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Prior to the start of the 2022-23 NBA regular season, we published our CBS Sports top 100 players list. We based that ranking on who we believed was in store for the best season. It was, in other words, a projection. Now that we're coming out of the All-Star break, we don't have to project anymore. We have evidence on which we can base an updated list. So that's what we did, only this time we limited it to the top 50 players in the league.

To be clear, this is not a ranking of who we, as a staff, believe to be the best 50 players in the NBA overall. Rather, these are the 50 players, in order, that we believe are having the best 2022-23 season so far. Keep that distinction in mind as you scroll through.  

And with that, let's get to the list. As always, we invite your feedback at @CBSSportsNBA

50. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans (Preseason rank: 27)

Brandon Ingram
NO • SF • #14
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Ingram has only played 24 games, so we can only rank him so highly. But since coming back from the two-month absence following his big toe injury he's been splendid, averaging 29 points on 54/44/86 shooting splits over six games in February. -- Brad Botkin

49. CJ McCollum, Pelicans (Preseason: 39)

CJ McCollum
NO • PG • #3
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McCollum isn't having his most efficient season -- and playing long stretches without Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram might have something to do with that -- but he's still at 21 points a night on 39-percent 3-point shooting. What's really down is his 36-percent mark from long midrange, where he's almost always north of 45 percent and has been known to crest to 50 percent. If McCollum's 43.5 shooting percentage were to hold, it would be his worst annual mark since his rookie season. -- Brad Botkin

48. Franz Wagner, Magic (Preseason: 97)

Franz Wagner
ORL • G • #22
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Wagner has emerged as the best young player on a supremely fun and talented Orlando roster. He's averaging 18 points on efficient clips while serving as a legitimate 6-foot-10 point guard. His offensive feel for the game is extraordinary and he's a good defender. It's not an accident that Orlando is outscoring opponents by almost 11 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. -- Brad Botkin

47. Zach LaVine, Bulls (Preseason: 26)

Zach LaVine
CHI • SG • #8
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It's been a disappointing season for the Bulls, but LaVine's production is still on par with his All-Star season from a year ago. He's still amongst the best pure scorers in the league, with the ability to get hot quickly and torch a team for 40 points. Though his numbers and efficiency have taken a dip, he still ranks in the 87th percentile in spot-up situations. LaVine's the type of player who can be plugged into any situation, capable of doing damage off the bounce, or cutting to the rim for a tough finish at the rim. However, with all the talent between LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls haven't managed to put it together enough to find steady success this season. -- Jasmyn Wimbish

46. Bradley Beal, Wizards (Preseason: 30)

Bradley Beal
PHO • SG • #3
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Beal is having another solid season in Washington. He's averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 assists and 3.5 rebounds per performance while shooting 52 percent from the floor (the highest mark of his career) and 37 percent from long range -- all respectable numbers for the three-time All-Star. He's still one of the top perimeter threats in the league, and a guy who is capable of dropping 30-plus on any given night. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain

45. Desmond Bane, Grizzlies (Preseason: 55)

Desmond Bane
MEM • SG • #22
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Something very significant is happening to Bane this season. His assist rate has poked above 20 percent, up from 13.5 last season. He's devoting 17.5 percent of his possessions to pick-and-roll compared to 13.5 a season ago. These are hardly primary ball-handler numbers, but they're the continuation of a very important trend. The Grizzlies picked Bane expecting him to be a sharpshooter. He's now proven, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he's something more: a legitimate secondary shot-creator next to Ja Morant who is also capable of keeping the offense afloat when his more famous teammate sits. -- Sam Quinn

44. Kristaps Porzingis, Wizards (Preseason: 85)

Kristaps Porzingis
BOS • C • #8
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If Porzingis weren't on a middling team, his return to form would be a much bigger story. This is the healthiest he's been -- by both availability and mobility -- since he tore his ACL in his third NBA season. The Wizards' offense has been great with him next to Bradley Beal, but Porzingis has been solid in his own right, averaging a career-high 23 points thanks to a blend of mid-post touches, pick-and-pop 3s and post-ups against switches. More importantly, he's getting his points more efficiently than he ever did in New York or Dallas. -- James Herbert

43. Draymond Green, Warriors (Preseason: 34)

Draymond Green
GS • PF • #23
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His contributions may not be as obvious as Steph Curry's, but one could argue that Green has been just as vital to the Warriors this season. Because of his impact on both ends of the floor, Golden State has actually suffered more when Green sits than when Curry does. His defensive genius is unparalleled -- he's one of the few players in league history that can effectively guard one through five -- while his communication and positioning elevate his teammates. Green's offensive skills continue to be overlooked. He sees plays unfold seconds before they actually happen, he throws bullet passes through the tightest of windows and sets perfect screens to free up his sharpshooter teammates. On top of that, he's also knocking down a respectable 33 percent from 3-point range this season, his highest mark since 2015-16. -- Colin Ward-Henninger

42. Jarrett Allen, Cavaliers (Preseason: 54) 

Jarrett Allen
CLE • C • #31
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Allen wasn't named an All-Star like he was last year, but he's still having another extremely solid season with Cleveland. The big man is averaging a near-double-double with 14.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per performance, and he's also adding 1.7 assists and 1.2 blocks while serving as a dangerous lob threat. The Cavaliers have had a top defense in the league throughout the season, and Allen is a main part of the reason why. Allen, along with Evan Mobley, serves as the back line of Cleveland's defense, and he has a knack for making things tough for opposing offensive players, both at the rim and even out on the perimeter once in a while if needed. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain

41. Mikal Bridges, Nets (Preseason: 51) 

Mikal Bridges
BKN • SF • #1
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Still one of the league's premier perimeter defenders, Bridges is always eager to pester ballhandlers full-court and shut down passing lanes with his 7-foot-1 wingspan. He is tireless on that end, which makes his iron-man streak extra impressive. But he's spreading his wings on offense, too. In his last 18 games, Bridges has averaged 22.7 points on 60.1 percent true shooting, plus 4.4 assists, including a 45-point explosion right before the break. The shorthanded Suns needed him to create offense, and the new-look Nets need more of the same. Don't call him a 3-and-D guy, even though he's making 40.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s and seemingly never misses in the left corner.  -- James Herbert

40. Brook Lopez, Bucks (Preseason: 84)

Brook Lopez
MIL • C • #11
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Remember when Lopez had back surgery? That was December 2021, just 14 months ago. So it's incredible now, at 34, that he is playing more minutes than he has in seven years and having the best defensive season of his career. Lopez is not just the anchor of the league's No. 2 defense. He's the anchor of a defense that, by design, has made his job more difficult this time around. The Bucks are still helping him out by employing multiple elite screen navigators, but they've dialed back their protect-the-rim-at-all-costs philosophy, staying home on shooters and trusting Lopez to keep the paint locked down. This has worked beautifully, and he has also made a whopping 46.5 percent of his wide-open 3s. -- James Herbert

39. Jamal Murray, Nuggets (Preseason: 35)

Jamal Murray
DEN • PG • #27
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It's taken some time to shake off the rust given that he hadn't played NBA ball since tearing his ACL in April 2021, but the Murray we remember has started to come around in the last couple months. His scoring is on par with what we've come to expect, but what stands out more is his continual improvement as a facilitator. He's averaging a career-high 5.8 assists, which is a difficult thing to do when you're playing alongside Nikola Jokic who regularly averages 10 assists a night. His assist percentage (24.9 percent) ranks in the 87th percentile in the league, showing how important he is to Denver's success. -- Jasmyn Wimbish

