General NBA

The Top 50 Players to Begin 2019-20

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Player hierarchies have been the source of great controversy in recent years. Whether it’s Stephen A’s incoherent ramblings or blog-boy outbursts on VORP and PER that would drop the jaw of a statistician, it seems as if no one can be pleased when these pieces hit the internet in early September.

There is no absolute solution to this public outcry, but there are certain steps we took to carefully and methodically navigate the waters of these rankings. For starters, an array of criteria were used in evaluating players for the upcoming season, with no singular, decisive benchmark taking precedent. Injuries played a sizable role–no player expected to miss the vast majority of next season will make the list (sorry KD). Each player was assessed in a vacuum, with past performance being the heaviest determining factor, though a degree of anticipation was used for certain younger players. Lastly, staff members’ individual rankings were averaged together in a composite ranking system to decrease personal biases, as you can see below.

We’re not here to deliver an empty promise of absolute objectivity, but we hope a comprehensive approach and transparency will lead to nuanced conversation. With all this said, The Lead Sports Media Staff is proud to present our Top 50 NBA Players for 2019-20.

Just Missed The Cut:

Myles Turner, Pacers

While many players have pulled out of Team USA, young players tend to see a huge spike after playing with them. Turner doesn’t have much higher to go, already in the running for Defensive Player of the Year last year. The Pacers will have a plethora of shooting and guard play around him so it may be time for the big man to make his first All-Star appearance.

Corey Rausch

Zach LaVine, Bulls

LaVine enters 2019-20 off the back of a career-high season.  An average of 23.7 points, 4.5 assists, and 4.7 rebounds unfortunately couldn’t help the injury-plagued Bulls past 22 wins.  LaVine’s main weakness remains his defense. Should he bring an improved defensive I.Q. into the new season, it could do wonders for bringing the Bulls back to respectability.

-Kyle Turner

Steven Adams, Thunder

After a somewhat disappointing postseason, Adams has been surfacing in trade rumors since OKC’s first-round exit in April, most recently being tied to the Spurs. Though his production in 2019 was almost identical to the season prior, Adam’s efficiency took a sizable hit, especially on the defensive end, where schemes have evolved to draw out slower bigs onto perimeter-residing guards.

-Logan Collien

Zion Williamson, Pelicans

The time draws near for the most anticipated prospect since LeBron James to make his debut.  New Orleans quickly surrounded Zion with the young talent from the A.D. trade, as well as solid vets in JJ Redick and Derrick Favors. And not to forget All-Star Jrue Holiday, Zion has an advantage over other #1 picks in recent years in that he is surrounded by a team ready to compete.  The Pels are giving him the ball, and great complementary pieces to run alongside. Now it’s time for Zion to prove the basketball world right.

-Kyle Turner

Montrezl Harrell, Clippers

Montrezl Harrell was traded to the Clippers two seasons ago as salary cap filler for Chris Paul. Since then, he has proven himself to be one of the best young bigs in the league. His high energy and aggressiveness on the boards have made him a nightmare matchup for any opposing team. After a wildly successful offseason for the Clippers, Harrell will get the chance to provide a major spark for a championship-contending roster.

Zach Zola

Eric Bledsoe, Bucks

Another disappointing postseason for Bledsoe is perhaps the only thing keeping him outside the top 50, as his efficiency on both sides of the ball in the regular season was nothing short of remarkable. At just 6’1”, Bledsoe finished second among guards in restricted area fg% at 68.4%, ahead of renowned paint finishers Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook. On top of his paint production, Bledsoe also offered elite perimeter defensive production, earning him 1st team All-Defense honors as well as a 4-year, $70 million contract extension. His Achilles heel remains a below league average 3 point shot, something that can prove costly in conglomeration with Giannis’ struggles from deep.

-Logan Collien

Lou Williams, Clippers

At this point, they may as well rename the Sixth Man of the Year Award after Lou Williams, taking home the trophy 3 out of the last 5 years. For much of that time, he could be considered the best player on his team as well. That will not be the case this year, but that could be in Williams’ best interest. He will be able to fit his bench role on this team seamlessly and truly shine come playoff time.

