The NBA has seen an influx of great young talent enter the league over the past few years, which is getting fans extremely excited for the future of these players and the league as a whole. So here at Hoops Hub, we decided to rank all of these exciting young players and make our Top 25 Under 25 list. We will be releasing the rankings in increments of five players at a time, so here is the start of the list with players 25 through 21.
For this piece, we had to set up various parameters. For example, the age limit was players who were 25 or younger when the upcoming NBA season started. After that, we had to decide on criteria. We decided not to focus on contracts for the moment, as anyone on a rookie scale deal on this list will get the max or close to it eventually. Our basic idea was taken from the Bill Simmons Trade Value Pieces under the idea of “would you trade Player X for Player Y?”. If you would not trade Player X for Player Y, then Player X would be rated higher. Since we assumed the fringes of our lists would be rather different, we both decided to rank 30 players and hoped we would both rank at least 25 players. It turns out we hit that mark exactly, and from there we combined our rankings for those 25 players to get average rankings for all of them. All ties were broken by Marshall Hartman (s/o Marshall). And from there we had our list.
Before we get into the actual top 25, here are some honorable mentions. These honorable mentions are players that one of us ranked in our top 25 but the other one did not.
Position: Forward | Age: 19
Chajkowski’s Rank: 19 | Romanello’s Rank: NR
Here’s part of what I wrote on Isaac during our mock draft
Issac is 6’11 and very athletic, and can guard 2-4 comfortably (and 1s and 5s in a pinch). He’s a very good man to man defender, and projects to be an elite help defender. He has solid instincts in the passing lanes, has a high motor, and is a great help and weak side defender. I think he’ll even be able to protect the rim once he adds size, and his defensive ability unlocks a lot of options for any team.
On offense, he could be a solid, but limited offensive player. He’s flashed very little off the bounce game besides attacking closeouts, and has shown limited passing ability. He’s a good off ball cutter, and a solid shooter (35% from three and 78% from the line), so he projects as a very good ancillary piece on offense provided you have some shot creation. (full version here) – Mark Chajkowski
Position: Small Forward | Age: 24
Chajkowski’s Rank: NR | Romanello’s Rank: 21
Otto Porter has been a player that has seen improvement every season he’s been in the league and last season was no different as we saw him have a bit of a breakout year and get rewarded with a four-year, $104 million deal this offseason. Porter had one of the most efficient offensive seasons ever as he was just the third player in NBA history to have an effective field goal percentage higher than 60 percent while taking at least 10 shots and 4 three point attempts per game. He also had the lowest turnover rate in the league last season as well.
Porter has evolved into a top tier role player over his time in Washington and while he may never turn into a superstar player, his knockdown shooting from all over the floor, ability to take care of the ball and play solid team defense will make a him a very useful player in this league for years to come. – Tony Romanello
Quick rebuttal on Otto Porter Jr.: He’s only had one good year. He’s actually not very good and a product of his system. I believe his three pointer was an outlier year because his percentage jumped 6.7%. That’s usually not sustainable. 83% of his threes in the regular season were either “open” or “wide open”. He has no off the bounce game to punish teams for closing out hard on him, and was exploited in the playoffs, where his three point attempts and percentage dropped because the defense was more locked in to Washington’s game plan. He’s not actually good at defense (the only players in their rotation with a worse expected vs actual defensive field goal percentage was Gortat and Jennings), and he gets caught ball watching. He’s the fifth best starter on the Wizards by a decent margin. His on-off and advanced numbers only look good because Brooks doesn’t stagger the starters and they have one of the worst benches in the league. – Mark Chajkowski
Position: Shooting Guard | Age: 24
Chajkowski’s Rank: 21 | Romanello’s Rank: NR
I really like Rodney Hood’s game. He was injured this season, so I’m willing to give him a bit of a pass on having a down year. But here’s what he does well: He’s a high volume 3 point shooter who can hit an above average percentage, he’s at least an average passer, a solid midrange shooter, and can switch on defense. His man defense hasn’t been great, and he may need to improve his finishing a bit, but he can create solid offense in the halfcourt with his underrated handle and a penchant for making the right play. I think with more ballhandling responsibilities, he up his free throw rate and score more efficiently. With the departure of Gordon Hayward, I could see him putting up around 22, 4 and 4 on somewhat efficient shooting splits. I’m thinking similar to Bradley Beal, just without the elite three point shooting. – Mark Chajkowski
Position: Forward | Age: 25
Chajkowski’s Rank: NR | Romanello’s Rank: 24
We’ve now gotten to see Harrison Barnes play the role of top scoring option for a team on the Mavericks last season after being a role player for the Warriors for his first 4 seasons in the league, and while the Mavericks won just 33 games, Barnes had a rather effective year. Barnes averaged just over 19 points per game while having a decent 49.8 percent effective field goal percentage and was a solid scorer in isolation situations, finishing in the 70th percentile, showing the ability to create his own shots. However, Barnes is not a very good playmaker for others as he posted a 7.6 assist percentage, which ranked 332nd out of the 474 players that appeared in at least 41 games last season. Barnes is also solid on the defensive end, being able to guard both 3’s and 4’s effectively.
