Today we reach our thrilling dénouement: the unveiling of the top
five four Southern California players in the NBA. For months WikiLeaks has been dying to get its hands on this information. Fortunately, SBN's security is far tighter than that of the U.S. diplomatic corps. (Topical humor FTW!)
Previous installments in this series can be viewed by scrolling downward. There you'll find eligibility rules, evaluation criteria and the names and credentials of the guys ranked 15 through six. Fine players all, but they couldn't quite crack the inner circle. The four bros listed below are the ones currently repping SoCal ball to the fullest.
Why only four names, and not five? Such a good question. It's because I screwed up. When I originally crafted this list, I included Brook Lopez in it at the number-four slot. I was remembering that the Lopez twins originally hail from North Hollywood, but I was not remembering that they played their high-school hoops in Fresno, thus disqualifying them from consideration. Oops. I'm mortified by this mistake and apologize to you, Brook Lopez and the city of Fresno. In the near future I'll remedy the situation by naming a new 15th man. Until then, here's who earned top marks.
5. Andre Miller (Verbum Dei). He turns 35 in May, but if he was supposed to be in his decline phase by now, no one bothered to tell him. The man is astonishingly durable: never in his 11 full seasons has he missed more than two games, and he hasn't missed a single one since late 2006. (Even then, it was due to a midseason trade from Denver to Philly.) His production hasn't slipped much at all. Each of the past three seasons he posted a PER between 18 and 19, and this year his PER is sitting right there at 18.8. The embodiment of dependability, he is. Miller won't end up in the Hall of Fame -- he's actually never made an All-Star Game -- but it's been an admirable career nonetheless, and one that shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
4. THIS SPACE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK.
3. Paul Pierce (Inglewood). Yeah, I'm not any happier about this than you are. A career spent with the Boston Celtics and wheelchair-intensive involvement in the 2008 Finals have turned him into Laker fans' bête noire, but once upon a time he starred for the Inglewood Sentinels so I guess we're stuck with him. Rules are rules. Pierce has played at or near All-Star level since the day he entered the league, and like Miller he gives little indication of slowing down. He's not the offensive force he was in the mid-aughts, but his excellent strength, footwork and shooting range still make him a tough guy to guard. His Finals MVP award undoubtedly put him over the top for the Hall of Fame. He could well get a shot at winning another one.
2. Kevin Love (UCLA). Who doesn't love them some Kevin Love? He announces GM firings on Twitter, he refuses to be "left hanging" on high fives, and he blogs (quite well, I might add!) for GQ. Oh, and he goes after every missed shot like he's a condemned man and it's his final meal. At 22 years old he's already the best rebounder in the world. Undersized for a power forward, he gets his shot blocked often by taller bigs, but he makes up for it by getting to the line and by working an improved outside stroke. He's putting up 19 points a night on an above-average 54.4 percent True Shooting mark despite playing for a coach who had trouble recognizing that he should get minutes ahead of Anthony Tolliver. All hoops fans should pray for Love's quick and safe departure from the Timberwolves organization.
1. Russell Westbrook (Lawndale Leuzinger, UCLA). As a high-school senior in 2006, Westbrook was a three-star recruit weighing scholarship offers from Creighton and Kent State. Today he's in the discussion for best young point guard on the planet. He tormented the Lakers in last year's playoffs so badly that Phil Jackson was forced to assign Kobe Bryant to slow him down. Physically, Westbrook's a typhoon on the court. Built like an NFL safety, he uses his freaky speed, hops and body control to blow past hapless defenders en route to the cup. Just ask Shane Battier.
This season, only his third in the league, Westbrook is looking like someone who's about to take up residence on the All-NBA team for the next seven years. He ranks sixth in the league in usage rate, fifth in assist rate and third in PER. He's even outplayed his more celebrated teammate Kevin Durant, whom many expected to win league MVP this year. It's not ridiculous, in fact, to think that if an MVP vote were taken today Westbrook would receive some down-ballot consideration.
So congrats to Russell for placing first in the inaugural SBN Los Angeles SoCal Ballers Power Rankings. (We'll think of a pithier title.) Obviously nothing he ever does will match this prestigious honor. And yes, I've double-checked that he didn't actually attend high school in Fresno.