NBA Star Player Power Rankings: Can Anyone Knock LeBron James out of Top Spot?

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 5, 2012

NBA Star Player Power Rankings: Can Anyone Knock LeBron James out of Top Spot?

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    The 20 best players in the NBA have been able to do some truly special things during the first week of the 2012-13 season, whether they're leading their teams to victories or producing statistical lines that are only found in record books.

    For example, we saw a record-setting debut that ended up being a player's second-best game in three tries. We also saw a shooting performance only replicated or exceeded 14 times since Y2K.

    As is to be expected after the first few games that actually count, these outings have created some slight shifts in the rankings of the top 20 players in the league. These obviously aren't as important anymore, but you can check out last week's installment of the weekly player power rankings here.

    Did your favorite make this edition?

Injured Players

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    As a quick housekeeping note, injured players are not considered for the player power rankings. If a player is expected to be out for two weeks or more, he's automatically ineligible for the next 20 slides.

    Therefore, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Andrew Bynum and Dirk Nowitzki will not be appearing, although they certainly would if healthy.

20. Andre Iguodala (Previous Ranking: No. 19)

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: SG/SF

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.3 steals, 15.78 PER

     

    Andre Iguodala struggled to find his shot during his first two games in a new uniform, but the league's premier swingman discovered his rhythm in the Denver Nuggets' heartbreaking loss to the Miami Heat. He made nine of his 15 shots from the field en route to dropping 22 points.

    Although he's contributed in just about every way, that statement includes negatives as well as positives. His passing, rebounding and defense have been truly impressive at times, but Iggy is also hurting the Nuggets' chances at winning.

    The inability to slow big men has been the biggest culprit in the 0-3 start, but Iguodala's shooting struggles and four turnovers per contest haven't been too far behind.

19. Marc Gasol (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: C

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.5 steals, 19.86 PER

     

    He's benefiting from the absence of four injured players, but Marc Gasol is making it impossible to not consider him a top-20 player at this stage of his career. This big man does absolutely everything.

    The biggest knock on Gasol has been his inability to be selfish and take over a game offensively, but he's been putting those concerns to rest during the Memphis Grizzlies' first two games of the season. Even while calling his own number, he's made an enormously positive impact passing the ball.

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

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 26

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 3.0 blocks, 0.0 steals, 15.17 PER

     

    Josh Smith has only played one game during the 2012-13 season, but it's already apparent that I had him ranked a bit too high in the previous installment of the rankings. He just has a weakness that is a bit too glaring for him to rank higher.

    That weakness would be the inches between Smoove's ears. He just makes too many bad decisions on the court, most of which manifest themselves in turnovers and shots from long range that clang off the iron before falling harmlessly to the floor.

    In the loss against the Houston Rockets, the forward took seven shots from 19 feet or further from the basket. He made only two of them. Meanwhile, he knocked down half of his 14 attempts in the paint.

    A smarter player would play to his strengths, but Smith still won't show that he can do so.

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

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: PF

    Age: 32

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.5 blocks, 0.5 steals, 15.69 PER*

     

    Pau Gasol has struggled during the early portion of the season, even though his numbers might not make that so clear on an initial cursory glance. For example, he's averaging double-digit rebounds, but his box-outs have been sloppy and have essentially aided and abetted the opposing power forward's theft on the glass.

    The Spaniard has served as a bit of a point-forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, initiating some of the offense with his passing skills, which are far greater than any seven-footer's have a right to be. That has undoubtedly been a positive.

    Gasol will improve as his familiarity with the offensive system increases, but it's going to be a process filled with ups and downs.

     

    *While the per-game stats are updated through Sunday, Nov 4, the PER is only updated through Saturday, Nov. 3.

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

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 blocks, 0.7 steals, 25.62 PER

     

    Chris Bosh took advantage of the Denver Nuggets' aforementioned inability to stop offensively potent power forwards during his third game of the season. The versatile big man put up 40 points on 15-of-22 shooting from the field and 9-of-10 from the line.

    Although we're only a short way into the season, Bosh has displayed a renewed intensity on the glass and on defense, two areas of the game that he's typically struggled to focus on in the past.

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

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Position: PG

    Age: 20

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.0 steals, 27.02 PER

     

    How high can this 20-year-old climb? In the interest of full disclosure, I'm more worried about the possibility that I've underrated him than the chance I've placed him too high in the rankings at No. 15.

    Kyrie Irving's numbers look impressive enough already, but they'd be even more incredible if the NBA gave credit for hockey assists. The point guard's ability to penetrate into the defense and cause bad rotations by the other team creates as many points for the Cleveland Cavaliers as his passing does.

    The reigning Rookie of the Year obviously isn't content with that being the biggest honor on his ever-growing resume.

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

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PF

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.7 steals, 13.51 PER

     

    Blake Griffin has struggled to consistently make shots in the early going of the 2012-13 NBA season, but he's putting forth a concerted effort on defense through the first three games.

