Ranking the Top 5 NBA Players at Every Position Entering 2014
The ball drops about a billion times during the NBA season, but there's one rather significant ball drop as the clocks hit midnight and transition from the 2013 portion of the 2013-14 campaign to the one that takes place in 2014.
We leave behind a year that's seen LeBron James solidify his place atop the rankings, regardless of position. The 12 months that have allowed Stephen Curry, Paul George, Anthony Davis, John Wall, Damian Lillard and many others to emerge as stars are gone, and there's no telling what the new ones will usher in.
Maybe the 25 players occupying the featured spots in this article will hold steady throughout the year (probably not). Maybe the guys in the honorable mentions will start earning them, supplanting their more seasoned and better counterparts.
Maybe we have no idea who the studs will be by the time we're looking back on 2014, just as we're currently doing with 2013.
Regardless, the rankings have changed since the last edition, and they'll probably do the same thing next time we glance at the top five at each position.
Stagnancy usually just isn't an option in the NBA.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and ESPN and are current as of Dec. 31.
Point Guard No. 5: Tony Parker (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.6 steals, 19.88 PER
As efficient as Tony Parker is playing, he isn't heavily involved in the San Antonio Spurs offense. Well, he is, just not to the extent that he has been in the past.
San Antonio runs the ball through so many different players, especially now that Gregg Popovich has allowed Kawhi Leonard to use an increasingly large number of possessions on a nightly basis. As a result, Parker is averaging "only" 18 points and six dimes per game.
Over the last five games, he's been scoring a lot, putting up 19 points per contest. But he's also dropping off just 5.6 assists per game while turning the ball over more than he typically does.
Parker isn't declining, but he's been unable to take over many games for the Spurs now that he's 31 years old and playing on another impressive basketball team. Then again, that might be a good thing, as it's a testament to just how good this San Antonio squad is.
And hey, given the field of point guards, it's tough enough just to hold down a spot in the top five.
Point Guard No. 4: Damian Lillard (Previous Ranking: No. 5)
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.8 steals, 20.16 PER
Damian Lillard might not be the driving force behind the Portland Trail Blazers' ascension into the elite realm of the Western Conference, but he's still been a major part of the rise.
Few point guards are capable of creating offense like Lillard does.
He's not particularly good at finishing shots around the basket—even though there's sometimes the perception that he is, due to the sheer volume of the shots he's able to create for himself in the paint—but he still scores over 21 points per game because his jumper is that good.
Off the dribble, spotting up, coming off a screen.
It doesn't matterLillard thrives.
Now if he can just get the efficiency numbers to climb up as he starts playing better defense. Then he'll be a true threat to the point guard throne.
Point Guard No. 3: John Wall (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Washington Wizards
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 0.4 blocks, 2.1 steals, 20.93 PER
John Wall just keeps getting better and better.
First, look at his per-game numbers over the course of the season. Impressive, right?
Over his last five outings, the Washington Wizards floor general is averaging 23.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 0.4 blocks and 1.8 steals per game. On top of that, his seasonal shooting percentages are up to 50 percent from the field, 33.3 percent beyond the arc and 89.7 percent from the stripe during the same stretch.
Wall can't be stopped, and every game he suits up for is just turning into another brick in what's becoming an increasingly impressive season.
Amazingly enough, he still hasn't developed a consistent jumper. Most of his deep attempts clang off the rim, but he can still blow by defenders and get into the teeth of the defense.
As good as he's been, just imagine what he could do if he develops one.
Point Guard No. 2: Stephen Curry (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.9 steals, 23.32 PER
Stephen Curry is such a good shooter that he can shoot 41.3 percent from beyond the three-point arc and have it considered a relatively disappointing season.
Think about that for a second.
Forty percent is typically the benchmark for bursting into the elite range. Curry is beating that by a fairly sizable margin, and it's still nowhere near to the best he can do.
So, like any smart basketball player, the Davidson product has adapted.
Over his past five games, Curry is averaging 10.6 assists per game, cementing his burgeoning reputation as one of the best passers in basketball. On the season, he's produced 9.6 dimes per contest, leaving him as the NBA's No. 2 in that category.
