Power Ranking Every NBA Team's Top Performer Thus Far

Simon Cherin-Gordon@SimoncgoContributor IIIMarch 28, 2013

Power Ranking Every NBA Team's Top Performer Thus Far

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    The top 30 players in the NBA play for about 15 different teams. Of those 30, about 20 have been healthy this season, and about 15 are having seasons up to their usual standard.

    Those 15 are distributed across about 10 teams.

    So no, this isn't a list of the top 30 players in the NBA.

    This is a look at the one player on each team who is that team's best player this particular season, and a ranking of those 30 players from No. 30 to No. 1.

    This is a look at who the fans are cheering for the loudest in all 30 NBA cities across North America.

    Of course, there is a question as to how many fans there actually are to cheer for these first few guys.

    All stats courtesy of basketball reference.com and accurate as of 3/27/13

Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Bobcats

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    The terrible state of the team he plays for makes it impossible for him to win it, but Kemba Walker should be in the Most Improved Player discussion.

    As a rookie last season, Walker averaged 12.1 PPG, 4.4 APG and 0.9 SPG while shooting 36.6 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from deep. This season, Walker has averaged 17.1 PPG, 5.5 APG and 2.0 SPG on 42.0 percent shooting from the field and 33.2 percent on three-pointers.

    These are still nowhere near the type of numbers an NBA team wants their best player to put up, but that doesn't mean Walker is responsible for Charlotte's struggles—it means Charlotte is responsible for entering a season with Walker as their best player.

Goran Dragic, PG, Phoenix Suns

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    Goran Dragic began his career in Phoenix backing up the franchise player in Stave Nash. Now he's back and leading the team himself.

    Now, the Suns are terrible, and Dragic is not even close to the player Nash was. As is the case with Kemba Walker, the Suns aren't exactly putting themselves in a position to thrive with an average starting point guard as their leader.

    Also as is the case with Walker, it isn't Dragic's fault that he has very little around him. On the contrary, Dragic should be commended for the 7.2 assists per game he's dishing out, considering that his most potent target averages 12.2 points per game (Luis Scola, who's second to Dragic's team-high 14.4 PPG).

Nikola Pekovic, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    The Minnesota Timberwolves have been without Kevin Love nearly all season long. Even so, the strength of their team is clearly in the frontcourt, with Derrick Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and most of all Nikola Pekovic.

    The Montenegrin center is averaging 15.6 points and 8.6 rebounds a night, while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor. 3.7 of his rebounds are offensive, placing him fifth in the NBA.

    Even with a healthy Kevin Love and an improved Ricky Rubio next season, Minnesota's chances of becoming a playoff team rest in large part on the shoulders of Pekovic's 280-pound frame.

Tyreke Evans, SG, Sacramento Kings

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    At first glance, this may look like Tyreke Evans' worst season in the NBA.

    The fourth-year guard is posting the lowest scoring, rebounding and assisting averages of his career. However, a closer look shows that this may be Evans' best season.

    While his per-game numbers are down, so are his minutes. His rebounding and scoring per minute are actually better than they've been since his rookie year. His assists are still down, but only because he's no longer running the point for Sacramento.

    More importantly, Evans is having his most efficient season by far. He's shooting 48.0 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from deep. His previous career highs are 45.8 percent and 29.1 percent, respectively.

    Evans is also posting a PER of 18.5, higher than he did in 2008-09 when he won Rookie of the Year.

Rudy Gay, SF, Toronto Raptors

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    From this point forward, the names appearing on this list won't make you sorry for the teams that they play for.

    Rudy Gay is not a superstar by any means, but he is a player that a struggling franchise can rebuild around.

    Gay was having a tough season in Memphis, putting up career-low numbers in several categories.

    Since his trade to Toronto, Gay's gotten some of his game back as the Raptors free-flowing offense plays into his attacking style.

    He's averaging 20 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.9 SPG and an astounding 89.4 percent from the free-throw line.

