Last Monday officially marked the end of an illustrious career for Carmelo Anthony. The future hall of famer announced his retirement via social media after sitting out this season as a free agent. Although it would've been nice to see him compete for one last title, Anthony seemed content with his decision. While I've had the privilege of watching a few great athletes, Anthony stands alone, and here's why.
All of the playoff seasons the Knicks enjoyed from 2010-2013, can be attributed to the arrival of Carmelo Anthony. It's true Amare Stoudemire was propelling the Knicks in the right direction prior to Anthony, but injuries would ultimately keep him from reaching his full potential. However, Anthony made an immediate impact, leading the Knicks to the playoffs in his first three years. The 2013 season saw the Knicks have their best season in almost 20 years, and their first playoff series win in 13 years. Having been dreadful before, those were some of the best seasons Knick fans could remember for awhile. Even in the dark years, Anthony still proceeded to give fans something to cheer for despite being maligned by management.
But if there's one thing anyone could agree with when debating Carmelo Anthony's legacy, it's that he was one of the few athletes who embraced playing for a tough sports market like New York. Many athletes might want to play for a New York City-based team, but they're not prepared for the pressure that comes with being in the Big Apple. Anthony knew what he was getting into, and he welcomed the challenge. During his time with the Knicks, Anthony explained "When you go to places like New York, you feel the excitement, the energy is different, the fans are different, and the game is different playing in New York."
A few years after his Knick career, Anthony reiterated his desire to play, saying "I wanted to take that challenge on. Whether I failed at it or not, I wanted to be able to say that I did it. I took it upon myself to say 'Get me there.' Not everyone has that same mentality." That earned him the respect of many New Yorkers including myself.
On the court, it was hard not to appreciate Anthony's game. He might've not been the all around player his buddy LeBron James is, but when it came to scoring, Anthony was pure. He was also a strong rebounder, particularly on the offensive end, but his scoring will always be talked about, as it should be. In a league where three point shooting has rapidly increased, Anthony was definitely no stranger to using the three point line, but he used the whole floor offensively. With the strength to score inside, along with a deadly jump shot, Anthony's game was was as sweet as soft serve ice cream. In short, good things were bound to happen whenever he had the ball.
Even after getting traded, Anthony was such a likable player who was easy to follow. He grew as a person over the years, and it was evident through his efforts in becoming a leader of his community during the social unrest in America. Anthony's work earned him the 2020-2021 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award.
It will be weird watching the NBA with Anthony officially retired. Although he never won a championship, he conducted himself like a champion, and had many championship-worthy nights. There will never be a day where I wasn't happy to have him as my favorite athlete.
The Knicks gave their fans an unforgettable season, winning their first playoff series in 10 years, before ultimately falling to the Heat in the semifinals. They were a tough, resilient team that fit the city and its fanbase like a glove. Unlike most years, where they become more irrelevant as the season goes on, New York got better as the games went on, going further than they have in a decade.
While there are many reasons why New York had their most successful season in recent memory, a few stand out in particular.
From a roster standpoint, the team got a major boost from the free agent signing of point guard, Jalen Brunson, who took this team to the next level. While a decent amount of players from the 2021 season still remained such as Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin, the Knicks were in desperate need of a point guard who could guide the offense. Brunson did show plenty of improvement the year prior, but that didn't stop some Mavericks from letting him walk in free agency. Although the Knicks were criticized for signing him to a $110 million contract, that now seems like a bargain if anything. While this is only Brunson's first year as a Knick, he already has a legitimate case as the best free-agent signing in Knicks history.
Throughout the season, it became more apparent that Brunson was finally the point guard the Knicks have been searching for. His production and leadership were essential in helping the Knicks rebound from a 37 win season the year prior. Brunson posted career highs in points and assists, while spearheading an offense that averaged 10 more points than last season. More importantly, he helped the Knicks maintain their success over the course of the year in a competitive Eastern Conference. He further proved himself in the playoffs, averaging 27 points, five rebounds, and four assists. This included an incredible 38/9/7 in 48 minutes in game five against Miami to stave off elimination. Brunson's presence, also allowed other players like Randle to thrive in more comfortable roles.
