Are you ready to fire up your inner rage monster? Disagreements are unavoidable throughout this NBA player's hierarchy. That goes the same for the player are slighted as well. Perfection is impossible, but perfection is not our goal. We are just trying to be as not wrong as possible.
There is no formula to shape this pecking order. Instead, we examine a variety of factors, such as objective data, injury, and team performance. We don't need to introduce this much further. Let's take a look at the league's best players by tiers.
Nikola Jokic, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, LeBron James, Joel Embiid, Steph Curry
For the season, Jokic owns averages of 26.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game. The offense for the Denver Nuggets runs through Jokic. Without him, this team would not be the same. He is the favorite to win the MVP this season with both LeBron James and Joel Embiid battling injuries the last month. To put it into perspective, Embiid is also the main focal point of the Philly offense but his numbers sport 29.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.4 blocks. While his assists are not as high, his 38.2% three-point field goal percentage is the best that he ever had in his career. LeBron was the favorite to win the MVP with averages of 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.9 assists but his month-long absence has hurt his chances.
Regardless, Jokic, Embiid, and LeBron were the top-3 candidates to win the MVP before Harden went on this surge. Harden is averaging 25.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and a league-leading 11.0 assists. With Harden leading the way, the Brooklyn Nets have been able to contend with Philly for the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference. The Nets have seen very little of Kevin Durant this season, while Kyrie Irving has gone in and out of the lineup. Harden has 12 triple-doubles with the Nets alone. That's incredible.
Lillard may never win a championship in Portland because of his loyalty but it shouldn't diminish that he is a top-5 player in the league right now. Lillard is averaging 29.6 points and 7.7 assists. He is on pace to break Clyde Drexler's all-time points record by next season. Lillard, like Curry, can change the concourse of a ball game by himself. We have seen both Lillard and Curry individually lead teams back on a rally. Curry is shooting 29.4 points per game with 5.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists. Both players are some of the biggest threats from outside, nearing as close as the half-court.
Finally, Giannis is making a case towards becoming one of the next-best big men of all time. He is averaging 28.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.3 blocks. The two-time and reigning back-to-back MVP is likely not going to win for the third straight year in a row. However, there is no denying that if he plays at the level of Embiid or Jokic in the playoffs, the Bucks could make the NBA Finals.
Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant
The two biggest Tier 2 individuals have to be Irving and Durant. As for Irving, when he shows up, he shows up in a big way. His points (28.0) are close to being a career-high. Since Harden has come over, he has thrived as the team's shooting guard. Irving is a near 40% shooter from beyond the arc but what limits him from moving up the list is his rebounding. As for Durant, he has played just 19 games over the last two seasons (missed all of last year). Before injuring his hamstring, Durant was averaging 29.0 points per game and figures to be the crown jewel to lead Brooklyn to the NBA Finals. Until he can play healthy, he is not a top-5 player in the league right now.
Doncic has the best chance to become a Tier 1 player next season. The 22-year old is averaging 28.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.8 assists this season. What separates Doncic from the top tier is his team's success. The Nuggets are fresh off a Western Conference Finals finish and are playing better as of late. Doncic has only proven to be a first-round playoff fight. If he can rally his team this season, we might have a different conversation.
Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Zion Williamson
It seems like every season Tatum gets better. In Year 4, Tatum is averaging a career-high in points (25.2), assists (4.2), and is tied for a career-high in rebounds (7.0). The 23-year old is a budding star that has the swagger to make any game-winning shot at the end of regulation. The Celtics are not producing the same rate as a team, but his numbers are flashy. That similar situation goes for Williamson, averaging 26.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. Williamson, at 20 years old, is the fourth-youngest All-Star starter in league history. There is a strong case for Williamson to be higher on this list, but for now, he doesn't change the concourse of a game like Leonard, Irving, Doncic, or Durant. In Year 3, we should really keep an eye out for him.
Mitchell, Booker, and Butler are all similar in terms of their game. Their style is perfect for the team that they play for. For Mitchell, he is the offensive glue. With role players that help keep the defense tight, Mitchell has the flexibility to shoot as often and when he wants. Mitchell has 30-point per game talent but hasn't consistently put a stretch like that together over time. The same goes for Booker, who is averaging 25.9 points per game after two seasons of 26.0 points or higher. Both players are their offensive pieces that need to score in bulk, but make no mistake, both are talented shooters.
Butler is just the "glue guy." He can score, defend, lead, you name it. Without Butler on the court, the Heat are not the Heat. Along with 21.2 points per game, Butler is averaging a career-high in rebounds (7.5) and assists (7.3). With the addition of Victor Oladipo, the Heat could be one of the best defensive teams in the East, and that all starts with Butler.
Anthony Davis, Paul George, Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine
Let's start with Beal and LaVine. Without these players, the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls would be in much worse situations. LaVine is a top-5 scorer in this league, and we aren't just talking about his points per game. LaVine is shooting 42% from three this season, while also grabbing close to five rebounds and dishing five assists per game. The move to acquire Nikola Vucevic signified that the Bulls are going to build around him for the future. As for Beal, the league's leading scorer (31.3) is worth all the first-round picks you can trade. If we placed Beal on a contending team, would his stats be the same? Probably not, but we know that Beal can score at any time and provide a bucket whenever needed.
Davis has been shuffled to Tier 4 due to injuries. Last year, Davis averaged 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.3 blocks. This year, Davis has not been 100% healthy at all. In 23 games, Davis owns averages of 22.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.8 blocks. When he gets back to 100%, look for Davis to make a push all the way up to Tier 2.
As for George, history proves that his MVP-caliber season two years ago was a diamond in the rough. When looking at his career, George has hit close to his career averages of 20.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.7 steals. In 2018, George averaged 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.2 steals. In 48 games last year, those numbers dipped to 21.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.4 steals. This year, George is averaging 22.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.1 steals. While his assists have improved, his defense has clearly taken a nosedive since pairing up with Leonard. Not to mention, there is zero confidence in George leading the Clippers in crunch time during the playoffs.
Chris Paul, Bam Adebayo, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Ben Simmons
Towns get the "Kevin Love" treatment because his numbers are so impressive for a bad team that one has to believe that he really is that good. Towns are averaging 24.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.5 blocks for a team that has 13 wins. Remember when Love left Minnesota and joined the Cavaliers and was an All-Star. Towns need a change of scenery just as much as Love did back in the day.
Paul could be undersold here at Tier 5 but his numbers are lower. However, his 8.8 assists are his highest since 2016 but his points are the second-lowest of his career. Still, the Suns are the No. 2 teams in the West, so there is enough evidence to prove that "A Chris Paul Effect" exists. The Simmons effect stems from his ability to play great defense. After Simmons scored just five and seven points in two of his last three games, head coach Doc Rivers announced how valuable Simmons is to the team and that scoring was one of the least concerns he has. Along with 15.2 points, Simmons is averaging 7.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists as a point guard. Clearly, he makes up for production in other areas.
Gobert is on track to win his third Defensive Player of the Year Award, which has only been done by Dikembe Mutombo, who leads the all-time list with four, and Dwight Howard. Gobert is also averaging at least 13 rebounds per game for the second straight season. The Jazz is a top-5 defending team, so let's give Gobert credit where credit is due. As for Adebayo, he is having a breakout season with 19.2 points (career-high), 9.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists (career-high), and 1.2 blocks. Along with Butler and Oladipo, the hustling center makes this Heat defense especially tough. Adebayo was a huge piece in helping the Heat make the NBA Finals last season and has the Heat playing well again after a sluggish start. He deserves to be in the top-25 player's conversation.
Credit for an ide: Basketball Central