By Cody Williams @TheSizzle20 on May 8, 2014
While the 2013 NBA Draft class was largely a disappointment as a whole during their rookie season, we’ve seen in recent years how big of an impact young players can have in this league. Sure, veterans will always be able to contribute at a high level, but it’s clear that the future is now with some of the young players on NBA rosters today. In that light, let’s project four years ahead to who the 20 best players in the league will be in 2018.
The two biggest exclusions that’ll be pointed out on this list are Andrew Wiggins and Derrick Rose. In the case of Wiggins, he has a world of potential and talent, but I think his development may take longer than some think. As for Rose, he’s a top-five player on this list when healthy. However, knee injuries in back-to-back seasons just left met hesitant to bank on his future.
Parker has yet to play a minute in the NBA, but he seems destined to be a star in this league. His offensive talents are already ready for the pro game, as are his size and athleticism. If he can develop on the defensive end and build on his already solid skill-set, he’ll be among the league’s best in four years.
This might seem like a stretch to some, but the just-turned-24-year-old Kemba Walker seems like he’s on his way to establishing himself as one of the best in the league. As the Bobcats continue to improve the team around him, Walker is only going to continue learning, improving, and making a big impact in this league.
While Leonard may not have made the jump this season at 22 years old like many expected him to, he’s got to be on the short list of next big things in this league. He’s improved every year that he’s been in the league, is already a shut-down defender, and has the physical tools to become a lethal offensive player.
As the Raptors made their surprise run this season, DeMar DeRozan was an integral part as he made his first All-Star team. At just 24 years old, if he can continue the development he showed this year and if Toronto can stay successful, he’ll earn his keep among the best in the NBA.
While it’s hard to say that the third best team is a star, not many teams are the Thunder and not many third best players are Serge Ibaka. On both ends of the floor, Ibaka really shined this season. As he continues to mature with the great team around him, he’s going to wind up being called an elite big man in the Association.
The only other rookie besides Parker (sorry, Wiggins) on this list, Embiid is somewhat of a wildcard. His back injury is majorly concerning going forward, but he has all the potential in the world. Banking on his health and continued development, Embiid is going to be a force after a few years in the league.
While some may say that John Wall should be much higher on this list, there are just so many great young point guards in the league right now that can bring more than Wall. Don’t get me wrong; Wall is probably already a star in the NBA and that’s not going to change. However, he still has some more development left to catch up to some others at his position.
Drummond is still incredibly young and still seemingly hasn’t been fully unleashed. When you have a big man with the skill and athleticism of Drummond that can get a double-double basically whenever he pleases, you have to assume that his development going forward will make him a monster in the future.
Because he’s been so prolific and entertaining already, some people forget how young Kyrie Irving is. Having just recently turned 22 years old and as the team around him gets better (whether that be the Cavs or a free-agent destination), Irving is destined to be a powerhouse for years to come.
If you need an example of why Damian Lillard is the future of the NBA, look no further than his series-clenching shot in game six of the Trail Blazers’ bout with the Rockets. Lillard is already a ridiculously talented offensive player with all the physical tools in the world. If he can develop defensively with all that he has going already, even 11 might be too low of a rank for him.
You could make the argument that James Harden is a top-10 player in the league already, but he definitely gets knocked for his defensive effort, or rather its nonexistence. He’s also going to have to step up in the postseason at some point to earn more respect, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Harden will be among the NBA’s elite for the next few years.
Though he was close with Mark Jackson, a new head coach might be just what Stephen Curry needs to make a leap to superstardom. Jackson’s offensive schemes weren’t centered around Curry nearly as often as they should’ve been and somewhat stifled his production. With a new coach, there’s a good chance that Curry will be able to showcase his gifts in an even greater manner.
With how good the Thunder already are, we overlook that they have a great opportunity to improve even further. Turning 25 years old early in this season, Westbrook is one of the most explosive and dynamic playmakers in the league already. As he hits his prime, we could see unbelievable things from the OKC point guard.
The future of Kevin Love in terms of where the setting for it will be is still uncertain at best. With his versatility as an offensive player and his nearly unmatched rebounding ability, Love will be one of the best over the next few seasons without question.
Some may have already christened Paul George an MVP candidate, there’s still development left to take place. He needs to become a better decision-maker offensively and it’d be ideal if he were to display more leadership going forward. Having said that, George is clearly one of the best in the NBA right now, which only means more big things ahead for the 24-year-old.
Griffin took great leaps forward this season in terms of his leadership and production. Because of the criticism place on him, the fact that he’s just 25 years old and not yet in his prime is often lost. As he becomes more the cornerstone of the Clippers in the future, Blake has the chance to cement himself as a perennial MVP candidate for the next four-to-six years.
DeMarcus Cousins serves somewhat as my bold prediction for this list. We all know that the talent is there, but what we haven’t seen from him yet is full-fledged maturity and leadership (some defensive issues also accompany that). However, with the Kings rebuilding towards a more positive goal, I believe that Cousins will get his act together and become the best center in the game.
LeBron is the only guy on this list who will be over 30 years old in 2018 (he’ll turn 33 years old in Dec. 2017). Though his athleticism may have faded by them, he’s such a physical phenomenon with a ridiculous basketball IQ that it’s hard to imagine him not staying among the top-three players in the NBA.
Anthony Davis turned 21 years old in March and still averaged a 20-10 in only his second NBA season. He’s a threat for a five-by-five game every time he’s on the floor and is only expanding and improving his game. As he grows and hopefully can shake off the minor injuries that have somewhat limited him thus far in his career, Davis could very well be the best two-way player in the league in 2018.
Durant just won his first MVP award and is in the midst of trying to lead his team to the Finals. He’s also only 25 years old, which history tells us isn’t even his prime. Even if he just maintains and doesn’t scarily improve, Durant will be the best the Association has to offer in four years, hands down.
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