Tag:Kevin Durant
Posted on: August 30, 2011 10:21 pm
Edited on: August 31, 2011 1:42 am
 

Kevin Durant scores 59 points versus LeBron James

Posted by Ben Golliver



Over the weekend, we noted that an exhibition game chock full of NBA All-Stars was about to go down in Baltimore, Maryland. On Tuesday night, that game went down in a big way.

Miami Heat forward LeBron James, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony and New Orleans guard Chris Paul all suited up in an exhibition game between the Washington, D.C.-based Goodman League and the Baltimore-based Melo League. The game, which was originally scheduled to be played at St. Frances Academy, had to be moved to Morgan State University to accomodate demand.

The Washington Post reported before the game that tickets were going for as much as $100, an amazing sum when you consider that this is a summer exhibition game but a perfectly reasonable amount because players like James and Durant so rarely get the opportunity to face off head-to-head.  

The Melo League team -- featuring James, Anthony and Paul, as well as San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal and Memphis Grizzlies guard Josh Selby -- emerged triumphant over Durant's Goodman League team -- also featuring Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green and Detroit Pistons forward Austin Daye -- by a final score of 149-141. The headliner, though, was Durant, who stole the show by dropping an eye-popping 59 points, according to the Sporting News.

That scoring explosion, in front of a sold out crowd of more than 4,000, continues a summer of love for Durant, who scored 66 points at New York City's Rucker Park in early August.

Durant seemed to shrug off his explosion after the game. "Basketball is all about winning," he tweeted.

James added 38 and Anthony had 36 for the Melo League, according to the Washington Post.

"Had a great time at Morgan State," James tweeted. "Love competition and giving back to people! Shout out to Carmelo Anthony and the Melo League."

"By far one of the funnest games I've played in," Paul added.

The top plays roundup above is from YouTube user HoopMixtape.

Here are some more video highlights from the game.



Here's one last highlight package via CSNBaltimore.com. Hat tip: ProBasketballTalk.



Posted on: August 29, 2011 9:34 am
 

Eddy Curry to play in Melo league exhibition

Matt Moore

Another, ahem, big name has joined the Team Melo vs. Goodman League exhibition scheduled for Tuesday, according to Hoopsworld. Alex Kennedy reports that Eddy Curry is set to join the superstar team of Chris Paul, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony, along with others. He'll be matched up against DeMarcus Cousins in what can only be described as an odd contrast at center. 

Curry has lost nearly 100 lbs. in the last six months after being traded from New York to Minnesota and then released as he works out with famed trainer Tim Grover. He's worked out for the Heat multiple times as they continue to look for viable options at center. Playing and spending time with James is a great way to cement that opportunity as getting James in his corner pretty much solidifies his chances at getting a contract. 

It's an odd addition, but it'll also provide fans with an idea of how far along Curry is with his conditioning and retraining of his body after losing all that weight. Matched up against shorter, but more bullish DeMarcus Cousins provides a good testing match. Meanwhile, he'll have as much help offensively as he can handle with Chris Paul, Anthony, and James. James is no longer a question as he confirmed to the AP he'll be playing.  With Kevin Durant also playing for Goodman alongside Brandon Jennings, this is a pretty loaded set of superstars on one floor, bigger even than the Goodman-Drew matchup earlier in August.

Now if only someone could drag Kobe down to this thing... 
Posted on: August 27, 2011 6:25 pm
Edited on: August 27, 2011 7:17 pm
 

Next up: Melo League vs. Goodman-ish League

Posted by Royce Young

Everyone just assumed the battle for pro-am supremacy was settled when the Goodman League defeated the Drew League in Washington D.C. last week. Except there's another pretty quality league out there that's ready to throw down: the Melo League.

And they're ready to play the Goodman boys. Via HoopsWorld, on August 30, in Baltimore at St. Frances Academy, a group from the Melo featuring Carmelo Anthony (duh), LeBron James, Chris Paul, Josh Selby, Gary Neal and Donte Greene. (Interesting twist: Selby, Neal and Greene all played for the Goodman in the Drew League showdown.) Although Goodman commissioner Miles Rawles says it's not officially a Goodman team, for his group it's Kevin Durant, former Thunder buddy Jeff Green, Brandon Jennings (who played for the Drew last week) and DeMarcus Cousins. John Wall was also rumored but it's unlikely he'll play, according to the Washington Post.

