NBA's 24 Under 24 Rankings: Evan Mobley Enters Top 10, Luka Loses No. 1 Spot

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2021

NBA's 24 Under 24 Rankings: Evan Mobley Enters Top 10, Luka Loses No. 1 Spot

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    Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In the first week of the season, Bleacher Report debuted its Top 24 Under 24 rankings, highlighting the best of the "next generation" of NBA stars.

    The inaugural edition of the list was primarily based on the players' overall track records, bodies of work and reputations around the league. Now that the season is underway, the latest version and others during the season will function as more of a ranking based on how they're playing at the moment. Big stars with slow starts (Trae Young, Jayson Tatum) will get some benefit of the doubt, but even those names fell a few spots. 

    With that being the case, a few big names who were included on the original list but are out with long-term injuries will not be included. Zion Williamson has yet to play in a game this season; once he returns, he'll undoubtedly return to the top 10. Michael Porter Jr. and Collin Sexton, who were both on the preseason list, are out for the foreseeable future, so it makes no sense to include them going forward.

    Also, five rookies cracked the list after the first month, some expected and some not. Two of the top five picks, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs, are off to uneven starts to the year and didn't make it this time, although they very easily could in the future. This rookie class has been strong in the early part of the season.

    With all of that said, let's dive in.

24. Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings

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    José Luis Villegas/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    There is plenty going wrong in Sacramento right now, but for the second year in a row, they appear to have hit a winner with their lottery pick. Mitchell is already a nightmare on the defensive end, living up to the "Off Night" nickname he earned in college by taking on some of the other team's best scorers and forcing them into bad shots.

    The caveat for all that praise: Mitchell's offense isn't there yet. His shooting is atrocious (26.7 percent from three-point range on 4.2 attempts per game). Maybe that will come around at some point. But he's been worthy of minutes with his defensive impact, which allows him to play with any combination of the Kings' other guards. A team in Sacramento's spot needs to find players who will be long-term building blocks, and Mitchell appears to be one.

23. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Gilgeous-Alexander hasn't had the best start to his fourth season. His shooting has fallen off a cliff—he's shooting 40.1 percent from the field after shooting 50.8 percent last year, and his three-point efficiency has dropped from 41.8 percent last year to 31.9 percent this year. The Thunder are still tanking, so the wins and losses don't necessarily matter, and he's already gotten paid. But this isn't the start he or the Thunder wanted.

    He's staying on the back end of this list because he's been good enough through his first three seasons and shown at his best that he's worthy of being considered a franchise player. He's earned the benefit of the doubt that he'll get through this rough patch. He missed Monday's game against the Hawks with an ankle sprain, so hopefully a bit of rest will be good for him.

22. Talen Horton-Tucker, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    Horton-Tucker missed the beginning of the season after undergoing thumb surgery during training camp. He came back last week and slotted into the starting lineup while LeBron James was out—and acquitted himself nicely. He's only played five games, but he's averaged a career-high 16 points per game with improved three-point shooting while playing solid defense. He's had a couple of big scoring performances, putting up 28 points against the Bulls and 25 against the Bucks in consecutive games.

    The Lakers' aging, injured and ill-fitting roster is short on young talent outside of their three stars. As James continues to navigate his health and the team navigates the awkward fit of Russell Westbrook, getting consistent two-way performances from role players like Horton-Tucker could be the difference between contending and another early playoff exit. The early returns on that front since he's gotten healthy have been encouraging.

21. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    Jackson had his most impressive game of the season on Monday in a road win over the Utah Jazz, scoring 26 points, hitting four three-pointers and grabbing eight rebounds. It's the kind of breakout performance he's needed in a season where he's been finally healthy but hasn't produced at the level most people expected when he signed a four-year, $105 million extension at the start of the season. He's shooting a career-low 38.8 percent from the field, although his three-point shooting is getting back into the range it was in before last season, when he played in just 11 games due to injuries.

    While his play has been uneven, his importance to the Grizzlies' playoff hopes is obvious. If he can build on the performance he had against Utah and get back to playing like that consistently, the Grizzlies' ceiling gets a lot higher.

20. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic

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    Jessie Alcheh/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    Wagner was a lottery pick (No. 8 overall), but not one who was thought to have immediate star potential. That has made his immediate impact in Orlando a pleasant surprise. Playing for a rebuilding Magic team for which most of the minutes are going to young players can lead to some inflated numbers because somebody has to score those points, but Wagner is producing. He's been better in the early part of the season than his much more highly touted teammate, Jalen Suggs, who has been banged up to start the year.

    Wagner has started all 18 games for the Magic and averaged 12.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He's also shooting 36.0 percent from three-point range on 4.2 attempts per game and showing an ability to score in a variety of ways. The Magic have a promising piece for their rebuild.

19. Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks

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    Atlanta Hawks guard Kevin Huerter (3) shown during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
    Hakim Wright Sr./Associated Press

    Age: 23

    An offseason ankle injury contributed to Huerter's slow start to the season, but he's begun to round into form lately. He's played well during the Hawks' current five-game winning streak, scoring in double digits in four of the games, including 19 points against the Celtics and 17 against the Hornets.

    Huerter has moved into the starting lineup while De'Andre Hunter has been injured, and he's played well in that time. He remains one of the Hawks' most talented and versatile offensive players, capable of scoring in a variety of ways and making plays for others. 

    Huerter had some big performances during the Hawks' Eastern Conference Finals run, and their recent resurgence has coincided with his own improved play. It's been a bizarre start to the season for the Hawks as they've dealt with injuries, but both they and Huerter should get the benefit of the doubt that this rough patch is not permanent.

18. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings

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    José Luis Villegas/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    One of the few bright spots of a disastrous Kings season has been Haliburton, who has seamlessly slotted into the starting lineup after coming off the bench for much of his rookie season. 

    He's continued to shoot the three well, hitting at a 37.7 percent clip, while the rest of his numbers have stayed right around where they were last season—when he was good enough to finish third in Rookie of the Year voting.

17. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Ayton missed a few games with a leg injury, but he's continued to make an impact at both ends of the floor in his fourth season. He keeps getting better on the offensive end and is averaging a career-high 12.0 rebounds per game.

    Following their 1-3 start to the year, the Suns have ripped off a 13-game winning streak, and Ayton has had some big performances. He's had double-digit rebounds in four of the five games he's played since returning from the injury, and on Monday he put up 21 points and 14 rebounds in a win over San Antonio. If Phoenix keeps winning like this, there's a good chance he makes his first All-Star team.

16. Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    The loss of Collin Sexton for the rest of the season hurts, but Garland continues to improve and grow into his role as the Cavs' full-time starting point guard. He continues to hit three-pointers at a high clip, making 36.4 percent of a career-high 7.4 attempts per game, and his scoring and assists are up.

    Garland has scored over 20 points in five of the Cavs' past six games, helping to keep them around .500 as they navigate other key players being in and out of the lineup with various injuries.

15. Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic

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    Jessie Alcheh/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    Injuries kept Anthony from making much of an impact in his rookie season with the Magic, but he's broken out in his second year. He's started all 16 games at point guard and improved as an outside shooter, from 33.7 percent last year to 36.6 percent this year on significantly more attempts. He's excelled as the primary ball-handler for a rebuilding Magic team, dishing out 5.9 assists per game. He's also rebounding at a high clip for a guard, averaging 6.8 boards per game.

    Anthony missed Monday's blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks with an ankle injury. Hopefully, that isn't anything that lingers long-term, especially after how much time he missed last season due to injuries. He's proved this year that when he's healthy, he's an impact player and someone the Magic can feel good about building around going forward.

14. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    Cunningham would probably be higher if he hadn't missed the beginning of the season after suffering an ankle injury during training camp. From the moment he made his debut on Oct. 30 against the Magic, it was obvious the impact the Pistons hoped he would have when they took him with the No. 1 overall pick. Even with his shot not falling, his vision and playmaking ability were apparent, and his effort and activity on the defensive end were impressive.

    The shooting is still a work in progress. He's had a couple of big scoring games, but his offense has yet to come around. Even with that being the case, he's made an impact in other ways, such as rebounding, making plays and playing defense. Once the shooting improves, and there's no reason to believe it won't given how good a shooter he was in college, he's going to be fine.

13. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Among the many, many things going haywire for the Kings at the moment is Fox having a bit of a down year. His numbers are down across the board from a year ago, and the three-point shooting that had been steadily improving over the past two years has fallen all the way down from 32.2 percent last season to 24.5 percent this year. His overall efficiency, which had been climbing over his first four seasons, is back down to where it was his rookie year, when he struggled.

