Re-Ranking the NBA's Top 50 Players, 2013 Finals Edition

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJune 6, 2013

Re-Ranking the NBA's Top 50 Players, 2013 Finals Edition

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    Between the 82-game regular season and the ensuing NBA postseason, the ranking of the league's best players have been shaken up quite a bit. Young studs are starting to work their way up in the Top 50, and the elites are battling amongst themselves for supremacy. 

    These rankings are based primarily on the events of the 2012-13 campaign. Past events and trends have been taken into account, but they're still secondary concerns. We can't work exclusively based on this season, or else we'd be ranking seasons rather than players. 

    To be eligible, a player must have appeared in at least 40 games during the regular season, or half of a team's postseason games. If you didn't show up, how can you be a top player? 

    Unfortunately, that disqualifies the following standouts, who would almost certainly be included otherwise: Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Andrew Bynum and possibly Anderson Varejao. 

    Did your favorite player make it into the Top 50? How many ranked players does your team of choice have? 

    You'll have to read on to find out. 

    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are current up until the NBA Finals and come from Basketball-Reference.com and ESPN.com. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Although they are only listed in alphabetical order, the following nine players deserve honorable mentions for falling just shy of the Top 50. 

    Nicolas Batum, SF, Portland Trail Blazers

    The versatile small forward began the season in terrific fashion before his production fell off a bit. 

    Jimmy Butler, SG/SF, Chicago Bulls

    Butler was absolutely fantastic during the postseason, especially as he added offensive moves we'd never seen from him before. 

    Monta Ellis, SG, Milwaukee Bucks

    It'll be tough for him to work much higher until he improves his shooting efficiency and plays better defense. 

    Rudy Gay, SF, Toronto Raptors

    Believe it or not, Gay only earned 0.1 offensive win shares during the 2012-13 season. Don't mistake glamorous plays and gaudy point totals for actual positive production.

    Jeff Green, SF/PF, Boston Celtics

    It's hard to think that Green won't make it into the Top 50 next season, especially after his playoff performances for the C's. 

    Chandler Parsons, SF, Houston Rockets

    Another up-and-coming forward, Parsons has evolved from a player who's good at everything and great at nothing into a guy who's great at a lot of things and bad at nothing. 

    Nikola Pekovic, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

    The closest player to actually reaching the Top 50, Pekovic's value was quite apparent throughout the Wolves' 2012-13 season. Bringing back this restricted free agent is a priority. 

    Larry Sanders, C, Milwaukee Bucks

    It's tough to overstate just how valuable Larry Sanders' defense was for the Milwaukee Bucks. He was much more than just a shot-blocker. 

    Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Bobcats

    The second-year point guard took major strides, especially considering the glaring lack of options surrounding him in Charlotte. 

50. Anthony Davis

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    Team: New Orleans Pelicans

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 20

    Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks, 21.7 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    Although the luster surrounding Anthony Davis' rookie season quickly wore off after a concussion and other injuries kept him from consistent playing time, the reigning No. 1 draft pick still submitted a fantastic first year. 

    Interestingly enough, it was the former Kentucky Wildcat's offense that allowed him to stand out. He was a good, but not great, defender thanks to his lack of bulk, but his ball skills and increasing range on his jumper kept him contributing positively from start to finish. 

    During the 2012-13 campaign, the Unibrow earned 6.1 win shares, and 3.7 of them were of the offensive variety. As a reference point, that's the same number of win shares that Carmelo Anthony earned during his first season out of Syracuse, and only 115 rookies in NBA history have topped the mark. 

    None of those 115 came from this season. Damian Lillard was closest, checking in at 5.8. 

49. Greivis Vasquez

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    Team: New Orleans Pelicans

    Position: PG

    Age: 26

    Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 16.3 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    We're sticking with back-to-back members of the soon-to-be New Orleans Pelicans here in the No. 49 spot.

    Greivis Vasquez used the 2012-13 campaign to firmly break out and establish himself as a legitimate starting point guard at the professional level. He remains one of the more underrated players in the league, as precious few actually watched him during the Hornets' final season.  

    The 26-year-old improved his distributing for the third consecutive season, and this time he landed at No. 3 in assists per game and No. 2 in assist percentage. If that wasn't impressive enough, his turnovers also dropped for the third year in a row. 

    When Vasquez entered the league, he recorded assist and turnover percentages of 25.3 and 21.7, respectively. One year later, he submitted respective percentages of 35.7 and 20.5. This campaign, each improved to career-best marks: 44.9 and 18.6. 

48. Kenneth Faried

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: PF

    Age: 23

    Per-Game Stats: 11.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 18.5 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 15.7 PER

    If you don't enjoy watching Kenneth Faried play, you're doing it wrong. 

    As he strides up and down the court, that trademark smile never leaves his face. He plays with boundless energy from tip-off until the final buzzer, and the springs in his legs just never seem to stop working. 

    It's readily apparent that Faried loves basketball. 

    That desire to play hasn't manifested itself in great offensive totals yet, but Faried is improving as a defender, and he remains one of the better rebounders in professional basketball. His 9.2 boards per contest might not put him in the same realm as the Dwight Howards and Anderson Varejaos of the world, but he also spends much less time on the court. 

    The Morehead State product posted a total rebounding percentage of 18.3 during the 2012-13 campaign, taking a step back on the offensive glass and a step forward on the defensive end. He finished the season ranked 12th in the category. 

47. Jeff Teague

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: PG

    Age: 24

    Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 16.8 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 13.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 11.0 PER

    Jeff Teague struggled immensely during the postseason, failing to help his Atlanta Hawks advance past the Indiana Pacers. As a result, he enters his first foray into restricted free agency on a bit of a down note. 

