The NBA is on a dead period right now. Players are going on vacation, working out privately, and spending a lot of time on social media. But with the NBA 2k ratings starting to come out and the NBA schedules gradually releasing, it feels like a good time to unveil my list for the top 100 NBA players for this upcoming season.
There are a few considerations taken into account: talent, expected production, expected offseason improvement, and health. For players I expect to miss a large chunk or all of the season, I am ranking them based on where I expect them to return to following their injuries. With that being said, this is the full list of the top 100 players. Later on, a similar countdown will be done for the top college players.
NBA Top 100 players for 2019-2020 season
100. Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat – Center)
The center spot is wide open for Adebayo following the trade of Hassan Whiteside. Mobile and highly physical, the former lottery pick out of Kentucky thrived in a second -unit role as a rim-running big. But he is deceptively skilled for a player of his size, capable of making moves off the dribble or hitting floaters in the lane off of euro steps. I’m looking for his rim protection and offensive arsenal to take a nice step forward. Heat fans will appreciate the consistent energy from their new man in the middle.
99. Enes Kanter (Boston Celtics – Center)
Known as one of the biggest trolls in the NBA, Kanter is a reliable double-double threat. Though he is an atrocious defender (I mean historically atrocious), he remains as one of the best offensive rebounders in the league. Teams have had to build game plans around keeping him off the glass. If you give him the ball on the block, he has good footwork to maneuver in the post and find an open shot. Boston is going to try to minimize his effect as a defensive liability and allow him to produce his nightly 14 and 10.
98. Patrick Beverley (Los Angeles Clippers – Point Guard)
Pat Beverley is the last guy you want to see as an opposing ball-handler. His defensive excellence was showcased in a matchup against Kevin Durant in the playoffs where he made the 7-footer work for everything. For a point guard, he has always been a strong rebounder unafraid to battle in the paint. He has developed into more than an irritant as well, shooting around 40 percent from deep over the last couple of years while showing immense attention to detail when exposing the opponent’s tendencies.
97. Eric Gordon (Houston Rockets – Shooting Guard)
No Rocket player embodies the Mike D’Antonio three-point-happy style of play like Gordon. In three years, he has shot a solid percentage on around 9 attempts a game. With all the spot-up shooting, I sometimes forget just how powerful of a finisher he is when he gets downhill. The addition of Russell Westbrook will give him more open threes and transition opportunities running the wing.
96. Paul Millsap (Denver Nuggets – Power Forward)
Milsap is not the All-Star he once was in Atlanta. Still, his IQ, toughness, and versatility on both ends make him a valuable cog in Denver’s system. You can always count on him being one of the more active four men when it comes to deflections and steals. Coming off a year where he had his highest effective field goal percentage since 2011, expect the vet to continue to lean on his savvy game to contribute as the glue guy for the Nuggets.
95. Marc Gasol (Toronto Raptors – Center)
Gasol didn’t need a ring to justify his successful career, but it sure didn’t hurt. Playing in a lesser role in Toronto, he upped his outside shooting and flashed his ability to anchor a defense. The former Defensive Player of the Year is losing the foot speed to contain guards in the screen game, so being surrounded by athletic frontcourt mates will aid him this year. In a contract year, look for plenty of high post playmaking and three-point shots from the younger Gasol. Don’t count out another deadline trade if the Raptors are out of contention around February.
94. Collin Sexton (Cleveland Cavaliers – Point Guard)
Sexton received some mixed reviews from teammates and people within the organization. Admittedly erratic, Young Bull had a quietly solid rookie campaign. His shot-making progressed well as the year went on and he slowed down a bit as a decision-maker. Sexton is wired to score and create shots off the bounce, which makes his pull-up game vital. He doesn’t lack in confidence, so look for some more offensive outbursts despite potentially having a lower usage with Kevin Love all the way back.
93. Ricky Rubio (Phoenix Suns – Point Guard)
No team needed a point guard like the Suns. I’ve always been a little hard on Rubio because although he is a playmaking savant, the rest of his game leaves a lot to be desired. When surrounded with talented scorers, he can orchestrate at a high level, possessing that rare ability of understanding where his teammates like the ball. The downside is that he’s not a shooter and isn’t a particularly effective defender in a conference of elite point guards. He is a big upgrade for the Suns and has a chance to be that veteran floor general that is a leader in the locker room.
92. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Los Angeles Clippers – Point Guard/Shooting Guard)
Few analysts expected Gilgeous-Alexander to have such an immediate impact for the Clippers. There isn’t a lot of flash to his game, but he also lacks any significant weaknesses. He plays with such a great pace and calmness, using every bit of his 6-foot-6 frame to get to his spots on offense. As a rookie, he was patient coming off of screens and taking whatever the defense gave him. On the other end, he has the quickness and length to become an all-league defender with time. Imagine the growth that will come learning and playing next to a point guard like Chris Paul. Gilgeous-Alexander is going to be in a similar role with the Thunder for a franchise that has understandable confidence in him becoming a foundational piece at the guard spot.
91. Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz – Small Forward/Power Forward)
Ingles still looks like he’s more likely to get into a bar fight than into an NBA game, but that plays to his advantage. He has been one of the premier spot-up shooters in the league, coming in over 42% from three over the last three seasons. Despite being flat out slow, the Australian plays angles extremely well and knows how to diagnose defenses to open up the game for himself and others. There is not an ounce of fear in him, playing with brashness and toughness that has rubbed off on his younger Utah teammates. That relentless nature mixed with his length allows him to frustrate players who should be able to blow past him on paper. He may slide to a bench role this season, but don’t think that will keep him from making his presence felt as soon as he checks into the game.
