Top 25 NBA Players Under 25: 5-1
Welcome to the fifth and final part of the Top 25 NBA Players Under 25. Click here to read the first part, here to read the second part, here to read the third part, and here to read the fourth part, where the players occupying the 25-6 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.
5. Jayson Tatum
Jayson Tatum entered the league and immediately established himself as one of the best young players. After a disappointing sophomore campaign there was doubt if Tatum would ever become a star. This season, however, Jayson Tatum has made the leap to stardom as he is averaging 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds on 40% shooting from three. Over 12 games in February, Tatum averaged 31 points with a 64% true shooting percentage, making him only the fifth player in Celtics history to average more than 30 points in a month. The twenty-two-year old has improved in almost every statistical category, and has emerged as one of the best wings in the game.
There are few players in this game that have the scoring tools Tatum has, making him arguably the best shot-creating wing in the league. JT is one of the best isolation players, and is able to score on anyone in the league. He has a deadly side-step three that is impossible to defend. He leads the NBA in unassisted 3-point percentage, hitting 40.4 percent of his 4.5 dribble-jumper 3s per game. His deadly shot forces defenders to play him tight, however, his quick first step allows him to blow by defenders where he can pull up or get to the rim and he can finish with finesse and power.
Jayson Tatum knows he can score from anywhere on the court, however, it is all about finding the most efficient shots. He has certainly improved on this as he has cut his mid-range attempts in half this season. However, Tatum still has a long way to go. He has proved inconsistent at times, considering he has shot under 33% from the field in 12 of his 59 games, including a 1/18, 2/16 and multiple 5/18 performances. Even the best players in the world will have off night, the key is limiting those 5/18 performances.
Although he may not be an All-Defensive player this season, JT is playing like one. Tatum’s length allows him to average 2.8 deflections, 1.3 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game, making him one of three wings or forwards with those averages. He is one of the best on-ball defenders, ranking second in the NBA behind only P.J. Tucker in deterring his matchup from scoring or assisting. Tatum also ranks 8th in Defensive Win Shares and 15th in Real Box Plus/Minus, both of which are 4th among Power Forwards. Tatum’s insane work ethic has allowed him to have enough energy to be elite on both sides of the ball, and it will only benefit him going forward.
When Tatum is on the court the Boston Celtics are the best offensive teams in NBA history, with a 116.0 Offensive Rating. When he is off the court, the Celtics score 7.2 less points and allow 4.3 more points per 100 possessions than when he is on. Moreover, The Celtics 14 best lineups which are defined by their differential against opponents, all contain Tatum. JT is a natural born killer as he holds the league’s best shooting percentage on shots to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter at an unbelievable 86%. Jayson Tatum is the key to the Celtics success and will continue to be so as long as he stays in Boston.
4. Trae Young
After an up-and-down rookie campaign, Trae Young took his game to a new level and has established himself as a top 5 offensive player in the league. Trae is currently averaging 29.6 points and 9.3 assists which are 3rd and 2nd in the entire NBA. This makes Trae the first player since Tiny Nate Archibald to rank top three in the league in both points and assists.
Young has put the NBA on notice with his other-worldly range. He can literally score from anywhere past half court, considering he has hit 21 threes from 34 feet or deeper. He averages 3.4 three’s a game but he can also score in a variety of ways. With defenders having to pick him up once he crosses the half-court line, combined with his lightning quick first step, Trae is able to blow past anyone with ease. Once he gets downhill he is able to use his signature floater or get to the rim where he can finish or draw a foul. Young is 2nd in the league in pull-up points per game (11.3), most of which come from his floater.
Trae has also mastered drawing contact as he has attempted over 11 free throws a game since December. However, he struggles in close to the basket (less than 5 feet) where his effective field goal percentage is 50.0%. This is lower compared to other PGs like Damian Lillard (62.1%) and Luka Doncic (71.6%).
Trae Young is the worst defender in the league period. Unlike players on this list such as Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker, Trae’s horrible defense is not all his fault. Young is six-foot-one and weighs 180 pounds, making him one of the shortest and lightest players in the league. When he is on the court Atlanta has the worst defensive rating out of 1253 teams in NBA history by about 2 points. Among the 503 players in the NBA who qualify, he is dead last in Defensive Real Plus/Minus. In addition to this he has the 3rd worst Defensive Box Plus/Minus in the entire NBA. The bottom line is Young is a horrendous defender and he will likely never be considered a good defender. The key for Young is to bulk up so he can at least hold his own against bigger guards.
The Hawks are currently sitting with 14th in the Eastern Conference with only 20 wins. This is in no part Trae’s fault as he may be the only reason the Hawks are not the worst team in the league. The Hawks are a young team with a bright future but as of now Trae has little to know help considering 71% of his baskets are unassisted. The Hawks are 1183 out of 1253 in offensive rating in NBA history when Trae is on the bench. This is the worst offensive rating in 17 years. Young needs to have a nearly flawless game for the Hawks to win: In Atlanta’s 20 wins, Trae has averaged 35.2 points and 11.3 assists on 45% from three.
