When Stephen Curry said he was a better offensive player than LeBron James, a lot of people guffawed. The fidelity of Steph’s answer can be debated — personally, we think it’s closer than most believe, and of course he’d choose himself — but the premise is an interesting way of looking at the game: Who exactly are the best offensive players in the NBA? Forgetting defense for a moment, here’s an attempt to rank, in order, the 10 best offensive players in the NBA today.
The offensive landscape of basketball is forever changing. The game is moving faster than ever, becoming increasingly geared towards outside shooting and — by virtue of such evolutions — increasdingly ignoring a post presence. Heck, at this point, the Suns might just come out in November with a five-guard starting lineup.
Now, that being said (the changing landscape part, not the Suns part because the Suns might actually have so many guards they have to run a five-guard lineup), the offensive value scale has tipped in recent years. Volume scorers like Rudy Gay, Monta Ellis are no longer primed for contracts like the one that has the Kings on the hook for $19 million next season. Conversely, high-efficiency scorers and creators like Goran Dragic are headed for handsome paydays next summer.
So, who are the most productive offensive players in the game right now? Let’s take a look.
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10. Goran Dragic
I’m not sure everyone understands just how good this guy was this past season, and how blatantly misguided his absence from the All-Star team was. He joined the exclusive 20/40/50 club, scoring over 20 points per game, converting over 40 percent of his three-pointers and over 50 percent of his overall field goals. Only two guards (his coach, Jeff Hornacek, in 1992, and Drazen Petrovic in 1993) have accomplished such a feat. Three forwards have done the same: Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki. All are sure-fire inductees to the Hall of Fame. The rest are centers. To shoot over 50 percent at 6-foot-3, on almost 15 shots per game, is teetering along the lines of inhumanity. To do so with top-ten true shooting numbers – now, that’s just unfair.
This past season saw the “Blake Griffin is pure athleticism and nothing else” narrative fly out the window — and rightfully so. Los Angeles’ offense relied significantly more on the KIA-hopper, with his usage percentage jumping to 29 – higher than Chris Paul. He continued to prove he’s a severely underrated passer, but he also noticeably tightened up his outside game: he shot 40 percent from the 10-16 feet clip from which he’s struggled in the past.
His efficiency steadily improves by the year and he continues to enhance multiple dimensions of his offensive arsenal. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hike further up this list as he enters his physical prime in a couple years. Yes, the fact that he still hasn’t entered his physical prime terrifies me, too.
He may be 36, but he’s still got it. In fact, in some facets of the game, he’s improving, because he’s an alien and his progression as a basketball player – nay, a human being – makes no sense.
This year he recorded his highest effective field goal percentage of his career (55 percent), a career low turnover rate despite a spike in usage, and his best offensive rating since 2007, despite a middle-of-the-pack pace. Adding a guy like Chandler Parsons should take some of the load off Dirk, and increase his productivity in what’s expected to be a faster paced offense next season.
Curry is one of the most versatile off-the-dribble threats the game has ever seen. What sets him apart from others, other than his ability to create for others and score off-the-catch, is that he utilizes his quick release and speed to finish jumpers over taller defenders, rather than just taking them to the basket.
He can do that too, actually.
He just chooses to launch his rainbow flicks from outside the paint, where 75 percent of his attempts came from this year.
This, via Vorped, and the GIFs, speaks for themselves.
6. James Harden
Houston’s rapid pace and Morey-influenced offense undoubtedly cushion Harden’s numbers. But, he’s so much more than just a voluptuous beard with a nice off-the-bounce game and a jumper. He led all guards in free throw attempts this past season and all shooting guards in assists; although, given the shooting guard position, it probably wasn’t very difficult. I think some forget how talented of a playmaker he is. He ran the second unit in OKC, and orchestrates a mean pick-and-roll with Dwight through the post. Plus, yeah, he also has a voluptuous beard, a great off-the-dribble game and a smooth stroke.
