NBA Top 22 Under 22: Ranking the League's Top Young Stars

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 6, 2017

NBA Top 22 Under 22: Ranking the League's Top Young Stars

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    The NBA talent pool is overflowing. The banana boat generation still claims a few spots near the top of the food chain, while in-prime 20-somethings are making their presences felt all across the MVP race.

    But there's another batch of young ballers right behind—or, in few cases, alongside—their prominent peers, ensuring the Association will be in great hands for years to come. None of them have made an All-Star appearance just yet, but this group should soon be well-represented at the world's greatest pickup game.

    There's a rising star for every style, from contemporary centers with perimeter skills to guards with the scoring, sniping and passing chops to occupy either backcourt position. Further down the ladder, there are complementary talents with more specialized skills.

    These 22 studs—all under the age of 22 as of March 6—have been selected and ranked on their individual production, team impact and future potential.

Honorable Mention

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    Tyus Jones, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves, Age 20

    In an alternate universe, Tyus Jones isn't buried behind Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn. In our universe, Jones can only tantalize with what he could do in a regular role. This season, he's hitting 37.3 percent from three and is tossing out 4.13 assists for every turnover.

    Thon Maker, PF/C, Milwaukee Bucks, Age 20

    Few prospects are more tantalizing right now than Thon Maker. The rail-thin 20-year-old brings three-point range, relentless energy and guard-like handles in a 7'1" frame. But he's as raw as organic granola (40th among rookies in total minutes) and is a foul machine currently (5.8 per 36 minutes).

    Dejounte Murray, PG, San Antonio Spurs, Age 20

    Should we credit Dejounte Murray for his impressive shooting rates (43.4 from the field, 40.9 outside) and across-the-board per-36-minute production (15.4 points, 5.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds)? Or is this more a reflection of growing in the NBA's best environment alongside a fully loaded roster? We'll need more than 280 NBA minutes to decide.

    Ben Simmons, SF, Philadelphia 76ers, Age 20

    Talent-wise, Ben Simmons not only belongs on this list, but he deserves a place somewhere near the top. But how do you assess the NBA talents of a player who won't make his debut until next season? You don't—you acknowledge his skills in this section and save the rankings for those who have actually played.

    Ivica Zubac, C, Los Angeles Lakers, Age 19

    Despite playing just seven times in L.A.'s first 42 games, Ivica Zubac still ranks fourth among freshmen in double-doubles (albeit with only three). The 19-year-old hasn't yet been a rotation regular for a full two months, but the early returns are promising—he's averaging 7.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 17.7 minutes over his last 17 outings.

22. Dragan Bender, PF/C, Phoenix Suns, Age 19

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    The rebuilding Phoenix Suns are loaded with prospects and young veterans. Dragan Bender is the highest-drafted player among that group, with Phoenix having selected him fourth overall last summer, and he's currently the league's youngest prospect, too (he won't turn 20 until Nov. 17).

    Though his long-term potential remains high, his current reality looks bleak. Before ankle surgery forced him off the floor, Bender was shooting just 37.1 percent overall and 32.1 percent from distance. His anemic 5.8 player efficiency rating—the second-worst mark among the 339 players to log 400-plus minutes this season—underscored the callow nature of his talents.

    "On paper, the 7-foot forward fits the direction NBA bigs are going because he showed off a three-point shot overseas, plus has good court vision and passing skills," NBC Sports' Kurt Helin wrote. "He was also very raw and not physically strong enough, and that showed as he tried to adjust to the NBA."

    Bender's best will come years down the line, and it's fascinating to think what the future might entail. He's smart, skilled and versatile enough to have already played three different positions. Despite his sluggish start, Bender could be a franchise talent in the making.

21. Juan Hernangomez, PF, Denver Nuggets, Age 21

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    Not every first-year player provides a signature moment. Juan Hernangomez, last summer's 15th pick, is one of the exceptions.

    The 21-year-old broke out in one of the most unexpected ways, helping the shorthanded Denver Nuggets stop the superteam Golden State Warriors on Feb. 13. Making only the third start of his brief career, Hernangomez erupted for 27 points and 10 rebounds, hitting six of his 10 long-range looks.

    "He's unbelievable," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told reporters after the win. "He was out there playing like he was a seasoned vet. Great confidence."

