Aside from what a predictable one sided NBA Finals, the 2018 playoffs. The finals score lines themselves we not always close there is tale that can be found deep among them. Young players rose to the occasion and showed the world that a new generation of stars is going to steal the spotlight. The trio of “rookies” (depends on who you ask) of Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons all displayed a level of play that is well beyond their years. This a trend that has been around the NBA for years now as younger players are exceeding expectations. More established and relative veterans like Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo have showed why they are both future MVPs. Both players have risen their game to unchartered heights. Loosely inspired by the dynamic duo behind the Open Floor Podcast – Andrew Sharp and Ben Goliver – who talked about the top 10 players in the 2023, I decided to rank the top 25 players aged 25 or under and project their careers over the coming years (I’ve decided not to rank rookies like Luka Doncic or DeAndre Ayton who have yet to play an NBA game. Hopefully I have not triggered the die-hard Luka fans who’ve seen a 30 second YouTube clip of him and declared him to be the second coming). The list accounts for past performances and tried to project their futures.
25. Taurean Prince (24), F, Atlanta Hawk
2017-18 Season statistics: 14.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 42.6 FG%, 38.5 3PT%, 12.8 PER
I would be very surprised if people saw the Hawks last season. Not that they are going to be a playoff bound team this year, but they Trey Young “Boom or Bust” storyline will certainly capture the attention of the average NBA fan. He established himself as a competent NBA starter and a decent two-way wing. He’s proven to be an excellent defensive player who uses his size and length to this advantage and is more than capable of guarding multiple positions. He has significantly improved his 3-Point shot and his overall scoring prowess, adding a better handle and aggressiveness, to his arsenal. He had a strong finish to the season as he averaged 19.2 points per game through the last 8 weeks of the regular season. More eyes will be on the lookout for what he can offer next season as he teams up with John Collins and new franchise guard Trey Young. His stock will certainly rise though a point of concern and he is not a good stats bad team sort of player. Prince’s ability to spread the floor and defend multiple positions makes him the perfect complement on most teams given the way the league is projecting. He reminds me of former Hawks forward, DeMarre Carrol. His multi-faceted game and his high basketball IQ make him a valuable commodity for any franchise though the likelihood that he will ever make an All Star game is slim. I definitely see him having a coveted role on a playoff team for years to come.
24. Jamal Murray (21), G, Denver Nuggets
2017-18 Season Statistics: 16.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.4 APG, 45.1 FG%, 37.8 3PT%, 16.1 PER
He had a torrid start to his NBA career and his bounced back in his second season with the Nuggets, earning him a decent share of the votes of the Most Improved Player award. His rookie season was marred with terrible shooting and has established himself an exceptional shooter on a young Denver team. He was forced to develop his rudimentary given that Denver lacked a reasonable starting point guard. He has shown flashes of having a more all-around offensive game though he still lacks in defensive instincts. Should he become a much better two-way player with a more diverse game, he’ll likely jump several players who are currently ahead of him. The Nuggets almost made the playoffs last season despite Paul Millsap missing over half their games. He could be a point guard on a 50 win team provided he surrounded by a group of players who can cover for his defensive lapses. An All-Star team is unlikely for as long is in the Western Conference.
23. Josh Richardson (24), G/F, Miami Heat
2017-18 Season Statistics: 12.9 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 45.1 FG%, 37.8 3PT%, 13.6 PER
Dwayne Wade is a franchise legend and future Hall-Of-Famer, Goran Dragic is a veteran All-Star point guard, and Richardson holds the title of being the Heat’s best two-way player. Despite his slender frame, he was charged with marking a much larger Ben Simmons when Miami and Philly met in the playoffs. In his three years in the NBA, Richardson has established himself as an All-Defensive Team caliber player. He is a former second-round draft pick with a reputation of being a tenacious defender and he has improved his offensive game year after year. He is dangerously close to making an All-Star team in a depleted Eastern Conference – courtesy of his hard work and Eric Spoelstra’s ability to develop young talent. In the event that happens, he will become a household name for the average NBA fan. He makes sublime cuts to the rim and does not need the ball in his hands to have an effective offensive game. His rim-shattering dunks and emphatic blocks make him a must watch League Pass player for years to come.
