NBA

The Lead’s Top 50 Players for 2024

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Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors 

After only playing a total of 37 games in the 2022-2023 season, Andrew Wiggins has a lot to prove once the season starts. Wiggins finished the 2021-2022 season as a first-time All-Star and a key contributor to a finals run. When he returned after dealing with a family medical issue, he wasn’t able to become that version for the Warriors. He will be expected to get back to that level this season, and he’ll have plenty of opportunity as a mainstay in one of of the best 5-man units in the NBA.

Last season, Wiggins averaged 17.1 points and 5 rebounds on 47.3 FG% and 39.6 3FG%. He is still a top perimeter defender and has the skills to be one of the best 2-way wings in the league. As long as he comes back like he was when he was fully healthy, expect Wiggins to end this season well into the Top 50 list. – Christian Oblena

 

Kristaps Porzingis, Boston Celtics

After one of the best statistical seasons of his career, Kristaps Porzingis will look to build something special with the Boston Celtics. KP averaged 23.2 points on 49.8 FG% with the Washington Wizards last year, both of which were career highs. He also played in 65 games, which is promising for a player who has had a tough time staying on the court in the past. 

The counting stats will most certainly decrease as he goes from being THE guy in Washington to the third/fourth guy on a stacked Boston team. However, KP will for sure have his nights for the Celtics as he allows them to space the floor on offense and brings rim protection and absurd length on the defensive side of the ball. If he can stay healthy, we could very well see a motivated Porzingis finish among the Top 50 NBA players in the league at the end of the year. –Eric Tartaglia

 

Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves

Timberwolves fans are looking at Rudy Gobert to have a return to form year. Gobert averaged just 1.4 blocks per game in 2022-2023, his lowest mark since his rookie year. Similarly, he regressed from a league-leading 14.7 rebounds per game in 2021–2022. Gobert averaged just 11.6 rebounds in his first season with the Wolves, the lowest mark since his 2015 – 2016 season. Despite a less-than-stellar year, Gobert helped lead the Wolves to a 10th-best ranked defense, the best ranking in 19 years (and only the 2nd time in franchise history the Timberwolves have had a top 10 defense). This means Rudy has now anchored a Top-10 defense in 7 of his last 8 seasons. 

With Karl Anthony Towns back and healthy after missing 52 games last season – expect to see KAT and Rudy on the floor together. One big question remains: can the two bigs find their chemistry and prove the doubters wrong? If two big man lineup experiment works, I expect to see Rudy shoot up this list come the end of the year. –Sabrina Hiller

 

OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors 

When it comes to OG, we may be underrating exactly what he brings to the table and what his value will mean to this upcoming iteration of this Toronto Raptors team. Anunoby is coming from averaging splits of 17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals per game during the 2022-23 NBA season. This kind of production is going under the radar because it doesn’t feature him putting up monster scoring performances. Despite this, true NBA fans know just how important OG is to the Raptors organization as he has ascended into the elite tier of perimeter defenders.

OG is a dark horse needle mover that teams can’t seem to pry away from Toronto. There’s a real reason why he’s still in Canada– he’s capable of being a key piece on a championship contender if he’s alongside a primary option or two. Imagine him somehow landing in Philadelphia alongside Embiid, in Milwaukee with Giannis, in Miami with Jimmy Butler, or back alongside Kawhi in LA. A 40% shooter from deep and bear trap defensively, Anunoby is the perfect complement to any NBA team that suddenly finds themselves with enough talent to pursue a title. Expect OG to make shockwaves this season and put everyone on notice who hasn’t been paying attention to just how much value he brings on the floor. –Michael Tolliver Jr

 

Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs 

While Wenbenyama starts the year as an honorable mention, do not be surprised to see him skyrocket up the rankings. The excitement for Wemby entering the NBA is otherworldly, which is best demonstrated by the NBA streaming all of his games with Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 on the NBA app.

Wenbenyama’s game is extremely well rounded –and not just for a rookie. His ceiling is basically a NBA2K-created player that can do everything. While it may take a little bit of time to find his footing on an offense in the NBA. The defensive end is where he will shine from day one. The Spurs finished last season with the worst defensive rating, giving up 120.79 points per 100 possessions. With a near-impossible length and savant-level instincts, it’s going to be awesome to see Wemby serve as the foundation for a new era of Spurs basketball. –Josh Douglas

 

Aaron Gordon, Denver Nuggets 

Before coming to the mile-high city, Gordon was mostly known for his dunk contest showings. That changed last season, when Gordon had his best pro season and was pivotal in helping the Denver Nuggets get over the hump and earn an NBA Championship. He not only took on the opposition’s best wings, but additionally had his most efficient offensive season to date. In his tenth year, Gordon averaged a modest 16.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3 assists per game –but his effectiveness was off the charts.

Gordon had an effective field goal percentage of over 60% (60.3) and shot 56.4% from the floor and over 34% from 3. After seven seasons in Orlando where he was viewed as not reaching his potential, Gordon is flourishing in a Denver system that finally allows him to play within his game. –Mitchell Skurzewski

 

THE TOP 50

50. Julius Randle, New York Knicks

In the 2022-23 NBA season, Julius Randle continued to be the driving force for an overachieving New York Knicks team. Randle’s exceptional performance showcased his evolution as a versatile power forward, averaging a double-double with 25.1 points and 10 rebounds per game, earning him his  All-Star nod. His leadership on and off the court solidified his status as a cornerstone of the Knicks’ roster alongside Jalen Brunson.