    Aside from that, however, Hernangomez has yet to even approach a performance that matches his eruption against Golden State. He only has two other double-digit scoring efforts on his resume (14 and 11), one with more than two triples (four) and none where he corralled 10 boards.

    Hernangomez can be a combustible shooter, having striped 46 percent of his field-goal attempts and shot better than 43 percent downtown. He's always energetic and possesses basketball smarts beyond his years.

20. Domantas Sabonis, PF, Oklahoma City Thunder, Age 20

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    Ten players were selected before Domantas Sabonis, eight of whom joined teams lacking the success of his Oklahoma City Thunder. And yet, the 20-year-old son of Hall of Famer Arydas Sabonis leads the freshmen class with 63 starts.

    Sabonis' abilities to spread the floor and create as a passer both hold value as part of Russell Westbrook's electric one-man show. Those same skills have helped Sabonis retain that opening gig even after the deadline addition of steely veteran Taj Gibson.

    "He's a long-term guy that we need to really be mindful of developing and helping him grow," Thunder head coach Billy Donovan told reporters. "That doesn't mean he's got to play 35 minutes every night. But it does mean that we need to help him continue to develop."

    Sabonis, a 41 percent shooter, needs to find a more consistent scoring niche. But he's sturdy at the defensive end and savvy on the other. That will keep him on the floor amid OKC's postseason pursuit, even if his ceiling sits a few stories below the top youngsters listed here.

19. Trey Lyles, PF, Utah Jazz, Age 21

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    Trey Lyles is having a 2017 to forget. He's shooting below 30 percent from the field (29.5) and from three (28.8) since the calendar change, while seeing his minutes fluctuate amid the Utah Jazz's playoff pursuit.

    But this rough patch can't detract from his highly intriguing skill set.

    On the right night, the 6'10" contemporary forward dazzles with an overwhelming offensive arsenal. His shooting range runs past the three-point line, and if he's crowded beyond the arc, he can slice through the defense and generate looks for himself or his teammates. He's one of 13 players 6'10" or taller with at least 60 assists and 60 threes, and the only one to do it in fewer than 25 minutes a night (he gets 18).

    "The biggest thing that we get excited about is his playmaking ability," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said, per Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune. "The fact that he can shoot makes people guard him and then he's able to make plays. As he progresses and matures, the game's just going to continue to slow down for him."

    The Jazz could accelerate that process by granting Lyles a longer leash. He's logged at least 30 minutes only 12 times in his career, but in those contests, he has averaged 14.7 points on 47.5 percent shooting (42.9 percent outside), 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.4 steals.

18. Stanley Johnson, SF, Detroit Pistons, Age 20

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    Stanley Johnson's sophomore season opened at a glacial pace.

    He didn't hit his third field goal until game six. He didn't see the floor during the Detroit Pistons' 14th outing and was suspended three contests later for violating team rules. His conditioning wasn't where it needed to be and neither were his numbers. The situation looked dire enough that teams like the San Antonio Spurs attempted to nab Johnson with low-ball trade offers, sources told's Zach Lowe.

    But time isn't the only thing distancing Johnson from his early-season stumbles.

    He's shed 20 pounds, captured more offensive consistency and earned more of Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy's trust. After averaging just 14.6 minutes and shooting only 36.2 percent (26.7 from three) through the end of December, Johnson is getting 19.6 minutes a night and converting 40.6 percent from the field (34.0 outside) since.

    "Johnson is a different player now," Rod Beard of the Detroit News wrote. "It's a more-rounded version, more dangerous in passing the ball for an assist or just connecting the offense and what Van Gundy calls 'making the right plays.'"

17. Kelly Oubre, SF, Washington Wizards, Age 21

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    Kelly Oubre looks like the finished product of an NBA wing assembly line. His chiseled 6'7", 205-pound frame passes the eye test. His hawkish 7'2" wingspan and effortless athleticism are the physical tools that make scouts drool.

    His position here has more to do with potential than production. But he's found a comfortable reserve role for the Washington Wizards, one which emphasizes his current defensive talents and slowly polishes the offensive game he'll eventually unleash.

    "Here is a great example of a young guy who you have the luxury of developing and molding into the very best of what he can be without the pressure of putting him into a prominent role before he's actually ready," an Eastern Conference scout told Sporting News. "He's really coming into his own, both as a defender and overall player."

