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2021 NBA player rankings, Nos. 40-31: Some of these young guys will be awesome, but which ones?

Save for two choices, there aren’t a lot of proven NBA options on this section of the list of the 101 best players in 2021.

You’re always going out on a limb when asked to predict the 101 best NBA players in four years. A lot changes in four years. Just look at our (mostly off) predictions four years ago for the 100 best players today.

Picking out which young players emerge in the future and which don’t amount to a lot of guesswork. Consider this the section of the list where our panel of 10 puts some serious faith in their abilities to evaluate young talent.

Eight of the 10 picks in this section of the list are currently 23 years of age or younger. Some of us will look very smart. Others ... not so much.

40. Otto Porter

Age in 2021: 27 (8 seasons)

CHRIS GREENBERG: Good NBA contracts aren’t payouts for past performance. They are investments in future success. Otto Porter signed a max offer sheet from the Nets this summer, which the Wizards happily matched. He also was close to receiving a similar offer from the Kings.

Maybe those were bad offers.

But maybe Porter is just going to keep on developing into one of the most versatile and impactful players on one of the NBA’s best teams. With improvements at both ends of the floor through his four seasons, the 6’8 swingman averaged career highs in three-point shooting percentage (43.4), total rebounds (6.4), assists (1.5), steals (1.5), and points per game (13.4) last season.

Those numbers won’t set the world on fire four years from now. But this kid is still just a kid. He’ll be 27 in 2021, and one of the best 40 players in the league.

Everyone else’s reactions

TIM CATO: Porter has improved every year he has been in the league, and those are the type of players I’ll always bet on. Top 40? Sure, maybe. We’ll get at least one currently productive wing who bursts out Paul George-style in the next few years, and I’m rooting for it to be Porter.

MIKE PRADA: Bold, but I love it. I definitely would rather have Porter and his upward trajectory than several players picked in this range.

TOM ZILLER: I think this is a solid pick. He’s already a top-100 player, defense matters, and the Wizards should be solid if the band stays together.

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39. Zach LaVine

Age in 2021: 26 (7 seasons)

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: That ACL injury really sucked for LaVine, whose superhuman athleticism was the linchpin of an improving offensive repertoire. Still, I’m confident he’ll bounce back from his injury and, at worst, be a marksman from three and an above-average athlete. In Chicago, he’ll get enough touches. He just needs to rehab.

Everyone else’s reactions

TOM ZILLER: I took someone with an ACL history way higher (stay tuned) but LaVine’s production is really tied up in his athleticism, so this is a dice roll.

MATT ELLENTUCK: I didn’t love LaVine pre-injury, and think this is way too high for him considering the injury.

WHITNEY MEDWORTH: I’m a strong believer that a player’s environment and on-court situation play a large role in their success. The guy got traded to Chicago. This feels a bit too high.

RICKY O’DONNELL: Love watching LaVine play, but he needs to improve as a playmaker or defender to justify this.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: Prove the haters wrong, Zach.

KOFIE YEBOAH: Zach, please stay healthy. The league needs you. I need you.

BULLSBLOGGER, BLOG A BULL: Well, if the Bulls were internally worried about not building around Jimmy Butler because he was merely a top-15 player instead of top-5, great work by them now potentially having a single top-100 player in four years. Better hit on these lottery years I guess.

(Spoiler alert: no other Bulls made this list).

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38. Gary Harris

Age in 2021: 26 (6 seasons)

WHITNEY MEDWORTH: Harris and Nikola Jokic are going to grow up together in Denver and it’ll be a beautiful thing. Harris was a top-10 three-point shooter last year and is only improving. Plus, he’ll only be 26 in 2021! His growth between his first two years and his third gives me hope.

Everyone else’s reactions

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: This feels like one of those picks you make when there are five seconds left on the clock and you don’t know who to pick, but you see a name you recognize as one widely considered promising. Gonna pass.

