NBA First Half Rankings By Position

A View From The Perch

February 23rd, 2017

Brian Paratore

The NBA All-Star Break allows us a moment to take a step back from all the fast-paced everyday action of the season and assess a variety of performance measures. This column will take a deep dive into individual player performance for the first half of the season by ranking the top 10 players at each position - point guards, wings and bigs - and providing analysis of what they have brought to the table thus far.

It is important to note that this project is only ranking players based on what they have put together in the first half of the 2016-17 season. It is not ranking players on their overall value moving forward, or what they have accomplished prior to the current season. I don't actually think that Isaiah Thomas is better than Steph Curry. Nor do I believe that DeMar DeRozan is better than Klay Thompson.

Factors such as how much a player's team relies on him and whether that player's performance is contributing to a successful season for that club are taken into consideration. Some players on bad teams may be ranked higher than other players on good teams. It's probably because those players on bad teams are balling so hard that it just can't be ignored. You'll get the hang of it. Alright, let's dig in.

Point Guards

1. Russell Westbrook | Oklahoma City Thunder

PPG: 31.1   RPG: 10.5   APG: 10.1   SPG: 1.6   BPG: 0.4

FG%: 42.2   3P%: 33.8   FT%: 82.8   eFG%: 46.8   PER: 29.5

The top spot here most certainly deserves serious James Harden consideration. But when a player is averaging a triple-double while also leading the NBA in scoring on a team in playoff positioning it would be very difficult to actually place another player ahead of him.

Russell Westbrook is having one of the truly amazing seasons in the history of basketball. He plays the game with a ferocious relentlessness unlike anything we have ever seen. And he brings that level of effort and attitude into every single game he plays. He doesn't ever show signs of wearing down or being fatigued. If OKC is coming to your city in a month and you drop $400 on tickets in advance to treat your family to the Westbrook show, there is no need to worry about him "getting the night off" or "taking the night off". Russ playing and going all out every night is as safe a bet as there is in sports. We may never witness what he's pulling off again in our lifetime. Just kick back and enjoy.

2. James Harden | Houston Rockets

PPG: 29.2   RPG: 8.3   APG: 11.3   SPG: 1.4   BPG: 0.5

FG%: 44.0   3P%: 35.3   FT%: 85.2   eFG%: 52.5   PER: 27.7

The Beard officially made the position change to point guard this season under new Rockets coach, Mike D'Antoni. The move has unleashed the most lethal James Harden yet. Not only is he averaging the most points of his career (29.2), he is also leading the NBA in assists (11.3). His 15 triple-doubles are second in the league behind Westbrook's 27.

Harden's aggressive attacking of the rim gets him to the free throw line more than any player in the league and creates open three point looks for teammates when defenders have no choice but to collapse and help prevent a sure layup/dunk. The Rockets take and make more threes than any team in the NBA and the combination of Harden and D'Antoni appears to be a perfect match. San Antonio will likely have their hands full if they run into this high octane offense in the second round of the playoffs. Buckle up, West.

3. John Wall | Washington Wizards

PPG: 22.8   RPG: 4.4   APG: 10.6   SPG: 2.1   BPG: 0.6

FG%: 45.2   3P%: 31.3   FT%: 81.2   eFG%: 48.2   PER: 23.1

Speaking of buckling up, John Wall is Russell Westbrook with fewer rebounds and shot attempts. The emergence of the Wizards as an Eastern Conference contender is largely thanks to Wall taking his game to another level this season. After a very painful 2-8 start to the year, Johnny Rockets has mastered what new Wizards coach Scott Brooks wants from his floor general. Wall loves to get out in transition and has a knack for seeing plays develop in ways that are borderline psychic. His passing prowess is becoming one of the true treasures around the league and his 10.6 assists per game is second in the NBA.

 

What the stats don't measure is the emotional leadership Wall provides his team. He plays the game with a fiery passion and chip on his shoulder like he's trying to prove to doubters (and believers) that they better not ever sleep on a team led by him again. His teammates feed off that and has manifested itself into a starting unit that has been destroying almost everything in its path for the past two months. After the Wizards lost the NBA's game of the year (thus far) in OT to the Cavs earlier this month, many basketball lovers (myself included) are salivating over a potential Wiz-Cavs playoffs series. They could face off in an Eastern Conference Finals that would be must-watch TV.

