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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Top 75 Players in the NBA

TOP 75 Players in the NBA

The past two NBA seasons, I’ve compiled a Top 50 NBA Players list. This year, I’ve upped the list to 75. There were just too many quality players being left off the top 50. Without further ado…

75. Nene Hilario, DEN
The 7-foot Brazilian sneaks in thanks to his league-leading 63% field goal percentage and his near 8 rebounds per game.

74. Mike Conley, MEM
The former Buckeye has yet to live up to his #4 overall selection in the 2007 draft, although the numbers are steadily going up across the board. His 2 steals a game and 7 assists both rank in the top 10 in the NBA.

73. Ben Wallace, DET
One of the main reasons I extended this from a Top 50 to a Top 75 was so that I could include a representative from each team. Sadly, Ben was the only Piston, in my opinion, who warranted consideration, and he barely squeaked in. His 6.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks aren't exactly the 15 and 3.5 that he used to average. The 3.2 ppg is pathetic, but not quite as pathetic as his free-throw percentage. Believe it or not, he's shooting 31.6% from the line. I've coached middle school girls who could do better than that. But Ben comes in at #73 because of his many contributions that don't show up on the stat sheet - redirecting shots, rebounding instincts, hustling for loose balls, and outstanding help-defense. But mainly, he shows up because I couldn't stand the thought of a Top 75 that didn't include any Pistons, when just five years ago there would have been five Pistons in the top 40.

I suppose I could have included Ben Gordon, or Stuckey, or Tayshaun, or even T-Mac. But my contention is that Ben is the Pistons' best overall player. Typing that sentence makes me enormously sad.

My brother summed up the current state of the Pistons perfectly the other day - "Dumars has them in such a bad position that they're 3 years away from even being able to start rebuilding." It's true. Gordon and Villanueva have such horrendous contracts and the team does not have a single young player to build around. Their best chance would have been trading Rip or Tayshaun while they still had some trade value, but those days are passed. We've whiffed on our last 2 first-round picks (Monroe and Daye) while Dumars has assembled a collection of washed-up shooting guards and offensively-challenged bigs. Jonas Jerebko is probably the only Pistons player worth being remotely excited about, and of course he's out all season with an Achilles injury.

The only chance Detroit has of being above .500 in the next 5 years is to get lucky with pingpong balls and land Kemba Walker from UConn or Harrison Barnes from UNC. Speaking of that, the NBA pingpong ball lottery is one of the 5 stupidest things in all of sports, along with 1) the BCS, 2) the MLB all-star game, 3) NFL overtime rules, and 4) the BCS. There's got to be a way to prevent teams from tanking without a random lottery decided by small plastic balls. What about fining teams six-digits if they are suspected of tanking? Or just give the #1 pick to the worst team and if they want to tank, let them. Either solution is better than the stupid ping pong balls. Detroit could conceivably go 3-79 and draft #7 overall. That's stupid.

If merely thinking about the Pistons is making you depressed, I suggest you watch this. And if that doesn't work, there's always this.

72) Tie - Wilson Chandler, NYK and Danilo Gallinari, NYK
I couldn't decide which of these Knicks forwards to rank higher, so I’ve got them tied. Chandler is filling the stat sheet on a regular basis, averaging 17-6-2 with 1.5 blocks and 2 threes a game. No wonder he ranks 13th overall in fantasy basketball, ahead of guys like LeBron, Pierce and Kobe. Gallinari has emerged as a premier outside shooter, scoring about 15 a game and shooting 37% from downtown, while his 87.9% free throw percentage is tied with Nowitzki for the best among frontcourt players. The Knicks surprising start (22-18 so far) has been one of the best stories of 2010, and although Stoudemire deservedly gets most of the credit, Chandler and Gallinari are playing huge roles. Gallinari has played well enough to potentially earn the coveted role of Centerpiece In The Carmelo-To-New-York Trade, which should happen before the February 24 trade deadline. *EDIT* Unless Carmleo goes to the Nets first.

70) Stephen Jackson, CHA
In his ten year career, Jackson has averaged 16 points a game for six different teams, and averaged a career-best 21 last year as a Bobcat. But the reason he's ranked outside the top 60 is his god-awful shooting percentage. 41.7% this year, 41.8% for his career. One of the worst percentages in the entire league on a yearly basis. It's very strange that Charlotte allows him to jack up 15 shots a game.

69) Jeff Green, OKC
The #5 pick a few years ago was taken three picks after teammate Kevin Durant. Together with Russell Westbrook they form one of the best under-25 trios in NBA history. Green is content with his role as the third option in the offense, and chips in with 6 rebounds per game. Every championship contender needs a player like Green - a great talent who understands and embraces his supporting role.

