Graphic illustration by Mike Meredith (CBS Sports)

The NBA regular season is finally here, with Opening night featuring the Milwaukee Bucks hosting the Brooklyn Nets before the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers do battle in the nightcap. 

While we look into every team ahead of the 2021-22 season -- catch up on all of our team previews here -- naturally, we need to forecast the players, too. So here it is: Our CBS Sports Top 100 player rankings for the 2021-22 season. Taking the cumulative results of our seven writers' individual rankings, this is a look ahead to how these players are expected to perform in the upcoming season. It is not based on last year's production.

This means rookies are eligible, and indeed No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham made our top 100. In fact, he cracked our top 75. With that in mind, let's get to the list. (For a closer position-by-position look, CBS Sports also breaks down its top 15 rankings for point guards, big men and wings.)


R.J. Barrett New York Knicks SG
Barrett made solid strides in his sophomore season, posting just under 18 points and six rebounds per game on 40-percent 3-point shooting (over four attempts per game). He's not a go-to scoring option, and we'll see if the shooting regresses as it did, dramatically, in the playoffs. But at just 21 years old, he's a multi-positional defender with hopefully more offensive growth in store. -- Brad Botkin   
T.J. Warren Indiana Pacers SF
Warren played just four games last season due to a stress fracture in his foot that has proven to be quite problematic, but he is coming off a career year during the 2019-20 season, in which he averaged nearly 20 points per game on 40 percent 3-point shooting. The 6-8 forward found his home as a small-ball four, and his improved 3-point shooting since his early days in the league has changed his offensive profile to much more than just a mid-range bucket-getter (though he can still do that too). Warren was in the 93rd percentile in overall offense in his last full season, according to Synergy, and the Pacers hope he will get back to that level when he returns to the court. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    
Marcus Morris Los Angeles Clippers SF
For better or worse, the younger version of Morris played as though he felt he was the best player on his team. He took as many big shots as he could get his hands on, and for brief stints in New York and Boston, he genuinely might have passed for a primary part of an offense. The Clippers version has mellowed out. His mid-range attempts are going down and he jumped up to over 47 percent from behind the arc last season. Pair that shooting with the ball skills of a much more confident youngster and the ability to play center in some lineups defensively and you get one of the NBA's more versatile supporting players. -- Sam Quinn
Derrick Rose New York Knicks PG
Rose has completely flipped his game. In his pre-injury prime, he was a rocket-ship athlete, who couldn't really shoot. Now he's a dead-eye shooter who can't get to -- or finish above -- the rim the way he used to. He still finds ways to score in the lane with an array of wily-vet floaters, and it would be incorrect to suggest he doesn't still beat defenders off the dribble, but his 42-percent mark from 3, and 50-percent mark from the mid-range, over 35 games with Knicks last season is how Rose makes his most significant impact off the bench these days. -- Brad Botkin    
Jae Crowder Phoenix Suns PF
Crowder is the guy you wish your favorite team signed for the midlevel. His presence doesn't guarantee a trip to the Finals, but if you have the talent to get there, you trust him to elevate it. It's clear now that he's best in movement-oriented offensive systems, and last season his value was equally apparent watching him complement Phoenix's stars as it was watching Miami try to make up for his absence. -- James Herbert    
Kevin Huerter Atlanta Hawks SG
Though Huerter's raw numbers may suggest that he took a step back in terms of his development last season, that's most certainly not the case. Huerter filled whatever role the Hawks asked of him last season, whether it was starting to provide some extra firepower in the lineup, or coming off the bench to give the second unit a spark. In Game 7 against the Sixers in the playoffs, it was his 27 points that lifted Atlanta to a shocking win over the No. 1 seed. -- Jasmyn Wimbish     
Evan Fournier New York Knicks SG
Fournier has established himself as a legitimate option on the offensive end of the floor, and with the Knicks he should get plenty of opportunity to put up points. He's a 37 percent career 3-point shooter, and that skill will help a Knicks team that lacked offensive firepower at times last season. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain    
Jusuf Nurkic Portland Trail Blazers C
Nurkic has battled injuries for the past couple of seasons, but his impact on the court when he plays is undeniable. The Blazers had the second-worst defense in the NBA last season, but with Nurkic on the floor their defense rating of 108.2 was the equivalent of the fifth-best mark in the league. Offensively, Nurkic's size allows him to be a bully around the rim, but he's also an adept playmaker, averaging over three assists per game for the past three seasons. Another thing to watch -- Nurkic shot 40 percent on 30 3-point attempts last season, so it will be interesting to see whether that becomes a more consistent part of his game moving forward. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    
Jonas Valanciunas New Orleans Pelicans C
In his third season with Memphis after being traded there by the Raptors back in 2019, Valanciunas put together his best season across the board. He was a walking double-double for the Grizzlies, and his commitment to creating second-chance opportunities by corralling offensive rebounds was a constant headache for opposing teams. He was traded this offseason to the New Orleans Pelicans, where he'll man the frontcourt next to Zion Williamson, which should be an intriguing duo to watch. -- Jasmyn Wimbish    
Larry Nance Jr. Portland Trail Blazers PF
There are good teams that would rather have Nance than many of the high-scoring players we've ranked above him. In theory, he's the perfect modern role player: A smallball 5 who can switch, pass, shoot and thrive in any defensive scheme. He's easily the most interesting player in Portland this season, but he has to stay healthy and prove the shot is real. I wouldn't be surprised if Nance became the first Blazer since 2004 (Theo Ratliff!) to make All-Defense. -- James Herbert    


Tim Hardaway Jr. Dallas Mavericks SF
While Porzingis was struggling with consistency last season, Hardaway became Dallas' most effective No. 2 option alongside Doncic. His 3-point shooting toward the end of the season and into the playoffs was crucial in the Mavericks' success, and they thanked him with a new contract worth $72 million. After splitting time between the bench and the starting lineup last season, Hardaway should be the undisputed starting shooting guard in the backcourt next to Doncic. -- Jasmyn Wimbish  
Harrison Barnes Sacramento Kings SF
Barnes has faded from the spotlight of his Golden State glamour days, but he remains as solid as ever. He just knows how to play and stays in his lane; a low-usage scorer who is versed in the virtues of modern shot selection. Last season, 75 percent of Barnes' shot attempts came from 3 or at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass. Throw in 25 percent from the short mid-range (4-14 feet), and you end up with just one percent of Barnes' non-garbage-time shots coming from the dreaded long-mid-range areas. No wonder he posted career highs last season in points per shot attempt and effective field goal percentage. Factor in his multi-positional defense, and there's a reason Barnes' name is always popping up in trade rumors. He would fit with, and help, any contender. -- Brad Botkin    
