The NBA offseason was three months of raucously petty chaos. Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George all changed teams. Russell Westbrook and the Golden State Warriors continued their proxy-war. Joel Embiid signed the riskiest, most fascinating extension in league history.
This list is an attempt to zoom out and look at where things stand as we head into the season. Ranking the top-100 players in the league is not an easy exercise, and this list is based on the opinion of this writer alone.
This was not merely an exercise in numbers either. Though stats were heavily considered, other factors were weighed. The eye-test still matters. So does being a good teammate (and yes, this factor was heavily at play when it came to DeMarcus Cousins). No doubt there will be disagreement with these rankings — that is welcome.
Here are the top 100 NBA players heading into the 2017-18 season.
100. Dario Saric, power forward, Philadelphia 76ers
It’s time to quell the excitement around Saric. The 23-year old flashed some potential in his rookie season, but let’s be real. Saric shot 41.1 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from 3. The Sixers scored a pathetic 99.7 points per 100 possessions with Saric on the floor and he showed almost nothing on defense. Saric has some potential — he’s on this list after all — but anyone who was clamoring for him to get Rookie of the Year last season should stop and take a look at the numbers.
99. Danny Green, shooting guard, San Antonio Spurs
Green has become a staple of San Antonio, the type of player you take for granted until he’s gone. The 30-year old shot 37.9 percent from 3 last season, bouncing back from a lackluster 2015-16 campaign. He ranked fourth among shooting guards in defensive real plus-minus as well. Green wasn’t the first ever 3-and-D wing by any stretch, but his role on the title-winning 2014 Spurs arguably popularized the label. He’s still getting it done today.
98. P.J. Tucker, small forward, Houston Rockets
Tucker’s move to Houston gives Mike D’Antoni’s squad some much-needed defensive help. The 32-year old was shipped to Toronto in late February last season. Once he got there, the Raptors had an absurd 98.9 defensive rating with Tucker on the floor. That was over a fairly small sample size. However, there’s no doubt that Tucker made a huge difference for Toronto. For a team that struggles as badly on defense as Houston, his presence is sorely needed.
97. Dennis Schroder, point guard, Atlanta Hawks
Schroder finally became Atlanta’s full-time starter at point guard last season and he was just fine. He averaged 20.5 points and 7.2 assists per 36 minutes on a 49.3 effective field goal percentage and 16.1 PER with below-average defense. That’s good enough to be a starter in the NBA, but well below stardom. Though he’ll start this season for an Atlanta team that’s tanking, Schroder is probably a better fit as a bench player in the long term. That’s not an insult — Schroder proved that he can pilot a team to the playoffs last season. However, he simply isn’t good enough to start on a title contender.
96. Ryan Anderson, power forward, Houston Rockets
Anderson found his ideal role in Houston last season. He got to be a complementary piece on an incredibly efficient pick-and-roll machine, and it worked wonders for his game. Anderson shot 40.3 percent from 3 with the vast majority of those attempts being open, per NBA.com. It didn’t hurt that head coach Mike D’Antoni couldn’t care less about what he did on defense either. At this point in Anderson’s career, it’s fair to say we know what he is: an uber-efficient stretch four who can’t play a lick of defense. In other words, the perfect player for the Houston Rockets.
95. Serge Ibaka, power forward, Toronto Raptors
Ibaka has clearly declined since he was one of the best defensive players in the league a few years ago. However, the 28-year-old is still one of the better rim protectors in the league. Ibaka’s defense is still an asset as he’s started to play more center than power forward recently. On the other end, he shot 39.1 percent from 3 and scored 17.4 points per game. Ibaka also pulled down 8.0 rebounds per 36 minutes. Whether he deserved a three-year, $65 million contract is one of this offseason’s more interesting questions, especially given how his numbers have started to decline. In the near term, however, Ibaka can still be a valuable piece of a playoff team.
94. Taurean Prince, small forward, Atlanta Hawks
Prince had an impressive rookie season, but this is the year where we’ll really get to see what he’s made of. There’s a good chance that he’s the best player on a tanking Hawks squad this season. Nobody expects Prince to take them to the playoffs, however. It will be really interesting to see what he does on this team. Last season, he averaged 12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per 36 with a 45.8 effective field goal percentage. Those are pretty bad offensive numbers, though Prince did great on the defensive end. The Hawks had a 98.4 defensive rating with him on the floor, a number that dropped to 104.7 once he went to the bench. If the offensive numbers begin to catch up, Prince will be a star in the making.
93. Jaylen Brown, small forward, Boston Celtics
Brown’s rookie campaign was a mixed bag. But he flashed enough talent that it quickly became obvious why the Celtics spent the No. 3 pick in the draft on him. The 20-year-old was one of the best defensive players in the rookie class, holding his own against the likes of Washington and Cleveland in the playoffs. Brown will probably never be an offensive superstar, but there were some good signs. He shot 34.1 percent from 3 — higher than his one year at Cal. With just a little improvement, that will tick into efficient territory. He also pulled down 5.9 boards per 36 along while scoring 13.8 points. That’s not half-bad for a rookie on a team that went to the conference finals. Brown has a bright future ahead.
92. Aaron Gordon, power forward, Orlando Magic
Gordon technically played 63 percent of his minutes at small forward last year, per Basketball Reference. But that only made it all the more obvious that he is a power forward. Orlando’s positional clog managed to stunt Gordon’s development even more than it already had been. The simple fact of the matter is that someone who shoots 28.8 percent from 3 can’t play small forward in the NBA. No one can seem to figure out exactly what Gordon’s role is, yet he’s still intriguing enough to make this list. Gordon has some of the best athletic ability in the league, which means something. If only the Magic could figure out how to make it count somewhere other than the Dunk Contest.
91. Robert Covington, small forward, Philadelphia 76ers
Covington is one of the biggest success stories The Process has wrought. The Sixers plucked him off the scrap heap back in 2014 and now Covington is a solid 3-and-D wing. The 2016-17 campaign was a bit of an off-year for Covington, as he shot just 32.9 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s. However, if career numbers are any indication, that should bounce back this season. Covington also led all small forwards in defensive real plus-minus last season. He’s in line for a nice raise after this season, when the four-year, $4 million deal he signed back in 2014 expires.
90. Markieff Morris, power forward, Washington Wizards
The better Morris twin found the right role in his first full season with the Wizards. He was a defensive stalwart, ranking top-10 among power forwards in defensive real plus-minus. Morris isn’t a great offensive player, but he didn’t need to be. Washington is more than happy to take 16.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per 36 if it comes with the type of defense Morris provides.
