David Thorpe of ESPN.com ranked the top 25 players under 25 in the NBA, listing Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum at No. 16 and Blazers guard Damian Lillard at No. 21. Batum played No. 21 on last year's version of the list. Our old friend Kevin Pelton provided some analysis regarding the future outlooks for the players on the list.
To be clear: This is a ranking of how we would order these players if we were starting a franchise and would have them for the next several years, not just this season.
Current: Batum has transformed from solid starter on a bad team to one of the best two players on a strong playoff contender. He has improved as a shooter and is one of the best few wings in the league at defending ball screens and handoffs -- likely the two most difficult actions for wings to guard. His length and added strength allow him to make plays most can't make, and he's both a legitimate wing scorer and someone who values "Gretzky's" that all-important extra pass; he rarely gets "sticky" with the ball. -- Thorpe
Future: As long as Portland has LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard as its primary options on offense, Batum might not be able to take on many more possessions. Still, Batum's growth as a playmaker this season gives Terry Stotts more options in how to use him. Despite his wingspan, Batum still struggles to defend physical small forwards who can overpower him. Adding strength will help. -- Pelton
Current: Lillard is proving that the line between mid-major and high-major college players is almost non-existent. He's quarterbacking a team through the rugged west and into a strong playoff position. Lillard has a lot of Kyrie Irving in him, a solid athlete with a huge set of skills and an excellent feel for game management. He is poised to see big improvement in the second half of the season, but he already is excellent as a spot-up shooter and pick-and-roll player. -- Thorpe
Future: Because Lillard came into the league so polished, it's difficult to find areas for improvement as a scorer. While he makes good decisions, Lillard can still show growth as a playmaker by seeing more opportunities for passing lanes. Lillard's major growth must come at the defensive end, where he has been abused by top opponents. He has a particularly tough time negotiating screens. -- Pelton
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