The Top 10 NBA Players Entering the 2010-2011 Season
The landscape of the NBA has certainly changed over the last decade. Below are the list of the top 10 players in the NBA entering the 2010-2011 season. The following list was based on a combination of prior performances in the season, but more importantly the postseason, and projections of how each particular athlete will perform this upcoming season given their prior performances and potential. This has no bearing on an MVP race or who is most valuable to their team's success, just who has the best combination of individual athleticism and team playing ability in the league.
10) Rajon Rondo, PG Boston Celtics
Rondo is the most underrated player in basketball. Forget the Big 3, Boston is Rondo's team. Rondo was the reason this Celtics team got through Dwayne Wade in the first round and then slaughtered Cleveland in the 2nd round. When guys like Pierce, Allen, and Garnett struggled to cap off Orlando after they went 3-0 and lost 2 consecutive games, Rondo carried the team through to the Finals. And not once did Rondo have a bad game. The Celtics playoff run went something like this: Every time that Rondo had a good game, they lost. Every time he had a great game, they won. Rondo's ability to get his teammates involved on every play, his tenacious defense, his cutthroat driving ability, and his effort to grab boards has made him a match-up nightmate and by extension, has allowed himself to be called a top 10 player in the NBA. And before you say that Miami is a lock to win the East, who do they have on their team to guard this guy?
9) Amare Stoudemire, PF New York Knicks
Amare is the greatest Knick since Patrick Ewing without ever playing a game as an Empire State resident. That's how special this guy is. Yes, he has some questions regarding his previous injuries and his lack of effort in terms of grabbing rebounds and playing defense. However, Amare played every game last season. He has proved that he has worked hard to recover properly. And we do know one thing. If he does put in that effort that we saw against Los Angeles during this year's playoffs when the media was hounding "Where's Amare?", and he responded by throwing down 44 points and 11 rebounds in a Game 3 Phoenix win, then Amare is clearly the best offensive threat in the paint. When he has the New York media to respond to every night, he will play TREMENDOUS ball every night given the fact that he has no other choice. He has something to play for every night; and once he is in the playoffs (and yes, the Knicks will be ending their LONG 7 year drought this year), Amare will give New York everything they want to see from their big man. Madison Square Garden will be jumping. You can say that Gasol deserves to be here given the fact that Pau Gasol has solidified himself as the best big man in the game given his performance the last 3 years. However, this is solely from an offensive standpoint. He consistently gives you double-doubles and will score 20 a night, but Gasol struggles tremendously with one-on-one defense. Given Amare's physical capabilities and the fact that he has absolutely murdered Mr. Fundamental Tim Duncan in the paint repeatedly, we have to give the nod to Amare for making the biggest city in the world relevant again in a hardwood context. I absolutely love Tim Duncan, but while Duncan has regressed from the form of being the best PF of all time, Amare has his best years ahead of him.
8) Chris Paul, PG New Orleans Hornets
Chris Paul is the most exciting player in the NBA to watch given his flash and athleticism. CP3 is a prized possession at point guard given his hard work ethic, ability to see the play develop, and his driving ability. Although he was sidelined and questions about his injury began to develop, we can be certain that Paul will come back to top-form. The Hornets didn't have a sit-down meeting with their leader after he was having doubts about staying in New Orleans if they didn't think he was going to continue to remain as one of the best players in the league.
7) Carmelo Anthony, SF Denver Nuggets
Melo is the smoothest player in the NBA and a good point guard like Billups enhanced his game even more. Carmelo finished 3rd in the league in scoring, and although he's received criticism for playing some selfish ball, he is still one of the best players in the league given his talent. Denver knows how good this guy is with the proper coaching and the right weapons to use around him. Although it says that he plays for the Denver Nuggets now, we can almost be certain that 'Melo is heading elsewhere. The Nuggets don't want to pull a Cleveland-Lebron fiasco and they figure they might as well get something out of Carmelo before he becomes a free agent. The Nuggets will do a sign-and-trade with the New York Knicks to get Galinari, Curry, and a draft pick or the Orlando Magic to get Vince Carter.
6) Deron Williams, PG Utah Jazz
Deron Williams is the best point guard in the game. His ability to see the floor is comparable to Paul's, but WIlliams gets the slight nod over Paul given his physicality. At 6'3" and 207 pounds, he is more of an offensive threat in terms of driving the lane, and he has proven himself to be a better defender than Paul. WIlliams had his best season last year, taking his Jazz to the second round of the playoffs last year before being ousted by LA. The Jazz are going to have a downgrade from last year given Boozer's choice to leave, but Deron can still lead this team to the playoffs and slip into the 8th seed spot. Williams' assists totals will go up even more than last year given the acquisitions of Raja Bell and Al Jefferson (great additions as compliemnts to Deron's style of play). Not to mention, Kirilenko will get his 20 a night fed directly from Deron himself or from his ability to open up the court. Not to mention, one of the best coaches in this game will have this offense firing on all cylinders.
