In about two months, basketball season will again be upon us. During the offseason, several major deals went down, including Jimmy Butler being dealt to the Timberwolves, Paul George being traded to the Thunder, and Chris Paul to the Rockets, all for seemingly lackluster returns. With these trades and the free agent signings of Paul Millsap and Blake Griffin, the Western Conference is considerably more talented than the East.
Last year, Vaynu Kadiyali ’19 and I wrote somewhat contrasting lists naming our top fifteen NBA players. Looking back, I made some questionable decisions such as placing Steph Curry above LeBron as the best player, but overall, I believe I did well with the information we had after the 2015-16 season. Now, I present a new list, but this time, I decided I didn’t want to deal with the difficulty of comparing players who play wildly different roles. Instead, I ranked the top four players at each traditional position.
- Stephen Curry: Despite a drop off that was to be expected after the signing of Kevin Durant, Curry had the second best three point shooting season of all time in 2016-17, and led the Warriors to a historic playoff run. Playing in Steve Kerr’s offense tends to limit assist numbers, but Curry put up great stats nonetheless. Curry also has an ability to attract defenders on the court, allowing others to get open shots because of his perimeter shooting prowess.
- James Harden: With an MVP caliber season, Harden showed that he is an elite point guard, leading all players in assists while keeping up an incredible scoring pace. Also, Harden made serious strides on defense, contesting a high number of shots, a welcome departure from his often apathetic play on that end.
- Chris Paul: CP3 was injured for part of the season, but still is one of the best point guards in the NBA, even at age 32. He is as good a playmaker as any, has a good shot, and can play better defense than any other point guard on this list. Paul may struggle to get far in the playoffs, but most of the blame belongs to the Clippers’ coaching and abysmal bench.
- Russell Westbrook: The reigning MVP may have the hardware, but he lacks the wins and the efficiency to be a top-three point guard. While there is no denying his historic performance this past year, he still needs to make strides in sharing the ball, which should be easier with Paul George next to him. Also, his usually decent defense took a hit this year, hurting his standing in my eyes.
- DeMar DeRozan: DeRozan has blossomed into a superstar alongside teammate Kyle Lowry on the Raptors. The two have been fortunate enough to play in an isolation-heavy system under Dwane Casey, even though the system may not be the most successful for the team. DeRozan has the best mid-range shot in the NBA, and has become more willing to take on the scoring load lately.
- Bradley Beal: Beal certainly benefits from playing alongside one of the best playmaking point guards in John Wall, but he has blossomed into an elite scoring guard under Wizards’ coach Scott Brooks. Able to score from anywhere on the court and create his own shot, Beal has tools that few other shooting guards possess, especially when his three-point shooting is considered. His defense is nothing special, but it isn’t bad by any stretch and does not seem to hinder the Wizards much.
- Klay Thompson: While only the fourth best player on Golden State, Thompson is one of the best shooting guards due to his deadly combo of shooting and defense. While he can be an incredibly streaky shooter, when he is on, he is among the best offensive players in the Association, shown by his sixty-point game (in three quarters!) this past year as well as his historic thirty-seven-point quarter on perfect shooting in 2015. Add to that his solid defense that helps the Warriors hide Curry against elite opposing point guards, and Thompson has carved out his position as by far the best “3&D” player in the league.
- Avery Bradley: While Bradley is possibly the best lockdown defender on this list, he is lacking in other defensive abilities and is limited on offense, warranting his lower spot. However, he has grown into a valuable shooter, helping the Celtics overcome the Cavs once in the past playoffs, and will no doubt be an improvement over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on the Pistons.
- LeBron James: There is not much to say here, as James has long been the obvious best player in the world (despite my previous assertion that Curry was better). Dominant on both offense and defense when he wants to be, LeBron has no match in athleticism or in Basketball IQ. He is a perfect floor general, and even has begun to act as the de facto on-floor coach for the Cavs. While he will have a tough time getting past the Warriors in the near future, he has still reached an incredible seven straight NBA Finals, proving that he is a winner.
- Kawhi Leonard: Leonard has added a formidable offensive game on to the best perimeter defensive game in the NBA. He has made a name for himself as the clear best two-way player in the NBA, becoming an offensive force after winning two Defensive Player of the Year (DPoY) awards. His late game heroics, both against the Rockets and Grizzlies, were on display in the postseason this year, and he nearly singlehandedly brought the Spurs to the Western Conference Finals. While coach Gregg Popovich deserves an enormous amount of credit, Leonard has shown an incredible work ethic and capacity for improvement that dwarfs most, if not all, in the Association.
