Whether or not we realize it, all great things come to an end. In the NBA, that means the ever-revolving door of great players we have witnessed through the past decade or so. For those that debate on who the next face of the NBA is, they needn’t worry. The NBA is in great hands for at least the next decade.
My list is comprised of the thirty best players under the age of 25. Player accomplishments and potential are taken into account when I created this list.
30. Lauri Markkanen
So far, through his sophomore season, I haven’t been 100 percent convinced at Markkanen making this prestigious list. Had he continued his stellar production from his rookie campaign, Markkanen’s place on this list would be concrete. As of today, the 23-year-old from Finland has posted 16.1 PPG, 7.6 REB, and 43 percent shooting from the field. I look for Markkanen to improve his production once Chicago clears their logjam in the frontcourt and runs more offense through their talented big man.
29. Marvin Bagley III
Bagley makes this list due to his massive potential and skillset. The King’s big man displayed excellent efficiency in his rookie season, scoring 14.9 PPG on 50.4 percent shooting. Bagley also showed an impressive shooting touch from three-point range his rookie year, shooting at a 31% clip from deep. He’s regressed a ton in his 2nd season and hasn’t managed to stay healthy, appearing in only 13 games this season. If Bagley can stay healthy and progress from the numbers he put up his rookie season, he may fill the billing when the Kings took him second in the 2018 draft.
28. Kelly Oubre Jr.
While Oubre doesn’t possess the same potential as Markkanen or Bagley, he has improved quite a bit since entering the league in 2015. In Phoenix, Oubre looks like he may have found a home. The former Jayhawk has posted averages of 17.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game. Oubre has been a consistent starter in Phoenix and is an excellent complement to teammates Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, who make their way onto the list later on.
27. Jonathan Isaac
Issac continues to be somewhat unknown to most NBA fans, especially those not living in Orlando. The 3rd year pro has improved his numbers in every major category since entering the league in 2017. What separates Isaac from the previously mentioned players on the list is his elite defense. As a rookie, Isaac was touted as one of the best defenders of his draft class, as he posted 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. In year three, Isaac has doubled his block averages (2.4) and upped his steals to 1.6 per game.
He possesses the size (6’11”) to deal with bigs and tall wings and the quickness to keep up with smaller guards. I see a ton of defensive accolades in Issac’s future, and he could make me look silly for placing him so low on this list should he improve his offensive arsenal in the future (9.3 career PPG).
26. Myles Turner
Like Markkanen and Bagley, Myles Turner has yet to show his massive potential consistently. Since his rookie season in 2015, the Pacer’s center has recorded nearly 2 blocks per game. His work on the defensive end was noticed by those around the league in 2018 when Turner finished 5th in Defensive Player of the Year voting. Turner has regressed this season across the board but still has excellent potential due to his combination of shot-blocking, three-point shooting, and proven production.
25. Aaron Gordon
Coming into the league, many viewed Gordon as just a high-flyer. Through six seasons, we’ve watched Gordon display more than just jaw-dropping dunks. He’s played heavy minutes for the Magic the past three seasons and has become a reliable scorer and rebounder. Although Gordon hasn’t displayed much improvement in the defensive end, which is somewhat puzzling as he possesses extreme bounce and quickness for his position. Gordon’s place on this list 100% based on his proven production.
24. Mitchell Robinson
The definition of the human pogo stick comes to mind when discussing Mitchell Robinson. Since entering the NBA in 2018, the Knicks’ big man has blocked nearly everything in sight as he holds a 3.6 blocker-per-36 minutes average for his career. Keep in mind Robinson has only managed 21.8 minutes per game so far. I look for Robinson to lead the league in blocks for multiple seasons in the future. Robinson projects as a perennial contender for DPOY if he ups his minute and rebounding averages.
23 Michael Porter Jr.
If this list were based on proven production Porter wouldn’t be here, but again, this list also takes potential into account. In less than 50 games, Porter has displayed a silky shooting stroke, as well as ridiculous 3-level scoring ability. I’m not quite ready to make the Kevin Durant comparisons yet, but Porter has all the offensive tools and size (6’10”) to become a similar version of the former MVP. Porter’s place on this list could improve significantly if he becomes a more focal point in Denver’s offense and receives more playing time.
