As we gear up for another fun NBA regular season it is interesting to look at the talent in the league and see where the NBA could be in a few years. With guys like Kobe, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett now retired, the NBA is beginning to look a lot different, and a lot younger.
The “young guns” of years past are now becoming the grizzled veterans. Guys like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade have become what they call “old heads.” It seems like it’s been forever since that 2003 draft when these big three were the young studs of the Association. The NBA is no doubt in a transitional phase right now, shifting from the great late 90s/early 2000s players to the new millennial kids. Players like Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kawhi Leonard are primed to take over the league in the coming seasons.
As the NBA always has done, they will help shape the next NBA superstar, it will be interesting to see who they chose to take the thrown and how they will guide that player to stardom. With this in mind, we will now take a look at the future of our favorite game as we delve into the 20 best NBA players under the age of 25.
20. D’Angelo Russell
Russell was drafted second overall by the Lakers in 2015. At only 20 years old the future is uncertain, but Russell has shown flashes of greatness already in his young career. Russell is one of the new breed of point guards, who has a keen understanding of how to run an offense and facilitating the ball to his teammates, yet he also has the ability to score if needed.
Last season as a rookie, Russell started slow, but as the season progressed so did his production. By the end of the season it appeared he was ready to take the reigns and lead the Lakers to some pretty impressive heights. As a reward for his sparkling rookie season, D’Angelo was invited to be part of the Team USA Practice Squad, a spot that likely indicates he could be part of the always great Team USA Men’s Basketball Team.
19. Julius Randle
From one Laker to another, it is apparent that the Lakers have a bright future. Julius Randle technically participated in his second NBA season last year, but for all intents and purposes it was actually his rookie season. Randle missed his entire rookie season after suffering an injury in the first game of the 2014-15 season.
Last season Randle was one of the go to players for the Lakers, as we all remember, it was Kobe’s season, but Randle was given chances to display what made him the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft. After only 82 games (one full NBA season) Randle has had some extremely impressive games. Last season he became the youngest Laker player since Magic Johnson to post a triple double. He also set a career high in rebounds against DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers last season. Not bad for a 21-year-old kid.
18. Devin Booker
If LeBron James was making this list, Booker would probably be much higher. When asked what young player in the league he really likes LeBron said, “You know, what? I’m going to be honest. If it’s someone who is under the radar right now that I believe is going to be a really, really, really good, all-star player in the league – it’s Devin Booker from the Phoenix Suns.” With praise like that from the King we should all keep an eye on Booker.
During his rookie season last year, Booker made some history. He became the first teenager since LeBron James to score 30+ points in back to back games. He finished his rookie campaign averaging 13.8 points per game. During the offseason the Suns lost starting shooting guard Brandon Knight, but they have already named Devin as the starting shooting guard this season.
17. Steven Adams
At only 23 years old, it seems like Steven Adams has been around forever, yet he has only been in the league for three seasons. During the NBA Playoffs last season, Adams had somewhat of a coming out party. During the 18 games that he played in during the Thunder’s playoff run, Adams nearly averaged a double double with 10.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
With the lose of Kevin Durant to the Warriors, an opportunity has arisen for Adams to become a major part of the Thunder’s offensive attack. He along with Russell Westbrook (who missed this list by two years) will be the leaders of a young and very inspired Thunder basketball team. Look for big things out of the young Aussie this coming season.
16. Jabari Parker
In his rookie season two years ago, Parker started extremely well for the Bucks. After being selected second overall in 2014 Parker quickly established his place among the elite young players. Within the first two months of his career Parker managed to become the starting small forward for his team, a position he held until being sidelined by injury. He also posted double doubles and had over twenty points on multiple occasions.
After 25 games into his rookie season, Parker suffered a season-ending injury by tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) against the Phoenix Suns. That was the end of a very promising rookie season for Jabari. The injury extended into the beginning of last season, and Parker was unable to begin the season with his team. However, he did return for 76 of the Bucks 82 games last season. In his best performance of the season last year, Parker put up thirty-six points against Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets.
15. Derrick Favors
The 6’10” power forward/center has been in the NBA since 2010, yet he is still only twenty-five years old. Entering the league as a 19-year-old high school and college sensation, Favors was expected to do big things in the NBA. He has yet to set the league on fire the way many thought he would, but he has progressed and had his moments of greatness already.
In 2010 Favors was selected by the Nets with the third overall selection. After one season with the Nets, Favors was shipped to Utah. The Jazz really like what they have in Favors, as he is a versatile big man with an incredible post game. In 2015 Favors had a game in which he scored 25 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and swatted 7 shots, that is not something you see very often. The ability to do everything from the center position is the reason the Jazz signed Favors to a lucrative four-year extension in 2013.