    Oubre's defensive versatility allows him to check anyone from point guards to power forwards. He needs a more reliable three-point shot (career 30.1 percent), but his explosiveness has already yielded a 57.9 percent success rate inside of five feet.

16. Justise Winslow, SF, Miami Heat, Age 20

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    As dramatically different as Justise Winslow's first two NBA seasons have been, it's still hard to tell which holds more clues about his future.

    He played the glue-guy role for the Miami Heat as a rookie, earning the respect of his veteran teammates with advanced defensive instincts and a penchant for playmaking. This year started with talk of franchise-player status, stalled amid ongoing shooting woes (25.8 career three-point percentage) and finally derailed with campaign-closing should surgery.

    So, is he a franchise savior or a highly drafted role player? It's too early to tell, which is a good thing.

    He's shy of his 21st birthday, and he has already been an important piece of a postseason participant and intrigued with potential star-level talents. He can defend any position, finish plays above the rim and function well enough as a passer to serve in spurts as an offensive fulcrum. He clearly needs to improve his shooting, but time is on his side.

    "I don't think there's any doubt [shooting] will come with his game," Heat president Pat Riley told WQAM's Joe Rose (via Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post). "If people are concerned about him, they should be concerned in a positive way because he's only 20 years old."

15. Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Denver Nuggets, Age 21

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    As a top-10 pick, Emmanuel Mudiay has some bust-like strikes against him.

    He has the second-worst field-goal percentage among the 152 players who've logged at least 3,000 minutes since the start of last season (36.6). He's also struggled to maintain a rotation spot on a Denver Nuggets team scratching and clawing for the Western Conference's final playoff berth (a nagging back injury didn't help matters).

    However, his prominent draft position makes sense for a few reasons. His physical gifts are impressive even in this golden age of point guards. And they've helped him post career per-36-minute marks of 15.1 points, 6.0 assists and 4.2 rebounds—numbers only nine players are posting per game.

    He also deserves credit for how he's handled a tough situation in a crowded Denver backcourt.

    "Of course I want to be out there playing a lot of minutes and stuff like that," he told reporters. "But I can only control what I can control. As long as you keep working hard it will come back to you."

14. Dante Exum, PG, Utah Jazz, Age 21

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    One look at Dante Exum says everything there is to know about his potential.

    Point guards are rarely packaged like this—6'6" with a 6'9.25" wingspan, quickness to slither past defenders and the athleticism to finish above the rim. He's an instinctive defender and natural playmaker.

    He's also a bit behind the eight ball, having experienced historical struggles at the offensive end as a rookie and losing the 2015-16 season to a torn ACL. But after a choppy start to this campaign—due both to injuries and crowding in the Utah Jazz backcourt—he has put his progress back on track with a newfound willingness to attack. 

    "He's becoming a lot more aggressive and he's attacking the basket," Gordon Hayward said, per Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune. "He seems like he can get into the paint whenever he wants."

    Exum is averaging fewer minutes since Feb. 1 than he did before (16.1, down from 19.0), but he's averaging more points (7.1 from 5.8) and shooting a much higher percentage (48.2 from 40.7). His usage percentage is up four points since the All-Star break (21.9 from 17.9). He's giving himself a chance to realize his upside, which still intrigues as much as his freakish natural gifts.

13. Marquese Chriss, PF, Phoenix Suns, Age 19

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    Marquese Chriss emerged as perhaps the 2016 draft's biggest boom-or-bust candidate. With each passing month, the bouncy big man moves closer to becoming the former.

    From November through March, both his minutes and scoring averages have either risen or stayed the same from the previous month.

    He was named January's top rookie in the Western Conference after averaging 8.3 points on 45.9 percent shooting, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals. In February, he had an outing with 27 points in 24 minutes and another where he tallied 17 points on only 10 shots. In three games this month, he's had an outing with three triples and another with five blocks.

    "Right away, you can see the upside that he has within his game," Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Brown said, per Matt Kawahara of the Sacramento Bee. "He's talented; he's extremely young, obviously. And he's athletic; he's got length. And he's skilled, but he can become even more skilled."

    Chriss' highlight reel includes vicious jams and LeBron James-style chase-down blocks. He's not a knockdown shooter by any stretch, but he can't be left alone in the corners (33.8 percent). He needs to improve his half-court game and awareness at both ends, but that's the case with any NBA teenager, few of whom have natural gifts like these.

