The NBA’s 75th season was truly a special one, not just from a historical sense but also for what transpired during the course of the season.
Basketball’s greatest players were honored throughout the season, culminating in a giant celebration on Feb. 20, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio, when the greats of the game gathered for All-Star weekend and participated in a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony.
Steph Curry was one of four active players who played in the NBA All-Star Game and took part in the halftime festivities honoring members of the NBA’s 75th anniversary team. The All-Star game came down to the final possession. Team LeBron defeated Team Durant, 163-160, LeBron James had an outstanding game, scoring 30 points including hitting the game-winning shot. But the Kobe Bryant trophy was awarded to Curry as the MVP of the All-Star Game. He had an otherworldly game. The Warriors’ superstar dropped a game-high 50 points and obliterated the ASG record for most 3-pointers made with 16. Curry was 16-for-27 from behind the 3-point line. He put on an absolute show in a building full of stars.
Curry became the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made two months earlier. On Dec. 14, 2021, Curry swished his 2,974th 3-pointer, surpassing Ray Allen’s all-time mark. Curry now sits alone at the top as the only player in NBA history with more than 3,000 3-pointers made (3,117), and he did in 826 games.
Safe to say, Curry enjoyed one helluva season. He became the all-time leader in 3-point shots. He was ASG MVP. He won his fourth NBA championship and his first NBA Finals MVP. And he hosted the 2022 ESPYs.
Each year OneManFastBreak.net ranks the five best players in the NBA. The OMFB Furious Five pays homage to the five styles of Chinese martial arts: snake, crane, monkey, praying mantis, and tiger.
The ranking system is based on one man’s opinion and does not follow or conform to any standard format, with more emphasis placed on how each player and their respective teams performed in the postseason. Stars are born during the regular season, but legends are made in the playoffs.
In 2021, OMFB Furious Five featured Nikola Jokic (5), LeBron James (4), Luka Doncic (3), Kevin Durant (2), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (1).
This year, there’s a major shakeup at the top of the OMFB rankings. Without further ado, here are the five best basketball players in the world.
5. JAYSON TATUM
Boston Celtics, Forward
Sometimes you have to go through the bullies on the block in order to get home. That is what Jayson Tatum did in the 2022 NBA playoffs.
He took on the challenge in the first round against Kevin Durant’s Brooklyn Nets and thoroughly outplayed Durant, sending the Nets star packing after an impressive four-game sweep. Tatum then took on the biggest bully on the block in reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. After the Celtics lost a tough Game 5 at home and went down 3-2 to Giannis and the Bucks, Tatum said he was “excited” for Game 6 challenge on the road in Milwaukee. “I believe in the work that we put in, I believe in the work that I put in,” said Tatum, who had a memorable Game 6 performance in Milwaukee, exploding for 46 points on 17-of-32 shooting. He scored 11 points in a three-minute stretch in the fourth that thwarted a Bucks rally and pushed the Celtics to a 108-95 win.
Tatum tied Paul Pierce for the second most points in franchise history when facing elimination. Sam Jones’ 47-point game remains a Celtics record. Tatum’s teammate Jaylen Brown called the performance a signature moment in Celtics playoff lore. Boston went on to beat Milwaukee in Game 7 at home to advance to the conference finals for the third time in five seasons. Celtics forward Antoine Walker spoke highly of Tatum his Game 6 performance against the Bucks. “That was the best game of his career,” former Celtics forward Antoine Walker said about Boston’s newest superstar.
In an elimination game on the road, Tatum took it upon himself to be the star and put the team on his back. Tatum, 24, has established himself as one of the best players in the world.
4. NIKOLA JOKIC
Denver Nuggets, Center
When Nikola Jokic walks into a gym, he likely won’t get your full attention. His 6-11, 280-pound frame is the most impressive physical feature he displays. He won’t run past you or outjump you. He could easily be mistaken for one of the players in a YMCA Sunday league. But once the two-time NBA MVP steps on the court and displays his basketball skills, it’s pure magic (or pure Magic).
Jokic may be listed as a center but he might as well be a point guard the way he manipulates defenses. The Serbian big man can fill up a box score, averaging nearly a triple-double (20-10-7) during the 2019 and 2020 regular seasons. In the 2020 playoffs inside the Disney World bubble, Jokic averaged 24 points and 9.8 points while shooting 51 percent from the field. Jokic’s Nuggets advanced to the 2020 Western Conference finals where they were eliminated in five games by the eventual world champion L.A. Lakers.
