NBA's 21 and Under Club
BLOGGED BY KYLE CLAY
With the Golden State Warriors winning their second NBA championship in the last three years against three time NBA champion LeBron "The King" James. Many fans may fall into revery and forget NBA teams that weren't in the finals are currently facing the most important time of the season. With free agency around the corner and the pressure of the NBA draft, incorrect decision making can make or break a teams whole season in a matter of 2 months.
Teams have had to adapt to taking huge risk with millions of dollars on players who are normally still in their teens in hopes for playoff contention. The NBA has entered into a new age of basketball as players continue to get younger and younger while expectations and competition seems to be at its highest its ever been. Veterans and rookies both know and understand one poor season can lead to a even younger guy taking your position and leave you to possibly never touching the court again. But why exactly are players getting younger and younger you might ask?
Well since the rule change in 2006 which banned the option to enter the NBA straight out of high school but rather one whole year after graduation. High school players who would normally enter the draft out of high school are now forced to go to college or play overseas and go with popular plan known as the "one and done". The one and done is exactly how it sounds, one year in college or overseas and you're out.
At the time the NBA thought it did a great job into forcing kids to put education first. But no one would've imagined such a simple rule change in 2006 would have this big of a ripple effect on the NBA. It changed college basketball for good as players simply do not stay long enough for coaches to groom and tenure or even develop chemistry with other players. With players such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard and LeBron James all coming straight out of high school many college players found it hard to believe that even one year in college is best for their future yet along two. Thus creating a new NBA right in front of our eyes.
Now are all one and done stories success stories? Absolutely not. But recently the NBA has seen tremendous talent in young players who for some, aren't even of age to legally get into a club and drink alcohol. Fortunately, we have created our own club that caters to the youth and recognizes future stars in the making.
Here's the 21 and under club:
10. Ben Simmons (20), Philadelphia 76ers
Compared to Lebron James even before leaving high school, Ben Simmons has always had a chip on his shoulder. Born in Australia, Simmons moved to the United States for better competition in high school which then lead to him playing college basketball at LSU for one year. Simmons was drafted No. 1 by the 76ers in the 2016 NBA draft and was expected to help bring excitement back to the city of Philadelphia (unknown since Allen Iverson) with accompanied young stars Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embid.
The hype for the season in Philly could be heard all over the city as fans finally believed it was their time. Unfortunately, the Simmons campaign only lasted to the summer as Simmons missed the whole NBA season due to a foot injury during the Summer League games.
Although he may not have played a single official game in the NBA, Simmons talent is undoubtedly unique which is why he made the list.
When watching this 6'10 250 lbs phenom play the first thing you may notice is his incredible passing ability.
Simmons who's only twenty comes into the NBA with the whole package for a point forward. Like his predecessor Lebron, Simmons has excellent handles for his size, incredible passing ability, defensive presence, and the ability to rebound the ball.
Known as a point forward on offense Simmons becomes a matchup nightmare anytime the ball is in his hands. Guarding him one on one is very challenging as any defender his size isn't quick enough and anyone smaller he can easily push into the paint. His ability to finish with either hand at the rim along with incredible speed and body control plus again his passing ability makes him a valuable player in the NBA. Still in need of a perimeter jumper and a game played in the NBA, Simmons could still be in the top 5 if not for his injury. Many fans are excited for the upcoming season as Philadelphia recently traded to get the No.1 pick in the 2017 draft which possibly may be the final piece to their long term struggle.
9. Dante Exum (21), Utah Jazz
Although many fans may have never heard of Dante Exum, many NBA GMs and coaches are well aware. Born in Australia, Exum stayed home in college and played at Thomas Carr College where he dominated which helped lead to being picked by the Utah Jazz at No. 5 in the 2014 draft.
