On the first full week of each month this season, I’m going to rank the top 10 NBA players at each position based on how I expect them to perform in the coming month. If a player is injured and is expected to miss most of the month, then they probably won’t make the list regardless of his value when healthy. I’ll rank the point guards on Monday, the shooting guards on Tuesday … you get the picture. Your feedback is welcome, even if you want to tell me how incredibly, irredeemably clueless I am.
I’m ranking the shooting guards today, and I already have my riot gear on for the kind of feedback I expect to get from this post. And before you ask in the comments — no, I didn’t forget about Monta Ellis.
10. Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets — 2009-10 stats: 46 GP, 35.5 MPG, 20.6 PPG, 2.4 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.0 SPG, .417 FG%, .333 3P%, .876 FT%, 17.0 PER
He’s a terrible defender and his body might be made of the kind of sticks that The Big Bad Wolf blew down, but this cat can score and he does it a very efficient rate. In spite of his slender frame, he gets to the line frequently and capitalizes on those opportunities as one of the best free throw shooters in the league. As a featured scorer in Houston, he could move up this list if he can stay healthy for a change.
9. Jason Richardson, Phoenix Suns — 2009-10 stats: 79 GP, 31.5 MPG, 15.7 PPG, 1.8 APG, 5.1 RPG, 0.8 SPG, .474 FG%, .393 3P%, .739 FT%, 16.6 PER
At 29 years old, it’s apparent that J-Rich is never going to live up to the potential suggested by his tremendous athleticism and sporadically effective outside shooting. However, he’s pretty damn good when he gets hot and he reminded us of that when he lit up the Blazers and Spurs in the first two rounds of the 2010 playoffs. Still, it’s always struck me as weird that somebody with his athletic gifts is mostly just a jump-shooter.
8. Stephen Jackson, Charlotte Bobcats — 2009-10 stats: 81 GP, 38.6 MPG, 20.6 PPG, 3.7 APG, 5.0 RPG, 1.6 SPG, .423 FG%, .328 3P%, .779 FT%, 15.6 PER
StackJack can do a little of everything for your team, depending on what you need — he can score, he can set up teammates, he can rebound, and he’s a solid defender. His main flaw is that he shoots too much for a guy who isn’t really that good of a shooter. Then again, who else is going to score on that offensively anemic Bobcats team?
7. Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards — 2009-10 stats: 32 GP, 36.5 MPG, 22.6 PPG, 7.2 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.3 SPG, .411 FG%, .348 3P%, .739 FT%, 18.9 PER
We’ve come to the part of the rankings that I like to call “pulling this right out of my ass”. I’ve always felt like Arenas was better-suited to play two-guard, and now he’ll get the opportunity to embrace the pure scorer role while playing next to rookie backcourt partner John Wall. Some people have written him off as a star in this league, but he’s still only 28 years old, he’s still one of the most explosive offensive players in the NBA, and he has something to prove to a lot of doubters. If you don’t think he’s going to be on a mission in 2010-11, prepare to be surprised.
6. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs — 2009-10 stats: 75 GP, 28.7 MPG, 16.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.4 SPG, .441 FG%, .377 3P%, .870 FT%, 22.5 PER
If I had to name the most underrated player of the past decade, Manu Ginobili would immediately leap to mind. He’s been a top-five shooting guard in the league for the past six seasons, and Tim Duncan probably wouldn’t have three of his four rings without Manu’s contributions. He’s aging well from a performance perspective, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will probably limit his playing time even further this season in an attempt to keep him healthy for one last shot at a championship before this roster’s window closes.
5. Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks — 2009-10 stats: 76 GP, 38.0 MPG, 21.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.1 SPG, .458 FG%, .369 3P%, .818 FT%, 19.3 PER
If you had told me back in the days when Joe Johnson was the fourth-best player on the Phoenix Suns that he would eventually make around $200 million during his NBA career, I would have first asked if he would play out the remainder of his career on Isiah Thomas’ Knicks, and then I would have said you were nuts. And yet here we are discussing a guy who is pretty good at everything but not really great at anything, and who will be about $6 million short of the $200 million mark when his current contract expires in 2016. Good for him, I guess.
4. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings — 2009-10 stats: 72 GP, 37.2 MPG, 20.1 PPG, 5.8 APG, 5.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, .458 FG%, .255 3P%, .748 FT%, 18.2 PER
Hey, remember when some doubters thought that Tyreke Evans wasn’t athletic enough to succeed in the pros? Whatever happened to those people? He has a remarkably polished and mature game for his age, and all he really needs to do to take his game to All-Star level is develop a better outside shot and ease up on the accelerator in his Mercedes. He and DeMarcus Cousins could form the next deadly one-two punch in the NBA.
3. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers — 2009-10 stats: 65 GP, 37.2 MPG, 21.5 PPG, 4.7 APG, 4.4 RPG, 0.9 SPG, .473 FG%, .330 3P%, .780 FT%, 21.3 PER
His knee problems will be an ongoing concern, but if he can stay out from under the knife, there’s no reason why he can’t be a top-three shooting guard for the next six or seven seasons. While it’s not at the level of Portland passing over Jordan to draft Sam Bowie, it’s pretty shocking to look back on the 2006 draft and see that five teams passed over him for the likes of Adam Morrison and Shelden Williams because their scouts believed that Roy didn’t have much upside. Whoops!
2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers — 2009-10 stats: 73 GP, 38.8 MPG, 27.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 5.4 RPG, 1.5 SPG, .456 FG%, .329 3P%, .811 FT%, 21.9 PER
Oh boy, I’m really asking for it here, aren’t I? Whatever you think of this ranking (I’m pretty sure most of you won’t like it), there’s no denying that Kobe has played over 45,000 minutes by this point and his body is obviously starting to break down. He still strikes the fear of (insert your deity of choice here) in opponents when he has the ball at the end of a close game, but if he’s smart he’ll defer to his teammates more in the 2010-11 regular season so he can preserve his body and then crank the dial back up to 11 in the post-season.
1. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat — 2009-10 stats: 77 GP, 36.3 MPG, 26.6 PPG, 6.5 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.8 SPG, .476 FG%, .300 3P%, .761 FT%, 28.0 PER
What, you expected to see John Salmons here? Considering what he’s accomplished while leading a scorched-earth roster to a 45-win average over the past two seasons, it’s going to be really interesting to see what he’s capable of with a somewhat improved supporting cast. (Call me the master of understatement.) His ongoing health might be the primary variable affecting the Heat’s chances of breaking the 72-win, single-season record. My only question for Pat Riley is: Why didn’t he offer to double the salary of Suns head trainer Aaron Nelson so he would take his talents to South Beach?