There are so many young players right now putting up big numbers, the future of the NBA is exciting. Here is a ranking of my top 25 players under the age of 25. Keep in mind a few things:
*Upside is a factor. A 20 year old putting up 15 and 10 a game will rank higher than a 24 year old putting up 15 and 10 a game.
*To clarify, this list is only guys younger than 25. Anthony Davis, who turned 25 before the start of the season, will not appear on this list.
*To qualify, these players had to be younger than 25 at the start of the regular season. Someone who starts the season 24 and turns 25 mid-season (like Joel Embiid with a March birthday) does qualify for this list.
With that in mind, enjoy!
1.Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks Age: 24
The top three players in this ranking for me were all easy choices, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo. Looking back at it now, it’s hard to believe the Greek Freak dropped to the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA draft with a pick where some even thought the Bucks may have reached. Giannis has exceeded the most unrealistic expectations for the fifteenth pick as he is a top MVP candidate for this season, averaging 26.5 ppg, 13.3 rpg, and 6.0 apg with 4.2 win shares to carry the Bucks into the second spot in the East. Hey Cleveland, want to re-think taking Anthony Bennett first overall?
2.Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers, Age:24
The third pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Embiid makes the Timberwolves and Bucks look pretty dense for passing on him. After missing his first two seasons due to a stress fracture in his foot, Embiid has been incredible for the 76ers. He has carried the Sixers over the past two seasons, and they have been 72-50 with him on the court for his career and 58-31 with him on the court over the past two seasons. Jo Jo is an MVP candidate this season and he has been the miracle that the process promised for the Sixers.
3.Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets Age:23
Another easy pick for me, it’s crazy to think that Jokic fell all the way to pick 41 when he was taken out of Serbia by the Nuggets back in 2014, when his family infamously had to wake him up at 3 in the morning local time to tell him he had been drafted. Jokic has gotten better every season and is with almost no competition as the best passing big man in the NBA. He leads all centers with 7.7 assists per game; the next highest center is Marc Gasol who gets just 3.9 apg. The young talents of Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris make the Nuggets a top team in the west.
4.Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers Age:22
The first pick of the 2016 draft, Simmons has been great for the Sixers after missing his first full season. Capable of putting up triple-doubles on a nightly basis, Simmons’ only weakness as a player is his three point shot. In 107 career games, he is 0-11 from three point range. Since he poses almost no threat as a deep shooter, defenders can play back in anticipation of a drive or a pass to a wing That being said, he is one of the best two-way players in the NBA and is a jump shot away from being an MVP-caliber player.
5.Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz Age :22
I had a difficult time deciding between Tatum and Mitchell, but I went with Mitchell due to their roles on their teams. Without Mitchell, the Jazz have almost no chance at the playoffs, whereas the Celtics are still a top team in the East with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford without Tatum. The 13th pick in the 2017 draft, Mitchell has proven to many teams that they shouldn’t have passed on him. In 102 career games, Donovan is getting 20.5 ppg on 43.4 FG% and a high usage rate of 29.4%. The Jazz net rating per 100 possessions over that span with Mitchell on the court is +6.0 and -0.2 with him off.
6.Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics Age:20
Third pick in the 2017 draft out of Duke, Tatum has been amazing for the Celtics and is a perennial all-star. In his second season, Tatum has upped his numbers to 16.4 ppg and 6.4 rpg, on 46.1 FG%. His best performances came in the 2017 playoffs where Tatum led the Celtics to game seven of the Conference Finals without a healthy Kyrie or Gordon Hayward. Danny Ainge has made the Sixers look stupid for trading up to take Markelle Fultz, who may never play another game for them. That trade is one that may affect the future of the NBA for a while, and as Celtics fans and broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn love to say, he’s only 20. (If you’ve never watched a Celtics broadcast before, prepare for homer Tommy Heinsohn’s antics. Most announcers are biased, but Heinsohn takes it to a whole new level.)
Here is a Tommy Heinsohn clip in case you haven’t seen one before.
7.Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves Age:23
The first pick of the 2015 NBA draft, Karl-Anthony Towns has played in every game for the Timberwolves since he was drafted. A one-time all star, KAT has averaged 21.5 ppg, and 11.7 rpg on 53.8 FG% in 272 career games. He is also one of the best-shooting big men in the NBA, shooting a high clip of 39.1% from deep during that span. Statistically, KAT may deserve to be higher, but he has been criticized for his lack of leadership for the Timberwolves. With Jimmy Butler still on the team, he wasn’t comfortable playing a lesser role; so hopefully with that trade, Towns can take his game to an even higher level.
