With Media Day under two weeks away, the season about a month and a half away, NBA websites are releasing their lists of top players in the league heading into the new year. Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney published their list of players ranked 51-100 Monday afternoon, and two Nets were listed: Andrei Kirilenko and Joe Johnson.
Later in the afternoon, ESPN began its countdown of top 500 players in the NBA, slowly (painfully?) dropping names on Twitter. In that list, Cory Jefferson is ranked at No. 426; Markel Brown at No. 451; Jason Collins at 474 and Jorge Gutierrez at 475.
The rest of the SI list will be parceled out all week: Nos. 50-31 on Tuesday, Nos. 30-21 on Wednesday, Nos. 20-11 on Thursday and Nos. 10-1 on Friday.
Kirilenko was No. 85 on the list, ahead of the likes of Boris Diaw (No. 100) and Jamal Crawford (No. 86), which is a pretty fair spot for the Russian who is coming off an injury-riddled year. Mahoney believes that Kirilenko is over the hump, but his versatility is so important that he is still useful.
Has Kirilenko aged out of high-level use? The fact that his drop-off last season was so sharp and timed so closely with his nagging injuries suggests otherwise.
Kirilenko played like a hobbled, displaced veteran. He contributed as he could for a team that, having found its identity in his absence, didn't quite know what to do with him (19.0 MPG). That version of Kirilenko was fine and useful. When Kirilenko is in better health and incorporated more, though, he's a kinetic force: cutting, slashing, hounding opposing scorers, swooping in with help defense and rebounding outside of his immediate zone. He does so many things well that it's easy to forgive his limitations as a perimeter shooter and off-the-dribble creator. A player who can cover this many gaps on both ends of the floor can strengthen any team. -- R.M.
The second Net on the list is Joe Johnson. Johnson is the last man ranked on this list at No. 51 which seems low for the Nets most consistent player last season. Once thought of as an overpaid player, Johnson has flown under the radar in Brooklyn. Mahoney takes note of Johnson's unique size and that his game "can travel to any other city and circumstance."
Johnson is a man for all seasons. He shoots effectively from most zones on the floor and can fill most every function, from bullying guards inside to spotting up on the perimeter.
He has uncommon size and strength for his position, which is now loaded with undersized combo guards and three-point specialists. Better yet, Johnson understands how to make use of every physical advantage to bump and push and create just enough space for his silky jumper. Savvy comes naturally for Johnson, and it's allowed him to float seamlessly between hunting shots and supporting his teammates depending on what’s needed. That worked out well for Brooklyn last season, but Johnson's game would travel well to any other city and circumstance. -- R.M.
Kevin Garnett did not crack the top 100 and was listed by the two SI writers as one of the biggest "snubs." Mahoney shows how upsetting it is that Garnett is well past his prime, but he still can contribute in a reduced role.
There is no more depressing name on this list. Garnett's body is spent, worn down from year after year of iron-man superstardom. Now his minutes must be carefully maintained to avoid a complete breakdown. The reality is that Garnett played fewer regular-season minutes last season than Utah's Jeremy Evans and Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins, not to mention Brooklyn's own Mirza Teletovic.
If Garnett is still a captain, that role is executed as often from a distance as from the hardwood. On those occasions that Garnett did play, however, he was still a fine contributor: a nightly double-double per 36 minutes with a tangible defensive influence. The problem is that opponents no longer pay Garnett much mind on offense, leaving him unattended to crowd the paint or challenge more threatening scorers.
Since Deron Williams is not listed as a "notable snub", one has to assume that he and Brook Lopez will be somewhere on the list of top 50. That's a relief.
Meanwhile, Chris Bernucca of Sheridan Hoops lists the top 10 point guards and doesn't include Williams or Derrick Rose.