68) Tyson Chandler, DAL
You've really got to pay attention to keep track of what team this guy is on. First Chicago, then New Orleans, then a quick stint in Charlotte and now starting at center for the Mavericks. Chandler's willingness to bang in the paint makes him a perfect compliment for Dirk Nowitzki. He collects about 9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per night, while shooting a disgustingly good 67.4% from the field. (The reason Nene is the league-leader in FG% with 63% is you have to attempt at least 8 shots per game to qualify; Chandler only takes about 5 shots per game.)

67) Emeka Okafor, NO
Probably hasn't lived up to the #2 overall pick from the 2004 draft, but he's been statistically sound for seven seasons. He's currently averaging a double-double for the sixth time in his career, and he blocks 1.8 shots per game - 12th best overall. His glaring weakness, though, is offensive production. He scores just 11 points a game, which is a clear reflection of his passivity and lack of range. As Chris Paul's center, he should be able to score more than 11 per game.

66) Jason Kidd, DAL
He's fallen well out of the Top 50, but he still deserves top 70 consideration because of his 8.8 assists and 1.8 steals to go with 4.7 rebounds (second among point guards). He's no longer a triple-double machine, but he's still a top 10 point guard when it comes to distributing the ball. The reason he's fallen out of the Top 50 is obvious - he scores just 9 points a game due to his 35.9% shooting percentage. Among the 256 players who've attempted at least 100 shots, Kidd's FG% ranks 254th.

65) Shane Battier, HOU
The ultimate "glue guy," Battier does a little bit of everything. He scores 9 per game along with 5 rebounds, 2.8 assists (5th among SFs), 1.42 blocks (2nd among SFs), and .9 steals (8th among SFs). His greatest assets, however, are the intangibles of intelligence, leadership, selflessness, and hustle. He’s the perfect teammate.

64) Devin Harris, NJ
Usually, when a guy averages 17 points and 7 assists over a three-year span, he'd be ranked higher than this. But the Nets went 12-70 last year, and they're currently 9-25. I like Harris's talent, but he's got to start winning some games to get back in the top 50.

63) Trevor Ariza, NO
His career hit a peak two years ago, when he played an integral role in the Lakers 2009 Championship. He provided outside scoring and lockdown defense and emerged as an all-around stud in the making. L.A. rewarded Ariza by sending him to the Rockets, and replacing him with crazyman Ron Artest. Ariza flopped in Houston, while the Lakers won another title. Then Ariza was sent to the Hornets in a four-team trade, and now shoots about 38% from the field and 25% from downtown - numbers that warrant a seat on the bench. However, Ariza deserves a spot in the top 65 because he is capable of defending the opposing team's best player - a challenge that he's embraced since the '09 playoffs. His 1.68 steals per game are 12th in the NBA, and he's a big reason why the Hornets have the NBA's second best defense.

62. Andrea Bargani, TOR
The 7-foot Italian was picked #1 overall in 2006, and was believed to be the next Dirk Nowitzki. That hasn't exactly happened. But statistically, this is by far his best season, as Chris Bosh's exit to Miami left the job wide open. Bargani has excellent post moves and a solid outside shot, but leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end. 5.6 rebounds per game isn't good enough for a 7-foot player. Like many other European players, he's just not aggressive enough.

61. Jason Terry, DAL
Despite being the second best player on the Mavericks, Terry comes off the bench. It's the same strange phenomenon that brought Al Harrington off the bench for the Pacers and Ginobili for the Spurs. My only explanation is that those teams have some personal interest in winning the Sixth Man of the Year award.

60. Brandon Jennings, MIL
The sophomore point guard is currently dealing with a broken foot, but should be back later in January. Last year he exploded onto the scene with 55 points in his 7th career start, and led the surprising Bucks into the playoffs. Expectations were high this season, and although he was scoring 18 per game along with 6 assists before the foot injury, the Bucks weren't winning. They were supposed to content for the Central Division, and instead they're struggling to stay in the playoff picture. Jennings has a long way to go, but he's an Iverson-like talent.

59. Andre Iguodala, PHI
Iggy has been the Star Player on a Bad Team for a six seasons now, and it's finally time to make a change. He's proven that he'll never be the star on a good team, but time will tell if he could be a solid sidekick. He'll surely be off the Sixers by next season. His scoring (and playing time) have dropped this year, but he's still putting up 6 rebounds and 5 assists along with 1.5 steals, numbers that have been consistent his entire career. But Philly hasn't finished above .500 since drafting Iggy in 2004, and that's all that matters.

58. Antwan Jamison, CLE
Jamison's inconsistency and overall mediocrity is largely to blame for why LeBron left. He spent seven seasons trying to make Cleveland a championship team without a legitimate #2 guy. When the team traded for Jamison, it was more of an insult to LeBron than anything else. "Really, THIS is the best you could get me?" A washed-up, injury-prone, outside-shooting big man? Now, Jamison leads the 8-32 Cavs with about 16 points per game.

