Judging by the response on the message boards, the positional rankings served their purpose. You're all debating away, questioning each other's basketball IQ because you can't believe everyone doesn't see things the way you do. The appraisal of players and teams has always been an eye-of-the-beholder thing, and most people can't respect others' opinions.
|Steve Nash and the Suns look to conquer their postseason demons. (Getty Images)|
Right now, we're smack-dab in the middle of the Kobe Bryant era. He's regarded as the most dominant player in the game by his peers. Feared, nasty, talented beyond comprehension. The next crop of stars, guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard, still haven't been around long enough to pay full dues, so it's Kobe who gets the reverence.
Despite that, Bryant is still without an MVP and hasn't gotten out of the first round of the playoffs since 2004. He's feuding with the Lakers, gritting his teeth through all the drama -- some of it self-inflicted -- and is likely going to waste another season of his prime toiling for mediocre results.
See the moral problem, then, in handing over the top spot in these rankings out of simple deference?
|1. T. Duncan||6|
|2. K. Bryant||1|
|3. L. James||3||SAME|
|4. D. Wade||2|
|5. S. Nash||7|
|6. J. Kidd||15|
|7. D. Nowitzki||4|
|8. K. Garnett||5|
|9. T. McGrady||10|
|10. A. Stoudemire||17|
|11. Y. Ming||18|
|12. C. Bosh||25|
|13. D. Howard||16|
|14. C. Anthony||20|
|15. P. Pierce||13|
|16. C. Boozer||--|
|17. T. Parker||32|
|18. J. O'Neal||26|
|19. B. Davis||34|
|20. G. Arenas||23|
|Complete 2006 Rankings|
Considering that this could be construed as an early handicapping of the 2007-08 MVP race based on the parameters stated below, I have a problem putting Bryant at the top. His situation is uncertain and filled with potential turmoil. The outlook seems a lot rosier for Tim Duncan, who affects the game on both ends of the floor just as much as Kobe but wins much more.
Argue with that.
Rankings note: Players are ranked in the order of their projected impact on the coming season. Upside is taken into account, but only for the next 12 months. Whether you're a bargain or a bad contract doesn't matter.
1. Tim Duncan, San Antonio: He stayed healthy, regained his form, regained the championship -- and his spot at the top of this list. If you get over the ridiculous "boring" cliché, it's easy to appreciate how difficult he makes things for opponents simply by being in position. His poise on offense and consistency on defense allow the Spurs to impose their will the majority of the time.
2. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers: Unless the Lakers get serious or trade him to a championship contender, his greatness will be in vain.
3. LeBron James, Cleveland: If the improved jumper he showed off over the summer is any indication of things to come, there won't be any stopping James this season. He rarely has problems getting to the rim but would become indefensible if teams can't play off his jumper. When you throw his passing ability into the mix, LBJ might be able to get the Cavs any shot they want, anytime he wants.
4. Dwyane Wade, Miami: Before his shoulder injury, Wade was putting together an incredible season while attempting to carry the Shaq-less Heat. He'll be back at 100 percent after recovering from a pair of surgeries this summer and will again have to handle the brunt of the load considering how little Miami was able to accomplish during the offseason.
5. Steve Nash, Phoenix: There's no longer any question about whether he's a Hall of Famer. Who cares that he's a late bloomer? That doesn't change the fact he plays the game at a genius level.
6. Jason Kidd, New Jersey: He keeps defying logic and getting better with age. Clearly, he didn't get the memo that guards who undergo microfracture surgery are supposed to be put out to pasture.
|Sept. 25||Power forward|
|Sept. 26||Small forward|
|Sept. 27||Shooting guard|
|Sept. 28||Point guard|
|Oct. 1||Top 50|
7. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas: It seems strange that a reigning MVP would come into a season with such little momentum, but we all know why that's absolutely the case. The adversity should be a positive for Nowitzki, who has consistently created challenges for himself to ultimately overcome throughout his career. He's tougher than he gets credit for.
