From Rising Stars to Obvious MVP Candidates, Here's Every NBA Team's Best Player

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterSeptember 30, 2019

From Rising Stars to Obvious MVP Candidates, Here's Every NBA Team's Best Player

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    Not every NBA team's best player is created equal.

    While stars are spread out far more heading into the 2019-20 season, vast differences remain between the best players every team has on its roster.

    Some squads, like the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, are lucky enough to feature two top-10 players, while the Charlotte Hornets may not have a top-100 talent on their roster.

    Other teams may not have an All-Star or MVP candidate this season but have handed the keys over to a promising young player just waiting to break out.

    For clarity, players like Kevin Durant and John Wall, who are expected to miss the entire 2019-20 season, were not included. Others like Victor Oladipo and Klay Thompson, who should be back at some point, were counted. This is also a projection of how good these players will be in 2019-20 rather than a placement of where they finished in 2018-19.

    Here's a list of every team's best player (and runner-up) heading into the new year and what category they best fit into.

    Husband and wife NBA referees, Jonathan Sterling and Lauren Holtkamp, join The Full 48 with Howard Beck to discuss their new baby daughter and how they plan to navigate parenthood during the coming season, Lauren’s ACL injury rehab, their respective rookie years in the league, and the changing landscape of females in the NBA.

No. 1s Who Should Be 2s

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    Charlotte Hornets: PG Terry Rozier

    Runner-Up: C Cody Zeller

    Look for Rozier to put up some big empty stats on a lousy Hornets team this season.  

    With no Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb or Tony Parker, he should be given all the minutes and shots he can handle, which may not be a good thing. In four pro seasons, Rozier has never shot better than 39.5 percent from the field and has shown little interest in getting others involved (4.2 assists per 36 minutes).

    Charlotte looks like the only team with no real All-Star candidate and should be hoping for a breakout season from second-year forward Miles Bridges. If Rozier is truly the best player on the roster, the Hornets should finish with the worst record in the league.


    Chicago Bulls: SG Zach LaVine

    Runner-Up: Lauri Markkanen

    Chicago stumbled to a 22-60 record last season despite LaVine putting up some rare numbers.

    Only Paul George, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and LaVine averaged at least 23 points, four rebounds and four assists while shooting 37 percent or better from three. At 24 years old, LaVine was the youngest of the group.

    "We know [LaVine's] our guy,'' incoming power forward Thaddeus Young said, via Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times. "He's going to be the guy going forward. My thing is, just go out there and harness those skills, continue to be the leader that I am, continue to help him get better as a leader, get better as a player, and hopefully help him make the All-Star Game.''

    While LaVine may not be ready to carry a team to the playoffs or be named an All-Star just yet, his breakout 2018-19 season was a tremendous sign for the Bulls rebuild.


    New York Knicks: PF Julius Randle

    Runner-Up: G/F RJ Barrett

    Evaluations of Randle can range from an empty-stat padder who doesn't do enough to help his teams win to an athletic, multi-faceted 24-year-old who's only getting better. Each can be true.

    Randle should lead the Knicks in scoring this season after putting up a career-high 21.4 points per game for the New Orleans Pelicans last year. He can bring the ball up the floor and is athletic enough to dribble-drive past defenders and strong enough to finish through contact in the paint.

    Barrett should get plenty of opportunities to shine, as well. He and Randle were the two brightest additions in an otherwise dismal offseason.


    Orlando Magic: C Nikola Vucevic

    Runner-Up: F Aaron Gordon

    It may be unfair to call Vucevic unworthy of being a No. 1 option given that he made last season's All-Star squad. But as good as the 28-year-old center has been, the Magic have just one playoff win in the seven years he's called Orlando home.

    With an underwhelming backcourt, the Magic run a great deal of their offense through Vucevic, who can post up, shoot from distance or serve as distributor from the elbows. He joined Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns as the only players to average at least 20 points, 12 rebounds and three assists last season.

    Despite his statistical success, the Magic won't make any noise in the East playoffs if Vucevic remains the team's best player.


    Toronto Raptors: PF Pascal Siakam

    Runner-Up: PG Kyle Lowry

    Coming off a sophomore season in which he averaged 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds, Siakam looked like anything but the future star of the Raptors this time last year. By the playoffs, it was clear who Toronto's second option was after Kawhi Leonard.

    With Leonard leaving for the Los Angeles Clippers and Kyle Lowry set to turn 34 in March, any hopes of another lengthy playoff run ride on Siakam's shoulders.

