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Top 15 players in the NBA play-in tournament.

5-17-21


The first-ever NBA play-in tournament will begin tomorrow night! The Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, and San Antonio Spurs will be the participating teams. Given that the 7th and 8th seeds in both the Eastern and Western conferences will be determined, the stakes will be very high. Who are the best players that we will see in these crucial games?


(Disclaimer: Players who are on these teams but are injured, such as Jaylen Brown, won’t be included in this list)


15. Jaren Jackson Jr.

The Memphis Grizzlies selected Jaren Jackson Jr. with the 4th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. The former Michigan State Spartan has shown why he was such a high draft pick. Last season, Jackson averaged 17 points and four rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and 39 percent from three. We also can’t forget that the third-year big man is also a very versatile defender. Unfortunately, Jackson suffered a torn meniscus last August and has only played in 11 games this season. While he has potential, the players ahead of him on this list have proven more than he has.


14. LaMelo Ball

LaMelo Ball has shown why he was the 3rd overall pick in the recent NBA draft. The 19-year-old helped the Hornets reach the NBA play-in tournament while averaging 16 points, six rebounds, and six assists per game. With more NBA experience and improving his ability to score, LaMelo could eventually be better than many of the players who are ahead of him on this list, but not yet.


13. Kemba Walker

The Boston Celtics signed Kemba Walker to a four-year, $141 million contract in the 2019 offseason. While Walker might be overpaid, we can’t ignore his capabilities. The four-time All-Star is currently averaging 19 points and five assists per game. However, he is only shooting 42 percent from the field and 36 percent from three. If he was a more efficient player, Walker would be higher on this list.


12. Ja Morant

The Grizzlies might have acquired a future star when they drafted Ja Morant with the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. The former Murray State Racer is currently averaging 19 points and seven assists per game while shooting 45 percent from the field. However, Morant is only shooting 30 percent from three. Given his spectacular athleticism and ability to finish at the rim, he might be unguardable if he was a better long-distance shooter.


11. Terry Rozier

The Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets swapped point guards in the 2019 offseason. How many people expected Terry Rozier to outperform Kemba Walker after that sign-and-trade agreement? Over the past two seasons, Rozier has averaged 19 points, four assists, and four rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 84 percent from the free-throw line. While those numbers are impressive, he’s not quite as productive as the players ahead of him on this list.


10. Gordon Hayward


Many people questioned the Hornets' decision to sign Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $120 million contract this past offseason. After seeing what Hayward has done this season, it’s harder to question the move. Hayward is currently averaging 19 points, six rebounds, and four assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the field, 41 percent from three, and 84 percent from the free-throw line. It was a close call, but I put Malcolm Brogdon over Hayward due to Brogdon’s superior ability as a playmaker.


9. Malcolm Brogdon


Malcolm Brogdon has become one of, if not the most underrated player in the entire league. The former 2nd round pick is currently averaging 21 points, six assists, and five rebounds per game while shooting 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three, and 86 percent from the free-throw line. Given those numbers, you might find it surprising that he’s not the highest-ranked player on his own team.


8. Domantas Sabonis

Don’t look now, but Domantas Sabonis has made the past two All-Star games! The former Gonzaga Bulldog is currently averaging 20 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists while shooting 53 percent from the field. There’s a chance he would be higher on this list if he wasn’t only shooting 32 percent from three.


7. DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan is arguably having the best season of his entire career. The former Toronto Raptor has vastly improved as a playmaker while remaining a capable scorer. The San Antonio Spurs appearing in the NBA play-in tournament despite their overall roster lacking talent speaks volumes about DeRozan’s individual ability. Despite that, I would not argue that DeMar Derozan is a better player than any of the six remaining players.


6. Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook has remained a productive NBA player at the age of 32. The NBA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles is a big reason why the Washington Wizards reached the NBA play-in tournament after a slow start to the season. However, I can’t justify him being top five on this list given that he’s shooting 44 percent from the field, just 31 percent from three, and only 65 percent from the free-throw line.


5. Jayson Tatum

Jayson Tatum has become a household name. The former Duke Blue Devil is currently averaging 26 points, seven rebounds, and four assists per game while shooting 46 percent from the field, 39 percent from three, and 87 percent from the free-throw line. Despite that, I would not rank him above the second-leading scorer in the entire league and three all-time great players.


4. Bradley Beal

Bradley Beal has finished second in the entire league in points per game in each of the past two seasons. That alone shows how dominant of a player he is. Beal is a very good player, but he isn’t an all-time great unlike the top three players on this list.


3. Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis might go down as one of the best power forwards in NBA history. Davis is an eight-time All-Star, has made the All-NBA First Team four times, the NBA All-Defensive First Team twice, and the NBA All-Defensive Second Team twice. The former Kentucky Wildcat has career postseason averages of 29 points and 11 rebounds per game while shooting 55 percent from the field! This season, Davis is averaging 22 points and eight rebounds per game while shooting 51 percent from the field. Those numbers would be excellent for most, but they are underwhelming for Davis.


2. Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry is easily the best shooter in NBA history and one of the best point guards the game has ever seen! The three-time NBA champion has had a historically great statistical season. Curry is averaging 32 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 48 percent from the field, 42 percent from three, and 91 percent from the free-throw line. The only player ahead of him on this list is Lebron James, who is arguably the 2nd best player in NBA history.


1. Lebron James


I could throw all of his impressive statistics and accomplishments at you, but you likely already know how great Lebron James is at basketball. The four-time MVP and four-time NBA champion will look to show the world why he's still the best player in the world.


The games in the NBA play-in tournament will perhaps be the biggest games of the season to date. How many of the previously listed players will rise to the occasion? Who will end up leading their team to victory? Only time will tell.

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