2022-23 NBA Player Tiers: Bradley Beal, Anthony Edwards and other Tier 3 stars (2024)

Editor’s Note: This is the thirdannualeditionof Seth Partnow’sNBA Player Tiersproject, in which he names the top 125 players in the league after each season and then separates them into five distinct categories of value, each with their own sub-categories to further delineate them. These are not meant to be read as firm 1-125 player rankings. Rather, they’re meant to separate solid starters from the very best superstars, and every level in between. This is howNBAfront offices assess player value across the league when building their teams.

We’re unveiling the full list throughout the week of July 11-15.

Monday:Introduction, Methodology and Tier 5 (85-125).
Tuesday: Tier 4 (41-84)
Wednesday: Tier 3 (20-40) [see below]
Thursday: Tier 2 (9-19)
Friday: Tier 1 (1-8)

Tier 3 of The Athletic’s annual NBA Player Tiers project is where we get into the bonafide star-level players. If a team is measured in terms of having a “Big X,” this is where we start counting to X. With 21 of the 40 remaining players in Tier 3, this group represents the back end of All-Star status, but not really players who challenge for All-NBA places year in year out — though there is one member of the three 2021-22 all-league teams in here.

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As I’ve mentioned in the two previous Tiers, the majority of players who reach this level drive high-level offensive output. There are three or four exceptions of those who are so elite defensively that being closer to cogs than engines in an offense is sufficient. But high-volume, high-efficiency shot creation is the most valuable skillset in the NBA, and the mix of players within reflects that reality.

This far up the NBA pyramid, making fine distinctions between subtiers starts to matter more. While the notion that the best player wins in a playoff matchup is reductive, there is enough truth there to recognize that even though the difference between (for example) CJ McCollum and Donovan Mitchell might not be enormous, it is significant enough that the latter improves his team measurably more than the former.

Tier 3: Players 20-40

Player

Team

2022 Tier

2021 Tier

2020 Tier

EPM Wins

EPM

1-Year RAPM

MIA

3A

2C

3A

8.5

3.93

2.14

BOS

3A

3C

3B

8.6

2.78

2.27

MIL

3A

3A

3A

12.4

5.27

3.41

MIL

3A

2C

3A

7.7

2.32

1.36

BKN

3A

2C

3A

6.6

5.85

1.69

WAS

3B

3B

3A

4.4

1.52

0.51

CHI

3B

4A

4A

11.6

3.22

1.28

UTA

3B

3B

3B

10.9

4.07

1.11

GSW

3B

3C

3A

5.7

3.32

0.94

DEN

3B

3B

3A

NA

NA

NA

TOR

3B

3C

3B

9.2

2.3

2.06

OKC

3B

3B

4A

7.4

2.65

-0.12

CHI

3B

3C

4B

8.8

2.56

0.15

MIN

3C

5A

NR

8.7

2.2

1.21

BKN

3C

3C

3A

NA

NA

NA

NOP

3C

4A

4A

6.4

1.33

-0.37

MEM

3C

5A

4B

8.4

2.82

2.2

MIN

3C

3B

3A

12.8

4.6

1.64

GSW

3C

4B

3B

3.9

3.04

-0.24

CHA

3C

4A

NR

9.5

2.82

0.38

NOP

3C

3A

3B

NA

NA

NA

Tier 3C: 33-41

Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball: Much like Trae Young and Luka Doncic, these two likely will be inexorably linked as two of the top three picks in a 2020 draft without a consensus No. 1 prospect. Both made strides in their sophom*ore campaigns, with Ball being named to his first All-Star team. But neither is close to a finished product. Ball’s defense and occasionally erratic shot selection still require improvement, while Edwards will take a bad shot here and there as well.

Zion Williamson: There are concerns about Williamson’s health (short- and long-term), as well as the limited progress he’s made on defense since entering the league. But he’s still in this group because he’d rank substantially higher if those risk factors were slightly less prominent. Simply put, his ability to get to the rim at least 50 percent more frequently than anyone else in the shot chart era (1996 and on) is a Bunyanesque feat. This suggests that when he’s right and has proper talent around him, elite team offense will follow quickly.

Ben Simmons: I have no idea what to do with Simmons. Our mental image of him is largely shaped by a shot (dunk) he didn’t take, after which he was (rather unfairly, in my opinion) pilloried for the 76ers loss to Atlanta in the 2021 playoffs. He certainly bears some culpability, but he didn’t keep letting Dwight Howard get run off the floor to start every fourth quarter or prevent any other Sixers defender from providing any resistance whatsoever to Trae Young. But we don’t need to relitigate that here. And he certainly didn’t help his reputation by not playing this past season. But he’s also one of the most versatile defenders in the league and one of its elite drivers of transition offense.

