The Third-Best Player in the NBA: Part One of a Six-Part Series

jonathan staub@JStaubSportTalkCorrespondent IFebruary 15, 2009

An Introduction to the Series


Since LeBron James' and Kobe Bryant's historical performances at Madison Square Garden, the debate as to who is the best player in the NBA has escalated dramatically.


Both players are clearly in a "league of their own", and the argument as to who is better could swing either way.


While there may be no clear-cut answer as to who is superior, there is one thing that everyone seems to agree on.


Those two are the very best at what they do.


Of course, the NBA is not the only professional sport that has a power struggle atop their respective food chains.


The NFL, NHL, MLB, ATP, and PGA Tour all have a pair of athletes that are battling for recognition as the best in their sport.


Peyton or Brady? Crosby or Ovechkin? A-Rod or Pujols? Federer or Nadal? Tiger or...OK, maybe I'll stick to the obvious ones.


While the majority of people may not be able to agree on one or the other as the favorite for the title of "best", that same majority seems to agree that these pairs are the best in their sports.


Another thing these sports have in common is that there is a second tier of three or four players that are on the cusp of joining the "most dominant" argument.


So with that in mind, I would like to welcome you to the first of a six-part series in which I will analyze this second tier of players in an attempt to establish just who is the third-best athlete in each of these sports.


In any other era, these "second-tier" athletes would garner recognition as the best in their sport.


Some of these men have threatened to turn the "best" argument into a three-horse race, and I will note those cases as they come up.


Today, I'll address the NBA.


While Kobe and LeBron can each lay claim to being the "king of the hill", there is a group of young superstars that are hot on their heels.


It is with that group that this first installment of the series will begin.



Miami Heat SG Dwyane Wade: "The Accomplished Vet"

His season averages are 28.3 PPG, 7.0 APG, 5.0 RPG, 2.12 SPG, and 1.42 BPG.


Of all the candidates that will be argued for in this article, Dwyane Wade has the most impressive resume.


He is currently second in the NBA in scoring (just 0.2 PPG behind LeBron James) and possesses the best all-around game in the NBA outside of the aforementioned duo. One might even make a case that his unselfishness makes his game better than that of Kobe.


D-Wade can also boast a feat that LeBron and the others in this argument for third can't: He has a world championship to his credit.


He also won the NBA Finals MVP after the Heat’s championship campaign.


Wade is a five-time All-Star selection since being drafted fifth overall before the 2003-04 season. He is also a three-time All-NBA selection: second team in '05 and '06 and third team '07.


He has been selected to the All-NBA Defensive Team once (the second team 2005). Currently, Wade is third in the NBA in steals with 2.12 per game.


He was a member of the All-Rookie team in 2004 and won an Olympic Gold Medal this past summer in Beijing.


He has shown the ability to drive the lane as well as hit the mid-range and outside jumper, and he has proven he can win with or without the big man in the middle.


While he has countless "pros" going for him on and off the court, Wade is not without his downfalls.


While he has shown ability to hit the three, it is clearly not the strongest part of his game.


His biggest downfall isn't something on the court; no, it's his inability to stay on the court. He's injury-prone due to his playing style. But Wade has already played in and started more games this season than either of the past two.


Wade is clearly one of the best in the NBA today. A great argument can made that he deserves to be mentioned with Kobe and LeBron. Another successful playoff run for Wade and the Heat will do nothing but fuel the fire.


Wade and LeBron are members of the same draft class, and one can argue that D-Wade has accomplished more in his career thus far. Both possess similar resumes; that is, of course, if you exclude Wade’s championship and Finals MVP.



New Orleans Hornets PG Chris Paul: "The Secretary of Defense"


He has season averages of 21.3 PPG, 10.8 APG, 5.3 RPG, 2.7 SPG, and .17 BPG.


Chris Paul’s ascent to the top of the ranks is on par with some of the greats in NBA history.


He was one vote shy of a unanimous selection as Rookie of the Year in 2006. He led all rookies in minutes, points, assists, and steals. He was the only unanimous selection to the NBA All-Rookie First Team and was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month during every month of the 2005-06 season.


So far, in his brief career, Paul has established himself as one of the best defenders in the NBA.


He is averaging nearly three steals per game and has set the NBA record for consecutive games with a steal.


He is a two-time All-Star and was named to the All-NBA First Team in 2008 (as well as the All-NBA Defensive Second Team).


He won a gold medal with Dwayne Wade in 2008 and was second to Kobe Bryant in last season’s MVP voting. By comparison, D-Wade’s highest finish in the MVP race is sixth.


Paul currently leads the NBA in assists and steals per game, and he draws comparisons to Hall-of-Fame nominee John Stockton.


With his stellar defensive play and ability to distribute the ball, critics of Paul have just his scoring for fodder.


