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.
With better health, Carroll has largely returned to the form he displayed for the 2015 Hawks. On offense, he subsists on catch-and-shoot threes and cuts to the basket. On defense, he rotates through multiple perimeter positions and rates well on hustle stats like deflections and recovered loose balls thanks to his high-activity style. If Carroll can keep things rolling to open 2018-19, he should generate healthy interest from playoff teams at the trade deadline or during buyout season. — BG
It’s no exaggeration to say that VanVleet (8.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.2 APG) was an impact stats god last year. The 24-year-old Raptors guard, who finished third in 2018 Sixth Man of the Year voting, was off the charts in virtually every lineup configuration. When he played with his fellow young reserves, who led the NBA among bench groups in net rating, Toronto was +17.1. When he joined a veteran-heavy and starters-dominated group as a floor-spacing third guard, Toronto was +24.9. Remarkably, VanVleet ranked No. 28 in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus and in the top 100 by both Win Shares and WARP. All this for an undersized, undrafted player who has yet to record a single start in two seasons.
The magnitude of VanVleet’s success in a limited role naturally raises some questions. How well would his contributions hold up if he was forced to play more than 20 minutes a night? How would he fare if he was asked to lead a less-talented bench group? How well would his game translate to the playoffs? The early returns on that last question were not pretty. As he worked back from an untimely shoulder injury, VanVleet couldn’t recapture his dependable three-point stroke and wasn’t about to single-handedly solve Toronto’s annual problems with composure and defense. The Raptors’ ugly ending poured some cold water on their much-hyped bench play, but it didn’t erase VanVleet’s substantial progress. The sweep against Cleveland didn’t kill VanVleet’s earning power either, as he cashed in with a well-deserved two-year, $18 million contract in July. — BG
Olynyk shoots just well enough from the perimeter to earn a close-out, which is exactly the point. The shot itself is a setup; helpful as it is that Olynyk can take and make threes, his funky, off-kilter drives are the true underpinning of his game.
Each of his forays into traffic is an improbable enterprise. Olynyk (11.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.7 APG) is about as far from the driving prototype as NBA players come; he isn’t especially quick, or explosive, or creative with the ball. His running form most closely resembles that of a giraffe. Yet when given room to navigate, Olynyk has a knack for sliding between defenders, coursing into the paint for layups of all kinds. Miami played its best basketball last season with Olynyk on the floor, in large part because those ball skills matter. When a big can create space and capitalize when called upon, they allow more possessions to follow through to their natural conclusion. — RM
Thinking for too long about Fournier (17.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.9 APG) in Orlando can lead to intense feelings of sympathy and hopelessness. The 25-year-old guard is a proven shooter and cheeky ball-handler who is stuck in a constant struggle to score enough points to offset his porous defense, all while playing for an organization that doesn’t offer much in the way of supporting talent or structure. His 2017-18 campaign marked a career year in scoring and efficiency, but it ended prematurely due to injury and didn’t improve the Magic’s playoff prospects in the slightest. If a relatively anonymous Frenchman goes for 22 in a loss in front of a listless crowd, does he make a sound?
Although Fournier appears to be a lost cause on defense due to his lack of physicality and questionable will, he’s filled out his offensive repertoire nicely. After four years with the Magic, he’s a trustworthy catch-and-shoot option from the wing, he understands how to relocate into space to find a quality look, he’s shifty coming around screens and splitting defenders, and he’s developed some off-legged floaters and runners to catch bigs by surprise. Although his sizeable contract makes it difficult to construct viable trade scenarios, it’s easy to envision him thriving in an Eric Gordon-like role for a playoff team that needs instant offense off the bench. As is, the Magic are asking too much of him offensively and he’s not asking enough from himself defensively. — BG
Bazemore (12.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.5 APG) is the NBA’s anti-Forrest Gump: He has an uncanny knack for always just missing out on the action. The 29-year-old guard, who went undrafted in 2012, arrived on the scene with the Warriors just before Stephen Curry and Co. rocketed to dynasty mode. He then had a brief cup of coffee with the Lakers in 2014, a period of deep irrelevance after the ill-fated Dwight Howard experiment but before Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour. From there he landed in Atlanta, where he played a bit role on a team that made the 2015 East finals before finally breaking out in a starting role just as the team’s core was disbanded.
Thanks to the four-year, $70 million contract he inked during the 2016 cap spike, Bazemore has gone from toiling in the G-League to becoming the highest-paid player on one of the league’s worst rosters in less than five years. Although he’s clearly overpaid and unequipped to be a playoff team’s best, second-best or third-best player, Bazemore is a solid 3-and-D wing with good size and motor. In an ideal world, he would be cast as a fifth option in a contender’s starting lineup and asked to space the court, pick his spots to attack off the dribble, and bring energy on the defensive end. If Trae Young grows quickly into stardom, Bazemore will be a handy complementary piece. If not, he’ll continue to be grist for the trade rumor mill. — BG
The closest Orlando came to competence last season was in Vucevic’s time on the floor. So continued a four-year run of inflated usage, in which the seven-footer was overstretched and miscast as a primary offensive option. No playoff team would use Vucevic (16.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3.4 APG) in this way, but the Magic—even after five straight years in the lottery—are short on viable alternatives. Vucevic’s steady, accessible scoring is welcome on a team with so many stalled possessions.
