Some people still don’t get it. So … again … this is NOT a straight “best players” list. I don’t think Blake Griffin is better than Tim Duncan, or that John Wall is better than Chris Paul. I’m looking at the whole picture: Who had an overall better season? Pound-for-pound, who made the biggest impact on their level? Who made the biggest mark on the entire game of basketball? Who made this season his own? Here are my Top 10 — not “10 best” — shooting guards from the ‘08-09 season…
10. Lance Stephenson
On the court, he did the two things he came to do at Lincoln High School (Brooklyn, NY): Became the all-time leading scorer in New York state history, and won his fourth straight city championship while averaging 28.9 points and 10.2 boards as a senior. Off the court, it wasn’t so smooth. A sexual assault trial (plea bargain, no jail time) was the lowlight in a series of controversies that turned Lance into a toxic recruit in the eyes of colleges that would usually be all over a kid with his talent. He ended up at Cincinnati.
9. Joe Johnson
Questions about whether J.J. is truly a franchise player surfaced when the Hawks were swept out of the playoffs by Cleveland, but it’s not like Joe was any worse than in years past. He averaged 21.4 points and 5.8 assists and made his third straight All-Star team, while taking the Hawks to a #4 seed in the East and getting them past the first round for the first time since 1999.
8. James Harden
Pac-10 Player of the Year (20.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.2 apg) and first team All-American played his way into the No. 3 Draft slot, where he’s expected to start from Day One in Oklahoma City. Before struggling in the NCAA Tournament, Harden led his conference in scoring and steals (1.6 spg), and drew a ton of Paul Pierce and Brandon Roy comparisons.
7. O.J. Mayo
He didn’t win Rookie of the Year, but “Da Juiceman” led all rookies in scoring (18.5 ppg) and gave the Grizzlies organization at least one reason to be optimistic about the future. Some were worried about O.J. bringing a whole circus to town like at USC, but so far his time in Memphis has been trouble-free.
6. Ben Gordon
Timing is everything in a contract year, and BG did everything right on cue to get his pockets properly laced. During the regular season he averaged 20.7 points (45% FG, 41% 3PA) and helped get the Bulls back to the playoffs. Then he really went off on the postseason stage, scoring 24 a night while hitting countless clutch shots against Boston. Gordon then inked a $50 million contract with the Pistons.
5. Ray Allen
He was the Celtics’ best player in the first half of the season, earning an All-Star selection, and Boston wouldn’t have made it past the first round of the playoffs without Sugar Ray (18.2 ppg). Along the way he stuck a few game-winners and iced more than a few W’s at the free throw line. Only one player had a 50-point game in the ’09 playoffs, and it was Ray, who dropped 51 on the Bulls in Game Six of the first round.
4. Stephen Curry
The NCAA’s leading scorer (28.6 ppg, 5.6 apg, 2.5 spg) didn’t get Davidson back to the Big Dance, but still made first team All-America and offered at least a token challenge to Blake Griffin for national P.O.Y. (Steph dropped 44 points in a close loss to Oklahoma in November.) Remember, going into the season a lot of critics still didn’t think Curry was pro material. By the time he was picked 7th in the Draft, nobody was questioning his game.
3. Brandon Roy
In his breakout season, B-Roy (22.6 ppg, 5.1 apg) took his place as one of the game’s top clutch scorers and led Portland to the playoffs, where he bumped his numbers to 26 points a night against the defensive tandem of Ron Artest and Shane Battier. Oh, and he copped his first national magazine cover.
2. Dwyane Wade
Nobody would have protested had D-Wade won MVP. Coming off his Olympic performance where he was arguably Team USA’s best all-around player, Wade stayed healthy and carried Miami on his back to the 5th seed in the East. He led the NBA in scoring at 30.2 points a night, while throwing in 7.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks. All-Defensive second team and third-place in MVP voting, D-Wade turned in more eye-popping single-game stat lines than anyone in the League, including three 50-point games.
1. Kobe Bryant
Long story short, this was Kobe’s year. Championship, Finals MVP, All-Star co-MVP, All-Defensive first team, third in scoring and second in the League MVP vote. The stats (26.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.9 apg) don’t truly convey how strongly Kobe flexed his status as the best player on the planet.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
5. Antoine Wright — In what might’ve been his last chance to prove he’s not a bust, Wright had a starting spot handed to him in Dallas (since Jason Terry prefers coming off the bench) and still didn’t produce. His most memorable ’08-09 moment was when he couldn’t even foul Carmelo Anthony correctly.
4. Allen Iverson — A lot had to go wrong for A.I. to go from the NBA’s 3rd-leading scorer in ’08 to a damn near unwanted free agent in ’09. And a lot did.
3. Tracy McGrady — Not only did T-Mac miss another big chunk of the season with injuries (shoulder, knee), he also had the sting of watching his team finally get past the first round of the playoffs while he was out.
2. DeShawn Stevenson — Before injuries grounded him, D-Steve was half of the League’s worst starting backcourt alongside Mike James. Straight comedy act at this point.
1. Tony Allen — Celtics fans were rightfully terrified to learn TA was supposed to take over for James Posey as the team’s bench sparkplug, and he promptly let them down. At least it didn’t last long. By the time the playoffs came around, Allen was clocking 2-3 minutes a night if he was lucky.