Top 50 Player Adjustments, Part Two

Hey, it’s you! Glad you’re back to read part two of my adjusted Top 50 player rankings. I won’t waste any more time since this is going to be massive. Let’s get to it with number 29.

29. Kwame Brown (Previously Unranked)
Shoot! This isn’t the timeline for bad executive decisions made by Michael Jordan; this is the top 50 player rankings. Honest mistake.

29. Kevin Garnett (Previously #19)
This straight-from-high-schooler worked out a little better than Kwame. I dropped Garnett because more often than not, it looks like he’s fighting a losing battle against father time. I still wouldn’t want to have to deal with KG in a playoff series though. There is always the chance he could turn back the hands of time and unleash some vintage Big Ticket performances while trash talking the opposition and eating Honey Nut Cheerios in the process.

28. Deron Williams (Previously #10)
Deron Williams: “Did you hear this garbage about that kid Sonny Giuliano dropping me 18 spots in his NBA player rankings?”

Deron Williams’ Publicist: “Well a lot of it has to do with the fact that you’re in the middle of your worst statistical season since your rookie year and—”

Deron Williams: “What does he know about basketball? And what do you know about basketball? You’re just here to make sure people like me.”

Deron Williams’ Publicist: “About that… you’ve got to stop getting coaches fired. You’re making my job really difficult.”

27. Jrue Holiday (Previously on Toughest Omissions)
Holiday makes the biggest jump of any of the players previously on the toughest omissions list, and for good reason. I forecasted that Jrue Holiday would make the leap into the top 50 because of the 76ers’ addition of Andrew Bynum. Well, Bynum has been busy bowling and growing out his hair to extraordinary lengths, but Holiday’s progression hasn’t slowed a bit. Holiday’s jump from mid-level point guard to arguably a top five point guard in the league has been the deciding factor in keeping the 76ers in the playoff picture after Philadelphia made a trade that left them with nothing to show for it for the time being. Thanks to Holiday (and let’s give some credit to Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young too, they’ve both come along this season as well) the 76ers are hanging around in the East, and maybe with a break or two (Rondo’s torn ACL may be one, potential roster-busting trades for the Bucks and Hawks may end up being another), we could end up seeing Jrue Holiday featured in the playoffs.

26. Paul Pierce (Previously #21)
The truth is, Paul Pierce has lost a step. You can’t tell by the numbers, but he’s definitely lost a step. He isn’t as quick off the dribble as he used to be. He can’t defend like he did in years past. He doesn’t have the spring he had in 2007. It’s his 15th season in the league, it’s to be expected. In a lot of ways, he isn’t the same Paul Pierce he once was.

The truth is, I’m still terrified of Paul Pierce. And as a LeBron James fan, I’m still terrified of the Celtics. Even though common sense and conventional wisdom says I should be hoping for a plush 1st round matchup against the Celtics, I’m praying Boston manages to fight out of the 8th spot because I don’t want the Heat to have to deal with the Celtics in round one. That’s way too much stress for me way too early.

The truth is, Paul Pierce is still the truth. Even though he can’t bring his A game every night, it’s there every once in a while, and Pierce’s A game is just as dangerous as anyone else’s. That’s why I’m terrified.

25. LaMarcus Aldridge (Previously #22)
24. David Lee (Previously #50)
I have a ton of love for LA and WCW (White Chris Webber for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Shaquille O’Neal given nickname of David Lee). They are both all-star caliber power forwards who do just about anything you could want a power forward to do. But the problem is, David Lee’s point guard’s all-star credentials are greater than either of these two. I’ll be picking that nit in a minute.