90. Terry Rozier (Boston Celtics – Point Guard)
Scary Terry is about to be on a whole other level this season. After spending his first four seasons as primarily a backup, he will finally assume the role as the lead man in the backcourt. Rozier is a gritty, athletic guard who has a score-first mentality. My primary concern is that he has not shot over 40 percent throughout a full NBA season. But having the freedom to make mistakes without getting pulled can do wonders for a player’s confidence. At this point, he is my favorite for Most Improved Player in a situation where he could lead the Hornets in scoring and assists.
89. Robert Covington (Minnesota Timberwolves – Small Forward)
For some reason, Covington has never really received the respect he deserves. Being in Minnesota won’t necessarily boost his publicity, so let’s remember who he is: a big wing who regularly spaces the floor and shuts down the other team’s best player. His creativity off the bounce never really took off, but that’s okay. He has mastered two skills that every team covets. I expect him to be dealt to a contender before the 2020 season is over. Until then, appreciate his consistent output.
88. Hassan Whiteside (Portland Trail Blazers – Center)
Whiteside’s journey to becoming a starting NBA center is quite compelling. But he is over that grace period and Miami felt they were better off going in another direction. In Portland, his elite shot-blocking and athleticism will add a different dimension to the frontcourt. When engaged, Whiteside can control the paint at a high level on both ends. He remains an impact player on the glass even when his effort wavers. A new team with fresh confidence in his value could be beneficial.
87. R.J. Barrett (New York Knicks – Small Forward)
Barrett ended up in a situation that should actually benefit his growth, versus some other lottery teams. With New York, he will have more room to grow right away. At 6’7, he is a well-built wing who is a force in transition. His shot-selection can leave a lot to be desired, especially when he settles for contested perimeter shots. But his drive to become great is what stands out most. When a player with the ball skills, vision (which is plus for a wing), and size of Barrett is committed to learning, it can be a scary sight. His shooting numbers may be rocky to start, but expect exponential growth on an underwhelming Knicks team.
86. Spencer Dinwiddie (Brooklyn Nets – Point Guard/Shooting Guard)
Brooklyn is in a rare situation where they added two stars without losing a large chunk of their core. Dinwiddie is a big returning piece. He is a problem when he tries to get into the paint, with a quick first step and a wide variety of finishes to capitalize. Perimeter shooting has become a weapon for him, both in spot-ups and off the bounce. With the current roster, I expect Dinwiddie to finish among the top 5 in Sixth Man of the Year voting.
85. J.J. Redick (New Orleans Pelicans, Shooting Guard)
He’s a shooter! That’s the best way to give a scouting report on Redick. He is a tactician when it comes to maneuvering screens to find his shot. The floor opens up as a result, drawing help defenders to make sure he doesn’t get an open look. Over the last couple of years, he has really worked on pulling up off of ball screens or dishing to teammates when defenses understandably overcommit. We also can’t understate the effect he has on a locker room with his professionalism, which we will see in New Orleans.
84. Jonas Valanciunas (Memphis Grizzlies – Center)
While in Toronto, Valanciunas was good but never great. He is a traditional bruiser in an era of stretch bigs. His brief time with the Grizzlies showed why he was a former top 5 pick. Few bigs force and expose switches as well as the Lithuanian center, dragging smaller defenders to the block where he can finish with soft touch with either hand. Now a vet in the league, he can be counted on to bang with any opposing big. Sometimes slow-footed on the perimeter, he makes up for it with sound interior defense. Valanciunas is a great big instill toughness to the team and play with Jaren Jackson Jr.
83. Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics – Small Forward)
Will this finally be the year Brown takes off? I’m not quite sure about that, but he should look much more free on a team where his touches should increase. To this point, he looks like a 3-and-D plus player that can slash and elevate at the rim. His hyper-athletic frame makes him a force on the break and as a multi-positional defender. Now if that shooting and ball-handling progress, watch out. He’s still sharing his true position with two other starters, but it will be a bounce-back year for sure.
82. T.J. Warren (Indiana Pacers – Small Forward)
The main knock on T.J. Warren as a scorer was that he had no three-point jump shot. Until last season. How does over 40 percent on four attempts a game sound? With that new element to his game, Warren is a complete bucket getter who can still go off from mid-range. Indiana is a great situation for him because they need scoring and have suspect wing depth. The NC State product should get his first taste of the playoffs this year.
81. Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers – Center)
There aren’t a lot of bigs who are premier shot blockers and reliable three-point shooters. Turner is an exception. He kind of lumbers up and down the floor, yet his reaction as a help-side defender is on point. His back to the basket game is still developing. For now, he is a dangerous screen man who can roll or pop and possesses All-Defensive ability.
80. Caris LeVert (Brooklyn Nets – Shooting Guard)
LeVert was on pace for a breakout season before a gruesome leg injury. Thankfully it was not as severe as it looked and he was able to return for the latter part of the season. Whether he was in the starting lineup or coming off the bench, LeVert showed the versatility and isolation upside that makes his game so intriguing. In five playoff games, he averaged 21.0 points and shot over 46 percent from three. The arrow is pointing up.
79. Lonzo Ball (New Orleans Pelicans – Point Guard)
It was time for a change of scenery. The LA expectations were greater than he could live up to given the roster makeup. Now on New Orleans, he should act as a primary playmaker on a team made to push the tempo. Lonzo’s vision shines when he is able to play in transition. He has also established himself as a shutdown defender which should make for a good pairing next to Jrue Holiday. His shooting still worries me, but his strengths should be maximized.
