Another NBA season is upon us, which means we get another eight months of incredible basketball players dunking, shooting, and dribbling their teams to victory! The athletes in the NBA exhibit some of the most jaw-dropping skills in any sports league. The association seems to be at its peak right now, as centers can play out to the three-point line, and guards have better ball handling and shooting skills than at any other time in history. An annual tradition for hoops heads is to count down the best players in the NBA entering each new season.
Hence, these are the 22 best NBA players heading into 2023-2024!
1. Nikola Jokić
Even though diehard fans of the league already knew Nikola Jokić was special before he won an NBA championship, the rest of the world has finally caught on after the Serbian center's dominant performance in the NBA Finals. Jokić runs the Denver Nuggets' offense uniquely; no center has ever had the combination of passing and scoring abilities that he does.
It's an absolute joy to watch him play, and he's still under 30 years old! Denver will be in title contention as long as he's healthy and on the roster.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis has the most physically impressive game in the league, but the Milwaukee Bucks have hit a stalling point with the Greek Freek. A first-round playoff exit against the Miami Heat showed some of the cracks in Giannis' style, such as his free throw shooting, but he remains an unstoppable player. Expect a big bounce-back year and a long postseason run for Giannis and the Bucks in 2024.
3. Stephen Curry
It's hard to believe Steph Curry will turn 36 this coming season in March, especially after dropping 50 points in a Game Seven against the Sacramento Kings. The world's best point guard continues to refine his game on both ends of the floor, operating from the point of attack in novel ways and becoming a threat from the half-court line to the basket.
When the lights are the brightest, never doubt that Steph will give the Warriors a chance to add to their dynastic title total.
4. Luka Dončić
Luka Dončić is one of the truly prodigious stars in NBA history. The 24-year-old Slovenian is a four-time All-NBA First Team selection, but he must mesh with Kyrie Irving to get the Dallas Mavericks back in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race this coming season. Luka can do pretty much everything on offense, but adding some off-ball movement and defensive intensity will see him manifest his prime.
5. Joel Embiid
The reigning MVP has never led the Philadelphia 76ers past the second round of the playoffs. Whether he has an untimely injury or finds himself on the wrong end of a bad matchup, something prevents Joel Embiid from elevating during the most important time of the year. It's a shame he can't replicate his regular-season success because he's a revolutionary talent on both ends of the floor.
6. Kevin Durant
Since returning from Achilles surgery throughout the 2020 season, Kevin Durant's efficiency and ability to score at will has only improved even more. KD is an automatic bucket, and his combination with Devin Booker now sees Bradley Beal join the party. Another gigantic trio for Durant will see him try to lead a second team to the promised land, but the Western Conference is tougher than ever before.
7. Jayson Tatum
Jayson Tatum shows up and does his job each day with the Boston Celtics in a no-nonsense, old-fashioned way. Standing at 6'8” and equally adept at scoring from three or inside the paint, Tatum has improved each year of his career. His silky smooth game nearly led the Celtics back from a 3-0 deficit against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2023. Is this the year Boston wins their first title since 2008? If so, Tatum will forever become ingrained in the city's lore.
8. Devin Booker
Devin Booker had one of the best playoff runs in recent NBA history during 2023 averaging 33.7 points per game and 7.2 assists per game. Booker resembles a lot of different guards of the past, from Kobe Bryant to Brandon Roy, but he's transformed into a unique scoring machine regardless of comparisons. Phoenix will be hard to beat with Booker, Durant, and Bradley Beal in 2024.
9. LeBron James
LeBron used to be the topper on lists like these for over a decade, but entering his 21st season, he's clearly lost a step. James still controls the Laker offense and aggressively makes plays when he has to, but it will be unfathomable for the four-time champion to keep up a star level of play for much longer. Los Angeles brought in reinforcements this offseason to try and get them back to the NBA Finals.
10. Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler constantly underperforms in the regular season, then elevates his play in the postseason. This dichotomy of performance makes it hard to rank him, but the fact he's at his best during the most important time of the year is reason enough to fear Jimmy Butler. The Miami Heat have inexplicably been in the NBA Finals against superior teams twice in the last four years due to Butler and Erik Spoelstra's coaching.
