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…

42. Mike Bibby, Sacramento Kings

By T Ziller of Sactown Royalty

There are three crimes seriously undermining the very existence of our sports world:

1) Michael Irvin has a job.
2) Al Davis’s heart is still beating.
3) Mike Bibby has never made an All-Star game.

That can’t be right, can it? Bibby has only been a top West point guard for, like, five years now. Seriously – there’s Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, and who else? Luke Ridnour? Baron Davis? Smush Parker?

Bibby is a star in exactly one place in the world – Sacramento. In fact, he might not be too big in Sacramento anymore – after the 2002 Western Conference finals played out like a Queensryche video for MB10, he was considered the savior of the team. He signed a giant deal and subsequently came somewhat back to Earth, being consistently great on offense and consistently mediocre on defense. When the Kings ended the golden era without a ring, Bibby faced major backlash locally, a lot of it regarding his lackluster guarding skills/effort. Bibby has been far more dependable than Webber ever was, and certainly more reliable in the big moments than Peja. But the level of Bibby-love has never reached the local fanaticism garnered by the other two, save for two crazy weeks in May 2002. Bibby has been expected to hit every dagger, to stop every oncomer, to end every match with the drunk version of Sam Cassell’s big testicles dance. Instead, he’s sprinkled some amazing games in with otherwise very good performances and maybe a half-dozen drunk big testicles dances. Sacramento wants more.

Every season in Sacramento, Bibby has gotten better. Last season, he turned into a shooter full-time and ended up scoring 20 ppg, despite having gunners like Peja, Artest, and Bonzi alongside him for parts of the campaign. He’s really Gilbert-lite – he’s going to go to the line 6 times a game, he’s going to shoot it 15+ times, and most of those shots are going to be threes. Gilbert is allowed (by personnel and coaching) to go full-throttle on the “point-gunner” mode, while Bibby is maybe 75 percent point-gunner, 25 percent wallflower. (Ron Artest doesn’t need anyone to set the table for him. In fact, he encourages you not to.)

One of these years, Bibby will make an All-Star team, and it’ll be awesome. This year would be terrific: Team Dime + Las Vegas + All-Star weekend = Eddie House in jail. That’s not a guess. That’s science.