78. Josh Richardson (Miami Heat – Shooting Guard)
Richardson was the centerpiece of the return for Jimmy Butler after having the best season of his career. He was thrust into a high-usage role once Goran Dragic went out with injury, forcing him to act as both a leading scorer and a top playmaker for Miami. The opportunity showed his growth as a shooter off the dribble. Richardson will be tasked with guarding top wings for the 76ers and spacing the floor.
77. Steven Adams (Oklahoma City Thunder – Center)
After Russell Westbrook was traded, Steven Adams was left as the only mainstay in the Thunder lineup. Many people around the league consider him to be one of the toughest and strongest players in the NBA. He sets effective screens and rolls with a purpose, regularly spacing the floor as a lob finisher. I like him as a long-term option at center in OKC where his leadership and ability to anchor a defense will do wonders as they sort out the franchise’s direction.
76. Otto Porter (Chicago Bulls – Small Forward)
Two years ago, Porter was on the verge of becoming a premier 3-and-D wing. His time in Washington last season was riddled with injury and regression. Once he was traded to Chicago, he averaged 17.5 points and shot 49 percent from three. Porter plays at a slow, deliberate pace, relying on skill over athleticism. The difference was in his aggressiveness and motor, which has his main knock. There is reason for optimism for a player who has regularly averaged at least 1.5 steals, shot 40 percent from three and made over 50 percent of his attempts inside the arc.
75. Gary Harris (Denver Nuggets – Shooting Guard)
Harris took a step back last year after a breakout 2017-2018 campaign. I don’t think Nuggets fans are worried, though. He is healthy and ready to be the consistent third option that many expect. Still only 24 years old, Harris is a knockdown shooter who has room for growth as a one-on-one creator. My favorite part of his game is his competitiveness while guarding elite guards. He uses his athleticism and length to get into ball-handlers and takes some pressure off of Jamal Murray on that end.
74. Jusuf Nurkic (Portland Trail Blazers – Center)
A devastating leg injury stripped Nurkic from finishing a dominant all-around season. He was really starting to look like that third piece that Portland could rely upon. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum were able to play off of him in the post and find easy looks because Nurkic was such an accurate passer. Due to his leg fracture, he may not be available until the spring. When he returns, he will need some time to adjust before bringing that interior presence and rebounding back to the Blazers.
73. Bojan Bogdanovic (Utah Jazz – Small Forward)
Victor Oladipo’s injury placed Bogdanovic in a role he had never been in before, and that was as the top name on opposing scouting reports. He took the change in stride, maintaining his efficiency while proving that his game didn’t stop at the three-point line. Bojan is an underrated slasher and finisher at the rim. Utah’s star backcourt will put Bogdanovic back in that floor spacing role with added experience doing more damage off the bounce.
72. Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers – Power Forward/Center)
Had it not been for Lou Williams, Sabonis would have been a favorite for Sixth Man of the Year. The skilled lefty out of Gonzaga brings the energy night in and night out, creating second chances at a high rate. Sabonis is a prime example of the back-to-the-basket game not being dead. As a passer, he is just as dangerous finding guys out of the high post. What I’m looking forward to seeing is whether or not he can turn those 16-20 footers that he loves into threes this season.
71. Goran Dragic (Miami Heat – Point Guard)
People seem to forget that Dragic was an All-Star the year before last. I understand injuries played a big part in his decline, but he still has a lot of game to offer. Dragic is downhill all the time, looking to get into the teeth of defenses to finish in traffic. He is a fiery competitor that is capable of catching fire in a hurry. Jimmy Butler’s presence will force teams to put less attention on the Dragon, which I imagine will help his shooting percentages creep back up as well.
70. Derrick Rose (Detroit Pistons – Point Guard)
For the first time in years, it felt like DRose was having fun playing the game again. It was more than the best comeback story in the league: it was a sign of what is to come. At only 30 years old, he is in position to build off the best shooting season of his career while flourishing in a sixth man role. He is still a blur in transition and has become a more committed defender. Another All-NBA selection is unlikely, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he claimed the starting point guard role in Detroit by year end.
69. Eric Bledsoe (Milwaukee Bucks – Point Guard)
Bledsoe ended up being the guard Milwaukee committed to for the near future. Point guards struggled to shake him off the dribble, leading to an All-Defensive selection. In order to take that next step, he needs to refine his perimeter shooting to open the floor for Giannis. Bledsoe is a physical penetrator who is explosive enough to just blow by defenders on the break. That pitbull mentality gives the Bucks confidence that they will be able to win matchups at the point guard position.
68. Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clipper – Power Forward/Center)
I am a big fan of Harrell’s game. Though he is undersized, especially when he plays center, he is an energetic big with an endless motor. His faceup game continues to expand, using his athleticism to beat slower bigs off the dribble or stepping out to hit mid-range shots. You won’t beat Harrell to a loose ball and don’t expect to get off any uncontested looks in the paint when he is on the floor. Harrell will be the best post player on a championship favorite.
67. Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic – Power Forward)
Gordon’s growth has been gradual, yet noticeable. He has settled into the role as a four-man that does a little bit of everything for the Magic. I saw him take on the challenge of defending Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs while leading his team in scoring. Don’t think that he is just a dunk champion. Gordon can initiate the break and make plays off the dribble for his teammates. He has also turned into a respectable three-point shooter. His upside is still sky high.
66. Marvin Bagley (Sacramento Kings – Power Forward)
It took a minute for Bagley to find his footing as a rookie. After the All-Star break, he really took off. The second pick in the 2018 draft has a fluidity and explosiveness that you can’t teach. His quick leaping ability makes him a terror as an offensive rebounder. Heading into year two, he will look to take and make more outside shots and show the consistency that he displayed over the last 15 games (18.1 ppg and 8.9 rpg). Bagley will be a force from 17 feet and in.
65. Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves – Small Forward)
This could be a make-or-break year for the springy swingman out of Kansas. Wiggins hasn’t been able to turn into the star that Minnesota tabbed him to be when he signed his extension. The flashes are there, with games where he relentlessly slashes to the rim and takes threes when defenders back off. He is too athletic to not be a more engaged defender and rebounder. But the talent is undeniable and I expect a more mature and driven Wiggins.
64. Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans – Small Forward)
Barring any health restrictions, Ingram is set up to be one of the top two scoring options for the Pelicans. Post-AD trade speculation, Ingram was looking like a two-way star for the Lakers. Lanky and skilled, he is a consistent three-point shot away from absolutely terrorizing opponents. New Orleans could be the perfect situation to harness Ingram’s talents.
63. Buddy Hield (Sacramento Kings – Shooting Guard)
Hield came into the league as a long-range expert, but he has quickly advanced to becoming a solid all-around scorer. Defenders don’t have a choice but to play up on him considering his shooting proficiency. When that happens, he has a number of dribbling moves to get to his mid-range shot, finish in the paint, or step back to get to his sweet spots behind the arc. Scoring is in his DNA, so don’t expect anything less this season.
62. Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies – Point Guard)
Fans around the country have been enamored by Morant’s electric playmaking and energy. Memphis fans will get to see his dynamic play style up close while the rookie works through the growing pains of playing point guard in the NBA. His personality and unselfishness is infectious, bringing out the best in his teammates. Stay tuned for some highlight reel posters and flashy passes.
61. Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics – Small Forward)
Remember that this is a projection for next season, not a summary of last season. Hayward played a full season after that gruesome leg injury in 2017. He was a shell of the Utah Jazz player that earned a max contract. But next year I expect him to be closer to that All-Star player. He was a rare All-Star that didn’t need the ball to impact the game. On a team with some young, hungry scorers, Hayward will be the glue that brings shooting and versatility on both ends.
60. Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans – Power Forward)
Zion is freak of nature, even for NBA standards. He is a teenager who will be bullying grown men on the boards and in the paint. The weight he was at in summer league is very concerning to me, though. Being that explosive at such a heavy weight will be tough on his base. Assuming he slims down to a comfortable weight, he will be a force switching across five positions, flashing his vision in transition, and putting on a show above the rim.
59. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies – Power Forward)
It was easy to see Jackson’s potential in his rookie season. He has true unicorn potential with his agility, rim protection, and shooting ability. Over the summer, his perimeter game and strength look to have taken nice strides. Paired with Ja Morant, JJ should be able to flirt with stardom this year.
58. Danilo Gallinari (Oklahoma City Thunder – Small Forward/Power Forward)
Gallinari quietly put together the best season of his career. He has always been a bit of a tweener which he now uses to his advantage. As a shooter, he was among the league’s best. With his ability to handle the ball at nearly 6-foot-10, Gallinari poses a mismatch against most forwards in the league. Oklahoma City will need him to be a top scoring weapon similar to his role with the Clippers.
57. Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers – Power Forward)
Efficiency was a problem for Kuzma in his second year. When he was at Utah, I thought shooting would be the one thing holding him back from finding a regular role. I couldn’t have been more wrong, showing that he is built to score from all three levels in a variety of ways. But his offseason adjustment in his form looks promising. If he becomes a legitimate star in LA, the rest of the league won’t stand a chance.
56. DeAndre Ayton (Phoenix Suns – Center)
Due to the excellence of a couple of his peers, Ayton’s regular double-doubles were overshadowed. A year in, he should be more equipped to expand his game. And that’s saying something for a teenager who was among the league’s best in rebounding and field goal percentage. Not that he doesn’t already play hard, but I’d like to see him bring more fire on both ends night in and night out. The rebuilding Suns need it if they are to crawl out of the cellar.
55. John Collins (Atlanta Hawks – Power Forward)
Trae Young gets a lot of attention in the ATL but Collins is a problem in his own right. Utilizing his athleticism, he continues to excel beating slower defenders in the post and as a roll man. Last year he started playing around with more range on his jumper, a very intriguing addition to an already effective offensive game. Every part of his game looks to be taking steps in the right direction. He is going to be the Amar’e Stoudemire to Young’s Steve Nash.
54. Julius Rande (New York Knicks – Power Forward)
While Anthony Davis was asking out of New Orleans, Randle was making the Lakers regret letting him leave. New York is going to play through him, at least for the early part of the season. Randle is a bull when heading towards the rim, seeking and discarding contact. David Fizdale will probably allow Randle to handle the ball in transition where he is deceptively gifted as a playmaker. The Knicks may still be a low level team, but it won’t be because of a lack of effort from Randle.
53. Lou Williams (Los Angeles lippers – Shooting Guard
Williams is a walking bucket. As he has aged, he’s become even more dominant scoring the ball. I like to compare his patient, deliberate scoring style to how LeVeon Bell runs the ball. There is an urgency but never a feeling of LouWill being out of control. This could be a three-peat as Sixth Man of the Year on a star studded Clippers team.
52. Clint Capela (Houston Rockets – Center)
During the playoffs, Capela was flat out difficult to watch. That energetic rim-runner who was supposed to be the kryptonite to a frontcourt-needy Golden State team was on the bench to end games. Don’t let that take away from the growth he showed during the regular season. Capela is going to feast on second chances and dump offs while still being a premium defensive presence. He’s only 25, so look for the Swiss center to learn from the playoffs and come back more focused on impacting games.
51. Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors – Point Guard)
No player was criticized as much for their decline in the playoffs other than former teammate DeMar DeRozan. Lowry shook off that perception with an NBA Championship after his fifth straight All-Star appearance. Blessed with that Philly toughness, he is never too affected by makes or misses. It was a career year as a playmaker, settling in as a third option. Now he will be back to being more shot-heavy. The bad news is that he doesn’t have the lift and quickness he used to possess. Still, he will be a high-level point guard for Toronto before a potential offseason departure.
50. Lauri Markkanen (Chicago Bulls – Power Forward)
The Finnish stretch four saw his efficiency dip in year two after missing significant time due to injury. But he was one of the top scoring power forwards in the NBA when he played. Markkanen can outrun bigs in transition, finish above the rim with power, use his footwork to win face-up matchups, and spray threes from all over the court. He is looking more defined and athletic this summer. Look for Markkanen to emerge as a 20-point scorer for a longer stretch for the Bulls.
49. Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors – Power Forward)
The NBA’s Most Improved Player is due for another monumental jump after the departure of Kawhi Leonard. Siakam is now the go-to scorer and likely face of the franchise moving forward. Good news too, as he just scratched the surface of his potential. He can do just about everything on the court, from defending four spots to knocking down open shots, to creating off the dribble for himself or his teammates. Siakam has a drive to continue to add layers to his evolving game.
48. Malcolm Brogdon (Milwaukee Bucks – Point Guard/Shooting Guard)
You could make an argument that Brogdon is the most underappreciated guard in the NBA. Milwaukee even decided to let him leave after being the second-best player on their team. Indiana isn’t complaining. The former Rookie of the Year is fundamentally sound and highly intelligent on both ends of the court. He can lock up either guard spot and shot comfortably over percent from three. Brogdon also slashes well on the wing when playing off the ball. Eastern Conference teams will dread the sight of Brogdon and Victor Oladipo in the backcourt.
47. Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics – Small Forward)
All of the hype surrounded Tatum after his playoff performance as a rookie. Last year he was a better player but struggled to take a big leap playing so heavily off the ball again. Kemba likes to pound the ball too, so what’s the difference? It seems like the focus on featuring the ultra-skilled forward will be greater. Sometimes it can be easy to overlook how gifted of a scorer he actually is because every move is so smooth and fluid. His defense will need work, but his ability to score in the post, in iso situations, or moving off the ball will be magnified at the four. This will be the year he knocks on the door of an All-Star appearance.
46. DeMarcus Cousins (Los Angeles Lakers – Center)
How come nobody wanted Boogie? He fought back from multiple injuries to return to the NBA Finals where his defensive woes were attacked. But let’s not act like he has lost the ability to impact games offensively. Looking much slimmer, the familiarity playing off of Anthony Davis should ease his transition to LA. Cousins is still a load that can score from all three levels, though his three shooting fell off in Golden State. His rebounding and passing are still elite at his position. Don’t count Cousins out, even if his health limits his usage.
45. Al Horford (Philadelphia 76ers – Center)
Horford was the glue that tried to keep Boston together. Now he will bring his high-IQ and versatile post-game to their division rivals. There is a shortlist of players who were able to frustrate Giannis, and Horford was one of them. He will take pressure off of Joel Embiid defensively while being a playmaker out of the high post on the other end. In theory, he fills a lot of holes in Philly.
44. Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets – Point Guard)
In his first playoff action, Murray looked fearless. Known as a shooting point guard, the former Kentucky star was effective pulling up off the dribble last season whenever he had a sliver of space. Right now he’s not a great passer, but he is capable of running an offense. He possesses a kill-or-be-killed mentality that allows him to go toe to toe the top guards in the league. The touches and opportunities will be there for Murray to prove he is worth that huge contract he received.
43. Tobias Harris (Philadelphia 76ers – Small Forward)
Jimmy Butler was a great piece for the Sixers. But his usage shadowed how good Harris could be for them. Before the trade, he was one of the best pull-up three-point shooters in the league. Showing off an improved handle, the 6-foot-9 wing can create space and use his size to elevate over defenders. Harris is a very efficient scorer as a result. While his defense leaves plenty to be desired, he is a 20-point threat who should be able to shine as the top wing scorer on the team.
42. Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors – Power Forward)
If this was a ranking based purely on last season, he would probably be much higher. Draymond was almost a liability when put in scoring positions. To me, the presence of Kevin Durant forced him to adjust his game more than anyone else. He is among the best communicators, all-around defenders, and versatile playmakers in the league. Don’t be surprised if you see Green look like the triple-double guy we saw in the playoffs (minus-KD).
41. Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers – Power Forward/Center
Last season was essentially lost for Love due to various injuries and resting strategies. After a summer of living his best life, expect it to be business as usual. Some people act like Love is on the decline, but he is in great shape and never relied on athleticism in the first place. Plenty of teams would trade assets to have a potent inside-out scorer that cleans the glass and can make plays out of double teams.
40. Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons – Center)
In a league that is moving more towards small-ball bigs, Drummond remains a traditional paint-focused center that is regularly at the top of the league in rebounding. He excels defensively at getting deflections and steals. Drummond has a lot of fun playing the game, has missed only 10 games the last six years, and has turned putrid foul shooting into respectably bad in a short time. He’s starting to get more freedom handling the ball and taking jumpers, which could be a scary sight.
