Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ranking the NBA

I'm immensely enjoying the NBA playoffs. And while watching these games I began to think about the fluctuation in player value that is created by excelling or disappointing in the pressure cooker that is the NBA Playoffs. As usual the creme rises to the top and I felt like I needed to shuffle the deck to get a better grasp on the games, especially for gambling purposes.

What I've done is listed the best players in the entire NBA, not just playoff teams, with a slight eye towards the future. I'm not making this list for 5 or 10 years from now so it's not necessarily a "futures" list but more picking it based on "if I was starting a team for 2010-2012 encompassing two full seasons, who would I want?" The only rule I had was that only players currently in the NBA are eligible (Sorry John Wall and Evan Turner) to be ranked.

I had a great time compiling this list, even if it did give me carpal tunnel. I also shuffled this list around roughly 50 times before finally settling on a final draft. I simply took each player one-at-a-time and compared him to the next player on the list and who I would rather have to come up with my final rankings.

So here we go, the top 30 have in-depth analysis, I have short pieces for the next 10 and then finally I rank #'s 40-60 on name alone.

1         LeBron James

No surprise here, he’s an athletic marvel the likes of which the game has never seen.  He’s 6’9ish, 270lb-ish, can handle the ball like a PG, shoot like a SG, play defense like a SF, Rebound like a PF, and block shots like a C.  I’m amazed by him each time I watch him play and I’m excited for the next chapter of his career, wherever that is.  I can’t wait for whichever off-season he realizes he needs to add a post game to his repertoire and really begins dominating, this is just the beginning.

 Enjoy this time folks because LBJ’s career will be looked back on the way Magic/Bird/Jordan’s is and you’ll be pissed at yourself if you didn’t watch enough of it.

2          Kevin Durant

Not quite as powerful as LeBron so he’s not as awe inspiring but we’re looking at a guy that may actually be taller/longer than LeBron with a lot of the same skill set.  The Durantula actually has a couple post moves and a more consistent 3pt shot.  As has become evident by his recent little spat with Phil Jackson, KD is already savvy enough to draw fouls and get to the line when his shots aren’t falling.  LeBron hasn’t quite figured that out yet and it took Kobe about 10 years to get that down; KD has it down pat in his 3rd year!  I don’t think he’ll ever be as tenacious on the defensive side as LeBron is, but he already asks for the toughest assignment each game which is a great sign.

3          Dwyane Wade

Maybe it’s foolish but I’m still leery of D-Wade’s health.  I remember all too often Wade sitting in street clothes for long stretches at a time much to the detriment of his team.  He’s also older than you think he is having been in college for a full 3 years.  He’ll turn 29 halfway through next season and with all the Olympics appearances he has a ton of mileage on his body, mileage he clearly doesn’t carry well.  His pedigree is obvious as he was the best player on the floor at times in those Olympics stints while playing next to LeBron and Kobe Bryant.  If I could be assured of 100% clean bill of health with Wade he just might vault to #2 on this list

4         Kobe Bryant

Age, that’s what bumps Kobe to the 4th spot.  If I had to risk my life on a pickup game where I could pick any player in the league for just that one game, I’d pick Kobe.  Simply put he’s still the most skilled/gifted player with the best killer instincts in the game.   However for an 82 game regular season and potentially 28 more playoff games there are three guys I’d take over him, but only three.  Kobe still might be the best player in the game and that’s never more evident than putting a guy with that many miles on his odometer fourth in these rankings.

5         Deron Williams

I’m a huge Chris Paul fan so this hurts to say but Deron Williams has taken over the “Best PG in the NBA” title.  As was talked about on draft night when D-Will came out, his body is more suited for the rigors of an NBA schedule and affords him a better opportunity to play a physical style while staying on the court.  Williams simply needs to start imposing his will on the defensive side more to have a case for top 3 status, as it is now, he’s 5th behind some very good players.  Little known fact: for all the grief Billy Knight gets for not picking Chris Paul in that 2005 draft, it was actually Deron Williams that BK wanted and the pick was vetoed by the owners who were enamored with Marvin.  Ahh, but what could have been?
6         Chris Bosh
I pray that CB4 can escape the great northeast that is Toronto.  Not that the Canadians don’t deserve a superstar because they have some of the best fans in the league, it’s just that no one gets to see this guy.  He is stuck toiling away in obscurity while he’s secretly the best scoring 4/5 in the league. Anyone that watched the Olympics could tell that Bosh was the best big man on the team, even better than Dwight Howard.  Now the European rules of Olympic basketball are more conducive to Bosh than Dwight but it shows the potential Bosh has and the treat that everyone is missing out on.
7         Derrick Rose
I’m a PG guy, I love PGs.  They always have the ball in their hands, they have the biggest impact on the other players on the team, and they are usually the captain’s and emotional leaders of the team as well.  Knowing that, I try to be as objective as possible when it comes to PGs, but I am in love with Derrick Rose’s game.  I’ve liked Derrick Rose ever since I saw a YouTube mix tape of him in his senior year of high school.  When I do this list in 3 years he’ll probably be in the top 5 and the top PG in the league, he’s just that good.  The best part about Rose? He’s figuring out how to assert himself while also helping others be the best they can be.  Imagine how many points Chris Bosh would score a game and how dangerous the Chicago Bulls would be if Rose could get CB4 to the Windy City? Scary…
8         Dwight Howard

