Of all the moves the Portland Trail Blazers have made in the last two years, none have generated more optimism than trading for Jusuf Nurkic and selecting Zach Collins with the 10th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft. The Blazers are guard heavy, but hopes for evolving beyond the ceiling of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum hinge on these young bigs.
While Blazers fans may be optimistic about the future of their frontcourt, ESPN may not be as charitable. Yesterday the network published a ranking of Top 25 NBA Players Under 25 (Insider subscription required). Though both Nurkic and Collins qualify by age, they were nowhere to be found among the heralded youngsters.
To nobody’s surprise, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo tops the list, followed by Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, Joel Embiid of the 76ers, and Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. Portland’s centers don’t rank alongside potential All-NBA players; their absence from the Top 5 is unsurprising. When the names drift towards Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics (14), his teammate Jaylen Brown (22), Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (20), Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (17), and Dario Saric from the Sixers (25), eyes start to strain for the mention of Portland pivots.
Rankings are inherently subjective; debate is the reason they exist. Whether you agree or disagree with the list, the omission of Portland’s brightest hopes is a reminder that multiple teams are banking on, or currently riding, talented young players. Being good on paper isn’t the entire story; NBA teams only win when they exceed each other. If ESPN’s rankings are any indication, the Blazers may have more work to do.
Do you consider Nurkic and Collins automatic inclusions among the brightest hopes under 25, or was ESPN on solid ground omitting them? Make your arguments in the comments.