Top 25 under 25 lists from ESPN and me (4/12/21)

Jayson Tatum out of health and safety protocols, return to be determined -  CelticsBlog

The other day, ESPN released their top 25 NBA players that are under 25 years old. It didn’t get a positive reaction. Even Stephen A. Smith had a fit about it, and he works for ESPN. Because the list is behind the ESPN+ paywall, here it is:

1. Luka Doncic

2. Zion Williamson

3. LaMelo Ball

4. Donovan Mitchell

5. Jayson Tatum

6. De’Aaron Fox

7. Ben Simmons

8. Devin Booker

9. Bam Adebayo

10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

11. Brandon Ingram

12. Jaylen Brown

13. Jamal Murray

14. Michael Porter Jr.

15. Ja Morant

16. Trae Young

17. Mikal Bridges

18. Domantas Sabonis

19. Anthony Edwards

20. Deandre Ayton

21. Tyrese Haliburton

22. John Collins

23. Jarrett Allen

24. Lonzo Ball

25. Collin Sexton

I agree with the general consensus. I don’t think this list is very good.

This list was made based on future potential, which does make it a little better (still not very good though). I just feel like this list can’t be based on potential. The only thing on the list that reflects future potential is LaMelo at three. So before I show my two lists, here are some major things I disagree with on this list (in no order):

First thing: LaMelo Ball over Jayson Tatum

Look, I understand that LaMelo is really good. I also understand that LaMelo is a very flashy, offensive-oriented, fun to watch player. The guys at places like ESPN and Bleacher Report love their flashy players. LaMelo could definitely be an MVP one day. Because this list is based on potential, I’ll let it slide. There’s one player below him I think should definitely be higher than him, and that’s Jayson Tatum. Jayson Tatum has limitless potential in my opinion. Not only is he a versatile offensive player, he’s also a versatile defender. LaMelo isn’t that quite yet. Because we’ve already seen rookie Jayson Tatum take a team to the conference finals, we know he’s capable of leading a team deep into the playoffs. We still have no idea if LaMelo will be able to do that. Therefore, the more established player who still has a ton of potential should be above him. 

Second thing: The disrespect towards Trae Young

People this year have been disrespecting Trae. The main reason for this (as far as I can tell) is because apparently he’s a flopper now. That may be true (I’ve seen some clips, but I won’t pretend like I’ve watched the Hawks a ton this year), but that’s no reason to disregard the player he is (or mostly the player he can become). (Fun fact: Trae is shooting less free throws per game this season than he was last year.) After all, he is an All-Star. He’s a great scorer who can become elite if his efficiency improves. He’s a great playmaker. What’s always gonna hold Trae back is his awful defense. But if he can get paired with a great defensive backcourt mate, that won’t be a huge deal (still a deal, just not as big as it is now). Trae is only 22, and still has lots of room to grow. The two players higher than him on ESPN’s list that shouldn’t be are Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. You could also argue Trae has higher potential than Brandon Ingram. I’m not (necessarily) saying that Trae has top ten or top five in the league potential, but he definitely will be a top five (potentially top 3) PG one day. 

Third thing: Jaylen Brown not top ten?

Jaylen Brown is very good. And not only is he good now, he still hasn’t hit his ceiling. JB is the type of guy who has the potential to be the best player on a great team. There are eight players on ESPN’s list that have the potential to be the best player on a great team (in my opinion, of course). JB is a great scorer and shot creator, and is also a great defender. You have to be ELITE on one end if you aren’t going to be above average on the other in order to be the best player on a great team. Jaylen Brown would be fully capable of doing what Donovan Mitchell has if he was on his own team. Brown has more potential than Ingram, Shai, Bam, Book, and Fox in my opinion. That makes him top ten on the list. 

