Under-25 NBA Draft: Giannis, Joel Embiid among run of big men to go off board early
Four big men get taken early in this draft featuring only players aged 25 and younger
In the NBA, 25 years old is a kind of general cut-off point. Younger than that, you're seen as still developing. Older than that, you're more fully formed. For the last few years, Anthony Davis has been the clear-cut best under-25 player in the league, but Davis turned 25 on Sunday -- and celebrated with a 25-point, 11-rebound, 10-block triple double -- and can no longer hold that title.
So who assumes the under-25 throne?
With that in mind, our NBA analysts James Herbert and Brad Botkin decided to hold an under-25 draft -- putting together their respective teams factoring in both sheer talent and roster fits. Herbert had the first pick. Here's how it went:
No. 1 Pick (James Herbert): An MVP candidate with no injury concerns. The only other player I considered here was Joel Embiid. Love starting a team with Antetokounmpo because I'm comfortable playing him at pretty much any position. This gives me flexibility as I fill out my team.
No. 2 Pick (Brad Botkin): Do I really need to tell you why I took Embiid here? He's a monster on both ends. This high in the draft, you go best player available. Pretty simple.
No. 3 Pick (James Herbert): The best player on the board, and I'm not too worried about his defensive shortcomings because I plan to draft a bunch of interchangeable, long and athletic players. Towns is a dominant scorer and he's effective without the ball because of his shooting ability. This makes him an easy piece to build around, even if he's not the greatest rim protector yet.
No. 4 Pick (Brad Botkin): I thought about Simmons here, but I can't get past the lack of a jumper. It'll catch him at some point, in some way. Porzingis next to Embiid is impossible to guard, and they both play both ends.
No. 5 Pick (James Herbert): There's an argument that Nikola Jokic is the best player available here, but it's a close call and I don't want to play Jokic next to Towns. I love the idea of starting Simmons at point guard, and it's OK that there's a bit of overlap with Antetokounmpo. Simmons is already a physical, versatile defender and I want to force turnovers so he and Antetokounmpo can get easy buckets.
No. 6 Pick (Brad Botkin): Beal won't be on this list for long (he turns 25 in June), but while he is, this was a no-doubt pick for me. Beal has emerged as a true star this season. Great shooter. Evolving into a great playmaker. Tough. Good luck doubling on Embiid and Porzingis with this dude floating around.
No. 7 Pick (James Herbert): I was going with either Mitchell or Beal depending on who was available. Mitchell is a great attacking guard with a nice shooting stroke and the potential to be a lockdown defender. The defense and explosiveness is what gave him the edge over Devin Booker, even if Booker is the more polished scorer right now.
No. 8 Pick (Brad Botkin): Did someone say something about floor spacing? Beal and Booker on the perimeter is a nightmare to defend. Both can do it off the catch or the bounce. That's what you need these days. Guards who can get it done with or without the ball.
No. 9 Pick (James Herbert): At this point my team needed shooting, and Tatum has made 43.5 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie. The long-term upside is enormous, and the way he has functioned in his role in Boston has been impressive. Also, my starting lineup can switch almost everything.
No. 10 Pick (Brad Botkin): Best passing big in the league. Can run an offense through him. Can step out and shoot from three. Will always have a rim protector next to him on this team, so his defense, which is way behind his offense, won't be a real issue. Perfect pick from a talent and fit standpoint.
No. 11 Pick (James Herbert): Everybody knows the Rockets have been essentially unbeatable with Capela, Chris Paul and James Harden healthy. On a team with great shooting and playmaking, Capela is the perfect rim runner and energy guy. He is getting more skilled every season, and I'd play him over Towns when I need stops. He can both protect the paint and guard smaller players.
No. 12 Pick (Brad Botkin): This is all about versatility on both ends. This team doesn't have a lot of Swiss Army knife players, so Brown's ability to guard multiple positions is huge. Offensively, he can shoot it and get to the rim and doesn't need the ball a lot to thrive, which works perfectly next to Booker and Beal.
No. 13 Pick (James Herbert): Don't let the Magic's crummy season take away from the genuine improvement Gordon has shown. I'm taking him here because I can imagine what type of player he'd be with more help on offense. Gordon has shouldered too much playmaking responsibility in Orlando, and on what is basically an All-Star team, that will not be the case. This is the third player I've selected (Antetokounmpo, Simmons) who can credibly guard all five positions.
No. 14 Pick (Brad Botkin): We know Markkanen is a seven-footer who buries threes, which is good enough on its own. But he's also a much better athlete that people realize. He can put the ball on the floor and hasa bit of a post game. In two or three years he's going to be a supremely polished scorer.
No. 15 Pick (James Herbert): At the beginning of this season, some thought Murray would top out as a gunner off the bench. He's obviously overqualified for that role in the NBA, but that's what he'll do here. Love his range and his ability to play on and off the ball.