8.Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks Age:23
A great talent, Porzingis was having an MVP caliber 2017-18 campaign, before an ugly torn ACL abruptly ended his season. At 7’ 3’’, knee injuries become even harder to come back from and he is still without a timetable for his return. It may be in the best interest of the Knicks to hold him out for this season since they likely aren’t making the playoffs. Still, Porzingis had been averaging 22.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, and 2.4 bpg before getting injured. Hopefully, he will be able to return to full strength for next season and possibly help to attract some big name free agents.
9.Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns Age:22
The 13th pick by the Phoenix Suns out of Kentucky back in 2015, Booker has mostly been the lone bright spot for a bad team. Playing for a team that appears to have drafted busts in back-to-back years in 2016 and 2017 with Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson, Booker has quietly put up great numbers in losing efforts. In 227 games, Booker has gotten 20.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, and 3.7 apg on 42.7 FG% with a high 28.7% usage rate. Now with Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges on the roster, the Suns may be a playoff team in a few years if they can learn to play together.
10.Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks Age:19
The third pick by Hawks (and immediately traded to Dallas) in the 2018 draft, Doncic has run away with the rookie of the year race. Doncic leads all rookies with 17.8 ppg and 53 three pointers made as is he is shooting 37.1% from deep. Doncic has hit many big shots for the Mavericks this season and with his help, Dallas is positioned as the eighth seed in the west. He is still only 19, and it will be exciting to see how his season plays out.
11.De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings Age:20
Second year player and taken fifth in the 2017 NBA draft, De’Aaron Fox has broken out in his second season as a Most Improved Player candidate. So far, he has increased his stats up to 18.1 ppg, 7.5 apg, on 47.6 FG% and 41.5 3PT%. As I’ve noted in other blogs, Fox’s improved three point shot makes him a really tough player to guard. The Kings have a lot of young talent on their roster so it will be interesting to see if Fox can carry them to the playoffs.
12.Clint Capela, Houston Rockets Age:24
The 25th pick in the 2014 draft out of France, Capela has turned himself into a solid two-way player. After struggling to get playing time in his rookie year, playing in just 12 games, Capela has been the third piece in the James Harden-Chris Paul big three. He often racks up double-doubles, getting 17.6 ppg and 11.8 rpg on the season, but his biggest impact comes on the defensive end. Getting 2.1 blocks per game, he ranks seventh in the NBA.
13.Zach Lavine, Chicago Bulls Age:23
The thirteenth pick by the Timberwolves back in 2014, Lavine is finally at full health and having a breakout season for the Bulls. With low expectations for the Bulls coming into the year, Lavine has take advantage of the opportunity for the Bulls to play through him. He’s always been a solid three point shooter, shooting 36.6 3PT% from deep throughout 257 career games. As I wrote in a blog two weeks ago, Lavine and Fox are the two front runners in the early season for the MIP race and it will be exciting to see how their seasons play out.
14.Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns Age:20
The first overall pick in this year’s draft, Deandre Ayton has been solid so far in his rookie year for the otherwise abysmal Phoenix Suns. Having started 27 out 28 games this season, Ayton is putting up 15.8 ppg,and 10.2 rpg, on 59.8 FG% from the field. To put into terms just how bad the Suns have been so far, they have a net rating of -9.9 per 100 possession with Ayton on the court (which seems bad), but that doesn’t even compare to the atrocious -17.8 net rating with him off the court. However, the play of Ayton and Mikal Bridges, along with the aforementioned Booker, should give Suns fans something to forward to and guess what, THEY MIGHT BE MOVING TO SEATTLE.
15.Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic Age:23
The fourth pick in the 2014 draft by the Magic, Gordon has been a bright spot for a consistently underwhelming Orlando team over his five year career. After struggling and dealing with injuries in his first two seasons, Gordon has become a solid shooter and defender. Shooting just 27.1% from deep in his rookie year, Gordon has improved on that number and is hitting a career high 38.1% this season. The Magic are competing for a final playoff spot in the East but they will need Gordon to lead them there.
16.Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics Age:22
The third pick in the 2016 draft, Brown broke out last year to help bring the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals in the wake of Hayward and Irving’s injuries. Brown likely would have been higher on this list at the start of the season, but an underwhelming start to this season knocked him down tot 16. His shooter numbers have dipped from 46.5 FG% and 39.5 3PT% to 42.4 FG% and 29.9 3PT% from last season to this year’s, but still, Brown is an explosive driver with all star potential upside. I was thinking that Brown may be a part of a possible trade if the Celtics try to acquire another superstar and a fresh venue for Jaylen may be a good thing for him. Then again, playing alongside a lot of talent in Boston, there isn’t a whole lot of pressure on him and as he showed last year, he can play at a higher level.
