Ranking Top 5 NBA Players at Every Position Entering End of November
At this point in the 2013-14 NBA season, we've consumed enough basketball that we're starting to draw some serious conclusions. So before we do what everyone does at Thanksgiving dinner and loosen up the belt to cram in a little more, it's time to take a look at how the best players at each position stack up.
Now before you continue, it's important that you note these are intentionally reactive rankings.
Take Kobe Bryant, for example. You won't even find him in the honorable mentions at shooting guard because these are the top five players heading into the end of November. In a vacuum, he's part of the trinity of shooting guards, but he won't be present here.
What exactly has he done to gain entry?
That cuts both ways, as breakouts have to be sustained in order to be viewed as legitimate.
Basically, recent action matters a lot, and past performances are taken into account as well.
So, did your favorite player make the cut? Did he rise or fall from the last set of rankings, posted during mid-November action?
Read on and find out.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from ESPN.com and are current as of Nov. 26.
Point Guard No. 5: Damian Lillard (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.8 steals, 19.17 PER
There are plenty of reasons that the Portland Trail Blazers have begun the season in extremely shocking fashion. You can credit their defensive efforts on the perimeter, their use of iPads on the sideline or their stellar offense.
And for the latter, Damian Lillard has to get a lot of recognition.
According to Basketball-Reference, only the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers are scoring more points per 100 possessions, and that's because the Weber State product has done such an excellent job running the offense.
Lillard's pull-up jumper is simply sublime, and he's finally starting to minimize the turnovers. Eventually, he'll start to look better driving the ball to the hoop, but it's still an encouraging sign that he's coughing the rock up only 1.6 times per contest over his last five games.
Honorable Mentions: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Jeff Teague, John Wall, Russell Westbrook
Point Guard No. 4: Ty Lawson (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Denver Nuggets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.2 steals, 23.08 PER
Ty Lawson has become the Denver Nuggets' offense.
When Andre Iguodala left for the Golden State Warriors, it was commonly assumed that the speedy and diminutive point guard would have to control the ball more than ever before. Well, he's done that.
And he's done it well.
Playing with constant aggression—except for when he suited up against the Chicago Bulls, for some inexplicable reason—Lawson has averaged 21.2 points and 10.4 assists per game over his last five outings. Even more impressively, he's shooting 53 percent from the field and 47.1 percent beyond the arc during that same stretch.
Now that he's obviously the No. 1 option in the Mile High City, Lawson is starting to put everything together. The results are quite promising when talking about Denver's chances of sneaking into one of the Western Conference's final playoff spots.
Point Guard No. 3: Mike Conley (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.6 steals, 23.19 PER
Go ahead and ask one of your basketball-watching friends to name all the elite point guards in the NBA.
Chances are, he or she will forget to list Mike Conley. The Memphis Grizzlies floor general might not get recognition, largely because he plays an unglamorous style of basketball for an unglamorous team, but he certainly belongs in that class.
There is no longer any doubt about that.
Conley has been knocking on the door of the elites for quite some time, and he hasn't just opened it and walked through during the 2013-14 season. Instead, he's doing his best Cosmo Kramer impression.
Playing under control at all times, Conley is wreaking havoc for a Grizz team desperately in need of more offense. Over his last five games, the southpaw is turning the ball over just a single time per contest.
Point Guard No. 2: Tony Parker (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.5 steals, 21.85 PER
Death, taxes and Tony Parker giving the San Antonio Spurs quality production.
How many things are more consistent?
The French floor general may not have produced many outbursts during the last stretch of games, but he's one of the biggest reasons that the Spurs boast the best record in the Western Conference and have lost only one game as we near the end of November. He just puts up around 18 points and six assists each and every night.
If Parker were worse, he'd be putting up better numbers.
Seriously, he's been so efficient during the early portions of games that there's no reason for him to play in the fourth quarter. The Spurs need to stop opening up such large leads if that's going to change.
Point Guard No. 1: Chris Paul (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 12.5 assists, 0.1 blocks, 2.4 steals, 27.60 PER
At this point, Chris Paul is so far ahead of the rest of the point guards in the NBA that he could shoot 0-of-10 from the field, record zero assists and turn the ball over 10 times for five contests in a row and still be ranked No. 1.
He's given himself that much of a cushion during the 2013-14 season.
CP3 failed to record a double-double against the Sacramento Kings for the first time this season. All he did was drop 22 points and nine assists while making the leaning three-pointer at the end of the shot clock to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Then he hit an and-1 layup to take the lead.
No big deal.
Oh, and he followed that single-double up with 16 points and 17 assists against the Chicago Bulls, despite playing only 27 minutes.
This guy is as good as it gets, and he has a serious chance to go down as the greatest point guard of all time. I do not say that lightly.
Shooting Guard No. 5: DeMar DeRozan (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Toronto Raptors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, 16.87 PER
All of a sudden, DeMar DeRozan can shoot the ball.
On the season, he's knocking down 41.9 percent of his shots from the field and 36.4 percent beyond the arc. A little better than his career average of 25.6 percent from downtown, huh?
But it gets better.
The uber-athletic shooting guard has been en fuego lately. Going into the game against the Brooklyn Nets—one in which he exploded with four triples in the first half—DeRozan was shooting 53.4 percent from the field and a scorching 54.5 percent from downtown over his last four games.
How's that for catching fire?
DeRozan's biggest weakness has always been his jumper, but now the pieces are finally clicking. It no longer looks as clunky, and the results are undeniably impressive. If he keeps this up, we could be talking about a new member of the elite class of shooting guards.
Honorable Mentions: Arron Afflalo, Jordan Crawford, Kevin Martin, Wesley Matthews, Lance Stephenson
Shooting Guard No. 4: Klay Thompson (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.9 steals, 19.24 PER
Without Stephen Curry in the lineup, it's tough for Klay Thompson to remain as efficient for the Golden State Warriors.
Instead of being the No. 2 priority for a defense's attention, the Washington State product suddenly gets much more respect, and it's increasingly difficult for him to work his way free on the perimeter. That's why he can drop 19 points on 20 shots one night and then score 30 on 13 looks the very next night.
Thompson isn't one of those shooting guards who will ever emerge as a star and de facto No. 1 option, but that's OK. He doesn't have to be an alpha dog while Curry is healthy.
Now the Dubs just need that to happen, as they've been absolutely riddled by injuries.
Shooting Guard No. 3: James Harden (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.8 steals, 21.33 PER
This is what happens when you miss three games in a seven-game stretch.
It's also what happens when you staunchly oppose the concept of playing defense. Even James Harden's incredible offensive output isn't enough to make up for that when he's missing games.
The bearded shooting guard gets caught standing up straight far too often, and he's embarrassingly incapable of helping out his teammates on the less glamorous end of the court. Fortunately, he's so good at putting up points and assists in efficient fashion that it typically doesn't matter too much.
It may seem weird to see Harden in the No. 3 spot without Kobe Bryant returning for the Los Angeles Lakers, but remember, these are reactive rankings. What's happened recently matters quite a bit, and Harden just hasn't done much while he's wearing street clothes on the bench.
If absence can drop Kobe all the way out of the rankings, an injured Harden can certainly fall behind a red-hot member of the Dallas Mavericks.
Shooting Guard No. 2: Monta Ellis (Previous Ranking: No. 5)
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.5 steals, 20.77 PER
How else would you describe Monta Ellis other than red-hot?
Over his last five games, the shooting guard is averaging 26.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game while shooting 55 percent from the field, 46.2 percent from beyond the arc and 81.6 percent at the stripe. That stretch included a 37-point, eight-dime outing against the Houston Rockets.
Ellis is finally playing to his strengths, and those strengths are looking stronger as he gets more used to treating them like strengths.
No longer is the 28-year-old popping three-pointers like his life depends on it. No longer is he recklessly attacking the basket. He's playing under control and taking offense as it comes to him, whether that involves him finishing the play with a shot attempt or passing the ball off to an open teammate.
If Ellis keeps this up, he'll both extend Dirk Nowitzki's career and keep the Dallas Mavericks clear of the middle of the pack in the Western Conference.
Shooting Guard No. 1: Dwyane Wade (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.6 blocks, 2.1 steals, 21.26 PER
Dwyane Wade looks like...Dwyane Wade.
