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As the 2011-12 season takes shape, itâ€™s time to rank the best basketball players in the world. During the lockout, ESPN came up with a pseudo list to categorize the top players in the game. The problem? It was inaccurate. Why? It had little to do with basketball and more to do about nostalgia (Duncan and Nash), personal vendettas (Kobe and Melo), and hyping personal favorites (D-Wade and LeBron). Naturally, any list is likely to stir debate; however, the ESPN list was designed to reshape how the public views certain playersâ€”instead of actually rankingÂ players based on ability. To take a different approach, we constructed a list based on a player’s current ability along with a variety of intangible qualities that are difficult to quantify (such as a player’s ability to take over a game, convert field goals with a high degree of difficulty on a regular basis, etc.). So, letâ€™s take a look at the leagueâ€™s top 20 players in 2012:
20. Rudy Gay: A rising star on a rising team. With an $85 million contract, the Grizzlies are banking on him to climb higher in the rankingsâ€”and move his team deeper into the playoffs.
19. LaMarcus Aldridge: At 22.7 points a game Aldridge is blazing a trail of progress that keeps his stock rising in the Beaver State.
18. Andrew Bynum: Early in his career, Bynum was given a chance to start and went 8-8 from the floor against the New York Knicks. At that point, it was clear that Bynum had the tools to develop into a high level player. The problem? Phil Jackson decided to start Kwame Brown ahead of the young center until he was shipped out for Gasol. Today, Bynum is the second best center in the leagueâ€”and he’s only getting better.
17: Monta Ellis: As the gameâ€™s third best shooting guard, itâ€™s only fitting that Ellis breaks the top 20. After all, he averaged 24.1 points per game last year and is league’s seventh best scorer early into the 2012 season.
16. Rajon Rondo: Rondo controls tempo of the game and drops the rock in the right spot to an aging group of stars to keep the Celtics on the periphery of contention. If he ever gets a jumper, he might hurdle over a couple of the players ahead of him.
15. Chris Bosh: Although heâ€™s not the best player on the Miami Heat roster, this 2008 US Olympic champion averaged 24.0 points per game in the year before he took his talents to South Beach. Now, he’s the second leading scorer on the team with 20.o points per game on 51% shooting.
14. Russel Westbrook: Westbrook is taking big strides in becoming a top tier player. If he continues to improve, look for him to join three other point guards to represent the United States at the 2012 Olympic games in London.
13. Amare Stoudomire: Amare is a beastâ€”and among the most underrated players in the game. With the evolution of Kevin Love’s game and the meteoric rise of Blake Griffin, however, one must wonder if Amare can crack the top 10 again.
12. Kevin Love: A rebounding machine becomes a lethal scorer and three-point threat? Question Kevin Love all you want, but 25.6 points a game and 14.3 points per game indicate he’s evolving into a legit superstar. As Ricky Rubio becomes more acclimated to the NBA game, get ready to watch these two become a dynamic tandem that propels the T-Wolves into the playoffsâ€”someday.
11. Blake Griffin: Thereâ€™s no limit to how high this guy can fly. Teamed with CP3, watch for the Clippers to take flight as Griffin continues to leap out of the buildingâ€”and right into the postseason.
10. Derron Williams: D-Will is a franchise player looking to join another franchise player to get a ring. Will he get help from D-Howard or will head West to join the Black Mamba?
9. Dirk Nowitzki: The best shooting seven-footer in NBA history certainly cracks the top 10. After taking two months off and coming in slightly out of shape, however, he showed everyone how he lacks one of those intangibles qualities that keeps him from becoming a truly elite players. In other words, Kobe and LeBron hit the weight room over the summer while Dirk decided it was too taxing to prepare for the 2012 season. Did anyone spot Dirk and Pau kickin’ it on the beach in the Basque Coast during the lockout?
8. Carmelo Anthony: Who needs defense when you can score like Melo? Silky smooth on the offensive end and one of the gameâ€™s top three closers, Melo is clearly one of the gameâ€™s elite players.
