There generally is nothing that brings out passionate arguments among fans than when discussing who is the best player in the NBA. Is LeBron the best player today or has Kevin Durant finally past the King? Where does two-time MVP Steph Curry falls in the rankings?
Did Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love make the rankings?
The following is my list of the top-20 players in the NBA.
20. Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves
The 21-year-old has shown a lot in his two seasons in the league. Last year was just the start of his real growth. Towns has posted 113 double-doubles and one triple-double in his two seasons, jumping from 51 D-D’s in 2015-16 to 62 D-D’s and one triple-double in 2016-17. Overall, he improved his stats across the board last year.
Towns is a versatile two-way player who can score inside and out. More importantly, he is highly efficient when he shoots (.567 shooting efficiency).He became more consistent as a three-point shooter and a better passer last year.
Defensively, he is beginning just to show his enormous potential. The 7-0 center has the ability to defend on the perimeter as well as inside. He is athletic and has the mobility to switch on ball screens and be effective at disrupting the offense. Towns is also an elite defensive rebounder who will also his share of offensive boards. In addition, he has the capability of becoming a great shot-blocker.
Towns was the only player, last year, to average 20 points and 12 rebounds a game.
19. Kevin Love, Cavs
Love is a multi-dimensional player who has gotten way too blame for the Cavs seemingly failures since coming over from Minnesota. He is fantastic at shooting off the catch and returned to elite-level as a defensive rebounder this past season. Love is also one of the best in the league at throwing outlet passes.
Love is coming off his best season as a member of the Cavaliers, and the fifth best of his career, The 28-year-old produced 41 double-doubles in 60 games, averaging 19.0 points and 11.1 boards a game while registering a 57.3% true shooting percentage.
For the fifth time in his nine-year career, Love recorded a PER above 20. He was also one of 12 players to have a real plus-minus over 5.00. He ranked 27th in offensive real plus-minus and 37th in defensive plus-minus.
18. Damian Lillard, Blazers
Lillard is a ball-dominant point guard who looks to score first. Lillard is very good at getting to the basket and has a nice mid-range game. He scored 23.2 of his 27.0 (85.9%) points that he averaged last year on drives, pull-up jumpers and at the free throw line.
Lillard set career-highs in points and rebounds (4.9) last year. He also set personal bests in shooting percentage (44.4%), free throws made (6.5) made and free throws attempted (7.2).
Lillard is not a great defender. While he set a career-high with a 24.15 PER — which ranked 16th in the league –, he finished 28th in real plus-minus.
Lillard has averaged 20 points in each of the last four years.
17. Paul George, Thunder
George would likely be ranked higher if he did break his league while playing in USA scrimmage three years ago.
George is an elite two-way wing who plays with tenacity on both ends of the floor. He is a creator on offense and a lockdown defender.
For the third season in a row — excluding 2014-15 when he appeared in six games –, George compiled 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. He averaged a career-high 23.7 points to go along with 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting a personal best 46.1% from the field and 39.3% from beyond the arc in 2016-17.
16. Isaiah Thomas, Cavs
Thomas was traded to Cleveland in a five player deal that involved Kyrie Irving. It will be interesting to see how Thomas and Lebron James will co-exist. Thomas is similar to Irving with the exception of the pedigree and overall shot-making ability. Thomas also doesn’t require the ball in his position as much as Irving.
Thomas is great in the open court and awesome in pick-n-roll situations as well as driving to the basket. The 5-6 score first point guard needs to be more of a distributor and have more of presence on the defensive end.
Thomas tallied a career-high 28.6 points a game, last year, as he was held to single digits only once — and that was in the playoffs — and topped the 40 point mark six times. He poured in 53 points, the second highest point total in the Celtics playoff history, in an Eastern Conference semifinal game against the Wizards on the day of his late sister’s birthday.
Thomas also shot a career-best 46.3% from the floor and made a career-high 3.2 three-pointers while shooting 37.9% from beyond the arc. Thomas finished in the top-10 of the league in PER, value added and estimated wins added. But he was just 59th in ESPN’s real plus-minus rating due to a poor defensive score.
He has averaged 20 or more points a game two straight years.
15. DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
DeRozan is an elite scorer, but like Thomas, does not provide much else and is a liability on the defensive end. However, DeRozan is a good defensive rebounder for a shooting guard.
DeRozan is volume shooter who gets to the free throw line a ton though he is not a real threat from outside the arc. He is at his best when attacking the hoop though he has a very good mid-range game as well.
DeRozan set a career-high with 27.3 points a game as he topped the 40-point plateau five time in 2016-17. He also set a personal-best with five double-doubles and 5.2 rebounds a game. His 46.7% shooting marked his best since 2010-11.
The 28-year-old has averaged over 20 points in each of his last four seasons.
14. Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
Butler is one of the best two-way wings in the game. He can score at all three levels though he is at his best in pick-n-rolls as well as isolation as he is a really good ball-handler. He is also very good at getting to the basket where he looks to create for others as well as himself.
Butler recorded 15 double-doubles and two-triple doubles last year. He also averaged a career-high 23.9 points a game to go along with career-best 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists. The 27-year-old topped the 30-point mark 17 times, which includes the playoffs, and did not reach double figures six times. He also came up with a new season-best 143 steals (1.9 per game).
Butler finished seventh in real plus-minus as he had the eighth highest offensive real plus-minus. He was also 58th in the league in defensive real plus-minus. In addition, he finished 14th in PER.
Butler has compiled 20 points, five rebounds and three assists in each of the last three years.
13. Draymond Green, Warriors
Green is one of the most versatile players in the league as he is capable of playing all three frontcourt spots while guarding all five positions. Green is a major reason that Golden State has reached the NBA Finals three straight years, going 2-1 in those series. He also plays hard all the time.
Green is a playmaking forward who loves to share the ball, bang in the low post and dee-up. The Warriors’ 27-year-old emotional leader also has the ability to stretch the floor. But his real value is on the defensive end.
Green’s production dropped from his career year in 2015-16 almost across the board last season. However, he did slightly improve his steals (1.5-to-2.0), fouls (3.0-to-2.9) and turnovers (3.2-to 2.4) per game. His PER dropped to 16.51, but he did rank fourth in real plus-minus as he posted the second best defensive real plus-minus ranking in the league.
12. John Wall, Wizards
Wall has been on the cusp of breaking into the top-10 players in the league for the past few years. This could be the year. He will need to show improvement in his jumper and lower his turnover rate.
Wall is one of the best pure point guards in the league. He is a terror in the open court where he not only looks to create for himself but for others as well. Wall is also one of the best at getting to the bucket in the half-court. He was second in the league at generating points off his assists at 25.3 points a game.
Wall had his best season last year, compiling a career-best 50 double-doubles while also recording his best scoring efficiency and shooting efficiency numbers of his career. The 26-year-old produced 23.1 points and 10.7 assists while shooting a personal best 45.1% from the field last year, marking the third straight year that he has averaged a double-double for the season.
Wall, the best shot-blocking point guard in NBA history, has regressed to one of the worst defensive point guards in the league according to real-plus minus. However, his 23.38 PER last year was a personal best. He came up with two steals a game as well as lowered his personal fouls to an average of 1.9 a game. In addition, Wall ranked third deflections a game (3.9) and second in loose ball recoveries (1.6).
11. DeMarcus Cousins, Pelicans
Cousins has always had top-10 talent but his volatile disposition has kept him from reaching his true potential. Cousins can be a dominant force on both ends of the court when he is content. He has recently added the three-point shot to his arsenal and has also become one of the best passing big men in the game.
Cousins was in the process of having his best season in his career before getting dealt to the Pelicans, where he continued his success. The 27-year-old produced a career-high 27.0 points to along with 11.8 rebounds, marking the third straight season he has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. He also set personal-highs with 4.8 assists and 1.8 triples while knocking down 36.1% of his shots from beyond the arc. His three-point shooting and the fact that he shoots a lot of free throws allowed him to post 1.356 points per shot and a .498 shooting efficiency — both personal-highs.
Cousins totaled 46 double-doubles and two triple-doubles in 72 games — marking just the third time in his career that he appeared in 70 games.
10. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Antetokounmpo has improved in each of his four seasons in the NBA and he won’t be 23 until December. The Greek Freak as he is affectionately nicknamed due to his athleticism and freakish physical attributes.
Antetokounmpo is a slasher who excels in transition. He is one of the best in the league at grabbing the ball off the defensive boards and going the length of the floor. The 6-11 forward can also score in the post but needs to continue to work on his shot. He gets to free throw line a lot and is a very good ball-handler. He is also a good distributor and is doing a better job of not turning the ball over.
Antetokounmpo is a fantastic one-on-one defender. He has the ability to guard all five positions due to his natural abilities
Giannis is just brushing the surface of the player that he can become. Antetokounmpo recorded three triple-doubles and 32 double-doubles last season. He finished 10th in ESPN’s Hollinger PER ratings and 18th in ESPN’s real plus-minus.
9. Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Irving is a member of the Celtics in a semi-surprising trade. But I see this as a fantastic move for Irving as he will now be the proverbial “man” for the C’s and he will have an excellent supporting class around him — unlike when James left Cleveland for Miami.
The 25-year-old has yet to put everything together, but when he does, he could climb several places on this list as he is a wizard with the ball. Irving possesses outstanding handles and is one of the top-three big-time shot-makers in the NBA.
Statistically, Irving had his best season of his young career, totaling eight double-doubles and averaging over 25 points a night. He also set career-highs in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.32) and shooting efficiency (53.5).In advance metrics, Irving placed 23rd in PER and 53rd in real plus-minus as a result of his hellish bad defense.
8. James Harden, Rockets
Harden was the perfect player to orchestrate Mike D’Antoni’s offense as he is an offensive juggernaut. However, Chris Paul will likely be used to facilitate most of the time that the two are on the court together. That does not mean that Harden will not handle the ball a ton because creating offense is what he does the best.
Harden can score on all three levels and is an excellent ball-handler. He has just started enjoying sharing the ball and now has a point guard (Paul) who can spread the floor.
Expect Harden’s career-high high numbers of 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 caroms to decline this coming season — how much only time will tell. The last time, Harden played with a player with Paul’s capabilities when he was with OKC in 2011-12. Harden, who registered his most efficient season of his career, averaged 16.8 points and 4.1 boards and 3.7 assists that year.
The 2017 MVP runner-up recorded a league-high 64 double-doubles and was second with 22 triple-doubles. Including the playoffs, Harden had 44 games of 30 points or more, 11 games of at least 40 points and twice topped the 50 point plateau. Harden finished fifth in the league in PER, second in value added and 13th in real plus-minus.
Harden is a good shooter, with a true shooting percentage around 60%, but he takes a lot of difficult and contested shots. Harden also turns the ball over way too much as he makes poor decision-making bad decisions and sloppy handling the ballhandling. And he is awful on defense, ranking 400 out 468 players last season in real plus-minus. Opponents shot 45% when Harden was the primary defender in 2016-17.
Harden has five straight seasons of producing 20 points, four rebounds and five assists.
7. Chris Paul, Rockets
Chris Paul, who seems to be getting more efficient with age, could have a monster year operating in Mike D’Antoni’s wide open offensive system. Paul has always been an unbelievable ball-handler and distributor who could use his athleticism to score points. He now has developed a consistent three-point shot, which is a wonderful complement to his driving and wonderful mid-range game.
Paul is an elite defender. He has been named to the NBA All-Defensive first team seven times, including in 2106-17 where he registered the 22nd best defensive real plus-minus rating. Overall, he was ninth in PER and ninth in real plus-minus wins.
The big question is can Paul stay healthy? He has only played 80 games three times in his career.
6. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Westbrook is a fabulous playmaker and is coming off a season for the ages, producing perhaps the greatest single season in NBA history. That is the thing. Westbrook had a great season and he will unlikely ever come close to put up those numbers ever again. Plus, he is at best average on the defensive end and an average shooter who takes a number of bad shots. In addition, he turns the ball over a ton.
Westbrook was the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for a season. He collected an NBA -record 42 triple-doubles and had the second most double-doubles (62) in the league last year. He also led the league in scoring (31.1) and was first in PER (30.7). He was ranked second in the league in offensive real plus-minus and third in assists per game.
