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Truth be told, NBA's best wears purple and gold


Junior
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http://www.sportsline.com/nba/story/9703454?top501004

 

 

 

Positional rankings were one thing, but when you throw all the guys into the mix, it becomes even more complex. Who wins out, a dominant big man or a dynamic scorer? Does the little playmaker get the nod over a hulking 300-pound center?

 

Are these opinions swayed more by championships or statistics? What level of importance do both categories carry? You get the picture.

 

The NBA's No. 1 player wore No. 8 for 10 years ... (Getty Images)

The point of these isn't to put them out there for your agreement. If you don't like your favorite player being placed behind someone else, ask yourself why that might have been. I'm sure you'll find a reason.

 

With that out of the way, the choice of league's best player is Kobe Bryant. He's bided his time, proven himself for over a decade, and is now at the top of his game. Of the game's top wings, he's the best defender, and he has a lot of jewelry, albeit thanks to Shaquille O'Neal, who thoughtfully reminded him of that the other day.

 

This is Bryant's moment, and he proved last year that he can help raise the level of a team simply with his presence. No one can doubt his scoring prowess, but the next step is to help his teammates improve. His performance in last year's first-round series against Phoenix, where he thought pass-first and got everyone involved, could offer a hint of what the Lakers' strategy might be this season.

 

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James usher in the next generation, but haven't thrived long enough to be crowned best in the game just yet.

 

1. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers: Will he ever be considered one of the game's legends? This next chapter in his career will tell the story. The greatest raise the level of others. That's Byrant's next challenge.

 

2. Dwyane Wade, Miami: It's scary to think that he still has significant upside, isn't it? It feels like Wade has taken over the world during the past 18 months, and the hype machine surrounding him is really only getting started.

 

3. LeBron James, Cleveland: He's already among the most complete players in the game and still has plenty of room to improve. James is further along than any basketball player has ever been at age 21.

 

4. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas: At 28, he's in his prime, likely to contend for league MVP for the next few seasons while his team competes perennially for championships. He has changed the game, dominating from the perimeter in a way no 7-footer ever has.

 

5. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota: The Kid is long removed from being one anymore and deserves an opportunity to contend for a championship. He's been too good for too long to suffer that fate.

 

6. Tim Duncan, San Antonio: Last year's playoff run showed he can still bring it at a tremendous level, but that can't altogether overshadow his injury-related slippage. If I was certain his well-rested foot will be healthy all season, he might still be at the top of this list. Hopefully, he tips off his 30s with a resurgence.

 

7. Steve Nash, Phoenix: If Amare Stoudemire is healthy, this could be the season Nash guides the Suns to the NBA Finals. He is adept at making teammates better and his passing is contagious, so expect him to again lead the league in assists and be up for a third consecutive MVP.

 

8. Shaquille O'Neal, Miami: He's learned to pace himself for the playoffs, so you have to deal with him floating through the regular season, but his contributions can still lead you to a ring. He'll look for one for the thumb in '07.

 

9. Elton Brand, L.A. Clippers: He crossed over to elite status last season by elevating his team to an unprecedented level. His MVP-caliber year could be the start of a renaissance for the hapless Clippers organization. If he leads the Clips to the Pacific Division title, give him the MVP.

 

10. Tracy McGrady, Houston: Injuries are threatening to cut him down in his prime, so it's important that McGrady bounces back with a healthy season. His back has gotten the extended rest it's badly needed over the past few years, and can hopefully withstand NBA rigors.

 

11. Allen Iverson, Philadelphia: He's still playing at an elite level even though it looks like his Sixers are better off rebuilding without him, given their mediocrity. Although he has his critics, you can't argue with his production -- more than 30 points and seven assists per game in each of the past two seasons.

 

12. Chauncey Billups, Detroit: Because of the way the season ended, it's easy to forget how phenomenal Billups was in 2005-06. As the Pistons flirted with the 70-win plateau, it was "Mr. Big Shot" who led the way, averaging career highs in scoring (18.5) and assists (8.6) and playing some of the best defense of his career.

 

13. Paul Pierce, Boston: He keeps getting better. Pierce stepped up as the leader in Beantown, performing consistently in the midst of a rebuilding project. There aren't many better at delivering in the clutch. Recovering from offseason elbow surgery isn't a concern.

 

14. Ray Allen, Seattle: Lost in the disappointment of last year's Sonics season was how good Allen was. It came down to the final game, but he broke the record for 3-point makes, knocking down 269 at a 41-percent clip. Allen also averaged a career-best 25.1 points per game.

 

15. Jason Kidd, New Jersey: He's not as quick as he was, but Kidd pulls all his other assets together to make up for it. He's savvier than most, invaluable as a playmaker and tempo manipulator and he remains a standout rebounder and defender.

 

16. Dwight Howard, Orlando: He'll be just 21 in December, but looks ready to enter the conversation when speaking about the game's top big men. He had more rebounds than anyone else last season, and his offensive game continues to grow. It's no surprise that Wade, who would know, has called Howard a younger version of Shaq.

 

17. Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix: When healthy, his explosiveness makes him one of the league's best bigs. He put in the rehab work to bounce back strong, but it remains to be seen whether his body cooperates.

 

18. Yao Ming, Houston: After coming back from toe surgery last season, he finally started to become the dominant presence he's long been expected to be. Check out these March averages: 27.6 points, 11 rebounds. He has an opportunity to help carry Houston to the next level.

 

19. Ron Artest, Sacramento: It's no coincidence the Kings took off once he arrived last year. He makes opponents think twice about everything they do and takes genuine pride in shutting people down. Offensively, he has become increasingly more proficient in hopes of becoming a go-to type.

 

20. Carmelo Anthony, Denver: If his play for Team USA is any indication, he has graduated to that next level of greatness. He wants to be the Nuggets captain, which is yet another sign of his maturity.

 

21. Richard Hamilton, Detroit: I'll buy into the theory that if he was on another squad where he had to shoulder more responsibility, Rip's rep would be larger than it is. Hamilton is brilliant moving without the ball and coming off screens, and he's a standout defender.

 

22. Vince Carter, New Jersey: There's no doubt he's back. He stayed healthy in his first full season with the Nets and played with great energy throughout, averaging 24.2 points and 4.3 assists and tying his career best with 5.8 rebounds per game. He's still among the best at taking over a game.

 

23. Gilbert Arenas, Washington: Arenas has become one of the NBA's top shooters and most unstoppable scorers, but his playmaking skills still need work. Once he's able to keep turnovers down and ensure his teammates stay involved, Washington will take its next step.

 

24. Shawn Marion, Phoenix: There are few guys more versatile than Marion, who again was asked to play out of position last season with Stoudemire injured. The plan will be for Marion to return to his customary spot at the three this season so he can avoid toiling against bigger men, thus remaining fresher for the postseason.

 

25. Chris Bosh, Toronto: Expect him to be more well-rounded in his fourth NBA season, now that he has grown comfortable with being the franchise player. Playing with buddy T.J. Ford, a pass-first point guard, won't hurt, either. Remember, Bosh is just 22 years old.

 

26. Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana: Still among the most gifted low-post scorers in the league, O'Neal has fallen victim to nagging injuries that have cut his past two seasons practically in half. If he's absent again this coming season, the Pacers are likely to miss the playoffs.

 

27. Michael Redd, Milwaukee: Redd gave Detroit fits in the playoffs, shooting 52 percent and averaging more than 27 per game. That legitimized him as a star. Had the Ohio native opted to return home to play for Cleveland, the Cavs might be a championship front-runner this season.

 

28. Pau Gasol, Memphis: If he weren't out until after New Year's, he would have received heavy consideration to move up on this list. He earned that right, blossoming into one of the NBA's best 7-footers. But that broken foot really casts a shadow over the upcoming season, considering the uncertainty over his projected recovery period.

 

29. Tayshaun Prince, Detroit: He was the Pistons' most consistent performer during their playoff collapse, and some may argue he's their most vital commodity. Prince's offense is quietly catching up to his defense, making the human spider deadly on both ends.

 

30. Joe Johnson, Atlanta: He needed time to adjust, but by last season's end was at ease with the go-to role and regularly putting up big nights. His versatility is his greatest asset, and his best days are ahead of him. Regardless of how good Boris Diaw has turned out to be for Phoenix, you can't argue with picking up Johnson now. He's worth every penny.

 

31. Antawn Jamison, Washington: He comes off his most productive season as a Wizard, but ranks this far down the list because he doesn't have the size to muscle up and defend his bigger peers. That makes his improved rebounding figures from 2005-06 (a career-high 9.3 rpg) impressive, but still lacking behind the game's dominant fours.

 

 

 

32. Tony Parker, San Antonio: His first All-Star berth came last season and was well merited. Parker was the MVP of the Spurs, raising his level of play to pick up banged-up teammates Duncan and Manu Ginobili and delivering the top record in the Western Conference. Parker still isn't a threat from the perimeter, but few are quicker or penetrate better.

