• Gabe Bottazzi

Top 10 NBA Players (Written Before NBA Bubble)

Updated: Jan 23

At number 10, we got Damian Lillard.

Hailing from Weber State, Dame burst on the scene in 2012 and showed why he is one of the most dynamic point guards in the league. He has a killer instinct, which has lead to him hitting an array of clutch shots, including two buzzer beaters to win a playoff series. His uncanny shot making ability from anywhere on the floor makes him very difficult to defend. He is also a great slasher, has nifty ball handling and possesses great court vision to find open teammates. Prior to the pandemic suspending league play, the 5 time all-star was sensational averaging 29 points per game and had two games where he scored over 60 points! During a 6 game stretch in January, Lillard averaged an astounding 48 points including stealing the show in Los Angeles during Kobe Bryant’s memorial ceremony dropping 48 points in a win. It’s safe to say that Dame deserves to be on this list with his consistent play throughout his career.

At Number 9, we got the brodie, Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook is one of the most explosive point guards of all time. In last 3 seasons with OKC, he averaged a triple double! But in 2019, Russ was traded to the Rockets for Chris Paul, teaming him back up with James Harden. The 2017 MVP looked to prove his doubters wrong in a new system after two consecutive first round playoff exits. The two time scoring champ was able to coincide with scoring maestro Harden and began to play more efficient basketball. The 9 time all star averaged 27 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists on a career high 47 percent from the field. He is taking smarter shots and has been working on making his jumper more consistent. Westbrook’s athleticism is showing no signs of slowing down, as he is still a dynamic player and one of the best point guards in the NBA. Having Harden as a teammate relieves Westbrook of a heavy scoring burden that he had in OKC. The fiery Westbrook helped lead the Rockets to the 6th best record in the West before the pandemic suspended play. Hopefully we will get to see a mature Westbrook continue to prosper as floor general once play resumes.

At number 8, we got the Slovenian Wonder Boy, Luka Doncic.

Two years after being drafted third to the Dallas Mavericks, Luka has already made his presence known throughout the league. The 21-year-old point guard has 22 triple doubles to his credit, 10 of which he achieved while scoring 30 plus points. The 1 time all star is truly a prodigy as he has an amazing feel for the game: he is quite crafty with the ball, is deceptively quick to get to the basket, and possesses a deadly go to move in his step back jumper. Luka has played professionally since the age of 16, and had no problem transitioning to the NBA winning the rookie of the year with spectacular moments throughout. This season, Doncic has been on an absolute tear averaging 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists a game. Before play was suspended. He led the Mavericks to the 7th best record in the West, exemplifying leadership qualities as he hit many clutch shots late in games. Luka’s star potential is bright, looking like a future MVP in years to come.

At number 7, we got the Beard, James Harden.

Upon entering the league in 2009, Harden worked hard to earn his basketball stardom. He was an energetic sixth man on an OKC Thunder team that made it to the NBA Finals in 2011. The following year he was traded to the Houston Rockets, where he made a name for himself as a premiere player. James is a very talented scorer; with impeccable handles that allows him to get to his spots on the court with ease. He has become notorious for his unorthodox step back jumper that seems to draw him a lot of fouls and potential 4-point plays. The 2018 MVP is not only a bucket getter, but ahas a high basketball IQ making quick, efficient decisions that leads to baskets for his team. The 8 time all star is a stat sheet stuffer, tallying 49 triple doubles in his career. This past season, The Beard was on an offensive tangent, leading the league in scoring for the third straight year averaging 34 points grabbing 6 rebounds, and dishing out 7 assists. He had 4 games where he scored over 50 points, including a 60 point outbursts at Madison Square Garden. Harden had the Rockets in the playoff picture, but critics were skeptical if Harden can transcend his astounding play into the postseason where success has been eluding him. It will be interesting to see if Harden can finally lead a team to the NBA finals once the season resumes.

At Number 6, we got the Brow, Anthony Davis.