38. Aaron Gordon, Nuggets (Preseason: 72) 

Aaron Gordon
DEN • PF • #50
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Gordon had a strong All-Star case as the second-best player on the top team in the West. His connection as a slasher with Nikola Jokic is, and has been since the day he arrived in Denver, almost perfect. He's playing top-flight defense while averaging an extremely efficient 17 points. The man is shooting 46 percent on non-corner 3s (41 percent overall) and 73 percent at the rim, per CTG. -- Brad Botkin

37. Evan Mobley, Cavaliers (Preseason: 40) 

Evan Mobley
CLE • PF • #4
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In the 19 games preceding the All-Star break, Mobley averaged 19 points on 59 percent true shooting, 9.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 0.8 steals in 34.4 minutes. These numbers are obviously encouraging, but they don't capture what's so exciting about his development. This is a 21-year-old big who is already a superstar on defense, and his offensive game is starting to come into focus. Don't worry about Mobley's 3-point percentage or his usage rate just yet. Look at his passing, his reads in the short roll, his strong drives to the rim and his touch when he gets there. -- James Herbert

36. Dejounte Murray, Hawks (Preseason: 41)

Dejounte Murray
ATL • PG • #5
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For all of the questions about how he'd fit with Trae Young, Murray's averaging almost exactly the same amount of points and shots as he did last season. His usage and assist rates are down, understandably, but he's making about 37 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s and about 47 percent of his long 2s. Atlanta's starting lineup has improved dramatically, thanks largely to Murray's point-of-attack defense. It has remained elite offensively, too. The Hawks have not been able to figure out how to thrive in Murray's minutes without Young, though, which might be more about their depth than it is about Murray himself. -- James Herbert

35. DeMar DeRozan, Bulls (Preseason: 33)

DeMar DeRozan
CHI • SF • #11
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The Bulls may not be experiencing the success they had a season ago, but they've managed to hover around a shot at the play-in round because of DeRozan. He's remained a steady offensive force for Chicago, especially when Zach LaVine is having an off night. DeRozan ranks second in the league in clutch points per game (4.3), and while Chicago's clutch record of 10-17 isn't ideal, the veteran forward is at least giving his team a shot to win the game when it comes down to the wire. While DeRozan's scoring has taken a dip, his efficiency from the field is the second-highest of his career. -- Jasmyn Wimbish

34. Julius Randle, Knicks (Preseason: 74)

Julius Randle
NY • PF • #30
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It's been a return to form for Randle this season, in part because of the addition of Jalen Brunson, who certainly has made life easier for the power forward. Randle doesn't have to do everything on offense for the Knicks, and as a result his efficiency bounced back from a season ago. We're seeing fewer forced isolation possessions from Randle, and he's getting better looks off of great passes from Brunson. Randle's also been a more aggressive rebounder, averaging a career-high 10.8 a night. Randle's much-improved season earned the big man his second All-Star selection, and his numbers this season have mostly been better than the first time he earned that honor. -- Jasmyn Wimbish

33. Darius Garland, Cavaliers (Preseason: 37) 

Darius Garland
CLE • PG • #10
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If there was a shred of fear about what Donovan Mitchell's presence might have meant for Garland, it is now gone. His numbers are eerily identical to what he posted last season without Mitchell. He is scoring exactly as many points per game (21.7) as he did a season ago, and he's only lost 0.6 assists per game in the process. What he's gained is far more valuable: Garland is up to nearly 42 percent from deep this season with defenses focusing on Mitchell. Their partnership has brought out the best in both of them. -- Sam Quinn

32. Jrue Holiday, Bucks (Preseason: 25)

Jrue Holiday
BOS • PG • #4
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Holiday has long owned the title of the most underrated player in the league, but that may have to be passed to someone else now that he's finally earned a second All-Star nod, 10 years after his first one in 2013. The Bucks' point guard is arguably the best perimeter defender around, capable of single-handedly changing games on that side of the ball. He's also had to take on an outsized offensive role in the absence of Khris Middleton for much of the season, and is putting up 19.4 points and seven assists per game -- his best marks since arriving in Milwaukee. -- Jack Maloney

31. Jaren Jackson Jr., Grizzlies (Preseason: 46)

Jaren Jackson Jr.
MEM • PF • #13
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Memphis has been a top-shelf defense all season and JJJ is the leading that charge. He's likely the Defensive Player of the Year favorite. His recovery mobility, from high to low and laterally, allows him to contest a ton of shots and protect the rim at an elite level without planting himself in the paint. He's also contributing 17 points a night on 36-percent relatively high-volume 3-point shooting. -- Brad Botkin

30. Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves (Preseason: 32)

Anthony Edwards
MIN • SG • #5
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After getting snubbed last season from the All-Star Game, and again once the initial rosters were announced, Edwards finally earned that honor as an injury replacement. It's a well deserved recognition, given Edwards has single-handily kept the Timberwolves afloat while Karl-Anthony Towns has been sidelined for all but 21 games of the season. He's seeing career highs across the board, but he's taken major steps on the defensive end. He ranks first in the NBA with 100 steals this season, and he doesn't back down from guarding some of the best players in the league on a nightly basis. -- Jasmyn Wimbish

29. Jalen Brunson, Knicks (Preseason: 60)

Jalen Brunson
NY • PG • #11
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Remember when critics worried what Brunson would look like without Luka Doncic? Well, in 2023, Brunson has essentially been Doncic's statistical peer. He's averaging only 1.8 fewer points and one fewer assist per game since Jan. 1. Brunson is shooting 2.2 percentage points better from the field and nearly 15 percentage points better from deep. Oh, and since then, Doncic's Mavericks are three games under .500 at 10-13, whereas Brunson's Knicks are five games above .500 at 14-9. Brunson isn't better than Doncic, but he's far closer than even the most devoted of Knicks fans could have hoped for. -- Sam Quinn

28. Trae Young, Hawks (Preseason: 14)

Trae Young
ATL • PG • #11
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It's a testament to Young's offensive ability that he's averaging 27 points and 10 assists per game despite putting up his worst shooting efficiency since his rookie season. His poor shooting hasn't seemed to affect the Hawks, however, who still put up 115 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, compared to 108 when he's off. He remains a maestro in the pick-and-roll, able to hit floaters in the lane and deliver lobs to his big men with equal acumen. Young's defensive deficiencies are sometimes glaring, but he's a truly special offensive player capable of turning almost any unit into a juggernaut. -- Colin Ward-Henninger

27. Lauri Markkanen, Jazz (Preseason: Not ranked in top 100)

Lauri Markkanen
UTA • SF • #23
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They say that change can be a good thing, and that's certainly been the case for Markkanen in Utah this season. In his first year with the Jazz, Markkanen is averaging career highs across the board -- 24.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game, while shooting 51 percent from the field and 41 percent from long range. He was named to his first All-Star team and is a legitimate candidate for the Most Improved Player of the Year Award as a result. He could also be in line for All-NBA consideration if he continues to play at such a high level. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain

26. De'Aaron Fox, Kings (Preseason: 57) 

De'Aaron Fox
SAC • PG • #5
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Fox's improvement has been essential to Sacramento's success this season, as he's increased his scoring average while seeing his efficiency go through the roof. He's shooting a career-high 51 percent from the field, and has developed into one of the league's most effective pick-and-roll scorers. What has truly separated Fox this season, however, are his insane clutch statistics. He leads the NBA with 5.5 points per game in clutch situations -- a full point better than his closest rival -- while shooting 59 percent from the field. You want the ball in Fox's hands to end games, a situation that has both boosted him to his first All-Star selection and raised the Kings' electric bill. -- Colin Ward-Henninger

25. Devin Booker, Suns (Preseason: 15) 

Devin Booker
PHO • SG • #1
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Here's a fascinating stat that not only outlines Booker's skill as a scorer, but his consistency -- he's on pace to average 26.6 points per game for the third time in the last five seasons. Only a hamstring injury, which kept him out for nearly two months, prevented him from making a fourth consecutive All-Star appearance. The Suns guard is a scoring machine who can truly get a look wherever and whenever he wants, but he has also improved his playmaking skills out of the pick-and-roll. Both skills will come in handy down the stretch and into the playoffs now that Phoenix has acquired Kevin Durant to aid in the franchise's quest for its first title. -- Jack Maloney

