The Lead’s Top 25 for 2022-23


It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

The anticipation of NBA basketball is enough to make a grown man giddy (not Josh), but this year seems to be accompanied by a particular kind of electricity. Parity is at an all-time high, with a plethora of teams in each conference having their sights set on a Conference Finals berth. Whether it was giving up a king’s ransom of first-rounders and swaps, or going neck deep into the luxury tax, a number of teams took out all the stops to stay competitive in an increasingly win-or-bust league.

On the other end of the spectrum, the high-lottery hopefuls are looking to launch a #BrickForVic campaign to land one of the best prospects the league has seen since its inception.

But enough about team basketball. You didn’t come here for that. You came here for the individual. The star. The guy that your cousin in London wakes up at 3 AM on a Tuesday morning to watch even though he has work the next day.

There’s never been a better time for star-studded NBA basketball. Looking across the league, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fanbase that doesn’t tout at least one player as a star (or future star).

So here at The Lead, we set out on the impossible journey of ranking these stars, an endeavor that most commonly ends with anonymous NBA Twitter accounts trying to ratio each other into oblivion.

But we aren’t here for clickbait farming or NSFW quote tweets. We want to spark a nuanced conversation about player value, contribution to team success, and future potential. Our rankings represent an aggregate of 16 of our analysts’ individual rankings. While each writer inevitably carries biases, the goal of the average ranking is to dilute whatever player-stanning may have come into play.

Keep in mind these are projections for the upcoming season, meaning our best cumulative guesses of the future performance of players. There was no individual metric used to evaluate players for the upcoming season, but past performances were weighted heavily in our analyst’s projections. Most of our analysts excluded injury history from their rankings, with on-court performance being prioritized over availability.

We hope this transparency will allow for some engaging conversation among fanbases in what should be a fantastic season of NBA basketball.

With that rant out of the way, here’s what you really came for: The Lead’s Top 25 of 2022-23.

Honorable Mentions

These guys just missed the cut.

Rudy Gobert, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

We know who Rudy Gobert is. 

At his ceiling, he is an advanced-stats darling and elite defender that can be the centerpiece of the top defense in the league. At his floor, he is a liability everywhere and is played off the hardwood in the playoffs. 

A change of scenery was probably best for Gobert and the Jazz, but that doesn’t mean he is finished. As one of three All-Star hopefuls for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Gobert can focus on providing rim protection while having a much-less-important role on offense than he had in Utah – which is a good thing. 

On paper, Karl-Anthony Towns seems like a great offensive fit for the Frenchman. KAT’s stellar shooting should help combat Gobert’s lack thereof, while Gobert’s rim protection should help cover up Towns’ limitations on that end. 

Expect the Timberwolves to win a lot of regular-season games with Gobert, but his playoff history limits the excitement for his 2022-23 ranking. – Jack Gold


Demar DeRozan, G/F, Chicago Bulls 

DeMar DeRozan has risen from the ashes of irrelevancy and regained all-star status this past season. 

After being traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Chicago Bulls, he posted career highs in points (27.9) and three-point percentage (35.2%). DeRozan quickly came onto the scene as Chicago’s top scorer and led the Bulls to their first playoff appearance in five years after NBA executives voted him the worst acquisition of the offseason.

The 33-year-old had some memorable moments, like being the first player ever to hit game-winning buzzer beaters in back-to-back days and even surpassed Wilt Chamberlain with eight-straight games of scoring 35+ points on 50% shooting or better. He was also able to display his killer midrange game and made the rest of the league respect his shooting. Heading into this season, DeRozan will look to remind people that he still has some left in the tank as he tries to build on the success of his all-star status. – Kyle Alexander

Zach LaVine, G, Chicago Bulls 

Zach LaVine has been a budding all-star ever since he was sent to Chicago. 

With the Bulls’ front office building around him, LaVine proved that he can be a key part of a winning team and that he was worth the max contract extension he signed this offseason.

