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2021 NBA player rankings, Nos. 20-11: Lonzo Ball a top 20 player? What about Ben Simmons?

Two rookies who have yet to log an NBA minute begin this section of our countdown, which also features a number of established stars.

Now, we’re getting into All-NBA territory on our Top 101 NBA players of 2021 countdown. Which players will be competitive for those elusive 15 spots in four years? How old will those players be?

That’s how you get a mixture of completely unproven NBA players and veterans that may or may not fall off. We begin with two players who have yet to log a single NBA minute and end with a two-time MVP and a two-time runner up who probably both got disrespected.

20. Ben Simmons

Age in 2021: 24 (5 seasons including injury)

CHRIS GREENBERG: Sure, Joel Embiid is great on Twitter. And, yes, Markelle Fultz may already be leading the league in getting overshadowed by Lonzo Ball at rookie photo shoots. But Ben Simmons is the versatile, matchup nightmare who will turn the entertaining #Process into the contending #Progress.

The rangy 6’ 10 playmaker who was compared to LeBron James coming out of LSU hasn’t played a minute since being the No. 1 pick in 2016 draft due to a foot injury, but his confidence seems higher than ever. He declared himself the 76ers’ starting point guard even after the team drafted a player at that position a year later with the No. 1 pick.

He’s also been practicing with James. That’s never a bad idea for a passing wunderkind with a 7’ wingspan.

Have a Shirley Temple for me when this pick is validated.

Everyone else’s reactions

TIM CATO: Forget his passing skills, which is the only positive we ever seem to talk about with Simmons. He’s probably the best ball handler over 6’9, and he’s built. The jump shot quandry with him is enormous, of course, but get Simmons going to the rim and I’m not sure what defenses do.

MATT ELLENTUCK: Brandon Ingram will be better.

ZITO MADU: I agree. Ingram will be better.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: He’s supposed to be baby LeBron, right? If that actually happens, he’ll be higher on this list than we have him.

TOM ZILLER: This could go really well or really badly. Little in-between.

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19. Lonzo Ball

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: The Lakers have 23 games on national TV this season without a single all-star on the roster. That’s all Lonzo Ball’s doing. Ball is a once-in-a-generation type of point guard the likes of which the NBA has never seen. I’m surprised he fell to 19.

Everyone else’s reactions

RICKY O’DONNELL: I’m all in on Ball. He might never put up huge numbers, but he just helps you win. Basically all the stud point guards today are score-first. Ball is pass first, pass second, and pass third. I can’t wait to watch him in the league.

ZITO MADU: In 2021, Ball will be the best player in the league and I will be on every NBA video with a Big Baller Brand leather snapback. Mark my words.

WHITNEY MEDWORTH: Can’t wait to see Ball and Kyle Kuzma tearing it up in 2021.

DREW GARRISON, SILVER SCREEN AND ROLL: That Lonzo is the highest-ranked Laker is no surprise — if he does turn out to be a top-20 player by 2021, the purple and gold should be thrilled. Just don't let LaVar know he's not No. 1.

MIKE PRADA: We spent all year saying Markelle Fultz (No. 21) was a better NBA prospect than Ball. NBA teams clearly preferred Fultz to Ball without much questioning. They’re the same age and play the same position.

Now Fultz gets a minor injury, Ball has a couple nice Summer League games, and we’re changing our minds?

TOM ZILLER: If by “we” you mean “Kristian.” This is a ludicrous pick. And I like Ball!

TIM CATO: You’ll never be a Big Baller if you keep talking like that, Ziller.

KYLE NEUBECK, LIBERTY BALLERS: Ball going over Markelle Fultz isn't super crazy simply because the latter will likely be the third-best player on his team in a best-case scenario.

Where I have an issue is Ball over Simmons, who I think is going to remind a lot of people how talented a basketball player he is during his rookie season. He is an elite prospect who has the perfect players around him to succeed, and he won't have to worry about answering questions about his dad after every shootaround.