    Those near-gaudy numbers help compensate for Gay's awful field-goal shooting (40 percent), but for Toronto to make the playoffs next season they'll need him to return to his previous average efficiency (46 percent).

Greg Monroe, C, Detroit Pistons

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    Greg Monroe is a power forward stuck playing center on an undersized team, and the defensive deficiencies this causes are problematic.

    Regardless, Monroe leads the Pistons in points, rebounds, steals and is second in blocked shots. He's 11th in the NBA with 32 double-doubles and is third in the league in assists from the center spot.

    Monroe is one of the most offensively skilled bigs in the NBA. If Andre Drummond continues to develop alongside him and Detroit's young backcourt continues to grow, Monroe could lead this team to the playoffs in 2014.

    Until then, he'll have to settle for being the main reason Detroit isn't in the cellar.

Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic

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    Dwight Howard left some pretty big shoes to fill.

    After four straight 50-win seasons, the Magic went 37-29 last year with Howard missing significant time. This year, the loss of Howard has sent the team to the depths of the league.

    The only reason Orlando isn't the very worst team in the NBA is, ironically, the play of Howard's replacement Nikola Vucevic.

    Vucevic is one of only five players in the league averaging at least 11 points and 11 rebounds per game, the other four being all-stars in David Lee, Zach Randolph, Joakim Noah and, of course, Dwight Howard.

    Of course, Vucevic scores about half as much as Dwight did in Orlando, defends the paint far less effectively and doesn't rebound as well.

    Still, Orlando will have a much easier time rebuilding with the Montenegrin  22-year-old in the middle.

Thaddeus Young, PF, Philadelphia 76ers

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    The Philadelphia 76ers have been the NBA's most disappointing team this season.

    After adding Andrew Bynum in the offseason, Philly was considered a near-playoff lock. Bynum has yet to step on the court, however, so they've essentially been last year's No. 8 seed minus Andre Iguodala.

    They still do have Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday though, thus keeping them in ninth place, albeit at 16 games under .500.

    While Jrue Holiday was an All-Star this season—leading the team in scoring and assists—he also commits 3.8 turnovers a game.

    Young is second in scoring, first in rebounding, first in steals, first in blocks and first in field-goal percentage, while only turning the ball over 1.1 times a night.

    Young's been one of the NBA's most underrated power forwards this season, while Holiday is amongst the most overrated point guards.

John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards

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    John Wall has played in 37 games this season. In those games, Washington is 21-16. In the 33 that Wall has missed, the Wizards have gone 5-28.

    With Wall in the lineup, the Wizards look like a playoff team. They space the floor with quality shooters, play great team defense and compete for 48 minutes.

    Still, it is Wall's 16.8 PPG and 7.6 APG (19.1 PPG and 8.7 APG per-36 minutes) that make the offense capable enough to win NBA games.

    And that's why I feel justified in choosing a guy who's missed half the season as the team's most productive player.

Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas Mavericks

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    There was a time (like, last year) when Dirk Nowitzki would be an easy choice as Dallas' most productive player and be in the upper part of this list.

    The acquisition of OJ Mayo and Nowitzki's age and injury problems made the choice difficult, at least at first. A closer look shows Dirk is still clearly the big dog in Big D.

    Nowitzki not only leads the Mavericks in scoring, defensive rebounding, three-point shooting and PER, but his last 20 games have been off the charts.

    Nowitzki is averaging 19.2 points and 8.3 rebounds since February 13, but what's amazing is his 52.4 percent shooting from the field, 49.1 percent shooting from deep and 96 percent shooting from the free-throw line.

    Not coincidentally, the Mavs have gone 13-7 in that time and are only one game out of the playoffs.

Monta Ellis, SG, Milwaukee Bucks

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    The Bucks don't lean on one great player, and that's not just because they don't have one. 

    It's also because the combination of several good players—Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert and John Henson all have a PER of over 16—works much better than relying on one less-than-superstar-level guy.