22. Kyle Kuzma (22), F, Los Angeles Lakers
2017-18 Seasonal Statistics: 16.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 45.0 FG%, 36.6 3PT%, 14.2 PER
It hurts me to put Kuzma this low. During Summer League in 2017 he showed most the league that he was worthy of being a lottery pick. The 6’9’’ forward was easily the steal of the 207 draft when the Lakers drafted him as the 27th pick. His three years at University of Utah gave him a very polished offensive game that has translated well into the NBA. His repertoire consists of a variety of offensive moves. Some of which, like the skyhook, is reminiscent of some NBA legends. That being said, his lack of any defensive instincts is alarming. Luke Walton primarily used him as a stretch four where he was ranked near dead last out of all power forwards in defensive real plus-minus. They eye test supports this as well. He mimics a revolving door – players are able to go through him all the time. His lack of lateral movement and effort also raises red flags in a league that demands two-way players. His rookie season is proof that he will have a long basketball career though he needs to elevate his play on the less glitzy end of the court.
21. Andrew Wiggins (23), G/F, Minnesota Timberwolves
2017-18 Season Statistics: 17.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.0 APG, 43.8 FG%, 33.1 3PT%, 13.0 PER
This generation’s Rudy Gay or Jeff Green, Wiggins is destined to be a good-stats, bad-team guy that who is destined to frustrate coaches and fans alike. But regardless, he won’t be a journey man for at least the next 5 years given his untradeable contract. Untradeable is an understatement. He’s owed over $177 million on his current deal. Boy has Maple Jordan got a fantastic agent. He is superbly talented player. He is the athleticism to make most NBA players jealous. And yet, his inconsistencies, inefficient game, and lackadaisical effort completely undercuts an argument to consider him the next big thing in the NBA. He has the talent that is normally reserved for a once in a generation type player but his biggest enemy is himself. His apparent apathy towards improving has led him to marinate in his own mediocrity. Will he finally focus on being having a more adaptable and versatile game? He has the physical frame of a perfect modern day wing player – reminiscent of a healthy Kawhi Leonard. Only time will tell if he can finally live up to his potential.
20. Markelle Fultz (20), G, Philadelphia 76ers
2017-18 Season Stats: 7.1 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.1 RPG, 40.5 FG%, 12.4 PER
For obvious reasons, Fultz should not belong on this list with given his season statistics. But context matters, as does his lone college season which warranted him being picked at the top of the draft. The only reason he is placed on the list is that he has the talent – when at full health – to be an impactful player in the league. It’s not unprecedented that many of the first round picks in Philly have missed much if not of their rookie seasons. Though there isn’t much that one can derive from the handful of games that he did feature in. His injury was more psychosomatic than physical given how the 76ers botched the handling of his situation. Neither did the fact that his camp and the 76ers were not on the same page on what caused his injury with both parties blaming each other for his injury. Just days before this year’s NBA draft, Bryan Colangelo was fired from his post as the head of the Sixer front office in connection to five burner twitter accounts; some of which contained derogatory tweets that belittled and mocked Fultz and his mental state in a blatantly obvious manner. Spending a summer to rehabilitate his confidence will be crucial. During his freshman year at Washington, he showed that he was than capable of being a dynamic combo guard, similar to James Harden. Like the reigning MVP, Fultz will probably find himself as a sixth man given that the Sixers will have Ben Simmons running the show. With free reign over the second unit, Fultz will likely establish assurance in himself and the confidence of the NBA. He certainly has the potential to be a perennial All-Star. His shoulder injury has delayed that process, but his story is yet to be written.