Extricating Vucevic’s broader value from those circumstances is challenging, though one can safely assume he would be better served by doing less. Just because Vucevic can score a bit from everywhere (including beyond the arc, in a recent development) doesn’t mean he should try to quite so often; for Vucevic to attempt about as many shots per minute as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is a monumental stretch. Were he on a remotely functional team with amenities like floor spacing and playmaking, Vucevic could slot into a healthier role as a supporting scorer and dependable rebounder. — RM
San Antonio Spurs
Murray (8.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.9 APG) is the NBA equivalent of a writing whiz who aces the verbal section of the SAT with ease but gives up and guesses “C” on all the math questions. By virtually every defensive metric, the second-year guard is phenomenal. At 21, he earned All-Defensive Second Team honors by placing in the top 10 in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, Defensive Rating, and steal percentage while playing for the NBA’s fourth-ranked defense. Murray is a prototypical backcourt stopper in both physique and psychology: long, quick, aware, irritating, diligent, and fully committed to the glass.
By virtually every offensive metric, though, Murray is a borderline mess. He’s been an incompetent and unwilling shooter at the NBA level, and he is regularly neglected and dared to shoot. Unlike many guards who struggle from beyond the arc, he hasn’t yet perfected a compensatory weapon like a step-in mid-range jumper or an in-between floater. While Murray is generally unselfish and a willing passer, he’s not adept enough in the two-man game to function as a lead distributor. In sum, the Spurs’ offense was generally better when the ball was in someone else’s hands. With Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Kyle Anderson all departing this summer, the man dubbed “Baby Boy” as a Seattle-area prep star must grow up in a hurry. — BG
“Slo Mo” might not be the best nickname in pro sports, but it’s certainly the most accurate. Anderson (7.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.7 APG) is deliberate in virtually everything he does, whether it’s pushing the ball in transition, executing a frame-by-frame Eurostep, or acclimating to life in the NBA. Although it took four seasons and Kawhi Leonard’s extended absence for Anderson to break through as a full-time starter, he acquitted himself very nicely once he got there. The 24-year-old forward posted career-highs across the board last season, and his efficient play and all-around contributions landed him in the top 75 by Win Shares, Real Plus-Minus and WARP. Seeking a value play to make up for the Chandler Parsons debacle, Memphis poached Anderson with a four-year, $37 million contract in July.
Anderson’s biggest weakness—poor outside shooting—is a critical one, but he has developed workarounds: He has a strong understanding of team spacing, he stays active off the ball, he moves hard into passes to launch unexpected attacks on the paint, he sprays drive-and-kick passes to all corners and he has a quirky and well-honed array of turnarounds, floaters and runners. San Antonio’s recent actions suggest, however, that they perceived a hard ceiling to his utility given his floor-cramping nature and limited raw athleticism. The Spurs sharply cut his minutes when facing the Warriors in the playoffs, and then decided not to match the Grizzlies’ offer even though they had a major hole on the wing. For Anderson, Memphis represents a fresh start, a larger role, and a chance to prove that his subtle and nuanced style can translate outside San Antonio’s structured environment. — BG
Golden State Warriors
Steve Kerr delivered a fitting postscript to Golden State’s grueling seven-game triumph over Houston in the West finals: “We would have won the series in five if Iggy played.” That assessment spoke to the importance of the Warriors’ prized sixth man, but also to the precarious position the defending champs face when he’s not on the court. Indeed, the 34-year-old Iguodala (6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.3 APG) has arguably become the biggest potential pothole on the road to a fourth title in five years. Last season, he continued to show clear signs of aging by posting career-lows in minutes and points, missing 18 regular-season games and six crucial playoff games, and failing to display must trust in his three-point shot.
Nevertheless, the Warriors remain virtually unbeatable when their full “Hamptons 5” lineup is assembled, going 19-3 combined in the last two postseasons. During the 2018 playoffs, they posted a 123.7 offensive rating and a staggering +24.8 net rating, as Iguodala’s excellent feel, commitment to the pass, precise defense, and opportunistic shot-making continued to make him an ideal fifth option. While there’s no question that Iguodala’s reputation and body would suffer if he played for a weaker team, aspiring contenders like Houston, Boston and Philadelphia would all kill to have a second-unit wing with his intelligence, experience and unselfish approach. — BG
For a player as active as Johnson (10.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.8 APG), a sports hernia—the injury he nursed through much of last season—can prove quite taxing. So much of Johnson’s game is anchored in how he moves; it’s his ability to change speeds and directions that makes him so dynamic on offense, and it’s the ease with which he slides laterally that brings value to a defense. If Johnson’s all-around play seemed a bit flat last season, that’s because it was—down to his every step.
Offseason surgery hints at a return to form. Competing in the modern NBA all but demands a player like Johnson—a big who can capably switch, handle, pass, and shoot. Some of those skills are less reliable than others in Johnson’s case, though their intersection alone makes him valuable. You live with his wilder swings because of all that his versatility unlocks. The means to beat the trap, to trigger the break, to control matchups, and to move a guard off the ball are all there for Johnson, provided he’s healthy and focused. — RM