Kevin Love and Blake Griffin

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.

This was the hardest list I’ve had to compile yet this season. Instead of struggling to figure out who is actually good enough to be considered the 10th best player at his position like with my shooting guard rankings, I put myself in the unenviable position of deciding who has to be left off the top 10 rankings of what might be the deepest talent pool at any NBA position of my lifetime.

I can’t believe it’s come to this, but I had to cut Tim Duncan. He’s slowed down, he’s only playing 29 minutes per game, and he can’t really guard athletic big men very well anymore. Please understand that I’m well aware that not only is he still really freakin’ good, he’s also the greatest power forward in NBA history. It’s just that, well… read the rankings. Let’s not make this any weirder than it already is, OK?

10. (7.) Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz — 2010-11 stats: 35 GP, 34.6 MPG, 17.5 PPG, 2.3 APG, 8.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG, .551 FG%, .571 3P%, .747 FT%, 21.5 PER

You wouldn’t know from his per-game average, but when I watch Millsap he seems to go for the block on defence more often than a player his size probably should. As a result, his rebounds per 36 minutes are lower than they’ve been in any of his previous four seasons. He’s still scoring well, though.

9. (3.) Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks — 2010-11 stats: 38 GP, 34.1 MPG, 15.8 PPG, 3.6 APG, 8.6 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.9 BPG, .473 FG%, .394 3P%, .715 FT%, 19.6 PER

Josh has gone from dabbling in three-pointers earlier in the season to becoming practically obsessed with them lately. He attempted seven three-pointers all of last season and he had 11 attempts from that range through the first 10 games this season. In his last 10 games, he’s jacked 26 treys and made just nine of them. Now I remember why Hawks fans and coaches get so frustrated with him. Can somebody ask the guy behind “Hey Larry Hughes, Please Stop Taking So Many Bad Shots” to set up a similar site for Josh Smith?

8. (New entry) Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls — 2010-11 stats: 19 GP, 31.6 MPG, 19.7 PPG, 2.4 APG, 9.9 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .536 FG%, .000 3P%, .704 FT%, 21.9 PER

He’s played about as well as you could expect to play in his 19 games back from injury, but there may be trouble on the horizon as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has taken to benching him occasionally when he has defensive trouble. One would assume this won’t be as much of an issue when Joakim Noah returns.

7. (2.) Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 30 GP, 31.6 MPG, 15.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, 9.5 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG, .539 FG%, .000 3P%, FT%, 21.6 PER

He’s sitting out with a right calf strain at the moment, but KG is expected back on the court later this month. As a testament to his veteran craftiness in his 16th NBA season, his steals per game average and field goal percentage are both tied with previous career highs.

6. (8.) Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves — 2010-11 stats: 36 GP, 36.6 MPG, 21.0 PPG, 2.4 APG, 15.6 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .457 FG%, .432 3P%, .878 FT%, 24.0 PER

How can a guy with numbers like these only be sixth-best at his position? Again, it’s a deep group. With contract extension negotiations on the horizon after this season, Timberwolves GM David Kahn will have to ask himself if Love is worth max money if that’s what it will take to keep him in Minnesota. Maybe Shaq should be his agent after he said this about K-Love: “Guys like him come around once every 10 years.”

Dirk Nowitzki

5. (9.) Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers — 2010-11 stats: 35 GP, 37.1 MPG, 21.7 PPG, 3.3 APG, 12.7 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG, .520 FG%, .667 3P%, .590 FT%, 22.9 PER

Here’s how much Blake Griffin is beasting over the last month-and-a-half: He has 22 straight double-doubles with averages of 24.8 points and 13.9 rebounds in those games. If there’s anything to quibble about, his energy and stats seem to fade somewhat in the second halves of games. I don’t know, does he need to learn to pace himself better? Regardless, he’s well on his way to becoming the first rookie to average 20 points and 10 rebounds with a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) over 20.0 since Elton Brand in 1999-2000.

4. (5.) Chris Bosh, Miami Heat — 2010-11 stats: 37 GP, 35.4 MPG, 18.4 PPG, 1.9 APG, 8.2 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG, .511 FG%, .273 3P%, .797 FT%, 20.3 PER

Chris Bosh has figured out his role on the Miami Heat. He’s become as effective at defending the pick-and-roll as he has been at working it with LeBron or D-Wade on the other end. He probably won’t end up averaging double-digit rebounds on the season, but that’s not a problem since the Heat have the third-best rebounding differential (+3.38) in the league. As a Raptors fan, it was fun to see him struggle in the first month of the season, but there’s no denying that’s he’s putting it all together now and I don’t think LeBron, Wade or Pat Riley regret inviting him to join their band.

3. (New entry) Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Knicks — – 2010-11 stats: 34 GP, 37.6 MPG, 26.4 PPG, 2.5 APG, 9.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 2.3 BPG, .521 FG%, .545 3P%, .772 FT%, 23.8 PER

He was ranked as a center last month but he’s back in this list now that Ronny Turiaf is starting for the Knicks. Some people (including Mr. Melas) keep waiting for the Knicks to settle back to around the .500 range but Stoudemire keeps putting up big numbers even against elite teams like the Spurs — who he dropped 28 and 9 on in the Knicks’ win on Tuesday.

2. (New entry) Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers — 2010-11 stats: 36 GP, 37.7 MPG, 18.4 PPG, 4.0 APG, 10.7 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 1.9 BPG, .517 FG%, .000 3P%, .811 FT%, 23.1 PER

Now that Phil Jackson has worked Andrew Bynum back into the Lakers’ lineup as starting center, Pau is back to his natural power forward position and his rightful spot as the second-best player in these rankings. He should probably consider buying a new alarm clock, though. If he’s late for another film session, Kobe is totally going to yell at him.

1. (1.) Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks — 2010-11 stats: 29 GP, 35.4 MPG, 24.1 PPG, 2.4 APG, 7.4 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG, .545 FG%, .403 3P%, .879 FT%, 24.9 PER

Dallas had a 24-5 record when Nowitzki sprained his knee in late December but the Mavs have gone 2-3 while he’s been out. Anyone out there doubting his MVP credentials this season? Dirk should be back in the Mavericks’ lineup soon so he remains at the top of this ridiculously talent-rich list.