22. Lonzo Ball
In his two seasons with the Lakers, Lonzo Ball looked more like a bust than a player taken 2nd overall in the draft. In nearly one season in New Orleans, my perception of Ball has flipped upside-down. While still displaying elite vision (7.0 APG), Ball has improved his point production (12.4 PPG) this season while becoming an outstanding three-point shooter (38.3%). Ball still gives coaches fits at the free-throw line- he’s a career 48.4% shooter from the stripe. While some critique his scoring ability, Ball has always shown his defensive prowess, posting 1.5 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in his career.
What separates Ball from other young point guards is his transcendent vision and elite defense. Ball’s ceiling gives him a shot at multiple All-Star appearances in the future as well as numerous appearances on the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.
21. Domantas Sabonis
Sabonis was primarily an afterthought in the trade that sent him and Victor Oladipo from Oklahoma City to Indiana. Sabonis has superseded expectations so far, but the 4-year pro has solidified himself as one of the Pacer’s franchise players. In his 3rd season in Indy, Sabonis recorded 18.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, and 5 APG through sixty-two games. He has quietly become of the game’s best passing big men and has been the driving force to Indiana’s playoff push despite Oladipo’s absence.
Sabonis combines a great blend of force and agility on the offensive end and adept vision for his position to become one of the best young centers in the NBA.
20. Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has been solid through his first few seasons in the NBA, averaging 16.9 PPG and 4.7 rebounds. While these aren’t gaudy numbers, Jackson has enormous potential, given his physical gifts, shooting touch, and defensive ability. He’s currently averaging 2.5 triples per game at a 39 percent clip.
Jackson defines the definition of stretch 5 and modern-day NBA big. He’s also been quite the defender posting 1.5 blocks per game, which is astonishing since he plays the four position. Alongside Ja Morant, Jackson has become a tremendous pick-and-roll option as the two projects to be one of the top duos in the league in future seasons.
19. John Collins
The Hawks aren’t completely Trae Young, and a ton of credit should go Collins’ way during Atlanta’s rebuild. In his brief career, Collins has become a consistent 20-point, 10-rebound, night-type player. He’s even extended his shooting range this season, shooting the three at 40 percent. On defense, Collins has shown good instincts, posting 1.1 blocks a game for his career. Although Collins lacks a variety to his offensive arsenal, he’s still a consistent producer on that end to make this ranking on my list.
18. Jamal Murray
Murray is one of the few max-money players on this list and would’ve ranked higher if his consistency improved. Murray was advertised as a shot-creating, scoring guard, and he’s fit that bill through 4 seasons in the NBA. He’s shown flashes of his vast potential and has looked unstoppable on offense on a couple of occasions so far. The Nuggets’ point guard has been on the cusp of averaging 20 points the past two seasons, and I expect him to meet that average shortly.
For now, Murray is an excellent fit in Denver’s offensive system, and he should improve his scoring and assist numbers very soon.
17. Deandre Ayton
If not for the greatness of Trae Young and Luka Doncic, Ayton figures to be the next best player from the 2018 draft class. The Suns’ center has already piled a nightly average of 17 and 10 while improving his defense each year. He’s still a traditional big man but has all the necessary tools to extend his range in the future. On defense, Ayton needs to be a bit more engaged, but the increase in blocks looks promising for his future. Ayton could reach a top 10 ranking at Center in the next couple of seasons if he bumps up his scoring and rebounding totals. He’s a cornerstone the Suns can build around and should continue to get better at a rapid pace.
16. D’Angelo Russell
Russell broke out in his third season in the NBA, averaging 21.1 PPG, and 7 assists while shooting 36.9 percent from deep. Now on his third team in as many years, the 6-year guard has proven to be a consistent 20-point, 6-assist player on a nightly basis. Russell has good size for a point guard, listed at 6’4”, and could develop his game even more in Minnesota. A natural-born scorer, Russell has also displayed terrific vision and is one of only six players who have averaged at least 21 points and 6 assists per game the last two seasons.
Despite his porous defense, Russell is a magician on the offensive end and could develop into a top-10 point guard in the league.
