A bunch of the high school ballers graduating in 2016, and even some younger peers, look primed to become stars within the next five years. Maybe basketball's rise in popularity has upped the quality and quantity of competition. Maybe more courts have been built and training has advanced. Or maybe it’s just that, thanks to Twitter, Vine, and YouTube, highlight videos are more accessible than ever. Regardless, if most of these guys continue at their current pace, they should all be eating at the Association’s buffet in 2020.
Aside from NYC’s indoor basketball situation (our hardwood being concrete of course), America probably has more basketball courts, parachute-sprint-training-things, and Nike ELITE balls than ever. Coupled with the light shone on these kids already, pushing them to remain pursuant, we ought to expect upwards-trending career trajectories. Throw in the influences of Stephen Curry’s success, accompanied by training videos with military technologized multi-tasking drills, and a history of LeBron James’ dominance – and you have contrasted icons that incentivize these kids to relentlessly hone both their skills and athleticism.
As usual, let’s use the end of this section to appreciate some of the people who couldn’t quite make the cut: Omari Spellman, out of North Royalton, Ohio, is 6’9, weighs 280, has committed to Villanova, and comes equipped with a step-back J alongside surprising mobility. Tennessee-commit Kwe Parker, a 6’2 guard out of Fayetteville, North Carolina, fits his twitter handle perfectly (@iJump_tooMuch) – the guy climbs high enough to simply slap the ball down into the hoop, his highlight reels consist of 360 windmills on 360 windmills and more lethal cock-backs than a Spaghetti Western. The 6-foot-11, 270 pound wielding Udoka Azubuike (no relation to Warriors legend Kelenna Azubuike) also missed the cut, the big fella out of Jacksonville, Florida has more yams than Whole Foods, a couple dimes-per-highlight-video, and once did this to an opponent. Despite all of these kids’ (sorry, young adults’) enormous games, they still have ways, and some years, to go before they are sure to make an impact at the professional level – there are, however, 15 guys who are much surer to make an impact…
15 Bam Adebayo
Bam leaves a definitive impression that can be summed in one word: grown. The kid is 6-foot-10, weighs 240, and has no business playing among fellow teenagers. A high point, NC product, Bam's ability to so easily fly around the seemingly cumbersome fortification that his body has wowed the likes of ESPN (who ranks him 6th overall of the '16 class) and the NCAA's legendary talent procurer John Callipari, whose Kentucky Wildcats have already been committed to by Mr. Adebayo.
An unrefined beast, with an unimpressive shooting stroke and crude post-moves, hasn’t needed to developed skills yet, and the absence of that basketball 'it' factor puts him below the top 14.
14 Christian Brown
Here’s the biggest piece of guesswork on this list. While everyone else is class of 2016 and more young adult than teenager, Christian Brown is now a sophomore in high school (class of ‘19). Given his seemingly propituous skill-set, mind-set, and stature, I'm predicting his doing of work in the NCAA, NBA, or Euroleague by 2020. It's a little weird ranking a 16-year-old, but less so when he is 6-foot-7 with a seven foot wingspan, the foundations of a jump-shot, some handle, defensive awareness, competes with Seventh Woods, and acts like a wizened Chris Paul commercial by professing to prepare for games through the practice of meditation.
13 Thon Maker
Thon Maker hails from Orangeville, Ontario, Canada. The top of Thon's head reaches seven feet above the ground. Yet Thon, very much literally, has a step-back jumpshot and can 360 dunk with an air of deftness. The Maker is a 7 footer with a eurostep. Apparently he gets smoked on defense sometimes, but, considering his emphatic blocks and finesse modus operandi, you’d think Kevin Garnett and Frank Kaminsky’s progressive gene-splicing had just reached voting age. Thon is undeclared but, with offers from squads like Kentucky and Notre Dame you can be sure we’ll see the big fella doing at least something on the big screens come 2020.
12 De'Aaron Fox
Like his last name, Kentucky-commit De'Aaron Fox is quick and brings some sneak to the arena. The 6-foot-3 guard out of Katy, Texas has agility, quickness and the skill you'd expect from a guy ranked 7th in ESPN's Class of 2016 – but, the surprise factor comes in his left-handedness. A speedy guard with enough vert for double-clutch yams (De’Airon?) is already enough cause for optimistic speculation, but add in a penchant for lefty pull-ups on the break and lefty eurosteps and the competitive edge sharpens.
11 Terrance Ferguson
Buddy's got more bounce than a bouncy castle and his nickname is 2K. The Dallas, Texas product soars with ease, has a pull-up jimmy, and the all-important prodigial shot – the post-up fadeaway, a diversity of skills that explain the videogame moniker. Terrance is 6-foot-6, ranked #10 by ESPN and committed to Alabama. Just like Ferg has to watch out below when he lifts off, some of us Northerners will probably have to keep an eye on the South to see if his hoops mature into the artisanal brew the NBA's TV deal is forecasting.
10 Seventh Woods
The greatest basketball name that's ever existed is a 6-foot-1 guard whose UNC commitment has already drawn some hopeful Michael Jordan comparisons. Seventh's jumper is cash, his vert is up there, he's got the speed, and the clutch-factor that you might expect from a kid with lofty comparisons. Seventh's ESPN rank isn't very hot (53rd overall), possibly due to dampened expectations after his emergence as a sophomore phenom, but I still have faith that Mr. Woods will be turning the tide of deforestation back with a conquest of basketball territory by 2020.
