Top 25 Under 25: Ranking the NBA's best young players, including rookies
Part 1: Anthony Edwards and Jaylen Brown lead players ranked 16-25
Last week we tackled which NBA teams have the best collections of players under the age of 25 in our Future Talent Rankings.
This week I’m ranking the top 25 players in the NBA under the age of 25.
While there was some pushback from readers on how I ranked teams, the bigger complaint was about how I ranked certain players.
Atlanta Hawks fans were livid that Trae Young was ranked as only a Tier 2 guy. New Orleans Pelicans fans were frustrated with Brandon Ingram’s ranking as a Tier 3 player. Fans of LaMelo Ball, Michael Porter Jr. and Ja Morant also pushed back on the ratings.
Tier ratings are powerful tools used by many NBA teams. But one issue with tiers is that it can be strange to see two different types of players in the same tier, with no sense of how they rank next to others in that tier. For instance, Atlanta teammates Trae Young and John Collins ranked in the same tier, though Young is very close to Tier 1 and Collins is very close to Tier 3.
I hope this column clears up some of that concern by showing and explaining how players rank relative to each other.
The same rules apply to this ranking as they did to my last one. Players need to be in the NBA and under the age of 25 at the start of the NBA regular season on October 19.
(If I were to include players currently not in the NBA, France’s Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, would be ranked high on this list.)
To get an accurate ranking, I combined three sources of information:
First, I used two analytics models (DARKO and LEBRON) to rate each player. You can see each player’s score next to their name with a “D” for DARKO and an “L” for LEBRON. Second, for NBA rookies, I used the 2021 NBA Draft Tier system I employed just before the draft. Finally, I asked a handful of NBA GMs and scouts to rate each player under 25.
This third method deserved a caveat that I didn’t make in my last piece. I should have added that when I asked GMs and scouts to rate players I was asking them to think about the impact they would have in the league by the time they are 24. This is especially important to understand for younger players like LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green. I am not saying that those players are currently better than some of the 23- and 24-year-old players on the list. They might not be for three or even four years. What I am saying is that they are projected to be better than those players by the time they turn 24.
Using that methodology here’s a look at players 16 to 25 on my list.
On Wednesday we will reveal players 6 to 15. And on Thursday we will reveal players 1 to 5.
25. Lonzo Ball
Chicago Bulls | Age: 23 | Tier: T3 | LEBRON: 1.26 | DARKO: 0.0
Analysis: Ball looked like a disappointment after the Lakers selected him with the No. 2 pick in 2017 NBA Draft before eventually trading him to New Orleans. However, he’s quietly improved, especially as a 3-point shooter and a free-throw shooter, while still offering solid defense and passing ability. The Pelicans declining to re-sign Ball to replace him with Devonte’ Graham seems like a mistake. It will be fascinating to see how Ball fits in with the Bulls, but I thought Chicago made one of the best free-agent signings of the summer.
24. Jaren Jackson Jr.
Memphis Grizzlies | 22 | T3 | L: 0.26 | D: -0.3
Analysis: Jackson’s upside has always been tantalizing and still is for NBA GMs (they just voted Jackson most likely to have a breakout season) who ultimately see him as a small-ball center who can stretch the floor. The big question marks for Jackson center on the health of his knee (he only played 11 games last season and has missed 101 games in his three NBA seasons) and whether he can provide defensive toughness on the boards and at the rim. He’s only 22 and there’s still time for him to emerge as the two-way threat the Grizzlies imagined when they passed on Trae Young to select Jackson in the 2018 NBA Draft.
23. De’Aaron Fox
Sacramento Kings | 23 | T3 | L: 1.08 | D: 1.0
Analysis: Fox sits right on the cusp of being an NBA All-Star after putting up the best season of his career, averaging a career-high 25.2 ppg, getting to the line a career-high 7.2 times per game and averaging 7.2 assists per game. He is a blur in the open court and brings toughness to a team that sorely lacks it. But unless he gets more accurate as a shooter (he shot 32% from 3 last season), cuts down on turnovers and improves on the defensive end (his defensive numbers drove down his LEBRON and DARKO scores), he’s not quite a Tier 2 player.
22. Brandon Ingram
New Orleans Pelicans | 24 | T3 | L: 1.27 | D: 1.2
Analysis: Ingram has won an Most Improved Player of the Year Award and has been selected to an All-Star team, so Pelicans fans were frustrated that he ultimately landed in Tier 3 instead of Tier 2 — especially since he nearly duplicated the 2019-20 campaign that earned him his first All-Star nod. Ingram’s negative defensive numbers are part of the issue; LEBRON rated him the worst defensive starter on the team. I think there’s a legitimate case to be made for Ingram to be rated as a Tier 2 player. If he was, the Pelicans would’ve ranked as the third-best young team in the NBA in our Future Talent Rankings.