Corey Rausch

Kevin Love, Cavaliers

Kevin Love didn’t quite crack our top 50. A lot of that has to do with his injury problems over the last couple of years. He hasn’t cracked 70 games played since the 2015-16 season. Coupled with the fact the Cavaliers have left a lot to be desired on the court even with Love healthy, we see him earning an honorable mention ranking.  However, when healthy we all know he is one of the best rebounders and scorers in the league. Hopefully, Love will be able to stay on the floor this upcoming season and carve out a place well into the top 50 next year.

Dylan Kelly

Kyle Kuzma, Lakers

Donovan Mitchell had these words to say about Kuzma in Team USA’s preparation for the World Cup: “He’s picked it up on the defensive end. Everybody knows what he can do on the offensive end but defensively, he’s taken it to another level.” If these words ring true once the regular season rolls around, Kuz could greatly outperform this honorable mention placement. We all know Kuzma can score the basketball, but can he punish defenses from behind the arc? 3&D is the formula the Lakers were missing last season, and the formula necessary to elevate Kuz’s game to the next level.

-Logan Collien

Josh Richardson, Sixers

Casual fans may not be familiar with Richardson, as Miami has not garnered much attention in recent years. But make no mistake, the crown jewel of the Butler trade will pay huge dividends for his new team. He is another plus defender on an already impressive defensive unit. He posted averages of 17 points, 4 boards and 4 assists last year on shooting splits of 41/36/86. He will not be the featured player on his new team, but he will open a lot of eyes on one of the east’s premier rosters.

Corey Rausch

50: Lauri Markkanen, Bulls

Kicking off the top 50, we have Lauri Markkanen of the Chicago Bulls.  Lauri started his second pro year on the bench because of an early elbow injury but finished it strong averaging 18.7 points and 9 rebounds while shooting 36% from beyond the arc. Creating a dynamic scoring duo next to Zach LaVine, Markkanen saw huge success in the Bulls’ best month of February, averaging 26 points and 12 boards while at times looking like the best player on the court.  A 20-10 average in the 2020 season is not out of the realm of possibility for Finnisher. 

Kyle Turner

49: John Collins, Hawks

While rookie sensation Trae Young got the headlines last year –he was not the only promising young player in a Hawks uniform. In just his second year, John Collins was ready to make his presence felt, posting averages of nearly 20 and 10 and solidifying his role as the second option for a quickly improving offense. The front office is clearly ready to build around their young core with two more top 10 picks this year in DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish. More spacing around Collins will allow him to be even more prolific in the pick-and-roll and potentially earn an All-Star nod.

Corey Rausch

48:  Danilo Gallinari, Thunder

Gallinari exploded in a featured scoring role on the Los Angeles Clippers last season, averaging a career-high 19.8 points per contest while shooting at a blistering 43 percent clip from three-point range. The 31-year-old wing has struggled with injuries throughout his career, but 2018-19 saw a largely healthy Gallinari shred opposing defenses. He also rebounded well for his position (6.1 per game).

Gallinari was included in the blockbuster trade for Paul George, but he’s remained an afterthought in a chaotic offseason. However, Gallo should become the top scoring option in Oklahoma City. If he can continue getting buckets with remarkable efficiency, Gallinari could bolster a Thunder team that may not be far removed from the playoff hunt.

 Ethan Fuller

47: Buddy Hield, Kings

Hield spent his 2018-19 campaign ascending into the elite tier of volume three-point shooters. Only three players in NBA history have taken 650+ threes in a season and made 42% or more of those shots: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and yes– Buddy Hield. After taking a while to get comfortable at the NBA level, it appears Hield is here to stay as a vital piece of an electric young core.

-Logan Collien

46: Julius Randle, Knicks

Julius Randle is coming off a breakout year for the Pelicans, in which he averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. His play earned him a lofty new contract with the  Knicks, where Randle will be the clear cut number one option. Merging high-motor bully ball with an improving outside game, Randle has manufactured one of the most efficient offensive games in the league. He will look to improve on his breakout year and possibly earn his first all-star appearance in a less competitive eastern conference.

-Dylan Kelly

45: Trae Young, Hawks

Labeled a bust before he could even get his feet under him on an NBA court, Ice Trae garnered support from Atlanta rappers in absence of media respect. That was until he went on one of the more impressive rookie PG runs in recent history. In his last 20 contests, Trae Young put up 24 points and 9.3 assists while drastically improving his shooting efficiency from pre-All-Star break figures. Spearheading an impressive young core of John Collins, Kevin Huerter, DeAndre Hunter, and Cam Reddish, Trae has a chance to make a playoff push with Atlanta. The extent of his success will heavily be tied to his three-point shot transitioning from simply a tool to a weapon of mass destruction.

