NBA on Christmas Day: Ranking the top 25 players hitting the court in ESPN's five-game feast

Bucks, Celtics reignite rivalry with Christmas Day clash (0:46)

Get ready for high-flying dunks from Giannis Antetokounmpo and clutch 3s from Jayson Tatum as the Bucks face the Celtics on Christmas Day. (0:46)

The NBA's star-studded slate of Christmas Day games will pit the game's best against the best in a high-stakes day of action between top contenders.

The surging New York Knicks, with their newest star point guard, Jalen Brunson, and a revitalized Julius Randle, will host MVP candidate Joel Embiid, James Harden and a Philadelphia 76ers squad looking to get in a groove heading into the new year. Both teams will be out to prove they belong in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.

LeBron James and Luka Doncic will meet in a battle between the underachieving Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks. Both teams will be desperate to get a big-stage win to spark some momentum in a competitive Western Conference.

The class of the East could be decided when the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics face off, featuring two MVP front-runners in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum.

The defending champion Golden State Warriors face a perilous task against the Memphis Grizzlies, led by Ja Morant and plenty of talented depth. It gets even harder for the Warriors without Stephen Curry, so Klay Thompson will have his chance to lead a signature Christmas Day effort as Golden State's leading man.

The Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns will finish off the night. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray will look to hold their ground against Devin Booker and Chris Paul, as both teams battle in a crowded West.

But where do all those players rank among the stars hitting the court on Christmas Day? Let's break down the top 25.

Note: ESPN's NBArank panel, composed of over 40 reporters, editors, producers and analysts, were asked to rank players based on their quality and quantity of play so far during the 2022-23 season. Players previously ruled out for Christmas Day (Curry, Anthony Davis) were not included on this list.

25. Christian Wood

  • Dallas Mavericks | PF | 27 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: First

  • 2022-23 stats: 16.9 PPG | 8.0 RPG | 53.3 FG%

In his first season in Dallas, Wood has shuttled back and forth between the bench and the starting lineup, putting up 16.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.

Signature moment of the season
Wood showed how devastating an option he can be in a sixth man role when he put up 32 and 12 in just 29 minutes in a Dec. 16 win over Portland.

-- Tim Bontemps

24. Chris Paul

  • Phoenix Suns | PG | 37 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Eighth

  • 2022-23 stats: 12.1 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 9.1 APG

Now in his 18th NBA season, Paul is possibly beginning to show his age, shooting a career-worst 39.2% from the field.

Signature moment of the season
In his best game of the season, Paul scored 28 points and dished out eight assists in Monday's win over the depleted Lakers, a performance Phoenix hopes is a sign of things to come for the future Hall of Famer after a slow start.

-- Bontemps

23. Malcolm Brogdon

  • Boston Celtics | PG | 30 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Second

  • 2022-23 stats: 13.7 PPG | 4.1 RPG | 3.8 APG

Seen as the missing player Boston lacked off the bench in last year's run to the NBA Finals, Brogdon has been everything the Celtics could've hoped for, and then some, as he's established himself as a leading contender for this season's Sixth Man of the Year award.

Signature moment of the season
Against Chicago on Nov. 4, Brogdon had a near-perfect offensive game, finishing with 25 points on 9-for-10 shooting in a 123-119 victory. It is that kind of efficiency and scoring punch off the bench that the Celtics hope will be the difference in the postseason after their offense struggled at times in the playoffs last season.

-- Bontemps

22. Al Horford

  • Boston Celtics | C | 36 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Fifth

  • 2022-23 stats: 10 PPG | 6.4 RPG | 44.8 3P%

It's not a coincidence that Boston's recent slump has coincided with Horford missing some time for personal reasons and then hitting a bit of a shooting slump upon his return. Even at this advanced stage of his career, he's still vitally important to what Boston does.

Signature moment of the season
Horford's 21 points on 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets on Nov. 11 shows how critical his shooting is to Boston's offense. While Robert Williams III provides thunderous dunks as an alley-oop threat, Horford's spacing brings an equally important, albeit different, element to the floor.

-- Bontemps

21. Klay Thompson

  • Golden State Warriors | SG | 32 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Eighth

  • 2022-23 stats: 18.1 PPG | 3.6 RPG | 37.8 3P%

Thompson is still searching for his rhythm after being inactive for training camp, but he had shown glimpses of the player he was prior to his injuries, while also having moments that show he isn't entirely who he used to be.

Signature moment of the season
Thompson's best game of the season was in a 2022 Finals rematch against the Celtics on Dec. 10. Not only did Thompson score 34 points on 14-of-26 shooting, but he had his best defensive performance of the season against Jayson Tatum. Thompson displayed what Warriors coach Steve Kerr has said multiple times is the key to unlocking the star shooting guard: slowing his game down, playing within the flow of the offense and letting everything come to him naturally, rather than shot-hunting.

-- Kendra Andrews

20. Andrew Wiggins

  • Golden State Warriors | SF | 27 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Fourth

  • 2022-23 stats: 19.1 PPG | 5.1 RPG | 45.0 3P%

Wiggins has been the Warriors' second-most consistent player this season behind Stephen Curry. However, Wiggins has missed the past nine games because of an adductor strain. Kerr says he believes Wiggins will be active on Christmas Day, which will be crucial in giving the Warriors a much-needed boost.

Signature moment of the season
Wiggins has had a few standout games this season, but his performance against the LA Clippers on Nov. 23 shines a bit more than the rest. That night, he scored a season-high 31 points in 32 minutes and shot 12-of-18 from the field, including 6-of-10 from beyond the arc. After the game, Wiggins said this was "definitely" the best his 3-point shot has ever felt. He also had three rebounds, three steals, two assists and one block and was plus-28, showing the value he has on both sides of the floor.

-- Andrews

19. Brook Lopez

  • Milwaukee Bucks | C | 34 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Fifth

  • 2022-23 stats: 14.8 PPG | 2.6 BPG | 40.0 3P%

Lopez is making a strong case for Defensive Player of the Year. The Bucks rank third in the NBA in defensive rating, with Lopez, who leads the East in blocks, as their anchor in the paint.

Signature moment of the season
Two of Lopez's most impressive performances this season have come against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team Milwaukee could match up with in the postseason. During their first meeting on Nov. 16, Lopez made seven 3s en route to 29 points in a blowout victory. Less than 10 days later, he collected six blocks against the Cavs, sealing off the paint and leading Milwaukee to another rout.

-- Jamal Collier

18. James Harden

  • Philadelphia 76ers | SG | 33 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: 10th

  • 2022-23 stats: 21.4 PPG | 6.6 RPG | 10.9 APG

Harden missed a month this season because of a right foot tendon strain but returned to action on Dec. 5 against his former team, the Houston Rockets.

Signature moment of the season
Harden finished with 21 points, 15 assists and five steals against the Kings on Dec. 13. He had 17, 10 and five steals in the first half, becoming the first player to put up those numbers in a first half in the past 25 seasons. He's also the oldest player to have 20 points, 15 assists and five steals in a game since steals became official in 1973-74.

-- Lopez

17. Deandre Ayton

  • Phoenix Suns | C | 24 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Second

  • 2022-23 stats: 17.6 PPG | 9.5 RPG | 62.8 FG%

After rumblings about the Suns' supposed plans to move on from their former No. 1 pick in Ayton -- with the assumption being the team would find a sign-and-trade partner for the talented center -- the Suns ended up keeping him on a four-year, $133 million extension. The big man has continued to be a double-double machine with a high efficiency rate on offense.

Signature moment of the season
Ayton dominated the Utah Jazz with 29 points and 21 rebounds in a win in late November. It came about a week after Utah beat the Suns 134-133, in which Ayton neared a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

-- Dave McMenamin

16. Jamal Murray

  • Denver Nuggets | PG | 25 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Third

  • 2022-23 stats: 17.5 PPG | 3.7 RPG | 5.4 APG

In his first season back from an ACL injury that cost him all of last season, Murray is building his way back as expected. He entered Friday's game averaging 17.5 points. While his scoring average and shooting percentages are down, Murray is dishing out a career-high 5.4 assists.

