LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t make the playoffs, and Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets were swept in round one. Are we seeing a changing of the guard in the NBA?
It’s a little too soon to bury these elite champions, but the league’s young superstars have arrived. They’re garnering individual accolades and are having team success as well.
Who are the 10 best NBA players 27 and under?
This list was extremely difficult to narrow down. There are 21 players age 27 and under that are in the 90th percentile or better in estimated plus minus (EPM). That’s the best all-in-one metric that determines a player’s value to his team per 100 possessions adjusted for quality of opponents and whom he shares the floor with.
Advanced stats are not the be all and end all. You don’t need EPM to tell you that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic are the two best under 27 players in the league. If you watch the games, your eyes tell you that.
But how do you determine players like Jarrett Allen and Bam Adebayo’s worthiness? They aren’t bucket-getters like Ja Morant or Brandon Ingram, but the metrics say the big men provide more positive value to their teams than the dudes who make highlights.
Anyway, here’s the list. Get angry!
#10 Donovan Mitchell
The Utah Jazz guard averaged 27.5 points per game this season and was a +4.1 in EPM. His shot-making ability is elite. He is a volume shooter, and can get tunnel vision at times. But with the right pieces around him, and more of a commitment to defense from him, he could move up this list.
#9 Jarrett Allen
The Cleveland Cavaliers big man finished the season +4.8 in EPM. That was ahead of Devin Booker and Luka Doncic. Allen is not a bucket-getter, so he doesn’t make “SportsCenter” highlights. But his impact on his team on both ends of the floor is extremely impactful. We saw that this season when after he was injured the Cavs slid out of the top four in the East and into the play-in.
#8 Trae Young
The Atlanta Hawks maestro led the league in total points and assists this season. He finished the season +4.9 in EPM. Young is a supremely gifted offensive player. He was second in the league in offensive EPM at +6.5. He can score from anywhere and can create and is an elite passer.
Maybe the most difficult player to determine what to do with. Many would argue that Ja teammate Anthony Edwards is the better player. But they’d be wrong. KAT is a supremely gifted player. He finished the season +4.6 in EPM. He averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds a game on 59 and 65 eFG% and TS% splits. When he makes his mind up, nobody can guard him.
#6 Ja Morant
The Memphis Grizzlies lead guard won this season’s Most Improved Player award. He averaged 27.4 points per game and 6.7 assists per game. He was a +3.5 in EPM. Morant led all NBA players in points in the paint per game (16.6).
#5 Devin Booker
The Phoenix Suns guard averaged 26.8 points per game on eFG% and TS% splits of 53 and 57.6. He was +4.5 in EPM this season. If he’s not the Suns’ most important player (Chris Paul) he is certainly their best player. The team misses his size and shot-making ability right now as they are in a dogfight with the New Orleans Pelicans.
#4 Luka Doncic
The Dallas Mavericks wunderkind averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists per game, on 53/57 eFG% and TS% this season. He finished with +4.5 EPM this season. Doncic is essentially unguardable and has bought into head coach Jason Kidd’s defensive strategy. At 6 feet 7 with the ability to be the best player in any playoff series, he will have the Mavericks in contention for a long time.
#3 Jayson Tatum
Fresh off vanquishing Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets in a four-game sweep, Tatum has firmly ascended to superstar status. He averaged 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game this season. He was +5.8 in EPM this season. He has committed to the defensive end of the floor, and was the best player in a playoff series featuring Durant and Kyrie Irving.
"Jayson Tatum has been utterly brilliant. He's hit/in the process of hitting every superstar checkmark. … Booker was ahead of Tatum for Club Superstar 96 hours ago. I need a tiny bit more. Finish the job tonight. He's banging the door down to Club Superstar." — @getnickwright pic.twitter.com/WmOdjU98dT
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) April 25, 2022
#2 Nikola Jokic
The Denver Nuggets’ soon-to-be two-time league MVP, Jokic is an offense unto himself. He led the NBA in all relevant advanced metrics this season. He finished the season +9.3 in EPM. He averaged 27 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists per game on 62 and 67 eFG% and TS% splits. He carried the Nuggets to the sixth seed this year, with Monte Morris and Aaron Gordon as his best teammates.
#1 Giannis Antetokounmpo
Already a two-time league MVP, defensive player of the year, and Finals MVP, Antetokounmpo might be the best player in the league. He averaged 30 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists per game on 58 and 63 eFG% and TS% splits. He finished the season +7.3 in EPM. He has been the best player in multiple playoff series and has gotten better every year he’s been in the league.