Now that the NBA regular season has finally begun, it’s time to continue ranking each and every team’s young prospects.
Just to reiterate, these rankings might seem surprising on the surface with some rather unorthodox choices at various slots, but this list’s criteria are weighted heavily toward teams with a high volume of prospects that have projectable skill sets who also contributed big numbers in college.
Beyond that, teams with a proven up-and-coming young player will also be given higher priority.
Once again, only players in their third year or younger will be featured on this list. Here’s Part 1 in case you missed it:
20. Los Angeles Lakers
Rookies: Talen Horton-Tucker, Zach Norvell
Sophomores: Kostas Antetokounmpo
Third-Year: Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso
The Lakers did not add many prospects to the team this offseason, only obtaining Talen Horton-Tucker out of Iowa State in the second round of the draft, Zach Norvell as an undrafted free agent and Kostas Antetokounmpo on a Two-Way contract (perhaps as a fig leaf to his brother Giannis when his free agency rolls around?).
THT is one of the youngest players in his draft class (turns 19 in November) and features one of the most interesting physical profiles at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds and a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He is sadly out to start the season, and with the Lakers in full “championship or bust” mode, it seems unlikely that either he or knockdown collegiate shooter Norvell will play much for L.A. next season either.
Though the rookies provide some interesting future depth as prospects, the Lakers rank here almost solely due to the presence of Kyle Kuzma. Sure, he might offer some warts defensively, but according to BBall Index, Kuzma (surprisingly) grades out in the 65th percentile of perimeter defense with a B- and a lofty 81st percentile for interior defense with an A-.
After a tremendous rookie campaign in which he was named to the All-Rookie First Team, Kuzma came back during the 2018-19 season to lead the Lakers in minutes and was second only to LeBron James with a +3.7 offensive points per possession (per Cleaning the Glass) when he was on the court.
Kuz is, admittedly, slighter older (24) than many prospects, but combine his efforts with those of Alex Caruso, who also ranked highly in BBall Index’s grades during ‘18-19 (despite a dearth of playing time) as well as the high-upside rooks, and you have the makings of a solid young core on a win-now team.
19. Miami Heat
Rookies: Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, KZ Okpala, Chris Silva
Sophomores: Daryl Macon, Duncan Robinson
Third-Year: Bam Adebayo
Nearly all of the young prospects on the Heat are rookies, with one notable exception: third-year swiss-army-knife big man Bam Adebayo.
He played in all 82 games last season and cracked the top 20 in true shooting percentage at 62.3 per Basketball-Reference. His 90th percentile, A- grade in finishing via BBall Index underlines his abilities as an at-rim play finisher. Where the former #14 overall pick really shines is on defense, where he can use his exemplary athleticism and length to disrupt shots at the rim (88th percentile, A- in interior defense) and on the perimeter (74th percentile, B+ in perimeter defense).
His 104.1 defensive rating last season ranked 11th in the NBA.
The Heat gave up 2.6 fewer points per 100 possessions when Adebayo played in ’18-19 per Cleaning the Glass, and his generally elite rebounding on both ends (85th percentile, A- in overall rebounding per BBall Index) helps his team regain or retain control of the ball with ease.
Elsewhere among the Heat’s prospects is fellow lottery pick Tyler Herro, who absolutely clobbered teams during the preseason and looks to be the definition of a “microwave scorer” off the bench in 2019-20 for Miami.
Second-round pick KZ Okpala projects to be a versatile three-and-D wing and undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn dropped a 40-piece on the Rockets in the preseason while winning a starting guard job so far.
All of these young prospects also have the benefit of being in an organization that tends to develop its young talent diligently and effectively—simply look at how Derrick Jones Jr., Justise Winslow and others have figured it our in recent years.
