NBA Superstar Rankings 2016: Stephen Curry Doing It All to Top League's Stars
Stephen Curry refuses to slow down.
Rebounding nicely from an inexplicable loss to the Detroit Pistons by thrashing both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls on the road, he and the Golden State Warriors are just keeping up their torrid pace. Yes, the comparisons to a certain team from the 1995-96 NBA season will continue coming—and for good reason.
But other teams also boast superstars. The Association is brimming over with notable players in the midst of exemplary seasons, and a few more are fighting to earn status as household names.
Based on on-court performance and a bit of history, this is how the best of the best currently stack up. There won't be any legacy awards handed out here, but we will be using past output to determine how sustainable some of these first-half exploits should be.
Open your minds. Defense matters in these rankings, and not all of the results will fit in with the conventional wisdom of the masses.
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 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.
Nicolas Batum, SG/SF, Charlotte Hornets
This unleashed version of Nicolas Batum continues to keep the Charlotte Hornets from capitulating in the wake of the Al Jefferson injury. He's still averaging a career high in assists per game (5.5), and his shooting from beyond the arc (35.5 percent) has helped a team that doesn't always have consistent threats from three-point territory.
Jae Crowder, SF, Boston Celtics
Popular perception still lags well behind the actual production.
Hard as it may be for some non-Boston Celtics fans to wrap their minds around, Jae Crowder has actually played like he belongs on the Eastern Conference All-Star squad. According to my total points added database (TPA, which looks at how many more points a player adds than a league-average contributor and is explained in full throughout this article), he's on pace to finish with the league's No. 22 score.
Pau Gasol, PF/C, Chicago Bulls
Even though Pau Gasol's scoring numbers are dipping, he's remained a dominant rebounder who contributes a surprising amount on the defensive end. The Spanish 7-footer still isn't very mobile, but head coach Fred Hoiberg has been properly planting him right around the basket and allowing the rest of the Chicago Bulls to minimize the territory he must cover.
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Boston Celtics
Throughout NBA history, only five different players listed below 6'0" have managed to average at least 20 points during a qualified season: Michael Adams, Dana Barros, Calvin Murphy, Damon Stoudamire and Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas did so for the first time in 2013-14, but his 21.8 points per game in 2015-16 put him on pace to join Murphy as one of only two multi-time entrants.
Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat
No player in the league is a bigger threat to record a triple-double with blocks as one of the three categories—a feat Hassan Whiteside has already accomplished twice this year. But that still doesn't mean he's as valuable as the raw numbers would indicate. Until he stops chasing rejections at the expense of proper defensive positioning and learns how to pass the ball, he'll keep failing to completely maximize his immense upside.
25. Kyrie Irving
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 18.1 PER
The individual numbers aren't quite there yet. During Kyrie Irving's first 13 games since returning from his knee injury, he's uncharacteristically connected on just 41.1 percent of his shots from the field and 27.1 percent of his looks from beyond the three-point arc.
However, he's already making a substantial impact on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When this 23-year-old is on the floor, the defending Eastern Conference champions are outscoring the opposition by a staggering 9.6 points per 100 possessions. In lineups that feature him alongside both Kevin Love and LeBron James, the team's net rating stands at 11.3.
As he continues to gain comfort and chemistry, Irving's individual prowess will look more impressive, just as it has in previous seasons. In other words, he's only going to keep moving up these rankings as the campaign progresses.
24. Kemba Walker
Team: Charlotte Hornets
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 19.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.6 blocks, 20.6 PER
On Jan. 18, Kemba Walker tormented the Utah Jazz with an endless barrage of mid-range jumpers and creative paths to the rim, finishing with a franchise-record 52 points during the overtime victory. En route to joining Jimmy Butler, Stephen Curry and James Harden in this season's 50-point club, he knocked down 16 of his 34 shots from the field and went 6-of-11 from downtown.