MIKE PRADA: Love this dude, but No. 38 is borderline All-Star level, and I’m not sure he’ll ever be that good. I’m surprised there was this large a discrepancy between Harris and Jamal Murray (No. 63).

That said, I really love this dude’s game and look forward to him getting more attention now that the Nuggets are gonna be must-see TV.

TOM ZILLER: He’s a good shooter, but he’s not going to be the second-best Nugget in four years, is he?

TIM CATO: I could see Harris getting this good. I’m not saying it’s likely, but I could see it.

MATT ELLENTUCK: We picked Gary Harris ahead of Harrison Barnes, D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Kevin Love and Eric Bledsoe. Oh man.

MIKE PRADA: Harris is already better than all of those players except Love (and maybe Bledsoe), and he’s still quite young. Y’all gotta watch more Nuggets games.

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37. Skal Labissiere

Age in 2021: 25 (5 seasons)

TIM CATO: This pick’s meaning is twofold. First, what’s the point of this exercise if there isn’t a really dumb pick for NBA Reddit to laugh at? I am always looking out for the people of the internet. This was for you.

That said, I truly believe Labissiere has top-40 player potential four years from now. Why not? In a league that has become obsessed with unicorns, Labissiere has all those same tools. He’s an athletic 6’11 with scoring touch, and his jumper is silk. It’s a matter of time until it stretches out to the three-point line, something that will complement his icy post turnarounds beautifully. There’s much Labissiere must improve on, but give me his potential over picking another 32-year-old who may or may not hold up.

Everyone else’s reactions

TOM ZILLER: I have no emotion toward Labissiere’s current pro team, but as a recovering Francophile, I support all Haitians in the NBA. Skal is very exciting. Good pick, Cato. I support you.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: Skal looked great for the post-Boogie-era Kings. This is a really good pick.

AKIS YEROCOSTAS, SACTOWN ROYALTY: Skal looks like a diamond in the rough of a very bad 2016 NBA draft. In 2021, he could be a two-way force for the Kings if he continues to develop well.

MIKE PRADA: I was all set to go way out on a limb and take Skal somewhere in the 50s based on a few decent games against tired and/or tanking teams ... and then Tim did it 15 picks higher than even that. This will look either brilliant or extremely foolish.

TIM CATO: “This will look either brilliant or extremely foolish” is the future title of my autobiography.

KOFIE YEBOAH: Can I write the prologue?

MATT ELLENTUCK: See my last Gary Harris reaction. This is such a weird pick. I’m not reading that book even if you’re right about Skal, Tim.

TIM CATO: At least I didn’t pick (redacted) fourth overall.

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36. De’Aaron Fox

Age in 2021: 23 (4 seasons)

KOFIE YEBOAH: I swear this kid can teleport. From watching him play in a high school tournament in Raleigh, to playing in Kentucky, and now making it to the league. De’Aaron Fox will use his teleportation powers to terrorize teams in transition and beyond. I know people are willing to bet against his jump shot for the time being. Hopefully, he gets that down so I can look back at this time capsule, drink a beer, and smile.

Everyone else’s reactions

AKIS YEROCOSTAS, SACTOWN ROYALTY: Given that De'Aaron Fox will be just 23 years old in 2021 with his best years ahead of him, I think most Kings fans would be ecstatic if he was already in the top 50 of NBA players. The speedster evokes John Wall, and if he can get anywhere close to that, the Kings are in good shape.

MATT ELLENTUCK: De’Aaron Fox might’ve been my favorite college player to watch last year, but this feels WAY too high for him. He’ll be 23 years old. I think he needs more time before he’s a borderline All-Star.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: De’Aaron is fast as a Fox and will learn to control that speed in four years. Finally, a good pick by Kofie.

KOFIE YEBOAH: Finally? Kristian, I hope the Knicks miss the playoffs by one game every season for the rest of their existence.

CHRIS GREENBERG: These teleportation powers you note make him sound like a likelier member of the X-Men in 2021 than a top 40 NBA player.

MIKE PRADA: Two Kings in the top 37? That’s not what I expected when we started this exercise.

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35. Michael Porter Jr.

Age in 2021: 23 (3 seasons)

MIKE PRADA: Kinda surprised a textbook elite unicorn for a new generation who’s been near the top of the 2018 high school class throughout fell this far. Y’all are too scared to pick high schoolers.

Porter would be the perfect new franchise player for the Nets because ... oh yeah, never mind. Whoops.

Everyone else’s reaction

TOM ZILLER: We’re not too scared to pick high schoolers. Some of us have picked high schoolers in the past and been burned! (In 2011, I wrote that Shabazz Muhammad would be a top-100 player in 2015. Welp.) You have also picked high schoolers in the top 100 — hell, the top 20! — and been burned. The difference between us is you keep walking back into the fire. Bad Prada!

RICKY O’DONNELL: Porter might be considered a center by 2021 the way the league is going.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: Pass on all high schoolers on this list.

KOFIE YEBOAH: No LaMelo Ball for you Kristian?

34. Josh Jackson

Age in 2021: 24 (4 seasons)

MATT ELLENTUCK: I still think Josh Jackson should have been in strong consideration as the top pick in this past draft, and I definitely would’ve taken him ahead of Jayson Tatum.

I’ve watched Jackson’s game since high school and have consistently been impressed by his basketball smarts and unreal athleticism. That knowledge, coupled with his dominant final few months at Kansas, sold me on Jackson as an impact player from the jump. His shooting is a real concern, but it’s obvious what his role will be as a playmaker and do-it-all small forward.

Everyone else’s reaction

TOM ZILLER: Stay tuned to find out if the entire first round of the 2017 NBA Draft gets picked in this exercise! Dibs on Tony Bradley. (The thing is: KUZMA got picked so you can’t even tell if I’m joking.)

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: The Suns better be good in 2021 if Josh Jackson’s a top-35 player, AND we haven’t gotten to Devin Booker yet.

MATT ELLENTUCK: I stand by this pick almost as hard as I do my Covington one. Jackson will be a STAR.

DAVE KING, BRIGHT SIDE OF THE SUN: Jackson profiles as a difference maker in the same vein as Draymond Green today and Tayshaun Prince back in the day. He’ll do all the winning things that allow scorers like Booker to score.

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33. Draymond Green

Age in 2021: 31 (9 seasons)

RICKY O’DONNELL: Draymond might be the best defensive player in the league. He’s also incredible with the ball in his hands, as evident by him finishing top-10 in the league in assists each of the last two seasons. He’s never been super fast and he certainly has never had great size. Somehow, he still is the most impactful center in the league. I don’t expect that to completely change by the time he’s 31 years old.

Everyone else’s reactions

GREG THOMAS, GOLDEN STATE OF MIND: Draymond doesn’t just excel based on pure athleticism, he excels on his innate basketball IQ. This enables Green to read defenses better and play more efficiently. He has helped lead the NBA into this small ball stretch-5 era and he will continue to evolve as a high IQ player. Draymond is a mainstay at the top and will be the force to reckon with for years to come. He will continue to outsmart and outhustle players that are more physically gifted than him.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: Dray Dray is the most versatile defender we’ve ever seen, right? I’m curious how much of that versatility takes a hit as he ages.

TIM CATO: This is another one of those, “Either he’s higher, or he’s lower, and this is an average of the two,” picks. Green could blow up, fall off the map, and be out of the NBA by 2021. That’s conceivable. It’s just as likely he’ll remain the same defensive savant while maybe even improving his offensive game a little bit. When we’re talking about Draymond, a slow decline just doesn’t seem likely. It’ll be sharp and sudden, like a kick to Steven Adams’ nether regions.

TOM ZILLER: I don’t understand why we consider Green a boom-bust player. He doesn’t rely on athleticism — more his motor, brain, and intensity. Doesn’t that age well? I think Green will be fine into his mid-30s.

