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NBA prime 100 gamers: Methods to consider Kawhi Leonard, different query marks who will determine fates of contenders

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There are as many arguments as gamers on CBS Sports activities’ prime 100 NBA listingfrom whether or not Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant belong within the prime spot to what number of locations LeBron James ought to have fallen to the place enigmas like James Harden and Russell Westbrook belong.

However among the many most fascinating – and, by way of contenders, impactful – statuses is that of three would-be star gamers who haven’t performed in a significant sport in practically 18 months: Kawhi Leonard, Jamal Murray and Ben Simmons.

Whereas every of the participant’s rankings are skewed by their time away, which makes judging their seemingly effectiveness within the 2022-23 season much more troublesome, every shall be an important cog of their crew’s championship hopes.

Leonard is available in at No. 8, a spot he’ll must surpass this season if the Clippers are to compete for a title, one thing many NBA watchers – together with these in Vegas, who put them at round +700 – consider is attainable.

Murray and Simmons are available in deeper on our listing, at No. 35 and No. 42, respectively, and every are able to out- or under-performing our greatest guess right here. Simmons, particularly, might swing wildly by the season’s finish within the NBA’s pantheon of stars, however each gamers shall be key to their crew residing as much as championship expectations.

All three of those gamers, and their locations within the NBA pecking order, captivate for various causes. The lure of Kawhi is of what was – of all-time greatness stuff, when he appeared poised to beat LeBron to the mark of being the one man in NBA historical past to win a Finals MVP with three completely different groups.

For Murray, the pull is what could possibly be. And for Simmons it’s the notion of what might by no means be once more.

Greatness is a fickle factor, and in absentia it has a means of skewing our recollections to what a participant was, or to what stated participant can reclaim. That is definitely true in these three circumstances.

Murray appeared poised to assist Denver develop into a everlasting menace within the Western Convention, however his harm woes and people of fellow prime 100 teammate Michael Porter Jr. (No. 64) have made the Nuggets a car for a one-man MVP present slightly than to contender.

The final time Murray performed within the postseason, the Nuggets made the convention finals. Final season, with out him, they managed only one measly win of their opening-round collection with the eventual-champion Golden State Warriors.

If Murray can get it collectively, leapfrog gamers like Jrue Vacation (No. 25), Harden (No. 21) and even an growing old Chris Paul (No. 18) – and add firepower behind Nikola Jokic (No. 4) – that may shortly change.

Simmons is essentially the most weird of the group, for all the explanations we all know. He might clock in right here at No. 42, however he is a former Rookie Of the Yr, All Star, All-NBA and All-Protection extremely expertise. As in, he is good.

Properly, form of.

We all know he cannot shoot, and that his exit from Philly was uglier than Kim and Kanye’s ongoing divorce. He hasn’t performed, for bodily and / or psychological well being causes, since his self-inflicted humiliation within the playoffs greater than a yr in the past.

A yr from now? He could possibly be languishing on the backside of out listing, and even off of it solely, together with guys like Westbrook, who simply barely made the minimize. Or he could possibly be a lot, a lot larger. If issues go that path – into the highest 20 the place a participant together with his items belongs – the Nets could possibly be the league’s most dysfunctional crew and its most proficient.

Then there’s Kawhi. He’s this listing’s (and the NBA’s) most necessary query mark. He is No. 8 now, however at 31 he is significantly youthful than the Opening Night time ages of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (34) and LeBron, the 37-year-old ageless surprise.

A wholesome Kawhi, well-calibrated with the load administration that defines his strategy to a protracted season, might simply discover himself a top-five participant on subsequent yr’s listing. And if that occurs – if the hedging most of us did right here at CBS Sports activities as a result of we all know what Kawhi was however not what he shall be seems to be too conservative – the Clippers shall be among the many league’s greatest groups.

The listing we have put collectively at CBS Sports activities of the sport’s prime 100 gamers comes after many weeks of thought and conversations with individuals throughout the league, and the inevitable debates and disagreements are a part of the purpose.

I believe that Durant is simply too excessive and that Ja Morant is simply too low, and that younger gamers like Anthony Edwards and Evan Mobley are going to make a leap nicely past the place most who observe the NBA see them proper now. However all of that and extra, proper or improper, relies on what we predict we all know, from what we’ve truly seen – or from what historical past tells us we’ll see.

However it’s completely different for Leonard, Murray and Simmons. Their placement on this listing, and the linked questions of their upcoming seasons, are coloured as a lot by their absences as what we predict we find out about them.

So, into the unknown we go, with three doubtlessly nice gamers making an attempt to point out that their future is as shiny as their previous.

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