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NBA Top 125 players for 2022-23: Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic rank amongst better of Tier 1

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The mountaintop. I’m actually a little bit uncomfortable having this many players here, because it will likely be much closer to a top five than a top 10. That said, Tier 1C has served as form of a holding tank in previous editions for players who’ve unquestionably been great, but for whom I even have current questions.

Tier 1: Players 1-8

Player

  

Team

  

2022 Tier

  

2021 Tier

  

2020 Tier

  

EPM Wins

  

EPM

  

1-12 months RAPM

  

MIL

1A

1A

1A

15.5

7.32

2.42

BKN

1A

1A

1B

13

6.37

3.05

DEN

1A

1B

2A

20.7

9.25

3.57

GSW

1A

1B

1B

15.3

7.15

3.67

PHI

1B

2A

2B

17

7.9

3.45

DAL

1B

2A

2A

11.7

4.47

0.76

LAC

1C

1B

1A

NA

NA

NA

LAL

1C

1A

1A

12.8

6.08

0.31

Editor’s Note: That is the third annual edition of Seth Partnow’s NBA Player Tiers project, during which he names the highest 125 players within the league after each season after which separates them into five distinct categories of value, each with their very own sub-categories to further delineate them. These aren’t meant to be read as firm 1-125 player rankings. Somewhat, they’re meant to separate solid starters from the highest superstars, and each level in between. That is how NBA front offices assess player value across the league when constructing their teams.

We’re concluding the total list today. 

Tier 1C: 7-8

Kawhi Leonard: Up until his ACL injury against the Jazz within the 2021 second round, Leonard had a case for being the perfect player on the planet. His performance saving the Clippers’ season in Game 6 of their first-round series against Dallas was pantheon-level, and he had been utterly dominant in LA’s home wins against Utah until he tangled with Joe Ingles in transition with Game 4 already decided.

In fact, he hasn’t played since, and his health has been a relentless query since he missed a lot of the 2017-18 season. Even when we give him a pass for likely never playing one other second leg in a back-to-back, the questions on his availability for the front ends can’t be answered until he gets back on the ground. However, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry (amongst others) have shown that true greats can return to their previous levels even after a long-term injury. For now, Leonard sits within the “we’ll see” territory of 1C.

LeBron James: Here’s what I wrote about James last yr on this space: 

This coming season will represent considered one of the larger challenges of LeBron James’ profession. I’ve learned the hard way that predicting decline for James is a idiot’s errand. I’ve been spectacularly flawed in doing so not less than once. But in some unspecified time in the future, it should occur. If the defining feature of a Tier 1A player is maximizing margin for error, this season will go a great distance toward demonstrating whether LeBron still provides that for a team.

Not since he left Cleveland the primary time has the team around him been as oddly constructed as this coming yr’s Laker squad. I’m not talking about talent level, as Los Angeles has plenty. Somewhat, the established approach to winning big with LeBron is to surround him (and an offensive partner like Anthony Davis) with loads of shooting while playing stifling defense. Adding Russell Westbrook definitely doesn’t provide the shooting, and the defensive impact of the entire Lakers’ moves is more prone to be negative than positive.

Possibly the league is more competitive than it was when LeBron previously dragged a bunch of oddly fitting teammates to a deep playoff run. Still, last season’s experience definitely suggests that James’ margin for error has dwindled. It’s a testament to his longevity of dominance that this statement could seem even vaguely surprising. He’ll be 38 in December. He’s second all-time in total minutes played, regular and postseason, and first in playoff minutes.

A few of the signs of decline are subtle. James stays remarkably efficient offensively on high volume. His rim attempt rate has declined barely in recent times, but only barely, and he continues to be a monstrously effective interior finisher. He had his best free throw shooting season in a decade in 2021-22. But he also had his lowest assist rate since he was 22. A few of that may be ascribed to worse-shooting teammates and sharing the ground with Russell Westbrook. James’ time of possession dropped from 19.2 percent of his floor time to 16.7 percent. But James has been largely impervious to teammate effects on his stats prior to now.

