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No. 3's A Crowd

LEBRON IS THE ALPHA. KD IS THE BETA. BUT THE GAMMA IS ANYONE'S GUESS. SO WE TOOK TO THE STATS TO ANSWER THE RIDDLE: WHO'S THE NBA'S NO. 3?


WHEN IT COMES TO NBA SUPERSTARS, there exists a clear hierarchy: LeBron James at the top, then Kevin Durant. It's in carving the third head on that totem pole where the going gets tough. To do so, The Mag first asked one exec from each of the 30 NBA teams to name the league's third-best player. The results were mixed: While 21-year-old Anthony Davis edged Chris Paul 10 votes to nine, 11 other execs named eight additional players. Messy, messy. So we turned to the calculators, subjecting all vote-getters (minus the one-legged Paul George) to a metric rumble. Did the analytics match the thinking of the NBA's top decision makers? Not exactly.

1

The Point Guard Bracket

Here's a fun fact: Of our 10 vote- getters, five were point guards. Little men are big these days. So we called upon win shares per 48 minutes (how many wins a player contributes to his team per game) to whittle that quintet down to a duo. Paul's ridiculous 0.270 WS/48 crushed the field, but that's typical; he's led all PGs in the stat each of the past seven seasons. The other semifinal slot went to Stephen Curry, whose 0.225 WS/48 outpaced those of Tony Parker (the benefactor of a productive system), Russell Westbrook (who's relatively inefficient offensively) and Derrick Rose (who even in his MVP campaign of 2010-11 didn't match Curry's 2013-14 production).

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2

The Big-Man Bracket

Employing the same metric we used for the point guards, we next trimmed our four vote-getting bigs-Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Joakim Noah-down to a semifinal twin towers. The first pick was easy: While Love got just one exec vote, he killed in WS/48 last season. And Davis edges out the others: Despite Noah's NBA-leading 6.6 defensive WS and career-high 26.4 percent assist rate, his WS/48 suffers from lack of offensive usage. And despite Griffin's rep as a superior offensive player, his efficiency wanes from his high usage-and a surprisingly low rebound rate.

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3

CP3 vs. The King of 3s

The PG Finals boil down to a clash of styles. "Chris sets up his scoring because he's such a threat to pass," says a Western Conference exec. "And Steph sets up his playmaking because he's such a threat to shoot." To compare them, we looked to real plus-minus,* ESPN's newest measure of player value. Here too Paul tops Curry, and for good reason. CP3 is the better on-ball defender, a big advantage in today's pick-and-roll-heavy NBA.

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4

For Love or the Brow

Spoiler alert! Nearly every exec we polled predicted that by season's end, AD will be the NBA's No. 3. But that will be then. This is The Brow now-a man who was just 98th in RPM last season, sandwiched between Pero Antic and Josh Smith. Why? He's still poor at guarding the pick-and-roll, and his team was only 1.6 points/48 minutes better on O when he was on the floor. Compare that with Love-12th in RPM and better on D (104 DRtg) than his rep suggests. Love wins the day.

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5

Paul Ball

So the battle for bronze boils down to Paul vs. Love. And because Paul clearly topped Love in 2013-14 stats, we wage this one with a career metric: net rating, the measure of a team's production with a player on the floor. Through Nov. 12, Love's career net rating: plus-5.2. Paul's: plus-8.8. No contest. Conventional wisdom says Paul is the more complete player. And in this case, it's right. "It's overblown to say Kevin is a poor defender," an Eastern Conference exec says. "But his on-ball D is still weak." Paul has no such deficiency-just what you'd expect from the NBA's third-best player.

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