-Logan Collien

44: Jayson Tatum, Celtics

Jayson Tatum came into last season with some lofty expectations, after his run in the playoffs the previous season. It’s safe to say that he didn’t quite live up to them. But to be fair to him, the Celtics had a lot of problems last year. This season he comes in as the clear second option behind newcomer Kemba Walker. A lot of the team is different from last year, but the Celtics still have expectations to win next season. And with those expectations comes the presumption that Tatum takes that leap to near All-Star status. He has the ability, and the Celtics success will largely hinge on whether or not Tatum takes the leap.

-Dylan Kelly

43: Andre Drummond, Pistons

It’s easy to fall into the trap of dismissing traditional centers in today’s NBA, but never write off Drummond. While he failed to make the All-Star game last year, he put the team on his back while Blake Griffin struggled with health in the latter part of the season. He had eight 20-20 games last year. He led the league in rebounding again at nearly 16 per game while also averaging a career-high 17.3 points per game. 

If this was not enough to get you excited, he has also made it evident that this will be a contract year for him. Drummond has hinted strongly that he will be opting out of his player option at the end of the season to test the open market. Motivation will likely show up in the numbers and could lead to a return to the All-Star Game and the playoffs.

Corey Rausch

42: Kyle Lowry, Raptors 

Kyle Lowry can say something that only two other players on this list can say: he’s a defending NBA Champion. For the people that keep waiting for Lowry to decline significantly, he’s yet to do so. At age 33, Lowry is one of the savviest, smartest players in the league. Taking charge and taking charges, he is one of the most unique players in the association given his diminutive size and bulky stature. Without Kawhi Leonard, one could expect Lowry’s point total to increase the from the 14.2 a game he had it at last year. With a few more years in peak shape, Kyle Lowry could make a case for his name in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Matthew Winick

41: Kristaps Porzingis, Mavericks 

The last time we saw Kristaps Porzingis on the court he was working his way to All-star considerations. Now, in what will be more than a 20-month hiatus, he’ll return with a new physique and a hunger to prove himself. Like most players coming off injury there will be a learning curve as he gets acclimated to the game but with his combination of touch, size, and an elite running mate it could be easier than what we saw for other players in recent history. Porzingis is going to be in a much different role than what he was in New York. He’ll flourish as a second option behind a willing passer that has an enormous amount of gravity. Even if he gets to 75%, don’t be surprised if Dallas makes a late-season playoff push.

Allen Pettigrew

40: Jamal Murray, Nuggets 

Jamal Murray continues to improve every year he’s in the league, and last year was no exception, averaging 18.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. The success didn’t stop in the postseason, wherein his first playoff appearance, he upped his point total to 21.3 a game. He has carved out his place as the number two option behind Nikola Jokic on the Nuggets. If these past playoffs were any indication, we haven’t even seen the best version of Murray yet. This upcoming season it is entirely possible that Murray takes another leap forward, leaking into 20 PPG/ All-Star territory.

Dylan Kelly

39: De’Aaron Fox, Kings

De’Aaron took the reigns of the Kings franchise and dropped 17.3 points, 7.3 assists and grabbed nearly 4 boards a game in his second season.  His 3-point percentage rose from 30% to 37%, and he stole the ball 1.6 times a game. A steadily improving shooter, a better-than-expected defender, and quite possibly the quickest player in the league, D-Fox is quickly ascending up the list of rising stars in the NBA. In 2019-2020 he looks to cement his name amongst the cream of the crop of point guards; and with Buddy, Bogi and Bagley next to him, aims to finally bring Sacramento back to playoff contention.

Kyle Turner

38: Clint Capela, Rockets

Once a lanky backup with limited offensive skills, Clint Capela has really come into his own as the starting center for the Houston Rockets. Anchoring the Rockets’ defense while averaging 1.5 blocks per game, Capela never shies away from any of the league’s premier big men. On offense, he and James Harden have developed a lethal pick and roll, often leaving defenses scrambling to find him as he slips into the post. With new teammate – and triple-double machine – Russell Westbrook in town, Capela will have even more opportunities to thrive this coming season.

