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Friday, October 14, 2011
#NBArank instant analysis: 11-15

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network

Russell Westbrook
Is Russell Westbrook, who took heat for stalling OKC's offense in the playoffs, worthy of the top 15?

You've got #NBArank-related qualms. We're here to debate them.

Which NBA ballers deserve to make the top-15 cut? Who should be bumped up or back?

As soon as you see their names pop across your Twitter timeline on Friday, the players pulling into spots 11-15 in #NBArank will get put on the debate block for our five-man squad.


1. Pau Gasol at No. 11: Too high, too low or just right?



Justin DeFeo, Nets Are Scorching: Too high. This spot might have been warranted two years ago. But after his dismal performance in the 2011 playoffs, he should not be in the league's top tier.

Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Just right. In December, his performance in Andrew Bynum's absence made him the clear MVP. By May, Lakers fans wanted him gone. I'm not ready to write him off because of a rough 10-game stretch and conveniently forget his excellence during two championship runs. He's probably the most skilled big man in the game. Three weeks of running on fumes doesn't change that.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Just right. Gasol's forgettable 2011 playoffs aside, he's a highly efficient player and the Lakers are a completely different team when he's heavily involved in the offense. Whether the occasional disappearance is more a result of Gasol's own passivity or Kobe Bryant dominating the ball is up for debate. Regardless, Gasol is arguably the most skilled big man in the league.

Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Just right. Despite his lack of mental toughness and the control fall/butt slide he does whenever he feels contact, Gasol is one of the top offensive power forwards in the game. He shoots, he rebounds, he competes, and he's way more athletic than people think.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Just right. Gasol's bizarre 2011 postseason shouldn't outweigh his prior playoff performances, in which he soundly outplayed Garnett (2009) and Dwight Howard (2010) to win rings. Put simply, he makes the Lakers much better when he's on the court -- to a degree even Kobe Bryant can't match. Sadly, Pau's tough defense can't defend him from bunk accusations of "softness."


2. Carmelo Anthony at No. 12: Too high, too low or just right?



Justin DeFeo, Nets Are Scorching: Too low, but not by much. He's the best scorer in the game not named Durant, and a jump in 3-point percentage since joining the Knicks means he's only going to be tougher to guard. If he would lock in on defense consistently, he'd be closer to top five.

Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Too high. In a world that worships points per game and clutch shooting, Carmelo is a deity. But the NBA is not a game of one-on-one to three points. He's a prolific scorer, who won an NCAA title! But defense is half the game, and his complete lack of dedication on that end keeps him safely outside the top 10.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Just right. The knock on Anthony is that although he's a prolific scorer, he doesn't impact the game much in other key areas -- notably on defense. Maybe that's true, but scoring happens to be really valuable and he does it better than all but a handful of players in the league, which more than makes up for some of his weaknesses.

Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Just right. For all the hype, the scoring ability and the athleticism, I still can't get past the fact that Anthony may be the biggest offensive black hole in the NBA. He has the talent and skill to be a top-10 player, but he tries to prove it every possession by going one-on-five.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Too high. Though I appreciate Anthony's offense, rebounding and offensive rebounding, his glaring lack of attention on defense blinds me to his superlative scoring skills. Even as an offensive focal point, Anthony doesn't create for others the way, say, Nowitzki does. Despite his big-market venue and late-game brilliance, Melo doesn't deliver enough besides bountiful buckets at mediocre efficiency.


3. Amare Stoudemire at No. 13: Too high, too low or just right?



Justin DeFeo, Nets Are Scorching: Just right. His production tailed off last season as the minutes piled up, but let's not forget he was an MVP candidate early on in 2010-11. His mixture of explosive drives and feathery soft 18-footers is unmatched at his position. Anything but the matador-style defense he plays now would bump up his rating.

Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Too high. Every metric out there that looks beyond blocks unilaterally agrees: Stoudemire is a cardboard cutout on defense. Then again, you don't need a spreadsheet to tell you that. Considering his athleticism, he's shockingly mediocre at rebounding. But man, can he score.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Just right. Like Anthony, Stoudemire is an explosive scorer who has always left a lot to be desired as a defender and rebounder. Stoudemire, however, did improve last season when it came to looking for teammates. His assist percentage -- previously never higher than 8.3 percent in a single season -- jumped to 13.2 percent last season.

Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Too low. I know he has an extensive injury history and he's not exactly winning any defensive awards, but when he has a pure point guard to play with, Stoudemire is a dominant offensive force. I keep trying to count 13 players in the NBA who are better than Amare, but I can't.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Too high. I love watching Amare play and think he gives it his all on defense, but his issues moving laterally, poor anticipation and unexplainable rebounding issues make it impossible for him to positively contribute on that end of the court. He's an underrated passer and an elite shooter, finisher and dresser, but his low plus-minus reveals what he subtracts on D.


4. Steve Nash at No. 14: Too high, too low or just right?



Justin DeFeo, Nets Are Scorching: Too high, as much as it pains me to say it. There are at least five point guards I'd take ahead of him right now, including the guy behind him. His field goal and 3-point percentages dropped last season, and they only figure to get worse as he continues to age.

Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Just right. Probably the best shooter to ever play the game and still sharp as an X-Acto knife, Nash also makes everyone around him better. Yeah, he's old, but if you put him on the Spurs last season, they win the title. The fact that the Suns won 40 games last season further proves he's a miracle worker with a basketball.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Just right. Nash is a fantastic offensive player known for being a porous defender. (Notice a trend in this range?) But like Anthony and Stoudemire, his offensive ability far exceeds his weaknesses. At 36 years old, Nash is probably the most efficient shooter in the league, and has hit the 50-40-90 marks four times in the past six seasons.

Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Too high, but not by much. Nash has always been somewhat of a defensive liability, and at 36, nearly all his numbers were down last season when compared to his 2009-10 campaign. That being said, Nash has proven that he can still play at a high level despite being in the twilight of his career.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Just right. I've never been too bothered by Nash's defensive issues because point guards are so easy to hide with competent interior defenders -- something he hasn't had. Offensively, he's a dream to watch and play with. He's just impossibly pure. The game's greatest shooter ever makes every last player on the roster way better and remains the Mr. Myagi of the pick-and-roll.


5. Russell Westbrook at No. 15: Too high, too low or just right?



Justin DeFeo, Nets Are Scorching: Just right. He can attack the basket at will and finish over or around shot-blockers. As soon as he becomes a better decision-maker and/or improves his jump shot, he'll rise into the top 10.

Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Too low. Statistically, he's on par with Derrick Rose, right down to their essentially identical player efficiency ratings (23.6 and 23.5, respectively). Westbrook's decision-making still makes you cringe sometimes, but then again, I made far worse decisions as a 22-year-old.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Too high. If we're talking Westbrook's ceiling, he's most likely a top-10 player one day based on his physical tools. Although he's improved each season he's been in the league, Westbrook needs to work on his shot selection and cut down on turnovers some before he's a top-15 player. This ranking isn't egregious, but it's probably a few spots too high right now.

Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Too high. And not because of his underwhelming playoff performance. I'm just not ready to put Westbrook in the top 15. He's freakishly athletic, quick and talented, but until he learns how to be a true floor general he's just another great player. He's so young and his ceiling is so high, there's no reason to believe he won't figure it out. He's just not there yet.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Just right. This decent defender needs plenty of refining, but rough edges don't distract from pure production. Westbrook is the high-usage point guard of a top-five offense. He's an open-court fury and earns and makes oodles of free throws -- often at the expense of his opponent's frontline. His game only lacks the nuance and restraint born of experience.