NBArank: A massive surprise is hiding in our top 10on September 22, 2022 at 1:53 pm

NBArank is back for its 12th season counting down the best players in the league.

Where are MVP candidates such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic? What about rookies and young stars ready to take the leap into the upper tier of NBA players?

Where is LeBron James, who is entering his 20th season?

To get the final NBArank prediction, we asked our expert panel to vote on pairs of players: LeBron vs. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry vs. Ja Morant, Luka vs. Jayson Tatum … and the list goes on.

We asked, “Which player will be better in 2022-23?” Voters had to predict what they expected from each player during the season.

We’ve already revealed players Nos. 100-26 and Nos. 25-11. Today, our rankings continue into the league’s top 10 superstars.

Note: ESPN’s NBArank panel, composed of over 200 reporters, editors, producers and analysts, were asked to rank players based on their predicted contributions — quality and quantity — for the 2022-23 season only.

Matt York/AP Photo

Phoenix Suns SF

2021 NBArank: No. 3

It’s season No. 20 for James, and there’s a lot at stake for the all-time great. He needs 1,323 points to eclipse Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, but the Lakers’ team success — or lack thereof — will largely determine how the moment resonates.

Wednesday, Oct. 19

Knicks vs. Grizzlies, 7:30 p.m.Mavericks vs Suns, 10 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 21

Celtics vs. Heat, 7:30 p.m.Nuggets vs Warriors, 10 p.m.

*All times Eastern

Why he fell three spots

For the second time in four seasons as a Laker, James missed the playoffs — this after only missing the postseason twice in his first 15 years in the league. James’ 30.3 points per game average was unprecedented for a 19-year veteran, but the 26 games he lost to various injuries and an ill-fitting roster around him made for one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.

James has already redefined the notion of how long a player’s prime can last, so it would be foolish write him off too soon, but it’s impossible to ignore that the Lakers had a negative net rating with James on the floor last season, which is reason enough to drop him out of the top five in the rankings no matter his impressive offensive output.

One huge question for 2022-23

In the middle of dropping 42 points during a cameo appearance in L.A.’s famed Drew League in July, James told ESPN, “I’m 100 percent healthy.” That’s a solid starting point for James to get things back on track.

The question is, can James have the good fortune to stay healthy at the same time that Anthony Davis can, giving the Lakers a chance to replicate the success that led to a title in 2020? If James and Anthony can both play the bulk of L.A.’s games, the Lakers will have a viable path back to the postseason, even with the challenges of working in Russell Westbrook and being guided by a new coach Darvin Ham.

— McMenamin

NBArank 2022: Nos. 100-26

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