NBA Star Player Power Rankings: Opening Week Edition

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 29, 2012

NBA Star Player Power Rankings: Opening Week Edition

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    In a lot of ways, the NBA is the league that exposes its star players the most, which means that there's constant turmoil in the NBA Star Player Power Rankings. 

    There are only 10 players on the court at a time, so each player's actions are far easier to dissect. Plus, the lack of helmets, ball caps and other gear enables us to break down everything from their statistical performances to their attitudes. 

    As a result, these post-preseason rankings are going to look a little bit different than the last version

    The preseason might not matter once the regular season begins, but the early action does still let us read into the upcoming success—or failure—of these elite players in The Association. 

    So, how did the preseason games affect the rankings? You'll have to read on to find out. 

    Note: Injured players who are expected to miss at least two weeks are not eligible. 

20. Kyrie Irving (Previous Ranking: No. 20)

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Position: PG

    Age: 20

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 2.9 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 0.0 blocks, 1.0 steals


    Although Kyrie Irving averaged 15.4 points per game during the preseason, a mark that left him trailing only 15 players in all of the NBA, he did so with remarkable inefficiency. The sensational young point guard shot only 35.2 percent from the field. 

    Now, the Cleveland Cavaliers' superstar has to contend with the removal of his wisdom teeth, which set back his amount of practice time and leaves him questionable for Tuesday's season opener. 

    Fortunately for the Cavs, a lack of wisdom in his mouth won't actually affect his decision making. 

19. Andre Iguodala (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: SG/SF

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 8.7 points, 4.3 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 1.5 steals


    Although Andre Iguodala has struggled to find his shot with the Denver Nuggets, particularly when letting it fly from the outside, he's shown enough in all facets of the game during the preseason to scoot past Steve Nash in the player rankings. 

    The league's premier swingman doesn't need to score to be successful in his new role, though, as there are plenty of players in the Mile High City capable of lighting up the scoreboard. 

    His passing and rebounding has been particularly impressive thus far, and LeBron James is the only player who traditionally lines up at small forward that exceeded his assist average during the preseason. 

18. James Harden (Previous Ranking: No. 17)

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Position: SG

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 0.0 blocks, 1.2 steals (with the Oklahoma City Thunder)


    James Harden was involved in the biggest news of the preseason when he, Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward and Cole Aldrich were shipped off to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and future draft picks. 

    You can find my full take on how Harden fits in with his new team here, but rest assured that it will be a positive move for the bearded shooting guard. 

    Harden now has a chance to prove that he can be the No. 1 option and not just the league's best sixth man. He has the potential to move up in these rankings rather significantly as the year progresses, but the novelty of the situation and the greatness of the player now just ahead of him prevent that from happening quite yet. 

17. Chris Bosh (Previous Ranking: No. 18)

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 15.8 points, 1.3 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 0.6 blocks, 0.9 steals


    During the Miami Heat's slate of eight games that don't count, Chris Bosh was in midseason form when shooting the basketball. 

    His mid-range jumper was working to perfection, and the power forward even hit from beyond the three-point arc. Bosh averaged 15.8 points per game during the preseason, hitting a sensational 55.1 percent of his shots from the field and 95 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe. 

    Bosh's defense has also been solid, and it appears that he could be even more effective for the Heat this year than he was in the championship-winning campaign. 

16. Pau Gasol (Previous Ranking: No. 15)

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: PF

    Age: 32

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 12.3 points, 2.3 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 0.4 steals


    Now that Dwight Howard is joining Kobe Bryant in the Staples Center, it's not about how many points Pau Gasol can score. A dip in scoring is perfectly fine, as long as it's coupled with an increase in efficiency. 

    And even still, Pau's role is now all about the little things. He must play solid defense, join D12 crashing the boards and display the versatility—both in terms of shooting range and passing—that makes him one of the more special power forwards around. 

    Gasol didn't quite stretch the court as much as he'll need to on offense, and his 46.5 percent shooting from the field is well below the desired mark. Plus, the 2.3 turnovers and 2.3 assists per game aren't exactly what the Lakers are looking for. 

    The Lake Show is clearly a work in progress, and Gasol is no exception to that rule. 

15. Josh Smith (Previous Ranking: No. 16)

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 26

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 11.2 points, 1.8 assists, 6.5 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 1.3 steals


    Josh Smith's preseason numbers look impressive enough, but one number can make them seem even more extraordinary. The Atlanta Hawks' combo-forward only played 21.3 minutes per game during the six games he appeared in prior to the start of the season. 

    Atlanta's success this year hinges on the play of J-Smoove, the one player on the roster who most embodies Philips Arena's nickname: "The Highlight Factory." 

    One of the more versatile players in The Association, Smith can contribute in every facet of the game, as he showed with great success during the preseason. 