For head coach Tom Thibodeau, anyone who viewed him as incredibly stubborn, must think twice. He's not perfect, but he made many adjustments that had a major impact. His best move, without question, was going with a nine man rotation despite having a fairly deep roster. It jumpstarted an eight game win streak, and while some wondered how long it could last, the strategy ultimately proved to be the right decision. Other smart moves, included inserting Quentin Grimes into the starting lineup, and finding an immediate role for Josh Hart after the Knicks traded for him in February.
If there's one attribute the Knicks had this season, it would be their resilience. With all due respect to their top options, Brunson, Randle, and Barrett, they aren't superstars. A team constructed like the Knicks must do all the little things right from hard-nosed defense every possession, to picking up after another's mistake. Whereas some teams might struggle in that department, it was easy for the Knicks because they had such a tight knit group. Everybody understood their responsibilities, and were determined to excel in their roles. New York's chemistry only got better when they acquired Hart, who was Brunson's Villanova teammate, at the trade deadline.
Each month, the Knicks continued to make significant strides as a team, and it showed from December up until the semifinals. Some moments that highlighted their grit included the eight game win streak that sparked the turnaround, an overtime road win in January against the Celtics, a 20 point comeback against the 76ers, a nine game win streak from February to March, and their first round triumph.
This was a significant step for the Knicks in becoming a playoff contender. They have a strong foundation of unselfish players who work extremely well together. With the majority of this team likely returning, along with the possibility of the Knicks being an attractive destination this offseason, there are plenty of reasons to be excited going forward. With Brunson on the roster, anything is possible.
NBA Playoff Predictions
It seemed like every few weeks, a new team was making a legitimate case as an NBA title contender while another team was just treading water in that time period. As a result, this was the first time since the 2000-2001 season that no NBA team won 60 games in an 82 game season. However, that doesn't mean this year's playoffs will be entertaining. There are a number of teams that could go on a deep playoff run whether it's the league best Milwaukee Bucks, or the Los Angeles Lakers who didn't clinch a playoff spot until Tuesday's play-in win. Here are my predictions.
Eastern Conference: Western Conference:
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Nuggets 4
#8 Heat 0 #8 Timberwolves 1
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Nuggets 4
#4 Cavaliers 1 #4 Suns 2
#4 Cavaliers 4 #4 Suns 4
#5 Knicks 3 #5 Clippers 2
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Bucks 4 #1 Nuggets 4
#3 Celtics 2 #3 Nuggets 1 #2 Lakers 1
#3 76ers 4 #3 Kings 4
#6 Nets 1 #6 Warriors 3
#2 Celtics 4 #7 Lakers 4
#3 76ers 3 #3 Kings 2
#2 Celtics 4 #2 Grizzlies 2
#7 Hawks 1 #7 Lakers 4
It's no secret that today's NBA players have a lot of power to determine their future compared to other athletes. Teams are always willing to satisfy the needs of their superstars because they're investing so much in them. This ultimately puts the player in a position where he wields a lot of power to influence his team's decision making. However, that power is sometimes used to request a trade if he's dissatisfied for some reason.
This year, as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant had their trade requests granted as the Brooklyn Nets shipped them off to the Mavericks and Suns, ending the championship dreams Brooklyn once had when they signed the two stars.
While all players deserve the freedom to seek a new destination, one must wonder when should a player be entitled to want out.
It's very common for high-profile players to voice frustration with their teams whether it's the departure of an important player, displeasure with the coach, or concern about their team's direction. Granted, it does brings another layer of entertainment to a league filled with storylines each week. Durant himself stated, "It just brings more attention to the league, and really what makes you money is when you get more attention. So, I think it’s great for the league, to be honest."
But is it really great for the league when a superstar takes advantage of the power his team gives him?
