A cornucopia of talent is flourishing in the NBA.
From around the world. Different heights, weights, backgrounds and ages.
One size does not fit all. Skill reigns supreme.
Sons (Steph Curry and Klay Thompson) of NBA players, both of whom altered the game with their 3-point shooting. A 6-11 center from Serbia (Nikola Jokic) who has a gifted touch on his passes and shots, unlike anything we’ve seen before. A 6-10 forward from Greece (Giannis Antetokounmpo) whose parents came from Nigeria and who developed into one of the most unique players in league history.
A kid from Akron, Ohio (LeBron James, and truth be told, now closer to grandpa than kid) entering his 20th NBA season, still playing at an All-NBA level and on the verge of passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time leading scorer. An undrafted guard (Fred VanVleet) who turned into an All-Star. And a grinder (Jimmy Butler) who plays like his job is on the line but is one of the game’s best players.
The league is loaded with talent, from James at 37 years old to Anthony Edwards at 21.
This year, USA TODAY Sports staffers picked the top 50 players headed into the 2022-23 season. Nos. 50-26 were revealed Tuesday, so here are USA TODAY’s top players headed into the 2022-23 season, Nos. 25-1:
25. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers
A healthy and in-shape Harden has the ability to be an All-NBA candidate again. He showed flashes of it last season but injuries and circumstances (especially with the Brooklyn Nets) prevented him from realizing his potential. Harden needs to regain his shooting efficiency to go along with the 22.0 points, 10.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds he averaged in 2021-22.
24. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Efficiency is the name of the game for Adebayo, but the Heat want more out of him offensively, even after he averaged a career-high in points (19.1) and has increased his scoring average in each of his five seasons. Even more than his scoring, Adebayo’s top value is as a lockdown ace, as he moves into defensive player of the year candidacy for his work on guarding anyone who is a scoring threat.
23. Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves
Gobert has earned respect and a nice paycheck, simply by focusing on one area of his game, ranking first, second or third in defensive win shares in each of the past four seasons. While not called upon to be a top scorer, his 15.6 points and 14.7 boards a night and league-leading field goal percentage (71.3%) from last season more than make up for any perceived offensive liabilities.
22. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
The 2020-21 pandemic season in which Toronto played its home games in Tampa slowed Siakam’s growth after an All-Star year the season before. But the two-way performer regained his form last season and was named third-team All-NBA, averaging 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals and shooting 49.4% from the field. That’s the Siakam we expect this season and possibly better.
21. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
The cool thing about DeRozan: As he hits his mid-30s, he is playing some of the best basketball of his career. Last season, in his first with Chicago after leaving the San Antonio Spurs, he averaged career-highs in points (27.9 points), field goals made per game (10.2) and 3-point percentage (35.2%), while shooting 50.4% from the field. Open about his mental health and the steps he takes to address it, DeRozan has become one of the league’s influential stars.
20. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
One of the game’s most skilled big men, Towns can score inside and with his 3-point shot (24.6 points per game, 52.9% from the field, 41.0% on 3s last season). He made the All-NBA team for the second time in his career in 2021-22, and the next part of his development is helping the Timberwolves win a playoff series for the first time since 2004.
19. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers
After five seasons with Utah, Mitchell joins a young and talented Cleveland squad ready to make a dent among the East’s most accomplished squads. Because the Cavaliers are expected to be one of the best defensive teams, Mitchell can accelerate his effectiveness to become more of a playmaker and to improve on his long-range shooting. Mitchell must be better defensively, regardless, as the conference’s guards will exploit that weakness at every turn.
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18. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Perhaps underappreciated because he plays alongside Jayson Tatum, Brown is one of the best players in the league and just getting ready turn 26 on Oct. 24. Brown should be an All-Star this season after making the team in 2021, and an All-NBA selection isn’t out of the question after he averaged 23.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists and shot 47.3% from the field last season.
17. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
Irving is an excellent ball-handler and creative shotmaker, making him one of the game’s premier scorers. Irving missed a majority of last season because he refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but with fewer mandates, especially in New York City, he will be on the court more after averaging 27.4 points, 5.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 41.8% on 3-pointers and 46.9% from the field in 29 games last season.
16. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Lillard, 32, said his “body is stronger than it was before” after only playing 29 games last season due to an abdominal injury that required surgery. Despite his short season and playoff absence — the Blazers have only made it as far as the Western Conference finals (2019) in Lillard’s 10 seasons — Portland has faith in Lillard, and Lillard has faith in the Blazers. He signed a two-year extension worth $122 million that puts the six-time All Star under contract through 2026-27.
15. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
For the Lakers to get back to their championship aspirations, Davis must be available and play at an MVP level every night. The margin for error is so slim that Davis’ workload must increase as not to run 37-year-old LeBron James into the ground. Along with his offensive skill, capable of playing the 4 or 5, Davis is an elite defender and can still be a dominant force down low.
14. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Young’s individual performance in 2021-22 was obscured by the Hawks’ No. 8 seed and first-round exit after reaching the East finals the season prior. Young made the All-Star team for the second time and, more importantly, he was an All-NBA selection for the first time. Young posted 28.4 points, 9.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds, and he shot career-highs in field goal percentage (46.0%) and 3-point percentage (38.2%). Newly acquired Dejounte Murray and Young should make the Hawks again a factor in the East.
13. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
The 32-year-old missed more than half of last season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, yet he didn’t have any rust to shake off when he returned. George averaged 24.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 5.7 assists last season. The Clippers will not only have George, but Kawhi Leonard back in the lineup for a dynamic 1-2 punch. The Clippers are contenders to win it all if George and the team can stay healthy.
12. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
Just 23 years old, Morant is entering the prime of his career and will be a force and MVP candidate for the next decade. One of the game’s elite finishers, Morant can beat teams with his scoring (27.4 points per game) and passing (6.7 assists per game). From his rookie season to his second season in 2021-22, Morant elevated his game and there’s only signs he will continue to improve.
11. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
In Heat parlance, Butler knows how to “impact games” offensively and defensively, and he’s able to do it in a variety of ways, depending on the circumstances as we saw in last season’s playoffs. Could be 47 points, nine rebounds, eight assists one game and 15 points, nine rebounds and two steals in another game. An All-Star for the sixth time last season, Butler is at his best when games matter most.
9. (tie) Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
For the Clippers to contend for an NBA title, Leonard must stay healthy. The last few seasons he hasn’t been and that’s why the Clippers haven’t sniffed the Finals. Leonard makes the game look easy with his pull up jumper, finishing in traffic and being a nuisance on defense with his length and hands. Leonard’s uncanny ability to make difficult shots sets him apart and quiet leadership makes the Clippers an instant title contender.
9. (tie) Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker, 25, signed a four-year, $224 million max extension in the offseason after finishing fourth for MVP. The All-Star led the Suns to a franchise-record 64 wins, averaging 26.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists while shooting 46.6% from the field. Booker is one of the best shooters in the league, but he needs to do it in crunch time to take the next step.
8. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
After finishing sixth in MVP voting and leading the Celtics to the NBA Finals last season, Tatum, 24, is ready to take the next step. He was first-team All-NBA in 2021-22 after 26.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game and 45.3% shooting from the field and 35.3% on 3-pointers. He has the skills to do better than that and be a bigger part of the MVP conversation.
7. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Nearing 38 years old, it’s remarkable that James is still at an All-NBA level after averaging 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists and shooting 52.4% from the field and 35.9% on 3-pointers last season. The key for James (and the Lakers’ success) is his ability to stay healthy and play 65 games or more after just 56 of 82 in 2021-22 and 45 of 72 in 2020-21.
6. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Look up the definition of NBA usage and Doncic’s face most likely will be staring back. Everything the Mavericks do revolves around Doncic, which could lead to incredible highs, like the dominating Game 7 victory over the Phoenix Suns in the West semifinals, or throwing up bricks all night and not passing to teammates. Doncic is the GM’s pick to win the MVP. The biggest question is if his high usage is sustainable.
5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Embiid, the league’s most dominant big man, had a great season in 2021-22, winning the scoring title at 30.6 points per game and becoming the first center to lead the league in scoring average since 1999-2000. The 76ers start the season with less drama than last year, and Embiid is a strong candidate to win his first MVP after finishing second to Jokic in May.
4. Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
Curry had an unbelievable 2021-22 season. He won his fourth NBA championship, became the NBA all-time leader in made 3-pointers, won the All-Star Game MVP, the Western Conference Finals MVP and the elusive NBA Finals MVP. Now, Curry, 34, and the defending champion Warriors are looking to pick up where they left off. Curry, who changed the game with his shooting, is entering his 14th season but shows no signs of slowing down.
3. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
Point blank, Durant is still the most lethal scorer in the game, with the ability to pull up from deep, hit a mid-range bucket, or drive past a defender to the hoop with incredible efficiency. His ability as a playmaker even improved, averaging a career-high in assists last season. At age 34, his career moving forward is about cementing his legacy. Durant has many more years, barring injury, to put his stamp on NBA history.
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Denver made Jokic the highest-paid player in NBA history in the offseason with a five-year, $264 million super max extension. He became the first player to surpass 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists last season, averaging 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and shooting 58.3% from the field. His efforts were rewarded with his second consecutive MVP award. The 27-year-old took the depleted Nuggets to the playoffs but will get Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back to maximize his prime years.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks star is a two-time MVP and led Milwaukee to the 2021 title, winning Finals MVP. Getting ready to turn 28 years old on Dec. 6, Antetokounmpo is still in the prime of his career (29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals per game and 55.3% last season) with room to improve. He knows how to use his skillset to break down opponents, and if his jump shot is better this season, a third MVP is waiting for him.
Contributing: Joe Mussatto, The Oklahoman; Jim Owczarksi, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Duane Rankin, Arizona Republic; Marla Ridnour, Akron Beacon Journal; Omari Sankofa II, Detroit Free Press; Berry Tramel, The Oklahoman