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NBA top 100 players: How to evaluate Kawhi Leonard, other question marks who will decide fates of contenders

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There are as many arguments as there are players on CBS Sports Top 100 NBA listfrom whether Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, or Kevin Durant take first place, to how many places LeBron James had to drop, where mysteries like James Harden and Russell Westbrook belong.

But among the most interesting — and, in terms of contenders, influential — statuses are three potential star players who haven’t played a meaningful game in nearly 18 months: Kawhi Leonard, Jamal Murray, and Ben Simmons.

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While each player’s ratings are skewed by time away from them, making it even more difficult to gauge their likely performance in the 2022-2023 season, each will be a vital cog in their team’s championship hopes.

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Leonard is in 8th place, which he will need to surpass this season if the Clippers are to challenge for the title. Many NBA watchers, including those in Vegas, believe their rating is around +700. attainable.

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Murray and Simmons rank deeper on our list at 35th and 42nd, respectively, and each is capable of outperforming or underperforming our best guess. Simmons, in particular, could change a lot towards the end of the season in the pantheon of NBA stars, but both players will play a key role in making sure their team lives up to championship expectations.

All three players and their places in the NBA hierarchy are interesting for different reasons. Kawhi’s lure lies in what was the all-time great when he seemed poised to beat LeBron and become the only man in NBA history to win Finals MVP with three different teams.

For Murray, traction is what it can be. And for Simmons, it’s a vision of something that might never happen again.

Greatness is a fickle thing, and in absentia it has the power to warp our memories of who a player was or what that player can bring back. This is certainly true in these three cases.

Murray seemed poised to help Denver become a perennial threat in the Western Conference, but his injury problems and injuries to top 100 teammate Michael Porter Jr. (No. 64) made the Nuggets a vehicle for a one-man MVP show, not a contender. .

The last time Murray played in the postseason, the Nuggets advanced to the Conference Finals. Last season, without him, they managed only one miserable victory in the first round series with the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.

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

Simmons is the weirdest of the group for all the reasons we know. He may be ranked 42nd here, but he’s a former Rookie of the Year, All Star, All-NBA and All-Defense ultra-talent. I mean, he’s good.

Well, sort of.

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

In a year? He could end up at the very bottom of our list, or even drop out of it entirely, along with guys like Westbrook who barely made it. Or it could be much, much higher. If things continue in the same direction — a top 20 finish where a player with his talents belongs — the Nets could become the most underperforming team in the league. as well as he is the most talented.

Then there’s Kawai. He is the most important question mark on this list (and the NBA). Now he’s #8, but at 31, he’s significantly younger than Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant (34) and LeBron, the 37-year-old ageless wonder.

A healthy Kawhi, well calibrated with workload management that defines his approach to a long season, could easily land in the top five on next year’s list. And if that happens — if the hedging that most of us have done here at CBS Sports because we know who Kawhi was but don’t know who he will be is too conservative — the Clippers will be one of the best teams in the league.

The list we’ve put together on CBS Sports of the top 100 players in the game came about after many weeks of thinking and talking with people from across the league, and the inevitable debate and disagreement is part of the goal.

I think Durant is too tall and Ja Morant too short, and that young players like Anthony Edwards and Evan Mobley are about to take the leap far beyond what most NBA followers see them right now. But all of this and more, right or wrong, is based on what we think we know, what we have actually seen, or what history tells us we will see.

But Leonard, Murray and Simmons are different. Their place on this list and the associated questions about their upcoming seasons are colored both by their absence and by what we think we know about them.

So we’re heading into the unknown with three potentially great players trying to show that their future is as bright as their past.


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