- With The Crossover's Top 100 NBA players of 2019 released in full, it's now time to look toward the young players who could make their mark on the list in 2020 and beyond.
Always comprehensive, well-reasoned and much-debated, The Crossover’s Top 100 never fails to spark conversation. And with a few high-profile exceptions, the Top 100 list generally favors veteran players, leaving off rookies on principle and asking younger stars to prove themselves before earning a place on the list. As such, there’s always talent left off the list—but certainly not forgotten.
With an eye on 2020 and beyond, below you’ll find our watch list.
OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors
After showing flashes of his massive defensive potential and making 62 starts as a rookie, Anunoby will slide in behind newly acquired Kawhi Leonard as the Raptors make a push to win the Eastern Conference. He was a capable role player right away, managing a 37% clip from three-point range and not forcing too many shots while showcasing his length and matchup versatility as a 6’8” wing.
Though a bit of a blank slate as a scorer, Anunoby’s natural gifts inherently give him value in the pace-and-space friendly climate. Given that he’s just 21 years old, he has time to expand his individual offense and become a more assertive player in all respects. The Raptors can roll out some fearsome defensive combinations, pairing him with Leonard to erase wings and forwards.
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
The rare athletic gifts that made Ayton an unsurprising No. 1 choice in June’s draft give him a chance to quickly establish himself among the league’s upper echelon of centers. He’s already one of the most powerful, explosive 7-footers anywhere, and while the NBA has skewed toward smaller, versatile lineup combinations, there will always be a place for size and skill. Double-doubles should be immediately within reach for Ayton so long as he competes nightly, and the Suns will put him in position to succeed and win his matchup with shooters around him.
If he’s able to succeed immediately without being force-fed touches and shows improvement in his face-up game, he’ll be on the right track. The biggest question is his defensive acumen, which was nitpicked in college and should at least be simplified playing as a center. He’s athletic enough to be a positive in pick-and-roll coverage and help-side rotations, but it won’t happen overnight. On pure talent and career trajectory, Ayton should be an easy Top 100 candidate, and it’s more than fair to set those expectations for him.
Jordan Bell, Golden State Warriors
It may not be long before we’re talking about Bell as one of the NBA’s better role players. As he enters his second season, he’s become an important cog for Golden State, providing versatile defensive cover from the five-spot and allowing the Warriors’ superstars to focus their efforts on scoring. Bell isn’t much of an individual scorer and is probably more valuable to this specific team than he could be anywhere else.
With JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia gone and DeMarcus Cousins on a slow recovery track, Bell is ticketed for important rotation minutes all season, as well. An opportunity to make real contributions for the best team in the league offers a clear pathway to a place on the back end of the Top 100. Becoming a more effective offensive player will help, but Bell will always make his money off defense, and he’s in the perfect situation to keep doing that.
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
After a string of jaw-dropping games at Las Vegas Summer League showcased his talent, Collins could be on the verge of a statistical breakout at age 21. He already exceeded expectations as a rookie, averaging double figures, impacting the glass on both ends and making 26 starts. Collins should become a full-time starter and lineup fixture as the Hawks start their rebuild, and he will benefit from having Trae Young and Jeremy Lin on the floor making plays.
A dynamic rim-roller who has nicely expanded his shooting range and fits the bill athletically, Collins has begun to unlock the upper end of his potential. He could be more impactful defensively, but there’s no doubt he belongs. Whether this season or next, it shouldn’t be long before he’s posting nightly double-doubles, which would certainly make him a candidate for the Top 100 list. Although the Hawks won’t win a ton of games, Collins’ individual development should be entertaining to follow.
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Provided Doncic makes a swift transition to the NBA game—and his career arc suggests he will—expect to see him somewhere on next year’s Top 100. He’ll be entrusted with a considerable playmaking share out of the gate as the Mavericks eye a quick turnaround, and he will have every opportunity to establish himself among the league’s most advanced young talents. His prowess using ball screens and ability to make teammates better have always set him apart, and while the athleticism and pace of play will pose an adjustment, he’s still just 19 years old and well ahead of the curve.
Doncic has star potential, and he's as safe a bet as anyone on this list to make a quick rookie leap. If he hits the ground running, Dallas could end up in the eight-seed conversation.
Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers
Fultz probably deserves a mulligan for his bizarre rookie season, but he certainly won’t engender much patience from the public after a shoulder injury and bizarre shooting woes devolved into a sideshow in Philadelphia. The 2017 No. 1 pick returns with a more defined role in the offense, retains his elite athletic ability, and can nestle in playing off of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. His jumper is a huge what-if, and it’s anyone’s guess which way this rollercoaster is headed. BUT if Fultz recaptures his magic, a swift return among the NBA’s elite young talents is well within reach.
Josh Hart, Los Angeles Lakers
As someone with his age and experience level should, Hart dominated Summer League, earning MVP honors and looking ready to play a real role for a Lakers team that, yes, includes LeBron James. The King’s ability to facilitate, draw in defenders and put teammates in position to succeed can’t be undersold when discussing the growth of L.A.’s youngsters, and Hart should be a direct beneficiary with his well-rounded set of strengths.
His defensive toughness and success scoring in spot-up situations and in transition should make him a clean fit with James, and giving a 39% three-point shooter a steady stream of clean looks and a simplified role could lead to a legitimate breakout. The Lakers will have plenty of mouths to feed, but Hart is in an ideal situation to earn more playing time and carve out value.
Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers
A stellar selection at No. 27 in the 2017 draft, Kuzma was an immediate-impact stretch-four for the Lakers last season. His ability to score from range can’t be undersold. But the Lakers simply weren’t very good last season, he was highly inefficient in posting his 16.3 points per game, and he has a long way to go on the defensive side of the ball. Already 23 years old, it’s possible that Kuzma peaked quickly and will essentially be as dangerous as the team around him unless he can unlock an unexpected element of his game. The talent is there, though, and playing off LeBron James could generate a meaningful statistical uptick that elevates Kuzma among the NBA’s better role players.
Taurean Prince, Atlanta Hawks
Flying under the radar as the Hawks struggled, Prince showed improvements and made a big statistical stride as a sophomore, averaging 14.1 points, starting all 82 games, and putting his 3-and-D skillset to better use all around. He’s a jack-of-all-trades with the type of strong build and defensive utility that tends to come at a premium these days, plus an improving jump shot that should enable him to stick around the NBA for as long as he wants.
Prince still has to prove he can do what he does best while also producing winning results, and the Hawks have a long way to go in that regard. He was not a particularly efficient scorer last season, and he should be a big beneficiary from the additions of Trae Young, Jeremy Lin, and to a lesser extent, Kevin Huerter. If Prince's shooting splits continue trending upward and Prince evolves into a plus defender, he can be the type of player any team could use.
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks
Smith cracks the watch list for the second year in a row after a solid but unspectacular rookie season, posting respectable counting stats but struggling with consistency as the Mavericks won just 24 games. Expect Dallas to be more competitive with DeAndre Jordan and Luka Doncic in the lineup; with more help around him, it will be on Smith to make more direct contributions to his team’s success.
His dynamic athleticism gives him a chance to be one of the NBA’s better scoring point guards, but lackluster efficiency and shot selection were commonplace last year, and there will be some pressure to show improvement. With Doncic, a more natural passer, now in the fold, there’s a chance Smith’s long-term relevance in Dallas could come into question faster than anyone expected. Conversely, he should see more driving lanes and open looks, creating a path for him to make a sophomore jump and fit nicely with the rest of the core. Smith turns 21 in November and has time to work things out, but at minimum, he needs to look like someone with a full NBA season under his belt.
Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls
Carter Jr. should be considered a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate until further notice, and HE is a great bet to land somewhere among the NBA’s upper tier in the next few seasons. If the Bulls slide him into starters’ minutes immediately, he could make a real impact.
De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
Still a highly promising playmaker, Fox has the unenviable task of learning on the fly in Sacramento, and he will be expected to make big strides as a sophomore. He’s a big talent, but still needs to get his three-point shot into respectable territory to tap into his star upside.
Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic
Isaac was arguably the most improved player at Summer League, and with his size, skill and versatility has a clear pathway to becoming Orlando’s best player. He turns 21 this fall, and has to stay healthy and get stronger in order to fully realize his potential.
Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Although Jackson’s offensive game is still raw, he will play real minutes for the Grizzlies as a rookie and his 3-and-D ability at center is difficult to find. Many around the league think he could end up as the best player from the 2018 draft, but it might take him a little longer to get up to speed.
Frank Ntilikina, New York Knicks
Whether he’s a point guard or a two-guard, Ntilikina’s defensive prowess and athletic tools could make him a high-impact backcourt backcourt piece in due time. He’ll have a better opportunity to showcase his growth this season.