Ranking the Top 25 Players in the NBA Entering 2014-15 Season



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The regular season is nigh approaching, and games that actually count will inevitably usher in some big changes in the hierarchy of NBA players. But heading into the 2014-15 campaign, the order is set based on a combination of past prowess, summer sweating, systematic shifts and preseason performances.

Last time we looked at the Association's top 25 standouts, training camp was upon us. Players were getting ready for the exhibition schedule, and with everyone reportedly in the best shapes of their lives, it was hard to differentiate between fact and fiction.

Now, we have some actual gameplay under our belts.

Preseason contests don't always bring out the best in the stars, as they're not exactly in danger of losing their jobs heading into the games that actually matter, but they still give us a chance to see how players fit in and what moves they've added to their arsenals.

This is one of those cases in which something is a lot better than nothing.

Note: All statistics come from Basketball-Reference.com and RealGM.com, unless otherwise indicated.

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Injured Players





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Before delving into the rankings themselves, it's worth noting that injured players are not considered for any of the featured spots, nor will they be listed as honorable mentions.

If a player is expected to be out of action for a prolonged period, he's automatically ineligible for the remainder of this article. As a result, Kevin Durant and Paul George will not be appearing, although they would certainly make the cut if the injury imp didn't dictate otherwise.



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25. DeMar DeRozan (Previous Ranking: Unranked)





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Team: Toronto Raptors

Position: SG

Age: 25

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 18.4 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.0 blocks, 22.8 PER

DeMar DeRozan just keeps getting better and better.

"[Chris] Farr, who also trains Damian Lillard (among others), has developed a rigorous regimen," Dave Zarum wrote for SportsNet.ca, referring to the YouTube-popularized training program the developmental coach has exposed DeRozan to. "But he's quick to point out that DeRozan was the first player he put through the routine, and that the Raptors star quickly adopted the dogged work ethic Farr wants to see from all his players."

Hard work pays off, and we're starting to see that manifest itself in DeRozan's game more than ever. His passes have been crisp during the preseason, he's avoiding turnovers better than ever and his shot is vastly improved. Through all seven games, DeRozan connected on 46.2 percent of his looks from the field and was 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc.

He's still most comfortable around the basket, but he's clearly expanding his game and willing to serve as more of a facilitator when the opportunity arises. Through five games, he had posted an assist percentage of 20.1 percent, one that indicates his regular-season mark could rise even further, just as it has every season of his career. Though that number dropped to 16.9 by the end of the exhibition season, there's been clear-cut development.

Don't sleep on DeRozan as he continues moving up the 2-guard hierarchy.

Honorable Mentions: Kobe Bryant, Andre Drummond, Al Horford, Serge Ibaka, Al Jefferson



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24. Kyrie Irving (Previous Ranking: Unranked)





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Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Position: PG

Age: 22

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 20.1 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, 36.1 PER

During a preseason contest between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers—just about as glamorous a matchup as you'll find before the beginning of the regular season—Kyrie Irving served as a turnstile while guarding a rejuvenated Derrick Rose. His defense may improve with increased effort throughout the year, but it's certainly not at an adequate level quite yet.

His offense isn't at an adequate level either but only because it's so far beyond that.

Irving already appears quite comfortable in David Blatt's offense, as he's done a fantastic job making the most of his opportunities and deferred to his talented teammates when appropriate. Not only is he showing off a more efficient scoring game, but he's taken remarkable care of the ball, finally mostly averse to coughing it over to the opposition. Throughout the entire preseason, of which he spent just shy of 117 minutes on the court, Irving only turned it over six times.

The 22-year-old has long been viewed as the heir apparent at the floor general position, and he's inching closer to realizing that. Once his defense comes around, the sky is the limit.



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23. Dwyane Wade (Previous Ranking: No. 21)





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Team: Miami Heat

Position: SG

Age: 32

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 22.0 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks, 23.2 PER

The 2014-15 season is going to be an interesting one for Dwyane Wade, who enters it attempting to prove that he can still be an alpha dog without the protection from defensive attention that LeBron James brought during their communal time in South Beach.

"I'm still finding my way with this team and this offense," Wade told Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel (h/t NBC Sports' Kurt Helin) before the Miami Heat played their final preseason game. "So I'm still trying to see where I fit in. I know I can get a shot any time I want, but it's about the quality of it more so than anything. I'm just playing the game and just seeing."

