For the ninth season in a row, ESPN.com is predicting the top players in basketball with NBArank.
Who will be the best player this season? To get the final prediction, we asked our expert panel to vote on pairs of players.
We asked, “Which player will be better in 2019-20?” To decide, voters had to consider both the quality and the quantity of each player’s contributions to his team’s ability to win games in the regular season and postseason.
We’ll roll out our top 100 players over the next week. Here are Nos. 100 to 51.
NBArank: 100 to 51
Zach Lowe on White’s 2019 playoffs: If you paid attention during the regular season, you knew White was good. I’m not sure anyone expected him to work as San Antonio’s best player for much of its series against Denver, with a 36-point eruption in Game 3 that stood as the best single-game performance of the first round — a two-way masterpiece that bordered on perfection — until Damian Lillard‘s 50-pointer.
Foul trouble slowed White in Game 5. Tiny cracks emerged in his defense. But zoom out and the Spurs must be thrilled with how at home he looks in the postseason hothouse.
Brian Windhorst on Fournier’s summer: Here is the kind of guy Fournier is. As soon as he got his bronze medal with France in the FIBA World Cup, he gave it away, saying he already had one from 2014 at home. Then he criticized American friends, such as former Magic teammate Tobias Harris, for not coming to play. Fournier played with the same fearless attitude throughout the tournament. He battered Team USA, and even though he didn’t shoot great down the stretch, he finished at 41% from 3-point range and averaged 19.8 points in the event. Still unclear: Whether he gave away the watch he got for making the all-tournament team.
Kevin Pelton on Robinson’s role: After spending most of his rookie campaign coming off the bench, Robinson projects as a starter in 2019-20. Among New York’s young players, he is the best equipped with role-player skills to contribute if and when the Knicks add a star.
Andre Snellings on Covington’s rank: At No. 97, Covington is cartoonishly underrated if healthy. He quietly plays Defensive Player of the Year-caliber D, with Rudy Gobert as the only player in the NBA to rank higher than Covington in defensive RPM in each of the past three seasons. Covington had injury issues last season, but in 2017-18, he measured eighth in the NBA in overall impact as determined by RPM, and all seven of the players in front of him that season are consensus top-25 guys when healthy.
Pelton on the Pelicans’ trade for Favors: If Favors proves a good fit, by trading for him New Orleans will have full Bird rights when Favors hits unrestricted free agency next summer. The downside to dealing for Favors is he isn’t quite as stretchy a big man as would be ideal next to No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. As hard as he worked to add 3-point range playing power forward in Utah, Favors topped out last season at 17 made 3s, and he is a 21% career shooter from beyond the arc. So Favors will congest things a bit for Williamson on offense.
That is offset by his polished defense, which will take pressure off Williamson to be a rim protector from day one.
Pelton on Brooklyn’s center position: Though not quite 31 years old, DeAndre Jordan has aged rapidly because of his dependence on athleticism. Because he still is a strong finisher and his size won’t fade, Jordan might be worth $10 million in the first couple of years of this deal. By 2022-23, when Jordan will be 34? That looks incredibly unlikely. Worse yet, the Nets might have to start Jordan ahead of third-year center Allen, a similarly good pick-and-roll option who is far more active defensively at this stage of his career.
Pelton on Miami’s rotation: The Jimmy Butler trade did come at a cost to Miami’s depth. Of the seven Heat players who logged more than 1,200 minutes last season, just three — Winslow, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk — will return. So, Miami is counting on them, along with healthy comebacks from veterans Goran Dragic, James Johnson and Dion Waiters, who combined to miss 102 games due to injuries in 2018-19.
Mike Schmitz on Memphis’ lottery picks: With Jaren Jackson Jr., Morant has an agile big who can get up and down, provide spacing in pop situations or function like a lob target as a diver. Morant-Jackson transition drag screens will give defenses fits, and Jackson’s ability to shoot and handle will give the Grizzlies creative ways to combat teams that dare Morant to shoot or funnel him to the rim, while providing Morant the driving lines he didn’t have at Murray State. Jackson’s defensive versatility and rim protection also will help Morant cover up some of his mistakes on that end of the floor as he gains experience. Memphis still needs to continue building out its roster and putting shooters around Morant, but he and Jackson figure to make up one of the best point guard-big man duos in the league sooner than later.