Zach Zola

37: Chris Paul, Thunder

Chris Paul’s offensive decline was noticeable last season. The veteran posted a career-low 15.6 points per game with the lowest True Shooting Percentage (.560) since his sophomore season. But the point guard’s defense still suffocates; his 2.0 steals per game and 3.0 steal percentage both ranked in the top three across the NBA. 

Now on the Thunder after Houston swapped him for Russell Westbrook, Paul can take more control of the offense as the primary point guard. At 34, his durability concerns will only grow, but a healthy Paul is still a high-end player. He’ll facilitate for Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Steven Adams — if he doesn’t get moved again.

Ethan Fuller

36: Mike Conley, Jazz

For the first time in his career, Conley has a chance to play with a dynamic offensive player next to him in Donovan Mitchell. While Conley has been on teams that have made playoff runs, this could be the most talented team he has ever played on. Bringing expert playmaking and solid scoring touch will change things in Utah. He is a calming veteran presence and still a solid defender. Utah always felt a point guard away, and adding a perennial fringe All-Star could be just what the doctor ordered for this Jazz team.

Corey Rausch

35: Al Horford, Sixers

Al Horford has been the anchor of an elite defense since going to Boston and now could be joining a better one in Philadelphia. Big Al should be a problem for any power forward to deal with, now that he is returning to the position that he played in college.  His numbers will never jump off the scorecard at you, but his leadership and intangibles will prove invaluable for a team looking to make a push for a title. Boston will feel his loss immediately. By the end of the deal, the Sixers may not like the contract so much, but for now, he could be the player to push them over the top in the East.

Corey Rausch

34: Tobias Harris, Sixers

When he joined the Philadelphia 76ers as their 4th weapon, Tobias performed more than admirable, putting up 18 and 8 a night, though his averages dipped slightly in the playoffs.  With the departure of Jimmy Butler, and Philly throwing him the bag, Harris is in now in an even larger role now as the 3rd star next to Philadelphia’s two-headed monster. Harris is more than good enough in all facets of the game to cover the tracks of a lackluster Embiid or Simmons performance, while still being able to deliver meaningful numbers.  The next stage of the process depends on how well Harris, along with newcomers Al Horford and Josh Richardson, mesh with Simmons and Embiid.

-Kyle Turner

33: Khris Middleton, Bucks 

Khris Middleton is coming off his best year to date, both personally and with team success. He saw himself make his first All-Star appearance and helped the Bucks reach the Eastern Conference Finals. This all led to him getting a hefty max contract from the Bucks this offseason. Fans had mixed feelings on the deal, but it will up to him to continue to get better and solidify himself as the number two option on one of the best teams in the association.

-Dylan Kelly

32: Nikola Vucevic, Magic 

Fresh off his first All-Star and playoff appearance, things are looking up for Vucevic. He returned to the Magic on a long-term extension and looks to build on last season’s success. This will be tough to follow as he posted career highs in points (20.8) and rebounds (12). Either way, most analysts are high on the Magic this season and Vucevic has proven able to put this team on his back. Further improvement could lead to another celebratory season in Orlando.

Corey Rausch

31: D’Angelo Russell, Warriors

What a difference a year makes for a young player. Going into last season Russell had shown flashes of realizing his potential with the Nets. Prior to a major injury, he did not look to even be an All-Star on the Nets. Then LeVert went down and he exploded. Russell made his first appearance in the mid-season showcase and helped bring his team back to the postseason. Now he is on the Warriors, helping keep the team a consistent threat alongside Curry, Green and a lot of change. He will be in a different role being surrounded by this level of talent but he has shown an ability to adapt. Learning from Coach Kerr should help him further develop. 

He may not be in the Dub’s long term plans, but that may not be so bad either.  DLo has shown that he can take over in the right situation–opportunity is all he needs.

Corey Rausch

30: CJ McCollum, Trail Blazers 

For years people have wondered if the backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum can succeed together.  If the 2018-19 season proved anything, it’s that the duo can take Portland further than many thought. CJ averaged 21 points on 46% shooting and 37% from 3; that bumped to 24.7 points, 44% from the field, and 39% from 3 in the playoffs. 