On top of that, I believe he’s been completely misused on offense for the bulk of his career. His combination of size, ballhandling and passing ability fits much better within the Warriors’ read-and-react style than the heavy doses of stagnant post-ups and elbow entries that have been the order of things in Philly. This isn’t to say that was the wrong approach for the Sixers as a team. If the choice was between organizing the attack around Simmons or through Joel Embiid, was it really a choice? But the Sixers offense failed to accentuate Simmons’ strengths and mitigate his weaknesses – and, in fact, did just the opposite at times. We’ve yet to see how the Nets plan to deploy him.

CJ McCollum: A player I’ve perhaps underrated in the past. The degree to which he was able to expand his role to that of primary shot-creator immediately following his trade to New Orleans conclusively demonstrated that his Portland production was not solely (or even primarily) the outgrowth of a system that allowed McCollum and Damian Lillard to completely control the ball and take essentially whatever shots they wanted. That McCollum could slide into that role while maintaining elite efficiency — he hit just under 54 percent of his midrange attempts in New Orleans and has made 47.4 percent for his career — on the sort of self-created pull-up jumpers that top-level playoff defenses force opponents into is what pushes him into this Tier. He’s above the various bucket-hitting-tough-twos scorers around the league.

Klay Thompson: A stat that surprised me: 2021-22 featured the highest usage rate of Thompson’s career, by a wide margin. It was also his highest assist rate. Even given him coming off two seasons on the sidelines, this served to validate a theory long held by some about Thompson: the strength of the Warriors’ roster had suppressed many of his metrics.

He didn’t shoot the ball at the level of his (historically elite) career norms; for example, he hit only 36.4 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s. But his ability to expand his role on a team with far less overall offensive talent than the Dubs had the last time he was on the floor is, to some degree, an extension of “Game 6 Klay.” That’s the shorthand used to describe those moments where Thompson was able to go well beyond his normal offensive load to shoot the Warriors back into games. That something extra in the tank isn’t really measurable with existing tools, and in most cases, I would dismiss the possibility of its existence as wishful thinking. However, the Warriors have assembled such a unique collection of offensive talent over the last eight years that it is more believable in Thompson’s case than virtually anyone else’s.

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Karl-Anthony Towns: The Wolves trading for Rudy Gobert makes the upcoming season something of a litmus test for Towns. Playing alongside Gobert and stars-in-training like Edwards means Towns no longer has any excuses for a lack of team success. Towns is one of the very best offensive big men in the league, but the same defensive and reliability issues that plague many a top scorer, regardless of position, have raised questions about the caloric value of his output. Now, with the league’s elite defensive anchor alongside him, can Towns be credible enough on D and turn his offensive production into impact enough to make Minnesota a genuine threat for an extended playoff run?

Jaren Jackson Jr.: Though he continues to improve from year-to-year, the idea of Jackson remains a little better than the existing version. Even some of those improvements have been fleeting. One of his main early-career challenges has been constant foul trouble. After reducing his foul rate from 5.2 PF/36 over his first three seasons to a somewhat manageable 4.6 PF/36 minutes in the 2021-22 regular-season, Jackson was whistled for 5.7/36 in his 12 playoff games in 2022, a jump from 5.5/36 in his inaugural playoff run in 2021. One of the key adjustments of the postseason is playing your best players more, but Jackson still only played 27.7 minutes per playoff contest. You can’t affect the game from the bench, especially once the NBA legislates bench closeouts on corner 3-point shooters.

The foul trouble plays into another question: what is Jackson’s best position? I think his best offensive role is as a floor-spreading, closeout-attacking five – almost a mini-Towns. But his propensity to foul when at the five means he might have to be “protected” by another big to get up to the low-to-mid-30-minute range needed to maximize his potential. Which is perhaps another way of saying that the best version of JJJ is very good, but getting that version on the floor remains a challenge.

Tier 3B: 25-32

Bradley Beal: A player I sometimes worry I rate this highly more out of habit than his recent performances. Beal had a down season in 2021-22, but more than that, it’s been so long since the Wizards were relevant that we don’t have much idea how he’d look in high-intensity situations. I’ve sort of assumed that if the Wiz were better, his defense would improve from unspeakable to closer to average, as it was during his years beside John Wall. In theory, this would be a function of the environment demanding more, as well as the likely reduction in offensive workload that accompanies adding sufficient talent around him for the Wizards to consistently compete in the playoffs.

