NBA free agency is winding down, and clearly the biggest move was Gordon Hayward going to Boston. Oddly, plenty of NBA observers don’t think Hayward is even a #2 star on a team; others didn’t even think he was a Top 20 player in the Western Conference, much less the NBA.
“Best” is difficult to quantify, because so many factors go into the discussion. The offense the player is part of, the position they play, their age, advanced stats, all of that. It all matters. Right now, headed into the 2017-2018 season, here’s how I’d rank the Top 30 players in the NBA, and Hayward is without question in the Top 20.
1. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
5. James Harden, Houston Rockets
6. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
You can quibble over the order here, and I’m sure many will. But as of today, these are my Top 6, in order. I’ve covered Durant vs LeBron previously; there’s virtually no separation between 3-6.
7. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
8. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
10. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
11. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
This is where it starts to get difficult. most of these players are ascending, and haven’t won anything yet. None has even sniffed an MVP award yet. All were Top 15 in PER except George, who was 42nd.
Another group of ascending stars. Where’s Chris Paul, you ask? The advanced stats love him, but at 32 with his injury history, I feel he’s at the tail end of his prime, while the rest of these players are entering theirs. Irving is difficult to rank. He’s a great #2 to LeBron; how would he look at this stage of his career leading a team?
DeMarcus Cousins is another advanced stats machine. He’s always played on bad teams and put up terrific numbers. Kind of like Kevin Love before Cleveland. Draymond Green is also difficult to peg. He’s the 4th offensive option for Golden State but is on pace to be an all-time defender; what happens if he swaps teams with Cousins?
Carmelo is also difficult to place. He averaged 22.4 ppg last season, but his shooting percentages are all trending down, he doesn’t rebound like he used to, and at 33 years old, would you take him before the other 24 guys on this list?
Thomas is allergic to defense, but he’s a clutch scorer and was clearly the best player on a 53-win team that went to the Eastern Conference finals. He’s peaking at the right time in his career. Yes, I’d narrowly take him now over Kyle Lowry.
Whiteside isn’t the passer that Jokic is; he isn’t the overall defender that Gobert is. Jokic and Gobert are ascending; has Whiteside plateaued? I have a sneaky feeling Miami will be very good next season, and Whiteside will be a dominant force.
The teams not represented in the Top 30 or just missed: Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Indiana, Chicago, Detroit, Orlando, Dallas, LA Lakers, Phoenix.