Top 5 NBA Stars at Each Position: Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis Hitting Strides
The point guard position is undeniably stacked. James Harden won't stop scoring. Kevin Durant is regaining his pre-injuries MVP form, though his competition at small forward is rather impressive. Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green and the other top bigs in the league just keep on rolling.
Putting them in order is no easy task, and it's bound to hurt a few feelings. There are only five slots at every position, and that means someone is inevitably going to be left out. Plenty has changed since the last edition of these rankings, which came back on Feb. 2, and it's not good news for everyone.
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.
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, Eric Bledsoe, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, Danilo Gallinari, Marc Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Blake Griffin, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Brandon Knight 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: Damian Lillard (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 25.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 23.0 PER
It's almost inconceivable that Damian Lillard could check in at No. 5 despite his torrid February, but the placement becomes a lot more believable when you take a peek at who surrounds him. Each of the four point guards above him have rock-solid cases to be called top-10 players this season, and the honorable mentions are so strong that players such as Isaiah Thomas, Tony Parker and Reggie Jackson couldn't even make the cut.
Don't view this as a slight directed at Lillard. Nothing could be further from the truth, since we fully recognize the impressive nature of his offensive contributions for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Highlighted by his 51-point outburst in an upset victory over the Golden State Warriors, the 25-year-old averaged 29.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists in February while shooting 44.7 percent from the field, 37.4 percent from downtown and 90 percent at the charity stripe. He's been a one-man wrecking crew, seeking vengeance for this year's All-Star snub.
Just don't tell him he's playing like Stephen Curry.
"I was being Damian Lillard," he said after the comparison was invoked on Feb. 28, per Portland beat reporter Casey Holdahl.
Honorable Mentions: Rajon Rondo, Kemba Walker, John Wall
Point Guard No. 4: Chris Paul (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 19.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 26.0 PER
If you're looking for the primary reason the Los Angeles Clippers have remained near the top of the Western Conference while Blake Griffin rehabs, look no further. Chris Paul has quietly played like one of the best point guards in the Association, maintaining near-constant control of the ball and rarely making mistakes.
In February, Paul shot 48.9 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from beyond the arc. As if that weren't impressive enough, he made 5.7 trips to the free-throw line during his typical outing and hit his freebies at a 92.1 percent clip.
Just for good measure, he also refused to turn the ball over. Despite carrying such a heavy offensive burden for LAC, he recorded only 2.3 turnovers per contest—an unbelievably low number for any ball-dominant point guard, much less one who played 36.3 minutes per game.
With Paul, it's not just about what he does on the floor. He contributes plenty to the Clippers' cause, racking up points and assists like it's his job—which, to be fair, it is.
It's also about what he doesn't do. And when a player rarely misses and staunchly avoids those back-breaking negative plays, you know he's going to be valuable.
Point Guard No. 3: Kyle Lowry (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Toronto Raptors
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 21.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.5 blocks, 23.5 PER
Kyle Lowry keeps building a convincing case to show up on MVP ballots, even if no one should vote for him as the overall winner. He's been that important to the Toronto Raptors, refusing to slow down despite shouldering an immense burden each time his team takes to the court.
According to Basketball-Reference.com's MVP Award Tracker, which looks at historical correlations between certain factors and actual voting results, Lowry sits at No. 8 with a 0.8 percent shot at winning the league's most prestigious individual honor. But subjectively, he might place even higher, especially after his marquee performance against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On Feb. 26, he led his Raptors to victory with a takeover showing that included 43 points, five rebounds, nine assists and four steals, shooting 15-of-20 from the field in the process. DeMar DeRozan couldn't muster up anything that night, so Lowry took it upon himself to play the part of hero, and it worked.
When he hit a deep step-back two to push Toronto into the lead with just 3.8 seconds left on the clock, there was no doubt he'd completed a memorable performance. And the craziest part is that he's been playing at that level for much of the season.
