Breaking Down the Go-To Scorer on Every NBA Team

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 28, 2013

Breaking Down the Go-To Scorer on Every NBA Team

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    While NBA teams are attempting to run more team-based sets at the end of close games thanks to the declining popularity of "hero ball," it's still important for each squad to have a go-to scorer. 

    One player must be able to step up with the game on the line and put points on the board. If that guy doesn't emerge, it's awfully difficult to come out on top. 

    In this article, I won't just be identifying each team's top scorer. That's part of the equation, but I'll also be mentioning the other candidates who could emerge as "the man" (either on a one-game, interim or full-time basis) and then rating the true go-to scorer's job security on the one-to-10 scale, with 10 being most secure. 

    The scorers will be presented in order from least secure to most secure, so please interpret that progression properly. Just because a player appears later in the article doesn't mean he's a better scorer; it just indicates that he has a stronger grip on the leading role.

    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.

Philadelphia 76ers: Thaddeus Young

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    Candidates: Michael Carter-Williams, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes

    Thaddeus Young wins this job due to the dearth of appealing options, and that's not good for job security. 

    Although he's not capable of creating many looks for himself and has a limited offensive game, he's still the best player on this roster. For now. 

    Michael Carter-Williams was seriously considered, but the Syracuse product is undeniably raw on the offensive end. He's a great facilitator, but he struggles immensely to score when he's not blazing down the court in transition. 

    Evan Turner just doesn't cut it—much to the chagrin of Philly fans—and Spencer Hawes is Spencer Hawes. 

    Young it is. Again, for now. 

    Job Security: One

New Orleans Pelicans: Eric Gordon

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    Candidates: Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson

    Your guess is as good as mine here. 

    Ryan Anderson is pretty much a fringe candidate, but he's worth including just because he's that good at draining three-pointers. The competition is really a three-man race between Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon. 

    This could change as often as every day, but for now, my money is on Gordon emerging as the go-to guy because he has the most well-rounded offensive game. The other two are elite scorers, but they have holes in their games. 

    Gordon's holes have been A) his knees and B) his happiness. Both of those concerns should be lessened after an offseason of rest and a significant talent upgrade in the Bayou that involved some of his former AAU teammates. 

    I'm expecting a big season from Gordon, but I still can't give him much job security at all. 

    Job Security: One

Orlando Magic: Tobias Harris

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    Candidates: Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Glen Davis, Nikola Vucevic

    An often overlooked aspect of Tobias Harris' outburst after he was traded from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Orlando Magic was his prowess as an isolation scorer. 

    According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Harris was the No. 53 isolation scorer in basketball while with the Magic. That's an impressive figure for a player just stepping into that go-to role, and his more standard per-game stats reflected that. 

    Harris should begin the season as the go-to guy in Orlando. But there's no guarantee he keeps that status for very long. The Magic are just overflowing with challengers, and Victor Oladipo could very well be "the man" by the midpoint of his rookie season. 

    Uncertainty reigns supreme for this young squad. 

    Job Security: One

Atlanta Hawks: Lou Williams

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    Candidates: Jeff Teague, Lou Williams, Paul Millsap, Al Horford

    The Atlanta Hawks don't really have much in the way of an established go-to scorer, nor have they had one for the past few years. In 2012-13, the job bounced between Jeff Teague, Lou Williams, Al Horford and Josh Smith

    Now Smoove is gone and replaced by Paul Millsap, who is really more of a fringe candidate than anything else since scoring isn't really his forte. 

    Once he recovers from his ACL injury, Williams should be the man who emerges as the late-game scorer. He can create his own shots better than anyone else on the roster, and he can be trusted with the ball in his hands because he's such a turnover-averse player. 

    Only Smith averaged more points per 36 minutes than Williams' 17.7 during the last season, and the increased need for scoring should push the combo guard well ahead of everyone else on the roster. 

    That said, it's still a matchup-based situation, and there are a number of quality options. So while it's Lou's job to lose once he returns to the lineup, his hold on the role is tenuous at best. 

    Job Security: One

Indiana Pacers: Danny Granger

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    Candidates: Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert

    What? Danny Granger instead of Paul George? 

    Well, the two should be starting together with Lance Stephenson coming off the bench, and Granger is simply a better scorer right now. George's status rose dramatically throughout the 2012-13 campaign, but that was largely due to the well-rounded nature of his game and his excellent defensive play. 

