NBA Top 25-Under 25
Ranking the L’s youngest players who go hard.
TIER 3: The Talented, But Flawed
7) Monta Ellis | SG | Golden State Warriors
Age: 24 years, 7 months and 27 days
Years Pro: 5
Monta has been the best player on the Golden State Warriors for some time now though Stephen Curry is starting to give him a run for his money. Although Monta’s on the struggling Warriors, he is too talented to place lower than seventh. At this point in time, he possesses the second best offensive game of anyone on this list (Durant is clearly No. 1 in that department). Ellis can score in a plethora of ways, which include but are not limited to fast break points, mid-range jump shots and three-pointers. He’ll even shoot from the tunnel though those shots won’t be accounted for on the scoreboard or stat sheet. The 6-3 guard also fills the stat sheet with over 5 assists per game along with 4 rebounds per contest. What’s not to like about this guy’s game? Well, Ellis turns the ball over 3.8 times per game (that leads the League). He’s also not a very good defender (despite what his high steal averages would suggest) which hurts worse for a shooting guard, who typically has to guard the opponent’s best scorer. In addition, Ellis is an inefficient scorer. He averages 25.5 ppg on 22 field goal attempts per game. By comparison, Dirk Nowitzki only needs 18.5 shots per game to get to his average of 25. Durant takes 20.3 FGs per game, and he sports a 30-point average. Finally, whether it’s a moped or a basketball injury, Monta’s slim frame is very injury-prone.
8 ) Al Horford | F/C | Atlanta Hawks
Age: 24 years, 0 months and 19 days
Years Pro: 3
Al Horford plays like a veteran, regularly making smart decisions and rarely turning the ball over. The two-time NCAA Champion has really perfected his mid-range jump shot since coming in to the League three years ago. That mid-range jumper is pretty automatic like that of LaMarcus Aldridge, but there are two things that separate those guys. Horford’s superior rebounding ability and overall physicality catapult him above and beyond Aldridge.
9) LaMarcus Aldridge | PF | Portland Trail Blazers
Age: 24 years, 11 months and 3 days
Years Pro: 4
Aldridge and longtime T25-U25 mainstay, Brandon Roy (he’s since graduated from the list and is no longer eligible), have headed a strong youth movement in Portland. Honestly, B. Roy has been THE guy, but Aldridge is the Robin to Roy’s Batman or the Barney to his Fred, if you prefer. As mentioned earlier, this power forward has a killer mid-range shot, but there are countless concerns about his lack of physicality across all facets of the game. I think building muscle can only help him, but for Aldridge, improving his inside play will take more of a mental effort than anything else.
10) Andrew Bynum | C | L.A. Lakers
Age: 22 years, 7 months and 26 days
Years Pro: 5
Andrew Bynum is an absolute beast down low. There’s no getting around that. There’s also no getting around Bynum’s all-too common injury history. He’s missed an average of 32 games over each of the last three seasons. If not for durability concerns, Andrew Bynum would surely be on this list’s top 5. Injuries aside, this 7-footer is still only 22 years old. If he can remain healthy and that’s a big IF, then his future is very, very bright!
11) Russell Westbrook | PG | OKC Thunder
Age: 21 years, 7 months and 10 days
Years Pro: 2
Westbrook shoots a horrible percentage from the field and turns the ball over way too much for a point guard. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, Westbrook is a tremendous player, who really seems to be improving on his shooting…though it still has a ways to go. Put simply, he is Rondo Jr. Like Rajon Rondo, Westbrook is an extraordinary rebounder (for a PG), an innovative passer, and one of the best at running a fast break. I can’t help but wonder how much better of a shooter Westbrook would be today if he had stayed at UCLA for one more year. Still, I think he learned a lot from all the losing his team incurred during his rookie season. This past season, Westbrook, along with the Durantula (KD, if you prefer), spearheaded a fairy-tale season in which the 23-win Thunder transformed themselves in to a 50-win team, worthy of giving the Lakers fits in the Playoffs’ opening round.
