When it comes to sports, we are certainly worried about what is happening right now in front of us, but there is always a part of us that is looking to the future. Just watch an episode of SportsCenter after a championship game. As soon as the postgame show wraps up, they are always talking about who the odds on favorites are from Las Vegas to win the next year’s championship.
Then, you have the beloved mock drafts. We read them, we can’t get enough of them and we always want more. If you want to look up the 2019 NFL mock draft, I’m certain that there are plenty of them available where you can fill your time. As for the NBA, it can be pretty hard to predict which players will be going to which teams since there is a lottery, but you can usually guess who the best players are going to be.
We want to take a look into the future; to see who the best NBA players will be when the 2020-21 season rolls around. It’s usually not as hard as you think because NBA players typically follow a certain criteria. Most of them peak between the ages of 25-28, start to decline at age 30 and then take a huge dip in production after they turn 32.
Just look at the best players in the league right now. Stephen Curry is 28 years old, LeBron James is 31, Kawhi Leonard is reaching his peak window now at 24 years old and the duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are both 27 years old. Using that knowledge, we are going to predict who the 20 best NBA players are when we reach the 2020-21 season. Some of your favorite players on the list might even be playing for an expansion team like Las Vegas or Seattle. With a performance for the ages, we will now take a look at whose next in line following the Kings reign on top.
20 Evan Fournier
Our list starts with a player that now has four seasons under his belt, Evan Fournier, who just narrowly beats out teammate Victor Oladipo. Fournier didn’t get much starting time in his first two years in the league with Denver, but found much more of it in the past two years with Orlando. Fournier has increased his scoring in each of his first four seasons in the league and is now up to 15.4 points per game.
Fournier also averaged 2.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists last season. The good news is that Fournier has yet to hit his prime and he will be turning just 28 years old the week that the 2020-21 NBA season starts. Even better news for the player is that he is a free agent this offseason, and will have the chance to play for a team that fits his playing style. Rudy Gobert is already trying to recruit Fournier to come to the Utah Jazz, tweeting out simply “Come to Utah” back in May. It would be a good fit for the two Frenchmen to play together.
19 James Harden
It’s hard to believe that James Harden has already wrapped up his seventh season in the NBA and his fourth with the Houston Rockets. Harden has seemingly gotten better each year and the 2015-16 season saw him reach a career high in points per game (29.0), rebounds (6.1) and assists (7.5.) The Arizona State product hasn’t always been the best shooter with a career field goal percentage of .443, but there is no doubt that he is one of the best scorers in the league and knows how to get to the free throw line.
Harden will be 31 years old when the 2020-21 season tips off, but considering that he is one of the best players in the league right now, his drop off probably won’t happen as soon as some of the other players in his age range. Harden is set to become a free agent after the 2017-18 season, which couldn’t come at a better time for him. Not only will he be 28 years old, but he should get one of the biggest contracts in NBA history for being in his prime and will get to sign wherever matches his game the best.
18 Ben Simmons
The Philadelphia 76ers were excited to win the NBA Draft Lottery this year as they will have their pick between standout college freshmen Ben Simmons of LSU and Brandon Ingram of Duke. Of the two, Ben Simmons is projected to be a better fit in the NBA by most scouts and just about every mock draft that you will find has him going first overall to the 76ers. Admittedly, Simmons will have to struggle in his first couple of seasons in the NBA, but should be hitting his stride right around the 2020-21 season when he will be 24 years old.
In his only season at LSU, Simmons had to carry the Tigers to a winning record, but the team was still a disappointment and they opted not to play in any postseason tournament after being left out of the NCAA Tournament. Still, Simmons was able to score an average of 19.2 points per game with 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists to go along with it. Philadelphia might be a good fit for Simmons, who has already proved he can play with almost no supporting cast (although the 76ers should be much improved by 2020).
17 Kevin Durant
While the 2016 NBA Finals has grabbed headlines for the past couple of weeks, the biggest story of the offseason is where Kevin Durant will land now that he is a free agent. Durant has been around for a long time now after being drafted out of Texas. So long, in fact, that he played for the Seattle SuperSonics for a year before the team moved to Oklahoma City. Since then, Durant has been one of the best players in the league and has an MVP title to his name.
Durant had another great season in 2015-16, averaging 28.2 points per game with 8.2 rebounds (a career high) and 5.0 assists. Durant is set to get a massive contract this offseason no matter where he goes and it will likely be a team that has a lot of pieces around him that are set to contend right away. The only problem with Durant when 2020-21 comes calling is the fact that he will be 32 years old, which is when players usually start to decline quickly. With such a cushion over most of the league, Durant should still be a top 20 player when that time comes.