    He still has work to do as a scorer, which allows Granger to regain his old job. Just take a look at the per-game stats from Granger's last season before getting injured compared to George's 2012-13 season, courtesy of Basketball-Reference

    George (2012-13)17.441.936.280.716.8
    Granger (2011-12)18.741.638.187.318.6

    Again, Granger is simply a better scorer, assuming the time off didn't lead to a premature decline. George is still on the rise, though, so the hold on the go-to role is shaky at best.

    Job Security: One

Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward

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    Candidates: Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors

    Gordon Hayward isn't going to be a superstar, but he's at least going to emerge as a high-quality player. During his third NBA season, he averaged 14.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game and showed some pretty clear signs that he's ready to break out even more. 

    Right now, things are going to run through Hayward because he's the most established scorer with NBA experience. But that could change pretty quickly given the number of excellent young players on the roster. 

    Could Enes Kanter become the go-to guy? Yep. 

    Could Derrick Favors become the go-to scorer? Absolutely. 

    Is it possible Trey Burke could emerge as the leading option? Definitely. 

    Nothing is certain in Salt Lake City.

    Job Security: Two

Detroit Pistons: Brandon Jennings

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    Candidates: Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe

    If you asked Brandon Jennings, he'd probably tell you that he was the clear go-to scorer for the Detroit Pistons and that his job security was right in that nine or 10 range. 

    He'd be right about the first part, but Josh Smith and Greg Monroe keep the second hypothetical claim from being correct. 

    Jennings is a great shot-creator and can hit his looks from anywhere on the floor. He also has plenty of confidence—sometimes rational, sometimes irrational. Those are both traits that you want from a go-to scorer, but his inefficiency keeps him from landing any later in this article. 

    If Jennings goes cold, which he probably will at some point, he'll cede the job to one of his many talented teammates. And they'll likely jump at the opportunity. 

    Especially Smoove, since he loves showing off his hops. 

    Job Security: Two

Phoenix Suns: Eric Bledsoe

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    Candidates: Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Marcin Gortat

    This is a close call between Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, one that boils down to the Phoenix Suns' plans. 

    While Dragic is a stopgap at point guard, the franchise is hoping that Bledsoe is the future of the position. The Suns are going to give the new acquisition every opportunity to succeed, especially since wins aren't really necessary in a season that should be filled with tanking and high hopes at a stellar draft pick. 

    Bledsoe can't shoot the rock from the perimeter yet, but he's a dynamic athlete who makes things happen with the ball in his hands. 

    Job Security: Three

Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams

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    Candidates: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez

    Who in the Brooklyn Nets' starting lineup can't score? 

    The answer is easy: No one. 

    Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce might take backseats as scorers thanks to the overflowing abundance of them and the need to keep both fresh for the defensive end of the court (in the short term) and the postseason (in the long term).

    And with Joe Johnson's effectiveness diminishing, we're down to two leading candidates. 

    According to my "pure scoring" metric, Deron Williams reigns supreme over Brook Lopez, but only barely. His score of 8.77 places him in 10th among the 43 players who scored over 15 points per game and qualified for the scoring title, while Brook's mark of 7.84 leaves him in 13th. 

    That's good enough for me, but it's not like D-Will has a strangehold over the title. 

    Job Security: Three

Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson

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    Candidates: Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson

    The Denver Nuggets haven't really had a true go-to scorer for a while.

    Andre Iguodala was the best player on the roster in 2012-13, but that wasn't his best role. Danilo Gallinari was the go-to guy before he tore his ACL, but his injury left a void, and it's unlikely that he'll immediately retain that status when he's healthy enough to play. 

    The job should be Ty Lawson's for the taking. The point guard was playing much better offensive basketball during the second half of the season. His volume and efficiency both increased, and that's always a good combination. 

    Lawson will have more control over the ball than ever before now that Iggy's ball-handling is helping out the Golden State Warriors, and that means he'll have the first shot to close out games.

    But if he falters, Nate Robinson and Gallo are both waiting in the wings and breathing down his neck. 

    Job Security: Three

Memphis Grizzlies: Zach Randolph

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    Candidates: Mike Conley, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol

    This was a question that plagued the Memphis Grizzlies from the moment they traded Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors. Who gets the ball in the closing seconds with the game on the line? 

    Personally, I like the Grizzlies' strategy of actually running plays through Marc Gasol instead of relying on hero ball, but that's not what we're looking at here. And Gasol isn't the go-to scorer in that situation; he's just the primary facilitator off the block or elbow. 

    When the Grizz really need a bucket, it's Zach Randolph who's going to go get it.

