We are firmly entrenched in the actual non-eventful part of the NBA offseason where almost all player movement during the offseason has already happened, the NBA Draft and summer league are distant memories and the preseason doesn’t start for a month and a half.
What better time is there to peer into the future of the league and rank the top 25 players or assets under the age of 25 heading into 2015.
There are many things taken into consideration for these rankings:
-Scarcity of position
-Trade market value
Here are a few disclaimers and descriptions:
•In order to be included on this list you must still be under the age of 25 as of Oct. 27, 2014, which is when the 2015-16 NBA regular season begins. Plenty of players just missed the cut including John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins
•Rookies who haven’t played an NBA game yet i.e .Karl-Anthony Towns , Jahlil Okafor and DeAngelo Russell are excluded.
•Difference in age is a factor. For instance Victor Oladpo was better than Andrew Wiggins last season but Oladipo is three years older than Wiggins so Wiggins is higher on the list
•Scarcity of position is considered as well. Alex Len makes this list over Terrance Jones even though Jones has been a more productive player in his career thus far because Len brings a more valuable and rare skill set as a mobile 7’1” center with potentially elite rim protecting abilities while Jones is one on a long list of talented power forwards who bring some offensive firepower
•Trade market value is considered as well. Brandon Knight was the better and more productive player for the Bucks last season than Giannis Antetokounmpo but the Bucks were willing to part with Knight at the deadline and you couldn’t touch the Greek Freak in a trade unless it was in a package for a megastar.
With further ado here are the top 25 player in the NBA under the age of 25…
Bradley just barely makes the cut on this list value wise and age wise (he turns 25 a month into the season), who has established himself as a very solid third guard and first player off of the bench who can give a little scoring punch, a dependable three-point shot (he shot 39% and 35% respectively the past two seasons) and more importantly an energy player and long, potentially elite backcourt defender. We will see how he figures into the Celtics plans moving forward with their mass of tweener combo guards.
Len’s production on the court doesn’t quite warrant his inclusion on this list alone as he is a work in progress and has just started to scratch the surface of his potential, but when you consider he is an athletic, fluent 7’1” (albeit an injury prone one) with natural rim protecting instincts and aggression he projects to develop into an elite defender that can maybe give you 14 and 10 one day which is extremely valuable. Learning from Tyson Chandler will do him a world of good, even if it limits his playing time a bit.
The former number two pick is still exactly what he was coming out of Kentucky which is a great hustle and energy player who can be a lockdown defender and penetrate to get to the rim but can’t make a shot outside of 10 feet. He is still a dreadful shooter at this point shooting 46% overall and not even attempting a three-pointer last season but he is still a valuable young asset and a great compliment to an elite wing scorer and an offense can survive with him in the lineup as long as he is surrounded by other scorers.
Thompson had a great showing in the NBA Finals and really stepped his game up with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving being out by becoming more of a scoring threat. Thompson figured to be obscenely overpaid this offseason which still hasn’t happened yet as he is in offseason limbo much like Eric Bledsoe last season (they share the same agent along with LeBron). What we know about Thompson is that he an extremely active and energetic big man who will not be denied on the offense glass and has shown some ability to score with a lefty hook in the post. He can’t shoot and can’t be depended on to create his own offense, but he is a skilled pick and dive player with great energy and the quickness to switch out on guards on pick and rolls which has great value in the current NBA.
Sullinger has made a concerted effort to become a littler leaner and more agile and has proven to be a solid, starting caliber starting forward and give you 13 and 8 in 25-28 minutes. He is physical and a skilled post scorer who has attempted without much success to expand his range to the three point line the past two seasons shooting about three per game but only at a 29% clip. He will always be a limited athlete by NBA standards but he is a solid player who can help a team win and had a positive plus-minus over a league average player at his position at both ends of the floor last season
Barnes handled his promotion to the starting lineup well last season and was an ancillary piece of the Warriors dominant championship team last season. His length and athleticism has allowed the Warriors to place him on power forwards and play small ball and he is one of a myriad of long, quick defenders the Warriors can boast that can switch out on anybody. He still hasn’t developed into the potential all-star caliber player some though he would be and he may never be that, but he is a starting small forward or small ball four in today’s NBA who shoots 40% from downtown and can play and defend multiple positions.
There is no denying Kanter has potential and is capable of 20 and 10 any night with his rebounding and scoring touch around the rim. There is also no denying the fact that Kanter may be the worst low post defender in the league and has shown himself to be a selfish player who is mostly concerned with his touches and his numbers. I don’t think it was worth it for OKC to match Portland’s $70 million offer for Kanter this offseason but time will tell if his post scoring ability will help the Thunder get back to the NBA Finals.
