Top 5 NBA Stars at Every Position: Karl-Anthony Towns Emerging Among Elite

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2016

Top 5 NBA Stars at Every Position: Karl-Anthony Towns Emerging Among Elite

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    Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

    It's time for some fresh blood in the latest NBA positional hierarchies.

    Four of the five lineup spots now feature at least one new player since the last edition was published Jan. 11 (positions, in this article, are determined by Basketball-Reference.com's designations). At center, we even have a rookie making his debut as a top-five stud.

    You can probably guess who it is. 

    As always, we're looking at the players who have made the biggest on-court impacts while establishing themselves as household names—or at least getting on track to do so in the near future. 

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

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

Injured Players

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    Chris Covatta/Getty Images

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

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

    As a result, Nicolas Batum, Eric Bledsoe, Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Ian Mahinmi and Hassan Whiteside will not appear, although they would make the cut—or at least be considered—if the injury imp didn't dictate otherwise.

Point Guard No. 5: Rajon Rondo (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

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    Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Age: 29

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 11.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 17.2 PER

    We'll kick things off with the man who's still leading the NBA in assists per game. In fact, Rajon Rondo has been even more impressive during recent outings: his 11.7 dimes on the season is actually up to 12.7 per game since the beginning of 2016. 

    Plus, the point guard has begun to assert himself as a more efficient scorer. During that same stretch, he's averaged a fairly typical 12.2 points per game, but that's on 45.6 percent from the field and a shocking 38.7 percent from beyond the arc. 

    It's not just that Rondo is throwing up monstrous stats. The biggest knock on him for a while now has been an inability to make his team better, as he sometimes chases counting stats at the expense of making the most advantageous play. 

    Sacramento's defense has still been worse with him on the floor, but the offense is scoring an additional 2.1 points per 100 possessions when he plays. 

    Honorable Mentions: Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker, John Wall

Point Guard No. 4: Kyle Lowry (Previous Ranking: No. 3)

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Age: 29

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.5 blocks, 22.5 PER

    Don't take Kyle Lowry's slight fall in the rankings as a sign he's declining. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the svelte floor general continues to display a quick first step and an ability to work his way by virtually every defender. 

    In the past, we've seen Lowry (6'0", 205 lbs) begin a season in torrid fashion before wearing down as the year progresses. Thanks to his offseason training efforts, that narrative should finally come to an end in 2016, even if the Toronto Raptors' 11-game winning streak snapped at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 1. 

    That was the worst game of Lowry's season. He produced only 10 points and two assists on 3-of-12 shooting from the field, and he was unable to get past Emmanuel Mudiay and the rest of the Denver backcourt. But it was also an aberration. Every star is allowed an occasional off night, and Lowry has shown no signs of excessive wear and tear lately. 

Point Guard No. 3: Chris Paul (Previous Ranking: No. 4)

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    Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Age: 30

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 18.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 9.5 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 24.9 PER 

    Looking for why the Los Angeles Clippers have managed to hang around near the top of the Western Conference standings while Blake Griffin rehabs his injuries? You've found him. 

    Since Griffin last suited up on Christmas Day against the Los Angeles Lakers, Chris Paul has taken it upon himself to lead the charge on offense. The strategy has worked, thanks to his proficiency from the perimeter and his ability to break down defenders en route to the spot of his choosing. 

    The Clippers have played 18 games since Dec. 25, and Paul has averaged 20.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 10.4 assists, 2.1 steals and 0.4 blocks. Even more impressively, he's done so while shooting 45.8 percent from the field, 41.3 percent from beyond the arc and 87.1 percent from the free-throw stripe. Even more impressively still, he's been that heavily involved in the offensive flow but is still turning the ball over only 2.9 times per contest. 

    Last we checked, elevating one's game like that is exactly what a superstar is supposed to do when one of his key running mates goes down. 

Point Guard No. 2: Russell Westbrook (Previous Ranking: No. 2)

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    Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Age: 27

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 24.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 9.9 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 28.4 PER 

    It only took 50 games for Russell Westbrook to log his seventh triple-double of the season. The last such performance came Feb. 1 against John Wall and the Washington Wizards, as the 27-year-old exploded for 17 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists and a steal on 8-of-13 shooting from the field. 

    So, this raises the question: How many players have managed to record at least seven trip-dubs during their team's first 50 games of the season? 