There are plenty of scenarios where a player wants to be traded even though he might have been the problem. The NBA is a league where teams need stars to perform at a high level, and if they fall short because of their best player's personal shortcomings, that's not on the other players or the coach. Irving is a perfect example, as his personal beliefs and actions held the Nets back from reaching their potential. While he felt like the Nets hadn't respected him, it was Irving who did them a disservice - making more headlines for his controversial opinions rather than winning.
So that goes back to the original question: when is it reasonable for a player to seek a new destination?
The answer is that a player must consistently star for their team, embrace every challenge thrown at them, and hold themselves accountable before expressing his desire to be traded. If it's the team that fails them every season, then they have every right to seek greener pastures. Even after wanting out, they still must conduct themselves professionally. Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony are two players who fit this category.
Anthony proved to be the superstar the New York Knicks were hoping for as he consistently performed at a high level for six seasons. But with poor executive decisions, the Knicks began to waste Anthony's all-star years. While he didn't ask to be traded, everyone knew he wanted a fresh start. Even under a regime that was intent on criticizing Anthony, he continued to compete each game. Today, the majority of the Knicks fans appreciate him for embracing one of the most demanding markets in sports.
Davis quickly blossomed into the player the New Orleans Pelicans hoped he'd be when they drafted him with the first pick in 2012. However, they only managed to make the playoffs twice, and in the midst of another losing season Davis expressed his desire to be traded. Despite backlash from fans and being forced to play restricted minutes, Davis still performed at an exceptional level before getting shipped to the Lakers in the offseason.
At the end of the day, players will always have their opinions regardless of whether they're justified or selfish. They know the power their teams are granting them and some will use it for themselves while others don't find it that important. Then again, anytime a star player gets traded, there's always the chance for bitter feelings between all parties involved. But if a he gets traded after years of embracing the responsibility of a star, he'll be remembered for all the right reasons.
In 2023, The Pelicans Will Fly
As the calendar flips to 2023, most of the NBA title favorites such as the Bucks, Celtics, and Nuggets have been making their case during the season's first quarter. However, there is always a new team that enters the mix and this year, it's the New Orleans Pelicans. After sneaking into last year's playoffs, they've taken a significant step forward thanks to the return of Zion Williamson. There are obviously a lot more games left but this team is seriously good enough to win a round or two.
After a strong showing against the 64-win Suns in last year's playoffs, New Orleans has stormed out the gate to begin the season. They are currently sitting in third place of the Western Conference with a 21-12 record. A big reason why they've been so successful is that they have one of the league's most well-balanced rosters. Young players such as Williamson and Brandon Ingram and veteran acquisitions like C.J. McCollum have all been making significant contributions because they all know their roles.
Zion Williamson has unquestionably been the most important player of the Pelicans. Viewed as a franchise-altering pick, Williamson has dealt with numerous injuries, and even though he's played well when he was healthy, the team often lost. But now Williamson is playing like an MVP candidate, and the Pelicans are winning, which is the combination fans have waited to witness since the day he was drafted. Williamson is currently averaging 25 points and seven rebounds, while seemingly defying gravity in some way every game. It would not be a surprise to see him make the All-NBA first team at the end of the regular season.
In addition, Williamson's supporting cast is arguably one of the best in the league. On offense, Ingram and CJ McCollum are two crafty players who can score in various ways, and hit big shots down the stretch. Their defensive standouts consist of two sophomore players in Herb Jones and un-drafted guard Jose Alvarado. Jones is a tough wing defender thanks to his freakishly long wingspan, while Alvarado makes his mark with his IQ and tenacious hustle.
If there's any concern, it could be the lack of a true point guard. McCollum may be productive at the position in the regular season, but he has usually played shooting guard his whole career and opposing defenses could affect his decision making.
Other than that, they have all the tools to make a deep run. Their roster as a whole consists of many players who have at least one year of playoff experience. Even though Williamson has yet to appear in a playoff game, he is used to the spotlight and will certainly thrive. When they go into the playoffs as one of the best in the west, don't be surprised.
