Ranking the Top 100 Players in the NBA Heading into 2013-14 Season

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 26, 2013

Ranking the Top 100 Players in the NBA Heading into 2013-14 Season

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    LeBron James. Kobe Bryant. Derrick Rose

    The list of household names in the NBA just goes on and on, and I could easily write so many names down that you'd fall asleep before getting to the actual rankings of the Top 100 players. Due to the five-on-five experience and the exposed nature of basketball players, the Association just promotes the presence of superstars better than most other sports. 

    But the cream still rises to the top. 

    The NBA is now filled with more quality players than ever before, and these are still the best of the best.

    Think about it. More players enter the league via the draft, by coming from overseas and as undrafted free agents than the number of players who retire or fade away into obscurity each and every year. The league has to get deeper. 

    It just makes it all the more impressive for a young player to work into the Top 100. 

    So, who do you think is undervalued or overvalued going into what's sure to be an exciting season? 

100. Wesley Matthews

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    Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo

    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Age: 27

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks

     

    Wesley Matthews will be one of the premier "three and D" guys in the NBA this season, especially since he won't be losing any minutes to C.J. McCollum at the beginning of the season. The 27-year-old would have dropped out of the Top 100 if the Portland Trail Blazers rookie guard was ready to play big minutes right out of the gate. 

    Matthews shot 39.8 percent from beyond the arc in 2012-13, and he did so while firing away 6.2 times per game. Only he, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were able to meet that particular set of benchmarks last year, according to Basketball-Reference.

    As for the "D" part, Synergy Sports (subscription required) shows that the Marquette product held opponents to just 0.82 points per possession, the No. 87 mark in the league. 

    Now he just has to take a step forward to justify filling the final spot in both the shooting guard rankings and the overall Top 100. After all, he was selected just ahead of a pool of honorable mentions comprised of—in no particular order—Amar'e Stoudemire, Victor Oladipo, Andrew Bynum, J.J. Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, Wilson Chandler, Marcin Gortat and Kyle Korver. 

99. Tony Allen

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Age: 31

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks

     

    It's all about defense for Tony Allen. 

    Even a minimal contribution on the more glamorous end of the court is gravy on top when he settles into lockdown mode. And when he does, the other team's best wing player can pretty much forget about having a good night. 

    As shown by Basketball-Reference, the Memphis Grizzlies allowed 6.6 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court last year. They dropped down to 97.2 with him playing, which would have easily outpaced the Indiana Pacers for the top defensive unit in the NBA. 

    Expect him to be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation again, but don't expect much anywhere else. 

98. Jamal Crawford

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Age: 33

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks

     

    It's hard to believe that Jamal Crawford is old enough to have been born in 1980. 

    He still plays with youthful exuberance, and his handles are virtually unmatched. Thanks to the dribbling brilliance of Kyrie Irving, I have to include "virtually," but Crawford can convince you that he has the ball on a string during any given possession. 

    The 33-year-old combo guard was one of the primary reasons that the LAC bench was so dangerous during the 2012-13 season, and the same will be said about 2013-14. He's a premier scoring threat who has proved he can mesh with either a lackluster backup point guard or Chris Paul

    Crawford no longer has a high ceiling, but you know what you're going to get from this veteran. 

97. Danny Green

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Age: 26

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks

     

    Danny Green's performance during the 2013 NBA Finals was a fluke. 

    Kind of. 

    There's no doubt that Green is another one of those elite "three and D" guys who have become so trendy in recent years, but it's not like he's suddenly going to start breaking every three-point record imaginable because he caught fire against the Miami Heat. 

    The phrase "slow your roll" seems appropriate here.

    Green isn't a future star, nor is he going to move up too much higher in these rankings. The 26-year-old is just a solid starter who can lock down his man and light up the opposition while Gregg Popovich helps maximize his talent. 

96. Goran Dragic

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    Team: Phoenix Suns

    Age: 27

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks

     

    Goran Dragic is finally getting a little more help on the Phoenix Suns. 

    Playing alongside Eric Bledsoe isn't going to make him lose his job, especially if the two-point guard tandem continues to work as it did during the preseason. If anything, it'll make him look all the more efficient, as he'll be taking on more of the ball-handling responsibilities. 

    Dragic is still an elite ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations, and he'll continue to prove that throughout his latest full season in the desert.

    Is he an elite point guard? Absolutely not, but he's more than competent of running the show and won't lose games for his team. 

95. Thaddeus Young

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    Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Age: 25

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.7 blocks

     

    Fear not, fans of the Philadelphia 76ers. Your favorite team does have one representative in the Top 100, even if he's only coming in at No. 95 and at the very bottom of his positional rankings. 

    Until Michael Carter-Williams or Nerlens Noel becomes a quality player instead of a raw rookie being thrown into the fire, the Sixers belong to Thaddeus Young. 

    Young is by no means a typical No. 1 option, but he's at least a solid player, especially when he's seeking out the rim. Few players are better at finding their way to the rack.

    During the 2012-13 season, Young shot 67 percent at the rim and took an insane 433 attempts there, according to Basketball-Reference.

    It's just going to be tougher for him to do so now that he doesn't have Jrue Holiday helping him out.  

94. DeMar DeRozan

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    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Age: 24

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks

     

    The knock on DeMar DeRozan is the same it's always been. 

    While he's one of the NBA's most underrated dunkers/high-fliers, he doesn't have much finesse on the offensive end. Although his jumper is improving, Basketball-Reference reveals that he shot only 38.9 percent on jump shots during the 2012-13 campaign. 

    That number has gotten better during the preseason, and an improved stroke would only make his backdoor cuts all the more deadly. DeRozan played with quite a bit of confidence during action that doesn't count, and now it's up to him to have it carry over to the regular season. 

    If he can produce more valuable points this year, he could end up shooting his way up the rankings. Get it?

93. Ryan Anderson

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    Team: New Orleans Pelicans

    Age: 25

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    Ryan Anderson couldn't be any more different than Thaddeus Young. 

    While the Philadelphia 76ers' lone representative is a slasher who can occasionally slide over to the 3, Anderson is one of five players from the New Orleans Pelicans to be featured in this Top 100, and he's definitely a stretch 4. 

    Anderson is a competent rebounder and a defensive sieve. He isn't a great passer, and he's not going to create his own looks. But boy, can he shoot. 

    Only Stephen Curry made more triples last season than Anderson's 213, and a similar result should be expected in 2013-14. He might receive fewer opportunities to shoot those trailing and spot-up three-pointers, but he'll be even more efficient now that he's surrounded by an abundance of offensive talent. 

92. Iman Shumpert

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Age: 23

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 6.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks

     

    New York Knicks fans seem to be universally excited about Iman Shumpert's potential, but let's temper the expectations. While he has a remarkably high ceiling, he's still a long way away from reaching it. 

    Shumpert wasn't a plus defender every time he was on the court, and his long-range shooting was inconsistent at best during his return from a torn ACL. Both those aspects of his game should look a lot better during his third professional season, but you're fooling yourself if you think he's going to be a star at 23. 

    By the time Shumpert is 26 years old, we could be talking about him as a bona fide All-Star, but again, let's not get too excited. 

    Unless we're talking about his unfortunately deceased flattop.

    Then you can just go crazy. 

91. Dion Waiters

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Age: 21

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks

     

    The Cleveland Cavaliers better hope that they're getting the version of Dion Waiters who showed up for the second half of his rookie season. 

    Before the All-Star break, the Syracuse product was one of the most overrated volume scorers in basketball, averaging 14.2 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game on a Brandon Jennings-esque 39.6 percent shooting from the field. 

    But after the midseason classic, Waiters changed his paradigm and became rather underrated. During his last 16 games of the season, he averaged 16.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest while shooting a much more respectable 45.8 percent. 

    It's all about efficiency for Waiters, and he should make a jump similar to the one Kemba Walker took during his second season. 

90. Manu Ginobili

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs 

    Age: 36

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.2 blocks

     

    Have we seen the beginning of the end for Manu Ginobili? 

    He faded throughout the postseason and was particularly poor during the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, as the grueling nature of the season took its toll on his 36-year-old body. 

    Ginobili isn't going to be the same spark plug off the bench for the San Antonio Spurs that he was in his prime, but let's not be so quick to declare him worthless. Yes, Kawhi Leonard is taking over his spot in the Big Three, but the Argentine 2-guard still has quite a bit of value. 

    He's a creative force with a devastating "Eurostep" who can flop his way to adequate defense while lighting up the scoreboard in brief spurts with both his rim-seeking abilities and impressive passing. Ginobili's 30.6 assist percentage last year was the highest of his career, and he's still the true master of passing through the five-hole. 

89. Anderson Varejao

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Age: 31

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks

     

    When Anderson Varejao is healthy, he's a dominant center. But how often is he actually healthy?

    Just take a look at how many games he's played over the course of his career: 

    YearGames Played
    2004-0554
    2005-0648
    2006-0781
    2007-0848
    2008-0981
    2009-1076
    2010-1131
    2011-1225
    2012-1325

    There are some healthy seasons mixed in throughout his prime and the early portion of his career, but not lately. It's been one injury after another for the Brazilian big man, and now that he's 31, it's tough to bet on him playing anything close to 82 games. 

