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…

36. Jason Richardson

By Atma Brother #1 and Fantasy Junkie of Golden State of Mind

You all have been sleeping on Jason Richardson aka JRich. No apology necessary.

When JRich came into the league everyone thought he was just another freakishly athletic 2 guard who couldn’t hit a jumper. No apology necessary.

You probably didn’t realize that JRich and Michael Jordan are the only players to win the Slam Dunk in back-to-back years. No apology necessary.

You probably didn’t realize that JRich is one of only 5 players in NBA history to improve their scoring average in each of their first four seasons in the league. No apology necessary.

When JRich had a 7 game stretch last season where he dropped 35, 25, 27, 36, 42, 27, 44 points in a row, he didn’t get any hype on Sportscenter. No apology necessary.

You probably didn’t realize that JRich was having so many phenomenal games last season on a hobbled knee and ankle. No apology necessary.

Last season, when the Warriors were eliminated from playoff contention for the 12th straight year, you probably missed the hustle, heart, and respect JRich brought to this lottery-bound squad. No apology necessary.

No really, no apology necessary.