parker

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 16

    Tony Parker earned a spot in ESPN’s Top 25 following the completion of his best NBA season, and he has become hands-down the most valuable piece of the San Antonio Spurs’ Big Three.

    The 30-year-old averaged 18.3 points and a career-high 7.7 assists in 2012. He was the most reliable player on the No. 1 team out West, yet he still managed to fly under the radar.

    Parker’s shot has always been his Achilles’ heel. He's shot just 31 percent from the three-point line over his 11-year career, but his recognition of his strengths and weaknesses is why he has become one of the smartest players in the entire NBA.

    Among point guards, Parker shoots one of the highest percentages in the paint year after year. He knows his shot isn't great, so he attacks the rim with his patented floater game-in and game-out.

    A spot this high was well-earned by Parker following his best season to date, but you have to wonder if he can keep up the pace for the 2013 season.

No. 16: Blake Griffin

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 14

    As one of the most athletic power forwards that the game has to offer, Blake Griffin has averaged 21.7 points and 11.5 rebounds so far in his young career. His numbers slipped a bit throughout his sophomore season, and as a result, ESPN dropped him to 14th on their list from 10th the year before.

    But the question remains: Is Griffin really as good as advertised?

    Before we delve in, let’s get one thing straight: Blake Griffin is very, very good.

    His athleticism is nearly untouched, as he can soar above the rim for highlight-worthy finishes and rebounds that few others are capable of. Even his shot is beginning to improve, making him at least noticeable in the short-to-mid range.

    The problem lies, of course, on the defensive end of the floor. He often times requires help on the block, and he’s yet to average more than .7 blocks per game.

    For those of you who have watched Griffin grow in Los Angeles, sometimes it’s difficult to remember that he is just two full seasons into his NBA career; but with poor defense and a still-underwhelming shot, he must continue to develop before he is considered a top-15 player.

No. 15: LaMarcus Aldridge

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 20

    LaMarcus Aldridge is hidden away in the Pacific Northwest, and as a result, was a bit underrated by ESPN and the TrueHoop network this time around.

    The 6’11” power forward has drastic improved in his game since injuries forced Brandon Roy out of the lineup. His points-per-game average has increased, his back-to-the-basket game is improved and his leadership may be the most impressive progression of all.

    Defensively, the big man still needs work. He’s never been the best rebounder on that end of the floor, and he’s only averaged a single block per game for his career.

    The six-year veteran may require help on defense, but he began to show last season that he can dominate a game when he recorded 33 points, 23 rebounds and five assists against the Toronto Raptors early in the season.

    Aldridge has historically played at one of the slowest paces in the NBA, so his numbers don’t often reflect the kind of impact he has on the Portland Trail Blazers. He’s not top-10 worthy at this point in his career, but he’s certainly one of the three best power forwards that the game has today.

No. 14: Andrew Bynum

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 13

    Coming off his best season so far, Andrew Bynum has officially entered his name in the debate for best center in the entire NBA.

    The 7’0”, 285-pound man in the middle has the rare ability to impact both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. His 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 2012 helped him leap nearly 20 spots in ESPN’s ranking.

    That being said, the 24-year-old is going to need another year of consistency and maturation to convince most that he has become a more viable option than fellow center Dwight Howard.

    ESPN wasn’t too far off with the 13th spot on the list, and the only reason he drops a spot on this one is because of their suspiciously low placement of Carmelo Anthony.

    If the big man can come back and have another dominant season, he’ll continue to climb the ranks as his career progresses.

No. 13: Carmelo Anthony

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 17

    Carmelo Anthony may struggle on defense for the New York Knicks, but the 28-year-old forward was robbed when ESPN named him the 17th best player in the NBA Rank.

    At 6’8”, 230 pounds, Anthony is one of the league’s most dominant pure scorers and an excellent rebounder for someone of his position.

    The guy can score from virtually anywhere on the court. While his outside shot has been a bit inconsistent throughout his career, he is capable of going off and lighting up anybody in the league from beyond the arc.

    What may be most impressive about his offensive abilities is his diversity. Although he’s not a point-forward in the sense that LeBron James is, he is more than capable of bringing the ball up the floor and taking his man off the dribble.

    Bullying smaller forwards in the paint has become a crucial part of his game, and while we may not see it as much as we’d like, he can do serious damage when he takes advantage of the right situation.

    His lack of defensive effort keeps him outside the top 10, but to claim that there are 16 players better throughout the entire NBA is a notion that should be challenged by all fans of NBA basketball.

No. 12: Russell Westbrook

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 9

    Although Russell Westbrook is known throughout the league as Kevin Durant’s sidekick, he is constantly improving his own stock with his incredible athleticism and knack for scoring the ball.

    The 6’3” point guard is one of the best in the league at finishing at the rim, and with a career-high 23.6 points per game in 2012, he has become one of the most dynamic scorers at the point guard position.

