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. 50 to 31.
NBArank: 50 to 31
Chris Herring on Markkanen’s February: The Finnish 7-footer was on the biggest tear of his career, averaging 26.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in February on 49% shooting overall and 38% from 3. He and Zach LaVine really started playing well off each other.
Kirk Goldsberry on Thompson’s shooting: Thompson has a case as the most terrifying heat-check shooter we’ve ever seen. Unlike almost any other catch-and-shoot specialist, Thompson has won games in huge moments with ridiculously efficient volume scoring. Who can forget the night in 2016 when he scored 60 points against the Pacers despite dribbling just 11 times and possessing the ball for a total of 90 seconds?!
Thompson has made the third-most 3-point shots this decade, trailing only James Harden and Stephen Curry. But what’s incredible is that he did that as second or third banana on one of the era’s most dominant teams.
Kevin Pelton on Bogdanovic in Utah: Bogdanovic could be a great fit in the Utah frontcourt next to Rudy Gobert. At 6-foot-8 and a listed 216 pounds, Bogdanovic is relatively similar in size to former Jazz small-ball 4 option Jae Crowder (6-foot-6, 235 pounds). Sliding him down from the wing to the power forward not only gives Bogdanovic a quickness advantage in most matchups, but also makes his shooting ability even more dangerous.
Brian Windhorst on Collins and Trae Young: Young running the high pick-and-roll with Collins is the new highlight factory in Atlanta, with Collins rolling to the rim to accept lobs from Young in traffic and slamming them down. We’ve devoted a lot of attention to Young, but Collins’ role in the Hawks’ machine is just as impressive. Just two years into the development program, Collins has blossomed into a future All-Star, averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds in his second season.
Zach Lowe on a DeRozan move: DeRozan loves bringing the ball up the sideline and taking a screen from one of San Antonio’s other perimeter players — a method of getting a smaller defender switched onto him. That is when DeRozan can eat. In the 2019 playoffs, the Nuggets conceded a lot of those switches. When they didn’t — when they blitzed him instead — DeRozan made the right play.
Lowe on Gordon: Gordon sort of floats around the offense instead of participating in it … He is talented enough to stumble into 15 points per game this way. He is a solid rebounder and also a stopper on defense across almost every position, if he is dialed in. There is a better player in here, somewhere.
Tim Bontemps on the Pacers’ bigs: Turner and the Pacers agreed to a four-year, $70 million contract extension last fall. Turner rewarded that investment by taking a significant step forward in 2018-19, leading the NBA in blocks and earning himself All-Defensive Team consideration.
Windhorst on a possible Love trade: Love is about to start a four-year, $120 million contract extension that he signed last year. The team is eager to see how he’ll fit in with new coach John Beilein’s system. Love played just 22 games last season because of foot surgery. These facts don’t add to a trade scenario. However, Love and the team knew when he signed the deal that there was a good chance he wouldn’t finish it in Cleveland, and a trade might be inevitable at some point.
More on Zion: Our NBArank panel placed the No. 1 overall pick of this year’s draft 42nd, the highest ever for a first-year player in the nine seasons we’ve been doing NBArank. That’s understandable given Zion is one of the most promising players to enter the league in recent memory.
Still, is it fair to expect any 19-year-old rookie to be one of the league’s top 50 players right away? Our experts dive into what to expect this season.
Royce Young on the Spurs’ expectations: The Spurs just keep on Spurs-ing, and while there are plenty of questions on how they can reclaim space in the upper tier of the West, they remain stable. They dealt with significant injuries last season, but the core of coach Gregg Popovich, big man Aldridge and guard DeMar DeRozan was enough to produce another postseason berth. There’s an obvious need for more talent, but the biggest steps forward are getting Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV healthy and pushing the development of the other young talented players on the team.
Pelton on Vucevic’s breakout season: Never previously considered even an average defender, Vucevic anchored a top-10 defense under new coach Steve Clifford and ranked eighth in the entire NBA in defensive RPM.
Bontemps on Lowry: Kyle Lowry is listed at 6-foot-1. He is oddly shaped. He’ll never be seen as the quickest or most athletic player on the court. And yet, despite all that, he constantly finds himself making winning plays.
Pelton on Green’s postseason performance: Green’s focus has long been on the playoffs rather than the grind of the regular season. And come the postseason, after getting in better shape, he emerged as perhaps the second-most important Golden State player after Stephen Curry during the Warriors’ run to the NBA Finals. Green’s 13.3 points per game in the playoffs were his most since 2016, and his 8.5 assists per game were a career high.
Bobby Marks on Horford’s place in Philly’s lineups: Although there are questions about the Horford/Joel Embiid fit, the addition of the former Celtic gives head coach Brett Brown an insurance policy when Embiid is out of the game. Philadelphia has the flexibility of putting Tobias Harris at power forward (his true position) to pair with Horford. The same holds true when it comes to moving Josh Richardson to small forward, a position he has played the majority of the past three seasons.
Pelton on Middleton’s free agency: Using the threat of a lucrative four-year offer from another team, Middleton was able to get the Bucks to guarantee him the fifth season only they could offer, which will pay him $40.5 million at age 32. As a concession, Middleton did take a slight discount from his $190 million maximum contract, agreeing for a reported $178 million. That will save the Bucks about $2 million in 2019-20 salary, which is crucial as Milwaukee budgets for possibly entering luxury-tax territory.
Ultimately, Middleton got $37 million more from the Bucks than any other team could offer (a maximum of four years and about $141 million). Given the low likelihood he would make a starting salary of $37 million as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2022, that looks like a wise decision.
Jackie MacMullan on Tatum’s sophomore season: The Celtics need more from Tatum, who had an electric rookie season in 2017-18, culminating with a dunk over his childhood idol, LeBron James, in the Eastern Conference finals. Tatum did not build on that success, appearing, at times, curiously passive in 2018-19 and exhibiting occasional defensive indifference.
Herring on projecting the Mavericks: Marking Dallas down for more than 40 wins in the stronger of the two conferences strikes me as a small reach, if only because of how long it might take Porzingis to regain a rhythm after sitting out a season to rehab following his ACL tear.
Pelton on Indiana making it work while Oladipo recovers: Facing a challenging offseason with four of the team’s starters in the 2019 playoffs hitting free agency, the Pacers made moves to maintain and possibly improve their depth, adding Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, T.J. McConnell and Justin Holiday.
The Pacers still are depending on Oladipo’s return at close to full strength for shot creation, but they’ve given coach Nate McMillan plenty of options in Oladipo’s absence.
Goldsberry on CP3’s transformation: Over Paul’s past two seasons, 3-pointers have represented more than 48% of his looks. It has been a remarkable late-career transformation and further evidence that the world’s best shooters can thrive and adapt in ways normal shooters can’t. One of the most intriguing questions about Paul’s next chapter in OKC: Will he go back to his beautiful midrange game?
Marks on Holiday’s place in New Orleans: Holiday is an elite defender who can play multiple positions, and he ranked No. 11 overall in ESPN’s real plus-minus. Despite trading Anthony Davis in June, New Orleans looks content to build around Holiday and run with a competitive basketball team in Zion Williamson’s first season.