"I just tried to make the best plays possible. When I had my shot, I tried to be aggressive, take them and make them," he told the Associated Press after the game, per ESPN.com.
Previous versions of Walker wouldn't have been able to match that outing while maintaining such levels of efficiency. He's doing a significantly better job picking the right spots in 2015-16, and that's resulted in a career-best field-goal percentage (43.3) and the best three-point percentage of his NBA tenure (37.6).
If you're looking for a player who's made the proverbial leap, you've found him.
23. DeAndre Jordan
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 13.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.4 blocks, 20.2 PER
This year's version of DeAndre Jordan deserves some serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year, even if the Los Angeles Clippers' defensive rating is actually 0.1 points per 100 possessions higher when he's on the floor. That on/off split fails to account for context, and Jordan has spent an awful lot of time cleaning up for the mistakes of some porous teammates.
His defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) of 3.4 indicates he's saving the Clippers 3.4 more points per 100 possessions than a league-average player would. ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus (DRPM) gives him a score of 5.49, which trails only Tim Duncan throughout the entire Association.
But perhaps most impressively, he's blocking shots at a high rate and still making the right fundamental play when the situation arises. Getting caught in the air can be a bad thing, and Jordan hasn't done so nearly as often in 2015-16.
22. Andre Drummond
Team: Detroit Pistons
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 15.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.5 blocks, 22.7 PER
Andre Drummond's offensive game is developing, and he's clearly been the NBA's best rebounder this year. Both those factors push him just slightly ahead of DeAndre Jordan, even if the Detroit Pistons big man still hasn't maximized his talent on the defensive end.
Given his physicality and athletic ability, it's a bit disconcerting that the Pistons have been so bad at protecting the cup in 2015-16. Nylon Calculus' metrics indicate Drummond has saved only 4.7 points per 36 minutes at the rim, which leaves him behind 29 other qualified big men. Even more problematically, NBA.com's SportVU data shows Detroit has allowed opponents to shoot 55.4 percent at the hoop, which is the league's worst mark with room to spare.
Drummond is by no means a terrible defender, and his versatility aids him significantly. But until he helps his teammates shut down the restricted area, he's not making the most of his natural talents. Don't be fooled by the gaudy per-game stats, even if they do indicate the ridiculous extent to which he's improved.
21. Reggie Jackson
Team: Detroit Pistons
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.1 blocks, 21.3 PER
There should be little doubt Reggie Jackson has blossomed into an elite talent on the offensive end. He's continued to play with the proper mentality during his first full season with the Detroit Pistons, and that's established him as both a scoring threat and a strong distributor.
Per 36 minutes, Jackson is averaging 22.6 points and 7.6 assists in the Motor City, which puts him in a rather exclusive group. Among qualified players who log at least 25 minutes per game, only one has matched both those numbers this season: Russell Westbrook.
In fact, even if we drop the restrictions to more reasonable levels, the number of players doesn't grow too dramatically. Using the same qualifications, only Jackson, Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, Chris Paul and John Wall have averaged at least 20 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.
This Detroit point guard might have a long way to go before he becomes the most famous Reggie Jackson in the history of spots, but that's not preventing him from making a quick ascent up the NBA's individual hierarchy.
20. Tim Duncan
- Tim Duncan, 204.88 DPS
- Draymond Green, 195.1
- Pau Gasol, 178.08
- DeAndre Jordan, 177
- Hassan Whiteside, 175.95
- Kawhi Leonard, 172.59
- Paul Millsap, 146.02
- Russell Westbrook, 144.78
- LeBron James, 133.01
- Nerlens Noel, 131.24
Team: San Antonio Spurs
Age: 39 Irrelevant
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 9.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.3 blocks, 17.6 PER
TPA is made up of two different components—defensive points saved (DPS) and offensive points added (OPA). And if we focus in on DPS, it's easy to make a case that Tim Duncan should be one of the leading candidates for Defensive Player of the Year.