18. Utah Jazz
Rookies: Justin Wright-Foreman, Miye Oni, Jarrell Brantley, Nigel Williams-Goss
Third-Year: Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Tony Bradley
It seems that the lower half of this tier features teams with one notable prospect who has proven himself, combined with a few high-upside rookies or sophomores. The Jazz fit neatly into that group as well.
Donovan Mitchell erupted onto the scene during his rookie year (i.e. the same span that Royce O’Neale debuted) but eventually lost the Rookie of the Year award to Ben Simmons. According to Basketball-Reference, Mitchell is the only player in NBA history to average 20 points per game while attempting at least 6.5 three-pointers per game in his first two seasons.
Mitchell was a one-man offense for Utah during his rookie year, producing a +8.5 efficiency differential, which was in the 89th percentile among guards per Cleaning the Glass. His +4.9 offensive points per 100 possessions was also in the 87th percentile. Though those numbers dipped last season as teams were more prepared for some of Mitchell’s moves, he is still a clearly gifted offensive player with solid chops on the defensive end.
Though a much older prospect (at 26), Royce O’Neale has proven to be a useful rotation player as well, and his 1.24 points per shot attempt last season per Cleaning the Glass was in the 96th percentile among wings—showing that O’Neale got spoon-fed a variety of good looks from beyond the arc and at the rim off movement.
The Jazz also boast three exceedingly interesting rookies: Miye Oni out of Yale, Jarrell Brantley of College of Charleston and Justin Wright-Foreman from Hofstra.
Wright-Foreman was a scoring juggernaut over his final two years, being named the Colonial Athletic Association Conference’s Player of the Year in each campaign. His senior-year numbers particularly deserve a special mention:
According to Bart Torvik, only eight players in the country attempted at least 150 shots at the rim, on non-rim two-pointers and beyond the arc. Wright-Foreman was one of the eight, and he led each of those categories in shooting percentage (68.8 percent at the rim, 48.7 from two and 42.5 from deep).
Despite diminutive size (6-foot-2, 190 pounds), that percentage at the rim was higher than those of lottery picks Jarrett Culver (66.5) and R.J. Barrett (64.1). With an impressive handle and innate scoring ability, expect Wright-Foreman to light up the G-League on his Two-Way deal with the Jazz.
17. Oklahoma City Thunder
Rookies: Darius Bazley, Luguentz Dort, Devon Hall
Sophomores: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Deonte Burton
Third-Year: Terrance Ferguson, Abdel Nader, Justin Patton
The OKC Thunder have a wide variety of young prospects at various stages of their career. General Manager Sam Presti’s penchant for obtaining long, rangy, uber-athletic prospects with an inability to shoot continues unabated, but he was also able to pull off two trades that landed him an immense haul of draft picks for the foreseeable future.
There are the aforementioned athletic non-shooters (sophomore Hamidou Diallo, rookie Luguentz Dort) as well as older prospects such as Deonte Burton and Abdel Nader.
Entering his third season, Terrance Ferguson has shown improvement across the board and was a key starter for OKC in 2018-19. Ferguson played 1,931 minutes for the Thunder last season, and he is still only 21 years old while starting his third season. With terrific athleticism and an improving three-point stroke (36.6 percent on a sky-high 67.3 percent attempt rate last year per Basketball-Reference), Ferguson has actually outplayed the “athletic/can’t shoot” archetype of the Thunder from years past.
Of course, after the Paul George trade this offseason, the Thunder picked up a player that is far and away its best prospect: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
SGA had a terrific rookie campaign and was rewarded with an All-Rookie Second Team berth for playing in all 82 games with the Clippers and starting in 73 games during his rookie year. With good length (6’6″ standing, 6’11” wingspan), Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a lockdown defender. His block rate (1.0 percent) and steal rate (1.9 percent) per Cleaning the Glass place him in the 94th and 76th percentile among point guards in those categories.
Though one-game sample sizes are not anything to hang your hat on when evaluating prospects, the early returns for SGA in his Thunder debut were inspiring: He logged career-highs in points (26) and field goal attempts (23), tying his career-highs with 10 made field goals, 3 made triples and 7 attempted three-pointers.
