Ranking the best players in the NBA is a challenging exercise that always stirs up a healthy amount of debate. The numbers only tell a part of the story and there are many unquantifiable factors that come into play, making it difficult to truly come up with a consensus choice. That has never stopped anyone from coming up with their own take on it though and we’ve decided to weigh in on the discussion with our take on the top 10 players coming into next season below:
Honorable mention: Kawhi Leonard, Zion Williamson
If not for the partially torn ACL that he suffered in a few months ago in the NBA playoffs, Leonard would have been a shoo-in for a top five spot as arguably the best two-way player in the league. Given the nature of his injury, he is expected to miss at least a few months of action and his timetable for return remains uncertain. Regardless of his status, the Los Angeles Clippers did not hesitate on giving him a four-year, $176 million extension earlier this month.
Williamson, on the other hand, has just wrapped up his second year in the NBA with the New Orleans Pelicans where he averaged 27 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. Known primarily for his powerful dunks, he has expanded his game and become an effective ball-handling playmaker. What’s even scarier for opposing teams is that he is only 21 years old and still has much room for improvement, particularly with his outside shot.
#10 Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
‘20-’21 Per-game averages: 28.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 4.1 threes
Lillard is as steady as they come and the Trail Blazers have reaped the benefits through the years. Portland has not missed the playoffs since his sophomore year in the league and it is no coincidence that Lillard has led them in win-shares every year since then. The six-time All-Star remains one of the best game managers in the league with a penchant for hitting clutch shots that gives them a chance to win whenever he is on the floor.
#9 Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
‘20-’21 Per-game averages: 21.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.6 blocks
When healthy, Davis has the talent and physical tools to be near the top of this list, but he has been consistently bogged down by injuries throughout his nine-year career. After finally winning the NBA title in his first year with the Los Angeles Lakers in the ‘19-’20 season, this past year was another injury-riddled one for Davis who appeared in just half of the Lakers’ regular season games. He put up his lowest scoring average since his sophomore year while his rebounds and blocks per game were the lowest in his career. Despite the poor showing by his lofty standards, the 28-year-old remains one of the best players in the league and will only benefit from the extended break afforded by their first round exit last season.
#8 James Harden, Brooklyn Nets
‘20-’21 Per-game averages: 24.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, 10.9 assists, 1.3 steals
Harden is another player who would have ranked much higher if not for injuries. Although his scoring average fell below 30 points for the first time since ‘16-’17, he continued to be one of the most lethal scoring threats in the NBA during his first season with the Brooklyn Nets. Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving hardly shared the floor as a trio, but in the time that at least two out of the three were able to play together, they quashed any doubt that they could co-exist with Harden stepping up as the facilitator of their high-powered offense.
#7 Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
‘20-’21 Per-game averages: 28.5 points on 51.3% shooting, 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steal, 1.4 blocks
If not for the 10 straight games that he missed in March due to a bone bruise, Embiid may have had a stronger case in the NBA MVP race where he settled on a runner-up finish to Nikola Jokic. Embiid has continued to improve on offense, displaying a wide range of post moves to complement his steady jump shot. His shooting splits last season (51.3/37.7/85.9%) were the best of his career and his turnovers have consistently declined with time. On defense, he is one of the most imposing forces in the game and already has three All-NBA Defense selections at the age of 26. Injuries remain the biggest concern with Embiid, but his durability has slowly improved through the years, giving the Philadelphia fanbase hope that he can end their almost 40-year title drought.
#6 Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
‘20-’21 Per-game averages: 27.7 points, 8 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.0 steal
“Single-handedly” and “almost” is a word that often gets thrown around with Doncic’s name nowadays. He almost single-handedly carried the Dallas Mavericks past the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of these past NBA Playoffs and a few weeks later, he almost single-handedly won Slovenia a medal in the Tokyo Olympics. Doncic has quickly ascended into one of the best basketball players in the world at just 22 years old and the next step for him is to start competing for championships, which is something that even someone of his skill-level cannot do alone. The best way for him to solve the “almost” problem is if the Mavericks can get rid of the “single-handedly” conundrum and give him a supporting cast that can help him compete with the best teams in the league.
