The NBA has arguably never been loaded with as much promising young talent as it is right now. Between the college game, the international game and the increased viability of other avenues like the G League to bring young players into the league, there's a wider pipeline than there's ever been.
Throughout the 2021-22 season, roughly once a month, B/R will be ranking the 24 best players under 24 years old and highlighting some of the league's most exciting newcomers.
Rankings going into the season are decided based on a combination of past production and future projections. They will be adjusted and moved based on current production and best guess on how their overall standing in the league will evolve.
A note: For the inaugural edition of this list, incoming rookies will not be included. We have no doubt the likes of Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and others in the 2021 draft class will be in the mix throughout the year, but it's tough to place them without an existing body of work at the NBA level.
24. Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Mitchell Robinson was limited to just 31 games in his third season because of injuries, but he’s still a key part of the Knicks’ youth movement, particularly on the defensive end. He’s going to start in the frontcourt alongside Julius Randle as long as he’s healthy and provide a nice complement to Randle’s scoring efforts.
In the Knicks’ season-opening double-overtime win over the Boston Celtics, he showed just how good he’s capable of being, grabbing 17 rebounds along with 11 points, three assists and two blocks.
23. Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers
Darius Garland displayed star potential at times in his first two seasons and improved dramatically as a shooter in his second year, averaging 17.4 points per game on 45.1 percent shooting from the field and 39.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc, along with 2.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.2 steals. He has to work on being more consistent, but his 12-assist performance in the Cleveland Cavaliers' season opener against the Memphis Grizzlies is promising for his development as a playmaker.
His role should become a lot clearer once Cleveland figures out whether guard Collin Sexton is in its plans going forward.
22. Talen Horton-Tucker, Los Angeles Lakers
Any young player the Los Angeles Lakers draft—especially in the second round—who shows any kind of promise can quickly become overrated just because of the intense media focus on that team. Talen Horton-Tucker is a legitimate rotation player, though. He played in 65 of the Lakers’ 72 games in his second season and averaged 9.0 points in 20.1 minutes per game primarily off the bench along with solid defense.
Unfortunately, he’s set to miss at least the first few weeks of the season while recovering from a right thumb injury.
21. Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers
Jarrett Allen’s fit next to No. 3 overall pick Evan Mobley in the frontcourt is going to be worth monitoring throughout his first full season in Cleveland (he came over from the Brooklyn Nets in the four-team James Harden trade and inked a five-year, $100 million extension over the summer). In 51 games with the Cavs after the trade, he averaged 13.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
His 25-point performance on a perfect 11-of-11 shooting in the Cavs’ season opener would suggest he’s in for a big year.
20. Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks
Kevin Huerter is another young player outside of Trae Young who put himself on the map for most fans throughout the Atlanta Hawks’ 2021 Eastern Conference Finals run. He went off for 27 points in the decisive Game 7 of the second round against the Philadelphia 76ers and has successfully navigated being in and out of the starting lineup throughout his first three seasons.
A career 37.5 percent three-point shooter, the guard averaged 11.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game in his third season.
After signing a four-year, $65 million extension with the Hawks earlier this week, he’s firmly entrenched as a core piece alongside Young, De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish.
19. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
One of the most consistent presences in trade rumors throughout the last year amid his inability to agree on an extension with the Cavs, Collin Sexton nonetheless continues to develop into a promising scoring guard.
At points early last season, before Cleveland fell out of contention, he was even getting All-Star buzz with some scoring explosions. Overall on the year, he averaged career highs of 24.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while shooting 37.1 percent from three-point range.
Whether he’s with the Cavs long-term or not, Sexton is a valuable and versatile scorer with a renowned work ethic and is going to have a long career.
18. De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks
Injuries limited De'Andre Hunter to 23 games last year, as well as causing him to miss the last two rounds of the playoffs, but he showed in the first round against the Knicks how impactful he can be at both ends of the floor. He had 15 points in the closeout game of that series on the road and showed an ability to defend all five positions.
A player on the same age curve as Young with Hunter's defensive versatility is going to be crucial for the development of this Hawks team given Young’s liability on that end. Nobody saw their Eastern Conference Finals run coming—if Hunter can stay on the floor, Atlanta has a better chance than people realize of getting back there.
17. Jordan Poole, Golden State Warriors
For all the ink spilled about last year’s No. 2 overall pick, James Wiseman, and this year’s intriguing rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, the most sure thing among the Warriors’ young role players is Jordan Poole.
As Golden State tries to maximize the final years of the Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson-Draymond Green core, the team is walking the always precarious tightrope of trying to contend and develop young players all at once.
Poole, who is in his third season, has taken advantage of the minutes he’s been given with Thompson out. He’s happy to shoot any shot at any time, and he’s slowly developed a better selection and more consistency. Last season, his outside shooting improved by more than seven points from 27.9 percent to 35.1 percent, while his scoring improved from 8.8 points per game to 12.0.
Even when Thompson comes back, Poole is going to have a major role.