Entering any season, there is always a fair amount of speculation regarding who will win coveted titles such as MVP, Scoring Champion, Rookie of the Year (ROY) and even the NBA Championship at the seasons' end.
The 2010-2011 season was no different. Before we even broke ground on the current season, a blockbuster deal aligned three NBA All-Stars (Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh) in South Beach, and almost instantly, they were speculated to win an NBA Title, many analysts suspected that Kevin Durant would reclaim his throne as the NBA Scoring Champion, and others debated whether John Wall or Blake Griffin would claim the NBA ROY award.
Though the art of the speculation at a season's beginning may be entertaining to listen to and partake in, when it comes down to it, speculation and guessing is just that, speculation and guessing. Therefore, I have decided to put the speculation and guessing aside and have compiled a list of 16 players who, up to this point, have earned their stripes and proven themselves in the league this season. Some of these may surprise you, and others may be pretty obvious. Regardless in my opinion, these 16 players have picked up the phone and dialed in, and most of them haven't shown signs of hanging the phone up anytime soon.
The 31-year-old veteran has put up numbers that have been shaky to say the least, but as of late, Baron Davis came to life. At the beginning of the season, Davis was criticized for being out of shape by both Clippers' coach, Vinny del Negro and Clippers' owner, Donald Sterling. He was then surrounded by trade talks that could have landed Davis back in Charlotte where he began his career, only this time, it would have put him in a Bobcats' uniform. After being nagged by Clippers' management, a cyst in his left knee, and missing all but one of the Clippers' games in the month of November in order to regain his athletic form, Davis has apparently recomposed himself and regained his starting position in the L.A. Clippers' lineup.
Davis has shown he has improved his condition by eating up more minutes rather than more junk food. He has since phoned in by improving both his scoring and assist numbers in his last 10 games, in which the 13-24 Clippers are 7-3, including two big performances against the Denver Nuggets and in state rivals, the Golden State Warriors.
Against the Nuggets, Davis recorded eight assists, 16 points, two steals and didn't turn over the rock once. Davis was the distributor on many of the alley oops to DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin and also hit the three-pointer that was responsible for sealing the Clippers' victory.
On Sunday, Davis recorded his first double-double in the Clippers 105-91 victory against the Golden State Warriors. Davis proved to be a valuable asset to the Clippers effort by dropping 17 points and recording an additional 11 assists and two steals en route to their 12th victory of the season.
Though, Davis may have gotten off to a slow start, as of late, he has dialed in and proven he can still be a valuable asset to a young and talented L.A. Clippers team.
What's not to love about Kevin Love? It's only his second year out of UCLA, and the young man is wreaking havoc on the NBA. Sure, the Timberwolves are an opprobrium to the NBA and the city of Minnesota with their 9-29 record, but Love has given the Minnesota faithful reason to remain faithful—or at the very least keep watching.
The 22-year-old power forward has provided some very impressive performances by racking up 33 double-doubles and averaging 21.2 points and 15.7 boards per game. Love's most impressive performance came on November 12th when the Timberwolves battled the New York Knicks where Love single handedly scored 31 points, grabbed an even more impressive 31 rebounds and distributed five assists boosting Minnesota to 112-103 win over the Knicks.
Though Minnesota may not be very competitive this season, they are one of the youngest and have branched out to acquire Michael Beasley. So perhaps in seasons to come, Kevin Love and some of the T'wolves other young talent can allow their young and thriving team to prosper.
Rajon Rondo is probably one of my favorite players to watch in the NBA. His style of play makes him very exciting to watch. On the floor, Rondo displays his quickness, agility and vision to provide Boston's roster, which is already decorated with All-Stars like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Shaquille O'Neal, with another threat on both the offensive and defensive ends.
With the ball in his hand, Rondo has proven he is a good, quick ball handler capable of finding small lanes and openings which allow him to get to the rim for easy dunks and layups. His vision and skill have allowed him to become one of the finest and fanciest passers in the NBA, pushing the basketball through some of the smallest lanes and openings in very creative fashions. Had a nagging ankle injury not sidelined Rondo 11 of Boston's 38 games, he could very well lead the league in total assists, instead he leads the league in assists per game averaging 13.4 per contest. On the defensive end, Rondo also demonstrates excellence by forcing turnovers and is currently second in the league in steals per game, averaging 2.5 steals per game.
In addition to leading the league in assists per game, Rondo also has played two games in which he was responsible for 20 or more assists. Those two games allowed the Celtics to achieve two victories over two very worthy opponents—division rivals the New York Knicks and then the San Antonio Spurs who have the best record in the NBA. Rondo's performance against the Spurs was probably his most impressive as he scored 12 points, snagged 10 rebounds and dished out 22 assists to give him his first triple-double of the season.
Rondo's numbers and talent prove he is one of these few who have dialed in already this season, and as long as serious injuries leave the young point guard alone, he is likely to continue to dissect defenses with his dishes, dunks and dribbling for the remainder of this season and many more to come.
