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Debating LeBron James’ spot and the largest surprises of the 2021-22 countdown

NBArank 2021 has reached its thrilling end, with Brooklyn Nets famous person Kevin Durant edging out the Milwaukee Bucks‘ reigning NBA Finals MVP and champion Giannis Antetokounmpo for the No. 1 spot in Friday’s countdown of the top five NBA players for the upcoming season.

Total, there was a ton of motion inside our prime 100 listing, together with Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, New York Knicks ahead Julius Randle and Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball vaulting into the highest 50 after lacking our countdown fully in 2020-21. Which gamers may take an identical leap subsequent season?

We additionally noticed Los Angeles Lakers legend LeBron James lose his NBArank throne, dropping to No. Three behind KD and Giannis. James’ All-Star teammate, Anthony Davis, additionally fell in our newest rankings, slipping to No. 9 after an injury-filled season. How did that sit with our panel?

What did we get proper this yr? What did we get unsuitable? Our specialists are diving into the outcomes as we shut the books on the 11th installment of NBArank.

The complete NBArank listing: Nos. 100-51 | Nos. 50-26 | Nos. 25-6 | Nos. 5-1


1. What was the largest shock from our 2021 prime 100 rankings?

Bobby Marks: Klay Thompson at No. 32. Now we have not seen Thompson on the court docket since June 2019, when he tore his left ACL within the NBA Finals. A yr later he suffered one other vital harm with a torn proper Achilles. Whereas the Warriors just lately gave a medical replace that Thompson has been progressing and that we are going to see him through the 2021-22 season, his actual timeline remains to be unknown. Even with all that uncertainty, Thompson nonetheless ranked forward of a gaggle of gamers together with Zach LaVine, De’Aaron Fox, Deandre Ayton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Andrew Lopez: Thompson at No. 32. He hasn’t performed aggressive basketball in 834 days. If his return comes round Christmas time, as ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported final month, Thompson would miss two months firstly of the season and he absolutely can have a while off on back-to-backs. There is not any doubt a wholesome Klay would make an influence this season, however No. 32 appears excessive.

Kevin Pelton: Anthony Davis at No. 9, a seven-spot fall after rating No. 2 final yr. It is not stunning he dropped after an injury-plagued season, and final yr’s rating might need concerned a little bit of recency bias after Davis’ robust contributions to the Lakers’ title run. Nonetheless, that is the bottom AD has ranked since 2013. I count on he’ll transfer again up subsequent yr.

Tim MacMahon: Myles Turner at No. 44. With all due respect, what did Turner do to leap 30 spots into the highest 50? He is an elite shot-blocker, but it surely ought to take far more than that to occupy a spot in that territory. There isn’t any cheap clarification for Turner (12.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.Four BPG, .557 eFG) being ranked a number of spots forward of Clint Capela (15.Four PPG, 14.Three RPG, 2.zero BPG, .594 eFG).

Jorge Sedano: Bradley Beal at No. 11. It hurts me to say this, as a result of I really like his sport. He has been an unbelievable participant all through his profession, particularly the previous two seasons, however the gamers above and barely under him all have a modicum of playoff expertise or success. I consider that might doubtless be the case with Beal if he had a greater roster round him. Sorry, Bradley! I needed to choose somebody!

MORE: These superstars just missed top-five NBArank status


2. Who’s one participant at the moment exterior the highest 100 who will likely be inside subsequent yr?

MacMahon: Tyler Herro. Falling from No. 59 to unranked is an overreaction to a considerably disappointing sophomore season for the Warmth guard. He is too gifted — and has an excessive amount of swagger — to not be included among the many NBA’s prime 100 gamers. It is barely been a yr since Herro lit it up for 37 factors in a convention finals sport. I am going to wager on Herro getting again within the prime 100 subsequent yr and staying there for the following decade or so.

