Kevin Durant and the Best NBA Players Under the Age of 25
The NBA is full of young, talented players who have already established themselves as some of the premier players in the league.
From the Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan generation to the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony generation, it's nice to know that the league will be in good hands with the influx of new, superstar-quality talents.
This slideshow will rank the top 10 players under the age of 25. Bear in mind that a good handful of talented, young players will be left off simply because I don't believe they are better than the ones I listed. If anything, it just goes to show you how many great young players there are today.
10. Jrue Holiday
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If I told you last year that Jrue Holiday was one of the best point guards in the league, you would probably be laughing at me.
It's a whole different story this year, however. Per Basketball-Reference.com, Holiday is putting up career highs in points (19.0), assists (8.8), rebounds (4.2), field goal percentage (45.8) and PER (19.1).
Not only are those numbers exceptional for a young point guard—they put him in the same category as some of the best point guards in the league. There is a handful of quality young point guards on almost every team now, but Holiday's play this season demonstrates why he deserves the recognition as one of the NBA's bright young stars.
9. Brook Lopez
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His defense and rebounding are far from desirable, but Lopez is unquestionably one of the most talented offensive centers in the league. He's fifth in the entire league in PER, registering an incredible career high rating of 25.7.
Although Shaq's remarks of Brook Lopez being better than Dwight Howard is hardly accurate, there's no denying that Lopez is one of the best young, post-up big men in the league today—and he will only get better on both ends of the court as he continues to grow.
8. Stephen Curry
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Out of every point guard in this league, Curry takes home the title as the best shooter. Quite honestly, he might even be the best shooter in the league, for that matter.
He's not an athletic freak of nature, nor is he the greatest individual defender, but Curry has displayed his exceptional court vision and passing ability this season—something that couldn't be said of him in previous years.
He's posting 20.5 PPG, 6.6 APG and an otherworldly 46.1 percent from three-point land this season—all of which are career highs. Although his three-point percentage is amazing in itself, he's shooting that percentage while attempting the fourth-most three-pointers in the league at nearly seven a game. That's crazy.
Hopefully, his latest reported ankle issues isn't a sign of worse things to come, as this is the only problem holding Curry back from moving to the next level.
7. Blake Griffin
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Whether he's overrated or not, Griffin's numbers and improvement this season speak for themselves. His stat line, so far this season, doesn't necessarily illustrate his improvement, but that's partially due to his limited playing time after a nagging knee injury and slow start to the season.
He took strides in his development this season, as he's improving his post-game, defense and jumpshot (somewhat). Griffin is also a very underrated passer, and he's averaging the third-most assists per game out of all power forwards at 3.3 a contest, only trailing Josh Smith and David Lee.
He can fill up a highlight reel just as much as he can fill up the stat sheet, posting a career stat line of 20.9 PPG, 10.9 RPG and 3.5 APG.
6. Kyrie Irving
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Last season, Kyrie Irving was the first pick of the 2011 draft, and it looked like he would become a superstar point guard after a stupendous rookie season. This season, he's proving why he's already a top five point guard—at the startling age of 20, no less.
Irving is putting up 23.3 PPG, 5.6 APG and 1.8 steals on an efficient 46.3 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from beyond the arc. It's evident that Irving is the first of a breed of new point guards coming into the league—one that can drive to the rim, pass, draw fouls, shoot and score from anywhere on the floor.
Although his 5.6 assists per contest don't scream out "great passer," Irving is playing the role of best scorer and playmaker with one of the worst supporting casts in the league.
Above all else, he is an explosive scorer with deceptive athleticism and quickness. His versatile offensive wizardry accumulated into a masterful performance earlier this season in the world's most famous arena.
5. Kevin Love
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As a result of several misfortunes and multiple hand injuries, he hasn't been playing up to par this season—and that's an understatement. In the 18 games he has played, Love is recording 18.3 PPG and 14.0 RPG, but on a whopping 35 percent shooting.
