For the last time this season, let's rank the best players in the NBA.
As always, this was a collaborative effort with 11 members of our NBA.com Global Staff submitting their list of who they believe were the 30-best players in the NBA this season, taking the regular season and playoffs into account. We then took the average finish for each player to come up with the following list.
A quick note: 20 games played was the cutoff, which means the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Victor Oladipo weren't eligible. On the other hand, players like Karl-Anthony Towns, who appeared in 35 games this season, were. We'll open our rankings back up to every player in the league heading into the start of the 2020-21 season.
Got it? Onto the list!
Consider this our apology to Jamal Murray.
Heading into the season restart, Murray didn't crack our top 30. He then went on to have one of the best postseasons we've seen in a long time, one that included a pair of 50-point games - in the same series, no less - as well as three 40-point games when facing elimination.
Oh, and Murray helped the Nuggets mount two 3-1 comebacks, which we've never seen a team do before. He earned his way onto our list.
A few more players who rose several spots since our last rankings: Jimmy Butler (more on him in a bit), Bam Adebayo, Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker, the latter of whom jumped into the top-20 on the strength of his play in Phoenix's seeding games.
There were several players who dropped a number of spots since we last did this, but nobody fell as far as Paul George, who went from being ranked 11th heading into the season restart to 24th.
It was a tough season overall for George. He started behind the eight ball after undergoing a couple of procedures on his shoulder in the offseason and missed a stretch of games in the middle of the season with a hamstring injury. He then struggled in the playoffs, averaging 20.2 points on 39.8 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range, leading to the Clippers being bounced in the second round by the Nuggets.
If George can get back to full strength for next season, there's a good chance he'll work his way back into the top 20 and possibly top 15. He is only a season removed from being a finalist for MVP and Defensive Player of the Year after all.
On the outside looking in
Players who received votes but not enough to make the final list:
- DeMar DeRozan
- De'Aaron Fox
- Goran Dragic
- Domantas Sabonis
- Jrue Holiday
- Brandon Ingram
- Kristaps Porzingis
Apologies to Sabonis and Ingram in particular, both of whom were named All-Stars for the first time in their careers this season.
10. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Average rank: 9.8
Tatum made the leap this season.
Following a somewhat disappointing sophomore campaign, Tatum averaged career highs across the board with 23.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game during the regular season, earning him his first All-Star selection and a spot on the All-NBA Third Team. He bumped those averages up to 25.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game in the playoffs, leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals along the way.
Tatum struggled in key moments of that Eastern Conference Finals series against the Heat - he scored five points on 1-for-9 shooting from the field in 19 clutch minutes, per NBA.com - but he's still only 21 years old.
With Tatum leading the way, the future is bright in Boston.
9. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Average rank: 7.8
Lillard went on two tears this season that I'll never forget.
The first came before the All-Star break when he averaged 48.8 points and 10.2 assists over a six-game stretch. He scored 50 or more points three times during that period, including a 61-point outburst against the Golden State Warriors to kick things off.
Damian Lillard's last 6 games:- Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) February 2, 2020
61 PTS, 10 REBS, 7 ASTS, 11 3PTS, W
47 PTS, 8 ASTS, 6 REBS, 8 3PTS, L
50 PTS, 13 ASTS, 6 REBS, 8 3PTS, W
36 PTS, 11 ASTS, 10 REBS, 6 3PTS, W
48 PTS, 10 ASTS, 9 REBS, 7 3PTS, W
51 PTS, 12 ASTS, 9 3PTS, W
AVG: 48.8 PPG, 10.2 APG, 7.2 RPG, 8.2 3PTS pic.twitter.com/oD7qBDNASl
The second came in the bubble when Lillard carried the Blazers to a 6-2 record in their seeding games with averages of 37.6 points and 9.6 assists per game, earning him Player of the Seeding Games and the Blazers an opportunity to play their way into the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Earlier in the season, Lillard told Blazers forward Nassir Little that he was going to do things he had never seen before and that the Blazers were going to make the playoffs. He backed up his word.
💸 @Dame_Lillard's last two games:- NBA (@NBA) August 12, 2020
▪️ 51 & 61 points
▪️ Most PTS in 2-game span in @trailblazers history
▪️ Only Trail Blazer w/ back-to-back 50-point games pic.twitter.com/nYExS2t41H
Lillard finished the regular season averaging 30.0 points and 8.0 assists per game. Only five players in NBA history have ever averaged those numbers before: Tiny Archibald, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
The Lakers made short work of the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs, but they were heavily overmatched, even if there are some out there who picked Portland to upset Los Angeles.
8. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Average rank: 7.3
Harden was without a doubt the most polarizing player in our rankings.
Some had him as high as fifth, whereas others had him as low as 10th, which is quite the variance considering Harden led the league in scoring for the third straight season, made the All-NBA First Team for the sixth time in his career and was a finalist for MVP yet again.
So why were some much lower on him than others? The playoffs.
Statistically, it was one of the best postseasons of Harden's career - he averaged 29.6 points and 7.7 assists per game on .478/.333/.845 shooting splits - but the Rockets went to seven games in the first round against the Oklahoma City Thunder and were gentleman's swept out of the playoffs by the Lakers in the second round. It didn't help that Harden was quiet offensively in two key games, shooting 4-for-15 from the field in Houston's Game 7 win over the Thunder and 2-for-11 in its Game 4 to the Lakers, the latter of which resulted in the Rockets going down 3-1, effectively sealing their fate.
Personally, falling from fifth to eighth feels like a slight overreaction, but I understand why people would be lower on Harden after his team underwhelmed in the playoffs again.
7. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
Average rank: 7.2
I'm not sure there's anyone whose stock rose more than Butler's in the playoffs.
