NBA Power Rankings: The Contenders
Ranking the top thirteen teams in the NBA, and giving an analysis of each of those teams All Star Game players.
1. Milwaukee Bucks:
All Stars: Giannis Antetekounmpo, Khris Middleton
Giannis' points and rebound numbers are up from last year, when he won the NBA MVP. A distinct improvement in his game has been his three point shooting. His three point attempts per game have gone up from 2.8 to 5.0, and his three point percentage has gone from 25.6 to 32.1. Just a little more deep shooting has made him even more dangerous in the paint. Khris Middleton has been a great counterpart to Giannis these past few seasons. This year, his field goal, three point, and free throw percentages have risen significantly.
2. Los Angeles Lakers:
All Stars: LeBron James, Anthony Davis
Imagine that in his seventeenth season, LeBron James is averaging the most assists in his career at 10.7 per game. He brings the same effort and game every night, and is still one of the best players in the NBA. While LeBron leads the team in assists, Anthony Davis has the title in points and rebounds. He has been a near perfect fit with James and the Lakers. You just can't stop a 6'10" power forward with the skill set that he has. These two are pretty much doing everything for the Lakers.
3. Toronto Raptors:
All Stars: Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry
This whole hot streak by the Raptors has been a complete slap in the face of the many people who thought this team was nothing without Kawhi Leonard. Most of their success has been due to the stellar play of Pascal Siakam. Siakam leads the team in points, and notably in field goal attempts, despite being a power forward. He, along with incredible depth on the Raptors, have pretty well been able to replace the loss of Leonard. Kyle Lowry being an all star is a bit questionable. There is no doubt in my mind that Bradley Beal is more deserving than Lowry. Beal is averaging almost 10 points more than Lowry, and although that doesn't mean everything, it does say a lot.
4. Boston Celtics:
All Stars: Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum
At this point, I don't think anyone would argue that the Celtics were better off with Kyrie Irving than Kemba Walker. Walker has simply been a perfect fit in Boston. His shooting has been very good, and the Celtics other stars, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward have greatly benefited from Walker's presence on and off the court. Jayson Tatum, at just 21 years old, is the youngest Celtics All Star since Antoine Walker in 1998. His play is rapidly improving right in front of our eyes. He is most definitely going to be one of the faces of the game in just a few years.
5. Denver Nuggets:
All Stars: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetekounmpo are the only players in the NBA averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. Jokic is leading the Nuggets in pretty much every offensive category, and in addition, already has ten triple doubles this season. He has used his rare combination of size and touch to turn into one of the most versatile centers in the game.
6. Utah Jazz:
All Stars: Rudy Gobert
After infamously not being able to keep it together after his All Star Game snub last year, Gobert is in the game this season. It is not a sympathy vote either. He is fifth among centers in points per game, is second in the NBA in total rebounds, and is arguably the best defender in the game. He is no superstar, but it is about time that players start getting recognized for things other than just scoring.
7. Los Angeles Clippers:
All Stars: Kawhi Leonard
You might not realize it, but Kawhi is statistically having the best year of his career. His points per game, assists per game, and rebounds per game numbers are all career highs. With all the rest he has been getting, he should be healthy and dangerous once again in the postseason. In addition, he has kept up his team first attitude and play. Paul George, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell are all averaging at least 19 PPG in addition to Leonard.
8. Philadelphia 76ers:
All Stars: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons
No doubt Joel Embiid is one of the toughest guys to defend in the NBA. A lot of his numbers are down from last season though, which I believe is a major reason for some of the struggles by the 76ers this year. It is not necessarily his fault though, as Philadelphia has a lot of players that like shooting the ball. The 76ers other All Star is not one of those players. He is fourth in the league in assists per game, but I just don't think that is enough to be an all star. Players like Bradley Beal and Jaylen Brown are much more deserving of that spot, as true star guards in the NBA must be scorers.
9. Houston Rockets:
All Stars: James Harden, Russell Westbrook
It is not a bold claim to say that James Harden is the best scorer in the game. Over the past two seasons he has solidified that spot. He leads the league by over five points per game this season. You just cannot deny the offensive greatness of 'the beard', but the real question is if he can lead a team to an NBA title. While there were many doubts about whether Russell Westbrook would be a good fit in Houston, things have worked out pretty perfectly in terms of him and Harden. His shot attempts, and shots made are both very high, so let's just say that he should be perfectly fine with the situation. He is averaging the most field goals made per game, and currently has the best field goal percentage in his career.
10. Miami Heat:
All Stars: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo
With seven players on the Heat averaging at least 10 points per game, their depth is pretty much unparalleled in the league. They had very similar depth last season as well, but instead of contending for the lead in the Eastern Conference, they didn't even make the playoffs. That is how impactful the addition of Jimmy Butler has been. He was most definitely overshadowed by other big name free agents, but he shouldn't have been. His numbers might not be the best of his career, but his impact has been huge. Bam Adebayo doesn't really score from anywhere but the paint, but credit to him for being able to keep up the strong play this season. He has really proven that he can play with the best of them.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder:
All Stars: Chris Paul
Frankly, Paul's numbers don't really stand out, but to be honest, they never really have. At this point I think we all should know that his impact of far greater than his stats. Not many people can say that they predicted the success the Thunder have had this season, but Paul and his teammates have found a way to get the job done. Something interesting to note that might not be well known is that Paul is actually only the fourth leading scorer on the Thunder, behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danillo Galinari, and Dennis Schroder.
12. Dallas Mavericks:
All Stars: Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic's balance of doing pretty much everything really well is what amazes me the most about him. He leads the Mavericks in points per game (28.8), rebounds (9.5), and assists (8.7). Those numbers rank sixth, seventeenth, and third in the NBA respectively. He has almost single-handedly turned around the Mavericks franchise. He's shooting the ball more, and that, along with the addition of Kristaps Porzingis to the team has taken Dallas from a second to last place finish in the Western Conference last year all the way up to seventh this season.
13. Indiana Pacers:
All Stars: Domantas Sabonis
Because of Victor Oladipo's injury, Domantas Sabonis and T.J. Warren have emerged into really strong scorers for the Pacers. The reason for success for Sabonis has simply been that he has been getting more time, and therefore more looks. He's averaging four more field goal attempts per game, four more points, and three more rebounds than he did last season. He still might not be a household name across the country, but I'm sure Pacers fans have appreciated what he has done for their team this season.