Signature moment of the season
Murray had the best moment of his return at Damian Lillard's expense. Murray had 21 points, eight assists, five rebounds and the game winner in a 121-120 victory at Portland on Dec. 8. Murray drilled a 3 with 0.9 seconds left after Lillard scored 40 and made the go-ahead 3 with 8.8 seconds remaining.

-- Ohm Youngmisuk

15. Desmond Bane

  • Memphis Grizzlies | SG | 24 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: First

  • 2022-23 stats: 24.1 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 43.6 3P%

Bane looked like a legitimate co-star on a contender before suffering a sprained right big toe a dozen games into the season -- an injury that has sidelined him until Friday's win. He has established himself as one of the league's elite shooters, averaging 24.1 points while making 43.6% of his 8.5 3-point attempts per game.

Signature moment of the season
Bane busted out of an early-season mini-slump by scoring 38 points on 14-of-21 shooting in an Oct. 24 win over the Nets. Bane caught fire after halftime, scoring 32 points in the second half when he made seven 3s. Ja Morant also scored 38 in the game, as the Grizzlies' young duo outdueled Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. This started a nine-game stretch of Bane averaging 28 points on .524/.514/.913 shooting splits before getting hurt.

-- MacMahon

14. Mikal Bridges

  • Phoenix Suns | SF | 26 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Second

  • 2022-23 stats: 15.8 PPG | 4.7 RPG | 39.2 3P%

Bridges might have a slight build, but he has been an NBA iron man, appearing in every one of the Suns' games since joining the franchise in 2018. He has seen his game grow with Phoenix missing players because of injuries this season, and he is putting up career highs in points, rebounds and assists per game.

Signature moment of the season
Already one of the league's most respected wing defenders, Bridges has expanded his offensive game this season. The Suns are 7-2 when Bridges scores 20-plus points, and several of his big nights have come against teams Phoenix could see in the West playoffs. These include a game in which he scored 27 on 10-for-13 shooting in a win against the Pelicans; 27 points on 11-for-18 shooting in a win against the Clippers; and 23 points and nine assists in a win against the defending champion Warriors.

-- McMenamin

13. Jalen Brunson

  • New York Knicks | PG | 26 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Third

  • 2022-23 stats: 20.1 PPG | 3.2 RPG | 6.4 APG

The tough-minded guard has helped the Knicks rise again in the East and has elevated the offense Tom Thibodeau puts into motion every night. Brunson is averaging more than 20 points per game and was key in the Knicks' recent eight-game winning streak.

Signature moment of the season
The consistency within Brunson's game is what has defined his season. He has been a steadying presence for a team that was hoping for a lift when it signed him over the summer. Brunson's 30 points and seven assists in a 128-120 overtime win over the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 14, against a team that both Thibodeau and his dad, Rick, used to work for, had to feel sweet for the 26-year-old guard.

-- Nick Friedell

12. Julius Randle

  • New York Knicks | PF | 28 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Fifth

  • 2022-23 stats: 22.7 PPG | 9.4 RPG | 3.6 APG

The Knicks big man has put up the numbers and has rediscovered his consistency to put the Knicks back on a winning track. Randle is averaging over 26 points a game in December and fills up the stat sheet night after night.

Signature moment of the season
Randle had 34 points in a 106-103 win over the Nuggets on Nov. 16 -- giving the Knicks their first win in Denver in 16 years. Like Brunson, Randle has played in every game so far and has helped the Knicks get out of the rut they were in throughout much of last season and, at times, this one.

-- Friedell

11. Marcus Smart

  • Boston Celtics | PG | 28 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Sixth

  • 2022-23 stats: 11.6 PPG | 3.4 RPG | 7.3 APG

Smart is averaging a career-high 7.3 assists and posting a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year continues to show what he said was the case all along: He can be a very good distributor at the point guard position for Boston.