    Westbrook is one of the league’s most elite stat-sheet stuffers, but the problem is, as his points have increased, his assists have dropped at an alarming rate.

    Despite averaging 8.2 assists in the 2010-11 season (to go along with 21.9 points), the category dropped to just 5.5 when his shots increased to a career-high 19.2 per game.

    Westbrook is becoming one of the most dangerous players in the game, but until he can keep his assists up and his decision-making sharp, he remains on the outside looking in of the ten best players in the NBA today.

No. 11: Rajon Rondo

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 12

    Rajon Rondo led the league in assists (11.7) in 2012, he is one of the best perimeter defenders in the game and he has become known as a triple-double machine throughout his six-year career.

    The one major blemish on Rondo’s game is his completely broken jump shot.

    Rondo has struggled with his shot his entire career, yet unlike most, the 26-year-old guard has limited his shots and focused on getting his teammates involved game in and game out.

    Rondo is a horrible three-point shooter, but he attempts less than one per game, making his true area of weakness free-throw shooting. You can live with him not shooting from beyond the arc, but with his aggressive nature on the court, you know he’s going to be on the free-throw line at least a few times per contest.

    If Rondo can improve that shot of his—especially from the charity stripe—he’s going to be a top 10 player by the time his playing days come to an end.

No. 10: Dirk Nowitzki

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 11

    Dirk Nowitzki has been in the league for 14 years now, and he remains the best shooter in the game to eclipse the seven-foot mark.

    Of all the unstoppable moves in the NBA today, Nowitzki’s one-footed fade-away has to be near the top. His shooting touch is as lethal as it comes, and he is one of the more difficult players to defend because of his size and unique skill set.

    Nowitzki’s offense makes up for his defensive deficiencies, but the truth is, the seven-footer moves well on defense despite lacking the strength to bully on the block.

    The veteran’s numbers fell a bit last season. If it turns out that his statistical drop off was more than just a byproduct of a lockout-shortened season, Nowitzki will be passed by a number of players following the 2013 season.

No. 9: Kevin Love

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 7

    Kevin Love is arguably the NBA’s best power forward, but you have to wonder if ESPN got it right placing him above the likes of Deron Williams and Dwyane Wade in their annual NBA Rank.

    Love’s biggest concern has to be his defense. Most players who lack athleticism are going to struggle on the defensive end, and that has shown to be the case for Love throughout his career.

    While defense may be a problem for the 6’10”, forward, the 24-year old averaged 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds en route to a league-leading 48 double-doubles in 2012.

    Love can spread the floor with his three-point shot, he is reliable at the free-throw line and while he may lack a signature low-post move, he knows how to use his frame to bully opponents in the paint.

    The only argument that can be made against Love’s ridiculous numbers is that he plays at one of the league’s fastest paces. He is going to be a great player for a long time, but you have to wonder what his numbers would look like in a system that averaged fewer possessions per game and didn’t attempt so many long three-point shots.

No. 8: Derrick Rose

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 5

    Derrick Rose is expected to miss most of the 2012-13 season, but when he is healthy, he is one of the hardest point guards to stop in the entire NBA.

    When it comes to Rose, athleticism is the name of the game. His ability to break down a defense is phenomenal, but his leaping ability and power above the rim is something that point guards could only dream of when centers ruled the league.

    The best thing about Rose? He is a great facilitator for someone who averages 21.8 points on 17.8 shots per game.

    His 7.9 assists in 2012 were the most in his four years of playing, but the even better sign is that he has averaged a career-high in assists every season he’s been in the NBA.

    Rose needs work on his perimeter jumper, but it is an area that he has improved upon nearly every season since his rookie year.

    ESPN wasn’t far off in naming him a top-five player, but until he comes back healthy, there are a handful of names ahead of him who deserve that same recognition.

No. 7: Deron Williams

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 10

    Most NBA players would consider 10th a massive accomplishment heading into the 2013 season. Deron Williams, however, deserves more credit, as he is the guy who scored a season-high 57 points en route to averaging 21.0 points per game in 2012.

    Williams’ 8.7 assists per contest were a bit low for his career, but with the Brooklyn Nets healthy and improved, that number should rise.

    The biggest problem in Williams’ game is turnovers. The guy has averaged 3.2 turnovers over the seven years he’s been in the NBA, including a career- and league-worst 4.0 per game in 2012.

    So many turnovers would be detrimental to the ranking of most NBA point guards, but the fact that Williams does virtually everything else at an elite level boosts him to the No. 7 spot on this list.

No. 6: Dwyane Wade

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 8

    Dwyane Wade is coming off an injury-riddled season where he officially handed the Miami Heat over to LeBron James, but that in no way means he deserves to drop five spots in ESPN’s annual NBA Rank.