The Melo is located in Baltimore (where Carmelo is of course from) and has featured a number of top notch All-Stars. The game was supposed to be Sunday but that Hurricane Irene thing sort of got in the way.

Unlike the Goodman-Drew game, it won't be streamed online anywhere, but tickets are still available. Doors are opening at 6 p.m. and tickets can be purchased at the event. Reportedly there will be a camera crew to tape a highlight reel from the game though.

This game hasn't created near the buzz of the other, but there's no doubt it's got equal star power, probably more. Durant versus LeBron? Jennings versus Paul? Melo and Jeff Green? That's some quality hoops right there.

The Melo League's got to be the favorite here. LeBron, Melo and CP3 make a pretty incredible trio. Durant and Green will have chemistry and Jennings can take over a streetball game, but that's major firepower for the Melo group. Unless of course KD decides to go all Rucker Park on everyone. Then it doesn't matter who the Melo League's got.
Posted on: August 27, 2011 10:16 am
 

Legend vs. Star: George Gervin vs. Kevin Durant

Posted by Royce Young



We live in an immediate society. The internet, social media, the ever-accelerating news cycle, everything means that the next 30 seconds is 10 times more important than the last 30 seconds regardless of what actually happened in the past 30 seconds. As a result, we lose perspective on what stands truly relevant from the past. The NBA is no exception. So in an attempt to merge the two worlds (since, as a blog, we love/hate/want to be BFFs within the next 30 seconds), we'll be bringing you a look at players past and present, in relation to one another. 

Previously: Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul | Larry Bird vs. Dirk Nowitzki | Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant | Dwight Howard vs. Moses Malone | Magic Johnson vs. LeBron James

Next up: George Gervin vs. Kevin Durant

Finding a historical parallel for Kevin Durant is sort of challenging. There's just no an obvious fit. Sure, there have been countless pure scorers throughout NBA history that effortlessly drop 30 points a night as if they're doing something routine like taking out the garbage.

That's not what I mean.

But finding that similar fit in terms of frame, style, demeanor and everything else that we've tried to do in this series, has been tough. There's isn't a really natural fit. Bernard King? He was as gifted a scoring machine as there ever was, but I'm not sure he actually has "legend" status. John Havlicek? Elgin Baylor? Both are certifiable legends and both were scoring savants but each were just 6-5 while Durant stands darn near seven feet tall. Julius Erving? Different players entirely. Dr. J was the slash king but couldn't make anything outside of 15 feet. That's not Durant.

There is one mirroring image of Durant, but for the first time in this series, it's a player that he probably doesn't want to be. A player who while a no-doubt Hall of Famer, someone that Durant should try and push past: the Iceman, George Gervin.

Obviously no disrespect intended to Gervin, because we're talking about an all-time NBA great, but he's not exactly Bird, Magic, Moses, or MJ here. He never won a title and some even questioned which type of title he was even playing for -- scoring or an NBA championship. He's an all-timer, but it's questionable whether or not he qualifies for "legend" status.

But still, his resume is sparkling. Gervin finished with 26,595 points (including the ABA, which would put him 12th all-time), won four scoring titles (including three straight -- Durant just put away his second consecutive), was a nine-time NBA All-Star (three-time ABA All-Star) and made five first-team All-NBAs.

I hope you get my point here. George Gervin absolutely is an all-time NBA great. He's got the numbers, the highlights, the status, the Hall of Fame-ness -- his resume is pretty much complete. It's just missing that final piece that would catapult him from a top 50 player into an easy top 20 guy. Sometimes judging players by only championships isn't fair, but in Gervin's is kind of is.



But he fits as Durant's historical parallel. At least better than pretty much anyone else. Mainly because he serves as sort of the Ghost of Ring-less Future for Durant. And also, because they're pretty darn similar in game, style and ability.

