Many would have Cousins lower on the list heading into the 2018-19 season as he will miss at least the first month of the regular season. However, if he can return to his dominant best in the latter stages of the season, there won’t be many centres in the NBA that have the array of weapons that Cousins does. The big man had an up and down time in New Orleans, playing a total of just 55 games for the Pelicans the year and a half he was there. In that time, however, he averaged over 24 points per game and nearly 13 rebounds and added to the already scary amount of offensive weapons he has.
While his three-point range was already well developed throughout his final few years in Sacramento, Cousins took it to another level in New Orleans, averaging over two three point makes per game in his time there and shooting over .350% from down town. That range will be massive in Golden State, where he will likely get a bunch of open looks from three playing in the pick and roll with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. He might not average as many points per game in the star-studded line-up but you can expect him to be one of the more important cogs on a championship team.
Westbrook is a tricky prospect when devising a top 50 NBA players list. All the signs and meaningful statistics suggest that he probably shouldn’t be in the top ten. He led the league in turnovers last season and field goals missed, however, he is just too dynamic to be left out of the conversation. The point guard is a triple double threat every night as he has shown by becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average the feat in over a full season.
For all of Westbrook’s supposed downfalls, he still managed to lead the league in assists per game in 2017-18 and was top 15 in player efficiency rating and per game numbers in points, steals, rebounds, minutes, free throws. I think the most meaningful stat in Westbrook’s favour though was the box plus/minus, where he was ranked fourth in the league behind only James Harden, LeBron James and Stephen Curry. Pretty elite company there.
Upped his game tally from 31 in 2016-17 to 63 games last season and while we think the 76ers will remain extremely cautious with the health of Embiid moving forward, we should see an increase in minutes per game for the centre this season. The big man has consistently ranked among the top player sin per 36 minutes stats over the last two seasons, averaging 27.2 points, 13 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in that category last year alone. The mark of 27.2 points trailed only Harden, Curry, Davis, Durant and Irving per 36 minutes amongst qualified players and in just his second season playing in the NBA, Embiid was voted to the second all defensive team.
Only an extremely special type of person can stand at seven foot and possess the weapons on both ends of the floor that Embiid does. Not only is he one of the best post up players in the league but he consistently shoots the three ball at a high clip for a centre. Hard to believe that just a few years ago this guy had never even played a game of organised basketball and the potential for further growth that comes with that is truly scary. Has more room to improve than any other player in the top 10.
The Bucks might have been bounced from the playoffs in round one against the Celtics last season, but don’t let that affect your perception of Giannis Antetokounmpo moving into the 2017-18 season. It’s hard to believe that this 6’11 utility is still just 23 years of age as he enters his sixth season in the NBA. He is one of a handful of players in the league that can be serviceable at all five positions on the court when required and his durability is unquestionable, having barely missed a game in his five seasons in the league to date.
He has increased his points and rebounds per game numbers in all five years in the league so far and was ranked in the top ten in the league in blocks per game in 2017-18. If there’s a few aspects of his game that could still be improved it’s his ability to find shots for teammates and to develop an effective three-point shot, but when you can get from the three-point line to the rim in two steps we aren’t even sure that’s necessary. Was alongside James Harden, Anthony Davis and Clint Capela as the only four players to rank in the top 20 in the league in both offensive and defensive win shares in 2017-18. Sky is the limit for Giannis.
26.4 points per game, 50% from the field, 40% from three and 90% from the line in a championship season and Stephen Curry was not even discussed as an MVP candidate in 2017-18. Granted, the point guard did only play 51 games due to injury but there was arguably no more efficient and influential player when on the floor. He finished the season behind only James Harden and LeBron James in total box plus/minus and first overall in offensive box plus/minus. When this guy is on the floor the Warriors just win.
Not only can Curry control an offence with the ball, which he does extremely well as the 18th ranked player in the league in assist percentage, but he is also one of the rare players in the league that can control an offence without the ball. Curry draws so much attention on the offensive end when running around screens and trying to get open that it opens the game up for teammate Kevin Durant to get one on one matchups. The ‘most talented’ superlative on the Warriors roster might go to Kevin Durant but there’s arguably no more important player for the reigning champions than Curry, as we saw last season when things looked a little stale on offence in his 31 games on the sidelines. If Stephen Curry wasn’t pulling on a Warriors jersey this season, the Boston Celtics would be favourites for the title.
Tough call to make to slot Kawhi into the top 10 after playing only 12 games in 2017-18 but from all signs he looks ready to go after a few pre-season games for the Raptors. The two-time defensive player of the year developed into a two-way juggernaut in the late stages of 2016-17 and if not for an ankle injury in game one of their playoff series against the Warriors, might have potentially led the Spurs to a massive upset.
