The NBA is currently in a very fortunate position because the league is as deep with high-end young talent as it’s ever been. Instead of just embracing the pool of talent that’s ascending in this game, it’s be fun and interesting to rank these players and see where these players rank among their competition, especially when it is as controversial as trying to determine who are the best young talents not only now, but going forward.
Considering ESPN and other platforms have made this an exciting topic to explore, why not make our own list of the 10 best young long-term talents 25 and under based on current production, tools, intangibles and long-term projections?
10. De’Aaron Fox
De’Aaron Fox has taken a massive leap for the Sacramento Kings as he is averaging by far the most points per game in his career, averaging 24.4 PPG while averaging over 29 in March. At 6’5” with incredible speed and shiftiness, he makes it super difficult for defenders to stay in front of him and gets to the rim, where he shoots an absurd 75.4% at. He also is a very willing passer who makes players around him better, as he has averaged a very strong 7.1 APG. Although Fox needs to improve as a shooter, in terms of taking care of the ball, and elevating players around him in crucial moments, Fox has fully justified his max extension and is a legitimate franchise player.
9. Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell hasn’t received enough credit for what he has done on a contending Utah Jazz team. He is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and EFG%. His fantastic burst and explosion around the rim gets shadowed by his improved scoring package, patience, and shooting. He also is a very positive contributor defensively. Before people freak out about him being this low, I fully acknowledge he’s easily currently a top three player on this list, but this is based on long-term potential and I am very high on the upside of other players as well, especially when I still question how efficient and consistent Mitchell can be with high volume at nearly 25 years old.
8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Most people believed the Thunder were going to be a ship anchor at the bottom of the Western Conference Standings and tank for a top pick, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander refused and kept the Thunder to around a .400 record by himself. Shai is an incredibly efficient three level scorer, averaging career highs in points, averaging 23 PPG on an incredible 62.3 True Shooting Percentage. At 6’6”, Shai has great size as a combo guard and shows a great patience in terms of selecting his own spots. Shai doesn’t have an elite first step, but he makes up for it with shiftiness and deceleration.
He is also shooting a career high 42% from three while showing the dynamic of being able to get others involved, averaging 5.9 APG. Not to mention, he is a very solid defender who puts great energy on both sides of the floor. Shai has dramatically improved each year in his career and because of his incredible all-around game, he isn’t only somebody I’d want to be on my team, he’s someone I’d want to build around.
7. Anthony Edwards
Despite the jaw-dropping slams and incredible scoring numbers, Anthony Edwards hasn’t gotten the attention he deserves as a #1 pick. Since the All-Star break, Edwards is averaging a staggering 24.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 2.9 APG on 44.7% from the field. Mind you he’s only 19. Edwards has a natural physical frame and athletic ability unlike any shooting guard in the league; he is 6’5” and 230 pounds, he has the frame and strength of a linebacker, but he is incredibly explosive with the ability to remain balanced and shift speeds as good as anyone already. He also has shown to have a super polished scoring package, he has the step back, sidestep, and hesitation dribbles to get wherever he wants on the court. Edwards is not as established as other players on this list and struggles with consistency on both ends of the court, but because he is so young with all the physical tools and confidence to go along with it, the sky is the limit for him.
6. Trae Young
There was once a narrative that Trae Young was simply a player that stat pads, can’t contribute to winning and doesn’t truly make players around him better despite his assist numbers, that has been proven false. This season, Atlanta has the potential to host a playoff series and Trae is the center of that. People think his shooting is what makes him great but what really makes him special is his unbelievable control with the ball, vision, and ability to get to his own spots. He is the only player in the league to average over 27 pointss and nine assists a night in the last two years, and he’s only in his third year. Trae needs to take care of the ball better, take better shots (no reason he should be shooting 36.1% from deep with his ability) and may never be a great defender, but his elite ability to score and gets others involved makes him elite.
5. Lamelo Ball
Just a few short months ago, Lamelo Ball was one of the most polarizing young players in the world. Some viewed him as the most talented player from the 2020 draft and a future superstar, others saw a lot of bust potential… but it seems clear he’s for real. In this league, if there is a perfect player to build around, it’s the oversized facilitator that makes players around him better to an elite degree and can score from all three levels, that’s Lamelo! As a starter, he was averaging 19.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG and 6.2 APG, he was beginning to put up great numbers while contributing on a playoff team. He also put shooting questions to bed, fun fact; out of all the players who took 100+ threes from 27+ feet, Lamelo had the best percentage. He is not only a good shooter, he’s maybe an elite one. Lamelo needs to be more consistent defensively, he needs to get stronger, and having two consecutive potential season injuries going back to the NBL scares me about his durability, especially with Lonzo’s injury problems, but he has legitimate generational potential.
