The Crossover is proud to offer our list of the Top 100 NBA players of 2019, an exhaustive exercise that seeks to define who will be the league's best players in the 2018-19 season.
Given the wide variety of candidates involved and the deep analytical resources available, no single, definitive criterion was used to form this list. Instead, rankings were assigned based on a fluid combination of subjective assessment and objective data. This list is an attempt to evaluate each player in a vacuum, independent of his current team context as much as possible. A player's prospects beyond the 2018-19 season did not play a part in the ranking process.
Injuries and injury risks are an inevitable component of this judgment. Past performance (postseason included) weighed heavily in our assessment, with a skew toward the recent. First-year players were not included. A predictive element also came into play with the anticipated improvement of certain younger players, as well as the possible decline of aging veterans. Salary was not taken into consideration. Otherwise, players were ordered based on their complete games. You can read more here on the limitations of this kind of ranking. To see our 25 biggest snubs from this year, click here.
Please feel free to look back to SI.com’s Top 100 Players of 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014. A special thanks, as always, to those resources that make researching a list like this possible: Basketball-Reference, NBA.com, ESPN.com, Cleaning the Glass, and Synergy Sports.
Complete Top 100 Breakdowns: 100-51 | 50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1
Los Angeles Lakers
Ball (10.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 7.2 APG) was the league’s easiest target last season: He faced significant pressure as the No. 2 pick, he faced extra scrutiny on a high-profile franchise that had one eye on LeBron James, he faced derision for his unsightly jumper and fading confidence, and he faced second-hand disdain thanks to the ramblings of his infamous father and his immature brother. “Baptism by Fire” would be an appropriate name for a documentary about his first season, which began with Patrick Beverley eating him for dinner and ended with knee problems that ultimately required summer surgery.
At his best, the 20-year-old Ball plays a beautiful weirdo brand of hoops that would merit a full chapter if “Free Darko” ever released a sequel. His passing and vision—hailed as elite by pre-draft analysts—lived up to the hype. He proved to be a capable pace-setter and a strong rebounder for his position. Most impressively, he was a plus defender right out of the gate thanks to his good size and instincts. On paper, Ball’s role in James’s new cast is intriguing. A successful blueprint would utilize him as a secondary passer and off-ball cutter, rather than as a full-time lead guard launching misguided threes in volume. Although Ball is hardly a textbook modern backcourt prospect, the dawn of “LeBronzo” promises to carry his distinctive game to new heights. — BG
Just because the Lakers had no use for Lopez (13.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG) doesn’t mean the same is true for other teams. It’s not hard to find room for a seven-footer who can score inside and out, and most important: one who doesn’t need much preamble to set up his scoring opportunities. Posting up Lopez is an option, but far from the only one. You could set him up for rolls to the rim or rely on his cuts to complement other offense. Or, if you prefer, you can station him outside to open up the lane. Lopez isn’t a lights-out three-point shooter, though last season he converted the same percentage of his threes (34.5%) as Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, and Blake Griffin—all bigs with some light stretch to their games.
All told, Lopez still scored 20 points per 36 minutes for a team that had no incentive to play him or rely on him in any way. That will be different in Milwaukee, as it would be on any number of teams looking to actually win games this season. Lopez’s defense is clearly imperfect, though he at least has the benefit of sheer size; it’s hard to clear the ball over a center with that kind of reach, even if he runs into trouble defending in space. — RM
San Antonio Spurs
Age may have restricted how and when Gasol can be of help, but coaches tend to find a place for those who understand the symphony of the game. Gasol (10.1 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.1 APG) is more than the collection of his skills and liabilities; his enduring value comes in knowing what opportunities might materialize, and having the presence of mind to assist in their creation. Any offense that moves would benefit from dropping Gasol in the middle of it all, where he presents a scoring threat even as he connects the dots for his teammates.
The cost comes in mobility—both in a literal sense and a tactical one. On his best days, the 38-year-old Gasol navigates the floor at a brisk shuffle. Switching isn’t an option. Longer rotations can be a challenge. San Antonio managed a top-five defense in spite of this, but Gasol would present much greater problems for many lesser teams. His, like many in this range, is a borderline case. What value Gasol still has depends on how effectively a team manages the narrowing limits of his game. — RM
Stan Van Gundy bet the house on Jackson (14.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 5.3 APG) and lost. In 2015, the longtime coach targeted the stubborn, capable point guard as the centerpiece of a win-now spending spree aimed at fast-tracking the Pistons back to the postseason. The plan worked momentarily, as Jackson turned in a career year en route to the 2016 playoffs. But Jackson’s spotty health plunged Detroit back into the lottery in 2017 and 2018, and Van Gundy was fired in May. The final stats on the Jackson/Van Gundy marriage: $80 million, one playoff trip, zero playoff wins, two season-altering injuries, numerous post-game rants, and one desperate Blake Griffin trade that will likely clog Detroit’s books for years to come.
While Jackson, 28, is a bit of a forgotten man at this point, it’s worth noting that Detroit played at a 49-win place last season with him in the lineup. To piece his reputation back together, Jackson will need to prove that he can still get to the rim consistently, shoot the three far better than he did in 2017-18, and stay healthy for a full season. With Griffin and Andre Drummond now capable of handling some of the playmaking load, Detroit can make the playoffs without Jackson turning back the clock to his 2016 form. Expecting Jackson to be a franchise point guard was always asking too much, but he has enough talent and experience to be recast effectively in a smaller role if he’s willing. — BG
To understand how Nowitzki clings to this list past his 40th birthday, one need only watch how defenses regard him. Every screen he sets has an adhesive effect; those defenders involved know that their first priority is to slow the progress of the ball handler, but to do so requires that they reluctantly peel away from Nowitzki (12.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG). There is more than reputation at work. Just last season, Nowitzki rated as one of the better spot-up shooters in the league, per Synergy Sports—more efficient, shot for shot, than even Klay Thompson and J.J. Redick. Opponents won’t dare leave Dirk because they know just how punishing his open looks can be.
Nearly everything else in Nowitzki’s game has faded with time. One can practically hear his creaking joints when he tries to back down some younger, springier center, and there is no disguising his slow-motion coverage of the pick-and-roll. It speaks volumes, however, that a walking—err, lumbering?—target like Nowitzki still works out to be a helpful contributor in so many lineups. There is something to be said for standard bearing and institutional knowledge, but even more when those things come from a low-turnover, sweet-shooting big who is more than willing to accept a lesser role. Dirk’s value to an organization has aged more gracefully than his footspeed. — RM
Let’s credit Carroll (13.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.0 APG) with genuine nobility. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that the 32-year-old forward was leaving Toronto as a huge disappointment due to an exorbitant four-year, $60 million contract, a debilitating knee injury and a pair of meek postseasons. After he was salary-dumped to the dead-end Nets, Carroll could have counted his money and jogged through a losing campaign. Instead, he responded to the trying circumstances with purposeful 3-and-D play. In addition to posting career-highs in points, rebounds and assists, Carroll regained his footing on the defensive end, ranking No. 64 league-wide in Real Plus-Minus.