NBA front offices remain wing-crazy, even though the 2023 champs were led by a 6-foot-11 point-center and a 6-4 guard. Some of this is simply a matter of scarcity: The league is full of of extremely talented backcourt players and pretty effective big men, but it's not easy to find the type of player teams need on the wing. The "3-and-D" label is misleading now; if you're a wing, you're expected to be able to dribble, pass, shoot and guard multiple positions. It helps if you also happen to stand 6-foot-8 and have a plus wingspan.
For the superstars who fit that description, the job is to do everything. If you initiate offense like a point guard and also serve as a backline rim protector, then you are probably a "big wing." The only reason we haven't seen a lineup entirely composed of these do-everything stars is that there isn't a big enough supply of them. The Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors have tried to approximate it anyway.
As long as there are more teams than there are star wings, teams will be willing to pay up for the next best thing: Elite role players. Bruce Brown stands 6-foot-4 and isn't a go-to guy, but he checks enough boxes — comfortable on and off the ball, defends bigger players, makes open 3s — that he'll make $22 million this coming season. Cameron Johnson isn't a high-usage playmaker or an elite defender, but he checks enough boxes — elite shooter, good size, solid secondary creator — that he'll make $24.5 million this coming season. And neither of them are even on this list.
Here are the 20 best wings in the NBA, according to the panel of writers that collectively produced CBS Sports' 2023-24 player rankings:
Kyle Kuzma has had a strange career arc. He set a career-high in scoring in his second season that remained untouched until his sixth year, but used the time in between to develop the rest of his game. That's the difference between the player Kuzma was when he first arrived in Los Angeles and the one he is now in Washington. When Kuzma averaged 18.7 points as a Laker in 2019, he brought little else to the table. When he scored 21.2 for the Wizards a season ago, he did so while also averaging a career-high in assists, maintaining solid defensive metrics and rebounding extremely well for his position. Kuzma is a jack-of-all-trades now, and if he ever makes his way back to a contender, he might actually get recognized for it. -- Sam Quinn
Michael Porter Jr. was a single-digit scorer in the Finals, yet he still had a fairly strong series. That would have been an unthinkable development even a year ago, but Porter has sanded down the rougher edges of his game and grown into a relatively well-rounded player. He's no Scottie Pippen, but he competes on defense in the right matchups, rebounds very well and takes no bad shots. Could he put up better numbers on a worse team? Sure, but that's part of the appeal here. Porter is comfortable scoring as much or as little as Denver needs to win. There are plenty of higher-ranked players that can't say the same. -- Quinn
Williams scored 27-plus points four times after the All-Star break, but the most encouraging part of his rookie season is how well he projects to fit alongside Oklahoma City's other young talent. A big, strong wing who can guard multiple positions, create for himself and play off the ball, he has the potential to be the type of star who makes other stars better. -- James Herbert
Barnes' sophomore season certainly wasn't "bad," but it was a good reminder that development is not always linear in the NBA. After a stellar Rookie of the Year campaign, Barnes plateaued, and even regressed in some areas, at least statistically. Still, he remains a highly versatile forward and one of the league's most interesting players. Fred VanVleet's departure and new head coach Darko Rajakovic's arrival should provide more opportunities for Barnes to act as a decision-maker and show off his passing ability. But in order for him to become a star, he's going to have to improve as a scorer; last season he shot 237-of-670 (35.4%) outside of the restricted area. -- Jack Maloney
Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Schroder, D'Angelo Russell and even Russell Westbrook were all billed as possible third options next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, yet none of them have fit the bill quite as well as an undrafted free agent the Lakers originally signed to a two-way deal. For all of their ballyhooed deadline moves, their real midseason growth a season ago came when Reaves was able to absorb the touches Westbrook wasted and become an efficient 17-point scorer over the last two months of the season. His stellar run with Team USA this summer has shown the rest of the basketball world what Lakers fans already knew: Reaves is the ideal secondary ball-handler on a talented roster, and the Lakers are championship contenders again in large part due to his development. -- Quinn
Anunoby consistently ranks well on these lists thanks to his status as one of the game's premier wing defenders. But for years, he has reportedly wanted more of an opportunity to handle the ball on offense. He might get his wish this season with Fred VanVleet gone and Pascal Siakam seemingly on the trade block. Can he take advantage of that chance? The numbers suggest it's unlikely. The Raptors scored just 0.831 points per possession on Anunoby pick-and-rolls, including passes, last season, according to Synergy Sports. That ranked him in just the 20th percentile league-wide, and he ranks in just the eighth percentile in terms of isolation efficiency by the same metric. This season will show us if Anunoby is just a 3-and-D player or something more. -- Quinn
