ESPN, Sports Illustrated and many other outlets usually rank the best players in the NBA each preseason. But like the game itself, player rankings fluctuate almost on a week-by-week basis. A highly touted All-Star might suddenly fall off, and a role player might undertake a high usage within his team, reaching heights that appeared impossible earlier in the year. That’s why we’re ranking the top 20 NBA players right now.
It’s been over three weeks since the start of the NBA season and we’re seeing players explode to new heights, while watching others fall from the top. The usual suspects, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, continue to dominate. Then there are others, Arron Afflalo, Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins, who are having seasons that no one expected. Stars like Damian Lillard and Kevin Love are putting up strong numbers to push their team into the playoff picture. While other stars like Carmelo Anthony and Brook Lopez are watching their teams struggle, despite putting up still-solid numbers.
The top players in the league tend to stay the same from year to year, with the exception of someone like Paul George, who augmented his NBA stock last year when he propelled his team deep into the playoffs. But with injuries and some players getting off to terrible starts, the best players in the league can fluctuate even week-to-week. I’ve composed a list of the top 20 players in the NBA RIGHT NOW. Maybe half of the players on this list won’t be here by the end of the season, but for the moment they are playing within this elite tier.
If I had not watched a single NBA game for the past 10 seasons (an awful thought) and then started watching three weeks ago, this would be the list of the 20 best players. These are players who have played near, or beyond, the top of their game to start the season and will be featured prominently in an opponent’s scouting report. Feel free to argue, pull out your hair and yell at the top of your lungs because I may have left your favorite player off the list. But here goes: the 20 best players in the NBA right now.
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20. Al Horford
Despite Atlanta denying any reports they’re looking to deal Al Horford, he is quite possibly the one player who leaves the most GM’s drooling as they figure out a way to bring him to their team. He’s off to a strong start to begin season and we can now officially claim the Hawks as his team. Horford provides a strong defensive presence, collecting 2.1 BPG and 1.3 SPG. He also protects the rim better than most centers in the NBA. With Horford defending, opposing players are shooting 44.9 percent at the rim and only making 3.2 FG at the rim per game. That’s better than players like Dwight Howard and Zach Randolph.
After starting the year with some stellar rebounding performances, Horford has come back down to earth, averaging only 8.2 RPG on the year. He is a major scoring option for the Hawks though, averaging 17.4 PPG. He has a 22.31 PER, which is 18th best in the NBA. His future with the Hawks may be a little uncertain, but he is proving every night that he will give the other team trouble, both offensively and defensively.
19. Eric Bledsoe
Eric Bledsoe is on fire to start the season. He has led an underwhelming Phoenix Suns team to five victories and has pulled out a few close games. He’s averaging 20.4 PPG, 6.8 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 SPG while shooting 50 percent from the field. These are all career bests for the high-rising Bledsoe. He has the 12th best PER (23.75) in the league and so far he is one of the top choices to win Most Improved Player this year. He’s doing it all for his new team. Bledsoe looked explosive for pieces of games last year, but he is putting it all together now. The young star saw his minutes increase from over 20 a game last year to nearly 35 this season and he is handling that increased usage without diminishing returns. He is also second in clutch points in the NBA. Bledsoe has proven that he is a top player in the league, leading his team in close games and increasing his versatility.
18. Damian Lillard
Shortly into his second year in the NBA, Lillard is proving that last season was no fluke. In fact he is fearlessly showing the world the type of player he is by firing away from behind the arc. Lillard is posting 19.9 points a night and he is averaging 2.8 3-pointers, while shooting 39 percent from deep. He can beat you off the dribble and drop a bucket with a floater or just step back and land a three. Lillard is not intimidated by whoever is guarding him and will do whatever it takes to win. He also collects 5.8 APG and 4.7 RPG. The most impressive stat about Lillard isn’t personal. He has led the Portland Trail Blazers to a 10-2 record and an eight-game winning streak.
17. LaMarcus Aldridge
A 6-11 forward who can play away from the basket and knock down 15-foot pick-and-pops is someone every GM and owner would want. LaMarcus Aldridge’s career has had plenty of bad luck. He can remain healthy but the team members around him cannot. This year may be different as Lillard and Aldridge are dominating offensively for a Trail Blazers team with the third best record in the NBA.
He’s averaging 22.5 PPG and 9.0 RPG this year, remaining efficient despite being a 6-11 forward who shoots jumpers. Aldridge is shooting 48 percent on the season and is among the leaders in shooting efficiency. His catch-and-shoot field goal percentage is at 51.5 percent. He also makes 50 percent of his driving shots. Aldridge is versatile and easily a top 20 player in the league.