How exactly is one supposed to approach ranking the best players in the NBA? There is no truly objective method, as even statistical models have their own biases built in. (PER famously overrates bigs who rebound well, which is how Jonas Valanciunas finished 11th in that metric last season, slightly ahead of Stephen Curry.) Further, while I consider Rudy Gobert and Bradley Beal top-20 players, neither could even dream of playing the other's role. Team context matters, which is why it makes perfect sense that Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni doesn't want to trade P.J. Tucker for anybody, but Tucker would not be seen as untouchable if he played for the rebuilding Cavaliers.

Just because you can't perfectly measure something, however, does not mean that you should not try. The Top 100 list presented here, an amalgamation of individual lists submitted by CBS Sports' writing staff, is not flawless, and you will strongly disagree with some of the rankings, as I do. The point is to examine the ideas behind the disagreements. 

If you are furious that Kyle Kuzma didn't make the cut, is it just because you're a Lakers fan or because you see something special in him? Maybe our staff collectively undervalues young players with star potential at the expense of role players who have proven that they contribute to winning. Maybe the panel is too high on versatile players who don't take anything off the table, unfairly punishing those who are more productive but have glaring weaknesses. Maybe there are cases where we have failed to properly appreciate a certain player's defense or basketball IQ or playoff performance. Making a Top 100 list forces you to think about all of this. Our hope is that reading it does, too. 

A disclaimer: This is not about who had the best season last year or who is on track to have the most impressive career. Our panelists were instructed to focus on the 2019-20 season alone. As such, Kevin Durant is not ranked. Neither are John Wall or Jusuf Nurkic. Klay Thompson is on the list, and if you think he's too low, it's because there is uncertainty about his return from a torn ACL. (If you think he's too high, it's because we are collectively optimistic that he will be back and be productive before the end of the regular season.) Now, to the rankings! 

Mike Meredith/CBS Sports
LeBron James Los Angeles Lakers SF
At 34 years old, LeBron is still the king. When James is at full strength, he operates on a level like no other player in the NBA -- and the wins tend to follow. The only question mark for LeBron heading into his 17th season is his health, but the injury that limited him to just 55 games last season could be a blessing in disguise, as he will be more rested than he has been in over a decade to start the 2019-20 campaign. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Kawhi Leonard Los Angeles Clippers SF
If you can get to a Clippers game early enough to watch Kawhi Leonard warm up, do it. He moseys around the court, nonchalantly making jumpers as if he's offended by the idea that a player such as himself needs to shoot around before games. It is astonishing. Even more extraordinary, though, is the fact that his demeanor is (almost) as casual after tipoff. When Leonard destroys you, he wants you to see how easy it is. The two-time Finals MVP is near the top of our list not just because he embodies everything you want from a No. 1 offensive option and might be the best perimeter defender of all-time, but because of his steely resolve. Everything he does is at his own pace, and, in the playoffs, if you need someone to stop a run or keep everybody composed, there is no one better. (And the Clippers may be getting a healthier version of Leonard than the Raptors did, which means he will be able to spend more possessions defending with the extreme intensity he was known for in San Antonio.) -- James Herbert
Stephen Curry Golden State Warriors PG
Arguably the best offensive player on the league, Curry has a shot this season to remind us all just how great he can be when he's truly unleashed. Without Kevin Durant, and with Klay Thompson out for most of the regular season, the Warriors will have to depend heavily on Curry creating both consistent and improvisational offense for a suddenly vulnerable squad. Everyone thinks the Warriors will miss Durant's isolation prowess, and they will. But the numbers say Curry has actually been a better isolation player three of the past four years. He'll get to do more of that this season, and he'll get a steadier pick-and-roll diet, which the Warriors have shied away from in the past but will have to embrace this season. Curry is a monster pick-and-roll player, a savant off-ball mover, and with unlimited opportunity, he's going to have a monster season. Probably the preseason MVP favorite. -- Brad Botkin
Giannis Antetokounmpo Milwaukee Bucks PF
Antetokounmpo made the leap to true superstardom last season, taking home his first MVP Award. Everyone knows what thre Greek Freak can do on the court, where his combination of size and athleticism makes him a nightmare for opponents on both ends of the floor. Now, the question becomes, how far can he take the Bucks? -- Jack Maloney
Anthony Davis Los Angeles Lakers PF
Lost in the trade demand and awkward second-half pseudo holdout was a fact that should terrify the rest of the NBA. Last season, Davis hit new career highs in rebounds, assists and steals per game. He attempted more 3-pointers than he ever had before, and made a higher percentage than he ever had before. Ignore the games he played after his trade request and Davis would have set a new career-high in scoring as well. Davis isn't just the best big man in basketball. He's still getting better.-- Sam Quinn
James Harden Houston Rockets SG
Harden's prolific isolation scoring is unlike anything we've seen in NBA history and therefore leads to endless debate about whether it's good for the team dynamic and if it's effective in the postseason. What's not debatable, however, is that nobody in the league can stop Harden from getting buckets. Add in his tremendous passing ability, and you have one of the top two guards in the NBA. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Joel Embiid Philadelphia 76ers C
Embiid was a legitimate MVP candidate last season, as he has developed into one of the league's most dominant players, on both ends of the floor. There isn't much that Embiid can't do out on the court, and there are few players that are more important to their team than Embiid is to the Sixers. Health has been the only issue that has hampered Embiid to this point in his career, but if he's able to stay healthy moving forward, he will continue to be in the conversation of the game's best players. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Paul George Los Angeles Clippers SF
George finished third in MVP voting, after averaging 28 points and eight rebounds a game, all while dealing with a nagging shoulder injury. George elected to put off shoulder surgery until after the playoffs to repair a small tear in his labrum, and that's not even the biggest thing to happen to him this offseason. George was surprisingly traded to the Clippers to join reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. There's no timetable on George's return, but before he was injured last season he had a case for winning MVP. Imagine what he can do when he's 100 percent healthy. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
