Cohen: Forecasting Player Rankings for 2013-14 Season
August 24, 2013
#1 LeBron James
Josh Cohen’s Analysis: We once criticized LeBron incessantly for not being clutch, for choosing not to remain loyal to his hometown supporters and for deciding to unite with fellow All-Stars rather than be the undisputed leader of a franchise.
Winning sure erases denigration, doesn’t it?
Barring an unforeseen setback, James, who has delivered back-to-back sensational playoff performances resulting in a pair of championship titles, is at the center of his prime. His only concern is the health of his comrades, particularly Dwyane Wade who continues to be troubled with knee problems.
#2 Kevin Durant
Cohen’s Analysis: It was just a little over a year ago when many thought Durant was neck-and-neck with LeBron James for who the best player in the NBA was. But after LeBron and his Heat thrashed KD and his Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals that inspection ended.
Nobody is tarnishing Durant’s extraordinary offensive abilities and everyone still adores his outstanding character and attitude, but his 2013 playoff effort without his main sidekick, Russell Westbrook, was just satisfactory, not dazzling as it needs to be if OKC wants to win a title.
This upcoming season may prove to be KD’s most important, especially with his impending free agency gradually approaching (2016).
#3 James Harden
Cohen’s Analysis: He got his wish and landed a complementary superstar, Dwight Howard, to partner with. As long as egos don’t collide like it did in L.A. with Dwight and Kobe, Harden may be LeBron’s biggest challenger for MVP this season.
We know about the financial ramifications, but boy oh boy, OKC may have made a crucial mistake trading Harden prior to last season. And even if a deal was necessary, Harden’s value is significantly higher than a return of a recently departed Kevin Martin and a pair of inexperienced youngsters like Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams.
#4 Stephen Curry
Cohen’s Analysis: Curry’s performance in the 2013 playoff was nothing short of spectacular. He has rapidly emerged as the league’s best shooter and has also adapted to being an elite floor general.
The hope for him now is that Andre Iguodala, who Golden State signed this offseason, can handle some of the playmaking duties and allow Curry to advance his offensive arsenal even further.
#5 Rajon Rondo
Cohen’s Analysis: How could any player recovering from a torn ACL be ranked this high? And if anyone returning from a serious injury deserves a top five ranking it must be Derrick Rose, right?
First off, in contrast to Rose, who suffered his injury well over a year ago, Rondo has only been absent since late January. Both of them are expected to ready for their season openers. It’s also important to mention that Rondo’s injury was less severe than Rose’s.
Furthermore, the last time we watched Rondo in the playoffs he arguably was the second best player in the NBA. If LeBron doesn’t dominate in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, Rondo’s status is bolstered even more and Boston probably still has KG & Pierce on its roster.
#6 Paul George
Cohen’s Analysis: As much as he improved this past season and as gifted as he is, I still don’t think George is the type of player that can lead a team to a title. He is an “A-“ talent with a sudden “A+” reputation.
Nonetheless, George’s athleticism and adaptability are strikingly impressive. Will he be able to coexist with Danny Granger, who is set to return after missing almost all of last season? And can he be relied upon to take over a game in the late stages of close playoff games?
#7 Brook Lopez
Cohen’s Analysis: Why does everyone want to scorn Lopez for the little he does defectively and not praise him for the ample things he does successfully?
Sure, Lopez isn’t a very good rebounder, but he is the best scoring big man, has tremendously improved as a defender and intimidator and now with KG in Brooklyn to alleviate some of the pressure, I expect the often-criticized center to progress even further.
#8 Kyrie Irving
Cohen’s Analysis When Irving plays, he is sensational. The problem is, he doesn’t play enough because of reoccurring injury issues.
Irving has had foot problems, a broken hand and fractured bone in his face and other nagging grievances in his two NBA seasons. However, whenever he is playing, he usually is the most spectacular talent on the court.
With help around him, including first overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, blossoming youngsters like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters and, if healthy, a legitimate center in Andrew Bynum, there may be even more motivation for Irving to have an MVP caliber season.
#9 Russell Westbrook
Cohen’s Analysis: For the few who judged Westbrook as overrated and a nuisance to Kevin Durant, those attitudes have quickly been erased.
The absence of Russ in the playoffs last season denied OKC from reaching its goals. Sure, he has some limitations and deficiencies such as taking ill-advised shots at times. But Westbrook is arguably the most electrifying guard in the NBA and continues to improve in practically every category.
#10 Carmelo Anthony
Cohen’s Analysis: This is a low mark for Carmelo, who some thought deserved the MVP award last season. There is no denying that Anthony is an outstanding scorer, but it continues to be conspicuous that he only thrives as a one-man band.
It was apparent after his arrival in New York more than two years ago that he and Amar’e Stoudemire couldn’t coexist. It was also evident that the Linsanity fever in 2012 disrupted Melo’s performance.
With Amar’e injured and Jeremy Lin in Houston, it was not surprising that Anthony had the best season of his career in 2013. But if New York wants to make a serious run to the NBA Finals, Melo needs to be the lead singer rather than the musician who sings and plays all the instruments.
