Dirk Nowitzki

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.

Amare Stoudemire has been moved to the center rankings since that’s where he’s playing most of his minutes right now, but this remains the most stacked position in the league. Damn good players like Carlos Boozer, Josh Smith, Paul Millsap and Luis Scola have all been excluded out of necessity.

10. (9.) Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs — 2010-11 stats: 64 GP, 28.7 MPG, 13.3 PPG, 2.8 APG, 9.1 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 2.0 BPG, .488 FG%, .000 3P%, .704 FT%, 21.2 PER

Timmy will still give you a double-double most nights if you give him enough minutes, but it doesn’t bode well for the playoffs that the Lakers have absolutely owned him this season. In their three matchups, Duncan averaged just four points and six rebounds in 28 minutes. The fact that the Spurs still managed to win two of those games shows how deep this team is.

9. (5.) Chris Bosh, Miami Heat — 2010-11 stats: 60 GP, 36.3 MPG, 18.1 PPG, 1.8 APG, 8.1 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG, .485 FG%, .273 3P%, .810 FT%, 18.7 PER

According to Hoopdata, 35.3 percent of Bosh’s field goal attempts last season occurred at the rim. This season, only 22.5 percent of Bosh’s shots are at the rim. I don’t know how much of his increased softness is because of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s gameplan and how much of it is because he has less muscle on his frame than he had last season, but this is not the Chris Bosh the Heat thought they were getting. Miami’s late-game struggles are an issue, but they need Bosh to rediscover his inner aggro in order to have a legitimate chance of making it to the finals this season.

8. (New entry) David West, New Orleans Hornets — 2010-11 stats: 65 GP, 34.9 MPG, 18.7 PPG, 2.4 APG, 7.6 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.9 BPG, .505 FG%, .222 3P%, .808 FT%, 20.5 PER

It took a missed buzzer-beater by Dirk Nowitzki but without Chris Paul in the lineup, West had 16 points and 10 rebounds last night to lead the Hornets to a one-point victory over the Mavericks. From January 14 to March 2, West scored at least 15 points in 21 of 22 games — it doesn’t get much more solid than that.

7. (10.) Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies — 2010-11 stats: 61 GP, 37.0 MPG, 20.2 PPG, 1.9 APG, 12.8 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .490 FG%, .176 3P%, .758 FT%, 22.2 PER

Randolph and his frontcourt partner, Marc Gasol are both free agents after this season, but the Grizzlies would be crazy to not try to keep them together — especially after Knicks commentator Walt “Clyde” Frazier christened their “Ga-Z-Bo” nickname last night.

6. (8.) Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves — 2010-11 stats: 66 GP, 36.5 MPG, 20.8 PPG, 2.5 APG, 15.8 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .471 FG%, .423 3P%, .852 FT%, 24.7 PER

K-Love is easily the hardest player to rank among all the NBA positions. Would he put up anything close to these kinds of numbers on a team that was even halfway decent? At the moment, my answer is “probably” and I think he’s properly ranked here because I refuse to believe that most GMs would choose him over Blake Griffin. Speaking of which…

Kevin Love
5. (7.) Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers — 2010-11 stats: 65 GP, 37.9 MPG, 22.5 PPG, 3.7 APG, 12.4 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .506 FG%, .389 3P%, .642 FT%, 22.2 PER

It seems all you need to hold Blake Griffin to pedestrian numbers is have Kevin Garnett guard him — Griffin was held to 12 points and seven rebounds last night, only the third time this season both of those numbers were that low. Luckily, all the attention the Celtics paid to Griffin enabled his teammates to get open shots and they capitalized by shooting 52 percent from the field and earning their biggest win of the season.

4. (4.) LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers — 2010-11 stats: 64 GP, 39.9 MPG, 22.4 PPG, 2.1 APG, 8.8 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.2 BPG, .498 FG%, 3P%, FT%, 21.7 PER

Aldridge continues to score at an impressive rate but his rebounding numbers have taken a precipitous drop recently — even though he’s played at least 40 minutes in each of his last five games, he failed to grab five rebounds in three of those games. To be fair, playing next to Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace means there probably won’t be a ton of available rebounds for LMA, and the Blazers have won four straight.

3. (6.) Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 53 GP, 31.8 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 2.5 APG, 9.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG, .518 FG%, .000 3P%, .861 FT%, 21.1PER

K.G. took the Kendrick Perkins trade pretty hard, but he hasn’t let it affect his play. Doc Rivers has been getting him into playoff form by playing him at least 30 minutes in each of his last 16 games. When he’s inevitably named to an All-Defensive Team after the season, it will be his 11th selection and will tie him with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for second all-time (behind Tim Duncan, who has 13 selections). If he receives his ninth first-team selection — and he should — he’ll be tied with Michael Jordan and Gary Payton for the most ever.

2. (2.) Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers — 2010-11 stats: 65 GP, 37.1 MPG, 18.6 PPG, 3.6 APG, 10.4 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 1.7 BPG, .527 FG%, .500 3P%, .826 FT%, 23.6 PER

Gasol used to be more of a finesse player like Chris Bosh, but Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant constantly encourage him to play inside which has led to him taking 32.3 percent of his shots at the rim this season — compared to Bosh’s 22.5 percent, as noted above. That’s a big reason why Gasol is ranked up here while Bosh isn’t. Also, Pau has adjusted quite nicely to playing next to a healthy Andrew Bynum, as indicated by the Lakers’ seven-game win streak.

1. (1.) Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks — 2010-11 stats: 55 GP, 34.1 MPG, 23.0 PPG, 2.5 APG, 6.6 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.7 BPG, .531 FG%, .425 3P%, .877 FT%, 23.9 PER

True shooting percentage (TS%) is a shooting stat that incorporates two-pointers, three-pointers and free throws. Nowitzki’s .627 TS% is the highest of his 13 NBA seasons, which is amazing. Do you think any NBA player is hungrier to win a title this season than Dirk? Oh, how I’d love to eavesdrop on his motivational speech before a Game Seven these playoffs. I bet it would go something like this…

“When some wild-eyed, seven-foot-tall maniac gets right in your favorite face, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if you paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol’ Dirk Nowitzki always says at a time like that: ‘Have ya paid your dues, Dirk?’ ‘Yes sir, the check is in the mail.’”