When drafted many fans hoped for Exum to be their next great PG since Deron Williams and help lead the Utah Jazz back to victorious days alongside all stars Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert. Exum's first season looked like the future was very bright for the Utah Jazz as he showed lot of promise on both the offense and defensive side of the ball. Coming in to his second season progress was expected to be seen but rather a set back had taken place. Exum tore his ACL his second year while playing for the Australian national team.
Now back officially in his second season and fully healthy behind veteran PG George Hill. Exum helped the Jazz secure a 5th spot in the Western Conference due to his help off the bench. Although getting swept by the Golden State Warriors which doesn't sound as bad now since they're the NBA champions, many fans were excited by Exums play during that series and believe the Utah Jazz may have found their PG for the future after all.
When watching this 6'6 207 lbs PG play you realize that he does a excellent job of letting the game come to him. Whether its in the pick and roll or him one on one against a defender, Exum always seems to make the right play when needed.
The Utah Jazz know Exum is at his best when driving to the basket as his long arms makes it hard for anyone to block his shot. His ability to finish with either hand alongside a solid mid range game makes him most lethal on offense for the Jazz when in the pick and roll. Exum also does a great job on defense against the 1-2 (PG-SG) positions as his size and unwillingness to let defenders by makes one of the best perimeter defenders on the team.
Some improvements Exum needs to work on is mainly his three point shooting and efficiency at the free throw line. With officially two years under his belt, expect to see Exum become more comfortable with his role on the team and contribute more on offense in his 3rd season.
8. Myles Turner (21), Indiana Pacers
Myles Turner maybe the most surprising player on the list and even in the NBA as no one expected for him to flourish the way he has. Coming out of the University of Texas in 2015 at No. 11 many analyst believe there was more downside than upside to Turners game style. Analyst before assumed Turner as more of role/bench player for many teams as they questioned his endurance and agility.
Turner has proven everyone wrong as he became of the main reasons the Indiana Pacers made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference this season alongside of course all star teammate Paul George. Saving the Pacers through his play multiple times this season, Turner has solidified himself this year as a top big man in the Eastern Conference.
When watching Myles Turner you see he is at his best when he's involved in the pick and roll. At 6'11 and 245 lbs many guards have trouble getting around his big body when setting screens thus creating better chances for guards and even himself. Unlike most big men who will normally crash to the basket once the pick is set, Turner has the ability to pick and pop (step back after the screen is set) and consistently knock down the shot which makes him very lethal on offense.
Similarities to Chris Bosh can be seen at times although some may say he's but a better defender. His ability to rebound and defend the basket makes it hard for any opponent going against him in the paint. His confidence when shooting the ball keeps defenders on their toes and can sometimes lead to easy points in the paint.
With signs of being a complete player a couple years away already at his age of only twenty one, the upside for Turner is tremendous. Expect to see more low post scoring from Turner next season as he'll improve one his biggest weakness during the off season. With Paul George rumored to be leaving the team this summer, Turner will be expected to play a huge role on offense in the upcoming season if it happens. Expect to see a lot more of this guy in the news especially if it requires for him to put the team on his back.
7. Aaron Gordon (21), Orlando Magic
To many Aaron Gordon is mainly known for giving one of the greatest performances in dunk contest history against winner Zach LaVine in 2016. But Aaron Gordon has more layers to his game than just dunks.
Gordon, who was taken No. 4 in the 2014 draft by the Orlando Magic out of the University of Arizona has shown improvement every year since entering the NBA. The Magic initially drafted Gordon in hopes of emphasizing a paint presence that has gone missing since Dwight Howard but in return got more than they asked for. Finishing off his 3rd season Gordon has made it clear this year he's a player you should watch out for when discussing the power forward position.
At 6'9 and 220 lbs Gordon is a man that you do not want to be in the way of when he's running the floor. Similar style to Blake Griffin, Gordon is a all around power forward who's most efficient with his head down while driving to the basket as he often tries to embarrass his defenders by dunking on them. His ability to show improvement was seen the most this year on the offensive side of the ball as he consistently knocked down shots against defenders who tested his shooting ability.
