In this ranking, I based my criteria off the value that player has to his respective franchise. When you take this player off the team they are currently playing for, what is that team left with?
1. Kawhi Leonard
Not only is Kawhi Leonard a great basketball player, he’s an even better example of what to be off the court. Following in the footsteps of Tim Duncan, he stays calm, humble, and has one of the best all-around games in the NBA. This is clearly his team and while he might not always look the part of a leader, he’s one who leads by example. He is averaging close to 22 points, two steals, and one block per game, while holding some of the NBA’s best scorers to under 25% shooting.
The reigning defensive player of the year provides some of the best perimeter defense I’ve ever seen. In an age where we continue to see the backcourts “rule the roost”, perimeter defense has never been more vital. It’s clear the 24 year old has turned some heads, as he has progressively gotten better each and every year. But what has stunned me the most is his ability to score. Coming into the league, Kawhi was known as a defender and rebounder, but his shot was always criticized. Year over year, he’s improved in shooting and offensive efficiency, whilst taking more shots. This season, he’s averaging 52% field goal percentage while having a 56% eFG.
His diverse all around skill set and his cool collected mentality, may lead him to MVP conversation this season. I think this year he could attain a slew of votes depending on where the Spurs finish, and at 24, he still has tons of growing room left. There are certainly more polarizing picks for the best player under 25, but none of them mean more to their teams, even if it is the Spurs. In some ways, the fact that it’s the Spurs is even more impressive, because to do it with the stars he has around him is even more telling to the type of generational talent he is.
Because of the collective mindset of fans across the NBA, Leonard is not only not appreciated, but discounted because he’s on a dynasty in the Spurs. He’s a silent killer, not Steph Curry or LeBron, but someone who goes about his business like a wise old man. Holding the likes of Kevin Durant, Joe Johnson, and Carmelo Anthony to 11 of 41 shooting, should tell you all you need to know.
2. Anthony Davis
Coming into this season Davis was regarded as a top-5 NBA talent. Not only for his size but his athleticism, basketball IQ, and ability to shoot. In fact in the preseason NBA survey, more than 86% said they would want build a team around Davis.
Just 4 years into the league, he’s got so much upside and untapped potential still. Last season his player efficiency rating of 31 was good for tops in the NBA. Oh I almost forgot, HE’S 22.
Now, I know this season hasn’t gone the way the Pelicans thought it would go, but once they get guys back, they should be ok. When you have players who are marginal at best, your going to have difficulty playing well or winning games. People know Davis is the go-to guy, even more so with the absence of Gordon, Asik, Holiday, and Evans. So its going to be a difficult couple of months until Davis can handle the workload and New Orleans gets guys healthy.
Davis is the next big time player for this league. He’s continued to improve and develop an incredible post presence, both on the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. He still needs to improve and has areas that need to get better, but he’s got a bright future when he has some pieces around him.
Most Points per Quarter, 2015-16:
1Q > 09.0 (Stephen Curry)
2Q > 09.7 (James Harden)
3Q > 12.3 (Stephen Curry)
4Q > 10.0 (Anthony Davis)
— Doctor NBA (@DoctorNBA) November 11, 2015
3. Bradley Beal
Out of all the players under 25, Beal statistically has shown the most improvement year-over-year. Per every 36 minutes, he’s gone from averaging 16.1 to 23.5 points, while increasing his field goal percentage by almost 9%. The product from Florida has one of the cleanest shooting forms in the NBA. It’s smooth and most importantly, it’s efficient at 48%. What he means to this Wizards team is much more than people see. In games where Beal scored over 20, the team went 29-13. In essence, when he plays well, the team does well, that’s a heavy indicator as to what he’s meant to this team.
The one-two punch of Wall and Beal is a real threat in the next two to three seasons providing that Durant doesn’t push out Beal. As Beal approaches his prime, he’ll continue to help this team win games and improve on consistency. I’ve seen his shooting, defending, and off-ball movement dramatically improve and grow in consistency.
Look for Beal to be the best or one of the best two-guards in the NBA in the next season or two.
Brad Beal at 25.3 ppg, 48% floor, 46% 3pt. As Billy D told me when Brad turned pro: "He's not Ray Allen yet … but he will be." #Gators
— Chris Harry (@GatorsChris) November 5, 2015
4. Andrew Wiggins
The Cleveland Cavaliers quickly traded this former number one pick away, if the Cavs somehow can’t manage to win a title, then look for Cavs fans to come back to that moment over and over.
As a young, quiet player, Wiggins hasn’t caught the NBA by storm yet. The rookie of the year last season has probably the most potential of this bunch. At 6’8” and 20 years old, he’s the youngest of my 5 under 25. While he’s lower than some may have thought on this list, it’s only because of his age and lack of experience that I put him here.
In his first season, Wiggins didn’t neccasarily meet the mark in some metrics, ranking 272nd in real plus-minus, but there is certainly hope and a high-ceiling for the former Kansas Jayhawk. What is apparent is his growth from last season to this. In fact, his last two games he’s scored a combined 64 points on over 50% shooting. Increasing his points, three point percentage, usage, and other key indicators, the progress is there.
He’s one of the top athletes in the league, as well as a growing perimeter defender. Watch out for Andrew Wiggins, as he’ll most certainly be in the conversations with some of the games best five to ten years down the road.
5. Andre Drummond
Once Greg Monroe moved out of the fold, you knew Detroit and SVG saw something in this kid. Not only is he playing out of his mind, but he’s single handedly forcing this Pistons team to a 5-3 record. Statistically, Drummond was a double-double machine, but when Monroe left at the start of this season, he received the green-light to be the teams’ number one front-court option. He’s physically gifted, strong, and has continued to impress with his offensive and defensive abilities. Although he hasn’t gone up against the toughest of frontcourts this season, you can already see his game will last and continue. Currently averaging 18 and 19 respectively, Drummond has done it all, and he has Stan Van Gundy to thank.
Historically, Van Gundy has done very well with incorporating centers into his offensive and defensive schemes and allowing them the freedom to create opportunities. He’s done just that with Drummond and really tailor-made this offense around Andre.
On any other team, I don’t know if we see him averaging 18 and 19 or getting nearly the amount of playing time, so I think he’s more valuable to this team then others. But nonetheless, Drummond is a freakish athlete and dominant big man in this league. The only reason he’s this low is because we only have a small sample size of his production and usage rates. I am confident he continues on this tear, but I’ll hold a little reservation before putting the “cart before the horse”.