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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Top 50: Kobe or not Kobe? That is the first question ...




Top 50: Kobe or not Kobe? That is the first question ...

Who would you rather have, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James?
What about between LeBron and Chris Paul? And so it goes.
Here, then, is who we'd rather have -- our top 50 NBA players:

1. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers: It's a tough call taking Bryant ahead of LeBron, but Kobe gets the nod because he's more skilled than James and because he has had more professional success.

2. LeBron James, Cleveland: James remains the future of the league, but he still needs work on his 3-point and free throw shooting. Yes, we're nit-picking, but that's what you do with the greats.

3. Chris Paul, New Orleans: Paul had every right to garner MVP votes last year. You could make the case that Paul is every bit as important to his team as anyone on this list.

4. Tim Duncan, San Antonio: Duncan is barely holding on to this spot. He's on the downside of his career, his team seems to be at a crossroads and he can't play the minutes he used to. We'll still take him on our team anytime.

5. Deron Williams, Utah: No doubt, many will think this is too high for Williams. As great as Paul is, we're still not giving him the long-term nod over Williams. Not yet anyway.

6. Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix: If new coach Terry Porter can get Stoudemire to buy in on the defensive end, Stoudemire is likely to end up in the MVP discussion.

7. Yao Ming, Houston: All indications are that Yao will bounce back fine from the stress fracture in his left foot. If he does, he goes right back to being one of the most dominant big men in the NBA.

8. Kevin Garnett, Boston: With an NBA title, his résumé is complete. The real question is how long K.G. can play at this level. Garnett is only 32, but it's an old 32 -- with 13 seasons under his belt and more than 70 playoff games.

9. Dwight Howard, Orlando: He might be the NBA's most dynamic specimen, but there are concerns about whether he'll ever have the skill level to be a consistent offensive player in the low post.

10. Chris Bosh, Toronto: All signs are pointing to a big year for Bosh. He was terrific in Olympic play and seemed to play a leadership role on that team. Will he be able to help Jermaine O'Neal get his career back on track?

11. Paul Pierce, Boston: Pierce might not be the best player on the Celtics, but he's the toughest. Pierce makes a lot of big plays -- and shots -- for Boston, and he seems to come through late in the game most of the time.

12. Dwyane Wade, Miami: Wade sure looked healthy during the Olympics, but the issue is whether the knee and shoulder can hold up for an entire season.

13. Steve Nash, Phoenix: He's not as good as he was two or three years ago, but he's still better than most point guards. Nash has never been great defensively, and he has gotten worse lately. Nash has another year or two of open window.

14. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas: Nowitzki is still in full recovery mode after consecutive first-round playoff eliminations. He was exposed in the postseason two seasons ago against the Warriors, and he still hasn't made it back to where he was.

15. Carmelo Anthony, Denver: You get the sense Anthony is at a turning point in his career. Let's hope he feels the same way. With Allen Iverson fading, it's Anthony's time. Can he go from star to superstar?

16. Tracy McGrady, Houston: When he's good, he's good. When he's not good, it's usually because he's hurt. Injuries, ailments, aches and pains are the story with McGrady, and everybody knows it. If he can play 70-plus, it's all good.

17. Andrew Bynum, L.A. Lakers: We go back to the initial question: Who would you rather have? Bynum was starting to show some scary potential last year before his injury. Offensively, he's well ahead of Dwight Howard.

18. Gilbert Arenas, Washington: If the old Gilbert shows up after his surgeries (how many have there been now?), then move him up to No. 10 on this list. But this many procedures at this age isn't a good thing.

19. Baron Davis, L.A. Clippers: Both Don Nelson and Chris Mullin referred to Davis as a "top 15" player on Thursday. When Davis is clicking, he's very close. We'll put him in the top 20.

20. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio: There are other shooting guards who get more attention than Ginobili. Iverson and Michael Redd would be two, for example, but they have nothing on Ginobili.

21. Shaquille O'Neal, Phoenix: In the 52 regular-season games that O'Neal plays this year for the Suns, he'll be a top-five center. Seems like you can't read a sentence about O'Neal anymore that doesn't begin: "When he's healthy, O'Neal can ..." Of course, that's the issue: When is he healthy?

22. Tony Parker, San Antonio: Parker is a top-level point guard, but he's not quite in the class of the ones above him. Those other guys carry more of a load. In other words, Parker represents the top of Tier 2 when it comes to PGs.

23. Joe Johnson, Atlanta: Johnson is one of the purest shooters in the NBA, and he's capable of playing three positions. With Mike Bibby at the point, he'll get most of his minutes at shooting guard this season.

24. Brandon Roy, Portland: Few players can give you all the things Roy can. He can score for you, run your offense if need be and pick up some rebounds along the way. And there's a nasty streak under the surface.

