Now that he is a champion, is LeBron James now the hands-down pick as the best player in the NBA?
The 2011-12 season was quite a wacky one with the lockout and the condensed meat grinder schedule, but in the end, most NBA fans can look back fondly on a great season that featured great games, great individual performances and one of the more competitive playoff seasons in recent memory.
Each year, the NBA has a flux of players that rise and fall from consideration amongst the elite players in the league.
There will always be some players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade that seem to be in the top 10 year-in, year-out, but there are a bunch of other players that make a solid case for top-10 status each year but fall in and out of consideration due to a variety of factors.
It’s not so much that players are inconsistent from year to year, like the NFL can yield at certain positions, it’s more so that NBA fans and analysts tend to be one of the more fickle, “what have you done for me lately?” groupings in professional sports.
Chris Paul experienced this a few years ago when at one point, people were ready to crown him the best PG in the NBA and one of the true elites in this league due to his magnificent floor game and clutch play.
Then the following two years he was forgotten because New Orleans did not have a great year and then he suffered injury problems.
This year, when considering a list of top 10 performers, the players that ended up on the list would not shock anyone as much as some of the names left off. There were a bunch of variables that came to play this season that made it interesting to say the least.
The main variables included injuries to players like Derrick Rose; poor public relations drama for players like Dwight Howard, sub-par performances for players like Dirk Nowitzki and poor, irrelevant team performance for players like Deron Williams.
These are all players that are top 10 performers in this league, but in 2012, it was a struggle for these players to overcome obstacles to maintain their 2011 status.
The top 10 players are based mainly on their performance in 2011-12 combined with their prior reputation, ability to influence team performance, clutch play, playoff performance and killer instinct.
There are other factors that go in subconsciously come into play like media/fan hype, but those are the main factors. With that said, here are the top 10 players in the NBA in 2011-12:
Rose is still a top 10 player despite his trials this season.
In 2011, Derrick Rose would almost certainly make most top 5 lists in the league. He was MVP of the league, and at times carried a team that had the best record in the NBA during the regular season.
Time after time, he had clutch performances that featured unbelievable plays and scoring surges that single-handedly led the Bulls to victory when it seemed that all of his teammates ran away and hid in the clutch.
This year, however, the previously indestructible and graceful Rose ran into the misfortune of injury. He battled a series of nagging injuries ranging from a turf toe, to back issues, to knee issues and never was able to really get into a groove where he played a solid chunk of games in a row. As a result, he missed 27 of the team’s 66 games.
Fortunately for the Bulls, they still performed very well in his absence, which happened to be misleading to uneducated basketball fans. This flawed logic that the Bulls could win without Derrick because they did so well in the season and they were SOOO well rounded was proven wrong immediately.
Just 46 minutes into the Bulls postseason, the No. 1 seed in the East, well on their way to a blowout of the Sixers and likely a short series, lost their superstar to a terrible ACL injury in the closing moments of the game.
From that moment forward, the Bulls only managed to win one more game yielding four defeats to the Sixers leading to an early playoff exit that had his absence written all over it.
The Bulls could not close without him and they could not get consistent scores against a smothering Sixers defense. This series alone keeps him in the top 10 despite the fact that people have already downgraded him after his absence this year.
In 2011-12, he still managed to average 23.1 ppg and was more intentional with his floor game averaging just under 8 assists a game.
Before his nagging injuries began, he was playing as good as ever and largely avoided the acrobatic and reckless play that he was trademarked for. He still was unable to escape a playoff injury, which he so desperately tried to avoid.
Rondo became the face of the Celtics this year and almost led them to a NBA Finals appearance.
Don’t ask Rajon where he should be on this list. He’d tell you that he should be No. 1. His arrogance does not always come off the best, but there is no denying that Rondo has now earned the right to walk with a little bit of a swagger.
Not only was he extremely productive this year and quarterbacked the Celtics offense as well as any point guard in the NBA, but he also took over as the face of the Boston Celtics.
Any time a player can be labeled as the face of the premier franchise in basketball, and the best player on a team full of Hall of Famers, attention must be given to this player’s talent.
Throughout the year, especially as the older players eased their way into the season, Rondo was aggressive and played at an all-NBA level.
He not only passed the ball incredibly well, averaging 11.7 assists per game (which is led the league by a full assist), but he also averaged 11.9 points per game and laced in several strong rebound games to rack up a host of triple doubles.
