The ESPN #NBArank has been revealed from No. 500, Eddy Curry, to No. 401, Luke Babbitt and there has quickly developed a conversation as to whether Curry deserves to sit at the bottom of the list.
Whether or not his potential—yet to be tapped after about a decade in the NBA—has earned him the benefit of the doubt, there are far more important positions on this list than No. 500. In the days leading up to the top 25 players of the league, names will either be surprises or roadblocks to the declarations of the true decision-makers of the NBA.
Here is a prediction of who will lie at the top of the list from No. 25 to No. 1 as well as where they were ranked by ESPN last season and whether or not they have climbed or have fallen since then.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 5
2010-11 By the Numbers: 23.0 PTS, 7.0 REBS, 0.6 BLK
2011-12 By the Numbers: 21.6 PTS, 6.8 REBS, 0.5 BLK
Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t been the pillar of the league since the Dallas Mavericks' championship run after the 2010-11 NBA season.
As unguardable as his stroke has come to be known, the Mavericks’ ineptitude at landing a big fish in this offseason’s free agency has left him without much influence in the Western Conference in the 2011-12 campaign.
Last season, Nowitzki and the Mavericks were on a path of redemption, but without Tyson Chandler to hold down in the fort inside, fans have realized how much help Dirk truly needs to return to that platform in the ever-blossoming conference.
Nowitzki isn’t indestructible and as great a player as he is, his leadership is seemingly dwindling in Dallas as well as the impact of his game singlehandedly. Getting swept by the same team the Mavericks ousted in the Western Conference Finals last year is likely not how he saw his season ending.
With age calling his name and the unwarranted precedents the Dallas front office is setting, Dirk is falling in the ranks.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 13
2010-11 By the Numbers: 14.7 PTS, 11.4 AST, 0.6 STL
2011-12 By the Numbers: 12.5 PTS, 10.7 AST, 0.6 STL
Steve Nash isn’t the pillar of what the future of the league is bound to mirror, but his influence is still great. Being recruited to the Los Angeles Lakers does two things for the traditionally-styled point guard:
- Takes the sole pressure of winning big off of his shoulders.
- Gives him a cast of more than able championship contenders
Nash isn’t as young as he once was and while his IQ and speed still play a large part in his game, there are guards and players in general progressing around him.
When being compared to the talent in the West alone, there's room for some of the most seasoned players to be overlooked due to the up-and-coming youth. Fans have seen the best there is to see from Nash and what pushes him to No. 24 is the fact that there are players surrounding him and players in other franchises that are playing to his level and consistently developing in the process.
Nash is still a great player as will be exhibited in his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers. He just isn’t as great compared to everyone that sits above him.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 19
2010-11 By the Numbers:
2011-12 By the Numbers: 15.4 PTS, 9.0 REBS, 1.5 BLK
Tim Duncan, the Big Fundamental, is one of the smartest men to step on NBA’s courts.
He’s also 36 years old and even with an improved physique, San Antonio needs more in order to even come out of the West to battle the Eastern Conference’s finest franchises.
Duncan has had to retool his game to suit the heightened battery that takes place directly under the rim therefore he’s developed a more fluid jump shot. The biggest change in Duncan’s game is that he isn’t that safety blanket for the Spurs anymore.
Coach Gregg Popovich is a very intelligent coach and sees the change in Duncan’s ability to be the same enforcer down low. This is why we see the offense not being run through Timmy anymore as he’s become the second and sometimes third option behind teammates Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
Duncan is still a great player in the league and improving his mid-range shot and becoming more of a perimeter presence, to the tune of a Nowitzki-edged player, he’s extended his career a few seasons.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 21
2010-11 By the Numbers: 18.9 PTS, 3.3 AST, 5.4 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 19.4 PTS, 4.5 AST, 5.2 REBS
Paul Pierce is not Boston’s Great Hope anymore. That position has been taken over by Rajon Rondo and Doc Rivers’ handling of Ray Allen last season shows this very truth.
Pierce doesn’t seem to have such a problem with it as Allen did, as he signed with the Miami Heat this summer, but it does take his staple out of the Most Valuable Celtics Player honor for the rest of his time in Boston. It’s common for a veteran player’s dominance to run its course throughout his career and that’s just what Pierce’s status as a Celtic is doing as we speak.
He is still a top 25 player, however.
His impact in the fourth quarter and his ability to sometimes frustrate the best player in the league defensively and even offensively works in his favor.