Not bad for a guy who used to be thought of as only a shooter.
Point Guard No. 1: Chris Paul (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 11.3 assists, 0.1 blocks, 2.5 steals, 27.35 PER
Even in a loss, Chris Paul put it all on display against the Portland Trail Blazers.
With 34 points, he showed that he was fully capable of torching another elite point guard. During that contest, he made 16 of his 29 shots from the field, including a 2-of-3 performance from downtown on a night when he couldn't buy a foul call and made only a single trip to the stripe.
Were 34 points enough?
Of course not, as CP3 also added 16 assists to his line. And for good measure, he swiped the ball away six times, leaving no doubt that he was still the two-way master.
There's Paul, then there's a gap, then there's the rest of the point guards in the NBA.
It's been that way for a while, and it ain't changing anytime soon.
Shooting Guard No. 5: Tyreke Evans (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.3 steals, 19.00 PER
Does anyone understand what Tyreke Evans' position is?
The Sacramento Kings certainly didn't during the first stop of his career, and the New Orleans Pelicans don't have it figured out either. Since he's played at point guard, shooting guard and small forward, we may as well average it out, calling him a 2-guard and giving him a featured spot among a group of players that has largely failed to shine.
Evans finally has it all clicking after a rough start to his career in the Bayou and a subsequent injury.
Following up a 25-point, 12-assist performance against the Sacramento Kings with a 19-point, 10-dime outing against the Denver Nuggets, Evans is breaking out in a big way. And as long as he doesn't stop attacking the basket and avoids getting caught up in the glamour of the three-ball, he'll keep it up.
Honorable Mentions: DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Martin, Wesley Matthews, Lance Stephenson, Klay Thompson
Shooting Guard No. 4: Monta Ellis (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.8 steals, 17.86 PER
There are signs that Monta Ellis is starting to revert to his old ways. Fortunately they're only signs, which doesn't mean it's anything more than a brief slump.
Over his last five games, the 28-year-old shooting guard has shot just 38.8 percent from the field, which is eerily reminiscent of the inefficient time he spent with both the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks earlier in his career. Fortunately, he's also averaging seven assists per game over the same stretch.
Recently, that's been the trend with Ellis. There's a negative, but there's also a corresponding positive.
It's different from what we saw from Ellis earlier in the year, when everything was an overwhelming positive, but it's still better than the Mavericks could possibly have expected when they originally inked him to a new contract.
Shooting Guard No. 3: Arron Afflalo (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Orlando Magic
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.7 steals, 19.95 PER
Arron Afflalo refuses to cool off.
Now shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 44.8 percent from beyond the three-point arc, Afflalo is actually getting those numbers to trend in a positive direction. Over the last five games of 2013, the—in my opinion—leading Most Improved Player candidate has respective percentages of 56.2 and 57.9.
Again, he just refuses to cool off.
While it's not resulting in much success for the Orlando Magic, Afflalo's emergence has made him into a valuable commodity. He's not far removed from being viewed as a high-potential 2-guard for the Denver Nuggets, and whether he's a trade chip or a featured player well into the future, this breakout is certainly a positive.
Unless he cools off.
Shooting Guard No. 2: James Harden (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.3 steals, 20.59 PER
James Harden's ankle is treating him very unkindly.
Not only did he miss a little bit of time—both by sitting out a few games and receiving more limited run when active—but he hasn't been particularly effective when on the floor. During his last four games, the bearded 2-guard has averaged 17.6 points and 3.2 assists per contest, well shy of his typical averages.
On top of that, he's shot only 44.2 percent from the field, relying even more heavily on his contributions from the free-throw line. You know, like that 25-shot outing from the stripe that was painful to watch.
Harden has almost fallen out of favor during the 2013-14 campaign.
No one is as thrilled with his beard and offensive contributions now that they aren't novel, and it's becoming increasingly clear that he refuses to play much defense. His spot among the elite trio (only two members are present thanks to the Kobe Bryant injury) isn't completely locked down anymore.
Shooting Guard No. 1: Dwyane Wade (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.6 blocks, 2.0 steals, 22.63 PER
When Dwyane Wade plays, he's excelled for the Miami Heat, especially when playing against the Western Conference.
