The 2010-2011 NBA Season has been a season of numerous storylines, from Amar'e Stoudemire reviving the Knicks and carrying them to a playoff position, as well as Chicago's own Derrick Rose putting the Bulls team on his broad shoulders and leading them to an impressive third place in the Eastern Conference.
Who could forget the "Three Kings" in Miami? What about the finally healthy Boston Celtics, or the phenomenal record of the league-leading San Antonio Spurs? Finally, (as if you haven't heard enough of it already) where will Carmelo Anthony land come February 24? Will he remain in Denver?
I think you get the point. This year has been unlike many others.
Blossoming talents are taking their games up to higher levels in the form of Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook and double-double machine Kevin Love. In addition, we have Blake Griffin, the superb rookie who has taken the NBA by storm; to the extent that we have completely forgotten Washington's No.1 draft pick John Wall, a brilliant rookie in his own right.
The league is stacked with NBA stars, and that is reflected in the All-Star line-ups this year. Such an accumulation of talent in an All-Star game hasn't been seen since the Michael Jordan days, when the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Isiah Thomas, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley were lacing up with the greatest player of all time (1987 All-Star game).
Now it's time to get down to the real talk. Forget all the storylines, don't worry about predicting this year's NBA Champions. For now, it is time to focus on the top 10 players in the NBA today.
Are you convinced now? Do you finally believe that Amar'e Stoudemire can get it done without Steve Nash? Well for all those who doubted him, who claimed he can "only dunk", never doubt him again.
Before you even decide to doubt his talent, just look at Phoenix's record. They aren't even a playoff team.
Amar'e is definitely deserving of a top 10 place in the league at the moment. He scores 26.2 PPG (tied for second), still rebounds well, pulling down 8.6 boards every game. Defense? How about 2.2 blocks a game, good for fourth in the NBA (OK I know blocks is not the fundamental measure of defense in the NBA, but the dude blocks the ball more than Dwight Howard—just sayin').
In fact, Stoudemire has been playing at such a high level that he was right up there with some of the best MVP candidates. That was until New York reverted back to their old ways, and they now only one game over .500 in the less competitive Eastern Conference.
Back to Stoudemire. STAT (as he is commonly known) set the franchise record for most consecutive 30 point games, surpassing Willie Nauls' record in 1962, averaging a ridiculous 33.9 PPG on .584 shooting in the process.
As far as power-forwards go in the NBA, I rank Stoudemire as second, and part of the reason he isn't first is his team's record. Amar'e also needs to develop defensively if he is to rank higher on the list in any case. He's an offensive powerhouse, but that isn't enough if you want to be recognized as one of the best players in the world.
PPG: 26.2, RPG: 8.6, APG: 2.7, BPG: 2.2, SPG: 1.0, FG%: 0.507, 3P%: 0.500, FT%: 0.787
The best power-forward in the NBA. Period. Dirk's been playing at a superstar level for a long, long time. His Mavericks team remains one of the best regular season teams in the NBA. Unfortunately, Nowitzki hasn't had much playoff success, and he disappointingly failed to perform in the last few games of the 2006 NBA Finals, leading to his teams' demise and an embarrassing 4-2 defeat to the Heat.
While many choose to blame Dirk, I blame the lack of real talent. Dirk puts up the numbers, performs in the clutch better than any other big man (and other players for that matter), but if the rest of his team cannot match his performances, what can he do?
This season has shown, more than any, how valuable Dirk is to the Dallas team. They started off the season at a sweltering pace, comfortably in second place behind the Spurs. Then, when he went down with injury, Dallas went down the Western Conference standings.
Now he's back, and Dallas went on a big winning streak. Not only that, but Nowitzki is shooting a brilliant 0.520 from the field. This is a guy who tends to play away from the basket.
Some of you may disagree with Dirk's ranking on this list. Why is he even in the top 10? For starters, Nowitzki can shoot from anywhere on the court. Three pointers, mid-range, in the paint, Dirk can do it all. One-legged fade away jumper? Routine. Game winners? Plenty. Dirk knows how to put the ball in the hoop, and especially when it matters most.
The "riDirkculous one" is a surefire Hall of Famer, and he deserves it for his effort night in, night out. His defense and rebounding is suspect, but he more than makes up for it with his "smoother than silk" offensive game. One of the hardest men to defend in the NBA is ninth on this list, and the former MVP belongs there. Period.
PPG: 22.6, RPG: 6.8, APG: 2.5, BPG: 0.8, SPG: 0.6, FG%: 0.520, 3P%: 0.405, FT%: 0.881
This selection is bound to raise a lot of debate. Nobody will question Derrick Rose's inclusion into this top 10 list (especially after witnessing his performances this year), but they may ask why he isn't higher. The best-point guard in the game is only eighth?
Except he isn't the best point-guard in the game (alright Bulls fans calm down). Yet.
Rose has done more with his Chicago Bulls team than ever imagined prior to the beginning of the season. $80 million signing Carlos Boozer missed a significant part of the beginning of the year. Did that affect Rose and the Bulls? Not in the slightest. Then, Joakim Noah went down with a serious injury (he is still injured). Are Rose and the Bulls suffering from the loss? Standings don't lie.
Neither do his statistics. D-Rose is ranked in the top 10 in scoring and assists per game (24.7 and 8.1 respectively). He is one of the fastest players in the league, one of the most exciting players and one of the hardest to defend against, especially when he is charging at the rim. As strong as a bull (pun intended) yet as graceful as a shark (on the ground? OK enough with the English literary techniques), Rose is one of the best at-the-rim finishers available.
The ever-improving guard was named a starter in the Eastern Conference All-Star team, ousting Boston's assist maniac Rajon Rondo.
What is so impressive about Rose this year? We all knew he had ability. We looked at the former No.1 draft pick. Strong. Fast. Great at the rim. Kid still needs to shoot better and find his teammates more regularly and more efficiently. Rose has worked on that aspect of his game, and it shows. Just look at the stats, because as I said, they don't lie.
PPG: 24.7, RPG: 4.4, APG: 8.1, BPG: 0.7, SPG: 1.0, FG%: 0.446, 3P%: 0.367, FT%: 0.834
No doubt the biggest story of the 2010-2011 season thus far. The 'Melo saga.....where will he end up? We only need to wait eight more days to see whether Anthony becomes a Knick, a Laker, or whether he decides to stay with Denver (at least 'till the end of the year).
Forgetting about the off-the-court issues, Carmelo still has had a great season statistically. He is still a potent scorer, averaging close to 25 PPG, and is rebounding the ball very well, especially for a small forward (7.6 RPG).
Although his team is sitting uncomfortably in the playoff race, they'll be relieved to know that their star player has averaged 29.0 PPG in his last ten. Good to see that despite all the speculation regarding the All-Star's future, 'Melo is still producing on the court. He still remains one of the toughest covers (if not the toughest) in the NBA.
Possessing heaps of strength, with a venomous first step, 'Melo is one of the most complete offensive players in the league. Defense, which was a concern, has improved somewhat, although that factor is a reason why he isn't mentioned in the same bracket as the LeBron James, Kobe Bryants and Dwyane Wades of this world.
One of his biggest strengths is his ability to hit big shots.
In fact, Carmelo Anthony already has fourteen game-winners to his name. Fourteen! I used to rank 'Melo higher in these lists, but as you will later see, there are players who have developed more quickly and have thus found themselves in higher places than Carmelo.
PPG: 24.9, RPG: 7.6, APG: 2.8, BPG: 0.6, SPG: 0.9, FG%: 0.449, 3P%: 0.336, FT%: 0.820
A healthy Chris Paul? Top four or five players in the league, no doubt. One wonders whether the injuries that caused CP3 to miss a ton of games the last few years have also led to lower production for good.
I've also noticed that he doesn't drive to the rim as much as he used to.
Nevertheless, CP3 is still the best point-guard in the league in my eyes. Deron Williams? Slumping. He isn't as all-rounded as CP3 is in the first place. The closest to Paul? Derrick Rose. But D Rose still needs to be more efficient (he takes a heck of a lot of shots), and he needs to play better defense. Chris Paul's stats may have dropped (reductions in PPG, RPG and APG), but his value to the Hornets team simply cannot be measured, even with the most sophisticated of measuring apparatus.
Besides David West, who else is a real threat on this New Orleans team (other than Paul of course)? Yeah, I thought so. Yet the Hornets still sit nicely in the middle of the pack in a tough Western Conference, and they'll be as hard a team as anyone in the first round of the playoffs.
