The top 20 players in the NBA, part two

Oct 28, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) and forward Kevin Durant (35) during the fourth quarter of a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center. The Warriors defeated the Pelicans 122-114. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I wrote an article covering the first half of my top 20 players in the NBA. You can read that here.

This is part two.

10. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers– Embiid, only one of two big men in the top 10, has the ability to move farther up this list if he stays healthy and has more postseason success in 2019. In his first relatively healthy season, Embiid led Philadelphia in points (23), rebounds (11), and blocks (2) per game.

9. Chris Paul, Houston Rockets– Paul, a top five all-time point guard, proved his worth last postseason when he went down with a strained hamstring at the end of game five in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets were in the driver’s seat against the Warriors, leading three games to two, but subsequently lost the next two games without CP3. At 33, Paul is still one of the NBA’s top players, and clearly fits perfectly into Mike D’Antoni’s offense in Houston.

8. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics– Kyrie has made it clear that he can be the first option on a title contender, and he will do so again this season. Irving didn’t put up gaudy numbers last season, but showed he could take over whenever he wanted to and I opted to be less aggressive for the betterment of a very talented team.

7. Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors– Kawhi was the hardest player to rank on this list. He was a top three player after the 2017 season, but he was sidelined all but nine games last season with what was presumably a serious shoulder injury. If he is the same player that he was in 2017, he easily jumps up a few spots.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has come out firing this season. Photo by: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

6. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks– If Milwaukee can reap the benefits of having a good NBA coach, the Bucks are suddenly inserted into the top tier of the Eastern Conference and Giannis will get serious MVP consideration. Giannis is still only 23(!) and somehow has plenty of room to get better. That’s a scary thought.

5. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans– It’s such a shame Davis has wasted away his first five seasons (and presumably the next two) on mediocre teams in New Orleans. If he leaves the Pelicans in 2020, expect a LeBron-like impact on his departure à la 2010 Cavaliers.

4. James Harden, Houston Rockets– Coming off his first MVP season, Harden will earn his second MVP trophy if the Rockets can match their success from last year. Harden has already put himself in the discussion for one of the four greatest shooting guards ever. He will probably never pass Jerry West (the freaking logo and criminally underrated by millennials) or Kobe or Jordan (duh). But he will give Dwyane Wade a run for his money if he can win a title this season.

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors– Steph will probably never win MVP again, and he probably knows that, but he continues to prove his immeasurable worth as the heart and soul of the Warriors’ dynasty on and off the court. He would be more than happy with a Finals MVP instead.

2. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors– Arguably the most despised player in the league by fans, Durant is more efficient than ever and of course, winning a lot of basketball games. Please, Kevin, make this your last season with Golden State.

1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers– Entering his 16th season, LeBron is astonishingly still the best player in the league, a title he has carried for a decade. LeBron averaged a career-high nine assists per game last season along with 28 points and nine rebounds. He is my early prediction to win MVP this season, which would tie him for the longest span between winning his first and final MVP with Michael Jordan, who first won the award in 1988 and then in 1998 for the last time.