    Toronto was a sparkling 14.4 points per 100 possessions better with the 25-year-old power forward in the game last season, a number his agent should highlight when trying to secure a five-year, $170 million max extension before the season starts.

Rising Leaders

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    Atlanta Hawks: PG Trae Young

    Runner-Up: PF John Collins

    Young was incredible after the All-Star break last season, pushing the Hawks to a near-.500 record and leading many to believe they could be a sneaky playoff contender this year.

    Young's awareness makes him special as he takes what the defense gives and then punishes it with his passing and scoring from multiple levels.

    All the Hawks did was put more weapons around him (De'Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Evan Turner, Jabari Parker) to go along with Collins, Kevin Huerter and Alex Len.

    Don't be surprised if Young averages over 20 points and 10 assists this season, even though he just turned 21.


    Dallas Mavericks: G/F Luka Doncic

    Runner-Up: PF Kristaps Porzingis

    He was the only rookie better than Trae Young last season, and it won't be long until Doncic is a top-five player in the NBA.

    At 6'7", Doncic has the body of a small forward and the ball-handling and passing ability of a point guard. He finished as the Mavericks' leader in points (21.1), rebounds (7.8), assists (6.0) and steals (1.1) per game, not counting the players who left for the New York Knicks midway through the year.

    His body is still nowhere near what it could be with improved conditioning and more time in the weight room, something Doncic will have plenty of time to improve since he won't turn 21 until February.

    Even with Porzingis on board, Doncic is the more creative scorer, functions as a better passer and actually has a higher career rebound average than his new All-Star teammate (7.1 per game).

    Expect Porzingis to shake off some rust from his ACL injury at the beginning of the season, which means Doncic will only further prove himself the Mavs' best player.


    Memphis Grizzlies: PF Jaren Jackson Jr.

    Runner-Up: PG Ja Morant

    While a sparkling rookie season could move Morant to No. 1 on the Grizzlies player power rankings, the title is Jackson's for now.

    Although his freshman NBA season lasted just 58 games, Jackson made his mark with 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per contest. He showed off an impressive outside game for a near-7-footer (35.9 percent on 2.4 deep attempts per game) and should make a few All-Defensive teams before his career is over.

    The rebuild is fully on in Memphis with Jackson and Morant projecting to be one of the best young duos in the NBA.


    Phoenix Suns: SG Devin Booker

    Runner-Up: C DeAndre Ayton

    Booker is coming off the best season of his career in Year 4...and is somehow still only 22 years old.

    Phoenix asked him to play more point guard last year, and Booker responded with the third-highest usage rate in the NBA (32.9 percent) and a career high in assists (6.8 per game).

    To his credit and even with a massive workload, Booker cut down on his mid-range attempts (only 11.6 percent of shots were from 16 feet to the arc) and increased his attempts near the basket (career-high 22.9 percent of shots from zero to three feet), resulting in a personal-best 58.4 true shooting percentage.

    With Ricky Rubio now comfortably running the point, Booker may see a slight decrease in his scoring and assists but should enjoy even better efficiency numbers.


    Sacramento Kings: PG De'Aaron Fox

    Runner-Up: SG Buddy Hield

    While many advanced stats place Hield slightly ahead of Fox, the extra ball-handling work and projected jump for the 21-year-old point guard should make him stand out as the Kings' best player this season.

    Hield, Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley III shot a combined 42.0 percent from three off passes from Fox, who finished eighth in the NBA with 7.3 assists per game.

    One of the fastest coast-to-coast players in the league, Fox improved the Kings by 5.7 points per 100 possessions last season, compared to 1.6 for Hield.

Stars Carrying the Load

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    Boston Celtics: PG Kemba Walker 

    Runner-Up: SF Jayson Tatum

    Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were by far the best players in Boston last season. With both bolting in free agency, the Celtics desperately need either Tatum, Jaylen Brown or both to step up and play second star next to Walker.

    Despite making the All-NBA third team last season, Walker's value should never be more evident than this season when the Celtics maintain one of the top records in the East while the Charlotte Hornets plummet to the bottom of the league.

    ESPN's RPM wins estimated that 10.69 of the Hornets' 39 wins came from Walker alone last season, a higher mark than Irving, Russell Westbrook or Mike Conley provided their respective teams. 

    While Tatum could make a leap in Year 3 and become a reliable second scorer, the Celtics will still lean on Walker for their offense.


    Cleveland Cavaliers: PF Kevin Love

    Runner-Up: C Larry Nance Jr.

    While Nance paced the Cavaliers in nearly every advanced stat, Love is still the only All-Star-caliber player on Cleveland's roster.

    Love remains one of the NBA's best power forwards when healthy, improving a woeful Cavs team by 7.8 points per 100 possessions last season. New head coach John Beilein can use him in the post, as a floor spacer or as a passer from the elbow, all while knowing he's got one of the league's best rebounders to help clean up messes on both ends of the floor.

    Destined to be one of the big names on the NBA trade market this season, Love and his four-year, $120.4 million contract should thrive as a No. 1 option for the Cavs to start the year.


    Minnesota Timberwolves: C Karl-Anthony Towns

    Runner-Up: SF Robert Covington

    The Timberwolves need to get Towns more help.

    The 23-year-old two-time All-Star is coming off a 24.4-point, 12.4-rebound, 3.4-assist season in which he knocked down 40.0 percent of his threes. While Covington, Jeff Teague and Jarrett Culver are fine role players, Andrew Wiggins recorded the worst value over replacement player (VORP) of all 21 players to suit up for Minnesota last season and is dangerously close to bust status.

    In his first four years, Towns' win shares most closely match those of Bill Russell and Shaquille O'Neal, two of the greatest centers of all time. He'll once again fill up the box score for a Timberwolves team that doesn't possess the talent to reach the postseason.


    Oklahoma City Thunder: PG Chris Paul

    Runner-Up: C Steven Adams

    Forget the disastrous contract for a minute; Paul is still an excellent NBA point guard.

    Only Russell Westbrook and John Wall created more points per game off their passes than Paul last season (21.1), and the 34-year-old was third overall in the NBA for assists (8.2 per contest).

    While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the future at point guard for the Thunder, OKC will have no choice but to start Paul and let his strong play drum up some trade interest.

    The Thunder still have some solid players with Adams, Danilo Gallinari, Nerlens Noel and Andre Roberson, but Paul stands atop the pack. For now.


    Washington Wizards: SG Bradley Beal

    Runner-Up: C Thomas Bryant

    While Anthony Davis took a major public-image hit last season when requesting a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans, no one would blink an eye if Beal asked out of Washington.

    The Wizards let Jabari Parker, Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis, Jeff Green and Trevor Ariza walk this summer, and oft-injured point guard Isaiah Thomas was the main free-agent signing in return. John Wall likely won't play all season with a torn Achilles, leaving Beal...and not much else.

    If Beal can put up All-NBA numbers this season (he was the only player to average at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists to not make it last year), he'll be eligible to sign a five-year, $254 million supermax extension with the Wizards next summer.

    That's a ton of money to turn down, even to stay with this roster.

No. 1s...For Now, at Least

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    Detroit Pistons: PF Blake Griffin

    Runner-Up: C Andre Drummond

    Griffin is the unquestioned leader of the Pistons, but Drummond could replace him in a season or two.

    Drummond, 26, led the NBA in rebounding (15.6) for the second straight season and third time overall in 2018-19, scoring a career-high 17.3 points per game. He also topped Griffin in player efficiency rating (23.4 to 21.0) and win shares (10.0 to 8.0).

    Griffin, 30, is the superior passer and overall offensive player, but he's missed 114 games over the past five seasons with various injuries. If his durability continues to be an issue, Drummond could step in as the Pistons' first option.


    Indiana Pacers: SG Victor Oladipo

    Runner-Up: PG Malcolm Brogdon

    After tearing a quad muscle in January, Oladipo is back to participating in non-contact practice but still shouldn't return to live action until December or January, per J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star.

    While he's out, the fight to be known as the Pacers' best player should be a three-man race.

    Turner will certainly be in the mix, as the 23-year-old center led the NBA with 2.7 blocks per game to go along with his 13.3 points and 7.2 rebounds. Sabonis, now expected to join the starting lineup as a power forward, gave Indy 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists in just 24.8 minutes per game as the team's backup center last year. 

    Joining them will be Brogdon, the team's new starting point guard following the retirement of Darren Collison. He should see a far larger workload with Indiana than with the Milwaukee Bucks, especially while Oladipo recovers. We'll likely see a bump from the 15.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game he logged last season as he's forced to become more of a scorer and playmaker.

    Oladipo is still the Pacers' best player when healthy, although there's plenty of talent to go around.


    New Orleans Pelicans: PG Jrue Holiday

    Runner-Up: PF Zion Williamson

    It's only a matter of time until Williamson moves to the top of the Pelicans' pecking order. For now, this is Holiday's team.

