There’s been a lot of top-whatever rankings of NBA players lately, I know. It can be hard to do these in a way that is different, but here’s how I go about ranking guys. It’s based on my own 2K-style ratings, which I have personally been using on and off for the last decade. I do not throw someone wherever it felt right to have them, I sorted them by said ratings, then filtered them by age, youngest first. My ratings are based less on stats — or at least counting stats — and more upon how useful and helpful I think a player is towards winning meaningful basketball games.
So while I don’t think, say, Danny Green is a better player than Devin Booker, the gap between them isn’t all that large, considering Green has been a major contributor to multiple title teams and has an extremely useful skillset. He’s just not a primary option. Booker is one of those, just not a particularly good one, or at least not good enough to carry a team by himself. The truly elite role players, like Robert Covington and the like, find themselves right with some of the lower-end stars, and some players who are considered stars by more mainstream outlets, I barely even have listed. Those are my basic criteria, but I did move a few players around after my initial list just based on what I felt was right.
Having said all of this, here are the top-100 basketball players in the NBA.
Tier 1: Generational Superstars
1. Steph Curry
#StephBetter. I think you could say any of these top-4 are the best player in the world and I wouldn’t really take any issue with it. But Steph is still the greatest shooter who has ever lived. He’s going into this season seemingly pretty healthy and with something to prove for the first time in three years. Also, the Warriors’ roster isn’t great and he’s gonna get to shoot 25 times a game. If Steph is ever going to win another MVP, it’ll probably be now.
2. James Harden
What’s great about this sort of list is that there’s no way it’ll make everyone happy. I wager all the Rockets fans who read this will be furious about Harden not being No. 1, and basically everyone else will be incensed at him being No. 2 because they don’t like how he plays basketball. The guy’s an all-time great scorer, a woefully under-appreciated passer, and probably better now on defense than his reputation. He’s going to continue to be an MVP candidate for as long as he can keep shouldering this amount of offensive responsibility, I think.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
He won MVP. He’s about to turn 25, and his team just had the best record in the NBA. The Bucks might decline slightly without Malcolm Brogdon this season, but Giannis will not be the reason why. The NBA has never seen a 7-footer with his movement skills, not even Wilt Chamberlain. Whether this is his true ceiling remains to be seen, but the likelihood is that whatever team Giannis is on will contend for a top playoff seed for the next decade. That’s what being a superstar means.
4. LeBron James
Perhaps ‘Bron has fallen off a bit. Last year was the first time it seemed like he actually felt pain or fatigue, but maybe the Lakers were just snakebitten. Maybe he’ll bust out even more this year and they’ll win the title. Maybe climate change will progress rapidly enough that we won’t see that. Either way, he’s still LeBron James.
Tier 2: All-NBA Superstars
5. Anthony Davis
Already one of the best under-30 bigs in NBA history, The Brow finally gets to play in the big market he coveted. The Lakers might have failed in getting that fabled third star, but that honestly might be better for Davis going forward. He’s the best big man LeBron has ever played with (all respect to Chris Bosh) and is just now entering his prime on the biggest team in the world with a wide open Western Conference. If he’s ever going to move up to the top tier, it’s right now.
6. Kawhi Leonard
This might seem a little low given how much Kawhi dominated the 2019 Playoffs, but his defense has slipped just enough for me to very slightly downgrade him to only the 6th-best player alive. Look at it this way: Is Kawhi going to win MVP? Is the presence of Kawhi alone enough to make a team into a contender? The Raptors were an established, entrenched playoff team before he got there. Kawhi is still Kawhi, arguably the best iso scorer in the world. He was the best player on the team that just won the title, and is moving to Los Angeles to form a new super team with Paul George and Doc Rivers. He’s a great, great player. I’m just looking for the slight degrees of separation that exist at the top.
7. Kevin Durant
While it’s not entirely out of the question that KD plays at some point this season, I’m adjusting his spot for what he’s likely going to be after recovering from Achilles surgery. I actually think it’ll hurt him less than it has other stars. Body weight has never been an issue for KD, and it’s not like his game has ever been predicated on pure vertical explosiveness. If he can retain some of the flexibility in his ankles and lower body that allowed him to raise up so fluidly, he should still be pretty good. He’s the best shooting 6’11 player in the history of the sport. Worst case, he’s still a high-level stretch 4.
8. Nikola Jokić
Is Jokić already the best passing big of all time? In NBA history, there have only been seven centers to record three or more seasons with at least 350 assists: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Sam Lacey, Alvan Adams, Wes Unseld, and Jokić. What makes Jokić really stand out is that only four of these seasons occurred before the age of 24, and he has three of them. It’s not hard at all to see him catching up to Wilt’s seven before too long, which is particularly interesting given the differences in pace. Anyway, Jokić is one of the best passers in our league as well as one of the best post scorers. Also, he’s not a bad defender. Sure, he’s not explosive vertically, but he’s very strong, and a high-level defensive rebounder.
9. Joel Embiid
Just the most dominant post scorer in the game today. A true prodigy. Remember when it seemed like he was never going to play? He’s hit 60 games the last two seasons, and has become arguably the best big man in the NBA because of it. Most of his missed games now are for rest, and while there’s no guarantee his knees and feet hold up into his late 20s, what he is now is one of the most shockingly agile seven footers in NBA history, an overpowering post scorer and perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
10. Damian Lillard
Imagine for a second how the basketball world would feel about Lillard if Steph Curry never existed. He’d be the most feared pull-up shooter alive, and perhaps ever. A completely dominant scorer and one of the most well-respected leaders in the league.