Point Guard No. 2: Russell Westbrook (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 24.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, 28.9 PER
What can't Russell Westbrook do?
He's leading the league in steals while tracking toward becoming the first qualified player to join the 20-point, 10-assist club since Deron Williams in 2010-11. He's playing alongside Kevin Durant and still managing to average 24.3 points in efficient fashion. He's one of the best rebounding point guards we've seen in a long time, and it's not like his risky and aggressive style of defense hasn't worked well this year.
Oh, and he might be getting better.
In February, Westbrook averaged 25.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 12.2 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 49.7 percent from the field, 34.1 percent from three-point territory and 88 percent at the stripe. A conscious decision to become even more of a distributor didn't prevent him from experiencing multifaceted success; it just made him even more dangerous.
At this point, there shouldn't be much doubt that Westbrook has established himself as the second-best player in basketball. According to my total-points-added metric (TPA, which is explained throughout this article), he's on pace to finish No. 2 in 2015-16 by a wide margin and is tracking toward the No. 20 rank since 1973-74.
It's just unfortunate for him that the clear-cut No. 1 also happens to be a point guard.
Point Guard No. 1: Stephen Curry (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Golden State Warriors
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 30.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 32.9 PER
At this point, highlighting Stephen Curry's greatness is impossible.
Not because it's tough to find supporting arguments, but because he's breaking so many records, it's painstakingly difficult to feature only a few. We could easily highlight his 50-40-90 pace, his record-setting player efficiency rating, his shooting from well beyond the three-point arc or any number of other impressive statistics.
Or, we could just rely on anecdotal evidence.
Take his Feb. 27 exploits against the Oklahoma City Thunder as an example, since he carried the Golden State Warriors back into the contest and made the overtime game-winner on a casual pull-up jumper from 38.4 feet—his record-tying 12th triple of the contest. What about his 51 points against the Orlando Magic? His 42 against the Miami Heat that were highlighted by a pair of clutch triples in the final 90 seconds?
Just sit back and enjoy what you're watching. A season like this doesn't come around very often...if ever.
Shooting Guard No. 5: J.J. Redick (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 17.6 PER
Other than draining shots from beyond the arc, J.J. Redick doesn't do much to help the Los Angeles Clippers. However, he's so good as a perimeter sniper that his value is still immense, aiding LAC in its quest to remain near the top of the Western Conference standings.
When Redick is on the bench, the Clippers are scoring just 100.7 points per 100 possessions. For perspective, that would be the No. 29 offensive rating in the Association, beating only the Philadelphia 76ers and their putrid 97.8 points per 100 possessions.
But when he plays, that offensive rating skyrockets to 114.4, which would be tied with the Golden State Warriors for the No. 1 mark in the league. Even when he's not scoring, Redick's sheer presence draws enough defensive attention to open up driving lanes for his teammates and prevents his defender from sliding over to help.
Fortunately for the Clippers, his failing to score is an increasingly infrequent occurrence. In February, Redick averaged 18.1 points while shooting 45 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
Honorable Mentions: Avery Bradley, C.J. McCollum, Khris Middleton
Shooting Guard No. 4: Dwyane Wade (Previous Ranking: No. 5)
Team: Miami Heat
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 19.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.5 blocks, 20.4 PER
I think the biggest thing is he's got a lot on his plate, as far as he's trying to make plays in pick-and-roll. He's been very aggressive in that. He's been shooting it well in the games I've watched. Obviously, he can post up smaller guys and is one of the better back-to-the-basket players in the whole NBA.
He's not scared of big moments, and that comes through loud and clear in every game you watch. Obviously, he has had one of the better careers in the NBA of the active players that are playing now. He's a handful. Wade is playing as well as I've seen him in the two and a half years I've been in the league.
Even if Wade subsequently struggled against the Boston defense, that last statement isn't hyperbolic.
