NBA Player Power Rankings: The Top 5 Undergoes Changes

BY Fansided and Maxwell Ogden/FanSided via Hoops Habit • December 16, 2016

The 2016-17 NBA regular season continues to redefine position roles. Which players are steadily rising up the NBA hierarchy?


Dec 14, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol warms up prior to the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Whether you’re ready for it or not, the NBA is entering a new phase. The faces of the NBA aren’t who they used to be and the players who promise to lead the next generation are already making their names known in the contemporary era.

The latest edition of the NBA Player Power Rankings perfectly reflect how balanced this era has become with the old, the new, and the present.

In some instances, superstars who have maintained their perch atop the NBA are looking to hold onto their elite status. In others, the younger generation is looking to leapfrog the players ahead of them and make an instant rise to superstardom.

Stuck in between those conflicting generations are the stars of today who are hoping to solidify their legacies as future Hall of Famers.

With the month of December now in full swing, the 2016-17 NBA regular season is legitimately getting underway. Thus, the breakout performers and resurgent stars are beginning to either establish their hot starts as the source of new expectations—or hit a wall.

The question is: who is the best player in the NBA during the 2016-17 regular season thus far?

Dec 5, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) dunks the ball during the third quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

20. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Position: Center
Age: 
24 (6/26/1992)
Experience: 4th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .682/.000/.681
2016-17 Season Averages: 32.3 MPG, 11.8 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 3.2 ORPG, 2.8 BPG

The No. 20 spot on this list came down to four players: Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, Gordon Hayward, and Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside has the gaudiest numbers, but Gobert and Hayward are leading a franchise turnaround, and Green is the glue for the best team in the NBA.

All four players were undeniably deserving of this final spot, but in the end, it was Gobert who won via his impact on a resurgent 16-10 Utah Jazz team.

Hayward had a case to make, but he’s missed seven games due to injury—26.9 percent of the full 2016-17 NBA regular season. Thus, the player selected is Gobert, who’s currently No. 1 in the NBA in true shooting percentage and No. 5 in both Win Shares and Win Shares per 48 minutes.

More importantly, he’s the defensive anchor and overall stabilizing force for the No. 1 ranked scoring defense in the Association.

Utah has net ratings of +11.0 with Gobert on the court and a team-worst -0.3 when he’s on the bench. In recent games, Gobert had 20 points and 17 rebounds against the Golden State Warriors, and 17 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocks against DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings.

One could argue that Hayward is re-emerging as Utah’s Most Valuable Player, but until he plays in a higher percentage of games, Gobert deserves the No. 20 spot.

Dec 13, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) reacts in the first quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

19. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers

Position: Power Forward
Age: 
28 (9/7/1988)
Experience: 9th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .464/.411/.864
2016-17 Season Averages: 32.1 MPG, 22.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.5 ORPG, 1.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 2.6 3PM

Kyrie Irving deserves the hype he’s receiving as the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers. What’s been lost during the Cavaliers’ exceptional start to the season, however, is just how brilliant Kevin Love has looked in his third season in Cleveland.

Don’t look now, but Love has improved his quality of play to the point of having the best net rating and defensive rating of any player on the Cavaliers (Minimum: 250 minutes).

Cleveland has a net rating of +11.0 when Love is on the floor—the best mark of any player on the Cavaliers (Minimum: 250 minutes). Cleveland also has a net rating of -0.5 when Love is on the bench.

That Cavaliers are 11.5 points per 100 possessions better with Love on the floor than they are without him, which is second on the team to just LeBron James.

Love began this past week by posting 28 points and 15 rebounds on 11-of-18 shooting in a 114-84 blowout of the Miami Heat. He then had 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting in a 116-105 win over the Charlotte Hornets, and 29 points and 13 rebounds in a 103-86 blowout of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Love’s tenure with the Cavaliers hasn’t been as individually prolific as many expected it to be, but he’s coming into his own in 2016-17.

Dec 12, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) drives to the basket during the fourth quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Golden 1 Center. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 116-92. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

18. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Position: Center
Age: 
26 (8/13/1990)
Experience: 7th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .453/.369/.750
2016-17 Season Averages: 34.5 MPG, 28.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.4 ORPG, 3.6 APG, 1.5 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.7 3PM

DeMarcus Cousins has said all of the right things, but enough is enough. He’s improved his defense, diversified his offensive game, is trusting his teammates, and has even bought into Dave Joerger’s system.

The Sacramento Kings simply aren’t a good basketball team and that begins and ends with a front office that continues to squander the opportunity to win with Cousins.