5) Kevin Durant, SF Oklahoma CIty Thunder
Kevin Durant, at 21, became the youngest scoring leader in NBA history last season. He led his Thunder to the playoffs last year, giving the LAkers every bit of havoc during that first-round escape. This year, they'll be a year improved and the Thunder are looking like they'll be the best team in the West, only behind the Lakers. It is scary to imagine that Durant will have a better season than last year, but he will. He'll have around the same points and rebounds, but his assists will certainly go up now that he has trust in his complimentary players. Durant will win this year's MVP given his outstanding performance of 30 ppg, 8 rpg, and 5 apg season.
4) Dwight Howard, C Orlando Magic
Dwight Howard is the best big man in the game. This 7 foot monster is unstoppable in the paint on offense and has led his team to the Eastern Conference Finals two years in a row. How is he on defense? Back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year doesn't hurt his resume too much. Orlando hasn't received much attention given the offseason noise that the likes of Miami and New York have had, but the Magic are a legitimate championship contender. They will make the Eastern Conference Finals again this year with Howard at the forefront.
3) Dwayne Wade, SG Miami Heat
A lot of people don't realize how good Dwayne Wade really is. Not only did he do something with Shaq that Lebron couldn't (cough, cough), but he was the leading scorer in the playoffs last year as well. Dwayne Wade's Heat last year were absolutely awful (a lot worse than what Lebron was given in Cleveland) and he still brought them to the playoffs. His performances over the last 2 years have proved that he is back to his performing level that he had in 2006. Wade's performance during that NBA Championship series may have been the best performance from a single player int he history of the game (even Jordan). D-Wade is the real deal and have we forgotten that South Beach is still Wade's team? After all, it hasn't been renamed around the streets from Dade to Wade county for no reason.
2) Lebron James, SF Miami Heat
Lebron is clearly the most athletic and physically gifted player in the league. At 6'9" and 270 lbs. he is a freak with ridiculous speed, power, and explosiveness. At first, Lebron was like a puppy who couldn't control his limbs when he entered the league. He was this absolutely gifted, amazing athlete who couldn't seem to control all the physical giftedness he was granted. Over the past 5 years, he has transformed into an incredible basketball player. Not only has Lebron brought the most difficult matchup to opposing teams because of his ability to drive through the lane and draw fouls while he slams it home, but his outside shooting performance and defensive game has improved tremendously over the past couple of years. Lebron has had a tremendous career and will continue to have a spectacular career (and he'll definitely get a few rings during his reign in South Beach). If he stayed in Cleveland, he would have gotten his 3rd straight MVP, leading his team to a another improbable 65+ win season. However, now since he has moved to Miami and is playing alongside one of the best players in the game in Wade and a superstar in Bosh, there is obviously less ball to go around and his stats will diminsh and it will be less clear who is leading that ship (Wade or Lebron). Therefore, I can't see Lebron winning his 3rd MVP this year. I think it has Durant written all over it this year, but only time will tell.
1) Kobe Bryant, SG Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant, now that he has secured his 5th ring, is on pretty much everyone's list of Top 10 NBA players of all-time. While some critics believe he will slow down this year, isn't that exactly what everyone said about him last year? And didn't he prove all the critics wrong when he brought LA to the promised land yet again, despite all of his overwhelming injuries? The reigning back-to-back Finals MVP has cemented himself as the representative of the NBA over Lebron. This isn't to discredit Lebron's athleticism or talent; Lebron may be able to beat Kobe in a one-on-one matchup, but Kobe has to be placed above him just because of the fact that Kobe has proven himself as a winner. And for all you Lebron lovers that will raise the argument that he had the Cavs as his team last year and if he was on the Lakers, he would win a championship...I bring up one point...when Lebron closed out his season with the worse shooting performance of his life, he did nothing to help his team in any way and they got embarrassed on their home court...Kobe would have never allowed that to happen...When Kobe had the worse shooting performance in his career during a most pivotal Game 7, he grabbed 15 rebounds and played the most tenacious defense I've seen since Bruce Bowen. Kobe always finds a way to win even if he has an off night, and we don't see that passion from Lebron. Kobe has the competitive fire to win that we have yet to see in Lebron. Kobe wants it more and regardless of the fact that Lebron may be more athletic or talented, Kobe's desire and ability to finish makes him the best player in the league.
Honorable Mentions (Not in Order):
Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Joe Johnson, Brandon Roy, Paul Pierce, Manu Ginobli, Chris Bosh, Al Jefferson, Yao Ming, and Chauncey Billups
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