Wade is still the league's best 2-guard when he's on the floor, but add that uncertainty to the list of concerns. Not only is he going to play fewer games than most standout players at his position, given his balky knees and the necessity of maintenance days, but he's also going to endure an adjustment period in the post-James era.

He may only be 32 years old until his birthday in mid-January, but he's an old 32.



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22. Chris Bosh (Previous Ranking: No. 25)





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Team: Miami Heat

Position: PF/C

Age: 30

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 19.0 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.9 blocks, 27.1 PER

Chris Bosh sure doesn't appear to be struggling with the transition out of the LeBron James era.

His rebounding is becoming less of a liability now that he can spend time around the basket, and the extra defensive attention didn't faze him during the preseason. Adding some post-up play back into his repertoire but still maintaining the skills he developed while spending more time as a perimeter player appears to be a deadly combination.

"CB4 is never coming back," Bosh told ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh (subscription required), referring to his time with the Toronto Raptors.

"Right now, I think I'm a much better player. It's funny, even all the way over here in Africa, people are telling me: 'We need CB4 back.' I can't be that," he said. "That's impossible. But I feel I'm a much better leader and a much better player. I'm much more prepared for that role—the all-around role—that they need me to fill."

The preseason is obviously a much different beast than the regular season, but he's been able to back up his words so far.



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21. Tony Parker (Previous Ranking: No. 22)





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Team: San Antonio Spurs

Position: PG

Age: 32

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 18.9 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.0 blocks, 23.8 PER

There's a solid chance the San Antonio Spurs' team facilities harbor the secret location of the fountain of youth.

Tim Duncan is testament to that, but so too is Tony Parker. Historically, 31 has been the magic cut-off point for point guards, as they tend to decline sharply after reaching that age. But Parker defied that conventional wisdom in 2013-14, and he appears primed to continue doing so while defending San Antonio's hold on the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

Parker is always an interesting player to rank, simply because there's a disconnect between his statistical production and his actual impact. Part of what makes him so great is his ability to operate flawlessly in the vaunted Spurs system, which deflates his individual numbers but leads to one win after another.

As he's aged, he's been held more to the confines of the Gregg Popovich schemes, and that only makes it tougher still. Could Parker rise even higher in these rankings? Sure, but that's never been his goal, and that won't change anytime soon.



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20. Goran Dragic (Previous Ranking: No. 17)





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Team: Phoenix Suns

Position: PG/SG

Age: 28

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.4 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 1.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.0 blocks, 19.1 PER

Goran Dragic is going to have to get used to sharing the ball again.

Part of the reason for his remarkable breakout season—which he followed up quite nicely playing for Slovenia at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup—was the amount of control he was allotted in Jeff Hornacek's undeniably effective offensive schemes for the Phoenix Suns. But now, the return of a healthy Eric Bledsoe and the arrival of Isaiah Thomas won't let him spend as much time with the rock in his possession.

Will he be as effective? Early indications say yes, as Dragic is responding to those changes by playing even more efficient basketball, picking his spots wisely and avoiding turning the ball over. Throughout the preseason, he coughed it up only 11 times in just under 165 minutes of action.

If last season was the breakout (it was), this year should be viewed as confirmation.

Dragic is still fighting to become a household name, but his entertaining style of play and undeniable levels of production all but ensure he'll eventually get there.



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19. John Wall (Previous Ranking: No. 15)





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Team: Washington Wizards

Position: PG

Age: 24

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 19.6 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.0 blocks, 17.8 PER

How is John Wall going to respond to being left off the Team USA roster?

"You want to make every team you try out for. When you don’t, it’s more motivation for me," the dynamic point guard told CSNWashington.com's Ben Standig. "Not even (against) just those (Team USA point guards), but the NBA, period. I guess I'm overlooked again. I guess have to prove myself one more time."

He did a lot of proving last year, but now he'll need to confirm that he's up for the challenge one more time. And this season, he'll have to do so without Bradley Beal at the beginning of the year and while learning how to make the most out of Paul Pierce's talents. Throughout, he'll be fighting for one of the top spots in a wide-open Eastern Conference.

