Is this the year LeBron finally gets his ring?
It's time to forget about the NFL. No more Brett Favre, no more helmet-to-helmet discussions and no more of Jay Cutler's whining. It's time for, in David Stern's opinion, the greatest NBA season ever.
Can the Lakers three-peat again? Can the Heat live up to hype? Will LeBron James make it out of Cleveland alive? There are so many tantalizing questions for the upcoming year, and it very well could be the best season ever.
So in honor of trying top make sense of the league that was turned on it's head this offseason, let's take a refresher course on which players are actually good, then I'll get to answering some of those big questions. Here are the top 50 players in the league going into this season—the correct version.
50. Andrew Bynum
Regular Season: 57-25/65 starts-65 games-30.4 mpg/15.0 ppg-8.3rpg-1.0 apg-0.4 spg-1.4 bpg/57.0 FG%-73.9 FT%
Playoffs: 23 games-24.4 mpg/8.6-6.9-0.5-0.3-1.6/53.7-67.9
Why He's 50: If Bynum can stay healthy and be in basketball shape all year long, he will rocket up this list. However, he has not been able to stay healthy for a full season for a while now, and usually centers with bad knees do not have a long shelf life. Bynum has the skills to be an offensive force down low, he just needs to stay on the court.
49. Al Horford
Regular Season: 53-29/81-81-35.1/14.2-9.9-2.3-0.7-1.1/55.1-78.9
Why He's 49: There aren't that many guys who can score in the post and rebound anymore, which makes Horford a valuable commodity in today's NBA. Even at 6'10" (he was listed at 6'9" in college) Horford was the league's 10th leading rebounder and has led the Hawks in that stat ever since he's entered the league. The bottom line: Horford is an extremely valuable cog on a top four Eastern Conference team and is a good big men in a league where they are becoming increasingly endangered.
48. Jason Kidd
Regular Season: 55-27/80-80-36.0/10.3-5.6-9.1-1.8-0.4/42.3-42.5-80.8
Playoffs: 6-40.5/8.0-6.8-7.0-2.8-0.2/30.4-32.1 3pt %-91.7
Why He's 48: Kidd's skills have eroded with age, as is the case with every player, so if he was ranked this high based on skills, then I'd be crazy. He's a terrible defender and cannot drive to the hoop anymore.
However, Kidd is one of the best leaders in the league. Dallas won 55 games last year, and were the second seed in the West, with Jason Kidd as their second most important player. Not the second best, but second most important (behind Dirk, of course). Kidd is still an elite passer too. He averaged over 9 assists per game at the ripe age of 36. He's also evolved into an excellent three point specialist, hitting over 42 percent of his threes last season.
Great players know how to adapt as they age, and Kidd has done that.
47. Kevin Love
Regular Season: 15-67/22-60-28.6/14.0-11.0-2.3-0.7-0.4/45.0-33.0-81.5
Why He's 47: I gotta say, I love Kevin Love. He's one of the weirdest players in the NBA. He's an extremely efficient rebounder, which would seem like he thrives around the basket on the offensive end as well, which is not true. Love loves shooting mid-range jumpers and jacks up the occasional three when he feels like it.
But the best part about Dr. Love's game is his passing ability. This is not on display very much, since he is surrounded with garbage mixed with animal feces in Minnesota, but just go to YouTube and type "Kevin Love passing," and you'll see why he is such a promising player. His outlet passes are a thing of beauty. Put Love on a good team, and he is instantly one of the most liked players in the league, and more valuable than many people think.
46. Ray Allen
Regular Season: 50-32/80-80-35.2/16.3-3.2-2.6-0.8-0.3/47.7-36.3-91.3
Why He's 46: I had a hard time deciding where Allen should rank among the best 50 in the NBA. He's still one of the league's best outside shooters and is a free throw master, but a few of those NBA Finals games are still fresh in my mind. He was terrible in games 3 and 7. However, Allen played a huge role in getting Boston to the Finals and is still a very good NBA player. He could drop off this list next year, but right now, he's still among the 50 best players in the league.
45. Eric Gordon
Regular Season: 29-53/ 60 starts-62 games-36.0 mpg/16.9 ppg-2.6rpg-3.0 apg-1.1 spg-0.2 bpg/44.9 FG%-37.1 3PT%-74.2FT%
Why He's 45: Gordon has the potential to be a 20 point scorer, and he probably will be in the next one or two years, but as of right now he hasn't proved much more than that he's been the No.2 option on a bad team. Being on Team USA helped Gordon gain confidence and get some good big game reps in. I fully expect Gordon to rank much higher on this list next year.