    Long-term, there's no reason to worry about Fox. Bad years happen even for great players, and his performance is far from the only thing the Kings have to worry about at the moment. He'll be fine.

    A note: Fox is poised to be the first player to age out of the list. He turns 24 on Dec. 20, so this will be his final time being included.

12. Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Allen has wasted no time living up to the five-year, $100 million extension he signed with the Cavs in the offseason. Starting in the frontcourt alongside Evan Mobley, he's been a consistent double-double producer and an impactful defender. As a finisher, Allen particularly excels. He's shooting 80 percent at the rim, where most of his attempts come. 

    Before Mobley's injury, the unorthodox three-big lineup with those two and Lauri Markkanen had been surprisingly effective for a Cavs team that is much more competitive than people expected them to be going into the season. Allen missed three games last week with an illness but came back strong with a 20-point, 15-rebound performance in Monday's loss to the Nets. Once Mobley is back, the tandem with Allen is going to continue to be dangerous.

11. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    Raptors president Masai Ujiri surprised a lot of people when he took Barnes with the No. 4 overall pick. But in his first month as a pro, Barnes has shown why he was worth that gamble.

    Not many rookies on teams aspiring to make the playoffs are this productive right away. Barnes is averaging 14.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game and has started all 16 games for the Raptors, who sit outside the top 10 in the East but are hanging around and could make a run to get back in.

    Defensively, Barnes has shown an ability to switch and defend multiple positions, which has made him a lethal perimeter partner for OG Anunoby. His production has taken a small hit since missing two games with a sprained thumb in early November, but Barnes has still been one of this season's most impressive rookies.

10. Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Going into his fourth season, Bridges reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million extension offer from the Hornets. That's going to turn out to be a great decision for him, because if he keeps playing the way he has in the first month of the season, he's going to get a lot more than that when he hits restricted free agency this summer. Charlotte would be silly to let him go.

    Bridges developed a great lob connection with LaMelo Ball (more on him later) throughout last season, but he came off the bench for much of the year. This season, he's started every game, played a career-high 36.8 minutes per game and taken advantage of the extended playing time by turning in a true breakout season, averaging 20.8 points and 7.4 rebounds as the Hornets are playing like a playoff team. A top candidate for Most Improved Player.

9. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

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    Hakim Wright Sr./Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Along with James Harden, Young has been one of the most high-profile victims of the league's new rules about how shooting fouls are officiated. His trips to the free-throw line have dropped to 5.7 per game from 8.7 last year and 9.3 in 2019-20. He's still been very good overall, shooting a career-high 37.7 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 9.0 assists per game. But after what he did during the Hawks' Eastern Conference Finals run this spring, many expected him to cement himself as one of the league's no-doubt superstars going into his fourth season, and he's merely having another excellent season.

    It doesn't help matters that the Hawks, coming off that out-of-nowhere playoff run, have struggled in the early going and sit outside the top 10 in the Eastern Conference. Expect Young to turn it around as the year progresses.

8. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    If Tatum's last week was his entire season, he'd maintain his preseason spot near the very top of this list. He had 34 points in a loss to the Hawks, followed by 37 in a win over the Lakers and 33 in a win over the Thunder. He appears to have gotten his groove back somewhat after a rough start to the season both for him individually and for the Celtics as a team. A string of bad shooting nights in late October and early November, along with comments from teammate Marcus Smart hinting at players' dissatisfaction with how much Tatum and Jaylen Brown are shooting, marred the start of the season as Boston dropped some winnable games.

    But the Celtics are back over .500, and Tatum is filling up the stat sheet once again. A prediction: He will be back in the top five by the time the next edition of this list drops in December.

7. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    Mobley wouldn't go ahead of Tatum or Young in a fantasy draft, but given their early struggles and his out-of-the-box dominance, he's earned a spot ahead of them for now. Assuming the elbow injury that's sidelined him since last week doesn't linger past the timeline of 2-4 weeks, Mobley is far and away the front-runner for Rookie of the Year. No center has been this good or impactful from their first moments in the league since Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015.

