Each year, OneManFastBreak.net ranks the five best players in the NBA. The ranking system is based on ONE MAN’S opinion and doesn’t conform to the All-NBA format in which you have to pick one center, two forwards and two guards. It is strictly based on last season’s performance, regardless of position, with more weight placed in how each player did in the playoffs. Last season’s top five: Dwight Howard (5), Derrick Rose (4), Dwyane Wade (3), Kobe Bryant (2), and Dirk Nowitzki (1).
Last season, LeBron James was left off the list because of his epic meltdown in the NBA Finals. Totally different story this year. Also, Nowitzki shot to No. 1 over Kobe after his superb performance in the 2011 Finals, capping it off by leading the Mavericks to their first championship. But Nowitzki celebrated a little too much during the offseason and came into the lockout-shortened season way out of shape. That embarrassing episode knocks Dirk down a few spots.
OneManFastBreak.net rates the five best players in the NBA in 2012.
5. DWYANE WADE
Miami Heat, Shooting Guard
Some thought D-Wade’s status as one of the five best players in the game would come down a peg with the arrival of LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami. Well, not only did Wade find a way to coexist with two other superstars but he enhanced his reputation as a big-time performer with some superb games in the 2011 and 2012 postseasons. Without a doubt, Wade is Miami’s No. 1 option in the clutch. Through the first five games of the 2011 Finals, you could argue that Wade was the best player in basketball and was on his way to a second NBA Finals MVP until his buddy LeBron failed to support him in the last five games. Wade scored 22, 36, 29, 32 and 23 points for the Heat, but somehow disappeared in Game 6 as the Mavericks clinched the championship on the Heat’s home floor. In 2012, Wade was hampered by all sorts of injuries and it really hampered his game. Despite a swollen left knee, a bad ankle, and a bad finger, Wade pushed through and led the Heat to their second NBA title in 2012. Wade picked his spots during Miami’s playoff run, but his signature moments came in the Indiana series when he put on spectacular performances on the road. Wade admits his buddy and teammate LeBron is better than him, but that doesn’t diminish Wade’s standing in the basketball hierarchy.
4. DIRK NOWITZKI
Dallas Mavericks, Forward
First, I’d like to apologize to Dirk for not including him on the list last season. But even after his stupendous performance in the 2011 NBA playoffs, leading the Mavericks to their first NBA title and winning the Finals MVP, I still have a hard time figuring out how in the world did Dirk did it. I mean, this was a guy who, in the previous 12 years of his career, has been labeled “soft” or “can’t win the big one.” All of that changed once the playoffs began as Nowitzki went on an incredible run that saw him destroy Kobe, Kevin Durant, LeBron and D-Wade. Winning a championship certainly solidified Dirk’s place in history, and removed all doubt about his ability to rise to the occasion. It began in the Portland series in which the Mavericks used a devastating playoff loss to fuel a turnaround that is not usually associated with a Dallas team. Then, in the Lakers series, Dirk and the Mavs seemingly had answer for anything Phil Jackson threw at them. In the West finals against Oklahoma City, Nowitzki outgunned Durant, including two 40-point games. Against the star-studded Heat in The Finals, Nowitzki exorcised his demons with two game-winning baskets – one against Bosh and the other against Udonis Haslem, his old nemesis from 2006. Dirk also showed tremendous grit by playing almost the entire series with a torn tendon in his left finger. Not many picked the Mavericks to win the championship, but it’s a testament to Dirk and the resilient Mavs for proving to all those so-called basketball experts out there (including the editor of OMFB) that perception and history are overrated. Nowitzki finally shed the poor perception about him and rewrote history.
3. KOBE BRYANT
Los Angeles Lakers, Shooting Guard
The Black Mamba had been the best player on the planet (according to OMFB) four of the last five years, but age and tons of mileage has finally caught up with No. 24. The two-time NBA Finals MVP and five-time world champion still had a decent season, but “decent” is not a word normally associated with the always driven Bryant. He suffered through a very average series against Dallas in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals, and without his usual explosiveness Bryant was pinned to the floor and barely had any lift on his legs. The most telling statistic in the L.A.-Dallas series was Bryant’s inability to get easy buckets. He went to the line just 15 times in the four-game sweep, and didn’t have any dunks. At this stage of Kobe’s career, he’s not into statistics or individual awards. It’s all about The Ring. He knows his Lakers are built for the long haul and he doesn’t have to carry the load night after night. Besides, the soon-to-be 33-year-old star understands that he needs to start preserving his body. Although when challenged, he can always put on his Black Mamba game face and devour anyone who tries to get in his path. He knows his legacy is secured and his Hall-of-Fame pass is waiting for him at the doors of Springfield, Mass. About the only thing missing on his checklist is the No. 7. That’s the number championship rings he needs to win to surpass Jordan.
2. KEVIN DURANT
Oklahoma City Thunder, Forward
Even though Durant fell three games short of his ultimate goal, he still had one heck of a season. He captured his third straight league scoring title and led the Thunder to the NBA Finals. He was at his best in the fourth quarter and had the most game-winners of any player in the 2012 postseason. He beat Dallas with a floater in Game 1 of the Western Conference first round, and then had two game-winners against the L.A. Lakers in the conference semifinals. In Game 2 against the Lakers, he led a furious Thunder rally in the final two minutes of the game and capped it off with a difficult baseline jumper that put OKC up for good. In Game 4 at Staples Center in L.A., Durant delivered one of the most memorable shots of the playoffs when he stared down Metta World Piece and delivered a dagger shot through the hearts of Laker fans with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc that essentially locked down the series. In the conference finals against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, Durant put the Thunder on his back numerous times and put on a shooting exhibition in the fourth quarters. The only thing that is keeping Durant from being the game’s best closer is a championship, and he’s getting extremely close.
And now, the No. 1 player in the world. Drum roll please . . .
1. LEBRON JAMES
Miami Heat, Forward
Finally! After nine seasons and two epic failures in The Finals LeBron can now call himself a champion. “It’s about damn time!” LeBron said after leading the Heat past the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals. James capped off an unbelievable postseason by posting some video game-type numbers in The Finals: 28 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists. James was remarkably focused from the beginning of the playoffs, a stark contrast from last season’s “shrinking” performances that culminated in an embarrassing 4-2 loss to Dallas in the 2011 Finals. James said the Mavs series humbled him and he learned an important lesson. It made him make some significant changes on and off the court, including adding a post-up game. LeBron reduced the amount of 3-point attempts and made a concerted effort to take the ball to the basket. He put together one of the most dominant and efficient regular seasons in league history, and earned his third MVP award. He raised his level of play during the postseason and the signature moment came in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston when he scored 45 points to force a Game 7 in Miami. In the NBA Finals, James exorcised his demons with a performance for the ages. He outplayed Kevin Durant and earned the Bill Russell trophy, awarded to the most outstanding player of The Finals. James is going to continue to have his critics for the way he left Cleveland, but you have to give it up to the man. He has endured a ton of criticism the past two seasons and rose to the challenge, proving to the whole world that he is THE BEST IN THE GAME.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/onemanfastbreak. (Photos courtesy of Getty Images and US Presswire)