4. Isaiah Thomas | Boston Celtics

PPG: 29.9   RPG: 2.7   APG: 6.3   SPG: 0.8   BPG: 0.1

FG%: 46.7   3P%: 38.7   FT%: 91.2   eFG%: 54.9   PER: 27.7

The 5'9" offensive dynamo is becoming one of the greatest "tiny" players in NBA history. He is currently second in the league in scoring (29.9) and his 10.7 PPG in the 4th quarter is the highest mark in decades, earning him the unofficial title of best closer in the game.

Those expecting to see him higher on this list must keep in mind his very real defensive deficiencies that Brad Stevens must constantly look to hide when going against the many great offensive guards around the league. Additionally, while he does dish out 6.3 assists per game, you would like to see that a bit higher from someone with the ball in his hands as much as Thomas does. But make no mistake, IT4 has the ability to score any way he wants.

5. Stephen Curry | Golden State Warriors

PPG: 24.7   RPG: 4.3   APG: 6.4   SPG: 1.7   BPG: 0.2

FG%: 46.9   3P%: 41.0   FT%: 91.6   eFG%: 58.2   PER: 24.0

This a reminder that these rankings are only taking into account who is having the best 2016-17 season - not who the best players are in general. Because of a certain acquisition, Chef Curry has not been required to utilize his services to quite the extent he has in the past. Let's remember he was the first unanimous NBA MVP in league history just a season ago. If this project was ranking the best players period he would not be this low on the list.

Curry is still leading the league with 4.0 made threes per game and doing so at a 41% clip. That percentage is easily the lowest of his career from deep, however. His assists and steals are also slightly down from their recent year norms. This is nothing to worry about, as he surely learned from last year to save more energy for the playoffs and the supporting cast in Golden State affords him that luxury few superstars have. LeBron is averaging 4 more minutes per game than Curry and is asked to do more during that time.

6. Chris Paul | LA Clippers

PPG: 17.5   RPG: 5.3   APG: 9.7   SPG: 2.3   BPG: 0.1

FG%: 47.1   3P%: 39.5   FT%: 87.6   eFG%: 55.0   PER: 27.3

CP3 was having an outstanding start to his 2016-17 campaign, but played in only 36 of his team's 56 games before the All-Star break due to injury. The Clippers were a scary good 27-9 in those contests and will be looking to regain that form when Paul returns from his current thumb injury. That could be as soon as tonight against Golden State, as he has now been medically cleared to resume playing.

7. Kyle Lowry | Toronto Raptors

PPG: 22.8   RPG: 4.7   APG: 6.9   SPG: 1.4   BPG: 0.3

FG%: 46.3   3P%: 41.7   FT%: 82.6   eFG%: 57.0   PER: 23.0

Lowry is having easily his most efficient season yet. He continues to improve his 3-point shooting, going from a very respectable 38.8% last season to 41.7% in 2016-17. The Raptors are scoring 113.2 points per 100 possessions with Lowry on the court, 8.1 points more than their opponents.

8. Kyrie Irving | Cleveland Cavaliers

PPG: 24.4   RPG: 3.1   APG: 5.9   SPG: 1.2   BPG: 0.2

FG%: 46.2   3P%: 38.9   FT%: 90.6   eFG%: 52.3   PER: 21.7

Kyrie continues to be one of the most dazzling ball handlers and isolation players in the league. He has never been in the mold of a true distributing point guard and that has especially been the case with LeBron around. But there are not many players opposing coaches fear more in the final seconds with the ball in his hands.

9. Damian Lillard | Portland Trail Blazers

PPG: 25.7   RPG: 4.9   APG: 5.8   SPG: 0.7   BPG: 0.3

FG%: 43.3   3P%: 34.6   FT%: 90.1   eFG%: 49.8   PER: 22.2

Dame Lillard is 10th in the NBA at 25.7 PPG - the highest of his career. While scoring is not an issue, his team's success has taken a hit this year. The Blazers are 21-30 in the 51 games Lillard has played. His 34.6% from three has room for improvement. Additionally, Lillard is a below average defender. Whether Lillard is an All-Star "snub" is becoming an annual tradition. But considering he doesn't bring much to the table besides scoring and the plethora of great point guards in the league, it shouldn't be all that surprising. I'm not trying to hate on the guy. I enjoy watching him play. I'm just being honest about his game.

