Who will rule the NBA in 2015? Our panelists make their picks at each position:
1. In 2015, who will be the best point guard in the NBA?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: There are three legitimate candidates here: Chris Paul (the incumbent), Derrick Rose (the prime performer) and Kyrie Irving (the upstart). Paul will turn 30 in 2015, while Rose and Irving will be enjoying their primes. I'm sticking with Paul, because he's the superior defender and as dynamic as Rose and Irving are, there's an element of control Paul exerts over the shape of a game that's unrivaled, and unless he falls victim to injury, that power isn't going to erode over the next two years.
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: Kyrie Irving. He's already an elite point guard, even if much of the country doesn't realize it. He's a terrific passer, has arguably the best handle in the game and is a deadeye shooter. He will emerge as a superstar in the coming years.
Michael Pina, Red94: Kyrie Irving. At just 20 years old, Irving is already a legitimate go-to scorer who regularly hits the type of shots that make you question if defensive strategies to slow him down have been invented yet. Already this season he's scored 41 points in New York (on 60 percent shooting), 34 points in Brooklyn and posted a 24-point, 10-assist gem in a win over Chris Paul and the Clippers.
Noam Schiller, Hardwood Paroxysm: Chris Paul. Watching Paul in 2008, it was frightening to think what would happen when he lost his athleticism; but in 2012, a slightly less agile version exhibits such incredible control over games that it looks almost telepathic. I wanted to be the guy who said Kyrie Irving, but not in 2015, when Paul just turns 30.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: Kyrie Irving. Point guard is such a stacked position -- especially with young players -- that projecting who will rule the league is difficult. But Irving is already very productive, amazingly skilled and playing with a poise beyond his years. As he continues his ascent as a player, I don't see any point guard who has both the foundation of an elite game today and so much room to grow and refine his skill. Him reaching his incredibly high ceiling isn't a question, it's just a matter of time.
2. In 2015, who will be the best shooting guard in the NBA?
Arnovitz: James Harden. Shooting guard used to be the queen on the chess board, but the ranks of elite 2s has really thinned out. The favorite right now would be Harden and he's the best, but if Shabazz Muhammad is the intuitive, ready-made star many believe him to be, he could conceivably make a case, as he'll be entering his third season in the NBA. But Harden's complete game -- the handle, the touch, the instincts, the playmaking ability -- has him on track.
Gordian: James Harden. Freed from his role as a super-sub in Oklahoma City, Harden's shooting, vision and playmaking ability are finally being recognized as among the best at his position. As Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and the older generation of shooting guards near the end of their careers, Harden will emerge as the top 2-guard in the league.
Pina: James Harden. A case can be made that he's the most efficient player in basketball, scoring more points than LeBron James and Russell Westbrook this season while leading the entire league in made free throws (only Dwight Howard has attempted more). Harden is the primary reason Houston's offense is one of the 10 best in basketball, and at only 23 years old his future looks glorious.
Schiller: James Harden. Although I love Harden's game, placing him as the best in his position feels somewhat odd. That said, the NBA only has three superstar-level shooting guards at the moment with the other two (Bryant and Wade) on the wrong side of 30. I doubt any incoming NBA prospect overtakes the list within three years, so Beardy it is.
Soriano: James Harden. Not only is Harden young enough so he'll still be right in the middle of his prime, but the experience he's getting as "the man" in Houston will only accelerate his growth as a player. I expect his offensive repertoire to only become more well-rounded and his defense to improve as well. As Kobe and Wade decline, Harden will be right there to carry the torch as the game's best SG.
3. In 2015, who will be the best small forward in the NBA?
Arnovitz: LeBron James has four years on Kevin Durant, so even those of us who'd take James today have to concede there will come a moment of convergence when Durant's overall production nudges past James'. Some would argue that moment is now, but the defensive piece still looms large. Will a 26-year-old Durant have the full complement of skills a 30-year-old James has? Maybe, but I'm going to put that date closer to 2017 because James seems indestructible and most of those ancillary skills get better with age.
Gordian: Kevin Durant. He's been the league's leading scorer for three seasons running and he's only 24. The vast majority of his best basketball is still in front of him. One day he may be thought of as the greatest scorer of all time, and in 2015 he will easily be the best wing scorer in the game.
