With reclassifications as well as one-and-done becoming so popular with college basketball, it only makes sense that the NBA is becoming more inflated with young NBA talent each season.
While the order of the rankings doesn’t necessarily add up, it makes even more sense that Kentucky (considering how many young and talented players they receive each year) would have the most of ESPN’s top 25 players under 25 years old.
Here’s the list of the top-15 (where the five former Wildcats landed) with a breakdown of where they should be.
- Luka Doncic (Dallas)
- Zion Williamson (New Orleans)
- LaMelo Ball (Charlotte)
- Donovan Mitchell (Utah)
- Jayson Tatum (Boston)
- De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento
- Ben Simmons (Philadelphia)
- Devin Booker (Phoenix)
- Bam Adebayo (Miami)
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City)
- Brandon Ingram (New Orleans)
- Jaylen Brown (Boston)
- Jamal Murray (Denver)
- Michael Porter Jr. (Denver)
- Ja Morant (Memphis)
With all due respect to LaMelo Ball, what is a rookie that has played less than half of a NBA season doing in the top three? Especially considering some of these players have had incredible postseason success on the game’s biggest stage. But I guess that’s why these rankings can be so incredibly blasphemous, otherwise there isn’t much to talk about.
The first former Wildcat, De’Aaron Fox, is growing each year. It feels like just yesterday he was flying from each end of the court at Kentucky. Now he’s doing just that (and a lot more) for a young Sacramento Kings team. Considering four of the top five on this list are pretty special themselves, you can really only argue moving Fox to five (obviously dropping out LaMelo). But being ranked as the sixth best player on the list isn’t terrible by any means.
Second is Devin Booker, an NBA All-Star and co-star of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns who hold the second best record in the Western Conference. Booker has been overshadowed for years in the West, having to be compared to future hall of fame talents like James Harden, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, etc. But with a few of those players now in the East and currently injured, Booker is finally receiving well-deserved recognition. You could certainly justify placing him ahead of Ben Simmons and maybe in to the top-five of this list, but (again) the top-8 isn’t incredibly disrespectful.
Right behind Booker lands Bam Adebayo. His versatility at both ends of the floor was put on display during the Miami Heat’s NBA Finals run last postseason. While he isn’t splashing threes from outside or loading up your highlight reel, Bam impacts the game on so many levels and is incredibly valuable to the Heat’s success. The ninth ranking isn’t terrible, but he could certainly be a bit higher.
You won’t find many bigger fans of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander than me. The guy is a pure winner through-and-through and is a grinder on defense. This is to absolute no disrespect to Shai, who is a fine player and deserves to be in the middle tier of this list, but can we talk about how/why he’s ranked three spots ahead of Jamal Murray? Was anyone at ESPN watching the NBA playoffs last season? Did they keep up with Jamal Murray? People want to call Tyler Herro a bucket, but no one could stop Jamal Murray. He single-handedly carried the Nuggets more than a handful of times through games they had no business winning. Murray landing outside the top-10 of this list is downright disrespectful and senseless.
Leave it to ESPN to rank highlight reel players ahead of players that are actually valuable to their team’s offensive and defensive scheme as well as the overall success their team has. One positive takeaway is that these players were at least recognized. And that they’re all former Kentucky Wildcats, of course.
What order would you rank these players? Did ESPN get this right or wrong?