15. Kyle Lowry
14.5 PTS, 10.1 AST, 4.4 TRB, 0.4 BLK, 1.4 STL, 44.0 FG%
Farnsworth: With the arrival of Kawhi Leonard before the season, expectations were high for the Raptors, but no one could have predicted this level of dominance. As the primary ball handler, Kyle Lowry has elevated his play to an elite level, averaging over 10 assists per game. He has also been instrumental in integrating Kawhi into the team as he’s been more than willing to give the ball up in late-game scenarios. With Lowry leading the league in assists, he has proven himself as one of the best facilitators in the game.
14. Russell Westbrook
22.7 PTS, 10.0 AST, 10.1 TRB, 0.1 BLK, 1.9 STL, 46.2 FG%
Cheema: Westbrook is once again averaging a triple-double, but we’ve become desensitized to how impressive an achievement this is. He isn’t currently a legitimate MVP contender, but Brodie is as valuable to the Thunder as he’s ever been. Through 25 games, the Thunder’s offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) with Westbrook on the court is 121.1. For reference, the Warriors’ lead the league with an offensive rating of 116.37. When Westbrook isn’t playing, the Thunder’s offensive rating plummets to 106.6. Only the Bulls, Hawks, and Suns have a lower offensive rating than that this year. Most importantly, Oklahoma City is winning games. They currently hold the two seed in a very competitive Western Conference. Westbrook’s improved decision making and team play compared to past seasons has certainly had a positive impact on their win-loss record.
13. Paul George
24.3 PTS, 4.3 AST, 8.1 TRB, 0.8 BLK, 2.1 STL, 42.5 FG%
Wachtel: Paul George shocked the basketball world when he re-signed with Thunder this summer. The investment has paid off, as he has been a major reason why the Thunder are number one this year in defensive rating (101.2). George is 4th in the league in steals with 2.1 steals per game. On the offensive side of the ball, the Thunder’s offensive rating is significantly higher while George is on the floor with a +12.6 differential. So far this season, he has been averaging 24.3 PPG and even dropped 47 points on the Nets this past Tuesday. The Thunder are currently 2nd in the Western Conference, and if Paul George can stay healthy, they could be serious Finals contenders.
12. Blake Griffin
24.9 PTS, 5.0 AST, 9.1 TRB, 0.5 BLK, 0.7 STL, 46.4 FG%
Farnsworth: It came as a shock to many when Griffin was traded from the LA Clippers to Detroit last season. It is still hard to understand how the Clippers never made it to the Finals with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. But when Paul left, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for the Clippers to see more changes. In recent seasons Blake Griffin hasn’t been the star he was at the beginning of his career due to injuries. This year has been a different story as he’s quietly on his way to an incredible season. Griffin has been stuffing the stat sheet on a nightly basis and is leading the Pistons to a decent season with only Andre Drummond contributing at an adequate level. Griffin has been one of the more pleasant surprises this year and if he keeps this up, he’ll find himself on one of the All-NBA teams at the end of the season.
11. Nikola Jokic
16.5 PTS, 7.8 AST, 9.6 TRB, 0.7 BLK, 1.3 STL, 47.5 FG%
Farnsworth: The West this season has been wide open since opening night, and Nikola Jokic has led the scrappy Nuggets to the top of the standings. Jokic is undeniably the best passing big man in the league. He makes ridiculously difficult passes look easy on a nightly basis. Despite his lack of athleticism, he utilizes his array of low post skills to score and set up his teammates. Although he overcomes his athletic limitations on offense, he is a constant liability on defense. Jokic is averaging less than one block per game and just over one steal. The Joker has the potential to be on the same level as the Embiids and ADs of the world, but first, he needs to clean things up on the defensive side of the ball.
10. Stephen Curry
30.2 PTS, 5.7 AST, 5.1 TRB, 0.3 BLK, 1.1 STL, 51.9 FG%
Wachtel: The Warriors’ record this season is 5-6 while Stephen Curry has been out with injury, so it’s safe to say that the Warriors aren’t the same team without the two-time MVP. The Warriors offensive rating while Curry is off the floor is 6.6 points less than if he were on the court. Currently averaging 30.2 PPG with an absurd 50 FG% from beyond the arc, Curry is continuing to show why he is the best shooter in this league. Despite only playing 15 games due to injury, Curry already has a 51 point game. It’s easy to see how instrumental Stephen Curry has been for the Warriors and their success.
