Last year, the Celtics and Lakers met in the finals for the second time in three seasons. The Lakers prevailed by the thinnest of margins in a series that featured at least five future Hall of Famers (Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Pau Gasol, and possibly Rajon Rondo). However, while the Lakers and Celtics are still the class of the league, a number of young and hungry players are ready to lead their respective teams to a title. So, knowing that, let's take a look the best players at each position in the NBA today:
Point Guard: Chris Paul
Now I am a huge fan of Deron Williams. He was amazing at the University of Illinois, my home college team, and is easily the league's second best point guard right now. However, with that said, no one can match the incredible versatility of a healthy Chris Paul. Paul is a top notch scorer who also routinely hits eleven or twelve assists per game and is capable of seamlessly conducting an entire offense. Moreover, what separates him from Williams is his defense: Paul collects more than two steals per game and is the best on-ball defensive guard in the league. He is also only 25 so, if his knee holds up, he should keep his spot at the top for a very long time.
Honorable Mention: Deron Williams
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
No disrespect to Dwayne Wade but, even as he ages, the Black Mamba remains the league's best shooting guard. Bryant is no-longer as athletic as he used to be but he makes up for this deficiency with basketball savvy. He is rapidly gaining a reputation as the smartest player in the league and now uses angles, pivots, and triangle screens to mask his movements, increase his efficiency, and continue to get to the line at a high rate. While he is now 32 and will continue to slowly decline, Bryant is such a smart, talented player that his decline will take a long, long time.
Honorable Mention: Dwayne Wade
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Small Forward: LeBron James
James TV special, "The Decision" sounded like an adoption services television promotion. After watching it I thought it belonged on the oxygen channel in the "deleted scenes from the Oprah Winfrey Show" marathon. Of course, jokes aside, the saddest part of James' whole free agency episode was not just how he left Cleveland, it was that the most talented player in basketball decided he didn't want to win a championship on his own and created a super-team to make his own life easier. What a sad example.
Still, disappointment aside, James remains the NBA's most talent player and best small forward. With Kevin Durant a close second and much more of a true small forward, I was tempted to make "point forward" a category, put James there, and move Durant to this spot. But I've contented myself with mentioning Durant (and noting that when I redo this list in a couple years he will occupy the spot), making some Decision jokes, and moving on.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Durant
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Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki
Yes I know Pau Gasol has two rings. Dirk has none. But Pau is a clear second banana and his teams were lottery bound with him as their best player. Dirk has led his Mavs to ten consecutive playoff berths as the best player and they are still going strong. Moreover, his freakishly efficient line has not dipped one bit from his career trajectory yet-he remains a 25 point, 8 rebound behemoth capable of playing 2-3 positions in any lineup. If he ever played with any kind of true co-star (in their prime) then he would most likely win a ring.
Honorable Mention: Pau Gasol
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Center: Dwight Howard
This one was a no-brainer. Howard is a physical beast who dominates almost every night and is the leader of the contending Orlando Magic. Expect a 20-12-3 line for years to come-with room for improvement-and if he ever develops a true killer instinct he could dominate the NBA.
Honorable Mention: Brook Lopez
That's all folks. The very best the NBA has to offer. You may have noticed some big names missing-Derrick Rose, Amare Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony to name a few-and I thought they just missed the cut. Of course, if you disagree with my rankings or think I should re-assess then please leave some comments and let me know what you would change.
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