The Top 25 NBA Players Under The Age of 25: #15 – #11
Welcome to the 3rd installment of 411mania.com’s exclusive list of the Top 25 NBA players under the age of 25.
How the players are rankedTo determine the ranking of the players on this list they are evaluated equally on their performance last year and their overall potential level. For example, while Andrea Bargnani is ranked highly on potential he also had the worst season on the list last year and is graded justly. On the other hand, Gerald Wallace had a terrific season last year but the combination of his age, league experience and injury history causes his potential score to be amongst the lowest. Also, players recently drafted into the NBA are ineligible, so no Greg Oden or Kevin Durant.
Here’s how the list has played out so far.
Scoring: 8 (out of 10)
Passing/Team Play: 5
If everything goes right he could be the next… Brian Grant with more offensive skills or Vin Baker with less gin
ECW Equivalent… Big Sal E. Graziano
Upon entering the league
The best transaction of Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge’s front office career was when he drafted Al Jefferson 15th overall in the 2004 NBA draft.
Jefferson was actually the 5th high schooler taken in a very preppy draft. While it’s understandable that Dwight Howard and Shawn Livingston were taken ahead of him, how in the world were Sebastian Telfair – a shorter Stephon Marbury with no shot – and Robert Swift – imagine how good Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis would’ve looked with a low post presence like Al? – taken in front of a stud like him?
While Al was destroying his Mississippi high school competition at the time – to the tune of a ridiculous 42 points, 18 rebounds and seven blocks a game – there were concerns that the only reason he was doing so was the historically weak competition the state provides despite the fact that he displayed a myriad of post moves. There were also concerns over whether he possessed the speed and quickness required at the NBA level.
Why he’s so good: The aforementioned footwork has a lot to do with it. Big Al’s throwback game gives Boston a much needed halfcourt offensive weapon. Jefferson uses his massive (and still improving) strength to establish position down low for both scoring and rebounding reasons. Jefferson has a set of really good hands that’ll catch tough passes thrown his way, secures rebounds and finishes well around the basket.
Why he’ll get even better: Jefferson’s work ethic is evident in his steady improvement over his career. He’s improved his scoring, rebounding, assists, blocked shots and free throw percentage every year since entering the league. Adding a steady point guard to feed him the ball or an offensive frontcourt teammate could create even more space for the skilled bruiser to operate.
Jefferson could also improve his passing out of the double team as his assist to turnover ratio this year was horrendous.
Overall: Considering his salary is a paltry two and a half mill next year, Jefferson is not only dollar-for-dollar the best player on the Celtics, he’s also one of the best bargains in the league.
Scoring: 4 (out of 10)
Passing/Team Play: 2
If everything goes right he could be the next… AK-47 in his prime
Upon entering the league There was no doubting Josh Smith’s athleticism coming out of high school but there were doubts about his attitude. Despite being projected as a top 10 pick by most he fell all the way to the 17th pick behind ‘worst players under 25′ candidates like Luke Jackson, Kirk Snyder and ‘the king of VagStink’ Rafael Aroujo.
Why he’s so good: Insane blocks. Insane dunks. Insane athleticism. Sometimes watching Smith play basketball is like watching a narcoleptic play NBA Street on acid.
That made no sense but neither do Smith’s hops.
Athletically Smith is on another level than nearly every other player in NBA history. The former NBA slam dunk winner has a legit 40 inch+ vertical, gets down the court quickly, has a quick second jump off the floor and good strength for his age.
Defensively he really uses his vertical to block shots but doesn’t rely on it. Smith also has superior timing when it comes to blocking shots and gives a lot of effort on the defensive end.
Why he’ll get even better:
Smith has had persistent maturity issues since joining the NBA. The most recent example was at the end of the 2007 season when he cussed out the Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Woodson. Luckily his comments following the suspension show a marked improvement in maturity.
Hopefully he gets his head on straight because it would be ridiculous for him to sully his physical gifts so easily.
Josh has the potential to become a Vince Carter-like offensive threat but so far doesn’t possess too many skills with the ball. His jumper is mediocre at best and his ball handling is suspect.
Overall: The book on Smith is the same now as it was when he was in high school; otherworldly talent with a questionable attitude.
Scoring: 5 (out of 10)
Passing/Team Play: 6
If everything goes right he could be the next… Shawn Marion
Has the dubious distinction of… being the only ‘Wallace’ in the league without a Championship Trophy.
Upon entering the league When Gerald Wallace was selected by the Sacramento Kings 25th overall in the 2001 entry draft it was selected based on his outlandish athletic ability and little else. Seeing how raw his talent was and that he was joining one of the best teams in the league (which featured at various times Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Brad Miller, Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby) Wallace barely made an impact in the NBA until he was selected by the Charlotte Bobcats in the expansion draft three years into his career. In fact, during his Sacramento days, Wallace might’ve been best known throughout NBA media circles for dressing up like a pimp at media day. That’s cool if you’re Tom Green (but what wouldn’t be good news for that zany Canuck these days) but not so cool if you are, um y’know, trying to be a pro athlete.