    Since 1983-84, just five

    • Draymond Green
    • Magic Johnson
    • Jason Kidd
    • Fat Lever
    • Russell Westbrook

    Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant and Grant Hill all came close, but none managed to accomplish the feat. And it doesn't seem as if Westbrook will slow down anytime soon during a season that would be viewed in a much more historic light if it weren't for the enduring presence of the league's top point guard. 

Point Guard No. 1: Stephen Curry (Previous Ranking: No. 1)

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 27

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 29.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, 31.9 PER

    We won't regale you with tales about Stephen Curry's impressive rebounding ability, improved defensive chops or best-in-NBA-history player efficiency rating. You've heard them all at this point, and not much has changed during a ridiculously impressive season that has the Golden State Warriors point guard as the prohibitive favorite to take home back-to-back MVPs. 

    Instead, let's just focus on his three-point shooting. Not the jaw-dropping combination of shot-creating ability, efficiency and volume. Just the last part. 

    If the 2015-16 season suddenly ended before Curry got a chance to drop a few more long-range bombs against the Washington Wizards on Feb. 3, he'd finish the year with 221 triples. Even though we haven't yet made it to the All-Star break, that's already so large he'd trail only 20 individual seasons throughout all of NBA history—three of which are his own. 

    He's on pace to make 378 three-pointers this year, and the all-time record—set by him during the previous season—is "only" 286. At this rate, he'll get his record-setting 287th trey of the season on March 6 against the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    After that, Curry will still have 21 games left on the schedule.

Shooting Guard No. 5: Dwyane Wade (Previous Ranking: No. 5)

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Age: 34

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks, 21.1 PER

    After averaging 24.0 points, 7.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.8 blocks while shooting 50 percent from the field, Dwyane Wade was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, per an official press release from the Miami Heat. And that's just enough for him to hold off a charging trio of young shooting guards who are eager to assert themselves at the position. 

    Wade may be averaging just 18.7 points for the Heat, which would be his lowest mark since his rookie year out of Marquette. His 21.1 PER is similarly the worst he's submitted since 2003-04. 

    But the 34-year-old is still showing off his veteran savvy and increased energy on a regular basis. That's been especially noticeable on the defensive end, where he's no longer the glaring liability he'd become in 2014-15. 

    You don't need the occasional throwback dunk to see how spry Wade has looked this season. 

    Honorable Mentions: Rodney Hood, C.J. McCollum, Victor Oladipo

Shooting Guard No. 4: DeMar DeRozan (Previous Ranking: No. 4)

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    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Age: 26

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 23.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.4 PER

    We know DeMar DeRozan can score with aplomb, and he routinely locks down opponents on the defensive end—even if his occasional stretches of uninspired play drive down some of his individual metrics. 

    But when DeRozan is willing to serve as a facilitator, the Toronto Raptors get even better. That's been the case all season long, and it didn't change during the team's 11-game win streak, as the shooting guard averaged 4.0 dimes to just 2.2 turnovers. 

    During that stretch, DeRozan's assist percentage was a stellar 20.4, (which is right in line with the mark he's produced throughout the season). It's amazing how a willingness to kick the ball out to an open shooter can keep a defense on its toes, and it seems like that has finally clicked for this 26-year-old.

Shooting Guard No. 3: Klay Thompson (Previous Ranking: No. 3)

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 21.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 18.6 PER 

    Here comes Klay Thompson. 

    During his last three games in January, he torched the Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks for averages of 37.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists on 65.6 percent shooting from the field and 57.1 percent from beyond the arc. Throughout January as a whole, Thompson produced 24.3 points per game with respective percentages of 49.3 and 43.1. 

    It's not just his three-point shooting that makes him so special these days. Thompson is masterfully keeping opponents off balance with properly timed backdoor cuts. As soon as his mark cheats a bit in order to prevent an easy three, he's bursting toward the rim and finishing with touch right at the basket. 

    When he's a threat to score in either direction, there's just not much a defender can do.

Shooting Guard No. 2: Jimmy Butler (Previous Ranking: No. 2)

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Age: 26

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 22.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 21.7 PER 

    Jimmy Butler's offensive transformation continues to astound. 

    Two years ago, he was a limited scorer who had trouble finding success from beyond the arc. Last year, he managed to average 20 points while drastically improving from all areas of the court. This year, he's maintained his scoring prowess and has overcome a slight dip in percentages by developing into an even better distributor.