While the offensive decline was marginal, the identical can’t be said about James’ defense. He ranked 527th in defensive RAPM, based on NBAShotCharts.com. The decline is less marked in metrics with a box rating component resembling EPM, because the rate at which he makes plays directly on the ball hasn’t modified much when it comes to rebound, steal and block rates, but there continues to be a visual decline on that metric as well. The critique of his defensive game has been more about off-ball effort and a focus than getting blown by with the ball. Interestingly, his worst defensive seasons have tended to are available in the fourth yr of his run with a team, notably 2013-14 in Miami and a swan-song 2017-18 in his second Cleveland stint. It’s hard to prove, but James’ defensive issues are definitely consistent with the concept it takes a greater and greater proportion of his available energy to keep up his offensive production.

Perhaps the most important indicator of the passage of time is the rise in James’ injury frequency. He has missed a mean of 21 games per season with the Lakers after only missing greater than 10 games in a season once in his first 15 years within the league.

Taking all that into consideration, James drops to the “probationary zone” for Tier 1 status.

Tier 1B: 5-6

Joel Embiid: I expect that having Embiid barely below Nikola Jokic on this exercise will trigger vehement disagreement. Which is fair. I believe the simplest way I can justify the excellence is to take a look at team success within the playoffs. During the last three postseasons, the Nuggets have won two, perhaps three series they weren’t “presupposed to” (reaching the conference finals within the 2020 Bubble and making the second round last yr despite essentially their entire projected guard rotation being unavailable).  Philly has lost a number of they shouldn’t have (Atlanta two playoffs ago, arguably Miami this yr). This isn’t all Embiid’s fault, after all. Players in 1A have also had setbacks along these lines in recent times, most notably Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks losing in five games to the Heat within the 2020 bubble. But Embiid and the Sixers don’t have any recent unexpected or overwhelming success to counteract those disappointments.

I’ll say that if Embiid not less than duplicates last season’s minute load, efficiency and availability – he missed a career-low 4 games to injury along with his other absences being either COVID-19-related or resulting from resting the ultimate game of the regular season – it could take a very disastrous postseason to maintain him out of Tier 1A. If the Tiers were solely based on one and even two years of performance, he would probably be up there already. But as I’ve reiterated, I’m intentionally stubborn about moving players up, especially on this rarefied air.

Luka Doncic: It’s secure to say Playoff Luka is A Thing. “Best player wins” is an ideal start when predicting the consequence of a series. That’s an excellent thing for a Mavericks team that isn’t overwhelmingly talented outside of the Slovenian, especially after this summer’s departure of Jalen Brunson. 

The priority for Dallas: while Doncic is sweet enough to get them to the very edges of contender status, they haven’t been capable of add the best complementary pieces around him. Kristaps Porzingis didn’t work out. Brunson was an honest companion, but probably won’t ever be ok to be the second-best guy on a title team. The subsequent-best player on the present roster, Dorian Finney-Smith, is solely a task player, even when an elite one.

As for Doncic himself, the minor nitpicks that keep him out of Tier 1A are his tendency to wear down late in games over the course of playoff series, though his fourth-quarter performances within the  2022 postseason were stronger than in previous runs.

Also, that is just partially a difficulty with Luka himself. If he runs out of gas in games where he carries a usage rate of nearly 40 from start to complete, it’s fair to ask why he doesn’t have more help.

The questions on Doncic’s defense are more pertinent to him alone. Though he has made strides on this area, he’ll proceed to get targeted on that end until he proves it isn’t a profitable strategy for opponents. It’ll be intriguing to see if the early reports of his improved summer conditioning prove accurate. In that case, how will that affect either or each of his Achilles heels? It’s not hard to see him making the small step as much as Tier 1A if those upgrades do occur.

Tier 1A: 1-4

Kevin Durant: In doing my diligence around this yr’s tiers, I used to be frankly surprised by the extent of pushback I got for keeping Durant this high. Understandably, most of it was related to Brooklyn’s sweep by the hands of the Celtics and Durant’s poor performance in that series. That argument could be unassailable if this project only addressed probably the most recent season.

Nevertheless, Durant is lower than a yr faraway from being the perfect player on the earth, each within the 2021 playoffs and last summer’s Olympics. While a number of the Nets’ quagmire of a season falls on Durant’s shoulders, that’s rather more attributable to his, let’s say player-personnel advisory role, than to anything he did on the court. Provided that I cannot remember a top team enduring as tumultuous a season as Brooklyn just did, I’m prepared to present him a little bit of a mulligan for one bad playoff series against the eventual Eastern Conference champs.

That said, it could be inconsistent if I didn’t not less than mention that even after coming back from his 2019 Achilles, he has only managed to play in 87 of Brooklyn’s 154 regular season games.

Nikola Jokic: By a solid margin, the perfect regular-season player within the league over the past two years. The difference between Jokic and Embiid in 2021-22 can have been closer than in 2020-21, however the gap in that first yr was canyonesque. Due to the way in which we speak about teams as extensions of their best player, I’m not surprised that Jokic has been criticized for Denver’s early playoff exits via a flurry of Suns and Warriors made jumpers, respectively, but that doesn’t make the purpose any less silly. Most teams struggle when missing their second (Jamal Murray) and third-or-fourth (Michael Porter Jr., give or take an Aaron Gordon) best players.

Much of the Jokic criticism in those series centers on his defense, but he’s managed a 60.8 percent True Shooting on 35.5 percent usage rate while also operating as Denver’s primary ballhandler and sole reliable shot creator over the past two postseasons. Is it a wonder he won’t have had much energy left to defend? While it’s fair to look at that there isn’t any real precedent for a team winning a title with a defensively middling center as its best player, there has never been any team, ever, with a middle possessing Jokic’s combination of scoring and playmaking tools. Let’s see his teams fail badly only once within the playoffs with something resembling a contention-level solid before we write off the chance.

Stephen Curry: Coming off his spectacular 2022 Finals, is there a plausible argument against placing Curry here? Previously two years, I’ve had him a shade below the head. I used to be highly skeptical of him in 2020, when he was coming off a lost season and was 4 years faraway from being the unquestioned 1A on his own team. In the summertime of 2021, there have been worrying signs about his ability to handle a Tier 1A load given a number of the success teams had had by deploying greater wing defenders on him in key moments. For now, I believe he’s answered any and all of those questions.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: The one player to seem in Tier 1A in all three editions of the Tiers Project, though injury-related skepticism about Durant and Curry has rather a lot to do with that. Now with a championship to go together with his MVP, Defensive Player of the 12 months and multiple All-NBA selections, Antetokounmpo has continued so as to add to his game. After two seasons within the 60s, his free throw percentage was a more respectable 72.2 percent last yr. For the primary time in his profession, he shot about league-average from midrange, even when only just at 41 percent. While it was to some extent forced upon him by the Bucks’ early-season roster crunch — Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday missed time with injuries while Holiday and Khris Middleton frolicked within the Health and Safety protocols — Antetokounmpo began to administer his energy through the regular season to preserve himself for the playoffs.

Ultimately, Middleton’s absence forced Antetokounmpo to tackle such a heavy load in Milwaukee’s second-round series against the Celtics that he grew fatigued towards the top of Game 7. But that was a disappointing end to a valiant title defense that saw him average 33.9 points, 14.7 rebounds and seven.1 assists.

In any event, I don’t think there’s any query Antetokounmpo is a player around which a championship team may be built. Making that determination properly is the explanation for engaging on this player-tiering process in the primary place.

Here is the total list for the 2022 Tiers project. Consider that the players inside each subtier aren’t ranked.

2022 NBA Player Tiers: The highest 125

Player

  

Team

  

2022 Tier

  

2021 Tier

  

2020 Tier

  

EPM Wins

  

EPM

  

1-12 months RAPM

  

DEN

1A

1B

2A

20.7

9.25

3.57

MIL

1A

1A

1A

15.5

7.32

2.42

GSW

1A

1B

1B

15.3

7.15

3.67

BKN

1A

1A

1B

13

6.37

3.05

PHI

1B

2A

2B

17

7.9

3.45

DAL

1B

2A

2A

11.7

4.47

0.76

LAC

1C

1B

1A

NA

NA

NA

LAL

1C

1A

1A

12.8

6.08

0.31

BOS

2A

2C

2C

16.3

5.84

4.29

MIA

2A

2B

2B

9.8

4.51

1.57

ATL

2B

3A

3B

14.2

4.88

1.05

PHI

2B

1B

1A

11.2

3.78

1.52

MEM

2B

3B

3B

8.3

3.48

0.82

LAL

2B

2A

2A

6

3.38

-0.08

PHX

2C

3A

3A

11.9

4.47

2.34

MIN

2C

2B

2C

11.7

5.12

2.64

PHX

2C

2C

2C

11.4

4.84

2.4

LAC

2C

2B

2C

5.4

4.4

1.24

POR

2C

2B

2B

3.8

2.33

0.51

MIL

3A

3A

3A

12.4

5.27

3.41

BOS

3A

3C

3B

8.6

2.78

2.27

MIA

3A

2C

3A

8.5

3.93

2.14

MIL

3A

2C

3A

7.7

2.32

1.36

BKN

3A

2C

3A

6.6

5.85

1.69

DEN

3B

3B

3A

NA

NA

NA

CHI

3B

4A

4A

11.6

3.22

1.28

UTA

3B

3B

3B

10.9

4.07

1.11

TOR

3B

3C

3B

9.2

2.3

2.06

CHI

3B

3C

4B

8.8

2.56

0.15

OKC

3B

3B

4A

7.4

2.65

-0.12

GSW

3B

3C

3A

5.7

3.32

0.94

WAS

3B

3B

3A

4.4

1.52

0.51

BKN

3C

3C

3A

NA

NA

NA

NOP

3C

3A

3B

NA

NA

NA

MIN

3C

3B

3A

12.8

4.6

1.64

CHA

3C

4A

NR

9.5

2.82

0.38

MIN

3C

5A

NR

8.7

2.2

1.21

MEM

3C

5A

4B

8.4

2.82

2.2

NOP

3C

4A

4A

6.4

1.33

-0.37

GSW

3C

4B

3B

3.9

3.04

-0.24

CLE

4A

NR

NR

11.6

4.03

3.39

TOR

4A

4A

4A

10.8

3.51

1.38

ATL

4A

5A

5A

10.7

3.67

0.54

MEM

4A

NR

NR

10.2

3.63

2.23

CLE

4A

5A

5A

9.6

4.75

1.07

BOS

4A

4B

4A

9.4

3.07

2.47

DAL

4A

NR

NR

9

2

1.9

PHX

4A

4B

5A

8.7

1.53

2.79

SAC

4A

4A

4A

8.5

2.92

1.06

BOS

4A

4B

5A

8.1

3

1.67

NYK

4A

NR

NR

8.1

1.75

1.44

BOS

4A

5C

NR

8.1

3.67

1.9

PHX

4A

4B

5A

7.2

3.22

1.19

NOP

4A

4A

4A

7

2.51

1.66

PHI

4A

NR

NR

6.7

0.75

0.57

GSW

4A

5A

5A

6.6

1.17

0.62

CLE

4A

NR

NR

6.3

0.95

0.11

TOR

4A

4B

4B

5.5

1.71

0.92

TOR

4A

NR

NR

5.2

-0.03

-0.05

BOS

4B

5A

5A

8.8

3.01

1.99

TOR

4B

5A

NR

8.1

1.94

0.92

NOP

4B

4B

5A

8

2.28

0.93

MIA

4B

4A

3A

7.7

2.35

1.41

DEN

4B

4B

5A

6.9

1.33

