NBA players seem to get younger and younger every season, or maybe I’m just getting older. The days of players spending all four years in college before making the jump to the NBA are long gone, as many top players from around the world choose to enter the NBA draft when they believe their draft stock is the highest, even if it is only after one college season. This trend of “one and done” players has shaped the NBA, as many of the league’s top players are in their early twenties or even teens. Since most people would be graduating college around the age of 22, this list is comprised of the best NBA players who entered 2021 at age 22 or younger.
13. Mitchell Robinson – New York Knicks – Age 22
The Knicks center is enjoying a very solid third season in the NBA. An elite shot-blocker, Robinson averages over 2 blocks per game for his career and this season increased his rebounds to over 8 per game. He is a defensive anchor and one of the key players in the Knick’s future plans. After leading the league in shooting percentage in 2019-2020, Robinson looks to increase his shooting volume and become a bigger part of the Knicks offense this season.
12. LaMelo Ball – Charlotte Hornets – Age 19
The only teenager to crack this list, LaMelo has brought a lot of excitement to the Hornets fanbase. This year’s third overall pick, the rookie has been very impressive thus far showcasing incredible playmaking abilities in combination with solid shooting and rebounding stats. Ball recently became the youngest player ever to record a triple-double in an NBA game. If his defense can improve, Ball will quickly become one of the best guards in the NBA.
11. Jaren Jackson Jr. – Memphis Grizzlies – Age 21
The former Michigan State Spartan has become a great asset to a young Grizzlies team. Jackson Jr. is a very well-rounded offensive player, boasting a career average of 15.5 points per game with the ability to attack the basket as well as score from the perimeter. If Jackson Jr. can increase his defensive presence and collect more rebounds, the accolades should come pouring in for the Grizzlies big man.
10. Michael Porter Jr. – Denver Nuggets – Age 22
After missing his rookie season due to a back injury, many wondered if Porter Jr. would be able to reach the level of play from his lone year at Missouri. He has answered the doubters in a big way, playing a key role in Denver’s run to the Western Conference Finals in the 2019-2020 season. Already a phenomenal scorer, Porter Jr. must unlock his defensive and playmaking potential in order to become one of the league’s elites.
9. Deandre Ayton – Phoenix Suns – Age 22
The former first overall pick, Ayton has been a dominant inside presence since his first NBA game. He averages a career double-double, with a very impressive 11.5 rebounds per game in the 2019-2020 season. New teammate Chris Paul will look to make the Sun’s offensive more efficient, which could lead to a lot of easy looks around the rim for Ayton.
8. Tyler Herro – Miami Heat – Age 20
A sharpshooting second-year player out of Kentucky, Herro is already a main piece in the Miami offense. It is crazy to think the player who took over ball-handling responsibility in last year’s NBA Finals after Goran Dragic’s injury is still not yet old enough to purchase alcohol. The future is incredibly bright for Herro, as he is averaging 17.7 points per game thus far in the 2020-2021 season.
7. Collin Sexton – Cleveland Cavaliers – Age 22
Things are starting to look up for Cleveland, as they have finally found a promising backcourt player in Sexton. Already a tenacious defender and effective scorer, becoming an elite playmaker is the next step in his progression. Averaging 20.8 points per game last season and around 25 points per game this season, Sexton has unlimited potential. If he can maintain his level of play and the Cavs surround him with quality players, he may be a consensus top 5 guard in the league before we know it.
6. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Oklahoma City Thunder – Age 22
After playing a big role last season in the Thunder’s playoff run, Gilgeious-Alexander has been given the keys to the team’s offense. Following the departure of Chris Paul and Dennis Shroeder, SGA is enjoying a breakout 2020-2021 season. Averaging over 20 points and 6 assists per game, he is an all-star lock and one of the best young guards in the league. His ability to get his own shot while also being able to create shots for others is what separates him from his peers.
5. Zion Williamson – New Orleans Pelicans – Age 20
With a small sample size from his rookie season and only a few games into this season, I think it is appropriate to rank Williamson 5th on this list. If he is able to stay healthy for a full season and play at his full potential, we may be talking about him as one of the top 5 players in the NBA very soon. The former first overall pick averages over 20 points per game with a very high shooting percentage, making him one of the toughest covers in the league. His defense is a big part of his game as well, using his size and athleticism to create problems for opponents. Williamson has the highest ceiling on this list, and NBA fans worldwide cannot wait to see his career unfold.
4. Ja Morant – Memphis Grizzlies – Age 21
The reigning Rookie of the Year started the 2020-2021 NBA season very strong, scoring around 26 points per game through the Grizzlies’ first three contests. An injury has sidelined him since then, but the future is incredibly bright for Morant. After a dazzling rookie season, Morant looks to step into more of a leadership role in Memphis in hopes of leading them into the playoffs. While he was drafted behind Zion Williamson and many believe he does not possess the same hall of fame potential as the big man, Morant definitely has the more impressive career thus far.
3. Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks – Age 22
After a dominant 2019-2020 season in which he averaged 29.6 points per game and 9.3 assists, it is not crazy to believe Young is already a top 5 point guard in the NBA. After earning his first all-star selection in his second season, Young looks to add to his resume in 2021. Possibly the best shooter and one of the best passers in the league, defense is the only facet of the game that Young needs to improve upon. He looks to lead a revamped Hawks team into the playoffs this season.
2. Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics – Age 22
Tatum posted respectable stats in his first two years in Boston, but starting last season and continuing through this season Tatum has become one of the best all-around players in the league. Always a versatile defender and solid playmaker, Tatum has recently shown the ability to carry the Celtics offense for large portions of the game. He averaged 23.4 points per game last season and this season has bumped it up to almost 27 points per game. Tatum has emerged as a leader on the Celtics and hopes to lead them deep into the playoffs this season.
1. Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks – Age 21
The number one spot should not be a surprise. After winning Rookie of the Year, Luka came into the 2019-2020 season even better and even hungrier. Averaging a near triple-double (28.8 points, 8.8 assists, 9.4 rebounds), Luka likely would’ve won the MVP award if it weren’t for a spectacular season from Giannis Antetokounmpo. Late game heroics were the norm for the Slovenian-born superstar as he nearly willed the Mavericks over the heavily favored Clippers in last season’s playoffs. Doncic has continued his near triple-double stat line in the 2020-2021 season so far, cementing himself as a top 5 player in the NBA. Improvements on defense and the need for a healthy and skilled roster around him are the only things standing between Luka and an NBA championship.