    Just take a gander at the progression of his assist and turnover percentages throughout his career with the Chicago Bulls: 

    SeasonAST%TOV%
    2011-125.711.9
    2012-138.69.2
    2013-1411.110.8
    2014-1514.47.7
    2015-1618.99.2

    Posting an assist percentage above 18 while turning the ball over on fewer than 10 percent of your possessions makes for quite the unique combination. Among all the players who have logged at least 1,200 minutes this season, only Butler, DeMar DeRozan and Mike Conley are doing so.

Shooting Guard No. 1: James Harden (Previous Ranking: No. 1)

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Age: 26

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 27.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 25.2 PER

    Forget about James Harden's defense, (just as he so often does). Despite his status as a glaring defensive liability, he's so good at bolstering the Houston Rockets offense that his one-way play is still ultra-valuable. Averaging 27.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists in efficient fashion isn't easy. 

    In fact, only seven players in NBA history have met or exceeded those marks: 

    • Larry Bird
    • James Harden
    • John Havlicek
    • LeBron James (three times)
    • Michael Jordan
    • Oscar Robertson (six times)
    • Russell Westbrook

    Thanks to his three-point marksmanship and knack for inducing whistles from referees, Harden's true shooting percentage also stands out among players who run such a large portion of the offense. The bearded 2-guard is now on pace to join Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James, Jordan and Karl Malone as one of six players in NBA history to post a true shooting percentage north of 59 while recording a usage rate of at least 32 percent.

Small Forward No. 5: Gordon Hayward (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 19.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 19.3 PER 

    "I think I'm an elite player in this league. I have to find ways to help my team win more. We're learning how to do that," Gordon Hayward told reporters after an overtime victory against the Chicago Bulls to open February, per Jody Genessy of the Deseret News. "For me, it's just all about winning. Winning basketball games. It feels good to win the first three in a row."

    Hayward deserved to sing his own praises after that 105-96 victory. He may have missed a potential game-winner at the end of regulation, but it was only possible for him to take the shot because he forced a turnover against Jimmy Butler. And he still scored 11 of his team's final 15 points—including eight of the Utah Jazz's 12 in overtime. 

    Hayward is in the midst of another impressive season, but the Jazz have struggled to keep pace in the Western Conference. His play has also occasionally grown sloppy at the end of close contests. But both those facts seem to be changing as we move further into 2016, and that enables the Butler product to get the credit he deserves.  

    Honorable Mentions: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Carmelo Anthony, Danilo Gallinari

Small Forward No. 4: Jae Crowder (Previous Ranking: No. 5)

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Boston Celtics

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, 16.1 PER

    Looking only at January stats, which player would you rather have? 

    • Player A averaged 15.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.6 blocks while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from beyond the arc. His individual defensive rating over that stretch was just 104, which accurately captures the enormous impact he has for his team. 
    • Player B put up 19.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks during his typical January outing, but he shot just 44.7 percent from the field and 28.9 percent from downtown. He also sat out four games and struggled his way to a 108 defensive rating

    It's a close call when we take the names out of the equation, especially because of the missed time. But Player A is Jae Crowder, and Player B is Carmelo Anthony.

    Despite his lack of household recognition, Crowder has been incredibly valuable to the Boston Celtics throughout his breakout 2015-16 campaign. He's one of only nine qualified players this season with an offensive box plus/minus (OBPM) and defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) that are both 1.5 or higher. 

    Don't let his relative anonymity fool you. This 25-year-old is having the impact typically produced by a true star.

Small Forward No. 3: Kawhi Leonard (Previous Ranking: No. 2)

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Age: 24

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 19.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, 25.4 PER 

    It shouldn't be particularly surprising that Kawhi Leonard is beginning to show some signs of fatigue. The 24-year-old has carried an inordinate amount of early responsibility for the San Antonio Spurs, and it's always tough to become the clear-cut No. 1 offensive option while remaining a premier defensive stopper. 

    Leonard has successfully done so for much of the season, but January produced the first bit of regression. His three-point percentage declined to "only" 47.7, and he averaged 18.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks—all below his season-long marks. 

    Even if January provided an accurate picture of the player Leonard has become in 2015-16, that's still a positive. He remains one of the 10 best in the Association, and it's just flat-out incorrect to call him a product of the vaunted Spurs / Gregg Popovich system. 

    Leonard should still be considered a leading MVP candidate. It's just unfortunate for him that two other players at his position can claim the same.