    Let's not let one series dramatically shape the perception of Teague, though. He still took enormous strides as the leader of an offense, running pick-and-rolls to great success. Although his usage rate jumped from 19.1 to 23.0, Teague didn't let the increased responsibility shake his level of production. 

    He's made great progress as a passer, fitting the ball into spaces he never even saw before, and he remains a pest on defense. Teague is one of the better thieves in the Association, and he never hesitates to stick his nose in the middle of a play.

46. Brandon Jennings

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    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Position: PG

    Age: 23

    Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 16.1 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 13.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, 10.0 PER

    Let's not be too quick to judge Brandon Jennings for his poor showing against the Miami Heat. It's tough for anyone to succeed against their brutal defense, much less a point guard attempting to lead a severely overmatched squad against them in a playoff series. 

    The southpaw has kept the gunner mentality he's maintained throughout his career, but he's quickly improving as a facilitator. 

    Despite a lowered level of responsibility within the Milwaukee Bucks offense—thanks primarily to the presence of Monta Ellis—Jennings averaged a career-high 6.5 assists per game. He could stand to cut back on the turnovers, but the improvement in his passing skills is one that's noticeable to the naked eye. 

    Jennings should be a coveted prize now that he's a restricted free agent. 

45. Tyson Chandler

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: C

    Age: 30

    Per-Game Stats: 10.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.1 blocks, 18.9 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 5.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.2 blocks, 12.9 PER

    During the 2011-12 season, Tyson Chandler was making a push to be considered a top-20 guy. But after the New York Knicks were eliminated from a postseason in which the big man almost completely failed to show up, he's almost fallen out of the Top 50. 

    A hidden secret during the Knicks' regular-season campaign was that Chandler's defensive effectiveness had waned a little bit. Part of the reason for the decline was his struggles to handle opposing centers in man-to-man situations. 

    Last season, Chandler allowed the other team's big man to post a PER of just 12.6, a remarkable figure for a player with so many off-ball responsibilities. This season, that figure rose to 15.8 and was a nice signal of what had been going on: Chandler just wasn't as effective on defense. 

    Don't get me wrong, though. The 30-year-old was still a great rim-protector. Just not as great as he'd been in the past. 

44. Serge Ibaka

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: PF

    Age: 23

    Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 3.0 blocks, 19.4 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.0 steals, 3.0 blocks, 17.2 PER

    Serge Ibaka had the ability to rank so much higher in the Top 50, but then he failed to step up during the Oklahoma City Thunder's short-lived run through the NBA playoffs. 

    When Russell Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus, someone on the Thunder needed to fill the scoring void. Common sense dictated that either Kevin Martin would become a much more featured player or Ibaka would dramatically increase his role within the offense. 

    Instead, Reggie Jackson was the player who made a name for himself, and Ibaka's reputation took a hit. Is it possible he's already peaked? Is he destined to become a fantastic defensive player who's nothing more than a complementary option on the more glamorous end of the court? 

    Ibaka has a great jumper for a big man, and he's a solid pick-and-pop threat, but asking him to take on more offensive responsibility is folly at this stage of his career.

43. Damian Lillard

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Position: PG

    Age: 22

    Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 16.4 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    The NBA's newest Rookie of the Year sure didn't play like it was his first season in the Association. To be fair, Damian Lillard did have more experience than the typical rookie, seeing as he was 22 years old and had spent so much time in a featured role at Weber State. 

    Running the show for the Portland Trail Blazers, Lillard was just offensive dynamite. Given his lack of professional experience and the responsibilities bestowed upon him from Day 1, the fact that he maintained a 16.4 PER is just remarkable. 

    No player in the NBA played more minutes than this floor general. Not just no rookie, but no player. 

    Lillard's offense is invaluable, but he won't become truly elite until he starts playing defense. He was basically a matador during the 2012-13 season, ushering players into the paint as soon as they approached, and he had way too much difficulty navigating pick-and-roll sets. 

42. Luol Deng

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: SF

    Age: 28

    Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 15.1 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks, 8.4 PER

    I'd love to see what Luol Deng could do on the basketball court if Tom Thibodeau didn't insist on running him into the ground. For the second season in a row, the 28-year-old averaged the most minutes per game in the NBA, checking in this time at 38.7. 

    There's generally a tradeoff between volume and efficiency in professional basketball, so I must assume that's true for Deng as well. If he played a more reasonable number of minutes, his per-game stats might decline, but the efficiency stats would skyrocket. 

    And the scary part is that Deng still always plays his heart out. When was the last time you saw him lollygag up the court rather than hustle back? He's always in motion on offense, and his defense is nothing if not relentless. 

    Thibodeau is one of the league's top coaches, but he could stand to handle Deng a little more conventionally.

41. Paul Millsap

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Position: PF

    Age: 28

    Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks, 19.8 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    It's a shame how few people have watched Paul Millsap play on a consistent basis. The Utah Jazz rarely get much national attention, but Millsap is always worth tuning in for. 

    He'll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and there's a good chance he signs on with a team that gets a little bit more spotlight. That'll benefit Millsap tremendously, because he's a rather relatable NBA player. 

    The 28-year-old is undersized for his position, and he didn't come from a major school. That said, the Louisiana Tech player manages not just to get by, but to thrive, because of his boundless stores of energy.

    He plays hard for 48 minutes and is never hesitant to battle it out against a bigger body. 

40. Greg Monroe

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    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Position: C

    Age: 23

    Per-Game Stats: 16.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 19.5 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    Greg Monroe is a fantastic and versatile basketball player, but he needs to be surrounded by more offensive talent if he's going to live up to his potential. 

    Right now, the Pistons can't provide Monroe with too much protection. He draws double teams as opponents force him to use his passing skills rather than his knack for scoring. Fortunately for Detroit, his passing is pretty spectacular. 

