Welcome to the second round of the bracket for the best player under 25 to build an NBA team around! In round 1, some familiar names such as Anthony Davis, John Wall, Damian Lillard, and Kyrie Irving advanced, while some superstars such as DeMarcus Cousins and Klay Thompson were upset.
Now, in round 2, eight players overall are left (the four not listed above are Paul George, Nikola Vucevic, Kawhi Leonard, and Andre Drummond). Voting will continue and follow the same rules as in round one, and all other rules will apply. Brought to you by NBA ISH writers Korey Burdman, David Rosenthal, and Mike Anders. Here we go!
#1 Anthony Davis (New Orleans) vs. #9 Nikola Vucevic (Orlando)
To start off round two, we have a battle of the big men, with Anthony Davis facing off against Nikola Vucevic. This battle really comes down to one thing in my mind: who has more value for their team?
Davis is the clear-cut superstar on a team that, while not in the Western Conference playoffs as of now, is still hanging on to those hopes. Without Davis, the Pelicans would not be anywhere near the playoff picture and would be one of the worst teams in the league, a team filled with a bunch of misfits.
Vucevic, meanwhile, may not even be the most important player on a team that is out of the playoff picture in the East. While the team around him is incredibly young and is a team that can make noise in the NBA for years to come, they just aren’t there yet. Also, if Vucevic was removed from the roster, Orlando would clearly suffer, but not to the extent that New Orleans would by removing Davis.
Because of that, Davis moves on fairly easily yet again. He just has too much potential and is already one of the best two-way players in the league (also, Bill Simmons gave him the number one spot on his trade value column, a spot that had been occupied by LeBron James for EIGHT consecutive seasons). Davis and his otherworldly potential moves on to round 3.
Nikola Vucevic is one of my favorite players in the NBA because he has good fundamentals and attacks the boards every night. He has increased his points per game every season, and continues to add more moves in the paint every year. He had All-Star level numbers this season, but didn’t end up making the team. However, he has at least another 7 or 8 seasons to improve and show the voters that they were wrong.
Vuch is an All Star level big man in the east, but he sadly cannot hold a candle to Anthony Davis, who has a chance to be legendary. He never missed a beat moving from Kentucky to the Pros, and dominates all competition on a nightly basis. He has continued to improve and expand his range, and is relentless on the defensive end. He can do it all, at the power forward or center position, and is already an MVP candidate at 22. Vucevic is a great NBA player, but Davis is a legend in the making.
While both are talented bigs, Anthony Davis is far more impressive than Nikola Vucevic on both offense and defense. While being more selfish with the basketball, Davis is able to score at a better rate than Vucevic. Vucevic’s body helps him bully opponents beneath the basket. While he does not alter a lot of shots defensively, he’s able to position himself well and has become one of the best rebounders in basketball. With the extra possessions created, Vucevic often helps teammates find open shots. While Anthony Davis has become an MVP prospect only in his third season, many believe that he can STILL get much better. Davis has been able to improve his body and his jump shot. If he’s able to extend his shot to the wings and beyond, scouting reports will be filled with question marks.
There is no doubt that Nikola Vucevic is one of the best big men in the NBA, but Anthony Davis is a year away from becoming the best basketball player in the world.
VOTE: Davis Wins 3-0
#5 Damian Lillard (Portland) vs. #13 Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio)
This is an incredibly interesting matchup. In the grand scheme of things, Lillard isn’t too much different from Klay Thompson, the Golden State guard who Leonard beat in round 1 of this competition. Lillard is more of an alpha dog for his team than Thompson, which counts for something, but also doesn’t play as much defense.
Lillard’s key advantage against Leonard that Thompson didn’t have: postseason success. Lillard famously hit a buzzer-beating three in Game 6 of an epic series with the Houston Rockets last year to win the series. The Blazers would move on and get buzz-sawed by… the Spurs.
