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Power Ranking the Top 50 NBA Stars Heading into 2012-13 Season

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 25, 2012

Power Ranking the Top 50 NBA Stars Heading into 2012-13 Season

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    The stars will be out in full force during the much-anticipated 2012-13 NBA season, and their alignment will constantly change as older players start to decline and younger ones prove their worth.

    However, these are the top 50 players right now as we head into the newest installment of The Association. 

    You'll find former MVPs, Defensive Players of the Year, All-Defensive team members and All-Stars in full force in the coming slides, as well as a few of the league's more underrated players. 

    As always, feel free to post your own rankings if you feel the desire to do so. Bring up the rankings you disagree with, but try to provide factual reasons for those disagreements while keeping it civil. 

Injured Players

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    These rankings are discussing the best players heading into the 2012-13 season. They are not predicting who will have the best 82-game campaigns during the current months. 

    As a result, you won't find young players who are expected to break out—although you will find young ones who have already proven themselves. Paul George and Ersan Ilyasova, for example, may work their way onto future rankings, but not the set discussing the players heading into the season. 

    You also won't find injured players. I've arbitrarily decided not to include players who aren't expected to return within the first two weeks of the regular season. Therefore, please refrain from questioning why Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki, among others, aren't top-50 players. 

    When healthy, they'd obviously make these rankings. 

50. Gerald Wallace

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 30

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    Now that Gerald Wallace has plenty of elite—and healthy—scoring options around him, he'll be focusing on proving why he once earned the nickname "Crash." 

    Wallace won't need to score a lot of points for the Brooklyn Nets, which will allow him to focus on the little things, like crashing the boards and playing lockdown perimeter defense. 

49. Nikola Pekovic

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Position: C

    Age: 26

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.6 steals

     

    You're about to witness the Nikola Pekovic show for the Minnesota Timberwolves now that Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are both sidelined with injuries that will keep them sidelined for a prolonged period. 

    Pekovic is a physical presence in the paint on both ends of the court. Although he occasionally needs to curtail his aggressiveness, he did manage to post a 21.9 PER while allowing opposing centers to earn just a 13.4 PER during the 2011-12 season, according to 82games.com. 

48. Marcin Gortat

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    Team: Phoenix Suns

    Position: C

    Age: 28

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.5 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    Marcin Gortat is either going to rise dramatically or fall precipitously in the coming months, but he probably isn't going to stay put at No. 48. After all, we're going to find out whether or not Gortat's success was a product of Steve Nash's passing. 

    Gortat is an incredibly proficient pick-and-roll finisher with mobility and a solid mid-range game, so something tells me that he's going to look good with Goran Dragic running the show in 2012-13. 

47. Kyle Lowry

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    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Position: PG

    Age: 26

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.6 steals

     

    One of the best financial bargains in all of basketball, Kyle Lowry, will be key to the Toronto Raptors' turnaround efforts. 

    In 2011-12, the point guard proved that his success from the perimeter the year before wasn't a fluke, but he still excelled when pushing the pace of the offense and aggressively trying to make things happen. Plus, he's one of the best rebounding guards out there. 

    Lowry won't have as much success without Kevin McHale calling the shots from the sidelines, but his defense should improve as he continues to develop. 

46. Andrew Bogut

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: C

    Age: 27

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 11.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.0 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    When he's healthy, Andrew Bogut is one of the top centers in the NBA, particularly on the defense end of the court. Few big men are better at holding down the fort, and the Australian center could be the man that finally turns around the Golden State Warriors' defense. 

    However, Bogut's health is always going to be a concern. At some point, multiple fluke injuries do in fact mean that a player is injury prone, and Bogut hasn't played close to a full season since the 2007-08 campaign for the Milwaukee Bucks. 

45. Roy Hibbert

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: C

    Age: 25

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.0 blocks, 0.5 steals

     

    Roy Hibbert might be a max-contract player now, but I'm not convinced that he can be a franchise centerpiece. He's not the highest-ranked player on his own team, and a certain shooting guard could easily surpass him by the end of the 2012-13 campaign. 

