Tag:EOB Elite 100
Posted on: August 23, 2011 8:44 am
Edited on: August 23, 2011 12:50 pm
 

The EOB Elite 100, 1-5: Best of the best



By Matt Moore


This is the final segment of the CBSSports.com Eye on Basketball Elite 100, counting down the top-100 players in the NBA. The goal was to create the best ranking of players based on total value, which comprises everything from respect and status to upside to statistical production and intangibles. All three of our NBA bloggers ranked every player, then we took the average to determine our ranking.

Check out the earlier installments: 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-6

We've come to the end, my friends. 

What we discovered while making this list is that the NBA has such remarkable athletes, that the gap between one to the next is quite small. There are no clear dividing lines. You make the best estimation off of overall value, take the aggregate, and may the basketball gods have mercy on your soul. You look at every player near the top and say, "that's got to be too low," until you look at the players above him. Then you begrudgingly move on to those players who you feel much the same about. We're blessed with incredible players in this league, versatile and extremely talented. Our attempt in ranking them wasn't perfect, and the best aspect is finding out your thoughts.

No one's going to agree on these lists completely. For every item you find accurate, there will be 10 you disagree with. And we're betting our top spot will neither surprise you nor please you. But, after watching these players night in and night out, this is the top of the chart in comparison to all others. It's been fun figuring out who goes where, even if it kept us up nights. And we promise we'll keep watching and working to figure it out every night to come. 

You know, once we have a season again.

Here now are the top five players in the NBA in overall value according to the EOB Elite 100.

5. Derrick Rose, PG, age 22, Chicago Bulls
2011 stats: 25.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 7.7 apg, 1.0 spg, .6 bpg, 44.5 FG percentage, 23.5 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 5, 5, 4

What I love about Rose ending up here is that he's simultaneously too low and too high and both arguments are valid. He's the reigning MVP. His team secured the top spot in the playoffs overall and won the most regular-season games. He led the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals. Rose is young, brilliant, explosive, and seems to improve with every game. He's also inefficient at times, both in shooting percentage and turnovers. He's got great assist numbers and yet never blows you away with his passing game. He has elite speed and tremendous finishing ability, but his mid-range jumper is a work in progress and his 3-point shot, which improved considerably in 2010-11, is wildly inconsistent. He'll shoot 70 percent from the arc one game and go 1 of 5 the next. The end result is a career-best percentage that could go way up if he manages to stabilize it. 

Rose is an elite player in this league, but ... 1: We haven't seen MVP-level play from him beyond this season, and those above him have been at it for years; 2: His postseason struggles, particularly against the Heat stick with us. The problems did go beyond the Heat series, however. Rose had a 35.2 usage rate in the playoffs, which is astronomical (and he had to; have you seen Carlos Boozer?) yet only had a 43 effective field goal percentage. The way the Heat were able to adjust to solve him lingers, despite a stellar 2011 campaign. 

What Rose did stands out. I described Chris Paul as the best pure point guard in the league earlier, and I still believe him to be the best point guard. But that's because Rose isn't a point guard by any traditional sense. He's not even really a point guard by any advanced metric. This isn't to say he can't do what point guards do. He does, and quite well. It's that Rose is so prolific in his game, that he extends beyond the traditional position evaluations. I'm fond of saying, "Rose isn't a point guard, he's not a shooting guard, he's not even really a guard. He's Derrick Rose." His versatility and explosiveness are so unmatched, his specific style and approach so unique, he extends beyond the traditional models and establishes himself as his own entity. Even if that entity sometimes shows hiccups we saw in the ECF. 

Don't get too upset, Bulls fans. This ranking definitely hides the fact that our committee definitely believes that this will be the last time Rose is this low, and that his shot at the top spot next year is as strong as anyone's. And yet any drop-off from his tremendous season would be a huge letdown. This is the top of the NBA, where Rose belongs, and all of these factors make up the reasons why at No. 5. He's at once too low and too high for anyone and everyone. Say hello to Derrick Rose, the NBA's newest most-polarizing player. -- MM

4. Dwyane Wade, SG, 29, Miami Heat
2011 stats: 25.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 4.6 apg, 50 FG percentage, 30.6 3-point percentage, 25.65 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 4, 5, 4

Most of the talk about the Miami Heat has centered around LeBron James. He's the lightning rod, the controversial figure, the talking point. But here's what should tell you that Dwyane Wade still is entirely legit: The Heat are still his team. LeBron may generate most of the chatter, but the Heat just feel like Wade's team.

