This season was a boon for the young and the talented in the NBA. The 2021 draft class is already a sparkling jewel for the league and might produce a handful of future stars. Ja Morant has emerged as one of the NBA’s best players, Jayson Tatum seems to have made the leap, and Luka Doncic’s bonafides no longer need any explanation.

Astoundingly, they are all under 25. For them, Y2K is just three two random letters and a number.

With that much great talent around the league, and coming off a banner 2021-22 season, The Athletic put together its best Under-25 team, asking James L. Edwards III and Mike Vorkunov to perform the task. 

The criteria were simple. The players had to be under 25 by the start of next season. We took their performance this season into account but also allowed ourselves to project them going forward. James and Mike put together their own 15-man rosters and a starting lineup. The exercise did get heated at one point..

 

Last cuts: Deandre Ayton, Tyler Herro, Desmond Bane, Miles Bridges, Tyrese Haliburton, De’Aaron Fox, Michael Porter Jr., John Collins, Saddiq Bey, Robert Williams, Herb Jones, RJ Barrett, Jalen Green, Franz Wagner, Anfernee Simons

 

Starting lineup: Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo

 

Guards

Mike Vorkunov: We’ll start this exercise here, in the place where we had complete agreement. We both landed on the same six guards for these Under-25 teams. It’s a loaded position right now and going forward. The hardest part here will be deciding who gets to start, basically. Obviously, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant and Trae Young were guarantees. Darius Garland made a leap into an All-Star this season and LaMelo Ball seems like he’ll get there soon*. You have an acute appreciation for Cade Cunningham since you cover the Pistons. Was there any guard who almost made this list for you or who was almost dropped?

 

James L. Edwards III: Honestly, not really. I felt like the guards were pretty easy to pick, in regards to determining who the best six were in this age bracket. I did take a second and think about Garland. He’s been phenomenal this season. I guess I’m still surprised he’s made such a noticeable leap. People were high on him going into the draft but he was recovering from a meniscus tear, I believe. I pondered who I’d feel 100 percent confident putting over him and just couldn’t come up with anyone. Garland is clear of De’Aaron Fox, to me. I like Tyrese Haliburton, but I still just think he caps out as a high-end role player when the dust settles. He’s the only one who might make us eat our words.

Which guard squeezed onto your list?

 

Vorkunov: It was hard weighing current performance vs. my projections for the future. I took this roster-building approach as a mix of both. I didn’t give much thought to Fox, but I really weighed Haliburton a lot. It was probably down to him or Cunningham for the last guard spot. I think if it was solely based on current performance then I’d give it to Haliburton — he’s averaged 17.4 points and 9.6 assists since he got to Indianapolis and is shooting 42 percent from 3 — but since this is also looking forward to next season, I’m expecting another jump from Cunningham too. Jordan Poole deserves attention, too. He’s averaged 18-plus points on 60 percent true shooting for a top-three seed at just 22. He’s damn good. 

 

Edwards: As a Michigan State graduate, I don’t recognize Michigan players. Kidding. He’s been, like you said, damn good. He and Jalen Green are two others who could make us look dumb in the next two years. 

 

Vorkunov: Yeah, Jalen Green has put together a really strong conclusion to his rookie season. And he was the No. 2 pick last year. Basically, the future is pretty good for the NBA at the guard spots.