In said playoffs, McCollum stepped up whenever Lillard’s play lacked.  Particularly in the series against Denver where he almost single-handedly won game 7.  Though Portland would be swept in the conference finals, the Blazers believed that keeping CJ and Dame together long term would be beneficial for them.  With both players signing extensions, and the NBA currently being consumed by dynamic duos, Portland’s pairing is about to be tested. Expect to see a lot of CJ McCollum in prime-time.

-Kyle Turner

29: Devin Booker, Suns 

Devin Booker may have made headlines this summer for his questionable offseason practice style, but he will come into this season hoping to cement his status as one of the best young players in the league. Booker, entering his fifth season as the face of the Phoenix Suns, has increased his points per game average every year. Last season, he was 6th in the league at 26.6 points per game. With a deadly midrange shot and underrated abilities as a playmaker, Booker has the chance to lift the Suns out from their perennial home at the bottom of the standings.

Zach Zola

28: Pascal Siakam, Raptors 

At number 28, we have the new number one option for the reigning champions. Siakam had far and away his best year this past season for the Toronto Raptors–so much so that it earned him the 2018-19 Most Improved Player Award. Siakam averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists for the champs while playing an instrumental role on defense. With Kawhi Leonard taking his talents to LA, Siakam will be leaned on even more this upcoming season. It will be fun to watch whether or not he up to the challenge of being the number one option on a contending team.

Dylan Kelly

27: Jrue Holiday, Pelicans 

At 27 we have one of the best two-way players in the league. This past season saw Jrue Holiday put up a stat line of 21.2 points, 5 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. Along with his impressive stat line was elite-level defensive play. This past season for the Pelicans was a disaster with injuries and the Anthony Davis drama. Holiday will look to turn things around being the resident veteran and leader for a team with many new faces, and hopefully make a run at a playoff berth.

Dylan Kelly

26: DeMar DeRozan, Spurs

It was a tough year for the former All-NBA guard. While he still got to the playoffs with his new team, individually he took a step back. He missed the All-Star game for the first time in 4 years and had his lowest output of the same stretch. That being said, he is still widely considered a top tier shooting guard and will look to bounce back on a young Spurs team. His name has been thrown around in trade rumors and if he lands on the right team he could return to his previous heights.

Corey Rausch

25: LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs

Another Spur up next: LaMarcus Aldridge.  His midrange game is still as money as it’s ever been.  In 81 games last season Aldridge 21.3 points and 9.2 rebounds on 52% shooting, while also being named to his 7th All-Star game.  While the Spurs look to extend their playoff streak to 23 straight seasons, the West is as tough as it’s been in years. That playoff streak is not guaranteed; however, if Aldridge continues this level of play into his 14th year they will have a great chance.

Kyle Turner

24: Luka Doncic, Mavericks 

The pudgy European prodigy with a Supercuts haircut made the transition from overseas look so seamless that it could fundamentally change how front offices value international prospects. Doncic had perhaps the most productive rookie season of this millennia, with per-game averages of 21.7 pts, 7.8 rebounds, and 6 assists. With a historically high-level playmaking ability at 19 and the addition of Porzingis to the Mark Cuban Euro-Ball Extravaganza roster, the biggest question surrounding Luka remains: How much better can he get?

-Logan Collien

23: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz

Mitchell and the Jazz once again ran into some problems in the playoffs this past year. Mitchell did his best to carry the team, being the usual two-way force he is. But ultimately he just couldn’t handle the entire offensive burden on his back. This season Mitchell has new teammates in Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic who should tremendously help Mitchell come playoff time. With the new additions, Mitchell could have a breakout this season with the floor spacing that this newfound shooting will provide. Mitchell is one of the best young stars in the league and can take a huge leap this upcoming year when defenses are forced to pick their poison.

Dylan Kelly

22: Draymond Green, Warriors

Last season was a tale of two halves for Green. The first half was sluggish and had people questioning if he had left his prime. It also involved a dustup with now former teammate Kevin Durant. Then Green got in shape and went on a year. He was a driving force for the team making their fifth straight NBA final. 

If they want to see anything close to that level of success again Draymond will have to bring it that way all year, and it should be expected. He stressed how negatively he felt about the sluggish start. And the team will be without Klay for most of the season. Throw in the loss of Cousins, Durant, and Iguodala, and it is imperative that Green plays a bigger role in the offense around Curry and Russell. Coming off a fresh contract extension, we could see the best year of Green’s career.

