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.
There are two new entries on this month’s list, with Raymond Felton falling off because he got too shot-happy (and they stopped falling) and Andre Miller’s age has started to catch up with him so he’s not a particularly good defender anymore.
10. (New entry) D.J. Augustin, Charlotte Bobcats — 2010-11 stats: 50 GP, 34.3 MPG, 14.9 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.0 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .435 FG%, .377 3P%, .902 FT%, 17.2 PER
Not that many of you have likely noticed, but D.J. Augustin is one of the most improved players in the league this season, particularly since Paul Silas took over as Bobcats coach in December. I never thought he could be a top-10 NBA point guard — and it’s obviously debatable whether he is — but the fact that it’s even debatable shows how far he’s come.
9. (New entry) Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors — 2010-11 stats: 41 GP, 34.0 MPG, 19.1 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .480 FG%, .424 3P%, .938 FT%, 20.5 PER
Warriors owner Joe Lacob talked about the possibility of trading Curry on a radio show a couple of weeks ago, but he’s since apologized to Curry and said he’ll be a Warrior “for a very long time”. Whether or not a Curry-Ellis backcourt can be a winning formula going forward is up for debate, but if the Warriors are going to build around one of them, I’d stick with Curry.
8. (9.) Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets — 2010-11 stats: 46 GP, 32.7 MPG, 16.5 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.2 BPG, .432 FG%, .444 3P%, .919 FT%, 18.5 PER
Billups isn’t as much of a playmaker as he used to be — his assists per game average is its lowest since his 2002-03 season — but he’s even more of a killer than ever from long range. Check out his three-point shooting numbers from the last four Nuggets wins: six-for-nine against the T-Wolves, four-for-seven against the Blazers, three-for-six against the Cavs and six-for-nine against the Pistons. Chauncey’s clutch reputation has always been disproportionate to reality, but there’s no denying the man is a killer shot.
7. (7.) Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns — 2010-11 stats: 46 GP, 33.1 MPG, 16.7 PPG, 11.0 APG, 3.7 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .525 FG%, .411 3P%, .917 FT%, 23.3 PER
Steve Nash turns 37 years old today. Ponder that fact for a minute while you look at his numbers. Steve Nash isn’t ranked here because he’s declined significantly from his MVP seasons. It’s just that the point guard position is incredibly talent-rich right now. Of course, the real question with Nash is: Will he still be a Sun when I do the March rankings?
6. (6.) Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs — 2010-11 stats: 50 GP, 32.9 MPG, 17.5 PPG, 6.7 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG, .523 FG%, .366 3P%, .782 FT%, 20.8 PER
Should Spurs fans be miffed that their baller from Bruges didn’t get named as an All-Star reserve? You can make the case that Parker should have been selected instead of Tim Duncan, but it’s not like Tony hasn’t been there before (he’s a three-time All-Star) and I’m pretty sure he has a more important things on his mind, like the fact that his ex-wife is having public make-out sessions with Penelope Cruz’s younger brother. Wait, what?
5. (5.) Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 39 GP, 37.3 MPG, 10.9 PPG, 12.4 APG, 4.3 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .516 FG%, .321 3P%, .548 FT%, 18.8 PER
Has Rondo had some kind of mental breakthrough with his free throw shooting? He went seven-for-nine from the line yesterday against the Magic and he was a combined eight-for-nine in recent games against the Kings and Suns. If he gains the confidence to get to the line and can get to the point where he’s making around 70 percent of his free throws, it will get increasingly difficult to find chinks in Rondo’s armor.
4. (2.) Deron Williams, Utah Jazz — 2010-11 stats: 48 GP, 37.7 MPG, 21.9 PPG, 9.5 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.2 BPG, .463 FG%, .353 3P%, .858 FT%, 22.8 PER
He’s playing with a sore wrist, he’s fed up with his team’s recent lousy defensive efforts, and the Jazz have fallen to seventh place in the West. At this point in his career, it seems that Deron Williams is a very talented player who probably isn’t cut out to be a team leader. That’s not necessarily a knock on him, but he and the Jazz organization might have already come to the conclusion that they’re not going to another conference final anytime soon. I’m sure Jazz fans don’t want to see him traded, but unless they’re going to bring in a new coach with a fresh approach for next season (fat chance of that happening unless Jerry Sloan retires voluntarily), I don’t expect Williams to remain in Utah past the end of his contract in 2012. (Note: Almost immediately after I posted this, the Jazz announced that Sloan has signed a one-year extension that will keep him on Utah’s sideline through the 2011-12 season.)
3. (4.) Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder — 2010-11 stats: 50 GP, 36.0 MPG, 22.5 PPG, 8.6 APG, 5.1 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .438 FG%, .304 3P%, .853 FT%, 24.2 PER
How good can Russell Westbrook get? I ask that because he seems to be becoming more of an unstoppable force with each passing month. For example, he’s a career 26 percent shooter from three-point range, but he had a career-best four-for-four performance beyond the arc to complement his 33 points and 10 assists in a win over the Jazz on Saturday. Of course, when he’s not doing damage from long range, he’s driving relentlessly to the hoop and putting “fake tough guys” like Chris Bosh on posters.
2. (1.) Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets — 2010-11 stats: 52 GP, 35.3 MPG, 16.7 PPG, 9.7 APG, 3.9 RPG, 2.5 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .491 FG%, .463 3P%, .905 FT%, 25.9 PER
With his surgically repaired left knee, it’s amazing that Chris Paul still plays at the incredibly high level he does. But there’s no denying that his game is not quite the same as it was pre-surgery — he can’t carry the same offensive load that he did two seasons ago. What makes him great is that he’s compensated for his inability to get the rim the way he used to (2.0 shot attempts per game at the rim so far this season compared to 4.4 per game in 2008-09, according to Hoopdata.com) by becoming one of the deadliest shooters in the game. If his body doesn’t betray him too badly, you can expect him to carry on Steve Nash’s legacy of 50/40/90 percent shooting seasons.
1. (3.) Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls — 2010-11 stats: 48 GP, 38.0 MPG, 24.4 PPG, 8.2 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG, .445 FG%, .370 3P%, .825 FT%, 22.7 PER
I’d like to ask you a question. If a Derrick Rose-for-Chris Paul trade was on the table, which team would say “no” faster, the Bulls or the Hornets? I thought hard about this one and I’m putting Rose at the top of my point guard rankings right now because I think the Bulls would turn it down without a second thought while the Hornets would probably at least consider it. Is Chris Paul a better pure point guard? Without question. But who’s the more valuable player so far this season? There’s the debate, and I know many of you won’t agree with the side I’ve taken. Fire away!