14. Blake Griffin, F, Los Angeles Clippers: Griffin improved measurably in 2012, upping his PER and field goal percentage while continuing to develop his mid-range jumper and exerting more effort on the defensive end. And he helped lead the Clippers to one of the most successful seasons in franchise history. But somehow, Griffin’s NBA Rank dropped four spots this year. We never said these rankings weren’t flawed.
Having said that, Griffin’s worth is difficult to value with respect to the league’s other top players because it seems he could do so much more. He’s still finding his footing in the post, needs work on his outside shot despite improvements made last season, must improve his dreadful free throw shooting, and could definitely get better defensively, too. Even with all those still-healing warts, Griffin was still one of the best players in the NBA in 2012. Given it was only his first year playing with Chris Paul, one can only imagine how much better he could be this season as the two enter their second year together.
If there’s a bone to pick with this ranking – other than Griffin’s aforementioned drop form 2011 – the biggest one could be how it related to Kevin Love’s. Minnesota’s star power forward is closer to reaching his ceiling than the Clippers’, but that doesn’t at all mean’s he’s considerably better. It will be interesting to come back to these rankings a year from now, and see how ESPN’s NBA world relates Griffin to Love and vice versa. For now, though, if Love is anything more than three or four spots above Griffin it’s a major stretch.
13. Andrew Bynum, C, Philadelphia 76ers: It goes without saying this is a huge year for Bynum, his first as a team’s top option on offense let alone face of a franchise. His contract expires after this season, too, and unless his notoriously balky knees give him trouble it’s tough to imagine anything but him re-signing for the max as a Sixer. Of course there are many, many factors at play here other than Bynum’s knees and actual effectiveness, chief among them his relationship with the demanding – but genius, it should be noted – Doug Collins. Can a player with Bynum’s history of volatility coexist with a coach like Collins? Both have said all the right things thus far, but only time will tell.
Assuming everything breaks right and Bynum has his head on straight, though, he’s liable to justify this lofty ranking. Maybe basketball’s best post scorer, the light came on and finally stayed on for Bynum last season in LA. No player in the league boasts his combination of sheer size and shooting touch from the basket area, and he learned to use that size better than ever in 2012 to gain consistent position low on the block. He has a tendency to get tunnel vision with the ball in his hands and he’ll have to mind that more than ever as Philly’s biggest scoring threat, but this is a player that’s shown development every season he’s been on the floor; he can and will get better there as the season progresses. And while he’s not Dwight Howard defensively, Bynum still makes a big impact as a shot-blocker and general space-eater in the lane. He’s an awesome rebounder, too.
The clear second best center in the NBA, this spot seems about right for Bynum. It feels strange to look above him on the list and see names like Gasol, Bosh, Nash, and Garnett, but that’s just how awesome a season he had last year. Finally out of Kobe Bryant’s looming shadow, as long as Bynum is healthy and engaged he could break the top 10 in 2013.
12. Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics: Rondo remains the most unique player in the NBA, and as he gradually grabbed the reigns from Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in Boston last season he became one of its most polarizing. Such is life when you’re almost as bad in a few areas areas as you are great in a couple more than that.
Maybe the league’s best ball-handler, passer, perimeter defender (when engaged), and its overall most creative player, Rondo remains a very poor shooter, can go full quarters without looking at the basket, and has a tendency to over-dribble. He’s a polarizing personality, too, often clashing with reporters and sometimes teammates and coaches. But to focus on the negatives gleaned from Rondo’s game would be remiss, because you’d be missing all the positives that could some day make him a candidate for Springfield.
A true maestro in the mold of Chris Paul or Steve Nash, you always know when Rondo is on the floor. He’s constantly barking orders to teammates and yapping at opposing players, and always at his best when the game or moment is biggest. Remember his virtuoso performance in game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals (a loss)? You can count the number of players capable of such brilliance on fewer than two hands, which makes his seven point outing in game 5 of the same series (a win) all the more confounding. Until you look down the box score and see six rebounds, 13 assists, and four steals, that is.
There’s never been a player like Rondo. He’s not a traditional point guard or one for the 21st century. He’s not Isaiah Thomas, John Stockton, Jason Kidd, or Derrick Rose, but that hardly matters to the Celtics. What does is his well-deserved rank as the game’s twelfth best player.