The Top 5 NBA Stars at Every Position: Early 2016 Edition

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2016

The Top 5 NBA Stars at Every Position: Early 2016 Edition

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    Stardom isn't something that's easily earned in the NBA

    The players who enjoy such celestial status have worked diligently at their craft for years, seeking out the weak spots in their games and trying to correct them while simultaneously building upon their strengths. We're talking about countless hours in the gym that lead to buckets of sweat. 

    But when a player gets to—or close to—the top of the positional hierarchy (positions, in this article, are determined by Basketball-Reference.com's designations), all the gain makes the pain worth it. 

    It's the ones who have experienced that positive feeling we're interested in. We're looking at the players who have managed to make the biggest on-court impacts while establishing themselves as household names—or at least getting on track to do so in the near future. 

    How that impact is achieved is ultimately irrelevant. An offensive stud can be just as valuable as a defensive anchor, and some mixture of the two diametric opposites is viable as well. 

    Basically, be the best at basketball, and you'll be rewarded here. 

Injured Players

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    Before we dive into the rankings, it's worth noting that we will not consider injured players for any of the featured spots or list them as honorable mentions.

    If a player is expected to be out of action for a prolonged period or has missed too much time in the last few weeks, he's automatically ineligible for the remainder of this slideshow.

    As a result, Eric Bledsoe, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Blake Griffin will not appear, although they would make the cut—or at least be considered—if the injury imp didn't dictate otherwise.

Point Guard No. 5: John Wall

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    Team: Washington Wizards

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.8 blocks, 20.1 PER

    Don't look now, but John Wall is dangerously close to breaking into the ultra-exclusive 20/10 club. 

    During 16 December games, the Washington Wizards point guard averaged a scorching 22.6 points and 11.7 assists per contest. Though those numbers have dipped to 20.6 and 8.8, respectively, during the early portion of January, he's still throwing up impressive stats each time he takes to the court. 

    Have they resulted in victories? Not yet, as the Wizards are still attempting to climb back up to .500 and rebound from their difficult start to the campaign. But it's hard to pin the blame on Wall, who has turned a struggling squad into a more respectable one whenever he plays. 

    Without the 25-year-old floor general, Washington is being outscored by 7.9 points per 100 possessions, and that margin shrinks to just a single point when he's on the floor.

    No disrespect to Damian Lillard, Reggie Jackson, a now-healthy Kyrie Irving or the many great point guards who couldn't even make the honorable mentions—in particular, Kemba Walker, Isaiah Thomas, Rajon Rondo and Ricky Rubio deserve shoutouts. But that's enough to push this Wizard into the No. 5 spot.  

    Honorable Mentions: Irving, Jackson, Lillard

Point Guard No. 4: Chris Paul

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Age: 30

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.5 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.1 blocks, 24.1 PER

    The ridiculously good version of Chris Paul is back. 

    During his last 10 outings, the Los Angeles Clippers' undisputed leader has averaged 21.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 10.8 assists and 1.7 steals while shooting 46.2 percent from the field, 34.2 percent from beyond the arc and 88.9 percent at the charity stripe. Perhaps even more impressively, he's shouldering an immense offensive burden in Blake Griffin's absence and still refusing to turn the ball over even three times per game. 

    On the season, Paul's turnover percentage stands at 14.2, which would actually be the worst mark of his career.

    But to put that in perspective, it still leaves him as one of 86 qualified guards this season with a turnover percentage on the right side of 15. Among that large group, he's the only one who is averaging more than seven assists per game, and he's beating that cutoff by a wide margin. 

    Paul's ability to control a contest is still nearly peerless, enabling him to get the LAC offense going without giving the opposition any easy fast-break opportunities. Couple that with his knack for creating space and knocking down elbow jumpers, and he remains one of the league's elite point guards, even if his scoring marks aren't quite what we've come to expect. 