Only 23 times in four seasons has Paul eclipsed 30 points, and only three of those games have been resulted in more than 40; his career high is 43.


Compare those numbers to Wade and you’ll find that Wade has surpassed 30 points or more 22 times in just this season, and five of them were outpourings for more than 40.


As Paul gains experience, his point totals will surely increase, but as of now he has not shown that when his teammates go cold, they can rely on him to put up the big numbers and single-handedly win a game.



Orlando Magic C Dwight Howard:  “Superman”


His season averages are 20.5 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2.92 BPG, and .98 SPG.


The self-proclaimed "Superman", Dwight Howard, represents the new era of NBA big men.


He is athletic and powerful, and commands the paint like Shaq and defends with the intensity of a younger Ben Wallace.


Howard was a unanimous selection to the All-Rookie Team in '04 and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.


He set several NBA rookie records in his first year. He became the youngest player to average a double-double over the course of a season, and also became the first player directly out of high school to start all 82 games.


He became the youngest player to record 20 rebounds in a game; reach 3,000 (and then 4,000) rebounds in his career; record a 20-point, 20-rebound game; and the list goes on.


He is a three-time All-Star, as well as the 2008 Slam-Dunk Champion. Not to mention he also has a gold medal to his credit.


Howard was selected to the All-NBA Third Team in 2007 and was an All-NBA First Team selection in 2008. He was also selected to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2008.


He has played in all 82 games each season of his four-year career, and has recorded at least 60 double-doubles in each of his professional seasons (except for his rookie campaign). Expect him to get more than 60 this year.


Howard leads the NBA in rebounding and blocks and is tied for fifth in field goal percentage, as well.


The two main criticisms Howard has faced since becoming the No. 1 overall pick in 2004 regard his defensive play and post game. While he has answered any questions about his defensive abilities, there are still questions about his down-low play and his point production.


Howard did not break the 30-point barrier until December of his third year. He has never broken 40 points in a game, though he has achieved his career high of 39 twice.


History has shown that it can take the big men a little longer to develop than the little men. It has taken a minute, but Howard has blossomed into the premier man inside the paint.


Recent history has shown that centers are not the prolific scorers they once were. It's easier to double down on the big man and shut them out as opposed to doubling the guards and leaving the big men in one-on-one coverage underneath.


Howard has a chance to break this mold. His combination of athleticism, strength, speed, and intensity makes him a unique talent.



Dallas Mavericks F Dirk Nowitzki: “The Forgotten Commodity”


He sports season averages of 25.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, .75 BPG, and .73 SPG.


Lost in the hoopla surrounding the up-and-coming crop of NBA superstars is the 2007 MVP, Dirk Nowitzki. He has led some of the best regular-season squads of recent memory.


For all of Dirk’s success, it's his failures in the postseason that have ultimately defined his career. Despite his Mavericks' great records, he has only reached the Finals once, where he lost to Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat.


Dirk is an eight-time All-Star as well as an eight-time All-NBA selection.


He is an established scorer that has the ability to hit a jump shot from anywhere on the floor, and his rare combination of size and shooting ability make him a threat to score 40 or more on any given night.


He is accurate on the free throw line and commands respect when defended.


He may not have a gold medal to his credit, but he does have several European basketball awards, including a Mr. Europa Award from 2005.


While it is hard to argue against Dirk’s achievements, it is easy to argue that his teams have underachieved throughout his career.


When critics analyze Nowitzki’s game today, they don't point out what his game lacks. Instead, they continually point out that he has yet to lead any of his teams to a 'ship.


Leadership is not something that can be taught.





These four NBA superstars are among the best the game has to offer. All of them are integral pieces to their teams' success, as well as the success of the NBA as a whole.


Among them, however, it is Dwyane Wade that stands out as the one that is ready to make the jump from great to transcendent.


His accomplishments are unequaled by anyone in the group (or even LeBron) in regards to championships.


Wade has proven himself a game changer (when healthy) and has shown that he can carry a team on his back.


He is strong on the defensive as well as offensive end. He can drive the lane with the best in the game, pull back and hit the jumper, distribute the ball to the open shooter, and elevate the game of everyone around him.


He has achieved so much on and off the court in his short time in the league. He is already one of the game's great ambassadors.


He shares some accomplishments with Kobe in that each has won a title with Shaq; still, each needs to prove they can win one without him.


He has shown the ability to grab rebounds and distribute assists like LeBron, as well as take over a game when the time calls for it.


In my opinion, it’s hard to talk about Kobe and LeBron without including Dwyane Wade in the argument. He has shown the maturity and leadership of a player well beyond his years.


For all his accomplishments, and for what’s yet to come, Dwyane Wade is, to me, the third-best player in the NBA today.



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