Nass’ Top 5 NBA Players by Position
*arranged by primarily played position in career
|Steph Curry||Devin Booker||Kevin Durant||Giannis Antetokounmpo||Nikola Jokic|
|Luka Doncic||James Harden||Kawhi Leonard||Anthony Davis||Joel Embiid|
|Ja Morant||Bradley Beal||LeBron James||Zion Williamson||Karl Anthony Towns|
|Kyrie Irving||Jaylen Brown||Jayson Tatum||Pascal Siakam||Bam Adebayo|
|Damian Lillard||Donovan Mitchell||Paul George||Draymond Green||Rudy Gobert|
Leaders of the PG Golden Era
Ranking Dame fifth over guys like Darius Garland, Trae Young, and CP3 wasn’t as easy but Dame at his very peak has a couple of first-team All-NBAs to his name, and the last time we saw Dame 100% healthy was in the 2021 Eastern Conference first-round vs Denver Nuggets. Posting 34 points and 10 assists on 46/44/94 in six games. If we’re getting any similar form of that Damian Lillard we saw that spring he’ll still be heavily discussed in Best PG in the NBA conversations. We saw many flashes last night in his 41-point effort vs the Phoenix Suns. Despite an underwhelming series vs Miami last year Trae a year prior was 28 a night in the playoffs and made the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the eventual Champion Bucks. Garland is poised for a monster year with Mitchell by his side as this Cavs supporting cast is as deep as it’s ever been. The position has caught up to the generation of the current new wave of guys like Garland, Trae, Luka, Ja, Shai, Fox, and LaMelo have all ascended and transcended the position as a whole.
Ranking the best two guards in the league ultimately comes down to who you’d rather prefer or what’s in your criteria to be considered the best at the position. With most of these discussions, it comes down to really a healthy weighing of ability, overall impact to team success, and the heaviest component of them all; postseason production/success. Booker-Harden is the common 1-2 to start off at the position. The most difficult segment of the exercise was figuring out where to place the following of Donovan Mitchell, Jaylen Brown, Zach Lavine, Demar Derozan, and Bradley Beal for the last three spots. Beal’s locked in at the third slot because I can’t fail to acknowledge how polished and deadly of a 3-level scorer he is when he’s 100%. Since 2018-19 he’s 27.5/4.7/5.5 on 47/34/85 and he was 30 a game in the first round vs the 76ers back in 2021. For a player that possesses a lot of the same skills as other elite scorers in the league Beal isn’t a ball stopper and doesn’t overly rely on isolation perimeter jumpers to expose opposing defenders. He can play on/off the ball, catch and fire off pin-downs, initiate pick and roll, slash back door, shoot in transition, and score out of the triple threat. The whole nine. One of the rare offensively complete guards in the association. Next, Jaylen Brown simply has to be taken more seriously in these types of conversations.
The leading scorer in the NBA Finals for the Boston Celtics, Brown was snubbed from a second All-Star nod last season. After a slow start due to COVID/Hamstring issues, Brown finished the season very strong averaging a quiet 23.6/6.1/3.5 in 66 games and maintaining nearly the identical stat line in the playoffs. The former Cal Bear was a major catalyst in the sweeping of the Brooklyn Nets and the series wins vs the Bucks and Heat in further rounds. As great as superstar Jayson Tatum is this early in his career without Brown their NBA Finals aspirations are compromised.
Donovan Mitchell for his career averages 28 points in the NBA playoffs (39 career games). He’s gone eye for eye with some of the best NBA players in the world and isn’t shy of any big moment or shot. His numbers slightly regressed last year but the entire Utah Jazz roster was inconsistent and overly depended on Mitchell to generate offense. The downfall of the Utah Jazz/Donovan Mitchell partnership only accelerated when Joe Ingles, the team’s lead wing and secondary defender/ball handler tore his ACL last January. Some think Mitchell’s looming questionable future in Utah may have played into his commitment and his up-and-down playoff production last season but it simply wasn’t enough to not recognize him as one of the premier twos in the world. Ultimately it was postseason success that tipped the seesaw over guys like Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan in the end. LaVine was dealing with knee issues last year and even with his eye-popping shooting efficiencies, until we see it in the postseason I’m forced to give the slight edge to the first five named. DeRozan is really the one player you sympathize for here because of the outstanding 2021-22 season he had carrying that Chicago Bulls team to the postseason and even posing as a serious MVP threat and making All-NBA. May not be quite fair to hold the lack of postseason success to a guy that majority played in the same conference as LeBron James. But like I mentioned previously if we were talking flat-out just ability then we’re really splitting hairs.
But situations do matter, roles matter, experience matters, context matters, and more than anything production. But the only way to challenge your mind throughout the process of these types of exercises and common debates is to weigh all factors without taking away from what the player can’t control. A potential outbreak year from the New Orleans Pelicans would certainly enhance CJ McCollum’s stock but even though he’s passed the eye test for years, the necessary volume is what has kept him further down the ladder but as the lead ball handler for a loaded young Pelicans who knows what will come with his name next time we revisit this discussion. There’s no way I can really talk about the shooting guard position and not mention Klay Thompson. The future Hall of Famer and four-time champion did return after back-to-back gruesome lower extremity injuries and even though was quite impressive and showed vast flashes of the Klay of old but I’d love to wait to see him in year two removed from the long rehab recovery process and see what he looks like maybe after 30-40 games with fresher and seasoned legs. I didn’t think it was fair to include him in the discussion due to the fact this is his first off-season where he’s healthy and working out and not rehabbing. Once Klay returns to peak form he’ll be right back in the thick of this discussion.
