Power Ranking the Best Player on Every NBA Team
The NBA is a star-driven league, but which players make the biggest difference for their respective teams night in and night out?
For some, it's obvious. No offense to Dwyane Wade, but LeBron James took over the role of the Miami Heat's best player a while ago.
Then there's those who are hands down the best on their team, yet their league-wide ranking is up in the air. That's where a post-surgery Kobe Bryant fits in.
This topic is a debate that lacks one right answer, but entering the 2013-14 season, we have a solid understanding of where the game's biggest names stand.
30. Philadelphia 76ers: Evan Turner
Evan Turner making this list is more a testament to the abysmal state of the Philadelphia 76ers than the forward's production as a three-year player in The Association.
During the 2013 offseason, the Sixers made it clear that they have no intention of winning right away. They officially entered the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes when they traded Jrue Holiday, and at this point, there's nobody better than Turner to be found on the roster.
The Ohio State product has done little to resemble the player we saw dominate in college, but he had an improved 2012-13 campaign. He averaged career highs in points, rebounds and assists, and he finally found his stroke from long range, shooting 36.5 percent from the three-point line.
That momentum—along with nobody else in the rotation to help—should make him worth watching in his fourth season.
29. Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors
The Utah Jazz are another team that finds itself with a new-look roster in 2013-14. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are gone, which gives Derrick Favors the opportunity to start that he's been waiting for.
Through his first three seasons, there's been plenty of talk about his potential. He added incredible depth to a loaded Utah frontcourt, and now he'll have the chance to show what he can do on a much bigger scale.
In 77 games played during the 2012-13 season, Favors averaged 9.4 points and 7.1 rebounds. He started eight games and recorded a PER of 17.57.
The 22-year-old has the chance to climb this list as the year goes on, as he'll finally turn that potential into production.
28. Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic
When Steve Nash left the Phoenix Suns for the Los Angeles Lakers, we all knew that the team would be in rebuilding mode. The Suns tried to mask the lack of star power with numerous free-agent pickups, but at this point in the process, Goran Dragic remains the best player on any given night.
During his first year back with the team (he previously played with the Suns during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons), he posted numerous career bests. His 14.7 points and 7.4 assists were both team highs, and he also led the group with 1.6 steals per contest.
Although his long-range shot hasn't looked elite since 2010-11, he has a history of effective shooting that keeps any defense honest. Players such as Marcin Gortat, Eric Bledsoe and even Alex Len (when healthy) will try and take the title of best player away, but until proven otherwise, Dragic is the man running the show.
27. Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic
When you look at the Orlando Magic’s roster, Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis are the first to stand out. However, 22-year-old Nikola Vucevic has set himself up to be the best player in 2013-14.
Vucevic started 77 games for the Magic in 2012-13, which was the most of anyone on the team. He showed he can be incredibly reliable in that sense, but his 13.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game proves he can actually be productive too.
Defensively, the seven-footer blocked one shot per game. That number can certainly be higher, especially considering he gave up a PER of 19.8 per 48 minutes to opposing centers, per 82Games.com.
Casual fans may not know much about the former USC Trojan, but at this stage in the game, that’s about to change. The Magic are going to return to the lottery, but at such a young age, Vucevic is holding out that there's a spot for him long-term.
26. Milwaukee Bucks: O.J. Mayo
The Milwaukee Bucks lost their entire starting backcourt during the 2013 offseason when both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis departed for greener pastures.
O.J. Mayo was picked up to replace Ellis at the shooting guard position, but he has a chance to come in and also be the team's best player right out of the gate.
When you look at Mayo's rookie year with the Memphis Grizzlies, you see a player who had the potential to be one of the best 2-guards in the game. He averaged 18.5 points, shot 38.4 percent from deep and collected 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists along the way.
Since then, he's regressed almost every season, but his solo campaign with the Dallas Mavericks should give Bucks fans hope that he can be a No. 1 option as a starter in Milwaukee.
