Brooklyn Nets franchise point guard Deron Williams clocked in at #17 and All-Star center Brook Lopez came in at #26 on ESPN's #NBARank, ranking the 30 best players in the NBA. Williams had a total score of 7.95, placing him below Golden State Warriors sharp shooter Stephen Curry and in front of the Miami Heat's Chris Bosh. Lopez's score of 7.53 landed him one spot behind Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge and directly in front of injured Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, who was taken five spots ahead of Lopez in the 2008 NBA draft. In a poll on The Brooklyn Game earlier this season, Brook Lopez was far and away voted the team's MVP.
For the past two offseasons, ESPN.com in conjunction with the TrueHoop Network has ranked every player in the NBA from 500 down to 1. D-Will hit a peak of #9 in 2011 with a 8.98 score. After Williams' first full season in New Jersey, he found himself with a score of 8.69 -- good enough for #10. In 2011, Lopez had a score of 6.69 and came in at #51. Following foot injuries that sidelined him for most of the 2011-12 season, Brook fell to #60 in 2012 with a score of 6.35.
After signing a maximum five-year contract to become the face of the Brooklyn Nets, Williams' inaugural campaign within city limits has been the tale of two seasons. Injuries, inconsistent play and poor shooting -- especially from the outside -- plagued Williams in the first half of 2012-13. Unable to attack the rim because of the injuries, D-Will was taking just 2.6 shots at the rim per game (according to HoopData), a 33 percent decrease from last year and a 50 percent drop from his career high. To add insult to injury, D-Will's strained relationship with former Nets coach Avery Johnson was rumored to have played a part in Johnson's firing in December.
The franchise point guard missed the final two games before the All-Star break to receive platelet-rich plasma treatment for inflammation in both ankles. Williams has since returned to the form that used to land him in the middle of best point guard in the NBA discussions. In 23 games since the All-Star break, the 28-year-old three-time All-Star's numbers have increased nearly across the board: 23.0 points per game vs 16.7, 1.1 steals per game vs 0.9, a .480 FG % up from .413, and a three-point percentage of .429 vs .347 before the break.
Williams had a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 17.5 before the break, still above league average but the lowest since 2006-07, his second year in the league. Since the plasma treatment, D-Will's PER has been 24.4, or a full two points higher than even his best season in an eight-year career. Deron recently told ESPN the Magazine, "Before I couldn't walk up my stairs without it killing me. I feel totally different now."
As for Brook, he makes the impressive 34-spot jump thanks to a breakout year, which includes a per game stat line of 19.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and a career high 2.1 blocks. Lopez has a PER of 24.56, good enough for fifth in the league, sandwiched between Tim Duncan at four and Carmelo Anthony at six. Back in February, Brook made his first ever All-Star squad as a replacement for an injured Rajon Rondo. Last week, The Brooklyn Game asked a legitimate question that would have been considered blasphemous before the season began: "Is Brook Lopez the best center in the NBA?"
ESPN released the first half of the 30-player list Monday in separate five-player increment posts (26-30; 21-25; 16-20). LeBron James came in at #1 in both the 2011 and 2012 rankings and will most likely (read: definitely) take the top spot again when the full rankings come out this week. If you want to follow along with the rankings or tell ESPN that they should have ranked Brook higher, the official twitter hashtag is #NBArank.
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