It is not even three full years into this decade, but if there's any recurring trend, it's that plenty of teams were finally able to overcome years of mediocrity and make the playoffs. Whether it has been adjusting to COVID, a major acquisition, or a well timed winning streak, teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, and Phoenix Suns finally managed to break long standing playoff droughts. The Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies also recently added their names to the list.
Here's why this pattern continues:
Surprisingly, the first cause has been the effects of the COVID pandemic. Although all teams were challenged with adapting to empty venues, COVID actually might've helped teams who were previously struggling.
Some teams who benefited from these unusual circumstances include the Cleveland Browns, who allowed more fans and only played three games in empty stadiums, unlike many of their opponents whose stadiums were empty all season. In another example, the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres. were particularly fortunate to play in a shortened season. While some might see these seasons as fluky, it is fair to say that they benefitted from these unusual circumstances as both teams underachieved the following year.
Regardless of COVID, there were other teams who were already well-positioned to break their playoff droughts and were just one player away.
In 2019, the Buccaneers boosted a talented roster that was competitive, but missed the playoffs for the 12th straight year. However, their progress was enough to lure Tom Brady in free agency. The rest was history, as Brady won an seventh Super Bowl in a convincing 31-9 triumph. The following season saw them lose in Divisional Round but there's no question Brady has changed the culture in Tampa Bay.
The Phoenix Suns, with a young roster led by Devin Booker, went 8-0 in the NBA bubble but narrowly missed out on the play-in tournament. Despite this, they established a foundation and would soon trade for Chris Paul whose greatest ability is elevating his teammates. Since then, the Suns not only broke their 10 year drought, but have won more games than any other team, and made the 2021 Finals.
If there's one thing great teams have in common, it is the ability to embark on a winning stretch at the right time. This is also how some teams were finally able to get over the hump to make the playoffs. Just as they would slowly start to fall out of the playoff picture, they heated up at the perfect time.
The 2021 New York Knicks are a perfect fit for this category. While they had already showed significant improvement, it looked like their luck was starting to run out with just over a month left. What followed was a nine game winning streak, culminating into 16 wins in their last 20 games: good enough to clinch the fourth seed. Their first playoff series in eight years against the Hawks lasted only five games, but witnessing their game 2 win in person was an incredible experience for me.
Unlike the Knicks, this year's Seattle Mariners were looking to take the next step after falling short of the playoffs the previous season. They started slow but found their stride in July: the exact time baseball games become significant. Seattle won an amazing 14 consecutive games, which boosted them into the wild card picture, a position they would not relinquish. Last Friday, they finally put an end to their 21 year drought; the longest out of any American sports team at the time.
Takeaways From My First WNBA Game
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
When you’re going to an event for the first time, there’s probably a ton of thoughts racing through your mind.
Will I enjoy it, what am I going to get out of it, and will I want to go again?
For me, those were some of the things I was wondering about before going to Tuesday night's Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) game between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces with the New York Times Sports Storytelling course. As someone who has gone to plenty of Knicks games for the last 10 years, I was curious about what type of experience I would get from watching a WNBA game for the first time. Forty minutes later, I left Barclays Center hoping for another chance to attend a game.
Las Vegas emerged victorious last night as they extinguished the Liberty’s burning torch, leading throughout the entire contest. The Aces improved to 16-7 while the Liberty fell to 9-14. In a game that featured a combined six all stars, four of them on Las Vegas, the Aces barely broke a sweat in the first half, leading 53-28 at halftime thanks to a balanced scoring attack led by All Star MVP Kelsey Plum. However, the Liberty fought back valiantly in the second half, scoring a WNBA record 73 points in a single half. With superstar Sabrina Ionescu on the bench, her fellow all-star Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb trimmed the Aces lead to single digits by the end of the third quarter. Ionescu joined the rally in the fourth quarter by scoring 21 of her 27 points, but the Aces hit key shots down the stretch and ultimately emerged victorious.
After the game, Liberty coach Sandy Brondello credited the team for their ferocious rally, but stated that if they continue to replicate their first half performance, “We’ll lose against every team.”
While watching, I tried to observe more than any other basketball game I’ve previously attended. What I witnessed was tons of off-ball movement with all five players working as one. Yes, there were still one on one baskets whether it was from Ionescu or Plum, but more often than not, each basket involved an off-ball screen, a cut to the basket, and the extra pass. As someone who has seen lots of basketball, I would rather see possessions where everyone plays as one compared to sequences where someone tries to dunk it over everybody. There’s plenty of times in the National Basketball Association where teams have a sequence involving all five players working together, but that tends to come during the first minutes of action or when a coach draws up an out of bounds play.
When an NBA game is free flowing, players will try to use their athleticism to outsmart their opponents which can only do so much. In last night’s game, the possessions that saw lots of passing were more frequent. The most impressive part is the fact that they aren’t running a specific play, but rather trying to outsmart the opponent by using their brains.
In a question surrounding the play style of teams, third year player Jocelyn Willoughby has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury but still finds the WNBA teams to be “more team oriented” and “fundamentally sound”.
If more NBA teams could adapt the playstyle WNBA teams play with, the game as a whole would be more beautiful because everyone would have a significant role on each possession. As a matter of fact, it would open more opportunities for highlight reel plays since players will be in a better position to make those spectacular plays. Everyone, including myself, understandably enjoys watching the entertaining moments of an NBA game but if good ball and player movement can lead to a great play, it’ll be the best of both worlds.
Inside The Atmosphere of a WNBA Game
In my first time going to a WNBA game between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces, I was curious to see what the atmosphere was going to be like. For 10 years I've been going to Knicks games and even during the highest and lowest points, Madison Square Garden has always provided fan entertainment so there were lots of questions racing through my mind given that this was also my first time going to Barclays Center. By the time the final buzzer sounded, I was very impressed.
The atmosphere at Barclays was very exciting from start to finish. There were over 5,000 fans at Barclays which might not seem like a lot, but, given the nosebleed sections are usually covered up, that’s a very respectable number of fans. They also did a very good job keeping the fans engaged during breaks, and having been to a Lakers home game, the entertainment the Liberty provided was way better in my opinion. My favorite source of entertainment was when they did a Liberty chant in a style replicating the J-E-T-S chant. However, they were most engaged in the early stages of the Liberty’s rally where Sami Whitcomb had a three point barrage to conclude the third quarter.
When asked about the fans, Vice President of Communications Alesia Howard said, “People have been very receptive. If you know anything about New Yorkers, you know that they love basketball and they’ve been very supportive of the women.”
She also gave credit to Ionescu for improving the team’s marketing, noting that “It’s great when you have the talent, performance, and skill to back it up because that’s what people want to see.”
For anyone that has yet to see her play in person, I definitely recommend it. Especially after she practically couldn’t miss in the fourth quarter.
As for the long term outlook of the WNBA, there is still plenty of growth. They have already made significant progress as they are the longest standing professional league for women. Given the lack of coverage it receives however, going to a game seems to be the only way to get a true glimpse of the action in a WNBA game. Meanwhile in the NBA, you have a variety of ways to watch whether it’s your team’s channel, ESPN/ABC, or TNT. If I hadn’t gone to last night’s game, I wouldn’t have truly known how talented some of these players are.
During warmups, I got to ask Jocelyn Willoughby if she thinks NBA players have done enough to help improve the WNBA’s recognition. She replied, “I think there’s been growth in that area but more can be done. I don’t think it’s just NBA players. I think it’s valuing women more…NBA players’ engagement in the WNBA is definitely an important step.”
For the WNBA, the support from NBA players is one of many important steps toward the league’s quest to become more popular.