CHRIS GREENBERG: I’m torn on this one. Is Dray really succeeding without athleticism? That would suggest he’ll be fine for years, thanks to his basketball IQ and skills. Or is he leveraging every last bit of his relatively meager athleticism to maximize his basketball IQ and skills? In that case, losing even a single step could see his impact drop off a cliff.

MATT ELLENTUCK: Draymond is a top-10 or so player right now. His talent would translate to any team. I still don’t think we respect him nearly enough. He will still be GREAT in four years, so I’m offended by Tim’s reaction.

TIM CATO: My reaction was more a testament to his off-court (or even on-court) volatility than any decline in his game. But also, come on — he clearly relies heavily on athleticism, just not in the prototypical areas we think of it like 40-yard dashes and leaping abilities. His lateral movement declining would be a huge blow to the player he is.

KOFIE YEBOAH: I think four more years of Draytness is pretty reasonable. Anything after that, I can’t see.

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32. C.J. McCollum

Age in 2021: 29 (8 seasons)

ZITO MADU: The second and more chilled half of the Blazers buddy-cop duo has a similar career trajectory. McCollum can shoot and score. Last year he finished just outside the 50-40-90 club (48 percent from the field, 42.1 percent from the 3-point line, and 91.2 percent from the free throw line) while averaging 23 points per game. He’s only 25. His future is bright.

Everyone else’s reactions

DAVE DECKARD, BLAZERS EDGE: McCollum may turn out to be the most underrated player on this list: phenomenal offense, great attitude, could end up in the conversation with the league's best guards.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: Better than Bradley Beal. (Can the league make 1-on-1 contests during the All-Star break? McCollum vs. Beal is the first game I want to see. Then JaVale McGee vs. Marvin Bagley.)

MIKE PRADA: This is a good pick.

One question: Will C.J. have his own team by now? He’ll have just finished his four-year deal, and while he gets along well with Damian Lillard off the court, you wonder if one or both will get wandering eyes, or if Portland will break the duo up itself in an attempt to become a more balanced team.

I hope they stay together because it’s fun watching their tag-team act, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re on different teams by 2021.

TOM ZILLER: My only concern for McCollum is that Portland’s defense is going to continue to be a sore spot and it eventually means the end of the backcourt duo. I’m not sure he has the same level of success with a lesser point guard.

MIKE PRADA: I actually disagree with that. I think he’ll be better individually away from Lillard because he’s good enough to be the lead dog in a backcourt. His team will probably be worse, though.

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31. Jabari Parker

Age in 2021: 26 (7 seasons)

TOM ZILLER: Parker is a silk-smooth scorer already, despite always getting injured. I have high hopes, still. Between picking Brogdon No. 71 and Jabari, I may also be overcompensating for the choice I made at No. 1 overall. Stay tuned.

Everyone else’s reactions

TIM CATO: Taking a dude with a twice-torn ACL in the top 35? That’s bold, Ziller. I wish Parker the best, but I’m afraid he’ll never be the same.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: A twice-torn ACL, man. I can’t get jiggy with this pick.

MIKE PRADA: Also think it’s an open question whether he’s even a positive value-add player if healthy. I love watching him play, but it’s telling that the Bucks fared better without him three years ago and survived just fine when Khris Middleton returned this season.

RICKY O’DONNELL: The NBA will be a better place if Jabari can stay healthy.

CHRIS GREENBERG: Agree with Ricky, and rooting for Ziller to be right. And, heck, Shaun Livingston has taught us not to count anyone out.

KYLE CARR, BREW HOOP: ​If Jabari can recover from his second ACL tear and show that same explosiveness he had this past season, I think he can easily be a 20+ points-per-game guy. His defense will be in question, but minimal improvements will do him wonders.

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INTRO | FULL LIST | TOP 100 OF 2017 | HOW WE DID IN 2013 | SNUBS | 101-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-1 | THE CASES FOR NO. 1