    Looking at weighted assists (Hoopdata.com's stat that factors in three-point assists), Monroe was only beaten out by four centers who played at least 20 minutes per game: Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, Al Horford and Anderson Varejao. 

    That's not bad company to be in.

39. Danilo Gallinari

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: SF

    Age: 24

    Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks, 16.7 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A


    Danilo Gallinari's game has always impressed me, simply because he plays basketball like he looks at analytics. That's the only explanation for his shot chart, which features strong concentrations beyond the arc and right at the basket. 

    Three-pointers and shots at the rim are the most efficient shots in basketball, and teams are trending toward eliminating mid-range looks from their offenses. Gallo is ahead of the curve in that regard. 

    The small forward also used the pre-ACL-tear portion of his 2012-13 season to prove that he's an elite perimeter defender. According to NBA.com's stats, the Nuggets allowed 101.6 points per 100 possessions when the Italian played and 102.5 when he sat. 

    Gallo is quickly becoming one of the league's better two-way players. 

38. Chris Bosh

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 29

    Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.4 blocks, 20.0 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 12.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.6 blocks, 15.9 PER

    So, what exactly happened to Chris Bosh

    During the postseason, he's completely disappeared for the Miami Heat. His shot isn't falling, and he's virtually invisible on the glass. Every once in a while, he'll make a big play and scream loudly, opening his mouth wide enough that it looks like he's trying to eat a fully inflated basketball, but that's happening more infrequently. 

    Even this diminished version of Bosh is an effective player, though not nearly as effective as he was during the regular season. Perhaps he's focusing too much on expanding his range and spreading out defenses with his three-point stroke. 

    Bosh could easily soar back up the rankings with a stretch of inspired play, but for now he's falling in far lower than he's been in quite some time.

37. Zach Randolph

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: PF

    Age: 31

    Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 17.9 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, 17.9 PER

    Somehow, someway, Zach Randolph managed to post identical PERs during the regular season and postseason, despite a changing role. 

    Z-Bo was more of a secondary offensive option during the regular season, scoring with his back to the basket occasionally and thriving on offensive rebounds and put-backs. His efforts were more concentrated on the glass and making things happen for his teammates. 

    The big man became a scorer during the playoffs, and he did quite well. Just think how good he was in the first two rounds if the putrid sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs knocked him down to a still-impressive 17.9 PER. 

    Randolph's dominance early in both the regular season and the postseason has given him a bit too lofty a reputation, but he's still an incredibly effective player.

36. Pau Gasol

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 32

    Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.2 blocks, 16.7 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, 18.1 PER

    The run of power forwards who are ridiculously hard to rank continues with Pau Gasol. The lessened version of Chris Bosh and the inconsistent Zach Randolph were certainly tough, but finding Gasol's proper spot is virtually impossible. 

    Is Gasol declining, as it appeared he was during most of the 2012-13 season? Is he completely and utterly dominant, as he looked during the end of the regular season and the quick playoff run?

    We have no idea, and we won't find out until the 2013-14 campaign. 

    What we do know is that Gasol was fantastic for the Los Angeles Lakers and finished the regular season by averaging 16.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game over his final 11 contests.  

35. Kevin Garnett

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 37

    Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks, 19.2 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 12.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.0 blocks, 17.5 PER

    If you're not impressed with Kevin Garnett's ability to lead all postseason players in rebounds per game at the ripe old age of 37, then you need to re-evaluate.

    Even as his body deteriorates and he moves further from the basket, Garnett plays with undeniable passion and effort. It'll be a shame when he pulls the plug on his illustrious NBA career, which could happen as soon as this offseason if Danny Ainge buys out his contract along with Paul Pierce's. 

    Garnett can no longer take over games offensively on a consistent basis, but he's still a solid producer of points and always makes an impact on defense. Plus, his veteran savvy allows him to rack up the assists, as he sees things developing before some point guards even manage to notice what's going on. 

    Even if the Boston Celtics didn't surround him with a lineup capable of truly competing in the postseason, Garnett remains a winner. 

34. Ty Lawson

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: PG

    Age: 25

    Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 17.9 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 21.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.0 blocks, 20.6 PER

    Ty Lawson absolutely took over for the Denver Nuggets during the postseason, showing off the scoring potential so many knew that he possessed. 

    The North Carolina product is incredibly dynamic with the ball in his hands. Few players are faster from baseline to baseline while dribbling, and this speed manifests itself in half-court sets as well. 

    While Lawson struggled at the beginning of his fourth professional season, he quickly improved. And kept improving. And then kept improving more. 

    After the All-Star break, Lawson averaged 18.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game on 50.4 percent shooting. If he can keep up those type of numbers for a full season, we'll be talking about him as an elite floor general. 

33. David Lee

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: PF

    Age: 30

    Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 19.2 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 5.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 16.7 PER

    If you're thinking that David Lee's postseason performance is the reason for his surprisingly low ranking, stop. It's not. 

    I'm well aware that it's tough to play basketball with a torn hip flexor, and Lee's quick recovery and re-entry into the lineup was as impressive as it was shocking. 

    The reason that Lee falls outside of the top 30 is that he doesn't play defense. As valuable as his offense may be, his ability to stop opposing power forwards is just awful. 

    According to 82games.com, Lee played 43 percent of the Golden State Warriors' available minutes at power forward and 30 percent at center. At those positions, he allowed PERs of 16.7 and 18.0, respectively, to his opponents. 

    Remember, defense is half the battle. 

32. Jrue Holiday

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    Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Position: PG

    Age: 22

    Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 16.7 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    As soon as the Philadelphia 76ers take some of the pressure off Jrue Holiday, he'll rise up rather significantly in the rankings. However, there was just too much for him to do throughout the season, and it eventually wore him down. 

