Predicting Top 5 NBA Leaders in Every Major Stat This Season
Last season's stat-leader races were nothing short of exciting, as Russell Westbrook led the NBA in assists for the third time, Clint Capela jumped Andre Drummond for the rebounding crown and Stephen Curry dropped 46 points in the regular-season finale to capture his second career scoring title.
Of course, some offseason moves and players returning from injury could mean new players atop the leaderboards in 2021-22.
Can Westbrook still keep up his passing numbers playing next to LeBron James? Will Curry need to score as much this season with Klay Thompson set to return around Christmas? With Drummond now a backup with the Philadelphia 76ers, who will Capela have to compete with for the rebounding title?
These are the five players who should challenge for the league lead in points, rebounds, assists, three-pointers, steals and blocks this season.
Three-Pointers Made Per Game
Fifth Place: Fred VanVleet, PG, Toronto Raptors
After finishing ninth overall in made threes per game (3.3), VanVleet should be set for a breakout offensive year with Kyle Lowry now a member of the Miami Heat.
The Raptors will need VanVleet to let it fly from deep, especially with Pascal Siakam (29.7 percent from three last season) and Scottie Barnes (27.5 percent from three at Florida State) potentially acting as some of the worst floor-spacers in the NBA.
A career 38.4 percent marksman from deep, VanVleet should see career highs in points, assists and made threes now as the full-time point guard in Toronto.
Fourth Place: Buddy Hield, SG, Sacramento Kings
Hield has long been in love with the three-ball, and a whopping 72.7 percent of all his shots came from outside the arc last season. Among the 88 NBA players who averaged 15 points per game or more, no one had a higher three-point attempt rate than Hield.
Even though he finished third in made threes per game (4.0) last year, the addition of Davion Mitchell to the Kings backcourt and the veteran's shaky future in Sacramento could cause a dip in his minutes, scoring and made threes overall.
As long as he's on the court, however, expect Hield to still take, and make, a ton of threes.
Third Place: Duncan Robinson, SF, Miami Heat
New point guard Kyle Lowry will bring some much-needed outside shooting to the Heat starting lineup, but this is still a team that relies on Robinson to keep the floor spread for everything to run smoothly.
Robinson was sixth overall in made threes per game last season (3.5), a necessary skill set for a starting five that features one starter who is among the worst shooters in the league (Jimmy Butler, 24.5 percent from deep last year), one who rarely shoots from three (Bam Adebayo, eight total attempts) and now one who rarely shoots from anywhere, ever (P.J. Tucker, 3.4 total shot attempts per game).
For Miami's offense to properly function, it needs Robinson to let it fly from three even more.
Second Place: Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
After finishing second in made threes a season ago (4.1 per game), there's no reason why Lillard won't hold his spot in 2021-22.
Anywhere past the half-court line is fair game for Lillard, who should also challenge for the league's scoring title. He proved he's capable of taking his outside attack to the next level in the 2021 playoffs, making an absurd 5.8 of his 13.0 attempts per game (44.9 percent) over six games.
While those numbers will be difficult to replicate over 82 games, Lillard should remain steady with his 2020-21 regular-season production and once again finish in the top two outside shooters overall.
First Place: Stephen Curry, PG Golden State Warriors
This should be the easiest call of all the stat-leader predictions.
Curry is the king of the three, the greatest shooter in NBA history and has already led the league in made three-pointers six times.
In the history of the league, Curry holds the top three records (and five of the top seven) for made threes per game, including setting a new high last year with 5.3 per night.
He'll once again have to launch at a high volume for the Warriors to stay competitive while they wait for Klay Thompson to return from injury, and there's no reason to believe Curry won't set an NBA record this year.
Steals Per Game
Fifth Place: LaMelo Ball, PG, Charlotte Hornets
Tying for seventh overall in steals per game was an incredible (and often overlooked) feat for Ball, who made far more noise for his playmaking skills en route to winning Rookie of the Year.
With Kawhi Leonard (who tied Ball's 1.6 steals per game) possibly missing the entire year to a partially torn ACL and a second-year jump expected for Ball, there's no reason to believe he can't finish in the top five without a tie this season.
Given his size at 6'6", Ball could become a dominant defender at the point of attack, denying passing lanes and racking up plenty of steals in the process.
Fourth Place: Jrue Holiday, PG, Milwaukee Bucks
Voted the best perimeter defender in the NBA in the annual general manager survey (with a whopping 50 percent of the vote), Holiday should once again swipe plenty of passes and pick plenty of pockets this season.
