For all those people who have decided they are not fans of the NBA, that it’s “not the same game it was,” that the athletes are show-offs or you just can’t relate to the hip-hop culture of it all; I feel sorry for you. Right now the NBA has the most talent it’s had in years. It has young, exciting players. It has players who have already punched their ticket to Springfield, but are playing with the energy of rookies. It has morphed into a global game, with talent from countries all over the world joining in. It has pass-first PGs, electric finishers, highly athletics centers and 7-footers who can shoot the three. It’s a mix unlike any we’ve seen in the NBA, and perhaps any professional sport in America. Don’t believe me?
Just look at the list below and try to come up with a time where there was a wider and deeper array of talent in the league.
- LeBron James – He’s a 6’8” point forward that is built like a house and has a 40” vertical leap. He took a team with Drew Gooden as its second-best player, to the Finals. He is already 6th all-time in PPG in NBA history. Only he and Oscar Robertson averaged over 25 ppg, 6 rpg and 6 apg in their first 4 years. He just turned 23, and still has 4 years until he reaches his prime. If you don’t watch one Cavs game this year, you are doing yourself a disservice.
Kobe Bryant – Say what you will about the man, but the basketball player is as close to Michael Jordan as you will see. He has an absolutely unstoppable offensive arsenal and a killer instinct that is flat-out frightening on the court. This is his 12th year in the league, but he won’t turn 30 until after the season. The way he and his Lakers are playing, that might not be for awhile.
- Dwight Howard – Here is the list of players who have averaged 20 ppg, 15 rpg and shot 60% from the field in a season: Wilt Chamberlain, Age 30. Here is what the list might look like at the end of the season: Wilt Chamberlain, 30, and Dwight Howard, 22. Dwight Howard is Shaq, only if Shaq was athletic enough to do this in a dunk contest. It will surprise me if he is not the best player in the league in 2 years.
- Chris Paul – How about a list of players who have averaged 20 ppg, 10 apg, and 2.5 spg: Isiah Thomas – and he wasn’t shooting 48% from the field like Chris Paul is. Paul is arguably the quickest player in the league and makes everyone on his team better. He has the Hornets 2.0 games out of the top spot in the West. Like Howard, he is 22 years old and his mark on the game will be unmistakable in a couple years.
Veterans Turning Back Time
- Kevin Garnett – Rejuvenated in Boston – Garnett could very well take home the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards this year. You will not find a more competitive player in the league and if he had the same coach and supporting cast as Duncan, he may be regarded as the greatest power forward of all time.
- Steve Nash – Has won 2 MVPs, but currently is averaging the most assists of his career (12.0) for the West-leading Suns. He averaged 14.0 assists in December and – at 51% from the field, 46% from 3 and 89% from the FT line – he might be the best shooter in the NBA as well. Turns 34 in February.
- Tim Duncan – The most decorated player in the league right now. He has 4 championships, 2 MVPs and 3 NBA finals MVPs. He’s been selected to the NBA First Team in 9 of his 10 years in the league. Almost any other player with those credentials would be talked about non-stop around the country. But since Duncan’s best traits may be the ability to make his teammates better and his boring, yet unstoppable post-moves, “the greatest power forward ever” will continue to play out of the media spotlight.
- Allen Iverson – Instead of re-writing my post from the other day, you can just check it out here.
- Jason Kidd – To be legitimately flirting with averaging a triple-double (11.6 ppg, 10.7 apg, 8.7 rpg), in this day-in-age, at nearly 35 years old is just stupid. Had 3 straight games with a triple double this week and also had 19 rebounds in one game this year.
- Carmelo Anthony – Overshadowed by his draft classmate, (LeBron) and now his new teammate (Iverson) people seem to forget Anthony is only 23 years old, was leading the league in scoring before the Iverson trade and was often times the go-to guy on the US National Team in the qualifying round. Of players who played 3 or more seasons in the NBA before the age of 24, he has the 6th highest scoring average.