    That doesn't mean a team can make the playoffs without a go-to scorer, crowd energizer and fourth-quarter finisher. Ellis is all of those things for Milwaukee.

    Perhaps the league's quickest and most deceptive man off the dribble and in the open floor, Ellis gives Milwaukee's offense a dimension it hasn't had in recent memory.

    His ability to penetrate the lane and finish at the rim also makes life easier for shooters such as Ilyasova, Jennings and JJ Redick, along with all of Milwaukee's bigs.

    Ellis still can't defend worth a dime, but you don't trade Andrew Bogut looking for defense.

Ty Lawson, PG, Denver Nuggets

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    If Monta Ellis isn't the league's quickest player, it might be this guy.

    Ty Lawson is the most athletic player on a team with Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried. He fuels the fast-paced Denver offense with his 1.5 steals and his 6.9 assists per game.

    If he's not creating, he can finish, either pulling up for a transition jumper he can hit in his sleep or taking it to the hole with lightning quickness.

    The Denver machine has many cogs—10 Nuggets post a PER of 14.8 or higher—but Lawson is the unequivocal engine.

Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Hornets

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    Considering the fact that he was the No. 1 draft pick last June, Anthony Davis' monster season has gone surprisingly unnoticed.

    Davis was arguably the most-hyped draft prospect since LeBron James in 2003, touted as a surefire franchise player with never before-seen athleticism and versatility.

    Sure enough, Davis has done things that even as a rookie put him in an exclusive group of NBA players.

    Davis is averaging 13.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG and 51.6 FG percentage. The only players in the league who have equal-to-or-better numbers than Davis in all three of these categories are LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Al Horford and Dwight Howard.

    When factoring in Davis' 1.1 SPG and 1.8 BPG, only Howard—widely regarded as the best, most athletic big man of this generation—can measure up.

Paul Pierce, SF, Boston Celtics

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    Kobe Bryant isn't the NBA's only ageless future Hall of Famer leading his team to a dominant second half and into the playoff picture.

    Sure, the Black Mamba is still the Black Mamba, but The Truth is still The Truth.

    Paul Pierce is scoring 18.7 points per game, and that's to be expected. What's amazing is that Pierce's rebounding—6.3 boards a night—and assisting—4.7 dimes per game—are both higher than they've been since 2005-06, when Pierce was 28.

    Perhaps there's a correlation: The younger Pierce was the do-it-all guy for Boston, and this year he's returned to that role somewhat. Rajon Rondo has missed nearly half the season, Kevin Garnett has declined, Ray Allen is gone and it's been up to Pierce to lead the way.

    The difference between the 28-year-old Pierce and the 35-year-old Pierce could be seen as the difference between a guy who averages 26.8 PPG and one who averages 18.7 PPG. It could also be seen as the difference between a guy who puts up numbers and a guy who leads his team.

Al Jefferson, C, Utah Jazz

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    Al Jefferson continues to be the most underrated center in the NBA.

    The Utah Jazz big man is putting up yet another season of at least 17 points and nine rebounds per game, his sixth straight such campaign.

    He continues to be an underrated defender, as he blocks fewer shots than most top defensive centers, but uses his strength and agility to defend even dominant opposing bigs straight up.

    Most impressively, he continues to be the offensive leader of a Utah team without much of a backcourt and no real offensive decoys.

    Jefferson will be a free agent this summer. We'll see if he's underrated then.

Paul George, SF, Indiana Pacers

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    New Orlean's Anthony Davis is believed to be a rare talent due to his late growth spurt. He darted from 6'3" as a high school junior to 6'10" by his senior season, thus giving him a lifetime of developed ball-handling, shooting and leaping skills to go along with his enormous frame.

    While Indiana's Paul George didn't have quite as rapid an ascent, his may have been more pivotal. The Pacers small forward was once their shooting guard, standing barely 6'8". After a year in the NBA, George shot up to 6'10" in one summer.