As with many talented, athletic guard prospects, the former Kentucky Wildcat must improve his efficiency and volume shooting the three-ball, though his mechanics and a 36.7 percent clip last season offer hope on that front.
16. Cleveland Cavaliers
Rookies: Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, Kevin Porter Jr.
Sophomores: Collin Sexton
Third-Year: Alfonzo McKinnie, Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman
The Cavs are an interesting case, as they boast a plethora of young prospects, ranging from a trio of outstanding rookies (Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr.), notable third-year players (Alfonzo McKinnie, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic) as well as a lone sophomore that produced big numbers last season in his rookie year: Collin Sexton.
Sexton was drafted at #8 overall with the feted Brooklyn Nets’ pick that had been included in the Kyrie Irving/Isaiah Thomas trade a few seasons prior. From a pure counting stats outlook, Sexton had a terrific rookie campaign in 2018-19 and was a deserving All-Rookie Second Team member.
However, digging into his advanced stats paints a far more alarming picture. Sexton ranked 509th out of 514 players in ESPN’s real plus/minus metric, and he was 513th (only behind Trae Young) in defensive real plus/minus. One area in which Sexton really struggled was passing, where his 0.6 assist to usage ratio was in the cellar-dwelling 1st percentile among point guards.
With Sexton’s playmaking a question mark, the Cavs went out and drafted three players with the ability to make plays off the dribble for themselves and others (mostly for themselves).
Darius Garland was the biggest name, and the Cavs picked him at No. 5 overall in the draft. Garland was something of a mystery man after only playing 5 games with Vanderbilt during his freshman season, but the high-level shot-making and gorgeous three-point stroke were enough for the Cavs to pull the trigger on Garland in the top 5.
Next up was Dylan Windler out of Belmont. Though a somewhat limited athlete, he put up stunning numbers during his senior season with the Bruins, logging a 68.1 true shooting percentage (11th in the NCAA) on a 25.7 percent usage rate. According to Bart Torvik, only 14 players in the country attempted at least 150 shots at the rim and at least 200 three-pointers in 2018-19.
The 23-year-old led each category in field goal percentage by shooting a gargantuan 74.3 percent at the rim and a lofty 43 percent from beyond the arc. Though Windler is out with a stress reaction to start the season, he was still an impressive pick for the Cavs’ front office.
Last but not least, Cleveland drafted Kevin Porter Jr. out of USC with the final pick of the first round, which represented a precipitous drop for the 19-year-old. Though exceedingly raw, Porter Jr. was one of the most athletic players in his draft class and his three-point stroke shows promise at the next level. In a limited sample (47 attempts) with the Trojans, Porter shot 38.3 percent from NBA range, according to The Stepien.
Though Cleveland has not had the lottery luck it would’ve hoped for, its young core has upside and depth—meaning they just missed out on a top-half finish in this ranking.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
Rookies: Jarrett Culver, Jaylen Nowell, Naz Reid, Jordan McLaughlin, Kelan Martin
Sophomores: Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop
Third-Year: Jordan Bell
Beyond Jeff Teague, who is entering his 11th NBA season, the Wolves boast an extremely youthful group of players headlined by the brilliant Karl-Anthony Towns. Of course, for the purposes of this list, KAT does not qualify as he is entering his fifth season.
After nabbing numerous notable young prospects this offseason, the Wolves were an easy choice for a top-15 showing, as they have a combination of high-upside rookies, productive sophomores and one notable third-year big man (Jordan Bell).
This season, Bell will, at long last, be out from under the thumb of Steve Kerr, who never seemed to enjoy some of Bell’s more stylish flourishes (such as his alley-oop off the backboard to himself in his 4th career game). Now, alongside Towns and young coach Ryan Saunders, expect Bell to employ his defensive talents to their fullest. His 3.4 percent block rate ranked in the 91st percentile among bigs during his rookie year, and his 2.0 steal rate was in the 93rd percentile, according to Cleaning the Glass.