After sitting out for a few games to rest his ailing knees, the 2-guard has been vintage Flash since returning. He put up 27 points, four rebounds and four assists against the Orlando Magic before exploding for 21 points, six rebounds and 12 dimes in a victory over the Phoenix Suns.
He was hitting jumpers, slashing to the hoop and converting athletic finishes around the basket. Basically, he was playing like his knees weren't bothering him.
Wade will likely continue to receive maintenance days throughout the season, but as long as he continues to dominate for the Miami Heat when he's on the court...
Small Forward No. 5: Chandler Parsons (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 steals, 17.17 PER
While it often seems like James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Dwight Howard are the only players who draw any media attention for the Houston Rockets, Chandler Parsons has quietly asserted himself as one of the best small forwards in the NBA.
Coming out of Florida, Parsons was decent at everything. He wasn't particularly great in any one facet of the game, nor did he struggle much at a single skill.
Now he's great at a lot of things and good at them all.
Parsons is a stellar shooter, an aggressive defender who has been able to keep Houston somewhat competent on that end and a versatile offensive player who can handle the ball and either finish at the rim or dish the rock to an open teammate.
He's the perfect third wheel for the Rockets, and it's starting to seem like he has the potential to be even more than that.
Honorable Mentions: Nicolas Batum, Luol Deng, Jeff Green, Andre Iguodala, Kawhi Leonard
Small Forward No. 4: Paul George (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.9 steals, 24.08 PER
Paul George continues to be absolutely fantastic, but the Indiana Pacers aren't just winning because of him.
For the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference, it's all about being a team. Everyone contributes on both ends of the court, even if George has emerged as a legitimate superstar while wearing blue and yellow.
He proved his value against the Chicago Bulls, although the Pacers dropped their first game of the season. When George shot just 3-of-14 from the field and recorded more turnovers than assists, the Pacers offense stagnated.
Yes, we're only working with a one-game sample there, but that in itself is impressive enough. George won't let the sample of losses grow any larger for Indiana.
Small Forward No. 3: Carmelo Anthony (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: New York Knicks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.2 steals, 22.62 PER
It's hard not to love how Carmelo Anthony is playing for the Tyson Chandler-less New York Knicks, even if it's not resulting in victories.
His level of efficiency is shockingly high. Although he's shooting only 42.9 percent from the field, 'Melo is playing the right type of basketball. That field-goal percentage is depressed because he's had to shoot so often and his teammates are passing the ball to him at the end of the shot clock with far too much frequency.
Interestingly enough, 'Melo is averaging 7.4 assist opportunities (passes that would result in assists if the ensuing shot were made) and only 2.8 dimes per game, according to NBA.com's SportVU data. That's good for a conversion rate of only 37.8 percent.
Now compare that to Paul George, who is averaging 3.2 assists per game on 7.6 opportunities each contest. That's a conversion rate of 42.1 percent, and the contrast shows how much we should be bashing 'Melo's teammates.
Not 'Melo himself.
Small Forward No. 2: Kevin Durant (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 28.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.4 steals, 27.35 PER
Even if Kevin Durant hasn't been shooting the ball as efficiently as normal, he's managed to improve his all-around game.
How else do you explain the assists?
Durant has dropped eight dimes in two of his past five games, once against the Los Angeles Clippers and once against the Golden State Warriors. Not only is he passing out of double-teams successfully, but he's also actively creating easy looks for his teammates and taking advantage of the attention that he draws from a defense.
This is no fluke, either.
Durant has averaged 5.2 assists per game over the last handful of outings, and that's the same number he's posted over the course of the entire early portion of the 2013-14 campaign.
He's still well shy of the No. 1 player in these rankings, but the overall improvements at least allow him to compensate for the surprising number of misses.
Small Forward No. 1: LeBron James (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Miami Heat
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.9 steals, 30.57 PER
LeBron James is starting to make basketball look too easy, and he's quite obviously the best player in the world. If you're the best player, you're also the best small forward.