    While Davis grew into an NBA-caliber player, George already was one. With every inch of size being so pivotal in the league, imagine gaining two of them mid-career.

    Sure enough, George is now one of the tallest, longest and most athletic wings in the NBA.

    He's averaging 17.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.0 APG and 1.7 SPG. The Pacers' new leader is as good a three-point shooter (37.7 percent on nearly six attempts a game) as he is a perimeter defender as he is an interior defender as he is a slasher.

    He's also the biggest reason why Indiana is third in the Eastern Conference.

LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Portland Trail Blazers

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    No one scores from the post like LaMarcus Aldridge this season.

    Aldridge's average of 21 points per game marks the third consecutive year he's reached that number, and the fact that he does so all on the low-block or with mid-range turnarounds, fadeaways or set shots is all the more impressive.

    Eight of the nine NBA players who score more than Aldridge do so by knocking down well over one three-pointer a night. The NBA post is a physical, brutal, taxing place to play, especially when you're the focal point of a team's offense.

    In today's ultra-athletic league, it's hard to imagine a player like this existing.

    Yet Aldridge, standing 6'11" and 240 pounds has the strength, toughness, basketball IQ and athleticism to get the Blazers the quality and quantity of scoring they need to compete in the Western Conference, despite what really is a terrible team after Aldridge and rookie Damian Lillard.

Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Memphis Grizzlies are deceiving.

    A starting lineup of Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol doesn't sound like that of a 50-win team.

    The biggest reason for that is the common thought that Marc Gasol is Pau Gasol's lesser little brother. While the Lakers certainly can't regret trading Marc away after winning two rings with Pau, the Grizzlies are now clearly the team reaping the benefits.

    Marc's numbers don't scream "MVP candidate." He's averaging 13.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1 SPG and 1.7 BPG on 49.2 percent shooting from the field and 85.5 percent from the free-throw line.

    Look again though. Gasol, Memphis' 7'1", 265-pound center, is averaging 3.9 assists and has a free-throw percentage of 85.5. Only Joakim Noah has more assists from the center spot, and Gasol's free-throw percentage is seven points higher than the next-best starting center.

    When you get that type of offensive production from the guy who also anchors the second-best defense in the NBA, you get a guy who's seventh in the league in win shares.

Josh Smith, PF, Atlanta Hawks

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    There simply isn't a more underrated, under-appreciated player in the NBA than Josh Smith.

    If you want offense, Smith has it. He averages 17.4 points a night, while dishing out an insane 4.3 assists. No other power forward in the league comes close to Smith's ball-handling, attacking and distributing ability.

    Where Smith makes his mark, however, is on the defensive end. Not only is he second to Serge Ibaka in power-forward blocks with 2.0 per game, but his ability to defend both the perimeter and the post at an elite level is rivaled only by LeBron James.

    He's also arguably the league's best transition player after James, as he can start fast-breaks with steals (1.2 per game), finish fast-breaks with explosive speed and authoritative dunks (he's also the league's most ignored rim-rocker) and end opposing fast-breaks with chase-down blocks.

    He's led the Hawks to the postseason for five straight seasons. Maybe, just maybe, he'll get to play in an All-Star game someday?

    Maybe if he signs in New York or Los Angeles this summer.

Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Kyrie Irving has faced an incredible amount of hurdles this season.

    First, he's had to ward off the "sophomore slump" that comes due to a combination of superior scouting reports and less hunger after an easier-than-expected first season. This is especially hard for reigning Rookie of the Year winners.

    Second, he's battled injuries to his face, hand, knee and shoulder this season. He's missed 20 games, but the fact that he's managed to play in 49 is impressive.

    Third, he's had to stay motivated on one of the NBA's worst teams.

    Irving has not only done these three things, but he's actually improved on his sensational rookie season. 

    The Cavaliers point guard is averaging 23.0 PPG, 5.7 APG and 1.6 SPG with a 46.6 FG percentage, 41.4 three-point percentage and 84.2 FT percentage.