When facing Gordon it becomes more about simply picking your poison as he's happy with either results. Power forwards in the East were left in shambles this year guarding Gordon which is why he's on the list. His physical play in the post or set up plays for him to score off the dribble makes him a valuable weapon for the Orlando Magic as he's their best player by far.
Although the Magic didn't make the playoffs this year they're hoping to get some support for Gordon in this years draft. As for the twenty-one year old, progression has already been shown in his first three years through both play and leadership and nothing is expected but better things ahead in the city of Orlando.
6. Brandon Ingram (19), Los Angeles Lakers
Brandon Ingram was taken No. 2 by the Los Angeles Lakers due to a amazing scoring performance at Duke University. Coming into a rebuilding year for the Lakers, Ingram's impact was expected to help put the Lakers back on the map. Since Kobe Bryant's departure the Lakers have struggled with a identity as they are currently are one of the youngest teams in the NBA, and it showed as they finished with the second worst record in the Western Conference. With the No. 2 pick again this year in the 2017 draft, many believe Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and D'Angelo Russell plus their next pick in this years draft may finally give the Lakers fan what they always expect....WINNING!
Now although the Lakers struggled this year let's make it clear. Brandon Ingram is NO JOKE!! Listed at 6'9 and 190 lbs with a 7 ft wingspan this forward can get any shot off on the court. He's a pure scorer with veteran moves already in his arsenal at only nineteen. With his height and uncanny ability to score many already compare his game to former MVP Kevin Durant and rightfully so.
His ability to create space and knock down the jumper or finish inside on offense made this guy pro ready while he was still at Duke. When watching Ingram play you'll realize he just maybe one of the top upcoming scorers in the NBA. Whether it's mid-range, inside, or at the three point line Ingram has the ability to knock it down.
On defense Ingram's biggest asset is forcing players to shoot over his long body. Although he may lack the weight his athletic ability plus his size isn't easy for any offensive player to just slip by.
Being only nineteen and his first season in the NBA the since of urgency to score lacked this year in some games which maybe one of his biggest weaknesses along with his strength. But that comes with the more experience and comfortability in the system and with his teammates. In all Ingram is a real threat for any team and may compete as one of the best scorers in the NBA sooner than we think.
5. Jahlil Okafor (21), Philadelphia 76ers
Jahlil Okafor is a dominant low post offensive presence that has various sets of skills for any player guarding him. After attending Duke for one year, Okafor entered the NBA draft as one the most prominent "classic" big man seen in over a decade. In 2015, Jahlil Okafor was selected 3rd by the Philadelphia 76ers with the hopes of adding more points to the scoreboard.
When watching Jahlil Okafor play you kind of feel bad for the opponent guarding him as Okafor is a beast to handle on the low post with his physical game style. As a 6'11 PF/C at 270 lbs Okafor is great at fighting for position near the basket and can finish anywhere around the rim due to his wide wingspan and unique one hand finishing.
When defenders become accustomed to his physical play, Okafor has the ability to then switch it up by either making the correct pass, shooting the mid-range shot or facing his opponent then scoring off the dribble. His ability to have all this in his repertoire at only twenty-one makes Okafor posses some the best big man talent in the NBA.
It's a very simple evaluation for teams when watching Okafor play. If you can't stop someone in the paint you must then double team which makes the team rearrange their game plan. Bringing two defenders at once means one player is always open. Normally big men have a hard time passing out of these situations but with Okafor's skills he's always able to find the open guy which is very hard to find. Thus creating a long career for that player.
Now although Okafor has a very bright future in the NBA and could very soon be one of the top offensive players at his position, playing with the 76ers may be over sooner than we think. With struggling consistently to find a certified role in the offense Okafor can sometimes look sluggish or just lose himself out of games. Some improvements Okafor can work on is his free throw shooting and defensive presence as although he may be tall Okafor lacks athletic ability and can struggle in the pick and roll against quick defenders. Rumors of trades have emerged as the season is over as although he's undoubtedly worthy to play in the NBA, the question for the 76ers is where?
