From Blake Griffin to LeBron James: The NBA's Current Top 10 Players
Those who have been following ESPN's NBA Player Rankings should be aware that they are down to deciding the top 10 after announcing the players ranked 11 through 15 last Friday.
And for those who haven't been following, here are the 10 remaining players yet to be ranked (in alphabetical order): Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams.
Some noticeable names missing off this list are Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers (No. 11), Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks (No. 12 and 13) and Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies (No. 20).
In the next few days, ESPN will release their official top 10 list. This list will certainly be looked at up and down and will be either praised or scrutinized for what is ultimately a pretty subjective idea.
So, what am I going to do? That's right, make my own subjective list to be praised or scrutinized.
Basing my rankings on both offensive and defensive talent, level of importance to their team and ability to make me laugh via Twitter posts*, here are the current top 10 players in the NBA (using the 10 players ESPN has remaining).
*This really wasn't a criteria. If it was, Blake Griffin would be a clear cut winner.
10: Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers)
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2010-2011 Stats: 22.5 points per game, 12.1 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game; PER: 21.93
First of all, I absolutely love that Blake Griffin, after only one season in the NBA, has already garnered enough recognition to be considered one of the ten best players in the NBA.
If Griffin keeps developing at a high rate, within a few seasons he will be a definite top five player in the NBA.
However, with that being said, there's no reason to put him over the other nine guys in this list right now. He had a ridiculous rookie campaign, which was mostly due to his talent, but how much of it was really just playing on a team like the Clippers?
Don't get me wrong, I think the Clippers actually have a talented young roster, but Griffin was the team's catalyst, especially while Eric Gordon was shelved with injuries. Even with a talented young roster, Griffin was only able to carry his team to a 32-50 record.
That's only three more wins than the year previous, which was played without Griffin.
There's no doubt that Griffin is an offensive juggernaut, even though he could spruce up his mid-range game just a bit, but what he really needs to improve on is defense. For how athletic he is, Griffin should be averaging more than 0.5 blocks per game and 0.8 steals per game.
Griffin is going to be one of the league's top players for years to come, let's just hope he doesn't follow the Amar'e Stoudemire path and forget about the defensive side of the ball.
9: Deron Williams: New Jersey Nets
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2010-2011 Stats: 20.1 points per game, 10.3 assists per game, 4.0 rebounds per game; PER: 21.19
The good news is that Williams is one of just three point guards listed as a top 10 player. The bad news is that he is the highest rated point guard at number nine.
He is undoubtedly one of the most complete players in the league, as he is able to score, dish, rebound well for his height, and play hard on defense when he wants to. He's done all this while leading his teams into the playoffs as well.
During his five year stint in Utah, Williams led his team into the playoffs four times. Unfortunately, Williams was never able to lead his team past the Western Conference Finals.
Now that Williams is in New Jersey (or should I say Brooklyn?), I feel like his player ranking, more than any other player, has the ability to change drastically by the time next season rolls around.
During 12 games with Nets last season, Williams averaged 15 points and 12.8 assists per game. His point average decreased six points from Utah to New Jersey, but his assists per game went up by almost one.
This could be due to adjusting to a new system, but I feel like Williams has a lot more pressure on him playing for New Jersey. The Nets traded specifically for Deron Williams in hopes that he would propel them into a playoff-caliber team.
Once the lockout is over, I'm sure the Nets will try their hardest to get another piece for Williams to work with, but for now, it's all him and Brook Lopez.
Will he succeed and thus challenge even harder for "best point guard in the league" status, or will he ultimately fail, diminishing his chances of being in the top 10 player rankings for next season?
I feel safer with the latter.
8: Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls)
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2010-2011 Stats: 25.0 points per game, 7.7 assists per game, 4.1 rebounds per game; PER: 23.62
This is where it gets really, really difficult. I can't argue at all with who ended up in the top eight, but ranking them is a different story.