9 T.J. Leaf
First there was Woods, then there was Leaf. T.J. Leaf, with his 6-foot-9, 220 pound frame and fanciful skill-set, seems like a less flashy, and slightly clunkier, vanilla embodiment of Lamar Odom. The lanky point-forward’s jimmy and post-up tenacity are perfectly coupled with the type of basketball attitude that led him to decommit from Alabama after their coach Sean Miller cut him from the USA U19 team.
A product of El Cajon, California, and the AAU Compton Magic, this cabron's magical jump-shot, semblance of handle, and affinity for jams lands him at no.13 on ESPN's list, no.9 on mine, and an accepted recruitment from UCLA.
8 Rawle Alkins
Ask "Where Brooklyn at?" enough times and Rawle Alkins emerges. The way he teaches these other kids, it's no wonder that some call him Roald Dahlkins. A 6-foot-4 guard/wing that weighs 200, Rawle is reminiscent of a compact Julius Randle. The big fella's crossover is as wide as his shoulders, and despite his overwhelming size for his age-group, he's still developed a decently mechanized jumper that he looks comfortable stepping back or pulling up into.
Despite offers from schools like Kansas, Kentucky, and UNC – the dream is that Rawle's greatest feat, since shocking Jerry Stackhouse out of his seat, will be putting NY ball on his shoulders by accepting his offer from St. John’s.
7 Malik Monk
Malik Monk appears to be a Monk less concerned with finding pews for prayer and more concerned with ankles to prey on. The 6-foot-2 star out of Bentonville, Arkansas can dime like mad and brings a strong dose of handles and game management. Malik’s no.5 ranking from ESPN and accepted recruitment from Kentucky is no surprise once you see some of the absurdly clutch game-winners he’s hit (the range impresses too). And at his unassuming height, you’d be surprised to see some of the high flying dunks (literally over people) that he’s put up. I guess this monk is ritually committed to Ramadunk.
6 Jayson Tatum
Lanky, smooth, and has a jump shot. Tatum doesn’t seem very fast or very strong and his handle doesn’t look amazing. He is a 6-foot-9 wing with a butter jumper, a penchant for finishing at the rack, and good passing vision. The St. Louis, Missouri prospect can pass out of the post and brings a spin-move to the table, so ESPN is rightly impressed with their no.2 ranking. Right now, the future Dukie seems like he will land somewhere on a range from Adam Morrison to Kevin Durant, so his career ought to be pretty exciting.
5 Dennis Smith Jr.
A question mark because of his recovery from a torn left ACL, the Fayetteville, North Carolina product has remained 4th on ESPN’s rankings and the assumption must be that even if a wheel broke, the handles keep intact. The 6-foot-2 guard handles the rock more cunningly than a competitive geologist, dimes like the cast of the Bachelor and delivers more shots than Big Pharma. Not only did he steal my heart with a patented hesitation move, Junior is also playing the nice hometown boy card by committing to North Carolina State.
4 Miles Bridges
Miles is a nonchalant guy. He literally does 360s, windmills, and between-the-legs dunks in warmups with a hoody and emotionless face on. Then you see him catch a ball five feet away from the hoop, jam it home, and maybe get a little hype. The 6-foot-7, 225 pound adult hails from Flint, Michigan and has a step-back J, hops, range, huge blocks (watch out for cameras), and a listless demeanor. Oh, and he’s a lefty. Ranked 8th by ESPN and committed to Michigan State, hopefully Miles will develop like some other Mich. St. forwards have (cue Draymond Green MVP rant).
3 Lonzo Ball
Lonzo is the future. The most complete point guard I’ve seen since Jason Kidd, this 6-foot-6 enigma from Chino Hills, California isn’t too fast or too strong, but controls the game like it’s on his Playstation. He hails from a basketball family with 17-year-old younger brother, LiAngelo and 13-year-old LaMelo Ball both also playing on Chino Hills and their parents’ (LaVar and Tina) tournament team, Big Ballers VXT. Seeing Zo’s nearly quintuple-double stat-lines in championship games (35p/13a/10r/7b/7s),
I’m not surprised that Zo, Gelo, and Melo have all accepted offers from UCLA. Zo is also responsible for one of the craftiest plays I’ve ever seen, and I think that cements him as the illest prospect.
2 Josh Jackson
The 6-foot-7 wing who, like Monta, has it all. A Southfield, Michigan prospect, Josh’s length of hang-time is akin to his current college status, undeclared (offers from Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UNC, etc.). J.J. is fast and has hops out of the building so the young fella gets yams, huge blocks, and seems to hang on each layup. For some reason, he also has some dimes, handles (some ankle-breakers have been sighted), and a pretty good looking jumper. Ranked no.3 by ESPN, Josh’s scoring ability matches the name of his current school – Prolific Prep.
1 Harry Giles
Harry Giles is just a beast. A 6-foot-9 wing weighing 230 with bounce, skill, and speed. When you’re still a teenager nearing seven feet of height yet you’re as mobile and skilled as some of your more talented guard peers, you probably control your own destiny. The big fella has a jimmy and some handle so I’m putting his ceiling as a beefier KD. I don’t even want to talk about the guy any more, his highlights do enough of that for him. Check out the destruction here, and let’s hope that people can still compete with Duke’s duo of him and Tatum.