The 2019-20 NBA season is finally upon us. After a summer of unprecedented player movement, the championship landscape is unrecognizable in comparison to this time last year. To celebrate the tip-off of a season where just about everyone has a chance to win a ring, we ranked the 50 best players in the NBA according to their level of play, how they're projected to perform this season, and (of course) our own personal opinions. Enjoy.
1. Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard comes into the season as the best player in the NBA. He's coming off a dominant NBA Finals, where he became only the third player in league history to win the Finals MVP award with two different franchises (joining LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Leonard led the way to dethrone the Golden State Warriors, averaging 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game in the playoffs. Unlike most players of Leonard's caliber, he does it on both ends. He is also the NBA's best two-player. Now, with the Clippers, Leonard is in position to win yet another championship with yet another team.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
He's gigantic. He's mean. He's powerful. And last year, he was the most unstoppable player in basketball. Giannis cemented his "Greek Freak" moniker as one of the most notorious (and well-earned) nicknames in the NBA after an MVP season that saw him rampage on both ends of the court as he averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists with 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He was the best player for the best overall team in basketball, as the Bucks ended up with the best regular-season record in the league and were top three in both offensive and defensive efficiency. His jump shot still needs work, but he'll still be 24 when the season begins, and there's nothing to indicate he won't be a top-three player in this league for the next decade.
3. LeBron James
LeBron James, who will turn 35 this December, is not quite the player he once was. However, a slight decline from all-time great is still pretty great. James can still do it all whether it's playing in the post or being the NBA's most effective passer. James won't have to carry as much of the load in his second year with the Lakers now that he is paired with Anthony Davis. They happen to have games that will mesh well. James' name will return to the MVP discussion.
4. James Harden
Giannis checked all the boxes for last year's MVP, but there was a very good case for The Beard to win his second consecutive award. He averaged 36 points per game, and went on a scoring run for the record books from late January to mid-March where he dropped more than 57 points six times. One of the best pure scorers this league has ever seen was at the height of his powers last year, and it was beautiful. He should be just as dangerous this year, although his actual numbers may drop as he gets used to sharing the floor with Russell Westbrook.
5. Stephen Curry
Kevin Durant is no longer in Golden State, which means the MVP version of Curry could be on the way. With that said, Curry is up for the biggest challenge of his career this season. Fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson is expected to miss a good chunk of the season, the team isn't deep, and he will have to adjust to play alongside D'Angelo Russell. It's still a treat to watch Curry shoot the ball as well.
6. Joel Embiid
When he's healthy and rested, Embiid is as unstoppable as it gets for a big man in today's NBA. Nobody should be this big and this athletic, but Embiid can pull off moves at 7'2" that guards a foot shorter than him can't. He's a beast on the block against nearly any defender. This isn't even to mention his rim protection, which ranks among the best in the NBA and is clearly a point of pride with the big man. All that added up to 27.5 points per game last year with
13.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
7. Anthony Davis
First the first time in his career, Anthony Davis will not be the best player on his team. Presumably, this won't be a problem, and he should improve playing with James. But we should anticipate growing pains throughout the season. Davis also has an injury history. But he is a force on the court and it doesn't matter which end he is playing at. Last season, in 56 games, AD averaged 25.9 points, 12 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. Are you ready for the scary part? That was a down year for him.
8. Nikola Jokic
Joel Embiid may be the most dominant big man in the NBA, but "The Joker" is by far the most skilled. Despite being unable to jump over a phonebook, Jokic regularly produces highlight-reel plays with his ungodly court vision and passing skills. He averaged 20 points ,10 rebounds, and 7 assists last year and led Denver to the No. 2 seed in the West despite his defensive deficiencies. He was a legitimate MVP candidate next year, and will continue to put up big numbers as the crux of the Nuggets' offense.
9. Russell Westbrook
Perhaps no player will be more interesting to watch this season than Russell Westbrook. Pairing up once again alongside James Harden creates the NBA's greatest mystery. This duo could be frightening, or they hate each other by the All-Star break. Both scenarios are equally foreseeable. It's still hard to believe Westbrook has averaged a triple-double for three straight years. Ridiculous stat lines have become so normal, we don't even flitch at the history Westbrook continues to make.
10. Damian Lillard
No matter what, Dame Lillard is No. 1 in clutch rating in this league. His shot to knock the Thunder out of the playoffs was cold as ice. Lillard was also the undisputed leader of a unit that made it to the WCF after beating the Nuggets in a Game 7 on their home floor. Dame has reached his peak as a player, averaging 25.8 points per game last season with 6.9 assists while shooting 36 percent from deep. He'll come up big when you need him, and he's a consistent star.
11. Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving left a young team where he was Batman for a team that is young and where he will have to be Batman again. That is just for this season, of course, as he will be paired with Kevin Durant next season once the forward returns from injury. Irving is not the easiest player to play with, but has the nastiest handles in the game, is a magician offensively, and is a cold-blooded killer on the court. The Nets will be better with Irving this season and he will be a darkhorse MVP candidate.
12. Paul George
George had the season of his career last season, forcing his way into the MVP conversation despite playing next to Russell Westbrook, who needs the ball in his hands to succeed. PG-13 looked Rated R at times, averaging 28 points per game and shooting 38 percent from deep with Defensive Player of the Year-level effort. His shoulder injury slowed him down at the end of the year, but George remains the second-best two-way player in the game right now, just behind his new teammate.
13. Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns is a consistent, reliable, and improving player in the NBA. He rebounded last season without Jimmy Butler, putting up an underrated stat line of 24.4 points and 12.4 rebounds per game with a 51.8 field goal percentage. What doesn't get enough attention is how effective he is for a player of his size from the free-throw line. Towns has a career 83.6 percentage from the charity stripe. Don't let an irrelevant team sway you away from watching KAT on the court. It's a joy.
14. Jimmy Butler
James G. Buckets has had quite a ride over the last 12 months, but has finally gotten what he wanted: his own team and life as the undisputed top option. He put up 18.7 points a game last season with his usual tough defense and closing ability. He should put up bigger numbers this season with a larger workload, too.
15. Ben Simmons
Many NBA experts are picking the Philadelphia 76ers to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. But for the Sixers to make it that far, Simmons must improve his game. As great of a passer, as he is, he has no semblance of a jump shot, is unreliable form the free-throw line, and had a 0.0 three-point percentage last season. Jimmy Butler is gone, and Al Horford has arrived. Style-wise this will bode well for Simmons and keep the rest of the NBA up at night.
16. Rudy Gobert
Another year, another trophy for Rudy Gobert. While the Larry O'Brien Trophy continues to elude Gobert and Utah, he proved once again he is the premier rim protector in this league as he averaged 2.3 blocks a game en route to his second Defensive Player of the Year award. His offensive game is limited, and he struggles to stick with elite players on the perimeter, but nobody is better at protecting the paint than the Stifle Tower.
17. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin will never be the league-changer, all-timer that he could have been, and that many thought he would be. Yet he has become a reliable, effective, all-around basketball player. He bounced back last season, averaging nearly 25 points per game and only missed six games. If Griffin can stay healthy, he should be participating in the All-Star Game and lead the Pistons back to the playoffs.
18. Bradley Beal
To some surprise, Beal just signed an extension with the forever-medicore Wizards, and Washington is glad to have him. When healthy, Beal can do it all-- he's a good shooter (35 percent from deep on over seven attempts per game), can run the offense (five assists per game with nearly a 2:1 turnover-to-assist ratio), and simply get buckets (25 points per game on a 54 percent effective field goal percentage). He's become one of the most well-rounded offensive players in the game.
19. Victor Oladipo
Victor Oladipo will not be ready by the start of the season and his return date remains up in the air. Clearly, there are concerns about making a full return after the gruesome knee injury he suffered last season, which is devastating as a basketball fan. The Pacers are Oladipo's team and he has a chance to be a star leading them.
20. Kemba Walker
Cardiac Kemba is now in Boston, and the world should finally get to see what he does outside of his former home in Charlotte, which came with very few nationally televised games and a lot of bad teams. He averaged 25 points per game last year with the attention of entire defenses focused on him. His counting numbers may drop this season with a better supporting cast, but he should be much more efficient and will have more than his fair share of late-game highlights and potentially some long-deserved playoff success.
21. Jrue Holiday
Lost amidst the chaos of the Anthony Davis debacle was Jrue Holiday's emergence as one of the best two-way guards in the league. He's a bulldog defender who never takes a play off and can run the offense as the main option, even if it's not always pretty. He averaged 21.2 points per game and 7.7 assists despite playing much of the season with Julius Randle as his only legitimate scoring option. He should continue this play with a much better supporting cast in search of veteran guidance.
22. D'Angelo Russell
Last season, D'Angelo Russell officially broke out and become a dynamic guard in the league. But that was in Brooklyn, where it was his team. Russell will now be playing alongside Stephen Curry in Golden State, in that system with Steve Kerr. There are plenty of reasons to believe Russell will be effective, but a decline in numbers is expected.
23. Luka Doncic
What a feeling they must have in Dallas. The Mavericks already know they have a star in Luka Doncic. The 20-year-old was the Rookie of the Year last season, dropping 21.2 points per game, and at times looked simply unguardable. Doncic keeps coaches up at night game-planning to defend him. He also keeps fans up at night making it impossible to go to sleep when he is playing on the court
24. Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic had a breakout season last year as the center of Orlando's offense, and was most of the reason they made a surprise playoff run. He can't do much on defense, but is a jack of all trades on offense; he shot 36 percent from deep, shot over 50 percent from the floor, and averaged 3.8 assists per game. It remains to be seen if he can top his 20 points/12 rebounds/4 assists per game line this year, but he established himself as one of the more well-rounded big men in this league.
