Welcome to part three of the Top 25 NBA Players Under 25. Click here to read the first part, here to read the second part and here to read the third part, where the players occupying the 25-16 spots were revealed.
The biggest factor that contributed to this ranking was each player’s potential along with current play. For example, Aaron Gordon did not make this list because he does not possess All-Star potential. R.J Barrett, on the other hand, although he has All-Star potential, has not shown enough in his short career.
10. Devin Booker
Devin Booker is one of the best scorers this game has to offer and could possibly go down as one of the greatest bucket getters of all-time when it is all said and done. D-Book is averaging 26.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 6.6 assists on 49/36/92 shooting splits. This season marked Booker’s second straight year averaging 26+ points, making him one of two players to average 26+ points in each of the last two years. Overshadowed by his phenomenal scoring, Booker is also a great passer, averaging 6.6 assists, which is good enough to be top 10 in the NBA.
Booker is 4th in the NBA in PPG but his efficiency is the most impressive part. He leads the league in FT% at 92%. Had he made 14 of the 224 three’s he missed, Devin Booker would have become the 9th player in NBA history to shoot 50/40/90 in a single season. At six-foot-six weighing 210 pounds, D-Book is one of the tallest guards, which he uses to his advantage to shoot over small defenders. In addition, he is an extremely efficient finisher, connecting 69% of his attempts within five feet (4th among guards).
Already in his fifth season, D-Book has yet to make the playoffs. Due to his lack of playing on a winning team, Booker has been criticized as an empty-stat provider throughout his career. When looking at the Suns play with Booker on the court vs. off, it tells a different story. This season when Booker is on the court, the Suns score 114.9 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 11th all-time. When Booker is on the bench, the Suns score 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which would rank last in the NBA this season.
Defense vs. Offense
As good as Booker is on the offensive end, he struggles mightily on the defensive end. Booker has shown he can be an average defender when he fully commits. However, it is rare to see Booker go a whole quarter fully committed defensively. This results in allowing easy buckets to opposing players, which is why only 17 players have a worse Defensive Box Plus/Minus than D-Book. When Booker is on the court, the Suns have the 4th worst defensive rating; whereas, when he is off the court, they have the 6th best defensive rating. Nevertheless, his outstanding offensive play outweighs his poor defense, which is why Phoenix outscores opponents by 6.1 more points when he is on the court compared to when he is off.
Already an All-NBA caliber player, Booker’s value to the Suns is apparent, but it is clear he will need more help if the Suns want to become contenders.
9. Donovan Mitchell
The 13th pick in the 2015 draft, Donovan Mitchell took the league by storm, and led the Jazz in scoring with 20.5 points a night and ultimately to the playoffs during his rookie season. Mitchell has improved his points, rebounds, assist and three-point percentage each season. In addition to this, Spida is on his way to leading the Jazz to three consecutive playoff appearances.
Mitchell is reminiscent of a young Dwayne Wade, with his ability to blow past defenders and throw it down on much larger defenders. While Mitchell is above average from three, (hitting 2.5 three’s a game on 36% shooting), he has struggled in the playoffs, shooting 29% on 123 attempts. If he aims to become an even deadlier scorer in both the regular season and playoffs, improving his shot could be the key.
Mitchell came into the league averaging 1.6 steals per game which was good enough to be top 20 in the NBA. Since then he has seen his steals take a bit of a dip considering he is only recording 1.0 steals a night this season. At six-foot-one Mitchell is severely undersized at the shooting guard position. This can prove an extreme liability when guarding taller Shooting Guards such as Devin Booker, Klay Thompson, Demar DeRozan and James Harden among others.
Spida has seen his offensive stats continuously rise in almost every category, however, his defensive stats have dipped. Following his rookie season, his Defensive Win Shares, Defensive Box Plus/Minus, Defensive Rating, Steals and Opponents Offensive Rating have all gotten worse. While this is not to say Mitchell is now a bad defender, it would be beneficial for him and the Jazz if he can return to his defensive production he produced in his rookie season.
