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Christian Petersen/Getty Images
And with that, the 2021-22 NBA season is a wrap.
The Phoenix Suns were dominant in almost wire-to-wire fashion. The top of the Eastern Conference feels as wide-open as ever. The West figures to be a playoff gauntlet again. And the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers aren’t even in the play-in tournament.
In a year full of surprises, breakouts, one of the most heated MVP campaigns we’ve ever seen and parity typically reserved for other sports, each and every team in the league features at least one star or prospect worthy of praise.
That will be the focus of this season’s final power rankings. On top of the rankings you’re used to reading every week, each slide below will identify its team’s most valuable player or prospect.
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Sam Forencich/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 30
Net Rating: -9.1
The Portland Trail Blazers had one of the biggest late-season intentional meltdowns we’ve ever seen.
After a three-game winning streak that ended on February 16, they shut Jusuf Nurkic down for the season and went 2-21 with a net rating that was twice as bad as the 29th-ranked Oklahoma City Thunder.
So, despite the fact that he only played in 29 games, it should come as little surprise that Damian Lillard was still Portland’s most valuable player this season.
The Blazers closed things out giving heavy minutes to the likes of Drew Eubanks, Trendon Watford and Brandon Williams. And even in a down year by his standards, Lillard’s 24.0 points, 7.3 assists and well-below-average 48.6 effective field-goal percentage look stellar by comparison.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 29
Net Rating: -8.0
Despite playing in just 56 games, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had more wins over replacement player than the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder roster combined.
After posting career highs in points (24.5), assists (5.9) and steals (1.3) per game, it’s clear he’s one of the better foundational pieces on any of this year’s rebuilding teams.
Next season, when OKC deploys 6’6″ SGA, 6’8″ Josh Giddey (6.4 assists this season) and 7’0″ Aleksej Pokusevski (6.6 assists over his last eight games), it’ll have one of the game’s most intriguing combinations of size and playmaking.
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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 27
Net Rating: -8.3
The most valuable player for the Houston Rockets was Christian Wood, but this past summer’s No. 2 pick, Jalen Green, did more than enough down the stretch to wrap up most valuable prospect.
Green dropped 41 in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Houston’s season finale. And that brought his scoring average since February 1 to 20.7 points on 47.4 percent shooting (including 39.3 percent from three).
A strong closing kick and an entire campaign worth of jaw-dropping highlights should have Rockets fans feeling optimistic about a future that includes Green, Alperen Sengun, Kevin Porter Jr. and Kenyon Martin Jr.
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David Liam Kyle/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 28
Net Rating: -8.1
Despite a season-ending win over the Miami Heat’s B-Team, the Orland Magic finished with the second-worst record in the league. That’s not indicative of their long-term potential, though.
Orlando is loaded with intriguing young talents, including Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac (who missed all of this season recovering from an injury).
The player who combined the most present value with upside was Wendell Carter Jr., who averaged 15.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 threes while leading his team in wins over replacement player.
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Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 26
Net Rating: -7.7
The Detroit Pistons were outscored by 6.1 points per 100 possessions with Cade Cunningham on the floor, but that mark was quite a bit worse without him.
Over the last few months, he’s been one of the most dynamic rookies in the league. Since January 1, Cunningham has averaged 18.8 points, 5.8 assists and 1.6 threes.
If his shooting catches up to what he did in college (where he shot 40.0 percent from three), Cunningham is going to be one of the game’s best playmakers. For now, he’ll have to settle for Rookie of the Year contender and Detroit Pistons’ most valuable prospect.
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Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 25
Net Rating: -3.6
The Indiana Pacers’ 2021-22 campaign was a mess. They fell a whopping 18 wins shy of exceeding their preseason over-under, and most of the players you might’ve guessed would be their MVP (Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon) all played fewer than 50 games for them (and one isn’t even on the team anymore).
Naturally, that leads to the selection of a most valuable prospect here, and the answer couldn’t be much clearer.
As part of the deal that sent Sabonis to the Sacramento Kings, the Pacers landed playmaker Tyrese Haliburton. And in his brief time in Indiana, he gave fans plenty to be excited about.
In 26 games for the Pacers, Haliburton averaged 17.5 points, 9.6 assists and 2.2 threes, with a 41.6 three-point percentage.
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Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 24
Net Rating: -5.2
There’s reason to be optimistic about the De’Aaron Fox-Domantas Sabonis pairing going forward, but Davion Mitchell is the key to the Sacramento Kings ending their 16-year playoff drought and avoiding regrets over the Tyrese Haliburton trade.