89. Danilo Gallinari, small forward, Los Angeles Clippers
Gallo will slide right into the Clippers’ rotation this season. If the 29-year-old can stay healthy, he may end up being the team’s second-leading scorer. Gallinari went for 19.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per 36 last year in Denver. That was on a 53.1 effective field goal percentage, his best since 2008-09, a year in which he played just 28 games. He isn’t half-bad on defense either. This was the right pickup for a Clippers team that wants to stay relevant in the West.
88. J.J. Redick, shooting guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Redick is exactly the type of player the Sixers needed. The 33-year old can still sling it from outside — he shot 42.9 percent from beyond the arc last season — and hasn’t lost it on defense yet. He’s a master manipulator off the ball and the type of veteran leader Philly hasn’t had in a long time. He’ll space the floor for Ben Simmons — a player who desperately needs shooting around him — and make opponents pay for helping off him. If the Sixers make the playoffs, adding Redick will be a big reason why.
87. Robin Lopez, center, Chicago Bulls
We’ve arrived at the only spot on this list where we have to discuss the terrible, awful Chicago Bulls. One has to imagine the Bulls will ship Lopez to a playoff team at some point this year, because he’s too good to play for them. RoLo doesn’t put up huge numbers but does a lot of little things. He has a nifty post game, sets hard screens and chases down opposing mascots like they stole something from him. Lopez is a better rebounder than his 8.2 per 36 minutes from last season suggests as well. He will help whichever playoff team decides to trade for him this year.
86. Thon Maker, center, Milwaukee Bucks
There are few players in the league as intriguing as Maker. Beyond his unorthodox path to the league, Maker has a legitimate chance to be a star. He’s a 7-foot-1 freak of nature who’s just 21 years old. The Bucks played him less than 10 minutes per game last year, but it was hard to dislike what we saw. Maker played solid defense, shot well from 3, and the Bucks looked good when starting him in the postseason. Nothing would be surprising from him this year, including a Giannis-esque breakout.
85. Tim Hardaway Jr., shooting guard, New York Knicks
These two things can be true at the same time: Hardaway’s four-year, $70 million contract is an abomination and Tim Hardaway is a solid basketball player. Despite his implosion in the postseason, Hardaway made good progress last season. His 3-point percentage ticked up to 35.7 — a tenth of a point below league average — and the Hawks were a much better team with him on the floor. If the Knicks can continue to develop him (stop laughing), Hardaway will be an above-average starter before long.
84. Evan Fournier, shooting guard, Orlando Magic
There is perhaps no city in the league more anonymous than Orlando — a fact exemplified by the lack of appreciation Fournier receives nationally. The Frenchman averaged 18.8 points per 36 last year. Though his 3-point shooting took a small dive, career numbers indicate that should rebound back to a healthier range this season. Fournier is perhaps the only reliable perimeter scorer on an Orlando team still trying to figure out what position Aaron Gordon plays (power forward) and if Elfrid Payton has a future in the league (he doesn’t). Unless Jonathan Isaac can make a quick impact, that isn’t changing anytime soon.
83. Will Barton, shooting guard, Denver Nuggets
Barton is one in a long line of Denver players who can do great things on the offensive end and struggle on defense. The 26-year-old shot 37.0 percent from 3 last year and had a career-high 50.8 effective field goal percentage. Barton also averaged 5.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per 36 minutes. If only he could defend well. Even so, he’s a valuable part of the rotation for Denver and could become a trade asset. No doubt there will be a market for a bench scorer come February.
82. J.R. Smith, shooting guard, Cleveland Cavaliers
Smith will come off the bench this season after the Cavs signed Dwyane Wade — a decision that could have serious negative consequences if Ty Lue sticks with it through the postseason. Smith had a rough 2016-17 thanks to injuries that kept him out for half the year. However, when healthy, he’s one of the better 3-and-D wings in the league. And yes, defense is included in that evaluation. When Smith tries, he is not a bad defensive player by any stretch of the imagination. Though he hits age 32 this year, Smith is still the best option at shooting guard for Cleveland.
81. Zach Randolph, power forward, Sacramento Kings
Even at age 36, Z-Bo is still good at what he does. He transitioned seamlessly to a bench role in Memphis last season and continued to be the same low-post bruiser he’s been forever. He averaged 20.7 points and 12.1 rebounds per 36. Randolph may lead the Kings in scoring this year, but more importantly, he has a chance to be a veteran leader on a team that won’t go places anytime soon. If he and George Hill instill the right kind of culture in Sacramento, a core built around De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield could blossom into something.
80. Clint Capela, center, Houston Rockets
Every single Rockets player benefited offensively from Mike D’Antoni’s arrival as head coach last year. Capela was no exception. The 23-year-old ranked in the 72nd percentile as a roll man in the pick-and-roll, per NBA.com. He averaged 19.0 points per 36 minutes out of nowhere, along with 12.2 rebounds and solid defense. Even his free-throw shooting went from atrocious — 37.9 percent — to a manageably bad 53.1 percent. The best part is at the age of 23, there’s still time for more improvement.
79. Jeff Teague, point guard, Minnesota Timberwolces
Teague is near the bottom of the “startable point guard on a playoff team,” barrel, but he’s still there and that counts for something. The 29-year-old helped pilot Indiana to the seven seed in the East last season, scoring 17.0 points with 8.7 assists per 36 minutes. Teague’s shooting is worth worrying about in Minnesota — a team that doesn’t have much spacing — but his 35.7 3-point percentage from last year isn’t all that bad in a vacuum. It’s also worth pointing out that despite his flaws as a scorer, Teague had a 19.2 PER last season.
78. Dion Waiters, small forward, Miami Heat
Waiters broke out last season, and man was it fun. Though basketball Twitter’s favorite gunner played just 46 games, Waiters averaged 19.0 points per 36 on a career-high 39.5 percent from 3. He even tossed in 5.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds per 36 to boot. That’s probably his ceiling, but who cares? Waiters will always carry himself like he’s the best player in the league. If he can be a solid player in addition to that, we should all enjoy the ride.
77. Patrick McCaw, shooting guard, Golden State Warriors
If the league was so committed to stopping the Warriors, it probably should have stopped them from trading up to nab McCaw in the second round last year. The UNLV product instantly flashed potential as a 3-and-D wing. Though there are kinks that need to be worked out — and McCaw was doubtlessly helped by playing alongside four future Hall of Famers — his defense is already an asset. If his shooting gets just a little bit better, the Warriors will have another serious weapon in their rotation.
