Debating Ball, Embiid, Booker and future #NBArank stars

From ESPN - September 13, 2017

As our annual #NBArank list hits the top 50, our panel of NBA experts break down the big questions from the results.

Who is primed to leap into the top 10 next? Which young players are on the verge of stardom?

And will Isaiah Thomas or Jae Crowder (both ranked in the 30s) help the Cleveland Cavaliers more this season?

1. Which player not in the top 30 is most likely to become a top-10 player?

Tim MacMahon, If the basketball gods have any mercy in their hearts, Joel Embiid will stay healthy. If he plays 70-plus games -- granted, a big if considering his injury history -- he will soar up the list next season. Embiid is one of the most unique talents the league has ever seen. He's a blend of Marc Gasol's skills with DeAndre Jordan's athleticism. A decade from now, Embiid could be in conversations about the best big men of all-time ... or one of the most tantalizing what-if stories in NBA history.

Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: Joel Embiid. What you are looking for in this group is a player who is prime to make the leap because of prior injury and/or youth. Embiid checks off both boxes. In his last 10 games prior to hurting his knee, the big man averaged 23.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and made a 3-pointer per game -- all as a 22-year-old. And offenses could not score against him. He's a top-10 player when healthy.

Micah Adams, ESPN Stats & Information: If health was not a glaring concern, I'd say Joel Embiid. But to become a top-10 player in this star-studded league, playing 35 minutes a night and at least 75 games seems like a prerequisite and I am not sure Embiid gets there. So I will roll with Lonzo Ball reaching the rare Jason Kidd-level peak as an elite player who does not necessarily become an elite scorer.

Baxter Holmes, If Embiid can stay healthy and continues to build on the incredible promise that he showcased in 31 games last season, then it's not hard to imagine Mr. Process as an NBA MVP candidate in the near future.

Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Joel Embiid already produced at a borderline top-10 rate in 2016-17 as a rookie when he was on the court, ranking 17th among regular players in win percentage (the per-minute version of my wins above replacement player metric). "When on the court" is key; Embiid will have to stay healthy and be able to play a full workload to be considered a top-10 player. But the level of performance is already almost there, and anyone else outside the top 30 must improve dramatically to get to that level.

2. Which young guards do you expect to make the top 30 within the next two years?

Haberstroh: CJ McCollum may already be there. To really cement his spot, he needs to take advantage of his free-throw stroke and get to the line more. He led the league with 91.2 percent shooting at the stripe, but earned just 3.7 trips per game. He could be a 50/40/90 guy if he can draw the whistle better on his rim attacks.

Holmes: CJ McCollum and Devin Booker. McCollum's scoring average has risen every season, and at just 25, you have to expect he will only get better from here. Booker, meanwhile, showcased his frightening scoring talents last season in a 70-point outburst in Boston. What's even more frightening: Booker is somehow only 20.

MacMahon: McCollum should be top 30 now. He will be next season. Devin Booker, Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr. are on their way. Analytics do not put Booker in a favorable light, but I will take my chances on a dude who averaged 22 points per game at age 20 and embraces all that comes along with being the face of a franchise. Ball will be the best passer of his generation. Smith is already on a short list with Russell Westbrook and John Wall as the league's most athletic point guards.

Pelton: That's only a small jump for McCollum, so even though he has less development ahead of him he's probably the most likely to get there. Devin Booker looks like the best bet of the younger prospects based on his prodigious scoring, which should translate into a high rating. The next two years are a bit aggressive for Ball, Fultz and Smith, though I think all three will move into the top 30 at some point in the not-so-distant future.

Adams: Since CJ McCollum was ranked No. 26 entering last season, it feels like cheating to pick the Blazers bucket-getter, whose currently ranked No. 31. My answer here is once again Ball, who I think learns the ropes quicker than expected. I know it was summer league and I know it's perhaps harder to excel early at point guard than any other position, but count me in the club as someone blown away by his feel for the game and ability to elevate others in Vegas.

3. Which young forwards or big men do you expect to make the top 30 within the next two years?

Pelton: Embiid could be there if he plays a full season. Myles Turner is just a small jump away at age 21. Of the rest, I'd give Andrew Wiggins and Aaron Gordon the best chance of improving into the top 30, given their youth. I am more confident that Wiggins will be rated in the top 30 at some point than that he will actually be one of the 30 players who does the most to help their team win.

Holmes: Again, Embiid seems destined to reach the top 30 if he stays healthy, but the talent, skills, athleticism and all-around game that he boasts at his age (23) is tough to top. And Steven Adams continues to improve in virtually every area in every season; at 24, he has already established himself as one of the NBA's top centers.

4. Who is the most underrated player so far?

5. Who will help the Cavs more next season: No. 33 Isaiah Thomas or No. 38 Jae Crowder?


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