12. Jahlil Okafor, C, Philadelphia 76ers, Age 21

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    Life, as they say, comes at all of us quickly. But it's moving at ludicrous speed for Jahlil Okafor.

    He spent most of his one-and-done season at Duke as the presumed top NBA pick, only to be surpassed by Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell on draft night. Now, Okafor is the rare No. 3 pick who has seemingly worn out his welcome in under two seasons.

    He's a tricky fit in today's league with antiquated back-to-the-basket scoring skills and defensive limitations aplenty. He also shares a position with the Philadelphia 76ers' actual franchise face Joel Embiid, hence the trade winds that nearly blew Okafor out of Philly.

    But push all that to the side, and you're left with an exceptionally skilled player. His career per-36-minute averages are 19.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Only three players own an actual 19/8/1.5 lineKevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis.

    "Okafor is one of the best scorers of a man his size in the entire NBA," Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote. "Give him the ball anywhere inside of 12 feet from the basket and success is usually achieved, after a dizzying spin move or a one-handed reverse layup. His footwork is balletic when the ball is in his hands."

11. Jamal Murray, SG, Denver Nuggets, Age 20

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    Not everything about Jamal Murray screams star in the making. His athleticism is far from elite, and he's been more problem than solution with regard to the Denver Nuggets dead-last defense.

    But his skill level is as obvious as his shot is pure.

    He can catch fire in an instant, a skill displayed during his 36-point, nine-triple MVP performance at the Rising Stars Challenge. He's already had 25 outings with multiple threes (fifth among players age 21 or younger) and has the second-most splashes of the rookie class (81). He's also crafty as a creator (eighth among freshmen in assists) and comfortable scoring a variety of ways (11.3 points per game since Feb. 1).

    "When we drafted him we realized he had the capabilities of being a true combo guard, play off the ball play on the ball," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said, per's Christopher Dempsey. "I think that's the real luxury of having a guy like Jamal Murray; whether he has the ball in his hands or he's spacing the floor, he's always a threat."

    Murray's shooting percentages—38.9 from the field, 33.1 outside—have ample room for growth. Denver can get him more catch-and-shoot looks, and he'll boost himself by further sharpening his handle. His stock will soar once his shooting rates do. There's never been a better time to be a combo guard with a three-point cannon.

10. Jaylen Brown, SF, Boston Celtics, Age 20

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    Blame the Brooklyn Nets for Jaylen Brown's rather forgettable numbers: 6.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 16.5 minutes per game. The lanky 20-year-old with tantalizing upside and the requisite versatility for today's game is supposed to be on a bottom-feeder—not the Eastern Conference's No. 2 team.

    The Boston Celtics, with championship aspirations and shadow-contender credentials, don't have much patience for growing pains. But the No. 3 selection has kept his to a manageable level, which is why he's contributing to a likely 50-win team. He has the best field-goal percentage of the 2016 perimeter lottery picks (44.8) and a perpetually improving three-point stroke (38.5 percent over his last 15 games).

    "In a lot of ways Jaylen has made strides," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said, per's Jay King. "And he still has strides to make in a lot of ways. But we're excited about the way Jaylen has progressed the last couple of months."

    Brown's two-way ceiling is towering. He's a hyper-explosive athlete around the basket and already a suffocating defender (opponents shoot 5.4 points worse against him than they do on average). If he becomes a consistent threat from range, he'll keep climbing the ladder.

9. Aaron Gordon, PF, Orlando Magic, Age 21

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    The Orlando Magic owe Aaron Gordon a half-season of developmental time. Their decision to supersize their roster forced him out of position and into a situation that stalled his ascension.

    The problems were at least addressed at the deadline, when Orlando moved Serge Ibaka and allowed Gordon to go back to being a walking mismatch at the 4. That's where his shooting concerns are lessened, and his athleticism best utilized.

    In the least surprising news of the season, Gordon's shift back to power forward has greatly helped his stat sheet. Since the All-Star break, his scoring (14.6 from 11.2), rebounding (7.6 from 4.6) and field-goal shooting (46.8 from 42.8) have all spiked despite the fact he's playing almost the same minutes (28.7 from 27.6).

    "It's just kind of a little bit more free, and that helps everybody," Gordon said, per Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. "People can get to where they need to go without having to run into a couple of other people."

    Gordon must improve as a shooter and shot-creator, but his defensive versatility and otherworldly hops will always be tremendous assets—especially at the correct position.