    Varejao is a premier double-double threat and one of the best hustle guys in basketball when he can actually play, but that doesn't matter when he can't. 

88. O.J. Mayo

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    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Age: 25

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks

     

    Remember when O.J. Mayo was just lighting it up from downtown for the Dallas Mavericks, shooting something like 94 percent from beyond the three-point arc? It was actually "just" 56.8 percent through the first 13 games of the season, but that's beside the point. 

    Mayo proved that he could carry a team's offense, but the Mavs were still only 7-6. He's just better off as a second option, where he can save some of his energy for the defensive end of the court. 

    With the Milwaukee Bucks, Mayo should once more be the top scorer on the squad, but he'll have less protection from his lineup than ever before. Don't expect him to repeat his pre-Dirk Nowitzki numbers in a new location, even if he'll still have the green light. 

87. Omer Asik

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Age: 27

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.1 blocks

     

    It's easy to feel bad for Omer Asik. 

    Though he has his faults—lack of offensive presence and struggles at the free-throw line, to name a few—he's a dominant defender and rebounder who deserves to be starting for an NBA team. And yet he's doomed to either playing alongside Dwight Howard in a two-man pairing that just won't work (see: floor spacing) or coming off the bench. 

    I'd still be a huge advocate for an Asik-Ryan Anderson swap that would be one of the more mutually beneficial trades in recent history, but that's just a pipe dream at this point. 

    For now, Asik remains a quality center in a non-quality situation. And it's hard for him to rise any higher as a result. 

86. Kevin Martin

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age: 30

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.1 blocks

     

    Kevin Martin's stock has declined rather dramatically over the past season. Not only did he accept a lesser role with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he also failed to step up when Russell Westbrook went down.

    His postseason performance just wasn't anything special, and that's knocked K-Mart out of the third tier of shooting guards. 

    Martin still makes proponents of efficiency swoon, though. He's a great three-point marksman and does a tremendous job drawing contact when he drives to the hoop. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), he drew fouls on 8.4 percent of his possessions in 2012-13. 

    As a point of comparison, LeBron James—superstar calls and all—earned whistles on 8.8 percent of his possessions. 

85. Andrew Bogut

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 28

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 5.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.7 blocks

     

    And thus continues the trend of centers who have outside factors keeping them from reaching their full potential. Anderson Varejao can't stay healthy. Omer Asik has a bad situation in front of him. 

    Andrew Bogut can't stay healthy either. 

    Although these numbers are aided slightly by the Golden State Warriors' 2011-12 tankapalooza, Bogut has still only played 44 games over the past two seasons, and he hasn't played a full slate of games since his rookie year for the Milwaukee Bucks. 

    The Australian big man is a massive difference-maker when he's on the court, but he has to be able to suit up. If he can play in the majority of the Dubs' 2013-14 games, he and Andre Iguodala will form a terrifying inside-outside defensive tandem. 

84. George Hill

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Age: 27

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks

     

    George Hill will be the No. 5 option for the Indiana Pacers on offense this season. Paul George and David West are the clear top two, but Roy Hibbert is improving (especially his mid-range game), and the return of Danny Granger means a further decline in George's role. 

    However, there's no denying the Indiana native's defensive prowess. 

    According to Basketball-Reference, the team allowed 2.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when Hill was running the show, and that dropped the total to 99.1. To put that in context, the Pacers' 99.8 mark led the league last year. 

    This year, I'd like to see Hill start gambling even more. He's proved himself as a man-to-man defender, so now it's time to start jumping the lanes and forcing even more turnovers. 

83. Danny Granger

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Age: 30

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 5.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks

     

    What in the world do we expect from Danny Granger in 2013-14? 

    Not only is he going to be fighting for minutes against a Lance Stephenson-Paul George tandem that worked quite nicely together, but he's also going to be battling to regain his form after injuries kept him out basically all of last year. 

    On the rare occasions that he did play, the former leading scorer for the team just couldn't get his shot to fall. He remains a great shooter and top-notch defender who fits in perfectly with the Indiana system, but no one really knows what his role is going to be or when he'll regain the rhythm. 

    At this point, your guess is as good as mine, though it's clear that a healthy Granger is still a solid player. I just hesitate to call him anything more until he proves it. 

82. Gordon Hayward

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Age: 23

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks

     

    This is a make-or-break season for Gordon Hayward. 

    He has a chance to begin the year as the go-to scorer for the Utah Jazz, but he'll have his work cut out for him if he wants to hold onto that role. Between the nine-fingered Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Brandon Rush, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, Utah could very well have a whole bunch of entrants in next year's version of the Top 100. 

    But right now, Hayward is still the most established point-producer in Salt Lake City thanks to his ability to score the ball in a variety of ways and utilize his surprising levels of athleticism. 

    According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the baby-faced small forward scored 0.97 points per possession last year, the No. 102 mark in the league. 

81. Harrison Barnes

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 21

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks

     

    Golden State Warriors fans are hoping for big things from this young small forward, but it's time to manage the expectations a little bit. As good as he's looked at times, his potential is limited by the fact that he's competing with both Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala for playing time. 

    And right now, Harrison Barnes is the worst of the three. Barely. 

    While he showed off his scoring prowess and on-ball defensive skills throughout the season, The Black Falcon still hasn't done enough to dispel the knocks on him that have carried over from when he entered the league. 

    He's a worse shooter off the bounce—something that really isn't a problem on the Dubs because Iggy and Stephen Curry are both creative distributors—and his passing is ineffective at best. Turning around one or both of those flaws is a must. 

80. Tobias Harris

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    Team: Orlando Magic

    Age: 21

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.8 blocks

     

    Tobias Harris' breakout at the end of the 2012-13 campaign was no fluke. 

    After he was traded away from the Milwaukee Bucks, it was like his eyes were opened for the very first time. The Tennessee product actually started getting minutes, and the results were quite promising. By the end of the year, he looked like a potential star.

    Over the last dozen games of the season, Harris even averaged 20.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.6 blocks per game. 

    So, why doesn't he rank higher? 

    Well, I have questions about his role on the Magic now that Victor Oladipo is joining the squad and Maurice Harkless is looking like a potential contributor. Additionally, I have to wonder how much teams overlooking the Magic and not even compiling a scouting report aided his numbers last year. 

79. Eric Bledsoe

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Team: Phoenix Suns

    Age: 23

    Position: PG/SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks

     

    Eric Bledsoe enters his first game in a Phoenix Suns uniform as the No. 1 player on the squad.

    And speaking of uniforms, how slick are those purple threads? They're one of the few things that might make Phoenix contests watchable this year. 

    Back on topic, though. 

    No longer does Bledsoe have to settle for a secondary role, either coming off the bench to replace Chris Paul or joining him in a two-point guard lineup. He'll be playing next to Goran Dragic or starting by himself at the 1. 

    Bledsoe is an insanely good athlete with great defensive instincts and a developing three-point shot. If he can drain downtown looks at a clip better than the 39.7 percent mark he posted last season, he'll make this ranking look rather silly. 

    Although the 23-year-old begins the year in the sixth tier of point guards, it wouldn't be at all shocking to see him rise as high as the third. 

78. Kyle Lowry

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    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Age: 27

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    Kyle Lowry experienced an interesting campaign in 2012-13. He began the season in absolutely torrid fashion, averaging 23.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists over the course of his first three outings. 

    However, injuries took their toll, and Lowry couldn't reach that level again. 

    The floor general is only 27 years old, but he has yet to live up to his potential. Is this the season he finally does so? If he can join Rudy Gay as an All-Star candidate, the Toronto Raptors will be strong contenders for a postseason spot. 

    Lowry has proved time and time again that he can do just about everything on a basketball court, but now he has to stay healthy for a prolonged stretch of the season. 

77. Greivis Vasquez

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    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Age: 26

    Position: Guard 

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks

     

    Greivis Vasquez sniffed my personal top 50 last season, but the move to the Sacramento Kings is going to depress his value a little bit. 

    Not only will he be playing with less talented options, but playing time will be tougher to come by. It would be foolish to expect another season in which he averages nine dimes per game, although he'll be an incredibly efficient option whenever he's on the court. 

    The reason? That would be Isaiah Thomas, who proves that height just doesn't matter in all cases. Thomas is nowhere near as talented as this Maryland product, but he's a potent enough scoring option that he'll cut into Vasquez's playing time rather dramatically. 

76. Carlos Boozer

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Age: 31

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    Carlos Boozer doesn't make sense. 

    On one hand, he's a great tertiary scorer who can corral most rebounds in his general vicinity. That mid-range shot is still sweet, and he's the unofficial all-time leader in vein-popping "AND-1" screams. 

    However, the Chicago Bulls just aren't better when he plays. 

    According to Basketball-Reference, the team allowed 4.2 more points per 100 possessions when Boozer was on the court. That would be all right if it also excelled on offense, but the Bulls scored 4.3 fewer points per 100 possessions. 

