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. 30 to 11.
NBArank: 30 to 11
One big question: Will Booker find a way to make his teammates better and win? Phoenix’s struggles haven’t been all Booker’s fault. Far from it. In 2018-19, he averaged career highs of 26.6 points and 6.8 assists, and now he’s on his fifth head coach in as many seasons. However, at some point, if Booker is going to be a star, he will have to lift the Suns to more than 21 wins — the number he has averaged over his first four seasons. — Ohm Youngmisuk
One big question: Can Harris help make up for the loss of Jimmy Butler? As the adult in the room for the Sixers last season — to use Brett Brown’s words — Butler averaged 4.1 field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, compared to Harris’ 2.3. With Butler and his closing abilities now in Miami, can Harris and his freshly minted five-year, $180 million deal assume that role for a Philly team that is big on talent but small on shot creators? — Dave McMenamin
One big question: Young is a voracious scorer and offensive mastermind, but in his sophomore season he will need to address his greatest vulnerability: defense. His defensive real plus-minus of minus-4.74 in 2018-19 was the lowest rating for an NBA starter in five seasons. While rookies often struggle to grasp the physical demands and nuances of NBA defense, Young must get up to speed if he aspires to lead the Hawks to the kind of success his brilliant offensive gifts portend. — Kevin Arnovitz
One big question: It’s a two-parter for Murray: what and when? What does the next evolution of his game look like, and when is it coming?
Year 2 to 3 is traditionally an important developmental stretch for a young player, and Murray took significant strides last season. Coach Mike Malone praised Murray for his poise, ball control and generalship of the young Nuggets, but for Denver to move up another rung in the Western Conference, Murray needs to start scratching the surface of being a star. — Royce Young
One big question: How is Russell going to fit into the Warriors’ system? This is one of the biggest questions in the league this season. If Russell can fit into Steve Kerr’s offensive schemes quickly, he will help bridge the gap until Klay Thompson returns from his ACL injury. If he doesn’t, Russell might be headed elsewhere before next season as the Warriors try to find their way without Kevin Durant. — Nick Friedell
One big question: Can Fox make another leap?
Despite finishing third in Most Improved Player voting, Fox made the most dramatic transformation of any player last season, going from sub-replacement level as a rookie to a quality starting point guard. Our panel is expecting another jump from Fox, who won’t turn 22 until December and made a strong impression with USA Basketball this summer. I’m a little wary given the possibility that his dramatic 3-point improvement (from 31% to 37%) might not hold up. — Kevin Pelton
One big question: Will Conley be able to lift Utah into title contention this season? That was the assumption by many when Conley was dealt to Utah. It’s a lot to put on a point guard who will be 32 years old when the season starts, but with Conley (and Bojan Bogdanovic), Utah could make some noise in the West. — Andrew Lopez
One big question: Can he stay healthy? There’s no denying his talent. He’s coming off a third-team All-NBA selection, and he displayed his overall skill set masterfully in Motown last season. Members of the Detroit Pistons training staff will be paying close attention to his load management this season, as they’ll look to keep him fresh during the second half of the season. Griffin played in 75 games last season and averaged 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists. It will be interesting to see how he gels with new teammates Derrick Rose and Tony Snell. — Eric Woodyard
One big question: What is Siakam’s ceiling? Last year, he blossomed into a star next to Kawhi Leonard, helping the Raptors win their first title while earning the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Now that Leonard is gone from Toronto, this has become Siakam’s team. If Toronto is going to remain a factor in the East, it needs Siakam to take another step and become an All-Star and All-NBA candidate this season. — Tim Bontemps
One big question: Can he stay healthy? The Heat have a style that leads them to play so many close games. Butler is a game-changer in these moments; he could be worth five wins based on his clutch ability alone. However, he has to be on the floor to do it. He’s missed an average of 16 games per year over the past six seasons, and he just turned 30. — Brian Windhorst