8. Kevin Garnett, Boston: It's dangerous to assume things, but one can only dream about what a pumped-up K.G. will be capable of. This is a guy who extracted every ounce of energy from his body for a Minnesota team that was typically overmatched. With a pair of likely Hall of Famers flanking him, he's going to be lethal.
9. Tracy McGrady, Houston: The two-time NBA scoring champion got into 71 games last season and regained his typical form by midseason. He has handled sharing go-to responsibilities with Yao Ming nicely and came up with a career-high assists total as a result. Rick Adelman can't wait to make the most of T-Mac's abilities.
10. Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix: He made up for a slight loss of explosion by improving in other areas. He didn't necessarily reinvent himself, but you get the sense he'd be able to if that's necessary down the road. He must to continue to improve as a leader and embrace Steve Nash as the perfect point guard to chase a championship with.
11. Yao Ming, Houston: When he was healthy, he was unstoppable, finally becoming the dominant presence everyone impatiently hoped he'd grow into. He has had some freak injuries each of the past two seasons, but that hasn't slowed his significant improvement. If anything, getting knocked down seems to have increased his hunger. Expect even bigger numbers under new coach Rick Adelman.
12. Chris Bosh, Toronto: The best decision Bosh could've made was to skip the FIBAs to rest a sore foot. He dealt with chronic pain from plantar fasciitis last season and still excelled. If he can get that situation squared away, the Raptors will have an excellent chance of repeating as Atlantic Division champs despite the retooling the Nets, Celtics and Knicks have done.
13. Dwight Howard, Orlando: When he entered the league, there was a fear a nice kid like Howard would be too passive to dominate inside. That's laughable now. He's still working on his consistency, but he has turned up the volume significantly as he has grown up. Expect him to own the paint much more often this year; he's poised to become the league's most prolific rebounder.
14. Carmelo Anthony, Denver: He persevered through more adversity in his fourth season, overcoming a lengthy suspension to make his first All-Star appearance. He also made valuable strides playing with new running mate Allen Iverson. Don't forget that 'Melo looked like he was going to challenge for the league's scoring title for a spell, or that he was the top scorer for the United States in international competition for the second consecutive summer.
|Paul Pierce doesn't have to shoulder as much of the load for Boston anymore. (Getty Images)|
16. Carlos Boozer, Utah: No one saw last season coming. After two injury-filled seasons, Boozer stayed healthy and became one of the NBA's most productive power forwards. It wasn't a fluke, either. As long as he avoids injury, Jazz fans can rest easy that they have another franchise-caliber four leading the charge.
17. Tony Parker, San Antonio: The Finals MVP's quickness and ability to finish around the basket won the Spurs a championship, and his continued development will ensure they stay contenders.
18. Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana: It seems as if O'Neal and the Pacers are going to make a good-faith effort to give this marriage one last chance. If things don't work out early in the Jim O'Brien regime, expect rumors of discontent to come up again. No one can accuse O'Neal of short-changing Indiana in effort, playing through injuries and shining on defense, but he wants to win above everything else, even if it means a move.
19. Baron Davis, Golden State: Davis did more in Don Nelson's system than even Nelson himself expected, thriving on the chaotic, unyielding pace. If he can just stay healthy and provide similar production, he'll be in the thick of the MVP race.
20. Gilbert Arenas, Washington: Improving his leadership is the next step in his development, because leading the Wizards deep into the postseason is the only thing that's going to get him the respect he deserves.
21. Shawn Marion, Phoenix: If he stays put with the Suns, he'll be playing out of position again. He'll also be stuck behind Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire as far as the spotlight is concerned. He might feel it's a thankless job, but it's probably his best chance at a ring, too. His day as top dog will eventually arrive, but playing for a team as potent as Phoenix's might not come again.
22. Michael Redd, Milwaukee: Don't let last year's injury-shortened season detract from what Redd accomplished when healthy. He became a more efficient scorer, increasing his average to a career-high 26.7 while displaying a better shot selection. The Bucks need to capitalize on his production while he's still in his prime.
23. Pau Gasol, Memphis: A move to center is not out of the question for Gasol, who is content to be with the Grizzlies again following a lengthy period of discontent. No matter where he lines up, he'll be the focal point of an up-tempo attack that's sure to produce eye-popping numbers and a few more victories.