Point Guard No. 3: Kyle Lowry

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    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Age: 29

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.6 blocks, 23.0 PER

    According to my total points added database (TPA, which is explained in full throughout this article), Kyle Lowry deserves some serious MVP consideration. He's on pace to add 425.85 points this season, which leaves him behind only Stephen Curry (633.46), Russell Westbrook (594.78), LeBron James (479.63) and Kawhi Leonard (467.79).

    To put that in perspective, the most comparable player from the 2014-15 campaign would be Chris Paul, who finished the year at No. 4 in TPA, behind only Curry, Westbrook and James Harden

    Basketball-Reference.com's MVP Award Tracker agrees. By looking at historical trends and current statistics, the site gives Lowry a 0.3 percent chance at the league's most prestigious individual award, which puts him in 10th place behind a laundry list of fellow should-be All-Stars. 

    At this point, there's no doubt Lowry has established himself as one of the best at his position, and the Toronto Raptors are reaping the rewards. With a blazing first step and the mentality necessary to put his body on the line at both ends of the court, the 29-year-old has taken his game to a top-10 level 2015-16. 

    And, thanks to his trimmed-down physique, that metamorphosis should actually last this year. 

Point Guard No. 2: Russell Westbrook

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Age: 27

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 25.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 9.5 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 29.8 PER

    Were it not for Stephen Curry, we'd all likely be fawning over what a special season Russell Westbrook is enjoying while emerging as—yes, blasphemous as it may sound—the best player on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Arguably the best defensive point guard in the league this season, he's also picking all the right spots on offense.

    What are those right spots? Well, for the current iteration of Westbrook, all of them. 

    In the past, the Thunder were forced to live with his ill-advised pull-up jumpers in transition because his attack mentality helped make him so special. Now, three-pointers are his only weakness, and he's continued to work on those mid-range shots while probing all the weak points in a defense. As a result, his true shooting percentage is up to a career-best 56.0. 

    Even though Westbrook's scoring numbers are a bit down—the result of playing on a more talented OKC squad with a healthier Kevin Durant—the overall production is insane. Averaging over 25 points, seven rebounds and nine assists isn't exactly easy, which is why only Oscar Robertson has ever done it

    But that comparison gets crazier. 

    Though Robertson managed to throw up those numbers in six consecutive seasons for the Cincinnati Royals, his team always played so quickly that it recorded at least 115.8 possessions per 48 minutes—including more than 120 on three occasions. Meanwhile, this year's Thunder are using 96.2 possessions over the same stretch, which puts Westbrook at an innate disadvantage. 

    He's still overcoming. 

Point Guard No. 1: Stephen Curry

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 27

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 29.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.1 blocks, 31.9 PER

    Though it would be rather easy to list hundreds of statistics and stories that help put Stephen Curry's historic exploits into proper context, we only need one to show how ridiculously good he's been on the offensive end. It's called offensive box plus/minus (OBPM), and it estimates how many more points per 100 possessions a player would add on offense than an average player on an average team. 

    Dating back to 1973, when we can first calculate OBPM, the top two scores both belong to Michael Jordan. His 9.82 in 1987-88 remains the best of all time, and he fell 0.01 shy of matching that during the follow-up season. 

    Curry isn't just on pace to set a new record. He's on track to obliterate Jordan's best score. 

    As of Monday, the Golden State Warriors point guard earned an 11.9 OBPM. The second-best score in 2015-16 belongs to Russell Westbrook (8.4), and only 10 qualified players throughout the league sit north of 5.0. 

    In other words, the separation between Curry's 11.9 OBPM and Jordan's all-time record is a staggering 2.08 points per 100 possessions. To really drive that home, it's worth noting that the difference between 1987-88 Jordan and 1976-77 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who sits at No. 29 on the all-time list, is about the equivalent of the current gap between Curry and Jordan. 

    Even if the sharpshooter regresses, he's still producing on offense like no one ever has.