When Durant was coming into the league, everyone was drawn to this comparison because of the similar body styles, scoring ability, personality and all that stuff. It's probably not a coincidence that some have nickname Durant "Baby Ice." Gervin was the original lanky, long, lean scoring machine that could put up a 40 spot by the end of the third quarter and you'd say, "Hey, did you know Gervin's got 40?" Scoring within the flow makes you a silent killer, which is the Durant way. But originally, it was the Gervin way.

Check Gervin's four best seasons. He averaged 33.1 points a game on 52.8 percent shooting in 1979-80, 29.6 ppg on 54.1 percent in 1978-79 (with no 3-point line) and 32.3 ppg on 50.0 percent shooting in 1981-82. Compare that to Durant's last three seasons: 25.3 ppg on 47.6 percent, 30.1 on 47.6 percent and 27.7 on 46.2 percent. The main difference in those seasons between Durant and Gervin though? Durant averaged those taking 20 or fewer shots a game. In Gervin's '81-82 season, he took more than 25. Main reason: Gervin didn't have the same silky outside touch Durant does and the most free throw attempts a game he averaged in a season was 8.3 (Durant got to the line 10.2 times a game in 2009-10).

It's easy to see Gervin in Durant. The easy-going, calm personality. The lanky frame. The other-worldly scoring abilities. Of anyone, it's the most natural comparison. But like I said, if Durant were to finish his career like Gervin, he'd be disappointed. All the points and all the All-Star teams would be nice, but Durant isn't playing for scoring titles. He's playing for real titles.

Consider this quote from Gervin in 1980, via Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball: "I'm perfectly happy being known as George Gervin, scoring machine, because in this game the person who puts the ball in the hole is the person that usually gets ahead." Can you EVER imagine Durant saying something like that?

Not to say Durant doesn't have a chance to put up historically scary numbers. Before his 23rd birthday he's already scored 8,128 points. If he plays to his 35th birthday (that's 16 NBA seasons), he's on pace for around 32,500 points. That would put him third all-time, ahead of Michael Jordan. Wow. Even sans a title, it'd be hard to ignore that.

And already Durant is stockpiling those pantheon moments that place him in our memory banks as a great. That Game 5 takeover against Denver in the first round last year? Legendary stuff. How many moments like that can you think of off the top of your head for Gervin? Durant seems to have that alpha mentality, that takeover killer instinct that can lift his team to a higher place. Gervin didn't have it. He just scored.



Here's the thing though: Durant may seem like he's on a path to all-time greatness right now, but there's nothing preventing his career from going to same path of Gervin's. (I feel like I have to point out once again that that's not really a bad thing at all, but you get what I mean. Durant wants to be a legend. Not just a top 50 all-time player.) There are a ton of factors that can derail otherwise destined careers. Injury, bad front offices, bad luck, etc.

Winning a championship is hard. Durant's definitely on a crash course it seems now, but getting over that hump is a major challenge. Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton -- never won titles. And in a lot of ways, their careers are defined by that. If Durant were to go 15 years, win 10 scoring titles while piling up something like 28,000 points, he'd be a top 30 all-time player, but he'd basically just be a slightly improved Gervin. There's really no way around it.

Recall Tracy McGrady when he was torching the league as maybe the most offensively gifted player anyone had ever seen. Already Durant has nearly accomplished as much as McGrady -- and more in some ways as KD has won two playoff series while McGrady hasn't won any -- with a whole lot of career to go. But Durant will certainly be one of those players defined by championships. It's going to happen. Because history doesn't always seem to appreciate pure scorers like Gervin. We all sit back, fold our arms and say, "Yeah he won a bunch of scoring titles, but what good did that do him?" Not only did Gervin never win a title, but he never played for one either. If Durant's career walks down that same path, one day we'll be using him as a cautionary tale to the next young great scoring savant.

But lucky for Durant, he's just 22. Still a lot of time to write his own story yet.
Posted on: August 25, 2011 10:23 am
 

NBA Lockout Winners and Losers: August 2011



By Matt Moore


It seems weird doing a winners and losers list for a month in which nothing happened, right? I mean, the lockout's still on, no progress has been made, we're still well on track to lose games at least until January if not the whole season. If no negotiation has been made, how can anyone have won or lost? Much like the dispute itself, it's all in how you interpret the results and what your definition of "is" is.

