I’ve been visualizing this idea of compiling some of the leagues best players under the age of 25. The NBA is currently chock-full of young talent, so we’ll break these guys up into three teams.
Guard: Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)– This rookie has really been one of the highlights of the 2011-12 NBA season. Averaging just a shade under 19 ppg and leading Cavs fans back to the Quicken Loans Arena after the departure of LeBron James. If you’re a Cavs fan and you haven’t made it out to see this young man ball, then you’re doing yourself a big disservice.
Guard: Ty Lawson (Denver Nuggets)– Lawson entered his 3rd professional season and for the first time in his NBA career he was the clear-cut starter for the Denver Nuggets. The added confidence mixed with Ty’s blazing speed has began to mold into a great chemistry for the former UNC standout.
Forward: James Harden (Oklahoma City Thunder)– Harden has really been the big difference for Oklahoma City this season. He’s been given more of a role and completely flourished in it. Harden’s minutes have jumped from 26.7 to 31.9 since last season and we’ve saw his ppg increase from 12.2 to 17.1. It makes you wonder why this change didn’t happen sooner?
Forward: Ryan Anderson (Orlando Magic)– Anderson has been a perfect fit to Orlando’s system of shoot first, ask questions later. Anderson saw his minutes increase by almost 10 per game this season and the production has kept pace. Anderson is getting 15.6 ppg this season, opposed to 10.6 just a season ago. At the tender age of 23 and with the benefit of playing with Dwight Howard. It’s hard to tell how high his ceiling really is.
Center: Brook Lopez (New Jersey Nets)– We’ve watched Brook blossom into a pretty good NBA player over the past four seasons. There is no question that he’s become a top NBA center. The only question mark about Lopez is his rebounding. Your center had to be able to hit the glass, and Lopez has went backwards since averaging 8+ rebounds his first two seasons int he league. He only managed 6 last season and was only getting a lousy 3.6 in five games this season.
Guard: John Wall (Washington Wizards)– John Wall is on the verge of being an elite NBA point guard. I really have a feeling that this kid will turn the Wizards around. He just needs some time to do it. Wall is barely old enough to legally consume alcohol, yet many critics have already written him off. Sure, his jumper is no doing him any favors and 4+ turn overs per game will never endear you to your coach, but this kid is truly dynamic to watch. Speed, quickness, athleticism and superior court vision will, without a doubt, lead him into the next era of amazing point guards.
Guard: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)– The departure of Monta Ellis has opened the door for Steph to completely dominate the ball in the bay area. Curry has suffered some setbacks this season, but should hopefully recover and build off from his terrific 2010-11 season, where he averaged nearly 18 ppg and 6 dimes.
Forward: Danilo Gallinari (Denver Nuggets)– Gallinari was set to have his biggest scoring season in 2012, before suffering a pretty bad ankle sprain that left him missing a good chunk of the season. Even without dominating the scoring column, Danilo has manged to be a dangerous player from outside and on the move. I look for Gallo to start fresh next season and get that ppg up closer to 20.
Forward: Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers)– Blake has dropped his rebounding totals by roughly two per game this season and his scoring has stayed relatively the same. It’s not a bad thing that Blake hasn’t broken out more during this season. I felt like his scoring would take a dip with the addition of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, but I didn’t anticipate him losing out on the rebounds. Blake is great, but he couldn’t get an edge on the two forwards in the starting five.
Center: DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings)– Cousins has increased his scoring and rebounding by two apiece. He went from 14.1 and 8.6 up to 16.6 and 10.7 during the 2012 campaign. Cousins like John Wall is just 21 years old and has plenty of room for improvement. You know what they say about NBA big guys. They take 5 or 6 years to fully develop their games. Dwight Howard averaged roughly 16 and 12 in his sophomore season, so I’d say that Cousins is in pretty good company.
Guard: Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls)– Rose is clearly one of the league’s elite point guards and one of the guys leading the charge forward into the new era of scoring point guards. Rose is quick, strong and ridiculously good at finishing at the rack. Although he’s been hindered this season by injury, Rose is still as good as they get in his age bracket.
Guard: Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)– From Derrick Rose to Russell Westbrook. Could you even imagine these two sharing the floor together as teammates? They’re two of the NBA’s most explosive players at any position and Westbrook in particular scares me when he flies into the lane and yacks it. This is a powerful dunker and an all-around scoring threat. Westbrook has molded himself into more than Kevin Durant’s sidekick in OKC.
Forward: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)– Kevin Durant has graduated from the school of put the ball in the rim. This guy fills the cup and he does it from various spots on the court and with a plethora of different moves. He’s perfected Dirk Nowitzki’s signature one-footed leaning fadeaway shot and I’ve seen him utilizing the Eurostep as of late. If a 6’9, lanky scorer like Durant can perfect the Eurostep… It’s a wrap for the league. Durant’s wingspan is said to be 7’5. So you can imagine how scary and unstoppable a consistent Eurostep would be from him.
Forward: Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves)– Love has propelled himself into the shoes of being the best white, American player in the NBA since Larry Bird. How many whites guys, not from Europe, generally have HUGE success in the NBA? The list is very short, and it’s grown to be a very rare thing in today’s league. Love breaks the mold. He’s big, extremely skilled around the basket, a phenomenal rebounder and a great shooter from distance. Love is currently fourth in the league in scoring at 25.7 ppg and second in rebounds at 13.7 rpg. These numbers are scary if you consider the fact that Love is only in his fourth pro season.
Center: Andrew Bynum (Los Angeles Lakers)– Bynum had been pretty much labeled a bust (due to injuries) over the course of his six year NBA career. Bynum had only managed to play a full 82 games one time (2006/07) and he only managed to post double-digit rebounds one time. But since the start of the 2011/12 NBA season, Bynum has put most of the bust chatter to rest. Averaging 17.8 ppg and 12.6 rebounds (3rd in the league) in his 7th season. Bynum has given the Lakers some hope for the future. Bynum, who is not yet 25, can likely carry the Lakers past the Kobe Bryant era in the near future.