Ranking top 15 young NBA players yet to reach playoffs: Suns’ Devin Booker, Hawks’ Trae Young crack list


Booker’s performance in the NBA bubble last season might’ve been what convinced Chris Paul to accept a trade to the Phoenix Suns in the offseason. During the Suns’ 8-0 record in Orlando, Booker averaged 30.5 points, six assists and five rebounds per game. Now with Paul acting as the primary ball-handler in Phoenix, Booker is going to get even better looks coming off screens and cutting to the basket.2

For 19 games, he was a revelation. No one could keep Williamson off the glass or stop him in transition. Even as a rookie coming off a knee injury, he averaged 17.3 points in the paint, second only to Giannis. (On a per-possession basis, he actually edged Giannis in this category.) His defense was nowhere near where it was in college, his shot needs work and he didn’t look right in the bubble, but Williamson has already shown that he can affect the game like a legitimate star. And his upside is limitless.3

We’ve seen what Young can do when he’s solely relied upon to score and win games for the Hawks. Now, after Atlanta made several smart moves in the offseason to surround its All-Star guard with playoff-caliber talent, we’ll be able to see a version of Young that we haven’t seen in the NBA, or even during his time at Oklahoma. Expect to see his efficiency numbers jump up this season, with players like Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic flanking him on the wings.4

Ingram’s all-around scoring repertoire finally came together last season as he tripled his 3-point output and rode that improvement all the way to the All-Star Game, but there are genuine questions about how much value he’d actually provide to a winning team in his present state. The Pelicans had a better net rating when Ingram was off of the floor (-1.1) than when he was on it (-1.3), and they weren’t exactly overflowing with replacement options. With his scoring settled, it’s now time for Ingram to take the next step, and it’s the hardest one. The flashes of brilliance he’s shown as a defender and playmaker need to become more consistent elements of his game. All-Stars can score. Superstars can do everything. Once Ingram harnesses his Swiss Army knife skill set, he’ll become one of the very best players in basketball.5

Entering his fourth season and fresh off of signing a massive contract extension over the offseason, Fox could be in line for a career campaign. He has improved in each of his three seasons so far, and this year should be no different. Fox averaged a career-high 21.1 points per game last season while shooting a career-high 48 percent from the floor, and those numbers will likely improve as Fox has established himself as Sacramento’s top option.6

Mix the Road Runner’s speed with Wile E. Coyote’s creativity and you get Ja Morant, a basketball genius willing to try just about anything on the court no matter how ridiculous. As a rookie, that led to wild dunk attempts, plenty of turnovers and an uncomfortable number of awkward falls. But he is going to mature. Once he sands those rough edges off of his game, we’ll be left with an unstoppable athletic force that starts every play two literal and figurative steps ahead of the competition.7

Regardless of your opinion on the effectiveness of LaVine’s game, you cannot ignore the fact that this guy is a pure scorer, as evidenced by him averaging a career-high 25.5 points a game last season on a lowly Bulls team. He proved to be a serious threat from long range during a season in which his mid-range game was grounded by the Bulls analytics department. He was also an integral part of Chicago having a top 10 defensive team in the league, averaging almost two steals a game, which ranked in the top 20 in the league.8

Jackson’s development over the course of his two seasons with the Grizzlies is all the more impressive because he was a productive starter from Day 1. Stretch bigs aren’t uncommon anymore, but 6-foot-11 dudes who are comfortable taking deep, above-the-break 3s, coming off pindowns and even busting out a stepback every once in a while? Not normal at all. Jackson’s footwork is freaky for someone his size, and he can already score in the post, put the ball on the floor, block shots and hold his own defending smaller players. He needs to improve as a rebounder and stop fouling all the time, but, I mean, he is 21 and is apparently still growing.9

Last season with the Kings, Bogdanovic split time between a starting role and coming off the bench because of Sacramento’s overcrowding in the backcourt. While he was as effective starting as he was coming off the bench, it was clear that he should have a permanent starting spot on an NBA roster, and that’s what he’ll have now that he’s in Atlanta. Bogdanovic can do a little bit of everything on offense. He can create his own shots, is one of the very best catch-and-shoot 3-point shooters in this league and is a solid pick-and-roll option. He’s a player that every team in the league wishes they had on their roster, and he’ll get an even bigger opportunity to show why this season.10

Across 32 starts last season, Ayton shot 55.3 percent from the field on 15.3 field goal attempts per game. Only two other players have ever done that over a full season before their 23rd birthday, and they’re two players Suns fans should be very familiar with: Shaquille O’Neal and Amar’e Stoudemire. No, Ayton isn’t Luka Doncic. He’s never going to be Luka Doncic. But he’s progressing exactly as a No. 1 overall pick should. If his defense takes another step and he turns some of those dreaded long 2s into 3-pointers, he’ll contend for an All-Star selection this season.11

After all of the excitement down in Atlanta this offseason, Collins has become something of an afterthought. That should change once the Hawks get on the court this season. The Collins-Trae Young pick-and-roll is one of the most fun combinations in basketball, and will once again produce an entire highlight reel just by itself. But Collins isn’t just a high-flyer. He showed off a much-improved 3-point stroke last season, which is vital for both his and the team’s success.12

Offensively, he wows you. His highlights were always like that. But it really came together for Wood when he finally started getting starter’s minutes: The improved shooting, the vertical spacing and, every now and then, the successful forays to the rim. That is a special combination, and the Rockets are betting he can figure things out on the other end, too. He certainly has the tools.13

The departure of Bogdan Bogdanovic seemingly clarifies Hield’s role in Sacramento, where he’s been a relatively volatile player. When he’s rolling, he’s a highly efficient, voluminous marksman; the last four years he’s shot 42, 43, 43, and 40 percent from 3, and last season he launched just under 10 triples per game. Likely back in a solidified starting role, Hield should score north of 20 points a night and make up one of the more explosive backcourts in the league next to De’Aaron Fox.14

It was always obvious that Bridges would be a menace on defense. He is not one of those guys who can theoretically guard multiple positions strictly because he’s big and athletic; he is a legitimately disruptive defender 1 through 4. The question, heading into his third season, is what he will become on the other end. There was real progress last year, first with the shooting and then with the playmaking. More please!15

Most rookies don’t help their teams win because most rookies aren’t Brandon Clarke. He was one of the NBA’s best reserves as soon as he made his debut, seemingly always in the right place and competing hard as hell. He has an insane floater, an improved jumper and the leaping ability that allows him to catch lobs and block shots despite being 6-foot-8 with an almost identical wingspan. It remains bewildering that he fell to No. 21 in the draft.

Published: 2020-12-16 22:38:38

Tags: #Ranking #top #young #NBA #players #reach #playoffs #Suns #Devin #Booker #Hawks #Trae #Young #crack #list


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