44. Rudy Gay
Regular Season: 40-42/80-80-39.7/19.6-5.9-1.9-1.5-0.8/46.6-32.7-75.3
Why He's 44: This seems low for Gay, but is 44th really that low for a completely one dimensional player who takes bad shots, is not a great leader, and has never made the playoffs?
43. Kevin Garnett
Regular Season: 50-32/69-69-29.9/14.3-7.3-2.7-1.0-0.8/52.1-83.7
Why He's 43: It was very tough to put Garnett down this low, considering Boston made it to the Finals with him playing, while losing in the conference semi's last year with him on the bench. But, that shouldn't be a big surprise. He's a huge upgrade from Big Baby Davis, who was playing most of his minutes in the '09 playoffs. Just having Garnett out there on the floor to order the guys around on defense makes a big difference.
However, his rapidly eroding skills do not quite make up for his great leadership and tenacity. I love Garnett, and would want him on my team, but he's a shell of his former self.
42. Gerald Wallace
Regular Season: 44-38/76-76-41.0/18.2-10.0-2.1-1.5-1.1/48.4-37.1-77.6
Why He's 42: Remember when Gerald Wallace was a young, potential-filled, occasional dunk contest participant in Sacramento? Well now he's the opposite of that Gerald Wallace. He's now a veteran (28 isn't exactly old, but he's not definitely not a kid anymore) who has reached his potential and doesn't waste his time trying to win the popularity contest at All-Star Weekend.
Wallace is the type of player everybody wants on their team. He goes all out, is a great defender, a great rebounder (especially for his size), and can score when he has to. The Bobcats big problem is that he's been their No.1 or No.2 option for the entire existence of the franchise. I envision Wallace becoming a valuable piece (4th or 5th best guy) on a championship caliber team a few years down the road, but he's not a franchise guy like he's been asked to be in Charlotte.
41. Chris Kaman
Regular Season: 29-53/76-76-34.3/18.5-9.3-1.6-0.5-1.2/49.0-74.9
Why He's 41: Who doesn't like Chris Kaman? He seems kinda like that crazy friend that everybody has, except he's seven feet tall and can ball like George Mikan circa 1780 (Wait, that was only the 1950's? Oops.) Sure, Kaman isn't a dominating force on the block, but he gets the job done and rebounds decently. Whether he's my starting center or part of my entourage, it's all good.
40. Joakim Noah
Regular Season: 41-41/54-64-30.1/10.7-11.0-2.1-0.5-1.6/50.4-74.4
Why He's 40: Have we figured out that we shouldn't doubt Joakim yet? All he did was lead them to back-to-back titles for the first time in almost 15 years and set all sorts of NCAA tournament block records. Then Al Horford got drafted ahead of him. And Corey Brewer. Two guys on his own TEAM! I'm sure he was happy for Al and Corey, but that still had to make him a little bit mad. "Man, I was the best guy AND the leader for those teams and I'm the THIRD one drafted? C'mon!"
Turns out, Noah might be the second best guy in that draft and has evolved into a crucial piece of a team that is expected to be contenders in the East sooner rather than later. All the while, Corey is freezing his butt off in Minnesota (and losing).
39. Monta Ellis
Regular Season: 26-56/64-64-41.4/25.5-4.0-5.3-2.2-0.4/44.9-33.8-75.3
Why He's 39: Monta Ellis is the classic great scorer-can't do anything else guy. Man, can Ellis score, but he also likes to give the ball to the other team and lets opposing guards blow by him on defense. He's also not a particularly good passer, which he doesn't have to be with Steph Curry manning the point, but if he ever wants to be a part of a winning team he'd probably need to play the point (because of size mainly) and that's just not something he's great at right now.
38. Kevin Martin
Regular Season: 42-40 (25-57)/43-46-35.5/20.6-3.6-2.4-1.o-0.1/41.7-33.3-87.6
Why He's 38: When the word "one-dimensional" is tossed around, Kevin Martin has to be brought up. Sure, the guy can fill it up and drop 40 on any given night. He also cannot really do anything else.
Martin will always be valuable as a Ray Allen-type shooter (although his three point numbers were way down last year) and late game cooler (86 percent career free throw shooter), but that's about all Martin will ever be.
Translation: if you're counting on him to be the best player on your team, and expect them to go anywhere past the first round, you're in trouble.
