Now that the big three and super-team era seemingly in the rear-view mirror with the Golden State Warriors’ loss in the 2019 NBA Finals, there’s parity in the Association once again. Each team has at least one, if not two, legitimate stars that their respective franchises can build around.
While some stars might be older, others are either just hitting their peak or are young but have shown enough flashes of stardom that they can be considered future stars. That said, even though a particular team doesn’t have a great record — be it due to injury or something else — there are still some worthwhile players to look at.
Without further ado, here are the top-40 NBA players right now.
40. R.J. Barrett, New York Knicks
As the Knicks’ latest draft pick, Barrett was the clear choice to choose from that squad. No other player on the roster has the same upside that the 19-year-old Barrett possesses and his ability to play either the two or three makes him a valuable piece for the Knicks moving forward. Whether the Knicks have an ability to capitalize on his upside remains to be seen.
39. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Every time LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, they have tried to build around a point guard. In 2011, it was Kyrie Irving. This time around, it’s Collin Sexton. Sexton is the clear-cut choice as the Cavaliers’ main building block — no other player is as young (21) or has the scoring acumen (20.8 ppg) that he has.
38. Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons
After having his best all-around season in 2018-2019, Griffin’s recurring injury history has caught up with him and he has barely played this season. When he’s been on the court though, the 30-year-old looks like a shell of the former six-time All-Star he was as his overall numbers are way down compared to previous years. Still, he’s still the Pistons’ best player when healthy.
37. Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets
Although the Hornets surprised everyone by signing Terry Rozier to a three-year, $58 million contract, perhaps even more surprising was Graham’s growth. After averaging 4.7 points, 2.6 assists and 1.7 rebounds per game as a rookie, Graham has exploded this year, putting up 18.2 points, 7.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds. The 24-year-old has to improve his shooting but he’s a surprising second-year player.
36. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
No longer just a dunker, LaVine has improved in almost every other facet of his game from his shooting averages to his per game totals. Only 24, LaVine has a lot of time to improve other facets of his game to become one of the better all-around players in the NBA. One has to hope that the Bulls find a competent coach to fully maximize LaVine’s potential.
35. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
An amazing defensive player, the “Stifle Tower” has shown that he can stop almost anyone at the rim. His offense needs work if he is to stay on the court against smaller, faster teams. But as long as he plays his role, he’ll be fine. Judging by the fact that Gobert has two Defensive Player of the Year awards and is a two-time All-NBA selection, he’s doing something right.
34. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
A throwback to bigs of the past, Vucevic has been slowly expanding his offensive game to include a three-point shot and more perimeter shots. Nevertheless, the 29-year-old is the Magic’s best player: he’s top-three in points (first), rebounds (first) and assists (tied for third). On his back, the Magic made it back to the playoffs last season after a six-year hiatus.
33. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
The other half of the vaunted “Splash Bros.,” the 30-year-old Thompson is one of the greatest shooters the NBA has even seen. Because of how great of a shooter he is, Thompson can score 30-plus in a quarter or even score 60-plus on fewer than 15 dribbles in the blink-of-an-eye. If he’s not destroying opposing teams offensively, he’s doing it on the defensive end as he’s an All-Defensive-type performer.
32. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
Initially a throw-in piece in the Paul George trade, the 23-year-old Sabonis is thriving in Indiana. He’s averaging career-highs in points (18.5), rebounds (12.4) and assists (5.0). As such, he made his first All-Star team in 2020. If he keeps this up, it won’t be the last.
31. Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
He may be the oldest player on the roster at 34, but Chris Paul is showing that he still has gas left in the tank. Under Paul’s tutelage, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder are enjoying career years. Although he’s past his prime and his numbers are aren’t “Chris Paul-like”, CP3 is still the Thunder’s best player, especially in the locker room.
30. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Taking a back seat to Kawhi Leonard in 2018-19, Lowry saw his scoring numbers (14.2) fall to the second-lowest since 2013 (11.6). But with Leonard taking his talents to Southern California, the 33-year-old Lowry and Pascal Siakam represent the de facto one-two punch as the former is averaging 19.7 points while the latter is averaging 23.6 points for a Raptors squad looking to repeat.
29. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
Although a case can be made that 27-year-old Buddy Hield is the Kings’ best player, that title still belongs to De’Aaron Fox. The 22-year-old Fox leads the Kings in scoring (20.4) and assists (6.8) per game. With so many young pieces in Sacramento, it’ll only be a matter of time before the Kings are back in the playoffs, led by Fox.
28. Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
For the New Orleans Pelicans, it was a three-man race between Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday. In all honesty, they’re all good players. Ultimately, the 29-year-old Holiday is the Pelicans’ best player right now because he is consistent on both sides of the ball. Additionally, the 22-year-old Ingram is sporadic and Williamson has only played 19 games.
27. DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs
Even without a three-point shot, the 30-year-old DeRozan has found a way to stay effective. An excellent mid-range shooter, he improved his rebounding and passing since coming to the Spurs in 2018. Even though he’ll never be a defensive presence, count on DeRozan to put up 20/5/5 every night.
26. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
At just 20, the runaway Rookie of the Year is leading the Grizzlies in scoring (17.6) and assists (6.9) while sitting at third with 3.4 win shares. Morant was slated to be good coming out of Murray State but he has exceeded all expectations, leading Memphis to surprise playoff contention. It’ll be interesting to see how much better Morant can get in the future.
25. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
As part of Boston’s three-headed monster, the 21-year-old Tatum has taken that next step of being the go-to option on offense. Leading the Celtics in scoring (23.6) and three-point shooting (39%), he has shown that he can lead a playoff team. If he keeps playing the way that he is, he is a lock to be an All-Star every year.
24. CJ McCollum, Portland Trailblazers
Although Damian Lillard got a lot of credit for leading the Trailblazers to a surprise Western Conference Finals appearance in 2019, that couldn’t have been done without McCollum. As a consistent 20-plus point per game scorer, the 28-year-old McCollum is the perfect complement to Lillard. Defense might be an issue, but that doesn’t hurt as much if the team is able to outscore its opponents with ease.
23. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
In all honesty, LaMarcus Aldridge and the aforementioned DeRozan could switch positions on this list and no one would bat an eye. Both players are similar in that they can put up an easy 20-piece on mainly mid-range shots and have shown a weakness on the defensive end. However, Aldridge can hit the occasional three-pointer. But his advanced age of 34 makes it difficult for him to be ranked higher.
22. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Currently sitting second in the league in scoring at 30.5 pooints per game, the 26-year-old Beal is a fantastic offensive option. He can do almost anything on the offensive end but without a competitive squad around him, he can only do so much. Hopefully things will change once John Wall returns with Beal becoming the undisputed top option.
21. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
In Boston, the 29-year-old Walker doesn’t have to carry as much of the offense with Jaylen Brown and the previously-mentioned Tatum scoring more than 20 points per game. The four-time All-Star is still a focal point in the offense and without his guidance, the Celtics are not playoff locks by any means.
20. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
The new No. 1 option in Toronto, Siakam has shown to be a capable offensive player, scoring either inside or out at will. Averaging career-highs across the board, the 25-year-old has the skill to be a perennial All-Star, all while keeping the Raptors in the championship hunt.
19. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
When he’s on the floor, the oft-injured 25-year-old Embiid is a game-changer. He can put up points in bunches while also shutting guys down on defense. There’s not a lot of players in the league that has the capability of doing what Embiid can on both ends of the court. He’s the 76ers best player by a mile but he has to stay healthy.
18. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
A former No.1 pick, the 24-year-old Towns has lived up to his end of the bargain on the offensive end. He still needs to work on his defense but as long as he keeps working, he should be serviceable on that end. But any improvement would be for naught if the Timberwolves don’t put a competitive squad around Towns to complement his talents.
17. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Much like Towns, the 23-year-old Booker is an offensive force. Look no further than his 70-point performance against the Celtics a few years ago as evidence. He may not be a defensive stopper, but because he can easily put up 26-6-4 every night, there’s not much opposing teams can do. The Suns just have to give him a good supporting cast so that he can finally earn a playoff appearance.
16. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
One of the few two-way players in the league, George is a terror on both ends of the court. He can drop 20-25 points on a nightly basis while also shutting down the opposing teams’ best player. Fairly durable throughout his career, George’s age (29) makes it difficult to see where his ceiling is at this point.
15. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Not the fleetest of foot, Jokic’s game has always been predicated on his methodical movement and amazing IQ. The two-time All-Star is only 24 but he can easily put up 20-10 with seven assists as the focal point of the Nuggets’ offense. Considering his age, it’s not out of the question to see Jokic develop a three-point shot and become a better all-around player.
14. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
On his third team in three years, the 30-year-old Butler is hoping that Miami is the best destination for him long term. Leading the team in scoring (20.2), assists (6.1), steals (1.7) and free-throw attempts (9.1) per game, Butler has embraced the Heat’s winning culture with great success thus far.
13. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Averaging almost 30 points per game as a sophomore, Young is shaping up to be the next shooter with limitless range. The Hawks may be struggling, but it’s not the fault of the 21-year-old as he leads the team in scoring and assists (9.3) in just his second year. He may never be a defensive stalwart but his ability to hit anywhere more than makes up for it.
12. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Since coming into the league in the 2017, Mitchell has proven to be a fast-rising star in the NBA. The 23-year-old is a nightly 20-4-4 threat and even as the focal point in the offense, his percentages have stayed consistent in his three years in the league. If he’s able to keep producing, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to see Mitchell average 25-5-5 moving forward.
11. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
Probably the best ball-handler of all-time, Irving’s mastery with a basketball is undeniable. He can score 50 or any given night and drop any defender that’s in front of him. But purported locker room issues, his injury history and his defensive struggles make it difficult to rank him within the top-10. Still only 27, Irving has ample time to improve on those facets.
10. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
No doubt one of the best clutch shot makers in recent history, the 29-year-old Lillard definitely knows what time it is when it comes to the game. The three-time All-Star has led the Trailblazers in almost every facet since being drafted in 2012 and it doesn’t seem like that is changing any time soon. Even with his noted defensive struggles, Lillard has been durable and good locker room presence.
9. Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets
A constant triple-double threat, the 31-year-old Westbrook has yet to properly lead a team deep into the playoffs primarily due to his style of play. Still, the intensity and ferocity with which he plays the game is unmatched. With defenders already respecting his athleticism, if Westbrook can develop a 3-point shot and learn to play a more consistent style of basketball, he can rocket back into the top-five.
8. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
At only 20, Doncic is doing things for the Mavericks that haven’t been done since LeBron James. Nearly averaging a 30-10-10 in only his second year, the sky is the limit for Doncic and the Mavericks. Even though his three-point shooting needs to improve, defenders are still respecting his shot because he has shown that he can hit three-pointers from any range, especially when the game is on the line.
7. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Curry’s status as a top-five player in the league is in doubt after missing most of the season with a broken hand. Nevertheless, the 32-year-old’s ability on the court is undeniable. Defenders respect him because of his limitless range and when he drives, he can find the open man. If he’s able to regain some of his durability in the future, there’s no doubt that Curry is a top-five player. But for now, he’ll have to settle for seventh, just like where he was drafted.
6. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Maybe one of the best offensive players in NBA history, Harden has shown that he can lead a team as the No. 1 option on offense. At 30, Harden is seemingly able to find new and creative ways to get the ball in the basket every year, no matter how questionable it may look. Even with lackluster defensive effort, his ability to go for a 60-point triple-double makes him one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NBA.
5. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
The 26-year-old Davis has been a two-way presence since being the first pick back in 2012. His numbers have been improving every year and if he keeps up this pace, he is Hall of Fame-worthy. Davis’ penchant for continually improving each year is unmatched and playing in Los Angeles can only do wonders for his game and his marketability.
That said, Davis’ lack of playoff success and experience coupled with his well-documented injury history are causes for concern. Playing with LeBron James and taking better care of his body, Davis can quell those concerns. If all goes well, he can be considered one of the greatest big men to ever play.
4. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
At 6-foot-11, the 31-year-old Durant is unlike any player the NBA has ever seen. He can back you down in the post and can drill deep daggers from deep — and easily put up 30-10-5 on any night. He is also an excellent defensive player with his height and wingspan, averaging more than a block per game.
With this in mind, Durant has had a history of off-court mishaps –as well as in the locker room — and it remains to be seen how he will recover from the Achilles injury he suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals. Nonetheless, if Durant can play at 90% of his capabilities, he is still a top-five player in the NBA.
3. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
The elite defensive player of the NBA, the 28-year-old Leonard lets his play do all the talking and rightly so. The two-time NBA Finals MVP has improved on every facet of his game, averaging career-highs in points (26.9), rebounds (7.3) and assists (5.0). The fact that Leonard seemingly doesn’t care about regular season stats or accolades and would rather focus on the postseason success just goes to show what type of player he is.
Leonard embodies the saying that “it should be the quiet guys you should fear” as he will nary say a word. In all, he could be the best regular-season player, but playoff success is a bigger goal for him.
2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Even at 35, James is still finding ways to improve his game. Look no further than the fact that he’s averaging a career-high 10.6 assists in his 17th season. His career numbers (27-7-7) are unheard of in this day and age. The fact that James seems to be doing it almost effortlessly makes it seem like he can play for another five-plus years. Although his defense has taken a step back as he’s gotten older, James is still a formidable defensive player when called upon.
There will never be another player like James, with the raw athleticism and all-around play that he brings to the table every night. His body of work over his career is why James is considered one of the top-two players in NBA history and quite honestly, he can still be considered to be the best player in the NBA.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
While it could be argued that James is still the best player in the NBA, Antetokounmpo has proven it on both sides of the ball. The 25-year-old reigning MVP is in the top-five in almost all categories including PER (first), total rebound rate (fifth), defensive win shares (first), win shares (second), scoring (third), rebounds (third) and so on.
Although Antetokounmpo needs to improve his shooting — mainly his three-point and free throw shooting — there’s evidence to show that he’s working on that facet of his game. Considering his age, if he’s able to hit at an above-average clip, Giannis can be the face of the league for at least the next five years. If all works out for Antetokounmpo, he could end up as one of the greatest players of all time.