LaVine was Chicago’s second-leading scorer (24.4) while shooting 39% from three. The ex-Timberwolf earned his second-consecutive all-star appearance as he aided DeRozan and the Bulls to the playoffs. His playoff debut wasn’t much, but he dealt with a left knee injury throughout the season. He recently had successful arthroscopic knee surgery and will be good to go this year. 

Having established chemistry with DeRozan and a new contract, LaVine will look to bring winning basketball back to Chi-Town and turn this team into a true contender. Kyle Alexander

Brandon Ingram, F, New Orleans Pelicans

Brandon Ingram has quietly become one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA over the last few seasons. 

Perhaps it is his relaxed demeanor that causes him to fly under the radar, but he has averaged at least 22 points per game on at least 46-percent shooting each of the last three seasons. Ingram is becoming a more complete player as well, averaging 5.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists last year to boot. 

Ingram may get more of the spotlight this year as the Pelicans have an exciting and talented starting unit. They hope to have a healthy Zion Williamson joining Ingram, CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas and Herbert Jones.

If Ingram’s game continues to blossom, he may be quite a bit higher on this list next year. Mitchell Skurzewski

Anthony Edwards, G, Minnesota Timberwolves

Ant’s ascendance to superstardom almost seems to be an inevitability at this point.

Sure, there are parts of his game that will need to develop more, like his halfcourt playmaking and 3-point shooting off the bounce. But when you combine nuclear athleticism, phenomenal feel, and “sleep-in-the-gym” work ethic, it’s easy to see Ant landing top 15 on this list as soon as next season. Ant’s commitment to the game is unquestionable at this point, as he reportedly put on 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason and is cutting all fast food out of his diet

The Wolves got a taste of playoff basketball last season, and the addition of 3x DPOY Rudy Gobert will do wonders for a Minnesota defense that could only be described as mediocre last season.

With the Stifle Tower anchoring the defense, Ant should have free reign to further expand his offensive game and help lead the Wolves to another playoff berth in a fiercely competitive Western Conference. -Logan Collien 

Jrue Holiday, G, Milwaukee Bucks

As one-third of Milwaukee’s big three, Jrue Holiday was a key cog in the defending champs’ machine, integral to the Bucks’ 51-win season and third-place finish in the Eastern Conference. 

For the season, the UCLA alum averaged 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game on 50/41/76 shooting splits. He capped off the season with a second-consecutive and fourth All-Defensive Team selection. 

The best way to see Holiday’s impact can be evidenced in a Game 5 win against the Celtics in Round 2 of the playoffs last year. Jrue finished with 24 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and a game-clinching, monster steal from Marcus Smart

After years of being criminally underrated and after having yet another season of playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton under his belt, look for Holiday to continue his brand of defensive masterclasses against the rest of the NBA.

Luke Hatmaker


The Top 25

  1. Bam Adebayo, C, Miami Heat

As a versatile big man, Adebayo sticks with guards taking good angles paired with his quick, agile feet. His reaction time on defense is next-level. There aren’t too many defenders you should take over him to anchor your defense, especially considering how important versatility is in the playoffs.

Bam is a great passer in dribble-hand-off situations, too. He’s averaged 4.7 assists per game over the past three seasons. He adds to his value by being a big-man passing hub. 

These players don’t grow on trees. Heat fans know he has the tools to be a superstar. Passing and defense lands him in the top 25, but the lack of scoring aggression is what keeps him this low. Bam is capable of taking over games with a variety of shots— putting it together consistently will take his game to the level. Just shoot it, Bam. Brennan Sims

  1. Chris Paul, G, Phoenix Suns 

Despite being 37 years old, Paul remains one of the most competitive and savvy point guards in the NBA. 

CP3 can’t be the guy or likely go an entire playoff run without showing fatigue, but he is still a phenomenal assist-man and heady player. The Point God can facilitate with the best of them and score enough to keep you honest. Paul averaged over 14.7 points and led the league by averaging 10.8 assists per game last year. 