First, he has to beat out veteran Noah Vonleh for the backup center spot, as the latter has been playing exceedingly well during the Wolves’ early hot start.
Minnesota’s rookies also deserve a mention. The team bet big on Jarrett Culver by moving up to No. 6 in order to take him ahead of point guard Coby White, so it’s clear they believe Culver’s immense offensive burden during his sophomore season at Texas Tech was no fluke.
According to Bart Torvik, Culver was one of 12 players that attempted at least 200 shots at the rim and 150 triples, yet he shot the second-best mark (66.5 percent) at the rim among those players. Most of that work was done off the dribble as well, showcasing Culver’s comfort level with the ball in his hands.
Culver did not get tunnel vision as he drove to the rim, either. With his astronomical 32.2 percent usage rate, he also logged a 26.1 percent assist rate and 142 total assists during his sophomore season (2nd in the Big 12 Conference), per Sports Reference. Culver is the real deal, and despite not playing perhaps the most important position for Minnesota, the Wolves instead bet on upside, size and Culver’s “positionless” profile rather than locking themselves into a less switchable and malleable player.
Beyond Culver, the Wolves also count knockdown shooter Jaylen Nowell among their rookies (43.7 percent on NBA-range triples per The Stepien), as well as upside-laden-yet-raw stretch big Naz Reid.
Sophomores Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop round out what is a firmly stacked young core that’s surely worthy of its top-15 status.
14. New York Knicks
Rookies: R.J. Barrett, Ignas Brazdeikis
Sophomores: Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier
Third-Year: Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Damyean Dotson, Kadeem Allen, Ivan Rabb
After tanking extremely hard last season, the New York Knicks were rewarded with the No. 3 overall selection in the draft, which they used on R.J. Barrett.
It’s easy to forget that Barrett was actually a more highly ranked recruit than Duke teammate Zion Williamson out of high school, and he will likely get every opportunity to win Rookie of the Year, especially with Williamson out for the Pelicans to start the season.
Barrett managed to stay healthy all season with the Blue Devils, meaning he was the team’s offensive fulcrum without Zion. He produced, leading the ACC in points per game (22.6) and total points (860), which is an impressive feat in college basketball’s most competitive conference. Much of Barrett’s production was tied to volume, as he was the only player in the country last season that attempted over 200 shots each at the rim, on non-rim two-pointers and from three-point range per Bart Torvik.
While the 19-year-old rookie will surely have the ball in his hands less with a bevy of proven NBA players on his team, he will be given every opportunity as the Knicks’ new “face of the franchise.”
Beyond Barrett, the Knicks boast sophomore bucket-getter Allonzo Trier, who logged 10.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG and 1.9 APG in his rookie campaign, along with raw-but-talented sophomore Kevin Knox among their young core.
However, the true headlining prospect on the Knicks’ roster is 21-year-old sophomore Mitchell Robinson, who inexplicably fell to the second round in the 2018 Draft after not playing in college. That lack of collegiate experience did not translate to a lack of NBA impact, however.
Robinson had an astounding rookie campaign, and he was fittingly named to the All-Rookie Second Team at the end of last season. He became only the second player in NBA history to produce a block rate higher than 6 percent, a true shooting percentage higher than 65 percent and more than 6 win shares. (Two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert is the other player.)
Robinson’s length, speed and strength made him a dangerous offensive player around the rim, and his defensive acumen led to him being ranked as the 11th-best rim protector in the league by Crafted NBA. With a 10.1 percent block rate, he became only the third player in NBA history to play over 1,000 minutes and log such a lofty number. (Manute Bol did it five times and Alonzo Mourning did it once.)
