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.
There’s just one newcomer in this month’s rankings — needless to say, everyone who said I was underrating Stephen Curry was right. Also, please remind me to never again doubt that a healthy Chris Paul is the best point guard in the world.
10. (Last month: 6.) Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 32.3 MPG, 15.7 PPG, 5.3 APG, 2.3 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .276 FG%, .100 3P%, .909 FT%, 18.9 PER
Chauncey’s big drop in these rankings says more about how deep this position has become in the NBA than it does about a possible decline for the 34-year-old Nugget. He’s not hitting his shots three games in, but they’ll start falling eventually. Almost two-thirds of his points (30 out of 47) have come at the free throw line, showing that he still knows how to score one way or another.
9. (10.) Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 38.7 MPG, 16.3 PPG, 9.0 APG, 5.0 RPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .405 FG%, .333 3P%, .778 FT%, 19.5 PER
Jennings’ mid-range game was a huge question mark coming into this season, and it remains so after three games. It’s a small sample size, but he’s shooting less often from 16 to 23 feet than he did last season — he’s 1-for-5 from that range so far. The biggest change in his game is that he’s drawing contact a lot more and getting to the line for easy points. That’s what star players do, so Jennings is moving in the right direction. He also appears to be making a conscious effort to set up his teammates more and go for rebounds. As a result, he notched his first career triple-double (20/10/10) on Saturday night against the Bobcats.
8. (New entry) Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors — 2010-11 stats: 2 GP, 33.0 MPG, 20.5 PPG, 8.5 APG, 2.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .640 FG%, .444 3P%, .714 FT%, 26.4 PER
OK, I blew it on this guy last month. He’s really freakin’ good. He sat out Sunday’s game against the Lakers with a sprained ankle, but before that he carried over a strong finish to last season with two outstanding games to open this season. It’s pretty awesome to witness Curry’s ability to make shots from anywhere on the court and I might start to think he’s got a shot of playing in the All-Star Game if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s in the same conference as Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook.
7. (8.) Devin Harris, New Jersey Nets — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 31.7 MPG, 18.7 PPG, 8.3 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .576 FG%, .667 3P%, .824 FT%, 26.5 PER
Three games in, Harris is bouncing back nicely after an abysmal 2009-10 season with the Nets. It’s obvious he worked a ton on his jumpshot in the off-season, because he’s showing accuracy from 15 feet out that we haven’t seen from him before. And as you’d expect now that he’s been reunited with coach Avery Johnson, he’s demonstrated a renewed dedication on the defensive end.
6. (4.) Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 32.7 MPG, 17.3 PPG, 6.7 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .500 FG%, .500 3P%, .818 FT%, 18.5 PER
This could be an ugly season for Nash, through no fault of his own. This isn’t a good Suns team and there’s an obvious correlation between the departure of Amar’e Stoudemire and Nash’s drop in assists. The Suns are likely to gradually reduce his minutes so that Goran Dragic (who is playing very well) can be groomed for the starting spot after Nash retires or gets traded.
5. (5.) Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls — 2010-11 stats: 2 GP, 34.5 MPG, 33.5 PPG, 6.5 APG, 5.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.5 BPG, .431 FG%, .273 3P%, .824 FT%, 28.2 PER
It’s just two games, but it looks like Derrick Rose might be gunning for the scoring title this season — he’s jacked up 58 shots already. After averaging under less than one three-point attempt per game in each of his first two seasons, he’s shot 11 treys and made three of them. He’s also getting to the line a lot more as he’s obviously looking to draw contact in the lane more than he used to. It’s too early to say if his defense has improved and it’s probably not fair to judge him based on the 28 points that Russell Westbrook put on him on Wednesday.
4. (1.) Deron Williams, Utah Jazz — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 34.7 MPG, 15.3 PPG, 9.0 APG, 4.3 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .353 FG%, .571 3P%, .900 FT%, 15.7 PER
The Jazz recovered from a rough first two games of the season with an impressive 21-point win over the Thunder yesterday. Williams’ shots haven’t been falling anywhere inside the three-point line, but I expect he’ll buck that trend soon. The larger problem might be that there are reportedly some off-court personal issues with Williams that could be affecting his performance. Whatever’s causing it, he seems frustrated with his team right now — but it’s probably nothing a few wins won’t fix.
3. (7.) Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 34.3 MPG, 22.3 PPG, 7.3 APG, 6.7 RPG, 2.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .463 FG%, .000 3P%, .935 FT%, 31.4 PER
Westbrook’s improvement from his 2008-09 rookie season to now is nothing short of astonishing. He’s developed into a legitimate triple-double threat who makes up for his poor shooting with a freight train mentality in the lane. If he keeps this up, Westbrook and Kevin Durant might have something to say to LeBron and Wade about who has the best one-two punch in the NBA.
2. (2.) Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 41.7 MPG, 10.7 PPG, 16.7 APG, 6.3 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .424 FG%, .500 3P%, .375 FT%, 17.8 PER
That is not a typo in Rondo’s stat line — he’s dropped 50 dimes in his first three games this season. His 24-assist game against the Knicks on Friday hasn’t been matched since Ramon Sessions (!) did it in Milwaukee in a ridiculous 151-135 loss to the Bulls in April 2008. What makes his assist total even more impressive is that 22 of his assists were dished out around the rim for easy baskets. Unfortunately, Rondo’s free throw nightmares appear to be getting worse rather than better. As long as that’s such a glaring issue, it’s unlikely he’ll be viewed as the best point guard in the league.
1. (3.) Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 35.0 MPG, 20.0 PPG, 9.3 APG, 6.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .500 FG%, .429 3P%, .895 FT%, 30.4 PER
Hey, remember this guy? Apparently I forgot how great he was when I ranked him third on the PG rankings before the season. To be fair, he was coming off a season where he missed 37 games and I wanted to see if he would be the old, awesome CP3 again. So far, he’s as dominant as ever and he’s led the Hornets to a 3-0 start. Nobody breaks down defenses like Paul and he’s already reminded us why he should always be in the MVP discussion when he’s healthy. With 1:03 to go and the Hornets up by one in their season opener against Milwaukee, Paul drove to the hoop, got fouled and then slapped teammate Emeka Okafor while exclaiming, “Come on! It’s winning time!” Then, he drained both his free throws. For the November point guard rankings, it’s definitely winning time for Chris Paul.