Danny Green Philadelphia 76ers SF
Green is at the stage of his career when he probably shouldn't be the primary defender against Trae Young in a playoff series, but he's still important enough to a contending team that it fell apart without him. If every supposed 3-and-D guy was as good of a cutter and help defender as Green, a whole lot of teams would make a whole lot more sense. -- James Herbert
Richaun Holmes Sacramento Kings C
Holmes has not gotten the attention he deserves the last few seasons, largely because he plays for the Kings. But while casual fans have been ignoring the dysfunction in Sacramento, Holmes has quietly become one of the most underrated big men in the league. He plays extremely hard, rebounds well, finishes efficiently and can defend the rim. If you haven't been keeping up with Holmes, you should change that this season. -- Jack Maloney   
Jonathan Isaac Orlando Magic PF
Despite the fact that Isaac missed all of last season due to tearing his ACL in the Orlando bubble, at age 22 there's still upside to the 6-11 center, which is why he landed on our list. Entering Year 5 of his career, he's had just one fully healthy season in which he played 75 games, and during the 2019-20 season he showed promise as a 6-11 center who showed flashes of being able to knock down 3s. If he manages to stay healthy this season, he should take another step in his development. -- Jasmyn Wimbish  
Caris LeVert Indiana Pacers SG
LeVert was one of the feel-good stories of last season, successfully returning from surgery to treat a renal cell carcinoma on his left kidney that was detected during a routine physical after he was traded from the Nets to the Pacers. He showed no ill-effects from the procedure, averaging 20.7 points, 4.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds with Indiana to close out the season. LeVert needs to improve his efficiency as a scorer and spot-up shooter, but he was in the 74th percentile in pick-and-roll offense including passes after joining the Pacers last season, per Synergy, proving that he can be an adept primary playmaker. Health has been the major issue for LeVert over the course of his career, but when he's on the court his potential is clear. -- Colin Ward-Henninger     
D'Angelo Russell Minnesota Timberwolves PG
For the most part, you know what you get with Russell: a talented, high-usage scorer and playmaker who hardly ever gets all the way to the rim and exists on probably too many mid-range jumpers while being one of the worst defenders in the league. The question is whether Russell can add up to more than the sum of his own individual components alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. There was decent evidence the trio can succeed together, relatively speaking, over a six-week sample to end last season, when the Wolves were plus-1.6 in the minutes those three played together with an 11-9 record. -- Brad Botkin    
Andrew Wiggins Golden State Warriors SF
Wiggins seemed to find a home in Golden State last season, considerably improving his offensive efficiency while consistently defending the opponent's best perimeter player on a nightly basis. His 48 percent field goal shooting and 38 percent from 3-point range were both career highs, and he lowered his mid-range attempts to 2.9 per game, compared to 4.4 per game in his last full season in Minnesota. Wiggins also served an important purpose as the offensive focal point with Stephen Curry on the bench, and he ranked in the 79th percentile as an isolation scorer with 1.037 points per possession, according to Synergy. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    
Norman Powell Portland Trail Blazers SF
Portland's starting lineup was elite after Powell joined the fray, but quietly Powell's shooting numbers declined to 36 percent from 3 and 43 percent overall after a red-hot start to the season in Toronto. Is Powell, another small, scoring guard, a redundant piece on a Blazers team that already boasts Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum? Portland GM Neil Olshey thinks not, as he gave Powell a five-year, $90 million contract this summer. -- Brad Botkin
Dejounte Murray San Antonio Spurs PG
Folks who follow the NBA have long awaited Murray's breakout, and it finally arrived last season. Already a former All-Defensive selection, Murray continued to evolve his offensive game, raising his scoring average by nearly five points while notching career highs in assists and rebounds per game. His 3-point shot has not yet reached consistent levels, but he showed much more willingness to shoot them last season. Overall, San Antonio's offense and defense were both considerably better with Murray on the floor, and he'll have even more room to display his talents this season with DeMar DeRozan out of the picture. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    


Joe Ingles Utah Jazz SG
The thinking man's Sixth Man of the Year, Ingles may not have scored as many points per game as Jordan Clarkson, but he was the far more impactful player. His secondary playmaking in the pick-and-roll helps power Quin Snyder's bench offense. Few players are better tailored for a system so geared toward quick decisions, pinpoint passing and excessive shooting. Ingles is limited athletically, but he more than makes up for it in the margins.  -- Sam Quinn    
Terry Rozier Charlotte Hornets SG
Rozier has a flair for the dramatic -- in 93 clutch minutes last season, Rozier scored 88 points on 67 percent true shooting. He has found himself on solid footing in Charlotte, though, by becoming one of the most reliable spot-up shooters in the league. After making 45.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s in 2019-20, he made 43.3 percent of them last season while increasing his volume from 3.7 to 5.4 attempts per game. Now he needs to make some gains defensively and show that his improved efficiency inside the arc is sustainable.  -- James Herbert     
Robert Covington Portland Trail Blazers PF
You know what you're going to get from Robert Covington at this point in his career: solid perimeter defense and reliable floor-spacing. Covington shot 37 percent from long range for the Blazers last season, while also adding 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per performance. He serves as a solid complement to the Blazers' backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and thus he should be in store for another productive season in Portland.  -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain     
Brook Lopez Milwaukee Bucks C
Lopez really stepped up his game for the Bucks during the playoffs last season, and played an integral role in the team winning a championship. He was a legitimate rim protector, knocked down shots when he got looks and was aggressive on the boards. His 33 points in the Eastern Conference finals showed just how effective of a scorer he can be, and why he's so important to Milwaukee.  -- Jasmyn Wimbish     
Collin Sexton Cleveland Cavaliers PG
Here's a stat for you: Only 20 players in NBA history have averaged 24 points in their age-22-or-younger season on 57 percent or better true shooting. Sexton was the last. Before that came Trae Young and Devin Booker. The list is littered with superstars, and the two most recent lay a familiar path for Sexton. Too quickly, talented young scorers on bad teams are labeled as empty stats players. Now, as his roster matures and his contract comes up, Sexton will have to prove, like Booker and Young before him, that he's more than that. The numbers suggest he's heading somewhere special.  -- Sam Quinn    
Duncan Robinson Miami Heat SG
