Ranking Top 5 NBA Players at Every Position Entering Mid-November
It's time for some new blood in the rankings of the top five NBA players at each position.
Now that we have more than just a handful of games to work with, there are a few new players working their way into featured spots, especially because last week's edition contained so many established players who were getting by on reputation.
That said, reputation does still matter here. No one in the NBA has played even 10 games at the time of publication, so performance in 2012-13 is still aiding the analysis.
It's important not to get too carried away with hot and cold starts, although the week-to-week nature of these rankings naturally promotes more of a reactive feel. Players like Markieff Morris are able to work their way into the honorable mentions, for example, but they still need to maintain their elite-level success for longer to get into the top five at their respective positions.
So, how many players from your favorite team earned featured spots? Did the guys you root for move up? Did they fall down?
You'll have to read on to find out.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise specified, come from ESPN.com and are accurate as of Tuesday, Nov. 12.
Point Guard No. 5: Russell Westbrook (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.0 blocks, 1.8 steals, 12.71 PER
Russell Westbrook has struggled to play efficient basketball since returning from arthroscopic surgery, but that hasn't stopped him from being an effective point guard.
It's the 24-year-old floor general's job to be aggressive. When he's attacking the hoop and making sure that defenses are constantly on their heels, things get less difficult for Kevin Durant. That's why it's easy to live with his low field-goal percentage, while it's tougher to deal with the same thing from Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose, for example.
That said, Westbrook is in danger of falling out of the rankings. If his shot doesn't start falling with some degree of frequency while he takes better care of the ball, then you can forget about seeing his picture in a featured spot next week.
The period of leniency is over now that he's suited up a handful of times.
Point Guard No. 4: Damian Lillard (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.7 steals, 21.05 PER
Don't be fooled by Damian Lillard's sub-40 percent shooting from the field. That's a complete and utter mirage.
Not only is it dragged down immensely by his 1-of-15 outing against the Sacramento Kings, but it's also made up for by his three-point shooting and work at the charity stripe.
Lillard is shooting a scorching 45.5 percent from beyond the three-point arc, a number greatly aided by his incredible ability to pull up with the ball in his hands. He's also knocking down 84.1 percent of his free-throw attempts while taking 6.3 per game.
Portland's decision to give him more rest is working out quite nicely, especially as the wins continue to pile up. He's matured into a leader and an adequate defender, which is a far cry from the level he reached on the less glamorous end during his rookie season.
Point Guard No. 3: Stephen Curry (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.8 steals, 24.27 PER
An injured left ankle knocked Stephen Curry out of one game last week and limited his effectiveness in his return to action against the Memphis Grizzlies and their improving-by-the-game defense. When the top of the point guard field is this close, that's enough to drop down a spot.
What's truly crazy is his three-point shooting. Surprise, surprise.
After a three-game stretch in which he shot 6-of-22 from beyond the arc, Curry is now hitting "only" 44.9 percent of his three-point attempts. And he's taking 8.2 per game.
Those are simply inhuman numbers, especially when coupled with elite assist numbers and an increasing level of effectiveness on the defensive end.
Point Guard No. 2: Tony Parker (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.6 steals, 22.25 PER
Any concerns about consistent shooting can just be thrown out the window.
Tony Parker has been on fire lately, and it's a major reason that the San Antonio Spurs don't understand how to lose games even while Tim Duncan sits out/remains relatively ineffective. Over his last five games, he's shooting a scorching 60.6 percent from the field, even if he's been unable to hit three-pointers (as always) or free-throws (surprisingly).
Going into the season, there were some concerns that Parker might decline. Point guards tend to take steps backward when they hit 31, but declining athleticism isn't problematic for the French floor general.
He's just that smart, both with the ball in his hands and when he's letting someone else control the rock.
Point Guard No. 1: Chris Paul (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 12.4 assists, 0.0 blocks, 2.9 steals, 28.54 PER
Chris Paul is no longer a point guard; he's a point god.
Yes, CP3 has just gotten that good, and there's currently a chasm separating him from the rest of the 1-guards in the NBA. Even if he were to miss his next 30 shots and go three games without recording an assist, he has enough of a cushion that he'd probably stay in the No. 1 spot.
Over his last five games, Paul has taken a step back as a scorer, but he's continuing to facilitate better than anyone else in the Association. He's averaged 12.6 dimes per game, highlighted by a 17-assist outing against the Houston Rockets.
Through eight games, Paul has yet to record anything less than a double-double.
Shooting Guard No. 5: Monta Ellis (Previous Ranking: No. 5)
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.0 blocks, 1.9 steals, 19.33 PER
It's hard not to love this new version of Monta Ellis.
So much for him shooting too much, picking the wrong shots and frustrating analytic minds all over the country. Instead, Ellis continues to play smart basketball.