24. Zion Williamson, Pelicans (Preseason: 17) 

Zion Williamson
NO • PF • #1
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The brilliance of Williamson has always been dulled due to his availability, or rather lack of. After missing all of last season with a foot injury, the 2019 No. 1 overall pick has been limited to just 29 games, but those performances been special. It's remarkable how much more dynamic New Orleans' offense is when Williamson is healthy, as the Pelicans were near the top of the West to start the season. When he has played, the Duke product is still shooting north of 60 percent on the season while averaging over 25 points a game, a feat accomplished by only two other players in league history: Charles Barkley and Kevin McHale. Both Barkley and McHale did it once; Williamson did it in 2020-21, and he's on pace to do it again. -- Jasmyn Wimbish

23. Paul George, Clippers (Preseason: 11)

Paul George
LAC • SG • #13
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One of the silkiest offensive players in the NBA -- his 0-fer on nine 3-point attempts in the All-Star Game notwithstanding -- George has put together another quietly outstanding season with averages of 23 points, six rebounds and five assists on 38 percent 3-point shooting. Perhaps his greatest offensive asset is his ability to adapt to multiple roles, running pick-and-roll as the point guard on one possession and navigating off-ball screens for jumpers on the next. As a result, the Clippers score 10 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. He does all this while taking on the burdensome task of guarding the other team's best perimeter player, making him one of the league's finest two-way stars and a perfect complementary piece to Kawhi Leonard. -- Colin Ward-Henninger

22. Kyrie Irving, Mavericks (Preseason: 31) 

Kyrie Irving
DAL • PG • #11
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We have published a variety of stories and columns on the controversies of Irving's creation, though his stances do not factor into this ranking. And Irving's role in how a Nets team that had gone 18-2 for a six-week stretch through the holidays wound up selecting the nuclear option just a month after that run won't be forgotten in Brooklyn anytime soon. But the fact remains that he is one of the most-skilled and toughest players to stop. Irving leads the league with an average of 9.8 points scored in the fourth quarter, and the early spikes in his shooting splits -- from 49/37/83 with Brooklyn to 53/43/100 with Dallas -- since forcing a trade to the Mavericks are impressive. Still, you can't help but wonder what the next dose of drama will bring. -- Otto Strong  

21. Bam Adebayo, Heat (Preseason: 28)

Bam Adebayo
MIA • C • #13
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Adebayo was Miami's All-Star but ranks below Jimmy Butler on this list. Surely reasonable minds can disagree on that front. Either way, Bam has been very good and wholly necessary for the Heat, who go from a plus-3.8 point differential per 100 possessions when he plays, per CTG, to a minus-6.7 when he sits. -- Brad Botkin

20. James Harden, 76ers (Preseason: 21) 

James Harden
LAC • PG • #1
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James Harden may not have been named an All-Star this season, but he certainly had a strong case. He has done an excellent job of blending his scoring and playmaking abilities for Philadelphia, and as a result he's one of just three players to average 20 points and 10 assists per game on the season. Add in five boards and it's just him and Nikola Jokic, who is the season's leading MVP candidate. So that should tell you something about just how productive Harden has been. Heading into the season there were questions about whether Harden had any gas left in the tank. He does, and it's been high-octane at that. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain

19. Jimmy Butler, Heat (Preseason: 10)

Jimmy Butler
MIA • SF • #22
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Butler levels up in the playoffs, but he's been very good, in his typically subtle ways, in the regular season as well. His 21 points, six boards, five assists and two steals per game weren't enough for an All-Star selection, but you'll find him in the top 10 of pretty much all the catch-all advanced metrics. -- Brad Botkin

