1. Numbers don’t lie
LeBron James has arguably been the best player we’ve seen over the last twenty years. He carried the Cavaliers to an NBA finals appearance before leaving for Miami to further his legacy. After returning to Cleveland, he continued to show his dominance and has been better than the previous two league MVP recipients, but I think he might be slipping. In LeBron’s return to the Cavaliers he’s averaging roughly 25 ppg. , two points less than the 27.1 per game in his final season as a Heat player. This year is his lowest scoring season since his rookie campaign in 2003-04 when he averaged just 20.9 points per game, and he’s also experiencing his lowest season in steals per game with only 1.3. His field goal percentage is a solid .516, yet his current .701 percent from the charity stripe is also the lowest of his entire career. Overall, LeBron ranks 11th in the league in points per game, 5th in assists per game, and 37th in steals per game. Is this decline a reflection of his dominance diminishing?
2. If not LeBron, then who?
Currently Russell Westbrook is by far the best player in the league. He is averaging a triple double (which is just absolutely unreal), leads the league in scoring, ranks second in the league in assists behind his former teammate James Harden, and is sitting at 9th in rebounding– and might I add that he’s a guard. He no longer carries the burden of sharing the ball with Kevin Durant, and he is basically running the league this year. Arguably, there isn’t a player close to being as good as Westbrook this season. That being said, he better enjoy this time on the throne because there is a new era ushering into the league.
3. A Young Man’s League
The NBA is developing and changing and younger players are beginning to take over the game. No one in the top-10 in scoring was drafted before 2007, and besides Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, no one has more than seven years of experience. Players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kawhi Leonard, Andrew Wiggins, and Kristaps Porzingis are beginning to take over their respective teams and the league will follow. And as they begin to develop and gain experience, their elite status will only grow as the years go by.
Antetokounmpo has experienced huge increases in points per game, assists per game, rebounds per game, steals per game, and blocks per game every year since his rookie season in 2013-14. He currently leads his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, and he can play any position on the court at the highest level. It’s risky to predict anything years in advance, but I believe that sometime in the next five years, people will be saying that Giannis is the best player in the NBA.
Sometime during that stretch, I believe that Kristaps Porzingis will become the best post player in the league. I know the expectation for a standout player is to improve on their rookie year, but this season Porzingis has made huge strides in his scoring game and has become one of the best scoring post players in the league, and is currently ranked sixth among power forwards and centers in scoring.
All in all, the guy that everyone has compared to Michael Jordan no longer appears to be the best player in the league, as Russell Westbrook has clearly taken that title, but it won’t be long before not even Westbrook can claim the crown. A key crop of young NBA players are performing better and better every season, and with what seems like a constant stream of talent coming into the league as of late, there’s always going to be a debate as to who is the best, but it seems that LeBron might have gotten to the hump and may be a guy who you hear less and less of during discussions regarding the best player in the NBA. And at that point I believe that will solidify the fact that it’s a young man’s league after all.