Robinson is such an incredible shooter that the Heat let him run some pick-and-roll last season despite posing no threat as a driver. It's the same idea as having him come off dribble-handoffs -- Robinson needs only a sliver of space before firing away, so a good screen on his man sends the defense into a panic. He signed a five-year, $90 million contract to play in a league that is increasingly hostile to specialists, a testament to his ability to hit shots that almost nobody was even practicing until recently.  -- James Herbert  
Cade Cunningham Detroit Pistons G
The only rookie on this list, Cunningham is here because everything about him screams NBA-ready. He projects not only as the Pistons' best playmaker, but the rare 20-year-old who can immediately help his team on both ends, on and off the ball. Of the numerous potential franchise-changers in the 2020 draft, he is the surest thing -- the question is how long it will take Detroit to give him the reins and put the proper pieces around him.  -- James Herbert     
Joe Harris Brooklyn Nets SF
Harris isn't the most well-rounded player in the entire NBA, but he's extremely good at what he does, and that's spacing the floor. Harris is a career 43 percent shooter from long range, and he shot a scorching 47 percent from beyond the arc last season while making a career-high 6.4 triples per game. The fact that defenses can't afford to leave him open on the perimeter for a single second makes him an ideal complement to Brooklyn's trio of superstars.  -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain     
Bogdanovic shot 39 percent from 3-point range last season -- and it was his lowest mark in four years. That should tell you all you need to know about the purity of his shooting stroke. The 6-7 forward is an essential floor-spacer in Utah's high-octane offensive assault, and he was in the 75th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations last season, per Synergy. Bogdanovic is more than a spot-up shooter, however, as he's been effective in limited opportunities as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and has become a solid defender, particularly against bigger perimeter players.  -- Colin Ward-Henninger     
Kristaps Porzingis Dallas Mavericks C
After a playoff performance in which Porzingis was relegated to standing in the corner and spotting up for 3-pointers, his standing in the league and his overall value took a nosedive. But that doesn't mean he isn't among the league's most talented players. Between his size and skillset, Porzingis is still a unique player who at his best, is a scoring threat from deep, midrange and down in the paint while being a rim protector on the other end of the floor. But he hasn't been able to operate at that level consistently in Dallas, leading to this low ranking. A new coaching staff with the Mavericks and a fully healthy offseason may be what K.P. needs to return to the All-Star-level play we witnessed in New York. - - Jasmyn Wimbish     


Seth Curry Philadelphia 76ers SG
Hypothetically, just how big of a role could Curry handle? If the Sixers involved him in an action on just about every offensive possession, and if they challenged him to take deeper, quicker, more contested shots, how much would his efficiency drop? This is one of the most accurate shooters in NBA history, but he's never averaged more than 29 minutes or 10 shot attempts per game. As valuable as he is now, can the 31-year-old Curry get bolder and, as a result, better? If Ben Simmons isn't in the picture this season, these questions will become very real. -- James Herbert    
Aaron Gordon Denver Nuggets PF
Denver didn't just lose one star when Jamal Murray tore his ACL. It lost the idealized version of Gordon as well. For one brief, glorious moment, Gordon had found his perfect team. No longer was he burdened with ball-handling or saddled with a spaceless roster. On the healthy Nuggets, he could move and run and cut his way to the easiest baskets he'd ever see, the perfect role player for a Nikola Jokic team. What happened afterward reminded us of his limitations. Gordon isn't going to lead a team or pick up the slack of an absent scorer. He's here to do everything else, and when the roster around him was right, he looked like a star doing it. -- Sam Quinn   
Spencer Dinwiddie Washington Wizards PG
Dinwiddie will step into a full-time starting role in Washington for the first time in his career, and as long as he can be the same player that he was prior to the ACL injury he suffered as a member of the Nets last season (he averaged 20.6 points and 6.8 assists per performance the year before), then he'll prove to be an extremely productive player for the Wizards. Look for him to potentially set career highs across the board during the '21-22 campaign. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain    
Dillon Brooks Memphis Grizzlies SF
The shot selection remains iffy, he runs hot and cold and he really needs to improve as a finisher, but Dillon Brooks can't be quantified as the sum of his skill sets. What sets him apart isn't just that he's comfortable in big moments, but that he actively seeks them out. His scoring improved throughout the season culminating in the best stretch of his career lifting the Grizzlies into the playoffs. He locked down DeMar DeRozan in a play-in game before giving Stephen Curry far more trouble than the box score would suggest. This all culminated with Brooks averaging 25.8 points in a playoff series against Rudy Gobert's team. There are rough edges to be sanded, but you can't teach intensity. That's something players either have or they don't, and Brooks has it in spades. -- Sam Quinn   
Lonzo Ball Chicago Bulls PG
There are no longer any illusions of Lonzo Ball as a point guard or a primary ball-handler. No, with Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan on his team, he gets to be something significantly more interesting. Not quite a guard, not quite a wing, the rare 3-and-D player who injects a healthy dose of chaos with his transition mastery, Ball exists to fill in blank spaces next to great players. He'll have perhaps his best chance at it yet in Chicago. There's no longer an identity crisis here. Ball knows exactly what he is at this stage of his career. -- Sam Quinn   
Clint Capela Atlanta Hawks C
The NBA's leading rebounder last season, Capela has become an integral part of the Hawks' ascent to one of the Eastern Conference's most impressive young teams. He serves a necessary function as a lob threat for Trae Young and as an offensive rebounder to clean up misses, but Capela's value really comes through on the defensive end. The Hawks allowed five fewer points per 100 possessions with Capela on the floor last season, and he was in the 75th percentile in defense around the rim, per Synergy, while notching a career-high two blocks per game. At 27 years old, Capela has established himself as one of the premier big men in the league. -- Colin Ward-Henninger   
Jaren Jackson Jr. Memphis Grizzlies PF
Jackson only played 11 games last season after recovering from meniscus surgery, but he should be at full strength as one of the Grizzlies' two most important players entering the 2021-22 campaign. When healthy, Jackson is one of the most unique talents in the league -- a 6-foot-11, potentially elite rim protector who can effectively switch onto smaller players, and who also happened to shoot 39 percent on 6.5 3-point attempts per game during the 2019-20 season. Jackson's versatility on both ends makes him a unicorn in the truest sense of the word, but he'll need to stay on the court consistently in order to continue to rise up the list of the league's best. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    
Tyrese Haliburton Sacramento Kings PG
