Jordan’s Top 5 Young Players:
1. Michael Carter-Williams: I’m glad Julius and I waited to finish this list because Carter-Williams is now the solidified point guard on my list. The trade which sent him from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Milwaukee Bucks will only further his growth. He has the size, length and basketball IQ to become a matchup nightmare in Jason Kidd’s system. With all of the young talent in Milwaukee, I expect MCW to make more progress at the most scrutinized position in the NBA.
2. Bradley Beal: It seems unfair for Beal to be on this list because in last year’s playoffs he was playing like a breakout All Star waiting to emerge. Beal is on this list because he’s in his third year and he’s only 21-years-old. Despite dealing with injuries in all three years, he has managed to wreak havoc on every opponent. If Beal can get remotely healthy he will be a clear favorite as a perennial two-guard All Star in the Eastern Conference.
3. Jabari Parker: Yes Parker is done this year due to a season-ending ACL injury and yes Wiggins has been amazing since Parker’s injury. Those are true statements, but Parker is rated here because wins matter. The Bucks were a winning team when Parker was performing at an efficient level. He has all of the tools you desperately want young players to have. He has the offensive repertoire, he’s not a defensive liability, hyper-competitive and he wanted to get drafted by the Bucks to change a losing franchise’s culture. At age 19, what more can you ask for? He’s one of the future faces of the NBA.
4. Jared Sullinger: Sullinger is the Eastern Conference Serge Ibaka. Yes, their style of play and body types are different, but how they progressed are the same. Critics had their doubts about Sullinger coming out of Ohio State, but he has proved them wrong. He has developed a consistent midrange shot, a formidable three-point shot and he knows how to use his frame to his advantage. At age 22, he’s averaging 14.8 points and eight rebounds while being the main focus of teams’ defenses. Though he is now out for season with a foot injury his presence and impact will be missed for the Celtics.
5. Andre Drummond: Drummond is debatably a top-five center in the NBA so this was an easy decision. He’s averaging 12.7 points, 13 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks on pure athleticism and power. He’s one of the youngest prospects and easily the most dominant. Drummond can change a game by just being on the court, which is reminiscent of a young Dwight Howard on the Orlando Magic. Once Drummond is able to improve his post game, then he will ascend to a perennial All-Star level and compete for the title of best big man in the NBA.
1. Dennis Schroeder: Schroeder is the most underrated and well-rounded backup point guard in the NBA. He proved his worth early in the year when Jeff Teague missed a couple of games and the Hawks needed him. Defensively, he is far ahead of young point guards as well as some star point guards. On a team with tremendous depth he’s averaging 8.5 points, two rebounds and 3.5 assists. Schroeder has drawn comparisons to Rajon Rondo because similar to Rondo, Schroeder can have an impact in every facet of a game. Though he most likely will never reach Rondo’s prominence, he has an opportunity to play a Rondo type of game.
2. Victor Oladipo: Victor Oladipo could easily be the starter on this list if Bradley Beal didn’t qualify. The athleticism, competiveness, ability to get better and confidence Oladipo displays is refreshing to watch. He plays with an aggression which makes him a tough matchup. The Magic have a good crop of young prospects and it starts with him. If Oladipo keeps playing in this manner he, like Beal, will contend for a reserve guard All-Star spot in the near future.
3. Andrew Wiggins: Andrew Wiggins is certain to win this year’s Rookie of the year award. It took him a while to get the feel for the NBA game and right now he’s using his physical gifts to hide his decencies. He’s averaging 15.3 points and 4.3 rebounds on .435 shooting from the field. For a number-one pick these are very productive numbers but they don’t translate into wins. Wiggins was ecstatic to play with LeBron James and got traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Hopefully, he’s able to embrace this situation and try to uplift the Timberwolves franchise because I know Jabari Parker is doing this for the Milwaukee Bucks.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo: Why is he here in the power forward slot you ask? Antetokounmpo is here because we don’t know exactly what his position is. He’s 6’11 with a power forward’s frame and a point guard’s ability. He’s definitely the most intriguing prospect in the NBA. At only 20-years-old, he’s averaging 12 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.5 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field. He’s improved every aspect of his game since his rookie year, last year, and he will continue to get better. All-Star potential is evident but time and his progression will define that.
5. Jonas Valanciunas: Valanciunas is probably the most valuable piece to his team’s championship aspirations out of the players on this list. It’s easy to forget he’s only been in the NBA just three years now. Without his rapid progression, the Toronto Raptors would be in dire need to fill his void. From production and impact, Valanciunas is already a productive center. Similar to Drummond though, he has another level he can reach and he has the opportunity to display this on the playoff stage.
Julius’s Top 5 Young Players
1. Michael Carter-Williams: Although it can be argued that his numbers are a product of meaningless possessions and being the only viable option on a bad team, there’s no denying that Carter-Williams possesses a substantial amount of talent and a unique set of skills for someone at that size. Even with the possible inflation in statistics, career averages of 16 points, 6.7 assists and 6.2 rebounds is nothing to sneeze at.