Holiday, like Ball, tied for seventh with 1.6 steals per game last year and registered at least 1.4 every season since his rookie year in 2009-10.
The Bucks defense should be elite once again, and Holiday has shown no signs of slowing down now at age 31.
Third Place: OG Anunoby, SF, Toronto Raptors
A dark-horse candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, Anunoby has shown the ability to defend nearly every position with his 6'7", 232-pound frame.
The 24-year-old racked up a career-best 1.5 steals a season ago and should only have to dig in deeper defensively without Kyle Lowry working to shut down opponents on the perimeter.
Toronto has thrown Anunoby into the fire since the start, when the rookie was getting introduced to the league by guarding LeBron James in the 2018 playoffs. That experience has only made him better now going into his fifth season and should result in a place among the league's steal leaders.
Second Place: Jimmy Butler, G/F, Miami Heat
No player in the NBA averaged more steals than Butler last season, with his 2.1 also coming in as a career high.
Even at age 32, Butler is still an elite defender with his size, strength, effort and fearless attitude, and he has been an All-Defense team member five times.
While he slips slightly here, Butler should still have a monster season on both ends of the ball in Miami.
First Place: Matisse Thybulle, G/F, Philadelphia 76ers
Of the 362 players who logged at least 500 total minutes last season, no one had a higher steal percentage than Thybulle (3.9 percent).
He started just eight of his 65 games while averaging 20.0 minutes, numbers that could all increase depending on how the Ben Simmons situation shakes out.
Assuming Simmons is eventually traded, the Sixers will need Thybulle and his defensive abilities on the floor even more. The 24-year-old averaged 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks a season ago and has shown the ability to be a legitimate lockdown defender who's only getting better.
Look for Thybulle to win the steals crown with increased minutes this season.
Blocks Per Game
Fifth Place: Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Memphis Grizzlies
After meniscus surgery caused him to miss the majority of his third season, a now-healthy 22-year-old should establish himself as one of the league's best shot-blockers.
Had Jackson registered enough minutes to qualify, his block percentage of 6.3 percent would have ranked fifth overall last season. He swatted 1.6 shots away even while playing just 23.5 minutes per game.
Jackson, unlike others on this list, isn't your typical rim-protecting center. He'll likely begin the season as the Grizzlies' starting power forward next to Steven Adams, and he relies on his quickness and athleticism to rise up and turn opponents away from the basket at the last second.
Fourth Place: Robert Williams III, C, Boston Celtics
Williams already tied for sixth in blocks a season ago (1.8) while averaging just 18.9 minutes, and he's now projected to be the Celtics' full-time starter at center for the first time in his four-year career.
He doesn't have the size (6'8", 237 lbs) of a typical center, but Williams' monstrous 7'6" wingspan sneaks up on opponents.
Finishing fourth among all players in block percentage last season (8.6 percent, minimum 500 minutes), Williams should challenge for the crown as a starter in Boston this year.
Third Place: Anthony Davis, C, Los Angeles Lakers
While Davis has long been a dominant interior defender, his 1.6 block shots per game last season were a career low.
A position change from power forward to center, one Davis has resisted in the past, could cause his totals to rise once again. As The Athletic's Bill Oram, Shams Charania and Sam Amick reported: "Since Davis arrived from New Orleans two years ago, the Lakers' best lineups have featured him at center. With [Russell] Westbrook aboard, sources said Davis has emerged as the expected starting center, clearing the way for a likely starting five of him, Westbrook, [Wayne] Ellington, [Trevor] Ariza and [LeBron] James, according to sources."
With Davis starting at center and serving as the team's defensive anchor, we should see him top two blocks per game once again.
Second Place: Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz
A blocks-leader list wouldn't be complete without the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, one who swatted away a career-best 2.7 shots per game last season.
Gobert has already led the NBA in blocks once (2.6 in 2016-17) and has averaged at least 2.0 per game every year since his rookie season.
At 7'1" with a 7'9" wingspan, Gobert looks like he was built in a shot-blocking factory and should continue to be one of the league's best defenders for years to come.
First Place: Myles Turner, C, Indiana Pacers
As good as Gobert and others are, Turner is still the NBA's rejection king.
No player blocked more shots per game (3.4) or at a higher percentage (8.8 percent) than Turner did a season ago. He combines his 6'11" size and athleticism into many unhappy meetings at the rim for opponents.