Given the way he played down the stretch this season, Kings fans should have hope that Mitchell can carry that burden.
Over his last 10 games, Mitchell has averaged 19.5 points and 10.0 assists while shooting 45.0 percent from the field. When you combine that kind of production with the ferocious defense Mitchell has played all season, it’s easy to be intrigued by Sacramento’s most valuable prospect.
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Nikki Boertman/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 23
Net Rating: -2.9
It’s a shame the Los Angeles Lakers wasted what may have been the greatest age-37 (or older) regular season in NBA history.
LeBron put up a 7.6 box plus/minus (first among players in this age group) and 30.3 points (first by 6.9 points among players in this age range), 8.2 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.9 threes, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.
He’s already had the longevity argument locked down for years, but the fact that LeBron continues to produce at around the same level that he’s been at since his early 30s is remarkable.
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Stephen Gosling/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 22
Net Rating: -3.4
Despite playing in just 17 games with the Washington Wizards, Kristaps Porzingis piled up more wins over replacement player than all but four members of the team. And he led the squad in box plus/minus (from which wins over replacement player are derived).
With averages of 22.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 threes and 1.5 blocks in Washington, Porzingis looked a bit more like the unicorn that earned him that distinction years ago.
If he can stay healthy and continue to produce at that level next season, he and Bradley Beal could get Washington back to the postseason in 2023.
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Bart Young/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 20
Net Rating: -0.8
If Brandon Ingram had played in more games (he finished at 55), this might feel more like a toss-up between him and Jonas Valanciunas. Nineteen more appearances and a net-rating swing within a point of Ingram’s gives the nod to JV.
For the year, Valanciunas put up 21.7 points, 13.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 threes per 75 possessions, with a well-above-average true shooting percentage.
Having him anchor lineups with Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum and Ingram next season will make New Orleans one of the game’s most intriguing teams.
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Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 21
Net Rating: -0.4
There’s a pretty easy case to make for Mitchell Robinson as the New York Knicks’ most valuable player. He leads the team in wins over replacement player and averaged 12.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per 75 possessions while shooting 76.1 percent from the field.
Then there’s Obi Toppin, whose late surge gives him a case for most valuable prospect. After scoring 42 in the season finale, he’s put up 19.1 points while shooting 58.4 percent from the field and 44.1 percent from three in his last 11 games. He’s also third on the team in box plus/minus.
But the MVP we’ll discuss here is RJ Barrett, who’s put up 24.5 points and 3.8 assists since he returned from an injury back on February 25.
There’s still a lot of work for him to do in terms of efficiency, but Barrett has shown enough over the last two seasons to suggest All-Star potential as a playmaking forward.
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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 19
Net Rating: +0.2
If stars such as Nikola Jokic, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Luka Doncic hadn’t numbed us to triple-doubles over the last several years, Dejounte Murray’s 2021-22 stat line would’ve gotten far more attention than it did.
He finished with 21.1 points, 9.2 assists and 8.3 rebounds. The only players in NBA history to match or exceed all three marks for an entire season are Murray, Westbrook and Oscar Robertson.
And lest you think these are empty numbers coming at the expense of the team, the San Antonio Spurs’ net rating is 5.6 points better when Murray is on the floor.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 18
Net Rating: 0.0
This one’s kinda tricky.
Kawhi Leonard missed the entire season. Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers’ No. 2, only appeared in 31 games (but was still third in wins over replacement player). And much of the rest of the roster provided fairly balanced contributions.
Almost by default (though that kind of sells his season short), Isaiah Hartenstein gets the nod as L.A.’s most valuable prospect (and maybe even most valuable player).
Hartenstein averaged a ridiculously well-rounded 17.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.5 steals per 75 possessions, with a 66.3 true shooting percentage. Among players who logged at least 500 minutes in a Clippers jersey, Hartenstein was first in both box plus/minus and wins over replacement player.
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Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 15
Net Rating: +0.5
There may be an argument for both Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball for most valuable player of the Charlotte Hornets, but Ball being 20 years old and the clear choice for most valuable prospect should break the tie.
Ball finished the season with averages of 20.1 points, 7.6 assists, 6.7 rebounds, 2.9 threes and 1.6 steals while shooting 38.9 percent from three. And he was the playmaker for many of this season’s most daring and awesome assists.