And we can’t sell his offense short. Prior to the lost 21-22 season, during which he only appeared in 40 games, the three previous seasons saw him put up 58.4 True Shooting on 31.8 percent usage while dishing out almost seven assists per 100 possessions. That might not be enough to construct a top-level offense around — if it was, he would be in a higher tier! — but it is plenty good enough with which to help build such an offense.

Of course, that distinction between “around” and “with” neatly illustrates why I question the wisdom of backing up a fleet of trucks for Beal’s new $251 million deal. While the tiering is contract-agnostic in terms of leveling players, the purpose of the exercise is to illustrate the degree to which paying a Tier 3 guy like he’s in Tier 1 can severely limit a franchise’s upside.

DeMar DeRozan: After DeRozan deservedly made second-team All-NBA last season, it might seem strange to have him this low. To which I would make three points.

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First, though the degree of antipathy has been exaggerated, it is true that DeRozan’s public perception (and in many cases, his perception inside the league) diverges from the level at which most analytical methods rate his contributions. This has often been interpreted as “analytics guys think DeMar sucks” when it was more about the difference between considering him an All-NBA top-20ish player and a very good top-50ish player.

Despite his well-discussed aversion to shooting 3s, DeRozan has been a reliable, high-volume scorer for most of his career, matching or exceeding league-average efficiency in six of the past seven seasons on a usage rate just under 30. He makes up for his midrange-heavy shot diet with a tremendous ability to get himself to the line. As his career has progressed, he’s developed into an effective playmaker as well, and done it while carrying an extremely low turnover rate.

On the other hand, he’s been a poor defender, and this past season was only the second time in his career that his team performed better with him on the floor than on the bench, in terms of Net Rating.

The cherry on top of his production last season was his tremendous clutch performance. According to Inpredictable.com, DeRozan’s performance in clutch situations netted the Bulls 5.8 additional wins, more than double the figure of the next-best player (Gary Trent Jr. at 2.7 wins added. Nikola Jokic’s +2.6 and Steph Curry’s +2.5 were also top 5 marks). DeRozan’s 165 shot attempts in the clutch led the league as well, while his 61.8 effective field goal percentage on those attempts was fourth among the 50 players with at least 72 clutch attempts. In terms of helping Chicago win games, he was enormously impactful.

Was. That 5.8 wins added was a career high by a sizable amount. Though he’s been a good clutch player over the past several years — he has added at least 2 wins above expectations in five of the last six seasons — those 3.8 extra wins on top of his usual performance is essentially a full tier’s worth of value. So while he may have had a similar impact on his team’s record as a Tier 2 player this past year, he is unlikely to do quite so well again. His more standard performance places him here rather than there.

Donovan Mitchell and Zach LaVine: A prediction: so long as he stays in Utah all season, Mitchell will lead the NBA in usage in 2022-23 as the Jazz pivot towards a new era. A further prediction: the absence of Gobert will illustrate the difference between a talented on-ball scorer, which Mitchell clearly is, and a franchise-defining superstar.

In many ways, LaVine represents the other side of that coin. In his first season with another player of equal or possibly slightly superior ability in DeRozan, LaVine enjoyed the most success of his career, appearing in the playoffs for the first time.

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Jamal Murray: This is a bit of a speculative placement, premised on the Murray we saw from 2020 emerging after a year plus on the shelf due to his ACL injury in April 2021. That version of Murray had developed into an All-Star-level running mate for Jokic. Given that Murray hasn’t rushed back from the injury and will still only be 25 for most of the upcoming season, I have some degree of optimism he’ll reach or at least approach that level. But this placement should still be accompanied by an asterisk.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Speaking of asterisks, what to make of SGA’s development amid OKC’s extreme youth-and-development movement? His individual box score production has soared over the last two seasons, and he’s maintained credible efficiency. But he’s only played 91 games over that stretch, and it’s hard to say he’s driven winning when the Thunder went 16-40 in the games he played a year ago and 8-18 with him sidelined. I think he’s good, but how good? Given OKC’s continued quest for top draft picks, it does not appear that the team thinks of him as a future top-five or top-10 player around whom a contender can be built. We might not have a firm answer until the Thunder begin to focus on their record at least as much as they do on the roster-building process.

Pascal Siakam: Another player who, like DeRozan, snagged an All-NBA spot in 2021-22, though on the third team rather than the second. Much like those of his teammate Fred VanVleet, some of Siakam’s top-line numbers should account for the fact that he led the NBA in minutes per game. On a per-minute or per-possession basis, his 2021-22 was more of an incremental improvement, in terms of increased efficiency and better playmaking, than a wholesale makeover of his game.