His jump shot is still well below average, but his ability to penetrate, finish at the basket, find the open man where he can score easily, and get steals (1.79) make him one of the most dangerous players in the league.
I have recognized that many Rondo-haters have come around after this year’s performance, because there is no denying his ability and effect on the Boston Celtics success.
It was tough choosing between Derrick Rose’s history and Rondo’s incredible 2011-12 season, so given the rivalry between these two, it makes sense that they be tied together in this last spot.
Howard might be the most athletic pure center ever to play the game!
Dwight Howard is arguably the best center in the game. Statistically and defensively, there are few players in this league that can even be mentioned in the same breath as him.
However, due to all of the distractions of his imminent exit from Orlando, and his indecisive behavior, Howard’s reputation took quite a hit this year.
Sure, there has always been frustration with Howard’s inability to max out his seemingly endless potential, but at the end of the day, there is only one center in the league that can be compared to him, and some aren’t even ready to go that far.
Howard is the best defensive center in the game, the best rebounder, the most frequent dunker, and anchors his defense as good as any player in the game.
Andrew Bynum may have a more comprehensive offensive repertoire, but Howard can certainly do his share of damage offensively in the post, and runs the floor better than any center in the league.
Before he succumbed to a back injury late in the season, he averaged 20.6 PPG, 14.6 rebounds per game, 1.5 steals per game and blocked 2.1 points per game (which was good for third in the league).
Throw in the fact that he led the league in FG % (57.3) from the field, and we are talking about one of the most dominant players in the league and likely the best at his position.
Without this production in the lineup, the Orlando Magic were a skeleton of themselves in the playoffs and bowed out in four games to the Indiana Pacers. The Magic are not even a playoff-caliber team without him.
If not for the for the negative publicity about him and his immaturity, there is no way that Dwight Howard would not be considered a top 5 to 7 player in this game. He’s that good. Expect him to be making a rise next year unless he lets this season get the best of him.
Wade did what it took to be a champion again
There was a time when the Heat’s two-time NBA champion would be easily considered as one of the game’s top 3 players in the league. In fact, he still owns one of the best NBA Finals performances ever witnessed in modern times.
He battled his teammate LeBron James for years for the crown as the league’s best player, and now, for the good of the team, he has scaled back his attack for the “good of the team.” I would like to say that decision was questionable or debatable, but it worked, so who am I to question it?
It seems almost odd that a team with Wade on it would be led in almost every statistical category by LeBron James, but in the grand scheme of things, James has the more fragile psyche and is less experienced and proficient at being a sidekick.
Therefore, it makes some sense that Wade humbly take on a slightly secondary role to LeBron this past season.
Last year, when James came in with the approach of not unseating his friend as the king of Miami, it affected his game quite a bit, and took away his aggressive nature.
Sometimes the two players clashed and struggled to figure it out when both players had it going and were used to saving the day for their team. After last year’s struggles, it became apparent that a bunch of changes needed to be made.
For the Heat to be at their best this year, they needed the most talented player in the game to play with the same freedom and aggression that he did in Cleveland.
In order for that to happen, Wade saw it fit that he step aside and hand over his franchise to his friend that had never won anything in the pros.
It worked, but this sacrifice and some issues with injuries dropped Wade further out of the top 3 than he has been in quite some time.
There is no doubt that on his best day he’s as dangerous as anyone, but this year it would be unfair to still rate him on the level of the game’s elites due to his play on the court and the rise of other players.
This season he finished at 22.1 ppg and just under 5 rebounds and 5 assists a game. After averaging 30 ppg just three seasons ago, this was his lowest output since his rookie year.
Somehow, I think Wade is okay with that given their triumph as a team.
Westbrook is an incredible athletic talent
Russell Westbrook is that guy who made the large ascent into elite territory in 2011-12. In the past, he was widely recognized as an amazing athletic talent, with explosive offensive abilities, but this year, he really rounded his game into form.
He was not always the best with his shot selection and overall point guard play, but when it comes to pure talent and production, few were as impressive.
Russell, already a nightmare off the dribble and in the open court, now has added a pretty consistent pull-up jumper and an adequate long-distance shot. This makes him incredibly difficult to guard and takes some of the pressure off of Kevin Durant, the league’s leading scorer, to carry the team offensively.
He averaged 23.6 points per game (fifth in the league), a respectable 5.5 assists per game and led the team with 1.7 steals per game. He continues to get better as a player each year, and the sky is the limit for him as he continues to improve his jump shot and general decision-making.
