The top 20 NBA players heading into 2022, ranked

The top 20 NBA players heading into 2022, ranked
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LeBron James flexes and screams during a game.
LeBron James.Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
  • With 2022 underway, we ranked the top 20 NBA players heading into a new year.

  • The top six in the NBA is dominant, featuring Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.

  • Durant lands at No. 1 on our list as the game's best scorer and one of the most complete players.

Honorable mentions: DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving, Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal, Ja Morant, Karl-Anthony Towns

* All stats are rounded to the nearest whole number.

20. Rudy Gobert, C

Rudy Gobert stands with his hands on his hips during a game.
Rudy Gobert.Nick Wass/AP Images

Team: Utah Jazz

Age: 29

2021-22 stats: 15 points, 15 rebounds, 1 assist, 2. blocks, 71% FG

Where he stands right now: Gobert is putting together a career-year for a Utah team that is 18-5 over its last 21 games. He's the backbone of the Jazz, controlling the paints on defense and finishing everything in sight on offense. He leads the NBA in win shares and has the top Player Efficiency Rating on the team with the league's best scoring margin.

19. Draymond Green, F/C

Draymond Green looks up the floor while dribbling the ball.
Draymond Green.Chris Szagola/AP Images

Team: Golden State Warriors

Age: 31

2021-22 stats: 8 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 54.7% FG

Where he stands right now: Green is the ultimate case of impact vs. stats. Green doesn't light up the scoreboard, but he's as essential to the Warriors as Stephen Curry. Green's ability to defend the entire floor, then run the Warriors offense, dishing to cutters, and screening for shooters makes him arguably the most unique player in the NBA. He's a true genius on both ends of the court.

18. Trae Young, G

Trae Young bites on his mouthguard while standing with his hands on his knees.
Trae Young.John Bazemore/AP Images

Team: Atlanta Hawks

Age: 23

2021-22 stats: 28 points, 4 rebounds, 10 assists, 46% FG, 38% 3FG

Where he stands right now: In today's NBA, one of the most dangerous weapons is a speedy guard capable of hitting 3s off the dribble — that's Young's game. When defenses sell out to stop his 3s, he's capable of knifing into the lane and throwing passes at all angles to open teammates. Young proved last year that he could be the fulcrum of a contender by carrying the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals, and he's only gotten better this season.

17. Devin Booker, G

Devin Booker smiles while standing with his hands on his hips.
Devin Booker.Rick Scuteri/AP Images

Team: Phoenix Suns

Age: 25

2021-22 stats: 24 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 45% FG, 42% 3FG

Where he stands right now: Long dismissed as an empty-calories scorer, Booker has been the best scorer on one of the NBA's best teams the past two seasons. Booker's shooting a career-high from three this season, becoming more efficient on lower volume, and proving he can hold up defensively in big moments. Another deep postseason run could make him a consensus top-10 player.

16. Jimmy Butler, G/F

Jimmy Butler stands with his hands on his hips.
Jimmy Butler.Lynne Sladky/AP Images

Team: Miami Heat

Age: 32

2021-22 stats: 23 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 50% FG, 25% 3FG

Where he stands right now: A bruiser through and through, few players compete like Jimmy Butler. The 11-year veteran loves to drive the lane, bury a shoulder into his opponent and make a play. On defense, Butler scraps and reads passes like a cornerback, flying across the court to get steals. Unfortunately, durability and a bizarre disappearance of his three-pointer are concerns that hold Butler back from being a top-10 player.

15. Paul George, G/F

Paul George dribbles the ball.
Paul George.Nikki Boertman/AP Images

Team: LA Clippers

Age: 31

2021-22 stats: 25 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 42% FG, 32% 3FG

Where he stands right now: With Kawhi Leonard sidelined while recovering from a torn ACL, George has gotten to show off his chops as a leading man. He's as well-rounded a wing as there is in the league, capable of scoring, setting up teammates, and hounding opponents on defense. He's bounced back nicely from his nightmare stint in the bubble, but ultimately, George is a bit better suited as a co-star than a leading man.

