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5 can't-miss matchups among NBA's young talent

These showdowns featuring some of the NBA's young stars and its newest rookies are the ones to get on your calendar now.

Top rookies Jalen Green (left) and Cade Cunningham will have their first regular-season matchup at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Certainly, we admire and appreciate the current crop of superstars, but we can’t turn a blind eye to the league’s up and comers ahead of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Season.

The top two overall selections of the 2021 NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green, respectively, face off for the first time this season when Detroit heads to Houston on Nov. 10 for a 7:30 p.m. ET, nationally televised matchup on ESPN.

The contest shapes up as just one of several dotting the just-released schedule that feature first- and second-year players, who just might be poised to develop into the league’s next generation of superstars.

Here’s a look at five of this season’s most intriguing matchups featuring 2021 rookies and second-year players:

1. Cade Cunningham vs. Jalen Green

Nov. 10, 7 p.m. ET in Houston (ESPN)

The No. 2 overall pick, Green told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, “I didn’t want to be in Detroit,” which selected Cunningham first overall. Green won’t have to be for this clash set for Nov. 10 at the Toyota Center.

At this point, expectations don’t appear to be lofty for either of these two franchises. But don’t sleep on either squad because both rosters are bursting with young talent. In addition to Cunningham, Detroit features talented young players in Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saben Lee, in addition to solid veterans such as Jerami Grant and Cory Joseph.

Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green, the top 2 picks from the 2021 Draft, will get a first look at each other early in the 2021-22 season.

On the other side, you’ve got talented rookies Green and Alperen Sengun (16th overall pick), along with recent gems the Rockets uncovered such as Kenyon Martin Jr., Kevin Porter Jr. and Jae’Sean Tate — not to mention 2020 free-agent acquisition Christian Wood.

If you miss the Nov. 10 matchup, you’ll have another chance to check out these young stars when the teams square off again on Dec. 18 in Detroit (Noon ET, NBA League Pass).

2. Anthony Edwards vs. Cade Cunningham

Feb. 3, 7 p.m. ET in Detroit (NBA League Pass)

It doesn’t get much better than a battle featuring the No. 1 overall selections of the last two Drafts, and that’s what we’ve got here in Cunningham and Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards. The charismatic Edwards averaged 19.3 points per game as a rookie last season in 55 starts for a Timberwolves squad that finished 23-49 and 10-26 on the road.

Expect a hungry Wolves squad this season because they possess too much talent to continue struggling with headliners like Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell — as well as Jaden McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell, both of whom played well in Summer League.

The Pistons host this matchup just two days removed from what should be a tough matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans.

3. James Wiseman vs. Evan Mobley

Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m ET in Cleveland (NBA League Pass)

The third overall pick of the 2021 draft, Mobley clashed with Wiseman in high school in a battle of top prep recruits, with the former coming out on top against the No. 2 pick of the 2020 draft. It’s unknown whether Wiseman will still be on Golden State’s roster when these teams meet. If he still is, we could be in for a treat from these 7-footers.

We’re not even accounting for what we expect to be a fully healthy Warriors squad with Klay Thompson coming back to play alongside Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. Let’s also not forget about the No. 7 pick Jonathan Kuminga, who at this point is looking like a gem, or the No. 14 pick Moses Moody, who showed plenty of flashes at Summer League.

Cleveland’s starting lineup will likely feature three Top 5 picks in Mobley (No. 3, 2021), Isaac Okoro (No. 5, 2020), and Darius Garland (No. 5, 2019) alongside Collin Sexton (No. 8, 2018) and promising young center Jarrett Allen.

If you miss this matchup, you can catch the Jan. 9 rematch at 8:30 p.m. ET from Chase Center.

4. LaMelo Ball vs. Jalen Green

Nov. 27, 8 p.m ET in Houston (NBA League Pass)

This game could turn out to be the most fun of the bunch given all the stellar young talent populating the rosters of both teams. Ball is the reigning Kia Rookie of the Year and the No. 3 pick of the 2020 draft.

Check out the best highlights and top moments from LaMelo Ball from the 2020-21 regular season.

So, naturally, Ball and Green — the No. 2 pick of this year’s Draft — will generate most of the headlines going into this game. But we can’t downplay the potential impacts of Hornets’ No. 11 pick James Bouknight, who looked solid in Summer League, and high-flying No. 19 pick Kai Jones. They make this matchup even more appealing against Houston’s young talent.

Also, did we forget about monster dunker Miles Bridges? He’s sure to catch his fair share of lobs in this contest along with the Rockets’ Wood and Sengun.

5. Scottie Barnes vs. Jalen Suggs

Oct. 29, 7 p.m ET in Toronto (NBA League Pass)

It seems like ages ago when Toronto caught heat for passing on Suggs at No. 4 in the 2021 draft to take Barnes. Well, this matchup provides the first opportunity to potentially compare the fourth and fifth picks as they represent the present and future for a couple of teams in various phases of rebuilds.

Suggs and Franz Wagner (the No. 8 pick in 2021) joined an intriguing young core in Orlando that already features Chuma Okeke, Wendell Carter Jr. and R.J. Hampton. The Magic also have Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac, both of whom are returning from season-ending injuries.

Toronto, meanwhile, needs Barnes to make an immediate impact as the Raptors work to navigate the post-Kyle Lowry era with a group of veterans that features Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher.

These teams match up on three occasions this season with the last two games taking place on Dec. 20 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass) and April 1 (7 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass).

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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