9. Kemba Walker
26.0 PTS, 6.1 AST, 4.3 TRB, 0.4 BLK, 1.3 STL, 44.0 FG%
Farnsworth: Kemba Walker will forever be remembered for his heroics in 2011 when he led UCONN to a National Championship, but his professional career has been a different story. He’s had an impressive career by the numbers, but playing for the Hornets has made it difficult to gain national recognition. Walker has always been a prolific scorer, but he has truly elevated his game to another level. He is putting up career highs in both points and assists. Despite a supporting cast of average players, Kemba Walker is shouldering the load to will his team to success in the Eastern Conference. It will be interesting to see the Hornet’s position in the standings at the trade deadline because there will be plenty of suitors calling for Walker’s talents.
8. Damian Lillard
27.2 PTS, 6.4 AST, 5.1 TRB, 0.5 BLK, 0.8 STL, 44.3 FG%
Cheema: After suffering a humiliating defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of last season’s playoffs, it was unclear whether or not Lillard would be able to bounce back from the lowest point of his career. He has done more than bounce back. 25 games into the season, Lillard is leading a Blazers offense which boasts the 8th best offensive rating in the league. When the star point guard is not playing, Portland’s offensive rating is significantly lower. The differential is greater than Kemba Walker’s for the Hornets, Stephen Curry’s for the Warriors, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s for the Bucks, Kawhi Leonard’s for the Raptors, Anthony Davis’ for the Pelicans, Tobias Harris’ for the Clippers, and Nikola Jokic’s for the Nuggets. Those are the seven teams with a higher offensive rating than the Trail Blazers this season. By this metric, Lillard has been the most impactful offensive player in the league so far this year.
7. Kawhi Leonard
26.1 PTS, 2.9 AST, 8.6 TRB, 0.6 BLK, 1.8 STL, 49.1 FG%
Farnsworth: Kawhi Leonard cemented himself as one of the best two-way players in the NBA when he won the Finals MVP as he beat LeBron’s Heat in the Finals in 2014. He then won back to back defensive player of the year awards and improved his scoring ability immensely, proving himself as a superstar in this league. Then last season happened. Does anyone really understand the complexities of his situation last year? He played only nine games for the Spurs before demanding a trade in the offseason. The Raptors then made a bold move, shipping out fan-favorite Demar DeRozan to bring in both Kawhi and Danny Green. With Leonard’s health still in question, no one knew what to expect heading into this season. All he’s done is average 26 points, nine rebounds, and two steals per game for the best team in the NBA. Much of the Raptors’ early success can be attributed to the depth of the roster and steady point guard play from Kyle Lowry, but Kawhi’s impact has been remarkable as he’s picked up right where he left in terms of both offensive and defensive production
6. James Harden
29.8 PTS, 8.3 AST, 5.6 TRB, 0.6 BLK, 2.1 STL, 43.9 FG%
Cheema: Harden has regressed after his prolific MVP season, but he has still been one of the best players in the league. His three-point percentage is actually higher this season than last season on greater volume. Interestingly, his free throw rate this year (number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt) is his lowest since his rookie season. Harden’s free throw percentage is also the lowest since his first season back in 2010. On the other side of the ball, Harden is leading the league in steals on a team that has the 5th worst defensive rating in the league. While he used to be a liability on defense, Harden has steadily improved over the past few seasons.
5. Anthony Davis
27.9 PTS, 5.0 AST, 12.6 TRB, 2.8 BLK, 1.6 STL, 50.7 FG%
Cheema: Coming off of a dominating 4-0 series win over the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs, the expectations were high for the Pelicans coming into the 2018-19 season. Anthony Davis has certainly done his part in meeting those expectations. The Brow is quietly putting up career numbers across the board. While his high scoring production and impressive defensive play surprises no one, Davis’ rebounding has significantly improved this year. He’s averaging 12.6 boards per game — last season he averaged just 11.1. Even more impressive is the fact that he’s averaging 5.0 assists per game, more than double his previous career high of 2.3. Davis’ prolific play on the offensive end has led to the Pelicans putting up 118.7 points per game, the second highest total in the NBA. Just as impressive is Davis’ impact on the defensive side of the ball. With Davis on the court, opponents score 112.1 points per 100 possessions. When the three-time NBA leader in blocks is not playing, opponents score 123.6 points per 100 possession. This differential is by far the highest for any star player in the NBA.
4. LeBron James
28.4 PTS, 6.6 AST, 7.6 TRB, 0.9 BLK, 1.3 STL, 52.5 FG%
Wachtel: After fulfilling his promise to the city of Cleveland, LeBron James decided to start the next chapter of his career by signing with the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer. James has had eight straight NBA Finals appearances, and he signed with the Lakers knowing that it might be a struggle to contend initially. So far this season, the Lakers have exceeded early expectations. They’re seated at the 5th seed in a very competitive Western Conference. Before the season, LeBron James was an MVP favorite, and he certainly hasn’t disappointed. LeBron has set a franchise record for most points scored through the 25 games of the season. James has continued to delay Father Time, staying consistent with his career averages and not showing any signs of slowing down. At this rate, LeBron James still has a good four or five seasons left in him.
3. Kevin Durant
29.8 PTS, 6.3 AST, 7.8 TRB, 1.1 BLK, 0.9 STL, 51.9 FG%
Farnsworth: Kevin Durant might just be the most polarizing player in the NBA (sorry Joel). He was a largely soft-spoken player for much of his career before he shocked the world and signed with the Golden State Warriors a few months after his Thunder were a win away from defeating them and reaching the Finals. His decision to join the Warriors was an unpopular one as there was outspoken disapproval from fans, the media, and even the players. KD has fully embraced the villain role as he’s won two championships, but many consider him to be “soft” because of his move. Even for those people, it is impossible to deny the otherworldly combination of size and skill that has been a staple of his game since his collegiate career at Texas. The Warriors have not been themselves this season, but like it or not, they will be back in the Finals come June because of their ridiculous talent with the likes of Steph, Klay, KD, and Draymond (jury’s still out on Boogie).
2. Joel Embiid
26.3 PTS, 3.6 AST, 13.3 TRB, 2.0 BLK, 0.5 STL, 46.2 FG%
Cheema: Joel Embiid has finally become the MVP caliber player that he has shown flashes of throughout his career. He is the perfect example of the modern NBA big man. Embiid has a higher 3P% than Demar DeRozan and Giannis Antetokounmpo combined. He’s averaging 10.1 free throw attempts per game, the highest figure in the league. Embiid’s ability to get to the foul line has made it impossible for defenses to guard him down low. The scariest thing is that Embiid could be playing even better. After being the Defensive Player of the Year runner-up last season, Embiid’s performance on that side of the ball has taken a hit. This could be attributed to the higher load he has taken on, as he looks fatigued at times and can’t devote the same energy to his defense as he did last year. If Embiid can improve his stamina, he could be the best two-way player the league has seen since LeBron James on the Heat.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
27 PTS, 6.0 AST, 12.9 TRB, 1.3 BLK, 1.5 STL, 57.5 FG%
Wachtel: According to Odds Shark, Giannis Antetokounmpo has the best chance of winning NBA MVP this season, and so far, he has not faltered under this pressure. On a nightly basis, Giannis bullies his way into the paint and posterizes defenders. It’s honestly an anomaly at this point if Giannis goes a full game without a ferocious slam. Right now, Giannis has more dunks than 12 teams and is on pace to break the NBA dunk record. About 71% of Giannis’ shots come 10 feet or closer to the rim, and he connects on 72% of these shots. The scary part is that Giannis hasn’t even reached his prime. He just turned 24 on Thursday yet he’s still putting up these incredible numbers.
Image Source: John E. Sokolowski / USA TODAY Sports