Westbrook has averaged over 20 points and more than 10 assists in each of the last two seasons.
5. Anthony Davis, Pelicans
Davis is the most talented big man in the game and as a result of a late growth spurt, he has skills of a guard despite standing at 6-11. Davis had his best season of his five-year career in 2016-17 posting a double-double for the third straight season. He does not only have the ability to dominate on the offensive end but also on the defensive end.
The 24-year-old set a career-high with 49 double-doubles and averaged 28.0 points along with 11.8 rebounds a game. He also averaged 2.1 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals while appearing in 70 games for the first time in his career. Davis ranked second in the league in PIE, fourth in the league in PER and sixth in value added though just 12th in real plus-minus.
4. Stephen Curry, Warriors
Curry is the best shooter in the game today and one of the best of all-time. However, Curry is way more than just a shooter. He can score from anywhere on the court, possesses fantastic handles and is an excellent distributor.
The two-time NBA MVP — the only unanimous MVP in league history — didn’t have a great season statistically last year but that shouldn’t overshadow his greatness. He led the league in offensive real plus/minus (7.27), three-pointers made (4.1) and on/off court plus/minus (+12.8). He also finished 15th in PER, 10th in value added and 10th in estimated wins added.
Being careless with the ball and defense are where Curry gets dinged the most. The truth is Curry does commit bad turnovers but he was still in the top-half of the league in turnover ratio last season.
Curry is very much underrated defensively. Granted, he is not a great individual defender. However, in reality, he is an above average defender (+0.14 DPM). Overall, opponents shoot 44.3% from the field against Curry — which is the league average –. But his 35.8% three-point percentage against is better than the league average (38.2%) and he averages nearly two steals a game.
Curry has averaged 22 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.6 steals in each of the last five seasons.
3. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs
Leonard is an elite two-way player whose offensive game has grown throughout his NBA career. He excels at getting to the line and has developed into an excellent three-point shooter. Leonard is an NBA Finals MVP, two-time all-star as well as a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
The 26-year-old had his best season last year. He set career-highs with points a game (25.5), assists (3.5) and three-pointers (2). Leonard finished last season ranked third in PER, seventh in estimated wins average and fifth in real plus-minus.
2. LeBron James, Cavs
The King is still very much alive in the conversation for the top player in the game — he is without question the best player of his generation). But the thing is, he is not a great shooter from the perimeter or free throw line. Also, he does not win enough as the best basketball players are expected to carry their team to new heights. James has directed his team to the best record in the NBA just three times and is 3-5 in the NBA Finals.
Statistically speaking, James is very much atop of his game. In fact, he is coming off his best season since returning to Cleveland. James set personal bests with 42 double-doubles and 13 triple doubles last season. He ranked first in real plus-minus and in real plus-minus wins as well as sixth in PER.
On the negative side, he posted a career-high 4.1 turnovers in 2016-17.
James has not averaged under 20 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists in any of his 14 seasons.
1. Kevin Durant, Warriors
Durant’s got the whole offensive package and is underrated defensively. He is the best shooter of all the top scorers in the league — other than Steph Curry — hands down. He can score inside and out, facing or with his back to the basket and in transition as well as at the charity stripe. Durant is a very good rebounder and an excellent passer who also possesses very good handles. He is also a terrific defender when he is engaged.
Durant showed the type of dominant player that he could on the biggest stage last season.
The 2017 Finals MVP tallied 30 or more points in each of the five-game series against the Cavaliers, becoming the first player perform the feat since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000. The 6-9 forward averaged 35.5 points, 8.2 rebounds along with 5.2 assists while shooting 55.6% from the field and 47.4% from beyond the arc while leading the Warriors to their second World Championship in three seasons.
Durant has a lot of help on the team-oriented Warriors, so his numbers may be a little deceiving. Durant put up his best rebounding and assists numbers per 40 minutes of his career last season. He registered an incredible 65.1 true shooting percentage, which was by far and away ahead of any other player who is not mainly an inside player, as well as a career-best .594 shooting efficiency. In addition, he also was second in the league in PER despite missing 20 games with a leg injury.
The 2014 regular season MVP is a five-time first team All-NBA selection.