25. Al Jefferson
Jefferson bumps Shawn Marion out the last spot and gets in over players like Devin Harris, Rajon Rondo, Jameer Nelson and Mo Williams. When Shaq retires, Jefferson will probably become the game’s most dominant low-post scorer. He has a variety of moves and stays so low on his drives, it is extremely difficult for players to guard him. The Wolves have improved at a fast rate since Kevin McHale took over and Jefferson has been dominant. That should be no surprise since McHale was the best post player of his time.
24. Ray Allen
Allen should have probably been here already. He is one the best shooters ever and has played as well or better than Garnett and Pierce the first half of the season. Pick any player you want to take a game-tying jump shot to tie or win the game and Allen will be definitely at the top of the list. He replaces Tracy McGrady, who can’t stay healthy enough to warrant a spot.
23. Danny Granger
A scoring machine who plays on the ground although he can elevate on a defender when he needs to. He is the most improved player in the game and I see him getting better. Granger can play 15-plus years and be productive with his efficiency towards the game. The Pacers are very competitive despite their poor record and that is why first-time All-Star Granger moves in and Caron Butler drops out.
22. Steve Nash
No player has been asked to change his game this year more than Nash. He has been asked to slow down his tempo and creativity. I guess it is similar to buying a Ferrari and only being able to drive it 55. The reason Nash has dropped is not because of his abilities, which I think are still there. It’s his inability so far to grasp the new system and give us the production we have seen and been spoiled with the last few years. I still consider Nash the most unselfish player in the league and its best all-around shooter.
21. Brandon Roy
Moves in as Baron Davis drops out. Roy is the cousin of Manu Ginobili. He finds a way to attack the basket regardless of the defensive tactics of the opposing team. He uses his left hand better than some left-handers. He is dangerous because he has continued to stretch his range and now can run off numbers at a rapid pace. The Blazers are the most talented team in the league 1 through 12 and one way Roy can continue to move up is not becoming too shot happy and getting his teammates involved more in the early parts of the game.
20. Manu Ginobili
Moves up four spots and I am sure my Spurs readers will still not be happy. The guy is just a pure nightmare to guard and he is definitely one the toughest clutch players in the league, but I still can’t stand how he flops consistently when touched. I will still give him the benefit of the doubt and call him one the top 10 offensive players with the game on the line. And yes, I would love to have him play on my favorite team.
19. Deron Williams
Has been dealt a tough blow. He gets hurt to start the season and he loses his running mate Carlos Boozer as well. He falls eight spots by no fault of his own. I still think he is the second best point guard in the game and will be in the Top 10 at season’s end if he gets healthy. He is the only player in the league that gives Chris Paul problems on a consistent basis.
18. Shaquille O’Neal
Stays at number 18 and probably deserves to be rated higher. Please name me a true center other than Howard that has played better than Shaq? The reason he stays at 18 is because although he is playing extremely well, the Suns as a team have struggled. I would like people to finally applaud Shaq for improving not only on his conditioning but his free-throw shooting as well.
17. Amare Stoudemire
Falls 10 spots and, if he does not improve his basic defensive skills, could fall further. Amare potentially could be the best power forward in the game, but has not shown an overall consistency on the defensive end to warrant staying at number 7. I admire how Amare was able to rebound from ACL surgery and regain his explosiveness, but we need to see more growth on the court with regards to the dirty parts of the game, like defense and rebounding.
16. Joe Johnson
Moves into the Top 25 as Allen Iverson drops out. He has proven that the Hawks’ run last year was no fluke and his ability to lead and become a top-notch scorer was real as well. He has the best handle (next to LeBron and Kobe) for players over 6-foot-5. He has become a triple threat and is one of the league’s best defenders as well.
15. Pau Gasol
Gets in the Top 25 and Elton Brand drops out because I am convinced that he is determined and motivated to get to the level I expected him to. I thought he would take a back seat to Andrew Bynum, but he did not. His passing ability is the reason why he scores so easily around the post. I still think he can be a better shot blocker and he will have to now with Bynum down.
14. Carmelo Anthony
Has had tough luck come All-Star time, but he is one of the best players in the league and he moves up three spots. I think he is the most versatile small forward in the game offensively with his ability to post and knock down the three-point shot. I have always wondered when he would start to show the leadership abilities that he showed at Syracuse during his NCAA championship run.
