1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
As a Lakers fan, I instantly smiled as I was typing in the team name above. Seriously, who really thought that LeBron would’ve made his way to LaLa Land? With LeBron joining the Lakers, six of the top-10 all-time scorers have now been Lakers at some point in their careers. There really isn’t much to say that isn’t obvious about ‘Bron’s game – he’s an unreal athlete, he’s found a way to fight off Father Time and looked as dominant as ever on offense last season tallying his highest point average since his first season in Miami, and he played in all 82 games for the first time in his career. Aside from the number of regular season games he plays (typically in the 75-80 game range), he also adds about 20 postseason games each year. Sometimes, love him or hate him, you need to just sit back and be astonished at the durability and ability he has at this point in his career. Heading into season number 16, LeBron is NBA LIVE 19’s highest rated player.
2. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Last season, we saw KD grow as a player, something that you don’t often see by players who are already MVPs and well into their careers. One of the many things that make Durant so special is his length and size mixed with his fluidity and athleticism. The biggest improvement was made on the defensive end for Durant last year, as he averaged 1.8 blocks per game. Furthermore, when you saw him play, he was often matched up against guards and playing on the perimeter. While LeBron still takes the throne of the NBA’s best player, KD is the most versatile.
3. Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
In what was a very strange season for both Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs, the end-result is Kawhi in Toronto ready to rub elbows with Drake. Since we’re essentially a year removed from watching Kawhi take the court, let’s take a refresher into his talent. In seven seasons, Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year (back-to-back), a Finals’ MVP, has made four All-Defensive teams, and two All-NBA first-teams. Per game, in his last full season (2016-2017), Leonard averaged a career-high 25.5 points, 5.8 boards, and just under two steals per game while shooting 48.5% from the field. Even last season, though he only played nine games and 23.3 minutes per game, Leonard still averaged 16.2 points per game and 4.7 rebounds. With this trade to Toronto, expect Kawhi’s usage to go up and, assuming he’s healthy, we might see an MVP-worthy season as he makes his push toward 2019’s free agency.
4. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul George shocked the world by staying in Oklahoma City rather than switching over to a bigger market or joining to create a super team like the Houston Rockets or the Philadelphia 76ers. George put up 21.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and shot 40.1% from three-point range last year. Playing in a system that had a lot of ball-dominant players created some inefficiencies across the board for the Thunder (as evidenced by PG’s poor 43% FG numbers) but, with Carmelo Anthony in Houston, look for George to be able to hit his comfort zone a little quicker in the season. Personally, I’m optimistic that George’s defensive intensity (two steals per game last season) and being surrounded by other great defensive players such as Andre Roberson and Steven Adams, will lead to a top-tier year for PG and a competitive Thunder season.
5. Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics
We’ve only seen Gordon Hayward in a Boston Celtics’ jersey for five minutes, but that doesn’t take away from his ability on the floor. Hayward has all the tools to be a true star in this league. Over a number of years in Utah, Hayward’s game grew into that of an all-star caliber player. Throwing away last year, Hayward averaged above 19 points, five boards, and three assists in three-straight seasons while rarely missing games. Hayward is a more-than-serviceable shooter but is also one of the more trustworthy on-ball defenders you’ll find. Putting a healthy Hayward on Boston’s already-good defensive unit just makes you realize the team’s potential. While the Celtics will have some interesting decisions to make with both young, and established, players, moving forward, this season seems like a special one for Boston fans as they get to see Hayward back on the court.
- Rahul Lal (Follow Rahul on Twitter @rlal95)
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