7. Dwayne Wade: A top five player until D-Rose blossomed into a superstar and CP3 reminded everyone that heâ€™s gameâ€™s best point guard. Nonetheless, D-Wade remains among the gameâ€™s top tier playersâ€”and is in a good position to lead the Miami Heat to the finals in 2012.
6. Chris Paul: With incredible court vision and blistering speed, thereâ€™s no one better at managing a game and getting easy baskets for his teammates. Now, he’s surrounded with real talent. As a result, watch CP3 move into the MVP conversation as the season moves forward.
5. Dwight Howard: There is no greater degree of separation among players at a particular position. The three-time defensive player of the year and perrennial MVP candidate makes the Magic a force in Eastâ€”until his inevitable move to the Westside creates a seismic shift in the NBA landscape.
4. Derrick Rose: The reigning MVP is simply one of the best in the game. Like Kobe, D-Rose is one of the few players in the league whom is able to put a team on his back down the stretch and score from nearly anywhere on the floorâ€”and heâ€™s only 23 years old.
3. Kevin Durant: Durantâ€™s game is quickly closing the gap on the two players ahead of him. Although the ESPN ranking failed to place him in the top five, the reality is that the reigning scoring champ might become the league’s most valuable by the end of the season.
2. LeBron James: LeBron is clearly the most athletic player in the NBA; however, thereâ€™s a difference from being the best athlete in the NBA and best basketball player in the world. Like Durant, LeBron is in a rare position to make it to the top of the list within a year after putting in off-season work to improve his gameâ€”and after watching his quick start to the seasonâ€”the gap is smaller than ever. Now, he just needs to learn how to close games and win on the big stage.
1. Kobe Bryant: Last year, Kobe led the league in scoring per 48 minutesâ€”despite coming off knee surgery and playing through a litney of nagging injuries. In 2012, Kobe still maintains superior footwork, better range, and a deeper of understanding of how to evolve his game than his contemporaries. In short, the NBAâ€™s greatest assassin is the greatest all-around player in 2012. At 33-years old and a torn ligament in his shooting hand, Kobe Bryant is leading the league in scoring at 30.8 points per game, pacing the Lakers for first place in the Pacific Division
In the Battle of LA, the Clippers used broad brush strokes to change the color of the scene by defeating the Lakers in a city thatâ€™s painted with purple and gold. With playoff level intensity, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin dismantled the Laker defense from seemingly ever spot on the floor, propelling the Clippers to a 102-94 victory. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant continued his remarkable play with his fourth straight 40-point game, showing that he still holds the scepter in the NBA. After a heated game, hereâ€™s a breakdown of what went down in the city of angles:
- Chris Paul: CP3 was unstoppable. With 33 points and great game management, CP3 showed why heâ€™s the best pure point guard in the game.
- Blake Griffin: Griffin straight up abused Pau Gasol and made him his cellmate en route to 22 points and 14 rebounds to go along with a variety of highlights that brought back memories of Dominque Wilkins.
- Kobe Bryant: Kobe Bryant kept the Lakers in the game, scorching the Clippers with 42 points and seven rebounds. Kobe is the oldest player in league history to score 40-points in four straight game.
- Pau Gasol: Pau continued to play poorly, failing to bang against the Clipper bigs, heaving up a three-point shot at the 6:57 mark, and dropping a pass from Kobe in the lane in a critical moment during the game, showing heâ€™s not ready to show up when needed. As his opponents continue to blow right past him for easy buckets, letâ€™s just hope the trade winds begin to blow sooner rather than later.
Although the Lakers still own this city, the Clippers owned the Lakers tonight. In a showdown against two Western Conference powerhouses, the Clippers look poised to make a little noise in 2012.
This song has changed from the Lakers anthem to the Clippers by one quick veto of a certain CP3 trade from one team, and then packaged as a holiday gift to their roommates. What a difference a lockout makes.
