By: Grant Pomatto
Forget everything that you learned about the NBA so far this year. From this point forward, today until they crown the next NBA champion is all that matters. All of the players are starting with blank slates starting today. We are going to look at the top 5 players in the game from around the league and what makes them so great. We will count them down starting at five.
Number 5: Kawhi Leonard
The San Antonio Spurs are allowing opponents to score only 94 points per 100 possessions. No one stopper can make that all happen but it certainly helps when you have the reigning defensive players of the year in your corner. Despite the workload that Leonard has taken on for the Spurs’s offense, he is consistently guarding the opposition’s best player. According to NBA.com’s statistical databases, Leonard’s matchups when he is the one playing defense, are knocking down only 34.8 percent of their looks from the field. The reason he isn’t higher is because even though he has improved his offensive ability tremendously, it still doesn’t look fluent for him. He’s not the guy right to give the ball to and tell him to make things happen. That’s still Tony Parker’s job, however Kawhi Leonard when off the court hurts them more than if Tony Parker or Tim Duncan were not playing. In order for Kawhi to move up in the rankings, he has to show that he can take over basketball games on the offensive side when they need a prolific scorer.
Number 4: Damian Lillard
Dame D.O.L.L.A. as he is known in the rap game is making folks pay for all sorts of snubs- not recruiting him out of high school, leaving him off the top 5-point guard list, and of course failing to name him to the All-Star team again. With a chip on his shoulder, since the All-Star break he is averaging 33.7ppg and more importantly he has his team playing some of the best ball and right now sits thick in the Western Conference playoff race. Portland is 12-2 since the break, better than every team but the league-leading Warriors. Some players would react to that by sulking, or falling into a slump. Not Lillard. He has used this as motivation and has learned to refine rejection into fuel to prove his doubters wrong. Lillard’s numbers speak for themselves, plus more importantly he has changed everyone’s attitude and opinion towards him and the Trail Blazers. The idea of Portland even sniffing the playoffs was a joke back when training camp started last year. Instead, Lillard has turned the trail Blazers into a team that resembles its leader, one that relishes being doubted and counted on. Lillard has fully embraced and accepted the weight of being the franchise leader. Right now, both the Blazers and Lillard are both going up which is why he keep rising in my eyes as one of the top 5 players playing the game right now.
Number 3: Kevin Durant
Somehow, people are sleeping and overlooking one of the greatest, most unstoppable scorers in the NBA today. People are calling him the number 2 guy next to his running mate Russell Westbrook, not recognizing that things still revolve around him in OKC. Kevin Durant is knocking down close to 50 percent of his attempt from the field, 39 percent behind the arc, and 88 percent from the line. With the Thunder losing more games when Durant isn’t on the floor as opposed to when Westbrook isn’t, this is still Durant’s team, unless he decides to leave after this year. He has impacted OKC more than Westbrook and still should be looked at the 2nd best small forward in the game still behind LeBron James. Durant makes any team he is on ten times better than when they didn’t have him. The reason why he’s number 3 on the top five players in the NBA right now and not Westbrook is because, Westbrook still makes poor and selfish decisions. When the game is coming down to the end, you must get the ball to your best player, which would be Durant. Kevin can do most things that many small forwards in the game can’t and he can impact his team in multiple ways which is why he is number three on my top five players list.
Number 2: LeBron James
Let’s not take LeBron James for granted here. Even though he is in his 30s, he has been one of the very best players in the sport and of this year. The King is at number two because of his jump shot betraying him and his athleticism slightly declining. However, still put him on any team in the league and they would make the playoffs 10 times out of 10 and in most cases put that team in contender status. That can’t be said of any player and that includes the overall number one player in the game today. The Cavaliers are still atop the Eastern Conference and that’s happened because James has been able to almost single-handedly overcome the absences over the course of the regular season by important role players on the team. When James plays, the Cavaliers score 111.5 points per 100 possessions while allowing just 99.3 over the same stretch. With James, the Cavaliers play like a 57-win team. When he’s not in the lineup, the wins drop all the way to 20 most likely. The key to LeBron’s and Cleveland’s success is to keep him healthy as much as possible and at all costs. Without being healthy, James drops out of my top 5 players playing in the NBA right now but since he’s still out there playing, he’s number two in my eyes.
Number 1: Stephen Curry
Last season he was the league’s most valuable player, not necessarily its best player. Now he’s both. He is one of the greatest shooters if not the best shooter the game has ever seen. Because he doesn’t dominate the ball like most of today’s perimeter stars, his teammates are able to get their shots, even has he drops 30 a night He’s impacting the game like no one has ever seen before. Not to mention he has become a decent defender over the course of a year. The reigning MVP, who also doubles as this year’s favorite for the NBA’s top individual honor, is quite literally off the charts. No one has ever knocked down such a high percentage of his perimeter shots while taking more than six attempts per game. That’s also not to mention Curry’s ability to impact the game without even touching the ball, as he usually pulls 2 defenders towards him at all times. It is yet another major part of the reason he is still on pace to have the best offensive season in NBA history. There’s nothing you can do to guard this guy while he’s on the court. The only way he wont score is when he’s sitting on the bench watching his teammates do all of the scoring. He stays fresh for all of the games because there is usually no competition in the fourth quarter meaning Curry can get his rest and relax. In my eyes there is not doubt that Stephen Curry is the best player in the game right now.