23. Chris Bosh (Previously #20)
To avoid the wrath of my mother for dropping Chris Bosh in the rankings, let me use this time to say that I’m half way on Chris Bosh’s side when he claims he is a hall of famer. Sure, he might’ve went a little too far when he said he was a Hall of Famer “like four years ago”, but the case could potentially be made that the forgotten man in the Heat Big Three will indeed someday end up in Springfield. Let’s look at his résumé so far:
Career averages of 19.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 50% FG, 80% FT… 8 time All-Star… 7th in 2006-07 MVP voting, 12th in 2009-10 MVP voting… One 2nd Team All-NBA… Three seasons of at least 22 points and 10 rebounds… 3rd best player on one Championship runner-up, and one NBA Champion

Well, maybe that isn’t the most rock-solid résumé, but consider this: It’s not a stretch that Bosh could end up one of the Top 50 all-time scorers and rebounders. It’s also not a stretch that Chris Bosh could end up with a couple of more titles. So let’s assume Bosh ends his career with 18,000 career points, 8,500 rebounds, 10 All-Star appearances, 3 NBA titles as the 3rd best player on the team, and a few “Whoa, Chris Bosh is really important to the Heat” moments like he had last year in the playoffs. Is that good enough to make the Hall of Fame? I’d say yes. And the kind folks at www.basketball-reference.com seem to think so too. Bosh is currently the 11th most likely active player to make the Hall of Fame. This system is a little flawed though, considering Steve Nash is currently 20th on that list. Let’s just put the Chris Bosh Hall of Fame argument on hold for a few years, and while we’re doing that, I can pray my mom will still make me delicious dinners.

22. Joakim Noah (Previously #45)
This man is the 22nd best player in the NBA.

Jan. 30, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) against Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat (4) at the US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

21. Pau Gasol (Previously #17)
20. Dwight Howard (Previously #3)
Try to contain your excitement… It’s time for another fun-sized round of “Make up fun fake trades on ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine that will likely never happen.” I can feel your excitement seeping through the computer screen. I’m a firm believer in the idea that the Lakers best move is to keep Pau, trade Dwight Howard (he’s leaving Los Angeles in six months anyways) and try to make the playoffs on the shoulders of Kobe Bryant, some added depth, and Pau Gasol when he comes back from his torn plantar fascia.

Trade #1: Los Angeles gets Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Hakim Warrick and DeSagana Diop; Charlotte gets Dwight Howard.

NOTE: Realistically, this trade never comes close to happening for a myriad of reasons. But the thought of Dwight Howard (a notorious goofball; someone who has the reputation for not being nearly competitive enough) being traded from Los Angeles (where he’s been playing with the competitive player in the NBA) to Charlotte (owned by the most competitive athlete ever) makes me laugh.

Trade #2: Los Angeles gets Omer Asik, Patrick Patterson, and Chandler Parsons; Houston gets Dwight Howard.

NOTE: This is quite a bit of value the Lakers would be getting for Dwight, and enough size to survive for the period of time where Pau Gasol will be out. And wouldn’t Houston want to make this move too? The Rockets would be able to build around Dwight, the Beard and Linsanity, and they could even market Dwight as the next Hakeem (That’s just the marketing side of me thinking. The basketball fan in me is saying Dwight will never be Hakeem). As for Dwight, I can’t help but believe he would consider staying in Houston. It’s a relatively big market, features a young roster, and he would be lucky enough to be coached by one of the best low post scorers of all-time in Kevin McHale. This is a winning deal for all parties. I’m legitimately impressed with myself right now.

Trade #3: Los Angeles gets Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Rodrigue Beaubois; Dallas gets Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace.

NOTE: Again, this is a trade that will never ever happen, but just stay with me for a minute. On one hand, Dallas is another city where Dwight would likely stay, but that’s not why I’m making this hypothetical trade. Kobe, Dirk, Marion, and Pau are all under contract through 2014. Add Nash into the mix too. Why not give those five guys a year and a half to play with each other in Los Angeles. I say we contact David Stern and convince him to put this trade into motion. He clearly has the power to do so.

One last thing: I’m sure there are some who will be critical of me for dropping Dwight Howard to 20th. I’ve made no bones about the fact that he’s my least favorite player in the league, but that isn’t why I dropped him. Do you see what’s happening to the Lakers? It’s a damn circus in Los Angeles, and the reason is Dwight Howard. Part of my criteria for ranking the players is their reputation; “Do players like playing with him or is he despised? Does he do little things that make the team better or is he out for himself? Is he known as a hard worker and leader, or someone who doesn’t always give a crap?” The answer to each of those three questions is the latter choice. And do we know for sure how healthy Dwight is? I don’t think he’s any better than 75% healthy and that isn’t really a good sign going forward. At this point, I’d be more surprised by a three-year Dwight Howard resurgence than a three-year Dwight Howard downfall.

