Whilst we have established the NBA has been maintaining the tradition of world class athletes and players in their league the next generation has always been burdened with carrying the torch.
Fortunately, today’s youngsters show every sign of a promising tomorrow in the basketball world. The lineup selected has a mix of some of the most outstandingly athletic specimens the league has seen and players that perfectly embody how much the game of basketball has changed, also there is promise of talent that could not only define the next generation but also the whole history of the NBA.
Point Guard – Trae Young
Entering the league as a somewhat confusing prospect, whilst he led the NCAA in both points and assists as a freshman for the Sooners he did still come with a few caveats. When people see Young play they notice a baby faced, very skinny and relatively short guy who likes to shoot from deep and do it often, his often spoke of comparison Steph Curry looked a similar player at this age but Curry differed from Young with his quick burst off the mark and astonishing lateral ability. So, it’s pretty clear to see why scouts were hesitant about this Curry-like shooter without the physical edge needed to create points and succeed in the NBA.
Well, if you look at him today, you’ll see a point guard that is averaging essentially 30 points per game and 9.3 assists in what is only his second season, these video-game-like-numbers do therefore beg the question, what did those college scouts miss? Many plaudits have boiled it down to two overlooked aspects of Young’s game, his passing and his ball handling. Scouts tended not to respect his college assist numbers due to the fact that he was the main focus for defences on a fairly weak Oklahoma team and could therefore dump the ball out of double teams to open men with ease, his passing abilities are however much more impressive especially in close quarters to his athletic big men in John Collins and Clint Capela. His handling ability has served him surprisingly well in escorting him to the rim and has afforded him some distance from the generally bigger and more athletic defenders before he unleashes his generational shooting abilities.
Naysayers can look at his quite frankly non-existent defensive efforts or the record of his team in a vapid attempt at dismissing Young and his potential, but they’d do well to ignore the hard facts, his scoring accomplishments so far in the league put him in elite company historically. Couple that with his remarkable assisting ability and there’s a serious future ahead for Trae Young.
Shooting Guard – Luka Doncic
When trying to encapsulate just how good Luka Doncic is, I could just shirk journalistic responsibility and state simply that he won the Rookie of the Year award last season and has been talked about in the MVP calculations this season, but this would be remiss.
This season, Doncic is averaging close to a triple double with 28 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists, historic numbers considering only two players have ever averaged a triple double for an entire season. With these stats in mind and the fact that he recently broke Jason Kidd’s Dallas record for most triple doubles, it is easy to forget that Doncic is only 21.
A high-volume scorer as the centre piece for a young and promising Maverick’s lineup, Doncic has come on leaps and bounds as both a scorer and a facilitator this season. When in the groove his offensive arsenal has been nigh on impossible to stop given his ability to get to the rim or pull up en route for an easy midrange shot.
Having already said he likes the idea of remaining with one franchise for his whole career, Dallas fans have a lot of reasons to be cheerful, what with a blossoming partnership between Luka and fellow European star Kristaps Porzingis.
Small Forward – Jayson Tatum
Since his debut in the NBA it was clear that Jayson Tatum was ready made for the top level. With a clear head and a simple but effective range of offensive skills it would only be a matter of time before he started to put up the numbers of a top tier NBA player. The leap came this season on a refreshed Celtics team who have one of the better records in the league and are true contenders in their own right.
In the 12 games that Tatum played during February, he averaged 31 points with staggering efficiency, thus making him the fifth Celtic player to average upwards of 30 points in a single month. One of the things that was remarked upon about Tatum was his level-headedness and maturity upon entering the league as a teenager. This maturity will only have been helped when, in his first year, he was asked to come and practice with Kobe Bryant who imparted some valuable knowledge about how to go about dealing with the expectations of being a teenager in today’s NBA.
With this leap being made this year and his continued improvement both offensively and defensively, make no mistake, the next few years are set to be promising for Jayson Tatum and the Celtics.
Power Forward – Zion Williamson
We have discussed how the league hadn’t seen anything in the same physical ballpark as Giannis since Shaq, but Giannis grew into his body, starting out as a slightly gangly guard before transforming into the specimen we know today. On this evidence alone we can decide that Zion Williamson is like nothing we have really seen before.
At 6”6 and 285 pounds (roughly) Zion is a freak of nature with other-worldly athleticism. This ability to bully players of any size, breaking to the rim at will coupled with a 45-inch vertical made him one of the most touted prospects in history even in high school.
Since his delayed debut in the NBA Zion has shown no signs of letting up with a seamless transition to the big-time. Ripping the ball off of grown veterans of the league and rebounding with a force akin to a young Charles Barkley alongside the jumping abilities of a young Vince Carter, Zion is averaging 23 points and nearly 7 rebounds per game with astonishing efficiency.
With a highlight reel that would make most senior pros jealous, Zion’s 19 game NBA career has whetted the appetite of many a basketball fan worldwide and left them hungry for more upon the league’s restart in Orlando.
Centre – Deandre Ayton
Classic NBA centres are a dying breed in today’s NBA thanks to the rise of small ball and the 3-point revolution. Many infamously disappointing top draft picks have been wasted on, “the next big thing” in the league’s rich history of talented centres, very few have slipped through the net as successes and even fewer match the archetypal mold like DeAndre Ayton.
This is not a claim that Ayton is the best centre to be drafted into the league in the past 10 years as there are obvious standouts, but it is a claim that for the youth of the league he is certainly leading the pack. Broad shoulders and Adonis like muscles remind fans of greats like Wilt Chamberlain and David Robinson that have come before. Being the undisputed number one pick coming out of Arizona, Ayton didn’t have to move far to his NBA destination of the Suns. Ayton managed to lean on his fantastic physicality to churn out double-double stat lines every night with strong defence whilst he adjusted to the nuances of the game (it’s alright for some). The promise of the Bahamian big also being a 3-point shooter is still on halt as Ayton decided to put aside his awkward but hopeful shot mechanics and seldom opted for the 3-point attempt.
Cursed with quite a sorry set of team mates and staff behind closed doors everything Ayton has achieved has been done through attrition and his own work, he’s stepped up from being the huge physical presence on the court to working things out to be a very accomplished and well respected big man across the league. 19 points and 12 rebounds per game with strong shooting percentages speak of this sure but steady improvement. Ayton therefore deserves a spot on this team and a big one in the future of the league as he’s managed to break the trend of so many that have gone before him, defy the odds and destiny of his teammates and just simply get better each game, the future is therefore bright for DeAndre Ayton.
By Michael Vince and Harry Booth