The 2022 Draft Deeper Top 25 Under 25
After reflecting on responses and reactions, Nathan Grubel writes about his personal Top 25 Under 25 rankings heading into the 2022-23 NBA season.
I’m at the usual crossroads I sit at every single offseason.
Generally, I don’t start diving into the next NBA Draft class until August/September. This means I give myself a reflection period where I sit back and survey the current NBA landscape as well as what I can personally do to better myself as an evaluator.
Doing both at the same time means going through exercises like the ones I have gone through recently on Draft Deeper. Re-tiering the 2021 and 2020 draft classes and seeing where I currently stand on certain players helps to further strengthen my scouting convictions and investigate new wrinkles in their games.
This past week, I took it a step further and introduced a fun and engaging way to visualize the last few years of the draft: Top 25 Under 25 Rankings!
In case you missed the prior episode of Draft Deeper, where we actually drafted and built teams out of a composite pool of players, I’ll link it down below.
What was unique about this show was that I didn’t give any of Corey Taluba, Albert Ghim, or PeeWeeDaPlug (Pierre) any criteria to rank players on. I wanted everyone to share their own philosophy as we went and what each individual prioritized in a team-building exercise like this.
Now when you do a draft to form a squad, there are certain points where you have to take fit into consideration and not simply who is the best player left in the pool. I chose to do more of the latter throughout the episode, and while I feel confident my team could outscore anyone, I’m also left wondering who we’re going to defend at the same time.
Regardless, there’s more than one way to build a team. There’s more than one way to rank a group of players. Our world of basketball is highly subjective, which is why we at No Ceilings always welcome all opinions because without those different viewpoints, we can’t continue to grow as evaluators.
So today, I’m bringing my views to the table. We drafted from a pool that was crafted based on averaging all of our rankings together. But I want to share my personal rankings of the Top 25 Under 25 and, in doing so, walk through how I view the current field of top young talents in the NBA.
I broke out my rankings into “tiers” that made sense to me (who doesn’t love tiers?) and will walk through each one.
I will say up front that my goal with this exercise was to prioritize consistent, proven production that has won over simply betting on the potential that we believe is coming from the rookies and now sophomores of the league. In my personal opinion, it’s not fair to rank younger players ahead of older guys who have proven more on bigger stages unless the talent absolutely screams for me to do so. Keep that in mind as you read through this piece.
Without further ado, let’s start with my top tier of players!
Tier 1: The Franchise Changers
1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
3. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
4. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
5. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
The top five guys in my rankings are here for a reason. They’ve proven to me personally in some form or fashion that they aren’t just interesting young building blocks for the future.
I firmly believe each of these players could win an MVP award someday. They’ve been or are on their way to All-NBA status. I don’t want to make my criteria hover around awards and lists of accomplishments as some in the media do, but it’s also reality to sometimes recognize the greatness that these awards indicate.
Even more important than those individual accolades, however, is what do these players mean in terms of winning an NBA championship?
Well, we’re coming off a year in which we watched Doncic carry his team to a Western Conference Finals. Tatum was two games away from winning his first title. Morant has helped lead a resurgence in Memphis and give the Grizzlies its brightest future arguably ever. Furthermore, a healthy Williamson is one of the most dominant young forces the league has ever seen by the numbers in terms of paint scoring and overall impact.
These names are fairly self-explanatory for anyone who watches the league on a semi-regular basis and pays attention to statistical references. That last guy, however, was a surprise even to me to end up this high in my rankings.
Edwards is a beast. His two-way potential at one of the most important positions in the league is undeniable. As one of the best athletes the NBA has to offer at 6’5”, Edwards can guard virtually anyone on the floor when he’s locked in. Offensively, his knack for hitting jumpers over the toughest of coverages makes one’s jaw drop in awe. Oh, and then he’ll follow up that step-back three with a vicious dunk that leaves the entire arena in disbelief.
What Edwards did to help his Timberwolves team get to the first round in the playoffs last year was incredibly important. He’s shown leadership qualities both on and off the floor that I didn’t expect to see from him so soon in his career. He’s 20 years old and has the maturity of someone far older.
