I will be the first to say that lists and rankings oftentimes suck. They do! The NBA is in off-season mode right now and if you scroll through Twitter for 10 minutes, you’ll see ‘Rank this!’ and ‘One gotta go!’ and quite frankly, it’s exhausting. I, for one, cannot wait until the season starts so I can get back to discussing real on-court stuff.
But I do think lists can sometimes be fun. And when you get the right basketball minds to help you curate a master list of sorts, as I’ve tried to do here by collaborating with 25 hoops junkies like myself, the lists can be a litmus test for how players are perceived with respect to their peers.
This list is meant to be a sort of temperature check on the top-end talent of the league. I asked the 25 participants to simply send me their list of 50 players and with the spill-over, we’ve ended up with a list of 75.
There were no rules or parameters, the voters simply had to use their own judgment and criteria to determine who are the 50 best players in basketball today. I went ahead and calculated the average rankings for each player, and tiered them into fitting, fun categories.
Thank you to Katie Heindl, Keerthika Uthayakumar, Vinay K, JDub, Jabari Ali Davis, Mat Issa, Bryce Simon, Amit Mann, Jack Kelly, Oren Weisfeld, Alex Hoops, Will Gottlieb, Ryan Blackburn, Mike Shearer, Joe Hulbert, Mac Cunningham, Trevon Heath, Hoop Venue, Hoop Goose, Joe Viray, Baker Fresh, Chucking Darts, Josh Eberley, Curly, and Mathketball for sending lists.
Note: The lowest a player could have possibly been ranked was 51. That’s why the average scores of every player outside of the top 50 are so close.
Tier 1: A Cut-Above The Rest
As I went through this process, it seemed as though these seven players just continuously ended up bunched up together. Safe for a few people who were lower on Tatum, Durant, and Doncic, the majority of lists I received had all of these players in the top 7. These are the megastars in their primes or in the cases of Durant and Curry, the megastars who refuse to leave their primes. Have one of these players on your team? Well, the hardest part of roster-building is over.
Fun Fact: Not one single voter gave Jokic a second-place vote. He is the undisputed king of the NBA coming off of his first title.
Tier 2: Oldies But Greaties
Not one player in this tier is younger than 30 years old. Davis, the youngest of the bunch at 30, probably got knocked down a few pegs because of his injury history. In fact, injuries have played a crucial role in the last few seasons for all of these aging stars. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t respected. All of these guys are still megastars, worthy of lifting any team up to championship-contending statuses, like the tier above, but because of age-related questions aren’t the cream of the crop anymore.
Fun Fact: 11 of the 25 voters had LeBron James outside of the top 10, which has to mark the first time in 20 years anyone has sat down to make a list of the top players in the NBA and not included LeBron near the top. Still, entering Year 21 of pro basketball, a feat only 6 players in history have achieved before him, is no joke. And LeBron is definitely the best of that bunch.
Tier 3: Young & Knocking On the Door
Oh how it feels to be in your early 20s, so full of youth and exuberance, ignorant of the challenges that lie ahead of you. While Mitchell and Booker are the oldest of this bunch at 26, I refuse to believe they’re actually old, even in NBA terms. All 5 of these players are entering their primes and all 5 can end up leap-frogging their way to the top 10 at some point in time in their careers. Every single one of them has shown the potential of being an MVP candidate. It’s just about consistently doing it. That is the difference between them and the tiers above.
Fun Fact: Anthony Edwards would have most likely ended up in this bunch as well, if not for a few skeptical voters who ranked him in the 40s, drastically dropping his average score. He’ll end up here soon enough.
Tier 4: Polarizing Stars, Knocking On the Door
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Multi-time All-Stars and All-NBA players, an MVP and a few past MVP candidates, and at the very top of the list, a player who has no All-Star or All-NBA appearances whatsoever. Jamal Murray’s meteoric rise up these rankings is thanks, in large part, to the Finals run his Denver Nuggets just went on. Maybe this is what was required to kickstart his career and allow earn him some individual accolades. Outside of Murray, this tier has tons of talent but not one voter could agree on where these players ranked. It all comes down to what voters prioritized. Just at a quick glance, most of these players have some sort of limitation to their game: lack of shooting, poor defense, inconsistency either offensively or defensively, etc. But it’s clear that this group of players is simply too good to ignore, inherent flaws be damned.
