There can only be five.
That refers both to the number of positions in a typical NBA lineup and the number of players we're ranking at each of the spots. After going through the top five point guards in the league, we'll be moving on to shooting guards, and so on until reaching the No. 1 center in the league.
It's an exercise that we'll be running through each week of the season, so keep in mind that these will be heavily reactive to recent performances. Players will be free to jump around quite a bit, though not at the expense of logic.
Track record does matter as well, so let's go over two notable point guards. That way you can better understand the ranking process.
Derrick Rose is commonly viewed as one of the elite floor generals in basketball, but he entered the season mired in uncertainty. Unlike Kobe Bryant, who dominated last season but entered the year injured, Rose just missed an entire campaign.
So when he struggles at the beginning of the year, I'm going to react accordingly.
Rose has shot just 28.8 percent from the field, recorded a 1.89 PER and produced many more turnovers than assists. Other than one game-winning shot, one that wouldn't have been necessary if he'd played better throughout the other 47 minutes, he's been awful.
Rose has the potential to rise rather easily based on his track record, but the poor performance and uncertainty knock him out of the top five. For now.
On the flip side, take Michael Carter-Williams.
A historic debut and some nice follow-up performances have him looking like the greatest thing since sliced bread, but we're talking about a rookie who was thought of—almost universally—as a raw product who'd inevitably struggle during his first season.
A week of action is enough to gain him some nice press, but he's not going to sniff the top five. Yet.
As I said, these are reactive, but they're also steeped in reality and track records.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from ESPN and are current through Oct. 4.
Team: Washington Wizards
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.0 blocks, 18.4 PER
The dynamic point guard for the Washington Wizards has been every bit as good as advertised, though back issues have limited him during the early portion of the season. For example, he absolutely torched Michael Carter-Williams and the Philadelphia 76ers in the first half of a loss before sitting out portions of the game and losing effectiveness.
Most key for Wall has been the development of his jumper.
Now that he's knocking down the occasional three-pointer and looking deadly when he pulls up for a mid-range look, it's even tougher for defenders to stay in front of him.
Plus, things are only going to be scarier for the opposing team when he develops more chemistry with Bradley Beal (who he's only spent limited time with) and Marcin Gortat (who was acquired right before the season and is still learning all the rotations and plays that Washington likes to run).
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 18.5 PER
Russell Westbrook debuted much earlier than anticipated, and the results were undeniably positive, especially coming off an ugly loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Not only was the 24-year-old point guard just as explosive and aggressive as ever before (he drew two personal fouls on his very first possession), but he made Kevin Durant's job a whole hell of a lot easier.
Durant was coming off a 13-point outing and torched the Phoenix Suns for 33 points that reminded everyone of his 50/40/90 self. Why? Because Westbrook was taking the defensive pressure off him once more.
Sure, Westbrook shot only 5-of-16 from the field and turned the ball over four times. But the positives still outweighed the negatives, especially in a season debut after missing training camp and preseason.
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.0 blocks, 20.3 PER
Tony Parker's shot has been strangely inconsistent thus far, and that's enough to knock him out of the No. 2 spot that he's had on lockdown ever since a certain member of the Chicago Bulls injured his knee.
Against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Frenchman stepped up with 24 points and six assists on 12-of-18 shooting from the field, but that's been the lone bright spot so far when it comes to his scoring. While he's passing the ball tremendously, his trademark floaters haven't been finding the bottom of the net.
Plus, Parker's three-point-shooting performance against the Memphis Grizzlies—2-of-3 from downtown—hasn't looked like anything other than a fluke so far. He's attempted a combined two triples since then and misfired on both of them.
Parker is still an elite point guard, but no one is immune to slippages in these rankings.
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 27.4 PER
This is Stephen Curry's world, and we're just living in it.
Or at least that's what the baby-faced assassin would have you believe after absolutely dominating throughout the first week of the season. Forget about Kevin Durant's impressive 50/40/90 showing last year; Curry apparently wants to go 50/50/100.
Scarily enough, he's on pace to do so.
