Each year, ESPN attempts the impossible by ranking the top 100 NBA players ahead of the new season.
NBA players are the best of the basketball world. To break them out and rank them against each other on-by-one would be a daunting task. Each player brings different things to their respective teams. Still, the talking heads of the sports world love rankings. So, ESPN, The Undefeated, and FiveThirtyEight got together to do their best to determine the most valuable players going into the 2018-19 season.
The rankings were voted on by TV analysts, producers, reporters, editors, and researchers. They voted to estimate which players would be best this season in terms of quality and quantity of play. For the latter reason, players coming off of injuries such as Gordon Hayward (40), Kristaps Porzingis (58), or DeMarcus Cousins (69) appear a little lower than it seems they should.
Another factor that is brought up frequently on the list is RPM, which means Real Plus Minus. Per ESPN, this metric measures how well a team does offensively and defensively with any given player on the court, and compares it with how well the team does at each with that same player off the court.
The list is not perfect and of course will be proved wrong many times this season. Still, it makes for great barber shop conversation. Giannis Antetokounmpo tied with Kevin Durant? Let’s talk.
The top 10
Damien Lillard sits at the number ten spot, which does not come as much of a surprise. Lillard is coming off of a selection as First Team All-NBA a season ago. His scoring and leadership for the Trailblazers will continue this season. Joel Embiid is number nine, but could certainly continue his ascension as one of the best bigs in the game.
Kawhi Leonard is eight, assuming he goes all-out playing for the Raptors this year. Number seven is the new Mr. Triple-Double, Russell Westbrook. The former MVP at the seven spot shows the strength of the NBA in 2018.
Third in MVP voting last season, Anthony Davis is number six. Statistically, “The Brow” is one of the best players in the NBA. He has been a bit fragile for much of his career, but his offense and defense are both impossible to deny for the Pelicans. We skip five because ESPN notes a tie for the fourth best player.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has drastically improved each season and is just 23 years old. His offense has blossomed and he may now be the premier player in the Eastern Conference with LeBron James out of town. Kevin Durant is a back-to-back FInals MVP and the best scorer we’ve seen in a long time. It may have hurt him in these rankings that the Warriors can keep on churning without him.
Last season’s MVP, James Harden is listed at number three. His isolation play, passing, and well-rounded offensive game make him one of the greatest in the world. His defense, while improved, may have held him down on this rankings. Steph Curry is listed at two. Though his points have dipped since the arrival of Durant, his efficiency as a high-volume shooter is simply unheard of. He is one of the greatest winners in basketball, and the greatest shooter to date.
ESPN lists LeBron James as number one, and has for the last eight years. That’s some staying power. LeBron’s dominance as a player, especially in the Playoffs is undeniable. He will be 34 this season, but his stats have only improved over the last few seasons. We haven’t seen any decline yet, so there is no reason to expect it.
The other guys
Curry and Durant have some running mates in the top 20. Klay Thompson (19) and Draymond Green (16) are great players that also benefit from a great team. A couple of other notable top 20 guys that are teamed with top 10 players are Paul George (13) and Chris Paul (11).
Kyrie Irving at number 20 certainly seems like a player that could rise with a healthy Celtics squad. Irving’s teammate Jayson Tatum is already up to number 24 while Jaylen brown at 37 is two spots higher than DeMar DeRozan, which seems… wrong. Ben Simmons (18) is another player poised to move up - all he needs is a jumpshot.
A new wrinkle in the rankings is that Bradley Beal (29) has passed teammate, John Wall (32). ESPN already lists rookie Luka Doncic at 63 while first overall pick DeAndre Ayton does not crack the list.
For the full list from 100 on down to number 1, check out ESPN’s page here. The Basketball Movement is ready for the NBA to fire back up, so keep coming back here for continued coverage of this and all things basketball.