Fun Fact: Tyrese Haliburton seems to be a player everyone is split on. It seems as though some voters really believed in his breakout year with Indiana and some are playing the ‘wait and see’ game.
Tier 5: Polarizing All-Stars
These 5 players feel like they deserve to be in the tier above, but for some reason, voters were a tad bit lower on them as a collective. Markkanen might be suffering from the same thing Haliburton was with the group above — with voters skeptical if his leap was real and true. For Ingram and Towns, it’s probably the lengthy injuries last season that dropped them down a peg. As for Brunson and Garland, playoff recency bias is probably helping and hurting their cases, respectfully with Brunson dominating in round 1 versus the Cavaliers compared to Garland who struggled in his first-ever postseason series.
Fun Fact: 1 voter left Garland off their list, and another voter left off Ingram. One voter specified to me that Towns was left off due to his injury last season. 3 voters left Brunson off their lists, leaving Markkanen as the sole player in this tier that was universally declared a top 50 player. Pretty cool turnaround to his career.
Tier 6: The Oft-Forgots
The players in this tier just seem to never get the love they deserve. Perhaps, it’s their styles and skills that aren’t as eye-popping as the rest of the players in the tiers above. Holiday and Green are two All-defense specialists and that side of the floor never seems to get the shine it needs. And Beal, DeRozan, and Middleton make their bread off of a consistent diet of mid-range shots. An art form in its own right that goes under-appreciated. Perhaps LaVine is the name that sticks out here the most. Another polarizing player to voters who couldn’t seem to agree on where he lands. But these things change quickly. An All-Star appearance or maybe an All-NBA season should help him jump back up to a more-deserving tier.
Fun Fact: Bradley Beal still has some Beal-lievers! He’s the only player in this bunch to receive a top-20 vote. That same voter had Durant and Booker in their top 20 as well which, at least in one voter’s eyes, would make the Phoenix Suns the only team with 3 top 20 players.
Tier 7: Promising Stars With Questions
Most voters were extremely consistent on Mikal Bridges and Desmond Bane, with both players receiving the bulk of their votes in the 40-45 range. The opposite can be said for LaMelo Ball and Evan Mobley, who voters were extremely indecisive on. Regardless, all 4 players are young, and show a ton of promise and upside to become All-Stars and All-NBA players one day but have lingering questions surrounding their game. Will Bridges and Bane be able to manage the load required to become consistent scoring threats for their respective teams at a higher usage? Will LaMelo be able to use his size and length to one -day become a good defender? Can Mobley do the same offensively? Lingering questions but undeniable talent is what this tier is.
Fun Fact: 95% of the votes for Bane and Bridges landed from spots 38-44. People seem to be dead-set on where those guys are as players.
Tier 8: Still Kickin’ (Butt)
This group has All-Star selections to their name but not a litany of them. It’s funny because it seems as though all of these players are heavily criticized for the weaknesses of their game. All of them have a few one-dimensional aspects as well. Gobert and Porzingis aren’t the most versatile bigs. Randle and Murray are inconsistent shooters. And VanVleet’s size makes him a very jump-shot-reliant offensive player. But clearly, all of these players are too good to be left out, according to voters.
Fun Fact: No 1st or 2nd-year players ended up in the top 50. The rest of the list is littered with them. That means there are a lot of players knocking on the door to get in the top 50. There’s so much talent in the league, so much of it is young. It’s an exciting time to be a basketball fan.
Tier 9: The Rest Of The Best
- Brook Lopez (47.73)
- Tyrese Maxey (48.39)
- Andrew Wiggins (48.56)
- Aaron Gordon (48.65)
- OG Anunoby (49.21)
- Chris Paul (49.30)
- Jarrett Allen (49.60)
- Paolo Banchero (49.913)
- Franz Wagner (49.914)
- Cade Cunningham (50.3)
- CJ McCollum (50.3)
- Nic Claxton (50.43)
- Russell Westbrook (50.45)
- Devin Vassell (50.46)
- DeAndre Ayton (50.48)
- Josh Giddey (50.52)
- Victor Wembanyama (50.53)
- Marcus Smart (50.54)
- Derrick White (50.6)
- Jalen Williams (50.61)
- Jalen Green (50.69)
- Myles Turner (50.73)
- Tyler Herro (50.78)
- Scottie Barnes (50.8)
- Anfernee Simons (50.81)
Other players who received votes: Jerami Grant, Kyle Kuzma, Austin Reaves,