Check out all the highlights and reaction to Ja Morant’s breakout season at Murray State, where he went from relative unknown to college superstar thanks to his high-flying dunks.
Adrian Wojnarowski on Randle joining the Knicks: Randle has developed into one of the NBA’s most versatile offensive frontcourt players. At 24, he had the best NBA campaign of his five-year career last season, averaging 21.4 points on 52% shooting to go along with 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the Pelicans.
Lowe on Gallinari’s fit in OKC: Gallinari was a borderline All-Star last season, and he can work as the stretch power forward the Thunder haven’t had since Serge Ibaka kinda, sorta became one. OKC can even steal some minutes with Gallinari as a wing.
Pelton on Porter in Chicago: Porter is a solid complementary piece, a capable defender who scores with high efficiency in a limited role. He is a career 39% 3-point shooter who made better than 43% of his attempts in each of the previous two seasons, before dipping to 37% in the first part of 2018-19. There’s little question that the Bulls could use a player such as that alongside Zach LaVine on the wing.
Pelton on Harris and the Nets: The youth of Brooklyn’s returning core of role players sets the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving pairing apart from other star duos we’ve seen in recent memory. Of the other players on the roster, only Harris (28 in September) is older than age 26. At 27, Irving also is in the middle of his prime, giving the Nets plenty of options to supplement Durant if he needs to manage his playing time while coming back from injury and to prolong his career beyond that.
The wing players Brooklyn has stocked up on should fit well in smaller roles alongside Durant and Irving. Harris, the NBA’s reigning 3-point champion, led the league by shooting 47.4% beyond the arc last season.
Tim Bontemps on VanVleet’s 2019 playoffs: VanVleet might be Toronto’s backup point guard, but he was a crucial part of the team’s run to the title. He got hot from 3-point range over the final three games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Bucks to help the Raptors make the NBA Finals, and he played tremendous defense on Warriors star Stephen Curry in their matchups.
Pelton on Marcus Smart’s defense: No regular starter expends more energy on defense than Smart, who seems to will himself into position to thwart opponents’ plays. In addition to effort, that also requires strong pattern recognition from Smart, who excels at gambling defensively when the odds are in his favor.
Kirk Goldsberry on Richardson’s fit in Philly: With the Heat, Richardson built his brand by playing outstanding perimeter defense. He provides Philly with an active, versatile wing capable of frustrating even the world’s best perimeter players. Unlike Butler, Richardson will be content to play off the ball and stretch the floor, making him an ideal wing alongside Ben Simmons.
Richardson might not be as good as Redick as a shooter, but he really is good at hitting open catch-and-shoot 3s. His shooting percentage jumped to 42.4% (73rd percentile) when his defender was at least 6 feet away. Simmons created 452 such open looks last year, and it’s fair to expect Richardson’s 3-point activity to skew toward his strengths in Philly, where he’ll play alongside higher-usage teammates who command a lot of defensive attention.
Lowe on Millsap: Millsap is one of the league’s ultimate gap-fillers — on both ends. He senses what the Nuggets need and does it. He seizes more of the offense if things bog down. He can create something from nothing in crunchtime. He always appears in the right place, at the right time, on defense.
Windhorst on Rubio’s summer: Now one of most experienced international players, Rubio played with a vision and aggression befitting his experience. Spain has a number of experienced players, but he drove it to the World Cup title, scoring 20 points in the championship game to cement MVP honors. He shot the 3-pointer better than in the past, at 38%. If he carries that to training camp, it will be a true boost for the Suns.
Pelton on Nurkic’s defense: Terry Stotts’ defensive scheme calls for the screener’s defender to drop back into the paint on pick-and-rolls, protecting the rim. The 7-foot Nurkic excelled in that scheme, using his size to intimidate in the paint. Per Second Spectrum tracking on NBA Advanced Stats, the 55.9% of shots inside 5 feet opponents have made with Nurkic as a primary defender ranks in the top 20 among players who have defended at least four such shots per game.