57. Al Jefferson, UTA
Two years ago I ranked Jefferson the 17th best overall player, and I thought his arrow was pointing up. He was one of the league's best post players, averaging 21 and 11 with 2 blocks. Now he's scoring just 16 per game with the worst shooting percentage of his career, and he's allowed Paul Millsap to be the Jazz's dominant post player on offense. But in terms of a post defender, it still doesn't get much better than Jefferson.

56. Joakim Noah, CHI
Would have probably been ranked higher before the thumb injury which sidelined him for the past 3+ weeks. He's an elite hustle/rebounder/defender with a knack for making big plays in the clutch. He's also one of the ugliest people to ever live on planet earth.

55. Stephen Curry, GS
Last year's Rookie of the Year runner-up, Curry had a tough task living up to his awesome rookie season (17.5 points, 5.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals); but he's pretty close to replicating those numbers across the board. It's especially impressive when you consider that he's being asked to play point guard and distribute the ball, when he clearly should be a spot-up shooter. Curry is a fantasy basketball dreamboat, but in real life ... he's 185 pounds of defensive liability. One of many reasons why the Warriors won't be anywhere near the playoffs.

54. Luis Scola, HOU
The Argentinean monster has replaced Yao Ming admirably over the past 3 seasons. This is his best year yet, with 20 points and 9 boards along with a 51% shooting percentage. He’s a hustle machine and could easily be the third best player on a championship team. I’m not convinced he deserves the All Star hype he’s getting, but you definitely could do worse at starting center.

53. Elton Brand, PHI
He’s been called the Worst Free-Agency Signing of all time, although I think #46 on this list dethroned him this past summer. Brand is currently being paid $16 million a year by the Sixers … and instead of the 24 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks that he averaged with the Clippers, he now puts up a lazy 15 and 8, with half as many blocks and a much lower shooting percentage. He’s content to jack up mid range jumpers and stay out of the paint. But at least he’s actually playing this year. He spent the last two seasons in Philly getting paid $30+ million to sit on the bench with various injuries. Brand is living proof that (enormous contract) + (convenient injuries) + (uninspired play) = a GM’s worst nightmare. Speaking of which…

52. Ron Artest, LAL
Can you believe he’s rebounded (no pun intended) from the Malice at the Palace incident to re-become one of the league’s best defensive players? If you had told me back in 2004 that Artest would still be good in 6 years and the entire Pistons team would be worthless, I would have laughed. Damn. I will now weep bitterly in the coat closet.

51. John Wall, WAS
He’ll finish second in Rookie of the Year voting, but with 16 points per game, 9 assists, and 1.8 steals, Wall has lived up to the immense hype. Now, with Gilbert Arenas traded to Orlando, Wall has the opportunity to shoulder the scoring load in Washington, and should be well over 20 ppg next season. Two things are troubling, though: the awful shooting percentage (40.1%), and the myriad of injuries. He’s already missed roughly a third of the season with knee problems, and he’s only 20 years old.

50. David West, NO
He’s replaced Amare Stoudemire as the league’s premiere Big Guy Who Benefits From Playing With An Elite Point Guard. I have no idea how good West would be without CP3. Probably pretty average. But since Paul was drafted, West averages about 19 a game. He’s not a great rebounder or defender, but that’s Okafor’s territory. West’s job is the pick-and-roll offense, and he’s very good at it.

49. Marcus Camby, POR
Another year, another 11 rebounds and 2 blocks for one of the most consistently great defensive players of our generation. Last year he ranked #48. This year he’s #49. Talk about consistency. Camby ranks fifth among active players in career rebounds (8,675) and third in blocks (2,199).

48. Mo Williams, CLE
LeBron leaving essentially turned Mo from a shooting guard to a point guard, and he’s averaging a surprising 7.3 assists along with 15 points. But let’s not kid ourselves. If the best player on your team is Mo Williams, you’re probably winning less than 20 games (they’re on pace for 16).

47. Jameer Nelson, ORL
I’ve always thought of him as a Poor Man’s Chauncey. He’s strong for a point guard, shoots an accurate deep-ball, and focuses on distributing to the wings and the big guy. He’s not half the defender Chauncey is (or should I say, was), but he’s a top 10 pure point guard offensively, and he is really the only consistent shooter on Orlando’s 25-13 team..

46. Joe Johnson, ATL
It’s very convenient when players with $119 million dollar contracts miss 2 weeks because of minor elbow injuries. Also convenient when their PPG and RPG suddenly drop to the lowest they’ve been in 6 years, and they shoot the worst three-point percentage in the entire NBA. He’s a leading candidate for worst contract in NBA history. So why does JJ come in at #46? Because only 7 other guys average an 18-5-4 or better, and they’re all ranked in the top 20.

45. Zach Randolph, MEM
The former Spartan and Jailblazer has reinvented himself in Memphis as one of the few dominant inside players on both ends of the court. He’s fourth in the NBA in double-doubles with 21 (in 35 games), he’s third in rebounding, and most importantly, he’s staying out of trouble.