Wall's game has progressed nicely since entering the NBA, and he's become one of the league's best point guards on each end of the court, though he might not get enough credit for his physical and tenacious work on the defensive side. His offensive game hasn't exactly stood out during the preseason, but it'll come around.

This 24-year-old is too naturally talented and motivated for any other result.



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18. Derrick Rose (Previous Ranking: Unranked)





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Team: Chicago Bulls

Position: PG

Age: 26

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 9.7 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.0 blocks, 28.7 PER

"In seven preseason games—he missed the game against the Wizards in Brazil—[Derrick] Rose averaged 20.7 points and showed his old explosiveness around the rim, as well as an improved three-point shot," Joe Cowley penned for the Chicago Sun-Times. "Opposing coaches who've seen him this preseason have raved about his play. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Rose already was an MVP candidate."

That was from last preseason, and we all know how accurate those MVP claims ended up being.

So what makes this year different?

As Bleacher Report's Kelly Scaletta, who also posted this telling graphic, explained on Twitter (fleshed out slightly because I have no 140-character limitations), "This year, he's getting to the rim, playing his style. Last year, it didn't carry to the regular season because it wasn't 'him.' "

Assuming Rose will be an MVP candidate is a little much, at least until we see him maintain this level of play (the level that allowed him to torch Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers for 30 points) during a significant portion of the regular season. But there are more indications than ever that he's actually back in business for the first time in years.



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17. Tim Duncan (Previous Ranking: No. 19)





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Team: San Antonio Spurs

Position: PF/C

Age: 38

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.9 blocks, 21.3 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.0 blocks, 19.9 PER

Tim Duncan never stops.

The 38-year-old big man just won yet another ring, but he's geared up for the lengthy process of defending his title and earning a piece of jewelry for a second hand. That takes commitment over the entirety of an 82-game schedule and another deep postseason run, but Duncan's never exactly been one who takes his work lightly.

During the preseason, he's looked as fresh and limber as ever, excelling with his shot and putting up plenty of solid numbers with his work on the glass. Even though the games don't count, it's all part of the preparation process.

In terms of per-minute production, you can make an argument that Duncan is still a top-five player. In fact, Sports Illustrated did exactly that while ranking the league's top 100 players for next season.

But he just doesn't play enough minutes at this stage of his career to justify such a lofty ranking. Coming in the top 20 is already pretty fantastic for a 38-year-old with this much wear and tear on the well-worn tires.



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16. Damian Lillard (Previous Ranking: No. 16)





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Team: Portland Trail Blazers

Position: PG

Age: 24

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 18.7 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.0 blocks, 16.7 PER

A foot injury has limited Damian Lillard's ability to participate in preseason festivities, but he doesn't exactly have to prove himself.

He's young enough that he's still working toward his athletic prime, and he's learning new tricks every year he gains more NBA experience. Plus, he's playing with the same group of starters and a largely similar supporting cast, so it's not as though Terry Stotts needs him to gain chemistry with a bunch of new additions.

"I've always been one to throw wood on the fire, anytime I got the opportunity," the 24-year-old point guard explained about his failure to make the final Team USA roster. "Once I turned away from making that team, I basically took it as I wasn't good enough. That was another reason for me to go back and keep trying to improve as a player."

Even an unimproved Lillard would be scary, as he was one of the league's most impressive offensive players during his sophomore go-round. But if he gets better as a distributor and adds some defensive chops to his ever-growing arsenal of on-court skills, well, let's just say that his new shoes could sell quite well.



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15. Dirk Nowitzki (Previous Ranking: No. 18)





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Team: Dallas Mavericks

Position: PF

Age: 36

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, 23.6 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 28.2 PER

Dirk Nowitzki doesn't really feel like slowing down as Father Time tries to put a crimp in his style. Even old age itself can't block that one-footed fadeaway he's worked on so hard over the years.

In four preseason appearances, the German 7-footer managed to knock down 46.5 percent of his shots from the field. Of course, he was even better from beyond the arc (9-of-18 shooting), which has to scare opponents who are gearing up to deal with a Dallas Mavericks offense that figures to be the league's best.

And if Nowitzki keeps rebounding as he has during the exhibition season?