13. Chauncey Billups
Jumps nine spots and could be higher if Denver continues to play consistent basketball. Billups has undoubtedly become the best pick-up this season based on the improved play of the up-and-down Nuggets. Billups has helped them realize working hard every game and staying focused will have them in most games – and, most importantly, beat bad teams. The Nuggets are 20-1 against sub .500 teams all because of Billups’ leadership.
12. Dirk Nowitzki
Stays at number 12 and deservedly so. He is really starting to gain momentum and the Mavericks seem to be regaining their swagger back as a team. Dirk is the best shooting seven-footer ever and if he can continue to improve defensively the Mavericks will make a serious run come playoff time.
11. Paul Pierce
I think Paul is the best scoring small forward in the game not named LeBron. He scores whenever he wants and does not run come crunch time. Garnett is the Celtics’ MVP, but Pierce is their MIP (Most Important Player). He is also the biggest trash talker in the league, which I happen to think fuels his consistency.
10. Chris Bosh
Could have dropped more because he has not shown me an ability to put his team on his back and get them through tough times. He is so unorthodox offensively that he is impossible to figure out. His mid-range shot has improved big time and has shown a willingness to take the big shots. I still believe we should be seeing better leadership abilities and, if not, I can’t see him staying at this spot for long.
9. Tony Parker
I keep trying to figure out why I put Parker seven spots up from 16. I just flat out think he is a point guard with a center mentality. The guy constantly is in the Top 5 in scoring in the paint. Name me a point guard historically that dominated like that consistently. He now has improved his mid-range jump shot, which makes him virtually impossible to guard. He also has become one of the best clutch players in the league as well.
8. Yao Ming
Drops two spots but only because Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest can’t stay on the floor. Yao is the most unguardable center in the game because of his ability to shoot from 20 feet and post up without fear of a hand in his face. I would like him to get tougher, but there is not one team that would not think about trading their best player for him other than the Lakers, Hornets, Spurs and Cavaliers. I still say the Rockets, if healthy, can win the Western Conference.
7. Dwyane Wade
He is proving how good a player he is when in top shape. I have said consistently over the last few years that he has a bad body and will always have injuries. But with a new body and demeanor, Wade is showing why he is one of the best players we have ever seen. What he is doing with Miami is equivalent to what Chris Paul is doing in New Orleans.
6. Kevin Garnett
I would love to be a psychologist and sit in a room with KG for a day. He goes from calm to incredibly psychotic within minutes. The one thing I enjoy about KG is that he has always been like this on the floor. There is no fake in him when it comes to exuberance on the court. The Celtics have molded themselves around him and that’s why a small blip of losing games did not affect them for long.
5. Tim Duncan
Drops a spot and mainly because of one little blemish that seems to be always correctable and that is the Spurs’ slow start against teams above .500. The Spurs are 11-11 against top teams. Duncan is ageless. Just when you think he is losing a step, he makes you look bad for speaking too soon. I think he is the most professional player on and off the floor in the NBA. And its best leader.
4. Dwight Howard
Moves up four spots because he has become the second coming of Shaq. The Magic is his team and he has elevated everybody’s games – especially first-time All-Star Jameer Nelson. That appealing smile is hiding a nastiness that opposing players fear and Howard seems to get a kick out it. Just remeber one early season incident where he elbowed Suns rookie Robin Lopez and received a technical foul. As they retreated, he mockingly patted Lopez on the rear, thus sending a message… It’s not personal, but I will hurt you next time you get in my way.
3. Chris Paul
If there was a wonder how valuable Paul is, just witness the Hornets’ second half meltdown against the Blazers and the beat-down from the Chicago Bulls in the first two games of Paul’s groin injury. I have not seen a team fall to such levels since Magic Johnson missed games. Paul has re-defined the two-man game and how to guard against it. He is the toughest player in the game pound for pound.
2. Kobe Bryant
His drive to succeed is beyond reason. He is the best late-game assassin offensively I have seen since Jordan and Bird. I really have enjoyed his willingness to allow his talented teammates to excel, but with Bynum down are we ready to see the old Kobe surface again? The 61 points and 0 rebounds against the Knicks were probably a sign of things to come. I feel sorry for all the players who have to guard Kobe from here on out, but will it be for the good of the Lakers?
1. LeBron James
He continues to hold on to the No. 1 spot because he is doing the best job of carrying a team since Hakeem Olajuwon carried the Rockets to back-to-back championships. Also, his follow up to Kobe scoring 61 against the Knicks was downright ridiculous. Scoring 50-plus is one thing, but getting a (quasi) triple-double to boot was the icing on the cake that has kept LB on top. I watched that game and he could have easily gotten 60 if he wanted to.