NBA Radio is breaking down the top 25 players in advance of the 2016-17 season. The moment has arrived where we finally unveil our best of the best, the top five. You can probably guess who’s here.
5. Kawhi Leonard
With Tim Duncan’s announcement that he was retiring this offseason, the San Antonio Spurs are officially Kawhi Leonard’s team. Though he’s not much of a talker, his fierce competitiveness can’t be muted when he takes the court. We all know Leonard is the best defender in the game (he’s won the Defensive Player of the Year award the last two seasons), but he’s proven to be an all-around player with his 21 points per game last season. The scariest part is that Leonard is only 25. Expect him to be hanging out near the top of these lists for years to come.
4. Russell Westbrook
There’s no player in the NBA who matches pure fierceness with eye-poping athleticism like Russell Westbrook does. He’s impossibly fast, fearless about driving his body directly into the trees, and seems to play best when he has a chip on his shoulder. Hmm, what could Westbrook possibly be upset about? OH THAT’S RIGHT. NBA, beware. Now that the Oklahoma City Thunder is officially Russ’s team, expect him to flirt with career highs despite almost averaging a triple-double every year anyways.
3. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant has been “weak,” “soft” and a few other names we shouldn’t repeat on this blog when he decided to part ways from Russ and OKC to join the comically-stacked Golden State Warriors this offseason. Though there will likely be some growing pains in the new system up in the Bay Area, the Warriors’ M.O. of unselfishly passing the ball until someone has a clear, wide open shot will make life a lot easier for Durant in the new season. Vice versa, the attention that Durant will attract along with No. 2 on this list, Steph Curry, will provide great scoring opportunities for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest of Golden State’s offense.
2. Steph Curry
We knew Steph Curry was a gifted shooter before last season, but after the display he put on in 2015-16 there’s no debating who has the best stroke in the game. Curry shattered his own record by knocking down an otherworldly 402 three-pointers last season, posting a career-high 30.1 points per game and averaging nearly seven assists per contest. As was the case when the Warriors won the championship in 2015, Curry struggled in the playoffs last season as questions about his defensive liabilities and general toughness were once again raised. Still, Curry’s ability to knock down shots from literally just about anywhere on the court, his strong ball-handling skills and willingness to take that buzzer-beater with 100 percent confidence makes him one of the very best players and leaders in the league right now.
1. LeBron James
After that legendary performance to bring a title home to Cleveland, was there any doubt that LeBron James is still the best player in the NBA? No, not really. There’s little to be said about James that hasn’t been said before, but even still, it’s good to be reminded every once in a while that James is one of the greatest athletes Planet Earth has ever seen. When his back to the wall against the Warriors, James unleashed a reservoir of greatness, averaging just a hair under a triple-double (29.7 / 11.3 / 8.9). Though James has shown signs he’s slowing down just a bit, there’s still no one in the league who can slow down James when he lowers his shoulder and drives to the basket. Expect James to elevate his play now that the rival Warriors have added Kevin Durant to their roster. That’s right, 2016 seems destined to produce another Cavs-Warriors Finals matchup, but who doesn’t want to see James play out of his mind again?