The NBA’s Top 10 Franchise Players

Miami Heat forward LeBron James (R) is defended by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (L) in the first quarter during their NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, January 30 2011. REUTERS/Bill Waugh (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

When I originally debuted this list almost two years ago, I took some (surprisingly angry) flack for not settling on a 10th player and for ranking a few guys too high.

The idea for the list sprung from a conversation that I regularly have with a buddy when we are tipping back a few adult beverages: If you could have one current NBA player to build your franchise around, with the goal of winning a NBA title in the next five years – who would it be?

Here’s who I had almost two years ago:

10. Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker (A reader named “all” was very upset that I couldn’t pick a #10 guy. He’s probably still upset about it.)
9. Derrick Rose
8. Brandon Roy
7. Deron Williams
6. Chris Paul
5. Kevin Durant
4. Dwight Howard
3. Kobe Bryant
2. Dwyane Wade
1. LeBron James

I took some heat for including Rose, but obviously he has panned out very well and is likely to win the league MVP this season. Roy’s knees have killed his stock. The other seven picks look pretty solid.

So let’s take another stab at this. Remember, we’re trying to win a title in the next five years, so youth and health is paramount.

Honorable Mention: Carmelo Anthony (defense), Amare Stoudemire (defense, age, knees), Pau Gasol (age), Tyreke Evans (regressing) Tim Duncan (age), Dirk Nowitzki (age), Paul Pierce (age), Rajon Rondo (moody, in a funk since Kendrick Perkins trade) and Kevin Garnett (age).


12. John Wall (20 years-old)
All right, I’m projecting a little bit here, but it worked with Derrick Rose and I think Wall has a chance to be in the same league. Check out his month-by-month stats over the course of his rookie season:


So he burst into the league with a good October and November, but struggled a bit over the next two months as teams had a chance to game plan for him. Then in February and March, he’s able to counter that and get back to his early-season numbers. Great sign.

He’s an outstanding playmaker (9.1+ assists in 2-of-5 months) and is lightning quick. His rookie numbers are very similar to Rose’s, only he’s averaging 2.4 more assists per game. He’d likely be the Rookie of the Year if Blake Griffin hadn’t blown out his knee last season. In three or four years he might be vying for best point guard in the league honors.

Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook smiles during a break in action in the first half of the NBA All-Star Rookie Challenge in Dallas, Texas February 12, 2010. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

11. Russell Westbrook (22)
I like Westbrook a lot, but his turnovers (3.9 per game) worry me for a third-year point guard. His assist-to-turnover ratio has actually decreased by 12% since last season, and that shows a lack of progress. Other than a sketchy (yet improving) outside jumper, he’s a great all-around player and his stats are comparable to Derrick Rose’s:


One’s an MVP favorite and the other isn’t even in the conversation. Go figure.


10. Kobe Bryant (32)
Sorry Laker fans, I had to drop him several spots on this list after that 6-for-24 outing in Game 7 of the Finals. The Lakers still won the game, but it wasn’t because of Kobe. Plus, he’s not even practicing these days, so it would be tough to build a team around him if they can’t build chemistry. Still, he is Kobe Bryant.

9. Kevin Love (22)
What’s not to love about Love? He’s averaging 20-15 and is shooting 42% from 3PT and 85% from the free throw line. His defensive numbers at 82games are a little worrisome (-6.2 net defense?), but the by position PER (24.6 vs. opponents’ 15.7) is very favorable.

8. Blake Griffin (22)
He’s not the long-range shooter that Love is, but he’s averaging 22-12 and is a better playmaker (3.7 apg). His defensive numbers (-1.3 net defense) look better as well. I’m just worried that he’s going to kill himself with one of those acrobatic dunks that he’s become famous for.


7. Dwyane Wade (29)
He’s getting a little long in the tooth for this particular list, but he still has three or four years of dominating play left in him. My only issue with his game is that he takes too many threes (2.7 per game) given his accuracy (31% this year).

6. Deron Williams (26)
5. Chris Paul (25)

I’m still going to give CP3 the edge despite the sore knee since he didn’t clash with a Hall of Fame coach like Williams did. I still think the Nets got a great deal in the trade and that Deron Williams is definitely a franchise point guard, but right now I lean Paul.

4. Dwight Howard (25)
Let’s see, he’s averaging 23-14 with 2.4 blocks, and is shooting 60% from the field. Plus, he’s just 25 years-old and is a bona fide center in a league that doesn’t have very many. He already has one Finals appearance under his belt, but he’s going to need a great perimeter player to take the load off.

Orlando Magic left Dwight Howard reacts after the Magic defeated the Miami Heat in their NBA basketball game in Miami, Florida March 3, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Skipper (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

3. LeBron James (26)
I dropped him one spot because of “The Decision” (I don’t need the drama) and another spot because he has been very unclutch in big moments the last few years. If I’m going to pay max money, I need a guy who is going to give max production, especially in those last few possessions in the game (his solid clutch stats notwithstanding).

2. Kevin Durant (22)
Yes, I’d take “No Drama” Durant ahead of LeBron because he’s my kind of superstar: quiet and unassuming. He leads by example and he’s arguably the best scorer in the league. After all, the team with the most points usually wins.

1. Derrick Rose (22)
Rose is the front-runner for the league’s MVP award after (possibly) leading the Bulls to a #1-seed in the East despite having to deal with the absence of Joakim Noah and/or Carlos Boozer for long stretches this season. His three-point shooting (34%) is now respectable, which makes him nearly impossible to guard. He’s not a classic pass-first point guard, but drops enough dimes (7.8 per game) to keep his teammates happy. It looks like it may be his year.

So those are my Top 12 — who are yours?

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