The best NBA players took to the court in the playoffs this past season hoping to lead their teams to the pinnacle of success, we’re reminded that basketball is a fleeting game. Players who found themselves among the best just a short calendar year ago are not longer on the radar. Los Angeles Lakers veteran Russell Westbrook being an example. Meanwhile, youngsters such as Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards continue to make waves.
25. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
The No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, this kid averaged 21.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists on 36% shooting as a sophomore in 2021-22 en route to leading Minnesota to a surprising playoff appearance. He’s now the face of the Wolves’ franchise and one of the elite young NBA Players in the game.
24. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Since given the opportunity to be the full-time starter in Toronto, Pascal Siakam has shown that he is among the best power forwards in the league today. After some struggles earlier during the 2021-22 season, Siakam picked it up down the stretch — averaging 24.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 51% shooting over his final 38 games.
23. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Coming off a season in which he became the first Charlotte Hornet to win the Rookie of the Year since Emeka Okafor in 2005, Lamelo Ball did not become victim of a sophomore slump in 2021-22. En route to earning his first All-Star appearance, the former No. 3 overall pick averaged 20.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists on 39% shooting from distance. Dude is still only 20 years old.
22. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Over the course of his past two seasons ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, Beal averaged a resounding 30.9 points per game. Unfortunately, he missed 42 games to injury this past season and averaged his worst scoring total since 2017-18 en route to shooting a mere 30% from distance. The hope here is that Beal returns to full health in 2022-23 after signing a super-max extension with Washington
21. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
Chris Paul demonstrated that he still has gas left in the tank during an absolutely brilliant 2020-21 regular season for the Phoenix Suns. Despite injuries this past regular season, he continued to prove himself as one of the best two-way point guards in the NBA. The question here is whether CP3 can keep it up after the 37-year-old struggled in the playoffs.
20. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Jaylen Brown has teamed up with Jayson Tatum to form an elite young wing duo in Boston. The former No. 3 pick has proven former GM Danny Ainge right in refusing to include him in trades for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the past. He averaged 23.6 points and 6.1 rebounds on 47% shooting during the 2021-22 regular season before some struggles in the playoffs.
19. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
DeMar DeRozan is coming off the best regular season performance in his first year with the Chicago Bulls. The five-time All-Star averaged 27.9 points on a resounding 50% shooting while contributing 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per. did we mention he’s about to turn 33?
18. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
No doubt one of the best clutch shot makers in recent history, the 31-year-old Damian Lillard definitely knows what time it is when it comes to the game clock. It’s “Dame Time.” Sadly, Lillard missed all but 29 games during the 2021-22 season. His future in the Pacific Northwest is now in question with the Blazers having just suffered through one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
17. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
No longer just a dunker, LaVine has improved in almost every other facet of his game from his shooting averages to his per-game totals. Only 27, LaVine has a lot of time to improve other facets of his game to become one of the better all-around players in the NBA after averaging an eye-opening 25.7 points since the start of the 2019-20 season. This led to LaVine getting paid big time.
16. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
One of the few truly elite two-way players in the league, George is a terror on both ends of the court. He can drop 20-25 points on a nightly basis while also shutting down the opposing team’s best player. George earned a lot of people’s respect in returning from injury late this past season en route to leading the Clippers to a near-playoff appearance before missing the team’s play-in loss to the Pelicans with COVID-19.
15. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Despite losing in the first round of the playoffs and seeing head coach Quin Snyder resign, Mitchell remains one of the best NBA players in the game today. Since entering the Association back in 2017, the 25-year-old guard is averaging 23.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 45% shooting. The only question here is whether he’ll continue to star for the Jazz moving forward. Right now, that seems highly unlikely.
14. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
Probably the best ball-handler of all-time, Kyrie Irving’s mastery with a basketball is undeniable. He can score 50 on any given night and drop any defender that’s in front of him. After returning from a COVID-mandated absence this past regular season, Irving averaged 27.4 points on 42% shooting from three-point range. He’s now likely headed out of Brooklyn via a trade at some point this summer following more drama between the two sides.
13. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young is shaping up to be the next shooter with limitless range. Trae is making a name for himself as not only a great shooter but one of the brightest stars in the league today. He also put up a career-best performance for an otherwise average Hawks team in 2021-22. That included Young averaging a near double-double at 28.4 points and 9.7 assists per.
12. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
This two-time NBA Finals MVP missed the entire 2021-22 season due to a torn ACL. In no way does this discount Leonard’s status as one of the best NBA players in the game today. Over the course of his past six seasons, Leonard is averaging 24.7 points and 6.6 rebounds on 49% shooting. He’s also a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year winner.
11. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler is like fine win. The 32-year-old gets better with age. Miami’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals was prime example of that. Butler upped his game big time in the playoffs, averaging 27.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and a league-best 2.1 steals on 51% shooting. The guard has gone from malcontent with previous organizations to a legit team leader for a championship contender.
10. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
After leading the Memphis Grizzlies to their first postseason since 2017, Ja Morant took his team to a whole new level in 2021-22. En route to leading Memphis to the second-best record in the NBA, the former Rookie of the Year averaged 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists on 49% shooting. At 22, Morant is simply one of the best young players in the game.
9. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Stardom. That’s what we saw from the 25-year-old Devin Booker during Phoenix’s shocking run to the NBA Finals in 2021-22. Booker built on that this past regular season, averaging 26.8 points on 38% shooting from three-point range. Unfortunately, said season came to a premature end in the Western Conference Semifinals.
8. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James has been accused of being selfish because he has clearly found the fountain of youth but will not let his peers know where it is. He is now 37 years old and continues to show he has many, many years left in his career. Showing no signs of slowing down any time soon, LBJ averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 2021-22. That’s just insanity.
7. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Tatum’s struggles in the NBA Finals will add to some recency bias. With that said, he did lead Boston to its first Finals since 2010 and did so while acting the part of a true superstar. That included averaging 25.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists throughout the Celtics’ playoff run. At just 24, Tatum will just continue to get better.
6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
The often-injured Joel Embiid is now among the best NBA players in the game right now. We’re talking about the most-dominant big man since Dwight Howard was in his prime. This past season showed us this in a big way with him finishing as an MVP finalist after averaging 30.6 points and 11.7 rebounds. Just flat insane numbers.
5. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
Despite the Nets also having stars such as Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons, Kevin Durant proves he is among the best of the best every time he steps out on the court. Sadly, his 2021-22 regular season was defined by injuries. One has to wonder if Durant’s 33-year-old body is on the verge of breaking down. This will be a concern for Durant’s yet-to-be named new team after he requested a trade.
4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Watching Doncic carry Dallas to the Western Conference Finals this past season got us thinking. Have we seen a 22-year-old player asked to do so much since LeBron James was somehow making Cleveland relevant eons ago? El Niño Maravilla averaged 31.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists in the playoffs. Dallas’ second-leading scorer was Rick Brunson’s son. Yeah.
3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
A good argument could be made that the two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic has solidified himself as the best big man in the NBA today. Still only 27, he’s averaging 26.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 8.1 assists while shooting 58% from the field over the past two seasons. Not bad for a fat kid from Serbia.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
How good has the Greek Freak been in recent seasons? The two-time NBA MVP is averaging 28.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists since the start of the 2017-18 campaign. He won the NBA Finals MVP in 2021 and continues to get better at the still-young age of 27. He’ll be among the best NBA players over the long haul.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
At 34, Stephen Curry is the best player in the NBA. There’s little question about that after he led Golden State to its fourth title in eight years, winning NBA Finals MVP for the first time in the process. In the Finals against Boston, Curry averaged 31.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting 44% from distance. Forget about today. This dude is an all-time great.
Source: Sportsnaut team.