Part 1: Best players in the NBA by position

by Andrew Kennedy

I’ve always wanted to take the time and make a list of the best players in the NBA. Anyone who loves the NBA does this all the time and people are always debating who the best player in the league is. It’s a debate that will always go on because it is nearly impossible to compare players at different positions and tell which is more valuable (although everyone thinks it’s easy).

I’ve spent some time trying to come up with the best players by position. But there aren’t really five positions in basketball because there aren’t five different types of players. So I’ve come up with the most relevant positions (player types) that help a team win a title and ranked their importance and tried to come up with the most relevant/valuable players in the league when it comes to winning a championship.

First off, here are the positions and by importance:

1. High post iso guy

This is the position of the player who is usually the best player in the league at the time. In recent years, it has been Kobe Bryant. The closer you are to truly being this type of player, the better. Last year, it was Dirk Nowitzki. You get it to this guy in a good position and he is able to kill you with a variety of moves. Michael Jordan was the best ever as this type of player. Larry Bird is also up there on the list. I think you always want your best player to be this type of guy and once LeBron James becomes this, he will maximize his chances of winning a title.

2. True center

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Throughout history, the teams in the NBA with the best center have always contended for the title. Sometimes, there are a lot of elite true centers in the league like in the 1990’s. Now, Dwight Howard is the clear-cut best which makes him maybe the most valuable player in the league.

3. Non-PG, perimeter player who handles the ball in pick-and-rolls

This is the position of the guy who is almost the “High post iso guy.” You can win a title with this player as your best but you’re going to need help. Dwyane Wade is this type and so is LeBron James, we’re not sure yet if having two of these elite types of players can work in winning a title. They go good with great bigs like when Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan were winning titles and a younger Kobe with Shaq.

4. Point guard

This is also self-explanatory and like the position before, needs a lot of help to win a title if this is your best player. Only Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas won titles as point guards and the best player on their team (they had a ton of help too). This has always shied me away from overvaluing point guards in this league. But point guard is so deep now that it is inevitable that an elite point guard will be a part of a championship team in the near future.

5. True power forward

This is a rare position to come by at the elite level. Usually the best bigs can be considered centers and a lot of times “power forwards” can play multiple positions or are soft (skilled) and play on the perimeter a lot. Tim Duncan won titles as this position and the best player on the team but that’s really it and why I can’t value it much higher. You’d rather you’re best player be on the perimeter than this type. Right now, I think only Blake Griffin qualifies as this type of player. Kevin Garnett used to be this as well as Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and maybe Shawn Kemp in the 90’s. If Amare Stoudemire was a better defender I’d put him in this category.

6. Soft big and Comes off screens (tie)

These types can be very complimentary pieces in winning a title, think Ray Allen and Pau Gasol in recent history. Also, soft big isn’t a knock entirely because it also can mean skilled if you are an elite soft big but if you’re not, it’s a detriment. It’s also rare to be an elite guy who comes off screens and not really even valuable. For instance when Danny Granger, Rudy Gay or Kevin Martin are your best players scoring over 20 points per game but they mainly are running off screens, it doesn’t give you a good chance at winning a title. Richard Hamilton in 2004 was one of the best of this type in terms of winning a title. Allen Iverson in 2001 was the most elite version of this.

8. Almost a center

This is just a way of classifying players who are at certain points in their career. I say that Duncan and Garnett are this type now because they are old and have the same skills as the center position but aren’t good enough anymore to sway a title playing this way. The other two players in this category now are Al Horford and Nene. They play center and produce well but you really don’t want them as your center is you want to win a title.

9. Energy rebounder and Good defender, slasher (tie)

You don’t want the best player on your team to be this type of player but if you have 2-3 guys in your eight-man rotation that are these types, you’re headed in the right direction to win a title or go deep in the playoffs. For instance, when Gerald Wallace, Andre Iguodala or Kevin Love is your best player, you’re not winning a title but if either of these guys ended up on the Heat, Celtics or Bulls they’d really help that team in winning a championship (I guess that’s pretty obvious).

Positions I left out: non-elite point guards and spot up shooters

Basically, I know Darren Collison and Mike Conley are solid players and have value but there are a lot of guys like this so there’s really no point mentioning them or spotlighting them. The same goes for James Jones, although this year he is really going to look like a super integral part in the Heat winning a title if they do but he really is interchangeable with a lot of guys.

Part 2: Ranking the best players in the NBA by position. Coming tomorrow.