Pierce has that ever-so-coveted heart of a champion that fans always refer to when the Boston Celtics’ hopes for a championship are being explored. Pierce is one of the top players at the small forward position in the league today, but his performance in the Eastern Conference Finals opened a lot of fans’ eyes to the fact that he isn’t on the upside of his career.
Pierce is an emotional player that still has the clutch gene of a sniper-like shooter, but his age mandates that it is the dawn of a new era in the league.
It’s one that will always appreciate Pierce’s vision and experience on the court, but is becoming more dominated by youth and athleticism.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 37
2010-11 By the Numbers: 10.1 PTS, 9.4 REBS, 1.1 BLK
2011-12 By the Numbers: 11.3 PTS, 9.9 REBS, 1.4 BLK
Tyson Chandler was No. 37 on ESPN’s #NBArank list last season and he earned that position as an integral fraction of Dallas’ defense and run to the franchise’s first NBA championship.
Chandler’s exit from the Dallas Mavericks does everything for the perception of his involvement in their victories of the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
Being under coach Mike Woodson’s wing has afforded Chandler the 2011-12 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award and the perpetrator of instilling defense into a formerly Mike D’Antoni system. Chandler and Woodson spearheaded a change of mentality and culture in the New York Knicks, with even Carmelo Anthony engaging some of his fellow NBAers in his defensive edge.
Chandler may not be one of the most offensively respected players on the floor for the Knicks, behind both Amar'e Stoudemire and Anthony in that light. However, everything that he does on the other end of the floor allows the more offensively efficient players to get out in transition and worry less about protecting the rim.
Chandler consistently has that covered.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 18
2010-11 By the Numbers: 17.4 PTS, 4.9 AST, 3.7 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 12.9 PTS, 4.4 AST, 3.4 REBS
Everyone in San Antonio values Ginobili in a way that no other sixth man in the league is valued–not even Oklahoma City’s James Harden. Harden may have won the award for Sixth Man of the Year, but Ginobili has been a force to be reckoned with off of the Spurs’ bench for a while.
Coach Popovich knows exactly what he wants out of his men and how to extract the height of their potential, even when they're at the ripe age of 35 years old.
Ginobili may be aging but as a member of the Spurs’ strong core, also known as the Big Three, Ginobili is the most instinctual wild card in the league. Last season, everything rode on how healthy he would be throughout the playoffs and not being 100-percent against the Memphis Grizzlies definitely worked in the No. 8 seed’s favor.
This postseason, that influence was diluted with the entrance of former Cavaliers’ shooting guard Danny Green and rookie sensation Kawhi Leonard, retrieved from the Indiana Pacers.
Still, Ginobili’s effort on the court comes unmatched from any reserve player in the league and he’s rightfully earned a stable position in the NBA’s top 25.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 13
2010-11 By the Numbers: 25.3 PTS, 8.1 REBS, 1.9 BLK
2011-12 By the Numbers: 17.5 PTS, 7.8 REBS, 1.0 BLK
Oh how the mighty have fallen and have fallen quite hard.
Stoudemire was the belle of the ball in Madison Square Garden before Carmelo Anthony arrived and his confidence has taken a huge blow in the process. Going from the savior of the Knicks’ franchise to more of a liability must rattle his ego. Not to mention injuries have stalled Stoudemire’s progress defensively and offensively.
He hasn’t quite been the man he used to be in Phoenix, but last season, before a back injury sidelined him in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Stoudemire could be counted on.
Now, Stoudemire’s most notable influences over games lie in his absences due to inane freak accidents like punching a fire extinguisher. His frustrations have boiled over into the perception of his character and with his contract being so toxic, New York has to mend him internally instead of dumping him off.
Stoudemire has begun to work with the amazing Hakeem Olajuwon on his post moves by way of coach Mike Woodson’s suggestion.
Stoudemire is developing a very crisp post spin move according to Olajuwon and if history is any precedent then the New York Knicks will be redeemed with help from Stoudemire’s heightened engagement in the post.
Stoudemire’s double-double potential keeps him in the top 25, but injuries and attitude keep him out of the top ten.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 15
2010-11 By the Numbers: 21.9 PTS, 8.2 AST, 4.6 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 23.6 PTS, 5.5 AST, 4.6 REBS
Russell Westbrook hasn't become a worse player, but he has shied back a little from playing more of a point guard role in Oklahoma City.