37. Manu Ginobili
Regular Season: 50-32/22-75-28.7/16.5-3.8-4.9-1.4-0.3/44.1-37.7-87.0
Why He's 37: I really have no idea where Manu should be. I know he can play like a top 15-20 player in spurts, but it's just hard to get a good feel for how good Manu still is. I'm not sure he's the same explosive guy he used to be after several years of injuries hampering him (which is also a constant concern due to his reckless style of play). Maybe I have him this low just because I hate his flopping ways, but I don't feel good about it. Manu, go prove me wrong this year. We all know you're reading this.
36. Stephen Jackson
Regular Season: 44-38/81-81-38.6/20.6-5.0-3.7-1.6-0.5/42.3-32.8-77.9
Why He's 36: "Captain Jack" was one of the least reported stories of the 2009 NBA season. He carried the Bobcats on his back offensively and willed them to their first playoff berth ever. Despite his mere 20.6 average, it seemed like every time I glanced at a Bobcats box score, Jack put up 26 or 27. There is no way Charlotte makes the playoffs without trading for Jackson last year. It will be hard to duplicate a career best season for Jackson, but it seems like he'll still be a good NBA player well into his 30's.
35. Lamarcus Aldridge
Regular Season: 50-32/78-78-37.5/17.9-8.0-2.1-0.9-0.6/49.5-75.7
Why He's 35: There are plenty of knocks on Aldridge. He's not a good enough rebounder. He doesn't block shots. He's too soft inside offensively. Maybe all of those things are true, but he still has tremendous potential to be a much better offensive player. He runs the court very well, and is very skilled for a guy his size. There are certain games when Aldridge will score an effortless 30 and it leaves everybody scratching their heads "why isn't this guy better?"
If Aldridge can start using his back to the basket game more effectively and consistency, it could help the Blazers take another step towards being Western contenders.
34. Andre Iguodala
Regular Season: 27-55/82-82-38.9/17.1-6.5-5.8-1.7-0.7/44.3-31.0-73.3
Why He's 34: Team USA exposed what Iguodala's true role on a team should be—a defensive specialist. Philly is counting on him to be their main offensive threat, which is something that Iggy is just not quite offensively talented enough for. Sure, he throws down his fair share of insane, disgusting dunks, but he's not a shooter and as the No.1 option he has to shoot more than he should. Iguodala needs a change of scenery and role, and he could be much more recognized than he is now.
33. Tyreke Evans
Regular Season: 25-57/72-72-37.2/20.1-5.3-5.8-1.5-0.4/45.8-25.5-74.8
Why He's 33: Tyreke's rookie stats are just eye-popping. So why do I get the feeling he can't significantly improve on them. His ceiling seems like 23-6-8. That's not a bad ceiling, but for a guy who put up 20-5-6 as a rook, it should be higher. Evans is built like a truck, and could eventually turn into a LeBron-lite type of player (think 26-7-9), but there is something unsettling about this immature, faux point guard. It's just hard to get a finger on exactly what.
32. David Lee
Regular Season: 29-53/81-81-37.3/20.2-11.7-3.6-1.0-0.5/54.5-81.2
Why He's 32: I really have no idea what to think of David Lee. Yes, he can score and is a great rebounder, but he's played about as much defense for Mike D'Antoni in the past few years as Mike D'Antoni has. Lee's offensive merits (he was one of three 20-10 guys last season) outweigh his defensive shortcomings (I'm being nice when I say that), but he'll always just be a "really good stats on bad teams" guy.
31. Stephen Curry
Regular Season: 26-56/77-80-36.2/17.5-4.5-5.9-1.9-0.2/46.2-43.7-88.5
Why He's 31: Curry surprised me with just how good he was last year. He was just tremendous after the All-Star break last year (22-5.5-8, 2 steals). While it remains to be seen how much of a "winner" he is (he's never had good teammates), Curry should always be a great shooter in the Reggie Miller and Ray Allen mold and will be in the NBA for a long, long time. Add that to the fact that it looks like he has the tools to be a pretty good point guard, and everything points to Curry having a very successful NBA career.
30. Josh Smith
Regular Season: 53-29/81-81-35.4/15.7-8.7-4.2-1.6-2.1/50.5-61.8
Why He's 30: Last year it finally looked like Smith was starting to "get it." He stopped chucking up threes because he finally realized he shot more like Shaq than Reggie Miller (also, terrible at the line like Shaq). He starting passing the ball instead and racked up over four assists per game. Yes, Smith still makes the occasional Josh Smith trademark bonehead play, but it does look like he's finally starting to grow up (he's still only 24).
