There is no sport more reliant on its players than the NBA. Coming off this past NBA season, leading into the 2019 season, here are the 50 best players ranked 1-50:
*The ranking is based off a combination of where the players were at the end of this past season and where they project heading into next. The list is NOT projecting where a player will be at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season.
#1 LeBron James
The gap between LeBron James and Kevin Durant narrowed some, but not nearly enough. If any one player was swapped with LeBron last season, the Cavs would have been eliminated in April. No player impacts the game, changes a franchise, sways a season like LeBron. If one says LeBron James is not the best player in the NBA right now, remove them off Snapchat/Twitter/Instagram.
#2 Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant still needs to prove he can win a championship without the Warriors to be considered a Top 10 player of all-time, but he has proven he can be in the discussion. Durant is the most unstoppable offensive force of the past decade and now has a defensive game to make things cruel. He may be petty, but he can ball with the best of them.
#3 Kawhi Leonard
When last seen full healthy, Kawhi Leonard was leading the charge for three quarters demolishing a team that ended up going 16-1 in the playoffs. Leonard is the best two-way player in the NBA, can lock down the league’s best, score in the biggest moments, and will alienate the doubters once he is free from the Spurs.
#4 Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis gets better by the year, but now there isn’t much better for him to get. Davis can change a game below the rim, outside the paint, with the ball in his hand, and with his hand on the ball of a shooter. Tim Duncan’s reign as the greatest Power Forward of all-time could be in jeopardy at some point.
#5 Steph Curry
He may not have won the Finals MVP, or be the best player on his team, but he is special. The best shooter in the history of the game is three possessions away from blowing any game, anywhere, wide open. No lead is safe when facing Steph Curry … like ever. Curry is a 2-time MVP, and the only unanimous one in NBA history.
At the time of the season’s conclusion, Curry was playing like the third best player in the sport, but don’t be fooled, Curry has never been able to impact the game on both ends of the floor like Leonard and Davis.
#6 Giannis Antetokounmpo
The man with the name nobody can pronounce has a long way to go to reach his potential. That is because his potential is so otherworldly. Antetokounmpo was tied at fourth in the league in scoring while averaging a double-double with 10 rpg. Every season Antetokounmpo has increased his ppg, rpg, and FG%.
Do not feel ashamed if you begin to question if you are the same species as Giannis Antetokounmpo. It is normal.
#7 James Harden
James Harden has the nastiest offensive game going and was far and away the best player in the regular season leading the NBA in both scoring, PER, and offensive win shares. Harden is beginning to close in on Dwayne Wade in the shooting guard pantheon. The knock, however, is that he is never in great shape late in the season and it has hurt the Rockets mightly.
#8 Russell Westbrook
Everyone loves to hate on Russell Westbrook, but you ain’t made it unless someone is hatin’. Westbrook is difficult to play alongside, sure. Westbrook is also the most ruthless competitor in the game and impacts the game in all phases. Just process this for a moment, 25, 10, 10 was his season average. LeBron is always credited as the best combination of passing, scoring, and rebounding, but he is no longer the runaway choice. The number of people that can check Westbrook is south of one.
#9 Kyrie Irving
Does anyone remember who made the shot to defeat the 73-win Warriors? It was the same player with the sickest handles in the game. Irving’s mind has a lot of explaining to do. His game does not. Coming in at the same number he ranked in PER last season is Kyrie Irving.
#10 Klay Thompson
The least-talked-about star on the Warriors is tailor-made for the NBA in 2018. It is nothing short of criminal that the best combination of shooting and defending in the NBA is not allowed to shine brighter. While there is a good chance he remains a Warrior, he should strongly consider becoming the first option somewhere else. Thompson has averaged 20+ ppg four straight seasons.
#11 Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard emerged this past season as one of the best guards in the NBA but a mediocre, disappointing, short postseason prevents a higher ranking. The Dame that averaged 20 ppg with a .352 FG% was the furthest thing from the breathtaking regular season version. The smart money should be on a redemption come April 2019.
