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And in closing ...

Dirk finishes on top in final top 20 of regular season

Posted: Friday April 13, 2007 5:59PM; Updated: Saturday April 14, 2007 2:24AM
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With less than a week left in the regular season, it seems like perfect timing for a seasonlong wrap-up of the Player Power Rankings you've come to know and sometimes acknowledge.

We've established myriad criterion to work off of, too many to expound upon, but it seems appropriate to point out that we're placing just as much value on seasonlong contributions as anything (no recently nationally televised affair or two has swayed us more than what was going on in November), and this top 20, as it has been since we began in October, is hardly a listing of who we think are the NBA's best players. It's merely a ranking of who has shown us the most since the season started, with apologies to the 430 players who also had a hand in making life so groovy over these last six months.

(All statistics and records through April 12; ranking averages include only appearances in the top 20.)

NBA Player Power Rankings
Rank   Player
1 Those of us who have been watching all season know what's really up: Nowitzki isn't at the top of this list because he's the best player on the best team; he's at the top of this list because he's been the best player in the NBA since October. Giving Nowitzki MVP credit just because Jason Terry and Josh Howard are so darn good is as pointless as crediting Steve Nash for Amaré Stoudemire's ability to get hit and finish in the lane, or Raja Bell's accuracy from the outside. Nowitzki is a consistently devastating scorer, one of the league's best (and most underrated) help defenders, the NBA's probable leader in passes that lead to the assist and a spacing creator nonpareil. All that is why he's resting on the top of these final batch of Player Rankings.
Highest ranking: 1st. Lowest: 14th. Average: 2.1.
2 The groundswell of support behind Duncan's Defensive Player of the Year candidacy is legit; he's probably been as good a choice as any over the last five years (even over more flamboyant types like Ron Artest or Ben Wallace), only to be hamstrung by minutes per game and/or injury issues. But this season feels different. With no obvious pivotman to share time with in the Spurs' frontcourt, Duncan's defensive accomplishments have never seemed more ... obvious. Good thing, because he's among the best interior defenders in NBA history, and his 20.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 3.4 assists (in only 34.3 minutes per game, mind you) hardly denote a defensive specialist.
High: 1st. Low: 16th. Average: 2.9.
3 It's become pretty apparent that we don't think Nash is the MVP in 2006-07. Not because the "Steve Nash, three-time MVP" ideal doesn't seem right (he should be punished for playing well in the past? Come on), but because he isn't the best player in the NBA. Simple as that. His defense is porous, and he needs help: As lucky as Stoudemire and Shawn Marion are to have him as their starting point guard, Nash is just as lucky to have those two running and ready for the dish. But he's also the best point guard in the NBA and the most dangerous since Magic Johnson. He's No. 3 on this list because of his insistence on fundamental execution. He doesn't win points in our book for sound play; he wins points because that sound play makes it impossible for teams to guard the Suns. Pardon us for straying into the David Eckstein-level of hyperbole, but nobody squares his shoulders, keeps his dribble, finishes with the off hand (passing or shooting) or creates offensive havoc like Nash. For that, especially in this era, an MVP award doesn't seem like reward enough.
High: 3rd. Low: 17th. Average: 7.6.
4 Don't let them tell you that Yao was running away with the MVP before his late-December leg injury, not with those turnovers; but he was enjoying a breakout year that was a near-nightly joy to watch. The Rockets' center roared back onto the scene in late February, plying his trade for the league's best defensive team (it helped that coach Jeff Van Gundy didn't have Yao chasing screen-and-rolls out beyond the three-point line this season) and scoring at will when given the ball down low. And, for the first time in Yao's career, the statistics (nearly) alone tell the impressive, impressive story: 24.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, two blocks and two assists in just 33.7 minutes.
High: 2nd. Low: 9th. Average: 4.