Wade sometimes is forgotten as a superstar for reasons I don't exactly know, but he's a champion, a Finals MVP, an elite defender and a top-tier scorer. His production may have dipped a bit because he's sharing duties with LeBron and Chris Bosh, but don't forget he averaged 30.2 points a game on nearly 50 percent shooting in 2008-09. Don't forget that he's averaging 6.3 assists a game for his career with two seasons of 7.5 a game. In fact, don't forget that for his career, he goes 25-6-5.

Wade is 29 though, and he's had a few major injuries and surgeries so he might start trending down in the next few seasons. He's the type of player that plays so hard he's borderline reckless. Eventually the wear and tear is going to slow him down. But he's still elite because he's a complete player. You may think of LeBron first when someone brings up the Heat but it's Wade's team and that's not changing. -- RY

3. Dirk Nowitzki, F, 33, Dallas Mavericks
2011 Stats: 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 51.7 FG percentage 23.52 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 5, 2, 3

We’ve arrived at the pinnacle of Nowitzki’s NBA career, a summit from which the German forward triumphantly holds up the Larry O’Brien and his NBA Finals MVP trophies and looks down upon all the critics who said he was too “soft” and not wired to be a No. 1 option on a title-winning team. The Mavericks were somewhat improbable champions and nobody benefited from their victory more -- at least from a perception standpoint -- than Nowitzki, whose unbelievable scoring efficiency and unmatched ability to hit off-balance shots stole the show during the 2011 playoffs.

Bracketed by Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler, it didn’t much matter that Nowitzki still isn't an All-NBA defender and never will be. He performed capably in man-to-man or zone looks, but his overall offensive game was his ace in the hole; nobody could stop him when he needed to get a bucket in the postseason. Nowitzki wasn't only a weapon when he's leaning back and falling away, uncorking a jumper at an impossible angle. He’s agile enough, even at his size, to take most NBA bigs off the dribble and he can finish around the rim in a variety of creative ways, usually more smooth rather than emphatic. He commands constant attention and is a surgeon when it comes to picking apart weak, early or late help defense, equally adept at threading the needle to cutters or throwing on-the-money skip passes. He can shoot with range, from a stop or on the move; he can set picks and find his spots. Despite the spotlight, he’s still an underrated rebounder. And, please, don’t leave out his ability to pump fake to draw fouls and to convert his free throws at a ridiculous 89.2 percent.

Put simply, Nowitzki is so good on offense that he we’ve ranked him ahead of all but the very best two-way players in the league. Not too shabby for a soft, choking European who is afraid to play down low. -- BG

2. Dwight Howard, C, 25, Orlando Magic 2011 stats: 22.9 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 59.3 FG percentage 26.13 PER Composite rankings (random order): 2, 2, 3

There's one question to ask yourself when decided where you want to place Dwight Howard: How much do you value defense? Do you see it as the downtime in between offensive possessions (aka the Don Nelson philosophy) or do you see it as an equally important part to the game as offense, and in some cases more important?

The way you lean there tells you what to do with Howard, because he's the league's best defensive player and it's not especially close. He's won three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards and it's not only because he blocks shots and grabs a lot of rebounds. It's really about the shots he doesn't block. Officials stats don't keep track of altered shots or probably better, non-attempted shots that might've been taken had Howard not been looming in the lane. But I can guarantee you Howard leads the league in both those categories and it's not close. He changes every game, and does it just by being on the floor.

That makes it sound like he's one dimensional, which isn't accurate. He's not a dynamic offensive player. He scores in brutish ways -- alley-oops, put-backs, easy baskets. He gets it done with little finesse and without a go-to shot. But however it happens, he still averaged 22.9 points a game last year and shot an outstanding 59 percent from the field. He's getting better offensively and at only 25, he still has some space to grow.

If Howard's offense ever catches up to his defense, he'd make a realistic push at the top spot on this list. In terms of how much a game is impacted per night, Howard is king. His win shares are ridiculous (14.4) and his PER is outstanding (26.13). Pretty much any way you want to measure Howard, he lives up. And that's without being as good as he really could be on one end.  Now that's scary. 

1. LeBron James, SF, 26, Miami Heat
2011 stats: 26.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.6 spg, .6 bpg, 51.0 FG percentage, 27.3 PER
Composite rankings (unanimous): 1, 1, 1

Thoughts from all three of our panel members on the top player in the NBA.