Before he came to the NBA, the passing ability that led to all those dimes wasn’t in question. The concern was whether he could supplement that with average shooting and scoring efficiency. Now, he’s already alleviated that concern and looks to be on his way to superstardom.
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Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 17
Net Rating: +2.1
Injuries took a ton of wind out of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ sails, but they still crushed their preseason over-under, and the future looks far brighter than it did six months ago.
One of the biggest sources of optimism is 22-year-old Darius Garland, who may well be the team’s most valuable player and prospect (with all due respect to Evan Mobley).
Garland finished the season with averages of 21.7 points, 8.6 assists and 2.6 threes while shooting 38.3 percent from deep. He’s now one of 10 players in league history to average 20 and eight in an age-22 (or younger) season.
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Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 16
Net Rating: +1.6
Trae Young finished the season as the league leader in both total points and total assists. And his averages in those marks (28.4 and 9.7) put him in rarified air.
The only 28 and nine seasons in NBA history belong to Oscar Robertson (nine times), Tiny Archibald (twice), Trae (now twice), James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
And the Atlanta Hawks needed all of that production to get to the play-in tournament. When Young was on the floor, they had a point differential around that of a 49-win team compared to that of a 34-win team when he was off.
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Adam Hunger/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 13
Net Rating: -0.5
Earlier this season, DeMar DeRozan had one of the most absurd scoring streaks we’ve ever seen. From February 6 to February 24, he averaged 38.4 points while shooting 61.9 percent from the field over eight games. He eclipsed 35 points and 50 percent from the field in each of those contests.
It was the longest such streak in league history, topping two six-gamers from Wilt Chamberlain.
Of course, DeRozan’s case for Chicago Bulls MVP doesn’t begin and end there, though. He led the Bulls in points per game (27.9), box plus/minus (2.5) and wins over replacement player (8.4).
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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 14
Net Rating: +2.7
Karl-Anthony Towns got plenty of help from Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley this season, but he was undoubtedly the driving force behind their breakout.
He led the Minnesota Timberwolves in points (24.6) and rebounds (9.8) per game and was one of 10 players in the league who averaged at least one block and one steal per game.
With his well-rounded contributions, Towns more than doubled the next highest Wolf in wins over replacement player.
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Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 12
Net Rating: +6.2
The Utah Jazz’s late-season meltdown aside, Rudy Gobert had another dominant season on both ends of the floor.
In 32.2 minutes, Gobert averaged 15.5 points, a league-leading and career-high 14.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting 71.3 percent from the field.
When he was on the floor, the Jazz had a point differential around that of a 62-win team. When he was off, they played like a 49-win team.
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Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 11
Net Rating: +2.2
This one feels like a toss-up between Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. The former carried the Toronto Raptors early in the season. The latter brought it in the second half. What breaks the virtual tie is the fact that the Raptors surged along with Siakam down the stretch.
Since New Year’s Eve, Siakam has averaged 24.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 threes while shooting 51.1 percent from the field.
More importantly, his Toronto Raptors are 24-11 over that stretch.
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Ethan Mito/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 8
Net Rating: +2.3
Nikola Jokic isn’t just the MVP of the Denver Nuggets; he’s the reigning MVP of the league and should be a repeat winner this year.
On Thursday, Jokic went for 35 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, locking up the first season in NBA history with at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists. He secured the best single-season box plus/minus in league history too.
More importantly, he was the primary reason the Nuggets—who were without Jamal Murray for all of this season and Michael Porter Jr. for all but nine games—are in the playoffs.
With Jokic on the floor, Denver had a point differential around that of a 62-win team. When he was off, that mark dropped to around that of a 17-win team. Among players with at least 1,000 minutes, that represents the biggest swing in the NBA.
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Mark Blinch/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 10
Net Rating: +2.8
Joel Embiid’s 9.2 box plus/minus this season was better than those of 26 MVP campaigns since 1973-74. And his 33.9 points per 75 possessions is the fourth-highest mark in league history.
He may not win the award (though he currently only trails Nikola Jokic in the betting odds), but he clearly played at an MVP level. And he’s the only choice for Philadelphia 76ers MVP.
Over the course of his entire career, the Sixers are plus-8.3 points per 100 possessions with Embiid on the floor and minus-2.5 with him off.
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Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 7
Net Rating: +0.9
If you just look at their record and the fact that they fell 13 wins shy of their preseason over-under, it would be easy to classify this Brooklyn Nets’ season as a disappointment.
But they played at a 54-win pace when Kevin Durant was in the lineup. And if he hadn’t missed a chunk of the middle of the season with an injury, he might be on the fringes of this season’s league MVP discussion.
After going for 20 points, a career-high 16 assists and 10 rebounds in Brooklyn’s season-ending win over the Pacers, Durant finished with averages of 29.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.1 threes.
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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 9
Net Rating: +5.5
Much has been made of the first-team All-NBA cases of Ja Morant, Luka Doncic and Devin Booker. And rightfully so. They’ve been fantastic. But bumping Stephen Curry from consideration feels like a mistake.
When Curry was on the floor this season, the Warriors were plus-10.6 points per 100 possessions (a point differential around that of a 65-win team). Without him, that number plummets to minus-3.2.
Though his shooting numbers don’t measure up to his usual standards (this is his first full season with a three-point percentage below 40), Curry was still 13th in the league in points per 75 possessions and first in threes per 75 possessions.
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Tim Heitman/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 6
Net Rating: +3.5
The Dallas Mavericks closed out their season with a little bit of a scare when Luka Doncic left their win over the San Antonio Spurs with an injury. Fortunately, early reports are good.
“There’s initial optimism that Dallas star Luka Doncic hasn’t suffered a significant injury,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote. “Team is calling it a strained left calf.”
Like Ja Morant with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Mavericks’ point differential has been a bit better with Luka off the floor, but no one would argue they’d be OK without him in the playoffs.
Since January 19, Luka has put up a whopping 31.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three.
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Noah Graham/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 3
Net Rating: +3.2
Giannis Antetokounmpo may not win the league’s MVP, but he’s going to have the fourth top-five finish in his career. And he’s now working on a four- or five-year peak that can rival just about anyone.
Since the start of the 2018-19 season, Giannis has averaged 28.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals. In that stretch, he has two MVPs, a championship and a Finals MVP. And his box plus/minus is 10.5.
Michael Jordan’s most productive four-year run yielded a 12.0 box plus/minus. LeBron James’ was 11.0.
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Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 5
Net Rating: +7.4
Jayson Tatum closed out what should be an All-NBA campaign with 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
After an ice-cold first couple of months of the season, he’s been one of the game’s very best forwards. Since December 1, Tatum has averaged 27.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from three.
What doesn’t show up as well in the numbers is Tatum’s switchable, game-changing defense. At 6’8″, he can guard all over the perimeter, which helped Boston surge to the No. 1 defense in the league. He also led the league in defensive win shares, a metric typically reserved for big men.
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Brandon Dill/Associated Press
Previous Rank: 2
Net Rating: +5.3
There’s no reason to get too clever with this one. Yes, the Memphis Grizzlies went 20-5 when Ja Morant didn’t play, and their point differential is much better when he’s off the floor, but he is still the team’s most valuable player.
Despite appearing in only 57 games, Morant led the Grizzlies in wins over replacement player, total points and total assists.
And the 6’3″ guard dominated in an area typically reserved for bigger players. He averaged a league-leading 16.6 points in the paint per game.
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Issac Baldizon/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 4
Net Rating: +4.5
His playmaking numbers were impacted by the addition of Kyle Lowry this season, but Jimmy Butler remains one of the game’s most dynamic forwards on both ends of the floor.
This season, he averaged 21.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals. The only player who matched or exceeded all of those marks was Paul George, and his true shooting percentage was over five points shy of Butler’s.
With his ability to lead an offense as a scorer or passer, and defend at least four positions, he’s still one of the game’s best all-around players.
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Jim Poorten/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 1
Net Rating: +7.5
The Phoenix Suns have two players who deserve this distinction, which is part of what made them such a juggernaut this season.
But if we have to pick one, Chris Paul gets the nod, in part because of his edges in the following categories:
- Chris Paul: 39.4 points plus points by assist per game, 53.6 effective field-goal percentage, plus-11.0 net rating (plus-5.3 swing), 5.4 box plus/minus
- Devin Booker: 38.4 points plus points by assist per game, 53.0 effective field-goal percentage, plus-9.8 net rating (plus-3.1 swing), 4.1 box plus/minus
Again, both of these guards have been phenomenal this season. Both have arguments to land on the first All-NBA team. And when you surround that level of talent in the backcourt with multiple starter-level wings and a potentially dominant 5, a 64-18 season like the one Phoenix just had seems like a natural result.