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.
We welcome three new members to the top 10 point guard rankings this month, bumping Devin Harris, Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups off the list. It’s really quite ridiculous how many great point guards are in the NBA right now.
10. (New entry) John Wall, Washington Wizards — 2010-11 stats: 13 GP, 38.2 MPG, 17.0 PPG, 8.7 APG, 3.3 RPG, 2.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .409 FG%, .333 3P%, .826 FT%, 17.1 PER
How fun is this guy to watch? I don’t know how much fun he’s having on that dysfunctional Wizards team, but he can take heart in the likelihood that he’ll get some significant help from a high lottery pick in the 2011 draft. For what it’s worth, here’s the list of NBA players who have averaged at least 16 points, seven assists and two steals over an entire season in their rookie years: Magic Johnson, Chris Paul, Allen Iverson and Isiah Thomas. Good company.
9. (New entry) Raymond Felton, New York Knicks — 2010-11 stats: 21 GP, 38.1 MPG, 18.1 PPG, 8.3 APG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .469 FG%, .356 3P%, .899 FT%, 19.8 PER
So I guess he’s figured out the pick-and-roll with Amare, huh? Even the most homerish Knicks fans probably didn’t suspect Felton would work out this well. “D’Antoni-ball” clearly suits him just fine, and he has to be in the discussion for Most Improved Player if he keeps this up.
8. (Last month: 8.) Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors — 2010-11 stats: 18 GP, 34.4 MPG, 21.2 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.3 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .491 FG%, .425 3P%, .907 FT%, 21.9 PER
Curry is a ridiculously good shooter almost everywhere on the offensive end, but he’s strangely ineffective between 10 and 15 feet where he’s made only 25.8 percent of his shots this season. Of course, the bigger problem is that nobody on the Warriors (including Curry) plays defense.
7. (New entry) Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs — 2010-11 stats: 20 GP, 33.3 MPG, 17.0 PPG, 7.0 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .511 FG%, .400 3P%, .803 FT%, 19.9 PER
I took some heat for leaving the former Mr. Longoria off this list last month and I couldn’t overlook him again in good conscience with the way he and the Spurs are playing now. You could always count on Parker to shoot 50 percent from the field and give you five or six assists per game, but his current career-highs in assists per game and free throw percentage show that he’s still working on his skills in his 10th NBA season.
6. (6.) Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns — 2010-11 stats: 18 GP, 33.7 MPG, 18.2 PPG, 10.4 APG, 3.5 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .504 FG%, .354 3P%, .898 FT%, 23.9 PER
There is no way this Suns team should be in playoff contention in the West, and yet there they are in eighth place. Nash turns 37 in a couple of months, but he’s playing at the same high level he’s maintained since his late-20s. On the downside, his six-season streak of shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 per cent from three-point range appears about to end.
5. (5.) Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls — 2010-11 stats: 17 GP, 38.8 MPG, 25.7 PPG, 8.1 APG, 4.4 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .462 FG%, .357 3P%, .771 FT%, 22.1 PER
He’s blossomed into one of the most explosive scorers in the NBA but his defense remains a question mark — according to 82games.com, the Bulls give up 11.5 more points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court compared to when he’s on the bench. And while he’s getting to the free throw line more often than before, he could still do better. On Saturday, he played 44 minutes and had 28 field goal attempts without a single trip to the line.
4. (2.) Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 16 GP, 39.3 MPG, 11.4 PPG, 14.1 APG, 4.6 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 0.2 BPG, .516 FG%, .300 3P%, .444 FT%, 17.8 PER
That free throw percentage is not a typo. If he was an 80 percent free throw shooter and actually initiated contact to get to the line, could he pull off a 14 and 14 average over a season? It’s a moot point because it would be seen as a significant triumph if he could just improve to the low 60s like he shot in his previous four NBA seasons. The good news is that he’s showing a bit more confidence in his mid-range game lately and he’s still the best defensive point guard and playmaker in the NBA.
3. (3.) Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder — 2010-11 stats: 21 GP, 37.5 MPG, 24.1 PPG, 8.7 APG, 5.6 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .439 FG%, .250 3P%, .872 FT%, 25.7 PER
He’s not much better than Rondo at shooting from the field but Westbrook more than makes up for it by getting to the charity stripe nine times per game and making 87 percent of his free throw attempts. The only other NBA player to average at least nine free throws per game while making 80 percent of them is his teammate, Kevin Durant. More impressively, the Thunder are 3-1 this season when Durant has been out while Westbrook was in the lineup.
2. (4.) Deron Williams, Utah Jazz — 2010-11 stats: 21 GP, 37.9 MPG, 21.6 PPG, 10.0 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 0.2 BPG, .467 FG%, .352 3P%, .856 FT%, 23.4 PER
D-Will weathered his early season struggles and is back in his rightful place as one of the two best point guards in the game. Before Friday’s loss to the Mavericks, the Jazz had won seven straight including an 18-point victory over New Orleans. Jazz fans will surely point out that he outplayed Chris Paul in that game. I’m sure many of those Jazz fans also believe that’s why he should be number one on this list, but…
1. (1.) Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets — 2010-11 stats: 20 GP, 34.4 MPG, 16.2 PPG, 10.4 APG, 4.7 RPG, 3.0 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .484 FG%, .489 3P%, .903 FT%, 26.9 PER
I guess we can assume that Chris Paul will remain a Hornet for the next little while now that the team is owned by the league. Whether or not he’ll want to remain on the team after they’ve been moved to Kansas City or Seattle is another story.