The future of the NBA’s “superstar” league is healthy. There are plenty of young talent to watch for in the coming years. Players like Indiana Pacers’ Paul George or Chicago Bulls’ Derek Rose.
But, the real future are those players that are the age of 25. The hidden gems of the league. Some are already big, but others need to get some focus.
The Eastern Conference have a handful of young players, but many of their big names are established pros like LeBron James, Deron Williams, and the aforementioned Rose. The Western Conference is the place with the most talent under the age of 25.
5. Klay Thompson, 23, Golden State Warriors
Thompson already lived up to his fantasy basketball hype. He needed to breakthrough in his second year and he did so: 16.6 points, 2.6 3Pt, and 84.1 percent from the free-throw line. He needs to improve his overall rebounding game and shooting numbers (just 42.2 percent), but should in his third season.
Why would Thompson be the fifth most talented player and not any of the honorable? Simply put, he is the deadliest three-point shooter in the league outside of his own teammate. A remarkable 41.4 percent from three-point territory at nearly three makes a game. He’s one of the league’s best shooters at just 23 and that is something you cannot take away. It will be no surprise if he emerges as one of the best scoring threats in the league in the near future as more responsibility comes his way.
4. Serge Ibaka, 23, Oklahoma City Thunder
What doesn’t Ibaka do for a big power forward? He can defend (3 blocks per game last season, 3.7 blocks in 2011-12), he can shoot (53.5 percent, 74.9 percent from the stripe), and he can rebound (7.7 rebounds per game).
He is the best shooting big man under 25 and he can only get better. Right now, he’s the third option and that can only help the development of Ibaka’s offensive game. He cannot create his own shot, but with additional looks, that part of the game will develop. The defense is there. He’s one of the better weak-side defenders and can play a great post defense. If the post-moves come on the offensive side, Ibaka may claim some double teams away from his teammates, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The scary part of Ibaka’s game is that he’s just getting started (only 31.1 minutes per game last season).
3. Russell Westbrook, 24, Oklahoma City Thunder
It seems like Westbrook’s been around forever. He makes rash decisions and has one gear when playing offense. He can score at will and frustrate opposing guards with his speed. Yet, he’s one of the most criticized players to play in the league. Some of it is warranted — he doesn’t pass as often because he isn’t a pass-first guard and his offensive indecision amounts to many empty possessions.
But, he’s lightning in a bottle. He boasts a stat sheet that few players can match: Career numbers of 19.9 points, 6.9 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 43.2 percent from the field, and 81.4 percent from the free-throw line. He’s only 24 and has yet to miss a regular season game (and until that devastating playoff injury, any NBA game). Look for another big season from one of the most explosive players in what had to be a disappointing season in 2012-13.
2. James Harden, 23, Houston Rockets
Aside from being a great commercial-maker, Harden lit the entire league on fire. He answered the question of whether or not he was a franchise player. How about 25.9 points, 5.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 2.3 3Pt, 1.8 steals, 43.8 percent from the field, and 85.1 from the free-throw line? Harden’s first crack at being the first and sometimes second and third option was a blinding success. If he improved his overall shooting numbers, assist-to-turnover ratio, and overall assists numbers, he should be a shoo-in for MVP consideration.
This combo guard showed the entire repertoire last season with a very young Houston team. He played shooter and passer when Jeremy Lin was overmatched and even added the rebounding element for good reason. The addition of steals and three-pointers was just unfair. The worst mistake the Thunder made was letting this guy go. Harden’s just getting started and his stat sheet is any and all the reason why he’s number two on this list.
1. Kevin Durant, 24, Oklahoma City Thunder
Durant may very well be the best second pick of an NBA draft to exist ever. He’s a three-time scoring champion, Olympic gold medal winner, and Rookie of the Year winner. He has yet to win an MVP or a championship ring, but there may be little doubt that Durant will secure at least one.
Honestly, Durant still ranks as one of the best in any list, regardless of age. He’s just that good. A top-three player in the NBA already and he’s just 24 years old. The numbers do all the talking — great shooting numbers (free-throw, field goal, three-pointer), rebounder, improving assist numbers, and unreal scoring averages. It’s without saying that Durant is a monster on the floor.
Photo Credit: Noah Gram / Getty Images
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