So, why is D12, the most dominant rebounding/shot blocking force in the league checking in at 8th?  Free Throws.  When you’re this high in the rankings it’s going to be the small things that separate two players from one another.  In Howard’s case he is too easily nullified from having an impact on the game because of the danger of him going to the free throw line and missing sometimes 6-7 of every 10 shots he takes there.  This was never more evident than in the 2009 NBA Playoffs as Hedo Turkoglu, a guy that was a career bench player and has such resumed that role in Toronto, was the Magic’s best crunch time option.   His propensity for easy touch fouls that take him off the court only hurts him further.  Still, Howard’s dominance for the other 46 minutes of a game put him this high.
9         Carmelo Anthony
So why does a guy who was one of the best players in the Olympics and one of the leading scorers in the NBA go all the way to the 9th spot?  I’m not really sure myself.  There’s some indiscernible quality about Carmelo that makes him fall just short of the other 8 guys on this list.  Is it the way that he’s just a tad too much of a “get mine” guy?  Maybe it’s his lack of 100% commitment to defense (rectified some this year), or his not quite elite athletic ability.  Whatever it is he’s pretty much gotten the most out of his game that he’s going to get now that he’s playing with an elite PG in Billups.  Not to say that 9th overall isn’t a great spot, it’s just not as high as others think him to be.
10     Chris Paul
Damn the high ankle sprain!!  It’s killed many a running back’s season (Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams to name two…) but it also derailed another MVP caliber season for CP3.  Maybe that was for the best as the Hornets were clearly on the down swing and CP3’s reputation didn’t have to take as much of a hit as it did with him sitting on the bench.  Like I alluded to earlier with D-Will, other experts have pointed out that CP3’s small stature would end up costing him longevity at some point, but I don’t think that point is now.  He’s one of the most aggressive and smart guys on the floor with court awareness coming outta his pores.  He’s gotten better at some aspect of his game every year (first man-to-man D, then 3 point shooting, and finally the ability to get to the line this past season) and I don’t expect him to drop off just yet.  Maybe he won’t be a top notch guard for 12-13 years like the bigger Williams, but 10-11 years of elite PG play is not shabby at all.  
Finally, I’ll say this: Chris Paul’s best is better than any PG in the league because of his mental approach to the game. If he stays healthy I’d fully anticipate him jumping over Rose and Williams for the top spot once again.
11           Rajon Rondo
I made a remark midway through Game 3 of the Celtics-Heat game to a friend of mine: “Rondo has taken over as the best player on the Celtics”.  I know all the talk is about the “Big 3” but Rondo has made it the “Big 1 featuring 1 really good one (Pierce), 1 good one (Allen) and 1 washed up one (KG)”.  Rondo still does his best to keep those other three involved but the Celtics are so much better when Rondo is the focal point of the offense and is making a conscious effort to get his while keeping everyone involved.  Re-watch game 1 of the Celtics/Cavs game this past weekend and you’ll see he was the 2nd best player on the floor behind only LeBron.  He’s picked his FT’s up big time (50%ish career, 80%ish these playoffs) and if he finds a consistent jump shot before Rose he’ll warrant being placed above Derrick Rose in these rankings.
12           Brandon Roy
Man what could this guy do if healthy?  He’s had knee troubles dating back to college.  Speaking of his college days, during his senior year at Washington the Huskies were really lacking for post play so they moved Roy to the Power Forward position and he proceeded to lead the team in rebounding.  This speaks to his versatility.  He’s also become one of the best “big-shot” guys in the league and doesn’t really have a hole in his game.  The best compliment I can give him comes from a coach I heard comment after watching Roy play: “He’s not fast, but he can get by anyone he wants anytime.  He does that by not wasting any steps.”  I think that’s perfect, Roy gets anywhere he wants (the mark of a great player) and does it while exerting the least amount of energy possible.  He has a chronic knee condition that will always hold him back, but as of right now he’s the 12th best in the game.
13           Pau Gasol
Highway Robbery got Pau to LA and he’s the #1 reason Kobe is considered a top 5-7 player of all time.  Without Pau consistently giving all that he does down low (selflessly, btw.  The guy NEVER asks for touches/shots and just plays within the team) he allows Kobe to take those ridiculous shots (most of which he makes) but not look too bad because Gasol usually cleans it up.  He’s got a great back-to-the-basket game being able to spin either way and use either hand to get off a quality shot.  Combine that with he’s a very disciplined shot blocker who challenges on every play if not quite getting the block.  Now if we could ever get him to quit being a whining pansy we’d really have a fan favorite.
14           Dirk Nowitzki
I liken Dirk’s fade away to Kareem’s Skyhook: you know it’s coming, but you can’t do anything about it.  It’s such an amazing shot to watch too.  He slowly backs his man down, getting him into position, gives him one final nudge to get the defender off balance then goes parallel to the floor and launches a moon shot and flies through the rim so fast it’s a wonder it doesn’t take the net with it.  He’s money from the line, a great mid-range shooter and his 3PT shooting is very consistent, especially for a 7-footer.  Recently he’s developed a toughness that was lacking early on.  He won’t be as prone to age because he’s never played with much of an athletic flair so he should have another 2-3 years before some drop off starts.
15           Paul Pierce