The veteran 2-guard has looked much fresher this year than in the past few seasons, and it's allowed him to reassert himself as a beneficial defender while maintaining his offensive output. Gone are the days in which Wade was one of the league's best scorers, but he's learned how to use trickery and patience better than ever.
The result is plenty of positive production to go along with his diminished turnovers.
Shooting Guard No. 3: DeMar DeRozan (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Toronto Raptors
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 23.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.1 PER
DeMar DeRozan's scoring will always be his biggest, most noticeable skill. But his passing continues to impress, and it's that willingness to involve his teammates that has made the Toronto Raptors even more dangerous in 2015-16.
Just take a look at how DeRozan's assist and turnover percentages have trended throughout his career:
Setting a new high-water mark as a distributor in conjunction with being tied for the best turnover percentage since his rookie season, DeRozan has become a multifaceted asset for the Raptors. And that's not changing as the season progresses, as the 26-year-old posted a 20.3 assist percentage and a minuscule 7.9 turnover percentage in February.
Shooting Guard No. 2: Klay Thompson (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Golden State Warriors
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 21.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.6 blocks, 18.4 PER
The 2014-15 version of Klay Thompson is back, and that's a good thing for the Golden State Warriors.
Early in the season, this shooting guard struggled on the defensive end—likely a byproduct of often taking on the tougher opposing backcourt member. But his point-preventing ability has improved throughout the year, and he looked especially confident on Feb. 27 when he ended up working against Russell Westbrook for many late-game possessions.
However, Thompson's speciality is still shooting, and he's putting up especially gaudy point totals in recent outings.
During the 13 games before opening the March calendar at home against the Atlanta Hawks, he averaged 26.6 points while knocking down 50.4 percent of his shots from the field, 39.3 percent of his deep tries and 93.3 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe. Whenever the Warriors have needed a big bucket down the stretch, he's proved a reliable secondary option to Stephen Curry.
Though Thompson still lags well behind the No. 1 player at his position—and would be a clear-cut No. 3 if Jimmy Butler were healthy—it's tough to turn your nose up at what he's done in 2015-16.
Shooting Guard No. 1: James Harden (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Houston Rockets
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 28.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.6 blocks, 25.2 PER
Let's turn to a few advanced metrics to show how valuable you can remain if you flat-out refuse to exert any defensive energy on a consistent basis.
ESPN.com's real plus-minus (RPM) is broken down into an offensive (ORPM) and defensive (DRPM) component. James Harden ranks fourth in the NBA in ORPM, trailing just Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. However, his DRPM is a distinct negative, leaving him at No. 313 among the 445 players on the leaderboard.
Still, his overall RPM is rather impressive. Harden ranks 17th—two spots clear of Jimmy Butler and 20 ahead of Manu Ginobili, the No. 3 shooting guard by RPM.
TPA tells a similar story.
Harden has produced one of the highest offensive scores thus far, and he's been an obvious negative on the defensive end. But the total product still puts him on pace to add 407.21 points this season, which would be the No. 5 mark in the league and just outside the top 100 individual campaigns since 1973-74.
Harden may not be a two-way player. But being this good as a one-way stud still yields a lot of overall value.
Small Forward No. 5: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 16.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.2 blocks, 16.9 PER
This is exactly what we want to see out of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Head coach Jason Kidd has unleashed Antetokounmpo as a full-fledged playmaker over his last four games, and the results have been supremely impressive. While leading the improved Milwaukee Bucks to wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets and defeats at the hands of the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics, he's averaged 16.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.3 blocks, shooting 53.8 percent from the field.
"It feels good in one way," Antetokounmpo told Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But now I've got more pressure; now I've got to put my team in the right spots. I feel good that coach trusts me to run the offense. I'm not a point guard. I don't know what I am. But I think we've had good results."
Does anyone know what he is?