    The former Georgetown Hoya is a terrific defense player, but his offense is still too undeveloped to be built around. He's great around the rim and has an incredibly soft touch, but he struggles outside the paint and when he's asked to carry the scoring load. 

44. Danny Granger

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: SF

    Age: 29

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    Danny Granger improved on defense during his seventh season in the NBA, but he's still never going to be mistaken for a defensively-oriented player. The small forward is primarily an offensive powerhouse, although he could stand to use his passing. 

    The best player on the Indiana Pacers, Granger is dynamite from the outside with his three-point shooting and excels at drawing contact on the inside. But the most impressive part of Granger's game is his ability to limit turnovers.

43. Luol Deng

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: SF

    Age: 27

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    Now we go from an offensive small forward to a defensive one. Luol Deng held opposing small forwards to a PER of just 11.3 during the 2011-12 season, according to 82games.com.  

    However, Deng isn't some slouch on offense and could threaten 20 points per game while Derrick Rose is sidelined by his ACL injury. He's a solid three-point shooter and should look even better once his wrist injury stops slowing him down. 

    Deng may have been an All-Star for the Chicago Bulls during the lockout-shortened season, but he might actually deserve the honor in his follow-up campaign. 

42. Brandon Jennings

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    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Position: PG

    Age: 23

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 19.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.6 steals

     

    Brandon Jennings made massive strides in his third NBA season, jumping from a PER of 15.66 to 18.46. Unfortunately, the presence of Monta Ellis will take away from his ball-dominance and hinder his further development, but the lefty point guard is already playing at a high level. 

    A turnover-averse point guard with a terrific knack for creating his own offense, Jennings needs to focus on his defense during his fourth season with the Milwaukee Bucks. His team was noticeably less effective at preventing points when he was on the court. 

41. Paul Millsap

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Position: PF

    Age: 27

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.8 steals

     

    For those people on the Paul Millsap bandwagon, now might be as fun as it gets to be on it. This is just about the peak in terms of his ranking among NBA players. 

    The undersized player never stops hustling and does all the little things well. His size does hold him back, but he's still a great rebounder, passer, mid-range shooter and defender, making up for a lack of inches with excess effort. 

    With Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors lurking on the Utah Jazz roster, his playing time is only going to drop until he's either traded or becomes a free agent at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season. 

40. Monta Ellis

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    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Position: SG

    Age: 26

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 20.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    When it comes to offense, Monta Ellis is an incredible player and an undeniable asset to the team he's on. Although he doesn't hesitate to pull the trigger and occasionally shoots too often, Ellis can score at will and is one of the best passing shooting guards in the league. 

    His defense is still preventing him from moving any higher up the ranks, though, no matter how many people cry out for his presence on the All-Star squad. While Ellis racks up the steals, those are by no means indicators of defensive prowess. 

39. Joakim Noah

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: C

    Age: 27

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 blocks, 0.6 steals

     

    Joakim Noah's offensive game would be a luxury at this point for the Chicago Bulls, and he's likely going to have improved after spending an offseason working on his game with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 

    If he has any semblance of a post game, Noah is going to shoot up these rankings. 

    After all, his defense is already at an elite level. The former Florida Gator is the NBA's version of the Energizer Bunny, and he never stops going when trying to keep the other team from scoring, whether he's shutting down his own man or playing great help defense. 

38. Stephen Curry

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: PG

    Age: 24

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    Stephen Curry was quite possibly the hardest player to rank out of all the members of the top 50. When he's healthy, he's about as good as it gets from the guard position on offense. 

    But how long will he stay healthy? After a preseason injury to his surgically repaired ankle, the Golden State Warriors fanbase is holding its collective breath. 

    I would never bet on Curry to play a full season at this point, but there's no doubt that he's going to excel when he's on the court. 

37. Serge Ibaka

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: PF

    Age: 23

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 9.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 3.7 blocks, 0.5 steals

     

    Serge Ibaka desperately needs to work on his off-ball defense. He's often out of position when rotating, and must improve that aspect of his game so he doesn't keep earning All-Defensive votes and driving me crazy. 

    There's no doubt that Ibaka is a unique player, as well as a very effective one. He's easily the best shot-blocker in the league, and his pick-and-pop game is quite developed for a 23-year-old. 

    However, until his non-shot-blocking defensive play improves, I'm not going to be as high on Ibaka as everyone else seems to be. 

36. Rudy Gay

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: SF

    Age: 26

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    Rudy Gay is ever-so-close to overtaking Paul Pierce as the fifth-best small forward in the NBA, but he's going to have to improve his facilitating skills and focus on defense before he can take that next step. 

    The 26-year-old is a terrific scorer from the wing, capable of arcing in shots over the defense from the perimeter or using his incredible athleticism to terrorize opposing players. 

35. Zach Randolph

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: PF

    Age: 31

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Zach Randolph has the best effectiveness-to-athleticism ratio in the NBA. Even though elephants can jump higher than Z-Bo, he still manages to dominate in the paint and is a true 20-point, 10-rebound threat, when he's healthy. 

    The power forward is a terrific rebounder and excels on offense, regardless of whether he's facing up or using his near-perfect footwork to embarrass defenders on the low blocks. 

    Randolph might take a little while to round into form after a knee injury limited him in 2011-12, but he's going to assert himself as the alpha male on the Memphis Grizzlies once more. 

34. Al Jefferson

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Position: C

    Age: 27

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.7 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Speaking of remarkable footwork, Al Jefferson might have more precise feet than any other big man in the NBA. His arsenal of moves with his back to the basket is something that every young center should strive to match. 

    Jefferson is also a solid passer for his size—which is a bit too small for the center position—and he rebounds effectively, but he isn't the best defender in the league by any stretch of the imagination. 

    The center might be in a similar situation as his teammate, Paul Millsap. With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings, his time with the Utah Jazz could be drawing to a close. 

33. Al Horford

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 26

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    Al Horford seems to be one of the most forgotten-about players in The Association after a torn pectoral muscle kept him out for the vast majority of the 2011-12 season. However, he remains one of the league's best big men and should contend for an All-Star spot as he assumes a leadership role on the Atlanta Hawks. 

    Although he plays out of position, lining up at the 5 instead of his natural 4 for the Atlanta Hawks, Horford still holds his own defensively. The former Florida Gator is solid in every area of the game even if he's still looking for areas—other than the mid-range game—in which he excels. 

32. Paul Pierce

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: SF

    Age: 35

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.1 steals

     

    Paul Pierce is going to continue to fall down the rankings as Father Time continues to catch up with him and diminish his already-limited athleticism. 

    However, The Truth still plays well in every facet of the game and can score with anybody when he gets into a shootout. The Boston Celtics offense thrives when Pierce is on his game and scoring points in bulk. 

31. Tim Duncan

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 36

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    Speaking of players who are on the decline, Tim Duncan is somehow managing to stave off the typical effects of old age. Gregg Popovich is limiting his minutes for the San Antonio Spurs, which allows The Big Fundamental to remain as effective as ever. 

    With his bank-shot, great passing, fundamental offensive play and sensational defensive game, Duncan will remain a valuable contributor for as long as he stays in the NBA. 

    Now whether he can stay in the top 50 by the end of the 2012-13 season might be up in the air...

30. Joe Johnson

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Position: SG

    Age: 31

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 18.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    If Joe Johnson's name wasn't attached to a massive contract, he'd probably get a lot more respect around the league. Even though he's shifting locations from the Atlanta Hawks to the Brooklyn Nets, he remains one of the premier shooting guards out there. 

    The Iso-Joe offense got a bad reputation in Atlanta, but that style of play existed for a reason. 

