Dwight Howard

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.

As you’d expect with this position, injuries have created a couple of new openings on this month’s rankings. Well, that and the possibility that Al Jefferson’s defense might have had something to do with Jerry Sloan saying, “F*** it! I’m outta here!”

10. (New entry) Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns — 2010-11 stats: 48 GP, 20.2 MPG, 7.0 PPG, 0.7 APG, 6.2 RPG, 0.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG, .554 FG%, 1.000 3P%, .731 FT%, 16.1 PER

The Polish Hammer! OK, he wouldn’t make this list if Joakim Noah, Emeka Okafor or Marcus Camby were healthy, but he’s taken to playing with Steve Nash like jelly takes to peanut butter. He’s probably not going to ever be an All-Star, but Suns fans are ecstatic that Gortat and Robin Lopez give them two decent legit centers on their team for the first time since Alvan Adams and James Edwards in the ’80s. (Lopez didn’t become decent until after Shaq left Phoenix.)

9. (New entry) Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers — 2010-11 stats: 49 GP, 27.2 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 2.2 APG, 7.8 RPG, 0.3 SPG, 1.8 BPG, .448 FG%, .000 3P%, .718 FT%, 16.4 PER

Have you been paying attention to how Hibbert and the Pacers have played since Frank Vogel replaced Jim O’Brien as their coach? They’re 5-1 and Hibbert is back to playing with the confidence and aggressiveness that made him look like a potential top-five center in November. Can he keep it up? My Magic 8-Ball says, “Cannot predict now” so I’m sticking him here in the rankings for this month.

8. (8.) DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings — 2010-11 stats: 49 GP, 26.8 MPG, 13.9 PPG, 1.8 APG, 8.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .438 FG%, .273 3P%, .676 FT%, 15.0 PER

If Cousins can learn to avoid foul trouble, he will average 20 and 10 per game in the not-too-distant future. He’s only 20 years old and he’s already averaging 18.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes. There are other youth-related issues he needs to overcome — he’s immature, he’s emotionally unstable, he turns the ball over too often — but the upside is high with this one.

7. (7.) Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies — 2010-11 stats: 53 GP, 33.4 MPG, 11.8 PPG, 2.7 APG, 7.0 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 1.7 BPG, .518 FG%, .500 3P%, .752 FT%, 16.0 PER

Gasol will be a restricted free agent while Zach Randolph will be an unrestricted free agent after this season so the Grizzlies are going to have a tough decision to make about how much they’re willing to spend to keep this frontcourt together. Memphis has a top-10 Defensive Rating (104.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) for the first time since the 2005-06 season, and Gasol’s solid post defense deserves a lot of the credit.

6. (4.) Nene, Denver Nuggets — 2010-11 stats: 48 GP, 30.7 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 2.2 APG, 7.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG, .640 FG%, .333 3P%, .765 FT%, 21.6 PER

With all the Carmelo drama occurring in Denver, I suppose it’s been easy to ignore that Nene is playing his best out of his nine NBA seasons. The Nuggets have had the most efficient offense in the league so far this season (112.7 points scored per 100 possessions) and it’s clear that Nene’s 15 points per game on 64 percent shooting have a lot to do with that ranking. Among players with over 200 shot attempts at the rim, Nene edges out Dwight Howard for the highest conversion rate at 75.2 percent. His unmatched finishing ability comes from a unique combination of strength, touch and the ability to score with both hands.

Marcin Gortat
5. (6.) Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks — 2010-11 stats: 42 GP, 35.9 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 2.0 APG, 11.5 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 2.9 BPG, .497 FG%, .000 3P%, .416 FT%, 18.0 PER

After talking about the league’s best team offence, now we move onto the NBA’s second-worst offense in the Milwaukee Bucks. Bogut’s absurdly low free throw percentage is part of the problem, but he never shot worse than 57 percent before this season so I have to believe he’s going to come around. Regardless, the reason he’s ranked this high in spite of his free throw woes is that he’s one of the top rebounders, shot-blockers and overall post defenders in the game. Considering that the Bucks need scoring, there’s a slim but not insignificant chance that Bogut might be available if the right offer is made before this month’s trade deadline.

4. (5.) Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks — 2010-11 stats: 50 GP, 28.5 MPG, 10.5 PPG, 0.4 APG, 9.5 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 1.2 BPG, .659 FG%, .000 3P%, .776 FT%, 19.1 PER

Mavericks fans shouldn’t be too disgruntled that Chandler was overlooked for this year’s Western Conference All-Star reserves. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after this season and his first All-Star appearance would surely have driven up his asking price. In the meantime, he’s the perfect complement to Dirk in Dallas’ frontcourt — as long as they can remain simultaneously healthy.

3. (3.) Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers — 2010-11 stats: 28 GP, 25.4 MPG, 11.5 PPG, 1.1 APG, 7.4 RPG, 0.1 SPG, 1.8 BPG, .578 FG%, .000 3P%, .667 FT%, 20.4 PER

There are some people who believe that a healthy Andrew Bynum is just as important to the Lakers’ three-peat chances as are Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant. Last night against the rival Celtics, Bynum had 16 points and nine rebounds on six-for-10 shooting while opposing Boston big men Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis shot a combined 11-for-29. Those “Bynum believers” might be right.

2. (2.) Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks — 2010-11 stats: 48 GP, 35.1 MPG, 16.2 PPG, 3.6 APG, 9.9 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 1.1 BPG, .569 FG%, .000 3P%, .820 FT%, 22.5 PER

Maybe one day, Al Horford will get to play his natural power forward position so that he can better preserve his body (he’s currently out with a back injury) and avoid the pounding that comes from being an everyday NBA center. Until that day, he’ll merely have to settle for being the clear-cut, second-best center in the league.

1. (1.) Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic — 2010-11 stats: 52 GP, 36.7 MPG, 22.5 PPG, 1.2 APG, 13.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 2.1 BPG, .581 FG%, .000 3P%, .584 FT%, 25.3 PER

You see that picture of smiling Dwight at the top of this post? That wasn’t hard to find. Dwight smiles all the time. He’s a fun-loving guy who loves to tell jokes and do funny impressions of his coach and other players. I wish he would start saving his smiling and joking for when he’s off the court and get serious about leading his team to a championship.  As great as he is, I wonder if he’ll ever take the game seriously enough to try to do what’s best for the team all the time instead of just trying to have fun out on the court.