Per RealGM.com, the big man has posted a total rebounding percentage of 14.4 in his brief forays onto the court. To put that in perspective, the best mark of his illustrious career is 14.9, earned during the middle of his prime in 2006-07.

"I'm not expecting anybody on our team to be a 20-point scorer," Mark Cuban, the Mavericks owner, said at the introductory press conference for his many new players, per Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. "Not Dirk. I don't want him to be a 20-point scorer."

If he's going to shoot the lights out from downtown and improve his work on the boards, he definitely won't need to be one.



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14. Joakim Noah (Previous Ranking: No. 11)





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Team: Chicago Bulls

Position: C

Age: 29

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.5 blocks, 20.1 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 5.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.7 blocks, 16.4 PER

It might take Joakim Noah a while to adapt to his new teammates.

Derrick Rose basically counts as one, seeing as he's spent more time on the bench and at home than on the floor the least few years. Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott definitely qualify. All three, as well as some of the other options on the Chicago Bulls roster, are going to take the ball out of Noah's hands, which doesn't afford him as many opportunities to shine in non-traditional ways on the offensive end.

At least he'll always have his defense.

There's no denying his success on that side of the ball, as he's a game-changing player who can use his hustle, bottomless reserves of energy and impressive lateral quickness to switch onto almost any player for brief spurts of action.

While the Bulls are better with so much offensive talent surrounding this 29-year-old defensive centerpiece, it's going to be harder for him to shine as an individual. While he was right in the thick of the conversation about the league's best center last year, he's losing a bit of ground in the early goings of 2014-15.



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13. James Harden (Previous Ranking: No. 14)





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Team: Houston Rockets

Position: SG

Age: 25

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 25.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 23.5 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.0 blocks, 29.3 PER

Remember the video of James Harden that went completely viral? The one that featured him playing some of the worst defense known to mankind for over 11 minutes while sarcastically calling him a "defensive juggernaut" for his work on the less-glamorous end?

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey doesn't think much of it, but that's not the point.

If Morey is aware of its existence, surely everyone else in the organization is as well. That means the coaching staff understands how much better Harden needs to get on that end of the floor, and we already know the bearded 2-guard has some self-awareness about his defensive chops.

During the 2013-14 season, he was an incredibly valuable player even without making any positive impact on defense. Imagine what happens if that changes.

We know Harden is still going to be one of the most fantastic contributors in the league when it comes to getting the ball in the basket, whether by his own doing or by facilitating for his talented teammates in red. But if that stays constant while he makes things tough on the opposition?

At that point, there will no longer be a debate about who's earned the title as the best shooting guard in the league.



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12. Marc Gasol (Previous Ranking: No. 20)





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Team: Memphis Grizzlies

Position: C

Age: 29

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.3 blocks, 18.2 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.4 blocks, 34.6 PER

Marc Gasol has been an absolute monster during the exhibition season, even if he hasn't put up the traditional per-game stats that we typically associate with dominance.

Nonetheless, look at the 40.4 player efficiency rating he earned through his first five preseason games, one that left just about everyone else in the league in the dust. It was the result of 55.3 percent shooting from the field, an 87.5 percent clip from the charity stripe and only three turnovers in 98.2 minutes on the court.

Among many other things, of course. Even after he regressed a bit during his final two outings, he had a sensational preseason PER of 34.6.

Lest we forget, Gasol won Defensive Player of the Year during his last fully healthy season, and his return in 2013-14 spurred the Memphis Grizzlies into the playoffs. With everyone around him more familiar than ever with Dave Joerger's system and Vince Carter coming to town, there are postseason aspirations (and then some) on Beale Street, and Gasol is at the heart of them.

He's the league's premier non-stats star, and what we can quantify is still pretty darn excellent. Gasol has already reentered the conversation around the league's best five, and there's a solid chance he can rise to the top of the pack by the end of the year.



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11. LaMarcus Aldridge (Previous Ranking: No. 13)





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Team: Portland Trail Blazers

Position: PF

Age: 29

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.0 blocks, 21.8 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.8 blocks, 25.1 PER

If LaMarcus Aldridge can add a three-point jumper to his arsenal, he'll easily assert himself as a top-10 player in today's NBA.