In a very close matchup, I’m picking Leonard for another upset. His defense is incredible, and he has keyed the Spurs’ recent hot stretch. While he isn’t nearly the offensive player that Lillard is, Leonard is good enough, and his overwhelming advantage over Lillard on defense more than makes up for the offense. Also, Leonard likely has more potential to improve than Lillard, another factor as to why Leonard advances for me here.
Kawhi Leonard is the only player in this field with a finals MVP, and very well could be the only one by the end of all these players careers. It is the rarest honor in basketball, and puts him in a select group of all-time greats. He is everything you want in a small forward; athletic, strong, smart, defensive-minded, and to top it off, he’s an efficient shooter. Those are all important factor is a good player, but Leonard has never been one to wow me.
He had a great run in the playoffs, but just cannot compare to Damian Lillard, who is one of the clutchest players in the league. Every shot, every pass, every moment involving Lillard could be a highlight, and that is what makes an NBA star. Top 10 plays, big dunks, and buzzer beating theatrics are what Lillard offers. And these are exactly what I’d want in a leader for my team. He takes the load off of his teammates, and puts the largest burdens on himself. Leonard is an amazingly talented player, but just is not the guy I’d give the ball in crunch time.
Lillard takes my vote.
In a new generation of basketball, Damian Lillard has become the standard. A volume shooter who can also distribute to teammates. While being very talented, Lillard played all four years in college, which made him older than the average rookie in 2013. As a rookie, “Dame” took the NBA by storm. He was named the 2013 Rookie of the Year. High expectations have led to high pressure, but Lillard has become a household name for with Portland.
During the 2014 Finals, I first believed that Kawhi Leonard is the “Quietest Superstar in the NBA.” Leonard has already won Finals MVP at the age of 23. There is no weakness to his game. As a rookie, criticism was made about Leonard’s inability to shoot from long-range. Leonard worked hard in the gym and now has one of the sweetest strokes in the NBA. During the offseason, each member of the San Antonio Spurs was allowed to spend a day with the Finals trophy. Leonard did what no other Finals MVP would do. He took the trophy with him to the gym, and worked out for the remainder of the day. It is that work ethic which propels Leonard higher than any of his counterparts.
Leonard is an easy choice in this round.
VOTE: UPSET, Leonard Advances 2-1
#2 John Wall (Washington) vs. #7 Paul George (Indiana)
If George weren’t injured, he would easily move on this round (and I mean easily). Wall’s Wizards have been awful in recent weeks, and Wall’s lackluster play (lackluster by his usual standards) is no small part in that.
But it’s just so hard to shake the George injury. He originally targeted a mid-March return to the court, but that obviously did not happen, and there really is no telling when he will make his season debut, if at all. At this point, with the Pacers struggling, they may be better off letting George rest the remainder of the season and unleash him to start the 2015-16 campaign.
Basically, this is a matchup between struggling and injured – I’m picking injured. While I am starting to get more concerned about George’s injury and his lack of a return, I still believe he will come back as strong as ever. Remember, George was being hailed as the third best player in the NBA just last year, and he was going to be a starter for Team USA last summer before getting injured (a team John Wall was not even on). I like George here.
This is probably the hardest matchup of the tournament for me. Wall and George are both All-Star level, and Olympic level players, who are both on a path towards the Hall Of Fame, but there is a long way to go for both. The Wizards haven’t been relevant in the NBA until this year. Wall needed a bunch of pieces alongside him to succeed, like Nene, Brad;ey Beal, Marcin Gortat, and Paul Pierce. The Pacers were at the top of the league last year, largely because of the level at which Paul George was playing. He quickly shot up player rankings, and became the most electric player in the league last season. His leg injury was a huge setback, but I have faith in his resilience.
John Wall went from a strictly slashing and passing point guard, to one who actually uses his midrange game to open up driving lanes. He has always been a top athlete, but has really developed into a top point guard. Paul George came from a small school, with all the physical attributes to succeed, but no real track record of it. He built that track record over his first three seasons in Indiana, and is on pace to battle Durant, James, and Harden to be the best wing player in the league. Because George has a chance to be the best at his position I have to give him the leg up. Wall is a great player, but would never be considered the number one point guard in the NBA. This one goes to George.