The mix of Haliburton's length, speed and athleticism made him one of the standout rookies a season ago. He was tremendous at getting others involved on offense, as he ranked in the 76th percentile in assist percentage, a pretty impressive number for a first-year player. His 3-point shooting was a bright spot for a Kings team that was otherwise average from downtown, and his knack for disrupting plays on the other end of the floor showed that he has incredible promise on that end of the floor. -- Jasmyn Wimbish  
Anthony Edwards Minnesota Timberwolves SF
Last year's No. 1 overall pick, Edwards got off to a slow start but showed great strides as the season went along, especially on the offensive end. At the very least, it's clear that he's an elite athlete, even compared to other NBA players, and will really be able to score the ball -- at times in electrifying ways. He'll need to improve as a shooter and on the defensive end, but fans in Minnesota should be excited about Edwards' sophomore season. -- Jack Maloney   
Bogdan Bogdanovic Atlanta Hawks SG
Bogdanovic struggled to begin his first season in Atlanta, but absolutely thrived after coming back from injury under new head coach Nate McMillan. After entering the starting lineup on March 26, Bogdanovic averaged 21.1 points and 4.2 assists per game on absurd 50/49/90 shooting splits in the final 25 games of the season. Bogdanovic proved his versatility by landing in the 93rd percentile as a spot-up jump shooter, per Synergy, and also in the 88th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, including passes. After McMillan took over, the Hawks had a robust 120.1 offensive rating with Bogdanovic and Trae Young on the court together, but they also maintained a plus-five net rating with Bogi in the game and Young on the bench. -- Colin Ward-Henninger  


Kemba Walker New York Knicks PG
Persistent knee problems limited Walker to just 43 games last season in a frustrating campaign for both him and the Celtics. Now, he's returned home to New York to join a Knicks team that's looking to improve on their first playoff appearance since 2013. If Walker is able to stay healthy, his off-the-dribble playmaking and shooting is exactly what the Knicks need. Whether he's able to do that at this point in his career, however, remains to be seen. -- Jack Maloney   
Mikal Bridges Phoenix Suns SF
Bridges is a textbook 3-and-D wing player, and last season his play on both ends of the floor was paramount in getting the Suns to the NBA Finals. But unlike the strict confines of what we've come to expect from the 3-and-D prototype, Bridges excels in creating his own shot and scoring at all three levels. He was among the most efficient shooters last season, as he connected on 76 percent of his shots at the rim, 50 percent of his mid-range jumpers and 43 percent of his 3s. Whenever Booker or Paul needed to pass it to someone to get the Suns a bucket, Bridges oftentimes was there to answer the call. -- Jasmyn Wimbish    
Myles Turner Indiana Pacers C
Here's the list of players who have averaged at least 1.5 made 3-pointers per game and 3.4 blocks: 2020-21 Myles Turner. Oh, is that distinction a bit arbitrary for you? Let's lower the threshold to one made 3 and three blocks. Here's the list: 2020-21 Myles Turner. Oh come on! Fine, let's lower the blocks threshold to 2.5. Finally, we have a non-Turner player to include on the list: 2001-02 Raef Lafrentz. Yet Turner still makes up more than half of it because we also have to mention, you guessed it, 2019-20 Myles Turner. You get the picture. This combination of shooting and rim protection has never existed in NBA history, and even if the rest of his game is limited, Turner's wholly unique skill set makes him perhaps the NBA's most underrated center. -- Sam Quinn
Tobias Harris Philadelphia 76ers PF
Harris has been extremely consistent for Philadelphia the last two seasons. You can count on around 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists from him on a nightly basis, and if he's hot he's capable of going off for 30-plus points on any given night. Given the uncertainty surrounding Ben Simmons this season, the Sixers will need Harris to be even more assertive on the offensive end, which could lead to a slight bump in his per game production. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain    
Jerami Grant Detroit Pistons SF
The Pistons' decision to sign Grant, who to that point in his career had been a role player, and give him the keys to their offense was one of the most interesting experiments we've seen in the league in some time. And while the team obviously struggled on the floor, that was through no fault of Grant's, who understandably put up the best numbers of his career. It will be fascinating to see how he develops in this new role, especially with Cade Cunningham's arrival. -- Jack Maloney   
Malcolm Brogdon Indiana Pacers PG
Brogdon is coming off a breakout season, having averaged a career-high 21.2 points per game on 45/39/86 shooting splits. He dished out nearly six assists per game, but was also an effective weapon as an off-ball shooter, landing in the 82nd percentile in catch-and-shoot situations, per Synergy. At a stout 6-5, Brogdon is capable of defending both guard positions, and he was one of Indiana's most effective clutch scorers and playmakers. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    
Christian Wood Houston Rockets C
Wood looked like a potential All-Star during his first season with the Rockets. He averaged 21 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for Houston, and he was one of the lone bright spots for the team during what was an otherwise forgettable season. He will continue to play a big role for the Rockets moving forward, and at 26 years old he could still get even better. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain  
OG Anunoby Toronto Raptors SF
Haven't we seen this story before? The Raptors draft a raw prospect knowing that they can refine his game and make him a star. That pick defends well as a rookie, starts making shots in Year 2 or 3, and by Year 4 or 5, he's started creating his own shots against opponents ill-equipped to handle yet another Toronto developmental masterpiece. It happened for Pascal Siakam, and right before our eyes, it's happening for Anunoby. Had he remained healthy last season, he likely would have earned All-Defense honors, and he would have done so on a career-best 6.1 3-point attempts per game (of which he made nearly 40 percent). The real story, though, is his career-high 19.3 percent usage rate. That's not exactly high, but it tells the story of a player slowly becoming more comfortable with the ball in his hands. Anunoby averaged a career-high 15.9 points per game last season. Now, with Kyle Lowry gone, he'll have enough opportunity to push for 20. -- Sam Quinn   
LaMelo Ball Charlotte Hornets PG
The reigning Rookie of the Year winner, Ball dazzled us all last season making the Charlotte Hornets must-watch television. With every no-look pass and impressive finish at the rim, his profile grew into a player who could be making All-Star Games in the very near future. He still has work to do in terms of his efficiency and limiting his turnovers, but to nearly crack the top 50 of NBA players in the league right now after just one season in the league is incredibly impressive for the young point guard. -- Jasmyn Wimbish  
Deandre Ayton Phoenix Suns C
Ayton has averaged a double-double in each of his first three seasons in the league, but last season is when he really started putting things together. He's a decent face-up shooter, but trimming those long-mid-range attempts in half (15 percent of his shots to eight percent, per Cleaning The Glass) for more higher-percentage looks at the rim netted him 131.7 points per 100 shots on a 63.0 effective field-goal percentage, both career highs and ranking north of the 85th percentile among centers, per CTG. Ayton has also made great strides defensively. He isn't going to be schemed off the court with his ability to drop for rim protection and also hold his own on higher pick-and-roll coverage. Ayton will always be the guy who was drafted No. 1 over Luka Doncic, but he is starting to live up to the hype in his own right. -- Brad Botkin    