He's a dominant force with the ball in his hands, but his go-to move just happens to be one of the least efficient shots on the court, something that many offenses throughout the NBA are trying to squeeze out of their game plans. Those mid-range jumpers are fantastic when he hits them, but he's still a low-percentage big man for the time being.

But if he hits some triples, that all changes. According to Mike Tokito of The Oregonian, it's something Aldridge has thought about:

But will he? Asked about the possibility of taking more shots behind the arc this season, Aldridge—who made three All-Star Games with no three-point game to speak of—didn't give a firm yes but admitted he did prepare for the possibility.

'This summer, I worked on it a lot more, so we'll see this season,' he said, later adding, 'If it's there, I'll take it. I'm not going to force it at all.'

"I want him to be comfortable with it, so that's why the first two years, I haven't really pushed him in that direction," Portland head coach Terry Stotts said to Tokito. "It's got to be something that he's comfortable doing. If he works at it, I think he's a good enough shooter that he could expand that range, but it has to come at his pace."

Aldridge only took one in the preseason, but let's keep our collective fingers crossed that he's just waiting to reveal a new weapon when it actually matters.



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10. DeMarcus Cousins (Previous Ranking: No. 12)





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Team: Sacramento Kings

Position: C

Age: 24

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, 26.2 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 18.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.5 blocks. 28.7 PER

A focused DeMarcus Cousins is a terrifying entity.

For a while now, the biggest knocks on this center's game have all come between the ears, as he's been too prone to earning technical fouls or completely disengaging after a call or two doesn't go his way. But he appeared to turn over a new leaf while playing for Team USA and Mike Krzyzewski.

While two technical fouls during exhibition season aren't promising, he at least played in restrained fashion, staying focused on putting up big numbers during the limited time he spent on the court. Through all six games, he was averaging 27.8 points and 11.7 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 63.8 percent from the field, which is obviously pretty stellar.

Cousins has jelled with Darren Collison rather quickly, and that's good news as he looks to replace the scoring impact lost when Isaiah Thomas skipped town for the appeal of the Phoenix Suns. This is the big man's team, more so than ever before, and he appears up for the challenge.



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9. Dwight Howard (Previous Ranking: No. 10)





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Team: Houston Rockets

Position: C

Age: 28

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.8 blocks, 21.4 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.0 blocks, 23.4 PER

Though his grip on the title is more tenuous than ever, Dwight Howard enters the 2014-15 season as the league's premier center. He's still the best in the business when it comes to his two-sided impact, as he guards the pick-and-roll with the best of 'em and can put up efficient points in bunches.

And while Howard struggled with his shot early in the exhibition portion of the calendar before turning it on for the last few games (admittedly only while playing 20 minutes per contest), it's a great sign that he's knocking down free throws with efficiency.

Well, efficiency for him.

Howard connected on 62.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, which is the highest percentage he's posted in the past five preseasons. If he's that focused now, he's only going to get even better during the regular season.

After all, the 28-year-old center—with the exception of a disastrous campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers—has improved when games started counting in each of the last five years.



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8. Russell Westbrook (Previous Ranking: No. 7)





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Team: Oklahoma City Thunder

Position: PG

Age: 25

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 24.7 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.0 blocks, 18.7 PER

Is it time to start feeling a bit of concern about Russell Westbrook's ability to carry an offense?

Per NBA.com's statistical databases, the speedy point guard averaged far more points per 36 minutes when he wasn't playing with Kevin Durant last year, but his field-goal percentage plummeted to 37.1 percent. Of course, that's a minimal sample size (41 minutes), so what happened in 2012-13?

Though his shooting percentages rose during the 242 minutes he spent on the court sans the reigning MVP, Westbrook's offensive rating dipped 4.3 points per 100 possessions.

And how about this preseason? Though it's tough to glean too much information when the floor general is playing only slightly more than 20 minutes per game, he's shooting well below 40 percent from the field and turning the ball over incessantly.

He's getting the benefit of the doubt here, given his immense offensive talent and the limited sample offered in all these situations, but a steep decline is pending unless he bucks the trend that's starting to become more established.



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7. Kevin Love (Previous Ranking: No. 9)





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Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Position: PF

Age: 26

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 27.0 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.0 blocks, 26.9 PER

The early returns are quite good from Kevin Love's venture into the Cleveland Cavaliers portion of his career.