Shooting Guard No. 5: Dwyane Wade

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Age: 33

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 21.2 PER

    As Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley explained while arguing that Dwyane Wade has become the Miami Heat's Benjamin Button, the veteran 2-guard has managed to improve his game during his age-33 season: 

    Wade's occasional flashback finish can't threaten Father Time's unblemished record, but the tweaks he's made over the years can help extend the fight.

    He'll go around or even under defenders he used to finish over, emptying his bag of tricks and utilizing every inch of his self-dubbed 'old-man game.' His dunk tapes might not surface like they used to, but his highlight reel keeps growing with brilliant ball fakes, razor-sharp handles and a feathery mid-range jumper built to withstand the test of time.

    Wade still isn't a great jump-shooter. His lack of three-point range ultimately hinders his game. But the overall strength of the Heat has allowed him to pick the appropriate times to use his more limited levels of energy, and the results have been impressive. 

    Not only has he remained a positive presence on the offensive end, but he's no longer such a glaring defensive liability. With more pep in his step, he's been able to buckle down on the point-preventing side with increasing frequency. 

    Wade isn't particularly close to reasserting himself as one of the league's truly elite 2-guards, despite what the occasional flashes of vintage play might lead you to believe. But at this stage, that's fine, especially because the future Hall of Famer has managed to make the most of his situation. 

    Honorable Mentions: Will Barton, Nicolas Batum, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Shooting Guard No. 4: DeMar DeRozan

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    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Age: 26

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 22.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.1 PER

    This is the version of DeMar DeRozan the Toronto Raptors have wanted to see for so long. 

    Instead of firing away recklessly from the perimeter, he's attacking the basket and playing to his strengths. Whereas 65.5 percent of his shots came from at least 10 feet away from the basket during the 2014-15 season, only 55.2 percent have throughout the current campaign. For such an athletic player, that's a massive difference, and it's allowed him to hit from outside with a bit more accuracy. 

    But that's not the only improvement DeRozan has made. 

    Without recording turnovers at a higher rate, he's tapped into his skill as a distributor. His assist percentage now stands at a career-best 21, leaving last year's mark of 17 in the dust. For years, the Raptors have been more dangerous when he's willing to involve his teammates, and his knack for racking up dimes this year has helped keep Toronto right near the top of the Eastern Conference. 

Shooting Guard No. 3: Klay Thompson

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, 18.4 PER

    Klay Thompson hasn't been the most consistent offensive threat during the Golden State Warriors' stellar start to their championship defense, but everything has averaged out nicely for him. He's still posting 21.1 points during the typical outing, and those points are coming on 46.9 percent shooting from the field, 43.5 percent from downtown and 81.1 percent at the stripe. 

    Somehow, the occasional struggles haven't prevented this 25-year-old from increasing his true shooting percentage between seasons, and his mark stood at an impressive 59.9 percent as of Monday. 

    Nonetheless, Thompson has regressed a bit in 2015-16. 

    His defense hasn't been anything to write home about, and the primary strides he made during the title-winning run have now gone by the wayside. Maybe it's just a result of Draymond Green's increased role in the Golden State offense, but Thompson is not generating as many assists and seems far more uninvolved when he's not scoring. 

    Additionally, he's begun relying on his teammates to set him up once more, despite the noticeable improvements as a shot-creating threat in 2014-15. It's obviously still working for Golden State, but it's prevented him from standing out enough to remain in the same class as the next two shooting guards. 

Shooting Guard No. 2: Jimmy Butler

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Age: 26

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 22.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, 21.7 PER

    Jimmy Butler has taken on even more offensive responsibility for the Chicago Bulls this season, to the point that he's now averaging career highs in both points and assists. But it's not those raw per-game totals that are so impressive; it's the fact he's posted them without sacrificing other parts of his game. 

