50 Top NBA players of 2021: Giannis, Kawhi, LeBron battle for #1

Each team has at least one, if not two, legitimate stars that their respective franchises can build around.

50 best basketball players today in 2021

BEST NBA PLAYERS: The Brooklyn Nets' acquisition of James Harden during the 2020-21 NBA season added another layer to the super-team era in the Association. They now have three of the top 25 players in the league.

The Los Angeles Lakers are almost in the same category with two of the top-30 players. These are among the teams with the best chances of winning the title over the next several years.

However, some in the new guard such as reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic have joined the old guard (Stephen Curry) in making names for themselves in 2021. Below, we look at the top 50 players in the NBA right now.

Note: Article was originally written by Jarrod Castillo, since updated by managing editor Vincent Frank.

50. Darius Garland, guard, Cleveland Cavaliers

best nba players: darius garland, cleveland cavaliers
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With the 2021-22 season upon us, we decided to switch things up and go with Garland over Collin Sexton for the Cavaliers. While the former can score in bunches, Garland is a better all-around player. That was magnified when he was chosen over Sexton for the select USA Team ahead of the 2020 Olympics. As a sophomore last season, this Vanderbilt product averaged 17.4 points and 6.1 assists on 45% shooting from the field. He'll just get better with a more-talented team around him moving forward.

49. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

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Shocking. That has to be the best way to describe Ball's ascension into the top-50. The 2020 No. 3 pick had one of the best initial regular seasons in modern NBA history in 2020-21. That's not hyperbole. Ball, 20, averaged 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists on 35% shooting from distance while playing elite-level defense for a surprising Hornets squad.

48. Christian Wood, center, Houston Rockets

Top NBA players: Christian Wood, Rockets
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One of the most-underrated acquisitions during the 2020 offseason, Wood proved 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 averaged 21.0 points and 9.6 rebounds while shooting a ridiculous 51% from the field in 2020-21.

47. Jerami Grant, forward, Detroit Pistons

Top NBA Players: Jerami Grant, Pistons
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Acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunderahead of the 2020-21 season, Grant played at a much higher level than anyone expected for one of the NBA's worst teams. The former second-round pick averaged a resounding 22.3 points to go with 4.6 rebounds on 35% shooting from distance last season. Still only 27, the sky seems to be the limit for this all-around player.

46. Gordon Hayward, forward, Charlotte Hornets

Top NBA players: Gordon Hayward, Hornets
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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 during his first regular season with the Hornets, it did not appear that the former All-Star was back to 100%. Despite this, Hayward was still able to average 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists 47% shooting from the field.

45. Kyle Lowry, Miami Heat

Kyle Lowry, #30 Best NBA Players in 2020
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Recently acquired by Miami in a blockbuster sign-and-trade with the Toronto Raptors, the 35-year-old Lowry continues to prove himself as a top-end point guard. Prior to going down to injury last season, the six-time All-Star was averaging 17.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists on 40% shooting from the field. Add in solid defense, and he's going to be a great fit with Jimmy Butler in South Beach.

44. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls

DeMar DeRozan
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Even without a three-point shot, the 32-year-old DeRozan has found a way to stay effective. An excellent mid-range shooter, he improved his rebounding and passing pretty much every season. Now a member of the Bulls after a blockbuster sign-and-trade, DeRozan is averaging 22.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists since the start of the 2013-14 season. This consistently good performance over a long span, has the wing as one of the best NBA players.

Related: Chicago Bulls as legit NBA title contenders?

43. Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks

Top NBA players: Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks
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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 cost helped lead Milwaukee to the NBA title in 2020-21. Holiday will never get play as a truly elite point guard, but his impact on the Bucks was felt in more ways than one last season.

42. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, guard, Oklahoma City Thunder

Best NBA Players: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
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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. Prior to going down with a season-ending injury, SGA was averaging 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists on 51% shooting in 2020-21. He'll be the face of this rebuild moving forward with Josh Giddey.

41. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

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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 after another down 2020-21 season. Towns' presence this low on our list of best NBA players is primarily due to the fact that he's played just 85 games over the past two seasons.