Trae Young is so talented offensively that it would be a disgrace to put him outside the top five. His defense, however, prevents him from making the top three. It would not be a shock if he has a better career than anyone on this list, given his already amazing offensive ability and major room to grow on both ends.
3. Ben Simmons
After missing his rookie season due to injury, Ben Simmons won Rookie of the Year in his 2nd year and has established himself as an elite point guard at only 23 years old. Ben Simmons is six-foot-eleven weighing 240 pounds, a prototype that is seen in big men, not a point guard. To put into perspective how wild this is, he is taller and weighs the same as 76ers big man Al Horford. Simmons is currently averaging 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists a game on 59% shooting from the field. His offensive production is very good, but his elite defense is what lands him 3rd on this list.
Simmons is well on his way to earning a spot on the All-Defensive first team. His seven foot wingspan allows him to disrupt passing lanes, as he leads the league averaging 2.1 steals a game and is third in deflections. He also is first in the NBA in defensive loose balls recovered. Ben Simmons is the poster child for being able to guard all positions on the court. Every year in his career, Simmons has spent at least 15 percent of his floor time defending the 1, 2, 3, and 4 positions, while also seeing his fair share of duty against centers. Simmons spends more time than any other All-Star or former All-Star guarding opposing teams’ no. 1 options.
He has the quickness to stay with guards like Trae Young and Russell Westbrook who shot 2/11 and 4/14 respectively against Simmons. He is also able to hold his own down-low against bigs such as Myles Turner who shot 0/7 and Pascal Siakam who went 5/19 against Simmons. Even more, Simmons ranks 1st among point guards in both Defensive Win Shares and Defensive Box Plus/Minus. Simmons will not be taking home the D.P.O.Y trophy this year, but it is more than likely he will earn one in the future.
Offensively, Ben Simmons is probably the most critiqued player in the league due to his lack of shot. The rest of Simmons offensive game is often overlooked however. Ben still averages 16.7 points per game which is nothing to be ashamed of. Simmons ranks 55th in the league in points per game, however, no one ahead of him has a better field goal percentage. Connecting on 59% of his attempts, puts Simmons 9th in FG% behind seven centers and a power forward. In fact, the next point guard in FG% is LeBron James, all the way down at 31st. The strongest part of Simmons’ game is his passing, as he is averaging 8.2 assists per game. This ranks 5th in the NBA, but the most impressive part is that exactly half of his assists result in a three-pointers.
The big question surrounding Ben Simmons is his scoring, specifically his shooting. Simmons has only made two three pointers in his career and has only made two shots this season from beyond 16 feet. His lack of being able to shoot literally allows defenders to literally stand in the paint, making it harder for Simmons to get to the rim. Will Simmons be able to develop a three-point shot, or at least a mid-range? Here is what he had to say, “I could be one of those guys shooting 30% right now. But I’d rather be one of those guys shooting 40%.” This gives hope that Simmons will develop a three-point shot one day, and if he does, he could become one of the most unstoppable players in NBA history.
Simmons is averaging just under 17 points without a three-point shot and while taking only 11.4 shots per game which is 78th in the NBA, and less than Tauren Prince. With his already elite passing, elite rebounding, elite inside scoring and elite defense, Ben Simmons with a shot would give him the tools to possibly become the G.O.A.T point guard.
2. Zion Williamson
Zion Williamson burst into the national spotlight in highschool with his monstrous dunks. At Duke, he dominated in every way imaginable and ultimately was selected 1st overall in the 2019 draft by the New Orleans Pelicans. One of the most hyped up rookies since LeBron James, the basketball world was forced to wait on Zion’s much-anticipated debut, as he missed the first half of the season due to injury. Since his debut, Zion has exceeded already staggering expectations, playing on an All-Star caliber level in his first 19 games prior to the suspension of the season.
At 19 years old, Zion Williamson is averaging 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in only 29.7 minutes, which translates to 28.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per 36 minutes. Zion posted 36.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per 100 possessions on 62.4% true shooting during his 19 games of action. Only 25 other seasons in NBA history have been recorded with that stat line. All of which are held by hall of famers with A’mare Stoudimire as the lone exception. He ranks 13th in Offensive Real Plus/Minus. The 12 players ahead of him have all been named an All-Star within the past two seasons.
Zion is a freak of nature; a once in a generation talent. He has already made his mark as one of the most athletic players of all-time. Williamson has a vertical jump of 45 inches, which is 8th out of any NBA player ever! Zion Williamson’s build is like nothing we have seen before. Despite standing at a modest six-foot-six, he weighs 284 pounds, which makes him the 4th heaviest player in the league. He is insanely athletic, but other players have come along that are just athletic as him, yet have had unsuccessful careers. This is not the case for Zion. He can score inside against literally anybody, whether it be using his quickness to blow past defenders or his strength in the post. Among players who logged at least 80 post-ups, Zion placed 11th in points per possession (.978).
To highlight how dominant he is inside; Zion Williamson has averaged 20.9 points in the paint per 36 minutes, the highest rate for any player (minimum 500 minutes played) in the 24 seasons for which the stat has been tracked. Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant paint player in NBA history does not score as many points in the paint per 36 minutes as Zion Williamson. Should I repeat that he is only 19 years old!
