NBA
June 25, 2020
BY Jay Sanin

The 10 Best NBA Players Under 25, Ranked

The attention of NBA fans is typically on the top stars in the league like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. But there is so much young talent in the league today that fans and bettors should be aware of, as these rising stars can elevate teams in roles that are likely to increase as they age.

These 10 players under the age of 25 are particularly worth keeping an eye on as they mature under the bright lights. Who is the brightest star under 25? Let's find out. 

10. Jaylen Brown, 23

The Boston Celtics were in the middle of stockpiling first-round picks when they selected Jaylen Brown with the third overall selection in the 2016 draft. Since then, Brown has progressed in each of his first four seasons to become an integral part of a team that has established itself as a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference. And with the East being wide open after the departures of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, Brown’s value has skyrocketed in the conference.

During the 2019-2020 season, Brown averaged 20.4 points per game before the season was put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak. His shooting percentage hasn’t decreased year over year since he entered the league, which is impressive as he has continued to enjoy 10 more attempts from the field per game this season than he took in his rookie campaign.

Along with another member of this list, Brown has helped form an impressive young core in Boston.

9. D’Angelo Russell, 24 

One of the older players on this list, D’Angelo Russell has been in the NBA for five seasons now, playing well for four different teams during that span. After opening his career on a struggling Lakers team, Russell helped the Brooklyn Nets get to the postseason with a young and inexperienced squad. This season, he moved to the Golden State Warriors, before being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Andrew Wiggins.

Russell has averaged more than 20 points per game in each of his last three seasons, and he's averaged over six assists per game during the last three years as well. His ability to score both inside and outside the three-point arc translates to any team, which is fortunate given how much he has been moved around so early in his career.

8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 21

When you play for two different teams in your first two years in the league, and both of those teams overachieve, that is a sign that you are doing something right. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander spent his rookie year with the Los Angeles Clippers before being dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder as a part of the deal that brought Paul George to LA. And in both of those years, Gilgeous-Alexander has helped his teams exceed expectations.

This season, SGA has broken out scoring 19.3 points per game, forming an unexpectedly strong nucleus alongside veteran star Chris Paul.

As one of the youngest players on this list, Gilgeous-Alexander is also a player with more room to grow than almost anyone in the league. This second-year star could be the next NBA superstar you haven't heard of. 

7. Ben Simmons, 23 

At the point guard position, there aren’t many players tougher to guard than Ben Simmons, thanks to his uncanny ability to get to the basket. Simmons has shot over 50% in each of his first three seasons in the NBA, averaging over 16 points and eight assists per contest for a Sixers team that has become a championship contender with him running the offense.

The only thing keeping Simmons from being higher on this list is his lack of a jump shot. A glaring weakness in his game before he got to the NBA, Simmons still hasn’t developed a good enough jumper to get him to take perimeter shots often. Until he improves that facet of his game, his teams may have a ceiling on how good they can be. But when that ceiling is being on the short list of Eastern Conference contenders, that might not be such a bad thing.

6. Donovan Mitchell, 23 

During Donovan Mitchell’s career, the Utah Jazz have been built around defense, making Mitchell’s skill set as a scorer all the more valuable. Mitchell has stepped up to the plate as a primary scorer in Utah, putting up more than 20 points per game in each of his first three years as a pro. More importantly, he has gone toe-to-toe with some elite teams in the postseason already, highlighted by the Jazz knocking out the Thunder in the first round two seasons ago.

At 23, Mitchell is already putting up more than 24 points per game during the 2019-2020 season. If his scoring average continues to climb season after season, he will soon be among the league leaders.

And while the future surrounding the Jazz is uncertain after Rudy Gobert’s transmission of coronavirus around the locker room, including to Mitchell, the man they call Spider is likely to be a cornerstone of it.

5. Devin Booker, 23 

Being in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring at 23 years old is a great way to kick off a career, and that is exactly what Devin Booker has done. Despite the struggles of his Phoenix Suns, Booker has been unguardable, scoring 26.1 points per game. As the LeBron James generation continues to age, it is players like Booker who appear poised to take over as some of the best that the league has to offer.

The only problem with Booker is the fact that he is not a strong defender, which has contributed to the Suns being a team that puts up points in bunches while still being outscored regularly. If Booker wants to become one of the best players in the league, he'll have to improve on defense.

4. Trae Young, 21 

Trae Young is younger than Devin Booker and is an even more impressive scorer. Young has averaged 29.6 points per game in the 2019-2020 season. That average puts Young in a tie for third in the NBA in individual scoring, with Young’s ability to distribute the basketball making him a multi-dimensional offensive threat.

Young averaged 9.3 assists per game so far this season, putting him in the top five in the NBA in that category as well. While the Hawks aren’t playoff contenders, the fact that Young has been so valuable on offense at such a young age means that they could very well get there by the time Young is a veteran.

3. Jayson Tatum, 22

Tatum has always been a gifted scorer. He showed that at Duke and continued to display his uncanny ability to get buckets with the Boston Celtics. Despite a sophomore slump where he struggled with consistency and getting to the hoop, Tatum has proven in his third season to be one of the most feared offensive players in the league. 

In the current campaign, Tatum has elevated his game and taken over as the leader of the Celtics. His points per game jumped from 15.7 in 2018-2019 to 23.6 this season. A lot of that is due to Kyrie Irving joining the Nets, but Tatum has certainly made the leap to NBA superstar. 

Alongside Brown, Tatum forms a young devastating duo with the Celtics.

2. Karl-Anthony Towns, 24 

The Minnesota Timberwolves have asked a lot of Karl-Anthony Towns since he was drafted in 2015. KAT has played more than 30 minutes per game in all five seasons of his career, and he's made the most of that time, averaging 26.5 points per game to mark a career-high during the 2019-2020 campaign. Towns has also averaged double figures in rebounding in every season of his young career. 

Minnesota not being the worst team in the NBA is a testament to just how good Towns has been before the age of 25. The organization around Towns has been a disaster dating back to before he was drafted. And with disappointing acquisitions around KAT, highlighted by Andrew Wiggins failing to live up to expectations, the Wolves’ star has been nothing short of stellar so far.

1. Luka Doncic, 21

No list of the best young players in the NBA should have a player other than Luka Doncic at the top of it. Doncic is perhaps the most versatile player in the NBA, with his combination of size and unpredictability making him arguably the most lethal offensive player in the league at just 21.

Doncic is averaging 28.7 points per game, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per contest for a Mavericks team that was one of the worst in the NBA before they drafted him. With the potential for him to continue to grow and add strength, there is plenty of room for Doncic to get even better, which should be a terrifying thought for the rest of the league.

Conventional wisdom suggests that it won’t be long until Doncic is leading his teams to deep runs in the postseason.

Photo: Getty Images