8. Brandon Ingram, SF, Los Angeles Lakers, Age 19

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    Brandon Ingram's ceiling will take years to set. The 6'9" swingman's listed weight of 190 pounds is almost the same as that of 5'9" point guard Isaiah Thomas (185). Ingram, who won't turn 20 until September, is younger than eight players who participated in last summer's McDonald's All-American Game.

    That's why his potentially alarming numbers—37.3 percent field-goal clip, 7.1 PER—haven't sounded any sirens. His game and body are both developing, and the Los Angeles Lakers haven't given him much on-court assistance.

    But no matter what comes next, he'll always be a physical specimen with his absurd 7'3" wingspan. Plus, he's a gym rat, so any failure to reach a certain level won't be for a lack of trying. Whether he's a future star or longtime starter, he'll be a useful piece for the next decade-plus.

    "His floor is gonna be really good," Lakers head coach Luke Walton said on the Bill Simmons Podcast (via Lakers Nation). "Even if he never turns into a great shooter, he's gonna be a really good NBA player because he cares, he's long, he has a great feel."

    If Ingram approaches his full potential, he'll climb higher than nearly everyone on this list. His length and skill combo has reminded some of Kevin Durantincluding Kevin Durant. Ingram's superstar ceiling is what allows him to hold such a lofty ranking despite lagging behind a lot of this list on the stat sheet.

7. Zach LaVine, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves, Age 21

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    It was only fitting that Zach LaVine vacated his throne as NBA dunk king. As enjoyable as his aerial acrobatics are, this season served as his springboard from high-flying artist to all-around talent for casual fans.

    He boosted his numbers in quantity and quality, taking his scoring average from 14.0 to 18.9 and his true shooting percentage from 54.8 to 57.6. He logged a career-high 37.2 minutes and committed a career-low 1.8 turnovers. He generated more win shares (3.4) than he had the past two seasons combined (1.9).

    But this wasn't an out-of-nowhere breakout, rather the continuation of consistent progress.

    "LaVine had made the steady climb to greater production and efficiency over his first two and a half years as a pro," Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated wrote. "Every significant step was a tribute to his understanding some different, nuanced element of the game."

    Unfortunately, LaVine's development has been delayed by something he can't control—a torn ACL that will sideline him the rest of this season and could impact the next.

6. D'Angelo Russell, PG, Los Angeles Lakers, Age 21

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    D'Angelo Russell doesn't have the superhuman burst or mind-boggling hops of the typical one-and-done lottery pick. But he sees the floor like a seasoned vet, handles like a street baller and has the smooth shooting stroke of a professional sniper.

    "Russell operates like a Tesla," the Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote. "His top speed is limited, but he accelerates smoothly, changes directions quickly, and no matter his pace, he has a sense of space and precision."

    Russell isn't shooting as well as he eventually will, and he's still one of only 11 players averaging at least 14 points, four assists, three rebounds and two triples. He's also the only one to do it in fewer than 31 minutes a night (he gets 27.1). His per-36-minute production of 19.7 points, 6.4 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 threes yields a line only MVP candidate James Harden is posting.

    Under two weeks removed from his 21st birthday, Russell already looks comfortable in the spotlight. Since the Los Angeles Lakers moved leading scorer Lou Williams at the deadline, Russell has averaged 20.6 points on 46.2 percent shooting and 5.8 assists in 32.7 minutes per game.

5. Devin Booker, SG, Phoenix Suns, Age 20

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    Devin Booker is a scoring maven, and no, it's not too early to say that.

    Only five other players age 20 or younger have scored at least 27 points in a game this season, none doing it more than twice. Booker has 14 such performances—and two quarters where he tallied at least that many points. He's the youngest player ever to have 16 consecutive games of 20-plus points.

    "Booker has the potential to be a top-two or top-three shooting guard in the NBA," Phoenix Suns swingman and 10-year NBA veteran Jared Dudley said on the Ringer NBA Show. "Booker can shoot from three, he can post up, he has midrange, he does the pick-and-roll. Those are [the] dimensions he has right now."

    Booker's volume impresses more than his efficiency for now, but that's not a surprise. He was the league's youngest player last season, and he lacks sufficient scoring help around him. But he's a fiery three-point marksman and an improving scorer inside the arc.