39. D’Angelo Russell (Golden State Warriors – Point Guard)
Russell has a whole new maturity about his game. Rather than having explosive athleticism, the former Buckeye has great size, vision, and craftiness off the dribble. As a second option in Golden State, he will be able to draw lesser defenders. The lack of ball dominance may be an adjustment. But no system creates more open looks than the Warriors, which should allow for a nice uptick in Russell’s shooting volume and efficiency. Don’t be surprised if he is somewhere else (Minnesota?) at this time next year.
38. Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks – Point Guard)
I viewed Young as a volatile prospect that needed a team to let him be himself. He was outstanding during the last three months of the year, using his shooting range to create driving lanes and playmaking opportunities. To take that next step, he needs to finish in traffic better (which the added 10-15 pounds will help), cut down on the careless turnovers, and start converting more of his three point looks. His handle is so good and his release is so quick that he can get looks at any time. The league is on notice.
37. LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs – Power Forward/Center)
Aldridge is kind of a lowkey All-Star. He’s methodical in the post, feasts on mid-range jumpers, and is a reliable below the rim rebounder. One could say he has an old-man’s game. Fits right in with what the Spurs were used to in the past. He brings consistent, high-level production without a lot of fireworks. Nothing new for Aldridge.
36. De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings – Point Guard)
Swipa is about to take off. We saw every part of his game progress as a second-year player, from shooting to playmaking to defensive impact. Sacramento returns a majority of their core around him. He is the fastest player in the league from end to end and has a knack for avoiding rim protectors on his drives. All those hours working on pick-and-roll reads in NBA 2K have paid off. Fox has all he needs to challenge for All-Star status in a crowded West.
35. Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic – Center)
Orlando snuck into the playoffs in large part because Vucevic was an automatic double-double machine who they could play through. He controlled games with his post game, often drawing double-teams to get the ball out of his hands. But he’s a gifted passer, so you have to pick your poison. For a 7-footer, he has swift footwork on the inside and can score off a number of flip shots and hooks. Vooch’s playoff performance was a big disappointment, so I would imagine he had some nice motivation in the lab this offseason.
34. DeMar DeRozan (San Antonio Spurs – Shooting Guard)
DeRozan had his highest field goal percentage since his rookie season, getting into the paint like he never had before. It makes sense that Pop would encourage more drives with his length, athleticism, and touch from 15 feet and in. Another major growth over the last few years has been his pick-and-roll ability. Rather than using screens to find his shot, he’s letting plays develop more. It’s still a tough conference for guards in the West, but there is no denying that DeRozan is an All-Star caliber talent.
33. Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls – Shooting Guard)
LaVine proved why he was the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade. Despite being the only scorer on the court for large chunks of the season, he still managed to shoot over 50 percent from two and 37 percent from three. Few players can match his athleticism and force when he attacks the basket. Two areas where he could really improve is as a defender and as a mid-range scorer. Based on his reputation as a workhorse, I’d imagine he comes back in top-notch form.
32. Jrue Holiday (New Orleans Pelicans – Point Guard)
While Anthony Davis was on and off the court, Holiday was the most consistent and productive player on the Pelicans. He is an excellent defender who will take on any challenge with pride. On top of shutting down the guards on the opposing team, he can give you 20 if he needs to or facilitate within the offense. Injuries and team success have led people to sleep on him, but Holiday is one of the true reliable two-way guards. New Orleans will need him to be a lead vocally and by example.
31. Mike Conley (Utah Jazz – Point Guard)
After years of trying, the Jazz finally acquired Conley. The floor general out of Ohio State is a professional in every sense. At 31, Conley will still lock up point guards with his savvy defense. Utah will upgrade with his shooting ability, though he won’t need to look for his shot as much. Rudy Gobert’s screening will open up plenty of opportunities for lobs or Conley’s use of his ambidextrous finishing skill. It is a perfect match for a dark horse team in the West.
30. Kristaps Porzingis (Dallas Mavericks – Power Forward)
I was thrilled to find out that KP got out of New York. He cautiously sat out all of last season to ensure he would be 100%. For people who forgot, Porzingis is a 7-foot-3 face-up player with limitless range, advanced scoring instincts, mobility, and premier shot-blocking skills. The tools are there for him to develop into one of the top players in the league. Playing next to Luka Doncic and being coached by Rick Carlisle, look for Porzingis to remind everyone why he’s viewed as a cheat code.
29. Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks – Small Forward)
Milwaukee was able to run through the regular season competition in large part due to Middleton’s consistency as a secondary option. Known more as a 3-and-D option, the Texas A&M product showed more ability to manufacture his own shot, leading to his first All-Star appearance. He never missed an opportunity to produce, even if that meant he had to just play hard-nosed defense and be a playmaker for that game. It will be more of the same for Middelton as the Bucks shoot for an NBA Finals appearance.
28. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks – Power Forward/Point Guard)
Doncic took the league by storm in his rookie season, electrifying crowds with his vision and complex scoring package. His IQ and footwork are on the level of vets. In year two, he’ll need to keep it simple with his reads instead of giving up possessions with careless passes. And as much as I love his stepback (and his pull-up shooting as a whole), I’d like to see him find and connect on more of his open spot-ups. Doncic will be an All-Star this season around the same time he’s legally allowed to go to bars.
27. John Wall (Washington Wizards – Point Guard)
Achilles injuries are especially tough on athletic players. But if Wall comes back as 80 percent of the athlete he was, he would still be in the upper echelon. That uncertainty has him this low. When on the court, he is an explosive playmaker who is a top assists guy. He’s also one of those guys who you can sag off of and he will still find a way to get all the way to the rim. Wall had a lot of doubters to prove wrong. Washington fans would want nothing more than to have a reason to pull out the John Wall dance again.
26. Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz – Center)
Most basketball fans love the offensive side of the game. The ankle breakers, dunks, and deep threes. Gobert hangs his hat on the other end as the league’s best rim protector. Even the most gifted finishers struggle to score on the Stifle Tower. He shined in his role as a rim-running big, leading the league in field goal percentage and challenging for the rebounding title. Gobert is going to benefit from having more space to operate and collect second chances on the inside this year with additional shooters in Utah.
25. Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics – Point Guard)
Kemba gave everything to Charlotte just to be lowballed when it was contract time. He came into the league as a microwave scorer, but has solidly rounded out his game to become a more efficient offensive player. Joining a team with other perimeter talent will be a slight adjustment for his ball-dominant style. But he is a selfless teammate who wants to win above all else. He won’t hesitate to take the big shot, but I think we’ll see a much more focused facilitator as well. Kemba is still in his prime even if he is not All-NBA player this year.
24. Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz – Shooting Guard)
I understand his shooting has been erratic and he has struggled in the playoffs. I also understand that he is a 22-year-old who was the focal point of an offense his first two years. Mitchell’s attitude and work ethic are special and that’s why he will emerge as a bonafide franchise player. On top of being a supreme athlete, he can hit threes on the move and make plays in transition. His defense is also underappreciated, even though it was an elite skill he proved in college. Mitchell will have high expectations that he will exceed.
23. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers – Point Guard)
If only he had a jump shot we’d be talking about a borderline top-10 player. As we stand now, Simmons has phenomenal vision, rebounding ability, slashing prowess, and defensive instincts. Basically, he is really good at a lot of aspects of the game. A big step outside of shooting would be maintaining his activity off the ball. He’s nearly 7-feet tall and quicker than a lot of point guards. He needs to be cutting all the time! The future of Philly is in Simmons’ hands as the go-to playmaker with the most glaringm correctable weakness.
22. Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns – Shooting Guard)
Booker would have a much stronger reputation if he was surrounded by more talent. As a one-man show for most of his career, he’s been able to show how gifted of a scorer he is, dominating in isolation or as a shooter in set plays off the ball. Last year he even had to play point guard, where he showed versatility setting up teammates. But to his core, Book is a bucket getter. His shooting percentages will go up with more spacing. Did I mention he’s only 22 years old?
21. Victor Oladipo (Indiana Pacers – Shooting Guard)
Two years ago, Oladipo proved he was capable of carrying a team. After a brutal quad injury, he is working his way back. It does seem like an injury he can fully recover from, which is great news. When he’s on, Oladipo will give your favorite star the clamps and expose defenders on the offensive end. He was in a shooting slump to start the season, but I expect him to be back to hitting clutch jumpers, finishing and-ones above the rim, and making the right plays off the dribble.
20. C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers- Shooting Guard)
It’s about time McCollum received the type of contract he has earned. Casual fans are starting to appreciate the smooth scoring package of one of the league’s best two-guards. The mid-range master is also a terrific three-point shooter in motion. His strength and understanding for how to operate are at an all-time high so McCollum should be one of the best second options in the league again.
19. Chris Paul (Oklahoma City Thunder – Point Guard)
Whether or not CP3 plays out a whole year in OKC is to be determined. What I do know is that he is in a situation to remind everyone why he still commands so much attention as a floor general. Just about every sign of efficiency plummeted for Paul last season. Don’t panic. He is a P&R maestro that can score when needed and pester ball-handlers. While in OKC, he will show he’s not to be overlooked.
18. Blake Griffin (Detroit Pistons – Power Forward)
Everything is coming together for Griffin. Once restricted to 18-footers, he is now a regular weapon from behind the arc. Blake is crisp with his handle and maintains enough explosiveness to overwhelm defenders. He can play that point forward so well because of his passing intellect. Check another All-Star appearance off.
17. Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards – Shooting Guard)
Beal deserves better. At the same time, he never sulks and is all business when he’s on the court. Viewed as somewhat of second fiddle in years past, he has proved that he is a true star with no asterisks attached. Blessed with a pure shooting form, Brad is a threat to pull from anywhere. His development reading pick-and-rolls and passing guys open has been impressive.
16. Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves – Center)
On one hand you can see how much ability Towns possesses, but on the other hand, it doesn’t always seem to impact the game’s outcome. KAT was the only player to average 20 and 10 while shooting 40 percent from three. He is light on his feet and has soft touch from three levels. To pull the Wolves, he can’t be an indifferent defender. KAT is a great kid with great upside, so I hope he can do it on both ends this year.
15. Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat – Shooting Guard/Small Forward)
This is what Jimmy always wanted: to be the clear face of a franchise. He kind of had that in Chicago to a lesser extent. In Miami, he will be the guy on both ends. Butler takes pride in excelling as an all-around defender. As he showed in Philly, he is a closer with a killer mentality in crunch time. His jump shot, handle, and playmaking ability are a result of meticulous work on his game. He’s bringing that fire to the Heat.
14. Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets – Point Guard)
Kyrie’s Boston experiment turned into a nightmare. Without KD this season, he will have a similar chance to prove he can lead a team. The difference is that the surrounding pieces in Brooklyn played in off-ball roles around DLo last year. Kyrie has the best handle (possibly ever) in the NBA that lets him get to any spot of choice and convert at a high rate. For years he has been the league’s most creative below the rim finisher and a 40 percent shooter from three. The shot-makers around him will space the court to let him work.
13. Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors – Shooting Guard)
Watching Klay try to play through a torn ACL was hard. Even if it’s not until March, he should be back this season. At which point he will be back to being the best two-way off guard in the NBA. Behind Steph, he is the second-best shooter I’ve ever seen and a guy who can guard three positions at an elite level. We really shouldn’t take his consistency for granted.