Matt Moore: You probably don't like this. That's OK. We don't like it much, either. LeBron James has showed an arrogance in the past year since The Decision that is so excessive the only way to defend it is to claim that all athletes are arrogant. Even then, it's the matter of degree that gets James in trouble. James never seems to say the right thing, never seems to take the right approach, never seems to put himself in the best light. This is a stunning change from four years ago when he was basically a shadow on the wall that sold shoes. It's a year after The Decision and we saw the best and worst of James. He continued to show the versatility that in large part puts him in this spot. His team made the Finals, and was two games away from a title, as they should have been with all that talent. And yet we saw James "shrink" or "choke" or whatever hyper-dramatic interpretation you prefer. There's no getting around the idea of whether you believe in "clutch" or not, James was not there when his team needed him most. That's pretty damning stuff. 

So how did he not only wind up as the top player, but the unanimous one?

Because he's better. Kobe Bryant's age is starting to affect him along with numerous injuries that have slowed him. Dirk Nowitzki is getting older and doesn't have the defensive impact James does (James remains an underrated individual and help defender, which is saying something considering how lauded he rightfully is for it). Rose is still learning to be efficient from everywhere on the floor and to be a better defender. Howard's still growing into his complete offensive game. For James, nothing he does is beyond reason anymore. A 40-point triple-double is conceivable from him (though not on this Heat team barring injuries because of usage). He can make the chase-down block at one end, lob a perfect outlet pass, then recover and jam home an alley-oop after leaving from mid-wing. He can pull-up and nail the mid-range jumper, even as that part of his game is at both still developing and something he turns to far too often. He can hit from the perimeter (ask the Celtics if you don't believe me) and bulldoze his way to the rim to draw the foul (ask the Bulls if you don't believe me). He's a one-man tour de force, able to cover the entire floor, able to play at any position, able to do more than any other player in the league. 

That's why he's No.1. Like it or not.

Royce Young: It's kind of a relief that we don't have to have the debate anymore. No longer is it "Kobe or LeBron?" No longer is it a question as to who the league's best player is. We all know. It's LeBron, whether you like it or not. 

You can try and talk yourself into someone else. You can try and single out LeBron's failures, his faults and his issues. You can try and point out his curious choke job in The Finals. You can try and devalue him simply because you don't like him. That's all fine. But you can't deny that he's the best player in basketball. He just is.  Even trying to fit in alongside two other All-Stars in Miami LeBron put out an incredible season. He still led the league in PER (again), still went for 26-7-7 and still was the single most dangerous player on the floor every night. And before you say, "Oh yeah, well people prove things in the playoffs and LeBron failed!" That's true, but only to a degree. Remember how he handcuffed Derrick Rose for the last two games of the Eastern Finals? Remember how he destroyed the Bulls in leading an incredible Game 5 comeback? Remember how he and Wade worked perfectly in concert in Game 1 of The Finals? It's easy to just forget all the good stuff because of how it all finished. But LeBron didn't completely lay an egg. He just did so in the last three games. Doesn't mean he's not still the best player in the game.  

Ben Golliver:2010-2011 was a boastful, bewildering season for James, who arrived in Miami with unprecedented hype and expectations, only to crash and burn in the NBA Finals as soon as his first title was within reach. The on-court imperfections are clearly established at this point: a difficulty impacting the offense without the ball in his hands, an erratic jump shot, and the occasional tendency to tighten up when the stakes are highest. The off-court annoyances are equally obvious: a lack of self-awareness, a massive ego, and an inability to relate to the common man or to productively process criticism.

Still, judging James or his season solely on his meltdown in the final three games of the NBA Finals would be a huge mistake. Zooming out to view the entire year, he was spectacular as always statistically, posting the top PER in the league despite the fact that he was getting acclimated to an entirely new set of teammates and a new way of sharing top dog priorities with Dwyane Wade. He was a menace defensively, sending the aging Boston Celtics into the past during the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and swallowing NBA MVP Derrick Rose whole in the Eastern Conference Finals. James remains the NBA’s best and most versatile athlete and saw time at four -- if not five -- positions for the Heat this season. There’s not a player in the league who can guard him one-on-one and there's not really anyone that he couldn’t defend at least passably.

