The new season is here, and before we get any deeper into it, we’re here to rank the league’s 10 best players.
And once we’re through, feel free to leave your own rankings/abuse in the comments (like I need to tell you to do that).
10. Damian Lillard
Lillard has rarely been labelled a defensive ace, but he’s as savage on the court as he is behind the mic.
The Thunder learnt that the hard way.
Expect Lillard to play with more fire than ever this year after eventually flaming out in the playoffs with 37 percent field goal shooting in a sweep at the hands of the Warriors.
9. Paul George
If you hacked into my computer and moved George up a spot, I might find it hard to complain too much (other than about the blatant security concerns).
While I couldn’t bring myself to rank PG any higher, he was absolutely exceptional last year and finished third in MVP voting.
George averaged career-highs across the board, putting up 28 points (second), 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals (first), and was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team.
8. Joel Embiid
The catch with Embiid, of course, has always been his health.
Since being drafted in 2014, he has played just 38 percent of all available regular season games (65 percent if you exclude the two lost years at the start of his career).
His talent, however, is off the charts.
Embiid finished last season fourth in points per game, second in rebounds, sixth in blocks, and second in free throws made.
He can turn the game on its head at either end of the floor.
And somehow, he has only been in the league for three years, with so much improvement still to come.
7. Nikola Jokic
Jokic’s passing wizardry is so absurdly good that it can unravel even the best defences in an instant.
Much like the psychics you see all over cable TV, Jokic sees things the rest of us cannot.
And unlike those psychics, Jokic is for real.
Last season the big man averaged a lazy 20 and 10 while also finishing the season in the top 10 for assist percentage.
Of course, a lot of what he does – and the genius nature of it – doesn’t even show up in the stat sheet.
6. Anthony Davis
Davis’ earth-shattering impact extends to both ends of the floor, and that helps him edge past Jokic in these rankings.
He is in the absolute prime of his life, has looked especially dangerous in the early going this year, and is clearly ready to unleash fresh hell on the rest of the league.
The main criticism of Davis so far is his lack of postseason success.
AD has made the playoffs just twice in seven years, losing in the first and second rounds respectively.
It’s not as though various combinations of Jrue Holiday, DeMarcus Cousins, Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic were bad company over the past couple of seasons.
If Giannis Antetokounmpo can take Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon to the first seed in the East, it’s fair to expect Davis to do more with what he had.
Now, he has his best chance yet to prove that he’s a winner.
5. Steph Curry
Curry is the only player in history whose shooting percentages seem almost unaffected by extreme volume and distance.
That should be a lethal combination for any shooter, and yet Curry gleefully drinks from the poison chalice without consequence.
Here’s a perfect example which really paints the picture: midway through last season, he was shooting almost 54 percent on his threes between 30 and 35 feet, despite the rest of the NBA making just 35 percent of threes overall (via Kirk Goldsberry).
That just shouldn’t be possible.
Curry is an offensive weapon unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and without much help currently surrounding him, expect him to reassume his MVP mentality and make a push up this list.
4. LeBron James
You may well be freaking out about LeBron’s ranking, but there is very little separating players one through four on this list.
One of Giannis/Kawhi/Harden/LeBron had to fall out of the top three and it just had to be the guy coming off the worst season of his otherwise spectacular career.
LeBron may well rise up these rankings with an emphatic bounce back season, but he’ll have to earn it.
These rankings aren’t about rewarding lifetime achievements, they represent what you’ve done lately and how good you are right now.
3. James Harden
Harden gets the nod over James primarily because he’s coming off his most spectacular season ever, as opposed to his worst.
Beard is in his prime, Bron is not… this isn’t as sacrilegious as Lakers fans might think.
Harden won MVP two years ago and only upped his game further last season.
As for why Harden isn’t ranked higher… well, he isn’t moving above Kawhi and Giannis until he at least plays half the defence they do.
It’s been said a million times, but defence (something LeBron completely let slide last season too) is half of the game.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
An outrageously gifted, almighty colossus of a man, Antetokounmpo is a real-life Monstar.
The Greek Freak went to yet another level last season, putting up career-highs in points (27.7), rebounds (12.5) and assists (5.9), while dominating at the other end of the court too.
All he has left to prove now (other than the ability to hit threes consistently) is that he can overcome the very best defences in the postseason, especially after the Raptors gave him plenty to think about in the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
1. Kawhi Leonard
No defender induces more terror than Leonard, a man who effortlessly ransacks the best offensive players in the business on a nightly basis.
No one is more cold-blooded in clutch situations, either.
Other than missing out on the joys of love, laughter and human connection, being an actual robot has worked out incredibly well for Leonard.
Antetokounmpo was the MVP of the regular season, but Leonard was the most dominant force when the postseason arrived.