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With your Los Angeles Lakers (and all of the NBA's franchises) set kick off their training camp next week, the preseason lists are coming in hot and heavy. A new list posted a bummer of a result for Lakers All-Star LeBron James.

ESPN's "NBArank" preseason player rankings series has reached its 12th season. Culling votes from a panel that includes 200 staffers from the Worldwide Leader (including "reporters, editors, producers and analysts"), the list's latest iteration assessed a disappointing demotion to the 18-time All-Star. James fell drastically from his heady prior standing before the 2021-22 season.

The 6'9" forward slid from a No. 3 preseason ranking last year to No. 6. It's not even the biggest drop in his group (the players ranked 6-10). That dubious distinction belongs to another old head, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, who plummets from first in 2021-22 to eighth now.

ESPN contributor Dave McMenamin opines that James's lack of team success is part of the reason he dropped, noting that the Lakers have only landed in the postseason for two of his previous four years with the club. His Lakers went an underwhelming 33-49 last season, good for 11th place in the West. James and co-star Anthony Davis also struggled to stay on the floor. When James was available, his production was typically eye-popping, though he settled for jumpers and took a relaxed approach to his defense. 

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McMenamin concedes that L.A.'s ancient and poor-fitting personnel surrounding James and Davis was also somewhat to blame for the team's performance. In years past, James was able to overcome glaring issues more successfully (remember when he led a Cavaliers team starting Eric Snow and Larry Hughes in the backcourt to the 2007 NBA Finals?). He is no longer quite that transcendent, though still one of the league's best. The most confounding con to James's play that McMenamin includes is a stat this writer was unaware of: during the minutes James played for the Lakers, the team actually posted a negative net rating.

So should the four-time league MPV, ahead of his year-20 season, have been dinged quite this much?

At this juncture in his career, James's still-incredible offensive output is pretty much unprecedented. In just 56 games last season, the Chosen One averaged 30.3 points (on .524/.359/.756 shooting splits), 8.2 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks across 37.2 minutes a night. That said, younger players on better teams seem to have the edge on him when it comes to sussing out rankings for the upper-echelon talent here.

By the process of deduction, it appears that Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo will be ESPN's top five NBA players this year, in some order. Is James better than any of those guys, at this point in his career? Until he proves otherwise on the court, ESPN as a whole doesn't think so.

James does have a defender at the sports network, however. Brian Windhorst, who has covered the four-time champ since James was in high school, advocated for the future first ballot Hall of Famer to remain in the top five heading into this season during a segment on "NBA Today:"