44. Raymond Felton, NYK
His career is following the Chauncey Billups Path – top 5 draft pick, considered a bust after 5 disappointing years on losing teams, and then found a new home. In New York, Felton is now scoring 18 per game with 9 assists and shooting 90% from the line. Very Chauncey-esque numbers. Now he’s just got to win an NBA Finals MVP to complete the process.

43. Eric Gordon, LAC
Currently tenth in the NBA in scoring, and that’s in spite of shooting the second-worst 3PT% in the NBA. As his 3-pt percentage slowly creeps up this year (and it will), his 24 points per game might inch closer to 26 or 27. He’s a no-doubt-about-it future All Star.

42. Kevin Martin, HOU
In his first full season with the Rockets, K-Mart is putting up nearly 23 points per game in just 31 minutes per game– giving him the second best points-per-48 ratio in the NBA. Shooting 43% from downtown certainly helps. So does leading the NBA in free throws made. But Houston is far from the playoffs so leading them in scoring doesn’t mean much. In case you’re wondering - the best points-per-48 belongs to Kobe.

41. LaMarcus Aldridge, POR
With Brandon Roy’s meniscus busted and possibly needing surgery, Aldridge has stepped up and currently has Portland fighting for the 8th seed. He’s easily having the best season of his career, and has accomplished the rare feat of becoming more effective and more efficient at the same time. He’s really the team’s only weapon on offense, unless you count Wesley Matthews as an offensive weapon. I don’t .

40. Paul Millsap, UTA
Went from incredibly underrated to mildly overrated to now again being underrated. He’s basically Jason Maxiell with consistency and better offense. Averages 18 and 8 and shoots 55% from the field in his first year as a starter. He and Al Jefferson form one of the best frontcourts in the NBA. He runs the pick-and-roll with Williams as well as Boozer did.

39. Lamar Odom, LAL
Very Shane Battier-esque, Odom does a little bit of everything without doing too much. He ranks third on the Lakers in scoring, second in rebounding, third in assists, and third in blocks, all while shooting a sparkly 57% from the field. He’s one of the best 6’10” ball handlers in the NBA.

38. Michael Beasley, MIN
The former #2 overall pick is finally living up to expectations, scoring 21 ppg with 6 rpg in his first year with the T-wolves.. But I distinctly recall the 2008 NBA Draft, hearing Beasley compared to Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, but with more athleticism. He’s not quite there yet. More like a young Antonio McDyess.

37. Al Horford, ATL
One of the best up-and-coming big men in the league. Shoots a great percentage from the field and the free-throw line, and is athletic enough to guard any player on the floor. The Hawks are the only team in the NBA which can seamlessly switch defenders on picks, because of the incredible speed and athleticism of Horford and Josh Smith. He’s not a bad rebounder either, with 9.9 per game despite being only 6’10”.

36. Monta Ellis
Last year, Ellis finished sixth in the NBA in scoring with 25.5 per game, and led the entire NBA in minutes. This year, he’s third in scoring (25.6) and again first in minutes. So why doesn’t he crack the top 35? Because I value wins. And the Warriors win about 35% of their games. But hey, maybe Joe Dumars will make a move and bring Ellis to the Pistons. After all, he’s a shoot-first 2 guard with no sense of team, and you can never have too many of those!

35. Kevin Garnett, BOS
The perennial enigma. He’s sort of the LaDanian Tomlinson of basketball. You keep waiting for him to be washed-up, but you’re never really sure. Some would argue that he’s been Boston’s MVP this season, but I think he’s their fourth best player. I’ll keep him here to be tentatively safe.

34. Brandon Roy, POR
His career has been a quiet tragedy. Just last year I ranked him 11th overall. He was ascending into superstardom. Now, the Blazers aren’t sure if he’ll play another minute this season, or even next season. His knee injuries have snowballed into calamity. I would still want him on my team, simply with the hope that he would regain full strength. When healthy, he’s as dynamic a guard as there is, with the ability to score or pass from anywhere and defend anyone from position 1 to 3. But he just can’t stay healthy.

33. Rudy Gay, MEM
In his fifth year with the Grizzlies, Gay is averaging career-bests in the eight most important statistics: points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, FG%, FT%, and 3PT%. But the team’s winning percentage (.429) is slightly lower from last year’s (.488), and the Grizz have never made the playoffs since Gay joined the team. He’s well on his way to being the second coming of Iguodala.

32. Chauncey Billups, DEN
Steadily declining and now muddled in trade rumors, Billups’s career has become something of a shame for those of us who miss the glory days of 2004. He can still knock down the three and he’s still a great passer, but any semblance of speed that he used to have is gone. His athleticism is disintegrated. He’s a 34 year old in a 44 year old’s body.

31. David Lee, GS
You would think that a terrific rebounder on the team that misses the most shots per game would make for a historic season, or at least a repeat of last year’s 12 rebounds a game, but instead Lee is only averaging 9.6 boards in his first year on Golden State. His scoring is down by 5 per game, too, and the field goal percentage has dropped from 54% to 47%. Just not a good fit. Adding a guy who can’t play defense to a team that doesn’t play defense apparently wasn’t a smart move. This year, Lee lost his crown as Best American-Born White Guy in the NBA.