That's not to say he isn't efficient or worthy of the contract the Thunder have rewarded him with. Westbrook is a competent and natural shooting guard, but occasionally he steps on Kevin Durant’s toes and often he picks up the slack when Durant is experiencing a drought.
The separation of the two has become an enigma as some experts chalk Durant’s droughts up to Westbrook’s inability to play the point guard position consistently. Others attribute his slumps to the fact that he has not fully developed that killer, leadership instinct he needs.
Regardless of why Durant sometimes shies away from scoring in the second and third quarters of games, Westbrook is often seen playing his heart out to make up for the deficit which usually results in a high-scoring effort, yet with a lot of mistakes on his behalf.
Westbrook is only 23 years old and still has plenty of time to reach the peak of his potential.
He fell in my rankings because he still over-analyzes the court when determining whether to take advantage of the mismatch around the rim or not.
Westbrook also needs to work on finishing off-balance around the rim when in transition. When given a comfortable position around the rim, Westbrook is one of the league's strongest finishers.
However, when the lane collapses and Westbrook is forced to use body control to follow through for a possible And 1, he fails to get the soft touch at the rim.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 30
2010-11 By the Numbers: 11.3 PTS, 9.4 REBS, 2.0 BLK
2011-12 By the Numbers: 18.7 PTS, 11.8 REBS, 1.9 BLK
Andrew Bynum has a new home.
It’s a home away from the Los Angeles Lakers who originally looked to Bynum to be the big man that becomes an indispensable fraction of another championship run.
Who could blame them for losing faith in the 24-year-old who often struggles with authority under coach Mike Brown and occasionally shows a grand disregard for the fundamentals of his position?
Thankfully, the city of Philadelphia believes in Bynum (unlike the Lakers) and being in a new organization gives him the opportunity to become the face of the Sixers. This is something Bynum has long wanted while fighting for possession and attention alongside the older and more offensively accurate Gasol and the aging, yet explosive Kobe Bryant.
Bynum’s presser as he was introduced to the fans of Philadelphia shows a step in the right direction of maturity on and off the court. Instead of succumbing to the pressures of being the new guy with steadily rising potential among demanding fans, Bynum embraced his new role.
One can only hope that this is only one of the many times that NBA fans will see a more humble and focused center on the rise.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 22
2010-11 By the Numbers: 14.9 PTS, 8.9 REBS, 0.8 BLK
2011-12 By the Numbers: 15.8 PTS, 8.2 REBS, 1.0 BLK
Kevin Garnett found the Fountain of Youth just as Doc Rivers was switching him over to one of the most physically demanding positions in the league.
The hybrid center is a position in which a player built in the name of a power forward and the shooting stroke of a guard from mid-range injects himself into the center position.
Garnett’s intimidation in the low post is threatening for any player trying to finish easily around the rim and Rivers knew exactly that. After last postseason’s single showing of youth against the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, it was determined that Garnett would likely retire.
A lot of fans had hoped he would instead of bowing out so painfully, like Shaquille O’Neal did after he stayed far too long. Instead, Garnett has reestablished the faith in Beantown fans and those worrying about Miami’s chance of getting past the Celtics for the third time consecutively.
Garnett is a loud-mouth bully on the court, but what separates him from an array of fake tough guys in the league is that he has the game to back up all the bad words that may come out of his mouth.
He’s an agitator, but he definitely follows through.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 11
2010-11 By the Numbers: 18.8 PTS, 10.2 REBS, 1.6 BLK
2011-12 By the Numbers: 17.4 PTS, 10.4 REBS, 1.4 BLK
Pau Gasol is almost as confusing a player as LeBron James once was.
In the 2010 NBA playoffs, he was Kobe’s greatest ally. All of a sudden in the past two postseasons, Gasol has been on the Lakers’ chopping block, once publicly during the CP3 botched trade, and has been called out by the franchise’s resident superstar.
Everyone is privy to what Gasol can do offensively. Yet, the passion that he needs to play with night in and out forces fans to be cautious of his single-game triumphs.
Gasol himself would have to admit that he hasn’t quite been himself, and the disdain for his lackluster efforts only grew when he was almost traded before the 2011-12 NBA season.
Gasol is still who he is and can still drop 20-10 on any given night. Bryant would not lobby for a player he did not believe could be the answer to a sixth championship and that’s exactly what he did when trade rumors flew throughout last season.
