- With the SI Top 100 list favoring players who have a proven track record, this space will focus on young upstarts with the potential to make an impact in years to come.
You’ve seen our Top 100 by now, you know the rules, you know the rankings and you love it, hate it, or land somewhere in between. Let’s shelve those feelings for a moment and consider the future. It’s more fun, anyway.
With a few high-profile exceptions, the Top 100 list generally favors older players, leaving off even the most promising rookies who have yet to produce, and sophomores who still have things to prove. As such, there’s plenty of talent left off—but, of course, we haven’t forgotten about them.
Here’s The Crossover’s Watch List for this season and beyond, featuring 10 players with the chops to end up in the Top 100 in the years to come. The order is alphabetical.
Lonzo Ball, Lakers
It’s a foregone conclusion that Ball will make an immediate impact on the Lakers this season, and while there will be growing pains, they’ll come with the flashes of brilliance that have established him as one of the best point guard prospects in the league. Ball followed up a remarkable college season with one of the best Summer League showings in recent memory, and will begin the season with the keys to the Lakers' new franchise chapter. We know Ball can make plays, but he’ll need to prove he can score it at this level and couple it with a promising Lakers season to crack the Top 100. It’s within reach.
Jaylen Brown, Celtics
Brown exceeded expectations as a rookie and looks ticketed for a large chunk of Jae Crowder’s hybrid 3-4 role in Boston this season. We’ll see whether he’s up to task. Brown has the athletic tools to be an outstanding multipositional defender, but remains a work in progress when it comes to offensive skills, with his handle and jumper chief questions that will determine his ceiling offensively. Whether he fully embraces another complimentary offensive role will be critical for the retooled Celtics.
Markelle Fultz, Sixers
This year’s No. 1 pick will debut in tandem with Ben Simmons and help make Philly a must-watch team early on in the season. Fultz’s gifts as an athlete and scorer give him a real chance to be a star. He appears ticketed for a nice chunk of the Sixers’ shots off the bat and will have every chance to make a statement. How Fultz and Simmons split ball-handling duties will be something to monitor. He’ll have a great opportunity to show he’s a future star.
Brandon Ingram, Lakers
It’s foolhardy to read too much into Ingram’s rookie year, given how bad the Lakers were and how much of a physical adjustment he was faced with. He remains a superb perimeter scorer and could take a leap this season, finding easier shots in an uptempo scheme next to Lonzo Ball. Ingram’s not the next Kevin Durant, but remains a promising specimen. He’s still nowhere near what he can become as his body fills out and his confidence grows.
Thon Maker, Bucks
Maker is a bit of a wild card here, but could well emerge as a productive piece of Milwaukee’s future. His talent will have to make up for the fact that it’s still not clear what position he’ll play, but he showed enough flashes as a rookie to suggest he could deserve a bigger role for the Bucks sooner than later. His lanky frame and nimble feet give him a chance to become a good defender, but carving out a niche on offense playing off of Giannis Antetokounmpo is the key. We’ll find out if his 37.8% clip from three holds up this season.
Dejounte Murray, Spurs
Murray is another talent who requires more serious projection, but his rookie year exceeded expectations as he made a successful jump into high-level basketball and made strides toward fitting his freelance-oriented style into San Antonio’s more disciplined system.
He has the talent to be an effective lead ballhandler and threat to score off the dribble, and the Spurs have a way of shaping players into ideal roles. With Tony Parker missing time due to injury, Murray should see the floor more often and provide a nice complement to Patty Mills in the backcourt. He’s still far from a refined product.
Jamal Murray, Nuggets
An ideal fit for Denver’s system, Murray improved markedly over the course of his rookie year, averaging 12.1 points per game after the All-Star break and emerging as a nice partner to play around Nikola Jokic. Murray’s not a true point guard, but with improved offensive efficiency and decision-making should become a solid rotation player and secondary scorer for the Nuggets.
Ben Simmons, Sixers
Simmons could make a quick rise into the rankings by delivering on the hype this year after missing last season with foot injuries. Oversized, natural playmakers of his ilk are few and far between, and he’ll effectively function as a point guard for Philly this year when he’s on the floor. Simmons needs the ball to be at his most effective, and we’ll finally get to learn what that means for everyone else on his team. It could be fun.
Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks
Dallas at No. 9 wound up an ideal situation for Smith, with the Mavericks in sore need of a lead guard. He’ll land in a situation where he’ll have time to grow into his role, and eventually have a chance to be the lead scorer and playmaker as the Mavericks transition into what will eventually be the Post-Dirk era. Smith’s athletic ability, ballhandling skills and affinity for attacking the basket are a rare blend, and his best-case scenario is pretty exciting.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics
Although he likely won’t play a major role given all that changed in Boston this summer, Tatum’s gift for scoring in isolation will eventually become an important skill for the Celtics. The additions of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward as presumptive long-term pieces might call Tatum’s eventual role into question, but with a player of his talent level, it’s a good problem to have. He’ll have a chance to cut his teeth and should eventually become a formidable scorer. Patience.