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 you’ve been reading these rankings since I started doing them in November, you might have noticed that the player who is ranked first gets to have his photo at the top of the post. Since Mr. Durant is up there, that means the most talented player in the NBA isn’t number one at his position this month. Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past week, you probably know why.
10. (9.) Grant Hill, Phoenix Suns — 2010-11 stats: 60 GP, 30.8 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 2.5 APG, 4.5 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .485 FG%, .405 3P%, .843 FT%, 15.5 PER
According to Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston, Grant Hill leads the NBA with 49 offensive fouls drawn. Is that because of his veteran savvy or because the refs call a lot of “50/50 moments” in his favor? I’d say it’s a little of both. Being a class act has its advantages.
9. (New entry) Gerald Wallace, Portland Trail Blazers — 2010-11 stats: 54 GP, 38.2 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 2.3 APG, 8.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .431 FG%, .339 3P%, .738 FT%, 15.2 PER
Free at last! After six-and-a-half seasons in Charlotte with just one playoff series appearance to show for it, Crash has taken his talents to the town where the ’90s never died. Wallace is surprisingly sour about his “betrayal” by the Bobcats management, but based on his renewed vitality on the court, his resentment is only inspiring him to play as hard as ever. I’m not entirely sure what Blazers coach Nate McMillan is thinking in bringing Wallace off the bench, but I assume he’ll come to his senses before the playoffs.
8. (10.) Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz — 2010-11 stats: 57 GP, 31.9 MPG, 12.0 PPG, 3.0 APG, 5.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.2 BPG, .477 FG%, .368 3P%, .774 FT%, 16.9 PER
It’s been flying under the radar with all the drama taking place in Utah these days, but AK-47 has been a bright spot as the Jazz struggle to adjust to life without Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams. Along with his career-high three-point percentage, he’s been blocking shots and grabbing steals lately like the fantasy monster he used to be.
7. (8.) Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls — 2010-11 stats: 62 GP, 39.2 MPG, 17.6 PPG, 2.7 APG, 5.9 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .455 FG%, .341 3P%, .754 FT%, 15.2 PER
Deng’s solid all-around game is well-established at this point, but his defense is still being underappreciated. According to John Schuhmann and Steve Aschburner of NBA.com, Deng is part of the league’s best five-man defensive unit along with Omer Asik, Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson (74.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, based on 96 minutes). I expect this will be the first of Deng’s seven seasons where he will be named to one of the All-Defensive Teams.
6. (6.) Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers — 2010-11 stats: 62 GP, 35.7 MPG, 20.7 PPG, 2.6 APG, 5.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG, .431 FG%, .386 3P%, .853 FT%, 17.6 PER
It’s hard to comprehend that the Pacers are an eighth seed right now even though they’re nine games under .500, but that’s the landscape in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference. After hitting just 41.5 percent of his shots through the first three months of the season, Granger shot 48.9 percent from the field in February as the Pacers went 8-5 to enter the East’s comical playoff picture. Indiana’s anemic offense requires that Granger keep up that hot streak if they’re going to achieve the honor of getting destroyed in the first round.
5. (7.) Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers — 2010-11 stats: 51 GP, 37.1 MPG, 14.3 PPG, 6.4 APG, 6.0 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .448 FG%, .328 3P%, .709 FT%, 18.1 PER
If Deng makes one of the All-Defensive Teams after this season, Iguodala should receive serious consideration for the other one. He’s been the Sixers’ star-stopper this season and Sixers blogger Depressed Fan has created an informative graphic to show Iguodala’s “victim list”. He probably won’t get serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year because of his team’s mediocrity, but his valuable all-around game might make the Sixers consider keeping him as a key building block to lead their youth movement going forward.
4. (4.) Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 61 GP, 34.9 MPG, 19.1 PPG, 3.2 APG, 5.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .503 FG%, .381 3P%, .855 FT%, 19.7 PER
How important has Paul Pierce been to the Celtics’ success this season? According to 82games.com, the Celtics are 19.3 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor compared to when he’s on the bench. Combine that with his career-best percentages on field goal and free throw attempts, and you can make the case that the 33-year-old is having his best season yet.
3. (3.) Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks — 2010-11 stats: 58 GP, 35.5 MPG, 25.3 PPG, 2.9 APG, 7.4 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .452 FG%, .344 3P%, .821 FT%, 21.3 PER
I will admit to rolling my eyes whenever I hear Carmelo Anthony referred to as the best pure scorer in the game, but his offensive production hasn’t dipped a bit now that he’s sharing shots with Amare Stoudemire in New York. Knicks fans are seeing first-hand that Carmelo’s defensive dedication tends to waver, but they can count on him for 25 points a game and a willingness and ability to take and make big shots — that’s something they’ve been missing for a long time.
2. (1.) LeBron James, Miami Heat — 2010-11 stats: 62 GP, 38.5 MPG, 26.3 PPG, 7.1 APG, 7.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .497 FG%, .339 3P%, .754 FT%, 26.9 PER
LeBron hasn’t lost five games in a row since the 2005-06 season, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s not taking this current losing streak particularly well. In those five losses, he scored just 19 of his 139 points (13.7 percent) in the fourth quarter. That’s not going to cut it, particularly in the playoffs. If I do these rankings for another 10 seasons (Let’s hope not.), this might be the last month I don’t rank LeBron at the top of his position. But at this particular moment, he doesn’t deserve that kind of respect.
1. (2.) Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder — 2010-11 stats: 58 GP, 39.5 MPG, 28.1 PPG, 2.8 APG, 7.1 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .462 FG%, .347 3P%, .874 FT%, 23.5 PER
Whether or not he wins the Most Valuable Player award this season, Kevin Durant would probably be a landslide winner if there was a vote for the Most Appreciated Player. Since the Thunder will probably have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, it’s that much more likely we’ll get to see how brightly Durant will shine under the increased spotlight of the second round and beyond. Besides the Thunder’s eventual first-round opponents, who won’t be excited to witness that?