Winners:

David Stern: Stern's appearance on ESPN's B.S. Report podcast was a stirring display of his verbal tactics. Every criticism rebuffed, every accusation shook until it's rendered meaningless. He managed to come across as someone who very much wants to get a deal done, but hampered by the economic realities he and the owners are facing. He admitted contraction is an option, giving a scare to those who oppose it (and no doubt giving those in favor of more stars in bigger markets something to salivate over), while also saying New Orleans would not be a candidate. Basically, he said, our condition is bad enough to warrant amputation, but no, not that leg, it's totally fine. That one, too. It was difficult to walk away from Stern's interview feeling anything but a sense that he's on the fan's side, and while that's not true, he's on the owners' side 100 percent, that comes down as a win here. Plus, he fit a vacation in during a lockout. That's just impressive.

Kevin Durant: Won the Drew-Goodman showdown. Continues to pour it on in every street park and Pro-Am he shows up for. Talking to foreign teams. Expanding his brand. Durant's done more than enough to bolster his reputation as a cold blooded killer during the lockout and is making himself into more of a name. He's backed up every endeavor with stellar play and has yet to be scored on by an Asian amateur. So he's got that going for him.

Kobe Bryant: Nails a Drew League game winner after dropping 40+, gave back to the video guys who helped the Lakers win two titles, 

Billy Hunter: Hunter managed to avoid a coup by the agents in an attempt to force the union's hand into decertification. He's held the line and has gotten through another month without the players fracturing or panicking. This was largely a defensive month for the players, and Hunter's goaltending has kept the match scoreless, at least according to some interpretations. Of course....

Losers:

Billy Hunter: Hunter also has allowed for questions about the direction of the league to surface, loudly, and seemed to have gotten schooled when the league filed pre-emptively in court to cut off the union's NLRB and bad faith arguments. The problem with not overreacting to your opponent's move is you take some unavoidable flak from the extremists in your contingent who demand radical action. Hunter makes both lists for the same reason. He hasn't reacted either way to the developments of the past month. His motto right now is keep calm and look for work in Europe. Oh, but he did give us this bit of happy sunshine news, he would bet on losing the season. Which is like the Fed chair saying "I'm just saying, the whole thing's coming down." 

LeBron James: James made fun of his hairline, did a world of charity work, isn't headed overseas and is instead focused on next season whenever it is, and hasn't gotten into the negotiations. Now, you may think not getting into the negotiations shows a lack of leadership, but it should also be mentioned that any attempt to do so would be seen as grandstanding by James. He's not popular with the players, not popular with the owners, not popular with the fans, he doesn't win by getting involved. So how is he a loser? Because no one's going to remember the charity works or the self-defacing attitude. They're just going to remember him getting dunked on by a Taiwanese player. Oh, and that he's scared of heights. (Note: There is no way I'm jumping off that thing and not just because I can't swim.)

LaMarcus Aldridge: LMA, you're not helping. No one wants your debbie downer act, even though you're totally on-target.

The economy: The NBA is a tiny slice of a big ol' pie going bad right now, but stuff like news that arena operators who aren't involved in the lockout directly could lose up to a billion dollars does show the depth and breadth of how this can affect every day business for thousands of people across the country. 

Besiktas: The Turkish club failed to land Kobe, hasn't secured Durant, still has questions about its funds, and oh, yeah, players are talking about Turkey like it's third-world. Not a great month for the Istanbul powerhouse. 

Personal assistants: Really, you guys can't get a handful of schedules to line up? Really? When you've known this was coming for months? Honestly?  
Posted on: August 24, 2011 12:46 pm
 

Heads up NBA: Playing in Turkey sounds weird

Posted by Royce Young



There have already been a few cautionary tales come out about what it's really like playing overseas, most notably from Josh Childress. The issue of travel, long practices, language barriers, not getting paid on time and a bunch of other things don't make it sound as wonderful as it seems.

