The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Ranking the 50 best current players in the NBA 2019

Ranking the 50 best current players in the NBA 2019

May 14, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives to the basket against Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the first quarter in game one of the Western conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I tried to account for injuries by taking a combination of the player’s numbers from 2018 and then also looking back at how those numbers compared to the ones posted in healthy seasons. This specifically applies to players like Kevin Love, Kristaps Porzingis, and John Wall. I did knock players down more if they posted several consecutive seasons with injuries (Wall) or if they missed the entire season (Porzingis).

I am not taking into account injuries that happened late in the playoffs that will carry into 2019. You can call this the Kevin Durant clause. I want the rankings to reflect the work and performances players have posted during their careers. I don’t want to knock Durant down a bunch of spots because that wouldn’t do justice to how incredible he was for Golden State.

I divided the top 50 players into five tiers. I do believe that there are five tiers of players among the league’s best, but I realize the fourth tier is a little bloated. In other situations, I thought the cutoff for tiers was obvious, but it was hard to cut players out of that All-Star tier.

Going off of that, keep in mind that these are my rankings and there were some tough decisions to make. While I did specifically number the list, players belong in a general range. I think, on other peoples’ lists, most players will fall within three or four spots of where they are in my rankings.

The previous rankings come from the 50 best current players in the NBA of 2018 that I posted last summer.

Tier One- MVP Candidates (8)

1. Kevin Durant SF, Brooklyn Nets 26.0 PPG, 5.9 AST, 6.4 REB, 1.1 BLK, 52.1 FG%

Previous rank: 2

2. LeBron James SF, Los Angeles Lakers 27.4 PPG, 8.3 AST, 8.5 REB, 1.3 STL, 51.0 FG%

Previous rank: 1

3. Stephen Curry PG, Golden State Warriors 27.3 PPG, 5.2 AST, 5.3 REB, 1.3 STL, 47.2 FG%, 43.7 3P%

Previous rank: 3

4. Kawhi Leonard SF, Los Angeles Clippers26.6 PPG, 3.3 AST, 7.3 REB, 1.8 STL, 49.6 FG%

Previous rank: 4

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo PF, Milwaukee Bucks 27.7 PGG, 5.9 AST, 12.5 REB, 1.3 STL, 1.5 BLK, 57.8 FG%

Previous rank: 8

6. James Harden SG, Houston Rockets 36.1 PPG, 7.5 AST, 6.6 REB, 2.0 STL, 44.2 FG%

Previous rank: 5

7. Anthony Davis PF/C, Los Angeles Lakers 25.9 PPG, 3.9 AST, 12.0 REB, 1.6 STL, 2.4 BLK, 51.7 FG%

Previous rank: 6

8. Joel Embiid C, Philadelphia 76ers 27.5 PPG, 3.7 AST, 13.6 REB, 1.9 BLK, 48.4 FG%

Previous rank: 13

The player who wins the MVP isn’t always the best in the world. I think we’ve established that by now. Durant, before the Achilles injury, was the best player in the world. He was just firing on all cylinders and was putting on some of the best performances of his career. Offensively, he was the most unstoppable player in the game.

People love to hate on James, but the man dropped 27, eight, and eight easily. Sometimes, you get complacent as a fan and don’t realize how incredible someone is playing when they’re as consistent as James.

Curry is still doing ridiculous things from deep. He had moments where he struggled this year, but I don’t think he should slip out of the top three.

I’m putting Leonard over Antetokounmpo because he’s a champion and a lockdown defender. In the Raptors-Bucks series, Leonard outplayed Antetokounmpo, plain and simple. While Leonard has a great defender, he doesn’t have a great passing game and can drive to the middle of nowhere sometimes.

I put Antetokounmpo over Harden because he’s a better defender. I value defense over scoring when the rankings are close, and I have to make a tough decision.

Davis and Embiid are interchangeable for the most part. They do have different games in a sense. Embiid thrives on being inside while Davis has a more versatile offensive game. Depending on the year and both players’ health, they could swap places.