19. Marc Gasol (Previously #27)
18. Zach Randolph (Previously #38)
Quick tangent: I loved the Grizzlies as a potential sleeper team in the playoffs this year, just like I did last year. I don’t think I was necessarily alone in believing that either. We didn’t really have any idea how this team would come together in the postseason when all the pieces were completely healthy, but the only reasonable guess would be that they would have a lot of success since two years in a row they were a tough out in the postseason, one year without Rudy Gay, and one year with a hobbled Zach Randolph. But through free agency and some curious trades, the Grizzlies of 2011 (Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, OJ Mayo, Shane Battier, Greivis Vasquez, Darrell Arthur) has been whittled down to Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, a past his prime Tayshaun Prince and a few other young pieces that Grizzlies fans can only hope don’t get collective stage fright in the playoffs. What the hell went wrong?

Alright, my tangent is over. It just makes me upset that a potential Western Conference juggernaut was torn apart for no other reason besides the fact that Grizzlies ownership wanted to save money. But here is the silver lining for the Grizzlies; the fact that they have the best big man tandem in the game is enough to leave them with the smallest sliver of a chance to contend for the title. It’s microscopic, but you have to find a silver lining.

17. Derrick Rose (Previously #8)
Of all 50 players, well actually closer to 75 or so players I had to evaluate for this list, ranking Derrick Rose was my toughest task. How do you rank someone who was the league MVP in 2011, played well when he played in 2012, tore his ACL, and has missed every single game this year? It’s impossible. I kept Andrew Bynum out of the top 50 because he hasn’t played a game this season, but I couldn’t do the same to Derrick Rose.

I can’t exactly explain my rationale for why I have Derrick Rose ranked 17th. I’m sure some people will say Rose should still be a top ten player. Others will probably say that he shouldn’t be on the list at all since he hasn’t played. I’m not sure if I ranked him properly, and I have no other explanation as to why I put him here besides that it felt right. That’s terrible journalism, but it’s true. Derrick Rose could easily return and be the same exact player he was before. But there are two major what-ifs that come into play.

What if Derrick Rose is never the player he was prior to tearing his ACL? This is the absolute worst case scenario. It would be one of the greatest sports tragedies ever if Derrick Rose, someone who thrived on track star speed, breathtaking athleticism and miles of heart couldn’t be the real Derrick Rose because of torn knee ligaments. But…

What if Derrick Rose goes Adrian Peterson on us? After what All Day just did for the Minnesota Vikings, there is a glimmer of hope that Derrick Rose can return and improbably be better than he was before. Whenever I watch Derrick Rose go down my stomach turns and I feel uneasy. But the thought of Rose returning towards the end of the year, and sparking a storybook run to the Finals is the kind of stuff that gives me goosebumps.

Until Rose returns, I have no idea how far off I am with my ranking of him. For everybody’s sake, I hope he ends up much higher than 17th.

16. Stephen Curry (Previously #48)
We’re going two routes here. The first route is you listening to Charles Barkley rant about Stephen Curry being snubbed from the All-Star game. The second route is me ranting about Stephen Curry being snubbed from the All-Star game. So click here to listen to Chuck, and then come back for more. Ready, go!

I’ve always loved Charles Barkley, and this was the cherry on top of the metaphorical sundae. Barkley’s voice echoed the tweets of so many who were frustrated with the fact that the brightest young star on the most surprising team of the Western Conference could somehow be left off the roster of the All-Star game. And this wasn’t a sentimental “The game is being played in his city, let’s get him on the roster” kind of snub; and it wasn’t a “This is his last season, let’s get him out there one more time” snub either. This was a blatant “This guy has turned around a franchise and is having a historically good season, he should be in there” snub. Did you know Stephen Curry is on pace to become the first player in NBA history to average 20 points, 6 assists and 3 three-pointers made per game? That’s been done by exactly no one. Not to mention he’s making a somewhat absurd number of three pointers per game on 45% shooting from downtown. And his team (young, relatively inexperienced, and a general surprise) is currently in 6th in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. What else is missing? And besides the fact that Curry’s credentials more than warrant a spot on the roster, why wouldn’t you want someone who is not only a lights out shooter, but one of the most creative offensive players in the league in a fast paced game like the All-Star game? Seriously, what the hell happened to keep Stephen Curry out of the All-Star game?