    Johnson's isolation game and sensational perimeter shot are incredibly effective, and he'll be challenging for the league lead in three-pointers made now that defenses will have to pay attention to Deron Williams in the Barclays Center. 

29. Manu Ginobili

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: SG

    Age: 35

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.7 steals

     

    Manu Ginobili remains the sixth man for the San Antonio Spurs, but his role is declining as his age continues to creep up closer to 40. At 35 years old, Ginobili's athleticism is undoubtedly on the decline. 

    However, as he proved during his impressive string of games at the London Olympics, Ginobili can still light up the scoreboard. We'll find out whether or not he'll be as effective without flopping, but the Argentine 2-guard is slippery and creative on offense. 

    With his Eurostep and interesting routes to the basket, Ginobili will be effective until he retires. 

28. Greg Monroe

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    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Position: C

    Age: 22

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.3 steals

     

    Watching Greg Monroe requires patience and appreciation for the little things. He might not be athletic and struggles to slow down offensively-talented big men, but Monroe is a sensational and cerebral basketball player, despite only being 22 years old. 

    As you might except from a Georgetown product, Monroe is one of the best passing centers in the NBA. He can kick out to the perimeter, pass out of a double team or hit cutters as well as players that stand roughly six inches shorter than him. 

    Monroe will continue to improve his technique, and once the Detroit Pistons surround him with more threats, he's going to move way up in the rankings. 

27. Eric Gordon

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    Team: New Orleans Hornets

    Position: SG

    Age: 23

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 20.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.4 steals

     

    If Eric Gordon can stay healthy, his versatile offensive game and role as the centerpiece of the New Orleans Hornets could leave him competing for the runner-up spot in the scoring race. 

    However, his balky knees will make his health a constant question mark. There's even a chance that Gordon isn't ready for the start of the season, although—barring a setback—he should be ready within the two-week period necessary to qualify for these rankings. 

26. DeMarcus Cousins

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    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 22

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.5 steals

     

    DeMarcus Cousins is another player who I expect to rise dramatically during the 2012-13 season. That seems to be a theme in this section of the rankings. 

    The power forward and center for the Sacramento Kings is an overpowering physical presence on offense and defense alike, although his motivation is always a question. If his motor is turned on for the duration of the game, he could become the best big man in the NBA. 

    Boogie's offensive rebounding is also particularly effective, and he single-handedly gives the Kings quite a few extra possessions. 

25. Ty Lawson

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: PG

    Age: 24

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 16.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.3 steals

     

    This might be an aggressive ranking for Ty Lawson, but the young point guard is a truly special player with a bevy of options surrounding him in Denver Nuggets uniforms during the upcoming season. 

    One of the fastest players with the ball in his hands, Lawson can leave his defender in the dust and still maintain the presence necessary to hit open teammates. 

    The point guard doesn't have any true weaknesses on the basketball court, though he could stand to improve his defensive technique to compensate for his 5'11" frame. 

24. Marc Gasol

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: C

    Age: 27

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.9 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    Marc Gasol is unselfish to a fault when he has the ball in his hands. I'd like to see him take control with his post moves and mid-range game instead of conceding attempts to his teammates, even though his ability to find cutting players on the Memphis Grizzlies is impressive. 

    Just like his older brother, Marc is one of the more versatile seven-footers out there. His range goes far beyond the paint on offense, his ball-handling skills are advanced and he's a plus-defender. 

    Scarily enough, the center still only has four years of NBA experience. 

23. Tyson Chandler

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: C

    Age: 30

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 11.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.4 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    Tyson Chandler might have led the NBA in true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage during his first season with the New York Knicks, but offense is certainly not the side of the court on which he truly excels. 

    This center is all about defense. In one season, he was able to turn around the New York Knicks and make them into one of the best defensive squads in the NBA. And that's with Carmelo Anthony patrolling the perimeter. 