Even with an early exit last year, Paul has been revitalized in Phoenix with Devin Booker and remains just two years removed from his first NBA Finals appearance. While CP3 isn’t the player he was, he is still an elite point guard in the twilight of his career. – Mitchell Skurzewski

  1. Donovan Mitchell, G, Cleveland Cavaliers 

A season removed from being mired in mediocrity, Donovan Mitchell will have a clear path to prominence as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

After growing apart from Rudy Gobert in Utah, he will inherit a very similar team construct that he had as a member of the Jazz. Alongside the rising Darius Garland, a DPOY candidate in Jarrett Allen, a healthy Caris LeVert, and a second-year star in the making in Evan Mobley, the sky is truly the limit this season. 

This Cavs team has the look of an ECF contender and is fully capable of a Finals berth. Mitchell could be the edge to help them achieve the ultimate. He is a dark-horse candidate for the prestigious MVP award. Yes, MVP!

Look for the Cavs to fortify themselves amongst the top teams in the East, and possibly the entire league. There’s instability afoot with a few teams out East, clearing room for a new team to emerge. It’s the perfect storm for Mitchell and the Cavs. 

Maybe it’s a good thing he didn’t get sent home after all. – Michael Tolliver

  1. Khris Middleton, F, Milwaukee Bucks 

The perenially underrated Middleton comes in significantly higher on our list than most others.

Even after making the All-Star team in three out of the last four years and winning an NBA championship, fans and the media alike seem to forget just how instrumental Khris has been to the Bucks’ success over the last 4 seasons. Middleton has averaged 20+ PPG in 3 consecutive seasons–each with tremendous efficiency–while delivering a number of memorable playoff performances. 

A silky smooth operator in the midrange, a knockdown 3-point shooter, and an underrated playmaker, Khris is entering his age-31 season with a game that ages like fine wine. He’s not going to light up your Twitter feed with gravity-defying slams or ankle-breaking crossovers, but Middleton has long forgone an appetite for the spotlight.

After an unfortunately timed injury cost the Bucks a chance to hold the Larry O’Brien for the second consecutive season, Khris looks to come back healthy and do what he does best: put the ball in the hoop. Logan Collien

  1. Karl-Anthony Towns, F/C, Timberwolves 

When you think about players who had a “breakout” 2021-22 season, Karl-Anthony Towns has to be near the top of that list. 

As a 6’11 big man, Towns accomplished what nobody expected he would — winning the 2022 three-point contest. For some time, Towns has proclaimed himself as the “best-shooting big man in the game”, and he backed up that talk last season. 

Although they were bounced in the first round to an emerging Memphis Grizzlies team in six games, Towns led the team to its best season in years. He finished the season averaging 24.6 points (on an efficient 52% FG) and 9.8 rebounds per game. 

KAT has solidified his name as one of the best players in the NBA today, and his fit alongside new acquisition Rudy Gobert in the front court will turn heads. – DC Hendrix

  1. Zion Williamson, F, New Orleans Pelicans 

Zion Williamson is one of the most difficult players to find a spot for when it comes to rankings this coming season. 

With his NBA career being one of the most hyped coming in since LeBron James, but so riddled with injury up until now, NBA fans are on two far ends of the spectrum when judging how he’ll look this year. Last year, we had Zion ranked 18th in our top-25 list, thus moving him back two spots this time. 

This is not entirely his fault, as in the time he missed, players like Jaylen Brown made their leap. At this point, however, his durability must be taken into account and should affect his standing. 

On the other hand, Williamson has the most room to move up on our list with how he plays this season. The ceiling seems to be as far as his body will take him, and with a whole year to get that right, this year should be the year Zion can put it all together. He already has an All-Star appearance in just his second year in the league, so the potential has been seen and acknowledged.
During the first media day of the season, many took note of how in shape Williamson appeared to be. With the formidable lineup around him New Orleans has curated for this coming season, Zion will have ample opportunity to find his groove early and make some noise. – Cameron Prichard

  1. Jaylen Brown, G, Boston Celtics

Jaylen Brown has established himself as one of if not the best second options in the NBA. 