30. Tony Parker, SA
It’s been an absolutely terrible year for Parker. No, his stats are good, and his team has the best record in the NBA, and he’s having his best season ever defensively. But amidst all the Spurs’ winning, Parker lost his desperate housewife, Eva Longoria. They are currently in the process of being divorced.

29. Ray Allen, BOS
At age 35, Allen just seems to keep getting better and better. Or at least staying the same, which is still impressive. He’s attempted over 6,000 three-pointers in his 14 year career (second most ever) and somehow is shooting the best percentage of his career with 35 year old legs. His free-throw percentage is a glittery 89%, as usual. Oh, and at some point in the next 15-20 games, he figures to break Reggie Miller’s record for the most three-pointers made. He needs 34 more, and averages 2.2 per game. He’ll hold on to that record for a long while, because there isn’t a challenger in sight. The other active players on the list (Stojakovic, Billups, Kobe, Kidd, Nash) are all too old.

28. Gerald Wallace, CHA
A better fantasy basketball player than real basketball player, G-Wallace is one of the most well-rounded players in the league. 16 points, 8 board, 3 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.5 blocks … but this year his percentages are way down and he’s missed 9 games with an ankle injury. Defensively, he’s one of the best small forwards alive, but his offensive game could use a lot of work.

27. Brook Lopez, NJ
Weird year. He averaged 21 points and 7 rebounds through October and November, and since that point averages more like 14 and 5. Last year he did almost the same thing. He might be schizophrenic. If Carmelo joins the Nets, that will allow Lopez to play a supporting role, which is probably what he needs.

26. Danny Granger, IND
His career is sort of at a crossroads. Keep trying to be ‘the guy,’ averaging 20+ on a crappy team, or get yourself traded to a legit contender and morph into a sidekick while your stats sink? If he cares about money, he’ll keep being ‘the guy.’ Hopefully he cares more about winning, because on a good team he could be one heck of an asset.

25. Manu Ginobili, SA
He’s averaging career highs in points, FT%, 3PTs, steals, and assists, and is a prominent reason for the Spurs league-best 33-6 record. Some have even called him an MVP candidate. And he used to come off the bench. How stupid.

24. Josh Smith, ATL
One of the league’s best shot blockers and best all-around defensive players, and his offensive game continues to improve. He’s got to stop jacking up threes though.

23. Andrew Bogut, MIL
First in blocks, sixth in rebounds, and coming off a 27 rebound game against Miami a couple weeks ago. The former #1 pick is officially no longer a bust!

22. Chris Bosh, MIA
His fall out of the top 20 has been one of the most important basketball stories of the season. It could be the biggest reason why Miami doesn’t win the championship this year, though I still think they will. But everyone expected Miami to have three superstars; instead they have two superstars and one quasi-kind-of-nervous-star. Bosh looks awkward, timid, and completely out-of-place. The look on his face says, “I can’t believe everybody hates me so much! I’m a nice guy, damn it. UGH, I knew I should have gone to Chicago….”

It was a given that his PPG and RPG would drop, but how in the world does acquiring LeBron and Wade as teammates cause your FG% to drop??? That makes no sense whatsoever. Drafting Bosh with the 11th overall pick in my fantasy basketball draft was one of the worst decisions I made in 2010.

21. Tim Duncan, SA
Not since John Stockton and Jerry Sloan has there been a more perfect coach-teammate marriage than the one between Duncan and Popovich. Duncan continues to be the most consistent superstar of our generation, and despite career-lows in minutes and points, he’s leading the Spurs on a 68-win pace. If they lock up the #1 seed in the playoffs it will be interesting to see if they can hold off the Lakers.

20. Carlos Boozer, CHI
Missed the first month of the year with a broken hand, then came back just in time for Joakim Noah to break his thumb. While the two were together, Chicago won 7 straight. The Eastern Conference better watch out.

19. Tyreke Evans, SAC
Everyone knows by now about Tyreke’s rookie season, how he averaged a 20-5-5 and was only the fourth rookie ever to do that, and the other three were LeBron, MJ, and Oscar. That’s old news. Now it’s becoming clear that a 20-5-5 might be his ceiling. He’s probably not going to evolve into a 29-7-7 guy like LeBron or a 33-8-7 guy like Michael. This year he’s actually down to 17-4-5, and it’s starting to look like his rookie year might have been a semi-fluke. He’s still great, don’t get me wrong, but he doesn’t appear to be skyrocketing like a 20-5-5 rookie should.

18. Kevin Love, MIN
Just weeks prior to the tipoff of NBA season, I nonchalantly proclaimed that Love would lead the NBA in rebounding. I drafted him 31st overall in my fantasy league. Well, he’s not just leading the league in rebounding. He’s freaking embarrassing everybody else involved.