- Kevin Durant: While he may be seen by many as disloyal and even evil, Durant’s skill cannot be denied. Like the next player on this list, he is a rarity as a 7-foot-tall player who can handle the ball extremely well, and, unlike the next player, has a great jump shot and is one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA. His addition to the Warriors made them the best NBA team of all time by quite a bit, due in part to his defensive abilities. He has made great strides on that end, being able to block quite a few shots and play decent man-to-man defense now.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: While still only 22, Antetokounmpo, or the “Greek Freak” as he is called, has all the tools to be the next NBA superstar. Not only does he have mind-boggling length and dunks, he is also an elite passer, defender, and scorer, leading the Bucks in all five major statistical categories in the past year. He also became the first player in NBA history to rank in the Top 20 in those five categories for the entire league in a single year. While he still lacks a decent jumper, Giannis will continue to benefit from good shooters around him as he leads an up-and-coming Bucks team that looks to play well in a depleted East.
- Draymond Green: It may be crazy to say that a player on Golden State is underrated, but Green very well may be. Since he plays for the juggernaut Warriors, Green is not asked to take up much of the scoring load unlike Davis, but he makes up for that by being the best defensive player in the NBA. Not only can he guard the perimeter nearly as well as Leonard, he can shut down opposing players the paint, although perhaps not as well as Rudy Gobert. However, he also contributes heavily on the offensive end as the primary facilitator for the Warriors, the cog that allows the other three stars to put up more than 20 points per game each. Green may get flak for his antics, but he helps his team win with his grit and competitive spirit. That, along with his singular talents, earn him his spot.
- Anthony Davis: In the modern NBA, a power forward needs to be able to do it all, and Davis personifies this. Not only can he unleash hell in the post with his rebounding and scoring, but he can stretch the floor like few other dominant bigs can. He also is a formidable inside presence on defense, blocking the second most shots per game in the past season. Alongside DeMarcus Cousins on the Pelicans, Davis will do his best to enter the Western Conference playoff fray next season.
- Kevin Love: Even playing alongside Kyrie Irving and James on the Cavs, Love has been able to carve out a niche for himself as a large impact player, even though he’s been forced to occupy the role of a spot up shooter. He has also been a dominant rebounder in Cleveland, helping Tristan Thompson when he went cold in the Finals. Also, many forget how dominant Love was on the Wolves before the trade that brought him to Cleveland. As the primary scoring option, Love proves that he could carry a team, earning him consideration for the MVP award.
- Blake Griffin: With Chris Paul gone to the Rockets, Griffin now leads the Clippers as long as he stays healthy. As a big man with a near complete game, Griffin can shoot, pass, rebound, and score prolifically down low. He also has a small load on defense with DeAndre Jordan clogging up the paint, so he isn’t a liability for the Clippers. Watch for Griffin to have a breakout year if he isn’t injured, as he tries to lead the Clippers through to the playoffs in the stacked West.
- Rudy Gobert: At only 25, Gobert is one of the most electrifying players in the Association, always a threat to block an opponent’s shot on any drive. He also is one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA, shooting 66 percent from the field this past season. Since he won’t have George Hill and Gordon Hayward to score from the outside this season, look for Gobert to take on more of the scoring load for the Jazz.
- DeMarcus Cousins: Cousins, while he may be a terrible locker room presence, possesses the best offensive game of all centers. He can score from deep, short, or mid-range; can post up; and is one of the better passing big men. He may not be an elite defender, but he can certainly hold his own on that end. Paired with Davis, his passing abilities and his shot making will be a boon for the Pelicans as he gets passes from the newly signed Rajon Rondo.
- Marc Gasol: With a similar offensive package to Cousins, Gasol is a bit below him on this list due to Cousins being a hair more athletic and large, being able to bully opposing defenders. Gasol, however, has one of the best defensive games of any center, being able to shut down prolific post scorers and winning a DPoY. He has also been the sole reason, along with Mike Conley, that the Grizzlies have been able to make and compete in the playoffs in the past few seasons.
- Hassan Whiteside: Whiteside lacks the post moves that the two above him utilize so well, but he is basically a poor man’s Gobert with more size. In the 2015-16 season, Whiteside had a mind-boggling 3.7 blocks a game, and while he dipped down this year, he is still one of the premier paint defenders. Add to that his rebounding prowess and his decent mid-range shot, and Whiteside was one of the leaders of the Heat’s turnaround last season.