#NBArank debates: Players 21-25
5-on-5: Instant analysis on the first five players to crack the top 25 in our rankings
After a two-month trip through virtually the entire list of NBA ballers, we've finally reached the top tier: the top 25.
Which players deserve to be among the elite? Who should be bumped back a class?
Check out what our five-person panel has to say about each of the first five players to make the top-25 cut as their names are unveiled, and then give us your personal preferences via Twitter.
1. Paul Pierce at No. 21: Too high, too low or just right?
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Too low. Pierce has done exactly what an aging scorer should do to remain effective: limit his attempts and improve his efficiency. Plus, he's using the energy he preserves on offense to play the best defense of his career. After playing just 37 playoff games in his first nine seasons, Pierce has enough left in the tank.
Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Just right. Pierce's numbers have remained remarkably consistent throughout the Big Three era, despite diminishing returns from KG and Ray Allen. Defenses know that Pierce is the only Celtic who can create his own shot -- yet he manages to get them off anyway. Yes, he looks about 100 years old when he lopes upcourt, but somehow the Truth endures.
Ian Levy, Two-Man Game: Just right. Age has pushed Pierce to a tier below the league's elite wings. However, the combination of defense, physicality, savvy and that automatic midrange jumper means he's still a step ahead of the Rudy Gays, Joe Johnsons and Andre Iguodalas.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue And Gold: Just right. Pierce's all-around offensive game is a key ingredient to Boston's scoring and crunch-time success. Combine these offensive exploits with above-average wing defense and this lofty rank is deserved.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Just right. Say what you will about the Celtics' age, and debate, if you must, whether Pierce has lost a step or two. But I can't count more than 20 players I'd rather see with the ball when the game is on the line.
2. Kevin Garnett at No. 22: Too high, too low or just right?
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Too low. At some point, all those games will catch up to the 35-year-old Garnett, who's entering his 17th season. But they haven't yet, and to my shock, Garnett was probably the NBA's second-best defender last season. He could drop fast, but for now, he's still a star.
Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Too high. He'll still lead the league in trash talk, stanchion punches and maniacal battle cries ... which is helpful. But he hasn't played 72 games or averaged 10 rebounds since he's been a Celtic, and his points, minutes, blocks and assists per game are all down significantly ... which is not helpful.
Ian Levy, Two-Man Game: Just right. His offensive abilities have continued to decline, making him a bit player at that end of the floor. Despite all he's lost, you can count on one hand the players who impact the game defensively the way Garnett does.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue And Gold: Too high. Garnett is still a top-notch defender and a difference-maker on that side of the ball. But his offense has become one-dimensional and he's overly dependent on others to create shots for him. At this point in his career, he's an older, streakier-shooting version of Al Horford -- but he ranks three spots higher. It doesn't add up.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Too low. Perhaps I'm a bit of a sucker for the Celtics' intangibles. But Garnett's presence to his team as a psychological and defensive leader should place him in the top 20. Yes, still.
3. LaMarcus Aldridge at No. 23: Too high, too low or just right?
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Just right. Without the momentum of an All-Star selection, Aldridge still made the All-NBA third team. He's proven himself an ultra-effective scorer, and although he could rebound a bit better, he's solid in that department. Until his defense hits the next level, I can't rank him any higher, though.
Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Too low. This is an easy one. Next season, would you rather have 26-year-old LaMarcus Aldridge (40 minutes per game, 22 points, 9 rebounds) play every game or 35-year-old Kevin Garnett (31 minutes per game, 15 points, 9 rebounds), for 60-70 games? Hmmmm ...
Ian Levy, Two-Man Game: Just right. LaMarcus Aldridge carried the Trail Blazers last season and moved himself up several tiers of NBA stardom. He can do it all at both ends of the floor, but a disappointing showing in the playoffs against the Mavericks means there is still another tier or two to go.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue And Gold: Just right. Aldridge is one of the best offensive big men in the league, balancing his proficient perimeter game with improved work on the low block. However, he's still only an average defender and a mediocre defensive rebounder. If he fine-tunes those aspects of his game, he could be in the top 15.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Just right. No player improved as much during last season as LaMarcus. He was the reason Portland remained a viable playoff team after all the injuries. It's time he gets featured as the Blazers' No. 1 offensive option.
4. Chis Bosh at No. 24: Too high, too low or just right?
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Too high. I love the steps Bosh took last season -- playing the best defense of his career and stepping up in the playoffs. That bodes well for his sticking with the Heat and allowing the Big Three experiment to continue as it originated. But he must rebound well for a full season in Miami to move up the list.
Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Just right. Poor Chris Bosh. Ninety-five percent of his press is some variation on Chris Bosh Isn't LeBron James (true), Chris Bosh Isn't a Real Superstar (I guess?) or Chris Bosh Shouldn't Admit He's Psyched Out in Playoff Games (probably true). Meanwhile, he averaged 19 and 8, and took over several key playoff games with his silky-smooth jumper. That's still valuable, right?
Ian Levy, Two-Man Game: Just right, and there's no shame in that. Bosh took a lot of heat last season as people realized the Big Three was really a Big 2.85. Bosh is an efficient offensive player with room to grow on defense; he's good enough to carry a mediocre team or be the third-best player on a great team. He's everything you'd want in the No. 24 player in #NBArank.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue And Gold: Just right. Bosh is one of the hardest players for me to rank. Based off pure skill, this is too low. But he no-showed too often last season to be any higher. That said, he's a nightmare matchup on offense and is key to Miami's defensive schemes. More consistency can propel him much higher in future seasons.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Just right. Bosh's individual value will be hurt some by the fact that he's the third wheel in Miami behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. He has a top-10 skill set, but his inconsistency costs him a few spots in the pecking order.
5. Al Horford at No. 25: Too high, too low or just right?
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Too high. Horford is Joakim Noah (No. 29) and Andrew Bogut (No. 33) with more offensive polish. Still, I'd trade Horford's scoring and passing for Noah's and Bogut's abilities to make stops and inspire teammates.
Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Just right. Most NBA fans don't know that Horford was named to last season's All-NBA third team. True, he doesn't have the footwork in the low block you like to see in a star center. But his midrange jumper has improved dramatically, he passes well out of the post, and few bigs are more comfortable defending the perimeter.
Ian Levy, Two-Man Game: Just right, although inside the top 25 we're really splitting hairs. Horford may not be exceptional in any one area, but he's very good in many. All-around skill level on offense and defense means Horford belongs in the top 25. A lack of dominance means he belongs right at the edge.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue And Gold: Just right. Horford is one of the best shooting big men in the league and is a plus individual and team defender. He's the type of hard-hat player every contending team needs. That said, his low-post game still needs work and he struggles to create his own shot, unlike more polished offensive players.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Too high. And it's not even Horford's fault. In many ways, he's still trying to find his comfort zone between center and power forward. Once he figures out what he is, it'll be easier to get a handle on where he should rank.
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