He's continuing to take fewer three-pointers as the season progresses, choosing instead to use his actual talents and attack the basket. Once he does that, Ellis has the ability either to finish through or around a contest, or to dish the ball off to an open teammate.
Games like his 30-point, nine-assist outing against the Los Angeles Lakers aren't going to be too infrequent. And he'll have to keep playing like this, as despite his excellence, he's in danger of falling victim to one of the many up-and-comers.
Plus, Kobe Bryant is eventually going to come back.
Honorable Mentions: Arron Afflalo, Bradley Beal, Kobe Bryant, Lance Stephenson, Dion Waiters
Shooting Guard No. 4: Kevin Martin (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.0 blocks, 1.4 steals, 23.22 PER
Is Kevin Martin's hot start to the season going to last?
Probably not, as we're likely seeing something similar to what O.J. Mayo did last year with the Dallas Mavericks. A combination of being in a new place and just catching fire from the outside is making for an unbelievable start to the season.
But still, let's have fun with this while it's still happening. After all, Martin has been just sensational thus far.
He's shooting an unsustainable 55.8 percent from beyond the three-point arc, asserting himself as the 2-guard that Minnesota has been looking for without any success over the last few years. That floor-spacing ability is just something special, especially when paired with a power forward like Kevin Love.
Shooting Guard No. 3: Klay Thompson (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.3 steals, 19.18 PER
Klay Thompson has developed into more than just a shooter, but it's still his ability to knock down the three-ball that makes him such a special player.
Yes, he's attacking the basket more often.
It's true that his perimeter defense is only getting better and playing a large part in making the Golden State Warriors into a defensive juggernaut.
But still, it's all about the shooting from beyond the three-point arc. Over the last five games, he's picked up for the slack left by Stephen Curry's ankle, shooting 6.2 three-pointers per game and making 45.2 percent of them.
This half of the Splash Brothers is worthy of being called Curry's other half.
Shooting Guard No. 2: James Harden (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 0.9 blocks, 2.3 steals, 21.70 PER
It's safe to blame the recent lack of production on James Harden's foot problems.
He hasn't been healthy enough to practice on a consistent basis, and he's had trouble beating players to the basket offensively. And without the help of his slashing, it's harder for him to make an impact from the outside.
During the last three games, Harden has yet to top 40 percent shooting, and he's gone a combined 6-of-24 from three-point land. His lack of efficient offensive production has been enough to depress the Houston Rockets' overall winning percentage as well, especially because the team is just so dependent on his scoring.
Harden and the No. 1 shooting guard are in a class of their own (one that will be joined by Kobe Bryant if he can regain his pre-injury form when returning from that torn Achilles), and they're close enough that a stretch of bad games can cause the order to flip-flop.
Shooting Guard No. 1: Dwyane Wade (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.7 blocks, 2.0 steals, 19.97 PER
Dwyane Wade has been incredibly efficient, even if he hasn't been scoring in volume lately.
Not only has he shot 50 percent or better in four of his past five games—including a 13-of-22 outing against the Los Angeles Clippers—but he's also distributing the ball like a point guard. He's averaged 5.8 dimes per game during that same stretch.
Turnovers have been a little problematic for Wade, but they're still not enough to prevent his rise up to No. 1 in the shooting guard rankings. It's a spot that could be cemented if he either shows more care for the ball or starts hustling more on defense.
While he's still a much better defender than his bearded counterpart, he's been caught looking far too often on that end of the court.
Small Forward No. 5: Andre Iguodala (Previous Ranking: No. 5)
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.4 blocks, 2.1 steals, 18.39 PER
Jackson said that Andre Iguodala would assume some of the backup point guard minutes behind starter Stephen Curry and that second-year man Kent Bazemore would be the next option, with rookie Nemanja Nedovic also a possibility.
You know, Iguodala the small forward. That one.
His versatility is staggering on offense, and it's just as impressive on the other end of the court. Iggy has been a remarkable spark plug when preventing points, and he's one of the main reasons that the Dubs now boast the No. 3 defensive rating in the NBA, per Basketball-Reference.
Honorable Mentions: Nicolas Batum, Jeff Green, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kawhi Leonard, Evan Turner
Small Forward No. 4: Carmelo Anthony (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: New York Knicks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.8 steals, 20.33 PER
Carmelo Anthony has apparently abandoned the burdensome task of heavily involving his slumping teammates.
In some ways, it's a positive. No one else on the New York Knicks has been a steady source of offense, and he was wasting so many of his touches by trying to create for others. Plus, he's been hitting his shots and getting more time to work before the shot clock expires.
But on the other hand, it's taking away from his already lackluster defense and isn't as sustainable a type of offensive production.
This whole season will be fascinating for 'Melo, yet he may remain stuck in this No. 4 spot for a long time. As long as the No. 3 guy keeps balling, he's safe there, and no one else is really close to breaking into the upper echelon of small forwards.