10a. Mike Conley | Memphis Grizzlies

PPG: 19.3   RPG: 3.5   APG: 6.2   SPG: 1.3   BPG: 0.3

FG%: 44.1   3P%: 41.0   FT%: 86.1   eFG%: 52.3   PER: 22.1

Conley missed 12 games, but has played very well this season thus far. He's shooting a career best 41% from three and getting to the free throw line a career best 5 times per game. The Grizzlies are 26-20 with Conley and, impressively, 8-4 without him.

10b. Kemba Walker | Charlotte Hornets

PPG: 22.5   RPG: 4.1   APG: 5.5   SPG: 1.2   BPG: 0.3

FG%: 44.7   3P%: 39.5   FT%: 83.5   eFG%: 52.3   PER: 20.8

When Charlotte started the season 19-14 it was looking like Kemba was heading for an All-Star caliber season. He has still played very well, but the Hornets are 5-18 in their last 23 games and it has prevented Walker from being higher on this list.

10c. Goran Dragic | Miami Heat

PPG: 20.3   RPG: 3.9   APG: 6.2   SPG: 1.0   BPG: 0.2

FG%: 48.5   3P%: 42.6   FT%: 78.5   eFG%: 53.9   PER: 19.4

Dragic's 3-point accuracy has jumped from 31.2% last season to 42.6% this season. He's averaging 20.3 points and dishing out 6.2 assists on a team that put together a 13-game win streak. However, Miami is 12-32 outside of that amazing run. And to be fair to the harsh Lillard analysis I laid down above, Dragic isn't exactly a stout defender either.

Wings

1. LeBron James | Cleveland Cavaliers

PPG: 25.9   RPG: 7.7   APG: 8.8   SPG: 1.4   BPG: 0.6

FG%: 53.9   3P%: 38.9   FT%: 68.9   eFG%: 58.7   PER: 26.3

LeKing is continuing to do what LeKing does. Even at 32 and playing more minutes of basketball in his career than any doctor would recommend, he is averaging 37.5 minutes per game this season. That's just a hair behind Kyle Lowry for most in the NBA. He's taken on even more of a facilitator role this year. His 8.8 assists per game is 4th in the league and the highest of his career. He's still netting 25.9 points on 53.9% shooting. His 38.9% mark from three is the second highest of his career. His 5 triple-doubles this season are two shy of his career high.

 

Amazingly, he's shooting a career worst 68.9% from the charity stripe. Could that be a sign he's beginning to wear down? Doubtful. But if the Cavs do fail to make it back to The Finals my antennas will start spinning. LeBron's run of durable greatness - given the load he continues to be shouldered with - should be considered a national treasure.

2. Kevin Durant | Golden State Warriors

PPG: 25.8   RPG: 8.3   APG: 4.9   SPG: 1.1   BPG: 1.7

FG%: 53.9   3P%: 37.4   FT%: 87.6   eFG%: 59.5   PER: 27.6

The Durantula has the lowest usage rate of his career this season at 27.7%. The result of playing within a pass happy offense is a Durant doing more with less. His 53.9 FG% and 59.5 eFG% are the most efficient of his career. He is also bringing a ton of production to the table in addition to his 25.8 points per game. His 8.3 rebounds per contest are the most he's hauled in. He's dishing out nearly 5 assists. And he is proving how disruptive he can be on the defensive side of the ball, where his 1.7 blocks per game is another personal best.

If the basketball gods give us another Warriors-Cavs Finals matchup it will not only build on a beautifully developing rivalry between the teams. It will also look to jump start the personal rivalry that seemed to be brewing with KD and LeBron after the 2012 Finals. We had expected to see many a Thunder-Heat Finals until OKC traded James Harden away.

3. Kawhi Leonard | San Antonio Spurs

PPG: 25.9   RPG: 5.9   APG: 3.3   SPG: 1.8   BPG: 0.7

FG%: 48.7   3P%: 39.5   FT%: 89.9   eFG%: 54.4   PER: 28.2

Tim Duncan is gone, but San Antonio is 43-13 and still legit title contenders. Of course Gregg Popovich is the most to thank for this. But even the best coaches need great players to compete for championships. Kawhi Leonard has turned into an absolute nightmare for opponents on both ends of the court. There may not be a more feared defender in the game. Leonard is known as The Claw for his uncanny ability to snatch the ball away from players foolish enough to try a crossover in front of him.