Fourth thing: De’Aaron Fox is a little too high

De’Aaron has been one of my favorite players to watch this year. Out of all six teams who are the worst in their division, the Kings are the best record-wise. Fox is a huge part of that. He is an All-Star type player. He also has a high ceiling, and could lead a team to the playoffs in the near future. He just has to become more efficient on the offensive end, especially from three. I just think ESPN overreacted a little here. Fox is having a great year, but he should be lower. Probably around that ten spot. 

Fifth thing: Ja Morant below the Nuggets duo

Ja Morant is a walking highlight. He has crazy hops and makes insane passes. He has led a team who fell just short of the playoffs in 2020, and is leading a Grizzlies team to a playoff spot this year (while Jaren Jackson Jr. is out). Ja is one of my eight players who could be the best player on a great team, because he’s already shown us he can lead a team close to the playoffs in his rookie year. Jamal Murray hasn’t done anything like that, and probably won’t. (One reason Jamal won’t is because he will be teammates with Jokic throughout his prime, so he won’t get a chance. The other reason is that I don’t think Jamal’s game is fit for a number one option. He’s not a playmaker.) Therefore, since Ja can lead a team and Jamal (theoretically) can’t, Ja has higher potential. Michael Porter Jr. is a great player, but he can’t be over Ja (maybe not even Trae) at this point in his career. MPJ isn’t a shot creator (but he can be), he physically cannot playamake at even a below average level, and he isn’t an excellent defender either. I think that Ja should be higher than MPJ and Jamal. It’s that simple. 

Those are five things that really stood out to me from this list. There are a couple other things that I didn’t think were big enough to elaborate on, so here they are:

  • Tatum should be over Donovan
  • Edwards, Collins, Lonzo, and maybe even Haliburton and Ayton over Sabonis in terms of potential
  • Do Dejounte Murray, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, James Wiseman, or Kevin Porter Jr. deserve a spot on this list?

Now, the highlight of the article, my two lists (and a bonus third). 


We’ll start with the bonus, which is the eight players who I think will be able to be the best player on a great team (in no order):

  • Luka
  • Zion
  • LaMelo
  • Donovan
  • Tatum
  • Simmons (remember, Giannis can’t shoot. People put too much stock in Benny’s lack of a jumper. That just tells me they haven’t watched the 76ers play this year.)
  • Jaylen
  • Ja

I feel like all those picks either don’t need explaining or received some previously in the article. However, there is definitely one player most of you readers just thought of after you read the list, and that man is Devin Booker. I have a simple reasoning for this. 

Book’s teams were some of the worst in the league for all of his pre-CP3 days, and that tells me a lot (2019 is the most important year in this argument). In the 2018-19 season, Booker had T.J. Warren, Kelly Oubre, rookie Deandre Ayton, and rookie Mikal Bridges. Obviously not great. But the Suns only won 19 games that year. Phoenix had the same record as Cleveland, and Cleveland’s best three players were rookie Collin Sexton, 22 games of Kevin Love, and Jordan Clarkson. The Bulls had a better record than Phoenix, and their top three were LaVine and nobody (Lauri Markkanen and freaking Justin Holiday). The Hawks had rookie Trae Young and sophomore John Collins, and they won more games than Phoenix. 

Phoenix’s core in 2020 was the same as in 2019, except minus Warren and plus Rubio. The only reason Phoenix was close to the playoffs is because their 8-0 bubble record. Otherwise they would have probably been higher in the lottery than they were. The Suns were great in the bubble, but any team in a league that has all the best players in the world can get hot and win 8 games straight.

I just feel like Booker should have won some more games during his pre-CP3 years in Phoenix, especially in the last few seasons. After all, Donovan Mitchell took the Jazz from mediocrity to a perennial playoff team as soon as he was drafted. 