76. Andre Drummond, center, Detroit Pistons
This year feels like the last chance for Drummond to live up to the hype. Though the hulking 24-year old can rebound with the best of them, it’s hard to find any other discernible skill in his game. He isn’t an effective scorer in the post or out of the pick-and-roll. Though Drummond protects the rim well enough on defense, the effects of that are often mitigated by his poor pick-and-roll defense. He also doesn’t have the ability to go against small lineups late in games, a crippling deficiency if Detroit ever gets back to the postseason. And there’s that pesky issue of free throws — Drummond shot 38.6 percent from the line last season. Even after the Hack-a-Shaq rule changed, that’s tough to deal with. Something has to change and fast.
75. Jayson Tatum, small forward, Boston Celtics
Tatum may well end up being the best pure scorer to come out of this draft class. The Duke product has a sweet midrange game and NBA-ready post skills. Though his shooting ability from 3 is a question mark, Tatum looks like the type of player who will average 20 per game sooner, rather than later. Like any other rookie, there’s a lot of development left in his game. However, Tatum will be an instant contributor for the Celtics this year after they traded away depth to get Kyrie Irving.
74. Larry Nance Jr., power forward, Los Angeles Lakers
Nance is a human ball of energy. He’s one of the most dynamic dunkers in basketball and nearly ended Brook Lopez’s life last season. His scoring numbers are underwhelming, however. Nance averaged 9.2 rebounds per 36 last season, and his PER rose above league average. More development on a 3-pointer, which he started to showcase a little bit last season, will do him well.
73. Lonzo Ball, point guard, Los Angeles Lakers
Ball is one of the most gifted passers in the league and he has yet to play a regular season game. He makes his teammates better just by stepping out onto the floor with splendid vision and dazzling assists. Though his shot is mechanically clunky, it’s hard to complain when he was 55.1 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3 last year. Ball also quietly went for 6.0 rebounds per game last season at UCLA. Defense will be an issue early on, but Ball looks like he’ll be a great offensive player right away.
72. Dirk Nowitzki, power forward, Dallas Mavericks
The 39-year old Nowitzki is heading into his 19th year in the league and still getting it done. Even as Dallas has started to repurpose its offense a little, it can still depend on Dirk as a reliable pick-and-pop option. His signature one-legged fadeaway still works as well as ever. He may be a glorified skeleton on the defensive end, but Nowitzki is still an offensive weapon.
71. Cody Zeller, center, Charlotte Hornets
Zeller was one of the most impactful players in basketball last season by on/off metrics. Charlotte had a +5.4 net rating with Zeller on the floor, a number that dropped to -3.6 without him. The seven-footer had a +3.35 real plus-minus. Though he’s far from a premier scorer, Zeller’s 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes helped anchor Charlotte’s defense. Don’t be surprised if Steve Clifford makes the switch and starts Zeller over Dwight Howard early in the season.
70. Greg Monroe, power forward, Milwaukee Bucks
Monroe’s case for Sixth Man of the Year last season should have been given more consideration. With either Jabari Parker or Khris Middleton injured for the entire year, Monroe was often Jason Kidd’s only reliable bench piece. He averaged 18.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per 36 minutes on 53.3 percent shooting from the field. Monroe also had respectable, if unspectacular, defensive numbers. With Parker out for roughly the first half of this year, Monroe will be just as important if the Bucks make a run.
69. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, shooting guard, Los Angeles Lakers
Adding Caldwell-Pope on a one-year deal gave the Lakers a piece they sorely lacked: a capable perimeter defender. KCP is no lockdown defender, but compared to Lonzo Ball and Jordan Clarkson, he might as well be Kawhi Leonard. The 24-year-old also saw his 3-point percentage go up to 35.0 last year. If that ticks up a few more points, he will be in line for a nice payday next summer.
68. Steven Adams, center, Oklahoma City Thunder
After a strong showing in the 2016 playoffs, Adams disappointed last year. Then the Thunder added Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, meaning scoring opportunities will be few and far between for the New Zealander. But that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute. OKC’s defensive rating was 3.9 points better with Adams on the floor last year, a testament to his ability as a pick-and-roll defender and rim protector. He was also solid in the pick-and-roll on the offensive end last year, ranking in the 64th percentile, per NBA.com. Adams will likely continue to get chances there and may prove valuable enough to stick in OKC’s crunch-time lineup, even against smaller groups.
67. George Hill, point guard, Sacramento Kings
Hill is 31 years old and coming off a year in which he played just 49 games. But if that makes you doubt his ranking on this list, just look at the on/off numbers in Utah last season. The Jazz had a +8.6 net rating with Hill on the floor, then dropped to +2.2 without him. Hill has long been one of the better point guards in the league. He’s a wily defender who has deferred on the other end for his entire career. When called upon, however, Hill is happy to help. He had a 55.4 effective field goal percentage last season (a career-high), along with 4.8 assists per 36 minutes. It will be fun to watch him try to whip Sacramento’s young players into shape.
66. Wesley Matthews, small forward, Dallas Mavericks
Matthews isn’t the same player as he was before his Achilles tear, but the decline hasn’t been as bad as some expected. He still qualifies as a solid 3-and-D wing, though both areas have gotten worse since the injury. His shooting numbers in the paint started declining before the injury, and with Matthews turning 31 this year, they probably won’t ever recover. However, Rick Carlisle can still magic a good year out of him.
65. Markelle Fultz, point guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Fultz is just a rookie, but he was the consensus No. 1 pick in one of the best draft classes we’ve had in a long time. He shot 41.3 percent from 3 at the college level and flashed great pick-and-roll ability. He had a 36 percent assist percentage to boot — the second-highest in the draft class, according to Draft Express. While Fultz’s defense is an issue, that’s the case for most young players. Look for him to make an impact right away in Philadelphia.
64. Austin Rivers, guard, Los Angeles Clippers
Rivers — the laughingstock of the league two years ago — turned into a decent player. It was the rare, and richly ironic, triumph for Doc Rivers as a general manager. Rivers, Austin that is, saw his shooting numbers dip into efficient territory last season at 37.1 percent from 3 and a 51.8 effective field goal percentage. He still jacks too many pull-up jumpers and stops the ball too often for a player of his stature. But it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Rivers was a solid defender last season, despite terrible on/off numbers. There are still kinks, but Rivers finally showed us something last season.