16 Russell Westbrook
The other player that has been part of the Thunder’s success for the past several years is point guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook joined the team the year after Durant out of UCLA and was an immediate impact player. Now, Westbrook is undoubtedly one of the best players in the league. 2015-16 was perhaps the best season for Westbrook despite a drop in scoring, but he still averaged 23.5 points per game to go along with 7.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists, and he was no stranger to triple-doubles.
Since Westbrook is an all-around guard that doesn’t rely on one trick, there is no doubt that he will be able to stay at the top of his game for several years. Like Durant, Westbrook will be 32 years old at the start of the 2020-21 season. Westbrook has one more year on his contract with the Thunder, so he might be taking the free agent path next offseason like his teammate is this offseason. As long as he stays healthy, Westbrook will still be one of the best players in the league, but it might be one of his last in 2020-21 among the elite.
15 Damian Lillard
We didn’t include too many guys on the list that will be 30 years old or higher, but Damian Lillard feels like the only one among them that still hasn’t hit his peak. Lillard will be 30 years old at the start of the 2020-21 season, which is a bit surprising. Lillard is what we would refer to as a “young 30” since he played his college ball at Weber State and only has four seasons in the NBA, meaning that his mileage isn’t high. Lillard has also been very durable in his career, missing just seven starts in his four seasons and they all came in the 2015-16 season.
Since coming to the league in 2012 as the sixth overall pick by Portland, Lillard has improved his scoring each season. Lillard has the best year of his career this year with an average of 25.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. By the time we reach 2020-21, Lillard might be a 30+ point per game scorer while still averaging good assist and rebound numbers. Lillard is a restricted free agent coming off of the 2015-16 season and there is no doubt that Portland will give him the money he wants while still trying to bring in some big name free agents (Kevin Durant, maybe?).
14 John Wall
Not many players can say that they averaged a double-double with 4.6 rebounds per game to go along with it and still improved the next year, but that’s what John Wall did in the 2015-16 season. Wall had the best year of his career with 19.9 points, 10.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. Wall does have some mileage to him, and has had some injury issues in the past, but in the past three seasons he has missed just eight games. Wall has already been to the All-Star Game three times, and isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
He will be 30 years old when the 2020-21 season starts, so he might start to see a decline when that time comes, but it won’t be dramatic yet. Wall looks to be one of the top 10 players in the league over the next couple of seasons at just 25 years old right now. Some consider teammate Bradley Beal to be another candidate to be in the top 20, but he just missed the cut for our list. Wall will be a free agent after the 2018-19 season, but it’s likely that Washington will give him a huge extension long before then.
13 Jahlil Okafor
After being a dominant offensive force under the basket at Duke in his one season there, Jahlil Okafor got thrown into a tough situation right away in his pro career by being drafted third overall in 2015 by the Philadelphia 76ers. With almost no supporting cast around him and some injury troubles, Okafor was still able to have a solid rookie campaign. Okafor averaged 17.5 points per game with 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. Those numbers will only continue to grow over the next several seasons as he gets more adjusted to the NBA and gets some better players surrounding him.
The good news for Okafor is that he might not even be hitting his prime yet when 2020-21 starts, which is a testament to how young he is. He will only be 24 years old at the start of that season, so you might not even see Okafor at his best until the 2023-24 season. The sky is the limit for Okafor right now, who figures to be a free agent after the 2018-19 season unless things turn around in Philadelphia quickly. I mean, it really can’t get any worse for them, can it?
12 Stephen Curry
There’s not much about Stephen Curry that you can say that hasn’t already been said. He was figured to be a decent prospect out of Davidson back in 2009, but he has continued to improve each season and in 2015-16 became the first unanimous MVP in the NBA. Curry took a few years to develop as a star and has now hit his stride at the age of 28. This season, Curry scored 30.1 points per game and averaged 5.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists. While that type of scoring might not be sustainable for several years, he is so far ahead of most other players at his position that even coming down a bit will keep him in the top five.
Curry is the oldest player on our list, as he will be 32 years old by the time the 2020-21 season starts. We were trying to think of a point guard that is similar to Curry that he could be compared to for his age 32 season, but is there really any guard like Curry that you have seen in the league before? We have confidence that even when he is at the age where he is supposed to decline, Curry will still be drilling shots from the parking lot.
11 Jabari Parker
There is certainly something good brewing for the Milwaukee Bucks as they have two players in the top 11 of this list, starting with Jabari Parker. Parker was the second overall pick by the Bucks out of Duke in the 2014 NBA Draft and had a rough rookie season thanks to injuries, playing in just 25 games. Parker showed a lot more potential in his sophomore campaign, thankfully, playing in 76 games. While his numbers weren’t the greatest (14.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists per game), there was still a lot of promise that he could be a star in the league.
