The best of the best at each position aren't free from the NBA's unfortunate rash of injuries.
Just look at how many prominent players from each of the five spots in the lineup have fallen victim:
- Point guard: Chris Paul, Jrue Holiday, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Eric Bledsoe
- Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant, Tyreke Evans
- Small forward: Shawn Marion, Danilo Gallinari, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
- Power forward: Ryan Anderson
- Center: Marc Gasol (though he recently returned), Nikola Vucevic
The ranks are thin, especially at point guard, but plenty of standouts still deserve some serious recognition for their on-court contributions. It's worth noting, though, that these are reactive rankings in which recent performance matters a lot.
Chris Paul is still the best point guard in basketball, but that doesn't matter here. He hasn't played recently, which means he hasn't contributed anything to the Los Angeles Clippers' efforts. Therefore, he isn't able to keep up with the guys who are playing well right now.
Just keep that in mind as we run through the countdowns and see how everyone has shifted since the last edition. Due to injuries and recent performances, we have no fewer than a handful of players making the jump from unranked to a featured spot.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are current as of Jan. 14 and come from Basketball-Reference.
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.3 steals, 20.0 PER
Kyrie Irving is starting to get his third professional season moving in the right direction, but there's still too much inconsistency for him to move up much further.
For example, Uncle Drew dominated the Utah Jazz on Jan. 10 with 25 points, six rebounds, eight assists and five steals while shooting 9-of-18 overall. But just two nights later, the Sacramento Kings completely contained him, holding the dynamic point guard to seven points and five dimes on a 3-of-14 outing from the field.
There's too much fluctuation in his level of performance.
The truly elite point guards are great night in and night out. This season, Irving is great for two and then bad for one. That must change if he wants to continue his ascent.
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.8 steals, 19.8 PER
Though he hasn't been passing the ball as much lately, Damian Lillard just continues to improve as a scorer.
Throughout the 2013-14 season, the dynamic floor general from Weber State hasn't experienced much success around the basket, but he's finishing better than ever as of late. And with more threatening results when he drives, the jump-shooting attempts have more space from defensive attention.
In his first five games of 2014, Lillard shot 44 percent from the field, 48.6 percent beyond the arc and 94.1 percent from the charity stripe. If you're looking for an efficient way to score over 20 points per game, that would certainly qualify.
Lillard will never be a solid enough finisher to shoot 50 percent from the field, but he's such a deadly jump-shooter that it really doesn't matter. He more than compensates with his downtown work and knack for racking up the freebies.
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.6 steals, 21.0 PER
It's time that we stop underrating Mike Conley.
First of all, the southpaw is one of the better defenders at his position, and he's put that on display throughout the year. As 82games.com shows, Conley is holding opposing point guards to a 17.6 PER this season, and he's doing that while flying around the half-court set to wreak off-ball havoc.
But lately, it's his offense that stands out.
In his first seven contests of 2014, the 26-year-old averaged 21.4 points and 7.4 dimes per game. Impressive, right?
It gets better.
Over the same stretch, Conley shot 47.8 percent from the field, made 14 of his 32 three-point attempts and turned the ball over just 2.4 times per contest.
That's pretty darn elite.
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.5 steals, 20.1 PER
All of a sudden, Tony Parker decided that he's LeBron James.
He's not contributing across the board and posterizing opponents with his insane athleticism. He's not suddenly morphing into an MVP candidate. He isn't doing a ton of commercials or wearing a headband.
He's just refusing to miss shots.
Through his first six games in January, Parker shot 56 percent from the field while averaging 17.5 points and 7.7 assists per game. Although the 2013 portion of the season left him a bit lacking—not as much opportunity and fewer minutes—Parker is once more the unquestioned spark in San Antonio.
After his 9-of-15 outing against the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 13, he's still trending up.
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.9 steals, 21.9 PER
Someone has to take over the No. 1 spot with Chris Paul sidelined by a separated shoulder, and Stephen Curry is the obvious choice.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that Curry is a point guard who can only knock down triples. He does so much more than that for the Golden State Warriors.
The scoring is pretty impressive, though. By posting 23 points per game, Curry trails only seven players in the NBA in the race for the scoring crown. But again, that's not all he does.
Curry is also averaging nearly a dollar's worth of dimes each outing: 9.3 per game. CP3 is the only player in the Association beating him in that category.
Guess how many players rank among the top 10 in both categories?
Curry is the only one.
Team: Orlando Magic
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.6 steals, 18.4 PER
We all knew it would happen eventually.
After a scorching start to the season, Arron Afflalo has cooled down for the Orlando Magic. Fortunately, he's still playing solid basketball on both ends of the court.
Before a minor injury led to him wearing a walking boot and missing two games, Afflalo found himself in a bit of a shooting slump. He's still averaging over 20 points per game, but he's shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 41.4 percent beyond the arc.
