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Top 25 NBA Players Under 25: 20-16

Welcome to part two of the Top 25 NBA Players Under 25. Click here to read the first part where the players occupying the 25-21 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.

20. Jamal Murray

Of everyone on this list, Jamal Murray may have the biggest weaknesses, but his raw offensive talent is enough for him to crack the top 20. On a scrappy Denver Nuggets team that lacks pure scorers, Murray’s ability to create his own shot, while also being able to score off the ball is extremely valuable.

Although his offensive talent is clear, Murray lacks the consistency to provide buckets on a night-to-night basis. He has scored less than 15 points in 39% of the games in which he has netted at least twenty minutes. When compared to other young guards like Trae Young and Luka Doncic who have had only four games combined under 15 points, Murray’s 18 games under 15 points is a major cause for concern. 

Defensively, the 23 year-old has been up-and-down. After being exposed defensively in the playoffs, Murray worked to become a more consistent defender. Although he has improved and shown signs that he can be a capable defender, he is still often unable to keep up with elite point guards.

There are many holes to poke in Murray’s game, but he has played a large part in the Nuggets success these past two seasons. His +7.0 Swing Rating solidifies his importance to the team. For Murray as an individual (and the Nuggets as a team to reach the next level), he will need to become more consistent on both sides of the ball.

19. Deandre Ayton

The #1 pick in the 2018 draft, Deandre Ayton has been exceptional in his first two seasons. He has flown under the radar due to his unflashy play, and the fact that he was drafted ahead of Luka Doncic and Trae Young. Nevertheless, Ayton has averaged a double-double in both seasons while also recording just under two blocks a game this year.

The Suns center is one of the few true big men in the league. A bruiser who plays back to the basket and dominates the boards, Ayton plays an old-school brand of basketball that is rarely seen in today’s NBA. Weighing 250 pounds, he is one of the strongest players in the league. As a result of this, very few players are able to match up to Ayton defensively.

With all of his talent, Ayton only averages 2.6 free throw attempts a game which is very concerning considering his style of play. To put this into perspective, Mason Plumlee who plays 17 minutes a game gets to the line more than Ayton. 19 points a game is nothing to be ashamed of, but if he wants to become a top tier center Ayton will need to get to the line more.

As we are seeing true centers lose their value in today’s NBA, Ayton will either need to adapt to this or become close to unstoppable inside. This is not far-fetched for Ayton considering he has the strength to overpower most anyone. Along with an impressive seven-foot-five wingspan he is a force to reckon with. Ayton being this low is not his fault, rather his brand of basketball is not as valuable in today’s game. If he were playing twenty something years ago, Ayton would no doubt crack the top ten.

18. Jaren Jackson Jr.

Unlike Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. fits the modern-day prototype of a big man to perfection. At six-foot-eleven with a seven-foot-five wingspan Jackson has the makings of a destructive two-way force.

Triple J shoots the three as well as any big in the league, hitting over three three-pointers per 36 minutes on an efficient 40%. Jackson is also able to finish inside the paint, seeing that he shoots over 60% from within five feet. Being able to knock down the three, in addition to finishing inside, Jackson is one of the most effective big men in a two man game. Alongside Ja Morant for the foreseeable future, JJJ’s scoring will only benefit from Morant’s elite court vision.

Defensively, triple J ranks 8th in blocks, swatting 1.6 shots a game. He is not just a shot-blocker, as his agility makes him one of the best perimeter defending big men in the league. The biggest concern for Jackson defensively, is that he often finds himself in foul trouble. Jackson commits 4.1 fouls a game which is a large factor to him only playing 28 minutes a night. Oftentimes Jackson becomes handsy and oversells on fakes while attempting to block a shot. If he wants to stay out of foul trouble to maximize his contributions, he will need to become more disciplined defensively.

Another knack on Jackson is his rebounding. At six-foot-eleven, 240 pounds, he has the body type of an elite rebounder. His 4.7 rebounds, however, say otherwise. There is not too much to unpack here, Jackson does not need to become an elite rebounder but to become an All-NBA caliber player it would certainly help if he can become at least average. At only 20 years of age, with his already boarderline All-Star production, Jackson’s upside is legitimately scary. 

17. Domantas Sabonis:

Domantas Sabonis has burst onto the scene this season averaging 19 points 12 rebounds and 5 assists a game which is 3rd, 4th and 2nd respectively among centers this season. Moreover, Sabonis has led the Pacers to the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference despite the absence of Victor Oladipo. To highlight Sabonis’ impact, the Pacers are +3.4 per 100 possessions when Sabonis is on the court, and -0.2 when he is off the court.

Despite being six-foot-eleven, Sabonis is an exceptional passer. He is most effective in the post where his court vision is able to flourish and this is a huge part in why players like T.J Warren, Malcom Brogdon and Myles Turner have been so effective. Along with his spectacular post passing, Sabonis is a phenomenal post scorer, using a combination of strength and finesse. 

The Pacers big man may never be an elite defender, but ranking 9th in Defensive Win Shares is more than enough to be an above average defender. Along with ranking 9th in Defensive Win Shares, Sabonis is 22nd in Offensive Win Shares making him one of five players with at least 4.2 Offensive Win Shares and 3.3 Defensive Win Shares.

Why This Low?

It certainly feels weird putting an All-Star this low down. Sabonis, who will turn 24 later this month is one of the oldest players on this list; and although he still has room for improvement it seems that Sabonis is closer to his ceiling than others. There are no stats to back this up, but when watching Sabonis his offensive game seems to have maxed out. However, if Sabonis can develop a three-point shot which he is currently lacking it will become a whole different story. 

The reason for Sabonis’ low ranking is nothing against him, rather that those above him show significantly more upside. Kristaps Porzingis, for example, is only a little bit worse than Sabonis now; however, Porzingis has much room to improve on both sides of the ball, and has not even begun to show how dominant he can be. Nevertheless, Sabonis has displayed exceptional production and been the Pacers MVP this season.

16. Kristaps Porzingis

Kristaps Porzingis’ first season back has had its ups and downs. Having not played for 20 months, Porzingis struggled to regain his dominance, only averaging 18 points on an abysmal 41% shooting from the field pre All-Star break. Since the All-Star break, Porzingis is putting up 23 points, 11 rebounds along with three blocks, three assists and three three-pointers per game.

A seven-foot-three marksman with the mobility of a wing, Porzingis’ unique skill set makes him one of the scariest players in today’s game. Taller than most anyone in the league, along with his quick release, the Unicorn can get a quality shot off against anyone. Porzingis also has a quick first step which keeps defenders honest when going to contest his shot. Inside, he is also effective, shooting over 72% within three-feet.

Although his scoring arsenal is impressive, Porzingis relies on his jump shot too much. Although he shoots 72% from within three-feet, less than 20% of his shot attempts come from within this range. On the other hand, 77% of his attempts are jump shots, but he only connects on 35% of those. To make himself an even more dangerous scorer, the Unicorn will need to get inside more often. 

Defensively, Porzingis is a monster, ranking 5th in blocked shots among all NBA players, and 7th in defensive rating among Power Forwards. Kristaps is also the defensive anchor for Dallas considering he leads the team in blocks, defensive win shares and defensive rating.

An All-Star at age 22, who knows how much better Porzingis could have now if not for his injury. With that being said, Kristaps body and skillset is like nothing we have seen before, and as long as he can stay healthy he will be a problem in this league for a long time.

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