As expectations rise for the upcoming year, Randle is poised to build upon his regular season success and continue that through the playoffs (where the Knicks are still looking to get over the hump). With a strong supporting cast and improved chemistry, fans anticipate an even more dynamic and impactful season from Randle. As he enters the prime years of his career, Randle’s future appears bright, and he’s positioned to become a perennial All-Star while playing a pivotal role in the Knicks’ pursuit of contention. –Nick Dunphy

 

49. Josh Giddey, OKC Thunder

After a highly impressive second season in the NBA, 20-year-old Josh Giddey will without a doubt continue to be a crucial piece for one of the most exciting young cores in basketball. 

While Giddey is beginning to rise in the scoring department, his offensive efficiency still has much room for improvement. With a healthy Chet Holmgren joining the likes of Jalen Williams and SGA, Giddey will have plenty of opportunities to show off his playmaking chops and do some creative stuff in the pick-n-roll. Giddey gave us a peek at what to expect after an impressive performance in the FIBA World Cup, where he averaged 19 PPG, 5 RPG, and 6 APG to achieve the Rising Star Award for Australia. This season could be a career-defining one for Josh Giddey and the Thunder organization. –Amelia Krigelski

 

48. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic

For a guy who averaged nearly 19 PPG on great efficiency in his sophomore season, you’d think Wagner would have a lot more hype surrounding him as he enters his 3rd NBA season at just 22 years old.

Franz has incessantly improved his game and showcased dynamic scoring ability on a nightly basis. He’s been unfazed and always produces. He’s beginning to show flashes of Dirk with his step-backs and faders. He can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim at a smooth, deceptive pace that reminds me of Paul Pierce. He’s also capable of finishing at the rim on defenders while getting through traffic. He surely has the 3-level scoring ability that not many have at that size. The future is bright in Orlando, and it’s only a matter of time before Franz gets some well-deserved recognition.  –Michael Tolliver Jr

 

47. Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers

Take a moment to look all the way back to NBA draft night 2020. If the Sixers had gotten an average 21st pick, imagine how much worse the Ben Simmons fiasco could’ve turned out. A detail often lost in history due to the absurdity of the situation is Maxey’s performance in game six of the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals. In a Game where Simmons’ poor confidence and free throw shooting rendered him unplayable, a rookie Maxey stepped up. He came off the bench providing a colossal 16 points in 29 minutes. Without this spark from Maxey, the Sixers would have had their bags packed for Cancun by the fourth quarter. 

From this moment, Maxey’s abilities as a basketball player had far surpassed what was expected of him. In only three short seasons, Maxey has transformed himself into one of the league’s premier perimeter threats. Last season, Maxey was the fifth-best shooter from beyond the arc, draining 43.4% of his threes. If you run him off the three-point line, his otherworldly speed allows him to reach any spot on the court he chooses too. Just when you think you’ve contained his drive, an awkward floater somehow makes its way into the hoop while Maxey lies sprawled elsewhere on the court. –Josh Douglas

 

46. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

Zach LaVine has consistently showcased impressive athleticism and scoring prowess throughout his NBA career. As a key contributor to the Chicago Bulls, LaVine is known for his ability to light up the scoreboard and his high-flying dunks. In recent years, he has steadily improved his three-point shooting and playmaking, making him one of the more well-rounded offensive players in the NBA. 

LaVine is expected to be a cornerstone player for the Bulls this season. His performance and continued growth as a two-way player will be crucial in their quest for playoff success. This season, the team will lean heavily on his volume scoring– but can he become the leader the team desperately needs? –Adam Melton

 

45. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

The nearly unanimous reigning NBA Rookie of the Year is looking to make a big jump in year two. Banchero’s 20 points per game led all rookies last season, albeit those points do not always translate to team success. 

He struggled to shoot the ball from deep, shooting just 29.8 percent on the season. If he can improve his three-point consistency, it should open up even more opportunities for the smooth 6-foot-10 point forward to make plays in the mid-range and at the rim.

This summer, Banchero played for the United States at the FIBA World Cup. U.S. head coach Steve Kerr experimented with Banchero at the five spot, and the 20-year-old looked good at times. Defensively he showed his potential as a shot blocker. Defensive improvement coupled with three-point consistency could mean that an All-Star appearance is in the cards very soon.

As Banchero improves, so will the Magic. The young core in Orlando is promising, and Banchero is at the forefront. I’d expect him to move up on this list significantly by this time next year.  –Ben McCormick

 

44. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons 

Playing only 12 games for the Detroit Pistons last season after being sidelined with season-ending shin surgery, Cade Cunningham looks primed and ready to show the league why he was the number-one pick just two years ago.  The roster around Cade had time to settle itself in and work on familiarity. Going into this 2023-24 season, the roster is even better than last year with vets like Monte Morris and Joe Harris giving Cade some much-needed spacing.

We saw Cade go crazy during the summer. He participated in quite a bit of the Rico Runs and was caught dissecting defenses with a level of confidence we’ve only seen flashes of up to this point. He also participated in Team USA runs as a member of the select team. Scouts, coaches, and many who have seen Cade firsthand said that he was arguably the best player on the floor at times. 

When the dust settles after the regular season is over, we may very well be looking at Cade being seen as one of the top 25 players in the NBA. His ability to control pace, find teammates in their spots, and make the unselfish play are all traits of a leader for an organization that hasn’t had a true floor general in a long time.

With better teammates and a new head coach in Monty Williams, it seems like the MIP is Cade’s to lose. Michael Tolliver Jr

 

43. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks 

The 2023-24 season will prove critical for Middleton. He has battled multiple injuries since he went down against the Bulls in the 2022 Playoffs– and has faced some serious doubts from fans and the media alike.