24. Shaquille O'Neal, Miami: You can never write him off, but you also can't overlook that it has become a given that nearly 20 percent of the Heat's games will be played without him. He missed at least 15 games in five of the past six seasons and will spend the final three years of his contract conserving energy in order to earn one last ring.
25. Richard Hamilton, Detroit: The Pistons' masked man consistently gets the job done without a lot of flash, much like his boss Joe Dumars used to. Expect more of the same from Rip.
26. Vince Carter, New Jersey: He no longer has to deal with rumors that his days with the Nets are over, although he thrived in spite of that uncertainty last season. By not leaving for Orlando or Charlotte, Carter sent the message that he's committed to chasing a ring next to Jason Kidd and feels that partnership offers him the best opportunity to win. He's right, too.
27. Chauncey Billups, Detroit: The contract he signed to stay in Detroit might wind up being his last one, but don't put Billups in a nursing home just yet. Given how last season ended -- with critics ready to pounce and declare his decline -- expect him to come back focused.
28. Deron Williams, Utah: Williams made the Jazz's dreams come true last season by becoming everything they ever hoped he'd be -- and far ahead of schedule. Poised and tenacious, expect him on continuing to work on exploiting weaknesses. He has that elbow jumper from behind the free-throw line down pat.
29. Allen Iverson, Denver: Making the transition to pass-first point guard might be next for Iverson, regardless of how ridiculous that sounds. Carmelo Anthony and Nene are guys who need to be fed, and if Iverson can help bring them along by making the game easier, the Nuggets are going to be successful.
30. Josh Howard, Dallas: He has quickly gone from unheralded to unquestioned All-Star while aiding the Mavericks' rise. His scoring average increased in each of his four seasons, so you can probably expect him to surpass the 20-point mark for the first time. His 3-point stroke has made him a much stronger threat.
31. Ray Allen, Boston: Considering how many open looks he figures to get in Boston, don't be surprised to see Allen at or near the top of the 3-point shooting categories. A lot of what he's been able to accomplish in his career has been overlooked due to his locations, but that should change now that he's back on the East Coast with a high-profile franchise.
|Luol Deng's marksmanship could carry the Bulls a long way. (AP)|
33. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio: Taking the summer off from responsibilities with Argentina should do wonders for his body. While Ginobili is one of those players who is at his best when he works himself into a rhythm, he needed the break and should be fresher for what will likely be another lengthy postseason run.
34. Joe Johnson, Atlanta: He might not publicly regret leaving Phoenix, but the Suns' success the past few years has to float around in his thoughts. Johnson was proven right that he's capable of being a team's franchise player, but wins have been scarce and aren't looming around the corner.
35. Caron Butler, Washington: His season-ending hand injury deflated the Wizards' chances, making it easy to forget how brilliant he was in helping Washington contend for the Southeast Division title. He averaged career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals. If he can make the type of jump Gilbert Arenas made last season, everything in the Eastern Conference changes.
36. Antawn Jamison, Washington: Another undersized option at the four, Jamison makes up for any defensive deficiencies with his offense. Anyone who overlooked him got a reminder of what he can do when he put the Wizards on his back following season-ending injuries to Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, averaging 32 points and 9.8 boards a game in a gutsy playoff display against Cleveland.
37. Tayshaun Prince, Detroit: He was the only Detroit starter not to make the All-Star Game two years ago, but now he might be the Pistons' most consistent performer. With Ben Wallace elsewhere, it's Prince's defense that keys the Pistons' resistance, and he's coming off his most productive season from behind the arc, knocking down a career-high 81 3-pointers.
38. Rashard Lewis, Orlando: The Magic paid top dollar for him and are confident he's going to be the go-to scorer the team has sorely lacked to keep teams from concentrating on Dwight Howard. Lewis' ball-handling has improved to the point where he's ready for this challenge, so it's up to Stan Van Gundy to devise ways to get the most out of him.
39. Chris Paul, New Orleans: Early reports are that the pin inserted in his left foot hasn't limited his game-changing quickness, so Hornets fans can rest easy. It would be a shame if he couldn't pick up where he left off before the injury.
40. Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia: He picked up increased ball-handling chores and thrived once Allen Iverson left town. He averaged career highs with 18.2 points and 5.7 assists. He's always had an intriguing collection of skills but is just now being freed up enough to fully learned how to use them.
41. Lamar Odom, L.A. Lakers: He again made strides in Phil Jackson's system, but because of the team's lack of success, Odom's name has been tied to as many trade rumors as Andrew Bynum's. Although Odom does go through periods where he looks out of sync, his play has been a bright spot for the Lakers more often than not.
42. Marcus Camby, Denver: The NBA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year is aging gracefully. He played in 70 games for only the second time in his career last year, actually getting stronger as the season progressed. He blocked four or more shots in six of his last eight regular-season games and averaged more than 15 boards per game against the Spurs in the playoffs.
43. Gerald Wallace, Charlotte: He's similar to Marion in that he can play and defend multiple positions thanks to amazing athleticism. While Wallace didn't enter the league as polished as Marion, he made significant strides in all areas of the game and has yet to reach his ceiling.
44. Kevin Durant, Seattle: The Sonics are probably going to experiment and play him at shooting guard some, but for the purposes of these rankings, I decided to place Durant at his natural position. He won't be immune from typical rookie obstacles, but it would be shocking if he isn't Seattle's leading scorer.
45. Emeka Okafor, Charlotte: He has been listed as a power forward since coming into the league, but since the Bobcats plan to run under Sam Vincent, Okafor is likely to see significant time at the five. Ideally, he'll be able to flourish on both ends in an up-and-down style, which I believe will contribute to helping him post All-Star-caliber numbers.
46. Jason Richardson, Charlotte: The Bobcats are counting on him to come in firing, hoping he can loosen things up for the rest of the guys with his offensive prowess. As long as he takes smart shots and doesn't try and force the issue, he should deliver. Don't get down on him if he struggles early due to the change of scenery; Richardson is confident enough to overcome a slow start.
47. Kevin Martin, Sacramento: Despite the unconventional form, he has one of the sweetest strokes in the NBA right now. There isn't much the Kings can be sure about these days, but having wrapped Martin up with a five-year extension worth more than $10 million per, they can be certain one major piece is in place to begin the revitalization of the franchise.
48. Tyson Chandler, New Orleans: A new situation was exactly what Chandler needed, and there was no need for any adjustment period. He came in grabbing boards and swatting shots and never stopped, leading to an invitation to the U.S. National Team and increased expectations for 2007-08.
49. Zach Randolph, New York: The Knicks hope last season was a breakthrough for Randolph, and that he'll build upon that in his new surroundings. He stayed out of trouble, displayed growth and played hard consistently. He won't do much for New York defensively, but might wind up taking over the role of go-to guy from Eddy Curry. There's no denying Randolph's talent, just whether he's the right fit for the Knicks' bizarre jigsaw puzzle.
50. Al Jefferson, Minnesota: Paul Pierce made it possible for Jefferson to get a little breathing room in the paint in Boston, but he might not have that luxury with the Timberwolves. Teams are going to collapse on him in the post, but that's only going to make him better down the road. For now, though, he's in for more losing.
Also considered: Richard Jefferson, New Jersey; Kirk Hinrich, Chicago; Ron Artest, Sacramento; Josh Smith, Atlanta; Mike Miller, Memphis; Brandon Roy, Portland; Ben Gordon, Chicago; Mehmet Okur, Utah; Eddy Curry, New York; David West, New Orleans; Elton Brand, L.A. Clippers; Raja Bell, Phoenix; Rasheed Wallace, Detroit; Ben Wallace, Chicago; Shane Battier, Houston; Bruce Bowen, San Antonio; Andre Miller, Philadelphia; Jason Terry, Dallas; Leandro Barbosa, Phoenix; Stephon Marbury, New York; Mike Bibby, Sacramento; Nene, Denver; LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland; Corey Maggette, L.A. Clippers; Andrei Kirilenko, Utah; Stephen Jackson, Golden State.