Brook Lopez, C, Brooklyn Nets

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    Many people, myself included, predicted the Nets to thrive during their first year in Brooklyn.

    These expectations, however, were predicated heavily on the assumptions that Deron Williams would be the all-NBA point guard he usually is, that Gerald Wallace would continue to be one of the league's better small forwards and that Kris Humphries would have a third-straight season averaging a double-double.

    These three assumptions each turned out to be progressively less true, yet the Brooklyn Nets are in fourth place, right where they were expected to be.

    This is due to the breakout season from Brook Lopez. The talented center has always been able to score, but never with such efficiency (19.0 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting). He's always been able to defend, but never with such dominance (2.1 blocks a night is a career high, while 2.0 fouls is a career low).

    No player in the NBA has combined an ability to score inside with an ability to defend the rim like Lopez this season, and that's why he's fourth in the NBA in PER, after LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul.

Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors

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    When was the last time a player had the highest-scoring single game of an NBA season and didn't make the All-Star team?

    Who cares?

    Warrior fans may have held a grudge when their star point guard and leader wasn't named to the Western Conference All-Stars, but all that really did was make Curry elevate his game to an entirely new level.

    Over the past month, Curry is averaging 27.1 PPG, 7.1 APG and 1.3 SPG with a ridiculous 48.5 FG percentage, 50.0 three-point percentage and 87.2 FT percentage.

    As if his season averages of 22.5 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.5 SPG, 45.8 three-point percentage and 89.6 FT percentages weren't enough.

    Curry is first in the NBA in three's made, first in three-point percentage (he would become the first to ever lead in both), second in free-throw shooting and ninth in win shares.

    He may not be an All-Star, but he is a budding superstar.

Joakim Noah, C, Chicago Bulls

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    Joakim Noah has been known since college as a player who's intensity, competitive streak and willingness to do the dirty work are far more valuable than his tangible abilities.

    If that's the case, then Joakim Noah is one of the top 10 players in the NBA.

    Oh wait, he is.

    Everyone knows Noah as the strong-willed pony-tailed center and an important piece in Tom Thibodeau's system, but not too many people know him as the guy averaging 12.1 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 4.1 APG (top among NBA centers), 1.2 SPG and 2.2 BPG.

    If they did, they'd think that guy must be a superstar.

    Oh wait, he is.

Carmelo Anthony, SF/PF, New York Knicks

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    The New York Knicks needed to figure some things out.

    They had to figure out how to get three star frontcourt players to play together. They had to figure out how to build up a bench that complimented their roster. They had to figure out how to defend as a team and how to win as a team.

    At the same time, perhaps all they really needed was Carmelo Anthony to play like the surefire Hall of Famer he was in Denver.

    Perhaps it was seeing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, his natural rivals since they were all drafted together in 2003, win a title. Perhaps it was Amar'e Stoudemire's absence. Perhaps it was simply a sign of maturity.

    Whatever the reason may be, Carmelo Anthony has tuned out the noise this season and focused on being the player that he knows he is capable of being.

    The player who averages the most points per-36 minutes and second-most points per game in the NBA. The player who draws so much defensive attention that he actually helps his teammates score.

    The player who works hard on defense, takes over in fourth quarter and bangs down low—the player who will do anything to win.

Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers

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    There's not too much context to set up here.

    Kobe Bryant (you may have heard of him) is averaging 27.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.8 APG and 1.3 SPG on 46.6 percent FG shooting, 33.6 percent three-point shooting and 83.2 percent free-throw shooting.

    He plays eight more minutes per game than anyone else his age (besides teammate Steve Nash, who he plays only five more than) and plays more minutes than all but eight players who are much, much younger than him.

    He's 11th in the NBA in PER, eighth in win shares and first in toughness and competitiveness. 

    This year, he's carrying a disgustingly dysfunctional starting five with a non-existent bench into the Western Conference Playoffs.

    Just another year in the NBA for Kobe Bryant.

