#SLAMTop50: LeBron James, no. 1

The definitive ranking of the NBA's best players for 2014-15.
by October 21, 2014

At some point, it will be a thing we can talk about again. A thing worth discussing, worth arguing about, worth your very hottest internet take. It will once again be a question worth asking. Right now, though, it’s not a question. There is no question about this guy right here.

Maybe it’ll happen soon. Maybe Kevin Durant will commit just that little bit more on the defensive end, maybe add just a touch more of that intangible whatever-it-is to complete his ascendancy. Maybe Derrick Rose will really be healthy this time, and manage to stay that way for a while. Maybe Channing Frye is finally, finally ready to get serious about his assist-to-turnover ratio. Maybe Dwi—no, no, I’m just kidding. C’mon. Knock it off.

More likely, it’ll take a few years. Maybe it’s Anthony Davis taking a few more giant steps along his path to freakish dominance, or maybe it’s Andrew Wiggins finding a shortcut to the McGrady-in-his-prime route and just exploding all over the damn league. Maybe it’s someone who’s not yet even on our radar.

But yeah, at some point, sooner or later, another human being will make this a debate. Until that happens, LeBron James is the best basketball player in this or any other league, and there’s really no reason to write another word.

*checks word count in assignment email*

OK, but so here’s the thing. Maybe there actually is something worth discussing, an angle to make this non-argument at least a little bit interesting. Because the stage has changed, and because the supporting cast is so different, and because the LeBron who will suit up for Cleveland in 2014-15 is so much more accomplished and undeniable than the dude who left four years ago, it’s worth wondering if we’ll see a slightly different guy on the floor.

Let me explain: Because I’m an idiot, four years ago I wondered aloud—it wasn’t a prediction, not quite—if LeBron might not go to Miami and average a triple-double: 22, 10 and 11, something like that. My logic, such as it was, was that he had so much more talent around him than he’d ever had, and that his oft-discussed tendency toward deference would allow him to dominate games while rarely scoring more than 20 per. He’d revel in the chance to dime Dwyane and Chris and Mario and Udonis and whoever else, and then because it was attainable, he’d crash the boards a little harder and start the break himself and actually aim for a triple-double, which would look pretty damn cool on a 58-win team.

That was my thought.

Instead, he did pretty much what he’d done in Cleveland, statistically speaking, hovering with remarkable consistency right around 27, 7 and 7. He did score slightly less than he had during his peak years with the Cavs, because he generally didn’t have to score 30 a night with the Heat. But while he added to his game—posting up more often, becoming more reliable from three, all the facets that helped reel in a pair of championship trophies—he didn’t really alter it in any drastic sense. He just made it more lethal.

So it’s probably silly, in the fall of 2014, to think that a guy with two rings and four MVP trophies, on the verge of his 12th NBA season and 30th birthday, might drastically alter his game now. LeBron will do no such thing, surely. But what he might do, given the stakes, and a new coach eager to accommodate, and the young legs and empty trophy cases of his two new All-Star running mates, is a little bit…less. Fewer minutes. The occasional sore back or DNP-flu on the second night of back to backs. Logical adjustments to save him for the post-season grind, and for that next contract. Smart basketball.

And what this might do, as much as it matters in the context of these paragraphs and this list, is open the door. Maybe it’s a crack that KD or Derrick or even Chris or Blake or Anthony can push through and exploit, and maybe if their teams are winning and their numbers are shiny enough, one of them can stake the claim now. Make it another season in which LeBron doesn’t win MVP, regardless of what happens after the regular season ends.

And then, come the postseason, maybe Kyrie or Kevin—or hell, maybe Kyrie and Kevin—get it rolling at such a level that LeBron can continue to, if not quite coast, than do something slightly less than his all-conquering best, because slightly less will still be good enough for a ring. And maybe then, once the revelers have burned Cleveland to the ground, and the season averages have become irrelevant, LeBron will be content with being the veteran keystone of a mini-dynasty and we won’t really have to think of him that way anymore.

Because LeBron would be 30, with nothing left to prove or attain that he didn’t already own in excess. He’d still be able to go another four or six or eight years, and another couple of contracts, and continue to boost the career totals that would only further reinforce his place in the very uppermost echelons of the great basketball echelon container. And then, finally, we’d almost have something to talk about here again.

It’s been a few years. It’d be nice. Seems the least he could do.




#SLAMTop50 Players 2014
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Chandler Parsons Mavs SF 6
49 Deron Williams Nets PG 15
48 Monta Ellis Mavs SG 9
47 Eric Bledsoe Suns PG 14
46 Rudy Gay Kings SF 5
45 Joe Johnson Nets SG 8
44 Kenneth Faried Nuggets PF 11
43 DeAndre Jordan Clippers C 9
42 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 13
41 Pau Gasol Bulls PF 10
40 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 12
39 Paul Millsap Hawks PF 9
38 Lance Stephenson Hornets SG 7
37 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 8
36 Al Horford Hawks C 8
35 Bradley Beal Wizards SG 6
34 Kyle Lowry Raptors PG 11
33 Andre Drummond Pistons C 7
32 Dwyane Wade Heat SG 5
31 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 7
30 DeMar DeRozan Raptors SG 4
29 Klay Thompson Warriors SG 3
28 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 6
27 Goran Dragic Suns PG 10
26 Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 9
25 Al Jefferson Hornets C 6
24 Chris Bosh Heat C 5
23 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 4
22 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 4
21 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 5
20 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 3
19 Kobe Bryant Lakers SG 2
18 John Wall Wizards PG 8
17 Damian Lillard Blazers PG 7
16 Kyrie Irving Cavs PG 6
15 Dwight Howard Rockets C 2
14 Joakim Noah Bulls C 1
13 Tony Parker Spurs PG 5
12 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 4
11 LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 4
10 Kevin Love Cavs PF 3
9 James Harden Rockets SG 1
8 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 2
7 Carmelo Anthony Knicks SF 3
6 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 3
5 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 2
4 Anthony Davis Pelicans PF 1
3 Chris Paul Clippers PG 1
2 Kevin Durant Thunder SF 2
1 LeBron James Cavs SF 1

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.