63. Devin Booker, shooting guard, Phoenix Suns
Booker started to flash offensive star potential by the end of last season. Not only did he average 22.8 points per 36 minutes, but Booker went for 70 in just one game. However, there’s a long way to go. He still shot just 36.3 percent from 3 and 42.3 percent from the field. He ranked below the 50th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler, per NBA.com. And he was just terrible on the defensive end. At the same time, Booker doesn’t turn 21 until Halloween. There’s a lot of time to improve, and Booker still has star talent.
62. Harrison Barnes, small forward, Dallas Mavericks
For all the crap Barnes got during his time in Golden State and all the fun made at his max deal two summers ago, it became very easy to forget that Barnes is a good basketball player. Maybe not worth a max, especially after the cap fell below its projected amount this year, but Barnes got a chance to be a primary scorer in Dallas last season and did a solid job. He wasn’t the most efficient player in the league with a 16.3 PER and so-so defensive numbers. But 19.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per 36 minutes on an above-average PER is nothing to laugh at. Barnes will never be the star we expected to come out of UNC, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a quality player.
61. Jae Crowder, small forward, Cleveland Cavaliers
Overvalued as Crowder may have been by Celtics fans, there’s no doubt he was a key part of the team’s success over the past two years. He ranked sixth among small forwards in real plus-minus last season — notably higher than Gordon Hayward, his replacement in Boston. That was in large part thanks to a surge in his 3-point shooting that may or may not last. He shot up to 39.8 percent from 33.6 percent, and whether it lasts will define his success in Cleveland. Crowder is a good defender who can switch pick-and-roll and slide to power forward in small lineups. That alone makes him an asset in today’s NBA. Add good shooting to the mix and he’s a player every title contender wants.
60. Jusuf Nurkic, center, Portland Trail Blazers
It’s hard to judge anything that happens over the last month or two of the season because so many teams are tanking. However, Nurkic’s ascension after being traded to the Blazers could also be chalked up to a simpler explanation: he was trying. Nurkic seemed to stop caring in Denver once Nikola Jokic passed him in minutes. But once he got the chance to start in Portland, Nurkic was one of the most effective pick-and-roll centers in the league. He averaged 18.7 points per 36 minutes, clicked with Damian Lillard and was a great rim protector. If this is the real Nurkic, the league should be on notice.
59. Jamal Murray, shooting guard, Denver Nuggets
The returns on Murray after one year are intriguing, to say the least. While the Kentucky product was predictably hapless on the defensive end, Murray flashed great potential as an offensive player. He averaged 16.6 points per 36 minutes despite being forced to play out of position at point guard 41 percent of the time, per Basketball Reference. His catch-and-shoot numbers — 37.7 percent from 3 — indicate that Murray’s efficiency will go up once the Nuggets figure out their point guard situation. If the 20-year-old gets better on the defensive end, he’ll be a great 3-and-D wing.
58. Gary Harris, shooting guard, Denver Nuggets
The 23-year-old Harris started to break out last year. Though he played just 57 games, Harris averaged 17.2 points per 36 minutes on 42 percent shooting from 3. He also had a 58.6 effective field goal percentage, which ranked ninth in the NBA. Though he’s a poor defender and needs development in some areas, Harris’ shooting alone makes him a potential star. If he stays healthy this year, watch out.
57. Derrick Favors, power forward, Utah Jazz
It’s never fun to have a “when healthy,” qualifier, but there’s no choice when discussing Favors. The 26-year-old played just 50 games last season and 62 in 2015-16. However, he’s also a huge part of Utah’s success when on the floor. Favors is a quintessential Quin Snyder player — a dogged defender who busts his butt on both ends, puts up underwhelming traditional numbers but does all the little things to help the team win. It was a bit alarming to see Favors’ PER drop from 21.6 to 15.8 last season, but that can be attributed as much to health than anything else. If the decline continues, it will be time to worry.
56. Avery Bradley, shooting guard, Detroit Pistons
Bradley should be an instant boon to the Pistons’ perimeter defense. He’s one of the best one-on-one defensive players in the league and will ease point guard Reggie Jackson’s burden every night. On the other end, Bradley’s 3-point percentage quietly ticked up to 39.0 last season. It’s unlikely he goes off on a given night, but Bradley can be one of the best 3-and-D players in the league if Stan Van Gundy uses him right.
55. Patrick Beverley, point guard, Los Angeles Clippers
Beverley was named First Team All-Defense for the first time last season, and it’s easy to see why. The Rockets were hugely dependent on Beverley for perimeter defense last season. In fact, he was second among point guards in defensive real plus-minus in 2016-17. Don’t sleep on Beverley’s offensive ability either. He isn’t going to carry L.A.’s offense, but he’s a solidly efficient scorer who knows when to defer. Beverley also averaged 4.9 assists and 6.9 rebounds per 36 minutes in Houston last season. The Clippers should expect a similar contribution.
54. Andre Iguodala, small forward, Golden State Warriors
It’s a travesty that Iguodala hasn’t won Sixth Man of the Year once over the past three seasons. He’s been the most valuable bench player in the league in each of them. Iguodala’s defensive versatility helps unlock Golden State’s death lineup. It speaks volumes about his ability on defense that, even at age 33, the Warriors didn’t hesitate to put Iguodala on LeBron James in last year’s Finals. Though he doesn’t contribute much on the offensive end, he’s still a good enough shooter to punish teams for leaving him open in the corner.
53. Marcus Smart, guard, Boston Celtics
It is almost impossible to be a quality player in the NBA while shooting 35.9 percent from the floor. However, Marcus Smart managed to do it last season. His defense is invaluable to the Celtics. Smart can hound nearly any perimeter player in the league into submission. He’s one of the most physical defenders out there and versatile as well, with the ability to switch onto stretch fours in a pinch. If Smart ever becomes even an average shooter, he’ll be an instant star.
52. Ben Simmons, point guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Simmons has yet to play an NBA game and we don’t really know what position he’ll play. The Sixers will start him at point guard, however, he could guard numerous positions. There’s also a chance he slots down to forward, or even center, in some lineups depending on what head coach Brett Brown wants. Simmons’ shooting will be a major issue as well. All that being said, his passing alone makes him a potential superstar. Simmons has elite vision and generational talent passing the ball. We can’t wait to watch him this year.
51. Rodney Hood, shooting guard, Utah Jazz
Hood will have to shoulder a bigger load in Utah’s offense with Gordon Hayward gone. While Hood isn’t a star of Hayward’s caliber, he should be able to shoulder the responsibility. The 24-year-old is a great shooter, with a 37.1 percent mark from deep. Like most players in Quin Snyder’s system, he can defend pretty well, too. The problem for Hood is finishing — he shot just 33.6 percent in the paint and 55.2 percent in the restricted area last season. If he can get those numbers up, Hood will be Utah’s leading scorer this year.