If he really does find out what his role on a team should be and they create a position in basketball that blends the small forward and power forward positions into one position cocktail, look out for Josh Smith.
29. Tony Parker
Regular Season: 50-32/50-56-30.9/16.0-2.4-5.7-0.5-0.1/48.7-29.4-75.6
Why He's 29: Don't judge Tony Parker's skill on last season. He was hurt essentially all of last season and George Hill's terrific play never really allowed him to get his rhythm back. Parker had a career (and generally healthy) year two seasons ago and should return back to that level now that he has had the opportunity to fully rest himself. Parker is going to make everybody remember how good of a player he really can be this season.
28. Brook Lopez
Regular Season: 12-70/82-82-36.9/18.8-8.6-2.3-0.7-1.7/49.9-81.7
Why He's 28: All signs point to a monster breakout year for Brook "my parents didn't know that me and my twin brother would be boys based on our borderline girly names" Lopez this year. I'd bet all the money that I have that he leads all centers in scoring this season (unless Amar'e plays center for the Knicks, then I recant that statement).
And unless Demarcus Cousins ends up living up to his full potential (Do NOT rule this out. I see Cousins evolving into a monster of a player), he could hold that title for a long time. Brook does need to rebound more, but he's a center who can score, which I love (such a rare breed). I look forward to many years of knowing Brook on a first name basis.
27. Chauncey Billups
Regular Season: 53-29/73-73-34.1/19.5-3.1-5.6-1.1-0.1/41.8-38.6-91.0
Why He's 27: Chauncey's career is definitely going in the wrong direction, but it is hard to ignore how influential of a leader he is. He led a Pistons team with inferior talent to a title against the Karl Malone-Gary Payton edition of the Shaqobe Lakers. The last time a team than Chauncey played for that did not win 50 games was the 00'-01' Minnesota Timberwolves. Chauncey is just a winner.
26. Danny Granger
Regular Season: 32-50/62-62-36.7/24.1-5.5-2.8-1.5-0.8/42.8-36.1-84.8
Why He's 26: Granger is one of the most talented scorers in the league, there is no question. He hits from deep, he hits from close-in, he hits his free throws. Bad news for Pacers fans: he's not leading you to a title any time soon. Actually, ever.
25. Carlos Boozer
Regular Season: 53-29/78-78-34.3/19.5-11.2-3.2-1.1-0.5/56.2-74.2
Why He's 25: The whole "falling and breaking his hand" thing made me consider dropping Boozer from this list completely. Maybe Boozer's name is no coincidence?
All joking aside, Boozer does get injured a little too much, but it's hard to put him much lower than this. He and Deron Williams have essentially been the only players on note on Utah's past four teams, which have won 53, 48, 53, and 51 games. He brings scoring and rebounding in bunches, something that is present on most good teams (which is why Chicago could be dangerous once Rose and Noah start peaking).
24. Al Jefferson
Regular Season: 15-67/76-76-32.4/17.1-9.3-1.8-0.8-1.3/49.8-68.0
Why He's 24: Johnny Flynn to Deron Williams—that is the upgrade Al Jefferson is making this year after he was hijacked from Minnesota (Kahn strikes again!!!) this offseason. Jefferson is one of the true post players in the league and is fully capable of putting up 20 a game, especially with an elite point guard like Williams. There will be a multitude of easy baskets for Big Al that were not there in Minnesota. Expect a huge Al Jefferson year this season.
23. Russell Westbrook
Regular Season: 50-32/82-82-34.3/16.1-4.9-8.0-1.3-0.4/41.8-22.1-78.0
Why He's 24: I don't consider myself a big Russell Westbrook guy, so it was very strange that I couldn't put him any lower than 23rd. Here's what I see from Westbrook—an extremely athletic point guard who rebounds, hustles, and is an excellent passer and defender. How much lower could I rank a guy who has all of those qualities and stepped up his scoring duties in the playoffs when his star teammate was struggling?
22. Andrew Bogut
Regular Season: 46-36/69-69-32.3/15.9-10.2-1.8-0.6-2.5/52.0-62.9
Why He's 22: It's too bad Bogut suffered that horrific injury before the playoffs last year. Such a good guy, having a breakout year, a great team, and then BOOM!, his arm bends in ways that Olympic gymnasts can not bend. Bogut finally evolved into a game changer last season, especially on the defensive end, and if he can get healthy again, the Bucks could do some very good things.