Through games on Jan. 19, Duncan is on pace to lead the NBA in DPS by a rather significant margin. Here are the top 10 scores, prorated to a full season:
But what makes that even more incredible is the fact that DPS factors in playing time. The more possessions you spend on the court, the higher your score can rise.
Duncan is leading the league despite only logging 26.1 minutes per contest. He's been that good, and this scatterplot of every player in the league's minutes and DPS should make it clear how much of an aberration he's become.
19. Carmelo Anthony
Team: New York Knicks
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 21.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks, 20.7 PER
"Carmelo Anthony needed multiple replays to be convinced that he did the right thing by passing up a potential game-winning shot and passing the ball to Jose Calderon on Friday night in San Antonio," Al Iannazzone wrote for Newsday.com in early January. "The old Anthony wouldn't have thought twice in that situation."
This isn't the same Carmelo Anthony we've become accustomed to watching. He's still a dynamic scorer who can torture opponents with his outside shooting, back-to-the-basket work and quick release. He's still the New York Knicks' No. 1 option almost every time he steps onto the floor. He's still scoring over 20 points per game—something he's done during every season of his career.
But he's also deferring to his teammates and allowing Kristaps Porzingis to blossom into a leading Rookie of the Year candidate. He's letting Arron Afflalo catch fire, while Robin Lopez becomes more confident calling his own number in the post.
Above all else, he's helping the Knicks win games, not just seeking out individual stats and accolades.
18. Damian Lillard
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 24.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.5 PER
If it weren't for Stephen Curry, we'd be spending quite a bit more time dissecting Damian Lillard's volume three-point shooting.
Through his first three-and-a-half years with the Portland Trail Blazers, he's dropped in 713 triples. That's already more than all but 158 players have made throughout their entire careers. Klay Thompson (784) is the only man in NBA history to hit more treys during his first four seasons, and Lillard should pretty easily blow by that mark at the conclusion of the 2015-16 campaign.
Lillard is taking a career-high 8.2 triples per game for Rip City, and he's hitting them at a 37.7 percent clip. That percentage might not seem particularly gaudy, but it's telling that throughout the Association's annals, only three players have managed to shoot better than 37 percent from beyond the arc while taking at least eight attempts per contest: Ray Allen, Curry and George McCloud (who did so in 1995-96, when the three-point arc was closer to the hoop).
17. Al Horford
Team: Atlanta Hawks
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.5 blocks, 20.4 PER
What can't Al Horford do?
Even though shooting more three-pointers this year hasn't helped his deep percentage, he's still willing and able to fill any role the Atlanta Hawks slot him into. If he needs to take a step back as a scorer and focus more on the defensive end, that works. If he needs to take over a game with his mid-range jumper, the same applies.
As a result, Horford is submitting one of the more unique lines in the league. He and Pau Gasol are the only players averaging at least 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists and 1.5 blocks this season.
The 29-year-old could probably be doing more, but that would go against his whole do-everything-for-the-team mentality. And the Hawks presumably wouldn't have it any other way.
16. Chris Bosh
Team: Miami Heat
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, 21.9 PER
Hassan Whiteside throws up the glamorous triple-doubles and gets hyped as the breakout player on the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade is the member of the old guard who still shows flashes of his vintage self and remains popular as ever. Goran Dragic is the guy who needs to get going in order to lift the team's ceiling.
But right now, Chris Bosh is the lifeblood of the organization.
Even though he doesn't post particularly noteworthy per-contest numbers, he's become an equal-opportunity threat in virtually every facet of the game. Bosh is capable of pulling down rebounds against bigger players, scoring from all areas of the floor, serving as a secondary distributor and defending the rim when Whiteside is out of the game.
Perhaps most importantly, he's exerting an immense gravitational pull with his three-point shooting. Few bigs are capable of taking 4.3 triples per outing and drilling them at a 38.5 percent clip, but Bosh's knack for doing so opens up plenty of driving lanes and post-up opportunities for his teammates.