He has consistently taken on a bigger role in each year he’s played and has improved each time. Originally an elite defender and athletic slasher, Brown’s offense has taken a leap in recent years in both variety and consistency. JB will dunk on your favorite player, but he now has the handle and jumper to make him an elite scorer.

If the two-way wing can continue the trend of constant improvement in his seventh year, he could move even farther up this list. The Celtics can expect a steady 23-25 points from him every night, and if he can improve his playmaking and off-ball defense, watch out. 

With Jayson Tatum in Boston, we may never truly know what Brown would look like as the number-one guy, but he is a perfect fit beside Tatum and thrives in his role as the number-two. – Jack Gold

  1. James Harden, G, Philadelphia 76ers 

Ranking James Harden at 18 this year makes him the player to have the biggest fall off from our list last year. 

We were banking on “the walking 30 piece” to revive his scoring ways, and with no Kyrie Irving, it seemed he would have a generous role for Brooklyn. While having him ranked sixth may have been a slight stretch last year, Harden seems to have come to terms with what his role for this Sixers team is this coming year. The Beard’s conditioning has always been key in his success — or rather downfall — down the stretch of the season. 

Interestingly enough, Harden has already joked about how good of shape he’s in for this season. Kidding about “losing 100 pounds”, the ten-time all-star does look to be in some of the best shape of his recent years. 

With Tyrese Maxey surely taking an elevated role in the offense this year, Harden will have less of a toll taken on him, thus projecting a great playmaking season to come, and a healthy, rested body throughout the year. 

The playoffs can’t come soon enough for Harden this year, as he’ll have the most to prove to the doubters. –  Cameron Prichard

  1. Kyrie Irving, G, Brooklyn Nets 

After a frenzy of a summer, and a near-implosion of a Nets superteam for the second time in a decade, Kyrie finds himself suiting up for Brooklyn to kick off the 2022-23 season. 

Many adjectives have been thrown around to describe Kai over the last 18 months, but few have sought to capture what Kyrie does on the basketball court. By all conceivable metrics, Uncle Drew has put together some of the most efficient offensive output we’ve ever seen at the point-guard position.

In 2020-21, he joined Steph Curry, Larry Bird, and teammate Kevin Durant as the ONLY PLAYERS IN NBA HISTORY to average 26+ PPG on 50/40/90 splits. Last season, he came close to matching that efficiency — albeit in just 29 games — averaging 27.4 points per game on 47/42/92 splits.

As the Nets seek to work through the dysfunction that has plagued the organization for the last two years, only time will tell if the once sky-high expectations for this group can ever come to fruition. 

For that to happen, though, Kai will need to play in more than 30 regular-season games. – Logan Collien

  1. Damian Lillard, G, Portland Trail Blazers 

In an era of basketball where offensive-minded small guards typically become a liability in the playoffs, Dame stands out. 

Aside from Steph Curry, there is not a single point guard you would want on your team more come playoff time. In his last three playoff runs, Dame has averaged 28.2 points and 7.1 assists on way to a Conference Finals appearance and other successful seasons with a Trail Blazers organization that hasn’t capitalized on a player of his caliber in his prime nearly enough. 

On top of his elite playoff performances, Dame is arguably the most clutch player in NBA history. He now has two iconic playoff series game winners including the Paul George-coined “bad shot” to take down the Thunder, and almost every time his team needs a clutch bucket, he gets one. His 55-point, 10-assist game against the Nuggets in the bubble perfectly encapsulates his time in Portland. 

The man shot 17 for 24 and hit unbelievable shot after shot to keep the Blazers in it and yet they still lost in double OT. 