It’s hard to be tough on Parker as he was only 20 years old for much of the 2015-16 season, so there is still plenty of time to reach his potential. As we said earlier, right around the age 25 season is when NBA players start to peak and that’s how old Parker will be for the 2020-21 season. Once Parker gets to shoot some more jumpers, his scoring will take a big leap, and that should get him into a few All-Star Games before it’s all said and done.
10 Kristaps Porzingis
Do you remember when the fourth pick of the 2015 NBA Draft came around last summer and the New York Knicks fans booed pretty loudly when it was announced that their team was taking Kristaps Porzingis out of Latvia. When the regular season started up, those boos turned to cheers pretty quickly when they saw what Porzingis was capable of. The result of his strong rookie campaign landed him a spot on the All-Rookie First Team thanks to 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
Those numbers will certainly increase over the next few seasons for Porzingis, especially as he grows into more of an NBA body. As for his vertical growth, he is 7’3”, making him one of the most imposing threats in the entire league. Porzingis will be just 25 years old when the 2020-21 season comes calling, meaning that he should be hitting his prime as a professional player. Once Carmelo Anthony is gone from New York, you have to imagine that Porzingis will be the star player for the Knicks, and they won’t be letting him get away, especially if he becomes a 21 point and 12 rebound per game player.
9 Paul George
Paul George was a bit of a prospect pick back in 2010 when he was selected 10th overall by the Pacers out of Fresno State. It wasn’t until the 2012-13 season that he started to average more than 30 minutes per game. Just as he was becoming a star in the NBA, George suffered a broken leg in a USA Basketball scrimmage in Las Vegas and people were worried about his future. George responded with a full season in 2015-16 missing just one game while averaging 23.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.
For the 2020-21 season, George will be 30 years old, but he won’t have as much wear and tear as some of his other fellow 30 year olds on the list. George has played in 373 games in his career, which is a lot less than comparable players. Now that he is entering his prime, he figures to be a guy that can average nearly a double-double per game and should easily be one of the game’s best players for the next five years. Outside of the freak injury, he has been pretty durable, too, which is always a good sign of a long career.
8 DeMarcus Cousins
If you play fantasy basketball (and we know a lot of you do), then you know how big of an impact that DeMarcus Cousins had in 2015-16. Cousins, for his first three seasons, was playing just about 30 minutes per game and scoring about 17 points on average. In the past three seasons, though, Cousins has been averaging 33 minutes per game while scoring 25. In the 2015-16 season, Cousins had his best campaign yet, posting 26.9 points per game with 11.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 3.3 assists.
How long will he be a member of the Sacramento Kings remains to be seen, but it doesn’t seem like he wants to be there all that much. Cousins is set to become a free agent after the 2017-18 season, so you can probably expect him to be in a different uniform. As for his production, it won’t take much of a drop by the time 2020-21 starts, as he will be just 30 years old. The best years for Cousins are still ahead of him and he might even become an MVP candidate in the next couple of years as long as the Kings start to improve dramatically. He just needs some more pieces around him.
7 Andre Drummond
You might not hear all that much about Andre Drummond, but that’s because he plays with the Detroit Pistons and not many people around the country are tuning in to see them play. In 2012, the Pistons front office made a great decision by drafting Drummond ninth overall out of Connecticut. Drummond started off a bit slow, playing just 20 minutes per game and averaging 7.9 points. Since then, he has been scoring and rebounding like a true star, as he averaged 16.2 points with 14.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in the 2015-16 season.
Those rebound numbers are absurd and it’s hard to believe that he has not even begun to peak as a professional player. There is a chance that Drummond could become a guy that averages more than 20 points per game while still hauling in 16 to 18 rebounds. The future is exciting for Drummond and the Pistons, who will be doing their best to keep him around for years to come. As for his age, he was just 22 years old for this season and will only be 28 years old for the 2020-21 season. That means that we will be seeing Andre at his peak right around then and that’s a scary thought.
6 Kyrie Irving
You can probably guess that LeBron James and Kevin Love won’t be members of the Cleveland Cavaliers by 2020-21, but the team will be eager to hold onto their best young player, Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers drafted Irving with the first overall pick out of Duke in 2011, and they got instant production out of him when he scored 18.5 points per game with 5.4 assists in his rookie season. Now, Irving is among the best point guards in the league and is coming off of a season where he averaged 19.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
Once the other two pieces of the big three in Cleveland depart at some point, you can expect those numbers to continue to rise for Irving. We have already seen that he is capable of scoring 22.5 points per game when riding solo, while still averaging six assists per game (and that was when he was just 20 years old). In the 2020-21 season, Irving will be in the peak of his career at 28 years old, and should be one of the best and most recognizable players in the game.