    According to NBA.com's advanced stats, the Los Angeles Clippers have been significantly more effective on both ends of the court when Griffin is on it. The team has allowed 100.9 points per possession when the superstar is playing and 104.0 when he's resting.

    The offense is going to come, which makes Griffin a truly deadly player if he can maintain his defensive focus.

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

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Position: PF

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 blocks, 0.7 steals, 21.06 PER

     

    LaMarcus Aldridge only moved down in the rankings because the two players now directly in front of him have been truly special. If the MVP award was handed out after a handful of games, they'd be the two players fighting over it.

    Aldridge hasn't been on that level, but he still has been quite impressive during the initial portion of the Portland Trail Blazers' season. It also helps that his point guard, rookie Damian Lillard, has played like a top-20 guy himself.

    The power forward hasn't shot the ball well thus far, but he's still made an overwhelmingly positive impact during his team's 2-1 start to the season.

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

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Position: SG

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 35.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.7 steals, 33.31 PER

     

    After posting a 33.31 PER through his first three games with the Houston Rockets, it's pretty clear that James Harden is an absolute stud.

    The bearded shooting guard's debut was impressive enough, as he scored 37 points and racked up 12 dimes, but it pales in comparison to his second game of the season. Over the last 27 years, only eight players have hit 45 while attempting 20 or fewer shots. Harden is now one of those eight guys after scoring 45 points on 19 field-goal attempts against the Atlanta Hawks.

    There is a small-sample-size warning in effect here, but Harden has looked like a bona fide MVP candidate thus far.

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

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PG

    Age: 30

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.7 steals, 27.28 PER

     

    Tony Parker's preseason was just a mirage. After being uninvolved and uninspired during the games that don't count, the Frenchman has turned it on during the regular season, particularly when the pressure cooker is turned all the way up.

    After hitting a crucial shot in the season opener against the New Orleans Hornets, Parker showed off the ice water in his veins by knocking down a buzzer-beater to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder and leaving Russell Westbrook confused and on the wrong side of the court.

    Everything about Parker's performance has been impressive thus far, as he's truly been on point while Manu Ginobili waited to make his season debut until the third game of the season.

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

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Position: PG

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.0 steals, 15.7 PER

     

    As Deron Williams continues to develop chemistry with his new teammates, he's likely going to shift the focus of his offensive game from scoring to distributing. That hasn't quite happened yet, even though he picked up nine assists in the first game at the Barclays Center.

    D-Will's shot still gave him some difficulty as he fights through bone spurs in his ankle. The point guard hit only one of his five attempts from downtown and made only six of his 14 shots from the field.

    More will become clear as more games are played, but I still feel comfortable calling Williams the fourth-best healthy floor general.

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

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: SF

    Age: 28

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.5 steals, 29.33 PER*

     

    Carmelo Anthony still hasn't tried to get his teammates involved, and he hasn't played incredible defense, but he's been a sensational scorer. The defense has been solid, but nothing special so far.

    The small forward has started to play more power forward than ever while Amar'e Stoudemire recovers. As a result, he's excelled with his back to the basket while dominating from the perimeter. Melo has hit five of his first 12 shots from downtown, including a sparkling 4-of-8 performance against the Miami Heat.

     

    *While the per-game stats are updated through Sunday, Nov 4, the PER is only updated through Saturday, Nov. 3.

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

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: PG

    Age: 26

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 12.0 assists, 0.0 blocks, 1.7 steals, 19.04 PER

     

    Rajon Rondo is picking and choosing his shots more wisely than ever, although he's still not exactly a go-to option when the Boston Celtics need a shot. The pass-first floor general is shooting 55.6 percent from the field and has even made two of his five attempts from behind the three-point arc—both came in a close win against the Washington Wizards.

    And of course, he's playing great defense and racking up the dimes with ease. Despite keeping his turnovers just in line with his career average of 2.7, Rondo is averaging a ridiculous 12 assists per game.

    His lack of shooting ability from mid-range is still preventing him from taking the next step, but there's no doubt that Rondo is an elite point guard.

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

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder 

    Position: PG

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 21.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.0 steals, 27.79 PER*

     

    The first three games have sort of been a roller coaster for Russell Westbrook.

    He made a ton of bad decisions in the first game of the year, culminating in a defensive lapse that left him on the opposite side of the court, looking for Tony Parker as the opposing point guard drilled the game-winner for the San Antonio Spurs.

    Then he bounced back with a terrific performance against the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 32 points on 13-of-24 shooting.

    In the third game, a loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Westbrook struggled with his shot tremendously but hit a couple big three-pointers down the stretch and dished out a season-high nine assists.

    All in all, you have to take the bad with the good when dealing with Westbrook. The highs, fortunately for the Thunder, are dizzyingly high, especially with his newfound passing skills and focus.

     

    *While the per-game stats are updated through Sunday, Nov 4, the PER is only updated through Saturday, Nov. 3.

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

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SG

    Age: 30

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.7 blocks, 1.3 steals, 22.28 PER

     

    Dwyane Wade hasn't been as involved in the Miami Heat offense, but he's been quite effective when his number has been called.