Pina: LeBron James. Because I can't imagine a world where James isn't the best basketball player. Who knows which uniform he'll be wearing in 2015? Does it matter? He'll be 29 years old for most of 2015, and he'll still rank as one of the 10 best scorers, passers, rebounders and defenders in the league with five straight appearances in the NBA Finals and five or six MVP awards.
Schiller: Kevin Durant. He somehow keeps getting better every year despite being an MVP-caliber player for three seasons, and in 2015 he'll barely be hitting his prime. I fully expect him to develop a half-court finger roll or a no-look somersault pass within the next 24 months.
Soriano: Kevin Durant. In 2015, Durant might not only be the best SF but the game's best player overall. Already the purest scorer in the NBA, the very good playmaking and defense he displays today will only be better by that time. For a player that's already so good, he still has room to grow and by that time he should be a full-fledged monster on both ends of the floor.
4. In 2015, who will be the best power forward in the NBA?
Arnovitz: Seen Blake Griffin work in the post lately? Seen anyone deploy an effective strategy of defending him inside of 20 feet? Seen his jump shot, which he's now hitting in the low-40 percent range? Or his defense, which has radically improved? Griffin is making the kind of progress we expect of superstars in the third seasons of their careers, and that trajectory will continue to point upward.
Gordian: LeBron James. James will still be the best player in the NBA in 2015. And aside from his otherworldly athleticism and immensely high basketball IQ, he'll increasingly be used as a power forward. His vision, strength and finishing ability will make him the most problematic 4 to guard in the game.
Pina: Kevin Love. By 2015 Love will be thriving in his prime, simultaneously existing as the best stretch-4 and rebounder of his generation. Apologies to Blake Griffin with this selection, but Love's room to grow as a system defender indicates he can still get way better than he is today.
Schiller: LeBron James. I'm not sure LeBron is actually capable of aging, and I would be just as comfortable placing him here on a list for 2025. But I do think Father Time's effects on this cyborg of a man, however limited, will be enough to permanently push him down to the post, where size and smarts can outweigh aging joints.
Soriano: Anthony Davis. At such a deep position, it seems blasphemous to claim that Davis would be the game's best PF. But as a rookie he's already posting the third-best PER at PF this season, is flashing a more well-rounded offensive game than he was given credit for coming out of Kentucky, and his defense will only continue to improve as he gets stronger and learns the NBA game. The sky is the limit for this kid, and the game's best PF is his future.
5. In 2015, who will be the best center in the NBA?
Arnovitz: Dwight Howard will be 29 years old, and unless we believe that his size, power and speed will dramatically diminish or that Andrew Bynum is capable of building anything resembling a superstar career, or that Andre Drummond has the goods, or Brook Lopez will realize that defending is central to a center's job description, Howard figures to hold onto the belt for another few seasons.
Gordian: Dwight Howard. I was tempted to pick a younger NBA big, but the truth is, in 2015 Howard will be 29. He's having a rough 2012-13, but that has more to do with last season's back surgery than a lack of chemistry with his new teammates. If he's 100 percent physically in 2015, he'll be the force in the middle he's always been.
Pina: Anthony Davis. Injuries have robbed Davis of what should have been (and quietly is becoming) a brilliant rookie season. If the league continues to utilize smaller, quicker lineups, by 2015 a majority of NBA teams will use their center to set screens, crash the offensive glass and stabilize their half-court defense. Davis will do all of that and so much more. He's 19 years old and barely beginning to bloom (even if it's not yet full time at the center position).
Schiller: Anthony Davis. I'm kind of cheating, because I don't think Davis will ever be a pure center, but power forward is reserved for somebody else. Davis' offense is way ahead of schedule, and his defensive potential is unlimited. My distrust of Dwight Howard's back is enough for me to think Davis will be the best "big" in the league soon.
Soriano: Dwight Howard. With Howard's recovery from back surgery still underway, it's easy to forget how dominant he is when he's fully healthy. By 2015, not only will Howard still be in his prime, but I'd imagine the combination of a return to full health and the lack of a young, up-and-coming prospect in the pivot will equate to Howard staying the top center in the league.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Arnovitz covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Graydon Gordian, Michael Pina, Noam Schiller and Darius Soriano are part of the TrueHoop Network.
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