So, everyone is ready to crown Wade the next Jordan... I absolutely love this guy, but I think we should stop and reflect for a second before calling him the next MJ. He has had one of the greatest playoff performances we've seen in the last 20 years, but the media and the NBA have been starving for a superstar like Wade for commercial reasons. Yet, when you examine Wade's game, I still think it's a step behind Jordan and Lebron. It's unfair to compare anyone to Jordan, but here is how I see the NBA Hierarchy today. Please disagree!
1) Lebron James - His game is more complete than Wade's because he has more range on his jumper (33.5% on the season compared to Wade's 17.1%). While I feel Lebron is currently better than Wade, he also has a higher ceiling. LB still hasn't fully developed his low post game. Once he does that, he will truly be unstoppable and I think even surpass Jordan because his court vision at this age is unheard of.
2) Dwayne Wade - It's difficult to place Wade higher than Kobe because Kobe is athletically superior (height, wingspan, vertical, etc), has the extra rings, and has a more complete game. But, Wade is the king of intangibles. He's not going to mail in the 2nd half of a game a la Kobe or Gilbert Arenas (a few years back) to make a personal point. I pick apart Wade for being an inch or two undersized and not having enough range or being careless with the basketball, but honestly when it comes down to the end of the game the intangibles are what matter. He finishes games and usually, it's the scrappier player who wins. In many ways, I feel Dwayne Wade is what Allen Iverson could have been if he had self-control and a couple inches in height. There's no one in the NBA today that plays harder than Wade or AI and I'd take them on my team anyday despite their physical limitations when compared to Kobe/T-Mac/VC/Etc.
3) Kobe Bryant - Everyone hates the guy, as do I, but on the court he does it all. Before game 7 in Phoenix, I think he was number 2, but that 2nd half really raised questions about whether you can win with this guy. He always had problems, but he showed up late in games and delivered so we looked past it. Will Kobe repeat his antics in a crucial game again? For my money, I'd rather have someone you can depend on even if he isn't as athletically gifted.
4) Tim Duncan - He had a sub-par regular season, but he showed in the playoffs he's still the Duncan we know. I think this may be his last hurrah as the league's best power forward with Brand and Nowitzki breathing down his neck.
5) Elton Brand - This may be a shocker, but I would rather have Brand than Nowitzki. Many people are in awe of Nowitzki shooting 3's as a 7-footer, which is fantastic, but I feel his ability is overvalued. Brand on the other hand is a career 50% shooter and gets it done on the defensive end as well with 2.5 blks/game and 10 rebs/game this year. While other players like Nowitzki or Garnett are better fantasy players, Brand is the better real life player because he can get you the low-post buckets at the end of games and he plays suffocating defense. He's the most consistent, dependable player this side of the Big Fundamental.
6) Dirk Nowitzki - If your power forward does what a power forward needs to do, and then also shoots 3's that's great, but Nowitzki doesn't get it done in the paint when it counts. He had a great run against the Spurs and the Suns, but Bowen and Marion were the primary defenders against Nowitzki in both series respectively. The two were vastly undersized and did not present low-post defensive challenges. The fact that a team is willing to guard your power forward with a small forward in itself says something about his game. When he needs buckets at the end of games in the post, he resorts to his slow fade-away jumper that frequently gets blocked by guards. Nowitzki's a great basketball player and has tremendous guard skills for a 7-footer, but unless Dallas gets an offensive post-force to pair with him, they will struggle in the playoffs. He has made big 3-point shots to win games and his dribble drive is devastating, but if you're going to play him at power forward, you have to have someone else to pick up the slack down low. He is not a complete player. Food for thought: is Reggie Bush the NFL's Dirk Nowitzki?
7) KG - The only knock against this guy is the lack of talent around him. If he were in the Eastern Conference, his Minnesota team probably would have reached the finals in '03-'04, but he's just never had the teammates to give him a chance against Shaq or Duncan. I think when we look back, we'll give him the nod over someone like Chris Webber, who had the teammates and didn't get it done, but we'll always wonder what KG and someone like AI could have done. I hate to penalize someone for a GM's mistakes, but that's exactly what's going to happen to KG's legacy. Without being able to see how he performs in an NBA Finals setting, we simply don't know if he has that little extra that champions have. Nowitzki is a great example. Through 3 rounds he looked like the MVP, but was exposed in the finals.
