Fear the Deer!
Thanks for tuning back into another edition of my way-more-than-annual player ranking! For this ranking, I used information from the 2020-21 season, but also moved players around that I think will improve or regress for the upcoming season. So, this is how good I believe players will be for the 2021-22 season.
If you're interested in more specifics, keep reading. If not, just skip down to the rankings! For injured players, I just ranked them how I think they'll be if they weren't injured, but put a star by their name. For positions, I tried to pick what they most often play, or what they would play on a generic team. For a couple of the top guys, I put them at two positions to compare, but only ranked them in one.
The tiers are just as important as the ranking, maybe moreso. Players within a tier could be expected to be reasonably at or approximately the same level. I really like my tier names, so...I hope you do too. I think they are very fitting for the player's level and impact on the game. You'll notice there are fewer players in the tiers at the top, compared to lower tiers; this is intentional and reflects how the NBA works.
I focus on a variety of statistics to construct the rankings. Some of the ones I focus on the most are True Shooting% (TS%), Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), pointz, and advanced defensive metrics. I first rank players by position, since it is much easier to compare relevant statistics that way (for example, centers are going to have more rebounds than guards, and guards are going to have more assists, but neither of those things makes one player inherently better than the other). It is all about value compared to the league as a whole, which is where the tiers are especially important. I use the player tiers to construct the full player ranking, which is why some positions don't have any players in a particular tier. Hopefully that gives you some insight into my process!
I love hearing feedback, so please comment and let me know what you think about my rankings, what I got right, and where you would change things up!
Tier A: Pinnacle
Pinnacle players can be the #1 player on a championship level team. They have proven it by doing it, and could conceivably do it again. They are the pinnacle of the league in terms of both individual performance and team success.
- He's finally earned this spot. Regular season MVP two of the last three seasons followed by Finals MVP with one of the best Finals showings of literally any player ever...Giannis is the best in the game right now and could still get better.
- He's also an ideal franchise player off the court. If you're new to my rankings, I am not a Bucks homer; I had Giannis ranked sixth and not in this tier until the Finals.
- I think it's too early to count Lebron out. The only flaw in his game right now is injuries (oh and don't tell the national media this, but he's been shooting below 70% from the free throw line for three years).
- A deserving MVP candidate this year, Curry is still at this level. He just needs some teammates who can play.
- We saw in the playoffs how devastating Durant can be when he's got his shot working, but he also surprised me with his defense, which totally stifled the Bucks at times. He doesn't provide much in the way of leadership though, either on or off the court.
- He'll probably miss all or most of the upcoming season, which is a shame, but Kawhi was absurdly good this postseason until getting injured. If it hadn't been for the injury, he might be #1 right now, but he may lose some athleticism when he comes back in his 30's from a major injury.
Tier B: Icons
Icons could potentially lead a team to a title, but they lack a little bit of the impact and/or results of the Tier A players. They can lead a team to a high level of success as the best player.
- Defense is his achilles heel, but he's a unicorn of a center who can legitimately be the point guard for his team in the halfcourt. He's also one of my favorite players to watch.
- Despite doubts about his conditioning and desire, Embiid continues to improve as a player and is clearly capable of carrying a team.
- Many people might have Luka ranked higher than this, but his defense and shot selection need to improve before I will; he also needs to learn how to make his teammates better, rather than just being the only star.
- Best second option in the league, who really should be a first option. The Nets are going to be terrifying this coming season.
- One of the best leaders in the league and a marvelous player, I hope Dame stays in Portland and gets a better supporting cast.
Tier C: Superstars
Superstars are capable of leading a team to some success, but need a better supporting cast. In an ideal situation, they would be the number two option, and aren't capable of winning a championship as the best player on a team. However, they are still worth building around if you have one, because their skills are so elite.
- Literally the poster child for an elite second option who can't consistently lead a team by himself. His best postseason result with Jrue Holiday was a first round series win and he often missed the playoffs. However, as a second option, he fits perfectly, even better than players in the tier above would in some circumstances.
- He had a huge postseason and I think that will carry over into next season. Tatum gets slept on by Bucks fans because we don't want to admit the Celtics players are good, but Tatum is a superstar and will only be 23 this coming season.
- An Eastern Conference Finals appearance before anyone expected that kind of success (and in a year where he absurdly didn't even make the All Star team) will open some eyes to Trae. The only thing that could slow him down are new league rules.
- Yeah, the Nets are gonna be really scary. No other team has 3 superstar or better players. If he wasn't actively damaging to team communication, cohesion, and chemistry at times, he could be in the icon tier, but that's just who Kyrie is.
- After leading the Jazz to the #1 seed and individually dominating in the playoffs for the second year in a row, Donovan Mitchell needs to continue improving his game, particularly on the defensive end, but is already an absolute terror.
- The only active player in the NBA who has scored 70 points in a game and can no longer be called a good stats bad team player. This ranking represents a step forward I think Booker will make next year after going to the Finals and Team USA.
Tier D: All Stars
- Good player, but seemed to take a step back this postseason. I wonder if he'll be able to get back into contention for the superstar tier. His game should be ideal for the postseason.
- Helped lead Utah to an incredible regular season, but he did get exposed a bit in the postseason. Still, Gobert is undoubtedly a superstar at times, and is capable of anchoring an elite defense with no help.
- This spot would actually represent a regression for Paul from this past season; I do see that coming. This year he was a superstar, without a doubt, and will continue to play at a high level for several more years.
- Like Paul, I think Conley will take a small step back this coming season, but he is still underrated by most people.
- He impressed after Kawhi went out, except when he missed two game-clinching free throws.
- Critical late-game shot-making and solid defense and passing makes Khris a top 30 player without a doubt. Still, he could stand to improve his overall shooting efficiency.
- Not only is Jrue an absolutely elite defender, he's also a very good passer and protects the ball. His ability to play point guard against the Nets, Hawks, and Suns was critical.
- One of the league's best scorers and passers, but Beal seems content to play on half the court and on a mediocre team, and also doesn't seem to do much to elevate his team. However, he could easily move into the superstar tier if he was more motivated.
- The league's most unusual player in some ways, I think Zion's game will develop this offseason to where he belongs in this spot and potentially higher. Defense is the concern.
- Like Zion and Beal, Towns is a great offensive player/scorer, but terrible on defense. That is particularly critical at the center position. KAT needs to make the postseason again before I rank him higher.
- I think most people are unaware of how good Shai was this season, but not many players can put up 25 and 6 with good efficiency.
- This would be a step forward for Brown, but not a huge one. I think he is capable of taking that step and continues to be one of the league's best young players, despite not getting much buzz and being in constant fake trades.
- This is a step back for Jimmy, precipitated by his inability to be productive this postseason. His completely lack of a deep shot was very apparent, and he'll either need to add that back into his game, or take a backseat from being his team's primary offensive threat and creator.
- This year may be LaVine's last to prove he isn't just a good stats bad team guy. He finally has a star level teammate and a decent coach. Now there need to be results for a guy who scored at an amazing level this year.
So there is the top 30 ranking! Let me know what you think, and give your own top 30 if you want to!