There’s a lot that can happen in an NBA season. Teams can rise and fall with a big win or tough loss. The same goes for players too. Some players can fall into a slump and recover too late. Others can raise their game and just keep rising throughout the season.
That’s why it’s risky to predict who will be the top five players at the end of the season barely a month in. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. And I always enjoyed doing the dirty work.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak is the most physically dominant force in the NBA today. The reason he’s my number one pick is because he dominates both ends of the floor. When he’s prowling on defense, no area in the court is safe. He patrols the paint just as well as he plays the passing lanes. His dominance on D is well-regarded given his five All-Defensive Team nominations and a Defensive Player of the Year award. His offense speaks for itself. He’s a matchup nightmare for teams because he’s too fast for centers and too big for forwards. Once the fastbreak train starts rolling, it usually ends up with a powerful dunk after a euro-step on a helpless defender.
Now, he is paired with another superstar for the first time in his career. And that superstar has unlimited range in Damian Lillard. The floor spacing will be so much better and Antetokounmpo’s numbers will be too. Those numbers could quite possibly be championship numbers once again.
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
I know I’m gonna get a lot of raised eyebrows with The Joker being placed at number 2, especially with the playoff run he just had. Those of you who know me know how much I value two-way players, and the two-time MVP is just not that. He is quite possibly the most offensively gifted center in NBA history. He’s what basketball historians dreamed of: a prime injury-free Arvydas Sabonis. He is the greatest passing center ever, and it’s ridiculous when you realize that he’s still improving.
With the way Jokic is playing, the Nuggets’ championship numbers could improve as well. That’s the most important thing for Jokic, more than player rankings.
3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
The all-elusive MVP award was finally captured by The Process after finishing as the runner-up for the previous two seasons. He amazed us with a mixture of Olajuwon-esque footwork, and Diesel-like power. He was just as effective nailing a soft-touch fadeaway as he is powering through for a poster dunk. Embiid also produced on the defensive end, anchoring a top-10 Sixers defense with elite rim protection.
The back-to-back league leader in scoring, however, lost again before making it past the second round. With the most coveted individual award crossed off his bucket list, the Larry O'Brien NBA championship trophy is all that stands between him and a higher rank on this list.
4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks didn’t make the playoffs last season, they didn’t even make the Play-In tournament. But Doncic still makes this list because in only his sixth season, he’s already made four First Team All NBA Teams. Last season was another example of how elite he is offensively. He simply has no weakness, even if he’s playing with or without the ball in his hands.
Doncic will continue to be a top candidate for the NBA MVP this season. He’s also working to enhance his skills, looking to improve the only area in his game that isn’t award-worthy: his defense. Expect to see the Mavs back in the playoffs this season and a very motivated Luka flirting with the league lead in scoring, assists, and triple-doubles.
5. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
This projection is based on what we saw in last season's playoffs where we saw the Brow carry the Lakers from the Play-In all the way to the Conference Finals. In 16 playoff games, the former number one pick averaged almost 23 points, more than 14 rebounds, and over three blocks, while getting nearly one and a half steals per game.
When Davis is both healthy and in shape, there’s no player like him. His matrix-like finishes around the rim are just as impressive as his ability to defend all five positions, racking up blocks and steals like a true fantasy basketball beast. The obvious question is, can he stay healthy and consistent? If The Brow can reach the 65-game mark and play at a high level in all those games, I have him winning at least the Defensive Player of the Year and quite possibly, the MVP.