I should have included Pierce’s patented “start at the top of the key, dribble twice to the right elbow, fade and away and win it” shot to the Dirk/Kareem group above.  I’ve watched PP rip people’s hearts out with that shot and nobody ever plays it right.  He’s also one of the best at drawing fouls in the game where he shoots over 80%.  Pierce is slowly becoming more of a cog in the wheel than the wheel itself as he’s not quite making anyone better and just doing his own thing – that’s still good enough for 15th in the league and he’s a first ballot HOF.
16           Amare Stoudamire
Amare is the Bionic Man. He’s had 3 injuries (Micro Fracture on right knee, stress reaction on left knee, detached retina in eye) that usually hamper if not completely kill a career; and he’s come back strong every time.  Somehow the knee injuries haven’t limited his athleticism and he’s quite possibly the best pick-and-roll big man in the league paired with the best pick-and-roll PG in the league. 
To give some perspective on Amare’s most recent injury (detached retina): in 1971 Dave Bing, a forward for the Detroit Pistons, also suffered a detached retina.  Bing said for the rest of his career he couldn’t work the pick-and-roll because he couldn’t see the ball clearly enough to catch the roll passes.  Well not only does Amare continue to run the pick-and-roll he’s probably the best at it in the league.  Again, just amazing physical attributes for STAT.
Ultimately it’s his complete and utter disdain for defense and the fact that at 6’10” and one of the best leapers in the gym he should grab more than 8 rebounds a night playing 40+ minutes like he does.  I don’t think he quite has the desire even though he has all the skill.
17           Duncan
It’s been said before but never more true now that his knees are starting to betray him:  If you like subtleties and the nuances of basketball then you have to watch Tim Duncan.  He just does everything right and is always in the right spot and makes the right decision.  He’ll be able to play till he’s 40 thanks to a consistent 15-foot jump shot and about three post moves that no one has an answer for.  Just challenging drives and boxing out will keep TD an affective player for another 10 years.
18           Steve Nash
Nash is a shining example for taking care of yourself.  When he was a Free Agent years back leaving dallas he was a 31-year-old PG with a bad back that had a soft reputation.  He get’s to Phoenix, D’Antoni builds the Suns around him and the rest is history.  Nash is still going strong all these years later playing a hectic style of basketball.  He makes EVERYONE better, so much so that Robin Lopez became known for being “slightly effective” this season and no longer “Brook Lopez’s sister”.  Nash’s defensive deficiencies are overstated as he’s one of the best at taking charges.  With the way he takes care of his body he could definitely play for another 3-4 years at this elite level; astounding.
19           Chauncey Billups
“The Mr. Big Shot” moniker is over played and doesn’t really hold true.  He’s hit a couple big shots but hasn’t really done much there since his Detroit days.  Instead all Billups has done is make himself into one of the best PGs in the league.  After being drafted by the Celtics and being traded 50 games into the season then bouncing around to a few different teams Billups finally learned what it takes to succeed in the league.  Now Chauncey has become the mold for bigger, physical guards that aren’t as quick as some of the other guys.  He dominates the ball, makes great decisions, and physically imposes his will on opposing PG’s.  This type of behavior rubs off on his teammates and really makes for a tough team. 
20           Andrew Bogut
Part of me is glad that Bogut got hurt because now the Hawks get to play in the 2nd round.  However as a basketball fan I’m royally pissed.  As much as I said Bosh is a treat to watch, so is Bogut.  The Aussie can score with either hand both around the basket and on jump shots and is one of the better passing big men in the NBA.  The thing that makes him so good is his toughness.  Europeans are notoriously soft players more worried about shooting jumpers than banging bodies but Bogut doesn’t run from contact at all.  He is one of the best rebounders around and really holds his own defensively, both blocking shots and just being a presence.  If Bogut comes back 100% and Milwaukee resigns John Salmons they’ll be the 3rd or 4th best team in the East, he’s that good.
21           Manu Ginobili
I wish he didn’t have all the freak/nagging injuries.  When Tony Parker went down Manu had to take on the PG/creator role and flourished.  This shouldn’t have shocked anyone as he was a PG over in Europe where he won multiple MVP’s and was largely considered the best player in the league.    The shock of him being such a good PG stems from the fact that he is also one of the best SG’s in the game.  It amazes me every time I watch him that no one can stop him.  He is ALL left hand and cannot go right, yet he gets to wherever he wants anytime and always make the best decision; again, that’s the mark of a truly great player.
22           Joe Johnson
I had an interesting Twitter debate with The Big Lead (check out TheBigLead.com, great stuff) the other day concerning Joe and he made an interesting point: Yes, Joe is good at what he does and that’s an electric scorer with a variety of shots that can post up, take you off the dribble and shoot 3’s.  However, TBL’s point was that Joe just doesn’t make anyone better.  I think that was most evident this past series against Milwaukee that the Hawks just managed to win in 7 games against an overmatched Bucks team.  John Salmons was playing Joe the entire series and simply got after him.  Salmons caused Joe to shoot a lot of uncomfortable shots and as a result he ended up missing a lot more shots than he took and had some very bad scoring nights.  Well when great players run into this problem they realize they’re not gonna contribute a lot on the scoring load so they pack it in, start carving the defense up with passes, locking down on defense and hustling for loose balls; Joe did none of these things.  He really just continued to try and force his scoring and it ended up hurting the Hawks offensively.  I love Joe but after having that pointed out and watching it first hand I had to drop him down the rankings.  Originally slated at #17 he now clocks in at #23 because of the abilities of the others above him to elevate the games of those around them.