50. Eric Gordon, shooting guard, Houston Rockets
There’s a good argument that Gordon’s defense should have prevented him from winning Sixth Man of the Year last season, but that doesn’t change what he achieved on the offensive end. In a bench role for the first time in his career, Gordon went for 18.9 points per 36 minutes on a 52.7 effective field goal percentage. Head coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense seemed to unlock the best version of Gordon. He was a huge beneficiary of the Rockets’ pick-and-roll machine and likely will be again this year.
49. Jrue Holiday, point guard, New Orleans Pelicans
If Holiday can ever stay healthy for a full season, watch out. The perpetually injured 27-year old isn’t incredibly dynamic. However, he can pilot an offense as well as anyone else in the league. Holiday averaged 16.9 points and 8.0 assists per 36 last season in 67 games. Perhaps the most telling stat when it comes to Holliday: The Pelicans had a +0.9 net rating with him on the court. Without him, the number dropped to -4.8.
48. Andrew Wiggins, small forward, Minnesota Timberwolves
It’s hard to know what to make of Wiggins. Through three years in the league, he’s been a potent volume scorer. He averaged 22.8 per 36 last season, and that number has gone up every year he’s been in the league. However, Wiggins is also just an average 3-point shooter whose 16.5 PER was just barely above average last season. He’s not a great passer and doesn’t shoot all that efficiently. Defensively, every advanced number paints Wiggins as an albatross. By the eye test, last year was pretty brutal for him as well — in fact, he seems to be getting worse on that end. He’s still only 22 years old, but this feels like a watershed year for Wiggins.
47. Myles Turner, center, Indiana Pacers
With Paul George traded to Oklahoma City, perhaps the only thing worth looking forward to in Indiana this season is the prospect of an offense built around Turner. If he stretches his range from 18 feet to the 3-point line, he’ll become an instant pick-and-pop menace. However, Turner already has great offensive skill. He averaged 16.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per 36 on a 53.4 effective field goal percentage last year. He’s already one of the better defensive centers in the league as well with a +2.57 defensive real plus-minus.
46. Jabari Parker, power forward, Milwaukee Bucks
Unfortunately, Parker will miss a healthy portion of the season recovering from a torn ACL. However, when healthy, he’s one of the most dynamic power forwards in the league. Last year looked to be his breakout season until the injury — Parker averaged 21.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per 36 minutes on a 53.0 effective field goal percentage. The 22-year-old could use some improvement defensively. But if he comes back strong from this injury, he’ll reach stardom sooner rather than later.
45. LaMarcus Aldridge, power forward, San Antonio Spurs
Few players fell off a cliff as fast as Aldridge. He went from an All-Star in the Western Conference to someone who felt useless during the playoffs. Despite that, Aldridge is still a solid power forward. He averaged 19.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per 36 minutes last year on an 18.6 PER. Despite the drop-off, those numbers aren’t all that bad. It’s easy to fall into groupthink or judge Aldridge compared to what he used to be. But when we take that away, it’s clear that he’s still an above-average power forward.
44. Tristan Thompson, center, Cleveland Cavaliers
It’s hard to see a lot of what Thompson does for the Cavs. He’s a tertiary offensive player on a team with three of the best offensive players in the league, which generally doesn’t lead to credit being handed out. However, Thompson is one of the best rebounders in the league and arguably the best offensive rebounder in the game. He’s one of few pure centers who can hang against small-ball lineups and switch on defense when needed. And even though he rarely scores, Thompson is a great screener, ranking in the 79th percentile as a roll man last year, per NBA.com.
43. Malcolm Brogdon, point guard, Milwaukee Bucks
It’s not often that a second-round pick takes home Rookie of the Year honors, but Brogdon did just that last season. Though he isn’t a dominant scorer, Brogdon was ruthlessly efficient. He shot 40.4 percent from 3 with a 51.8 effective field goal percentage. That was along with 5.8 assists per 36 minutes. Brogdon was also the rare rookie who made his team better on the defensive end. Despite his relatively old age for an NBA sophomore, Brogdon could develop into a star.
42. Hassan Whiteside, center, Miami Heat
Whiteside should be one of the most impactful defensive centers in the game. He blocks anybody who gets near the rim and holds opponents to a 51.0 field goal percentage inside six feet. However, the on/off numbers tell a different story. Miami was 3.1 points per 100 possessions better on the defensive end without Whiteside on the floor. Whether that has to do with rebound and block chasing — Whiteside led the league in rebounds per game last year — or something else is up for discussion. However, that stat prevents him from being higher on this list.
41. Otto Porter Jr., small forward, Washington Wizards
2017 was Porter’s best season. He saw career-highs in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, 3-point shooting, effective field goal percentage and PER, among other stats. The biggest part of that was shooting — Porter went from being a roughly average 3-point shooter to fifth in the NBA in effective field goal percentage. He’s also a solid defender who can slide to power forward in some lineups. This could be the year he takes the leap.
40. Kemba Walker, point guard, Charlotte Hornets
Walker got his first All-Star nod last season. He earned it. The 27-year-old averaged a career-high 24.1 points per 36 along with 5.7 assists. That was on a 52.7 effective field goal percentage — another career-high — buoyed by a 39.9 percent mark from 3. Walker had a 21.3 PER and finished eighth among point guards in real plus-minus. One of the few positive side effects of the East being so desolate this season is that we get to appreciate Walker more.
39. Bradley Beal, shooting guard, Washington Wizards
We finally saw what a healthy Beal could do last season, and he didn’t disappoint. Beal had a career-high 20.1 PER along with a 56.6 effective field goal percentage. He scored 23.9 points per 36 and finished fourth among shooting guards in real plus-minus. Beal is a solid defender as well and had some of the most impressive on/off numbers in basketball. The Wizards were 12.4 points per 100 possessions better with Beal on the floor than off. Some of that may be due to their godawful bench unit, but it’s still a dang impressive number.
38. C.J. McCollum, shooting guard, Portland Trail Blazers
McCollum’s calling card is his shot. The 26-year-old had a 54.4 effective field goal percentage last season, led the league in free throw percentage and hit from 3 42.1 percent of the time. That includes a 43.1 percent mark on pull-up 3-pointers — a number that separates McCollum from the pack. Though he can be a space cadet on defense, McCollum has been a perfect complement to Damian Lillard in Portland’s backcourt. The two have developed great chemistry — when they shared the floor, Portland had a +3.7 net rating last season.