    HmmmTajGibsonmmmm. 

75. Andrei Kirilenko

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Age: 32

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks

     

    Andrei Kirilenko is the perfect sixth man for the Brooklyn Nets. 

    He's a starting-caliber player who can fill in for any of the aging starters who need an off night, and he can capably play pretty much any position. According to 82games.com, AK-47 actually spent time at shooting guard, small forward (his primary position), power forward and center for the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

    The 32-year-old Russian just gives Jason Kidd and Lawrence Frank so many options, both in terms of lineup flexibility and systems when he's on the court.

    And that's valuable in itself, as it's going to be awfully tough for opposing teams to game-plan for the Nets.

74. Bradley Beal

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    Team: Washington Wizards

    Age: 20

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks

     

    Get ready to see Bradley Beal take a big leap forward during his sophomore season. 

    His shooting stroke is to die for, and the combination of a full season alongside John Wall and the offensive help that Otto Porter will provide should both make him look even better. As a rookie, the former Florida Gator shot 38.6 percent from downtown while taking 4.2 shots per game. 

    Only nine rookies have ever met or exceeded both of those benchmarks: 

    • Beal
    • Rudy Fernandez
    • Matt Maloney
    • Mike Miller
    • Paul Pierce
    • Stephen Curry
    • Eric Gordon
    • Damon Stoudamire
    • Kirk Hinrich

    Not a bad list to be a part of, huh?

73. Klay Thompson

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 23

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks

     

    Speaking of elite three-point shooters...

    Klay Thompson is one of the premier marksmen in basketball. No one is doubting that after he made more three-pointers than anyone not named Stephen Curry or Ryan Anderson during the 2012-13 campaign.

    But his rise up the NBA ranks is checked only by his defense.

    The 23-year-old has become much more of a point-preventer as his career has progressed, but he's still struggling to play team defense. Last year, the Golden State Warriors allowed three more points per 100 possessions when he was on the court, fairly clear evidence that he was spending too much time worried about his assignment.  

    There's no doubt that Thompson is a vastly improved defender from when he left Washington State. Now it's time for him to keep getting better. 

72. Tristan Thompson

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Age: 22

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.9 blocks

     

    I've always struggled tremendously when shooting the basketball. I like to blame my dad, as he tied my right hand behind my back so that I'd be an ambidextrous dribbler and passer. That worked, but it's hard to shoot with just one hand. 

    Well, apparently all I have to do is switch shooting hands. It's worked for Tristan Thompson so far!

    In the Cavs' preseason opener against the Milwaukee Bucks, Thompson couldn't miss. He shot 7-of-10 from the field and 3-of-4 from the charity stripe, a far cry from his 60.8 percent futility at the line in 2012-13. Although this is too small a sample size, it is consistent with everything we heard during the offseason and training camp. 

    Thompson is a strong contender for Most Improved Player. He has a tireless work ethic and has been constantly expanding his offensive range while remaining one of the most effective glass-eaters in basketball. 

71. Chandler Parsons

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    Team: Houston Rockets

    Age: 25

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    Chandler Parsons has the potential to become the third member of the Houston Rockets' Big Three, although he has a long way to go before he actually gets there. 

    Right now, he's still good at everything and great at nothing, although his shot selection is starting to make him a fairly elite scorer despite his relatively average 15.5 points per game. Parsons doesn't like taking long two-pointers, instead sticking to the two most efficient spots on the court: beyond the arc and right at the rim. 

    But now he has to become a true defensive stopper. 

    According to Basketball-Reference, the Rockets allowed 1.6 fewer points per 100 possessions when Parsons was on the court, and that number needs to rise even higher for him to take the next step. And it should now that he'll be playing alongside Dwight Howard. 

70. Eric Gordon

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    Team: New Orleans Pelicans

    Age: 24

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks

     

    I'm expecting a huge season from Eric Gordon, one in which he starts to become the player we thought he could be when he was still balling for the Los Angeles Clippers. 

    Gordon finally enters a season healthy, and he's not going to be nearly as unhappy in 2013-14. The Phoenix Suns no longer look like a more appealing destination than the New Orleans Pelicans, not now that the bayou is filled with more talented teammates and former AAU friends. 

    This shooting guard is still one of the league's better inside-outside scorers, getting to the rim with ease and filling it up from the perimeter. And are defenses going to be able to focus on him this year? 

    Nope. Not with Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis also drawing attention. 

69. Ricky Rubio

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age: 23

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks

     

    Ricky Rubio is the first of the point guards who will be a legitimate leader for his team during the 2013-14 season, and that's why he ushers in the new tier of floor generals. 

    The Spanish floor general's progress was limited by a torn ACL that kept him out of the opening portion of the season, but he slowly started playing better and better after he returned to action. Over the last 15 games of his sophomore season, Rubio averaged 13.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.7 steals per game while shooting an unimpressive 36 percent from the field. 

    That last number limits his value right now. While he's a pesky defender who might finally dethrone Chris Paul as the premier thief in basketball and a fantastic distributor, Rubio just isn't comfortable scoring the rock. 

    Remember, though, that he's only 23 years old.  

68. Derrick Favors

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Age: 22

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.7 blocks

     

    This is the year that Derrick Favors takes over as the best player on the Utah Jazz roster. Trey Burke will give him a run for his money next season, but for now, the crown belongs to the talented Georgia Tech product. 

    After years of learning behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, he's the unquestioned holder of a starting spot, and he'll finally get to put all of his skill to use in a bigger role. 

    Favors was one of the best per-possession rebounders in basketball last season, finishing 17th in offensive rebounding percentage, 19th in defensive rebounding percentage and 13th in total rebounding percentage. Maintaining those rates will be tough, but it's doable given his chops on the boards. 

67. Joe Johnson

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Age: 32

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks

     

    Is Joe Johnson going to be the odd man out for the Brooklyn Nets in 2013-14? 

    I'm not entirely sure what his role will be, other than the glue guy who can fill in for anyone having a bad night. He's not going to be the go-to scorer in crunch-time situations anymore, nor is he the best perimeter defender now that Paul Pierce is in town. 

    But the role doesn't matter too much, as Iso Joe is still a great two-way player, even if his contract is just unseemly at this point. Johnson is a well-rounded veteran who can break down anyone in isolation and lock down even the best wing scorers in basketball when he actually puts his mind to it. 

    He'll be a key part of Brooklyn's success, even if he fades into the background in Brooklyn. 

66. Jeff Teague

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 25

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    There's a reason that the Atlanta Hawks didn't let Jeff Teague go. 

    He might not be a glamorous option, and his potential isn't remarkably high compared to some of the players surrounding him in the rankings, but he's a legitimate starter who can make an impact on both ends of the court. 

    Teague is another pesky defender, a point guard who can simply annoy the other team into mistakes. He's also a great ball-handler in pick-and-roll sets, which Mike Budenholzer will likely run until the Hawks are completely worn out. 

    Coach Bud was one of the reasons for Tony Parker's development into a truly elite point guard, and Teague still has a few years left before he hits his prime. He's going to become a lot more confident in his decision-making, and he'll have to in order to hold off Dennis Schroder. 

65. Kenneth Faried

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Age: 23

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals,, 1.0 blocks

     

    Kenneth Faried has to grow up on the offensive end of the court. Well, and the defensive end. 

    The 23-year-old power forward is a tremendous energy guy who plays like his motor is running on full speed at all times, and he's an absolute menace on the glass. He was particularly potent on the offensive boards, recording an offensive rebounding percentage of 13.2 that left him trailing only Reggie Evans, Roy Hibbert, Tyson Chandler, Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos.

    But now it's time for him to do more than just finish putbacks and alley-oop slams on offense. He has to develop a legitimate arsenal of post moves so that the team can pick up some of the slack that will be felt following the injury to Danilo Gallinari and the departure of Andre Iguodala.

    A solid playoff seed might depend on it, especially if JaVale McGee continues to be, well, JaVale McGee.  

64. Kemba Walker

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    Team: Charlotte Bobcats

    Age: 23

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    Kemba Walker's sophomore season was light-years ahead of his rookie year. And it all boils down to efficiency. 

    Although his turnovers rose slightly on a per-minute basis, Walker was also responsible for a lot more of the offensive burden. And more importantly, he upped his scoring average rather significantly while shooting 57 percent better from the field. The 42.3 percent looks a lot better than 36.6. 

    But now, Walker is set to get even better. Between the expected improvement of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the addition of both Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller to the lineup, he's surrounded by more offensive weapons, so he'll be able to pick and choose his spots even more effectively. 

    Walker was a fringe All-Star candidate before his numbers took a dive as the grind of the season wore him down. Expect him to remain in that category all year now. 

63. Tyreke Evans

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    Team: New Orleans Pelicans

    Age: 24

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    I have no idea what Tyreke Evans' position is at this point. The Sacramento Kings shuffled him around so many times that I'm not even sure he knows. 

