Top 25 under 25: Which young NBA stars have the most upside?

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February 13, 2017, 1:31 PM

&#151; -- Based on future potential, who are the NBA's top 25 to watch?

Amin Elhassan, Kevin Pelton and David Thorpe ranked their top 25 players under age 25 to create this new list of the league's elite young talent.

Note: Each writer's individual rankings are listed at the bottom.

1. Anthony Davis New Orleans Pelicans

Forward/center

Age:

23

Davis is still just 23 with an incredibly high ceiling. Injuries and a struggling supporting cast have dampened the excitement around him, but he has still been superb: an efficient volume scorer and a dominant defensive rebounder with a burgeoning inside-out skill set.

After years of underachieving defensive impact, he is finally growing into his potential as an elite and versatile defender.? -- Elhassan

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo Milwaukee Bucks

Forward

Age:

22

During his fourth NBA season, Antetokounmpo has made the leap to All-Star starter, and his 11.7 wins above replacement player (WARP) by my metric rank fourth in the league and tops among players under 25. That's remarkable given that Antetokounmpo is the age of a typical college senior.

Kansas guard Frank Mason, a leading NCAA player of the year contender, is eight months older. -- Pelton

3. Karl-Anthony Towns Minnesota Timberwolves

Forward/center

Age:

21

Towns has emerged as the league's top candidate for "center of the future." He and Davis are the only solid bets to finish the season averaging more than 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. Towns is also already a decent 3-point shooter and ranks in the top 15 in blocks per game.

It is fair to consider him a future MVP candidate. Towns should reach his enormous potential under the smart coaching of Tom Thibodeaux, and will start to look even better as his teammates learn how to play with and off him.? -- Thorpe

4. Joel Embiid Philadelphia 76ers

Center

Age:

22

Embiid is the biggest challenger to Towns for "best center" in future seasons. He is every bit the scorer Towns is and has similar versatility and ball skills. He is also a better shooter (36.7 percent from 3 this year vs. 33.7 percent for Towns) and shot blocker (more than doubles Towns' block rate).

In time he'll have no excuse to not be an elite rebounder as well, thanks to his size and agility. As with Towns, his efficiency will spike as more experienced (and talented) players surround him.? -- Thorpe

5. Kristaps Porzingis New York Knicks

Forward/center

Age:

21

The reason I coined the term "unicorn" for Porzingis before the 2014 draft was because of his immense potential as a defensive stretch big, one of the hardest roles to fill in the league.

So far, he has delivered on the shooting end, displaying a deft touch from beyond the arc, and has developed into a dominant finisher around the basket.

His rebounding leaves something to be desired, and that's a key to being an effective defensive big, even as he has developed into an elite rim protector. ?-- Elhassan

6. Nikola Jokic Denver Nuggets

Center

Age:

21

Jokic already has a case as the league's most skilled big man. He possesses incredible court vision, occasional 3-point range and a knack for finishing in the paint -- which makes it hard to believe he didn't become a full-time center until mid-December.

Since then, Jokic has averaged 20.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game, numbers only Russell Westbrook (this season) has exceeded in the past decade according to Basketball-Reference.com. -- Pelton

7. Rudy Gobert Utah Jazz

Center

Age:

24

The current gold standard in defensive bigs in the league, Gobert's place on the list speaks to his dominance on that end of the floor. Regardless of the metric, he rates near the top in the league in terms of defensive contribution.

In addition to the traditional paint patrolling we expect from our dominant defensive bigs, Gobert has shown aptitude moving his feet and using his length out on the perimeter on switches.

Offensively, he knows where his bread is buttered as a hyper-efficient finisher around the basket, and that's all you really need to demand from a player of his caliber defensively -- to catch and finish.? -- Elhassan

8. Kyrie Irving Cleveland Cavaliers

Guard

Age:

24

The only player in the top 25 with a championship ring, Irving was no bystander in last year's NBA Finals, showing his fearlessness?by making the winning 3-pointer in the deciding Game 7.

Irving isn't higher on the list because he's proven unable to summon that same level of defensive effort during the regular season. As a result, he ranks ninth among point guards in ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM). -- Pelton

9. Andre Drummond Detroit Pistons

Center

Age:

23

Drummond's momentum has slowed. There was great hope for a jump in his production -- and acumen -- playing under Stan Van Gundy. Unfortunately, that jump has not occurred, particularly on the defensive end, where teams are shooting an above average 61 percent at the rim in his presence.

He is the most dominant rebounder in the league and an elite finisher, and although he's in his fifth season, he's already a good player at age 23 who should be far from his prime years. ?-- Elhassan

10. Ben Simmons Philadelphia 76ers

Forward

Age:

20

Simmons has the speed and quickness of Jason Kidd in his prime, but in a much taller frame. His overall playmaking skills project to be elite, too, which means that he can be a team's primary creator.

Thanks to his size and athleticism, coaches should expect him to be an all-league defensive player. If ever he learns to shoot, Simmons has MVP potential. If not, he is still a core player on a potentially great team.? -- Thorpe

11. Andrew Wiggins Minnesota Timberwolves

Forward

Age:

21

Anyone worried about Wiggins' ceiling should just consider that at Wiggins' current age James Harden averaged 12 points and two assists per game.

Wiggins is among the rarest of elite athletes in the world and is now a good shooter who can use the dribble to create space for himself. He should start becoming an excellent defensive player soon with the potential to lead the league in scoring one day.? -- Thorpe

12. Jabari Parker Milwaukee Bucks

Forward

Age:

21

Now two years removed from a torn ACL as a rookie, Parker has made good on his promise as a volume scorer, averaging 20.2 points per game this season on above-average efficiency.