19. Andre Drummond (24), C, Detroit Pistons
2017-18 Season Stats: 15.0 PPG, 16.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 52.9 FG%, 22.9 PER
It is not Drummond’s fault that the way basketball is played has changed under his feet and that he plays for one of the NBA’s most dull teams. Drummond is either the best or second-best player in Detroit though it is hard to say who the franchise player of the Pistons is. He is by far the league’s best rebounder, a title he has earned for himself over years of relentless pounding of the glass. He has also cultivated an underrated passing ability that he maximizes to run plays from the high post. That is all well said and done were it not for some glaring hindrances. Unlike some other centers in the league, Drummond lacks the ability to create shots for himself. He does not have a single reliable post move with most of his shots coming from either the pick-and-roll or the offensive glass. He has never been a good defender. While for a player of his frame and physique, it is understandable as to why he can’t guard quicker players but Drummond is yet to show consistency at defending the rim. It has gotten to the point where he is unplayable in high leverage moments. And this is without anybody bringing up his abysmal free throw shooting. The shoots at an average of 42% from the free throw line for his career. This past season is the only time when Drummond made more than half his free throw attempts (60.1%). While this is a drastic improvement, it hasn’t been enough to keep him on the floor at the highest levels of play. There is no doubt that he is a talented player. The Pistons’ big man has shown commitment to improving some areas of his game though his weakness are still easily exploitable by other teams. He has previously made both the All-Star and All-NBA teams. Though the likelihood that he will ever achieve either of those accolades is slim.
18. Josh Jackson (21), F, Phoenix Suns
2017-18 Season Stats: 13.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 41.7 FG%, 11.8 PER
Jackson had an awful start to his rookie season. In just his third ever professional game he walked towards the bench, shaped his fingers to mimic that of a gun, and pretend to fire at oppositions fans. He has since shown strides in improving his behavior and his play. Being a young player on a tanking team is difficult as it is entirely possible that they could be accustomed to losing. This clearly has an impact on the first stages of his rookie season as it took Jackson time to settle into the NBA world. He started to blossom post the All-Star break – a time when most rookies hit their respective walls. He closed the season on 18.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game for the final 20 games of the season. This is only a glimpse of what he is capable of as a nifty wing in the league. Jackson has never been an efficient scorer as his lack of a consistent 3-point shot is a point of concern. His mechanics were borderline awful during the season though he has clearly improved, courtesy of his dominance during this year’s Summer League. He has shown enough during the latter weeks of the Season and in Las Vegas that he can complement Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. At this point in his career, Jackson has yet to show enough to warrant a future All-Star team. Nevertheless, he is still talented enough to be amongst the elite wings in the coming seasons.
17. Clint Capela (24), C, Houston Rockets
2017-18 Season Statistics: 13.9 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 65.2 FG%, 24.5 PER
It’s safe to say that Capela is amid the best rim-running centers in the NBA. His stock could not be higher as he showcased his skill at being able to dominate on both ends of the floor. He is the perfect center to fit alongside the league’s best playmakers in Harden and Chris Paul. This had led to countless easy lobs for the Swiss center. He’s snatched the title from DeAndre Jordan as the NBA’s pre-eminent rim-running, shot-blocking, lob-catching freak of nature. And unlike the older Jordan, Capela has the lateral movement to keep up the smaller guards of the league. Houston are truly blessed to have him seamlessly fit into their iso-heavy offense and feisty defense. He outplayed All-Star and All-NBA calibre centers in Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. Capela excelled at nullifying their play. He was not as effective against Golden State and virtually got played off the floor by no fault of his own. He still faulty free throw shooting and inability to create a shot of his own is worrisome as he teams can neutralize his impact by playing smaller lineups. That being said, there is a surge in big men in the Western Conference with Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan, Nikola Jokic, and DeAndre Ayton all calling the West their home. He deserves every penny get got in a contract extension with the Rockets though he was hoping for a much larger payday. A disgruntled Capela hinders both Houston and his own career. Regardless, he will be a force in the NBA for years to come as he will be in the running for All-Defensive teams and the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
16. Lonzo Ball (20), G, Los Angeles Lakers
2017-18 Season Stats: 10.2 PPG, 7.2 APG, 6.8 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 36.0 FG%, 30.5 3PT%, 12.5 PER
The first few weeks of Ball’s career were dreadful, though it seems as though this stretch was the only part of his career that casual fans will remember. When the buzz around the Lakers dimmed and his with father almost in a self-imposed to Lithuania; the eldest of the Ball sons finally started to show why Magic Johnson had selected him with the second overall pick. He was albeit a slightly evolved from the player he was at Chino Hills and at UCLA. He’s already recognized as one of the best passers in the league. A triple double threat, Lonzo is must see TV when he at his best. Nobody could have anticipated that he could be anywhere near the defender he has developed into. He uses his size and wingspan to his advantage. He can read his opponents offensive game and is able to exploit their weaknesses; either by forcing players into making bad decisions or intercepting passes. His faulty mechanics were a point of concern and have result in a broken shot. His most glaring flaw is that he simply lacked the assertiveness to score even though he’s never been a volume shooter. In summary, even is his shot never returns to the consistency he has at UCLA or is unable to fix it, Lonzo be a borderline All-Star.
