The 10 Best Players in the NBA Right Now, Ranked
Friday, June 3, 2022
by: Complex

Section: Member News




Jayson Tatum & Steph Curry

One of the most recurring topics in basketball discourse is debating who the best player in the NBA is. We’ve typically waited until the preseason to rank the best players in the association but with the NBA playoffs coming to a close, why not jump into it now? 

From the start of the playoffs with Anthony Edwards’ near 40-piece in Memphis, the common theme this postseason was the revolution of the youth in the NBA. With the rise of young stars like Ja Morant, Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum, the next generation is starting to dethrone some of the stars that have been dominating the league for an extended period of time. We saw Tatum send home Kevin Durant first and then followed that by sending home the defending Finals MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

We’ve seen the decline of longtime superstars like James Harden, who we ranked No. 5 coming into this season, and the rise of longtime All-Stars in Jimmy Butler, who we tabbed at No. 19 in October. Harden, Anthony Davis, and Damian Lillard were the three notable dropouts from our preseason list. 

While we’ll still rank our top 50 players in the league come October 2022, we’ll give a sneak peak before the NBA Finals with our top 10 best players in the league as of right now.

 

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

I think it’s fair to say Giannis Antetokounmpo has solidified his title as the best player in the NBA. Even after his dominant playoff run last season, the consensus around basketball fans was still that Kevin Durant was the best player in the league and quite frankly, it was hard to debate after he nearly single-handedly took down the Bucks in a 7-game series without his co-stars Kyrie Irving and James Harden. After this postseason, the narrative has completely flipped in similar fashion. It’s impossible to debate Giannis being anywhere other than No. 1 on this list. He became the first NBA player to have at least 200 points, 100 rebounds, and 50 assists in a playoff series. Even with the loss and his Game 7 struggles, you can’t ignore what Giannis did that series especially without Khris Middleton. – Zion Olojede

2. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant has received a lot of criticism for his performance against the Boston Celtics and rightfully so. When you’re a player of his caliber, you are held to different standards than everyone else. That playoff series could end up being the worst playoff performance of his career when you factor in the fact the Brooklyn Nets were swept with KD and Kyrie Irving available for all four games. One of the most efficient scorers the game has ever seen was held to 38 percent shooting from the field in four games and tallied a whopping 21 turnovers during the series. Granted the Celtics were throwing the kitchen sink at KD defensively, having two or sometimes three defenders mirroring his every step but there’s no excuse to perform that poorly when you’re considered a top 2 player in the association.

With all that being said, we are not going to let a four-game stretch eliminate what Kevin Durant did this season. With all the drama that went on with the Nets this season, Durant still had them a half game out of first place while leading the league in scoring at 27.9 PPG before his MCL injury. That was with Kyrie missing a majority of the season and James Harden underperforming. KD was arguably leading the MVP conversation so let’s slow down on judging his season off that playoff series alone. – Zion Olojede

3. LeBron James

LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003, by the end of the 2004-2005 season he was firmly in the top five players in the NBA conversation, and he realistically hasn’t left that perch since, evidenced by his 18 consecutive All-NBA and All-Star appearances. Detractors will look at this past season from James through a jaded lens and point out that his Lakers missed the playoffs for a second time in four seasons, but the reality is that when he was on the floor, few were better than the kid from Akron. His 30.3 PPG average trailed only Joel Embiid for the season, and it was the highest scoring average he had posted in 15 years. At age 37, the fact James is still expected to contend and be dominant night-in and night-out is remarkable, but the expectations still remain championship or bust for teams with the King on them, even as he heads into his 20th season. Whether he can still turn his individual brilliance into the ultimate team success in the twilight of his career remains to be seen. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. – Kameron Hay

4. Steph Curry

The reports of Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors demise were greatly exaggerated. After missing the playoffs each of the last two seasons, Curry and the Warriors are back in the NBA Finals, and the greatest shooter who has ever lived is once again showing that he is one of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen. After what appeared to be a down season this year, shooting career-lows from the field (43.7 percent) and 3-point range (38 percent), Curry has been a calming and consistent presence for the Warriors this postseason, starring in the lead role as he makes his sixth Finals appearance in the last eight years. He might not have the same peaks that he was able to reach when he took the NBA by storm from 2014-2017, but he still is at the top of every opposing teams scouting report and gameplan, and his mere presence on the court raises his team’s floor and ceiling significantly. With a fourth championship, and possibly the elusive Finals MVP, within grasp, it’s hard to leave Curry out of the top five players conversation, serving as the main cog in a well-oiled Warriors machine that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. – Kameron Hay

5. Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic’s biggest knock right now is his lack of playoff success as a MVP winner. To be fair, he’s played the last two postseasons without his co-star in Jamal Murray and this year’s playoffs without Michael Porter Jr. after their respective injuries. Other than that, you can’t question what he does on the basketball floor. We saw in his lone playoff series this year that he truly couldn’t do anything more. In his final game of the season he put up 30 points, 19 rebounds, and 8 assists in 32 minutes on the road. He showed why he was named league MVP. The now two-time MVP averaged 31-13-6 in the series entirely. – Zion Olojede

6. Luka Doncic

There hasn’t been a prodigy in the mold of Luka Doncic since LeBron James. A do-it-all perimeter player that can control entire games single handedly, Doncic has already notched three All-Star appearances and first team All-NBA selections in his first four seasons, and after guiding the Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals this season, he appears poised to be a major factor in the NBA title picture for years to come. The next step for him is to step up the effort on defense and get into peak physical condition. He has already gone to war with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in multiple playoff series, with the Clippers duo needing 13 out of 14 possible games to dispatch of Doncic’s Mavericks across both series. There is a legitimate chance that he can be the best player on the floor in every game he plays, with the possibility of that chance becoming an undeniable fact in the near future. After four seasons in the NBA, he already has career averages of 26.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG and 8.0 APG, and he hasn’t reached his full potential yet. There doesn’t appear to be a ceiling on him, which could spell trouble for the rest of the league. – Kameron Hay

7. Jayson Tatum

For the past three seasons Jayson Tatum has been trending toward this very moment, being named an All-Star each year while also picking up two All-NBA selections and watching his scoring, rebounding and assists averages rise each season. Now, he’s having the postseason run to match his continued ascension towards becoming one of the best players in the world. In the first round, he dispatched of the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving led Brooklyn Nets. He followed that up helping lead the Celtics past the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokoumpo in the second round, highlighted by his 46-point masterpiece in Game 6 on the road to stave off elimination. Now, he heads into the NBA Finals after outlasting Jimmy Butler in the Eastern Conference Finals. He has already led his team to three series victories over teams that feature three other players on this list. If he can somehow finish this run off with another series win over Curry and the Warriors, it’s possible we could look back at this ranking as one that is too low for the fifth-year superstar. – Kameron Hay

8. Joel Embiid

If there’s one thing we can’t question, it’s Joel Embiid’s toughness. Say what you want about his game and all the flopping to get to the line but returning to the conference semifinals against Miami to play with an orbital fracture and a torn ligament in his thumb was a true testament to his resilience to win. Unfortunately, Embiid’s return wasn’t enough to propel the Sixers to the next round and there’s a lingering blemish on his resume as he’s yet to make the Eastern Conference Finals once in his career. Despite the postseason result, Embiid had another special year, finishing second once again in the MVP conversation, leading the league in scoring, and garnering All-NBA honors. – Zion Olojede

9. Kawhi Leonard

The last time Kawhi Leonard was on an NBA court in the 2021 playoffs, he was orchestrating what was shaping up to be the best playoff run of his career, averaging 30.4 PPG while shooting 57.3 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from the 3-point line. But after missing the entire 2021-2022 season while recovering from a torn ACL, the Clippers superstar has been out of sight and out of mind. Missing the entire season has caused him to slide down the rankings while others have risen, but make no mistake about it: if Leonard is healthy and whole when he returns to play, he is still one of the most dominant players in the NBA. With the Clippers slated to be one of the NBA’s best teams next season, Leonard will have a chance to remind those who may have forgotten just how special he is as a scorer and defender, specifically when the stakes are the highest. The reality is that Leonard is likely closer to the top five than No. 10 on this list if he is at full strength, and next season he will have his chance to prove it. – Kameron Hay

10. Jimmy Butler

Although the competition was tough for this final spot, it’s difficult not to give it to Jimmy Butler after this year’s playoff performance. He carried a lackluster Miami Heat offense through the postseason and gave his team, that was outmatched talent wise, a chance to advance to the NBA Finals. His 47-point playoff showing in Game 6 with the Heat’s back against the wall on the road in a hostile environment was one of the best playoff performances we’ve seen in the past decade. You have to factor in that this is a player that tends to struggle beyond the 3-point line and went 4-for-8 from deep in the biggest game of the season. Jimmy Buckets took his game to another level when it mattered the most and for that, you have to elevate him into that next tier of best players in the league right now. He had his few struggles but over the 17-game stretch in the postseason, he put 27-7-4 and that doesn’t factor what he did on the other side of the ball. – Zion Olojede

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