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Ranking the Top 20 players in the NBA right now: Giannis Antetokounmpo reigns as king

Ranking the Top 20 players in the NBA right now: Giannis Antetokounmpo reigns as king

Long before a worldwide pandemic shut the NBA down, much of the narrative during the 2019-20 regular season was how TV ratings had slipped. Many people offered their theories.

The one that seemed to make the most sense, however, was the simple fact many of the league's best players were hurt. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, in particular, are among the most marketable players in the sport, the ones you tune in to see.

In addition to them, guys like Klay Thompson, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Victor Oladipo have missed significant time. So have Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin.

So, that's like what, eight of the league's top 40 players? It is no wonder there was an impact.

It also makes ranking the best players in the NBA an unusual exercise. And really the only fair way to do it is to exclude those guys, given it is impossible to grade them accurately, in some cases having no real certainty for how they will look when they return.

With all that in mind, here is a look at the top 20 players in the NBA right now. Some should be pretty obvious, while some will be up for debate...

20. Zion Williamson, Pelicans - Already? Yeah, already. Williamson has only played 19 NBA games after recovering from a knee injury, but his ability to impact games on both ends of the floor is special. He is a matchup nightmare physically with his strength, first step and explosive leaping ability. And he's more skilled and has better instincts than people give him credit for. The guy is averaging 23.6 points in 29.7 minutes while holding a 59.5 effective field goal percentage, which is just insane.

19. Khris Middleton, Bucks - Middleton is easy to like because of his commitment to both ends of the floor and his constantly improving game. He was a late-bloomer of sorts who didn't really break out until his late 20s, but now he's a perennial All-Star and the second-best player on a true title contender. Don't be surprised if he raises his stock in the postseason, whenever it is played.

18. Ben Simmons, 76ers - The three-point struggles are real and could limit his ceiling long-term, but his reputation has drifted far out of hand. So, he doesn't make outside shots; he literally does everything else well, to the point where he is one of the most well-rounded players in the NBA. It wouldn't be surprising if someday the fact he doesn't look for his own shot becomes more appreciated. Look through the history of the NBA, score-first point guards rarely lead teams to championships.

17. Bradley Beal, Wizards - Every time you think Beal has reached his peak, he finds another level offensively, now to the point where he is second in the NBA in scoring (30.5 ppg). He would rank higher if not for two things: one is the lack of team success, which most might point to, but also the fact he isn't nearly as effective on defense as he is on offense. Now, both of those things aren't necessarily his fault, even the latter. If the Wizards had more talent around him, he would be able to do more on defense and take on tougher assignments. Right now he has to save his energy for offense.

16. Rudy Gobert, Jazz - If you think about it, it's kind of strange how much we weigh offense over defense. Gobert, for instance, is arguably the equal-and-opposite of James Harden. He's probably the best player in the entire league on one end of the floor, while on the other side he's merely decent. Defensively, there is no questioning his impact. He dominates games with his control of the paint.

15. Paul George, Clippers - George may stand to gain as much from the league resuming this year than anyone, as his legacy would change considerably with a deep playoff run. He has long been one of the game's best two-way players, but aside from one conference finals hasn't been able to shine on the game's biggest stage. If the Clippers made the Finals or won it all this year, the view of George could go from likely Hall of Famer to maybe in the third or fourth tier of the best to ever play the small forward position.

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14. Russell Westbrook, Rockets - Westbrook is one of those NBA players who is somehow simultaneously overrated and underrated, maybe not quite to the degree of Draymond Green, but there just doesn't seem to be a level and fair way to assess Westbrook's value. Yes, he's inefficient from three-point range, but he essentially does everything else well. And he and James Harden have proven to be a better fit than many predicted.

13. Jayson Tatum, Celtics - Tatum is establishing himself as one of the NBA's best young stars and it's only his age-21 season. It makes you wonder just how good he can be and whether he can ascend to the MVP candidate ranks. The sample size just remains a bit small to put him in the top 10. Maybe that changes after the playoffs, assuming they happen at some point.

12. Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves - Towns may play for a perpetually disappointing Timberwolves team that for some reason couldn't win games with him this season, but the talent and numbers are hard to argue with. If Minnesota was even a decent team, he would rank higher. He's averaging a fairly absurd stat-line of 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while separating himself as perhaps the best shooting big man out there. He made an impeccable 41.2 percent from three on 7.9 attempts; absolutely incredible for a player his size.