He saw a reduced role last season, and his numbers took a hit. The three-time All-Star averaged 15.1 points per game — his lowest mark since the 2016-17 season. Some are questioning whether he will be able to return to the level of play he demonstrated during Milwaukee’s 2021 championship run.

Despite the Bucks’ early exit in last year’s Playoffs, Middleton’s performance was encouraging. He dropped 33 points in both Game 1 and Game 5 of the Heat series. He still has the ability to get hot in a hurry and abuse mismatches.

Now with Damian Lillard joining Milwaukee, Middleton will likely benefit from less defensive attention in the half-court. As he enters his eleventh season in Milwaukee, Middleton is looking to prove that he is far from done. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many third options better than Middleton. –Ben McCormick

 

42. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies

Desmond Bane has become a co-star in Memphis alongside Ja Morant. The TCU product is more than just a shooter–although he does that VERY well. In his third year, Bane became a 20-point-per-game scorer. The 6-5 wing averaged 21.5 points per game last year on 40.8%  shooting from 3 at over 7 attempts per game. The marksman has shot over 40% from 3 every season in his career and is a career 42.5% 3-point shooter. Bane’s game continues to expand as he averaged 5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game to go with 21.5 points and 56.8% effective-field goal percentage. 

Despite an expanded role and more shots per game, Bane’s efficiency hasn’t wavered. If he can continue to grow in other areas and continue to shoot at his rates thus far, Bane is going to be an All-Star even in the loaded wing group in the Western Conference. –Mitch Skurzewski

 

41. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls

DeMar DeRozan has had a phenomenal NBA career up to this point. Known for his scoring ability and being a nightmare for defenders in the mid-range, he has been the offensive cornerstone for the Raptors, Spurs, and now the Bulls. His consistent scoring and multiple All-Star selections have established him as one of the league’s premier shooting guards for over a decade

Looking at this upcoming season, DeRozan’s outlook largely depends on his continued ability to adapt to the evolving NBA landscape. His mid-range game remains extremely valuable, but as the league emphasizes three-point shooting and versatility, his future success will depend on his ability to expand his range and focus more on playmaking to remain a top-tier player. DeRozan’s work ethic and experience suggest he will take the necessary steps to evolve and excel this season. –Adam Melton

 

40. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

We’ve all heard the neverending lines of chatter around LaMelo Ball. We’ve heard that the Golden State Warriors were the team that let LaMelo Ball get away. We’ve heard that LaMelo isn’t someone who can elevate his team and that he hasn’t been playing well. We’ve heard that he’s all flashy and not capable of carrying his team to the playoffs. I’m here to tell you otherwise. 

LaMelo averaged splits of 23/6/8 for the 2022-23 NBA season while only playing 36 games due to injury.  Yes, he averaged 3.6 turnovers per game– but your favorite ball handler did similar or worse in that regard. His shooting splits also took a hit last season– with his FG% and 3PT% dipping slightly. These numbers will improve once this team fixes its problems. 

Let’s discuss those issues. Injuries and roster identity have been the problem plaguing this Charlotte Hornets team. People can no longer blame Michael Jordan (as tempting as it may be).

So let’s discuss what’s happening on the floor. LaMelo needs a fully healthy Gordon Hayward for once. The Hornets would benefit from rookie Brandon Miller coming in and making an immediate impact like Jalen Williams did in OKC. That would give LaMelo the spacing he needs to operate and continue to have the magical nights that we’ve seen him have.

He’s a special talent. Don’t let the win-loss column make you forget that he’s helped Charlotte land two Play-In berths. They’re right on the cusp of the playoffs. If he’s added to his game and can reduce his turnover rate to somewhere under 3 a game, LaMelo and the Hornets will likely be the NBA League Pass Team of the Year. –Michael Tolliver Jr

 

39. Bradley Beal, Phoenix Suns

Bradley Beal had some monster seasons in Washington, including consecutive seasons averaging over 30 points per game in 2019-’20 and 2020-’21. Now, Beal is running with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, forming a nuclear trio of scoring. While his individual statistics may take a downturn in counting stats, his efficiency should improve greatly with those two commanding so much attention. Beal did have some success in his 11 seasons in Washington, winning three playoff series with the Wizards, but never once reached a Conference Finals.

Last year, Beal averaged 23.2 points per game on over 50% shooting from the field. The 6-4 shooting guard has a chance to shoot up this list next year playing alongside Booker and Durant. Injuries have caused Beal to miss a lot of time in recent years and he’s played in just 90 games over the past two seasons. If he’s able to stay healthy, expect Beal to thrive as a third option and put up career-highs in scoring efficiency. –Mitchell Skurzewski

 

38. Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers 

Last July the Cavs signed Darius Garland to a 5 year 193 million 193-million-dollar extension, which some people scoffed at.

Garland is showing everyone that he is worth every penny.

He’s an elite playmaker last season he was 7th in the league in assists per game. Tyrese Haliburton and James Harden were the only players in the league with more assists and a better Assist-to-Turnover ratio than Garland.

Darius Garland helped the Cavaliers make their first playoff appearance without Lebron James since 1998. Expect another jump from Garland as the young Cavs look to make a splash in a top-heavy Eastern Conference. –Mason Ihrke

 

37. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers

The days of Harden being the best player on a contender are gone. Having that said, with all the trade and fat jokes clouding his on-court performance,  he has become very underrated at this stage of his career.