Parker was the best player on the best team for the majority of the season
Until the Spurs were on the big stage in the playoffs and unfortunately failed against the Thunder after steamrolling everyone in sight prior to that, Tony Parker for some reason went under the radar to many basketball fans.
He is almost treated as an “old man” or “elder statesmen” because he has been in the league for so long, and already has three championships, but most forget that Tony just turned 30 years old during the playoffs! He still is in his athletic prime and it showed this season.
On a team that was as dominant as any team this season, Parker led the way while Tim Duncan paced himself and Manu Ginobili battled injury.
He showed off his well-rounded and smooth game regularly throughout the season, leading the Spurs to a 20 game winning streak and 31 of 33 games. That is an unbelievable run and he led the way with 18.3 points per game and 7.7 assists per game.
Despite his disappointing performance in the Western Conference Finals, when Parker was on, he usually was a nightmare in the pick and roll, consistent at finishing at the basket below the rim, and able to consistently knock down open jumpers.
Although it was a two-man race, Parker was a mild MVP candidate this year thanks to his great play for the majority of this season, especially considering he had to lead the way while his teammates and coaches were more concerned with pacing themselves for the playoffs.
Kevin Love is one of the most sound and skilled players in the league.
Kevin is another guy that came out of nowhere to enter the realm of the elite this season. He will have to sustain this performance, but there is no reason to expect his performance to taper off.
Kevin is a classic, fundamental player that does not rely on his athleticism or even size to excel as a player.
Almost opposite of his college teammate and friend Russell Westbrook, he was already a pretty seasoned player after just one year at UCLA.
He rebounds the ball exceptionally well, passed the ball very well for a big man and could complement his put-back conversions with a three point shot that he had already started to hit in college.
While Westbrook has potential that reached to the sky, some doubted Love because of his lack of athleticism. All he did this year is average 26 points per game (fourth in the league), pull down 13.3 rebounds per game (second in the league), and hit 105 threes as a big man.
Kevin was not on a very good team this year, but for the majority of the year they were in most games and even pulled off some quality wins throughout the year.
I don’t think anyone thought he would be this type of offensive threat but now that he has, it’s become an expectation that he will post a double-double every night out.
Kevin is just a very solid, talented basketball player that must get full appreciation from here on.
Pound for Pound Chris Paul may be the toughest player in the league and has taken the Clippers to the next level
Last summer’s biggest story was the trade of Chris Paul from New Orleans (where he was drafted and beloved) to the Los Angeles Clippers in December last year. It looked as if the Lakers would be putting together a phenomenal duo of two of the game’s finest, but David Stern stepped in.
Instead, Paul ended up reviving a Clippers franchise that has been starved for good fortune the almost 30 years they have been in LA. Finally, they were blessed with one of the game’s brightest talents, and a guy that could team up with rising superstar Blake Griffin to put them over the hump.
With the spotlight on Paul in Los Angeles with high-flying dunkers in Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, it was showtime in red, white, and blue for once in LA. He did not disappoint, leading the Clippers to a 40-win season, which was good for an impressive 60% winning percentage.
He pushed Blake Griffin to an impressive season and stabilized the team into a winning culture with the help of Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler and Mo Williams.
Despite having some off nights during this grueling schedule, he did average 19.8 points per game and 9.1 assists per game. He also led the league with 2.53 steals per game.
His stats were good, but his overall contributions were even better. More than ever, the league was reminded of who Chris Paul is and the type of winner he is. He was consistently clutch and he made a team that was on a slow ascent and got them to the second round of the playoffs immediately.
CP3 is one of those guys that fluctuates on the list depending on which point guard is hot and how his team does, but do not expect him to fall off for some time if the Clippers continue to make the moves they have made and he stays healthy.
Kobe is still a beast despite his high mileage.
Kobe Bryant once was the king of the sport. At times, on any given night, he still is “that dude”, but as he starts to head downhill on his decline, I think few if any will place him above the 3 spot in the league.
Given all he has done in his 16 years in the league, if you keep things in perspective, it is still impressive how productive he has been. Since everything he does is compared to his idol Michael Jordan, Jordan had already been far past his decline by his 16th year in the league.
In fact, because he took the 1994 season off, MJ was already in the Washington Wizards portion of his career by now. That is not to compare the two, because it’s not fair and Jordan was already pushing 40, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Kobe did not hit every game-winner he took, he did not dominate every game, and he could not will the Lakers to win every time out, but he did manage to ratchet it up and challenge Kevin Durant for the league scoring title.
