In the ever-shifting landscape of the NBA, talent rises and falls every day, but the league always needs a face. With Lebron James missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2004/2005 season, it has everyone questioning if he still has what it takes to champion the NBA every year, which leaves plenty of room for some young talent, and enormous shoes to fill. Who might have what it takes to be the next face of the NBA? Note: This list excludes proven stars and players in their third season or later, so no Kawhi, no Giannis, no D-Lo…
Number 5: De’Aaron Fox
De’Aaron Fox is bolstered by a severe lack of talent around him. That may be a contradiction, but the missing pieces allow him to develop as a player in the clutch. Some say ‘Clutch’ isn’t a real factor, but those people don’t watch basketball, and Fox is very fun to watch. His rookie season was only a little less impressive that Trae Young’s, and it was marred with slumps, but he seems to be on the right path to success now. With a few extra pieces he might make it to NBA stardom.
Number 4: Trae Young
Trae Young has put together both a masterful first campaign and a solid case for Rookie Of The Year this season, averaging 18.5 PPG, 7.8 APG, and 3.6 RPG. But the stats don’t say it all. His court presence in felt both when he is on the court and off it, with an precise floater to dominate taller opponents, both his handles and shooting prowess make him very hard to defend. He would’ve earned a higher place on this list if not for his lacklustre defence.
Number 3: Luka Doncic
What more is to be said? The Slovenian has taken the NBA by storm this year, putting up 21.1 PPG, 5.8 APG, and 7.5 RPG. The stats are monstrous for a rookie and he continues to climb upwards, taking strides. His development, much like that of De’Aaron Fox, can be greatly attributed to his limited help which does wonders for rookies and sophomores alike. Whilst the long term benefits of carrying the load may do Doncic some good, it isn’t helping the Dallas Mavericks find a winning season. The early experience of having to lead (alongside the great Dirk Nowitzki) will be one of the greatest assets to him as he progresses.
Number 2: Jayson Tatum
Stepping into his second season after a historic rookie playoff run, many weren’t sure what to expect. Some had high hopes and some expected disappointment, but nonetheless, everyone had an opinion on Jayson Tatum. Averaging only 16 PPG, many people might think that he doesn’t deserve a place on this list, but he sits on a team that is chock full of undeniable talent. Standing alongside notable names such as Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and Gordon Hayward, his role has been limited this season. He earned his place on this list in the 2017/2018 playoffs, however. Without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward he led the Boston Celtics to game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, taking down the Giannis Antetokounmpo led Bucks in 7 games and the Embiid and Simmons led 76ers in 5. His statline may not blow you away yet, but given time, he may be one of the faces of the NBA.
Number 1: Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell deserved rookie of the year in 2018. If Gordon Hayward hadn’t left for Boston and gotten injured, the duo might have carried the Jazz for more than one playoff win. Toppling OKC as a rookie with limited help, however, was all it took for Mitchell to cement himself as one of the best up and comers in the NBA today. His team may have work to do but Mitchell has already developed into one if the top young talents in the league, and his ceiling is high. Very high. One of the best rookie years of the past decade has been followed up by a solid 2nd year, and he continues to show the Jazz that he was well worth trading for.