AD has been highly touted ever since leading Kentucky to a National Title back in 2012. That year he was selected number 1 overall by the then New Orleans Hornets. Davis showcased early why he was a force to be reckoned with, improving his skills every season. Sadly due to the lack of talent surrounding him, AD has only made the playoffs twice in his 8-year career. As a result, in 2019 the seven time all star demanded a trade to Los Angeles in hopes of playing for a contender. He got his wish in June being traded to the Lakers to team up with LeBron James. This season, AD’s play on the floor was nothing short of elite, helping lead the Lakers to the best record in the west while averaging 27 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks a game. The 3-time All NBA player has guard like tendencies for his size, he’s capable of shooting from distance and mid range. In the paint, he’s an absolute beast, a premiere defensive stopper, blocking many shots. Davis uses his 7’6 wingspan to his advantage becoming a frequent alley-oop recipient. Hopefully we will get to see if the dynamic duo of him and LeBron have what it takes to contend for a championship once the NBA continues.

At number 5, we got the Baby Face Assassin, Steph Curry

In 2009, Steph was drafted 7 to the Golden State Warriors; a team that has seen limited playoff success. Coming out of a mid major college in Davidson, Curry did not have a lot of hype surrounding him, but the fact that he’s been around the NBA his whole life with his father Del being a 16 year vet, made his professional transition quite smooth. What Curry did not possess in athleticism, he made up for with his tenacious work ethic. Steph turned himself into arguably the greatest shooter in NBA history and transcended the game itself, revolutionizing how it was played. He is the only player in history to make 400 threes in a season and has broken several other records. It took him only 6 seasons to win his first title, which he accomplished in 2015 alongside fellow sharpshooter Klay Thompson. The two formed the greatest shooting backcourt the league has ever seen. The 2 time MVP is lethal from anywhere on the floor as he uses his incredible ball handling and speed to create shots off the dribble with astounding accuracy. Curry is also a very underrated passer, being quite perceptive to holes in defenses to locate teammates for scores. The six time All Star made the Warriors into a dynasty! Winning 3 rings in 4 years. However, in 2019, the Warriors dominance came to an end as a result of injuries to stars Kevin Durant and Thompson and Toronto Raptors then won their first ever title. This past season was the Warriors worst in quite sometime, only winning 15 games before the season was placed on hold. Curry missed 60 games after breaking his left hand, but came back this past March and showed that he is still an elite player averaging 20 points per game. It will be interesting to see how the Warriors recover from an injury-plagued season, but never count out Curry who has been proving doubters wrong his whole career.

At number 4, we got the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

In 2013, The Milwaukee Bucks snagged Giannis with the 15th pick out of Greece. He was relatively unknown when drafted, a skinny 18 year old that began his rookie season standing at 6 foot 8 and a half inches. But by seasons end, he grew an astonishing 2 and half inches to be a staggering 6’11. While his first year was not so spectacular statistic-wise, Giannis showed glimpses of greatness as he was still raw and learning the game. The Greek Freak would put forth arduous work in the offseason to gain strength and improve on various facets of his game. Impressively, Giannis has statistically improved his point and rebound average every season. In 2017, he garnered the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award while making All NBA First Team. He turned a once irrelevant Bucks franchise into a perennial playoff contender. Over the course of his 7 year career, the Greek Freak has gained an amazing 51 pounds of muscle in that span. The 4 time All Star was becoming one of the faces of the league as he is the most dominant paint presence we have seen since a prime Shaq. The Greek Freak uses his strength to his advantage, overpowering his opponents for ferocious dunks and and 1’s. In the open court, he is virtually unguardable as he gracefully attacks the rim with reckless abandon. In the post, he has great footwork that gives him better position for easy opportunity. Over time, Giannis has matured to become a selfless superstar; he’s very willing to make the open pass to a teammate for an assist. His weakness has been his jump shooting, but has significantly improved on it with his drive and dedication, as he is now capable of knocking down three’s. Despite winning games and making the playoffs most years, The Greek Freak was unable to make it past the first round. That all changed in 2019, where he had a monster season, winning his first MVP and led the Bucks to best record in the NBA. The surging Bucks made it to the Conference Finals where they admitted defeat to the Raptors in 6 games. This past season, Giannis picked up where he left off as the 25 year old was absolutely eviscerating the competition averaging 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists while shooting 55% from the field. The Bucks were on historic pace posting a remarkable 53-12 record before the pandemic suspended play. The Greek Freak was well on his way to another MVP, so it will be fascinating to see him pick up where he left off once the season comes back.