14. Tony Parker (Previous Ranking: No. 13)

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PG

    Age: 30

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 7.3 points, 3.5 assists, 1.8 rebounds, 0.2 blocks, 0.3 steals


    Tony Parker wasn't on the court much during the preseason, but his play didn't look particularly inspired when he did manage to get off the bench for his 20.3 minutes per game. 

    The French point guard averaged only 7.3 points per contest and did so on a putrid 30.4 percent from the field. He also only managed to knock down 71.4 percent of his foul shots, which is well below the mark he's posted over the last few seasons. 

    Parker fared significantly better when passing the ball, but he also made a number of careless plays and bad decisions that resulted in far too many turnovers. 

    He'll obviously pick up his play during the regular season, but he didn't show much over this six-game stretch. 

13. Blake Griffin (Previous Ranking: No. 14)

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PF

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 16.4 points, 3.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds, 0.4 blocks, 1.3 steals


    Blake Griffin was one of the most sensational players of preseason action. Those per-game numbers you see above came in only 26.3 minutes of action per contest. 

    Although his off-ball defense still needs some work, Griffin didn't look inept on that end of the court. On offense, "inept" wasn't even part of his vocabulary. 

    Griffin's 3.3 assists per game were impressive enough, but he coupled them with 16.4 points per appearance on 55.8 percent shooting from the field. 

    The power forward is giving every indication that he's going to have another standout season, but the 48.7 percent shooting from the free-throw line is still holding him back. 

12. LaMarcus Aldridge (Previous Ranking: No. 12)

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Position: PF

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 1.5 assists, 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 0.2 steals


    LaMarcus Aldridge is pretty much stuck at the No. 12 spot in the rankings until his production either falls off a cliff or he suddenly becomes a dominant defender instead of an average one. 

    It's nearly impossible to move Aldridge into the next tier of players, which begins at No. 11 with a player yet to be disclosed, but it's similarly impossible to move him below Blake Griffin. Aldridge just contributes in more ways right now. 

    The second-best power forward in basketball (when Kevin Love is healthy) didn't show enough positives or negatives during the preseason to shift his ranking. 

11. Andrew Bynum (Previous Ranking: No. 9)

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    Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Position: C

    Age: 25

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: Did not play


    Andrew Bynum was never able to pull a Barney Stinson and suit up for the Philadelphia 76ers during preseason action, so it's still impossible to judge exactly how he'll fit in with his new team. 

    The league's second-best center has the potential to skyrocket in the rankings once he returns to the lineup and proves himself during the regular season, but he's fallen back a bit after some standout performances by two more star players. 

10. Deron Williams (Previous Ranking: No. 10)

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Position: PG

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 15.8 points, 5.4 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 0.2 blocks, 1.2 steals


    Deron Williams jumped past Andrew Bynum, but he was also used as a hurdle by another player in these rankings. Therefore, he stays put at No. 10. 

    Playing for the new-look Brooklyn Nets, D-Will has still been a bit too aggressive with his own shot, failing to involve his teammates as much as he needs to. His 37.3 percent shooting from the field is a testament to that, although shooting 40 percent on five attempts per game from downtown certainly helps make up for the inefficiency. 

    There is no reason for Williams to average less than 10 assists per game this season once he starts playing a normal number of minutes. So far, he hasn't looked to pass enough to make that a reality. 

9. Carmelo Anthony (Previous Ranking: No. 11)

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: SF

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 20.4 points, 2.0 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 0.6 blocks, 1.0 steals


    Carmelo Anthony was a pretty solid offensive player throughout the preseason, finishing tied for the lead with Kobe Bryant thanks to his 20.4 points per game for the New York Knicks. However, he did so in more minutes than Kobe while shooting a lower percentage from the field, downtown and the charity stripe. 

    I'm more intrigued by the other parts of Melo's game during the early going, although he did show that he can carry the scoring load while Amar'e Stoudemire recovers. 

    The small forward played solid defense at times and was an absolute terror on the glass for his position, averaging 6.0 rebounds per contest in under 30 minutes of action per game. It's this increased effort crashing the boards that nudges him just past Deron Williams in the battle to be the best player in New York. 

8. Rajon Rondo (Previous Ranking: No. 8)

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: PG

    Age: 26

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 10.9 points, 8.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 0.1 blocks, 1.1 steals


    Rajon Rondo is giving a few hints that he might have an improved jumper in his arsenal for the start of the 2012-13 season. 

    He averaged 0.2 makes on 0.8 attempts per game from behind the three-point arc in the preseason, numbers that were identical to his averages during the 2011-12 regular season. However, he did so in seven fewer minutes of action. 

    The talented point guard, much to the surprise of absolutely no one, continued to dominate the passing game during the Boston Celtics' preseason outings. His 8.2 assists per game left him trailing only Chris Paul, while CP3, Scott Machado, Greivis Vasquez and Stephen Curry were the only players with more than 10 minutes per contest who topped him in assists per 48 minutes. 