Love has taken to David Blatt's ball-sharing system with aplomb, and he's shown no hesitation when it comes to lofting three-point attempts from all over the place. He drilled 10 of his first 23 tries from beyond the arc, good for a sensational 43.5 percent clip.

Defense is a work in progress, of course, and that was quite apparent when Love showed virtually no ability to keep up with Joakim Noah or Pau Gasol. The Chicago Bulls big men were able to put the ball on the floor and shimmy their way around Love, and that's something the Cavs will have to fight to overcome regularly.

Nonetheless, Love has been ultra-valuable for the team with his rebounding and scoring abilities. He's the type of stretch 4 and glass-cleaner that LeBron James has always needed to play with, essentially an upgraded version of Chris Bosh who can do far more than the Miami Heat big man did over the last few seasons. As Zach Buckley explained for Bleacher Report, there's potential for greatness here:

If Love is as receptive and adaptable as he says he is, this should be the most satisfying, successful stretch of his career. Pair his aforementioned individual credentials with some postseason triumphs, and his legacy could reach a historically significant place.

Opportunity is pounding on the door and all Love needs to do is answer it. This will be a time of sacrifice and change, but if he welcomes both, it will ultimately be the point his career turned from goodness to greatness.

The conditional statements exist for a reason now, but Love appears capable of turning them into definitively positive ones.



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6. Blake Griffin (Previous Ranking: No. 8)





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Team: Los Angeles Clippers

Position: PF

Age: 25

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks, 24.0 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 23.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 24.9 PER

"It's more about standing up for yourself," Blake Griffin explained to Melissa Rohlin of the Los Angeles Times in the wake of his skirmish with the hard-fouling Trevor Booker. "There are times when hard fouls are just a part of the game, and then there's times when they're a little bit further than that."

Keeping his wits about him will be one of the primary challenges for Griffin throughout the 2014-15 season.

The 25-year-old is now an established superstar, and he's inevitably going to be the target of headhunters throughout the league. Thanks to his complaints to the refs, occasional fancy for flopping and—above all else—his dominant play and penchant for posterizing, Griffin has always been subject to hard fouls, and that's not going to change anytime soon.

But the power forward is too important to the Los Angeles Clippers. He can't afford to be suspended for retaliating, no matter how much he wants to do so. He just has to take the punishment, get up and make the opposition pay for its actions by converting his opportunities at the free throw line.

Griffin's offensive repertoire and defensive abilities have both grown under Doc Rivers. Now it's time to see if his mental game can do the same.



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5. Carmelo Anthony (Previous Ranking: No. 6)





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Team: New York Knicks

Position: SF/PF

Age: 30

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks, 24.5 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 25.8 PER

The triangle offense certainly hasn't stopped Carmelo Anthony from shooting.

Then again, Derek Fisher and the New York Knicks never guaranteed that this was going to be an equilateral triangle. Thus far, it's been more isosceles than anything else, with Anthony eating up a majority of the shot attempts and the rest of his teammates divvying them out in fairly appropriate fashion, even if the bottom of the net has often remained in pristine condition during the half the Knicks are trying to find it.

To his credit, Anthony has been a willing passer. He's actually shown confidence in his teammates, even passing the ball out at the end of a shot clock with no hope of getting it back and shooting a buzzer-beating attempt.

Though New York has largely floundered during the exhibitions, Anthony has continued to prove he's not the selfish scorer he's so often made out to be. Sure, he shoots a lot, but isn't he supposed to when the rest of his team is ice cold?

As Dan Favale postulates for Bleacher Report, Anthony still needs a second superstar to unlock his full potential. But even the locked version is excellent right now.



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4. Stephen Curry (Previous Ranking: No. 5)





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Team: Golden State Warriors

Position: PG

Age: 26

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 24.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 24.1 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 28.5 PER

It's time for some math.

Stephen Curry is the equivalent of three-point shooting awesomeness. Steve Kerr was the equivalent of three-point awesomeness during his playing days. So, what do you get when you put them together?

Apparently, Curry plus Kerr equals pure ridiculousness.

Through his seven preseason games, the 26-year-old sharpshooter took five deep attempts per contest and made 51.4 percent of them. Oh, and that's with Curry only spending 26.3 minutes per game on the floor during the average outing. If we prorate that to the 36.5 minutes per game he played in 2013-14, he'd be shooting 51.4 percent and taking 6.9 attempts per game.