- Dwyane Wade – “Flash” won the NBA Finals and was the finals MVP at age 24. Afterwards, it looked like he was on his way to being the most popular player in the NBA, leading the league in jersey sales for 2 straight seasons. Injuries and a horrendous supporting cast have put him out of the spotlight this year, but at 25, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
- Chris Bosh – 6’10” lefty with a sweet stroke (85% from the FT line) and solid interior game, Bosh led the Raptors back into the playoffs as the Atlantic division champs last year. He was the first player since Duncan and Garnett to average 22 points and 10 rebounds in a single season before the age of 24. Like ‘Melo and King James, he is only 23 years old and years away from his prime.
- Amare Stoudemire – Like Dwight Howard, Stoudemire has the type of athleticism that no one his size should have. He’s was on the verge of becoming the dominant force in the league (26 ppg at 22 years old) before his microfracture surgery. Now 25, he seems to have fully recovered and has gone back to being the leading scorer on the team with best record in the West.
- Yao Ming – The “Dream Team” invasion at the 1992 summer Olympics spread basketball to children throughout the world. Now – those children have grown-up playing basketball and many other countries are producing superior NBA talent, making it a uniquely global game. No foreign player has had more impact on the league than the 7’6” Yao Ming. His match-up with fellow countryman Yi Jianlian this year drew 200 million viewers in China (the highest rated Super Bowl ever drew 140 million American viewers). His social impact notwithstanding, Yao has turned himself into a great NBA center – good for 20 and 10 a night, a really good passer and team player and he has to be the only 7 ½ footer on the planet that could shoot 87% from the FT line, 14th best in the NBA.
- Dirk Nowitzki – Speaking of tall people shooting… Nowitzki has already made more than 7 times as many 3-pointers as any other 7-footer in NBA history. His release point makes his shot un-blockable and his game peaked last year as he won his first MVP. He has led the Mavs to 58, 60 and 67 wins in the last 3 years.
- Brandon Roy – When Greg Oden went down before his first NBA game, the media buried the 2008 season for the Blazers and some went as far as burying the entire franchise. Then Brandon Roy grabbed a shovel. Since December 1, the 23 year old, 6’7” SG has gone for 20.8 ppg, 6.5 apg and 5.5 rpg while leading the Blazers to a ridiculous 17-2 record. He looks very much like the next Paul Pierce. And imagine how good the Blazers will be when they get back…
- Kevin Durant / Greg Oden – The most celebrated rookie tandem since Shaq and Zo, Durant and Oden dominated the college game for their one year and both looked like can’t-miss superstars. However, Oden got hurt and the 19 year-old Durant is playing out of position for a team that provides him no real help (but still averaging 20ppg). It’s easy to see either of these guys becoming a huge part of the NBA’s future.
- Andrew Bynum - Apparently he took Kobe’s whining about not having enough talent on the team to heart. Bynum, who is not yet of drinking age, dunks EVERYTHING he catches. He is second in the NBA in FG% and 3rd among centers in efficiency (behind only Howard and Yao). He is developing post moves rapidly and we could see a Dwight Howard-type leap in a couple years.
The Next Stockton and Malone
- Deron Williams – Just a hair below Chris Paul. He can shoot the 3 (42%), create his shot (52% from the floor), find the open man (9.1 apg) and, with the same measurements as Dwyane Wade, he is a very physical PG.
- Carlos Boozer – Along with Williams, 23, Boozer, 26, led the Jazz to the Western Conference finals last year. He does everything right. He is a great rebounder, doesn’t take bad shots (56% from the field) and unlike the league leaders in FG%, he has a phenomenal 10-12 foot jump shot. He is the 6th most efficient player in the league behind James, Paul, Stoudemire, Garnett and Howard. With Williams and Boozer playing into their prime together, its possible they could bring Utah the championship Malone and Stockton couldn’t.
Also could have mentioned: Baron Davis, Tony Parker, Josh Smith, Caron Butler, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Gilbert Arenas, Al Jefferson, Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol.
Not mentioned on purpose: Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Redd.