Firstly, let’s define an asset. An asset has to have room for growth, preferably substantial growth. The cut off here is subjective but let’s assume most NBA players peak between 26 and 28 years of age. So no player 26 and over will be considered. This rule excludes many stars like Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan, Blake Griffin, Isaiah Thomas, Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, John Wall, James Harden, etc. who all are or will be at least 26 before the start of next season.
LeBron James might be the best player for the next year or two but that brings us to the second most important factor to being an asset, long term staying power. Room for growth is important but so is being able to keep said asset for an extended period of time. With that said, players on their rookie deal gain value over players facing free agency at a faster approaching juncture.
Finally, this list is wildly subjective, conversational in nature, and based on a wide variety of factors including potential which is impossible to judge with any sort of clarity.
25. Aaron Gordon
Contract: 1 year, $6 million.
Gordon may be an odd choice to some, the fourth pick in 2014 has struggled to find his way as have the Orlando Magic on a whole. However, I’m here to tell you Gordon has been robbed, robbed I tell you! And I’m not just talking about the dunk contest. Gordon has been on a franchise that has failed to develop talent over the past seven seasons. A look back at Orlando’s draft picks over the last 13 years (not counting this recent draft since Jonathan Isaac has yet to make his pro debut) and it’s been a wasteland of failed picks or abandoned players that blossomed elsewhere. You’d have to go all the way back to 2004 No. 1 pick Dwight Howard to see any Magic success story through the draft. But back to Gordon. He has been forced to play out of position and he has had to cope through changes in the front office and coaching staff. If Gordon gets the opportunity to play a full year at his natural spot at the 4, prepare to be amazed.
24. Dennis Smith Jr.
Contract: 4 years, TBD
Assessing rookies with only a little summer league action as an indicator? Lunacy! Almost as bad as projecting a draft prospect’s ceiling and floor without a single minute of NBA action. Smith played on a bad college team, he was coming off an injury, but many still saw him as top two or three prospect in this draft. He doesn’t have the size of Fultz, nor the playmaking of Ball but his bounce is mythical and he plays the game with a vigor and pace Russell Westbrook could admire. It’s early but the Mavericks may have gotten a steal of the draft and a building block for the inevitable post-Dirk era.
23. Jusuf Nurkic
Contract: 1 year, $3 million
The could’ve-been Chicago Bull, should’ve-been Denver Nugget finds himself in Portland and Oregon is better for it. After a mideseason trade to the Trail Blazers, Nurkic averaged 15.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.9 BPG, and shot above 50 percent from the field. Nurkic is a difference maker at both ends in the middle. I suspect the Bosnian Beast would be much higher on this list had he spent all year in Portland.
22. Josh Jackson
Contract: 4 years, TBD
Jackson and Smith were painted as the fiercest competitors of the the 2017 class and both have shown it in Summer League. Jackson is a tenacious defender and he can handle the ball on a break. His shot needs work, the touch isn’t there, but the effort, energy and physical attributes are. He won’t be asked to do too much on the Suns’ perimeter-heavy roster, but you can still expect Jackson to shine. No one is Kawhi Leonard, no one is Jimmy Butler, but Jackson feels like a good candidate to be a complete wing years down the road.
21. Lonzo Ball
Contract: 4 years, TBD
Ball was seen as the No. 2 guy on most boards coming into the draft and as such he deserves a place on this list. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have gifted him the keys to the League’s most treasured franchise and time will tell if that’s a wise decision. His size at the point is daunting, his playmaking is special and he possesses good instincts, but there are reasons to worry. Mainly, Ball fanatics would have us all believe he’s a larger Jason Kidd; whether you agree or not is unimportant. What is important: Do you believe a point guard like Kidd (pass-first point with a wobbly jumper) is a franchise player in today’s NBA? Ball is shooting 25 percent from the field thus far in Summer League with a stroke that keeps shooting coaches up at night.
20. Jaylen Brown
Contract: 3 years, $18 million
The former No. 3 overall pick wasn’t in the Rookie of the Year race, he isn’t the flashiest 20-year-old in the NBA, and yet we keep hearing his name. Brown mattered to a Finals-contending team, playing big minutes and bodying up against LeBron James in the Conference Finals while his fellow rooks were done for the summer. He has been amongst the most polished players in summer league and he has already made a name for himself amongst his peers. Brown has shown leadership qualities at a young age and like Jackson, he looks like a future candidate to be a very strong two-way player.
