At this point, are rankings made just to cause a stir?
This week, ESPN ranked the NBA’s top 25 players under the age of 25, and the list is eliciting quite the reaction across the board.
That’s exactly where the debate began.
On Tuesday’s “Undisputed,” Skip Bayless made his case for why Williamson should rest at the apex of the totem pole, while Shannon Sharpe advocated for Doncic to stay on top.
Bayless’ stance? Teams have yet to figure out how to impede Williamson’s dominance.
“Nobody can stop that,” he said.
Williamson’s sophomore season, so far, has been something worth marveling at. His average of 26.5 points per game is third-most by a player age 20 or younger in NBA history and ranks eighth in the league currently.
He is also in the midst of a 25-game streak of scoring 20 or more points while shooting better than 50% from the field, putting him in the same conversation as a player widely regarded as one of the most dominant forces in the history of the game.
Williamson, remarkably, is putting up those scoring numbers while shooting 62.5% from the field (fifth in the NBA) and attempting just 16.2 shots per game.
That is the fewest shot attempts per game among the top 21 scorers in the league. In addition, his 32.9 minutes are fewest among the top 37 scorers in the league.
If Williamson can keep it up, he will join another NBA legend in the record books in Kevin McHale, the only player in NBA history to average more than 26 points per game, more than 7.0 rebounds per game and a field-goal percentage of better than 60% for an entire season. He accomplished that feat in the 1986-87 season.
Even with the rarified air in which Zion finds himself, Shannon Sharpe said the rankings were correct in positioning Luka above the rest of the young guns, including Zion, whom Sharpe believes is behind Doncic in every category.
“It’s a no-brainer. … He scores more, he rebounds better, he assists more [than Zion]. Zion only averages seven rebounds a game. He’s supposed to be Charles Barkley 2.0.
“Luka is in the MVP discussion. … Nobody else is even close.”
Doncic recorded the highest scoring average by a player 20 or younger in NBA history during the 2019-20 season, with 28.8 points per game. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game.
So far this season, he is putting up similar numbers, with 28.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game.
If Doncic continues to perform like this, he is on pace to become the second player in NBA history to average more than 28 points, 8.0 assists and 8.0 rebounds in multiple seasons. The first was Oscar Robertson, who accomplished the feat five times.
Doncic could also mark his name in the triple-double history books, as he currently has 34, good for second-most by a player 22 or younger. Once again, Oscar Robertson holds the crown, as he recorded 38 triple-doubles before turning 23.
After all the debate about No. 1 and No. 2, the third spot on the list led to a consensus from Bayless, Sharpe and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith — and not in support.
Smith is a fan of LaMelo Ball, whom he proclaimed will be an eventual All-Star, but he wasn’t ready to label Ball the third-best young superstar in the league.
“[Ball] was my rookie of the year before he got hurt, but to sit up there and put him No. 3 ahead of Donovan Mitchell, ahead of Devin Booker, ahead of Jayson Tatum, ahead of Ben Simmons? I mean, come on.”
Before injuring his wrist and watching his season come to a close, Ball averaged 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists. While Sharpe and Bayless also praised the youngest of the Ball brothers, they agreed he has work to do before he eclipses Tatum, Mitchell or Booker.
Regardless of these rankings, one thing is for sure: As LeBron James nears 40, the race for the next face of the league is officially on.
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