Welcome to the third edition of my annual NBA top 50 player rankings. Ordinarily, these would hit the internet in August, but this year has truly thrown everything out of whack. Thankfully basketball is back to take us away from some of our day-to-day problems. The preseason is already underway, and the 72-game regular season begins on Dec. 22. It’s the perfect time to kick off a new cycle of NBA coverage.

For those of you who are new to this series, I rank players in tiers based on production from previous seasons, skill, injuries, and projected improvement. It’s highly subjective, and you won’t agree with all of my decisions. If you find yourself unable to contain your rage, feel free to yell at me on Twitter.

Unlike in last year’s rankings, I’m including players who missed most if not all of the 2019 season with injuries, and I’ll include players who could miss this season. It might not make a lot of sense, but I believe that skill and accomplishments deserve recognition. You can call it the Klay Thompson clause.

Tier 1- MVP Candidates (12)

1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Previous rank: 2

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Previous rank: 5

3. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

Previous rank: 4

4. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Previous rank: 7

5. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

Previous rank: 1

6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Previous rank: 3

7. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Previous rank: 6

8. Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks

Previous rank: 27

9. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Previous rank: 10

10. Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets

Previous rank: 12

11. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

Previous rank: 19

12. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Previous rank: Honorable Mention

James reclaims his spot as the NBA’s best player. Despite Antetokounmpo winning his second consecutive MVP, I never doubted that James belonged at No. 1. He was the best player on a championship team and showed some renewed effort on defense this year. Antetokounmpo wasn’t guaranteed the No. 2 spot either, but it’s hard to overlook the reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.

Leonard proved his worth once and for all with Toronto two years ago, and he’s arguably become more involved as a facilitator and three-point shooter since then. Similar to Davis, Leonard is an incredibly well-rounded two-way superstar. Both are physically and mentally at the top of the NBA world. Davis’ standing continues improving after capturing a title with the Lakers this past season.

Durant and Curry both experienced significant drop-offs from the 2019 rankings. Durant hasn’t played in over a year and a half, while Curry only appeared in five games last season. However, both are 32-year-old former MVPs with plenty of prime basketball left. We don’t know what Durant will look like after tearing his Achilles, but expectations are high for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Harden is difficult to pin down. I could make a reasonable argument for having him fourth on this list. However, he’s the only player in the top-seven never to win a championship, and Houston’s chemistry seems questionable. From a production standpoint, Harden is one of the NBA’s top-three players. He’s led the league in points per game three years in a row. However, I can’t bring myself to place him above Curry or Durant.

Dončić, Jokić, and Lillard are all incredible players, but they could fall out of the top-ten at any time this coming season. I agree that Dončić has an MVP ceiling, that’s why he’s in Tier 1, but the 21-year-old is only entering his third season. We’ll get to see if he plateaus or continues growing in 2020. Jokić is a top-five passer in today’s league, but his scoring and defensive outputs keep him as a fringe MVP candidate.

Lillard offers a combination of Curry and Kyrie Irving in his offensive arsenal. The man made 40.1% of his threes last year while attempting 10.2 from beyond the arc each night! That’s insane offensive production from the lone superstar in Portland. However, his defense is less praiseworthy.

I extended this class to include Butler and Tatum, which some people might disagree with. In my initial draft, I cut the first tier off after ten players. However, Butler proved he’s capable of shouldering an incredible burden under extreme conditions last year. Meanwhile, Tatum is one of the fastest developing players in the league. He could turn into a borderline elite defender and already possesses a dominant offensive game.

Tier 2- All-NBA Superstars (8)

13. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Previous rank: 8

14. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Previous rank: 29

15. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

Previous rank: 42

16. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Previous rank: 13

17. Russell Westbrook, Washington Wizards

Previous rank: 11

18. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

Previous rank: 14

19. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers

Previous rank: 9

20. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Previous rank: 15

Embiid and Simmons are on the precipice of entering the MVP debate. Embiid statistically regressed from 2018 to 2019, which led to his slight drop in the rankings. When healthy, he’s the most physically imposing center in the league. Meanwhile, Simmons is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and is making inroads as a passer and interior scorer. However, he needs a jump shot to increase his value above No. 14.

Last season was a resonance for Paul, who made his tenth All-Star game and earned All-NBA 2nd Team honors. The 35-year-old point guard turned a potential lottery team into a scrappy playoff underdog that went seven games with the Rockets in the First Round. Now, Paul gets to play alongside Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker in Phoenix.

Towns possesses the abilities of a top-five scorer and a top-ten player, but the 25-year-old hasn’t reached his full potential yet. The 6-11 center made 41.2% of his three-point shots last season despite attempting 7.9 per game, and he made 50.8% of his overall shots. That kind of scoring efficiency from a big man attempting almost the same number of threes as two per game is unheard of. However, Towns lags behind on defense and can still develop as a passer.