I'm very aware that I'm ranking Derrick Rose at number eight even after getting the MVP award, and being the main reason for the Chicago Bulls' success last season, but here's why:
It could be argued that Derrick Rose is the best point guard in the league, but really it's only true if we're talking about offense, and even then I'm still skeptical. After averaging 25 points per game last season, Rose, on paper, looks pretty great.
He is without a doubt the best slashing point guard in the NBA. He can get to the rim at will and he finishes after contact better than almost anyone, but what about his perimeter game? Rose shot almost five threes per game last season, 4.8 to be exact, and he did have his best three point average of his career.
However, that was still only good enough for a 33 percent success rate. This ranks him thirtieth in the NBA when it comes to point guards' three-point percentages. For point guards who shot at least five threes per game, Rose is fifth behind Stephen Curry, Chauncey Billups, Kyle Lowry and Jason Kidd.
That argument may sound nit-picky, but you have to be if you're trying to rank these top eight guys. Also, Rose could definitely improve his defense, as he averaged only one steal per game last season, but I feel like a lot of that can be attributed to having to do so much offensively for the Bulls.
And even though Rose did have to do so much for his team, his PER is still the second least of any top eight player in this list. For stat buffs, that's kind of a big deal and one of the reasons why many believed the MVP belonged to either LeBron James or Dwight Howard.
Regardless, Rose ranks in at number eight on this list, just because the other seven are that good. If Rose has another season that mimics his last, he is definitely in the running for top five, maybe even top three status.
7: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)
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2010-2011 Stats: 25.3 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game, 4.7 assists per game; PER: 23.94
"First Derrick Rose at number eight and now Kobe at number seven?! Who is making this list?!"
I know, I know. I'm going to get some grief for putting Kobe Bryant at number seven, I'm sure. It's just, like Rose, I couldn't justify putting Kobe ahead of the guys who are in front of him.
Kobe is one of the best players in the history of the game. He's the closest thing to Michael Jordan we've seen, and will likely see for quite some time. Granted, the argument can be made that Jordan was more like Dwyane Wade, but I tend to see it a bit differently.
He is the fiercest competitor in the NBA, and likely the hardest-worker. Offensively, Kobe has always been one of the best in the league. He can hit a shot from anywhere on the floor, and he actually may have the best post-moves on the Lakers' roster.
Unlike many stars, Kobe isn't just an offensive powerhouse; he is also an admirable defender. He has been selected to 11 All-Defensive NBA teams, including nine All-Defensive First Team selections.
So how is he only number seven? Let's face it, Kobe is getting old, and he's just not the same Kobe he was a few seasons ago.
His steals were down to 1.2 per game last season, which was the third-lowest total of his career. He was outplayed by teammate Pau Gasol more times in the regular season than the opposite, so his "importance to his team" factor took a slight hit, and he was almost run out of the first round of last year's playoffs despite having a far superior team.
That didn't seem to matter, though, because the Lakers were then run out of the playoffs by the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks in the second round.
I have all the respect in the world for Kobe and what he's done while he's been in the league, he's just not the best player anymore.
6: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
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2010-2011 Stats: 27.7 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game; PER: 23.70
When Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant aren't even in the top five, you know that the talent level in the NBA is ridiculous.
As an Oklahoma City Thunder fan and huge Durant supporter, it almost pains me to leave him out of the top five. However, I couldn't let my heart outweigh my brain, and the guys in front of Durant are just more polished—right now.
Four seasons into his career and Durant has already won two scoring titles (2010 and 2011), and it doesn't appear like he's going to give up the title for quite some time. His biggest competition will be Carmelo Anthony, but if the New York Knicks sign another star after the lockout is over (if that will even be possible), Durant could make a run for Michael Jordan's record (10).
At one time, Durant was only a scorer. In the past two years, Durant has really improved on both his rebounding and his defense. His stats took a slight hit overall last season, but that was due to the emergence of Russell Westbrook as a star and the improvement of Serge Ibaka.
There are still a few areas of Durant's game that definitely need worked on, though. For example, at 6'9" with a 7'5" wingspan, Durant is a tough cover for most small forwards. Even though he is rather skinny, developing a post-game, like Bryant has, would even further his offensive prowess.
