The NBA's Best Player at Each Position So Far in 2015-16
The main story that came out of the conversation was that he named himself as the best shooting guard, but -- as you would expect - this has opened up the discussion for yet another "best of" debate with no right answer.
No matter, we live for these kinds of discussions, subjective as they may be. To lower the subjectivity level a little, however, we'll let the numbers decide the "best" player at each position and then just justify each pick a bit.
One-number, all-encompassing statistics are not everyone's cup of tea as a way to rate players, but they at least serve as a good jump-off point for these kinds of debates (after all, what does "best" even mean, anyway?).
For our purposes, we'll use our in-house metric, nERD. If you're unfamiliar with nERD, it's a player ranking that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on his efficiency. The league average is zero. Comparable to Win Shares, this ranking gives an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would win with said player as one of its starters over a full 82-game season.
These ratings are based on play so far this season, so we're looking at this from the perspective of 2015-16 performance only. nERD tries to strike a balance between offensive, defensive, and usage factors as well, so a few of these choices might surprise you, since it doesn't just spit out the most offensively dominant player at each position (as is the tendency for lists of this nature).
Let's get down to it.
Point Guard - Stephen Curry (27.8 nERD)
Well, duh. There's probably little debate that Stephen Curry has been not only the top point guard this season but also the best player and odds on favorite for MVP, regardless of how early in the season it still is. Curry is putting up historically unique numbers, averaging 31.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 2.1 steals per contest, while shooting 52.0% from the field, 45.3% from three-point range (with a whopping 4.9 made per game), and 89.9% from the free throw line. He's not only the first player ever to put up those kinds of averages with that shooting split, but he's also on pace to set NBA records for Player Efficiency Rating (33.0) and Win Shares per 48 Minutes (.352). Russell Westbrook (18.0 nERD) is Steph's closest competitor at point guard, and it's not even all that close.
Shooting Guard - Jimmy Butler (11.6 nERD)
Sorry, Klay, but we give the nod to Jimmy Butler at shooting guard. Most people would place James Harden here by default, but the Beard simply doesn't have a solid two-way game like Jimmy Buckets does. Besides averaging 21.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game with a solid Offensive Rating of 114, Butler is also a lockdown perimeter defender, averaging 1.8 steals and 0.9 blocks and posting a Defensive Rating of 100. That +14 difference in Net Efficiency is better than both Klay (+9) and Harden (+6).
Small Forward - Kawhi Leonard (23.3 nERD)
Small forward is currently a position dominated by face-of-the-NBA-level superstars like LeBron James (12.0 nERD), Kevin Durant (17.7 nERD), and Paul George (7.6 nERD), but our metric would take Kawhi Leonard (23.3 nERD) and his 2015-16 season so far over each of 'em. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year was once considered undeveloped on the offensive end of the floor, but this season, he has taken the leap to becoming arguably the best two-way player in the entire Association. He's averaging 21.1 points, 7.4 boards, 2.7 assists, 2.0 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game, while shooting 51.0% from the field, 47.2% from long range, and 87.9% from the charity stripe. That kind of shooting efficiency places him third in the NBA in Offensive Rating at 122.4, while he's also repeating as the league leader in Defensive Rating at 90.8 (somehow way better than his already ridiculous mark of 96.4 from last season).
Power Forward - Paul Millsap (11.0 nERD)
There are plenty of superstar power forwards in the NBA, but the perpetually underrated Paul Millsap (11.0 nERD) gets the nod over megastars Chris Bosh (10.6 nERD), Blake Griffin (9.9 nERD), Kevin Love (8.9 nERD), and Anthony Davis (3.9 nERD) so far this season, per our metric. Millsap's name never really comes up when discussing the best fours in the game, but his all-around solid averages of 17.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game, and 47.8% shooting mark from the field should place him more firmly in the conversation. He's a solid contributor on both ends of the floor, posting a 113 Offensive Rating and 100 Defensive Rating so far this season, while coming in 10th in the NBA in Box Plus/Minus at 5.2.
Center - DeAndre Jordan (10.7 nERD)
Regardless of the fact that DeAndre Jordan shoots a ridiculously inefficient mark of 39.0% from the free throw line (on 8.0 attempts per game, no less), his overall efficiency numbers are balanced out by his league-leading field goal percentage of 70.6%. Throw in the fact that he averages 11.0 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per contest, and it's no trouble to see why Jordan rates as well as he does by our metric, edging out Hassan Whiteside (10.3 nERD) and Andre Drummond (8.3 nERD) for the honor of being our top center so far this season.
Now that we've shown you ours, what would be your top five-man lineup from this season so far? Let us know via Twitter or in the comments section below.