CHRIS GREENBERG: I’m with Ziller. I love Ball’s court vision, but this pick makes a lot more sense if we’re ranking hype rather impact.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: Bottom line: I’d take Fultz, too ... if I knew Ball would never play for my organization. I saw what I needed to see with Ball. He makes his teammates better. That won’t go out of style any time soon.

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18. Paul George

Age in 2021: 31 (11 seasons)

WHITNEY MEDWORTH: I am a Pacers fan. Fool me once, shame on you, Paul George. Fool me twice, shame on me.

George has been freed from mediocrity after being traded out of Indiana. If he can accept that he is the best version of a No. 2 star on a really good team, he will be fantastic. When you get PG in a catch-and-shoot situation, he’s nearly automatic, and that will only get better with time. He will be 31 in four years, but will still be one of the league’s best defenders.

The only question is which star will have him as their sidekick? LeBron James? Russell Westbrook? Don’t let me down again, PG. Accept your role in the league and ride the wave to 2021.

Everyone else’s reactions

ZITO MADU: #LakeShow

TIM CATO: I’m a little surprised there were 12 picks between George and Jimmy Butler (No. 30).

TOM ZILLER: Not only that, but the order in which they went. That said, only one of them has Tom Thibodeau squeezing every watt of energy out of them.

TIM CATO: George’s game might age slightly better, though, just because he’s a better shooter who does more work off screens, percentage wise, than any other offensive star currently in the league.

JOSHUA BROOM, WELCOME TO LOUD CITY: George is only 27 now. If his knees remain stable, the four-time All-Star may rank slightly higher on this list in '21.

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17. John Wall

Age in 2021: 30 (11 seasons)

TIM CATO: Wall’s underrated now and he’ll be underrated in 2021. It’s good to know some things never change.

Regardless, I’m still betting on the dude who just averaged 23 points and 11 assists for an entire damn season. He’s only 26 now, so maybe he gets even better between now and then.

Everyone else’s reactions

JAKE WHITACRE, BULLETS FOREVER: If John Wall is still a top-20 player in four years at age 31, that's a great sign for the Wizards and it means they're getting good value out of his supermax extension.

TOM ZILLER: I can’t believe a couple of the dudes that went above Wall, a trifecta guard — scoring, passing, and defense — who will be in his prime.

TIM CATO: To be fair, that defense comes and goes. Fun fact! Wall’s average speed, per the NBA’s tracking data, was 3.42 miles per hour on the defensive end. That’s eighth worst in the league and only 0.04 better than the stone-legged Dirk Nowitzki. But the simple fact that he can play above-average defense immediately jolts him past some of his peers, and I’d imagine he’ll find a much better balance of the two sides in the coming years.

MIKE PRADA: Wall is too low, and I already feel dumb about the pick I made ahead of him. But I do have a slight worry that he may not hold up health-wise, given his history of knee issues. He was fine last year, but that looms scarily in the background. He’s incredibly smart, but he also depends on his speed and athleticism to activate that great basketball IQ. If that starts to fade, I’ll be curious to see how his game responds.

Wow, we’re dumb.

TIM CATO: For the record, I didn’t even realize I picked the Washington backcourt consecutively until we finished this exercise. I’m putting Wizards fan Prada to shame.

KOFIE YEBOAH: Wall, I apologize for not picking you. I love you. Raleigh be the city.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: Only if this is Gang Sign John Wall.

KOFIE YEBOAH: Gang Sign John Wall would have gone No. 1 at the lowest.

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16. Devin Booker

Age in 2021: 24 (6 seasons)

KOFIE YEBOAH: Devin Booker has shown flashes of brilliance, though he has some things to improve of course. I picked him so high because the craziest part about Booker is that he’s only 20 years old now. He has time to improve and get even better. The potential is scary.

Everyone else’s reactions

RICKY O’DONNELL: I still can’t believe John Calipari played the Harrison twins over him when it counted at Kentucky.

DAVE KING, BRIGHT SIDE OF THE SUN: We believe that the 24-year old Booker will be an All-Star by 2021, maybe even multiple-times, so a No. 16 overall ranking makes sense. If Booker can lead the Suns to the playoffs by then, he might even rank higher at his NBA peak.