Not only is the reigning MVP's jumper better than ever, but he's also displaying a set of post moves that are simply unstoppable. Whether he unleashes the Dirk Nowitzki one-legged flamingo fadeaway or a spinning jumper out of the post, he's finding the bottom of the net.
LeBron's all-around game is just on another level, and he's only improving.
It's starting to get almost laughable. He's making basketball seem that simple.
Power Forward No. 5: Dirk Nowitzki (Previous Ranking: No. 5)
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.1 steals, 22.65 PER
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Well, that means that the NBA thinks rather highly of the patented one-legged fadeaway that Dirk Nowitzki has employed so successfully over the years. After all, the two best players in the world—LeBron James and Kevin Durant—have both copied it.
But you know who else does the flamingo fadeaway pretty well?
He's been averaging 23.6 points per game on 48.8 percent shooting over his last five games, benefiting greatly from the respect that defenses have started to show for Monta Ellis. And yes, that falling-back jumper has been a part of the repertoire.
Power Forward No. 4: Blake Griffin (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.3 steals, 22.25 PER
Blake Griffin just keeps rolling along.
Although he isn't making much of a defensive impact—hey, at least he's trying this year!—Griffin has been a menace on the boards and an offensive force, thanks in large part to Chris Paul's brilliance with the ball in his hands. Functioning as a hub from the elbow, Griffin is spinning and passing his way to gaudy totals on a consistent basis.
In previous seasons, the lack of improvement shown by this former Oklahoma Sooner has been infuriating. Not this year.
Every part of his offensive game has gotten better, and he even hit a three-pointer against the Sacramento Kings in a one-point win. Plus, he's shooting 50.6 percent from the field over his last five games, even with the 3-of-10 outing against Sac-Town factored into the equation.
Blake is improved and still improving.
Power Forward No. 3: LaMarcus Aldridge (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.3 steals, 20.04 PER
Question: How many things in basketball are more beautiful than LaMarcus Aldridge's never-ending stream of turnaround mid-range jumpers when he really gets rolling?
Answer: Not many.
Aldridge has been absolutely fantastic on offense for the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers, but his defense has also helped out the surprising Western Conference contenders in a big way. Due to his one-on-one defensive abilities, Portland has been able to spend more time and attention shutting down the perimeter.
Additionally, Aldridge has such good hands that he can poke the ball away if any interior players drop it below shoulder level. That's led to quite a few run-outs already.
The two-way nature of Aldridge's game has helped the 28-year-old power forward assert himself as an elite player at his position. Now he just has to start upping the percentages.
Power Forward No. 2: Kevin Love (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.6 points, 13.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.9 steals, 27.01 PER
Don't take Kevin Love falling to No. 2 as a knock on the skill of the Minnesota Timberwolves power forward. Instead, view it as him treading water while another player dashes past him into the top spot.
Love continues to rebound the ball better than anyone in the NBA, and he now has double-doubles in all but one game of the 2013-14 season. However, his shot has gone awry lately.
Over the course of his last five games, Love has had outings in which he shot 2-of-14 and 6-of-20 from the field. Considering the former was against the porous defense of the Los Angeles Clippers, that's just not a good thing.
Love is an incredible offensive player who makes outlet passes as well as anyone in NBA history. He's also a historically good rebounder. But since he can't play defense, he's subject to drops in the rankings when his shot isn't falling with any sort of consistency.
That's part of what's happening here, but the other half is the new No. 1 power forward just dominating the league.
Power Forward No. 1: Anthony Davis (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 4.0 blocks, 1.8 steals, 28.62 PER
Among qualified players, only LeBron James has a higher PER than Anthony Davis. The 20-year-old former No. 1 pick has been that good during his sophomore season, and while he's still prone to the occasional off-night, he's developing into a consistent two-way stud.
That's what pushes Davis over the top.
The Unibrow isn't as good on the glass as Love. Despite his increased range and ball-handling skills, he doesn't match his Minnesota counterpart's point-producing value either.
But defense just isn't even a comparison.
Davis' value goes beyond his four rejections per game. He's become a stellar interior defender who has the lateral quickness to guard mobile forwards out on the perimeter. After he spent his rookie season—when healthy—getting bullied by bigger players and abused by quicker ones, he's become the anchor of the New Orleans Pelicans during Year 2.
