This story is a continuation of my Top 10 NBA Players for Next Season, Part 1 article that ran two weeks ago. There I named No. 6 through 10 on my list and added my honorable mentions as well. If you missed it or want to read it again, I’ve linked it here.
I would also like to point out that I am assuming the players on this list come back to their pre injury form. I will denote these injured players with an asterisk next to their name.
5. Stephen Curry,* Golden State Warriors
Steph Curry is coming off an essentially lost season in which the two-time MVP only played five games. If he returns to his preinjury form, Curry will again have a chance to compete for his fourth NBA title and third MVP award. In his last full season in 2018-19, Curry averaged 27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists on 47-43-92 shooting splits. I assume he will return to that form or better. This statement could be a stretch for the now 32-year-old point guard, but I think he has it in him. And if Curry returns to form, he could feasibly advance even higher on this list. He was genuinely the best player in the league for two straight seasons from 2014 to 2016, and the team around him is still good enough to compete for a championship, even without Kevin Durant.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
It may seem disrespectful to rank Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning two-time MVP, as only the fourth-best player in the league, but this ranking has more to do with his playoff performance than anything else. He’s undeniably a spectacular two-way player, averaging 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists in the regular season to go along with his first Defensive Player of the Year award. While his individual playoff stats did not take a significant dip this season, this relatively low ranking has more to do with how poorly Milwaukee has done in the postseason. It may seem unfair to base a player’s ranking on team success, but that is the standard to which a player of Antetokounmpo’s caliber deserves to be held. For the second season in a row, Antetokounmpo’s lack of late-game shot-making was a large part of the Bucks’ inability to reach the NBA Finals even with the league’s MVP on their roster. For me, it is difficult to put a player who has never proven himself in the heat of a playoff battle above these next three, all of whom have proven their playoff mettle time and time again.
3. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
I know Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers just flamed out of the postseason in dramatic and shocking fashion, similar to Antetokounmpo. I know he failed to score in the fourth quarter of Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets. Putting Leonard this high is not giving him a pass; it is instead acknowledging his spotless playoff record prior to last season in addition to his individual greatness. He averaged an excellent 27.1 points, 7.1 assists and a career-high 4.9 assists this past regular season, and save for this past postseason, he has one of the best playoff resumes of the century. Just one season ago, Leonard led the playoff-maligned Toronto Raptors over the hump to their first NBA Championship, putting up amazing numbers along the way and winning his second Finals MVP, also taking home the award back in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs. I’m willing to look past Leonard’s one blemish last season, as I think he will be back to being the Terminator we all know in next season’s playoffs, not to mention a top-five regular-season player as well.
2. Kevin Durant*, Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Durant is the second of my asterisk players, and his mark is an even bigger one than Curry’s. Durant is coming off an Achilles tear, notoriously one of the most difficult injuries to recover from. It’s possible the 32-year-old Durant could never be the same. But if he is even 90% of his former self, there’s a good chance he lives up to this spot in the rankings. Durant is one of the most gifted scorers ever; he can get buckets from anywhere on the floor. Add in the fact that he is almost 7 feet tall and you have an unstoppable force. Durant already has four scoring titles, two championships, two Finals MVPs and one regular-season MVP. Who’s to say he cannot add to that resume with the Nets this upcoming season? In his last healthy season, he put up 26 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game surrounded by other ball-dominant scorers, and he could put up even bigger numbers next season without Curry and Klay Thompson surrounding him. Durant has had multiple seasons in which he has looked like the best player in the world, and if he’s healthy again this year, he could stake that claim once again.
1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Any doubts about the “Washed King” were completely squashed this past season, as LeBron James once again proved he’s in a league of his own. In the 2019-20 season, James reached his ninth NBA Finals in 10 seasons and captured his fourth title and fourth Finals MVP. He did all this while putting up his typical incredible numbers: 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and a league-leading and career-high 10.2 assists per game in the regular season. James finished second in the MVP voting for the third time in his career, another superhuman feat considering he is 35 years old and in his 17th season in the league. James has also won the award four times. There is no argument for another player in this spot. James was arguably the best player in the regular season, and then he was the best player on the team that won the title. The only question is: How much longer can he do it? He showed few if any signs of slowing down this year, and if he continues this trajectory, his career will end with him shutting the door on the debate over who is the greatest player of all time. For now, that debate still rages. But it’s tough to put the best or second-best player of all time, coming off a title and Finals MVP, lower than No. 1 in these rankings, don’t you think?
Tim Brennan is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. Around the Association appears online every other week.