The Lakers started this preseason just as they finished the 2010-2011 postseason by looking completely shell shocked and confused. I realize this is an abridged training camp and preseason. I realize that the Lakers have a new coach. I realize that there are many new players and that the Lakers are learning a new system, but none of this seemed to stop the Clippers from absolutely embarrassing the “home team” Lakers in front of their Staples Center crowd.
Chris Paul was doing what he does best, breaking down defenses, lobbing passes to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and once again proving why he is the best point guard in the game today by dropping 19 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and 5 steals in 24 minutes of play.
Chauncey Billups also looked good by leading the team with 23 points on 5 for 8 shooting with 3 steals and 3 assists in 20 minutes of play.
On the Lakers side there was not much positivity to speak of. Josh McRoberts came in and gave the Lakers a bit of spark with his hustle play and is sure to be a fan favorite. Bynum looked fairly solid with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks. I really like the addition of Jason Kapono as he scored 9 points on 3-5 shooting and looked really confident and natural with his shot. This is an element the Lakers have been missing.
Rookie point guard Darius Morris got a lot of playing time and had some spotty moments of both bad and good. He looked a bit erratic and often was stuck with the ball with the clock winding down, but hit a few clutch shots. My quick assessment of Morris is he has some individual skill, but I didn’t see much team play out of him especially for a point guard who is supposed to be getting others involved. Darius ended up with 11 points on 5-9 shooting, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 turnovers in over 23 minutes of play.
Outside of that, the Lakers looked pretty much horrible. All the hype on Mike Brown’s defense is just that as they gave up 114 points. Kobe had some nice moments with his 22 points, but I didn’t see anything that leads me to believe he is back to his most elite level of play. I don’t want to believe the “father time” decline in Kobe’s game, nor do I want to put too much emphasis on a preseason opener, but his 7 turnovers and lack of game dominance are hard to ignore. I fear there may be some truth that Kobe is not what he once was. Not that I’m saying he’s washed up, but that Kobe is merely a great player, just not the greatest in uniform today.
Gasol picked up right where he left the playoffs last year…pathetic. Even though Pau’s stat line looks decent, outside of a 3 pointer he hit, Gasol didn’t do much positive work. He was weak on the boards and was consistently being bullied around in the paint. Most of his points came from other players setting him up for for wide open layups and dunks. The wrong player was traded while Pau is still standing in a Lakers uniform.
The artist formerly known as Ron Ron may have been the biggest train wreck out there. I’m a huge Ron Artest fan, but Metta World Peace is a different story. He looked lost and desperate going 0-8 and with 3 points.
With all of the player movement in the offseason the Lakers did not address their most pressing issue; the point guard position. Steve Blake was scorched by CP3 and didn’t show any improvement from last year. The Lakers can’t expect to raise the trophy at the end of the year without improving this position. Fisher and Blake will just not cut it anymore. Not in this system, not with the talent at that position from every other team in the NBA.
Blake Griffin made the Clippers fun to watch. Chris Paul made the Clippers relevant. With the best point guard in the game joining an elite power forward, the Clippers are on the verge of making a deep playoff run. Do they have the highest probability of winning it all? Not really. But does it mean theyâ€™ll have a shot? Absolutely.
In the Western Conference, there are only four teams with a shot at winning a title if each roster stays in tact. These teams are the:
No one else has a shot to represent the Westside in the finals unless league officials decide to push a team with timely phantom fouls during key stretches of a game. But if the games are officiated fairly, the Western Conference yields only four legitimate contendersâ€”and yes, one is the Clippers. So what do the pundits say about this? Look at this gem from ESPNâ€™s JA. Adande. â€śThe Clippers need to experience the pain of a playoff loss.â€ť So the pain of losing in the playoffs is a perquisite for winning. Did Magic Johnson feel playoff pain as rookie to win a title 1980? Perhaps, he felt that pain in college. Oh wait, he won the NCAA title the year before.
