By: Tyler Sherkin
Feb 02, 2011 22:51 PM EST
In honor of the All-Star Game this month, which is ultimately a glorified showcase of basketball's best talent, I wanted to take a look at the 10 players I personally enjoy watching the most on a nightly basis. Some of the choices are common, but a few are certainly surprising.
• Ray Allen
There really isn’t anyone in the league who moves without the ball better than Ray Allen and he’s just about the best jump shooter I’ve seen apart from Steve Nash, who does it a whole different way. Allen is a cagey, savvy veteran player but he’s been playing like this since he was at UConn. He’s borderline OCD, but it makes him one hell of a shooter and his attention to detail shows in how he plays the game.
• Kwame Brown
What? What’s he doing here? I took a lot of heat for years on the boards about Kwame, and still do occasionally, so it’s nice to see him playing well for the Bobcats and building a little on some things he started to do as soon as he left the Lakers. He’s having the best season of his career if you’re looking at his per-minute rates or what he’s done since Larry Brown’s departure. Surely, he’s no star, but for me, I really enjoy watching bigs play the game the right way. He’s rebounding and defending well and he’s playing some competent offense.
• Roy Hibbert
Especially now that Jim O’Brien is gone and he’s being permitted to play, Hibbert is a captivating player to watch. He won’t ever be mistaken for Shaq, but he’s a nice mid/low-post big with legitimate skills. Hibbert is a great passer, good defender, crummy rebounder (given his size), but he’s making strides. I love to watch his inside/outside offense and just how versatile he can be working from the elbow area and in the low post.
• LeBron James
He’s not the most varied player in terms of how he scores, but he’s a creative passer and an electric scoring threat who can throw down some big dunks. I like watching him if we get little flashes (just flashes) of Bird and Magic from him, with some ‘Nique in there as well. He never really puts it together quite the same way, but he’s pretty much the most physically gifted perimeter player in league history and he’s not just coasting on physical talent. He’s become a fantastic defender and has noticeably improved his shooting, which has left him a legitimate MVP candidate even though so many people are still obsessed with how he handled 2010 and he plays alongside Dwyane Wade. He’s still managing 26/7/7 on exceptional efficiency, which is simply ridiculous. His passing is really what gets it for me, and whenever Erik Spoelstra can force him into the post.
• Kevin Love
Rebounding. I mean, is there anything else to say? He’s having one of the best rebounding seasons we’ve had since Dennis Rodman retired. And that he might match the 20 and 15 Moses Malone posted in 82-83 (which we kind of thought Dwight Howard might do the last couple of seasons) is also pretty special. That he’s also a dominant offensive rebounder who shoots threes is even cooler.
It’s unfortunate that he languishes on such a bad team and that he’s catching flak from people who think that he’s not good just because the Wolves suck. There’s only so much you can do with a team that devoid of legitimate talent.
• Amar'e Stoudemire
Do I even need to explain? Even though he doesn’t drop the thunderous dunks with quite the frequency as he once did before the surgery, Stoudemire can still slam with the best of them and he’s better than any other big apart from Dirk Nowitzki at moving without the ball and working for short jumpers, milking the pick-and-roll, etc.
• Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk is one of those shooters that make jumpers fun. Plus, since he got roasted by the Warriors in the 2007 Playoffs, he’s turned himself into a hell of a post player. A 7-footer with 3-point range, a post game and pretty much the best perimeter jumper in the league apart from Nash’s (and maybe better, given how often he airs that thing out past the foul line and under the arc), he’s just all kinds of unique. There isn’t really anyone like him and he’s just a dominant offensive threat. Before the injury this year, too, he was having an insane run. It’s a real shame he got derailed, but he’s starting to pick it up again. Dirk has one of those Old Man Games that lasts because he never really relied on athletic ability in the first place, and now with the post game, he doesn’t even need to pull the first step out all that much.
• Steve Nash
Nash is the best shooter I’ve ever seen, and as a playmaker, there is really only one guy I’ve seen who did a better job and that was Magic Johnson. At somewhere between 6’2” and 6’3” and lacking explosive athleticism even on his best of days as a youngster, Nash still finds a way to break you down with the threat of his jumper and his handles. He’s got some of the best developed skills of any player in the league and is just such a massive offensive threat that he’s got the current Suns as a top-6 offense despite the dearth of serious talent around him and some of the offensive titan squads elsewhere in the league.
• Dwight Howard
I tried hard to put him number one because he’s the closest thing to a truly dominant power-post center (my favorite type of player) in the league. And he’s darn close. The rebounding, defense, jaw-dropping athleticism, it’s all there. He’s even starting to add some range, just about on the schedule I had him moving along, too. That’s satisfying. He’s about the same age as when Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing really started to refine their offensive games and develop what he now has. Orlando is starting to use him a little more offensively. He’s starting to pull out that 13-foot Tim Duncan banker from the left side of the floor and he’s finishing with a couple of new and effective moves inside and just outside of the paint, which is great. He’s even pushing boundaries and taking some 16- and 17-foot jumpers. If he gets the 17-footer down, he’s going to be a 25+ ppg player pretty soon as he’s already climbing towards 23.
• Blake Griffin
This guy had to be on this list, and he had to be saved for last. Blake Griffin is unquestionably the most exciting player in the league right now. He full-on reminds me of a 6’10 Charles Barkley. He is defined by power, speed and full-on aggression. He dunks through people, not on them, and it’s amazing. He has spin moves and hook shots and off-ball movement for days. Plus, he’s a wicked rebounder and a really surprising talent as a passer, which makes him even MORE fun when he’s setting up Baron Davis or DeAndre Jordan for dunks off of the defensive attention he receives.
Griffin is a fantastic young talent that looks even better day-by-day. His January splits were 26 ppg, 13.4 rpg and 4.4 apg. In December, they were “only” 23 ppg, 13.5 rpg and 3.9 apg. He’s pretty much found his stride as a mid-20s scorer, dominant rebounder and really good passer. The best part is, he isn’t even a turnover or foul factory; he’s simply this good.
We haven’t seen a rookie come in and do anything like this since Duncan and even Elton Brand’s rookie season wasn’t this good. Now, Blake isn’t the defender Duncan was back then, but Duncan also wasn’t this exciting and Blake doesn’t play with David Robinson.