The 25-under-25 is a celebration of the best young players in the NBA, but 25 is never enough. Here are the best players who just missed the cut.
For the fourth year in a row, The Step Back is honoring the best young players in the NBA with our 25-under-25. The list is exactly that long because it sets up the clever name but it’s an arbitrary cut-off that leaves off many young players on the rise. And, if previous years have taught us anything, we’re probably wrong about a few players and will have left someone off who was more than deserving. That’s why we’re going to go just a touch deeper.
Who just missed the cut on this year’s 25-under-25 list?
26. Lauri Markkanen
Why he missed: Markkanen ranked No. 18 on the 2018 list and No. 15 on last year’s list. He dropped out of the top 25 this year after a difficult campaign that saw him miss 15 games because of injury and struggle to produce efficiently and command offensive primacy in Jim Boylen’s offense. His 3-point percentage dropped from around 36 percent to 34.4 and his minutes and field goal attempts per game dropped as well. His clearly defined offensive skills just looked out of sorts and under-utilized in Chicago’s attack.
Why we might look stupid: If we acknowledge that Markkanen’s struggles were severely influenced by the context around him, there’s a chance he’s a very different player this year because pretty much everything about said context has changed. The Bulls have a new front office and coaching staff, with a focus on running a very different offensive system. It looks like Coby White will be the starting point guard to being the year and it’s more than likely that rookie forward Patrick Williams is in the starting lineup soon as well. More offensive talent and more synergy in a modern system could pay huge dividends for Markkanen this season.
27. Mitchell Robinson
Why he missed: After a surprisingly effective rookie season, Robinson was ranked No. 20 on last year’s list. He was nearly as effective last season and so his slide may have as much to do with our collective pessimism about the Knicks and some other young players who made slightly bigger leaps.
Why we might look stupid: Robinson looked a lot like the player he was a rookie but it’s easy to forget how good that was. Nearly 60 percent of his shot attempts were dunks and his average shot distance was just 1.3 feet from the basket. But he still led the league in field goal percentage and his vertical gravity would be a powerful force with more offensive structure and talent around him. Only four players have blocked more shots than Robinson over the past two seasons and he’s played at least 1,000 minutes less than any of the players ahead of him. He’s also blocked 40 3-pointers, 15 more than any other player. He is a very good player who might look much more valuable as the Knicks (hypothetically) improve.
28. Dejounte Murray
Why he missed: Murray was just outside out top-25 last year and a season without any dramatic improvement kept him in roughly the same space. He’s still a dynamic defender and open court creator but questions persist about his outside shooting and upside at that end of the floor.
Why we might look stupid: The improvement was quiet, but Murry did get better as a shooter last season. He only attempted 2.4 3s per 36 minutes but made 36.9 percent overall and hit better than 40 percent of his pull-up jumpers inside the arc, the first step to really unlocking his halfcourt creation abilities and making himself a viable three-level scorer.
29. Wendell Carter Jr.
Why he missed: Even having Carter Jr. this high may seem like a stretch to people, especially since the outside shooting that was such an important part of his pre-draft profile hasn’t really materialized. Right now, he’s a very good defensive player who is still looking for an offensive role on a team that really struggled the past two years to put its young players in a position to succeed.
Why we might look stupid: Like Markkanen, Carter Jr. is likely to benefit enormously from the coaching and personnel changes in Chicago. He’s a very good defender — ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus estimated his defensive impact to be in the top-10 among centers last season and in the top-30 among all players, regardless of position. And while his 3-point shot is still a work in progress he does have some clearly defined offensive strengths — strong finishing and elite offensive rebounding — that could be leveraged more effectively.
30. Jarrett Allen
Why he missed: Allen has never actually placed in the top-25, always just hovering in this range right outside the meat of the list. He’s still there because he’s largely the same player he was two years ago. His field goal percentage and rebound numbers per minute have steadily increased but he hasn’t added much depth to his game — he’s a broad-crashing, rim-runner and paint deterrent. And while he’s good in that role, Robinson already looks a bit more effective as a shot-blocker and finisher and the implied spacing of Myles Turner’s jumper make them a bit more valuable.
Why we might look stupid: He could be the starting center for the NBA champion Brooklyn Nets…