Harden is an elite playmaker and is coming off his fifth straight season averaging over 10 assists per game (leading the league with 10.7 assists per night last season). He had the second-best three-point shooting season of his career last season and dropped two 40-point playoff games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. It remains to be seen if Sixers GM Daryl Morey will grant his trade request but there’s no doubt he can help a contender, ranking No. 15 in estimated wins last season. –Frankie Richetti

 

36. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers 

I’ve heard so many people say that Evan Mobley should be given the reins to be the starting center for the Cleveland Cavaliers instead of playing the power forward position next to Jarrett Allen. I understand that spacing is the issue and that Evan Mobley has yet to be more consistent from beyond the arc (21% last season). A three-point shot from Mobley would allow the Cavs to operate more efficiently when their bigs share the floor. It would also help Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland be able to navigate more freely knowing they could depend on reliable shooting when they penetrate and attract defenses.

I believe Evan Mobley should go the Kevin Garnett route and look to become a very reliable weapon in pick-and-pop situations. If he’s able to increase his percentages around the box, it would help his team elevate to the next level. He currently shoots 38% above the free throw line (nail), 35% on the right elbow, 25% on the left elbow. If he can elevate those numbers to 45% at the nail, 40% on the elbows, we may see an all-star version of Evan Mobley. It’s just a matter of time. –Michael Tolliver Jr

 

35. Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz

Lauri Markkanen shocked the NBA world last year. After being traded to Utah from Cleveland for Donovan Mitchell, he became a bona-fide star. Markkanen won the Most Improved Player last season and had nearly a 11-point increase from his previous year, earning him an All-Star selection.

Lauri is a very efficient player; he averaged 25.6 points per game last year on 49/39/88 shooting splits. He also became the first player in NBA History to make 200 three-pointers and 100 dunks in a single season. Markkanen will continue to improve and grow as the rebuilding Jazz’s number one option. –Mason Ihrke

 

34. Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks 

The best thing that’s happened to the New York Knicks since Amare Stoudamire, Carmelo Anthony, and Linsanity (Jeremy Lin), is the acquisition of Jalen Brunson.

Coming from playing under the wings of Luka Doncic and helping carry the Dallas Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals, Brunson has been absolute gold for the Knicks. The Knicks have long needed someone to take the helm at the point of attack if they were going to compete. Every serious team features a point guard who is talented in multiple facets– the Knicks finally have their guy.

Brunson has been spectacular in his time with the Knicks thus far. Last season was his statistical best– and he should still get better. His presence allows Julius Randle to get off the ball more and not forcibly try to play hero ball.  He also helped solidify the rotations for players off the bench. The Knicks are still a few pieces away from truly contending, but one thing is for sure: they are a lot better with Jalen Brunson. –Michael Tolliver Jr

 

33. Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets

Mikal Bridges has become one of the new faces of the NBA 3 and D movement. Bridges is a fantastic two-way player and really showed his scoring skills in 2022-’23 coming out from the shadow of Devin Booker and others in Phoenix. In Brooklyn, Bridges averaged over 26 points per game and actually shot better from the field than he did in Phoenix. While being tasked with a far bigger role in the offense, Bridges was actually more efficient.

Expect Bridges to find his identity as a first option and improve his playmaking chops for a young Brooklyn team seeking their own identity. –Mitch Skurzewski

 

32. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans 

After a subpar performance for Team USA this summer, many are questioning where Ingram sits among some of his peers who he once overshadowed. For starters, Ingram needs to stay healthy this season for the Pelicans to reach the Playoffs (last season Ingram played a career low in games played, at just 45). 

The Pelicans have a slew of young talent around Ingram and Zion, but we’ve never seen the roster materialize into anything special for an extended period of time. We’re rooting for Ingram to not only stay healthy, but to take charge of the locker room and help lead the Pelicans back to the Playoffs in a loaded western conference.  –Mason Ihrke

 

31. Jrue Holiday, Boston Celtics 

“Before I even won here, I think I said I’m a Buck for life, and I mean that like deep in my heart,” Holiday told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I don’t want to play for any other team.”

Unfortunately for Holiday, things change. The day after this quote surfaced, Holiday was on the move to Portland in a deal that sent Damian Lillard to Milwaukee. Then, he was dealt from Portland to Boston days later. In the blink of an eye, Holiday went from hoping to win another championship in Milwaukee, to joining the Bucks’ main competition in the East.

It’s been a whirlwind of a preseason for Holiday, and his services will certainly be missed by Milwaukee. All in all, Holiday is a competitor. It doesn’t matter where he is, he will hound opposing players on defense. He is consistently heralded as one of, if not the, best perimeter defenders in the NBA. 

Last season, Holiday secured his first All-Star appearance in 10 years. His 19.3 points per game was the second-highest mark of his career. Holiday looked great. But come playoff time, he struggled.

He consistently takes on the most difficult defensive assignments, but he wasn’t able to win his defensive battle when it mattered most last season. Holiday had trouble with Jimmy Butler, who scored as much as 56 points in a single game with Holiday as his primary defender. Likewise, Holiday struggled to shoot in the playoffs. He often forced inefficient looks, posting a true shooting percentage of just 49.1in the playoffs  — the lowest of any Buck that played more than 13 minutes per game.

All that said, Holiday should be an extremely valuable player for Boston. His defense coupled with his ability to put points on the board in crunch time makes him an invaluable piece to a contender like the Celtics. – Ben McCormick

 

30. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves 

Karl-Anthony Towns spent most of the 2022-23 season on the sidelines after suffering a Grade 3 calf strain very early into the season. As an All-Star and a leading scorer on this Minnesota roster, his absence was heavily felt. As he returns to his role as a key player for the Timberwolves this season, he looks to rekindle his chemistry with Anthony Edwards and build on to pairing with fellow ‘big’ Ruby Gobert. 