21. Zach Randolph
Regular Season: 40-42/81-81-37.7/20.8-11.7-1.8-1.0-0.4/48.8-28.8-77.8
Why He's 21: The safest bet for 20-10 this year? Zach Randolph. He scores. He rebounds. It's what he does, and he does it well. Yes, his shot selection is very questionable at times (That's the nice way of putting it. The mean way—he's a George Costanzanian chucker). The bottom line—Z-Bo does work down low on offense and is one of the best rebounders in the league. He was reason No.1 why Memphis flirted with a playoff berth for most of last season.
20. Paul Pierce
Regular Season: 50-32/71-71-34.0/18.3-4.4-3.1-1.2-0.4/47.2-41.4-85.2
Why He's 20: It has to be questioned how much Pierce has left in the tank at this point in his career. He carried the Celtics for so many years and such a heavy burden, that it appears that he is wearing down now. He still can step it up when he has to, but it doesn't look like he'll be "the" Paul Pierce for much longer at all.
Maybe the great three point shooter can turn into purely a specialist and extend his career that way. Just something to ponder, Paul.
19. Yao Ming
Regular Season: Missed season, *08-09 stats, 53-29/77-77-33.6/21.1-10.6-1.9-0.4-2.1/54.8-86.
Why He's 19: Obviously his health is a huge (HUGE) concern, but a healthy Yao Ming (which is what he is now) is one of the best two centers in the league. He's one of the league's only 20-10 guys (as I mentioned before, there were only three last year) and will feast on smaller opponents. Just look at the Rockets from 2009 to 2010. Artest left and Yao was hurt, and that caused them to go from a fifth seed and one game from beating the eventual champs to missing the playoffs altogether. Yao is extremely valuable, he just needs to stay healthy.
The difference between Yao and another injury prone guys like Bynum is that we've seen what Yao can do. With Bynum and others (Greg Oden, etc), we still do not know how good they can be.
18. Joe Johnson
Regular Season: 53-29/76-76-38.0/21.3-4.6-4.9-1.1-0.1/45.8-36.9-81.8
Why He's 18: Okay, it is obviously insane the amount of money Joe Johnson reeled in this offseason. If I were ranking the players who were the best value for their contracts, Johnson would be closer to the 18th worse player than 18th best player. Luckily for Joe, that has nothing to do with how good he is. I mean, usually you have to be pretty good to earn the kind of dough Johnson got this offseason, and he is pretty good.
He can play multiple positions, shoots threes, rebounds and passes, and was the best guy on a 53 win team last year. That has to count for something. It has to count for a lot, actually. Just like people have forgotten how good LeBron James is because of the happenings of this offseason, Johnson's real life skill is being overshadowed by his egregious contract. He's still good, folks.
17. Amar'e Stoudemire
Regular Season: 54-28/82-82-34.6/24.1-9.3-1.0-0.7-1.1/55.7-77.1
Why He's 17: If Raymond Felton can run Mike D'Antoni's offense half as good as Steve Nash, say hello to a monster Amar'e Stoudemire year. The dude is psyched to be in New York and playing under the big lights at the Garden. His first half is going to be insane. Like 30 points per game insane maybe. Yeah, he's still not going to be playing defense, but when was the last time a D'Antoni team won by playing defense? Yeah, I thought so.
The point is, Amar'e is a dynamic scorer who is basically the only option (him and Gallo), so the scoring numbers will come in bunches this year.
16. Derrick Rose
Regular Season: 41-41/78-78-36.8/20.8-3.8-6.0-0.7-0.3/48.9-26.7-76.6
Why He's 16: Is this the "leap" year for Derrick Rose? I thought he was going to make the leap last year, and it did happen to an extent in the second half. Can he take another step now and start acting like a true point guard? He's definitely a talented scorer/slasher, but his assists numbers need to rise if the Bulls ever have a shot at winning a title with Rose as "the guy." Score-first point guards just don't win titles.
15. Chris Bosh
Regular Season: 40-42/70-70-36.1/24.0-10.8-2.4-0.6-1.0/51.8-79.7
Why He's 15: Is Bosh better than everybody realizes? Think back to the 2008 Olympics—Bosh clearly outplayed Howard in many of those games and has not done terribly in his past few seasons either. How's 24-11 for ya?