23           Brook Lopez
Young athletic centers don’t grow on trees and this guy is a star in the making. He has DEFINITELY exceeded my expectations for him as I thought he would be a huge sissy and a bust.  He’s proven to be a tough/willing rebounder and really a great low post scorer.  New Jersey isn’t as far from respectability as everything thinks they are because this kid is a great building block.
24           Russell Westbrook
Athletically he’s a rare breed.  His long arms and strong body make him a terror on defense where he loves guarding the best player on the other team (note: OKC has FOUR guys like that! Durant, Westbrook, Sefolosha, Harden).  He’s quietly building a dangerous offensive repertoire and works great with Durant.  His finishing ability makes him one of the best open court guards in the game.
25           Al Horford
10 points, 10 boards usually isn’t a sexy stat line.  It usually doesn’t get you top 25 status, but in Al’s case it does, because it’s not all that he does.  From the minute Al walked through the door in Atlanta his chemistry contributions made Atlanta a better team.  Before when someone fell down on the Hawks the other players just pointed and laughed.  Al brought in the Florida Gators “everyone runs over to pick the guy up” way of working.  He also exhibited leadership right away often being the mediator/negotiator between Mike Woodson and Josh Smith, two guys that have notoriously not seen eye-to-eye.  Combine all that with the fact that Al’s about 6’9” playing the Center position where he consistently out works/muscles the other bigs every night.  Joe Johnson is the best player on the Hawks but Al Horford is the most valuable player on the Hawks. This team would be a 35-40 win team if Zaza Pachulia (a respectable replacement) had to play every night.  With Al they won 53 games!
26           Stephen Curry
Damn I hate he got drafted to the west coast.  If you want to truly enjoy watching basketball you need to catch a game when Curry and Monta Ellis both have it going.  The best thing about Curry and what no one seemed to realize on draft night is that the kid can play with ANYONE.  He can play PG and dish out assists and only shoot when needed or he can flat out light it up and hang 30 on someone on a nightly basis.  He’s efficient with his shooting with great percentages and also has some toughness as he’s thrown in some double digit rebounding efforts for good measure.  He’s the best rookie in the league (another article coming soon) and it’s a damn shame the Thunder didn’t draft him, we’d be watching Kevin Durant light up the Jazz right now.
27           Jason Kidd
The old joke with Kidd was that his name is really “Ason” because he has no J (for Jump shot).  Well now not only is his J completely broken but he should now be called Kid because he lost his D.  It was unfair watching Tony Parker/Manu/George Hill light up Kidd every night, he’s an all time great and shouldn’t be subjected to such abuse.
28           Danny Granger
I really don’t know where to put this guy.  When he plays he’s a monster and a fantasy beast.  If he had played the entire season he’d probably be around 15-20.  He’s a rare breed of player that averages 1 3-pointer made, 1 block and 1 steal per game (LeBron, Durant).  He’s one of the great long distance shooters in the game and can finish at the rim when he drives.  I think we need to withhold judgment and see how he bounces back before making any rash decisions.
29           Brandon Jennings