Small Forward No. 3: Paul George (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.5 steals, 25.92 PER
The only word that can be used to describe Paul George right now is "balling."
After all, that's what he's been doing in every facet of the game. He's showing off an abundance of skills and nerves of steel. Against the Brooklyn Nets, George drilled big shot after big shot as he kept Indiana ahead and undefeated.
If you took George off this Pacers squad, there's a great chance it would be below .500. With him, though, the Pacers are 8-0, the lone undefeated team left in the NBA.
He's been that valuable.
Small Forward No. 2: Kevin Durant (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 30.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.7 steals, 28.88 PER
Kevin Durant is back.
Without Russell Westbrook, he was a little bit exposed, to the point that I was seriously considering moving Chris Paul into the No. 2 spot in my overall player rankings. But with his point guard back and running the show, Durant is once more safe in the slot he's occupied for a while now.
During his last two games, the Oklahoma City Thunder's superstar has averaged 35 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game while shooting 21-of-38 from the field.
That's not just All-Star territory. Those kind of numbers will get Durant back into the thick of the MVP race if he can maintain anything even remotely close to that.
Small Forward No. 1: LeBron James (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.7 steals, 26.32 PER
This is where the cushion comes into play.
LeBron James has been outplayed by both Kevin Durant and Paul George during the early portion of the season, but he was so far ahead of the rest of the field that it doesn't matter. If that's a continuing trend for a few more weeks, then we'll have to start thinking about a shakeup.
Thinking, but not necessarily acting.
Although the reigning MVP has been shooting the stripes off the ball with a blistering 57.9 percent from the field, he's not making the defensive impact we've become accustomed to. Nor is he asserting himself as often on offense, likely a result of his balky back.
It's crazy that this is a lackluster start to the season for LeBron. He's just that good.
Power Forward No. 5: Dirk Nowitzki (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.3 steals, 19.08 PER
Dirk Nowitzki needs his shot to start falling, or else he's going to slip into the honorable mentions. Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, David Lee and Paul Millsap are all getting quite close to breaking into the top five, and while Markieff Morris has to prove that he's not just on an unsustainable hot streak, he isn't far either.
Starting with the 123-104 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, Dirk has shot only 40.9 percent from the field. And it's not like he's making up for it elsewhere.
The big German power forward is knocking down 28.6 percent of his attempts beyond the arc. Additionally, he's not getting to the charity stripe enough for his 94.1 percent shooting there to make a big impact.
Dirk has almost ceded control of the offense to Monta Ellis, which is a sign that the end might be coming soon for this 7-footer.
Honorable Mentions: Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, David Lee, Paul Millsap, Markieff Morris
Power Forward No. 4: Blake Griffin (Previous Ranking: No. 5)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.0 steals, 22.02 PER
This is the Blake Griffin that we've been waiting to see ever since he broke out during his rookie season and put together one of the best first professional go-arounds of all time.
Not only is he finally trying on defense—the Los Angeles Clippers have been incredibly porous, but that's not due to a lack of effort from Griffin—but he's also making a concerted effort to crash the boards and is flashing a lot of improvements on offense.
He's been using more post moves than ever before, as relying on the vaunted spin is a thing of the past. Plus, he's more confident with his mid-range jumper, firing away without hesitation, which is drawing defensive attention away from Chris Paul.
It's almost as though Griffin has been reading about why he was supposedly overrated.
Power Forward No. 3: LaMarcus Aldridge (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.9 blocks, 0.9 steals, 21.14 PER
LaMarcus Aldridge's big season continues to roll along rather steadily.
Although he's had bad(ish) shooting percentages at times, he's still making huge impacts each and every time he takes to the court. Think about it this way.
These are his worst games of the past handful.
Against the Houston Rockets, Aldridge went for 21 points and five rebounds, shooting 9-of-19 from the field. Four games later, the power forward dropped 18 points on 8-of-19 shooting, and he also managed to record 12 rebounds and four dimes.
That's as bad as it gets.
Aldridge is a major part of the reason that Rip City is exceeding the expectations, and the newfound lack of pressure on him is going to ensure that he maintains the success throughout the season.
Power Forward No. 2: Anthony Davis (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.7 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 3.9 blocks, 2.3 steals, 29.52 PER
Anthony Davis is going to be a superstar.
He's still prone to the occasional off-night, but how many players can make such a large impact in so many ways?
During any given game, the Unibrow can explode for 20-plus points, crash the boards with the best of them, dazzle opponents with a developing guard-like game (ball-handling and jumpers) and play defense quite well. And by quite well, I mean he's defending the rim as well as anyone not named Roy Hibbert while racking up blocks and steals.
Any guess how many players are averaging at least two blocks and two steals per game this year?
