LeBron James and Kevin Durant

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.

It’s always fun for me when I can introduce someone new to the position rankings, especially when it’s a guy as easy to root for as Jared Dudley. Meanwhile, LeBron reclaims his rightful spot at the top of the small forward rankings after a really, really good March.

10. (New entry) Jared Dudley, Phoenix Suns — 2010-11 stats: 77 GP, 25.7 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 1.3 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .476 FG%, .403 3P%, .754 FT%, 15.2 PER

JMZ plays the two, the three and the four but this seems like the most logical position to rank him in. Since he took Vince Carter’s place in the Suns’ starting lineup six games ago, he’s averaged 16.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.7 steals and shot 51 percent from the field. Unsurprisingly, Suns coach Alvin Gentry recently said, “If he continues to play like that, I don’t know why he wouldn’t be a starter.”

9. (New entry) Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets — 2010-11 stats: 59 GP, 34.3 MPG, 15.9 PPG, 1.7 APG, 4.9 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .418 FG%, .356 3P%, .866 FT%, 15.8 PER

Since Gallinari returned to the Nuggets lineup from a toe injury, he’s shown why Knicks fans were so bummed out they had to include him in the Carmelo Anthony trade. He’s known as a three-point shooting specialist, but unlike most “pure shooters” he also gets to the free throw line quite often — specifically, 7.5 attempts per game with the Nuggets. The fact that he makes over 85 percent of those free throws is why he’s one of the more efficient scorers in the game.

8. (Last month: 7.) Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls — 2010-11 stats: 77 GP, 39.3 MPG, 17.5 PPG, 2.7 APG, 5.7 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .458 FG%, .341 3P%, .750 FT%, 15.4 PER

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gets the lion’s share of the glory for his team improving their Defensive Efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) from 11th in the league last season to second overall this season, but Thibodeau assigns a lot of the credit to Deng. Thibodeau refers to him as “by far our best individual and team defender” and hopes he gets recognized on the All-Defensive teams this season.

7. (5.) Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers — 2010-11 stats: 65 GP, 36.9 MPG, 14.1 PPG, 6.4 APG, 5.8 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .445 FG%, .337 3P%, .695 FT%, 17.3 PER

The Sixers have taken an even bigger defensive leap from last season — they’ve improved from 24th to eighth in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency — and there’s no question that Iguodala deserves the most credit as the guy who consistently has to guard the other team’s most dangerous offensive player. Sixers president Rod Thorn considers Iguodala to be “as good, if not better, than any wing defender in the league” and I’m not inclined to disagree with him.

6. (6.) Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers — 2010-11 stats: 76 GP, 35.1 MPG, 20.4 PPG, 2.6 APG, 5.4 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .423 FG%, .378 3P%, .849 FT%, 17.6 PER

While the Pacers are unlikely to upset the Bulls in their eventual first round matchup, we can probably assume Danny Granger will make more of a contribution than he did in his only other playoff appearance in 2005-06, when he averaged just 8.2 points in a six-game series loss to the Nets.

Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony

5. (9.) Gerald Wallace, Portland Trail Blazers — 2010-11 stats: 68 GP, 37.9 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 2.4 APG, 8.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG, .452 FG%, .322 3P%, .742 FT%, 16.1 PER

Do you think Wallace needed a fresh start outside of Charlotte to rediscover his borderline All-Star talent? He’s always been better suited as the second-best player on a team, and he’s filled that role in Portland well enough that it’s understandable why the Trail Blazers are considered the most likely team to pull off a first round playoff upset.

4. (4.) Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics — 2010-11 stats: 77 GP, 34.6 MPG, 18.8 PPG, 3.3 APG, 5.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .497 FG%, .375 3P%, .856 FT%, 19.7 PER

Don’t blame Pierce for the Celtics’ late season struggles — he’s been Mr. Consistency in scoring at least 18 points in each of his last nine games. You can attribute his points per game being 3.4 below his career average to the fact that he’s taken 3.5 fewer field goal attempts per game than his career rate. He’s made the most of the scoring opportunities he’s had — his .497 field goal percentage is the best of his 13-season career.

3. (3.) Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks — 2010-11 stats: 73 GP, 35.8 MPG, 25.5 PPG, 2.9 APG, 7.2 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .455 FG%, .372 3P%, .838 FT%, 21.4 PER

Despite the fact that his former team is performing incredibly well since he left them, I doubt that the Knicks have trader’s remorse with the way he’s rounding into playoff form. He earned the most recent Eastern Conference Player of the Week award after averaging 34.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in three New York victories.

2. (1.) Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder — 2010-11 stats: 73 GP, 39.3 MPG, 27.8 PPG, 2.8 APG, 7.5 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .461 FG%, .353 3P%, .881 FT%, 23.7 PER

One of the more under-reported storylines of this season is the way that Kevin Durant’s numbers have actually slightly declined across the board since last season. He’s still a lock to capture his second straight scoring championship, but now that he’s sharing shots with Russell Westbrook those projections of a future 35-points-per-game season seem pretty unrealistic.

1. (2.) LeBron James, Miami Heat — 2010-11 stats: 75 GP, 38.7 MPG, 26.6 PPG, 7.0 APG, 7.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .510 FG%, .328 3P%, .759 FT%, 27.1 PER

Is it possible that LeBron James has become underrated? Or is it more likely that he’s so widely reviled that most people just choose to ignore how amazing he’s played over the past month? In March, LeBron averaged 28 points per game on 58 percent shooting and added 7.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game for good measure. NBA’s selection for Eastern Conference Player of the Month, Derrick Rose, averaged 25.6 points per game on 42 percent shooting along with 3.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists. Rose’s primary advantage was that the Bulls went 13-3 in the month while the Heat went 9-6. It’s this kind of thinking that will go into Rose’s MVP award — that and the fact that Everybody Hates LeBron.

