The authoritative, indisputable, official list of the NBA's 30 most interesting players
From Lonzo to Boban, here's a look at who to keep an eye on when the 2017-18 season begins
The 2017-18 season is right around the corner, which means it's time for predictions, projections, rankings and previews to get you ready for opening night. Surely, you want to know not only how your favorite team is looking heading into training camp, but who is primed for a breakout season and what league-wide storylines are worth following. What follows, then, is an exhaustive and scientific accounting of the 30 most interesting players in the NBA.
(OK, in all seriousness, this is entirely subjective. LeBron James and Stephen Curry aren't mentioned here because, in September, the unknown is inherently more compelling. If 18-year-old Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic were already in the league, he'd be No. 1.)
1. Lonzo Ball , Los Angeles Lakers : Before this past June's draft, I found myself reading Cole Zwicker's extremely detailed scouting reports, in which he projects each prospect's floor, median and ceiling outcomes. Ball's ceiling, according to Zwicker: "I honestly have no f---ing idea." This has stuck with me, and I can't think of a better way to describe why I'm so looking forward to the Lonzo experience. Regardless of how bad the Lakers will be, Ball is going to be super weird and worth watching.
2. Joel Embiid , Philadelphia 76ers : The guy clowns people on Twitter and then turns into a fire-breathing dragon on the court. Nobody is cooler than Embiid, and if he stays healthy he could be the best center in the league in no time. It remains amazing that the Sixers were legitimately solid with him on the court last season, and they should be much, much better now.
3. Kyrie Irving , Boston Celtics : Irving should function just fine in Brad Stevens' system, but there are all sorts of questions about how he'll change his game and how good this version of the Celtics will be. Just as intriguing: the seemingly endless possibilities when it comes to what he'll say in interviews. Everyone is going to be watching, and many will be hoping Boston falls flat.
4. Isaiah Thomas , Cleveland Cavaliers : Oh, how I wish he was going to be healthy for opening night against his former team. Thomas once again has reason to feel overlooked, undervalued and disrespected, even after one of the more heroic individual seasons in recent memory. If he recaptures last season's form while adding even more fuel to his fire, he may turn out to be an even better complement to James than Irving.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo , Milwaukee Bucks : The mere idea of him adding a reliable 3-point shot almost shot him to the very top of this list. It will be difficult for Antetokounmpo to top last season, but it'd be shocking if he didn't.
6. Paul George , Oklahoma City Thunder : It's not just "Can he turn the Thunder into contenders?" It's about how he works with Russell Westbrook , how much fun he appears to be having and the chance to do something special for one season, even if it is only one season. You must hope that the uncertainty about George's (and Westbrook's) future doesn't stop him from focusing on being great in OKC.
7. Ben Simmons , 76ers: Like Ball, this 6-foot-10 point guard has that once-or-twice-in-a-generation passing ability that can't be taught. It was a bummer that Simmons didn't play in his true rookie season, but the bright side is that the Sixers have since surrounded him with the spacing and secondary playmaking he needs to be his best.
8. Blake Griffin , Los Angeles Clippers : His team won't be as good as it has been, but he should be so much happier. Griffin finally has the opportunity to show what he can do when the offense revolves around him. Sign me up for Point Blake, the most exciting Clipper since Dunking-on-Fools-Every-Night Blake.
9. Nikola Jokic , Denver Nuggets : Somehow the Jokic hype train has gone mainstream, even though nobody really watches Denver play. I'd argue, though, that he may be even better than even the nerdiest nerds claim. Jokic isn't as bad on defense as some would suggest, and he was the reason the Nuggets had an elite offense last season. Do not ignore him or them.
10. Jusuf Nurkic , Trail Blazers: Who could resist Nurk Fever when the Blazers were pushing for a playoff spot late last season? He put up amazing numbers and completely changed his approach to passing and playing defense, reminding the league of the promise he showed before Jokic arrived in Denver. Now he enters a contract season with the pressure to prove those 20 games were no fluke.
11. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks : This guy gets Steve Francis comparisons, and they're meant in a good way! A realistic Rookie of the Year candidate, mainly because he'll have the ball in his hands all the time and Rick Carlisle will give him the perfect system to do his thing.
12. Kristaps Porzingis , New York Knicks : Looked awesome (and stronger!) in Eurobasket, and he gets extra points for standing up to management after the colossal catastrophe that was the 2016-17 Knicks season. The triangle is gone, and that means it's time for Porzingis to be featured in a way he has never been in New York.
