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Ranking The NBA's Top 100 Players, Part 5: 20-11

What makes this group so good? Is it all the Spurs? Yeah, it's probably the Spurs.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed Part 1, Part 2Part 3 or Part 4, click on them links. After the section on each guy is his ranking on last year's list and also his ranking on Sports Illustrated's list.

20. Paul George, SF, Indiana: Sports Illustrated doesn't have George at all on account of him breaking his leg in a horrific freak injury suffered during a scrimmage with Team USA, but I think No. 20 is a fair place for him. George may not play at all this season, but by all accounts he didn't suffer any ligament damage and is expected to make a full recovery. He said during the Pacers media day that he hopes to play in the playoffs. When he's right, George is the league's second best two-way small-forward, behind James, and may in fact be a superior defender to James. He took some hits for leadership issues as well as off-the-floor drama the last couple of months of the season but played pretty well in the playoffs overall. He just didn't have much support. Last Year List: 11 SI List: N/A

19. Goran Dragic, PG, Phoenix: The only reason Dragic isn't even higher on this list is because 2014 was his breakout year and I want to see him do it again. Dragic was sensational in almost every aspect, shooting above 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from downtown and thriving both as the lead guard and off the ball, interchangeably with Eric Bledsoe. He did wear down a bit toward the end and suffered little nicks here and there. He had to carry too much of a load last year when Bledsoe missed so much time with a knee injury, but he'll be fresher now with Isaiah Thomas on board. Dragic's defense comes and goes and is also related to his energy level and how much he has in the tank and how much he has to save for the other end. Last Year List: N/A SI List: 35

18. Dwight Howard, C, Houston: Surprisingly, Howard was at his best last year in the playoffs and was downright beastly at times against Portland's Robin Lopez. Perhaps there is some truth to the speculation that his back got healthier as the year wore on, so he was closest to his "old" self in April. But for most of the year Howard wasn't nearly as impactful on defense as during his Orlando days (he was surrounded by similarly challenged teammates there) and his scoring and rebounding efforts were very good but hardly otherworldly. Howard showed improvement from his miserable season in LA, but was still far removed from his salad days with the Magic. It'd be a stretch to declare him the best center in the league right now, though he has that title informally. Last Year List: 23 SI List: 9

17. Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio: Parker turned 32 in May and is certainly trending downward as he enters his 14th season, but I have a hunch he has one last great season in him. He dealt with injuries and fatigue last year after playing internationally the past two summers but finally took a few months off this past offseason so he'll be fresh. Gregg Popovich has been good about keeping his minutes down and giving him rest, but I think Parker will have the pedal to the metal early on while Patty Mills recovers from rotator cuff surgery. Despite not having dunked since 2005, the Frenchman remains unparalleled when it comes to getting to the basket and finishing, thanks to his endless array of feints, head fakes, hesitation dribbles, spin-moves, and patented ability to get up shots off his wrong foot and unexpected angles. The jumper comes and goes, but Parker is usually pretty good about taking a lesser role when he's not feeling it and the past couple of seasons has only forced the issue in clutch situations late, where he's been very good. His playmaking remains perennially underrated. Parker doesn't make the highlight no-look pass through four people, but he gets it to the right guy within the offense. Last Year List: 5 SI List: 15

16. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas: At 35, Nowitzki had a phenomenal season last year, finishing just a couple ticks away in each category from a 50-40-90 campaign in terms of shooting percentages from the field, three point land, and the charity stripe. Nowitzki formed a symbiotic pick-and-pop relationship with Monta Ellis and helped stabilize a Mavs team that had many new pieces, leading them back to the playoffs and almost a stunning upset of the Spurs. But in the playoffs Nowitzki underperformed for the most part, only getting hot late in the series when the rest of his teammates had cooled off. Nowitzki was never the most rugged rebounder or defender, but at his age those areas of his game have dropped off entirely. He's still unguardable when he's on though. Last Year List: 14 SI List: 7

15. Carmelo Anthony, SF, New York: Anthony had his best season in many respects. He was able to play 77 games, led the league in minutes-per-game, and averaged career-highs in rebounds, blocks, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. Despite all of it, his supporting cast was so poor that he couldn't even drag the Knicks into the playoffs in the miserable Eastern Conference. While Anthony is a streaky shooter, he gets more heat for that because of the volume of shots he puts up, regardless of whether he's got it going or not. He also feels the slings and arrows for his rampant "ball-stopping," and, more so, for his subpar defense. All the criticisms are valid, but it's fair to wonder what Anthony's game would look like if he were surrounded by better teammates, especially on the defensive end. The Knicks will use the "Triangle Offense," where wings have traditionally been point-forwards, and I'm skeptical if Anthony can ever be a quick-decision facilitator. Last Year List: 12 SI List: 11

14. James Harden, SG, Houston: Harden's first two seasons in Houston have been remarkably consistent and that is kind of weird when you consider that his starting center in one was Omer Asik and in the other was Howard. Shouldn't there be fewer shots attempted, a higher field goal percentage, more assists, some visible benefit of playing with another star? Instead it's like who his teammates are don't affect the metronomic bearded wonder at all in that he's going to get his in any system where he's the recognized first option. The one tangible effect of playing with Harden that I could see is that it's made him even lazier on defense, which I didn't think was possible. He's in full-fledged Pete Marovich mode out there, to the point where there are whole lengthy YouTube montages dedicated to his defensive apathy. It's an indictment of the state of the shooting guard position in the league that Harden is the highest-ranked on this list, and it's only 14th. Oh, and he was just dreadful in the playoffs.  Last Year List: 8 SI List: 13

13. Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio: The ranking looks inflated, and obviously Leonard's Finals MVP is a huge part of it, but it's also a bet on the come. My hunch is Leonard finally breaks out in Year 4, and he's going to have full license to do so with Mills out and Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili another year older. Leonard will average in the high teens in scoring, over eight rebounds and will make his first All-Star Team, all while maintaining his shutdown defender reputation on the other end. Now that he knows what he's capable of and is practically being challenged by his coach to do it nightly, the sky is the limit for Leonard. Last Year List: 37 SI List: 28

12. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis: Had a bit of a down year after a fantastic 2012-13 season and was waylaid by nagging injuries that kept him out of 23 games and limited him in many more. At his best, Gasol is the West's answer to Joakim Noah, a defensive hub coordinating all his teammates and a point-center on the other end, able to hit cutters from the high post and stroke jumpers from 18 feet. Everything was a bit off last year, Gasol was a step slower, a bit less coordinated, there was always something missing. A healthy start should probably get him back to his previous level. Last Year List: 6 SI List: 16

11. Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State: Curry was actually slumping (for him) from three point land the first couple of months but he picked it up and continued to make progress in all other facets of his game, especially his playmaking, with a career-best 8.5 assists per game. He seems to have put his ankle issues behind him -- knock on wood -- and I'm very excited about what he'll be capable of in Steve Kerr's offense, which figures to incorporate more of a Spurs style motion and pick-and-roll sets and less of the isolation looks Mark Jackson preferred. It'll be a less predictable system that creates more looks for everyone, and should enable Curry to shake free of defenders a bit more while wearing him out less. He's useless as a defender, which is to be expected for his size. Last Year List: 21 SI List: 8

To be continued in the conclusion