NBArank 2022 – Ranking the best players for 2022-23, 5 to 1

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NBArank is in its 12th season of calculating the best players in the league.

Where are MVP candidates like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic? What about rookies and young stars ready to step up to the upper echelon of NBA players?

To get the ultimate NBArank prediction, we asked our panel of experts to vote on a pair of players: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry vs. Ja Morant, Luka vs. Jayson Tatum… the list goes on.

“Which player will be better in 2022-23?” We asked. Voters should predict what they expect from each player during the season.

We have already revealed numbers 100-26, numbers 25-11 and the astonishing numbers 10-6. Today, our ranking concludes with the league’s top five superstars.

Note: ESPN’s NBArank team of more than 200 reporters, editors, producers and analysts were asked to rank their projected contributions — both quality and quantity — for the 2022-23 season alone.

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Golden State Warriors | PG

2021 NBArank: 5

If Finals MVP was the missing piece of hardware from Curry’s argument, it’s now being addressed, as Steph earned the elusive accolade by leading the Warriors to their fourth title in six years. Heading into training camp, Curry saw the pattern and began to pick up where he left off, sources told ESPN.


Why did his ranking remain unchanged?

Curry is in the same position as he was at the start of last season. Curry by no means had a subpar season after averaging 25.5 points per game on 43.7% shooting — he was an early contender for MVP — but an ankle injury kept him off the floor for the final month of the regular season. In his absence, his teammates stepped up and kept the Warriors afloat to claim the No. 3 seed in the West. Perhaps that — in addition to the rise of MVP contenders below — is why he’s in the same spot on our rankings.


A big question for 2022-23

Can Steph and the Warriors do it again? Despite the strength of their all-star core and supporting cast, their title hopes rest mainly on Curry’s shoulders. As stated above, Curry is said to be ready to start this season as he finished last. Despite the increased chatter about Curry’s age (he turns 35 before the end of the regular season) and how large the remaining window is, his performance suggests he can continue to play at this level for the foreseeable future.


And why he could end the season No. 1

Based on Curry’s 2021-22 campaign, there’s no obvious reason to believe he can’t finish this season as the No. 1 ranked player in the league. Curry could put together a strong, well-rounded season that could see him win another championship and win more personal hardware, avoiding a long layoff.

— Kendra Andrews

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Philadelphia 76ers | C

2021 NBArank: 7

After two straight narrow second-place finishes behind Jokic in MVP voting, Embiid looks to reclaim the award as host of what should be one of the best teams in the league.


Why did he rise three places?

Embiid dominated last season, averaging 30.6 points per game to lead the league in scoring for the first time in his career — the first time a center led the league in scoring since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000. Center has averaged at least 30 points per game in a full season since Moses Malone in 1981-82.

Embiid averaged the fewest minutes of any player to win the scoring title at 33.8 per game, surpassing Curry’s mark of 34.2 in both 2016 and 2021. He has become a complete player and can easily score in all three positions. One of the league’s most imposing rim protectors.


A big question for 2022-23

At this point in his career, the only remaining question for Embiid isn’t necessarily him: Can he make it to the postseason healthy?

At this point in his career, he’s had a dose of bad injury luck, including a facial fracture and sprained thumb during Philadelphia’s playoff run in the spring. When Embiid is healthy and available, there may not be a more dominant player in the NBA today. After playing in 68 games last season, Embiid is looking at both a healthy regular season and the playoffs this time around. If he does, the sky’s the limit.


And why he could end the season No. 1

After years of having to compensate for the shortcomings of a flawed roster around him, this season marks the first time Embiid is surrounded by a team. His Strength. That will only increase Embiid’s chances of claiming the elusive MVP award and missing Philadelphia from his resume.

If those things happen, he could move to the top of this list.

— Tim Bontemps

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Dallas Mavericks | PG

2021 NBArank: 4

After spending his retirement playing for the Slovenian national team, Doncic will report to training camp in game form for the first time in years. When conditioning isn’t a concern, Doncic is one of the NBA’s most dominant forces.


Why did he move up one place?

At 23 years old, Doncic has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he belongs in the upper echelon of superstars, a perennial All-NBA selection and MVP candidate. He cemented that status last season when he was the only All-Star on a Dallas team that went to the West Finals.

Despite a calf strain that sidelined him for the first three games of the first round, Dancic led Dallas in points, rebounds and assists 10 times during the playoffs — according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

He’s the best offensive weapon in the NBA — a scoring threat and a combination of power, skill and intelligence to help pick defenses apart. He’s also a ruthless competitor, as evidenced by his memorable Game 7 demolition of the top-seeded Suns when he single-handedly matched Phoenix’s scoring total in the first half.


A big question for 2022-23

How far can Doncic lead a team that doesn’t feature another All-Star? Dallas’ roster took a significant blow last season when Jalen Brunson, the Mavs’ second-best player, bolted to New York in free agency. Mavs management hopes to fill Brunson’s scoring void with the return of Tim Hardaway Jr. from injury and the arrival of Christian Wood via trade.

But in a league full of star duos, Doncic carries as big a burden as anyone. Doncic has led the league in usage rate over the past two seasons, and is likely to continue into 2022-23.


And why he could end the season No. 1

Doncic has finished fourth, sixth and fifth in MVP voting the past three seasons, respectively. This could be the season Dancic climbs to the top of the polls, especially if he gets off to a strong start and Dallas secures a top-four spot in the competitive West.

The Mavs are 32-12 — a 60-win pace — with Doncic in uniform as he returns from a three-week absence, recovering from a sprained ankle and working on his conditioning.

— Tim McMahon

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Denver Nuggets | C

2021 NBArank: 6

Despite Jokic averaging 31.0 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists, the Nuggets were no match for Golden State in the first round. But with Jamaal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. expected to return this season, Denver hopes to return to contention with its two-time reigning MVP at the helm.


Why did he rise four places?

How did Jokic follow up an MVP season? He recovered. Jokic became the 13th player in NBA history to win MVP honors, and did so with a historic campaign. He was the first player to average 25 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in a season and the first player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and field goal percentage.

Jokic beat out Embiid for MVP by posting the highest PER (32.8) in a single season in NBA history. Jokic collected 19 triple-doubles — the most by a center since Wilt Chamberlain — and led Denver to one more win than the previous season despite missing Murray and Porter Jr.


A big question for 2022-23

The Nuggets are complete again, but can Jogi’s new-look roster recapture the form that helped Denver reach the West Finals in the 2020 bubble? Murray missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and Porter Jr. has been out since early November with back surgery.

The Nuggets welcome back both, but added Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown and Monte Morris to the Washington Wizards, making some changes during the offseason that reduced playing time for rising second-year point guard Ponce Hyland.


And why he could end the season No. 1

If he can put together a historic season without Murray and Porter Jr., what can he do with them back on the court? Jokic was double-teamed 191 times in the postseason last season, the most in the league. With a full complement of contributors around him, Jokic won’t face the same kind of defensive attention.

While his scoring may dip, assists and other categories may increase this season. And if he can make it a three-peat as MVP, Jokic will surpass what only Larry Bird, Chamberlain and Phil Russell have accomplished — which seems like a recipe for becoming the No. 1 player in the league.

— Om Youngmisuk

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Milwaukee Bucks | PF

2021 NBArank: 2

As Antetokounmpo enters his age-28 season, his list of accolades already makes him one of the most decorated hitters in league history. So how he will fit into that list remains a question mark. Can he win a third NBA MVP? The Bucks will be among the favorites to win another NBA championship, but can Antetokounmpo secure another Finals MVP? Expectations are high every season, but Antetokounmpo usually finds a way to exceed them.


Why did he move up one place?

From Antetokounmpo’s sheer consistency and reliable dominance, his claim to status as the best player in the world has only strengthened over the past year. No player in the league can match his impact on both ends of the floor.

Following his first Finals MVP win, Antetokounmpo challenged for the scoring title, averaging 29.9 points (third in the NBA), while grabbing 11.6 rebounds, dishing out 5.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks. Milwaukee was without its second-best player, Khris Middleton, during its second-round playoff series against Boston, and the Bucks extended the streak to seven games at the behest of Antetokounmpo, who averaged 31.7 points, 14.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists. .


A big question for 2022-23

What new talent will Antetokounmpo bring to the table? After each season, Antetokounmpo emerges with a new skill in his arsenal. Over the years, he’s refined his vision as a passer, developed an outside jumper that keeps defenses guessing and has become unstoppable attacking in the paint and in the post. Can Antetokounmpo get even better?

— Jamal Collier

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NBArank 2022: No. 100-26 | No. 25-11 | No. 10-6 | Number 5-1

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