NBArank 2021: Ranking of the best players for 2021-22, from 5 to 1

NBArank 2021: Ranking of the best players for 2021-22, from 5 to 1

Our NBArank countdown returns for its 11th season. And after revealing players Nos. 100-51, Nos. 50-26 and Nos. 25-6 in the past few days, we have finally reached the top five.

So now’s the time to find out: who was voted the best player in the league?

Will LeBron James retain his throne? Will Giannis Antetokounmpo add the No. 1 spot to his list of accolades? Can Luka Doncic, 22, jump over everyone? Here are the best players for the 2021-22 season.

To get the final NBArank prediction, we asked our panel of experts to vote for player pairings: Kevin Durant vs. James Harden, Luka vs. Zion Williamson, Stephen Curry vs. Giannis, LeBron vs. Nikola Jokic … the list goes on.

We ask, “Which player will be better in 2021-22?” Voters had to predict what they expected of each player during the season.


Due to knee injuries that will sideline them both for most of the 2021-22 season, Kawhi Leonard of the LA Clippers and Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets were excluded from this season’s rankings.

Golden State Warriors | PG
NBArank 2020:
No. 8

His legacy is secure no matter what happens this season, but Curry and the Warriors are confident they can propel themselves back to the top of the Western Conference if he has another MVP-like season and Klay Thompson gets back in shape. As usual, Curry has no limits.

A big question: Can Curry play at MVP level once again? The two-time MVP led the league in scoring last season with 32.0 points per game. He did it all for a Warriors squad playing without Klay Thompson that struggled to find a consistent offense outside of Curry’s genius. Curry thinks he can extend the fullness of his career a bit longer, but he will turn 34 in March and, aside from an accidental tailbone injury, he remained relatively healthy. If the Warriors want to return to the top of the West, Curry will have to have another huge season – even with Thompson’s anticipated return.

Hidden dexterity: Curry is widely recognized by many of his colleagues and former players as the greatest marksman of all time. He has a 43.3% career 3-point hitting average and 48.2% shooting from the field last season. If he throws the ball, the expectation is that he is going to come in, and his mere presence on the court creates the gravity that allows his teammates to shine.

One thing to keep in mind: Curry enters the season just 141 triples away from tying Ray Allen for first on the all-time list. Given that Curry hit 337 3-pointers last season, he is projected to outshine Allen before the All-Star break.

– Nick Friedell

Dallas Mavericks | PG
NBArank 2020:
No. 4

At 22, Doncic has already established himself in the NBA’s elite. He has been an All-NBA first-team selection for the past two seasons, an achievement only Kevin Durant has achieved at such a young age since the ABA-NBA merger. It just seems like a question of when – and how many times – Doncic will win the MVP award. He has finished fourth and sixth, respectively, in the last two votes for MVP.

A Doncic distinction that no wants: He has the most career postseason points (436) of any player without a series won, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

A big question: Can Doncic charge the Mavs to postseason success? It would be a mistake to blame Doncic for the Mavs’ failure to get out of the first round, considering he has averaged an efficient 33.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game in a pair of first-round outings against the Clippers. However, it’s fair to say that Doncic fainted in the final quarterfinals of last season’s series, getting just 34.9% from the floor with nearly equal total turnovers (9) as assists (12) in the quarterfinals to throughout the seven games. Those difficulties are likely due to their astronomical usage rate (40.4%, the highest in the playoffs), which is why the Mavs tried to add another playmaker this offseason.

Hidden dexterity: Doncic became known as the most dominant direct-to-rim specialist in the NBA last season. According to Second Spectrum statistics, Doncic led the league in direct plays to the basket (804) and was ranked third in assists (150). He shot 59.2% from the floor in those situations, tied for second behind Giannis Antetokounmpo among 48 players with at least 600 direct plays to the rim. Doncic isn’t an explosive jumper, but he distinguishes himself as a finisher because of his rare combination of size, strength and cunning – and he has mastered swinging into a one-legged jump shot for those times when he can’t get to the basket. The shooter additions the Mavs made in the offseason should give Doncic wider lanes to attack this season.

One thing to keep in mind: There’s a high probability that Doncic will end up ranked in the top 10 all-time in triple-doubles by the time he turns 23 on February 28. Doncic has 36 triple-doubles after three seasons (plus an additional three in the playoffs), placing him behind Fat Lever for 10th. highest total in NBA history. (Doncic is just two away from tying Oscar Robertson for more triple-doubles before he turned 23.) Doncic has scored at least 30 points on 17 of those triple-doubles. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, only seven players have the same number or more triple-doubles with 30 points: Robertson, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, James Harden, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

– Tim MacMahon

Los Angeles Lakers | SF
NBArank 2020:
No. 1

In two of the last three seasons since arriving in Los Angeles, James has suffered a major injury that sabotaged his odds and those of the Lakers. In the other: James finished second in the MVP vote and led the Lakers to the championship. Will there be triumph or tribulations in 2021-22?