Last season, Kevin Durant and his ability to average 30.1 points per game allowed him to edge out LeBron James by less than half a point per game to become the youngest player in NBA history to win a scoring title. This year, it appears Durant's scoring abilities have not diminished as his 28.4 point per game average currently leads the NBA.
Durant has become the heart and soul of a young Oklahoma City Thunder franchise, and last season, led them to the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Currently Durant and his teammates have allowed the Thunder to roll into first place in their division, and it is likely they can revisit the playoffs again this season if their young superstar stays healthy dialed in like he is.
There are few better big men in the NBA than Pau Gasol, and when you consider the Los Angeles Lakers also have Andrew Bynum playing beside him as their center, it is safe to say they have an excellent pair of big men. Gasol played a large role in the Lakers Championship efforts in last years' playoffs and will likely play a large role for them again if they hope to win another title this season.
This season, Gasol has shown no signs of slowing down offensively or defensively. This year, his scoring averages have remained about the same as he averaged 18.3 points per game last season and is currently averaging about 18.4 points per game this season. Gasol has had seven games this season in which he has scored 25 or more points which, when combined with Kobe Bryant and his scoring abilities, can make the Lakers a near unstoppable force.
Aside from his scoring talents, the Lakers seven-footer is also a premier rebounder and shot blocker as well. Combined with his 18.4 point per game average, Gasol also cleans the glass and picks up about 10.9 rebounds per game as well which makes him a prime candidate to pick up a double-double on any given occasion. On the defensive side of the ball, Pau Gasol's stature alone can be intimidating, but knowing he averages about two blocks per game, including three games in which he has blocked five shots in each, proves he can use his intimidating stature to his advantage.
Even though Gasol's grizzly appearance may make him look like a teddy bear, the Lakers opponents are always well aware of his presence because like an actual grizzly bear, he can be deadly.
After missing the entirety of last season due to a combination of a knee injury and then later surgery done unto the very same knee, Blake Griffin has finally made his long awaited NBA debut, and he has done so with a very hefty splash.
In his very first NBA game, Griffin got off to an excellent start by scoring 20 points, scooping up 14 boards, dishing out four assists and blocking a single shot in a 98-88 to the Portland Trailblazers. Since that first game, he has demonstrated his exceptional athleticism, dazzling spectators primarily through his high-flying abilities which allow him to literally get above and beyond the competition to finish alley-oop passes, complete amazing put-backs or simply just slam the ball home.
The young Griffin is not only averaging a double-double scoring about 22 points and his swiping just over 12.5 rebounds per game, but he has also set a Clippers record for the most consecutive double-doubles in the franchises history at 24 and counting.
Though the season is still young, like the Clippers forward, Griffin has already left a definite impression on the NBA this season.
Amare Stoudemire doesn't just wear the No. 1 for the New York Nicks, but he is also their No. 1 scorer as well. In fact, if it weren't for Kevin Durant, he would also be No. 1 in points per game in the NBA. So far this season, Stoudemire is averaging 26.2 points per game which is the highest of his NBA career and had a streak of nine games in which he scored 30 or more points and had a double-double in six of those nine games.
Stoudemire has served as a work horse for the Knicks not just with his scoring abilities but also in his ability to rebound as well. He averages about nine boards per game which makes him a potential candidate for a double-double on any given evening.
On the defensive end, Stoudemire's size and athletic talents make him an excellent shot blocker as he has the second most blocked shots in the NBA with 88 and averages just over two blocks per game.
The Knicks forward seems to be warming up to his new home quite nicely this season, despite the colder climate. However, I'm sure Stoudemire's red hot hands warm up any arena he plays in, even if that arena is not located in desert heat of Phoenix.
Maybe Orlando is the proper home for Dwight Howard, after all, his play is magical. Although the Magic team he is playing with now is much different than the one he began this season with, Howard's play and efforts are much the same.
On the offensive end, Howard's robust 6'11", 265-pound frame give him the ability to back down near any opponent and either lay the ball in for an easy bucket or bring down the house with an electric slam dunk. His current 21.2 points per game average, is the highest of his career, and he can score above and beyond that if opposing defenses allow it.
Howard's size is also advantageous to him when it comes to defense and rebounding as well. He is currently averaging 13.1 rebounds per game and this season he also has four games in which he has picked up twenty or more rebounds, three of which came consecutively against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Atlanta Hawks and the Dallas Mavericks.
This season, the lengthy Howard again has proven to be a prolific shot blocker and is fourth in the NBA with 2.34 shots per game. During Orlando's November 3rd contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Howard blocked a season-high eight shots which allowed the Magic to put the T'wolves away by a final score of 128-86.
Howard's amazing work on both ends of the floor have allowed him to excel not only this season but also in seasons prior, leaving no reason for anyone to wonder why everyone calls him Superman.
