In just five short days, all of the hype, speculation and anticipation will finally be put to rest. We'll get to see what we've been itching for in the past 131 days: a meaningful NBA game.
Well, kind of meaningful. As the Cavaliers have shown in 2010 and 2009, the regular season doesn't hold much weight in the long run. We'll probably have another 10 or 20 burning questions heading into the postseason, but that's another article for another day.
But this year's regular season will be a little more intriguing than most. What else would you expect after such an eventful summer?
The storylines ooze with more drama than a reunion follow-up episode of Teen Mom. How will the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade duo co-exist in the final seconds of a close game...and do they have a chance of winning 70 games?
Does Kevin Durant's dominant run in the FIBA World Championships set the stage for him to become the new face of the league? And can the Thunder really make a run at the best record in the Western Conference?
If the Lakers win their third consecutive championship, how high do we rank Kobe Bryant on the greatest players of all-time list?
And what about the Celtics? Could a team whose starters played 210 of a possible 240 minutes in Game 7 of the Finals have one of the deepest benches of the league in 2011?
Most of these questions will hang over our heads the entire season, but they ultimately won't be answered until the postseason culminates in June. In the regular season, individual players have more of a chance to shine than the team.
Last season treated us to Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans battling for Rookie of the Year, the chase for the scoring title between Kevin Durant and LeBron James and breakout seasons from guys like Aaron Brooks and Josh Smith. This year will be no different.
So what players have the most momentum heading into 2011? Who will leave their impact on the season and what guys will ultimately matter more than others after 82 games? These questions and more will be answered in this week's power rankings: the top 50 players in the NBA.
Obviously there are a few candidates that you could argue should be on the list. Here are some guys that just missed the cut, and if we had a top 75 list they'd definitely make it.
David West (New Orleans Hornets)
No. 51 on the list. If he grabbed one more rebound he'd have to be included.
O.J. Mayo (Memphis Grizzlies)
If he makes the leap this season he could be top 30-35 next year.
Luis Scola (Houston Rockets)
Some of the best footwork of any big man in the league.
Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies)
Probably won't be referred to as Pau's little brother for much longer.
Anderson Varejao (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Tried my best to get him on but in good conscience I couldn't put him above any of the top 50.
Gilbert Arenas (Washington Wizards)
Have to play more than 47 games in three years to warrant consideration.
Rashard Lewis (Orlando Magic)
Interesting to see how he responds after a poor 2010 season.
Devin Harris (New Jersey Nets)
Hasn't been overly impressive since his breakout year in 2008.
Aaron Brooks/Kevin Martin (Houston Rockets)
I want to see one more strong year from Brooks. Martin is borderline to cracking the top 50.
I never would have thought a player who was traded three times in two years—including once by the Blazers because they thought he was enough of a head-case to contaminate rookie Greg Oden—would make the list, but here we are.
Since 2004 he's been statistically sound, cracking 20 points per game in four different years and averaging a double-double five times, including four straight seasons from '07 to '10.
Because of his past it always seemed like he'd be a guy who had more stats than substance. But last season in Memphis he seemed more mature and led the Grizzlies as one of the league's upstart teams.
He's always had the talent. If he can mentally piece it all together, his spot in the top 50 is easily justified.
Gordon did a nice job for Team USA in the FIBA World Championships, coming off the bench and giving good minutes as one of the few true shooting guards on the team. He’ll have a bigger role on this year’s Clippers as the main offensive weapon on the perimeter.
While he wasn’t really an afterthought in the Clippers’ offense the last two years, he didn’t have very many plays run for him either. Vinny Del Negro shouldn’t be considered a genius when it comes to getting shots for his guards, but he did get solid production from Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich in Chicago.
With a lot of attention from defenses inside on Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman, it will open up jumpers and driving lines for a player who looks more comfortable and confident with his game.
Aldridge hasn't been dominant in his four years but every year he returns to camp with some new offensive weapons to add to his repertoire.
He's always been looked at primarily as a jump shooting big man, someone who would rather face up and attack from 15 feet than operate on the block. But he showed improvements last year when posting people up and if he can continue to develop a more balanced offensive attack, he has the talent to be one of the West's top forwards, and that's saying something.
Few players are built like Lamar Odom—he's a 6'10" forward that almost looks more comfortable playing point guard than he does posting up.
What's impressed me most about him is how he's adapted his game to accommodate the Lakers. If they need him to play out of the block, he does.
If they need him to spread the floor with his shot, he does.
Instead of looking for his own stats, he does what he can to help the team win. That doesn't sound like something that should be glorified, but in the me-first league that is the NBA, it's refreshing.