Check out our NBA MVP rankings for 2021-22

40. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Pascal Siakam #20 Best NBA Players in 2020
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Siakam, 27, joined the rest of his Raptors squad in taking a step back last season. The All-Star forward shot a mere 30% from three-point range in 2020-21. However, he was still able to average 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Whether it's with Toronto or another team moving forward, expect Siakam to continue playing at a consistently high level. It's now all about improving that perimeter game.

39. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

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The 23-year-old Fox averaged 25.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.5 steals on 48% shooting from the field in his fourth NBA season, proving himself to be among the best NBA players at the point guard position. That's magnified by the fact Fox has improved in each of his four seasons. The dude is a legit All-Star caliber player and should be even better in 2021-22.

38. Malcolm Brogdon, guard, Indiana Pacers

Top NBA players: Malcolm Brogdon, Pacers
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Acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Bucks prior to the 2019-20 season, Brogdon has morphed into a star in Indiana. The 28-year-old guard averaged 21.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists on 39% shooting from distance for a disappointing Pacers team during the 2020-21 regular season. Perhaps, he can improve with a better head coach in Rick Carlisle calling the shots this year.

37. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

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At just 22, the runaway 2020 Rookie of the Year led the Grizzlies in scoring (19.1) and assists (7.4) while sitting at third with 3.4 win shares in his sophomore season. It might not have been the breakout performance Memphis was hoping for, but Morant looks like a true budding star.

36. C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

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Whether McCollum last a long-term future in Portland remains to be seen. They are in desperation mode to find a better supporting cast behind Damian Lillard. Regardless, we're talking about a dude who can flat out score. Since the start of the 2015-16 campaign, McCollum is averaging 21.8 points on 40% shooting from distance. Many NBA teams would take that in a heartbeat.

35. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Top 50 NBA players, Draymond Green
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Green, 31, seemed to be a shell of his former select during a down 2019-20 season. Apparently, that was due to the Warriors' lack of standing as a playoff contender, because, he turned it around big time in 2020-21. While Green averaged just 7.0 points, he also put up 7.1 rebounds, 8.9 assists and 1.7 steals in a brilliant all-around performance. Green was also a finalist for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, joining fellow top-50 players in Ben Simmons and Rudy Gobert.

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34. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

Pelicans Brandon Ingram against Jazz during NBA restart.
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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 second season with the Pelicans, this wing averaged 23.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists while shooting 38% from distance. After signing a max contract extension ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, Ingram is now continuing to play at a high level. That should continue in 2021-22.

33. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Top NBA players: Ben Simmons
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Still only 25 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 coming off a down playoff appearance. It has impacted his standing in our most-recent rankings. It also might have an impact on his future in Philadelphia with the three-time All-Star unhappy about the 76ers' organization.

32. Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers

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Westbrook, 32, was a box score genius in his first and only season with the Wizards, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 11.7 assists. Now a member of the Los Angeles Lakers after a blockbuster trade, the former NBA MVP will benefit greatly from playing with LeBron James and Anthony Davis as he closes out his prime years.

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31. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

Initially a throw-in piece in the Paul George trade, the 25-year-old Sabonis is thriving in Indiana. Fresh off two consecutive All-Star appearances, the Oregon native is averaging 19.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 54% shooting from the field over the past two seasons. Talk about a stellar all-around game.

30. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

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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 ahead of the 2020-21 season, Gobert averaged another double-double at 14.3 points and 13.5 rebounds while averaging 2.7 blocks per outing. This enabled him to earn a third career Defensive Player of the Year award.

29. Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Best NBA players: Nikola Vucevic
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A throwback to bigs of the past, Vucevic has been slowly expanding his offensive game. Now with the Chicago Bulls following a March trade from the Orlando Magic, the two-time All-Star finished the 2020-21 regular season averaging 23.4 points and 11.7 rebounds. He also shot 40% from three-point range. What's great about Vucevic's recent performance, is that he's nailed 422 three-pointers over the past five seasons after hitting a mere 30 over his first four campaigns.

28. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

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Absolutely underrated. Middleton proved that in more ways than one during Milwaukee's run to the title last season. He had some dominating performances en route to averaging 23.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists during the playoffs. Perhaps, the veteran wing will finally get credit as a tremendous two-way player.

27. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

Nuggets' Jamal Murray reacts after scoring against Jazz in NBA Playoff game
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In highly unfortunate fashion, Jamal Murray went down to a torn ACL 48 games into the 2020-21 season. That came after the 2019-20 NBA Playoff hero averaged 21.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists 41% from three-point range. The hope here is that said knee injury doesn't impact the 24-year-old guard too much moving forward into the 2021-22 campaign.

26. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

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Brown has teamed up with Jayson Tatum to form an elite young wing duo in Boston. The former No. 3 pick has proven former GM Danny Ainge right in refusing to include him in trades for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the past. Unfortunately, Brown went down to a season-ending injury late during the regular year. He did so after averaging 24.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 48% shooting from the field. He should be more of a focal point in 2021-22.

Best NBA players: Top-25 NBA players of 2021

25. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

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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 26, 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. He averaged 27.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists on 51% shooting in 2020-21. Those are elite numbers. LaVine should also be helped out by the offseason additions of DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball.

24. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

Heat Bam Adebayo against the Lakers
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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. An All-Star snub last season, that's no longer the case. Adebayo averaged 18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists on a resounding 57% from distance. He's also expanded his game to the mid-range on offense. That's scary stuff for opposing teams moving forward.

23. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Anthony Davis #5 Best NBA Players in 2020
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The 28-year-old Davis has been a two-way presence since being the first pick back in 2012. His numbers had improved every year leading up to an injury-plagued 2020-21 regular season in which Davis averaged an eight-year low 21.8 points per game. The hope here is that injuries don't end up derailing a career that seems destined for the Hall of Fame.

22. Julius Randle, New York Knicks

Top NBA players Julius Randle
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Thought by some to be a one-dimensional player after the Los Angeles Lakers made him a top-10 pick back in 2014, the 26-year-old Randle has morphed into an elite-level all-around player for the improved Knicks. Earning his first All-Star appearance this past regular season, the forward averaged 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists on 41% shooting from three-point range. It led to a well-deserved contract extension for the forward.

21. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

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The other half of the vaunted "Splash Bros.," the 31-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 didn't even get a chance to see Thompson play the past two seasons. After suffering a torn Achilles, just on the brink of returning from a torn ACL, there are now questions about when he'll be ready in 2021-22.

20. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

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Since coming into the league in 2017, Mitchell has proven to be a fast-rising star in the NBA. The 25-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 out of the equation that Mitchell will become a top-10 player. Despite missing time to injury during the end of the 2020-21 campaign, Mitchell averaged 26.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists for an NBA-best Jazz squad during the regular year.

19. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson
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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. Even after suffering a season-ending injury late in the 2020-21 campaign, Williamson made a name for himself. He averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 61% shooting from the field. Just insane stuff from the 21-year-old. The question now becomes whether New Orleans can pacify him by building a solid supporting cast.

18. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

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As part of Boston's three-headed monster, the 23-year-old Tatum has taken that next step of being the go-to option on offense. Leading the Celtics in scoring (26.4) and three-point shooting (39%) 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.

17. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

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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. After missing time earlier in the season for "personal reasons," Irving caught lightning in a bottle as 2020-21 progressed. He joined the rare 50-40-90 club while averaging 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists during the regular season.

16. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers

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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 (31) makes it difficult to see where his ceiling is at this point. That was magnified with Kawhi Leonard out for a large majority of Los Angeles' run to the Western Conference Finals last season. George averaged 26.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 19 playoff games.

15. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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Having led the league in scoring at 30.5 points per game during the 2019-20 campaign, the 28-year-old Beal is a fantastic offensive option. He's now taken that to a new level in the nation's capital. Beal finished second in the Association in scoring in 2020-21 behind Stephen Curry, averaging an outstanding 31.3 points per game.

14. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets

NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets
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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 32, 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 was absolutely brilliant when he was on the court during the regular season -- averaging 24.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10.9 assists for the Nets last season.

13. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

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The 32-year-old Butler seems to have finally found a home in Miami. Leading the team in scoring (21.5), assists (7.1), steals (2.1) and free-throw attempts (8.0) per game in 2020-21, Butler has embraced the Heat's winning culture with great success thus far. Now that Miami has added a ton of core pieces, expect more of the same from Jimmy Buckets in South Beach moving forward.

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12. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard #10 Best NBA Players in 2020
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No doubt one of the best clutch shot makers in recent history, the 31-year-old Lillard definitely knows what time it is when it comes to the game clock. It's "Dame Time." The six-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 were up in 2020-21 with Lillard averaging a whopping 28.8 points on 39% shooting from distance. The question now becomes whether he'll request a trade from the fledgling organization if Portland continues to struggle in 2021-22.

11. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

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Stardom. That's what we saw from the 24-year-old Booker during Phoenix' shocking run to the NBA Finals this past season. The stud guard averaged 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists on 45% shooting from the field in his first foray into postseason action. The sky is the limit for Booker. Period!

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10. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

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Chris Paul demonstrated that he still has gas left in the tank during an absolutely brilliant 2020-21 regular season for the Phoenix Suns. Continuing to prove himself to be among the best NBA players of the era, the 36-year-old Paul averaged 16.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 8.9 assists. He also shot 40% or better from three-point range for the fourth time in his career. The future Hall of Famer was then rewarded with a huge contract extension after helping lead Phoenix to the NBA Finals.

9. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

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Having averaged almost 30 points per game as a sophomore, Young is shaping up to be the next shooter with limitless range. The better news? He didn't have to as much scoring for an improved Atlanta Hawks squad during the 2020-21 regular season. Young, 23, averaged 25.3 points to go with a career-high 9.4 assists while shooting 34% from distance. He then dominated during the team's run to the Eastern Conference Finals, averaging a whopping 28.8 points in 16 playoff games.

8. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

NBA: Playoffs-Washington Wizards at Philadelphia 76ers
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When he's on the floor, the oft-injured 27-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 was not the case this past regular season with Embiid missing 21 games to injury. Even then, he averaged 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds on a career-best 51% shooting.

7. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

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At only 22, 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 turned in another stellar campaign in 2020-21, averaging 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.6 assists on 35% shooting from distance. If Doncic improves on defense, he'll be one of the five-best NBA players moving forward.

6. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

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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 that cost him the 2019-20 season, Durant sat out 37 of 72 games during the regular year. When on the court, he averaged 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists on a career-best 45% shooting from three-point range. The hope here is that injuries don't derail Durant's career moving forward.

5. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

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Not the fleetest of foot, Jokic's game has always been predicated on his methodical movement and amazing IQ. The three-time All-Star is only 26 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. The reigning NBA MVP, Jokic averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists during the 2020-21 regular season.

4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors
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Curry's status as a top player in the league is no longer in doubt after returning from an injury-plagued 2019-20 to dominate for the Warriors this past regular season. The dude won his second career scoring title by averaging 32.0 points per game, joining Michael Jordan in some elite company. The 33-year-old Curry also nailed an absurd 337 three-pointers in 63 games and now holds four of the top-five spots in three-pointers made in a season. This led to him signing another record contract extension during the summer. Well deserved.

Top 3 players in the NBA now

3. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

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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 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists on 51% shooting from the field this past regular season. Unfortunately, there's a good chance that he'll miss the entire 2021-22 season due to a partially torn ACL. For a player still in his prime, that's just some horrible news.

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

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Just brilliant. There's no denying the fact that this two-time MVP put up a historical performance in the 2021 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns. Including a 50-point outing to clinch the title, Giannis 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the six-game set. This cemented his status as one of the best players of his generation.

1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns
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Even at 36 and dealing with injuries recently, James is still finding ways to improve his game. Look no further than the fact that he averaged 25.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.8 assists on 51% shooting from the field as an 18th-year player during the 2020-21 regular season. No mention of the best NBA players in history can be seen as legitimate without James being among them. He's a four-time champion, 17-time All-Star and four-time MVP winner. Enough said.