NBA fans were treated to an amazing battle on Sunday night between LeBron James and Zion Williamson. In this game, LeBron played amazing having a 30 point triple-double. Zion also played extremely well scoring a career high 35 points.
The game went back and forth, but LeBron and the Lakers were able to finish the game with the win. What was interesting is that after the game, LeBron said that the game is in good hands with all the amazing young stars in the game. In the spirit of this praise, this article will countdown the top 5 players that are 22 years old & under.
5) Trae Young
Trae Young has absolutely exploded this year averaging 29.8 points per game along with 9.8 assists per game. The biggest comparison that he had going into the draft was Steph Curry, and on first glance, the comparison seems fair. Both players are very good shooters with exceptional handles that help them create open threes or open drives in the paint.
Yet after everything he’s done this season, he appears to be a modern version of Steve Nash. A player that was a great shooter/scorer, but was more focused on getting his teammates the ball and to put them in a position to score. What impresses me the most about Trae is his extreme basketball intellect to read defenses and to create plays for himself or his teammates.
What puts him so low on this list is the fact that he does not play any defense, and that the Hawks are one of the bottom teams in the league. However, in Young’s defense, his team is still rebuilding, and the talent surrounding Trae is sub-par at best.
But once the hawks surround Young with the right pieces, it could be possible for Young to push his game to another level and truly dominate the Eastern Conference.
4) Jayson Tatum
There is no doubt that Tatum had an amazing month of February. During this stretch, he averaged 7 rebounds, 30.7 points on a 49% field goal percentage and 48% from three point range. JT is simply playing efficiently and has imposed himself as the top scoring option for the Celtics.
This incredible play has also propelled his team to be the third seed in the Eastern Conference. With his play along with his ability to hit key shots in the fourth, many have considered the Celtics to be the biggest threat to the Bucks from reaching the Finals.
Tatum is so low on this list because he has not produced these numbers for the whole season, and while he was an all-star, he has only recently exploded in terms of scoring and efficiency. Also in contrast to Trae Young, many consider the Celtics be one of the deepest teams in the league.
Along with Tatum, they also have Hayward, Brown, and Walker all producing significant numbers for the team. While this does not take away from Tatums individual accomplishments, it demonstrates that the success of the Celtics is not directly correlated to the success of Tatum, which one cannot say about the next three players on the list.
However, if Tatum continues this level of play, he can prove to be one of the best scorers the league has ever seen.
3) Zion Williamson
I can already see the comment for this selection. Look, there is no denying the impact that Zion has had on the league since he started playing around a month ago. Not only was he the biggest headline, but he has surpassed all expectations. The man is averaging 24 points and is grabbing 7 rebounds per game.
Not only is he doing this, but he is shooting a ridiculous 60% from the field and is simply a mismatch for most players. Most power forwards in today’s game just are not strong enough to stop him from powering his way to the rim. In addition, most centers are not fast enough to keep up with him as he rises for lay-ups and dunks.
He has a few glaring weaknesses in his game like a lack of a reliable jump shot, lackluster free throw percentage, and slow reaction on defensive sets. Yet, there is no doubt that Zion has the tools and the skill set to one day be the face of the league.
This leads to the main criticism for Zion and the reason for the third best ranking. While it’s easy to be a prisoner in the moment, one should not forget all the injury issues surrounding Zion. The man has had injury problems in both college and for most of his rookie year. While it’s not fair to penalize a player for something out of his control, injury history has been an impediment on the legacy of many great players.
In addition, the way Zion plays is part of the concern. Yes everyone loves his ability to bulldoze the competition and slam incredible dunks. The problem is that all this can lead to wear and tear on his body. Literally every time he lands awkwardly from a dunk or a lay-up, the entire New Orleans organization holds its breath.
To conclude, Zion talent-wise, and in terms of box office potential, can be considered the best young talent in the game, but due to injury concerns, I can’t put him past the third best player under 22.
2) Ja Morant
There are always players that are overshadowed by bigger storylines and by playing in smaller markets. This is the case for Ja Morant who deserves more attention but only receives recognition when commentators talk about Zion’s chances of winning the Rookie of the Year award. Ja also plays in Memphis, who have not been given the same media attention as bigger markets.
Just imagine if Ja was producing these same historic numbers of 17 points per game with 7 assists and a solid field goal percentage of 49% in a big market like New York. The media would talk about him every other day, and this doesn’t even mention the fact that Ja is leading his team to actual wins in the tougher conference.
The fact is that it is a guards league, and Ja has proven himself as being one of the elite guards in the league for years to come. First when it comes to intangibles, he has everything from leadership, a competitive fire, and a will to win that can be compared to any player in the league. The next major piece is his impressive skill set which includes controlling the tempo of the game and the ability to score from anywhere.
The icing on the cake is that he plays actual defense. Most guards, even the elite ones, view defense as an afterthought and really focus their energy on that side of the court. Ja takes pride playing defense and has the chance at being one of the best defenders in the game.
Overall, Ja is the prototypical point guard that turned Memphis from a lottery team to a team that has a chance to make the playoffs. He also has the ability to take over this league and bring Memphis to being actual contenders.
#1 Luka Doncic
There is not much to say about Luka other than he embodies everything that the league is about. A person able to not only create his own shot, but is also able to create for others. Luka has all the skills from ball handling to hitting contested jumpers, and everything in between.
In the beginning of the year, he was considered an MVP worthy candidate. He has averaged 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this season. The fact is that the only thing missing from his resume is playoff experience, which he will receive this year. For me, what puts him as the top player in this age group is his ability to will his team to victory.
Many times the Mavericks won games solely due to Luka’s ability and willingness to take over games. He has the killer instinct that one simply cannot teach, and there’s no doubt that in time his skill will only increase exponentially.
He draws a lot of comparisons to Larry Bird primarily in the sense that while the two may not be the most physically gifted on the court, they both are able to think the game through and to use there skill to utterly dominate opponents. Of all the young players, there is no doubt that Luka is the most polished and the most ready to lead his team to a deep playoff run.