Written By: Vala Modaresi
This is undoubtedly the peak of the rating era. Scroll through anyone’s Youtube videos list, and you’ll find a slurry of Looper “Top 10 movies of this genre videos”, or “Top 10 opponents Goku saves Vegeta from at the climax of this saga video” if they are of a more sophisticated mind. It’s time the sophisticated among you were treated to a top 10 list consisting of the ten guys in 2020 who were the most effective at, as Uncle Drew would say, getting buckets and winning games. This isn’t speculation or opinion, all of the information laid out in this article is drawn from a player’s data that makes them more equitable to championship basketball.
Honorable Mentions: Paul George – He lifted the Thunder to new heights post-KD era during the 2019 season, and was even an MVP finalist over his teammate and then mayor of OKC Russell Westbrook, but his health and playoff struggles this year take him off my list. Before anyone roasts this article, NO: KD & Steph will not be on this list. Kevin Durant is a 32 going on 33 year old, coming off of an Achilles tear as a 7 footer with a history of chronic foot issues. Can he come back? Sure, even 75% of KD’s former assassin form can elevate any team to contender, but I’ll wait and see. Steph on the other hand has a strong case to be a tier 1 player with something to prove for the first time since he dropped scoring artistry at Madison Square Garden as a prospect at Davidson University.
10.) Jimmy Butler – Miami Heat
Solid iso guy. Decent scorer. But more than anything else, he’s the one guy on this list whose game relies on the eye game. Passing, IQ, off-ball movement, these are all elements of Butler’s game that has come to inspire me since his days as a second-round pick on the Derrick Rose Bulls. He draws fouls (7.5 a game) at an elite rate, making him a reliable number 1 guy to build around. He boosted his offensive output in the playoffs, as you no doubt noticed in the 2020 playoffs. On the opposite end, the man is a top 10 defender. This is a guy who always wants the big moment. Who would’ve thought that Minnesota and Philly were problem franchises and that all Jimmy needed was a culture and a locker room that is showered in the Pat Riley championship culture? A no-BS stud has landed at a no BS franchise in the prime of his career; this’ll be a fun few years.
9.) Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
The twitter superstar could be the most dominant low post threat since… Dwight Howard? Yao Ming? Who was the last guy who really put fear into opposing teams’ paint defense? Joel creates spacing for his teammates at a rate higher than almost all players and does so due to his quick scoring bursts. He averaged 32 points per 75 possessions vs Boston; his points per 100 possessions this year was only behind Kawhi Leonard in Toronto during their championship run for all eligible players over the last 2 years. That being said: he’s not the best passer out of the post. Conditioning has always been an issue as well. He looks more winded than when he sent late-night thirst traps to Rihanna and had trouble staying on the court in the 4th quarters of late series games. It’s starting to become a concerning trend with drop coverage centers in playoff basketball turning into an issue for defensive schemes. We have yet to see him RELEASED because of the lack of complementary pieces that fit him. Oh, he’s had a complementary star who is the least fit ever since day 1 in Ben Simmons? Bold strategy Cotton.
8.) Damian Lilliard – Portland Trailblazers
For the calendar year of 2020, Dame Dollar is the best scorer in the NBA. Great pick and roll guy. His range extends to the logo mark of a basketball court. He’s also a surprisingly good finisher. Despite all of these things, and the bevy of YouTube videos you’ve seen of Dame sending teams to Cancun early in their playoff runs, he’s a weak defender, doesn’t make his teammates better, and has lacked playoff success. The moment I cut most of my Dame articles down a notch was when his Blazers got swept by the Kevin Durant-less Golden state Warriors in the 2019 NBA Western Conference Finals. We just saw James Harden and the corpse of Chris Paul take the Warriors to 6 with Kevin Durant playing 5 games of that series, but Dame couldn’t get one game off of Steph and Klay?
7.) Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets
The Joker functions as a guard operating in three layers of the offense, much as he used to operate on three layers of whatever gourmet meal the team jet was offering. Ever since taking it easy on team buffet offerings and slimming down to his current 300-pound frame, Nikola Jokic has turned into a reliable number one guy on a contenting, young, exciting Nuggets squad. He scores from the post, mid-range, three-point range, and is as elite of a passer and playmaker as we see among his guard/wing counterparts. His numbers go up in the playoffs too. In switches, he has the rare big man’s ability to absolutely punish guards caught on the low post switch. However, as mentioned with Joel Embiid, subpar lateral movements are turning into a concerning trend with big men in drop coverage pick and roll situations late into the playoff series. That limitation hinders our ability to extend this Joker feast into a top 5 writeup.