Consistency – both in level of intensity and his shooting.  When Jennings has it going he’s a one man show which he displayed at times in the Hawks series.  There was a short episode that really showed me what Jennings is made of during that series.  Dan Gadzuric, a veteran big man for the Bucks, gets whistled for a touch foul on a guard where there wasn’t much contact but he brought his arms down trying to block the shot instead of just staying high and making it tough for the offensive player.  Well a timeout gets called before the shooter steps to the line and the camera switches to Gadzuric as he walks off the floor being school by Jennings on how to correctly play that scenario.  Obviously Gadzuric has been playing long enough that he knows what to do but it’s very telling of Jenning’s standing with the team that the veterans are already willing to take tips and listen to the youngster at those moments; it was very Al Horford-esque and portends a bright future for the Rook.
30           Tyreke Evans
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t take him but he’s young, big and very skilled.  He won the ROY trophy even though he played without any pressure whatsoever.  I feel like that’s something Jennings never got enough credit for because Jennings continued to play at a high level even in the middle of a playoff hunt.  We’ll see how Evans holds up as his team gets better and he has to do more winning than just stat stuffing.  Physically he has the tools to be a mismatch his entire career like LeBron and Durant but he’s not as skilled as those guys are.  Just a note: John Calipari is likely to go back-to-back-to-back with top 5 PGs in the NBA draft when John Wall gets drafted in June (Rose, Evans, Wall and likely Brandon Knight in 2011).  Once Wall hits the NBA I imagine his game will transition just fine and he’ll make a run for top 30.
31           Josh Smith – Finally not taking 3’s, still the least offensive aware player in the league.  His highlight real blocks/dunks get the entire team energized.
32           Andre Iguodala – Jack of all trades: good at everything, master of nothing.  He’s not a #1 yet being paid like one
33           LaMarcus Aldridge – solid post moves, still very young, kinda soft. Gets over shadowed by Roy but he’s damn good in his own right
34           Monte Ellis – a straight up hog but it’s ok when he’s hot because he’ll carry a team by himself then.
35           Al Jefferson – If it wasn’t for that Knee injury he’d be top 20, extremely skilled offensively.
36           Blake Griffin – Who knows? Based solely on monster potential
37           Joakim Noah – not what everyone was thinking after his Junior year when he was predicted #1 overall (he went back to school) but has quietly made himself into the 2nd or 3rd best low-post defender in the league (Kendrick Perkins is #1 by a wide margin, watching that guy play post defense is a thing of beauty).
38           Caron Butler – Eh…  I love “tough juice” but he just never seems to be as good as he should be
39           Jameer Nelson – if the shoulder holds up he’ll go into top 30 next year because he’ll start taking over more.
40           Tony Parker – The 6th man role seems to suit him and it bothers me that George Hill outplays him at time but his elite quickness is such an asset.  One of my favorite stats over the past couple years: In 2007 (I’m pretty sure, maybe 2008) Tony Parker led the entire NBA in points-in-the-paint.  Is it a wonder he shoots over 50% from the field?  Everything’s a layup!
41           Carlos Boozer
42           OJ Mayo
43           Andrew Bynum
44           David Lee
45           Nene
46           Rashard Lewis
47           Gerald Wallace
48           Vince Carter
49           Jason Richardson
50           Paul Millsap
51           Antawn Jamison
52           Devin Harris
53           Kevin Martin
54           David West
55           Jeff Green
56           Rudy Gay
57           Kevin Love
58           Trevor Ariza
59           Lamar Odom
60           Stephen Jackson

No comments:

Post a Comment