    Through three games, the shooting guard is making his attempts at a clip of exactly 50 percent, but he's only taking 14.7 shots per game. That's far below his career mark of 18.3 and well short of last year's 17.1.

    The important thing is that Wade looks reinvigorated and *gasp* healthy for the first time in a while. He's slashing to the basket recklessly and playing with his heart on his sleeve while on the defensive end of the court.

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

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: C

    Age: 26

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.5 blocks, 0.8 steals, 19.73 PER*

     

    Dwight Howard has been playing himself back into shape, which is readily apparent because of his occasional mental lapses on the court. He hasn't looked like himself throughout the Los Angeles Lakers' 1-3 start to the season, occasionally losing focus and not giving it 100 percent.

    The big man has been extraordinarily efficient from the field, but the free-throw line is a different story. Sunday night's 4-of-9 performance pushes him to 27-of-52 on the year, highlighted by a putrid 3-of-14 showing to open the season.

    He also hasn't been as dominant as we've come to expect on the glass, but something tells me he'll round into form as he gains more confidence in his abilities and balky back.

     

    *While the per-game stats are updated through Sunday, Nov 4, the PER is only updated through Saturday, Nov. 3.

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

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: SG

    Age: 34

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 26.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.0 blocks, 1.0 steals, 28.24 PER*

     

    Ah, the enigma that is Kobe Bryant. Just when I'm ready to give up on him utilizing his talented teammates and evolving into more than a volume scorer, he puts together an eight-assist performance with only one turnover.

    Funny that it helped his team get a win, something that his 40-point, six-turnover and 30-point, seven-turnover showings couldn't do. No matter how efficiently Kobe scores the basketball—and he was jaw-droppingly, mind-numbingly efficient during the first three losses of the season—the Lakers are more effective when he gets his teammates involved.

    It should be telling that Kobe averaged 30.7 points and 1.3 assists per game on 61.4 percent shooting during the first three games, all of which resulted in losses.

    Here's a stat I bet most people have never heard. There have only been three games during Kobe's career in which he's recorded more assists than attempted field goals. The Lakers are undefeated in those games.

    Obviously that's an extraordinarily small sample that we're working with, but the point still stands. Kobe is able to get his points, but that doesn't mean that he can shoot his way to victory this year. The more he gets his teammates to play on a high level, the more wins the Lakers will earn.

     

    *While the per-game stats are updated through Sunday, Nov 4, the PER is only updated through Saturday, Nov. 3.

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

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PG

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 12.3 assists, 0.0 blocks, 2.7 steals, 26.51 PER

     

    Based on what we knew coming into the season and the unraveling of the season's first week, I'm sold on Chris Paul as the eventual runner-up in the race for the 2012-13 MVP. LeBron James is still the clear front-runner.

    CP3 just does it all, as you can see from his mind-boggling numbers through three games.

    His 15-assist, one-turnover performance in the first Battle for L.A. has been the highlight of his early season, especially when coupled with 18 points that resulted from calling his own number, but he does have a more unique performance.

    Paul became one of just 14 players since 2000 to score at least 27 points on single-digit shot attempts, and was the only player to do so with only three made field goals, when he did so in a loss to the Golden State Warriors.

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

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: SF

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.7 points, 14.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.7 steals, 23.68 PER*

     

    Kevin Durant has scored well, but not as well as he did during each of the three seasons in which he led the league in scoring. However, that's not what I'm concerned with.

    The small forward has been absolutely sensational on the glass and providing his teammates with easy looks. The former has been the most statistically impressive accomplishment during Durant's campaign thus far, but the latter is more important.

    If Durant is going to ever challenge LeBron for the No. 1 spot in the rankings, he must develop the less glamorous aspects of his game. He's not strong enough to be an All-Defensive team member no matter how much he works out because his body isn't built for it, but his facilitating could make up for it.

    So far, he's proving that he's not done growing as a player.

     

    *While the per-game stats are updated through Sunday, Nov 4, the PER is only updated through Saturday, Nov. 3.

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

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SF

    Age: 27

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 blocks, 0.7 steals, 27.73 PER

     

    The initial question posed in the headline of this article dealt with whether or not anyone could knock LeBron James out of the top spot in the power rankings.

    As of right now, the answer is obviously no. That should be pretty apparent since he's currently sitting in the No. 1 spot.

    However, the long-term answer is more important. It also has the same answer. The only way that LeBron is going to drop from No. 1 is if he has an extended string of poor performances or he gets injured.

    Injuries are impossible to predict, but it's highly unlikely that LeBron experiences a serious decline in play for any prolonged stretch of time. He simply affects the game in so many ways.

    If he's not scoring at a high level, he'll stop shooting as much and start to create for his teammates. Worst case, he can just focus on crashing the boards and playing defense as well as anyone in the NBA.

    The gap between LeBron and the rest of the league is still a pretty sizable one because of his well-roundedness. Durant's increased work on the boards and impressive passing during the early portion of the season is starting to close that gap, but it's one that won't be fully closed without a lot more improvement from the league's second-best player.