Players ranked best as NBA season is approaching the corner, it’s time to bring back our usual preseason rankings of the league.
The recurring theme last playoffs was the league’s rookie revolution, which began with Anthony Edwards‘ near 40-piece in Memphis at the opening of the 2022 playoffs. With the advent of emerging talents like Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, and Jayson Tatum, the next generation is beginning to dethrone some of the stars that have dominated the game for a long time. Tatum eliminated Kevin Durant first and then eliminated Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s Finals MVP. On the other side of the bracket, Luka sent the incumbent Western Conference champions, the Phoenix Suns, packing.
On the verge of cracking the top 10, some of our list’s notable players are Zach LaVine, Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, DeMar Derozan, Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, Karl-Anthony Towns, Damian Lillard, Trae Young, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Devin Booker, and Jimmy Butler.
Here are our top 10 players in the league as of right now:
10. Kawhi Leonard
During the 2021 NBA playoffs, Kawhi Leonard averaged 30.4 points per game and shot 57.3 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from three-point range. As a result of a ruptured ACL, the Clippers star missed the entire 2021-2022 season.
Due to his absence for the whole season, he has dropped mostly in rankings while others have risen, but make no mistake: if Leonard is well and whole when he returns to play, he is still one of the most dominant players in the NBA.
9. Ja Morant
In the days following NBA Media Day, the hilarious image of Ja Morant’s tattoo accompanying his right hand circulated online; its message is simple: ‘HIM.Ja feels that way after reaching the top 10 in a number of NBA rankings for the ’22-’23 season.
He is undoubtedly the most electrifying ‘asset’ on the floor every single night, and only on rare occasions is he not the best. There are a lot of eyes on the Grizzlies’ young nucleus as one of the most promising in the NBA. The Grizzlies making the conference finals is not a hyperbolic notion with Ja leading the way after averaging more than 27 points per game last season.
8. Jayson Tatum
When evaluating Tatum’s position in the NBA, many fans will focus on last season’s sour ending. His record to this point, particularly last season, demonstrates that he is one of the NBA’s most elite wings. Tatum had a memorable year in 2021-2022, earning first-team All-NBA, a third All-Star appearance, and winning the first-ever Larry Bird trophy as the most outstanding player of the eastern conference finals.
There’s reason to believe there’s even more in store for the Celtics superstar this upcoming season, and if that’s the case, his placement on this list may not only be incorrect, but perhaps too high.
7. Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid’s toughness is one thing we can’t question. The fact that he returned to the conference semifinals against Miami despite an orbital fracture and a torn thumb ligament was a true testament to his resilience. As a result, Embiid’s return wasn’t enough to propel the Sixers to the next round, and he’s yet to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
While Embiid did not make it to the NBA postseason, he had another great year, finishing second in the MVP conversation once again, leading the league in scoring, and earning All-NBA recognition.
6. Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic’s NBA resume alone would justify his Hall of Fame induction if he retired today. In addition to being a three-time first-team All-NBA selection and a three-time All-Star, Doncic has established himself as one of the NBA’s most dependable postseason players.
Doncic is now entering the championship-or-bust phase of his career after dismantling the top-seeded Phoenix Suns this past postseason. The expectations for the NBA’s future face don’t seem misguided for a 23-year-old. Those expectations are likely justified based on his performance to date.
5. LeBron James
As evidenced by his 18 consecutive All-NBA and All-Star appearances since entering the NBA in 2003, LeBron James has been firmly positioned in the top five of the NBA conversation since the 2004-2005 season. There will be critics who will point out that James missed the playoffs for the second straight season, but the truth is that no one was better than the kid from Akron when he was on the floor. It was the highest scoring average he’d posted in 15 years, trailing only Joel Embiid’s 30.3 PPG.
Although James is turning 37 in a few months, the expectation remains championship or bust for teams with the King on them, even as he enters his 20th campaign. His ability to turn his individual brilliance into team success in his twilight years remains to be seen. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
4. Steph Curry
For one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, 2021-2022 was a rollercoaster season. During the middle of the season, Curry endured the worst shooting slump of his career, with the lowest field goal percentage in his career (43.7%) and 3-point percentage in his career (38%).
After being the premier guard in the NBA for more than a decade, people began to wonder if he was starting to slip. During the greatest postseason of his career, he won his fourth ring and first Finals MVP award, silencing critics and making anyone who questioned him look foolish. It’s still Stephen Curry’s world, we’re just living in it.
3. Nikola Jokic
Someone with back-to-back MVPs outside the top three is hard to find. Currently, Nikola Jokic’s biggest knock is his lack of playoff success. After their respective injuries, he has played the last two postseasons without Jamal Murray and this year’s playoffs without Michael Porter Jr. Other than that, his performance on the basketball court is unquestionable.
He truly was unable to do anything more in his lone playoff series this year. During his final road game of the season, he scored 30 points, grabbed 19 rebounds, and assisted eight times. In his performance, he proved why he was named league MVP. In the entire series, the now two-time MVP averaged 31-13-6. Now that his team is healthy, the pressure will be on to make it deep into the playoffs. As a back-to-back MVP, you should have your team contending to make a run at a championship.
2. Kevin Durant
As a result of his performance against the Boston Celtics, Kevin Durant received a great deal of criticism. As a player of his caliber, you are held to a different standard. When you consider that KD and Kyrie Irving both played all four games during that playoff series, it could be his worst playoff performance.
A prolific scorer was held to 38 percent shooting from the field in four games and tallied 21 turnovers. While the Celtics were throwing everything at KD defensively, having two and sometimes three defenders mirroring his every move, there’s no excuse for performing that poorly when you are considered a top-two player.
We will not let a four-game stretch erase what Kevin Durant accomplished last season. While Durant led the league in scoring at 27.9 points per game before his MCL injury, he still had the Nets a half-game out of first place after all the drama. James Harden underperformed and Kyrie Irving missed most of the season. It would be unfair to judge KD’s season solely on his playoff series, especially since he was arguably leading the MVP conversation.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
One of the most talented of players on my list.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has cemented his status as the best player in the NBA. Even after his dominant playoff run last season, the consensus around basketball fans still favored Kevin Durant as the best player in the league (we also ranked Durant No. 1) and frankly, after he nearly single-handedly defeated the Bucks in a 7-game series without his co-stars Kyrie Irving and James Harden, it was difficult to debate.
Similar to last postseason, the narrative has completely flipped. Giannis cannot be ranked anywhere other than No. 1. In a playoff series, he became the first NBA player to score 200 points, grab 100 rebounds, and assist 50 times. Even though Giannis lost in Game 7 and struggled, he still did a lot, especially without Khris Middleton.
These players are so far valuable assets to their teams and fans.