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.
Monta Ellis replaced Gilbert Arenas in this month’s shooting guard rankings because Gil hasn’t played yet and Monta is ballin’ like a boss. There isn’t a lot of movement otherwise, although I expect the Kobe vs. Wade debate to be ongoing throughout the season.
10. (Last month: 10.) Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 33.7 MPG, 25.0 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.3 RPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.7 BPG, .408 FG%, .294 3P%, 1.000 FT%, 22.6 PER
Kevin Martin is scoring in bunches like we’ve come to expect but he’s still sadly lacking on the defensive end — Monta Ellis lit him up like it was Christmas in October for 46 points on Wednesday. Martin’s made all 30 of his free throw attempts this season so keep an eye on that streak in the coming games.
9. (9.) Jason Richardson, Phoenix Suns — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 31.0 MPG, 18.3 PPG, 1.3 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .489 FG%, .500 3P%, .500 FT%, 22.6 PER
Now that Amar’e Stoudemire is a Knick, it appears that J-Rich is going to be needed to take over as the Suns’ first offensive option. Unfortunately, as we know from his Warrior days, he’s not particularly well-suited for that role. Richardson continues to be money from three-point range, so we can probably expect another season around 40 percent beyond the arc.
8. (8.) Stephen Jackson, Charlotte Bobcats — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 33.7 MPG, 15.7 PPG, 4.3 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .444 FG%, .417 3P%, .909 FT%, 18.1 PER
For the most part, you know what you’re getting from Stephen Jackson: huge cojones, questionable shot selection, tenacious D, and a lot of swagger. His D hasn’t been quite so tenacious early in the season, and that swagger might turn into sulking if the Bobcats keep losing. If Charlotte decides to give up on playoff contention at some point, Jackson would probably be the guy most likely to be traded to a contender for a draft pick and cap space.
7. (New entry) Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 37.0 MPG, 26.3 PPG, 5.2 APG, 2.7 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .589 FG%, .500 3P%, .714 FT%, 26.7 PER
I hated Monta’s game before this season. Sure, he’s a prolific scorer, but at what cost? He was an inefficient ballhog on offense and his defensive effort ranged from incompetent to indifferent. It’s only three games, but there’s no denying that he looks like an All-Star now. He and backcourt partner Stephen Curry could conceivably combine for 50 points per game this season, which is a little bit insane. His off-season work on his three-point shot is showing, as the career 31 percent shooter has made five of 10 from that range.
6. (5.) Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 35.3 MPG, 23.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .449 FG%, .308 3P%, .778 FT%, 19.5 PER
Ladies and gentlemen, the $123 million dollar man! The Hawks are the only remaining undefeated team in the Eastern Conference, and Johnson is still doing his thing. New coach Larry Drew intends to encourage more ball movement and less “iso-Joe” than the offense had under previous coach Mike Woodson, so we might expect to see Johnson’s scoring numbers decline while his assist numbers rise.
5. (4.) Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 38.3 MPG, 20.7 PPG, 6.0 APG, 6.0 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .418 FG%, .600 3P%, .684 FT%, 17.9 PER
How is Tyreke going to top his flashy rookie season? We don’t have an answer to that yet since he appears on pace to match his 20/5/5 numbers from 2009-10. As many people predicted, the Kings look like an up-and-coming team at 3-1 and Evans showed Kings fans that he can lead a comeback from a 16-point, third-quarter deficit as he did in last night’s win over the Raptors. Plus, he did it with an upset stomach. That’s sick.
4. (6.) Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 32.3 MPG, 19.7 PPG, 5.7 APG, 2.3 RPG, 2.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .419 FG%, .348 3P%, .938 FT%, 23.2 PER
Despite being one of the best shooting guards of the past decade, Ginobili only started in 261 of his 553 career games (47 percent) before this season. Manu and Spurs fans alike got a pleasant surprise this preseason when coach Gregg Popovich announced that Ginobili would be the starting two-guard on opening day for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Even though he’s 33 years old and balding, Ginobili is the same full-court whirlwind he’s always been and he has at least two steals in all three games. More than half of his field goal attempts have come from long range so far and I assume Coach Pop will want him to get his success rate into the high-30s if he’s going to keep jacking like that.
3. (3.) Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers — 2010-11 stats: 4 GP, 39.8 MPG, 23.0 PPG, 3.5 APG, 5.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .405 FG%, .444 3P%, .828 FT%, 19.6 PER
Portland’s offense under Nate McMillan is as slow-paced as it’s ever been, but they seem to be trying to encourage more ball movement and fewer isolation plays early in the season. It’s no matter to Brandon Roy since he’s a versatile, do-everything player who will continue to fill the stat sheet as long as he’s healthy. He’s been much more of a jumpshooter this season than in the past (just nine of his league-leading 74 field goal attempts have occurred at the rim) which might be an attempt to preserve his body. It’s all good if he keeps hitting 40-plus percent from downtown.
2. (2.) Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 32.7 MPG, 24.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, 6.3 RPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .455 FG%, .250 3P%, .905 FT%, 23.9 PER
Kobe claims his right knee is 100 percent healthy but Phil Jackson claims not to believe him. From my observations, he doesn’t have his usual explosiveness and lateral agility. It’s worth noting that he hasn’t played fewer than 36 minutes per game since the 1997-98 season when he was 19 years old, so Phil appears to be taking it a little easy on him in the early going. Of course, the Lakers are 3-0 so Lakers fans will kindly ask you to move along — Kobe’s knee is just fine, there’s nothing to see here.
1. (1.) Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat — 2010-11 stats: 3 GP, 33.3 MPG, 21.5 PPG, 5.0 APG, 5.8 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 1.3 BPG, .415 FG%, .385 3P%, .711 FT%, 25.6 PER
His first game against the Celtics was ugly (13 points, 4-for-16, six turnovers) but Wade and the Heat have been just as dominant as we don’t want them to be since then. D-Wade’s scoring average will probably be in the low-20s as he shares the wealth with his new Superfriends, but that won’t change the fact that he’ll remain the best two-guard in the league while he’s healthy. It seems weird to type that Wade could be a “darkhorse” for MVP this season, but Miami might just win 70 games after all and it would be pretty hard to deny one of their players such an honor in that scenario. And you don’t really think anyone wants to vote for LeBron, do you?