It will be interesting to see if Barnes can continue to improve his game and be able to be more efficient and get his teammates involved better. i don’t think Barnes will ever be able to lead a team into the playoffs as the best player, especially put West, but I do think he is a solid player that could a nice second or third banana on a playoff team if he can find that right situation. – Tony Romanello
Position: Center | Age: 20
Chajkowski’s Rank: 24 | Romanello’s Rank: NR
Thon Maker is going to be one hell of an NBA player. He’s a phenomenal athlete, who will be a great rim runner and rim protector soon. He’s also agile enough to hedge or switch on the perimeter, two essential talents for a modern big man. Beyond that, he has clear three point range and has shown flashes of ballhandling ability. He’ll never be the seven foot crossover between Kevin Durant and Chris Paul people were saying he would be when he was sixteen, but he should be a very good pro and I would probably say he has about a 50-50 chance to make an All-Star team (although part of the reason I feel that was is because he’s in the East. For a good, in depth look at Thon Maker, here’s a phenomenal piece written by Howard Beck earlier this year. – Mark Chajkowski
. . .
25. Dario Saric
Position: Power Forward | Age: 23
Chajkowski’s Rank: 25 | Romanello’s Rank: 27
Dario Saric was drafted in with the 12th pick in the NBA Draft in 2014 and finally came over from overseas and made his NBA debut this past season and had a nice season for the Sixers. Saric averaged 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game and was the runner-up for Rookie of the Year last season. He was very productive once Embiid was ruled out for the season, posting averages of 17.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in the final three months of season.
Saric is a versatile player on the offensive end of the floor. While his shooting percentages weren’t very impressive last season (just 41.1 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from three), I think his jumper is good and will improve and that his shooting numbers will see an increase when he’s getting passes from Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz and has Joel Embiid on the floor more with him next season. He also has the ability to take some bigger, slower defenders off the dribble and attack closeouts. He’s a good ball handler for a player his size and is a good passer with solid court vision.
Saric, however, is lacking a bit on the defensive end of the court. He kind of falls in that “tweener” category on the defensive end where lacks the foot speed to stay with quicker players on the perimeter and doesn’t have the physical tools to slow down bigger players in the paint. While Saric could become a solid team defender if he can increase his awareness on this end, he most likely will never turn into a reliable one-on-one defender.
Overall, Saric has one of the more interesting and versatile offensive skill sets moving forward but does lack a bit on the defensive side of the ball. It will be very interesting to see how he progresses and as well as how the Sixers utilize him moving forward with Ben Simmons coming in next season after missing his first year to injury, Markelle Fultz coming in after being taken first overall in the draft and hopefully a full Joel Embiid season. – Tony Romanello
24. Nerlens Noel
Position: Center | Age: 23
Chajkowski’s Rank: 27 | Romanello’s Rank: 25
Nerlens Noel is a great center for where the NBA is trending. An athletic big man who is a threat rolling to the hoop and catching alley oops, and on the other end being able to switch on the perimeter and protect the rim. His first two seasons in the NBA, he was able to get over 100 blocks and 100 steals (I know blocks and steals aren’t the most indicative stats to measure defense, it is very impressive he is athletic enough vertically to deter shots at the rim and quick enough laterally to jump passing lanes). It shows great defensive instincts, and his rim protection numbers (players are shooting 8.7% worse on field goals within 6 feet when Noel is contesting) are very good. While he isn’t very strong, and has a thin frame that doesn’t look like he can add much weight, he’s the perfect player to build a modern, help heavy, switching defense around.
Now on to the cons. First is his lack of strength, that allows him to get pushed around some on the inside and contributes to his less than spectacular rebound rate. His offensive game is very limited to lobs, drop offs, and rolls to the hoop. You can switch smaller guys onto him without getting punished for it. He shot almost league average from the free throw line last year, but was very bad before that. His jumper is nonexistent.
Overall, I’d rather have Nerlens on my team moving forward than not. He’s great for where the game is going, forces the opposition to send some type of weak side help on his screen and rolls, and is a Swiss Army Knife on the defensive end. -Mark Chajkowski
23. Jaylen Brown
Position: Small Forward | Age: 20
Chajkowski’s Rank: 23 | Romanello’s Rank: 29
Jaylen Brown didn’t have the flashiest or most productive rookie season and wasn’t even in the conversation for Rookie of the Year, but he did show off some impressive skills and potential during his rookie campaign and was one of the few players on this list to be playing minutes on a team that made a deep playoff run.