Tier Two- Superstars (4)

9. Paul George SF, Los Angeles Clippers 28.0 PPG, 4.1 AST, 8.2 REB, 2.2 STL, 43.8 FG%

Previous rank: 12

10. Damian Lillard PG, Portland Trail Blazers 25.8 PPG, 6.9 AST, 4.6 REB, 1.1 STL, 44.4 FG%

Previous rank: 9

11. Russell Westbrook PG, Houston Rockets 22.9 PPG, 10.7 AST, 11.1 REB, 1.9 STL, 42.8 FG%

Previous rank: 7

12. Nikola Jokic C, Denver Nuggets 20.1 PPG, 7.3 AST, 10.8 REB, 1.4 STL, 51.1 FG%

Previous rank: 24

I know that George was an MVP candidate this past season, but he hasn’t consistently been at that level. Meanwhile, Westbrook has fallen out of that MVP range. His triple-double feats are amazing, but his teams have routinely disappointed in the playoffs and he’s failed to develop any kind of outside shot. Lillard outplayed him in their playoff series. Jokic might be a little low for some people. I could see him moving up this second tier, but not above a terrific two-way player like George.

Tier Three- All-NBA (7)

13. Karl-Anthony Towns C, Minnesota Timberwolves 24.4 PPG, 3.4 AST, 12.4 REB, 1.6 BLK, 51.8 FG%, 40.0 3P%

Previous rank: 10

14. Kyrie Irving PG, Brooklyn Nets 23.8 PPG, 6.9 AST, 5.0 REB, 1.5 STL, 48.7 FG%, 40.1 3P%

Previous rank: 15

15. Klay Thompson SG, Golden State Warriors 21.5 PPG, 2.4 AST, 3.8 REB, 1.1 STL, 46.7 FG%, 40.2 3P%

Previous rank: 16

16. Victor Oladipo SG, Indiana Pacers 18.8 PPG, 5.2 AST, 5.6 REB, 1.7 STL, 42.3 FG%

Previous rank: 17

17. Blake Griffin PF, Detroit Pistons 24.5 PPG, 5.4 AST, 7.5 REB, 46.2 FG%

Previous rank: 27

18. Kemba Walker PG, Boston Celtics 25.6 PPG, 5.9 AST, 4.4 REB, 1.2 STL, 43.4 FG%

Previous rank: 31

19. Jimmy Butler SG, Miami Heat 18.7 PPG, 4.0 AST, 5.3 REB, 1.9 STL, 46.2 FG%

Previous rank: 11

KAT has so much potential. I anticipate that he’ll be in that tier two or even tier one range at some point in his career, but he’s just not there yet. Walker might score at a great clip but he’s not helping a team defensively. Butler’s positioning might surprise people, but he’s made two All-NBA 3rd teams in the past and plays at an All-Defensive level.

Tier Four- All-Stars (20)

20. LaMarcus Aldridge PF, San Antonio Spurs 21.3 PPG, 2.4 AST, 9.2 REB, 1.3 BLK. 51.9 FG%

Previous rank: 21

21. Rudy Gobert C, Utah Jazz 15.9 PPG, 2.0 AST, 12.9 REB, 2.3 BLK, 66.9 FG%

Previous rank: 34

22. Devin Booker SG, Phoenix Suns 26.6 PPG, 6.8 AST, 4.1 REB, 46.7 FG%

Previous rank: 25

23. Bradley Beal SG, Washington Wizards 25.6 PPG, 5.5 AST, 5.0 REB, 1.5 STL, 47.5 FG%

Previous rank: 36

24. Draymond Green PF, Golden State Warriors 7.4 PPG, 6.9 AST, 7.3 REB, 1.4 STL, 1.1 BLK, 44.5 FG%

Previous rank: 19

25. DeMarcus Cousins C, Los Angeles Lakers 16.3 PPG, 3.6 AST, 8.2 REB, 1.3 STL, 1.5 BLK, 48.0 FG%

Previous rank: 18

26. DeMar DeRozan SG, San Antonio Spurs 21.2 PPG, 6.2 AST, 6.0 REB, 1.1 STL, 48.1 FG%

Previous rank: 20

27. Luka Doncic SG/SF, Dallas Mavericks 21.2 PPG, 6.0 AST, 7.8 REB, 1.1 STL, 42.7 FG%

Previous rank: Unranked (Rookie)

