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.
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.