Unfortunately, that first clause is still necessary.
D-Wade's knees have kept him out of action surprisingly often, but they aren't seeming to hinder him much as soon as he gets out onto the court in his red-and-black uniform. Wade is playing incredibly efficient basketball, shooting 54.3 percent from the field. He's completely passing up shots from the downtown area, thriving instead on his mid-range jumpers and post-up attempts.
Obviously it's working for Miami, as the defending champions continue to sit right up there with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference standings.
Despite missing time, Wade has created a rather large gap between himself and the rest of the shooting guards in the NBA, simply because he's one of the few players who actually bothers to make contributions on both ends of the court.
Small Forward No. 5: Chandler Parsons (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.1 steals, 17.68 PER
Hair or no hair, Chandler Parsons continues to play great, well-rounded basketball for the Houston Rockets.
If this team is going to become one of the true contenders in the Western Conference, the onus is on Parsons. Dwight Howard will provide consistent play on both ends of the court. James Harden will be a fantastic offensive performer who steadfastly refuses to play defense.
Parsons can fill in the gaps.
He's done so thus far, and he's picking up his scoring contributions as the season wears on. During his last five outings, the small forward has averaged 18.2 points per game, doing so while making over half of his shots from the field, providing a steady dose of outside shooting and knocking down nearly all of his shots at the foul stripe.
Honorable Mentions: Nicolas Batum, Rudy Gay, Tobias Harris, Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner
Small Forward No. 4: Carmelo Anthony (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Carmelo Anthonys New York Knicks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.0 steals, 23.79 PER
Carmelo Anthony has reached and exceeded the boiling point.
After missing multiple games with an ankle injury and watching his New York Knicks drop three more games, 'Melo took to Twitter and made the ugly mistake of replying to a pot-stirring fan on Twitter.
You can view the exchange here, but do note that you probably shouldn't be at work if you do so.
While Anthony is taking out his frustration in an unacceptable way, it's still understandable that he's frustrated with his teammates. The reigning scoring champ is actually having a good season, even if his teammates are struggling around him and the New York brass has completely failed to build a working roster.
Anthony is averaging 26.3 points per game, a number topped by only Kevin Love and Kevin Durant, and he's doing so while shooting 44.7 percent from the field. Sure, he could shoot less, but that would only be beneficial if his teammates were capable of hitting the broad side of a barn.
Small Forward No. 3: Paul George (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, 2.1 steals, 24.11 PER
So continues the rise of Paul George.
He's consistently highlighted individual aspects of his game, showcasing them for lengthy stretches of the season until there's absolutely no doubt they should be considered strengths. Lately, it's been his scoring that has become most impressive.
In addition to his excellent defense, PG just can't be stopped by any point-preventing units.
Check out this stretch of five games heading into the new year:
The only true blemish there is the most recent performance, the one against the Cavaliers. Due to his insistence on shooting three-pointers, he just couldn't maintain his typical levels of efficiency.
But that's an aberration, which is a clear indication that George is becoming a consistently excellent scorer.
Small Forward No. 2: Kevin Durant (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 28.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.9 blocks, 1.5 steals, 28.38 PER
Don't look now, but Kevin Durant is pretty darn close to joining Steve Nash and Larry Bird as the repeat members of the 50/40/90 club.
Thanks to his stellar performances at the end of 2013—even the brief portion of the year that came after Russell Westbrook was lost until the All-Star break—he's on the verge of topping the percentages once more.
His field-goal percentage? 49.6 percent on the season, and 50.5 percent over the last five games.
His three-point percentage? 42.6 percent on the season, and 43.3 percent over the last five games.
His free-throw percentage? 88.1 percent on the season, and 88.9 percent over the last five games.
Not too shabby.
You could even call it Durantian if you so please.
Small Forward No. 1: LeBron James (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 25.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.3 steals, 29.66 PER
LeBron James is human, as we learned when an ankle injury actually made him miss a game.
But then he reminded us that he might still be superhuman. As the Associated Press wrote, via USA Today, "James returned from a groin injury on his birthday and wasted no time finding his shooting touch." During the game, he showed exactly what makes him even better than he's ever been: that shooting touch.
The birthday boy, who has notoriously chased shooting percentages throughout his career, was forced into taking a bunch of shots from beyond the arc, and he finished with a 5-of-9 performance. Now he's shooting 41.5 percent beyond the arc on the season.
LeBron just keeps getting better and becoming more of a complete basketball player. It's increasingly difficult to find flaws in his game, and it's terrifying to think of the damage he could do when opponents decide to gift him shots from the perimeter.
If he's making them, what else can you do?
Power Forward No. 5: Dirk Nowitzki (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.0 steals, 23.49 PER
Dirk Nowitzki is just as confused as you are. He doesn't understand why he's dropping down two spots in the rankings, especially as he's continued to play great offensive basketball for the Dallas Mavericks.
But, if you and he think carefully about the previous sentence, the answer is in the text.
As good as Dirk has been scoring the ball alongside Monta Ellis, he doesn't bring all that much else to the table. He's not emerged as a superb passer (a great one, yes, but not quite superb), he doesn't make much of a defensive impact, and his rebounding is rather limited.
Anyone who has played fantasy basketball in any capacity will tell you that points are rather easy to come by. Without providing anything else for the Mavericks, it's tough for him to remain up at No. 3 given the return of an elite power forward and the continued excellence of another.
Power Forward No. 4: Blake Griffin (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 steals, 21.15 PER
It might seem weird that Blake Griffin is ranked ahead of Dirk Nowitzki, but free your mind.
Not only is the Los Angeles Clippers big man scoring more points per game, he's doing so with a higher shooting percentage from the field. Oh, and he's averaging more assists and way more rebounds during the average contest.
Griffin is just a more well-rounded player, even at this young stage of his sure-to-be-impressive career. That's especially true now that Doc Rivers has him playing better defense, positioning himself in the right spots and making up for his T-Rex arms with better fundamentals.
Plus, he's really good at dunking.
For the love of all that is good and right in this world, stop calling Griffin overrated. He's not, and it's time that you start with a clean slate and actually enjoy watching this phenomenal forward ply his trade.
Power Forward No. 3: Anthony Davis (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 3.2 blocks, 1.5 steals, 27.29 PER
The New Orleans Pelicans must like having Anthony Davis back on the court.
Since the unibrow-bearing big man returned in surprising fashion, the former Hornets have gone 3-3 while he averages 21.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 0.7 dimes per contest.
Talk about picking up where he left off.
Davis is still pacing the NBA in blocks per game, and his overall defensive play has just been off the charts during the 2013-14 campaign, especially when compared to the bar he set during his rookie season. After struggling to adjust to the professional game right out of Kentucky, Davis is obviously doing quite well for himself at this point in his young career.
There's no longer any doubt that Davis' early-season performance was anything but fluky.
Power Forward No. 2: LaMarcus Aldridge (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.0 steals, 22.62 PER
LaMarcus Aldridge is still playing at a remarkably high level.
That said, the battle between him and Kevin Love is a tough one, and anything less than peak performance could result in a decline from the No. 1 spot. That's what has happened recently, as Aldridge only shot 42.6 percent during his last five games heading into the big showdown on New Year's Eve with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There are still some big, gaudy performances. But there have also been a few spotty outings plagued by poor shooting as Rip City begins to fall off its historically excellent pace.
Aldridge is still one of the few legitimate MVP candidates in the Association, but he has to pick it up even further if he's going to move back past Love in the rankings.
Power Forward No. 1: Kevin Love (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.5 points, 13.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.8 steals, 28.80 PER
The notion that Kevin Love's numbers are "empty" is simply rooted in absolute nothingness.
How can one set of numbers be any more empty than another set of them?
Think about it this way: One of the biggest knocks on Love has been his inability to carry the Minnesota Timberwolves into the postseason. But if you replaced the 25-year-old power forward with any other player at his position, could they change that?
If your answer is negative, how can Love possibly be at fault for the dry spell?
He can't be, and that's especially true lately. Over the last five games of 2013, Love averaged 32.8 points, 13.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest, shooting 57 percent from the field, 36.4 percent beyond the arc and 86.4 percent at the free-throw line.
Those are MVP numbers, and there shouldn't be any doubt about that.
Center No. 5: Nikola Pekovic (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 19.0 PER
2013 hasn't exactly been the year of the center.
Now that Brook Lopez and Al Horford have been lost for the season, joining Marc Gasol among the ranks of elite big men who are currently out of action, it's almost worth just leaving the No. 5 spot empty.
It's a battle of attrition, and Nikola Pekovic is one of the sole survivors.
The leading candidate among the sub-elite centers, Pekovic has continued to put up big numbers for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he also keeps displaying holes in his game. For all his dominance in the paint, on the glass and when big men bang against him, the 27-year-old big man still can't pass, for example.
Averaging only 1.0 assists and 1.6 turnovers per game, Pekovic doesn't allow the 'Wolves to throw the ball to him until the play is allowed to end. A black hole, Pekovic either ends the play with a shot or turnover, and that lack of versatility is detrimental.
Center No. 4: Andre Drummond (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Detroit Pistons
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 12.4 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 1.6 blocks, 1.5 steals, 21.9 PER
Andre Drummond's offense has cooled off, but he continues to evolve as a rebounder and defender.
Over his past five games, the young big man for the Detroit Pistons has averaged 10.2 rebounds per game despite only suiting up for slightly under 30 minutes during the average contest. And that's while playing alongside Josh Smith and Greg Monroe for much of his time on the court.
Meanwhile, Drummond keeps showing that he's an extremely self-aware player.
Performances like the one he had on Dec. 23 against the Cleveland Cavaliers are becoming more and more the norm, as he can put up a 7-of-10 night from the field without a second thought. He might not create for himself, but that also means he doesn't unsuccessfully create for himself either.
It's scary to think of the heights he might reach in 2014.
Center No. 3: Roy Hibbert (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 2.7 blocks, 0.4 steals, 17.81 PER
I love that Roy Hibbert isn't going to lead the league in blocks per game.
That's not because I'm rooting against him or the Indiana Pacers. If anything, he's a likable figure because he's relatable and never hesitates to speak his mind in front of the media. He also plays an entertaining brand of basketball.
Hibbert's lack of desire to defend his rejection crown is a positive nonetheless. It allows him to focus on making the proper basketball play, even if it means eschewing the glamour stat so that he can make the right rotation and keep the Indiana defense humming along.
And the Pacers have been doing a lot of humming lately.
According to Basketball-Reference, their 96.0 defensive rating is the best in the NBA by over four points per 100 possessions. Much of the credit goes to No. 55.
Center No. 2: DeMarcus Cousins (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Sacramento Kings
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.8 steals, 26.87 PER
DeMarcus Cousins is "en fuego."
Over his past five games, he's averaged 24.2 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. But if that's not impressive enough, he's shoring up two of his biggest weaknesses.
"Boogie" has shot 50 percent from the field, which is a marked improvement for the big man from Kentucky. It lifts his field-goal percentage this season to 49.4 and his career mark to 45.4, so that should give you some perspective.
Additionally, his turnovers are down (barely) to 3.5 per game. Again, that's an improvement on what he normally does with the ball in his hands.
Cousins still has trouble keeping his head screwed on straight and can be easily provoked, but when focused, he's an absolutely dominant big man.
Center No. 1: Dwight Howard (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.9 points, 13.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 blocks, 0.8 steals, 22.25 PER
Despite the emergence of DeMarcus Cousins as a truly elite center, there's still a sizable gap—maybe even a gaping chasm or crevasse—between Dwight Howard and the rest of the field.
Even during a down year on offense—one marked by a two-point outing against the Memphis Grizzlies, for example—D12 is the shining example of the increasingly rare two-way center.
He plays heady offensive basketball, seeking out the best opportunities and forcing defenses to adjust to his sheer presence in the paint. He also anchors an improving defense for the Houston Rockets, thriving on the inside as he blocks shots, shuts off lanes for roll men and consistently makes the proper rotations.
Howard is the prototypical complete center, even if he's not as dominant as he was during his prime days with the Orlando Magic.