David Thorpe, Kevin Pelton and Amin Elhassan of ESPN ranked the NBA’s top 25 players under age 25 using the following criteria:
This season, we ranked our top 25 under 25 based not on who they are now, but who they can become. It’s not solely based on potential as much as the projection on how much of that full potential can be reached. In a sense, this ranking represents how these players would be drafted if each was available in the draft right now.
Andre Drummond placed No. 3, behind just Anthony Davis and Paul George, and ahead of James Harden and Blake Griffin:
Elhassan: Probably already the best rebounder in the NBA, Drummond’s combination of size, elite athleticism and motor give him the ability to impact the game every time he steps on the court. He’s still raw in terms of skill and feel, but the instincts are there.
Thorpe: He is nowhere near the same player in a fast game as he is in a more deliberate half-court game. Drummond has the ability to both outrace bigs end-to-end or earn deep post position in early offense. Doing so significantly elevates Detroit’s offense and makes him a far more dynamic player.
Pelton: Dwight Howard is the only player with a similarity score better than 90 compared to Drummond, who could become the fourth-youngest All-Star ever after Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Magic Johnson.
Drummond could become the type of superstar whom a team can build a contender around. He’s not to that level yet, but he’s already very good, and he’s so young. Harden and Griffin get more recognition right now, but that Drummond ranks ahead of them in a sober analysis like this is telling.
The last time the Pistons had a player on this level was Grant Hill, and they squandered Hill’s best years. Hopefully, that won’t happen again, because they have another top young player.
Greg Monroe also made list, ranking No. 13:
Elhassan: One has to wonder how much longer Monroe can last in Detroit, where he is part of a crowded frontcourt rotation and surrounded by non-spacers. His ground-bound offensive game relies more on footwork and savvy, and he can put the ball on the floor and beat slower defenders off dribble attacks from the elbows. A good rebounder, Monroe’s defense leaves something to be desired.
Thorpe: Detroit switches a lot off "big-little" screens, meaning Monroe has to guard wings more than most bigs. He has not been an effective defender in one-on-one situations as much as he could be, mostly because he keeps his long arms too low. Getting them up early would help him defend opponents who are driving to the hoop, taking away their easy looks at a runner or jump shot. He does that sometimes, but doing it all the time would elevate his on-the-ball defense to near elite level.
Pelton: Monroe might be the steadiest player on this list going forward. While he’s unlikely to slip in terms of his production, similar players don’t reveal much untapped upside.
Elhassan rightly questions Monroe’s fit, Thorpe is certainly more bullish on Monroe’s defense than I am, and Pelton makes a good point about how much room Monroe has for improvement.
But the Pistons are the only team with two players in the top 15 of this list, and previous caveats included, that something. Heck, it means a lot.
I wish the Pistons still had their 2014 draft pick, which could have added a big contributor to this team. I wish the Pistons had more financial flexibility, because even though they’ll have about $10 million in cap room this summer, I doubt they’ll use all that on any contract longer than two years in order to save room for Drummond’s extension.
But despite their draft and financial limits, the Pistons have more room for internal growth than most teams. I don’t want to them to merely sit and wait for their young talent to ripen, but that alone could work alright.