I included Westbrook in Tier 1 in the past and for good reasons. He’s a former MVP and averaged a triple-double over three consecutive seasons. However, he hasn’t been able to win alone or with other stars. Westbrook can make lottery teams borderline playoff contenders, but his teams rarely sniff championship hopes. This leaves Westbrook’s overall impact in question despite his historic numbers.

The national storylines surrounding Irving are mostly negative. This makes sense, considering he does nothing to endear himself to the media. However, Irving is involved in a lot of charitable work off the court, and the 28-year-old hasn’t lost his edge. He scored 548 points in just 20 games last season, setting a career-high pace of 27.4 points per game. Irving still possesses lethal handles and a dominant three-point game, making close to 40.0% of his shots from range despite attempting seven per game.

George and Thompson are two of the NBA’s best wings from the past decade. After an MVP-caliber season, George experienced a significant statistical drop-off with the Clippers. Injuries and inconsistent play during the playoffs also hurt his value. However, George still knocked down 41.2% of his 7.9 three-pointers each night. That’s tremendous production from the six-time All-Star.

Thompson won’t see the court this season. He tore his Achilles before making his comeback from an ACL injury that cost him all of 2019. At his peak, Thompson was easily a 40.0% three-point shooter while attempting a high volume of shots from beyond the arc. He also earned an All-Defensive selection for the 2018-19 season. Even if the Achilles injury saps some of the 30-year-old’s explosiveness, his three-point shooting should always pull through.

Tier 3- All-Stars (16)

21. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Previous rank: 22

22. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

Previous rank: 31

23. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Previous rank: 32

24. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

Previous rank: 23

25. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Previous rank: 21

26. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

Previous rank: Unranked

27. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

Previous rank: 38

28. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Previous rank: 44

29. Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks

Previous rank: 43

30. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

Previous rank: Honorable Mention

31. Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons

Previous rank: 17

32. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics

Previous rank: 18

33. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Previous rank: 36

34. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

Previous rank: Unranked

35. Kristaps Porziņģis, Dallas Mavericks

Previous rank: 34

36. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

Previous rank: Unranked

Four guards open Tier 3 in a surprising order. Beal and Young, the two more statistically productive players, follow Booker and Mitchell. Admittedly, I’m projecting for Booker taking his game to another level this season. He’s averaged 26.6 points per game over the past two seasons, and the Suns are finally in a position to make a playoff push with their young star.

Mitchell doesn’t have the best basic stat line, but he showed us another level of potential in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. The 24-year-old became known for struggling in the postseason during his first two years, but Mitchell had none of that this time around. He averaged a league-leading 36.6 points per game in Utah’s seven-game playoff run while making 52.9% of his overall shots, 51.6% of his threes (9.1 per game), and 94.8% of his free throws. That performance elevated Mitchell to No. 22.

Beal and Young are two incredibly productive players on horrible teams. Beal finished second in scoring this past season (30.5 points per game), trailing only Harden, while Young ranked fourth (29.6 points per game). Neither offers anything on defense, but Young averaged 9.3 assists per game, which accounted for roughly 45.6% of his teammates’ field goals while he was on the floor. Beal also expanded his role as a passer, averaging over six assists per game for the first time.

Adebayo and Gobert need outside shots if they ever want to crack the top-20. At this point, I don’t think Gobert will ever be a dynamic offensive player worth a heavy usage rate. I’m still optimistic about Adebayo, who flashes impressive facilitation skills for a player his size. Both centers are All-Defensive players, with Gobert specializing at protecting the rim and Adebayo dominating in pick-and-roll coverage.

Holiday, Lowry, and Middleton are all undervalued players. Perhaps they even deserve higher rankings on this list. Holiday does everything well. He’s a great locker room presence, shoots threes, facilitates, attacks the basket, and has two previous All-Defensive selections. Holiday’s new teammate, Middleton, proved capable of carrying the Bucks over short spurts while Antetokounmpo was out last season. He’s also a top-tier shot creator who made 41.5% of his threes last season.

The general public still questions why Lowry is an All-Star, and it’s infuriating. Watch the man play. Go back and look at the most recent playoff run. The Raptors are not a playoff team during the 2019-20 season without Lowry. He sets the tone for them on both sides of the ball and controls the flow of games. Even if he’ll never be a superstar, Lowry deserves a spot among the game’s top point guards.

Ingram and Griffin are trending in different directions. At 23 years old, Ingram won the Most Improved Player award last season and led the Pelicans in scoring. His defense hasn’t developed as much as I hoped it would, but Ingram’s improvement as a three-point and free throw shooter is monumental. The Duke product made more threes last season (62 games, 150 makes) than he did in his first three years combined (190 games, 127 makes).