And one last thing, Collin Stucko is getting close to owing ten dollars on our “Stephen Curry will never be a top five point guard in the league.” It’s damn close.

15. Kevin Love (Previously #7)
When I talked about Andre Iguodala last week I touched on this idea that after you play with Team USA you have a breakout season. Well, we saw it from Love after his time with Team USA at the World Championships in 2010, and a potential Love breakout season in 2012-13 was one of my favorite subplots until he developed a seemingly chronic right hand injury. Was there potential of a 28-15 season for Kevin Love? I don’t think it was too farfetched.

14. Kyrie Irving (Previously #25)
In two years when LeBron is playing alongside Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, it’s going to be a really interesting debate as to who should take the last shot in a close game. Kyrie is that good. And yes, my sources are telling me LeBron will be back in Cleveland in 2014-15.

NOTE: I have no sources, but it’s fun to pretend I do.

13. Blake Griffin (Previously #14)
Try not to be too concerned with the statistical drop-off Blake Griffin has had since his rookie year. Whether people see it or not, he’s a better player now than he was then. He’s much more patient and definitely more polished offensively than he was during that breakout rookie season. And if you are worried about those numbers steadily decreasing, take a look at his minutes per game which have dropped each year as well. The good news for Blake is there is a direct correlation between his minutes and numbers dropping, but commercial appearances going up.

12. Tony Parker (Previously #16)
Last year Tony Parker got a little bit of MVP buzz that I scoffed at mainly because Skip Bayless was firmly planted on the Tony Parker bandwagon, and I didn’t like that. Well, I changed my television watching habits, and I don’t watch ESPN’s First Take anymore, so I have no idea what Skip Bayless is saying about Tony Parker. That allows me to marvel at the season Tony Parker is having without knowing I’m agreeing with Skip. The fact that Tony Parker is averaging 20.7 points and 7.7 assists for the team with the best record in the league is impressive enough. But man oh man, when I look at his shooting percentage (roughly 54%, 16th in the league) I’m left scratching my head wondering how a 6’2 Frenchman is the only point guard firmly planted in the top 40 in field goal percentage. Even though this year LeBron and Durant are on an entirely different level than anyone else, if Parker keeps this up you could talk me into putting him in the top three of MVP rankings.

February 1, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler (6) reacts after a dunk against the Milwaukee Bucks during the fourth quarter of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

11. Tyson Chandler (Previously #30)
I decided to re-do my rankings partly because it was halfway through the regular season, and it seemed logical to take the temperature of the NBA by doing something substantial like this. I also did it to try to correct any big mistakes I made in my prior rankings or in pieces I’ve written since then. When I did the Tyson Chandler section I gushed about the ability of Tyson Chandler to communicate with and motivate some less than stellar defensive players on the Knicks. Still, I might’ve underrated his defensive ability by ranking him 30th. Apparently I didn’t learn my lesson. About a month ago when I ranked the Eastern Conference teams, I somehow let it slip my mind that Tyson Chandler (in the midst of his best season to date) should be an Eastern Conference All-Star. I have no good excuse for that one. So maybe some will see 11 as a little high for Chandler, but I had to do something to make up for the mistakes I made before.

10. Tim Duncan (Previously #28)
Admittedly I was off on Tyson Chandler. I’m not taking that same blame with Tim Duncan. How would I be able to foresee Duncan once again popping father time in the mouth and delaying the inevitable state of depressing decline? The story with Duncan is the similar to the one we’ve been seeing with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Maybe that A game isn’t there every night, but when it’s there, as Kevin Garnett would say, “Anything is possible.” Call me crazy, but I think it’s possible that the Spurs can ride Tim Duncan to another NBA championship. And as great as Tony Parker has been, the Spurs need vintage Tim Duncan to contend for a title.