Nonetheless, this may be an injury-riddled season for Love, but it shouldn't take away from what he was capable of doing in the past two seasons. The bristly power forward was the only player to finish in the Top Five in both points and rebounds per game, while also confirming his elite shooting ability after he won the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout in the lockout-shortened season.
Love's series of injuries may be slowing him down this year, but he is arguably the best power forward in the business when healthy. Once his body catches up to his talent, he will remain a top ten player for years to come.
4. Russell Westbrook
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Hate him or love him, you can't deny the argument that Russell Westbrook is one of the league's best players and brightest young stars.
It's like Westbrook is constantly being observed through a microscope and gets criticized (per Shannon J. Owens of the Orlando Sentinel) for every little mistake that he makes. Despite all that, the mercurial point guard is an athletic freak of nature who possesses one of the quickest first steps in the league.
Although his shooting percentages might not indicate it, Westbrook is having his best season so far in his young, five-year career.
He apparently has learned to balance the scoring load and distributing to contribute to the team's maximum potential of success—even though his usage rate and field-goal attempts are still higher than Kevin Durant's.
Westbrook is dishing out a career high in assists this year at 8.3 per game, while registering a career low in turnover percentage—the number of turnovers per 100 possessions—with only 13.2.
While he does still make some silly mistakes and his shot selection is still improving, Westbrook is undoubtedly one of the most explosive, artistic and best overall players in the league at the tender age of 24.
3. James Harden
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Last season, there weren't any doubts about James Harden's talent and efficiency, but is he able to carry a team to the playoffs single-handedly? Going from the sixth man to becoming the face of the franchise for a brand new team is certainly a difficult mental and physical process to endure.
Well, so far, the results of Harden's play as "the man" of his team are staggering. Not only is he putting up a superstar-caliber stat line and scoring the fifth-most points in the league at 26.3 points per contest, but he also put the Houston Rockets in a good spot to make the playoffs at the end of the season (even though they're on a five-game losing streak).
Harden has deceptive athleticism and quickness, and right when his defender relaxes for a bit, he uses his explosive first step and gets to the rim for the bucket or a foul. He is also a very adept shooter, so defenses must close him out, or he'll deliver from the perimeter with ease.
It's hard to believe Harden can realistically lead this mediocre Rockets team to a deep playoff run, but what he has proved is that he can shoulder the load as the best player and No. 1 option on a team—and succeed in doing so.
2. Derrick Rose
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I don't believe a proven, superstar talent should be omitted off of this list just because he suffered a major injury. Unless Derrick Rose lost both of his legs and can no longer walk or jump for the rest of his life, he's still the second best player under the age of 25 in my books.
He became the youngest MVP in NBA history at the age of 22, and he hasn't even reached his prime yet. Rose led the 2010-2011 Chicago Bulls to an extraordinary 62-20 regular-season record and their first trip to the Eastern Conference finals in 13 years.
Even though the Bulls still managed to snatch the first seed in the East in Rose's injury-riddled season last year, it was evident how much the team needed their superstar after he went down in Game 1. The Bulls got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, and it became clear how important Rose is to their team.
1. Kevin Durant
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Kevin Durant is not only the best player under the age of 25—he's also, arguably, the second-best player in the NBA.
As the league's most outstanding scorer for the past three seasons, there's no denying Durant's offensive versatility and greatness. In this season, Durant has proved that he's capable of excelling in other categories as well.
He's an improving passer and defender, per Jonathan Tjarks of RealGM, which are two areas of his game that he's not distinctly noticed for. On top of that, his scoring and overall play has improved beyond expectations.
Durant is on pace for a historical 50-40-90 season, which will put him in an elite category with some of the most efficient scorers in NBA history such as Steve Nash, Reggie Miller and Larry Bird.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Durant's true shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that includes three-pointers and free throws), PER, win shares per 48 minutes and offensive rating blow all of his previous career highs out of the water.
There have been discussions (per Rob Mahoney of Bleacher Report) about whether Durant can truly surpass LeBron James as the NBA's best player. It isn't clear at the moment if he can, but if he keeps continuing to improve at this remarkable rate, it won't be a surprise if Durant is considered the best overall player in the league in the next few years.