37. Carmelo Anthony, small forward, Oklahoma City Thunder
Anthony’s situation in New York became so toxic that it became hard to appreciate him as a player. He doesn’t do much on defense, doesn’t share the ball enough and by no means deserved to be an All-Star at any point after 2014. But Anthony is still a top-40 player in the league. As an isolation scorer, he rated in the 78th percentile last year, according to NBA.com. He also averaged 23.5 points per 36 minutes. While his shooting could have been more efficient, that was as much a result of the triangle as it was Anthony. If he develops chemistry with Paul George and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, Anthony could enjoy a nice resurgence.
36. Eric Bledsoe, point guard, Phoenix Suns
Bledsoe is a victim of being on a tanking team in a small market. However, there’s a reason the Suns told him to take a seat at the end of last season: he was too good. Bledsoe averaged 23 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per 36 minutes last season for a 22.7 PER. Despite the bar being on the floor, he was also one of the better defensive players on the hapless Suns. If Phoenix decides to trade Bledsoe at some point this year and he gets to play on a real basketball team before the end of his prime, watch out.
35. Al Horford, center, Boston Celtics
Horford is 31 years old and barely averaged over 15 points per 36 last season, so it can be hard to pinpoint his value. However, even if he’s on the decline in terms of aging, Horford is one of the best all-around centers in the league. He finished behind only Nikola Jokic and Marc Gasol among centers in assists last season. And though he isn’t much of a rebounder, Horford still had solid defensive numbers. His contract may become an issue sooner rather than later, but not this year.
34. Goran Dragic, point guard, Miami Heat
The 31-year old Slovenian is still at it. Dragic was one of the catalysts in Miami’s resurgence during the second half of last season. He averaged 21.7 points and 6.2 assists per 36 and shot a cool 40.5 percent from 3. A pick-and-roll maestro, Dragic was in the 79th percentile as a ball-handler, per NBA.com. During Miami’s run after the All-Star break, the Heat had a +5.9 net rating with Dragic on the floor.
33. Joel Embiid, center, Philadelphia 76ers
Embiid was one of the hardest players to rank because he’s played just 31 games. However, if he were to play as well as he did in 31 games over a full season, he’d be an MVP candidate. Embiid averaged 28.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.5 blocks(!) per 36 minutes, shot 46.6 percent from the floor, including 36.7 percent from 3, and had a 24.1 PER. The Sixers — yes, the Sixers — had a +3.2 net rating with Embiid on the floor. The Celtics had the best record in the Eastern Conference with a +3.1 net rating on the year.
32. Blake Griffin, power forward, Los Angeles Clippers
Griffin is one of the league’s most intriguing players this season. At his peak — when the Clippers beat the Spurs in the 2015 playoffs — Griffin looked like a top-5 player in the entire league. He was scoring, passing and rebounding at an absurd clip, running the team’s offense at times, and playing good defense. Since then, he just hasn’t been the same. Whether that’s because of injuries or something else is hard to say, but Griffin is still just 28 years old. With Chris Paul gone, the Clippers need Griffin to regain All-Star form. Maybe that means playing him at center, putting the ball in his hands more, or something completely different. But Griffin should be better than the 32nd-best player in the league.
31. Nikola Jokic, center, Denver Nuggets
Jokic’s complete lack of defensive anything keeps him from being higher on this list. However, it’s hard to find a center as offensively talented (and fun to watch) as him. The 22-year-old averaged 21.6 points, 12.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists per 36 minutes last season, leading all centers in real plus-minus. He’s a wizard when passing the ball, has some nifty post moves and can step out to shoot jumpers if necessary. If he improves to 35 percent from 3 this season from 32.4 percent last season, Jokic becomes downright scary. If he gets better on defense, Denver has its franchise player.
30. DeMarcus Cousins, center, New Orleans Pelicans
If we did this ranking based solely on numbers, Cousins would be at least 10-15 spots higher. Statistically speaking, he’s right there with Gasol as the best center in basketball. But other factors have to be taken into account and Cousins is perhaps the worst teammates in basketball. There were countless horror stories from his time in Sacramento, and there’s a reason he was traded for such a small return. There’s a reason he never came close to winning with the Kings, and there’s a reason his on/off numbers in New Orleans showed the Pelicans were better without him. Others don’t like playing with Cousins. He doesn’t make his teammates better. Until that changes, his numbers don’t really matter.
29. Kevin Love, power forward/center, Cleveland Cavaliers
Now that we know the Cavs are planning to start Love at center, his role is even more fascinating. With LeBron James saving himself for the playoffs, Kyrie Irving gone and Isaiah Thomas out for the foreseeable future, Love’s usage rate is set to rise. Despite often being the odd man out in Cleveland, Love still averaged 21.8 points and 12.7 rebounds on a 51.0 effective field goal percentage last season. If the Cavs decide to build parts of their offense around Love at the elbow instead of giving him token touches, those numbers will rise.
28. Khris Middleton, shooting guard, Milwaukee Bucks
Middleton is easily one of the most underrated players in basketball. He played just 29 games last season due to injury, but that shouldn’t be an issue this year as he was back by February. If you want to understand Middleton’s impact, just look at the playoffs. Though it was over just a six-game sample, the Bucks were had a +2.9 net rating with Middleton on the floor. That dropped to -15.4 without him. The 26-year-old is a stalwart defender who shoots over 40 percent from 3 and does nearly everything well. He won’t blow you away, but Middleton is worth every penny of the $70 million the Bucks are paying him.
27. Kristaps Porzingis, power forward, New York Knicks
Porzingis is just 22 years old, will probably play more center in a post-Phil Jackson world, and Carmelo Anthony plays for the Thunder now. That could add up to a true breakout season for the Latvian. Last year, despite brazen mismanagement from the Knicks, Porzingis still managed nearly 20 points and eight rebounds per 36 minutes. He also averaged 2.1 blocks per 36 and held opponents to 51.1 percent from the field at the rim. If New York focuses its offense around Porzingis as the pick-and-roll screener instead of Anthony in the triangle, the possibilities are endless.
26. DeMar DeRozan, shooting guard, Toronto Raptors
It’s so easy to get caught up in all the things DeRozan doesn’t do that we tend to forget just how many things he does well. There’s a reason he’s been an All-Star three times, including the last two seasons. DeRozan is one of the league’s best volume scorers and yes, that skill still matters even in the age of analytics. He’s deadly from midrange, got to the line nearly nine times per game last season, and maintained a career-high 24.0 PER. That’s still valuable in today’s NBA.