Over his past 10 appearances, Cousins is averaging 30.4 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.2 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game. During that all-time 10-game stretch, Sacramento has won just four games.

That’s a microcosm for the Cousins era in Sacramento: he does enough to help his team dominate, yet he still has to try to close out close games.

One could argue that Cousins needs to be better in the clutch, and that’s certainly a part of being a superstar. One could also argue that Cousins shouldn’t have to carry such a heavy workload just to help Sacramento win a regular season game.

It’s fortunate that Cousins still hasn’t entered his prime, but he’s still had a number of fantastic years wasted by the organization.

Dec 14, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) dribbles as center Cody Zeller (40) sets a pick on Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) during the second quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit:

17. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

Position: Point Guard
Age: 
26 (5/8/1990)
Experience: 6th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .467/.412/.784
2016-17 Season Averages: 33.2 MPG, 22.6 PPG, 5.2 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 2.6 3PM

The Charlotte Hornets continue to be overlooked by the masses despite what’s been an extraordinary tenure for head coach Steve Clifford. He’s led Charlotte to the playoffs in two of his three seasons and has the Hornets off to a 14-12 start in 2016-17.

For as brilliant as Clifford is as a head coach, starting point guard Kemba Walker deserves a significant measure of praise.

Charlotte had a rough week, going 1-3 with three losses to Eastern Conference opponents. Walker posted 15 points and five assists in just 25 minutes during a win over the Orlando Magic, however, and tallied 24 points in 30 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Walker struggled against the Indiana Pacers, but he also went toe-to-toe with John Wall and the Washington Wizards and looked strong in doing so.

Walker is beginning to slide back down this list, but he’s undoubtedly setting himself up for an All-Star Game appearance. He’s one of the most clutch players in the NBA and is developing into an elite offensive point guard.

If Walker maintains this pace and the Hornets continue to win at a .500 or better rate, he should be an All-Star.

Dec 14, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) directs the defense during the fourth quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at Verizon Center. Washington Wizards defeated Charlotte Hornets 109-106. Mandatory Credit: Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

16. John Wall, Washington Wizards

Position: Point Guard
Age: 26 (9/6/1990)
Experience: 7th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .453/.341/.830
2016-17 Season Averages: 36.2 MPG, 24.0 PPG, 9.5 APG, 4.5 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 1.3 3PM

The Washington Wizards got off to a poor start to the season, but John Wall has led quite the turnaround. Washington has won three of its past four games, as well as four of six, to improve to 10-14 and pull to within striking distance of the Top 8 in the Eastern Conference.

Wall may not receive the respect he deserves as one of the league’s best point guards and players, but he’s punishing those who don’t acknowledge it.

Wall began this past week by posting 24 points, 11 assists, four rebounds, two steals, and a block in a 110-105 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Washington lost to the Miami Heat, but Wall still managed to tally 30 points, eight assists, and six rebounds on 12-of-26 shooting.

With Washington in need of a win over the Charlotte Hornets, Wall went off for 25 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, and seven steals in a 109-106 victory.

For what it’s worth, Wall is one of five players who have tallied at least 25 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, and seven steals in three or more games. The only other players on that list are Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and LeBron James.

Wall has two playoff series victories and two seasons above 10.0 assists per game, but he’s still been overlooked. That needs to end.

Dec 14, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) controls the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

15. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

Position: Shooting Guard
Age:
 27 (8/7/1989)
Experience: 8th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .479/.286/.853
2016-17 Season Averages: 35.6 MPG, 28.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.2 SPG

The Toronto Raptors are 18-7 and have won 10 of their past 11 games. Two players appear on this list because of Toronto’s success—as well as their individual play, of course—with shooting guard DeMar DeRozan deservedly making the cut.

Just now entering his prime, DeRozan is building upon what’s already been an exceptional start to his NBA career.

Toronto played three games this past week and DeRozan took over two of them. He tallied 24 points and five rebounds during a 101-94 road win over the Boston Celtics—and that was his weakest performance.

DeRozan then dropped 30 points in 32 minutes against the Milwaukee Bucks and had 31 points in 30 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers—both of which were wins.

DeRozan’s scoring has always been a strength, but he’s playing a smarter and more decisive game in 2016-17. He’s attacking the basket, finding his hot spots from midrange, and taking less of the ill-advised shots that hurt Toronto in the 2016 NBA Playoffs.

DeRozan may not be a fan favorite in the analytics crowd, but he helps his team win and that’s more important than any statistic.