Recently removed from a major injury with his age only going up, we don’t know if we will ever see Dame’s playoff magic again. Unless he is traded — since he refuses to run from the grind — his best shot at playing in late April is the play-ins. He has given his all in Portland and now they’ve once again surrounded him with an average-at-best roster to compete in 2022-23. 

If he can return to form, he will easily be a top-three guard in the league again and could rise on this list. 

But at 32, father time may have other plans. – Jack Gold

  1. Trae Young, G, Atlanta Hawks

At just 24 years old, Trae Young has already established himself as one of the best scorers in the league. 

Gifted with adroit finishing around the rim — barring his small size — Young has shown versatility and expanded his game to the midrange. With how deadly he already maneuvers the pick and roll, Young’s “stop-and-pop” pull-up has become a staple while incorporating elite floaters as well. 

This is all not to mention his one-of-a-kind range and creation from three-point land that few in the NBA can compete with.

Even with 28.4 points per game last year, however, the highlight of the stat sheet was averaging a career-best 9.7 assists per game. With the Hawks trading for Dejounte Murray — adding another guard scoring threat —  this will open up the floor even more for Young this year, presenting the opportunity for a 10+ assist year with ease. 

Projecting top 15 for Ice Trae is projecting he keeps that chip on his shoulder for the season to come, which we think he will. – Cameron Prichard

  1. Paul George, F, Los Angeles Clippers

It was a very unlucky 2021-22 season for George, who missed significant time with a shoulder injury. 

Upon returning from that injury, he ended up testing positive for COVID-19 before what would be the Clippers’ final game of the season. Kawhi returned for a pre-season game against the Blazers, but there are a lot of unanswered questions about his health. This leaves a lot of pressure on George’s shoulders. In 2021, he showed he was capable and led the Clippers to their first-ever Conference Finals. With new reinforcements in John Wall and George finally getting an extended chance to play with Robert Covington and Norman Powell, he looks to help lead the squad to a strong start this season. With Kawhi back in the lineup this year as well, we can expect George to face some easier defenders and nestle into his place as second in command.  

Last season, the Clips narrowly missed the playoffs after losing a heartbreaking play-in game to the New Orleans Pelicans. This year, however, the Clippers have set their sights on much more. Will this year finally be the year they can get it done? – Josh Douglas

  1. Devin Booker, G, Phoenix Suns 

At No. 13, Devin Booker is the NBA’s highest-ranked shooting guard.

Regardless of the constant media attention to how Phoenix went out last year and the spite fans have for him, Booker has continuously proven this to be fair placement with his play on both ends of the floor. 

This season will be no different. 

Over the last two years, Book has shown his game can be taken to the next level. In his first-ever playoff run, Booker led the Suns to the NBA Finals while demolishing the record for most points ever scored in a first-career playoff run (Booker 601, Rick Barry 521). 

The next season, he had an MVP-caliber year, leading Phoenix to a franchise-record 62 wins and locking up the top seed without a doubt. During this campaign, Booker showcased his true three-level scoring repertoire, as he increased his attempts from deep each season while shooting it at a better percentage, too. 

Coming into his eighth NBA season at just 26 years old, Booker will combine his newfound playoff experience with his veteranship, and will look to only keep climbing up these rankings. 

Superstardom is on the horizon, and this year it seems it’s all going to come together. – Cameron Prichard

  1. Anthony Davis, PF, Los Angeles Lakers 

When healthy, Anthony Davis is one of the NBA’s best big men. 

An eight-time all-star and a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team, AD has averaged 23.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.3 blocks per game. The former first-round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft holds the distinction of being the first player to win an NCAA championship, Olympic Gold Medal, FIBA World Cup Gold Medal and an NBA title.  