9. Rajon Rondo (Previously #5)
Another player extremely tough to rank considering he tore his ACL. Before the bad break against Atlanta, Rondo was in the middle of his career best statistical season which was getting very little appreciation due to the fact that the Celtics were floundering in the Eastern Conference. Now since Rondo has gone down the Celts have won 7 straight and people are forgetting the fact that their title chances have just about evaporated without Rondo in the picture. Sure, the fan in me is still terrified of the Celtics, but the realist says that without Rondo running the show the Celtics aren’t a legitimate title threat.

8. James Harden (Previously #24)
You heard it here first—James Harden for All-Star game MVP. Take that one to the bank. And how about we get James Harden in the MVP discussion? He’s not going to win, and he shouldn’t, but shouldn’t he get some credit for turning the Rockets into a playoff team and clearly proving that he is capable of being “the man” for a good team? I’d say yes.

7. Dwyane Wade (Previously #9)
I’ve moved Dwyane Wade up two spots. See, I’m capable of giving him credit when credit is due.

6. Russell Westbrook (Previously #11)
When my roommate Weston and I were watching the Thunder/Lakers game a couple weeks back we were talking about the role of Russell Westbrook for the Thunder and how he constantly waivers between being the distributor and number one option. After a few sequences of typical Westbrook play (breathtaking athleticism and offensive skill coupled with shaky decision making at times), I came to realize that being a Thunder fan has to be an absolute emotional rollercoaster. In the hypothetical scenario that I were a diehard Oklahoma City Thunder fan, I don’t know if Westbrook would be my second favorite player on the team because he’s one of the top three overqualified number two guys in the league, or my least favorite player because of the constant emotional turmoil he has to put Thunder fans through. Season ticket holders should get free therapy sessions after every ridiculous Westbrook performance.

5. Carmelo Anthony (Previously #13)
I’m approaching my self-appointed word limit, so I’m going to make this as quick as Carmelo Anthony’s release on a transition three-pointer. Carmelo has been awesome this year. The MVP talk has faded a little, but watching Carmelo heat up with a frenzied MSG crowd cheering him on is a little terrifying.

4. Kobe Bryant (Previously #6)
It’s hard not to feel for Kobe Bryant. He’s on pace to become the first player in league history to average 25+ points while in their 17th season, yet the Lakers, which had such high expectations before the season, have turned into a complete joke. I still maintain the belief that the Lakers will make the playoffs or Kobe Bryant will die trying. Actually, let me rephrase that. I still maintain the belief that the Lakers will make the playoffs or Kobe Bryant will kill someone trying. Yeah, that sounds more realistic.

3. Chris Paul (Previously #4)
Even in defeat and still hobbled, it was evident to me on Friday night when I was at the Clippers/Heat game that Chris Paul plays the point guard position like not many others ever have. He’s in such control of everything going on and sees things differently than 99% of anyone else who plays basketball. I may have said it before and I don’t care to look and see if I did, but watching Chris Paul run the point is like watching an instruction manual of how it’s supposed to be done. The thing that stood out to me most on Friday night was how he composed himself like a general of an army. I’ve never seen a more intimidating 6 foot point guard in my life. There was one sequence where Paul obviously upset about a call and didn’t hide this from the official who made the call, and eventually hit him with a technical. But for about 10 seconds when Paul was going from pursuing the ref to getting right in his face, you could see the competitive juices flowing and that’s what separates Paul from so many others. You could see that he just wanted it more than most do.

2. Kevin Durant (Previously #2)
Durant is the only guy who is standing in the way of LeBron winning his 4th MVP, and might be the only guy standing in the way of LeBron winning a second NBA Championship. At this point it’s hard to imagine anyone beating a LeBron James led Heat team 4 out of 7 games, but Durant is the only one who I could see being a catalyst in doing so.

1. LeBron James (Previously #1)
Not much to say here to justify why LeBron is number one, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. As I mentioned before, I was at the Clippers/Heat game on Friday night, and I’ve never been more impressed with a basketball player in my life. Keep in mind I’ve seen quite a few “great” players in my life. I’ve seen LeBron multiple times, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin; and I’ve never seen someone so close to mastering the game of basketball in my life as LeBron James did on Friday night, and has been for the last, well, basically this whole season. It’s a cliché, but it was almost like watching nine guys on the floor playing one game, and LeBron playing another. It was a treat.