Of course he's made the list, but it's not because I like him but because he has earned it. After all, LeBron James is leading scorer in the NBA with his 1,015 points this season. It was suspected that LeBron James scoring numbers would take a dip because he was playing beside two other NBA All-Stars, and sure, his points per game average is the lowest since his rookie season, but it is still in the top three in the NBA.
James still demonstrates his acute passing and rebounding abilities on a nightly basis and averages about seven per game in each category. His ability to produce not only points but grab rebounds and find the open man make him a prime candidate for racking up triple-doubles, of which he already has three this season.
Although LeBron James is wearing a new jersey and a new number, he is apparently still the James of old, but with his new weapons and his improved three-point shooting percentage, he may be even a little better than ever.
The Black Mamba is always ready to strike, and this season has been no different. Kobe Bryant only needs one more championship ring to catch up with Sir Michael Jordan, and his play this season shows he is still hungry and that sixth ring may be about to land itself on his finger.
As usual, Bryant is a potent threat in the Los Angeles Lakers offense. His 1,009 points scored this season is second only to LeBron James, and Bryant has 12 games with 30 or more points. As always, Bryant is very efficient, shooting a high percentage from the field, beyond the arch and the free-throw line, making him one of the most elite scorers in the game.
With Bryant manning the helm and a talented crew surrounding him, there is no reason the Los Angeles Lakers cannot three-peat...again.
As usual, Dwyane Wade is at it again. He can score with the best of them and is averaging close to 25 points per game which puts him in the top five in the league in that category. Wade has played 12 games this season in which he has scored 30 or more points, including two, games in which he surpassed the 40-point mark.
Though Wade's scoring is the lowest it has been since the 2007-2008 season, the season is still young, and the rest is yet to be played out. Furthermore, he is rebounding at a higher rate than he ever has, averaging about 6.5 boards per game.
After getting off to a rough start, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh have proved there is indeed enough room for the three of them in Miami as they have taken the Heat to the very top of the Eastern Conference.
Derrick Rose is blossoming this season. In only his third season out of Memphis, he is averaging higher points, assist, steals and rebounding averages than ever before in his NBA career. Rose is averaging about 24 points, eight assists, one steal and four rebounds per contest. This season, Rose has scored at least 30 points in nine of the Bulls 38 games.
Rose's increased productivity in nearly every aspect of his game, along with help from his teammates, such as Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, have allowed the Bulls to climb to the top of the Central Division in the Eastern Conference. To me, it is apparent that Rose has truly phoned in this season so just for him I wrote this little poem:
Roses are red,
Derrick's Jersey is too,
I'm a believer,
How about you?
Before suffering a sprained knee, Dirk Nowitzki, a nine-time All-Star and a former league MVP was dialed in all season. He was averaging 24.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Nowitzki had six games in which he scored 30 or more points this season including a 42-point effort against the Detroit Pistons. Without him, the Dallas Mavericks are struggling to get things going and have dropped five of the seven games from which Nowitzki been absent.
Perhaps, it's the Mavericks organization who should phone in, perhaps so they can call a better doctor because it appears they need Nowitzki back on the court, and they need him as soon as possible.
Monta Ellis has demonstrated he is a legitimate scorer last season, and he picked up right where he left off when this season began. He started the season with a 46-point performance in a shootout against the Houston Rockets which boosted his Golden State Warriors to their first victory of the year. Since, Ellis has recorded two other 40-point performances and has had seven others in which he has scored 30 or more points.
On the defensive end, Ellis averages more than two steals per game which fixes him in the top three in the NBA in steals per game category which makes him a valuable asset on the defensive sides of the ball.
Ellis' high rates of productivity on the offensive end have allowed him in the top five players in the points per game category, and his efficiency from the field and from beyond the arch has made him a very valuable weapon to the Golden State Warriors who need as many weapons as they can get.
Chris Paul has always been one of the better point guards in the NBA since his arrival in the 2005-2006. He is usually a valuable option for fantasy owners because he can earn you points in a variety of ways—through his scoring, assists, and steals numbers.
Though Paul's numbers on the scoring end are his lowest since his rookie season and hover around the 16 points per game mark, he dishes out close to 10 assists per game which means he can still frequently pick up a double double. Also his 105 steals and 369 assists lead the NBA in both categories.
Although, he may not be scoring as much as he used to, Chris Paul has improved other facets of his game to make him a more well-rounded player and perhaps with time the scoring aspect of his game will return to his repertoire.
Unlike the reflection, the Texas sun's rays off a cowboy's spurs, there is nothing flashy about the San Antonio Spurs basketball team and the same can be said for Manu Ginobili.
He's not flashy, but he is indeed efficient. This season, Ginobili only has one 30-point game to his credit, but he does a fair amount of work for a veteran San Antonio team. He averages about 19 points per game this season which is the lowest of anyone on this list, but he does average close to two steals, six rebounds and five assists per game, and he is a very efficient shooter from everywhere on the floor. Though he may not be the most accomplished player on this list, I don't believe the Spurs would have the best record in the NBA had they been forced to play without him.