11. Jimmy Butler, Heat - Butler has for years been respected for his talent and his competitive fire, but also questioned as a teammate and for his ability to lead a winning team. His tenure in Chicago didn't end well, neither did his time in Minnesota or Philly. So, maybe that will happen in Miami, too, but for now he's proving he can be the top dog on a contending team. It seems like he has finally found the perfect system and place for him.

10. Pascal Siakam, Raptors - It doesn't seem like anyone predicted Siakam would be a legitimate top-10 player this season before it began. But after being a central figure on the Raptors title team, he got significantly better. And the beauty of his game is that there is no real relative weakness. He does just about everything at least average and he does most things above average. Those types of players deserve the utmost respect because it takes a lot of hard work and attention to detail to achieve.

9. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers - Portland may not be the team they were a year ago, but that hasn't slowed down Lillard from posting some of the best numbers of his career, including personal highs in points (28.9 ppg), assists (7.8 apg) and three-pointers. This is now his eighth straight season as one of the league's standout scorers and he has been especially durable along the way. A few more years of this and he will be a lock for the Hall of Fame.

8. Luka Doncic, Mavericks - Doncic is improving so rapidly that it's tough to tell whether this is an overreaction or if we're selling him short. He's clearly one of the NBA's brightest young stars, ranking sixth this season in scoring (27.7 ppg), fourth in assists (8.7 apg) and top 20 in rebounding (9.3 rpg). And he's doing all that despite recently turning 21.

7. Joel Embiid, 76ers - Say what you want about the Sixers and the perception they underachieve, Embiid is a star on both offense and defense. He might be the most imposing physical force in the game and he combines his size with a uniquely versatile skillset. If Embiid stays healthy, he has the chance to be a league MVP.

6. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets - It might be hard to call Jokic underrated after he made first-team All-NBA last season, but it still seems like he doesn't get enough credit. The bottom line is Jokic is the best player on one of the NBA's best teams and his versatility sets him apart as one of the league's most effective stars. What stands out most is his passing, not only the fact he averages 6.9 assists but the way he gets them. He could go down as the best passing big man in NBA history someday.

5. Anthony Davis, Lakers - An elite two-way player who regularly leads the NBA in blocks, Davis seems really close to finally getting his due now that he's on a winning team. One ring and all of a sudden all the personal accomplishments he's put together over the years will be seen in a different light, similar to what happened with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen when they won with the Celtics.

4. James Harden, Rockets - Harden has taken advantage of the NBA's evolution as much as anyone. He has fully embraced prioritizing the three-point shot over the midrange. Combined with his exceptional ability of getting to the free throw line, he has established himself as the best scorer in the league. If only he played better defense, he would get more respect and be higher on lists like this one.

3. LeBron James, Lakers - Somehow, 17 years after he was drafted, James is still playing at an elite level. By some statistical measurements, he's as good as he's ever been. For example, he's leading the NBA with a career-high 10.6 assists per game. His defense, however, isn't as elite as the top two players on this list.

2. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers - Leonard is one of the select few players in today's NBA who can legitimately control the game on both ends of the floor. He showed last year in the playoffs that there may be no better player to have during crunch time than him. He is also the most versatile player in today's game, which values versatility more than any era before it. The only thing he doesn't do is play a lot of games. If he was more durable and reliable, he would have a better case for being the league's best player.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks - There shouldn't be much argument here. Antetokounmpo is the reigning MVP and by far the best player on a team on pace to post one of the best records in league history. The Greek Freak's effectiveness on both ends of the floor have all the makings of an all-time great. Not unlike LeBron James or Shaquille O'Neal, guarding him is a physical impossibility. He just has to win something of consequence, and he's well on his way to doing that.

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2020 NBA Draft: Anthony Edwards, far and away, leads the best shooting guard prospects

2020 NBA Draft: Anthony Edwards, far and away, leads the best shooting guard prospects

The Washington Wizards are likely to have a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Here is a look at the five best point guard prospects in this year's class and how they would fit with the Wizards with analysis from NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes and Tyler Byrum...

1. Anthony Edwards

Team: Georgia
Age: 18
Height: 6-5
Weight: 225
Wingspan: 6-9

2019/20 stats: 32 G, 19.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.6 bpg, 40.2 FG% (6.3/15.8), 29.4 3PT% (2.3/7.7), 77.2 FT%

Player comparison: Victor Oladipo, Donovan Mitchell

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 1st, Sports Illustrated 1st, Ringer 1st, NBADraft.net 1st, Bleacher Report 1st

Fit with Wizards: As a guard that could instantly be thrust into an NBA rotation, the Washington Wizards would not necessarily be the best fit for Edwards. He would still be behind John Wall and Bradley Beal in the lineup and likely only see the court with that duo in a small lineup. However, if the ping-pong balls bounce the way of Washington or somehow he inexplicably falls to the Wizards, they have to take him. 

Of the entire class, is he the best prospect. Not only does he have a high floor, but his upside could have him as a potential franchise player further down the road.

Defensively, he would be a nice addition to their perimeter coverage and would be another big transition threat. Edwards' high motor and physique make him essentially a brick wall for guards to find an opening. 

Scott Brooks' up-tempo offense fits with Edwards' game. And the most enticing element is that Edwards is fine being off the ball. That's exactly what Washington would need with Wall, Beal, Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura needing their offensive touches. Edwards would keep defenders honest and draw plenty of attention on every drive in the post. Positionally, he rebounds well and could fill in some gaps on the boards, but he wouldn't address the full team issue. - Byrum

FULL PLAYER PROFILE

2. Tyrese Maxey

Team: Kentucky
Age: 19
Height: 6-3
Weight: 198
Wingspan: 6-6

2019/20 stats: 31 G, 34.5 mpg, 14.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.4 bpg, 42.7 FG% (4.8/11.3), 29.2 3PT% (1.1/3.6), 83.3 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Lowry, less-accurate Tyler Herro

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 12th, Sports Illustrated 10th, Ringer 8th, NBADraft.net 21st, Bleacher Report 13th

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards have to assume they already have their version of Maxey in Bradley Beal and Troy Brown Jr. Playmaking off-the-ball guards who also have a background as facilitators. There are much bigger areas of need for the team, especially in the post, finding a long-term back-up point guard and wing depth. 

None of those holes would be where Maxey would fit on the team. Still, a team can never have too many competent ballhandlers that can score.

Maxey would just add another piece to where Washington already has a strength.

He would be an improvement for the Wizards' defensive efforts. Maxey has a high basketball IQ that makes him a phenomenal off-ball defender. However, he is limited in how he cannot guard well enough outside of the guard position. 

Like many of the other top-end lottery prospects, he could likely contribute from day one and make the roster for the new season. Assuming Beal and John Wall are relied on in the same capacity from Scott Brooks though, Maxey would be buried down the depth chart. A lot of his offensive upside is dependent on his touches because his numbers don't exactly jump off the page. Washington would likely want him to shore up his shooting motion as well before giving him meaningful minutes.

If the Wizards are picking ninth or higher, there really doesn't appear to be a scenario where they take the Kentucky SG. There are just too many other immediate needs that can be addressed. - Byrum

FULL PLAYER PROFILE

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3. RJ Hampton

Team: New Zealand Breakers
Age: 19
Height: 6-5
Weight: 185
Wingspan: 6-7

2019/20 stats: 15 G, 20.6 mpg, 8.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.3 bpg, 40.7 FG% (3.3/8.2), 29.5 3PT% (0.9/2.9), 67.9 FT%

Player comparison: Dante Exum, O.J. Mayo

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 13th, Sports Illustrated 14th, Ringer 12th, NBADraft.net 17th, Bleacher Report 12th

Fit with Wizards: Hampton is one of the several point/ combo guards whose talent level has them scattered around the first round. Hampton is not among the top tier of guards in this year's class but does offer a mid-round option for a team to take a chance on a playmaker that already has shooting fundamentals. 

Of course, the Wizards are not in need of a two-guard whose role would just be limited to Bradley Beal's backup. Hampton does not have the positional flexibility to fill into other roles and is too small to space the court with John Wall and Beal at the same time. 

Likely he is a depth piece, which is not what Washington needs with their first-round pick. Even from a preparedness level, Hampton might need a year or two to fully develop into his frame and to improve his shooting numbers.

Given his inaccuracies, his hip injury and limited NBL success, drafting Hampton does not appear to be a smart move for the Wizards with the uncertainty on how he will project out. 

That is not to say Hampton cannot be a successful pro. The Nuggets took a similar chance on Michael Porter Jr., who was coming off a back injury when he was drafted in 2018, and is now a formidable bench piece of their team. Both Porter and Hampton saw marginal success and tough injuries in the year before the draft. They also are highly regarded high school prospects that are well known among the scouting community. 

Hampton may not be a quick answer for the upcoming season. However, the Wizards could see him becoming a key bench piece in the future. -Byrum

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4. Jahmi'us Ramsey

Team: Texas Tech
Age: 18 (turns 19 in June)
Height: 6-4
Weight: 195
Wingspan: 6-6

2019/20 stats: 27 G, 31.2 mpg, 15.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.7 bpg, 44.2 FG% (5.5/12.4), 42.6 3PT% (2.2/5.2), 64.1 FT%

Player comparison: Sam Dekker, less explosive Donovan Mitchell

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 20th, Sports Illustrated 22nd, Ringer 18th, NBADraft.net 24th, Bleacher Report N/A

Fit with Wizards: Some see Ramsey filling into a variety of roles for a team, as a point guard, shooting guard or a smaller wing. This could be encouraging for the Wizards wanting to invest in a player that possesses versatility and is still young enough to mold into a system.

The depth of the guard/ wing combination is slowly growing for Washington. The team has added Troy Brown Jr., Jerome Robinson, Ish Smith and Isaac Bonga over the past couple of seasons. Ramsey would be on the smaller end of that depth chart but provide shooting and solid positional defense. Even in his first year, he would push for minutes against that group. 

What makes him more enticing than perhaps other prospect options around his draft stock is his 3-point ability. Every team needs a bench perimeter option to provide a spark, as he would be unlikely to be in a small lineup alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal. 

His youth will allow the Wizards to get younger as well as the team only has two rostered players under 22. And while Ramsey is young he is a more than capable defender. He can generate new possessions off of steals and even blocked shots against his matchups. 

Ramsey would be a part of a development plan for Washington and could be an integral piece when it comes to building their future.  - Byrum

FULL PLAYER PROFILE

5. Josh Green

Team: Arizona
Age: 19 (turns 20 in November)
Height: 6-6
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 6-10

2019/20 stats: 30 G, 30.9 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.4 bpg, 42.4 FG% (4.1/9.6), 36.1 3PT% (1.0/2.8), 78.0 FT%

Player comparison: Kelly Oubre Jr.

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 24th, Sports Illustrated 24th, Ringer 19th, NBADraft.net 19th, Bleacher Report 20th

Fit with Wizards: As with many mid-first-round prospects, Green could slide into a roster as a 3-point shooting wing with a strong defensive game. Both fill needs on either side of the court for Washington. 

Wizards fans will be quite familiar with Green's skill set as it matches former Washington Wizard Kelly Oubre Jr. He naturally gravitates away from the perimeter, though, and often finds himself open in the post, leading to several opportunities at the rim. Backdoor cuts and slashes are a huge element of his game.

As a player that knows his role within a system, that could fit into the culture that general manager Tommy Shepard is trying to build. Rui Hachimura is another example of a player that plays within his means and can compliment other stars on the court. The multiple layers of his game make him a more valuable offensive commodity overall than other prospects around his level.

Of course, Washington would need Green to take more threes than he did with Arizona. His role would be more one-dimensional. With John Wall, Bradley Beal and Rui Hachimura, the Wizards have plenty of players that will occupy the paint and need space to get to the basket. The second unit could be where that element fits his game. 

Green would go well in Washington - and checks off some boxes for the front office - but there are other players in the mid-to-late first round that are a better plug and play options.  - Byrum

FULL PLAYER PROFILE

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Wizards release united statement in response to the death of George Floyd

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Wizards release united statement in response to the death of George Floyd

While protests continue across the country following the death of George Floyd, the world's biggest sports figures, including Michael Jordan and LeBron James, have used their platforms to make it clear where they stand on the numerous social issues fueling the protests.

You can now add the Washington Wizards to that group. Early Monday morning, the Wizards posted a "united statement" on social media in response to Floyd's death and the protests that have followed.

Included in the post are four separate statements.

"We will no longer tolerate the assassination of people of color in this country."

"We will no longer accept the abuse of power from law enforcement."

"We will no longer accept ineffective government leaders who are tone-deaf, lack compassion or respect for communities of color."

"We will no longer shut up and dribble."

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura were among players to share the same statements on Instagram.

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