Ranking Curry, LeBron, Harden and the NBA’s 10 greatest players
For the seventh season in a row, ESPN.com is ranking the top players in the NBA. Who will be the best player this season?
To get the final ranking, we asked our expert panel to vote on pairs of players.
We asked, “Which player will be better in 2017-18?” To decide, voters had to consider both the quality and the quantity of each player’s contributions to his team’s ability to win games.
Here are Nos. 1-10.
Stats & Info: Green would be the highest-ranked player on 23 teams but is third on his own squad. Such is life on the Golden State Warriors. A tone-setter of the highest order on the defensive end, Green ranked second in the NBA in deflections last season as the Warriors finished first as a team. When Green played the 5, opponents averaged just 0.91 points per play and shot 42 percent from the field.
Stats & Info: Antetokounmpo became the youngest player in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks last season. We’ve literally never seen anyone quite like him, as Antetokounmpo’s combination of per possession points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks is unprecedented among NBA players. Now just imagine what he’ll be able to do once he adds an outside shot.
Stats & Info: Harden scored or assisted on 4,538 points last season, exactly one point shy of Tiny Archibald’s NBA record set in 1972-73. With Chris Paul in town, Harden figures to spend more time off the ball which could spell trouble for opposing teams. Harden ranked in the 91st percentile in points per play on spot-ups last season.
Stats & Info: At the league’s most loaded position, Paul once again led all point guards in real plus-minus in 2016-17 while finishing second league-wide behind only LeBron James. How Paul and James Harden jibe on the offensive end will be under the microscope all season, but it’s worth noting that Paul is the only point guard who’s a defensive upgrade over Patrick Beverley, who finished second among point guards in defensive RPM. The gap between Paul and Beverley is the same as the gap between Beverley and the 20th-ranked defensive point guard.
Stats & Info: Davis just finished his fifth season and was named first-team All-NBA for the second time. He’s the 37th player in NBA history with multiple first-team All-NBA selections within his first five seasons but the only one not to have won a single playoff game over those first five seasons.
Stats & Info: After setting an NBA record with a usage percentage of 41.7 in the 2016-17 regular season, Westbrook upped the ante in the postseason with a usage percentage of 45.8 in OKC’s first-round loss to Houston, easily the highest ever in a single postseason. Just how absurd was the load he carried? Westbrook’s usage percentage against the Rockets was larger than Michael Jordan’s against the Monstars in “Space Jam,” according to a 2011 study by the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective.
Stats & Info: It’s a testament to Curry that in a supposed “down” year, he still finished sixth in MVP voting. When he’s cooking, the Warriors are almost unstoppable; they went 25-2 last season in games in which Curry scored at least 30 points (includes regular season and playoffs).
Stats & Info: Leonard was named first-team All-Defense for the third straight season and did it while averaging more than 25 points per game. Only three players — Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant — have averaged 25 PPG and been named first-team All-Defense at a younger age than Leonard, who was 25 last season.
Stats & Info: After winning his first Finals MVP, Durant enters with 4-1 odds to win the 2017-18 league MVP award, tied with Russell Westbrook for the best odds of any player. It could also be the year Durant gets recognized as an elite defender, as he has yet to make an All-Defense team. It was Durant — not Draymond Green — who led all Warriors players in FG percentage allowed as a primary defender last season.
Stats & Info: The eye test and metrics agree: LeBron James is still King. He’s riding a streak of 12 consecutive top-five finishes in MVP voting, tied for the longest streak of its kind in league history. He could become the first player ever to win MVP in his 15th season or later. James has finished in the top spot in each of the seven seasons ESPN.com has unveiled the annual preseason player rankings.
Analysis provided by ESPN Stats & Info’s Micah Adams.