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NBArank 5-on-5: Who are the next top-10 superstars?

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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)

As our annual NBArank list enters the top 30, our panel of experts answers the biggest questions about the list.

Who is a future top-10 player in the league? Which Boston Celtics wing will have the best season?


1. What's your biggest takeaway from the rankings so far?

Jackie MacMullan, ESPN: Here's what initially jumps out at me: Don't get hurt, or you are dead to ESPN! Look no further than a unicorn (Kristaps Porzingis) ranked 58th, a boogeyman (DeMarcus Cousins) ranked 69th and a conductor (John Wall) slipping to 32nd. All deserve better; only Wall might be healthy enough to prove it this season.

Brian Windhorst, ESPN: Well, I'm sure some people are going to react to Paul Millsap or DeMar DeRozan's ranking. But what caught my eye is the spread between Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz. I realize that Ball has been a bit of an Instagram star with his offseason weight gain and hints that he's adjusted his jumper. But he's also coming off knee surgery. Fultz is coming off what, we hope, is a more physically and mentally healthy summer. The guy was the No. 1 pick for a reason, and his potential, to me, is not reflected in this ranking.

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN: Injuries hurt. Durability continues to be the most undervalued attribute when appraising NBA players, and those who have been sidelined, or are consigned to be so, are promptly downgraded. Gordon Hayward might have been the prize of the 2017 free-agent class, but he's now ranked 40th. DeMarcus Cousins was the most devastating offensive big man in the game; he's now ranked 69th. Everyone's favorite unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis -- now ranked 58th. Paul Millsap, All-Star from 2014 to 2017, now 59th.

Marc Spears, The Undefeated: I was pretty shocked to see that Carmelo Anthony was not listed in the top 100. The new Houston Rockets forward could get the best shots of his career while playing alongside James Harden and Chris Paul. People are really hard on Melo, fair or unfair. But not being in the top 100 sounds pretty ridiculous for a player who should have a great offensive season for the Rockets.

Kevin Pelton, ESPN: The Memphis Grizzlies will have a hard time living up to majority owner Robert Pera's bold 50-win talk. While the Grizzlies did well to add around the edges, that kind of success is going to require Mike Conley and Marc Gasol to play like stars, and the NBArank panel is dubious: Neither player ranks in the top 40.


2. Who are the top three candidates so far to make the top 10 someday?

Windhorst: I'm bullish on Jayson Tatum's future. (I know, join the club.) I think he has an outside shot to be a top-10 player next season, especially since this is lining up to be the year when Boston takes over as the East's dominant team. I think Donovan Mitchell obviously has huge upside as well, and he was arguably a top-10 player in the postseason last spring. Someone from the 2018 draft class is making it in the top 10 someday. I don't have a great feel yet for who, but it wouldn't surprise me if Deandre Ayton was in this answer a year from now.

Spears: Karl-Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons and Deandre Ayton. Towns has potential to be one of the best players in the league and is still very young. Simmons can challenge to be among the best players in the league in the near future assuming his jumper will improve. Ayton was not in the top 100, but he has the athleticism and skills to be a Shaquille O'Neal-like force in the NBA someday.

Pelton: Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum. Booker and Mitchell are already approaching the top 20 during their age-22 seasons, and continued improvement in terms of efficiency to go with their high-volume scoring should get them in. Tatum is nearly there at age 20, making him a safe bet to reach the top 10.

MacMullan: There's a trio of players whom I can't wait to see this season. Can Donovan Mitchell build on an electric rookie season and settle in as a resident Jazz superstar? Is Jayson Tatum, who says he's been working on finishing around the basket, ready to vault to the top of a talented Celtics roster? Will LeBron James nudge excellence out of Brandon Ingram? I like the chances for all three to rise.

Arnovitz: Last season's two best pure rookies, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum, are already knocking on the door and are good bets for the 2019-20 campaign. Jamal Murray has a bit further to climb but has the dynamism and competitiveness to make the jump in the coming years.

3. How would you rank the Celtics' wings for this season?

Spears: Hayward, Tatum, Brown, Smart. Tatum and Hayward have potential to be top-25 players this season. I envision Brown as a top-50 player and Smart in the top-100.

MacMullan: The symbiosis of this group may determine how far Boston advances. You have two young players (Tatum and Brown) champing at the bit to shine. You have a stalwart veteran (Gordon Hayward) who must mentally overcome a horrific injury, and an alternately maddening, exhilarating and demanding 29 percent career 3-point shooter (Marcus Smart) who keeps everyone honest. Are there enough minutes for all of them? A pleasant conundrum for Brad Stevens to consider.