    Chandler is the NBA's version of an eraser. He can cancel out any mistakes made by his teammates with his incredible help defense. 

22. Kevin Garnett

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 36

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 15.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    Even at 36 years old, Kevin Garnett is a premier "power forward." I'm giving him that designation because I'm terrified of him, but KG has been playing center for the Boston Celtics for quite some time now. 

    As his athleticism and stamina decline with age, KG is becoming more of a jump-shooter than ever before. However, that's a good thing.

    Garnett's jumper from outside of the paint is sensational and inspires terror in the defense when he lofts it up without a defender's hand in his face. 

    Between his silky-smooth jumper and his still-great defensive play, Garnett isn't ready to leave the realm of the elite quite yet. 

21. Andre Iguodala

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: SG/SF

    Age: 28

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.7 steals

     

    Andre Iguodala is no longer going to be asked to be the No. 1 option on his offense, following his trade from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Denver Nuggets. That's a wonderful thing for Iggy. 

    Although he has a versatile offensive game, the league's premier swingman relies on athleticism and would fill the Robin role much better than the Batman one. 

    Now that the pressure is off him, Iguodala will be able to focus on his perimeter defense more than ever, and he was already one of the league's best. 

20. Kyrie Irving

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Position: PG

    Age: 20

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.1 steals

     

    Even after playing just one injury-shortened season during a lockout-shortened campaign, Kyrie Irving has already established himself as the 20th-best player in the NBA. That's perfect, since he's still only 20 years old. 

    Let's pause for a second to let everyone who has made it through their teenage years stop and feel bad about their athletic achievements. 

    With superb control over the ball and the ability to score in any situation, Irving is going to be a force to be reckoned with for a long time. 

19. Steve Nash

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: PG

    Age: 38

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 12.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 10.7 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.6 steals

     

    Steve Nash is about to win the assist title at 38 years old. That's a ridiculously impressive achievement, but one that the veteran point guard will fully deserve after staying in shape and dedicating himself to the game for so many years. 

    Surrounded by more offensive options than ever before, Nash is about to enter a point guard's paradise with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    And, much to the disappointment of 29 teams in the NBA, Nash still has every ounce of court vision and passing ability that he possessed in his prime. 

18. Chris Bosh

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 28

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    Chris Bosh is the forgotten about member of the Miami Heat super team, but that doesn't make him any less effective. 

    An improved defender with an abundance of mobility, Bosh is thriving in his role as the third option in South Beach. His mid-range game is sensational, especially with the amount of defensive attention that must be paid to both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade

17. James Harden

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: SG

    Age: 23

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    James Harden is an offensive explosion when he comes off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

    The reigning Sixth Man of the Year can hit shots from outside or drive into the lane and draw contact with the best of them. He's insanely efficient for a guard. 

    Plus, he has a fairly decent beard-mohawk combo at his disposal. 

16. Josh Smith

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 26

    2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 blocks, 1.4 steals

     

    Now that centers don't have to be voted onto the All-Star squad, Josh Smith might finally become an All-Star for the first time. He has been snubbed on quite a few occasions. 

    Smoove is one of the most athletic players in the game, but he somehow hasn't managed to recognize that yet. I'm basing that statement off the fact that he still continues to hoist up long-range two-pointers with frustrating frequency. 

    The combo-forward is the man who's going to have to step up on offense following the departure of Joe Johnson. As for defense, well, it's not really possible for him to step up much more. 

15. Pau Gasol

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: PF

    Age: 32

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 blocks, 0.6 steals

     

    One of the most versatile player in all of basketball, Pau Gasol is also the best passing big man in the NBA today. His ball skills, both in terms of dribbling and hitting open teammates, are simply sensational. 

    Between his guard skills and mid-range scoring, Gasol is kind of a ridiculous player to have as your third-best option. 

    A line that touches about 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists per game with a serious contribution in blocks wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. 

