Ball Don't Lie - NBA

As summer winds down and the day-to-day "news" falls flat, BDL will be ranking each NBA position, 1-through-30. Or, more accurately, 30-through-1. Here's an explanation.

In this post, we take on the small forwards, 11-through-1. Click the jump for another explanation.

We begin this one, with some news.

Reggie Williams(notes) wasn't supposed to make this list. Don't go and tell him, there's really no point in that, but it chopping up these rankings into three layers and continually moving people around and taking them out as I went along, I published for 31 players, not 30. Not in any way that could be worked around, lest I leave a more deserving player off.

So this afternoon's list will have 11 players, and you'll just have to move everyone else on this small forward list down a peg. And Reggie Williams, poor guy, is now at number 31. Matt Barnes(notes), I think it was, is at 32. Just in case you were wondering.

. Danilo Gallinari(notes), New York Knicks (last year: unranked)

New York's brightest and bestest (until Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) came along) wasn't even close to being ranked last year after he struggled through a gimpy rookie season. While I have some issues regarding his shot selection and overall play during his second year, I can't discount someone at this age (he turned 22 a few weeks ago) scoring this much (about 15 a game). The guy has major holes in every other area of his game, and averaging six 3-point attempts per 33 minutes of play last season is out and out wrong, but there's potential here if Danilo wants to put in the work.

. Rudy Gay(notes), Memphis Grizzlies (last year: 18th)

Believe me, I'm with you.

Gay didn't deserve the contract he just signed, he's certainly not twice the player that he was last season (in jumping from 18th to 10th), and there's always a sound chance the Grizzlies forward will fall off a bit now that he's secured his massive contract. Considering how stagnant his career has been of late (and that's putting it nicely; his career-year, thus far, was in 2007-08, and he's fallen off in the two seasons since), it wouldn't be a surprise.

But he can play. He can score, shoot a passable-enough percentage and pile up buckets without having many plays called for him. I'm not going to demean what he can do just because others have overrated him and forgotten about what he can't do.

. Andrei Kirilenko(notes), Utah Jazz (last year: 24th, but as a power forward)

Does A.K. seem a bit high? Of course he does. But unlike some of the guys ranked just below him - your Gays, Gallinaris and Maggettes - Kirilenko consistently does it all. Everything. Plus defense, too, Rudy, Corey and Danilo. You know, half the game?

Sure, those 5X5 days have passed, but Kirilenko runs things on a level that doesn't lend itself to too many big stats these days. He's got a little Bobby Gross in him now, setting screens, making entry passes or setting up the big man at the high post who will then toss the assist that makes it to the box score. Along with 12 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.6 combined blocks/steals in only 29 minutes a game.

And with Carlos Boozer(notes) moving on and replacement-of-sorts Al Jefferson(notes) possibly seeing more time at center than anywhere else, A.K. could have plenty of minutes sent his way in 2010-11. Remember, this is what the list is based around - who will have the best year in 2010-11.

. Luol Deng(notes), Chicago Bulls (last year: 19th)

After a year or two in the wilderness, Luol finally got his wits about him in 2009-10, averaging 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds alongside his typically sound defense. Deng also chipped in about a steal and block per game, and this is important: Luol came in at under two turnovers a game for the sixth time in a six-year career. I understand that his midrange, rarely dribbling game doesn't see him taking many chances, but to be able to field a solid-scoring forward for nearly 38 minutes a game and see him turn the ball over just 1.9 times per? Good stuff.

. Paul Pierce(notes), Boston Celtics (last year: fifth)

Paul's best days are clearly behind him. He can still load up and take the Celtics' offense on his back for long stretches, but it's not a given or something to be consistently relied upon.

He'll turn 33 in training camp, but he also posted a career high in overall shooting percentage (47.2 percent) and 3-point percentage (41.4) last season, on his way to 18.5 points per game. Same thing goes for his work (85.2 percent) at the line. His rebounds fell last year, but so did his turnovers, the mark of a player growing more efficient as he moves along. This is pretty cool.

If he all but sustains that next season? Then he's ranked too low.

. Danny Granger(notes), Indiana Pacers (last year: fourth)

Indiana's go-to guy slipped a bit in 2009-10, dropping his points-per-game average down nearly two ticks and shooting the worst percentage of his NBA career. The good end to that is Danny still dropped over 24 points a game, and that at age 27 upon entering October's training camp, he'll be just about ready to enter his prime. Now all he needs is some help. Lots of it.

. Andre Iguodala(notes), Philadelphia 76ers (last year: eighth, but at shooting guard)

Entering 2010-11, with Doug Collins at the helm of the Sixers, there's a very good chance A.I. could really burn up a few box scores.

You see, Doug likes it when one guy dominates the ball. He's the guy that put Michael Jordan at point guard, and had him averaging eight assists a game one year. He's the guy that ran the same screen-and-roll for Grant Hill(notes) to make decisions, consistently, from 1995-97. He'll have plays galore, but there will always be one guy initiating everything. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing; Collins' Bulls and Pistons teams were always a step behind the championship contenders, but it should help A.I.'s fantasy ranking, at the very least.

. Gerald Wallace(notes), Charlotte Bobcats (last year: seventh)

Defense is half the game, and though Wallace's roaming instincts were reined in a smidge last season, it's that work on the other side of the ball that has this man as a top five player at his position.

The stuff that shows up in your morning paper doesn't hurt his case, either. He averaged 18.2 points and 10 rebounds last season, with 2.6 combined blocks and steals and two assists per game. Alongside right-there defense.

I would have no problem and am not trying to draw attention nor hits (you've already clicked on the darn thing) in flipping him with Carmelo Anthony(notes) on more than a few nights. Anthony's offense is as good as Wallace's D, but Wallace's offense is so, so much better than Carmelo's defense.

3. Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets (last year: third)

As expected, Anthony bounced back from a relatively poor 2008-09 to drop over 28 points a game last season.

And while 28.2 points per game, compiled in a pretty efficient turn, is to be celebrated and compensated for, that's just about all there is to Carmelo. Those 28 a game. Little in the way of defense, rebounding, playmaking or work off the ball. I'm not going to blame Carmelo for Denver's inability to make it out of the Western bracket year after year, but to group him in with the James-Wade-Kobe-Paul-KD crowd is just laughable.

Kevin Durant(notes), Oklahoma City Thunder (last year: second)

I got a bit of stick for ranking Durant ahead of Carmelo last year, but the kid came through as expected, and it doesn't look nearly as off this time around.

Over 30 points a game on nearly 48 percent shooting for Durant last season, at age 21. Ridiculous. He averaged 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 combined steals and blocks and 2.8 assists. He got to the line a league-leading 10.2 times per contest, something that is absolutely killer for teams that struggle to score. Putting teams in the penalty, allowing someone like Nick Collison(notes) to earn a cheap two points for getting hacked on a tip-in attempt is huge. And that's all on Durant.

And he doesn't turn 22 until five weeks from now.

. LeBron James(notes), Miami Heat (last year: first)

By now we know what we're dealing with, with LeBron.

The guy is lost. We probably would be too had we had the same upbringing, the same things whispered in our ear and/or shouted on cable TV before we could legally drive. But that doesn't mean we can't criticize him time and again for appearing - what should the catch-all word of the day be for LeBron today? - clueless. Over and over again.

But he's also the best player in the game. Others are more accomplished, because others have had better teams. Others have been more tactful, classier, smarter and worked harder. But in the end, all these mitigating factors don't take enough away for us not to accurately describe LeBron James as, far and away, the best player in pro basketball.

And, certainly, the best player at his position.

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