Marks: Blake Griffin. Griffin ranked No. 23 in 2019, a results of a profession yr in Detroit that noticed him earn All-Star and All-NBA honors. Final yr, Griffin fell 42 spots to No. 65. Now, Griffin has didn’t crack the highest 100. Prior accidents and a lowered function may definitely be blamed for the autumn, however the 26 video games (and in addition 12 playoff video games) in Brooklyn final season proved that Griffin can as soon as once more compete at a excessive degree. Whereas it’s unlikely that we see his identify on an All-Star roster this coming season, Griffin must be within the prime 100 subsequent yr.

Lopez: RJ Barrett. The Knicks guard quieted a few of his critics along with his sophomore season, averaging 17.6 PPG, 5.eight RPG and three.zero APG whereas capturing 40.1% from deep. The Knicks went 11-2 within the common season when Barrett scored at the very least 24 factors. If New York finds extra success in 2021-22, Barrett ought to see his identify on subsequent yr’s listing.

Pelton: Gary Trent Jr. If Trent merely submits a repeat of his 2020-21 (15.Three PPG with 2.eight 3-pointers at a 39% clip), I think he’ll set up himself as one of many league’s higher 3-and-D function gamers. And at age 22, Trent has an opportunity to proceed growing throughout his first full season with the Toronto Raptors.

Sedano: De’Andre Hunter. I liked his sport in faculty and felt he would translate straight away to the NBA as a 3-and-D man. I consider he has proven greater than that in a small pattern measurement. If it weren’t for accidents derailing his early profession, he would doubtless be within the prime 100. If he stays wholesome and Atlanta continues to ascend, he’ll be in there subsequent season.

Top breakout candidates for 2021-22


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Kendrick Perkins and Dave McMenamin analyze who has the upper ceiling between Anthony Edwards and Cade Cunningham.

3. Which participant at the moment exterior the highest 50 has the most effective probability to be contained in the prime 25 subsequent season?

MacMahon: Anthony Edwards. He got here shut to creating the top-50 reduce this yr, and he definitely has star potential and averaged 23.eight PPG, 5.Three RPG and three.eight APG after the All-Star break as a rookie. Edwards ought to profit from having a coaching camp underneath Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch and taking part in off of a hopefully wholesome Karl-Anthony Towns.

Pelton: Anthony Edwards. I wrote about the candidates earlier this week. Prime 25 is a bit aggressive for the present rookies and unrealistic for older gamers, so I feel the 2020 draft class is the best place to look, and Edwards has the most effective probability.

Sedano: It is simply Anthony Edwards. He was the third-youngest participant in NBA historical past to attain 40 factors in a sport. He’s as dynamic a scorer as we have now seen at that age. The wild half is he has allegedly grown two inches within the offseason, in keeping with Finch. Look out for Ant Man in 2021-22.

Lopez: Christian Wood, however it’s going to take a wholesome season, in addition to an enormous bounce by his teammates. In 41 video games final season, Wooden averaged 21 PPG and 9.6 RPG whereas capturing 51.4% general and 37.4% from deep. Of the 9 gamers who averaged 20 factors and both 10 rebounds or 10 assists final season, 4 are within the prime 10 and 6 are within the prime 30. All 9 are forward of Wooden. If he hits these numbers — and possibly if Houston can string collectively some wins — he may make an enormous bounce.

Marks: I’m going to rewind the clock and say Gordon Hayward. The Hornets ahead performed at an All-Star degree final season, however a sprained proper foot ended his season in early April. Hayward’s influence on the court docket is immeasurable. On the time of the harm, Charlotte was two video games over .500 and on tempo to complete within the prime six of the East. The Hornets completed the season six video games underneath .500 and misplaced within the play-in sport to the Indiana Pacers. Previous to the harm, Hayward was averaging 19.6 factors and capturing 41.5% from 3-point vary.

Lessons from a decade of ranking the NBA’s best players


Notice: Resulting from knee accidents that can sideline each for a lot of the 2021-22 season, Leonard and Murray had been excluded from this season’s rankings.

MacMahon: Leonard is indubitably a top-10 participant if he is wholesome. Possibly prime 5. Is there one other participant within the league able to scoring an environment friendly 45 factors and bothering Luka Doncic defensively down the stretch in a street Sport 6 as Leonard did to increase the Clippers’ season? Murray is prime 30 with the potential to rise. He is a reduce under Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell among the many league’s finest younger guards.

