Kobe Bryant

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.

The two-guard ranks are a little depleted right now with injuries to Eric Gordon, Stephen Jackson and Tyreke Evans keeping them out of consideration for this month. On the bright side, these injuries provide me with an opportunity to introduce some sweet beard action up in here. Unfortunately — because of the wrath I might face in the comments — Wes Matthews got bumped this month due to the strong recent play of the two new entries.

10. (New entry) Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets — 2010-11 stats: 64 GP, 34.7 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 2.4 APG, 3.7 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .501 FG%, .429 3P%, .854 FT%, 13.7 PER

Nuggets coach George Karl wants to start getting Afflalo more touches in the fourth quarter. This is a good idea because of his ridiculous shooting efficiency and his recent tendency for hitting big shots. This is one guy that could become a breakout star on the Nuggets now that Carmelo is gone. He’s already known for his strong defense, but he’ll be the Nuggets’ new “Mr. Big Shot” if he continues his recent exploits.

9. (New entry) James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder — 2010-11 stats: 62 GP, 26.3 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 2.1 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .432 FG%, .354 3P%, .844 FT%, 15.9 PER

No less of an authority than theScore’s Scott Lewis believes that James Harden has the best “non-playoff” beard in sports. I’m inclined to agree. Harden has accepted a bigger role in the Thunder’s offense lately, scoring in double figures in 13 of his last 14 games and averaging 15.4 points per game over that span. Most notably, he played outstanding defense against Kobe Bryant on March 1, holding the Lakers star to 8-for-22 shooting.

8. (Last month: 9.) Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks — 2010-11 stats: 63 GP, 32.0 MPG, 16.4 PPG, 4.3 APG, 1.9 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .451 FG%, .357 3P%, .844 FT%, 16.3 PER

The Jet is 112th all-time in career scoring with 15,278 career points right now, but he’s just 358 points away from passing Sam Cassell for 100th all-time. Sixers coach Doug Collins recently declared Dirk Nowitzki and Terry to be “the best 1-2 punch in the league in the fourth quarter scoring” and I think he’s probably right.

7. (4.) Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks — 2010-11 stats: 54 GP, 36.1 MPG, 19.1 PPG, 5.2 APG, 4.2 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .442 FG%, .290 3P%, .813 FT%, 17.5 PER

Johnson’s shot selection has been less than stellar lately and it seems as though he’s not buying into Hawks coach Larry Drew’s motion offense where he advocates “turning down a good shot to get a great shot”. Johnson apparently thinks most shots are great shots because he’s averaging the third-highest field goal attempts per 36 minutes of his career while his True Shooting Percentage is its lowest since his 2003-04 season.

6. (6.) Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets — 2010-11 stats: 63 GP, 31.3 MPG, 22.8 PPG, 2.4 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.2 BPG, .437 FG%, .394 3P%, .888 FT%, 22.3 PER

Martin continues to quietly score in bunches for a Rockets team trying to re-enter the playoff picture and he earned a Western Conference Player of the Week award while leading the Rockets to four straight wins and scoring at least 30 points in three of those games.

James Harden

5. (7.) Ray Allen, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 61 GP, 36.2 MPG, 17.5 PPG, 2.8 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .503 FG%, .467 3P%, .866 FT%, 17.3 PER

The new all-time three-point shot leader continues to hit his shots at a ridiculous rate. In the past 30 seasons, only three players have finished a season with at least 1,000 points and 100 three-pointers while shooting 50 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond the arc: Steve Nash (twice), Dale Ellis and Jeff Hornacek. The smiling assassin keeps on firing his daggers with frightening lethality.

4. (5.) Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors — 2010-11 stats: 62 GP, 40.8 MPG, 25.0 PPG, 5.3 APG, 3.4 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 0.2 BPG, .454 FG%, .345 3P%, .775 FT%, 18.7 PER

Ellis put up his fourth 40-point game of the season last Friday as he scored 41 points on 13-for-24 shooting against the Celtics. Only Kevin Durant has more 40-point games this season and Kobe Bryant is the only other player to drop 40 on the Celtics. So yeah, I guess you could say Monta can score a little.

3. (3.) Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs — 2010-11 stats: 63 GP, 30.8 MPG, 17.8 PPG, 5.0 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .424 FG%, .341 3P%, .868 FT%, 21.9 PER

How does Ginobili keep playing at such a high level at the age of 33? He says it’s mind over matter: “Basketball is not just about your legs. You have to use your head, your experience, be responsible, respect your opponents. The season isn’t won by (the squad) that beats three or four teams, but the one that defeats everybody.” Who is this guy, The Highlander? Anyway, watching Manu in the playoffs is one of my favorite parts of the NBA postseason — and I’m starting to get amped.

2. (1.) Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat — 2010-11 stats: 59 GP, 37.2 MPG, 25.4 PPG, 4.4 APG, 6.7 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG, .499 FG%, .310 3P%, .730 FT%, 24.7 PER

In his recent BS Report conversation with Bill Simmons, Clippers color commentator Michael Smith described Wade as a “right-handed, more athletic Ginobili”, which is an interesting comparison I hadn’t thought of but Skeets claims he made that comparison years ago. Anyway, I never thought I’d see the day when the Heat wouldn’t use Wade properly but the way he’s been standing in the corner in end-game situations is all kinds of messed up. Mind you, Wade’s free throw percentage is at its lowest in his eight NBA seasons so maybe he isn’t the guy on that team you want with the ball at the end of a game. Crazy, huh?

1. (2.) Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers — 2010-11 stats: 64 GP, 33.8 MPG, 25.1 PPG, 4.8 APG, 5.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.1 BPG, .459 FG%, .321 3P%, .830 FT%, 24.0 PER

The Lakers have won seven straight games while the Heat have lost four straight, so Kobe gets the nod this month. Since everybody’s going off about players on the Heat crying in the locker room, do you think Kobe has ever cried in the Lakers’ locker room? Let’s ask him: “No. Uh no.”