The NBA season always brings plenty of intrigue and excitement. After a massive power shift in the dynamics of multiple teams this offseason, the NBA landscape is drastically different this season. One of the most typical arguments that NBA fans debate is the rankings of the best players of all time. To me, that argument doesn’t make sense due to generational and style-of-play differences, but ranking the players each year is something that helps analyze and breakdown the league. While it is difficult to evaluate a guard vs. a center, I think there are enough differences to organize the cream of the crop of NBA talent into a coherent, logical list. Here are my top five NBA players – in order – this season:
1. Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard is unique in so many ways. First, in a league that rarely emphasizes defense. the NBA has witnessed the prowess and ferocity of Leonard on defense. He can guard 1-5 well, and his stifling defense affects every single athlete on the court. Leonard not only disrupts opposing offenses but also, he scores in a plethora of different ways. Whether it be a powerful drive, lethal mid-range shot, or a 3-pointer, Leonard has the confidence and ability to make all of these shots. Leonard is the most well-rounded athlete in the NBA, and he continues to be a powerful leader. He led the Raptors to NBA fame with his hall-of-fame postseason play, and I expect him to do the same with the Clippers this season.
2. LeBron James
LeBron James, quite frankly, bullies opponents. He has continued to improve his 3-point shooting, and he hasn’t fallen off as he continues to age. LeBron dynamically has transformed the NBA, and he often has done it without a loaded supporting cast. He makes other players better through his leadership and killer mentality. He was heralded as a legend when he entered the league, and he has lived up to that expectation and then some. His postseason play is tremendous, and he shines brightest when the most pressure is on him. He’s a force attacking the rim, yet he also has bolstered his passing and playmaking ability. LeBron falls to second by a very narrow margin, but that margin is the slimmest of any in the NBA. Honestly, the order of 1 and 2 flips quite frequently to me, but I’ll pick Leonard to be #1 because I value increased defense over increased offense.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Which is tougher: to spell “Antetokounmpo” or to categorize Giannis’s play succinctly and correctly? Giannis dominates the league both offensively and defensively, and there are several reasons why he very well may win MVP and DPOY. His height and length give nightmares to opposing offenses as he deters shots and clogs passing lanes. He can quickly cover ground due to his long strides, and he is a terror all over the court. In addition, Giannis has made strides improving his jump shot, and he continues to work on extending his range. He can score in a plethora of different ways, and his impact is felt in every set and game. Giannis put the Bucks on the map, and he had them very close to an NBA Finals trip if it wasn’t for Kawhi Leonard. After beating out offensive powerhouse, James Harden, for MVP last season, Giannis is ready to take the Bucks to the promised land and to bring home some hardware in the process.
4. James Harden
Do you know how to stop James Harden, because no one in the NBA seems to know. Harden generates his points in three different ways. First, Harden and the Rockets love to knock down 3-point shots. The Rockets live and die by the three-point shot, and Harden is a big believer in that. Second, Harden effectively utilizes his handles and shiftiness to get opponents off balance and then either score a driving layup or knockdown an outside shot. His movement with the basketball is unrivaled by anyone in the NBA, and it’s a great catalyst for the Rockets. Third, Harden can rack up points at the foul line. He loves to get opponents to foul him because of his offensive ability, and Harden is a believer of drawing contact. Not only does this give the Rockets free-throw chances but also, it forces opponents to play more reserved and cautious. Harden is the best offensive weapon in the NBA, and he’s a major factor propelling the Rockets toward a potential NBA Finals trip.
5. Steph Curry
This was a tough call to round out the top five, but the best shooter of all time had to make the list. Curry continues to do some insane things with his long-range shooting, and he also has a unique handle, as well. He needs to be covered at half court, and that’s not an exaggeration. He’s not afraid to attack the rim, and he requires a body on him at all times. His shooting can disrupt an entire game for an opponent, and the former Davidson guard loves to get hot and stay hot. If you give Curry an inch, he will carve out a mile. He has developed great chemistry with coach Steve Kerr, and he continues to mystify fans and opposing defenses. He’s going to have his work cut out for him as opposing defenses will work to neutralize his shooting, but I have no doubt he will find a way to consistently generate offense night in and night out.
Honorable Mentions (in order):
- Anthony Davis
- Joel Embiid
- Paul George
- Nikola Jokic
- Damian Lillard