Although the NBA’s average age has remained fairly consistent in the past few seasons, the evolving talent of young star players is on the rise. Prime examples of developing superstars were evident in this year’s 2017 All-Star game. The emergence of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis showcased the league’s aptitude for advancing the abilities of young players for both the east and west. The past three NBA Drafts have shown tremendous raw talents that have entered the association. These flashes of stardom have given basketball fans something to look forward to in the future. Here are the Top 10 Players 21 or under in league today.
Honorable Mentions: Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Justise Winslow
Should Be On The List: Ben Simmons, PHI
He hasn’t even recorded a single minute in an NBA game. Regardless, Simmons ceiling in the league is just way too high to leave out. Scouts called Simmons the next LeBron James, but he’s yet to have the opportunity to prove that he’s anywhere near the King. If Simmons NBA game translates to anything near his College play, he’ll no doubt be an elite player within a few short seasons. Ben has excellent court vision, athleticism, scoring capability, rebounding, and passing skill. Philly has one more thing to look forward to in Simmons’s return. Given he stays healthy the remainder of his career, there’s little doubt that anything in the league would set him back.
10. Jamal Murray
Jamal Murray has been able to make an impact for the Nuggets despite being given limited minutes in his rookie year. His play as a Kentucky freshman upped his stock to #6 in the 2016 draft. In just under 20 minutes, Murray is contributing 9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, and 1.8 APG. He’s had to compete for playing time but there’s no doubt Murray brings energy when on the court. As a 2 guard, he’s been thought to be a perfect complement for PG Emmanuel Mudiay.
Perhaps Murray’s best showcase of talent came out in this year’s BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, putting up 36 points and hitting 9 shots from downtown for the World Team. His overall shooting efficiency has struggled this year, shooting just under 39% from the field. The Canadian only turned 20 this past month. As his minutes continue to increase, the hope is that Murray will be able to establish a consistent rhythm with his shooting.
9. Jahil Okafor, PHI
The third pick in the NBA draft, Philadelphia center Jahil Okafor had a satisfactory rookie season honing in 17.5 PPG, 1.2 BPG, and 7.5 RPG. In Okafor’s second year, the Duke big man is in what many consider to be a sophomore slump. Dropping percentage-wise in every statistical category, Okafor has struggled to maintain the hype he brought into the Sixers organization originally.
With the exceptional play of teammate Joel Embiid, it’s become difficult for Okafor to maintain consistent minutes. Due to recent injury of Embiid, Okafor is starting to get back into a rhythm. If he can consistently have nights like his 28 and 10 performance against the Knicks last week, Philly fans will have all the more reason to “Trust the Process”.
8. D’Angelo Russell, LAL
The Los Angeles Lakers have been in their own rebuilding process since the retirement of Kobe Bryant. LA has benefitted from the past few drafts with high picks of their choice, one being up-and-coming guard D’Angelo Russell. Some nights D’Angelo has plenty of “ice in his veins”, and other nights he struggles to maintain play at a high level being careless on defense.
Russell has had a steady improvement from his rookie year to now, providing a decent stat line of 14.6 PPG, 4.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 3.8 RPG all in 26 minutes of play.It seems the more playing time he’s given, D’Angelo seizes the moment to perform. In 36 minutes on Friday, Russell had 29 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals. Extended play may give DR greater opportunity to prove why he went #2 overall in the 2015 draft.
7. Devin Booker, PHX
The 13th pick from Kentucky has been sensational for the Phoenix Suns this season. At 20 years old, shooting guard Devin Booker is having a year of 21.1 PPG and 3.2 APG. Booker made the All-Rookie 1st team in 2016. Booker has had two back-to-back 39 point games this year in Mexico City. In the last 25 games, Booker has scored at least 20 points in 22 of them.
He’s also shooting 43% from beyond the arc in 2017 alone. Booker is great at initiating contact and getting to the free throw line, making him even more of an inside threat. Devon Booker had initially flown under the radar but is coming out as a perennial star for the Suns.