I'd say this is a pick purely out of respect but it'd be a discredit to Allen to suggest he didn't deserve it.
He's averaged 16-plus points for the last 13 seasons and remains a dangerous threat from the perimeter. His jump shot is textbook and if there's any player that can make opposing fans hold their breath every time he takes a shot in the final minutes of a close game, it's Ray.
His stats have been on the decline in the last three years but when he plays on a good team he always makes an impact. A career 40 percent three-point shooter and nearly a 90 percent free throw shooter, Allen is still putting the finishing touches on his Hall-of-Fame career.
For some reason it feels like Horford should be higher than No. 45.
He plays within himself and doesn't do anything out of his skill set. He's a strong rebounder, above-average passer and has a surprising array of low-post moves.
Similar to Varejao and Joakim Noah, he's an intangibles guy—all successful teams need someone like him.
If you would have told me Jason Kidd would be on this list five years ago, I would have thought you were out of your mind.
If you would have me that two years ago, I would have said the same thing.
But the ageless wonder just keeps finding ways to produce. Most players don't develop a three-point shot while they're in the league; you either enter as a threat from long-range or you don't take any.
Kidd's has never been known as a shooter; here are his three-point percentages for his 16-year career: 27.2 ('95), 33.6 ('96), 37.0 ('97), 31.3 ('98), 36.6 ('99), 33.7 ('00), 29.7 ('01), 32.1 ('02), 34.1 ('03), 32.1 ('04), 36.0 ('05), 35.2 ('06), 34.3 ('07), 38.1 ('08), 40.6 ('09), 42.5 ('10)
Can you think of any other player that dramatically improved his three-point shooting in his late 30s?
You know how in pickup games there's usually an older guy that can't get up and down the floor too well but he's always looking for the open man and can make open shots? That's Kidd, only he's doing that in the NBA instead of at the Y.
Ellis is the most explosive scorer of any 6'3" or under player, and he showcased that talent last year with a career-high 25.5 points per game, good for sixth in the NBA.
Known primarily as a slasher and someone who got his points at the rim when he first entered the league, he has matured into an all-around offensive threat who can score off the dribble or on catch-and-shoot plays, from the three-point line or in the paint.
If he can keep maturing, learn to be more efficient with his shot selection, and step up his intensity on defense, the lack of size in the Curry/Ellis backcourt won't be an issue.
A horrific injury sidelined Bogut for the playoffs after a career season of 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds. He made his preseason debut on Sunday and notched 11 points and five rebounds in just 14 minutes, a good sign for Bucks fans anticipating his return.
Losing Bogut basically derailed any chances Milwaukee had of making noise in the postseason, but his return this year makes them a sleeper pick in the East this year.
He's finally showing glimpses of why he was the No. 1 pick in '05, ahead of guys like Chris Paul and Deron Williams. As far as back-to-the-basket offensive presences goes, he's probably No. 3 in the East behind Brook Lopez and Dwight Howard.
Even though his injury was a freak accident, hopefully it doesn't cause long-term damage to a player that was just beginning to find his niche in this league.
A breakout player in 2010, Wallace finished second in the league in minutes (41.0 per game) and upped his rebound total from 7.8 in '09 to 10.0.
He's always been known for his relentless effort and on-ball defense, and last year he finally began getting recognition from his peers for his seemingly annual improvement.
One of the few players who gets better every year, Wallace is an ideal team player in every sense.
Lee has become a double-double machine in the last few seasons, tallying 53 in 2010 and 65 in 2009—second only to Dwight Howard in that time.
Switching from New York to Golden State won’t exactly impede his statistical production since both teams are known for their fast-paced, run-and-gun style.
Defense isn't one of his main priorities, but that shouldn't be a problem with the Warriors.
One thing immediately jumps about John Wall: his quickness.
You might argue he's the fastest player in the league, and he hasn't even played a game yet. His baseline-to-baseline speed is unparalleled. Similar to Tony Parker, once he gets it in the open court with just a sliver of daylight to the hoop, he's gone.
Offensively he's not quite developed yet. Much like Derrick Rose when he came out of Memphis, Wall's jump shot is something to be desired. And he still doesn't have a knack for creating one-on-one offense besides simply lowering his head and taking it to the tin.
But on defense, he's miles ahead of most rookies. His ability to anticipate passing lanes is uncanny. He uses his tremendous lateral quickness to keep the opposition in front of him. At 6'4", he has long arms that can deflect passes that seem out of his reach.
That's right, not one but two players that haven't seen a second of NBA action are already in the league's top 50!
Jennings first started getting attention after his 55-point performance against the inept Golden State defense but he actually did a solid job running Milwaukee's offense in the latter part of 2010.