A big question: Can James help a Lakers team with 10 new faces merge into a championship team from the start? James already has four titles under his belt and has long since consolidated his legacy as one of the true figures to ever play the sport, but adding a ring to his 37 years will undoubtedly spur his quest for universal recognition as the best of all. times (GOAT).

Hidden dexterity: James averaged a career-high 2.3 triples per game last season and shot 36.5% from distance, which was his fourth most effective season from distance in his career. With the addition of Russell Westbrook as another playmaker, it will be interesting to see if James’s aim can benefit from the kind of looks he usually creates for others.

One thing to keep in mind: James enters the season just 1,562 points behind Karl Malone for No. 2 on the list’s all-time scoring list. If James averaged the same 25 points per game from last season – and plays in every game – he’d be on his way to overtaking Malone in LA’s 63rd game on the schedule (which happens to be a prime-time matchup for ABC vs. Curry and the Warriors).

– Dave McMenamin

Milwaukee Bucks | Pf
NBArank 2020:
No. 3

What are you doing to top Antetokounmpo’s epic performance to win the NBA Finals last year? The easy answer is repeat. The real answer – which is extremely alarming for the rest of the league – is for Antetokounmpo to improve in the few areas of his game where he can still work. He’s still just 26 years old, which means we’re probably just now reaching Antetokounmpo’s peak performance years. He will enter them with the confidence of a two-time MVP and an NBA champion.

A big question: History will always remember Antetokounmpo’s 50-point artwork in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to seal his first Finals MVP championship and award. Social media will always remember the 50 pieces of chicken you ordered from Chick-fil-A afterward. But it was the 17-of-19 performance at the free throw line in Game 6 that really stood out. Giannis was so unstoppable at times during the Finals that fouling him and forcing him to make free throws (he made just 54% of them in the three road games during the Finals) seemed the best way to stop him. Giannis has a career free throw shooting average of 71.7%, but dropped to 63.3% in 2019-20 and 68.5% last year.

Hidden dexterity: Antetokounmpo was the first player to average 20 points and shoot 65% in the paint in the same postseason. In the Finals he was even more deadly in the paint, shooting 75%. It is simply almost impossible to stop when it penetrates. But there’s even room for improvement there, too, if he polishes his post moves with his back to the basket like LeBron James did at a similar point in his career.

One thing to keep in mind: Antetokounmpo is already second on the Bucks’ all-time scoring list after passing Glenn Robinson last season. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (14,211 points with the Bucks) is in his sights this year. Antetokounmpo (12,319 points) needs 1,892 this year to become Milwaukee’s all-time leading scorer. He has averaged 1,895 points in the last four seasons (the last two were shortened to 72 games) so he could easily pass Kareem sometime in April.

– Ramona Shelburne

Brooklyn Nets | SF
NBArank 2020:
No 6

NBA moments are rife with hyperbole, but with what happened in 2021, there are grounds to argue that the championship comes down to Durant’s toe. That devastating jump shot in Game 7 against the Bucks – the thunderous left-foot spin and super-fast jump and throw over PJ Tucker is simply legendary – it was almost on the list of the biggest shots in the history of the game. NBA. Instead, it was the longest possible 2-point basket and the cherry on top of an incredible playoff series that verified Durant’s full recovery from a torn Achilles tendon. Then, incidentally, he swept the Olympics and charged the Americans to the gold medal. Yes, watch out, 2021-22.

A big question: Durant’s game is almost untouchable, so the real question is: Will everyone stay on the floor? Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden all had moderate injuries during the shortened season, and, combined with Irving’s leave, Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury and the transition after Harden’s trade, they made last season a mess for Brooklyn. If they eliminate even half of those events, it’s not hard to see why the Nets are the preseason favorites to win the title.

Hidden dexterity: It may be naive in this day and age to tell someone that they are the “best” at anything, so let’s avoid such nonsense. Let’s leave it at: Durant is one of the most skilled basketball players to ever play, and his height, shooting and efficiency make him one of the most indefensible players in history. It’s remarkable that Durant doesn’t shoot every time he goes down the floor because, honestly, it would almost always be considered a good shot, no matter the circumstances.

One thing to keep in mind: The Nets protected Durant as much as they could last season – he had his lowest average minutes per game during the regular season and missed a few games on consecutive nights. Now that the team has more depth after signing several veterans, the trend will be to protect Durant a little more. The inactive list may be the only thing stopping you. How that might affect the MVP race could be a topic of discussion as the year unfolds.

– Brian Windhorst

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