    But the New Orleans Pelicans will be playing him at small forward out of necessity, so here we stand. If you're curious, that No. 64 overall ranking would leave him as the No. 7 shooting guard in the NBA, right in the middle of the third tier. 

    Evans should be in for an interesting season, as he'll actually have people to create for him this year, and he can still torture defenders with his Eurostep and vast array of dribbling moves. As long as he can provide some semblance of floor spacing, the experiment in the bayou will be a successful one. 

62. J.R. Smith

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Age: 28

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks

     

    It all clicked for J.R. Smith last year. 

    Mike Woodson brought out the best in him, allowing him to function as a primary scorer while asserting himself on the boards and as a vastly improved defender. For the first time in his career, Smith was actually a bit consistent. 

    Unfortunately, he takes a little tumble in the rankings because he's starting the season behind the eight ball. Between his suspension and knee surgery, Smith will be joining the team after the season opener and attempting to build chemistry while being thrown into the fire.

    A repeat campaign as Sixth Man of the Year is entirely possible, but Smith is now at a disadvantage in that quest, and it keeps him just barely out of the top two tiers of shooting guards. 

61. Nikola Vucevic

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    Team: Orlando Magic

    Age: 23

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.0 blocks

     

    Nikola Vucevic was one of the NBA's most pleasant surprises in 2012-13, but now two things are working against him. 

    The scouting report is out, and the Orlando Magic have more competent options to steal away touches. As a result, don't expect to see much of an offensive improvement (on the surface level, at least) from this dominant rebounder. And that work on the boards will be his primary area of impact as a third-year player. 

    Last year, only Dwight Howard pulled in more rebounds per game among qualified players, and his 20.2 total rebounding percentage left him trailing only Reggie Evans, Omer Asik and J.J. Hickson, according to Basketball-Reference.

    Also working in his favor is the fact that he's a Miami Heat fire extinguisher. In three games against the champions, the 23-year-old center managed to average an insane 21.7 points and 21 rebounds per game on 63 percent shooting from the field.  

60. Jonas Valanciunas

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    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Age: 21

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.3 blocks

     

    Jonas Valanciunas is about to explode for the Toronto Raptors. 

    After a stellar rookie season, the 21-year-old big man is primed to compete for Most Improved Player while anchoring the Canadian franchise on both ends of the court. He showed off a great arsenal of post moves during summer league action, and while it will be more difficult against true NBA competition, those are still positive signs. 

    Valanciunas is one of the great hopes at center, and he's a strong candidate to shoot up these rankings if he can steal enough touches away from Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

    He should be able to, but even if he can't, he has enough great defensive instincts and tools that he'll still be quite the impactful player. 

59. Jimmy Butler

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Age: 24

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    Is Jimmy Butler overrated?

    Nope, absolutely not. 

    This 24-year-old shooting guard is the real deal, and he'll look even better with an elite point guard playing next to him. Not only is he one of the best defenders in basketball, but he's also a burgeoning offensive standout. 

    Butler averaged 13.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game during the postseason, and he did so while shooting 40.5 percent from beyond the arc and functioning as the go-to defensive stopper. Yep, he took over that role from Luol Deng

    Additionally, he showed signs that there was a significantly higher ceiling than the level he'd already reached. The step-back fadeaway three-pointers were testaments to that, as were all the other shots he started to create for himself. 

    Butler is going to be around for a long time, and this will be the first season that he actually competes for an All-Star spot. He won't earn one, but it won't be the last time he's in the conversation either. 

58. Danilo Gallinari

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Age: 25

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks

     

    The Denver Nuggets need Danilo Gallinari to return from his torn ACL as soon as possible. If he's waiting until we're deep in 2014 for that, the Nuggets might have fallen out of playoff contention. He's that important. 

    Gallo is admittedly one of my favorite players to watch because, much like a rich man's version of Chandler Parsons, he plays basketball how it's meant to be played.

    The 25-year-old small forward lives to take the most efficient shots on the court. He isn't afraid of big moments and he seems to enjoy locking down the opponent's top wing scorer. Gallo improved as a perimeter defender throughout his fifth professional season, and he should continue that trend when he's healthy. 

    He has star-caliber tools. 

57. Andre Drummond

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    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Age: 20

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.6 blocks

     

    Is this an aggressive ranking for Andre Drummond? 

    Certainly, but he'll make anything lower look idiotic by the time he's done proving that his rookie season was no fluke. Before a back injury limited his games and minutes played during the second half of the season, Drummond was showing off his skills as a dominant defender and premier cutting threat. 

    According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Drummond scored 1.18 points while functioning as the roll man in pick-and-roll sets, allowing him to check in at No. 24 in the category. He's only going to get better as he learns to use that insane athleticism even more intelligently. 

    Drummond won't be an All-Star in 2013-14, but he won't be that far out of the discussion either. He'll also make some noise in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. 

56. Jeff Green

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Age: 27

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks

     

    Jeff Green is going to lead the Boston Celtics in scoring. 

    Unfortunately, that's probably not a good thing. He seems perfectly suited to fill in as a No. 2 scorer capable of exploding for 40-plus points like he did against the Miami Heat last year, but counting on Green to lead a team isn't a positive.

    Not yet at least. 

    Green has a fantastic set of offensive skills between his rim-seeking habits and his knack for hitting the long ball, but he's still a little too reliant on inefficient shots like pull-up jumpers and off-foot runners. That will change with time, as a heart condition delayed the progression of his career, but learning on the job is tough. 

    The 27-year-old is both aided and hurt by his role on the C's. 

55. Nikola Pekovic

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age: 27

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks

     

    Nikola Pekovic might not get discussed much because he's played for a struggling Minnesota Timberwolves franchise, but he's still a top-notch center who can make an impact on both ends of the court. 

    Due primarily to his ridiculous strength and aggressiveness, Pek helped the 'Wolves score 4.7 more points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. His defensive impact wasn't as impressive, and it was mitigated from an on/off perspective by the Minnesota backups, but he still displayed nice instincts and fared well both in isolation and when getting posted up. 

    To move even higher up in the rankings, Pekovic has to learn how to corral his bull-in-a-china-shop mentality. Some degree of finesse will help him out, especially if he stops functioning as an offensive black hole. 

    He doesn't have great passing chops, and the ball never left his hands (except when swiped away by a defender) as soon as he received it in the post. 

54. Nicolas Batum

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Age: 24

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.1 blocks

     

    As Bleacher Report's Joel Cordes said once during a group discussion about Nicolas Batum, this French small forward was supposed to be Paul George before Paul George became, well, Paul George. 

    At least being Batum isn't a bad second option. 

    He's also the captain of my All-How Is This Guy So Young First Team. There's no way a player as established as Batum should still be in the first quarter-century of his life, but here we stand. 

    Batum knows exactly who he is right now: a fantasy basketball monster who can stuff a stat sheet while providing great "three and D" contributions. That's not going to change at any point unless everyone in Rip City gets hurt and Batum is forced to take on a Kevin Durant-like role on offense. 

53. Paul Millsap

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 28

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks

     

    Paul Millsap will be such a breath of fresh air for Atlanta Hawks fans, even if he isn't as talented as the man he's replacing. 

    While Josh Smith is clearly the better power forward (you haven't seen him in the rankings yet, have you?), Millsap is a consistent energy guy who makes the right decisions and plays with his heart on his sleeve. He's a well-rounded player who can overcome his lack of height with those long, lanky arms that always seem to be in the right place. 

    But can he develop a three-point stroke? He made 13 of his 39 looks from deep last season, and he'll presumably try to stretch the court even more now that he's no longer playing for the paint-bound Utah Jazz. 

52. Monta Ellis

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    Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Age: 28

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    Monta Ellis is a complete enigma. 

    He's one of the players who stat-heads like myself love to provide reality checks on, but he's also blessed with quite a bit of talent. His creativity and ability to finish around the basket is nearly unmatched, and he's a quick fiend of a defender, even if he often finds himself out of position. 

    But this season is going to be interesting for Ellis, as he can no longer fire away with reckless abandon. He's a secondary option in the offense, and he'll have to defer to Dirk Nowitzki on a regular basis. 

    Will this frustrate Ellis?

    Maybe. 

    Will it make him a more efficient player who displays an increasingly concerted effort on defense?

    Hopefully. 

51. Kawhi Leonard

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Age: 22

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.6 blocks

     

    Kawhi Leonard's honeymoon period started in the NBA Finals when he held his own against LeBron James (as much as anyone realistically can), and it'll continue throughout the rest of his career. 

    The 22-year-old small forward has all the tools you could ask for on both ends of the court, and he's truly an emerging superstar. With Tim Duncan and Tony Parker still taking the lead roles for the San Antonio Spurs, though, it'll just take him a while longer to get there. 

    During the postseason, Leonard averaged 13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. Expect him to at least match those numbers in 2013-14 as he continues to take over for Manu Ginobili as the third member of San Antonio's Big Three. 

50. Rudy Gay

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    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Age: 27

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks

     

    Is Rudy Gay going to have an efficient season now that his vision has been corrected? The early preseason indications are good, and it won't come as much of a surprise if the Toronto Raptors small forward shoots the best percentage of his career. 