He is not just a one-trick pony, however. According to Cleaning the Glass, Robinson’s 1.39 points per shot attempt was in the 99th percentile among big men—showing that his opportunistic putbacks and wide-open dunks help to elevate the Knicks’ offense as well.
13. Orlando Magic
Rookies: Chuma Okeke (unsigned)
Sophomores: Mohamed Bamba, Melvin Frazier, Amile Jefferson
Third-Year: Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, Wes Iwundu, Khem Birch
After making the playoffs for the first since Dwight Howard’s heyday in Orlando, the Magic mostly “ran it back” with the same core that saw them take one game off the eventual-champion Toronto Raptors before getting taken down in five games.
While the team mostly leans on veteran players, the Magic do boast an interesting collection of young players headlined by third-year big Jonathan Isaac.
At this point, Isaac is entrenched in the starting lineup mostly due to his defensive brilliance. Last season, he finished top-20 in all three block statistics: total blocks (98), block rate (4.1 percent) and blocks per game (1.3). After his first playoff experience, expect Isaac to come back hungry—though his three-point shot (and offensive game in general) will continue to be the way in which he can elevate himself.
Orlando also added Markelle Fultz via trade last season, and this will be the year in which he is able to showcase his fully healthy skill set for the first time.
Just like Isaac, the questions surrounding Fultz are all on the offensive end, as his defense has proven itself already. Fultz’s -3.7 defensive points per possession with Philly last year was in the 83rd percentile among guards per Cleaning the Glass. However, his offensive points per possession of -7.2 was only in the 12th percentile for guards—showing he takes more off the table for his team than for the opposing team.
If the former #1 overall pick finds his offensive footing, he could easily propel the Magic up these rankings rather quickly, however.
Though the Magic also house first-round picks Mo Bamba and Chuma Okeke on the roster, Bamba had a lost rookie season in which he was injured for much of it and Okeke will literally not sign a deal until next offseason due to still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the NCAA Tournament. Second-year wing Melvin Frazier only played 44 minutes for the Magic last season, but he remains an elite athlete with impressive defensive instincts.
At 27 years old, Khem Birch is ancient by an NBA prospect’s standards, but he is still only entering his third season, so he qualifies for this list. Orlando was quite good with him on the court last season on both ends, with a +3.5 efficiency differential leading to +9 expected wins per Cleaning the Glass. Though Birch only played 643 minutes last season, he tended to be exceptional in his role as a roller, play finisher, rim protector and rebounder per BBall Index, as he graded out with an A- grade or better in off-ball movement, finishing, roll gravity (97th percentile), post play (96th percentile), interior defense and offensive rebounding.
The lack of overall offensive upside hampers the Magic, but this team has a fascinating group of long-limbed defensive monsters obtained via wingspan-obsessed General Manager John Hammond.
12. San Antonio Spurs
Rookies: Keldon Johnson, Luka Samanic, Quinndary Weatherspoon
Sophomores: Lonnie Walker IV, Chimezie Metu, Drew Eubanks
Third-Year: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White
Though the Spurs do not have a top-tier prospect as inspiring as some teams that rank lower on this list, they do count youngest-ever All-Defensive Team member Dejounte Murray among their ranks (who still qualifies for this list after missing all of last season) as well as numerous quality rookie, sophomore and third-year guards and wings.
Beyond Murray, who will be looking to return to the form that saw him average 5.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.4 blocks during his second season, the Spurs have Derrick White, who started 55 games last season fand proved to be yet another lockdown guard defender.
His -4.3 points allowed per 100 possessions ranked in the 86th percentile among guards per Cleaning the Glass, and he produced 1.0 steals and 0.7 blocks per game during his sophomore season.
Also present is No. 29 overall pick Keldon Johnson out of Kentucky, who projects to slot in perfectly to the three-and-D archetype. Johnson was second on the Wildcats last season with 118 three-point attempts (per Bart Torvik) and his 38.1 percent clip was second-best. Johnson was also 6th in SEC defensive win shares (2.0).