He was far from perfect though—he shot too much (14.8) attempts and didn't make nearly enough (37.1 percent). And last season, Scott Skiles had a safety net in Luke Ridnour on the bench. If he didn't like how Jennings was playing, Ridnour would take over.
This year, with Ridnour in Minnesota, it's all Jennings. He has the "it" factor, a certain undefined swagger and confidence about his game. He's ready to not necessarily make the leap, but to help his team keep getting better.
Why Stephen Jackson doesn't get more national recognition as an explosive scoring guard is beyond me. He's averaged 20 or more points in each of the last three seasons and has the strength and versatility to play multiple positions.
He was the catalyst for Golden State's epic upset of the Mavericks in the 2007 playoffs and played a minor yet integral role in San Antonio's 2003 championship.
After being acquired by Charlotte in early November, he went on to average 21.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.6 three-pointers in 72 games. With Raymond Felton in New York, he'll have increased ball-handling responsibilities this season and an opportunity to shine as the team's primary playmaker.
He's not the most stable athlete in the NBA but he always steps up in big games. After all, he's the one who gave us this classic line: "I make love to pressure."
In 2009, Tony Parker had one of his best all-around seasons with career-highs in points (22.0) and assists (6.9) while shooting over 50-percent from the floor.
That was followed with a disappointing, injury-riddled 2010 where he missed 26 games and came off the bench during San Antonio's first-round series against Dallas.
But Parker is the ideal guard for the Spurs' system, someone who can get to the rim at will and won't be upset if he doesn't get his shots for a few games. He's the quickest guard in the league with the ball in his hands, going baseline-to-baseline with effortless speed and acceleration.
Don't let one bad season throw you off. He's a strong member in the West's ever-growing list of talented point guards.
Considering Blake Griffin hasn't played a second of professional basketball and missed all of 2009 with a knee injury, putting at him as the No. 35 player in the entire NBA seems pretty generous, right?
I don't care. I'm drinking the Kool-Aid.
He's been amazing in the preseason, showing incredible athleticism and a nose for the ball. Granted, it is preseason—everyone is supposed to look good. But the positive aspects of his game (rebounding, high basketball intelligence, post moves, help defense) should transition into the regular season.
Everyone is ready for the Blake Griffin era. He has everything placed around him to be successful: a point guard who steps his game up on bigger stages, an electric young shooting guard that has great range and a quick first step, and a center inside that can pound the glass and punish defenses that want to play him one-on-one.
He’s already one of the best rebounders in the league without playing a game. The only concern surrounding him would be his reckless and fearless style could lead to injuries. He’s already tweaked his ankle this preseason and his high-flying attack on both sides of the ball leaves him vulnerable to dangerous falls.
But when he's at full strength, he's easily a top-50 talent.
My pick for sleeper of the year, Love is prepared to take over the role of starter at PF for a Timberwolves team that is still pretty weak inside.
Last year he averaged an impressive 14.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game; what’s more impressive is that he did that in just 28.6 minutes. His per 36-minute averages were staggering: 17.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 2.9 assists.
Love is the exact type of player Minnesota should look to build their team around. He is a good chemistry guy that won't gripe if he doesn't get as many shots as he think he deserves, just someone who will go above and beyond to do what's asked.
His intangibles (outlet passing, rebounding, finishing in traffic) are things that can't be taught. With extended playing time he'll take the league by storm in 2010.
After a fantastic sophomore season where he exploded to nearly double his points per game and saw an increase in rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and field goal, free throw and three-point percentage, Gay has yet to take the next step in becoming a superstar in the NBA.
His stats are nothing to sneeze at. Most teams will take approximately 20 points and six rebounds from their starting small forwards.
But Memphis paid him $80 million this summer to be their featured player so the pressure is on him to perform as such. How much better he can actually get remains to be seen.
Love him or hate him, no championship team is complete without someone like Joakim Noah—an energy guy who hustles for loose balls, rebounds, defends and doesn't complain if he doesn't get a lot of shots or points.
The addition of Carlos Boozer really helps him out because there's even less pressure on him to score. He averaged 14.8 points in the Cleveland series last year but the Bulls still weren't getting enough production inside.
Now he doesn't have to worry about being an offensive threat, just someone who can clean up the offensive glass and continue to do the little things that have made him a top center in the Eastern Conference.
And like Derrick Rose, he's a player that gets better when the pressure is on. He's totaled 157 rebounds in just 12 career playoff games and upped his scoring average from 7.9 in the regular season to 12.1.
With Rose, Boozer, and Noah, Chicago is a young contender that can continue to add pieces to further complement their trio's respective games.
Chauncey is still considered to be a top PG but his skills have slowly begun to diminish over the past couple of years.