Case in point: Butler ranked 13th the last time we did these player rankings. Now, he's moved into the top seven.
Recency bias has a lot to do with that. It's not that Butler had a bad regular season - far from it, as he made the All-NBA Third Team - but he took his game to another level in the Finals, willing the short-handed Heat to a pair of victories against the Lakers with a pair of historic performances.
First, a 40-point triple-double to prevent the Heat from falling into a 3-0 hole. Then, a 35-point triple-double two games later to keep their season alive.
The @MiamiHEAT stay alive with a 111-108 victory against the @Lakers- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 10, 2020
Jimmy Butler is the 2nd player with multiple 30-point triple-doubles in a single NBA Finals (LeBron James, 2014-15). pic.twitter.com/NBcss6cmVB
Even with those performances fresh in our minds, you can't ignore the fact that the Heat had their most successful regular season and postseason since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were teammates in South Beach. They have Butler to thank for that.
6. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Average rank: 6.7
Jokic might have gotten this season off to a slow start, but he sure ended it on a high.
His postseason averages this season: 24.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game on 51.9 percent shooting from the field, 42.9 percent shooting from 3-point range and 83.5 percent from the free-throw line. Jokic took it to two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert in the first round and dominated the Clippers in the second round for the Nuggets to mount two 3-1 comebacks.
While the Nuggets lost in five games to the eventual champions in the Western Conference Finals, Jokic helped them make the series more competitive than it might look on the surface. Pick-and-rolls involving him and Murray still gave the Lakers fits and he played JaVale McGee off the court. He more than held his own against one of the best defensive teams in the league.
This is the second straight postseason where Jokic has played at a historic level. There should no longer be any doubt that he's a superstar, worthy of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lillard and Harden.
5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Average rank: 5.4
We've been high on Doncic all season long and he only boosted his stock with what turned out to be a historic postseason debut.
You can read about all the records he set and broke here, but the SparkNotes version is that Doncic averaged 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game against one of the best defensive teams in the league and helped the Mavericks steal two games, one of which came without the team's second-leading scorer in Porzingis.
You know which game I'm talking about.
Luka Doncic with an all-time performance.- StatMuse (@statmuse) August 23, 2020
- Hurt ankle
- No Porzingis
- 21-point deficit
- 43 points
- 17 rebounds
- 13 assists
- Walk-off game winner
- 3rd player ever with 40/15/10 playoff game
- Tied 2nd most points in a playoff triple-double
He's only 21. pic.twitter.com/OdTSE4hgyW
If this is what Doncic is doing at age 21, it's scary to think about what he'll be in his prime.
T-3. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers
Average rank: 3.3
After the Clippers took care of business against the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, NBA.com's Matthew Blum wrote about how he had become the best player in the world again.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, Leonard came back down to earth against the Nuggets in the second round. He still averaged 24.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists with .442/.359/.872 shooting splits for the series, but he wasn't himself in two of the team's losses, opening the door for the Nuggets to complete their second straight 3-1 comeback of the playoffs.
It was the first time in a long time that Leonard looked human.
Kawhi had his two worst postseason shooting performances during this Nuggets series. His 32% tonight and in Game 2 are the 4th and 5th worst of his career. https://t.co/2rhm0Eyekd- Positive Residual (@presidual) September 16, 2020
Even so, Leonard had an impressive first season with the Clippers, averaging career highs in a number of categories and turning the franchise into a legitimate contender. I have a feeling we haven't had the last discussions over whether or not Leonard is the best player in the league.
T-3. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Average rank: 3.3
After making the All-NBA First Team for his play in the regular season, Davis kicked things up a notch in the playoffs with averages of 27.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The Blazers, Rockets, Nuggets and Heat had no answer for him offensively, and he showed why there's a case to be made that he's the best defensive player in the league.
Davis did everything for the Lakers on that end of the court, culminating in a dominant showing in Game 6 of the Finals that helped the franchise win its first title in a decade.
Anthony Davis was everywhere defensively in the first half of Game 6. Getting out to the perimeter, shutting down passing lanes, protecting the rim. Super impressive. pic.twitter.com/BKCaNmNunv- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles) October 13, 2020
A couple members of our NBA.com Staff had Davis as high as No. 2 in their rankings. With the way he played in the playoffs, it's hard to fault them.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Average rank: 3.1
Sure, Antetokounmpo's season ended in disappointment, but he still had a season for the ages.
Antetokounmpo finished the regular season averaging 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per game, numbers we've never seen before. It earned him his second straight MVP award, as well as his first Defensive Player of the Year award, making him one of only three players in NBA history - the others being Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon - to win both in the same season.
Reminder: Jordan didn't win his first championship until he was 27. Ditto for LeBron. Antetokounmpo is only 25. His time will come.
1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Average rank: 1.3
After defeating the Heat in Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Finals to win his fourth championship and fourth Finals MVP, James said he wants his "damn respect."
Well, here's his respect.
This is our fifth and final player rankings of the 2019-20 season. In the four previous instalments, James didn't finish in first place once. We had Leonard as the best player in the league for most of the season, only for Antetokounmpo to edge him out ever so slightly heading into the season restart.
We still don't all agree that James is the best player in the league - one member of our NBA.com Staff had Leonard ahead of him, another had Davis - but the vast majority do.
It's pretty incredible when you think about it. At age 35, after 17 seasons in the league, James is still the clear choice for the best player in the league. Father Time is undefeated, but it hasn't come close to beating James yet.
The final list
|15.||Jamal Murray||Not Ranked|
|20.||Bradley Beal||Not Ranked*|
|26.||Trae Young||Not Ranked*|
|27.||Karl-Anthony Towns||Not Ranked*|
* Not ranked because our last rankings only included players in season restart. Beal sat out with an injury, while neither Towns nor Young's team qualified for the bubble.
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