This season has once again shown us that the NBA is loaded with young and exciting talent. With LeBron coming closer to retirement, there was talk around the league about who’s going to become the new face of the NBA, taking over James’s on and off the court duties as the association’s most prominent ambassador. Few players have announced themselves as the ones who are ready to take the burden.
In the category of 21 and under, 4 players are on top of the list of potential guys who can take over the league. There is a Slovenian wonder Luka Dončić, who, in his second NBA season, is already in the MVP discussion. Then you have Trae Young, who became the youngest player in the NBA history to average 30 points and 10 assists in consecutive months, being one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league. Ja Morant has made a strong case for the Rookie of the Year award and has shown flashes of potential greatness. Zion Williamson is the most hyped rookie since LeBron James, who showcased his unlimited potential in only 19 games he’s played this season.
NBA decision-makers around the league were asked about which of the four mentioned players would they most likely build their team around, based on their potential to be a franchise’s leader. ESPN’s Tim Bontemps surveyed 20 of the NBA’s coaches, scouts, and executives about the player they would build their team around. The results of the poll weren’t particularly close, as Dončić got 17 first-place votes, winning in a landslide. Trae Young received the least number of votes, while the two exciting rookies were receiving almost the same amount of votes, with Zion finishing 2nd on the list.
Although these results may come as a surprise to some, they are entirely justifiable. Not taking anything away from the rest of the players on the list, Luka’s level of play is the highest - he is a superstar. After his rookie campaign, people were impressed with saying that if he never improves, he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Well, he did recover. His Mavericks were on the pace of winning 49 games, and as mentioned, Luka’s performance will earn him MVP votes, averaging 28.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, and 8.7 APG. Respondents were praising Luka, with one of the Western Conference executives talking about his potential to get even better.
“Luka has the size and elite playmaking and shooting right this second. I believe his game is not only sustainable but can continue to get better.”
Western Conference executive, via ESPN
The ones who didn’t pick Dončić justified it by saying he is limited athletically and talking about how he may be near his peak powers already, saying that this might be who he is – which is very good. Some were more intrigued by Ja’s athleticism, intangibles, and the fact he’s shown the ability to get better as a shooter.
“His upside is his athleticism. Dončić may be as good as he ever is because he’s limited athletically. For today, I’d say Luka, but moving forward, I say Ja because his athleticism is off the charts, his makeup is great, and his shooting will get better.”
NBA scout, via ESPN
Other than uncertainty about Zion’s body holding up, respondents love the rookie. One of the coaches described his talent as “off the charts,” talking about how he loves Zion’s ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor. The overall stance about Zion is that he will be spectacular as he gets accustomed to the league even more and continues to develop his shooting and playmaking abilities. “I’m only taking Luka because of health concerns about Zion,” said one Western Conference coach who had Dončić and Williamson first and second, respectively. “If Zion’s healthy, I think he’ll win an MVP. That’s how good I think he is.”
Atlanta Hawks’ point guard Trae Young didn’t receive any 1st or 2nd place votes. Although already being an elite offensive threat and playmaker in the league, there are too many concerns about him on the other side of the floor. “Trae is fourth because of the defense,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “I just don’t think you can win big when his defense is that bad.” He doesn’t have naturally given instincts on the defensive end. That, combined with his small frame, makes it hard for NBA executives to be assured about him ever becoming a good enough defender.
Whatever they may have voted, all the guys who have participated in the survey would love to have any of these four players on their teams. They all offer something unique and exciting and present the assurance that the future of the NBA is in good hands.