14. Blake Griffin

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PF

    Age: 23

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.8 steals

     

    Blake Griffin is one of the most misunderstood players in all of basketball. If it even crosses your mind to question this lofty ranking for the slam-dunk master, then please check out this article before doing so. 

    I'll give you a preview: Griffin is more than a dunker and isn't a terrible defender. 

13. Tony Parker

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PG

    Age: 30

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 0. blocks, 1.0 steals

     

    Tony Parker might get a lot of credit for his speed with the ball and his shot from inside the three-point arc, but the cerebral aspect of his game often goes overlooked. 

    The French point guard runs a complicated San Antonio Spurs offense to perfection, and Gregg Popovich seems to have total faith in his floor general's ability to make the right decisions. He knows what to do, and more importantly, when to do it. 

    Parker doesn't often get mentioned alongside the league's elite point guards, but he certainly should. 

12. LaMarcus Aldridge

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Position: PF

    Age: 27

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 21.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.9 steals

     

    Many people are surprised to hear that LaMarcus Aldridge is actually a solid defender. The fact that he's an offensive powerhouse is a commonly accepted fact. 

    Aldridge isn't an elite defensive player by any stretch of the imagination, but he is at least competent when trying to stop players from scoring. During the 2011-12 season, the power forward held opposing players at his position to a 15.4 PER, according to 82games.com. 

    His strength will always lie in his offense though. When his turnaround gets going, he's virtually impossible to stop. 

11. Carmelo Anthony

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: SF

    Age: 28

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 22.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.1 steals

     

    Carmelo Anthony may be one of the best offensive players in basketball—despite a surprising lack of effectiveness from mid-range—but he can't be a top-10 player in the league until he shows that he can put forth consistent effort on both ends of the court. 

    I don't really care that much that he stops the ball on offense and often changes the flow of the offense. Whatever. That's how he excels. 

    However, his defense concerns me. Melo has shown that he has the ability to slow down his man on a consistent basis, but he hasn't shown the mental fortitude to actually put forth that effort night after night. 

10. Deron Williams

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Position: PG

    Age: 28

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.2 steals

     

    The transformation of Deron Williams during the first season in the Barclays Center is going to be one of the most interesting stories to monitor in the NBA. 

    D-Will has become accustomed to shouldering the offensive burden and taking it upon himself to score a lot of points, sacrificing his efficiency in the process. Now that Joe Johnson has joined the Brooklyn Nets and Brook Lopez is healthy, the point guard can change it all up. 

    Could Williams shoot around 50 percent from the field again while dishing out 10 assists per game? It's certainly possible. 

9. Andrew Bynum

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    Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Position: C

    Age: 24

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, 0.5 steals

     

    Andrew Bynum hasn't yet put on a Philadelphia 76ers jersey during a game, but he's still primed to be a top-10 player and the second-best center in the NBA during his first season with his new team. 

    With great defensive play and a terrific back-to-the-basket game, Bynum should thrive in his new role as the top option. He's going to love not having to worry about Kobe Bryant getting his touches any more. 

    The pressure of leading a playoff-caliber team might eventually get to Bynum, who is sometimes immature on and off the court, but that's by no means a guarantee. 

8. Rajon Rondo

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: PG

    Age: 26

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 11.7 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.8 steals

     

    Rajon Rondo is the NBA's best traditional point guard, but that doesn't make him the best player at his position. In a lot of ways, positional designations only cause people to misinterpret the levels of greatness reached by certain players. 

    Although Rondo is a terrific perimeter defender, a quality rebounder for his size and a sensational passer, he still doesn't bring quite as much to the table as Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul

    Rondo could very well be in the MVP discussion during the 2012-13 season, but "valuable" is different than "best." 

7. Russell Westbrook

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder 

    Position: PG

    Age: 23

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 23.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.7 steals

     

    Russell Westbrook's scoring abilities fill the same role that Rajon Rondo's passing skills do. The dynamic point guard draws a lot of offensive ability, which lessens the attention paid to the league's leading scorer. 