Corey Rausch

21: Victor Oladipo, Pacers

A devastating quad injury ended Oladipo’s chances to build on his Most Improved Player award. Through 36 games, the Pacers’ star had led the team to the third seed in the East, albeit on declining efficiency (42% FG, 34% 3PT). Oladipo’s defense at shooting guard is top-level, though his injury may threaten the 27-year-old’s athleticism.

Over the summer, Indiana revamped their supporting cast, trading out Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collision for Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, and T.J. Warren. Now Oladipo is surrounded by complementary scorers, meaning he’ll face less tough matchups on defense. As long as he’s fully healthy, Oladipo could easily jump up this board as a dynamic two-way threat.

Ethan Fuller

20: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

The 2-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year needs very little introduction. Gobert has consistently made his presence known on one of the league’s stingiest units. While the postseason has been a different story so far, that should change this year with the infusion of talent on this roster. The former All-Star still posted impressive stats last season, averaging 16 points and 12 boards alongside his stellar defense. More casual fans are going to get a lot more familiar with the French star as the Jazz charge to the top of the standings this year.

Corey Rausch

19: Ben Simmons, Sixers 

Ben Simmons has already become one of the most polarizing players in the league. His natural skill and aggressiveness make him a dominant force on both sides of the ball, but his lack of (or nonexistent) shooting ability has limited his ceiling up to this point. In the playoffs, we have seen defenses play off him, thereby neutralizing his size advantage and ruining the 76ers’ spacing entirely. There is no denying that Simmons is one of the most talented players in the NBA; however, it will take the addition of at least a mid-range shot to his game in order for him to be considered among the league’s very best.

Zach Zola

18: Bradley Beal, Wizards

With John Wall sidelined this season, Beal will be the lone star in the nation’s capital. Last season he averaged a career-high 25.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. He should be in line for another career season without the same help he had last year. He will be leading a somewhat young Washington Wizards roster along with veteran Isaiah Thomas –who appears to a shell of his former self. Entering his eighth season, Beal is a top three shooting guard in the conference and should make his third All-Star game.

-Lucas Johnson

17: Jimmy Butler, Heat

Jimmy Butler wanted his own team and now he has it. While last season was a rollercoaster for the former All-Star, he showed in the playoffs just how elite he can be. In Miami, he will be surrounded by a culture he truly believes in, even if the talent is not on the same level. If he is able to produce at the same rate he did in Philadelphia, he will likely be back in the All-Star game and have his team contending for the playoffs. When motivated he can still be an elite two-way player.

Corey Rausch

16: Kemba Walker, Celtics

For the first time in his career, Kemba Walker isn’t going to have the bare the brunt of a franchise’s weight on his own. Being surrounded by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Gordon Hayward will take a lot of the pressure off of Kemba in his first season with the Celtics. With other scoring options around him, the 3-time All-Star is going to have a lot more room to work and maybe even improve upon some of his best seasons yet. We’ve also seen that Kemba is a proven leader, and with a solid core behind him he could do what Kyrie failed to do. He could take the Celtics to the NBA Finals.

-Lucas Johnson

15: Blake Griffin, Pistons 

Seeing Blake go from a brute who beats people inside and dunks on them to a brute who beats people inside and pulls up from 3 has been tantalizing to say the least.  He averaged a career-high in points with 24.5 and shot 36% from beyond the arc. He was also healthy for the first time in a long time, playing 75 games for Detroit. Blake’s reinvention earned himself All-Star honors for the first time since 2015 and he has shown that he is still a force to be reckoned with. 

-Kyle Turner

14: Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson had a hell of an NBA Finals. He strained his hamstring in game 2, missed his first career playoff game in game 3 and was having another one of his instant classic performances in game 6 when he then tore his ACL. The Warriors rewarded Klay’s grit and years of service to the team with a 5-year, $190 million maximum contract this offseason.  

Now on the road to recovery, Klay isn’t expected back until mid-season at the earliest. While they wait for that, the Warriors brought in young star D’Angelo Russell to play the 2 spot.  When Klay does get back, whether he returns to the 2 because of a D-Lo trade, or instead moves to the 3, he’ll need time to get his legs under him and readjust to the speed of the game.  However, he does have one weapon that many players do not have: the best (or 2nd best) jump shot in the league.

