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Award Tour: All-NBA ballot shakes up final Player Power Rankings

With the regular season coming to a close, so too must the Player Power Rankings. But they are not going out without a bang.

I began working this week on my official ballot for the All-NBA teams and it has been quite exasperating. That's because you have to choose a center on each of the three teams.

Well, let's keep it real -- there isn't a true NBA center deserving of first-team all-league recognition. The two best -- Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins -- each missed roughly a quarter of the season and couldn't lead their teams past doormat status when playing.

Nonetheless, abiding by the rules forced a well-deserving forward (Kevin Durant on my ballot) to by pushed down to the second team, where he's paired with Draymond Green.

My decision to name Green a top-four forward meant he had to be moved ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge in the rankings. There were a few scenarios (D.O.L.L.A. and The Beard, for instance) that played out in similar fashion.

Hence, there was upheaval heading into the postseason -- or vacation, depending on your skills.


1. Stephen Curry

Golden State Warriors
Point guard
RPM: 8.92 (No. 1)
Previous rank: No. 1

It frustrates me to no end to hear people say of Curry, "He's just a great shooter.'' Really? Ask the Spurs, the league's best defensive team and the ones who decided last week that the best way to stop Curry was to force him off the 3-point line.

All he did was use his all-time great handle to slice to the basket for layups, floaters and 64 points on 58 percent shooting in two W's. Oh, and he also averaged seven assists, five rebounds and two steals. Despite San Antonio's smart, well-executed game plan, he still nailed seven 3s.

I'm not saying he's as good as Michael Jordan (he's not), but this season he has been Jordan-esque.


2. LeBron James

Cleveland Cavaliers
Small forward
RPM: 8.41 (No. 3)
Previous rank: No. 2

He'll keep smiling, accommodating the media and praising Golden State for matching (and maybe surpassing) Jordan's Bulls. But make no mistake about it -- LeBron is heated.

Now, rather than aiming his subtweets at teammates or as he says, no one in particular, he seems to be targeting those Warriors. Announcing on Twitter that he's watching a 1997 Utah Jazz playoff game rather than Golden State vs. San Antonio? It only adds intrigue as we watch him try to back up his odd viewing choice with some of the best ball of his life -- and a 'chip.

Personally, I like the audacity.


3. Russell Westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder
Point guard
RPM: 7.89 (No. 5)
Previous rank: No. 3

Here's how good, versatile and overwhelming Westbrook has been: He actually did something that doesn't have to be preluded with a "post-merger'' or "after Wilt and Oscar, of course'' qualifier. For all their triple-doubles, neither of those legends ever recorded one in only 17 minutes, 35 seconds, as Westbrook did against Kobe's Lakers on Monday. Only the mysterious Jim Tucker in 1955 achieved the feat faster.

So, why is he third instead of second? Well, perhaps it's petty, but here's the answer: too many turnovers and blown leads, and not enough W's when you've got a teammate named Kevin Durant.


4. Kawhi Leonard

San Antonio Spurs
Small forward
RPM: 8.58 (No. 2)
Previous rank: No. 4

There's all this talk about Curry being in the running for most improved player, but what about Kawhi? His scoring jumped nearly five points (16.5 PPG to 21.1), he improved his field goal percentage to better than 50 percent while increasing his workload and taking the most shots of his career and his 3-point accuracy improved drastically (.349 to .448).

And unlike many role players who become offensive stars, his defense hasn't fallen off. In fact, he has keyed one of the best defenses in recent memory. I just wish he had a little more flavor. But that's just me.


5. Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder
Small forward
RPM: 6.07 (No. 9)
Previous rank: No. 5

Despite the power of Westbrook, Durant is still the Thunder player with whom I'd prefer to start a team. I loved how he didn't take it easy on "Ol' Man Kobe" Monday night. Kobe asked for it -- talking trash to one of the greatest scorers of all time -- and KD suitably torched him for 34 points. It was the sixth time in his past seven games that Durant has scored more than 30.

This man's hungry for the playoffs. Don't count OKC out.


6. Chris Paul

Los Angeles Clippers
Point guard
RPM: 7.84 (No. 6)
Previous rank: No. 6

Despite all the love I just showered on KD, Paul was ahead of Durant on my MVP ballot. It's simple: CP3 carried the Clippers this season. DeAndre Jordan, Doc Rivers, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford all deserve credit. But the fact is that at latest count, the Clippers were negative-200 with Paul on the bench and plus-534 with him on the floor. That 734-point difference is better than anyone in the league not playing for Golden State.