Signature moment of the season
It might not have come against the best opponent, but Smart's game against the Charlotte Hornets last month -- finishing with 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting to go with 15 assists and three turnovers in a blowout win -- showed just how much his passing, when he's going right, can unlock Boston's star wing tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

-- Bontemps

10. Jrue Holiday

  • Milwaukee Bucks | PG | 32 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Fifth

  • 2022-23 stats: 18.7 PPG | 5.2 RPG | 7.5 APG

Without Khris Middleton for most of the season, the Bucks have been able to count on consistent production from Holiday. He continues to be one of the league's best perimeter defenders while adding nearly 19 points per game on the other end.

Signature moment of the season
Holiday showed off his defensive versatility in a victory on Dec. 19 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Holiday spent most of the game guarding Zion Williamson, limiting the Pelicans star to 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting and five turnovers. On the other end, Holiday helped lead Milwaukee to victory with 18 points and 11 assists.

-- Collier

9. Jaylen Brown

  • Boston Celtics | SG | 26 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Seventh

  • 2022-23 stats: 26.5 PPG | 7.5 RPG | 3.5 APG

Brown and Tatum have long been considered one of the best young tandems in the league. But these days, the word "young" can be dropped from that sentence, as Brown is averaging career bests of 26.5 points, 48.8% shooting from the field and 80.7% shooting from the foul line.

Signature moment of the season
Brown quickly showed the world he was out to prove a point after the disappointment of last season's NBA Finals defeat. Against the Philadelphia 76ers on opening night, all Brown did was score 35 points on 14-for-24 shooting. It was his best game of the season to date, and led Boston to an emphatic win over its division rivals.

-- Bontemps

8. LeBron James

  • Los Angeles Lakers | SF | 37 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: 17th

  • 2022-23 stats: 27.4 PPG | 8.2 RPG | 6.7 APG

The mission for Year 20 for James was to avoid missing the postseason for the third time in his five years with the Lakers. So far that pursuit is off to a rocky start, with L.A. beginning 2-10 and currently on another swoon with Anthony Davis sidelined because of a right foot injury.

Signature moment of the season
Regardless of team record, James is barreling down on one of the hallowed statistical milestones in the sport: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time scoring record of 38,387 points. James is about 700 points away and on track to pass Abdul-Jabbar sometime in February if he stays healthy. After missing five straight games in November with a groin flare-up, James has come back looking spry. He's hit his stride in December with 30-plus points in six straight games, while shooting better than 50% from the field in all of them.

-- McMenamin

7. Devin Booker

  • Phoenix Suns | SG | 26 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Second

  • 2022-23 stats: 28 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 5.8 APG

Shaking off last season's devastating second-round exit, Booker and the Suns are back as an elite West contender, even with floor general Chris Paul missing significant time. Booker is off to another All-NBA-caliber season, averaging a career-high 28 points per game.

Signature moment of the season
The Pelicans gave the Suns all they could handle in the first round last season, pushing the series to six games before Phoenix advanced. But little brother grew up quick, beating Phoenix twice in a row in the regular-season series: 128-117 on Dec. 9 and 129-124 in overtime two days later. Booker and the Suns reestablished their supremacy on Dec. 17 with a 118-114 victory. Booker went bonkers, scoring 58 points on 21-for-35 shooting in the win.

-- McMenamin

6. Ja Morant

  • Memphis Grizzlies | PG | 23 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: First

  • 2022-23 stats: 26.5 PPG | 6.4 RPG | 7.9 APG

Morant is a 6-foot-2, 175-pound acrobat with a flair for showmanship and a brilliant basketball mind, making him arguably the league's most entertaining player. Morant has starred for a team that he will tell you should be considered the West's best.

