Ranking the 20 Best NBA Players Heading into 2017-18 Season

A definitive ranking of the 20 best NBA players in 2017-18.

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Believe it or not, the 2017-18 NBA season tips off in less than a month. It’s been a long, busy offseason characterized by surprising trades and unnecessary drama. Thankfully, it’s almost over and real basketball is just around the corner. For now, though, I want to focus on what we can expect from the best players around the league during the upcoming season.

That’s why I’ve put together a list of the 20 best NBA players heading into 2017-18. It’s a star-studded list that boasts a few surprise rankings. After last season and this offseason, though, this is how I believe the Top 20 ballers should rank with the regular season set to begin in mid-October.

20. C Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
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I don’t think anyone was expecting to see Nikola Jokic elevate himself to the level he did in 2016-17. The Denver Nuggets‘ star center now enters this upcoming season as one of the most exciting big men throughout the league, and for good reason. Put simply, Jokic is one of the best passing big men we’ve seen in a long time. His creativity, instincts and vision with setting up his teammates is extremely rare for a man of his size. Plus, he’s an outstanding paint presence who can rebound, block and score with the best of them. The Nuggets found their building block, and he only cost them a second-round pick.

19. PG Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
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There’s a reason Damian Lillard is sitting here at No. 19 and not higher. First and foremost, he doesn’t fill the true facilitator role for the Portland Trail Blazers. While he’s a terrific point guard, his passing skills are average and his defense leaves something to be desired. Still, his ability to put the ball in the basket is uncanny. His jumper is feared throughout the league, and his ability to get into the paint and to the free-throw line are remarkable. At 27 years old, Lillard still has more room to grow as well.

18. SF Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics
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It’ll be very interesting to see the dynamic of this revamped Boston Celtics lineup, which will revolve around Gordon Hayward in 2017-18. Even with the addition of Kyrie Irving, Hayward figures to the team’s top scoring threat. This will, however, be new territory for Boston’s shiny new star, who previously served in the do-it-all superstar role with the Utah Jazz. Now on a more talented team that boasts other legitimate scoring threats, can Hayward remain the elite playmaker he was in Salt Lake City?

17. C DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans
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There may not be a better post-scoring big man in the NBA than DeMarcus Cousins. He may not be a knockdown shooter or fit the mold of today’s ideal center who can consistently hit from three-point range, but he can own the paint offensively in ways that most modern big men can’t. On top of that, he’s an outstanding rebounder and rim protector, which bodes well for the New Orleans Pelicans in 2017-18. That is, if he can develop some chemistry with Anthony Davis and get this club to the playoffs.

16. PG John Wall, Washington Wizards
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Unlike Lillard, John Wall is the whole package on offense. Complimenting his ability to score at will is his incredible passing, which currently ranks among the top facilitators in the NBA. Although not a lockdown defender by any means, he did lead the league with 157 steals a season ago. He does a great job of creating opportunities for the Washington Wizards offense. Now that Wall is playing on a shiny new contract, expect him to step his game up even more while serving as one of the league’s better two-way point guards.

15. SG Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
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Honestly, Klay Thompson seems a tad underrated these days. The other Splash Brother has seen his stock drop a bit following the emergence of his other superstar teammates, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still an elite two-way guard who makes his own undeniable impact for the Golden State Warriors. He’s among the best shooters in the league, can go off on scoring sprees at any moment, and is capable of locking down the 1-4 spots on defense. If Thompson was the lone star on a different team, he’d be even higher on this list.

14. C Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
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Another one of the elite defenders throughout the league, Rudy Gobert has asserted himself as one of the best rim protectors of the modern era. Now the lone superstar for the Jazz, it’ll be up to him to keep this franchise afloat and in contention in the West following the departure of Hayward. Although he’s never been a top offensive threat due to his lack of range, Gobert should see his numbers increase this season. Regardless, it’s all about the top-tier defense with the Stifle Tower.

13. PG Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
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A few years ago, I would have had Chris Paul higher on this list. At this point, though, I believe that his age has begun to have subtle effects on his play. Despite that, he’s still a dynamic passer and floor general who can put up points in a hurry when called upon. On top of that, his defensive prowess is still apparent, evidenced by his being named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team this past season. Now teamed with James Harden as a member of the Houston Rockets, we should see him make a serious run at his first ring.

12. C Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
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It’s only been two seasons, but what we’ve seen from Karl-Anthony Towns up to this point has been outstanding. The dynamic big man has proven capable of doing just about everything, from handling the rock to consistently sinking shots from downtown. Then there’s the whole part about Towns being a dominant paint presence, serving as an excellent rim protector and glass cleaner. The Minnesota Timberwolves‘ star center still has work to do, but will absolutely be higher on this list in a year or two if his development continues at this current pace.