    In the past, Gay has been one of the premier examples of the undermanned "gaudy point totals aren't the same as effective offense" movement. He earned minus-0.2 offensive win shares last year with the Memphis Grizzlies despite scoring 16.9 points per game. 

    This year it's even more important for him to start taking the right shots.

    With new general manager Masai Ujiri in town, his spot on the roster is by no means safe if he doesn't start living up to the expectations. And if he does, he could easily move into the fourth tier of small forwards rather than manning the helm of the fifth.

49. Brandon Jennings

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    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Age: 24

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.1 blocks

     

    Can Brandon Jennings change how he plays enough that the Detroit Pistons live up to the expectations placed upon them after a big offseason? 

    The southpaw can't continue to be a gunner now that he's no longer with the Milwaukee Bucks. He has to become more of a distributor than ever before, and he's playing alongside options that can actually put the ball in the basket. 

    Between Andre Drummond's physical dominance, Josh Smith's athleticism and Greg Monroe's steady play in the paint, Jennings doesn't have any excuses for shooting below basketball's version of the Mendoza Line in 2013-14. If he's shooting less than 40 percent, something is seriously wrong. 

    Jennings has a ton of offensive talent, and he's now in a situation where he can put all of it to use without forcing his hand each and every night. Fans of scoring and assist explosions should take note. 

48. Serge Ibaka

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    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Age: 24

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 3.0 blocks

     

    Serge Ibaka was one of the most disappointing players in the NBA during the 2012-13 season. His season was just fine, but he didn't make that jump that so many expected, not even in the playoffs when Russell Westbrook went down and the Oklahoma City Thunder really needed him. 

    Averaging 12.8 points per game in the postseason just isn't cutting it. 

    Ibaka is a fantastic shot-blocker and a burgeoning interior defender, but his offense just hasn't come around. He's a great pick-and-pop shooter, giving him a unique edge, but he still requires the aid of his guards when creating offense. 

    However, let's remember that Ibaka is still only 24 years old. 

47. Tyson Chandler

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    Team: New York Knicks

    Age: 31

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.1 blocks

     

    Tyson Chandler was limited by injuries during the closing half of the New York Knicks' 2012-13 campaign and their subsequent playoff run, but there's no doubt that he's still a dominant defender whenever he's fully healthy. 

    Offensively, the 31-year-old is one of the most self-aware players in basketball history. That's not hyperbole. 

    Chandler never takes shots that are outside his comfort zone, and he's made a living scoring in double figures almost solely off the easy putback opportunities he creates and the lobs he receives after rolling to the basket. 

    He'll have his work cut out for him anchoring this New York defense, especially given the dearth of quality backup options, but doing so would allow him to rise back into a higher tier than the one he slipped into last season. 

46. Larry Sanders

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    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Age: 24

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.8 blocks

     

    Speaking of defense. 

    Larry Sanders is fantastic at blocking shots so emphatically that he leaves "Spalding" imprinted on the foreheads of his opponents, but he's also developed into a quality interior defender who makes his moves at the right times. 

    According to Basketball-Reference, Sanders helped the Milwaukee Bucks allow 5.9 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court, and that's despite the fact that his primary backups (John Henson, Samuel Dalembert and Ekpe Udoh) all thrived on the defensive end of the court. Plus, he often played with the sieves known as Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. 

    This was no fluke.

    Sanders has all the right defensive instincts, and his offensive game can't possibly get any worse. I've tortured myself by watching every spot-up jumper and post-up opportunity that Sanders received, and I feel quite confident in that statement. 

45. David Lee

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 30

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks

     

    In my mind, I bounced David Lee between the top of the fourth tier of power forwards and the bottom of the third tier, ultimately deciding that he wasn't a strong enough All-Star candidate to fall into the latter. While Lee's offensive game won't decline at all, the addition of Andre Iguodala will take away both touches and minutes, making his porous defense all the more apparent. 

    Lee is one of the more controversial players to rank because of that disparity between his offense and defense. 

    He's a great scorer and rebounder, but he's arguably the single worst interior defender in the game. Worse even than a player like Carlos Boozer who almost laughably ignores his man at times.

    Defense is half the battle, and that applies to Lee just as much as it does a plus defender. 

44. Greg Monroe

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    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Age: 23

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks

     

    Greg Monroe's game isn't very glamorous, but it still works. He's an incredibly skilled passer (should you expect anything less from a Georgetown product?), and his post moves allow him to average a respectable number in the points column.

    But his defense and floor spacing are problematic.

    Monroe isn't athletic enough to compete against smaller centers, and the big ones can push him around. He hasn't been able to assert himself as a premier defender yet, which is quite problematic in a league that prioritizes work on that side of the ball.

    As for floor spacing, Monroe simply must become a better shooter if he's going to function effectively next to both Josh Smith and Andre Drummond. Expanding his range needs to be the 23-year-old's No. 1 priority in the season before he hits restricted free agency.  

43. Al Jefferson

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    Team: Utah Jazz

    Age: 28

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks

     

    Al Jefferson is the perfect player for the Charlotte Bobcats, especially now that he's become arguably the greatest player in franchise history before he's even played a single game. Remember, this is an organization that boasts only one All-Star (Gerald Wallace) in its entire history. 

    Big Al will now go to work on the left block of the Time Warner Cable Arena instead of EnergySolutions Arena, and not much will be different. He'll still threaten to score 20 points on a nightly basis as he uses a diverse arsenal of post moves. 

    But at the same time, he won't play much defense, which allows Charlotte to remain in the hunt for good lottery odds in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes. That's always been Jefferson's Achilles' heel, and it doesn't figure to change now that he's wearing new threads. 

42. Ty Lawson

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    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Age: 25

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.1 blocks

     

    Are we going to get first-half Ty Lawson or second-half Ty Lawson? 

    The former averaged 15.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the field. After the All-Star break, the latter showed up to the tune of 18.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 6.4 dimes per contest on 50.4 percent shooting. 

    Without Andre Iguodala, Lawson is the unquestioned No. 1 ball-handler in the Mile High City, and he'll have more responsibility than ever before. He's the premier playmaker on this squad, and he's also the top scorer. 

    Lawson's blazing speed and incredible ability to post insane shooting numbers as a point guard both play in his favor.

    But that's a lot of pressure. 

41. Mike Conley

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Age: 26

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.3 blocks

     

    Mike Conley is all about defense. 

    Except that he's not. 

    The 26-year-old point guard used the postseason to prove that he was so much more than just a defensive stopper. In the playoffs, he averaged 17 points and 7.1 assists per game, and he did so while facing stiff competition. 

    Chris Paul couldn't consistently corral him, and neither could Tony Parker. 

    That success should carry over to the 2013-14 season, and Conley has a legitimate shot at rising much higher in these rankings, especially if he can hone in that three-point stroke. The Memphis Grizzlies need a downtown threat in the starting lineup, and Conley is the best bet. 

40. Anthony Davis

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    Team: New Orleans Pelicans

    Age: 20

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks

     

    Despite being heralded as the NBA's next defensive superstar when he was leaving Kentucky, Anthony Davis has more improvements to make on the less glamorous end of the court. 

    The Unibrow held his own whenever he was asked to move with his man, but he was overaggressive closing out on spot-up shooters and struggled to body up in the post. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), he allowed 0.97 points per possession to opposing players, which checks in at No. 401 among all qualified players. 

    Yikes. 

    A more chiseled version of Davis with a year under his belt should fare much better, and he'll have to in order to justify this lofty ranking. It would also help if he improved his off-the-bounce game.

    So far, so good, if we're using the preseason as any indication. 

    You could make a serious argument for Davis as the preseason MVP, as he's been dominant in just about every facet of the game. An All-Star Game is in his future, maybe as soon as this season. 

39. Luol Deng

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Age: 28

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    I'd love to see what Luol Deng if Tom Thibodeau didn't lean on him so heavily. Fortunately, we'll be able to see what happens this year now that Jimmy Butler will take on more minutes and keep Deng from guarding the toughest assignment each and every night. 

    Deng is a superb defender and a capable second option on offense, but it's problematic when he's asked to do anything more. And yes, that's enough for him to rise into the tier of good bets to make the All-Star team, something he's done each of the past two seasons. 

    According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Deng isn't a particularly great man-to-man defender, but he's embodied all the principles of Chicago's help defense. That leads me to believe that he'll be even better this year with he and Butler alternating individual assignments. 

38. Zach Randolph

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    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Age: 32

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    Will Zach Randolph finish the season with the Memphis Grizzlies? 

    If things don't go well before the trading deadline, he's going to be an obvious scapegoat, even if he's playing well. It's tough to imagine anything but a steady stream of double-doubles from this ground-bound power forward. 

    Z-Bo plays basketball like an elephant would.

    He can't jump, but he still has so much strength and finesse (think about the trunk) that he dominates both on the glass and in the post. That's why his age doesn't matter much to me. 