Before missing the final chunk of last season to deal with a family issue, Wiggins was in the midst of the best all-around year of his career, putting up 17 points and five rebounds per game on a career-high 40% 3-point shooting. Building off of a tremendous 2022 title run, Wiggins continued to relish defending the opposition's best perimeter player on a nightly basis. The prototypical "3-and-D-plus" wing, Wiggins' athleticism and timing make him one of the best cutters in the game, and he can still get you a late-clock iso bucket when the offense breaks down. Though he may not be the alpha dog some expected when he was drafted first overall a decade ago, Wiggins has developed into one of the most valuable role players in the NBA. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Last season's No. 1 pick proved in his first year as a pro that his talent is eons ahead of his actual age. When you watch Banchero play, he just moves around the court with the knowledge of a seasoned veteran not a 20-year-old sophomore. He broke several league and Magic franchise records en route to being named Rookie of the Year, and he followed that up by becoming a standout player for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup. Banchero is a 6-foot-10 forward with the handle of a guard, the strength of a big and the scoring capability to make him an All-Star in the very near future. He needs to work on his 3-point efficiency, but that was one of very few weaknesses he displayed last season. He's in line for another big year in Orlando, and between him and Franz Wagner, it's clear the Magic have a promising young tandem to build around going forward. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
The versatile German swingman is fresh off a successful sophomore campaign for the Magic in which he averaged 18.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. Wagner hardly ever misses games and consistently brings effort as an on-ball scorer and slasher. His fluidity on defense makes him especially impressive, as he's mobile enough to stay with guards and bigs to make the jobs of players around him easier. Wagner has the potential to blossom into one of the NBA's best two-way wings in time. -- Ameer Tyree
Since his knee injury in the 2022 playoffs, Middleton has not been able to stay healthy. He needed wrist surgery prior to last season, then shortly after his return in December he sprained his ankle and hurt his other knee, all while dealing with blistering on the bottom of his feet. In the end, he managed to play just 33 games, and while there were flashes of his old self, he struggled to string those sorts of performances together. All of which leaves everyone wondering whether the old Middleton is gone for good. The Bucks had no option besides re-signing him and hoping for the best, and gave him a three-year, $102 million deal this summer. Few players in the league will sway their team's title chances as much as he will. -- Maloney
After heroic efforts for most of the Bulls' 2021-22 season, DeRozan cooled off just a bit last year. His numbers were still solid, shooting over 50% from the floor for the second consecutive year, enough to earn him an All-Star spot. He regressed as a 3-point shooter, though he's always lived in the mid-range, where he was as dangerous as always. As he enters the final year of his deal before becoming a free agent, DeRozan could be playing with some extra motivation to secure another long-term deal, either in Chicago or elsewhere. -- Wimbish
A pure old-school scoring wing who leans heavily on the mid-range and gets himself to the line at a decent rate. Ingram shot 39% from deep last season and should look to increase that volume. He's a good passer and playmaker, but the defensive commitment isn't always there. We're still talking about one of just 10 guys (all of them stars) who averaged at least 24 points, five assists and five rebounds last season, and of those 10, only Kevin Durant shot better than Ingram from beyond the arc. He's a big-time player. -- Brad Botkin
Bridges jumps 22 spots from last season's rankings, and for good reason. He turned into a star in Brooklyn following a mid-season trade from Phoenix. After he got to the Nets, he averaged 26 points over 27 games on 47-38-89 shooting splits before coming out of the postseason gate with 30 in Game 1 vs. Philadelphia. For my money, Bridges is a top-two perimeter defender along with Jrue Holiday, and he might not be No. 2. Bridges is a plus 3-point shooter who is effective both on and off the ball, making him a fit for any system. He's a no-doubt future All-Star, and perhaps All-NBA. -- Botkin
George is self-aware enough to know that, on a championship-caliber team, he's best suited to be the second option. And what an amazing second option he is. One of the best wing defenders of his generation, a knockdown shooter and a model for all the 6-foot-8-ish guys who start their careers as 3-and-D guys, George still has the ability to take over games as a scorer when he's healthy and his team needs it. Part of the promise of the Clippers is that George can do just about everything that Leonard can but is happy to defer and is a threat off the ball. Most star players either can't or won't do elite-role-player stuff like he does. -- Herbert