    The breakout point guard was just phenomenal during the early portion of his first post-Andre Iguodala season, and the absence of the ball-controlling wing player helped him develop. 

    However, he declined as the minutes and responsibilities started to pile up. 

    After the All-Star break, Holiday averaged only 15.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game on—shield your eyes—39.7 percent shooting. That's not going to cut it, although the 22-year-old certainly has a valid excuse. Just one more scoring option would do his game wonders. 

    For proof that the season wore him down, just look at his monthly field-goal percentages: 48.0 in January, 43.5 in February, 39.4 in March and 33.8 in April. 

31. Paul Pierce

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Position: SF

    Age: 35

    Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 19.1 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 10.8 PER

    That grimace on Paul Pierce's face is probably from his inability to connect at a high rate during the Boston Celtics' postseason series with the New York Knicks. 

    Although The Truth averaged nearly 20 points per game in that first-round defeat, his points weren't always positive. He shot only 36.3 percent from the field, lowlighted by a 4-of-18 outing in the series-clincher. 

    Even when he's not hitting his shots, though, Pierce is still a well-rounded player. He's a fantastic passer and a perennially underrated defender. Even if he doesn't typically get credit for his lock-down abilities, Pierce shut down opponents yet again. 

    This season, according to 82games.com, he held opposing small forwards to a 13.1 PER.

30. Al Jefferson

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Position: C

    Age: 28

    Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks, 20.9 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    Al Jefferson is a remarkably talented—and unique—big man, particularly on the offensive end of the court. His game seems much more 1990s than 2010s because he still insists on facing away from the rim and letting his post game do the talking. 

    For all his up-and-unders and step-throughs, Jefferson may as well be wearing short shorts. He's just an old-school player. 

    Unfortunately for both him and the Utah Jazz, as well as whichever team signs him out of unrestricted free agency, that old-school defensive mentality didn't join his post skills. He allowed opposing centers to post a 17.3 PER against him, and the Jazz quickly found out that he should never play against more versatile power forwards. 

29. Josh Smith

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: PF

    Age: 27

    Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks, 17.7 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 17.4 PER

    Josh Smith is an incredibly frustrating player, just because he has the potential to be a top-10 guy and keeps himself from reaching that lofty ceiling. 

    For all his physical talents and ability to dominate a game in a variety of ways, Smoove holds himself back by insisting on shooting deep two-pointers. Take a look at his shot chart from the 2012-13 season. 

    All those red Xs are pretty ugly, and there are far too many concentrated just shy of the three-point arc, particularly on the right side of the court. 

    When Smith is attacking the rim, he's an incredible player. When he's leading the charge on a fast break, he's an incredible player. When he's working in the post and either scoring or passing out to an open teammate, he's an incredible player. 

    How Smoove doesn't realize this is beyond me. 

28. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Position: PF

    Age: 34

    Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 19.8 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    With Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup, the Dallas Mavericks were 27-25. Without him, Mark Cuban's organization was only able to muster up a 14-16 record. 

    It's a shame that the Mavericks weren't just a tiny bit worse without him, because if they'd never made it back to .500, Dirk might still have his incredible beard. I can't be the only one who was on the verge of tears when he took a razor to his face. 

    When Dirk first returned from the only surgery of his career, he looked the worse for wear. But as he continued to play his way back into shape, he quickly did away with any speculation that he might have permanently declined. 

    Nowitzki's age prevents him from dominating a game to the same level that he did a few seasons back, but the German 7-footer is still a remarkably productive offensive player with an unblockable jumper. 

27. Mike Conley

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: PG

    Age: 25

    Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 18.3 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 17.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 19.0 PER

    One of the true breakout stars from the postseason, Mike Conley shot up the ranks of point guards and is on the verge of working his way into the overall top 25. 

    I was particularly impressed by the southpaw's work against Chris Paul. Even though the Los Angeles Clippers floor general is a premier defender capable of shutting down almost anyone at his position, Conley often made him look silly. He confused CP3 with pick-and-roll sets and worked his way into the lane whenever he so desired. 

    Beyond that, Conley's decision making was superb, and his floaters make him look just about ambidextrous at this point. 

    And in case Charles Shackleford is reading this, no, I don't mean that he's amphibious. 

26. Blake Griffin

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PF

    Age: 24

    Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks, 22.4 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.0 steals, 0.8 blocks, 16.4 PER

    At this point in his career, Blake Griffin was supposed to be absolutely dominant, verging on a top-five spot and a near lock for the Top 10. 

    Unfortunately, his progress has stalled, as he's taken steps backward in some areas since his rookie season. Griffin's rebounding now looks unenthusiastic, and his short arms have prevented him from moving forward as a defender. 

    However, there are some positives. The dunking machine is expanding the range on his jumper, and his arsenal of post moves is growing as well. His spin move remains devastating, even if defenders know to expect it. 

    Griffin no-showed for the Los Angeles Clippers during the postseason, and he wasn't a particularly big factor at the end of the regular season, either. Maybe he wore out once the games started piling up. 

    Regardless, Griffin needs to start out the 2013-14 campaign in spectacular fashion, or else we're going to be facing the possibility that he doesn't have as much potential as we thought.

25. DeMarcus Cousins

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    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Position: C

    Age: 22

    Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 blocks, 0.7 steals, 20.2 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    The only thing holding DeMarcus Cousins back is that thing resting upon his neck, squarely in between his broad shoulders. While the rest of his body is helping Boogie become a physical presence who dominates on both ends of the court, his brain doesn't always do positive things for him. 

    Despite all his talent, Cousins can be a distraction. His technical fouls, ejections and suspensions don't always allow the focus to remain on basketball for the Sacramento Kings, and they also limit the amount of time he can spend on the court. 

    If he can get his act together, Cousins has seemingly unlimited potential. He's already a great scorer, a solid passer and a remarkably effective rebounder on both types of glass. 