TOM ZILLER: This is a good pick. There may not be a better pure scorer under the age of 25 right now. (Dion Waiters is 25, for the record.)

MATT ELLENTUCK: I love Booker, but he’s going to need to add to his game to be in top-16 consideration. Can he become a playmaker? A solid defender? Right now we only know he can do one thing with consistency: shoot the damn ball to perfection.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: I side with Matt on this one. Booker can fill it up, but he’s gotta step the other facets of his game up to be a top-20 guy.

CHRIS GREENBERG: Dig the pick. Agree that Booker must continue to develop non-scoring aspects of his game, but believe he will.

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15. Marvin Bagley

Age in 2021: 22 (3 seasons)

MIKE PRADA: It’s time for my customary foolish gamble on a high schooler in the teens! In 2011, I picked Austin Rivers. Welp. Last time, I went with Julius Randle. A little better, but not great either.

Thing is, there is always at least one high schooler who grows into a top-15 player in four years. Karl-Anthony Towns and Giannis Antetokounmpo weren’t in the NBA in 2013, but belong in the top-15 discussion now. Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, and Kawhi Leonard weren’t in the NBA when we did this exercise in 2011, but all were potential top-15 players in 2015. (OK, maybe not Leonard by then, but you get my point).

We know someone who is not currently in the league will be a top-15 player in 2021. I just suck at predicting that player.

So why Bagley? I watched a highlight video, read Ricky O’Donnell’s terrific feature on him, picked his brain for further advice, and got hooked. That’s pretty much it. This is very scientific.

Third time’s the charm! (Or, sell your stock on Bagley’s pro career post haste).

Everyone else’s reactions

KOFIE YEBOAH: /Watches Ballislife mixtape.

Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesh. I’m with it.

RICKY O’DONNELL: I watched Bagley play point guard for his grassroots team this spring and was immediately sold. I can see him really developing his ball skills as he goes on in his career and gets some real coaching. I’ve mostly heard him compared to two players: Anthony Davis and Lamar Odom. That’s a hell of a combination.

MIKE PRADA: See! Ricky believes me!

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: This is a slap in the face of the Dion Waiters of the world.

ZITO MADU: I was confused how this could be a Prada pick and not Ricky’s, but it looks like you two conspired to get Bagley this high. There’s a bit of corruption going on with this, I see.

TOM ZILLER: Dammit, Prada just ruined Marvin Bagley’s career.

CHRIS GREENBERG: Wait, didn’t Bol Bol’s team top Bagley’s squad at Nike EYBL in April?

MIKE PRADA: Ricky’s story illuminates why that happened.

14. Nikola Jokic

Age in 2021: 26 (6 seasons)

MATT ELLENTUCK: Letting the Joker slip this deep is a crime. The quietest rising star of the 2016-17 season is years ahead of schedule already. He’s an offensive magician whose incredibly efficient shooting pales in comparison to his savvy passing and guard-like skills. Every shooter is better with Jokic on the floor. By 2021, I’m willing to bet a good team is built around him.

Everyone else’s reactions

TIM CATO: I think this is a perfect spot for Jokic, honestly. At his peak, he’s the uniquely gifted lead player on an above-average offense who plays good defense. That’s probably never going to be more than a top-15 player, but I’m all in on his potential.

TOM ZILLER: No one knew who Jokic was a year ago, and letting him slip to third-team All-NBA in a Future Rankings is a crime? I love Jokic but let’s not act like his future dominance is anything like assured.

MIKE PRADA: What if I told you that Jokic will make an All-NBA team next year? Because I think he will.

ADAM MARES, DENVER STIFFS: The year is 2029. Nikola Jokic drops 40-10-7 on Kristaps Porzingis and the New York Knicks. The media is impressed, but still certain that Porzingis has more upside.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: I just want Jokic to stay healthy.