Why he’s so good: Wallace does a bit of everything and some of what he does he does REALLY well. Like play defense. Wallace will throw his body around with reckless abandon in the pursuit of rebounds and blocked shots. His relentless motor and hustle can really perk up a team when needed.
He also has a bit of offensive talent as well. Wallace can finish well around the basket, is a master of the garbage bucket and can finish in transition. He’s added a mediocre three point shot to his repertoire, which might sound terrible, but he’s smart enough to not shoot it too frequently.
Why he’ll get even better: Gerald’s ability to move the ball was improved each year he’s been in the year. Last year he set a career high in assists while also having more assists than turnovers for the first time in his career.
Out of any player on the list, I think Gerald Wallace has maxed out his potential the most. Wallace is a six year veteran of the league and for the last three has been an integral part of a series of terrible Bobcat teams. Assuming his new team doesn’t involve him as much in the offense, will the rest of his game suffer?
Wallace also will not have the added motivation of playing for his first big contract. Gerald has always been incredibly injury prone and he played with an assortment of maladies down the stretch of last season while putting up exceptional numbers. Without the incentive of a huge payday, will Wallace continue to play with the reckless abandon that makes him so effective? And if so, how long will the reasonably frail swingman be able to do so without serious injury?
Overall: If Wallace can miraculously stay healthy, expect a couple All-Star games.
Scoring: 4 (out of 10)
Passing/Team Play: 9
If everything goes right he could be the next… Tiny Archibald
Back in the day his initials stood for… Terrible Jumpshot
Upon entering the league TJ Ford had as spectacular of a college career as a player could have, winning the Naismith and Wooden awards as the collegiate player of the year. Unfortunately he came out in the 2003 NBA Draft, possibly the deepest draft in NBA history, and slipped all the way to the 8th selection and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Why he’s so good: It’s debatable whether he, Devin Harris, Tony Parker or Rasho Nesterovic is the quickest player in the NBA. Ford uses this speed well to wear out his opposing defenders, break his man off the dribble to both finish at the rim and dish off to open teammates.
Ford has proven throughout his career that he’s a clutch player. He averaged 14 points and 9 assists in eight NCAA tournament games and he shot nearly fifty percent from the field during the 2007 NBA Playoffs, which is great seeing shooting is probably his greatest weakness.
A major concern for Ford is his spine. He’s missed entire seasons with spinal injuries and hopefully that’s all behind him now.
Why he’ll get even better: Joining a new team with eight other new arrivals is not an easy task for any player, let alone the starting point guard. The experience of playing with the same group of guys should help TJ’s assists go up and reduce his turnovers.
Ford’s injury history is not as much of an issue playing for Toronto as it would be if he played for the majority of other NBA franchises. Jose Calderon is possibly the top backup point in the league so Ford doesn’t have to play extended minutes. He actually averaged less than thirty minutes a game last season, which makes his averages of 14 and 8 even more impressive.
His shooting has improved each year. There are times when Ford tries to do too much or move too quickly down the court, learning how to shift gears when Ford has an overdrive that few can match would make him deadly.
Overall: If Ford can stay healthy he could develop into a top five NBA point guard. As of right now, he’s still one of the league’s top ten lead guards.
Scoring: 9 (out of 10)
Passing/Team Play: 5
If everything goes right he could be the next… Eddie Johnson
Favorite gesture of endearment… A single gentle head-butt to the forehead
Upon entering the league
Leandro Barbosa broke a lot of ground when he entered the NBA. When the Phoenix Suns traded for the San Antonio Spurs’ 29th pick in the 2003 entry draft to select the Brazilian blur, it was very unusual at that point for an international guard to be taken in the first round, let alone one from Brazil. Despite his world class speed, many general managers overlooked Barbosa due to his lack of genuine competition in Brazilian basketball. They were also worried about the funky release on his jumpshot.
Why he’s so good
Well the release on his jumpshot might be funky but it sure is effective. LB was one of the league’s most accurate marksmen (at least in the regular season) last season. Nearly all of those attempts were unguarded as Barbosa’s true standout characteristic, his speed, allowed him to get down the court quickly for transition threes while his quickness forced defenders to lay off his shot somewhat, fearful of his driving skills.
Barbosa is an offensive dynamo. His passing improves with each season while his frequent forays into the paint allows him to showcase his excellent finish around the basket.
Why he’ll get even better
Leandro displays a lot of the attributes needed to improve as a player. Dan D’Antoni’s favorite player is a humble and hard working individual who is very coachable. The combination of that, his insane speed and his consistent jumper gives Barbosa the potential to be scary good.
His defense is probably the aspect of his game that needs the most work. His long arms and quickness should mean that he’s an effective defender. Unfortunately, the defensive side of the game doesn’t come as naturally to LB as the offensive portion does.
Overall: Steve Nash’s successor doesn’t play a lot like him, he’s much more of a scorer than a playmaker, but he’s got game. He was shunted down a couple notches on this list after his limp playoff performance.