Having Gasol beside Howard will make for the best frontcourt in the league and Gasol’s efforts on the offensive end will be a large chunk in their notoriety.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 28
2010-11: By the Numbers: 17.5 PTS, 6.6 AST, 3.1 REBS
2011-12: By the Numbers: 18.3 PTS, 7.7 AST, 2.9 REBS
Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs were only two games away from being in the 2012 NBA Finals, but that bittersweet trip to the Western Conference Finals was cut short after such an immaculate beginning in the playoffs.
Parker had no chance of winning the regular season MVP, James had those votes locked up midway through the season.
Still, the way he articulated such a fantastic run for the Spurs in the both the regular season and the postseason, Parker deserves recognition.
With both Duncan and Ginobili climbing in age, the perception of the Spurs is that the franchise is old. The truth of the matter is that Parker cannot be clumped into that category because he’s only 30 years old.
What’s more settling about Parker’s 2011-12 season is that San Antonio’s offense began to run through him instead of Duncan, as it had so many seasons before.
This allowed the Spurs to push the pace of a game often throughout the season and made their offensive effort more potent than it had been previously. Parker’s athleticism and body control can account for his bursts of scoring and trips to the foul line, which is nothing but a plus for the Spurs organization.
Parker improved upon his game last season and if he can recover from an eye injury sustained in a club this offseason, he will once again be the driving force behind a San Antonio emergence.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 24
2010-11 By the Numbers: 18.7 PTS, 8.3 REBS, 0.6 BLK
2011-12 By the Numbers: 18.0 PTS, 7.9 REBS, 0.8 BLK
When Chris Bosh was absent from the Miami Heat’s lineup, it became painfully apparent that James and Dwyane Wade needed him far more than fans perceived before his injury in Game 1 of the second-round in the Eastern Conference series.
Bosh stepped in shortly after the Eastern Conference Finals began and the Miami Heat were back in it. He wasn’t the lone effort in what would be a series victory for the Heat, but definitely was an integral piece of what coach Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley were trying to accomplish.
Bosh is often the forgotten man of the trio, the outcast. Against the Indiana Pacers, James was moved to the power forward position and Bosh’s quick exit was just as quickly forgotten.
That was until Game 3 in which Roy Hibbert had an all-star caliber game and the Heat were exposed for their lack of combative size in the middle. Up until that point, fans and experts were consistently questioning the forward-center’s value to the league.
After his return, he was praised for his importance to Miami’s postionless approach to the game.
His significance is no longer a question as everyone understands how vital his involvement is to making the Miami franchise a dynasty.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 17
2010-11 By the Numbers: 10.6 PTS, 11.2 AST, 4.4 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 11.9 PTS, 11.7 AST, 4.8 REBS
“I think I’m the best point guard in the league.”
At least that’s what Rajon Rondo thinks of himself compared to the other points in the league. The statement was made during the Nike World Basketball Festival in Paris, France with French website News Basket Beafrica.
The revelation is a bit ambitious for where Rondo truly stands in the league, but it’s the best response that you can expect from a player that has earned the reins of a dynasty like the Boston Celtics'. Doc Rivers has handed over the reins of the team to the most apt player to be the floor general for the reemerging dynasty.
The most obvious characteristic of Rondo’s game is that it flourishes in the spotlight, on the biggest stage.
Rondo often shows the height of his ability during televised games and throughout the playoffs. Now that the scope is primarily on him, as reports were released that Rivers giving Rondo the ultimate control of the team on the court forced Allen to tread towards Miami, expect him to relish in the moment.
Rondo knows how important his role in the Boston franchise has become and through maturation and physical development, he is equipped with the tools to bring Boston back from simply a staple in the playoffs to a bona fide NBA championship contender.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 16
2010-11 By the Numbers: 20.2 PTS, 15.2 REBS, 0.4 BLK
2011-12 By the Numbers: 26.0 PTS, 13.3 REBS, 0.5 BLK
Kevin Love looked like a star alongside his Team USA teammates and it was the first time that the forward actually appeared like a game-changer.
Even though his playing time did not mirror the type of action he saw with the Minnesota Timberwolves, throughout the exhibition games and even the gold medal games, Love began to find his voice among the stacked squad.
Love was never the offensively dominating presence on the roster, but he became the hustle man that did all of the little things in order to keep Team USA afloat.
Love maintained his throne in Minnesota even with the arrival of Ricky Rubio, and after Rubio’s ACL injury ended his prestigious rookie campaign.
