The NBA regular season is rapidly approaching. There’s certainly going to be no shortage of storylines or narratives. LeBron James now suits up for the most successful NBA team (Los Angeles Lakers) in the modern era. Kawhi Leonard forced his way from a cushy situation in San Antonio to the Great White North of Toronto. The Western Conference is as treacherous as ever, and the Eastern Conference is completely up for grabs.
This piece will specifically look at significant categorical breakdowns within the game of basketball. Our team of writers offered their own opinions on the NBA player you’d most want for one shot, one stop, one game, and for the next five years. The only rule is that you cannot select the same player for more than one spot.
Harris Ahmadzai — Kevin Durant: The league has an abundance of gifted shot makers. From pure shooters like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Damian Lillard, to tenacious slashers like James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and DeMar DeRozan, there is no shortage of players that can get buckets at a high rate. For my money, I want somebody that can do a bit of everything, and has the ability to get his shot off against any defense. Durant’s 7-foot frame allows him to elevate over any defender. He’s a terrific shooter from every spot on the floor, isn’t afraid to finish in traffic, and has excellent shot selection.
Dylan Fraychineaud — Steph Curry: While Kevin Durant and James Harden are worthy choices for this category, I’ll go with the best shooter of all-time. Aside from possessing the best jumper in basketball history, Curry has premier ball handling skills and the requisite moves to get by any defender. Curry’s prolific displays from the perimeter garner all of the attention. However, Steph has the quickness and footwork to create a shot at any time.
Jason Fray — Kevin Durant: Durant is the most ruthless scorer in today’s NBA. There’s not a single person on the planet capable of defending him with even decent effectiveness. Whether it be pulling up from 30 feet or driving to the rim, the pterodactyl-like figure simply is too long and too skilled to be bothered. Duly, Durant has proven repeatedly that he is a productive player when pressed into a tension-filled moment. When your team is in need of a bucket — crunch time or not — call on Durant.
Blake Hoffman — Kevin Durant: This one really came down to two members of the Warriors — which is a reminder of why they are the most potent offense the league has ever seen. I’d take Curry if I needed a 35-footer, but assuming this is a regular possession with one shot to win the game, there’s no one more unstoppable than Kevin Durant. The 7-footer has the ball-handling of a guard and the capabilities of getting his shot off at any time he wants. In crunch time, I want Durant taking the final shot.
Harris Ahmadzai — Draymond Green: Green may have missed out on the All-Defensive First team for the first time in three seasons, but the three-time NBA Champion remains a defensive stalwart. He can competently guard every position on the floor. His length and anticipatory skills allow him to contest most shots whilst also being a pest in passing lanes. Green also has a mind for the game, and is a vocal leader that constantly directs traffic on the back line for the juggernaut Warriors.
Dylan Fraychineaud — Kawhi Leonard: The drama surrounding Leonard’s messy exit from San Antonio has dominated NBA headlines this offseason. If Leonard makes a healthy return in Toronto, the quiet superstar will remind fans as to why he is one of the best players in the world. Leonard is an absolute terror defensively. In the rare instance that Leonard is beat off the dribble, his length allows him to recover quickly and contest any shot. His lateral quickness is also terrific, resulting in many steals. The former Defensive Player of the Year will quickly remind people why he is one of the game’s best.
Jason Fray — Victor Oladipo: The 26-year-old guard emerged this past year as an all-league performer. Oladipo always had the talent to be a good player. However, no one quite saw him evolving into his current state. From a purely defensive standpoint, Oladipo is immense. He’s arguably the most athletic guard in the game not named Russell Westbrook. His lateral quickness is fantastic — as is his effort in actually wanting to defend counterparts. Oladipo’s frame and length enables him to guard both guard spots with ease. He’s even capable of checking small forwards when need be. There’s a reason why he was named an All-Defensive First Team member this past season.