15. Lauri Markkanen (21), F, Chicago Bulls
2017-18 Season Stats: 15.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 43.4 FG%, 36.2 3PT%, 15.6 PER
It’s no surprise that everyone is skeptical of the Bull’s rebuild. Markkanen appears to be the lone bright spot in amidst some of their confusion. He was likened to Channing Fyre as he too is a stretch 5 though this comparison does not credit the Fins’ athletic ability and sheer volume scoring. He’s shown that he is a nifty ball-handler who can create his own shot with ease. The shooting that made him a sensation in college has translated well into the NBA. Many have compared him to Kristaps Porzingis or Dirk Nowitzki though the Finland native has exceeded both players at this stage of his career. His only major play is his defending. His 7-foot frame is not supplemented by a developed body but is rather lean. He can easily be bullied by players when he is posted up and will never be seen as a rim protector like the Unicorn. Even if he is 8 tenths of what Porzingis projects to be, the Bulls have a franchise building block. Will he be an MVP candidate, unlikely. Nonetheless, the young forward is an estimated to make a few All-Star outings.
14. Myles Turner (22), C, Indiana Pacers
2017-18 Season Stats: 12.7 PPG, 6.4 APG, 1.3 APG, 48.0 FG%, 35.7 3PT%, 16.6 PER
How you seen this guy’s workout videos and body transformation? I mean by God, is he swole. After Paul George was shipped off to Oklahoma, Turner was the presumptive franchise piece of the Pacers. Nobody could expect that Victor Oladipo would blossom into an All-NBA player. This may have stunted his growth though he could emerge alongside the guard as part of a one-two punch that would put Indiana in contention for the East. Turner is already an elite defender. He’s an athletic rim-running center that can dominate that can have an impact on both ends of the floor. Over the past two seasons, he’s ranked 3rd and 5th in the league in blocks per game. He also has the instincts and footwork to keep up with some of the best guards in the league. His offensive game is yet to come to fruition. Turner simply does not assert himself enough. His shot mechanics are still funky despite the work he has put in since going pro – with this shots from deep and the free throw line trending in the right direction. He is easily in the best shape of his life and this will have a direct impact on his game. He could easily become the Rudy Gobert to Oladipo’s Donovan Mitchell; except with a legitimate shot and ability to switch onto the perimeter.