Lonnie Walker only played 77 minutes last season, but his inherent athleticism and scoring talents were on full display for the Spurs during the 2019 Summer League, where he was named to the All-Summer League Second Team. Walker averaged a whopping 30.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals during only 27.3 minutes a contest while shooting 57.5 percent from the field.
With a stacked backcourt, Walker might not play as much as expected, but his presence here further bolsters the Spurs’ volume of young prospects.
Beyond Johnson, the Spurs also drafted Luka Samanic in the first round and Quinndary Weatherspoon at No. 49 overall in the second round. Weatherspoon had a barn-burning senior season at Mississippi State, helping to lead the team to a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament. He was one of only 22 players (per Bart Torvik) to attempt at least 175 shots at the rim, 90 non-rim two-pointers and 100 threes. He finished with the second-highest percentage on those triples (39.6 percent) as well as on non-rim twos (47.4 percent).
Again, both Walker and Weatherspoon likely won’t play that much for Gregg Popovich this season, but simply having them on the team means the Spurs are firmly entrenched in the top 15.
11. Washington Wizards
Rookies: Rui Hachimura, Admiral Schofield, Garrison Matthew
Sophomores: Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Troy Brown
Third-Year: Thomas Bryant
Another team that might be in a surprising position on this list, the Wizards added multiple notable prospects over the course of the offseason. They picked up lottery selection Rui Hachimura out of Gonzaga along with second-round pick Admiral Schofield (who easily had the best name in his draft class). Then, Washington aided the Los Angeles Lakers in its quest for Anthony Davis by taking on the salaries of second-year players Moritz Wagner and Isaac Bonga.
Add those players to a young core that already featured second-year wing Troy Brown and third-year big man Thomas Bryant and the Wiz have a low-key-excellent stable of young talent to build around going forward.
During limited minutes in his rookie season (642 total), Troy Brown out of Oregon was actually a positive contributor with a +2.3 efficiency differential per Cleaning the Glass.
Though Brown only played 14 minutes a contest in 52 games for the Wiz, he proved himself to be a solid table-setter with 80 assists to only 30 turnovers with an A- grade in playmaking per BBall Index. Brown also employed his excellent athleticism to sky for rebounds, especially on the defensive end where he graded out in the 93rd percentile per BBall Index with an A grade in both defensive and overall rebounding.
Thomas Bryant deserves credit as the most productive NBA player so far among the Wizards’ young core, and the 2019-20 campaign will go a long way in seeing if his play last season was sustainable or a fluke.
Last year, Bryant finished in the 95th percentile among bigs with 1.36 points per shot attempt per Cleaning the Glass, and he led the NBA in two-point field goal percentage at 68.5. He was top-five in overall field goal percentage (61.6), true shooting percentage (67.4), effective field goal percentage (64.8) and offensive rating (129.8).
The two notable rookies will also likely be a focal point going forward. The Wiz clearly valued Hachimura, as they took him at No. 9 overall, ahead of where many draft pundits believed he would go. There is no question about Hachimura’s production, according to Bart Torvik, as he was one of only four collegiate players in 2018-19 to attempt at least 250 shots at the rim and 150 non-rim two-pointers and he led each of those categories in field goal percentage with a whopping 72 percent clip at the rim at 43.9 on non-rim twos. Hachimura also shot well from deep (41.7 percent) on limited volume (only 36 attempts).
The questions about Hachimura’s feel and defensive instincts will likely continue, but the Wizards clearly believe in him, and the team also drafted a higher-floor, lower-ceiling player in second round that should be able to contribute immediately.
That’s Admiral Schofield, who was a knockdown three-point shooter in college, drilling 40.3 percent of his NBA-range triples across four years at Tennessee, according to The Stepien. With a shredded physique and solid shooting touch, Schofield is another element of Washington’s young core that pushes them just outside the top 10.
Read Part 3 here: