Ranking NBA top 30 players so far this season: Jayson Tatum rises, LeBron James falls, Kawhi Leonard plummets
As we close the chapter on the calendar year and move into 2023, it’s time for an updated edition of our NBA player rankings.
The last rankings came ahead of the regular season, with The Sporting News’ Steph Noh ranking the players based on who he felt would be best to have on a team for this upcoming season and beyond.
These rankings, which take into account what we’ve seen up to this point in the 2022-23 season, are a collaboration from 11 members across The Sporting News’ Global NBA staff. Each participating member ranked their top 35 players in the league, with a sliding scale of points attached to each ranking. From there, the top 30 players were sorted in order of point total.
With new information comes new results, meaning there is plenty of change since October’s rankings. Most notable are massive leaps from Jaylen Brown and Anthony Davis. The biggest fall? Chris Paul, who went from 17th to unranked. Among other notable players to miss the cut were De’Aaron Fox, Dejounte Murray and Domantas Sabonis.
Now that the voting process is understood, let’s get into the top 10 players at this juncture of the season. If you’d like to see the entire list, click here to skip down.
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15. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder
No moment has proven to be too big for Gilgeous-Alexander, who has made an All-Star leap this season as a 30-point per game scorer and one of the NBA’s most clutch players. As a bonus for Thunder fans, he lands ahead of both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in these rankings.
Shai is no stranger to clutch shots.
Check out some of the best from his young career following tonight’s #TissotBuzzerBeater! pic.twitter.com/RH4E9OQ3u5
— NBA (@NBA) December 20, 2022
14. Donovan Mitchell, Cavaliers
What adjustment period? Mitchell has hit the ground running since arriving in Cleveland, putting forth the best stats of his career up to this point of the season, proving that sometimes new scenery is all you need.
With Mitchell leading the way, the Cavs could exceed expectations and reach new heights this season. He leaps into the top 15 for that reason.
13. Zion Williamson, Pelicans
Williamson, the youngest player to crack the top 30, comes in at 13. After missing all of last season, the 22-year-old didn’t waste much time reminding fans of what he’s capable of, dominating inside with his bruising physicality and making plenty of highlights with his generational athleticism.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN… ZION WILLIAMSON. pic.twitter.com/MhjV7Zpl0R
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) December 10, 2022
12. Jimmy Butler, Heat
The Heat may have gotten out to a rough start this season, but Butler is still that guy. Building off of a legendary showing in the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals, Butler is still a two-way star and someone you’ll trust in the game’s most tense moments.
Jimmy Butler with ANOTHER clutch bucket to seal it for the Heat in OT 🔥 pic.twitter.com/ChNPpxUKoj
— NBA (@NBA) December 3, 2022
11. Anthony Davis, Lakers
He’ll be out for some time with an unspecified foot injury, but Davis was looking like a top-10 player prior to his latest injury setback. For that, he jumps 14 spots to land right outside of the top 10.
Davis has gotten back to the interior dominance that sets him apart, embracing his role as LA’s No. 1 scoring option, allowing LeBron James to take a step back to conserve more energy.
10. LeBron James, Lakers
Previous rank: 8
It almost feels strange to see James land this “low,” making it easy to lose sight of the absurdity of his standing at this stage of his career. Even as he turns 38 in his 20th season in the NBA, James still lands in the top 10… barely!
👑 THROW IT DOWN BRON
The Lakers have cut it to six at the end of Q3 on TNT pic.twitter.com/TDRgsxRBbe
— NBA (@NBA) December 14, 2022
Despite some signs of regression showing through a slight downturn in efficiency, James is averaging 27.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game and, as a reminder of his longevity, will surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer well before the season’s end.
9. Devin Booker, Suns
Previous rank: 13
Booker has fallen just outside of the top 10 in each of our previous rankings. He now gets his just due with a leap into the ninth spot.
With his backcourt mate experiencing a slight regression, Booker has stepped up to assume more responsibility as a playmaker and as a scorer, Booker is as smooth as ever. Booker has already turned in five games with 40 or more points this season, including a 58-point performance in which the ball rarely touched the rim.
Devin Booker dropped his second 50+ point game of the season 🔥
58 PTS (25 straight for @Suns at one point)
So tough. pic.twitter.com/k6z1ZOUahs
— NBA (@NBA) December 18, 2022
8. Ja Morant, Grizzlies
Previous rank: 11
It’s been a steady rise for Morant, who, at 23, continues to remind us that the future is now.
Morant’s stats and eye-popping highlights are one thing, but his star is defined by his approach to the game and the insanely-high basketball IQ that’s apparent in his reads and movements. With the Western Conference seemingly up for grabs, the Grizzlies are in a great spot to dominate for years with Morant running the show.
7. Joel Embiid, 76ers
Previous rank: 3
Last season, Embiid was runner-up for MVP and the first center to win a scoring title in over 20 years. This season, Embiid has been even better, but he slides back due to widespread improvement from the rest of the NBA’s elite.
In the midst of countless injuries to key players in Philadelphia, Embiid is putting together yet another MVP-worthy campaign by averaging career-highs in scoring and assists while shooting at a career-high efficiency from the field. The Sixers have stayed afloat thanks to the otherworldly play from their center, who still stands as one of the most difficult players to guard in the league.
6. Jayson Tatum, Celtics
Previous rank: 9
Tatum has answered the call after he and the Celtics came just two wins shy of winning the NBA title last year.
With the difficulty of a preseason coaching change looming large, it was Tatum’s play that fueled the Celtics’ historically hot start to the season, propelling him into MVP conversations and on the fringe of our top five. In his sixth NBA season, Tatum has taken another step as a scorer by adding a consistent floater to his game and becoming even more aggressive, resulting in more trips to the line.
At the quarter mark of the season… take a look at @jaytatum0‘s top plays so far! #BESTofNBA pic.twitter.com/vVJURaH0M1
— NBA (@NBA) December 5, 2022
Last year showed just how difficult it is to be a player capable of leading a team to an NBA title, with Tatum on the cusp of being that guy. Early returns from this season would suggest that Tatum has turned that corner.
5. Luka Doncic, Mavericks
Previous rank: 6
Doncic was one voter away from being a consensus top-five selection, which, as a reminder, should not be considered normal for a player that’s still months away from their 24th birthday.
On the whole, things are far from ideal for Dallas and its flawed roster, but Doncic’s brilliance has held the Mavericks together. To open the season, Doncic scored 30-plus points in nine consecutive games, the second-highest such streak in NBA history behind only Wilt Chamberlain. Despite a heavy workload on a nightly basis, Doncic’s presence almost always ensures Dallas a chance to compete.
As early as it is in his career, we’ve already seen Doncic’s play uplift lesser rosters to significant heights. This season’s task will be his greatest yet.
4. Kevin Durant, Nets
Previous rank: 5
Even in his 15th season on the court, Durant continues to perfect his craft as one of the most gifted offensive talents the game has ever seen.
MORE: Don’t forget about KD in competitive MVP race
There’s being efficient and then there’s what Durant is doing this year, which is scoring over 30 points on a nightly basis while shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 92.4 percent from the charity stripe. The mid-range jumper remains the staple piece of Durant’s offensive art form, as he’s shooting well over 50 percent from the area. And while Durant is knocking down triples at a very solid 36.5 percent clip, the majority of his shots come inside the arc, where he’s shooting 62.9 percent on the season.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) December 17, 2022
Almost quietly, the Nets have looked like a real contender in the East. Durant’s insane efficiency and impact can allow them to make good on the potential this team boasted about when it was first assembled.
While No. 1 was unanimous with our voters, Durant finished as high as second on our ballots.
3. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
Previous rank: 2
On a nightly basis, the back-to-back MVP makes the most ridiculous of plays and stat lines look routine.
In a span of six days, Jokic scored 43 points (on 17-of-20 shooting), recorded a triple-double that included 40 points and 27 rebounds and, in a different game, threw these passes:
Watch every dime from a night of RIDICULOUS Nikola Jokic assists ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/DSwUU0kJDX
— NBA (@NBA) December 21, 2022
As his passing ability would indicate, Jokic is one of the smartest players that the game has ever seen. From the center position, he not only can read what defenses are doing, but he can also dictate the actions of others with his actions and playmaking ability.
His scoring is slightly down from years past, but Jokic is currently shooting above 60 percent for the first time in his career and averaging a career-high 9.2 assists per game. With the Nuggets looking like a real contender and Jokic in the realm of averaging a triple-double, winning a third-consecutive MVP might not be as far-fetched as it initially seemed.
2. Stephen Curry, Warriors
Previous rank: 4
An ageless wonder, Curry parlayed his excellence in the 2022 NBA Finals into some of the best basketball of his career.
Prior to going down with a shoulder injury, Curry was playing at a level on par with his unanimous MVP season in 2015-16. While it’s to be expected that the greatest shooter of all time would be sinking 5.0 3s per game at a 43.4 percent clip, that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
MORE: How long will Stephen Curry be sidelined with shoulder injury?
In addition to the shooting, however, Curry has noticeably bulked up, resulting in career-best numbers as a rebounder and much more initiative to get into the lane, absorb and finish through contact.
For a Warriors team that is still in search of direction, Curry’s presence was their saving grace. His value will be evident while he’s sidelined and, upon his return, will again be on display as he inevitably will be looked upon to lead them on a run.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Previous rank: 1
It’s not easy to get over 10 people to agree on something, but each of our 11 voters agreed that Antetokounmpo is the best player in the world. His run at the top continues for a fourth-straight ranking.
How could you not? Looking through the descriptors used for the other players that landed in this top 10, so many of them can be used to describe Antetokounmpo.
Year in and year out, Antetokounmpo commits to improving and adding to his game. And we’ve become so accustomed to seeing Antetokounmpo do abnormal things, that it’s become accepted as normal that you can pencil him in for over 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists on a nightly basis.
He’s probably the best defender on the planet, too.
MORE: You won’t believe this defensive stop from Giannis Antetokounmpo
Fresh off of his 28th birthday, it’s fair to assume that Antetokounmpo has several more years of performing at this level, if not more. He’s entered the space where he’s now perfecting his craft in the margins, which is a scary prospect for 29 other teams.
Good as Antetokounmpo is, this year should see him add more hardware to an already overflowing trophy case, be it another MVP award, another Defensive Player of the Year trophy, another NBA title, or all of the above.
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