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NBA Player Rankings Part Two: The Top 20

Written by Matlack

January 25, 2021

Read Part One here.

This might be a weird time to discuss basketball after the two football matchups we watched yesterday but I’ve been sitting on part two for too long and needed to release it. I’ve already had a few comments about part 1, specifically having Zion Williamson at #40 but I stand by my earlier rankings. When Zion plays more than 36 games we can look into a re-evaluation of where he ranks in the league. 

Below are my rankings for the #1-20 players in the NBA.

20-11:

20. Ben Simmons

19. Trae Young

18. Brandon Ingram

17. Bam Adebayo

16. Jason Tatum

15. Kyrie Irving

14. Bradley Beal

13. Paul George

12. Jimmy Butler

11. Joel Embiid

Brandon Ingram vs Trey Young vs Ben Simmons vs KAT vs CJ McCollum: When I asked a friend of mine about these 5 players, he labelled them as the “as your #1, these guys will get you in as a 6 seed and be a tough out” group which I think explains them perfectly. Each of these guys have one or two elite traits but also have one or two traits that drive you crazy. BI gets the one spot for me because of his wide range offensive moves, defensive stability, and the fact that although Zion has been added to the regular rotation he almost averages the same exact splits from last year, his first all star appearance. It doesn’t matter who BI plays with, he will get his and work hard on both ends of the floor. Trae Young gets my next spot because even with the revamped Hawks roster, he still is averaging 25/9/4 and is on his way to his second consecutive all star appearance. With the way the league is going he will be a perennial all star in the coming years. 

Ben Simmons rounds out my top 20 for a few reasons. Compared to CJ McCollum and KAT, I believe Ben makes your team better. If your argument against Ben is that he doesn’t shoot threes, please watch Russell Westbrook play a full basketball game. Defenders let the guy shoot from 18+ knowing that although he will make one or maybe two, the 6-7 he miss will stop runs, slow down other players, and get the defenders a rebound to start transitioning to offense. Russ’s willingness to shoot threes makes the team worse. Ben’s lack of shooting is because he has 3 point specialists shooting 40+% percent on his team and he understands it is not his strength. The guy is happy to put his effort on the defensive end while letting his teammates get 20+(ask Tobias Harris if he appreciates this). If Ben was in Minnesota with the entire team built to play around him, like KAT, they would have 2-3 playoff appearances and Ben would be in the conversation for the 1st or 2nd All NBA teams. 

Jimmy Butler: After Jimmy’s incredible run in the last years’ playoffs he solidified himself above players like Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyrie Irving. His intensity on defense and dedication to basketball have helped take him from 8 points per game in his second year to one of the clutchest players in the NBA. His stats have slightly come down this year from 19/6/6 to 15/5/5 but come playoff time expect Jimmy to still be “The guy” in Miami. 

10-1:

10. Damian Lilliard

9. James Harden

8. Nikola Jokić

7. Luka Dončić

6. Anthony Davis

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo

4. Stephen Curry

3. Kawhi Leonard

2. Kevin Durant

  1. LeBron James

Luka Dončić vs Nikola Jokić vs James Harden: When thinking about these three guys and their rankings my first thought was “who would I want on my team”. That is how I rated them. Luka Dončić is the most promising young player since LeBron who is right now averaging 27/9/9 and shoots 50% from the field. Nikola Jokić is currently #1 in PER in the NBA, is coming off an incredible run in last year’s playoffs and as of right now averages 26/12/9. James Harden on the other hand, an incredibly talented offensive player has had limited success in the playoffs(outside of his run with Chris Paul) and will be taking a back seat to his two new teammates. They are all top 10 players but two are taking their game to the next level while the third just needs to get his fitness back. 

Stephen Curry vs Giannis Antetokounmpo: This may be another controversial ranking but I believe Steph should be the higher rated player. I know I’ve thrown a lot of stats out during my write ups but this one goes beyond stats, seeing Giannis is one of the greatest statistical players in basketball history. Steph Curry changed basketball. He is the best shooter in the history of the NBA and was the leader of a 73 win team and NBA champion before KD came to town. Now a 3 time NBA Champion and with little left to prove, Steph continues to mentor his teammates and average 27.9/5/6, the second best scoring average of his career. Giannis has yet to make the conference finals with talented teams and although is a great player, needs to perform on the biggest stage before I can put him above any of the other 4 players I have ahead of him. 


LeBron James vs Kevin Durant vs Kawhi Leonard: In my opinion these are three best players in the NBA. These are the three that, in theory, will be playing meaningful basketball every spring which has been largely true. LeBron is number one because he is one of the two best players in the history of basketball and is coming off a NBA championship, no one has taken his crown in over 15 years. Kevin Durant is the most lethal scorer in the league and has a chance to take the mantle in the next two years. With both guys injured Kawhi stepped up and won the 2019 NBA Championship with the Raptors, in my opinion proving he is a step above players like AD, Steph, and Giannis. Last year’s blunder against the Nuggets was an interesting study on the modern NBA and team building but all things considered he is still the best two-way player in the league.

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