NBA Teams are always looking to the future and trying to build their franchises on the backs of young superstars. I am going to rank the best ten players under the age of 25 based on their current production not on how good I think their future will be. So before anyone gets heated that Zion Williamson is not in my top-3 it is because I am ranking based on current talent and achievements.
- The best player under-25 is Luka Doncic. The slick Guard from Slovenia has taken the NBA by storm. Many uncertainties were surrounding Doncic during the 2018 NBA draft, but he has shut down all those critics and has already proven that he is a franchise player and a generational talent. In his first season, Doncic showed why he was a top-3 pick by winning ROTY. in his second season, at just 21 years old, Doncic was selected as an All-star starter and early in the season was in the MVP race. His rapid development can be credited to numerous things: his experience playing against professionals overseas, having a great coach who knows how to develop talent, and the body type to be a generational star in the NBA. At 6’7” Doncic can use his size and ability to create space with his dribble to rise above defenders and shoot quality jump shots that would be otherwise contested for players who do not possess his space creation ability. In year two, Doncic has improved his ability to finish inside and has raised his offensive game to another level. He is almost averaging a triple-double at 29 ppg, 9 rebs, and 9 assists. The Mavericks struck gold with a generational talent and it will be interesting to see where Doncic’s game goes from here and how it will shape the Mavericks’ future.
- At 2 is Celtics Forward, Jayson Tatum, the Duke product had a breakout season if there ever was one. Over the last two months, before the NBA season was postponed Tatum’s scoring abilities leveled up, he showed why many regard him as a franchise player that will lead the Celtics for years to come. During January and February, Tatum averaged almost 28 ppg at a 49% shooting clip. This was the stretch of performances all NBA fans were waiting for from Tatum, to believe in his bright future. Tatum was also selected to his first All-star game this past season, it will be exciting to see the next level Tatum can take his game to because I don’t think we have seen the best of Tatum.
- After Doncic and Tatum, many players have an argument for the third spot. Players such as Ben Simmons, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zion Williamson were definitely in consideration for me here. This might be a controversial pick, but I put Donovan Mitchell at three. Mitchell is a proven scorer in the NBA and has showcased his talents on both sides of the ball for long stretches against formidable opponents. He has playoff experience at a young age, last year he led a team that lacked another consistent scoring option to a playoff appearance and a top-5 record in the Western Conference. Mitchell has averaged over 20 points every season and earned his first selection to the all-star team this past season. Unfortunately, the NBA season got postponed, but hopefully, we can see if Mitchell can lead a much more talented Jazz team on a deep playoff run if the season resumes.
- 76ers PG, Ben Simmons comes in at number 4. At 6’9”, with blazing speed in the open court and exceptional vision, Simmons can make everyone around him better. He is also an elite defender, he led the NBA in steals per game and has the ability and size to guard every position. He helped the 76ers compete against the soon-to-be champion Raptors in a very competitive 2019 Eastern Conference Finals. Although he had some disappointing performances in the playoffs, I put him this high on my list because of his non-stop motor and ability to play both sides of the ball at an elite level. There are still many questions surrounding his inability to add to his offensive game, but I think he will continue to work on it. Again, this may not be a popular choice, but I believe that if Simmons was surrounded by the right talent he can lead a team deep in the playoffs. He has an ability like no other to finish in the paint and find open shooters on the perimeter.
- Coming in at five is Atlanta Hawks Guard, Trae Young. Young’s game showcases elite long-range shooting which makes him a threat to score the second he comes across half-court. Averaging almost 30 ppg and 9 assists, Young earned a starting spot in the All-star game this year. His numbers are much better than some of the players on the list that I have ranked above him, but his inability to showcase any defensive prowess and his teams’ record can account for why he isn’t above guys like Simmons or Mitchell. Yes, he is not surrounded by as much talent as those two are and his counterpart, John Collins, was out for much of the season. It would still be nice to see Young lead this young Hawks team to a few more wins than they had. I am hoping that as Young matures and the Hawks add experienced talent to go alongside him that his game will raise and the wins will come. The Hawks need to make the best of Young’s ability and surround him with guys that compliment his playstyle.