25. Mike Conley
Does any one basketball player get less attention than they deserve than Mike Conley? Even with nothing to play for last season, with the Grizzlies, Conley had a career year offensively. Of course, he had to score at a high rate to prevent getting embarrassed nightly. The fit in Utah will serve him well. A team that is a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.
26. LaMarcus Aldridge
At this point, we know what Aldridge is: a rock-solid option on both ends of the floor. He averaged 21.3 points per game with 9.8 rebounds as one of the fulcrums of the Spurs' offense. No one is more dangerous on the right block than Aldridge, and his fadeaway jumper is as unblockable a shot you'll see in the league. He isn't the pure scorer he once was, but he remains one of the best post players in the NBA and as reliable as they come.
27. Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell hit a bit of a sophomore slump after his outstanding rookie season, but he turned on the jets in the second half of the year and silenced anyone who thought Year 1 was a fluke. As the No. 1 option and the only shot creator in Utah's offense, Mitchell put up 23.8 points while shooting 36 percent from three on nearly seven attempts per game. The Dwyane Wade comparisons are a bit soon, but as an athletic slasher who can't be stopped when he gets going, it seems appropriate.
28. Devin Booker
You have to feel bad for Devin Booker, right? He can ball, but plays for an absolutely horrific organization. On one hand, you'd think they would eventually get better and put Booker in position to showcase his talents in games that matter. But they should never do. Either way, though, Booker is going to impress this season.
29. DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan will forever go down as the beloved lamb the Raptors had to sacrifice for their championship. But on his end, he didn't have a bad season by any means. He continued his steady scoring with 21.2 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the floor, proving he has a place in a league obsessed with the three-point shot. Like his teammate Aldridge, DeRozan won't drive a team to success on his own, but he's an extremely reliable player who will flourish with the ball in his hands.
30. Chris Paul
Chris Paul will start the season in Oklahoma City, but it's unclear where he will end it. CP3's game noticeably declined last season and a long injury history is concerning for the 34-year-old point guard. However, for those who participate in fantasy basketball, Paul is an underrated pick. His numbers will go up this season as he will no longer be the second option to James Harden. He's still automatic from the free-throw line, makes those around him better, and is well above average when defending the top guards around the NBA.
31. Kyle Lowry
Lowry finally banished his playoff demons and won himself a championship last season. His playoff run exhibited what he does best-- hit shots when he needs to and cling to whatever player he's tasked to guard like glue. He's the franchise man in Toronto and their leader on and off the court. He'll never put up big numbers, but he's steady and, now, clutch.
32. Pascal Siakam
If you didn't know this name from October to May, you knew it from May to June. Pascal Siakam was a game-changer late in the postseason for the Raptors. There will be more attention put on him this season with Kawhi Leonard gone, but he is also only 65 percent of the player he can be. Which is a terrifying thought and why the Raptors will be a much more dangerous team than most are expecting this season.
33. Jayson Tatum
Tatum hit a big snag in his second season. His shot selection went down the toilet as the Celtics slowly unravelled over the year. Despite that, Tatum still has a ton of potential as an offensive force. He shot 37 percent from three last season and showed flashes of the rookie who could get buckets against anyone. With better chemistry and less deep 2s with 20 seconds left on the shot clock, Tatum could make that crucial jump to a 20-point per game scorer for a Boston team that needs him now more than ever.
34. Draymond Green
The story of Draymond Green is written. He is the Warriors' second-most valuable player, he puts up mediocre stats, and he will be as motivated as he has been as a result of Kevin Durant's decision to leave town. Would anyone be that shocked if this is the year Green suddenly starts scoring at a high rate?
35. Al Horford
The fit with the 76ers in so bizarre for the veteran. But awkward can be effective and the Sixers are going to be a force on the defensive end between Horford, Embiid, and Harris. It will result in some boring, throwback-style, physical basketball. Which is exactly how to light the fire inside Horford.
36. Tobias Harris
Harris earned himself a massive contract by virtue of being a big man who can shoot like a guard. While his second half with the Sixers wasn't what he hoped, Harris still shot 39 percent from deep on five attempts per game. A 20-point per game scorer who can shoot is exactly the kind of third wheel Philly needs, and there are few better stretch power forwards than Harris right now when it comes to shooting the rock.
37. Kristaps Porzingis
No player comes into the season with as many questions as Kristaps Porzingis. Returning from injury, Porzingis has to learn how to play alongside a new team in Dallas, which will not come easy. There is, however, the potential for Porzingis and Doncic to become a dynamic duo at some point. But Dallas didn't make the trade for this season, and the story isn't meant to be written this year either.
