When trying to analyse who is the best player in the NBA, it is like trying to split hairs; the players at the top are all elite in a variety of ways. Here is my definitive top 6 from 6th to 1st.
6. James Harden
During the regular season James Harden is nothing short of extraordinary. He is easily capable of averaging forty points a game for a month, but unfortunately equally capable of shooting 35% from the field for a month. His struggles in the playoffs highlight the unviability of his isolation-heavy playstyle in a 7-game series. One of the reasons Harden is so effective is because he plays in a different style to every other player in the league, therefore it is not out of the realms of possibility that over the course of a playoff series teams simply figure him out. The Beard’s ability to score the basketball can not be overstated, hence he certainly belongs in a list of the best players in the NBA. However, he does not quite compare to the five players that rank higher than him on this list.
5. Stephen Curry
For the last five seasons Steph has repeatedly led his team to the NBA Finals and won two MVPs. During those five seasons the NBA has undergone a 3-point-shooting revolution as teams try to keep pace with Curry and the Warriors. If building a team, Steph should be the first choice; his contribution to playstyle and team culture is second to none. He is an offence unto himself whilst also leading his teams to some of the highest offensive ratings in NBA history. When considering just how efficient Curry is, it’s impossible to ignore his 3-point shooting.
He is third all-time in three pointers made, whilst also being sixth all-time in 3-point percentage. The only reason Steph is not ranked higher is that his size and defensive limitations stop him from being a two-way player and affecting both facets of the game.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis is the only player in consideration for best player in the league with a very obvious place for improvement within his game. If The Greek Freak can develop a 3-point shot then there will be next to nothing that the league can do to stop him. At the current point in time, Antetokounmpo will have to make do with being the most physically dominant player in the NBA. His rim protection is definitely at elite status and his perimeter defence is better than any other ‘big man’. Giannis benefits from having a team built exclusively to maximise his strengths and mitigate his weaknesses, however this should not be held against him as it takes a truly special player to be able to make that team into a successful one. With his team sitting four and a half games ahead of second place in the Eastern Conference it’s fair to say that the team is indeed successful. His lack of playoff achievements hurt him when compared to those ranked higher in the league. The ability to lead a team to a championship, or at least play for the chance for a championship, is a fundamental factor in being the best player in the NBA. If this is the season Giannis wins a ring, expect every single list you see next season to have him number one.
3. Kevin Durant
As KD is injured I am doing this ranking as if he is fully fit, at the same level that we last saw him on a basketball court. In last season’s playoff, Kevin Durant averaged 34 points on 50/40/90 shooting splits. He is the only player in NBA history to achieve this. This is a trend for Durant; he is something that we may never see again in the NBA. It is as if someone made Larry Bird 7 feet tall and told him to shoot seven 3-pointers a game. Defensively KD has developed in his time in Oakland, opponents when guarded by him shot 5% lower than expected. Durant’s peak places him in the upper echelons of all-time great offensive players, and that peak was the last we’ve seen of him. If he comes back from injury as 95% of the player he was, it is not unfathomable that he remains inside the top 6 players in the NBA. A successful recovery from an achilles tear followed by further success on the court will cement KD’s legacy as an all-time great; he will have accomplished something that not even the late, great Kobe Bryant could.
2. LeBron James
If this was a comparison on the highest peaks of current NBA players’ careers, he would have booked his place at the top of this list by a comfortable margin. In his 17th NBA season, LBJ has led the Lakers to the best record in the Western conference, this kind of longevity has never been seen before, and may never be seen again. To say he remains the same offensive force he has always been is lazy. He has retained the same level of offensive influence whilst remodelling his game to place more emphasis on his second-to-none basketball IQ, as his athleticism has gradually declined. His ability to enter his ‘zero dark twenty-three’ mode come playoff time places him higher on the list – however we won’t talk about calling that in prematurely (see end of 2018-19 season). As a proven playoff performer, bank on him finding an extra gear for this season’s postseason. As he feels his prime ending, he can feel his fourth NBA championship within arms reach, and GOAT status just beyond that. This may be the most driven the greatest player of the decade has ever been, perhaps The King believes he still has a few more conquests left in him. It shows.
1. Kawhi Leonard
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown… unless you’re Kawhi Leonard. Often compared to the terminator, he is a cold faced killer on the court, completely precise and deliberate in all his actions. The Klaw is a top 5 defender of all time and top 8 offensive player in the league today. This combination makes for a player that is one of the most lethal in the NBA and the last player in the league that an opponent wants to match up with, especially come playoff time. The ability to reach another level, on both sides of the ball, when matched up with rival star players shows time and time again. The moment is never too big for Leonard, consistently he has shown that he can perform on the biggest stages basketball has to offer. Regularly compared to all-time greats such as MJ and Kobe Bryant; he is, in a league of ‘efficient shots’, the last of the great mid-range assassins. Off the back of a historically great playoff and finals performance, Kawhi Leonard has the crown of best player in the league until someone can take it from him.