Friday, September 29, 2006

The Ten Best Players in the NBA.

Did you know NBA training camp starts in, like, a week? Totally does. I had no idea. In honor of me not knowing that, here are Point 23's Top 10 Best Players in the League.

Full disclosure: ranking the best ten players in the NBA isn't exactly an original idea, but the inspiration came from Dime Mag's Top 10, via True Hoop. Oh, and Jones on the NBA ranked his, too. And um, Bench Renaldo had one. Whew.

Come on, I'm gonna read all those and not throw my two cents in?

So how are we defining best? Best one-on-one player? Best team player? "If You Were Starting a Team Today...?" Most unstoppable? Best scorer? Best all around player? Most valuable? How 'bout we define it like this: "best." There, that was easy, wasn't it? One thing we won't be doing is using stats, I can tell you that much. You aren't better because you average 29.4 and I average 27.3.

Toughest Omissions: AI, 'Melo, KG, Agent 0, Paul Pierce, CP3, Dwight Howard, Elton Brand, Kirk Hinrich (I know, I know...leave me alone). I'm really, really sorry fellas. I still got your backs though (pounds chest twice, points). You know who wasn't tough to leave off? Shaq. If we were making a "Top 10 Greatest Complimentary Players in the NBA," he'd be a lock for No. 1. Onto the list...

10. Ron Artest. Let's start with a little controversy, eh? He's the most unique player in the NBA, bar none. Complete wrecking crew on the defensive side, and then a tough matchup on the offensive side. He'll get you 20 a game, and take 20 away from the other teams best player. How many guys in the L are worth 40 points a night to their team? Not many.

The Kings went from an after ran to nearly knocking off the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference in the playoffs just by adding him. He's felt all over the court - literally.

For an opponent, there can't be a more frustrating person to play against. He would completely get in your head on defense, that's a given. But on offense, he looks so goofy. He pats the ball rather than dribbling it; he doesn't craddle the ball, he just kind of smacks at it. He's so unorthodox. He's the kind of guy you'd hate giving up 20 points to, more so than a "normal" looking player, if that makes any sense.

The fact that he's a headcase who has a very real chance of doing something that may get him permanently banned is a mild concern yes (and by mild I mean huge), but I think he's worth it.

9. Yao. Silently, the best center in the L. And silently is the key word here, because his lack of a killer instinct is kind if disheartening. There's really no reason he shouldn't score 30 every night. Yea, 30. That said, his skill set is pretty impressive - short jumpers, some over-the-shoulder moves, deft passer (I love deft passers, but why are only passers are deft? Why aren't there any deft shooters? Or deft ballhandlers?) and shot changer around the basket. Besides Shaq, I think he's the only center even worth while.

8. T. Mac.
Mr. Sad Guy is the complete package. We're talking ideal circumstances here: his back doesn't go out and he stays happy all season long.

If God was going to design a basketball player, T. Mac is it. Long as hell, athletic as hell, range he doesn't even need. How easy does he make basketball look? Does he even sweat? Remember how Artest seems like the kind of guy you'd be furious to let score 20 on you? T. Mac seems like the kind of guy who could drop 35 on you and you wouldn't even be that mad.

He gets knocked for taking a lot of off balance jumpers, and the fact that he hasn't really won anything yet (that "its nice to be in the second round" comment will forever haunt him), but he is a winner: remember those four 3's in under a minute against San Antionio? Unreal. But still...maybe the reason him and Yao haven't really won anything is because both of them lack that killer instinct. This seems like a big season for the both of them, though. I'll be excited to see big things out of them.

7. Amare. Hey look, its Stevie's teammate. Amare's skills are still pretty raw, I think (all things being relative), but he's so uber-ridiculously-freaky athletic that he could have the coordination of Shawn Bradley and it wouldn't matter. You literally just give him the ball on the elbow, he fakes one way, goes the other, takes one dribble and two steps, and just crushes it. He's absolutely unguardable, and he doesn't even really have any moves. (OK, that's kind of unfair. He has some moves, but I don't think you'll see him do the Dream Shake or bust out Kevin McHale's up-and-under any time soon.) And its not like people are even playing his jumper - how thrilled do you think everyone would be if he shot 20 15-footers every game? They know what he's doing and they are still helpless.

Sitting out the majority of last season hurts his cause though. Once he gets back to 100%, he'll likely move up the list. I'm sure he's very concerned with that.

5. Steve Nash. The two-time MVP is far and away the best point guard in the league. He's really playing differently than any other point guard; he sees and reacts to things differtly. Whether he makes the system or the system makes him is really irrelevant at this point: the production can't be ignored. He got criticized as not being MVP-worthy (um, not by me or anything...) because he wasn't a pure scorer but more a distributor.

Nash can dominate a game in two ways, though: in the open court and transition, where there isn't anyone better, not even Jason Kidd. And in the half-court, he dominates the ball and directs traffic flawlessly. He'll literally hold the ball for the entire shot clock, and then at the last second find someone for a layup or open 3. Its uncanny.

Look how far he took a shallow Suns team in the playoffs - his second best player is the wildly over rated Shawn Marion and after that its a couple of foreign guys nobody quite wanted. Kinda remarkable, no? And yea, those guys are perfect for that system. But Nash is the reason why.

5. Dirk Nowitzki.You know what I like? When a player gets criticized for a weakness in their game and then goes out and shuts everyone up. Dirk got hammered for being a soft jump shooter, so he made it his personal mission to crash the boards - especially on offense - and put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, especially in the playoffs. Throw in his clutch shooting and his little temper tantrums (they are so adorable, Dirk), and we may have a monster on our hands for years to come. As long as he doesn't take his contract money and pull a Shaun Alexander, that is.