Damian Lillard Portland Trail Blazers PG
Lillard cracks the top 10 players in the league, and it's wholly deserved. So often overlooked in conversations about the league's biggest stars, all Lillard does is continue to get as much out of the Blazers, relative to their collective talent, as any star gets out of any team in the league. Portland, in the perpetually stacked Western Conference, has been a top-three seed in each of the past two seasons, and a top-five seed in five of the last six years. Forget Lillard's numbers. That's his value. And what do you know, people are doubting the Blazers again this season. Lillard will make them all look foolish yet again. -- Brad Botkin
Nikola Jokic Denver Nuggets C
Debates have raged for years over how good Jokic actually is, but his performance last season put them to rest: he's a certified star and an MVP candidate. There is no one in the league quite like him, a 7-foot, 250-pounder who often operates as the Nuggets' point guard, and plays with a flair often reserved for those much smaller than him. -- Jack Maloney
Mike Meredith/CBS Sports
Karl-Anthony Towns Minnesota Timberwolves C
At 23 years old, Karl-Anthony Towns has proven he is one of the most offensively-gifted big men in the league. What he lacks on defense he makes up for with his versatile post play and ability to step out and knock down 3s. Last season, Towns hit career highs in assists, free throw attempts and 3-point attempts per game. The Timberwolves may not make the playoffs, but the progression of Towns as one of the best young players in the league hasn't slowed down. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
Draymond Green Golden State Warriors PF
Green averaged 7.4 points per game last season and is ranked just outside the top 10. That shows you the impact his All-NBA defense and playmaking have for the Warriors. He'll likely be asked to do a bit more offensively in 2019-20 with the absence of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, but his calling card comes in the form of his defensive instincts, communication and leadership. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Bradley Beal Washington Wizards SG
Beal just missed his first All-NBA nod last season, and he should be right in the mix again this season. A workhorse in the load-management era, Beal played all 82 last season at a career high 36.9 minutes per game. He has rounded into a complete star, equally deadly on and off the ball. He's a solid defender and a rising playmaker since he's been asked to do more of that in John Wall's absence. Of course, all the Beal talk right now is about  whether he'll be traded from a Wizards team seemingly going nowhere. Washington is still saying it intends to keep Beal, but we'll see how long that lasts. At 26 years old and just entering his prime, Beal is a premium commodity, and will likely, eventually, attract an offer or three that the Wizards will have to strongly consider. -- Brad Botkin
Jimmy Butler Miami Heat SF
Pat Riley called Jimmy Butler a "top 10 player" in the league who could get "27-7-7" if you needed him to. He's probably not wrong. Butler is the definition of the "two-way star" we all trumpet these days. He's a lock-down, versatile defender. A tough, physical scorer. A better playmaker than people realize. When the game was on the line in the playoffs, the Sixers put the ball in Butler's hands and the Heat will certainly do the same. The Heat are a sneaky-good team, but they are not as good as Philly, which is a legit championship contender. So when Butler says he's all about winning, that nothing else matters, that's not entirely true. If it were, he would've wanted to return to Philly. At least some part of him yearns to be the unquestioned No. 1 guy, and he's definitely going to be that in Miami -- where, post-LeBron James, he represents the first major move in the direction of big-time winning for an organization desperate to get back on top . We'll see what he can do with the opportunity. -- Brad Botkin
Kyrie Irving Brooklyn Nets PG
Fellow star players talk about Kyrie Irving with reverence. His handle, his range, his ridiculous finishes around the basket -- all of it is genuine artistry. The sublime skills and stats, though, have to be weighed against the other stuff, and a couple of our panelists rated Irving significantly lower than this. He wants the ball in his hands even though he is a threat without it. He talks about leadership publicly even though he hasn't proven himself to be adept in that area. His effort on defense waxes and wanes. At 27, on his third team, after an utterly bewildering second-round series, it is time for him to show the maturity that it takes to bring the Nets together. -- James Herbert
Kemba Walker Boston Celtics PG
After eight seasons with the Hornets, Walker took the next step in his career by joining the Celtics in the summer. He's quick and shifty, a strong 3-point shooter and an elite pick-and-roll player, but the quiet leadership and stability he'll bring to this team may be most important after the tumultuous Kyrie Irving experience. -- Jack Maloney
Rudy Gobert Utah Jazz C
How high would you rank someone who doesn't create offense on his own? How valuable can you be when you're exploitable in specific matchups? It's impossible to properly evaluate Rudy Gobert without wrestling with difficult questions like these. Is it a strike against him that, for the last three seasons, the Utah Jazz have been eliminated by teams who have targeted him in high pick-and-rolls? Potentially, but the Jazz's entire defensive scheme was built around Gobert dominating the paint, and that defensive scheme has ranked near the top of the league for essentially all of his tenure as a starting center. He is also an excellent roller, and Utah's improved spacing should make him even more dangerous in that regard this season. -- James Herbert
Blake Griffin Detroit Pistons PF
Griffin has done an excellent job of developing his skill set to fit with the way that the game is played today. As a younger player, Griffin relied largely on his uncanny athleticism, but as his career wore on, he turned himself into an above-average shooter and playmaker. Now, he's a pretty complete package that can do damage in a multitude of ways. He averaged a career-high 24.5 points per game for the Pistons last season, and similar production should be expected this season. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Russell Westbrook Houston Rockets G
Throughout Russell Westbrook's 11 years in Oklahoma City, watching him meant feeling the tension between what he wants to do and what he should do if the goal is to optimize his efficiency. Now, on a team defined by its total devotion to optimization, something has to give. We could see the best version of Westbrook, a synthesis of his aggressive style and the Rockets' pragmatism, in which case this ranking will look silly. We could also see a mess that vindicates those who have questioned this experiment, in which case putting him in the top 20 will seem wildly optimistic. -- James Herbert
Jrue Holiday New Orleans Pelicans PG