25. Karl-Anthony Towns, center, Minnesota Timberwolves
It’s so easy to forget this, because Towns has been in the league for two years and in the public eye for three, but the Kentucky product is just 21 years old. He couldn’t legally drink until after Donald Trump had been elected president. Towns averaged 24.6 points and 12 rebounds per 36 last year with a 25.9 PER. He made opponents respect him from outside, shooting 36.7 percent from 3 while maintaining a post game that ranked in the 86th percentile, per NBA.com. Sure, his defense could use some improvement, but Towns did all of that at 21. Think of what he’ll do in his prime.
24. Paul Millsap, power forward, Denver Nuggets
If Millsap’s traditional stats make you bristle at this ranking, here’s all you need to know. Last season, with Millsap on the floor, the Hawks scored 105.0 points and gave up 103.0 points per 100 possessions. That +2.0 net rating would have ranked between the Cavs and Wizards if Atlanta had it for the full season. Without Millsap, the Hawks scored 98.4 points and gave up 103.4 points per 100 possessions. That -5.0 net rating would have ranked between the Kings and Suns if Atlanta had it for the full season. Millsap’s traditional numbers aren’t great, but the guy makes everything tick on both ends of the floor.
23. Mike Conley, point guard, Memphis Grizzlies
Even as he hits age 30 this season, there are few point guards in basketball you’d trust over Mike Conley. The veteran isn’t a star scorer — he hit a career-high 22.2 points per 36 last season — but he’s capable and efficient. Conley had a 54.5 effective field goal percentage last year on 40.8 percent shooting from 3. Conley knows how to share the ball as well. Not just in terms of racking up assists, though he has them, but Conley knows how to defer. He’s an unselfish player who puts in the defensive effort, plays through injury and does all the little things.
22. DeAndre Jordan, center, Los Angeles Clippers
It’s hard to think of Jordan as a star in the traditional sense because, outside of finishing lobs, he rarely scores. Though Jordan has led the league in both field goal and effective field goal percentage for five straight seasons, he also averaged less than 15 points per 36 last year. Much of the work Jordan does is dirty — he sets screens, rebounds, plays defense, and tries to avoid embarrassing himself at the free throw line. That usually isn’t the repertoire of an All-Star, but Jordan is the best at what he does and by a long shot.
21. Isaiah Thomas, point guard, Cleveland Cavaliers
It looks right now like Thomas will miss a healthy part of the season with a hip injury sustained during last season’s playoffs. However, this ranking doesn’t take that into account. When healthy, Thomas is one of the most dynamic scorers in the league. He was second only to Russell Westbrook in fourth-quarter scoring last season. Though he’s near worthless on the defensive end, Thomas averaged 30.8 points and 6.3 assists per 36 last season. It’s hard to find an offensive skill he doesn’t have.
20. Damian Lillard, point guard, Portland Trail Blazers
Lillard is a franchise point guard. The question is, to what extent. It’s clear he’s in a class below the likes of Westbrook, Wall, and even Irving. Lillard is a terrible defender and despite great offensive numbers, he isn’t an overwhelming superstar. That being said, the 27-year-old scored 27 points with 5.9 assists per 36 last year. He had a career-high 24.1 PER and ranked in the 93rd percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler, per NBA.com. Surround him (and C.J. McCollum) with capable two-way players and the Blazers become instant title contenders.
19. Gordon Hayward, small forward, Boston Celtics
Watching Hayward develop into an All-Star in a stacked Western Conference (at least last year), was so much fun. He’s become a go-to scorer in clutch situations who averages 22.9 points per 36 while getting teammates involved and shooting efficiently. Hayward came close to scraping 40 percent from 3 last season, landing at 39.8. He had a career-high 22.2 PER while playing good defense. Playing under Brad Stevens again in Boston will suit him well.
18. Klay Thompson, shooting guard, Golden State Warriors
At this point, it seems fair to say that Thompson is one of the best five shooters of all time. He’s been top-10 in field goal percentage every year since 2013, but that isn’t what’s prompted his ascension over the last couple years. Thompson has developed into one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders and usually takes the toughest matchup on a given night. He’s also added some dribbling acumen and a nifty post fadeaway to what was previously a one-dimensional offensive game.
17. Rudy Gobert, center, Utah Jazz
Gobert is the most underrated player in the top-25 of this list because of two reasons. First, he plays in Utah. Second, 85 percent of his value comes on defense. We won’t downgrade him for either. Gobert is easily the best rim protector in basketball — he held opponents to just 48.9 percent shooting inside six feet, per NBA.com. The Jazz were nearly seven points better per 100 possessions on the defensive end with Gobert on the floor. The Stifle Tower also led the league in defensive real plus-minus and blocks.
16. Kyle Lowry, point guard, Toronto Raptors
Everyone — including Kyle Lowry — seems to forget this in the postseason, but Kyle Lowry is a star. According to NBA.com, he ranked in the 95th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler last season while hitting a career-high in scoring. Quietly, Lowry is one of the best shooters in the league as well. He shot an absurd 42.2 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s last year, which accounted for much of his success in the pick-and-roll. Even as Lowry hits age 31, it feels like he’s hitting his stride.
15. Kyrie Irving, point guard, Boston Celtics
If you were to start drafting guys you’d want to take the last shot of Game 7 of the Finals, Irving would be in the top five. After all, he had the game-winning shot of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. As an isolation scorer, there are few players in the league better than Irving by the eye test or numbers. Last season, he ranked in the 94th percentile of isolation scoring, per NBA.com. However, Irving gets some demerits: he could be a more willing passer — especially given that he’ll run Boston’s offense this year. His defense is atrocious as well, and Cleveland consistently had to work around it in the postseason. Those two things prevent Irving from being a truly dominant player.
14. Draymond Green, power forward, Golden State Warriors
It may raise some eyebrows that Green is so high on this list, but the Warriors simply don’t work without him. Green can guard any player at any position effectively and won Defensive Player of the Year last season. He’s the catalyst of Golden State’s Death Lineup. According to NBA Wowy, the Warriors had an absurd +14.0 net rating when Green played center with any lineup. And despite not bringing the same offensive firepower as some of his teammates, Green has developed into a great passer, instinctive cutter and solid finisher.
13. Paul George, small forward, Oklahoma City Thunder
During his time with the Indiana Pacers, George proved himself capable of being the best player on a playoff team even after Lance Stephenson, David West, George Hill and Roy Hibbert all left (and, with the exception of Hill, either got old or saw their careers collapse). Now, he’s the second option with OKC. George may not have as glamorous a role this year, but he can still be a go-to player on the offensive end as needed. He may not want to, but George can play the four effectively and shoot efficiently from anywhere on the floor. Defense is also a calling card — George can switch one-through-four and made the All-Defense team as recently as 2016.