-Kyle Turner

13: Karl Anthony-Towns

Coming off his second All-Star appearance last season, Karl-Anthony Towns will have a tough task of bringing this young Minnesota Timberwolves into playoff contention. During his fourth year last season, Towns averaged 24.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks. There’s no doubt that Towns is one of the best offensive centers in the NBA, but after averaging a career-high 3.8 fouls last year, he needs to prove he can be a positive on defense. If he can improve on the defensive end, the rest of the T-Wolves should follow suit, making Minnesota respectable this season.

Lucas Johnson

12: Russell Westbrook, Rockets

This past season saw Westbrook again put up great numbers, averaging a triple-double for the third consecutive year. But he once again saw himself get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. This, coupled with the Paul George trade request, saw the Thunder hit the rebuild button and ship Westbrook to the Houston Rockets to play with his old friend James Harden. This is the best roster he’s played on since the Kevin Durant days. With a teammate like Harden– and a Mike D’Antoni system could complement his skillset–Westbrook has no excuse to not win this season. Can Russ take on a more complementary role that is less concerned with the box score? Can he avoid shooting splits that make advanced-star gurus cringe? We all know Westbrook is one of the point guards in the league, his only question mark is if that play can translate into a championship.

Dylan Kelly

11: Kyrie Irving, Nets

At this point, concerns around Kyrie Irving center on his off-court attitude. Last year, stories, quotes and body language combined to create a storm around Irving and his leadership abilities, which ultimately doomed the Celtics. On the court, Kyrie was as good as ever, putting up nearly 24 points and seven assists per game on fantastic shooting numbers while quietly improving as a defender. He crumbled in the playoffs against Milwaukee. However, Irving has otherwise been a phenomenal clutch performer throughout last year and his career.

The 27-year-old gets a fresh start this season with the Brooklyn Nets. As a point guard entering his prime on a deep squad, Irving should expectedly dominate this season. However, his energy as a teammate will determine Brooklyn’s ceiling.

Ethan Fuller

10: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers 

The best rapper in the NBA secured the bag this offseason by getting a 4-year deal worth $196 million. The 4-time All-Star is entering his 8th season in the NBA, all of which have been with the Trail Blazers. Coming off of a Western Conference Finals defeat, the Blazers brought in Hassan Whiteside in the hopes that another threat down low will help Dame get space to work. As we see Dame enter into his prime, we can expect to see him cement his status as a top tier guard and bona fide superstar.

Luke Johnson

9: Paul George, Clippers

Entering his 10th year in the league, PG13 is coming off what is undoubtedly his best professional season. Averaging 28 points, 8 boards and 4 assists, along with a league-leading 2.2 steals a game, George finished 3rd in the MVP race.  Prior to this, he had never finished higher than 9th. After a Damian Lillard series-winning 3-ball and a trade request that ignited the OKC Thunder rebuild, George is now a member of the Los Angeles Clippers where he teams up with fellow Californian Kawhi Leonard to form an elite two-way duo on the wings. Whether he’ll be asked to be offensive option A or B on a given night, PG13 is at the height of his powers and for the first time in years, looks to be in genuine championship contention.

-Kyle Turner

8: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Denver’s Serbian superstar continues to thrive with one of the strangest player archetypes in basketball. Jokic managed career highs in points (20.1), rebounds (10.8), and assists per game (7.3) last season as the Nuggets morphed into playoff contenders. His three-point percentage dropped nearly nine percentage points, but Jokic is still a threat from beyond the arc. 

The Nuggets enter 2019-20 as a similar team, which should bode well for chemistry. Jamal Murray will keep improving, Jerami Grant enters as a switchable 3&D wing, and Michael Porter Jr. is hopefully a scoring mismatch. But the offense still runs through one of the best passing bigs in league history. If Jokic can shoot more consistently and defend at a higher level, he could move from hipster MVP selection to true contender.

-Ethan Fuller

7: Joel Embiid, Sixers

Joel Embiid had the best view of the now-legendary Kawhi Leonard series-winning jump-shot; coming oh-so-close to the conference finals and then losing it the way he did visibly shook the 7-footer. However, since then, the Eastern Conference has changed dramatically, Embiid finds himself again near the top of the mountain. Though he is coming off a dominant 27.5 ppg and 13.6 rpg, Embiid’s health remains an x-factor in Philadelphia’s future. The big man played 64 games last season and missed 1 playoff game. His health has improved but will remain a question mark until he can consistently stay on the floor.  

