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

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Friday, September 23, 2022

NBArank is back for its 12th season counting down the best players in the league.

Where are MVP candidates such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic? What about rookies and young stars ready to take the leap into the upper tier of NBA players?

To get the final NBArank prediction, we asked our expert panel to vote on pairs of players: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry vs. Ja Morant, Luka vs. Jayson Tatum ... and the list goes on.

We asked, "Which player will be better in 2022-23?" Voters had to predict what they expectedfrom each player during the season.

We've already revealed playersNos. 100-26,Nos. 25-11and a surprising Nos. 10-6. Today, our rankings conclude with the league's top five superstars.

Note: ESPN's NBArank panel, composed of over 200 reporters, editors, producers and analysts, were asked to rank players based on their predicted contributions -- quality and quantity -- for the 2022-23 season only.

No. 5: Stephen Curry

Golden State Warriors | PG

2021 NBArank: 5

If a Finals MVP was the piece of hardware missing from Curry's argument as one of the all-time greats, that's now taken care of, as Steph led the Warriors to their fourth title in six years en route to earning the elusive accolade. Sources told ESPN that,heading into training camp, Curry is looking in shape and primed to pick up where he left off.

Why his ranking was unchanged

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

One huge 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 ended the last. And despite rising conversations about Curry's age (he'll turn 35 before the end of the regular season) and how big his remaining window is, his performance suggests he could continue to play at this level for the foreseeable future.

Why he could end the season No. 1

Based on Curry's 2021-22 campaign, there's no obvious reason to believe he couldn't end this season as the No. 1-ranked player in the league. Barring an extended absence, Curry should be able to put together a strong, complete season that could see him win another championship and possibly more individual hardware.

-- Kendra Andrews

No. 4: Joel Embiid

Philadelphia 76ers | C

2021 NBArank: 7

After two straight narrow second-place finishes behind Jokic in MVP voting, Embiid is again a favorite to claim the award as the anchor of what should be one of the better teams in the league.

Why he rose three spots

Embiid was dominant 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 and the first time a center had averaged at least 30 points per game across an entire season since Moses Malone in 1981-82.

Embiid also averaged the fewest minutes of any player to win the scoring title with 33.8 per game, beating the 34.2 mark Curry set in both 2016 and 2021. He has become a complete player offensively, able to score at all three levels with ease, and is one of the league's most imposing rim protectors.

One huge question for 2022-23

At this point in his career, the only question left for Embiid isn't necessarily up to him: Can he make it through a postseason healthy?

To this point in his career, he has had one dose of bad injury luck after another, including a facial fracture and thumb sprain during Philadelphia's playoff run in the spring. When Embiid is healthy and available, there might not be a more dominant player in the NBA today. After playing a career-high 68 games last season, Embiid is eyeing both a healthy regular season and playoffs this time around. If he does, the sky's the limit.

Why he could end the season No. 1

After years of having to make up for the deficiencies of a flawed roster around him, this season is the first time Embiid will be surrounded by a team built to optimize his strengths. That will only increase Embiid's chances of claiming that elusive MVP award and leading Philadelphia to the deep playoff run missing from his résumé.

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

-- Tim Bontemps

No. 3: Luka Doncic

Dallas Mavericks | PG

2021 NBArank: 4

After spending his offseason starring for the Slovenian national team, Doncic should report to training camp in game shape for the first time in a few years. When conditioning isn't a concern, Doncic is one of the NBA's most dominant forces.

Why he rose one spot

At 23, Doncic has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's in the top tier of superstars, a perennial All-NBA selection and an MVP candidate. He cemented that status last season, when he was the lone 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, Doncic led Dallas in points, rebounds and assists 10 times during the playoffs -- the most ever in a single postseason, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

He's arguably the best offensive weapon in the NBA -- a threat to win scoring and assists titles who picks apart defenses with a blend of power, skill and savvy. He's also a ruthless competitor, as evidenced by his unforgettable Game 7 demolition of the top-seeded Suns, when he single-handedly matched Phoenix's scoring total in the first half.

One huge question for 2022-23

How far can Doncic lead a team that doesn't feature another All-Star? Dallas' roster was dealt a significant blow when Jalen Brunson, the Mavs' second-best player last season, bolted for New York in free agency. Mavs management is confident that Brunson's scoring void can be filled by Tim Hardaway Jr.'s return from injury and Christian Wood's arrival via trade.

But in a league loaded with star duos, Doncic carries as big of a burden as anyone. Doncic has led the league in usage rate the past two seasons, a trend that's likely to continue into 2022-23.

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 that Doncic climbs to the top of the ballots, especially if he gets off to a strong start and Dallas claims a top-four spot in the competitive West.

The Mavs went 32-12 -- a 60-win pace -- with Doncic in uniform after he returned from a three-week absence to heal his sprained ankle and work on his conditioning.

-- Tim MacMahon

No. 2: Nikola Jokic

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 Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. expected back this season, Denver hopes to be back in contention, led by its two-time reigning MVP.

Why he rose four spots

How did Jokic follow up an MVP season? He got better. Jokic became just the 13th player in NBA history to win back-to-back MVP awards and did so with a historic campaign. He's the first player to average 25 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in a season and the first to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and field goal percentage.

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

One huge question for 2022-23

The Nuggets are whole again, but can Jokic and a new-look roster recapture the form that helped Denver reach the West finals in the 2020 bubble? Murray missed all of last season due to a torn ACL, and Porter Jr. was out since early November due to back surgery.

The Nuggets welcome both back but also went through some changes in the offseason, namely adding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown and trading Monte Morris to the Washington Wizards to clear playing time for emerging second-year point guard Bones Hyland.

Why he could end the season No. 1

If he was able to 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 on post-ups last season, the most in the league. With a full complement of contributors around him, Jokic won't face the same type of defensive attention.

While his scoring might dip, assists and other categories could increase this season. And if he can three-peat as MVP, Jokic would pull off what only Larry Bird, Chamberlain and Bill Russell have accomplished -- that sounds like a recipe to become the No. 1 player in the league.

-- Ohm Youngmisuk

No. 1: Giannis Antetokounmpo

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 winners in league history. So the question remains how he will add to that list. 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? The expectations are high each season, but Antetokounmpo usually finds a way to exceed them.

Why he rose one spot

From the pure consistency and the reliable dominance each night from Antetokounmpo, his claim on the status as best player in the world has only been strengthened in the past year. Arguably no player in the league can match his impact on both ends of the floor.

To follow up winning his first Finals MVP, Antetokounmpo challenged for the scoring title, averaging 29.9 points (third in the NBA), while grabbing 11.6 rebounds, dishing out 5.8 assists with 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. Even though Milwaukee was without its second best player, Khris Middleton, during their second-round playoff series against Boston, the Bucks extended the series to seven games on the will of Antetokounmpo, who averaged 31.7 points, 14.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the postseason.

One huge question for 2022-23

What new skill will Antetokounmpo bring to the table? After each offseason, Antetokounmpo emerges with a new skill in his arsenal. Over the years, he has refined his vision as a passer, has improved an outside jumper that keeps defenses guessing and has become more unstoppable attacking the paint and in the post. Is it possible for Antetokounmpo to get even better?

-- Jamal Collier

NBArank 2022:Nos. 100-26 | Nos. 25-11 | Nos. 10-6 | Nos. 5-1

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