12) Stephen Curry | G | Golden State Warriors
Age: 22 years, 3 months and 8 days
Years Pro: 1
Curry and teammate/list-mate Monta Ellis should throw a decadent feast. They should invite Rajon Rondo, Lou Williams and Shaun Livingston (my all-time favorite player who unfortunately fell short of making the list…way short). Why not invite the person atop this list as well? Skinny jokes aside, let’s get back to some substance. Like Evans, there was a lot of talk about Curry’s true position. I’m pretty sure the former Davidson standout put that issue to bed. He’s a point guard! As most rookies do, Curry turned the ball over a lot. But as the season progressed, Curry’s assists went through the roof. He sure did jack up a lot of treys last season, but Golden State is glad he did. The man ranked fourth-best in 3PT% among players with at least 200 attempts. He’s also a thief, using his long arms to place third in the League in steals, behind two guys who are both on this list (teammate Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo). Also rare for a rookie, Curry placed in the top 10 in the League in FT% at a clip of 88.5.
13) Rudy Gay | SF | Memphis Grizzlies
Age: 23 years, 10 months and 5 days
Years Pro: 4
Like this list’s top spot holder, Gay hails from the Washington DC area. He made a huge offensive improvement from his rookie season to his second NBA season. That was three years ago. Since, however, Rudy Gay has been stuck on star level (around 19 and 20 ppg). Many including myself would love to see Rudy Gay take that next step (to superstardom) like Durant was able to do this season. So far, Gay has been unable to put the Grizzlies on his back and march them to the Playoffs. Still, I have to say that his offensive consistency, for the last three years, is a nice sight. He also logs nearly 40 minutes per game, but doesn’t commit many turnovers. Last season, the Grizz made huge improvements. While many have attributed last season’s improvements to the addition of Zach Randolph, it’s at least a step in the direction for Gay, who is seen by many as the best player on this team. Rudy Gay is a restricted free agent this offseason, so the Grizzlies will have to decide whether or not to match any offers that exceed what they believe Gay is truly worth. You can bet at least one team will overspend to try to get him.
14) Brook Lopez | C | New Jersey Nets
Age: 22 years, 2 months and 21 days
Years Pro: 2
The Nets set some records last season. Bad records. Accordingly, the 12-70 Nets only have one player on this list. I seriously believe the Nets would not have even won double-digit games if Brook Lopez was not on their roster. Lopez did not miss a single game and easily led the team in scoring at a clip of 18.8 points per game. He also had a nose for offensive rebounds, in which he placed fifth in the entire league. On the flip side, Lopez is a very average defensive rebounder, but let’s look on the positive side of the coin. Offensive rebounding is an important skill that can allow your team additional opportunities to score. Furthermore, Brook is only 22 years old and is a respectable selling point for the Nets who are trying to convince high-profile free agents to sign with them this offseason.
15) Michael Beasley | SF | Miami Heat
Age: 21 years, 5 months and 13 days
Years Pro: 2
Expectations remain sky high for Michael Beasley who was drafted two years ago after playing just one season with K-State. By the way, Beasley is the second lefty on this list. Anyway, Beasley has not been the strong second presence to Dwyane Wade that many had hoped for. He’s also not a very rebounder in the NBA. Part of his rebounding deficiencies stem from the type of offensive game he employs. Beasley is most comfortable taking mid-range shots rather than working closer to the basket. In each of his two pro seasons, we’ve seen flashes of something special, but Beasley has not been able to put together a full season of strong play. During his rookie year, he started slowly and finished strong. This past season, it was the opposite as Beasley really tailed off from February until the end of the season.
16) Kevin Love | PF | Minnesota Timberwolves
Age: 21 years, 9 months and 15 days
Years Pro: 2
Love makes the second Bruin on this list, which ties the Texas Longhorns and Memphis Tigers. He’s already averaging a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounders per game. In ‘09-10, Love also incorporated a consistent three-point shot in to his offensive repertoire. While Love has played on two miserable Minnesota teams, he’s one of their bright spots. In fact, Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer, Wayne Ellington and a few others provide some hope though only Love was able to make the list. Minnesota fans are starting to fall in love with this power forward, and he’s only been on the team for two seasons. Although Love only started 22 games last season, expect the 21-year-old to earn a starting gig next season. Then, we will see how spectacular he can truly play.