With the start of the 2023-24 regular season just a few days away, it’s time for our favorite annual exercise. The Sporting News staff is back for another round of NBA player rankings.
The last time we put this list together, Nikola Jokic secured the No. 1 spot after winning the first championship ring and Finals MVP award of his career. The Nuggets center has unsurprisingly retained his title as the best player in the league — sorry for the spoiler — but there was plenty of movement below him.
Before we dive in, a quick reminder on how the process works: A dozen members of TSN’s Global NBA staff were asked to rank their top 30 players heading into the new season. Once the rankings were compiled, players were placed in order based on their average positions.
While past performance for each player certainly plays a role in these rankings, voters also had to do a bit of projecting. Can a young star take a huge leap? Who could see a drop-off in production?
Yes, it’s an inexact science, but that’s part of the fun, right? Without further ado, here are TSN’s top 15 players in the NBA. (You can skip down to the bottom if you want to see the full top-30 list.)
NBA POSITIONAL RANKINGS: PG | SG | SF | PF | C
NBA player rankings: Top 15 players for 2023-24 season
15. Ja Morant, Grizzlies (Average rank: 16.0)
No one questions Morant’s talent. He is a human highlight reel who has earned All-Star selections in each of the last two seasons. He averaged 26.2 points, 8.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game in 2022-23.
But we also must account for Morant’s off-the-court actions. He will sit out the first 25 games of the 2023-24 campaign after the league investigated multiple videos featuring Morant brandishing guns. If he can eliminate those concerning behavioral patterns, he has the potential to move into top-10 territory.
14. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers (Average rank: 12.8)
Leonard is so difficult to evaluate. When healthy, he remains one of the most impactful two-way players in the NBA, and he seems to take his game to another level when the playoffs begin.
We rarely see that version of Leonard for extended stretches, though. Check out his regular season game totals with the Clippers: 57, 52, 0 (ACL injury) and 52. Leonard needs to be on the floor more consistently in order to move back into the elite tier.
13. Damian Lillard, Bucks (Average rank: 12.5)
Lillard enjoyed arguably his best individual season with the Trail Blazers in 2022-23, averaging a career-high 32.2 points along with 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from 3-point range. At 33 years old, he is still a lethal offensive weapon.
Now, the seven-time All-Star has a chance to win his first title after an offseason trade sent him from Portland to Milwaukee. The dynamic duo of Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo should give opposing coaches nightmares.
12. Anthony Davis, Lakers (Average rank: 12.0)
Davis’ shooting numbers have gone down in recent years, but he is a dynamic roller and finisher in the paint and a game-changing defender. As The Sporting News’ Stephen Noh wrote, Davis is one of the very few defenders who can “completely alter what an offense is trying to do.”
Sure, health will always be a factor here. Just don’t let the injury history completely cloud your view of Davis.
11. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder (Average rank: 11.3)
Gilgeous-Alexander is coming off an All-NBA season in which he averaged 31.4 points, 5.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. With “SGA” leading the way, the Thunder reached the Western Conference Play-In Tournament.
The scary part? He is only 25 years old, so another jump could be coming soon.
10. LeBron James, Lakers (Average rank: 9.4)
Oh, right. This guy.
Heading into Season 21 — Seriously! 21! — James has not yet been bounced out of the top 10. The future Hall of Famer just keeps going. What else can you say?
9. Devin Booker, Suns (Average rank: 8.9)
Everyone knows that Booker is a three-level scorer. He averaged a career-high 27.8 points per game last season, torching opponents in the paint, from midrange and beyond the 3-point line.
Let’s not overlook his improved defense and playmaking, though. With Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant taking some of the scoring burden off his shoulders, Booker should continue to evolve into a complete player.
8. Jimmy Butler, Heat (Average rank: 7.8)
Butler isn’t flashy. He doesn’t rack up triple-doubles. He just gets the job done, especially in the moments when his team really needs him.
“Playoff Jimmy” took the Heat to the NBA Finals for the second time in the past four seasons with a terrific postseason run. Miami will once again be relying heavily on him as it looks to compete against Eastern Conference contenders like Boston and Milwaukee.
7. Jayson Tatum, Celtics (Average rank: 7.7)
Tatum has landed on the All-NBA First Team in each of the last two seasons, averaging 28.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game in that span. It’s easy to forget because he has already played in so many high-stakes games, but Tatum will turn 26 years old in March. His prime stretch is still in front of him.
Don’t be surprised if Tatum slides into the top five by the end of the season.
6. Kevin Durant, Suns (Average rank: 5.7)
After a blockbuster trade in February, the Suns were a perfect 8-0 in the regular season when Durant was available. Imagine how good Durant will be when he actually becomes more familiar with Beal, Booker and the rest of his teammates.
However, it’s worth noting that Durant will be entering his 16th season, and the injuries are piling up. Perhaps that’s why he dropped down from No. 4 to No. 6 in our rankings.
5. Luka Doncic, Mavericks (Average rank: 5.2)
Doncic has now rattled off four consecutive All-NBA First Team seasons, most recently averaging 32.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game. His individual brilliance didn’t translate to team success last season, as the Mavericks missed not only the NBA Playoffs, but also the Play-In Tournament.
If Doncic wants to become a legitimate MVP candidate, he will need to push Dallas up the Western Conference standings.
4. Joel Embiid, 76ers (Average rank: 5.1)
Embiid narrowly edged out Durant and Doncic for the No. 4 spot on this list. He captured the 2022-23 MVP award after leading the league in scoring at 33.1 points per game on 54.8 percent shooting from the field.
The big question is whether Embiid can make a deep postseason run with the 76ers. The James Harden saga could get extremely ugly, potentially blowing up Philadelphia’s season if the front office can’t execute a trade that keeps the Sixers in the championship mix.
3. Stephen Curry, Warriors (Average rank: 3.2)
Despite some bad injury luck in the middle of the 2022-23 campaign, Curry managed to average 29.4 points, 6.3 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game with 49.3/42.7/91.5 shooting splits (field goals/3-pointers/free throws).
As Draymond Green said, behind the image of a smiling “Baby-Faced Assassin” is a superstar with a “never-dying passion” and desire to “defeat age.” That’s why Curry is a top-three player ahead of his 15th season.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks (Average rank: 2.0)
The unanimous No. 2 pick, Antetokounmpo averaged a career-high 31.1 points per game last season. He was also an incredibly disruptive defender, covering gaps all over the floor with his athleticism, instincts and wingspan.
“The Greek Freak” will be hungry to prove that he is the king of the court after the Heat dominated the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
1. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets (Average rank: 1.0)
Yep, Jokic holds the crown. He silenced any critics with one of the greatest individual playoff runs in NBA history, averaging 30.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game on his way to the title.
Maybe Antetokounmpo, Curry or Embiid will make these rankings more competitive later this year, but as of right now, there is no debate at No. 1.
NBA player rankings: The full list