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Updated Rankings of the Top 5 Players at Every Position

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2013

Updated Rankings of the Top 5 Players at Every Position

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    With the second half of the 2012-13 NBA season in full swing, we bring you a fresh assessment of the top five players at each position.

    As playoff seeding and conference supremacy becomes more important, the best players in the association often raise their game. Such is the case for many of the league's elite athletes battling for 2013 postseason position.

    There are some new faces and shifted rankings in this new edition, even at the No. 1 slot for a couple positions.

    Who cracked the top five centers, and who was snubbed? Can anyone unseat Chris Paul at the point-guard spot? What's the current shooting-guard hierarchy in the league?

    *Rankings are based on the 2012-13 season as a whole, with added weight placed on February play.

No. 5 Point Guard: Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers

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    2012-13 Stats: 19.2 PPG, 8.7 APG, 1.5 SPG, 46% FG, 36% 3PT, 18.4 PER

    February Show and Tell: 30 points, five assists vs. Knicks on Feb. 24

    Few guards mean more to their team than Philadelphia 76ers floor general Jrue Holiday. 

    Doug Collins relies on the first-time All-Star for the bulk of the team's playmaking, and Holiday has been up to the task throughout the entire season.

    He's figured out how to effectively feel the defense and change pace or direction, freeing himself for a pull-up jumper or pass. Holiday is also a tough shotmaker and passer in traffic.

    The rest of the club needs to follow his cue in order to snap the team's five-game losing streak.

No. 4 Point Guard: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2012-13 Stats: 23.3 PPG, 5.6 APG, 47% FG, 42% 3PT, 22.6 PER

    February Show and Tell: 47 percent three-point shooting in February

    February has been Kyrie Irving's lowest-scoring month of 2012-13, and that's actually not a bad thing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Why? Because he's been increasingly efficient in his last 10 games.

    Irving is converting at a high clip from the floor, nearly automatic at the free-throw line (93 percent in February) and he has cut his turnovers down drastically.

    In January, his assist-to-turnover ratio was 1.6. In February, it's 3.2. It shows that he's learning how to keep his forays to the rim under control and make the right decision more often.

    Eastern Conference foes should be worried that this is a preview of the next 10-plus seasons.

No. 3 Point Guard: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    2012-13 Stats: 22.9 PPG, 8 APG, 5.2 RPG, 43% FG, 34% 3PT, 23.2 PER

    February Show and Tell: 37 points, nine assists vs. Timberwolves on Feb. 22

    While Russell Westbrook's passing doesn't always lead to high assist totals, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks must be pleased with the improved shot selection.

    He won't reach the "floor general" status of Chris Paul and Tony Parker until he runs the offense more smoothly.

    But he probably won't, and he doesn't necessarily have to. Westbrook's playing style is different, as he's more of a combo-guard who kick-starts the offense rather than a floor general who constantly directs traffic.

    It works pretty darn well for the defending Western Conference champs.

No. 2 Point Guard: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    2012-13 Stats: 16.2 PPG, 9.4 APG, 2.5 SPG, 48% FG, 34% 3PT, 26 PER

    February Show and Tell: Three straight point/assist double-doubles from Feb. 11-14

    After four phenomenal performances prior to the All-Star break plus the All-Star Game MVP, Chris Paul struggled against the San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz.

    Before the break, he was on his usual pace of more steals than fouls per game, but that hasn't been the case the last two games.

    When his defensive output suffers, so does the rest of his game, especially when he gets in foul trouble.

    His temporary drop-off in production isn't enough to warrant a free-fall in the point guard rankings, because we still factor in the body of work of the season. However, it did give way for a new No. 1.

No. 1 Point Guard: Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

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    2012-13 Stats: 21.1 PPG, 7.6 APG, 54% FG, 38% 3PT, 24.7 PER

    February Show and Tell: Four 30-point games and three double-digit assist games in February

    No, we didn't rank San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker ahead of Chris Paul because he out-dueled him in their head-to-head matchup last week.

    We ranked him No. 1 because he's been outplaying Paul for weeks.

    Parker is posting 26.6 points with 8.4 assists and 55 percent shooting since Groundhog Day. He flat-out owned the rodeo road trip and somehow launched himself into the MVP conversation with the other-worldly LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

    His body control and coordination in the lane are sharper than ever, and his chemistry and leadership of the offense gives San Antonio the best record in the NBA.

No. 5 Shooting Guard: Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets

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    2012-13 Stats: 17 PPG, 3.6 APG, 42% FG, 38% 3PT, 14.4 PER

    February Show and Tell: Game-tying shot, then game-winning shot against Bucks on Feb. 19

    Foot injury notwithstanding, Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson finally cracks our top five after some big games the past couple weeks and some regression from his shooting-guard competitors.

