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Finding the formula for ultimate success in the NBA

Sam Smith provides his rating of the top 25 players at each position
The NBA continues to be wide open for surprise teams like the Mavs to win. It starts to come down to not losing a game in the playoffs you should win and making some shots when it was most unexpected, all of which is good for the NBA. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images Sport)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

The Dallas Mavericks winning the 2011 NBA championship is basically being viewed as a positive for the NBA, at least for those who can get past Mark Cuban’s success.

It’s likely an aberration, like the 2004 Detroit Pistons, because the Mavs’ formula, in effect, went contrary to the general conventional wisdom about playing for a championship.

Of course, I’ll also overlook Game 1 against the Portland Trail Blazers, when Dirk Nowitzki shot 13 free throws in the fourth quarter to save the Mavs (Portland shot 13 all game) as it should/could/would have been 3-1 going back to Dallas in round one. But, I digress.

The general formula for ultimate success is having two or three elite players. Here’s a look at how many teams view their ability to compete for a title:

-- Three top five players (Lakers and Celtics of 60’s and 80’s), or;

-- Two players in the top five at their positions (Heat, Bulls, Lakers), or;

-- Three players in the top eight to 10 at their positions (Spurs), or;

-- Four players in the top 10 to 12 at their positions (Pistons, Mavericks).

Here’s my rating of the top 25 players at each position at the end of the 2010-11 season. I always give the edge to my view of impact on the game.

Based on these rankings, the Heat, Bulls, Hawks, Thunder, Celtics, Knicks, Lakers, Grizzlies and Spurs should be the elite teams going forward, though MVP candidates generally are tiebreakers. As it was with the Mavericks this season. Though what it suggests with no team with three top players is, as we’ve seen, the NBA continues to be wide open for surprise teams like the Mavs to win. It starts to come down to not losing a game in the playoffs you should win and making some shots when it was most unexpected, all of which is good for the NBA. The top teams have stars, but a lot of teams have a chance. Though Miami remains the favorite with two top two players. Maybe the team most on the edge of a breakthrough and most in need of a shooting guard is Memphis with three top six players.

Point Guards

1. Derrick Rose
2. Chris Paul
3. Deron Williams
4. Russell Westbrook
5. Tony Parker
6. Rajon Rondo
7. Steve Nash
8. Andre Miller
9. Tyreke Evans
10. Jason Kidd
11. Ray Felton
12. Mike Conley
13. Kyle Lowry
14. Stephen Curry
15. Devin Harris
16. Brandon Jennings
17. John Wall
18. George Hill
19. Chauncey Billups
20. Jrue Holiday
21. Kirk Hinrich
22. Ty Lawson
23. Darren Collison
24. Rodney Stuckey
25. Luke Ridnour

Shooting Guards

1. Kobe Bryant
2. Dwyane Wade
3. Manu Ginobili
4. Joe Johnson
5. Ray Allen
6. Monta Ellis
7. Kevin Martin
8. Jason Terry
9. Eric Gordon
10.Stephen Jackson
11. James Harden
12. DeMar DeRozan
13. Jason Richardson
14. Wesley Matthews
15. Ben Gordon
16. Jamal Crawford
17. Arron Afflalo
18. Richard Hamilton
19. Vince Carter
20. Tony Allen
21. Gerald Henderson
22. Marcus Thornton
23. Courtney Lee
24. O.J. Mayo
25. Mickael Pietrus

Small Forward:

1. LeBron James
2. Kevin Durant
3. Carmelo Anthony
4. Paul Pierce
5. Rudy Gay
6. Danny Granger
7. Luol Deng
8. Andre Iguodala
9. Gerald Wallace
10. Danilo Gallinari
11. Tayshaun Prince
12. Thaddeus Young
13. Josh Smith
14. Caron Butler
15. Wilson Chandler
16. Grant Hill
17. Jeff Green
18. Shawn Marion
19. Rashard Lewis
20. Andrei Kirilenko
21. Nicholas Batum
22. Richard Jefferson
23. Dorell Wright
24. Trevor Ariza
25. John Salmons

Power Forward:

1. Dirk Nowitzki
2. Blake Griffin
3. Amar'e Stoudemire
4. Pau Gasol
5. LaMarcus Aldridge
6. Zach Randolph
7. Chris Bosh
8. Tim Duncan
9. Luis Scola
10.Kevin Love
11. Kevin Garnett
12. Lamar Odom
13. Carlos Boozer
14. Elton Brand
15. David Lee
16. Carl Landry
17. Kris Humphries
18. Paul Millsap
19. Jamison
20. Serge Ibaka
21. Channing Frye
22. J.J. Hickson
23. Tyler Hansbrough
24. Boris Diaw
25. Jason Thompson

Center:

1. Dwight Howard
2. Nene
3. Al Horford
4. Joakim Noah
5. Andrew Bogut
6. Marc Gasol
7. Al Jefferson
8. Brook Lopez
9. Tyson Chandler
10. Marcin Gortat
11. Andrew Bynum
12. Greg Monroe
13. Marcus Camby
14. Anderson Varejao
15. Emeka Okafor
16. Roy Hibbert
17. Chris Kaman
18. Kendrick Perkins
19. Samuel Dalembert
20. Omer Asik
21. Andrea Bargnani
22. Kurt Thomas
23. Spencer Hawes
24. JaVale McGee
25. Andris Biedrins

Teams get their guys in NBA Draft

-- There's nothing like right after teams have made their draft picks in a draft most still regard as relatively weak. Why do you think four of the top seven players were internationals who hardly anyone has ever seen play a game?