    Mike Conley is beginning to steal more and more opportunities from Z-Bo, but the power forward is still the best individual scorer on the roster. 

    This is a tough one for sure. 

    Job Security: Four

Charlotte Bobcats: Kemba Walker

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    Candidates: Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller

    Kemba Walker was a surprisingly effective pure scorer during the 2012-13 season, primarily because he's able to score off the bounce so often. Shot-creating does wonders in the race to become a team's go-to scorer, and that's the main reason Kemba has the job. 

    Al Jefferson is another strong candidate, but he's not the type of player you want lofting up the last attempt. He's not a terrific passer, and that means defenses can crash around him as he goes to work on the left block with his back to the basket. 

    Big Al hurts Walker's job security, but it's the other two candidates who push him lower. 

    Gerald Henderson is one of the more underrated scorers in basketball, largely because everyone in Charlotte inevitably flies under the radar, and I fully expect Cody Zeller to remain in the Rookie of the Year hunt from wire to wire. 

    Neither player is strong enough to wrest the title away from Walker before the season begins, but they're already loosening his grip. 

    Job Security: Four

Toronto Raptors: Rudy Gay

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    Candidates: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay

    Rudy Gay was so much better with the Toronto Raptors than with the Memphis Grizzlies, but his grip on the go-to role isn't quite secure. 

    Because Gay isn't the most efficient scorer, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan still have outside shots at taking over that job. Even the improved version of the small forward shot 42.5 percent from the field, 33.6 percent from downtown and 85.6 percent at the charity stripe.

    That's not going to cut it if Gay is going to continue shooting at such a high volume. He either has to take a step down or start hitting a higher percentage of his looks. 

    This is a make-or-break season for the seven-year pro. 

    Job Security: Five

Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki

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    Candidates: Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki

    The Dallas Mavericks' level of success will be determined by the battle for go-to-scorer status. 

    It should belong to Dirk Nowitzki. The German 7-footer is not only the most talented offensive player on the Dallas roster, but he's also the incumbent and fan favorite. Throughout his time in the NBA, he's emerged as one of the sweetest-shooting big men in basketball history. 

    But will Monta Ellis recognize that? 

    Ellis is used to getting to shoot the basketball whenever he wants, and he might not take kindly to being the second banana in an offensive system. He'll have to if he's going to mesh with his new teammates. There's no shame in being the No. 2 scoring option. 

    Job Security: Five

Boston Celtics: Jeff Green

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    Candidates: Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Kelly Olynyk

    The Boston Celtics are going to be a little challenged on the offensive end of the court unless either Rajon Rondo magically develops a perimeter game or Jeff Green, Kelly Olynyk and MarShon Brooks (who isn't quite worth calling a go-to candidate) step up in a major way. 

    Since Rondo's primary talent is facilitating, it's tough to call him the true go-to scorer. That role would belong to Jeff Green at the moment, a forward who looked ready to break out last season after fully recovering from a heart procedure that's now in the distant past. 

    Green relies a lot on the passes of his teammates to score, but he can still create his own looks quite effectively. Only 58.2 percent of his makes were assisted in 2012-13, and that number dropped to 51.4 during the postseason. 

    Job Security: Six

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant

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    Candidates: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook

    I have absolutely no clue what to do with Kevin Durant. I'm not even going to try masking that. 

    On one hand, Durant is the best scorer in the league, bar none. While he might not have as many moves as Carmelo Anthony, he blows away the league in terms of pure scoring and is just insanely efficient. Only he and Larry Bird have gone 50/40/90 while competing for the scoring title. 

    But on the other hand, Russell Westbrook. 

    Westbrook is another of the dominant scorers in the NBA, and he can explode and make Durant take a backseat on any given night. He won't supplant Durant, but he's not conceding anything to him either, especially after a season in which he ranked seventh in pure scoring. 

    So, what to do?

    Durant has job security because he's, well, Durant. But he's also part of the top scoring duo in the NBA, and his partner in crime loves hijacking that go-to role. 

    Job Security: Six

Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins

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    Candidates: Greivis Vasquez, Ben McLemore, Marcus Thornton, Carl Landry, DeMarcus Cousins

    DeMarcus Cousins was one of the premier frontcourt scorers in the NBA during the 2012-13 campaign. According to my pure scoring metric, Cousins ranked 19th among all qualified players with a score of 6.59. 

    By itself, that doesn't sound insanely impressive. But let's break it down further. 

    Brook Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge were the only two big men who ranked higher. Cousins was that good at putting the ball into the basket. 