That is incredible given the mileage he has on his legs and the type of scorers we have in this league. He ended up averaging 27.9 points a game, and could have won the scoring title if he did not take the last night of the season off.
He also had around 5 assists and 5 rebounds per game and grabbed 1.2 steals a game.
Kobe Bryant may still be the most respected and revered player in the sport and even if he repeatedly misses game-winning shots or is off on any given particular night, but around the league, players, coaches, fans, and analysts alike still expect as much out of him as they do any other player in the league, because he has done it SO often.
He may have been surpassed in overall production and potency, but there is still a respect that exists for Bryant that is apparent from all the other stars in how they approach and attack him. He is like the measuring stick of this generation.
Let’s see how much longer he can stay on top of his game. This season was mighty impressive scoring wise, especially considering the grueling nature of the schedule.
Kevin Durant is a scoring machine that continues to get better.
Kevin Durant had a near MVP season this year. If not for the type of season Mr. James had on South Beach this year, Durant would have started his collection this season.
He led the league in scoring at 28.0 points per game and led his team to an NBA Finals appearance. Kevin has continued to get better in the league each year, and is hungry to get even better.
What makes Kevin special is the ease of which he is able to score. He has a lethal and consistent jump shot that he can get off on pretty much anyone, he possesses the speed and athleticism to take the ball to the cup and finish above the rim, and he has a great mid-range game as well. '
It’s unbelievable how many ways he can hurt you. He shoots very good percentages and is probably the most efficient scorer in the league.
Given that he often goes long periods of time without touching the ball because Russell Westbrook is busy building his own legacy and exerting his incredible talents on the league as well, it’s crazy that he still can lead the league in scoring three years in a row.
This year he shot just a tad under 50% from the field, which is impressive for a guy who scores primarily from the perimeter and grabbed 8 rebounds a game as well.
Durant, along with Derrick Rose, may be one of the best-fit players to serve as the face of a franchise in terms of their combination of talent, character, work ethic and marketability. He’s a quiet kid and not very interested in bringing a ton of attention to him, and loves to let his game speak for himself.
This year’s Finals appearance was a learning experience for him, in which he was not able to come through for his team during some key sequences, but he can hold his head high knowing that he averaged 30.6 points per game in this “disappointing” Final and his worst scoring output was 25 points on 58% shooting in Game 3.
It may not be long before Durant makes a run at No.1, but you can count on him to be in the top 2 or 3 for many years to come.
LeBron can finally exhale as he has a full stranglehold on the No. 1 spot thanks to the winning of his first title
Hate him or love him, it’s clear that LeBron James is the best player in the game today. He has the talent, he has the physique, and now he is showing signs of having the mentality to take over as the most feared and respected player in the league.
People probably revere Kobe more, and admire/respect Durant more, but when it comes to the one guy that everyone knows is the scariest and most capable, it’s LeBron James.
He took his talents down to South Beach to win a championship with his friend Dwyane Wade, and he was able to accomplish that as the face of the organization, much to the surprise of many fans that thought that Wade would never relinquish the title as the “King of Miami.”
Last year’s failure against Dallas, and the hate he endured during the season really propelled James to work harder and harder at honing his skills and maximizing his game.
There is no telling if he would have ever pushed himself to that point had he not been brought to his knees as a player and left to wonder why he had failed so miserably. Now that he has learned to operate out of the post more consistently and score on the move, there really is no answer for LeBron.
All season, he was consistent and steady for the Heat. Wade and Chris Bosh got injured and the team went through it’s own slumps but James was so focused on the prize and obviously prepared for the long haul physically and mentally. It paid off.
He averaged 27.1 points per game, just under 8 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals a game. He still remains one of the best open court shot blockers in the game, and is one of the highest regarded one-on-one defenders in the game as well. He really rounded out his form this year and left very little for the haters to hang their hat on.
He may not be the popular and well-liked player he was in Cleveland and some may never forgive him, but at the very least, respect must be given to the best player in the league. He deserves it.
Gone but not forgotten from the NBA elite...he'll be back
Deron Williams, LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Josh Smith, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bynum.
Deron Williams seems to have been forgotten by many after establishing himself as arguably the best point guard in basketball just 2 years ago.
Andrew Bynum is the second-best center in the game and had a great statistical year in Kobe Bryant's shadow.
Carmelo Anthony is a top 10 talent and Dirk has always been around the top 10, but he decided to take this year off for all intents and purposes. This is just the nature of the NBA game.