Dec 13, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) attempts to pass the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

14. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Position: Small Forward
Age: 
27 (9/14/1989)
Experience: 6th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .461/.354/.887
2016-17 Season Averages: 36.6 MPG, 25.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.6 ORPG, 4.2 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.2 3PM

The Chicago Bulls are a respectable 13-12 overall, but have endured a recent cold stretch to reach their current record. The Bulls have lost five of their past seven games, including a 25-point blowout against the Dallas Mavericks.

The good news is thats small forward Jimmy Butler has helped the Bulls win two of three to help stabilize what was becoming a sinking ship.

Butler had an explosive 31 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals on 8-of-15 shooting from the field during a 105-100 victory over the Miami Heat. He struggled to score during a 95-91 win against the San Antonio Spurs, but rebounded, defended, and facilitated at high levels.

Butler then tallied 27 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but Chicago blew a 21-point lead and lost.

It’s been an up-and-down year for the Bulls, but that’s a result Chicago should’ve expected. Three of the five starters weren’t on the roster last season and the second unit is inexperienced and unpredictable.

Though Chicago has been inconsistent, Butler appears to be rounding into form as one of the most reliable stars in the NBA.

Dec 13, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) looks on as a teammate shoots free throws during the third quarter of the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Moda Center. The Blazers won the game 114-95. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

13. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Position: Point Guard
Age: 
26 (7/15/1990)
Experience: 5th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .461/.369/.894
2016-17 Season Averages: 35.7 MPG, 27.7 PPG, 6.0 APG, 4.6 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 2.7 3PM

The Portland Trail Blazers have remarkable depth at almost every position. C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe play the 2, Maurice Harkless and Evan Turner play the 3, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis, and Noah Vonleh play the 4, and Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard, and Festus Ezeli play the 5.

The only player who doesn’t have an established backup is point guard Damian Lillard, who continues to establish himself as one of the best players in the NBA.

Lillard is making powerful strides as a facilitator that prove he’s learning to trust his teammates. That includes his first performance of the week, when he went off for 33 points and nine assists in a losing effort against the Indiana Pacers.

Lillard then tallied 24 points and eight assists against the Los Angeles Clippers, and had 17 points and nine assists in 30 minutes during a blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Lillard may be seeing negative team results as he makes this adjustment, but it will help Portland long-term. Team chemistry is still a work in progress, which means it’s on the star to be patient and help pace his team to sustainable success.

In the case of Damian Lillard, his ability to shift between scoring and facilitating will be invaluable to the Trail Blazers’ future. He showed it again with 40 points and 10 assists against the Denver Nuggets.

Dec 14, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) reacts with center Jonas Valanciunas (17) after hitting a three pointer against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

12. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Position: Point Guard
Age: 
30 (3/25/1986)
Experience: 11th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .452/.442/.860
2016-17 Season Averages: 37.2 MPG, 21.2 PPG, 7.3 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 3.2 3PM

DeMar DeRozan has emerged as one of the best scorers in the NBA and the Toronto Raptors suddenly have depth. Often lost in the Raptors’ emergence as a deep and well-rounded team, however, is the star power and influence of Kyle Lowry.

Lowry’s defensive versatility, 3-point shooting, pick and roll proficiency, court vision, passing ability—let’s just keep it simple and say he influences Toronto in every phase of the game.

Lowry began the week with his best scoring performance of the season: 34 points on 9-of-18 shooting in a 101-94 victory over the Boston Celtics. He scored seven of his points in the final 6:09 alone to help Toronto close out a division rival.

Lowry followed with 18 points and seven assists on 5-of-9 shooting in a 122-100 blowout of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Lowry’s final performance of the week was just as efficient, as he tallied 20 points and seven assists on 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc in a 123-114 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. It was yet another display of how effortlessly he can take over a game.

The Raptors are developing a number of lineups that can run up the score, but it’s Lowry who sets the tone on the practice court, in the locker room, and on game day.

Dec 14, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) drives to the basket as Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) defends during the second half at Amway Center. LA Clippers defeated the Orlando Magic 113-108. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

11. Blake Griffin, Los Angele Clippers

Position: Power Forward
Age: 
27 (3/16/1989)
Experience: 7th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .476/.227/.746
2016-17 Season Averages: 33.3 MPG, 21.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.1 ORPG, 4.7 APG, 1.0 SPG

Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin has been one of the most underrated stars of the 2016-17 NBA regular season. He’s coming into his own as an all-around offensive threat who can dominate in a vast number of ways.