It also should be noted that Siakam’s defense is a touch overrated at this point, as his Defensive EPM indicated a neutral impact on that end for the second straight season. This is a common progression for players as they both age and take on larger offensive roles. Jerami Grant comes to mind as another example, while Paul George remaining an excellent defender while taking on star usage illustrates some of the differences between Tiers 2 and 3.

Still, in a league desperate for quality wings and swing forwards, a player like Siakam who can fill those roles at just under sub-elite level over a huge minute load is a valuable inclusion on just about any team.

Draymond Green: Possibly the hardest player to place in the entire league. The highs are so high and the lows so low that balancing one against the other is difficult. On one hand, the version of Green we saw prior to his January injury issues and after the first 45 or so minutes of Game 4 of the Finals is still the best defender in the NBA, especially in playoff-style situations. On the other hand, he’ll turn 33 near the end of next regular season with a ton of mileage considering the Warriors’ repeated deep playoff runs while having less cushion for athletic decline than a player with more traditional interior defender size. The back and leg injuries that plagued him over the second half of the regular season only add to the concerns about how much time he has before he is no longer worthy of consideration at this level, due to declines in either ability or availability.

Tier 3A: 20-24

Bam Adebayo: While Adebayo’s offensive game continues to grow, it is primarily his defensive impact and versatility, alongside his facilitating ability on offense, that puts him here. At least in regular-season play, his scoring has continued to improve year-on-year, hitting a career-high 25 usage rate this past season. He has been able to do so while keeping his efficiency above 60 percent true shooting.

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The reason that profile does not vault him a bit higher is the degree to which he has struggled offensively against top defenses in the playoffs. In 2021, the Bucks dared him to either shoot jumpers or finish over Brook Lopez at the rim. He wasn’t able to do either effectively, managing only a 49.4 TS%.

More recently, the Celtics’ switching defense stifled a lot of Miami’s pet actions, again forcing Adebayo to try to create on his own against a set defense. Adebayo was able to score efficiently with a 60.7 TS% for the playoff series, but his usage plummeted to 16.9, so he wasn’t able to create enough looks to buoy the Heat offense. Nor was he as effective as a playmaker, since Boston, much like Milwaukee the previous season, was content to let him try to score one-on-one.

Fortunately for Adebayo, his self-creation ability has steadily grown in regular seasons. Unfortunately for him, he must wait until next postseason to prove he has developed the ability to crack a locked-in playoff defense. Until he does, breaking through to Tier 2 is unlikely.

Jaylen Brown was Boston’s most effective performer across the NBA Finals. Whereas Jayson Tatum struggled to find the right balance between aggression and patience, Brown’s more straight-ahead style got him to his spots more frequently.

That said, Golden State’s defense exposed some of his remaining weaknesses, notably a loose handle and occasional inability to play in traffic. Gary Payton II, in particular, was able to bother Brown’s dribble and force a number of turnovers. Brown also struggled to finish at the rim against the Warriors’ physical play. Resolving those issues, especially the ballhandling — already much improved from when he entered the league — is Brown’s path to joining Tatum in All-NBA discussions.

Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton: Now that Holiday (finally) got his due as a two-way monster following the Bucks’ 2021 title, Middleton might have supplanted him as the most underrated perimeter player in the game. Living in Milwaukee, as I do, I am legally required to note that Middleton’s absence was a big factor in the Bucks’ second-round loss to Boston. The “Tough Shot Express,” as The Athletic’s Eric Nehm once dubbed Middleton, would have been useful in rescuing an offense that managed an anemic 0.819 points per half court chance against the Celtics. By way of comparison, Detroit and OKC tied for last in the league with an 0.886 average during the regular season, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Kyrie Irving: On talent, reputation and even individual per-minute production, Irving should be much higher. But if you envisioned the Brooklyn (for now) guard’s name when I discussed “reliability” in the intro piece, you’re doing it right. I don’t need to go through chapter and verse of the ways in which Irving has submarined his teams’ chances since forcing his way out of Cleveland.

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Notwithstanding all that, Irving struggles to stay on the floor simply due to injuries. He’s missed fewer than 10 games in a season exactly once in his career. He has played 60 games or fewer in eight of his 11 pro seasons after missing over half of his one collegiate season at Duke. He missed large chunks of his team’s playoff runs in three of their previous four chances prior to the Nets’ short stay this year.

At a certain point, the “but if all goes right” part of the gamble is more of a hope than a reasonable plan. In short: he’s in this tier because he’s too good not to be when he plays, but I wouldn’t want to count on him on my team.

(Photos of Bradley Beal and Anthony Edwards: David Berding and Scott Taetsch/Getty Images. Design by John Bradford)

2022-23 NBA Player Tiers: Bradley Beal, Anthony Edwards and other Tier 3 stars (2024)
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