- Karl-Anthony Towns, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ big man comes in at 6. Some may think he deserves a spot in this top five, but I have been unimpressed with Towns thus far. There is no disputing his natural talent, he is a player like no other at 7’0” he can shoot the 3-point shot as good as anyone in the NBA. He had his best season from beyond the arc shooting 41% and making 3.3 attempts per game. He also averaged 27 points and 11 rebounds a game. Making this his fifth consecutive season averaging a double-double. So why is he at 6? Towns is not a great teammate numerous times and that he is not willing to put in enough work to maximize his talent. The Timberwolves surrounded him with talent in 2017 by adding Jimmy Butler. Towns’ inability to match his work ethic drove Butler out the door. Butler and Towns led the Timberwolves to a playoff spot, but their appearance in the 2017–18 playoffs was very disappointing. They only managed to win one game against the Houston Rockets before being eliminated. There are some recurring narratives on this list, players that have proven they can win in the NBA holds more weight in my eyes than players who just put up good statistics. Winning, at a young age is more important than putting up good numbers that don’t translate to wins.
- The 7th spot was between two guys for me, both being rookies. I chose to put Ja Morant over Zion Williamson because we were able to see a full season sample of Morant, who led the Memphis Grizzlies into playoff contention. Morant is the presumed ROTY, and his future looks very bright. In his rookie season, he averaged 18 points and 7 assists and shot a decent 37% from beyond the arc. Many critics questioned whether Morant’s shooting abilities would translate to the NBA, he showed them that his shooting abilities are good and will continue to improve as he matures as a player. His speed in the open court is second-to-none and his ability to make the right decision while running at a breakneck pace is unbelievable. His athletic feats are out of this world, he can dunk over a 7’0” centers without breaking a sweat. It will be exciting to see where Morant’s high IQ, uber-athleticism, and unbounded talent takes him and the Grizzlies in the future.
- At 8 is Zion Williamson. I think Williamson has the talent and the potential to be better than anyone on this list. In about a twenty game sample size we watched the 19-year-old dominate opponents. He averaged 24 points and 7 rebounds a game, along with adding some highlight dunks whenever he got the chance. The only reason he is this low on my list is because of his small sample size. Once Williamson can go through a full 82-game season and put up similar numbers while leading the New Orleans Pelicans, I’m sure his rank will rise. The sky’s the limit for Williamson, if he stays healthy we could be looking at a generational talent for years to come.
- Coming in at nine on my rankings is Phoenix Suns Shooting Guard, Devin Booker. The Duke product was selected to his first all-star game this past season. The selection was deserved as Booker posted 26 points per game and 6.6 assists per game while shooting an efficient 49% from the field. The knock against Booker has been his inability to lead the Suns to a playoff spot. After 4 seasons of Booker lacking help, the Suns added talent in free agency and DeAndre Ayton improved, yet they were still unable to contend for a playoff spot. If Booker can improve aspects of his game — such as defense and clutch-time scoring — then his game will be taken to the next level. He already has a plethora of ways to score the ball in his arsenal, so it will be exciting to see how Booker refines his game in the future.
- Finishing up the top 10 is New Orleans Pelicans Forward, Brandon Ingram. Many thought Ingram’s career was not headed in the right direction, but this change of scenery has helped Ingram develop his game as a consistent scorer and threat on both sides of the ball. This past season Ingram was selected to his first all-star game by putting up 23 points per game on 47% shooting. He is also in contention for this year’s Most Improved Player award. This year Ingram showcased his ability to score at all three levels. It will be interesting to see how he fits alongside fellow Forward Zion Williamson as they make up the young core for the Pelicans for years to come.
This list was only supposed to be ten players but I want to give an honorable mention to Miami Heat Forward, Bam Adebayo. The young big man had a breakout season in 2019–2020. Alongside Jimmy Butler, he led a young Miami team to a top-5 record in the Eastern Conference. I think it is safe to say that nobody saw this big of an improvement from Adebayo. He made a great case for Most Improved Player this season improving from 9 points per game to 16 and 7 rebounds to 11. His statistics don’t tell the whole story, Adebayo’s motor is unmatched and his agility at that size allows for versatility on defense. He can guard any position on the floor, and with his length, he did a great job containing Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Heat’s matchups with the Milwaukee Bucks this season. Adebayo is such a great player to have on a team because he is unselfish on both sides of the ball, he does not care about statistics but just wants to contribute as much as he can to help his squad get the win. It will be interesting to see how he refines his offensive game as he matures in the NBA. I see a bright future with Bam Adebayo.