As for Griffin, injuries continue to hound the 31-year-old. He only appeared in 18 games last season, but I think people forget how good he was in 2018. That year, Griffin made 36.2% of his three-pointers while attempting seven per game. He averaged 24-5-7 across the board while posting career-highs in usage percentage, true shooting, box +/-, and VORP on a depleted Pistons team. All of that earned Griffin an All-NBA 3rd Team selection. When healthy, Griffin is still arguably a top-20 player in the NBA.

Walker finds his value decreasing significantly after making an All-NBA 3rd Team for the 2018-19 season. A combination of injuries and playing alongside young stars led to Cardiac Kemba suffering a slump last year. While he’s still an elite scorer and All-Star, the 6-0 point guard has never offered much in terms of defense. Walker is still a dominant pick-and-roll player, and he’s fit in well with Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Unfortunately, Walker won’t see action until at least January because of a knee issue.

Brown, Porziņģis, Sabonis, and Siakam are all in a similar boat. They’re All-Star-caliber players who won’t consistently make All-Star Games because of their positions in the NBA. Had the season ended before the bubble, I might’ve placed Siakam in the top-25, considering his impressive growth over the past two years. However, a poor showing in the playoffs hurt his value significantly. Still, he earned an All-NBA 2nd Team nod this past season, so maybe I’m way off base here.

Brown gets overlooked because of the teammates he plays with, but the 24-year-old averaged over 20 points per game last season. He’s also improving as a three-point and free throw shooter, but his defensive consistency has always turned heads. I believe Brown will make multiple All-Star games before his career ends.

Porziņģis and Sabonis are two different types of big men. While they both can play the five and the four, Porziņģis relies heavily on his value as a three-point shooter and rim protector. He’s also improving as a passer, but that hasn’t translated into night-to-night production yet.

Meanwhile, Sabonis has little to no gravity outside of the three-point line. However, he averaged five assists per game last season and spent more time grabbing offensive rebounds than his Latvian counterpart. This makes Sabonis a better facilitator and post technician, but Porziņģis has his own areas of dominance. With development, both big men could become top-25 players. However, that’s another year or two away.

Tier 4- Borderline All-Stars (14)

37. CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

Previous rank: 41

38. Nikola Vučević, Orlando Magic

Previous rank: 39

39. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

Previous rank: Honorable Mention

40. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

Previous rank: 52

41. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Previous rank: College

42. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

Previous rank: College

43. D’Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves

Previous rank: 30

44. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

Previous rank: 35

45. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs

Previous rank: 20

46. DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs

Previous rank: 26

47. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

Previous rank: Unranked

48. Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers

Previous rank: 16

49. Danilo Gallinari, Atlanta Hawks

Previous rank: 46

50. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers

Previous rank: 33

McCollum and Vučević are two of the more unsung veterans in the NBA. McCollum is an ideal second option next to Lillard. The 29-year-old is impressive from mid-range, but he’s also a career 39.7% high-volume three-point shooter. McCollum has averaged over 20 points per game in each of the last five regular seasons and playoffs.

Vučević didn’t quite match his All-Star production from 2018-19 this past season, but the Swiss center ramped up his role as a three-point shooter, continuing a three-year trend of improving his offensive versatility. Neither McCollum nor Vučević is a standout defender, but their size and effort alone keep them from failing in that area.

If you told me a year ago that I’d rank Murray ahead of Fox heading into the 2020 season, I might’ve bitten your ear off. I believe Fox’s trajectory to stardom is still clearer than Murray’s, but it’s impossible to overlook what the Denver point guard did in the playoffs.

After showing stagnant levels of play for the past two years, Murray blew the lid off the 2020 NBA Playoffs. In 19 postseason games, he averaged 26.5 points, 6.6 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game while posting an otherworldly 62.6 true shooting percentage. The 23-year-old knocked down 50.5% of his shots, 45.3% of his threes (while attempting 7.2 per game), and 89.7% of his free throws. It’s impossible to overlook that performance while creating this list.

Fox can be a top-five point guard, but a lot of that depends on him developing as a three-point shooter and the Kings surrounding him with weapons. Fox took a startling step back in his three-point accuracy this past season, but he also connected on more of his shots from mid-range and at the rim. With his usage percentage climbing toward star levels, it’s only a matter of time before Fox asserts himself as one of the NBA’s top players.

Morant and Williamson will always have their names tied together. The two stud former rookies rank back-to-back for several reasons. Williamson unmistakably made a larger impact when on the floor in New Orleans than Morant did in Memphis, but the former only played 24 games. However, I’m not sure where Williamson fits in the modern NBA yet. He’s a tremendous talent who averaged 22.5 points per game as a 19-year-old rookie, but he still needs significant improvement as a three-point shooter, facilitator, and defender.