At number 3, we got The Claw, Kawhi Leonard.

In 2011, The Indiana Pacers drafted Kawhi with the 15th pick and proceeded to trade him to the San Antonio Spurs, one of the most successful franchises in the Association. The unheralded forward had been placed under the tutelage of successful trio Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu GinobilI, and coaching great Greg Popovich. As a rookie, Kawhi played a limited role until he eventually took starter Richard Jefferson’s spot when he was traded to Golden State. After that, Leonard never looked back proving he certainly can hold his own in this league. He played significant NBA Finals minutes as a second year player for a formidable Spurs team that lost a dramatic 7 game series to the Miami Heat. During the off-season, Kawhi used his Finals failures as fuel and had his himself a coming out party in the 2014 NBA Finals Rematch. His scintillating play earned him not only his first ever NBA Title, but a Finals MVP as he led the Spurs to a dominant 5 game series rout. Leonard averaged 18 points while also having the difficult defensive assignment of LeBron James. The Claw’s stardom truly took off after that, becoming a likable star thanks to his stoic and humble persona. Similar to the Greek Freak, Kawhi’s offensive numbers have improved each season, as he has consistently expanded his arsenal. At first, he was not a great jump shooter being known more for his defensive prowess. But now, Kawhi has become a very decorated scorer, utilizing efficient pull up jumpers, fadeways, three pointers, and captivating dunks. The Claw is considered the best two way player in the league, meaning he can lock down the opposing team’s player while being capable of dropping 30 a night.

The 4 time NBA all star took the helms from Duncan in 2016 after the legend retired. Spurs fans believed Kawhi to be the proper successor. This however was short lived, after the two time defensive player of the year suffered a devastating knee injury of Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals resulting in him missing the rest of the series in which the Spurs were swept by Golden State. The following year, Kawhi only played 9 games as tension grew between him and the Spurs organization. He began expressing displeasure; as a result, in July of 2018, he was traded to the Toronto Raptors. What Kawhi proceeded to do that following season was truly remarkable. The humble superstar led Toronto all the way to the NBA Finals after surviving an arduous 7 game second round series against the Sixers in which Leonard hit one of the most iconic buzzer beaters in history. In the conference finals he bested MVP Giannis to get a matchup with the defending champ Warriors.

Despite being the heavy underdog, The Claw guided the Raptors to a 6 game series victory over the Warriors as they suffered injuries to Durant and Thompson, bringing an end to their dynasty. Kawhi won his second title and Finals MVP and brought the Raptors their first ever title. But in this past off-season, Leonard signed with the gritty Los Angeles Clippers to team up with star forward Paul George. Forming a dynamic duo, LA’s other team was making their case as title contenders. Kawhi was a big reason for this averaging 27 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals a game. He led the Clippers to the second best record in the west when play came to halt. It will be interesting to see if Kawhi can lead another team to its first ever title when the NBA returns.

At number 2, we got the Slim Reaper, Kevin Durant.