Comments (18)

  1. Can you really blame the lebron-haters?

  2. Luol Deng should be #1 :)

  3. LeBron is definitely underrated. He’s the best player in the NBA by miles and miles right? I feel like there are a lot of people who might try to argue that.

  4. avtar – what else can it be?

    I find it really difficult to look at their respective numbers and see why Rose is the clear-cut choice for MVP. It doesn’t make sense to me and I’m actually quite a fan of Rose and the Bulls.

    On top of the individual numbers, LeBron’s the highest points scorer and probably the best defender on the Heat, who are a top 10 offensive and defensive team. Rose is the highest points scorer on a less than average offensive team, and arguably the worst defender on the 2nd best defensive team.

    It could be the better records? But the Heat are only 3 games behind – it’s hardly here nor there in terms of MVP candidacy.

    I think it’s hard to call. But when there’s obvious favour towards Rose for MVP, you have to wonder where it comes from and it appears (to me, at the very least) it’s coming from LeBron hate. And although he made a complete ass of himself with the decision, he’s really done nothing all that wrong.

  5. @Jeezy

    The Bulls are above average on offense looking at DRtg, 12th in the league: http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2011.html

    Also, Rose’s overall numbers might not jump out from the rest of the MVP candidates, but his play late in games is what sets him apart.

  6. Yeah, true – I was merely looking at ppg.

    I guess what I was trying to say is it’s a tough choice, and it’s frustrating when one candidate has pretty much locked it in without having a clear, specific advantage over the rest. Even if he does deserve it.

  7. Dorrell Wright is better at basketball than Jared Dudley. Just sayin

  8. You seem to be looking for a clear, specific *statistical* advantage. What Rose provides extends beyond the box score. That’s not to say that other players don’t also do this, but I think Rose has done it more, especially late in close games. Or to stop their opponents’ runs, etc. Shouldn’t intangibles count toward determining who the MVP is?

  9. Hmm, this kind of comes back to what Scott was getting at in the article. The LeBron hatred is the intangible that is determining (or contributing to) him not becoming MVP.

    I do completely agree though – intangibles, individual stats, team records, etc should all be considered. Obviously with intangibles the problem is they are exactly that – intangible, unmeasurable. So there’s always going to be heated debate, vastly differing options, and that’s absolutely fine.

  10. The problem with saying that Rose, or anyone else for that matter, provides something “beyond the box score” is that those who have seen enough Bulls games to notice his intangibles and leadership qualities have not seen enough Heat or Magic games in order to make that judgment about Lebron or Howard. Living in Miami i’ve seen nearly every Heat game this year and thus I can attest that Lebron also does a thousand things that cannot be seen in the boxscore; however i can in no way prove this, and neither can those that say the same thing about Rose. Intangibles are inherently subjective.

  11. I, too, can indeed use exceptionally long linguistics with regards to conversing about the National Basketabll Association’s most valuable player award. However, I shall refrian from doing so.

  12. refrian?

    If you’re gonna be an a-hole, make sure you do it perfectly. Biatch.

  13. It was a joke, relax. I’m sorry if I offended anyone- did not mean to at all.

  14. I would put Pierce ahead of Melo… defense counts Scott… so does winning

  15. Pierce > Melo, agreed. The Celtics could iso Pierce all the time and put up Melo scoring numbers (with vastly superior defensive ability) if they felt like it, but they prefer to be a good basketball team. Do you really doubt though that Pierce is the third best SF in the league?

  16. I have a hard time believing that a 30-something Paul Pierce could post 25pts on average with only ISOs and still be able to guard anyone.

    That’s not to say ‘Melo’s better… To me, ‘Melo is more talented, Pierce is more useful…

    I still have Howard as MVP.

  17. I will eloquently state that I happened to spend my evening this past night watching the Heat play with their MVP James against the Bucks and saw many an intangible quality to his play. He is the National Basketball Association’s best statistical player and you shouldn’t ever let him get near the rim. In fact, if it weren’t for such biases about a decision he made almost a year ago, I believe that we would all think Lebron is the best individual wing defender in the league. How do you possibly think that Andre Iguodala is better?

    Allow me to also say that I do not think as highly of any offensive or defensive contribution of Dwyane Wade on the Heat because since he doesn’t handle the ball as much anymore, I no longer consider him an essential element of this team’s offense or defense and he could be gone and we still would’ve won 54 games, much the same way the Bulls continued winning despite the absence of the team’s two best post players for two months out of the season. If you just look at the numbers, you’ll see that the Heat are all Lebron with some contributions from others and there is no one else giving contribution that might make it harder to play the zones that have previously slowed down Lebron in the past.

  18. lebron should definately be mvp…you take him off the heat, they are a mediocre team because they do not have a supporting cast beyond wade and bosh and if bosh has an off night (a frequent occurance for him) , wade can’t be putting up 40-something points a night while bosh shoots 1 for 18. if you take derrick rose off of the bulls they are still a strong team because their defense is so good, especially their 2nd unit. Noah and Boozer can put up numbers, along with luol deng and they have multiple other role players. The Lebron hating is so stupid i’m so sick of it, Kobe Bryant basically assaulted a woman and paid it off so no one would think badly of him and now it’s forgotten. Lebron James left CLEVELANd, not even his hometown, and everyone thinks he’s this huge villain. What was he gonna do? hang out there for years to come without a championship, shaquille o’neill as his wingman? bullshit. you can’t blame him for his decision, sure he didn’t handle it the best, but lets keep it real. After scheduling a 1 hour special on national television, is he really going to say “i’m staying in clevelan”. No, anyone with some sense should have known at that point that he was going to leave for a larger market. Stop hating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *