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NBA rankings debate - Which stars are about to crash the top 10?

UniqueThis 2 Sep 25

On Wednesday, we released Nos. 30-11 in the 2019-20 edition of NBArank, predicting which players will be the best this season.

The list features plenty of up-and-coming phenoms and established All-Stars joining new teams, including Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook.

Who is most likely to crack the top 10 next season? Which newcomer is going to make the greatest impact? Who has the most to prove?

Our NBA experts answer the big questions about the results and what they mean.

More: NBArank 100-51 | 50-31 | 30-11

1. What is your biggest takeaway from the rankings?

Royce Young: After an awkward, subversive, discombobulated season in Boston, Kyrie Irving somehow moved up nine spots. NBArank is a predictive ranking, so maybe a new situation will bring the best out of Irving, but there's plenty of reason to believe not much is going to change. With Kevin Durant out for presumably the season, Irving will be tasked with leading a young locker room, and well, we've seen how that goes.

Andrew Lopez: The guard play is strong in the NBA right now. Of the 20 players between Nos. 11-30, 14 are listed as guards -- and that doesn't include Luka Doncic, who is listed at small forward. In fact, nine of the players are listed at point guard. That's going to make for some interesting choices on the All-Star ballot for voters during the season.

Tim Bontemps: The youth movement. Trae Young (No. 28), Jamal Murray (No. 27), De'Aaron Fox (No. 25), Donovan Mitchell (No. 20) and Luka Doncic (No. 16) are all on rookie deals, and they're ahead of longtime stars Chris Paul, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Horford and Draymond Green. My initial reaction to seeing that was that it appears this is a changing of the guard in the NBA.

Mike Schmitz: The diminishing value of centers. Only two of the 20 players slotted in this range could be defined as true centers, Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. While a few are certainly in the top 10, to me this is further proof that it's a game for guards and forwards now more than ever.

Bobby Marks: Kyrie at No. 11. It's hard to justify moving him up nine spots, especially after a below average postseason. Yes, his regular-season statistics jump out at you, but the ranking should take into account how much impact that player has on winning and team success, not just what appears in the box score.

2. Which newcomer ranked 30-11 will make the greatest positive impact this season?

Schmitz: Jimmy Butler. This Heat team jumps into the Eastern Conference playoff race after finishing last season 39-43. Of course, there's never a dull moment with Butler, but coach Erik Spoelstra is well equipped to handle his personality, and the 30-year-old's two-way impact and ability to shoulder the offensive load should play well with Miami's roster.

Lopez: Kemba Walker has a bit of a leg up on the other newcomers, thanks to his time with Team USA. Walker has already had a chance to play with Boston Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. Of course, the outcome probably wasn't what any of those four wanted, but it was still time spent together playing basketball. After eight seasons in Charlotte, Walker will try to make good on his four-year deal worth $140.8 million and lead the Celtics past the first round of the playoffs -- a place Walker has never been.

Marks: Despite being one the NBA's most productive point guards, Mike Conley has gone unnoticed the previous two seasons as Memphis shifted to a full-scale rebuild. That should change with his new team. The Utah Jazz feature two franchise players, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, along with a supporting cast to challenge for a top seed in the Western Conference.

Bontemps: Because of everything that has happened around Jimmy Butler the past couple of years, people forget just how good he is. A tentpole star for the Heat to -- finally -- build their team around again will make a huge difference for Erik Spoelstra this season and will give Miami a chance to be a factor in the East.

Young: Conley could completely transform the Jazz. He fits in culturally and checks a lot of boxes as a player, but his steady control of the game and ability to create on his own raise Utah's ceiling. Conley allows Donovan Mitchell to slide off the ball more and play as a slashing guard, but don't sleep on Conley's takeover talent. He's a proven playoff winner and has a history of big shots and big plays.

3. Which player ranked Nos. 30-11 is most likely to make next year's top 10?

Bontemps: I'll cheat a bit and pick two of those young guys: Luka Doncic and Donovan Mitchell. If Doncic is as committed to his fitness as some of these videos we've seen this summer suggest, he could explode this season. Mitchell, on the other hand, is on a team with a chance to make the NBA Finals next spring. If he leads the Jazz on that kind of playoff run, a top-10 spot is possible.

Schmitz: Doncic. The fact that he's ranked ahead of several All-Stars speaks to the respect he has quickly garnered. So long as he comes into the season in tip-top shape and develops a rapport with Kristaps Porzingis, there's no reason he can't crack the top 10 as a 21-year-old next season, given his size, feel for the game, versatility and potential star power.