Leonard opened the 2023 playoffs by torching the fully healthy Suns for 38 points with his co-star, Paul George, sidelined. Leonard was the best player on the floor, which wasn't particularly shocking because it was the case almost every time he'd taken the court for more than three months. In Leonard's last 35 games of the regular season, he averaged MVP-caliber numbers: 27.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 36.2 minutes per game, with a 27.1% usage rate and a 64.8% true shooting percentage. At the end of that game in Phoenix, though, he hurt his right knee, and an MRI after Game 2 (in which he managed 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists despite the injury) revealed he had torn his meniscus. There is no question that, even after coming back from a torn ACL, Leonard can reach heights greater than all but a select few superstars have risen to. The question is how high one can reasonably rank him compared to stars that don't come with the same durability concerns. -- Herbert
It's hard to say what's more startling: that LeBron James is getting ranked outside of the top 10 for the first time since, probably, his rookie year, or that he could very easily reclaim a top-10 spot when we revisit these rankings in a year. Remember, James averaged a cool 33-8-7 during the 23-game period starting with Anthony Davis' mid-December injury and ending with an injury of his own in mid-February. When he was healthy last season, he was still the same force of nature he's been for two decades. The hobbled star that led the Lakers to the Western Conference finals last spring wasn't close to his best, and if his history is any indication, he'll prove that this season. -- Quinn
After Butler tore through the playoffs in what has become his typical fashion, I promised myself I was going to rank him accordingly among the game's true greats come top-100 time. I ranked him 11th. My colleagues' votes bumped him to No. 9. I don't know why it's so hard to accept Butler as a top-tier superstar when he regularly makes mincemeat of such acclaimed players when it counts most, but then I heard Hoops Tonight host Jason Timph say Butler is this era's Paul Pierce, which is one of the best player comps I've ever heard, and now it all makes sense. Perhaps not absolutely elite in any one aspect of the game, in any one-game or one-series setting, Butler can, and often does, outplay the best players in the world. -- Botkin
Last season, Tatum became the first player in Celtics franchise history to average 30 points per game for a whole season, and set an NBA record for most points in a Game 7 when he dropped 51 to beat the 76ers in the second round. He also made first-team All-NBA for the second year in a row. Consistency can still be an issue at times for the four-time All-Star, in particular with his 3-point shot, but few players can reach the heights he does when he's at his best. And while his scoring is always going to take top billing, his abilities in other areas are what make him a clear-cut top-10 player. He's one of the best defensive wings around, capable of guarding multiple positions and wreaking havoc off the ball, an elite rebounder for his position and has made real strides as a playmaker. -- Maloney
We'll spare you the "fine wine" metaphors and get straight to business: In his age-34 season, Durant averaged almost 30 points per game between Brooklyn and Phoenix while boasting a career-high .677 true shooting percentage -- the best of any NBA player with a usage rate of at least 30%. In his 39 games with the Nets, Durant was second in the NBA in efficiency as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and averaged the most points per possession as a spot up shooter of anyone in the league. The man is basically an unstoppable offensive force while simultaneously having a significant defensive impact. The two reasons he's not higher on this list are availability -- he hasn't played more than 55 games in any of the last three seasons -- and a slight downtick in efficiency over his last two playoff runs. Other than that, there's no reason to expect Durant to be anything less than a top-five player in 2023-24. -- Ward-Henninger
The Greek Freak has lost his spot atop this list, but that can be attributed to Nikola Jokic's brilliance and an ill-timed injury rather than any fault of his own. Antetokounmpo averaged a career-high 31.1 points per game, and joined Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to average at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game on 50% shooting for an entire season. As a result, he both finished in the top five of the MVP voting and was a unanimous first-team All-NBA selection for the fifth consecutive season; no other player can say the same. Antetokounmpo remains the most physically dominant force in the league and a guaranteed 50-plus-win presence. His long-term future in Milwaukee may be in question after an interesting recent interview, but his status as one of the league's best players is not. -- Maloney