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.
Four new gifted giants on the center rankings this month — Pau Gasol and Amar’e Stoudemire moved to the power forward rankings, Joakim Noah is out until February and Roy Hibbert is in a pretty bad slump at the moment.
10. (New entry) Marcus Camby, Portland Trail Blazers — 2010-11 stats: 33 GP, 28.5 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 2.2 APG, 11.5 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 1.8 BPG, .443 FG%, .000 3P%, .660 FT%, 17.1 PER
No, I’m not putting Camby on the list to appease angry Blazers fans. Let’s just say his pair of 20-rebound games within the last week have made an impression on me. It appears that Camby is going to follow the Dikembe Mutombo route of continuing to be a rebounding and shot-blocking force into his 40s — as long as Camby chooses to play that long. If Portland trades him, he might consider retiring.
9. (New entry) Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz — 2010-11 stats: 36 GP, 35.5 MPG, 16.4 PPG, 1.7 APG, 8.6 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 1.9 BPG, .471 FG%, .000 3P%, .787 FT%, 17.4 PER
Big Al had his first 30-point game of the season on Dec. 29 against the Clippers, which is significant because he used to have two of those games a month when he was a healthy Timberwolf. For a guy who grew up studying the post moves of Olajuwon and Shaq, it has to feel good that his soft touch is coming back to him.
8. (New entry) DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings — 2010-11 stats: 33 GP, 25.9 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 1.6 APG, 7.7 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .437 FG%, .250 3P%, .674 FT%, 14.6 PER
If you watched DMC in college or summer league, you knew that the only thing that could keep him from becoming a top-five center in the NBA is the looseness of his cannon. Presumably, a productive Cousins is a happy Cousins because I’m not hearing any complaints about him now that he’s starting to dominate. If you haven’t watched a full game with him yet, make sure you do. You’ll be amazed that somebody that big is so agile and fluid with the ball. He reminds me of a larger Chris Webber.
7. (9.) Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies — 2010-11 stats: 34 GP, 33.5 MPG, 11.6 PPG, 2.8 APG, 7.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.5 BPG, .522 FG%, .500 3P%, .743 FT%, 16.4 PER
After only five games with double-digit rebounds in his first 32 games, Gasol grabbed exactly 10 boards in each of his last two games. Since he averaged 9.5 rebounds per game last season, this is more what the Grizzlies have come to expect from him.
6. (7.) Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks — 2010-11 stats: 27 GP, 35.3 MPG, 13.3 PPG, 1.7 APG, 11.1 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 2.9 BPG, .495 FG%, .000 3P%, .421 FT%, 17.5 PER
It strikes me as a little odd that a guy shooting 42 percent from the free throw line is trying to add a 15-footer into his repertoire, but the Bucks need somebody to step up and provide some offensive firepower and Bogut thinks he can start making that shot with regularity once his elbow is fully healed. And maybe he can raise his free throw percentage back up to his 58 percent career mark at the same time.
5. (Last month: 8.) Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks — 2010-11 stats: 34 GP, 28.2 MPG, 9.1 PPG, 0.4 APG, 9.4 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 1.2 BPG, .691 FG%, .000 3P%, .756 FT%, 17.6 PER
While the Mavericks have now dropped four of their last six games since they lost Dirk Nowitzki to a knee injury, Tyson Chandler has made a valiant effort to try and step up his production in Dirk’s absence — last night’s double-double against the Thunder was his third in a row. Fun fact: Only one player in NBA history has finished a season with a field goal percentage over .690 with at least 150 field goal attempts (Chandler has 152). That was Wilt Chamberlain with the Lakers in 1972-73.
4. (10.) Nene, Denver Nuggets — 2010-11 stats: 31 GP, 31.7 MPG, 15.1 PPG, 2.3 APG, 7.6 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG, .626 FG%, .500 3P%, .786 FT%, 20.8 PER
I don’t really understand the hand-wringing about who should be the starting center for the Western Conference All-Star team since Yao Ming is going to get the most votes at the position. Nene has clearly been the best center in the West this season, assuming that you consider Pau Gasol to be a power forward. His soft touch around the basket is better than ever — he’s finished a career-high 74.2 percent of his shot attempts around the rim this season.
3. (New entry) Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers — 2010-11 stats: 12 GP, 21.8 MPG, 9.4 PPG, 1.0 APG, 6.7 RPG, 0.0 SPG, 1.4 BPG, .587 FG%, .000 3P%, .568 FT%, 20.3 PER
My fondness for Andrew Bynum’s game has very little to do with his facial resemblance to Tracy Morgan. When he’s healthy and in-shape, he can be a dominant force on offense, defense and the boards like only two other centers in the league who happen to be above him in these rankings. It’s no accident that the Lakers are 4-1 since he returned to the starting lineup.
2. (4.) Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks — 2010-11 stats: 38 GP, 34.2 MPG, 16.3 PPG, 3.2 APG, 9.6 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .565 FG%, .000 3P%, .817 FT%, 22.4 PER
The scary thing about Al Horford for the rest of the league isn’t that he’s already this good, it’s that he could get even better. He’s still working on extending his post game and extending his shooting range so it’s not impossible that he could have a 20 and 10 season at some point.
1. (1.) Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic — 2010-11 stats: 33 GP, 35.8 MPG, 21.4 PPG, 1.2 APG, 13.2 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 2.4 BPG, .566 FG%, .000 3P%, .573 FT%, 24.2 PER
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy says “There is no one in the league who has a bigger impact on a game than Dwight” and it’s hard to argue with him. Unfortunately, MVP voters tend to favor players who are among the leading scorers so Howard probably isn’t going to win that award until the season he leads the Magic to the best record in the NBA. Since Orlando is 23-12 at the moment with seven teams ahead of them in the standings, this probably won’t be that season. As for a third consecutive Defensive Player of the Year Award, that’s basically a lock unless he gets hurt.