Each year OneManFastBreak.net ranks the five best players in the NBA. Let’s call it the “OMFB Furious Five.” It’s all about paying homage to the five styles of Chinese martial arts: snake, crane, monkey, praying mantis, and tiger.
The ranking system is based on one man’s opinion and does not follow or conform to any other format, with more emphasis placed on how each player did in the postseason. Last year’s OMFB Furious Five included James Harden (5), Russell Westbrook (4), Kevin Durant (3), LeBron James (2), and Stephen Curry (1).
LeBron and Steph met in the 2016 NBA Finals, and that’s where the debate was settled on who was the true king of basketball.
OneManFastBreak.net rates the five best players in the Association:
5. JAMES HARDEN
Houston Rockets, Guard
Can you imagine OKC now had it kept Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant? The Harden-to-Houston deal remains one of the most absurd moves in league history. The Thunder hasn’t return to the NBA Finals since the trade, while Harden has risen as an MVP candidate. Harden reminded OKC what they’re missing when he put on a memorable performance on Feb. 20, 2013 against his former team. It was a game that’ll convince you that Harden, now out of the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, is one of the best players in the world. With his Rockets down by 14 with under five minutes left, Harden decided to take the game over. He single-handedly rallied the Rockets, dropping a career-high 46 points in a 122-119 victory that had the Toyota Center buzzing — and the rest of the league for that matter — buzzing. Harden made 14 of 19 shots from the field and made seven of his eight 3-point attempts. It didn’t matter who OKC put on Harden, he just kept scoring. The signature play of the evening came at the two-minute mark of the final quarter when Harden faced Ibaka on the wing, gave him one crossover dribble, four between-the-legs dribbles, then stepped backed for a long 3-pointer over the best shot-blocker in the NBA to tie the score at 111. During the 2014-15 season, Harden led the Rockets to Western Conference finals where they fell to eventual champ Golden State.
4. RUSSELL WESTBROOK
Oklahoma City Thunder, Guard
Nobody plays with more raw emotion than Westbrook. Even though his exuberance leads to mistakes, it is the reason why he’s such a difficult cover. “Everybody thinks he should be a traditional point guard like a [John] Stockton or a Mo Cheeks (former Thunder assistant coach),” Durant said during the 2011 NBA Finals. “There’s a lot of people that cannot be like Russ, either. We need him to play the way he plays.” Westbrook’s impact on the court can’t be measured by mere statistics. He is the emotional leader of the Thunder, and his absence definitely altered the entire playoff picture. With him in the lineup, OKC is a championship contender. Without him, the Thunder won’t make it past the second round. Westbrook enjoyed his best season in 2014-15 as he won his first scoring title (28.1) while carrying the Thunder on his broad shoulders when Durant missed most of the season with a foot injury. Westbrook may not be the prototypical point guard, but what he brings to the table are speed, power and ferocity the league has never seen before at the guard position. Two years ago, TNT analyst Kenny Smith said Westbrook will win MVP. That hasn’t come to fruition yet, but Westbrook is clearly in the MVP conversation.
3. KEVIN DURANT
Golden State Warriors, Forward
If you want to know what makes Durant such a special talent, just watch his MVP speech from 2014. What he said during his emotional address spoke volumes about his character. He thanked all his coaches and teammates, and then he honored his mom. KD is not one of the best players on the planet. He’s one of the best human beings you will ever meet. Durant has already accomplished a lot in his career. He’s a four-time NBA scoring champ, five-time All-NBA selection, Rookie of the Year in 2008 and was named MVP in 2014. He also took home gold medals at the 2010 FIBA World Cup, 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics. Several teams during the London Olympics paid Durant the highest compliment when they played a box-and-one defense on the 6-10 scoring machine. Remember, Team USA had LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant and Steph Curry on the roster, but it was Durant who received the most attention from the opposition. It is hard to believe Durant could go up another notch in terms of his game, but he did. He added more layers to his already impressive arsenal, and improved statistically across the board. Durant hasn’t shot below 50 percent from the field since 2012. He has a career scoring average of 27 points per game and he’s nearly a 90 percent shooter from the free throw line. After playing in just 27 games in the 2015-15 season because of a foot injury, KD has returned to form the following season and he’s only getting stronger with each passing game. The only box left unchecked for KD is a championship, and he’s working his way toward that goal now that he’s a member of the high-powered Golden State Warriors.