Now Bosh has to make sacrifices in Miami, but he's going to be far less worn out and will be getting tons of open jumpers, which he makes at a high rate. What are the odds on Bosh leading the Heat in scoring? It could happen. (COULD. He'll probably be third. Just throwing it out there.)
14. Rajon Rondo
Regular Season: 50-32/81-81-36.6/13.7-4.4-9.8-2.3-0.1/50.8-21.3-62.1
Why He's 14: Rondo has gone from the young, skinny point guard who won a title with the "Big Three" in Boston, to the best player on the Celtics in a mere two years. Look no further than the Celtics-Cavaliers series (sorry, Cleveland) to see how good of a player Rondo has come. Rondo single-handedly destroyed Cleveland in Game 4 with his 29-18-13 performance. It was one of the greatest playoff performances of all-time and gave Boston the momentum they needed to beat the Cavs.
For that Cleveland series at least, Rondo was being considered the best point guard in the league, which seems slightly off now, but that is the level he was playing at. If he can play at that level even semi-consistently, he'll be a top 10 player very, very soon.
13. Pau Gasol
Regular Season: 57-25/65-65-37.0/18.3-11.3-3.4-0.6-1.7/53.6-79.0
Why He's 13: It's really a two-man race between Gasol and Duncan for the title of best offensive post player in the world right now. Duncan's health is failing him and Gasol just seems to be getting better, so Gasol should hold the edge this time next year, but for now Duncan gets a slight edge.
Gasol hasn't gotten enough credit for being such a great player on the back-to-back title teams, so now is his moment. The guy is just a scoring machine down low. If the Lakers decided to run the offense through him, he could score 25 a game. He has a nose for the ball and plays gritty (gritty in a good way) defense. Kobe hasn't been doing it all by himself.
12. Tim Duncan
Regular Season: 50-32/77-78-31.3/17.9-10.1-3.2-0.6-1.5/51.8-72.5
Why He's 12: It's sad to see Duncan declining, but we all knew this was coming. He's 34 years old and has had to carry the Spurs for a long time.
I'd say The Big Fundamental has had a pretty good run though—four titles, three Finals MVPs, two MVPs—that's top 10 player ever material right there. Whether or not he can muster up one more signature Hall of Fame Timmy D season is the question all Spurs fans want answered (it's hard to see that happening).
11. Steve Nash
Regular Season: 54-28/81-81-32.8/16.5-3.3-11.0-0.5-1.1/50.7-42.6-93.8
Why He's 11: Steve Nash might get the vote for best teammate of all time. Has there ever been a teammate that didn't love Nash? He won two MVPs, in part, because he was a phenomenal teammate. The Suns' success last year was based on a talent, yes, but also on the remarkable chemistry of the team, set in motion by their fearless, Canadian point guard.
Nash has a skill that doesn't really fade in passing, so it's not unreasonable to think that he can keep churning out seasons like last year's for a few years and maybe more.
10. Dirk Nowitzki
Regular Season: 55-27/80-81-37.5/25.0-7.7-2.7-0.9-1.0/48.1-42.1-91.5
Why He's 10: Dirk might be one of the forgotten superstars in 30-40 years. When people think of the NBA in the '00's, they'll think of Kobe, LeBron, Shaq, KG, Nash, and maybe a few others before Dirk. All Dirk has done for the past decade is churn out year after year of 20+ point, 50 win seasons, and has an MVP award to show for it.
Dallas has never had another really good player to pair with Dirk since Nash fled to Phoenix, and the Mavs have still managed to win 60 games twice during that span. Dirk may be much better than he's ever been given credit for.
9. Brandon Roy
Regular Season: 50-32/65-65-37.2/21.5-4.4-4.7-0.9-0.2/47.3-33.0-78.0
Playoffs: 3-27.7/9.7-2.3-1.7-0-0/30.3-16.7-77.8 (*seriously injured), ['08-'09 playoff stats: 6-39.7/26.7-4.8-2.8-1.3-1.2]
Why He's 9: There's been a big controversy involving Roy "wanting the ball" during preseason. Yes, he said it, and he meant it. This is widely seen as a good thing by Blazer fans and coaches though. Roy has long been a passive player, too often deferring to teammates and not being selfish enough as a superstar. Roy has also taken steps to be a better leader this offseason, so we might be getting out first glimpse of a completely healthy, motivated, hungry Roy. Kinda scary if he can put it all together.