Jokic raised his game to a whole new level in 2020-21 and 2021-22, becoming the first center since Tim Duncan to win league MVP. He has carried a hobbled Nuggets squad on his back the past two seasons while standout point guard Jamal Murray rehabs from an ACL injury. Jokic, who inked a historic $264-million contract extension to stay in Denver through 2028, won his second league MVP following a superb statistical season in 2021-22 (27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists). He’s the first NBA player to eclipse 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season.
Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers called Jokic the best passing big man ever. “He has a little bit of everybody,” Rivers said. “He has all the footwork and the moves of an [Hakeem] Olajuwon, the lanky and goofy, like goofy intelligence of Kevin McHale. Shoot, man, he’s just good. He’s the best passing big that I’ve seen, I think, ever. I know [Bill] Walton was one of [the best passing centers ever].” When names like Olajuwon, McHale and Walton are thrown around as a comparison, it puts Jokic in elite company.
3. LUKA DONCIC
Dallas Mavericks, Guard-Forward
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is a star on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” He knows a good business product when he see’s one. Cuban sees a very good investment in Luka Doncic.
Cuban made sure Luka will be a Maverick for a long time, signing the Slovenian sensation to a five-year, $207 million extension during the 2021 offseason. “My goal is to win a championship,” said the 23-year-old Doncic, who has already won NBA Rookie of the Year and named to the All-NBA team multiple times. In his fourth NBA season, Doncic averaged 28.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 8.7 assists. He was even better during the playoffs, averaging 29-10-5 against Utah in the first round and 32-9-7 against Phoenix in the conference semifinals. In the conference finals against eventual champion Golden State, Doncic averaged 32.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 6.0 assists.
“He is one of the toughest players that I have ever seen in this league, and that goes back 35, 36 years,” former Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of Doncic. “[Luka] is a great young player that is getting better each year. He has an irrepressible enthusiasm for the game, for his teammates, for winning. We’re so fortunate to have him. Now we have to get our roster healthy and get the right players around him.”
Jason Kidd is surely fortunate to have Doncic. With Luka leading the way, the Mavericks reached the conference finals in Kidd’s first year as Mavericks head coach. The signature moment came in the second round when Doncic took an undersized and undermanned Mavs squad into Phoenix and upset the top-seeded Suns in Game 7. It was Doncic’s finest moment in his young pro career. Doncic set the tone early by hitting his first three shots, including two 3-pointers. He snatched the Suns’ hearts by scoring 27 of his game-high 35 points in the first and leading Dallas to a huge 57-27 lead at halftime. The Mavs stunned the Suns with a 123-90 Game 7 blowout victory on the road.
“I think when you talk about Luka’s gift, he’s a special player,” Kidd said. “And for me, as a coach, it’s just to guide him. Be an extra set of eyes and ears to make the game as simple and as easy for him on the court. To give him the answers to the test so that he can do what he does at a very high level.”
So far, Luka is acing the test.
2. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO
Milwaukee Bucks, Forward
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a special breed. First of all, he is built like a Greek god. His freakishly physical stature (6-11, 242 pounds) allows him to do things on the basketball court mere mortals could only dream about. His combination of size, speed, and power makes him nearly impossible to stop.
Now, combine those traits with an incredible determination to do whatever it takes to win, it puts Antetokounmpo in rarified air. Giannis put himself in the conversation among the all-time greats after his MVP performance in the 2021 NBA Finals as he averaged 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks per game in the series against the Phoenix Suns, while shooting 61.8% from the field. He made the signature moment in the series when he blocked Deandre Ayton’s dunk attempt with 1:14 left in the fourth quarter of Game 4 that ignited a late Bucks surge that allowed them to tie up the series at 2 apiece after being down in an 0-2 hole. Then, Giannis put a bow on his historic Finals performance with a 50-point game in the series clincher that gave Giannis his first NBA title and ended Milwaukee’s five-decade championship drought.
All the skills Giannis tirelessly cultivated through the first 10 years of his professional basketball career in Europe and in the NBA paid off in the 2021 Finals as he produced one of the greatest performances in postseason history. “I had to do a little bit of everything. I had to defend, I had to rebound, I had to block. The performance illustrated Giannis’ greatness as a basketball player, but he’s well aware he’s far from being a finished product. Sounds ridiculous to even suggest that a multiple MVP winner still has room for improvement. But that is the case with the Greek Freak, who is only scratching the surface of his prodigious talent. He credits Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer for motivating him to be the best. “Coach Bud believed in me. [He] told me in order for me to win, to be great, I have to trust my teammates,” Giannis said. “I have to make the right pass. I cannot be stubborn. I gotta trust the process. It was a three-year process, but we got it done.”
