While there’s no arguing that icons like Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Kobe Bryant 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 the unique 2019-2020 season gets back underway after a long break. We’ve ranked them in order of greatness. Did your favorite baller make the cut?
35. Christian Wood (Detroit Pistons)
There might have been no player in the NBA more disappointed to see the season suddenly end in early March than Christian Wood. The career journeyman was putting up star-level numbers when things came to a halt, and since the Pistons had one of the league’s worst records, he won’t even get a chance to keep it going in the bubble. In 2019-20, Wood was averaging 22.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes played. He had finally started to settle into a role as a regular starter and was showing he deserved it, a trend that will hopefully keep up when he returns to the floor next season.
34. Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers)
The Clippers have a few players on this list and it makes since when you consider they had the second-best record in the Western Conference when the season broke for the pandemic on March 11. Center Montrezl Harrell was a big part of that success despite starting only two games. Harrell’s efficiency has been remarkable, with him averaging 9.2 rebounds and 24.1 points per 36 minutes this season, the latter of which is the best for all centers. He was averaging about 28 minutes per game with the Clippers and he’s made the most of all of them.
33. Julius Randle (New York Knicks)
It’s a shame we won’t get to see Julius Randle playing when the NBA comes back, because he’s been on a tear for the last couple of years. Since the 2018-19 season, when he was with the Pelicans, Randle has averaged 20.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. This season with the Knicks, he was even more efficient, giving his team 21.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes he played. His first All-Star Game appearance has to be right around the corner if he keeps that kind of production up.
32. Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies)
The NBA gave out four rookie-of-the-month awards for each conference during the 2019-20 season, and Ja Morant won three of them for the Western Conference. The former Murray State standout has dazzled Grizzlies fans during his first season, averaging 21.2 points and 8.3 assists per 36 minutes played. The team was just below .500 when the season was suspended but had won four of its last six games and was holding onto a playoff spot. With Zion Williamson missing much of the season, Morant put himself in a great position to be named rookie of the year.
31. Chris Paul (Oklahoma City Thunder)
The only guy on this list who can rival LeBron James for age and experience is future Hall of Famer Chris Paul. He’s a few months younger than James, but at 35 years old, he’s got more than a decade on many of the other players we’ve listed. After a three-year hiatus, Paul was back on the All-Star Team again this season — his 10th selection — even though his steal and assist figures are at career lows. Still, he’s giving the Thunder 7.7 assists and 20.0 points per 36 minutes played, and we can’t leave him off a list of the league’s most gifted ballers.
30. Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)
One of the league’s most consistent scoring threats, Kemba Walker made his fourth consecutive All-Star Game appearance in 2020. His production had dipped ever slightly from his one-man show numbers in Charlotte since he joined the Celtics this season, but he’s still been good for 24 points per 36 minutes played, which helped Boston secure the third-best record in the Eastern Conference when the season was halted. It’s exciting to see him finally leading a title contender.
29. Kristaps Porzingis (Dallas Mavericks)
Latvian superstar Kristaps Porzingis was a major part of the Mavs qualifying for the NBA’s return to play. He gave the team 22.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per 36 minutes played. Towering at 7 feet, 3 inches has also made him one of the NBA’s true forces of nature on defense since his debut in 2015. Since then, Porzingis has averaged 2.0 blocks per game, and this season he was giving the Mavericks 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes.
28. Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers)
The Cavaliers were truly dreadful this season, which led them to easily miss the action in the bubble, but Kevin Love’s production was right where it typically is. He’s gotten far less press since LeBron James shipped off to Los Angeles, but Love remains one of the most versatile veterans in the NBA. Since the start of the 2016 season, he’s averaged 18.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. When you break down his figures per 36 minutes played, Love is even more impressive, averaging 20.0 points and 11.1 rebounds this season. In that latter category, he ranked second only to Giannis Antetokounmpo among all starting power forwards in the first part of 2019-2020.
27. Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers)
Since debuting in 2016, Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis has steadily improved his game every season, culminating in his dominant performance this year. He landed on his first All-Star Game roster by averaging 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, all of which are easily career highs and gave him 50 double doubles in 62 games played. It’s going to be tough for him to improve his figures much more than that in years to come, but if Sabonis keeps them at that level, he’ll be ranked right alongside the game’s best low post players for years to come.
26. LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs)
When the Spurs restart their season, LaMarcus Aldridge will be missing inside the bubble after undergoing shoulder surgery in April. Before the injury, which also caused him to miss a few games before the break, the center’s stats were slightly diminished from what Spurs fans are used to. He was chipping in 18.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, which are his lowest averages since the 2016-17 season but are more than enough to rank him among the best in the game.
25. Hassan Whiteside (Portland Trail Blazers)
After five seasons of being a low-end double double machine in Miami, Hassan Whiteside came to Portland and dialed his numbers up to star level this year. When the season came to a halt, Whiteside was only one behind Giannis Antetokounmpo as the league’s leader in double doubles, giving the Blazers 51 of them in his 61 appearances on the year. Whiteside’s stats per 36 minutes were among the best in the game this season, as he was good for 18.7 points, 16.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks, the latter of which led everyone. If the team misses the playoffs, it won’t be his fault.
24. Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
After his positive test for COVID-19 and his infamous microphone-touching stunt led the NBA to shut its season down in March, Rudy Gobert became a target for plenty of ire from hoops fans. All that aside, the French 7-footer has become one of the game’s most consistent big men, especially on defense. Since the 2016-17 season, Gobert has averaged 14.7 points, 12.6 rebounds and a monstrous 2.3 blocks per game and has drained nearly 70% of his field goal attempts. He finally made the All-Star Team this season, partly because he recorded 45 double doubles, which were the fifth-most in the league when the season stopped.
23. Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat)
After a dramatic 2018-19 season, Jimmy Butler was back on the All-Star Team this year as his stats put him near the top of the Eastern Conference. He’s helped make the Heat legitimate contenders for a deep playoff run by giving them 20.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists per night. Those numbers are right in line with the production that has made him one of the premier scoring forwards in the game, as he’s averaged 21.1 points per game since the start of the 2014-15 campaign, when he was with the Bulls.
22. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
Ben Simmons is one of the fastest-rising stars in the Eastern Conference, and he made his second straight All-Star Game this season. He was putting up the same kind of stellar all-around figures that 76ers fans have gotten used to before missing eight games with a back injury ahead of the quarantine break. His averages of 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game made him a nightly triple double threat, and he led the entire league with 2.1 steals per game. Simmons is truly one of the few guys who can play every position on the court.
21. Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers)
Nagging injuries made Paul George’s 2019-20 season one of his most forgettable in recent years, but he’s still easily one of the best in the business. He averaged 21.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in his first year with the Clippers — down from 28.0 and 8.2 last season with the Thunder — and missed 22 games. But it was still enough to help the Clippers to the second-best record in the Western Conference and the fourth-best offense in the NBA. We’re hoping the long break will help George get back to his dominant form for the sprint to the finish.
20. Nikola Vučević (Orlando Magic)
After a brilliant season in 2018-19, Magic star Nikola Vučević missed the All-Star Game this time around, despite his numbers still being stout. In 54 games played this year, the Swiss center averaged 19.5 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, both of which were just shy of the career-high figures he averaged a year ago. The Magic were clinging to a playoff spot when the season went on hiatus, and it’ll take everything Vučević can offer to make them a contender during the return to play in his adopted hometown.