Towns averaged 24.4 PPG in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, not only demonstrating his dynamic offensive game, but also showing his positivity and gratitude to be healthy after a difficult few years in his personal life. After a disappointing past season, the hope of success for Towns is through the roof. Prepare for what a healthy and optimistic KAT will be capable of in the coming season. –Amelia Krigelski

 

29. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies 

The reigning DPOY, Triple J led the association in blocked shots per game for the second consecutive year. Jackson’s rim protection was flat-out elite– tallying 3 blocks per game while playing under 30 minutes a night. 

This year Triple J will be called on to be the leader of this Grizzlies roster with Ja Maront missing the first 25 games of the season. With Steven Adams out for the year, JJJ will be asked to build on his defensive efforts and hold down the fort for a Grizzlies team looking for a return to normalcy .-Mason Ihrke

 

28. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings 

Domantas Sabonis is coming off arguably the best season of his career, and he did it with a fractured thumb for over half the season. Sabonis put up a 19.1 PTS/ 12.3 REB/ 7.3 AST/ 61.5 FG% statline in 2022-2023. So where can he improve?

Defense: The All-NBA 3rd Team big-man from Lithuania is never going to be a great defender, but he can improve as being the “vocal leader” on that end of the floor. Also, his defended field goal percentage has gotten worse incrementally in the last few years. Getting it down from 53.8 DFG% to somewhere around 46.0 DFG% ( the mark in his rookie season) would help the team tremendously. His best pathway to success will come from studying film and working on his rotations.

Shooting: Sabonis was out of rhythm the entire playoff series against the Warriors. Frankly, the entire Kings’ offense (which revolves around Domantas) struggled because Golden State forced him into making jump shots. He posted multiple photos on Instagram of him practicing with Kings assistant Doug Christie, and more specifically working on his jump shot. Keying in on these two areas and being just as good as a playmaker will make Sacramento’s beam shine even brighter. –Zach Schmidt

 

27. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks 

The Trae Young-Dejounte Murray duo didn’t bring the kind of fruitful returns Atland fans hoped for in year 1. The Hawks reached the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago, but haven’t found anywhere near the same success recently. Young had a solid year last season, but his shooting splits remain a cause for concern. Young averaged 26.2 points and 10.2 assists per game which on paper puts him up there with the league’s best guards. However, Young shot under 44% from the field and just 33.5% from 3-point range after shooting over 38% the prior year.

The shifty point guard is an elite distributor and hopes to return to a better 3-point shooting this season. The hope for Young and the Hawks is that Snyder can find some chemistry with the first unit and that some of the young bigs, namely Okongwu and Jalen Johnson, will take a step in the right direction to make Trae’s life a little easier. –Mitchell Skurzewski

 

26. Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers 

Tyrese Haliburton is a star. Period. Last season, Haliburton became the first NBA player to average 20 points and 10 assists while shooting over 40% from deep. 

To put Haliburton’s passing prowess in perspective, he only played 56 games last year but he finished 4th in total assists with 585. Domantas Sabonis finished 5th in total assists (573) while playing 23 more games than Halliburton. 

There will be more pressure on the Pacers this year. This year Halliburton will be expected to help end the Pacers playoff drought and prove that he can be a leader on a winning team with some new key pieces. –Mason Ihrke

 

25. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Siakam is primed to take an even greater step this season toward becoming a bonafide superstar. He won’t have to sacrifice much of his game at all to do so, as Masai has assembled a roster around Siakam that really fits his game. The Raptors playing style had long waited for Siakam to rise into a point forward role, and with FVV gone, Siakam will be handed the keys to the floor.

The Raptors will feature a triumvirate of Siakam, Anunoby, and Barnes this season. Although everyone wants to see Barnes become the star of this team, Siakam is in his true prime and finally has the offensive arsenal to excel in a new role. Time to deliver under pressure. –Michael Tolliver Jr

 

24. Kyrie Irving, Dallas Mavericks 

Coming off a season full of changes all around and landing in Dallas, Kyrie once again finds himself in a new situation with lofty expectations. Kyrie Irving averaged 27/6/5 for both the Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Maverick for the 2022-23 season. We only received a small sample of what Kyrie looks like with Luka Doncic, but this duo is undoubtedly one of the most talented backcourts in the league. 

Kyrie has played with many great players — has fit in with nearly all of them despite the commentary around him. If we keep it all about ball, he’s arguably one of the best point guards of the last decade– especially at closing games. Now with a rejuvenated roster in Dallas and good vibes all around, Kyrie looks to get back to what he does best: getting buckets. Michael Tolliver Jr

 

23. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets 

Every player ranked above Jamal Murray has something he doesn’t, an All-Star appearance. Expect that to change this year. Perhaps the most underrated guard in the NBA, Murray showed everyone what he was capable of on the biggest stage.

Murray had grown exhausted of his moniker as “Bubble Murray”. Some more appropriate names to call him would be “NBA Champion Jamal Murray” or “Averaged 21 Points & 10 Assists in the Finals Jamal Murray”. The second one doesn’t have the same ring to it, but the point still stands. Jamal Murray is one of the best point guards in this league.