Only eight players in NBA history have made an All-Defensive team while averaging at least 21 points and seven assists. You could probably guess the first seven: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Jerry West, Gary Payton and John Havlicek. Holiday became the eighth last season. Such all-around dominance is a rarity in NBA history. -- Sam Quinn
NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Toronto Raptors
Mike Meredith/CBS Sports
Ben Simmons Philadelphia 76ers PG
The sky is the limit for Simmons, who was named an All-Star during his second season in the league. Simmons is lethal in the open court and possesses pinpoint, precision passing and uncanny court vision. He's an excellent rebounder and an above-average defender, with the potential to be an elite one. He's also an unbelievable athlete with an elevated basketball IQ. If he adds a jumper, it's over. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Luka Doncic Dallas Mavericks SF
A year ago, there were concerns over how well Doncic's game would translate to the NBA. After a historic Rookie of the Year season, it's fair to say he's doing just fine. To be ranked this high with only one season in the league speaks to the high expectations of Doncic's future in the NBA. Last season, he showed glimpses of becoming an elite playmaker, facilitator and scorer. Now, paired with another unique talent in Kristaps Porzingis -- and a full offseason of getting in shape under his belt -- it doesn't appear he'll succumb to the sophomore slump. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
CJ McCollum Portland Trail Blazers SG
McCollum is one of the best 1-on-1 shot creators in the world. It's what he does. In the 2019 postseason, while Lillard was stealing headlines after burying the Thunder, it was McCollum who carried Portland through the most crucial stretches of the Denver series -- particularly in Game 7, when McCollum almost single-handedly lifted the Blazers to the conference finals with 37 of the toughest, 1-on-1 points you'll ever see. He also did almost all that work in the mid-range and at the bucket. McCollum is a mixtape ball handler with a poetically old-school 15-to-19 foot game. A walking bucket, you might call him. Very Lou Williams, but bigger and better. -- Brad Botkin
Mike Conley Utah Jazz PG
He flies under the radar a bit due strictly to the sheer number of excellent point guards across the league's landscape, but Conley is a baller. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game for the Grizzlies last season, and he played an integral role in the organization's recent string of success during the 'Grit-n-Grind' era. Now in Utah, Conley will again have an opportunity to run a team with a shot at making some legitimate noise in a crowded Western Conference. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Victor Oladipo Indiana Pacers SG
Oladipo might be higher on the list were it not for a quad injury that will likely keep him out until December at the earliest. When healthy, however, Oladipo has proven himself to be an All-NBA talent on both ends of the court. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Klay Thompson Golden State Warriors SG
Thompson is only this low because our criteria was defined as who will have the most impact on this coming season, and he is out until at least after the All-Star break. Bottom line, he's a top-15 player in the world, on both ends. Steph Curry gets the glamour, but it was Thompson who carried the Warriors in some of the biggest games and moments of the last five years. He's the second-best shooter of all-time to Curry. He's improved dramatically at putting the ball on the floor, utilizing the leverage of his jump shot to get to the rim or to his mid-range sweet spot. He's a tough, versatile, high-motor defender who takes his 1-on-1 matchups with the best scorers in the world absolutely personally. Few players in the league, if any, garner more respect among their peers than Thompson. He's a flat-out gamer. And assuming he is back healthy for the playoffs, the Warriors are going to be a big-time problem once again.-- Brad Botkin
Mitchell upped his scoring and assist averages in his second year for the Jazz while handling primary playmaking duties. He should benefit the most from Utah's acquisitions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, taking some of the offensive pressure and the opponents' defensive attention off of his shoulders. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Pascal Siakam Toronto Raptors PF
Nobody redefined himself in 2018-19 like Pascal Siakam, who ran away with the Most Improved Player award and opened the NBA Finals with a legendary performance. This time last year, it wasn't clear whether he or OG Anunoby was the Raptors' most valuable young forward, and Siakam had to earn his starting spot in training camp. Now the challenges he faces have a totally different flavor: How will he handle being the focal point of defensive game plans? Can he be The Guy for Toronto, or at least the guy who attracts other stars to join him? Siakam is an All-Defense type who scores well in isolation and still has upside based on his dedication to improvement and the fact that he only started playing organized basketball seven years ago. -- James Herbert
Al Horford Philadelphia 76ers C
Horford brings to Philadelphia exactly what he brought to Boston: versatility, defense, veteran leadership and professionalism. He's getting up there in age (33), and his numbers might not be the gaudiest, but his ability to do so many different things out on the court is a big boon to Philadelphia's title hopes. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Khris Middleton Milwaukee Bucks SF
Middleton got PAID in the summer, signing the biggest deal ever (five years, $178M) for a former second-round pick. That will only add to the pressure he's already facing of trying to be the Bucks' second star alongside Giannis. He does just about everything well, but the Bucks may need him to be great if they want to win the East this season. -- Jack Maloney
De'Aaron Fox Sacramento Kings Purple
   Mike Meredith/CBS Sports
Chris Paul Oklahoma City Thunder PG
Paul averaged 22.5 points, 12.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season when James Harden wasn't on the floor. For his career, he has averaged 19 points, 9.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. Paul can still play. He just can't play under the thumb of the NBA's most ball-dominant superstar. If he can stay healthy, there is no reason to believe that Paul can't still muster an All-Star-caliber season. -- Sam Quinn
Devin Booker Phoenix Suns SG
Over the course of his first four seasons in Phoenix, Booker developed into one of the most elite scorers in the entire NBA. However, his impressive production (he averaged 26.6 points per game last season, good for eighth overall in the entire league) has flown under the radar a bit due to the Suns' lack of success as a team; they have yet to even sniff the postseason during Booker's tenure with the team. Don't let that fool you, though; Booker is a deadly offensive threat, and at only 22 years old, you can expect even more overall improvement in his game moving forward. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Kristaps Porzingis Dallas Mavericks PF
