Around this time last year, I ranked the Top 10 players at each position covering the NBA, college and high school ranks for the just-completed season. Welcome to the second annual edition, starting with the two-guards.
To clarify, “Top 10” is different from “10 Best.” If you see Evan Turner ahead of Brandon Roy here, I’m not saying the incoming rookie is a better player than the NBA All-Star; I’m saying Turner had a better season than B-Roy. Accomplishments at the highest level of the game obviously hold more weight than others, but this is about who made the biggest impact on their respective level, who put their stamp on the game, and who made the ’09-10 season his own:
10. Brandon Roy
Everybody on the Blazers got hurt this year, and B-Roy couldn’t escape whatever curse struck the team. He played in just 65 games in the regular season, putting up 21.5 points, 4.4 boards and 4.7 dimes a night, but made a heroic return in the playoffs just a week after knee surgery.
9. Stephen Jackson
Intentional or not, Capt. Jack took some big steps toward repairing his image in 2010. Going into the season he made headlines by requesting a trade from the Warriors and seemed intent on tanking his way into making it happen, but after his wish was granted and Jackson was sent to the Charlotte Bobcats, his game took off. He finished the season averaging 20.6 points, 5.0 boards and 1.6 steals and helped the ‘Cats to the franchise’s first-ever playoff berth.
8. Austin Rivers
As a junior at Winter Park (Fla.) High School, Rivers was the best prep two-guard in the country. (He can also play the point.) He averaged 36 points, seven boards and eight assists this season, including a 42-point explosion on national TV against Gatorade National Player of the Year Brandon Knight (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) and a 45-point line against New Jersey powerhouse St. Benedict’s High. Rivers was previously committed to Florida, but it’s looking like he’ll end up at Duke when it’s all said and done.
7. Jon Scheyer
Lost in all the hype surrounding John Wall and Evan Turner, Scheyer quietly put together as good a season as any guard in the country, averaging 18.2 points, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals while leading Duke to another national championship. Scheyer had to play a lot of the season at point guard, not his natural position, but he only turned the ball over 1.6 times per game. The senior’s highlights included a 36-point, 8-board, 9-dime, 7-trey performance against Gardner-Webb, and a 23-point, 5-trey game against West Virginia in the Final Four. All that, and Scheyer still wasn’t drafted.
6. John Salmons
Forget the first three and a half months of the season — Salmons earned this spot for what he did following the deadline trade sending him from the Bulls to the Bucks. Helping carry the team when Michael Redd was hurt and Brandon Jennings struggled through the rookie wall, Salmons was good for 19.9 points a night with Milwaukee, shooting them into a surprise 6th seed in the playoffs. He then averaged 21 ppg in the Bucks’ three postseason wins, as they pushed the favored Hawks to seven games in the first round. Wasting little time once he became a free agent, the Bucks rewarded Salmons with a five-year, $39 million deal.
5. Tyreke Evans
By performing at a high level consistently all season after being unexpectedly thrust into position as The Man in Sacramento, Tyreke won Rookie of the Year in a loaded field that included Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings and Darren Collison. As you may have heard once or twice, Tyreke joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the only NBA rookies to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game, and he established himself as one of the League’s upcoming superstars to watch.
4. Joe Johnson
And some people still don’t think he’s an elite NBA star. All Johnson (21.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.9 apg) did this season was earn his fourth straight All-Star nod, an All-NBA Third Team selection, lead his Atlanta Hawks to an improved record for the fifth straight year, and then he capped it off with a $120 million max contract this summer. However, a poor showing in Atlanta’s embarrassing conference semifinals loss to Orlando took a lot of luster off J.J.’s resume.
3. Dwyane Wade
In what should (hopefully) be his last year carrying a squad with mediocre talent, Wade put up 26.6 points, 4.8 boards, 6.5 assists and 1.8 steals in the regular season, then gave the Celtics’ vaunted defense 33.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 6.8 apg in a first-round series loss. Wade also picked up All-Star Game MVP and is the most coveted free agent on the market behind LeBron.
2. Evan Turner
If Turner has just one pro season that’s as good as his junior year at Ohio State, the Sixers will get their money’s worth out of the No. 2 overall draft pick. Turner nearly swept the major National Player of the Year awards, and in the Big Ten he almost pulled off the triple crown — finishing first in scoring, second in rebounds and second in assists in the conference — at 20.4 points, 9.2 boards and 6.0 dimes on 51 percent shooting from the field. Turner beat Michigan with a halfcourt buzzer-beater in the Big Ten tournament, led Ohio State to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and dropped 31 points in a close loss to Tennessee in the Sweet Sixteen. And he did it after missing a whole month of the season with a broken back.
1. Kobe Bryant
Fifth NBA championship, second Finals MVP, and he held his position as basketball’s pound-for-pound king despite a slew of injuries conspiring to take him down. Kobe averaged 27.0 points (4th in the League), 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals, one of only three players (LeBron and Tyreke the others) to notch 20-5-5 numbers. He then bumped his stats up to 29.2 points, 6.0 boards and 5.5 dimes in the playoffs and may have guaranteed himself a statue outside of the Staples Center someday.
Honorable mention — Monta Ellis (Warriors), Jamal Crawford (Hawks), Manu Ginobili (Spurs), James Anderson (Oklahoma State), Jordan Crawford (Xavier).