Antetokounmpo is still learning each time he steps onto an NBA court, and the Bucks are learning right along with him. We don't yet know how many more skills Kidd and Co. can unlock, but the ones they've recently found have already made him one of the league's more dangerous small forwards.
Honorable Mentions: Carmelo Anthony, Jae Crowder, Gordon Hayward
Small Forward No. 4: Paul George (Previous Ranking: No. 3 PF)
Team: Indiana Pacers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 23.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 20.4 PER
It's time for a position switch.
We've been listing Paul George as a power forward throughout the season, thanks to the Indiana Pacers' penchant for playing him at the 4 in small-ball lineups. But the success of the Myles Turner-Ian Mahinmi combination has pushed George back to his natural spot, and Basketball-Reference.com now shows that 57 percent of his minutes have come at small forward.
As such, this position only gets stronger.
George's season has been a roller-coaster ride for the Pacers, filled with dizzying highs and lows that come so fast they suck the very wind out of Indiana's sails. February was a bit of a mixed bag, as the 25-year-old neither caught fire nor forgot how to shoot the ball with any semblance of efficiency.
In 13 appearances, he averaged 22.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists while playing lockdown defense and shooting 41.3 percent from the field, 34.1 percent at the three-point arc and 88.6 percent at the charity stripe. It's enough to leave him in a tier of his own.
A cold stretch could push George down closer to the group that includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jae Crowder, Carmelo Anthony and Gordon Hayward. But if he catches fire once more, he could draw closer to the three elite small forwards who have held down the top spots all season.
Small Forward No. 3: Kawhi Leonard (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 20.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, 25.9 PER
As Nick Moyles of the San Antonio Express-News wrote, what Kawhi Leonard is doing in 2015-16 both passes the eye test and measures up on the statistical ruler:
One doesn’t need numbers to know Kawhi Leonard is special.
With Leonard, simply seeing is knowing.
Numbers can’t tell you how he effortlessly glides to and fro in sync with his defensive assignment, step for step, tracing his man’s every move. They can’t tell you how he poked the ball away with the shot clock running down, forcing an errant shot and a lost possession.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to play around with stats.
Here’s one that should work Spurs Nation into a frenzy: Not a single player in NBA history has ever combined Leonard’s current scoring prowess, shooting efficiency and defensive dominance in one season.
That really isn't an exaggeration.
Leonard may not be the greatest scorer in the NBA, but he's been an incredibly useful one for the San Antonio Spurs this year. He's one of only 21 players averaging at least 20 points, and the lone members of that group posting a higher true shooting percentage are Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
Leonard is actually on pace to post just the 40th individual season averaging at least 20 points with a true shooting percentage north of 60. And in that group, 1986-87 Charles Barkley is the only man to post a higher defensive box plus-minus.
Except Barkley, who went 21-of-104 from beyond the arc that year, couldn't space the court nearly as well as Leonard does now.
Small Forward No. 2: LeBron James (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 24.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 26.4 PER
LeBron James is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
That's not intended to come across as a shot fired in the direction of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. It's just true. He's the driving force behind the Cavs' success, and the team would finish in the lottery without him.
For proof, just take a gander at his on-off splits.
When James is on the floor, Cleveland scores 114 points per 100 possessions and allows just 102.7, giving it a net rating of 11.3 that would trail only the full-season mark produced by the San Antonio Spurs (13.3). In fact, that looks remarkably similar to the net rating of a certain 53-5 squad that's outscored the opposition by 11.2 points per 100 possessions.
But when he's not playing, the Cavs can only muster up 99.1 points per 100 possessions while hemorrhaging 106.3. This time, a net rating of minus-7.2 would beat only the Los Angeles Lakers (minus-10.1) and Philadelphia 76ers (minus-10.7). The most comparable team would be the Brooklyn Nets, who are being outscored by 6.9 points per 100 possessions.
Think about that. When James leaves the court, the Cavs morph from a Golden State Warriors-esque juggernaut to a Brooklyn-style doormat.