    What athleticism is Father Time going to sap away from his arsenal?

37. Damian Lillard

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Age: 23

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks

     

    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that Damian Lillard had a sensational rookie season. Not only was he one of the best scorers in basketball, but he also was named the unanimous Rookie of the Year, finishing well ahead of Anthony Davis and the rest of the first-year class. 

    But now the Portland Trail Blazers have set him up for even more success. 

    Lillard won't be run ragged this season. Mo Williams and C.J. McCollum (when he returns from fracturing his fifth metatarsal) are both quality backups, and they'll prevent the Weber State product from leading the league in minutes played for the second season in a row. 

    Additionally, Lillard will be better on defense, which was his biggest struggle as a rookie. Robin Lopez's presence will help him thrive in pick-and-roll sets, and the typical improvement made by second-year guards will aid him as well. 

    Don't be surprised when the 23-year-old is an All-Star as soon as this year. 

36. Kevin Garnett

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Age: 37

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks

     

    Kevin Garnett is ancient by NBA standards, but he's still in line for yet another impressive season. In fact, getting traded to the Brooklyn Nets was the best thing that could happen for him. 

    He'll have a chance to compete for another ring while serving as a glorified role player. No longer will he be as important to the offense, and he'll instead be able to relax on that end of the court, taking the mid-range jumpers as they come to him. 

    And KG's mid-range game is still as silky-smooth as it gets. 

    That excess energy, though, will be used on defense, where he'll continue to terrorize everyone who dares enter his zone of the court. Between that and his intensity, he'll have a major impact in Brooklyn. 

35. Chris Bosh

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Age: 29

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.4 blocks

     

    Is there a better third option in the NBA than Chris Bosh

    The 29-year-old power forward has taken to the role for the Miami Heat, even if he has been asked to shift over to center quite frequently. Still, he's a natural power forward, so that's what I'm considering him as for the purpose of these rankings. 

    Bosh has struggled to become an effective rebounder and he occasionally struggles on defense, but it's hard to argue with his offensive game. Although he isn't averaging 20 points per game anymore, that 53.5 percent shooting from the field is rather impressive. 

    As long as Bosh is healthy and hitting those mid-range jumpers, he'll remain a power forward who borders on being elite any given night. 

34. Jrue Holiday

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    Team: New Orleans Pelicans

    Age: 23

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    Jrue Holiday's per-game stats are a bit misleading. Scarily enough, they don't make him look as good as he actually is. 

    Take a gander at the ones he posted before the All-Star break: 19.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 8.9 assists on 45.1 percent shooting.

    That's more like it. 

    Holiday just wore down in 2012-13. At times, he was the sole source of offense for the Philadelphia 76ers, and that will never be the case now that he's in the bayou. With the New Orleans Pelicans, Holiday will be feeding the ball to Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, all of whom are also found in this Top 100. 

    That bodes well for Holiday's overall success, even if it'll be difficult for him to top 20 points in a game with as much frequency.

    But which is more important, winning or scoring? 

33. Paul Pierce

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Age: 36

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    I can't wrap my head around Paul Pierce wearing a different uniform, even after watching him in action for the Brooklyn Nets multiple times during the preseason. It just feels strange, and it will likely continue to do so throughout his first season calling the Barclays Center home. 

    Pierce is going to become what we'll have to call a star role player. 

    He's too good on both ends of the court, even at 36 years old, to be a role player, but the Brooklyn Nets have too many other options for him to function as anything other than a spot-up shooter and defensive stopper. That should suit The Truth just fine, as it's playing right into his strengths. 

    Pierce has always been one of the more underrated defensive players in the league, as it's almost assumed that his unathletic-looking body won't be successful on the defensive side of the ball. This year, he'll be even more prolific than normal. 

32. Pau Gasol

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    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Age: 33

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.2 blocks

     

    Pau Gasol struggled throughout the early portion of last year; a season that Los Angeles Lakers fans hope to forget as quickly as possible. But he ended up becoming a driving force for the offense at the end of the year. 

    During his last 13 appearances in 2012-13, the 33-year-old 7-footer averaged 14.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game while making exactly half of his attempts from the field. And then he put up 14 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists per contest on 54.5 percent shooting in Kobe's absence during the Lakers' postseason "battle" with the San Antonio Spurs.

    Gasol is still an elite and versatile offensive big man. He just has to be put in the right situation, which generally sees him functioning as an offensive hub from either the low or high block.  

31. Blake Griffin

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Age: 24

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks

     

    Does anyone know exactly what to think of Blake Griffin

    Some people seem to have this strange perception that he's overrated because "all he can do is dunk."

    First of all, a lot of players wish they could score as many points as Griffin does off dunks. Secondly, he's got a great spin out of the post and is one of the best passing bigs in the NBA. 

    Other people think he's a truly elite power forward. 

    That's not true either yet. Not until he can create for himself more often, hit his spot-up looks and play defense. 

    Griffin owns one of the more volatile stocks in the Association, and the 2013-14 season will go a long way toward establishing a more permanent—and accurate—reputation for him. Right now he's firmly in the middle of the two extremes, a deserving All-Star who still isn't living up to the lofty expectations that his dominant rookie season forced. 

30. Josh Smith

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    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Age: 27

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks

     

    Is there anything Josh Smith can't do on a basketball court? 

    He can get to the rim with ease and punish the basket with devastating left-handed slams. He can rebound with the best of them, pass the ball to open teammates (even while on the run) and fill up the defensive portion of the box score as he flies around the court. 

    Hell, he can even dent the rim with all of his ill-advised jumpers. Oh wait, that's a bad thing...

    J Smoove is one of the premier talents in the NBA—I'd go so far as to call him an MVP-caliber talent—but the Detroit Pistons have to work on his mentality and get him to play smart basketball before he can rise up into the true realm of elite players. 

29. DeMarcus Cousins

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    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Age: 23

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks

     

    DeMarcus Cousins got paid during the offseason, and now it's up to him to live up to the max contract. It's a bit disconcerting, as Boogie has always been a player plagued by mental issues on the court. 

    But when he's engaged, Cousins looks like he could eventually ascend all the way to the top of the center rankings. The Kentucky product is just that physically dominant, and he possesses a great deal of technical skill as well. 

    But his rise is tempered by his defense. Err, his lack of defense. 

    No matter how you look at it, Cousins just hasn't become much of a rim-protecting presence for the Sacramento Kings.

    He fails the eye test with his lack of hustle and willingness to function as a matador, just ushering opposing players into the paint. Basketball-Reference shows that Sac-Town allowed 1.8 more points per 100 possessions when Boogie was on the court. And Synergy Sports (subscription required) reveals that he allowed 0.86 points per possession, the No. 169 mark in the league. 

    Can you tell where he needs to focus his efforts? 

28. David West

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Age: 33

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks

     

    Ah, the ranking that B/R's Dan Favale and I will argue about forever. 

    I'm admittedly bullish about David West, simply because he's the heart and soul of one of the truly elite teams in the NBA. The Indiana Pacers rely heavily upon his defensive versatility (the ability to either body up or move laterally on the perimeter) and mid-range shooting that spaces the court for drives to the basket by the Pacers perimeter players 

    And it works. 

    During the 2012-13 season, the Pacers allowed 0.8 fewer points and scored 8.3 more per 100 possessions with West on the floor. That, my friends, is an impact. 

27. Andre Iguodala

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 29

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks

     

    Andre Iguodala is the last small forward on this list who isn't a complete lock for the All-Star Game. And if you're curious why he's being listed at the 3 instead of the 2, that would be because it makes more sense to let Harrison Barnes come off the bench, leaving a starting lineup that includes both Iggy and Klay Thompson. 

    And I'm sorry for calling you Iggy, Iggy. I know you don't like that nickname, but it's just so ingrained and easy to say/write. 

    This swingman may be 29 years old and on the verge of leaving his athletic prime. He's still one of the premier defensive stoppers in basketball, though. 

    According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Iguodala held opponents to just 0.8 points per possession during his first and last go-around with the Denver Nuggets. He was particularly effective in isolation, and he'll continue to function in such a capacity now that Andrew Bogut is protecting the rim behind him. 

26. Brook Lopez

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Age: 25

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 2.1 blocks

     

    Brook Lopez is good at scoring. Duh. You should all know that by now. 

    But what allowed him to take major strides during his fifth professional season was his improvement as a defender and rebounder. Lopez isn't anything more than a subpar crasher of the boards, but at least he's not historically awful anymore. 

    Take a look at how his total rebounding percentage has progressed over the years, according to Basketball-Reference

    Year TRB%
    2008-0915.8
    2009-1013.5
    2010-1110.0
    2011-127.7
    2012-1313.4

    A better understanding of positioning has allowed him to regain some semblance of competence, and he's coupled that with more proper rotations on defense. Lopez's blocked shots were up, but so too were the plays that often get overlooked: The ones that don't result in a block but do end up causing an extra miss for the other team.  

25. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Team: Dallas Mavericks

    Age: 35

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks

     

    Move Dirk Nowitzki out of the first tier of power forwards? Please...

