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Ranking the NBA's best players - Giannis and Kawhi at the very top

UniqueThis 2 Sep 27
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Stephen A.: LeBron is still the best player in the world (1:41)

Stephen A. Smith still sees LeBron James as the best player in the world despite not making the playoffs last season and the rise of Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. (1:41)

For the ninth season in a row, ESPN.com is predicting the top players in basketball with NBArank.

Who will be the best player this season? To get the final prediction, we asked our expert panel to vote on pairs of players.

LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard. Zion Williamson vs. Luka Doncic. Devin Booker vs. D'Angelo Russell.

We asked, "Which player will be better in 2019-20?" To decide, voters had to consider both the quality and the quantity of each player's contributions to his team's ability to win games in the regular season and postseason.

Here are Nos. 10 to 1.

Disagree with the rankings? Vote on your own top five here.

More: 100-51 | 50-31 | 30-11 | No. 1 player debate

NBArank: 10 to 1

10. Paul George

One big question: How healthy is he? After George required surgeries to repair both shoulders, the Clippers will surely take things slow with him, which could delay how quickly he and Kawhi Leonard become comfortable and adjust to playing with one another. After averaging career highs of 28 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game in 2018-19, George will have to get healthy again while learning what his role will be like with Leonard. -- Ohm Youngmisuk

9. Damian Lillard

One big question: From the moment he entered the league as a mystery guest from Weber State, Lillard established himself as a fearless, durable floor general with an uncommon stage presence. His big-game shot-making rivals any of his contemporaries, and he's a first-rate culture-setter who quietly agreed to a supermax extension over the summer that will keep him in Portland well into his 30s. Lillard has publicly stated that he's uninterested in building a superteam or serving as a recruiter in a league where such machinations are bigger than the game itself. Yet Lillard's independence poses a challenge: Without the concentration of star power present on the rosters of most NBA contenders, how far can Lillard lift the Trail Blazers in an unforgiving Western Conference? -- Kevin Arnovitz

8. Joel Embiid

One big question: Will Embiid hold up for a deep postseason run? A year removed from jumping 23 spots up to No. 9, Embiid receives a slight bump despite an improvement across the board statistically. Playing a career high 34.3 MPG, Embiid dominated when he was on the court, averaging 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds in 64 games. Battling an illness last spring and having his fitness questioned, Embiid saw his production on both ends of the court decrease in the playoffs, eventually leading to the 76ers falling in the second round. -- Bobby Marks

7. Nikola Jokic

One big question: Can Jokic make the leap from the superstar to MVP tier? Jokic has finished in the top 10 in real plus-minus (RPM) in every season of his career. He makes his teammates better, utilizing excellent court vision and touch to run the Nuggets' offense from the high post. But for the Nuggets to contend this season, Jokic has to take a more aggressive mindset and raise his game that final level. His ability to do so will determine whether the Nuggets have a legitimate shot at the crown. -- André Snellings

6. Stephen Curry

One big question: Just how good can Steph be without Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson (at least for most of the year)? All eyes will be on the former MVP to see how far he can carry the Warriors without as much star power by his side. It will be interesting to see how Steve Kerr manages his star guard's minutes in the beginning of another long season. Curry and the Warriors know it will be a challenge, but they seem energized by the opportunity. -- Nick Friedell

5. Anthony Davis

One big question: Is he built for May and June basketball? We don't know because we've never seen it. There's no question that Davis is one of the best big men in the game, but it's fair to ask if he's ready to help LeBron James get back to the NBA Finals. Think about it this way: Since Davis entered the league in 2012-13, he's made it to the playoffs only twice -- and past the first round of the playoffs once. In that same time frame, James has missed the Finals only once. -- Kirk Goldsberry

4. James Harden

One big question: Can Harden be the best player in the world when it matters most? Yes, there will be a regular-season spotlight on how Harden and old buddy Russell Westbrook mesh. But Harden is at the point where he can't really prove anything until late spring. It's way too harsh to label Harden a playoff choker (postseason averages of 28.2 points and 7.0 assists as a Rocket), but the only way he can hush critics is to carry Houston to a title. -- Tim MacMahon

3. LeBron James

  • Los Angeles Lakers | SF

  • Previous rank: 1

  • Projected RPM wins: 11.3

This is the first time since the debut of NBArank before the 2011-12 season that LeBron isn't No. 1. What should we expect from James this season? Our NBA experts dive into that question here.

One big question: How long can he keep it up? Though James' averages of 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists while playing a career-low 35.2 minutes per game last season suggest he is still in dominant form, his VORP (value over replacement player) and PER (player efficiency rating) were both the lowest they've been since his rookie season. If James keeps defying Father Time with some younger talent in Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma to help share the load, L.A. should be a force. If he can't, then the Lakers could have real challenges. -- Dave McMenamin

2. Kawhi Leonard

  • LA Clippers | SF

  • Previous rank: 8

  • Projected RPM wins: 6.5

One big question: How do we value the regular season vs. the postseason?

No player presents a greater definitional challenge for NBArank than Leonard, whose quality and particularly quantity of contributions were far greater in the 2019 playoffs than the 2018-19 regular season. After finishing ninth in MVP voting, Leonard was better than anyone else in the postseason, winning Finals MVP after he led the Raptors to the championship. Leonard wouldn't be in my top three for regular-season value, but come postseason he's my No. 1 choice. -- Kevin Pelton

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Should Giannis, Kawhi or LeBron be No. 1? The Hoop Collective crew debates the top players here.

One big question: Antetokounmpo appeared to breeze through the 2018-19 regular season, posterizing defenders and swatting the league's All-Stars at the rim. NBA aficionados expected Antetokounmpo to be good, but this good? No way. Then the East finals came, the going got tough, Antetokounmpo got double-teamed and the Toronto Raptors proved to be the better team. Now there are expectations: Make it just as far, then advance. The biggest question for the Greek Freak this season is how he responds to the mountains of expectation. He has the ability to turn that pressure into kindling. But will he? -- Malika Andrews

More: 100-51 | 50-31 | 30-11 | No. 1 player debate