Love has 7 games of 20 or more rebounds this year (including a whopping 31 back in November). Nobody else has more than 3. He put up 43 points and 17 rebounds against Denver, and then 35 and 15 against Charlotte. Then there was the 23-24, the 32-22, and three other times where he had at least 20 and 20.

Oh, and he also shoots 87% from the free-throw line and 43% from downtown – both top 5 marks in the NBA among big guys. He leads the NBA in double-doubles (and has 25 straight) and is getting better statistically as the season progresses. As I said, I drafted him 31st overall. He currently ranks #3 in standard fantasy basketball scoring. I’m probably a genius.

One last stat - If Love maintains his 15.8 rpg mark (and he will), it will be the best single-season RPG mark since Dennis Rodman back in 1997. So, yeah. Best American-Born White Guy in the NBA, hands down.

17. Russell Westbrook, OKC
A candidate for most improved player, Westbrook continues to make huge strides each season and is now a bona fide top 20 player and top 5 point guard. He’s one of the best “all-around” players, in the purest sense of the word. He’s a double-double machine, whether it’s points-assists or occasionally points-rebounds. He’s basically a younger, more athletic Jason Kidd, without the superhuman court vision, but with a competent jump shot and much better defense. He’s up to 22.2 points per game (2nd among PGs, 12th overall) and 8.3 assists (9th overall), along with 5.1 rebounds (1st among PGs) and 1.93 steals (4th overall). His FT% and FG% are both currently career highs, and he complements Durant so well that it’s scary.

16. Paul Pierce, BOS
Steady scoring, solid defense, well-rounded game. More of the same from Pierce. It’s worth noting that he’s shooting better than 50% from the field for the first time in his career, and also a career-best from the FT line. It’s been nothing but good since last year’s All Star game, when Pierce proclaimed himself “one of the greatest shooters in NBA history.” Hmm… I think 50 or 60 other players might take exception to that.

15 Steve Nash, PHO
In his first year post-Amare, Phoenix has fallen behind Memphis and Houston and currently sits at 11th in the West. For only the second time in 8 years, they’ll likely miss the playoffs.

But I don't blame Nash. He's still one of the best point guards, even at 36 years old. He's putting up almost 11 assists with no great teammates, and shouldering the scoring load when necessary. His complete lack of a big man hasn’t taken away from his assists numbers, but it has kept the Suns from being competitive. Sorry, Robin Lopez. I had big hopes for you, but your ridiculous white-man afro and that fact that you’re dating Michelle Wie just isn’t getting it done.

14. Blake Griffin, LAC
Griffin was drafted #1 overall in 2009, but missed the entire season with a crappy knee injury. People started calling him another typical Clippers bust. But we had no idea what was coming.

This year, technically Griffin’s rookie season, the 21 year old has been an absolute freak of nature, and quickly vaulted into the upper echelon of NBA talent. He has simply been one of the best rookies of all time, and secured a Rookie of the Year landslide back in November when he scored 44 on the Knicks. Here are some numbers to put Griffin’s historically good season in perspective:

Since 1990, only two rookies have averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds, and both are first ballot Hall of Famers. Their names, in case you’re wondering, are Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal. Duncan averaged 21.1 and 11.9, and Shaq 23.4 and 13.9. They went on to win a combined 8 NBA championships and 6 MVPs, with 27 combined All Star appearances.

Griffin is currently the third rookie since 1990 to average a 20 and 10. In fact, he’s actually averaging a 21.9 and 12.7. And he has twice as many assists per game as either Shaq or Duncan had in their rookie campaigns.

He’s become perhaps the Most Fun to Watch player in the NBA, and will become even more adored after he wins the Dunk Competition in February (and he will win). His current streak of double-doubles is at 26 games. He’s also got the best dunk of the year, and probably the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best dunks as well. You should definitely watch this highlight video. *EDIT* Griffin just scored 47 points last night, the most points any player has scored this season.

13. Pau Gasol, LAL
Griffin is more dynamic, more athletic, and more fun, but Gasol gets the nod for the better big man in LA because of his well-roundedness and outside shot. He’s got more assists per game than any other center or power forward, and actually ranks eighth in blocks. So much for the soft, European image. He’s also sixth in rebounding, which is impressive when you consider that he plays less than 30 minutes a game, since the Lakers win so many blowouts. With 18.4 points per game, Gasol ranks 30th in overall scoring, but of the 29 players ahead of him only three (Nowitzki, Howard, Griffin) have better field goal percentages.

12. Rajon Rondo, BOS
Last year Rondo made the leap to officially become Boston’s best player. He led the NBA in steals and was 4th in assists. (It’s hilarious that people still call Garnett, Allen & Pierce the “Big Three.”) In the playoffs Rondo made a considerable push towards becoming the NBA’s best point guard, averaging 15.8 points, 9.3 assists and 5.6 rebounds in 24 playoff games, including the famous 29-13-18 game against Cleveland in which LeBron officially gave up and packed his bags for Miami. Just as Kevin Love stole the rebounding crown away from Dwight Howard early in the year, Rondo took the assists category away from Nash and Paul with a fury. Four games into the season Rondo was already averaging 17 assists, and he hasn’t looked back yet.

