The NBA’s in good hands.
For the record, we’re not talking about the leadership of commissioner Adam Silver. Nor any of the fine people working behind the scenes that make the Association operate like a well-oiled machine.
We’re talking about all the young stars balling at an insanely high level on a nightly basis who will eventually take over the mantle as faces of the league from LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant, when those living legends—36, 33, and 33, respectively—decide to call it a career in the not-too-distant future.
Not that we’re trying to push LeBron, Steph, and KD out the door. It’s just that, soon enough, the NBA will belong to the likes of Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, Trae Young, Ja Morant, and LaMelo Ball—to highlight but a few of the supremely talented players under the age of 24 currently in the league. Each is already one his way to authoring an impressive career, and a few could even end up being considered all-time greats when they’re done playing, hopefully a decade and a half from now.
But if you were messing around with your pals and had to rank those five, who would you slot first?
Would it be Doncic, the Slovenian wizard whose step-back 3-pointer is one of the most lethal moves in the NBA? Would it be Young, the diminutive point guard whose range is only rivaled by Curry? Or Tatum, the volume scorer for the Celtics who hits impossible shots all the time? Or would you give the nod to Morant, the bouncy Grizzlies floor general who wows us with his athleticism all the time? Or would you have the audacity to place Ball ahead of ’em all since he’s the youngest of the bunch, yet has proven to be a revelation for the Hornets?
You kind of can’t go wrong choosing any of them. But because we love ourselves a good NBA hypothetical—if you don’t, are you really a basketball fan?—we took on the arduous task of ranking them, plus 19 others, to come up with our 24 best NBA players under 24. Instead of posting a played-out 25 under 25, or the best 24 and under like we did last year, we swerved slightly this year and opted for the best 24 under 24. While nobody on this list is currently above the age of 23, everybody on it can hoop and should have a long and extremely lucrative career ahead of them. Quibble with how we ranked the guys all you want, but there’s no arguing with the names we have on here.
Here are the 24 best NBA players under 24.
24. Talen Horton-Tucker, Lakers
If the Lakers thought highly enough of Talen Horton-Tucker—despite the fact his numbers through his first two seasons don’t pop like some other third-year players on this list—to sign him to a multi-year extension this summer, then you shouldn’t be surprised we have him on our list. If you watch him play, Horton-Tucker obviously passes the eye-test. Plus LeBron James long ago gave the second-round pick in the 2019 draft a co-sign as a future difference maker. Horton-Tucker’s offensive game clearly needs more refinement, but he can do a little bit of everything while he’s out there and will certainly be part of the future in LA, unlike most of his current teammates.
23. Scottie Barnes, Raptors
Who ends up being the best rookie from the 2021 draft class is impossible to project, but through the first quarter of the season it’s hard to argue that Toronto’s selection at No. 4 hasn’t had the most surprising run out of all the lottery picks. Scottie Barnes was supposed to be a massive work-in-progress offensively once he stepped foot on an NBA court, but the Florida State product has proven to be way more adept at scoring than scouts and draft prognosticators gave him credit. While Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick, or Jalen Green, the No. 2 selection, could ultimately end up being the most dynamic offensive players in the draft, Barnes already brings it defensively and his offensive numbers (15.1 PPG, 35.7 3FG%) are way better than we reasonably could’ve expected from him. For now, Barnes can battle it out with the No. 3 pick (see below) for the title of rookie to have the biggest impact so far this season.
22. Jordan Poole, Warriors
There are a few candidates on this list that will surely compete for the Most Improved Player award, but Jordan Poole’s case might be the strongest a little over a quarter into the 2021-22 season. The third-year player has elevated his game to surprising levels and he’s a big reason why the Warriors have exceeded expectations and look like arguably the best team in the NBA (unless, that is, you’re a Suns fan). Averaging career-highs across the board—and those numbers, like PPG, 3FG%, and eFG% have taken huge leaps from his rookie averages two seasons ago—Poole has become the kind of potent scoring threat from outside the Warriors really lacked last season. When Klay Thompson returns, Poole will lose touches—and most likely his starting gig—but the Warriors have themselves a young, dynamic offensive threat who can switch from shooting guard to point guard. And when he’s really feeling it, he can light up opponents almost as efficiently as Curry.
21. Tyrese Haliburton, Kings
After an excellent rookie season largely coming off the bench for the Kings, Tyrese Haliburton is a full-fledged starter in his second season. While his numbers so far this campaign haven’t quite matched last season’s, we’ll cut him a little slack since Sacramento forever remains a mess (it fired coach Luke Walton last month). Haliburton is supposed to be part of the solution that ends the NBA’s long playoff drought (15 seasons, tied for the league record). As for Haliburton, he’s a very good outside shooter who earned First-Team All Rookie honors last season, connecting on 40.9 percent of his shots downtown, which established him as one of the best young shooting guards in the league.