6.) Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
Offensive star with questionable defense. Averaged near a triple-double for a team that played a part in revolutionizing modern basketball. Pick and roll maestro. Does this sound familiar to a bearded man down I-45 in the other armpit sweat city of Texas? Luka is a Harden-lite, but he’s only 22 years old and has a much higher ceiling. Based on his bubble play alone, he could be higher on this list, but we need a larger sample size. As stated before, he averaged a near triple-double for the greatest offense ever in the 2020 Mavericks. I get it, Trae Young is an offensive stud and Steph Curry playalike who is also still young… but If I’m a Hawks fan, the pain of the 21st century of Atlanta basketball continues to grow.
5.) Kawhi Leonard – Los Angeles Clippers
Cracking the top 5 is the Claw. 2020 brought with it a finally improved Kawhi as a playmaker, and healthy…ish. Although he still begged management for a playmaking point guard. Nonetheless, Kawhi brings something no other player on this list before him had: ELITE traits at three different aspects of the game. He’s a strong spot-up and off the dribble 3 point shooter. He has since leaving the Spurs, turned into one of the league’s best, and most efficient isolation finishers. Of course, what garnered Kawhi his first Finals MVP award in Pop’s system was his absolutely elite defense. Much like Paul George, Kawhi’s spot in this rating takes a hit due to his playoff stretch, but he maintains his label as a top 5 player in the league over the last three seasons.
4.) Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers
Unicorn. Think of a player who can complement your favorite superstar better than any other player in the league; averaged 28 points, 11 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 2.5 blocks a game for the last three years; is the best vertical spacer in NBA history, and is still only 27 years old. Anthony Davis fits snugger than a pair of LuLu Lemon male shorts next to any superstar because of his versatility as a pick and roll guy, low post option, midrange face-up game, three-point shooting ability, and ability to play as a guard in college. By the way, he’s one of the three best impact defensive players of the decade. His inability to do anything of significance with his own Pelicans team holds him out of the top 3 for now, but AD has yet to hit his ceiling and a wide-open championship window for the next several years leaves him room to excel.
3.) James Harden – Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have made the playoffs each and every one of Harden’s 8 seasons there. He’s only missed an average of four games per season since landing in Houston. His Rockets have been a contender for the last 6 years, despite Harden’s 2nd best players during these stretches being significantly lesser players than the champions of each of those seasons. This is what makes Harden special. Insert him into any offense in the league, and they become a top 5 offense with a floor of about 50 wins. That’s a trait only the top 3 players on this list can boast. Was this Harden’s best season? The beard solidified the floater, making himself a more dangerous downhill threat; his setback was better and more prolific; he also fought through the worst offensive complements to his skills as far as teammates go. Russell Westbrook took away a lot from Harden’s ability to spread an offense open like an Aaron Rodgers offense may. The team also traded his favorite lob threat in Clint Capela to make things easier on Russell Westbrook to operate. Despite this, Harden followed up his record-breaking 36 points per game season, with a lukewarm 34 points per game in 2020. Harden isn’t without criticism. He’s not the best finisher in traffic and tries to compensate at times by looking for contact instead of prioritizing making it. While he’s one of the best post defending guards, he lacks lateral quickness as a perimeter defender, making him a net neutral on that end. This is what takes him out of the inner circle of the top two.
2.) Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
The 25-year-old, 7 foot tall, back to back MVP just had another historic 30 point per game, 14 rebound per game season that earned him a defensive player of the year as well. Think about that… he averaged 30 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, on Shaw-like at the rim numbers, in the lowest minutes played since his rookie season; that’s how good the Bucks were. Many thought this season was the year LeBron would hand the torch over to Giannis, especially after Giannis motioned the crown onto his head in a matchup with LeBron James during the regular season. But… in playoffs these last 2 years, the Bucks have dipped mightily in offensive ratings, largely due to Giannis. His offensive markers fall outside of even the top 10 in playoffs. He needs that 3 ball. He needs more time. Can a Giannis brand of basketball win a championship? Sure, but we’ve yet to see it win a vulnerable Eastern Conference yet.
1.) LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers
Nearly 36 years old, with 17 years of NBA mileage on his body. About 6 years of international Team USA experience. About 3 full regular-season games’ worth of playoff basketball that puts his team into play deep into the summer. Scoring versatility, playmaking, newfound bully ball. 70% at the rim on high volume (73% in playoffs). Perhaps the best passer in the world? Did any of us honestly see this version of LeBron James in 2020? LeBron James is one of the few players in the league that gets better in the playoffs. He just averaged a 29 point per game triple-double in the NBA Finals, and we all just brush it off as one of his tepid performances. The bar is still set that high for the GOAT of basketball, and nobody has the stuff to reach up and take it from LeBron James, the 4x NBA Finals MVP & Champion, 4x MVP(Should’ve been first unanimous in 2013 if not for a protest Melo vote), 16x All-NBA selection, 4x All-Defensive selection superstar.
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