21. Jonathan Kuminga
Golden State Warriors | 18 | T2.5
Analysis: Kuminga is the youngest player on this list and will likely take the most time to develop. I see a key comp just a couple of spots higher on the list in Jaylen Brown — another raw athlete who took several years to blossom into an All-Star in Boston. Kuminga has the physical tools to get there, but he lacks experience and it’s unclear how soon he’ll see playing time in Golden State to get the reps he needs. He has the biggest bust potential of anyone in these rankings, but if he reaches his ceiling, he could be a top-5 player on this list someday.
20. Jalen Suggs
Orlando Magic | 20 | T2.5
Analysis: Suggs is riding an NCAA Final Four run that saw him hit a buzzer beater against UCLA before Gonzaga stumbled against Baylor in the championship game. While the rest of his team ran out of steam fast, Suggs continued to compete, even when the ending was a foregone conclusion, cementing his status in the draft as the coaches’ favorite player. His history as a former high school quarterback accurately conveys his game as a point guard and finisher at the rim. And on defense he plays with the tenacity of a linebacker constantly reading the offense and anticipating plays. His toughness and competitive nature shined in Summer League and many scouts believe he’s going to be the best of the 2021 rookies for the first two years. His lack of elite size and elite explosiveness is what keeps him from potential Tier 1 status. I’m expecting a big year from him in Orlando.
The first 10 players on our Top 25 Under 25 is free for all readers. Players 1-15 will be for subscribers only. For full access please join our community as a full subscriber.
19. Scottie Barnes
Toronto Raptors | 20 | T2.5
Analysis: Barnes is one of the most versatile players I’ve ever seen at his age. He can play five positions on both ends of the floor. He’s got elite size and length for a player with his skill set. I think he’s best as a jumbo point guard, but the Raptors are going to have plenty of options for fitting him into the team. Defensively he may end up being the best player in his draft class. He also brings a rep as a very positive young man whom coaches and teammates adore. His jump shot needs work and at some point the Raptors are going to have to figure out if they want to develop him offensively as a big, a wing, or a lead guard. His pre-season debut was a good indicator of what we can expect this year: 13 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. I think he has as much upside as anyone in the 2021 draft.
18. John Collins
Atlanta Hawks | 24 | T2 | L: 1.75 | D: 1.2
Analysis: Collins' scoring and rebounding numbers dipped a bit during the 2020-21 season. But his well-rounded game was a key for the Hawks’ surge during the second half of the season and to the Eastern Conference finals. He’s not yet an All-Star, but that might come with continued improvement and team success. Meanwhile he has signed a five-year, $125 extension that should keep him as a cornerstone in Atlanta.
17. Jaylen Brown
Boston Celtics | 24 | T2 | L: 0.30 D: 1.5
Analysis: Brown turns 25 just five days after the season begins, which means he barely qualified for the list. Brown landed on the first All-Star team of his career last season and put up career highs in scoring (24.7 ppg) and assists (3.4 apg). He also shot a career high 39.7% from 3 on an impressive 7.1 attempts per game. Both LEBRON and, to a lesser extent, DARKO are slightly bearish on his performance last season. But when you consider where he started as a rookie, he’s made amazing progress in his five years in the NBA.
16. Anthony Edwards
Minnesota Timberwolves | 20 | T2 | L -0.90 | D: 0.6
Analysis: Edwards’ rookie season got off to a rocky start in Minnesota, but by the second half, he was looking the part of a No. 1 pick in the draft. His advanced stats aren’t impressive yet, and NBA scouts and GMs worry about his feel for the game. But his numbers after the All-Star break were awesome for a rookie: 24 ppg, 5 rpg and 3 apg with 45% shooting from the field and 35% from beyond the arc. In May, during the final eight games of the season, he averaged 27 ppg and 4 apg and shot 41% from 3. If he averages near those numbers as an NBA sophomore, he’s too low on this list.
The first 10 players on our Top 25 Under 25 is free for all readers. Players 1-15 will be for subscribers only. For full access to the full Top 25 Under 25 and to Mock Drafts, Big Boards, scouting reports on all of the top players in the 2022 draft as well as the ability to comment on articles and special discussion boards, Zoom calls and more interaction with me in the coming weeks please join our community as a full subscriber.