Need proof that Porzingis is a unicorn? He was averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.9 3-pointers per game before getting hurt during the 2017-18 season. Nobody in NBA history had ever managed such numbers. He posted them as the 22-year-old leading scorer on one of the NBA's worst teams. Get used to markers like this. Porzingis produces a one-of-a-kind moment or number just about every time he steps on the floor. -- Sam Quinn
Kyle Lowry Toronto Raptors PG
In terms of his career trajectory, Kyle Lowry seems to be following in the footsteps of Chauncey Billups, one of his mentors. After bouncing around, Lowry found a home in Toronto, where he became a perennial All-Star and, eventually, a champion. At 33 and eligible for an extension, his future with the Raptors is in question, but he has already demonstrated that he's willing to take a step back as a scorer and help his team win in other ways. You might argue that a sharp decline is coming, as small guards typically don't age well. The counter-argument is that players with genius-level basketball IQ typically do. -- James Herbert
Nikola Vucevic Orlando Magic C
The Magic made the playoffs for the first time since 2012, largely because of the play of Vucevic. His 3-point shooting improved greatly, and his play was finally noticed around the league, earning him his first All-Star selection. Vucevic said he feels like he's just hitting his prime, and if that's the case, then the Magic will try and ride his talents into another postseason appearance. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
LaMarcus Aldridge San Antonio Spurs PF
Steady as ever, Aldridge was once again one of the NBA's elite post-up scorers last season, and his mid-range jumper is close to automatic. He certainly isn't flashy, but Aldridge has been as reliable as they come since Kawhi Leonard left the San Antonio lineup. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Jayson Tatum Boston Celtics SF
Tatum was electric in his rookie season but took a step back along with just about everyone on the Celtics in their bizarre 2018-19 campaign. As a result, the Tatum hype train has slowed down a bit. Still, he's a super talented young player who can contribute on both ends of the floor, and it will be fascinating to watch how he develops this season. -- Jack Maloney
De'Aaron Fox Sacramento Kings PG
After putting together an average rookie season, Fox took a huge leap in his sophomore season, showing improvement across the board from his shooting to his decision making. With another year of experience under his belt, Fox could help lead the Kings into the playoffs after falling short a year ago. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
Kevin Love Cleveland Cavaliers PF
After missing 60 games for a lottery-bound Cavaliers team last season, Love kind of feels like a forgotten man in the NBA, but his ability to produce certainly shouldn't be forgotten. Love holds career averages of 18 points and 11 rebounds per game, and he played an integral role in Cleveland making four straight Finals appearances from 2015 to 2018. Though at 31 years old, he might be on the back end of his prime but could still be a key contributor to the Cavs, or a contender if he's ultimately traded. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Jamal Murray Denver Nuggets PG
If Murray was in the Eastern Conference, he would've been an All-Star. Regardless, the Nuggets rewarded him for his impressive season with a five-year $170 million max deal during free agency. There were times that Murray's play was the reason the Nuggets won games, and that's with an MVP-caliber player like Nikola Jokic on his team. Now that Murray's secured the bag, he'll need to continue to improve his effort on defense and consistency on offense to take the next step in his career. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
  Mike Meredith/CBS Sports
Tobias Harris Philadelphia 76ers SF
Harris has bounced around the league a bit over the course of his career, but after signing a monster deal with Philadelphia over the offseason, he appears to have finally found a long-term home in the league. Harris is a three-level scorer on the offensive end and a career 36 percent 3-point shooter, and the Sixers clearly feel like he can be a key cog in their quest for their first NBA title since 1983. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Myles Turner Indiana Pacers C
Turner's reputation is cursed by circumstance. He was perhaps the third-best regular-season defender in the NBA last season, but happens to share a position with Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid, so he couldn't earn an All-Defensive team nod. He'll have to settle for the blocked shots title he won last season and the knowledge that he still has plenty of room left to grow.-- Sam Quinn
DeMar DeRozan San Antonio Spurs SG
DeMar DeRozan's first season with the Spurs was complicated. His assist rate rose dramatically, and his 48.1 percent mark from the field was his high-water mark (excluding his rookie season). He was less efficient overall, though, because he completely stopped taking 3s and had the lowest free throw rate of his career. In some ways, the DeRozan story is the same as it has been in recent years: he has made himself into an excellent scorer with a lot of moves, but his weaknesses from the arc and on defense hold him back in the playoffs. At 30, as the league assumes it has him figured out, can he write a new chapter? -- James Herbert
D'Angelo Russell Golden State Warriors PG
Last season, Russell finally took the leap many have been expecting, bumping his scoring average past the 20 point-per-game mark with improved 3-point accuracy, which led to his first All-Star selection. He was squeezed out of Brooklyn when Kyrie Irving signed there, but was quickly swooped up by the Warriors, who hope that he'll be a key piece in their post-Kevin Durant retooling. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Trae Young Atlanta Hawks PG
Is Trae Young already a top 50 player in the world? We're projecting a bit here, for sure, but there's no denying Young's special talent. Even with a down shooting year next to what we expected of him coming out of Oklahoma, Young averaged 19.1 points and 8.1 assists as a rookie. Only two other rookies in NBA history have hit those marks -- Oscar Robertson and Damon Stoudamire. Young is a brilliant passer, and we don't use that word lightly. He might be the worst defender in the league at present, but as one scout told CBS Sports: "I thought [Young's] defensive shortcomings would be far more debilitating than they were, to be honest. He's just that special offensively." The Hawks are quietly one of the most exciting teams in the league with Young at the helm. Is it crazy to think he could push for an All-Star nod in the East as soon as this season? If the shooting comes around, which it should, a 20-10 season is feasible. That's very rare territory. -- Brad Botkin
Danilo Gallinari Oklahoma City Thunder SF
Players tend not to set new career-highs in points, rebounds, assists and 3-pointers once they've hit their 30th birthday. That Gallinari did is a testament to his incredible perseverance. Injured on and off for years, Gallinari just had his healthiest season since tearing his ACL during the 2012-13 campaign. His offensive versatility and underrated defense will make him one of the best players on the trade market should the Oklahoma City Thunder choose to commit to a rebuild. -- Sam Quinn