Small Forward No. 1: Kevin Durant (Previous Ranking: No. 2)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 27.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.2 blocks, 28.2 PER
Kevin Durant counts as one of those players whose exploits are being unfairly overshadowed by the success of Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Were it not for the sharp-shooting point guard, this lanky forward would be one of the front-runners in a competitive MVP race.
Instead, he's an afterthought.
Not here, though. We're well aware that Durant has maximized his freakish talent in recent outings, torching any opponent who tries to guard him with a blend of perimeter prowess and driving ability. In February, he averaged a jaw-dropping 30.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists while shooting 50.4 percent from the field, 42.3 percent from three-point territory and 93.5 percent at the charity stripe.
At this point, we're talking about a small forward who's excelling on the glass, asserting himself as a distributing force, playing high-quality defense and averaging more than 30 points per game while posting shooting splits that would make established members of the 50-40-90 club jealous.
And it's not like these numbers are artificially boosted by one insane outing. If anything, Durant has been one of the league's most consistent offensive forces.
The only game in which he hasn't scored 20 points this season was a Nov. 10 performance against the Washington Wizards, when he scored 14 in 17 minutes before leaving with an injury.
Power Forward No. 5: Dirk Nowitzki (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 17.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 19.1 PER
First, let's give Dirk Nowitzki the credit he deserves.
The Dallas Mavericks are hanging tough in the Western Conference playoff race, and it's largely because this future Hall of Famer refuses to let Father Time affect him on the offensive end. Nowitzki isn't much of a defensive presence and struggles to assert himself on the glass, but February saw him average 18.3 points while shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from downtown.
His very presence remains impactful, and that's shown by a 2.35 ORPM that trails only Draymond Green, Kevin Love and Paul Millsap at the position. Plus, his defensive inadequacy is a bit overblown, since Nowitzki has such a veteran understanding of positioning that he can still overcome his lack of athleticism to post league-average numbers on most nights.
But we also need to bemoan what's happened to the power forward position. Most years, this type of effort from Nowitzki isn't earning a featured spot.
With Chris Bosh out for the foreseeable future, Love struggling to adapt in the Cleveland Cavaliers offense, Paul George now qualifying as a small forward and Anthony Davis playing more center for the New Orleans Pelicans, this position has been flat-out decimated.
Honorable Mentions: Derrick Favors, Kevin Love, Marvin Williams
Power Forward No. 4: Nerlens Noel (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 10.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.5 blocks, 16.4 PER
However good you think Nerlens Noel has become on the defensive end, he's been better.
Defensive points saved (DPS) is the defensive component of my TPA metric, and my databases show that the Philadelphia 76ers big man actually led the league in DPS during his rookie season in 2014-15, narrowly edging out Rudy Gobert and Tim Duncan. The eventual Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard, was the top-ranked wing player but finished at No. 10 overall.
This year, a similar story is unfolding. Noel ranks ninth in DPS through the end of February, and that's despite missing seven games to injury and logging just 28.8 minutes per contest.
Other defensive metrics confirm his lofty standing.
His DRPM ranks No. 14 overall and leaves him behind only Draymond Green and Kevin Garnett at power forward. The Sixers' defensive rating drops 3.2 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, despite the fact that so many of his minutes come next to glaring defensive liabilities such as Jahlil Okafor.
Noel remains a work in progress on offense, even after finishing February by making the first three-pointer of his career on an in-rhythm jumper from the top of the key. But he could sit down on the scoring end and still be one of the more valuable bigs in the league.
His defense is just that good.
Power Forward No. 3: Paul Millsap (Previous Ranking: No. 5)
Team: Atlanta Hawks
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.4 blocks, 21.7 PER
Even when Paul Millsap struggles to find his shot, he can assert himself as a positive presence for the Atlanta Hawks. Such was the case in February, when the 31-year-old power forward helped his team remain in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race despite shooting just 40.8 percent from the field.