#5 Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
‘20-’21 Per-game averages: 26.4 points on 56.6% shooting, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.3 steals
The 6’11, 284-pound Jokic has revolutionized the sport as he practically plays point guard for Denver and is an absolute wizard at doing it. He defies his physical limitations with an uncanny passing ability and a penchant for making the right move at just the right time. Jokic remains an efficient shooter despite his ever-increasing usage and his biggest strength might just be his durability as he has yet to appear in less than 72 games in his six-year career. The ‘20-’21 NBA MVP may have ranked even higher if not for Jamal Murray’s season-ending injury, which was catastrophic for the Nuggets’ title hopes as they had a legitimate chance at winning the championship before his season was cut short.
#4 Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
‘20-’21 Per-game averages: 32 points, 48.2/42.1/91.6% shooting splits, 5.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.2 steals
The two-time NBA MVP remains a one man wrecking crew on offense at 33 years old. His 40-foot three-pointers revolutionized the game of basketball and he continues to be one of the most transcendent players in the game today. His scoring average last season was a career-best as he carried a Warriors team that had no business competing for a playoff spot into the inaugural play-in tournament. Curry’s gravity on the court tilts the balance of opposing defenses who are wary of him the second he crosses half court. The return of Klay Thompson this season together with their incoming class of rookies should help give Curry a shot–albeit a slim one–at making the playoffs and competing for another NBA championship.
#3 Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
‘20-’21 Per-game averages: 28.1 points on 56.9% shooting, 11 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.2 blocks
In the Milwaukee Bucks’ run to the NBA championship this past season, the NBA Finals MVP Antetokounmpo was dominant on a level that has not been since Shaquille O’Neal with the title-winning 2001 Lakers. He scored an emphatic 50 points in the championship clincher and also had two other games with more than 41 points in the NBA Finals. After starting out as a lanky teenager playing on the wing, the 26-year-old two-time NBA MVP has matured into his body and fully embraced his potential as an unstoppable inside force.
As a 6’11, 242-pound forward with the mobility of a guard, Antetokounmpo is a nightmare to match-up with as he is faster than players his size and much stronger than anyone who can keep up with his foot speed. His free throw shooting has dropped off to the sub-60% level in the last two postseasons and is the only real obstacle preventing him from taking the crown as the best player in the league.
#2 LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
‘20-’21 Per-game averages: 25 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 1.1 steals
Father Time is slowly catching up to King James, yet the four-time NBA MVP continues to perform at an elite level. Though some of his jaw-dropping athletic abilities are gone, he has made up for it with veteran smarts and crafty moves. It has not even been a full calendar year since they beat the Miami Heat for the title in the NBA Bubble, where James was named Finals MVP for the fourth time.
The 36 year old 17-time NBA All-Star missed time last season due to injury and the Lakers were never able to gain momentum after that, but James follows a notoriously strict regimen that is sure to have him ready for another go at a championship in his 19th year in the league. James remains an imposing physical specimen with an unparalleled ability to control the tempo of a game. If there is anything that the league has learned over the past two decades, it is that you can never truly count out LeBron James.
#1 Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
‘20-’21 Per-game averages: 26.9 points, 53.7/45/88.2% shooting splits, 7.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.3 blocks
Following an Achilles injury in the 2019 NBA Finals, there was understandable concern that Durant would never be the same player. Upon his return, his load was managed for multiple stretches throughout the regular season and come the playoffs, he reaped the benefits of his fresh legs. The 11-time All-Star was in sublime form during the postseason, averaging 34.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. Durant was a few plays away from eliminating the eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the postseason despite Harden playing at less than 100% and Irving sidelined.
If there was any doubt that lingered about his status as the best player in the world following his mesmerizing playoff performance, he put it to rest a few weeks later in the Tokyo Olympics. With Team USA, Durant was their undisputed best player and carried them to the gold medal in an ever-competitive international field. Durant’s recent play has the Nets firmly pegged as the favorite to win the NBA championship this coming season and if he continues to play at this level, there will be little doubt that it is theirs for the taking.