Eric Bledsoe Milwaukee Bucks PG
Bledsoe produced another stinker in the playoffs, which overshadowed just how good he was for the Bucks last season when he probably deserved an All-Star nod over Middleton. His work hounding opposing ball-handlers is vital to the Bucks' defensive scheme, and they'll need his driving ability on offense even more now that Brogdon is gone. -- Jack Maloney
Gordon Hayward Boston Celtics SF
Before Hayward's brutal injury that sidelined him for all of 2017-18 and had him playing catch-up all of last season, he was tracking to be a top-20 fixture on lists like this one. Now he comes in at No. 48, and based on last season, even that feels generous. But if he's back to the real Hayward, it will prove way too low. Indeed, there's a buzz throughout the Celtics, from Danny Ainge on down, that Hayward has his explosion back. He had stretches last season, particularly in the playoffs, that suggested his game and confidence were coming around, with Boston running its offense through him as he got back to making plays off the bounce and knocking down 3-pointers. Will he start or come off the bench this season? With Walker, Jayson Tatum and a big man likely set in stone, that leaves Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Hayward for two starting spots. My guess is Hayward starts. The Celtics need to do everything they can to get him going again. -- Brad Botkin
Brook Lopez Milwaukee Bucks C
In terms of role players, there might not be anyone in the league more important to their team than Lopez is to the Bucks. The degree to which he was launching 3s last season bordered on absurd, but he was knocking them down and that spacing he provides at the 5 makes their whole system work. -- Jack Maloney
Lou Williams Los Angeles Clippers SG
They might as well name the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award the "Lou Williams Trophy." Taking the honor home for the third time in his career last season, Williams displayed improved playmaking ability to complement his elite bucket-getting, notching a career-high 5.4 assists per game. He'll be tasked with the same role this season for a Clippers team with championship aspirations. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Mike Meredith/CBS Sports
Paul Millsap Denver Nuggets PF
Millsap should be flattered by the biggest move the Nuggets made this offseason. They were so happy with his play last season that they went out and acquired a younger duplicate of his in Jerami Grant. Of course, while Grant matches Millsap's defensive versatility and stroke from behind the arc, there's a reason he didn't land as high on this list. He may not be able to bring it every night as he hits his mid-30's, but Millsap's scoring was Denver's offensive security blanket in the postseason. He is dependable on a game-by-game basis, but can still kick things up a notch when necessary. -- Sam Quinn
Jaren Jackson Jr. Memphis Grizzlies PF
Jackson performed ahead of schedule for the Grizzlies last season as the league's second-youngest player (he just turned 20 in September). At 6-11, he's already an elite defender and rim protector, and he shot an impressive 36 percent from 3-point range on the offensive end. Jackson's minutes were limited by foul trouble and injuries last year, so with a full, healthy season, he could move up on this list rapidly. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Marcus Smart Boston Celtics PG
Smart is the one true king of Weird Celtics Twitter, which is quite the honor. He plays with an intensity and passion that few are able or interested in matching and is an absolute menace on the defensive end. It will be interesting to watch if his improved 3-point shooting from last season -- 36.4 percent -- is real. -- Jack Maloney
Aaron Gordon Orlando Magic PF
It's hard to believe that Gordon is entering his sixth year in the league, but last season was arguably his best to date. He's not forcing as many shots as he did during the 2017-18 season, his 3-point percentage jumped up to 34.9 percent and he's blossomed into becoming one of the best wing defenders in the league. He's yet to have a breakout season, which could either be a good or bad thing for the Magic. If Gordon hits new heights in his development this season, the Magic could make the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 2012. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
Jaylen Brown Boston Celtics SG
Brown had a really rough start to last season and was never able to shake that perception even though he played quite well after the first month or so. He's a strong defender, a solid spot-up shooter and an elite athlete. There's no question he's already a nice role player, but this is a big season for him to prove he's more than that. -- Jack Maloney
Clint Capela Houston Rockets C
Two summers ago, Capela signed a five-year $90 million deal. This offseason, he was at the center at several trade rumors. It wasn't because of his play as he posted career averages for the third year in a row, but a traditional center like Capela in an offense that lives and dies by the 3-ball isn't always the best fit. He's one of the best rim-running bigs in the league, but his free-throw shooting makes him a target late in close games. He doesn't have a lot of versatility on offense, but he makes up for it with his intensity and defense. If some of the shooting ability on this Rockets roster can rub off on Capela just a tiny bit, the next step for him could be an All-Star appearance. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
Steven Adams Oklahoma City Thunder C
Perhaps no player is in for as big of a statistical increase this season than Adams is in the rebounding department now that he doesn't have to fight his point guard for them. But in all seriousness, Adams is just the definition of a solid player. He's big and strong, does all the dirty work and will show up every night ready to play. -- Jack Maloney
John Collins Atlanta Hawks PF
John Collins is at once a curiosity and a proven commodity. Anyone who watched the Hawks in the second half of last season knows that he is a perfect pick-and-roll partner for Trae Young, a fantastic rebounder and an increasingly accurate shooter. It is completely unclear, though, where his game will go from here. Collins has the tools to be a disruptive defender, but sometimes bigs need years to learn how to read the game on defense, if they ever do at all. He also wants to do everything on offense, and the Hawks should let him stretch his wings. -- James Herbert
Gary Harris Denver Nuggets SG
Three-and-D players are a precious commodity, but even rarer are those capable of performing both roles while also providing meaningful ball-handling. Harris may have shot 38.7 percent from behind the arc over the past three seasons and he may be a strong defender, but he is not Danny Green. Prior to Jamal Murray's emergence, Harris served as the Nuggets' primary perimeter scorer, and now that the two are both healthy and comfortable sharing the ball, Denver's offense should be more dangerous than ever. -- Sam Quinn
Andre Drummond Detroit Pistons C
Drummond can be a tricky player to place on these sorts of lists because he puts up monster numbers but isn't always the most impactful in terms of winning. He was excellent down the stretch last season, though, and at the very least is a big, athletic presence inside and an elite rebounder. He's valuable, even if he isn't a star. -- Jack Maloney
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Caris LeVert Brooklyn Nets SG
On this list, you will not find a player ranked lower who was clearly their team's best player in the 2019 playoffs. And, based on how Caris LeVert played during the Nets' first-round series and before his early-season leg injury, we have underrated him. Now he just needs to make that level of play normal, and perhaps make some strides with his shooting. Can he continue his rise as the No. 2 guy next to Irving? The answer to that question is important, particularly because he'll be the No. 3 guy when Durant comes back. -- James Herbert
Malcolm Brogdon Indiana Pacers PG
From a second-round pick to $85 million dollar man in just three seasons. The Bucks' decision not to match that deal will be discussed for years to come, but the Pacers certainly aren't complaining. Brogdon isn't ever going to be a star, but he's smart, a versatile defender and joined the 50/40/90 club last season; he can play. -- Jack Maloney
Josh Richardson Philadelphia 76ers SG
Richardson is an excellent -- perhaps slightly underrated -- two-way player that is able to play lockdown perimeter defense on one end, while also providing reliable floor-spacing on the other. He should benefit big time from playing off of dominant paint players like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Buddy Hield Sacramento Kings SG
Hield has steadily improved since entering the NBA in 2016, and there's no reason to think that the improvement won't continue. Hield is a gifted floor-spacer who has shot nearly 42 percent from long range over the course of his career. As a key piece of a young Kings team that is expected to make some noise in the West, Hield could be poised for his best season yet. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Marc Gasol Toronto Raptors C
No longer an A-list player, Marc Gasol would still rank near the top of this list if it were about guys you'd want to play with. If Kyle Lowry was the Raptors' version of Chauncey Billups, then Gasol was Rasheed Wallace, the trade-deadline acquisition that took them to the next level. Giannis Antetokounmpo said Gasol and Kawhi Leonard "made me a better player" after they swarmed him in the conference finals, and I'm not sure if Nikola Vucevic has recovered from what Gasol did to him in the first round. -- James Herbert
Joe Ingles Utah Jazz SF
Ingles no-showed in the playoffs last season, which obscured the fact that he put together yet another solid campaign for the Jazz. One of the best spot-up shooters in the league, and a crafty playmaker, he should benefit a lot from the Jazz's offseason additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. -- Jack Maloney
Zion Williamson New Orleans Pelicans SF
Zion Williamson is the only rookie on this list, and he is one of the more divisive players among our panelists. If you can't figure out exactly what he'll look like at the next level, maybe it is because there has never been anyone quite like him. I can't recall another prospect who has been compared to both Draymond Green and Vince Carter, and Williamson is much larger than both of them. It speaks to his versatility that, on a completely unfamiliar Pelicans team, he seems like the kind of player who will help make the pieces fit. -- James Herbert
Robert Covington Minnesota Timberwolves SF
After being the main piece of the return package from Philadelphia for Jimmy Butler last season, Covington played in only 22 games with the Timberwolves, so he didn't really get an opportunity to show what he is able to do. What he can do, however, is spread the floor (he's a career 36 percent 3-point shooter) and play lockdown perimeter defense (he was First-Team All-Defense two seasons ago) as one of the league's better two-way perimeter players. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Eric Gordon Houston Rockets SG
Gordon is a bucket-getter, and he's one of the main reasons why the Rockets have been so deadly on the offensive end over the past few seasons. Gordon has averaged 16 points per game for his career, and is a 37 percent shooter from long range, which makes him a perfect weapon for Mike D'Antoni's pace-and-space-based offense. Considering the fact that opposing defenses will be forced to focus a lot of their energy on the dynamic duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Gordon could be in line for a huge season in Houston. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
P.J. Tucker Houston Rockets SF
On a team that is average at best on the defensive end of the floor, Tucker is arguably the anchor that holds everyone accountable. He posted the second-highest Plus-Minus on defense for the Rockets last season, and was second in defensive win shares behind James Harden. Kevin Durant has called Tucker the best 1-on-1 defender in the league, and it's for good reason. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
NBA: New Orleans Pelicans-Media Day
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Domantas Sabonis Indiana Pacers PF
Most teams are turning power forwards into centers as the NBA gets smaller and smaller. The Pacers are going in the other direction. They are so confident in Sabonis that they plan to play him at power forward this season despite allocating 79 percent of his minutes to the center position since acquiring him two summers ago. Most big men would struggle with so much size on the floor, but Sabonis' elite passing and rebounding have become so valuable that restraining it on the bench is no longer wise regardless of who else is on his team. -- Sam Quinn
Potentially one of the more pivotal free-agent signings, Bogdanovic is one of the best shooters in the world -- 42.5 percent from 3-point range last season -- and a perfect fit in Utah. His new teammates are already raving about the shooting displays he's putting on in practice, but Bogdanovic is more than just a shooter; he's a scorer who averaged over 18 points per game last season. He can put the ball on the floor. He scores in the mid-range. As mentioned above, Bogdanovic has the size at 6-8 to be a perfectly adaptable, tough-ish defender in Utah's elite defensive scheme. With Bogdanovic, Mike Conley and Joe Ingles, the Jazz are finally going to have optimal spacing to turn Donovan Mitchell completely loose as a rim attacker, making the addition of Bogdanovic not just a great one for Utah from a pure production standpoint, but in terms of being a perfect fit, as well. -- Brad Botkin
Derrick White San Antonio Spurs PG
White has played less than 100 games in his NBA career, but he flashed a whole lot of potential during the 84 games that he has played over the past two seasons. In 2018-19, White really began to make a name for himself in San Antonio -- and across the league -- with per game averages of 9.9 points, 3.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.0 steal. Look for him to build on those numbers this season. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
Marvin Bagley III Sacramento Kings PF
The NBA is filled with small forwards who can play center, but how many centers exist that can shift down to small forward? The Kings certainly seem to believe Marvin Bagley is one of them, and while the depths of his versatility are not yet fully known, the mere fact that the question needs to be asked is telling. Bagley's combination of size and skill as a ball-handler is extremely rare even among top picks. The Kings have surrounded him with virtually every kind of front-court partner under the sun, so this season will help reveal just how unique Bagley truly is. -- Sam Quinn
Lauri Markkanen Chicago Bulls PF
Over two seasons, Markkanen has averaged 16 points and eight rebounds and has shown his range from nearly every spot on the floor. The only downside: He hasn't been able to stay healthy long enough to allow the Bulls to launch themselves back to playoff contention. He's missed 44 games in his two years in the league, but when healthy, he's undoubtedly the most talented Bulls player with the most upside. However, if he's injured frequently his impact won't be useful for Chicago. The Bulls finally have a talented young core, and Markkanen could reap the benefits the most if this team can develop together. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
Brandon Ingram New Orleans Pelicans SF
Ingram will get the chance to start his career anew with the Pelicans on a roster full of youth and athleticism. He may wear a label of "underachiever" for now, but his numbers have been very good the past two seasons and he's still just 22 years old. If he can stay healthy, he's poised for a breakout season. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Zach LaVine Chicago Bulls PG
In his first fully healthy season in Chicago, LaVine was the major reason the Bulls won most of their games -- albeit just 22 of them. He's a pure offensive talent who had 3 40-point games last season. He's outgrown the high-flying guard image that brought him so much attention from competing in the dunk contest, and is showing why he is someone the Bulls should attach themselves to long term. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
Montrezl Harrell Los Angeles Clippers PF
The consummate undersized overachiever, Harrell has become one of the best roll men in the league and a vital part of the Clippers' resurgence. He and Lou Williams form an absolutely devastating pick-and-roll combo off the bench, and they should be able to work their magic once again this season. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Lonzo Ball New Orleans Pelicans PG
All the ingredients are there for Ball to have a breakout 2019-20 campaign in New Orleans. He's going to be at the head of a pedal-to-the-metal attack with athletes and shooters around him. He won't have to play off the ball as much, where he was neutralized with the Lakers, and alongside LeBron James, as an out-of-place spotty shooter. On that note, Ball appears to have changed his shooting form this summer, bringing his release from the extreme left position to more in front of his face. It should quicken his release and allow him to shoot easier going right, which used to be a problem having to bring the ball back so far left, and thus, straight into the defender. Ball is already a big-time defender, a great passer, and his court feel and instincts have been the foundation of his game from the start. In New Orleans, with the ball in his hands, those traits will finally be able to fully shine. If he becomes a good shooter on top of that,  we're talking about a legitimate star in the making. -- Brad Botkin
Patrick Beverley Los Angeles Clippers PG
The main attraction is the defense. It seems frankly unnatural that Patrick Beverley can summon the energy that he does to pester opponents on a night-to-night basis, and this is the kind of attribute that helps teams overachieve. Do not, however, overlook the shooting. Beverley has hovered around the 40-percent mark from 3-point range for four straight seasons, which separates him from other stoppers. -- James Herbert
Mike Meredith/CBS Sports
Otto Porter Jr. Chicago Bulls SF
After being traded from the Wizards to the Bulls, Porter looked like a new man in his 15 games, averaging 17 points on 48.3 percent from the field and 48.8 from beyond the arc. It's unlikely he'll maintain that type of efficiency over the course of a whole season, but any production from him will help Chicago. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
Justise Winslow Miami Heat SF
Winslow has a chance to make this ranking look way too low by season's end. He says he wants to play point guard, but everyone from Pat RIley to Erik Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler have made it clear that the Heat, like pretty much every team in the modern NBA, will play a positionless brand of basketball. Winslow's value lies in his versatility and strength on both ends. He's proven he can make plays off the bounce when called up, as he was last season when Goran Dragic was out for an extended time, and we know Winslow can defend at an elite level. -- Brad Botkin
Derrick Favors New Orleans Pelicans PF
Consistency is what you're going to get when it comes to Derrick Favors. He holds career averages of 11 points and seven rebounds per game, and you can expect that type of production every time he suits up, in addition to some solid interior defense. He's not flashy, but he gets the job done. In his new home of New Orleans, Favors will get to continue his consistent career while providing some veteran leadership for a young, and promising, Pelicans team. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain
JJ Redick New Orleans Pelicans SG
Long known as one of the best 3-point shooters and floor-spacers in the NBA, Redick averaged a career-high 18.1 points per game last season with the 76ers as a 34-year-old. His off-ball movement and dribble hand-offs ignited easy offense during his time with the Clippers and Sixers, and he should have a similar role with the Pelicans this season. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Julius Randle New York Knicks C
The Pelicans were extremely prepared to land Zion Williamson in the NBA Draft because they employed his closest offensive facsimile last season. To call Randle a point-forward would be inaccurate. He's more like a point-tank, a bowling ball who is nearly unstoppable barreling toward the basket that somehow still has the skill to post over three assists per game. Randle, now with the Knicks, has yet to find a team willing and able to invest in his development, but when he does, watch out. You won't find many big men scarier with the ball in their hands than Randle. -- Sam Quinn
Deandre Ayton Phoenix Suns C
Overshadowed by tremendous first-year performances from Luka Doncic and Trae Young, Ayton became the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 16 points and 10 rebounds while shooting over 58 percent from the floor. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick should continue to improve on both ends for a Suns team looking to take a step in a positive direction. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Thaddeus Young Chicago Bulls SF