15. Kristaps Porzingis
Coming off a severe knee injury in 2017, Porzingis missed all of the 2018-19 season. In about 50 games this year, the Mavericks center has posted 19.2 PPG, 9.5 REB, and 2.1 BLK per game. Due to his time off, many may have forgotten how good the Unicorn is, and when he’s been able to stay healthy, Porzingis has produced at an All-Star level. He’s still only 24 years old, and Porzingis should be able to become a top-3 center in the league if he stays healthy. Alongside Luke Doncic, Porzingis has formed one of the best young duos in the NBA and gives Dallas another piece to build its franchise around.
14. Bam Adebayo
Adebayo cracks the top 15 on this list more on potential than on proven production. The 3rd year player out of Kentucky broke out this season and made his first All-Star appearance. Adebayo is also one of the league’s best passing big men, averaging a career-best 5.1 assists this season. What really makes Adebayo unique is his versatility on defense, where he uses a combination of strength and quickness to guard all five positions. The Kentucky product deserves a ton of credit for Miami’s turnaround, and Adebayo should receive some vote for Most Improved and Defensive Player this season.
13. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
There’s nothing too flashy about Gilgeous-Alexander, but he’s been extremely valuable and productive in just about every facet of his game. In only two short seasons, Gilgeous-Alexander has looked like one of the steals of the 2018 draft. His game has flourished in Oklahoma City, where he is averaging 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Alongside Chris Paul, the duo has become one of the NBA’s best two-way backcourts. As Paul regresses with age, I look for SGA’s game to grow, especially in the assist department.
Again, Gilgeous-Alexander hasn’t posted eye-popping numbers, but the two teams he’s been on have overachieved with the 21-year old playing a huge role in each.
12. Jaylen Brown
While Brown regressed in his third year, partly because of the addition of Kyrie Irving, he’s taken a huge step this season. Brown has posted career highs across the board and has become one of the game’s best young guards/forwards. An All-Star selection this year would’ve been the cherry-on-top for the young Celtic star but fell short. Despite not being selected this year, Brown has all the tools to become a top two-way wing in the NBA.
Brown is an elite two-way wing who should make multiple All-Star appearances if he adds more to his shot-making arsenal.
11. De’Aaron Fox
Coming out of college, many scouts compared Fox to the Wizards’ John Wall. Fox looked similar to the Wall in his second year when he averaged 17.3 points 1.6 steals and a career-best 7.3 assists. This season Fox has been plagued by an ankle injury, only appearing in 45 games so far. When Fox is healthy, he’s one of the fastest and most dynamic players in the game. Since joining the Kings, Fox has helped Sacramento in their hopes to end their league-leading playoff drought.
As Fox continues to get more experience, he should improve his timing and scoring ability.
10. Brandon Ingram
Like D’Angelo Russell, Ingram left the shadow of Los Angeles and posted his best season to date. While we saw flashes of Ingram’s potential last season in LA, Ingram has come into his own in New Orleans. As the Pelicans’ primary scorer, Ingram recorded career-highs in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and three-point percentage. The Pelicans’ commitment to Ingram on the offensive end helped the 22-year-old earn his first All-Star nod. Ingram has formed a very talented trio for New Orleans to build around with Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson.
Ingram’s blend of size and talent on the offensive end leads me to believe that he has all the makings of a star.
9. Devin Booker
Booker has been nothing short of spectacular for the Suns since entering the league in 2015. The only knock on Booker’s game is team success, as Phoenix has lost 280 since Booker’s arrival, tops in the NBA. His numbers the past two seasons are almost identical, as he’s averaging 26.1 PPG and 6.6 APG. Booker has shown improvement in efficiency this season, posting a career-best 48.7% shooting from the field. In the past two seasons, Booker is one of only 17 players to average at least 6 plus assists.
Still just 23 years-old, Booker has displayed elite 3-level scoring as well as above-average playmaking ability. With Booker and Deandre Ayton to build around, the future looks bright in Phoenix.
8. Donovan Mitchell
Including this season, Mitchell is one of three players under 25 to score at least 4,000 points since 2017. The other 2 players- Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns, are also on this list. Of the three, Mitchell is the only one to have made the playoffs three years in a row. Since entering the league as a rookie in 2017, the Jazz shooting guard has been a consistent 20-point scorer and has improved his efficiency every year.