8. Carmelo Anthony
Regular Season: 53-29/69-69-38.2/28.2-6.6-3.2-1.3-0.4/45.8-31.6-83.0
Why He's 8: Are we sure Carmelo can be a leader of a great team? Chauncey Billups has been the heart and soul of the Nuggets for the past few years and take a look at the "Melo led Nuggs before Chauncey arrived—43, 49, 44, 45, 50 wins—and after—54 and 53 wins.
Carmelo is still a great player and is easily on of the top five scorers in the league, but at this point, whether it is because of his desire to leave Denver for non-basketball related reasons or his inability to get far in the playoffs, his leadership ability has to be in question.
7. Deron Williams
Regular Season: 53-29/76-76-36.9/18.7-4.0-10.5-1.3-0.2/46.9-37.1-80.1
Why He's 7: If there is anybody worthy of dethroning Chris Paul of his Best Point Guard Alive title, it's Williams. He's just not quite on Paul's level. He's not quite as good of a passer. He's not quite as good of scorer. He's not quite as good of a shooter. He is a better defender, mostly because of his size. Williams is extremely close to Paul, but just doesn't quite get over the hump.
On a more positive note, Williams is one of the best leaders in the league. Utah generally hasn't had the same talent as some other elite Western teams in the past few years, yet they keep cranking out 50, or near 50 win seasons (Jerry Sloan is a big part of that as well). Williams was a winner in college, and now he's become one of the best winners in the pros.
Don't bet against the Jazz as long as D-Will is manning the point in Salt Lake City.
6. Chris Paul
Regular Season: 37-45/45-45-38.0/18.7-4.2-10.7-2.1-0.2/49.3-40.9-84.7
Why He's 6: Let us not forget how good Chris Paul is. Going into last season, and for the previous couple of seasons, there was no doubt who the best point guard in the NBA was. Now there are popular opinions of Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash, or even Derrick Rose being better than Paul, but when Paul is healthy and playing at his highest level, there is no point guard in the league that can touch him. Look out for Paul as a sleeper MVP candidate this year.
5. Dwight Howard
Regular Season: 59-23/82-82-34.7/18.3-13.2-1.8-0.9-2.8/61.2-59.2
Why He's 5: It's no secret that Dwight Howard worked out with Hakeem Olajuwon this offseason, but people are putting way too much thought into this. It's not like he's never studied post moves and tried to get better before, it's not going to suddenly click in three days.
Yes, his post moves should be improved, in part because of working with The Dream, but also just as part of his evolution as a big man. If indeed Howard does become a 24-25 a night guy, while still playing his nasty defense, Orlando is a team to really watch out for. If Howard doesn't intimidate you, Stan Van Gundy certainly will.
4. Kevin Durant
Regular Season: 50-32/82-82-39.5/30.1-7.6-2.8-1.4-1.0/47.6-36.5-90.0
Why He's 4: Okay Kevin, you've impressed me.
KD's insane performance at the World Championships was very impressive. He scored at will and was hitting threes in his sleep. But let's not get too excited, now. Let's look at the facts.
The U.S., despite bringing their so-called "B-team," was still the favorite at the WCs. Durant was scoring at will against Euroleagers and hitting bombs from the FIBA three-point line (20 ft, 6 inches compared to the NBA's 23 ft, 9 inch line). So let's not get too excited for the best player in the tournament beating up on Ersan Ilyasova.
However, let's do get excited. Durant is the best scorer in the league and will win another scoring title and probably take home the MVP as long as Oklahoma City improves on their win-loss record from last season (not necessarily a gimme, although it will more than likely happen). He's improving defensively and is improving in every aspect of his game. And oh yeah, he's 22 years old. Durant is going to be very, very good for a long, long time. Who knows, maybe he really is the best player in the world.
We will see this year if his hyped Thunder team can live up to or surpass their extremely high expectations.
3. Dwyane Wade
Regular Season: 47-35/77-77-36.3/26.6-4.8-6.5-1.8-1.1/47.6-30.0-76.1
Why He's 3: Here's a few names to just throw out there—Michael Beasley, Jermaine O'Neal, Udonis Haslem, Quentin Richardson. All of those players were Dwyane Wade's partners in crime for a team that won 47 games last year. Yes, they were only .500 vs. the West and yes, they got shellacked by the Celtics in round one (although Wade put up an insane 46 pointer with 16-24 shooting in Miami's win), but 47 wins for a team that doesn't have another player NEAR the top 50 is crazy. (Beasley is the only player in the top 100. And barely.)
