Influx of Talent Sets Up NBA for Present and Future

DALLAS – The list begins with the likes of Antetokounmpo, Simmons, Embiid, Porzingis, Fox, Gordon, Ingram and Ball. It continues tonight with the addition of Smith Jr.

That list – a daunting one – showcases the string of budding talent the Celtics have already seen during their first 17 games of the season, along with what they will see tonight in Dallas during their 18th contest.

The future is certainly bright in the NBA.

“It’s a really good influx of talent,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said of the last couple of NBA Drafts, “and when you pair really good talent with really good leadership on teams, guys get better faster.”

There are no better examples of such relationships than in Boston and Dallas, where young players are excelling while being surrounded by seasoned veterans.

The Celtics have been fortunate enough to draft third overall in the last two NBA Drafts. They landed Jaylen Brown (2016) and Jayson Tatum (2017) in those spots.

The dynamic wing duo enters tonight averaging a combined 29.7 points and 12.2 rebounds per game, and they rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the NBA in basketball-reference.com’s defensive win shares. Brown, in his second year, and Tatum, in his rookie campaign, have both started every game for Boston this season.

“Tatum and Brown are really, I think, getting better quicker because they’re with (Kyrie) Irving and (Al) Horford,” said Carlisle.

The coach noted that the same can be said for Mavs rookie Dennis Smith Jr., who has been learning from future Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki, as well as former NBA champions Harrison Barnes and J.J. Barea. Smith ranks fifth among rookies in scoring with an average of 14.5 PPG.

This season is atypical in the sense that so many rookies and sophomores, not to mention slightly more veteran players like Antetokoumpo and Porzingis, are making dramatic impacts on their teams. It is a signal that when superstars such as LeBron James, who is 32 years old, and Kevin Durant, who is 29 years old, begin to slow down, the next wave of talent will be ready and willing to take control of the NBA’s reins.

“[The league] is in a great, great, great place right now,” said fourth-year guard Marcus Smart. “First-year and second-year guys are outstanding right now … The things that they’re doing, you see potential in having great players in the future.”

The influx of young talent has not only resulted in improved play across the league, but it has also created friendly rivalries between draft classes, rivalries that could continue for the next decade-plus.

With Brown sitting directly to his left, and after discussing his relationship with Smith Jr., Tatum said with a smile, “We feel like our class is better than [the 2016] class. They probably feel the same way, but I’d pick our class over theirs.”

Tatum says depth is the key to his argument. Smith wasn’t chosen until the ninth overall pick, and as Tatum pointed out, Donovan Mitchell is averaging 14.8 PPG after being chosen 13th overall by the Jazz.

Brown kept quiet in his seat, barely acknowledging Tatum’s playful jabs, but he has an argument of his own to make. He, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram have all showcased star talent this season, and Jamal Murray, Malcolm Brogdon and the rest of the 2016 Draft is no joke either.

Carlisle termed the last couple of drafts an “influx of talent,” and that might even be an understatement. The Celtics can certainly attest to that after their first 18 games of the season.

The NBA couldn’t be in a better place. It has well-established superstars carrying the torch, all while a hefty crop of young and budding talent prepares to take over in the years to come.

Carlisle needed only two words to describe that landscape: “It’s exciting.”

That is, of course, when he and other coaches such as Brad Stevens aren’t preparing to combat all of the talent they’re facing every night.

That isn’t exciting. That’s exhausting.