Although Mitchell isn’t a great defender, he has the athleticism and instinct to become elite on that end. Even if he fails to improve much on that end, Mitchell is still an elite 3-level scorer who should help the Jazz contend for years to come.
7. Ja Morant
Ja Morant is special. No one expected Ja to be this good this fast. He’s only the ninth rookie ever to record 17 points and 6 assists and has helped the Grizzlies contend for a playoff spot. Morant is electric in the open floor and has elite vision, even for a rookie. As already one of the 2019 draft’s most athletic players, Morant has shown tremendous finishing ability around the rim and has looked like Memphis’s best player in just his rookie season. Morant is only 20 years old and hasn’t even scratched the surface of his massive potential. In a couple of years, Morant could become the league’s best point guard as he has a ton of room to grow as a defender and shooter.
6. Karl-Anthony Towns
KAT could be higher on this list, but I’m going to knock him a bit for his lack of team success and playoff experience. Since entering the NBA in 2015, Towns has been a nightly 20-point, 10 rebound player, yet he has only made the playoffs once in his career. Towns’ lack of success hasn’t been his fault entirely, as management has yet to give him quality pieces to surround him and improve his game. Towns already shoots the three like an elite guard (39.6% for his career) but he has yet to show improvement on the defensive end.
Even if Towns fails to improve on defense, his offensive arsenal is already elite at his position. The addition of D’Angelo Russell should allow Towns to add to his postseason resume and become one of the NBA’s elite.
5. Trae Young
Trae Young has been spectacular in his two seasons for the Hawks, averaging 23.6 points and 8.6 dimes per game. Simply put, Young is a magician with the ball in his hands and could be the NBA’s top point guard in a couple of years. Although his defense is atrocious, his offense makes him elite for his position. Young just 21 years of age and already looks like the second coming of Stephen Curry. If the Hawks can surround him with a supporting cast that plays to his strengths and masks his weaknesses, Atlanta should become a consistent playoff team for years to come.
4. Ben Simmons
As the number 1 pick in 2016, Ben Simmons has been as good as advertised. Although he still can’t shoot it from distance, Simmons is a generational type of passer for his size (6’10”) and has become one of the top ten defenders in the league (2.1 SPG). So far this season, Simmons is averaging 16.7/7.8/8.2 on 58.5% as a point guard. No other point guard in the league has posted an efficiency from the field quite like Simmons. Even if Simmons fails to improve or even create a jump shot, he’s still an elite playmaker and defender.
3. Zion Williamson
I wanted to put Zion at number 2, but I’ve bumped him down a spot to number 3 since he’s only played 19 games in his career. In his short career, Williamson has looked like the once-in-a-lifetime type of player he was projected as coming out of Duke. He bullied defenders in college with his strength and explosiveness- both have translated to the NBA, and defenders have looked helpless in their attempts to slow down Williamson. His production so far is pretty amazing, considering his room for improvement and injury outlook.
Should Williamson manage to stay healthy and improve his all-around game, his potential is unmatched. He’s a physical freak who could go down as one of the best to play the game.
2. Jayson Tatum
Jayson Tatum first grabbed the attention of NBA fans during the NBA playoffs in 2018 when he took the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals for a team without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. In Tatum’s third season, he’s improved in every statistical category and has taken his place among the NBA’s elite. In the offseason, Tatum tightened his handle and added some strength to his wiry frame and was rewarded with a trip to the All-Star game. This season, Tatum has claimed the throne as the Celtics’ best player and has taken his game to a different level on both ends of the floor. In Kemba Walker’s absence after the All-Star break, Tatum posted 29.9 points on 47.2/46.8/78.3 shooting along with 7.9 rebounds per game.
Luka Doncic has gone from a rookie sensation to MVP-candidate seemingly overnight. He’s currently on pace to become just the third player ever to average 28 points, nine rebounds, and 8 assists. If so, he would join Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson and former MVP Russell Westbrook. Doncic is possibly the best second-year player we’ve ever seen and has the potential to become an all-time great. Despite his insane production, Doncic still has room to improve on defense and three-point shooting. It’s hard to imagine we haven’t seen the best of Doncic yet, but he has all the tools and talent to become the best player in the NBA for many years to come.
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