8) Allen Iverson - Like Duncan, age will become a factor any year now. He didn't slow down at all in '05-'06, but who knows how much longer he'll play with his body and style. Like Isiah was AI before AI. Allen Iverson was Dwayne Wade before Dwayne Wade. The problem was he didn't have a side kick like Shaq or even Antoine Walker for that matter. AI still catches a lot of grief for shot selection, but has he really ever had anyone to pass to? Yes, he shoots an average percentage (44.7%), but it's only .03 behind Redd, Lebron, Kobe and exactly the same as Gilbert Arenas. Additionally he has 7.4 assists per game to 3.4 turnovers while Wade sports a 6.7 to 3.6 assist/turnover rate. I'd honestly like to put Iverson higher on this list, but Iverson's attitude does affect his game during the regular season. Not showing up for the last game on fan appreciation day is hilarious, ironic, and defnitive of how AI will be viewed. I personally hold him up as one of the greatest players, but people will forever have trouble separating the non-basketball related from the related. He never let the attitude affect his game in the playoffs and he plays through injury more than anyone else, but he's the epitome of a tragic hero.
9) Gilbert Arenas - There's a drop-off between the top-8 players in the NBA and everyone else. We used to have a top-10 that was close all around with T-Mac healthy and Paul Pierce/Ray Allen/or Vince Carter playing up to their potential, but Pierce and Carter have been exposed in recent years for bad habits, shot selection, unwillingness to pass, etc. Pierce's footspeed also poses problems on the defensive end. Gilbert will never be as physically dominant as any of those guys, but he maximizes his potential and hits huge shots. Forget about his missed free-throw, the guy is ice cold at the end of games. Remember is 3-pointer from the parking lot against the Cavs this year? His numbers are very similar to Wade's, but when you watch him play, he just doesn't have that little extra explosiveness that great players have. Arenas is crafty, smart, and a lot of fun to watch, but he has already hit his ceiling.
10) Steve Nash - Why is Steve Nash so far down on this list? Nash is a great penetrator, passer, shooter, and his intangibles are fantastic, but he doesn't play good defense and he only fits certain offenses. He's in the perfect system for his talents because it masks his flaws by giving him more floor space to operate. The Suns spread the floor with jump shooters and force the opposing PG to guard Nash one on one. If anyone comes to help, Nash will find the open jump shooter. But, teams have continued to find ways to exploit him in the playoffs. He is not the strongest finisher and when he goes to the hoop, he's looking to pass. If you funnel him toward a big man and play help defense on the short side of the court, he can be stopped. Not many teams have the personnel to do it fast enough, but it can be done in the playoffs. Gilbert, AI, Wade, Lebron, these guys simply can't be stopped. Nash can get by anyone with his quickness and he'll shoot over defenders playing off, but if you force him to play one on one basketball with a longer guard, he has a lot of trouble (i.e. Shaun Livingston, Bruce Bowen in past years, Devin Harris). He's still a great player, but he doesn't have the variety or depth to his game other players have.
Honorable Mention: Yao Ming - If he plays at the level he did for the second half of this season, he's going to move up on this chart. Again, until we see T-Mac play 30-40 games in a row, I can't put him on this list; he looked awful this year. Amare is also coming back, but he had a very serious injury as well. Yao has never played up to his potential because he spent a large portion of his time watching T-Mac and thinking with the ball instead of making his move. This year, he was much more instinctive and dominant as well. He is not explosive, but the athleticism he does have is multiplied exponentially by his height. While he is still inconsistent, he seemed to turn the corner this year. His repertoire of moves has grown and he has a great turnaround, drop step, and the ol' Ewing travel move in the lane is nice. He should continue to get stronger, but the China commitments will always be a strain on his endurance/energy. It's a shame he broke his foot because the time he has to work in the off-season will be limited. He still needs to work on his passing out of the post as well as developing moves to counter small players who like to front him. Nevertheless, it will be fun to see him and Amare grow together the next few years. Once Greg Oden comes to the NBA, we may finally see the competition in the paint we haven't had since Ewing, Olajuwon, and Robinson played together.
Posted by Eddie Huang at 6/21/2006 8:41:00 AM