Even for his critics, who were rightfully gleeful when things fell apart against the Dallas Mavericks, there must be a sense that this was as tough as it will get for James, that the perfect storm of hatred and disgust that followed The Decision will eventually dissipate, leaving James to finally assume the throne he clearly believes belongs to him.

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



Posted on: August 19, 2011 7:31 pm
Edited on: August 19, 2011 9:36 pm
 

The EOB Elite 100: 11-20: The power of forwards



By Matt Moore

This is the eighth 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


Try ranking just the best power forwards in the league in your head. Really. Now go back and look at their numbers. Then go back and rerank them. Then factor in their team success. Then look at their ages and upside. 

The point is, this is not easy, and that's before you try and stick them in among the best players in the league at all the other positions. Power forwards are elite right now in this league. Trying to determine who's better is nearly impossible. But that's what we've tried to do in this list and this section gets to the hardest part. Zach Randolph dominated the playoffs. Tim Duncan is a Hall of Famer. LaMarcus Aldridge was just brilliant. Amar'e Stoudemire was an MVP candidate for a brief time. 

What do you do? 

In between we've got Steve Nash, one of the best point guards ever, Deron Williams who's at the top of his game, Russell Westbrook who everyone loves and hates at the same time, and you know, Melo. 


20. Steve Nash, G, age 37, Phoenix Suns
2011 Stats: 14.7 points, 11.4 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 49.2 FG%, 20.81 PER, 53.1 AST%
Composite rankings (random order): 25, 16, 18

The guy's 37. Thir-tee-sev-en. And yet last season Steve Nash averaged more assists per 36 minutes than he has in his career. He posted 53 percent of the Suns' assists. Which means if there was a bucket off a pass on the floor, more often than not it was Steve Nash making it. That's crazy production for his age. Nash continues to be a lightning rod as the Suns fall further and further away from contention. His defense has never been good due to a combination of physical limitations and a back condition that has forced him for years to lay flat on his stomach on the sideline. But his offense is showing signs of slowing down, despite all the slinging. Nash finally posted under 50 percent field goal shooting for the first time since he came to Phoenix last year, and shot under 40 percent from three for the first time since 1999. So he's "only" a 49 percent shooter, 39 percent 3-point shooter. But the bigger point is that Nash is starting to slip. 

This is why so many want Nash traded. His time is running out to be effective, though with his conditioning, it's easy to see him playing till he's 40. But for him to be effective as a starter, to hold a shred of "Nashness" in him, he's got to get moved to a contender soon. But if he doesn't, it wouldn't shock anyone to see him make a comeback year next season. 

19. Manu Ginobili, G, age 34, San Antonio Spurs
2011 Stats: 17.4 points, 4.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 43.3 FG%, 21.78 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 20, 15, 20

Manu Ginobili was a legit MVP candidate the first two months of the season. Being a legit MVP candidate for even a week should probably earn you a higher ranking than this, but such is the cost of a perceived slip as the season went on. At his best, Ginobili is a game-changer and one of the most reliable clutch performers in the game. His step-back elbow jumper is still deadly, and if that doesn't get you, the pump-fake will. Ginobili at full-health would probably have made a big difference in the Spurs' round-one loss to Memphis. (But given that he couldn't guard Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol, probably not enough of one.)

Ginobili's slide will only continue as age and injury slow him down. He says he has a few more years left in the league. But his craftiness will only take him so far, which is why he isn't higher on this list. But given how many years he's been near the top of this list, that's not a bad career. And in the meantime, he'll keep drawing fouls and hitting big shots as the Spurs continue to try and suck the life out of the remainder of their contending years. 

18. Kevin Love, F, age 22, Minnesota Timberwolves
2011 Stats: 20.1 points, 15.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 47.0 FG%, 24.39 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 15, 24, 13

Hello, power forwards. Kevin Love broke the record for consecutive double-doubles, had the first 30-30 game, showed terrific offensive range, dominated the glass, out-rebounded Dwight Howard and became an All-Star. And he's only the 18th best player on this list, and the fifth best power forward in this section!

Love's biggest liabilities are on the defensive end. He's still learning, so the hope is that he'll improve. Conditioning and health will both be important to that end with his frame, but neither are concerns with Love. With a coach that will hopefully appreciate him and a new system and point guard to work with, it's a good bet that Love will be in the top fifteen by the end of next season. His range makes him a versatile component, he's looking for his first big deal (good luck with that under the new CBA next season), and to boot, he's one of the most likeable players in the league. 

Odds are this is the last time he'll bethis low again. 