    If we look at the 26-year-old's efficiency levels, they haven't dipped much. He's turning the ball over slightly more than he did in 2014-15, but his true shooting percentage remains a noteworthy 57.2. That leaves him as one of only five players—Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden and LeBron James are the others—averaging at least 20 points and four assists with a true shooting percentage north of 57. 

    Butler also refuses to take another step back on defense. 

    Though he declined from a Defensive Player of the Year candidate into an above-average defender who wasn't particularly close to winning an award when he took on such an immense offensive burden in 2014-15, increasing his output hasn't resulted in any further defensive regression. 

    According to ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus (DRPM), Butler's score of 0.43 last year left him as the No. 17 defender at his position. This season, with a 0.46 DRPM, he's up to No. 12 among all shooting guards. 

Shooting Guard No. 1: James Harden

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Age: 26

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 28.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.7 blocks, 24.3 PER

    It's easy to poke holes in James Harden's game by pointing out his complete apathy on the defensive end. He still refuses to play help defense and watches the rock with shocking frequency, even if he's improved slightly in on-ball situations. 

    But no player is ever perfect, and the rest of Harden's game more than makes up for his lack of point-preventing awareness.

    Even if we look only at his combination of scoring, rebounding and distributing, he's already in a class of his own. Throughout all of NBA history, Larry Bird, Richie Guerin, John Havlicek, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Russell Westbrook are the only players to average at least 28 points, six rebounds and six assists for a full season. 

    "He elevates everybody when he is the playmaker," Houston Rockets teammate Corey Brewer said about his 2-guard after an overtime victory over the Indiana Pacers, per ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins. "When the ball pops and he’s moving it around, guys are getting wide-open shots. You've just got to make the shots."

    Though the Rockets have continued to struggle in the wins column and Harden's poor defense can occasionally be contagious, he's still made quite the impact for this Western Conference squad. 

Small Forward No. 5: Jae Crowder

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.5 blocks, 15.7 PER 

    If you don't think Jae Crowder is a star, stop living in the past. 

    According to TPA, the breakout member of the Boston Celtics is on pace to produce more points this season than all but 20 members of the Association—just three of whom are primarily listed as small forwards. The production stems from his ability to contribute on both ends of the court in equally effective fashion. 

    Crowder has yet to become a household name, and that's partially because he doesn't average a boatload of points. Instead, he does everything else whenever he steps onto the floor, even contributing in ways that don't show up in a standard box score. 

    Oh, and now he's starting to score. 

    "The small forward continues to raise his offensive game to another level and has nearly surpassed [Isaiah] Thomas as the team's leading scorer over his last 10 games by averaging 18.1 points per game," Brian Robb wrote for Boston.com on Jan. 9.

    His consistency allows him to beat out some of the bigger names for one of our featured spots. 

    Honorable Mentions: Danilo Gallinari, Gordon Hayward, Otto Porter Jr.

Small Forward No. 4: Carmelo Anthony

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Age: 31

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 21.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, 21.2 PER

    This isn't the Carmelo Anthony we've watched for the last decade. 

    Instead of focusing on his scoring, the 31-year-old has matured into a player who's capable of taking on whatever role his team desires. His ability not only to put up gaudy point totals but also to involve and inspire his teammates has been a major reason the New York Knicks have already won more games in 2015-16 than they did throughout their miserable 2014-15 campaign. 

    Anthony is averaging a career-best 3.8 assists. He's recording four dimes per 36 minutes for the first time in his NBA tenure, and his assist percentage is up in the 20s for the first time since 2011-12. These are all positive developments, and we're not even including the times he passes the ball out of a double-team instead of firing up an ill-advised shot.

    "Anthony is obviously the Knicks' best scorer, but he is also probably their most effective passer at this point," Bleacher Report's Jared Dubin wrote in late December. "Jerian Grant can't get on the floor because teams don't respect his jump shot, and Jose Calderon can't draw multiple defenders toward his dribble because he's not a threat to drive."