15. Paul Millsap
Team: Atlanta Hawks
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.3 blocks, 23.5 PER
Impressive as Al Horford has been in 2015-16, it's Paul Millsap who's emerged as the Atlanta Hawks' best player. And we'll go even further, arguing that this power forward would be the favorite to earn the final starting spot in the Eastern Conference All-Star squad's frontcourt (if merit were the only thing that mattered).
ESPN.com's Zach Lowe agrees, also noting Millsap and Bosh have been virtually interchangeable:
Bosh has easily been Miami's best all-around player -- and the most underappreciated player in the sport. He is the common denominator in almost all of the Heat's best lineups, a tribute to his two-way versatility. Millsap gets the final starting spot by a nose after another splendid half-season of trick shots and rip steals, but you could swap him to the bench for Bosh without much of an argument.
TPA, however, doesn't think it's that close.
Through the first half of the season, my databases show Bosh is on pace to add 190.47 points to the Miami Heat cause—the league's No. 18 mark. Millsap is far higher, with a prorated TPA of 308.26. In fact, only Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and James Harden are ahead of him.
14. John Wall
Team: Washington Wizards
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 20.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.8 blocks, 20.3 PER
It might seem crazy that John Wall isn't listed in the top 10, but that's how ridiculously deep the talent pool has become in today's NBA. His rough start to the year is still dooming him, even if he's been on fire while bringing the Washington Wizards back into playoff contention.
For the season as a whole, Wall is awfully close to averaging at least 20 points and 10 assists—something no one has done during a qualified campaign since Deron Williams in 2010-11 and Chris Paul in 2008-09. But if we look at his monthly splits, a trend emerges that could see him join that select group:
That January average won't be enough, but keep in mind it's dragged down by a four-dime outing against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 8. Take that one game out of the equation, and Wall is posting 9.9 assists per contest in January. When the sample size is still so small, a lone outing can have a significant—and misleading—impact.
13. DeMarcus Cousins
Team: Sacramento Kings
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 25.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, 23.5 PER
DeMarcus Cousins is posting ridiculous stats for the Sacramento Kings, but both less effort on the defensive end and a persistent desire to knock down outside shots have prevented him from making a large enough impact.
On the surface, it might not seem problematic that a center is shooting 33.9 percent from beyond the arc, since that should give the Kings a bit more spacing. However, this big man is so focused on getting up deep attempts that he's drawing himself away from areas of the court he's typically dominated.
Cousins' combination of strength and finesse is so unique, and he's not leveraging it nearly as much as he should. Were he to establish himself in the post or set up on the elbows and become a distributing hub, as he so often was in 2014-15, he'd help Sacramento far more.
Remember when he posted back-to-back triple-doubles at the end of last season? We know he's capable of filling that same role, and it's a far better one than what he currently occupies.
12. Paul George
Team: Indiana Pacers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 23.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 20.8 PER
Paul George's shooting percentages have gradually waned during his true return from that devastating leg injury, and that's depressed his overall value to the point that he no longer remains in the thick of the MVP conversation. Shooting 41.3 percent from the field, 37.9 percent from downtown and 85.1 percent at the stripe is by no means terrible, but it's not where he needs to be.
Early in the season, George was right up near the top of the TPA leaderboard. Now, my databases show he's slipped to No. 12, feeling the effects of slowly diminishing defensive play and those declining percentages.
Of course, this is only natural. George is returning from a major injury, and he's simultaneously attempting to play an entirely new position.
This season, 55 percent of his minutes have come at power forward, forcing him to deal with bigger players. Prior to this year, he'd never logged more than 1 percent of his time at the 4, often switching between shooting guard and small forward.