The Clippers aren’t quite as dominant as they were earlier in the season, but Griffin has helped them right the ship after a rough stretch.

Griffin missed the Clippers’ 133-105 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, but stepped up the next time out. He poured in 26 points, 12 rebounds, four offensive boards, six assists, and a block during a 121-120 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Griffin then had 23 points, seven rebounds, and three assists on 9-of-14 shooting when Los Angeles defeated the Orlando Magic 113-108.

With the Clippers winning again, Griffin should be right back in the conversation for an All-NBA selection. At 27 years of age, he’s already a four-time All-NBA selection, five-time All-Star, and a former NBA Rookie of the Year.

Griffin’s flashy approach to the game has somehow alienated some fans, but he deserves the respect of a Top 15 player.

Dec 12, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) dribbles the ball during a 122-100 loss to Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

10. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Position: Small Forward
Age: 
22 (12/6/1994)
Experience: 4th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .521/.254/.769
2016-17 Season Averages: 34.7 MPG, 22.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.8 ORPG, 5.8 APG, 2.0 BPG, 2.0 SPG

The Milwaukee Bucks had hit a bit of a wall over the past week or so, but Giannis Antetokounmpo righted the ship. He took over with 30 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block in a 108-97 win over the Chicago Bulls.

That performance fell in line with what has saved the Bucks throughout the 2016-17 NBA regular season: the 22-year-old phenom that is Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo struggled in his first outing this past week, but bounced back with 28 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists against the Washington Wizards. He then dropped 30 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals against the Toronto Raptors.

Antetokounmpo finished the week with the previously alluded to 30 points and 14 rebounds against the Chicago Bulls.

Antetokounmpo isn’t just posting statistics, but actually playing at a borderline elite level on both ends of the floor. Not very many players can say that, which is why he deserves to be ranked as high as he currently is.

It’s also worth noting that the Bucks have net ratings of +5.4 with Antetokounmpo on the floor and -8.7 without him—a difference of 14.1 points per 100 possessions.

Dec 13, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) is defended by New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Warriors defeated the Pelicans 113-109. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

9. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Position: Point Guard
Age:
28 (3/14/1988)
Experience: 8th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .473/.396/.931
2016-17 Season Averages: 33.3 MPG, 24.9 PPG, 5.9 APG, 4.4 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 3.7 3PM

The Golden State Warriors have the best record in the NBA and Stephen Curry continues to be a primary reason why. Whether he’s been tasked with scoring, facilitating, or playing as a decoy, Curry has been filling an invaluable role.

This past week, Kevin Durant went cold and Curry stepped up to remind the masses of why he’s a two-time NBA MVP.

Curry began the week by posting 17 points and eight rebounds on 4-of-14 shooting, which inevitably did some damage to his ranking. He stabilized his ranking a game later, putting up 22 points and nine assists in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

More importantly, he poured in a game-high 30 points and seven assists during a 113-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

With the Warriors surviving a grueling five-game road trip, the dominance projects to continue. The Warriors have already made back-to-back NBA Finals appearances and won a championship, but this team projects to be even better.

There will be chemistry issues to iron out between four star players, but thus far, the results have been tremendous.

Dec 14, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dunks the ball against the Boston Celtics during the second half at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 108-101. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

8. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Position: Small Forward
Age: 
25 (6/29/1991)
Experience: 6th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .471/.389/.920
2016-17 Season Averages: 33.6 MPG, 24.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.2 ORPG, 3.1 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.9 3PM

The San Antonio Spurs are 21-5 because of the development of superstar—yes, superstar—Kawhi Leonard. Teams are attempting to isolate him in the corner when he’s on defense and double-team him when he’s on offense, thus testing the mettle of his supporting cast.

All Leonard has done is take on every challenge put in front of him and lead the Spurs to the second-best record in the NBA.

Leonard began this past week by torching the Brooklyn Nets for 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the field and a 4-of-7 mark at the free throw line. The next time out, Leonard put up 26 points and six assists in a beautiful display of his development against the Boston Celtics.

Leonard completed his exceptional week by recording 18 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and two steals during a 107-92 win over the Phoenix Suns.

Leonard is already an NBA champion, Finals MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and All-NBA First Team honoree. The only other player in NBA history who has accumulated those accolades is Hakeem Olajuwon.

Leonard has a long way to go before he matches Olajuwon resume-for-resume, but at 25 years of age, he’s already on the right path to all-time status.

