Every year ESPN releases its top-100 players heading into that season and it inevitably becomes a major talking point as everyone moves to debate whether or not they got the rankings right.
Heading into last season much of the discussion centered around whether LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo should have held the top spot. ESPN had Antetokounmpo unseating James, who ranked second.
Following the 2020 season, however, things were bound to change after the year put forth by the Los Angeles Lakers. James and Anthony Davis led the franchise to their 17th championship and were named All-NBA First Team, staking their claim as arguably the two best players in the sport and ESPN’s latest list reflects that.
In this year’s edition of ESPN’s top 100 players, James reclaimed his spot at the top of the list, as Kevin Pelton wrote:
James continues to evolve, leading the league in assists while ceding some scoring to Davis. With the short turnaround before opening night, it’s unlikely James will match last season’s 67 (of 71) games played. Come playoff time, however, there’s still nobody you’d rather start your team with than LeBron.
Meanwhile Davis, who ranked fifth last season, jumped all the way up to second:
It’s a testament to how well AD played in the Lakers’ championship run that he created debate about who should win Finals MVP. It was Davis who hit the biggest shot of the playoffs, a 3-pointer to win Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. And the Lakers played better with Davis alone on the court in the postseason (plus-5.0 points per 100 possessions, via NBA Advanced Stats) than with LeBron James alone.
Giannis, Luka Doncic, and Kawhi Leonard rounded out the top 5, but this was still the first time that a pair of teammates topped ESPN’s list. It wasn’t just about the Lakers’ top players, as the list also showed the depth the roster boasts.
Montrezl Harrell (No. 76), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (77), Dennis Schroder (79) and Marc Gasol (96) all made the list as well. ESPN recognized six Lakers, tied for the most in the league with the Brooklyn Nets.
On paper the Lakers look like the best team in the NBA, and all eyes will be on them as they look to defend their championship.
Frank Vogel confident in James, Davis for Opening Night
With a shortened offseason and condensed preseason, the Lakers held Davis and James out of their first two exhibition games. They only played the first half against the Phoenix Suns, then logged more minutes in a second meeting.
Despite the unusual buildup to the season, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel expressed confidence James and Davis would be prepared for Opening Night.
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