Despite going 4/4 from behind the arc in his debut, Zion has only knocked down six three’s in total this season. He is clearly not a threat from deep at this stage of his career, but it is definitely something he can add to his arsenal in the future. While you can nitpick other weaknesses, his lack of shot is the only real glaring weakness in his offensive game.
Zion has a lot of defensive promise, with becoming an All-NBA defender well within the realm of possibility. In his brief NBA career, however, his defense has not been good. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus, Real Defensive Plus/Minus, Defensive Rating and Defensive Win Shares are all in the bottom one-third. This most certainly has to do with his limited experience and being in poor shape. He oftentimes looks lost and confused on the defensive end, causing him to lose his defender or get blown by. That being said, he has shown improvement each game, and he will only continue to become more comfortable, and ultimately become an above average defender (at least). It is comforting to know that many of Zion’s weaknesses on both ends will decrease drastically, or even disappear as he gains experience.
With him on the court, the Pelicans outscored opponents by 10.4 points per 100 possessions, a slightly better margin than the Los Angeles Lakers posted with LeBron James on the court. Could Zion Williamson become the G.O.A.T? That may be a stretch for someone who has only played 19 games. However, the fact that Zion is already dominating at 19 years of age, and has much more room to grow is legitimately scary and enough for Zion to slide into the number two spot on this list.
1. Luka Doncic
There is no doubt that Luka Doncic is the best player under 25. If you interviewed NBA fans, you can guarantee that at least 99% of them would put Luka #1, he is just that good. Luka had a spectacular rookie campaign, easily winning Rookie of the Year. This season, he has taken his game to a new level, inserting himself into the MVP conversation at only 21 years of age. Luka is averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists, all of which are top four among point guards. Doncic is the only reason why the Mavericks are the best offense in NBA history, and the 7th seed in a competitive Western Conference.
One would not expect Luka to be a superstar, he is not the fastest, or the strongest, certainly not the most explosive. He is not a lights out shooter, and does not have insane jumping ability. So how has Luka Doncic transformed himself into one of the most dominant players in the NBA? The simple answer: he is a straight up hooper. He may not be the fastest, but his quick first step, combined with his basketball IQ enables him to get past any defender. His ability to read defenders is remarkable. If he sees a defender cheating to one side, he will take a quick first step, and turn the corner. When he notices a defender is contest happy, he will do a convincing up-fake and blow by the defender before he realizes it, Luka is at the hoop.
Once Doncic is driving downhill, the defense is at his mercy. Luka is able to finish at the rim, where he shoots 69%, better than players like LeBron James, Nikola Jokic and Bam Adebayo. He has also become a master at drawing fouls, considering he is 5th in free throw percentage. He shoots 75% from the line, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but it would be nice if he could improve. It often takes two players to stop Luka, allowing him to use his impeccable court vision to find his open teammates. Doncic always seems to know where his teammates will be, and is able to deliver most any pass, even in the tightest of windows. One could make the argument that Luka Doncic has the best basketball IQ aside from LeBron James, Chris Paul and possibly Rajon Rondo.
Luka also averages 9.3 rebounds a game which is 18th in the NBA and 1st among point guards. Rebounding statistics have lost their value due to teams electing to get back on defense rather than crash the glass. That being said, being 18th in the NBA in rebounds as a point guard is still remarkable. Most importantly, it allows the Mavericks to get out on the break quicker, which is a big factor on why they are the best statistical offense in NBA history.
The one part of Luka’s offensive game that is a true weakness is his inconsistency from deep. There is no doubt that Luka is a dangerous shooter,knocking down just under three 3’s a game. He has an unguardable stepback which creates more than enough space for himself. That being said, Luka is extremely inconsistent from behind the arc. He shoots just under 32%, which ranks 140th out of 149th. For god’s sake, Nikola Vucevic shoots better from three than Luka. What’s strange with Doncic is how poorly he converts on open, catch-and-shoot looks, with a dismal shooting percentage of 26.9% Becoming more consistent is the biggest hole in his game, and it is clearly something he needs to improve on.
His 2.3 Defensive Win Shares and 1.1 Defensive Box Plus/Minus are both in the top 50. These stats are impressive, however they make Luka look like a much better defender than he is. Luka is an average defender. Nothing more, nothing less. When he’s closing out, Doncic often appears to be caught off guard. That results in him not being in a good defensive stance, and because he doesn’t have the best lateral quickness, he’s susceptible to giving the opposing player an open lane to the basket.
Beyond the box score, Luka’s stats are just as impressive. He ranks: 4th in PER, 6th in BPM, 8th in OWS, 12th in WS, 4th in OBPM, 7th in VORP, 5th in RPM, and 5th in ORPM. Forget being a rising superstar, Luka Doncic has already reached stardom in just his second year in the NBA. Luka Doncic is well on his way to becoming the face of the NBA and dominating this league in the years to come.
Follow me on Twitter @KurkerSam
Follow us @OT_Heroics for more great content!
Also, be sure to check out the Overtime Heroics Forums page to join in on the discussion!