He's 34 and approaching 1,000 career games yet still has a lot to offer. His veteran presence was key during Denver's run to the Western Conference Finals in 2009 and he played a similar role in Team USA's championship in the FIBAs.
Once he started taking fewer shots and looking to get Kevin Durant more involved, the team was elevated to another level.
For the past eight seasons he's averaged at least 16 points, 5.5 assists and he hasn't missed the playoffs once—solid numbers that shouldn't be ignored.
After a slow start to the season, Stephen Curry impressed even his most faithful believers with a dominant stretch following the All-Star break.
In his final 29 games, Curry went for 22.1 points, 7.7 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals while shooting 46.8 percent from the field, 90.6 percent from the free-throw line, and 44.0 percent from three-point land.
At worst, Curry was set to be a player who knew his limitations but could knock down threes and score in bursts. Now it appears he's on the verge of becoming a superstar.
Over the past few years, Smith has developed into a solid 15-16 point per game scorer. But last season was when he began to really take strides. He only attempted seven three-pointers and shot over 50.0 percent from the field for the first time in his career.
At 6'9", 240 lbs, he's built like few other forwards in the league. He has the strength to dominate on the block, the quickness and athleticism to finish in traffic, and the prowess to roam defensively and block any shot in his vicinity.
Not only did he make strides statistically last season, but mentally he finally appeared to grasp the team concept and what his role is. If he continues to mature and improve, he has the physical and athletic tools to be an elite power forward.
After two years of being the team's only low-post threat, Lopez should find it easier to operate from the block now that New Jersey finally has a few three-point threats to stretch the floor (Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy).
He quietly improved in all areas of his game from his rookie to sophomore year, developing more consistency with his back to the basket and attacking the offensive boards with more rigor. I say "quietly" because the Nets were so atrocious last season that not many people were paying attention to him.
As New Jersey continues to add weapons, it'll only make Lopez more dangerous because teams can't hone in on stopping him. And if they happen to acquire Carmelo Anthony, Lopez's value would skyrocket.
Iggy’s points and field-goal percentage slipped last season, but his rebounds, assists, three-pointers, steals and blocks all improved from his totals in 2009.
He was very successful playing for Team USA as more of a glue guy. He was someone who played tough defense, grabbed offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive and helped facilitate the offense.
Is that what Philadelphia wants when they're paying him as their franchise player? Probably not. But he's playing with a renewed confidence and swagger in the preseason and that could help him bounce back for a strong 2010 campaign.
Regardless, we now know that Iguodala can be effective as the second or third option on a championship-level team.
He's in the twilight of his career, having averaged less than 19 points in the last three seasons for the first time in his career. But Garnett's health will be instrumental for Boston's hopes in returning to the Finals in 2011.
If his knee holds up, he's still one of the elite defenders in today's game. His total abuse of Antawn Jamison on both sides of the ball in the Eastern Conference semifinals was a key reason the Celtics were able to upset the Cavaliers.
He doesn't have to score to be effective at this point in his career. Boston needs him as the anchor of its defense and emotional leader, and according to reports he looks more active and mobile than he has since the Celtics' championship year in 2008.
Last year's Rookie of the Year heads into 2011 with even loftier expectations. Evans was only the fourth player to average 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists as a rookie, joining Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Oscar Robertson. Pretty good company.
Whether or not he's a true point guard is debatable but he's the best fit for Sacramento right now. He has the ability to play multiple positions, allowing the Kings some backcourt flexibility with him, Beno Udrih and Omri Casspi.
He creates mismatches with other guards, either overpowering smaller point guards or blowing by shooting guards. With a few strong low-post presences (DeMarcus Cousins, Carl Landry), all the pieces are lined up for another big season from Evans.
Boozer has proven himself as a double-double threat night-in and night-out, averaging at least 16.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game since 2007.
Even though he's not a strong defender, nor is he comfortable playing with his back to the hoop (he's much better when facing the rim), he excelled as Utah's best interior player.
Now he switches point guards from Deron Williams to Derrick Rose, only he has a player like Joakim Noah behind him. Noah will protect the rim and guard the other team's best interior player, allowing Boozer to concentrate on grabbing rebounds and doing what he does best: scoring.
Here's a list of point guards that Al Jefferson has played with in his career:
—Gary Payton ('04 Payton, not '96 Payton)
—Rajon Rondo (rookie year)
Despite the fact that he's never played with an average point guard or on a winning team, he's averaged 19.1 points and 10.5 rebounds the last four years.
Now he gets to play in a system with one of the two best PGs and the longest-tenured coach in the league in a system where the PG/PF combo is integral for success.