    Even if it's tougher for the 35-year-old big man to take over a game on a consistent basis, he's still a dominant offensive player and complete game changer whenever he's on the court for the Dallas Mavericks. 

    When he returned from injury last year, the Mavs went 28-25. Compare that to the 13-16 record that Dallas accumulated when Dirk sat out. See? Game changer. 

    This will be a tough season for Nowitzki as he attempts to simultaneously lead the offense and play enough defense so that the Monta Ellis-Jose Calderon backcourt pairing doesn't look so porous, but it's not like he's declining yet. 

24. Roy Hibbert

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Age: 26

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.6 blocks

     

    The following comes from a David Aldridge article on NBA.com about breakout candidates and is lifted from the section about Jonas Valanciunas: 

    But his biggest improvements have to come at the defensive end. Fouls were a problem for him, as was understanding of the defensive three-second rules. The Raptors have worked with him extensively on the "Hibbert" (named after Roy, of course) defense—jumping vertically to challenge shooters instead of reaching and hacking.

    Yeah, so Roy Hibbert is pretty good at this whole defense thing.

    Those principles of verticality were at the center of some heated discussions during the postseason, but they've become the big man's trademark as he starts to completely deter other players from even thinking about entering the paint. 

    What's scary, though, is how much offensive potential Hibbert has displayed. 

    Not only did he start lighting up the scoreboard during the postseason, but he's shown off a much-improved mid-range game on multiple occasions throughout the preseason. Hibbert will always be a defender first and foremost, but he's blossoming into a two-way stud. 

23. Al Horford

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    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Age: 27

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.1 blocks

     

    Al Horford is criminally underrated in many NBA discussions. Primarily because he doesn't even get brought up. 

    The Florida product doesn't have a very glamorous game, but boy is it effective. On both ends of the court, Horford can make a sizable and ultra-efficient impact.

    Defensively, he doesn't block many shots, but he alters a number of them and has the versatility necessary to switch on any screen without giving up too much to the opponent. On the more fun end of the court, Horford dominates because he shoots an efficient percentage—that mid-range jumper is one of the NBA's more deadly weapons—and has the passing chops to feed his teammates with the best of 'em. 

    It's a major part of the reason that Horford's Atlanta Hawks scored 6.7 more points per 100 possessions and allowed 0.6 fewer when he was on the court throughout the 2012-13 season. The center doesn't often get much credit, but perhaps he just likes it that way. 

    After all, he'll be the true anchor of yet another playoff team in 2013-14. 

22. John Wall

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    Team: Washington Wizards

    Age: 23

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.8 blocks

     

    Is John Wall an elite point guard? 

    Absolutely. Without a doubt. No question about it. 

    The impact he had on the Washington Wizards last season was palpable after he returned to health, and he'll be the driving force behind a probable playoff push in the nation's capitol. Now that the Wizards have more talent, they'll be hard to eliminate before the postseason rolls around. 

    I'll go so far as to throw out two numbers: 20 and 10.

    I've said it before, and I'll say again that Wall will become the first player since Chris Paul to average 20 points and 10 assists over the course of an entire season. He absolutely has the scoring talent, and now that he's joined by Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat and everyone else in Washington, the double-digit dimes will be much easier to come by. 

    Again, this dude is elite. 

21. Joakim Noah

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    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Age: 28

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.1 blocks

     

    Joakim Noah doesn't put up traditional scoring numbers for a top-25 player, but you'd be foolish to look only at that part of his line. 

    How about the dominance on the glass? How about the passing chops and dribbling excellence that allow him to distribute as effectively as any big man? 

    Better yet, how about his defense? 

    After all, that's where Noah usually tends to make the most impact. Although he doesn't always post great individual numbers, he plays extremely good help defense and has taken to heart everything that Tom Thibodeau has taught him. He spends as much time in the paint as possible, taking away drives to the rim, and he has the intensity and lateral quickness to recover at all times. 

20. LaMarcus Aldridge

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Age: 28

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.2 blocks

     

    LaMarcus Aldridge is ready to take that next step and truly assert himself as a candidate to start the All-Star Game for the Western Conference. 

    Between his post skills and mid-range shooting, the leading big man for the Portland Trail Blazers has made himself a constant threat to post 20 points and 10 rebounds on any given night. And this year, he's going to be more efficient than ever before on offense. 

    Considering he shot 48.4 percent from the field in 2012-13, there is some room for improvement, after all. 

    Now that Robin Lopez is patrolling the paint next to him, Aldridge won't be asked to serve as the primary stopper in the frontcourt. He'll be able to rest a bit more on defense, saving even more energy for offense, where his talent truly lies. Plus, the newfound depth in Rip City will only help keep him fresh throughout the season. 

19. Deron Williams

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    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Age: 29

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    Deron Williams is in for an interesting season. 

    Not only does he have to accept Jason Kidd functioning as his head coach, but he also has to change his role quite significantly. It will be problematic if he's averaging 18.9 points per game, and quite frankly, it will be as well if he drops less than 10 assists per contest. 

    D-Will's new job is to make the Brooklyn offense go, and he'll do that both with his devastating crossover and top-notch passing skills. But keeping Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez all involved on a nightly basis is most assuredly a challenge. 

    Williams was one of the best players in basketball after the All-Star break allowed him to recuperate and finally play at something even resembling full strength. We know that his prime isn't quite over yet, and it's time for him to prove it to the world. 

    Also, how ridiculously stacked is this position? There are still seven more point guards left in the rankings, and we've already reached No. 19.

18. Kyrie Irving

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Age: 21

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks

     

    Is Kyrie Irving a superstar? 

    He's awfully close to that distinction, but he's still part of the second tier of point guards until he fixes a few flaws in his game. I'm not worried about Irving's ability to pass the rock. Now that there are more positive scoring options for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he'll have no trouble with that. 

    It's the defense that has to be turned around rather quickly. 

    According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Irving allowed 0.85 points per possession, a number beaten by 148 qualified players throughout the NBA. However, things get even worse when you look at his team defense, mostly because it doesn't even exist. 

    Irving has to exhibit a more concerted effort on the less glamorous end of the court in order to continue his unbridled ascent toward the top of the rankings. 

17. Stephen Curry

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Age: 25

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks

     

    Stephen Curry is more than just a sharpshooter. 

    Even though he's the best perimeter shooter in the league, and arguably of all time—although that's a matter for another time—he brings a lot of other skills to the table. See those 6.9 assists per game? Those don't just magically appear on the box score. 

    Curry is one of the best in the business at passing with one hand off the bounce, and his court vision is only getting better as his career progresses. Right now, he's a more well-rounded player than Kyrie Irving, but only barely, and that's why he comes in just ahead. 

    Unfortunately, the same flaw applies. His defense just doesn't exist. 

16. Paul George

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    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Age: 23

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks

     

    Paul George broke out in a big way throughout the 2012-13 season, and he'll continue to prove that he belongs among the superstar class of players in his follow-up campaign. 

    The 23-year-old's two-way versatility is staggering, and he's already gone toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals. That's something that very few players in general can boast, much less a young first-time All-Star. 

    That said, George isn't without his weaknesses.

    His shooting must continue to get more efficient, and he has to be more careful with the ball in his hands. George has a tendency to dribble too high and set himself up for easy thievery opportunities, effectively killing the flow of the Indiana offense. 

    But still, that's nitpicking. This kid is for real. 

15. Kevin Love

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age: 25

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 14.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks

     

    When I wrote about Kevin Love during the beginning of preseason action, I stated that he absolutely had the talent to be a top-10 player, but there were a few steps he needed to take in order to make that happen. 

    Before Love missed much of 2012-13 due to injury—the per-game numbers look great, but his 35.2 percent shooting sure wasn't—he was a top-10 guy. Now others have passed him, and Love is fighting an uphill battle. 

    In order to move back up, the power forward has to continue putting up those stellar double-double numbers, start making more of an effort on defense, begin to make his teammates better and—if we're talking about public perception—make the playoffs. 

    It's doable, but it won't be easy. 

14. Marc Gasol

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Age: 28

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.7 blocks

     

    When Marc Gasol was on the court last season, the Memphis Grizzlies scored 106.2 points per 100 possessions and allowed 98.2, according to Basketball-Reference

    When he sat on the bench, the team put up 102.2 points per 100 possessions and gave up 105.1. 

    Stop and think about that for a second. 

    They outscored opponents by eight points per 100 possessions when he was contributing and got outscored by 2.9 when he sat. That's a humongous impact, and it indicates that Gasol should have factored far more heavily into the MVP race than he already did. 

    Although he has yet to take over offensively as much as I'd like to see, Gasol's versatility makes him quite important to the Grizz. For example, no one in basketball is better at behind-the-back passes out of the post to backdoor cutters. 

13. Rajon Rondo

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Age: 27

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 11.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks

     

    The 2013-14 season will teach us everything we need to know about Rajon Rondo. 

    To be clear, this point guard was not just a product of the talent around him. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen certainly helped him look like a stellar floor general, but it's not like he was utterly devoid of skill. 

