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Follow the leaders (cont.)

Posted: Friday April 14, 2006 12:46PM; Updated: Wednesday April 19, 2006 12:32PM
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6. Elton Brand, Clippers

Rather than dissecting what's wrong with Kevin Garnett, 'Wolves fans should appreciate the things he does that others don't.
Rather than dissecting what's wrong with Kevin Garnett, 'Wolves fans should appreciate the things he does that others don't.
Greg Nelson/SI

Surrounded by the first promising team of his seven-year career, Brand responded with a career-best 24.8 points per game to go with his typical 10.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. He's always scored in a variety of ways -- in transition, in the post or facing up -- but this year Brand proved that his numbers could drive a winning team.

5. Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves

This was a rough year for his team, yet Garnett retained his annual lead in the NBA's efficiency rating with a routine 21.8 points, 12.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists. Instead of being criticized for failing to drag this deeply flawed roster into the playoffs, he should be lauded for maintaining his impeccable standards in a hopeless environment: Selfish play isn't part of his repertoire.

4. LeBron James, Cavaliers

He'll join Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West as the only players to average at least 30 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists for a season. James will be the No. 1 player when he spreads his talent to the defensive end of the floor, but let's not be greedy -- these are amazing accomplishments for someone who should be finishing his junior year of college.

3. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks

Team leader Michael Finley left last summer, a year after the departure of league MVP Steve Nash, yet in their absence Nowitzki has elevated his scoring (26.6 ppg) and shooting (48.2 percent) to career highs while transforming the Mavericks into an elite team. He's on the verge of becoming Dallas' modern-day Larry Bird, the clutch big man who wins games in the most unorthodox ways.

2. Kobe Bryant, Lakers

The world's most talented player leads the NBA with 35.1 ppg, including a league-best 9.4 points in the fourth quarter. Nobody is more spectacular, whether dribbling through traffic or beating the buzzer from the three-point line. The question is whether a perimeter star such as Bryant can lead the league in scoring while leading his team to a championship level. Jordan is the only player to fulfill that paradox, but this season Bryant looked like he was embarking on the same high road as he single-handedly forced a lottery team into the playoffs.