He provides Utah with a legitimate back-to-the-basket presence, something that Carlos Boozer couldn't provide. And he is one of the few players that demand a double-team when isolated on the block. Something tells me Jefferson might enjoy playing in Utah.
In Bill Simmons' most recent column he makes a great point about how Manu Ginobili has never really had a career year. Right now it's probably 2008, where he had 19.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals shooting 46-percent from the field, 86-percent from the free throw line and 40.1-percent from the three-point line.
Can we really expect one this year though? He's 33-years-old and while he's only logged 670 regular season and playoff games in the NBA, his legs have a lot of wear on them because of international play.
But simply put, an older version of Ginobili or one at 85-90-percent is better than 95-percent of the league.
Quick, which of today's top 10 NBA point guards made the biggest leap between his rookie and sophomore season?
Since we're on his slide, you might have guessed it was Russell Westbrook. He upped his per-game averages to 16.1 points, 8.0 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals while helping lead his team from 23 wins in '09 to 50 in '10.
Not only that, but he made the Team USA roster in the FIBA World Championships this past summer and was the biggest spark off the bench in the elimination round, swinging the game in the U.S.'s favor with timely steals, layups and tenacious defense.
Now he's pegged to make the leap from really good to great. Being the point guard on a team like OKC won't hurt that cause.
Let's start with the good...
He's averaged 20 points or more for all five seasons he's been in Atlanta.
He's a decent three-point shooter (37-percent since '06) and underrated passer who doesn't get enough credit for his ability to set defenders up and find the open man.
The Hawks have improved their win total every year he's been with the team and made the playoffs three consecutive seasons for the first time since '97-'99.
And now the bad...
He turns 30 next summer and is heading into his 10th NBA season, which means he's probably maxed out his numbers and impact.
The Hawks have been swept out of the playoffs the last two years, and with Miami and Chicago vastly improving, they seem like a second-round team at best.
Atlanta signed him to a $119-million contract, making him the highest paid free agent in a class that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki. That means they'll be stuck as a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference team for the next five years at least, barring any sort of miraculous trade or draft pick.
Paul Pierce is 33-years-old and has logged 985 career games. His points have steadily declined since 2008, but that can somewhat be attributed to the additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and the emergence of Rajon Rondo.
So why is he ranked as high as No. 19? Because he steps his game up when it matters most—either in the final minutes of a close game or in the postseason.
He's still one of the league's best defenders, regularly drawing assignments like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant on a night-in, night-out basis.
Take the playoffs last year for instance. He hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer in Game 3 in the first-round against Miami, essentially leaving the Heat for dead. In the close-out game, he had 21 points (8-of-13 FG), seven rebounds, six assists, three three-pointers and two blocks.
In Game 6 against Cleveland he finished with just 13 points, five rebounds and three assists, but hit two huge momentum three-pointers in the second half to quell Cavalier runs.
In the ECF finale vs. Orlando, he exploded for 31 points (9-of-15 FG, 9-of-10 FT), 13 rebounds, five assists and four three-pointers.
And even though the Celtics lost Game 7 of the Finals, he still had 18 points, 10 rebounds and held Kobe to 6-of-24 shooting.
Few players thrive in the moment like Pierce.
Because the Pacers have been a lottery team the last three years, it's tough to examine Granger's impact.
On paper he's been great—22.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game since 2008.
Indiana had its share of unfavorable contracts and in fairness might not have realized what they were holding in Granger until he burst out in '08. So they haven't really had an opportunity to try and build a team around him, which is why the Pacers' selection of Paul George in the 2010 draft was so puzzling, unless they planned on trading Granger.
But even still, you can't really imagine a championship team built around him. But if he was ever flanked with a solid point guard (Darren Collison, check) and a legitimate, back-to-the-basket, top-five forward or center, the Pacers (or any other team) would have a solid three-man nucleus to build around.
Amar'e has blossomed into the upper echelon of power forwards in the last six years, averaging no worse than 20.4 points and 8.1 rebounds during that time (excluding 2006 when he played just three games).
In that stretch he had the best assist man of the decade, Steve Nash, flanking him and setting him up for countless dunks and lay-ups. How he adapts transitioning from Nash to Raymond Felton will be a huge role in how successful the Knicks are in the next two years.
But reuniting with Mike D'Antoni, who knows how and where Stoudemire is most effective, will help make that transition smoother. He's earned the benefit of the doubt and will still be a nightmare to cover in transition for opposing defenses.
Teams with Nash leading the helm at point guard have won 50-or-more games nine out of the last 10 years. He's accumulated a record of 554-266, a winning percentage of 67.6.