And to just hammer that point home a bit more is Rick Reilly's new column on ESPN.com. He talked to a few players that have spent seasons playing in Turkey. You know, where Deron Williams has signed and where Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant have been rumored to be in discussions.
It was about when one of his coaches chopped the head off a young goat for good luck that Jimmy Baron realized pro basketball in Turkey was unlike any hoops he'd ever played.

He was playing for Mercin of the Turkish Basketball League, the same league superstar NBA guard Deron Williams has agreed to play in during the lockout. They'd lost their first four games of the season and rumor was, if things didn't get better soon, heads were going to roll.

"The coach didn't speak any English," says Baron, a 3-point specialist from the University of Rhode Island. "But he motioned me to come out in front of the arena with the whole team. He put us in a circle and there's this goat standing there. All of a sudden one of the assistant coaches gets out this huge machete. And then -- whack! -- he cuts the goat's head off!"

The Turkish players immediately stuck their fingers in the blood of the neck and wiped it on their foreheads.

"Then they started motioning for me to do it," Baron remembers. "I'm like, 'You gotta be crazy!' And I got the heck out of there."

Well then. Dwight Howard can probably deal with it though because I'm pretty sure though that's how Stan Van Gundy kicks off his practices too.

But it's not only goat decapitations at practice. Fans are known to be a bit unruly. They make Philly fans sound like angels.
"I made a winning shot on the road one night," says former UCLA forward Josh Shipp, who plays for Galatasaray in the Turkish Basketball League. "And next thing you know, I was getting pelted with batteries, cell phones, you name it. I had to run for it. But that's nothing. I played with a guy who said they won a game on their rival's court once and the whole crowd rushed the court. They had to punch people just to get into the locker room!"
Eric Devendorf who played in Turkey for only two months before leaving said, "I'm never going back. No way."

Now I'm sure Deron Williams already knows all this. I'm sure Kobe, Durant, Wade and whoever else do too. Allen Iverson went to Besiktas and seemed fine with his experience. But it is going to be a harsh reality that playing there will be different than the pampered life of chartered flights and catered pre-game meals. Which is one reason why I think owners are willing to call this bluff with the superstars that are talking about it. They know the conditions too. And they know how NBA players feel like they're supposed to be treated.

At the same time, I'm sure these are extreme cases. I'm sure not every practice begins with a ceremonial goat decapitations. But I guess the point is, if you go play professionally in Turkey, you need to be ready for everything.
Posted on: August 22, 2011 4:14 pm
 

Gasol, Durant, CP3 and Rose to play in Australia?

Posted by Royce Young

Already a group of NBA players took to the Philippines to play in an exhibition game. Some made in the neighborhood of $400,000 for it. So why not go for round two, outback edition?

According to the Sunday Herald Sun, Pau Gasol, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose are some of the rumored NBA stars that could play three games in Melbourne. It would be three All-Star exhibition style games. Already two sponsors have committed to support the tour and pay insurance which will cost something like $1 million.

No date has really been outlined but obviously this is a lockout contingent tour. If the collective bargaining agreement gets resolved, this will be most certainly dissolve.

One question though: Why no Andrew Bogut? Or Patty Mills, for that matter? Both are native Australians and I'm sure have a pretty good base of support there. Instead it's Durant, Gasol, Paul and Rose? Not a bad lineup at all of course, but you'd think it would've been like Bogut or somebody that was organizing this.

Right now, Gasol is prepping with the Spain national team for Eurobasket 2011 in Lithuania which starts later this month. So figuring out those details will be an issue, but there's no doubt if you pay, they'll play. I think that's sort of how the labor negotiations are going too.
Posted on: August 22, 2011 4:11 pm
Edited on: August 23, 2011 7:37 am
 

The EOB Elite 100, 6-10: Superstars rising



By Matt Moore

This is the tenth segment of the CBSSports.com Eye on Basketball Elite 100, counting down the top-100 players in the NBA.

Check out the earlier installments: 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11

We've hit the top ten.

Here we find the ten best players of the NBA. We'll unleash our top five (who you can already figure out) tomorrow, but these players all could reasonably fit in that top five category. The most explosive player in the league is entering only his second year of play. The league's best scorer is criminally underrated still as we wait for him to hit the zenith of his abilities. The five-time champion sits at the bottom, fueled with bitterness and rage at what age and a shocking dismissal in the playoffs has left him. The league's best true point guard has reclaimed his crown.