Love is only going to get better and more confident with time which is a scary thought for Western Conference teams that are not already established.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 10
2010-11 By the Numbers: 22.5 PTS, 12.1 REBS, 0.5 BLK
2011-12 By the Numbers: 20.7 PTS, 10.9 REBS, 0.7 BLK
Blake Griffin’s development is the only thing that will keep him being the best power forward in the league and here’s why.
He’s more athletic than any forward in the present-day NBA. He has the natural born tools to humiliate his defenders on a nightly basis.
The problem with Griffin is that he lacks the intensity mixed with the basketball fundamentals to levitate to that next level. Griffin has only had his second true season in the league, as in his rookie season he was beleaguered with an injury that benched him.
Given a little time under Chris Paul, newly recruited Lamar Odom and veteran Grant Hill, Griffin should have more than enough experience on the roster to go to for advice and a few tips on improving his game.
Griffin’s jump from the 2010-11 season to the 2011-12 season was already indisputable.
In his first full season as a Los Angeles Clippers player, Griffin was nothing but dunks. In just a year, he’s developed a post-game and even though it hasn’t been the quickest transformation, Griffin is consistently growing.
Given the adequate time to form his game, Griffin will climb the league’s rankings, but the men sitting in front of him aren’t giving up their spots for another few seasons.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 12
2010-11 By the Numbers: 26.3 PTS, 3.0 AST, 6.7 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 22.6 PTS, 3.6 AST, 6.3 REBS
Carmelo Anthony isn’t what everyone says he is.
His lack of strides in the postseason may appear to disqualify him from the Top Ten in the league, but that’s because he’s habitually compared to the other draftees of the 2003 NBA Draft class (i.e. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh).
Those three men have their championship rings and the target on Anthony’s back has grown tremendously, especially with the sprout of productivity and authority he demonstrated in international basketball as a member of Team USA.
In those exhibition games and gold medal games in which Anthony took on the presence of a sharpshooter, ‘Melo became recognized for more than being a nuisance to the New York Knicks organization. Before Mike Woodson took over for Mike D’Antoni, Anthony was the reason why Jeremy Lin wouldn’t succeed in the Big Apple.
It became the running objective to figure out why ‘Melo wasn’t meshing with Lin or Stoudemire so much that Anthony became the pariah.
He proved, as his defense showed an upswing, that he is more vital than either one of those subjects.
Anthony has improved his all-around game by becoming a better scorer in every area of the court, as well as becoming an effective defender.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 8
2010-11 By the Numbers: 25.0 PTS, 7.7 AST, 4.1 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 21.8 PTS, 7.9 AST, 3.4 REBS
Derrick Rose was injured in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers and that was all she wrote for Chicago’s aspirations in the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
Of course the Bulls had been without Rose before, but it’s a different type of atmosphere when it comes to postseason play. It was a pressure that would prove to crush the Bulls without their paramount player and things only got worse when it was announced that Rose tore his ACL.
Eight to twelve months is a long time to be out of the game, although Rose is recovering faster than predicted. Rose’s absence screamed volumes about his value to the franchise and even with his injury and recovery time still in place, the young Chicago star is still an amazing player.
The way he plays the game is what keeps him so prone to injury, but it’s his athleticism, body control, balance and agility that keeps him in the top 10 of this list.
Rose is only going to get better and with a consistently-improving jumper and hard-nosed defense, no one can make a case that he doesn’t deserve this position.
Rose’s worth may have been questioned during the regular season when the Bulls succeeded in his absence, but without him in the playoffs, when it’s time to go to work, Chicago is without the head of their monster.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 9
2010-11 By the Numbers: 21.3 PTS, 9.7 AST, 3.9 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 21.0 PTS, 8.7 AST, 3.3 REBS
The Brooklyn Nets made a push for him.
The Dallas Mavericks made a push for him. Eventually Deron Williams decided to take the bigger payday from a franchise rebuilding directly around his needs. Williams is the franchise player in Brooklyn as the city begins to welcome another New York basketball franchise and a new in-state rivalry.
Williams is the prototype point guard of the league with a menacing size, ambidextrous handles, a swift perimeter stroke and the heart of a luminary. Everything in the Nets’ franchise will start and finish with him.
As the second best point guard in the league, Williams had one of the hardest seasons of his career with the Nets as the team was consistently injury-plagued, including the second most important player on the roster–Brook Lopez.
