Every year a new stock of young NBA rooks are thrown in the fire and given a chance to compete at the highest level. More often than not, players in their early 20’s struggle to crack NBA rotations, as they adjust to the physicality and speed of the game.
As young writers, we love seeing our contemporaries make lasting contributions to the NBA landscape: Kawhi winning finals MVP at age 22, Kyrie reaching finals at age 23, Devin Booker scoring 70 at age 20. With this in mind, we wanted to look into the best players at each position 23 and younger. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, contracts for first round picks typically run 4 years, taking a player from their teens into their early twenties. All players on this list were drafted since 2013, and many of them are either wrapping up their rookie contracts, or about to sign lucrative extensions.
For this article we took our favorite qualified players at each position and ranked them in order from 5-1 based off their accomplishments, talent level, and future prospects. We hope you can discover what makes us so excited about these players, and encourage you to comment where we went wrong!
5. Clint Capela
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The 23 year old Capela has to be stoked about the idea of playing with two of the best passers in the NBA next season in Chris Paul and James Harden.
Clint Capela, the 25th pick in 2014, shot an astonishing 64% from the field playing the crucial “dunker” role in Houston’s explosive offense. With the floor spaced out, Capela was able to run rim to rim and was very effective in doing so. Capela averaged 23 minutes a game last year, but his Per-36 stats of 19 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks a game are valuable.
Capela should continue to improve in his fourth season, and if he is given more minutes expect his production to increase.
2016-17 Avgs: 12.6 PPG, 1.0 APG, 8.1 RPG, 0.5 STL, 1.2 BLK 64% FG 0% 3P, 53% FT
4. Myles Turner
ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES
The Indiana Pacers are in a transition phase as a franchise. They have changed coaches, changed executives, and most importantly they have switched franchise cornerstones, from Paul George to center Myles Turner. Selected 11th overall by Indiana in 2015, the 21 year old brings a lot to the table.
The Texas product is a defensive force as his energy, length, and athleticism allowed him to block 2 shots a game. Turner has a promising offensive game, dominating around the rim with his ability to finish with either hand and throw down dunks. As will be a trend with the centers ranked below him, another thing to like about Turner is that he has also flashed the ability to hit three pointers. He shot 35% from downtown last year on 1.5 attempts per, so look for those numbers to increase next year with more shots available. Another encouraging aspect of Turner’s game is his ability to knock down free throws at an 80% clip.
While Pacer fans may be weary of the questionable Paul George deal, they should feel very grateful for having a young talent like Myles Turner.
2016-17 Avgs: 14.5 PPG, 1.3 APG, 7.3 RPG, 0.9 STL, 2.1 BLK 51% FG, 35% 3P, 81% FT
3. Joel Embiid
MIKE EHRMANN/GETTY IMAGES
That’s all we’ve seen from the Process, and boy were they special. Joel Embiid, the third overall pick in 2014, has battled injuries his whole career in Philadelphia. There is a lot to like about Embiid, and in the NBA environment we are in, he is the perfect modern center. NBA GM’s are in need of big men who hit threes, space the floor, defend the rim, and rebound. Embiid does all these things in concert with his traditional low post moves, incredible size, and ability to handle and move on the perimeter.
In limited action last season he scored 20 points per game while shooting 47% from the field, 37% from deep, and blocking 2.5 shots!
Philadelphia boasts an increasingly potent core with Embiid alongside the past two number one overall picks in Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz.
Embiid would have been higher on this list, but given his small sample size, and injury history in the past there are some questions he needs to answer.
Still, we trust the process!
2016-17 Avgs: 20.2 PPG, 2.1 APG, 7.8 RPG, 0.9 STL, 2.5 BLK 47% FG, 37% 3P, 78% FT
2. Nikola Jokic
DAVID ZALUBOWSKI, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The “Joker” holds down the Number 2 spot on our list.
Following the trade of Jusuf Nurkic which freed up Denver’s frontcourt, Nikola Jokic really emerged and wound up finishing second in Most Improved Player voting to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jokic is the best passing center in the NBA as he averages 5 assists a game and sees plays before they happen(just watch him on Youtube). The Serbian big shoots 57% from the floor thanks to his fantastic footwork and endless arsenal of post up, face up, and dribble moves.
Jokic has really transformed his body since being drafted 41st overall. He even told ESPN’s Zach Lowe that he quit a habit of drinking 3 liters of Coca-Cola a day. One area that can put Jokic to another level offensively will be the three point shot. He has flashed the ability to hit it, making 32% on about 2 attempts a game, and if he continues to work on it, look out.
With a seemingly perfect frontcourt fit Paul Millsap aboard and another year under his belt, Nikola Jokic should have a special year 3.
2016-17 Avgs: 16.7 PPG, 4.9 APG, 9.8 RPG, 0.8 STL, 0.8 BLK 58% FG, 32% 3P, 83% FT
1. Karl Anthony Towns
AP PHOTO/RYAN KANG
Karl Anthony Towns is incredible.
The clear choice for number 1 on our list, the 21 year old Towns does it all, and he’s only scratched the surface. When asked about the next Minnesota stud big man, Kevin Garnett said “the Big KAT can be as good as he wants to be,The sky’s the limit for this kid. He does everything — posts up, handles the ball, willing passer…he’s going to be something special.”
KAT is an absolute beast and he will continue to improve on his 25 points per game and 12 rebounds as the talent around him gets better and he matures. This dude is crazy good and gives the Timberwolves so much reason for optimism.
Towns’ improving three point shot and stellar post/face up game is a perfect fit for a league that needs good shooting and floor spacing from bigs. Minnesota expects to end their thirteen year playoff drought, and Towns certainly must make defensive improvements for that to happen.
In his second year with defensive-minded head coach Tom Thibodeau, Towns will make major strides and finally deliver a winning season to the Timberwolves.
2016-17 Avgs: 25.1 PPG, 2.7 APG, 12.3 RPG, 0.9 STL, 0.2 BLK 54% FG, 37% 3P, 83% FT
Jusuf Nurkic – C, Portland Trail Blazers
The “Bosnian Boogie” was a beast after being traded from Denver to Portland last season. Selected 16th overall in 2014, Jusuf Nurkic averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds with the Trail Blazers. He was a nice low-post compliment to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. His stint in Portland was cut short by a broken leg 20 games in, and although he returned briefly in the playoffs, Nurkic will need to stay on the court as Portland looks to improve next year. With good health and natural progression, next year could be a career season for Jusuf Nurkic.