5 A frustrating year for the Lakers, no other way to put it, as injuries to Chris Mihm, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Vladimir Radmanovic and Kwame Brown (don't laugh, they miss him) derailed what could have been a pretty special year. You have to be careful when talking about Bryant; he's such a prominent player, observers seem to assume that there is usually more than meets the eye to his successes and relative failures. This season, at least, you'll have to take at face value. While Kobe started slowly due to knee issues before peaking in March with a string of 50-point games, his teammates' injuries have kept the Lakers from sustaining their early success. And there was less to that strong start than you'd think: The Lakers played a whole heap of games at home against so-so competition. When healthy, Kobe is still this game's best player. We're just going to have to wait until next year to see Bryant prove as much.
High: 2nd. Low: 16th. Average: 6.3.
6 Another tough year for Garnett and the Timberwolves, this one filled with an odd mix of pathos and stubbornness. On the one hand is a clearly clueless organization that swears it knows what it is doing; on the other is a sometimes-insecure superstar who responds to media criticism (very wrong, incidentally) by refusing to call his franchise out on the carpet or change his team-oriented style of play. As it stands, the Timberwolves are 12-26 since vice president Kevin McHale needlessly fired coach Dwane Casey, who had the team playing defense and .500 ball at the time. Garnett has faded a bit -- he could miss the rest of the season with what's been reported as a quadriceps injury -- but he's still averaging 22.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.2 steals to go with his stifling defense over nearly 40 minutes a game.
High: 2nd. Low: 7th. Average: 4.6.
7 Unlike Garnett, James still has a postseason chance to change the tone of a frustrating year in which his statistics and effectiveness dipped a bit. Much of the stalemate can be blamed on his teammates' lack of offensive support, some circumspect play-calling from the Cleveland bench and LeBron's summer spent working with Team USA at the World Championships. But one of the biggest reasons LBJ's assists, rebounds and points have dropped in his fourth season lies in the fact that he has no real fundamental background to ease back into when the triple team comes or the legs fail him. Without the footwork necessary to do damage in the post or in the triple-threat position, James is stuck on the perimeter having to use his quickness to drive at the basket, at times against a double team, and the results haven't been much to behold. Still: 22 years old, 27.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, six assists.
High: 1st. Low: 12th. Average: 6.2.
8 Had Wade sustained his production and played 75 or so games, he probably would have forced me into a coin flip or rock/paper/scissors or dance-off to determine the top spot. His contributions, though different from Dirk's, have been that brilliant. But Wade hasn't been the picture of health for the defending champions, which is a shame because he was at the top of these Rankings when he separated his right shoulder on Feb. 21. Even without much help from his Heat teammates, Wade's little Jerry West act has worked quite well, and he'll end the regular season averaging about 28 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals. One worry: In his first three games back from a shoulder injury, he turned the ball over 17 times in 81 minutes.
High: 1st. Low: 18th. Average: 5.7.
9 It's at this point that we hit a group of big men good enough to be franchise players but not quite at the Dirk/Duncan/Garnett level of respectability and/or consistent output. Though Bosh's statistical and defensive contributions may not blow away those of the interior players who take up the next few spaces on this list, the idea that he's taken a Raptors team that wasn't supposed to be this good, this quickly to the top of the Atlantic Division is enough to earn this spot. The 23-year-old has rebounded more, passed less and scored all over the court in his fourth season.
High: 6th. Low: 20th. Average: 12.6.
10 Boozer's season is pretty darn affirming to Jazz backers and NBA watchers alike, whether considered in a vacuum or contextualized. For the latter, all you have to do is think back to 14 months ago, when Boozer was in his usual place, in street clothes, behind the Jazz bench. He was the overpaid prima donna who, allegedly, didn't care for either Prince or playing through injuries. Skip ahead, and now he's the go-to player (Mehmet Okur's late-game contributions notwithstanding) for a Jazz team fighting for 50 wins, even with Andrei Kirilenko's career-worst season. And Boozer's quick recovery from a hairline fracture in his left leg won him plenty of once-dubious supporters. In a vacuum? Averages of 21 points and 12 rebounds in just 35 minutes -- not bad at all.
High: 3rd. Low: 20th. Average: 10.1.

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