You may be asking yourself why I placed him on this list if he did not play a single minute this past season. It’s simply because KD is just that good. Heck, the goat Michael Jordan has gone on record to say that he believes Durant will become the best player of his generation when its all said and done. After being the first college freshman to win the National Player of the Year, KD was drafted number 2 overall by the late Seattle Sonics in the 2007 NBA Draft. There were great expectations for KD to excel in the league despite his skinny stature and he lived up to it, winning Rookie of the Year and becoming just the 3rd teenager ever to average 20 points for a whole season. The following year, the Sonics relocated from Seattle to Oklahoma City, becoming the Thunder and in the process drafted the zestful Russell Westbrook, forming a daunting duo with Durant for years to come. In 2010, at age 22, Durant became the youngest scoring champion in league history posting 30 points per game proving that he was an elite level scorer. Durant’s game is unprecedented; standing 6’10 he possesses incredible guard-like skills and handles makes him almost impossible to stop. His scoring ability is as spectacular as anyone to play the game. Durant uses his height and length to his advantage as he shoot jump shots with tremendous accuracy while also being capable of putting the ball on the floor to attack the basket with ferocity. He can score from anywhere on the court and is also an underrated defender. The 10 time all star would lead the league in scoring again in 2011, and this time he led OKC to a deep playoff run along side Westbrook. It took KD only 4 years to make an NBA Finals appearance.

Unfortunately, the Heat bested his Thunder in 6 games as LeBron won his first title. Durant and co used their Finals disappointments as fuel going onward, as KD showcased his offensive prowess. Leading the league in scoring all the way through the 2014 season, where he also received recognition as the league’s most valuable player after leading the Thunder to 59 wins while averaging an NBA best 32 points a game. OKC was a formidable contender defeating the Grizzlies and Clippers in the first two rounds before eventually admitting defeat to the eventual champion Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. The following campaign for KD was underwhelming, he engaged in minimal action on the court as a result of foot and ankle injuries as Westbrook took over scoring responsibilities and actually won the scoring title. In 2016, Durant was healthy and eyeing an opportunity to compete for a championship. He played superbly in the regular season and in the process broke the record for most games with at least 20 points, doing that in 64 straight games. In the playoffs, the deadly duo of Durant and Westbrook led OKC through the first two rounds defeating both of the Texas teams in the process to set up a matchup against the record breaking Warriors squad. To the surprise of many, Durant and OKC had Golden State on the ropes after going up 3-1 in the best of seven series. Unfortunately, the Thunder were unable to close them out as the Splash Bros forced a game 7 back in Oakland and won the decisive game on their home floor to reach the NBA Finals. The untimely collapse of the Thunder led to cynics pointing fingers at Durant for the team’s demise. The 4 time scoring champ did not help his cause when in that off-season, he made what was considered the weakest move by a superstar in history. He signed with the team that bested his Thunder in the Warriors to team up with Curry and Thompson. The phrase, “If you cannot beat em’ join em’ was now associated with Durant who received an insurmountable amount of hate as a result of his decision. Despite all the animosity he was receiving, it did not change the fact that he made a great Warriors team that much better. He transitioned well and did not interfere with what Golden State had going on fitting right in. In 2017, the 10 time all star led the Warriors all the way to the NBA Finals against the Cavaliers. Durant played tremendously throughout the Finals averaging 35 points a game and in a critical game 3 in Cleveland, he hit a dagger three pointer in the final minute to seal the victory. Golden State went on to defeat the Cavs in 5 games, winning the championship, the first of KD’s career. He also won the Finals MVP as many were now placing KD in the best player in the world conversation.

In 2018 it seemed like déjà vu, the Warriors made it to the Finals. Durant hit another dagger 3 in the final minute of game 3 against the Cavs. Durant led the team to another title, winning his second straight Finals MVP. Golden State became a certified dynasty and in 2019 they were looking to solidify their place amongst the all time great teams with a chance to 3 peat. Things were looking promising, Durant and Curry became a great tandem in their own right and as the playoffs began, it looked like the Warriors were well on their way to another title. This was until Durant missed significant time due to a right calf strain against the Rockets in the second round. Despite his absence, the Warriors were talented enough to dispose the Rockets and the Blazers in the following round to set up a match up with the Toronto Raptors in the Finals. KD made his return in Game 5 of the series but then in the second quarter, he suffered a devastating Achilles injury and missed the remainder of the finals, which Golden State lost to Toronto in 6 games. That summer Durant decided it was time to change teams again, signing with the Brooklyn Nets to play alongside Kyrie Irving. His Achilles injury left cynics wondering if Durant will ever be the same when he returns. He did not play a single minute this past season with the Nets, but with the pandemic suspending the season, it gives KD more time to recover in hopes of proving he is still one of the best players in the world.