    Until Kevin Durant complains about Westbrook's tendency to pull up early in the shot clock, I don't see many reasons as to why we should. 

    Westbrook is one of the premier athletes in the NBA, but he also possesses an impressive level of skill. 

6. Dwyane Wade

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SG

    Age: 30

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 22.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.7 steals

     

    Dwyane Wade has looked impressive during preseason action, even showing the occasional hint of an outside shot as the Miami Heat gear up to defend their title.

    The shooting guard's slashing ability is still as good as anyone's in the NBA, as are his defensive skills. Although his age is misleadingly low, Wade has hops at this stage of his career and doesn't truly struggle in any facet of the game.

    Whether he's passing, defending, rebounding or scoring around the rim, Wade always makes a positive impact on the game. 

5. Kobe Bryant

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: SG

    Age: 34

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 27.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.2 steals

     

    Much like Deron Williams with the Brooklyn Nets, Kobe Bryant is about to have to change up his playing style to maximize the Los Angeles Lakers' chances of winning a title in their first season as a new-look super team. 

    Kobe has been used to using his freedom to take any shot he desires, but the presence of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the Staples Center will lessen the amount of ball dominance he maintains throughout the season.

    I'm assuming that Kobe's efficiency will increase dramatically during the 2012-13 campaign, but he'll fall behind Dwyane Wade in the rankings if it doesn't.  

4. Dwight Howard

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: C

    Age: 26

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

     

    Yes, you're reading this correctly. Kobe Bryant is no longer the best player on his own team now that Dwight Howard has donned a purple-and-gold jersey. 

    The league's best center, Dwight has the unique ability to affect the game tremendously on both ends of the court. He can score in a number of ways, excelling in particular on pick-and-roll finishes, and he can almost always stop the opponent from posting too many points. 

    According to 82games.com, D12 held opposing centers to a 11.2 PER during his injury-riddled final go-around with the Orlando Magic. A healthy and motivated Howard might manage to exceed that number in L.A.

3. Chris Paul

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PG

    Age: 27

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 19.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 9.1 assist, 0.1 blocks, 2.5 steals

     

    Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league, and it's not even close. There really isn't anything that CP3 struggles to do on the basketball court. 

    Whether he's scoring at an elite level, finding his teammates with ease, playing remarkable on-ball and off-ball defense, swiping the ball away from the opponent or using his killer instinct to take over the game in the fourth quarter, Paul manages to keep his team afloat. 

    Now if only we could get Paul to run the Los Angeles Clippers' offense instead of Vinny Del Negro. 

2. Kevin Durant

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: SF

    Age: 24

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 28.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.3 steals

     

    Just in case you've been living under multiple rocks stacked up on each other for the last three years or so, Kevin Durant is kind of good at putting the basketball through the hoop. 

    As soon as he adds some post moves, he'll easily be the most complete scorer in the game, and he has already won each of the past three scoring crowns. Durant's perimeter game is simply outstanding, and he has quite a bit of athleticism to ease his path to the basket when he attacks. 

    Although Durant could stand to improve his defense and facilitating skills—more the latter than the former—he has already clearly established himself as the second-best player in the NBA.

    And he's only 24 years old. 

1. LeBron James

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SF

    Age: 27

    2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.9 steals

     

    Sorry to disappoint anyone who was expecting a surprise at No. 1. 

    LeBron James is clearly the best player in the world right now and will continue to hold that title for the near future. He's only 27 years old and just entering into his prime, which means that he should continue to get better. 

    That's a terrifying thought for the rest of the league, considering the reigning MVP is already on a tier by himself. 

    Unless we're talking about free-throw shooting, James thoroughly dominates every aspect of the game. He competes for the scoring title, maintains efficiency from the field, scores from the perimeter and the post, threatens double-digits in rebounds and assists on a nightly basis and plays perimeter defense as well as anyone in the league. 

    I could have gone on, but I think you get the point. 

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