Having that said, Embiid’s potential is as high as anybody in the NBA.  As his rival in Milwaukee just earned an MVP, Joel Embiid looks to take his own next step into that rarified air.  And now being surrounded by Simmons, Al Horford, Tobias Harris, and Josh Richardson, The Process is ready to go for it all.

-Kyle Turner

6: Anthony Davis

For the first time in his professional career, Anthony Davis is facing legitimate pressure. While he has long been considered a top-5ish player, the demand for success in New Orleans was pretty low. The Lakers fan base is a whole new level–and for good reason. LeBron has never been paired with a big as talented as Davis, and AD has never played with a generational superstar. As far as dynamic duos go, this coupling is only rivaled by the likes of Kobe-Shaq and Jordan-Pippen. Of course, generational talent doesn’t always translate to dynastic success, as we saw with the Nash-Dwight-Kobe experiment earlier this decade.

If he is able to imitate his recent production, All-NBA first team and a Western Conference Finals appearance are realistic expectations. The Brow has never been past the second round. Together with LeBron, that looks to change.

-Corey Rausch

5: James Harden, Rockets

Starting off our top 5 is Houston Rockets guard and former MVP James Harden. Last season, Harden averaged an unprecedented 36.1 points per game, single-handedly leading the Rockets into the playoff picture. One area of the game that Harden doesn’t receive nearly enough credit for is his defense. Despite struggles early in his career, Harden has established himself not only as a hard worker on the perimeter, but an elite post defender as well. With his good friend Russell Westbrook now in town, Harden will likely have even more space to operate on offense. If he can find a way to limit his turnovers and keep the ball moving efficiently, the Rockets could develop unprecedented offensive firepower.

-Zach Zola

4: Steph Curry, Warriors 

As one of the most influential players in league history, it should be no surprise that Steph Curry cracked our top 5. In the last decade, he has been barraging the Association with an onslaught of three-pointers like we have never seen before. As of right now, he sits just 490 career 3s behind Ray Allen for the all-time record, so (health permitting) Steph should hold that record within the next two years. While in the first half of his career was like watching a metastable superstar, we are now witnessing a polished assassin that picks his spots. With KD gone and more space to operate, we could look at back on this list with remorse for having the lethal sniper at 4.

Luke Johnson

3: LeBron James, Lakers

The greatest player of his generation, and possibly of all time, is still looking to make his mark in LA. Aiding in revamping the roster is a good first step. The team is loaded with veterans, which should help if James misses games again with injury. While he will not be displaying his dominance on a nightly basis during the regular season, he knows better than most that the playoffs are where legacies are created. With the addition of Anthony Davis, it appears “playoff mode activation” won’t be a hyperbolic statement this time around.

Corey Rausch

2: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks 

The reigning MVP didn’t quite crack the number one spot in our rankings. However, coming in at only 24 years of age and already being considered a top 3 player is a phenomenal feat. This past season saw him put up a stat line of 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.5 blocks to go along with DPOY level defense. These numbers are all very good, but Giannis ultimately fell short of his main goal: winning an NBA championship. This upcoming season Giannis and a revamped squad will look to take the Bucks to the finals for the first time since the ’70s.

Dylan Kelly

1: Kawhi Leonard

Game. Series. Toronto has won. Mr. June, Kawhi Leonard himself has reached number one in our rankings. The reigning NBA Finals MVP took his career-year in the regular season and built on it during the playoffs. Besides gaining a cult-like following in the North, Leonard put his name up with some of the greatest playoff performers of all time. With a constantly improving offensive repertoire, along with unbelievable defensive instincts, Leonard is a one of a kind talent. With his move to his home state, sunny California, one can expect more of the same. Despite a likely lesser offensive role due to sharing the floor with other elite scorers such as Paul George and Lou Williams, Kawhi will surely turn it up when playoff season arrives. It’s safe to say that the NBA runs through the Clippers this season, and that is heavily due to our number one ranked player: Kawhi Leonard (or Boardman or The Klaw if you prefer).

Matthew Winick

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About Logan Collien

From Madison, WI Twitter: @lcollien

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