The NBA is loaded with talent from top to bottom. While the likes of LeBron and Durant fight for the title, the middle aged stars like Westbrook and Harden battle it out for individual honors. And then there is this batch of millennials who have started to make their mark in the league. They aren't full-fledged stars yet, not even All-Stars. But the brilliance they've shown makes us believe that the baton of leadership will be handed over to them when the right time comes.
Check out the NBA's upcoming superstars, the top NBA players 21 and under:
10. Jahlil Okafor 21, C Philadelphia 76ers
Everybody was talking about him after an impressive one and done season at Duke. He was everybody's consensus #1 overall pick until draft night. And then the Wolves picked KAT, the Lakers followed with D'Angelo. He went third, to the woeful Sixers and he seems to be a thing of the past already.
Despite that, there are signs of promise. Okafor's career averages per 36 minutes are 20.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Only three other players currently have at least a similar 20/8/1.5: Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis. This means that if given enough exposure, Okafor can become elite in this league. Problem though is that he plays the same position as Joel Embiid, the face of Philly's slogan 'Trust the Process' so we don't how how well he'll develop with the Sixers.
9. Jamal Murray 20, G Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray doesn't have the overall skills that would make you say he's going to be the next NBA superstar. One thing is sure though, his shot is pure and he can catch fire in a hurry.
We don't have to look far. Murray torched the 2017 NBA Rising Stars challenge with nine triples, 36 points in an MVP winning effort. Murray had the 9th most total assists by a rookie this season despite playing at two guard. Murray was also second overall in most three pointers made by a rookie with 115 makes. Only he and Buddy Hield ( 148 ) were the rookies to make at least 100 triples this season. Of course the 46% FG and 34% 3P% needs improvement but that will go with time. But the Nuggets have certainly dug gold with this combo guard.
8. Aaron Gordon 21, F Orlando Magic
Before the start of the 2017 season, Orlando coach Frank Vogel told ESPN that if not for Serge Ibaka, Aaron Gordon would be his starting Power Forward. Ibaka held that position until he was traded before the deadline. Aaron Gordon, who played out of position with Ibaka on board, finally got his spot at four. The results were excellent.
Gordon's post all-star break numbers were 16.4 points on 50.3% shooting, 6.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game. Those were better numbers than he posted while playing at small forward alongside Serge Ibaka. His outside shot is still far from being good and his game still needs a lot of maturity. But with his freak athleticism and insane hops, he will be a prominent power forward of the future.
7. Jaylen Brown 20 F, Boston Celtics
Okay so maybe you thought he was going to be a draft bust at 6.6 points per game during the regular season. But when the playoffs came, especially during Game 7 against the Wizards and the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs, you realized you were wrong about him.
Blame his paltry regular season numbers on the Boston Celtics. He was a lottery pick on a playoff team that eventually topped the East. Put him in New Jersey and he would've produced huge numbers. Despite the stats, his FG shooting of 45.4% was tops among lottery picks and 8th best among rookies while his 34.1% 3P shooting was 10th among first year players. More importantly, his explosive athleticism and defensive prowess make him one of the best U21 basketball players.
6. D'Angelo Russell 21, G Los Angeles Lakers
Kevin O'Connor of the Ringer compared D'Angelo Russell to a Tesla car. O'Connor wrote: "His top speed is limited, but he accelerates smoothly, changes directions quickly, and no matter his pace, he has a sense of space and precision." That description couldn't be more accurate of the Lakers young floor general who seems to be getting better and better by the day.
Russell is one of eleven players in the NBA to average at least 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 three point makes per game. Among the group, he's the only one to achieve the feat while playing for less than 30 minutes per game. Russell's 2017 per 36 minutes average of 19.6 points, 6.0 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 three point makes is a statline achieved only by James Harden ( who averaged 36.4 mpg ). More importantly, Russell is comfortable playing under the bright lights of Hollywood.
5. Brandon Ingram 19, F Los Angeles Lakers
Newly appointed Los Angeles Lakers President Magic Johnson said that everybody in the Lakers current roster may be available for trade, except Brandon Ingram. When the Kings put Boogie on the block last year, they were looking at the Lakers and eyeing Ingram as part of a potential trade. The Lakers said nevermind. I guess that's all we need to hear to put Ingram on our list.
His length and skill set reminds everybody of Kevin Durant, even KD said this himself. He has 7-3 wingspan, athletic, he can put the ball on the floor, he can shoot and he can pass. Unfortunately, the numbers did not show last season. Even then, nobody is worried, not especially the Lakers. He is very young, his body needs to mature but even if he doesn't reach full potential, he is destined to be a star in Los Angeles.
4. Devin Booker 20, G Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker's scoring prowess gets Kobe Bryant comparisons. Booker can shoot the three and mid-range. He can drive and finish strong. He can post-up and can work on a pick and roll. Not only that he does all, but he does all with volume.
Consider this: Booker is the youngest player ever to have 16 consecutive 20 point games. Only 8 players aged 20 or below scored at least 27 points in a game this season. Booker did it 22 times while the remaining seven did it in a combined 10 times. And yes, before we forget, he scored 70 points in a losing effort against the Celtics. That gives him the highest career high in points of any active NBA player.
3. Myles Turner 20, C Indiana Pacers
In the weeks leading to last season's trade deadline, the Indiana Pacers were reportedly ready to rebuild around Myles Turner if they found the right deal for Paul George. That speaks highly of this kid who was the 11th pick of the draft two years ago.
Turner's skill set is unique. He blocks shots and he is a good outside shooter. In fact, Turner was the only player in the league to block 135 shots and make 35 three pointers the whole season. Had it not been for the Greek Freak, he probably would've won Most Improved Player of the Year. Nevertheless, sky is the limit for Turner who at this tender young age is already considered to be a franchise cornerstone.
2. Kristaps Porzingis 21, F New York Knicks
I wonder what happened to the little boy who cried after Adam Silver announced that the Knicks picked Kristaps Porzingis in the draft? Sure, the Phil Jackson era in New York has been a disaster but drafting Porzingis has been its lone bright spot. Many doubted but many have been proven wrong, that little kid included.
Kristaps Porzingis is nowhere near developed in terms of physicals strength and polished skills. Yet he is already a game changer in a city desperately looking for a messiah. Whether he's lighting it up from downtown, putting the ball on the floor and finishing strong, or showing his post moves and version of the dream shake, Porzingis has been impressive. On the other end of the floor, he's averaged 1.9 blocks per game in two seasons and has held opponents to 44.4% shooting. Porzingis is a once in a lifetime player, an uncommon specie and a unicorn indeed.
1. Karl Anthony Towns 21, C Minnesota Timberwolves
If you were to build an NBA franchise, who would you build it around? Last season, 48.3% of NBA GMs said they would pick Karl Anthony Towns. That percentage would be higher by now after KAT put up yet another impressive all-around season for the Timberwolves.
Last season, Towns became the only player in NBA history to score 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and shoot 100 three pointers in the same season. Towns was also in the NBA Top 15 for points, rebounds and blocks in 2016-17. Only Anthony Davis was in the same boat. Aside from Shaquille O'Neal, Towns is also the only player aged 21 and below to average at least 23 points and 11 rebounds in a single season. Unlike Shaq, KAT accomplished the feat with at least one three pointer made per night. That's impressive for today's big man. Not only does Towns shoot the three consistently, he can dribble like a guard too. Remember that he beat The Celtics' Isaiah Thomas in the 2016 NBA All Star weekend Skills Challenge. Need we say more?
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