Pelton on Tucker’s playoff performance: Because he spent so long in the lottery in Phoenix after returning to the NBA, Tucker didn’t make his playoff debut until age 31, following a deadline trade to Toronto. That’s too bad, because since joining the Rockets, Tucker has proved to be their version of Draymond Green in many regards, including playoff overperformance.
Ohm Youngmisuk is confident that the pairing of Russell Westbrook and James Harden will work during the regular season, but is concerned that won’t carry into the postseason.
Lowe on Adebayo passing Hassan Whiteside last season: Adebayo is a legit starter — hoppy, fast, a smart passer with growing confidence in his elbow jumper.
Malika Andrews on Lopez’s role in Milwaukee: Nothing about Lopez’s 3-point shooting is ordinary. He attempted 512 3-pointers in the regular season — the most by a 7-footer in league history.
While Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated headlines for the Bucks, Lopez was his shooting sidekick, opening the paint for Antetokounmpo’s drives and dunks while making defenses pay if they didn’t step out to guard him.
Wojnarowski on Beverley’s free agency: Beverley was one of the most pursued guards in the free-agent marketplace. His tenacious, versatile play had a huge role in the Clippers’ surprising run to the postseason and their six-game playoff series against the Golden State Warriors.
Wojnarowski on Gordon’s new contract: Gordon agreed to a three-year, $54.5 million contract extension in August. Gordon, 30, was entering the final year of his contract in 2019-20, which is worth $14 million. He has averaged nearly 17 points in his three seasons with the Rockets, which included an NBA Sixth Man of the Year award. Gordon is part of a nucleus that includes James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Clint Capela that is expected to compete with the elite in the Western Conference.
Nick Friedell on Kuzma’s potential: If Kuzma is as good as so many people in Los Angeles believe he is, he will shoot up this list by playing alongside Anthony Davis and LeBron James. The Lakers’ platform has the ability to create stars. Kuzma will become one this year if he lives up to his potential.
Lowe on future finances for Brooklyn and Dinwiddie: In the 2021-22 season, things get hairy for the Nets. Jarrett Allen’s first veteran contract will kick in. Dinwiddie can decline a $12.3 million player option and reenter free agency in the summer of 2021 if he is confident he can get a fatter deal. Caris LeVert‘s deal rises every season, per contract details obtained by ESPN.com. Deals for Joe Harris and Taurean Prince might too if Brooklyn re-signs them. All of a sudden, the Nets could vault something like $25 million over the tax — triggering a tax bill approaching $50 million. Even obscenely wealthy owners might blanch at that.
Lowe on what’s next for Adams: Adams is maybe the biggest winner in the Russell Westbrook trade, by the way. He actually can grab some defensive rebounds now. He is one of the league’s burliest rebounders, and yet his career defensive rebounding rate is almost on par with that of Andrea Bargnani — one of the worst big man rebounders ever.
Windhorst on Bogdanovic’s summer: He shot 36% from 3-point range for the Kings last season, but he was relentless throughout the World Cup, nailing 53% of his 3s and making an average of four per game. Granted, the line is closer in international play, but everything about his shot looked smooth, and his confidence was great. He averaged 22.9 points and was unquestionably one of the best guards in China, as he was named to the all-tournament team.
Goldsberry on Redick’s shooting: Redick has jumped around his whole career. The Pelicans will be his fifth team since he entered the league in 2006. But as Redick entered his prime, the NBA began a love affair with 3-point shooting, and Redick has the checks to prove it, as teams have continued to value his unique ability to knock down shots in all sorts of predicaments.
Dave McMenamin and Scottie Pippen like the direction the Pelicans are going in, but see a difficult road to the playoffs due to the competitiveness in the West.
Lowe on the Lou Williams and Harrell tandem: Each is good on his own: Williams the slippery scorer, and Harrell the ferocious dive-and-dunk machine who treats the rim like a pullup bar along his door frame. Together, they form something more. They lift each other. They keep adding subtle touches designed specifically to work in concert. Defenses have no idea what is coming.