8. Bam Adebayo
Despite acquiring Jimmy Butler, the Heat were projected a borderline playoff team entering the season. They are currently sitting 4th in the Eastern Conference in large part due to Bam Adebayo’s stellar play. A solid young player with potential at the beginning of the year, Bam Adebayo burst onto the scene this season earning himself an All-Star appearance. Adebayo is averaging 16.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks which ranks 7th, 7th, 2nd, 2nd and 13th among centers in those respective stats. He is also the sixth player in history to average at least 15 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block. The others being Larry Bird, Chris Webber, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Garnett and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Bam is not an elite scorer, and most likely never will be. He has only scored 30 points or more once this season. That mark is underwhelming when compared to Mitchell and Booker who have reached this mark 18 and 23 times respectively. This is not to say he struggles scoring, considering he averages 16.2 points on 57% shooting from the field; however, his strength lies in his rebounding, playmaking and defense. Despite being a six-foot-nine center, Bam is one of the best rebounders in the game. He makes up for his lack of size with his strength. Weighing 255 pounds, Bam is elite at boxing-out as he is able to outmuscle opposing players, which allows him to grab 10.5 rebounds a game, which ranks 8th in the NBA.
One of the best playmaking centers in the league, Adebayo averages 5.1 assists per game. He has developed into a high-level passer, with keen vision and court awareness. He excels in dribble hand-off situations due to his ability to read the defense as well as anyone in the league. As a result of this, the Heat are second in the league in points per possession in hand-off situations at 1.265. The most impressive part of Bam’s playmaking is his ability to run the floor. Adebayo often brings the ball up the floor where he is able to use his intelligence to generate a quick basket for either himself or his teammates. This is a large part in why the Heat are #1 across the NBA in points per transition possession with 1.19 points.
At only 22 years of age, Bam is already one of the best defenders in the game. Although he is one of five players this season averaging over a block and a steal a game, his impact goes way beyond this. Adebayo is 10th in Defensive Win Shares and 5th in Defensive Box Plus/Minus in the NBA. Out of the 14 players that have attempted 11 or more shots on him, none of their FG percentages were equal/better than their season average. This includes big-men such as Giannis Antetokounmpo (8/23), Kristaps Porzingis (5/18) and Anthony Davis (5/14). Unlike other bigs, Bam has the ability to lock down guards on the perimeter. For example, James Harden shot 1/7 against Bam. Zach LaVine 1/6 with five turnovers. Luka Doncic shot 1/5. Russell Westbrook went 4/13 with five turnovers.
Bam is the clear frontrunner to win MIP, and will very likely be named to an All-Defensive team, and possibly an All-NBA nod. Already one of the best two-way bigs, Bam’s upside is ridiculous and there is no telling how good he will be. As Jimmy Butler begins to regress, Bam will be the Heat’s franchise player going forward.
7. Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns is arguably the most talented offensive player in the world. KAT is averaging 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.2 blocks and 0.9 steals. He has averaged 20+ points and 10+ rebounds four of his five seasons giving him a career average of 22.7 points and 11.8 rebounds. In the past four seasons, there have been 17 times a player has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds for the season: Towns holds four of these. Note: Due to injury, KAT has not recorded enough appearances for his statistics to qualify. Therefore, all of his league-wide rankings are if he did qualify.
At six-foot-eleven, 248 pounds, Towns is able to score inside on most anyone in the league. His large frame not only lets him score inside, but also dominate the boards. This allows him to be a walking double-double, as he has recorded a double-double 264 of his 358 games career (74%). His dominance inside is enough for him to make this list, but his ability to stretch the floor is what puts him this high. KAT is not just one of the best shooting centers, but one of the best three-point shooters in the game. He knocks down 3.3 three’s a game on 41% shooting from behind the arc! This would make him 8th in makes and 16th in percentage (one of three players to hit over 3 three’s a game on better than 40% shooting).