Leonard has upped his scoring this season to 25.9 PPG and isn't too far off from posting 50 FG%, 40 3P% and 90 FT%. His 28.2 Player Efficiency Rating is 2nd best in the NBA, behind only Russell Westbrook. Leonard is still just 25 years old and continues to display a humble demeanor that is all about team success and improving his game. Kawhi is a coach's dream and will be a fantastic ambassador of the game for a long time to come.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo | Milwaukee Bucks

PPG: 23.4   RPG: 8.6   APG: 5.5   SPG: 1.8   BPG: 2.0

FG%: 52.4   3P%: 27.5   FT%: 79.2   eFG%: 54.5   PER: 26.7

I get excited simply typing about this kid. He just turned 22 years old in December and already he is one of the most incredible players to watch perform in the NBA. The Greek Freak, as he is known by all (especially the majority of people who have no idea how to pronounce his name), is 6'11" with super long arms and amazing athleticism. Additionally, he plays the game with great effort and is rapidly understanding how to use the unique gifts he has been blessed with. This all equates to bad news for the rest of the league.

Playing the majority of the season so far at the age of 21, Giannis is averaging 23.4 points on an impressive 52.4% shooting. He also grabs nearly 9 rebounds and dishes out over 5 assists per game. He is among the league leaders in both blocked shots and steals. He has a jam packed highlight reel of plays that need to be seen to be believed. I'm gonna stop now before I pass out. Just watch a Bucks game. You won't regret it.

5. Jimmy Butler | Chicago Bulls

PPG: 24.5   RPG: 6.3   APG: 5.0   SPG: 1.8   BPG: 0.3

FG%: 45.2   3P%: 33.7   FT%: 86.8   eFG%: 48.7   PER: 25.6

The Bulls may be a letdown, but Jimmy Buckets keeps getting better. Now 27, he may be at his peak. His scoring is up to 24.5 per game this season while maintaining essentially the same shooting percentage as the past couple campaigns. He's more aggressive this year, getting to the line nearly 10 times per game (4th in NBA). Butler is also putting up career highs in rebounds (6.3) and assists (5.0). And on the defensive end, Butler uses his 6'7" 231 pound frame to give opponents fits. He's among the league leaders in steals (1.8).

There have been trade rumors swirling around Butler for quite some time. And no matter what the Bulls say, there is a chance they will deal him before Thursday's 3pm ET trade deadline. If that happens, the team that ends up with him will have their ceilings this year and the next couple years raised significantly.

6. DeMar DeRozan | Toronto Raptors

PPG: 27.3   RPG: 5.3   APG: 3.7   SPG: 1.1   BPG: 0.2

FG%: 46.4   3P%: 25.3   FT%: 84.5   eFG%: 47.3   PER: 23.8

DeRozan, also 27, has elevated to game to a higher level this year. In an age where the NBA is moving more and more to the advanced analytics recommended model of three pointers and getting to the rim, DeRozan feasts in the mid-range. No player in the league takes or makes more shots from 10-14 feet or from 15-19 feet. Only two players (Andre Drummond and Brook Lopez) take more shots from 5-9 feet. It's a good thing DeMar doesn't shoot more than 1.5 shots from three per game, though. His 25.3% accuracy from deep is no bueno.

7. Gordon Hayward | Utah Jazz

PPG: 22.2   RPG: 5.6   APG: 3.5   SPG: 1.0   BPG: 0.3

FG%: 46.5   3P%: 38.5   FT%: 87.0   eFG%: 52.9   PER: 23.0

Continuing the peaking at 27 trend, Hayward will hit this age in March and also has taken his game to another level this season. He is scoring as efficiently as ever, but his assists (3.5 per game) are trending lower for the third consecutive season since he dished out 5.2 per game in 2013-14. This is likely because the Jazz realize his more important role now is to be the go-to scorer - something they haven't necessarily had in years past. It seems to be a winning formula, as the Jazz are 35-22 and primed to be a problem come playoffs.

