Luka Doncic top player to build around; Evan Mobley, Anthony Edwards Top 5


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In January of 2022, HoopsHype polled 15 NBA executives and asked them to rank their top five players under 25 years old by the start of the NBA season to build around. We have repeated the exercise ahead of the 2022-23 season.

Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic was the unanimous first choice among the NBA executives polled, while Evan Mobley and Anthony Edwards were two of the top risers.

Four new players earned votes while three players fell in the ranking.

In our scoring system, the top player received five points, the second received four points, the third received three points, the fourth received two points, and the fifth player received one point for each ballot.

The results of the poll are listed below.

1. Luka Doncic (Dallas)

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Share of the vote: 100 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 1

Luka Doncic was the unanimous choice to build around, according to NBA executives for the first time in our poll since September 2020.

“Luka’s size, IQ, scoring ability from every level, and passing will allow him to continue to play at an MVP caliber level,” one NBA executive told HoopsHype.

After leading the NBA in usage percentage last season (37.4) and Dallas to the Western Conference Finals, Doncic has one of the best global ratings in the EuroBasket tournament thus far.

2. Jayson Tatum (Boston)

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AP Photo/Adam Hunger

Share of the vote: 69.3 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 2

Jayson Tatum received 11 of 15 second-place votes from the NBA executives in our poll.

“Tatum has an elite ability to create and maintain advantages on the offensive end,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “His versatility and athleticism will allow him to continue to impact the game on both sides of the court.”

Tatum looked like a future MVP candidate during the playoffs as the primary defender on Kevin Durant in a sweep of the Nets and two impressive series against the Bucks and Heat, where he averaged a combined 26.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists before falling to the Warriors in the Finals.

3. Ja Morant (Memphis)

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Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Share of the vote: 44 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 3

Four NBA executives voted Ja Morant as high as second overall on their ballots.

“I’m a believer in building around playmakers, and that’s why I love him,” one NBA executive said.

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After becoming an All-Star for the first time, earning All-NBA honors, and winning the Most Improved Player award, Morant will look to lead Memphis past the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2013.

4. Evan Mobley (Cleveland)

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AP Photo/Nick Wass

Share of the vote: 28 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 6

Five NBA executives voted Evan Mobley as high as third overall on their ballots.

Despite losing the Rookie of the Year award to Raptors forward Scottie Barnes, Mobley ranked ahead of his classmate in this poll. Cleveland could also vault Toronto in the standings following the acquisition of All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell this offseason.

After tying for fifth in the NBA in blocks per game (1.7), Mobley projects as a future frontcourt All-Star.

5. Anthony Edwards (Minnesota)

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Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Share of the vote: 16 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 9

Two NBA executives voted Anthony Edwards as high as third overall on their ballots.

“He took a huge step last season,” an NBA executive said. “He played better defense and can score the ball. He’s got the potential to be a two-way player.”

After finishing Top 20 among all NBA players in scoring and minutes played and Top 15 in steals and three-pointers last season, Edwards shined on a national stage during the playoffs by averaging 25.2 points on 45.5 percent shooting from the field and 40.4 percent from three-point range against the Grizzlies.

6. Zion Williamson (New Orleans)

Zion Williamson during a practice

Zion Williamson during a practice

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Share of the vote: 12 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 7

Despite missing all last season, one NBA executive voted Zion Williamson as high as third overall on his ballot.

“Two years ago, Zion was a Top 5 offensive player,” the NBA executive said. “His case is pretty simple. Do that again and be better on defense, and he’s for sure a franchise guy.”

On one hand, the executive has a point if Williamson can remain healthy, but that’s a big if considering he’s only played 85 total games the past three seasons.

7. Scottie Barnes (Toronto)

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Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Share of the vote: 8 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

Two NBA executives voted Scottie Barnes, the reigning Rookie of the Year, as high as fourth overall on their ballots.

“Barnes is a legitimate two-way player who can play multiple positions,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He has great size and playmaking abilities. With the way the rules are changing to promote pace and transition opportunities, his ability to grab and go will be valuable. Defensively, his ability to guard multiple positions, contain on the perimeter, and shrink the court will continue to hold value.”

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If Barnes can improve his three-point shooting (.301), he could vault multiple spots on this poll by the next edition.

8. LaMelo Ball (Charlotte)

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Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Share of the vote: 6.67 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 4

One NBA executive voted LaMelo Ball as high as third overall on his ballot. In our previous poll, Ball was surprisingly the only player besides Doncic to receive a first-place vote on an executive’s ballot for the top player to build around.

“My vote is a bet on his upside,” the NBA executive told HoopsHype. “LaMelo is a 6-foot-7 lead creator. I think those sorts of guys are easier to build around. Is he currently as good as some of the guys ranked ahead of him? No, but he’s much younger, and his skillset fits easily with many players. I could end up being totally wrong about it, but I’m taking a bet with the guys who have the highest overall upside and versatility.”

After ranking Top 20 in total points, Top 15 in three-pointers, and Top 10 in assists and steals per game, Ball’s versatility helped him become an All-Star last season. With Miles Bridges’ legal situation unresolved, Ball will need an even better performance to carry the Hornets into playoff contention this year.

9. Trae Young (Atlanta)

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Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Share of the vote: 4 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 5

One NBA executive voted Trae Young as high as third overall on his ballot.

“Young is a game-changer,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “We play in a guard’s league. He carries his team and makes everyone better around him.”

Young, however, struggled mightily in the playoffs against the Heat, averaging 15.4 points on 31.9 percent shooting and 6.0 assists. It could be a reason he fell in our poll this time around.

After leading the NBA in total points scored (2,155) and total assists (737), the Hawks acquired All-Star Dejounte Murray to help take some attention off Young and lead Atlanta deeper into the playoffs.

9. Darius Garland (Cleveland)

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Share of the vote: 4 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

Three NBA executives voted Darius Garland fifth overall on their ballots.

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After being voted the top breakout player by NBA executives in a HoopsHype poll in September of 2021, Garland lived up to the hype and became an All-Star.

11. Cade Cunningham (Detroit)

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Justin Ford/Getty Images

Share of the vote: 2.67 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 13

Two NBA executives voted Cade Cunningham fifth overall on their ballots.

Cunningham showed why he can be a potential All-Star for the Pistons in March when he averaged 22.9 points, 7.0 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game for Detroit.

11. Jalen Green (Houston)

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AP Photo/Michael Wyke

Share of the vote: 2.67 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

Last season, Green became only the second NBA rookie to score 30-plus points in five straight games since Allen Iverson. Michael Jordan did so in four consecutive games as a rookie.

13. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City)

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AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn

Share of the vote: 1.3 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 8

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is entering the first of his five-year maximum extension with Oklahoma City. In March, Gilgeous-Alexander showed All-Star potential by averaging 29 points on 52 percent shooting overall and 40 percent from three-point range, with 7.5 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game.

After playing in only 91 combined games the past two seasons, it appears his lack of availability hurt his stock in the eyes of executives in this edition of our poll.

13. Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana)

Tyrese Haliburton smiles during a game

Tyrese Haliburton smiles during a game

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Share of the vote: 1.3 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

Tyrese Haliburton finished fourth in total assists (628) last season while playing with Sacramento and Indiana. This season, Haliburton will be given the keys to the franchise following the Malcolm Brogdon trade to Boston.

You can follow Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) on Twitter. 

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Story originally appeared on HoopsHype





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