Brown is a great athlete with great physical tools who has potential to be a really good two way player. He has a high ceiling on the defensive end as a guy that could guard the 2 through 4 comfortably and really offer some versatility on that end of the floor which almost a necessity in the modern NBA. According to NBA.com, opponent’s shot 4.0 percent worse on field goals when being guarded by Brown this past season. Brown was already an effective defender for the Celtics this past season, so I can only expect him to continue to improve on that end as he progresses as a player. Brown also showed a solid offensive game last season, shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 34.1 percent on threes. He was a solid shooter and mostly played his role in the Celtics system.
However, Brown didn’t really show much in terms of creating his own offense during his rookie year. He also wasn’t the best of passers as well during his first season, posting a 7.7 assist percentage according to NBA.com which is just a bit better than Harrison Barnes’ that was mentioned earlier.
Brown has good upside as a two-way wing who will be able to defend multiple positions and could develop into a nice complementary scorer in a teams offense but I don’t believe he has the potential on the offense to be a teams top two or so option on that end at the moment. – Tony Romanello
22. Jabari Parker
Position: Power Forward | Age: 22
Chajkowski’s Rank: 28 | Romanello’s Rank: 23
I have very mixed emotions about Jabari Parker. On the one hand, he’s an explosive straight line athlete and a good finisher at the hoop. He can blow by slower big men, and while he is a streaky midrange shooter, last season he took less midrange jumpers and more three pointers. This year was his first year shooting threes with any volume, and he hit a respectable percentage. I think he’ll be at least an average three point shooter moving forward, and he’ll be able to blow by hard closeouts. He made a large step as a passer this year, and actually became more efficient as his usage rate jumped from 20.9% to 26.5%. I think he’ll be a good volume scorer, capable of scoring in one on one situations and making hard shots.
Everything else though, is a question mark. He hasn’t been a good rebounder, and while I think some of that may be because he’s shared the floor with Giannis, who might be responsible for stealing some rebounds (Jabari deferred 1.9 rebounds per game to teammates), the Bucks were a terrible rebounding team and I think some of that blame has to go on Jabari. His contested rebound rate was only 31.8%, which would rank him 61st out of the 80 players who get at least ten rebounding opportunities a game. The only big men with a lower contested rebound rate on the list are Kevin Love, Trevor Booker, Al Horford, Dirk, and Marvin Williams.
Jabari is also terrible defensively. He has horrible instincts, isn’t very laterally quick, and is often out of position. When Jabari got injured and the Bucks moved Giannis to the four, they became a much better defensive team. Jabari really doesn’t have a position on that end. He isn’t quick enough to cover most threes, he’s not good maneuvering screens, and has sub-par awareness. However, he also isn’t good at defending the pick and roll, defending the rim, or being a weak side helper, which is very important for power forwards. Because of his weakness on defense, the Bucks have actually been better every season with Jabari on the bench.
Add in Jabari’s recent injury, and I almost didn’t put him on the list. However, his offensive polish, shooting, and passing are just too tantalizing to pass up on. I think he would thrive as an overqualified sixth man, being able to break down second unit power forwards and pass well enough while not being exploited as much on the defensive end. However, for him to truly make the leap, he will have to figure out defense to some extent. –Mark Chajkowski
21. Gary Harris
Position: Shooting Guard | Age: 22
Chajkowski’s Rank: 30 | Romanello’s Rank: 20
Gary Harris is one of the more under-the-radar prospects in the NBA at the moment. Harris had a very nice season for the Denver Nuggets last season, posting career bests in points, rebounds and assists per game as well as field goal and three point percentage while being one of the Nuggets top players in their run before falling short of the Western Conference Playoffs.
Harris has an almost prototypical 3 and D player skill set. Last season, Harris was a knockdown shooter, hitting 42.0 percent of his three point attempts and 50.2 percent of all of his field goal attempts. He was one of just 19 players in the NBA last season to make more than 40 percent of their threes while taking more than 4 attempts per game. Harris finished the season in the 91.5th percentile in the league in spot up situations and was a 46.6 percent shooter on catch and shoot threes, per NBA.com (for comparison, Klay Thompson shot 43.3 percent in catch and shoot threes). On top of being a knockdown shooter from outside, Harris is also a very good off ball mover and cutter, finishing in the 76.9th percentile in cut play types, and is great in transition, finishing in the 91.8th percentile in transition plays, per NBA.com.
Now onto Harris’ defense, which is actually quite interesting. While he is thought of and regarded as a good defender around the league and among most NBA watchers, the numbers don’t really back this up. First off, the Nuggets defensive rating went from a horrendous 114.0 with Harris on the court all the way down to a 107.7 when he was off the court, which was actually the best rating the Nuggets defense has with any one player off the court. Another thing is, according to NBA.com’s tracking data, opponents shoot 6.1 percent better when Harris is guarding them.
Harris does, however, have some weaknesses on the offensive end. He’s not very adept at creating looks for himself, as over half his field goal attempts came without taking a dribble. And while his assist numbers aren’t bad, he could be a better creator for others and just better in general with the ball in his hands.
Harris looks to be on his way to becoming a one of the better role player, 3 and D type players in the league, which will always be a useful player to have on an NBA team.