There are many ways to value players. How much would this player help you in one year? How much would this player help you if you were starting from scratch and had to build a team over a number of years? Do you factor in present contracts when making these choices? A top 10 player list can look fairly different depending which of those rules you take.
For our purposes, I'm going to go with the pick the best player for the next five seasons disregarding contract and just looking at projected on-court value over that period of time. The assumption, of course, is that teams will be formed via dispersal draft, so talent will be spread out evenly throughout the league.
#1. LeBron James
Sure we all hate James and think he's <insert ranting swearing phrase here>, but let's be honest, if we could get LeBron James right now, are you really saying no? It'd feel like selling your soul to root for the guy (and note, that I said this when he was projected to come to Chicago), but hoisting up some championship trophies would allow me to get over it.
The gap between James and the second best player is simply mammoth. He's too athletic for his size and has too much skill for anyone in the NBA to stand a chance on him defensively. I recently said he's no Jordan, but he's the closest thing in terms of talent that the league has ever seen. I think he goes down as the second best player of all time when it's all said and done, or at the very least, top five.
#2 Dwight Howard
This is where the arguments start right? You could go a lot of directions here, but I'm going with Howard because of the lack of physical big men in the NBA. Howard isn't a goto guy in the clutch, but in a dispersal draft, their will still be talented guards left at pick #59, while the big man crop will be rather pathetic.
It just strikes me as far easier to build a team around Howard than a star guard or wing. You can build a team around Howard and role players. Dump the ball in down low, let Howard draw a double team or dunk on someone, and then let your shooters shoot. Also, with Howard, you get opposing big men in foul trouble softening the paint every game, and you have the #1 defensive enforcer in the NBA on your side shoring up your interior defense.
Look at Orlando now, they're a top four team in the league, and their second best player is Vince Carter's ghost, Jameer Nelson, or Rashard Lewis. Those guys are all pretty mediocre. Heck, in the dispersal draft, all three might be left when you're picking again.
#3 Kevin Durant
There are a couple players I'd take over Durant for next season, but when projecting out five years, it's hard to trust those other guys in terms of staying healthy. He's led a fairly pedestrian amount of talent to a 50 win season last year. Durant scores with such high volume and tremendous efficiency that it allows terrible offensive players like Russell "Yeah you heard me he's terrible offensively" Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha to look like studs with their defensive abilities.
Put an actual good offensive player next to Durant, and his team's offense would be scary good. There are some tiny nagging concerns about how he got dominated in the playoffs, since, if he played to his usual game, they would have beaten LA, but I'm not going to hold that against him.
#4 Chris Paul
I am going out on a limb and declaring Chris Paul healthy. That's somewhat of a risk, because he very well may not be healthy. Maybe his lingering knee problem from last year will weigh down his career, but I don't think there's any reason to assume that.
It seems like everyone forgot that Paul is fricken awesome because he was hurt last season. Much like Howard, you can add role players around Paul and watch your team blossom anyway. He doesn't need a second star, and can turn mediocre teammates into above average players.
He's young enough that he'll play out the next five years and still be in his prime at the end of that run which is more than I can say for most of the elite players left.
#5 Dwyane Wade
I think it's often lost in the mix how good Dwyane Wade really is. He's already better than Kobe Bryant. Give him Kobe's cast and Wade is hoisting a trophy as well. We'll see that this year. For my money, he's the second best player in the NBA right now, but I simply don't trust him to hold up for five years, so he has to fall behind Durant, Paul, and Howard who are all younger.
Despite the injury and wear concerns, the only guys who are close also have concerns with longevity or lack his level of talent. Wade can dominate opponents with his efficient offense, drawing fouls, scoring points, racking up assists, and more or less doing everything to run your offense. He single handedly carried the worst team to ever win the championship to victory.
That sounds like a backhanded complement, but it's not. He took schlubs like Antoine Walker, Gary Payton's ghost, and past his prime Shaq to the title.
#6 Deron Williams
Too high for D-Will? I don't think so. He'll be in his prime for the next five seasons and brings everything to the table you can ask of from your point guard. Great at running the offense, stretches the floor with his range, very good defensively, great court vision, can attack the basket, etc.. Williams can really do it all and has no weaknesses in his game.
I think Deron might be the most underrated player in the NBA right now, as he's not typically put up there among the elite players while putting up elite performances.
#7 Kobe Bryant
I was tempted to drop Kobe lower, because he's already shown some decline. However, can you really project anyone to definitely pass him who's below him in the next three seasons? Probably not, which means Kobe wins for the majority of the five year period.
I think Kobe's the most overrated player in the NBA due to an incredible cast that he plays with and probably even in a one season contest would not take him higher than sixth, but the drop off to the guys below him is large enough that despite his age I won't drop him any lower.
#8 Derrick Rose
I waffled with where to put Rose, because amongst all players, with Rose you are really projecting what he can become rather than what he is right now. I'd put Rose as a top 15 or so player right now, but the leap to the top 10 is fairly big. He needs to improve shooting and defense, but we've heard good reports in both aspects this off-season.
Rose started simply dominating the game at the end of last year, and his overall numbers are skewed negatively as he struggled to recover from a leg injury early on that robbed him his athleticism. His mid range shot is one of the best in the NBA, and he can get open looks at will with his amazing quickness and ability to hit it off the dribble.
#9 Carmelo Anthony
I debated for a long time about whether to put Anthony ahead of or behind Derrick Rose. In the end, I think Rose is a winner, and I'm less sure about Anthony in that regard. I could easily flip flop the pair as Anthony is a better player now, but I think I'd rather have an amazing point guard than an amazing small forward as well given how much depth there is at SF relative to PG.
Still, Anthony's young, a stud, a great scorer, versatile, can play off the ball, and can probably fit into almost any team or with any group of players. If you wanted to beat me up for sticking him at nine rather than eight and call me a homer I wouldn't blame you.
#10 Chris Bosh
Too high for Bosh? I don't know, look at the alternatives. Gasol is 30, so you can't trust him for five more seasons. Brandon Roy has knee issues, Joe Johnson's aging, and pretty much every other big name player is already going to be over the hill.
Bosh also had tremendous numbers last season, numbers deserving of this spot without looking at the age of his contemporaries, but those numbers didn't translate into wins. Bosh has a reputation of playing a bit soft. However, he's really lacked talent around him, so I'm not going to blame Bosh for that.
Also, there's a lack of quality big men in the NBA, so stacking yourself with a great big man at this point seems like a steal.
#11 John Wall
I know, insane right? Yeah, I'm quite possibly making a huge mistake, but if you were Washington would you really trade John Wall for anyone I haven't named yet? I don't think so.
He plays a marquee position, there are no big men left who can hold up for five years, and the best player left outside of Wall is probably Brandon Roy. I'm going to pass on Roy due to his knee issues given that I don't think he'll hold up for five years, and I think Wall will be a superstar within three seasons.
I know it's hard to anoint a guy before playing an NBA game, but if was August 2003 and you picked LeBron James at #11 then people may have laughed, but they'd all have been wrong.
[edit, in my morning haze I had two sevens, otherwise I wouldn't have made an 11, but what the heck, I'll leave Wall up there. Also, to the comments about Evans, you're right, I just forgot about him. I think I'd probably put him ahead of Wall, still behind Bosh. I could easily make the case for him up to 8 ahead of Rose though, so I acknowledge I might be crazy on that one]