This is the sixth through tenth best players in the National Basketball Association and where they dribble, Thunder follows. Metaphorical thunder. Not the actual Thunder. Except for one of them. He's on the Thunder. This is confusing. Anyway, 10-6!


10. Blake Griffin, PF, age 22, Los Angeles Clippers
2011 stats: 22.5 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 3.8 apg, 50.6 FG%, 21.93 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 10, 10, 15

It's not all about the dunks. You just have to tell yourself that. It is not, all about the dunks. Yeah, I realize Blake Griffin's rookie season will be most remembered more for his instant YouTube classics than for a pretty drop-step layup, but that's really what it was about. Blake Griffin is an excellent dunker, yes. But he's a better basketball player.

His numbers were terrific and not just for a rookie. For anybody. He went for 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. That's not just in the category of "Wow, nice rookie year, now let's see what he does next." That's in the "Wow, how can he do much better than that?"

Griffin is extremely skilled but what makes him so special is that he's willing to outwork everyone on the floor. He plays harder than everybody while possessing otherworldly ability for a man 6-10. Every time he skies recklessly for a rebound or dives wildly on the floor you fear the worst, but that's what makes Blake Griffin the player he is. He plays the game in a violent, relentless manner. And on top of it, he adds top tier skill and talent with it.

He has some room to grow of course. He needs to refine his jumpshot where he's effective in the pick-and-pop game. He needs to shoot better from the free throw line. He needs to be a bit better in help defense. He should impact games on both ends. But naturally he should improve. He's just 22 and just finished his rookie year.

I love to point to his best game of the season, his 47-point effort against the Pacers. He didn't dunk the ball once in that game. Instead it was an array of spins, jumpers, hooks and deft layups that took him to his career-high. His full-court oops and massive posters bring in the oohs and ahhs, but games like he had against the Pacers is what shows you that he's going to be one of the league best players over the next 10 years. -- RY
 

9. Pau Gasol, PF, age 31, Los Angeles Lakers

2011 stats: 18.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 3.3 apg, 52.9 FG%, 23.3 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 12, 9, 9

Pau Gasol started off great. In the month of November, he averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists on 54 percent shooting. He as an MVP candidate, arguably the best player on the Lakers. He was dominant, and holding the title of "best big man in the NBA" he'd earned in 2009-2010.

It was pretty much all downhill from there.

Gasol's points and rebounds dropped, then recovered in February, then tailed off. That wasn't the big problem, though. The problem was the return of something he thought he'd quashed, the perception that he's soft. The Lakers' swept exit from the playoffs reinforced this ten-fold especially with the rumors of personal problems dogging him.

All the while, Gasol is still the best true big in the game, given that Dirk Nowitzki operates so much at the elbow. But whereas once it was thought Gasol was ahead of Nowitzki, last season flipped that script completely, and it wasn't just about the Mavs' Finals run. With Gasol getting older, it'll be key to see how he responds to the criticism and whether he comes back fiercer than ever or settles into a role. -- MM

8. Chris Paul, PG, age 26, New Orleans Hornets
2011 stats: 15.9 ppg, 9.8 apg, 4.1 rpg, 2.3 spg, 46.3 FG%, 23.7 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 8, 7, 8

Chris Paul ended any conversation that may have been had during his injury-plagued 2009-2010 season about who is the best pure point guard in the NBA in 2010-2011. He returned to form, snapping back from injury and boosting the Hornets to one of the best starts in the league before putting on the burners and coasting into a seven spot. It wasn't the best season for the Hornets, nor the best season for Paul individually, but it did reassert that Paul is the best pure point guard in this league. In reality, he's the best point guard in this league, period, but trying to explain to the average fan (or Bulls fan) that what Derrick Rose does can hardly be described as point guard play and is instead his own rebranding of the concept of guard play gets tricky. And so we stick Paul with the "best pure" title with a wink and a nod and a pat on the head for everyone else screaming "DROZE!" (who you will find higher on this list for a reason, I might add).

