With the 2016-17 NBA season upon us, there are plenty of great players and stories around the league that are worth watching. Will the San Antonio Spurs drop off at all without their leader, Tim Duncan? What will change with the Los Angeles Lakers? Who will end up the NBA champions at the end of the year? We don’t really know the answers to these questions yet, but what we do know is that there are some great players in the NBA that make the season entertaining. Here are the 30 best players in the league right now based on playing stats.
30. Mike Conley
The 29-year-old point guard, who signed the biggest contract in NBA history in the offseason, slides into the back of the list at number 30. Conley is no star, and it’s questionable whether the Memphis Grizzlies did the right thing in signing him to that massive deal, but he’s a quality defender and not so bad on the offensive end. In his 10-year career, Conley has averaged 13.6 points and 5.6 assists per game, and he’s off to a running start this season with 19.6 points and 6.7 assists in his first three games.
29. Andrew Wiggins
Originally drafted number one overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Andre Wiggins was dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves in return for forward Kevin Love before even playing a single game for Cleveland. While the Cavs have been to two straight NBA Finals’, Wiggins has developed slowly for the Wolves. For his career in two-plus years, the athletic Wiggins is averaging 18.9 points per game on 45% shooting from the field, but has improved on his three-point shooting and overall efficiency so far this season.
28. Dwyane Wade
Shooting guard Dwyane Wade is a scoring champion, a three-time NBA champion, and one of the best players of this generation. Now with the Chicago Bulls, Wade is no longer one of the top five players in the game anymore, but at 35 years old, he still slides into the top 30. By just the third game of the season, the Bulls were 3-0 and Wade averaged 16 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game in just 27.3 minutes.
27. Al Horford
The 30-year-old Al Horford left the Atlanta Hawks after nine seasons to sign with the Boston Celtics in the offseason. While he’s lost some serious time in his career to injuries, he’s developed into one of the best all-around centers in the game. Over his last four seasons, Horford has averaged 16.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He’s off to a slow start with his new team, averaging just 12 points and 5.3 rebounds in his first three games, but his track record says he’ll turn it around.
26. Gordon Hayward
The 25-year-old small forward for the Utah Jazz has quietly developed into one of the better players in the game. Last year was Hayward’s best year of his career to date, averaging 19.3 points and raising his shooting percentages over the previous season. He’s one of the big leaders on the Jazz, which is quietly becoming one of the best young teams in the Western Conference. Hayward might be the best player that casual NBA fans never see.
25. Carmelo Anthony
32-year-old small forward Carmelo Anthony is only going to fall further and further down this list, but he’s still here for now. The star of the New York Knicks, Anthony is not the same player he was in his prime — when he led the league in scoring at 28.7 points per game back in 2012-13. Anthony’s minutes, scoring average, and shooting percentages have all seen various rates of decline over the last few seasons, but he can still put the ball in the basket. Through the first four games, Anthony is averaging 21 points this season.
24. Giannis Antetokounmpo
He may have the hardest name to spell in the NBA, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the best young players in the league and climbing the list quickly. “The Greek Freak” stands at 6-foot-11 and has a massive wing-span. Although he looks like a center, Antetokounmpo plays like a point guard. He could guard anybody on the court, too, and is an excellent defensive player. When the Milwaukee Bucks took him with the 15th pick in the 2013, they truly hit gold with one of the most well-rounded stars in the league.
23. Andre Drummond
Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond came into the NBA at just 19 years old and immediately performed for his team, becoming the regular starting center in just his second season. He had his big breakout last year, at the age of 22, averaging 16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds and leading the league in the latter category. Drummond led the young Pistons to the NBA playoffs last year and comes into 2016-17 trying to lead them one step further.
22. DeAndre Jordan
Another excellent rebounding center is DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers. He was nearly with the Dallas Mavericks two years ago, almost signing on with Mark Cuban’s team, before returning to the Clippers at the last hour. Taken by the Clippers in the second round of the 2008 draft, Jordan has really developed into one of the best defensive centers in the league — averaging 11.5 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game since the start of the 2013-14 season.