1. At number 1, we got the King, LeBron James.

Prior to the 2003 NBA Draft, LeBron had a colossal amount of hype and anticipation surrounding him after winning 3 high school state titles in 4 years while being considered the greatest high school player of all time. It felt necessary that LBJ was drafted number 1 overall by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. It did not take long for LeBron to exceed the expectations that were placed upon him. As an 18-year-old phenom, Bron proved that not only could he improve his game, but make his teammates better in the process-winning Rookie of the Year. What makes LeBron so transcending as a once and a generation type player is not only his athletic prowess standing at 6’8 weighing 260lbs , but also his supreme knowledge of the game. For someone whose natural position is small forward, LeBron can run point and has always been a pass first player. He loves to get his teammates involved, but knows that he can score whenever he chooses to drive to the basket with brute force to dunk the ball or finish with contact around the hoop. LeBron has made his chase down block one of his signatures, as opposing players think they have an easy score until Bron comes out of nowhere to reject it, proving to be a lockdown defender. He initially was not a great jump shooter, but he has worked hard to make it one of his best weapons as he can shoot threes, pull up jumpers, fade a/ways, and step backs with superb accuracy.

In his following NBA campaign, LeBron made the proper adjustments on the court to galvanize his Cavaliers to a positive winning record, however, they were just short of making the playoffs once again. In his third NBA season, LeBron exemplified why the hype was warranted upon entering the league becoming an MVP candidate while averaging 31points per game willing Cleveland to their first playoff appearance in 8 years. In his first playoff game, LeBron recorded a triple double and dominated the Wizards to set up a matchup with the prolific Pistons who bested the young Cavs team in the second round. The following season, LeBron led the Cavs to 50 wins for the second year in a row, and once the playoffs came he only had redemption on his mind. The Cavs breezed through the first two rounds to set up a rematch with Detroit in the conference finals. In Game 5, Bron put on one of the greatest playoff performances in league history tallying 48 points as he scored the Cavaliers last 25 points to win on the road. They went on to win the series and reached the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. The celebrations were short lived as the deep Spurs team led by Tim Duncan decimated the Cavs to sweep them for another title. In 2008, LeBron was on a scoring tear, leading the league in scoring at 30 points per game. Despite the individual accomplishments, the Cavs lost a close 7 game series to the Celtics in the second round.

In 2009, the Cavaliers acquired some key acquisitions to help LeBron as they finished the regular season with a franchise best 66-16 record. As a result of the team’s success, LeBron won his first MVP. Unfortunately, the Cavs failed to reach the Finals once again as the upstart Orlando Magic defeated Cleveland in 6 games of the conference finals as LeBron’s incredible playoffs stats weren’t enough to get that coveted matchup with Kobe in the Finals. In 2010, the Cavs played fantastic finishing with the best record again while LeBron won another MVP with his scintillating play. Sadly, the Cavs lost to the Celtics again in the second round in 5 games, as the upcoming summer free agency left many wondering what LeBron’s next move would be. What LeBron ended up doing left cynics with distaste, he did a heavily publicized “Decision” in which he decided to take his talents to South Beach, joining the Miami Heat along with star forward Chris Bosh to team up with perennial All Star Dwyane Wade.