25. Charlotte Bobcats: Al Jefferson
The Charlotte Bobcats received a lot of flack during the 2013 offseason for overpaying Al Jefferson. The theory is that he doesn't make them good enough to reach the postseason, yet he also diminishes their chances of landing the No. 1 pick in the 2014 lottery.
For those looking at the glass half empty, these notions remain true. However, if you forget that it's the Bobcats we're talking about for just a second, you'll realize that Jefferson adds production to a roster that is quietly improving.
Following the 2012-13 campaign, Kemba Walker is a legitimate candidate to take this spot. He boosted his numbers to 17.7 points and 5.7 assists per contest, and he more than doubled his steals from the season before.
But while Walker was easily the team's most productive player a year ago, Charlotte has brought in a player who posted 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds for the Utah Jazz while also earning a PER of 20.99.
24. Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins should be higher on this list. In fact, he should be one of the most dominant centers in the entire NBA.
Unfortunately for him, his on-court inconsistencies and negative demeanor have kept him from reaching his incredibly high ceiling.
Cousins has been suspended from the Sacramento Kings numerous times, and the consensus is that his boneheaded antics have slowed down his progression. He needs to work on protecting the ball, as well as the rim; but the No. 1 problem thus far has been his rotten attitude.
All that said, he's a player who can dominate when his head is on straight, as evidenced by his 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in 2012-13. Should the Kings choose to do so, they can build around Cousins knowing they have a big man who can make a difference.
It's the unknown that scares them, and it's tough to predict which direction this 23-year-old will ultimately go.
23. Toronto Raptors: Rudy Gay
When you look at Rudy Gay's numbers, you see a player who is a major contributor. He averaged 19.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals during his first 33 games with the Toronto Raptors, and it's clear that he will be arguably the team's top performer moving forward.
But while the 27-year-old is an easy choice as the team's best player, his spot on this list takes a hit when you look a little deeper. Despite being a near-20-points-per-game forward, Gay's offensive win share was just .3 during his time with Toronto, per Basketball-Reference.com.
That's an improvement compared to the minus-.02 he posted with the Memphis Grizzlies, but it's clear where his strengths lie, as his defensive win share jumped to an impressive 1.4.
Gay will give you highlight-worthy material both above the rim and late in contests, but his game needs to be more well-rounded before he moves up the rankings.
22. New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis is the future of the New Orleans Pelicans, but as long as he can stay healthy, he's also the present.
At 20 years old, the 6'10" power forward has a dominant defensive game. In his rookie showing, he averaged nearly two blocks in 28.8 minutes, and he has the length and timing to improve that number down the road.
As good as Davis is on defense, what makes him unique is his emerging offensive skill set. He's not yet a go-to option, but his ability to handle the ball and face up to opponents is something few players his size can do.
The truth is that Jrue Holiday deserves consideration for this spot, as he's coming off of an All-Star season. But while Holiday may be the All-Star, Davis has a chance to become one of the best two-way bigs in the entire NBA.
Give it another season, and you're bound to see Davis higher on this list.
21. Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson
Identifying the best player on the Denver Nuggets' roster can be tricky. They don't have a true superstar anywhere to be found, yet they have one of the deepest rotations in the league, comprising talented players from top to bottom.
Entering the 2013-14 season, Ty Lawson earns the nod as the team's leader, albeit a slight nod at that.
Lawson has been on the verge of breaking out for a while now, so nobody should be surprised when it actually happens. He averaged 16.7 points, 6.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game in 2012-13—all career highs—and he's a 38 percent three-point shooter throughout his four years with the team.
If you don't like Lawson here, arguments can be made for both Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari. The two forwards have a chance to breakout alongside Lawson, but at this stage in the game, the edge goes to the 5'11" point guard with lightning-quick speed.
20. Detroit Pistons: Josh Smith
From a sheer talent perspective, Josh Smith deserves to be higher on this list. He's a freak of an athlete who can dominate defensively, and he's as entertaining as anybody when soaring above the rim.
The problem here is consistency and efficiency on offense, and that's why he finds himself at the No. 20 spot.