12. Jimmy Butler, small forward, Minnesota Timberwolves
Butler has become one of the league’s more underrated superstars, and that won’t change in Minnesota. However, the 28-year old has good numbers across the board, averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per 36 last year. He can get to the line and score in isolation. Butler even pulled his 3-point percentage above league average last season. That all comes in addition to Butler’s defensive contributions — the Bulls gave up nearly four extra points per 100 possessions without him on the floor last season.
11. John Wall, point guard, Washington Wizards
It is so hard to be a superstar in the NBA if you can’t shoot above league average from outside at any position, let alone point guard. Yet, Wall has done it. Whenever opposing teams dare him to shoot by ducking under a screen, Wall turns on the jets and flies to the rim. He’s a great finisher and quietly saw an uptick in free throw attempts last year. Wall is a pinpoint passer as well, having averaged over 10 assists per game for three straight years. Right now, he’s the best point guard in the East.
10. Giannis Antetokounmpo, small forward, Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak broke out in a big way last season, making the All-NBA Second Team and leading the Bucks back to the postseason. Antetokounmpo is the rare star wing who can’t shoot, making up for it by obliterating defenders who dare sag off with drives to the basket. According to NBA.com, he drove 8.7 times per game last season, shooting 51.1 percent on such instances. Antetokounmpo has also become a defensive force thanks to his absurd length, ranking just outside the top-10 small forwards in defensive real plus-minus last season.
9. Marc Gasol, center, Memphis Grizzlies
Gasol has gotten the short shrift in recent years as the Grit-n-Grind era has drawn to a close in Memphis. However, instead of going the way of most big men, Gasol has adjusted his game to the changing tides, adding a 3-pointer to the mix last season. He 38.8 percent from outside in 2017, the first time Gasol had ever shot more than 0.2 3s per game. Gasol didn’t lose his post game in doing so either. He ranked in the 70th percentile when it came to post-up scoring last season, per NBA.com. Moreover, Gasol is still one of the best defensive big men in the league, even at the age of 32.
8. Chris Paul, point guard, Houston Rockets
Speaking of older players who haven’t lost a step, Chris Paul is still a top-3 point guard in the league. Though he played just 61 games with the Clippers last season due to injury, Paul ranked fifth in the league (and led all non-Warriors) with a +14.9 net rating. Paul is hands-down both the best passer and defender in the league from the point guard position. It will be fascinating to see him share the floor with James Harden in Houston this year.
7. Anthony Davis, center, New Orleans Pelicans
Davis has been stuck in a bad situation in New Orleans, but that shouldn’t overshadow what he’s done as in individual player. Last season, he finished fourth in the league with a 27.5 PER, averaging 28 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Davis was also one of the most valuable players in the league when it came to his own team’s success. The Pelicans were 10.4 points better per 100 possessions with Davis on the floor than on the bench. That difference was greater than the one between the Washington Wizards (+1.6 net rating) and the Los Angeles Lakers (-7.2 net rating).
6. Russell Westbrook, point guard, Oklahoma City Thunder
Before we parse through why Westbrook is lower than both players who finished behind him in MVP voting last season, let’s give him some credit. Westbrook became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double last season and led the league in scoring on a per-game basis, which is pretty amazing. At the same time, however, Westbrook didn’t make his teammates better. Although the Thunder would have been a hapless lottery team without him, Westbrook made his own individual success more important than Oklahoma City’s last season. This was especially evident on the defensive boards, where Westbrook was clearly more concerned with getting to a triple-double than getting out in transition. The Thunder ultimately didn’t play for each other last season. They played for Russ. That downgrades him on these rankings.
5. James Harden, shooting guard, Houston Rockets
Harden earns the nod here for spearheading the only offense in the league that rivaled the Warriors in terms of efficiency. As little as he contributes on defense, Harden managed to lead the league with 11.2 assists per game and in points created off assists, with 27.1 per game. Moreover, he scored 29.1 points per game, made getting to the free throw line into an art form, and finished fifth in PER. In any other year, he was a lock to win MVP. And there’s a good argument he should have won it last year, even with Westbrook making history.
4. Stephen Curry, point guard, Golden State Warriors
The country seemed to collectively develop Curry fatigue last season. Not only did his numbers come down to earth (at least on a relative basis) after a transcendent two-year stretch, but it became fashionable to hate the Warriors after Kevin Durant defected to the Bay. Here’s the problem with that: Stephen Curry is still the greatest shooter of all-time and the best point guard in basketball. He had a 58.0 effective field goal percentage in 2017, and it was considered a down year! He assisted over 30 percent of Golden State’s baskets while on the floor and, critics be damned, played pretty good defense most of the time. Do yourself a favor and don’t stop appreciating Stephen Curry because of Kevin Durant.
3. Kawhi Leonard, small forward, San Antonio Spurs
People like to call Leonard the best two-way player in basketball, which is a good way of telling on themselves for undervaluing defense most of the time and undervaluing offense when it comes to Leonard. Not only is Leonard the best defensive player in the league, he’s miles better than the competition. Leonard might be the only defensive player in the league’s history to regularly inspire opposing teams to take their best player out of the offensive gameplan. Moreover, Leonard carried the Spurs on the offensive side of things as well. He averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 48.5 percent shooting from the field and 38.0 percent shooting from 3. San Antonio won 61 games despite Leonard being its only All-Star, a fact that should have gotten more consideration in the MVP debate. Between himself, Westbrook, and Harden last season, Leonard was undoubtedly the best overall player.
2. Kevin Durant, small forward, Golden State Warriors
Durant is a cinch for this spot after winning his first championship and being the best player on arguably the best team of all time in 2017. Though he missed 20 regular season games due to injury and shared the ball with three other superstars, Durant still averaged 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game last season. During the postseason, he won Finals MVP and bailed out the Warriors on the only occasion they had to play a close game. Golden State’s 16-1 playoff run cemented Durant as an all-time great. Expect his status to rise even more in the coming years.
1. LeBron James, small forward, Cleveland Cavaliers
The league is as good as its ever been, but James is still its undisputed top dog, even at age 32. During his second stint in Cleveland, James has put himself among the best two or three players ever in the minds of many people. Not only is he still a dominant scorer, but James is the best passer in the league today. Oh, and he averaged 8.6 rebounds per game last season, led the league in both minutes per game and playoff minutes, and ripped through the Eastern Conference like tissue paper. Any questions?