Five on five: NBA Western Conference preview

Oklahoma City Thuder's Russell Westbrook (0), Kevin Durant,

Oklahoma City Thuder's Russell Westbrook (0), Kevin Durant, center, and James Harden (13) pose for a photo for NBA photographers during media day. (Dec. 13, 2011) (Credit: AP)

A look at the players to watch in the Western Conference leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season.

THE BEST PLAYERS

1. Kevin Durant, Thunder
In class of his own on offense, improving on defense.

2. Chris Paul, Clippers
Best pure point guard now has new toy: Blake Griffin.

3. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
Impossible match-up on defense, can both drive and shoot.

4. Kobe Bryant, Lakers
NBA mileage getting up there, but still incredibly clutch.

5. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Has all the tools, needs to learn role in offense.

MOST UNDERRATED

1. Al Jefferson, Jazz
Played in 82 games, limits turnovers, a force in paint

2. Gerald Wallace, Trail Blazers
Few better on defense, great fit for young Portland team.

3. Kendrick Perkins, Thunder
Now healthy, full-time starter; watch rebounding numbers grow.

4. James Harden, Thunder
As starter, would be borderline All-Star. Solid offensively, defensively.

5. Kevin Martin, Rockets
Can shoot from anywhere. Averaged 26 points per 36 minutes.

READY FOR A BREAKOUT

1. Marcus Thornton, Kings
With consistent minutes, should average 20-plus points, six boards.

2. Shannon Brown, Suns
Signed one-year deal in Phoenix. Will score plenty of points.

3. Danilo Gallinari, Nuggets
Most versatile scorer on a playoff team is now healthy.

4. Courtney Lee, Rockets
For the first time he's not learning new system. Top-tier sixth man.

5. Tiago Splitter, Spurs
Compact schedule plus veteran team means more minutes.

NEWCOMERS TO WATCH

1. Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves
Spanish point guard ends the suspense, arrives in Minnesota.

2. Jimmer Fredette, Kings
Is he more Stephen Curry or Steve Kerr?

3. Klay Thompson, Warriors
Could fit nicely in up-tempo offense.

4. Derrick Williams, Timberwolves
How will Wolves use him with Kevin Love, Michael Beasley?

5. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs
Can rebounding numbers translate to NBA?

BIGGEST ACQUISITIONS

1. Chris Paul, Clippers
Great passer and defender gets keys to franchise.

2. Lamar Odom, Mavericks
Acquired for only a trade exception and a pick. Steal.

3. Eric Gordon, Hornets
Replacing Paul impossible, but Gordon top-tier guard on way up.

4. Jamal Crawford, Blazers
Will play key role in playoff push. Took step back last year.

5. Chauncey Billups, Clippers
Forgotten L.A. acquisition, teams with Paul in great backcourt.

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