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 where 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: Kobe Bryant (1), LeBron James (2), Dwyane Wade (3), Chris Paul (4) and Dwight Howard (5).
Before people jump all over this list and start screaming for LeBron James, the biggest reason why LeBron is no longer in the top five after being rated No. 2 last year is simply because he gave up his top-five ranking when he signed with the Miami Heat and become Dwyane Wade’s sidekick. LeBron’s decision to leave his Batman status in Cleveland and settle for the Robin of South Beach was a stunning admission by the self-proclaimed king of basketball that he doesn’t want to be the leading man and is perfectly content playing a supporting role. If LeBron leads the Heat to a championship and wins Finals MVP then he regains his status as a top-five player. But for the time being, he’s at No. 6.
OneManFastBreak.net rates the five best players in the NBA in 2011.
5. DWIGHT HOWARD
Orlando Magic, Center
Superman II remains the most dominant big man in the game today. Though his statistics were not-so-super in 2010, he redeemed himself by increasing his scoring (22.9) and rebounding (14.1) in 2011. His shot-blocking remains superb (2.4 per game) and he has added a few post moves to his offensive repertoire. The extra moves boosted his scoring average from 18.3 in 2010 to 22.9 in 2011. He also averaged more field goal attempts (13.4) while maintaining his high-percentage shooting (59%). Even though the Magic had a disappointing run in the postseason, losing to the Hawks in the first round, Howard did everything but sell popcorn in the series, averaging 27 points and 15 rebounds. Howard has very little competition at the center position so he should be able to lock up first-team status for the next five to 10 years.
4. DERRICK ROSE
Chicago Bulls, Point Guard
Since becoming the face of the Chicago Bulls in 2008, Derrick Rose has been nothing short of sensational. He has managed to carve his own stature for a franchise that housed the great Michael Jordan and the incomparable Scottie Pippen. Rose is different from other superstars. He is quiet and humble, and always quick to point to himself whenever he makes a mistake. That is quite refreshing when you think about it, especially since the majority of stars in the NBA rarely blame themselves for anything. Rose’s game has evolved so much that he went from not being ranked last year on OMFB to No. 4, jumping over Dwight Howard. In just three seasons, Rose has become the league MVP and unquestioned leader of a team that reached the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. He jumped his scoring average from 20.8 in 2010 to 25.0 in 2011, and his improved his shooting from the 3-point line (from 26% to 33%) and free throw line (76% to 85%).
3. 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 with a spectacular regular season but he enhanced his reputation as a big-time performer with a very good series against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. Without a doubt, Wade was Miami’s best player in The Finals. Through the first five games of the series, you could argue that Wade was the best player in the series 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. Nonetheless, Wade reaffirmed his place in the game with another outstanding postseason.
And now, for the top two. Drum roll please ….
2. KOBE BRYANT
Los Angeles Lakers, Shooting Guard
The Black Mamba has been the best player on the planet (according to OMFB) the last four years, but age and tons of mileage on his body 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 32-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.
1. 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. Dirk Nowitzki finally shed the poor perception about him and rewrote history. With exception of a few occasions, the MVP of the NBA Finals should be considered the No. 1 player in the game. And, without a doubt, Dirk Nowitzki has earned the right to be called THE BEST PLAYER 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)