14. Donovan Mitchell, G

Donovan Mitchell flexes and yells after a basket during a game.
Donovan Mitchell.Rick Bowmer/AP Images

Team: Utah Jazz

Age: 25

2021-22 stats: 26 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 46% FG, 35% 3FG

Where he stands right now: Mitchell is enjoying what many observers have called his best season to date, helped in part by sharper playmaking and a career-best 55% shooting from two. By virtue of his size, Mitchell has a harder path to becoming an elite player. Still, he's nonetheless been the most dangerous offensive player for a Jazz team that's made the playoffs five years straight and currently boasts the league's best offense. A deep postseason run could nudge him closer to the top 10.

13. Jayson Tatum, F

Jayson Tatum dribbles the ball up the floor.
Jayson Tatum.Charles Krupa/AP Images

Team: Boston Celtics

Age: 23

2021-22 stats: 26 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 42% FG, 33% 3FG

Where he stands right now: It feels like a matter of time until Tatum makes the leap into the top 10 as a dominant inside-outside scorer who feels more comfortable making plays for teammates. He's not entirely irresponsible for the Celtics' general malaise this season, as Boston has also been beating opponents with Tatum on the floor and losing when he sits. At just 23, there is still a clear, attainable jump for Tatum to make to become an MVP-caliber player.

12. Chris Paul, G

Chris Paul looks off to the side during a game.
Chris Paul.Mary Schwalm/AP Images

Team: Phoenix Suns

Age: 36

2021-22 stats: 14 points, 4 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 steals, 48% FG, 32% 3FG

Where he stands right now: Paul continues to be a winner everywhere he goes. He's leading the NBA in assists and captained Phoenix through a stretch without Booker. His scoring average is at a career-low, but he's been nails in the clutch this season, and his scoring will tick up when his three-point shooting gets closer to his career 37% average.

11. Damian Lillard, G

Damian Lillard stands with his hands on his hips and looks up.
Damian Lillard.Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Images

Team: Portland Trail Blazers

Age: 31

2021-22 stats: 24 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 40% FG, 32% 3FG

Where he stands right now: Lillard is going through his worst season as a pro while dealing with an abdominal injury and tumult in Portland. Nonetheless, few players can light up the scoreboard like Lillard, who may be second only to Stephen Curry in range and explosiveness on offense. Lillard has carried the Blazers to the playoffs eight years straight, and they'd be in even worse shape without him this season as they've been outscored by 8 points per 100 possessions when he sits.

10. Kawhi Leonard, F

Kawhi Leonard runs back during a game in March 2021.
Kawhi Leonard.Brandon Wade/AP Images

Team: LA Clippers

Age: 30

2021-22 stats: n/a

Where he stands right now: Leonard hasn't played this season after tearing his ACL in last year's playoffs. The last time we saw Leonard on the court, he closed out the Mavericks with a 45-point explosion in Game 6, then near-triple-double in Game 7 to advance to the next round. Leonard is a midrange maestro and brute on offense who's taken on a bigger playmaking burden in LA (a career-high 5.2 assists per game last season). We never know how players will return from injury, but Leonard's game isn't reliant on athleticism, and we're expecting him to return to top-10 form when he takes the floor again.

9. Anthony Davis, F/C

Anthony Davis stands with his hands on his knees during a game.
Anthony Davis.Nikki Boertman/AP Images

Team: Los Angeles Lakers

Age: 28

2021-22 stats: 23 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 52% FG, 18% 3FG

Where he stands right now: Davis hasn't quite found the level he played at in the 2020 playoffs when he helped lead the Lakers to the championship in the bubble. Though his jumper and aggressiveness have seemingly disappeared, he remains perhaps the most tantalizing talent in the NBA. Currently out with an ankle injury, Davis elevates the Lakers ceiling with his rim-patrolling defense and his versatility on offense.

8. Luka Doncic, G/F

Luka Doncic holds up his hands in celebration during a game.
Luka Doncic.LM Otero/AP Images

Team: Dallas Mavericks

Age: 22

2021-22 stats: 25 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 45% FG, 32% 3FG

Where he stands right now: With his stepback threes, crafty handles, and all-around floor vision, Doncic is an offense unto himself in a way that few others are. Conditioning and durability remain an issue for the 22-year-old, but he's still undeniably one of the league's most dominant players, capable of seizing control of a game at any moment.

7. James Harden, G

James Harden dribbles a ball up the court.
James Harden.John Bazemore/AP Images

Team: Brooklyn Nets

Age: 32

2021-22 stats: 23 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists, 42% FG, 34% 3FG

Where he stands right now: After a slow start to the season, Harden has begun to round into the form that often had him squarely in the MVP race each year. Like Doncic, Harden's ability to hit stepback threes, knife into the lane, and create for others makes him an offense unto himself. We haven't seen peak Harden for sustained periods in Brooklyn, but the Nets will reach a whole new level if he gets there.