4. Jabari Parker, PF, Milwaukee Bucks, Age 21

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    Jabari Parker has twice torn his left ACL in three NBA seasons. Hopefully, the longterm cost of his medical misfortunes don't prove catastrophic.

    The Milwaukee Bucks scoring forward had never looked better before his latest setback. He was producing near an All-Star level, posting 20.1 points on 49.0 percent shooting, 6.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists a night. He was suddenly a viable three-point threat, a wrecking ball in the open court and a tough cover for defenders of all sizes.

    "He's on the cusp of being a star and one of the best," Bucks head coach Jason Kidd said in January, per USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt.

    Parker is overloaded with strength, skill and savvy. He can shift to either forward spot, operate on or off the ball and potentially serve as the no. 2 option on a great team. If not for health concerns, he could rank even higher here.

3. Myles Turner, C, Indiana Pacers, Age 20

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    Myles Turner's teammate Paul George is an elite two-way talent who has played in four different All-Star games and been selected to three All-NBA teams. What does that have to do with Turner? Well, the Indiana Pacers reportedly weighed the trade market for George, league sources told the Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, and would have rebuilt around Turner had they found the right offer for George.

    Turner can't legally enjoy an adult beverage yet, and he's already being evaluated for a franchise centerpiece role. Not bad for someone selected 11th overall less than two years back.

    "Don't lose sight of how much Turner has already progressed in only a year," NBC Sports' Dan Feldman wrote. "He would have established himself as a legitimate contender for Most Improved Player if Giannis Antetokounmpo weren't going to run away with the award."

    Turner combines the unique talents of shot-blocking and outside shooting. He's the only player with at least 125 rejections and 35 triples. He's also a nightly supplier of 15.4 points and 7.1 rebounds, a 52 percent shooter from the field and a comfortable scorer from the post to the perimeter.

    He just happens to be emerging at the same time as two other transcendent bigs, both of whom have flashed a shade more potential.

2. Kristaps Porzingis, PF/C, New York Knicks, Age 21

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    Kevin Durant is essentially a 7-foot scoring guard, and he thinks Kristaps Porzingis is uncommon enough to wear the "unicorn" label. Derrick Rose is the youngest MVP in NBA history, and he says of Porzingis, "We've never seen a player like him," per Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.

    Porzingis is 21 years old, nowhere near developed in strength or skill and already a game-changer.

    He is the singular hope for the perennially disappointing New York Knicks and a central figure in today's frontcourt transformation. He has interior size (7'3" with a 7'6" wingspan) and the perimeter game to win the Skills Challenge and be closing in on a 100-triple campaign (on 37.2 percent shooting).

    His offense has a distinctly modern feel, whether he's lighting the lamp from distance or creating his own shots off the bounce. But on defense, he bangs like a throwback bruiser. He's averaged 1.9 blocks over each of his first two seasons and holds opponents to a pedestrian 44.4 field-goal percentage at the rim, fourth-best among high-volume bigs.

    It's hard to imagine a prospect ranking higher than Porzingis, but the No. 1 player is (slightly) younger and more versatile.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves, Age 21

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    Before the season started, NBA general managers were given their choice of players to start a hypothetical franchise. Karl-Anthony Towns was the most popular pick, drawing 48.3 percent of the vote.

    If the vote was held again today, the big guy might have even more support. He almost has a glue guy's do-everything nature to him, only his contributions are made at a superstar level.

    He's a top-15 scorer (24.0 points per game, 13th), rebounder (12.3, sixth) and shot-blocker (1.4, tied for 14th), a distinction he shares with only Anthony Davis. Towns is also on pace to join Shaquille O'Neal as the only players age 21 or younger to average at least 23 points and 11 rebounds. But unlike Shaq, he does it while hitting more than one three a night at a 34.5-percent clip.

    And it's not just Towns' numbers, it's the way he compiles them.

    "Towns is producing differently than any big man ever did before with his three-point shooting prowess and ability to juke defenders off the dribble like he's a guard stuck in a 7-footer’s body," the Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote. "The NBA game has changed, and Towns is one of culprits behind the evolution."

    Towns leads this entire group in points, rebounds, PER (24.9) and real plus-minus (2.56, per He's an obvious choice for No. 1, which is almost unbelievable given the skill of those behind him.

    Stats courtesy of or and accurate through March 5.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @ZachBuckleyNBA.


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