    It's all about putting the pieces together now. 

24. David West

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: PF

    Age: 32

    Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks, 20.1 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 15.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.8 blocks, 16.2 PER

    DeMarcus Cousins certainly could work his way up into the realm of elite players rather quickly, but he's not there yet. It's David West who begins the top tier of NBA studs, one populated by only 24 players. 

    West received more attention than he's gotten during his professional career—yes, more even than during his All-Star days with the New Orleans Hornets—throughout the 2012-13 season, and for good reason. His two-way contributions were absolutely vital for the Indiana Pacers, and he became the barometer of this team. 

    Even though he's the third-best player on the roster, West's constant physicality and willingness to sacrifice his body over and over set the tone for this squad. That expression on his face in the picture up above just about sums it up. 

    You don't want to mess with the Indiana Pacers, and you certainly don't want to mess with David West. 

23. John Wall

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    Team: Washington Wizards

    Position: PG

    Age: 22

    Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, 20.8 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    The Washington Wizards were a markedly different team with John Wall in the lineup. 

    Once the former No. 1 pick returned to the lineup, the Wizards went 24-25, thanks in large part to a six-game losing streak at the end of the regular season. Something tells me that may have been a stretch meant to earn a better spot in the NBA draft, not a span of games that the Wizards were really trying to emerge victorious from. 

    But, let's go ahead and prorate that 24-25 record to a full season. Assuming that pace holds up, Washington would have earned a 40-42 mark during the 2012-13 season, good for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

    There's a reason why the Wizards are viewed as a contender for a playoff spot in 2014, and that would be John Wall. 

22. Brook Lopez

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Position: C

    Age: 25

    Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 2.1 blocks, 24.7 PER 

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 22.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 3.0 blocks, 25.4 PER

    I'm not so concerned with Brook Lopez's offense, simply because almost everyone is aware that the Brooklyn Nets center is a stud on that end of the court. 

    Instead, let's take a gander at how he's grown as a rebounder and defender. 

    Brook's 6.9 rebounds per game aren't too impressive, but they're the best mark he's produced during any of the past three seasons. His total rebounding percentage is also starting to creep up there. This year's 13.4 percent was the best in three years as well, and it almost matched the number he put up in his sophomore season. 

    Lopez also submitted the best defensive rating of his career: 105. His previous high came in his rookie season, when he posted a 108, and this was only the second time he'd kept it below 110. 

21. LaMarcus Aldridge

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 27

    Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.2 blocks, 20.4 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    When the Portland Trail Blazers inevitably add some more depth to their rotation, LaMarcus Aldridge will benefit. During the 2012-13 season, he was left as the sole offensive creator far too often. 

    Aldridge would also improve if he stopped shooting mid-range jumpers so often. He might think that he's a standout from that area of the court, but he's hurting himself by letting fly that far from the basket. 

    The 27-year-old took over 500 shots from 16 to 23 feet, and he hit them just 41.8 percent of the time. That's not a good combination, and it often hurts Rip City when Aldridge goes into jump-shooting mode. 

    Sticking around the basket, where he's much more impressive, would do wonders for his chance to keep the title of "best true power forward" when Kevin Love is healthy. 

    Quick tangent: How bad is the power forward position in the NBA right now? Aldridge is the best at his position, and he checks in outside the top 20. 

20. Roy Hibbert

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: C

    Age: 26

    Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.6 blocks, 17.3 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 17.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.2 steals, 1.9 blocks, 21.5 PER

    Roy Hibbert's rise up the rankings has been meteoric. 

    Toward the beginning of the season, many were questioning whether the Indiana Pacers had made a major mistake by signing the center to a max contract. I remember writing something along the lines of: "Hibbert couldn't make shots right now if the rim were the size of a hula hoop." 

    Well, so much for that. 

    While maintaining such a rim-protecting presence that LeBron James was visibly hesitant to drive in toward him, Hibbert remembered how to shoot. And then some. 

    During the Eastern Conference Finals, Hibbert's jump-hook was fantastic, and he was hitting jumpers from the perimeter. If that wasn't a fluke, we could be looking at the next truly dominant big man. 

19. Andre Iguodala

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Position: SG/SF

    Age: 29

    Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 15.2 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 20.1 PER

    Andre Iguodala was absolutely incredible for the Denver Nuggets during their far-too-short postseason run. He was a defensive ace, and his offensive stat lines look like they could have been produced by LeBron James. 

    Iggy was scoring at a high level, crashing the boards with a vengeance and dishing the ball out effectively from start to finish. So, where was that version of the swingman throughout the regular season?

    It took a while for Iguodala to get going once he joined the Nuggets. Perhaps he was adjusting to his new teammates, or perhaps the brutal road schedule to start the season took a toll on him. Whatever the reason, Iguodala took a while to get going on offense, although he maintained his traditional level of defensive prowess. 

    Tony Allen is the only player in the NBA who plays better perimeter defense than this 29-year-old, but Iggy is a significantly better offensive contributor. If he chooses to opt out of his contract and leave the Mile High City behind, he'll be a highly coveted free agent. 

18. Al Horford

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Position: C

    Age: 27

    Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.1 blocks, 19.8 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks, 19.3 PER

    Al Horford doesn't play particularly glamorous basketball, and precious few people actually watch him play. The Atlanta Hawks don't get much national coverage, and there are generally a whole bunch of empty seats in Philips Arena. 

    However, don't let that detract from his level of play. 

    Horford's jumper is fantastic, and his unorthodox form from the perimeter almost inevitably leads to buckets. Plus, the Florida product is a solid rebounder and a tremendous passer for a big man. Atlanta's offense, whether running pick-and-rolls or not, generally goes through Horford. 

    Add in some great defensive play, and you're left with the total package. 