14. C.J. McCollum
C.J. and Damian Lillard (who was months shy of being eligible for this list) make up one of the best back courts in the NBA right now. McCollum helped lead the Trail Blazers to the Western Conference Semi-Finals last season, which included an unexpected series win against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Last year, in his third season, C.J. started in every game he played for the Blazers. During the season McCollum took his game to new heights seemingly overnight. He went from averaging 6.8 points per game in 2015, to 20.8 last season. He also more than quadrupled his assist per game total. There is no telling how far C.J. can take his game, but it is clear that he and Dame Lillard are primed to take Portland to great heights.
13. Kristaps Porzingis
Knicks fans booed when the Phil Jackson drafted Kristaps with the fourth overall pick in the 2015, but he vowed to change the minds of those Knicks fans. During his rookie season he certainly did turn some heads, and changed some opinions.
During his stand-out rookie season, Porzingis drew many great comparisons, but none greater than the one he received from future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki. Many people had been saying Kristaps is a future Dirk, and when the Knicks played the Mavs, Dirk was asked about the comparison and he said, “He’s probably way ahead of the curve compared to when I was 20,” Nowitzki said. “I was scared to death out there competing against some of my heroes that first year. He’s way better than I was at 20. The comparison is probably unfair to him.” Whether he turns into the next Dirk or not, it is clear that his skill set has him primed to be a major star in the league for years to come.
12. Bradley Beal
The Washington Wizards had a plan. They wanted to put together the best back court in the NBA and build through it. So far the plan has not worked out exactly how they wanted, but they do have one of the best back courts in the NBA. With John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards are set in the back court for a decade plus.
When Beal entered the NBA after just one season with the Florida Gators it was widely known that he was a sniper from the three point line. What didn’t become common knowledge until later was defensive prowess. Beal is often given the task of guarding the opposing team’s best offensive player, and he usually holds his own. Beal has, however, had to deal with a few injury problems in his young career, but when healthy there are few players in his age bracket who can compare with his level of production.
11. Tristan Thompson
The newly minted NBA champion, and one of the most underrated big men in the game today ranks in at number 11 on our list. Thompson has become the new era Dennis Rodman with his uncanny knack for finding ways to capture offensive and defensive rebounds.
Thompson’s hustle and motor have endeared him to all of his teammates, especially Lebron James. During the 2015 offseason, Lebron was one of the major spokes people for Thompson during his free agency. James made it clear that he wanted Tristan on the Cavs team and he wanted Thompson to get paid. Well, it worked, Thompson was paid, and he was a member of the Cavs for the 2015-16 season. It all worked out in the end for all parties involved when Thompson helped lead the charge last year as the Cavaliers won the NBA championship.
10. Ben Simmons
Having never played an actual NBA game, it is kind of tough to put Simmons on this list, but when you see him play it is impossible to knock his talents. Many people, including current players, have compared Simmons’ game to that of LeBron James. If he turns out to be half as good as LeBron, the Philadelphia 76ers will be ecstatic.
The Sixers used the number one overall pick on Simmons this past summer. He was expected to help lead a young group of talented kids in a rebuilding situation. The Sixers have been a dumpster fire of an organization pretty much since Allen Iverson left the first time, and Simmons is the savior. Sadly, for Simmons, and the Sixers, Ben suffered a foot injury during the pre-season which will force him to miss at least the first couple of month of the season. If he is able to return to full health by the new year, he would still have a chance to live up to some of the rookie year expectations that were set upon him, including the Rookie of the Year Award.
9. Harrison Barnes
Barnes was a great role player for the dynastic Golden State Warriors over the past few seasons, and he is now set to lead his own team in Dallas. It appears the Mavericks have seen enough out of Harrison to set the fate of their franchise on his lap and ride it out with him, Dirk and a few other complimentary pieces.
Barnes was the number one ranked player in high school during his senior season, and many scouts thought he could have easily made the jump to the NBA if that was still an option. Instead he spent two years at North Carolina before being drafted seventh overall by the Golden State Warriors in 2012. Since then, Barnes has been a great piece to the Warriors historic successes. His ability to stretch the floor, rebound, and play great defense have set him up for stardom. During the offseason he signed a $94 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks, so this could be the beginning of truly great things for Mr. Barnes.
8. Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins is positioned to have an incredible season this year, as both an individual and his team as a whole. The Timberwolves are probably the brightest young team in the NBA. They not only have budding star Wiggins, but they have reigning Rookie of the Year, Karl Anthony-Towns, and star point guard Ricky Rubio. To make things even better for the Wolves, they hired Tom Thibodeau as their new coach.
As the Wolves look to find their way this season, a lot of it will hinge on the progression of Andrew. After averaging over 17 points in his rookie season, Wiggins one-upped himself by averaging nearly 21 points in his second NBA season. If he is able to get that average up to the mid-20s, and his teammates improve as well, the Timberwolves could be title contenders sooner than later.
7. Andre Drummond
The days of the dominant center controlling the paint on offense and defense have seemingly gone by the wayside. But, Andre Drummond seems to be determined to not let the old school center die. At only 23 years old, Drummond still has some muscle to put on his frame, but he has no problem owning the middle already.
The Pistons are a team on the rise, with coach Stan Van Gundy at the helm it appears he is attempting recreate what he had in Orlando with Dwight Howard. He is building his team with great three-point shooters, who can surround the monster in the middle while he grabs rebound after rebound.
Drummond has brought back the 20-20 game, many people have forgotten about the incredible 20-20 stat line, but Andre has had four games of 20 points, and 20 rebounds over the past two season, the most in the NBA.
6. Ricky Rubio
Rubio barely made the cut for this list, he will be turning 26 right as the season kicks off, but for now, he is still eligible.
Rubio is one of the greatest passers in the NBA today, and his flashy passes are something that routinely gets him into highlight packages. Now that he is teamed with players of similar caliber look for Rubio to potentially lead the NBA in assists this season. As the Timberwolves enter the 2016-17 season, they are many peoples’ dark horse to have a deep run in the playoffs.
Ricky has been playing professional basketball since 2006 when he as named the FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship MVP. Now at 25 years old, he is finally finding his way through the NBA. Hopefully everyone is excited to see what kind of dimes he will be throwing to Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns this season.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo
The hardest name to say in the NBA, is also on his way to being the hardest player to guard in the NBA. “The Greek Freak” is a walking triple double, and combined with Jabari Parker he has the Milwaukee Bucks primed for a deep playoff run this season.
Last season Giannis had five triple doubles, including four in an 11 game stretch. At only 21 years old, Antetokounmpo has an enormous amount of untapped potential. He will be expected to do a lot for Milwaukee this season, especially since they gave him a 4-year $100 million extension this offseason. The expectations are high for Giannis, but little doubt remains regarding his ability to dominate at the NBA level. Coach Jason Kidd is the perfect mentor for Giannis, as Kidd was able to impact the game in so many different ways, just as Giannis can.
4. Karl Anthony-Towns
As a 20-year-old rookie, Karl came out last season and dominated the NBA like a grown man. Averaging 18 points, and 10 rebounds as a rookie is pretty impressive stuff, but KAT has bigger plans for himself and his team.
As he and his teammates grow and gel together, Towns believes the sky is the limit for his squad, and frankly he may be right. The Wolves have acquired Tom Thibodeau to be the team president as well as the head coach. On top of his emergence as one of the top centers in the league, Andrew Wiggins has established himself as a top small forward in the game.
Towns looks to build off of his sensational rookie season, and he will likely be able to do so. Rumors have surfaced that Karl spend a lot of time this offseason working on his post scoring and mid-range game. If he is able to become a reliable mid range scorer, he has the chance to become a once in a generation type of talent.
3. Kyrie Irving
After the NBA Finals, Kyrie has been inserted into the “best point guard in the game” conversation. It was no secret that Kyrie had incredible ball handling skills, and a great ability to finish around the rim. But, what was discovered during last seasons playoffs was that Kyrie also has the clutch gene.
We all know that LeBron was the NBA Finals MVP last season, and well deserved, but the shot that won the Cavs the title came from Kyrie’s hands. He has now proven that he can outshine the best point guards in the league and his confidence should be sky high. With a championship ring in hand and at only twenty-four years old, Kyrie could easily transform into the best point guard in the NBA by seasons end. The fact that LeBron James is now 31 years old leads many to believe that the Cavs will become Kyrie’s team in the coming years, and that could be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
2. Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis burst onto the NBA as a rookie in 2012. In his first NBA game he was pitted against Tim Ducan and the San Antonio Spurs. Great place to start right? Well, Davis went out and led his team in scoring with 21 points.
Through four years Davis has already established himself among the NBA’s elite. Going into last season, as a three year player, Davis was the odds on favorite to win MVP. That, unfortunately, didn’t happen, but simply suggesting it was a feat within itself. Davis has accomplished so much in his first four years, and he is still only 23 years old. As the Pelicans look to regain their 2014 form as a playoff team, they look to AD to lead them there. Look for Davis to have another incredible season this year now that expectations have subsided a bit.
1. Kawhi Leonard
At only 25 years old, Kawhi has pretty much done it all. He has led a team to an NBA championship, won the NBA Finals MVP, (shutting down Lebron James in the process) and been a back to back NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
This season will be a new type of challenge for Kawhi. With the departure of all-time great, Tim Ducan, the team will officially become Kawhi’s team. He will be looked at as the leader, and the guy they go to in times of need. His defense is obviously at an elite level and probably the best in the game today. It is his offense, however, that has got people talking this offseason. He has reportedly been working on his three-point shooting, as well as his post game. If Kawhi Leonard becomes an elite lever scorer he will become an immediate MVP candidate, and the Spurs will keep on rolling as a championship contender.
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