ESPN has released their annual, and always controversial, top-100 NBA players ranking. While the ranks are determined based upon ESPN’s predictions for the upcoming season, there is still plenty of room for debate.
With several players appearing much higher on ESPN’s list than they should have, and several others being egregiously overlooked, let’s first take a look at who was underrated.
Who did ESPN underrate?
Ben Simmons (76): Listed as the 76th best player on ESPN’s list, Ben Simmons is being overly penalized for his absence last season. While his game has flaws, Simmons was an All-Star the three seasons prior to last year, was All-Defense the two seasons prior to last year, and was All-NBA in 2020. One year off, due to mental and physical health problems, should not slide him this far.
Jamal Murray (50): Similar to Simmons, Murray saw his ranking plummet after injuries sidelined him for the entire 2021-22 season. A 21 PPG scorer on 48/41/87 shooting splits two seasons ago, Murray established himself as a legitimate co-star alongside Nikola Jokic. His performance in the 2020 playoffs was nothing short of historic, and he followed that with a nice encore in the 2021 regular season. Should he remain healthy, he will almost certainly be better than the 50th-best player in basketball.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (48): One of the best young players in basketball, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a borderline All-Star, and just turned 24. Before Gilgeous-Alexander suffered a season-ending injury in 2021, he was on pace to become the first player in NBA history to average 23 PPG on 50% from the field and 40% from deep before age 23. Following that up with a career-high 24.5 PPG last season, there is no reason he should be ranked this low.
Kyrie Irving (33): While the concerns surrounding his availability and commitment are valid, they do not push Kyrie Irving out of the NBA’s top-30. In the 29 games he played last season, Irving averaged 27.4 PPG on 47/42/92 splits. While Irving of course did not play enough games to qualify for the league’s leaderboards, he was the only player last season to average at least 27 PPG on those shooting splits or better. When available, he is much better than the 33rd-best player in basketball.
Paul George (15): Paul George being underrated on this list is less about where he’s ranked, and more about who’s ranked above him. Directly behind Damian Lillard and Karl-Anthony Towns, George should be no lower than 13th. While it feels like splitting hairs at this point, and perhaps it is, that’s what comes with these debates in the top-15. One of the most versatile players in basketball, George is a perennial 20 PPG scorer while being elite defensively. His 2021 playoff run is a height that multiple players ranked above him have not reached, and just one injury-riddled season removed from that, there aren’t 15 players better than Paul George.
Kawhi Leonard (12): Similar to Paul George, but to an even greater degree, ESPN wildly disrespected Kawhi Leonard with some of the players ranked before him. One of the best two-way players not just in the game today, but of all-time, Leonard averaged 30 PPG on 57% from the field before getting injured in the 2021 playoffs. Doing so while defending players like Luka Doncic, Leonard proved he was still one of the best two-way players in basketball. Like others on this list, a one-year absence doesn’t warrant a projected drop-off like this.
Steph Curry (5):
When the Los Angeles Lakers won the title in 2020, ESPN ranked LeBron James first, and Anthony Davis second on their annual top-100 list. The trend continued the next year when Giannis Antetokounmpo took their top spot. Following Steph Curry’s historically great playoff run, which ended in his first Finals MVP award, ESPN ranked him fifth. Eliminating two of the players ranked ahead of him in Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic, Curry dominated any and all who were in his way last season. Breaking records and reaching milestones nearly each game in the 2022 postseason, Curry reminded the rest of the NBA that the league still runs through him.