With summer dragging on and on and on before the NBA tips off, we’ve decided to initiate a multipart series that will be the definitive look at the best players in the NBA today.

Over lunch at the Outback Steakhouse (word to Steve Irwin), your crack SLAMonline.com staff sat down and ranked the 50 best players in the NBA today. We realize that’s kind of ambiguous, but that’s how basketball is and that’s how we like it. Basically, though, we tried to list the 50 guys we think have the most value to their teams, right now, at this moment. This doesn’t mean they’ll never be traded, and it doesn’t mean they’re due tremendous contract extensions, but it does mean — since value is king in the NBA — that over the next month or so we’ll run down the 50 guys that we think are the 50 best players, right here, right now.

Before long it’ll be time for our annual NBA team previews. Right now it’s time for some law and order…

28. Chauncey Billups

By Sam Rubenstein

What is it that makes an NBA player good? Is it his scoring? Passing and rebounding? Jumping and athleticism? Chauncey Billups might not have the numbers of alot of the superstars in the game, but he wins basketball games. He has heart, and one of his nicknames is Mr. B-b-b-b-b-big shot. It took him a few stops to end up where he belonged, but Chauncey already has a championship and finals MVP in the bag. When the Pistons were considered a team of scrappy overachievers, nobody realized that Chauncey was a star all along.

Some guys have talent for passing the ball, leading to points or stopping the other guy from scoring. Chauncey’s refusal to turn the ball over does just as much to help his team win. From the free throw line, he never misses, so you can not foul him late in the game, and he is the guy that will have the ball in his hand and make the decision of just how the Pistons are going to beat you. Sometimes he gives it up to the hot hand, sometimes he hits a cold blooded three. The bottom line is winning, and that’s what Chauncey does.