Ranking the Top 5 NBA Players at Every Position Unveils New Top Dogs
When it comes to the NBA, a lot can change in two months.
Since the last edition of the positional player rankings, many notable names have returned from extended absences and regained their lofty spots. Of course, some players have come back from injuries and failed to resume their previous levels of dominance.
That's why it's important to remember the thrust of these rankings.
Only this season matters, and recent play has a big impact on the intentionally reactive decisions. A player who dominated during the last week but was only good throughout the rest of the season trumps a player who dominated during the opening week of the year and was only good throughout the rest of the season.
They may have equivalently excellent seasons, but again, recent play matters more.
Amazingly enough, the exploits of superstars throughout late January, all of February and early March have resulted in constant shifting in the rankings. Not one player who earned top positioning last go-round remained in that spot this time.
There are new top dogs across the board.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and are current as of March 11.
Point Guard No. 5: Tony Parker (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 19.6 PER
Does Tony Parker put up fantastic stats for the San Antonio Spurs? Absolutely.
However, he's still a part of the no-stats All-Star team.
The French floor general is one of the few players capable of thriving from a statistical standpoint while still producing way more value than you can possibly find in a box score. He's the unquestioned leader of this team on offense, and his penetrating, unselfish ways are the impetus behind the Spurs' potent point-producing prowess.
Defensively, he'll never stand out as an individual, but he has the focus and cerebral ability to shine as a team defender, thanks primarily to the mastery of Gregg Popovich's principles he's nurtured over the years.
Each of the five honorable mentions looks better than Parker if you look at stats in a vacuum, but fortunately for this point guard, that's not where stats are generated.
Point Guard No. 4: John Wall (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)
Team: Washington Wizards
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 19.9 PER
Before the season began, I predicted multiple times that John Wall would become the first player in years to average 20 points and 10 assists per game.
Well, it appears as though he's going to fall short, but he's still pretty darn close in both categories.
Offense is where this young point guard shines, though he's also becoming one of the better defensive 1-guards in the NBA. 82games.com shows that Wall is allowing opposing floor generals to post a player efficiency rating of 16.6, and he's been getting better and better as the season progresses.
The Kentucky product isn't far off from being a complete player, which bodes well for his ability to eventually become the No. 1 player at his position.
Yes, Wall still has that kind of upside.
Point Guard No. 3: Stephen Curry (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 23.2 PER
It might seem blasphemous to move Stephen Curry down from the top spot to the antepenultimate place in the point guard rankings, but that's not a knock on what he's been doing recently. In fact, the sharpshooter has averaged 19.6 points and 6.6 assists over his last five games while shooting 46.9 percent from the field.
His decline is due almost solely to the return of two formerly injured floor generals, which is outside his control.
Still, let's look at Curry for exactly what he is—an unbelievable offensive talent who would be an MVP candidate if the Golden State Warriors had climbed a bit higher up in the Western Conference standings.
Even still, he ranks No. 8 on NBA.com's March 7 edition of the NBA MVP Ladder.
Point Guard No. 2: Russell Westbrook (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.1 blocks, 23.3 PER
In the seven games since he returned from his arthroscopic surgery, Russell Westbrook has averaged 20.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game while shooting 46.2 percent from the field, 41.6 percent beyond the arc and 88.9 percent from the charity stripe.
That stretch included the second-fastest triple-double in NBA history, a 36-point outing and a near-second triple-double, albeit one that saw him rack up eight turnovers.
The only true knock on Westbrook, seeing as he's been shooting so efficiently, has been the inability to spur the Oklahoma City Thunder on to victory. And it's hard to fault him for that, even if he's taken away crunch-time touches from Kevin Durant.
Adjusting to the return of a superstar almost always takes time. This just wasn't the exception to the rule.
However, the next player was.
Point Guard No. 1: Chris Paul (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 11.0 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 26.0 PER
Chris Paul hasn't skipped many beats since returning to the Los Angeles Clippers lineup.
From his Feb. 9 return from a separated shoulder to the present, CP3 is averaging 15.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game. He's also shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 82.6 percent from the charity stripe.
Paul's three-point stroke hasn't been consistent during the post-injury portion of his season, but his scoring isn't needed as often either. Blake Griffin's development has taken loads of pressure off the point guard's shoulders, especially in crunch time.
Plus, the Clippers are 10-2 since he returned, and that isn't a fluke.