Don't be surprised when this 20-year-old power forward posts a triple-double in points, rebounds and blocks at some point this season.
Center No. 5: Andre Drummond (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Detroit Pistons
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.8 steals, 21.41 PER
Over his past five games, the 20-year-old has been on a mission, averaging 11.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.8 steals per contest. Even if he's not swatting away too many shots, he's still playing solid defense for a Detroit team that's struggling as a whole on that end of the court.
Although he broke his streak of seven double-doubles in a row with two straight outings that failed to meet the criteria, he's still shooting 65.9 percent from the field during those last five contests. He might not have much range, but he's a self-aware player who provides all positives and no negatives during the course of play.
Now if only he could say the same when the action was stopped and he stood at a certain foul stripe—24.1 percent shooting from the free-throw line just isn't going to cut it.
Honorable Mentions: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Spencer Hawes, Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe
Center No. 4: Roy Hibbert (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Indiana Pacers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 4.1 blocks, 0.3 steals, 18.64 PER
Roy Hibbert is just way too good at this whole defense thing.
According to NBA.com's SportVU data, the Indiana Pacers center is holding opponents to 36.2 percent shooting at the rim despite facing 10.6 attempts per game. Among the 61 players seeing at least five attempts per contest right around the basket, only Brook Lopez is boasting a lower percentage.
But Hibbert does more than force missed shots. He also loves rejecting them, and those 4.1 blocks per game lead the league in the category.
That said, the 26-year-old big man has forgotten how to play offense again. Shooting 47.6 percent on the season, Hibbert has made only 19 of his last 45 attempts. For those of you without a calculator, that's 42.2 percent.
It's also not going to cut it if he hopes to climb any higher up these rankings.
Center No. 3: DeMarcus Cousins (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Sacramento Kings
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.7 steals, 24.65 PER
DeMarcus Cousins is good at a lot of things.
He's a fantastic offensive player who can use both his technical skills and his power to embarrass the opposition. He's also a great rebounder, but he's even better at stopping his teammates from shaking hands with the other team.
While Boogie pulling Isaiah Thomas away from Chris Paul was one of the more immature actions I've watched in a while, it's par for the course when talking about Cousins. For all his physical talent, he's held back by how frustrated he gets on the court.
How many times have we seen him pout? How many times has he been so annoyed by the whistles (or lack of whistles) that he stops producing as effectively?
Cousins has the ability to become the best center in basketball, but only if that's his priority.
Tune out the noise, DeMarcus. Focus. We all want to see what you can do when fully engaged in a positive way.
Center No. 2: Al Horford (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Atlanta Hawks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.9 blocks, 1.1 steals, 21.59 PER
If only Al Horford would get a little bit more involved for the Atlanta Hawks.
Mike Budenholzer has transferred complete offensive control to Jeff Teague, and that's been a positive thing for the development of the Wake Forest product. However, it's also taken away from Horford's touches, and he isn't able to facilitate from the elbow quite as often as he has in the past.
Given his 54.9 percent shooting from the field going into Nov. 26's 7-of-10 outing against the Orlando Magic, there's no reason he should avoid taking more shots. Horford is one of the more versatile players in basketball, boasting a silky-smooth mid-range jumper and a deadly set of moves in the paint.
He just isn't glamorous on either end of the court, which is a major reason why he continues to be massively underrated by the majority of NBA fans.
Center No. 1: Dwight Howard (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Houston Rockets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.3 blocks, 0.5 steals, 20.53 PER
Don't act too surprised.
Even though Dwight Howard is playing worse defense than he has in years, he's still a standout on that end of the court. And while he doesn't create offense for himself and hasn't shown off much explosiveness out of the post, he's averaging 17.7 points per game while shooting 56.3 percent from the field.
Over his last five games, D12 is actually knocking down two-thirds of his attempts. Literally. He's made 30 of his 45 attempts.
Howard is starting to put things back together for the Houston Rockets, and that's a good thing for the expected contenders in the Western Conference.
Even when everything isn't put together in proper fashion, Howard is still the best center in the game. It'll take a major slump or an explosion from one of the other featured centers for him to fall out of the No. 1 spot.