2. STEPHEN CURRY
Golden State Warriors, Guard
The 3-point shot has become an integral part of the game over the last decade. More and more teams are building their game plans around them. The Warriors built their championship foundation on the 3-point shooting skills of Wardell Stephen Curry. Golden State selected the son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft. Six years later, Curry is the MVP of the NBA. He also ended the 40-year title drought in the Bay Area. Basketball legend Jerry West believes Curry is a transcendent player who “is going to change what we see in players coming into this league.” “All those little kids would want to look like him [and] play like him,” West said.
“He doesn’t have a big body, he’s not the most incredible athlete we have, and he plays the game with finesse. We see a lot of players in this league that are big, strong guys that play with force. To me, so far, finesse has won out over force. It’s a game I like to watch. I love to watch him play.” Curry was the top vote-getter in the NBA All-Star Game and his highlights are viral hits on YouTube. Not bad for a guy who was thought of as an undersized shooting guard from tiny Davidson College in North Carolina. Curry is obliterating every 3-point shot record in the league. He is far and away the game’s deadliest long-range shooter, and holds the record for most 3-point field goals made in a season. But what sets him apart from other great shooters is his ability to handle the ball. “Steph Curry is a great shooter. We have never seen anybody on that level,” Curry’s former coach Mark Jackson said. “Steve Nash played at a high level, a two-time MVP and an incredible shooter — this is a different level. Reggie Miller, incredible shooter. Chris Mullin, incredible shooter. Guys I played with, Dale Ellis, Dell Curry, incredible shooters. But they didn’t have the total package. They aren’t coming off a trap and lifting from 30. This guy just has no limits.”
And now, the No. 1 player in the world. Drum roll please . . .
1. LEBRON JAMES
Cleveland Cavaliers, Forward
“I’m LeBron James, and I ain’t got no worries!” This was LeBron’s message to his detractors after leading the Heat to another championship in 2013. Three years later, James still has no worries after pulling off the unthinkable: He led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA championship and ended the 52-year championship drought in the city of Cleveland. James was sensational during the 2016 NBA Finals. He averaged a Finals best 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks. He made The Block in the final minute of Game 7 at Oakland’s Oracle Arena when he chased down Andre Iguodala and prevented what could have been the dagger layup that might have ended the Cavs’ championship hopes. Instead, with one super-human rejection, he lifted the Cleveland curse and set up Kyrie Irving’s game-winning 3-pointer that will be forever be known in northeast Ohio as The Shot. LeBron’s 2016 Finals performance was a stark contrast to his infamous “shrinking” in an embarrassing 4-2 series loss to Dallas in the 2011 Finals.
James said the Mavs series humbled him and he learned an important lesson. It made him make some significant changes on and off the court, including adding a post-up game with the help of Hakeem Olajuwon. LeBron reduced the amount of 3-point attempts and made a concerted effort to take the ball to the basket. He put together one of the most dominant and efficient regular seasons in league history, and earned his fourth MVP award. LeBron and Co. authored a historic 27-game winning streak and finished with a league-best 66 wins. He raised his level of play during the postseason and the signature moment came in Game 7 of the 2013 Finals when he drained a mid-range jumper from the wing with 27 seconds left to put the Heat up by four. For the series he averaged 25 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. James will always have his critics because of the way he left Cleveland the first time. But now he’s back in Ohio. He fulfilled his promise by bringing a championship to The Land, cementing his basketball legacy and silencing his critics. For someone who will go down in history as one of the greatest to ever play the game, LeBron has endured a ton of criticism. He has risen to the challenge, proving to the whole world that he is fit to be king.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.
(Photos by Getty Images)