5. James Harden
4. Russell Westbrook
You already know how I feel about Westbrook, and Harden's breakout season in Houston was mildly jaw-dropping. The Beard (only 23, by the way) averaged a 26-6-5, with 44-37-85 shooting splits, for a team that didn't have a second All-Star. He's also wholly unique:
Throwing in the low number of true franchise players in 2013,
And look, I've hammered Oklahoma City enough for one of my least favorite NBA trades ever — you can read my thoughts here and here and here. But I don't think the following point can be emphasized strongly enough.
You can't just assume in basketball that the window will always stay open for you.
In football, you can build around a franchise quarterback, draft smartly, protect your cap, repeatedly trade down for more assets and do everything else that Bill Belichick did since 2001.
The Thunder easily could have kept together three of the top six guys on this list for one more year, then decided on their future this summer.
3. Stephen Curry
I already shot my wad on Curry
Reason No. 1: Along with Kevin Durant, he's 2013's co-winner of the Derrick Rose Award for "Guy Whose City Would Riot If He Were Traded." Right now, the Golden Gate Bridge has a better chance of being traded than Steph Curry.
Reason No. 2: Here's what it looks like when a 25-year-old guy is making The Leap.
Post All-Star (30 games): 26.0 PPG, 7.4 APG, 48% FG, 89% FT, 46% 3FG, 8.9 3FGA.
2013 Playoffs (8 games): 26.5 PPG, 8.9 APG, 46% FG, 91% FT, 43% 3FG, 9.0 3FGA
And it goes beyond stats — the Warriors are winning with a team that is built around Curry's offense and personality.
Reason No. 4: Mark Jackson is technically right — Golden State has the best shooting backcourt ever, although it's really the best long-range shooting backcourt ever. Check out the only 13 players (their best seasons only) who made at least 2.5 3s a game while (a) shooting at least 40 percent or higher, and (b) averaging at least 16.5 points per game (sorry, Damon Jones, Raja Bell and Kyle Korver).
Reason No. 5: "Turn on the game, Steph Curry is heating up" is the single most exciting sports-related text you can send or receive right now.
GROUP A: "Completely and Utterly Untouchable"
2. Kevin Durant
Producer A: "So how are we gonna spruce up this Kevin Durant movie? It's so boring right now. I mean, I get it — he's a role model, he's incredibly efficient, there's nobody like him, yada yada yada. I'm bored just talking about it. What's the hook?"
Producer B: "I have a few ideas."
Producer A: "Let's hear 'em."
Producer B: "We keep everything up through when they lose in the 2012 Finals. Right before the next season, his team trades James Harden because they're afraid to pay him."
Producer A: "What do they get for him?"
Producer B: "I was thinking something pretty bad — like, Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two future picks."
Producer A: "What????? That's ridiculous! That trade would never happen in real life!"
Producer B: "Just stay with me. So now it's just Durant and Westbrook — now they're playing pissed off because everyone thinks the Harden trade ruined their title chances. Durant's even getting technicals and stuff."
Producer A: "I like it. Yelling at the refs! That's good!"
I cut this short by about 800 words. Needless to say: douchechills.
1. LeBron James
Let's break into a mini-LeBronbag …
Always nice when his readers do his work for him. DEAR BILL HERE'S AN IDEA YOU BROUGHT UP IN A COLUMN A WHILE AGO. NOW I'M REGURGITATING IT TO YOU--IT'S A PRETTY GOOD IDEA RIGHT? I'LL HANG UP AND WAIT FOR YOUR ANSWER THANKS
Q: Last year you memorably wrote
—Steven Feister, Los Angeles
SG: I thought it was a 40-pounder.
Q: I propose renaming the Coach of the Year award for Mike D'Antoni. Why can't we call it the "Not Mike D'Antoni" award?
SG: (Standing and applauding.)
Q: Neo coming back to life in The Matrix and becoming The One is exactly what happened to LeBron game six in Boston last year. I guess we're in Matrix Reloaded now where LeBron can win as many games as he wants in a row like Neo defeating a million Agent Smiths. I guess next year LeBron will be reunited with the Source or something.
—Marc Feffer, New York
SG: I've never seen The Matrix … but sure! Sounds good.
Q: LeBron now looks like the only Queen on an NBA chessboard
—Matt Robinson, Edmonton, Alberta
SG: It's the perfect analogy. Matt Robinson couldn't be more correct … LeBron is the queen on the chessboard.