13. Brandon Ingram (20), G/F, Los Angeles Lakers
2017-18 Season Stats: 16.1 PPG, 5.3RPG, 3.9 APG, 47 FG%, 39.0 3PT%, 13.8 PER
Ingram had a subpar regular season though this was expected of a player who barely ways 200lbs. Some were concerned that the progress of the former second overall pick simply would take too long to develop into a capable NBA player. A single dominant performance in this second Summer League stint was enough to muzzle all his doubters. His efficiency and facilitating have both improved in his sophomore year. His three-point numbers are somewhat inflated, given that averages 2.1 attempts per game in his young career. But his improvement at knocking down the perimeter shot is a reflection of the enhancement of his shot mechanics and decision making. The Kevin Durant comparisons are absurd, though the lanky Ingram is trending in the right direction. His ceiling is extremely high and is still realistic given that he is progressing on schedule. The only wrinkle for his situation is that he is the Lakers most prized asset. Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Raptors and Paul George re-signed with OKC, Ingram will stay in L.A for now. His we significantly improve alongside LeBron James. The Lakers do not have the pressure of winning the title this season, unless potential trades for a superstar talent come to light during the middle of the season. In that case, hopefully he would end up on a team that can best the out of his rather than a terribly organized team. Regardless, Ingram is a perennial All-Star talent whether he stays with the Lakers or not. Though whether he can be a top 10 players in the next few years, is questionable.
12. Jaylen Brown (21), G/F, Boston Celtics
2017-18 Season Stats: 14.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 46.5 FG%, 39.5 3PT%, 13.6 PER
The Celtics entered this past season with only four returning players, with Brown being the youngest of them. He was counted on to play heavy minutes and a much bigger role with Gordon Hayward’s season coming to an end after five minutes of play. His shaky rookie season made Brad Stevens’ gamble all the more risky though his decision payed off. The Cal product had a coming out party this seasons as one of the elite wing defenders of the NBA. Brown has also added to his offensive repertoire making him an impactful player in crunch time minutes. During the playoffs, he emerged as the second best Celtic after Tatum when Kyrie Irving also succumbed to a season ending injury. He averaged 18 points on over 50% from the field. He is not a go-to scorer that is perfectly fine with Hayward and Irving both expected to make healthy returns. Boston needs a player that does not need the ball but can still play a major role on both ends of the floor. And Brown is just that player and so much more. Teams would kill to have a player like him to use a building block for future success. He struggled to shoot from deep in his single season at California and has significantly improved since turning pro. We are yet to see if he can be the number one option on a title contending team. But he can certainly be the Scottie Pippen to Michael Jordan.
11. Nikola Jokic (23), C, Denver Nuggets
2017-18 Season Stats: 18.5 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 6.1 APG, 50 FG%, 39.6 3PT%, 85.0 FT%, 24.4 PER
Despite his supreme talent and passing ability of a person with his eyes behind his back; he still runs likes he’s hungover. His obvious lack of athleticism has yet to impede Jokic on the offensive end of the floor. He is easily the best passing big man in the league. Behind-the-back, over-the-shoulder, and no-look passes are his bread and butter. Now that I think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a play where he’s completed a simple chest pass. His cunning can also be found in his ability to create space off the dribble and has the handles to make most players jealous. These qualities make him an excellent player to grace the court with. What he lacks in a conventional NBA game he makes up with an unorthodox but highly compelling game. He an All-Star calibre player despite being hilariously out of shape. This has hindered his ability to be a top-tier NBA player and average defender – thus capping the notion that he can be the keystone player of a franchise. He is remarkably talented and is a must watch League Pass player. Jokic has All-Star games in his future and is already a fan favorite player. He’s the ultimate competitor. His personal statistics do not matter. He’d rather not score a point and see his team win than score 40 and see the Nuggets take an L. Hopefully he has not restrained his ceiling and has it in him to get in shape and make a push to be a top 10 player in the NBA.
10. Devin Booker (21), G, Phoenix Suns
2017-18 Season Stats: 24.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.7 APG, 43.2 FG%, 38.3 3PT%, 87.8 FT%, 18.1 PER
Booker is already a great scorer, but that’s all he’s shown he can do, score. The lack of diversification in his abilities is alarming for a player who just signed a 5 year, $158 million contract extension. That is one of the largest contracts in NBA history for a guy who scores inefficiently as is absolutely lethargic on defense. His first two years were full of criticism as many indicated that the young guard is not as good of a player that his counting stats to indicate. His third season was different. He displayed a more varied game with improvements in passing and he partially shouldered the load of the Suns offense. He’s been the only bright spot in what has been a chaotic few years for Phoenix. This coming season he will have the best supporting cast of his professional career. An improved Josh Jackson, number one overall pick DeAndre Ayton and a polished Mikal Bridges led by Booker make the Suns a fun team to watch. Coupled with some veteran free agent signings, I would not be surprised if Phoenix can ruin other team’s chances of making the playoffs. With him finally having a competent squad surrounding him, Booker’s leadership skills and ability to elevate his teammates will be put to the test.
