We’re not quite at the NBA playoffs just yet, but we are getting close. This NBA season is producing some amazing talent, and a top eight that is impossible to rank. How do you rank them? Where do rank Stephen Curry coming off of an NBA championship but dealing with injuries throughout the entire season? Same questions for Devin Booker and Kevin Durant in Phoenix? But I have my list. Here are the top ten players in the NBA just about a month before postseason action!
This was so tough because there have been so many great players this season. Donovan Mitchell is having a career year with one of the top seeds in the East and he did not make the cut. Anthony Davis has been a monster when healthy this season, but he didn’t make the top ten. The Suns have played like one of the best teams in the NBA with Devin Booker, yet he found himself just outside of the top ten. So did Kyrie Irving, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Brown and Ja Morant! So with that out of the way, here are my top ten players in the NBA.
10. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers, F
This may be controversial to some because of his downgrade in statistics this season. Statistically, he is definitely lower than all of the players I mentioned above. And he missed 19 of his first 24 games to begin the season due to injury. However, it is everything else that Kawhi does that makes him such a valuable player. First of all, even if the statistics don’t say it, Kawhi is one of the best defensive players in the NBA, and will always lock down the opposition’s best player. He is also shooting over 50% from the field and over 40% from three. And since January 1st, he has been on a tear, playing 20 out of a possible 25 games, and averaging 27.6 points per game while shooting 53% from the field, an astounding 48.5% from three and 91.6% from the free throw line. In this time he is also averaging nearly two steals per game. Especially going into the postseason, there are very few players I would rather have than Kawhi Leonard, and there was no way I could not include him in my top ten!
9. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers, G
Look at your clock. It’s about Dame Time! If someone gets drug tested due to their abnormal performance, they’re a top ten player in the NBA! Whenever it looks like Damian Lillard is starting to fall off, he hits us with this kind of season! He is averaging over 32 points per game on 47/38/92 shooting splits. He has 12 games this season with 40 or more points. If you’re just getting into the NBA, I’ll just say that’s…a lot, especially for someone who has missed 13 games this season. And recently, he has been throwing the NBA by surprise. Since January 12th (19 games), Lillard has 15 games of 30 or more points, nine games of 40 or more and three games of 50 or more points, giving him an average of 39.4 points and 7.4 assists per game while having 51/41/95 shooting splits in this time span. And basketballreference.com has a stat metric called game score, which takes into account everything that a player does in a game and comes up with an overall score. Lillard has two performances in this amazing stretch, his 60 point game and his 71 point game, that each rank top 12 all time in best game scores ever! Not to mention he’s now 3rd all time in 60 point games ahead of Michael Jordan and James Harden. It’s about that time!
8. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers, F
I know this seems low, but the NBA’s all time leading scorer checks in at number 8. There is no denying that LeBron and his 29.5 points per game is one of the best players in the NBA. The king hasn’t shown any signs of regression, and may shatter his own scoring record he broke a few weeks back. However, because of injuries, his least efficient season in a very long time; James is shooting 30.8% from three, the 2nd worst in a season in his entire career, and other things, LeBron lands at 8, even though come postseason time, I’m not sure I’d want anyone else but him with the ball!
7. Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns, F
I have KD landing at No. 7. Like his fellow veteran LeBron James, Durant has missed a lot of time with injury this season, missing 21 of a possible 61 games he could’ve played so far this season. However, before being dealt to Phoenix, who he hasn’t played a second with due to injury, Durant was putting on a masterclass as usual, as he was on pace to currently be 6th in 30 point games this season, and tied for 3rd in 20 point games if he played all 61! And if you just look at his build, there is a reason why KD is a 13x All Star and one of the greatest to play the game. He has size to shoot over everyone, he guard all five positions on the court, and is insanely dominant in the paint. He is averaging 29.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 50% from the field for the 10th straight season, shooting over 35% from three (37.6%) for the 14th straight season and is shooting 93.4% from the free throw line, over 90% for the third time in his career, and leading the league in percentage for the charity strike for the 2nd time in his carer. He’s insane!
6. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics, F
Before we get in to how good Tatum is, let me just tell you this: he’s the best player on the best team right now! Sounds like an MVP player doesn’t it? While I don’t think Tatum is the MVP this season, he’s pretty darn close to it. Tatum is averaging over 30 points per game and nearly nine rebounds, with incredible defense. Tatum has had incredible stretches this season as well. Like from December 21st to January 19th, he averaged over 33 points per game and over nine rebounds, while shooting nearly 90% from the charity strike. His statistics aren’t as flashy as some players like Durant or Lillard, but being the best player on the best team is good enough to get you the 6th best spot on my list!