If the rest of Parker's game can catch up -- particularly his subpar defensive rebounding and individual defense -- he'll join his teammate Antetokounmpo as an All-Star. -- Pelton

13. Myles Turner Indiana Pacers

Center

Age:

20

Having moved from power forward to center in his second season, Turner leads all qualifying NBA players in block rate (6.5 percent of opponents' 2-point attempts) and is also making better than 40 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Turner's block rate overstates his defensive impact, but at 20 he's got time to hone the nuances of pick-and-roll defense. -- Pelton

14. Bradley Beal Washington Wizards

Guard

Age:

23

Although not yet recognized with All-Star honors, Beal is enjoying a true breakout season as one of the best off guards in the league, posting career highs in scoring, true shooting and assist rate. That last part is key, because he has real ability as a playmaker, especially from secondary pick-and-rolls and when being aggressively defended coming off screens.

At 23, he's beginning to make good on his potential, but health is still a concern, even as he enjoys his healthiest season so far. ?-- Elhassan

15. D'Angelo Russell Los Angeles Lakers

Guard

Age:

20

The league is trending to more athleticism, but Russell proves that feel, craft and skill will always have a place on the court. His versatility as a scorer and playmaker are greatly helped by his "never in a rush" mentality, making him ready more often to make the right play. Having great size for his position helps, too.?

As with many players on this list, more experienced teammates will help his game grow immensely if his work ethic matches his talent.? -- Thorpe

16. Steven Adams Oklahoma City Thunder

Center

Age:

23

Adams' contributions may not be eye-popping when observed during the ebbs and flow of game play but are absolutely pivotal in terms of impact.

A throwback big, Adams defends very well in space and in the post; offensively, he's a constant presence on the boards and has developed a rudimentary post game to keep defenses honest.

Perhaps his best trait is the most unheralded of all basketball actions: Adams might be one of the best screeners in the NBA. Nothing he does is flashy, but it's all the necessary things that need to be done. ?-- Elhassan

17. Devin Booker Phoenix Suns

Guard

Age:

20

Booker is enjoying a full season of an expanded role as one of his team's primary options offensively, and he's done a decent job of efficiently pumping in the shots.

What's tantalizing about Booker is his age. Putting aside the quality of his team, you have to marvel at a 20-year-old averaging better than 20 points per game in the NBA. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, and a player his size should be a better rebounder, but when you buy Booker, you're buying the immense potential he has.? -- Elhassan

18. Aaron Gordon

Orlando Magic Forward

Age:

21

As a starting power forward, Gordon averaged 11.1 points and 8.2 rebounds last season. The Magic responded by adding veteran Serge Ibaka and moving Gordon to the wing, where his rebounding has plummeted and his offense has been inconsistent.

Since Ibaka can be an unrestricted free agent this summer, Gordon may get a chance to move back to his natural position and pick up where he left off. -- Pelton

19. Zach LaVine Minnesota Timberwolves

Guard

Age:

21

There was a question as to whether LaVine could master his skill set well enough to be an NBA player who sticks in the league. Now the question is: Can he be a star or just very good?

He is on track to at least be the next Jamal Crawford -- a devastating one-on-one player who can be counted on to generate shots when a team needs an offensive boost.? -- Thorpe

20. Victor Oladipo Oklahoma City Thunder

Guard

Age:

24

Dealt by Orlando to Oklahoma City as the centerpiece of the Ibaka trade, Oladipo has developed from a slasher into more of a 3-and-D wing alongside Westbrook.

He's making a career-high 37 percent of his 3-point attempts and is still averaging 17.2 points per 36 minutes despite spending less time with the ball in his hands. -- Pelton

21. Brandon Ingram Los Angeles Lakers

Forward

Age:

19

Some players are 19 years old with the body of a fully grown man. Ingram is 19 but still carries a high school kid's physique. It's a mistake to think he will always be what he is now; as his body fills out, it won't be as great a hindrance to the impact of his length and skills.

Ingram can be expected to make perhaps the biggest jump in production going forward as he and his young teammates earn experience.? -- Thorpe

22. Rodney Hood Utah Jazz

Guard

Age:

24

Hood's value is somewhat depressed by his playing on a team with several competent wing players.

At 6-foot-8, he holds a considerable size advantage, and excels at using his length and stride to create space offensively and close space defensively.

This is his last year of eligibility on the Under 25 list, and he might just end up just a high-level role player. Good teams need players like Hood and being closer to what your potential is should not be a demerit.? -- Elhassan

23. Otto Porter Washington Wizards

Forward

Age: 23

Porter's NBA career started slowly, but he's broken through just in time to be a coveted restricted free agent this summer.

He ranks 18th in the league in RPM, and while that's partially thanks to blazing 3-point shooting that is likely to prove unsustainable (Porter is making a league-high 46 percent of his 3s), he has shown enough complementary skills to remain an above-average starting wing when his hot streak cools. -- Pelton

24. Thon Maker Milwaukee Bucks

Forward

Age:

19

There are two types of big men the NBA covets as role players -- the monstrous man who can eat up space inside, and the shot-blocking 3-point specialist. Maker is the latter. He's a fluid athlete with the potential to be an excellent perimeter shooter while possessing a huge wingspan to help swat shots on a 7-foot frame.

Lacking a typical basketball upbringing, Maker will need to grasp the NBA game quickly. What he learns now will determine how much he can grow as a player.? -- Thorpe

25. Julius Randle Los Angeles Lakers

Forward

Age:

22

Randle is a good example of how a player can find success before he really masters skills by just competing very hard. His physique and skill set let him impact games with playmaking, scoring and rebounding. Few players have that potential.

He looks to be a little less skilled than famed Laker Lamar Odom, though he has a hotter motor and a similar game overall. The Lakers would be thrilled if Randle grew to that level, which is a distinct possibility.? -- Thorpe

The ballots

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