1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 18.3
Durant has to stop getting better, right? Last season, he soared to 22.4 WARP, and his projection for this season is merely a statistical model seeing some regression to the mean. Seasons in which a player combines a usage rate of at least 30 percent with a true shooting percentage of .600 or better are historically rare. Durant has made it a matter of routine, and ATH is forecasting another such a season. He also improved his assist rate for the second straight season, a gain ATH sees Durant mostly retaining.
2. Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 8.6
Pierce is entering a contract year, and at 36 years old, he may not have many more of those. He's aged remarkably well, though you can see in the projections of Durant and Pierce the gap in value between a borderline All-Star and an MVP candidate. Pierce has hit double digits in WARP in each of the past three seasons, but it remains to be seen how he'll fit into the new hierarchy in Brooklyn. ATH sees Pierce retaining his efficiency and more, with an uptick in true shooting percentage from .559 to .592. However, the system sees a 4.4 percent drop in usage rate as he'll have less to do in the stacked Nets lineup.
3. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 8.0
People are still irritated at ATH's projection for Tony Parker, but Spurs fans shouldn't worry because Leonard is there to pick up the slack. One of the league's rising stars, the system sees Leonard reaching All-Star level production in 2013-14 with a winning percentage creeping over the .600 mark. Most of that is efficiency and defense, with a forecasted 3-point success rate of 40.5 percent. His usage rate is projected to remain mostly stagnant, but if he edges it close to the league average, look out.
4. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 7.9
Iguodala's efficiency dropped last season, which was a surprise considering his supposed fit in George Karl's system. His turnover rate jumped by more than 3 percent, and his 3-point shooting slipped from .394 to .317. Also, perhaps because he played more 2 than 3, his defensive rating fell off a little as well. ATH sees Iguodala bouncing back this season as a Warrior, though not quite to the level of his best seasons in Philadelphia. He turns 30 in January and another a drop in rebounding and his ability to draw fouls would be evidence that Iggy is losing a shade of his elite athleticism.
5. Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 7.8
Batum's steady improvement hit a plateau in his fifth NBA season, and his 2.2 percent loss in usage rate suggests that playing alongside Damian Lillard may have actually impacted his game in a negative fashion. For Portland to get back into the playoff hunt this season, Batum needs to be a stronger No. 3 to the core duo of Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Right now, Batum is perimeter-oriented, but his 3-point success rate was just around league average last season. He's been around 40 percent a couple of times, and if he can get back to that, then perhaps he can make more plays off the dribble and get to the foul line more often.
6. Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 7.4
We don't know yet if Granger's knee trouble is chronic, and ATH sees him recovering much of his pre-injury value. I'm skeptical. Even without the injuries, Granger is getting on in years as he will hit 31 near the end of the season. He's also likely to be Indiana's fourth option now with Paul George's emergence. If he can embrace that role with heretofore unseen efficiency, then he can help keep the Pacers in the title hunt.
7. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 6.8
Speaking of George, his playoff breakout isn't represented here, and subjectively, I do see that performance as a coming-of-age rather than a fluke. So while I can't get ATH to replicate the effect, I think George will soar near the top of these rankings and will supplant Granger in the former Indiana offensive hierarchy.
8. Andrei Kirilenko, Brooklyn Nets
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 5.2
Between Pierce and Kirilenko, the Nets have the best combination at small forward of any team in the league, and the duo should be a good fit to play together in different lineup configurations. Like Pierce, Kirilenko is projected to give up some of his possessions, but his true shooting percentage is forecast to surpass .600 for the first time in five years. He turns 33 this season, but all of his athletic indicators remain strong.
9. Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 5.2
The last three ranked players on the small forward list represent what the position has become for so many teams: A floor-spacing position filled by guys who shoot a high percentage from the corner. Korver is the prototype, and while he's certainly not an elite individual defender, he doesn't kill you in the team concept. The Hawks didn't get much out of Korver's fine passing skills last season, but with a new roster, maybe that facet of his game will bounce back.
10. Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets
Projected 2013-14 WARP: 4.8
If there was a way to subjectively tweak WARP to give Parsons extra credit for his role in recruiting Dwight Howard to Houston, he'd rank higher. As it is, I think ATH is underrating Parsons, both for what he's done and what he should be able to do playing off Howard and James Harden. The system sees a little regression in his 3-point percentage and, thus, his true shooting percentage, but I wouldn't be surprised to see those figures continue on an upwards arc.