Middleton has made the most of the opportunity he has been given In Milwaukee after being drafted by Detroit and traded after his rookie season. Middleton is a nice, young combo wing player with great length and defensive ability, a dangerous three-point shot and the ability to pull up off of the dribble and create his own shot. He averaged about 16 points per game inn his first playoff series and earned himself a five-year, $70 million contract this offseason. He may be the forgotten building block in Milwaukee with the Greak Freak, Jabari Parker and Michael Carter-Williams in town, but he is a vital one.
LaVine is one of the core pieces and building blocks for the Timber-Pups (they all regret having to deal with the aging, ornery dog that is barking at everybody that walks by and even his own shadow, I’m talking about KG of course), and given plenty of opportunity to play and grow as a rookie, including at point guard in Ricky Rubio’s absence and showed some real potential. He is clearly an elite NBA athlete, with good size and decent playmaking ability and a nice three point stroke at 35% as a rookie. It’s hard to project just how good and what kind of player LaVine will evolve into but his potential appears to be sky high.
Payton progressed rapidly over the course of his rookie season and was a triple double threat some night in the season’s final few months. He is a big point guard at 6’4” that has great vision as a passer, good rebounding instincts and may develop into the best defensive point guard in the NBA. He has the potential to develop into a player somewhere in between Rajon Rondo and Gary Payton which is a scary thought. It all depends on his offensive progression and whether he can develop some shooting touch and scoring ability to compliment his passing and defensive ability. I think he will develop into a top 5-10 point guard.
There is plenty to like about Carter-Williams, he is a matchup nightmare and extremely long and effective defender as a 6’6” point guard, not to mention a stat sheet stuffer. He knows how to use his size advantage to get to the rim and finish and is a very willing passer. He also has plenty of weaknesses though and that is the reason why the 76ers decided to take their franchise in another direction. He is a turnover prone point guard (averaged a turnover less after being traded to Milwaukee though) and a very inefficient scorer with scary shooting splits; 69-39-23 (ew). It will be very intriguing to see how he develops with the rest of the young Bucks in Milwaukee.
Noel unsurprisingly proved to be a springy, stat sheet stuffer with great athleticism and quickness for his size and the potential to be a double-double guy and very mobile rim protector. His offense is still a work in progress but he improved as the year progressed and he finished in the top 10 in steals and blocks. He also finished fourth in the entire league in defensive plus-minus with a 4.5 rating. He is a very valuable asset in today’s NBA and it will be interesting to see how he meshes with Jahlil Okafor.
Valanciunas has steadily improved in each of his three seasons including shooting a very impressive 57% from the filed last season (good for 2nd in the NBA). He is a skilled big man will traditional center size who can score in the post and knock down a 15-17 foot jumper. He may never be an elite rim protector, but a young skilled center who can potential be a 15 and 10 guy is a very valuable asset to have.
A bit of a debate was sparked this offseason amongst league executives whether Tobias Harris was worth the $16 million a year contract he signed with Orlando and there are valid arguments on each side. On one hand, Harris is without question a shoot first, low I.Q. player with very little court vision or interest in sharing the rock. He is also still a minus defender at this point. On the other, he is a 23-year-old hybrid 3 or 4 that can give you 18 and 8 a game, create his own offense, hit a decent amount of threes from the corner, and attack the offensive glass. Time will tell if he is a guy you can build with and if he fits in well with Magic’s young nucleus, but at this point he’s worth taking a chance on.
The Suns decided to commit to Knight as the backcourt mate for Eric Bledsoe this offseason with an identical five-year, $70 million contract after a small sample size in 2014-15. Knight is a talented young combo guard in a league full of them. He is about a 40% three point shooter and by accounts a vocal leader. This contract will look very mild in a couple years so it is worth the investment.
Some may think this is a little high for the “Stifle Tower” (one of the greatest nicknames in the league at the moment) but Gobert flashed his massive potential in 26 minutes per game last season and really flourished after Kanter was dealt and Gobert was able to terrorize opposing offenses and help spear head Utah’s surprising 21-11 finish to the season last year. Gobert is 7’2” with a pterodactyl wingspan and good lateral movement and defensive instincts He averaged 13 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per 36 minutes and was number 2 in the entire league in defensive plus/minus rating last season at +5.2. He is still learning how toplay the game, but Gobert has the potential to be the best rim protector in the NBA and be a 12-12-3 guy for years.
Unfortunately Parker’s rookie season was cut short after only 25 games as he tore his ACL in an early Decmeber game in Phoenix. Parker flashed some of his natural scoring ability to score in different ways in his small sample size averaging 12 points a game on an impressive 49% from the field. His ceiling is still some combination of Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony, which would make him a perennial all-star. He has a long way to go as a defender and his average to below average NBA athleticism will make him have to be more creative to be an offensive star like the aforementioned players. He is going to be the face of the franchise in Milwaukee for years to come.