1.89

GSW

4B

NR

NR

6.9

1.49

1.88

WAS

4B

4B

3B

6.8

3.63

-0.17

IND

4B

5A

NR

6.4

0.53

-1.11

BKN

4B

4A

5A

6.2

1.38

1.27

NOP

4B

NR

NR

5.5

0.52

1.26

ATL

4B

4B

4B

5.4

1.79

-0.02

PHI

4B

4B

4A

5.1

0

0.18

POR

4B

4A

5A

4.7

1.61

0.03

CHI

4B

5A

NR

4.7

2.75

0.72

IND

4B

4A

4B

4.6

2.51

0.61

SAC

4B

4A

4A

4.5

0.22

-0.45

MIA

4B

NR

5A

4.4

0.07

1.3

MEM

4B

4B

NR

4

3.63

1.76

POR

4B

NR

NR

3.8

0.39

0.54

BOS

4B

4A

4A

3.7

1.58

0.52

DET

4B

NR

NR

3.5

-0.51

0.01

OKC

4B

NR

NR

2.3

-0.97

-1.23

ATL

4B

4B

NR

1

-2.05

-0.31

MIL

4B

4B

4A

0.6

0.08

-0.21

DEN

4B

4B

NR

0.1

-2.37

0.93

UTA

5A

3B

4B

9.6

3.9

1.81

SAS

5A

NR

NR

8.6

3.45

1.44

ATL

5A

4A

5A

8

2.66

1.31

CHA

5A

5A

NR

7.1

1.27

0.5

ORL

5A

NR

NR

6.9

1.21

0.23

MIA

5A

NR

4A

6.8

2.1

1.75

NYK

5A

5A

NR

6.5

2.34

2.85

CHI

5A

4A

4A

6.1

0.71

-0.67

MIN

5A

5A

4B

6

1.3

1.08

SAS

5A

NR

NR

5.7

0.56

0.39

ATL

5A

4B

4B

5.5

1.42

1.76

POR

5A

NR

NR

5.5

3.53

2.05

PHX

5A

4B

5A

5.5

1.33

2.09

CLE

5A

NR

5A

5.5

1.8

0.5

CLE

5A

NR

NR

5.3

1.15

1.42

UTA

5A

4B

4A

5.1

0.52

0.31

PHX

5A

NR

NR

5

1.27

0.87

UTA

5A

5A

4B

5

1.97

0.56

LAC

5A

5A

NR

5

0.16

0.19

LAC

5A

4A

4A

4.9

0.81

1.49

DEN

5A

5A

5A

4.8

0.09

-0.82

DAL

5A

4B

4B

4.6

0.51

-0.04

SAC

5A

5A

NR

4.5

-0.38

-1.31

SAC

5A

5A

NR

4.5

0.06

1.26

GSW

5A

NR

NR

4.4

0.77

1.18

NYK

5A

4A

NR

4.3

-0.46

-0.62

CHA

5A

4A

4A

4.1

0.88

-0.37

CHA

5A

5A

NR

4

0.38

1.59

WAS

5A

NR

NR

3.8

-0.43

-1.55

OKC

5A

NR

NR

3.4

0.06

-1.17

LAL

5A

3C

3B

3.4

-1.08

-0.95

DAL

5A

NR

5A

2.6

-0.31

0.62

NYK

5A

NR

NR

2.6

-1.36

-0.72

CHI

5A

5A

NR

2.5

0.27

1.36

IND

5A

4B

4B

2.2

-1.14

-0.74

LAC

5A

5A

NR

2.2

-0.67

-1.93

BOS

5A

NR

NR

2.1

-1.29

-0.79

LAC

5A

5A

NR

1.5

-1.55

-1.2

NYK

5A

NR

NR

0.8

-1.4

-0.55

BKN

5A

4A

4B

0.4

-1.66

-0.28

CHI

5A

NR

NR

-0.5

-3.32

-1.33

(Photos of Nikola Jokic, LeBron James and Kevin Durant: Ethan Mito / Clarkson Creative, Mike Ehrmann, David L. Nemec/ Getty Images. Design by John Bradford)

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