Top NBA Players: #36, #35, #34 Danny Granger, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng

Danny Granger (36)
Resume: 18.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 33.3 minutes, 123 threes made (9th in league), 42% FG, 38% 3PT, and 87% FT (9th in league)… Team record in games played: 41-21 (1-3 without)… Playoffs: 17.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 40% FG, 36% 3PT, 82% FT, 6-5 record

Joe Johnson (35)
Resume: 18.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 35.5 minutes, 125 threes made (8th in league), 45% FG, 39% 3PT, and 85% FT (career best)… Team record in games played: 36-24 (4-2 without)… Playoffs: 17.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 40.5 minutes, 37% FG, 75% FT, 2-4 record… All-Star, 15th in MVP Voting

Luol Deng (34)
Resume: 15.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists (career best), 1.0 steals, 39.4 minutes (1st in league, career best), 41% FG, 37% 3PT, and 77% FT… Team record in games played: 42-12 (8-4 without)… Playoffs: 14.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 46% FG, 36% 3PT (career best), 57% FT, 2-4 record… All-Star, 2nd Team All-Defense

Apr 17, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger (33) shoots a jump shot during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

I hope this move doesn’t ruffle any feathers and turn people against me like I’m LeBron James, but I made the executive decision to group Danny Granger, Joe Johnson and Luol Deng together in one post. These are my rankings, so technically I can do whatever I want with them. Remember two weeks ago when I introduced the criteria for this list and made the point that as long as I gave you my reasoning you sort of have to take my word for it? It was basically the same premise as the Declaration of Independence? Well, I’m using those grounds to include these two players together and it’s probably going to happen again, so get used to it. Besides the fact that this is an attempt to cut down on my word count (an attempt that will all but certainly fail), it really does make sense to group together three players who have been forced into playing roles they shouldn’t be required to handle.

In the aforementioned criteria, one of the things I mentioned being important was a player’s role and how well he fit that role. It’s the exact reason why Serge Ibaka would make this top 50 list and Tyreke Evans wouldn’t. Ibaka is the 4th best player on Oklahoma City, but he is the league’s most destructive help side defender/shot blocker, and as I mentioned before, the current title holder of Greatest Serge of All-Time. You can’t forget that little nugget. When Serge Ibaka is the 4th best guy on your team, you are in good shape. Evans is the number one perimeter scoring option for the Kings but doesn’t even score 17 points per game. Evans’ role is more important than Ibaka’s, but he doesn’t fit that role nearly as well as he should. Ideally, Evans would end up the 6th man on a title contender and provide an instant spark off the bench, because he clearly can’t continue to be looked at as the top perimeter scoring option. Along those lines, Luol Deng, Joe Hohnson and Danny Granger have both been miscast in their roles. Danny Granger and Joe Johnson are classic examples of a 2nd fiddles being forced to be “the man” on a good team, and Luol Deng is suited to be the 2nd or 3rd best player on a title contender, but this year was frequently forced to be the number one option with Derrick Rose out a good portion of the year.

July 13, 2012; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson addresses the media at a press conference at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Nobody can convince me that Danny Granger or Joe Johnson can be the best player on a title team. You can’t do it. I dare you, try it. As much as I really like the Indiana Pacers (and trust me I like them a whole bunch. I just about wrote off Miami after Indiana went up 2-1 in the 2nd round), they are not winning an NBA title with Danny Granger leading the way, just like the Hawks weren’t going to with Joe Johnson as their “marquee guy” either. First, look at Granger, who statistically he has been slipping for the last 3 seasons. Is a player who shoots 42% and scores only 19 points per game really going to lead you to a title? I’ll let Vince McMahon answer that one. If you watched the playoffs you didn’t need to know anything about the statistics to see that Granger wasn’t a number one guy. He was never going to close out a game with such cold bloodedness as Kevin Durant did against the Spurs. He most certainly wasn’t going to put up a 40-18-9 game like LeBron James did. Unfortunately, he was on the losing end of that 40-18-9 game.

Isn’t Joe Johnson the same exact player as Danny Granger? Someone who doesn’t even score 20 points per game, but has somehow convinced everyone he is good enough to be the best guy on a title team? The Hawks were hoodwinked when they gave Joe Johnson the biggest contract (6 years, $119 million) of any 2010 Free Agent (a travesty considering LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amare’ Stoudemire were all better players at that point than Johnson). One individual was hoodwinked when they were foolish enough to toss a 5th place MVP vote at Johnson this year. Seemingly, no one has caught on that year after year when Johnson is supposed to shoulder the heavy burden in the postseason he continuously disappears.

In a perfect basketball world Danny Granger and Joe Johnson would be the 2nd or 3rd best players on a really good team; a team that could win a championship. That’s why Joe Johnson going to Brooklyn is slightly exciting. If the Nets can get a few more pieces to put around Williams and Johnson they could thrive. A decade ago the story was the same with former Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller. As many great “Miller Time” moments that there have been, Reggie was never good enough as “the man” to win a championship. You have to give credit where credit is due though. The success of Indiana weighed heavily on the success of Danny Granger, and you can’t make that kind of connection with players who don’t matter. As Bill Simmons stated in his 2012 NBA Playoff preview, in Pacers wins Danny Granger averaged 20.5 points on 43.6% shooting. In Pacers losses Granger averaged 15.2 points on 37.2% shooting. That theory checks out. In the playoffs Granger averaged 19.7 points on 41.5% shooting in wins, 13.8 points on 36.8 shooting in losses.

April 15, 2012; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Chicago Bulls small forward Luol Deng (9) drives to the basket against Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe (10) during the first quarter at The Palace. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE

Funny story: I was talking to my roommate Wes, a Chicago Bulls fan, about the top 50 list and he took a look at it and seemed legitimately surprised that I had put Deng in the top 40. “Wow, my boy Luol Deng in the top 40?” Yes, Luol Deng in the top 40. I couldn’t tell if he didn’t think Deng would necessarily get ranked that high, or if he didn’t really think of Deng as that good of a player. An even funnier story: For about 2 solid weeks when I was first putting together the list (after I had gathered the statistics of about 85 players) I completely forgot about Luol Deng. I double, triple and quadruple checked the list of about 85 to make sure I didn’t leave anyone out, and to my knowledge I didn’t. When it came time to make the list, I simply forgot about him. I didn’t have him included until I saw him at the Summer Olympics battling with a lackluster supporting cast for Great Britain.

This is partly to do with the fact that constructing this list was much more work than I expected it to be. It also has something to do with the fact that for a good portion of the season Luol Deng was forced to be the interim alpha dog for a championship contender. In most cases that puts the player in more of a spot light, but Deng thrives so well in a complementary role he didn’t stand out nearly as much when the expectations were upped. Sure, Chicago got away with it and succeeded without Derrick Rose in the regular season, but it wasn’t strictly because of Deng. Statistically, there was a miniscule difference in Deng’s numbers when Rose was in the lineup compared to when he was out (I actually went through the entire schedule and worked it out, and when I saw that there was virtually no difference I didn’t save the numbers out of frustration for wasting an hour of my time). Chicago succeeded because of great defense and great coaching. I have to give credit where credit is due though. Luol Deng was a worthy all-star this year. He’s one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders and could very easily be the 2nd or 3rd best player on an NBA champion. But just like Granger and Johnson, he isn’t a number one guy and never will be.

#33 on the list will be announced on Thursday September 27th.