The following stats highlight his offensive dominance. Towns’ averages would finish 1st among centers in Points, 3-Point Field Goals, Field Goals Made, Free Throws Made. In addition he would finish 1st in Player Efficiency Rating, Offensive Box Plus/Minus, Offensive Real Plus/Minus and Real Plus/Minus among centers. Among centers, Towns would also finish 4th in assists, 2nd in 3PT%, 7th in Rebounds Per Game, 4th in True Shooting %, 15th in blocks and 3rd in Value Above Replacement. Had KAT qualified this season, it would mark every single season he has finished top 20 in RPG, BPG, PER, TS%, and FGM.
Defense vs. Offense
We have seen many players on this list with great offense and terrible defense: KAT might be the most severe example of this. When Towns is on the court, the Timberwolves have the 3rd best offensive rating of all-time. When he is off, however, they would have the worst in the NBA this season. His offensive impact in clear, however, his defensive impact may be just as severe. When he is on the court, Minnesota has the worst defensive rating of all-time! While Towns is not dragging Minnesota’s defense down himself, he is the main part. On ESPN, Towns ranks 478th in defensive real plus/minus: dead last among centers. He is also extremely foul prone, as he led the league in personal fouls the previous two seasons. With Minnesota acquiring another horrific defender in D’Angelo Russell, it is clear Towns will need to turn into at least an average defender.
While players like Luka Doncic and Trae Young are well on their way, Towns is currently the only player on this list to have been named to an All-NBA team. The reason KAT is not above players such as Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum and Ben Simmons is due to his lack of success. Towns has had talent around him throughout his career: Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague, however, the only time Towns made the playoffs was with Jimmy Butler who carried Minnesota. While he still has time to show he can be a leader, right now his lack of winning is a major cause for concern.
6. Ja Morant
At the beginning of the season when ESPN predicted the standings, the Memphis Grizzlies were dead last. Memphis had a promising young player in Ja Morant, but nobody could have predicted that Morant would come into the league and perform like he has and ultimately lead Memphis to the playoffs. While he hasn’t been solely responsible for the Grizzlies’ pursuit of the playoffs, he’s certainly been at the forefront of the campaign. Morant is on track to become the 2nd rookie ever to average at least 17 points and seven assists while playing 30 minutes per game or less.
Only a rookie, Ja is already one of the best attacking guards in the league. Per-100 possessions, only Derrick Rose and De’Aaron Fox drive to the rim more often than Morant. Among the 94 players league wide who have attempted 500 or more shots this season, Morant’s average shot distance has been shorter than all but seven other players. The exception being Ben Simmons, and six centers. He is also extremely efficient inside. Among the 198 players who had driven to the rim at least 100 times, Morant’s 1.193 points per possession ranks 38th. Although he shoots 37% from three, Ja, however, is reluctant to shoot the three-ball. He only makes 0.9 threes a game which is the same amount as Rajon Rondo. He is already averaging 17 points a night, but he could see that number skyrocket if he develops a consistent three point shot
The most impressive part of Morant’s game, and the reason he lands so high on this list is his leadership. He has orchestrated the Grizzlies offense in a way that typically takes point guards years to master. Morant already has exceptional court-vision, always knowing where his teammates are even when he has his head down driving to the rim. He always knows what passes to make and when to make them in order to give him teammates the best opportunities. Ja is one of just eight players this season, to have at least a 25 percent usage rate while posting a true shooting percentage of 57.0 or better and also assisting on at least 30 percent of teammate baskets while on the floor. The other seven are all going to make an All-NBA team.
Ja Morant was born with the clutch gene. Morant scores 39.8 points per 36 minutes in the last five minutes of a five point game, which is third in the NBA. The only players who are better than him are Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Ja also shoots at a 54% mark which is better than both Embiid and Giannis.
Morant led the Grizzlies to the playoffs while leading them in points and assists making him one of five players to lead a playoff team in points and assists. The fact that he has already established himself as one of the best point guards, while having yet to even tap into his ceiling is scary. His defense still has a ways to go, but it is not a major concern given the amount of offensive responsibility Ja is given. Once he gains the requisite strength and experience Morant will likely become an average-above average defender. The Grizzlies will go as far as Morant takes them, and with how he has performed so far, it looks as if the Grizzlies have set themselves up to be championship contenders in the years to come.
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