Wade leads the top 20 list in our inaugural rankings
Posted: Friday October 27, 2006 1:21PM; Updated: Friday November 10, 2006 1:29PM
Sound team play makes for happy coaches and a chance at the playoffs, but in the NBA, you need a transcendent player to put a squad over the top. Thus, in addition to Marty Burns' NBA team power rankings this season, SI.com will also have NBA player power rankings, starting with this inaugural top 20 list.
Myriad factors will go into the selections, including overall efficiency, versatility, and the ability to translate superior statistics into a team's winning percentage. The limitations of a particular player's teammates will also be taken into consideration, because superstars shouldn't be penalized for plying their trade on pathetic teams.
And please, do not confuse this with a fantasy basketball list. While pure numbers are fine, we're also going to consider the intangibles and look at variables that don't always show up in the boxscore. Here's the initial list, based heavily on 2005-06 performance.
The Finals MVP gets the early edge in our inaugural list because of his inspired play in last year's postseason. Not only did he find ways to win the big games by himself, driving to the hole while wing counterparts like LeBron and Kobe stayed on the perimeter for their respective teams, he also improved what was a dodgy outside touch -- nailing 14 three-pointers in the playoffs, after hitting just 13 in the regular season.
Dirk was unstoppable for stretches of the Mavs' run to the Finals, after a regular season that saw him lead his team to 60 wins while throwing in as good a statistical line as can be expected -- 48 percent from the floor, 41 from the 3-point arc, 90 percent from the line, with averages of 26.6 points, 9 rebounds and just 1.9 turnovers in 38 minutes.
It won't be long before LBJ vaults to the top spot on this list, but not before he learns from Wade's magical playoff run last year, and takes it to the hole late in close contests. Too often in Cleveland's Game 6 and 7 conference semifinal losses last spring, James was seen meandering on the perimeter. Still, regular-season averages of 31 points, 7 rebounds, and 6.6 assists from a 21-year old? Sick.
We're not as hard on Kobe as his toughest detractors, since we prefer to watch the eight-time All-Star shoot over double teams instead of seeing Kwame Brown, Brian Cook or Smush Parker work their magic against single coverage. Still, for Kobe to hit the top spot on this list, he's going to have to be willing to let the triangle offense run through him at the small forward spot.
Quietly, KG had as good a second half as anyone in the NBA last season, finishing the campaign with averages of 21.8 points, 12.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists and a combined 2.8 blocks and rebounds, while shooting 53 percent from the field for a putrid Timberwolves squad.
As good as Steve Nash is, he still needs guys to corral the rebounds for him, get open on the other end, and be ready to nail a three-pointer if the defenders relent. More often than not, Marion excels in all three necessary roles: 21.8 points, 11.8 boards, a combined 3.7 blocks and steals, with just 1.5 turnovers in 40 minutes last year for this underrated star.
Due to the Clippers' playoff appearance, fair-weather NBA observers got to see what the league's real fans have known for years: Elton is as good as gets in the low post. Brand averaged 25 and 10 in 2005-06, blocking 2.5 shots per game, while a slimmer frame allowed him to improve his already stellar defense and cut down on fouls.
As surprising as Nash's 2005 MVP run was, his improved play (at age 32) in 2005-06 was the real mind-blower. And as dangerous as Wade, LeBron and Kobe can be offense, it's Nash that drives teams the battiest. Just a flick of the wrist, and defenders are decimated by a pin-point pass, or back-breaking jumper.
Despite missing 25 games last season due to injury, Yao firmly established himself as the NBA's best pivotman. Though the Rockets continually found inspired ways of keeping the ball from him, he still averaged 22.3 points and 10.2 rebounds in just 34 minutes a game.
Battling nagging arch injuries all season, Duncan still averaged 18.6 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks per game. All three were career-lows, but Duncan rebounded with a 25.8-point average in the playoffs, where his Spurs were one ill-timed Conference Semifinal foul away from a likely title defense.