8. Klay Thompson | Golden State Warriors

PPG: 22.1   RPG: 3.8   APG: 2.0   SPG: 0.8   BPG: 0.5

FG%: 47.4   3P%: 42.2   FT%: 84.1   eFG%: 57.1   PER: 17.1

If a team really needed him to, Thompson could probably average 30 points a night with relative ease. Throw in his superior defensive talents and Thompson really is one of the elite wings in basketball. He doesn't have the elite ability to create off the dribble that other stars might have, but his catch and shoot deadliness is unrivaled. In December, Thompson scored 60 points in 29 minutes against Indiana. He held the ball for all of 90 seconds and took just 11 dribbles to get those 60 points. I still can't wrap my head around that. Thompson, too, just turned 27 years of age.

9. Paul George | Indiana Pacers

PPG: 22.3   RPG: 6.2   APG: 3.3   SPG: 1.5   BPG: 0.3

FG%: 44.6   3P%: 38.2   FT%: 91.4   eFG%: 51.1   PER: 18.6

PG-13 is in his second full season back from the horrifying compound fracture of his leg during a Team USA exhibition in 2014. And while the Pacers are searching for a new identity under Nate McMillan, George is fully recovered from injury and producing as much as ever. There has been some trade talk, but it looks like they want to keep him in Indiana. That's probably a good idea if the Pacers want to be relevant in the playoffs again in the near future.

10a. Bradley Beal | Washington Wizards

PPG: 22.2   RPG: 2.9   APG: 3.7   SPG: 1.0   BPG: 0.2

FG%: 47.3   3P%: 40.2   FT%: 81.1   eFG%: 56.0   PER: 19.7

A lot is going right in DC for the Wizards. Not coincidentally, Bradley Beal has been as healthy as ever (knock on wood). Even then, Beal has taken a leap at 23 years old. It's no secret he has the smoothest shooting stroke since Ray Allen, but he has worked hard to improve his ball handling and playmaking ability off the dribble. Most importantly, Beal and John Wall have learned to play together in ways that are making the East very, very nervous. If the two backcourt stars stay healthy, they have a realistic shot at the Eastern Conference Finals and even of de-throning The King.

10b. C.J. McCollum | Portland Trail Blazers

PPG: 23.4   RPG: 3.7   APG: 3.6   SPG: 1.0   BPG: 0.6

FG%: 48.4   3P%: 41.1   FT%: 89.6   eFG%: 55.2   PER: 20.6

The 25 year old McCollum continues to get better and many are starting to believe he's a more valuable piece moving forward than backcourt mate, Damian Lillard. McCollum is a deadly shooter who has the ability to create off the dribble, as well. The Blazers locked McCollum up with a max extension before the season and now have both him and Lillard under contract for another four seasons after this. They may need to start winning by this time next year or they may look to move one or the other. I would keep McCollum.

10c. Carmelo Anthony | New York Knicks

PPG: 23.4   RPG: 6.1   APG: 2.9   SPG: 0.9   BPG: 0.5

FG%: 44.3   3P%: 37.8   FT%: 82.4   eFG%: 49.9   PER: 19.4

I'll add one more to this list of wings because why not? Carmelo belongs on this list if we are just going off talent and basketball ability alone (I'm not). But considering how much unnecessary nonsense he has to deal with as someone just trying to play ball, he deserves some credit. He continues to take the high road - even if it would be better for his sanity and championship aspirations (if he has them) to just waive his no-trade clause and get the hell out of that disaster of a franchise. And to be fair to the Knicks, it most definitely would be better for their future if they could move Melo and rebuild around Porzingis. Just be classier about it, Phil.

Bigs

1a. Anthony Davis | New Orleans Pelicans

PPG: 27.7   RPG: 11.9   APG: 2.2   SPG: 1.3   BPG: 2.5

FG%: 50.4   3P%: 30.6   FT%: 80.1   eFG%: 51.6   PER: 27.3

Still just 23 (for another two weeks), The Brow has already ascended to the top of the NBA bigs hierarchy. Davis has nights that can simply take your breath away. So far this season, AD has four games with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds. Last year, he dropped an astounding 59 points and 20 rebounds in a game he played at 22 years old. He is 0.02 blocks per game behind Rudy Gobert for the league lead.

Davis is most comfortable playing at PF. However, according to Sports-Reference, AD has played 74% of his minutes this season at the center position. As Davis continues to get better and better, it would be downright dangerous if New Orleans could ever find a capable center to play next to him so he could play full-time at PF. . .

1b. DeMarcus Cousins | New Orleans Pelicans

PPG: 27.8   RPG: 10.6   APG: 4.8   SPG: 1.4   BPG: 1.3

FG%: 45.2   3P%: 35.6   FT%: 77.0   eFG%: 49.4   PER: 26.7

. . .and then holy shit it happened. Just minutes after the conclusion of the NBA All-Star Game Sunday night (that was played in New Orleans where Anthony Davis scored an ASG record 52 points to earn MVP honors) the Pelicans traded for Boogie Cousins. After being sports jailed in Sacramento for the first 6.5 years of his career, Cousins has served his time and been freed to form what has the potential to become the greatest twin tower duo in NBA history. These are without a doubt the two best bigs in the league and can honestly be ranked in either order (until AD develops even more in the coming years and it's no contest). But let's get to DMC and what he brings to the table.

At 6'11" and 270 pounds, Cousins is a natural center who can play with his back to the basket or stretch a defense all the way out to the three point line (where he makes 1.7 per game at a 35.6% clip). He is a gifted passer, averaging nearly 5 assists per game this season. When motivated, he has the ability to be a very good defender. His biggest weakness is his "occasional" lack of emotional control. He has 19 technical fouls in 55 games this year. He has a reputation of being frustrating to play with. Would these shortcomings be minimized if he ever was part of a winning team? Maybe we'll find out. The Pelicans are only 2.5 games out of the 8-seed in the West and are now the front-runners to find themselves in a first round matchup with the Warriors. Oh how much fun it would be to see that.

 

Let's take a moment to thank Adam Silver for spending his All-Star weekend in New Orleans making amends to the franchise for the NBA voiding the better Chris Paul trade for them 5 years ago (conspiracy theory alert!).

3. Marc Gasol | Memphis Grizzlies

PPG: 20.6   RPG: 6.2   APG: 4.3   SPG: 1.0   BPG: 1.4

FG%: 46.6   3P%: 38.5   FT%: 84.6   eFG%: 51.0   PER: 21.5

I was tempted to put Karl-Anthony Towns here because 1) he's a beast and 2) it would make the top 3 bigs on this list all Kentucky Wildcats, which is kinda cool. But if I did that, justice would not be served. Marc Gasol is the catalyst for a team that is 10 games above .500, exceeding expectations and is 8-4 in games the team's other best player (Mike Conley) has missed. Gasol is averaging career highs in scoring (20.6) and assists (4.3). He's a strong, smart defender. And most impressively, Gasol has added an entire new dimension to his game this season. After making just 12 total threes in his first 8 seasons in the league, Gasol has made 77 out of 200 (38.5%) thus far in 2016-17. That's very good marksmanship for any player, much less a 7'1" 255 pound center.

4. Karl-Anthony Towns | Minnesota Timberwolves

PPG: 23.7   RPG: 11.8   APG: 2.9   SPG: 0.7   BPG: 1.4

FG%: 51.6   3P%: 33.9   FT%: 82.8   eFG%: 54.8   PER: 24.6

Towns will be moving up this list very quickly in the near future, as he just turned 21 in November. However, KAT's individual success has yet to translate into team success and in this exercise that gets factored into the equation. The 7'0" 244 pound second year center out of Kentucky has all the tools. He is averaging nearly 24 points per game with a post up game close to the basket, as well as range out to the three point line. As he gains more experience, he will learn to get to the free throw line more than his current 5.3 attempts per game. He has made greater than 80% at the stripe in each of his first two seasons and it will be an excellent place for him to find more easy points down the road.

5. Rudy Gobert | Utah Jazz

PPG: 12.9   RPG: 12.6   APG: 1.0   SPG: 0.7   BPG: 2.5

FG%: 64.0   3P%: 00.0   FT%: 66.2   eFG%: 64.0   PER: 22.1

Sure, Gobert only averages 12.9 points per game, albeit on an efficient 64% from the field (mostly dunks). But the 24 year old from France didn't get the name "The Stifle Tower" for nothing. He is a defensive maestro. Every other player on the Jazz can play more aggressive defense knowing this man has the paint protected. Gobert doesn't just average a league best 2.5 blocks per contest. He alters all types of shots attempted inside the three point line. Additionally, some players won't even think about testing him. His anticipation and timing on that side of the court are phenomenal. When Gobert is on the court, the Jazz have a 99.7 defensive rating (would rank 1st in NBA). When Gobert is not on the court, that number rises to 105.9 (higher is worse).