Lowe on the Spurs’ continuity: The Spurs might have the most vanilla tentpole All-Stars in the league, but they also get Murray back to join Derrick White. Remember: The normally stolid Spurs could not hide their enthusiasm last year over what Murray was about to do before his knee injury.
Bobby Marks on Harris’ bonus watch: Already pressed against the luxury tax, the Nuggets could see their $979,000 buffer shrink if shooting guard Harris stays healthy and the team has a deep playoff run.
As part of his four-year, $74 million rookie extension, Harris has $2.4 million in incentives for team playoff success and individual honors. If Harris plays 60 games (which he has done only twice in five seasons), the Nuggets reach the NBA Finals and the team logs 57 wins, Harris will earn $775,000. Winning an NBA championship would push that total to $975,000 and leave the Nuggets just inches away from paying the tax.
Pelton on Bagley’s importance: How far Sacramento progresses as a franchise over the next three seasons will be closely tied to the development of Bagley. In some ways, the broad outline of Bagley’s offense-first skill set should seem familiar to new head coach Luke Walton, who had a similar big man in Julius Randle with the Lakers. Walton progressively gave Randle more minutes at center, relying on his ability to switch pick-and-rolls rather than asking him to protect the rim like a more traditional 5-man. Bagley’s athleticism gives him similar potential as a switch defender.
Ohm Youngmisuk on Ball’s new team: The Pelicans could be one of the more exciting young up-and-comers. Ball, who averaged 9.9 points, 5.4 assists and 5.3 rebounds in 47 games last season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury on Jan. 19, can hardly wait to start lobbing passes to New Orleans’ latest first overall pick, Zion Williamson.
Lowe on Milwaukee and Bledsoe: Even the Bucks are worse off for losing Malcolm Brogdon, their second-best player for parts of the Eastern Conference finals. (One of biggest swing questions in the 2020 title race is whether Bledsoe has permanent playoff-itis. With Brogdon, the Bucks almost made the NBA Finals despite Bledsoe struggling. Without him, they have limited margin for Bledsoe error.)
Pelton on Phoenix and Ayton: As expected, Ayton’s combination of size, skill and athleticism made him an efficient scorer. His .608 true shooting percentage ranked him second among rookies who played at least 500 minutes, behind Mitchell Robinson of the Knicks. As Phoenix finds more playmakers on offense, Ayton should be able to improve on the 21% of the team’s plays he used as a rookie, becoming more of an offensive force.
Tim MacMahon on Hayward’s upcoming season: Hayward arrived in Boston as a top-30 player. It’s probably a stretch to expect him to get back to that level with the Celtics, who have too many mouths to feed to build an entire offense around him like the Jazz did. But Hayward should benefit from a better atmosphere in Boston and a full year of chipping away at rust and doubt and merit All-Star consideration in the Eastern Conference.
Schmitz on SGA’s potential: I’ve long been a supporter of Gilgeous-Alexander as the best long-term point guard prospect in the 2018 draft, and I’ll remain on that island for the time being. While not clearly as dynamic as Trae Young, I love the fact that Gilgeous-Alexander should be able to defend up to three positions in time, all while making every pick-and-roll read, striding it out into finesse finishes and keeping defenses honest from 3-point range.
Gilgeous-Alexander has the approach to the game — along with the physical upside — that could make him one of the league’s best two-way point guards down the line. He needs to continue shooting it better from 3 and rely less on inside-the-arc jumpers, but I’m keeping my stock in Gilgeous-Alexander for the moment.
MacMahon on Sabonis and valuable bigs: Throughout these rankings, we aren’t buying the theory that big men aren’t that valuable in today’s NBA. I count 15 players who will see all or a significant chunk of their minutes at center (including Derrick Favors, Domantas Sabonis and Jaren Jackson Jr.) among the 50 players in this pool. And there are a bunch more to come in the top 50.
Lowe on Ingles’ moves: Ingles keeps help defenders guessing until the very last second. He has a fake for every part of his body — eye fakes, pump fakes and the meanest pass fake since Manu Ginobili was spinning big guys around like tops. It wouldn’t surprise me if Ingles has some sort of nose fake we don’t know about.