On the new-look Detroit Pistons, there's a chance Smith will start at small forward. The team could play him as a 4 if it keeps Andre Drummond on the bench, but the sophomore center needs minutes to help Detroit reach the postseason.
If Smith plays the 3, he'll be one of the best rebounding small forwards around. However, his spotty shot selection and poor outside shooting will make him a liability if his decision-making doesn't improve.
Drummond, Greg Monroe and even Brandon Jennings will compete for the subjective title of best player throughout the year, but if Smith plays well, it will be tough to rip it away from the nine-year veteran.
19. Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki fans are going to scream bloody murder when they see their hero sitting at the No. 19 spot, but the fact is that his ranking speaks more to the star power of the league than his own production.
Nowitzki got off to a slow start to begin the 2012-13 season. He was coming off an injury, and he needed to learn how to play alongside another scorer like O.J. Mayo.
But while his first four games saw him fail to reach double digits, he closed out the year with respectable averages of 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest.
Now, with Nowitzki healthy and ready to make a push toward the playoffs, we'll see if the big man can return to form. He's arguably the greatest shooter to ever eclipse the seven-foot mark, which is something he can hold onto, even at 35 years old.
18. Washington Wizards: John Wall
John Wall is one player who has a serious chance to climb the rankings with a good showing in 2013-14.
After coming back from injury in 2012-13, Wall gave the lowly Washington Wizards the spark and production they needed. Not only did the team start winning games, as it floated around .500 the rest of the year, but it was immensely more entertaining to watch.
Wall's ability to dominate a game stems from his scoring, but there's no denying he makes his teammates better. He recorded 7.6 assists to go along with his 18.5 points, and he helped Bradley Beal get through his early-season struggles.
In today's NBA, ultra-athletic point guards run the show. Wall needs to fix his broken jumper, but his size and speed make him a menace with the ball in his hands.
If he works on his shot while continuing to utilize his strengths, the sky is the limit as to how good he can be.
17. Portland Trail Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge
When it comes to the Portland Trail Blazers, it's clear that the future revolves around Damian Lillard. The 2013 Rookie of the Year plays the point guard position with the poise of a veteran, and his current contract has him in Rip City for the foreseeable future.
But while Lillard may garner attention league-wide, the team's No. 1 option is LaMarcus Aldridge. He's a two-time all-star, an improved defender and a 6'11" forward who spreads the floor with his silky jump shot.
The problem with Aldridge is that we don't know what his future holds. He's set to become a free agent in 2015, and unless the Blazers are significantly better, chances are he bolts for a true contender.
Portland may have to make the tough choice to trade him before he leaves, but until that day comes, he remains the best player on a rebuilt roster.
16. Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams
The Brooklyn Nets are absolutely stacked entering 2013-14, but it's Deron Williams who will make the claim as the team's best player.
At 29 years old, the veteran has become a bit less consistent than he once was. The start of 2012-13 saw him score just 15.7 points per game in the opening month of the year, but he turned things around, averaging 24.6 points in April.
Luckily for Williams, he won't be counted upon to score as much with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on board. He'll have the freedom to take over when he deems it necessary, but he'll also be able to spread the wealth, as all four of the other starters are capable scorers.
Williams is hands down the best player on the Nets' roster, but a great showing throughout the year will validate the fact that he's one of the league's top point guards.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford
When thinking about the NBA's best big men, Al Horford is often absent from the conversation. However, following his 2012-13 season, it's time that changes immediately.
In his sixth campaign with the Atlanta Hawks, Horford boosted his game to another level. He averaged 17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals per contest—all career highs—and he played in 74 games following an injury-riddled 2012.
Nobody quite knew what to expect from Atlanta, as the roster was in flux; but Horford took over and became the consensus best player on the team.
At 6'10", 250 pounds, the big man has been miscast as a center for much of his career. He's a natural power forward, but his recent dominant showing should give fans faith that he can play at a high level at the 5. His excellent numbers came while playing center for 50 percent of the team's minutes, according to 82Games.com.
