NBA Power Rankings: The Top 10 Players In The Western Conference
The West might not be highlighted as much as the East this year, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh electing to form a super team in Miami - all eyes will be on South Beach this coming year. Don't forget about the West, however, as you still might need to win 50 games just to get the 8th seed. Obviously, players still moved around in the West as well. Carlos Boozer left Utah (which seemed inevitable really), Amare departed Phoenix, and Carmelo Anthony and Tony Parker might soon form their own super-team with Stoudemire out East with the New York Knicks. So, while the East was the main thing people focused on this past off-season, don't you dare overlook the West for a second. Here are the top 10 players in the Western Conference:
No. 10: Monta Ellis (Golden State Warriors)
2009-2010 Stats: 25.5 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.0 rpg, 2.2 spg
You can make the case that Ellis’s stats are inflated due to where he plays, and you would be absolutely correct. Yes, the Golden State Warriors are an offensive machine, but Ellis is their main cog. While he turns it over more than he should (3.8 tpg), Ellis definitely deserves a spot in this list due to his confidence in his shot, and ability to get to the rack despite his relatively small size. You have to give a lot of credit to the Warriors for sticking with this guy and seeing him through, despite his somewhat troubled history with the team (after signing a max contract, he injured himself out on the water but lied to the team about it – they found out eventually) and the fact that he was less experienced coming straight from high school. Now, he is one of the top scorers in the game and one that has no problem taking ugly or horrible percentage shots. He has the green light to basically do whatever he wants in Golden State. So look out.
No. 9: Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs)
2009-2010 Stats: 16.5 ppg, 4.9 apg, 3.8 rpg, 1.4 spg
While his bald spot might have only further increased and his nose now may be a little longer than it usually is, Ginobili’s heart, fearlessness, and willingness to play any role that is asked of him is what earns him a spot on this list. He might not put up unbelievable stats for a whole season or get an MVP trophy in his lifetime, and he might have gotten off to a slow start during the first half of this last season, but what this guy did during the second half of the year was Hall of Fame player stuff. It is no question that he was the biggest reason why the Spurs made the playoffs and past the Mavs in the first round (before an unfortunate nose injury halted any chances the team had at a title run). He is just an incredible player, and even at the age of 33 he still throws his body around everywhere. You either love this guy for his tenacity or jump on the “he’s a flopper” bandwagon and hate whatever he does. In my opinion he is one of the most unique players to ever play this game, and one that possesses one of the most impressive resumes in basketball history.
No. 8: Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets)
2009-2010 Stats: 18.7 ppg, 10.7 apg, 4.2 rpg, 2.1 spg
Yes, he only played a little more than half a season last year. And perhaps he still might want out of New Orleans. Despite all this, Chris Paul is still one of the fastest, skilled, and undeniably important players in the NBA. The fact is the city of New Orleans needs Chris Paul badly, as he is one of the best point guards in the game and is nearly impossible to replace when he is not playing (as evidenced last year when the Hornets missed the playoffs). His 3-point shooting drastically improved this past year, he is still money from the foul-line, and his big heart drives the Hornets to victories. Now, with an athletic sidekick in Trevor Ariza and an energetic post presence in David West, the Hornets are primed for another playoff run. It all depends on Paul’s health, for the Hornets will go as far as he takes them. So although a lot of questions remain about Paul’s loyalty to the team and if he can remain healthy, as long as he is in a Hornets uniform, they will always be viewed as a formidable opponent.
No. 7: Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers)
2009-2010 Stats: 18.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.7 bpg
Gasol continued to further cement the fact that he is one of the best power forwards in the league this past year, helping the Lakers get their fifth title in the Kobe Bryant era. He has the full package. He’s a smart passer, has a nice mid-range shot, a brilliant mini-hook shot, has long arms that deflect passes and shots, and he rebounds extremely well. While you may not like him for his on-court antics (he tends to gripe for calls whenever he goes up for shots in the post), he is inescapably one of the most talented big men in the league. It looks like he is going to grow old with Kobe at this point, and that is excellent news for Lakers fans. The only question you can ask of this guy really is if the hunger is still there to win more titles. However, when you have Kobe Bryant as your leader, that should not be much of a concern, for if it is not there to begin the season, he will make you discover it soon enough.
No. 6: Brandon Roy (Portland Trail Blazers)
2009-2010 Stats: 21.5 ppg, 4.7 apg, 4.4 rpg
You have got to admire this guy after he tried to come back halfway through the Blazers first round series against the Phoenix Suns this past year. Even though he did not put up big numbers and looked tentative at times, at least he showed that he has a lot of passion for the game and desires to play through injuries if it means getting his team a win. So, although he does not fill up the stat sheet quite as much as some other players out West, Roy definitely deserves a spot here due to his sheer determination to play the game. He is already a terrific player, as he shoots well from the field, is an underrated passer, and rebounds average for his position. If he can increase his 3-point percentage (only 33 percent last year) he could prove to be nearly un-guardable. He already has a skilled mid-range game to go along with his cunning penetrating one. Like so many other teams, it all comes down to health. If the Blazers can ever stay healthy for a full season (I’m looking at you Greg Oden), they could potentially be the ultimate sleeper in the conference. Right now, it is anyone’s guess in terms if this team will ever take off or just remain respected but not feared.