    We could be seeing a development that will prolong Anthony's time among the league's true stars, even as his athleticism declines and he's dunking with far less frequency. 

Small Forward No. 3: Kevin Durant

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Age: 27

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 26.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.3 blocks, 28.3 PER 

    Kevin Durant's shooting ability remains off the charts. 

    He's not only averaging 26.5 points, but he's doing so with such scorching levels of efficiency that he's tantalizingly close to joining the 50/40/90 club again. With health at his disposal—save a minor toe injury—Durant has knocked down 51.7 percent of his shots from the field, 41.5 percent of his treys and 89.8 percent of his looks at the free-throw line. 

    At this point, the only thing holding the former MVP back as he attempts to climb up the small forward rankings is defense. Though he can shut down many opponents and remains an above-average point-preventer, he's simply not a lockdown stopper. 

    According to defensive box plus/minus (DBPM, which is the defensive equivalent of OBPM), Durant is a mere 0.5 points per 100 possessions better than an average player. ESPN.com's DRPM has him ranked No. 23 among small forwards.

    Though the 27-year-old is indeed a two-way player, the games he's missed this season and his lack of true excellence on the less glamorous end leave him just shy of the top two. 

Small Forward No. 2: Kawhi Leonard

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Age: 24

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.9 blocks, 26.9 PER

    The reigning Defensive Player of the Year isn't supposed to get substantially better on the offensive end while maintaining his defensive prowess. And yet, that's exactly what's happened for Kawhi Leonard, who is now pushing the San Antonio Spurs to ridiculous levels of success. 

    San Antonio isn't exactly a bad team when Leonard is off the floor. The Gregg Popovich system works so well that no single player can ever have too large of an effect. But when Leonard plays, the net rating does rise by 2.1, growing to even more mind-numbing margins. 

    Leonard has turned his biggest predraft weakness (shooting) into a definitive strength. He's now averaging 20.7 points, and it's not just because he can attack the basket and finish plays close to the hoop; he's also capable of knocking down a league-best 49.3 percent of his shots from downtown. 

    So how complete a player has he become? Well, let's look at the two components of TPA—offensive points added (OPA) and defensive points saved (DPS). 

    Thus far, my databases show that Leonard is on pace to finish with the NBA's No. 7 OPA, trailing only Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. However, he's also tracking toward a No. 5 showing in DPS, putting him behind just Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan, Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol in a stat typically dominated by big men. 

    That two-way combination is just unfair. And what's even crazier is that this 24-year-old could still get better. 

Small Forward No. 1: LeBron James

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Age: 31

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 25.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 27.2 PER

    This LeBron James dude is still pretty good at basketball. 

    Now the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, he's continuing to take control of the Cleveland Cavaliers offense while refusing to let the team lose many games. As a result, the difference between when he's on and off the court is insane—which is nothing new. 

    Without James, the Cavs score only 96.8 points per 100 possessions, which would give them the No. 29 offensive rating throughout the Association, better than only the Philadelphia 76ers. They also give up 105.1 points over the same stretch, leaving them all the way down at No. 17 in the defensive rating standings. 

    But with James, Cleveland's offensive and defensive ratings climb and fall to 113.2 and 100.1, respectively. This time, his squad would place No. 2 in each of the two major categories. 

    Just think about that difference. 

    Without the four-time MVP, the Cavaliers are getting outscored at about the same rate as the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers. And when he plays, they're doing the outscoring by such a gaudy margin that their net rating is superior to the season-long mark produced by the two-loss Golden State Warriors. 

    How's that for impact? 

Power Forward No. 5: Chris Bosh

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Age: 31

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks, 22.7 PER

    While Hassan Whiteside has drawn headlines for his shot-blocking ability and athletic dunks, Dwyane Wade has excelled during a resurgent campaign, Tyler Johnson has broken out and Goran Dragic has searched for his shot, Chris Bosh has been the Miami Heat's anchor. 