    Horford is the league's premier example of a player who's absolutely dominant without truly excelling in any one facet of the game. 

17. Deron Williams

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Position: PG

    Age: 28

    Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks, 20.3 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 20.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks, 20.8 PER

    Deron Williams steadily improved as the 2012-13 season progressed, and he was never better than he played after the All-Star break. 

    Once his aching legs got a bit of rest during the midseason break, D-Will took off. After that, he averaged 21.9 points and 7.7 assists per game while shooting a sparkling 48.1 percent from the field. 

    The floor general still possesses a remarkable crossover, navigates pick-and-rolls with the best of them and uses his size effectively. He looked nowhere near worth his gaudy contract at the start of the season, but that's now firmly in the past. 

    Williams didn't shoot the ball with remarkable efficiency against the Chicago Bulls, but few players manage that against Tom Thibodeau's suffocating sets. This point guard is back in form, and that will carry over into the 2013-14 campaign.

16. Joakim Noah

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Position: C

    Age: 28

    Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.1 blocks, 18.1 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 10.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 2.2 blocks, 16.8 PER

    Is there a more appropriate picture for any player in the NBA? 

    This, in a nutshell, is Joakim Noah. He's the guy who plays with unmatched passion, screaming until his veins look ready to pop and tearing at his jersey in either agony or ecstasy. He's the one whose contributions can't always be quantified, simply because we don't yet know how to represent inspiration with numbers. 

    And yet, Noah's numbers are still fantastic.

    The big man might not score a lot, but he does everything else. He leads fast breaks and distributes the ball like a point guard. He makes nearly unmatched contributions on the glass. His defense is worthy of DPOY consideration.

    You name it, and Noah does it.

    Well, except score.  

15. Kyrie Irving

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Position: PG

    Age: 21

    Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 21.4 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    I don't know about you, but I''m tired of seeing Kyrie Irving walking around in a mask or with a limp. I'd much rather see the version that looks like the Tasmanian Devil, whirling around defenders and navigating defenses like they're intangible. 

    Injuries are the biggest thing holding the former No. 1 pick back at this point. He must be able to play a full season before he can ascend any further up the metaphorical ladder. 

    That, and play defense. Irving is a porous defender, as are many young point guards, and he needs to spend the offseason focusing on that part of his game. 

    As for offense, though, Irving is just a savant. His handles are literally unmatched in the Association, and he never hesitates to use them. Even though he only recently gained the ability to legally drink alcohol, he's already established himself as one of the league's premier offensive talents. 

14. Dwight Howard

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: C

    Age: 27

    Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.4 blocks, 19.4 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 17.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.0 blocks, 19.2 PER

    Ah...Dwight Howard. The center who is impossible to properly rank. 

    These rankings are based largely—though not exclusively—on the 2012-13 season, so Howard can't be the league's best center. When healthy, he still qualifies at the top of his position, but he wasn't healthy this year. 

    That was obvious based on his play, particularly on the defensive end of the court. Howard has developed a reputation as a dominant interior defender, and for good reason. Few players have ever navigated pick-and-rolls as Howard does. Again, when healthy. 

    This season, D12 played defense with his hands rather than his feet, and the results weren't as visibly impressive. Even in his injured state, the big man led the league in rebounding and played quality basketball in most other aspects of the game. 

    But when he needed to, Howard was unable to step up on either end of the court. 

    Expect to see the 27-year-old back in the Top 10 next season.

13. Paul George

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Position: SF

    Age: 23

    Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, 16.8 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.5 blocks, 16.8 PER

    No player has enjoyed a more meteoric rise up the rankings than Paul George. I suppose that's only fitting for the winner of the Most Improved Player award.

    Before the season, George was universally viewed as a guy with a ton of potential, but he hadn't made good on it. During the 2012 postseason, the small forward averaged 9.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while posting a 12.5 PER. 

    Compare those to the numbers from this postseason. Yikes. 

    George improved dramatically, making an All-Star appearance and then eventually going head-to-head with LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals to cement his superstar status. He almost emerged victorious as well. 

    The small forward is a fantastic two-way player thanks to his offensive versatility and his tenacious defense, but his game is not without flaws. Let's not get George's bandwagon going too fast yet. 

    He's not the most efficient shooter, checking in at 41.9 percent from the field during the regular season and 43.0 during the postseason, and turnovers are a major problem. Until George displays more care for the ball, he's going to have trouble taking another step forward. 

12. Marc Gasol

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Position: C

    Age: 28

    Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.7 blocks, 19.5 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 17.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 2.2 blocks, 19.5 PER

    Marc Gasol, the NBA's newest—and deserving—Defensive Player of the Year, plays basketball like I'd imagine a textbook would. 

    He's never out of position, even when he's helping his teammates out, and he rarely opts for the glamorous play over the effective one. You don't see many blocks, especially of the swat variety, from Gasol, but that doesn't make his defense any less impressive. 

    On offense, multi-faceted contributions are the name of the game. 

    While not a premier scorer or rebounder, the Spaniard creates things for his teammates better than any other 7-footer in recent memory. His no-look and behind-the-back passes are nothing short of beautiful, and Gasol routinely displays an uncanny understanding of the on-court proceedings. 

11. Dwyane Wade

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SG

    Age: 31

    Per-Game Stats: 21.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 24.0 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.9 blocks, 17.4 PER

    If these rankings were based solely on the NBA playoffs, you'd have trouble justifying Dwyane Wade as a top-20 player, much less a top-10 guy. 

    Fortunately for Wade, that's not all that goes into the evaluation. He was still excellent during the regular season, even if he precipitously declined once we started playing best-of-seven series. 

    Against the Indiana Pacers, Wade looked disengaged and unenthused until Game 7. He was able to pull off a few vintage moves during that clinching contest, but it wasn't enough to trump the rest of his performances, or lack thereof. 

