While there’s no arguing that icons like Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Shaquille O’Neal are some of the greatest basketball players of all time, ranking the best NBA players in the game right now can be a more difficult debate. But we’re willing to take up the task.
By analyzing stats, playoff prowess and, in some cases, simply the intimidating reputations and intangibles that some players possess, we’ve come up with a ranking of the absolute cream of the crop in the NBA as of the start of late 2019. We’ve ranked them in order of greatness. Did your favorite baller make the cut?
25. Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)
The Suns haven’t been doing much winning over the past few seasons but they’ve got a couple of the most exciting young players in the NBA with DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker. We gave Booker the nod on this list because he’s been so consistently good since 2017. In the span since that season started, Booker has averaged 25.7 points and 5.9 assists per game. In 2018, his scoring average jumped to a career-best 26.6, which ranked him seventh in the league in that category at the end of the year.
24. Clint Capela (Houston Rockets)
The first of three Rockets players on the list, Clint Capela has been playing extremely well over the past few seasons, despite never once making the All-Star team yet. It’s easy to get overshadowed when you play alongside guys like Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Chris Paul but Capela is undoubtedly one of the game’s most consistent centers. In 2018, he was fifth in the league with 12.7 rebounds per game and he paired that with a scoring line of nearly 17 points per game. The “Swiss Bank” just keeps getting more dependable.
23. Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Like Clint Capela, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has never made the All-Star team, a fact that actually brought him to tears after missing it again last season. Despite the snubs, Gobert has been nothing short of wonderful in the front court for several seasons. He’s averaged a double double of 14.7 points and 12.2 rebounds per game since the 2017 season and he finished the 2018-19 season with the second most double doubles in the league. The Frenchman is a master of shot selection, leading the NBA in shooting percentage last season by draining 66.9% of his shots.
22. LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs)
Replacing Tim Duncan as the big man in San Antonio was no easy task but LaMarcus Aldridge has proven to be up to the challenge so far. The veteran, seven-time All-Star pick is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career in 2018-19, when he gave the Spurs 21.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per outing. That scoring average ranked him 20th in the league and was actually a slight dip from the 21.8 points per game he’s averaged in the span since the 2017-18 season.
21. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
One of the fastest-rising stars in the Eastern Conference is 76ers point guard Ben Simmons. Now two years removed from his Rookie-of-the-Year season, Simmons was even better as a sophomore, averaging nearly 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists per game in 2018-19, making his first All-Star Game appearance. He’s one of the few players in the NBA who can truly play every position well and he showed his versatility by being one of only three men in the league to record at least 10 triple doubles last season.
20. Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
While a lot of guys on this list are finding creative new ways to miss games, Bradley Beal doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the phrase “load management.” In fact, last season he not only played in all 82 games for the Wizards, he also led the league in minutes per game, playing 36.9 minutes a night. Being a workhorse is great but Beal makes those minutes count by averaging a line of about 25 points, five rebounds and five assists per game since the 2017-18 season. Last year, he earned his second consecutive All-Star team selection.
19. Nikola Vučević (Orlando Magic)
The Magic don’t get much national coverage but people who paid attention to them last season saw Nikola Vučević announce himself as one of the most dangerous players in the league. He’s been putting up good numbers since 2011 but in 2018-19 he averaged 20.8 points and 12 rebounds per game, the latter of which was the league’s eighth-best mark. He also finished the season as the seventh-best player in terms of player efficiency rating, if you like advanced stats.
18. Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)
Now in his ninth season, Kemba Walker is finally leading a contender in Boston instead of wasting his one-man show in Charlotte. His offensive stats have been nothing short of incredible over the past few seasons, making him an All-Star three consecutive times running. Last season, he played in all 82 games and finished with the league’s 10th-best scoring average, chipping in 25.6 points per game, which was a career high. Now, we should finally get to see what he can do in the playoffs, where he hasn’t been since 2016.
17. Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
Nobody controls the boards right now better than Andre Drummond, who led the NBA in total rebounds per game last season, averaging 15.6 of them. That dominance includes giving his Pistons teammates more second chances than any other player, as he also led the league in offensive rebounds per game, averaging 5.4 of them every night. He’s also a reliable 16-point scorer every night, making him a double double magnet. In fact, he led the NBA in double doubles last season, earning one in 69 of his 79 games played.
16. Blake Griffin (Detroit Pistons)
While Andre Drummond cleans the glass, his Pistons teammate, Blake Griffin, is there to make sure it results in points. He’s been a stud since joining the NBA in 2010 but he had a career year last season. The 24.5 points he averaged per game were the most of his tenure and ranked him 12th in the league. Of course, Griffin is also a reliable facilitator, averaging 8.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for his career so far. Now, if he can just escape the first round of the playoffs …
15. Luka Dončić (Dallas Mavericks)
The youngest player to crack the list, Slovenian sharpshooter Luka Dončić has quickly proven himself to be one of the game’s rising stars. In his second season — and at the age of 20 — Dončić is putting up more than 30 points, 10 rebounds and nearly 10 assists per game through roughly the first quarter of the 2019-20 season. For his career, he’s averaging more than 22 points and eight rebounds per game, taking full advantage of many great Western Conference foes. We can only see him climbing this list as the years continue.
14. Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers)
He may not have the league’s most dazzling personality but Kawhi Leonard continues to shut down any doubters of his greatness on the court. In a banner year for him, Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first NBA championship — already the second of his career — and he did it by averaging 30.5 points per game in the playoffs. That stellar mark was up from his already impressive 26.6 points per game in the regular season, which was sixth-best across the league. Leonard may lose some points with fans for his propensity for missing regular season games on a load management schedule, but he comes through when it counts most.
13. Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers)
The fact that Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are now teammates is just ridiculous, although they aren’t the highest ranked partners on our list. Since the 2017-18 season, George has averaged 25 points per game, but he actually took that up to a 28 points per game last season, by far the best notch of his career. George’s defense cannot be argued with, either, as his 2.2 steals per game topped the NBA. He’s also a total workhorse, leading the league in minutes per game, while playing in 77 of 82, for Oklahoma City last season.
12. Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets)
There was a ton of drama during Kyrie Irving’s tenure in Boston — just like the end of his tenure in Cleveland — but the fact remains that he’s one of the game’s elite guards. What he brought to Brooklyn this offseason was a scoring average of 24.5 to go along with 6.2 assists per game dating back to the 2017-18 season. He also finished the 2018-19 season with the league’s 10th-best mark for player efficiency rating, according to ESPN.
11. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
“Dame Time” is no passing phase, as the Blazers point guard has proven in four All-Star seasons so far. Damian Lillard played in 80 games last season, finishing the year at ninth in points per game (25.8) and third in free-throw shooting percentage (91.2). That scoring average is actually a tick down from what he’s been contributing on a regular basis since the 2017-18 season, which is 26.5 points per game to go along with about seven assists. He’s pushing it even higher so far this season, averaging more than 27 points per game.
10. Nikola Jokić (Denver Nuggets)
According to ESPN, no center in the NBA earned his team more wins than Nikola Jokić, based on the outlet’s real plus-minus statistical breakdown. The Yugoslavian native averaged nearly a triple double in 2018-19, contributing 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists for the Nuggets every time out. Those averages put him in the top 30 for all of them across the league, showing he’s one of the game’s most dangerous players. Jokić was also one of only three men to record at least 10 triple doubles last season, finishing with 12 of them.
9. Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
Stephen Curry is considered to be one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, and he only bolsters that reputation year after year. In 2018-19, he had the best three-point shooting percentage of any player topping 20 points per game, sinking 43.7% of his long shots, and he drained 91.6% of his free-throw shots, which was the league’s second-best mark. In addition to being accurate, Curry simply scores a ton of points, finishing last season with notches of 27.3 points per game and a league-leading 5.1 three pointers per game. A broken hand will cause him to miss much of the current season and hopefully won’t affect that peerless shooting technique.
8. Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets)
When we did this list last season, we ranked Kevin Durant at the top of it. He’s been arguably the game’s best player for several seasons but we knocked him down a few rungs because of a torn Achilles tendon causing him to likely miss the entire 2019-20 season. But Durant’s numbers speak for themselves, with him averaging 26.0 points per game for Golden State last season before turning that into 32.3 points per game in the playoffs. When he’s fully healthy and playing alongside Kyrie Irving at his new home in Brooklyn, he’ll again be a force to contend with.
7. Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
It can be argued that Joel Embiid is the most dominant center in the NBA today, at a time when there are plenty of great ones. The 76ers big man led the position by averaging 27.5 points per game in 2018-19 and he also pulled down the most defensive rebounds per game, grabbing 11.1 every night. The major knock against Embiid is that he misses a lot of games, never playing more than 63 in a single season through three campaigns. But his production on the low post cannot be argued with.
6. Russell Westbrook (Houston Rockets)
Russell Westbrook remains one of the NBA’s must-watch athletes, even if his ridiculous production has taken a slight hit in the name of playing for a better team this season. For the past three seasons, Westbrook has averaged a triple double but since joining the Houston Rockets in the offseason, he’s only contributing 22.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. All three of those marks are higher than his career averages but the fact that they could still feel disappointing is just a testament to his dominance.
5. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)
It’s insane to say that a guy in his 17th NBA season could be ranked among the five best players in the league, but LeBron James is no ordinary baller. James missed the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010 last season and missed time with a rare injury — and all that time resting seems to have done him well. Through roughly the first quarter of the 2019-20 season, the 34-year-old star is averaging a double double for the first time in his career, putting up 25.6 points and a league-leading 11 assists per game. In the span since the 2017-18 season, James has averaged 27.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 9.0 assists every time on the floor.
4. Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves)
It’s tough to live up to expectations when you’re a No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick, but Karl-Anthony Towns has been able to since he was grabbed first in 2015. The Timberwolves star earns our ranking as the best center in the league, thanks to his remarkable efficiency, work ethic and production. Since the 2017-18 season, Towns has been giving the T’Wolves a steady average of 23.1 points and 12.4 rebounds every night. His player efficiency rating was tied for the highest mark among centers last season and he’s already hitting career-best averages this season.
3. James Harden (Houston Rockets)
“The Beard” is one of the most reliable scorers the NBA has ever seen and continues to run up insane point totals on a nightly basis. All you have to do is look at James Harden’s scoring line from 2018-19 to see he’s unstoppable, as his 36.1 points per game led the entire league by more than eight points. He also ranked in the top 10 for assists per game, contributing 7.5 each night, which means he and new teammate Russell Westbrook should have plenty of fun together. He has still yet to win that elusive championship — and it could be argued he takes way too many shots — but Harden is a bully with the ball.
2. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)
Anthony Davis was already one of the game’s most dominant big men, but when he flew west to join LeBron James’ Lakers, he further cemented his status. Through the early months of the 2019-20 season, Davis and James have the Lakers playing like the best team in basketball and the younger member of the tandem has had plenty to do with that. Since the 2017-18 season, “The Brow” has averaged 27 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, along with 2.6 blocks per game, which is a category in which he routinely leads the league.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Last season, we simply had Giannis Antetokounmpo ranked as the best player in the Eastern Conference but we’ve given him the mantle of the league’s best for this year. The reigning NBA MVP earned that title by giving the Bucks 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game last season, all of which were career highs. Through 17 games of the 2019-20 season, “The Greek Freak” has improved every one of those numbers, to where he’s averaging more than 31 points and nearly 14 rebounds per game. The only way he can push his legacy even further is to have a deep run in the playoffs.