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…

40. Antawn Jamison

By Sam Rubenstein

For a guy that was the best player in the nation on one of the highest profile college teams, then came to the league and put up numbers every year, Antawn really flies under the radar. He put up big numbers on some bad Golden State teams, sacrificed his numbers to play for a good Dallas team, and now has settled into the role of putting up a near 20 and 10 as the second best player on the Wizards. Since 2001, he’s played all 82 games every single year, with the exception of the ’04-’05 season, which ironically was the only time he was named to the All-Star team.
His game is hard to describe. He’s a big guy who gets rebounds and scores inside, but he takes and makes alot of threes. He’s never played for a team that stresses defense (that’s an understatement!), and his numbers probably get a boost from the Eddie Jordan system, but you can’t deny that he’s one of the top second bananas in the game. A franchise player? Probably not, but he’s still got a high value to his team.

Antawn also has the rep of being a really nice guy, which tends to stick NBA players the dreaded “soft” label. I prefer to call him a finesse player. But the numbers say that he’s a near 20-10 guy on a team that’s been to the playoffs for two years in a row and should keep going back. Those are rare, and therefore valuable.