Horford is officially a center on the Hawks' roster, and he's officially one of the best centers that the game has to offer.
14. Memphis Grizzlies: Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol is an incredibly well-rounded center who plays with a dominant defensive mindset.
What else could you ask for in a league that has watched the center position diminish throughout the years?
At 7'1" and 265 pounds, Gasol is coming off a season in which he won Defensive Player of the Year. Some might think he falsely earned the award based on the defensive success of his team, but I'd like to think it happened the other way around.
The Memphis Grizzlies are a force on defense, and Gasol is a huge reason why. He doesn't make highlights the way other shot-blockers do, but he has an understanding of when to go for the rejection and when to stand his ground.
Gasol also has a decent offensive skill set. He only averaged 14.1 points per game in 2012-13, but he played on a team that utilized his passing ability far more than his shooting.
Once upon a time, Gasol was known simply as Pau Gasol's younger brother, but now he's made a name for himself as one of the best pure centers left in the NBA.
13. Boston Celtics: Rajon Rondo
There's really no questioning who the Boston Celtics' best player is at this point in the process.
Following a summer that saw Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers move on to new organizations, Rajon Rondo remains the sole star in Boston. He's officially driving the bus for the Celtics, which is the first time we can say that since the emergence of the Big Three.
With everything that's happened to the Celtics—not to mention Rondo's season-ending injury in 2012-13—it's easy to forget just how good this guy is. He's never been a top-tier scorer, as his jumper simply wouldn't allow it, but he'll have a chance to boost his points-per-game average now that Pierce and Garnett are gone.
With amazing athleticism and ball control, expect Rondo to slice through defenders and finish at the rim on a frequent basis. But while his points may rise, it's his incredible court vision and remarkable passing ability that will set him apart from the rest.
Boston may not have a ton of scorers in 2013-14, but it'll have a point guard who will put players in the right position. Rondo averaged 11.1 assists per game before getting hurt, and there's no reason to believe that number will drop when he returns.
12. Indiana Pacers: Paul George
If you're looking for a budding young star with an incredibly high ceiling, look no further than Paul George.
At 23 years old, George has officially taken over the Indiana Pacers. Danny Granger missed most of the 2012-13 season because of injury, and the former Fresno State Bulldog did his fair share to make up the difference.
Where George really made a name for himself was in the playoffs. He posted averages of 19.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 19 games, and while he struggled to defend LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals, that's a fool's errand for anyone in the NBA.
George's growth with the Pacers has happened quickly, but fans shouldn't worry about him capping out too soon. He's continuing to develop on both sides of the floor, and his work ethic will propel him into one of the game's best up-and-coming stars.
11. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry
Following his epic performance in the 2013 postseason, Stephen Curry has officially arrived on the NBA scene.
Curry has been well-known by fans for a while, but playing for the Golden State Warriors, casual fans have missed out on his incredible shooting touch. That all changed, though, when he went toe-to-toe with the San Antonio Spurs, capturing the hearts of America in the process.
At 6'3", 185 pounds, the guard is far from physically imposing. That said, he has one of the deadliest shots we've seen in a while, as he's averaged 44.6 percent from behind the arc during his four-year career.
Curry's efficiency is impressive, but what makes it borderline unbelievable is the fact that it comes on a high volume of shots. Those two things don't always go together, but in 2012-13, the 25-year-old shot 45.3 percent from deep while launching it 7.7 times per contest.
As good of a shooter as Curry is, he's not a one-trick pony. He's averaged 6.1 assists during his time in The Association, and that number was 6.9 during his most recent campaign.
The Warriors had their breakout season in 2013, and now they're contenders with Curry leading the way.
10. Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving
If No. 10 seems too high for Kyrie Irving, you haven't been watching him on a regular basis. The 21-year-old has a killer's instinct on offense, which helped him record 22.5 points and 5.9 assists in 2012-13.
If you think No. 10 is too low, you've got blinders on that are hiding his defensive deficiencies. According to 82Games.com, he allowed a PER of 18.1 per 48 minutes to opposing point guards.