No. 16 Pick (Brad Botkin): I love that I got Lonzo here, because he's at his best when he has talent around him that can take advantage of his terrific pace, passing and feel for the game. All year he's been an elite rebounder and passer at the point guard position, and a much better defender than people expected. And now the shooting is coming around. Lonzo is going to be a great player, and on this team, with this kind of talent around him, that process gets expedited.
No. 17 Pick (James Herbert): I was mad that Brad took Ball -- I thought I could nab him later -- but thrilled to take Porter, another long forward who stretches the floor and defends multiple positions. He's had a fantastic season.
No. 18 Pick (Brad Botkin): All things considered, Adams might be the most underrated player in the league. He's an absolute animal on the boards, particularly on the offensive glass, and he's a terrific defender. What people fail to realize is that he's a legit option on the block as a scorer. He won't have to do much of that on this team, but it's in his bag.
No. 19 Pick (James Herbert): I dig the idea of playing Harris next to Murray the way the Nuggets do. He's one of the best defensive guards in the league, and has become a much more aggressive offensive player in recent months. Surprised he was still available this late.
No. 20 Pick (Brad Botkin): Talent pick here, and if Wiggins' defense would ever come around, he could really help this team's perimeter versatility. I'm not convinced he's a guy you can do much with if he's a core piece, but as a bench player, as he'll be on this team, you're talking about a guy who can score in spurts and come right back out if he starts gunning to no avail of sleeping on defense.
No. 21 Pick (James Herbert): This pick is partially based on Ingram's star potential, but I'm also encouraged by what he's doing right now. He averaged 18.6 points, 5.6 assists and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 54.5 percent in February, and I could have him run the bench unit's offense with Murray functioning as a secondary creator.
No. 22 Pick (Brad Botkin): My next two picks are coming off ACL surgery, but Parker has looked pretty good in terms of his ability to separate and play athletically with the ball in his hands. He's shot it well from three of late, and simply watching him play gives me hope that he can still be a borderline All-Star player in the relatively near future.
No. 23 Pick (James Herbert): Dario Saric probably makes the most sense from a team-building perspective, and Myles Turner might be the best long-term play, but there is no way I could turn down an All-Star with my last pick. There's no way Drummond should have fallen this far, and the fact that he did is a reflection of how stacked the league is with young, talented big men. The Pistons are in a weird place, but he deserves credit for transforming his game by becoming a better facilitator and free-throw shooter this season.
No. 24 Pick (Brad Botkin): LaVine is not a perfect player, but to get him with the last pick here is big-time value in my eyes. I like his game; he's a legit shooter from deep once he fully regains his rhythm after so much time off, he can create for himself off the bounce, and his athleticism is still elite as he continues to work his way after ACL surgery.
James Herbert's team:
- PG: Ben Simmons
- SG: Donovan Mitchell
- SF: Jayson Tatum
- PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo
- C: Karl-Anthony Towns
- Bench guards: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris
- Bench forwards: Aaron Gordon, Otto Porter, Brandon Ingram
- Bench centers: Clint Capela, Andre Drummond
Summary: What I love about this is that the players make sense together. This team has all the versatility you could ever want. It can play bully ball, it can play smallball, it can play fast, it can play slow. There is playmaking and athleticism and shooting at every single position, and almost everybody here is excellent on both ends of the floor. Most of these guys are effective scorers, but none of them have to put up big scoring numbers in order to affect a game.
Brad Botkin's team:
- PG: Devin Booker
- SG: Bradley Beal
- SF: Jaylen Brown
- PF: Kristaps Porzingis
- C: Joel Embiid
- Bench Guards: Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine
- Bench Forwards: Lauri Markkanen, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker
- Bench Centers: Nikola Jokic, Steven Adams
Summary: I have to be honest: I like James' team better. I didn't manage my draft as well as I would've liked in terms of how these players would fit together. I need more perimeter versatility and I'm not sure I can play at the pace I want to play at with Lonzo while leaning so heavily on Embiid and Porzingis. But listen, this team has big-time talent. Jokic was the steal of the draft. And I stand by taking Porzingis over Simmons, which will certainly be questioned by many. On my team, we shoot. Simmons' inability to knock down jumpers will hurt James' squad when we get down to the nitty gritty of possession basketball, at which point I will overwhelm him with my bigs.
Snubs: Dario Saric, Myles Turner, Josh Richardson, Kyle Kuzma, Jusuf Nurkic, Rodney Hood, Spencer Dinwiddie, O.G. Anunoby, John Collins, Kelly Oubre, Bam Adebayo, Caris LeVert, Larry Nance Jr., Dennis Schroder, Trey Lyles, Fred VanVleet, Julius Randle, Dejounte Murray, Tyus Jones, Markelle Fultz, Pascal Siakam, Jarrett Allen, Jonathan Isaac, Jakob Poeltl, Domantas Sabonis, Dragan Bender, Kris Dunn, D'Angelo Russell, Justise Winslow, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Montrezl Harrell, Bobby Portis
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