9. Bradley Beal (24), G, Washington Wizards
2017-18 Season Stats: 22.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.5 APG, 46.0 FG%, 37.5 3PT %, 18.4 PER
The St. Louis native finally made an All-Star despite being on the fringes for several years now. Some thought that this day would never come as Beal has had injuries that have plagued his past. At one point there was even concern that he might be on a minute’s restriction for life. With Wall missing more than half of the Wizards regular season games, Beal thrived as the undisputed on floor leader of the team. Unlike the aforementioned point guard, Beal showed that he was capable of being as easier player to share the court with. He is an improving passer and was able to showcase the ability to run an offense. Not to mention, he is an efficient scorer from anywhere on the court. He is also capable of playing off the ball with his sharp cuts to the rim. Also, he has shown a commitment to be an average NBA defender, and improvement that he had yet to make after several years in the league. Incredibly, Beal just turned 25 a month ago with his best years coming ahead of him. That’s scary given that the East is open for the taking in a post LeBron era. This was the first All-Star appearance of many and Beal is on the path to legitimately securing his place among the All-NBA teams. But then again, he will have to share the court with John Wall for the time being. Unless Wall adjusts to becoming a better-rounded player who can play without the ball and can learn to focus on back-to-back defensive sequences – Beal’s ascension will be restricted by Wall.
8. Donovan Mitchell, G, Utah Jazz
2017-18 Season Stats: 20.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.5 SPG, 43.7 FG%, 34.0 3PT%, 16.7 PER
A steal in the 2017 draft, nobody could have quite predicted the rise of Spider Mitchell. He improved month by month as he was given a bigger role and became a smarter player along the way. Mitchell truly took over when Rudy Gobert missed a large portion of the season. He showed his true scoring prowess and his ability to shoulder an offense in the absence of a clear cut number one option. He averaged 22.5 points in the last 5 months of the season and led them to the 5th seed in the West. This was unprecedented territory for a team that lost Gordon Hayward in free agency and Gobert unavailable for long stretches. He outplayed Russel Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony in a six game first round series went two-to-two with the league’s MVP and Chris Paul. As a rookie, he outplayed two future hall of famers and an elite two-way wing and gave Harden and Chris Paul a run for their money. His earthshattering improvement is ungodly. He’s already in contention for being an All-Star next season as he can only get better from here. On the other hand, scoring is only his strong asset, and that to quite inefficiently. He’s shown to be a good team defender though individually, he can be exposed. With Ricky Rubio succumbed to an injury against the Rockets, Mitchell struggled to run an offense. He’s only just finished his rookie season and he will certainly improve in both areas.
7. Kristaps Porzingis, F/C, New York Knicks
2017-18 Season Stats: 22.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.2 APG, 2.4 BPG, 43.9 FG%, 39.5 3PT%, 20.4 PER
Disclaimer, I am going to be generous to a slender 7’3’’ who has an injury history that will soon rival Yao Ming. A torn ACL is never easy to come back from and, especially for big-men like the Unicorn. That being said, he showed he was a unique talent when he was on the floor. He can dominate on both ends of the floor and at was leading the NBA in blocks per game before he was sidelined with an injury that has derailed the careers of countless athletes. His overall efficiency is yet to questionable though he has shown steady improvement at his 3 point shooting. His refining shot mechanics combined with his unbelievable height make him a scoring threat from anywhere on the court. He was an All-Star this season though he never got to grace the court with his fellow players. Porzingis’ career averages are matched by nobody in league history. One of a kind does not begin to describe how unique of a player he is. Let’s just hope that he can stay on the court on a consistent basis. A player of his height and body frame will always have concerns with regarding his health. The Unicorn was headed towards being a perennial All-Star and possibly a top 10 player in the league. Only time will tell is he can make a full recovery and return to the path that will lead him to greatness.