6. Zach LaVine, MIN
Zach LaVine has fulfilled a large void in the Minnesota Timberwolves offense. The two-time Slam Dunk champion has done a lot more than just provide flashy play for his team. LaVine excels in outside shooting, mid-range scoring, and inside finishing. He has been one of the most effective players in transition in the entire league in the past three seasons. His agility and speed are able to push Minnesota’s offensive pace that leaves most teams in the dust.
LaVine lacks in defensive aggression, hardly initiating contact with most offensive threats. In his third year, the guard from UCLA is averaging 18.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, and 3 APG. If Coach Tom Thibodeau is able to unlock his defensive potential, Zach LaVine has the ability to become a promising two-way player in the future.
5. Myles Turner, IND
At the center position, Myles Turner has operated quite limitedly in the post. Turner is easily overpowered off the dribble and in most post-up scenarios. However, Myles offers a lot for a big man at 6’ 11”. Turner has a great mid-range game and can even fire beyond the arc need be. With good anticipation over his defenders, Turner’s shot-blocking ability is advanced and reliable.
Although not much of an agile athlete, Myles can be counted on as a pick-and-pop specialist that gives the Pacers an offense threat to fall back on. In his sophomore year, Turner is dropping 15.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 2.1 BPG. His play is extremely efficient, holding a PER of 19.37.
4. Aaron Gordon, ORL
Aaron Gordon is a power forward any team would be fortunate to have. Lucky for the Orlando Magic, they do have him, yet they haven’t provided many assets to surround him with. Gordon has slumped in growth his third year with just 11.2 PPG, 2 APG, and 3.2 RPG. Sometimes Gordon’s presence speaks more than his stat-line can show.Gordon is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.
He can chase around screens and stick on-the-ball.Ultimately, Gordon has the potential to become a great player. He doesn’t get a pass for sub-par teammates, but a better surrounding environment could bring some improvement.
3. Jabari Parker, MIL
Jabari Parker is making a strong case for Most Improved Player in the ’16-’17 season. The Power Forward from Duke is known best for his spot-up shooting, currently ranked 2nd in the entire league in this category. Jabari has never posed a large offensive threat, meaning he hardly creates his own shot or thrives in isolation situations. However, his ability to catch-and-shoot and slash-and-cut is what makes him a threat in the open floor.
Parker’s defense is nothing special but it is another area he’s been improving in. From last year to this year alone, Jabari has gone from shooting 25% from downtown to now 37%. He’s also improved from 14 PPG to now 20.1 PPG, tacking on 6.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, and 1.0 SPG.
2. Kristaps Porzingis, NYK
One of the memorable moments of the 2015 draft were the boo’s and faces of crying kids as the New York Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis 4th overall. Most fans, in general, had never even heard of the Latvian 7 footer. He’s making plenty of noise in the big apple now. KP made the All-Rookie 1st Team last year and won the Skills Challenge at this year’s All-Star weekend.
This season alone, “PorzinGod” has dropped 30 on three occasions and scored 20 points 18 different times. His range is remarkably infinite for a lanky 7’ 3” big man. Averaging 18.1 PPG, 7 RPG, and 2 BPG, it’s only a matter of time before “the unicorn” becomes the next Dirk Nowitzki.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, MIN
Karl-Anthony Towns is arguably the best thing that has happened to the Minnesota Timberwolves since Kevin Love, maybe even Kevin Garnett. The 7 footer from Kentucky has been an absolute phenomenon. If his rookie season wasn’t impressive enough, Towns this season is averaging 24.1 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, and 1.4 BPG. A literal walking double-double.
He’s even flirted with a triple-double on multiple occasions, posting one already in his brief NBA career. Towns needs to continue to improve his defensive game and three-point consistency to stay rounded. In the last 10 games, the 2015 #1 overall pick is averaging 29.1 PPG and 13.6 RPG.Having the highest PER in his class at 25.07, there’s not a whole lot more you can ask from a PF at Karl-Anthony Towns’s age.