<
>

Ranking the top 10 NBA players for 2020-21

play
NBArank top 10: Check out who made the cut (1:48)

Check out the highlights from the top 10 players in the league, according to ESPN's NBArank for the 2020-21 season. (1:48)

We are ranking the top NBA players for the 10th year.

Who will be the best players this season?

To get the final NBArank prediction, we asked our expert panel to vote on pairs of players: LeBron James vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Stephen Curry vs. James Harden. Zion Williamson vs. Ja Morant.

We asked, "Which player will be better in 2020-21?" Voters had to predict what they expected from each player in the 2020-21 regular season and postseason.

Here are the top 10 players, from No. 10 to No. 1.

More: Players 100 to 51 | 50 to 11 | Future No. 1 candidates

NBArank: 10 to 1

Text by Kevin Pelton


10. Nikola Jokic

play
0:17

Jokic hook shot sends Nuggets to next round

Nikola Jokic hits a clutch turn-around hook shot on Rudy Gobert to lift the Nuggets to the Game 7 win vs. the Jazz

Denver Nuggets | C

Previous rank: 7

2020-21 projected RPM: 4.3*

A sluggish start to the season was a distant memory when Jokic showed up trim for the seeding games and helped lead the Nuggets to their first conference finals since 2009. Along the way, Jokic showed how he helps his team in multiple ways. Against the Utah Jazz, who wanted to make him a scorer, Jokic averaged 26.3 points. That was down to 24.4 against the LA Clippers, but Jokic dominated the glass (13.4 rebounds) and averaged 6.6 assists. Though foul trouble limited Jokic against the eventual champion Lakers, he still made 58% of his 2-point attempts in an efficient series.

*Real plus-minus (RPM) is a player's estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions.

More: What sets Nikola Jokic apart from other superstars


9. James Harden

Houston Rockets | SG

Previous rank: 4

2020-21 projected RPM: 6.8

Harden tumbled five spots in the rankings after back-to-back top-four finishes, and it's tough to say how much that reflects his uncertain future in Houston after a short training-camp holdout and a trade request. During the regular season, there's no doubt Harden has been far more valuable than ninth in the league, finishing in the top three in MVP voting five of the past six seasons. Clearly, our panel put more weight on Harden's uneven postseason performances. Still, the Rockets will rightly expect a prime package of players and picks if and when they trade Harden.

More: Teams that can make real offers for Harden


8. Stephen Curry

Golden State Warriors | PG

Previous rank: 6

2020-21 projected RPM: 6.0

This is the lowest Curry has ranked since breaking out as a star in the 2013 postseason. The issue is availability, as a broken bone in Curry's right hand limited him to five games last season and he missed a combined 44 games the previous two campaigns. If he can stay healthy, we'll find out the floor for a Curry-led offense lacking a second plus scorer after Klay Thompson's Achilles injury ended his season before it began. Without Thompson and Kevin Durant, the Warriors will be more dependent on Curry for shot creation than ever before.

More: Curry relishes opportunity to start "at ground zero again"


7. Damian Lillard

play
2:43

Lillard goes off for 61 points vs. Mavs

In his second straight game scoring more than 50 points, Damian Lillard racks up 61 points and eight assists as he leads the Trail Blazers to a 134-131 victory in a wild game against the Mavericks.

Portland Trail Blazers | PG

Previous rank: 9

2020-21 projected RPM: 3.4

Lillard's scoring prowess salvaged what looked like a season lost to injuries for the Blazers. He put together one of the great stretches in NBA history in late January into February, averaging 48.8 points and 8.2 3-pointers per game on 57% shooting as Portland knocked off four playoff teams. Lillard was nearly as good in the bubble, winning Player of the Seeding Games for his 37.6 points and 9.6 assists as the Blazers claimed the eighth seed. With a healthier roster fortified this offseason, Portland hopes not to rely so heavily on Lillard again in 2020-21, but he has proved capable of carrying the load.

More: Lillard named NBA bubble MVP


6. Kevin Durant

Brooklyn Nets | PF

Previous rank: NR (injured)

2020-21 projected RPM: 2.4

Just how good Durant is 18 months after suffering an Achilles rupture during his final game with the Warriors is one of this season's swing questions. Players coming off the same injury have been noticeably less effective than projected upon their return, and KD was already likely to experience some decline in his early 30s. At the same time, when last we saw Durant fully healthy in the first two rounds of the 2019 playoffs, he was making a case as the league's most dominant individual force, and reports from players who have played with him during rehab have been encouraging.

