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.
Michael Beasley dropped off this list because I’m not that impressed anymore that he’s a volume scorer on a horrible team, and Wilson Chandler fell off because he fell into a nasty funk in January.
10. (New entry) Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz — 2010-11 stats: 48 GP, 32.4 MPG, 11.6 PPG, 2.9 APG, 5.5 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG, .456 FG%, .375 3P%, .795 FT%, 16.4 PER
Lest we forget, AK-47 was once one of the top 20 players in the NBA — a dynamic all-around player who averaged 15 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and made three consecutive All-Defensive Teams. Then he got a massive raise and immediately transformed from the most underpaid player in the league to one of the most overpaid. Now he’s mostly noteworthy for his $17.8 million expiring contract, but he still shows flashes of what he used to be, such as his recent back-to-back, three-block games. He claims he’d be willing to sign for less money to stay in Utah beyond this season, but something tells me that Jerry Sloan might be sick of him after 10 enigmatic seasons.
9. (Last month: 10.) Grant Hill, Phoenix Suns — 2010-11 stats: 47 GP, 30.4 MPG, 14.3 PPG, 2.4 APG, 4.7 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .500 FG%, .390 3P%, .830 FT%, 16.6 PER
He’s arguably the classiest player in the NBA and he might be the only above-average defender in Phoenix. Thanks to the Suns’ renowned training staff, he might play into his 40s and the league will be better for his continued presence.
8. (9.) Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls — 2010-11 stats: 50 GP, 39.0 MPG, 17.8 PPG, 2.5 APG, 6.2 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .454 FG%, .347 3P%, .725 FT%, 15.2 PER
Luol Deng is a classic “glue guy” and your team is in really good shape if he’s your fourth-best player. There’s some talk he might get an All-Defensive Team nod this season, which isn’t one of the perennial All-Star Game appearances some Bulls fans expected from him but it shows that he might not be so overpaid, after all.
7. (New entry) Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers — 2010-11 stats: 39 GP, 37.1 MPG, 14.4 PPG, 6.0 APG, 5.7 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .465 FG%, .333 3P%, .683 FT%, 18.2 PER
There’s no question that the Sixers would love to be rid of Iguodala’s ponderous contract, but the fact remains that’s he’s still a pretty good all-around player that would be well-regarded as the third-best player on a contending team. In the meantime, he’s been thriving lately as Philly’s point forward as coach Doug Collins encourages him to pass more and shoot less.
6. (8.) Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers — 2010-11 stats: 48 GP, 36.3 MPG, 20.9 PPG, 2.8 APG, 5.5 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG, .423 FG%, .383 3P%, .849 FT%, 17.3 PER
The Pacers are 4-1 since Frank Vogel took over as coach, and a more aggressive Danny Granger has emerged under the new regime as he’s been driving more and drawing more fouls. Unfortunately, he’s never really developed the handles to be the elite wing scorer he aspires to be.
5. (6.) Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies — 2010-11 stats: 51 GP, 40.4 MPG, 20.0 PPG, 2.8 APG, 6.2 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG, .467 FG%, .397 3P%, .808 FT%, 17.8 PER
Rudy Gay: underrated clutch performer? He beat both the Heat and the Raptors with almost identical buzzer-beaters this season, and knowledgeable fans on opposing teams are figuring out that you don’t want to see the ball in his hands with the game on the line. As one Raptors fan said, “NO! NOT THIS GUY!”
4. (4.) Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 51 GP, 34.7 MPG, 19.0 PPG, 3.3 APG, 5.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .506 FG%, .401 3P%, .850 FT%, 20.0 PER
Rajon Rondo deserves some of the credit, but kudos to Pierce for shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent beyond the arc in the same season for the first time in his 13-season career. While Ray Allen is getting a lot of publicity for being on the verge of breaking Reggie Miller’s all-time three-pointer mark, Pierce is on pace to pass Tim Hardaway, Eddie Jones and Glen Rice for ninth place on the career treys chart.
3. (3.) Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets — 2010-11 stats: 45 GP, 35.3 MPG, 24.6 PPG, 2.8 APG, 7.8 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .442 FG%, .306 3P%, .820 FT%, 21.0 PER
You’re probably bored with all the Melo trade talk unless you’re a Knicks fan, but a more pressing question going forward is what happened to his shooting touch? His field goal percentage is at its lowest since his 2004-05 season and his three-point percentage hasn’t been this low since 2006-07. It raises the question of whether or not a contending team can have somebody like Anthony taking so many shots at such low efficiency.
2. (2.) Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder — 2010-11 stats: 47 GP, 39.8 MPG, 29.0 PPG, 2.8 APG, 7.1 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .471 FG%, .347 3P%, .885 FT%, 24.2 PER
The Thunder are coming on strong in the second half of the season and Durant could very well lead his team to the second seed in the Western Conference. He was just named the Player of the Week in the Western Conference after averaging an impressive 29.3 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field and 47 percent beyond the arc over a three-game period.
1. (1.) LeBron James, Miami Heat — 2010-11 stats: 50 GP, 38.3 MPG, 26.4 PPG, 7.3 APG, 7.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .486 FG%, .356 3P%, .764 FT%, 27.0 PER
Meanwhile, LeBron was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week and even his many haters are going to have a difficult time denying him MVP honors if he continues to have performances like his 51-points, 11-rebounds, eight-assists game from last week and his 41/13/8 display from last night. Besides, look at Cleveland now — Steve Nash won his first MVP trophy in spite of the fact that the Mavericks won six more games the season after he left.