NBA Top 25-Under 25
Ranking the L’s youngest players who go hard.
TIER 4: Role Players and a “ME” Player
17) Jeff Green | F | OKC Thunder
Age: 23 years, 9 months and 25 days
Years Pro: 3
Green and Westbrook each had fantasy Februaries (pardon me for my alliteration), as the Thunder went 9-2. He’s a reliable player who is really more of a small forward than power forward because of his size. Green’s solid 15 and 6 were a huge boost to the Thunder all season long, but he did not show up in the Playoffs. Against the Lakers in the opening round, Jeff Green made just 23-70 shots (32.9 percent), couldn’t make threes though he kept trying, and he only had one strong rebounding performance in six games.
18) George Hill | PG | San Antonio Spurs
Age: 24 years, 1 months and 18 days
Years Pro: 2
Hill is way more valuable to the Spurs than his statistics indicate. Hill serves as a safety valve for San Antonio, considering that Tony Parker gets injured from time to time. Even with a healthy Parker, the former IUPUI standout is the perfect fit for a mature team that knows what it’s doing. For only playing in the League two seasons (and not playing a whole lot his rookie season), Hill may possibly have the highest basketball IQ of anyone on this list. He just always seems to make the right decisions on the court. Hill is a good defender and an even better three-point shooter. If not for Hill’s contributions in Games 3, 4 and 6, the Mavericks probably would have beaten the Spurs in the opening round of this past postseason.
19) JR Smith | SG | Denver Nuggets
Age: 24 years, 9 months and 13 days
Years Pro: 6
Smith has shown little progress over six NBA seasons. It’s no secret that he has great athletic ability and a deadly three-pointer when he’s feeling it, but JR Smith still hasn’t learned to play team ball. If the ball goes to him, his teammates are well aware that it may not come back (see Kevin “The Black Hole” McHale). As I alluded to earlier, JR is a very streaky shooter and because he’s not one to turn down a shot, this results in offensive inconsistency. Let’s take his last week of 2009, for example. In Memphis, Smith made only 2-12 shots, but three days later he exploded for 41 points, including 10 three-pointers. Two days after that, he scored 20 but wasn’t very efficient. Finally, he ended the calendar year with 3-12 and 1-9 shooting nights, respectively. Those eight days (five games) are truly a microcosm of JR Smith’s career. He’s hot and cold like that horrible, yet catchy Katy Perry song.
20) OJ Mayo | SG | Memphis Grizzlies
Age: 22 years, 7 months and 17 days
Years Pro: 2
OJ Mayo just may be the best pure shooter on this list. There are a lot of things to like about Mayo. He’s a great three-point shooter (38 percent for two straight seasons), a good free throw shooter, and logs big minutes for his team. In fact, he almost plays as much as his teammate, Rudy Gay. Mayo is also very good at getting other players involved. Finally, unlike his time spent at USC, OJ doesn’t constantly need the ball in his hands in order to be effective. He’s become very good at moving without the ball and using screens to get open.
21) Andrea Bargnani | F/C | Toronto Raptors
Age: 24 years, 7 months and 27 days
Years Pro: 4
Bargnani has improved his offensive output and rebounding numbers in each of the last two seasons. Other than Chris Bosh, the former first overall pick was the only consistent offensive performer for Toronto last season (I’m calling you out, Hedo!). For the first time in his career, Bargnani did not have a single bad month. Inconsistency (see JR Smith) used to be this 7-footer’s problem, but it may be a thing of the past for him. He loves to take three-pointers as opposed to posting up. Like Beasley and Aldridge, this may explain why he doesn’t grab more rebounds. Still, Bargnani has been a great three-point shooter over his four-year career, so I don’t see any need for him to abandon those shots anytime soon. If Bosh leaves Toronto and the Raptors are not able to sign a star free agent, Bargnani will have to be THE GUY for Canada’s only remaining team. I don’t think Bargnani is ready to take on the task, but if the opportunity arises, he’ll have to do his best to prove me wrong.