Gobert brings another dimension offensively. His 3.9 rebounds per game off Jazz misses mean he's 3rd in the NBA at giving his team extra possessions. His 12.6 rebounds per game overall ranks 5th in the league. He is a huge reason Utah is 13 games above .500.

6. Kevin Love | Cleveland Cavaliers

PPG: 20.0   RPG: 11.1   APG: 1.9   SPG: 0.9   BPG: 0.3

FG%: 42.9   3P%: 38.4   FT%: 87.6   eFG%: 51.6   PER: 22.0

Love played in 46 games before a knee injury sidelined him for an estimated six weeks. During the time Love was healthy, the Cavs went 33-13 with him on the court. He was also enjoying easily his most productive season in Cleveland yet, averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. He is knocking down 2.6 threes per game (most of career) and doing so at a 38.4% rate (best since 2010-11). While he hasn't been known for defense, when a big stop is necessary he usually gives good enough effort to contest shots well. If Cleveland wants to make it back to The Finals, having a healthy Love will be vital.

7. Blake Griffin | LA Clippers

PPG: 21.9   RPG: 8.8   APG: 5.0   SPG: 1.1   BPG: 0.6

FG%: 49.0   3P%: 30.6   FT%: 75.8   eFG%: 49.9   PER: 23.9

Blake Griffin has only played in 36 of the Clippers' 56 games. LA is 24-12 in those contests and Griffin has produced almost identical numbers as his two previous seasons. He is a very capable playmaker for his position and adept at pushing the ball in transition off of defensive rebounds. Griffin is averaging 5 assists per game and especially likes to catch the ball at the top of the key, take a strong dribble or two at the basket which draws the primary rim defender and then tossing a lob at the rim for DeAndre Jordan to finish strong. Staying healthy and on the court has been his biggest challenge in recent years.

8. Nikola Jokic | Denver Nuggets

PPG: 16.3   RPG: 9.0   APG: 4.3   SPG: 0.8   BPG: 0.8

FG%: 58.0   3P%: 36.5   FT%: 81.6   eFG%: 60.8   PER: 26.7

If you aren't familiar with Nikola Jokic yet, you will be very soon. He is a strong candidate to be moving into the top 5 of this list by next season. He just turned 22 on Sunday and already is emerging as a force out West. Since Christmas (the past two months), Jokic is averaging 22.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1 steal and 1 block per game. Over that stretch, he is shooting 58.3% from the field, 40% from three and 83% from the free throw line. Have I mentioned he's 6'10" and 250 pounds? He can handle the ball and is one of the elite passing bigs in the league. Denver struck gold with this amazing talent from Serbia.

9. Draymond Green | Golden State Warriors

PPG: 10.2   RPG: 8.2   APG: 7.3   SPG: 2.1   BPG: 1.5

FG%: 43.3   3P%: 31.9   FT%: 67.4   eFG%: 49.9   PER: 17.2

With Golden State's acquisition of Kevin Durant, it's no surprise that Draymond Green's usage rate this season has taken a significant dip from 18.6% to 15.3%. While his scoring has dropped to 10.2 points per game, Green's assists have remained steady at 7.3 per game. He's contributing over 8 rebounds a night, but where he continues to make the biggest difference is on the defensive end. Green is leading the NBA in steals at 2.1 per game and adding 1.5 blocks, also. He can guard every position very well, although he can be prone to rebounding challenges against some of the bigger centers he goes up against. Draymond may be the front runner for Defensive Player of the Year at this point.

10. Hassan Whiteside | Miami Heat

PPG: 16.8   RPG: 14.1   APG: 0.7   SPG: 0.8   BPG: 2.1

FG%: 56.1   3P%: 00.0   FT%: 56.8   eFG%: 56.1   PER: 21.6

Whiteside has improved his overall consistency from a season ago, but still offers no offense whatsoever away from the rim. He has been a rebounding machine, leading the NBA at 14.1 per game. He is also 4th in the league in blocked shots at 2.1 per game. While it would seem that the Heat's defensive success this season would be in large part thanks to Whiteside, Miami has actually been a better defensive team with Hassan on the bench. He may be one of those players who puts up numbers that are better than his actual value to his team's ability to play winning basketball.

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