ESPN released its 2019 “best 25 under 25” rankings Tuesday, and two Boston Celtics made the cut: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Chris Herring, Bobby Marks and Kevin Pelton contributed to the list, ranking their top 25 NBA players under age 25 based on future potential. ESPN.com published final rankings based on the average of the writers’ individual ballots, and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks earned the top spot.
All three writers ranked Antetokounmpo at No. 1, which isn’t surprising given The Greek Freak is among the league’s MVP favorites this season. They differed with their No. 2 pick, however, as Herring and Marks gave the edge to Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers while Pelton tabbed Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks.
Tatum is No. 8 in ESPN’s final rankings — Pelton had him at No. 8, Herring had him at No. 9 and Marks had him at No. 12. The second-year forward, who turns 21 in March, sits below a top seven featuring Antetokounmpo, Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons, Doncic and Donovan Mitchell.
Here’s what Pelton wrote about Tatum:
Expectations for Tatum probably got a bit too high after his strong rookie season and in particular during the Celtics’ playoff run. He was 24th in ESPN’s preseason NBArank, ahead of six players chosen 2019 All-Stars.
Although Tatum is scoring more in Year 2, his efficiency is down in a season that has been perceived as disappointing. Taking a step back, Tatum won’t turn 21 until next week and is still the second option on one of the league’s best teams. As he improves his shot selection and learns to manage high expectations, Tatum’s future is bright.
Brown, who turned 22 in October, is No. 25 in ESPN’s final rankings — Marks had him at No. 19, while neither Herring nor Pelton included him on his list.
Here’s Marks’ breakdown of Brown, now in his third season with Boston:
Is this three-spot drop from last season’s rankings due to Brown peaking prematurely during his sophomore season, the realization that he could be best suited coming off the bench or a lack of confidence based on an undefined role? The answer could be a combination of all three.
One thing to keep in mind is that Brown is still only 22 and one year removed from being labeled one of the NBA’s elite young wings thanks to his size, strong frame, wingspan and ability to play downhill.
It’s worth noting Pelton included Marcus Smart on his list, although it wasn’t enough for the longest-tenured Celtic to crack ESPN’s final rankings. Smart, who turns 25 next week, is in the midst of his fifth season with Boston.