Blake Hoffman — Kawhi Leonard: Sure, he missed most of last season amidst the weirdest injury/non-injury saga in professional sports history, but is there any doubt as to whether Kawhi Leonard is the best defender in the NBA? To put it simply, no, there is not. Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert competed admirably for Defensive Player of the Year honors in Kawhi’s absence. However, “The Klaw” smothers ball-handlers and contests jump-shooters like no other. In an iso-situation, there’s no one better at producing stops than the Toronto Raptors’ newest acquisition.
Harris Ahmadzai — LeBron James: James is still King. No player is more consistent or more efficient. There is virtually nothing that James can’t do on the basketball court. He’s arguably the best passer we’ve ever seen. The 6-foot-8, 260-pounder is a freight train in transition, and can get to the basket whenever he wants. We’ve seen him continuously drag lesser teams through the NBA Playoffs. James makes winning plays every time down court, and over the course of a game will give your team the best chance to win.
Dylan Fraychineaud — LeBron James: This one is simple. James has proven time and time again that he is the best player in the world. His performance last season — especially in the playoffs — speaks for itself. On top of being the best player, he is also far and away the most experienced in big game settings. The man averaged a triple-double in the NBA Finals two years ago.
Jason Fray — LeBron James: Is there really a doubt here? James is still the best basketball player on the planet. His ability to impact all aspects of a specific game is unparalleled. LBJ involves teammates exceptionally well. When he senses his team struggling, he’ll take on more of a role from a scoring standpoint. There really aren’t enough superlatives that can be used when speaking about James’ influence on the basketball court.
Blake Hoffman — LeBron James: This answer has been the same for at least the past 10 years (sorry Kobe fans). If someone says a name other than LeBron James, they are either: a) still angry that he raised millions of dollars for charity in 2010, b) agree with LaVar Ball that the Lakers are Lonzo’s team, or c) their name is Skip Bayless. Nobody controls a game quite like the King, and no one makes a 30-8-8 stat line look easier. He’s the most dominant force in basketball, and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.
The Next 5 Years
Harris Ahmadzai — James Harden: The NBA is currently experiencing a boon in high-end talent. Just in the last few years, we’ve seen the likes of Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Donovan Mitchell blossom into bona fide superstars. There are plenty of routes you can take here, but I’ll settle on the single best offensive force in the game today. Harden controls pace and flow like no other player. He dictates the speed at which every game is played, and sees the floor as well as any player in NBA history. The reigning MVP is still just 28 years old. Given his style of play (one that doesn’t overly rely on athleticism), Harden will likely remain an elite player for the next half-decade.
Dylan Fraychineaud — Kevin Durant: At only 29, Durant has the potential to be the best player for the next five years. Since joining Golden State, Durant has taken his game to another level. An already dominant scorer before coming west, Durant has had his two-best shooting seasons each of the last two years. On top of that, Durant has made more of an effort defensively. This includes garnering praise for becoming an elite shot blocker. Durant’s game should only expand over the next few seasons. Given his current form, this is a terrifying proposition for the opposition.
Jason Fray — Giannis Antetokounmpo: Anthony Davis will be a trendy pick in this category — and for good reason. The dude is excellent on both ends of the floor. However, Davis’ injury history makes me a little skittish. Big men have a tendency to have reoccurring injuries (particularly in the foot/ankle/knee area). Antetokounmpo has a ceiling unrivaled with anyone currently playing the game. He can literally play every single position on the floor. As he continues to mature both physically and from a skill standpoint, there’s no telling how good he can truly be. Remember, he’s currently only 23 years of age. By age 28, we could be looking at the best player in the NBA.
Blake Hoffman — Anthony Davis: The influx of NBA talent in recent years makes this a borderline-impossible question. LeBron James continues to defy Father Time, but relying on guys like Durant, Curry, Westbrook and Harden to follow LeBron’s lead feels farfetched. Instead, this one came down to three guys under the age of 26: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis. Ultimately, I give the slightest of nods to Davis. He simply has the fewest holes in his game. Giannis doesn’t have a reliable three-point jumper, and Embiid’s injury history has to be considered at least slightly concerning. Davis is a monster on both ends of the floor. At only 25 years old, there’s a very good chance he’s the best player on the planet in 2023.
Sources: Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports