NBA Power Rankings: 10 Best Players Under 23
This past season we saw some young players jump from potential all stars to bona fide NBA Superstars.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook backed up their explosive games by leading the Oklahoma City Thunder all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Derrick Rose has gone from Rookie of the Year to All Star to NBA MVP in successive seasons. Kevin Love posted double-doubles the likes of which we have not seen since Moses Malone.
Who is ready to follow the lead of their slightly-older NBA brothers and take the leap as the next class of stars in the NBA? The following is a power-ranking of the not-quite-ready for prime time players.
10) Greg Monroe
Could the Detroit Pistons have found a piece to build around? It certainly looked that way at times during Greg Monroe's rookie season.
Monroe improved steadily with every passing month. After playing sparingly at first, Monroe improved steadily with every game. In the final three months of the season, Monroe was a steady force putting up nearly 13 points per game and snagging nine boards.
Monroe did not even reach the legal drinking age until after his rookie season ended. Georgetown has produced all-star centers like Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutumbo and Alonzo Mourning. If Monroe keeps polishing his game, he could join the prestigious list.
9) Serge Ibaka
Drafted as an 18-year-old rookie in 2008, Serge Ibaka made quantum leaps as a player last season.
Ibaka averaged 11 points, six rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game last season, after a 6/6/1 posting as a rookie. Part of an exciting core of Oklahama City Thunder players under 24, Ibaka is a defensive and shot-blocking extraordinaire.
His offensive skill set may never allow him to truly be a Kevin Garnett-type, but defensively he can do a lot of the same things that has made Garnett such a special player for the last 16 years.
8) DeMarcus Cousins
Will DeMarcus Cousins be this generation's version of Shawn Kemp, or Shaquille O'Neal? He has the ability to follow in either's footsteps. Which path he takes is up to him.
Cousins is capable of dominating on any given night, but the knocks on him have always been focus and work ethic. He averaged an impressive 14 points and nine rebounds per game as a 20-year-old rookie, but was disappointing from the field (43%) and as a shot-blocker (.8). Cousins also jacked up 18 three-pointers, about 18 too many from a 6'11," 260-lb. center.
I hope I am wrong, but I fear we will be saying the same things ten years from now about Cousins as we were as a rookie. "If, if, if."
7) Tyreke Evans
Tyreke Evans looked like a budding superstar as a rookie. His averages of 20 points, six assists and five rebounds per game were actually comparable to LeBron James' rookie stat line.
Evans slumped badly in his sophomore season seeing his scoring drop to 17 per game and shooting percentage dip to 41. He has struggled again through his first three games this year. From a physical standpoint, Evans looks like the best player on the court. He is a chiseled 6'6" with the skill set to play either guard spot.
The rest of this season will likely determine if he will ever realize the potential displayed from his rookie year.
6) James Harden
Another one of those young Oklahoma City Thunder stars, we are just seeing the beginning of James Harden's game.
Harden blossomed in the playoffs, averaging 13 points, five rebounds, and four assists during OKC's impressive run to the Western Conference Finals. Greg Anthony recently compared Harden to the second-coming of Manu Ginobili, and I am inclined to agree. Harden plays lockdown defense and will emerge as an all-around playmaker on offense. He can hit the three, is a solid passer and knows his role.
Thus far in the young season, Harden has been rewarded with 31 minutes a night, which he has turned into 18 points and six rebounds per game. Look out for Harden and this Thunder team come playoff time.
5) Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday helped the Philadelphia 76ers earn an unexpected playoff berth as their 20-year-old starting point guard. From there, Holiday held his own going head-to-head against Dwyane Wade.
Holiday nearly doubled his per-game averages from his rookie season to second year. He has great size (6'4") for a point guard, and is a good shooter, defender and passer. For such a young player, he has been a great decision maker, with a 2.5:1 assist to turnover ratio.
The sky is the limit for this kid.
4) DeMar Derozan
DeMar Derozan emerged as an explosive scorer last season at the ripe young age of 21. Derozan became the Toronto Raptors' go-to scorer, and gives them a solid piece to build around.
The USC product averaged 17 points per game last year and saw his productivity grow with every passing month. By April, Derozan was putting up 23 points a night. An explosive athlete, the Raptors' shooting guard needs to work on his outside game to take the next step.
This year, he is off to a blistering start. His scoring is up to 18.5 and he is shooting 55 percent from the field. Most importantly, he is two for three from deep so it appears he worked on that three-point shot. Expect big things from Derozan this year and in the future.
3) Brandon Jennings
When Brandon Jennings scored 55 points, the second-most ever by a rookie, we were all thinking future superstar. Could this be the season it happens for the Milwaukee Bucks' point guard?
Jennings has averaged 16 points per game, but has done so inefficiently. Part of that can be explained by the Bucks' lack of scoring options. The only other threat on the roster was an oft-injured Andrew Bogut, not exactly a primary scorer himself.
The team traded for Stephen Jackson, by far the best backcourt-mate Jennings has played with. They also brought in Mike Dunleavy, who can stretch the court, and they have a healthy and motivated Bogut back in the mix.
It is early, but the extra space has done wonders for Jennings through the first two games, as he is averaging a much more efficient 23 points. Could the added scoring punch from his teammates be all Jennings needed to be a big-time scorer? Do not put it past one of the quickest players in the game.
2) John Wall
In virtually any season not featuring Blake Griffin, John Wall would have been the NBA's Rookie of the Year. He also gave the Washington Wizards something they have not had since Gilbert Arenas blew out his knee: Hope.
Wall displayed an effective all-around game as a rookie, averaging 16 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals. Compare that to rookie seasons from superstars like Chris Paul (16/8/5/2) and Derrick Rose (17/6/4/1) and the sky is the limit for this kid.
I project him as something of a hybrid of Paul and Rose. He will not be the explosive scorer that Rose is, nor quite the passer of Paul, but will be a better passer than Rose and better scorer than Paul.
1) Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin looked like a man amongst boys as a rookie. In reality, he was closer to a boy playing amongst men, as he did not turn 22 until March.
We had to wait a year, but he was worth the wait. Griffin quickly showed the world that his knee injury would not hinder his legendary explosive athletic ability, replacing LeBron James as the league's angriest dunker.
We knew about his athleticism, but no one could have predicted the efficiency of his all-around game. Griffin averaged 22.5 points, 12 rebounds and four assists per game. Just wait until he gets some awareness and a jump shot.