As much as I enjoy watching LeBron James at the peak of his NBA powers, as much as I enjoy watching the veteran Celtics come together since Rajon Rondo went down, as fun as it is to watch Carmelo Anthony drop 35-plus night after night en-route to his first scoring title, and Chris Paul continuing to be the best point guard of this generation, what makes the NBA so great night in and night out is everyone else. Namely, the young guns.
NBA League Pass has never been a more relieving investment, so much so that shelling out the money for it is a priority for NBA junkies. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve come across a random Cleveland Cavaliers – Golden State Warriors type of game on a Tuesday night, and had the opportunity to watch two of the best young guards in the league go at it like young boxers trying to make a name for themselves. It wasn’t that long ago when the idea of watching any team(s) you desired on any given night wasn’t feasible. Now it’s a nightly event. The NBA, where every team has at least one player worth watching on a nightly basis happens.
The league does an excellent job of making their product easily accessible. I’ve watched and re-watched countless NBA games on screens as small as my iPhone or iPad. It’s not the most viable option, but it is an option nonetheless, and it’s fantastic. There hasn’t been a better professional sports league when it comes to taking advantage of technology. There are countless YouTube videos of complete games from teams and highlight reels of the most exciting players. The NBA is a player’s league, make no mistake about it. Thankful for us, the quality of players is at an all time high.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the NBA’s best young talent. ESPN tried it, but I’m finishing it. The cutoff is 25 years old, so let’s call this The Under 26 List.
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Terrence Ross for his performance in the 2013 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
Maurice Harkless for being one of four players of which the Sixers gave up last offseason and got nothing in return as far as on the court production is concerned. Rob Hennigan, we salute you.
TIER 1: Career Role Players
Al-Farouq Aminu, Iman Shumpert and Avery Bradley
All great defensive-minded players who have shown offensive capabilities as well. Three of my favorite young defensive players to watch. Bonus to Iman Shumpert for his hair and shoe game.
Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Earl Clark and Jonas Valanciunas
With the exception of the latter, I think we know what type of players these guys will be. More importantly, they know who they are, which can be the toughest part for young players to figure out. Know this, they’ll give you 15-25 minutes of 100 percent effort basketball on a nightly basis. The jury is still out on where Valanciunas’ career will lead.
Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter
Both have shown the ability to play well when supplied minutes. Both play on teams who are deep at the forward spots. Both are yet to find their niche and I’d be willing to bet that when they do, they’ll both be wearing different uniforms.
Gordon Hayward and Nicolas Batum
One of these guys averages 14.3 points per game while putting up 42/37/85 shooting splits. The other averages 14.3 while putting up 43/41/83 splits. With neither player needing many touches (both attempt fewer than 12 shots per outing), many general managers would love these guys on their roster. They spread the floor, they knock down shots and they’re efficient. What more do you want out of your (role-playing) wing?
The best reserve point guard in the NBA. He passes the table test in every conceivable way; he brings a ton to it, while taking next to nothing off.
Since being dealt to the Orlando Magic, Harris is averaging 17.1 points per game and ripping down an average of 8.7 rebounds per. Is there even anyone, other than Rob Hennigan, on the General Manager of the Year ballet? More on this later on.
TIER 2: NBA Starters, But They Have A Ceiling
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker
MKG is an Andre Iguodala type player in terms of selflessness and Kemba is fearless. These are two very good building blocks moving forward but the Bobcats are still in search of their star.
DeMar DeRozan and Bradley Beal
Their games couldn’t be more different while their ceilings are about the same. Both players are destined to be 15-19 point scorers a night. DeMar does it more with his athleticism where as Beal relies more on his shooting stroke. Beal has the gift and the curse of John Wall, who is capable of getting him looks, but also dominates the ball. DeRozan is closer to his ceiling than the rookie, but we expect them both to be about the same in terms of scoring.
Mike Conley, Jeff Teague and Isaiah Thomas
These are the point, assist and turnover numbers per game for the aforementioned point guards:
Mike Conley: 14.6/6.1/2.4
Jeff Teague: 14.7/7.2/2.9
Isaiah Thomas: 13.9/3.9/1.8
Mike Conley has the best group of players around him and one of the most underrated coaches in the league. Jeff Teague has played the point guard position very efficiently for Atlanta and the vastly undersized Isaiah Thomas’ assist and turnover numbers are lower due to the fact that he plays with a team of balldominating guards. None of their teams would make significant improvements nor have significant drop offs if the three were shuffled.
Lavoy Allen, Jodie Meeks and Boris Diaw each average more minutes per game than Bledsoe. This tells us four things; the Los Angeles Clippers are extremely deep, have the best starting point guard in the NBA, Bledsoe is far underutilized for being in such great physical shape and we still don’t quite know Bled’s full potential and won’t until we get bigger serving sizes of it. He gives you 15.2/5.4/5.2 splits per 36 minutes. He is a premier perimeter defender and an incredible athlete. Whoever snags him in the offseason is going to hit a home run in doing so. It’s only in his jump shooting that I really give him a ceiling. If he can vastly improve his stroke, the sky’s the limit.
TIER 3: Will Play A Significant Role On A Championship Team
Serge Ibaka, Jimmy Butler, O.J. Mayo, DeAndre Jordan, Ryan Anderson, Thaddeus Young and Kawhi Leonard
All of these guys possess one or a combination of the following:
A) Are already on a team that is right on the fringe of winning a championship.
B) Posess a specific talent which has the potential to one day contribute to a championship team.
C) Are selfless, team-first basketball players.
D) Hustle, hustle and more hustle.
You can never have enough of these type of players.