18. Pascal Siakam, Raptors (Preseason: 24)

Pascal Siakam
IND • PF • #43
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If Siakam has space to maneuver, he'll get where he wants. Sometimes, that means attacking the basket with force. Other times, it means pulling up for a jumper or using his soft touch outside the restricted area. He keeps defenders off balance, and when defenses decide to crowd or double him, he finds the open man. This season has been Siakam's best in terms of scoring, passing and getting to the free throw line. Despite playing huge minutes, carrying a heavier defensive load than most stars and all the weirdness surrounding the Raptors, he is making his case for a third All-NBA selection. -- James Herbert

17. Anthony Davis, Lakers (Preseason: 16)

Anthony Davis
LAL • C • #3
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If we'd voted on this list in December, you could have been reading about Davis last. Excluding a cameo against Cleveland, Davis averaged roughly 35 points and 16 rebounds per game between Nov. 13 and Dec. 13 while making a compelling case for Defensive Player of the Year. And then he got hurt, missed over a month, and has averaged 22.5 points per game since returning. That's largely how the past few seasons have played out for Davis. He's far better than this ranking when he's at his best, and at the same time he's at his best so rarely that it almost doesn't even feel fair to place him this high. -- Sam Quinn

16. Tyrese Haliburton, Pacers (Preseason: 53)

Tyrese Haliburton
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Haliburton is just 22, but he's a master manipulator on the floor. Empowered to be the engine of the Pacers' offense, he has averaged 20 points and 10 assists with career-best efficiency. He is among the league's best pick-and-roll practitioners because of his maturity, his vision, his creativity and his shooting. Among the eight players who are attempting at least five pull-up 3s per game, only Haliburton (39.6 percent), Donovan Mitchell (39.7 percent) and Stephen Curry (47.3 percent) are making more than 37 percent. It is not a coincidence that a surprisingly successful Indiana season went off the rails as soon as Haliburton hurt his knee and elbow in mid-January. When he has been off the floor, the offense has fallen apart. -- James Herbert 

15. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers (Preseason: 8)

Kawhi Leonard
LAC • SF • #2
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It's all coming together. The pull-up 3s. The contested 2s. The drives. The drive-and-kicks. The disruptive defense on and off the ball. After a torn ACL at the worst possible time, a whole season on the sideline and a couple of false starts, Leonard finally looks like himself again. For the last six weeks, he's been playing at an All-NBA level. Leonard is much more accomplished and flat-out better than many of the players ranked higher than him on this list. He has played significantly fewer minutes than them, though, and his team has had to be patient with him. The approach seems to be paying off, for -- when Leonard has been on the court -- the Clippers have been elite on both ends. -- James Herbert

14. Domantas Sabonis, Kings (Preseason: 50)

Domantas Sabonis
SAC • C • #10
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Pretend for a moment that Nikola Jokic didn't exist. Before him, who do you think was the last player to average at least 18 points, 12 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game? I'm guessing you didn't go back far enough, because the answer is Wilt Chamberlain. He and Oscar Robertson are the only non-Jokic players to match what Sabonis is doing right now. The towering shadow of the two-time defending MVP is obscuring just how rare and special a player Sabonis has become. Centers aren't supposed to be able to run offenses as a primary playmaker, but Sabonis is doing that better any non-Jokic big man has in recent memory, and the gap between them isn't exactly gaping. Denver's No. 1 ranked offense is scoring just 0.3 points per 100 possessions more than Sacramento's No. 2 ranked unit. Sabonis won't win MVP for his efforts, but he's more than earned his spot on this list. -- Sam Quinn

13. Jaylen Brown, Celtics (Preseason: 19)

Jaylen Brown
BOS • SF • #7
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About the only thing that's gone wrong for Brown this season was when he suffered a facial fracture via an inadvertent elbow from Boston's other All-Star, Jayson Tatum. Aside from that unfortunate moment, the duo have been on the same page all season long for the league-leading Celtics. Despite losing some of his touch from 3-point land, Brown is averaging career-high marks in scoring (26.5 points per game), field goal percentage (48.7 percent) and rebounding (7.0 per game), all of which was good enough to earn him his second-ever All-Star nod. He's one of the best second options in the league, and his ability to mesh with Tatum is why the Celtics are once again title contenders. -- Jack Maloney