The dilemma the rest of the league faces is that Murray is only 26 and Jokic is only 28. They are just getting started. –Josh Douglas

 

22. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat 

Bam Adebayo has improved in every season since he entered the league in 2017, and it’s safe to assume that’ll once again be the case this year. Adebayo earned his second All-Star appearance last season and is coming off of a fantastic effort in the 2023 NBA Finals — averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds against Denver. Adebayo is one of the best defensive players in the sport and winning his first DPOY award feels like a matter of when, not if. –Frankie Richetti

 

21. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers 

Paul George is back on his “bully sh*t” this year. For Clippers fans, that statement is exactly what you want to hear. His high release point and size at his position results in a matchup nightmare. PG ranks 16th in points per possession for players that had at least one post up a game. George did this on 1.1 post-ups a game. While the sample size is small, increasing his post touches certainly warrants consideration.

This iteration of the Clippers has had a disappointing run so far, with poor injury luck being at the forefront of the team’s struggles. And while George’s time as a Clipper has been plagued by this, he has been a rock for the Clippers lately. He has adopted the culture and been a player that fans can truly get behind. If Paul George can remain healthy, expect another season showing why he is one of the premier two-way wings that every NBA GM would kill for. –Josh Douglas

 

20. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics 

The haters will claim he “doesn’t have a left hand” –but everyone knows that Jaylen Brown is the real deal. Brown proved many people wrong last year, cementing himself among the league’s best young wings as he became a 2x All-Star and was selected for the All-NBA Second Team. 

In his seventh season with the Boston Celtics, Brown averaged 26.6 points while shooting 49.1% from the field (both career highs). After a tough playoff exit in the Eastern Conference Finals, JB did not back down. He got himself back in the gym, worked things out with the Boston Celtics, and became one of the highest-paid players in NBA history. 

Turning 27 years old at the end of October, Brown is heading straight into the prime of his career. After losing in the NBA Finals and the EC Finals in back-to-back years, we could see a highly motivated JB take another leap. He could easily finish as a top-15 player on this list come this time next year. –Eric Tartaglia

 

19. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans 

Zion Williamson has played 114 games out 302 of his possible games. He only played 29 games last season. When he’s on the court, his dominance is undeniable. The question that remains, though, is if he has put in the necessary offseason work to be at a healthy playing weight to avoid injury.

His interior scoring is truly something to marvel at. His 27 PPG on 60% shooting in his sophomore season gave us a glimpse of Shaq-esque dominance. We’re all rooting for Zion to be on the court and lead the Pels back to the promised land.Mason Ihrke

 

18. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings 

One year ago, most NBA fans inside or outside of Sacramento would have been shocked to see De’Aaron Fox as a Top 20 player in the league. This is finally a reality, and deservedly so. Fox won the inaugural Clutch Player of the Year Award to go along with his first-ever All-Star appearance and All-NBA 3rd Team selection. He was clutch in the regular season and the playoffs, setting a franchise record for most points in a playoff debut, putting up 38.

Fox averaged 25 points while attempting 5 threes a game (career-high) and shooting just 32.4% on those. If he continues to work on his deep shot and stops settling, his averages could increase all around. Winning some hardware will hopefully give him more respect around the league with the referees, allowing for more trips to the free-throw line. If Fox stays healthy this year he will be ranked in the Top 15 of the NBA by next season.  –Zach Schmidt

 

17. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers 

Mitchell has had some very good seasons– but last year may have been his best. It certainly was scoring the ball. Mitchell averaged 28.4 points per game on a career-best 48.4% field goal percentage. He also connected on 38.6% of his 3-pointers and had an effective-field goal percentage of 57.2%.

The combo guard may also be on the best team (talent-wise) of his career this season with the Cavs. Mitchell may even take another step this season as he enters his prime surrounded by fellow top-50 Darius Garland and Evan Mobley along with the free-agent signing of Max Strus. Mitchell will lead a Cavs team with aspirations to get beyond the first round of the NBA Playoffs this season. –Mitchell Skurzewski

 

16. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies 

We’ve heard enough of the troubles. Let’s help jumpstart the redemption of Ja Morant. Let’s afford him the opportunity to correct his mistakes. His adjustment will bode well for those who look up to him and identify with him. 

On the basketball floor, he hasn’t come off as a guy who just has to get his buckets. In the past, we’ve watched as he sat with injuries and saw his team succeed without him. He took it upon himself to help make sure that trend continued. There aren’t many young players that want to share the spotlight. 

With Derrick Rose and Marcus Smart filling in for Morant during his suspension, once he returns to the lineup, he will have veteran leadership around him and a chip on his shoulder. The team will receive an injection of scoring, speed, and explosiveness. The Memphis Grizzlies are arguably one of the best teams out West but will take on an underdog mentality once again. –Michael Tolliver Jr

 

15. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Coming off the best season of his career, Anthony Edwards sitting comfortably at 15 on the top 50 list seems like a win. Edwards is heading into his fourth season, fresh off a rookie max extension.

Ant-Man also added being “unquestionably the guy,” for Team USA en route to a fourth-place finish in FIBA, and a successful launch of his signature Adidas AE 1s to his summer highlights. Before hitting the World stage with Team USA in FIBA, Ant averaged 31.6 points, 5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists in a first-round playoff series versus the eventual World Champion Denver Nuggets. During this playoff run, the Timberwolves Guard joined Lebron James and Kobe Bryant on the list of players with 3 or more 30-point games in the postseason before turning 22. Edwards also joined Kevin Garnet as the only two players in Wolves history to have a 35-5-5 Playoff game.  

Predicting Ant to take another jump is not that far-fetched of an idea. The question is, can Ant take that next step into becoming the two-way, three-level threat fans have seen flashes of, and maintain that production at a consistent level?

 In the first interview after signing his extension Edwards said: “I know my teammates are going to be ready to show up and play. I’m going to give it 100% and we’re going to have some fun.” He went on to add he has goals like “KAT getting MVP. Rudy getting back to the Defensive Player of the Year level. Jaden being the best defender––he’s already the best defender in the NBA––but 3-point percentage shooting 40 or more and being the best defender again. Mike Conley playing young again.”