28. John Wall PG, Washington Wizards 20.7 PPG, 8.7 AST, 3.6 REB, 1.5 STL, 44.4 FG%

Previous rank: 22

29. Ben Simmons PG, Philadelphia 76ers 16.9 PPG, 7.7 AST, 8.8 REB, 1.4 STL, 56.3 FG%

Previous rank: 29

30. D’Angelo Russell PG, Golden State Warriors 21.1 PPG, 7.0 AST, 3.9 REB, 1.2 STL, 43.4 FG%

Previous rank: Honorable mention

31. Donovan Mitchell SG, Utah Jazz 23.8 PPG, 4.2 AST, 4.1 REB, 1.4 STL, 43.2 FG%

Previous rank: 26

32. Trae Young PG, Atlanta Hawks 19.1 PPG, 8.1 AST, 3.7 REB, 41.8 FG%

Previous rank: Unranked (Rookie)

33. Kevin Love PF, Cleveland Cavaliers 17.0 PPG, 2.2 AST, 10.9 REB, 38.5 FG%

Previous rank: 32

34. Kristaps Porzingis PF, Dallas Mavericks (2017-18 STATS) 22.7 PPG, 1.2 AST, 6.6 REB, 2.4 BLK, 43.9 FG%

Previous rank: 23

35. Zach LaVine SG, Chicago Bulls 23.7 PPG, 4.5 AST, 4.7 REB, 1.0 STL, 46.7 FG%

Previous rank: Unranked

36. Pascal Siakam PF, Toronto Raptors 16.9 PPG, 3.1 AST, 6.9 REB, 54.9 FG%

Previous rank: Unranked

37. Andre Drummond C, Detroit Pistons 17.3 PPG, 1.4 AST, 15.6 REB, 1.7 STL, 1.7 BLK, 53.3 FG%

Previous rank: 33

38. Khris Middleton SF, Milwaukee Bucks 18.3 PPG, 4.3 AST, 6.0 REB, 1.0 STL, 44.1 FG%

Previous rank: Honorable mention

39. Nikola Vucevic C, Orlando Magic 20.8 PPG, 3.8 AST, 12.0 REB, 1.0 STL, 1.1 BLK, 51.8 FG%

Previous rank: Unranked

This is where things get crowded. Obviously, not all of these players can be All-Stars in the same year. However, I’d argue that any combination of them could make the All-Star game in any given year. That’s why this tier is so bloated.

Since there are so many players, I’m not going to write about all of them. I’ll just focus on the ones that might be controversial.

Starting at the top, Aldridge and Gobert lead the way. Aldridge is still performing at the level that has seen him make All-NBA teams in the past, but he’s beginning to be overshadowed by younger big men. Gobert has been the Defensive Player of the Year in both of the last two seasons. I like my defensive guys.

Cousins and Green might be a little high for some people’s liking. Cousins was putting up 25, five, and 12 before his Achilles injury though. I don’t know if he’ll ever get back to that point, but things sound like they’re going well this offseason. I think we could see an All-Star version of Cousins in 2019. As for Green, he does more for the Warriors than people realize. He runs the floor, initiates the fast break, is a defensive anchor, has great court vision, and is undervalued in the grand scheme of the Warriors dynasty. He didn’t have a great year in 2018, but I believe he’ll bounce back.

Love, Porzingis, and Wall all caused me problems. I left Wall in the middle of a slew of guards. When healthy, he can put up 20, ten, and four while playing at an All-Defensive level. We don’t even know if we’ll see him next year though. People like to hate on Love, but he’s still a very good player. I think people will be reminded of what he did in his Minnesota days this coming season. When he’s the man on a team, he can post big numbers. Porzingis can get blocks and buckets but doesn’t spend enough time down low to get rebounds and he has a lot of room to grow as a passer.

Siakam showed how great he can be towards the end of last season and in the playoffs. Now, I just need to see him play like an All-Star for a full season.

A lot of the guards that you see in the middle of the tier can be shifted around. Many of them are young and still developing. Some, like Simmons, have a ton of potential but have yet to fill out their games. The same thing can be said for Doncic and Young. Both are versatile players, but they need to work on shooting more efficiently.