12. Donovan Mitchell, Cavaliers (Preseason: 22)

Donovan Mitchell
CLE • SG • #45
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Some of us thought there would be an adjustment period for Mitchell, given that he was playing on a new team with another star guard and imperfect spacing. But Spida had other ideas. Not only has Mitchell averaged more points than he ever did in Utah, this is easily the most efficient season of his career. There is not a long list of 6-foot-1 guys who can finish like Mitchell. He also makes deep 3s and can break defenses that surrender floaters and midrange jumpers. And in Cleveland, he has been a more active defender, having owned up to his previously poor approach on that end. -- James Herbert

11. LeBron James, Lakers (Preseason: 7)

LeBron James
LAL • SF • #23
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James is averaging 30 points per game, which is more than he did in any of his four seasons with Miami. He's shooting 59.6 percent on 2-pointers, a higher percentage than he did in any of the first seven seasons in Cleveland. He is averaging the fourth-most rebounds and fourth-fewest turnovers of his career. You can find minor nits to pick here. James is having a down year from deep. He's a relatively inactive defender for significant portions of games. He's not quite as unassailable near the rim as he once was. But rumors of LeBron's demise have been greatly exaggerated. His status as the greatest 38-year-old in NBA history is a given, but the numbers James is putting up rival even what his 28-year-old self was achieving at his peak. -- Sam Quinn

10. Ja Morant, Grizzlies (Preseason: 12)

Ja Morant
MEM • PG • #12
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Morant has continued his ascension up the ranks of the league's elite this season. After winning the NBA's Most Improved Player Award last season, Morant has elevated his game again. While his scoring average has remained steady, he's grabbing more rebounds and dropping more dimes on a nightly basis, and he again has the Grizzlies near the top of the Western Conference standings as a result. Plus, thanks to his insane athleticism and crazy in-game dunks, Morant is one of the most exciting players in the entire Association. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain

9. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers (Preseason: 13)

Damian Lillard
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Lillard is quietly having the best, or at least most efficient, season of his career: 31.4 points per game on a career-high 64.8 true-shooting percentage. Lillard's 130.2 points per 100 shot attempts is also a career high by an appreciable margin, trailing only Stephen Curry's 136.6 among all point guards. It remains a shame that the Blazers just cannot get any winning traction. -- Brad Botkin

8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder (Preseason: 36)

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
OKC • SG • #2
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SGA is in the midst of a breakout campaign. He's putting up the best numbers of his career, and the only reason that he hasn't received more attention coast to coast is because the Thunder aren't a contending team, so they aren't on national television or discussed in the media as much as some other teams and stars are. But Gilgeous-Alexander is one of just five players league-wide averaging at least 30 points and five assists per performance. He was named to his first All-Star team as a result, and he's a legitimate candidate for the Most Improved Player of the Year Award. He'll also likely land on an All-NBA team for the first time at the end of the season. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain

7. Stephen Curry, Warriors (Preseason: 2)

Stephen Curry
GS • PG • #30
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Curry is having another brilliant season that we mostly take for granted: 29.5 points per game on 49/43/93 shooting splits. And that 49 percent from the field is actually 49.5, putting him on the doorstep of yet another 50/40/90 season. So why isn't Curry in the MVP race? The Warriors are a .500 team, in large part because Curry has missed 20 games with two extended injury absences, the second of which he's in the middle of right now. -- Brad Botkin