Giannis told NBA TV: “I always think that I can improve,” Giannis said. “That’s the one thing I have been doing, and I’m gonna keep doing it. There are going to be times that I’m not going to improve anymore. But as long as I keep working hard, keep believing in myself, I think I will keep getting better. I can tell you right off the top of my head five things I could do better,” he added. “I could shoot more threes, catch and shoot threes so I can help my teammates space the floor better. I could be able to play-make more. I could improve my handles. Make my handles more tight. There’s a lot of things I can improve.”
To hear an MVP talk about all the things he needs to improve on is very refreshing. Giannis strikes a good balance of high level of confidence and humility. He understands the standards have been reset for him because of what he’s accomplished so far in his young basketball career. It was unfortunate Bucks forward Khris Middleton got hurt and wasn’t available in the 2022 conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics. Giannis was fantastic in the seven-game series, but in the end he couldn’t knock off the Celtics by himself. He needed his wing man. A healthy Bucks squad combined with a motivated Giannis should make the Bucks a title threat. Giannis is all about the work. Now that he’s tasted winning, he wants more and he’ll do whatever it takes to stay on top. “I’ll keep going. I can’t stop,” he said. “That’s my personality. I’m not stopping.”
And now, the No. 1 player in the world. Drum roll please . . .
1. STEPHEN CURRY
Golden State Warriors, Guard
Steph Curry admits he is the NBA’s “petty king.” He sees and hears and remembers all the disses, the slights, and the snubs. It doesn’t matter if they are done in jest. If Curry thinks he or any member of his inner circle gets disrespected, he will clap back.
When a Boston bar trolled Curry’s wife, Ayesha, by posting a sign saying “Ayesha Curry Can’t Cook” the NBA’s greatest 3-point shooter fired right back by wearing a T-shirt to a postgame press conference that read “Ayesha Curry CAN Cook.”
When ESPN talking heads like Domonique Foxworth and Kendrick Perkins both predicted that Curry will win “zero” championships after signing his $215 contract extension with the Warriors, Steph put it in his memory bank and saved the retort for the right occasion. After Curry and the Warriors clinched their fourth NBA title in eight seasons, Curry called out Foxworth and Perkins during a postgame session with the media.
“I clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero on how many championships we’d have going forward because of everything we went through,” Curry said. “We hear all that, we carry all that and try to maintain a purpose, not let it distract you. But you carry that weight.”
Curry has had the weight of the world on his shoulders the past two seasons after Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn and Klay Thompson sidelined for 941 days after suffering two devastating injuries (Achilles and ACL tears). But Curry perservered and kept on pushing forward despite not having his Splash Brother by his side. He and Draymond Green were tasked with mentoring the younger players on the Warriors roster, accelerating their growth so the franchise could get back to hunting for titles.
When Klay returned to the lineup in January, the Warriors became whole again. Even though Klay, Steph and Draymond barely played together for the rest of the 2022 regular season, they knew it wouldn’t take long to get their groove back. Once they all got on the court, it was like riding a bike.
The Warriors advanced to the 2022 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. After the Celtics took a 2-1 lead in the series, Curry put the Warriors on his back and carried them to a title. Curry was absolutely brilliant in The Finals, averaging 31.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the series. He shot 43% from 3-point range and averaged 5.2 threes per game. He did all this while mainly being guarded by the reigning NBA defensive player of the year in Marcus Smart.
Curry was absolutely brilliant in The Finals, and his signature moment came in Game 4 when the Warriors went on the road in Boston needing a win to tie the series. Curry dropped 43 points, including seven 3-pointers, to lead the Warriors to a 107-97 win and snatched the heart out of the Celtics. The Warriors would never lose again in the series. Curry put a cap on his Finals performance with 34 points in the series-clinching 103-90 win in Game 6.
Curry was named the unanimous Finals MVP, the first of his career. It should have been his second Finals MVP, but for some strange reason the media inexplicably voted for Andre Iguodala in the 2015 NBA Finals. Iguodala had a nice series, but Steph was the real MVP in the 2015 Finals.
Curry didn’t need to win Finals MVP to validate his career. His legacy is secure. But having the Bill Russell trophy in his hands is the ultimate clapback to all his haters. Night, night folks!
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.