John Collins Atlanta Hawks PF
Collins secured the bag, as they say, after another wildly efficient offensive season for the Hawks in which he ranked in the 96th percentile with 1.177 points per possession, per Synergy, while putting up 56/40/83 shooting splits. The 24-year-old, who signed a five-year, $125 million extension with Atlanta this offseason, was one of the best finishers in the league around the rim with his explosiveness and touch, while knocking down 40 percent of his 3-pointers for the second straight season. Collins' counting stats went down a bit last year, but his role on the Hawks and contributions to winning are as valuable as ever. -- Colin Ward-Henninger  
Marcus Smart Boston Celtics PG
Smart is an all-world defensive player, more versatile than a 6-foot-4 guy has any right to be. He has playmaking chops, too, and is a confident shooter, if far too streaky, shooter. Despite playing a different position, he's much more similar to Draymond Green than most of the undersized bigs who get those comparisons every season. -- James Herbert    
DeMar DeRozan Chicago Bulls SF
DeRozan has almost single-handedly proven that a wing can remain efficient in the modern NBA without consistently shooting 3-pointers, and that's largely due to his improved playmaking to go along with deadly mid-range shooting. He took the seventh-most mid-range attempts in the league last season with the Spurs, and knocked down 47 percent of them, helping him become one of the most efficient offensive players in the NBA. He was in the 94th percentile in halfcourt offense including assists, per Synergy, and his 1.195 points per possession in isolation situations were the best in the league for anyone with 100 such possessions. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    
Nikola Vucevic Chicago Bulls C
Vucevic is a big-time offensive talent who, as a give-or-take 40-percent 3-point shooter, theoretically meshes well with Zach LaVine, keeping the lane open and representing a dangerous pick-and-pop weapon. The small-sample returns, however, weren't great after Vucevic was moved from Orlando last season; With LaVine and Vucevic on the court, the Bulls were outscored by 3.7 points per 100 possessions with just a 108.8 offensive rating, per CTG. We'll see how much adding two more shooting/scoring threats in DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball helps Chicago find its offensive groove this season. -- Brad Botkin   
Michael Porter Jr. Denver Nuggets SF
Porter could be in line for a huge season with the Nuggets. As a rookie, Porter averaged 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in 16.4 minutes per game. Last season, his playing time and stats both jumped up in a major way. He appeared in 61 games (and started in 54 of them) for Denver and averaged 19.0 points. 7.3 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 31.3 minutes per performance. In the process, Porter established himself as a legitimate go-to guy on the offensive end for the Nuggets, and clearly a player the team has extremely high hopes for, given the fact that they signed him to a max extension over the offseason. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain  
Mike Conley Utah Jazz PG
As tough and beloved as the Grizzlies were with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph pushing people around, part of me wishes Conley hadn't had to wait so long to play this style of basketball. Launching pull-up 3s in transition and making the absolute most of Utah's spacing, Conley had something of a career season offensively at the age of 33. When healthy, he's still an effective defender at the point of attack, too. He finally made an All-Star team, so the only milestone left is a championship. Bet he'd engrave "Grit&Grind" on the ring, like Gasol did. -- James Herbert    
Julius Randle New York Knicks PF
No player in the NBA improved their game as much as Randle did last season, earning him his first All-Star nod, the league's Most Improved Player of the Year award, All-NBA honors and carrying the New York Knicks to their first playoff appearance in eight years. His play on both ends of the floor set the tone for the Knicks hard-nosed, defensive mentality last season, and his 41.1 percent from 3-point territory showed that there's still levels to his game waiting to be unlocked. -- Jasmyn Wimbish    
Gordon Hayward Charlotte Hornets SF
Prior to a foot injury that cost him the final 24 games of the season, Hayward was in the middle of the comeback season he hoped for when he signed with Charlotte. His 19.6 points per game were the most since his final season in Utah, and the 41.5 percent 3-point shooting was his most accurate since 2012-13. Hayward's ability to be a facilitator and a spot-up shooter makes him a dangerous offensive weapon, and he was excellent in transition for a team that likes to get up and down the floor. Health has been Hayward's main issue over the past few seasons, but there's no doubt about his effectiveness when he's on the floor -- the Hornets' net rating was four points better per 100 possessions in his minutes last season. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    
Fred VanVleet Toronto Raptors SG
VanVleet is an All-Defense-caliber defender at the point of attack, a lights-out catch-and-shoot guy and one of the few point guards on the planet who has the requisite toughness and intelligence to be a natural successor to Kyle Lowry. His efficiency took a slight dip with his career-high usage last season, but if this year plays out perfectly both numbers will rise. At 27, with his own team to run, can he make yet another leap? -- James Herbert    
Pascal Siakam Toronto Raptors PF
It may seem like Siakam took a step backward last season for the Raptors, who struggled as a team during an odd year playing home games in Tampa. But in reality, Siakam's only significant drop-off came in his 3-point percentage. His two-point percentage, free throw shooting and assists per game all went up, while his points and rebounds per game remained relatively unchanged from his All-Star season in 2019-20. And that's all in addition to his stingy, versatile defense. With Kyle Lowry in Miami, Siakam should have even more offensive responsibility this season, which could lead to some impressive numbers if his 3-point shooting returns to its previous levels. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    


Brandon Ingram New Orleans Pelicans SF
Ingram has averaged 23.8 points per game over his first two seasons in New Orleans, and he is a solid second option on the offensive end alongside Zion Williamson. The next step for him is to continue to develop defensively. If he can do that he has the potential to be one of the best two-way players in the league, thanks to his combination of size and athleticism. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain  
CJ McCollum Portland Trail Blazers SG
McCollum was playing the best basketball of his career, averaging nearly 27 points and five assists per game on 47/44/84 splits before a broken foot sidelined him for two months. He still finished with career highs in points, assists and 3-pointers per game while landing in the 84th percentile in half-court offense, according to Synergy. In addition to being one of the best pull-up shooters in the league, McCollum was in the 94th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations, proving his ability to play both on and off the ball. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    
Russell Westbrook Los Angeles Lakers PG