6. Kevin Durant, Suns (Preseason: 3)

Kevin Durant
PHO • PF • #35
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There's a reason the Suns were willing to make a Godfather offer to the Nets for Durant -- even at 34, his mere presence still immediately transforms practically any team into a title contender. Aging as gracefully as a 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Durant is averaging close to 30 points per game again this season while shooting a career-high 56 percent from the field. No player in NBA history has ever put up at least 29 points per game in a season with a true shooting percentage above .670, which Durant is on pace to accomplish. And that's not even including his much-improved defense, which helped Brooklyn overachieve on that end before his departure. An extended absence due to injury is the only reason KD isn't higher on this list. -- Colin Ward-Henninger

5. Joel Embiid, 76ers (Preseason: 6) 

Joel Embiid
PHI • C • #21
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Embiid has been nothing short of dominant this season. After leading the league in scoring last year, Embiid is at an elite level again with 33.1 points per game, trailing only Luka Doncic's 33.3. In addition to his point production, he's posting 10.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals per outing while putting in work on the defensive end. As a result, he's got the Sixers right in the thick of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. He also recently made some major news in Philadelphia by reaching 10,000 career points in the fewest number of games in franchise history. (Yeah, even faster than Allen Iverson.) And if not for Nikola Jokic, Embiid might very well be the big staring down a third straight MVP Award. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain

4. Jayson Tatum, Celtics (Preseason: 9)

Jayson Tatum
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After a disappointing defeat in last year's NBA Finals, a series for which he took plenty of blame, Tatum responded by making another leap. Even if he and the Celtics haven't kept up the ridiculous pace they set in the first third of the season, he remains a leading MVP candidate for his strong two-way play, and the team maintains the best record in the league. Expect the All-Star Game MVP, fresh off his record-setting 55-point night, to keep his foot on the pedal as he's done all season. His 30.6 points per game are a career-high and good for sixth in the league, and finishing with that number would also give him the highest single-season scoring average in Celtics franchise history. No Boston player -- not John Havlicek, not Larry Bird, not Paul Pierce -- has ever averaged 30 points for a season. -- Jack Maloney

3. Luka Doncic, Mavericks (Preseason: 5)

Luka Doncic
DAL • PG • #77
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After a couple years of entering the season out of shape and receiving criticism for his poor conditioning, Doncic turned that narrative on its head. He started the season on a tear, upping his averages across the board, and improving his efficiency to a career-high 50.5 percent from the floor. More than ever Dallas' success lies on Doncic's shoulders, as evidenced from the 3-7 record the Mavericks have when the Slovenian guard is out of the lineup. Those three wins all came after Dallas traded for Kyrie Irving, signaling that perhaps Doncic will get the much needed offensive help the Mavericks have been so desperate to get him. -- Jasmyn Wimbish

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks (Preseason: 1)

Giannis Antetokounmpo
MIL • PF • #34
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This has been something of a roller coaster season for Antetokounmpo and his Bucks, but coming out of the All-Star break both he and the team are poised to make runs at hardware. Antetokounmpo is scoring a career-high 31.8 points per game, and is the only player in the league averaging at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Though his efficiency hasn't been there due to an increased workload in Khris Middleton's two extended absences, he's been as productive as ever. He already has three 50-point games this season, and the Bucks are 35-12 when he plays, compared to 6-5 when he sits. The wrist injury he sustained last week, three days before Team Giannis bested Team LeBron over All-Star weekend is a microcosm of what this campaign has been like for Antetokounmpo. -- Jack Maloney

1. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets (Preseason: 4) 

Nikola Jokic
DEN • C • #15
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Once again, Jokic has been the best offensive player in basketball. With a more complete team around him, the back-to-back MVP is taking fewer shots, scoring fewer points and, somehow, outdoing himself. That he's averaging about 25 points is mind-boggling, since he's doing it on 70-plus percent true shooting and damn near leading the league in assists. Every all-in-one advanced stat tells the same story, and Jokic's on/off numbers are insane. The art of his game, however, is just as impressive as the science. He is simultaneously the poster boy for efficiency and one of the most creative players who has ever lived. -- James Herbert