    Right now, he's established as the go-to scorer for the Sacramento Kings, but there are a number of other candidates vying for the job. One of them, Ben McLemore, might very well take over by the end of the season. 

    McLemore doesn't have the shot-creating skills necessary at the start of his rookie season, but he'll get there. 

    Job Security: Six

Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry

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    Candidates: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, David Lee

    Stephen Curry has a strong hold on the go-to job for the Golden State Warriors, which is rather impressive when you consider the fact that the Dubs are just about overflowing with offensive potency following the offseason acquisition of Andre Iguodala. 

    Iggy is certainly a candidate, but just as was the case when he played for the Denver Nuggets, he's more of a secondary offensive star. He can do everything, and he doesn't typically thrive as the leading scorer. 

    David Lee is the biggest threat to Curry's status. He finished 21st among all qualified players in my pure scoring metric, but while impressive, that's still well shy of the Davidson product's No. 6 spot. As for Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, they're too dependent on others at this stage of their careers. 

    Health concerns and the overall offensive prowess of this Golden State squad keep Curry's job security from rising too high, but the ball is clearly his in big situations. 

    Job Security: Seven

Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard

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    Candidates: Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, C.J. McCollum, LaMarcus Aldridge

    Damian Lillard already emerged as the Portland Trail Blazers' No. 1 option during his rookie season, and there's no reason for that to change now that he's a second-year player. LaMarcus Aldridge is an incredibly talented scorer out of the post and a great jump-shooter in pick-and-pop sets. 

    Off the bounce, few players are better than the Weber State product.

    He can score driving to the basket, and he thrives shooting pull-up jumpers, even with a hand in the face. According to Synergy, Lillard was nothing short of elite in a few offensive looks.   

    When serving as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll sets, the floor general scored 0.89 points per possession (No. 23 in the league). In isolation, he ranked 27th by scoring 0.95 points per possession. 


    Job Security: Seven

Milwaukee Bucks: O.J. Mayo

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    Candidates: Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova

    It's not good for the Milwaukee Bucks that O.J. Mayo is getting the go-to role without much fear of competition. Brandon Knight may get there one day, but he's light years away from actually taking over that lofty status. 

    Knight is a great off-ball threat, primarily because he can cut so well and has the athleticism necessary to finish plays around the rim, but he doesn't generally create his own looks. Mayo can do that, and he also possesses a much more dangerous outside shot. 

    According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Mayo scored 0.99 points per possession during his year with the Dallas Mavericks. That was the No. 16 mark in the entire NBA. 

    Case closed. 

    Job Security: Seven

Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Love

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    Candidates: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic

    If you had shown me the current Minnesota Timberwolves roster before the start of the 2012-13 season (just assume it's possible), I would have told you that Kevin Martin had a chance to be the go-to scorer on the team. 

    But after seeing him struggle to step up for the Oklahoma City Thunder once Russell Westbrook went down, it became increasingly clear that Kevin Love has a complete stranglehold over the role thanks to his inside-outside prowess on offense. 

    There simply aren't that many other options for the 'Wolves, unless Chase Budinger or Shabazz Muhammad suddenly explode. Nikola Pekovic is a physical banger, but he's not a scorer, and Ricky Rubio struggles to put the ball in the basket at all. 

    Love is the man here, almost by default. 

    Job Security: Eight

Miami Heat: LeBron James

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    Candidates: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh

    Even on a team with two other superstars, LeBron James stands out as the clear option down the stretch for the Miami Heat. He's just that good at scoring, even if it isn't his best trait. 

    So, why isn't James a 10 on the job security scale? 

    It's not that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are going to take over the job anytime soon.

    It's that LeBron doesn't always want to be the go-to scorer. Much like Magic Johnson back in the day, LeBron thrives most when he creates easy looks for his teammates. He'd prefer to get an assist that wins the game, and that hesitance to step into the scoring role keeps him from rising any higher than an eight. 

    Job Security: Eight

Washington Wizards: John Wall

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    Candidates: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter

    When you ink your star player to a five-year, $80 million deal, you better be counting on him. And since John Wall is primarily an offensive player, the Washington Wizards must plan on relying on him as their go-to scorer. 

    While Bradley Beal and Otto Porter could both emerge as fantastic scorers at the NBA level, they're both reliant on other players to score their points. They don't possess the same creative abilities that Wall has with the ball in his hands. 

    Even without a consistent jumper, Wall was able to torch defenses and finish plenty of looks right around the rim. Imagine what he'll do when he can actually hit shots from the perimeter. 