Marks: Leonard entered the 2020-21 season at No. 5 within the ESPN Prime 100 and would fall two spots again to No. eight if he had been wholesome this season. The drop is extra of a results of the MVP play of three gamers in entrance of him: Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. If Murray had been wholesome, I might put him on the identical spot that he occupied final yr: No. 21. Leaping into the highest 20 shouldn’t be straightforward, contemplating that there’s separation between Kyrie Irving (No. 20 this season) and a wholesome Murray.

Pelton: If Kawhi had been wholesome your complete postseason, he may be No. 1 after main the Clippers to a title. If his playoff harm had been much less severe and he had been again wholesome now, I would say most likely No. 4. As a result of he is much less established and there is much less readability within the rankings exterior the highest 10, Murray is harder to position, however I would guess someplace between No. 28 and No. 33. That places him in the identical group as Ben Simmons, Russell Westbrook, CJ McCollum and Ja Morant.

Sedano: Kawhi can be at No. Four for me. When wholesome, he’s arguably nonetheless the most effective two-way participant within the NBA. His sport has really expanded in his time in Los Angeles as he has turn into a a lot better facilitator. There is not any means I would not have a two-time Finals MVP in my prime 5. Murray can be at No. 22 for me. Jrue Holiday (the present No. 22) is a extra full participant as a result of his protection. Murray, nonetheless, has to hold a bigger burden general — and definitely on offense — for his Nuggets crew. Murray has additionally turn into a must-watch within the fourth quarter of any shut sport.

Lopez: Leonard’s influence is difficult to rank as a result of he does not play a full season anymore. However even taking load administration days under consideration, he is most likely No. 7 for me as a result of a wholesome Leonard-Paul George combo is particular for the Clippers. Likewise, a wholesome Murray-Nikola Jokic-Michael Porter Jr. trio would do harm within the Western Convention. Murray is a top-30 expertise and I would slot him in at No. 27 on this yr’s listing. Anybody averaging 21 factors, 5 assists and Four rebounds per sport on 47/41/87 capturing proportion splits is a fairly good participant it doesn’t matter what.

What does Kawhi’s ACL surgery mean for the Clippers?


5. Fill within the clean: LeBron James’ No. Three rating is _____.

Sedano: A bit too low for me. I nonetheless suppose that he’s probably the most full participant on the planet when he is wholesome. Sure, Durant is a extra pure scorer and Antetokounmpo is extra athletic at this stage, however LeBron nonetheless places up equally jarring scoring stats and makes the fellows round him higher. No less than extra so than the aforementioned gamers. We’re splitting hairs right here.

MacMahon: Fantastic. I am positive King James will take into account it an insult, and I do not blame him for believing he is nonetheless the league’s finest participant as he enters his 19th season, however an inexpensive case will be made for any of the highest three gamers. Ought to Giannis Antetokounmpo be offended that he is not No. 1? All he has carried out prior to now three seasons is win a pair of MVPs and a Finals MVP.

Marks: Justified. This isn’t a knock on James, however extra about how Durant and Antetokounmpo have elevated their video games. Within the playoffs, Durant nearly carried a wounded Brooklyn crew to the Japanese Convention finals by himself. He duplicated that efficiency within the Olympics, main Staff USA to the gold medal. As for Antetokounmpo, the Finals MVP put to mattress any speak that he’s a regular-season participant and couldn’t shut video games.

Pelton: Comprehensible. Might LeBron win MVP, lead the Lakers to a title and make us look dangerous for having him anyplace however No. 1? In fact. One thing comparable occurred in 2019-20. Nonetheless, the harm that marred James’ 2020-21 marketing campaign is the form of factor that turns into extra doubtless as he ages. So I feel No. Three is about proper.

Lopez: Acceptable. James was restricted to a career-low 45 video games final season as he handled the excessive ankle sprain. If James was assured to be wholesome for 82 video games and the playoffs, you may make the argument he belongs again at No. 1, the place he was final season. However for now, having James as the highest participant within the Western Convention feels about proper.

Why LeBron — and the entire top five — has a case for No. 1

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