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