Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The 50 Most Valuable Players in the NBA: 40-26

This a continuation of my ranking of the 50 most valuable players in the league: For numbers 50-41, please go here:

40. Caron Butler (6-7/228; SF; 20.8 ppg 6.2 rpg 4.3 apg; 7 seasons)
Everything you could want in a SF, from size, to toughness, to a dynamic offensive repetoire. His averages of 20 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.3 apg, and 2 apg over the past three seasons put him in elite company, and he's just entering his prime. The only cause for concern surrounding Butler is the Wizards' dismal performance last season.

39. Carlos Boozer (6-9/266; PF; 16.2 ppg 10.4 rpg; 7 seasons)
The classic example of an extremely productive college player taken late in the draft due to concerns about his physicality, Boozer proved his worth immediately as a rookie, averaging 10 ppg and 7.5 rpg. He's since become a human double-double, averaging 19.4 and 10.8 over the past three seasons, while shooting 53.3% from the field. All that's holding him back from becoming a superstar are his mentality on the defensive end and nagging injuries.

38. Paul Millsap (6-8/250; PF; 13.5 ppg 8.6 rpg 53.4% FG; 3 seasons)
When you become the first player to lead the NCAA in rebounding three times - and leave college after your junior season - and that's not enough to warrant being picked in the top 45, well, there's something seriously wrong with that. Millsap set out to prove everyone wrong, and has since developed a reputation as one of the hardest-working players in the league. Wondering why he's ranked higher than Boozer? Well, last season he ripped off the longest double-double streak of any player in the league (16 games) and the Jazz were considerably better when Millsap was in the lineup in Boozer's absence. At 24, Millsap, who three years ago many expected never to see the floor, looks to become one of the game's elite power forwards.

37. Emeka Okafor (6-10/255; PF/C; 13.2 ppg 10.1 rpg 1.7 bpg 56.1% FG; 5 seasons)
Possibly the most underrated player in the league. Yes, he plays in Charlotte, and he struggled with injuries early in his career, but how many guys do you know that averaged a double-double their first five seasons in the league? Probably not more than two or three in the last 15 years. Also one of the league's top five post defenders, Okafor boasts a career average of 1.9 bpg, and is healthier than ever, missing not one game in the last two years. He won't put up numbers as gaudy as Dwight Howard's, but really, what more could you ask for?

36. Ben Gordon (6-3/200; SG; 20.7 ppg 45.5% FG; 5 seasons)
For a while, BG was the K-Rod of the NBA. He wouldn't start, but would come off the bench and light it up, especially in crunch time. Minute for minute one of the best scorers in the league, the 26-year old Gordon has an 18.5 ppg career scoring average despite starting in just 51% of his 602 career games. No player in the league - not DWade, not LeBron, not Agent Zero - is more fearless when it comes to shooting in seemingly impossible situations, and he has the ability to change a game unlike any other player in the league. Remember when I noted that Ray Allen's shot over 40% from three just two times in the past seven years? Well Ben Gordon's done it five years straight - every year of his career.

35. Monta Ellis (6-3/180; Combo Guard; 19 ppg 4.3 rpg; 4 seasons)
Injury and character issues overwhelmed talk of Ellis' tremendous talent last season, but barring any future motorcycle accidents, we can expect the firey combo guard who imossibly shot 53.1% from the floor, despite routinely taking some of the hardest shots imaginable, en route to averaging 20.2 ppg in 2007-08. Still just 23, and already one of the league's most feared scorers, Ellis just has to prove he can run a team to be considered among the game's elite guards.

34. Greg Oden (7-0/285; C; 8.9 ppg 7 rpg 56.4% FG; 1 season)
Still plagued by the injury that cancelled his rookie season, Oden, still only 21, is locked and loaded for the 2009-10 season, in the best shape of his life. While he wasn't a dominant force on the offensive end, Oden lived up to his billing as a defender, averaging 7 rpg and 1 block in only 21.5 minutes a night (11.6 rpg and 1.9 bpg per 36 minutes), while shooting 56.4% from the floor. He's still every bit as talented as he was when he entered the league, and expect him to make good on his being selected first overall in '07 as he anchors a Trailblazers team that may soon be atop the West.

33. Paul Pierce (6-7/235; SF; 20.5 ppg 5.6 rpg; 11 seasons)
The Celtic depended on to win games, Pierce relishes the spotlight like none other and still plays twice as hard as anyone on the opposing team. He's lost a step and perhaps relies too much on his size and strength to score, but he's still as gutsy, clutch - and productive, of course - as they make 'em. Pierce continues to define veteran leadership, and he didn't need that Finals MVP trophy to validate it.

