On Monday night, Joel Embiid dropped 36 and 16 in Philadelphia’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA’s slate of games also featured big performances from Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, New York Knicks franchise player Kristaps Porzingis, and New Orleans Pelicans all-star Anthony Davis.
It seems that on any given night another player is stepping up to remind us all that the NBA is in great shape for the future.
Throw in a star-studded rookie crop and it’s hard to remember the last time the NBA had this much eye-popping young talent — so much so that the top-two picks of the 2017 draft couldn’t even crack the following list of the top-25 players under the age of 25 in the NBA.
The following list is based on
a highly scientific formula a combination of both current and potential production. So without further ado …
1. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, 22, Milwaukee Bucks
The Alphabet is the front-runner for MVP through the first month of the season, leading the league in scoring (31.3 points per game) and Player Efficiency Rating. Last season, he led the Bucks in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, and is on pace to repeat the feat again this year, along with another expected trip to the playoffs.
The craziest part is that no part of the Greek Freak’s hot start seems like a fluke in any way. He’s become a menacing force down low, plays to his strengths, and affects the game on both ends of the court like few players in the NBA.
Even with all he’s accomplished in just a few seasons, no player in the game has a higher upside than Antetokounmpo.
2. ANTHONY DAVIS, 24, New Orleans Pelicans
Frankly, the fact that Davis isn’t tops on this list is just a credit to Antetkounmpo because, on sheer talent alone, Davis is a top-five player in the NBA — and he just may be the most underappreciated talent in any sport right now.
At 24 years old, the Brow already has four all-star appearances to his resume and has been named to the All-NBA team twice, accolades that will only continue to pile up over the years.
This season, he ranks sixth in points and rebounds, and third in blocks per game while sharing the front court with DeMarcus Cousins — an imperfect pairing, but the most talented teammate he’s had in his six seasons. Surrounded by a more complementary cast and Davis would get the due he deserves as a generational talent.
3. KRISTAPS PORZINGIS, 22, New York Knicks
Third in points and blocks per game so far this season, Porzingis has shown what he’s truly capable of and clearly has so much higher to go before he hits his ceiling. His three-point shot is deadly and clutch — Porzingis can score in any way you can imagine — and he plays with extreme confidence on either end of the floor.
Porzingis welcomed the responsibility of being the face of one of the league’s marquee franchise and, like Antetokounmpo, figures to be one of the NBA’s best — and most marketable — international players of all-time.
4. KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, 21, Minnesota Timberwolves
His defense still has a ways to go, but the notion that a seven-foot, 21-year-old (he turns 22 Wednesday) who averages more than 21 points, 11 rebounds, nearly two blocks per game, and stretches the floor to the three-point line has plenty of room to get even better is downright scary.
5. JOEL EMBIID, 23, Philadelphia 76ers
You know the story by now. On talent alone, Embiid might be No. 1 on this list — certainly in the top three. But it’s so difficult to say with any amount of confidence that a team can rely on Embiid to stay on the floor for a full season (or half of one).
Although his numbers have dipped slightly in year two, there’s no question Embiid is an absolute game-changer. But the repeated major injuries are enough of a scare that you could even bump him down further on this list.
It almost seems like he has so much limitless talent that he’s still figuring out who he is as a player. Can you imagine what he’ll be like once he puts it all together!?
6. NIKOLA JOKIC, 22, Denver Nuggets
Jokic isn’t an all-around superstar quite yet, but there’s little doubt that he will be soon. He may never be the defensive presence that some of the other big men on this list are, but he may be the most skilled of them all.
As the game continues to evolve a player like Jokic, a slick-passing point-centre who rebounds at an elite level and has improved his three-point stroke to the tune of 41 per cent so far this season, will flat-out dominate.
7. BEN SIMMONS, 21, Philadelphia 76ers
The 2016 first-overall pick sat out his entire first season with a foot injury, but has been well worth the wait, blowing away the already high expectations surrounding him on draft night, when he was sold as LeBron James-lite (minus the outside shooting).
Through his first 13 games he’s averaging 17.8 points, 9.2 boards, 7.5 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.8 blocks. Like Antetokounmpo, none of it seems like a fluke or merely a hot start. Simmons has played under control and managed to tear up defences without a jump shot in his arsenal. Embiid had Philly fans excited for “the process,” but Simmons holds the key to their franchise turnaround.
8. BRADLEY BEAL, 24, Washington Wizards
Based on current production and talent level, Beal probably belongs higher on this list. The only reason he isn’t is because he doesn’t have the ceiling of the names above him. Maybe if he played on a team where he was the go-to star we’d think differently, but for now he’s one of the NBA’s top sidekicks and already one of the best two-guards in basketball.
And that’s no knock — he’s gotten better every season and in year six is averaging nearly 24 points for a Wizards team that should be in the running for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
9. DEVIN BOOKER, 21, Phoenix Suns
Last season’s 70-point game aside (can you really brush a 70-point game from a 20 year-old aside?), Booker is one of the top shooting guards in basketball. He can shoot the lights out from deep, score off the dribble, and finish at the rim with force. It’s harder to predict where Booker’s ceiling is, or how much better he’ll truly get as he enters his prime over the coming years, but he’s the youngest player among the NBA’s top-15 scorers — a list he’ll only climb in the future.