He still managed to stretch the court, knocking down 35.7 percent of his three-point attempts and taking 3.8 per game. He still worked his way to the charity stripe with regularity, making use of his devastating pump fake and throwing defenders off balance. And he still contributed in every other area.
During February, Millsap averaged 15.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.9 blocks. Any idea how many players throughout the league have maintained those per-game numbers over the course of the entire season?
No one. Literally not a single player, and Millsap is the only one who qualifies even if we take blocks out of the equation.
Power Forward No. 2: LaMarcus Aldridge (Previous Ranking: Honorable Mention)
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 16.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.1 blocks, 20.9 PER
It took a little while for LaMarcus Aldridge to get settled in with the San Antonio Spurs.
Apparently, he's comfortable now.
While earning the ninth Player of the Week award of his impressive career, the 30-year-old power forward averaged 20.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.4 steals and 1.9 blocks during February. He knocked down 51.7 percent of his shots from the field and boosted his efficiency levels by connecting from the free-throw stripe at a 91.4 percent clip.
"I've been a guy that's had the ball in my hands for the last seven years," Aldridge told Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune late in the month. "I've had touches all the time. It's definitely been tough, but I've gotten better at it."
Actually, he's gotten a lot better at it.
Power Forward No. 1: Draymond Green (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Golden State Warriors
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 9.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.2 blocks, 19.1 PER
If Draymond Green never scored another point, he may still be one of the most valuable power forwards in the Association. His lack of field-goal attempts may lead to the occasional locker room blowup, but he manages to contribute in so many ways that it still wouldn't matter.
The only player to lead his team in both rebounds and assists during the 2015-16 campaign, Green is the heart of the Golden State Warriors, lending them his identity and then letting Stephen Curry push them to that proverbial next level.
He can do everything on the floor, whether it's scoring (yes, he can still score), rebounding, passing or playing shutdown defense.
According to my databases, Green is actually on pace to lead the NBA in DPS, narrowly edging out DeAndre Jordan for the No. 1 spot. And that's a big deal, as the metric typically rewards players who spend most of their time around the rim—something Green doesn't always do, given his immense versatility on both ends.
When he's on the court, the Warriors' net rating improves from minus-7.2 to 19.6, making for a massive 26.8-point leap. For perspective, that's the team's top on-off split, with Curry sitting at No. 2 by pushing the Warriors 26.1 points in the right direction.
If Green isn't sitting in one of the top five spots on your MVP ballot, your ballot is wrong.
Center No. 5: Andre Drummond (Previous Ranking: No. 5)
Team: Detroit Pistons
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 16.8 points, 15.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.5 blocks, 21.8 PER
Andre Drummond won't slow down.
During February, he averaged 15.1 points and 15.2 rebounds while shooting 50.7 percent from the field. The Detroit Pistons can still operate in their one-in, four-out schemes so long as he's on the floor, since he's that dominant on the glass, boasts some improving post-up skills and feels comfortable anchoring a defense.
However, Drummond's gaudy numbers sell him a little high. He's not quite the defender he needs to be in his all-important role, often gambling too frequently and chasing the plays that will result in box-score contributions. He also isn't reliable enough on offense to serve as a true centerpiece at this early stage of his career.
Obviously, the 21-year-old is a dominant force. We wouldn't rank him as the league's No. 5 center otherwise. But the per-game stats can be a bit blinding, and they don't necessarily indicate as much value as some would like to believe.
Until he remedies some of the most significant flaws, he'll be closer to dropping into the honorable mentions than asserting himself as one of the league's top four centers.
Honorable Mentions: Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside
Center No. 4: Al Horford (Previous Ranking: No. 4)
Team: Atlanta Hawks
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.6 blocks, 20.0 PER
Is there a more nondescript max player in the NBA?
