Again, this is NOT a traditional “best players” list. If you see Tyler Hansbrough ahead of Tim Duncan here, I’m NOT saying the rookie is better than the Hall of Famer. Instead, I’m looking at the whole picture: Who had an overall better season? Who made the biggest impact on their level? Who put the biggest stamp on the entire game of basketball? Who made this season his own? With that, here are my Top 10 — not “10 best” — power forwards from the ’08-09 season.
10. LaMarcus Aldridge
LMA didn’t make the All-Star team, didn’t make a huge splash in the playoffs (Portland was knocked out in the first round), and didn’t finish among the League leaders in any of the important big-man categories. But with the way Aldridge held it down in the frontcourt (18.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and helped get the Blazers to their first postseason since ’03, his biggest accomplishment may have been allowing Greg Oden to quietly struggle through his rookie year without Portland fans being too worried.
9. David West
The NBA’s most overlooked All-Star averaged his now-customary 21 points and eight boards a night and kept getting fat on those mid-range jumpers and wide-open looks from Chris Paul. D-West hit a couple of game-winners, had a couple 40-point games and a 20-rebound game, and was one of the few (like, two) semi-bright spots in New Orleans’ playoff debacle (18.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg). Put him with a good point guard and he’ll produce as long as his body holds up.
8. Chris Bosh
Started off as strong as anyone, following an Olympic gold medal with some early MVP talk in the season’s first month. Things soon fell apart in Toronto, though: Losing streaks that seemingly lasted forever, coaches getting fired, and locker-room strife that became public. Through it all, Bosh got his numbers, averaging 22.7 points (9th in the NBA) and 10.0 rebounds (6th) even when he had his own personal problems put on blast.
7. Paul Millsap
Stepping in and stepping up when Carlos Boozer got hurt, Millsap salvaged Utah’s season and made himself one of the most coveted free agents on the ’09 market. He finished with career-highs of 13.5 points and 8.6 boards, and his 53.4 percent shooting from the field ranked 10th-best in the NBA. Millsap was considered one of the most notable All-Star snubs, and even after Booz returned, was still a double-double threat off the bench. He then parlayed his opportunity into a $32 million payday in free agency.
6. Troy Murphy
Take Danny Granger out of the mix, and Murphy would’ve been a solid candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award on his own. He finished second in the League in rebounding (11.8 rpg), third in three-point shooting (45 percent), fourth in double-doubles (49), and his 14.3 points per night was a career-high. Loses some points for that mid-season mustache tragedy, however.
5. Tim Duncan
Even the biggest Duncan fan I know — me — has to admit the cracks are beginning to show. TD can still impose his will on a game and pull out a win, it’s just that he can’t do it as often now. With Manu Ginobili in and out of the lineup and Bruce Bowen officially falling off, Duncan (19.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg) had hardly any legit help outside of Tony Parker and still led San Antonio to the second-best record in the West. But for the first time in his career, Duncan’s postseason run ended in the first round.
4. Tyler Hansbrough
All he did was wrap up one of the most decorated NCAA careers of all-time by winning a national championship, becoming the ACC’s all-time leading scorer (12th-highest in D-1 history), and getting his fourth straight first team All-American nod. And for once, Hansbrough (20.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) allowed us to believe that production in college counts for something, as the Pacers made him a Lottery pick.
3. Dirk Nowitzki
Finished 4th in the NBA at 25.9 points per game, and led the Mavs to a first-round upset over the nemesis Spurs and uber-nemesis Duncan. And Dirk can’t take the blame for Dallas’ second-round loss to Denver; in that series he averaged 34 points and 11 boards on 53 percent shooting from the floor. And all this while dealing with a psycho girlfriend who will 100% end up writing a book that embarrasses him.
2. Pau Gasol
Disappointed as he might have been in settling for Olympic silver, Gasol made up for it by bringing home the NBA hardware at the end of the season. He improved his regular season numbers almost across the board in the ’09 playoffs, putting up 18.3 points, 10.8 boards and 2.0 blocks while leaving Boozer, Yao, Kenyon Martin and Dwight Howard in his wake on the way to a Lakers’ championship.
1. Blake Griffin
From wire-to-wire, Blake reigned as the best player in college basketball and the consensus top pro prospect in the country. Griffin (22.7 ppg, 14.4 rpg) swept the national Player of the Year awards, led Oklahoma to the Elite Eight, and on Draft Night the Clippers made him the No. 1 overall pick and their newest franchise savior.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
5. Kevin Garnett — Injuries limited him to 57 regular-season games and sidelined him for the playoffs. And knowing KG, the fact that his team could’ve won it all with him burns in his gut more than if he’d been on a Lottery squad. KG’s on-court persona (the same one he’s had for 14 years) was also the subject of sudden and unexpected public backlash.
4. Amar’e Stoudemire — Also grounded by a season-ending injury and unprecedented public criticism, before that Amar’e was stuck in a system he didn’t like with a coach he clearly didn’t get along with, was involved in trade rumors that still haven’t let up, and his team ultimately missed the playoffs.
3. Brandan Wright — Resided in Nellie’s doghouse almost all year, and it’s not looking any better now that Anthony Randolph is one of the hottest names in the NBA. If he’d stayed at UNC one more year, Wright would be sitting on a national championship, and maybe on a roster where his coach doesn’t mind playing rookies.
2. Elton Brand — Philly’s big ’08 summer pickup spent most of the year in a suit (29 games), and quickly turned off an already rough fanbase, many of whom think the Sixers are better off without him.
1. Sean May — “This one time, at Fat Camp…”