10. MYLES TURNER, 21, Indiana Pacers
The league’s leading shot-blocker (yes, I’m aware he’s missed half his team’s games due to a concussion), Turner has everything you’d want in a modern-day centre. He’s a true two-way threat and as he gets more comfortable shooting the three his offensive game will become that much more dangerous.
11. ANDREW WIGGINS, 22, Minnesota Timberwolves
Wiggins is a polarizing player among the analytics crowd, but he’s a talented scorer who has come up big in the clutch early in his fourth season. He’s also durable, leading the NBA in minutes played and missing only one game in his career to date. It remains to be seen how much he’ll improve defensively, but that will ultimately be what determines whether or not Wiggins will ever enter the league’s upper echelon.
12. JAYSON TATUM, 19, Boston Celtics
Wiggins versus Tatum is an interesting debate, and given his age Tatum could be worthy of a higher spot. He’s averaging nearly 14 points and six rebounds per game one month into his season, and his 47.6 per cent shooting mark from deep is fairly mind-blowing.
But it’s the teenager’s ability to handle a major role — and the minutes that accompany it — for the team with the NBA’s top record that should have basketball fans amped for what else Tatum has in store as his career progresses.
13. ANDRE DRUMMOND, 24, Detroit Pistons
Heading into this season, Drummond’s stock couldn’t be lower, and it’s the only reason he’s not higher on the list. But he’s appeared to put it all together in his sixth season, leading the league in rebounds (15.7 per game) for the second time in his career and helping the Pistons remain more competitive than we thought. Time will tell if his impressive start is for real or not.
14. AARON GORDON, 22, Orlando Magic
Gordon is finally putting it all together in year four, upping his scoring to 18 points per game and changing his shooting form to become a stunning 51.9 per cent three-point shooter so far this season and a genuine building block for the Magic’s future.
15. JAYLEN BROWN, 21, Boston Celtics
Brown has been a key figure in the Celtics stunning start to the season. Apart from scoring nearly 15 points per game, he’s in the top 10 in defensive rating so far this season.
16. CLINT CAPELA, 23, Houston Rockets
The Rockets big man is an elite finisher on lobs at the rim and a great complement to James Harden in that regard. He also blocks nearly two shots per game and leads the league with a 69.6 per cent field goal percentage. And yet it seems like Capela is still far removed from reaching his true potential.
17. DENNIS SMITH JR., 19, Dallas Mavericks
A steal at ninth overall, Smith has arguably the highest upside of the loaded 2017 draft class. The high-flyer should become a fan favourite and the face of the Mavericks franchise in no time.
18. DENNIS SCHRODER, 24, Atlanta Hawks
Another player who’s improved every year he’s been in the league, Schroder is currently averaging just shy of 20 points and seven assists per game this season. But it’s his defensive ability that lands him at this spot.
19. OTTO PORTER JR., 24, Washington Wizards
Porter has settled in nicely as the Wizards third option, averaging nearly 17 points and two steals per game while shooting 48.1 per cent from deep. He’s a rock solid option at small forward and should become one of the top-10 players at his position if he isn’t already.
20. DEANGELO RUSSELL, 21, Brooklyn Nets
Russell is thriving on his new team and appears ready to assume the larger role he’s been given in Brooklyn. If he can get his turnovers down, and he will as the years progress, he’ll be a star at the position somewhere down the line.
21. MARCUS SMART, 23, Boston Celtics
His numbers won’t stand out like others on this list, but Smart is a flat-out gamer that any team who wants to win would love to have on their team.
22. JULIUS RANDLE, 22, Los Angeles Lakers
His talents are somewhat lost in the Lakers crowded front court, but that could change soon given Randle’s name is reportedly on the trading block. His per-36 averages of 21 points and 12.4 rebounds suggest he’s ready to thrive with a bigger role in the years to come.
23. LAURI MARKKANEN, 20, Chicago Bulls
His ability to stretch the floor at his size (seven feet, 230 pounds) will make him an impact player for years to come. His 7.8 rebounds per game have been a pleasant surprise for a player with questions surrounding his ability, or willingness, to invite contact at the rim.
24. JOHN COLLINS, 20, Atlanta Hawks
He doesn’t carry the name recognition of many of his peers in the 2017 draft class, but Collins has been really impressive to start his NBA career, with per-36 averages of 17.8 points, 12.4 boards, and 1.8 blocks per game.
25. STEVEN ADAMS, 24, Oklahoma City Thunder
The consummate team player, Adams knows his role and excels in it as one of the league’s best rim runners and an imposing physical presence in the post. His upside may not be as high as others on the list, but you need high-level role players like Adams to win in the NBA.
Honourable mention: Brandon Ingram, Donovan Mitchell, Gary Harris, Kelly Oubre, Lonzo Ball, Jamal Murray, Kyle Kuzma, OG Anunoby.