When you're watching the NBA Finals, something should stand out about each roster. Not the stars on both sides, but rather the way these rosters were constructed. When you look at talent for both teams, you may notice that almost every important player is playing for the team that drafted them. This year's Finals were no different, as the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics both built their rosters through the draft.
Throughout NBA history, the majority of championship teams have constructed their roster from the ground up by using the draft as the key to success. Whether it's Magic Johnson's Lakers, Michael Jordan's Bulls, or Tim Duncan's Spurs, almost every championship roster was driven by homegrown talent. The same can be said for the Warriors, whose longtime success in the draft propelled them to their fourth championship in the last eight years. Sure, there are some exceptions, such as the 2019 Raptors and 2020 Lakers, whose top two players were acquired by free agency or trade. However, both teams used previous draft selections to acquire a big time star who proved to be the missing piece, whether it was Kawhi Leonard for the Raptors or Anthony Davis for the Lakers.
Despite this, there are still teams who set out build championship caliber rosters to pursue marquee players who are either free agents or on the trade block. This year's Nets and Lakers are primary examples. The Nets went into the season hoping that their big three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden would lead them to a championship. Instead, Kyrie's refusal to take the Covid vaccine, Durant's knee injury, and Harden's desire to seek a trade culminated in the trio playing only two games this season. Even when Kyrie returned full time, the Nets got swept in the first round and with Kyrie's future uncertain, Durant might be the only one left by the time next season starts.
Out west, the Los Angeles Lakers believed they needed a third star, and would acquire Russell Westbrook on draft night. With a big three of LeBron James, Westbrook, and Davis, the Lakers looked set up to be on a collision course with the Nets. However, Los Angeles wouldn't even make the play-in tournament, as their supposed big three only played 21 games together. While their 11-10 record suggests the Lakers could've made the playoffs had all three been healthy, they would've been an early exit as they were never more than three games above .500. As of now, it's hard to imagine that the Lakers could be successful next season without parting ways with one of the three players.
On the other hand, the Golden State Warriors returned to the NBA's pinnacle after two non-playoff seasons thanks to the talent they've developed over the years. Besides Andrew Wiggins, their whole core is made up of players who they took a chance on in the draft. The first three guys that typically come to mind are Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. They set the foundation for Golden State's' long time success and each of them have been on the team for every single one of their championships during this dynasty. Additionally, Golden State's 2019 draft pick Jordan Poole developed into a reliable scorer, averaging 17 points off the bench in the playoffs. The most impressive part about Golden State's success in the draft is the fact that Curry was the highest selection at number seven, with Thompson being the only other lottery pick at 11.
As for the Boston Celtics, their success in the draft started in 2013 when they traded franchise cornerstones Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets for a ransom of long term picks. Fast forward to 2022 and Boston's top three players - Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart - are all prized possessions of the trade. Tatum is clearly the alpha dog of the three, but Brown has developed his game beyond dunking, while Marcus Smart became the first point guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1996. Boston has also seen Robert Williams and Grant Williams take significant steps this season. Robert Williams in particular has a really bright future and could win a DPOY. Although Boston lost in six games, they are still very much contenders after some had written them off earlier in the season.
Any team will gain more attention from the media if they manage to acquire a star or two. They will be on national TV plenty of times and tickets will go up significantly. However, this isn't always the right formula toward building a championship team, as most of these moves don't yield the long term results many would expect. When watching the NBA Finals, general managers should realize that both teams have a least one major contributor who they previously drafted. This year was just another addition to the long list of Finals matchups where both teams had gotten to this point through the draft.
Top 25 NBA Players Under 25
This year has seen so many young players in the NBA take huge steps in their careers. Whether it was Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, or Luka Dončić, the NBA is certainly in good hands for the future. With all the young talents in the league, here are my top 25 players under 25.
1. Luka Dončić
He will not win MVP as I predicted before the season but his incredible sense on the court, clutch shot making, and career averages of 28 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists will eventually earn him one. His averages are even better in the playoffs as he's turning the Dallas Mavericks into a playoff contender, as he will play in his first career Conference Finals following a 35 point masterpiece in game 7. Whether Dallas wins or not, it's only a matter of time until he will have accomplished everything an NBA player could dream of.
2. Jayson Tatum
In his first year as the established number one option, Tatum propelled the Boston Celtics to the second seed after an 18-21 start. Though he was always a big time scorer - just look at game 6 - he established himself as one of the league's best two-way players with his lockdown defense on Kevin Durant in the first round and clutch shooting against the Bucks. Add in the playoff experience he already has at age 24 and Boston could soon be hanging up banner 18.
3. Ja Morant
The high flying dunker of the Memphis Grizzlies took a massive leap in his third year, winning the league's Most Improved Player. Morant's incredible athleticism has made him one of the league's most exciting players. His impact on the team can't be understated as Memphis finished second in the West and won their first playoff series since 2015. Fans will now be hoping that he can make a full recovery as his amazing postseason was cut short after a knee injury.
4. Trae Young
Young's disappointing postseason makes it difficult to put him in the top three, but he still gets the nod at four. His ball handling and shooting has made him one of the league's most entertaining point guards since his rookie season. He's also became one of the league's best finishers with a bunch of clutch shots in big games such as last year against the Knicks and then the Cavaliers in this year's play-in.
5. Zion Williamson
Despite missing all of this season, Williamson still cracks the top five. When he is healthy, Williamson is one of the more dominant players on the court. He will back down anyone that stands in his way despite his small size for a power forward. On defense, he's a brick wall who refuses to let opponents have their way against him.
6. LaMelo Ball
LaMelo Ball is an impressive playmaker who has made the Hornets one of the league's most entertaining teams. While everyone loved his passing, they were skeptical about his shot. However, he has transformed his shot into a strength which is why he's dangerous on the offensive end. Although Ball hasn't appeared in a postseason yet, that will likely change.
7. Anthony Edwards
Anthony Edwards is probably the first player since LeBron to come into the league possessing an explosiveness that's highlight worthy, despite having the body of a football player. This allows him to get to wherever he wants on the court, whether it's out on the perimeter or in the paint. After being a finalist for Rookie of the Year, Edwards took a jump by leading the Timberwolves to the playoffs where he was easily their top player throughout the series.
8. Bam Adebayo
Bam Adebayo's skillset allows the Heat to flourish on both ends of the floor. On offense, he went from someone who could only score above the rim, to a decent midrange shooter with the ability to put the ball on the floor. He might look undersized on defense at 6'9, but his athleticism and agility makes him one of the league's toughest defenders.
9. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
For the last two years, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a bright spot for the lowly Thunder. He's always been a good scorer, but he's also starting to become a facilitator. Despite being in the league for four years, Gilgeous-Alexander is only 23 years old. When you consider the fact that he nearly averaged 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists, imagine what he'll be doing four years later.
10. DeAndre Ayton
His future is murky as he only played 17 minutes of the Suns game seven debacle, but that shouldn't understate the fact that he's still a solid player. He might not be as flashy as the other big men in the game, but he has always been a guarantee for buckets and rebounds. In every year, he's averaged double figures for points and rebounds.
11. Darius Garland
Garland is a crafty offensive player who can excel offensively with or without the ball. Although he was solid in his first two seasons, Garland's play took a massive jump this season. His averages of 21 points and 8 assists earned Garland his first career all star appearance and although the Cavaliers lost both play-in games, Garland gives fans a reason to believe again.
12. Brandon Ingram
If it wasn't for Ingram, the Pelicans wouldn't have made the playoffs, let alone the play-in. Ingram has blossomed into a consistent scorer. During the play-in however, Ingram took his game to the next level as he led the Pelicans to two straight wins en route to a playoff birth. In his first playoff series, Ingram averaged 27 points in a losing effort.