    Rondo is still a bona fide All-Star, even if his talented teammates have all left. 

    This season we'll find out how much of a leader he is. Can Rondo carry a lackluster squad to a postseason appearance? If he returns to action after the team has dug itself a hole it can't climb out of, can he at least get them close? 

    Look for Rondo to score more than ever, but he's also going to make the rest of his teammates look much better than they should. MarShon Brooks, for example, might end up justifying some of those Kobe Bryant comparisons at least a few times throughout the season. 

12. Tim Duncan

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Age: 37

    Position: PF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.7 blocks

     

    Tim Duncan doesn't believe in old age. In fact, he and Father Time meet up for weekly bingo sessions at the local retirement home Duncan's residence in San Antonio. When the AARP came calling, Duncan told them he was Benjamin Button and had no interest. 

    Duncan isn't going to let his aging body slow him down. He'll still put up the same, completely dominant per-minute numbers that he's posted throughout his career. And the scary thing is that he's only getting more potent as a rim protector now that he's free to hang out in the paint whenever he wants. 

    The 37-year-old power forward's season will be tempered only by how much Gregg Popovich decides to play him. 

11. Dwyane Wade

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Age: 31

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 21.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks

     

    If you think Dwyane Wade is declining, there are a couple of numbers that would you should look at.

    52.1. 

    That would be the 2-guard's shooting percentage throughout the 2012-13 season, the highest mark of his career. 

    5.1. 

    The number of assists Wade recorded on a nightly basis, a clear indication that he's still highly involved in the offense. 

    There are plenty more, but the basic message is that Wade isn't declining; his role is just shifting, and his numbers are changing accordingly.

10. Dwight Howard

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Houston Rockets

    Age: 27

    Position: C

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.4 blocks

     

    Stop and consider what Dwight Howard did during his only season in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. 

    He won the rebounding crown, averaged a hyper-efficient 17.1 points per game and was still one of the more dominant defenders in basketball. Even during his down year, he finished 14th in the Defensive Player of the Year voting

    And he did all that while playing through shoulder and back injuries. Plus, you know, the constant turmoil that surrounded the Lake Show. 

    D12 is now focused and in a situation perfectly tailored to his talents. 

    On the Houston Rockets, Howard is essentially playing in the same system that the Orlando Magic used around him: The big man is surrounded with talented shooters, allowing the offense to take advantage of the defense from either the inside or the outside. He's going to have a monster season as he looks to shut up all the detractors. 

9. James Harden

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Houston Rockets

    Age: 24

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks

     

    James Harden is now entering his second season as a No. 1 option, and that bodes well for his ability to climb even higher in the rankings.

    First-year superstars typically struggle to handle the workload. They aren't used to as much offensive responsibility, and their defense experiences a corresponding decline. Such was the case for Harden, whose defense wasn't anything special in the first place. 

    But now that the bearded shooting guard has Dwight Howard protecting the rim behind him and helping him lift the offensive burden, he'll play at least semi-competent defense. And given his insane shooting efficiency—please don't make the mistake of just looking at his average field-goal percentage—that makes him an incredibly valuable, MVP-caliber player. 

    Fear the beard. You have to now. 

8. Carmelo Anthony

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: New York Knicks

    Age: 29

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks

     

    Carmelo Anthony is an elite scorer. 

    Duh. 

    The New York Knicks small forward led the NBA in points per game last year, and he'll be looking to do the same thing throughout the 2013-14 campaign. Just hopefully with a little bit more efficiency and a little more willingness to distribute the rock among his teammates. 

    In fact, the book on 'Melo is the same as it's always been. He's a premier scorer who makes as many difficult shots as anyone in professional basketball, but he's a hesitant passer who doesn't always commit to the defensive end of the court. 

    This is a do-or-die season for Anthony, especially with an opt-out clause looming in the not-so-distant future. 

7. Russell Westbrook

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Age: 24

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks

     

    Even though Russell Westbrook's knee will be keeping him out for the beginning of the season, I'm not worried about his ability to display resiliency and bounce back. 

    The setback wasn't due to structural damage, but rather because there was a loose stitch following the initial surgery on his meniscus. It was more procedural than anything else. Based on precedent, there's no reason to think that Westbrook will suffer a legitimate setback. After all, he hadn't ever missed a game—regular season or postseason—before the unfortunate collision with Patrick Beverley. 

    Once the dynamic point guard is back on the court, he'll be a dominant player once more. Westbrook's facilitating has continued to take strides, as has his shot selection and overall defensive play. 

    Each professional season has seen him display a marked improvement, and 2013-14 should continue that trend for the 24-year-old point guard. 

6. Kobe Bryant

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    Evan Gole/Getty Images

    Team: Los Angeles Lakers

    Age: 35

    Position: SG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks

     

    Like it or not, Kobe Bryant is still the premier shooting guard in basketball. James Harden is gunning for his crown, but the Mamba continues to reign supreme, even as he rehabs that ruptured Achilles and gets his self-proclaimed "fat ass" back into shape. 

    Kobe's defense is starting to slip, but there are still nights where he decides that he wants to party like it's 2004 and begins to play some of the best on-ball defense you will see in the league. That individual defense is good enough that it's been able to mitigate the impact of his ball-watching habits when he's supposed to be "helping." 

    And, of course, he's still an elite offensive player.

    Scarily enough, his incredible footwork and ever-improving jumper are making him just as dangerous as ever with the ball in his hands, and he's become a more willing passer in his old age. 

    It might take a few games for the Mamba to round into form, but he'll be a bona fide top-10 guy as soon he's ready to go. 

5. Tony Parker

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Age: 31

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks

     

    How has the "Tony Parker is a future head coach" movement not taken the world by storm at this point? 

    Not only does the French point guard have a remarkable mentor (Gregg Popovich), but he's one of the most cerebral players in basketball. He does his damage on the court because he understands exactly where he needs to be on both ends. He knows what decisions to make at all times. 

    Parker is one of those players who won't blow you away with any one play. Sure, he'll produce highlights, but you rarely expect to see this particular floor general on the SportsCenter "Top 10." 

    And yet, the final product is always something to write home about.

    You know that you're going to get steady performance from Parker each and every time he suits up, and that's been enough to keep him as an MVP dark horse when healthy. 

4. Derrick Rose

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    Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Age: 25

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: N/A

     

    I'm particularly bullish on Derrick Rose's chances to resume his status as a truly elite player in his return from an ACL injury that kept him out for all of last season.

    D-Rose has been proclaiming that he's better than ever all throughout the offseason, and he'll be eager to prove it as soon as the games start counting. Even during preseason action, he's looked completely healthy, springing around the court and using that athleticism that made him so special before the injury.

    Plus, he actually has a jumper now.  

    Remember, Rose is the only player not named LeBron James to win an MVP in recent memory. He's still the driving force behind the Chicago Bulls offense, and that will be especially true given the current makeup of the team. 

    With Jimmy Butler emerging as the two-way shooting guard that he has never been lucky enough to play next to, Rose is under less pressure, and he'll likely post the most efficient season of his career as a result. 

3. Chris Paul

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Age: 28

    Position: PG

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks

     

    Unless you're talking about blocking shots, Chris Paul can just about do it all on the basketball court. And maybe now, he'll actually get the help he needs on the Los Angeles Clippers instead of doing everything he can to carry the team.

    CP3 might as well be the reason that point guards are called floor generals. 

    He calls all the shots when he's out on the court, and his mouth just never closes. Paul gets to whatever spot he wants, and he can beat the opposition either with his playmaking or his scoring ability, depending on both how he feels and how the team is playing. 

    Paul remains the class of the point guard position for yet another year, but that lead is diminishing. Whereas he would have been in a tier of his own during the past few seasons, he's now part of the top tier that also includes Derrick Rose, Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook. 

    His crown is in jeopardy, even if it still rests on his dome. 

2. Kevin Durant

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

    Age: 25

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks

     

    Kevin Durant is about to enjoy the most successful season of his career. And yet, it still won't be enough for him to take over the No. 1 spot in either the small forward rankings or the overall rankings. 

    The Oklahoma City Thunder proved that he can handle the burden without Russell Westbrook at his flank by dominating during the postseason once the dynamic point guard went down with a meniscus injury. He averaged 30.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 45.5 percent from the field. 

    You can blame a lot of people for the Thunder's early playoff exit. Durant is not one of them. 

    It's hard to remember that this superstar is only 25 years old, but it's true. And he's nowhere near his prime yet, as he continues to prove each and every year by developing into an increasingly well-rounded player. 

1. LeBron James

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Team: Miami Heat

    Age: 28

    Position: SF

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks

     

    Surprised? 

    You shouldn't be. 

    LeBron James is still quite clearly the No. 1 player in the world, and he'll continue to function as such throughout the foreseeable future. He's one of the best scorers in basketball, one of the best distributors and one of the best (if not "the best") defenders. 

    That's a combination that no one else can touch, and it's the reason no other active player has four MVP trophies to his name.

    Nothing more needs to be said.