Shiny & New Theme Week

10 best players under 25 heading into 2018-19

Accolades already piling up for these young, future stars of NBA

Patience is a virtue that many of basketball’s brightest young stars have little interest in cultivating.

It’s been that way seemingly forever in a sport that’s been a “young man’s game” since players were shooting in peach baskets.

And why would the next generation want to wait their turn rather than chasing the throne now?

Jayson Tatum’s prized possession going into his rookie season with the Boston Celtics was a photo of himself as a young boy with LeBron James towering over him. That was before he posterized his boyhood idol in the Eastern Conference finals last season.

Joel Embiid has preached for years about “trusting the process,” while doing everything in his power to accelerate it every time he takes the floor for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Even Donovan Mitchell, as surprising and humble as any young star to enter the league in recent memory, showed little regard for his elders in the playoffs last season. He helped Utah topple the reigning Kia MVP (Russell Westbrook) and put a scare into the next Kia MVP (James Harden) as the Jazz reached the Western Conference semifinals.

As one generation of NBA stars begins fades into their twilight years, the next generation is chomping at the bit to rise up.

Tatum, Embiid and Mitchell are just three of the headliners of the game’s next wave of superstars, all currently under the age of 25. Here’s a quick look at the 10 best on that list

(Note: These are in alphabetical order, so argue amongst yourselves about the pecking order)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Age: 23

2017-18 Season Stats: 26.9 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.4 bpg

The skinny: “The Greek Freak” has lived up to his nickname by becoming one of the most freakishly talented and impactful players in the game. The only thing missing from his arsenal is a consistent stroke from the perimeter. And he’s already a legitimate MVP candidate without it. He’s the heir to LeBron’s throne as the top player in the East and perhaps, one day … the league.

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Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Age: 21

2017-18 Season Stats: 24.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.7 apg

The skinny: Booker has earned the distinction as the best shooter outside of the Golden State Warriors’ locker room after just three seasons in the league. But he’s more than just a lights-out shooter. He’ll celebrate his 22nd birthday later this month (Oct. 30) alongside two other young studs, No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton and second-year swingman Josh Jackson.

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Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

Age: 21

2017-18 Season Stats: 14.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.6 apg

The skinny: Focus strictly on the raw numbers with Brown and you might miss the beyond-his-years nuance to his game. One of two Boston youngsters on this list (Tatum is the other), his role was expanded last season due to Gordon Hayward’s injury. The Celtics’ No. 2 scorer in the playoffs, Brown’s a potentially elite two-way player on the deepest team in the league.

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Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Age: 24

2017-18 Season Stats: 22.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg

The skinny: Embiid didn’t waste any time announcing himself as the best and most dynamic big man in the league. He’s already an All-Star, was All-NBA Second Team last season and is the league’s social media troll MVP. Where Embiid’s game is concerned, there is reason to believe the hype. He led the Sixers to 52 wins last season and with Ben Simmons, gives the Sixers a big man/point guard punch that no team can match.

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Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Age: 23

2017-18 Season Stats: 18.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 6.1 apg

The skinny: Jokic might be the most dynamic and underrated player of this entire bunch. He can score from all over the floor, rebounds the way you want a 7-footer to and is perhaps the best-passing big man in the NBA. Credit the Nuggets for allowing him the freedom to play to his abilities while the rest of the league deals with his unique combination of size and skill.

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Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

Age: 22

2017-18 Season Stats: 20.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.7 apg

The skinny: Not since Damian Lillard has the league been treated to a surprising breakout rookie season like the one Mitchell turned in with the Jazz. And as good as he was through the course of the regular season, he played like a superstar in the postseason (24.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.2 apg). A physical dynamo with some of the quickest and most explosive hops in the league, Mitchell already operates like a seasoned NBA player.

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Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

Age: 23

2017-18 Season Stats: 22.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.4 bpg

The skinny: A torn ACL interrupted an All-Star season for the 7-foot-3 Latvian star dubbed “The Unicorn” by two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant. While there is no timetable for his return, there is no way you can deny Porzingis a spot on this list. The league has never seen a player his size sport the sort of skills he displayed in 2017-18.

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Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Age: 22

2017-18 Season Stats: 15.8 ppg, 8.2 apg, 8.1 rpg

The skinny: While his perimeter shooting is still in the development stage, it would be wise to focus your attention on all the other things Simmons can do as the league’s biggest (6-foot-10 and 230 pounds) and most dynamic point guard. It’s no coincidence the Sixers finally took off after Smmons turned in his Kia Rookie of the Year season. And he’s only scratched the surface of the player he can become.

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Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Age: 20

2017-18 Season Stats: 13.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.6 apg

The skinny: Tatum turned in a fantastic rookie season … and then took his game to the next level in the playoffs. He led the Celtics in postseason scoring as they scrapped their way to the conference finals against LeBron and Cleveland. Once there, Tatum made it clear that he was more than ready for prime time (ask the Cavaliers). The frightening part for the rest of the league (and the best part for Celtics coach Brad Stevens) is that Tatum won’t turn 21 until March 3.

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Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Age: 22

2017-18 Season Stats: 21.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg

The skinny: Fair or not, Towns has seen his reputation take repeated hits during the Timberwolves’ tumultuous offseason. Still, there’s no denying his place among the elite young players – and, in particular, big men — in the league. Lost in the summer drama is the fact that in an era where countless young stars have endured injury and health issues to start their careers, Towns has started all 82 games in each of his first three seasons.

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The Next Five: Clint Capela, Houston Rockets; Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic; Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers; Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets; Myles Turner; Indiana Pacers

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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