19. Brandon Ingram
Contract: 3 years, $19 million
Ingram had a poor rookie campaign but he also had a few things going against him in his first season: He had a first-time head coach, the team, coming off the Kobe era, was in transition and the ownership was fighting an internal and bloody battle. It’s fair to cut him some slack. Going even further in his defense, he was a freshly-turned 19 at the start of the 2016-17 season and was still developing an NBA body. He played all over for the Lakers in year one, but the arrival of rookie PG Ball should force Ingram to take another step up in leadership and development. Another year to add some weight, find a rhythm, and see an increased role should bring clarity on the 2016 second overall pick.
18. Jayson Tatum
Contract: 4 years, TBD
Danny Ainge’s decision to move down to No. 3 was a puzzling one. Markelle Fultz was the unanimous selection at No. 1, or at least he appeared to be until Ainge made a play for Tatum. Tatum turned it on the back end of his freshman season with Duke and has been arguably the most impressive player in Summer League. A logical argument can be made that Tatum is a better fit in the long (Boston again gets another shot at a high lottery pick by acquiring the Lakers’ No. 1 pick in 2018) and short term (Tatum is expected to be a better fit alongside the ball-dominant Isaiah Thomas), but the truth is Tatum could be Boston’s best scoring small forward since, well, The Truth.
17. D’Angelo Russell
Contract: 2 years, $12 million
Russell had his struggles in his first two seasons as a Laker. Snapchat, effort on defense, shot selection and a balanced approach running the offense may have cost him a chance as part of Magic Johnson’s vision in Lakerland. The Brooklyn Nets are fortunate it didn’t work out. The disenchantment of Russell in Los Angeles gave a team in their bleak situation (paying the sins of going all-in a few years ago on overpriced veterans at the cost of draft picks) a chance at snagging a prospect of Russell’s caliber (the No. 2 pick in 2015). Following the All-Star break last season Russell averaged 18.5 PPG, 5 APG, and was playing the best ball of his short career. He remains an exciting prospect and he’ll have the opportunity to showcase his talents this year.
16. Gary Harris
Contract: 1 year, $3 million
Harris has improved every season since entering the NBA three seasons ago. Heading into the last year of his rookie deal he’s a bonafide 3&D stud who has yet to peak. If Harris was in a larger market his name would probably be getting a whole lot more attention. Last season he was the youngest player in the NBA to hit 40 percent or better from deep on four or more attempts. On the whole, he put up a very overlooked 14.9-PPG season as the Nuggets starting shooting guard.
15. Andrew Wiggins
Contract: 1 year, 8 million.
The good: Wiggins is a talented scorer and he has shown an ability to maximize his touches with buckets. Each of the last two seasons he has been on par with with Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson in points per touch. The bad: He’s not a modern scorer and his outside shot isn’t where it should be. The ugly: He hasn’t given the Minnesota Timberwolves anything else. Wiggins will have to commit to expanding his game with the arrival of Jimmy Butler, find new ways to contribute on a nightly basis and continue to grow as a defender. As another bright side, Wiggins did shoot a career-best 35 percent from three last season. While that might be league average, it does show improvement after two years of 30 percent. Wiggins is a phenomenal athlete and scoring at the rate he does is no small thing. As the Wolves grow, so will the Canadian.
14. Bradley Beal
Contract: 4 years, $103 million
It’s sometimes hard to believe Beal is only 24 years old, a young 24 at that. His birthday was less than a month ago (June 28). Coming off a healthy and career-year in season five, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Beal. Injuries looked like they might divert Beal’s career down a bad path in the early going (he averaged 20 missed games a season in his first four campaigns) but he scored more PPG than Ray Allen and Reggie Miller at the same point in their careers last season. He did so while matching them in efficiency as well. The Wizards were wise to extend Beal to a contract that now looks like a steal. Now that the whole questionable dynamic between Beal and John Wall appears to be in the rearview mirror, look for Beal to join his backcourt mate on the All-Star team in 2018.
13. Jamal Murray
Contract: 3 years, $11 million
The Denver Nuggets draft well. They develop their talent well. Another example is Jamal Murray. Murray got limited run his rookie season but still found moments to shine. He was magnificent winning MVP in the Rising Stars game and much like Klay Thompson, the man has shown he can put up points in a hurry when given the opportunity. The problem is that the Nuggets’ good player development also means Murray is sharing time with redundant pieces like Gary Harris and Will Barton. Hopefully Denver can find more creative ways to utilize Murray a little more this season.
12. Ben Simmons
Contract: 3 years, $21 million
It’s hard to assess Simmons, he was the clear No. 1 pick in a bad draft and he has yet to play an NBA minute. We know his size and athleticism make him formidable, we know elite playmaking at that height is uncommon. What we don’t know is if his shot is respectable at the NBA level. Like Lonzo Ball, we will need to see a year of NBA play before we can account for the value of a pass-first franchise player in the modern game. Simmons will also open up the season with point guard and 2017 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz on the roster. Simmons got the LeBron James treatment early on—which is wildly premature and unfair—but there are plenty of good places to land falling short of a LeBron comparison.
11. Joel Embiid
Contract: 1 year, $6 million
I don’t know if I trust the live embodiment of the process, it’s a remarkably hard thing to do when you only see 31 games over the course of three years. Skepticism is warranted but so is optimism. Embiid was stupid good over the small sample size. Equal parts dominance and elegance, Embiid was a revelation, the next generation of the elite big, a light-on-feet 7-footer who can disrupt an offense at the rim and free-throw line extended on defense while adding a three-point shot (Embiid shot 37 percent) to the usual interior work expected from a big. When he was healthy, pundits were claiming he’d be better than other 7-foot wunderkinds Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Kristaps Porzingis and many others who were regularly available. If Embiid had proven his durability with 75-80 games last season, he would’ve easily been in the top three to five on this list.
10. Myles Turner
Contract: 2 years, $6 million
Turner is really good and he’s the forgotten name when we talk about the dominant and inspiring next class of bigs. Like Embiid, he has shown an ability to score from inside and outside, protect the paint and run the floor. He does it all with a tad less flavor (both on the court and off of it) and his impact didn’t peak as high but he has one thing that Embiid lacks: health. He has played 4.9 games for every game Embiid has and he’s done it in one less year. That kind of divide and the extra year on his rookie deal should validate his placing here.
Don’t just take my word. Twitter has them close to a dead heat:
If I offered you Myles Turner or Joel Embiid, who would you want?
— Josh Eberley 🇨🇦 (@JoshEberley) July 9, 2017
9. Devin Booker
Contract: 2 years, $6 million
Remember all those flukes who scored 70 in a game? That fraud Kobe Bryant; David Robinson, who didn’t do much in his career; Wilt Chamberlain who “caught lightning in a bottle” seven times. It was one game, but it was one hell of a game. Random 50-point performances happen, random 70-point smackings do not. Booker has a gift and he hasn’t even found his feet yet. He’s kind of a hybrid of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Booker has Curry and Thompson’s stroke and the size and ability to heat up at a moment’s notice like Thompson. The reins are about to be in his hands full-time and it’s going to be awesome.
8. Rudy Gobert
Contract: 3 years, $60 million
He could’ve been the Defensive Player of the Year and would’ve likely been in a different era of the NBA (voters have seemed tom place more emphasis on versatile perimeter defenders as of late) as he’s the best rim protector in the NBA and it’s not particularly close. People also underestimate what a player of his size offers to a defense in the pick-and-roll. He will never be a No. 1 option offensively but his size, touch around the rim, and overall efficiency make him insanely valuable at that end. The Jazz’s trajectory may not be as high without Gordon Hayward, which is unfortunate, but the defense anchored by Gobert should keep Utah in the playoff hunt.
7. Kyrie Irving
Contract: 3 years, $60 million
Uncle Drew has the producers at 2K struggling to replicate his feats of fancy on the court. No one is better at creating separation off the dribble and finishing at the rim than Irving. Granted, he’s sporadic, inconsistent, and unreliable on defense like most go-to scorers at his size, but he more than makes up for it on offense, especially if you account for his deadly stroke from outside (40 percent). Even though LeBron is still the de facto point guard in Cleveland’s scheme, Irving’s playmaking is exceptional for a secondary ballhandler. He’s also forever young and has been to the Finals three straight times. Irving may not have peaked, a scary concept for Eastern Conference teams hoping the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to fall off. Even if the rumors of LeBron bolting Cleveland again after this season, the Cavs will be in good hands. That is, if Irving decides to stay himself.