    Wade needs to play much better against the San Antonio Spurs for the Heat to have a chance at back-to-back titles. 

10. Stephen Curry

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: PG

    Age: 25

    Per-Game Stats: 22.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 21.3 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 23.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 20.7 PER

    Leading off the Top 10 is another one of the postseason's breakout stars. That said, I don't want to discuss Stephen Curry's performance during the Golden State Warriors' inspiring run through the playoffs. 

    I'd rather discuss the regular season and its larger sample size. 

    Curry didn't just submit a great perimeter-shooting season. He shot the three-ball better than anyone else in NBA history, better even than Reggie Miller or Ray Allen. 

    Ever since the three-point line was installed, only four different players have made at least three triples per game while shooting 40 percent or better from downtown: Ray Allen (twice), Dennis Scott, Peja Stojakovic and Stephen Curry. 

    Of the five seasons that qualify, Curry's comes out on top in both relevant categories. His 45.3 percent shooting is the best of the bunch, as are his 3.5 makes per contest. 

    So, it's already the best season, and we haven't even looked at how those makes occurred.

    Allen, Scott and Stojakovic all relied on catch-and-shoot situations. None of them created their own shots on a consistent basis. The same can't be said for Curry, who routinely set up his own three-point attempts. 

    Curry is on pace to be the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history, and he just submitted the best perimeter season of all time. 

9. James Harden

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Position: SG

    Age: 23

    Per-Game Stats: 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 23.0 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 26.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 21.0 PER

    While it's tough to call any part of James Harden's offensive game "typical," that's a proper word for describing what happened to the bearded shooting guard's defense. As is the case with many players who suddenly take on a much larger role, Harden's defense was lackluster at best. 

    He was simply expending too much energy on the more glamorous end of the court. And boy are the Houston Rockets thankful that he did. 

    A creative ball-handler with passing skills to boot, this 23-year-old acts like a homing missile with his sights set on the rim. He gets to the hoop with ease and always seems to draw contact, earning enough trips to the charity stripe that he can easily make up for his relatively poor field-goal percentage. 

    Don't be fooled into thinking that The Beard is an inefficient offensive player. Nothing could be further from the truth, despite the indisputable fact that he shot 43.8 percent from the field. 

    Factor in his three-point shooting and work at the free-throw line (a.k.a. look at his true shooting percentage), and things get more impressive. Harden's 60.0 true shooting percentage ranked 14th in the league. 

8. Carmelo Anthony

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 29

    Per-Game Stats: 28.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 24.8 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 28.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 20.6 PER

    Carmelo Anthony's true shooting percentage of 56.0 doesn't quite meet the standard set by James Harden, but Melo played an even more significant role in the New York Knicks' offense. That's how he won the scoring title, after all. 

    Melo still isn't a great facilitator or defender, but he made noticeable strides on that end of the court, particularly because he was shifting out of his natural position and guarding power forwards. According to 82games.com, Anthony allowed opposing 3s and 4s to post PERs of 12.8 and 13.4, respectively. 

    Those are remarkable numbers for a player with a poor defensive reputation, although Tyson Chandler's help defense certainly helped out a bit. 

    Also aiding Melo was his ability to fit in perfectly with the New York system. For example, he minimized his turnovers more than ever, posting a remarkable turnover percentage of just 9.3, the first time he'd hit single digits in his career. 

7. Russell Westbrook

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: PG

    Age: 24

    Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 23.9 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 24.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 3.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 25.9 PER

    It'll be hard for the man in question to be this optimistic, but Russell Westbrook's torn meniscus ended up being a blessing in disguise. At least for the general perception of him. 

    A few thing were noticeably absent after Westbrook went down two games into the postseason: 

    1. Russell Westbrook. Duh. 
    2. Some ill-advised pull-up jumpers. 
    3. Complaints about those ill-advised pull-up jumpers. 
    4. Wins for the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

    There's a reason that you never hear Scott Brooks or Kevin Durant complaining about Westbrook's game. He's an incredibly valuable player on both ends of the court, and the Thunder are significantly worse without him. 

    Westbrook has improved during every professional season, and some increased facilitation skills helped him get better once more during the 2012-13 season. 

    He's not done yet, either. 

6. Tim Duncan

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 37

    Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.7 blocks, 24.4 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.7 blocks, 20.3 PER

    Tim Duncan had the most impressive season in the NBA during the 2012-13 season. That doesn't mean he should be the MVP, nor does it mean that he's the best player in the league. 

    Considering his advancing age, Duncan isn't supposed to be capable of making the First Team All-NBA. He shouldn't be up there for Defensive Player of the Year, and he certainly shouldn't be coming in at No. 6 in the Top 50.

    That's absolutely insane for a player who, as Gregg Popovich said during his NBA Finals presser on NBATV, is "old as dirt." 

    Duncan isn't human. He can't be. Take a look at these per-36 splits over his entire career: 

      Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
    1997-98 19.4 11.0 2.5 0.6 2.3
    1998-99 19.9 10.5 2.2 0.8 2.3
    1999-00 21.5 11.5 2.9 0.8 2.1
    2000-01 20.6 11.3 2.8 0.8 2.2
    2001-02 22.6 11.3 3.3 0.7 2.2
    2002-03 21.3 11.8 3.6 0.6 2.7
    2003-04 21.9 12.2 3.0 0.9 2.6
    2004-05 21.9 12.0 2.9 0.7 2.8
    2005-06 19.2 11.4 3.3 0.9 2.1
    2006-07 21.1 11.2 3.6 0.9 2.5
    2007-08 20.5 12.0 3.0 0.8 2.1
    2008-09 20.7 11.4 3.8 0.5 1.8
    2009-10 20.6 11.6 3.6 0.7 1.7
    2010-11 17.1 11.3 3.4 0.8 2.4
    2011-12 19.7 11.5 2.9 0.8 1.9
    2012-13 21.3 11.9 3.2 0.9 3.2

    That type of consistency screams "ALIEN" to me. 