    "We have him guard Kevin Durant and then Damian Lillard and then, oh, by the way, can you get 20 points and 10 assists for us?" head coach Alvin Gentry told Bleacher Report's Leo Sepkowitz ."I think from the standpoint of what is asked of him to do, and him accomplishing that, I don't think there's very many people that are better than Jrue."

    Holiday will be the one tasked with meshing all the new Pelicans players together, serving not only as the team's leading distributor but possibly their leading scorer while Williamson, Brandon Ingram, JJ Redick and others get acclimated.


    San Antonio Spurs: PF LaMarcus Aldridge

    Runner-Up: SF DeMar DeRozan

    Aldridge remains a nightmare for defenders from the elbow in, and his 6'11", 260-pound frame is able to shoot, post up or finish through contact in the paint.

    Now entering Year 14, how much longer can he be the Spurs' best player?

    DeRozan can certainly make an argument. He finished just below Aldridge in points per game (21.3 to 21.2), led the Spurs in assists (6.2) and steals (1.1) and is four years younger. There's also Derrick White, a breakout young star of the 2019 postseason, during which he averaged 15.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists.

    Aldridge has an old-school style of play that should hold up for a few more years, letting him maintain his claim to San Antonio's No. 1 spot.


    Utah Jazz: C Rudy Gobert

    Runner-Up: SG Donovan Mitchell

    While Mitchell or Mike Conley could both be the Jazz's best player on any given night, Gobert stands as the franchise pillar. The back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year is one of the best we've seen on that end of the court, swallowing up opponents' shots if they even dare attempt one anywhere inside the paint. 

    A three-time member of the All-Defensive first team, Gobert blocked 2.3 shots per game last year while holding opponents to 51.6 percent shooting within six feet of the basket, a drop of 11 percentage points from their season average.

    His scoring (15.9 points per game on an NBA-best 66.9 percent shooting) was a career high, and he led Utah in nearly every advanced stat category last season.

    While he doesn't have to carry the scoring or playmaking responsibilities of Mitchell or Conley, Gobert is so elite at his position that he deserves to be called Utah's best.

All-Star Locks

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    Brooklyn Nets: PG Kyrie Irving

    Runner-Up: SF Caris LeVert

    Until Durant returns next season, Irving will have to play the leading role in Brooklyn.

    Thus far in his career, Irving has thrived as a No. 2 and flopped as the main option, suffering through some bad Cleveland Cavaliers teams early in his career and failing as a leader with the Boston Celtics in the last two.

    Still, this is the first time Irving has gotten to choose his team as an unrestricted free agent, and he's surrounded by an even better supporting cast than he had in Boston. He should, theoretically, be happy.

    At 27, Irving should be in the prime of his career, one that's already included six All-Star games, a Rookie of the Year award and an NBA title. He's coming off the best distributing and defensive season of his career, and those are skills that should continue to blossom in Brooklyn's system.


    Denver Nuggets: C Nikola Jokic

    Runner-Up: PG Jamal Murray

    After making the 2019 All-Star team, Jokic should have a spot reserved for the next decade.

    The 24-year-old is the unquestioned best player on a Nuggets team that won 54 games and clinched the No. 2 seed in the West. While it's not unusual for players at his position to lead a team in scoring and rebounding, Jokic also paced Denver in assists (7.3) and steals (1.4).

    If Jokic can improve his outside shooting (30.7 percent from three), rim protection (0.7 blocks) and pick-and-roll defense, he'll have a chance to break through as a top-five NBA player.


    Los Angeles Lakers: SF LeBron James

    Runner-Up: PF Anthony Davis

    It's possible Davis passes James as the Lakers' best player by the end of the season, especially when factoring in defensive effort and impact.

    For now, James gets the nod even at age 34, given the incredible amount of extra rest he's enjoyed this summer.

    James has scored 25.3 points per game or more for the past 15 years, and last season he was fourth in assists (8.3, though he didn't technically qualify for the leaderboard because he played in only 55 games), second in potential assists (16.2) and fifth in points created off assists (20.1). These numbers should only improve with the additions of Davis, Danny Green, Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard.

    While championships are the main goal at this point in his career, James should carry some extra motivation due to all the attention players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant received since he shut his season down in March.


    Miami Heat: G/F Jimmy Butler

    Runner-Up: F Justise Winslow

    If Butler can push the Heat into a top seed in the East, he could enter the MVP conversation. As it stands, the 30-year-old wing should enjoy his newfound freedom as offensive option No. 1 and an all but certain trip to the 2020 All-Star Game.

    Last season as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, Butler averaged 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists on 17.6 shots per 36 minutes when Joel Embiid sat, compared to 17.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists on just 11.9 shots when the two shared the floor.

    In Miami, no one is telling Butler to share.

    While Winslow, Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo will get their share of shots, we should see a return to Chicago Bulls Butler, who had to play big minutes with a high usage rate for his team to win.


    Philadelphia 76ers: C Joel Embiid

    Runner-Up: PG Ben Simmons

    Embiid became the first center in 47 years to average at least 27 points and 13 rebounds in his third season, joining a short list that includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.

    What makes that even more impressive is the fact Embiid has just 158 total games, or less than two full seasons, under his belt. Add in the fact that he didn't even play basketball until he was 15 and we're probably a long way from seeing him reach his potential.

    If he reaches a healthy ceiling, Embiid would not only be an MVP candidate, but he could also win Defensive Player of the Year. His 7'0", 250-pound frame regularly displays impressive footwork in the paint and on defense, and his three-point shot (career 31.5 percent) is good enough to make opponents defend him on the perimeter.

MVP Candidates

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    Golden State Warriors: PG Stephen Curry

    Runner-Up: SG Klay Thompson

    It's time to unleash Curry once again.

    With Kevin Durant on the Brooklyn Nets and Klay Thompson out for the majority of the season with a torn ACL, Curry should be able to feast, even with D'Angelo Russell sharing the backcourt.

    Last season, Curry averaged 34.4 points on 27.1 field-goal attempts and 17.0 three-point tries per 36 minutes when Durant was on the bench. He may not reach those numbers in 2019-20, but cracking the 30-points-per-game mark like he did in 2015-16 is a strong possibility.

    The last time Curry didn't share the court with Durant, he won back-to-back MVPs. Now, as the unquestioned best player on the Warriors once again, he's set up to win a third this season.


    Houston Rockets: SG James Harden

    Runner-Up: PG Russell Westbrook

    While pairing Harden with Wesbrook should ultimately hurt both former MVPs' raw stats, we could see another level of efficiency from the former.

    En route to his ridiculous 36.1 points per game last season, Harden made 41.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers, nearly five percentage points higher than his overall average (36.8 percent). He's now sharing a backcourt with the NBA's back-to-back assist leader, meaning the quality of his shot attempts should improve, as well.

    Even If his scoring takes a dip while sharing the ball with Westbrook, Harden still outscored players like Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard by double digits last season. If he's still bitter about finishing second in MVP voting to Giannis Antetokounmpo last season, expect a motivated Harden to enjoy another massive year.


    Los Angeles Clippers: SF Kawhi Leonard

    Runner-Up: G/F Paul George

    When George, who finished last season third in MVP voting, is the second-best player on your team, that's a great sign for your title chances. Such is the case for these Clippers, who should be considered Finals favorites after adding both Leonard and George to a talented and diverse supporting cast.

    Everything ultimately begins and ends with Leonard, who should once again put up All-Star numbers (26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals) while managing his minutes all season.

    Leonard already helped end the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors dynasties. It's time he starts one of his own.


    Milwaukee Bucks: PF Giannis Antetokounmpo

    Runner-Up: SF Khris Middleton

    The reigning MVP has overtaken LeBron James as the NBA's best player on several sets of rankings: a testament to his scoring, rebounding, passing, defense and overall intensity. 

    With Malcolm Brogdon leaving for the Indiana Pacers, we could actually see a larger workload for Antetokounmpo this season, leading to an increase from his 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.

    The 24-year-old also led the NBA in player efficiency rating last season (30.9), and Milwaukee should once again finish as the No. 1 seed in the East.

    While some voter fatigue may encroach, the table is set for Antetokounmpo to win back-to-back MVPs.


    Portland Trail Blazers: PG Damian Lillard

    Runner-Up: SG CJ McCollum

    Lillard is still the Trail Blazers' best weapon, even if McCollum and a healthy Jusuf Nurkic can take over games, as well.

    While McCollum has yet to play in an All-Star game, Lillard is coming off back-to-back All-NBA honors and should be squarely in the prime of his career at age 29. His 6.9 assists per game were a career high, and his 14.52 RPM wins were third among point guards behind James Harden and Stephen Curry.

    If Portland can once again finish as a top-three seed in a Western Conference that's somehow even better, he'll garner serious MVP consideration.


    Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. All stats via Basketball Reference and unless otherwise noted.