7. Dwyane Wade (Previous Ranking: No. 6)

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SG

    Age: 30

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 3.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 1.2 steals


    Dwyane Wade played quite well during the preseason, looked like he was healthy and showed off a solid jumper throughout the six games he appeared in for the Miami Heat.

    It just wasn't enough to hold off a superb showing from the player who previously held down the fort at No. 7. 

    Wade's ball-handling was particularly suspect throughout the preseason festivities, as he averaged 2.8 giveaways per game in only 24.3 minutes of action per contest. He'll need to take more care of the ball, particularly when splitting through double-teams—as he usually does so well—when the games actually start to count. 

6. Russell Westbrook (Previous Ranking: No. 7)

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder 

    Position: PG

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 6.8 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 0.6 blocks, 0.8 steals


    Russell Westbrook was one of the major beneficiaries of the James Harden trade, as he's now the unquestioned top guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder and needs to score at a high level to make up for the loss of Harden's points. 

    The dynamic point guard was also one of the preseason's big winners, as he played well from start to finish in his five appearances. 

    Despite only playing 25.4 minutes on average, Westbrook averaged 6.8 assists per game for the Thunder, trailing only Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and Greivis Vasquez throughout the league. He's improved each and every season of his post-UCLA career, and his facilitating appears to be the improvement of choice for the 2012-13 season. 

    Of course, Westbrook also scored at a high level and contributed on the boards. He made a sensational 56.3 percent of his attempts from downtown and shot 46.3 percent from the field as a whole. 

    Get ready for an MVP-level campaign from this All-Star. 

5. Dwight Howard (Previous Ranking: No. 4)

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: C

    Age: 26

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 1.5 assists, 10.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 1.0 steals


    Dwight Howard looked pretty solid during each of his two preseason games for the Los Angeles Lakers, although he'd only give himself a "B" for his efforts in the first performance.

    Rolling to the basket to finish lob passes with brutal dunks, playing elite defense, swatting away more shots per game than anyone else and thriving on the glass, Howard looked like a stud during his first games wearing purple and gold.

    We'll see how he handles the rigors of the regular season, as well as the inevitable chemistry hurdles with his new teammates, but these were encouraging first signs for the NBA's best big man.  

4. Kobe Bryant (Previous Ranking: No. 5)

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: SG

    Age: 34

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 20.4 points, 3.4 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 0.4 blocks, 1.0 steals


    While he could have cut down on his turnovers, Kobe Bryant really couldn't have played much better during preseason action. His scoring, in particular, was flat-out ridiculous. 

    Although the Black Mamba tied with Carmelo Anthony for the preseason scoring crown, I'm ready to just hand it to him. He shot 50 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from behind the three-point arc and 87.2 percent from the charity stripe, just destroying 'Melo in all three areas. 

    Plus, he scored just as many points in five fewer attempts and 2.2 minutes fewer per game than the New York Knicks' small forward needed. 

    I'd still like to see Kobe pass the ball more now that he's surrounded by elite offensive options, but I can't complain while he's shooting at such an impressive clip. 

3. Chris Paul (Previous Ranking: No. 3)

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PG

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 9.6 points, 8.8 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 0.4 blocks, 1.6 steals


    While no player in the NBA passed the ball more effectively than Chris Paul during the set of games that don't actually count, the league's best point guard didn't excel when calling his own number. 

    He wasn't inefficient when he chose to seek out his own shots, but he was a bit hesitant and passive throughout the five games he appeared in. 

    CP3's hold on the No. 3 spot in the league is about as secure as it gets, though, unless he either gets injured or forgets how to play basketball. He's in a tier of his own at the moment, with a rather wide margin between himself and both the players above and below him. 

2. Kevin Durant (Previous Ranking: No. 2)

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: SF

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 3.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 1.2 steals


    If there was any doubt that Kevin Durant is the favorite to win a fourth scoring title in a row, the trade that shipped James Harden off to the Houston Rockets should have eliminated it. Kevin Martin might be a great scorer, but he's not on the same level as James Harden thanks to his less impressive efficiency. 

    Durant will be asked to shoot more than ever, which renders his preseason statistics rather unimportant. 

    That said, Durant looked like he'd improved his facilitating skills over the offseason, averaging 3.5 assists per game to go along with only 1.2 turnovers per contest.

    As a reference point, the superstar small forward averaged just as many dimes per game during the 2011-12 season, but did so in an extra 13.1 minutes. He also turned the ball over 2.6 times more per appearance. 

1. LeBron James (Previous Ranking: No. 1)

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SF

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 5.9 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 0.1 blocks, 2.0 steals


    If you prorate LeBron James' stats to 37.5 minutes per game—the amount of playing time he averaged during the 2011-12 campaign—then he would have averaged 18.8 points, 8.5 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game. 

    The scoring could use a bit of work, but that will come when LeBron is playing with a full head of steam. 

    He still has a stranglehold on the No. 1 spot in the rankings, and most likely will throughout the 2012-13 season.