July 17, 2006
Top Ten NBA
Part Two in my series of the top ten players in each league. Today we do the NBA. The NBA is the easiest of the leagues to compare players in, because everybody has the same basic goal - put the ball in the hoop. In baseball, you have to compare hitters to pitchers, and in football, you have to compare people doing all kinds of different things. Unfortunately, I don't know as much about the NBA as I do the other two major leagues. So if there's anything that seems out of line, feel free to e-mail me and tell me why I'm a moron.
A quick refresher of the rules:
The top ten are determined by this question: If the NBA folded today, and teams started over and drafted their team from the pool of active players, who would go first? And who would go second? Keep going down the line like that.
Contracts do not matter. This doesn't matter as much in the NBA as in the other sports. But obviously, you'd rather pay Chris Paul a couple million instead of paying KG $22 million per year. But, if contracts mattered, then too much of the top ten would be young guys still on their rookie contracts. And those players tend to get new contracts as soon as they can. Contracts would be voided, and it would work like the rookie draft in all the sports - you'd get a contract based on where you were picked.
Age does matter. You could pick Shaq, but he'd only be around for a year or two. Or you could pick Dwight Howard, and have him for the next 15 years. Who is more valuable?
So, if the league folded today, and the Knicks had the first pick, who would they take? With the first pick, Isiah Thomas selects...Renaldo Balkman!
(Note to Knicks fans: If you're feeling homicidal right now, cross out "Isiah Thomas" and "Renaldo Balkman", and replace them with "Joe Dumars" and "Darko Milicic" respectively. That's it - laugh a little, you're not the only ones with problems. The sun will come up tomorrow. Well, unless Isiah Thomas becomes God and manages the Earth like he managed the CBA*. Okay, okay, I'll move on...)
In all seriousness, the first pick is...
1. LeBron James
I know Dwyane Wade impressed people with his performance in the NBA playoffs. Many people who look at the last month and disregard the big picture might make a case to put Wade first. But could you really hand your card to David Stern, with LeBron on the board, and say, "No thanks, I'd rather have Wade"? Over LeBron James? James is the next Jordan in every sense, when talking about off-the-court issues - he's a great guy, he's extremely marketable, and he's the next global icon. You'd really give that up?
2. Dwyane Wade
Wade, then, has to be the second pick. He took that Miami team on his back - he got a couple clutch shots from various teammates, but for the most part it was Wade and four guys watching him. He's proved he can win a title almost singlehandedly, so there's no reason not to take him here.
3. Kobe Bryant
Kobe is a big enough name that your team will certainly get attention, though Kobe is not very well-liked by the public. But he sure can score. Of course he won't look to dish the ball as much, but if your first pick is this high, you won't have much talent around him (assuming it's a snake draft; this team would then get the 60th overall pick in the second round).
4. Tim Duncan
Duncan is getting up there in years, and the game is changing to make power forwards (those without extreme athleticism) less valuable. But Duncan is still Duncan, and it's hard to argue with the three rings on his finger. But his play during the end of the year last year and in the playoffs was a concern - he was basically giving you 15-10's (points, rebounds per game). I don't think you can win a title without Duncan putting in at least 20 PPG.
5. Dwight Howard
Howard averaged 16-13 last year, good enough for second place in rebounds per game. He's stuck on a bad Magic team, so he doesn't get quite the publicity he might if he were on a better team. But he's only 20 years old! He's still got another 4-5 years until he hits his prime.
6. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk looked like the best player in the NBA until Game 3 of the Finals, when he mysteriously stopped driving to the hoop. But if he can find it again, he's going to be a perennial MVP candidate, because a quick big man who can drive and has a jumper is a great commodity in today's game.
7. Yao Ming
Yao quietly putaveraged 26-11 after the All-Star break last year, until he broke his foot near the end of the year. And, as Bill Simmons points out, most great centers peaked later in their careers (28-30 years old). Yao's only 25. He could go from being a second-tier star to being an MVP candidate one of these years.
8. Steve Nash
He was the MVP award winner last year. Now, most people outside of Phoenix will probably agree with me when I say that LeBron or Kobe would have been a better choice, but nobody has benefited more from the NBA rule changes than Nash - suddenly a running point guard who can dish the ball well in transition and can't play defense is a valued commodity.
9. Gilbert Arenas
Arenas averaged almost 30 PPG last year, and he's still only 24. Plus, Arenas was great in the playoffs last year, basically matching LeBron shot-for-shot. He's certainly not as marketable as the King or anyone else on this list, but he can definitely help you win. And, in the end, that's all that matters.
10. Kevin Garnett
KG used to be arguably the best player in the game, then he suddenly lost it overnight. He's already 30, and since he came straight out of high school, he's an older 30 than some of the college kids would be. But KG has really never had anybody around him to give him any help. If you got a good second scoring option in the second round, KG's team could become a title threat.
Just missed the cut:
Amare Stoudemire - If he didn't miss the full year last year, he would have easily been in the top ten. He probably has top-5 talent, and he's only 23. But, as Simmons also points out in the above linked column, NBA stars never regain their previous form after a full-season injury. It just doesn't happen. We'll see if Stoudemire can break that trend.
Elton Brand - Brand is a great talent, but probably not as good as the others above him on this list. I believe I initially had him at 10, but bumped him off when I thought about how little help KG's had.
Chris Bosh, Chris Paul - We'll see if either of them can develop into top stars. Right now, I don't think either of them are quite at that level yet. When (if?) I do this column next year, one or both of them could easily be in the top 10.
Allen Iverson - I know AI was second in PPG last year, but how much longer can he keep this up? He's taken a beating over the years - he's second among active players in career free throws attempted (behind Shaq), and he's a small guy. I don't blame any NBA teams from staying away from him this summer.
*If you don't know this story, Isiah Thomas owned the CBA from 1998-2000. During that time, the league went bankrupt and eventually folded. Many of the managers blamed Isiah's mismanagement of the league for the league folding.