Best of the Best: Pearce’s Top 10 NBA Players Right Now

%28Kawhi+Leonard+playing+for+Toronto+Raptors+Scotiabank+Arena+vs+Charlotte+Hornets+NBA.+Image+via+WikiMedia+Commons%29

(Kawhi Leonard playing for Toronto Raptors Scotiabank Arena vs Charlotte Hornets NBA. Image via WikiMedia Commons)

By Ethan Pearce, Sports Writer

 

The NBA is a star-driven league. The ceiling of a team is as high as their best player, and those lucky enough to have true superstars are often those in contention for the O’Brien Trophy. Here are my rankings for the top players in the league, when healthy, as of today.

  1. Paul George

Also known as PG13, he is one of the premier 3&D players in the league. Although he has struggled with health at points this season, the Clippers are the scariest defensive team in the league when he’s on the court. Between him and Kawhi Leonard — who you will see later on this list — Los Angeles has two of the best wing defenders in the game. With his size, athleticism and shooting ability, he is the complete package and exactly the player you want on your team competing for the NBA title. The Clippers are my favorite to win it all this season if and when it resumes, and George is a big reason why.

  1. Damian Lillard

Although Portland hasn’t been as successful this year as in years past, Damian Lillard is still one of the best point guards in the NBA. He’s averaging 28.9 points per game this season, the fifth highest mark in the league. When a clutch bucket is needed, Lillard will knock it down, as we saw last year when he sent the Thunder home in the first round. With the perfect blend of skill, athleticism, playmaking and shooting touch, Lillard continues to establish himself as one of the best guards in the NBA.

  1. Anthony Davis

This ranking may be a little low for some people, and that’s okay. I ranked Davis a little lower due to many things, but the biggest one for me is his lack of playoff success, which can be attributed to many things, such as being on the poorly run Pelicans until this season, his health or bad luck with seeding. Whatever the case is, a top player has to have success on the biggest stage. While Davis hasn’t had that yet, this season is his chance to break through and move up the list. The Lakers are considered to be one of the favorites for the title, and if Davis can stay healthy throughout the playoffs, they certainly have a chance. His health history combined with his lack of postseason success keep him out of the top five for me, but his great counting stats as well as defensive impact give him a strong case. If the Lakers go far this year and in the future, Davis has the chance to really move himself up this list.

  1. Luka Doncic

This dude is the real deal. Only in his second season at age 21, Luka Doncic has the potential to not only be the best player in the league one day but also one of the all time greats. The kid can score, pass, shoot and rebound all at a high level. He is only scratching the surface of what he can be as a player, and after carrying the Mavericks to the playoffs this season, they will be feared for years to come. Doncic has done enough in his two seasons in the league to be considered one of the best players in the NBA already, and he will only improve from here.

  1. James Harden

As one of the greatest scorers in the league, James Harden belongs in the top ten. I have been critical of Harden in the past, and I still stand by my critiques of him — he has a history of not showing up in big playoff moments, his signature move is often a travel that he gets away with and getting over ten points a game at the free throw line doesn’t make for compelling basketball. Still, it’s tough to argue with the sheer volume of scoring he is able to pour in every night, and his size and skill makes him very tough to defend. I keep him out of the top five because of the lack of a title and playing style I don’t agree with, but the former MVP belongs here at No. 6.

  1. Kawhi Leonard

This is where it gets tough. The top five players in the NBA are all very close and tough to break apart from one another in terms of skill. I put Kawhi Leonard at fifth only because of his approach to rest and injury. The concept of “load management” has been an issue in the NBA, especially since Leonard popularized it over the last two seasons following his quad injury and subsequent trade from the Spurs. Leonard isn’t on the floor all the time, but when he is, he is one of the top defenders in the league who can also score and pass at a high level. With two rings as the best player on two teams, Leonard can complete the trio this year by taking the Clippers all the way, and my money is on them as the title favorite.

  1. Kevin Durant

After a devastating Achilles injury during last year’s NBA Finals, there’s no knowing what Kevin Durant will look like when he finally returns to the court. If he’s anything like the player he was pre-injury, this ranking of No. 4 may be too low. For a player not built on pure athleticism and more on skill and shooting, KD might be just fine as he eases his way back into game shape. A player at his size that is able to dribble and shoot the way he does is one of a kind, and Durant has a lot to prove now with the Brooklyn Nets and away from Steph Curry. Regardless of anything, a healthy Durant is absolutely a top five player in the NBA and the game is better with him on the court.

  1. Steph Curry

Another player who missed basically all of last season after a broken hand just four games into the year, Steph Curry might be ranked too low here. The Warriors had a rough year without him, but before his injury, Curry was one of the favorites for league MVP. The greatest shooter the league has ever seen, Curry changes the game with the way he spaces the floor as he is a threat from anywhere past half court. Not only can he score with the best of them, but he has incredible passing and finishing ability as well as underrated rebounding and defense for a guard his size. His leadership makes all his teammates better. After a long break from basketball and with next season unlikely to start until December, Curry and his fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson will be ready and energized to make another run at a title. He has a chance to not only prove himself as a top player in the NBA today but move himself higher up the all-time list.

  1. LeBron James

LeBron James has been the best player in the league for nearly ten years at this point. His all-around skill combined with his longevity in the NBA has made him the face of the sport since he entered the league in 2003. So why is he ranked No. 2 now? Simply, he is no longer the best all-around player in the league. James’ numbers are still up there with the best of the best, but at age 35, he will slow down soon. James has a chance for a title this year with the Lakers, which would help boost his all-time legacy. Putting James at No. 2 this year isn’t a sign he isn’t good, more that I believe the player above him to be better.

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The reigning MVP who is about to take home his second straight award gets my nod as the best player in the NBA today. The Greek Freak is a machine. He is nearly unguardable due to his size and speed that allow him to get to the rim nearly every time. He’s averaging cartoonishly impressive per game statistics along with great defensive numbers — all in just under 31 minutes per game. His Milwaukee Bucks are blowing everyone out every night and have the best record in the NBA. He may also take home the Defensive Player of the Year award along with his MVP. Giannis Antetokounmpo does everything you want a superstar to do, and did I mention he’s been working on his shooting ability too? And he’s still only 25? Look out. This is Antetokounmpo’s league — we’re all just living in it.

 

Apologies to Nikola Jokic, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Klay Thompson and Jayson Tatum, who narrowly missed the list and round out my top 15, not necessarily in that order. 

 

[email protected]

@e_pearce_