11. Jimmy Butler
Team: Chicago Bulls
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, 21.8 PER
"[Jimmy] Butler has put his money where his mouth is, backing up his five-year, $95 million contract and his talk of wanting to be the Bulls' leader by putting them on his back at times like these," Bleacher Report's Sean Highkin recently wrote about the shooting guard who has clearly emerged as the best player on the Chicago Bulls. "He hasn't missed a game this season and is playing a league-leading 38 minutes per contest, even while banged up."
Everything about this 26-year-old is impressive. His durability is noteworthy, seeing as he's on track to lead the league in minutes per game for the second consecutive season. But even moreso is the ability to maintain such a high performance level while playing hefty minutes.
Butler is improving upon last year's numbers by averaging 22.4 points with a player efficiency rating even higher than the previous season's mark. Plus, he's starting to resume his old lockdown ways on the defensive end.
If he keeps growing at this rate, it won't be long before he's the league's best 2-guard. He's already close.
10. James Harden
Team: Houston Rockets
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 27.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 23.7 PER
If you only looked at James Harden's offensive production, you could make a convincing argument he was one of the NBA's five best players. He's just that good at scoring and distributing for the Houston Rockets, even if some of his shooting percentages are a bit down in 2015-16.
But defense doesn't do Harden any favors. He's regressed to his lazy ways on the point-preventing side, often serving as a matador or refusing to step over and help any of his teammates.
According to DRPM, Harden has been the No. 63 defensive shooting guard out of the 90 players on the list. DBPM has a similar result, leaving the bearded one in the bottom 100 of the league's 280 qualified contributors.
Until there's even the tiniest bit of commitment on the defensive end, there's only so much Harden's offensive dominance can do for him. His one-way play is enough to place him in the top 10—and he's on pace to finish at No. 8 in TPA—but that's about it.
9. Chris Paul
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 18.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.1 blocks, 24.4 PER
Chris Paul is only turning the ball over 2.8 times per game, and that's actually his worst mark since coughing up the rock three times per contest for the 2008-09 New Orleans Hornets. Even a relatively careless Paul is one of the NBA's most careful point guards.
Of course, it's not like he refuses to use possessions for fear of turnovers. He's still averaging 9.6 assists this season, and he routinely takes over as a scorer.
But let's put that in proper context: Throughout all of NBA history, only two players other than Paul have managed to dish out at least 9.5 dimes and score 15 or more points per contest while averaging fewer than three turnovers. Jason Kidd did so in 1998-99, while Ty Lawson joined the club last season.
Unless Paul starts playing uncharacteristically sloppy basketball, he's going to post such a year for the eighth time in his career.
8. Kyle Lowry
Team: Toronto Raptors
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.6 blocks, 23.2 PER
As Neil Paine broke down for FiveThirtyEight, Kyle Lowry is the main reason the Toronto Raptors are a dark horse to emerge from the Eastern Conference and advance to the NBA Finals. The point guard has shown vast improvement on both ends of the court, and his offseason training regimen should get quite a bit of credit:
This season, Lowry has made course corrections at both ends of the floor. Although his usage continues to grow, his scoring efficiency has bounced back, in part because of smarter shot selection. He’s once again devoting fewer shots to the midrange, allowing his rates of taking threes and drawing fouls to return to their historical norms, and he’s been faster and more aggressive in the transition game as well.
On defense, you can really see the effects of Lowry’s offseason weight loss. Last season, Lowry frequently failed when trying to use his strength to fight through screens (both on the ball and off), ceded too many easy buckets on pick-and-rolls and was generally slow to recover when he guessed wrong or his gambles didn’t pay off.
Thanks to the offensive and defensive components, TPA helps put Lowry's two-way improvement into proper perspective (that doesn't even factor in his interview-correcting skills):
|Season||OPA (NBA Rank)||DPS (NBA Rank)|
|2014-15||196.01 (No. 10)||Minus-28 (No. 381)|
|2015-16 (Prorated to a full season)||366.16 (No. 3)||69.74 (No. 35)|
Lowry needs to be in the MVP conversation. But he should also be one of the leading candidates for Most Improved Player after taking his game from a strong level to an historically excellent one.