There will always be questions about young players. One can even critique this list based on injury history and availability. I do take those things into consideration at different points, but at the end of the day, betting on top-tier talent like Williamson’s is a bet I’m still willing to make.
All of these individuals have leadership in common, though. They’ve galvanized their troops and have marched into battle emerging as the strongest gladiators in the arena at one point or another. To me, they all have MVP-level talent and can be the best player on a championship team one day.
A common theme I could intertwine at the end of each tier: The NBA is in good hands moving forward.
Tier 2: The Proven Co-Stars
6. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
7. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
9. Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
10. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
11. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
12. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
13. Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers
14. RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
It’s incredibly fascinating to look back on how I drafted and put together my team on the podcast based on my actual rankings.
I put together a team with one player from my top tier and four more in my next tier. What that means is this: I built a team of proven co-stars supporting a potential MVP-caliber talent.
In drafting, I could’ve targeted some more defense or went even younger as I did with one of my picks who sits in the last tier which I will get to later on. But again, my personal philosophy in drafting as well as ranking was rewarding proven talent first while factoring in potential but ultimately putting that second.
There is no right or wrong way to go about putting together a list like this, or in conducting a mock draft, but I feel great about my second tier in this piece.
I wanted to title this group “The Proven Co-Stars” because while I don’t see them on the level as a true number one option like the five guys ahead of them, this group is comprised of talents that could be second options on a championship level team.
If the second-best player within an organization is any one of these guys, I’d be horrified to go up against that unit.
First off, the Pelicans are in great hands moving forward. Having, by my count, two players in the top six of a ranking such as this means they have as bright a future as any. Factor in the supporting cast and depth around Williamson and Ingram, and I’m left wondering if New Orleans could see multiple championship parades over the next decade, not just one.
Young is a fascinating debate within NBA circles. His offensive impact (essentially 28 points and 10 assists on decent shooting splits) is disgusting in the best way when you think about it. He’s an offense within himself. No matter who he has around him, Young can get his own shot AND pass any other player open for a better look. The Hawks are always a threat in the Eastern Conference when he’s on the floor, and the support of newly acquired Dejounte Murray will only further his case as one of the league’s best young foundational pieces.
He fell in our draft because of the lack of defensive impact and the need by our draftees to find players at the intersection of size, length, defensive ability, and age. But there’s no denying what he means not only to his teammates but also to the city of Atlanta. I personally couldn’t rank him any lower than seventh, and I only have Ingram ahead of him in this tier because he sits better at that intersection with plenty more room to grow as a shooter and defender.
I’m expecting a few eyebrow raises from those who peruse these rankings, though. My ninth player here on the whole stinking list is Maxey. How could I have Maxey over players like Jackson, Ayton, and Fox, who have arguably had better seasons as more seasoned vets in relation to others here?
To be frank, I have ZERO clue what Maxey’s ceiling is. He was one of the best three-point shooters in the entire NBA last year, and he was a dynamic playoff scorer for the 76ers next to Joel Embiid and James Harden last year. While he won’t lead the team in scoring during the regular season as he isn’t the focal point like Embiid, he’s jumped more levels as a scorer and shooter than I could’ve anticipated up to this point.
Factor in he’s built well physically and tough on the defensive end, an improving passer, and crafty finisher around the basket, and there are few things I’m left having questions about moving forward. A legitimate three-level threat with the speed to break games both in the halfcourt and in transition, Maxey is one of the most exhilarating offensive talents in the game today.
But with Maxey, I’m also putting some faith in Haliburton and Barrett making similar jumps heading into next year. At this current moment in time, all three could be more rationally classified as third options. After reviewing more of the film, however, all three have developed go-to moves on the perimeter and can get their own shot in a variety of ways. Hali has the best passing chops of the group, but all three are willing passers and defenders still filling out and improving on that end.
I would be ecstatic if I were running a franchise and had any of these guys as the second-best player on my team either now or moving forward. This is the deepest of my tiers, and the future is incredibly bright for each of these young bucks.
Tier 3: 2021’s Greatest Hits
15. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons
16. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
17. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
The 2021 NBA Draft class shall be remembered for many years to come.
At the top of this class, in my personal top tier in going back through, we have these three players who end up currently at the middle of the pack in this U-25 group.