2. Victor Oladipo: In spite of his subpar singing (see his rendition of “New York, New York” at the dunk contest) Oladipo posses a wealth of talent and production that is sure to make him a game-changing player within the next season or two. His size and skillset is reminiscent of a poor man’s young Dwyane Wade, which is still a better comparison than most. Standing at a stocky 6 foot 4 inches and 210 pounds, Oladipo is able to hound both backcourt positions on defense, as well as act as a primary and secondary ball handler on offense. Although there are still a few rough edges to Oladipo’s game, his production and growth over the past two seasons is auspicious.
3. Andrew Wiggins: After mixed results early in the season, Wiggins has picked things up of late, scoring at least 20 points 12 times since the start of 2015, including three 30-point games. It’s not like Wiggins is doing this against chumps either. Two of those 30-point games are against the Rockets, who are third in the NBA in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions), and the Cavaliers, where he went toe-to-toe against LeBron James, the man who might have been instrumental in Wiggins’ exit from Cleveland. The scariest part about Wiggins is that he is far from reaching his full potential.
4. Nikola Mirotic: Even though Mirotic is much older, in terms of age, than everybody else on this list, he still is getting acclimated to the NBA game, so I consider him a “young player.” In back-to-back games against the Clippers and Wizards, Mirotic has scored a combined 52 points, displaying his diverse offensive skills in the process. So far, he has done an exception job at adjusting his game and maximizing his skill set, averaging 15.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per 36 minutes. On a Bulls team that has trouble scoring, Mirotic has demonstrated the exceptional 3-point shooting that makes him special. Despite his transition from the European game to the NBA game, Mirotic has been able to make defenders look silly by shooting 39.9 percent from beyond the arc, as well as taking them off the dribble once they honor his shot.
5. Andre Drummond: Only three guys have averaged 13 points and 12 rebounds before their 21st birthday: Shaquille O’Neal, Moses Malone and Drummond. That’s pretty rarified air for a young big man, if you ask me. Although Drummond isn’t where O’Neal or Malone were at this stage of their careers, Drummond is right with them when it comes to rebounding. At age 21, Drummond is already a dominant rebounder, as he currently sits second in the league with 12.9 rebounds per game. Those aren’t cheap rebounds either. He uses his size and athleticism to gain position and snatch the ball, as he is only behind DeAndre Jordan in contested rebounds per game with 6.4. It remains to be seen if Drummond can be the destructive force that O’Neal and Malone were, but at worst, Drummond is a double-double machine, who will make a living off of put backs and rebounds.
1. Dennis Schroder: Schröder often gets lost in the mix of young point guards because he doesn’t start for his team. However, his talent and production scream “starting point guard” even if his playing time doesn’t. This season his stats per 36 minutes are 16.8 points, 7.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds. When those numbers are compared to another promising young point guard like Michael Carter-Williams, they compare pretty favorably. In addition to statistics, Schröder has proven that he can command a top-notch team, leading the Hawks to a 4-0 record in December and January while Teague was out with injury, averaging 13.3 points and seven assists.
2. Bradley Beal: He would probably be the starter if it weren’t for injuries and the fact that he has the luxury of playing off of John Wall. Injuries and help aside, Beal is still one of the premier young scorers in the league, scoring 16.2 points per game this season and shooting 42 percent from the 3-point line as well. In addition his offensive capabilities, Beal is a very solid defender, as we saw in Washington’s playoff stint last year against the Bulls and the Pacers, where he did an admirable job checking Jimmy Butler and Lance Stephenson. If Beal can stay on the court for multiple seasons, he will surely be one of the premiere backcourt players in the league.
3.Giannis Antetokounmpo: He is 6’11” and has guard skills. Think about that for a second. Over the past two seasons, Antetokounmpo has taken the necessary steps forward to warrant the immense hype surrounding his potential. This season has seen him increase his scoring by over three points and his rebounding by over two. In addition to that, he is displayed a more keen ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the line more often. As of right now, it’s not Antetokounmpo’s actual production that lands him on this list, it’s the highlight reel plays and freakish potential he shows flashes of on a nightly basis.
4. Jared Sullinger: It’s difficult to believe that Sullinger is only in his third year in the NBA because of his poise and production. Before injuring his foot, Sullinger was nothing short of brilliant averaging 14.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game with an 18.41 player efficiency rating (PER). Furthermore, Sullinger has diversified his game of late, extending his range to the 3-point line, where he shot eight percent better than he did his rookie year. Even though there are concerns with Sullinger, namely conditioning, injuries and shot selection, he still is a very well-rounded young player who appears to be a solid contributor for several years to come.
5. Jonas Valanciunas: It feels like Valanciunas has been in the NBA for several years now, but believe it or not, he’s only wrapping up his third season. The former top-five pick has grown into an interior anchor for a Raptors team that is currently in no. 2 in the eastern conference. This season, Valanciunas has reached a new career high in PER (20) while providing the Raptors with adequate rim protection (1.1 blocks per game). In addition to that, the massive Lithuanian has given the Raptors a post presence to rely provide the team with offensive versatility. Furthermore, the Valanciunas is one of the few big me in the league whose team can rely on them at the free throw line, where he currently shoots 79.3 percent. Not to say that Valanciunas can’t be more aggressive and utilize his size to his advantage on both ends, because he clearly can, but his production and potential are encouraging moving forward.