Paul wasn't nearly the best he's been, nor anywhere close to that 2007-2008 season where he was a legitimate MVP candidate (for all the talk about the MVP's stolen from Kobe Bryant, that season stands as one that Bryant may have stolen as reparation for those earlier years). He posted a career low in points per game and his lowest assist average in four seasons. Most of this was due to a mid-season swoon that saw his numbers dip. He alluded to it, carefully, in an interview with Ken Berger about keeping himself healthy for the postseason. And in the postseason, Paul showed how dangerous he can be.

The Hornets even putting up a fight against L.A. was unexpected, much less the onslaught that Chris Paul wrought upon the Lakers. It was a clinic in how to run point guard and he sliced and diced them in every way. He ran out of steam but the point was made.

Paul enters 2011-2012 (prospective) season as potentially his last in New Orleans. He will be trying to find a way most likely without David West, and looking towards the future. Paul just turned 26 in May. The scariest part of all of this is that he's just now entering his prime. The only real concern is if he can stay healthy enough to capitalize on it. -- MM

7. Kevin Durant, SF, age 22, Oklahoma City Thunder

2011 stats: 27.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, 46.2 FG%, 35.0 3P%, 23.70 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 7, 8, 3

Initial thought of seeing Durant at No. 7 is that he's too low. How can the league two-time defending scoring champ not be in the top five? How can maybe the most gifted scorer, maybe the most unguardable player in the league, be in the bottom half of the top 10?

It's simple: The six players ahead of him are really, really good. That's not to take anything from Durant. Because no one would say he's not one of the most talented players in the league. Really, if you just stop yourself and remember that he hasn't even turned 23 yet then seventh starts sounding pretty darn impressive. With as much talent as there is in the NBA right now, being ranked seventh of all players at just the age of 22 is kind of an honor.

I don't feel like I need to really run down Durant's credentials here. He's a legitimate threat to have multiple seasons of 50-40-90 percentages. He absolutely could average 35 points a game. He could average a double-double with more than 30 points a game. He could do a lot of stuff. That's the point.

But he's a committed team player that doesn't necessarily care about the above except for the fact that playing well helps his team win. As the leader of the youngest team in the postseason last year, Durant took his team to the brink of the NBA Finals. And he added some pantheon playoff moments to go with it. Remember that Game 5 against the Nuggets where Durant completely took over in the final three minutes? Darn near legendary. And that's the future with Durant. We could be settling in for a whole lot more of that. If that's the case, it's not going to matter how good the six players in front of him are. He'll be right on top. -- RY

6. Kobe Bryant, G, age 32, Los Angeles Lakers
2011 Stats: 25.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 45.1 FG%, 23.94 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 6, 5, 7

Kobe Bryant’s days of being the NBA’s best active player are behind him. He still holds the title of “fiercest competitor” and “most confident in the clutch,” but his body and age have started to betray him ever so slightly and a much lighter minutes load (he played just 33.9 minutes per game, his fewest since he was a teenager) brought down his scoring average, shooting numbers and most of his other statistical contributions in 2010-2011. The drops were all marginal, though, suggesting that Bryant didn’t fall very far down the pecking order and indicating that he should remain a productive player for years to come. His diverse offensive game, elite shot-creating and shot-making abilities, and well-honed veteran craftiness will all help extend his career, too.

One thing that didn’t change last season was Bryant’s perception of his own abilities. Bryant actually led the league in usage, meaning that he finished more plays than everyone else, including ball-dominating lead guards like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. His 21.2 shots per 36 minutes were also near a career high water mark, eclipsed only by his 2005-2006 gunning campaign which resulted in his career-best scoring average of 35.4 per game. If Bryant plans to add to his five rings, his field goal attempts and usage rate will have to come down to make room for the rise of Andrew Bynum.

With any luck, this summer’s treatment on his knee should allow Bryant to keep on trucking towards Michael Jordan’s all-time point scoring total, a chase that will captivate the NBA’s media as he gets closer and closer. At this stage of his career, it’s less important where Bryant falls in the top-100 and more important where he winds up in the Greatest Of All Time discussion. While he will almost certainly continue to fall on the former, he should only keep rising on the latter. -- BG



 
 
 
 
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