Dec 11, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) stands on the court in the game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The New Orleans Pelicans won 120 – 119 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

7. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Position: Power Forward
Age:
23 (3/11/1993)
Experience: 5th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .494/.281/.824
2016-17 Season Averages: 38.3 MPG, 30.7 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 1.8 ORPG, 2.2 APG, 2.9 BPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.6 3PM

Anthony Davis could very easily make the claim that, based on individual performance alone, he’s been the best player in the NBA in 2016-17. A part of earning that status, however, is leading one’s team to the playoffs—no matter the circumstances.

Davis is doing his best to keep New Orleans competitive—efforts that have him leading the league in points per game.

Davis has been attempting to turn water into wine throughout the 2016-17 NBA regular season, but the Pelicans are 8-18 overall and 2-8 over the past 10 games. Getting Tyreke Evans back should help, but New Orleans is in a bad way.

True as that all may be, it’s impossible to look at what Davis has done individually and not be absolutely floored—just look at his 35 points, 16 rebounds, and five blocks against the Indiana Pacers.

No player has averaged at least 30.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game since Bob McAdoo in 1975-76. Davis is on pace to end the drought, and no matter how poorly his team is playing, that’s worthy of praise.

It’s also imperative to note that, while Davis has been in the superstar conversation for multiple seasons, he’s still only 23 years of age.

December 12, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) shoots against the Portland Trail Blazers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

6. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Position: Point Guard
Age: 
31 (5/8/1985)
Experience: 12th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .465/.407/.892
2016-17 Season Averages: 31.7 MPG, 17.8 PPG, 9.6 APG, 5.1 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 2.1 3PM

The Los Angeles Clippers have been unpredictable in 2016-17, but the results are turning back in their favor. Since dropping three consecutive games at the end of November, Los Angeles is 5-2 with wins over the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers.

The star of the show for the Clippers this past week was star point guard Chris Paul, who made history and led Los Angeles to a three-game winning streak.

Paul picked up 21 points, 14 assists, five rebounds, and two steals on 7-of-14 shooting during a 121-120 win over Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. He then posted 16 points and 10 assists on 5-of-9 shooting during a 113-108 victory against the Orlando Magic.

The performance that truly turned heads, however, was when Paul went off for 20 points, 20 assists, five rebounds, and three steals to zero turnovers against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Paul became the first player since 1984 to post at least 20 assists and zero turnovers in the same game. More impressive is the fact that Paul became the first player in NBA history to record at least 20 points, 20 assists, and zero turnovers.

When a player handles the ball as much as Paul, zero turnovers is an accomplishment unto itself. The fact he did it with both 20 points and 20 assists is unfathomable.

Dec 10, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) reacts during the second half against the Golden State Warriors at FedExForum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Golden State Warriors 110-89. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

5. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Position: Center
Age: 31 (1/29/1985)
Experience: 9th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .464/.456/.806
2016-17 Season Averages: 33.6 MPG, 19.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.6 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 1.6 3PM

Mike Conley has missed 10 games, and Tony Allen and Zach Randolph have both missed eight. Having noted that, one would likely expect the Memphis Grizzlies to be struggling to toe the line of .500 after 27 games.

Instead, Marc Gasol has restored his status as one of the league’s elite by leading the injury-riddled Grizzlies to an 18-9 start.

The former Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA First Team honoree is off to his best start yet. He’s expanded his game in remarkable ways, including the 41 3-point field goals he’s made in 25 appearances after converting just 12 in his first eight seasons combined.

Gasol is essentially a more subtle DeMarcus Cousins with significantly better defense and a justified reputation as one of the best leaders in the NBA.

This past week, Gasol’s leadership was on full display when he led the Grizzlies to a 110-89 demolition of the Golden State Warriors. He posted 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks, and a steal in 32 minutes with a +/- of +25.

For the season, the 18-9 Grizzlies have net ratings of +7.4 with Gasol on the floor and -12.6 when he isn’t—a difference of 20.0 points per 100 possessions.

Dec 13, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Warriors defeated the Pelicans 113-109. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

4. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

Position: Small Forward
Age: 28 (9/29/1988)
Experience:
10th Season
2016-17 Slash Line:
.530/.394/.865
2016-17 Season Averages: 
34.5 MPG, 25.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.7 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.9 3PM

The Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship in 2015, reached the NBA Finals in 2016, won 67 games in 2014-15, and won 73 games in 2015-16. Thus, while the Warriors certainly didn’t need Kevin Durant, he’s expectedly helping.