 

33. Mike Bibby, Sacramento: It will be interesting to see how his role changes under a new coach. Rick Adelman got a lot out of Bibby, but there has always been a sense he can do more. He's nearly 20 pounds lighter than he was at the end of last season and hopes to have increased quickness.

 

34. Baron Davis, Golden State: He just hasn't been able to stay healthy, but a bounty of inflated stats await him if he can avoid the IR. With Don Nelson back, the Warriors are going to run first and ask questions later. Davis excels in an open style.

 

35. Rasheed Wallace, Detroit: Now more than ever, the Pistons will need 'Sheed to assert himself. There are times where he can take over a game, but because he's so unselfish, he has a tendency to disappear. Offensively, he's still among the NBA's most versatile big men.

 

36. Andrei Kirilenko, Utah: Defensively, he's up there with the Artests, Princes and Ben Wallaces of the world. But he hasn't improved much on offense since coming into the league and really took a couple of steps back with his shot selection.

 

37. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio: Momentum from a magical year in which he won Olympic gold and an NBA title was tempered by injuries last season. He played at the FIBA World Championship this summer, so it's not like he took the entire offseason to rest, but all reports indicate he's healthier than he's been in some time. Ginobili's game is unique and dynamic, flopping aside.

 

38. Lamar Odom, L.A. Lakers: This has been a difficult summer for the L.A. point forward, whose infant son died in June. Things were starting to really look up for Odom with the Lakers, as he finally began to get comfortable with Phil Jackson's system and role. Here's hoping he can overcome this great pain in his life and continue to flourish.

 

39. Chris Paul, New Orleans/Oklahoma City: In a few seasons, expect Paul to be near the top of this list. The Hornets' second-year floor general is a winner, and he's determined to get better. He's got some Isiah Thomas in him.

 

40. Richard Jefferson, New Jersey: He comes off his biggest season as a pro, finally living up to his enormous potential. His jumper became more consistent, and he started finding smarter ways to score. He's entering his prime.

 

41. Jason Richardson, Golden State: He hasn't gotten an All-Star sniff despite being a dominant scorer the last three seasons, averaging a career-best 23.2 last year. He hasn't been able to carry the Warriors to the playoffs and still struggles with his shot selection, no doubt in part to the unending frustration he has seen in the Bay Area.

 

 

Josh Howard's career is on the rise in Dallas. (Getty Images)

42. Josh Howard, Dallas: His vast improvement over his first three seasons in the league has Mavs fans understandably excited. Dallas' rise to power got a significant boost when Howard started turning into a Scottie Pippen clone. His abilities as a lockdown defender are near and dear to Avery Johnson's heart, and he can burn you for 20-25 points when he feels like it, too.

 

42. Chris Webber, Philadelphia: He has two years left on his contract at a rate of more than $40 million dollars combined. That's frightening, but it's at least good to see that the 33-year-old isn't mailing it in. Last season was his best individual campaign in years, and he played in 75 or more games for the first time since 2000 and only the third time in his career.

 

44. Zach Randolph, Portland: If he can ever lose the off-court baggage and discipline his on-court game, he'd be held in higher regard. He's undeniably talented on offense, unstoppable in the post and solid from the perimeter, with range out to about 18 feet. Word is he's slimmed down and has an improved attitude. Portland is crossing its fingers.

 

45. Rashard Lewis, Seattle: One of the more underrated forwards in basketball, Lewis has averaged more than 20 points per game in consecutive seasons. Despite chronically sore knees, he only missed four games in 2005-06.

 

46. Sam Cassell, L.A. Clippers: He really is among the most underrated players of his era, and proved it by helping the Clippers reach the second round of the playoffs in his first season with the team. The Hawks nearly were able to pry him away to aid their cause, but Cassell ultimately stayed put and is likely to finish his career trying to take the Clips to the top.

 

47. Chris Kaman, L.A. Clippers: A breakout season is coming up for the floppy-haired "Kaveman," who posted career highs in points and rebounds last year, nearly averaging a double-double. His continued development will be a vital factor in the Clippers continuing their ascent up the Western Conference.

 

48. Marcus Camby, Denver: The 2005-06 season was one of his most productive, but he again missed time due to injuries. Assorted aches and bruises kept him out of 26 games, but he averaged more than three blocks and nearly 12 boards while posting his highest scoring output since his rookie season. At this point in his career, you take that and hope he doesn't stay out too long when he does land on IR.

 

49. Ben Wallace, Chicago: He'll be 32 when the season starts, and comes off a tough final playoff run with Detroit where dismal free throw shooting tempered his effectiveness. The Bulls are banking on him to help them take their next step, and if he succeeds, he'll have a chance at winning the Defensive Player of the Year award for an unprecedented fifth time.