13. Jarrett Allen
With the Nets, Allen was a decent player but after getting traded to the Cavaliers, he's took on a more significant role. His offense is solid, but his defense is what makes Allen a great fit for a team that surprisingly allowed the fifth fewest points in the NBA. Allen's play resulted in his first all-star selection.
14. Evan Mobley
You can't mention Jarrett Allen's impact on the Cavaliers defense without mentioning Evan Mobley. Although he didn't win Rookie of the Year, Mobley is a very talented power forward who looks like the second coming of Anthony Davis. He can wreak havoc at the rim on offense and defense. The only difference, is that he's a better ball-handler and shooter at this point in his career than Davis in his rookie season.
15. Lonzo Ball
Had it not been for two seasons where he had to be shut down because of injuries, Ball would be higher on the list. When healthy, Lonzo Ball is a solid playmaker who's defense is extremely underrated. His impact on the Chicago Bulls this year was undeniable as they went 22-13 with Ball, compared to their 25-27 record (including playoffs) without him.
16. De'Aaron Fox
For the last five years, De'Aaron Fox has been the only player worth watching on the Sacramento Kings. His quickness makes him one of the more entertaining point guards in the league. Although Fox has yet to make the playoffs, his career averages of 19 points and six assists suggest that he'll make the most of the opportunity when the time comes.
17. Scottie Barnes
When Scottie Barnes was drafted back in July, many people thought he went too early in the draft and that the Raptors had reached. Fast forward to now and there's no one who is against that pick. Barnes won Rookie of the Year and helped the Raptors exceed expectations by making the playoffs. Although they lost to the 76ers in six games, Barnes already has a significant role on this team.
18. R.J. Barrett
Unlike most people who make these types of lists, I will acknowledge Barrett's gradual improvement throughout his three seasons. He has become a threat from the perimeter, he's probably the team's best on-ball defender, and he delivers under pressure. Last year, he was integral to the Knicks surprising success and this year, he became the youngest Knick to average 20 points a game.
19. MIles Bridges
Miles Bridges has always been one of the league's most exciting dunkers, but this year Miles Bridges showed he's more than just a dunker. He has worked on his craft and it was evident this season. He averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and assists.
20. John Collins
Like Bam Adebayo, John Collins has also become more than just a guy who can excel above the rim. While he doesn't have the physicality Adebayo has, Collins is probably a better three point shooter. He can also put the ball on the floor and he remains a favorite for Trae Young to throw alley-oops to.
21. Jaren Jackson Jr.
In the first season that Jaren Jackson was fully healthy, he put up strong numbers all across the board. Offensively, Jackson can score from anywhere as he averaged 16 points and six rebounds. He was also a big reason why Memphis was one of the best teams at protecting the rim, blocking two shots a game.
22. Tyler Herro
After a stellar rookie season which saw the Miami Heat reach the NBA Finals, Tyler Herro took a step back. However, he has rebounded this year, averaging career highs in points and assists while shooting about 40%. Herro's scoring off the bench has helped fuel the Heat's offense and as a result, he won Sixth Man of the Year.
23. Desmond Bane
After a decent rookie season, Desmond Bane has taken a significant step in his sophomore season. He doubled his scoring average from nine points to 18 points. Most of his offensive production comes from three, where's he's shot 43% in each of his first two seasons. In the playoffs, his three point % hovers around 50.
24. Tyrese Maxey
Before the Philadelphia 76ers traded their malcontent Ben Simmons for James Harden, Tyrese Maxey really stepped up as the no. 2 option behind Joel Embiid. Even after Harden's arrival, Maxey continued to flourish with his craftiness on offense. As a matter of fact, Maxey performed better in the postseason than Harden, averaging 20 points compared to Harden's 18 while displaying a lot more effort. Just search up his hustle in game three against the Heat.
25. Jordan Poole
When the Golden State Warriors selected Jordan Poole late in the first round, not many thought much about the selection. However, Poole now has a significant role with the team, establishing himself as the newest "Splash Brother" alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The only difference between them is that Poole is 10 years younger than both Curry and Thompson.