LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant.
Whenever the top tier players of the NBA are discussed by analysts across the league, these are the names we constantly hear.
And while by no means should these players accomplishments be diminished; Durant's prodigious scoring, at 28.5 PPG, leads the NBA and Derrick Rose's quickness and ability to penetrate are second to none, and his improved three-point shooting is worth noting as well. Amar'e is deserving simply because of how crucial he was in taking the New York Knicks from being a joke of a team to being a serious playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.
However, with the accomplishments of these players being lauded perpetually, it's sometimes difficult to look past them and see other players who are elevating their teams. Whether they're stuck in sub-.500 situations, overshadowed by other stars or not jumping off the page in terms of numbers, there are several players who deserve to be mentioned among the league's best.
While they aren't quite MVP-caliber now, their time may be coming soon.
(Listed in no particular order)
*I spent a while deliberating over whether to include Blake Griffin, but I decided against it since we all know how bright his future in the NBA is and how phenomenal his rookie season has been thus far.
Team: Boston Celtics
Three years removed from his time at LSU, Glen Davis is seeing much heavier minutes this season due to the myriad of injuries the Celtics squad faces. Davis even got a few starts after Kevin Garnett's calf injury lead to a nine game absence.
So far he's averaging almost double the points per game that he was last year, and has improved his rebounding as well. Though his mid-range shooting game isn't perfect yet, it's much improved from last season.
Davis' real value to the Celtics is his ability to inject the team with an infectious boost of energy, though the Cs are undoubtedly a great team, their play in the early part of a game can sometimes seem uninspired.
PPG: 12.5 | RPG: 5.3 | FG%: 46.4 | APG: 1.4 | BPG: 0.5
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
The third overall draft pick in 2009, Harden, despite his old man beard, is a strong, but still raw, young player with huge potential. Unfortunately, he hasn't completely acclimated to the NBA style of ball from his time at Arizona State where he averaged over 20 points a game.
Harden hasn't quite gotten the minutes he needs to find his way, but that's understandable when you're competing with Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha and Eric Maynor for backcourt time. Still, Harden is a solid three-point shooter and will eventually flourish in Scott Brook's lineup.
PPG: 10.5 | RPG: 3.3 | FG%: 38.4 | APG: 1.9 | 3P%: 38.4
Team: Washington Wizards
Since the blockbuster trade that sent Gilbert Arenas to the Orlando Magic and Rashard Lewis to the Wizards, Nick Young has emerged as a huge backcourt player for Washington. Though he had some consistency issues early in the season, Young has become more focused and is up in every statistical category this season.
Since the discussion for the year's Most Improved Player award has been heating up, Young is at the forefront of everyone's list.
PPG: 16.6 | RPG: 2.6 | FG%: 46.5 | APG: 1.2 | 3P%: 41.0
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
In the wake of Brandon Roy's knee injuries and Greg Oden's constant health issues, LaMarcus Aldridge has emerged as the dominant player on the Blazers this season. Averaging career highs in points and rebounds this season, Aldridge has kept the tattered Portland team in playoff contention this year.
One of the best frontcourt players in the Western Conference, Aldridge can score from anywhere on the perimeter as well as in the paint. His importance to his team alone makes him a worthy All-Star candidate, and it seems the Blazers have finally found a star player who is curse-proof.
PPG: 21.3 | RPG: 8.8 | FG%: 48.9 | APG: 2.0 | BPG: 1.2
Team: San Antonio Spurs
At 6'7" and 270lbs, DeJuan Blair is actually one of the more undersized centers in the NBA. He more than makes up for this with his strong play in the post and aggressiveness on the boards.
Blair is a player whose productivity requires time in the game to find a rhythm, but once he does he's unstoppable. In 35 minutes against the Toronto Raptors Blair notched 22 points and 11 rebounds, in 32 minutes against the Lakers he had 17 points and 15 rebounds, in addition to a pair of steals.
All of these accomplishments are made even more impressive by the fact that Blair had both his ACLs removed during high school.
PPG: 7.5 | RPG: 6.6 | FG%: 47.8 | APG: 1.0 | SPG: 1.1
Team: Denver Nuggets
Arron Afflalo has really been coming into his own this season as a reserve shooting guard for the Nuggets. Exploding with 31 points in the team's comeback win against Phoenix last week, he's a solid free throw shooter and an efficient shooter, going 11 for 14 to get his 31.