One of the reasons the Bulls will be far better than they were last season is because of the signing of Young. He'll provide much-needed veteran leadership to an incredibly young core, and his defensive intensity will hopefully inspire others to bring it on that end of the floor as well. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
Fred VanVleet Toronto Raptors PG
A vital part of the Raptors' run, Fred VanVleet plays with the moxie you'd expect from an undrafted 6-foot point guard. He can play on or off the ball and is unafraid to take deep 3s. His defense is unbelievable for someone his size. Regardless of whether or not he starts next to Lowry or serves as Toronto's sixth man, this season will be about proving that he is qualified to run a team going forward. -- James Herbert
Harrison Barnes Sacramento Kings SF
To be honest, this ranking is a bit too low for Barnes. There are times when he drives into three defenders without kicking to the open guy on the 3-point line, and he sometimes disappears in games. However, he's the type of guy anyone would want in their locker room. He might not be as valuable as he was during the early days of the Warriors dynasty, but he'll still give you 15 points a night and lockdown defense. -- Jasmyn Wimbish
Danny Green Los Angeles Lakers SF
The Los Angeles Lakers so needed a player like this. Danny Green is a classic 3-and-D guy, and he is on the list because of the way he will stabilize lineups next to LeBron and A.D., especially during the regular season. He is not higher on the list because, in the playoffs, he did not have the same kind of impact. -- James Herbert
Jarrett Allen
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Spencer Dinwiddie Brooklyn Nets PG
Dinwiddie's evolution into one of the NBA's best bench scorers has been one of the unlikeliest stories of the past few years. A man who never took 10 shots per game in three years in college launched 12.2 per game last season. He made only 45.9 percent of his shot attempts within three feet of the rim as a rookie. He had a higher field goal percentage on such shots last season than James Harden. His growth has been nothing short of astounding, and while his opportunities may be limited on a star-studded Nets team moving forward, betting against Dinwiddie at this point just seems foolish. -- Sam Quinn
Goran Dragic Miami Heat PG
With the acquisition of Jimmy Butler and all of Justise Winslow's talk about wanting to play point guard, Dragic -- you know, the Heat's incumbent starting point guard -- feels like something of a forgotten man in Miami. Dragic isn't quite the player he used to be, but he's still solid, and Erik Spoelstra made it clear at Miami's media day that Dragic will have the ball in his hands plenty. He's still a crafty playmaker in the pick-and-roll and off dribble handoffs, he can shoot the 3 and he's gritty defensively. Not counting last season, when he only played 36 games due to injury, Dragic scored over 20 and 17 points per game in his last two full campaigns. -- Brad Botkin
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Oklahoma City Thunder PG
How many point guards are ever described as a jack of all trades? Gilgeous-Alexander may not have an elite skill, but he does just about everything on the basketball court at a high level. His 6-6 frame makes him a ferocious defender and rebounder for his position, and his shot is already better than most expected it would ever be. Once his playmaking catches up to the rest of his game, Gilgeous-Alexander has a chance to be one of the best point guards in basketball. -- Sam Quinn
Jonas Valanciunas Memphis Grizzlies C
Valanciunas fell into a timeshare situation with Serge Ibaka in Toronto, but he proved he's still a legitimate starting center by averaging 20 points, nearly 11 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 19 games with Memphis to end last season. He was rewarded with a three-year contract from the Grizzlies, who will look to him as a veteran leader on a rebuilding team. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Jerami Grant Denver Nuggets SF
After a breakout season with the Thunder, Grant was traded to the Nuggets where he will join a team with championship hopes. He shot nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line last season while providing defensive length and versatility. Grant should be an excellent piece for a stacked Denver squad. -- Colin Ward-Henninger
Jonathan Isaac Orlando Magic PF
Isaac possesses one of the higher variances in the league this season; he could either be a pretty decent, but kind of out-of-place player in Orlando with unrealized defensive potential and no definitive offensive value, or he could break out as a capable 3-point shooter who finds his niche offensively and absolutely dominates defensively. He should do the latter. He was built in the modern-NBA-defender lab -- long, athletic, instinctive and smart, and word is he's put on substantial bulk this summer. Isaac can be the best player on the Magic. He has that kind of ability. -- Brad Botkin
Serge Ibaka Toronto Raptors PF
Ibaka had a bit of a bounce-back season and was instrumental in the Raptors capturing their first title in franchise history. His shot completely abandoned him last season, which is a bit concerning if that trend continues, but he's still a versatile, athletic big, and that's valuable in today's NBA. -- Jack Maloney
Bam Adebayo Miami Heat C
Adebayo gets his shot as the clear-cut No. 1 center now that Hassan Whiteside is in Portland, and if he continues to build on what he's shown in flashes through his first two seasons, he could be one of this year's breakout players. Adebayo can be a defensive monster, both at the rim and as a 6-10 super athlete who can switch onto the perimeter and legitimately defend some of the best 1-on-1 scorers in the game. Offensively, his game is coming around. He's an athletic roller and a developing post player. He can face up. And he wants to be great. People with the Heat rave about his work ethic. You combine that kind of gym-rat mentality with the kind of natural gifts Adebayo has, and you've got a good chance of a really good player emerging. -- Brad Botkin
Joe Harris Brooklyn Nets SG
Harris shot 47.4 percent from behind the arc last season. That is what he brings to the table. His entire skill set can be boiled down to that one number, but it is such an impressive one that he is a worthy inclusion on this list. Harris might not have been the driver of Brooklyn's surprisingly effective offense, but he was arguably its engine. The Nets scored 109.6 points per 100 possessions with Harris on the floor last season, a team-high among those who played at least 30 minutes all of last season. When he sat? That number declined to 105.3. As long as Harris can shoot like that, he will belong on this list. -- Sam Quinn
Jarrett Allen Brooklyn Nets C
The center was supposed to be a project, but Jarrett Allen earned a starting spot three months into his career and has since established himself as one of the Nets' cornerstones, protecting the paint from a long list of opposing stars along the way. Or at least that was the story before they signed DeAndre Jordan, who will compete with the 21-year-old for a starting spot in training camp. Brooklyn is suddenly serious, but it should remain invested in Allen's upside. -- James Herbert