Coming into the pros in 2011, John Wall was head and shoulders above any other prospect. He dominated under John Calipari and there was no reason to think that anyone would be superior. In the same class, Paul George was an underrated wing from Fresno State. He was silky smooth offensively, but scouts were unsure about his size. From 2011 to 2014, Wall and Paul were the face of young NBA players. This quickly changed when Paul George suffered a horrific knee injury in a game for Team USA. He is just now starting to practice basketball, but it will be a very long time before we see the Paul George of the past. This year, Wall has done an incredible job as the floor general for Washington. He has worked to improve every aspect of his game. With the right teammates, Wall would be much more talked about in the MVP conversation.
While Wall has my vote, I surely do hope that Paul George will one day be able to fully recover.
VOTE: UPSET, George advances 2-1
#6 Kyrie Irving (Cleveland) vs. #14 Andre Drummond (Detroit)
A battle of young centerpieces in the Central Division between Irving and Drummond. Here, you could not contrast any two superstars in more different manners than these two. Irving is the lightning quick, super skilled, frail guard, while Drummond is the overpowering, glass-dominating center.
Since the last installment, these two teams have gone opposite ways. Irving’s Cavaliers have continued their dominance and widened their lead on the #2 seed in the East to three games, while Drummond’s Pistons has faltered since the acquisition of Reggie Jackson, falling almost all of the way out of the playoff picture. In that span, Drummond has been good (not great), while Irving has been incredible, including putting up a game for the ages against the Spurs by dropping 57 points.
While it is a small factor, the recent stretch isn’t the only reason I’m going with Irving here. He is special, and does more for his team than Drummond does for his. Also, Irving doesn’t have glaring weaknesses in his game, while Drummond’s free throw shooting could be a major Achilles heel for his entire career. Irving advances here.
This matchup sounds like an easy win for Irving, but that isn’t the case. Andre Drummond is already one of, if not the most physically imposing big men in the league. He has unreal physical tools and athleticism, and even has some game to back those up. He might not be the most refined player, but he continues to work on his skills and salvage something from his free throw attempts. He is can control the paint and the boards, against the world best players, and that must be recognized.
The difference between him and Kyrie Irving, is that Irving has been a finished product for a while now. People had their doubts about both players in their lone college season, but Irving proved them wrong within his first few months in the NBA. His handle is unmatched, his offensive savvy is unmatched, and his shooter’s stroke is elite as well. The biggest testament to how good a player Irving is, is that he still manages to look amazing next to the league’s most amazing player in LeBron James.
If Andre Drummond’s career pans out perfectly, he could surpass Kyrie Irving, but for now, Irving is the better player now, who could run the show for any of the 30 NBA teams.
Kyrie Irving has removed the weight of a franchise from his back and has benefitted. He is forcing less offensively, and this has helped improve his shooting percentages. His body has been able to take less of a beating as well. With solid depth, Irving isn’t forced to play a full 48 minutes on a daily basis. Under good leadership, he has thrived. So much that Kyrie and the Cavaliers are favorites to win the NBA Finals.
After setting high expectations in his first two seasons, Andre Drummond has noticed a slight decline in his performance. His shooting has gotten worsened, and is committing bad fouls. While he has all the potential in the world, he may fail to realize it under bad leadership. With this said, Drummond is only 21 years old. He still has time to leave Detroit and start fresh with a new coaching staff. His rebounding and ability to anchor the paint are what makes him great, but there are plenty of other players who can have the same impact. Drummond will have to make himself be unique and offer a stronger skill set in order to win the favor of future teams.
Irving is a better product as of now, so he takes my vote.
VOTE: Irving advances, 3-0
So its settled; Irving, George, Davis and Leonard advance to the next round. Stay tuned for the final installment within two weeks from today!
Featured images; Leonard via USA Today Sports Images, Lillard via www.somosbasket.com