Sports Illustrated just finished its annual ranking of the top 100 players in the NBA for the upcoming season, and the top 10 was heavy on Clippers. SI had previously ranked three Clips in the 51-100 range, as well as two more in the “honorable mentions” category, but no more appeared until the top 10 today.
Kawhi Leonard came in 2nd in the list, behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Paul George came in 9th. In between them were other top-tier superstars like LeBron James, James Harden, Steph Curry, and Joel Embiid. Kawhi was placed in 2nd, not in 1st, because of the worries surrounding load management and his ability to play a full season. George was similarly knocked for his dual shoulder surgeries coming into the season, and the negative effect they might have on his play during the year.
Honestly, I think Kawhi is probably a little high. Yes, he’s the reigning Finals MVP, and he was the best player on the 2019 champions, but on a game-in, game-out basis (the criteria for the rankings), I think he’d probably be a bit lower. This is partially because of the potential missed games due to load management, and partially because his vaunted defense wasn’t all that special for much of the regular season last year. Kawhi coasted on defense for much of the 2019 season, not putting forth full effort/lockdown capabilities until needed. This is perfectly understandable (LeBron has done the same for nearly a decade), but is a knock nonetheless.
George, I think, is ranked just about perfectly. The players above him have generally taken their teams farther in the playoffs (or been more responsible for their success) than George, while those below aren’t as well-rounded or have the same peak level of play. Even taking aside the shoulder injuries, the only player I’d consider moving George above is Nikola Jokic, and he was so phenomenal last year (while still being young enough to improve) that I’m fine with it either way.
Regardless of the precise ranking, the Clippers have two of the best 10 players in the NBA, with one of those having a case for strongest overall force when fully engaged. The Lakers are the only other team to have two such talents (the Rockets are close), and that alone speaks to the starpower on this Clippers squad.
Where do you think Kawhi and PG should have been ranked? Are you fine with their placements by SI writer Rob Mahoney?