I am currently on a two month road trip to explore the Rocky Mountains and parts of the west coast.
In the midst of the 25 hour drive from Philadelphia to Denver, my friend and I started debating the top 30 players in the NBA and who we thought deserved to be considered in the top tier. After comparing our thoughts we found that although there were many similarities there were a few minor differences that led to a fun debate. When we stopped in Chicago and included some other friends in the conversation those minor differences became major and turned into a full on debate. This debate included but was not limited to name calling, finger pointing, and I am pretty sure at one point a head shake so strong that the vibrations could be felt all the way across Lake Michigan.
In this two part blog I will introduce my top 40 list. A few things to take note of:
- This is an art, not a science. By art I am referring to some Jean-Michel Basquiat type shit
- I am a sixers fan and admit my bias.
- In some cases I will make an argument about one player, just to totally contradict it with the next player. Again this is art.
- I will not be writing about every player but the ones that I think are the most interesting in their group of 10.
- The groupings of 10 are not tiers, they are simply convenient.
- Potential and playoff performance were heavily valued.
- Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey were not included but heavily considered.
- Klay Thompson was also not included because he will not play at any point this year. Rest up king(but not too much ;)).
I now present my 21-40 ranked players.
40. Zion Williamson
39. Zach LaVine
38. Malcolm Brogdon
37. De’Aaron Fox
36. Jrue Holiday
35. Pascal Siakam
34. Rudy Gobert
33. Kyle Lowry
32. Russell Westbrook
31. Devin Booker
Zach LaVine: I’ve been a hater of Zach LaVine’s in the past. I like the guy’s game and it sounds like he grinds in the offseason but it has not translated to winning basketball. One thing that is undeniable is that he has improved each season in the league and is continuing on that path this year. The Bulls are off to an average start but LaVine has been averaging career highs in points(top 5 in the NBA), assists, rebounds, FG%, and FT%. It is impossible to ignore him on a list like this.
Russell Westbrook: This might be my most controversial ranking but hear me out. I lived through the decline of Allen Iverson, my favorite player growing up. When players as explosive as Westbrook and Iverson lose their elite first step, acceleration, and overall athletic dominance they decline rapidly. That is what I am seeing from Russ. Right now he is ranked 156th in PER, averages 19.6 ppg(his lowest since 2010), and is shooting 40.5% from the field(his lowest since 2009). I think 32 is justified.
Devin Booker: With the addition of Chris Paul we knew Booker’s role would change but I didn’t expect such a dip in production. Initially my gut feeling was to have him in the top 30 but his stats dropped from last year’s 26/4/6 to 22/3/4 this year, much more than I would’ve have expected. Although Booker is one of the most exciting young players in the league he has regressed with the Suns’ new look and so far this season is 116th in PER(out of 264 players). For these reasons I couldn’t rank him in my top 30 so naturally he is 31.
30. Khris Middleton
29. Jamal Murray
28. Nikola Vucevic
27. Donovan Mitchell
26. Domantas Sabonis
25. Jaylen Brown
24. Chris Paul
23. Ja Morant
22. Karl Anthony Towns
21. CJ McCollum
Jamal Murray: Coming off the 2020 playoffs I think the entire basketball world was looking forward to seeing if Jamal Murray would take his game to the next level or at least continue his elite form. The fact is he has not. He is averaging 19/4/4 per game and is currently ranked 108 in PER for the league(he finished 2020 at 61). For comparison, Donovan Mitchell is ranked 63rd in the league for PER, Trae Young is 43rd, and, as mentioned, Devin Booker is 116th. Although I am still optimistic about Murray’s future I couldn’t rank him over a number of other guards in this ranking.
Domantas Sabonis: Sabonis is coming off his first all star appearance and is averaging a career best 21.7 points and 12.8 rebounds. It is hard to think of a guy more underrated in public NBA talk and will be the primary target for the Pacers moving forward. It is going to be fun to see what this guy will do the rest of the year, especially with this new looks Pacers lineup.
CJ McCollum vs KAT: It’s hard to say who you would want more for your team being they are such different players. KAT should be in the Unicorn conversation but has only made the playoffs once in his career and averaged 15 ppg in 5 games. CJ has always been an elite 2nd option and has taken it to the new level this year averaging 26 points and 5 assists, both career bests. For these reasons and I’ve liked CJ ever since I learned he went to Lehigh, I am putting CJ ahead.
PER strives to measure a player’s per-minute performance, while adjusting for pace. A league-average PER is always 15.00, which permits comparisons of player performance across seasons.
Part 2 coming soon.