Tier Five- Borderline All-Stars (11)

40. Lou Williams SG, Los Angeles Clippers 20.0 PPG, 5.4 AST, 3.0 REB, 42.5 FG%

Previous rank: 38

41. C.J. McCollum SG, Portland Trail Blazers 21.0 PPG, 3.0 AST, 4.0 REB, 45.9. FG%

Previous rank: 41

42. Chris Paul PG, Oklahoma City Thunder 15.6 PPG, 8.2 AST, 4.6 REB, 2.0 STL, 41.9 FG%

Previous rank: 14

43. Jrue Holiday SG, New Orleans Pelicans 21.2 PPG, 7.7 AST, 5.0 REB, 1.6 STL, 47.2 FG%

Previous rank: Unranked

44. Kyle Lowry PG, Toronto Raptors 14.2 PPG, 8.7 AST, 4.8 REB, 1.4 STL, 41.1 FG%

Previous rank: 35

45. Tobias Harris PF, Philadelphia 76ers 20.0 PPG, 2.8 AST, 7.9 REB, 48.7 FG%

Previous rank: Honorable mention

46. Danilo Gallinari SF, Oklahoma City Thunder 19.8 PPG, 2.6 AST, 6.1 REB, 46.3 FG%, 43.3 3P%

Previous rank: Honorable mention

47. Al Horford C, Philadelphia 76ers 13.6 PPG, 4.2 AST, 6.7 REB, 1.3 BLK, 53.5 FG%

Previous rank: 37

48. John Collins PF, Atlanta Hawks 19.5 PPG, 2.0 AST, 9.8 REB, 56.0 FG%

Previous rank: Unranked

49. Mike Conley PG, Utah Jazz 21.1 PPG, 6.4 AST, 3.4 REB, 1.3 STL, 43.8 FG%

Previous rank: 40

50. Eric Bledsoe PG, Milwaukee Bucks 15.9 PPG, 5.5 AST, 4.6 REB, 1.5 STL, 48.4 FG%

Previous rank: 49

Williams, along with Jamal Crawford, has won the Sixth Man of the Year award a record three times. He’s a scoring machine and a great player, but there are so many younger guards that are putting up better numbers on higher efficiency. That’s why he falls to tier five. He and McCollum are interchangeable atop tier five.

We began to see Paul’s production deteriorate last season, but that might have been from playing alongside Harden’s isolation style. I guess we’ll find out this year.

Lowry was an All-Star last season, but he doesn’t compare to a lot of the other guards in the league. I know he does some things that don’t show up in the numbers, but he isn’t playing at an All-Star level even when compared to the four guards ahead of him in tier five.

Harris scores a lot, but he failed to make a major impact in the playoffs. He was also only the fourth most talented player on the 76ers last season.

Two for the road

51. Julius Randle PF, New York Knicks 21.4 PPG, 3.1 AST, 8.7 REB, 52.4 FG%

Previous rank: Unranked

52. De’Aaron Fox PG, Sacramento Kings 17.3 PPG, 7.3 AST, 3.8 REB, 1.6 STL, 45.8 FG%

Previous rank: Unranked

The only thing saving Bledsoe and Conley from being overtaken by Randle is their superior defense. I believe that Fox will have a higher peak than Bledsoe, Conley, and Lowry, but he isn’t there yet.

A lot of other players were considered for this article. I found that writing this was harder this year than it was last year. There were a lot of new names that I didn’t have to consider back in 2018. That might show the expanding pool of talent in the league or maybe it’s because I followed the league more closely this past season.

The honorable mentions appear in alphabetical order by last name.

Honorable Mentions

Clint Capela C, Houston Rockets 16.6 PPG, 1.4 AST, 12.7 REB, 1.5 BLK, 64.8 FG%

Marc Gasol C, Toronto Raptors 13.6 PPG, 4.4 AST, 7.9 REB, 1.1 STL, 1.1 BLK, 44.8 FG%

Aaron Gordon PF, Orlando Magic 16.0 PPG, 3.7 AST, 7.4 REB, 44.9 FG%

Buddy Hield SG, Sacramento Kings 20.7 PPG, 2.5 AST, 5.0 REB, 45.8 FG%, 42.7 3P%

Brandon Ingram SF, New Orleans Pelicans 18.3 PPG, 3.0 AST, 5.1 REB, 49.7 FG%

Lauri Markkanen PF, Chicago Bulls 18.7 PPG, 1.4 AST, 9.0 REB, 43.0 FG%

Jamal Murray PG, Denver Nuggets 18.2 PPG, 4.8 AST, 3.4 REB, 43.7 FG%

Jayson Tatum SF, Boston Celtics 15.7 PPG, 2.1 AST, 5.2 REB, 1.1 STL, 45.0 FG%

Myles Turner C, Indiana Pacers 13.3 PPG, 1.6 AST, 7.2 REB, 2.7 BLK, 48.7 FG%

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