Through four games, Curry has shot 53.2 percent from the field, 50 percent beyond the three-point arc and has yet to miss a shot at the charity stripe. And it's not like he's doing so on relatively few attempts, as he's firing away from downtown nine times per game.
Plus, Curry isn't just a scorer. His 9.8 dimes per contest make that abundantly clear.
Defense is still a work in progress, but it's tough to argue with this floor general's offensive output.
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 13.3 assists, 3.3 steals, 0.0 blocks, 37.8 PER
No one in the NBA has been better than Chris Paul through the first week of NBA action, so it's not like he's losing the top spot. If anything, he's just securing his grip on the point guard crown and expanding his lead on the rest of the field.
CP3 has the league's best PER. He's the leader in assists per game, and no one else is even close. Only Kevin Durant is averaging more points per game. Oh, and he's doing that while shooting well over 50 percent from the field and jumping every passing lane that opens up near him.
Doc Rivers has instilled an attacking mentality in him, one that CP3 is maintaining from the opening tip until the final buzzer of the game.
We're finally getting to see what it's like when Paul gets fully unleashed and handed full control of the offense, and the Los Angeles Clippers have to be loving the results.
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.7 steals, 0.0 blocks, 19.2 PER
Monta Ellis has always been one of the most talented shooting guards in basketball, but the numbers have never reflected that because he has an infuriating tendency to avoid playing to his strengths. Is that suddenly changing?
Apparently, it is.
Ellis, for the first time in a long while, has begun to eschew the three-point looks that have caused him so much grief in the past. He's attacking the basket and actually playing efficient offensive basketball. Over the last few years, it's been tough to write "efficient" in a sentence about Ellis without a negative word accompanying it.
Now if only we could get him to play better defense. He's exerting himself more on that end of the court, but it's still telling that Dallas ranks just 23rd in defensive rating thus far, according to Basketball-Reference.
Honorable Mentions: Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Martin, O.J. Mayo
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.0 blocks, 22.7 PER
The gap between Klay Thompson and Monta Ellis is razor thin, and it's defense that is pushing the 23-year-old member of the Golden State Warriors into the No. 4 spot. Somewhat surprisingly, only three teams have boasted better defensive ratings than the Dubs during this young season, and the combined perimeter defense of Thompson and Andre Iguodala has played a large part.
But of course, Thompson has been pretty darn good at shooting as well.
Despite taking over six three-pointers per game, the Washington State product is connecting on 52 percent of his attempts from downtown. That puts him on pace for some historic numbers, and it seems possible that he and Stephen Curry finish No. 1 and No. 2 in three-pointers made this season, especially with Ryan Anderson missing extended time.
Thompson has to keep up his blazing percentages if he wants to fend off a red-hot Ellis, but that's by no means outside the realm of possibilities. As for rising up to No. 3, though? That's significantly more unlikely unless the current resident of that spot takes far longer than expected to return from his Achilles injury.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: N/A
Remember, we aren't basing these rankings solely off the results of the first week of the 2013-14 campaign, nor are we basing them entirely off the past.
It's a combination of the two, and that allows Kobe's reputation to keep him in the holy trinity of shooting guards. He was my preseason No. 1 at the position, but the fact that he hasn't yet played pushes him down below the other two elite 2-guards.
However, it's not enough to drop him entirely out of the top three. There was such a large gap between Kobe and the rest of the NBA's shooting guards, and one week isn't enough to close that quite yet.
Still, the Mamba has to return fairly soon in order to remain safe. Players who are out for too long won't last forever.
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks, 15.4 PER
While it's discouraging that Erik Spoelstra decided it was necessary to sit Dwyane Wade against the Philadelphia 76ers, it's likely that was more a decision based on the opponent than the state of the shooting guard's knees. The Miami Heat presumably didn't think they'd get such a test against the lowly Sixers.
What's undeniably encouraging is the fact that Wade has now dropped 20-plus points in three straight games (although the outing against the Toronto Raptors isn't being factored into his per-game stats yet).