So teams revert into classic spin, making it feel eerily like a political primary, like when someone finishes fourth and his people declare him the winner.

It turned out the Knicks got Bobby Jones or Dennis Johnson. Said coach Mike D'Antoni of Iman Shumpert: "He has the athletic ability to guard a Derrick Rose or a Dwyane Wade or a LeBron James." The Jordan stopper?

Tristan Thompson wasn't a particularly popular pick among Cavs fans at No. 4, but this should excite them from coach Byron Scott: "He probably sets the best screens of anyone in the draft. We will work on [his free throws, 49 percent, ouch], and he's the kind of kid who will work on it. But we must rebound better. We must defend better. We must be physical. He can help get us there." Come and watch our great screening. I also liked GM Chris Grant saying, "We actually had him ranked much higher than fourth, to be perfectly honest." Well, since he was picked No. 4, how much higher could they have had him ranked?

I can't let the Bulls off the hook, either, as Gar Forman said they couldn't believe Jimmy Butler was available, though most mock drafts had him as a high second rounder. Still, he seems like a good fit for the Bulls. And from what I read no team could believe they got the guy they did except the Cavs as the Timberwolves also said they couldn't believe Williams was available. I didn't catch whether the Lakers were surprised Chukwudiebere Maduabum was available at No. 56.

Thompson is a talent, though not much of a scorer, which will be a problem for the Cavs alleged renaissance. Detroit was going to take Thompson, and then Charlotte apparently decided the Pistons might take Bismack Biyombo, so they moved up to No. 7 in that three-team deal with the Kings and Bucks. The confusing part of that deal was the Kings taking back John Salmons and $24 million over the next three years with a fourth year $1 million buyout. Since they plan to run with Jimmer, Tyreke and Cousins, they better never throw the ball to Salmons, who likes to admire it. I seemed to recall the Kings a few years ago thrilled to move him to the Bulls. Heck, John Hammonds may get executive of the year again for moving the contracts of Salmons and Corey Maggette. If he hadn't signed them in the first place, that is. But it does move the Bucks back into Eastern Conference playoff contention as long as Andrew Bogut is healthy, which is a heck of an as long as.

Meanwhile, Grant's comments were telling. In the final workout they had, Thompson outplayed eventual No. 2 pick Derrick Williams, apparently leaving the Cavs to decide they could get the better player at No. 4. Though it was just a workout, perhaps they'll be proven right. They were going to take Jonas Valanciunas, anyway, so it's not like next season is at risk. Though personnel types around the league think they'll have a bigger issue with Baron Davis, who is going into a contract year. Which means he'll finally get in shape and probably give No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving an awfully hard time in practices and challenge strongly for the starting spot. The Cavs likely will start Davis at shooting guard to avoid that. Though it could get ugly.

Lakers GM says rumors “agent-driven”

-- The Lakers weren't thrilled with all those rumors about them trading Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom. The Lakers insisted they had little going on, but GM Mitch Kupchak was a bit annoyed, anyway, and said after the draft, "A lot of the stuff you read the last three or four days was agent-driven. A lot of times agents these days think the way to consummate a trade is to suggest publicly ideas that they come up with and I think that's part of the problem, as well." L.A. reporters wrote it was no secret Kupchak was referring to agent Rob Pelinka, who happens to represent Kobe Bryant. It's generally believed when Pelinka's lips move, it's Kobe speaking. It doesn't seem quite yet like Kobe is anywhere near a return to his days of calling radio stations to suggest deals. But not asking him about the hiring of Mike Brown, embarrassing his coaching choice, Brian Shaw, and removing all elements of the triangle offense and Phil Jackson from the organization apparently is not going over that well with Bryant, who has yet to be heard from about Brown's hiring. Though Brown says they have spoken. The West is really wide open now.

NBA news and notes

-- With Houston drafting more young power forwards with Marcus Morris and Donatas Motiejunas — though Morris plays small forward as well — the questions are growing about whether they'll keep Luis Scola, who'd be a big name on the trade market. Jordan Hill should also be available, though with little interest. Similarly in Utah after taking Enes Kanter No. 3. Figure they'll try to get a point guard with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap or even Derrick Favors. ... By the way, the Rockets with all these inexperienced forwards look nowhere near the playoff team Kevin McHale suggests they can be. Although you'd have to say they'll have tremendous competition for the worst record in the league from Cleveland, Charlotte, Minnesota and Toronto, all of whom appear to be thinking they'll play a short season and then get another high lottery pick. Maybe the NBA should forget the lottery with so many teams now dumping to get into it. ... I know I mentioned taking a shot with Jeremy Tyler in the second round. But not the Warriors. What you had to do with a kid like that is sign him and tell him he's in the D-League for two years with no chance to play in the NBA and then see if he's ready. Now he comes to a team in transition with an inexperienced coach and local excitement. And when Mark Jackson begins yelling those goofy, lyrical witticisms of his Tyler may feel he's back in Israel listening to davening. It sets up as a Leon Smith situation if he has to play and produce this season. ... J.R. Smith has dyed his hair red. Must be an appeal to play for the Bulls. Worked for Dennis Rodman.

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