But while his defense needs help, his offensive abilities make up the difference at this stage in the game.
Irving has proven time and time again that he can be counted upon in the clutch. The youngster scored more crunch time points than any other player in 2012-13, and he did it while shooting 46.7 percent—also per 82Games.com.
Irving will be the No. 1 option in Cleveland moving forward, but with more talent around him in 2013-14, he now has extra weapons. The role players on this squad will give him more options on offense, and his assists-per-game number just might boost because of it.
9. Houston Rockets: James Harden
If Dwight Howard is able to return to form, jell with his teammates and dominate the league the way he used to, we just might have to put him in this spot down the road.
Until then, we'll recognize what James Harden has done to become a legitimate superstar with the Houston Rockets.
During his first year in Clutch City, Harden proved that he is a max-contract player. He scored 25.9 points per game, which was good enough for fourth in the league, and he stuffed the stat sheet with 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds per contest.
Harden's long-range game keeps defenses honest, but the real trouble for defenders comes when he attacks the paint. There might not be a better guard at lowering his head and getting to the rim, as evidenced by the fact that he shot 674 free throws in 2012-13—second only to Kevin Durant.
How much better Harden can get is up in the air, but where he is today is clear. He's a lethal scorer who's made a name for himself, and he's ready to take the next step toward greatness alongside the league's best center.
8. San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker
Tony Parker has lived in Tim Duncan's shadow his entire career. He's been criminally underrated because of it, so let's take a moment to recognize just how great the point guard truly is.
As a 12-year veteran, Parker is certainly entering the twilight of his career. That said, his style of play has allowed him to succeed up to this point, and he showed no signs of slowing down in the 2013 playoffs.
During 2012-13, Parker averaged 20.3 points, 7.6 assists and recorded a PER of 23.10. He's known for ability to finish around the rim, but he's also become a very good defender throughout the years.
If you want to place Duncan in this spot ahead of Parker, that's fine—you shouldn't hear too many arguments. He's discovered the fountain of youth, which has helped prolong his Hall of Fame career.
But while Duncan's productivity remains elite, Parker has to keep the wheels turning once the big man finally realizes he'll be 38 during the 2014 postseason. The two players make up one of the best big-little tandems in the game, and the San Antonio Spurs have been fortunate enough to have both for all these years.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Love
When Kevin Love entered The Association in 2008, there were questions about how high his ceiling would go. His conditioning and athleticism were both a problem, which made people wonder how well he would adjust.
Five years later, we've got our answer, as he's arguably the best power forward in the entire NBA.
Love has a number of issues on defense, but those concerns don't spread to the glass. The 6'10" forward grabs anything that falls off the rim, as evidenced by his 12.2 rebounds-per-game average over his career.
Despite being an elite rebounder from the get-go, his scoring got off to a slow start. That's no longer the case, though, as he officially hit the scene when he scored 26 points per game in 2011-12.
Love needs the Minnesota Timberwolves to stay healthy in order to succeed, and that includes his own health. He played just 18 games in 2012-13, and he's looking to come back strong by making a push toward the playoffs.
This team can compete for the seventh or eighth seed out West, and Love will be the one leading the charge.
6. New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony is one of the most scrutinized players that the NBA has today, and it doesn't help that he plays in the media spotlight that is New York City.
He certainly has his flaws, which are accentuated by playing for the New York Knicks. Defense hasn't always been a concern, but he's a superstar based on his ability to take over a game.
At 6'8", 230 pounds, 'Melo can play almost any position he wants. He has the ball-handling skills to be a point-forward, yet he has the strength and scoring know-how to drop into the post.
During the 2012-13 season, we finally saw Anthony dominate at the 4. According to 82Games.com, he played 48 percent of the team's minutes at power forward, compared to just 8 percent at the 3.
At the 4-spot, his PER per 48 minutes was 24.8, while he held his opponents to just 13.4.
Criticize Anthony all you want, but he's an undisputed superstar. His scoring title from 2013 proves it, and chances are he'll be near the top of the league in that category again in 2014.
5. Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant
The fun thing about Kobe Bryant is that all you have to do is say his name and an epic debate of monumental proportion is soon to follow.
Cynics will state that Bryant’s age and health should land him further down this list. Fans will say that his legacy and ability to stuff a stat sheet should give him an even higher ranking.
But while those two trains of thought can be debated ad nauseum, Bryant is hands down the face of the Los Angeles Lakers, and he remains one of the best players in the entire Association.
The fact is, he is a top-five player until proven otherwise. He’s as dominant a scorer as there is, and while we don’t know what he’ll look like following the Achilles injury, we do know that you can’t assume anything when it comes to this legend.
Bryant is an assassin on the floor when he has the ball, and he’s as resilient as it comes with his desire to win. He's hungry to obtain his sixth championship ring, and if any player can win on drive alone, it just might be this one.
4. Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose hasn't played in an NBA game since April 8, 2012. His mental toughness was brought into question when he missed the entire 2012-13 season, and chances are, rust will impact his game early in his return.
Yet he's still looked at as one of the best players entering the 2013-14 campaign.
Rose will have to prove that his knee is strong and that his mind is stronger. We haven't seen him play in quite some time, but we know what he's capable of, as he was the MVP in 2011.
The expectation here is that Rose comes back just as quick, agile and powerful off the dribble. The hope is that his jumper has advanced to another level, giving him the luxury of avoiding contact game in and game out.
But even if Rose's shot is improved, don't expect him to change his mentality too drastically. He's where he is today because of his athleticism, and he's widely considered one of the best point guards because of it.
3. Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul
When the Los Angeles Clippers drafted Blake Griffin, they acquired an entertaining player who would give fans a reason to watch.
When they added Chris Paul to the mix, they became legitimate contenders.
As good as Griffin is, and as much potential as he has, this is Paul's team. The point guard has virtually no blemish in his game, unless you count the fact that he's often too selfless.
Defensively, there aren't many players at the position as pesky as Paul. He can get it done on both ends of the court, and that fact doesn't change when the game is on the line.
With Doc Rivers roaming the sidelines, this team is ready to compete for supremacy out West. L.A. must get past the perennial contenders before it claims a spot atop the conference, but there's not a floor general in the league it would rather have along for the ride.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant may not have won his fourth consecutive scoring title in 2013, but he joined a historically exclusive group to make up the difference.
At just 24 years old, KD shot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from deep and 90 percent from the foul line. Only nine other players have ever reached that accomplishment, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
The truth is this: If Durant weren't playing at the same time that LeBron James entered his prime, we'd look at him as the game's top player. He's extremely versatile offensively, as he can score from above the rim or beyond the arc, and he's continually learning how to utilize his length on the defensive end.
Finding a weakness in Durant's game is tough, and finding a flaw in his personality is nearly impossible. He did pick up 12 technical fouls during the 2012-13 season, but that's because he's finally added an edginess to his naturally jovial demeanor.
Durant is going to compete for championships throughout his career, and his time is coming to chase the MVP Award as well. He also has one of the game's best sidekicks with Russell Westbrook helping along the way—a player who would be on this list if it weren't for Durant's dominance.
1. Miami Heat: LeBron James
In case you haven't heard, LeBron James is the best player on the planet, which is fitting, seeing as he's sitting on top of the world at this point in his career.
At 28 years old, James has cemented himself in history. He's won back-to-back championships, he's been to the finals in four of his 10 seasons and he's won four MVP awards between 2009 and 2013.
James' PER was beyond impressive in 2012-13, as he posted a 31.67. But while that number is unattainable to most, it was the third time he'd surpassed the 31-point mark and the fourth time he'd eclipsed 30.
Numbers and accolades aside, James is playing with a drive that we didn't see before he signed with the Miami Heat. He knows he has a championship roster to help him on his way, yet he is the leader every time he steps on the floor.
Off the court, James is a student of the game, which he used to his advantage when learning the low post. There's very little this guy can't do, and it's scary to think how much he'll accomplish before his illustrious career is all said and done.
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