Arnovitz: (1) Hayward is coming off a devastating injury but still is a skilled ballhandling forward with incredible size and a sweet stroke. (2) Tatum is a more creative playmaker and more proficient shooter than even the Celtics projected he'd be this early into his career. (3) Brown is now sniffing 40 percent from 3-point range, all while he's grown into a reliable perimeter defender who is less prone to mistakes. (4) Smart's competitive spirit is infectious, but he's a terrible liability as a shooter.

Pelton: Tatum, Hayward, Brown, Smart. Hayward is the toughest to rank because we don't know what kind of impact his yearlong injury will have. The sample of players coming back from similar injuries is limited. Hayward has accomplished more than any of the others but could easily be the least effective this season if his game and shot have rusted.

Windhorst: Tatum is the most valuable Celtic, in my opinion, so he's first for me. Because Brown plays so effectively at both ends of the floor, I have him second, but I don't feel great about it. Hayward was tremendous in Utah two years ago, but I'm giving him a bit of a grace period as he returns. Smart can't shoot and it limits his overall value, but there will be nights -- and some could come in May and June -- when he'd rank No. 1.


4. Which player is least likely to live up to his ranking this season?

Arnovitz: LaMarcus Aldridge put together an impressive body of work in Kawhi Leonard's absence last season. But Aldridge is now 33 and hasn't improved as a 3-point shooter. (He shot 29 percent last season on 92 attempts.) Although he's still a strong pick-and-roll defender, the arrival of a ball-dominant perimeter player in DeMar DeRozan makes him an unlikely top-30 player.

Pelton: Booker. He made massive strides offensively last season, scoring with above-average efficiency and improving as a playmaker. Nonetheless, he rated around league average by advanced stats because of his dreadful defense. While a better defensive culture should help, Booker has a long ways to go to help the Suns win as much as his ranking would suggest.

MacMullan: Let me start by saying I really like Victor Oladipo. It was fun to watch him obliterate the doubters last season with an explosive performance that landed him sixth in real plus-minus. He's an elite perimeter defender, and he can score. Now, here comes the "but" ... but the Pacers will be better and make noise in the East. For that to happen, they need other people to score, too. It's no crime if Oladipo's offensive numbers level off a bit, but if they do, a top-20 ranking will feel a tad inflated.

Windhorst: Otto Porter Jr. is ranked ahead of DeMar DeRozan. I mean, it's not Otto's fault, but I'm just not sure I see him there. He's getting paid like a top-40 player, there's no question. But his consistency and health are too big of question marks, at least for me, to have him ranked where he is.

Spears: I found it a little surprising that Oklahoma City center Steven Adams was ranked 47th overall. Perhaps that was respective to what he does on the floor that does not appear in the box score. But from an offensive standpoint, it is very doubtful that Adams can live up to a top-50 ranking. Otto Porter Jr. at No. 38 was a little surprising to me as well.


5. Which player so far is most likely to outperform his ranking this season?

MacMullan: I believe that Markelle Fultz, who has been diligently working on his physical health, his mental well-being and his shot, will far exceed his lowly No. 93 ranking. The kid simply needs a reset. Now he has it, and his best pal Joel Embiid is going to do everything he can to make sure Fultz succeeds.

Windhorst: I'm sort of going heavy on Jayson Tatum, I know. I think the guy is an absolute stud in the making. I'm not sure he'll totally be able to show everything he can do in a place where his touches are going to be naturally limited, but I think he's still ranked too low. I see him and the Celtics as having huge seasons.

Spears: DeMar DeRozan being ranked 39th overall is stunning. With the Spurs, DeRozan has the ability to be one of the top scorers in the league. I also expect him to be better defensively in San Antonio. DeRozan will strongly outperform his disrespectful rating.

Arnovitz: Myles Turner (No. 48) never looked completely right after injuring his elbow last winter. But a summer of recuperation should enable him to re-establish himself as one of the most versatile young big men in the game, one with range and defensive instincts.

Pelton: Otto Porter Jr. While earning an All-Star spot in the East might not be as easy because of the conference's young talent, Porter will merit consideration if he puts together a repeat of last year's season. In a league desperate for 3-and-D wings, Porter has become a premier one without getting anywhere near the credit of his less efficient Boston counterparts.