5 Giannis Antetokounmpo
For the casual basketball fan, perhaps nobody has flown under the radar more to become a star in the past couple of seasons quite like Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo was drafted with the 15th overall pick in 2013 by the Milwaukee Bucks and now appears to be the biggest future franchise piece on the team even though they already have Jabari Parker. Antetokounmpo didn’t have much of an impact in his rookie season, but really had his huge breakout in 2015-16 with a position change to point guard.
The result of the change was a season where Antetokounmpo posted 16.9 points per game with 7.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists (and even 1.4 blocks). “The Greek Freak,” as he is known to some, has a sky high ceiling right now as one of the most versatile players in the league. The best part for Milwaukee is that he is achieving all of this right now at the age of just 21. When the 2020-21 season starts, Antetokounmpo will be just 25 years old and hitting his peak as a player. The future is bright for Milwaukee right now as long as they can keep their young stars.
4 Anthony Davis
One of the most popular arguments that NBA fans and analysts like to have is “Who would you take first overall in a fantasy draft between all NBA franchises with every player available?” For a little while there, the most popular answer was Anthony Davis, the first overall pick out of Kentucky in 2012 by the New Orleans Pelicans. Davis had a strong rookie campaign with 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, and has only gotten better. In each of his past three seasons, Davis has averaged a double-double and was scoring 24.3 points per game with 10.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks before an injury caused the Pelicans to shut him down.
Davis figures to be back at 100 percent for New Orleans when next season starts and they better hope so since he just signed a massive five year deal. He should be one of the best big men of this generation as long as his development continues, and he is only 23 years old. For a good portion of the 2020-21 season, Davis will be 27 years old, which is firmly in the window where he should be in his peak.
3 Kawhi Leonard
Just like Giannis Antetokounmpo, it’s hard to believe that a team waited until the 15th overall pick to draft Kawhi Leonard. The San Diego State product was taken in 2011 by Indiana and then sent to the Spurs in a trade (oh what might have been for the Pacers). Leonard has increased his numbers each year and it’s clear to everybody that has watched the Spurs that his growth as a player has made him the most impactful member of the squad. Leonard would have been considered an MVP candidate in any other season if it weren’t for the explosion that Stephen Curry posted in the 2015-16 season.
He averaged 21.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game with the Spurs this season, but it’s his defense that gets him the most attention as he's won the Defensive Player of the Year the past two years. With the ability to make an impact with or without the ball, Leonard figures to be a star and should be in line to win an MVP Award at some point. Kawhi will still be in his prime for the 2020-21 season, as he will be 29 years old and have played just five seasons in the league.
2 Andrew Wiggins
If you’re a Minnesota Timberwolves fan, we have got some good news for you that you will want to hear. First, we want to introduce Andrew Wiggins, who was the first overall pick by the Cavaliers in 2014, but was shipped over to the Timberwolves as part of the deal for Kevin Love. In his rookie season, Wiggins had a sudden impact where he won the Rookie of the Year Award thanks to scoring 16.9 points, pulling in 4.6 rebounds and dishing out 2.1 assists per game. His second year saw an increase in his scoring and an improvement in his shooting percentage.
At just 21 years old, it’s easy to see that Wiggins has gotten more comfortable in the professional game and figures to be one of the league’s biggest stars in an attempt to make a small market team into a national powerhouse. Wiggins has drawn comparisons to Tracy McGrady. Wiggins will be 25 years old in his seventh season in 2020-21. In that season, McGrady was averaging 28 points per game with 6.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Those are numbers that you can expect out of Wiggins in the future, who should be a perennial All-Star.
1 Karl-Anthony Towns
And the good news continues for Timberwolves fans as they might have the two best players of the 2020-21 season as long as they can keep signing them to extended contracts. The top player on our list is Karl-Anthony Towns, the top overall pick in 2015 out of Kentucky. The 7’0” Towns was fantastic in his first season, winning the 2016 Rookie of the Year Award thanks to his 18.3 rebounds, 10.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. Those are some absurd numbers for a guy who was just 19 years old when the 2015-16 season started.
It only gets better for Minnesota as they should have Wiggins when he enters his prime in 2020-21, as well as Towns who will be just 24 years old when the season starts. Even Kevin Durant has already said that Towns will be a Hall of Fame player and the numbers that he posted in his first season were comparable to stars like Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan. Towns should be averaging about 24 points with 13 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game by the 2020-21 season and an MVP candidate. Can he be the new King?