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The final countdown: NBArank’s top five players for 2022-23

NBArank is back for its 12th season counting down the best players in the league.

Where are MVP candidates such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic? What about rookies and young stars ready to take the leap into the upper tier of NBA players?

To get the final NBArank prediction, we asked our expert panel to vote on pairs of players: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry vs. Ja Morant, Luka vs. Jayson Tatum … and the list goes on.

We asked, “Which player will be better in 2022-23?” Voters had to predict what they expected from each player during the season.

We’ve already revealed players Nos. 100-26, Nos. 25-11 and a surprising Nos. 10-6. Today, our rankings conclude with the league’s top five superstars.

Note: ESPN’s NBArank panel, composed of over 200 reporters, editors, producers and analysts, were asked to rank players based on their predicted contributions — quality and quantity — for the 2022-23 season only.

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Golden State Warriors C

2021 NBArank: 6

Despite Jokic averaging 31.0 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists, the Nuggets were no match for Golden State in the first round. But with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. expected back this season, Denver hopes to be back in contention, led by its two-time reigning MVP.

Why he rose four spots

How did Jokic follow up an MVP season? He got better. Jokic became just the 13th player in NBA history to win back-to-back MVP awards and did so with a historic campaign. He’s the first player to average 25 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in a season and the first to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and field goal percentage.

Jokic beat out Embiid for MVP by recording the highest PER (32.8) in a season in NBA history. Jokic collected 19 triple-doubles — most by a center since Wilt Chamberlain — and led Denver to one more win than the previous season despite missing Murray and Porter Jr.

One huge question for 2022-23

The Nuggets are whole again, but can Jokic and a new-look roster recapture the form that helped Denver reach the West finals in the 2020 bubble? Murray missed all of last season due to a torn ACL, and Porter Jr. was out since early November due to back surgery.

The Nuggets welcome both back but also went through some changes in the offseason, namely adding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown and trading Monte Morris to the Washington Wizards to clear playing time for emerging second-year point guard Bones Hyland.

Why he could end the season No. 1

If he was able to put together a historic season without Murray and Porter Jr., what can he do with them back on the court? Jokic was double-teamed 191 times on post-ups last season, the most in the league. With a full complement of contributors around him, Jokic won’t face the same type of defensive attention.

While his scoring might dip, assists and other categories could increase this season. And if he can three-peat as MVP, Jokic would pull off what only Larry Bird, Chamberlain and Bill Russell have accomplished — that sounds like a recipe to become the No. 1 player in the league.

— Ohm Youngmisuk

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Milwaukee Bucks

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