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13. Stephen Curry

Age in 2021: 33 (12 seasons)

RICKY O’DONNELL: Curry has never won with his athleticism. Even at age 33, he’ll still be the best shooter in the world and one of the NBA’s most electric players with the ball in his hands. I don’t see any way how Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, or even Russell Westbrook is going to pass him up over the next four years.

Everyone else’s reactions

CHARLIE STANTON, GOLDEN STATE OF MIND: For the life of me, I can’t think of 12 players now or in the next four years who will be better than a 33-year-old Steph. Malik Monk? Michael Porter? Bol Bol? Wait, I got it — Grayson Allen. There it is.

Editor’s Note: It was none of those players.

Curry is a top-five player in the league, and I have no reason to expect him to drop a full eight spots. He stays in the top seven.

TIM CATO: Curry should’ve been top-10, at least.

MIKE PRADA: Definitely would have taken him over a handful of folks ahead of him on this list.

BRADY KLOPFER, GOLDEN STATE OF MIND: I also don’t think Steph will fall this far. Shooting — especially given his quick release — isn’t really a trait that diminishes with age. His crossover and finishing ability may take a slight step backwards, but they’re certainly not skills that rely on his athleticism (or lack thereof).

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: I didn’t take anyone 30 or over in this draft, and I ain’t bending that rule for Curry.

CHRIS GREENBERG: Spoken like someone in his 20s who can’t fathom that noted olds Magic, Hakeem, MJ, Nash, Russell, Wilt, Dr. J, Kareem, and the Mailman won MVP Awards in their age 30 seasons or later.

TOM ZILLER: Or that LeBron James, 32, is arguably still the best player in the world.

KOFIE YEBOAH: I tried to have the same age mentality as Kristian in this draft. Also are we sure that James isn’t immortal?

ZITO MADU: Curry feels too low? I can already see the snarky tweets from Warriors Twitter. Of course, I’m partially responsible for it.

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12. Damian Lillard

Age in 2021: 30 (9 seasons)

ZITO MADU: Lillard had his best year individually last season, averaging 27 points, six assists. and five rebounds, all while shooting a career high 44 percent from the field and 89.5 percent from the free-throw line. By 2021, Lillard should be better, and if he’s not better, some website will mention it and he’ll use the slight as motivation to burn the league down.

Everyone else’s reactions

DAVE DECKARD, BLAZERS EDGE: Unless he picks up some defense, we may be seeing peak Lillard already, but that's plenty good and should last. You can hardly slip a piece of notebook paper between him and the elite guards of his generation.

WHITNEY MEDWORTH: Lillard won’t be this good in 2021, but we’ll all talk about how he should be.

CHRIS GREENBERG: Want Zito to be right because Lillard is fun as anyone to watch when he’s cooking. But think Whitney is probably closer to the truth.

MIKE PRADA: Zito must be worried about suffering the wrath of a scorned Lillard. It’s hard for me to see him being better than Steph in four years, even with the age difference.

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11. James Harden

Age in 2021: 31 (12 seasons)

TOM ZILLER: Five straight all-star appearances, a guy who twice been an NBA MVP runner-up, a player who misses an average of three games per season over his career. He turns 28 this summer. Harden is going to be around in the upper levels of the league for a long, long time.

Everyone else’s reactions

MAX CROES, THE DREAM SHAKE: My immediate seething outrage at seeing James Harden No. 11 is quelled only by the rules of this draft. At this point, we're experiencing the Beard's ninth All-Star game, more than Pau Gasol, Scottie Pippen, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard... you get the idea.

MIKE PRADA: Should’ve gone higher, though I’m a little worried that Harden hasn’t always kept himself in peak physical condition, which manifests itself in the numerous defensive blooper reels floating around YouTube and the occasional ISO-ball stagnation. That might come back to bite him as he ages.

TIM CATO: I promise you he’s in shape right now, at least.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: That boy cut up. I need to be in the gym with him.

TIM CATO: Don’t we roast you enough at work already? We don’t need Harden doing it, too.

KRISTIAN WINFIELD: I’ll see you whenever you get back to NYC, Tim. Hands on sight.

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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