#11 Kobe Bryant
Cohen’s Analysis: I learned my lesson a long time ago; never doubt the Black Mamba. There is something innate in Kobe. He refuses to let naysayers win and has more fortitude and resilience than any athlete I know.
Many have already counted the Lakers out of the playoff mix after Dwight’s decision to leave. Many think Bryant won’t really ever overcome his Achilles tear and will suddenly drop in status.
All this disparagement will inspire Kobe to have another superb season. It’s just how he operates.
#12 Deron Williams
Cohen’s Analysis: This is a trendy pick for #12. Notice how Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard and Tony Parker have not been ranked yet.
If you ignore the first half of last season and focus on after the All-Star break, you could argue that D-Will was a top 10 player in the NBA. Stats defend this impression.
But aside from his resurgence, which was mostly a result of overcoming a distressing ankle injury, Williams has more support around him than ever. The trade delivering KG & Pierce to Brooklyn will incite more out of D-Will.
And if my forecast of the Nets advancing to the conference finals next season and perhaps hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy proves precise, Williams will suddenly have a far more sanguine reputation.
#13 Chris Paul
Cohen’s Analysis: Something isn’t adding up with Paul. He’s never been to the conference finals and has only advanced further than the First Round twice.
Paul is an exceptional talent and natural leader. He got his coaching wish with Doc Rivers, has more assistance around him than ever and, as expected, got his lucrative five-year contract to stay in L.A.
Sure, Blake Griffin was barely satisfactory in the playoffs last year and unlike now after adding J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, the Clippers didn’t have much perimeter shooting against the Grizzlies’ stifling defense. However, if Paul is serious about being a top 10 player in the NBA, he needs to lead his team far into the playoffs.
#14 Anthony Davis
Cohen’s Analysis: It will probably be a couple more years before Davis starts demolishing most of his competition. He has all the tools be the league’s best shot-blocker. He also, as a result of his athletic gifts and court awareness, will likely evolve into an effective offensive player.
New Orleans’ offseason acquisitions will help speed up Davis’ development. Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, who are contrasting guards, will give him even more space in the paint to be active on every possession. And more importantly, now Davis can be more valuable in fast break opportunities.
#15 Dwight Howard
Cohen’s Analysis: For two straight summers Howard has been at the center of sports headlines more than any other athlete in the world. First it was the trade from Orlando to Los Angeles and then it was his decision to leave the Lakers for the Rockets.
It’s still cloudy and indeterminate what Dwight’s capabilities are as a franchise player. We know for a few years with the Magic he was indisputably the most dominant and menacing center in the NBA. But last year’s debacle in L.A. told a much different story.
Will his escape from Kobe and L.A. revive him and propel Howard back to an elite level? Or has the decline prematurely begun?
#16 Tony Parker
Cohen’s Analysis: This ranking sure seems very disrespectful to Parker, who was an MVP candidate last year and guided the Spurs to the NBA Finals. But we are noticing some cracks in his health. He had a nagging hamstring injury during the Finals, for instance.
We also know that San Antonio is an aging team. Sure, it overcame that last season to advance to the title round and if not for a monumental Game 6 collapse would be the champs. However, I am expecting the Spurs to rapidly decline starting this season. It’s not an insult to Parker directly necessarily. I just don’t think he or any of teammates will reach the same status as last year.
#17 Damian Lillard
Cohen’s Analysis: As long as Lillard and CJ McCollum connect, Portland’s backcourt is promising. We know how sensational Lillard was in his rookie season as the primary point guard. Now with McCollum on board, the two can toggle back and forth between each guard position. This should alleviate some of the pressure on Lillard and potentially improve his performance in several categories.
#18 Derrick Rose
Cohen’s Analysis: You have to assume it will take a little while before Rose returns to familiar form. He hasn’t played since April of 2012 and considering how severe his injury was, some wonder if he will ever be the same explosive and dynamic player from when he was the league’s MVP.
Those close to the Bulls are adamant, however, that Rose’s determination, heart and courage won’t allow him to decline.
#19 Dwyane Wade
Cohen’s Analysis: Wade has some serious knee problems and as a result Miami is likely to scale back his minutes considerably in the regular season in hopes he is extra fresh for the playoffs.
As he did during the postseason this past season and particularly in that masterful Game 7 performance of the NBA Finals, Wade has to continue to alter his game. No longer can he attack the basket with a vengeance. He must become more efficient as a mid-range jump shooter.
#20 Josh Smith
Cohen’s Analysis: The Pistons have suddenly become an intriguing team. Everyone is talking about the Pacers and Bulls in the Central Division because of their recent track record, but if you really dissect these teams, it’s not necessarily far-fetched to argue that Detroit actually has more talent than both of those foes.
If the Pistons do evolve into a top five team in the East and even challenge for the division crown, it will largely happen because Smith proved he is a legit All-Star talent. That and because Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe didn’t interfere with each other’s progress.
Who Fell Short of Top 20?