6. Jayson Tatum (20), F, Boston Celtics
Season Stats: 13.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, 47.5 FG%, 43.4 3PT%, 82.6 FT%, 15.3 PER
The St. Louis native has been the best Celtics rookie since Larry Bird. Period. Paul Pierce was a skillful and smart NBA player out of Kansas though he could not have carried a team to one game shy of the NBA finals. He was relatively decent regular season as a rookie. He was the behind Irving, Horford, and sometimes even Jaylen Brown. He had an excellent first half of the season; leading the NBA in three-point percentage for several months before hitting his rookie wall in the closing weeks of the regular season. He showed composure and poise in high leverage moments, scoring big buckets in tight games. Tatum stepped up to a whole other level in the postseason. If somebody had pulled him aside during their playoff run and told him that he was the best Celtic on the floor and who knows, maybe Boston could have made it to the Finals. He led Boston in playoff scoring; 18.5 point on 47% shooting from the floor. Tatum came into the league as a polished offensive product after a season with Coach K. However, nobody could have predicted that he would turn into a two-way juggernaut. He is mature beyond his years and the Celtics have a few face of the franchise. The only thing holding him back is that he is yet to realize that he is a beast of a player. Once he grasps that notion, there is no stopping him.
5. Karl-Anthony Towns (22), C, Minnesota Timberwolves
2017-18 Season Stats: 21.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 BPG, 54.5 FG%, 42.1 3PT%, 85.8 FT%, 24.9 PER
A former number one pick, Towns was considered to be the safest bet to be a star at the professional level out of any prospect since Anthony Davis. His numbers across this first three seasons are unprecedented, hitting statistical numbers that few in league history have ever achieved at his age. And yet, after his maiden All-Star appearance, Towns still feels like a disappointment. This is likely because he’s only shown to dominate on one end of the floor. The Dominican big man was a superb rim protector in college though his defensive intensity has yet to transmute into the pro-game. Let’s not forget a disaster of a playoff run. Towns was virtually unplayable during long periods of their mediocre five game series loss to the Rockets. He simply did not assert himself on either end of the court. Minnesota looked like they were on the verge of a dynasty with Towns and Wiggins developing under Tom Thibodeau with Jimmy Butler joining the mix. After a season with the four together, everybody seems to want out. He made the All-Star and All-NBA teams this season, the first of many appearances. Should be become a dominant on defense without giving up on his already superstar-level offensive game, he can lead the barren franchise into contention.
4. Joel Embiid (24), C, Philadelphia 76ers
2017-18 Season Stats: 22.9 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.8 BPG, 48.3 FG%, 30.8 3PT%, 22.9 PER
Except for the fact the he was injured towards the end of his college season, he would have been the number pick of the 2014 draft (That honor went to his Kansas teammate, Andrew Wiggins). Instead, he fell to the 76ers who had the third pick in the draft. Embiid’s injury history is well documented. He missed the first two seasons of his career with injuries, and this third season under contract (first real season of play) he was on a stringent minutes restriction and once again fell to injury after 31 games. In his first full NBA season, Embiid was an All-Star starter, voted by the media to the All-NBA and All-Defensive Second teams and finished second for the Defensive Player of the Year award. For someone who was thought be forever hampered by injuries, to have this good of season, in his first full outing in the league; holy shit is this guy special. He achieved all of this with a somewhat crude game. Embiid is sloppy with the ball and is too comfortable to stay on the perimeter. He is still learning to pass out of the post and his body is still out of shape – courtesy of his many injuries. That being said, he played like the transcendent talent that as process. He has an Olajuwon-esque arsenal of post moves and the physical frame that even Shaq would be impressed by. Oh, and he’s an elite rim protector. He was bested by Al Horford and sometimes struggles to read defenses when he’s doubled, but he’s already established himself as one of the best that the NBA has to offer. That is, again, after one full season in the league. I can only imagine how good he would be is he was stunted by injuries. Once Embiid learns to slow down and take his time to become a more rational decision makers, he will be unstoppable. That is, if his injury history does not get to him first.
