The 2010-11 NBA season is about to begin and it wouldn’t be the same if I did not lead off with my updated Top 25 entering the season. The obvious players are around, but I have three new entrants and a list of five players I expect to make a run at the list by All-Star break. The lists are based on last year’s performances, so expect some changes soon. I think this will be the best regular season we have witnessed in quite a while. The Miami Heat made sure of it by adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
25. Carlos Boozer (new)
I have been trying hard to squeeze Boozer on this list and he repays me by tripping over his gym bag and breaking a finger. Anyway, he is one of my favorite players because I never see him take a night off. His jump shot from mid-range is uncanny and he is a very good rebounder. He will miss the structure of the Utah Jazz offense, but should still put up great numbers in Chicago.
24. Tyreke Evans (new)
I walked past Evans at halftime of a Kings-Suns exhibition game and I was amazed at how big and strong he is. Now I know why point guards got out of his way last year. He is a scoring machine and gets it done with force. Evans arguably should have been the No. 1 pick last year, but I will hold off until Blake Griffin makes his debut in a few weeks. I can guarantee you one thing… The Kings are ecstatic that they have a star for years to come.
23. Gilbert Arenas (new)
The only reason he was not on the list last year was because of injury and suspension. I spent some time with him in Chicago this summer and watched him play. He’s back. Gilbert is a smooth scoring machine and playing next to the ultra explosive John Wall will allow him to destroy defenses. I would not be surprised if Gilbert made the All-Star Game this season. That’s how good he is.
22. Derrick Rose (24)
I caught a lot of flak from my hometown Bulls fans when I included Rose on my top disappointments list midway last year. Despite the disapproval, he deserved to be there, especially after what he showed the final 40 games. He elevated his game to All-Star levels and that is where I expected him to be. He had a tremendous summer with USA Basketball and I think that will culminate into All-NBA consideration at the conclusion of this season. Rose is the best athletic point guard in the league and when he learns to knock down that 15 to 20 foot shot consistently, he will become a terribly hard to defend against the pick-and-roll.
21. Gerald Wallace (19)
Wallace is here for one reason: Heart. Name me a player that outworks him and produces at the same time? He is the best pound-for-pound rebounder in the league and has learned to score as well. Defensively he has always been stellar, but the leadership aspect surprised me last year and that is why he will stay in my top 25 despite all the critics who will say there’s no way he belongs here.
20. Kevin Garnett (23)
The Big Ticket has some bodyguards galore to protect those ailing knees with thousands of miles on them. I believe the addition of Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal to go along with Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins will allow Garnett to roam and become that praying mantis he has been throughout his career. He is one the best leaders in sports and also a Top 5 trash talker. Healthy, Garnett is still a force to be reckoned with. He has to be encouraged by all the help the Celtics have acquired for this championship run.
19. Paul Pierce (22)
I love watching The Truth, but as I have said over the last few years I think he needs to be in better shape. Yes, he plays big minutes. Yes, he scores well. And yes, the Celtics got to the Finals and almost won. I will still say if Pierce lost a few pounds and committed to the weight room, he would easily be a Top 15 player. Things come so easy for Pierce offensively, but his defense is vastly underrated. That’s the truth!
18. Jason Kidd (17)
The old man is still among the fastest and best defenders in the league. Oh, his passing and leadership skills still hover near the top as well. The thing I love about Kidd is that he is a warrior and he improves his game every year. The Mavericks are dangerous because of Kidd’s refusal to stop battling for 48 minutes. He will play till he is 40 years old or better because he leads and wins.
17. Brandon Roy (15)
Can the Blazers field a healthy team for at least 70 games? The attention has definitely been on Greg Oden, but Portland fans should be more worried about Brandon Roy. I am starting to believe he will become an 8 to 10 year player, which does not bode well for a guy like him, who can do multiple things on the floor. When healthy he is definitely a Top 15 player, but multiple surgeries are not a good sign so early in a career.
16. Joe Johnson (16)
Johnson is as consistent as it gets. He does not get his due credit for what the Hawks have done recently. He is very difficult to guard and is an above average defender. He has a tremendous body and rarely misses games, which allow him to stay at 16 ahead of Brandon Roy. Johnson will miss the excellent coaching he received from Mike Woodson and although he signed a lucrative contract, I wonder if he will continue to grow as a scorer and leader in this new system.
15. Rajon Rondo (18)
He proved to me last year that the Celtics have become his team. I am impressed. Look at what he had to win over to become the focal point of the Celtics last year. How many players would have cowered away from trying to grab control from three players that will most likely be inducted into the Hall of Fame? But hold on, it gets worse. Now you have arguably the most dominant center to ever play the game, Shaquille O’Neal, added to the team. Rondo has a devastating array of talents that boggle your mind when you see him perform. He has quickly become one of my favorite players to watch and he rarely disappoints.
14. Tim Duncan (13)
The only reason Duncan has slowly retreated on my list is mileage. He still is one of the top three leaders in basketball. If I had the opportunity to have my son spend a weekend with a player, Duncan would top the list along with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. Duncan just knows how to win and will do anything to get the result. I hear that he is in tremendous shape and, if true, watch out for the Spurs.
13. Chris Bosh (14)
I got my degree in History. All throughout history, there were tremendous leaders. But there were great followers as well. Some people view a follower as a weak person, but he is only weak when following the wrong person. James and Dwyane Wade were the right people to follow in this instance for Bosh. I put Bosh in the same boat as Pau Gasol, a player with tremendous abilities, but not the player you want steering the ship. Bosh will continue to be an All-Star, while adding a few rings to the resume as well.