According to Basketball-Reference.com, there have only been 30 seasons throughout NBA history in which a qualified player has taken seven three-point attempts or more during the average game. Of those 30, Curry's 2012-13 campaign (7.7 attempts and 45.3 percent shooting) stands out as the most efficient of the bunch. Only he (2012-13 and 2013-14), Ray Allen (2001-02) and Dennis Scott (1995-96) have qualified for the list while hitting at a 42 percent clip.

Granted, this is the preseason; it's tough to assume he'll maintain that percentage when playing twice as much. But if he did during the regular season, he'd be that close to making history...again

Let's put it another way, though: If Curry hit 51.4 percent of his threes and took 6.9 per game, he would break his own single-season record for most makes in 77 games.



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3. Chris Paul (Previous Ranking: No. 3)





USA TODAY Sports

Team: Los Angeles Clippers

Position: PG

Age: 29

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 10.7 assists, 2.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 26.0 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 26.6 PER

For the time being, Chris Paul is still the best point guard in basketball.

His scoring game hasn't been where it normally is prior to the beginning of the regular season, but this talented floor general has earned the benefit of the doubt. Given the incredible nature of his performance throughout a career that resonates historically at this point, he has to.

Plus, it's worth noting that he feels training camp went quite well, as Melissa Rohlin detailed (subscription required) for the Los Angeles Times:

'Obviously everyone was a little skeptical about going to Las Vegas, but I think it was great, one of the best training camps that I've been a part of,' Chris Paul said.

Paul said that because coach Doc Rivers is now in his second year with the team, he and his teammates had a much stronger grasp of what they needed to do and how to do it, allowing them to zero in on the particulars of Rivers' plan.

'You sort of know what to expect from practice, the offense; you pay attention to everything that we do,' Paul said. 'We understand how important the details are, not skipping steps and things like that.'

Rohlin's article also contains a Paul quote about this being the first time he's entered a season with a starting five filled with incumbents. That in and of itself is highly significant, as it allows for continuity, something he hasn't had while putting together his incredible NBA resume.



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2. Anthony Davis (Previous Ranking: No. 4)





USA TODAY Sports

Team: New Orleans Pelicans

Position: PF/C

Age: 21

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.8 blocks, 26.5 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.9 blocks, 37.7 PER

Aggressive? Undoubtedly so.

Correct? Probably so, though it's up to Anthony Davis to prove his status as a current superstar who deserves to jump Chris Paul in the rankings once the regular season begins and defensive intensity ramps up.

The 21-year-old big man has been sensational for the New Orleans Pelicans, building upon his stellar World Cup performance in Spain and showing off heretofore unseen elements of his still-developing game. While thriving on the defensive end, Davis has been the constant creator of highlights, and he's doing so in more ways than using his lanky arms and frame to box out overmatched mortals and stuff alley-oop dunks and putback attempts.

At various points in the preseason, he showed new moves like a pull-up jumper when driving to his left. His mid-range game is excellent now, and he's even cut back on how often he turns the ball over.

You might be tired of the Davis hype. But if that's the case, it's only because you haven't been watching him play, or you're not allowing yourself to be won over by this fantastic combination of statistical supremacy, youth and visual, highlight-creating appeal.

The hype exists for a reason.



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1. LeBron James (Previous Ranking: No. 1)





USA TODAY Sports

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Position: SF/PF

Age: 29

2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 29.4 PER

2014 Preseason Per-Game Stats: 15.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 27.7 PER

This one couldn't be more obvious.

With Kevin Durant injured, there's no competition for the top spot. LeBron James entered training camp in the pole position, even if he didn't win MVP during the 2013-14 season, and he's cemented himself in that spot, both through the dearth of competitors and his preseason play.

James hasn't been truly dominant—at least not to the historic levels we've come to expect—but he also doesn't need to be. He's contributing in every facet of the game, and his shooting has gotten even better. While his field-goal percentage has stagnated (at a ridiculously high number, to be fair), he's never been more effective from either beyond the arc or at the free-throw spot.

Ranking players may be a subjective art, but having anyone else at No. 1 is objectively wrong.