17. Tim Duncan, F, age 35, San Antonio Spurs
2011 Stats: 13.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.9 blocks, 50.0 FG%, 21.94 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 13, 19, 18

What loathesome thing age is, that robs us of our strength but not our integrity.  Tim Duncan wasn't the same player last year. I mean, he was, but he wasn't. This is the problem. For players of Duncan's greatness, there's no huge cliff they fall off, its'a slow decline. But they're also held to a different standard. And as a result, Duncan slides down this list. Most jarring was the absence of a dominant Duncan performance in the playoffs. The Grizzlies managed to harass, muscle, and frustrate Duncan to the point of limiting his effectiveness. And as Duncan goes, so do the Spurs. 

Duncan logged 76 games last season, missing just six games. The question is if he can have a bounce-back season after having a considerably healthy one in 2010-2011. The Spurs need a vintage Duncan performance all season long, but the reality may be that after so many playoff games early in his career, he may simply not have enough tread left on the tires. Why is he still this high? Because he's Tim Freaking Duncan, and he's earned the right for us to trust in him until the very end. 

16. Deron Williams, G, age 27, New Jersey Nets
2011 Stats: 20.1 points, 10.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 43.9 FG%, 21.19 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 22, 18, 9

Deron Williams, Coach Killer? Didn't see that coming. 

Williams had a good season. He did. 20 points, 10 assists, good PER, solid defense. The Jazz had a pretty decent start before the wheels came off. Then, you know, Williams may or may not have been the driving point behind Jerry Sloan deciding to pack it up after 25 seasons with the Jazz. Then, you know, Williams was traded to the Nets before he could hold the Jazz hostage like Melo did the Nuggets. Then, you know, he was a Net. Which causes trouble. 

Williams turned 27 in June, so he can no longer be considered a "young" point guard. There's only so much room for improvement at this point. And he's still very good, and will fetch a huge price on the market. But you have to wonder if 2010-2011 was a career marker for Williams and if that will make an impact on where he ends up. The good news? He gets into free agency in 2012. Either the Nets will build around him with top talent, or he'll have a chance for a mulligan at 28. 

15. Carmelo Anthony, F, age 27, New York Knicks
2011 Stats: 25.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 45.5 FG%, 21.82 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 17, 17, 13

You want to rank Carmelo Anthony in the 20-30 range? Fine. 30-40? You're getting out there. 1-10? We're not going to riot. You can spot Melo anywhere, it just depends on where your priorities lie. 

Is Melo's defense lacking? Absolutely. Is he often-times too inefficient to the point that it hurts his effectiveness? Yes. Is his attitude sometimes an issue in terms of the superstar approach? Yes, but it never impacts his play (through everything in Denver, he never missed a game or gave a half-effort). The reality is this. 

Carmelo Anthony still nets you 26 points per game, seven rebounds per game, will hit you a game winner more often than not, and can help win you games. He is not the most effective, most efficient, or most versatile. There is a lot that he needs to improve. But Carmelo Anthony is still an elite player in this league, and he needs to be ranked accordingly. He's here for now. If the Knicks keep building around he and Amar'e and if the two start working together better, he'll be among the best of the best. For now, we leverage his upside, his production, his efficiency, and his record. 

Then we docked him five slots for his reality show.

14. Russell Westbrook, G, age 22, Oklahoma City Thunder
2011 Stats: 21.9 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 44.2 FG%, 23.63 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 16, 16, 11

I'd love to give you an in-depth analysis of Westbrook, but the polar opinions of him rend any attempt apart. 

Westbrook has a higher PER than Deron Williams. He's hyper-aggressive and can take games over. The comparison always made to him is Derrick Rose if he didn't have Kevin Durant needing the ball. But one, he's not as good as Derrick Rose, and two, he does have Kevin Durant needing the ball. Westbrook too often puts his head down and slams into the defender causing a turnover, too often is impatient with the offense and too often trusts his ability to dominate. Thing is, he can dominate more than half the time.

Westbrook's explosiveness and speed is top three in the league. His jumper's improved but hasn't made a phenomenal jump. The big question for next season will be what his role is with James Harden as more of a weapon and playmaker. Is Westbrook just a scoring point who can also provide some buckets, or can he use another weapon to be more efficient. It's a technical and mental adjustment that needs to be made. 

13. LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Portland Trail Blazers
2011 Stats: 21.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.0 steals, 50.0 FG%, 21.57 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 12, 14, 14

Aldridge was arguably more important to his team than any of the players 12-10. He was huge in 2011. Aldridge is also the most versatile of any power forward in the league. Yeah, there, I said it. He's tough defensively, he's brilliant in the post, he's got great pick-and-pop ability, is a good rebounder (though if we're saying that, so is Amar'e Stoudemire, who has a 12.7 TRB percentage to Aldridge's 13.5). 

Aldridge was the anchor for the Blazers who kept them afloat among the injury sea they sailed last year. He's always been overlooked for Roy, but he's also never been a problem in the locker room. He plays smart, tough, and efficiently. Oh, and he plays defense. Nice rare quality in power forwards, that. 

12. Zach Randolph, F, Memphis Grizzlies
2011 Stats: 20.1 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 50.3 FG%, 22.67 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 17, 11, 11

Dominates the glass, puts the team on his back, shoots better than 50 percent from the field, creates more possessions, and delivers when his team needs him. That's a franchise player. And as good as Rudy Gay is, that's what Zach Randolph has shown himself to be for Memphis. His performance in the playoffs is what lands him above Aldridge, Love, and Duncan. A stats-only loser for so many years, Randolph not only found the playoffs last season, but owned them. His performance in both Grizzlies' series was out of this world. If making the Finals weren't a prerequisite, Randolph was arguably the playoffs MVP behind Nowitzki (which is probably why Nowitzki won the title). 

Randolph's defense is not good, but just like his athleticism, he manages to hide it with savvy. He brings smart help, and communicates well. Randolph's intangibles are almost as great as his numbers. He's a consumate leader, always picking up guys who fall to the floor, and being the emotional rock for a pretty emotional team. As unlikely as it is, Randolph's as valuable as it gets to any single team. 

He's getting older, so this is probably the last time he'll be this high. But it's been a fun ride for Randolph with the Grizzlies and he deserves the respect. 

11. Amar’e Stoudemire, F, New York Knicks
2011 Stats: 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.9 blocks, 50.2 FG%, 22.78 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 14, 12, 10

We don't blame you for gawking at this. I scored him a 12, truth be told, and even I am sick just thinking about it. Stoudemire is a pretty solid help defender, except no one will believe that. That's where those 1.9 blocks come from. Again, not good, but solid. But man-up? Bad. Really bad. Not good. At all. Stoudemire will never be confused for a defensive stalwart. His rebounding is sub-par. He's got knee concerns and an eye condition following a pretty horrific injury that required surgery. On his eye. 

But he's at this spot because Stoudemire can kill you from the elbow, and if you crowd him, he's going to the rim. He plays aggressively, efficiently, and can deliver. He lost his former-MVP point guard and still produced 25 points per game, and that's even after Melo came in a-gunning. He produces a world of offense and that still counts. As much as the statistical revolution and advanced analysis emphasizes defense, it tends to overlook offense, especially from bigs. The Knicks will never hurt for inside scoring as long as Stoudemire is on the floor. That shouldn't be overlooked. Neither should his defensive liabilities, but his offense out-performs it enough to land him here.

We think.
Posted on: August 8, 2011 3:59 pm
Edited on: August 8, 2011 4:04 pm
 

The EOB Elite 100, 61-70: Buy or sell



By Matt Moore


This is the third 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 | 71-80
 

As we move on, we're starting to see an interesting mix of stars blending together with what are the NBA equivalent of critically received indie albums. Guys like Aaron Afflalo and Nicolas Batum aren't starring in commercials nationally, but they're the kind of guys who can help your team win. Six of the players in 61-70 are under 26. Only two players did not make the playoffs, and one has excellent upside and the  other missed the playoffs by only a handful of games. We're starting to get to the meat of the rankings. 

Things become tough here. Is Kyle Lowry really not as good as Chauncey Billups? Is Aaron Afflalo better than Wesley Matthews, despite a much smaller role? Can Jennings' promise make up for a downturn as a sophomore? In a difficult exercise, this is where things start to get nearly impossible. 

In figuring all this out, this is kind of like the stock market. And in times like these, you know how unstable that can be. Some of the younger players like Brandon Jennings you want to buy at a stock this low, and some of the players whose ages are getting up there you want to drop like Billups who will be 35. Just one problem. The gap between those two point guards? Winning

Right or wrong, and sometimes it's very, very wrong, being a part of a winning team means something in this league, and it means something in these rankings. There's a subtle element of making your teammates better. Maybe that's offensive rebounding and providing them more possessions. Maybe it's leadership on and off the floor, keeping their team's head where it needs to be. Maybe it's being the emotional spark plug. But most of the players on this list bring something beyond the stats, and they have the record to show for it. This is the big time, and the cost of doing business is victories. 

