Building the All-25-and-Under NBA Team Before 2014-15 Season

Jim Cavan@@JPCavanContributor IAugust 7, 2014

Building the All-25-and-Under NBA Team Before 2014-15 Season

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    The NBA, perhaps more than any of its major North American rivals, has been a league where the marketing of stars is as important to the game’s global popularity as any particular team or dynasty.

    As such, fans have been trained to keep one eye always on the next in line—that player or crop of players capable of taking the league into evermore rarified air.

    LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Kevin Love: These guys have solidified their places in the present-day pantheon.

    But what about the next generation of transcendent talents, dutifully awaiting their turn to be called the cream of the crop?

    Inspired in part by Team USA’s golden-medal gambit at this month’s FIBA World Cup in Spain, we’ve put together what we’re calling the NBA’s All 25-and-Under Team—12 guys representing every position, with the overarching goal of constructing a roster that’s not only stacked with stars, but makes rotational sense as well.

    The criteria: Each player must still be 25 (or younger) by the end of the 2014-15 season (July 1, for our purposes).

    Sorry, Blake Griffin. Go find yourself a senior league.

    To the future!

SG: Klay Thompson

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    Full disclosure: Klay Thompson almost didn’t make the cut. Not for any glaring lack of proven skills or upside, mind you. To the contrary, we had quite the conundrum choosing between the Golden State Warriors’ sweet-shooting guard and the younger—and possibly better—Bradley Beal.

    In the end, we went with Thompson. Beal will have his day, and probably far sooner than most of us expect. But as a backup marksmen who brings solid perimeter D and makes for a hellish defensive cover (trust us, you don’t want to be running around screens set by some of his teammates), Thompson's the safe, sensible choice.

PG: John Wall

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    John Wall might’ve been one of the last players cut from this summer’s FIBA squad, but he passes this test with flying colors.

    Like, literally flying. At about 130 miles an hour.

    As a change-of-pace backup to our roster’s starter, Wall would present nightmarish problems for the opposition...whoever that would be. Once out in transition, the Washington Wizards’ blur is harder to stop than Bo Jackson bombing down a black diamond.

    Wall’s jumper and overall efficiency could use some improvement. Good thing, then, that at just 23 years old, he’s got plenty of time to do just that.

SG/SF: Gordon Hayward

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    Looking for a reason to buy the Gordon Hayward hype? The Utah Jazz have about $63 million of them.

    Hayward isn’t the best small forward under 25. Nor does he have the highest overall upside. What he brings to the table, however, is a playmaker’s eye uncommon at his position.

    Hayward’s Year 3 struggles have been well documented. But surrounded by top-level talent and coached by the right basketball mind, his is the kind of skill set you want on the roster—even if it’s in a reserve role.

    Our bold prediction: Hayward’s statistical peak won’t come until age 28 or 29. When it does happen, however, the rest of the league might not know what hit it.

SG/SF: DeMar DeRozan

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    Of all the players on our Green Team (consider it trademarked), few are more open to interpretation—where he’s been, what he is, and where he’s going—than the Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan.

    Following a breakout campaign in the 2010-11 season (DeRozan’s second), there was no telling just how high this California kid’s ceiling could be.

    Two years later, DeRozan’s productivity had hit something of a wall, with many a Raptors fan wondering whether all the explosive promise might amount to little more than a middling mirage.

    Career marks in points, rebounds, assists and player efficiency and one All-Star appearance later, DeRozan has officially emerged as a top-five NBA shooting guard. Which, given the lack of league-wide depth at the position, is more than enough to earn him a spot in our ranks.

PG: Damian Lillard

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    You know that lack of shooting-guard depth we just talked about? Yeah, the point guard position doesn’t have that.

    Of all the players on our roster, Damian Lillard is the only one to complete a full tour of collegiate duty. That experience is part of the reason he makes the cut.

    The other reason: He might turn out to be the best point guard of his generation.

    Lillard’s defense remains an eyesore. And his playmaking could stand to blossom beyond the boundaries of “I’m going to overwhelm you with my speed and power.”

    Still, in terms of sheer explosiveness, Lillard is an absolute dynamo. Pretty sure we can find a nice comfy chair for him.  

PF/C: DeMarcus Cousins

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    DeMarcus Cousins is one of those players you know is good—great, even—without ever diving too deeply into the statistical specifics.

    …Until you finally do and quickly realize what playing for the Sacramento Kings can do to a man's notoriety. Translation: Cousins is the best young all-around center in the NBA, and it’s not particularly close.

    Offensively, few NBA players are as gifted—at any position—as Cousins, whose jaw-dropping repertoire and passing ability alone make him one of the game’s most unique talents.

    Once he brushes the bad raps permanently aside, there’s no telling just how high Cousins’ ceiling can be.

PF: Serge Ibaka

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    You want Serge Ibaka on that wall. You need Serge Ibaka on that wall!

    Thus ends our lame movie reference.

