Ranking the Best Two-Way Players in the NBA Entering 2013-14

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2013

Ranking the Best Two-Way Players in the NBA Entering 2013-14

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    The best kind of NBA star is the one who loves making a game-winning stop just as much as a game-winning shot.

    In the 2013-14 season, fans will be treated to a slew of players who take pride in excelling on both ends of the floor.

    We put together a list of the league's best two-way performers, and there's no coincidence that every single one of them was in the 2013 playoffs.

    In fact, at least two players from each semifinal team were either honorable mentions or ranked in the top 10.

    Who made the cut?

Honorable Mentions

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    Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns: He's not yet an accomplished offensive weapon, but he's knocking on stardom's door—while shutting the door on opposing point guards. Bledsoe's physical tools help him overwhelm foes in every aspect of the sport.

    Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers: Hibbert missed out on our top 10, but after the 2013 playoffs, Pacers apologists could argue he belongs. His combination of size and skill can take over a game at any point.

    Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: Another worthy nominee to crack our list. Once he expands his offensive game, he'll almost certainly be on it, because his defense and open-floor skills are too good to ignore.

    Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat: A couple years ago, he would be a surefire top-five selection. But his inconsistent performance throughout the playoffs dropped his stock, as he wasn't as dominant on either end.

10. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

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    If a two-way player is defined as someone who "brings it" on both ends of the floor, you can't leave Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah off this list.

    No, he's not a fluid low-post threat with a silky-smooth jumper or fancy moves. And he's certainly not an acrobatic shot-blocker or highlight-reel dunker.

    He does his work in the trenches, to the tune of 11.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 blocks per game. Noah is a crucial component of the Bulls offense because he operates as a high-post decision-maker, and he's vital to the defense due to his physicality and passion.

    Few players defend their basket with the kind of zeal and authentic toughness that Noah does. He doesn't do anything halfway, which is exactly why he's the most well-rounded unskilled big man in the game.

9. Mike Conley, Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

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    Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley is one of the most underrated players in the entire league because he doesn't post astounding numbers on either end of the floor.

    The truth is he is extremely valuable on both ends. He's a scrappy, well-disciplined defender and a heady playmaker for the Grizzlies' offense.

    If you asked me a year ago, Conley would probably not make this list.

    But it's 2013, and he's a more complete scoring threat and an ever-improving perimeter stopper. He flirted with the league lead in steals and struck a nice balance between scoring and passing.

    Memphis' odds of returning to the conference finals ride on Conley's ability to out-work opposing floor generals possession-by-possession.

8. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

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    On offense, Rajon Rondo is unselfish almost to a fault. Meanwhile, he's a defensive thief.

    The Boston Celtics' veteran stars feasted off his astounding passing skills for years, as he went from role player to fellow star. Rondo's creativity and court vision enabled him to make plays only a half-dozen players in history could make.

    He's still recovering from ACL surgery, but you can bet Rondo will return as a prolific point guard and pesky defender.

    How many times have we seen him wreak havoc by forcing turnovers and starting fast breaks? Celtics fans can't wait to see him flying all over the court again.

    Rondo will be on a mission to prove he's an All-Star without the help of the old Big Three.

7. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

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    Golden State Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala is probably the best wing defender not named LeBron James, and that's a big reason why he was selected to the 2012 USA Olympic basketball team.

    While his offense is nowhere near as elite as his defense, it's still dangerous. Iguodala can find the hoop in a variety of ways, even if he isn't a dynamic slasher or prolific mid-range scorer.

    He's potent in the open floor because he can finish above the rim and does damage on the outside as a passer and three-point shooter. On some nights, he makes 18 points and six assists look easy.

    Mark Jackson is hoping Iggy's multi-faceted energy will be the edge the Dubs needed to compete for a Western Conference crown.

6. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

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    The 2013 NBA Defensive Player of the Year is just as important to the Memphis Grizzlies as a low-post scorer and high-post facilitator.

    When he's not busy clogging the paint and making life miserable for opposing centers, Marc Gasol is sinking jumpers or teaming with Zach Randolph for key buckets.

    According to 82games.com, Memphis is 10.7 net points better per 100 possessions when he's on the floor. His combination of size and persistence make him a defensive nuisance. And he's an underrated passer and reliable shooter. He won't blow up the box score with outlandish statistics, but his presence will manifest itself in the win column.

    Without him, the Grizzlies lose their bite in the paint, especially on defense. 

5. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

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    Although he's at the tail end of his career, San Antonio Spurs icon Tim Duncan belongs on this list as much as anyone else.

    Don't let his age and lack of athleticism fool you. He's still a two-way force.

    In 2012-13, he scored 17.8 points per game on 50 percent shooting, and he led the league with a 95 defensive rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions), according to Basketball-Reference.com.

    He continues to thrive late in his career because he knows precisely where to be, and when to be there. Duncan outsmarts his foes and positions himself for success almost every time down the floor, whether it's a rebound, shot-contest or pick-and-roll finish.

4. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

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    Paul George's breakout season for the Indiana Pacers in 2012-13 was enhanced by his skills as a lockdown defender.

    The 23-year-old ranks high on our list due to his multidimensional offensive contributions and ability to change the game defensively.

    George can score inside and out, frequently facilitate as a quasi-point forward and rebound like a power forward, all while shutting down the opponent's swingman star. In the 2013 playoffs, he led the Pacers in points, assists and steals while defending Josh Smith, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.

    This is scary for the rest of the league because he hasn't yet reached his potential in either phase of the game.

3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Chris Paul is one of the most accomplished pure point guards in the game because he's a leader on both sides of the ball.

    He's a vocal presence for the Los Angeles Clippers when running the point and when backpedaling to prepare for a defensive possession. CP3 is a master at setting his squad up for high-percentage opportunities and he's nearly just as good at steering opponents away from quality chances.

    In the stat book, Paul's versatility and competitiveness is demonstrated in his constant placement near the top of the assists and steals leader boards. Few players can share the rock and take it away like he can.

    When we use the term "floor general," we tend to think primarily of a point guard's ability to run the team's offense. Paul reminds us that the phrase can also have meaning on defense.

2. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets

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    When healthy, Dwight Howard is the most dominant two-way big man in the Association.

    Not many players can score 25 points, rip down 15 rebounds and block three-to-five shots all in the same game. Howard has a chance to do that every time he laces up his sneakers.

    In the post, he's not smooth or highly advanced, but his size and explosiveness get the job done.

    While defending the post, he protects the rim by altering shots, and then prevents other scoring opportunities by cleaning the glass with ease.

    His offensive shortcomings deny him the top spot in the rankings, but he still deserves credit for being the highest-ranked post player on this list.

1. LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    There's a reason Miami Heat megastar LeBron James is head and shoulders above the rest of the world.

    He impacts every single aspect of the game on both ends of the floor. On offense, he can score from anywhere, use his physique to dominate or set up his teammates with extraordinary passing skills.

    As a defender, much of what he does isn't recorded in the box score. He chases opponents through screens, makes post-ups difficult and possesses the skill to defend all five positions.

    James owns back-to-back NBA titles, back-to-back MVPs and back-to-back 30-plus PERs. Oh, and he's the only person to earn All-Defensive first team honors each of the past five seasons. Case closed.