 

50. Caron Butler, Washington: Thus far, Butler coming to Washington for Kwame Brown looks like larceny. Butler filled out the NBA's highest-scoring trio while supplying much-needed toughness to a team that badly needed a boost in that department. Something tells me we're only starting to see the beginning of what Butler can do. Keep in mind that during his short career he has yet to be in the same place long enough to grow truly comfortable.

 

Also considered: Al Harrington, Indiana; Boris Diaw, Phoenix; Emeka Okafor, Charlotte; Stephon Marbury, New York; Jason Terry, Dallas; Kirk Hinrich, Chicago; Admin Hughes, Cleveland: Gerald Wallace, Charlotte; Shane Battier, Houston; Corey Maggette, L.A. Clippers

 

Rankings comparison

2006 2005 Stock

1. Kobe Bryant 4

2. Dwyane Wade 10

3. LeBron James 6

4. Dirk Nowitzki 17

5. Kevin Garnett 2

6. Tim Duncan 1

7. Steve Nash 8

8. Shaquille O'Neal 3

9. Elton Brand 22

10. Tracy McGrady 5

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LeBron and Kobe are both far, far better players individually than Dwyane Wade. I'd have LeBron, then Kobe, Wade a distant 3rd, Dirk a more distant 4th, and after that, IMO you get to D Howard, Bosh, and Arenas. Those rankings there are a joke.

 

Agreed, but after what Wade did in June does it really matter? Sure Kobe and LeBron are better basketball players, I agree there, but with Wade putting up 35 a game in the Finals I have a hard time caring if anybody is actually "better".

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I agree that Kobe is #1. Just imagine what kind of all around numbers he could put up if he shared the ball a bit more (or had someone worthy of sharing it with for that matter). I still think Lebron has all around better skills then Dwyane Wade and should have the number 2 spot. That said there is not much distance between Wade and Lebron when it comes to ranking them in the top 5.

 

LeBron and Kobe are both far, far better players individually than Dwyane Wade. I'd have LeBron, then Kobe, Wade a distant 3rd, Dirk a more distant 4th, and after that, IMO you get to D Howard, Bosh, and Arenas. Those rankings there are a joke.

 

I wouldn't really go out on the limb by saying they are far far better. You are comparing Kobe the one man show to Wade who actually gets teammates involved. I would imagine if Wade kept the ball to himself more often his numbers would be inflated due to the sheer volume of shots he took like Kobe.

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Well, at the risk of rehashing this arguement for the millionth time, I don't think there's a better basketball player on the planet than Dwyane Wade.

 

I'd probably put Kobe #2, but I actually think he's closer to Lebron at #3 than he is to Wade at #1. Obviously, my credibility is harmed because I'm a homer, but I only know what I see.

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Well, at the risk of rehashing this arguement for the millionth time, I don't think there's a better basketball player on the planet than Dwyane Wade.

 

I'd probably put Kobe #2, but I actually think he's closer to Lebron at #3 than he is to Wade at #1. Obviously, my credibility is harmed because I'm a homer, but I only know what I see.

 

:lol I tried to put all homerism aside

 

Oh yeah :hat

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I'd say Wade is the best, followed by LeBron, Kobe, Dirk, and KG. Wade shoots a better percentage than Kobe and gets his teammates involved more (and as a minor plus is also a better rebounder), and he outperformed LeBron in the playoffs (they were pretty much even in the regular season efficiency-wise). I don't really see how you can say that LeBron and Kobe are far better individually.

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LeBron and Kobe are both far, far better players individually than Dwyane Wade. I'd have LeBron, then Kobe, Wade a distant 3rd, Dirk a more distant 4th, and after that, IMO you get to D Howard, Bosh, and Arenas. Those rankings there are a joke.

 

You can make an argument that either is better than Wade (and vice versa in some areas), but to try and distance them from Wade by that much is ludicrous and absurd. You don't have to hate quite so hard

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LeBron and Kobe are both far, far better players individually than Dwyane Wade. I'd have LeBron, then Kobe, Wade a distant 3rd, Dirk a more distant 4th, and after that, IMO you get to D Howard, Bosh, and Arenas. Those rankings there are a joke.

 

You can make an argument that either is better than Wade (and vice versa in some areas), but to try and distance them from Wade by that much is ludicrous and absurd. You don't have to hate quite so hard

 

It's not hate, it's fact. If you'd get rid of your Wade boner, you might see it.

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