New Top 25 Under 25, Part 2: Ranking the NBA's best young players, including rookies
Part 2: At least four of our Top 10 look like future MVP candidates
On Tuesday we began our ranking of the top NBA players under the age of 25 with players 11 to 25.
Today we look at players 1 to 10. Six of the 10 players here are NBA All-Stars or have played near that level, and at least one rookie and one sophomore are expected to reach that level in the next few years.
What’s new, who’s out and players who slipped
Since the season began, three players have “aged out” of the top-25 list: Devin Booker, Jaylen Brown and Jamal Murray (who turns 25 this week).
Three more dropped out of the top 25 after struggling this season: De’Aaron Fox and rookies Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs.
Just missing the list are several promising players under 25, including RJ Barrett, OG Anunoby, Desmond Bane, Tyrese Maxey and Franz Wagner.
Injuries have significantly changed the outlook for top prospects Zion Williamson and Michael Porter Jr., but they are still on the list of 25.
Miles Bridges, Onyeka Okongwu, Josh Giddey, Tyrese Haliburton, Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland are new additions to the top 25.
How we get our rankings
To qualify, players have to be in the NBA — while we love covering Scoot Henderson, Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and other top prospects outside the NBA extensively, they don’t qualify here. And we’re looking only at players who will be under the age of 25 at the resumption of the NBA regular season (February 24).
To get an accurate ranking, I combined two sources of information:
First, I used three analytics models (DARKO, LEBRON, and RAPTOR) to rate each player. Next to each player’s name, you can see his scores via the three models (D for DARKO, L for LEBRON and R for RAPTOR). Each plus-minus system measures the number of points a player contributes to his team’s offense and defense per 100 possessions, relative to a league-average player.
Second, I asked a handful of NBA GMs and scouts to rate each player under 25. For younger players, I asked them to think about the impact the players would have in the league by the time they are 24.
This is especially important to understand for younger players like Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes (both age 20). In some cases, they are not yet better than some of the 23- and 24-year-old players below them on the list. But they are projected to be.
Using that methodology, here’s a look at players 1 to 10 on my list:
10. Cade Cunningham
Detroit Pistons | 20 | T2 | L: -1.66 | D: -1.4 | R: -2.8
Previous rank: 4
Cunningham was a difficult player to rank.
The Pistons fans in love with him might see this as a slap in the face, especially just months after Cunningham was the near-consensus choice as the No. 1 pick in the draft.
On the other hand, going strictly by this season’s analytics numbers, this is quite high to rank Cunningham, whose advanced stats are among the worst on this list — in the same ballpark as those of Josh Giddey and Jonathan Kuminga, who are nowhere near the top 10 here.
The two players Cunningham is compared to most often illustrate the problem. To some, he’s the second coming of Luka Dončić. To others, he’s more like Khris Middleton — an All-Star, not a superstar.
I see Cunningham as somewhere in between. He missed most of training camp and the preseason with an injury and has recently dealt with another injury, and the effect on his stats (and advanced stats) is pretty obvious.
In December and January, Cunningham was healthy and looked more like the No. 1 pick. For the season, he leads rookies in points per game and is second in assists per game and fifth in rebounds per game.
Cunningham will be a perennial All-Star, I believe. That said, Scottie Barnes and especially Evan Mobley have brighter futures if they continue to max out their abilities. That’s not a knock on Cunningham, but Barnes and Mobley have size and athletic talents that Cunningham doesn’t have, and they have the potential for greater two-way versatility.
Cunningham will clearly be the best shooter and pure scorer of the group, and that might be enough to get him back to the head of the class. But what Barnes and Mobley bring to the table push their ceilings higher.