The NBA’s Top 5 Players

ESPN recently unleashed yet another #NBARANK, so the writers at Calling Bank decided to give their own top five for the best NBA players heading into the 2019/2020 NBA season!

Tomas Kuru:

5. Nikola Jokic

Despite having his FIBA show stolen by Bogdan Bogdanovic back in September, Jokic still led the Denver Nuggets to 54 wins last season on the back of a career high 20.1 PPG and 10.8 RPG, something he is more than likely to improve on. The young team that surrounds him are also improving every year, so expect more triple-doubles. However, with some big names teaming up in the West, it’ll be a tough road through the regular season for Jokic and his Nuggets.

4. Paul George

Paul George has a lot to prove this season, having recently made the first move in the dismantling of Oklahoma City Thunder. Kawhi chose Paul (among other possible candidates) to join him in his crusade against the James/Davis Lakers. Despite improving every season, Paul George has had to battle through years of high hopes and sudden disappointment. If he can stay healthy, Paul George could have his best season ever and with him, the Clippers are a hot contender for the title.

3. Giannis Antetokoumpo

Giannis had a rough time at the FIBA world cup, the Freak and his fellow Greeks were unable to even crack the top 10, after qualifying first in Europe for the tournament. Giannis averaged a fairly un-freaky 14.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 2.4 PPG. Since FIBA allows zone defence in the paint, teams were able to set up a wall against Antetokoumpo, forcing him to pass out or attempt a field goal that wasn’t a dunk. Nevertheless, FIBA isn’t the NBA and Giannis has surely learned from his FIBA run and, with Kawhi heading west, is likely to lead the Bucks to a number one spot in the Eastern Conference.

2. Anthony Davis

Finally, after many years, Anthony Davis is playing on a team he wants to play on. And they actually have a chance to make the finals! Everyone is really excited to see what the new dynamic duo of Anthony Davis and Lebron James can do. Anthony Davis could easily take over the aging Lebron’s spotlight, that is if he decides to stay. His scoring slumped in the last season and it’s clear to see from footage that Davis plays well when paired with another star of his calibre who can complement his playing style and visa versa.

1. Kawhi Leonard

The Board Man himself, Leonard is like some kind of non-giving-up basketball guy. Having ended the Golden State dynasty personally (albeit, with a little bit of help), the Claw basked in his accomplishments. Leonard had the basketball world in the palm of his hand when he suddenly made his move, setting up shop in the same stadium as the newest NBA power-couple and then, in another shocking manoeuvre, ripped co-superstar Paul George from the Thunder. Doc Rivers will most likely play his cards tight to his chest but has said that Kawhi’s load management will be less restrictive than what he experienced with the Raptors. Kawhi will be set to dominate the NBA this season.

Louis Hood

What really defines a top 5 player? Top scorer? PER? VORP? Who has the most national TV time? In all honesty, it could be a combination of all of the above, but for me it is the players who affect the game at any time they are on the court.

Honourable Mentions:

Joel Embiid (PHI)

I’m a sucker for talented big men and Embiid was the best of the bunch last season. Dominant in the post with superb footwork but also not afraid to shoot from outside and take less-mobile bigs off the dribble. He will always have the injury concern hanging over his head, but he is only getting stronger and showed fairly good durability for how physical he plays. The only reason he doesn’t break into the Top 5 is how dominant Anthony Davis is (when he actually plays).

Steph Curry (GSW)

Do not underestimate the two-time MVP, he may have lost one of the best scorers in the history of the game to an Achilles injury (and the Brooklyn Nets) but this may be a blessing in disguise. Without KD on the floor, Steph put up ridiculous shooting numbers and looked like the 15/16 MVP. He is going to miss Klay Thompson for about the first half of the season (approximately late February), but this also means that he has free reign to absolutely ball out as the primary scoring option alongside DeAngelo Russell. Depending on his numbers he could be a dark horse MVP candidate.

5. Anthony Davis (LAL)

AD has been in the MVP conversation for the last 2-3 seasons but hasn’t had enough playing time to justify the award (between injury, getting traded/not being played). An athletic modern big, with crazy guard-like handles and a great shooting stroke; his pairing with LeBron is going to be ridiculous in the pick and roll/pop. The question is going to be on if he can stay healthy for 60+ games, we are expecting a lot of load management DNP’s to keep him fresh for the playoffs (which is going to be the same for the majority of the players in the top 5).