That series seems like an eternity ago now, but it was the last time we saw Kawhi play at his maximum level with full confidence and although we only saw him for three quarters, he had his team 25 points up late in the game in the eventual champions building. He’s yet to even pull on a Raptors jersey and can already lay claim to be the most talented player to ever step into the home locker room. A perennial MVP candidate and the best perimeter defender since Scottie Pippen.
Hard to believe that the New Orleans superstar has yet to pick up an MVP trophy. He is a clear front runner to be the next first-time winner in the NBA and his road to the trophy probably gets a little easier this season with the departure of DeMarcus Cousins from the Pelicans frontcourt. For all the talk of Anthony Davis being an injury prone player, the forward has never played less than 61 games in his six seasons in the NBA and has had back to back seasons of 75 games. His stats over the last two years are pretty much identical, but that is in no way indicative of a lack of progression. He was able to average over 28 points, 11 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game last season all with less usage rate due to sharing the frontcourt with his all-star teammate in Cousins.
The forward is still unbelievably just 25 years old and arguably a few years away from his true prime, which is scary for the rest of the NBA. He was the only player in the NBA to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive win shares in 2017-18 and will likely accomplish that feat again this season. In our opinion, the most important player to their team’s success in the league, and yes, that includes LeBron James.
We don’t think it’s a stretch to say we haven’t seen an offensive arsenal in the NBA on the level of James Harden since #24 was running around in Los Angeles. Put the ball in James Harden’s hands and you are getting a basket more times than not. Last season alone, the shooting guard led the league in three-point field goals, free throws, points per game, player efficiency rating, usage percentage, offensive win shares, total win shares, box plus/minus and was second only to LeBron James in value over replacement. Quite an impressive resume for a guy that ‘wasn’t required’ in OKC just a few seasons ago.
On offence, Harden is a beautiful blend of the creativity of Manu Ginobili, the destructive side to side explosiveness of Victor Oladipo, the touch around the rim of Kyrie Irving and the three-point prowess of Steph Curry. He can catch and shoot or shoot off the dribble and has criminally underrated athleticism. Oh and did someone say he was a bad defender and hurt his team on the other end of the floor? He was one of only four players to rank in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive win shares in the league last season.
Probably the only man that has a true claim to challenge the statement we made in the opening paragraph of the previous player on the list. Where Durant is probably just pipped by Harden, however, is his ability to create for teammates, but when you’re 7-feet tall, have a 7’3 wingspan and a member of the 50-40-90 club, getting teammates involved is hardly a necessity. While a few have come after him in the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons, we have never really seen a player like Durant before.
Durant averaged 20 points per game in his rookie season and since then has never dropped under 25 points per game in his subsequent 10 seasons in the NBA. He has averaged 27 points per game over his entire career and is on track to become the all time NBA leader in points scored. Since his move to Golden State, Durant has also become one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA. He is a fantastic stopper on the perimeter and was 5th in the league for total blocks last season. Not much this guy can’t do which is ridiculous considering he is 7-feet tall.
Standing atop the heap for at least another year is the juggernaut that is LeBron James. You know you’re inarguably the best player in the current day when the only comparison people ever seem to throw your way is the shadow of Michael Jordan, which seems impossible to catch regardless of how many amazing accomplishments the King racks up. It seems cruel that the greatness of LeBron James and his place in the NBA pantheon will ultimately be decided by how many rings he wears on his fingers, especially in an age of basketball where superstars would prefer to team up with each other than chase glory on their own team.
Granted, LeBron had to create super teams of his own to win the three rings that he currently possesses and is now 3-5 in the finals after last years loss to the Warriors. However, after racking up his eighth straight trip to the finals last season with a shell of the Cleveland team that claimed the title in 2016, there’s no doubt that if LeBron doesn’t already sit in the number one position in all-time greats, he can now do no worse than number two.
LeBron has cut his workload considerably in the last few years and will continue to play less of a roll on defence this year as he relies on the length and athleticism of Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma to defend the elite opposing forwards. He will also relish the chance to play with Rajon Rondo, who he has publicly been a massive fan of for years now. He might take more of a back seat in the regular season at Los Angeles, but one thing you can count on with LeBron is that when the playoffs start, he becomes a different beast and stamps himself as the best player in the world.
The small forward was 33 years old for the majority of the 2017-18 season and still led the league in total minutes played, field goals made, value over replacement, box plus/minus and total points. He was also top ten in the league in these categories.
- Player efficiency rating
- Assist percentage
- Usage percentage
- Offensive win shares
- Total win shares
- Offensive box plus/minus