One big question: Can Mitchell tap into his quick feet and 6-foot-10 wingspan to find some defensive consistency? Touted for his defensive potential when he entered the league, he’s still evolving as an on- and off-ball defender. Last season, he ranked 204th overall in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus. That and how he meshes with Mike Conley are worth tracking. — Mike Schmitz
One big question: How will the current state of the Wizards impact Beal, both mentally and physically, on the court? With John Wall out and a clear emphasis on player development, Washington will likely finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Will the frustration of losing and playing heavy minutes (back-to-back 36 MPG seasons) take its toll on Beal to the point that he will ask out? Or will the All-Star embrace the challenge of trying to lead a young Washington team? — Bobby Marks
One big question: Can Towns become as good on defense as he is on offense? His offensive numbers are grand — he’s a double-double machine — but the league’s best big men control the game on defense, too. Last season, Towns and the Wolves ranked 24th in defense. The season before, they were 25th. That isn’t good enough, folks. Towns has the size and the talent to change his team’s defensive culture, and the future success of the team is riding on him. — Kirk Goldsberry
One big question: Just how good is Walker? We are about to find out. For years, he has been stuck in the definition of basketball purgatory in Charlotte. Joining the Celtics this summer as a free agent puts him at the helm of a vastly more talented team. And it will engender comparisons to Kyrie Irving all season. — Bontemps
One big question: What kind of shape will Doncic be in at the start of the season? He played himself into Rookie of the Year condition after coming in with the excess weight that comes with being the king of Madrid. How Doncic maintains his body is a big factor in whether he’s an eventual MVP candidate. — Schmitz
One big question: Can Simmons become a $170 million player? The Sixers didn’t give him that money for the player he is today. They gave it to him for the player they believe he can become — someone who is the best player in a playoff series. He’s not there yet for a number of reasons, with his jump shot being at the top. But he’s ranked here, essentially two seasons into his career, because he has a tremendous skill set. — Windhorst
One big question: Can Gobert add to his offensive game? The two-time Defensive Player of the Year is a weapon in a limited offensive role, leading the league in screen assists (6.0 per game), field goal percentage (.669) and dunks (306) in 2018-19. He’ll never be a go-to post-up threat, but it’d be a major plus if Gobert could reliably punish smaller defenders on switches even when he doesn’t get to the rim, as he did in France’s win over Team USA at the FIBA World Cup. — Tim MacMahon
One big question: Is McCollum ready to step up as a co-headliner with Damian Lillard for an entire season? McCollum has long been the secondary scoring Robin to Damian Lillard‘s Batman for the Trail Blazers. The past two seasons, McCollum averaged 21.2 PPG in the regular season versus Lillard’s 26.3. However, that story changed during the past two playoffs, with McCollum upping his scoring to 24.8 PPG versus Lillard’s 25.2 PPG. If McCollum can maintain that raised level of shotmaking throughout the season, it would ease the load on Lillard and help Portland challenge for the top spot in the West. — André Snellings
One big question: It’s the question as old as time: Will he change? Does he want to change? Can he if he does? In a new situation with the Rockets, if there was ever a time for some personal growth for Westbrook, it’s now. People close to Westbrook say he has a refreshed mindset and is excited about the challenge of adapting to fit alongside James Harden. The chemistry will be there between the two, but sometimes a square peg and a round hole can be best friends and still not fit. Westbrook will assuredly make an effort, but can a trimmed down version of him still be the dominant player he has always been? — Young
One big question: Can he be an effective leader? Irving has made it clear that he won’t set out to prove anything about his leadership or basketball abilities to people outside the team. That isn’t important to him, and that’s fine. He needs to prove to his coaches, teammates and the Nets’ front office that he can be a force of unity. Irving has admitted that leadership was hard for him, but he has shown flashes of it. Last season, Celtics players told ESPN that Irving pulled them aside before the playoffs. Irving let the team’s young players know that playoff basketball is a different, more urgent game. When he did that, Terry Rozier told ESPN that the locker room exuded a different energy. The team was together, Rozier said, “not like before.” — Malika Andrews