More: Durant "ready for anything" in Nets' new smallball lineups


5. Kawhi Leonard

play
0:23

One-finger block! Kawhi comes up with clutch denial on Murray's dunk attempt

Jamal Murray attacks the basket, but Kawhi Leonard rises to the occasion to stuff the dunk using his middle finger.

LA Clippers | SF

Previous rank: 2

2020-21 projected RPM: 4.1

Leonard's first season in Los Angeles (and the Orlando bubble) didn't have the same kind of storybook ending as 2019 in Toronto. The Clippers, trendy picks to win the title, were shocked in the second round after holding a 3-1 series lead on the Nuggets. Leonard was complicit, as he shot 6-of-22 in the deciding Game 7. Still, Leonard is primed to outperform his No. 5 ranking. He finished fifth in MVP voting despite his load -- whoops, injury -- management and finished second on a per-game basis in my wins above replacement player (WARP) metric in the playoffs.

More: Leonard ready to "get back after it" following playoff loss


4. Luka Doncic

play
0:47

Doncic nails game winner as time expires in overtime

Luka Doncic drills a fadeaway 3-pointer as time expires to win the game for the Mavericks and tie the series vs. the Clippers 2-2.

Dallas Mavericks | PG

Previous rank: 16

2020-21 projected RPM: 3.4

The next great superstar served notice to the league in his second season, becoming the youngest player ever to earn All-NBA First Team honors based on age as of opening night. Doncic impressed in his playoff debut versus the LA Clippers, knocking down a 28-foot, step-back winner in overtime and averaging 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists in the six-game series. Next for Doncic: Leading the Mavs to a series win for the first time since their 2011 championship. Based on what we've seen from Doncic, that's a matter of when, not if.

More: How Luka compares to the all-time NBA greats


3. Giannis Antetokounmpo

play
2:18

Giannis' rise is a product of David Stern's global NBA vision

On this special episode of The Woj Pod, Adrian Wojnarowski talks about Giannis Antetokounmpo's rise to NBA superstardom.

Milwaukee Bucks | PF

Previous rank: 1

2020-21 projected RPM: 7.5

There's a reason much of the league spent this offseason hoarding cap space in preparation for Giannis' possible unrestricted free agency next summer. He has nothing left to prove in the regular season after winning back-to-back MVPs and Defensive Player of the Year before age 26, all while leading the Bucks to the NBA's best record in both seasons. Yet Giannis wasn't having the same impact against the Miami Heat in the playoffs before an ankle reinjury ended his series prematurely. To return to No. 1, Antetokounmpo must improve his scoring against defenses designed to keep him out of the paint.

Listen: "The Giannis Draft" on the Woj Pod


2. Anthony Davis

play
2:34

The best of Anthony Davis' title run in the playoff bubble

Take a look back at the best highlights from Anthony Davis' title run with the Lakers in the bubble.

Los Angeles Lakers | PF

Previous rank: 5

2020-21 projected RPM: 4.0

For the first time in the 10-year history of NBArank, teammates finished 1-2. It's a testament to how well AD played in the Lakers' championship run that he created debate about who should win Finals MVP. It was Davis who hit the biggest shot of the playoffs, a 3-pointer to win Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. And the Lakers played better with Davis alone on the court in the postseason (plus-5.0 points per 100 possessions, via NBA Advanced Stats) than with LeBron James alone (plus-0.5) -- a reversal from the regular season.

More: What it took for Anthony Davis to get to this moment


1. LeBron James

play
2:18

LeBron's most memorable playoff bubble moments

Check out the best moments from LeBron James' championship run with the Lakers in the bubble.

Los Angeles Lakers | SF

Previous rank: 3

2020-21 projected RPM: 6.1

To quote "The Wire," "The King stay the King." After controversially relinquishing the No. 1 spot to Giannis in the wake of his injury-marred first season in Los Angeles, LeBron reclaimed the NBArank throne he has held nine of the past 10 years by winning his fourth title and Finals MVP at age 35. James continues to evolve, leading the league in assists while ceding some scoring to Davis. With the short turnaround before opening night, it's unlikely James will match last season's 67 (of 71) games played. Come playoff time, however, there's still nobody you'd rather start your team with than LeBron.

LeBron: Best thing about contract is potential future with son

ESPN Forecast polling conducted in coordination with Microsoft Research and The Wharton School.