70. Kyle Lowry, PG, Age 25, Houston Rockets

2011 Stats: 13.5 ppg, 6.7 apg, 4.1 rpg, .506 eFG%, 16.5 PER

Composite rankings (random order):79, 69, 67 

: This is another one of those rankings that make us nervous. Lowry was ninth among point guards playing 20 minutes in Assist Ratio. He averaged 14-7-4 and played great defense. The only thing really dragging him down statistically is his shooting percentage. Lowry raised his 3-point percentage 10 percentage points to 37 percent, and still topped out at 42 percent from the field. He's efficient, but only really in spurts. That he wound up with as great of a season as he did speaks to his overall ability. If Lowry keps improving (a challenge as he just hit 25), there's some room to jump there. As it is, we'll congratulate Lowry on a tremendous season and hope he sustains it going forward. KLOE. (Kyle Lowry Over Everything, via Zach Harper.)

69. Wesley Matthews, SG, Age 24, Portland Trail Blazers

2011 stats: 15.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 spg, .449 FG%, 15.5 PER

Composite rankings (random order): 53, 60, unranked

Throwing aside his rather absurd contract, Matthews ranked 47th among all guards playing 20 minutes a night in PER. He was 17th in True Shooting percentage, however, even if he was just 38th in points among the same group. Matthews is an expensive reserve guard, and that fits his spot here well. He's versatile, though. If it weren't for the glutton of players at the same role, he likely would have found himself higher.

Matthews has games where he looks very much like a quality roleplayer. He's in an uncomfortable spot, splitting time with Brandon Roy. At age 24, he's not a spring chicken, but he's still got room for growth. He needs to focus on defense to round out his game (he's already fairly solid on defense), and learn to be more of a playmaker. The Blazers need playmakers, not just finishers. He'll have a bigger role with Rudy Fernandez moved on, though. Every minute counts. 

68. Aaron Afflalo, SG, Age 25, Denver Nuggets

2011 Stats: 12.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.4 apg, .498 FG%, .423 3pt%, 14.8% usage

Composite rankings (random order): 79, 64, 79

Aaron Afflalo shot 50 percent from the field last year. Now, that's a pretty good number if you're a center or power forward. It's quite another thing if you're a perimeter player. Quite simply, Afflalo can shoot the rock. He's a deadly shooter who doesn't overshoot. He's like J.R. Smith with a conscience. Afflalo's likely to see his role grow in Denver next season. If he can improve defensively and become more of a playmaker, he's got a real shot at being a legit star. He's already 25, though, so the clock's ticking, just like Lowry.

Until then, he's a crack shooter on a playoff team who the Nuggets are likely making room for by letting Wilson Chandler head elsewhere and building around Lawson and Afflalo. The kid I call Spellcheck is poised to have a real shot to make himself a name. 

67. Nicolas Batum, SF, Age 22, Portland Trail Blazers

2011 Stats: 12.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, .9 spg, .6 bpg, 14.8 PER

Composite rankings (random order): 74, 65, 71

AKA The Untouchable Blazer. Batum isn't an elite scorer. He's not a tremendous rebounder or a brilliant passer. Batum is the entire package. He's a player you can plug into a rotation spot and watch him work at both ends. Key 3-pointer? He can hit it. Need a steal and a dunk? He can make it happen. Need to lockdown a perimeter weapon? He's your guy. Batum has been targeted in trade after trade in the past two years and the Blazers have rebuffed every offer. Batum's overall value as a basketball player extends beyond specific roleplay and into comprehensive ability. That's why he's here, and there's a strong likelihood he'll head up the numbers in the next few years.

66. Brandon Jennings, PG, Age 20, Milwaukee Bucks

2011 Stats: 16.2 ppg, 4.8 apg, .390 FG%, 15.6 PER, 25.5% usage

Composite rankings (random order): 

Brandon Jennings shot less than 40 percent from the field last year. You don't have to like numbers to know that's bad. Jennings had one of the worst assist ratios among point guards playing 20 minutes in the league. He suffered through an injury which held him to missing nineteen games. And his shot selection often borders somewhere between perplexing and the edge of insanity. Still, you want to buy low here. Jennings has shown a willingness to improve, he doesn't turn 21 until the fall, and has been putting in the work during the lockout. He's low today. A year from now? We think he'll be higher. For now, he's stuck with that percentage, the injury, and room to grow.