He's led the league in assists four times in the last six years and took the Suns to the Western Conference Finals on three separate occasions.
For the first time in the last decade he won't have Dirk Nowitzki or Amar'e Stoudemire flanking him at power forward. But not only do Nash's teams just win, he makes everyone around them better. He'll do wonders with Robin Lopez inside this year.
Each of the past two seasons we've expected a drop-off from Nash that hasn't come. And until it does, he has to rank among the top PGs, and players, in the league.
My roommate Dave is a huge basketball fan. I always enjoy engaging him in some good-natured hoops debates.
One topic that always gets him fired up is Tim Duncan. He says he hates the way Duncan plays and hates the way the Spurs play. He has no prior agendas or biases towards them—it's not like he's a Lakers, Suns or Mavericks fan. But he can't stand Duncan.
I always try to get the real reason out of him. It has to be something, right? You can't hate the iconic power forward of all-time without a legitimate reason, right?
"He's just boring" is the usual response. "No fun to watch."
I guess Duncan is kind of boring. He's only averaged a double-double and made the playoffs every year of his 13-year career.
He's only advanced past the first round of the playoffs in 12 of those years and averages 23.0 points (50.2 field-goal percentage), 12.4 blocks, 3.5 assists, and 2.6 rebounds in 170 games.
He's only transcended the power forward position with some of the best low-post moves we've seen since Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon.
He only rises to the occasion when his team needs it by making a timely shot to stop momentum or triggering a key defensive stop.
He's only been on the all-defensive team every year since '99 and made an all-NBA team for 13 consecutive seasons.
He's only won four NBA titles and been the catalyst for all four championship teams.
Yea, I guess Tim Duncan is pretty boring.
One of my good friends from school nick-named Brandon Roy "No Sauce." He said it was because Roy seemingly never had vicious dunks, jaw-dropping crossovers or plays that made you say wow. He was just bland in the way he scored.
My response would always be, "what's wrong with that?"
You don't have to be flashy to be effective. Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward that's ever played basketball and many didn't like watching him because he was so fundamentally sound.
Roy reminds me of a shooting guard version of Duncan. Just because he's not blowing you away with highlight reel moves doesn't make his accomplishments on the court any less respectable.
One of the most consistent players in the league, Roy will continue to fundamentally destroy defenders as long as his knees hold up.
Statistics can often be aberrations in basketball. History has shown that even slightly-average players can put up All-Star numbers on poor teams and above-average players can put up sub-par numbers on great teams.
That's why it's so difficult to answer the question "how good is Chris Bosh?". Statistically he's been the best power forward of the last five years—22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks with a 50 field-goal percentage and 81.1 free-throw percentage.
But the Raptors made the playoffs twice in those five years. The results? Two first-round eliminations. Bosh averaged 20.5 points (43.3 field-goal percentage) and 9.0 rebounds in those two series, a step back from his averages between 2006-2010.
He's never really played meaningful minutes in a meaningful game. Nor has he played with anyone near the caliber of LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.
He definitely has the skills to be the best power forward in the league. Whether or not he fulfills that hype in Miami remains to be seen and is just one of the seemingly thousands of intriguing plot lines surrounding this team.
It's not often you see a player dramatically improve not only his game but his teammates in pressure-packed situations. It's even rarer to see when that player is only in his first or second year out of college and is barely old enough to legally drink.
But that's been the case with Derrick Rose, who put on sensational clinics in the first round the past two seasons, against Boston and Cleveland respectively.
In 2010, Rose carried a banged-up Bulls team to the No.8 seed in April and gave the No. 1-seeded Cavaliers all they could handle in the first round, ultimately losing in five games. Carrying the team on his back, Rose raised his game in all facets, averaging 26.8 points and 7.2 assists.
This year he has some real weapons around him. Carlos Boozer is a PG's dream in pick-and-rolls.
Joakim Noah is the consummate energy/rebound guy that every great team needs.
Kyle Korver led the league in three-point percentage last season and always seems to find the open spot at the line.
Despite people's opinions that his contract is crippling, Luol Deng is still a very capable scorer and rebounder.
For the first time in his career, Rose has players around him that he can create plays for (John Salmons and Ben Gordon were two players that operated with the ball in their hands a majority of the time). Year three will be his breakout season where he cements himself as a perennial All-Star.
The second playoff game I ever attended was in 2008. It was the second-round, Game 3 of the Cavs/Celtics with Boston leading 2-0.
I had never seen anyone on the Celtics in person before, but instead of the three future Hall-of-Famers I focused on one player throughout the game: second-year PG Rajon Rondo.
He was abysmal. He looked lost running the offense; the Cavs were basically ignoring him and using his defender to help on Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. He finished with seven points, one assist and was a non-factor as the Cavs routed Boston. I kept telling my friends that he basically surprised the league in '08, that he was by far the weakest link on the Celtics, and once defenses focused-in on stopping him, he'd be a less than average point guard.
A few years later, I look like a complete idiot. I had it backwards—it wasn't defenses reading Rondo, it was Rondo reading defenses.
His performance in the playoffs the last two years has been stunning. He nearly averaged a triple-double in '09 without Kevin Garnett (16.9 points, 9.8 assists, 9.7 rebounds, 2.5 steals).
Last season was no different—15.8 points, 9.3 assists and 5.6 rebounds. And he was the difference-maker in two series (Cleveland, Orlando).
There was turmoil within the Celtics last year and part of that was a reluctancy from the veterans to turn the team over to Rondo. When they finally trusted him enough, he didn't disappoint.
The scary part is that he's only 24. Doesn't it seem like he's been in the league for seven or eight years already?
Gasol has the most impressive overall skill set of any power forward in the league. He's the barometer of how successful the Lakers are, especially in the postseason. When he plays well, they win. When he doesn't, they lose.
Check out the stats from last year's finals. In four wins, he averaged 18.0 points, 13.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists. In three losses, he had 19.3 points but just 8.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
He gives the Lakers' offense a different dynamic. There are so few quality bigs in the league that can finish with both hands at the rim, face-up and hit 12-to-15 foot jumpers, and kick-out to the perimeter when he feels pressure.
His stats in Memphis were always impressive but since arriving in L.A. he's gained more recognition and respect. With Andrew Bynum out and Kobe Bryant at less than 100 percent, he'll likely play a bigger role in the Laker offense throughout the regular season.
Dirk is still one of the NBA's premier scorers, even at age 32. In 2008 it looked like he was finally slowing down when his points per game average dropped (using that term loosely, obviously) to 23.6 after averaging 26-plus in '05 and '06.
He bounced back to average 25.9 in '09 and 25.0 in '10. A few more productive years and he could push himself into the top 10 in career scoring.
Even though his teams haven't had much postseason success, statistically he's been productive, averaging 25.6 points and 10.9 rebounds in 103 games.
Fans have always wanted Dirk to push his team to the next level, especially in the playoffs, but he doesn't have it in him. It was evident in the '07 playoffs when he was pushed around by Stephen Jackson and the Warriors. You can't become an alpha dog—you're either born with that innate ability or you're not. It doesn't mean he's not a great player.
And as long as he's scoring at an elite level, he has to be considered one of the league's best.
'Melo and Dirk are fairly similar in their offensive repertoire. Nowitzki is taller and has a bit more range but Anthony is quicker and more effective off the dribble.
In the end, Anthony gets the nod mainly because he's just entering his prime while Dirk is on the decline.
If Kevin Durant is the most natural scorer, 'Melo is a close second. He was born to put the ball in the hoop—he's averaged 20 or more points all seven years in the league and does it in a variety of ways.
He abuses smaller defenders in the post.
He can face-up and lure more physical players away from the hoop with his jumper.
He attacks off the dribble with purpose, looking to get to certain spots where he knows he'll garner an advantage over the defense.
He has the strength and quickness to be a beast on the defensive end as well but he hasn't displayed the tenacity or mental will to dominate on that end. If he harnesses that ability, he could vault into the top five quickly.
I love watching Deron Williams play. I love seeing him break down defenses with his extraordinary ball-handling.
I love seeing him whip one-handed passes by defenders' heads when it seems like he's harmlessly dribbling at the top of the key.
I love seeing him get anywhere he wants on the floor, not necessarily with his quickness, but with strength.
I love seeing him attack the rim and get into the paint at will.
The value of point guards is at a premium now because of the hand-checking and defensive three-second rules. It's set up for guys like Williams to dominate.
The Jazz's offense is based around execution and each player fulfilling their role and not trying to supercede the system. But it only goes as far as the production it gets from their point guard. And when you have point guards like John Stockton and Deron Williams, you're bound to be successful.
By far the most dominant center in the NBA, Howard has been a force at both ends of the floor for most of his career.
He's led the league in rebounding the past three seasons and blocks the last two. One of the most physically-gifted athletes in sports, he's missed just three games in six years.
Because there is a lack of true, back-to-the-basket centers that command a double-team, he can roam around defensively and wreak havoc for opposing guards and forwards alike.
But last year's performance in the ECF was a real eye-opener. Boston covered him with Kendrick Perkins and didn't bring help, shutting down Orlando's shooters and role players and daring Howard to beat them one-on-one.
The result wasn't pretty for the Magic.