Marks: No disrespect to the players who fall in the 11-30 range, but none. If we are going to move a player such as Doncic into the top 10, then somebody has to fall out. Barring an injury, something that we cannot predict, the only change in the top 10 should be a healthy Kevin Durant rejoining the list of All-NBA and MVP candidates.

Young: It could be the last season for a while that Doncic is outside the top 10. His ascent is fully engaged, and with the Mavs set up to win more consistently this season, Doncic will be tasked with more responsibility. But he'll also grab more attention. He can dominate games and stuff box scores, and he has flair and flash that will make him an easy top-10 player for years to come.

Lopez: I don't necessarily see the top 10 changing that much, but let's go with Doncic here. Here's the list of players to put up Doncic's stat line of 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists in a season: Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, Richie Guerin, James Harden, John Havlicek, Grant Hill, LeBron James, Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook. That's it. Only Robertson and Doncic accomplished the feat as rookies, and only Doncic pulled it off at 19 years old.

4. Which of these players has the most to prove this season?

Marks: The two newly minted max players: Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray. A $168 million contract comes with expectations (ask Andrew Wiggins). Despite the extension not kicking in until 2020-21, Simmons and Murray are faced with the tasks of getting Philadelphia and Denver to at least the conference finals after each fell short by one game last season. As it happens, neither is considered the best player on his own team; Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic hold those honors.

Lopez: Russell Westbrook. It's weird to think that a guy who averaged a triple-double each of the past three seasons has something to prove. But after a trade to Houston -- which cost the Rockets Chris Paul, two first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, and two pick swap possibilities in 2021 and 2025 -- Westbrook has to show that he was worth that haul. He has reunited with buddy James Harden, but will it be enough to get Houston over the top and into the NBA Finals?

Schmitz: Simmons. He's already an All-Star, but I'm fascinated to see whether he's able to take his game to the next level, particularly in the postseason. Will his perimeter shooting/half-court scoring against a set defense improve? I love the additions of Josh Richardson and Al Horford, who will help space the floor for Simmons. That said, whether he makes a leap this season is a storyline I'm watching most closely, as he's one of the truly unique players in the NBA.

Young: Westbrook isn't a top-10 player anymore, apparently. This is not necessarily a disagreement, but not giving him the label of "top 10" feels a bit jarring, especially considering he's riding a three-season streak of averaging a triple-double. Westbrook had a "down" year last season in the way only he can -- massively productive across the board but with bad shooting and low efficiency. So in a new situation with the Rockets and with age becoming a looming threat, he'll have some motivation this season. As if he needs any more.

Bontemps: Irving and Westbrook. The two star point guards both famously changed teams this summer. For Irving, signing with Brooklyn will give him a chance to show that what happened in Boston last season wasn't his doing. For Westbrook, being traded to Houston and again playing alongside Harden will allow him to prove either that he can adjust his game to fit around others or that he never will do it.

5. What is your bold prediction involving one or more of the players ranked here?

Bontemps: Pascal Siakam will make an All-NBA team this season. Siakam had a terrific season in helping the Raptors win their first NBA title. But with Kawhi Leonard now in L.A., Siakam is going to get every chance to build on what he did last season. If he helps keep the Raptors in the top four in the East, I think he'll be rewarded for it.

Young: Two players will finish in the top five of MVP voting: Donovan Mitchell and Kemba Walker. After not living up to sky-high expectations last season, Mitchell is poised for a leap year. The Jazz will be good, the team around him is stacked, and Mitchell could be a 25-point scorer on a 55-win team. That's a pretty simple formula. Walker will have narrative backing; if the Celtics are reformed and a stable winner this season, he'll be a trendy pick.

Marks: That we'll see Devin Booker selected to play in the All-Star Game. Because of how poorly Phoenix has played since his arrival, we forget how good Booker has been. Yes, his defense is a work in progress, but with a new coach in Monty Williams and finally some stability at point guard in Ricky Rubio, Phoenix should start winning more games and allow Booker to get the recognition he deserves.

Schmitz: Pascal Siakam will be an All-Star next season.

Lopez: I'm going to go really bold with this one: Ben Simmons makes a 3-pointer this season. It's easy to get caught up in the offseason hype of trainer videos, but this has to be the year that Simmons makes a 3-pointer. Right?

More: NBArank 100-51 | 50-31 | 30-11