The question is if he can learn to have a shooting conscience, or if he's just going to try and do what he does, just make more. Not a bad plan, but a better philosophical approach might do wonders for the kid. 

65. Jason Richardson, SG, Age 30, free agent

2011 Stats: 15.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, .396 3pt%, 20.6% Usage

Composite rankings (random order): 85, 50, 70

Richardson likely would have cracked top fifty before last season. He was a key player for the Suns' 2010 Western Conference Finals run, and was filling it up as usual to start the year in Phoenix. Then in Orlando, things fell off a cliff. Richardson never got comfortable, averaged just 13.9 points on 43 percent shooting, and saw the Magic fall to the floor in the playoffs after a Hawks haymaker. Richardson's a free agent when the offseason begins, and will likely carry a large amount of interest from contenders. But at age 30, there's only so much left in the tank for Richardson as a starter.

64. Emeka Okafor, C, Age 28, New Orleans Hornets

2011 Stats: 10.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.8 bpg, .573 FG%, 102 Def Rating

Composite rankings (random order): 73, 60, 70

Centers are at a premium in this league. And Emeka Okafor's a pretty good one. After a disappointing first season in New Orleans, Okafor responded and became the third component in Chris Paul-David West- capable center that the Hornets have used as a blueprint for success. Specifically, Okafor is a tremendous defender at the rim. It's true that after this year's playoffs, the Hornets look terrible for trading Tyson Chandler, now champion Tyson Chandler, but Okafor is a quality center in this league. Unfortunately at 29 next year, he'll likely never reach his draft ceiling and will have to settle for just being the kind of guy a playoff team can rely on.

63. Serge Ibaka, PF, Age 20, Oklahoma City Thunder

2011 Stats: 9.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.4 bpg, .543 FG%, 6.5 blk%, 17.7 PER, 27.0 mpg

Composite rankings (random order): 63, 65, 59

Oh, Iblocka. One of the most divisive players in the league. Everyone loves his energy. Some people trust his jumper. Some people think he's impetuous and gets caught with his head spinning. Ibaka is going to improve and will be a force to reckon with. But for all his defensive stewardship, the Memphis series exposed that a crafty offensive post player can put him into a tizzy, while his offensive reportoire still needs work. Ibaka had one of the lowest variances in scores in the back half of our list. We all know he's pretty good, we just know he's not top fifty. Not yet.

62. Elton Brand, PF, Age 31, Philadelphia 76ers

2011 Stats: 15 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 18.5 PER, .512 FG%, .780 FT%

Composite rankings (random order): 43, 85, 59

 Finally, a bounceback year from Elton Brand. Brand's resurgence under Doug Collins was long overdue, but still solid. Brand scored the same number of points per 36 minutes that he did in 2010, but he shot over 50 percent for the first time since 2007. He played 81 games, helped the Sixers make the playoffs, and increased his rebounds and blocks, and lowered his turnover rate. Brand is getting up there and his ability to contribute will only decrease, especially with his knee issues.

But 18.5 PER and 1.3 blocks per game as the rock of a Philadelphia team we're still not sure how they made the playoffs? That's pretty good stuff for a guy who cruelly saw what would have been his prime ruined by injury. To work as hard as he has to get back and produce is wothy of respect, and this rating respects that. 

61. Chauncey Billups, PG, Age 34, New York Knicks

2011 Stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 2.0 tov, 18.7 PER, 72 games played

Composite rankings (random order): 75, 34, 74

 So two of us think Billups is pretty much over, and belongs squarely towards the end of this list. One of us thinks he's pretty good. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. Billups' field goal percentage dropped to 40 percent last season. That's just slightly better than Brandon Jennings. The difference is that Billups is exceptional at drawing fouls and converting at the free throw line, still is an excellent defender, knows how to run an offense, produces assists at a decent rate, and knows how to run a team. But most importantly, consider this. The last time Billups did not play a single game in the NBA playoffs was the year 2000. He's been a part of the playoffs for a decade, mostly in prominent roles. He'll fall down this list next year; the guy's going to be 35 for crying out loud But for now, he sticks at 61.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com