NBA Top 100 Players: How To Evaluate Kawhi Leonard, Other Question Marks That Will Decide Contenders’ Fate

There are as many arguments as there are players in CBS Sports NBA Top 100 Listfrom whether Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant belong in the top spot to how many places LeBron James should have fallen where conundrums like James Harden and Russell Westbrook belong.

But among the most interesting (and, in terms of contenders, shocking) statuses are three aspiring stars who haven’t played in a significant game in nearly 18 months: Kawhi Leonard, Jamal Murray and Ben Simmons.

While each player’s ratings are skewed by their time away, making judging their likely effectiveness in the 2022-23 season even more difficult, each will be a vital cog in their team’s championship hopes.

Leonard is ranked No. 8, a spot he’ll need to move past this season if the Clippers want to contend for a title, something many NBA watchers, including those in Las Vegas, who put them at around +700, believe is achievable. .

Murray and Simmons sit deeper on our list, at No. 35 and No. 42, respectively, and each is capable of topping or surpassing our best guess here. Simmons, in particular, could change wildly late in the season in the NBA’s pantheon of stars, but both players will be key to his team living up to championship hype.

These three players, and their places in the NBA pecking order, captivate for different reasons. Kawhi’s appeal is what it was: all-time greatness, when he seemed poised to beat LeBron to the point of being the only man in NBA history to win a Finals MVP with three different teams.

For Murray, the pull is what it could be. And for Simmons it is the notion of what may never be again.

Greatness is a fickle thing, and in its absence it has a way of distorting our memories of what a player was, or what said player can claim. That is certainly true in these three cases.

Murray seemed poised to help Denver become a permanent threat in the Western Conference, but his injury problems and those of teammate Michael Porter Jr. (No. 64) in the top 100 have made the Nuggets a vehicle for a one-man MVP show instead of a contender

The last time Murray played in the postseason, the Nuggets reached the conference finals. Last season, without him, they managed just a measly win in their first-round series with the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.

If Murray can pull it off, get past the likes of Jrue Holiday (No. 25), Harden (No. 21) and even an aging Chris Paul (No. 18), and add firepower behind Nikola Jokic (No. 4) – – which can change quickly.

Simmons is the weirdest of the bunch, for all the reasons we know. He may come in here at No. 42, but he’s a former Rookie of the Year, All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defense ultra-talent. As in, he is good.

Kind of.

We know he can’t shoot, and that his departure from Philly was uglier than Kim and Kanye’s ongoing divorce. He has not played, for physical and/or mental health reasons, since his self-inflicted humiliation in the playoffs more than a year ago.

A year for now? He could be languishing at the bottom of our list, or even off it altogether, along with guys like Westbrook, who barely made the cut. Or it could be much, much higher. If things go that way, toward the top 20 where a player with his gifts belongs, the Nets could be the most dysfunctional team in the league. Y his greatest talent.

Then there’s Kawhi. He is the biggest question mark on this list (and in the NBA). He’s No. 8 now, but at 31 he’s considerably younger than the Opening Night ages of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (34) and LeBron, the 37-year-old eternal wonder.

A healthy Kawhi, well calibrated with load management defining his focus for a long season, could easily find himself in the top five on next year’s list. And if that happens, if the coverage that most of us did here at CBS Sports because we know what Kawhi was but not what he will be turns out to be too conservative, the Clippers will be among the best teams in the league.

CBS Sports’ list of the top 100 players in the game comes after many weeks of thought and conversation with people across the league, and the inevitable debates and disagreements are part of the goal.

I think Durant is too high and Ja Morant is too low, and young players like Anthony Edwards and Evan Mobley are going to take a leap way beyond where most who follow the NBA see them right now. But all of that and more, right or wrong, is based on what we think we know, what we’ve actually seen, or what history tells us we’ll see.

But it’s different for Leonard, Murray and Simmons. Their placement on this list and questions surrounding their upcoming seasons are influenced as much by their absences as by what we think we know about them.

So, we step into the unknown, with three potentially great players trying to prove that their future is as bright as their past.

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