Now, those last six players are highly, highly debatable. There's a ton of players you could throw in there and it wouldn't be absurd: see Omissions, Toughest. (I can't believe I left Iverson off this list. I really can't.), probably some more. These next four though, I think, have to be considered the best four players in the League. Some Nash apologist will claim the two-time MVP should be here, but I don't think so. These are the top four, and that's pretty indisputable. Shuffle them around in any order - that's cool - but these have to be the top four. Have to be.

Think of it this way: of the six guys we mentioned above - or anyone else for that matter - could you make a convincing argument that they are the best player - bar none No. 1 - in the entire NBA? Absolutely not. Could you me that same argument for the next four guys? Most certainly. That seems like a good dividing line to me.

4. Tim Duncan. He's really good. Fundamental as hell. Moves and counter moves galore. Automatic double team, and he's patient and successful out of it.Pretty much an automatic deuce every time he touches it. I don't feel like talking about him though. Let's get to the Big Three.

3. D Wade. Absolutely impossible to guard on the perimeter. He gets to the rim like its his job (maybe cuz it is), and has a remarkably high success rate of finishing around the basket. Since refs love him like he's the son they never had, he gets to the line at a ridiculous rate. If the refs don't call a foul on a D Wade drive, then he wasn't fouled. His foul line J is basically a layup, even after pump faking to get the defender in the air. From the free throw line and in, I don't know that there is anyone better in the league.

Farther out than that though, and things get a little dicey. His range is suspect, although he did flash some distance in the playoffs. Which is why I don't understand why more teams don't go under the ball screens the Heat set for him; wouldn't you rather he launched a three or long J rather than slicing to the basket? And is there anyone in the league better at splitting the double-teams off the ball screen? Answer: No, there isn't.

Wade's height and help keeps him locked at the No. 3 spot, though. The two players ahead of him just out-tall him, which just makes them tougher to handle. Plus the next two guys both play on clearly inferior teams, which changes how they are guarded. They are without a doubt the focal points of their offenses. Playing with Shaq, Wade enjoys a benefit and a luxury that the next two guys don't get to enjoy. Not really Wade's fault, but still. He can fall down seven times and stand up eight. No one else can do that. (Know why? Cuz its impossible. D Wade can literally do the impossible.)

2. LeBron. There is no bigger LeBron apologist than me, and I really don't enjoy Kobe all that much, so this hurts a little. That said, he's still just the second best player in the L. Not that that's the worst thing in the world.

LeBron is the basketball equivalent of a five-tool player in baseball. He can shoot, get to the rim, pass with the best of them, post-up, and excel in transition. He's clearly superior at some of these aspects than others; no one is tougher one-on-one in transition and his ability to get to the rim is on par with the best in the league, and you'd be hard pressed to find a better, more creative passer in the league (its considerably easier to find open people when four guys are guarding you, but when you're teammates can't catch, it kind of evens things out). Yea, he can shoot, but it isn't really a reliable weapon - yet. And his post up game is raw, consisting mainly of him banging a few times and then elevating over his defender - and there isn't anyone he can't elevate over. His athleticism and his natural build really give him a weapon that not many people can fall back on. And for right now at least, that's more than anyone in the L can handle.

Still, his effort on the defensive end is questionable at best. Its not that he can't lock up - he just doesn't sometimes. And he's been knocked for being to passive (I'm not buying it, but still). You can't really knock his effort as a teammate, he defers almost - almost - to a fault. In a few years, he could be a player the likes of which they L has never seen (was that dramatic enough for you?). He's not quite there yet - he's close - but not quite there yet.

1. KB8. I mean KB24 (thank you, Biz). Kobe is the best player in the league, and its not even debatable. This isn't to say he should win the MVP or that I like him (I try, I really do) or that I agree with his off the court antics (fueding with Shaq; um...Eagle, Co.). But as a basketball player, he's the best the NBA has to offer. He's the prototype.

The Mamba really has no weaknesses. Pressure him on the perimeter and he's getting to the rim before you are even in your stance. Back off, and its buckets - from, like, really far away, too. He handles double-teams better than anyone in the league - which I guess makes sense, since he sees more of them than anyone in the league. His post up game is ridiculous, just an endless series of pivots and headfakes. And we haven't even gotten to his best move yet: his fadeaway, which he can get off over either shoulder, and either swish or bank it. When he misses, you're absolutely stunned, and when he does make it, the ball positively rips through the net - wap! He's clutch as hell, too. With the game on the line, there is no one else you'd rather have taking the shot - and frankly, its not even close. Dude is an cold-blooded assassin with ice water in his veins. (That's why he's cold-blooded, because of the ice in his veins, get it? He might be the first cold-blooded snake though. I'ma have to look into that.) Plus he can shoot left handed and is a beast on the defensive end of the court.

Here's what impresses me most about Kobe, and he's the only player in the NBA - at least that I've seen - that can consistently do it: Kobe will catch the ball on the wing, a step behind the three point line, with his defender draped all over him. He'll jab, headfake, ballfake, fake the drive, whatever - and get off a J. Here's the thing: He doesn't use a dribble, and gets wide open. I mean, the defender is staggering while Kobe is rising up, completely alone. How many other players can absolutely free themselves without even dribbling?

Kobe's passing gets knocked, but he's a more than able passer who would just rather take a tough shot than pass - and honestly, can you blame him? He actually had a solid number of assists for a 2-guard last season. His effort to be a good teammate is almost comically forced, like he read a manual on how to be a good teammate, tried to act it out, but is just convincing no one. His past seems to influence this more than anything - hey, at least he's trying to be a good teammate now, eh?

So while he may not be the NBA's best teammate, he's clearly its best player. And if you disagree, don't really now what you're talking about. That's how good he is.

(At least until Bronny get himself a J.)

Read the Rest After the Jump...