LeBron received major backlash for the decision and became the “villain” of the NBA. He did not let the animosity he garnered affect his play on the court and while it took some time for the Heat to gel, the new Big 3 made it all the way to the NBA Finals to face the Dallas Mavericks. To the dismay of LeBron, he was not able to get the job done, not playing up to his standard as the Mavs bested the Heat to win the title. Humbled by his devastating finals loss, LeBron and the Heat made the 2012 season a mission to climb the mountaintop to try to win a title. LeBron was in top form, eventually winning another MVP and after beating the gritty Celtics in 7 games of the conference finals to reach the NBA Finals going against the young OKC Thunder. LeBron took advantage of this opportunity to lead the Heat to a 5 game rout of the Thunder, winning his first championship and finals MVP. Going into the 2013 season as defending champs, Bron’s goal was to try and repeat and from the start it looked promising. At one point the Heat had won 27 games in a row, which is the 3rd longest streak in history. Miami finished with the best record and LeBron won his 4th MVP in the process. After getting past some arduous competition in the first 3 rounds of the playoffs, the Heat were back in the Finals to go up against the Spurs. This was a very tight series as Miami faced adversity throughout, going down 3 games to 2 to the Spurs. Cynics thought LeBron was playing passive so in Game 6, LeBron recorded a triple double as Ray Allen’s last second clutch shot tied the game to send it into overtime. The Heat went on to win and in game 7 LeBron scored 37 points including a dagger jumper in the final seconds to seal the victory and his second championship. He also won his second finals MVP. In 2014, the Heat looked to 3 peat as LeBron continued to prove he was the league’s best player. Miami made it back to the Finals and had a rematch with the Spurs. This time, San Antonio played some of the best basketball seen in recently memory, trouncing LeBron and the Heat in 5 games to win the title.

In that off-season, LeBron decided it was time to depart Miami and return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to team up with budding star Kyrie Irving and star forward Kevin Love. His mission was simple; bring a title to his beloved Cavs. Despite missing the most games of his career, LeBron put up stellar stats and headed Cleveland all the way to the NBA Finals to go up against Golden State. With Kyrie and Love being sidelined due to injury, Bron had to carry a heavy scoring burden throughout and willed the Cavs to a 2-1. Unfortunately the Cavs momentum was halted as the Splash Bros went on to breeze past them in 6 games to win the title. In 2016, LeBron took it upon himself to ensure a title for his city. The Cavs finished with the best record in the conference and had an easy road back to the Finals for a rematch with Golden State. This go around, their team was healthy and looking to capitalize.

The Warriors were looking to cap off a historic season after winning an NBA record 73 games. From the first 4 games it seemed that Golden State was gonna just that, going up 3-1 heading into Game 5. This is where the tables turned once LeBron and Kyrie made it a personal mission to deny the Warriors a chance to go back to back as champs. The Cavs made NBA Finals history, becoming the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win the championship. LeBron’s block in Game 7 helped to seal the victory and is one of the greatest in history. He accomplished his mission of bringing a title to his hometown team, his 3rd chip and Finals MVP. The following year, the NBA landscape changed when KD joined the Warriors to make them overkill. The Cavs went on to play the Warriors in the Finals in 2018 and 2019, losing both series in similar fashion being outmatched by an overpowered Warriors squad. LeBron was his usual dominant self, but lacked the supporting cast to get the job done. So in 2019, LeBron was on the move again, heading west to join the Los Angeles Lakers.

A franchise with a rich history of titles and legends, LeBron looked to follow in those footsteps in order to solidify himself as one of the game’s all time greats. In his first season with the Lakers, LeBron was firing on all cylinders, carrying LA to the one of the best records in the West until Christmas Day. This is when Bron suffered his worst injury of his career, going down with a groin injury that forced him to miss 17 games. As a result of LeBron’s absence, the Lakers began to crumble and fell out of playoff contention. It was the first time in 14 years that LeBron missed the playoffs. This past season, the Lakers were on a roll thanks to key acquisition Anthony Davis joining LA to form a dynamic duo with LeBron. Even in year 16, LeBron is as dominant as ever, averaging 25 points, 8 rebounds, and an NBA leading 11 assists a game to lead the Lakers to the best record in the West. With the sudden and devastating death of Kobe earlier this year, LeBron is making it his personal mission to win the title for his fallen friend. It will be intriguing to see if Bron can win one for the Lakers and make his argument that much greater in the GOAT conversation.

Do you agree with my list? What players do you believe got snubbed and deserved a spot? Comment below if my list is accurate or if there needs to be changes.

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