5. Russell Westbrook
The most tenacious player in the NBA right now, is by far Russell Westbrook. The new Barney model does not play into his quirky fashion sense on the floor. The 6 foot 4, athletic phenom has carried the Thunder in Durant’s absences and sometimes in his presence. The question has always remained why is it that two of the top five players in the league, in their first six years failed to reach the Finals all but 1 time and have 0 championships to show for it. The primary criticisms that have been highlighted in Westbrook’s game has been his failure to show poise as the leader of the team. Undoubtedly no one can guard him, and no one goes to the basket with more ferociousness. Add to it a stop on dime mid range jump show and you have an all out dilemma in terms of defensive responsibilities. Russell not only attacks the basket but draws the defense quickly and manages to easily find teammates for outside three balls. Westbrook has separated himself in talent and production from other point guards in the league, and no one has played at this level from that position since DRose in his MVP season. If Russell can manage to orchestrate the offense and elevate the game of his teammates he will have multiple championships before the age of 30.
4. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin has had the unfortunate title of “Mr. Softy” since entering the league. A once lottery pick for the Los Angeles Clippers, he has made hefty, noticeable improvements to his game each season. Let’s start with the basic package; he came in as a 6’10’’ alien who could jump to the moon and do all types of things while remaining suspended in the air. With two giant steps to the basket, he could soar over any and everyone at the age of 19. Since his rookie season, in addition to adding pounds of bulky muscle and increasing his basketball IQ he has carefully added to each parts of his game like an iOS update. After the devastating injury his rookie season he sculpted his body and came back unphased his sophomore year. Then he began to develop the fundamentals of a big man, learning 1 to 2, go to moves with his back to the basket. After he polished his signature finish around the basket, he extended his game to the free throw line, finishing off the glass, being able to consistently knock down 18 foot jump shots so that opponents could not continue to clog the lane. Then came the best point guard in the league (at the time) in Chris Paul, and Chris introduced ball handling to Blake Griffin. Blake refined his handle to the point where he was comfortable enough with bringing the ball up the court on fast breaks and going coast to coast for the finish. Soon after the handles improved, he developed his post passing abilities and the term “Lob City” came to fruition. Blake is an extremely hard working athlete that has uncanny athleticism. If Doc Rivers can brainwash him the same way he was able to do for KG, the Truth, and Ray Ray in Boston then the Clippers will have a banner of their own to hang in the next few years.
3. Anthony Davis
The unibrow left a highly touted University of Kentucky team for the NBA and was unquestionably the #1 player to choose from. The 7 footer made early comparisons to Tim Duncan and has not dispelled those rumors at all. He has the quickness of a rabbit when it comes to blocking shots. Very few centers or power forwards for that matter have been able to quickly get off the ground to contest shots quite like Anthony Davis. When he entered the league he was lengthy but somewhat puny. A towering figure much like one of the “Monstarz” off of Space Jam. But after only 3 brief NBA seasons he is among the top of the crop of young--or old players. He has grown into an NBA body and added bulk to his box frame. He may not fill out quite like a Dwight Howard, but he doesn’t need to because he is able to do things Dwight could not dream of. He can handle the rock from perimeter to the basket, he can pull up from anywhere inside the arc, and has touch around the basket. He’s barely old enough to order a drink from the bar, but has still managed to be ranked 3rd on my power rankings. The sky is the ceiling for this young man and it will be interesting to see how long a small market New Orleans Pelican’s team can hold onto him for.
2. Kevin Durant
KD, the most prolific offensive player since Kobe, and maybe even MJ. Much like the initials there is not much difference in his offensive repertoire than the great one. If he is open at the top of the key, whether it is a step behind the arc, or 4 steps, you can count it. Coming out of Texas, the biggest noc’ against Durant was his size and inability to bench 185 pounds. Well tell that to Kevin now, who has not only managed to capture the distinguished MVP trophy, not only managed to acquire a 300 million dollar shoe contract from Nike, not only managed to average in his career 27 points and 7 rebounds, but has been an all-star the past 6 seasons, and has made Seattle fans regret losing their franchise to Oklahoma City. KD has a smooth arsenal like none other, who has also managed to dissect his own game and add components throughout each off season. Along with a steady handle, he has watched hours of film on all the greatest scores whom ever has touched the hardwood. More impressively in recent seasons he has tightened up defensively and became more of a stretch forward option rather than just a wing scorer. Durant’s rise to the top will always be impeded by a certain superstar, but that does not necessarily mean that he can not surpass him in terms of power ranking. Recently the rumors have began to buzz about his upcoming 2015-2016 free agency window, and talks of him joining John Wall in DC have began to materialize. Regardless of where KD ends up, they will be an instant contender. As James, Melo, and the middle age greats fall from grace, KD will stand alone as the best player in the world soon enough.
1. Lebron James
Lebron James, the most heralded 17 year old ever to come into the league has not disappointed. No one has ever been more scrutinized, no one has ever been under such a proverbial microscope than the King himself. Every part of his game has been written about, criticized, mocked, joked about, praised, and idolized in every magazine, newspaper, blog, and manuscript. But one thing that cannot be undermined are his 10 all star appearances, 8 NBA first teams, 5 NBA All defensive teams, 4 MVP’s, 2 Final MVP’s, and 2 NBA championships. LeBron is the epitome of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. On the court he is a freight train. In the open, particularly fast break he is unchallenged at the rim. Most players tend to just tackle him like a running back to keep him from putting them on his next poster but even then he typically finishes after the contact. He will not only go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game, but he will go down as most likely the greatest ambassador to the sport since Magic Johnson. Not only has he taken flack for his on-court performances, but his decisions in free agency have also rubbed fans and analyst the wrong way. I have always been an admirer of his character, despite the televised “Decision”, despite his wanting to join another top tier player in Dwayne Wade, despite missing or avoiding the end of game clutch baskets. Lebron James is who is, and will always be a marvel. I expect him to continue to compete for Championships year in and year out, and when he does not make a Finals trip he views it as a failed season. It will be difficult for another player to top Lebron in my power rankings, regardless of what happens this year in Cleveland. As long as LBJ continues to be the self-critic that he is he will continue to not disappoint. Long live the King!
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