He’s quite turnover prone, which is a common deficiency of high-usage players, but he definitely needs to tighten up his decision-making. The same goes for his defensive awareness, but that’s a conversation for another day.
5. Chris Paul
Statistically, Chris Paul is one of the most productive, efficient floor generals to ever set foot on the hardwood. He’s No. 26 all-time in assists and he’s barely 29.
CP3 is responsible for three of the highest assist percentage recordings in the history of the game, one of which was this past season, during which he also nabbed the sixth most offensive win shares and finished fourth in offensive real plus/minus. Not to mention, he led the league in secondary assists. His stamp is on practically every basket his teammates score. Few, if any, are capable of accomplishing such feats on a 57-win team while also dropping in almost 20 points on a nightly basis.
‘Melo definitely boasts one of, if not the very deepest, scoring arsenals in the league. But his reluctance to create for others, questionable shot selection and inadequate efficiency slide him down the list a bit. Of course, his role with the Knicks certainly doesn’t do him any favors statistically, but his abilities as an alpha dog are just a bit inferior to the three talents ahead of him.
Then again, he’s a threat to score all over the court, and has the finest jab step in the league despite some substandard numbers in the restricted area when he does actually drive the ball. He can fall in love with the mid-range jumper, one of the least efficient shots in basketball, but he shoots close to or better than 44 percent from 10 feet out, and better than 40 percent from three-point range. There’s a reason he’s got the Madison Square Garden scoring record and a new $124 million contract. Now it’s on him to work on those deficiencies listed above in an attempt to move up this list. Like a few other players in our top 10, his defense can be better, but that’s not what this list is about.
3. Kevin Love
It’s no small feat to make an All-NBA team with a record-setting zero teammates with at least 7 win shares on the season. It’s even more impressive when we consider he’s only 25 and just barely entering his prime.
His outside shooting ability is uncanny for a big. Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote in an April column that 72 percent of Love’s three-pointers this season were contested, and only eight players shot more triples than Love under pressure. Yet he still managed to shoot 35 percent on those contested shots, faring as well as notable back-court hoisters Damian Lillard, James Harden and Kyle Lowry.
What’s most horrifying, though, is that he’s equally as productive inside the arc. Despite a passive stigma surrounding his inside game, Love scored 1.15 points per shot (PPS) from inside the paint, where 41 percent of his offensive production comes from. So, his ability inside the arc should probably be talked about more.
Love’s been historically effective through six seasons, and not just as a scorer – he was also second among all front-court players in assists per game this past season. Having LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to ease the load on his shoulders and alleviate his career 25.3 usage (which is unheard of for a big man) will only maximize his productivity, both as a scorer and as a creator.
2. LeBron James
Being a 250-pound athletic behemoth has its benefits. Shooting 76 percent (!) from inside the paint happens to be one of said benefits.
The 39 percent mark from mid-range is a bit disconcerting, but it’s mostly stemming from his struggles from the right side of the floor, where he shot just under 32 percent as opposed to 44 percent from the left side. Cut and dry, LeBron is the most physically dominant human being who can also competently handle a basketball — and competence is severely underselling his ball-handling skills. The fact that he can do it all with a sky-high usage, and still have the time to lead Miami in assists percentage while dishing 1.3 secondary assists per game like he did during the 2013-14 season, is simply mesmerizing.
1. Kevin Durant
LeBron trumped the first-time MVP offensively this past season on several spectrums, namely effective field goal and true shooting percentage. But with his 7-5 wingspan and otherworldly creativity, I’d hedge my bets on Durant sitting undisputedly at the top if he were in the East.
But, he obviously isn’t. Which is why it’s all the more impressive that when he was on the floor the Thunder managed to produce 123 points per 100 possessions. He also touted a PER hovering around 30, and was responsible for the mind-numbingly beautiful shot chart below.
KD’s 14.8 offensive win shares this past season is the most ever by an active player — yes, even including LeBron. He’s the best, no question.
Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Jefferson, DeMar Derozan
What do you think?
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