Just one. Davis.
And he's averaging 3.9 and 2.3.
Power Forward No. 1: Kevin Love (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.4 points, 15.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.6 steals, 29.24 PER
If you took the worst counting stats from each of his past five games, Kevin Love would record 17 points, 13 rebounds and three assists. No big deal, right?
Love is a double-double machine, recording one each and every time he's suited up for the Minnesota Timberwolves. And he's only getting better and better as he rounds back into form. Against the Los Angeles Clippers, he almost recorded his first 20-20 game of the season, falling just one rebound shy but adding seven assists to the 'Wolves' cause.
Speaking of assists, his passing is just superb after corralling a board. There's a solid chance that he's the best outlet passer since Bill Walton back in the 1970s, and the ridiculous full-court chest passes look remarkably easy.
Defense is still a work in progress, but every other aspect of Love's game is just on another level right now.
Center No. 5: Marc Gasol (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.9 steals, 18.11 PER
Marc Gasol is adjusting.
Under Dave Joerger, he isn't as confident in the defensive system, which is a problem for such a cerebral player. He was used to knowing where to move before he had to shift over, and that hasn't been the case in 2013-14. But it's changing.
Now it's time for the rest of his game to follow suit.
Gasol hasn't been finding his shot consistently, and he's making less of an impact with his passing than ever before. It's almost as though the focus is less on getting him the ball as an offensive hub, and that could explain why the Memphis Grizzlies have been underwhelming.
Again, he's adjusting. He'll likely move back up in the coming weeks.
Honorable Mentions: Andre Drummond, Spencer Hawes, Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe, Nikola Vucevic
Center No. 4: DeMarcus Cousins (Previous Ranking: No. 5)
- He has trouble maintaining composure on the court, something that guys like Chris Paul have attempted to take advantage of (see: flopping).
- He doesn't shoot a high percentage from the field, as his shot selection isn't at the level it should be.
- Defense isn't in his vocabulary.
Team: Sacramento Kings
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.2 blocks, 2.2 steals, 27.89 PER
There have always been three main knocks on DeMarcus Cousins:
So far, he's been getting better at preventing points, but not by much. It's the second part that is really allowing him to take the next step forward.
Cousins is attacking the hoop and using his physicality to his advantage more than he has in the past, and it's resulted in more efficient play. He's shooting 49.1 percent from the field throughout the 2013-14 season, and he's hit 48.9 percent over the last five games.
Now if only he could help the Kings win a game or two.
Center No. 3: Brook Lopez (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Brooklyn Nets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 2.3 blocks, 0.8 steals, 26.93 PER
I don't want to talk about Brook Lopez's offense. We all know just how good that is, and he's at the same level he's been at over the last year whenever healthy.
I also don't want to talk about his rebounding. It's just as bad as ever.
Instead, let's focus on his defense, as Lopez has taken noticeable strides on that end of the court.
Early in his career, he was terrible and completely porous on the less glamorous side. Big men routinely abused him, and he made no strides in that department. In 2012-13, he became more of an instinctive shot-blocker, and now he's taken the next step.
According to NBA.com's statistical databases, he's facing 9.5 shots per game at the rim, more than all but seven players in the league. But on those attempts, he's holding opponents to just 33.3 percent shooting. Among all players facing at least five shots per game, only Anthony Davis, Joakim Noah and Tim Duncan are allowing lower percentages.
How's that for improvement?
Center No. 2: Al Horford (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Atlanta Hawks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.3 blocks, 1.9 steals, 23.56 PER
Al Horford is a jack of all trades.
Not only is he continuing to score with a marvelous combination of volume and efficiency—18.9 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting—but he does everything else on the court.
He functions as a hub for an Atlanta Hawks offense that is on pace to have one of the highest assist percentages of all time. Almost every field goal made is the result of a pass, and Jeff Teague isn't hoarding all of the dimes.
Plus, Horford has been better than ever on defense this year. He's swatting shots with remarkable frequency for a player with his size and limited athletic ability, and he's still jumping passing lanes and displaying his quick hands quite frequently.
Horford may not be a glamorous player, but he doesn't need to be flashy to be effective.
Center No. 1: Dwight Howard (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 14.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.9 blocks, 0.4 steals, 18.68 PER
Dwight Howard is eating up rebounds like they're candy.
After a 24-board outing against the Toronto Raptors, he's in the league lead among centers for rebounds per game once more, checking in just a hair shy of 15 per contest. Sure, many of them are uncontested and he receives an inordinate number of rebound opportunities, but there's a reason the Houston Rockets put him in position to crash the glass on every possession.
Howard isn't nearly as versatile as Al Horford on offense, but the difference on the boards and defense pushes him over the top.
However, unless he takes more initiative on offense, the gap between him and the rest of the centers in the NBA will continue to shrink.