Durant could also be a better defender, but I feel like that can be said for most players in the NBA. What Durant really has to work on is his killer instinct. Instead of pulling up for a 20-25 foot jumper at the end of the game, why not drive to the basket?
Durant could get fouled every time he goes to the basket, but instead, he settles for off-balanced jumpers to try to win games. That's just because he doesn't have that killer mentality yet.
Hopefully that's something that will come in time, and there's no doubt that Durant is the most relied on/important player on the Thunder's roster. But for now, Westbrook is the on-the-floor leader for the Thunder, as he is the only one who has developed the killer instincts a real leader needs.
5: Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)
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2010-2011 Stats: 23.0 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game; PER: 23.52
I can almost guarantee that Dirk Nowitzki will not be in ESPN's top five. I'm sure that Rose, Bryant or Durant will end up taking the number five spot, but Dirk gets the nod on my list.
The obvious knocks on Dirk are simple: defense and post-game. As an incredibly athletic, seven-foot power forward, Dirk should be a better defender than he is. Dirk averaged only 0.6 blocks and 0.5 steals per game last season.
However, what can't be taken away from Dirk is his versatility and his importance to his team. The Dallas Mavericks would have gotten nowhere without Dirk last season. He is the reason for the Mavs beating the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat in the postseason.
His NBA Finals MVP wasn't unjustified, and he should be in consideration for the league MVP every season.
He is the most unguardable seven-footer in NBA history. He shot 39 percent from deep last season, and he has the athleticism to perform dribble drop-steps to both sides of his body.
Then there's the patented fade-away. Who can stop Dirk's fade away? Nobody. That's why when he's on, his team has a huge advantage in any game. He doesn't necessarily need a "true" post-game because he can hit turn-around fade-aways with ease.
Dirk's fantastic playoff run almost acted like proof to the world that he has been underrated for his entire career. I'm not sure if I entirely agree with that, but it definitely didn't hurt.
Dirk comes in at number five on this list, and I'll go ahead and say it: he is the best power forward in the NBA.
It's funny how my top five played out, because every person plays a different position. Let's move ahead to the NBA's best shooting guard...
4: Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat)
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2010-2011 Stats: 25.5 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game, 4.6 assists per game; PER: 25.65
Move over, Kobe. It's Dwyane Wade's turn to be the league's best shooting guard. In all honesty, Wade may have been the best shooting guard for the last few seasons, but I think it's finally okay to say it out loud.
There is nobody better in the league at getting to the basket and either getting fouled or finishing after contact. His fearless nature makes him one of the most difficult covers in the NBA, but it also makes him more susceptible to injury.
Wade has yet to play a full season in the NBA, but when he is on the court, he is an impact player on both sides of the ball. Not only is he great offensively, but his athleticism and quickness make him one of the best defenders in the league.
He has made the All-Defense Second Team three times (2005, 2009, 2010), though he continually plays like a first teamer. The same can be said about All-NBA First Team, which Wade only has two of, as well (2009, 2010). With Bryant still relevant, Wade has gotten "snubbed" more times than not.
Wade has always been the heart and soul of the Miami Heat, and with LeBron James in town, not much has changed. It is still Wade's team, he's just not the most productive player on the roster anymore.
Although, it really is a thin line between the two.
3: Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets)
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2010-2011 Stats: 15.9 points per game, 9.8 assists per game, 4.1 rebounds per game; PER: 23.76
If you were starting a franchise and had the option of picking a player to build around, there are three options to look into: the best overall player in the league, the best big man in the league, or the best point guard in the league
Say hello to the best point guard in the NBA, and no, his name isn't Derrick Rose. Chris Paul has been the best all-around point guard the league has had for quite some time.
Let's start with defense for a change. Paul is without a doubt, hands down, the best defending point guard in the league, possibly the best defending guard. He has quick hands that swipe away dribbles better than any other player in the league.
He's of the Ron Artest mold, meaning that he's such a good defender, he normally draws criticism for being a "dirty" player.