22) Marvin Williams | SF | Atlanta Hawks
Age: 24 years, 0 months and 3 days
Years Pro: 5
Although this former Tar Heel is a 30-minute per game player on a Playoff team, his lack of individual progress is disappointing, to say the least. Maybe it’s unfair being the second overall pick, ahead of CP3 and DWill, but you can bet the Hawks envisioned Williams to be making a bigger impact, especially by his fifth season in the League. Williams shies away from contact and is content to play almost exclusively on the outside. Finally, Marv has been known to disappear in the Playoffs.
TIER 5: The Rest
23) Wilson Chandler | SF | New York Knicks
Age: 23 years, 1 months and 12 days
Years Pro: 3
He’s 6-8 and very athletic for anyone who hasn’t seen him play. Despite playing in a huge media market, Chandler doesn’t get much attention at all, likely because he’s been stuck on the low-achieving Knicks for the last three seasons. Last season’s numbers of 15.3, 5.4 rpg and 2.1 apg were respectable, but I am impressed at Chandler’s FG% improvement from 43 to 48 percent. Chandler did so by taking less threes and improving on his mid-range game. Chandler is a tough guy, but it is a little disconcerting that he’s mixed an extended amount of time due to injury, twice in his three-year NBA career. While the rest of the Knicks are hoping for the arrival of a big-name free agent, Wilson Chandler must appear in court on July 1 because marijuana was found in his car a month ago when he was stopped in Queens. Knicks’ fans have to hope Chandler will be smarter in the future, because he has a really good thing going in NY.
24) Eric Gordon | SG | L.A. Clippers
Age: 21 years, 5 months and 28 days
Years Pro: 2
After being an Indiana Hoosier for only a season, EJ (he’s affectionately referred to as EJ short for Eric Jr…not EG) has been a blessing for the Clippers. He has the rare combined ability to slam it down (he lost to DeRozan in the all-star dunk-in, but EJ is a better in-game dunker than anything else) and drain the three. Also rare for such a young shooting guard, he shoots a very high percentage and rarely turns the ball over. Gordon’s biggest problem is that he’s undersized. Still, he plays feisty defense to make up for the fact that he’s only 6-2. I think LeBron and EJ would be great together if you add in Chris Kaman and a healthy Blake Griffin, but LBJ to the Clippers will be a tough, tough sell. I’m just saying combo of guys can post, drain threes, play the mid-range game, and run the fast break well.
25) Brandon Jennings | PG | Milwaukee Bucks
Age: 20 years, 8 months and 30 days
Years Pro: 1
The Bucks did some big things in 2010, considering the obstacles they were up against. Michael Redd had the worst season of his career and only played in 18 games. The 2005 first overall pick, Andrew Bogut, suffered a dislocated elbow, sprained wrist and broken hand, all on the same play on a fateful Saturday in early April. Even without the sharpshooter, Michael Redd, and the Aussie’s big inside presence, this rookie was there to lead the Reindeers to a 4-2 record over their last six games. During the regular season, Jennings scored 55 points in just his seventh ever NBA game. That feat alone tells you how much potential this lefty has. Unfortunately for BJ, this list, as mentioned in the criteria section, weighs more heavily a player’s consistency in the here and now. He only had two other 30+ games, but he did have a ton of performances in which he just couldn’t buy a bucket. For example, BJ had a 34-point game in Game 1 against the Hawks, followed up by a miserable 3-15 showing. When Milwaukee went up 3-2 in that series, he stunk in the two close-out games, combining for just 6 assists and 10-33 shooting.
ON THE CUSP:
26) Lou Williams
27) Rodney Stuckey
28) Darren Collison
29) Marcus Thornton
30) Danilo Gallinari
When Aaron isn’t studying NBA players under 25 years old, he’s a full-time student at the University of California-Davis. At UCD, he broadcasts various sporting events and appears on a weekly radio sports show called “Aggie Talk” on KDVS 90.3 fm. Aaron also co-hosts the Davis Sports Deli Podcast and sings karaoke in his free time.