It’s up to Anthony Edwards, and Anthony Edwards alone, to prove that he’s taken a jump both on and off the court as a leader. If he can do that and be a consistent first option for the Twolves, Ant-Man could crack the top 10 later this season. –Sabrina Hiller

 

14. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

Despite all the talk about “Playoff Jimmy”, Butler is still an elite regular-season performer as well. Butler had the best statistical season of his career since he arrived in Miami last year, averaging 26-6-6 on 72% true shooting post-All-Star break.

Butler is one of six superstars — joining LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum — to finish top 15 in LEBRON in each of the last 3 seasons. Despite turning 34 years old last month, he shows no signs of slowing down. –Frankie Richetti

 

13. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers 

Clippers fans’ ambivalence towards the statement “If they were healthy” is pushed to its limits with Kawhi’s last couple of years. On one hand, when he plays he really is one of the best players in the league. Time and time again, when everyone thinks the Clippers are dead, Kawhi pulls out an all-time playoff performance. Whether it be his 45 points on 72% performance in the 2021 first-round matchup against the Mavericks or Game 1 of the 2023 playoffs, Kawhi can still be THE GUY. 

Regardless of how amazing he is when he plays, can his body even make it through one playoff round? (Let alone a deep playoff run). The “Social media doctors” have many theories on how hurt Kawhi is. But as we learned this summer, “Theory will only take you so far.” Kawhi has the opportunity to remind everyone how good he is and that he’s not going anywhere soon. –Josh Douglas

 

12. Damian Lillard, Milwaukee Bucks 

The narrative surrounding Damian Lillard for the last few seasons has been that his loyalty to the Portland Trail Blazers is going to lead him to a career as one of the best players to never win an NBA championship. After being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks this off-season — for what seems like the first time in his career — Lillard is entering a season where he has a legitimate shot at winning a title. 

Lillard is coming off one of his best seasons yet, averaging 32.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists, with a jaw-dropping 71 point performance. Transitioning to the Bucks, Dame will undoubtedly take a dip in points playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo but will see an increase in his playmaking production with him and Antetokounmpo in the two-man game. With a diverse personnel in Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and Antetokounmpo, expect Lillard to impact the game in ways we have not yet seen in his career. 

Lillard has been waiting for the moment to compete on the highest stage. The Milwaukee Bucks are entering the 2023-24 as one of the favorites to win the championship. This is foreign territory for Lillard. In an effort to capture the illustrious title that he could reach in Portland, expect Lillard to take advantage of the opportunity to play with a two-time MVP in Antetokounmpo and play the best brand of basketball we have seen from him. —Khassim Diakhate

 

11. Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, OKC Thunder 

You know a player has made it when you can refer to them by only one name. Shai just reached that level. One of the two best guards of the NBA last season, according to All-NBA voters, SGA has quickly developed into one of the most fun watches in the NBA. After leading the young OKC Thunder to a surprising play-in birth, and Canada to the bronze medal in the FIBA World Cup, the sky is the limit for Shai.  

Shai’s continued development into a one-man-wrecking crew is one of the most intriguing elements of the upcoming season. He won’t have to do it all on his own, though, as the Thunder roster is chock full of young talent. From Chet’s debut to Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey building off of promising seasons, it’s hard to not get Giddy (apologies) about OKC’s ceiling. The Thunder’s hopes to make a leap rely on him, and there is no reason to doubt he will respond. As some players above him in this ranking continue to age out of their primes, and Shai develops into his, expect to see him continue his climb into the Top 10 players of the NBA. –Jesús Feliciano

 

10. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers 

Anthony Davis is coming off a stellar defensive postseason run and his best season since winning a championship. Though consistent offensive production was a point of contention in the playoffs, the all-world big man led the playoffs in blocks (3.1) and rebounds (14.1) per game. 

Davis has nothing but momentum to build off of starting this season. Entering training camp fully healthy, and with a stronger focus on jump shooting, Davis is believed to be ‘entering the peak’ of his career. An apex season from Davis could prove to be an important factor in L.A.’s hopes of Championship contention. –Connor Moreno

 

9. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns 

The Playoff Leader for PPG,  Devin Armani Booker averaged 33.7 PPG on absurd 58/51/87 shooting splits. With years of sustained excellence in both the regular season and postseason, Booker has made a solid case for the league’s best Shooting Guard.

Devin might be the primary ball handler in Phoenix this upcoming season. With Beal and Durant getting a great deal of touches as well, a new side of Book may emerge this season. –Mason Ihrke

 

8. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers 

Averaging 29/8/7 for the Laksers at 38 years old, Bron is still up there with the best on any given night. Enjoy the show while you still can. 

If LeBron can manage to be available for 65-70 games, expect this Lakers team to be a top 3 seed out West. If the new pieces can mesh seamlessly, we could realistically see this team as the top seed in the league with the way their roster is constructed

Everyone will have their eyes on the Lakers this season. LeBron could etch himself in Lakers lore and also get into a rare space with number five. Tell the haters to stop praying for his downfall and trying to predict his fall off. He’s coming off another historic season that saw him notch the all-time scoring record. He’s 38 years old. He will be 39! We’re witnessing history. Michael Tolliver Jr

 

7. Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns 

Another new situation for Kevin Durant. Another team beautifully littered with great scoring ability. A team full of question marks after moving on from the great mind of Chris Paul and a decent big man in DeAndre Ayton. Kevin Durant is looking to be the leader and locker room presence for a Suns team returning just a few of the same players from this time last season. 