Nothing about Al Horford's game screams glamour. He's perfectly content to fill any role that's asked of him while producing in ways that don't necessarily show up in a box score or endear him to casual basketball fans. Additionally, he's a quiet and humble individual who rarely shows up on SportsCenter or draws featured spots in NBA conversations.
But he's pretty darn good at this whole basketball thing. Now that he's getting more comfortable operating from the perimeter, he's only growing increasingly deadly.
In February, Horford shot 52.1 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from beyond the arc, torturing the opposition with a barrage of treys, mid-range jumpers and interior buckets. And because scoring is never enough for the 29-year-old center, he also served as a distributing hub in head coach Mike Budenholzer's offensive schemes.
Don't be fooled by the per-game numbers. Horford is anything but a stat-sheet-stuffer, and that's a good thing.
Center No. 3: Karl-Anthony Towns (Previous Ranking: No. 3)
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.8 blocks, 22.8 PER
Karl-Anthony Towns isn't fair.
No 20-year-old should be this composed on the offensive end, capable of stretching out a defense with his perimeter jumper or waiting patiently for a mid-range spot-up opportunity before torturing his matchup with a finely tuned post-up on the next possession. No rookie should be this good on the defensive end, displaying the versatility necessary to anchor the interior defense or switch onto smaller players for a few moments.
And yet, Towns does all that and more. Plus, he's still improving, as he's likely to do, at the very least, for the next few seasons.
In February, the Kentucky product averaged 21.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 53.7 percent from the field. He struggled a bit with his three-point stroke, but that's merely picking at nits for a player who was this dominant.
Towns has firmly arrived as an irresistible force in the NBA, and he's not going anywhere for a long time.
Center No. 2: DeMarcus Cousins (Previous Ranking: No. 1)
Team: Sacramento Kings
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 27.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks, 23.4 PER
In 10 February appearances, DeMarcus Cousins averaged 28.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 45.5 percent from the field, 43.8 percent from beyond the arc and 67.9 percent at the charity stripe.
And yet, Googling his name still yields far more results about how he held back from ending Steven Adams' life with a punch and threw a ball at Chris Paul's head than about his dominant play for the Sacramento Kings. Separating the player from the personality is impossible at this point, which is a crying shame for a center this good at his craft.
If Cousins continues performing like this, perhaps that will soon change. He's posted triple-doubles and near-trip-dubs, thrived in the scoring column and been fully engaged while trying to push the Kings into playoff contention.
It's also not really his fault he's dropping a spot in our positional rankings. Cousins' level of play hasn't changed much in recent weeks—he's beginning to play the part of distributor a bit more, but his lack of defensive effort is still readily apparent.
However, a marquee player has now spent more time at center than power forward, and we have to adjust accordingly.
Center No. 1: Anthony Davis (Previous Ranking: No. 2 PF)
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2015-16 Per-Game Stats: 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.2 blocks, 25.5 PER
Injuries to Omer Asik and the overall lack of effectiveness of Alexis Ajinca and Kendrick Perkins have pushed the New Orleans Pelicans to play Anthony Davis at center more often than ever before. According to Basketball-Reference.com, 54 percent of his minutes have now come at the 5, which means we have to switch his position in these rankings.
Davis would've checked in at No. 2 among power forwards, but, crazy as it may initially sound, DeMarcus Cousins' season hasn't been as special as Draymond Green's. The switch allows this 22-year-old to take over the No. 1 spot, largely because he's been so dominant in recent outings.
Remember what he did against the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 21? He only scored 59 points and grabbed 20 rebounds while single-handedly carrying his injury-riddled squad to victory. That was clearly the crown jewel in February, but the rest of his month wasn't too shabby.
In 11 games, he averaged 28.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.5 blocks while shooting 53.7 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from downtown and 70.3 percent from the charity stripe. And unlike Cousins, this Kentucky product—yes, all three of our top centers are former Wildcats—produces on offense while playing top-notch defense.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.