4. Devin Booker
It took some time, but the Phoenix Suns have finally put a good roster and coaching staff around Devin Booker so he can display the ridiculous all-around offensive ability he possesses. Booker is as gifted of a young scorer as we have in this league; he is averaging over 26 PPG on the season and 28 PPG since the All-Star break on the second seed in the West, he has a beautiful jump shot that is capable of catching fire, underrated athlete as he is able to use fantastic lateral quickness to get to his spots, especially from mid-range in a blink of an eye, he simply has an elite feel for where to pick his spots. Not to mention, although he hasn’t had to run the Phoenix offense because of Chris Paul, he has shown the ability to average up to 6.8 APG. Booker needs to improve defensively, we have seen… it is really hard to be a real first ballot Hall of Famer if you aren’t a good defender, and unfortunately he is still average at best. His three point percentage also doesn’t reflect how good of a shooter he is, similar to Young, he is only shooting 35.7% from three. He needs to sometimes take better shots from outside. It is incredible that Booker is still only 24 but that is the reality… he is just getting started.
3. Jayson Tatum
The Celtics have not quite met the expectations of many but Jayson Tatum still has progressively gotten better. What makes him someone super desirable isn’t because he is far superior offensively compared to other players, it is about what he can do on the defensive-end. He is long, rangy and fluid… he matches his physical talent with strong focus on the defensive end and is able to guard at least three positions for stretches. Offensively, he is also very dominant, displaying that by dropping a career high 53 points against the Timberwolves while averaging a career high 25.7 PPG. He has every go to move in the book, is a career 39.6% shooter from three, and is now adding a playmaking element to his game, averaging 4.2 APG. What Tatum could really work on is taking better shots and willing his way to the rim to maximize his scoring potential. Because of Tatum’s two-way talent as well as his progressing ability to score and find others, there isn’t a wing in this game not named Lebron James that he couldn’t eventually match at his ceiling.
2. Zion Williamson
With Zion Williamson, it used to be all hype, but he has justified all the hype he was given by displaying his potential generational talent and level of dominance. At only 20 years old, he is already averaging 26.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 3.6 APG with the best PER in the league. He is arguably the most freakish natural athlete in the game due to being 6’7″ 285 pounds with that level of explosion and twitchiness, it’s unlike we have ever seen, it is even freakier than Charles Barkley, Blake Griffin and Larry Johnson (back in the day). He has taken advantage of that body by constantly attacking the rim as he leads the league in points in the paint per game. His touch around the basket and ability to absorb contact compliments his body very well, as there has never been as dominant of a finisher around the basket at 20 since Shaquille O’Neal. He isn’t only a dominant finisher, he has been utilized as a facilitator as he has averaged 4.4 APG since February. Not to mention, he has incredible charisma, he is someone you want to represent your franchise. Zion certainly has some warts, his defense hasn’t been as good as expected, he only has nine three point makes all year, and the questions about how healthy he will be with that frame are worrisome. I don’t see why he won’t improve defensively with the right coaching but the jump shot may be the difference between him one day becoming the best player in the game or a tier behind, if healthy.
- Luka Doncic
What Luka Doncic has accomplished this early in this career is absurd. In Europe, he has accomplished essentially everything you possibly can for a kid that young, including winning the Euroleague MVP and championship, and now he has dominated in the NBA from the start as a First-Team all NBA talent. As I mentioned earlier about Lamelo, Luka Doncic is exactly what you want in this league as an oversized guard that can score from all-three levels with ease along with a level of vision that is abnormal for any player, but especially for a 22 year old. Luka has the offensive patience that can already match up with the best players in the world, he picks his spots, never rushes things, and utilizes a versatile scoring package that makes him borderline unguardable, along with the vision that makes him impossible to double. Doncic has also shown something that you can argue no other player under 23 can do, he can put up ridiculous volume (he has averaged 28.7 PPG and 8.8 RPG/APG sincee his rookie year) and almost single handedly carry a team to the postseason at the same time.
Dallas hasn’t had too much roster consistency around Luka, especially with Kristaps Porzingis being hurt, but his offensive production has been legit enough for them to remain a scare for teams in the tough West. He has also improved a lot as a shooter, as he is shooting 36.7% from deep on 8.2 attempts, that shooting has been able to open up the court even more for him and Dallas. Luka will need to continue proving himself and bring it on the defensive end… if he does these things, he will be the face of the league.