Griffin may have become LAC's MVP candidate while Paul was injured, but that hasn't prevented the latter from playing incredible basketball.
Shooting Guard No. 5: Lance Stephenson (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 15.4 PER
Only one thing has held back Lance Stephenson during the 2013-14 campaign—Evan Turner.
"But while it's encouraging that Stephenson has remained efficient alongside his new teammate, it's also true that he's getting a smaller slice of the pie, while Turner has put up virtually identical numbers to the ones he put up for the Sixers," wrote ESPN's Bradford Doolittle (subscription required).
That's not how the pie should be distributed, as it's Turner who should be adjusting to the Indiana Pacers and not vice versa.
Unfortunately, that's prevented Stephenson from continuing the growth he showcased during the first half of his first All-Star stellar campaign. He's still playing great defense (though the lackluster play of Roy Hibbert hurts his numbers), and his ball-handling skill brings a new element to the Indiana offense.
However, until the ball ends up in his hands with more frequency, he runs a serious risk of losing this spot in the top five.
Honorable Mentions: Arron Afflalo, Gerald Green, Jodie Meeks, Kevin Martin, Klay Thompson
Shooting Guard No. 4: Monta Ellis (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 17.1 PER
Please, Monta Ellis.
Please remember that you're not supposed to be shooting from the outside. Your game is best when you're slicing through the teeth of the defense and either finishing around the basket or dishing out assists—not when you're lofting up three-point attempts.
Ellis has been listening to that bit of advice for most of the season, but there's still the occasional game in which he settles for jumpers.
The Chicago Bulls forced him into that style of play, for example, when he took six triples during a Feb. 28 loss.
Still, when that doesn't happen, Ellis has been on the verge of becoming an elite shooting guard. He's only 28 years old, though, so he still has time to work on that consistency.
Shooting Guard No. 3: DeMar DeRozan (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Toronto Raptors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 18.5 PER
DeMar DeRozan just keeps rolling along.
There was a chance he might decline after making the first All-Star team of his career, but that hasn't exactly happened. Instead, he's maintained his level of performance, averaging 23.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game on 45.9 percent shooting from the field after the break.
So if anything, he's gotten better.
DeRozan no longer fancies himself a mid-range shooter. He still takes those looks when free space is presented to him, but he's making it more of a priority to attack the basket and step a few feet back to turn a long two into a short three.
His transition from an inefficient volume shooter into a potent scorer is a huge part of the Toronto Raptors' ascent up the Eastern Conference standings.
Shooting Guard No. 2: Dwyane Wade (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.5 blocks, 22.3 PER
The narrative over the past few years has seemed to be the exact same when discussing Dwyane Wade.
When he's healthy, the Miami Heat shooting guard looks nothing short of elite. He's shooting high percentages and managing to record both assists and rebounds at a high level. But the "when he's healthy" clause is still key.
Wade has to take quite a few maintenance days to keep his knees fully functioning, and that limits the amount of impact he's able to make during the 2013-14 campaign.
That said, Wade's drop from No. 1 to No. 2 isn't due to sitting out. Nor can it be accredited to the 2-guard's level of performance dropping rather drastically, which it hasn't.
It's just because the No. 1 player at the position has been en fuego.
Shooting Guard No. 1: James Harden (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 22.5 PER
Over his past five games, James Harden has averaged 28.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game while shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
Those are insane numbers.
And they'd be even better if the bearded shooting guard had played during the fourth quarter of a blowout victory over the Indiana Pacers. Even though he played only 31 minutes in that March 7 outing, Harden still recorded 28 points, four rebounds and four dimes.
"Yes. Yes. We are," Harden told NBA.com's Fran Blinebury after he dropped 41 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and six steals against the Portland Trail Blazers to follow up his destruction of Indiana.
The question? That would be whether or not the Houston Rockets were the best team in the NBA.
So long as Harden is playing like this, he has reason to believe they can be.
Small Forward No. 5: Kawhi Leonard (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, 18.1 PER
Kawhi Leonard does absolutely everything for the San Antonio Spurs.
He plays unquestionably elite defense, thriving no matter which position he's guarding. According to 82games.com, he's spent most of his time shutting down small forwards, holding them to a PER of 16.2. That's not quite an elite individual mark, but those are hard to produce when A) you play for the Spurs and B) you consistently guard the other team's best player.