Since helping the Lakers win the 2020 NBA championship in the Covid-shortened season, however, the 6-foot, 10-inch Davis has struggled to stay on the court – playing only 36 and 40 games in the last two seasons, respectively. The Lakers are counting on Davis to be available this year as they try to return to the playoffs after being on the outside last year. – Dave Andrade


  1. Ja Morant, G, Memphis Grizzlies 

Ja Morant decided to use his third NBA season to deliver a resounding statement to the league— that he and Memphis are here to stay

Leading the Grizzlies to a 56-win season and the second seed in the Western Conference, the third-highest-ranked point guard on our list posted 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 1.2 steals per game on 49/34/76 shooting splits. Last season’s Most Improved Player award winner also earned first-time All-Star honors and was voted to the All-NBA Second team, before signing a five-year extension with Memphis. 

It was during the 2021-22 playoffs, however, where Morant’s impact was truly felt. After beating the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round, 12 turned in a signature performance against the Golden State Warriors in round two. In the three games Ja appeared in before going down with a knee injury, he averaged 38.3 points per game on 51/43/86 shooting splits. 

The Grizzlies have to be salivating over the idea of a full postseason with a healthier, more-experienced Morant in tow— lord help the rest of the league if they don’t take notice. – Luke Hatmaker

  1. Jimmy Butler, F, Miami Heat 

Jimmy Butler makes a significant jump from 19 to 10 on this year’s list. 

Butler produced similarly to last season, but he earned an all-star nod on 21.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He shined last postseason after a mediocre performance from the previous year. 

The 33-year-old is returning from arguably his best season in Miami while being one game away from a Finals return. Following a sweep at the hands of the Bucks in 2021, Butler led the Heat to the first seed and helped Miami reach the Eastern Conference Finals as he and the team locked up Trae Young and the Hawks, defeated the Embiid-Harden-led 76ers, and then pushed the Celtics to seven games. 

Miami’s leader proved he belongs in those top-10 conversations with this playoff run. Butler has five 40+ point games with Miami— all five being playoff games, and four of those five were in this past postseason. He also became the second player in history to record 40 points and four steals multiple times in one playoff series (Michael Jordan). 

Butler was one shot from reaching the Finals again, but expect him to bring Miami back with a vengeance this season. – Kyle Alexander

  1. Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics 

Two-way wings are the most valuable asset in the NBA, and in just five years, Tatum has proven he is one of the best out there. 

Consistency and efficiency were his biggest problems early in his career, but those days are long gone. His 27/8/4 stat line last year on the best team in the East showed his efficient scoring from anywhere on the court, and when needed, he can lock up the best player on the other end. 

With three Conference Finals appearances under his belt, Tatum has proved he can produce when it matters most. Last year’s run left no doubts as to whether he has achieved superstar status. Locking up Kevin Durant and averaging 29.3 points, 7.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game forced everyone to recognize his spot among the best in the game. 

His 46-point masterclass in game six facing elimination against the defending champs and the best player in the world will go down as a career-defining performance.

Unfortunately, even after his best season to date, Tatum is going into the year severely underrated. He looked like he ran out of gas in the Finals as he struggled mightily against the Warriors. If his finishing and shot-making return to start the year — they undoubtedly will — he will quickly remind everyone why he was in the top-five conversation during the playoffs. 

An MVP season in his sixth year is not far-fetched, but a title is where his expectations will be. – Jack Gold

  1. Kawhi Leonard, F, Los Angeles Clippers 

Kawhi Leonard’s 2019 Finals run was one of the best ever, and put him in the best-player-in-the-world conversation. 

Averaging 30.5 points (49% FG, 38% 3PT), 9.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, Kawhi was simply unbelievable. It was truly a generational run and potentially the last “non-superteam run” for a while. 

His ability to put a team on his back on both ends is almost unmatched. His jump to the Clippers made them look like the title favorite, but his performance in game seven left a lot to be desired as they blew a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets.

It was a major choke, but more on the Clippers collectively than Kawhi individually.

The term “injury-prone” is overused, but for Kawhi, it’s valid. Injuries have probably kept him from reaching his true potential as an all-time player, but he remains a guy you absolutely don’t want to be matched up against. In the playoffs, his offense is almost flawless and his defense might be the best in the league. 