4. Lebron James (LAL)

Nobody puts LeBron in a corner, not even LeBron. He is coming into year 17 (!!) with a lot to prove after a disappointing season on both the team and personal level: the Lakers not making the playoffs after being expected to challenge the top teams this time last year and his first real bout with the injury bug. Make no mistake, he is still one of the most dominant players in the game and is a constant triple-double threat whenever he’s on the floor. He will have a better lineup around him now with a (hopefully) healthy superstar in Anthony Davis, great young scorer in Kyle Kuzma, veteran point-guard Rajon Rondo and the Shaqtin’ a Fool hall-of-famer Javale McGee. I expect a lot of load management DNP’s will put him out of the MVP race but he will still be a force to be reckoned with come playoffs.

3. James Harden (HOU)

Every team should fear the beard this season, he is coming in after one of the most dominant offensive performances in recent history (36.1 points per game and 36.8% from 3) and still feels snubbed losing the MVP to Giannis last season, according to his interview with GQ during the summer. He is going to be coming in with a point to prove and a former superstar teammate/fashion icon Russell Westbrook by his side. Rightly so there are going to be questions about how these two ball-dominant guards are going to work together, but they do have a history together at OKC. His step-back is nearly unstoppable and this new one-footed fadeaway that has been doing the rounds on social media looks absolutely deadly, he may be the hardest player to guard in the association. If he can look interested/actually try on the defensive end he could very well be the MVP.

2. Giannis Antetokounpo (MIL)

What. A. Season. He absolutely took the league by the throat and propelled the Bucks to the top of the Eastern Conference. He was nearly unstoppable inside, with his ridiculous Eurosteps from nearly the 3 point line combined with his ridiculous athleticism meant that he was putting some posters on nearly every top shot blocker in the league. He was also a menace on the defensive end, ending with 1.5 bpg, 1.3 steals and an All-Defensive 1st Team nomination. The only knock on his game was his poor outside shooting (25.6% from 3), but if he can get this up to a respectable number (33-35%) I don’t think anyone can stop him.

1. Kawhi Leonard (LAC)

Kawhi won’t win MVP this year, I’m calling it now. It’s not because he doesn’t have the talent, it’s going to be the number of games he will play and the team he plays on. The Clippers are going to be insane this year; Kawhi, Paul George, Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell are going to be impossible to score on but also a top 5 offensive team with their ability to rain down 3’s and also attack the rim. Kawhi showed last year how good he was, an absolutely clutch scorer whilst absolutely locking down the best wing player on the opposite team (including the MVP Giannis Antetokounpo). He also showed his toughness, playing with a noticeable limp against the Bucks from game 3 onwards but still absolutely carrying the Raptors. I believe he won’t play more than 60 games this season with load management as the Clippers are making a serious run at the title and he showed how effective limiting his regular-season contributions can be once the playoffs start.

James Aloi:

  1. Steph Curry
  2. Giannis Antetekounmpo
  3. Kawhi Leonard
  4. Anthony Davis
  5. LeBron James

I’ve essentially picked the first 5 players I’d take if the league started over and my aim was to win a Championship THAT year.

Curry is a 3-time Champion and 2-time MVP – he could lead any team to a Championship, and he is my pick for MVP this year. Giannis is an incredibly unique player who’s only weakness is his jump shot, which he will fix. Although he doesn’t have the Championship calibre that would put him #1, he’s got an incredible drive to win. Kawhi is an arguably more complete player than Giannis, but doesn’t have the unstoppable nature that Giannis can sometimes exert and also has to pace himself throughout the season. Personally I don’t know how to place AD at the moment, but he could definitely be Top 3 by season’s end if he can avoid injury and lead the Lakers, returning to MVP/DPOY form from 2017-18. And…well…LeBron is LeBron.

James Seymour:

  1. Lebron James
  2. Kevin Durant
  3. Steph Curry
  4. Kawhi Leonard
  5. Giannis Antetokoumpo

Lebron James is still the best player in basketball. Despite an injury marred 2018-19 season, Lebron remains the single most unstoppable force on a basketball court. His mix of physical gifts, basketball IQ, passing prowess and improved shooting create a walking, talking 2k MyPlayer demigod. With that being said, Kevin Durant is coming for this title, his offensive output is simply staggering and the range scoring tools at his disposal combined with his physical stature make him an impossible cover for anyone. Durant has made strides as an interior defender and is a developing passer. If he does return to full strength in Brooklyn, consider this your warning.

Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo round out my top five players, but reside in a lower tier than Lebron and Durant. Steph Curry is still a wizard with the basketball in his hands and is undoubtedly the best 3 point shooter to ever pick up a basketball (besides me on a hot streak in my Sunday night domestic games). Curry’s ability to run an offense and create consistently valuable shots for both himself and others sets him apart from Kawhi and Giannis. The Klaw and the Greek Freak, in my opinion still have room to grow as creators and offensive engines. Kawhi just takes the number four spot on this list because of not only the championship pedigree, but his shooting and defence are both considerably better than Giannis’.  With that being said, this list looks set for a big shake-up in the coming year with one of the most open NBA seasons we’ll see for some time.

Harry Rutner

  1. Kawhi Leonard
  2. Steph Curry
  3. Giannis Antetokoumpo
  4. Anthony Davis
  5. Lebron James

Lebron and AD are at the bottom two spots on my top five, purely because last season they were not at their best. Between an injury plagued season for Lebron, and the decision to stop playing defence, combined with AD being restricted to 21 minutes a game (if he was even allowed to play), I think we all forgot how dominant these two can be. Lebron still has one more season left in the tank to keep up his insane 27ppg, 8rpg and 8apg averages, not to mention his insane basketball IQ. This season we will also see him actually play defence (but probably only in the playoffs). AD should be vying for MVP and DPOY. He has already made it clear that is his goal. With his offensive prowess, insane big man handles and defensive instinct, a healthy AD is a force to be reckoned with.

Giannis showed glimmers of being stopped in the FIBA world cup, but that’s not the NBA. Also Giannis plays in the East. This means that Giannis should lead the Bucks to the NBA Finals this year, with his hustle, defensive ability and just generally being a poster making machine. If he can make a higher clip of threes, he could be number one by seasons end.

I have never been so excited to watch Steph Curry. One of the most exciting players in the game essentially has free reign to do whatever he pleases with Klay sidelined till Feb. I expect a huge season from Curry as he turns into the primary scorer on the Warriors and only takes 40 footers from the logo.

Kawhi showed in the playoffs that when he is actually playing, he is arguably the best two way player in the game, he shut down Giannis and destroyed a dynasty. No more to say really.

Tom Ballhausen

1. Giannis Antetokoumpo

2. Kawhi Leonard

3. James Harden

4. Anthony Davis

5. Nikola Jokic

Yes, I know. He’s not in my top 5. Now before you yell at me, let me at least explain myself.

Last season for me was the nail in the coffin. LeBron looked old – well at least for his standards – for the first time in his career. His lack of effort defensively mixed with his frustration with his teammates amalgamated into a fireball that resulted in the Lakers missing the playoffs.

He is still an elite talent, but I personally believe that the talent level in the league is at its best. Ever. I think that the amount of superstar-level players is at its highest, and LeBron is still part of that elite core, just not in the top 5.

Now onto the players that I have above him.

Jokic is one of the most unique and special players that we have in the league today. Despite his defensive weaknesses, his ability to control the game on the offensive end with his touch passes, creative finishes around the rim and that ever-important clutch gene, result in him being the best center in the league – and the 5th best player in the league.

Davis takes the 4th spot. AD is insane. His freakish athleticism mixed with his unteachable defensive instincts has made him one of the most dangerous players in the game. If only he would embrace the center position…

I feel as if the Harden and Kawhi rankings speak for themselves. The Beard is unstoppable with the ball. There is not one player in the league that can stop him in a 1on1 situation (except maybe Josh Okogie…). His ability to stepback into another postcode and score in any way imaginable has given him the 3rd spot.

Do I even need a reason for Kawhi? If you’re wondering why Kawhi is in the second spot then I’m not sure what I could say that would convince you otherwise.

Giannis takes the top spot for me. The genetic freak is one of the most dominant forces on offense in recent history whilst also being one of the best defenders in the league. Another MVP may be on the cards for the Greek in Wisconsin this year – don’t count him out for the Larry OB either.

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