38. Steven Adams
Adams is the lone survivor after the purge that hit Oklahoma City after another disappointing first-round playoff exit. He's quite literally rock solid, the hardest screen-setter in the league and a ferocious rebounder. He won't do much in the paint, but his effectiveness cleaning up the glass should be reflected in his stats now that Russell Westbrook won't grab every missed shot.
39. Zach LaVine
Herein lies a player that can jump out of the gym. One of the leagues' most athletically gifted players became a much smarter decision-maker a year ago by electing to start driving into the paint more often. Too bad he plays in Chicago, where their basketball team has little to no hope once again.
40. C.J. McCollum
McCollum has developed into one half of the most deadly shooting duo outside of Golden State up in Portland. He averaged 21 points per game and hit 37 percent of his threes. Offensively, he's an ideal partner for when Lillard isn't on, and the playoffs showed that; he can create his own shot against most defenders and run the show by himself if need be. This is probably as good as it gets for McCollum, but a consistent 20 ppg scorer with a sweet shooting stroke isn't a bad sidekick by any means.
41. Kevin Love
Kevin Love is no longer in the daily discussion now that he is not a teammate of LeBron Jame'. But his play wasn't worth talking about last season, either. Part of this, tough, was due to injuries. Love only played in 22 lackluster games last season. The Cavs should have more stability this season for Love to get back to his usual level of play if he can stay on the court.
42. Julius Randle
Randle made his deal in New Orleans count, as AD's extended absence opened up a lot of minutes in the frontcourt. He exploded for a career-high average of 21.4 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the floor, using his combination of speed and strength to dominate in the paint. He'll have a chance to improve upon those numbers as one of the few proven scorers at Madison Square Garden, and at only 24, his game has room and time to expand.
43. Khris Middleton
A lot of fan bases want to claim they have it, but the Bucks are the ones that have it. Milwaukee has the most underrated player in the NBA in Khris Middleton. He is the ideal sidekick for Giannis Antetokounmpo, especially on the defensive end. Middleton will never be a superstar, but a wing like he is, will always be useful.
44. Kyle Kuzma
Kuzma, who is injured right now with a stress reaction, remained with the Lakers when they shipped the rest of their young core to the Pelicans for Anthony Davis this summer. Kuzma fits well on the court with LeBron James and also will with Davis. He can't play a lick of defense, but, hey, who does? Kuzma made a name for himself his rookie season and was significantly better last season scoring nearly 19 points a game.
45. De'Aaron Fox
Fox literally sprinted onto the scene last season and was the lead man for a Kings team that found success far earlier than anyone expected. He's one of the toughest guards in the game to stop in transition right now thanks to his blazing speed and ability to contort his body around the rim. Fox also made big strides with his shooting stroke and shot 37 percent on threes after shooting 30 percent on a similar amount of attempts his rookie year. Fox has a lot of room to improve, a scary proposition for the rest of the league.
46. Jamal Murray
Murray burst into the public eye during last year's postseason as it became clear that Denver's offense lived and died with him. Jokic is the engine that makes everything run, but Murray is its most important piston. When he's on, it's hard to stop him. He'll work on his consistency this year, but as the score-first foil to Jokic's pass-first tendencies, he's the perfect sidekick, and working his way towards being considered one of the top scoring guards in the league.
47. Zion Williamson
It's been a long time since a player is going to step into the NBA with this type of attention surrounding him. Unfortunately, we have to talk about injuries, though. Zion Williamson is hurt once again and will miss the beginning of the season. But if he can come back and stay healthy, the league is in for a show and a generational-altering player. It won't take long, either.
48. Trae Young
The concerns about Young's game not translating to the professional level have turned out to be unfounded. He started slow, but came around and played extraordinarily well for a rookie point guard in the second half of the year, even giving Luka Doncic a run for his Rookie of the Year trophy. His vision is outstanding and he should make another series of jaw-dropping passes this year. He needs to improve his efficiency from deep, but Atlanta has themselves a franchise point guard.
49. Danilo Gallinari
Danilo Gallinari has been in the NBA for over a decade, and it the epitome of a good player. Nothing more, nothing less. He can do it all and works in any system you put him in. Unfortunately, he will need to step outside his comfort zone and do more this season. As the Thunder will likely supply him with no help.
50. Bojan Bogdanovic
Bogdanovic is a solid two-way wing who hit a lot of big shots for the Pacers once Victor Oladipo went down. He'll now be tasked to take a slightly larger role as the third option behind Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell in Utah. He averaged only 18 points per game last season, but shot 42 percent from three on 4.8 attempts per game. His shooting and switchability on the defensive end will make him a key player for the Jazz this season.