7. Anthony Davis
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 23.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.4 blocks, 24.7 PER
Though he's looked uncomfortable at times in Alvin Gentry's offensive system and has struggled to carry the team defense through all the injuries the New Orleans Pelicans have suffered, Anthony Davis is still one of the NBA's best players. That shouldn't be much of a surprise after his age-21 campaign, even if he's failed to live up to the monumental expectations that ensued.
But it's not too late.
If we take his three minutes in a Jan. 8 contest against the Indiana Pacers out of the equation, Davis has averaged 24.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.0 blocks during his last 10 outings while shooting 48.9 percent from the field. Even more importantly, he's helped his team earn a .500 record throughout that stretch, which represents a distinct step in the right direction.
This 22-year-old is finally starting to take over games when the need arises. The best should be yet to come, even if what's already happened remains special. Here comes Anthony Davis.
6. Draymond Green
Team: Golden State Warriors
Position: PF Irrelevant
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.4 blocks, 20.3 PER
If you don't think Draymond Green has become a superstar, it's time to change your mind. Get over the preconceived notion that players reaching celestial status must average a ridiculous number of points, because there's so much more to the game of basketball.
Green does absolutely everything for the Golden State Warriors, to the point that the question of whether he or Stephen Curry is more valuable to the squad, which Bleacher Report's Dan Favale posed, is actually a legitimate one. He's a serious candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, and he's simultaneously leading the team with the best record in both rebounds and assists.
That combination is supposed to be impossible, but Green routinely defies conventional norms. He doesn't really have a position, and that versatility is what makes the Dubs run at such a high level.
Need him to knock down triples? Fine, since he's shooting 42.3 percent from beyond the arc on 3.6 attempts per game. Need him to serve as a distributor? That works, whether he's running in transition or screening and waiting for a pass. Need him to lock down on defense? Easy enough, regardless of whether he's playing center in a small-ball lineup or guarding an opposing wing.
Green is on pace to become the NBA's first and only player in history to average at least 14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block. He's tracking toward a No. 6 finish in TPA this year. He's a defensive anchor on one of the best teams ever.
5. Kevin Durant
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 26.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.2 blocks, 28.3 PER
For all the talk about what Kevin Durant could do if Russell Westbrook weren't stealing shots away, he's still posting some awfully good numbers. Averaging 26.6 points while remaining just shy of the 50/40/90 club is nothing to sniff at, and it's partially the product of taking more of an off-ball role.
This is the second season in a row that has seen this forward use assists on more than half of his makes from inside the arc, which stands in stark contrast to what he'd done in each of the three prior go-rounds. Working in spot-up situations and slashing toward the basket has allowed him to conserve energy and make the most of every opportunity, even if it's prevented him from posting 30 points night in and night out.
Of course, it hasn't stopped him from breaking past the 20-point barrier.
After the Oklahoma City Thunder's Wednesday night victory over the Charlotte Hornets, Durant has now scored at least 20 points in each of his last 29 appearances. During the last five years, only five longer streaks have been recorded: Blake Griffin's 30 games in 2013-14, Carmelo Anthony's 31 in 2012-13, LeBron James' 38 between 2011-12 and 2012-13, and Durant's 56 in 2013-14.
4. Kawhi Leonard
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 20.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.9 blocks, 25.7 PER
The diversity of Kawhi Leonard's game is absolutely mind-boggling. Most notably, he's one of the league's best defenders. Coming off a Defensive Player of the Year season, he has a distinct shot at going back-to-back while anchoring one of the NBA's most dominant units ever.
Leonard has also become so much more than a stopper. He's a strong rebounding presence. He can hold his own as a distributor, even if the San Antonio Spurs don't often ask him to fill such a role. Now, he's become one of the NBA's most threatening presences on the offensive end.