11. Anthony Davis
If the Los Angeles Lakers want to win another championship, Anthony Davis will have to overtake LeBron as the best player on the team. Davis is the best defender in the league, but his constant injuries and inconsistent motor on offense force him just outside the upper echelon of stars heading into 2024.
12. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
The Thunder have been blessed with a number of stars since moving to the Southwestern city, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is yet another in a long line of high-achievers. The combo guard has a nostalgic game focused on inside and midrange scoring, with plenty of trips to the free-throw line sprinkled in between. With Chet Holmgren back in the lineup to pair with SGA, expect OKC to make the playoffs.
13. Damian Lillard
Dame Time's trade to Milwaukee will help the Bucks rise in a lot of preseason rankings and predictions for 2023-2024. Lillard will surely elevate the Eastern Conference team, with unlimited range on offense and veteran intelligence at the point guard position. Lillard has averaged at least 25 points per game every season since 2015-2016.
14. Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard would be in the top five of this list if he ever stayed healthy. Since moving to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Klaw is incessantly hurt at the worst times of the year, eliminating so much potential the team has for a long run in the playoffs. Leonard remains a two-way threat when he takes the court, outdueling Kevin Durant and Devin Booker at the beginning of the 2023 playoffs.
15. De'Aaron Fox
De'Aaron Fox has arrived for the Sacramento Kings, delivering the California capital its first playoff berth since the Bush administration. Fox combines speed, patience, and burst to get wherever he wants on the court, and his vision is an underrated aspect of his package. Mike Brown will try to get Fox and the Kings into the second round of the playoffs in 2024.
16. Anthony Edwards
Anthony Edwards took a leap in 2023, making his first All-Star team and leading the Timberwolves back to the playoffs. While many people want to see Edwards move on to a different franchise, the young, talented guard should see if he can gel with Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns for a little bit longer.
17. Jamal Murray
Jamal Murray was the missing piece to the Nuggets title run. Returning from an ACL injury, his performance was just what Denver needed to deliver Colorado its first NBA crown. Murray is a hard worker and perfectly compliments Nikola Jokić whenever the center needs a bucket from the perimeter or a pass to the interior of the paint.
18. Paul George
Paul George has persevered so much throughout his career, fighting through a horrific leg injury during international play back in the early 2010s to become one of the best wings of his era. While his time is winding down, there's no doubt George still has enough left in the tank to propel the Clippers one last time with the help of Kawhi Leonard.
19. Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell is a little bit of a one-dimensional star, and it's unclear if he can be the best player on a championship team. Disappointing playoff runs with the Jazz and Cavs have created more questions than answers about Mitchell's alpha dog status in the league. Some more interior help and a good bench could be the solution in Cleveland.
20. Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving's reputation isn't always fair. He's polarizing, to say the least. Some people think he's the best point guard in the league, others think he's a poisonous locker-room presence who makes his teams worse. Mark Cuban gave him an extension to be Luka's second option in Dallas after a rocky start last season. It should be fun to see where it goes.
21. Ja Morant
Ja Morant is an explosive player for the Memphis Grizzlies when he's not getting into trouble off the court. The team's record is better without him much of the time, but Morant is the catalyst that makes them feel like they can beat anyone in the Western Conference.
22. Jaylen Brown
Jaylen Brown's fit with Jayson Tatum has been a puzzling one. They seem to do too much of the same things on offense, leading to miscommunications and playoff fizzles. Brown received the largest contract in NBA history this offseason, a weird choice by the Boston management considering Brown turns the ball over so much during crucial possessions.
Shawn Laib is a writer who has loved all things pop culture from a young age. Growing up playing classic Nintendo games and being introduced to a variety of movies and shows, he always enjoyed analyzing and getting to the bottom of the point of a story. As he went into high school, basketball and sports in general became a main focus. Shawn decided to put his skills in English class to good use and majored in the subject area at the University of Washington, graduating with a B.A. in 2020. He began his freelance writing career after college with sites like SUPERJUMP, Den of Geek, and Quote.com. He now remains a fixture with publications like The Manual and Wealth of Geeks.