No. 5: Deron Williams (Utah Jazz)
2009-2010 Stats: 18.7 ppg, 11.2 apg, 2.7 rpg, 1.2 spg
Williams has proven to be the ideal replacement for one John Stockton over time. He possesses the same sharp passing, shooting precision, and acute awareness of where his big men are at all times that Stockton did in his prime. While Al Jefferson may be no Karl Malone, you can bet you will see the two hook-up a lot during this year. Williams build is especially threatening, as a six-three, 207 pound point guard who muscles his way in for a lot of shots – he is not a fun cover by any stretch of the imagination. The best news for Jazz fans is that he is now entering the best years of his career at the age of 26. With the full confidence of Jerry Sloan behind him and a core of youngsters who are ready to play (keep your eye on Gordon Heyward this coming year), the Jazz might not as tough as they were last year (Carlos Boozer’s mid-range jump shot shall be missed), but you can bet they will still be right in the playoff mix when the end of the year comes around – and do not be surprised if you see Williams’ name in the MVP race as well, seeing he will have to up his play if the team hopes to remain respected.
No. 4: Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets)
2009-2010 Stats: 28.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.3 spg
Yeah, I know what you are thinking. “What! Look at his numbers, he is a beast and he should be in the top three at least!” While I respect that perspective, I disagree with it completely. Reason being Anthony has yet to get the Nuggets to one Finals appearance in his run with the team, which is tough to digest considering the amount of talent the Nuggets have. He puts up ridiculous numbers (although his 3-point percentage and turnovers could be better - small quibble), and he is definitely one of the perennial players in the league due to his strength and shooting. While it is irrefutable that Chauncey Billups is the emotional leader of the team, part of me believes that Anthony should start to become one as well, seeing Billups is entering the twilight of his career. Now, with rumors swirling about Anthony wanting to leave Denver for New York soon, one has to question if his heart is still with the Nuggets. The bottom line is that Anthony is still one of the best players in the league, but he is stuck in a tough spot considering the Nuggets’ current situation (they are simply not the same team without George Karl on the sidelines). Keep your eyes on Melo this year, it will be quite interesting to see if he steps up and takes control of the team with Chauncey, or if he appears indifferent and ready to move on to the Big Apple.
No. 3: Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)
2009-2010 Stats: 25.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.0 bpg
It always sucks to lose to your biggest rival when you are a number two seed and they are a number seven. People love to hate on Dirk for his lack of a defensive game, as well as some of his on-court actions (he is a very feisty player), but the fact is that he is one of the most unique and incredibly gifted offensive players the NBA has ever had. A seven-footer who can shoot from the outside as well as make extremely tough shots over opponents consistently, Dirk is as tough a cover in the league as Kobe. The bad news for him is that his window for a title is closing fast (some argue it is now permanently shut after the Mavs lost their grasp on a 2-0 lead in the 2006 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat), and he was obviously very distraught and confused after the Mavs lost out to the Spurs in the first round. Time will tell if he channels that anger and frustration into a positive for the Mavs. So yes, Dallas will have him for the rest of his career (recently signing him to a contract extension), but until Mark Cuban’s team can actually return to where they were in 2006, they will continue to be viewed as a great regular season team who chokes at the wrong times.
No. 2: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
2009-2010 Stats: 30.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.0 bpg
Honestly, we should have all seen this coming. Ever since the Thunder hired Sam Presti as their general manager, we should have been saying, “Yeah, this team is going to be really, really good in a couple years.” So there you have it, this is the year the Thunder will break out and become one of the best teams in the league and an immediate title contender. It is all thanks to their humble and freak of nature superstar Kevin Durant, who continues to hone his game and become better each year. The biggest reason why he is so special is that he knows he has to stay grounded in order to rise to the top some day (and you can bet he will). He is long and lanky, his jump shot is almost always wet, he rebounds extremely well for a guy of his build, and he has already shown he is dedicated to Oklahoma City (signing an extension this summer, all very quietly). Here is the most mind-blowing fact – he is only going to be 22 years old when the Thunder start their quest for a title this coming fall! How crazy is that? It is scary to think how much better he can become, but all we can do as fans is just sit back and watch.
No. 1: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)
2009-2010 Stats: 27.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.0 apg
Love him or hate him, Kobe Bryant just won his fifth ring with the team he once despised and ridiculed to no end this past summer. Sometimes the best players are the one that come with the most drama attached, and Kobe has certainly brought his share fair of that to Los Angeles. Despite some personal shortcomings, he is without a doubt one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball. His intensity, confidence (some say “arrogance”), and exceptional killer instinct have been what has led the city of L.A. to five titles in a relatively short time-frame. He is definitely a controversial figure who has proved to be hard to stomach at times (bashing Andrew Bynum and GM Mitch Kupchak behind their backs, and asking out of L.A. at one point in his career), but he is unequivocally the best player in the league even at the old age of 32, and there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the hunger to catch and potentially surpass Jordan’s mark of six championships has faded.