Getting your hands on young talent in the NBA is the equivalent to finding a $100 dollar bill on the ground. Some of it has to do with luck; some of it has to do with being in the right place at the right time. Once you get it, you contemplate whether or not to hang on to it for a while, or trade it in right away for something that will benefit you immediately (or hope it does). The amount of young talent floating around the NBA is at an all-time high, and some teams are fortunate enough to have more than one young gun.
Here are the top 10 duos in the NBA ages 25 and under…
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10. DeMARCUS COUSINS (Age 22) and TYREKE EVANS (Age 23)
We’ve heard about the tremendous upside of big man DeMarcus Cousins time and time again: a legitimate force on the offensive side of the ball, and at times an underrated defensive player, as he lead the league in charges taken in 2011-12. His talent has never been in question – rather his attitude. The criticism has begun to skip like a broken record. Get off the kid’s back. He’s a 22-year-old “on the verge of being a star” big man playing for an organization with as much direction as Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild. Even though he loves stating his mind during interviews, Cousins’ stats have the loudest voice in his ongoing argument of legitimacy (2011-12: 18.1 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 44 percent from the floor in 30.5 MPG).
Then there’s Tyreke Evans, formerly known as Mr. 20-5-5, and now drawing fame for being Cam Newton‘s NBA equivalent. Although steadily declining since his historic Rookie of the Year campaign (when he joined LeBron, MJ and the Big O as the only rookies to average 20-5-5), he still has the potential to be a force. His unbelievable handles paired with his forward-sized leaping ability almost make you forget he owns one of the NBA’s worst jump shots.
The pressure of carrying a crumbling organization on their backs is no secret. In an interview with SI, DMC made it very clear he’s well aware of the situation Tyreke and himself inherited in Sacramento: “At the end of the day, everybody in that locker room knows this team is myself and Tyreke’s. I don’t give a [expletive] about no articles [asking whose team it is]. This team goes as far as we carry it.”
9. ANTHONY DAVIS (Age 19) and ERIC GORDON (Age 23)
In his highly anticipated NBA debut, Anthony Davis threw up a modest 21 and seven against the Spurs, even with Gordon out with a lingering knee injury. The Hornet’s 2012-13 campaign was looking bright prior to Gordon’s right knee giving out… again. Gordon was supposed to take some pressure off the No. 1 overall draft pick, and together, they plan to make the Hornets relevant again.
Gordon, when healthy – which has NOLA fans rolling their eyes – is a stud. Since arriving via the CP3 2.0 trade last summer, he’s played in only nine games. Given the opportunity, these guys would thrive off each other. Gordon’s absence should slow Davis’ growth offensively, the weakest aspect of his game, as his ability to penetrate the perimeter D would allow Davis some easy buckets under the basket.
Right now, there is no foreseeable timetable for Gordon’s return, and outside of the Davis hype, it’s a tough time to be a Hornets fan. But this duo’s potential lands them on this list. Time will tell if they deserve to be. Maybe by this time next year, we’ll be talking about a Davis/Rivers duo.
8. STEPHEN CURRY (Age 24) and KLAY THOMPSON (Age 22)
The first word that comes to mind with these two: pure. These guys can flat-out shoot. Klay Thompson’s growth is one of the most intriguing stories in the NBA of the past year. It’s hard not to like him. You take one look and you might mistake him for an 18-year-old kid wearing a Warriors Jersey. He has a cool, calm demeanor that’s easy to embrace and root for.
Once Thompson was granted the starting spot last season, he averaged 18.1 points, 3.0 assists and 3.3 boards per night, while attempting nearly 16 shots per game. In his time coming off the bench, he earned the green light on the offensive side of the ball. Paired with his backcourt mate Stephen Curry, the Warriors find themselves with one of the most lethal guard tandems in the league. After starting in only 23 games for the Warriors last season, Curry and his ankles seem to be holding up quite well. In this season’s first five games, he averaged 17.4 points, 5.6 assists and 5.4 rebounds in 38.2 minutes of PT.
If they can stay healthy and develop a legitimate inside/out game with David Lee and Andrew Bogut, the Warriors will find themselves in the hunt for a playoff berth in the West. Playoff basketball in the Oracle = good stuff.
7. JaVALE McGEE (Age 24) and TY LAWSON (Age 25)
McGee averaged less than 20 minutes a game in Denver’s first five games this season. Is anyone as surprised by this as I am? I admit, I jumped on the McGee bandwagon after his inspired playoff performance last year. Looking back, I think it was more of George Karl throwing the kid in there with instructions to just play. With a full season ahead of them, Karl probably wants to develop the seven-footer in a legitimate system rather than let him run loose like he did in Washington. Still, his length and athleticism are hard to ignore and I can’t see McGee playing less than 20 minutes a night for much longer. He can probably out run any other seven-footer end to end and he has the wingspan of a Pterodactyl.
Lawson, fresh off his four-year, $48 million deal, thrives in Denver’s pick and roll/dribble drive offense. For being an undersized guard, Lawson operates most efficiently in the lane as he breaks down his defender with his speed and aggressiveness. If McGee can gain the trust of George Karl and crack the starting lineup, a Lawson/McGee pick-n-roll could become a staple for Denver’s offense. Until then, I’ll still highly recommend YouTubing “JaVale McGee Top 8 Dumb Plays.” You know you want to.