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, G
This may seem low for the defending NBA champion and finals MVP. But this drop in ranking is mainly due to injury. The greatest shooter in NBA history has missed 23 games due to several injuries throughout the regular season. However, when he has played, which has been in 38 games this season, he’s been amazing, averaging 29.4 points per game, 6.4 assists and surprisingly 6.3 rebounds while shooting a near 43% clip from downtown. Not to mention he’s had 30 or more points in 20 of his 38 games, despite playing through many injuries. If Curry was healthier, he would absolutely be higher on this list, and I couldn’t keep the defending champ outside the top five.
4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, G
Luka is Luka, what can I say! The NBA’s leading scorer is averaging a career high 33.1 points per game with 8.8 rebounds and 8.1 assists, while shooting over 50% from the field and 35% from three. He also is averaging just 3.7 turnovers, the lowest in his career since 2020, which was the season of his first all star appearance. Doncic has the third most games with 20 or more points, the most games with 30 or more points, the 2nd most games with 40 or more points, and the most 50 point games, with an astounding amount of four games this season where he crossed the half century mark! And none of this talks about his 60-21 triple double game he had two months back (which recorded the 7th best game score in NBA history) where he also led one of the craziest comebacks in NBA history. Prior to his masterclass, there had been 13,884 games in the previous 20 years that had been separated by at least nine points with 35 seconds remaining, and none of the teams down near double digits had came back, until Luka and Mavs did on the 13,885th time! Luka Magic!
3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets, C
Whenever you are stressed, put on the Denver Nuggets, because Jokic’s play is so calming and relaxing to watch. With talent but not a crazy amount of talent around him, Jokic is the front runner to win his 3rd straight MVP. If he does win MVP this season, this would be the 4th time a player has won three straight MVPs, joining only all time greats Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, who all accomplished this feat! Jokic is averaging 24.8 points, 11.7 rebounds and 10 assists per game, while shooting over 63% from the field (7th best in the NBA) and just under 40% from three. In fact, his near 12 boards and double digit assists each rank top five in both of those categories, and if he finishes the season this high in both categories, it would be the second time in NBA history where a player has ranked top five in rebounds and assists, the only other player to do so being Wilt Chamberlain in 1966-67, which is considered on the greatest MVP seasons of all time. I do have him as the 2nd best center in the NBA for reasons I’ll mention later, but when a player is this dominant on one of the top teams in the league on both sides of the ball, they’re a legit MVP candidate!
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers, C
This will get some controversy but yes, I do think Joel Embiid is the best center in basketball ahead of the reigning 2x MVP, who may win a third straight, Nikola Jokic. First things first, Embiid is .1 points behind Doncic for the league’s scoring title, and is a more gifted scorer than Jokic. Embiid also ranks top ten in rebounds like Jokic, and their rebounds per game is only separated by 1.3. Embiid is also a much better player on the defensive end. Not only does he have a better defensive rating, which has gotten some confused on why Embiid was the better defender when Jokic had a better defensive rating in previous years, but he also averages nearly a block more per game and just .2 less steals. But the main thing that stands out about Embiid is how he has played against the big time players in the league. He’s averaging 42.5 points and two blocks against Kawhi Leonard, 32 points and three blocks against Damian Lillard, 36.5 points and 11.5 rebounds against LeBron James (he has not played Kevin Durant), 32 points and 11 rebounds vs. Jayson Tatum (he has not played Luka Doncic), and 47 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and two blocks while leading his team past a 15 point comeback in the 2nd half to win in his only meeting against Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets! Big time players make big time plays in big time games, and that is exactly what Embiid has done this season. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the most dominant players in the NBA, and the best center in the NBA!
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks, F
Giannis is No. 1 and there is no one in the stratosphere as him! Let me get the elephant in the room out of the way. He can’t shoot. Neither can Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Hakeem Olajuwon, etc. And the funny thing is, he doesn’t need to be a star shooter like everyone else in the NBA! You can try different strategies to stop him. The first one could be foul him. Well, the Pacers tried that a month ago, and it worked, as he shot just 7-18 from the line. It worked, until you realized he put up 41, 12 and 6 on the one of the best interior defenders in the NBA in Myles Turner. Giannis is averaging a career high 31.3 points and 12 rebounds, while shooting nearly 54% from the field on 20 attempts a night! And I’ve said all of this without talking about his defense. Guess the only star player Embiid has struggled with this season? Giannis Antetokounmpo! Giannis is one of the best defenders in the NBA. He held Embiid to 23 points and 11 rebounds on average, much worse than his usual production. He has not gone against Nikola Jokic, but has held Pascal Siakam to 11 points and 8 boards, Karl-Anthony Towns to 22 points, Rudy Gobert to 7 points, and Bam Adebayo to 17 points. In short form, there is no one that can score at a high level on Giannis. He can guard all five positions so well. Oh yeah and he also leads the league in defensive rating! So combine an unstoppable scorer with abnormal defensive versatility and talent, and leadership that makes his team maybe the best in the NBA right now, and you have Giannis, the Greek Freak, euro-stepping his way into the postseason with no signs on slowing down!
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