Small Forward No. 2: Kevin Durant (Previous Ranking: No. 3)

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Age: 27

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 27.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks, 28.0 PER

    It may seem like Kevin Durant's exploits have largely been glossed over during the 2015-16 season. Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors suck away most of the attention, and almost all of what remains is divvied up among the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs. Only a tiny sliver is left for the league's other 27 teams, and the Thunder's portion must cover both this small forward and Russell Westbrook. 

    But Durant deserves far more recognition. He's in the midst of yet another spectacular campaign.

    Even if we discount his defensive ability, knack for crashing the boards and work as a playmaker, he's still averaging 27.2 points while shooting 50.8 percent from the field. In the process, he's knocking down 38.4 percent from downtown and 88.9 percent at the free-throw line. 

    That puts him on pace to be one of five players in NBA history to average at least 27 points with a true shooting percentage on the right side of 63—a club he's already joined during two previous seasons. To satiate your curiosity, Charles Barkley, Stephen Curry (yes, the version currently playing), Adrian Dantley and LeBron James are the other members. 

    It's now safe to say Durant has put the ill effects of his foot injuries well behind him.

Small Forward No. 1: LeBron James (Previous Ranking: No. 1)

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    David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Age: 31

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 24.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 26.8 PER

    It sure seems like LeBron James is motivated right now. 

    He's rarely taking possessions off on the defensive end, has chewed people out (cough, Tristan Thompson, cough) after on-court mistakes, is working to get all his teammates involved and is still managing to flat-out dominate as an individual. 

    Did something change recently? Funny you should ask. 

    Since Tyronn Lue took over as the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach prior to a Jan. 23 loss to the Chicago Bulls, James has taken his game to that proverbial next level. In the six games that have transpired since David Blatt was fired, he's averaged 24.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks while shooting 52.4 percent from the field. 

    The perimeter jumpers still aren't falling, but James has displayed such an aggressive mentality that it hasn't mattered. Barring the occasional blown dunk in transition, he's finishing around the basket quite well, and he is seldom deterred once setting sights on the hoop.

Power Forward No. 5: Paul Millsap (Previous Ranking: No. 4)

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 30

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.3 blocks, 22.9 PER

    Take it away, Sports Illustrated's Jared Dubin

    He's one of two players in the NBA, along with Blake Griffin, averaging at least 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. He's one of two players in the NBA, along with DeMarcus Cousins, currently sporting a Player Efficiency Rating above 23 while also snaring at least 15% of available rebounds and assisting on at least 15% of his teammates' baskets while on the floor. He currently ranks No. 13 in Wins Produced, No. 12 in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, No. 10 in Win Shares, No. 9 in both Box Plus-Minus and Value Over Replacement Player, and No. 6 in Nylon Calculus' Daily RPM Estimate.

    Basically, Paul Millsap is really good. 

    He might not get the credit he deserves while playing for this relatively nondescript version of the Atlanta Hawks, but the 30-year-old power forward is one of those who can do almost anything on the basketball court. 

    He's a deft scorer who can thrive as a spot-up marksman or use his pump fake to devastating effect. He can rebound on either side, serve as a secondary distributing hub for head coach Mike Budenholzer or exert a gravitational pull on a defense while working as a decoy. On defense, he can guard players on the perimeter or serve as a rim-protecting stud with equal adeptness. 

    A few rough outings in recent weeks have pushed him down the standings, but don't be surprised when Millsap works his way back up during the second half of the season.  

    Honorable Mentions: LaMarcus AldridgeChris Bosh, Nerlens Noel

Power Forward No. 4: Kevin Love (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)

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    David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Age: 27

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, 19.6 PER

    When Kevin Love is finally a part of the Cleveland Cavaliers' group pictures, you know something is trending in the right direction. #HELLYEAHHHimadethepic

    During the six games since Tyronn Lue took over as head coach, Love has also been featured far more heavily in the offensive schemes. And he's responding by averaging 19.2 points while shooting 49.4 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from beyond the arc. 

    As Yaron Weitzman wrote for SB Nation, Lue is making a concerted effort to get his star power forward the ball in the right spots:

    The biggest difference under Lue thus far is one Cavs fans have been clamoring for since [Love] was traded to Cleveland last season. Love's favorite spot on the floor in Minnesota was the elbow, the area on either side of the foul line. From there he could easily knock down jumpers, get to the hoop with one dribble, turn and post or survey the defense and hit open cutters and shooters. And yet, Blatt never seemed comfortable giving Love the ball there.