I wouldn’t fault anyone who values any of these three guys higher than those players I ranked before them. I fully acknowledge that if I were to do this exercise again even one year from now, I could have all three of them inside the top ten as they went in our mock draft.
Cunningham, Mobley, and Barnes are the perfect examples in their own ways of where the game of basketball has been heading over the last decade. Any players who sit at the intersections of size, skill, versatility, and awareness should be highly valued as leaders of NBA franchises. There are three other players in this class who I will touch on later as also having special qualities that could bump them up higher in future editions of my rankings, but these guys are my group from 2021 who I feel will eventually become franchise changers.
I had more questions about Mobley and Barnes coming out of the draft than Cunningham. At 6’6”, Cade is as smooth of a floor general and shot maker as they come. While there’s still more work with cutting down on turnovers and working better as an off-ball scorer, Cunningham is a lethal shot maker off the bounce. Defenses scramble to defend him when he makes a move with the ball in his hands because he can pull up and get a bucket at any time. That gravity he commands opens things up for everyone else, which is how he’s been able to make everyone else around him better for his entire career.
As his teammates continue to learn how to play off him, and he in turn with them, the Pistons have one of the brightest futures of any in the league. What Cunningham is good at leaves me breathless sometimes because he’s already proven he can make shots that are generally reserved for the best players in the league. When he improves at doing more of the little things, look out league.
Mobley and Barnes, on the other hand, are forwards who have baked perimeter skills into their games from a young age, and it shows in the league. Their ability to face up and handle the ball to make better decisions for others and not just themselves is exactly where the game is going. Both are more viable post-up options than given credit for, and they can pass out of double teams as well as score one-on-one. However, running the offense through them means trusting in their abilities going towards the basket.
Both aren’t the most ideal floor spacers as of yet in their careers, but I buy their ability to shoot it better from deep, and Mobley’s mid-range game already has me envisioning an Anthony Davis-esque upside should everything hit.
Barnes has a mid-range game too, but it’s a tad mechanical right now in comparison to Mobley. He takes the space better between the two of them, and he’s the more physical force once he gets downhill and around the basket. But Barnes will have to prove he can make more of those looks over defenders and not just in pure open space. For both of them, that’s the next level of their offensive development.
Now regarding the defensive end, both Barnes and Mobley are legitimate game changers on that end. Versatile in covering multiple positions, playing in space, helping to protect the rim, and just overall making life difficult for the opposition because of their combination of length and foot speed.
I’m still a firm believer Cunningham has what it takes to be in the top half of wing defenders in the league or higher, but physically he’s not there yet. As Mobley keeps filling his body out, he’ll likely shift to having more responsibilities of a true big; for now, he has one of the best support systems he could have in someone I’ll talk about in a second. Barnes is just an absolute terror on defense, and I would have nightmares if I had to try and score over or through him.
It wouldn’t shock me to see any of the three on one or multiple All-Defense teams, and as we get further in their careers, they’ll generate more All-NBA and MVP buzz as well. All three are extraordinary talents.
Tier 4: Vets With Potential
18. Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers
19. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
20. Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers
21. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
This is the part of the exercise where it gets tricky. I fully understand having the most vocal group of naysayers comment about anyone from this tier.
I mean no disrespect to any of these four individuals. All of them are worthy All-Star caliber talents who have proven such over a longer period of time than the trio ahead of them. I get it.
When I compare the two groups, however, my final determinant is upside. Who do I feel is more likely to break into that top tier out of these seven players? It’s my belief that all of Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, and Scottie Barnes have the qualities and make-up to sit in that top tier one day. Whereas these four players have proven that should they continue to keep adding to their games that they fall cleaner into that second tier of supporting stars.
Even as I type out that paragraph, it hurts. I strongly believe in Garland and took any opportunity I could to sing his praises last year that he was the most important Cavalier ahead of Mobley or Allen, who also sits in this tier. Ball has the most raw upside of anyone here as a 6’8” lead guard who thrives in box office appeal. Allen is the perfect defensive anchor next to Mobley to help captain one of the best defenses for as long as those two are together. Collins helped Trae Young with multiple big-time offensive outputs in the Hawks’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals a few seasons ago.