The fact that both percentages are declining figures speaks to just how special his early-season shooting was.
The 28-year-old 2-guard should rebound from his injury, but a number of shooting guards are champing at the bit and waiting for an opportunity to move up into the featured portion of the positional rankings.
Honorable Mentions: Eric Gordon, Kevin Martin, Wesley Matthews, Lance Stephenson, Klay Thompson
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.8 steals, 18.0 PER
How do you not love Monta Ellis' story?
Incredibly overrated with the Golden State Warriors, Ellis took his talents to the Milwaukee Bucks for a short while. That didn't go much better, and it took him forever to find a new home this offseason. Once the Dallas Mavericks took a chance on him, there was no telling whether he'd be able to change his playing style next to Dirk Nowitzki.
Consider that question answered.
Ellis continues to take what the defense gives him, eschewing jumpers for drives whenever he can. A special finisher around the basket, he's also displayed a nice ability to dish the ball out when surrounded by the trees or caught up in the air.
He's become living proof that you can't condemn a player before his prime is over.
Team: Toronto Raptors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.2 steals, 17.5 PER
Rudy Gay played his last game for the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 6.
Since then, DeMar DeRozan is averaging 21.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks per game while shooting 41.4 percent from the field. He hasn't taken many strides as a scorer, but the increased ball-handling responsibilities have suited him well.
DeRozan has been the driving force behind the Raptors' ascent to No. 3 in the Eastern Conference, as he's complementing Kyle Lowry perfectly. Though not quite a combo guard, it's clear that the uber-athletic shooting guard has some tremendous court vision when he's allowed to put it on display.
I've been hard on DeRozan in the past, mostly because he failed to make substantial improvements to his game and was putting up rather empty points.
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.3 steals, 21.6 PER
James Harden is turning it on.
He's been absolute dynamite on offense since the calendar flipped to 2014, scoring 28.2 points, snaring 6.6 boards and dishing out five assists per outing. But the per-game numbers aren't the only ones that matter, of course.
Over the same five-game stretch, the bearded shooting guard knocked down 48.9 percent of his shots from the field. Impressive, but it gets better. He also shot 45.2 percent beyond the arc on 6.2 attempts per game and hit 85.4 percent of his freebies.
Oh, and Harden is taking 9.6 attempts per contest on the free-throw line.
That's efficiency and volume mixing together to form one hell of a product. Now if only he'd play more defense.
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.9 steals, 22.7 PER
There's only one time when Dwyane Wade's knees matter.
That would be when he's held out of the lineup for rest or precautionary reasons. Other than that, he's been flying around the court and putting up monstrous lines for the Miami Heat.
You know, like his 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists against the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 7, or his 23 points in a loss to the New York Knicks on Jan. 9, amazingly enough on only 15 shots from the field.
After the Pelicans outing, Wade said the following to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "We're an old team, man. It takes us a while sometimes to get the juices flowing. Playing against a lot of young teams, they come in loose, ready. We've got to get our body going a little bit."
If that's what happens when Wade is feeling old, just wait for what goes down if he feels young.
Team: Sacramento Kings
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.5 steals, 17.4 PER
I wonder if Rudy Gay is OK with box scores in the locker room now.
The answer is probably a definitive "yes," as Gay has been dominating ever since the Toronto Raptors traded him to the Sacramento Kings.
Not only is he scoring 20.3 points per game with his new team, but he's doing so while shooting 51.7 percent from the field. That's a percentage so high I would've doubted pre-Sacramento Gay could even dream of it.
He's taking—and making—good shots, and for the first time in a while, that means his offense is actually valuable. Gay is a big reason the Kings are suddenly looking like a much more competitive basketball team.
Honorable Mentions: Nicolas Batum, Andre Iguodala, Kawhi Leonard, Chandler Parsons, Evan Turner
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.9 steals, 22.0 PER
Prior to his 31-point outing against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 14, Paul George had been struggling.
During the four games leading up to that contest, the 23-year-old swingman averaged only 15.8 points and 4.3 assists per game while shooting just 34.4 percent from the field. All the improvements he'd made throughout the season weren't manifesting themselves in his performance.
George has been playing fantastic basketball before his mini-slump, so consider this more of an aberration than anything else. If we're working with a clean slate, he's still the No. 3 small forward in the Association.
But remember, these are intentionally reactive rankings. A stretch of poor performances can allow another stud to make the leap, and that's exactly what happened here.
Team: New York Knicks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 steals, 23.4 PER
Carmelo Anthony continues to carry the New York Knicks, but the team is actually starting to win games now that it isn't utterly incapable of helping him shoulder the offensive load.
First, Iman Shumpert started to remember that he was allowed to make three-point jumpers. Then Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire began to make offensive contributions.
