In the NBA, to win a title, it is better to be surrounded. No legend in this league and this sport has made itself. Whatever the era. The best players have always understood this rather well. The evolution of the Free Agency and the balance of power between the pros and the franchises allowed them to associate more and more often and more and more easily. Having a star is not enough. You need at least two.
This is the basis. But what is less often highlighted is the effort and the sacrifices that will be required to then rise to the top of the league. Especially for one of the two brilliant individuals who will agree to step back. Being a second option in this league is a difficult and sometimes thankless task. For the best of them, it often amounts to giving up certain rewards or a form of recognition from the general public while having the level to play as a first blade in the majority of the other teams in the championship.
To assert yourself as a quality co-pilot requires work on your ego. But for a tandem to work, it is also necessary that the two engines of the team are complementary on the ground and each pulls itself up. In the end, everything is not just a question of talent, far from it. It is also (above all) a matter of profile and personality. So many elements that are taken into account in our ranking.
10. Darius Garland (Cleveland Cavaliers)
It’s interesting for us to bring up the case of Darius Garland because he could be either the first or the third option for his team in the near future. Difficult to place it precisely with the arrival of Donovan Mitchell and the probable emergence of Evan Mobley. In any case, it is probably still him who will have the balls and the status of first playmaker this season.
But Garland will also have to learn to behave like a luxury lieutenant. That is to say, learning to play without the ball, asserting himself more and more as an outside threat – he is a skilful sniper from a distance but he is one of the few players more effective in dribbling than in reception-shooting – and… take his troubles patiently. If he can do that while continuing to develop, the Cavaliers can truly claim a lasting spot in the Eastern Conference top-5.
9. Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans)
For years, Brandon Ingram has been compared to Kevin Durant. Reconciliations motivated mainly because he is slender and comfortable with the ball in hand. But with a Zion Williamson holding up, the former Los Angeles Lakers player will likely have to find a new role model. How about Paul George (spoiler: he’s high up)?
Ingram can’t just be a striker anymore. Fit and healthy, Zion is going to take up more and more space, and it has nothing to do with his body mass. It is perhaps precisely in this role of discreet and complete assassin that the winger can really assert himself as a very special player in the NBA. Imagine a talent of his caliber – 23 points on average in 3 seasons at the Pelicans – who fights for rebounds, defends hard and lights up the opposing defense as soon as it focuses on Williamson. It’s scary.
8. Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)
This eighth place sums up the good we think of Bam Adebayo but also illustrates his importance in Miami and the need to see him turn a corner offensively. The pivot is less gifted than Ingram ball in hand. Less prolific than Garland. There is only one player in this top-10 who scores fewer points than him (19 last year, all the same).
Adebayo is skilful in the high post and has a good vision of the game. He is first and foremost one of the best defenders in the championship. But it’s really his contribution in attack that must evolve a notch to allow the Heat to pass the course between “excellent team that nobody wants to face” to “real favorite for the title. »
7. Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets)
It should be MUCH higher. A LOT. Because in terms of pure talent, Kyrie Irving is probably one of the top fifteen basketball players on the planet. And it’s a monster second option. It has already proven itself. 3 finals with the Cavaliers, for a title with the basket for the win and extraordinary performances in the playoffs.
“Uncle Drew” is a fullback in a point guard’s body. Having an even stronger player by your side is the assurance of letting him do what he does best: score, score, score. He should be first in this ranking just with his offensive skills. So why is it “so” low? Because he is unreliable. Physically. Mentally. How can you trust a player who can become unavailable overnight?
6. James Harden (Philadelphia Sixers)
The mistake not to make is to consider that the James Harden second option will be on the same level as the one who won an MVP trophy with the Rockets. This era seems to be over for the bearded man. His hamstring injuries have left their mark, although he obviously promises that he will return to his best level.
Either way, the Sixers don’t need this player to go far. A Harden who understands his role – as he did in the few games he played for Philly last year – fueling his teammates and taking what the defense gives him while putting in long shots should be enough. He will do it in the regular season, no problem. But will he do it in the playoffs, where he so often died out? This is THE key to the season for the Pennsylvania franchise.
5. Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns)
It’s time. Time to accept and understand that Chris Paul is no longer the superstar of his team. Devin Booker had already taken this status from him – without any problem between the two – last year. There’s always a lag between when it happens and when everyone realizes it. The basketball planet will therefore integrate the notion that CP3 is no longer the number one player for the Suns this season. Then we must not forget that he will celebrate his 38th birthday next May.
It can only make him more dangerous. Paul will focus on what he was already doing: circulating the ball for three quarters and then asserting himself as the money time killer. So that brings up another question for Phoenix: Is Booker strong enough to lead a team to the title as a first option?
4. Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
The more Jaylen Brown progresses, the higher the Celtics will go. And they come out of a campaign that ended with losing the NBA Finals in six rounds. The evolution of the 25-year-old player is such that the Massachusetts franchise refused to trade him for Kevin Durant. He is an increasingly sharp attacker with the ball in hand, in addition to being a very good defender.
A very high quality “two way player” who could continue to pass milestones, at the same time dragging his team in his tracks.
3. Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)
He may not be as strong as some players ranked behind him but Khris Middleton is so complete and so effective in his role that he has become one of the best second options in this league. He’s definitely a strong man for the Bucks and… ironically sometimes a weakness.
Giannis Antetokounmpo being a superstar with a very particular profile, it happens that Middleton finds himself with the ball in his hands in the hottest moments of the most important meetings of the season… without being the best player on his team. It still happened in 2021. But it has also been one of the limits of Milwaukee in the past.
2. Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers)
The second option par excellence. Humble enough to understand that Kawhi Leonard is stronger than him, strong enough to make a difference. A developed Jaylen Brown but much more often injured too. But despite all his qualities, Paul George is therefore not number one in this ranking.
1. Anthony Davis…or LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)
Who really is the best Lakers player? The question is not as obvious as it seems. LeBron James is the franchise player, that’s for sure. But even in 2020, the year of the title, several Los Angeles players called Anthony Davis “the best basketball player in the world. »
Maybe neither really behaves like a second option. LBJ wears the swell. AD can become the highest scorer. In any case, anyone who ends up disappearing will be able to claim first place in this ranking. Which therefore tends to show that the Angelenos still have one of the most dangerous duos in the entire NBA. It shouldn’t be forgotten. Which also allows us to conclude on the essential point: two stars, it’s great, but if it’s badly built around it, it still goes into the wall.