Wade hasn't been doing much damage from the outside, but he's still making a huge impact with his trademark slashing instincts. He's been able to get to the line and finish around the rim, and it's abundantly clear—just as it was last year to anyone paying attention—that he's not declining, just experiencing a change in his role.
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.8 PER
Is there any doubt that James Harden is an elite offensive player?
In the past, we've looked at the bearded shooting guard as a remarkably efficient player because he could drill three-pointers and get to the free-throw line whenever he decided that he wanted to. But he never boasted a premier field-goal percentage.
Welp. So much for that.
Harden might not have caught fire beyond the arc yet, but he's hitting on 48.4 percent of his attempts from the field and getting to the charity stripe quite often. Add in some nice assist totals, and it's quite obvious that Harden is still putting up tremendous offensive numbers.
That has to get better, as Harden is benefiting from Wade's knees and Kobe's absence in his ascent to the No. 1 spot. This video is just embarrassing.
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, 19.3 PER
Wait, wasn't Andre Iguodala supposed to have two major flaws? In the past, the 29-year-old swingman has struggled tremendously whenever he's been asked to shoot three-pointers or make shots at the foul line.
However, he's been shooting the lights out of the gym from beyond the arc during his first few games in a Golden State Warriors uniform. After going 1-of-3 in each of the first three games, Iggy exploded with a 7-of-11 outing from downtown against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Oh, and he did this, which has to be the early-season favorite for Play of the Year. Iguodala has done it all, except for make shots from that pesky stripe right in between the paint and the three-point arc.
So maybe there's only one flaw.
Team: New York Knicks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 17.1 PER
I love the way that Carmelo Anthony is playing, but two things are working against him.
While he's passing the ball more than ever and looking to involve his teammates at the right times, they aren't making shots. Plus, Mike Woodson's offense is ridiculously simplistic and doesn't give him enough opportunities to do anything with the ball, especially when he gets the rock with just three seconds left on the shot clock.
According to NBA.com's statistical databases, 'Melo has earned 8.3 assist opportunities per game, defined as any pass leading to a shot that, if made, would have counted as an assisted basket. Essentially, it takes the shooting result out of the equation.
Of those 8.3, only 3.3 have resulted in dimes, and that's an unfortunately low percentage. To put that in perspective, Paul George has also earned 8.3 assist opportunities per contest, but his teammates have converted 4.3 of them each game.
Speaking of the comparison between George and 'Melo...
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 25.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks
Just to clarify, those per-game numbers are before Paul George exploded for another 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals against the overmatched Detroit Pistons.
Almost all of the flaws that existed in George's game have vanished.
He's still turning the ball over with far too much frequency, but his dribble looks tighter, and his shooting percentages are through the roof. He's scoring more points per game than Carmelo Anthony while shooting better percentages from the field and beyond the arc.
If George's scoring is more valuable, how is there any argument here? Sure, Anthony has more responsibilities heaped upon his shoulder, but the 23-year-old has been the main source of offensive output for Indiana while David West has struggled, and he's also better than 'Melo at both distributing and playing defense.
The latter isn't even close.
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 29.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 26.9 PER
Kevin Durant was a little bit exposed against the Minnesota Timberwolves when Russell Westbrook was out of the lineup. The 'Wolves threw Derrick Williams and Corey Brewer at him throughout the game, then decided to aid them as much as possible with plenty of help defense.
And it worked, as Durant was held to only 13 points.
But with Westbrook on the floor and drawing defensive attention, Durant is still a phenomenal basketball superstar. He finished the first week leading the league in scoring, and while his percentages wouldn't qualify him for the 50/40/90 club again, they're still pretty solid.
Throughout the postseason—both the victory against the Houston Rockets and the ensuing exit—Durant proved that he wasn't quite capable of going into what LeBron James once called "Cleveland mode." That showed again early this year before the dynamic floor general returned to action.
But hey, there's no shame in being the clear-cut No. 2.