Chris Paul is as good a floor general as I've seen in a while, reminiscent of some of the great point-guards who are hitting "old age" such as Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. His defense is excellent, as he leads the league in steals (2.5 a game). He still almost puts up double-digit assist numbers, and he still remembers how to score the ball.
His raw stats may have fallen, but he has impressive percentages from the free-throw line, three-point line as well as his overall field-goal percentage.
Hopefully Chris Paul can return to the form that led him to second place in MVP voting a few years back. There's not a player in the NBA I'd prefer to see comeback to his ultimate best.
PPG: 16.4, RPG: 3.9, APG: 9.7, BPG: 0.1, SPG: 2.5, FG%: 0.477, 3P%: 0.439, FT: 0.900
Kevin Durant was magnificent last year. He became an All-Star for the first time last year. He became the scoring champion, averaging 30.1 PPG. He signed an extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was loved and talked about by just about everybody.
So how did he respond this year? Well, firstly, the Thunder (who finished eighth last year) have cracked the top four in the Western Conference standings. KD is still the leading scorer, while averaging 28.9 PPG. However, it must be noted that a large chunk of OKC's success is down to the massively improved play of Russell Westbrook, who is not only an All-Star, but is also a candidate for Most Improved Player.
Back to Durant, who seems to fill up the score sheet as easily as anyone. He has unlimited range. His jump shot is sweeter than sugar, and too sour for the defense to handle. At 6'9"-6'10", he handles the ball as well as anybody, and he streaks down the court quicker than you might expect. His freakishly long arms are great for rebounds and even defense (although he struggles in that department).
People tend to use the phrase overrated nowadays to describe Durant, but you guys have to remember he is still very young, and this is only his fourth year in the NBA. He plays the game like he's a 10-year veteran.
Can Durant climb further up the rankings when we talk about the best players in the NBA. Of course? The future is bright when the likes of Derrick Rose, teammate Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin are still evolving. Durant is the best of the future (well we'll see how Griffin copes in the next few years), and it's up to him to improve. He could still work on his game offensively (scary huh?) and he needs to work on his defense.
For KD though, the sky is the limit.
PPG: 28.9, RPG: 7.0, APG: 2.8, BPG: 1.0, SPG: 1.1, FG%: 0.470, 3P%: 0.338, FT%: 0.880
Has anyone been as dominant as Dwight Howard this year? The Orlando big man has registered his best season to date, putting up big points and rebounding numbers (22.6 and 13.9 respectively), while continuing to be a monster on defense.
The reigning defensive player of the year decided at the end of last season that if he was to be even more dominant, he would need to develop his offensive game. Up 'till then, Dwight had a very limited game, a lack of variation in the post and was mostly feasting on the misses from his own team. He sought assistance from NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon, and is consequently reaping the benefits from his offensive expansion.
Yes, he still struggles from the free-throw line, which encourages defenders to foul him if they can't stop him fairly. Other than that, you cannot fault Dwight Howard's game. His offensive skills have augmented at rapid rates, his defense is excellent as usual, he's very strong, very quick and his athleticism is off the charts. If only he wasn't under-sized.
It hasn't been the most successful of regular seasons for Orlando, who find themselves fifth in the East, behind Atlanta and the Chicago Bulls. Howard has done everything he can for the team, but the three ball isn't going in as often as it once did, making it difficult for Orlando to win games, and making it difficult for Howard to do it all by himself.
Despite some of the problems the Magic are facing, Howard is a definite MVP candidate this year. His offensive game and defensive capabilities merit that. Whether he will win or not is a different question. For now, Dwight Howard is a regular fixture in the top five players in the NBA.
PPG: 22.6, RPG: 13.9, APG: 1.2, BPG: 2.1, SPG: 1.2, FG%: 0.588, 3P%: 0.000, FT%: 0.581
When LeBron James and Chris Bosh "took their talents to South Beach", people were never sure who was the alpha dog of the team. Well, you could rule Chris Bosh out. He was always going to be the third option. It was between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Well with the way both James and Wade have played this year, the answer has to be both.
To all the Miami Heat fans who have witnessed seven years of fantastic play by Dwyane Wade leading up to this season, many of them will find it hard to see anyone else but Wade being the alpha dog. While Wade has had a terrific year, even with Bosh and James on the floor, LeBron is undoubtedly their best player.