12. Pau Gasol (12)
Gasol has shown to me a lot since the Celtics beat him up two years ago. He is fast becoming the best all-around power forward in the game. The reason I am cautious with Gasol is because he is not in a position of top-dog on his team. I wonder how well he will lead and play if Kobe Bryant is not healthy to start the season. Every player above him has been called on to be the guy. The last time Gasol had that pressure, he failed miserably in Memphis. I personally think he has reached the point of taking control, but I need to see it before I move him up further on my list.
11. Chris Paul (11)
Paul has admitted to watching Steve Nash tapes to enhance his game and I see a lot of similarities. Paul is a tremendous floor leader and scorer. The one negative that has dogged him recently is durability. That alone keeps him listed as the third best guard on my list. The Hornets traded Darren Collison to the Indiana Pacers to show Paul that he is the franchise, but that could haunt them in the short future if Paul demands a trade. If the Hornets are struggling at the All-Star break, the trade rumors will undoubtedly resurface.
10. Steve Nash (10)
People keep retiring Nash and he keeps shutting them up. When will critics realize that he is the only guard since Magic Johnson that enhances teammates’ games to above average levels? Look at Quentin Richardson, Steven Hunter, Shawn Marion, Tim Thomas and, presently, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye. This guy is the best pure leader in the NBA. His numbers last year were better than his MVP seasons. The best shooter in the history of the NBA. He has gone four straight years shooting 50 (FG%)/40 (3P%)/90 (FT %). I love Ray Allen, but if I hear another commentator say he is the league’s best shooter, I will puke.
9. Deron Williams (9)
The best all-around point guard in the NBA. I wonder what his numbers would look like if he was not in the Jazz offensive system. Anyway, the Jazz system is excellent and Williams still has All-NBA numbers regardless. That is why he has ascended to the top among point guards.
8. Dirk Nowitzki (7)
Nowitzki is just Mr. Consistent when it comes to producing for the Dallas Mavericks. I honestly thought he seriously flirted with changing teams this offseason, but it would have been a mistake. He has a solid nucleus in Dallas and I think they have a chance to make a lot of noise this year. The one area I would like to see Dirk improve is his post-ups on the blocks. Although posting players at the free-throw line is potent for him points-wise, it does not get opponents in foul trouble and he is usually the one shooting because teams will not double team. Dirk is the best European player in NBA history and a pleasure to watch.
7. Carmelo Anthony (8)
I wonder how it feels to have $65 million on the table and turn that money down. That’s exactly what Anthony is doing and that leads me to believe he will not be a Denver Nugget for long. The Nuggets are playing with fire if they go into the All-Star break with Anthony and he has not signed the extension. I understand why they don’t want to let him go, but it’s obvious he does not want to be there any longer. He is envious about the goings-on in Miami and wants a change as well. Although he is a tremendous player, the Nuggets will lose leverage in trades the longer they delay the obvious. Whoever acquires Anthony will be getting a first-class scorer and underrated defender.
6. Amare Stoudemire (6)
I must admit that I am heart-broken, but I understand. I loved Amare in a Phoenix Suns uniform, but business is business and New York made an offer he could not refuse. Some people believe Amare will struggle without Steve Nash and I disagree. He can score the basketball on anyone and people will see the other skills he did not have to use in Phoenix. I thought he was the best player after the All-Star break last year. That’s why he stays at No. 6 despite changing teams.
5. Dwight Howard (5)
I love Howard – he will knock your head off and smile about it. Guess what? I want more! I still think he is too nice and friendly to his opponents. He has the best body in basketball and although he knows he can hurt any opponent physically, I don’t see fear in their eyes when they play against him. Players are scared to death of Shaquille O’Neal and if Howard wants to become the next legitimate Superman he has to dominate more on both ends of the court and win championships.
4. Dwayne Wade (3)
Wade is the best penetrator and third best finisher in basketball behind LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire. I really respect his unselfishness in encouraging James and Chris Bosh to join him in Miami. Wade will probably score the easiest 25 points a night in NBA history. Why? Because he will not be double teamed and will have wide lanes to the basket because of the weapons around him. Health has always been a concern when it comes to Wade because of the way he throws his body around. He will not have to be as aggressive this year and it will make him even more dangerous.
3. Kevin Durant (4)
He has rushed to the top of the ladder in a hurry and I don’t think anyone will argue this point. Durant comes from the Kobe Bryant School of Dedication to his Craft. He seems to be a wonderful teammate and leader. The show he put on this summer for Team was an all-time classic. He basically willed himself to become the go-to guy on an All-Star team. If you have played the game at a high level, you’d know how difficult that accomplishment is. Durant can score on anyone at any time and what I admire most is that it’s always in the flow of the game. I would pay to watch him play anywhere.
2. LeBron James (1)
“The Decision” has made James a villain in every city except Miami, but let me warn the boo-birds that will attend games to heckle him… It will hurt your team’s chances of winning the game, so don’t do it. I believe because of the negativity surrounding his decision to join the Miami Heat, James will have the most productive season of his career and lead the Heat to the Finals. With all due respect to Wade, the Heat will become LeBron James’ team. He is the best athlete in sports and in my estimation will be mentioned as arguably the best basketball player ever before it’s all said and done.
1. Kobe Bryant (2)
What he did in the playoffs and especially against the Suns in the Western Conference finals gave him the edge in the apples and oranges race for No. 1 against James. I have said this numerous times and it still has not changed – Bryant is the best offensive machine in NBA history. There is a reason why he has overcome the negative publicity that dogged him on and off in his career. He is the most committed athlete to his craft in sports and fans respect it to the utmost.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 25
Chauncey Billups (20), Yao Ming (returning from injury), Josh Smith (25) Tony Parker (21) and Manu Ginobili.
SOON TO BE IN THE TOP 25
John Wall, Brook Lopez, Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut and Blake Griffin.