No sport has more amazing young talent than the NBA. But who's the best of the best of these young superstars? You're about to find out.
SIKIDS.com has assembled a 12-man dream team of young NBA talent. All of these players were under the age of 25 when the season tipped off. Read on to see who made the team...
Center: Dwight Howard,
Orlando Magic (age 23)
I never like to exaggerate, but there's a chance Howard is the most athletic freak the NBA has ever seen. He came into the league as a 6' 11", high-flying beanpole. Since then, he has packed on the muscle, making him one of the strongest players in the league.
His accomplishments tell most of the story: three All-Star appearances, a Defensive Player of the Year award, and a Slam Dunk title. Superman also led the Magic to a surprise appearance in the NBA Finals last year. Orlando may have fallen short against the Lakers, but at his age, I have a feeling that Howard will be playing for plenty of championships down the road.
Power forward: Josh Smith,
Atlanta Hawks (age 23)
Power forward was the toughest spot to fill on this roster. There are plenty of good ones, but no true superstars. We went with Smith, the high-flier from Atlanta. He's a big reason why the Hawks have moved up from mediocrity to Eastern Conference contender.
Smith has averaged 15-plus points each of the past three seasons, many of them coming on thunderous dunks and acrobatic alley-oops. And despite being somewhat undersized at 6' 9", his ridiculous athleticism has made him one of the NBA's top shot-blockers. He has averaged 2.4 blocks per game over his first five NBA seasons, second-most in the league during that span.
Small forward: LeBron James,
Cleveland Cavaliers (age 24)
Shocking that he made this list, huh? Even if you don't think the reigning MVP is the best basketball player in the world right now, you have to agree that he's no worse than second (behind Kobe Bryant). The league has never seen a player like LeBron, who combines the size of a power forward with the skills and quickness of a wing, and the court vision and basketball IQ of a point guard. Since he added a pull-up jumper to his offensive game, he's become virtually unstoppable.
Along with his MVP, he has a Rookie of the Year, three first-team All-NBA appearances, five All-Star appearances, and a scoring title. Coming before he's done: an NBA title or two.
Shooting guard: Kevin Durant,
Oklahoma City Thunder (age 21)
Durant doesn't get a ton of publicity playing in the OKC (except, of course, for his appearance on the cover of the SI KIDS NBA Preview issue). But seeing Durant is believing. He's 6' 9", but plays with an incredibly fluid style and arguably the NBA's sweetest shooting stroke.
After winning Rookie of the Year in 2008-09, Durant finished sixth in the NBA in scoring last season (25.3 PPG) and will be a regular contender for the NBA scoring crown over the next decade.
Point guard: Chris Paul,
New Orleans Hornets (age 24)
Chris Paul isn't just the NBA's best point guard under the age of 25, he's the best point guard at any age. He's not just lightning quick, Paul is deceptively strong and incredibly smart. He's only 6-feet tall, but CP3 is the rare little guy who can dominate a game.
A year after almost single-handedly carrying the Hornets to the Western Conference finals, Paul was named All-NBA first-team after a stellar 2008-09 season. He has led the NBA in steals and assists in each of the past two seasons.
Brook Lopez, center, New Jersey Nets (age 21)
After Howard, Lopez is the league's brightest young center. The 7-footer combines a lot of skill with his size and strength and is proving to be a force in the halfcourt game. As a rookie last season, he averaged 13.0 points and 8.1 rebounds while leading all rookies in blocks (1.9 per game, fourth-best in the NBA).
Andrew Bynum, center,
Los Angeles Lakers (age 22)
Another young big man with a rare blend of size, strength, and athleticism. Bynum averaged a double-double in 2007-08 (13.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG) and had a great stat line last season as well (14.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG), all while playing less than 30 minutes per game as part of L.A.'s deep rotation. If he can avoid injury, Bynum will be the Lakers' next superstar after Kobe Bryant retires.
LaMarcus Aldridge, forward,
Portland Trail Blazers (age 24)
Aldridge is one of the most skilled big men in the NBA. He's 6' 11", but has the ability to step out onto the perimeter and knock down jumpers, making him a nightmare matchup for opposing big men. Aldridge has emerged as the Number 2 scorer to Brandon Roy in Portland, averaging 17.8 points per game in 2007-08, his second season in the NBA, and 18.1 PPG last year.
Rudy Gay, forward,
Memphis Grizzlies (age 23)
Gay certainly has his shortcomings -- he can lose focus on defense, and he sometimes shoots too much. But he has rare athleticism and has shown flashes of being a true go-to scorer. Gay averaged 20.1 points in 2007-08, just his second NBA season. He dropped to 18.9 PPG last year, but a renewed committment to training this past offseason bodes well for a strong 2009-10 campaign.
Monta Ellis, guard,
Golden State Warriors (age 24)
Ellis is on the verge of becoming a franchise player in Golden State. He was derailed by an off-season accident last year, limiting him to 25 games. But when healthy, Ellis has proven that he can score in bunches. He averaged 20.2 points on a penomenal .531-percent shooting from the field in 2007-08, using his strength and superior quickness to get into the lane at will. He should be the heart of the uptempo Warriors this year.
Rajon Rondo, guard, Boston Celtics (age 23)
Rondo has gained a reputation for being tough to coach, but he's also gained a reputation of being incredibly talented. With his amazing quicks and super-long arms, he's a nightmare for opposing point guards on the defensive end. And Rondo has become a big-time playmaker on the offensive end as well, averaging 8.2 assists (fifth-best in the NBA) to go along with 11.9 points last year. And, oh yeah, he and Bynum are the only guys on this list with NBA championship rings!
Derrick Rose, guard, Chicago Bulls (age 21)
The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year has a chance to be the league's next great point guard. Rose is a selfless playmaker who is also incredibly strong, quick, and athletic. Even as a rookie, he had no trouble blowing by NBA defenders. He averaged 16.8 points, 6.3 assists, and took the Chicago Bulls back to the playoffs.
Just missed the cut: Al Jefferson, Minnesota Timberwolves (age 24); Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz (age 24); Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors (age 24); O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies (age 21); Eric Gordon, Los Angeles Clippers (age 20); Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (age 20); Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks (age 23); Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (age 20); Jeff Green, Oklahoma City Thunder (age 23); Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers (age 21); Marvin Williams, Atlanta Hawks (age 23); Rudy Fernandez, Portland Trail Blazers (age 24).