Anyways, Wade has experienced a drop in stats, but that's no surprise. In fact, all three All-Stars have experienced the same results. Wade still averages 25.3 PPG (0.2 less than his career average), but he rebounds better (6.9 RPG) while assisting less as he shares ball-handling duties with LeBron and the point-guards (4.4 APG).
He remains one of the best shot blocking and defensive guards in the league. His ability to finish at the rim is second to none. His speed and ability to change direction is flawless. In any other team (except the Heat and the Lakers), he is the undeniable first option. Not that it bothers him anyways.
He has always been in this year's MVP discussions, when there were talks earlier of him and LeBron possibly sharing the trophy. Not likely to happen, and I don't see any of them winning it in any case, simply because they play with one another.
Wade has been the third best player in the league for a while now. He may stay that way for the rest of his career.
PPG: 25.3, RPG: 6.9, APG: 4.4, BPG: 1.0, SPG: 1.3, FG%: 0.496, 3P%: 0.314, FT%: 0.735
Kobe Bryant second in the NBA? Seems weird doesn't it? Well with the season that the guy in front of him is having, I have no choice but to believe that Bryant is no longer the top dog in the NBA. But don't worry Lakers fans, you all know Kobe saves his best for the playoffs.
Bryant is still having a good year, a year that is almost symmetrical to the rest of his career. Bryant will want to make sure, however, that he has his Lakers in a good position heading into the postseason, or else the defending champions might have some struggles in the playoffs, and with the way some of the results have gone against them this year, who could bet against an upset?
Kobe still remains the most complete player in the NBA in my opinion. A shooting guard with the ability to facilitate, with the ability to hit shots anywhere from the floor, in any manner possible. Kobe is still one of the best defensive players around, although his outstanding offense often makes people forget about the determined dog on the other end of the floor.
His jump shot is oh so beautiful, and so deadly at the same time. Fade aways, step backs, turn arounds, you name it. Kobe has it. Age has got the better of his athletic side, where he can no longer play head above the rim. Unlike others who would have lost their talents completely once they got older, the Black Mamba found a way to develop his game to comfortably mesh with what he can do at this age.
Bryant was clearly the best player for the last decade, and there isn't a person that you would want taking the final shot ahead of Kobe. When the spotlight is turned on bright, Kobe shines brighter. He may be second ranked at the moment, but will we be saying the same when a new champion is determined in June?
PPG: 25.3, RPG: 5.2, APG: 4.9, BPG: 0.1, SPG: 1.2, FG%: 0.463, 3P%: 0.319, FT: 0.826
By the time I named no.2, I think we all knew who belonged on the throne (pun intended). Of course, none other than the self-proclaimed 'King', LeBron James. Villain of the NBA? Doesn't bother him one bit. It fuels him. Pushes him. Makes him better.
His stats may have taken a hit from his days as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he still puts up the best complete numbers in the NBA. It isn't even close. The reigning MVP and two-time winner of the Maurice Podoloff trophy should be within the top three competitors or so for this year's MVP award. As I said with Dwyane Wade however, he is unlikely to win it, simply because he has Dwyane Wade (and Bosh) alongside him, and one wonders whether people would like to see him pick up the award for the third time in a row.
James already has a 50+ point game this season to add to his collection of outstanding games. But it wasn't the points that caught my eye, it was the assists he had with it. Is it possible to score 51 points, collect 11 rebounds and dish 8 times? Ask Dwight Howard and the Magic. It's what LeBron James is all about, and it's why he's the best player in the league today.
He scores as well as anyone, he is built like a freight train with the speed of a road runner. His game is as complete as a new pack of cards. A 6'8 small forward who's play is reminiscent of Magic Johnson in that they were the same size and excellent play makers. LeBron still needs to develop a post game. He is too powerful to ignore it.
How about his defense? A VIP in the NBA first team defense, one of the better defenders in the league, although he isn't quite as good as some of the other stars on this list. His defense is good enough however, and if he continues to perform at this level, there's no reason why the 'King without a ring' cannot finally get crowned.
PPG: 26.1, RPG: 7.3, APG: 7.3, BPG: 0.6, SPG: 1.6, FG%: 0.486, 3P%: 0.349, FT%: 0.762