    Wade was ranked third heading into the 2011-12 season, and even with his injury troubles in a lockout-shortened year, he managed to post 22.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 49 games.

    By today’s NBA standards, Wade is starting to get up there in age. He’ll be 31 in January, and he’s entering his 10th season as an NBA veteran.

    That being said, you’d never guess it when the 6’4” guard is on the floor healthy.

    The argument can be made that Wade even deserves to be a spot or two higher, and if he can come back healthy, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in the top five again following the 2013 season.

No. 5: Kobe Bryant

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 6

    Kobe Bryant may take too many shots, and he may be 34 years old, but the 16-year veteran remains a top-five player at this point in his illustrious basketball career.

    Having averaged 27.9 points per game in 2012, Bryant showed us once again that he is one of the league’s best scorers. His ability to fill a stat sheet gave him 5.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 2012, and despite the moves the Los Angeles Lakers made this summer, he remains the leader of the team.

    We all know about his shot selection. The shooting guard posted 23 shots per game in 2012, and his field-goal efficiency was an underwhelming 43.0 percent. That being said, the guy can flat-out take over a game, and ESPN’s ranking of sixth just doesn’t do justice to what he is still capable of.

    Placing Bryant in the top five is not legacy appreciation—it’s recognition that he remains an elite player in today’s NBA.

    If 2013 comes and goes and Bryant’s age has finally begun to show, than his ranking will drop in 2014.

    However, until that day is officially upon us, Bryant remains a top-five player.

No. 4: Dwight Howard

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 3

    Andrew Bynum’s 2012 campaign made some question as to who the NBA’s best big man is, but when it comes down to it, Dwight Howard has been far better for far longer.

    The 6’11”, 265-pound center has dominated the league since his arrival. Howard’s 2012 averages of 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks were overlooked by the drama in Orlando, but despite the adversity, the big man remains the league’s most dominant center.

    Howard is a physical specimen who has made a career out of jumping and dunking over opponents, but he doesn’t come without deficiencies.

    A lack of low-post moves makes his game simple in the paint, and when teams send him to the free-throw line, good things rarely happen for Howard and his teammates.

    If you want to place Howard higher, you have a legitimate case. But with the flaws in his game that simply can’t be ignored, the big man remains outside the top three for the 2013 NBA season.

No. 3: Kevin Durant

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 2

    Kevin Durant has very quickly become one of the league’s best players.

    At just 24 years old, Durant is a three-time NBA scoring champion, a three-time NBA All-Star and is fresh off his first appearance in the NBA Finals.

    The 6'10" small forward is one of the most lethal shooters in the game, and his length and speed make him dangerous going to the basket or rising above defenders on the perimeter.

    Most importantly, he’s begun to prove that he can get it done late in games when it matters most.

    At this point, the biggest things going against Durant are his strength and ball control. Durant has trouble going around the league’s most physical defenders, and as a result, he averaged 3.8 turnovers per game in 2012; according to ESPN’s John Hollinger (Insider), he ranked 64th out of 67 small forwards in pure point rating.

    Team success is important, but you have to wonder if he’d be ranked second on ESPN’s list without his first NBA Finals appearance.

No. 2: Chris Paul

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 4

    Chris Paul has been called the league’s best point guard in numerous circles, but with the way he impacts the game and makes his teammates better, the 27-year-old deserves consideration for the second-best player in the entire NBA.

    Paul’s move to Los Angeles was a complicated one, but when it was all said and done, he almost single-handedly made the Clippers a playoff team in 2012.

    Players such as Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have become huge beneficiaries of Paul’s move to L.A., as their new point guard is capable of putting the ball right at the rim on a regular basis.

    Paul, unlike those behind him in the rankings, has virtually no flaw to his game. He doesn’t turn the ball over compared to other elite guards, he’s not a liability on defense—he led the league in steals in 2012—and he’s not going to throw up bricks when left alone out on the perimeter.

    This guy is one of the league’s best, and he deserves a higher ranking than ESPN gave him in their NBA Rank.

No. 1: LeBron James

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    ESPN’s Rank: No. 1

    ESPN was spot-on when they named LeBron James the best player in the NBA.

    The 27-year-old forward is coming off a momentous 2012 season where he won the regular season MVP, took home his first championship ring and grabbed the Finals MVP award to top it off.

    James is the most physically gifted player in the NBA, and his skill set is about as diverse as it comes.

    While his jump shot is far from perfect, he posted a career-high 53.1 percent from the field and a career-high 36.2 percent from the three-point line in 2012. His move to the post last season created an efficiency we’d never seen out of him before, and now we can say more than ever that James can play any position from point guard to power forward.

    ESPN and the TrueHoop Network gave him a 9.99 out of 10, and while he is arguably the world’s best player today, you have to wonder if a 23-year-old named Kevin Durant will be gunning for that No. 1 spot by the time the 2012-13 season comes to an end.