NBArank 2022: Ranking the best players for 2022-23, from 10 to 6

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Friday, September 23, 2022

NBArank is back for its 12th season counting down the best players in the league.

Where are MVP candidates such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic? What about rookies and young stars ready to take the leap into the upper tier of NBA players?

Where is LeBron James, who is entering his 20th season?

To get the final NBArank prediction, we asked our expert panel to vote on pairs of players: LeBron vs. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry vs. Ja Morant, Luka vs. Jayson Tatum ... and the list goes on.

We asked, "Which player will be better in 2022-23?" Voters had to predict what they expectedfrom each player during the season.

We've already revealed playersNos. 100-26and Nos. 25-11. Today, our rankings continue into the league's top 10 superstars.

Note: ESPN's NBArank panel, composed of over 200 reporters, editors, producers and analysts, were asked to rank players based on their predicted contributions -- quality and quantity -- for the 2022-23 season only.

No. 10: Devin Booker

Phoenix Suns | SG

2021 NBArank: No. 15

Only 25 years old and already a three-time All-Star and coming off an All-NBA selection, Booker and his silky smooth offensive game should vie for the top shooting guard status in the league for years to come.

Why he rose five spots

Booker's ascendant year -- an NBA Finals run, followed by an Olympic gold medal and leading Phoenix to a league-best 64 wins in the regular season -- ended with a precipitous fall. The Suns were unceremoniously bounced from the second round of the playoffs, with Booker combining to shoot a combined 9-for-31 in Games 6 and 7 against Dallas.

But Booker's 26.8 points per game last season ranked No. 12 in the league, further cementing his reputation as one of the game's most lethal scorers. However, he'll take the next step by leveraging those scoring skills in crunch time. Last season, in the first nine minutes of quarters, Booker shot 48.5% overall and 42.1% from 3. In the last three minutes of quarters? He shot 41.8% from the field and 31.8% from deep.

One huge question for 2022-23

The Suns won a whopping 74.6% of their regular-season games over the past two seasons but are defined just as much by their flameouts as they are their success. Booker's rise to All-Star status has been largely absent of the weight of expectations. He will have to win big in the playoffs to further his place in the game.

The question is, in today's NBA, where the top tier of superstardom is reserved for players who dominate on both ends, what room for growth remains for Booker? Offensively, he relies on finesse, angles and footwork to do his damage. Defensively, he's certainly known as a heady player who can operate within team schemes. Can he become more forceful with his stops and his scores to keep climbing up the list of the game's best?

-- Dave McMenamin

No. 9: Ja Morant

Memphis Grizzlies | PG

2021 NBArank: No. 31

Morant might be the NBA's most entertaining player, a high-flying acrobat with a poise and a confidence creeping toward arrogance. He's made the Grizzlies must-see TV.

Why he rose 22 spots

Morant made the massive leap last season from promising franchise cornerstone to bonafide superstar. His scoring soared more than eight points per game to 27.1, elevating Morant into the top echelon of offensive weapons and earning him his first All-Star berth and the Most Improved Player award.

He's a pure point guard who is a dominant interior scorer despite his 6-foot-3 frame, as Morant has a breathtaking blend of explosiveness, finesse and fearlessness. He averaged 16.6 paint points last season, becoming the only guard to lead the league in that category over the last 25 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

One huge question for 2022-23

How much better can Morant get? The 23-year-old has room for drastic improvement on the defensive end, where his slender frame makes him a target, and he has a tendency to lose focus.

Offensively, he's already a nightmare for opponents, but just imagine how difficult Morant would be to defend if his 3-point shot (34.4% last season) continues to improve. If Morant can consistently make guards pay for going under a screen, he might be impossible to contain.

-- Tim MacMahon

No. 8: Kevin Durant

Brooklyn Nets | SF

2021 NBArank: No. 1

No player drove the NBA's summer conversation more than Durant, after requesting, then pulling back, a trade request out of Brooklyn. How he fits back into a Nets culture after requesting that coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks be fired is one of the most intriguing questions in the league.

Why he fell seven spots

When Durant played, he was one of the best players on the planet. The problem for the former MVP is that he couldn't stay on the floor.

A knee injury cost him almost two months worth of games, and for the second straight year he was forced to miss a big chunk of the season. Durant has played in 90 out of a possible 152 regular-season games over the past two seasons. Durant, who will be 34 when the season tips, has to prove he can stay healthy in order for the Nets to vault back toward the East elite.

One huge question for 2022-23

Aside from health, the big question for the Nets is whether Durant will remain committed to the team. After a season full of emotional ups and downs for the organization, Durant's trade request and the uncertainty surrounding Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons make the Nets one of the most fascinating stories in the NBA. But what happens if and when times get tough? Will old frustrations rise?

-- Nick Friedell

No. 7: Jayson Tatum

Boston Celtics | SF

2021 NBArank: No. 14

Coming off his first All-NBA appearance, winning the Eastern Conference finals MVP, making his first trip to the NBA Finals and playing for a team that is projected to contend for the league's best record, Tatum is primed to make yet another leap entering his sixth season.

Why he rose seven spots

After Tatum didn't make any of the three All-NBA teams in 2020-21 when the Celtics finished seventh in the East, he was a deserving first team member this past season after leading Boston's dramatic turnaround from being under .500 in late January to finishing second in the East and advancing to the Finals for the first time since 2010.

Along the way, Tatum set a career-high of 26.9 points per game, continued to raise his 3-point attempt rate and remains one of the best two-way wing players in the league.

One huge question for 2022-23

Tatum made some strides as a passer last season -- something coach Ime Udoka has stressed since arriving last summer -- but continuing to improve that part of his game is what will allow him to go from a player in the back half of the top 10 to one competing for the top spot on this list.

Although his assist total essentially remained unchanged year-to-year in the regular season, they shot up during the playoffs, including averaging seven per game during the Finals. He'll also look to bounce back from a disappointing showing in his series against the Golden State Warriors, where he shot 30.8% from 2-point range across six games.

-- Tim Bontemps

No. 6: LeBron James

Los Angeles Lakers | SF

2021 NBArank: No. 3

It's season No. 20 for James, and there's a lot at stake for the all-time great. He needs 1,323 points to eclipse Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time leading scorer, but the Lakers' team success -- or lack thereof -- will largely determine how the moment resonates.

Why he fell three spots

For the second time in four seasons as a Laker, James missed the playoffs -- this after only missing the postseason twice in his first 15 years in the league. James' 30.3 points per game average was unprecedented for a 19-year veteran, but the 26 games he lost to various injuries and an ill-fitting roster around him made for one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.

James has already redefined the notion of how long a player's prime can last, so it would be foolish to write him off too soon, but it's impossible to ignore that the Lakers had a negativenet rating with James on the floor last season, which is reason enough to drop him out of the top five in the rankings no matter his impressive offensive output.

One huge question for 2022-23

In the middle of dropping 42 points during a cameo appearance in L.A.'s famed Drew League in July, James told ESPN, "I'm 100 percent healthy." That's a solid starting point for James to get things back on track.

The question is, can James have the good fortune to stay healthy at the same time that Anthony Davis can, giving the Lakers a chance to replicate the success that led to a title in 2020? If James and Anthony can both play the bulk of L.A.'s games, the Lakers will have a viable path back to the postseason, even with the challenges of working inRussell Westbrookand being guided by a new coach Darvin Ham.

-- McMenamin

NBArank 2022:Nos. 100-26 | Nos. 25-11 | Nos. 10-6 | Nos. 5-1 (coming Friday).

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