32. Rudy Gay (6-8/222; SF; 18.9 ppg 5.5 rpg; 3 seasons)
Deemed something of a dissapointment at UConn after being touted as the #1 college recruit and failing to beat George Mason in the tournament, little was expected of Gay when he slipped to the Rockets late in the lottery - they thought so little of him, in fact, that they traded him to Memphis for Shane Battier, who the previous year had averaged 10.1 ppg. Lacking a jump shot and motivation, Gay's shocked almost everyone by becoming a prolific scorer, averaging 19.5 ppg over the past two seasons, due to added muscle and hustle, evidence of his becoming increasingly motivated. He hasn't yet found success with the Grizzlies, but he's done a great job in leading a very young team and demonstrating why he's one of the absolute most talented players in the game. With two college seasons and three NBA seasons under his belt, Gay is still somehow just 22, projecting that he might one day become the superstar he seemed destined to be out of high school.

31. Andre Iguodala (6-6/207; SG/SF; 18.8 ppg 5.7 rpg 5.3 apg; 5 seasons)
At 24, Igu, who's played two years of college ball but might as well have come out of high school according to his age, is one of the rare prospects drafted in the lottery solely due to his athleticism and potential that actually panned out. The second-most durable player in the league since he came in (teammate Andre Miller is first), Iguodala has played in 404 out of a possible 410 games, playing all 82 every year but one, and blossomed into one of the most well-rounded players in the league, averaging 19 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.7 apg, and 1.9 spg over the last three seasons. And he's still just 24.

30. Rajon Rondo (6-1/171; PG; 11.9 ppg 8.2 apg 5.2 1.9 spg 3 seasons)
When a 23-year old point guard averages 16.9-9.8-9.7 in the playoffs, and his GM is doing everything within his power to try to trade him, you know something's wrong. Word is that Rondo's insane - uncoachable, stubborn, selfish - but unlike, say, Zach Randolph and Stephon Marbury, about whom similar things are said, Rondo produces across the board and flat out wins games. The numbers he compiled in the post-season, in which the Celtics were one game away from the conference finals despite playing the entire playoffs without their best player, are simply staggering, the sutff legends are made of. An outstanding defender and top-notch game manager, Rondo is still weak offensively and many argue that he is a product of his environment. That said, he's still very, very young, and what he's accomplished in his first couple years is at least enough to offset claims about his mental state.

29. Jose Calderon (6-3/210; PG; 12.9 ppg 8.9 apg 98.1% FT)
I love point guards, and Calderon, to me, is almost perfect. The numbers he's posted over the past couple seasons, since taking over the starting role, are just bananas. In 2007-08, he averaged 8.3 apg and 1.5 TO, an A/TO ratio of 5.53:1, the greatest of all-time; Last season he averaged 8.9 apg to a mere 2.1 TO, good enough to lead the league again. What's more, he shot 98.1% from the charity stripe, another all-time record. How many records does he need to set before he gets some respect around here?? At 27, Calderon is just entering his prime, and having started for just one entire season, appears to just be scratching the surface of his potential.

28. Gilbert Arenas (6-4/215; Combo Guard; 8 seasons)
During the beginning of his tenure as a Wizard everybody was obsessed with trying out figure out who Agent Zero really is, with his wacky off-court persona and fittingly untraditional game. But now, people are wondering who Gilbert Arenas is, and they're not kidding around. After a couple seasons among the league's scoring leaders, Arenas has played 15 games in the past two seasons; Penny Hardaway never missed so many games over a two-year span. Gilbert is capable - or was capable - of putting up 30, 40, 50, even 60 points on any given night, but hasn't acheived an A/TO ratio over 2:1 in any year, most times not even coming close, including one year in which he averaged 5.0 apg and 4.1 TO. That's unacceptable for a PG. But despite all this, he can be as valuable as they come, as witnessed by Washington's complete and utter collapse without him last season. He may well be one of the game's best players, but he has more to prove than anyone else in the NBA.

27. LaMarcus Aldridge (6-11/240; PF/C; 18.1 ppg 7.5 rpg; 3 seasons)
A most deserving companion to Brandon Roy, the former 2nd-overall pick has fully lived up to his billing as a supremely agile big man with a mature offensive game. He doesn't quite rebound or block shots like he should - yet - but he's become an incredibly efficient player (78.4% FT, only 1.5 TO), and should start averaging over 20 ppg in the next couple seasons. The truth is, players with Aldridge's size and skill level, at his age, aren't totally uncommon, and the best part of Aldridge's game is the way he utilizes all his tools on every possession and exercises his potential to the max.

26. Joe Johnson (6-7/240; SG/SF; 21.4 ppg 5.8 apg; 8 seasons)
A silent assassin, Johnson came to the Hawks with the expectation of improving upon the numbers he posted in Phoenix, but nobody could have thought he would have turned the entire franchise around so quickly. He's simply been one of the best players in the league since he arrived in Atlanta, averaging 22.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 4.3 rpg over that four year span, leading his exceptionally young squad to 26 wins, 30 wins, 37 wins, and 47 wins in his tenure. He's not the flashiest star, but he's on his way to becoming one of the most accomplished.

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