He has also always been known as a great passer, and his stats back that up. Over the past five seasons, Paul has finished in the top four in assists per game in the entire league. This is even more remarkable due to the lack of a supporting cast Paul has had around him.
Yeah, David West is a good complimentary player, but he is the only competent scorer Paul has had around him on a full-time basis. Without West, Paul should be useless, right? I mean, who else would help him?
Well, let's just say that Paul handled himself pretty well without David West during last season's playoffs. Even though his Hornets were ousted in the first round, Paul was able to carry his team seven games against the defending champion Lakers.
Paul's 15.9 points per game average was the lowest it's ever been during a regular season, but all that changed in the playoffs. Paul upped his scoring average to 22 points per game, his assist average to 11.5 per game and his rebound average to a remarkable 6.7 per game.
Paul is great in every asset of the game.
2: Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic)
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2010-2011 Stats: 22.9 points per game, 14.1 rebounds per game, 2.4 blocks per game; PER: 26.13
Dwight Howard comes in at number two on this list because he is, without a doubt, the best big man in the league, and will be for a long time to come.
Howard gets the nod over Paul on this list because, while Paul holds a tremendous amount of importance to his team, Howard really sets the bar high in that category.
The entire offense and defense in Orlando runs through Howard. On the offensive end, Howard doesn't necessarily have the post-moves of Pau Gasol or Luis Scola, but he is sound. The obvious knock is his free throw shooting, which is an abysmal 60 percent.
However, like Shaquille O'Neal, Howard is just another great big man who has one glaring flaw. If he somehow could improve on that, he would literally be unstoppable. Right now, that's the only way to defend him.
Howard ranked first in attempted free throws last season with 916. Blake Griffin came in second with 695. That's a ridiculous stat.
On the defensive end, Howard is the most imposing defender in the league. Nobody wants to drive the lane when Howard is in the paint. His defensive prowess has produced three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards for him, and it might be awhile before he gives up that crown.
For all the John Hollinger fans out there, Howard also had the number two PER in the league last season. This is just more proof for Howard's importance to his team.
Who had the number one PER? Only the best player in the league...
1: LeBron James (Miami Heat)
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2010-2011 Stats: 26.7 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game, 7.0 assists per game; PER: 27.34
The best player in the NBA, despite his performance (or lack thereof) in the NBA Finals, is LeBron James. It will continue being LeBron James as long as he stays healthy.
There's just nobody else in the league that can do as many things as he can, while doing them as well as he can. His PER was tops in the league and almost two full points higher than his teammate Dwyane Wade.
There was a thought that his stats would likely slide last season while sharing the ball with two other stars, but they stayed relatively true to what he's been accomplishing. His points per game total was slightly down, his assists were down by one, but his rebounding went up and his steals stayed the same.
He was still producing at an MVP-level. He had a great shot at winning his third-straight MVP last season, but Derrick Rose edged him out. Was it because Rose actually had a better season (not statistically), was it because he was actually more valuable to his team than LeBron (not statistically), or was it because Rose was too good of a story to pass up?
The latter is the most likely, but I don't want to take anything away from what Rose was able to accomplish in Chicago last season. The guy was incredible, carrying his team to the best record in the East. It's just LeBron and even Dwight Howard had more MVP-like seasons.
They were the most valuable and the most talented, which is a good reason they are number one and number two respectively on this list.
For all the LeBron haters who will point out his terrible Finals performance, I pose one question: Who carried the Heat all the way to the Finals?
There's only one true answer, and his name is LeBron James. Wade stepped up in the Finals, yes, but until then, he was a definite second-fiddle to LeBron.
LeBron is a 6'8" athletic freak. He can run the floor as well as anyone in the league, he can pass, he can actually dribble well, he can rebound, and the guy plays really good defense.
He hustles just as much as any star in the NBA. When you take all that in, remember that he is only 26 years old.
There's nobody you'd rather start a franchise with. He is the most talented player on the planet. He will be number one on ESPN's Player Rankings. There's just no questioning his ability.