ESPNâ€™s Chris Palmer, however, used a more rational line of thinking to describe why the Clips have a shot: â€śChris Paul. Blake Griffin.â€ť That’s right. Two elite level super starts make the difference. As Palmer continued: â€śThe Clippers’ two All-Stars represent the best one-two punch in the Western Conference.â€ť Hard to argue with that (lest a possible rebuttal from Westbrook and Durant).
In short, CP3 is going to make Blake Griffinâ€™s life a lot easier. With Griffinâ€™s work ethic and elevated skill level, all indications suggest heâ€™s likely to to evolve his game. To view Blake Griffin as the same player during his rookie season, therefore, is to view him through a narrow lens for the upcoming season. Players with game and desire often get better. As the new look Clippers yield a loaded team, itâ€™s time to recognize that they’re finally a legitimate contenderâ€”even if the Lakers will always hold the scepter in this town.
The Lakers leverage and trade assets went out the window with the Lamar Odom debacle as all Lakers fans can do is longingly watch their title hopes be traded to their Staples center roommates. You know, the Junior Varsity team that gets a pat on the head every year? Well guess what, the Clippers are all grows up now and have a fiercely talented roster headlined by names like Blake Griffin, Caron Butler, DeAndre Jordan, Mo Williams, Chauncey Billups, and of course their newly acquired superstar point guard Chris Paul. Hate to say it, but the big ticket this year could be to see the Clippers, not the Lakers. Can you imagine seeing Jack sitting court side for the Clips? Can you imagine how many sportscenter highlights we’re gonna see of CP3 lobbing to Blake Griffin? Can you imagine if Mitch and crew didn’t put Lamar on the trading block and then deal him for nothing? Lakers fans and staff might be celebrating a superstar acquisition instead of scratching their heads thinking, “now what?”
But at least the Lakers fans can feel comfortable knowing team executives are adding saviors like McBob to the lineup.
After David Stern burns the Lakers by blocking a trade for CP3, the team burns itself by making a trade to the Dallas Mavericks. LO for a draft pick? Really? That’s right. The Lakers are sending Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for a first round pick and future considerations. Doesn’t â€śfuture considerationsâ€ť sound a little too nebulous for the reigning sixth man of the year? As Kobe Bryant said: “Now I’m getting pissed off.” Heâ€™s not alone. Unless this gives the Lakers leverage for a bigger trade down the road, itâ€™s a huge mistake on a road that’s usually traveled by the Clippers. Lamar’s a unique player. The ability to play multiple positions,Â grab a defensive rebound, and push the ball up the floor is a rare attribute for a 6-10 player.Â As the loss of Lamar Odom creates a big void in the Lakers lineup, let’s hope that management is working a little MAGIC behind the scenes.
Rumors are swirling that the league has reversed the trade involving Chris Paul, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odomm and that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert may be behind it. Although I have no proof of this letter’s legitimacy, there appears to be an email floating around from Gilbert to commissioner Stern asking him to veto the trade. Take a look:
What will Stern get his dirty little hands on next?
Oh, and apparently there’s a petition to reverse the trade reversal.
As teams around the league scramble to land CP3 before the season starts, the Lakers are at the forefront of the discussion. According to ESPN, the Lakers are attempting to work a three way trade with the Rockets and NOLA. As reported here, the Rockets appear willing to send a variety of key assets (e.g., Kevin Martin, draft picks, etc.) to NOLA to land Gasol in a three way deal, giving the Lakers the fuel it needs to get the explosive point guard from NOLA to the City of Angels. The problem? The New York Knicks are now exploring the possibility of trading Amare Stoudemire for CP3. If this materializes, all the California Dreamin’ is likely to turn into a New York State of Mind.
The media frenzy surrounding the possibility of D-Howard and CP3 landing in Lakerdom is causing quite a stirâ€”and rightfully so. The opportunity to land the best big man AND the best pure point guardÂ in the league to team with best shooting guard might make the big three in Miami look like the Three Amigos. Back in May,Â Wicked Chicken from LA Hoops called it. Yep, when he’s not drinking, Wicked Chicken is actually quite insightful. Check the original post here.