NBA 25 Under 25: Giannis, Brow, KAT and The Next Generation

Ball Don't Lie

Last in our series examining the best young players the NBA has to offer — NBA 25 Under 25 — is our utterly, fundamentally inarguable ranking of the league’s top 25 players born before this date in 1992. This is the next generation of guys who will ultimately take the torch from LeBron James, Kevin Durant and company.

Don’t @ us.

Previous editions: The Unicorns | The Playmakers | The Scorers | The Unsung Heroes | Breakout Candidates

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From left: <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5007/" data-ylk="slk:Anthony Davis">Anthony Davis</a>, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5185/" data-ylk="slk:Giannis Antetokounmpo">Giannis Antetokounmpo</a> and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5432/" data-ylk="slk:Karl-Anthony Towns">Karl-Anthony Towns</a> prepare to bear the NBA torch. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
From left: Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Karl-Anthony Towns prepare to bear the NBA torch. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Age: 24
Role: Rebound domination and free-throw abomination

Ben Rohrbach: “He can’t hit the broad side of a barn beyond arm’s reach of the basket, and the $105 million left on his contract spent the summer on the trade market, but don’t forget Drummond is a damned beast on the boards. He consumed a quarter of all missed shots when he was on the floor last season, a rebound percentage matched only by one Dennis Rodman among players who started at least three-quarters of a season since 1970. In a vacuum, Drummond isn’t the sexiest center for the NBA’s position-less pace-and-space era. In the right situation, though, he could be the vacuum.”

Age: 24
Role: Cheerful purveyor of blunt-force trauma

Dan Devine: “How high the Thunder can rise will depend largely on the talents of Russell Westbrook and Paul George. But how often and how effectively they get to play their game will depend on Adams taking care of the dirty work.”

Age: 19
Role: Paul Pierce 2.0

Rohrbach: “If Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is to be believed, Boston would have drafted Tatum No. 1 overall in June. Instead, they sent that selection to the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 3 pick and a future first-rounder — and still landed Tatum. Then came Summer League, when anyone who might have doubted Ainge became a believer. The kid was polished. His savvy shot creation brought back memories of Paul Pierce’s old-man game, only in the body of a young buck still two years away from being able to legally partake in a champagne celebration.”

Age: 20
Role: The Chessmaster

Rohrbach: “There are reasons why the Cleveland Cavaliers would consider asking for Brown in the Kyrie Irving trade package, and why the Celtics would have laughed them off the phone. The No. 3 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Brown wasn’t the most productive rookie last season, but his explosiveness and ability to defend multiple positions earned him important minutes come playoff time.”

From left: Jaylen Brown, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5660/" data-ylk="slk:Dejounte Murray">Dejounte Murray</a>, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5470/" data-ylk="slk:Justise Winslow">Justise Winslow</a>, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5601/" data-ylk="slk:Brandon Ingram">Brandon Ingram</a> and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5327/" data-ylk="slk:Jusuf Nurkic">Jusuf Nurkic</a> are knocking on the door. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
From left: Jaylen Brown, Dejounte Murray, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram and Jusuf Nurkic are knocking on the door. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Age: 21
Role: Iceman

Rohrbach: “Russell has a clean slate in Brooklyn now that he’s free from a team that turned its back on him when he did dumb teenage things and also had him developing as a rookie under Byron Scott, who probably contributed to stunting his growth and had little respect for a then-19-year-old’s maturity. A few thousand miles away from L.A. and a chip on his shoulder should do Russell some good.”

Age: 22
Role: Guy you’re happy comes to your parties, because he never shows up empty-handed

Devine: “There’s a lot to like about a guy who’s always moving on offense, shoots the lights out, tries hard on defense, never turns the ball over, and has shown improvement in the areas where he needs work. Nuggets GM Tim Connolly knows that … and he knows it’s going to cost him very soon.”

Age: 19
Role: Big balling

Rohrbach: “Early expectations are that Ball will put up numbers on a roster bound for the lottery once again, as reflected by his status as an odds-on co-favorite for Rookie of the Year. But greatness will come as the awkward shots start to fall and his court awareness translates to the defensive end in Years 2 and 3, when the Lakers are hoping to retool their roster with a pair of max-contract free agents.”

