This season, we ranked our top 25 under 25 based not on who they are now, but who they can become. It's not solely based on potential as much as the projection on how much of that full potential can be reached. In a sense, this ranking represents how these players would be drafted if each was available in the draft right now.
(For last season's list, click here.)
To be clear: This is a ranking of how we would order these players if we were starting a franchise and would have them for the next several years, not just this season. The overall rankings are based on an aggregate average of the individual rankings of our trio of NBA experts.
In order to be eligible for this list, a player must be age 24 or younger as of Dec. 1, 2013. A trio of NBA experts breaks each player down from three perspectives:
Amin Elhassan (scout) starts with a straight scouting report on each player.
David Thorpe (coach) offers what each player must improve.
Kevin Pelton (analytics) provides a three-year projection using wins above replacement player (WARP). He formulated his projections using his own system, SCHOENE.
This list, chock full of former lottery picks and multiple top picks, is a strong nod to the importance of the draft, and a reminder that the draft always is far more about tomorrow than today. It's important to note how quickly many of these players rose from draft-day labels like "raw talent with huge upside" to viable all-NBA players. Some of the younger players listed here can make big jumps by the time we do this again.
It also is interesting to note that NBA players can be broken down into three categories based on the best asset they bring: athleticism, pure skill/craft, or the combination of size and skill. These 25 players feature 11 elite athletes, eight incredibly skilled players and six men who possess good skill along with big and/or tall/long bodies. What that also says is 17 of them have a lot of skill development left.
Note: Statistics are as of games through Dec. 10. "NR" indicates a player was not ranked in 2012-13.
3-YR WARP: 54.6
Amin Elhassan: Davis continues his superstar trajectory as an efficient, unselfish two-way player. He's a tremendous defensive presence both on- and off-ball, a voracious rebounder and elite finisher out of pick-and-roll situations.
David Thorpe: Improving his shooting is Step 1, beginning with a midrange game that can be featured in isolations when defenders play off him. Developing a plan in the post is Step 2, including face-ups against bigger, slower defenders, as well as a reliable middle-attack move with one solid counter.
Kevin Pelton: After posting the best PER ever by a 20-year-old as a rookie, Davis merely ranks third in the league this season. Barring injury, his future is a lock.
Previous rank: No. 13 | PLAYER CARD
3-YR WARP: 34.0
Elhassan: George has taken the leap from All-Star to superstar by bringing his offensive game to a level on par with his defensive brilliance. Improved shooting across the board and the addition of a midrange game make him a much tougher cover than in years past.
Thorpe: George needs to begin work on what most extra-large wings develop as they age -- a post-up game. It starts with a mindset to fight for good post position throughout the game, including in transition. His length allows him to attack the paint and then rise straight up for a jumper, though developing a half-hook would be nice, too.
Pelton: A relatively low WARP projection doesn't give George enough defensive credit. His rapid development the past two seasons suggests he will continue working to improve his game.
Previous rank: No. 18 | PLAYER CARD
3-YR WARP: 46.3
Elhassan: Probably already the best rebounder in the NBA, Drummond's combination of size, elite athleticism and motor give him the ability to impact the game every time he steps on the court. He's still raw in terms of skill and feel, but the instincts are there.
Thorpe: He is nowhere near the same player in a fast game as he is in a more deliberate half-court game. Drummond has the ability to both outrace bigs end-to-end or earn deep post position in early offense. Doing so significantly elevates Detroit's offense and makes him a far more dynamic player.
Pelton: Dwight Howard is the only player with a similarity score better than 90 compared to Drummond, who could become the fourth-youngest All-Star ever after Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Magic Johnson.
Previous rank: NR | PLAYER CARD