    Lue has already made an effort to change that. Since Lue took over, Love is averaging 5.6 elbow touches per game, compared to 3.8 under Blatt, per NBA.com. Love is also shooting much more frequently once he does get the ball there.

    It's important to note, Love was already having a good—note: not great—season under former head coach David Blatt. He deserved to be a fringe All-Star contender and was actually playing better defense than he had at any point in his NBA career. 

    But this is the Love we remember dominating for the Minnesota Timberwolves. If he's here to stay, the Cavs will get significantly more dangerous. 

Power Forward No. 3: Paul George (Previous Ranking: No. 2)

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.3 blocks, 20.0 PER

    Yes, we're still counting Paul George as a power forward. Basketball-Reference.com continues to list that as his primary position and shows that 1 percent more of his minutes have come at the 4 than the 3. 

    But no matter, the 25-year-old is beginning to trend in the wrong direction, mired in a slump from which he can't escape. During January, he shot only 40.6 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from beyond the arc—a far cry from the beginning of the season, when he seemed to find the bottom of the net whenever he so much as thought of shooting. 

    "It's changed; it's definitely changed [since the] start of the year," he recently told IndyStar.com's Candace Buckner about his shifting role. "Just kinda felt like I had the confidence, and coach was giving me the confidence with the green light. I'm still confident, guys are still making the right plays. Just seems like a transition a little bit."

    George is talented enough to make a huge impact as a playmaker, but he needs to rediscover his confidence as a scorer. Until that happens, he may continue to move down the positional rankings—regardless of whether he sticks at power forward or plays enough minutes at the 3 to shift back to his natural slot in the lineup.

Power Forward No. 2: Anthony Davis (Previous Ranking: No. 3)

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    Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: New Orleans Pelicans

    Age: 22

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 22.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.4 blocks, 24.5 PER

    Even though Anthony Davis' season might be considered disappointing when held against his previous campaign, he's still throwing up a rather unique line. Throughout all of NBA history, only the following qualified players have managed to average at least 22 points, 10 rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block with a true shooting percentage north of 55:

    • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    • Charles Barkley
    • Larry Bird
    • Elton Brand
    • DeMarcus Cousins
    • Anthony Davis
    • Patrick Ewing
    • Kevin Garnett
    • Dwight Howard
    • Bob Lanier
    • Karl Malone
    • Moses Malone
    • Bob McAdoo
    • Alonzo Mourning
    • Hakeem Olajuwon
    • David Robinson

    That's 16 players, and 11 of them are in the Hall of Fame. Garnett, Howard and Cousins (assuming his career continues on its current trajectory) should join that club when they're eligible, which leaves only Davis and Brand. 

    How's that for good company?

Power Forward No. 1: Draymond Green (Previous Ranking: No. 1)

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks, 20.3 PER

    At this point, it would almost be justifiable to have Draymond Green leading off your MVP ballot. Just take a look at the Golden State Warriors' on/off splits for both him and Stephen Curry:

     Draymond Green On CourtStephen Curry On Court
    Offensive Rating+15.3+16.1
    Defensive Rating-12.3-13.3
    Net Rating+27.5+29.4

    Curry has a slight advantage, but the fact it's even close is a testament to how well this triple-double machine has been playing. Plus, on/off splits lack context, which means who you share the court with often serves as a large confounding variable. ESPN.com's RPM takes that out of the equation, and Green's 8.99 RPM leaves him at No. 3 throughout the entire NBA, trailing only Russell Westbrook and...Curry. 

    According to Basketball-Reference.com's MVP Award Tracker, which looks at historical correlations between various factors and actual voting results, Green is currently No. 4 in the standings. This time, he's behind the two aforementioned point guards and Kevin Durant, which is hardly anything to complain about.

Center No. 5: Andre Drummond (Previous Ranking: No. 5)

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Age: 22

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 15.1 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.5 blocks, 22.4 PER 

    It might be a bit strange to see a man averaging more than 17 points and 15 rebounds all the way down at No. 5. And frankly, he was perilously close to falling into the honorable mentions now that Rudy Gobert is healthy and the Gasol brothers are playing terrific basketball. Had Tim Duncan remained healthy, the Pistons big man would have found himself down in that section anyway. 

    Andre Drummond's per-game stats are incredible, but they also mask that his impact is limited by some of his biggest shortcomings. For all the improvements he's made as a scorer, his free-throw shooting depresses his offensive value. So, too, does his complete lack of passing chops, which actually helps push his OBPM into negative territory. 