Coming off yet another major injury, we will have to see what The Klaw looks like now, but if he is what he was a few years ago, he will probably return to top-three status and almost certainly make the Clippers the title favorite. A full year of health probably is a longshot for the 12th-year superstar, but as long as he is healthy when it matters, a No. 8 ranking is validated and potentially way too low. – Jack Gold

  1. LeBron James, F, Los Angeles Lakers 

LeBron’s fall from the top five speaks not to a significant decline in play, but rather the ascendance of generational talents — Luka, Embiid, Jokic, Giannis — in their respective primes. 

Even after 19 seasons, LeBron’s offensive arsenal continues to expand, including some major minutes at center last season on his way to averaging 30 points per game. 

Has he lost a half step? Sure. Is he a stout defender for 36 minutes a night? Absolutely not. Yet LBJ still finds ways to impact the game at a remarkable level. 

This year’s Lakers squad lacks the three-point shooting and defensive versatility you’d like to see LeBron accompanied by. After an offseason that failed to deliver on constructing a roster that makes sense next to Bron and AD, it looks like the 38-year-old has to handle more than his fair share of the load once again. 

That said, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported that LeBron has been in [AD’s] ear about taking over the reigns of the team. Will LeBron really take a backseat in the offense in an attempt to both elevate his level on the defensive end and decrease the toll on his body? 

That may be the plan on paper– but it’s going to take a healthy, well-oiled Lakers machine that we haven’t seen the likes of since the bubble to allow Year 20 LeBron to “load manage”. – Logan Collien

  1. Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers

Is there anyone in the league who remains more difficult to evaluate than Joel Embiid?

Let’s start with the positives. He’s made three All-NBA second teams in the past four seasons. He won the scoring title this past season, flashing his ability to put up points just about everywhere on the court. He’s improved his passing, especially as he becomes a greater force on offense. He’s been a consistent MVP candidate, finishing as the runner-up in voting in back-to-back years. In 2022, Embiid had a career-high in points (30.6 per game) and assists (4.2 per game) while excelling as a rebounder and post defender. 

On paper, any team would kill to have Embiid as their franchise center.

Given his production and talents, why is he ranked outside the top five? There are a multitude of reasons. He’s one of the league’s most inconsistent players in the postseason, whether because of injuries, fatigue, wear and tear, or a combination of these things. His efficiency has plummeted in the playoffs, particularly his mid-range and three-point shot. His effectiveness in the regular season doesn’t translate cleanly to the playoffs. 

Conversely, the other players ahead of Embiid have proven — whether historically or recently — that they can adapt their games and carry their teams in the playoffs. Embiid has yet to showcase that adaptation. 

As a regular-season player, you should take him any day of the week. In the playoffs, I’ll easily take the next five players on the list. – Dominic Chiappone

  1. Kevin Durant, F, Brooklyn Nets 

The most hated player in the league. 

How soon we forget how dominant Kevin Durant can be. At his best, nobody else in the league can guard him. But due to the Brooklyn Nets’ underwhelming beginning to the Durant-Kyrie Irving era, it seems as if people have forgotten Durant’s greatness. 

This isn’t about the championships he won with Golden State— it is simply about how good KD really is. No matter how you feel, Durant is a top-five player and has been basically since 2012. 

The funniest part about how Durant is portrayed these days is because he is outspoken— he is hated by many even when responding to fans. 

This is easily overlooked in 2021.

Durant had his personal-best season since his 2013 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He averaged more points per game than he did the previous six years. Before anyone says, “he was the only star on the team,” Durant also averaged the most assists per game (6.4) in his entire career last season. 

Since it appears both Irving and Durant are staying in Brooklyn (at least for now), hopefully, they can put all of their issues with the franchise aside and finally have the season we’ve all been expecting for a few calendars now. 