Windhorst on Gasol’s summer: He took only one week off between the NBA Finals and reporting to the national team, making his strong play even more impressive. He played 39 minutes and scored 33 points in a double-overtime win in the semifinals against Australia — one of his best performances in a long career for Spain — in what turned out to be the vital one in securing the gold.
Ohm Youngmisuk and Tim Bontemps think the Lakers and Raptors reunion games will have the most attention on them in 2019.
Lowe on LeVert’s potential: LeVert has a chance to grow into a championship third option, which is probably his appropriate NBA ceiling. He is still just 24, with potential to become an All-Star, two-way wing. His jump shot — he is a career 32.9% shooter from deep — might be the swing factor. The presence of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant ensures Levert will not be overburdened as a primary on-ball creator.
Pelton on Hield’s potential: Because he already is 26 — after revealing last December he had previously been listed a year younger than his actual age — Hield doesn’t have the same kind of upside as De’Aaron Fox. But the centerpiece of the return for DeMarcus Cousins has developed into a high scorer, topping 20 points per game last season by virtue of a combination of more playing time, a faster pace and a 3.2-point increase in his points per 100 possessions. Hield hasn’t made much progress as a playmaker and will likely always struggle defensively, but he is a reliable starter at a position that is difficult to fill. (Nobody knows that better than the Kings, who drafted Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas in the lottery before dealing for Hield.)
Youngmisuk on Williams’ award-winning season: Clippers’ supersub Williams won the Sixth Man of the Year Award for the third time in five years. Since joining the Clippers in 2017-18, Williams has won Sixth Man kudos two years in a row. Williams, 32, averaged 20 points and 5.4 assists in 26.6 minutes per game off the bench last season.
Andrews on Brogdon in Indiana: The Pacers’ splashiest free-agency acquisition was former Rookie of the Year Brogdon, who signed a lucrative three-year, $85 million contract with Indiana. Until Victor Oladipo returns from the quad injury that ended his 2018-19 season, much of the Pacers’ offense likely will run through Brogdon.
Lowe on Ingram in New Orleans: The Lakers rushed Ingram into an alpha scorer identity. Playing a secondary role alongside Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson (and Jrue Holiday, if he remains with the Pelicans, instead of nudging them for a deal to a win-now outfit) will be perfect for Ingram. He can attack off the catch and run pick-and-rolls against scrambled defenses when Holiday, Ball or Williamson swings the ball to him.
His 3-point shooting will be the wild card — the difference between Ingram being a solid veteran and something much more.
Lowe on Chicago: This is a huge year for LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. If LaVine grows into more of an all-around player — and not an empty-calories hog — Chicago’s ceiling and position in the trade market change. Markkanen should be good. He has a good stroke, and some handle and vision, as well as a bit of a nasty streak. But this will be his third season. It’s time for production to catch up with appearances.
MacMahon on Jackson’s potential to rise: Jackson’s rookie season got overshadowed by frequent flashes of brilliance by Luka Doncic and Trae Young, but Jackson also showed signs of being special. Anthony Davis is the only other teen to average at least 13 points and one block per game. Jackson’s blend of perimeter shooting and rim protection makes him a perfect big man to build around in the modern NBA.
Marks on Capela’ fit in Houston: He is perfect fit for the Rockets’ offense, because 54% of his production comes out of the pick-and-roll and cuts, according to Synergy. In fact, per NBA Advanced Stats, more than 99% of Capela’s shot attempts have come from within nine feet of the rim.
Eric Woodyard on Drummond being underrated: My biggest takeaway from the rankings was Drummond being listed outside of the top 50. Sure, he isn’t the greatest offensive threat. But we can’t just glance over the fact that Drummond led the league in boards the past two seasons and is one of eight players in league history to post at least 1,000 points and 1,000 boards in six or more consecutive seasons. I don’t see him slowing down, either — he’s only 26. Maybe they forgot about Dre.
Windhorst on Brown at Team USA: Brown was one of the few Celtics who wasn’t afraid to push back against Kyrie Irving last season when the former Boston point guard took some shots at the younger players on the roster. Brown is sometimes quiet, but he isn’t meek. That attitude has been positive this summer.