But one thing is holding Rondo back, and keeps him out of the top 10. A pretty important part of basketball called scoring. With just 10.9 PPG, and an abysmal 46% free-throw percentage, Rondo is much more likely to be the next Jason Kidd then the next Isaiah Thomas. How can someone be so good at basketball, and shoot just 46% from the line? Bizarre.

11. Amare Stoudemire, NYK
I’ll admit, I was skeptical. When Amare went to New York and couldn’t recruit LeBron to join him, I thought his season would go in the tank. Part of the reason it hasn’t is brilliant coaching, and a big part of the credit belongs to Felton, Chandler, Gallo, and rookie Landry Fields. But let’s give Amare the credit he deserves. If the season ended today, he’d probably win MVP.

However, the season doesn’t end today, and the Knicks are just 6-8 since their 16-9 start to the season. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe they’ll end up with the 6 or 7 seed and get swept in the first round. Amare still ranks 2nd in scoring this season, 3rd in blocks and 13th in rebounds, but his PPG is down from a gaudy 29.8 in December to a modest 24.3 so far in January. Great season, but I’d like to see some consistency before he cracks the top 10.

10. Carmelo Anthony, DEN?
Speaking of New York, Carmelo is so engulfed in trade rumors that it’s hard to judge the kind of season he’s actually having on the court. It’s likely that by the time I finish this sentence he’ll be on either the Nets or Knicks, but who knows. He’s a great talent and will play phenomenally for whichever team he gets traded to, so I’ll rank him 10th. Should be higher, but a few young players have leaped past him this year.

9. Dwayne Wade, MIA
Speaking of douche bags … wait, I wasn’t speaking of douche bags? Oh, never mind. D-Wade, AKA Flash, AKA LeBron’s bitch, AKA whatever you want to call him, is an overrated punk who puts up incredible stats but I wouldn’t trust to win an important game in the clutch nearly as much as I’d trust the other 8 guys on this list, and probably a dozen others. He’s just overrated. I don’t care who disagrees with me, it’s my list.

8. Deron Williams, UTA
For years I referred to Williams as “The NBA’s Best Kept Secret.” I don’t think it’s a secret anymore. The dude is just flat-out incredible. He’s like Chauncey in his prime, but with much more athleticism and a smoother mid range shot. Most importantly, he’s a winner. The pieces in Utah have changed over the past 5 years, but Williams makes sure they keep winning. Currently they’re tied for 3rd in the West. And Williams is the only reason.

7. Chris Paul, NO
It’s amazing that CP3 is still on the Hornets, after a much-publicized summer in which he announced his plans to be traded. Paul’s numbers are slightly down across the board, but that relates to his lack of aggressiveness on offense. Over the past 4 seasons his FG attempts per game have been 13.6, 16.1, 16.1, and 14.2. This year, just 11.3. As a result, he’s scoring only 16.5 per game, the lowest total since his rookie year. He’s also under 10 assists/game for the first time since 2007. I don’t know what’s up with him. I guess he, like Carmelo, is just waiting for a change of scenery.

6. Dwight Howard, ORL
Still the NBA’s best big man, but no longer a lock for Defensive Player of the Year. That award might go to either Bogut, Josh Smith, or Artest. Howard currently ranks 2nd in rebounding and 5th in blocks, which means the streak of winning both categories will end. His free-throw percentage continues to be his Kryptonite, as he shoots just 58.9% from the line. That’s particularly important because Howard leads the NBA in free-throws attempted.

5. Derrick Rose, CHI
Probably the biggest surprise on this list, but Rose proved he belongs in the top five last week when he single-handedly beat Wade and the Heat with 34 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter. He’s endured injuries to Boozer, Noah, and now Boozer again, and maintained a 24.5 scoring average at just 22 years old. He’s got 8 assists per game, along with 4.5 rebounds, and has made the very unexpected jump from a fringe-top 10 point guard to best overall point guard in just one unbelievable season. Apologies to Williams and Paul and Rondo, but they don’t have the dominant offensive prowess of Rose. Chicago has a 10 game lead in the Central Division, and remember, Boozer and Noah have both spent over a month in street clothes. That team is going to be scary good for a long time.

4. Dirk Nowitzki, DAL
Forget ‘Best White Guy in the NBA.’ That’s a lock. Dirk is on his way to claiming a spot among the Top Five White Guys of all Time. (The list goes like this: #1 Larry Bird; #2 Jerry West; #3 Bob Cousy; #4 John Stockton; #5 John Havlicek; #6 Pete Maravich; #7 Kevin McHale, #8 Steve Nash…) I know this list is supposed to reflect 2010 and not be a lifetime achievement thing, but Dirk is averaging 23+ points for the 7th straight year and that’s pretty impressive. If he plays three more seasons at this pace, he’ll be in the top 10 in NBA history in points scored. Remember, he’s only 32 years old. And he’s a jump shooter, so playing until he’s 38 isn’t out of the question.