    Though he typically throws up just less than 20 points during his average outing, Bosh hasn't seemed to mind the occasional game in which he serves as a decoy. His three-point shooting—he's knocking down 40.2 percent of his 4.4 attempts per contest—has improved to the point that he exhibits one of the strongest gravitational pulls in the Association. 

    Additionally, he's improved dramatically on the defensive glass and is posting a 22.6 defensive rebounding percentage that would be his best mark since his final season with the Toronto Raptors. And if that's not enough, the 31-year-old is also becoming a stronger defensive player. 

    Per NBA.com's SportVU databases, Bosh is allowing opponents to shoot 50.5 percent at the rim, which is hardly a noteworthy mark. However, his versatility has helped him make an impact outside the paint, leaving the rim-protecting work to other players such as Whiteside. 

    Not many players enjoy their most productive seasons while in their 30s, but that's exactly what's happening for Bosh. 

    Honorable Mentions: Serge Ibaka, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki

Power Forward No. 4: Paul Millsap

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 30

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.3 blocks, 23.1 PER 

    Paul Millsap's versatility for the Atlanta Hawks continues to be astounding. 

    In the NBA, it's tough enough for a qualified contributor to average at least one steal and one block. During the 2015-16 season, only eight different players are doing so: Clint Capela, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Draymond Green, Dwight Howard, Nerlens Noel and Millsap. 

    But let's keep adding skills. 

    Grabbing more than eight rebounds per game isn't particularly easy in the Association, and including that criterion with the previous ones drops Capela out of contention for this versatility crown. Now, we're down to just seven candidates.

    Usually, players capable of crashing the boards so well aren't skilled enough to average at least three assists. Including that benchmark, the group shrinks to just two—Green and Millsap. 

    Green is the better passer by a wide margin, but he's only averaging 15 points per game this season. Millsap's scoring gives him the edge in this quest for versatility even if, as you'll soon see, that doesn't necessarily make him Green's overall superior. 

Power Forward No. 3: Anthony Davis

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    Team: New Orleans Pelicans

    Age: 22

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 22.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.5 blocks, 24.3 PER

    This hasn't been the season so many expected from Anthony Davis. 

    Struggling to get his New Orleans Pelicans out of the red, he's been unable to overcome the litany of injuries to himself and others, the increased defensive attention he deals with most nights and a bit of a shooting slump as he tries to change his style of offensive basketball. Under new head coach Alvin Gentry, Davis gets the ball on the perimeter a bit more, and it's taken him away from some of his established sweet spots. 

    Still, Davis' season is only disappointing when viewed through the lens that had him reaching more historic levels in 2015-16. One year after posting a league-best 30.8 player efficiency rating during his age-21 go-around, it was reasonable to expect the unibrowed big man would submit one of the best individual campaigns we'd ever witnessed. 

    But if we forget about those expectations, Davis has still been excellent.

    It's quite difficult to emerge as a shot-blocking stud who averages more than 20 points and 10 rebounds in ultra-efficient fashion. 

Power Forward No. 2: Paul George

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 24.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 21.0 PER

    It doesn't matter that Paul George has typically lined up at small forward for the Indiana Pacers during previous seasons. He's played the 4 in small-ball lineups so often this year that Basketball-Reference.com has 57 percent of his minutes coming at power forward. 

    The eye test works as well here, since his most-used five-man lineup features him sharing the court with George Hill, Monta Ellis and C.J. Miles. 

    But no matter what position George is playing, he's playing it quite well. The 25-year-old hasn't looked like a player who is attempting to get past any mental hurdles that remain from his devastating leg injury, as he's attacking the hoop with reckless abandon and draining shot after shot from the perimeter.

    Turnovers have been problematic for George, as have some mid-range jumpers from in and around the painted area. Nevertheless, he's more than made up for the flaws in his game with his deep-shooting ability, defensive presence and knack for acting like a leader on an Indiana squad that needs one. 