The result has been a Knicks squad that actually looks solid around 'Melo. And that's all that is needed for the narrative to shift, as Anthony continues to put up numbers strangely similar to those he produced while New York was losing.
Take his assists, for example.
They're up during January, but not because he's passing more. He's actually creating fewer assist opportunities per game, but his teammates are making shots.
It's amazing how the rest of a lineup can affect the perception of an individual.
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 29.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.5 steals, 29.7 PER
Kevin Durant is absolutely dominating, even without Russell Westbrook in the lineup.
The league's best scorer has only upped his game since the dynamic point guard needed arthroscopic surgery, helping keep the Oklahoma City Thunder afloat. Apparently, Durant is vastly improved since last year's postseason, when he couldn't go into Cleveland LeBron mode to carry his team.
Since Westbrook's last game—a Christmas Day shellacking of the New York Knicks—Durant has been unstoppable.
He's averaged 34.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 48.9 percent from the field. By doing so, he's crept to the forefront of the MVP discussions. As TrueHoop's Ethan Strauss said on an ESPN "5-on-5" discussion, "I believe LeBron to be the better player, but Durant is having a better season. You can't go on which guy you think is best (for MVP); you have to go with which guy is playing best."
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.3 steals, 29.2 PER
According to Basketball-Reference, 90 players in NBA history (including those who are doing so this year) have shot at least 59 percent from the field while qualifying for the scoring title.
This season, seven players are doing so:
- Chris Andersen: 6.3 points per game, 64.8 percent shooting
- Bismack Biyombo: 3.6 points per game, 61.6 percent shooting
- Andrew Bogut: 7.9 points per game, 62.0 percent shooting
- Andre Drummond: 12.7 points per game, 59.7 percent shooting
- Ryan Hollins: 2.4 points per game, 68.3 percent shooting
- DeAndre Jordan: 9.5 points per game, 64.6 percent shooting
- LeBron James: 26.0 points per game, 59.1 percent shooting
Notice the outlier?
LeBron and Andre Drummond are the only players to qualify while averaging a double-digit point total. And LeBron is more than doubling the output of the Detroit Pistons center.
Only 13 players have ever topped 20 points per game while shooting at least 59 percent from the field, per Basketball-Reference. And if LeBron keeps up his torrid pace, he'll be scoring less than only Kevin McHale (26.1) and Shaquille O'Neal (29.3).
How's that for impressive?
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 steals, 23.7 PER
Despite his gaudy scoring figures, Dirk Nowitzki is coming dangerously close to losing his featured spot and falling into the honorable mentions. David Lee and Zach Randolph especially are looming as threatening power forwards.
Dirk simply isn't doing much when he's not putting the ball in the basket.
His rebounding has been horrific for a 7-footer, his passing remains steady and he steadfastly refuses to make much of a defensive impact. According to 82games.com, he's allowed opposing power forwards and centers (in limited time) to post respective PERs of 17.5 and 36.6.
He hasn't been terrible defensively, but he's not exactly making a positive impact either.
Honorable Mentions: Tim Duncan, Serge Ibaka, David Lee, Paul Millsap, Zach Randolph
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 steals, 22.3 PER
At this point, thinking Blake Griffin is an overrated dunker is idiotic.
Sorry, but there's no point in sugarcoating that anymore, as nothing could be further from the truth. Griffin has been a dominant force for the Los Angeles Clippers, making an impact in quite a few areas.
Not only is he averaging a double-double, but he's adding another dimension to the Clippers offense with his passing. Doc Rivers runs things through Griffin in the post because he's become such an adept distributor with his back to the basket.
Oh, and his defense is improving as well.
Most impressively, though, Griffin has maintained his excellent performance without Chris Paul in the lineup. Since Paul went down on Jan. 3, Griffin has averaged a sensational 24.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the field and 75 percent at the line.
Did I say he maintained his excellent performance without CP3?
Sorry, I meant he's improved.
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 3.1 blocks, 1.5 steals, 26.5 PER
Don't look now, but Anthony Davis is quite close to breaking into the elite duo of power forwards and making it into a trio. He's been playing like the best of the bunch lately, but he needs more of an established track record before the move can be justified.
Over the five-game span from Jan. 7-13, Davis played like like a man possessed.
Compare his per-game stats from that stretch to the numbers he's posted on the season:
And he did that while shooting 54.1 percent from the field.
Now if only the New Orleans Pelicans could stay healthy around him.
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.9 steals, 22.7 PER
The Portland Trail Blazers won't go away, and neither will LaMarcus Aldridge.
Although he was a deserving All-Star in 2012-13, the 28-year-old big man has made so many improvements to his all-around game this year. Not only is he shouldering even more scoring responsibilities, but he's been taking massive strides as a defensive centerpiece.
During three of his first five outings in 2014, Aldridge grabbed at least 13 boards on three separate occasions. He's averaging 11 rebounds per game on the season, which is a big jump from last year's 9.1.