    He's not just an overpaid former All-Star who occasionally hits a buzzer-beater. Johnson carries the Nets offense through rough patches and stagnant stretches.

    When he's on the court, Brooklyn scores 111.4 points per 100 possessions, according to 82games.com. When he's on the bench, the team scores 97.1 points per 100 possessions.

    He might be overpaid, but he's not under-utilized by the Nets.

No. 4 Shooting Guard: Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers

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    2012-13 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 2.6 APG, 43% FG, 37% 3PT, 16.6 PER

    February Show and Tell: 23 points, six assists vs. Celtics on Feb. 3

    Los Angeles Clippers shooter Jamal Crawford is having his best month of the season so far, and he's piling up points as one of the best bench players in the association.

    Give him a glimpse of daylight, and he'll jump on it. Crawford never misses a chance to foil defenders, as he sets them up with his dribbling and footwork. His shot is usually basket-bound before his opponent can react.

    Crawford's production on both ends of the floor is going to be a monumental factor in LA's postseason success.

No. 3 Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

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    2012-13 Stats: 21.2 PPG, 4.7 APG, 4.9 RPG, 51% FG, 28% 3PT, 23.9 PER

    February Show and Tell: 31 points, eight assists vs. Rockets on Feb. 6

    LeBron James deserves all the credit he's getting for his All-Galaxy play, as he's absolutely unstoppable.

    However, the Miami Heat wouldn't be on an 11-game winning streak if not for Dwyane Wade.

    He's doing most of his damage on the fast break and cuts, and he's also excelling as a pick-and-roll playmaker.

    Wade's combination of defensive pressure and offensive will serve Miami well when playoff opponents overplay LeBron.

No. 2 Shooting Guard: James Harden, Houston Rockets

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    2012-13 Stats: 26.4 PPG, 5.6 APG, 4.8 RPG, 45% FG, 36% 3PT, 23.7 PER

    February Show and Tell: 51 percent 3PT shooting in February

    Houston Rockets gunner James Harden has burned every defense he's encountered lately, including his former team.

    His 46 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder are the headline performance of the season, but he had already dropped three other 30-plus point games in February.

    Harden's playmaking skills extend to his passing, as he regularly tosses a half-dozen dimes or more per contest. Just when you think he's Euro-stepping all the way to the tin, he finds a teammate for an even better shot.

    Can he continue his torrid shooting pace and keep the No. 2 spot from Dwyane Wade the rest of the season?

No. 1 Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    2012-13 Stats: 27.1 PPG, 5.6 APG, 5.4 RPG, 47% FG, 33% 3PT, 23 PER

    February Show and Tell: Combined 78 points in last two games on 64 percent shooting

    We've already seen some extraordinary things this season from 34-year-old Kobe Bryant, and we're going to see more.

    As long as the Los Angeles Lakers are still fighting for a playoff spot, Kobe will lead them in every imaginable way. He's learning to pick his spots when it comes to entering "point guard" mode. One night he might drop 35-40 points, and the next he's in double figures in assists.

    The Lakers have held serve against some mediocre clubs, but in their last three losses, they've been obliterated by athletically superior playoff teams. What will Kobe do when LA faces the Atlanta Hawks and Oklahoma City Thunder?

No. 5 Small Forward: Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

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    2012-13 Stats: 18.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, 6.3 RPG, 42% FG, 36% 3PT, 18.4 PER

    February Show and Tell: Back-to-back games of 20-plus points, eight assists and seven rebounds (Feb. 24-25)

    For the most part, Paul Pierce has taken the reins of the Boston Celtics offense since Rajon Rondo tore his ACL.

    It's not as pretty or effective as Rondo's offense, but Pierce's will to win and veteran savvy are keeping the team afloat.

    For most of the game, he's a combo guard who makes plays based on reading the defense's overreaction to his shooting threat.

    Late in games, he turns back into the shot-making hero Boston fans have enjoyed for years.

No. 4 Small Forward: Paul George, Indiana Pacers

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    2012-13 Stats: 17.6 PPG, 4 APG, 7.9 RPG, 43% FG, 39% 3PT, 17.3 PER

    February Show and Tell: Triple-double vs. Bobcats on Feb. 13 (23 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists)

    The Indiana Pacers are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, and Paul George is right in the thick of the party. His lockdown defense continues to stifle opposing swingmen, and its one of the key factors fueling Indiana's East-leading 89.4 points allowed.