12. Russell Westbrook (Houston Rockets – Point Guard)
Russ was criticized for his shooting woes last year. What went under the radar was how he made a concerted effort to defer to Paul George. He wants to compete so much that his decision making still has lapses. But he has averaged a triple-double three years straight. Russ creates open shots like few others and finishes better now than ever. His foul shooting was an aberration. Playing with Harden, his long-time friend, might just be the crazy scientist move that makes Daryl Morey look like a genius.
11. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers – Point Guard)
Dame took over in the playoffs, pushing Portland to the conference finals after a couple of tough matchups. Playing with unlimited range and freedom off the dribble, Lillard is a nightmare to defend. Even if you think you’re guarding him well, he can go off for 20 in a quarter in a hurry. Dame has been loyal and a proven winner. He has just recently received the respect he has deserved. A lot of players post a lot of offseason workouts on social media, but Lillard does his work in silence. And the results will show once again.
10. Paul George (Oklahoma City Thunder – Small Forward)
PG was a legitimate MVP candidate and one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league a year ago. Transitioning to LA may lead to him doing more playmaking than he did while playing with Russ. It should be no problem, as George has shown that he can wear multiple hats without missing a beat. He is reaching the pinnacle of his play while his athleticism is still there and his shooting, shiftiness, and decision-making are reliable.
9. Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers – Center)
Health has really been the main culprit holding Embiid back. What he’s shown over the last few years is that there isn’t a center in the league who can stop him. For a guy around 265 pounds, he leans on his footwork to make plays. He does settle for jumpers too often, but he still gets guys to bite on the head fakes. Embiid is a dominant rim-protector when he is engaged and mobile enough to hold his own on switches. Even if he misses some time for injuries or rest, JoJo is on the brink of being the NBA’s best big man.
8. Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets – Center)
Knowing nothing else but appearance, the jolly 7-footer probably wouldn’t be a high pick. Yet, he has already proven to be a supremely skilled center who can bring the ball up like a point guard. His creativity as a passer is poetry in motion. When he is the roll man, he can beat you in any way. He’s money from 15-feet and in and you have to respect his three-point shot despite only shooting 30 percent last year (he was 39.6% in 2018). There’s something to be said for a player who can give you hell all with a smile on his face.
7. Steph Curry (Golden State Warriors – Point Guard)
It’s honestly hard to have Steph out of the top-five. He will be in a position to win MVP on a Klay-less team that will run him off screens all game. He has revolutionized the game as a shooter, but he scores efficiently from every tier. So much so that it’s a foregone conclusion that he will flirt with the 50/40/90 club every season. All the intangibles are there as well: good rebounder, heady passer, and competitive defensively despite some physical limitations. Stars are going to star and it’s no different for Steph.
6. James Harden (Houston Rockets – Shooting Guard)
Harden put up bonkers numbers last season, shattering his previous season-high in scoring. Yet in the playoffs, he couldn’t pull them past Golden State again. Maneuvering through the lane and drawing contact has become second nature. That euro step-plus-stepback is unguardable. He has also become a pinpoint lob passer. Harden is a threat for 40, 10, and 10 every night. Will he accept more time off the ball to allow Russell Westbrook to do his thing? That will determine how far Houston can go.
5. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers – Power Forward)
Some players keep talks behind closed doors. AD chose to take control of his career publicly, forcing his way to the Lakers where he teams up with LeBron. A year on and off the court could lead to some memory loss, so here’s a quick summary. Davis is a franchise talent that can shoot it, beat defenders on the perimeter, finish lobs above the rim, score in the post, rebound, and protect the rim. Did I forget anything? AD is the next great big man in LA.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks – Power Forward)
The man is honestly a jumper away from being the most unstoppable force in the NBA. And he may already hold that title with the way he uses his long strides to effortlessly get to the basket and rock the rim. Giannis is a different level of athlete who is highly conscious of ways to use it. That is why he has become a five-position defender, a grab-and-go transition player, and a post-up weapon. Few MVPs seem unsatisfied, but Giannis wants rings and greatness beyond individual accolades. Send your wishes to the rest of the East.
3. Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets – Small Forward)
I really want to see KD come back 100%. Like Giannis, Durant is a guy who I would stick on any position and feel confident he could shut them down. And defense is considered his weak side of the ball. KD is as complete of a scorer as you can find at 7-foot with slick handles and in-the-gym range. Put him in any scoring position and he’ll give you a high chance to come away with points. Next season is a year for him to get settled in Brooklyn and lead on the bench. In 2020-2021, he’s going to be on a mission.
2. Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers – Small Forward)
Guess who got the last laugh? Kawhi proved beyond doubt that he is the top two-way player on the planet. He got his ring, won Finals MVP, and dipped to LA. The best way to describe his game is robotic, in a good way. If he wants to get to his deadly pull-up, he will. If he wants a stepback three, that’s cash too. Post turnaround? On-ball steal? Doesn’t matter for Kawhi. He impacts the game every possession with a relaxed demeanor that masks a savage competitor.
1. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers – Small Forward)
Oh, how quickly everyone forgets greatness. LeBron is still the best player in the league. He is still a runaway freight train with legendary IQ that can make any pass, create mismatches to expose, and defend anyone when he so chooses. Over the last few years, he’s become a threat from 25-plus feet as well. Fresh off a summer of resting, he will come back with a vengeance and a team loaded with talent. He is known for maxing out his supporting cast. I don’t see anyone knocking him off his throne this season.