I wasn’t planning on making this piece. I thought the initial tier pieces were going to be enough, but as I was writing them, the more I researched into players, the more I changed my mind on a lot of them.
What this also has done is not only change my mind on individual players, but as I was going through my thought process on trying to decide which players are in which tier, what each tier is, and how to place the players, that also changed.
But even with all of that, ranking is hard, even if it’s done in tiers. There are so many different ways you can go about it and there are many questions for each way.
I don’t think it’s right to have one overall ranking for the most part. I think as a general ranking, these tiers can do a rough job of doing so. There’s no argument that certain groups of players are clearly in a tier above players. By any objective standard, it’s obvious that a player like Nikola Jokic or Stephen Curry is on a different level than someone like Donovan Mitchell or Brandon Ingram. That can also apply to a lot of players in lesser tiers.
But beyond the most obvious examples, everything overlaps and many more questions arise.
Is it better to rank simply within the same position to one another? It doesn’t feel right to compare someone like Bam Adebayo to Jalen Brunson when they do completely different things. But positions are also fluid.
Well, maybe it’s better to roughly rank within the same role? But that’s also tricky because the role varies by which team you’re on and what teammates you have. Some players are either #1 or #2 options on their team by default.
And what happens if the guy that’s a #1 on a team but isn’t as good at having the team built around them is better than a guy that’s a #2 at that but the #2 guy is better at his role?
One thing that I also realized is I think in most cases, a guard will be significantly better as the #1 guy on a team than a wing in the same role. Whereas those wings are probably more suited and are probably more impactful than that #2. So, again there needs to be that balance.
So, this is what the piece is about. This is my attempt to properly rank players within their same role and position. This will be focusing on the top 55 players, though. The rest of the 70 players that I went through in the tiers are what I would consider elite role players and high-level starters;
Separated by position — bigs, wings, and guards. The players in bold are ones I’d consider in the upper tier. And it’s also some of these players that I could see taking over some of the players in the lower next tier. But for the most part, individually, I think everyone here belongs in this tier.
Let’s start with the easiest position to rank.
- Tier Explanation
- Tier 5: Impactful Role Players
- Tier 4: Guards, Defense vs Offense in Bigs & Wings
- Tier 3: Lead Guards, #2s & Different Bigs
- Tier 2: Championship-Level Guys with Limitations
- Tier 1: The Elite of the Elite
I think this is the easiest position to rank in itself because there’s less overlap with other positions in all but two cases. This position and the role these players have is mostly only done by them and because of that, I think they should evaluated entirely separately.
The one thing that I always bring up when ranking players is that offense is weighed more because that’s where they have the most impact. But when it comes to bigs, that’s where the exception comes in. A big can have such a significant impact on defense that it may change the entire team.
That’s why bigs here that are elite defensive, especially ones that are suited more in the playoffs, are capable of being elite ceiling raisers and why defense here is weighed more. An elite-level defender as a big will most likely have a bigger overall impact outside of the very elite bigs.
Let’s start at the bottom where we have the four offensive bigs:
- Kristaps Porzingis
- Deandre Ayton
- Domantas Sabonis
- Karl Anthony Towns
When it comes to offensive slanted bigs, I think unless you’re at an elite level then it’s hard for them to have an elite impact in the playoffs. Whether that’s because their offense drops compared to what they do in the regular season or if it’s that it’s not at a good enough level to offset the limitations on defense.
Two of these bigs — Towns and Sabonis — are probably also better floor raisers because of it. They are very talented on offense and are capable of being the best or 2nd best player on a team better then 99% of these players but as a big, ceiling raisers are way more important.
For that reason, even though they are in a different tier, I could see why certain teams would prefer a big from the lower tier where they’re not as good offensively but give more on defense and are more impactful in their given role.
But then we also have the defensive slanted bigs:
- Evan Mobley
- Rudy Gobert
I feel like these two are in the same place as the offensive bigs but with limitations on offense holding them back. The defense as a big is valued more, but you also don’t want to lack offense either. Though in a perfect situation, I think it’s also better to have a defensive big.
Next, we have three of the best defenders:
- Draymond Green
- Jaren Jackson Jr
- Bam Adebayo
I think all three are easily ahead of everyone else that’s been talked about. They’re significantly better on defense than anyone else, but they’re also not liabilities on offense either. Their defense is still the reason for the elite ceiling raising and their offense just solidifies it.
Although I’d say they’re all somewhat close, but all have their own limitations and strengths. And because of that, I’d give the edge to Adebayo to have him in a slightly higher tier.
Then there are three elite bigs:
- Joel Embiid
- Anthony Davis
- Nikola Jokic
I don’t think there’s a case to be made that these aren’t the three best bigs — with Jokic in a tier on his own. Jokic is an all-time talent on offense as a scorer and passer. Embiid is the best 2-way big. And Davis, when healthy, is still one of the three best defenders in the world with great offense.
Similar to the bigs, the first group is just a bunch of different wings mashed together:
- Julius Randle
- DeMar DeRozan
- Brandon Ingram
These are the two on-ball wings that I don’t think I can place any higher. They aren’t the best defenders. They are talented offensively with the ball, but I have questions about how they translate with other stars and their ability as a ceiling raiser.
Ingram is a special case because he’s really talented on offense. One of the better wing passers. He’s doing a great job as the #1 guy in New Orleans. At the same time, I don’t think him being a #1 is good enough to win. But I also don’t see him being able to be as good of a #2 as these players:
- Jaylen Brown
- Mikal Bridges
- Lauri Markkanen
I don’t think any of these players are close to doing what Ingram has done as a #1 option. But they make up for it by being better in all other areas that complement a star better. And in the case of Bridges, it also adds the most defensive value.
This is the case of balancing being a better #1 but a worse #2.
Then we go to the elite #2s and Zion:
- Khris Middleton
- Paul George
- Zion Williamson
- Pascal Siakam
Two of these guys have won a championship as a #2. That’s their role. They excel at it. They add tremendous value as a ceiling raiser but also are capable of taking charge when needed.
Zion is a weird case and I’m not entirely sure where or what role I should rank him in because we haven’t seen a lot from him. But he’s still one of the best offensive players mainly because of his ridiculous rim pressure that easily generates so many good looks.
Then we have two wings that are in the next tier because they are capable of being the best players on a championship team:
- Jimmy Butler
- Jayson Tatum
By now, both have shown enough that they’re closer to the top-10 range than the rest of the players.
Finally, we have the proven champions and the elite of the elite wings:
- Kawhi Leonard
- Kevin Durant
- LeBron James
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
This is something that I’ve been thinking about throughout these tiers where I think a lot of these guards, mainly towards the top, will have a strong case to be over most of the wings or any other very elite #2.
Because offense is weighed higher, the elite guards here are capable of being an engine of the offense and have an insane impact on offense by their efficient scoring, elite passing, or both. This is also why I can see some of the players be in the next tier too even with the other bigs and wings.
Right at the bottom are your high-scoring(mainly young players) guards.
- Tyler Herro
- Anfernee Simons
- CJ McCollum
- Jordan Poole
- Tyrese Maxey
- LaMelo Ball
All have their own significant limitations that hold them back from the upper tier. Because of those limitations, I find it hard to have them any higher than this, and also I could see why certain teams prefer to have elite role players instead.
The next six guards I would maybe also put in a whole different tier:
- Jrue Holiday
- Dejounte Murray
- Bradley Beal
- Desmond Bane
- Zach LaVine
- Darius Garland
I think these guards are one of the best in their roles as a secondary guy next to a lead guard. But they’re also capable of stepping into that role when needed. And that’s something that gives them the edge over the first six guards.
Then, we get to the bunch of guards that are lead ball handlers, though there are two tiers within this tier too.
- Jalen Brunson
- Anthony Edwards
- Tyrese Haliburton
- De’Aaron Fox
- Jamal Murray
- James Harden
All of these guards have something major compared to the rest of the lead guards that holds them back. Whether it’s passing, shooting, 1v1 scoring, or rim pressure, there are some limitations that others don’t have.
That’s why, again with the #2 vs. #1 conversation, I can see the upper-tier guards from the tier below having a case over one another here depending on team context and role.
And at the top of this group:
- Kyrie Irving
- Ja Morant
- Trae Young
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
- Donovan Mitchell
They are the elite lead guards and ones that I can also see being the best player on a championship team.
Finally, there are four of the best guards:
- Devin Booker
- Damian Lillard
- Luka Doncic
- Stephen Curry
I was having difficulty with Booker’s position or if I should also move both Shai and Mitchell up.
But the last two, they are easily the best guards and two of the best offensive players in the league
Now, to wrap this whole tiers and ranking project, I will try to attempt to rank the entire top 55. But before that, some notes:
- Offense > defense(except for bigs)
- Elite lead ball-handlers, creators, and players capable of being an engine are weighed more
- But guys that are elite #2s will be ranked higher over guys that aren’t elite at being the #1. The gap has to be significant
- Everyone is fully healthy
- Playoffs are weighed more
- Bold players are ones I can see the case for being in the next tier
And that is it for Simply Ballin’s 2023 NBA Player Tiers.