    Thus far, the Pacers have been outscored by 3.5 points per 100 possessions when George is on the pine. When he plays, they're the ones doing the outscoring, to the tune of a 5.8 net rating. 

Power Forward No. 1: Draymond Green

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 15.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.4 blocks, 20.4 PER 

    Is there any doubt?

    With Anthony Davis fighting nagging injuries to himself and his teammates, Blake Griffin injured, Kevin Love still adjusting to his role with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Paul George continuing to learn the nuances of the power forward position, Draymond Green has clearly earned the No. 1 spot at the 4. 

    It's not just the triple-doubles that make this 25-year-old so special, even though he's racked up a league-best eight of them through early January. It's not just the developing three-point stroke that has helped him make small-ball lineups work so well. It's not just the defensive prowess that should leave him as a strong contender for Defensive Player of the Year. 

    It's everything. 

    Green can fill just about any role for the Golden State Warriors, and he's consistently done exactly that while proving himself invaluable to the defending champions. Just consider the fact that the Dubs' net rating improves by 29.7 when he's on the floor, leaving him slightly behind Stephen Curry's plus-30.3 on/off split for the top mark on the team. 

    Whether he's an All-Star is now a silly question. Whether he's an All-NBA First Team player should have a similarly obvious answer. 

    The best inquiry of all now revolves around how high up he'll finish in the MVP voting, since a legitimate argument could be made that he should trail only Curry. According to Basketball-Reference.com's MVP Award Tracker, he sits at No. 2, behind just Curry. 

Center No. 5: Andre Drummond

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Age: 22

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 15.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.5 blocks, 23.6 PER

    Though both are encompassed in the overarching umbrella of rebounding, work on the offensive and defensive glass can often make use of entirely different skill sets. They each need timing, physicality, size and athleticism, but there's a reason the same players don't typically serve as the league's best board-crashers on each end. 

    Well, unless we're talking about Andre Drummond.

    With a 16.2 offensive rebounding percentage, the Detroit Pistons big man is narrowly ahead of Enes Kanter for the NBA lead among qualified players. Meanwhile, he's beating DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside and everyone else by a sizable margin in defensive rebounding percentage. 

    How rare is the double victory? 

    Since the NBA-ABA merger, only Reggie Evans, Dikembe Mutombo and Dennis Rodman have ever pulled it off. 

    Honorable Mentions: Nikola Vucevic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Whiteside

Center No. 4: DeAndre Jordan

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Age: 27

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.4 blocks, 20.3 PER 

    Though DeAndre Jordan will likely fail to complete his rebounding crown three-peat (see: Drummond, Andre), he's still having another fantastic season.

    He's no longer quite as much of a black hole on the offensive end, able to capably pass the ball out to the perimeter or hit the occasional cutter. He's also making about the same scoring impact as he did in 2014-15, averaging a comparable number of points while shooting just as efficiently from the field with a slight uptick at the charity stripe. 

    But Jordan is actually improving on the defensive end.

    Last year, his supposed candidacy for Defensive Player of the Year was a bit of a sham, created by his gaudy rebounding numbers and block totals. It ignored that he didn't have that large of an actual impact.

    This season, that hasn't been the case.

    His DBPM has risen from 3.2 to 3.5, and ESPN.com shows that his 5.61 DRPM leaves him behind only Tim Duncan throughout the entire Association. Last year, Jordan was all the way down at No. 37 with a 2.43 DRPM, just behind Jared Dudley and Roy Hibbert

    "He's been great. I think our defensive changes kind of affected him a little bit," Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers recently told NBA.com's Rowan Kavner about his center, referring to the new strategy of having him hang back around the rim instead of showing on pick-and-rolls. "I don't think in a positive way, early. But as it went on, I think he loves where he's at and he's doing it and he's been great, so it's real good."

Center No. 3: Al Horford

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    Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 29

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 15.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.5 blocks, 21.5 PER

    Without an insane undefeated January like the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks enjoyed, the 2015-16 version of the team hasn't received nearly as much attention. Sure, the squad isn't as strong, but it's just 4.5 games back of the Cleveland Cavaliers, sitting at No. 4 in the Eastern Conference and on pace to win 50 games. 

    Al Horford is the biggest reason for the continued success. 

    Even though he doesn't put up glamorous statistics, Horford has served as the heart and soul of Atlanta's basketball club for years. He's a solid interior defender who allows the wings to gamble in passing lanes, and his jump-shooting range opens up so much in head coach Mike Budenholzer's offensive schemes. 

    This year, that range has extended beyond the three-point arc far more frequently. 

    Up through the end of the 2013-14 campaign, the big man had never taken more than 11 triples in a single season. Then, he made 11 in 2014-15 while attempting 36 in his 76 appearances. Now, he's already made more than he attempted all of last year (39-of-115), and we're not even close to the All-Star break. 

    This isn't an example of a star who is frivolously adding to his game.

    The addition has directly benefited the Hawks while they try to compensate for the loss of DeMarre Carroll, opening up driving lines for the guards that wouldn't otherwise exist. Meanwhile, it's yet another way for Horford to prove he's always been willing to do whatever the coaching staff asks, even if it pushes him outside of his comfort zone. 

Center No. 2: Tim Duncan

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    Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Age: 39 Irrelevant

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 9.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.3 blocks, 17.8 PER 

    While it might seem strange that a player who is averaging only 9.1 points and 7.9 rebounds would rank as the No. 2 star at his position, Tim Duncan has always been a positive presence who defied typical per-game measuring sticks.

    Just take his ultra-valuable shot-blocking skills as an example, since he's made a habit out of keeping the rejections inbounds instead of swatting them into the stands. It's the Duncan method that results in fast-break points while flying under the radar, but it's the Dwight Howard method that results in SportsCenter highlights while granting the opposition an extra possession. 

    Thus far, a serious case could be made that Duncan, who has yet to win this particular award during his distinguished NBA career, should be the Defensive Player of the Year front-runner. He leads ESPN.com's DRPM leaderboard, my databases show that he trails only Draymond Green and DeAndre Jordan in defensive points saved, and he's made the San Antonio Spurs 1.7 points stingier per 100 possessions, dropping the team's defensive rating to a ridiculous 94.7. 

    Could Duncan score more if he wanted to or the Spurs needed him to fill such a role? Probably, seeing as his game has always felt ageless. 

    But instead, he's done exactly what he needs to: focus on the defensive end while emerging as a playmaking frontcourt stud who can contribute in every area imaginable. 

Center No. 1: DeMarcus Cousins

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    Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 25.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks, 23.5 PER

    Here's where we turn to my FATS model, which relies on historical comparisons and is explained in full here

    According to FATS, when DeMarcus Cousins is off the court, the Sacramento Kings compare most favorably to a Toronto Raptors outfit that went 21-61 during the franchise's inaugural season. But when he's playing, the Kings suddenly morph into a team that draws its strongest comparison from the 1975-76 Phoenix Suns squad that went 42-40.

    That's a sizable difference, and it's an appropriate on/off split for a big man as skilled as Cousins. Even when he's trying to expand his range and struggling on the defensive end, his combination of physicality and finesse makes him a dangerous matchup for any opponent. 

    Cousins has taken a step in the wrong direction this year, but it's stunning that he's able to average more than 25 points and 10 rebounds even after doing so. As he continues to gain comfort in playing for George Karl and with by so many new teammates, he should just get even better. 

    Though the Kentucky product has been a bit disappointing in 2015-16, there's no point in trying to get cute here.

    He's still the best center in basketball. 

     

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are from Basketball-Reference.com or Adam's own databases and are current heading into games on Jan. 11.