25. Carlos Boozer, Utah: Boozer is one of the league's most consistent power forwards, but he lacks that something special to get to the next level. Twenty and 10 every night is nothing to scoff at. But everyone higher on this list does more.

26. Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers: Gasol is pretty darn good, but you keep wanting him to be a little bit better. He was never quite dominant in Memphis and, of course, he's less so with the Lakers.

27. Greg Oden, Portland: We have yet to see Greg Oden play in an NBA game. Still, if the scouting reports are correct and he can in fact rebound, defend and block shots, then that makes him one of the game's best centers.

28. Elton Brand, Philadelphia: Only one playoff appearance in nine years. If Philly doesn't make the postseason this year, then the "Brand Curse" is official.

29. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland: Even without Oden by his side, Aldridge has been effective for the Blazers. If you match up against Aldridge with a center, he'll face you up on the perimeter. If you match up against Aldridge with a smaller player, he'll go down to the block.

30. David West, New Orleans: One of the strongest low-post players in the league, West complements that part of his game with a reliable 16- to 18-foot jumper.

31. Chauncey Billups, Detroit: Billups seems to have lost a step and a bit of his hunger. But would you bet against him making a potential game-winning 3 at the buzzer? Didn't think so.

32. Caron Butler, Washington: This guy is good. His reputation took a hit when he was with the Lakers because he didn't necessarily take to playing alongside Bryant.

33. Rasheed Wallace, Detroit: You might not like the scowl, but Wallace is among the most unselfish players in the league. He's a solid individual defender, above average team defender, and on top of it, his teammates love him.

34. Monta Ellis, Golden State: Fingers crossed, Ellis comes back the same player he was before his ankle injury. If not, take him off the list.

35. Josh Howard, Dallas: It's not the admitted marijuana use, it's not the dissing of the national anthem. It's more that all these "distractions" are probably going to chip away at his effectiveness as a player.

36. Lamar Odom, L.A. Lakers: Odom's as skilled as they come, big-man wise, and he helps the Lakers in different ways. If you're calling him a natural small forward, then he's one of the best rebounders in the league at his position.

37. Richard Hamilton, Detroit: Hamilton is in the upper half of shooting guards when it comes to offense, and he's in the upper half of shooting guards when it comes to defense. That puts him here.

38. Josh Smith, Atlanta: There are few players in the NBA with his athletic ability. Now that he has his contract, it's time for him to get to work and take more responsibility for the Hawks' fortunes.

39. Al Jefferson, Minnesota: Yes, he should be higher on this list, but he was held back because his team was so lousy. Jefferson scores and rebounds, but he also isn't much of a passer and turns the ball over too much.

40. Michael Redd, Milwaukee: Redd is one of the best shooters in the league, with one of the quickest releases. Let's face it, he's a scorer. Until he's in on some Bucks' success, though, he'll never put himself in the class of two guards above him.

41. Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia: He earns this ranking only if he begins to solidify himself as one of the league's better perimeter defenders.

42. Allen Iverson, Denver: Nobody in the league plays harder on a more consistent basis. But facts are facts, and he's getting up there (33). Not to mention those are hard miles he has put on that body, with the amount of punishment he has taken over the years.

43. Shawn Marion, Miami: Marion was higher on this list when he played alongside Steve Nash. Marion is a nice player but not nearly as good when he isn't getting spoon-fed easy stuff.

44. Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando: Turkoglu finally had that breakthrough year in 2007-08, winning the NBA's Most Improved Player award. If he has another good season, with more defensive focus upon him, then he will have arrived.

45. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City: He has the potential to make significant strides up this list. But Durant got a little loose with his game during his rookie season, and it remains to be seen whether he can become more efficient.

46. Antawn Jamison, Washington: If you want Jamison to be your second- or third-best player, he won't disappoint. Jamison will score and rebound for you on a consistent basis, and he'll never -- ever -- be a problem in the locker room.

47. Stephen Jackson, Golden State: Jackson isn't the prettiest player in the game, but he helps you win. When he's on his game, Jackson can be a factor at both ends of the floor. Hard as it is to believe, he will have even more offensive freedom with Davis gone and Ellis out.

48. Mike Miller, Minnesota: Need one guy to knock down a deep 3-pointer? Miller has to be in the discussion. You just don't know he's good because he has been in Memphis.

49. Kevin Martin, Sacramento: Martin has an uncanny ability to score and get to the line. But he hasn't shown enough of a willingness to pass and do some of the other things.

50. Ron Artest, Houston: He's a top 15 talent, with little history of success. Interestingly, his on-court issue -- dominating the ball -- will likely be more of a problem than anything that happens off the court.

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