James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets

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    When James Harden was traded to Houston, it looked like all the Rockets were doing was moving down in the 2013 draft lottery.

    Five months later, Houston is on the verge of clinching a spot in the playoffs.

    The reigning Sixth Man of the Year winner is likely to take home more hardware this season as the NBA's Most Improved Player. Truth be told, Harden has as legitimate a case to take home the MVP as anyone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant.

    Harden is fifth in the NBA in scoring and third in true shooting percentage. But Harden's efficient and prolific scoring is only the beginning of how he leads Houston.

    Harden gets to the free-throw line an NBA-best (by far) 10.3 times per game. His ability to rack up fouls forces opponents into the bonus often, thus helping his less-offensively skilled teammates shoot a ton of free throws.

    Harden's also grabbing 4.8 rebounds, dishing out 5.8 assists and racking up 1.9 steals a night. No other NBA player can say that, and that's ignoring his scoring.

Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs

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    For years I've believed Tony Parker has been the NBA's best scoring point guard. He's made that fact undeniable this season, and is now competing with Chris Paul for league's best all-around point guard.

    First, the scoring. Now, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry all score more than Tony Parker, and Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday and Brandon Jennings are all not too far behind.

    Kyrie Irving leads that bunch with a field-goal percentage of 46.6. Parker's is 53.5.

    Now, the offensive management.

    Parker is sixth in the NBA with 7.6 assists per game, but only Chris Paul has less turnovers or a better assist-to-turnover ratio among the top 10 assist-getters.

    Now, the defense. Parker may not get a ton of steals (0.9 SPG), but this is mainly due to his ability to play stifling straight-up defense. Often, he'll force a bad pass that leads to a turnover or a bad shot that is in essence a turnover.

    Parker is once again the best player on the best team in the NBA's best conference. Unfortunately, there are three reasons why this is still not enough to net him an MVP award.

Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers

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    It took a trade from New Orleans to Los Angeles, but Chris Paul is finally getting the respect as the NBA's best point guard he deserves.

    Even with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Gordon, the 2010-11 Clippers were terrible. Adding Paul and subtracting Gordon made them a playoff team, and adding a strong supporting cast has made them a fringe title contender.

    Take Paul and his 17.1 PPG, 9.6 APG (second in the NBA), 2.4 SPG (first in the league for the fifth time in six years), 49.0 FG percentage, 88.3 FT percentage, 26.5 PER (third in the NBA) and 12 win shares (fourth in the NBA) away, and you're left with a mediocre Clippers team.

    Paul is the best passer and game manager on the planet and is arguably the best defensive point guard the league has. Along with the two guys ahead of him, he is one of three players who seemingly could lead any team to the postseason and any decent team to a championship.

Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Some players are perennial All-Stars. Some are even perennial all-NBAers.

    Some are perennial scoring champions. Well, actually only one is.

    If Kevin Durant maintains his fairly comfortable lead in this year's scoring race, he'll become the third player in NBA history to win four straight scoring titles. The other two are Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan.

    The scary thing is, Durant's scoring monopoly is only the beginning of his overall dominance.

    The Thunder forward grabs 7.9 rebounds a game, while averaging career highs with 4.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.2 blocks, 50.3 FG percentage and 90.6 FT percentage. He's shooting 40.6 percent from deep.

    Perhaps most impressively, Durant is leading a starting lineup with Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins in defensive rating.

    But he still has no shot at the MVP award.

LeBron James, SF/PF, Miami Heat

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    Here's something you may not know: LeBron James is coasting towards a sixth-straight season leading the NBA in PER and a fifth straight leading the league in win shares.

    For everyone out there who fails to see James' unprecedented dominance in every facet of the game due to his lack of league-leading numbers, there's some black ink for you.

    LeBron doesn't lead the league in anything, he simply leads the league in everything.

    He's well on his way to winning his fourth MVP Award in five seasons, his Heat are fresh off a 27-game winning streak, and he's looking poised to defend a promise that was once considered foolish: