Predicting the future in sports is always fun, whether it’s predicting something that’s going to happen in a few minutes or something that’s going to happen in a few years.
The level of play in the NBA is always improving, and I’m excited to see how the league’s players continue to develop their skills in the future. Today, I’m looking deep into the future and taking a stab at predicting which players will be the NBA’s best in 2022.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (2022 age: 27)
I don’t believe anyone else has a legit argument for this spot. Antetokounmpo’s career has been on a mind-boggling upward trajectory ever since he entered the league six years ago, and he’s going to be at the height of his powers as a 27-year-old in 2022.
The reigning MVP is one of the top physical marvels in NBA history. At 6’11” with insane length and leaping ability, plenty of lean muscle and good ball-handling skills, he’s going to be the face of the league for a long time.
2. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (2022 age: 29)
Davis has yet to test true playoff success, only winning one postseason series in his seven-year career. With LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, he has a chance to change that starting this season.
AD is a big man with no real weaknesses. He’s extremely mobile, he rebounds, he scores inside and outside and he’s a fearsome rim protector. The only skill that is somewhat of a weakness for him is making plays for others, but he’s gotten much better at that in recent years.
Staying healthy for an entire season has been very difficult for Davis throughout his career. If he can string together a few 75-game seasons during the prime of his career, he’s going to hit new heights as a superstar.
3. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers (2022 age: 31)
Leonard is at the height of his NBA career right now. The 28-year-old superstar just won his second championship, also winning Finals MVP for the second time.
In three years, the beastly two-way wing with baseball gloves for hands should still be playing at his current level. Remember, he actually has played fewer regular-season minutes in his career than Giannis Antetokounmpo despite their significant age difference, so the mileage on his body in three years still won’t be very high.
4. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (2022 age: 28)
We continue the theme of physical marvels with excellent skills here. Embiid is a 7-foot, 250-pound center who can outmuscle bigs for a thunderous dunk down low one play and then gracefully eurostep his way to an easy layup on the very next play. He’s also one of the NBA’s best rim protectors.
Embiid has only gotten better in his three NBA seasons and he seems to be putting his nagging foot injuries behind him. He’s going to be a perennial candidate for both regular season MVP and NBA Finals MVP for several years.
5. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (2022 age: 27)
Besides his 7-foot stature, Jokic’s body doesn’t look anything like the body of an NBA superstar but he most certainly is.
Jokic makes up for his lack of mobility and explosiveness by being arguably the best passer in the NBA at any position. Denver uses him as its primary offensive initiator, often from the high post or the three-point line, to boast a very efficient scoring attack. Of course, Jokic is also an excellent rebounder with a versatile scoring game.
To enter the best-player-in-the-NBA conversation, he needs to hone his body so he can improve his stamina and mobility.
6. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (2022 age: 23)
This is me paying a lot of respect to a player of Doncic’s very young age. It’s very rare that 23-year-olds are this close to being the best player in the NBA, but I think Doncic can do it in 2022.
The young Mavericks guard is already an offensive expert. He can pick apart defenses with his passing, shooting and ball-handling abilities. Those skills are only going to get better with experience. Like Jokic, Doncic needs to trim down his body a bit to reach his potential, especially on the defensive end.
7. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (2022 age: 26)
Towns is the fourth big man in my top seven. As you can tell, I definitely don’t believe that the dominant big man is a dying breed in the NBA.
Minnesota’s man in the middle is a massive offensive asset. He shot the three-ball at an excellent 40 percent clip last year, attempting 4.6 shots from long distance per game. The 7-foot, 248-pound center has a variety of strong moves that he can skillfully complete.
On defense, Towns is a work in progress. Despite his great physical tools, he fouls too much and doesn’t have the awareness of big men above him, especially Davis and Embiid.
8. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (2022 age: 26)
If you made Giannis Antetokounmpo a bit less explosive, turned him from a mediocre shooter to an absolutely awful one and added some playmaking ability, you get someone who looks a lot like Simmons.
Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who’s even kind of similar to Antetokounmpo is still an amazing player. Simmons still just needs to add some sort of a mid-range or three-point jump shot to become a true superstar in a modern NBA that puts a premium on capable outside shooters.
I ultimately think that Simmons develops as a halfway respectable jumper, though it may take some time.
9. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (2022 age: 26)
People throw around the Dwyane Wade comparison a lot for Mitchell. It’s honestly not a bad comparison overall, though prime Wade was stronger and a better defender while Mitchell has a more reliable three-point shot.
I don’t think Mitchell will quite match Wade’s peak level of play but Mitchell is going to be a perennial All-Star and on the fringe of MVP debates for a long time. Right now, he needs to focus on further improving his three-point shot, improving his shot selection and learning how to get to the free-throw line more often.
10. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (2022 age: 34)
Barring significant injury, Curry is going to have no problem playing at a star level deep into his 30s. The 6’3” point guard relies most on his shooting stroke, ball-handling and knowledge of the game, not youthful athletic abilities, to put his fingerprints on his game. Like recent legends Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki did before him, Curry will demonstrate that excellent skill helps you stay effective for a long time in the NBA.
Of course, an age-related decline is inevitable. Teams will probably target Curry on the defensive end more and more as he starts to lose some of his strength and explosiveness in the next few years.