As of right now, it’s even more splitting hairs than the shooting guard but the best small forward in the NBA is Kevin Durant. The iconic seven-game series vs the Bucks in the 2021 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals was one for the ages. Whenever we mention Durant’s name the first thought that comes to our mind is adoring and glamourizing his ability to score the basketball at will from anywhere on the hardwood. But not just the production alone but the ease of how he pours in these relentless buckets. The four-time NBA scoring champion. Yes, one of if not the greatest NBA scorers to ever play. That’s inevitable. But it wasn’t just what Durant did in that specific series that separated himself from the pack but to who and what stakes were at hand just made the performance that more memorable. A battle versus to who many consider the best player in the game right now in Giannis Antetokounmpo but also dealing with a constant nagging Jrue Holiday, and a determined Khris Middleton was enough for him to earn my respect as not just an all-time scorer but an all-time player. Durant then follows that season up by winning his third Olympic Gold medal in Tokyo then proceeding to average 29.9/7.4/6.4 the following season with a part-time Kyrie Irving and healing James Harden.
At some point, the production and eye test are too overwhelming to put anyone else at the number one spot. I just believe this current version of Kevin Durant that we’ve seen over the past two seasons is just a slightly higher level than the rest at the small forward position. Even after being swept in shocking fashion vs the Boston Celtics in which Durant was held to 38% shooting from the field. But given the numerous injuries throughout the season and numerous lineups being utilized, there wasn’t any form of continuity for the Brooklyn Nets last season, and even then when they seemed to have some sort of identity; it was because of the two-time Finals MVP. It was January when Durant suffered an MCL strain in his left knee at the time the Brooklyn Nets were first in the East and Durant was leading the league in scoring. A disappointing exit that only humbled a team led by Durant but still can’t imagine a better small forward in the association when Slim Reaper is 100% right and available.
The only two players that may have had a shot at the top spot besides Durant were LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. LeBron James has been undeniably the best three in the world pretty much his whole career and he by every means might still be to a lot of people. Don’t get me wrong 30/8.2/6.2 at 37 years old is nothing to slouch about but even though Lebron did whatever he could in the 2021 1st round series vs the Phoenix Suns, it proved nonetheless that LeBron in his mid-30s might just be human. He needs help. The same 6’8 specimen we used to drool over and over may not be able to carry the burden of inferior talented teams to deep playoff heights like we’ve gotten accustomed to throughout his illustrious career. For better or for worse the current roster outlook whether you want to pin the Los Angeles Lakers struggles on him or the roster personnel their future remains cloudy for now and just like other times in his career sadly it comes at Lebron’s expense. Lebron is a top-two player to ever play basketball.
Being able to start for an NBA team at 37 years old is a blessing on its own. The numbers may be as monstrous as they were when he was 25 but the mileage isn’t. It’s up to Anthony Davis and maybe Russell Westbrook to help him in that department but with only 22 games together under their belt who knows what the final product of their trio is? Maybe after some distinguished roles and growth on the court together and a potential playoff berth, LeBron can reclaim his top spot. Kawhi Leonard on the other hand whose ACL tear in the 2021 Western Conference Semi-Finals series vs the Utah Jazz is probably the only reason KD has an edge on him is locked at two. His defense against Luka Doncic in that 2021 1st round reminded us why he made the NBA Top 75 anniversary team. Just like Durant, Kawhi has been suffering from the injury bug and has only played in 109 games since signing in Los Angeles in the summer of 2019. Kawhi, when right, is still the best two-way forward in the league.
Paul George shushed a lot of his doubters in the 2021 playoffs where his efforts to beat the Dallas Mavericks, and Utah Jazz, and then led the Kawhi-less Clippers to a hard-fought six-game series in the Western Conference Finals vs the Phoenix Suns. PG himself has been under the scope since joining the Clippers and only participated in 31 games last season as a UCL injury in his right elbow Last year Jayson Tatum cemented himself as a superstar level after making his first All-NBA first team and helping lead the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals. During that run, Tatum accepted the challenge as the primary on-ball defender vs some of the NBA’s best in Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jimmy Butler. Throughout the playoffs, last season (24 games) Tatum averaged 25.6/6.7/6.2 on 42/39/80, and George in the 2021 Playoffs (19 games) posted 26.9/9.6/5.4 on 44/33/84. Similar lines but I believe at this current point of Jayson Tatum’s career I think because of his age, durability, and already vast playoff experience I’d have him at four and then PG rounding out the five. Whenever you have a notable playoff run like Tatum’s, especially at an early superstar stage you have to take them more seriously. Tatum sure passed the test and anyone would be lying to you if they said the small forward crown isn’t his for the taking.
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