21. John Wall
Taking with the number one overall draft pick in 2010, John Wall has developed into one of the best point guards in the NBA. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Wall has averaged 18.8 points and 10.2 assists per game, helping transform the Washington Wizards into a playoff team and leading them into the second round for the first time since the 2004-05 season. Wall has received some criticism for not being able to lift his team further on his own.
20. Blake Griffin
Power forward Blake Griffin came into the NBA with some questions, missing his first entire season due to a knee injury. But he put those questions to rest, averaging 21.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game over his seven-year career. He even showed off his great athleticism, winning a Slam Dunk competition along the way. Griffin is one of the best players on one of the best teams in the Western Conference, and is still continuing to improve at 27 years old.
19. Kyle Lowry
Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry is the definition of a late-bloomer, making his first All-Star team in 2014-15 in his ninth year in the league. For a point guard, Lowry is an excellent scorer and three-point shooter. At 30 years old, he has evolved into the best player on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. He’s not a great distributor, like Wall, and doesn’t have the assist totals, but Lowry is a special player nonetheless.
18. Kyrie Irving
When LeBron James left Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach, Kyrie Irving was the consolation prize for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With their terrible 2010-11 season, they earned the top pick in the draft and took the dynamic point guard. Irving developed into a star and James returned to the team three years later, so Irving moved from great player on a bad team to a championship winning point guard. At just 24 years old, Irving is only getting better.
17. Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap was another example of a late developing player. Drafted by the Utah Jazz late in the second round all the way back in 2006. He served in a backup role to Carlos Boozer before taking over as the main starter when Boozer left for Chicago. He eventually signed with the Atlanta Hawks, where he’s transformed into an All Star. Millsap has averaged 17.2 points and 8.5 rebounds since coming to Atlanta back in 2013.
16. Draymond Green
Power forward Draymond Green has had a dramatic transformation as a player since being drafted back in 2012. In his rookie year, he averaged just 2.9 points and 13.4 minutes per game while shooting 32.7% from the field. He’s become a monster player, on offense and defense, averaging 14 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 7.4 assists last season in making his first All-Star team. On a Golden State Warriors team that’s so star-studded, Green is the glue that holds them together.
15. LaMarcus Aldridge
Another one of the best power forwards in the game, LaMarcus Aldridge spent the majority of his career playing for the Portland Trail Blazers before signing with the San Antonio Spurs before last season. For his career, Aldridge has averaged 19.2 points and 8.4 rebounds, and at 31 years old he’s the second-best player on one of the elite teams in the NBA. With Tim Duncan retired, Aldridge is a massive part of the future for his team.
14. Karl-Anthony Towns
Coming into the NBA as a 20-year-old with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns had a lot of expectations while playing for a young team with a lot of other talented players. Towns met those expectations in his rookie season, averaging 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds. Now he has Tom Thibodeau as his head coach, so there are going to be even greater expectations for him and his team. Expect that Towns will embrace it and become an even greater player.
13. Klay Thompson
One of the key members of the Golden State Warriors and the second “Splash Brother,” Klay Thompson has really developed into one of the best shooters in the league over the last few years. If it weren’t for his partner, Stephen Curry, Thompson would’ve had a lot more attention on the fact that he shot 42.5% on three-pointers last year when he knocked down 279 of them. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Thompson has averaged 21.8 points on 42.4% shooting from downtown.
12. DeMarcus Cousins
Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins is one of the most controversial characters in the NBA, but he’s also one of the best. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Cousins has averaged 25.7 points and 11.9 rebounds in 34.3 minutes per game. He’s been involved in trade rumors for years, but for now he’s sticking around in Sacramento with the Kings. At just 26 years old, Cousins is one of the best centers in the NBA today.
11. Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the last pick in the first round after the Bulls put together a 62-20 season and went to the Eastern Conference Finals. Nobody expected Butler to develop into anything more than a solid defensive player, but here he is looking at cracking the top 10 in the NBA. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Butler is averaging 20.5 points and has become one of the best two-way players in the game.
10. Damian Lillard
At 26 years old, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has really taken a huge leap in becoming one of the best young players in the game. When Aldridge left for San Antonio, Lillard upped his scoring to 25.1 points and still managed to average a career-high in assists per game as well. So far in five games in the 2016-17 season, Lillard is averaging an eye-popping 32.6 points and putting up 22.4 shots per game.
9. Chris Paul
People tend to overlook Chris Paul because of how long he’s been around, which feels like forever, but in reality he’s still one of the best players on one of the best teams — and he’s still only 31 years old. Because of his style of play, Paul probably still has a few years left of being one of the top players in the NBA. Last season, Paul averaged 19.5 points and 10 assists for the Los Angeles Clippers, and he’s already off to a good start in 2016-17.
8. James Harden
Dwight Howard left the Houston Rockets in the offseason, and the team brought in run-and-gun head coach Mike D’Antoni. The first major move that D’Antoni made? Moving high-scoring shooting guard James Harden to the point guard position. It’s a small sample, but so far in five games this year Harden is averaging 31.8 points and 12.4 assists per game. If he keeps up a pace even close to that, Harden is going to win his first MVP award.
7. Paul George
Indiana Pacers forward Paul George was on his way to stardom when he had a nasty leg injury during a scrimmage for the USA basketball team. That injury essentially cost him the entire 2014-15 season, leaving doubts about how he might come back from the injury. But not only did he only miss one game in 2015-16, George came back better than before. He averaged 23.1 points and 7 rebounds, and now he’s the centerpiece on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
6. Anthony Davis
Another former top pick in the draft, Anthony Davis is a dynamic center with the kind of skills to become one of the best players in the history of the game. Known for his long, thin frame and unorthodox unibrow, Davis has led the NBA in blocks per game twice and has career averages of 21 points and 9.7 rebounds at the age of 23. So far this season, he’s averaging 31.6 points and 12 rebounds in the first five games.
5. Kawhi Leonard
The number 15 overall pick from 2011, Kawhi Leonard has become an unlikely star in an organization that’s so good at finding them. Before he was an even an All-Star, Leonard was an NBA champion with the Spurs back in 2013-14. With Tim Duncan now retired, the Spurs are absolutely Leonard’s team. So far this year, he’s averaging 28.4 points per game in the first five games of the season.
4. Russell Westbrook
Point guard Russell Westbrook was already one of the best players in the NBA, but with Kevin Durant leaving to go to Golden State and play with the Warriors, he really has the opportunity to show exactly how great he is. In his career, Westbrook is averaging 21.6 points, 7.6 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game — those numbers have only gotten better the last few years. Westbrook is in the elite category.
3. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook, leading the team to the NBA Finals against LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2011-12. Durant has led the NBA in points per game four times in his career, and he decided to leave to play with the Warriors and try to win his first championship last offseason. So far, he has looked good in a Warriors uniform — 30.6 points on 58.7% shooting in his first four games.
2. LeBron James
Entering his 10th season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, split up by a break to play for the Miami Heat for four years, and LeBron James finally has given his hometown their first NBA championship. James has career averages of 27.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game in his 14 years in the NBA and hasn’t shown much of a sign of slowing down lately. He’s been supplanted as the league MVP, knocking him down to the second spot, but he’s still one of the top NBA players.
1. Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry, the league MVP from the last two seasons and the best player on the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, has taken the top spot by helping transform the way the game is played. Curry is a shooter in a way that nobody has ever seen before, hitting shots from insane distances and knocking down a record 402 three-pointers. Curry has led the NBA in three-point shots made over the last four seasons, hitting at an absurd rate of 44.4%.
All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.