NBA’s Ten Best Players

Posted on October 20, 2011

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By Geoff Ratliff

On Tuesday evening, ESPN.com wrapped up their ranking of the top 500 players in the NBA by rolling out their final ten players throughout the course of the day. All of the rankings drew a ton of attention, but none more than Kobe Bryant at #7, followed closely by the predictable controversy over LeBron James being ranked #1. I had a short back and forth with a respected NBA fan and long-time friend of mine last night specifically about Kobe’s place, which prompted me to give some thought to my own top ten.

I want to be very clear that this is not a career achievement ranking. This is based on what one player I would most want on my team to lead me to a championship during the 2011-2012 season only, meaning that recent history and projected growth will be the primary factors behind my decisions. The list is not being graded on a curve because of the lockout, meaning that older players will not get a break because the season may only last 45-50 games versus a full 82 game campaign. Let’s do this.

10. Carmelo Anthony: ‘Melo sent out a Tweet the day ESPN ranked him outside the top ten expressing that he was clearly using this as a motivational tool. Look Blake Griffin is a fine talent, and had an incredible “rookie” season, but putting him ahead of a guy who has been to the playoffs each one of his seven NBA seasons, has National Title pedigree, and actually made the “Whose better Carmelo or LeBron?” debate a legitimate one during his first two to three seasons. But that’s all in the past and this is about now. While Melo’s game has not progressed to the point that many think it should, he’s still a far more versatile scorer than Griffin and a more reliable free throw shooter, key traits to have down the stretch of a tight playoff game.

9. Deron Williams: While a number of other competitors have leaped into the conversation over the past two seasons, Williams should still get serious consideration in any “league’s best point guard” debate. D-Will has been battle tested during the playoffs on some good but not quite great teams in Utah, and I know Jay-Z is praying that he will stick around Brooklyn long enough to lead the Nets back to respectability. For a point guard, there are no obvious flaws in Williams’ game.

 

8. Dwight Howard: If the point of ESPN’s list was simply to identify the 500 greatest talents in the league, then I can understand them putting Howard at #2. He is clearly the leagues best center and best defensive player, and has off the charts athleticism for a man of his size. However, this is no longer a center dominated league, and ultimately I can’t put the fate of my teams championship hopes in the hands of someone who can’t create his own shot, and can’t hit a free throw to save his life, let alone when the game is on the line. Howard can get you close, but the thing that’s held his recent Orlando teams from winning it all is a guy who can do the aforementioned things. He physically can’t do it, thus this ranking.

 

7. LeBron James: Probably think I ranked LeBron this low just to create false buzz or to seem contrarian, well you’d be wrong. LeBron is unquestionably the single greatest physical talent that this league has ever seen. Some might argue Wilt Chamberlain, but LeBron is competing in a league with far greater athletes than the NBA that Chamberlain dominated in the 50s and 60s, and is no less dominant himself. The fact that he has been unable to translate that into a championship yet is somewhat frustrating, but the way he has bowed out of the last two NBA playoffs is of greater concern to me.

Four years ago, nobody saw this coming. LeBron dropped twenty-five straight points on the Pistons on his way to snatching the Eastern Conference title away and leading a suspect Cavaliers squad to the 2007 NBA finals. We all thought a string of rings was on the horizon. Fast forward to his disappearing acts, first in the 2010 Eastern Conference semis against Boston and then in this years NBA finals against Dallas, and we are starting to see Tony Romo-like tendencies develop in Bron Bron. As a Cowboys fan, I know that this is not a good thing. Sure he could still turn it around and make his rightful claim to that #1 spot, but I gotta see it before I’ll believe it.

 

6. Kobe Bryant: Kobe is my favorite NBA player, so it pains me to rank him this low. I actually had to talk myself into putting him ahead of LeBron. Kobe’s issue just happens to be the exact opposite of LeBron’s in that the mental part of the game is head and shoulders above the rest of the league, but years of extended playoff runs have begun to betray him physically, so he simply can not do the things that his mind tells him to execute. Bryant has expanded his game over the past couple of years to account for his diminishing physical skills, but as much as I want to position the Black Mamba in my top five, 6 for 24 and the Dallas sweep are just too fresh on my mind.

 

5. Chris Paul: Perhaps no NBA player has had more team success with a weaker supporting cast than Paul over the past four seasons. After an injury riddled 2009-2010 season, Paul bounced back to play 80 games last season and while his numbers were down across the board, he still showed plenty of indications of why he’s considered the leagues best point guard. His basketball IQ is off the charts and his leadership skills are unquestioned. With a better supporting cast, he might have a chip or two himself by now.

 

4. Derrick Rose: Talk about going into Beast Mode! This kid’s progression simply exploded last year to literal MVP levels. I’m actually really confused about how the ESPN gurus put a twenty-three year old, reigning MVP, who took his team to the Eastern Conference Finals, at number eight on their list. Get at me about that one fellas. I know the guy has yet to develop a reliable jump shot, but neither has Dwayne Wade and he’s number three on their list so…Look, Rose isn’t quite at D-Wade level yet, which is why I have him here, but he’s not that far behind either.

3. Dirk Nowitzki: I’m hoping that whatever Dirk did to finally get that killer in him, he shares it with Tony Romo, because the Cowboys championship drought is getting unbearable. There’s no need for me to recap Dallas’ 2011 NBA playoff run; we all saw what happened.

 

 

2. Dwayne Wade: You could make a strong argument that Wade should be number one on this list. Though he plays a reckless brand of hoops, I still think he has one or two peak physical years left in him, and having LeBron as a running mate should allow him to pace himself a bit more during the regular season. Wade took the leap to an elite perimeter defender this year which was awesome to watch, but ultimately I’m keeping him at two because that outside shot is still prone to severe slumps, and he’s not an ice-the-game level free throw shooter either. I’m probably nitpicking, but if I’m not putting him at number one, then I have to, right?

 

1. Kevin Durant: It’s his time! There is no other player in the league I’d rather have leading my team to the Promised Land than Durant right now. Had Russell Westbrook not lost his God damned mind last season and forgotten his place in the “Watch the Throne” pecking order, we might have seen KD do his thing on the main stage last year. His off-season exploits in various pick up leagues are proof, including this 59 point performance against LeBron & Co. in the Melo/Goodman League:

The Kid has unlimited range, can take it to the rack, and shoots free throws better than anyone on this list not named Dirk. Besides his physical gifts, the guy has an infectious personality and is the type of player that teammates will rally around, exactly the kind of player you want to carry you to the Larry O’Brien trophy!

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