Durant already has four scoring titles on his resume, but this is shaping up to be one of his best scoring seasons to date.

Durant has been off his game recently, but his full body of work is far more impressive than an erratic five-game stretch is concerning. He’s on pace to post the best field goal percentage of his career and is playing at an exceptional level defensively.

Though some may complain that Durant’s offensive production is suffering with Golden State, he’s a more complete player now than he was before.

Durant will be in the race for a second NBA MVP award, a sixth All-NBA First Team selection, and a first NBA championship. Those are tall tasks, but they’re also realistic visions for a player who already has a Hall of Fame resume at 28.

The bitterness appears to be subsiding and Durant is beginning to be appreciated for what he is: a generational talent.

Dec 10, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 116-105. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Position: Small Forward
Age: 31 (12/30/1984)
Experience:
14th Season
2016-17 Slash Line:
.518/.350/.697
2016-17 Season Averages: 
36.7 MPG, 25.0 PPG, 9.0 APG, 6.5 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.6 3PM

As if there were any question about whether or not they would be, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the class of the Eastern Conference again. At 18-6 with a trail of overmatched competitors behind them, Cleveland looks primed and ready to make a third consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

This past week, LeBron James preceded the game he sat out for rest by dominating the opposition in a historically significant way.

James posted 27 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and three steals on 12-of-22 shooting during a 114-84 win over the Miami Heat. One day later, he dominated the Charlotte Hornets with 44 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds, three steals, and a block on 17-of-24 shooting.

In the process, James passed Elvin Hayes for No. 9 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

James continues to ascend all-time statistical lists, which could create the necessary narrative for an MVP season. Even if the focus remains on this season alone, James has been one of the league’s elite players through 24 games.

The fact that James can still bust out 44 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds, and three steals against a postseason-caliber opponent is something we shouldn’t take for granted.

Dec 14, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) warms up prior to the game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Position: Point Guard
Age: 28 (11/12/1988)
Experience: 9th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .420/.324/.810
2016-17 Season Averages: 35.2 MPG, 30.5 PPG, 10.6 APG, 10.5 RPG, 2.2 ORPG, 1.3 SPG, 18 3PM

Dropping Russell Westbrook from No. 1 while he’s averaging a triple-double was overwhelmingly difficult. If he somehow maintain his seasons averages over the course of the final 56 games, it’d be difficult to argue against his MVP candidacy.

For now, Westbrook’s declining efficiency and his team’s steady stream of losses are simply too much to ignore while the No. 1 player is performing at the level he is.

This past week, Westbrook shot 8-of-25 from the field and committed eight turnovers in a three-point loss to the Houston Rockets. He also shot 7-of-19 during a 114-95 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers and went 7-of-25 during a 109-89 loss to the Utah Jazz.

To drop Westbrook any further than No. 2 while he’s averaging a triple-double would simply be irrational, especially after he posted 37 points on 14-of-26 shooting during Oklahoma City’s 99-96 win over the Boston Celtics.

Westbrook averaging a triple-double over the course of an 82-game season would likely get him the MVP award—and with good reason. He needs to be more efficient, however, as his team relies far too heavily on his presence for success.

For what it’s worth: the 15-11 Thunder have net ratings of +4.6 with Westbrook on the court and -14.3 when he isn’t.

Dec 14, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) smiles during the third quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Position: Point Guard
Age: 27 (8/26/1989)
Experience: 8th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .440/.352/.838
2016-17 Season Averages: 36.7 MPG, 27.6 PPG, 11.7 APG, 7.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 2.9 3PM

Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double, which makes it difficult to place anyone but him at No. 1. James Harden is simply playing at too high of a level as an individual player and leader to pretend he isn’t the MVP frontrunner.

After being snubbed for the MVP award he deserved in 2014-15, Harden is making a powerful case for deserving it in 2016-17.

Harden has the Rockets on an eight-game winning streak—a streak that includes wins over the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder. During that stretch, he’s recorded two triple-doubles, five double-doubles, and two games with at least 36 points.

Say what you will about turnovers and shooting percentages, but Harden is leading his team to what truly matters: victory.

Houston is now 19-7, which is tied for the fourth-best record in the NBA. In the process, Harden has redefined what it means to be a point guard by simultaneously scoring and facilitating at elite levels.

For perspective, the last player to average at least 25.0 points and 11.0 assists per game was Tiny Archibald on the 1972-73 Kansas City-Omaha Kings.

For even stronger perspective, Archibald’s Kings won 36 games that season. Harden’s Rockets are already more than halfway there.

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