Westbrook has averaged a triple-double in four of the last five seasons, a testament to his still-elite speed and athleticism as well as a motor that never quits. But does he help a team win games at a meaningful level? We might get our answer to that question this season as he teams up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, only now his impact will have to be felt in a reduced role. Whether Westbrook embraces a lower-usage existence and controls his worst shooting impulses could largely determine how far the Lakers go. -- Brad Botkin    
Jamal Murray Denver Nuggets PG
Murray was in the midst of his best campaign as a pro last season before suffering a season-ending ACL injury in April. There's no firm timetable for Murray's return at this point, but he's likely to miss a large portion of the '21-22 season. When he does ultimately return to action, look for him to pick up where he left off last season. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain    
Domantas Sabonis Indiana Pacers PF
The only player in the NBA to average at least 20 points and 12 rebounds last season, Sabonis is also one of the best playmaking bigs in the league. He averaged a career-high 6.7 assists per game and was in the 84th percentile in offense including assists, per Synergy, ranking him right next to offensive masterminds like LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Trae Young. An excellent finisher around the basket, Sabonis increased his 3-point volume last season with mixed results. If he improves in that area, he'll become one of the most complete offensive players in the NBA. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    
Klay Thompson Golden State Warriors SG
The last time we saw Thompson on the court was Game 6 of the 2019 Finals. Since then he's gone through multiple significant surgeries, one on his ACL and the other on his Achilles tendon. There are real questions about what level he'll be at after so much time off, which is why he's fallen so far on this list. But whenever he gets back on the court this season, we know he'll be one of the best shooters in the league and make the Warriors much more dangerous. -- Jack Maloney   
Kyle Lowry Miami Heat PG
Is there a better match between player and team in all of basketball than Lowry and the Heat? The player that has made his name taking charges, diving for loose balls and outsmarting more talented opponents now plays for a team that very recently made the Finals taking charges, diving for loose balls and outsmarting more talented opponents. Lowry just spent the bulk of his career sharing those gifts with the Raptors. Now, in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, he has two star teammates who bring them in abundance. The Heat were already a nightmare to play against. Now they've added among the NBA's most frustrating possible opponents, a basketball genius that's tougher than rivals twice his size. -- Sam Quinn 
De'Aaron Fox Sacramento Kings PG
Fox's career has gone somewhat under the radar because the Kings have failed to earn the national spotlight of a playoff appearance. Case in point -- did you know that he averaged more points per game than LeBron James last season? Fox's 3-point shooting hasn't come along quite yet, but he was in the 76th percentile in offensive efficiency including assists last season, per Synergy, and the Kings offense improved by 4.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. One of six players to average at least 25 points and seven assists per game last season, the future is bright for the 23-year-old point guard. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    
Ja Morant Memphis Grizzlies PG
Morant's efficiency dropped considerably last season, but a jaw-dropping performance in his debut playoff series (30.2 points, 8.2 assists per game) left little doubt regarding his status as a future superstar. Improved 3-point accuracy would make him nearly unguardable given his athleticism and passing ability, and it's a good sign that his free throw attempts increased from 4.6 per game as a rookie to 5.9 last season. At 22 years old, Morant is already a borderline All-Star who will only get better as he matures. -- Colin Ward-Henninger    
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Oklahoma City Thunder SG
You would be forgiven for not watching much of Gilgeous-Alexander last season considering he was limited to just 35 games due to plantar fasciitis and the Thunder were actively trying to lose. But when he was on the court, it was special. If he stays healthy this could be the season he becomes a breakout star. He gets into the paint at will, where he's a terrific finisher and playmaker, is a legitimate 3-point threat now and has the size to defend multiple positions. -- Jack Maloney


Ben Simmons Philadelphia 76ers PG
When it comes to Simmons, the main questions at this point are when will he play his next NBA game, and what team will that be for? Simmons is in the midst of a messy public divorce from the 76ers, and he has made it clear that he doesn't plan to play until he is traded. The Sixers, though, are in no rush to make a move, so the two sides are basically locked in a stalemate for the time being. Whenever Simmons does ultimately play again, he'll bring elite defense and playmaking to whatever team he's on. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain    
Draymond Green Golden State Warriors PF
Green isn't quite the defender he used to be, but you could still make the case that he's the best defender in the league. His impromptu instincts are a gift, and with the Warriors back in position to compete for a top-four seed, his competitive juices should be flowing in full force this season. Offensively, Green, who finished tied for fourth league-wide with 8.9 assists per game last season, is an equally brilliant facilitator; his sense of where Curry is at, and where he's going to end up, is uncanny, and his anticipation in making those passes -- whether it's for a backdoor layup or a relocation 3 -- a beat early rarely fails to catch even the most alert defenders off guard. -- Brad Botkin    
Zach LaVine Chicago Bulls SG
The Bulls are still struggling to turn LaVine's individual success into team success, but after several years of being snubbed as an All-Star, LaVine finally climbed that mountain top last season. Not only did he put up career numbers in points (27.4), assists (4.9) and rebounds (5.0), but he enjoyed by far the most efficient season of his seven-year career. He ranked in the 90th percentile in the league in effective field goal percentage (60 percent), and the 88th percentile in 3-point percentage (42 percent). His time spent with Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics gave LaVine a taste of what winning on the biggest stage feels like, and now he'll be able to take what he's learned and use it to get the Bulls into the playoffs. -- Jasmyn Wimbish    
Jrue Holiday Milwaukee Bucks PG
Up until last season, Holiday had played in just 31 career playoff games, but the Bucks mortgaged their future to trade for him because they thought he would make the difference in winning a title. It turned out they were right. Though he had some rough moments on offense during the course of the playoffs, he made shots when it mattered. And, more importantly, he made a definitive case that he is the best defensive guard in the league. -- Jack Maloney   
Bam Adebayo Miami Heat C
Adebayo was better last season than he was in 2020, but didn't receive the same recognition because he wasn't the fresh new star anymore and the Heat weren't in the spotlight in the same way. That should be the last time he flies under the radar. He gives you everything you can ask for from a big man defensively, and has blossomed into a unique offensive player, thanks to his playmaking and finishing ability. -- Jack Maloney 