With the imminent shake-ups in the Denver roster there's no doubt that coach George Karl will be leaning on Afflalo in future clutch situations.
PPG: 12.6 | RPG: 2.3 | FG%: 51.2 | APG: 2.3 | 3P% 41.7
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook is a point guard with a uniquely well-rounded game, a proficient defender, play-maker and scorer, he's simply an all around joy to watch. Averaging 22.5 PPG, and 8.4 assists, in addition to making 1.9 steals and 86 percent of his free throws, Westbrook has been key in the Thunder's ascent to the upper echelon of the Western Conference. He can elevate to the rim and cut through defense with the best of them, and at a mere 22 years of age, he's only going to improve.
Why he isn't getting mentioned can be summed up in two words: Kevin. Durant. When your teammate is the league's leading scorer it's understandable that you won't receive the sort of recognition you may well deserve. While Westbrook is still coming into his own in many ways, Durant has caught fire the past two seasons and will continue his reign as a top-tier shooter for seasons to come.
PPG: 22.5 | RPG: 5.0 | FG%: 43.6 | APG: 8.4 | SPG: 1.9
Team: Golden State Warriors
Ellis is one of those players who is compromised by being a part of a losing team, but anyone who has seen him play knows why he's called "The Mississippi Bullet." Stunning defenders with his quickness and his scoring ease, Ellis is easily one of the strongest all-around backcourt players in the NBA today.
Averaging 25.9 points and 5.6 assists a game, Ellis also has the highest minutes per game of any player in the league. Without him, the Golden State Warriors would be far worse off than they are.
Few young guards are as explosive as Monta Ellis and as the season progresses his level of play is sure to only increase.
PPG: 25.9 | RPG: 3.4 | FG%: 47.4 | APG: 5.6 | 3P%: 39.4
There's no way around it, Noah is an offensive force. Averaging a double-double on the season, he's really come into his own in the past two years with the Bulls. The team's leading rebounder, Noah cleans the glass like few other players in the league. Though he's been sidelined since December 16th due to surgery on a torn thumb ligament, his return is imminent.
While Derrick Rose is undoubtedly the star of the Chicago Bulls and deservedly so, Noah is a strong offensive option. The potent combination of Noah, Rose, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer make the Bulls one of the Eastern Conference's most dominant teams.
PPG: 14 | RPG: 11.7 | FG%: 51.4 | APG: 2.7 | SPG: 1.17
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Since their creation, the Los Angeles Clippers have come to be the perennial "ugly stepsister" team to the Los Angeles Lakers. However, this current Clippers roster has been trying their hardest to defy the Clippers Curse and establish themselves as a solid force in the Western Conference.
Gordon, in his third year as Clipper's shooting guard, is averaging career highs in points per game (24.1) and assists (4.6). While the Clips need to work on their defensive presence if they really want to be a contender, they are certainly headed in the right direction thanks to the spirited play of guys like Gordon, Blake Griffin, Baron Davis and DeAndre Jordan.
PPG: 24.1 | RPG: 3.2 | FG%: 46.9 | APG: 4.6 | 3P%: 36.4
Team: Denver Nuggets
J.R. Smith is the kind of player that every team needs. Though his behavior has been erratic and he's clashed with coach George Karl on more than one occasion, when he's on the court he's invaluable. He helps make the Nuggets bench one of the strongest in the league, and the 25-year-old shooting guard is capable of everything from highlight reel dunks to consistent three-point shooting.
Smith motivates the players around him to match his energy level and can change the direction of a game merely with his presence on the court.
PPG: 11.8 | RPG: 5.0 | FG%: 40.8 | APG: 2.2 | 3P%: 37.4
Team: Washington Wizards
Obviously being the No. 1 overall draft pick means that you have potential, but Wall in his rookie season is already playing with incredibly maturity.
The Wizards' starting point guard averages the fifth highest amount of assists in the league, behind only Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, Wall is poised to usher in a new era for the Wizards. The 2010 Las Vegas Summer League MVP is also the third youngest player to notch a triple double in NBA history.
PPG: 15.3 | RPG: 3.8 | FG%: 39.7 | APG: 9.3 | SPG: 1.8