With the NBA off-season now moving about as quickly as Luc Longley in a layup line, we have time to step back and make predictions, lists, power rankings, and all that other good stuff. Over the next five days we’ll be looking at the best the league has to offer at each position, starting today with the guards.
You know the drill by now; if you want to reach me with your questions, comments or criticism, I’m available at [email protected].
Although there are various factors and formulae considered by others to create such a list, mine is dependent on a single question: “Which player would you take with your first pick if you had one season to win a championship?” This eliminates all issues of long-term potential, suitability to an environment, and anything else which might affect their stock. In short, the players below are judged solely on their ability to generate wins.
So, with that mess out of the way, let’s get down to business.
The NBA’s Top Ten Guards: Part One
LeBron James will undoubtedly be the best guard on the planet next year.
He has more than exceeded expectations thus far, pushing his limits seemingly on a weekly basis. If I had claimed before he was drafted that he’d have a 27-7-7 year as early as his sophomore season, even the most dedicated of his fans would have shot me a look that questioned the prediction. As it is, we all have a different look on our faces now that we’ve seen King James assume the throne and lay a royal beatdown on the rest of the league.
If he continues to improve at the rate he has thus far, 2006 will see him coming the closest to a triple-double average since Big O stepped away from the game. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll still boast a monster line and the reputation as the man who somehow played beyond the incredible hype that surrounded him before he ever signed a professional deal.
As much of a mystery as he is to anyone outside of his inner circle, there’s no denying that Kobe Bryant remains one of the most talented athletes in all of sports. With nine professional seasons under his belt, three rings in his jewellery box, and twenty-seven-year-old legs beneath him, he remains a formidable force, more capable than anyone in the league of dropping forty on a given night. While his influence on team chemistry and his ability to lead a franchise have been questioned, he more than answers these with numbers and big-time performances. When the game is on the line, there’s not a player in the league I’d rather give the ball than KB8.
Another prep-to-pro phenomenon rounds out the top three. T-Mac may have taken a minute to show us what he could do, but now that he has, he doesn’t want to let us forget it. With improved defensive capabilities and another season’s experience to his name, McGrady is set to cause problems for his opponents next year with his long arms (7’4’’ wingspan), leaping ability and wet jumper. Now, at nearly 6’10’’ (he has grown considerably since he was measured as a rookie), he has the size and game that make him a unique specimen even in a league full of tall, skilled players. There is not, nor has there been in recent memory, a defender with the physical talent to contain McGrady, and it is for that reason that he takes this spot.
Although the first player on the list to have attended college, Dwyane is still a young ‘un, and his game is coming along as that of any player of his age and experience. However, unlike most second-year players, Flash has carried a team deep into the playoffs, showing the composure and maturity of a seasoned veteran, putting up look-at-me numbers along the way. Although others would select a more established player at this point, Wade’s talent and proven ability to adapt to circumstances (e.g. Detroit’s defence) make him too good to pass up at four.
Sure, he’s getting a little long in the tooth. Sure, his aging frame has taken twenty years’ worth of beatings in less than ten. Sure, he stands a true 5’10’’ and has shot less than forty-two percent from the field for his career. But with Allen Iverson, none of the conventional measures of worth are applicable. With a heart bigger than any seven-footer and the ability to drop thirty on a nightly basis, the former MVP retains his position among the league’s elite guards. Although there’s only so much time left before something gives out permanently, it would be pessimistic not to expect at least another season or two of world-class production from Philly’s favourite little man.
Check back tomorrow for the second half of the league’s ten best guards. Until then, take it easy.