#12 Chris Paul
If Chris Paul did not get hurt, he would be an NBA champion right now. Paul had no trouble fitting in with Houston calculating the fifth-best offensive rating in the NBA. His value can no longer be questioned. He is not on the Mount Rushmore of NBA players, but he is on the Mount Rushmore of valuable players. When it is money time, how many are going before CP3? Not many.
#13 Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid can become the face of the NBA within 5 years if he is able to stay healthy. A player of that size, with that skill, with that social media game, is a superstar in the making. Look for Embiid to jump into the top 10 by midseason as he emerges as this era’s Hakeem Olajuwon.
#14 Paul George
Paul George did not do his game any favors by re-signing with the Thunder this summer, but with Carmelo Anthony on his way out, George will improve. George is a poor man’s Kawhi Leonard and would be the best player on over half of the teams in the NBA.
#15 Jimmy Butler
If Jimmy Butler leaves Minnesota and hits the free agent market in 2019 some team is going to instantly become drastically more dynamic. Butler is the type of player that when betted against make the bettor look like a fool. Better suited on a team playing the Scottie Pippen-role has to make one wonder if teaming up with Kyrie Irving, his friend, is in the near future.
#16 Ben Simmons
The 76ers have a special point guard. Nearly 40 years later, the NBA may be getting another Magic Johnson. If some semblance of a jump shot is found, things are about to become ridiculous. Given his age and potential, there are not three better players to build a franchise around going forward.
#17 Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns took a step back this year with Butler’s arrival and was far from great in the postseason. Towns does contain a skill set, however, that the majority of the NBA is not equipped to handle. The need for centers is decreasing, but certainly not centers like KAT.
#18 Victor Oladipo
Where did this come from? Victor Oladipo made both the Magic and Thunder look incompetent displaying what he can do when a team orbits around him. Last season was just the beginning for Oladipo and the Pacers success in the East.
#19 Donovan Mitchell
It sure looks like Donovan Mitchell should not have been the 13th overall pick in anything. Looking like a young Dwyane Wade, Mitchell will soon go from draft steal to perennial All-Star. Playoff jitters for rookies are a real thing, right? Because in a series with Rusell Westbrook and Paul George, Mitchell was the best player in the series.
#20 CJ McCollum
If Portland has to pick between one of their two star guards, McCollum is not making the choice easy. Portland was the most disappointing team of the playoffs, but the exact opposite can be said of McCollum. Shooting over 50% from the field, CJ McCollum averaged 25.3 ppg and was the only thing that kept the Blazers from being mockable.
#21 Devin Booker
#22 LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge is the most underrated player in the NBA. With Kawhi Leonard only playing nine games, Aldridge was required to step up. And, man, did he ever. The All-Star PF claimed the eighth best player efficiency rating in the NBA. Aldridge is no Tim Duncan, but he is not a bad alternative.
#23 Khris Middleton
He may not get much attention, well, really any, but Khris Middleton is one of the top 5 two-way players in the NBA. This season he improved his offensive game and was magnificent in the postseason scoring nearly 25 ppg on 60% shooting.
#24 DeMarcus Cousins
Boogie is not going to be Boogie right away this season coming off an Achilles injury, but, man if he can get close by year’s end the Warriors will be unstoppable. A discussion of skilled big men is not a discussion until Cousins is in it. It is devastating his 25 ppg, 13 rpg, 2 bpg season was cut short. Even if he is not playing, there are not 24 players better than what he would be doing.
#25 Kristaps Porzingis
The only word to describe what happened to Kristaps Porzingis and the fact he may miss this season is devastation. Before his season was cut short, Porzingis was showing growth across the board. If 80% of Porzingis’ ceiling is met, expect Dirk Nowitzki-like production.
#26 John Wall
John Wall could have been a superstar in the NBA, but he hasn’t been. Under the right circumstances, Wall’s speed and play-making niche would lead to just that. There is buzz the Lakers wouldn’t mind trading for it.
#27 Draymond Green
Draymond Green is so important to the Warriors and they would not have won three championships in four years without him. What Green would do on a bad team should come with serious doubt. If Green is not surrounded by several future Hall-of-Famers, he would just be an annoying problem.
