Ranking the top 25 NBA players in the bubble: 5-1 – theScore

Leading up to the resumption of the 2019-20 season, theScore's NBA editors will be counting down the top 25 players competing in the NBA restart. We'll reveal five every day until the eve of opening night in Orlando.Let the debate begin.25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-15. James Harden, RocketsJim Poorten / National…

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Leading up to the resumption of the 2019-20 season, theScore’s NBA editors will be counting down the top 25 players competing in the NBA restart. We’ll reveal five every day until the eve of opening night in Orlando.

Let the debate begin.

25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

5. James Harden, Rockets

Jim Poorten / National Basketball Association / Getty

There are many different opinions about James Harden. Some say that he’s boring to watch and is gaming the system with officials and free throws. What sometimes gets lost, however, is how he’s revolutionized the step-back jumper.

He has buried nearly 200 step-back threes this season, expertly utilizing a weapon that gives him just enough time to get a shot off. When you analyze pure numbers, nobody has scored more points in the NBA since 2014-15 than Harden – at a 31 point-per-game clip. Not only that, but with the Houston Rockets going small, his defense – especially in the post – has improved.

4. Anthony Davis, Lakers

Jesse D. Garrabrant / National Basketball Association / Getty

Anthony Davis is excelling so far with the Purple & Gold, serving as a perfect complementary star for LeBron James.

He’s currently ninth in NBA scoring with 26.7 points per game, thanks to a refined offensive repertoire both inside the paint and on the perimeter. Davis has helped transform the Los Angeles Lakers into one of the league’s top defensive outfits, too, putting him in the running for this season’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. The 27-year-old once again ranks among the league leaders in blocks (2.4) and steals (1.5) per game.

If Davis and James can stay healthy throughout the remainder of the season, the Lakers will remain among the betting favorites to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

3. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

Jesse D. Garrabrant / National Basketball Association / Getty

Kawhi Leonard is putting up career highs in points (26.9), rebounds (7.3), and assists (five) per game in his first season with the Los Angeles Clippers despite playing only 32.2 minutes per night – his lightest workload in a healthy season since 2014-15. For good measure, his 1.8 steals per game rank fifth in the league.

At this point, Kawhi’s decade-long transformation from 3-and-D role player to starring playmaker is complete. His effective field-goal percentage dropped from 54.8% to 52.1% this season, but the Klaw still possesses a phenomenal 26.5% assist rate, placing him in the 97th percentile among all forwards this year, according to Cleaning the Glass.

And yes, he is still more than capable of obliterating opposing ball-handlers on the defensive end.

Kawhi doing Kawhi things. @kawhileonard steal ➡️ slam ➡️ https://t.co/N7q0Chryms pic.twitter.com/jnJnZbRtep

— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) January 11, 2020

Few players are better equipped to get a bucket and a stop in the dying seconds of a close game on the NBA’s biggest stage.

2. LeBron James, Lakers

Jim Poorten / National Basketball Association / Getty

There’s not much James has to improve, but the four-time MVP is managing to do just that during his 16th year in the Association. The King is flourishing as the Lakers’ full-time point guard, registering a career-high 10.6 assists per contest. The 35-year-old would be the oldest player since Steve Nash to lead the NBA in assists, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press.

James has never had any issues sharing the rock. His size, court vision, and the attention he draws from opponents make it easier for James to get his teammates involved. But Davis’ offseason addition has helped James rack up even more dimes. When the 16-time All-Star handles the ball in pick-and-roll scenarios, defenses are often so concerned about guarding against the drive that Davis is left wide-open for a lob.

James’ increased playmaking duties haven’t diminished other aspects of his game. He’s still a freight train in transition, can get to the rim at will, and remains capable of guarding all five positions on the floor. James is having an MVP-caliber 2019-20 campaign and heads into the playoffs as a man on a mission.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Joe Murphy / National Basketball Association / Getty

Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most unstoppable forces in basketball when healthy. That’s why the season’s sudden stoppage in March had a silver lining for both the Milwaukee Bucks and their reigning MVP; Antetokounmpo had missed two games and looked set to miss a couple more due to a minor joint capsule sprain in his knee. Thanks to a four-month layoff that allowed him to fully recover, Milwaukee looks to contend for its first title in nearly half a century.

The championship may not be the only silverware Antetokounmpo hoists this year, either. Voting for the league’s end-of-season awards has concluded – with only games until March 11 factoring into consideration – and Antetokounmpo is all but guaranteed to repeat as regular-season MVP. If he does, he would be the first player since Stephen Curry in 2016 to win the honor in back-to-back seasons.

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