He spent time during the offseason working with Hakeem Olajuwon on low-post moves. About 85-percent of the league has to double-team Howard anyways, and if he gets one dominant, go-to move on the block, look out.
He's the one player who can single-handedly destroy the Heat. For entertainment's sake, let's hope he develops that killer instinct and focuses on becoming the defining center of the decade.
We live in a "what have you done for me lately?" world. So when Chris Paul took the league by storm in 2008, averaging a league-leading 11.6 assists and 2.7 steals while leading the Hornets to 56 wins and a second-round playoff appearance, everyone was quick to anoint him as the best point guard in the league.
Last year he missed 37 games with a knee injury and still averaged 18.7 points, 10.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 steals while shooting 49.3 from the field, 84.7 percent from the free throw line and 40.9 from the three-point line.
But the Hornets were out of the playoff picture early, and the postseason success of Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash, Deron Williams, and Derrick Rose had many delegating the "best point guard" title to whomever had the hot hand.
Paul is still the most gifted PG in the Association—his career stats speak volumes. No one has a better command of the court and there hasn't been a floor general like him since Isiah Thomas.
Sometimes you just need to take a step back and re-evaluate things. Do that and you'll see that not only does Paul set the bar for point guards, but he's a top-five player as well.
Somewhere between winning the 2006 NBA title and the 2008 Olympics, Wade got lost in the shuffle when determining the NBA's best.
Don't get me wrong, he was always considered great. But after injuries were coupled with some mediocre Heat teams, the talks trended around Dirk and LeBron (2007) and now Kobe and Durant.
All Wade has done is average at least 24 points per game in the last six seasons. He only led the league in a major statistical category once (points in 2009) but he transformed his legacy with relentless attacks of the hoop and acrobatic finishes at the rim.
And he did something that LeBron, Durant, Dirk, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and countless other superstars in the 2000s couldn't do: win a championship as the featured player. Granted it was an aesthetically-horrifying finals that basically turned into a glorified free-throw contest, but a championship nonetheless.
It'll be fascinating to watch the Heat in the final moments of close games—is the offense run through LeBron or Wade? Regardless of how that alpha-dog situation is resolved, one thing to remember is that Wade didn't follow LeBron; James joined him. That has to say something.
I wanted to put him at No. 1. He's likable, dynamic, marketable and has more potential than anyone else in the top 10.
But you can't place Durant above the top two players on this list based on what you expect him to accomplish.
His performance in the FIBA World Championship was exactly what fans wanted to see—a dominating, cold-blooded run where he single-handedly crushed the opposition's spirits. Now we want to see that translated to the NBA.
The Thunder are poised to be one of the West's top teams and a candidate to steal the No. 1 seed from the Lakers. Durant will continue to dominate and is a trendy pick to repeat as scoring champion and win the MVP (5-2 odds). But he doesn't have the pedigree to be labeled best in the NBA...yet.
The lack of a championship may hamper where we place LeBron historically at this point in his career, but right now he still has a slight edge over Durant.
People point to James' "motivation" as the reason he'll break out this year but it's the little things he's working on in his game that will further transcend his talent. So far in the preseason he's made a concerted effort to work on his post-up game, something that Cavs fans wanted to see for the longest time.
He's said in the past he's not thrilled with the idea of playing point guard but it's such a great fit for Miami. Take a wing scorer with Wade's ability, Mike Miller's three-point shooting, Bosh's low-post presence and mid-range game, sprinkle in James' innate passing and court vision, and that's one potent offensive unit no matter who is playing center.
This season isn't make or break for the Heat. This nucleus will be fine and the competition (namely Boston and Los Angeles) will be fading in the next two or three years without an injection of younger players.
But if James wants to enhance his legacy, he needs to win now. He didn't quit on the Cavs in Game 5 against Boston but no one can deny that he shied away from the moment. If he repeats that trend then we simply can't consider him the greatest of this generation.
I flip-flopped dozens of times trying to determine the order of No. 1 through No. 3. But the picture on the left of the screen is the prominent reason why Kobe gets the nod.
Kobe has accomplished what we think LeBron and Durant can do. And maybe they will. But they haven't yet.
With all of the attention given to the Heat this summer and Durant's amazing FIBA run, Bryant has flown under the radar this offseason. It's amazing how little attention is being paid to him and the Lakers, a team going for its third-consecutive championship.
No player in today's NBA is wired like Michael Jordan, but Kobe is the closest. Another title cements his place as (at worst) one of the five greatest players in history. He could arguably be the greatest Laker of all-time and you could make a legitimate case in the "MJ/Kobe" argument.
He knows this. He relishes it. And until James, Durant or Wade beats him the postseason, he deserves this spot.