    All the same, the point stands: Ibaka has emerged as the prototypical rim-protecting 4—a hyper-athletic specimen with tremendous defensive instincts and a jump shot to match. Teams want that. Our team needs that.

    Ibaka is so intriguing, in fact, it makes you wonder what he might look like teamed up with America’s finest at the FIBA World Cup, rather than the hometown Spaniards.

    It’ll be fascinating to see whether and to what extent Ibaka can expand his range even more, to help transform the Oklahoma City Thunder’s offense go from formidable to downright frightening.

PG: Kyrie Irving

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    The arrival of LeBron James presents an interesting paradox for Kyrie Irving: On the one hand, the fourth-year point guard is bound to see his efficiency improve—and his defense, if King James has anything to say about it.

    However, with James (and possibly Kevin Love) now in the fray, just how much tangible improvement Irving has in front of him is sure to be one of the more compelling storylines of the next few seasons.

    Ask USA Today's Adi Joseph, it's one that's more likely to have a happy ending than not:

    But Irving is a better fit with James than Wade was in some ways, particularly because of his shooting ability. Wade's three-point range was such a problem that, over time, he gave up the shot almost entirely, taking only 32 last regular season.

    Irving, who won the three-point shooting contest at the 2013 All-Star game, will be able to disappear into corners for open shots when James wants to run the offense, while also stepping back for his own jumpers when defenses key too much on James. He'll never be a slasher like Wade, but his game fits better as a second star.

    When he’s healthy, Irving—your 25-and-Under starting floor general—has all the tools to grow into the best point guard in the NBA. Now let’s see if James can help bring that bombast about.

SG: James Harden

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    Lest everyone think we here at Bleacher Report suffer from a savage case of sinistrophobia, James Harden—a lefty’s lefty—is our starting shooting guard.

    It’ll take years to see whether the Oklahoma City Thunder’s decision to trade Harden to the Houston Rockets was the best move for the franchise. For Harden, on the other hand, being the A-1 option has proven lucrative indeed.

    Harden, who turns 25 later this month, has unquestionably entered the conversation as a top-10 player—top-five, if you’re willing to completely discount defense.

    Attendant nonchalance aside, Harden’s offensive game is by far the most devastating at the shooting-guard position. We think he’ll fit in just fine.

Kawhi Leonard

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    Between them, Lillard and Harden couldn’t stop a clown on stilts on defense. Which makes the presence of a player like Kawhi Leonard—one of the league’s burgeoning defensive stoppers—all the more necessary.

    He also happens to be next in line to the league’s most prestigious NBA throne: leader of the San Antonio Spurs.

    Why aren’t the stats blowing me away, you ask? Let’s let Gregg Popovich explain, by way of an interview with the San Antonio News-Express’ Jeff McDonald:

    I always think about our guys sometimes, and their stats. They really get screwed sometimes, playing for me. If you win 62 games, and some of them are by a decent margin, I bet our guys play fewer fourth quarter minutes than most good players on any team. I’d be willing to bet that. It hurts their stats, without a doubt, but luckily I’ve got players who don’t think about that.

    The numbers never lie. Until they do. Kawhi Leonard deserves a spot in the starting five, both because of his stellar defense, and for how he embodies the best principles of one of the NBA’s most revered franchises.

PF/C: Anthony Davis

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    By now, the only seats left on the Anthony Davis bandwagon are between the wheel spokes.

    We’re not sure which is scarier: Davis’ year-two leap, or the fact the New Orleans Pelicans stud just turned 21 years old. Either way, no one’s star stands to rise higher and burn hotter than that of the unibrowed one.

    Clasically trained as a point guard, Davis went through a freakish growth spurt halfway through high school. The result: a Frankenstein hybrid of ball-handling savvy, impossible length and a defensive presence about two years from having the NBA outlaw his presence in the paint entirely.

    It’s Anthony Davis’ future. We’re all just along for the ride.

C: Andre Drummond

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    It’s really a toss-up between Cousins and Andre Drummond as to who deserves the title of best under-25 center. Cousins has the edge in experience and overall production.

    Drummond, meanwhile, won’t be able to legally drink his first beer until August 10.

    By now, the year-two comps between Drummond and Dwight Howard are the stuff of speculative legend. And if you haven’t seen them, do yourself a favor and take a gander.

    For as early as he went in the 2012 draft, few players arrived NBA-side with more question marks than the one-and-done UConn product. Two years later, Drummond appears poised to single-handedly turn the Pistons around.

    Don’t take our word for it. Take that of Stan Van Gundy, Detroit’s new head coach and president and the one-time skipper of…Dwight Howard.

    Carry on being terrified.

Honorable Mention: Paul George

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    Paul George deserves to be on this team, just as he deserves to be joining his comrades as they go for gold later this month. Just as he deserves a recovery as full as the welcome with which it’ll arrive.

    Before his devastating injury last Friday, George had emerged as the bona fide third-best small forward in the league behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. And if modern medicine has any minor miracles left within it, he’ll return the same sooner rather than later.