6. Markelle Fultz
Contract: 4 years, TBD
Fultz was the consensus No. 1 pick in what’s supposed to be a very good draft, elevating his already high ceiling. Prior to the inevitable Sixers rookie injury setback (a minor sprained ankle, according to the team) starting injury he looked excellent in Summer League. Fultz has been compared to the many recent hybrid guards of recent fame—James Harden, Damian Lillard, Dwyane Wade, and many others—but you probably don’t know what I’m talking about unless you REALLY watch hoops. Philadelphia paid handsomely for the right to Fultz, hoping that he’s the cherry to the Process.
5. Nikola Jokic
Contract: 2 years, $3 million
Jokic is the best playmaker in the NBA at his size. He’s got the touch inside and he can pop it from outside. That array of talent is so prevalent that you can’t help but compare him to hoops legend Arvydas Sabonis. Not the slow-footed, post-foot injuries and past-his-prime Sabonis that the NBA saw, but the pirouetting 7-3 center that set up teammates and himself with equal aplomb. With Jokic, we get a peek at what NBA fans were cheated out of with Sabonis. A point center is so beautifully unique in today’s game and he’s just getting started. We’re at the point on this list where anyone could be the top dog three to four years from now and Jokic is no exception. If Jokic can make strides in his quickness and mobility there’s no reason he isn’t in future MVP conversations.
4. Kristaps Porzingis
Contract: $2 years, $10 million
Phil Jackson wanted to trade this man? Even team owner Jim Dolan saw behind the lunacy of a move like that. The Unicorn needs to remain in New York. Porzingis is the franchise’s best chance for relevance in the 21st century and the team’s best draft prospect since Patrick Ewing. Porzingis has had his own battles with injuries and his leadership is questionable at best. What isn’t questionable is his rare package of skills and size. He has the potential to be a high-scoring All-NBA and All-Defense player for years to come. Knick fans can only hope that all this happens while he’s in a Knicks uniform.
3. Anthony Davis
Contract: 4 years, $105 million
It feels like just yesterday Davis was the lone squirt catching oops on a gold medal squad in 2012. Davis has since filled out a bit in size and game. While he remains pretty good at converting lobs, Davis has also nurtured a jumper that extends out to 20 feet (next up is three-point range), a dependable post and face-up game. Even without the offense, Davis would make this list on the strength of his defense. His speed, size and range makes him a 7-foot Scottie Pippen, a terror for bigs and guards alike and a one-man pick-and-roll wrecking crew. Davis and fellow big DeMarcus Cousins have some work to do this year in meshing together after a midseason trade. Like Beal, health was the main concern and coming off a sturdy season with plenty of changes Davis is set to have a big 2017-18, making his 2015 contract extension of $145 million over five years seem like an absolute bargain. Statistically there’s nothing to complain about, defensively he is a force. The New Orleans Pelicans are 50 wins away from a Davis MVP bid.
2. Karl-Anthony Towns
Contract: 2 years, $14 million
Sorting KAT and Davis is an impossible task. The two former Kentucky Wildcats and No. 1 picks are changing the center position. It’s tough to discern but the tiebreaker goes to KAT because he’s younger and still on that rookie deal. While Davis is a more accomplished defender, Towns is no slouch himself. Plus, Towns will have the defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau teaching him the finer intricacies of that part of the game. Towns does hold a slight advantage on offense, where he’s already honed a three-point shot (37 percent), making him such a tough cover for opponents. Already a 25-PPG scorer, Towns might see a slight dip in scoring this season as the arrival of Jimmy Butler (and continued development of Andrew Wiggins) will mean he doesn’t have to be depended on to score as much. What will likely happen with the bevy of reinforcements is KAT leading the first playoff-bound Wolves squad since 2004.
Contract: 4 years, $100 million
It was a tough choice but the Greek Freak isn’t to be trifled with. No one can do more at an All-Star level than Antetokounmpo, current LeBron James included. He’s a playmaker, a scorer, a rebounder and the best defender on his team. All that versatility and the guy is only 22. Legitimately, he can probably guard all five positions at an above average level. If you were asked which player has the best chance to pull the rare MVP and DPOY in the same season (only two players—Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon have pulled off the feat), it’d be between Kawhi Leonard and Antetokounmpo, right?