4. D'Angelo Russell (21), Los Angeles Lakers
D'Angelo Russell has been a rumored PG to watch out for since high school as he posses a offensive skill set hard to find at such a young age. Russell attended the University of Ohio State his freshman year and performed great during the NCAA tournament thus announcing he would enter into the NBA which he was then later picked 2nd by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2015 draft.
The Lakers have drafted a lot of young talent in the past years as no superstar talent has been willing to play in the bright city. The city of Los Angeles doesn't take multiple losing seasons very fondly and are expecting results very soon. Being the type of player Russell is, Russell embraces the criticism and is up for the challenge.
D'Angelo Russell is 194 lbs and is a 6'5 PG that comes with the whole offensive package. Although rumors may say he's only a scorer, this is false as Russell also possess great passing abilities.
Although his speciality is scoring, Russell can play which ever style need be offensively as guarding him period is a tough challenge. For smaller defenders Russell enjoys isolation opportunities and if other wise will play the pick and roll game or come off the screen ready to catch and shoot. Russell has also shown in his two years that he's ready for the spotlight by knocking down multiple game winners for the team and having mulitple 30+ points games. Being only one of two PGs on the list, D'Angelo is in a league of his own when comparing players of his age making his future very bright.
Some problems that D'Angelo has faced during the season and must improve on in the off season is his consistency in terms of effort and leadership skills. Although playing in a very tough western conference filled with HOF (Hall of Fame) PGs, many analyst and fans are very upset in the performance of the Lakers as they finished with the 3rd worst record in the NBA. Although only twenty-one, Russell must grab ahold of his responsibilities and play consistently more often for the Lakers to have any chance of winning a championship ever again.
3. Devin Booker (20), Phoenix Suns
Now that we're in the top 3 its time to introduce the leaders and the future of the NBA. Devin Booker was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Coming out of college many underestimated Booker simply because one he was the youngest player in the draft at 18 and two he was the 6th man at Kentucky University with only one year under his belt. Many NBA teams in the top ten weren't sure of his true potential and so passed up on him when it was their turn to select a player. Playing under HOF college coach John Calipari plus a great shooting performance in college, the Phoenix Suns trusted their gut and were the ones who felt there was much more upside than what others portrayed and drafted Booker with the 13th pick in the 2015 draft.
Since entering the NBA, Booker has already become a must guard player at the 3pt line as he can shoot with the best of them and is the best shooter on this list. In his rookie year Booker was already selected to enter the NBA's All Star 3pt Shooting Challenge with the likes of Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, and James Harden. Although he may not have won, NBA players as well as the NBA are well aware of the talent present in Phoenix, Arizona .
Devin Booker comes in at 6'6 and 205 lbs and striclty plays the SG position. Simply put, Booker will knock down the shot whether he's open or not. Booker just recently proved this against the Boston Celtics as he became the youngest player in NBA history to score 70 points!!
The player that resembles most of Bookers play is no other than the great Kobe Bryant. Like Bryant, Booker is able to pick his spot and knows when and where he can knock it down. Booker has admitted that he's learned and replicated most of his moves from Kobe Bryant and Kobe will tell say the same. Difficult shots are normally good shots when taken by Booker as a hand in his face means nothing if it's not blocked. With both a inside and outside game in his arsenal and yet still underage to drink, Bookers future is one of the brightest out of the young stars on the list.
Although you won't see him driving and dunking on opponents like the retro Kobe, Bookers athletic ability simply finds a way to get it done. Booker is best when coming off screens as he's always ready to catch and shoot, low post against smaller defenders, or letting him create his own shot one on one.
An improvement Booker can work in the off season is mainly his defending. Since Booker doesn't come with the quickest feet, Booker can sometimes have a hard time guarding quick two guards which must be improved especially in the Western Conference. Other than his defending Bookers potential is through the roof. With maturity and consistency already in hand the only thing needed for the Suns is a supporting cast for their superstar.
2. Kristap Porzingis (21), New York Knicks
Kristap Porzingis was a common name heard throughout the 2015 NBA draft yet no one had a clue who he really was. Born in Liepaja Lativa, Porzingis dominated play overseas as was scouted by many NBA scouts as one of the most promising european big men player since Dirk Nowitzki.
At 7'3 not only does he have size but also a very unique scoring ability. The New York Knicks took Porzingis 4th in the 2015 draft and haven't regretted that action since.
Again at 7'3 and 240 lbs with the ability to score in the post, off the dribble, or shoot anywhere outside the paint Porzingis may be one of the toughest players to guard today in the NBA today alongside Kevin Durant. With similarity in the play style of 7 footers such as Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant and with very shocking athletic ability Porzingis is undoubtedly a franchise player.
Porzingis best displays his skills simply with the ball in his hand. Unable for smaller defenders to guard him because of his excellent post game, defenders of the same size have a hard time guarding him as well as he has a surprising first quick step and is very athletic when heading to the rim. When the ball isn't in his hand Porzingis is just as deadly as he enjoys coming off screens for the catch and shoot.
A improvement needed by Porzingis would most likely be his ability to defend stretch fours similar to himself as although he has the athletic ability his quickness isn't one of them. But overall Porzingis is a great defense presence especially when playing the center position as it makes his job easier. His ability to defend the paint makes it tough on any player to score and his rebounding abilities are a great asset as he insures no second chance points.
When seeing players like this alongside teammates Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose, not reserving a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is a embarrassment and a shameful season for the New York Knicks. Already announced by Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony is expected to leave New York and play somewhere else as the team plans to help build around Porzingis. Already talented the sky is the limit for Porzingis as he'll have a more important role in the next coming season. All there is to do now for New York fans is to sit and wait and see what Phil Jackson has up his sleeve.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns (21), Minnesota Timberwolves
The best player in this years 21 and under club is no other than Minnesota superstar Karl-Antony Towns. Karl-Anthony Towns (also known as KAT) was born in New Jersey and decided like many to play at University of Kentucky for John Calipari. Like many on Calipari's Kentucky roster, KAT showed the world what he could do in college his freshman year then quickly left for the NBA and rightfully so.
The Minnesota Timberwolves took Towns at No.1 in the 2015 draft. Since joining the team, KAT has made it clear who's the MVP of that team and has been said by NBA analyst to already posses HOF talent.
KAT at 7 ft tall and 250 lbs is simply a man among boys that plays very physical yet still shows the ability to add finesse into his game. Before even entering the NBA, KAT has been compared to greats like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and other prominent HOF scoring big men. KAT is clearly one of the most all around big men in the NBA and it's only his second year.
Minnesota knows how lucky they were to get Towns and display their reluctancy through their offense. KAT plays a key role on the team as they only goes as far as the young star and teammate Andrew Wiggins perform. Unlike most big men KAT can do it all. He's excellent in the post, the pick and roll, off the dribble and can even knock down the jumper anywhere on the court. He's also one of few big man that runs the floor consistently which helps get easy buckets in transition. His ability to find the ball when not in his hands is something many big men find hard to do as well.
Either way playing Towns is a difficult tasks NBA teams must game plan for every game. Many already believe a HOF spot will be waiting in only his second year. As far as improvements for KAT to work on, there's really nothing to analyze about as he's currently the most all around PF in the game today. Although the Timberwolves didn't make the playoffs this season, they're still one of the youngest teams in the NBA and are expected to have a bright future in the making with the 7th pick in this years draft. Expect to see KAT shine and get better every season as he's still years away from his prime and has yet to show what he's truly made of.