Age: 23
Role: Eraser and engine who fuels the Rockets’ space race

Devine: “Capela came out of central casting for a James Harden-and-Mike D’Antoni-led spread pick-and-roll attack. He’s a big screener with the quickness to knife to the rim, the athleticism to elevate above defenders for lobs, and the hands to catch interior passes in small windows and finish strong. Give Harden three sharpshooters parked far away and a big man who dives hard every time, and The Beard will cook.”

From left: <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5163/" data-ylk="slk:Steven Adams">Steven Adams</a>, Clint Capela, Gary Harris, Marcus Smart and Otto Porter push their teams to greater heights. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
From left: Steven Adams, Clint Capela, Gary Harris, Marcus Smart and Otto Porter push their teams to greater heights. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Age: 24
Role: Silent assassin

Rohrbach: “Incoming point guard Ricky Rubio will continue to feed him for spot-up shooting duty, but Hood will be tasked with significant scoring responsibility in Hayward’s absence. He should be motivated, considering he will be a restricted free agent in 2018 and looking for his first big NBA payday. Hood has all the tools to be a 20-point scorer in his age-25 season; he just needs to stay on the court, and make himself heard.”

AGE: 23
ROLE: Instigator, disruptor … stabilizer?

Devine: “Smart’s been one of Boston’s most valued reserves ever since Danny Ainge tabbed him with the No. 6 pick in the 2014 draft. He’s a hard-nosed, quick-footed, instinctive and gifted defender with the size and brass to take on just about any assignment with gusto.”

Age: 19
Role: Procuring buckets as if they were filled with Chick-fil-A

Rohrbach: “It took future Hall of Famers LeBron James and Dwyane Wade a year to figure out the alpha-dog dilemma when they teamed up in Miami, but imagine how devastating they would have been had they developed for years entering their primes. That’s what has Fultz already guaranteeing a playoff berth, and a Sixers franchise that hasn’t won a title since 1983 dreaming of resurrecting the Moses Malone-Julius Erving-Maurice Cheeks dynamic.”

Age: 21
Role: The Australian LeBron James

Rohrbach: “If Simmons improved his areas of weakness, he could be a frightening presence. Even if just 75 percent of his college production translates to the NBA in Year 1 — averages of roughly 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists — those numbers at age 21 would put him in the company of only Blake Griffin, Nikola Jokic, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber and 1976 Rookie of the Year Alvan Adams. Now, imagine that dude with a 3-point shot.”

From left: Ben Simmons, Dennis Smith Jr., D’Angelo Russell, Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz hope to run the NBA show someday soon. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
From left: Ben Simmons, Dennis Smith Jr., D’Angelo Russell, Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz hope to run the NBA show someday soon. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Age: 24
Role: Quietly and ably filling the spot every NBA team is trying to fill

Devine: “In a pace-and-space league now dominated by teams that can go small with versatile players at every position, a tall, long-limbed perimeter player who can shoot, slash, create (a little) and handle multiple defensive assignments is worth his weight in gold. While you were watching John Wall leave defenders in his wake on end-to-end sprints, that’s exactly what Porter became.”

Age: 22
Role: Bionic man

Rohrbach: “The Bucks still made a run, going 16-7 over their final 23 games and challenging the third-seeded Toronto Raptors in their first-round series, despite starting rookies Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. You know who could have helped pull off the upset? A smooth 6-foot-8 scorer capable of playing either forward position, unlocking the Antetokounmpo-Parker-[Khris] Middleton triumvirate and myriad lineup possibilities for Bucks coach Jason Kidd.”

Age: 22
Role: Franchise definer

Rohrbach: “Wiggins could be the sort of slashing scorer and rising swingman who can elevate a team with Karl-Anthony Towns and the recently acquired Jimmy Butler to championship contention over the course of his next deal. He might also completely saddle a franchise that’s never reached the Finals with a cap-killing contract that pays him $33.7 million in 2022-23. There are, of course, several layers between. Somewhere within lies Wiggins’ most likely destiny.”

From left: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal have only just begun to procure buckets. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
From left: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal have only just begun to procure buckets. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Age: 23
Role: A 7-foot, 280-pound rim-running, rim-protecting fever dream

Rohrbach: “The Bosnian Beast proved the steal of the NBA’s trade season in February. He transformed a Portland Trail Blazers team that was nine games below .500 upon his arrival to one that outscored opponents by nearly 10 points per 100 possessions with him at center. In the process, the Blazers usurped the Denver Nuggets for the West’s eighth seed and operated as the conference’s third-best team behind only the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.”

