Finally, a definitive list of the league's 10 best players
Posted: Friday April 14, 2006 12:46PM; Updated: Wednesday April 19, 2006 12:32PM
Paul Pierce's inspired play -- and attitude -- this season might force the Celtics to rethink their long-term rebuilding plan.
Ian Thomsen will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
Who are the NBA's top 10 players? This season I must have heard at least 20 stars being mentioned routinely as "top 10" players in the league. It's an unofficial, unregulated and unwieldy list that everyone refers to and nobody seems to enumerate. Until today, that is.
The criteria for this list differs from other postseason awards. The MVP refers to the player who had the greatest impact on his team this season, and the All-NBA teams reward the top performances by position.
This top 10 list takes a broader view. Who are the most important players today, taking into account not just their performances this season but their abilities to dominate in a variety of ways? Consider this a comprehensive ranking of the best players in the NBA that goes beyond the narrow criteria of the annual awards.
10. Shaquille O'Neal, Heat
His doubters grow bolder in their criticisms as Shaq grows older, and even though he's approaching career lows in all categories this season -- 20.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 30.7 minutes -- the numbers are still impressive, and his advancing age (34) is still trumped by his size (7-foot-1, 300-plus pounds) and skills. If he can stay healthy and his teammates can be marshaled around him (by far the bigger if), O'Neal remains capable of driving Miami to a championship.
9. Paul Pierce, Celtics
No elite player showed more improvement than Pierce, the only player to lead his team in points (a career-high 26.8), rebounds (6.7), assists (4.8) and steals (1.4). He is shooting a career-best 47.3 percent in spite of playing with the weakest supporting cast of his career. The question now is whether the Celtics can throttle up their long-term rebuilding program to build a winner around 28-year-old Pierce while he's at his peak.
8. Dwyane Wade, Heat
Wade and Allen Iverson are the only players to rank in the top 10 in scoring (27.5 ppg in Wade's case), assists (6.8) and steals (1.9); the difference is that Wade's efforts have a positive impact on winning games while Iverson often seems to drain more energy from his team than he contributes. Wade should move into the top five of this list as Shaq ages and Wade further asserts himself as Miami's leader.
7. Steve Nash, Suns
The reigning MVP is the NBA's version of Doug Flutie: He dominates against bigger, stronger opponents by forcing them to surrender to his tempo. For those of us who rate team play ahead of one-on-one virtuosity, Nash is the most entertaining player in the league. No point guard is more effective at running an offense and creating mismatches than Nash, who adapted to the loss of Amaré Stoudemire by scoring more points (a career-high 19.1) while remaining the league leader in assists (10.5).