List #1: Based on potential

1. Luka Doncic

2. Zion Williamson

3. Jayson Tatum

4. LaMelo Ball

5. Ben Simmons

6. Donovan Mitchell

7. Jaylen Brown

8. Ja Morant

9. Devin Booker

10. Bam Adebayo

11. De’Aaron Fox

12. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

13. Trae Young

14. Brandon Ingram

15. Jamal Murray

16. Michael Porter Jr.

17. Anthony Edwards

18. John Collins

19. Mikal Bridges

20. Tyrese Haliburton

21. Deandre Ayton

22. Domantas Sabonis

23. Lonzo Ball

24. Collin Sexton

25. James Wiseman

Here are some little bits of explanation:

  • Tatum over LaMelo already got its explanation.
  • Simmons goes over Donovan and JB because he has more room to grow, and this is a potential-based list. I think Simmons will develop a proficient jumper during his career, and that would make him a borderline top ten player in the league. Therefore, he gets top five potential.
  • My top eight is of course the eight players that I think have the potential to be the best player on a great team.
  • I have Bam over guys like Fox, Shai, and Trae because Bam has such a unique play style that fits the modern NBA well, and he will probably be a top 2-3 center one day (also Bam’s 80% free throw shooting suggests he can develop at least a consistent mid-range shot. He shoots 37% from 16-3P range). 
  • Domantas Sabonis falls pretty low because I think he’s almost maxed out as a player. He has improved his jumper this year, but I don’t think he’ll get much better. 
  • John Collins gets a top 20 placement. I think he’s a great player. He can shoot, he can finish, and he can defend. He can be an All-Star one day, and ESPN’s list didn’t reflect that.
  • James Wiseman, although he’s at 25, deserves a placement because he is still very young. He’s been inconsistent, but he can defend the paint and also stretch the floor to a degree. He still has excellent potential. It was just tough to rank him higher because I haven’t seen too much from him so far. 

List #2: Based on the 2020-21 Season

1. Luka Doncic

2. Jayson Tatum

3. Donovan Mitchell

4. Devin Booker

5. Ben Simmons

6. Jaylen Brown

7. Zion Williamson

8. Trae Young

9. De’Aaron Fox

10. Bam Adebayo

11. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

12. Ja Morant

13. Jamal Murray

14. Brandon Ingram

15. Domantas Sabonis

16. Michael Porter Jr.

17. Collin Sexton

18. John Collins

19. LaMelo Ball

20. Mikal Bridges

21. Dejounte Murray

22. Tyrese Haliburton

23. Jarrett Allen

24. Deandre Ayton

25. Lonzo Ball

Here’s some explanation:

  • Zion takes a dip on this list compared to the potential-based one. Zion is definitely a dominant paint scorer, but that’s more or less it for him. He is a great rebounder, and a solid defender, but he isn’t very versatile at this point in his NBA career. Plus, the Pelicans are bad. Therefore Zion isn’t top five on this list. I saw someone on Tiktok say Zion is better than Tatum. That’s ridiculous. 
  • Trae Young barley edges out Fox. The edge is team success, and Trae is better on offense. It’s super close though, and I could see it going either way depending on who you talk to.
  • Ja Morant, despite being an inefficient offensive player, still is placed over Jamal Murray. I’m giving the edge to Ja because it’s so impressive to me how he can lead his team (while missing their second best player) to a playoff/play-in spot at this point in his career. I don’t like to let stats decide all my opinions. 
  • MPJ over Sexton. I’m not a MPJ fan. He’s just so ridiculously efficient. He takes one more three per game than Sexton, and shoots 7% better. Sexton has no Ja Morant-like edge now that the Cavs have fallen out of playoff contention, so MPJ goes higher than him.
  • Dejounte Murray makes an appearance on this list. Dejounte is super good. He didn’t make the potential list because he’s basically 25 years old, but he does make this one. 
  • Jarrett Allen is better than Deandre Ayton. I thought Ayton was gonna be a lot better this year than he has been, but that’s something to discuss in a postseason article. 

So, those are my thoughts on ESPN’s top 25 under 25 list (now around a week late, because I worked on this over a weekend), as well as my own lists. Let me know what you think! Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

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