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 23.5 PER
LeBron James hasn't been his typical MVP self thus far, but he hasn't slipped enough to lose his stranglehold over the No. 1 spot in any sane person's player rankings. Chris Paul, Paul George and Kevin Love have all been better than him thus far, but LeBron entered with so large a head start that he may as well have lapped the field.
So far, turnovers have been the Achilles' heel for the reigning MVP. He's coughed the ball up four times against the Philadelphia 76ers, five times against the Brooklyn Nets and six times against the Washington Wizards.
Even with his gaudy shooting numbers, that's going to hurt his overall impact.
LeBron is just rounding into form, though, and he started to show just how scary he's going to be with a two-end standout performance on Tuesday night. Against the Toronto Raptors while Chris Bosh was with his family for the birth of his third child, LeBron was just flat-out dominant.
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.0 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 20.5 PER
This is what we've all been waiting to see from Blake Griffin.
Not only is he attacking on offense instead of passively waiting for a teammate to create an easy look, but he's asserting himself in every other facet of the game as well.
Griffin is crashing the boards with newfound ferocity, finally putting his insane athleticism to use. He's making an undeniable effort on defense, rotating properly and trying to challenge every shot in his general vicinity.
It's safe to say that Doc Rivers has already had a big impact on Blake's game, and the results have been quite positive. No longer is the Los Angeles Clippers power forward content to be a dunker who occasionally dabbles in other types of basketball plays.
He's developing back into the star he was during his rookie season.
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.0 blocks, 24.7 PER
Dirk Nowitzki has played fantastic offensive basketball during the early portion of the 2013-14 season.
He's been particularly impressive from beyond the arc, shooting 58.3 percent on four attempts per game. Even for a great shooter like Dirk, those are incredible—and ultimately unsustainable—marks. His flamingo fadeaway has been working as well, especially because the threat of Monta Ellis slashing is in the back of every defender's mind.
However, go back and read the first sentence again.
The fact that the word was necessary is important, as it tacitly says Dirk's defense has been somewhat less than stellar. And by "somewhat," I mean "a lot."
Without making a positive two-way impact, Dirk can't work his way into the top three.
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.7 steals, 4.0 blocks, 32.1 PER
Am I overreacting to a few games? Maybe.
But Anthony Davis has been absolutely spectacular during the beginning of what should become his breakout campaign, and he's proving exactly why he was the No. 1 pick in a draft that also featured Damian Lillard. He's excelled in every facet of the game.
Davis has started to look like a guard playing power forward at times, and it's given him the ability to post absurd stat lines. Against the Charlotte Bobcats, he recorded 25 points, eight rebounds, four assists, six blocks and six steals, finishing a dime shy of the ever-elusive five-by-five. Oh, and he did that while shooting 69.2 percent from the field and going 7-of-8 from the stripe.
According to Basketball-Reference, only he and Hakeem Olajuwon have ever posted those counting stats, and The Dream was significantly more inefficient when he did so.
This kid—yes, kid, since he's 20 years old—is special.
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 25.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.0 blocks, 24.5 PER
LaMarcus Aldridge's ability to create offense just astounds me.
He's the master at finding openings with his mid-range game, and his falling-back, elevating jumper somehow always finds the bottom of the net. There's a reason that Aldridge has been one of the more underrated scorers in basketball over the last few years.
This season, he's been unleashed.
Playing with an actual NBA-caliber bench and a defensive center like Robin Lopez, Aldridge has been able to conserve energy for offense and just embarrass the defense to an even greater extent. Through the first three games of the season, he was averaging 25.7 points while shooting an insane 53.8 percent from the field.
Volume scorers aren't supposed to have a percentage that impressive, especially when they rely on creating looks from mid-range for so many of their buckets.
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.5 points, 14.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 29.0 PER
When the Minnesota Timberwolves found Kevin Love in a hopeless place on the wing for a game-tying three-pointer in the season opener against the Orlando Magic, it was just the finishing touch on the first of many spectacular games.
Love has been unbelievably good now that he's healthy, as he's resumed his dominant work on the boards while playing better offense than ever before. Although his three-point shot hasn't been falling with much consistency, Love is still shooting 47.1 percent from the field and averaging 26.5 points per game.
