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NBArank: Predicting the best players this season, from 50-31

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Pierce expects 'solid' year from Hayward (1:32)

Paul Pierce and Amin Elhassan discuss when Gordon Hayward may return to form and how the Celtics plan to use him. (1:32)

For the eighth season in a row, ESPN.com is ranking the top players in the NBA.

Who will be the best player this season? To get the final prediction, we asked our expert panel to vote on pairs of players.

Stephen Curry vs. LeBron James. Kyrie Irving vs. Jimmy Butler. Luka Doncic vs. Jayson Tatum.

We asked, "Which player will be better in 2018-19?" To decide, voters had to consider both the quality and the quantity of each player's contributions to his team's ability to win games.

We'll roll out our top 100 players over the next week. Here are Nos. 50-31.

100-51 | 30-21 | 5-on-5 debate

NBArank: 50-31


50. Nikola Mirotic

Mirotic proved to be a good complement to Anthony Davis after going to the Pelicans from the Bulls in February. When both were on the floor, the Pelicans outscored opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions. The Pelicans' net efficiency for the entire season was plus-2.1. -- Matt Williams


49. Robert Covington

The former G League MVP has transformed into one of the best -- if not the best -- wing defenders in the league, shutting down practically any guard or forward who steps in from of him. While Covington is nearly irreplaceable on the defensive end (the 76ers were two points worse when he was off the court last season), they need him to be a more consistent shooter. At one point last season, he was making 50 percent of his 3s, but then he cooled off -- culminating in going 6-of-24 in the second round of the playoffs versus Boston. -- Martenzie Johnson


48. Myles Turner

Indiana's best chance to add a second star next to Victor Oladipo is a breakout season from Turner, who will enter a contract year barring an extension this fall. He has been a plus defender for the past two seasons, while posting fine offensive numbers. Is there potential for more? Indiana likes the Turner-Oladipo screen game (top 20 in volume, according to Second Spectrum), and Turner flashing more 3-point prowess would work wonders for the Pacers' offense. -- Austin Tedesco


47. Steven Adams

It was a mild leap year for Adams in 2017-18, with career highs across the board as he found a fit with the added space playing alongside Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

In the ever-evolving NBA, Adams doesn't fit the mold for a big man. He's a brute, setting vicious screens and playing with a raw physicality. But he doesn't shoot anything outside of 8 feet and doesn't handle the ball unless he's giving it right back to a playmaker. He is probably the best offensive rebounder in the game, a top level pick-and-roll finisher and about as unselfish and self-deprecating as they come, making him a near perfect teammate for Russell Westbrook. -- Royce Young


46. Andre Drummond

Drummond led the NBA in rebounds per game last season, averaging 16 boards to go along with 15 PPG. He was the first player to average 15 points and 15 rebounds in a season since Kevin Love in 2011, and he is the only player in Pistons history to accomplish the feat. -- Williams


45. Jamal Murray

On the only team to miss last year's playoffs yet tout its entire starting five among this year's top 75 players, Murray is the swing piece. He isn't a proven shot creator yet, but he has filled in the other aspects of his offensive game well around a savant center and other playmakers. Murray's biggest area for improvement: Shaky defense against opposing point guards, which can lead to him neutralizing his growing offensive contributions. -- Tedesco


44. Mike Conley

Conley played the best basketball of his career during the 2016-17 season, setting career scoring highs with averages of 20.5 PPG on 46 percent shooting, while maintaining his role as the primary floor general for the Grizzlies. He turned in an offensive real plus-minus (ORPM) of 4.67, indicating that he was the 10th-most impactful offensive player in the NBA that season. Conley's 2017-18 season ended after only 12 games due to lingering issues with his heel and Achilles tendon. Be he is expected to play from the start of training camp, and he appears primed for a bounce-back season. -- André Snellings


43. Gary Harris

  • Denver Nuggets | G

  • Previous rank: 90

  • Projected RPM wins: 6.5

Harris broke out as Nikola Jokic's partner-in-crime toying with defenders. Part of their secret sauce: The duo led the league in total handoffs last season, with strong efficiency (1.09 points per possession, per Second Spectrum). Now, Harris is in the first year of an $84 million extension. Can he improve his efficiency creating shots for himself? What about checking the opposing team's best ball handler? If he makes a leap there, the Denver backcourt will get a lot scarier. -- Tedesco


42. Eric Gordon

Check out the on/off court analytics to get an idea of how impactful Gordon is for Houston. The Rockets had a plus-13.1 net rating with Gordon on the floor last season, the best among their eight players with at least 1,000 minutes. Houston was plus-2.8 when Gordon sat, the worst among any player on the roster. The 2016-17 NBA Sixth Man of the Year's ability to stretch the floor well beyond the 3-point line is an important component of the Rockets' spacing, and he excels as a secondary creator. -- Tim MacMahon


41. Aaron Gordon

The rotating door of head coaches since Gordon entered the league in 2014 seems to be closed with the hiring of Steve Clifford. The development of Gordon has been hampered by not only four straight appearances in the lottery, but also four head coaches before Clifford. Now, finally, with stability and a new $76 million contract, expect the 22-year-old power forward to be on the verge of his first All-Star Game appearance this season. -- Bobby Marks


40. Gordon Hayward

Peak Gordon Hayward -- the do-it-all 2017 All-Star who ended Utah's playoff drought -- is likely a top-25 player, but season-ending injuries bring unknowns. The Kyrie Irving/Jaylen Brown/Jayson Tatum/Gordon Hayward/Al Horford lineup is going to be its own kind of switching, shooting and smothering death trap for teams if Hayward returns to form. And Hayward being great again is the real key to both that fivesome and Boston's chances to compete for a title right now. -- Tedesco


39. DeMar DeRozan

Don't snooze on DeRozan as a Spur based on what you saw in the playoffs against the Cavaliers. There's more to DeRozan's game, and San Antonio appears the perfect destination to unlock it under the tutelage of defensive-minded coach Gregg Popovich.