13. Chris Paul , Houston Rockets : I love that Paul and James Harden have spent the summer making fun of the doubts about how they'll share the ball, and I'm much more curious about the Paul-D'Antoni dynamic anyway. How will this control freak handle playing in Houston's freewheeling system?
14. Russell Westbrook, Thunder: He took 30 shots per game in the playoffs, and that was just an extension of his season of excess. No one expects the reigning MVP to have the same approach with George is around, but it can't be easy to rein yourself in when you're so used to doing whatever you want.
15. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings : It's not clear if he'll even start now that George Hill is on the roster, but Fox has to be on this list because of his charisma and astonishing speed. He may even turn the Kings into League Pass favorites.
16. Markelle Fultz , 76ers: I'd have him higher if I didn't think he will have to defer to Simmons. Fultz is one of the more complete guards to enter the league in some time, and Kevin Durant was right about his hesi pull-up jimbo.
17. Jimmy Butler , Minnesota Timberwolves : Motivated by the Chicago Bulls ' decision to trade him and the opportunity to be on a better-than-mediocre team, Butler is in a great position to build on his career season. He says he thrives on confrontation; if that's true, then he should be a top-10 player now that he is reunited with Tom Thibodeau.
18. Karl-Anthony Towns , Timberwolves: Minnesota was disappointing in 2016-17, so I'm not sure Towns got the recognition he deserved for improving significantly after one of the best rookie seasons ever. If the defensive intensity of Butler and Taj Gibson rubs off on him, watch out.
19. Anthony Davis , New Orleans Pelicans : He really be top five, but I don't trust the Pelicans enough to put him higher than this. Individually, Davis is even freakier than Giannis; the problem is that his team is forever burdened by playoff expectations in a daunting conference and ill-fitting complementary players.
20. Devin Booker , Phoenix Suns : Sorry, Michael Beasley ; Booker is every player's favorite player. Booker has the respect of his peers because he is crafty and cocky as hell. He's an awful defender, though, and he has yet to impress the basketball intelligentsia because he is such a gunner. Let's see if he can round out his game and win everybody over in his third season.
21. Andrew Wiggins , Timberwolves: What happened to the fuzzy feelings everybody had about Wiggins? Despite being on the verge of signing a , he has become a whipping boy because of his inconsistent defense and relatively inefficient offense. Still only 22, Wiggins has the tools to shut everybody up with a strong season for the new-look Wolves.
22. D'Angelo Russell , Brooklyn Nets : Another wayward soul, Russell definitely saw Magic Johnson's comments about needing a better leader at point guard. No one knows if he and Jeremy Lin will get along, but it's nice that he will get a fresh start with a franchise that will give him every opportunity to develop into the All-Star playmaker he has the potential to be.
23. Rudy Gobert , Utah Jazz : The enormous rim protector is pissed off and poised to make his first All-Star appearance, as long as the Jazz remain dominant defensively. Gobert really should have made it last season, and his offensive game is only going to get better and better.
24. DeMarcus Cousins , Pelicans: Boogie is never boring. If he and the Brow get it together, it will be a great story. If they don't, then he may end up in somewhere else, inspiring the same conversations we have been having about Cousins his entire career.
25. Thon Maker , Bucks: He shoots 3s, he protects the rim, he runs the floor and he can switch onto smaller players. The buzz isn't quite the same as it was when Maker was a high school mixtape star, but it is back after a few strong showings in the playoffs. Milwaukee may have done it again.
26. Larry Nance Jr. , Lakers: Honestly, there's reason to be pumped about what all the young Lakers will look like next to Ball. Nance is the choice here because of his athleticism, versatility and obvious ability to thrive in a fast-paced, free-flowing game.
27. Justise Winslow , Miami Heat : He was seen as the future of the Heat, and then the Heat had a magical few months with him sitting on the sideline. If Winslow doesn't develop a jumper, it's complicated to figure out how coach Erik Spoelstra should use him on this roster. If he does develop one, then Spoelstra can play him pretty much anywhere.
28. OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors : Injury concerns pushed him down to No. 23 in the draft, but that relatively late draft position may wind up being just another way he can be compared to Draymond Green . No idea how much he will play or what he'll be able to do on offense, but Anunoby can legitimately guard all five positions.
29. Boban Marjanovic , Detroit Pistons : With Aron Baynes out of the way, the enormous, unguardable Marjanovic will finally get a shot to stick in an NBA rotation. He is no joke.
30, Carmelo Anthony , Knicks (for now): The man did nothing this summer but wear hoodies and get buckets.
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