Jaylen Brown Boston Celtics SG
A wrist injury ended Brown's season short, which forced him to miss the playoffs. But prior to that injury, Brown was showing that he's every bit as deserving of the spotlight in Boston as Jayson Tatum is. This past season showed that he can get his teammates involved on offense, averaging a career high in assists, but it's his versatility in scoring that really blossomed last season. Brown elevated his game to another level, and he should no longer be considered the No. 2 option in Celtics, as his name should be right next to Tatum in Boston's hierarchy. -- Jasmyn Wimbish    
Rudy Gobert Utah Jazz C
Don't be fooled by the way Utah went out against the Clippers: Gobert deserved his third Defensive Player of the Year award, and he had a lot to do with the Jazz's fourth-ranked offense, too. He has quietly improved his mobility over the last few seasons, and now it's on him to punish switches the way he did with the French national team. It's also on Utah to make sure that, the next time it's in a do-or-die scenario, it doesn't play the worst perimeter defense imaginable. No one could have cleaned up that mess. -- James Herbert    
Khris Middleton Milwaukee Bucks SF
It's not just the tough and timely contested jumpers, though the Bucks wouldn't be the champs without them. Middleton is an ideal complement for Giannis Antetokounmpo because he is now the kind of pick-and-roll playmaker that is trusted to initiate the offense late in playoff games. Just like he earned the right to shoot more midrange shots than Mike Budenholzer typically allows, Middleton took on that role over time. When the former No. 39 pick dropped 40 in the Finals, it wasn't all that surprising. -- James Herbert    
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Karl-Anthony Towns Minnesota Timberwolves C
Gone are the days of Karl-Anthony Towns as the young star most GMs would build a franchise around, but the precipitous decline was no fault of his own. Towns is now on his fourth coach, and, as of Minnesota's surprising decision to fire Gersson Rosas, his fourth lead basketball executive. Only once has a teammate of his made an All-Star Game, and that teammate, Jimmy Butler, departed after a bit more than one year. The one-of-a-kind offensive weapon that can bomb 3s as easily as he catches lobs and bullies switches in the post is still in there, but the longer Minnesota fails to capitalize on his skill set, the lower down these lists he's going to tumble. -- Sam Quinn   
Devin Booker Phoenix Suns SG
We saw Booker shed the "empty stats" label that plagued him for the entirety of his career as the Suns shocked everyone last season. His usage rate still ranked in the 97th percentile in the league, but -- thanks to Paul -- instead of having to get buckets and worry about getting his teammates involved, Booker was able to play off the ball more and became even more of a terror on offense. -- Jasmyn Wimbish    


Perhaps the single biggest story of the postseason slipped right under our noses as the Los Angeles Clippers stunned the Utah Jazz in the second round. Think of the glory heaped upon Luka Doncic after Dallas nearly toppled the big bad Clippers. Well, in the first two games of the second round, Donovan Mitchell averaged 41 points on 53-44-80 shooting to give the Jazz a 2-0 lead without Mike Conley. The Clippers threw everything at Mitchell but remained as befuddled by him as they were Doncic. And then Mitchell hurt his ankle and everything fell apart. A two-game sample is hardly ironclad, but taking it to Kawhi Leonard is no easy feat. If that leap was an indication of what's coming, Mitchell is going to be an MVP candidate sooner rather than later. -- Sam Quinn
Chris Paul Phoenix Suns PG
It cannot be understated just how important of a role Paul played in getting the Phoenix Suns not just to the playoffs for the first time in a decade, but a No. 2 seed in the West and a trip to the NBA Finals. At age 35, Paul experienced his most efficient season in years, while being the perfect veteran leader for a group of young, talented players in Phoenix. He secured a longer-term deal this summer on the strength of his performance as well as his importance to the team as a player coach. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
Trae Young Atlanta Hawks PG
Young vaulted up this list after a magical run through his first postseason, averaging 28.8 points and 9.5 assists in leading the Hawks to within two wins of the Finals. What makes Young special is his ability to manipulate the entire floor out of pick-and-roll, getting into the paint for his virtually unstoppable floater and drawing fouls at a rate almost hard to believe for a finesse player. The threat of Young's 3-point shooting continues to be worth more than his actual shooting -- he hit just 34 percent of his 3s last season, and that number dipped to 31 percent in the playoffs. But there's no denying his shooting talent and knack for making huge shots. If Young can get to above 36 percent from 3 this season, he'll be in the All-NBA discussion. -- Brad Botkin
Kyrie Irving Brooklyn Nets PG
Irving, unfortunately, has made more headlines off the floor than on it recently. He was knocked out of the playoffs due to a sprained ankle, and is now a COVID-19 vaccine holdout, which could prevent him from playing home games for the Nets this season. If he doesn't change his mind on that front it would be a shame, because he truly is one of the most entertaining players to watch. His dribbling, scoring and flair for the dramatic put him on a different level than nearly everyone else. -- Jack Maloney
Bradley Beal Washington Wizards SG
Beal put up 31.3 points per game last year -- his second straight season averaging over 30 -- in finishing second to Curry for the scoring title. Beal is a well-rounded offensive player, a better facilitator than he gets credit for and a capable pick-and-roll initiator who can function as an elite lead guard for stints, but putting the ball in the basket with a single-minded focus is what makes him a star. With Russell Westbrook gone, Beal will have to score a ton again this season if the Wizards are going to contend for a playoff berth. If he doesn't get traded, that is. -- Brad Botkin
Jimmy Butler Miami Heat SF
If you worship at the altar of advanced acronyms, you love Jimmy Butler, who last season finished third in WS/48, fourth in BPM, fifth in WS, fifth in OWS, fifth in PER, sixth in DBPM and sixth in VORP, per Basketball-Reference.com. Butler has shifted his focus in Miami to that of a methodical facilitator, putting up career-high assist marks since making his way to Miami. His 3-point shot has all but disappeared, but he compensated for that by working his way to the free-throw line a career-high 9.1 times per game last season. As the 2020-21 steals leader, Butler also remains one of the best defenders in the league. -- Brad Botkin
Zion Williamson New Orleans Pelicans PF
I'm not big on using the word "scary" in a sports context. It shouldn't be a synonym for "very talented," and it's not as if professional athletes are literally frightened when they face great teams or players. For Point Zion, though, scary is absolutely appropriate. Sometimes, it is an understatement. Even from the comfort of your couch, it is jarring to see someone so massive barrel down the lane, elevate so high and finish so easily. Imagine how terrifying it is to be in between him and the basket. (Yes, the defense has been rough, but we're optimistic.) -- James Herbert
Paul George Los Angeles Clippers SG