    George's rebounding and offensive versatility are equally valuable to Frank Vogel's squad, as he's a triple threat every time the Pacers have possession.

    He doesn't get to the free-throw line as much as superstars like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, but he stays aggressive and attempts 15 shots per game.

No. 3 Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    2012-13 Stats: 28.4 PPG, 2.7 APG, 6.5 RPG, 44% FG, 39% 3PT, 23.3 PER

    February Show and Tell: 36-plus points in back-to-back game Feb. 8 and 10

    Although his stock is sinking, New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony remains the third-best small forward in the business.

    He's still putting pressure on opposing defenses every night, but his scoring hasn't been efficient lately. In his last four games, 'Melo is 4-of-26 from distance.

    Anthony's recent shooting struggles are part of the reason the Knickerbockers have dropped five of their last seven games.

    New York can't afford that kind of cold shooting this spring or cheap shots like this one. 'Melo needs to regain the championship-caliber groove he had going back in December.

No. 2 Small Forward: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    2012-13 Stats: 28.8 PPG, 4.6 APG, 7.7 RPG, 51% FG, 42% 3PT, 28.7 PER

    February Show and Tell: Nine RPG and five APG in February

    Kevin Durant's scoring is down in February, but that's because he's made more of a commitment to distribute the ball and crash the boards.

    Over the past week, the Oklahoma City Thunder captain cranked up the dishing and rebounding even more. In his last three games, Durant hauled in 35 rebounds and dealt 24 assists.

    Not bad for a guy who's labeled exclusively as a scorer.

    After a three-game losing streak, OKC blew the doors off the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls. Can Durant and Co. keep it up as the calendar turns to March?

No. 1 Small Forward: LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    2012-13 Stats: 27 PPG, 7.1 APG, 8.1 RPG, 57% FG, 41% 3PT, 31.6 PER

    February Show and Tell: 64 percent FG and 28.8 PPG in February

    Talk about setting the bar high.

    I don't know what's more impressive, LeBron James' scoring efficiency or his ability to distribute the ball so well while piling up the points.

    Lately, it hasn't mattered who the Miami Heat run into, because James gets what he wants.

    Recent wins over the Los Angeles Clippers (30 points on 9-of-11 shooting) and Oklahoma City Thunder (39 points and 12 rebounds) make me wonder if the San Antonio Spurs are the only team that could keep pace with LeBron.

    As long as he continues to attack with precision while keeping his comrades involved, Miami won't have to sweat until June.

No. 5 Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers

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    2012-13 Stats: 20.8 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 48% FG, .091% 3PT, 19.7 PER

    February Show and Tell: 31 points and 11 rebounds vs. Rockets on Feb. 8

    Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has continued to be a dependable offensive weapon, able to score from anywhere inside the arc.

    Unfortunately, his rebounding isn't as reliable, and sometimes that hurts the shorthanded Blazers. J.J. Hickson can't do all the rebounding himself, so Aldridge's glass deficiencies are often the difference between winning and losing.

    In short, Aldridge's underwhelming rebounding skills are what keep him from climbing these power rankings.

No. 4 Power Forward: Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies

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    2012-13 Stats:  15.7 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 47% FG, 18.3 PER

    February Show and Tell: Four straight double-doubles (Feb. 19-24)

    Zach Randolph's rebounding numbers are just too hard to ignore.

    His 4.3 offensive rebounds per night give the Memphis Grizzlies extra possessions, which only helps the overall defensive effort.

    Randolph lacks the physique and explosiveness of someone like Blake Griffin. So how does he snag so many boards and score more than 15?

    Relentless activity and uncanny timing.

No. 3 Power Forward: David Lee, Golden State Warriors

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    2012-13 Stats: 19.2 PPG, 11 RPG, 3.7 APG, 52% FG, 19.6 PER

    February Show and Tell: 25 points, 22 rebounds vs. Spurs Feb. 22

    Since the All-Star break, David Lee has been playing better than your average All-Star. More like a mega-star.

    His dominance on the glass helped the Golden State Warriors end their six-game losing slide. After the streak was snapped against the Phoenix Suns, Lee absolutely owned the paint against the Spurs.

    In addition to prolific footwork and impeccable timing, Lee has a nice touch around the rim that allows him to convert some shots in traffic that most other power forwards can't

    We'll see how he holds up as the Dubs go on their East Coast road trip.

No. 2 Power Forward: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

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    2012-13 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 50% FG, 24.1 PER

    February Show and Tell: 19 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks vs. Warriors on Feb. 22

    Since we're factoring in recent play, Tim Duncan's stock takes a bit of a hit, as he's scoring 12 points in 27 minutes per game in his last five outings.