Signature moment of the season
Morant sat up on the baseline and flexed his skinny arms as the FedEx Forum crowd roared, punctuating another highlight and spectacular performance with a little personality. Seconds earlier, he managed to make an and-1, dagger bucket despite his back being parallel to the ground after getting fouled by Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns. Morant had 28 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists in that win, production that Morant has made seem pretty typical.

-- MacMahon

5. Joel Embiid

  • Philadelphia 76ers | C | 28 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Fourth

  • 2022-23 stats: 33.0 PPG | 9.8 RPG | 4.6 APG

Embiid has taken his scoring to another level in 2022-23. After winning the scoring title last season with 30.6 points per game, Embiid has pushed that average to 33.0 this season.

Signature moment of the season
Consider these numbers: 59 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 7 blocks. When Embiid put up that stat line against the Jazz on Nov. 13, he became the first player in NBA history with 50 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 blocks in a game. He scored 42 the night before, giving him 101 over a two-day span, most by any center since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967.

-- Lopez

4. Nikola Jokic

  • Denver Nuggets | C | 27 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Third

  • 2022-23 stats: 24.7 PPG | 11 RPG | 9.2 APG

After starting the season with two triple-doubles in his first three games, Jokic would register just one more over a 19-game stretch. But the back-to-back MVP is heating up with three triple-doubles in a six-game span entering Sunday. And he scored 30 or more in eight of his past 15 games.

Signature moment of the season
Over his past two MVP seasons, Jokic has put up eye-popping and historic numbers. But Jokic absolutely detonated against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 18: 40 points, a career-high 27 rebounds and 10 assists. (The only other player to reach those numbers is Wilt Chamberlain.) Jokic secured that win with two free throws with 13 seconds remaining.

-- Youngmisuk

3. Jayson Tatum

  • Boston Celtics | SF | 24 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Sixth

  • 2022-23 stats: 30.5 PPG | 8.1 RPG | 4.1 APG

Tatum is having his best season yet, averaging over 30 points per game -- which, if he ends the season that way, would make him the first Celtic to do so -- and staking an early lead in the MVP race after finishing in first place in ESPN's first MVP straw poll of 2022-23.

Signature moment of the season
In a win over the Miami Heat on Nov. 30, Tatum put all of his offensive prowess on display, finishing with 49 points on 15-for-25 shooting to power the Celtics to a 134-121 victory over Miami in a rematch of last season's seven-game East finals.

-- Bontemps

2. Luka Doncic

  • Dallas Mavericks | PG | 23 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Second

  • 2022-23 stats: 32.8 PPG | 8.3 RPG | 8.7 APG

Doncic, the only player who ranks among the NBA's top five in scoring and assists this season, has MVP-caliber individual numbers. However, the Mavs muddling around .500 makes it hard to build a case for Doncic as the favorite.

Signature moment of the season
Which game should we choose? Doncic put up 50 points on Friday, but he's also had three 40-point triple-doubles this season, two more than the rest of the league combined. Let's go with his 41-point, 12-rebound, 12-assist performance in a Nov. 29 home win over the Warriors. Dallas had lost four in a row and desperately needed a little Luka magic. Doncic delivered, and then pointed to his four steals as the stat he was most proud of.

-- MacMahon

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

  • Milwaukee Bucks | PF | 28 years old

  • Christmas Day appearance: Fifth

  • 2022-23 stats: 31.4 PPG | 11.3 RPG | 5.2 APG

Antetokounmpo has been as dominant as ever, averaging career-high numbers in scoring at 31.4 points per game to go along with 11.3 rebounds, putting himself once again in the MVP conversation.

Signature moment of the season
Antetokounmpo has made scoring look easy this season, attacking the rim with ferocity to either barrel to the basket or get sent to the free throw line. And he set the tone right away this season during the Bucks' home opener on Oct. 22. Sure, it was a matchup against a rebuilding Rockets team, but Antetokounmpo put together one of the most dominant stat lines of the season -- 44 points on 17-of-21 shooting and 12 rebounds ... in 28 minutes on the floor.

-- Collier