6. JRUE HOLIDAY (Age 22) and ANDREW BYNUM (Age 25)
If you hurry there is still time to jump on the Jrue Holiday bandwagon. Space is filling up quickly. I snagged Holiday in the seventh round of my fantasy draft this year, which turned out to be quite the steal. He’s playing at an All-Star level. Through the first seven games this season, he’s averaging 19.1 points, 9.0 assists, and 3.4 rebounds. We can probably assume his scoring numbers will dip a little bit when Andrew Bynum makes his highly anticipated 76ers debut, whenever the hell that might be. Nonetheless, Bynum is a top-three center in the game. He needs to take his new team seriously and play with a purpose. That means no three-pointers, no YOLO moments. Who knows? He could come out and just dominate. At 25, it’s time for Bynum to turn the page in his career – he needs to lead by example and get this young Philly team riled up.
5. PAUL GEORGE (Age 22) and ROY HIBBERT (Age 25)
I can only think of four or maybe five guys I’d rather watch finish a fast break than Paul George. He’s at least 6-8, 220 pounds, and definitely complies with the NBA’s mandatory athletic requirements needed to compete on the wings. However, he does need to be more aggressive with the ball and get to the line more. He’s strong and has great finishing ability. Use it! With Danny Granger out for the next three months, he’ll have an opportunity to be a bigger part of the Pacers offense. So far this season he’s averaging a career high 13.4 field goal attempts a game, which should help him develop confidence.
Although he’s an average three-point shooter, imagine if George developed a legitimate post game? Being a 6-8 two guard matched up with guys 6-4 or 6-6?
I’ve started calling Roy Hibbert “The Max” – as in max contract. Clever, I know. I just hate that Indiana had to give him a max deal in order to keep him. He’s a true center in a league where true centers are becoming obsolete faster than local record stores. He does what he does well, though. He’s a great rim-defending shotblocker. The thing that baffles me the most about ‘The Max’ is that he’s averaging 6.3 rebounds for his career. He is a legit 7-2. He should be average a double-double this season. No excuses.
4. JAMES HARDEN (Age 23) and JEREMY LIN (Age 24)
Comparing these guys to the earlier guard combo (Curry/Thompson), the biggest difference that stands out is Harden and Lin’s ability to create off the dribble. James Harden is in “Who Gon Stop Me?” mode, and Lin is learning to play off him. That works for Houston, for now. Who knows if Harden is going to be able to keep up this level of play for a substantial amount of time – playing 40 minutes a game is a lot different than playing 30. It’s great seeing him not back down from his new role. He believes the ball needs to be in his hands for the team to be successful, and he’s right. What a great story it would be if Harden was the one to dethrone KD as the scoring champ.
Jeremy Lin will never experience another run like “Linsanity” and that’s okay. He just needs to be a solid point guard and limit his turnovers. It’ll come in time as this is still his first full season as a starter. He’ll figure it out. He’s a smart guy… heard he went to Harvard or something. At the moment, these guys are going for a combined 37.8/9.5/11 (points/rebounds/assists). With Harden and Lin putting up numbers like that, Houston is one skilled big man away from being a threat in the West.
3. BLAKE GRIFFIN (Age 23) and DeANDRE JORDAN (Age 24)
Think of these guys as the Bash Brothers in The Mighty Ducks. Instead of Fulton Reed and Dean Portman laying down the law on the ice, it’s Blake and DeAndre dunking on anyone willing to step into their poster, and littering highlight shows with excited chest bumps. Not only are they on the top half of this list, they’re also one of the better frontcourt duos in the entire league. Even though Griffin takes a spot in the top-ten plays nearly every night, he remains raw. I always go back to this quote by Charles Barkley: “If Blake learns to play basketball he is going to be flat-out scary.”
As for Jordan, J.A. Adande tweeted earlier that he spotted Shaq giving him some low post pointers and D.J. was “all ears.” That would also be pretty scary.
2. KEVIN LOVE (Age 24) and RICKY RUBIO (Age 22)
Even without a single game played between the two of them this season, they still manage to snag the number two spot. Impressive. Love’s excuse is a broken hand due to knuckle push-ups, and Rubio is still out with an ACL injury. They’re both targeting December returns, which will change everything for the Wolves. I want the “Rubio to Love” call to be at least half as memorable as the “Stockton to Malone” call. The potential of the Rubio/Love pick and roll game is immeasurable. Love is the best power forward in the game today, and Rubio was in the process of establishing himself as a top-ten point guard before going down last season.
Rick Adelman is patiently awaiting the return of his two stars, making do with the Wolves supporting cast. Granted it will probably take the two another month after their return to get acclimated with one another… again. If the Wolves can stay hovering around .500 by that point, I expect to see them in the playoffs.
1. KEVIN DURANT (Age 24) and RUSSELL WESTBROOK (Age 24)
“Oh! There are no words to describe how nasty these two All-Stars can be!” As announcers have stated before, that is the truth. We should all make a conscious effort after every remarkable Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook performance to remind ourselves that these guys are both only 24 years old. For our sake as basketball purists, let’s pray Sam Presti keeps these guys together for the rest of their respective careers. Imagine another 12 seasons of these two together, putting up ridiculous numbers, connecting on alley-oops, and most importantly, chasing rings? If Scott Brooks can figure out how to allow these two to coexist in the most efficient way, I don’t see how they don’t win multiple titles.
They are arguably the most dominant offensive duo in the league. Between the two of them, the only thing they lack is a solid post game, and it won’t be too long before Durant figures that one out, too.
Now that LeBron has finally won a ring, Westbrook is the NBA’s most criticized player and it’s because his potential is unknown. In fact, both of these stars have another three seasons before truly entering their prime. That last statement is scary for the rest of the NBA, but definitely exciting for us.
Besides Westbrook and KD, which 25-and-under duo would you want to start your team with?
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