    Don't worry, he's still one of the alpha dogs of the low post in the NBA.

    The San Antonio Spurs wouldn't have such a crisp inside-out ball movement if Duncan wasn't an anchor for that group.

    He's most dangerous when he catches the ball and already knows where he'll be passing, or when he catches on a cut straight to the hoop.

No. 1 Power Forward: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

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    2012-13 Stats: 18.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.6 APG, 54% FG, 23.4 PER

    February Show and Tell: Four double-doubles in February

    When stacking Blake Griffin up against the top players in the game, remember he's playing just 32 minutes per night due to the Los Angeles Clippers' balanced roster.

    If he were seeing 35-38 minutes per game, he'd be a fraction away from averaging a double-double along with four-plus assists.

    Defensively, he's not the most influential player because he's not a great positional stopper. But he still asserts himself and cleans up the glass.

    On the other end, he's a force who can keep you honest with a mid-range jumper and punish you with power post moves and put-back dunks.

No. 5 Center: Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks

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    2012-13 Stats: 11.3 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 66% FG, 20.2 PER

    February Show and Tell: Three straight 20-rebound games to start the month

    New York Knicks enforcer Tyson Chandler edged out Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol for the No. 5 spot because of his outstanding glass work, defense and high shooting percentage.

    Gasol is more coordinated and advanced offensively, and he is a tough defender in his own right.

    We just can't ignore Chandler's 11 rebounds per night and strong identity as the rock of the Knicks frontcourt.

    In New York's loss to Indiana, he was the bright spot, grabbing 11 rebounds and scoring 19 points, including 11-of-11 free-throw shooting. Performances like that will be rewarded in the playoffs.

No. 4 Center: Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz

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    2012-13 Stats: 17.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 49% FG, 21 PER

    February Show and Tell: Six double-doubles in February

    It's simple: Utah Jazz veteran Al Jefferson cracks the top five centers because he is the most skilled low-post offensive center in the NBA right now.

    He doesn't top our list because he's not a top-tier stopper, and post defense is one of the key roles of centers. Also, his mediocre athleticism doesn't help him production-wise.

    Utah gives Jefferson plenty of touches (15-17 shot attempts) every game, but sometimes, the matchup isn't there physically or athletically.

    When he does get a favorable matchup, which is quite often, he rarely fails to execute. Whether he faces up or posts up, he has the footwork and the ball skills to trump almost any defender.

No. 3 Center: Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

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    2012-13 Stats: 11.7 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2 BPG, 46% FG, 17.1 PER

    February Show and Tell: Three straight games of at least 15 rebounds (Feb. 11, 13 and 19)

    The Chicago Bulls' February has been a roller coaster, but one of the constants is Joakim Noah's presence in the post.

    Sometimes he just has his hard hat on and works to get the club extra possessions. He also steps up to the high post and acts as a terrific pivot passer. Last week, he had back-to-back games with eight assists. That's brilliant for a center.

    It's tempting to over-rank Noah because of his endearing hustle and focus, but his offensive skill set is below average compared to most upper-echelon centers. He can't create his own shot, something that most of the other elite anchors can do.

No. 2 Center: Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets

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    2012-13 Stats: 18.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 51% FG, 24.2 PER

    February Show and Tell: Five 20-plus point games in February

    Although he's the top-scoring center in the NBA, Brook Lopez is often benched down the stretch during important Brooklyn Nets games.

    Head coach P.J. Carlesimo has favored Andray Blatche over Lopez on several occasions, and that leaves some people wondering about Lopez's overall value to the team.

    When he's on the hardwood and in the flow of the offense, Brooklyn can present some matchup issues for opponents. His 15-20 foot jumper remains unguardable even when defenses know he's coming.

    The scoring is nice, and we know the effort is there on defense and the glass, but what can Carlesimo do to get Lopez to collect more than six or seven rebounds per contest?

No. 1 Center: Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers

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    2012-13 Stats: 16.3 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 58% FG, 19.2 PER

    February Show and Tell: 10-of-13 shooting and 12 rebounds vs. Celtics on Feb. 20

    It looks like the All-Star break was good medicine for Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard.

    In his four games since the break, Howard is posting 16.8 points and 13.8 rebounds per game. The spring in his step is reminiscent of his Orlando Magic days.

    When he's at his best, every loose rebound is his and no put-back opportunity is wasted. It seems like he's getting closer to that level now.

    Once he arrives, there will be absolutely no discussion as to who the best center in the league is. For now, it's still a close call.

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