The Suns have the auxiliary pieces around Durant for him to be able to do what he does best without sacrificing any part of his game. The stars are aligned, the role players have been acquired, and right now may be the last time that KD has a shot to lead a team to the promised land. The road may very well go through Phoenix thanks to KD.

KD’s story since leaving the Warriors has been one full of “what-ifs?” He’s been an Achilles injury and a smaller shoe size away from potentially having another two NBA titles under his belt. It’s time for him to write his own story once again. Michael Tolliver Jr

 

6. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics 

Jayson Tatum had himself one of the most historical Boston Celtic seasons in years. At the age of 24 years old, Tatum was the first player in Boston Celtics’ history to average 30+ points in a season. Not only did JT score with ease, but he has also developed into one of the best rebounders at his position and averaged 8.8 rebounds per game in the 2022-23 season. JT became a 4x All-Star and was named to the All-NBA First Team for the second time in his career. 

There is no doubt that Tatum is one of the best players in the NBA, and after losing in seven games to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, we will more than likely witness the most motivated, determined, and hungry version of JT basketball fans have ever seen. –Eric Tartaglia

 

5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers 

Fresh off of a press conference where Joel Embiid alluded to his co-star teammate possibly having something better to do than attend practice, the focus for Embiid should be on himself and whoever is ready to go once this 2023-24 NBA season kicks off. He’s the newly minted MVP and should also look to take the next step in regard to leadership. This team lives and dies on his shoulders. Time to focus on ways to expand on a two-way game with Tyrese Maxey. MVP is about being valuable in every way, not just statistically. The writing is on the wall and it’s time for Joel Embiid to continue to elevate his teammates.

If the Philadelphia 76ers want to contend for a title, they will move on from anyone on the team who doesn’t work well alongside Joel Embiid. If that means pushing Joel to his highest usage yet and giving Maxey the keys at point guard, so be it.

Big men don’t generally have NBA primes that last more than 5-7 years. We’re looking at year 4. Let’s hope that the Sixers don’t waste another prime year of this historically great player. He’ll likely look for a way out if Philly doesn’t find itself in contention this season. –Michael Tolliver Jr

 

4. Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors 

It takes a special player to be ranked just one spot out of the top three best players in the NBA, and still be criminally underrated.  After a dip in production during the 2021-2022 season, Curry came right back last year with one of the best seasons of his already legendary career. His 29.4 points per game was the third-best of his career and his surprising career-best 6.1 rebounds per game proved he still has the drive to get where he wants. 

There have been absolutely no hints from Curry of decline as he enters his 15th season in the NBA. If anything, the Warriors have put together an interesting team that, if healthy, and under Steph’s leadership, could be deadly. Do not be surprised if Curry sneaks into the MVP discussion next year. –Jesús Feliciano 

 

3. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks 

Coming off of a season that was marred by injuries and personnel changes, on and off the court, Luka the Don is set to prevail this season. The challenges that the Dallas Mavericks endured to close out last season gave them motivation to work on making immediate changes. For Luka, those changes hopefully manifest in a team record good enough to allow him to win an MVP. 

The Mavericks have added nearly everything they lacked last season: defense, grit, shooting, and athleticism. Luka looks like he’s improved his conditioning after shedding weight over the summer. Playing alongside another ball-dominant guard, He and Kyrie both will need to make sure everyone gets enough touches to stay engaged and not turn into bystanders. –Michael Tolliver Jr

 

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks 

“I want everybody in the organization to be as committed as I am,” Antetokounmpo told reporters Monday. “I want when they wake up to think about championships.”

From the moment the confetti started falling in Fiserv Forum on July 20, 2021, Antetokounmpo’s mission has been simple — win a championship again. During the championship celebration, he and then head coach Mike Budenholzer embraced. 

“We did it together,” Budenholzer told the two-time MVP. “We’re going to do it again,” Antetokounmpo replied.

The 2023-24 season will be a bit bittersweet for the Bucks. Their championship coach is gone. Their championship point guard, Jrue Holiday, was just traded for perennial All-Star Damian Lillard. But Antetokounmpo remains, and his mission is as fervent as ever — win again.

Antetokounmpo is a winner. The franchise’s all-time leader in points, assists and blocks has led the Bucks to the best record in the NBA three times in the last five seasons. He has garnered numerous awards: Finals MVP, two league MVPs, seven All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA selections, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, among others. And still, he is constantly improving.

The 28-year-old averaged a career best 31.1 points per game last season, and he will team up with Lillard, a fellow seven-time All-Star, to relentlessly chase championships and continue to bring his game to new heights. With the ink still drying on his contract extension, Giannis is all-in on creating a dynasty in Milwaukee. –Ben McCormick

 

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets 

With yet another superstar being traded and teams bolstering their roster in hopes of competing for a championship, Jokic does what any rational reigning NBA champion would. Spend time with his horses. Many contenders have certainly improved, and despite this, the Nuggets are right up there as favorites to repeat as NBA Champions. A team whose three best players are 28, 26, and 25 respectively.

By now we are all used to Jokic’s outlandish offensive analytics, so just to keep us on our toes, Jokic anchored a playoff-winning defense. The Nuggets even IMPROVED their defensive rating in the playoffs from the regular season, going from the 15th-best defense allowing 113.5 points per 100 possessions to the fourth-best defense allowing 110.2 points per 100 possessions. It’s safe to say that the Nuggets will not be departing from the top of the west anytime soon. –Josh Douglas



About Logan Collien

From Madison, WI Twitter: @lcollien

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