Here we go, folks. The moment you’ve all been waiting for. Here are the NBA’s 10 best players.
In my opinion, the gap between No. 11 (Kyrie Irving) and No. 10 is significant. This list is truly the elite class of NBA players, and all could have the top spot at some point this season.
10. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard has always been underappreciated because he plays in Portland, where they don’t receive a lot of national attention. However, Lillard is an elite scorer and one of the hardest to stop when he’s hot. Most notably, Lillard ended the Russell Westbrook-OKC era with his 38-foot dagger in the first round of the playoffs last season. The West is loaded with talent, but with Dame and C.J. McCollum in the backcourt, the Blazers can’t get overlooked for this season. Having a healthy Jusuf Nurkic for the playoffs will help as well.
9. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
I had a tough time deciding which center to put at this spot between Jokic and Joel Embiid, but I decided to give the nod to Embiid. At the age of 24, Nikola Jokic is already arguably the greatest passing big-man of all time. He led all centers with 7.3 APG last season and added 12 triple-doubles, something that is rarely seen by big-men. Jokic has also stayed relatively healthy throughout his career, something that isn’t true about Embiid. Jokic is not very athletic but makes up for it with his size and fundamentals. The Nuggets are still a championship-level team, and Jokic will have to carry them to make it there.
8.Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Playing a career-high in minutes last season, Embiid put up 27.5 PPG, 13.6 RPG, and 1.9 BPG. However, his knees did not hold up for the whole season, and his play dropped significantly in the playoffs against the Raptors. Since Al Horford is on the team now, Embiid likely won’t have to play as many minutes or games this season. In Game 7 last year against the Raptors, Embiid was a +10 in 45 minutes of action while the Sixers were a -12 in the two minutes and 48 seconds he wasn’t on the court. Heartbroken by the loss, Embiid lost 20 pounds, getting himself into better shape during the offseason, and he should be in for a big season.
7. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
Before a shoulder injury slowed him down after the All-Star break last season, Paul George was putting up MVP-caliber numbers. Had the Thunder just let Paul George be the focus of the offense instead of letting Russell Westbrook jack up 31 shots in Game 5 against the Trail Blazers, OKC may not have needed to rebuild. Kawhi Leonard is a much better superstar (Westbrook isn’t even a superstar) to have around Paul George. The Clippers’ two-man combo is arguably the best in the NBA. George will likely miss the first few weeks of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery, but the Clippers will be a championship contender if not the favorite this season.
6. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Everyone in this top six has a case to be the top player. One of the biggest headlines from last season was when Anthony Davis requested a trade out of New Orleans, essentially giving up a prime year of his career. His numbers dropped due to lack of minutes, but people can’t forget he’s still one of the best players in the NBA. I believe Anthony Davis is the best player LeBron James has ever had around him, as long as he can stay healthy. Davis has missed more than 14 games in five of seven seasons.
5. Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
Poor Stephen Curry. He gets a lot of hate, and it’s largely undeserved. Both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant suffered devastating injuries in the NBA Finals last season. Lots of hate towards Curry comes from the fact that the Warriors have won several times in the past few years, yet Curry still has no Finals MVPs. While they aren’t as feared as they once were, the Warriors with a healthy Klay Thompson are still very much a championship contender. Curry is my pick to win MVP this season since he will be the primary scorer for the Warriors and could put up 30 or more points per game. While from a few seasons ago, this crossover and score from Curry is one of my favorite basketball highlights.
4. James Harden, Houston Rockets
The biggest question for Harden is how Russell Westbrook will affect his play this season. I can’t imagine it makes him better. Harden had an incredible stretch of 31 straight games last season with over 30 points, second all-time behind Wilt Chamberlain in that category. His 36.1 PPG is the most we have seen since Michael Jordan in 1986-87, and if it weren’t for Giannis having such a great season, Harden likely would have won back-to-back MVPs. I’ve expressed my discontent with Westbrook, and I do believe his presence will negatively impact Harden’s production, but the Rockets will still be fun to watch this season.
3. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
This top three was easily the toughest decision I had to make on the whole list as all three have strong cases to be No. 1. Kawhi Leonard single-handedly carried the Raptors to their first-ever NBA championship while hitting a dagger over the 76ers in the second round. Leonard is the NBA’s best two-way player and is elite at guarding guards with his large hands. The one question, if any, surrounds whether or not Leonard truly elevates the play of his teammates around him. Don’t get me wrong, he obviously contributes to the team, but when the Raptors were in close games last season, they often played iso-ball with Leonard. Leonard isn’t an elite playmaker, but that’s the only knock on his game.
2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Lebron missed the playoffs last season for the first time since his rookie year as it took him a season to adjust to being with the Lakers. James has never been interested in developing young talents, and that showed with the Lakers trading several young players for Anthony Davis. James also suffered the worst injury of his career last season, missing 27 games with a groin injury. That being said, the Lakers are a championship contender again, and it will be interesting to see if James can lead his third different team to an NBA Championship. 2019 is probably the first season in a while where Lebron wasn’t the undisputed No. 1 player.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The 2019 NBA MVP is deserving of the top spot in the NBA. For one, Giannis is truly a positionless player. He’s been listed at four different positions throughout his career. His driving ability and strength make him nearly impossible to guard one-on-one, and he’s one of the best defenders in the NBA as well. The only thing that’s missing from his game is a jump shot. Giannis carried the Bucks to the number one seed in the East, and his talent may lead them there again in 2019. Oh, and he’s still just 25 years old.
DISCLAIMER: Kevin Durant is out for the season with a torn Achilles, but when healthy, I believe he still possesses the top spot in the NBA.
Here are some other interesting numbers to consider from this list:
Los Angeles Clippers:6
Los Angeles Lakers:4
The West is a bit better than the East but it’s not too egregious.