It still isn't enough for him to jump into the No. 1 spot, though.
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 25.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.8 steals, 27.3 PER
Kevin Love still doesn't play much defense—and Rick Adelman often has to hide him on that end of the court—but he more than makes up for it with his insane offensive contributions and rebounding value.
The 25-year-old future Laker member of the Minnesota Timberwolves ranks fourth in points per game, trailing only Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. He also ranks second in rebounds per contest, behind just DeAndre Jordan.
That's a pretty elite combination, and it's not unlikely that he'll maintain his lofty spots on the leaderboard. After all, he's the biggest source of offense for the 'Wolves, and he's always been this dominant on the glass.
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.6 steals, 20.5 PER
It's tough to move Roy Hibbert out of the top five, but that's what happens when you forget how to shoot the basketball, especially with Nikola Pekovic continuing to excel for the Minnesota Timberwolves and a number of young centers putting up dominant numbers.
Pek has been on fire recently.
Over the five-game span from Jan. 4-12, he averaged 22.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest while shooting 56.1 percent from the field and 87 percent at the charity stripe. Plus, he rarely turned the ball over, just as he's done throughout the 2013-14 season.
Pekovic still doesn't make much of an impact with his passing, but that's to be expected at this point. The 'Wolves are more than willing to take that negative, as the physical play is undoubtedly a positive.
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.5 points, 13.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 2.5 blocks, 0.9 steals, 16.9 PER
Yes, DeAndre Jordan has been this good.
His January splits are just off the charts: 12.2 points, 13.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 3.7 blocks and 0.8 steals per game while shooting 66.7 percent from the field and making half of his free-throw attempts. Believe it or not, that last number is a big improvement.
ESPN's fantasy basketball blurb on Jan. 10 said that Jordan has "been on beast mode over recent memory," and that's quite true. He's been a threatening dunker, an imposing defensive figure and the top rebounder in basketball, better even than Kevin Love.
According to NBA.com's SportVU data, Jordan is not only leading the NBA in total blocks, but also holding opponents to 51.7 percent shooting at the rim while facing 9.1 attempts per game. That might not be the most impressive percentage, but it's a huge improvement from where it sat early in the season.
Team: Detroit Pistons
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.8 blocks, 1.4 steals, 21.6 PER
Thanks to a combined 7-of-18 shooting from the field during a two-game stretch against Toronto and Philadelphia from Jan. 8-10, Andre Drummond hasn't been able to post his typical efficiency numbers during the last five games, but that's all he's done poorly.
As you might expect, Drummond is a dominant force on the glass, and he continues to improve as a defender. The SportVU data from NBA.com shows that he's now allowing opponents to shoot 47.8 percent at the rim while facing 8.2 attempts per game.
It's amazing that Drummond is only 20 years old, because he's already making a huge impact on both ends of the court for the Pistons. Much like Tyson Chandler, he draws looks from the defense because he's such a dangerous alley-oop finisher, particularly after he sets a screen.
The second-year center put his full arsenal of skills on display against the Phoenix Suns when he recorded 13 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and three steals in the hard-fought Jan. 11 victory.
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.7 blocks, 0.9 steals, 21.7 PER
If Dwight Howard wants to take back the No. 1 spot he's held for what seems like all of eternity, he'll have to keep playing like he did against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 13.
During that outing, D12 exploded for 32 points and 11 rebounds while taking only 17 shots from the field. Howard made 18 trips to the free-throw line and finished with 10 points there. The Hack-a-Dwight strategy just wasn't working for Brad Stevens' squad.
That said, Howard hasn't been all that dominant this year. He's still posting great numbers, but he's no longer a primary offensive option and hasn't been quite as impactful on the defensive end as we've come to expect.
The Houston Rockets center is allowing opponents to shoot 46.5 percent at the rim while facing 9.6 attempts per game, per the SportVU data from NBA.com. It's admittedly better than the new No. 1, but it's still not an elite number.
Team: Sacramento Kings
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.9 steals, 27.6 PER
B/R's Dan Favale says so:
This kid is going places. He's already taken himself so many places. A checkered past warps our view of him, and understandably so, but we're at the point where we must recognize Cousins for who he really is: A deserving All-Star. Present superstar. A great center.
The league's best center.
Favale's entire argument is a great one, and it's one you should buy into. Don't let the past mistakes influence your current view of "Boogie," as he's become a dominant—dare I say unstoppable?—force at center for the Sacramento Kings.
Starting on Dec. 21, Cousins produced 11 straight double-doubles. Since Dec. 6, he's failed to score 20 points only four times.
Don't expect this to change anytime soon. The big man's jumper is vastly improved, and he's playing with a level of confidence that even he failed to reach in the past.
As Favale said, he's now the best center in the NBA. It's hard to disagree.