Either way, put your hatred aside and recognize greatness. Durant is an all-time great and is still after 15 years in the league is at the top of his game. – DC Hendrix

  1. Luka Doncic, G, Dallas Mavericks 

Luka has been to a Conference Finals in all postseasons where he doesn’t face the Clippers. After getting a taste of the later playoff rounds, Luka is sure to return often as he is a rare breed of player that elevates his game the deeper he gets in the postseason. Luka averages a jaw-dropping 32.5 points per game in the playoffs, putting him an entire three points ahead of Durant, who places second with 29.4 points per contest. 

The 23-year-old never leaves the playoffs without giving us a Luka Magic moment. He gave us the infamous buzzer-beater in the bubble and averaged 35.7 points per game in their series against the Clippers the next year.

Last season, he individually matched the entire Phoenix Suns team in scoring during the first half of game seven of the Western Conference Semifinals. These moments are going to continue to pile up for Luka as he rises among the ranks of basketball’s best. – Josh Douglas

  1. Steph Curry, G, Golden State Warriors 

Wardell proved the haters wrong once and for all.

After 2 years of injury-ridden, lottery-bound basketball, Steph picked up his 4th ring and an elusive Finals MVP. The greatest shooter of all time has nothing left to prove, but something tells me that Curry won’t stop at 4. With the Draymond saga underway and a number of key players’ free agencies looming, this may be the Dub’s Last Dance.

Whatever the case, Curry will be an instrumental part of what the Warriors do this season. Even as he enters his age-35 season, Steph is still must-watch basketball on a night-to-night basis. From 35-footers to teardrop floaters, expect Steph to build on a legacy that now sits among the all-time greats.

Dave Andrade

  1. Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets 

It took two years and a back-to-back MVP campaign, and even then, Nikola Jokic arguably remains the most underrated superstar currently in the league. 

Just know that in Jokic’s last two seasons, he’s played in 146 out of 154 total games and has averaged 34.0 MPG, 26.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists and 1.4 steals across 34.0 minutes per contest during regular seasons. His efficiency remains even more impressive— nearly 58% from the field and 36% from three on almost four attempts per game.

This past season, Jokic took a massive leap forward as a defender, going from way below average to one of the league’s most underappreciated stoppers. In 2022, Jokic led Denver to 48 wins despite Jamal Murray missing the whole season and Michael Porter Jr. suiting up in just nine games. 

His next-best teammates from last year: Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris and Will Barton. 

Regardless of who his teammates are, Jokic gives his team a high floor and a relatively high ceiling in the playoffs. When you combine production, value, consistency and durability, Jokic has a case to be the best player in the NBA. 

The scariest part: he’s still only 26 years old. – Dominic Chiappone

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee Bucks 

The last few Finals MVPs have been labeled as the best player in the world. 

Some were victims of recency bias, but Giannis has lived up to expectations. The 2021 champ has proven that he’s the best player in the league and that his Finals performance from two years ago was only the beginning.

The Greek Freak followed up his championship year by leading Milwaukee to another contending season that fell short in the Conference Semifinals. 

The big man dazzled, as he became the first player to record 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in one playoff series and also joined Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to record 40+ points, 20+ rebounds and 5+ assists in a playoff game

Even without his co-star Khris Middleton, he was still able to push the Boston Celtics to seven games. Although his season ended in the second round, Giannis finished the entire postseason first in points (31.7), second in rebounds (14.2) and fourth in assists (6.8).

In the regular season, he was the second leading scorer in the league with 29.9 PPG and was seventh in RPG (11.6). The Greek Freak also surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar en route to becoming the Bucks’ all-time leading scorer. Giannis is dominating in the resurgence of the big man and has arguably been the most dominant big the game has seen since Shaq. 

As the Milwaukee superstar turns 28 in December, he looks to cement himself as an all-time great as he continues adding to his resume. – Kyle Alexander

About Logan Collien

From Madison, WI Twitter: @lcollien

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