19. Jonas Valančiūnas (Memphis Grizzlies)
Jonas Valančiūnas just missed out on a championship ring when he was dealt by the Raptors in the middle of last season, but he’s been getting revenge by living well on the court. The Lithuanian big man gave the Grizzlies 14.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game this season, but when you break down his production in smaller increments, you see how truly gifted he is. For the 2019-20 season, Valančiūnas was averaging 20.4 points and 15.4 rebounds per 36 minutes, both of which rank him among the best centers in the NBA. He and teammate Ja Morant could end up being a lethal combination for years to come.
18. Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans)
Count Zion Williamson among those players that most hated to see the NBA season take a sudden break in March. After missing a good chunk of his rookie season while recovering from an injury, the 2019 top draft pick debuted in January 2020 and was living up to his hype. He earned the Western Conference’s player of the month award for February, which was the last one given before the break, and looked nigh unstoppable. At the break, the 20-year-old forward was averaging 28.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes played, making the Pelicans a must-watch team when play resumes.
17. Andre Drummond (Cleveland Cavaliers)
The Cavaliers were the worst team in the Eastern Conference this season, but it’s not Andre Drummond’s fault. He was traded by the Pistons late in the year and only played eight games in a Cavs uniform before the season was stopped. On the season, he was averaging a league-high 15.2 rebounds per game to go along with 17.7 points and 1.9 steals. Drummond has led the league in rebounding average for three of the past four seasons and is capable a double double every time he takes the floor, racking up 47 of them in 57 games played this year. Cavs fans are hoping he can lift them out of the cellar when next season tips off.
16. Russell Westbrook (Houston Rockets)
Russell Westbrook is no longer averaging a triple double, but his scoring output in 2019-20 has been near the top of his career. In his sixth consecutive All-Star season, he gave the Rockets 27.5 points per game to go with 8.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists. He’s a major reason why the team had the best offense in the Western Conference and was one of only two in the entire league averaging more than 118 points per game. There are very few players in any sport as exciting to watch at work as Westbrook.
15. Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
There aren’t many guys who can give you 30 points a night in the NBA, but Bradley Beal joined James Harden in that club this season. A shoulder injury will keep him sidelined for the return to play, but when the 2020-21 season comes around, Beal should be ranked among the elites. He averaged 30.5 points and 6.1 assists per game this season, both of which were career highs. He was somehow snubbed for an All-Star Game appearance despite having been selected in each of the previous two seasons with lesser figures.
14. Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks)
Rising Hawks star Trae Young landed on his first (of likely many) All-Star Game roster this season by making opposing defenders look silly every time he laced up. The 21-year-old point guard saw his already impressive stats from his rookie year balloon in 2019-20. He averaged 29.6 points and 9.3 assists per game, making him one of the most dynamic point guards in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, those numbers didn’t translate to many wins, as the Hawks had the second-worst record in the East, meaning we’ll miss out on seeing Young in the bubble.
13. Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets)
Another star point guard who will miss the action in the bubble is Kyrie Irving. He only played 20 games this season, and his recovery from a shoulder injury will keep him sidelined until 2020-21, even though his Nets teammates will be playing when this season resumes. In his limited action this year, Irving was averaging a career-best 27.4 points per game, making Nets fans thrilled to have him on the roster. Now if only he and Kevin Durant can be healthy at the same time this franchise will be poised for a title run.
12. Nikola Jokić (Denver Nuggets)
Only three players had more than 10 triple doubles during the 2019-20 season before the hiatus, and Nikola Jokić was one. His average of 22.5 points per 36 minutes played was the best among all starting centers, and his 7.6 assists per 36 minutes were the best among all non-guards. Throw in his 11.4 rebounds per 36 minutes and you’ve got one of the most consistent all-around players in the game today. He helped the Nuggets earn the third-best record in the Western Conference and has made them a contender for the crown when play resumes.
11. Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
At a time when gifted centers are all over the place, Joel Embiid is arguably the most dominant center in the game. In the past three seasons — all of which earned him All-Star status — Embiid has averaged 24.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. The major knock against Embiid is that he misses a lot of games, never playing more than 64 times in a single season through four campaigns. But his production on the low post cannot be argued with when he’s in action.
10. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
Nobody was averaging more minutes per game this season than Damian Lillard, as he was spending 36.9 minutes on the court each time he suited up. Lillard has been a tireless leader for the Blazers since debuting in 2012 and has made “Dame Time” a nightly occurrence. This season was no different, with the five-time All-Star averaging 28.9 points and 7.8 assists per game, both of which were career highs. The fact that he’s draining nearly 46% of his field goals is also remarkable when you consider he’s taking 20 shots a game.
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 and 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. The 2019-20 season saw Curry reduced to only five games in action after suffering a broken hand, but the fact that the Warriors were the worst team in the NBA when the season went on hiatus is further proof of his value to the franchise.
8. Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Yet another star who will miss the bubble and spent much of this year banged up is Karl-Anthony Towns. The Timberwolves star missed 29 games this season because of knee and wrist injuries but was having a career year when he suited up, averaging 26.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. The No. 1 overall pick in 2015 has lived up to his draft status, but we’ll have to wait until 2020-21 tips off to see if he’s back to full power.
7. Luka Dončić (Dallas Mavericks)
At 21 years old, Luka Dončić is one of the youngest players to make the list but he’s shown he’s more than worthy during the past two seasons. The Slovenian guard had put up the most triple doubles in the NBA this season when the action was halted, having recorded 14 of them. Dončić averaged 31.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.4 assits per 36 minutes, all of which ranked him among the elites and landed him in his first All-Star Game. We can only see him climbing this list as the years continue.
6. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)
It’s hard to believe that LeBron James could still be ranked among the absolute best in the game at almost 36 years old, but we’re dealing with a superhuman here. James was putting up remarkable figures during the 2019-20 season, helping make the Lakers the best team in the Western Conference when the season shut down in March. He was averaging 26.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 10.9 assists per 36 minutes, the latter of which was the best notch in the league by far. His 13 triple doubles were the second most in the NBA this year at the break, proving he’s still “The King.”
5. 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 a torn Achilles tendon caused him to miss the entire 2019-20 season, including the return to play. 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 in Brooklyn, he’ll again be a force to contend with.
4. Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers)
Kawhi Leonard has proven himself to be one of the great leaders in the NBA today by taking two franchises to championships since 2014. He’s won rings with the Spurs and Raptors and helped turn the Clippers into contenders for the title in 2019-20, giving them the second-best record in the Western Conference when the season went on hiatus. He averaged 26.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game this season, all of which are career highs. 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 and we expect to see that be the case in the bubble.
3. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)
The addition of Anthony Davis to the Lakers roster has made them into a juggernaut this season, especially on the defensive end. They had the best scoring defense in the Western Conference at the break and were one of only three teams in the NBA allowing less than 107 points per game. Davis ranks among the best shot blockers and high-percentage shooters in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes and sinking 51% of his shots. He’s given his new team 28.0 points and 9.9 rebounds per 36 minutes this year, making him one of the most valuable big men in the game.
2. 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. During the 2019-20 season, James Harden was putting up 34.4 points per game, which was nearly four points better than the player at second place in that category. He’s led the league in points per game for the last three seasons running, and the world’s best basketball minds have yet to find a way to contain him. It’d be easy to write him off as a ball hog, but he’s sharing the rock more with Russell Westbrook and others in the past year, giving the Rockets one of the most unstoppable offenses in the NBA.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
The reigning NBA most valuable player remains the most unstoppable force in the league, and he had his Bucks on the path to a ring before the virus invaded. Giannis Antetokounmpo was named the Eastern Conference’s player of the month three times this season — and it was only awarded four times. His 2019-20 stats were even better than his MVP year, with the “Greek Freak” averaging 29.6 points and 13.7 rebounds a game. He recorded a double double in 52 of 57 games played this season, giving him the most in the league and helping the Bucks to the league’s best record at 53-12 at the break.