But on top of that, he's becoming a more vital part of the San Antonio offense.
Over his last six games, Leonard is scoring 14.8 points per game while shooting well above 50 percent from the field—55.4 percent, to be exact.
Leonard's ascent into the realm of elite small forwards shouldn't come as much of a surprise, unless you consider how quickly it's happened.
Honorable Mentions: Trevor Ariza, Nicolas Batum, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gay, Chandler Parsons
Small Forward No. 4: Paul George (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 20.8 PER
At what point do slumps happen so frequently that we start wondering if they're not the aberrations?
Paul George played so well at the beginning of the 2013-14 season that he became slightly overrated. We—and I'm including myself in this statement—were too quick to anoint him the next great small forward, and he's proven why during the second half of the season.
Not only has George's defense taken a slight step backward, but his shooting stroke has also completely abandoned him. He can't hit from the outside to save his life recently, and the trickle-down effect has had a gigantic negative impact on the rest of the Pacers.
Everything came to a head against the underrated defense of the Charlotte Bobcats. During a March 5 loss, the 23-year-old swingman shot 0-of-9 from the field en route to a two-point performance.
Unsurprisingly, the rest of the offense struggled around him. If the Pacers are going to get off the schneid, that has to change.
Small Forward No. 3: Carmelo Anthony (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: New York Knicks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 28.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks, 24.8 PER
Do not blame Carmelo Anthony for the New York Knicks' struggles.
Once more, and all together this time.
Do. Not. Blame. Carmelo. Anthony. For. The. New. York. Knicks'. Struggles.
Not only has he done a fantastic job scoring the ball in volume while maintaining his efficiency, but he's also become more of an all-around player than ever before. His rebounding is off the charts for a small forward, he's passing the rock more (though his teammates aren't making the shots he creates for them) and he's committed himself with increasing frequency on the defensive end of the court.
"Carmelo Anthony will not be worth the massive contract New York will offer him this summer," writes Kelly Dwyer for Yahoo! Sports, echoing the sentiment of a rather large contingent of NBA fans. "I think he's been an overrated disappointment for most of his career, prior to 2012-13, and as a Chicago Bulls fan, I don't know if I'd want him on my favorite team."
To me, that's a short-sighted analysis that looks at the forest at the expense of the trees.
Anthony deserves so little blame for the Knicks' futility that he may as well receive absolutely none of it. There's a reason he's staying at No. 3 in the small forward rankings despite the putrid record New York currently boasts.
Small Forward No. 1B: LeBron James (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 27.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 29.5 PER
LeBron James is still the best basketball player in the world, but that's not what these rankings are about. Once more, they're largely dependent on recent events and focus on this season, not the past campaigns a player has put together.
While LeBron has been completely dominant for large stretches of the season, he's still spent quite a bit of time looking unenthused out on the court.
Against the Chicago Bulls, for example, the reigning MVP just failed to show up. He finished with only 17 points on 23 shots during the March 9 loss, and while he ended up almost recording a triple-double, his slowness getting fully engaged in the game was problematic.
Maybe it's because he's scared of rebreaking his nose, as CBS Sports' Royce Young writes:
Here's a theory as to the recent free throw swoon: LeBron had his nose cracked by Serge Ibaka a couple weeks ago, and had to wear a mask. The last couple games, he's ditched the mask. So maybe there's a little natural hesitance to go stick his nose back in the paint.
LeBron averages 7.3 free throw attempts per game, placing him eighth in the league. But since he had his nose busted, he's taken just 5.1.
LeBron has failed to take a single shot from the charity stripe in consecutive outings, and that pretty much underscores the lack of aggressiveness with which he's played at various points throughout the season.
Small Forward No. 1: Kevin Durant (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 31.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 30.2 PER
Remember how Kevin Durant was absolutely dominating for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the middle portion of the 2013-14 campaign?
Well, don't look now, but he's doing crazy things once again.
During his last 11 games, Durant is averaging 35.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game while shooting 49.6 percent from the field, 32.1 percent from downtown and 81.8 percent at the line. The efficiency numbers aren't quite what we got used to earlier in the season, but the forward has still been incredibly involved lately.
Don't think for even a second that Russell Westbrook has been holding Durant back. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Durant just continues rolling along during a season that should see him continuing to emerge as the MVP favorite.
"Let's face it: If he wanted to score a bunch of points or more than he's scoring now, he really could do that," Scott Brooks told ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin before the Thunder dropped a game to the Los Angeles Lakers. "His assist level has gone up, he impacts the game. Defensively, he impacts the game. He can guard 1 through 5. So a lot of things that he does [are] all about the team."
Even if the team has been losing lately, it's hard to pin that blame on Durant.
Power Forward No. 5: Serge Ibaka (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.5 blocks, 19.7 PER
Perhaps the best thing about Russell Westbrook's extended absence from the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup was the forced offensive development of Serge Ibaka.
He's been a defensive stud for a while now, but increased opportunity finally led Ibaka into becoming more of a viable scoring option. Just look at how his scoring has progressed over the course of the 2013-14 season:
Ibaka has remained a quality defender, but he's also touching the ball a lot more when the Thunder have possession. Even since the point guard has returned to action, he and Kevin Durant have played a consistent two-man game.
Power Forward No. 4: LaMarcus Aldridge (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.7 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.0 blocks, 21.8 PER
At this point in the rankings, we've reached the truly elite power forwards. You could make an argument that any of the next four players belongs at No. 1; that's how tightly packed together each of them is.
However, LaMarcus Aldridge is the one falling down to the bottom end of the quartet, even though he rose to No. 1 earlier in the season. Basically, he's fitting into the same pattern displayed by the Portland Trail Blazers.
The problem is simple—a lack of depth doesn't enable Aldridge to maintain his excellence deep into the season. Heavy minutes and lots of responsibility just don't work in his favor.
Over his last five games, the 28-year-old power forward is shooting only 39.2 percent from the field, lowlighted by his 1-of-13 brickfest against the Atlanta Hawks. He should bounce back to some extent, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the most dominant portion of his season came before the All-Star break.
Power Forward No. 3: Anthony Davis (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.9 blocks, 26.3 PER
"I don't think I was supposed to (guard Ty Lawson)," Anthony Davis told The Associated Press (via USA Today). "I just tried to make a basketball play. Coach (Monty Williams) tells us all the time, 'If you're going to do something like that, you better go get it.' Thank God I got the rebound. It got us hyped and it was a play that we needed down the stretch."
That came after The Unibrow made the crucial block on Ty Lawson during a recent victory over the Denver Nuggets, and it was just one more play showcasing his insane versatility. Davis only just turned 21 years old, and he's already leading the league in blocks while averaging a 20/10.
He does everything.
"It's (his ceiling) an amalgamation of other ceilings. He could win championships like Robinson, score like Olajuwon, elude Father Time like Duncan and defend everyone like James. That could happen," writes B/R's Dan Favale.
The future is limitless, and the present is already pretty darn impressive.
Power Forward No. 2: Kevin Love (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks, 28.1 PER
Kevin Love has played like the best power forward in basketball—when healthy—for a long time now, but he's still been surpassed by one other player at his position. Even though he's averaged 26.5 points, 13.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, he doesn't play nearly enough defense.
82games.com shows that he's held opposing 4s and 5s to respective PERs of 15.3 and 17.3, but those numbers are misleading. Love is often hidden by Rick Adelman, which allows him to produce better individual numbers than he deserves.
Additionally, the 25-year-old hasn't been able to carry his team to victory after victory.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a 31-31 record, one that leaves them five games shy of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. While I maintain that Love's stats aren't empty, wins still have to count for something.
Power Forward No. 1: Blake Griffin (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks, 23.9 PER
Blake Griffin deserves to be an MVP candidate, and ESPN's J.A. Adande will take it even further than that:
Save a spot at the Most Valuable Player table for Blake Griffin. Right now he's still sitting with the rest of the audience, not up on the dais with Kevin Durant and LeBron James, but that changes if Griffin somehow gets the Los Angeles Clippers to the best record in the NBA. Then he would deserve to be the one making an acceptance speech.
The power forward has made monumental improvements during the 2013-14 season.
He's developed a working mid-range jumper that occasionally extends beyond the three-point arc. His post moves may be ugly and unorthodox, but they work rather well. His passing has enabled him to become a hub of the LAC offense, even when Chris Paul is on the court.
And, as the quality that pushes him slightly ahead of Kevin Love, Doc Rivers actually has him playing some defense.
Griffin will always be limited on the less-glamorous end of the court because of his T-Rex arms, but he's still rotating properly and exerting unrelenting effort while playing defense.
There will always be an uninformed crowd that refuses to accept Griffin as more than a dunker, but he's become the best power forward in the Association.
Center No. 5: Marc Gasol (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.3 blocks, 17.5 PER
Tony Parker is the point guard of the no-stats All-Star team, but Marc Gasol should be the starting center.
It's no coincidence that the Memphis Grizzlies started dominating the opposition as soon as the big man returned from his knee injury. Gasol, the NBA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, anchors the point-preventing unit, and his versatile offense helps things out quite a bit.
Gasol is never going to be a dominant scorer. He's never going to lead the NBA in rebounding, nor will he produce more assists than any other big man in the Association.
The 29-year-old center is just going to do everything at a high level and promote winning with his cerebral and technical play.
That has to count for something a whole lot of somethings.
Center No. 4: Al Jefferson (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)
Team: Charlotte Bobcats
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks, 22.7 PER
It's time that Al Jefferson started getting more credit for his All-Star play, even if he wasn't selected as one of the Eastern Conference's 12 representatives.
He's been a dominant force from the left block night in and night out, and he's actually trying to play defense. That's how motivating Steve Clifford has been while turning the Charlotte Bobcats into a solid defensive unit.
Nonetheless, Jefferson is still dominating on offense more than anywhere else.
Over his past five games, Big Al has averaged 28.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. But it gets even more impressive, because he's shot 60.7 percent from the field, including a 12-of-18 performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers and an 18-of-24 outing in a loss to the Miami Heat.
Charlotte has never had a player this outstanding throughout its short franchise history, and he's been such a huge part of the 'Cats turnaround that has them staring in the face of a postseason berth for what seems like the first time in forever.
Center No. 3: DeMarcus Cousins (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Sacramento Kings
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.2 blocks, 26.0 PER
DeMarcus Cousins hasn't been able to get the Sacramento Kings off the schneid, but it's not for lack of effort.
Just take his last game, a 104-89 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
Boogie took advantage of an undersized and inexperienced frontcourt throughout the night, recording 28 points, 20 rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal on 13-of-19 shooting. However, he also found himself in foul trouble throughout the night and turned the ball over six times.
The 23-year-old center is a dominant offensive force, but he's still rife with weakness. His temper can flare up and cause problems, he's a fouling machine on some nights (especially recently) and his defense is nonexistent.
Until he shores up some of those flaws, Cousins isn't going to be able to ascend back to the top of the center rankings—not when the other players at his position are actually playing well, unlike earlier in the season.
Center No. 2: Joakim Noah (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)
Team: Chicago Bulls
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.5 blocks, 19.8 PER
Joakim Noah has asserted himself as a legitimate MVP candidate.
While LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the clear favorites to finish in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots when ballots are actually filled out, the No. 3 spot seems to be a race between Blake Griffin and this ponytailed center for the Chicago Bulls.
Not only does Noah's intensity define this team, setting a tone for the relentless fury with which it plays, but his play also helps out the squad on both ends of the court.
Offensively, Noah isn't much of a scorer, but his passing and offensive rebounding help make everything function at a moderately high level. Defensively, Noah just won't stop making things happen, and he can switch onto almost any player in the NBA.
Sometimes he guards big men. Sometimes he ends up forcing LeBron James into a tough shot. Sometimes he capably covers a true point guard.
Not only is Noah a legitimate MVP candidate, but he also should be the new favorite for Defensive Player of the Year.
Center No. 1: Dwight Howard (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.8 blocks, 21.9 PER
Look who finally decided to show up.
Vintage Dwight Howard hadn't been seen since before the final season of his time with the Orlando Magic, but he's back. He didn't appear during his time in purple and gold, and it took awhile before he was discovered in a Houston Rockets uniform.
But he's here now, and that's a major reason the Rockets have become the hottest team in the NBA.
D12 is dominating defensively, finally looking healthy and effective while protecting the rim and playing individual defense against roll men, post-up players and isolation bigs. Joakim Noah may have surpassed Roy Hibbert as the favorite for DPOY, but Howard isn't far behind.
Meanwhile, everything is finally clicking on offense.
Houston is feeding Howard the ball with much more frequency, and his post moves actually look like he's spent some time working on them. The result has been a per-game average of 18 points on 60.4 percent shooting during his last five outings.
Thanks to his two-way dominance, D12 reassumes the No. 1 spot that he's held down so many times in the past.