Paul George continues to be one of the best two-way wing players in the entire NBA. He averaged 23.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game for the Clippers last season, and those numbers will likely increase a bit due to a larger load stemming from the fact that Kawhi Leonard is expected to miss a large chunk of the season. It will largely be up to George to keep the Clippers in the contention conversation while Leonard is sidelined, and that's something that he's certainly capable of doing. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Jayson Tatum Boston Celtics SF
Both Tatum and the Celtics are coming off a season from hell, during which they were ravaged by COVID-19 and fell short of expectations. Now, after shake-ups across the organization and roster, it's time for a fresh start. An elite scorer and impactful defender, Tatum is one of the best two-way wings in the league. The next challenge for him will be putting everything together on a more consistent basis. Another year of development and being recovered from COVID-19 should help on that front. -- Jack Maloney
Damian Lillard Portland Trail Blazers PG
Only in a league this talented can a player the caliber of Lillard land outside the top 10 on a list like this. Reasonable minds could place him at least two or three spots higher. For all the talk of Lillard's potentially impending trade request, it hasn't come, and quietly the Blazers look like they could be a really good team again as Lillard continues to operate as one of the league's most clutch performers and overall shotmakers. There isn't a more lethal off-the-dribble 3-point shooter not named Curry, and Lillard's shooting range is arguably even greater than Curry's. -- Brad Botkin


Anthony Davis Los Angeles Lakers PF
The question that will define the Lakers' season has nothing to with Russell Westbrook's fit or LeBron James' age. No, if the Lakers are going to reclaim the championship, they are going to need Anthony Davis to find his shot again. In the 2020 postseason, he channeled his inner Kevin Durant by shooting 38.3 percent on 3s, 49.6 percent on mid-range jumpers and 57.1 percent on all field goals. Last season, those numbers dipped to 26 percent, 34.8 percent and 40.3 percent, respectively. The truth lies somewhere in between, but despite his reputation, Davis has never been an especially effective long-range shooter … except for those few glorious months in the Orlando bubble. With Westbrook limiting the Lakers' spacing, he'll have to recapture that form if the Lakers are going to win their second title in three years. -- Sam Quinn   
Kawhi Leonard Los Angeles Clippers SF
Leonard's time with the Clippers has thus far not gone to plan. First there was the playoff collapse in the bubble, and then a torn ACL in the second round last season. Now, he's likely to miss, at the very least, a significant portion of the upcoming season. But while there are currently questions about his health, there are none about his talent. He's still one of the best defenders in the league, and has developed into a precision scorer who can single-handedly carry teams come playoff time. -- Jack Maloney 
Joel Embiid Philadelphia 76ers C
Joel Embiid was arguably the most dominant player in the league last season, and there's no reason not to expect the same from the Sixers big man during the upcoming campaign. He can do it all on the offensive end, and he's also a top-tier defender at the center spot. Embiid was the runner-up for the MVP award last season, and as long as he can stay healthy and out on the court for Philly, he'll be right back in that conversation again. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain   
James Harden Brooklyn Nets SG
Harden was bothered by a hamstring injury during the latter part of last season, but when he's healthy, as he's projected to be during the '21-22 season, he remains arguably the most dangerous offensive player in the league. He's the complete package on that end of the floor. In addition to his scoring, Harden's playmaking has been on full display in Brooklyn, and with a chance to chase his first title, he should be extra motivated. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Nikola Jokic Denver Nuggets C
If he looks like he's playing a different sport than everybody else, it's because he's literally borrowing techniques from water polo. There have been point-center types before, but Jokic has the same command of Michael Malone's offense that Steve Nash and James Harden had under Mike D'Antoni. That is new, and there is no reason to expect the reigning MVP to be any less dominant this season. He has the post moves, soft touch and Hall of Fame processing speed to counter any type of defense. The only thing keeping him out of top five is his lack of scheme versatility on the other end. -- James Herbert    
Luka Doncic Dallas Mavericks PG
At Media Day, Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said Doncic was a "young Picasso," which is just the latest descriptor to explain the 22-year-old superstar's game. It was difficult to envision how he would follow up his historic sophomore season, but in Year 3 he increased his efficiency from the field (47.9 percent) and 3-point territory (35 percent) to career highs, and almost single-handedly beat the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. With a new head coach and some new role players at his disposal, we'll be watching to see if Doncic can get Dallas higher in the standings and further in the playoffs this season. -- Jasmyn Wimbish    
Stephen Curry Golden State Warriors PG
If you're waiting on the decline of Curry, get comfortable. Coming off his second scoring title and a third-place finish in the MVP race, Curry, who will turn 34 about a month prior the 2022 playoffs, remains at the height of his powers as arguably the single-most dominant offensive force in the league. Curry's combination of pick-and-roll mastery, one-on-one space creation and dizzying off-ball movement allows him to get pretty much any shot he wants, and those shots continue to go in at an unprecedented rate. -- Brad Botkin   
Giannis Antetokounmpo Milwaukee Bucks PF
When Giannis signed his extension to stay with the Bucks last year, he did so with the express goal of winning a championship in Milwaukee. And that's just what he did, leading the Bucks to their first title in 50 years despite suffering a severe hyperextended knee in the Eastern Conference finals. He is an athletic marvel, a dominant two-way force and one of the fiercest competitors in the league, which is why he'll be in the MVP and best player in the world conversations for the foreseeable future. -- Jack Maloney
LeBron James Los Angeles Lakers SF
Is LeBron slipping? That's a loaded question. He was right in the thick of the MVP race before Solomon Hill dove into his ankle. He also averaged his fewest minutes (33.4) of his career, his fewest assists (7.8) since 2016 and the fewest points (25) since his rookie year. The king remains the NBA's smartest player, but eventually, Father Time is going to knock him off of his throne physically. Russell Westbrook's arrival was geared largely toward staving that moment off for just a little while longer. James will likely play fewer minutes and take fewer shots this season. All that matters is whether or not he can still summon the brilliance that makes him arguably the greatest player ever when it counts most. If the 2020 postseason is any indication, he's still got enough left in the tank to do just that. -- Sam Quinn
Kevin Durant Brooklyn Nets PF
A little over two years removed from his torn Achilles tendon, there are no longer any questions about how the injury will impact Durant's career. After a brilliant showing in the playoffs for the Nets, where he almost single-handedly beat the Bucks, and a dominant summer for Team USA at the Olympics, Durant has taken the throne as the best player in the world. With his unique combination of size and skill, he is an unstoppable scoring force, the likes of which the league will never see again. -- Jack Maloney

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