7. Draymond Green

Golden State Warriors
Power forward
RPM: 8.27 (No. 4)
Previous rank: No. 10

He crept ahead of Aldridge on my All-NBA second team because of his superior versatility and inspiring personality. He's to the Warriors what Joakim Noah was to the Bulls, and if you don't think that's a factor in this historic run, you need to take a chemistry class -- not to mention the triple-doubles, smothering defense and ability to guard 7-footers.

If Green couldn't guard men whose shoulders smack him in the face, there would be no 1995-96 Bulls comparisons for his squad.


8. LaMarcus Aldridge

San Antonio Spurs
Power forward
RPM: 2.20 (No. 51)
Previous rank: No. 7

Aldridge wanted a chance to compete for championships and he certainly has that in San Antonio. In fact, he could be the key to the Spurs getting past Golden State.

He has been outstanding since the All-Star break, averaging 20.4 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the floor, and he'll need to outplay my defensive player of the year -- the aforementioned Draymond Green -- if San Antonio is to have any shot. When he has (averaging 25 points and 11.5 rebounds), the Spurs either won or came close against the Warriors. When he hasn't (totaling 16 points in two games), they were torched.


9. Damian Lillard

Portland Trail Blazers
Point guard
RPM: 1.34 (No. 64)
Previous rank: No. 9

I think James Harden is better than Lillard. But Lillard, playing with far less talent, has his team holding down the fifth seed in the Western Conference, and Harden -- stunning us for completely different reasons -- is still fighting just to reach the postseason.

That's largely why Lillard joins Paul on my second-team All-NBA backcourt and why he has moved ahead of The Beard in this season's final installment of our Player Power Rankings.


10. James Harden

Houston Rockets
Shooting guard
RPM: 4.48 (No. 16)
Previous rank: No. 8

His numbers -- and all we can talk about are his numbers since his team has become a joke -- have long been ridiculous. But over the last three months of the season, they've been downright otherworldly. In February, he averaged 31.5 points, 7.0 assists and 6.5 boards. In March, 28.6 points and 9.5 assists. And in April, 34 points and nearly eight assists while shooting virtually 50 percent from the field. Lots of guys -- I repeat, lots of guys! -- would slack off on D if they had offense like that.

The next 10

11. Paul George | SF | Indiana Pacers

Because of George, I'm giving the Pacers an outside chance of upsetting Toronto in the first round.

Previous rank: No. 11

12. Kyle Lowry | PG | Toronto Raptors

He has done what Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh couldn't: lead a Raptors team to 50 or more wins.

Previous rank: No. 12

13. Klay Thompson | SG | Golden State Warriors

When he was coaching the Warriors, Mark Jackson once told me Thompson reminded him of Reggie Miller. That comparison seems more and more accurate every day.

Previous rank: No. 13

14. Paul Millsap | PF | Atlanta Hawks

He's one of only three players in the league (Draymond Green, Thaddeus Young) listed at 6-foot-8 or shorter to average nine or more rebounds this season. Millsap also leads the surging Hawks in points, blocks and steals.

Previous rank: No. 15

15. Isaiah Thomas | PG | Boston Celtics

Only one player listed at 5-9 or shorter has ever averaged more points in a season than Thomas' 22.2 PPG, and that's Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy in 1977-78 (25.6 PPG).

Previous rank: No. 14

16. DeMar DeRozan | SG | Toronto Raptors

He's shooting the 3 better than ever but still doesn't attempt even two per game. If he ever truly develops a 3-ball, he could become more than a mere All-Star.

Previous rank: No. 16

17. DeAndre Jordan | C | Los Angeles Clippers

He gets rewarded as my first-team All-NBA center because -- well, mainly because I had to pick a true center -- but also because he was critical to the Clippers' ability to win more than 50 games with Blake Griffin out most of the season.

Previous rank: No. 19

18. Hassan Whiteside | C | Miami Heat

Rewarded for playing tremendously off the bench, Whiteside is back in the Heat's starting lineup. Let's see what he makes of the opportunity.

Previous rank: No. 17

19. Karl-Anthony Towns | PF | Minnesota Timberwolves

He will battle Anthony Davis for the title of league's best big man as soon as next season.

Previous rank: N/A

20. Kemba Walker | PG | Charlotte Hornets

One of the most improved players in the league. In fact, he's second on my ballot to Portland's C.J. McCollum.

Previous rank: No. 20