3. Ben Simmons (21), PG, Philadelphia 76ers
2017-18 Season Statistics: 15.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 8.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 54.5 FG%, 20.0 PER
Like all 76ers draft picks, Simmons too missed his rookie season with injury. He really should not have wasted a year in college where he was played out of position as a power forward. Anybody who can’t recognize that his Australian freight train is a point guard should be fired. Without any semblance of a jump shot or the fact that he may be shooting with his wrong hand, the 20-year old Rookie of the Year played like a top-20 player with the potential of being a top-20 player of all time. That is despite barely attempting any shots from outside the paint. He did as he pleased on the offensive end and erased any doubts that he would be a subpar defender. This echoes the sentiments that some had of LeBron James. And look at what he has been able to achieve. Not to say that Simmons will be able to eclipse The King, but Simmons has already been elevate to stardom. He may never get a feasible jump shot, but his body, speed, IQ, and feel for the game combine to make him at worst a perennial All-Star. He does need to work on his free throw shooting though he does not hesitate to draw fouls and step up to the line. Should Simmons learn to take full advantage of the semi-transition game and learn to play with his back to the basket, the MVP will be a piece of cake for him. With Simmons and Embiid already this good and still yet to hit their respective primes, saying that the sky is the limit for this team is absurd. They have no ceiling and are on the precipice of a dynasty of that will shatter the record books – should injuries not impede their path.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (23), F, Milwaukee Bucks
2017-18 Season Stats: 26.9 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.5 SPG, 52.9 FG%, 27.3 PER
A work in progress, the Greek Freak is already near and dear to my heart. Far from a polished product, he’s already an MVP candidate at the tender age of 23. He might even win the NBA award in a year or two without a reliable one shot. The idea of him getting one would see his game turn to previously unseen heights with other teams going to have to pray to all gods to have any chance of even putting up a fight. The fact he can play both point guard and center is two steps above unfair, whatever that may be. His sheer skill in being able to contort his body to squeeze In between defenders while in midair is utterly ridiculous. Giannis’ abilities at his age are simply unparalleled. For the first time in his career, he’ll have a real NBA coach in Mike Budenholzer (a former recipient of the Coach of the Year Award). He fully capable of taking Giannis to new heights and using him in unimaginable ways. Everybody of the NBA should be terrified of him. We’ve seen what he can do when has that, “I don’t give a fuck” look on his face; he becomes a merciless and ruthless assassin. Imagine, if you will, that he played like this for an entire season. Nobody would even challenge him for winning an MVP for years to come.
1. Anthony Davis (25), PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans
Season Stats: 28.1 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.6 BPG, 1.5 SPG, 53.4 FG%, 34.0 3PT%, 28.9 PER
The only power forward in the history of the game who I would take over Anthony Davis as this stage of his career, is the Big Fundamental himself, Tim Duncan. Besides him, Davis is second to none. He’s the crown jewel of the league – the next face of the NBA. The brow has fought through injuries after injuries to become the talented that was promised, and more. He should what he was truly capable of when DeMarcus Cousins tore and ACL and he was given full control of the team. Davis averaged over 30 points and 12 rebounds to close out the second half of the season and thrusted himself into the MVP conversation. He came, saw, and conquered the Trailblazers in a first round sweep before running into a second-round date with the defending champions. Nobody in the right mind would question that he is a near complete player with the athleticism, intensity, basketball intellect and fluidity to make even LeBron James a little jealous. It’s hard to think that a Davis could play any better; but he has always shown after each offseason that he has added new elements to his game, and improved on the old. It’s clear that Warriors dynasty will not last forever and who knows how long LeBron’s prime will last. When that happens, Davis will ascend to the top of the throne.