Let us not forget, Dwyane Wade is still a really, really stinkin' good player (but make no mistake, he's NOT better than LeBron).
2. Kobe Bryant
Regular Season: 57-25/73-73-38.8/27.0-5.4-5.0-1.5-0.3/45.6-32.9-81.1
Why He's 2: Kobe at 2!?!? That's what Lakers fans reading this are thinking. And admittedly, if I were a Laker fan, I'd probably be thinking that too. Luckily I'm not on the gold and purple bandwagon, so I can see things a little bit more clearly.
Yes, I recognize Kobe is a great, great player. I accept people that say he's the best in the world. That argument is strong, and the fact that he's won back-to-back titles is very powerful—it would be even more powerful if he did not almost blow Game 7 with a 25 percent shooting percentage—but I digress.
Kobe's scoring, defensive ability, and clutch play (Game 6 of the Phoenix series was one of the most amazing single-game performances I've ever seen) are all viable reasons why Kobe could be considered the best player in the world.
I just look at the fact that LeBron had pretty bad teammates in Cleveland and his better all-around play in factoring which player is better. Kobe, go win another one, now that LeBron has no excuses, and I'll be convinced you're the best. (Note: I'm also worried about the knee.)
1. LeBron James
Regular Season: 61-21/76-76-39.0/29.7-7.3-8.6-1.6-1.0/50.3-33.3-76.7
Why He's 1: Oh no, I put LeBron over Kobe! The "sidekick" over the back-to-back Finals MVP (6-24!). Yes, LeBron mailed in Game 5 against the Celtics. Yes, he wasn't at his best in Game 6 either, but are we really going to ignore the previous 85 games?
LeBron was playing 1 on 5 versus an extremely physical Celtics team and not getting help from his teammates that whole series and maybe just wore down. And then there were also "those rumors", which, if true, could definitely be a big factor. The point is, are we really judging how good a player is on one or two games (If LeBron's 27-19-10 Game 6 was a mail-in, doesn't that prove he's the best in the world?Who could mail in a near 30-20-10?)?
Look at what LeBron has done over the past two years with the Cavs with his best teammates being the immortal Mo Williams, Andersen Varejao, As big as a "Shack-ille" O'Neal, and half a season of the great Antawn Jamison (Check out Antawn's Game 5 and 6 numbers: 9 points, 6 board; 5 points, 5 boards. The missing piece!).
His teams won 66 and 61 games. He put up two of the best all-around seasons ever, winning two landslide MVP votes. Despite popular belief, he raised his game in the playoffs, as evidenced by his insane 2009 campaign: 35.3-9.1-7.3 on 51 percent shooting. Put LeBron with Kobe's supporting cast, LeBron wins the title both years.
If Kobe and his Lakers top LeBron and the Heat this year, I will finally cave on the toss up that is LeBron vs. Kobe. I'm taking the back-to-back MVP, who is one of the best all-around players in league history, for now though.
MVP: Kevin Durant
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin
Sixth Man of the Year: James Harden
Most Improved Player of the Year: J.J. Hickson
Coach of the Year: Monty Williams
Western Conference: 1. Los Angeles Lakers (Projected record: 59-23), 2. Portland Trail Blazers (56-26), 3. Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27), 4. Dallas Mavericks (53-29), 5. Utah Jazz (52-30), 6. Houston (50-32), 7. New Orleans (48-34), 8. San Antonio (47-35), 9. Denver (45-37) 10. Phoenix Suns (42-40), 11. Los Angeles Clippers (36-56), 12. Sacramento Kings (28-54), 13. Memphis Grizzlies (28-54), 14. Golden State Warriors (25-57), 15. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-68)
Eastern Conference: 1. Miami Heat (68-14), 2. Orlando Magic (60-22), 3. Boston Celtics (57-25), 4. Atlanta Hawks (50-32), 5. Chicago Bulls (48-34), 6. Milwaukee (44-38), 7. Washington (42-40), 8. New York (39-43), 9. Charlotte (37-45), 10. Philadelphia (34-48), 11. Cleveland (34-48) Indiana (31-51), 12. New Jersey (28-54), , 14. Detroit (27-55), 15. Toronto (20-62)
Western Conference Finals: Lakers over Thunder in 7
Eastern Conference Finals: Heat over Magic in 5
NBA Finals: Heat over Lakers in 6
Finals MVP: LeBron James