Meanwhile, Morant’s path to stardom is much clearer. He’s got the explosiveness of Westbrook and already flashed some polish as an outside shooter and passer. He puts out the effort to make an impact on defense too, but the refinement isn’t there yet. If I had to pick one of the two second-years stars for a one-game match, I’d take Williamson. However, Morant has a more stable path if we’re projecting for the next two or three years.

Russell and LaVine suffer from similar detractors who quickly point out that the two offensively orientated guards offer little on defense. Questions also exist about the true impact these two make, considering they’ve only played in one playoff series combined. Russell attempted more threes than twos last season, but he still set a career-high in true shooting (55.6%) and got to the free throw line more. It’ll be interesting to see if Russell can up his game alongside Towns in Minnesota.

LaVine has completely bought into the three-point shot, and it’s paying off. The 25-year-old made 38.0% of his threes last season despite attempting 8.1 per game. LaVine also flashed some clutch genes, dragging the Bulls to a few wins in late-game situations. However, his ability to elevate teammates as a true No. 1 option is still in question. Chicago hasn’t won more than 30 games in any of LaVine’s three seasons with the team.

Aldridge and DeRozan find themselves at the center of an aging Spurs team that broke a 22-year playoff streak this past season. With injuries piling up, the 35-year-old Aldridge might be near the end of his time as an All-Star. Meanwhile, DeRozan finds his true value under attack again as critics point to his lackluster defense and nonexistent three-point shooting.

Unlike his fellow star, Aldridge is transitioning into the three-point era. The mid-range master attempted three three-pointers per game last season, surprisingly making 38.9% of those attempts. He also set a career-high with 1.6 blocks per game but finished as a negative defender according to box +/-. Aldridge’s willingness to develop as an outside shooter increases his value as an offensive weapon and extends his prime.

I don’t buy into all of the analytics saying DeRozan isn’t a top-50 player. He’s not a top-30 player anymore, but the man is lethal from mid-range and has seven consecutive years with at least 20 points per game. DeRozan buried 54.0% of his two-point attempts last season, setting a career-high, but he couldn’t bail out the struggling Spurs.

Gilgeous-Alexander is an intriguing player with top-30 potential. Now that Paul is in Phoenix and Dennis Schröder is on the Lakers, we’ll see if SGA can serve as the centerpiece of a rebuilding team. Gilgeous-Alexander is a good mid-range scorer and viable three-point shooter, but I don’t think any one aspect of his game stands out as fantastic. Yes, he can create plenty of opportunities for himself as a dribbler, but can he fill a larger role as a facilitator this year?

Oladipo is an enigma on and off the court. He seems discontent in Indiana, no matter what he tells the media, and he hasn’t played at an All-Star or All-Defensive level since January of 2019. Oladipo made a comeback for Indiana’s playoff run this past season but made fewer than 40.0 of his shots as the Pacers got swept. If Oladipo returns to his 2017-18 form, he’ll shoot back into the top-30. For now, the injured star barely cracks the top-50.

Gallinari and Love share some similarities. They’re both former lottery picks and are stretch fours that attempted more threes than twos last season. Gallinari offers nothing on the defensive end. He’s actually a detriment on that side of the court, but the Italian’s offensive impact is undeniable.

Gallinari has three seasons with a true shooting percentage over 60.0 in the past four years while making over 40.0% of his threes during that time. His Box +/-, win shares, and VORP over that time all point to Gallinari serving as one of the NBA’s best offensive players. No wonder his teams have posted offensive ratings of 120 or higher in four of the past five seasons. I could easily make an argument for elevating Gallinari into the top-40 on this list.

Love rebounded from a disappointing 2018-19 season, but the 32-year-old desperately needs a change of scenery. He proved he’s still capable of averaging 20 points per 36 minutes last year. Hopefully, a championship contender gets Love out of Cleveland before his All-Star potential vanishes entirely.

Two for the Road

51. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

Previous rank: Unranked

52. Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors

Previous rank: Unranked

Despite serving a suspension, Ayton showed inspiring growth last season. His offensive game is coming along nicely, but it’s still too flat to crack the top-50. He needs to develop an outside shot and play a larger role as a facilitator. Meanwhile, VanVleet made one of the biggest jumps in the NBA last year. He went from being a rotational player to a full-fledged starter with 20 points per game potential.

Honorable Mentions

Eric Bledsoe, New Orleans Pelicans

Previous rank: 50

Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana Pacers

Previous rank: Unranked

John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Previous rank: 48

DeMarcus Cousins, Houston Rockets

Previous rank: 25

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Previous rank: 24

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Lakers

Previous rank: Unranked

Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

Previous rank: Unranked

Dennis Schröder, Los Angeles Lakers

Previous rank: Unranked

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

Previous rank: Unranked

John Wall, Houston Rockets

Previous rank: 28

T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers

Previous rank: Unranked

Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers

Previous rank: 40