The 25-year-old has finished in the top four or higher in blocked shots in each of the past five seasons, leading the NBA in 2018-29 and 2020-21.
Although there's plenty of strong contenders coming for his crown, Turner should once again find himself atop the mountain.
Rebounds Per Game
Fifth Place: Jarrett Allen, C, Cleveland Cavaliers
After having to play behind, and even start next to, Andre Drummond at times last season, Allen should see a big boost in his rebounding now as the main guy in the middle in Cleveland.
Minutes should also be plentiful, as the Cavs don't have a true backup center and could instead use Evan Mobley (the likely starter at power forward) or veteran Kevin Love (when healthy) behind Allen.
The Cavs are also young and should once again be bad (25th in field-goal percentage last season), meaning there should be a lot of rebounding opportunities for Allen, who pulled down a career-high 10.0 per game last year.
Fourth Place: Domantas Sabonis, PF, Indiana Pacers
The only non-starting center on this list, Sabonis has become a dominant glass-cleaner even playing alongside Myles Turner.
Averaging 12.0 rebounds or more for the past two seasons, Sabonis doesn't possess the size or leaping ability of others on this list, yet he is a master of positioning and is extremely strong.
After finishing tied with Andre Drummond for fourth place a season ago, look for Sabonis to once again crack the top five.
Third Place: Clint Capela, C, Atlanta Hawks
No player pulled down more than Capela's 14.3 rebounds per game a season ago, an impressive performance and career high for the 27-year-old playing his first season in Atlanta.
Although 2020 No. 6 overall pick Onyeka Okongwu could start cutting into Capela's minutes at some point, the 20-year-old will miss the start of the season following shoulder surgery.
Capela's role should be quite similar to last year when he was the NBA's best rebounder, and the Hawks roster (re-signing John Collins, extending Trae Young) has largely remained the same.
Second Place: Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz
Gobert finished second to Capela in rebounding last season (14.3 to 13.5) and seems destined to win at least one title in his career.
The 29-year-old center is currently fourth on the NBA's active rebounding list (11.3 per game) and will once again anchor a Utah Jazz team that shoots a ton of threes. In addition to having plenty of teammate misses to clean up, Gobert ranked first in defensive rebounding (10.1 per game) last year.
Firmly in the prime of his career, Gobert could top his personal best of 13.5 he averaged the past two seasons.
First Place: Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
After finishing just 11th in rebounding last season (10.6 per game), how could Embiid make the jump all the way to No. 1?
Assuming the Sixers trade Ben Simmons for a point guard who doesn't replicate his rebounding (career 8.1 boards per game), there will be far more opportunities for Embiid.
The MVP candidate pulled down 15.5 rebounds per 100 possessions when sharing the floor with Simmons last season. When Embiid was on the floor without Simmons, this figure jumped to 17.8.
Embiid has shown the ability to rebound at an elite level before (13.6 per game in 2018-19) and should see his glass-cleaning responsibilities only increase exponentially with Simmons gone.
Assists Per Game
Fifth Place: Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets
The only non-point guard on this list, Jokic finished seventh in assists last year with a career-high 8.3 per game.
No Jamal Murray for most (if not all) of the regular season following surgery for a torn ACL in April means Jokic will likely have to take over even more playmaking responsibilities, something the reigning MVP is certainly capable of doing.
Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Will Barton and others will give Jokic plenty of targets to find both in transition and in half-court basketball, as the 26-year-old should flirt with a triple-double average this season.
Fourth Place: Luka Doncic, PG, Dallas Mavericks
Doncic was sixth overall in assists (8.6 per game) and fifth in potential assists (16.3 per game) in 2020-21 and should be tasked once again with a heavy playmaking load.
Dallas brought in another knockdown shooter in Reggie Bullock (42.5 percent off the catch) and re-signed Tim Hardaway Jr., giving Doncic plenty of options to kick out to.
Oscar Robertson and Nate Archibald are the only players in NBA history to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same year, something Doncic could realistically challenge for.
Third Place: Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks
Young's 9.4 assists last season ranked third overall, as the Hawks finally gave their young floor general lots of weapons around him.
If Atlanta can get fully healthy seasons out of De'Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Bogdan Bogdanovic, Young's passes should only find more targets willing and able to convert shots from deep or at the rim.
While his own scoring ability is a show in itself, Young is one of the NBA's best passes already at age 23 and should win multiple assist crowns before his career is over.