Williams worked best with what he was given and produced a few bright moments in the season with it. Williams isn’t an amazing defensive player, but he has the tools to be a good defender while creating offensive opportunities for his teammates.
The beautiful thing about Williams is that while he is criticized for not being a defensive presence, he should be respected for being able to create his own shot, pull down rebounds, get out in transition, shoot the three, slash the post defense, hit plus 80-percent from the foul line, etc.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 4
2010-11 By the Numbers: 15.8 PTS, 9.8 AST, 4.1 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 19.8 PTS, 9.1 AST, 3.6 REBS
Chris Paul is going to be a landmark on this list until he feels differently.
As great of a guy as Paul seems off of the court, there is no denying his competitive spirit on the court and the chip on his shoulder that he plays with every night around men twice his size. Paul has become scrappier throughout his years in the league and with great reason.
Paul has consistently been the No.1 option for his franchise, formerly of New Orleans. He’s always had to be “that guy” for his team and now has taken on veteran leadership over DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Paul hasn’t lost a step since he was drafted and probably won’t any time before he’s ready.
It’s pretty hard to find another point guard in the league with a more complete resume than Paul. This past season, he was third ranked in the league in assists (9.1) behind Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash and first in steals (2.53).
These are statistics in which a franchise wants their resident point guard to excel in and being in the company of Rondo and Nash says a lot about Paul’s stature as a league-elite point.
Paul went to the Clippers and the franchise was immediately dubbed Lob City, but CP3 has brought along a far greater mentality than just being an engineer to a dunkfest. Paul has become the vocal leader of the organization, even with the more physically dominant Griffin standing beside him.
Paul’s size doesn’t fool anyone as everyone on the court respects his grasp on the concept of winning by any means necessary.
2011 ESPN Ranking: No. 3
2010-11 By the Numbers: 25.5 PTS, 4.6 AST, 6.4 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 22.1 PTS, 4.6 AST, 4.8 REBS
Dwyane Wade fell a bit from last season all due to his 2012 NBA playoffs performance and here’s why. There was a different Wade that we were treated to starting with the Indiana Pacers series.
Game 3 was a kick in the back of the head for a lot of Miami fans who maintained that the franchise still belonged to Wade.
Even as Wade got back on the wagon, after a public verbal altercation with head coach Erik Spoelstra, he never wholeheartedly recovered from his slump.
Fans knew that Wade should still be considered great, but that superstar tag seemed a lot less deserved after his up-and-down postseason than it had ever appeared before. Wade is still a superstar of the league as one of the best slashers the NBA can offer.
He can still finish off-balance around the rim better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Wade can still take over a game when he realizes his team needs him.
The tricky part is that Wade is not his squad’s necessary savior for a majority of the time. That’s no longer his job, therefore watching Wade’s leadership deteriorate creates the apprehension that Wade is also plunging in talent and as an individual player.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. It just means that Wade finds other ways in which to direct the game in Miami’s favor such as contributing more on the defensive end as he’s still one of the best blocking shooting guards in the league.
Wade also has the prowess to acknowledge and control the pivotal moments of a game. His influence hasn’t necessarily lowered, it’s just changed.
2011 NBA Ranking: No. 7
2010-11 By the Numbers: 25.3 PTS, 4.7 AST, 5.1 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 27.9 PTS, 4.6 AST, 5.4 REBS
Who doesn’t think Kobe Bryant is at least a top ten player in the league?
Last season ESPN had Bryant ranked No. 7 behind the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and it had to be assumed that it was due to the sweeping of the Lakers in the second round by Dallas and the Mavericks’ crowning after a 4-2 series win against the Miami Heat.
Bryant was shown the door, almost in a similar way as last year’s postseason, but his effectiveness was much more prevalent.
The men around him were more responsible for the Lakers’ defeat than Bryant was, as he handled his business as usual. In the second round of last year’s Western Conference playoffs, Bryant only averaged 23.3 PTS in a Dallas sweep.
It wasn’t the same take-charge Kobe that fans were used to. It wasn’t the same man that had ice running through his veins that the world had come to appreciate.
Bryant appeared complacent at times and after Game 1 against the Mavericks, he did little to curve the Lakers’ destiny. In the 2012 NBA Playoffs, Bryant was in true form. Against the Denver Nuggets and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bryant exposed every avenue of his game that would contribute to a victory.
It was the disappearing acts of both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol that often dug the Lakers in a hole that Bryant couldn’t dig them out of alone.
Still, Bryant revealed that killer instinct that we have all come to adore and equally abhor. While using this offseason to keep his mind basketball-oriented, Bryant traveled with team USA to London and only showed off for the entire world to see.
Bryant hasn’t lost a step and when it’s necessary for him to rear his head to ensure an opponent’s defeat, he can be counted on to do whatever it takes.
2011 NBA Ranking: No. 2
2010-11 By the Numbers: 22.9 PTS, 14.1 REBS, 2.4 BLK
2011-12 By the Numbers: 20.6 PTS, 14.5 REBS, 2.1 BLK
Dwight Howard finally has his wish.
He’s finally out of the grasp of Stan Van Gundy and the entire Orlando Magic community as he’s traded in a Magic jersey for one that Shaquille O’Neal wore in his greatest seasons in the league.
The Los Angeles Lakers understand that their big men have been ideal fractions of their championship runs and Bryant needs a little more help than he did before. Who better to provide that help than the No.1 true center in the league?
Howard is an immaculate defender and is steadily improving offensively so that he isn’t just a one-trick pony. His problem is that while his current form is just fine for a good run in the playoffs, Howard’s potential dictates that he should be far ahead of where he is now.
Without developing more of a post game, Howard will never wake the dormant talent that lies underneath the circus that has become Superman.
Now that he is in a position where he can contend for a championship and win almost immediately, depending on what obstacles the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs place in his way, Howard should be able to elaborate on what fans already view him as. Dwight is an amazing talent with the athleticism of a guard and the size of a grizzly bear. However, what makes him so great is that he has yet to tap into his true value.
2011 NBA Ranking: No. 6
2010-11 By the Numbers: 27.7 PTS, 2.7 AST, 6.8 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 28.0 PTS, 3.5 AST, 8.0 REBS
Kevin Durant is in love with the game of basketball.
He is a true student of his craft and it shows in how he improved his post game over the offseason and returned in 2011 as the second-best player in the league. His defense, even as it has become more refined and effective, could improve while his offensive game is only to be marveled at.
Durant’s stroke is so fluid and fluent that it is darned near unstoppable.
The fact that Durant is so young, yet dedicates himself wholly to the game is what creates such an explosive dynamic for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Batman. While Westbrook may be the more vocal and fiery of the two, Durant has the aptitude to rein him in and the control the pace of the game to his liking.
What’s most impressive about watching KD on the court is his eye for the big moment and the courage to deliver while all eyes are on him. In the 2012 NBA Finals, Durant was reprimanded for his occasional mental slip out of the game.
Yet, with time he will learn to play hard for an entire game and not just show up when it’s time to clean up the mess his absence has created. Durant’s emotional ties to his loss to the Miami Heat in the 2012 Finals only exemplifies the passion that he has for basketball.
His willingness to do what’s best for the franchise is what makes him not only a great player individually, but an amazing team player in the same breath.
2011 NBA Ranking: No. 1
2010-11 By the Numbers: 26.7 PTS, 7.0 AST, 7.5 REBS
2011-12 By the Numbers: 27.1 PTS, 6.2 AST, 7.9 REBS
LeBron James had one of the best years a basketball player could possibly experience.
Just short of winning the Defensive Player of the Year award, which was awarded to the Knicks’ Tyson Chandler, James took home the regular season MVP award, the 2012 NBA Championship, the 2012 NBA Finals MVP and a gold medal in the London Summer Olympics.
How much better can it get?
James has matured on and off the court from just a kid who liked to have fun to a cold-blooded player that knows the weight his franchise needs him to carry and sprints up and down the court with that responsibility.
James has always been an extraordinary player with a computer-generated physique reminiscent of Karl Malone’s stature.
The difference between the former James and the James of the 2011-12 season is that after all of the immature decisions made live and behind closed doors by the superstar, Miami’s front man has lived up to expectations.
In each series in the 2012 NBA playoffs, James finally embodied everything the public was begging him to be since he was drafted into the league in 2003 straight out of high school. What was missing in James’ game was the business aspect mixed in with the camaraderie and the enjoyment of the game.
James had to get back to having fun, but he also had to know when it was time for him to put away the smile and make executive decisions for his franchise.
LeBron deserves to be labeled the best basketball player in the world, not solely because of his statistics. It’s the compilation of attitude, approach and productivity that crowns him King.