11. SG Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves
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It still blows my mind that the Chicago Bulls were so eager to unload Jimmy Butler. The two-way superstar has quickly proven himself to be one of the best shooting guards in the NBA. Now he heads to the Twin Cities to help the Timberwolves take that next step in their development as a franchise. All of the pieces are now in place, with Butler taking over as the leader of the one of the league’s most exciting young rosters. Look for him to be the star of the show and earn some MVP votes during the 2017-18 campaign.

10. SF Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
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One of the best two-way wings in the league, Paul George has had a busy last few months. Between his trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder and talk of joining the Los Angeles Lakers, there have been too many off-court distractions. Believe me when I say, though, that George will be ready to go when real basketball begins in October. Playing alongside Russell Westbrook should only help him, as the pressure is off of him to carry the entire offensive load. This opportunity should allow him to unlock his full potential as an elite wing.

9. PF Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
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Draymond Green may not be the best player on the Warriors roster, but he may be have the biggest mental impact. Not only is he the heart and soul for the reigning championships, but he gets in opponents’ heads. And when he isn’t playing mind games, he’s dominating the paint, making huge defensive stops and providing the occasional spark on offense. Although his offensive contributors are inconsistent at times, there’s no denying that Green is one of the greatest defenders the NBA has seen in some time.

8. PF Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
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One of the most unique talents in the NBA today, Davis is like a guard in a center’s body. He can shoot from anywhere on the court, run the offense and dominate in the paint, all in one uber-athletic package. Unfortunately, the Pelicans have struggled to surround him with capable talent, which is why Davis has yet to taste any real playoff experience up to this point in his young career. The best part is that he still hasn’t hit his prime at 24 years of age, meaning the best is yet to come.

7. SG James Harden, Houston Rockets
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I know he was the MVP runner-up last season, but I’m not as high on Harden as most. Sure, he’s an electric offensive threat who uses his quickness and deception to create space for himself to put his dead-eye shooting skills on display. However, it’s his lack of consistent effort and impact on defense that’s soured me on him a bit. I know it hasn’t done serious damage to the Rockets in the grand scheme of things, but a truly elite talent needs to make his presence felt on both ends of the court. Harden is a tremendous talent, but he’s far from a complete player.

6. SF Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
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One of the league’s most unique athletes of all time, Giannis Antetokounmpo is a freak of nature as his nickname “Greek Freak” would suggest. He was the first player in NBA history to lead his team in all five major statistical categories, and has quickly developed into one of the NBA’s most dynamic playmakers. Antetokounmpo still needs to work on his jump shot and efficiency from long range, but could make a legitimate push for the MVP award if the Milwaukee Bucks can take that next step in 2017-18.

5. PG Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
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Despite now having to share the spotlight with his other superstar teammates, Stephen Curry is still one of the best all-around players in the NBA. The two-time MVP is still arguably the most dangerous shooter in the league, capable of draining it from almost anywhere on the court with his lightning quick release. On top of that, he’s an underrated off-ball defender and rebounder who wins with quickness, smarts and and a killer instinct with the ball in his hands.

4. SF Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
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The San Antonio Spurs‘ subdued superstar has quickly emerged as one of the league’s deadliest players. Not only is Kawhi Leonard an offensive sparkplug, capable of sinking it from anywhere on the court or creating his own opportunity at the rim. Then there are his defensive skills, which are on a whole other level. In only six seasons, Leonard has earned two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards and is earning his place among the league’s annual MVP candidates. It’s only a matter of time before he earns himself the league’s most coveted individual honor.

3. PG Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
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Despite winning the MVP award in 2016-17, Westbrook finds himself here at No. 3. It may not be where he wants to be, but it’s still a respectable spot for one of the game’s most dynamic scorers. This past season, he put this Thunder team on his back following the departure of Kevin Durant. The results were astounding, as he turned into a one-man highlight reel. Not only did he single-handedly lead Oklahoma City to the playoffs, but he broke the record for the most triple-doubles in a season. Pretty impressive if you ask me.

2. SF Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
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If there was anyone good enough to give the incumbent a run for the top spot on this list, it was Durant. Unfortunately, as you can tell, he fell a tad short. Still, being the No. 2 player in the NBA carries plenty of weight. Durant took his talents to the Bay Area this past season, and became the star of the show for the Warriors. Now he has a ring and a Finals MVP award to add to his overflowing trophy case. Still in his prime, don’t expect KD to start slipping anytime soon.

1. SF LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
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Was there really any way to not give the No. 1 spot to LeBron James? I know a lot of folks talked about KD as the new top dog in the NBA after last season’s Finals, but there’s still no dethroning the King. James is the pound-for-pound best basketball player in the world right now. He can sink any shot, play any position, defend any player and put the team on his back on a nightly basis. No matter the supporting cast, James’ team will be a contender each and every season until the day he hangs it up.