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.
If these particular rankings don’t seem to make much sense, it’s because I wrote this while working from home with a sick three-year-old while Dora the Explorer played on a constant loop all day. Lesser men would have gone insane, so cut me some slack here. If you’re wondering why Eric Gordon isn’t in this list, it’s because he’s expected to miss most or all of the month healing from a wrist injury.
10. (New entry) Landry Fields, New York Knicks — 2010-11 stats: 50 GP, 32.3 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 1.9 APG, 7.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .520 FG%, .391 3P%, .767 FT%, 14.3 PER
Knicks President/GM Donnie Walsh probably scoffs at Isiah Thomas’ reputation as a “draft night genius”. Walsh drafted Fields 39th overall in the 2010 draft and Fields has played more minutes this season than any other player from that draft. He’s also third in his draft class in points per game and second in rebounds per game. His 7.2 boards per game are notable because he’s a guard. I’m a Raptors fan and my freakin’ starting center doesn’t grab that many rebounds. Anyway, Blake Griffin has the Rookie of the Year Award on lockdown, but if there was an award for biggest rookie surprise, “Muddy” Fields (the nickname Spike Lee gave him) would be the unanimous winner this season.
9. (Last month: 10.) Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks — 2010-11 stats: 51 GP, 32.4 MPG, 15.8 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.0 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .438 FG%, .327 3P%, .850 FT%, 15.5 PER
I know “cherry-picking” stats are mostly worthless, but they can be fun sometimes. For example, Jason Terry failed to score in double figures in just six games this season and the Mavericks are 1-5 in those games, compared to their 35-10 record when he scores 10 or more points. I’m thinking Mavs fans would agree that they need Jet to get buckets for them to succeed — too bad his three-point percentage is at its lowest since his 1999-2000 rookie season.
8. (New entry) Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers — 2010-11 stats: 52 GP, 33.6 MPG, 16.3 PPG, 1.9 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .441 FG%, .390 3P%, .835 FT%, 15.2 PER
Tas Melas threatened to fire me from the blog if I didn’t include Wes in this month’s rankings, so here you go. If I’m going to fawn over Landry Fields for his achievements as a second rounder, it’s only fair for me to point out that undrafted Wes Matthews is the second-best healthy player on a team that’s currently the eighth seed in the West. I thought the Blazers were crazy to sign Matthews to a five-year, $34 million contract this past off-season, but Portland’s Director of NBA Scouting Mike Born clearly saw a few qualities about Matthews that I didn’t. With the news that Brandon Roy intends to return to action within the next week, let’s see how Matthews adjusts if he ends up back in a sixth man role.
7. (7.) Ray Allen, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 51 GP, 35.9 MPG, 17.5 PPG, 3.0 APG, 3.6 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG, .507 FG%, .462 3P%, .860 FT%, 17.7 PER
Ray Allen is two three-pointers away from passing Reggie Miller for the career record, and guess who the Celtics’ next opponent is? It’s the Lakers, of course. Remarkably, Allen’s 46.2 percent success rate from beyond the arc this season is his best yet.
6. (6.) Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets — 2010-11 stats: 51 GP, 31.5 MPG, 23.5 PPG, 2.4 APG, 3.1 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG, .442 FG%, .408 3P%, .883 FT%, 22.7 PER
You’d think that a player would typically average more than 31.5 minutes per game when he’s just 0.2 points behind Kobe Bryant for the league lead in points per 36 minutes. Unfortunately, Martin is a subpar defender and rebounder and he has a reputation of shying away from taking clutch shots. If you need somebody to light it up for the first three quarters, though, Martin’s your man.
5. (4.) Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors — 2010-11 stats: 50 GP, 41.3 MPG, 25.2 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.5 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .457 FG%, .359 3P%, .773 FT%, 19.1 PER
For me, deciding what positions Kevin Martin and Monta Ellis should be in seems like a virtual toss-up. They’re both prolific scorers who don’t rebound or defend much, but Monta gets the edge because he’ll at least pass the ball occasionally. You should feel bad for whoever has been his main backup the past two seasons (including this one) — Ellis has averaged over 41 minutes per game both seasons.
4. (8.) Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks — 2010-11 stats: 42 GP, 36.5 MPG, 20.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.3 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .450 FG%, .312 3P%, .813 FT%, 19.3 PER
With averages of 26.1 points, 5.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds in his last seven games, Joe’s rounding into “max contract form” for the second half of the season. Let’s face it — if the Hawks have any hope of advancing past the second round of the playoffs, Johnson is going to have put up those kinds of numbers in the post-season as well.
3. (2.) Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs — 2010-11 stats: 50 GP, 31.5 MPG, 18.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .430 FG%, .363 3P%, .876 FT%, 22.5 PER
Not that this is a record that anybody should have bothered to keep track of, but if Manu Ginobili plays in all of the Spurs’ remaining 32 regular season games, he’ll achieve his first 82-game season at the age of 33. As we all know, Manu has aged like a fine Argentinian wine and no part of his game appears to have slipped yet.
2. (3.) Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers — 2010-11 stats: 52 GP, 33.8 MPG, 25.4 PPG, 5.0 APG, 5.2 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .460 FG%, .315 3P%, .830 FT%, 24.8 PER
Sure, it appears that Kobe’s scoring production is down since this is his lowest per-game average since the 2003-04 season — but as I mentioned in the Kevin Martin paragraph, Kobe still leads the league in scoring per 36 minutes. Phil Jackson is simply resting him more so Kobe can be at his best for the playoffs. In the meantime, Lakers fans should hope that Kobe remembers that he has several very good scorers around him, since the Lakers have lost four of Kobe’s five highest-scoring games this season.
1. (1.) Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat — 2010-11 stats: 47 GP, 36.8 MPG, 25.4 PPG, 4.3 APG, 6.9 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.1 BPG, .497 FG%, .316 3P%, .733 FT%, 25.6 PER
The biggest thing that D-Wade deserves credit for this season is adapting his game to meet the needs of his team. Since he doesn’t get to handle the ball quite as much as he did pre-LeBron, his assists per game average is its lowest in eight seasons. On the other hand, his field goal percentage and rebounds per game average are both career-highs. At 29 years old, he doesn’t bounce back up from the court after hard fouls as quickly as he used to, but he’s not going “Vince Carter soft” on us — this is the seventh season in a row where he’s averaged at least nine free throw attempts per game.