5. Kobe Bryant

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Position: SG

    Age: 34

    Per-Game Stats: 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 23.0 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: N/A

    Speaking of impressive seasons, I humbly submit Kobe Bryant's 2012-13 campaign. 

    Despite injuries to what seemed like everyone on the Los Angeles Lakers roster, a coaching change, constant turmoil, shifting roles and his own advancing age, Kobe put together yet another fantastic year. 

    When Mike D'Antoni needed him to score, the Mamba smiled and happily went about his business. When D'Antoni asked him to serve as a facilitator, Kobe went about his business and was still effective. Not many players can completely switch mentalities in the middle of a week and pick up at an All-Star level without missing a beat. 

    However, just as was the case with Tim Duncan, this isn't about who had the most impressive season. We're looking at the best players in the NBA, and Kobe falls in at No. 5 in that category. His age no longer matters in this discussion. 

    The remaining four players have remarkably complete games, but Bryant's is no longer on that level. He's an offensive legend, but his off-ball defense was legendarily bad. He was far too prone to ball-watching and refusing to slide his feet over for the purposes of helping out his teammates. 

    That's enough to knock him out of the No. 4 slot. 

4. Tony Parker

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Position: PG

    Age: 31

    Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 23.0 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 23.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.1 blocks, 24.1 PER

    Tony Parker has had the best season of his incredible NBA career. Bar none. 

    And the scary part is that he only got better during the postseason, particularly when playing the Memphis Grizzlies. When Parker needed to be a scorer, he dominated the points column while maintaining his efficiency. When he needed to distribute the ball, he recorded 18 assists in a single game. 

    More than anything else, though, Parker has used the playoffs to show that he can go outside Gregg Popovich's brilliant system and still be a remarkable player. He can get into the lane at will now, and he has enough years under his belt that he never seems to make poor decisions. 

    Parker doesn't play a particularly glamorous style of basketball, but it's undeniably effective. You know, seeing as he's the best player on an NBA Finals team. 

    The San Antonio system is built so that there's no drop-off in performance when a starter takes a rest. Problem is, Parker was so good defensively during the 2012-13 season that he broke the rules. 

    According to NBA.com's stats, the Spurs allowed just 97.6 points per 100 possessions when the French floor general was on the court. If that number stood as the team's mark, it would rank No. 1 in the NBA.

    However, when Parker took a break and sat down on the pine, San Antonio allowed 101 points per 100 possessions. That would rank third in the league, where the Spurs actually sit. 

    Using the same exercise to look at Parker's offense, San Antonio scored 108.3 points per 100 possessions with the point guard playing (No. 7 in the NBA) and 103.2 with him sitting (No. 24). 

3. Chris Paul

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Position: PG

    Age: 28

    Per-Game Stats: 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 26.4 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 22.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.0 blocks, 29.4 PER

    Tony Parker is quickly narrowing the gap, but Chris Paul remains the best point guard in the NBA. It's now close enough that a Finals MVP-type performance against the Miami Heat's stellar defense could push the Frenchman over the top. 

    For now, CP3 reigns supreme, though. He still possesses the unique ability to completely control a game on both ends of the court, picking and choosing his spots and seeing the court five seconds ahead of everyone else. 

    The most impressive part of Paul's game is something that doesn't show up in a box score. Every single thing he does with the ball has a purpose. Watching him in person is an otherworldly experience because you notice every little shimmy, shake and hesitation dribble. 

    Paul posted the best PER of any point guard during the regular season and then one-upped himself in the postseason. Even while trying to carry his team after Blake Griffin's disappearance, Paul submitted a higher playoff PER than any other player in the NBA. 

    You name it, and Paul can do it. Except block shots. Let's not go there. 

2. Kevin Durant

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Position: SF

    Age: 24

    Per-Game Stats: 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks, 28.3 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 30.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.1 blocks, 26.3 PER

    Kevin Durant became an even more complete basketball player during the 2012-13 season. 

    Although he didn't win the scoring title, succumbing to the point-producing prowess of Carmelo Anthony, he was more efficient than ever. His 50/40/90 season is a testament to that, especially because Durant put up those numbers while nearly winning that aforementioned scoring title. 

    What really impressed me, though, was Durant's defense and work as a distributor. 

    During the 2011-12 season, the Texas product allowed opposing small forwards and power forwards to post PERs of 12.7 and 14.4, respectively. This season, he dropped those numbers to 10.5 and 13.4, moving him firmly into the realm of the elite. 

    As for his passing, I'm not going to bring numbers into the equation. You could see it for yourself if you watched Thunder games consistently. 

    Durant wasn't just passing the ball more and recording more assists, he was fitting the ball into smaller spaces and dramatically increasing the difficulty level of his passes. 

    A complete Durant is an even scarier player, and that's what we're looking at now. 

1. LeBron James

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 28

    Per-Game Stats: 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks, 31.6 PER

    Postseason Per-Game Stats: 26.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.8 blocks, 28.7 PER

    How many players in the NBA can legitimately contend for the title of "best offensive player in the NBA" while simultaneously submit their name for "best defensive player in the league?"

    How many players can guard a point guard on one possession and then slow down a power forward or center the very next trip down the court? 

    How many athletic specimens also display remarkable court vision and the passing skills to make good on it? 

    How many players can make cross-court pocket passes that hit targets right in the hands? 

    How many players are even in the argument for the No. 1 spot in these rankings?

    The answer to all of those questions is just one player: LeBron James.