    Even the most talented big men often take time to mature on defense, but Mobley's impact on that end has been immense from day one. The versatile offensive game that made him such a highly touted prospect at USC has also translated seamlessly to the pros—he's averaging 14.6 points and 2.5 assists per game and scoring in a variety of ways. If he returns quickly from the elbow injury, his star is only going to continue to rise. Three years after LeBron James' departure, the Cavs have their next franchise player.

6. Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    The leap that many people projected for Herro after his performance in the Heat's Bubble Finals run in the summer of 2020 didn't come last year, but it appears to be here in his third season. He's averaging career highs in points (21.6), rebounds (5.5) and assists (3.9) per game while upping his outside shooting to 39.5 percent from last year's 36.0 percent on nearly two more attempts per game.

    Herro has mostly come off the bench once again this year, but he started a few games while Jimmy Butler was out. He's scored at least 20 points in 11 of his 16 games and 25 or more in eight of them while the Heat have been among the best teams in the Eastern Conference. If he keeps this up, he'll have a very strong case for both the Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player awards.

5. Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    Nobody has benefited more from the ongoing Ben Simmons saga in Philadelphia than Maxey, who has assumed the role of starting point guard in his second season and absolutely thrived doing it.

    After coming off the bench for most of his rookie year, Maxey has started every game this year for the Sixers. With that extra playing time comes inflated statistical production, but that doesn't tell the whole story. He's upped his outside shooting efficiency from 30.1 percent last year to 39.3 percent this year on twice the number of attempts and has served as a steadying force for a Sixers team that's navigated both Simmons' situation and a recent team-wide COVID outbreak to keep Philly competitive in the Eastern Conference.

    The idea of having to trade Simmons eventually becomes much more palatable with the knowledge that Maxey is ready to step into that role for years to come.

4. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    Edwards broke out in the second half of his rookie season and has kept the momentum going through the first month of his sophomore campaign. The highlights have been his 29-point performance in the Timberwolves' opening-night win over the Houston Rockets and a 48-point explosion against the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 10, but other than a couple off shooting nights, the growth has been steady.

    The Timberwolves' season as a whole has been up and down, but lately, they've put together a four-game winning streak that's included a couple of big scoring performances from Edwards. Overall on the season, he's upped his shooting efficiency and continues to make positive strides in all aspects of his game. Just as important, he remains one of the players in the league that you can't take your eyes off no matter what he's doing on the court.

3. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    The Hornets were a fun surprise in Ball's rookie season. Now, they have playoff expectations thanks in large part to his transformative effect on the franchise. 

    In his second season, Ball has not disappointed. His own numbers are up across the board—19.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, along with clear improvement in what was already pretty solid three-point shooting. The chemistry he has with teammates, particularly first-time list entrant Miles Bridges, continues to grow. He has had four double-digit assist games this season and put up a season-high 32 points in Friday's win over the Indiana Pacers.

    All the while, the Hornets are winning. They're 11-8, fifth in the Eastern Conference, with impressive wins over the Nets and Warriors, all building on a surprise appearance in the play-in last season. Ball has made basketball in Charlotte relevant for the first time in years.

2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    Doncic was No. 1 in the preseason version of this list, and he could easily get back there again in the coming months. He gets docked ever so slightly because he's missed three recent games with knee and ankle issues, and his shooting has been a bit up and down to start the year.

    Still, Doncic's body of work and status as one of the faces of the NBA for years to come speaks for itself. Even with his uneven start to the year, he's delivered iconic moments, including Nov. 6's game-winning three-pointer against the Celtics. And the Mavs, despite an underwhelming supporting cast, are winning—they're 9-7 entering Tuesday, fifth in the Western Conference—and they lost all three games Doncic missed, just proving even more how essential he is to the lofty goals they have for the season.

1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    Morant making the superstar leap in his third season in the NBA has been one of the great stories of the young campaign. He's made the Grizzlies must-see TV every night, building on the coming-out party he had in last year's play-in games and first-round playoff series.

    In the first month of the season, Morant has put up six games of 30 or more points, including a 40-point performance against the Lakers in late October. His scoring and rebounding are up, and most encouragingly, the outside shot that was previously a weak point in his game is coming around. He's shooting 36.0 percent from deep on a career-high 5.1 attempts per game.

    It would be a shock if Morant didn't make his first career All-Star team this year, and it will be the first of many. There's no denying he's one of the future faces of the NBA.

                   

    Stats and records up to date entering Tuesday's games.

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