Beal saw a slight decline in production in 2014-15 after missing the first 20 games recovering from a foot injury and it took him a little while to get his rhythm and energy back. He is the ideal NBA shooting guard at 6’5” with a silky smooth stroke and an ability to catch and shoot or shoot off the dribble and get to the rim and finish through contact with his muscular frame. He is also the perfect backcourt mate to John Wall in my opinion and will continue to develop into a borderline all-star 18-4-4 guy who shoots 40% for three for years to come.
The “Greek Freak” took a massive step forward last season doubling all of his numbers from his rookie campaign. He is has a unique mixture of length, quickness, ball handling ability, feel for the game and work ethic to be a superstar. He has a ways to go developing a three point stroke but he know how to use his incredible length to get to the rim and is a nightmare for opposing offenses with his Stretch Armstrong arms and foot speed. He is still a work in progress at the tender age of 20 but he the sky is the limit for what he can become.
Oladipo hasn’t been quite the shooter from distance that he projected to be coming out of college after a great final season at Indiana, but he is still an incredible athlete and plays with a vengeance and aggressiveness and can do a bit of everything. Include defend multiple perimeter positions. He made a leap forward last season and has the potential to develop into 90% of what Wade was in his prime which would make him a perennial all-star. I look forward to seeing how he will continue to progress his game.
Drummond is an athletic freak and a pure monster on the boards as he has averaged 13 and 13 the past two seasons and averages 16 and 16 per 36 minutes. He was number one in total rebound percentage in 13-14’ and number two last season. He is also continuing to develop into a top notch rim protector as well averaging just a hair under 2 blocks per game and finishing eight in the NBA in defensive win shares last season. His field percentage took an 11% dip last season as he tried to expand his game and shoot more. He is still only 22 and should continue to progress as a player offensively, but it appears he may never be anything more than a finisher at the rim, unable to develop an lethal or reliable post moves and his shooting ability outside of 7-10 feet is atrocious as he shot 39% from the line last season.
Wiggins wasn’t the most efficient player as a rookie shooting 42% from the field and 31% from the three-point line, but he was only 19 years old for much of the season and clearly showed flashes of his otherworldly athleticism, explosiveness and ability to slither in and out of the lane and finish in different ways. He is still a work in progress defensively but has all the tools to be an elite wing defender as well. Wiggins really picked up his play mid-way through his rookie year and became the go to guy for the Timber-Pups, garnering him rookie of the year honors. “Maple Jordan” has all of the tools to become the next superstar wing player in the NBA and could develop into the new generation T-Mac, trading Kevin Love for him may be the best thing Minnesota ever did. It will be fun to see how he and Karl Anthony-Towns develop together.
Leonard amassed quite the resume before the age of 24 including winning NBA Finals MVP and almost playing the best player in the world to a dead heat while doing it and winning the defensive player of the year award. Leonard is without question the bet on ball defender in the NBA at this point with his combination of foot speed, lateral quickness, length, strength, effort and intelligence. Combine that with the fact that he is a good corner three-point shooter, elite rebounder for his position and expanding his offensive abilities each season and you have a budding two-way superstar. It’s not often that the league’s best perimeter defender also has the potential to average 18-20 and 8 per game as well. He has a great work ethic and attitude as well and could mold into the best Scottie Pippen impersonation since his retirement.
Irving a true wizard with a basketball in his hands and may have the best array of crossover moves in the entire NBA. He is also an extremely creative finisher to compensate for his average NBA athleticism and can light up a scoreboard at any time. He was a dangerous 41% shooter from distance last season and with LeBron’s ability to breakdown defenses and use his laser vision Irving will continue to get great looks. He is as good as it gets for a score first point guard and is on the short list of must watch players on league pass on a given night when he has it going. His 56 point performance in San Antonio last season was one for the ages. He should be the perfect sidekick to LeBron James through the rest of LeBron’s prime, and it’s a shame for all NBA fans (outside of Northern California) that he got hurt in game 1 of last year’s NBA Finals. The one area of Irving’s game that could still use real improvement though is his commitment to the defensive end.
Anthony Davis is a cyborg sent from another planet to destroy the NBA. He is a 6’10’ man with extreme quickness, agility, athleticism, energy and desire to dominate. Not to mention a nice touch, good ball handling ability and a silky smooth jump shot that is apparently being stretched out to the three-point line according to Davis. He led the Pelicans to a playoff berth last season and finished with a 30.2 player efficiency rating last season which is one of the 10 best season of all time. He finished in the top 5 in win shares, blocks, plus/minus, turnover percentage and MVP voting and made 1st team All NBA. He may be the MVP favorite coming into this season and has the potential to have multiple rings and MVP awards in his career and it appears as though he may be the next heir to the throne as the best player in the world.