    Even when you factor in his improved work on the defensive end—which could be even stronger as he grows more disciplined around the rim—he can't quite have the impact of some elite players at his position. 

    But remember, Drummond doesn't celebrate his 23rd birthday until August. He still has plenty of time to keep growing, and he already has quite a few noteworthy skills that have made him an invaluable piece of the Detroit Pistons. 

    Honorable Mentions: Marc GasolPau Gasol, Rudy Gobert

Center No. 4: Al Horford (Previous Ranking: No. 3)

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    Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 29

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.5 blocks, 19.6 PER

    As Al Horford told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, who also revealed the Atlanta Hawks may listen to offers for the 29-year-old center before the trade deadline, he's expanding his game: 

    The NBA game is changing a lot. I know everyone always says that, but especially these past three seasons I feel like it changed even more. For me, I'm in the process of re-changing some aspects of my game to fit this new mold. It's kind of forcing me to do some things that I haven't done in the past.

    As you probably have seen, I'm shooting more from 3-point range. I'm making sure I penetrate more to the basket. Little things you need to be able to do in the new NBA.

    To be clear, the Hawks wouldn't be trading Horford because they want to get rid of him. He's an invaluable big for Atlanta, especially now that he's knocking down 34 percent of his three-point attempts and giving Mike Budenholzer's offense even more elements to work with. 

    It's only because of his looming free agency that the Hawks would listen to offers. After all, they know better than anyone that Horford is going to be worth a max contract to plenty of organizations when his current deal expires this summer.

Center No. 3: Karl-Anthony Towns (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)

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    Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age: 20

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.8 blocks, 22.6 PER

    Are we prisoners of the moment? Maybe. 

    Even if we are, the moment has been pretty darn special. 

    During the last 10 games of January, Karl-Anthony Towns averaged 19.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.9 blocks. In that stretch, he's shooting 56.8 percent from the field, 54.5 percent from beyond the arc and 85.7 percent at the charity stripe.

    If we only look at the last five of those outings, he was even better: 22.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.8 blocks on 65.3 percent shooting. 

    Towns is already becoming a superstar, and it's unlikely there are more than five players in the NBA the Minnesota Timberwolves would trade him for right now. His combination of skills is that ridiculous, especially now that he's knocking down shots from beyond the arc while dazzling in the post and from mid-range territory.

    There's already no doubt he's the best player on his team—if you still think that's Andrew Wiggins, please evaluate players using more than the oft-misleading points-per-game stat. Pretty soon, KAT's going to be one of the NBA's best. 

    He's not far from earning that status, which is crazy for a young man who can't legally drink alcohol unless he's visiting the Toronto Raptors.

Center No. 2: DeAndre Jordan (Previous Ranking: No. 4)

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    Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Age: 27

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 13.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.2 blocks, 20.4 PER

    DeAndre Jordan has become a better defender now that Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers is allowing him to drop back against pick-and-rolls, which allows him to protect the painted area. He's also making improvements as a free-throw shooter and continuing to be one of the NBA's two premier rebounders. 

    His 42.5 percent shooting from the line might not sound great, and it's not. But it's nonetheless a huge stride in the right direction after he knocked down 39.7 percent of his attempts in 2014-15 and took two fewer per game.

    Jordan also refuses to miss from the field. During January, he knocked down 70.7 percent of his tries, and that actually brought his season-long field-goal percentage down to 71.5. 

    For perspective, Wilt Chamberlain set the single-season record in 1972-73, when he knocked down 72.7 percent of his attempts for the Los Angeles Lakers. Jordan's current mark would set the new standard for runners-up, displacing his 2014-15 effort by a slim margin.

Center No. 1: DeMarcus Cousins (Previous Ranking: No. 1)

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Age: 25

    2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 27.0 points,  11.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.4 blocks, 23.7 PER 

    In a Jan. 23 victory over the Indiana Pacers, DeMarcus Cousins went supernova with 48 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and a steal. He made 20 trips to the free-throw line and shot 17-of-29 from the field. 

    Two days later, he went hypernova. 

    This time, he exploded for 56 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, a steal and two blocks. Incredibly, he took 30 shots from the field and made 21 of them.

    It was the first time since Deron Williams in 2011-12 that a player had recorded at least 56 points without taking more than 30 shots. Before Williams, no one had done so since 1997-98 Karl Malone. 

    Need we say more?

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

    All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are from Basketball-Reference.com or Adam's own databases and are current heading into games on Feb. 2.

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