    You'll also want to notice that I used the word "when," not "if." 

    Job Security: Eight

San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker

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    Candidates: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan

    As Tony Parker gets older, he's getting better. 

    The point guard has emerged as the second-best player at his position (a status that might be overtaken by a healthy Derrick Rose or an improved Russell Westbrook), and he's more comfortable than ever running the show for the San Antonio Spurs. 

    While Tim Duncan continues to be a fantastic player, Manu Ginobili declines and Kawhi Leonard emerges as a star, it's Parker who has clearly emerged as the go-to scorer. And that won't change anytime soon. 

    When you take the crucial shots in the NBA Finals during multiple games, that's the role you've earned.  

    Job Security: Eight

Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose

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    Candidates: Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer

    Is there any question about this one? 

    The only reason Derrick Rose isn't receiving a score of 10 for his job security as the go-to scorer on the Chicago Bulls is that faulty knee. We still don't have a guarantee that he'll regain his old form and stay healthy, and there won't be any confirmation until the 2013-14 campaign is well underway. 

    But at the same time, Rose is a former MVP and one of the most dynamic offensive players in the NBA. The rest of the Bulls' candidates are all complementary scorers, and none of them should be heavily relied upon as the go-to guy. 

    Rose will continue to be a thorn in the side of opponents late in the game.

    Then again, he will be early in the game as well. 

    Job Security: Eight

Houston Rockets: James Harden

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    Candidates: James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, Dwight Howard

    While the offseason acquisition of Dwight Howard pushes James Harden's job security down from a 10, the bearded shooting guard isn't going to let go of his role as the lead scorer and go-to guy in the final minutes of a close contest. 

    Dwight, while a great finisher and athletic specimen capable of throwing down alley-oops left and right, isn't the dynamic offensive creator Harden is. He doesn't thrive getting himself looks, and he doesn't have the outside-inside game that the 2-guard possesses. 

    Few players are more dangerous with the ball in their hands than Harden. He's a threat to knock down three-pointers, finish in traffic or work his way to the charity stripe whenever he touches the ball. During the 2012-13 season, only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were better pure scorers. 

    It's all in the beard. 

    Job Security: Nine

Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul

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    Candidates: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick

    Here's another no-doubter, although Blake Griffin has enough offensive potential that he could take a chunk out of Chris Paul's role by the end of the season. 

    CP3 is still the Clippers' offense.

    He facilitates with the best of them and still has time to establish himself as a scoring stud when the need arises. If Paul played in high-leverage situations throughout an entire season, he might compete for the league lead in points per game, because that's when he goes into takeover mode. 

    Paul earned a 9.65 pure scoring score, ranking him eighth among all qualified players. For a player who spends most of the game as a floor general in the strictest sense of the term, that's insanely impressive. 

    Job Security: Nine

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving

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    Candidates: Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Andrew Bynum

    One of the surest things in the NBA is that Kyrie Irving will be tasked with taking the final shot for the Cleveland Cavaliers if he's healthy enough to be in the lineup. And those questions about his health are really the only reason that his job security is anything but perfect. 

    Dion Waiters is an offensive talent capable of carrying the scoring load, as is Andrew Bynum at full strength, but he's still not on the same level as the Duke product. 

    That's not an insult levied at Waiters, but rather a compliment to Irving. He's just that good with the ball in his hands. 

    This one is as close to a lock as it gets without actually hitting that coveted "lock" status. 

    Job Security: Nine

Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant

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    Candidates: Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Pau Gasol


    The only thing keeping Kobe Bryant from a 10 in job security is his Achilles tendon. If he were fully healthy, he'd be competing for the final spot in this slideshow. 

    But we still don't know for sure when he'll be back and how long it will take him to regain full effectiveness. 

    Nick Young and Pau Gasol are only listed for that reason. They'll be competing for the go-to scorer role if Kobe is limited enough that he misses action at the beginning of the season. 

    Job Security: Nine

New York Knicks

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    Candidates: Carmelo Anthony

    It's not worth listing any other candidates. 

    That's in no way an insult to J.R. Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton, players who would typically be credited for most teams. Instead, it's just a testament to the ridiculously strong grasp Carmelo Anthony has on the go-to role in New York. 

    If you've ever played NBA 2K13's superstar mode, you know that you can call for the ball when your teammates have control. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. It's all about the influence you have on those teammates and your status as a scorer. 

    If the NBA were actually a video game, 'Melo could call for the ball while he was on the bench, and his teammates would still pass him the rock. 

    Job Security: 10