But for strictly 2010 purposes, all Dirk is doing is shooting a career best 54% from the field and 87.6% from the FT line, while keeping Dallas at 4th in the West despite injuries and general mediocrity around him. They are a perennial contender and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

3. LeBron James, MIA
It’s been a horrible past twelve months for LBJ. To recap: quit halfway through the playoffs; staged an ego-maniacal press conference to announce his ‘decision’ which instantly vaulted him into the top 5 most hated athletes in America (along with a rapist, a dog-killer, a sex addict, and Terrell Owens); turned the Heat into the most universally-hated sports franchise since … well, ever; began the season 9-8 when some people (myself included) didn’t think they’d lose 8 games all year. His scoring per game has dropped 4.3 points and his MVP chances are decimated for this year and the next 5 years, thus crippling any chance he has of ever being in the Michael Jordan Discussion for greatest player ever. He’s widely considered Dwayne Wade’s sidekick (although LeBron is obviously the better player) and he’s fervently booed everywhere he goes, including his hometown, who greeted him with chants of “Ak-ron hates you” when he returned to Cleveland.

But there is good news for LeBron: He leads the entire league in one very important statistical category. That would be … turnovers.

2. Kevin Durant, OKC
Isn’t it weird that he’s leading the NBA in scoring and I’m somehow disappointed? Durant is averaging 28.5 ppg, but I honestly expected 32 or more. In 37 games so far, he’s scored at least 20 in 34 of them. He’s been at 30 or more in 15 contests. His percentages are just a hair lower than last season, and he’s attempted slightly fewer field goals and free throws per game. But let’s not forget that he’s well on his way to a second straight scoring title, and he’s not doing it selfishly. In the past 15 years of basketball, the way to win a scoring title was by taking the most shots. (See: Kobe in 2006, Iverson in 2004, TMac in 2002) But Durant is currently fifth in the NBA in field goal attempts, with only 21 more shot attempts than his own teammate, but still the leading scorer by a comfortable margin. A big part of that is Durant knows how to get to the free throw line, and when he gets there he’s near-perfect. No other small forward comes close to Durant’s 88.1% FT percentage. This year Durant has stepped up his game from a scoring machine on a losing team to a scoring machine on a winning team, and that’s one of the most difficult transitions for a star player to make. I can’t wait to watch OKC in the playoffs.

1. Kobe Bryant, LA
I could mention the effortless scoring, the steady winning, or the fact that Kobe is a legitimate contender for Defensive MVP. But only one statistic needs to be mentioned: two-time defending NBA Finals MVP. As Kobe sneaks into his mid 30s, this might be his last season at the #1 spot. But for this year, he’s definitely earned it.

7 comments:

  1. Sad - I must not follow the NBA enough - I've never heard of this guy: 17. Russell Westbrook, OKC

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  2. What about Aaron Rodgers? He's definitely a top 10 right now, isn't he?

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  3. Nicely done David,
    That must have taken you quite a bit of time. It was well thought out. I didn't know that you had a sports blog, I'll have to read up on your old stuff.
    Your analysis of Wade is on point as well. I also enjoyed reading about Griffin, Westbrook, and Durant, for these are the future of the NBA and will be topping this list soon. Griffin is a beast and so fun to watch it will be interesting to see how he develops his skills, but you can definitely not deny his extraordinary athleticism. I don't know if you've listened to my show, and if you have, you may not have liked it but if you do we need to get more listeners like yourself involved with our program because you are knowledgeable. Keep up the good work and will look forward to your future posts.

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  4. Pretty good list Dave, if you are going by just this season I would have to say that Kobe may not be number 1. Dont get me wrong, he is probably still the best player in the NBA today, but I dont know if he is having a better season then say Rose. But its a great list! I didnt know you followed the NBA so much. It is by far my favorite league.

    Joe

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  5. Interesting to read how differently people can look at what makes a great ball player. I am like you and don't focus on scoring as much as most, but you had some surprises in here. I agree with Joe, it seemed like you dipped into last year. Although, it is hard to judge on the first third of the season, if you count the playoffs. Some of these guys, Kobe, Gasol, Melo, Evens have had really bad years so far.

    Thanks for sharing. -Steve

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  6. I really think you could argue for any of these 10 players to be in any order for the top 10 players in the league. I have also commented on a few that were close to making the list.

    Wade
    James
    Howard
    Paul
    Willams
    Stoudimare
    Durant
    Rose
    Nowitzki
    Bryant

    Nash Low scoring
    Rondo Low scoring
    Love One year only
    Griffin One year only
    Ellis Scoring only
    Anthony Scoring only

    -Steve

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