The Best Basketball Players In The NBA Today
Did your hometown favorite make the list?
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 early March 2019. We’ve ranked them in order of greatness. Did your favorite baller make the cut?
25. Jrue Holiday (New Orleans Pelicans)
In a season for the Pelicans that’s been dominated by off-the-court conjecture and talk of the year being a lost cause, Jrue Holiday has proven himself as a legit team leader capable of great feats. He currently ranks higher than Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo in terms of real plus-minus wins he’s earned for his team. Holiday has been in the league since 2009 and is averaging career-high numbers in terms of points, rebounds, steals and blocks, with his average assist number a hair under his all-time best. He’s clearly shown he deserves to be talked about among the best all-around guards in the league today.
24. LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs)
Coming into the Spurs’ 2018-19 season, DeMar DeRozan was expected to be the undoubted team leader, but he’s been passed in most statistical categories by veteran teammate LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s averaging 21.0 points and 8.9 rebounds per game this season, both of which top his career average. Aldridge is currently sitting in the top 20 of total points, total rebounds and total blocks this season. He’s especially a monster when it comes to providing his teammates second chances, sitting at eighth in the NBA in offensive rebounding this year.
23. Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic)
Magic center Nikola Vucevic has been in the league since 2011, but he’s having a true breakout season this year. Vucevic is sitting near the top of a slew of stat categories, including shots made, total points and total rebounds. His season averages of 20.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.2 blocks per game are all career-best numbers. If advanced numbers are your thing, he’s also sixth this season in value above replacement, and real plus-minus.
22. Blake Griffin (Detroit Pistons)
Blake Griffin has been a star in the NBA since he joined the league in 2010, but he’s putting up career-best offensive numbers in 2018-19. In his first full season with the Pistons, Griffin is averaging 25.5 points per game, the best mark of his career and good enough for 12th best in the league. He’s also averaging more minutes played per game than he has in any season since 2011-12. His rank this season in value above replacement is also higher than Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, just to name a couple.
21. Al Horford (Boston Celtics)
One of the best centers in the game, especially on defense, Al Horford is proving himself as an elite big man again this season. He’s impeccable with high-percentage shots, shooting 59.9 percent from two-point range this year, and his 1.4 blocks per game is 17th best in the league. His average scoring and rebounding numbers won’t blow your mind but plenty of teams would love to have a shot-stopper like Horford waiting under the hoop.
20. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
The first of several 76ers stars that will make this list, Australian-born Ben Simmons earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors last year and has had an even better season in 2018-19. He’s averaging 17.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per game and shooting 56.5 percent from the floor, all of which are improvements over last year. Simmons is also fourth in the league in assists per game, showing he’s a triple-double star just waiting to bloom.
19. Jimmy Butler (Philadelphia 76ers)
It feels like forever ago that the biggest trade controversy of the NBA season revolved around Jimmy Butler. The former Minnesota Timberwolves star got shipped to Philadelphia in November and has continued to produce on both sides of the ball. Butler ranks in the top 20 of advanced stats like real plus-minus, offensive win shares and offensive rating. His scoring average has dipped a bit since joining a better team but he’s still chipping in 19 points per game this season, in addition to his 2.0 steals per game, which is fourth best in the NBA.
18. Kemba Walker (Charlotte Hornets)
The Charlotte Hornets aren’t expected to torch anyone in the playoffs but Kemba Walker has done absolutely everything he can to make them a contender for the postseason this year. Walker is among the league leaders in minutes played, shots taken, shots made and assists. He currently sits in the top 20 in scoring average and assists average for 2018-19, with 25.1 and 5.8, respectively. Walker is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous scorers in the league.
17. Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors)
There’s a tendency to overlook Klay Thompson next to his Golden State brothers Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, but do so at your own peril. Thompson has sunk more baskets and played more minutes than Curry this season, even if his per-game average of 22 points is below both of those star teammates. If Thompson was the sole star on another team, it’s safe to bet his scoring numbers would be right at the very top of the league. His scoring average this season is the second highest of his career as he seeks a fourth championship ring with the Warriors.
16. Chris Paul (Houston Rockets)
At 33, Chris Paul may be older than many of the other players on this list, but he’s still arguably the best pure point guard in the league. Injuries typically force him to miss a good number of games each year but, when he’s healthy, he makes the Rockets nearly unbeatable. In 2018-19, he ranks in the top three for assists percentage and steal percentage, the latter of which he leads the entire league. His 8.3 assists per game are also good enough for third-best this season despite that number being one of the lowest averages of his likely Hall-of-Fame career.
15. Kyrie Irving (Boston Celtics)
When Kyrie Irving joined the already-stout Boston Celtics in 2017, it seemed like a sure path to another championship win for the star point guard. But the road has been bumpier than expected. Even with all the drama surrounding his team in 2018-19, Irving is still proving to be one of the league’s best players. He ranks among the top 20 in terms of points, assists and steals per game this season. And when a game is on the line, there are very few players you’d rather have shooting the ball than Irving.
14. Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves)
It’s tough to live up to expectations when you’re a number-one overall NBA Draft pick, but Karl-Anthony Towns has been able to since he was grabbed first in 2015. The 2018-19 season has been especially huge for Towns, with him averaging 24.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game, with him stepping up to lead the Timberwolves since the trade of Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia. He’s currently in the top 10 for total points and rebounds during this season and is ranked 11th in blocks per game. If Towns is able to cut down on his number of personal fouls and turnovers, he’ll climb much higher on this list in years to come.
13. Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)
The Denver Nuggets have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2018-19 season and Nikola Jokic is a big reason for their success. The Yugoslavian native is ranked fifth in real plus-minus wins, with ESPN estimating that he’s contributed 11.38 wins for the Nuggets this season on his own. Jokic is nearly averaging a triple-double, contributing 20.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game this season. He might be the best player that many casual fans haven’t yet watched play — but the next guy on the list could also make that claim.
12. Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
When French-born star Rudy Gobert missed the All-Star Game yet again in 2019, he briefly broke down in tears in front of the media — and it’s easy to empathize with him. Gobert is a monster on the defensive side of the ball and you’ll find his name near the top of pretty much every advanced-analytics stat category that measures NBA players. The 2018 NBA Defensive Player of the Year is currently in the top 10 for real plus-minus and value over replacement and he’s the only player in the league that’s ranked in the top five of both offensive rating and defensive rating this season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
11. Kawhi Leonard (Toronto Raptors)
As a defensive player, Kawhi Leonard is outstanding, proven by the fact that he’s racked up more career steals than personal fouls — which is a pretty remarkable feat. But he’s no slouch on offense, either, proving why the Raptors were willing to give up so much to steal him away from San Antonio. So far in 2018-19, he’s averaging 27 points per game (tied with LeBron James for eighth best) and 1.9 steals. That scoring mark is about 10 points higher than his career average, showing he’s really hit his stride. The fact that he’s already won a title also puts him above other playoff hopefuls on this list.
10. Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
Injuries have hampered Embiid’s standing among the league’s elite in years past but he’s putting together a fantastic 2018-19 season, leading the 76ers to one of the league’s best records. He’s been a monster on defense, ranking third in rebounds and seventh in blocks per game. But his scoring has been outstanding this year as well, with his 27.3 points per game placing him at fifth in the league and improving his scoring output by five points per game from last season.
9. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has really come into his own in the past few seasons, culminating in him averaging 25.9 points, 6.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game this season, all of which are above his career averages. Lillard is the leader of Portland’s team, which is right at the top of the Western Conference standings heading into the final playoff push. He ranks in the top 10 of nearly all the marquee offensive stat categories and is a mainstay among the advanced analytics categories for this season, including win shares and real plus-minus, both of which he’s ranked in the top 10 for 2018-19.
8. Paul George (Oklahoma City Thunder)
There’s a good argument to be made that Paul George is outplaying his amazing Thunder teammate, Russell Westbrook, this season. George’s numbers have been MVP-level good, with him playing more minutes than nearly anyone in the NBA and averaging 28.6 points per game, which is second overall and seven points better than his average last year. George also leads the league in steals per game and real plus-minus, which estimates he’s won 15.69 games for the Thunder on his own.
7. Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans)
Unfortunately, more focus has been placed on Anthony Davis’ looming free agency during the 2018-19 season than on his actual play, which remains stellar. The sheer number of wins he’s estimated to have contributed for his team this season is eighth best among all players in the league, according to ESPN’s real plus-minus analytics, and that’s despite him missing plenty of games for various reasons. When playing, Davis has averaged 27.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game this season, both markedly above his career averages.
6. Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Nobody can fill a stat sheet like Russell Westbrook. He’s the only player in history to average a triple-double for two entire seasons in a row — and he’s doing it again this season. Westbrook’s numbers in 2018-19 have been overshadowed a bit by the outstanding play of his teammate, Paul George, but there’s no question Westbrook still ranks higher among the most unstoppable players in the NBA. So far this season, he’s averaging 22.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 10.7 assists per game.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Now that LeBron James has moved out west, Giannis Antetokounmpo is, without question, the best player in the Eastern Conference. The “Greek Freak” has led the Bucks to being the best team in the league, in terms of record, and ranks in the top 10 of points, rebounds and two-point shooting percentage per game this season. Antetokounmpo has earned his reputation as a player that can do it all and be a steady team leader. In order to soar even higher on this list, he needs to prove he can win in the playoffs, where he’s yet to make it out of the first round.
4. James Harden (Houston Rockets)
There’s nobody in the NBA who can score on command quite like James Harden. “The Beard” is putting together an insane season in 2018-19, leading the league by averaging 36.7 points per game and sinking more threes and free throws than anyone else. Purely as an offensive threat, Harden is difficult to top this season, but he also turns the ball over a lot and misses a ton of shots, which explains why he’s not in the top 20 of shooting percentage or three-point shooting percentage for this year. He’s also yet to prove himself as a true championship contender because of struggles getting past the Western Conference Finals.
3. 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. The 30-year-old had an outstanding 42 percent three-point shooting percentage last season and has only elevated that this year, shooting 43.5 percent from three so far in 2018-19. Curry is also averaging 28.3 points per game this year, which is third in the league. Curry also has two MVP titles and three championships under his belt, the latter of which ties LeBron James.
2. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)
Due to a rare injury and the mess that is his current Lakers squad, LeBron James’ stock as the most feared player in the league has slipped slightly during the 2018-19 season, but if you asked most NBA fans which single player they’d like most to build their team around, they would probably still pick “The King.” The best all-around basketball player of his generation, last season, James became the youngest NBA player to score 30,000 points during regular-season games. He’s led his teams to the playoffs every year since 2005 — and to the NBA Finals every year since 2010 — and, while that streak is in danger with the Lakers, the fact that he’s done it at all is mind- blowing.
1. Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors)
It seems like the time has finally come for K.D. to unseat LeBron James as the best player in the NBA. For the last two seasons, Durant has reigned as the NBA Finals MVP, proving that he could lead a championship team — although he continues to get knocked for joining a franchise that was already historically great. But Durant’s stats are freakish, including 27.5 points per game during the 2018-19 season. He also ranks in the top 20 of nearly every meaningful stat category this season, including advanced metrics like win shares, offensive box plus/minus and value over replacement. If Durant wins his third consecutive championship this year, he’ll cement his legendary status for good.