6. Joel Embiid, C

Joel Embiid holds the ball during a game.
Joel Embiid.Matt Slocum/AP Images

Team: Philadelphia 76ers

Age: 27

2021-22 stats: 27 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 47% FG, 40% 3FG

Where he stands right now: Perhaps the best two-way big man in the NBA, Embiid does things that shouldn't be possible for a man his size. Of late, Embiid has taken over in the clutch, baffling defenses with arrays of crossovers, hesitations, and fade-away jumpers on the perimeter, carrying Philadelphia's fortunes on his shoulders. With Embiid on the court, the 5th-place 76ers outscore opponents at a rate that would make them a top-four team in the league.

5. Nikola Jokic, C

Nikola Jokic holds the ball up to make a pass.
Nikola Jokic.Kyle Phillips/AP Images

Team: Denver Nuggets

Age: 26

2021-22 stats: 25 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal, 56% FG, 35% 3FG

Where he stands right now: Jokic may be having the best individual season in the NBA. He's averaging career-highs in rebounds and effective field goal percentage while maintaining his status as the best passing big man ever (and one of the best passers in general). He's also an underrated defender, even if he's not one to shut down the paint entirely. The Nuggets' 9.5 scoring margin with Jokic on the floor would be third-best in the league if it were sustained; when he sits, their scoring margin is worse than the last-place Orlando Magic. He has a rightful claim to the No. 1 spot, though postseason success is the only thing holding him back.

4. Stephen Curry, G

Stephen Curry flexes and screams while celebrating on the court.
Stephen Curry is always up for the challenge.Tony Avelar/AP Images

Team: Golden State Warriors

Age: 33

2021-22 stats: 27 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 43% FG, 39% 3FG

Where he stands right now: Is Curry's tremendous load on offense catching up to him? The two-time MVP's shooting numbers are down this season, despite a scorching hot start to the year. Nonetheless, a cold Curry still commands defensive attention like no other player in the league. His gravity on offense makes the Warriors go, and his unselfishness is unlike any other star player in the league. The good news for Curry and the first-place Warriors is that things should get easier for him again as Klay Thompson nears his return.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, F/C

Giannis Antetokounmpo dribbles the ball.
Giannis Antetokounmpo.Jon Durr/AP Images

Team: Milwaukee Bucks

Age: 27

2021-22 stats: 28 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks, 53.7% FG, 27% 3FG

Where he stands right now: Placing the reigning Finals MVP and champion third almost feels like an insult. Antetokounmpo is perhaps the best two-way player in the NBA — a monster weakside help defender and a wrecking going downhill on offense. Maybe his jumper will never come around, but Antetokounmpo continues to find ways to get to the rim, anyway. Arguably no player plays with as much force as Antetokounmpo.

2. LeBron James, G/F/C

LeBron James stands with his hands on his hips and sticks out his tongue while looking off to the side.
LeBron James.Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP Images

Team: Los Angeles Lakers

Age: 37

2021-22 stats: 29 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 52% FG, 37% 3FG

Where he stands right now: James has been playing like he is out to prove a point. James has long been in uncharted territory, but producing like this at his age is unheard of. Sure, James (who now plays all five positions on any given night) relies on the three-pointer more and more, but he shoots it at a decent clip. And he still has plenty of bounce and quickness off the dribble, as he can regularly blow past defenders and get to the rim. He may have lost a step or two, but he remains the ultimate floor general, capable of commanding a game.

1. Kevin Durant, F

Kevin Durant holds up his arm and yells.
Kevin Durant.Adam Hunger/AP Images

Team: Brooklyn Nets

Age: 33

2021-22 stats: 30 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 51% FG, 37% 3FG

Where he stands right now: It's difficult to argue that there's a better player in basketball than Kevin Durant right now. He's leading the league while scoring the ball efficiently (yet still below his own standards) and has one of the most well-rounded games in the NBA. Durant can make any pass, rebounds the ball well, and is an underrated defender who scrambles around the court and uses his length to bother opponents. With the game on the line, is there another player you'd want taking the last shot over Durant?

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