Age: 21
Role: Manning Middle America

Rohrbach: “It’s hard to place Turner among the next generation’s unicorns, playmakers, scorers, unsung heroes and breakout candidates, because his game borrows a bit from all of them. He’s not exceptional in any one regard, but his ability to score and defend from the rim to the 3-point line pays dividends on the bottom line. While Paul George chewed up much of the scenery in Indiana, Turner quietly did work behind the curtain, resulting in a positive gain of 9.3 points per 100 possessions when he took the floor for the Pacers. With George bowing out, Turner will be thrust into the spotlight. Whether or not he’s ready to play a starring role, this season should help us better define him.”

Age: 20
Role: Keeper of the #MambaMentality flame

Rohrbach: “Booker scored 70 points in a game before his 21st birthday. That should be the end of this discussion.”

Age: 24
Role: The gun to John Wall’s run

Rohrbach: “Seemingly meant for each other, Wall and Beal finally figured out the run-and-gun symbiosis that even they concede has been chaotic over the years, so it’s no coincidence that both enjoyed the best years of their careers and the Wizards nearly won 50 games for the first time since Wes Unseld’s 1970s heyday on the Washington Bullets. And it sure feels like there’s more room to grow.”

Age: 22
Role: Lone beacon of light in long-benighted Gotham

Devine: “There are, as ever, reasons to be skeptical about where the Knicks are headed. They have Porzingis, though. As long as that’s true, they also have hope.”

From left: Kristaps Porzingis, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5185/" data-ylk="slk:Giannis Antetokounmpo">Giannis Antetokounmpo</a>, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns have the capacity to redefine the NBA. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
From left: Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns have the capacity to redefine the NBA. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Age: 22
Role: Young and (mostly) ambulatory Old Sabonis for a new generation

Devine: “Pay attention to how everything revolves around the unassuming giant slinging passes seemingly destined for either heartbreak or hosannas, like some kind of super-sized Manu Ginobili. Before long, I’m betting you’ll come to see that a franchise in search of a cornerstone ever since trading Carmelo Anthony found what it was looking for while the rest of the league wasn’t looking.”

Age: 23
Role: Full-time multiplatform source of joy; part-time basketball-playing revelation (availability TBD)

Devine: “With his return expected for training camp, the minutes cap reportedly in the rear-view mirror, and two gifted new ball-handlers and a lights-out floor-spacer joining his crew, it seems like the only thing that can stop Embiid is his own body. Last season’s preview was thrilling enough; here’s hoping he stays healthy enough to give us the feature presentation we’ve all been waiting for.”

Age: 21
Role: Most compelling reason in 15 years to go all-in

Devine: “Towns can bulldoze opponents on the block, sprint off pindown screens to drill catch-and-shoot jumpers, and face up and shake defenders off the bounce. He can shuffle his feet to move with guards on the perimeter, slide over from the weak side to erase drivers’ layups, clean the glass, run the break and drop no-look dimes. Watch him long enough and you find yourself feeling that there are no things he can’t do on a basketball court; there are only things he hasn’t done yet.”

Age: 24
Role: The unibrowed face of a franchise

Rohrbach: “The next generation may be fully loaded with rangy unicorns, but Davis is the prototypical mythical beast. There’s potential in these other young guns, but Davis is already promise fulfilled — a 24-year-old with MVP votes, All-NBA and All-Defensive nods, and an All-Star Game MVP to his name, despite nagging injuries throughout his first five seasons. He is the only superstar the New Orleans Pelicans have ever known, with a monstrous wingspan and a Big Easy fluid game to match, and here’s the scariest part: There are more stories to climb before we reach his ceiling.”

Age: 22
Role: Everything at once

Devine: “Giannis’ physical tools are unrivaled, and his aptitude for deploying them has grown so much so quickly that trying to conceive of an upper limit to his game fast becomes an exercise in considering the impossible.”

More from our NBA 25 Under 25 series:

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the players who will redefine the league
Ben Simmons and the top five playmakers under age 25
Bradley Beal, Devin Booker headline the NBA’s next generation of scorers
Otto Porter and the unsung heroes who make good teams great
 Jusuf Nurkic and the young players on the verge of breaking out

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