I know your time is valuable, so let's boogie right back into our countdown of the best Southern California products playing in the NBA. On Tuesday we unveiled numbers 15 through 11. (You can scroll down to read all about the lucky honorees.) Today we'll hit numbers 10 through six, with the top five to come next week.
A quick recap of my rather arbitrary rules: to qualify, you need to have either graduated from high school or played your college ball in the L.A. or Orange County areas. No credit is given for long-ago heroics or imagined potential. All that counts is one's value in the current NBA season. And everyone who makes the list, I've decided, is entitled to one free beer at my apartment while supplies last.
10. Arron Afflalo (Compton Centennial, UCLA). Afflalo isn't the most electrifying player around, but his skill set is one that every team can use. He's a dangerous three-point threat: his accuracy from behind the arc has improved every season and now sits at over 43 percent. And he's even more valuable on defense, where he plays with strength, discipline and good technique. He's one of the best in the league at defending the pick-and-roll, and nobody's better at guarding Kobe Bryant. The main limitation in Afflalo's game is that he doesn't have the first-step burst to create much offense for himself, but there are worse fates than having a long career as a more likeable Bruce Bowen.
9. Amir Johnson (Westchester). Amir was a high-school teammate of Trevor Ariza, who holds down the number 13 spot on this list. He was also the last high-schooler taken in the NBA draft. When he first showed promise as a Detroit Piston, some predicted a stardom for Amir that hasn't come to pass, but since joining the Toronto Raptors he's emerged as an awfully productive sixth man. He's a nasty inside pugilist who scraps on the boards, finishes efficiently and gets to the stripe. At the moment he leads the NBA in True Shooting Percentage and is second in offensive rebounding rate. He could be even better if he'd learn to stop hacking so much. For his career he averages over six fouls per 36 minutes, which doesn't help keep him on the floor.
8. Darren Collison (Rancho Cucamonga Etiwanda, UCLA). In just his second season as a pro, Collison is already way better than Jordan Farmar, the guy he backed up when both were Bruins. His quickness, handle and passing instincts make him a dynamic creator with the ball in his hands. His three-point range makes him a threatening shooter spotting up or coming off screens. Assessments of Collison's defense are mixed. Some of his individual metrics are OK, but the Pacers have been far better defensively this year with T.J. Ford at the point. In any event, Collison looks like a long-term starter for an Indiana team on the rise.
7. Taj Gibson (San Fernando Calvary Christian, USC). The injury to Carlos Boozer opened up a starter's gig for Gibson, who's proving that he belongs. Post defense is the man's calling card. Despite measuring only 6'9" and playing less than 29 minutes a night, he's top 20 in the NBA in blocks per game. For this credit his quick feet and incredible 7'4" wingspan. He's a solid rebounder, and although his offensive game is limited, he's serviceable as the dive man on the pick-and-roll and has a decent-looking baseline jumper. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will need to think of creative ways to keep Gibson on the court after Boozer returns.
6. Tyson Chandler (Compton Dominguez). I'd pretty much left Chandler for dead after his last two injury-marred seasons in New Orleans and Charlotte. Shows what I know! He played well for Team USA over the summer in the FIBA Worlds and now seems to have found a nice groove as a defense-and-rebounding specialist in Dallas. Without the burden of having to serve as a high-usage offensive option, he's been free to focus on owning the paint. He's 17th in the NBA in block rate, 10th in defensive rebounding percentage, and according to Synergy Sports the guys he's guarded have scored only 0.52 points per play on post-ups this season. Chandler's splendid work at that end is a big reason the Mavericks have improved from 12th to eighth in defensive efficiency. When the Dallas offense calls on him to score, he does so effectively, converting over 70 percent from the field and over 80 percent from the line.
Coming soonish: the top five!