NBA’s Top 16 Franchise Players: Who Would You Build a Team Around?

With the NBA Playoffs kicking off this past weekend, fans around the country are gearing up for the upcoming weeks to be filled with exciting moments, highlighted by stars shining their brightest.

We all know that a team with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, or Kevin Durant is bound to be a good one, but it’s hard to say who you would most like to build a team around today.

Before you glance at this list and think I’m crazy, remember that one of the biggest factors in picking a franchise player is age, so don’t be offended if you think your favorite veteran is snubbed from my list.

So in honor of the NBA Playoffs being in full swing, here are my top-16 players (because there’s 16 teams left standing) to build a franchise around going forward.

We'll touch on each of these guys in a bit. Photo courtesy 730 Fox Sports Memphis

16. LaMarcus Aldridge – Portland Trail Blazers

As you guys will learn through reading this post, I am a traditionalist in how I value certain positions more than others.

I firmly believe that a team can’t be too successful consistently or over a long period of time without the two most fundamental building blocks: a point guard and a big man. For that reason, I’ve got Portland’s Aldridge making the list at 16, as the big man has come in to his own in recent years.

In the 2011-2012 season, he averaged 22 points and 8 rebounds per game. It’s guys like that, studs that can make an impact in the paint, that are very hard to come by, which is why I squeezed Rip City’s big man onto the list.

15. Dirk Nowitzki – Dallas Mavericks

While youth is also one of the most important aspects I look for, that doesn’t mean a heavily-seasoned vet can’t earn a spot on my list.

Last season, Dirk was the NBA Finals MVP and deservedly so. He can shoot with the best of them and is simply a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches. While he may be aging, those two factors are not changing, so he’s still a championship-caliber player that many good players around the league would like to play with.

So if you’re wondering why he barely made my list, make sure to stay tuned. There’s a veteran or two out there that would be even more attractive to play with than Dirk.

14. Deron Williams – Brooklyn Nets 

Ah, the first point guard on the list. And oh how I love point guards.

Deron Williams is impressive because he can play the facilitator role but also can be the scoring guard when you need him to be. He’s been able to score since his days playing guard alongside Dee Brown at the University of Illinois. And for evidence, we saw him put up 57 points in a game earlier on this season.

So why so low on my list? There are just simply better point guards on this list; guys I’d start my team around and trust to be the team leader at that position more than Williams. But we’ll get to them later.

13. Dwyane Wade – Miami Heat

Well, I figured my list would make someone mad sooner or later, and this is probably the first time it will leave some fans unhappy.

Dwyane Wade is one of the best players in the NBA, probably around the top-5 overall, give or take. He is the type of player that you can give the ball whenever you need to, and he can make something happen. However, skill does not always translate into being the best player to build around. And unfortunately for Wade, I feel he’s the perfect example.

Call me crazy, but I think all the players above him on the list are more marketable to a fan base and appealing for a big man (or point guard) to play alongside with. Like I said, I take great stock in point guards and big men, so Wade is a victim of my “position argument.” He’s a great player to help you win a championship, but he needs someone like Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron James next to him to do so.

12. Carmelo Anthony – New York Knicks

‘Melo has been one of the best pure scorers in the NBA since coming out of Syracuse in 2003. Over his impressive career, Anthony has averaged just under 25 points per game in his 9 NBA seasons.

As a small forward, Carmelo matches up with some of the league’s best like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but he has always clearly been just under their level of stardom. He’s undoubtedly an offensive-minded player, and while he is lethal with the ball in his hands, that is where the problem with Anthony derives and why he is not higher on my list.

Carmelo simply needs the ball in his hands at most points in the game. While he is great at creating for himself, none of his passes will ever make the highlight reel. His style of play doesn’t quite fit into playing with other stars such as Wade, Rose, or James. In order for ‘Melo to win a championship, he would probably need to be comfortably situated on a team with a lot of veteran players that aren’t scorers but are very good role players, kind of similar to the Dallas Mavericks of last season.

11. Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook is a great basketball player but is not a true point guard.  He is flourishing in OKC large in part because of the great team that he plays on. While he’s been very good there, we’ve never seen him be the number 1 guy, the main scorer, and so forth.

So while my worries are that Westbrook can only fit with so many different players, that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he is a fearless scorer who can put the ball in the bucket in many different ways. He’s explosive, exciting, and fun to watch. He’d be a great start to a franchise, but you’d have to be careful with the players you put around him, even if they look great together on paper.

10. Andrew Bynum – Los Angeles Lakers

Andrew Bynum has battled injuries throughout his short career, but he is about as talented of a center that you’ll find. I mean just look at him…he’s huge.

It’s a true big man like Bynum that makes the players around him better, something I like to call the “Tim Duncan Effect.” However, Bynum has probably been the 3rd biggest name on the Lakers since he’s emerged onto the scene, behind Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, so I question whether he’d be able to lead a squad.

Also, you just can’t ignore the injuries. It’s hard for such a big man to stay healthy throughout his career, but a great center like Yao Ming shows us just how fragile the beasts of the paint really are. I’d be thrilled to start a team with Bynum, but those question marks would definitely linger.

Bynum averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds per game this past season. Photo courtesy Keith Allison via Wikimedia


9. Rajon Rondo – Boston Celtics

From a center to a point guard, next on my list is the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo.

Over the past couple of seasons, Rondo has gone from being a very good role player to a far above average offensive facilitator. Probably the best passing point guard in the NBA, Rondo averaged 12 points and a sparkling 12 assists per game in the ’11-’12 season.

It’s been a concern throughout his career that he could not score well enough for someone that controlled the ball as much as he did throughout the course of a game, but having taken great strides in the past couple years, Rondo seems to be a complete player. He finds the hot hand as well as anyone, and while his temper does catch up to him at times, he certainly is a team player.


There are the first eight. Now it’s time for the top 8.

  • Kobe makes it, but how high on the list is he?
  • Who is ranked higher: Blake Griffin or Kevin Love?
  • And who gets the designation as the NBA’s #1 franchise player to build around?

Continue reading to find out.

About the Author

Zach Gropper

Zach Gropper is a sports broadcasting major at Indiana University in the beautiful town of Bloomington, IN. He is from Flossmoor, IL, a small Chicago suburb. Zach was was the sports director for WHFH 88.5 FM Flossmoor his junior year of high school and Television Station Manager of Viking Television during his senior year. He runs a White Sox blog at and also contributes and reports for Last summer, Zach interned for ESPN 1000 AM Chicago, working on programming for the Waddle and Silvy Show. He is currently eager to get out into the professional world of sports media, wherever that may take him.