Second Place: LaMelo Ball, PG, Charlotte Hornets
Ball ranked just 22nd in assists per game last season (6.1), although he's arguably the most talented and creative passer in the league already going into his second year.
The Hornets also got a lot better around him, signing Kelly Oubre. Jr. and drafting James Bouknight and Kai Jones in the first round. Trading for Mason Plumlee is an upgrade over Cody Zeller as well.
There's a lot of firepower around Ball now, with the new additions joining Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges and PJ Washington. Don't be surprised to see Ball average a double-double this season.
First Place: James Harden, PG, Brooklyn Nets
Having already won one assist title (11.2 per game in 2016-17), Harden looks for No. 2 as the point guard on what projects to be the NBA's best offense.
The 32-year-old averaged 10.9 dimes following his trade to Brooklyn last season, a number only bested by Russell Westbrook. With Westbrook now with the Los Angeles Lakers and sharing playmaking duties with LeBron James, Harden is in a prime position to lead the NBA in helpers once again.
With Kyrie Irving currently unable to play in home games while he's unvaccinated, Harden's playmaking duties could only increase.
Playing next to Kevin Durant, Irving (even on a part-time basis), Joe Harris, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Patty Mills, Bruce Brown, Paul Millsap, Nic Claxton and others, Harden will feast as the floor general in Brooklyn.
Points Per Game
Fifth Place: Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
Lillard's scoring took a small hit after the Blazers acquired Norman Powell at the trade deadline (30.0 points per game before vs. 26.7 points per game after), but Portland will still need him to shoot them to wins with a suspect defense.
Adding Larry Nance Jr. gives the Blazers a willing ball-mover in the frontcourt, and his ability to cut off passing lanes and rack up steals (1.7 per game, fourth-highest in the NBA last year) should lead to more transition scoring opportunities for Lillard and others.
While Lillard may not reach the 28.8 points-per-game mark he did a season ago, he shouldn't fall out of the top five.
Fourth Place: Luka Doncic, PG, Dallas Mavericks
After failing to secure another star in free agency, the Mavs will once again heavily rely on Doncic's ability to score and create.
The 22-year-old finished sixth in scoring a season ago (27.7 points per game), a number that should go up with improved accuracy. His three-point shooting made a leap last year (35.0 percent after a 32.1 percent mark over his first two seasons), and Doncic will only be forced to score more if Kristaps Porzingis continues to rack up injuries.
One of the most gifted scorers from all over the court, Doncic should be one of the leading MVP candidates this season and a top-four scorer overall.
Third Place: Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics
Tatum makes the biggest projected leap here, jumping from 12th a season ago (26.4 points per game) up to third now.
The main reason? There's no more Kemba Walker around (19.3 points on 15.7 field-goal attempts) or Evan Fournier (13.0 points on 10.8 field goals).
While new point guard Dennis Schroder will demand his share of the offense, Al Horford should only help Tatum's scoring with his spacing and passing abilities. If Tatum can get to the free-throw line more often (86.8 percent on his 5.3 attempts per game last season), he should flirt with 30 per game for the first time.
Second Place: Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
Curry will once again have to carry the scoring load for the Warriors after leading the NBA with 32.0 points per game a season ago, at least until Klay Thompson returns around Christmas.
Still, that could mean nearly half the season of trying to keep Golden State in the playoff picture with his shooting alone, as Andrew Wiggins is the only returning Warrior to average more than 12.0 points per game. Even Kelly Oubre Jr. (third at 15.4 points) left in free agency for the Charlotte Hornets.
Don't be surprised if Curry leads the NBA in scoring over the first few months, with his numbers slowly cooling off once Thompson returns.
First Place: Bradley Beal, SG Washington Wizards
Beal came extremely close to capturing his first career scoring title last season, losing out to Curry in the final game of the regular season (32.0 points to 31.3). He'll look to join James Harden this season as the only active players to average at least 30 points per game in three total seasons. For now, he's tied with Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant (two each) and just ahead of Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard (one).
With Westbrook now in Los Angeles with the Lakers, no other returning Wizard attempted more than 11.4 shots last season (Rui Hachimura) or had a usage rate over 18.9 percent (Daniel Gafford). While incoming players like Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will all get a share of the offense, none will dominate the ball like Westbrook did last season.
Now in the prime of his career at age 28 and able to hit unrestricted free agency next summer, look for Beal to win his first scoring crown.