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.
Andre Iguodala replaced Luol Deng on this month’s list, although that’s certainly a debatable choice — Deng’s a better scorer while Iggy’s a better playmaker and defender. Regardless, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of movement from last month’s rankings.
10. (New entry) Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers — 2010-11 stats: 16 GP, 37.5 MPG, 13.9 PPG, 5.5 APG, 6.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .432 FG%, .316 3P%, .680 FT%, 16.0 PER
Iguodala is the most high-profile player on the block aside from Carmelo Anthony, but who wants to pay $44 million over the next three seasons to a guy who is, at best, a third offensive option on a good team? Let’s just say he’s a lot more palatable to fans than the GMs who would potentially have to cut his checks.
9. (Last month: 7.) Gerald Wallace, Charlotte Bobcats — 2010-11 stats: 21 GP, 38.8 MPG, 16.7 PPG, 2.5 APG, 8.1 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.1 BPG, .436 FG%, .341 3P%, .741 FT%, 14.9 PER
According to hoopdata.com, Wallace is 0-for-3 on field goal attempts between 10 and 15 feet this season. I’m not sure what’s weirder, the fact that he hasn’t made a shot from that range yet, or the apparent fact that he’s only attempted three of his 264 field goal attempts from that area. Neither here nor there, I have to wonder if the Bobcats wouldn’t consider trading him as part of a rebuilding plan with just one more guaranteed year on his contract. After all, his value won’t get better the longer they hold on to him.
8. (9.) Richard Jefferson, San Antonio Spurs — 2010-11 stats: 20 GP, 32.0 MPG, 14.8 PPG, 1.5 APG, 4.2 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .487 FG%, .434 3P%, .776 FT%, 16.8 PER
Jefferson has assumed the role Bruce Bowen used to play on the Spurs — the strong defender who specializes in the corner three on offense. His career has been revitalized now that he’s somewhat of a specialist, but he’s also benefiting from playing at a faster pace with the Spurs’ youth-infused lineup. His $8.4 million salary currently looks like one of the better non-rookie deal values in the league.
7. (8.) Wilson Chandler, New York Knicks — 2010-11 stats: 22 GP, 32.6 MPG, 17.0 PPG, 1.6 APG, 5.9 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 1.8 BPG, .462 FG%, .349 3P%, .829 FT%, 18.0 PER
Amar’e Stoudemire deservedly gets a lot of the credit but — outside of New York — Wilson Chandler is one of the unsung heroes of the Knicks’ impressive rise in the East. He’s an increasingly productive scorer who rarely turns the ball over and he’s developed into a game-changer on the defensive end with his suddenly elite shot-blocking. Should the Knicks even care about Carmelo Anthony anymore?
6. (4.) Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers — 2010-11 stats: 19 GP, 37.0 MPG, 21.4 PPG, 2.9 APG, 5.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .442 FG%, .393 3P%, .857 FT%, 17.8 PER
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Pacers are winning more now that Granger doesn’t have to carry as much of the load offensively. And what he’s given up in scoring production, he’s made up for by becoming an above-average defender. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he has Big Roy backing him up on that end.
5. (5.) Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies — 2010-11 stats: 22 GP, 40.5 MPG, 21.5 PPG, 2.6 APG, 6.5 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.3 BPG, .483 FG%, .408 3P%, .833 FT%, 19.0 PER
The Grizzlies are certainly making Rudy Gay earn his new contract — he leads the NBA in minutes played and minutes per game. His conditioning is clearly up to the challenge as he’s making the case that he deserves to play in his first All-Star Game this season. He’s also one of the key reasons the Grizzlies lead the NBA in forced turnovers this season — his athleticism suits coach Lionel Hollins’ aggressive defensive scheme and his improved effort on that side of the court is noticeable.
4. (6.) Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 20 GP, 34.8 MPG, 19.0 PPG, 2.8 APG, 4.6 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG, .517 FG%, .406 3P%, .837 FT%, 19.1 PER
He’s like a fine scotch, this guy — he seems to improve with age. It doesn’t hurt to be surrounded by so much talent and you could make the case that nobody benefits from Rajon Rondo’s playmaking brilliance more than Pierce. He deserves to be ranked this highly among the league’s small forwards even though he turns 34 in a couple of months and I wouldn’t be mad at you if you thought he should be a place higher on this list.
3. (3.) Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets — 2010-11 stats: 20 GP, 34.7 MPG, 22.8 PPG, 3.3 APG, 8.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .429 FG%, .326 3P%, .819 FT%, 20.4 PER
Is ‘Melo mailing it in while he waits to be traded? Some people say so, and yet he led the Nuggets through a seven-game winning streak before they lost a squeaker to Charlotte on Tuesday. His shooting has been cold lately but he’s playing through the flu so he deserves some slack. And if he’s not giving 100 percent effort, I’d like you to explain how he’s grabbing a career-high eight rebounds per game.
2. (2.) Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder — 2010-11 stats: 18 GP, 39.9 MPG, 27.4 PPG, 2.7 APG, 6.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.1 BPG, .421 FG%, .266 3P%, .923 FT%, 21.6 PER
I was one of those people who thought the Thunder could challenge for 60 wins this season and that was based on the assumption that Kevin Durant would continue his meteoric rise among the elite players in the game. What we couldn’t have predicted was that his long-range shooting touch would abandon him — his three-point percentage has declined from .422 to .365 to .266 over the last three seasons, including this one. Who knew he’d turn from Glen Rice to Antoine Walker beyond the arc? I’m guessing he’ll work it out eventually.
1. (1.) LeBron James, Miami Heat — 2010-11 stats: 22 GP, 37.1 MPG, 23.7 PPG, 7.3 APG, 5.7 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .457 FG%, .297 3P%, .776 FT%, 24.2 PER
The conventional wisdom seems to be the Heat are better off with LeBron asserting himself as the alpha dog on Miami’s offense. If that’s the case, then why are the Heat 10-2 when he shoots 16 or fewer field goal attempts and 4-6 otherwise? No matter, LeBron and the Heat are rolling and if they can beat the Jazz in Utah tonight, their winning streak could reach double digits. If you watched him tear out Cleveland’s heart last Thursday, I assume you’re not questioning his placement at the top of these rankings.