Forget Popovich for a moment and think about Spurs assistant Chip Engelland, who deserves much of the credit for developing Kawhi Leonard into a 38.6 percent career shooter from range. Working with Engelland, DeRozan won't abandon the 3-pointer in the postseason like last year. Plus, DeRozan can lean on LaMarcus Aldridge to do the work in the midrange. -- Michael C. Wright


38. Otto Porter Jr.

Porter is Washington's top-paid player, despite lacking the All-Star credentials of his two higher-profile teammates. That's a scandal elsewhere but not a problem on a team that just needs Porter to continue to accomplish what he has done in each of his five NBA seasons: Improve.

Porter's scoring (14.7), 3-point percentage (44.1) and rebounds (6.4) last season all established or matched career highs. As long as the league's top 3-point shooting forward (among players who appeared in at least 60 games) keeps stretching the floor, he'll continue to be the perfect low-profile complement to his more scrutinized star teammates. -- Jerry Bembry


37. Jaylen Brown

  • Boston Celtics | G

  • Previous rank: NR

  • Projected RPM wins: 4.8

For as outstanding as Jayson Tatum was in the playoffs, Brown was no slouch, averaging 18.0 points with a 56.3 true shooting percentage. With Irving and Hayward back, it will be key for Brown to excel defending multiple positions and continuing to make spot-up 3s, building on a career-best 39.5 3-point percentage last season. Likely to play some small-ball 4, Brown also can polish his decision-making, as he holds more career turnovers than assists. Even if his offensive role levels out, Brown remains one of the best young two-way wings in the NBA. -- Mike Schmitz


36. Clint Capela

  • Houston Rockets | C

  • Previous rank: 70

  • Projected RPM wins: 3.9

Capela, 24, keeps getting better, making significant jumps in each of his three seasons since replacing Dwight Howard as the Rockets' starting center. Capela averaged career highs of 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while leading the league in field goal percentage (.652) for a 65-win team last season.

He has developed into the prototype rim-running big man for Mike D'Antoni's system, a perfect vertical-spacing complement for Houston's playmakers and shooters. During the playoffs, Capela eliminated any doubt that he deserves to be considered among the premier centers, outplaying Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert in the first two rounds. -- MacMahon


35. Khris Middleton

Middleton is No. 35 again, continuing to quietly work the space between All-Star and role player. He played all 82 games, set a career high in PER and was even better in the playoffs, leading the league in true shooting percentage. We might learn more about the 27-year-old's real value this season or next summer, when he can opt out and expect significant interest in his well-rounded game. -- Royce Webb


34. Al Horford

  • Boston Celtics | C

  • Previous rank: 40

  • Projected RPM wins: 3.8

"Average Al" led a Boston team that was less than six minutes from the NBA Finals, and his ranking reflects the respect our panel continues to have for him. But it also reflects the diminished value of big men, and it acknowledges that Horford is already 32 and likely to play a somewhat reduced role on a loaded Celtics roster. -- Webb


33. Blake Griffin

  • Detroit Pistons | F

  • Previous rank: 24

  • Projected RPM wins: 3.8

Just four years ago, he finished No. 5 in NBArank, but a more ground-bound Griffin is out of the top 30 as he approaches age 30. Even this lower ranking exceeds his RPM projection, and the Pistons likely will need him to outplay that projection to be more than a playoff bubble team. Hope lies in the continued evolution of his game as more of a playmaker and 3-point shooter. -- Webb


32. John Wall

  • Washington Wizards | G

  • Previous rank: 15

  • Projected RPM wins: 3.5

He's quick. He's nearly an unstoppable scorer. He is, in Washington, the franchise. So why does this season feel crucial for John Wall?

That happens when you get bounced in the first round of the playoffs; have a dip from the previous season in scoring, assists and shooting percentage in an injury-plagued campaign; and at season's end urge management to weed out malcontents. Management obliged Wall, making a few lineup tweaks. Now it's vital that Wall demonstrates leadership, because improving in that area will carry more weight in making the Wizards a serious contender than his return to being a high-volume scorer. -- Bembry


31. Devin Booker

So long as he's able to return from hand surgery cleanly, expect Booker to continue his scoring ways while taking another step as a ball-screen facilitator under new coach Igor Kokoskov. Booker's efficiency will likely depend on who the Suns start at point guard, as they're a bit short on experienced ball handlers. But the 21-year-old has proved capable of operating as Phoenix's version of James Harden as a pick-and-roll shot-creator.

Deandre Ayton figures to take attention away from Booker, and the addition of wings Trevor Ariza and Mikal Bridges will give Booker more space to operate in modern lineups. Booker's downside will likely always be his defense. -- Schmitz


More: 100-51 | 30-21 | 5-on-5 debate