50 best basketball players today in 2021
BEST NBA PLAYERS: Now that the big three and super-team era seemingly in the rear-view mirror, 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-50 NBA players right now.
50. Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks
Despite continued injury issues, Porzingis has always produced when he’s on the court. Last season saw the Unicorn average 20.4 points and 9.5 rebounds on 43% shooting from the field. If Porzingis can ever stay healthy, he’ll be a nice building block around Luka Doncic in Dallas. In seven games this season, the Latvian is averaging 19.7 points and 8.3 rebounds on 47% shooting. Not a bad start after being out of action since August.
49. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Each 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 (22) or boasts the scoring prowess (24.8 points per game this season) that he does. Could an All-Star appearance be in the cards?
48. R.J. Barrett, New York Knicks
As the Knicks’ 2019 first-round draft pick, Barrett was the clear choice to choose from that squad. No other player on the roster has the same upside that the 20-year-old Barrett possesses and his ability to play either the two or three makes him a valuable piece for the Knicks moving forward. He’s also in the midst of a breakout sophomore season that has the forward averaging 17.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 41% shooting.
47. 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 23-year-old Fox is averaging 20.9 points, 3.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists. After some initial struggles, he’s picked it up big time recently for the impoverished Kings. Fox is averaging 25.7 points on 50% shooting in his past six games (as of Jan. 26).
46. Russell Westbrook, Washington Wizards
A constant triple-double threat, the 32-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 every night is unmatched. With defenders already respecting his athleticism, if Westbrook can develop a far better three-point shot and learn to play a more controlled brand of basketball. Could that happen with Westbrook joining his third team in as many seasons? Not so fast. Currently sidelined to injury, Russ is shooting just 31% from distance and is sidelined to injury.
45. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, guard, Oklahoma City Thunder
Pretty much the centerpiece in the trade that sent Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers ahead of the 2019-20 season, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has morphed into a star and leader for the rebuilding Thunder. It’s pretty darn shocking what we’ve seen him do thus far in OKC. Through the first 16 games of the 2020-21 season, the former first-round pick is averaging 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists on 52% shooting. He’s also already one of the top perimeter defenders in the game.
44. Christian Wood, center, Houston Rockets
One of the most-underrated acquisitions during the NBA offseason, Wood has proven to be a godsend for a Rockets team that will now have to find an identity in the post-Harden era. The former undrafted free agent from UNLV is averaging 23.5 points and 10.8 rebounds while shooting a ridiculous 53% from the field.
43. 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 comprised a de facto 1-2 punch for a struggling Raptors squad. Despite said struggles, Lowry is still averaging 17.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.6 assists.
42. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Still only 24 years old, Simmons has an opportunity to morph into an elite player. Despite a stellar defensive game and ball distribution skills, a lack of any type of perimeter shot has impacted him big time. Fresh off rumors about a potential trade, Simmons is in the midst of a down season. He’s averaging a mere 12.8 points to go with 8.4 rebounds and 7.9 assists on 53% shooting from the field. In fact, his shooting is down 5% from a season ago without improvements in other areas.
41. Jerami Grant, forward, Detroit Pistons
Acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason, Grant is playing at a much higher level than anyone expected for the NBA’s worst team. The former second-round pick is averaging a resounding 24.3 points to go with 6.5 rebounds on 39% shooting from distance. Still only 26, the sky seems to be the limit for this all-around player.
40. Gordon Hayward, forward, Charlotte Hornets
Hayward’s injury issues are by now well known. He missed all but one game of his first season with the Boston Celtics back in 2017-18 due to a horrible leg injury. Even last season, it did not appear that the former All-Star was back to 100%. That has not been the case thus far in 2020-21 after Charlotte inked him to a massive contract. Hayward, 30, is averaging 24.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 52% shooting and is in the midst of a career season.
39. 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. After inking an extension with Utah during the offseason, Gobert is averaging another double-double at 12.1 points and 13.5 rebounds while averaging 2.7 blocks per outing.
38. DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs
Even without a three-point shot, the 31-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 force, count on DeRozan to put up 20/5/5 every night.
37. Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks took a massive gamble in their blockbuster trade for Holiday. Trading three future first-round picks and giving the New Orleans Pelicans two pick swaps is an absurd price. However, that’s the cost of convincing your star to stay. Holiday, one of the NBA’s best two-way players, is a perfect fit in Milwaukee’s system. Alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the Bucks have the star power and defensive prowess to make a run at the NBA Finals.
36. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
A former second-round picks of the Pistons back in 2012. Middleton improved each of his first six seasons in the NBA before finally earning an All-Star appearance back in 2018-19. Over the course of the past three years, the Texas A&M product is averaging 19.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists on 45% from the field. The only issue here has been in the playoffs, where Middleton is shooting 40% over the Bucks’ past two trips to the postseason.
35. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
A throwback to bigs of the past, Vucevic has been slowly expanding his offensive game. Nevertheless, the 30-year-old is the Magic’s best player. Thus far this season, the veteran big man is averaging what would be a career-high 23.5 points to go with 11.1 rebounds. He has also expanded his game to three-point range, shooting an absurd 44% from distance.
34. Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
In free agency, VanVleet returned to the Raptors for this season and beyond, inking the most lucrative contract ever for an undrafted player. The 26-year-old has morphed into an absolute star since being completely overlooked as a draft prospect out of Wichita State. VanVleet is averaging 19.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists on 37% shooting from distance. After re-signing with Toronto, this smallish guard is fully prepared to take Canada by storm.
33. Malcolm Brogdon, guard, Indiana Pacers
Acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Bucks prior to the 2019-20 season, Brogdon has morphed into a star in Indiana. Now that Victor Oladipo is in Houston, he’ll take on that lead role moving forward. As it is, the 28-year-old guard is averaging a career-high 22.7 points to go with 4.1 rebounds and 7.2 assists on a resounding 46% shooting from the field this season. Whew.
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32. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
If injuries had not cut short this generational talent’s rookie season, Williamson would have vied with Ja Morant for the NBA Rookie of the Year honors. The dude was on pace for the most efficient scoring season before the campaign was suspended back in March. He’s also off to a strong start as a sophomore for a struggling Pelicans team, averaging 23.4 points and 7.9 rebounds on 58% shooting from the field.
31. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
Initially a throw-in piece in the Paul George trade, the 24-year-old Sabonis is thriving in Indiana. Fresh off an All-Star appearance last season, the Oregon native is averaging 20.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 54% shooting from the field. Talk about a stellar all-around game.
30. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
At just 21, the runaway Rookie of the Year led the Grizzlies in scoring (17.8) and assists (7.3) while sitting at third with 3.4 win shares in his debut season. Unfortunately, Morant suffered an ankle injury early in his sophomore campaign after averaging a whopping 36 points over the course of the first two games. He’s appeared in just two games since, averaging 17 points.
29. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
Chris Paul demonstrated that he still has gas left in the tank last season. Under Paul’s tutelage, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder enjoyed career years in 2019-20. Now in Phoenix, we’re we’re seeing what CP3 can do with other youngsters. The Suns are currently off to one of their best starts since the Steve Nash era with Paul averaging 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game.
28. C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Although Damian Lillard got a lot of credit for leading the Trail Blazers to a surprise Western Conference Finals appearance in 2019, that couldn’t have been done without McCollum. And despite a down 2019-20 season for the team, Portland views McCollum as a core piece. For good reason. The 29-year-old guard is averaging a whopping 26.7 points on 44% shooting from distance. His status as a top-50 player, however, is impacted by less-than-stellar defense and the fact that he’s sidelined with a foot injury.
27. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Murray’s ascension into the ranks of the elite is primarily due to what we saw from him during the Nuggets’ playoff run. The former lottery pick averaged 26.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists in 19 postseason games. That has not yet been the case thus far in 2020-21 for the surprisingly mediocre Nuggets. Murray is averaging less than 20 points to go with a mere 3.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists. That’s not great.
26. 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 24-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.
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25. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
A former No. 1 pick, the 25-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. Thus far in 2020-21, that has not been the case with Towns sidelined for all but four games to injury and COVID-19.
24. 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 last season, the 26-year-old has the skill to be a perennial All-Star. While it’s been a slow start for Toronto this season, Siakam is still averaging 18.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per outing.
23. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Speaking of max contract extensions, Adebayo re-upped with the Heat as his talents continue to flourish in South Beach. Some saw Bam as a major project coming out of Kentucky a few years back. Coming off an All-Star appearance as a third-year player, that can no longer be considered the case. Adebayo has continued to show off this season, averaging 20.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists on 61% shooting from the field for a surprisingly bad Heat team in 2020-21.
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22. 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 25, 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. It looks like new Bulls coach Billy Donovan has fully maximized LaVine’s potential. He’s averaging 27.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 50% shooting. Those are elite numbers.
21. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
All the talk in Nola has surrounded Zion Williamson. That’s fine. But Ingram has been extra special since they acquired him from the Lakers. In his first season with the Pelicans, this wing is averaging 23.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists while shooting 37% from distance. After signing a max contract extension ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, Ingram is now a perennial All-Star
20. 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. After missing time earlier in the season for “personal reasons,” Irving returned recently and caught lightning in a bottle. He’s averaging 29.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists in four games since coming back.
19. 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.
Unfortunately, we won’t even get a chance to see Thompson play this season. After suffering a torn Achilles, just on the brink of returning from a torn ACL, there are now long-term questions about Thompson’s future. If anyone can rebound from these two devastating injuries, though, it will be Klay Thompson.
18. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Having averaged almost 30 points per game as a sophomore, Young is shaping up to be the next shooter with limitless range. The Hawks may have struggled this past season, but it’s not the fault of this prodigy, who led the team in scoring (29.6) and assists (9.3) in just his second year. With the Hawks having added more talent in the offseason, Young hasn’t needed to do as much this season. He’s still averaging nearly 25.3 points and 8.7 assists. However, a 34% mark from distance for the sharpshooter is a bit worrisome.
17. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
One of the few truly elite 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 team’s best player. Fairly durable throughout his career, George’s age (30) makes it difficult to see where his ceiling is at this point. After some initial struggles this season, he’s averaging 22.9 points on 50% shooting during the Clippers’ seven-game winning streak.
16. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Much like Towns, the 24-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. Booker has seen his scoring drop a bit with Chris Paul in the mix, but the dude is still shooting a ridiculous 47% from the field. That’s insane for someone most view to be mostly a perimeter threat.
Related: Winners/losers from Chris Paul trade
15. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
On his third team in three years, the 31-year-old Butler seems to have finally found a home in Miami. Leading the team in scoring (19.9), assists (6.0), steals (1.8) and free-throw attempts (9.1) per game last season, Butler has embraced the Heat’s winning culture with great success thus far. It led to a shocking NBA Finals appearance for the upstart team, where Butler was brilliant and helped Miami push the series to six games despite injuries to multiple key players. Unfortunately, injuries and COVID-19 protocols have limited Butler to just six games for the surprisingly mediocre Heat in 2020-21.
14. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Brown has teamed up with Jayson Tatum to form an elite young wing duo in Boston. The former No. 3 pick has proven Danny Ainge right in refusing to include him in trades for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the past. Brown, 24, is averaging a resounding 27.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals on an electric 44% shooting from three-point range this season. That’s just absurd.
13. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
No doubt one of the best clutch shot makers in recent history, the 30-year-old Lillard definitely knows what time it is when it comes to the game clock. It’s “Dame Time.” The three-time All-Star has led the Trail Blazers in almost every facet since being drafted in 2012 and it doesn’t seem like that is changing any time soon. His numbers are down somewhat in 2020-21 with Lillard averaging 28.7 points on 45% shooting from the field.
12. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
As part of Boston’s three-headed monster, the 22-year-old Tatum has taken that next step of being the go-to option on offense. Leading the Celtics in scoring (23.4) and three-point shooting (40%) last season, 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. That will undoubtedly be the case in 2020-21 with Tatum averaging 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Unfortunately, he’s currently sidelined due to COVID-19.
11. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets
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 that end of the court. At 31, Harden is seemingly able to find new and creative ways to get the ball in the basket every year, no matter how ungraceful it may look. Now a member of the Brooklyn Nets following a blockbuster early-season trade, he’s teaming up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to form a super team.
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10. 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 25 but he can easily put up 20-10 with seven assists as the focal point of the Nuggets’ offense. Considering how early he is in his career, it’s not out of the question to see Jokic develop a more consistent three-point shot. Through 11 games this season, the Joker is averaging a near triple-double (25.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and 9.3 assists).
9. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
When he’s on the floor, the oft-injured 26-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 have 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. That has been the case in 2020-21 with Embiid suiting up in all but one game for the Sixers while averaging what would be a career-high 27.7 points to go with 11.5 rebounds. Whew.
8. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Having led the league in scoring at 30.5 points per game last season, the 27-year-old Beal is a fantastic offensive option. He’s now taken that to a new level in the nation’s capital. Beal currently leads the NBA in scoring at 34.5 points per game while adding 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists for one of the worst teams in the league. Could a trade be coming here soon?
7. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
The 27-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 and playing in Los Angeles with LeBron can only do wonders for his game and his marketability.
6. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
At only 21, 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. He’s turned in another stellar start to the 2020-21 campaign, averaging 27.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.9 assists. This kid is special.
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Curry’s status as a top-five player in the league is no longer in doubt after returning from an injury-plagued 2019-20 to dominate for the Warriors. The dude dropped 62 points in a game against the Blazers earlier this season. A three-time champion, Curry is averaging 28.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists. An all-time great, Curry is not showing signs of slowing down.
4. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
Many argue Leonard is the NBA’s No. 1 perimeter defender, and lets his play do the talking. The two-time NBA Finals MVP has improved on every facet of his game, averaging career-highs in points (27.1), rebounds (7.1) and assists (4.9) in 2019-20. The fact that Leonard seemingly doesn’t care about regular season stats or accolades and would rather focus on 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.
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3. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
At 6-foot-11, the 32-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 can easily put up 30-10-5 on any night. He is also an excellent defensive player thanks to his height and wingspan, averaging more than a block per game. Returning from a torn Achilles, Durant is back to his place among the game’s best. He’s averaging 30.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists while shooting an otherworldly 45% from three-point range. Jeez.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Although Antetokounmpo needs to improve his shooting — mainly from three-point range and the free throw line — there’s evidence to show that he’s working on that facet of his game. Considering he still has plenty of upside to explore, if he’s able to even passably shoot treys and freebies, Giannis can be the face of the league for at least the next five years. The two-time reigning NBA MVP is averaging 27.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 55% shooting from the field this season.
1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Even at 37, James is still finding ways to improve his game. Look no further than the fact that he averaged a career-high 10.2 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 player in that regard 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 alongside Michael Jordan. Quite honestly, he can still be considered to be the best player in the NBA. Oh, and he’s coming off his fourth career championship and NBA Finals MVP award. That’s not too shabby.