#28 Bradley Beal
Bradley Beal is not just a shooter, he is a game changer. The Wizards are better suited letting either Beal or Wall run the show alone around a supporting cast. When Wall went down last season, Beal made a strong case that should be him.
#29 Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker is the car that isn’t quite a luxury but is better than all the neighbors’. The last three seasons have been virtually the same for Walker. A change of scenery could be what is needed to enhance an already good career.
#30 DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan is what he is. The Raptors are never going to get over the hump with DeRozan leading the charge, but he would be a pretty good 2nd or 3rd option on a top team.
#31 Gordon Hayward
If Gordon Hayward can come back healthy next season, he will instantly excel with Boston. Hayward is not going to score like he did in Utah, but he will not need to. As a floor-spacer, Hayward will be a serious weapon for Brad Stevens and will be utilized to the fullest.
#32 Jayson Tatum
We witnessed several flashes of what Tatum could become in his first season. Tatum has the rare advantage of being on a team trending toward the Finals for the next several years. Tatum rose up when the pressure was highest last season.
#33 Brandon Ingram
The pressure is on. Brandon Ingram at times played like an All-Star and should become LeBron James’ sidekick. If he does not become a reliable second option, the Lakers will be quickly regretting not including him in a trade offer for Kawhi Leonard. The prediction here is not only does Ingram improve, he will average over 20 ppg and remind folks what George Gervin looked like.
#34 Jaylen Brown
#35 Tobias Harris
The Clippers robbed the Pistons when they traded them Blake Griffin. The reason, Tobias Harris is better than him. Harris has size, atheism, skill, can shoot, handle the rock, and, oh wait, is getting better.
#36 Lou Williams
In case you didn’t know, Lou Williams can still get buckets. Williams is not going away and remains a lethal scoring threat night after night.
#37 Nikola Jokic
Denver was much better than expected last season and it was largely due to Nikola Jokic being a force at the Center position. Jokic has taken significant steps in each of his three seasons. The next step is bad news for a league not set up to defend big men.
#38 Blake Griffin
The awe surrounding Blake Griffin has worn off and he is now just a good player. A good player who can score and grab boards. Maybe Griffin can be an All-Star in the East next season.
#39 Kevin Love
Kevin Love was stuck in the undesirable position of never receiving credit but always sharing the blame. If Love remains with Cleveland, a hybrid between what he has been in Cleveland and what he was in Minnesota is possible.
#40 Eric Gordon
Eric Gordon gave the Rockets a legitimate Big 3 for the majority of the year. When Paul went down, Gordon stepped up in a big way. If Carmelo Anthony joins Houston, he will be the fourth option because of Gordon.
#41 Rudy Gobert
The defensive presence of Rudy Gobert is nothing short of season changing. His game may not translate to the box office, but it should.
“I want to play against Gobert.” – Nobody.
#42 Steven Adams
Every team needs a Steven Adams. The energetic big man is tough, physical, and effective. The Thunder should utilize him more on offense.
#43 TJ Warren
Nobody on this list is less known than TJ Warren. Warren quietly had a really good season averaging nearly 20 ppg and five games scoring 30+.
#44 Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry in his 12th season continued to be Kyle Lowry. An above average player that does nothing out of the ordinary in the playoffs. Effective, yes. Anything more, no.
#45 Lauri Markkanen
What a season for Lauri Markkanen as a dangerous scoring and rebounding threat. The Bulls are in a rebuild, and Markkanen is a big part of it.
#46 Clint Capela
#47 Harrison Barnes
Never lived up to his high school hype, but Harrison Barnes has found himself in Dallas. Overall, Barnes has become a very effective NBA player and should get off to a hot start this season.
#48 Jrue Holiday
The former Bruin took his game to another level in the playoffs and was a big part in the Pelicans short run. There is no reason to doubt Jrue Holiday will not have the same impact this upcoming season.
#49 Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond led the NBA in rebounds and is a player that can score when set up correctly. It will be interesting to see Drummond’s growth next to Griffin.
#50 Aaron Gordon
If nothing else, the Magic have an exciting, young player with a high ceiling. In his fourth season, Aaron Gordon improved his offensive game and showed he has natural instincts a rebounder.