The 24-year-old is averaging 20.1 points, but those are coming in extraordinarily efficient fashion. In fact, Leonard is close to the 50/40/90 club, knocking down 50.6 percent of his field-goal attempts, 48.1 percent of his three-point tries and 87.4 percent of his takes at the charity stripe.
That's just not even fair.
3. LeBron James
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 25.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 26.5 PER
Getting blown out by the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors does not mean LeBron James should suddenly drop out of the MVP conversation, even if he posted the worst plus/minus of his professional career during that ill-fated outing, per ESPN Stats & Info. He's still one of the NBA's very best players, and no one is immune to the occasional poor performance.
How many players in the league are capable of averaging at least 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists with a true shooting percentage north of 57 percent?
Just James, who also happens to be more committed on the defensive end than he's been in years. He's actually the lone player in the last decade to post those numbers, and this would be the sixth season in which he'd have done so. Throughout NBA history, only Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West have been versatile and efficient enough to join the club.
This campaign has occasionally seen James post subpar performances, but the body of work is still superior to what's been produced by 99 percent of the league. Basketball-Reference.com's MVP Award Tracker, which is based solely on an objective formula that pulls from current stats and historical patterns, has him at No. 6, and he's on pace to finish with the league's No. 4 TPA.
2. Russell Westbrook
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 24.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 29.3 PER
We know how great Russell Westbrook is on the offensive end. That much is crystal-clear whenever he drains a handful of mid-range jumpers in quick succession or punishes the rim with a thunderous slam. He's even having the best season of his career as a distributor, continuing to evolve as an all-around threat on the more glamorous end.
However, Westbrook's work on defense isn't getting enough credit. Though he can sometimes gamble a bit too often, those risks are normally taken at appropriate times. He knows when the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder can make up for a missed swipe, and he acts accordingly. Plus, that constant level of aggression makes so much happen for his squad.
Without Westbrook on the floor, the Thunder allow 108.1 points per 100 possessions. When he plays, that number plummets to a meager 101.3, which would give OKC the league's No. 2 defensive rating, behind only the San Antonio Spurs.
The individual metrics are similarly impressive.
Among all qualified players, Westbrook is posting the NBA's No. 22 DBPM, best among guards. Given how much time he's spent on the court, that puts him on pace to post the No. 8 DPS, per my databases. Meanwhile, ESPN.com's DRPM has Westbrook at No. 69 throughout the league, but that still puts him in the No. 3 spot at his position, trailing only Kyle Lowry and Ricky Rubio.
At this point, a consistent stroke from beyond the arc is the only thing his game is missing.
1. Stephen Curry
Team: Golden State Warriors
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 30.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.1 blocks, 32.2 PER
ESPN.com's DRPM has Stephen Curry rated as the No. 6 defensive point guard in the league. If you still doubt he's become quite adept on that end, spend an entire game watching his off-ball denials and ability to shepherd his matchups into the right spots.
But still, the bulk of his production comes on the offensive side.
After draining three shots from downtown in a Wednesday night victory over the Chicago Bulls, Curry has now made 196 triples in the Golden State Warriors' first 43 games. To put that in perspective, only 51 individual seasons have been recorded in which a player found twine so many times from downtown, and the 27-year-old is on pace to break his own single-year record by an unbelievable 88 treys.
He's also a deft distributor who racks up secondary dimes in the Warriors' ball-movement-heavy schemes. Throw in his incredible ability to finish plays around the hoop with floaters, spinning layups and shots that would be unimaginable to plenty of professional backcourt players and you have a complete offensive threat.
Even before his exploits in the Windy City, Curry was on pace to post a 677.38 OPA. How special is that? My databases show 1987-88 Michael Jordan posted the top score since 1973-74, when OPA can first be calculated. His mark was "only" 645.62.
Enjoy what you're seeing, folks. Curry, who can hold his own on defense and has established himself as a premier rebounder at his position, is playing better offensive basketball than we've seen in the modern era.
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. 20.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!