The NBA’s last decade featured perhaps the greatest collection of talent in league history, with plenty of Hall-of-Famers battling LeBron James for the title of Best Player Alive. James started the decade with challenges from Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard. Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo closed the decade as the top players alongside King James. And the 2020s could provide a similar talent boom.
Older stars like James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry aren’t fading from the limelight anytime soon. Giannis, Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson represent the next generation eyeing the throne. We’ll dive into the future of the league at a later date. For now, let’s settle the Best Player Alive entering the 2020 playoffs.
LeBron James takes the crown
When exactly is LeBron James’ peak? Was it when he skied over opponents during his first Cleveland tenure? Perhaps you prefer the 27-game win streak LeBron, or the 2018 Finals version. James is likely no longer at his peak as he rolls through his 17th season, but frankly, he’s pretty damn close. James is aging like a fine wine, finding a new way to defeat opponents night in and night out.
James’ athleticism may have waned to a minor degree in recent seasons, though he’s more than made up for it as the game’s most cerebral player. James is the ultimate master of the chess board. He manipulates defenses and controls every possession, a strategy that paid off pretty damn well in the 2018 playoffs (no thanks to J.R. Smith and George Hill). James isn’t ready to fade into the sunset anytime soon. With a new superstar running mate and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, he could very well snag his fourth ring by the end of 2020.
Honorable Mentions – Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo
It’s hard to knock Leonard out of the top spot after winning Finals MVP, but that’s more a testament to James’ continued excellence than anything against the former Raptors star. Leonard has followed up his spectacular 2019 playoffs with a solid 2020, albeit one that has been partially marred by injury. And when the 2019-20 season resumes, we should expect to see Leonard and the Clippers at the peak of their powers. Los Angeles is 24–9 when both Paul George and Leonard play in 2019-20, outscoring teams by 11.6 points per 100 possessions. If the Clippers are healthy, they’re certainly among the favorites to win the Finals. We could very well see Leonard win his third Finals MVP with three different teams in 2020.
Just as the 1990s belonged to Michael Jordan and the 2010s belonged to LeBron James, the 2020s could very well be the decade of Giannis. Milwaukee’s superstar is hurtling to his second straight MVP in 2019-20, and this year’s campaign has been especially dominant. Antetokounmpo leads the NBA in PER and defensive rating. He’s fourth in points and rebounds. He’s one of three players since 1980 to average at least 29 points, 13 rebounds and five assists per game in a season, and Milwaukee entered the coronavirus suspension on a 67-win pace. Statistically speaking, Giannis has a strong case for Best Player Alive.
Perhaps Antetokounmpo will seize the title with a Finals victory in July or August, but for now, it’s hard to place him above a pair of players with multiple Finals MVPs. James is the NBA’s assists leader, and he’s still an elite physical force. Leonard defeated Antetokounmpo and Co. in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals. He delivered Toronto its first title in franchise history, and in 2020, he’s remains an elite two-way force. The margin is close, but James and Leonard still have the edge over Antetokounmpo.
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