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#pounditTuesday, October 4, 2022

Ranking the 20 best players in the Western Conference

Paul George

10. Paul George, SF/PF, Oklahoma City Thunder

“No OT tonight,” declared George as he forced his way out of Indiana with a year left on his contract. The good news is that PG-13 is now in OKC playing with the strongest roster of his career (no big deal, just a reigning MVP and some hoodie enthusiast), and that whatever frustrations he had these last few years probably belied how dynamic of a player he truly is. You know what you’re getting from George: a complete offensive game highlighted by a deliciously creamy pull-up J to go along with top-class wing defense. He should be the most efficient version of himself on the Thunder this season, and that has to be a bone-chilling thought for the rest of the NBA.

9. Draymond Green, PF/C, Golden State Warriors

He may be no better than a third wheel on the Golden State monster truck, but forget about Dray at your own peril. Green finally won his first Defensive Player of the Year Award last season, further cementing himself as an undeniably transformative specimen on that end of the floor. [extremely infomercial voice] “But wait! There’s more!” He also became just the fourth frontcourt player in NBA history (along with LeBron James, Larry Bird, and John Havlicek) to average seven or more assists a game in consecutive years, and he proved cash from beyond the arc when it really mattered, hitting 41.0 percent of his 3s in the 2017 playoffs. Safe to call Green a superstar? YEUPP.

8. Jimmy Butler, SG/SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

After six seasons of captivity in Chicago, Butler is a free elf. Now he’s on a Wolves team that’s getting themselves a true alpha dog and one with 24-6-6 upside (elite territory for a wing player) at that. Also reunited with his former sensei Tom Thibodeau, Butler will be able to set the tone for his younger siblings on the team with his destructive one-on-one defense and by acting as an intermediary to help them master the Thibs theory on how to properly defend within the team framework. Let not your hearts be troubled, for St. Jimmy has arrived to deliver unto us all of the buckets.

7. Chris Paul, PG, Houston Rockets

The Point God has migrated along with all of his omnipotent powers to the Southeast Texas area, and much intrigue awaits. CP3 remains the best true floor general on the planet, and his brand of leadership, unselfishness, and basketball IQ should help the Rockets kick it into another gear next season. Where else can you find a 6-foot-nothing 32-year-old who still carries All-Defensive First Team talent and the ability to run a halfcourt offense so picturesque that it would make Vincent Van Gogh himself blush? Here’s a hint: it rhymes with “schmowhere.”

6. Anthony Davis, PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans

Our furry friend hit the 70-game plateau for the first time in his career last season, and every second of it was thoroughly wonderful. Davis went 28-12-2-1-2 over the course of the entire year, hit over half of his shots, and struck fear into the heart of anybody who even so much as looked at his basket. Truth be told, DeMarcus Cousins’ arrival likely overshadowed how great of a year Davis actually had, and the due is somehow still just 24 years of age. So now my friends, I have only but one question: what can Brow do for you?

5. James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets

Continuing on our theme of facial hair, we arrive at Harden and the Great Point Guard Experiment of 2016-17. Well let’s just say that it was a box office smash. Under The Bearded One’s official and full-time PG tutelage, the Houston offense demolished records for three-pointers made and attempted. Harden himself led the league with 11.2 assists per game and also enjoyed a personal best in scoring thanks to the increased pace. Chris Paul’s arrival should slow the tempo a bit and move Harden back to a more off-ball capacity. But with the presumable bump in quality looks he will be getting, Harden should be in line for another season of silly production.

4. Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

Russ’ rampage turned out to be one heck of a ride. In his first year of post-KD existence, Westbrook Hulk-smashed his way to the MVP award, became Mr. Triple-Double (including recording at least seven of them while sitting on the toilet, I’m fairly certain), and dunked a multitude of unlucky souls right into the wilderness of purgatory. He’s the NBA’s leading scorer, he’s the world’s best rebounding guard, he’s the observable universe’s most powerful downhill force, and there’s no turning back now that he’s out of his cage. And with the arrival of some SuperFriends in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony this offseason, it’s all the more that Westbrook will stop at nothing in his obsessive quest to overthrow the ruling class of the Western Conference.

3. Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors

There was a new sheriff in town last season in Silicon Valley, but that hardly took away from Curry’s continued Human Torch displays. It’s really not a debate anymore that The Chef is already the greatest shooter in league history at the age of 29. Curry’s recession of sorts into a co-chair role only made us appreciate his auxiliary talents even more: his fighter jet-like reflexes on D, the crisp extra passes, and those oh so heart-eye-emoji sequences of off-ball movement. 25 points and seven dimes a night on 47-41-90 shooting plus a championship ring would be the summit of the mountain for 99.57 percent of the NBA. But the fact it was seen as a down year for Curry is a testament to the higher-than-Snoop-Dogg bar the man has set for himself and his greatness.

2. Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs

You know what they say about the quiet ones. Leonard’s transformation from defensive death machine to total basketball terminator reached completion last season, and it was quite terrifying. King Kornrows scores better than most guards now (he had more points per game than Kyrie Irving, shot better from three than Damian Lillard, and got to the line at a higher rate than John Wall), and he still nukes multiple positions on defense. Leonard has become the alpha and omega of everything the Spurs do, and it’s stupefying that he was able to drag them to yet another 60-win season playing alongside nothing more than spare and/or aging parts and the ghost of LaMarcus Aldridge. Unfortunately, Zaza Pachulia’s foot robbed us of seeing what the full brunt of Leonard’s power looked like last postseason. This time around though, neither enemies nor emotions will be able to stop The KawhiBot.

1. Kevin Durant, SF/PF, Golden State Warriors

He may be an Internet troll off the court, but at least Durant is (to borrow a term from Neymar) 100 percent Jesus on it. From “cupcake” to “snake” (plus a plethora of others not fit for print), he heard every name in the book this last year after his wildly unpopular decision to join the Dubs in free agency, but there’s only one that matters now: “Finals MVP.” Able to hit from anywhere on the floor, up to and including the parking lot, and now a game-changing presence with his defensive versatility and his rim protection as well, Durant is the NBA superstar she told you not to worry about. Send. Help. Now.

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