At one point, he even had the NBA scoring lead!
Even after a handful of outings, it's abundantly clear that last season was an aberration. Now that Love is healthy, he's regained his spot atop his position.
No doubt about it.
Team: Sacramento Kings
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.7 steals, 1.3 blocks, 26.1 PER
As scary as this is, DeMarcus Cousins has actually been playing defense in 2013-14.
That's been by far the biggest knock on Boogie during the first few years of his career, but he's both rotating better and actually trying under new head coach Mike Malone. I thought a lot of things would happen once he signed a max contract extension, and that wasn't at the top of the list.
The Sacramento Kings have also started running offense through the big man on every possession, and that's gone rather well thus far. He's shooting 47.2 percent from the field and doing a solid job minimizing his turnovers, especially since he often tries to make aggressive passes.
Cousins has a long way to go—maturity, defense, efficiency, etc.—but the signs are there, and the early results have been rather promising.
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 4.7 blocks, 16.1 PER
Let's say that Defensive Player of the Week was an actual award.
If Roy Hibbert didn't win after Week 1, it would be one of the biggest travesties in the history of this sport. He's been that remarkable so far.
Not only has Hibbert averaged a league-best 4.7 blocks per game (which will rise to 5.3 after we factor in his seven rejections against the Detroit Pistons), but he's also helped the Indiana Pacers remain the lone undefeated squad in the NBA thanks to a league-best 88.5 defensive rating, per Basketball-Reference.
And it gets better still.
NBA.com's statistical databases show that Hibbert has allowed only 22.2 percent of shots taken at the rim to fall through the bottom of the net. Among players facing five attempts per game at the hoop, that's the best mark in the league.
Rim-protector. Shot-blocker. Whatever you want to call him, it's a positive.
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 18.9 PER
Somewhat shockingly, the Memphis Grizzlies defense hasn't been playing very well.
Basketball-Reference has it checking in with a defensive rating of 105.7, which ranks the team No. 20 among the 30 teams in the Association. But is it the fault of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year?
It's hard to say this early on, but Gasol hasn't been all that impressive. He isn't recording possession-ending stats (defensive rebounds, steals and blocks) at elite levels, and NBA.com's statistical database has him allowing opposing players to shoot 60 percent at the rim.
Gasol's offensive numbers have been impressive, but he just isn't preventing points like he used to. And since that's where such a large part of his value is derived, he can no longer continue to fluctuate between the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.
It's time for a slight fall, though this can be easily remedied in the coming weeks.
Team: Atlanta Hawks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.0 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.3 steals, 2.0 blocks, 19.1 PER
Is there anything that Al Horford can't do?
According to Basketball-Reference, only two players in the NBA are averaging at least two points, two rebounds, 1.5 assists, two steals and two blocks per game. You can probably guess one is the big man for the Atlanta Hawks, especially since you can see his stats up above.
The other is Anthony Davis.
Horford might not be the most glamorous scorer, although he's an efficient one. He just does everything for the Hawks, and he functions as the hub of the offense and the centerpiece of the defense night in and night out. There's inherent value in that, especially since Horford fills up the stat sheet as well.
If only he could hit triples. Then he truly would do everything.
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 15.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.5 blocks, 18.1 PER
While Dwight Howard has struggled to keep the Houston Rockets defense afloat and is infuriatingly ineffective defending the rim right now, he's still been so good on the glass and such a solid offensive player that he still holds on to the No. 1 spot.
No player has rebounded the ball better than D12, who got off to a great start with a 26-board outing against the Charlotte Bobcats in his debut for the Rockets. While he hasn't come close to matching that, he's still posted a double-double in three of his first five outings.
But what's been most impressive is his offensive confidence. He's thrived running pick-and-rolls with the guards and posting up, and he's actually been competent from the charity stripe.
After Tuesday night's 9-of-12 performance against the Portland Trail Blazers, Howard is shooting 56.3 percent from the stripe.
How's that for improvement?