NBArank: Predicting the best players this season, from 30-21

Love 'excited' to build post-LeBron Cavs (1:57)

Kevin Love explains why he decided to sign an extension with the Cavaliers and how excited he is to build the team back up after LeBron James' exit. (1:57)

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. 30-21.

100-51 | 50-31 | 5-on-5 debate

NBArank: 30-21

30. CJ McCollum

McCollum, an avid reader of NBArank, has finished between 26th and 31st all three years since winning Most Improved Player for his breakout 2015-16 campaign. McCollum's play hasn't been quite that consistent.

After posting a career-best .585 true shooting percentage in 2016-17, he slipped to .536 last season, worse than league average (.556). Yet McCollum was more efficient than ever in the playoffs, averaging 25.3 PPG and shooting 57 percent on 2s and 42 percent on 3s as the Blazers were swept by New Orleans. And he plays at perhaps the league's weakest position, adding to his value. -- Pelton

29. Bradley Beal

Faced with adversity after John Wall was sidelined last season, Beal stood tall. He became a better passer, a better rebounder, a bigger multidimensional threat. Beal drops a spot from last season, but you can argue he enters this season as the Wizards player with the biggest upside. Expect Beal -- alongside a healthy Wall -- to get better looks, score more and affirm his status as one of the NBA's top shooting guards.

For the past two seasons, Beal has been really good. For this season, Beal needs to strive to be great if the Wizards are going to have a legit shot at contending in the now wide-open East. -- Jerry Bembry

28. LaMarcus Aldridge

A couple of offseason sit-downs with Gregg Popovich staved off trade desires last season, while pushing the brass to step aside and let Aldridge finally play his own brand of basketball. Aldridge responded with arguably his best season to date, with very little outside help. After a year with Tim Duncan and the past two campaigns with Kawhi Leonard as the faces of the franchise, Aldridge now knows the Spurs are his team.

At 33, you'd expect Aldridge to flash signs of regression. But perhaps the arrival of DeMar DeRozan and the infusion of youth will prove invigorating. -- Michael C. Wright

27. Kemba Walker

Despite back-to-back All-Star appearances Walker climbs only seven spots from last season. While Walker ranks among the top 10 point guards, the soon-to-be free agent gets penalized for his lack of execution at the end of games. In games decided by five points in the last three minutes, Walker has shot a paltry 32.1 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from 3. A lot of that inefficiency has to do with the lack of playmakers surrounding Walker. -- Bobby Marks

26. Jrue Holiday

After four seasons of injury and family tribulations, Holiday rekindled the All-Star form he found in the 2012-13 campaign and doubled down on that re-emergence in the postseason, upping his regular-season scoring average from 19 to 23.7 PPG. Locking up Portland's gaudy guards en route to a stunning sweep and upset, Holiday made good on the potential in his youth by displaying a two-way dynamism typically reserved for the premier wings of the league.

The Campbell Hall (Calif.) product has given hope to the Big Easy that a running mate fit for an MVP is finally around to help the Brow. -- Andrew Han

25. Kevin Love

His bank account already loved the numbers the All-Star forward put up, with Love signing a four-year, $120 million extension with the Cavs shortly after LeBron James left for L.A. Now the question is whether Love can continue the trend of gaudy stats in the fall and get his field goal attempts up toward the 18.5 per game taken in his final season in Minnesota -- well above the 12.4 shots per game he had as James' sidekick last year. -- Dave McMenamin

24. Jayson Tatum

Tatum evolved from role-playing starter into playoff closer, calmly averaging 18.5 PPG in 19 postseason games, looking like a longtime star in the process. With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back, it will be interesting to see if Tatum is asked to take a backseat.

Given Brad Stevens' willingness to put his five best players on the floor regardless of position, I wouldn't expect Tatum's minutes to decline. He can play some small-ball 4 and has proved he can remain efficient without volume. With that said, it wouldn't be surprising to see him get fewer opportunities given Boston's multitude of weapons. -- Mike Schmitz

23. Rudy Gobert

  • Utah Jazz | C

  • Previous rank: 14

  • Projected RPM wins: 7.0

It's not a coincidence that the Jazz's 29-6 finish last season started when Gobert got healthy after missing time with two knee injuries. His presence essentially guarantees that the Jazz will be an elite defensive team. But the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is often inaccurately labeled as a one-dimensional player.

He commands attention as a finisher (13.8 PPG on 64.5 percent shooting) and is compared to a left tackle by coaches because he screens so effectively, leading the league by a wide margin with 6.2 "screen assists" per game in 2017-18, according to NBA.com. -- Tim MacMahon

22. Donovan Mitchell

  • Utah Jazz | G

  • Previous rank: NR

  • Projected RPM wins: 6.9

Expect Mitchell, known for his work ethic and film study, to refine his scoring efficiency while expanding his playmaking, potentially turning in a 25-5-5 season. Mitchell showed flashes as a pick-and-roll facilitator last season, and I'd expect him to continue to evolve his floor game by embracing aggressive three-level scoring. If the Jazz keep up their winning ways as expected, Mitchell could contend for a Western Conference All-Star bid in Year 2. -- Mike Schmitz

21. Kyle Lowry

Lowry thrives in the shadows more than most stars, typical of players whose advanced metrics outpace their counting stats. Just like last year, he's at No. 21, though RPM consistently puts him in the top 10. Even with DeRozan's departure, Lowry is likely to play second fiddle to Kawhi Leonard, of course. But if the Raptors make the NBA Finals, look for Lowry to emerge from relative obscurity. -- Royce Webb

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