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And in closing (cont.)

Posted: Friday April 13, 2007 5:59PM; Updated: Saturday April 14, 2007 2:24AM
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More Rankings: 11-20

NBA Player Power Rankings
Rank   Player
11 As with Boozer, the same duality in recognition applies to young Amaré, who is dominating the paint for the second-best team in the Western Conference just six months removed from having his viability as an NBA contributor questioned. Much has been written in this space about Amaré's remarkable comeback, relative to his obstacles, but what hasn't been pointed out as much is the way he's gone about his game-to-game play. Stoudemire could have fancied himself a baseline jump shooter or finesse player, especially with most expecting him to have lost a bit of that jaw-dropping athleticism, but he's made a point to attack the rim with the same vigor we saw in 2004-05. And this is the same player who was making noise about introducing the three-pointer to his arsenal back during the 2005 offseason, pre-surgery. Stoudemire plays just a little more than two-thirds of each game, and still manages about 20 and 10 while shooting 58 percent from the floor. And two three-point attempts, both misses, all season.
High: 6th. Low: 13th. Average: 10.1.
12 Brand's production has dipped a bit in the season following his brilliant 2005-06 turn, but his scoring slide (about four per game, playing one less minute) and turnover hike aren't entirely his fault. Yes, Brand's shooting form remains as inconsistent as ever, and his energy has been a bit off in comparison to last season, but the failings of Los Angeles' guards (poor entry passing when faced with tough D, bad spacing and outright ignoring Brand at times on the block) have a lot to do with it. Brand is still shooting a little better than he did last season, his defense is as good as ever (those arms just swallow screen-and-rolls) and he's led the Clippers' late-season playoff drive.
High: 6th. Low: 20th. Average: 11.
13 He's been an All-Star-level talent for three years and a known nutter since his days at Arizona, but Arenas busted out both in terms of on-court performance and off-court influence in 2006-07. The latter was discussed at length last week; and while the former hasn't exactly gotten short shrift this season, it is worth pointing out that Arenas was often times among the league's best players this season. Before a season-ending knee injury, Arenas was averaging 28.4, six assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 39.8 minutes. Most important, he has this year to build off of, and a lot to learn from. Arenas learned, after the Wizards' 5-9 start, that he should have gone out of his way to take over games late, as his sometimes passive play may have cost the Wizards a division championship. He learned, in December and January, that he can be as good as any guard in this league. He also learned, after a miserable February (34.7 percent from the floor), not to push too hard. And we warmed to the fact that their may not be a more intriguing personality in the NBA.
High: 3rd. Low: 18th. Average: 10.6.
14 He gave us what will probably be considered the typical T-Mac season from here on out: He missed a few games and looked gimpy in others while still showcasing an all-around touch that continually leaves defenses guessing. McGrady was on and off the shelf early in the season, but roared back with a phenomenal January (29.9 points, 7.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds) that kept his Rockets in contention with Yao Ming out. His rebounding is down a little this season, but his scoring touch has returned, his shooting percentages have improved and he's had his best passing season in years (he gets an assists on more than 19 percent of his possessions), remarkable on a team full of streaky shooters.
High: 5th. Low: 19th. Average: 10.7.
15 The ongoing theme to most of Ginobili's appearances in these Rankings has had to do with the limited amount of minutes he receives. It's hard to criticize anything Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has ever done on a sideline, even in defeat, but it still seems a bit odd that Ginobili is playing only 27.5 minutes per game. Now, part of that has to do with the sheer amount of blowout wins for the Spurs, and Popovich is no doubt saving Ginobili's legs for the playoffs, but even supersubs like Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa or Chicago's Ben Gordon (when he came off the bench) still play 33-35 minutes per game -- and more in a close contest. This is going a long way to point out that Manu's numbers -- 16.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals -- are more impressive than most. His efficiency and ability to score and change the game in short bursts of playing time while showcasing a remarkable shooting touch (1.4 points per shot attempt, very nice) land him squarely back in the "underrated" category in most places beyond these Rankings.
High: 9th. Low: 20th. Average: 14.9.
16 The do-it-all forward from Phoenix had to focus more on defense in his eighth year. With Stoudemire back to take more shots and grab his fair share of rebounds (while failing to rotate properly from the weak side, or getting caught too far from the hoop after overplaying a pick-and-roll), it was all Marion could do to merely keep the Phoenix defense among the ranks of the mediocre. But he has pulled it off -- while watching his shot attempts go down by nearly four a game. Rare has a player so flashy seemed so unheralded, and though Marion takes great delight in educating anyone who will listen on just how heralded he should be, this throwback truly will do whatever it takes to put his team over the top.
High: 6th. Low: 19th. Average: 15.5.
17 After nearly missing the season's first two months, Gasol returned to a Grizzlies team that couldn't win with a 15-point handicap, one that was in the process of dumping its well-regarded coach and was about to take the giant step needed to go from one of the league's slowest clubs (30th in possessions in 2005-06) to one of the fastest (in the 2007 calendar year, only Golden State, Denver and Phoenix have run more). And though Gasol clearly wanted out, he hung in there with a Memphis organization that could have a lame-duck coach, GM and even owner. He's also played, and played well: 20.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 36 minutes. Superstars should be expected to live up to their contracts and relative billing. But Gasol deserves special consideration for playing nearly 40 minutes a night from January on, for a team that runs as much as anyone, just a few months removed from breaking his leg, while other stars have seemed content to demand trades, sit out or both.
High: 10th. Low: 16th. Average: 12.8.
18 Billups' numbers (17.4 points, 7.2 assists, 1.2 steals) don't seem like much, but he's also been running the league's slowest team. For instance, Golden State's Baron Davis has about 12 more possessions per game to tidy up his statistics a bit, without (and not to pick on Davis) offering up the sturdy defense Billups delivers every night. The Pistons have clinched the top seed in the East again, and Billups has been the force behind their slow-down offense and sound perimeter defense. And two turnovers in nearly 37 minutes per game, for a point guard in any type of offense, is just astonishingly good. Billups also has done all this in a contract year, choosing to work toward another title instead of chucking his way to a few more million per season.
High: 13th. Lowest: 20th. Average: 15.9.
19 We're not going to call Shaq's season a "disappointment," mainly because nobody expects the big fella to want anything to do with the regular season anymore, but it hasn't been his best campaign. In fact, it's easily his worst. And his worst, it turns out, still leaves him among the top 20 here. O'Neal really turned it on after the All-Star break (I think we've seen that dance before ...), and led a Heat team that was in danger of missing the playoffs even before Wade's injury to a Southeast Division title. Averages of 17.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in just over 28 minutes for O'Neal, who deserves some credit for single-handedly saving Miami's season.
High: 12th. Lowest: 18th. Average: 15.5.
20 Kidd also deserves some of the same sort of credit O'Neal gets, but his defensive issues early in the season seemed to send a signal to his Nets (who have fallen from third in defensive efficiency last season to 15th in 2006-07) that it was passable to hold off on stopping people until around the All-Star break. Still, a lot of that falloff had to do with a bit of roster turnover, and you can't blame Kidd for saving his defensive legs in November with a pair of purported greyhounds (Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter) surrounding him who should have been able to help. The 34-year-old Kidd has had a fabulous year for any age, averaging 13.2 points, 9.2 assists and eight rebounds for the wildly inconsistent Nets.
High: 13th. Lowest: 20th. Average: 16.8.
On the cusp: Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul

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