17.Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies Age:19
You ever made a prediction that turned out to be stupid? Well in my case, back during the preseason, I was watching the NBA rookies very closely and on opening night of the season I said “Jaren Jackson Jr. will be the biggest draft bust from this rookie class.” Boy does it look like I was wrong. Third pick in this year’s draft, Jackson has been excellent for the Grizzlies, getting 13.1 ppg on 51.0 FG% and his 36 point effort a few weeks back helped beat to Brooklyn. In case you missed it, Jackson got a four point play and then a game tying three in the final 30 seconds of a game to overcome a seven point deficit and bring the game to overtime where the Grizzlies won. Here it was:
18.Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets Age:21
Seventh pick from the 2016 NBA draft, Murray has arguably been the second best player from that class behind Ben Simmons. I have Jaylen Brown ahead of Murray as well. Now in his third season, he is putting up a career high 17.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 4.9 apg to help lead the Nuggets to the top spot atop the west. His best performance came on November 5 when his 48 points on 19 of 30 shooting helped to knock off the Boston Celtics.
19.Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers Age:21
The second overall pick in the 2016 draft, Ingram has improved over the past two seasons after a mediocre rookie year. Ingram’s play has been questioned as to whether or not he actually helps the Lakers, especially offensively. His career offensive box plus/minus is a low -2.6. However, with Lebron on the court most of the time that Ingram is, that should take some of the pressure off him to perform and it will be interesting to see if Ingram can take his game to the next level in the years to come.
20.Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers Age:22
Eleventh pick in the draft out of Texas back in 2015, Myles Turner has been a steal of a pick for the Pacers. Considering Turner has 17.6 win shares so far in his career, he should have been taken much higher, given the players taken 5-10 in that draft (Mario Hezonja, Willie Cauley-Stein, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson, Frank Kaminsky, Justise Winslow, in that order) have just 30.9 career win shares, and only 18.4 if sixth pick, Willie Cauley-Stein isn’t included, Turner should have been drafted much higher. He is a defensive presence, and his 4.8 defensive box plus/minus is third in the NBA behind Mason Plumlee and Antetokounmpo. (You read that right, Mason Plumlee is the NBA leader in that category).
21.Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves Age:23
The first overall pick back in 2014 and one of highest projected players coming into the league in the past few season, Wiggins has been relatively disappointing. After scoring 23.6 ppg in his third season and gettingt people thinking he could one day win an MVP, he is down to just 16.4 ppg to start the year. However, to be fair, Wiggins has gotten better the past few weeks and is up to 20.7 ppg this month. It’s not necessarily that Wiggins is a bust, but more the fact that was he thought of so highly coming into the league and it doesn’t help that Joel Embiid was the third pick in that draft. Wiggins was taken by the Cavaliers and traded that summer for Kevin Love, so it’s interesting to think about how the future of the NBA would have been affected by the Cavs taking the then-injured Embiid first instead of Wiggins.
22.Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls Age:21
Seventh pick by the Bulls, Markkanen, a native of Finland and one year player at Arizona, has played well to start his career. After racking up 15.2 ppg and 7.5 rpg in his rookie season last year, Markkanen has looked good in five games since returning from injury this year with 15.2 ppg and 6.2 rpg. The Bulls look like they might be headed for a few dark seasons, and it will be interesting to see if Markkanen is someone that they build their future around.
23.Caris Levert, Brooklyn Nets Age:24
Someone whom I’ve always really liked, Levert was taken 20th overall by Brooklyn in 2016 and was having a breakout season prior to suffering a brutal dislocated foot injury. Fortunately for him and the Nets, Levert is progressing well and is on pace to return later in the year. Before his injury, he was putting up career highs with 18.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.2 spg, and 47.5 FG% from the field.
24.Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets Age:24
The 19th pick by the Nuggets out of Michigan State back in 2014, Harris has been consistently solid for the Nuggets. Harris can pull up for three and is a really good mid-range shooter, making 57.1% of his shots from 10-16 feet away from the basket this season. After a bad rookie season, Harris has averaged over 12 points per game and shot better than 40% from the field in each of his last four seasons. His best moment in his career so far was a buzzer beater three to drain the Thunder last season.
25.Julius Randle, New Orleans Pelicans Age:24
And finishing off this list is Julius Randle, the fifth year man who was taken seventh overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014. Randle has been very solid for the Pelicans after signing with them over the offseason. After his rookie season ended just 14 minutes in due to a broken leg, Randle is having his best NBA season this year, getting 19.3 ppg, and 9.5 rpg on 55.6 FG%. While he likely won’t ever be a superstar, Randle is a very solid starter to plug into a lineup.
What I noticed from this list is that there is so much talent around a lot to be excited about for the future of the league. Here is a list of additional players I considered and could have put on this ranking:
Lonzo Ball, Marcus Smart, Dario Saric, Jusuf Nurkic, Marvin Bagley III, Dennis Smith Jr., Trae Young, Kyle Kuzma,Terry Rozier, OG Anunoby, D’Angelo Russell, and many more.
I hope you’ve enjoyed!
Comment your thoughts below.