With three of the four, I can’t bring myself to fully agree with others that what they bring to the table offensively in their current state outweighs the negatives that follow them on the defensive end. Either the offensive impact of Garland and Collins needs to get to the level of some of the names in Tier 2, or they need to become less of a liability on the defensive end. Ball has the ability to grow in both areas, but his game still needs seasoning, and I’d rather have any of the trio ahead over him at this point in his career.
Allen is your classic rim-running shot blocker who has shown some jump-shooting upside in his own right. Should he tap into more of that and add a more consistent floor-spacing dimension to his game to pair with his massive impact as a roll man offensively, then we could look at him through a different lens as a big man leading to him making a sizable leap forward.
Just because they aren’t top ten players in this exercise doesn’t mean I dislike any of them as players. All can be key pieces to a championship team. They just aren’t the most important pieces to solve.
Tier 5: On Their Way Up
22. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
23. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder
24. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
T-25. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic
T-25. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
This last group of youngsters is fascinating for a variety of reasons, the main one being that I have no clue just how high these guys could climb during their NBA careers.
I could make a case for a few of them to have MVP-level upside like Green and Banchero just because they’re physically gifted and are more likely to dominate the ball from a scoring standpoint in ways others in this tier won’t in their careers.
Or at least, so I thought.
Wagner, in particular, shocked me with his upward offensive trajectory during his rookie season. I’ve said this in different places, but when I was asked about his apex before the draft, I uttered the name Gordon Hayward fully recognizing what that name means in the NBA space.
At his best, Hayward was a top-five small forward in the NBA—certainly not an easy feat for someone to reach.
While the two of them are in different tiers athletically, Wagner showed far more shooting improvements than I anticipated and was awesome from the corners as well as pulling up going to his right in the mid-range. Start him from the left side of the floor and get him going toward his strong hand, and he showed proficiency in scoring craftily around the basket, pulling up, or finding one of his teammates on the perimeter.
What he did on the ball as much as off the ball, along with his defensive versatility as a bigger forward, proved to me he has an incredibly bright future in the league with a ceiling I’m not quite sure how to best characterize just yet.
Giddey is a maestro with the ball in his hands. He is one of the best passers in the NBA already; it’s hard to grasp just how good he will become once he’s added to his frame so he can finish better around the basket. Throw in when he makes the necessary adjustments to his jumper, and he could have offensive engine potential down the road. I love what he brings to the table as he is now, but has enough work to do on both ends to justify having him narrowly breaking into this tier along with Wagner.
Green and Banchero’s intrigue tie closer to their on-ball scoring ability than anything else. Projecting as number one offensive options, they aren’t AS valuable YET as other names in front of them if they aren’t making shots on the floor (although Banchero’s passing chops are fun as hell). As both of them further grow into their games, I expect them to live up to their potential and jump multiple tiers and ranking spots by next offseason.
Holmgren is the biggest wild card in this group. If he becomes consistently what he was in that first Summer League game for the Thunder, a Kristaps Porzingis-like shooter who is capable of much more off the bounce offensively and protects the rim in even more dominating fashion, then I’m not quite sure if I could put any cap on his ceiling.
Chet’s potential to me is limitless. He’s a better ball handler than he’s given credit for, an efficient finisher around the basket, an improving mid-range scorer, a capable floor spacer already, and one of the most distinctive defenders at his size in the league. I had him first overall on my board for a reason, and while I still feel Banchero is a better FIT in Orlando, the Thunder made the best pick they could’ve made in drafting Holmgren. He’s, to me, the biggest upside play of anyone in my rankings not already in that top tier.
I could’ve mentioned A TON of honorable mentions in a section like this, but hopefully, my point has come across: THE LEAGUE IS IN GOOD HANDS!
There are so many excellent young players that I could’ve gone 60-plus names deep in an exercise like this. That’s a good problem to have!
Even the players who were discussed here all have ways to keep improving as NBA players. I can’t wait to continue to watch and study them in the years to come. Above all else, I’m a fan of the game and couldn’t be more ecstatic to further chronicle where the game is going and use those lessons learned to better my understanding as a scout and evaluator.
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