19 Best NBA '90s babies

by Tom Ziller

NBA players hit their primes in their late 20s and often stay at that level through their early 30s. The current superstars of the NBA were largely born in the 1980s, from LeBron James (Dec. 30, 1984) to Kevin Durant (Sept. 29, 1988) to James Harden (Aug. 26, 1989).

But there were 214 players born in the 90s who played in the NBA last year, and some of them are damn good. The league is transitioning from one filled with 80s kids to one dominated by 90s babies. As such, we ranked the top 19 NBA players born in the 90s.

The first guy might have been born on another planet. Click the player cards to find out how the rest of the youngsters got here.

1

Anthony Davis #1 Mar. 11, 1993

How young is Anthony Davis? Of the 492 players to log at least one minute in the NBA in 2014-15, only 25 guys were younger than A.D. Most were rookies; few were productive. Davis was damn near the MVP.

It's absurd how frighteningly good The Brow is given his age, but it's also more than that. He's good in ways we haven't quite seen before. If he expands his game in traditional ways to pair with his unconventional attributes, he could be the heir to LeBron as the best player in the world.

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2

John Wall #2 Sept. 6, 1990

Wall was the most hyped point guard to hit the NBA in years when he was taken No. 1 overall by the Washington Wizards in 2010, and he's delivered. An active defender and killer passer, Wall is always one step from a highlight reel drive or stepback. He needs to continue developing his jumper and become a more confident voice of leadership, but otherwise he's on the path to becoming his generation's CP3.

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3

Kawhi Leonard #3 June 29, 1991

Leonard hasn't been as productive offensively as the next four players on the list, but he's been good enough on that end (dispelling doubts that kept him from being a 2011 lottery pick) to let his elite defensive skills shine. Leonard is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and has an NBA Finals MVP in his considerable hands. Now he'll get to co-star with LaMarcus Aldridge for (at least) the next four years in San Antonio. Expect him to land his first All-Star nod this season and never look back.

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4

DeMarcus Cousins #4 Aug. 13, 1990

It's a bit of a shock that Boogie never made the All-Star Game until last season; alas, the curse of losing takes it toll. Cousins is a monster in the pivot, a deft passer (albeit one who takes unnecessary risks) and often looks like a great defender. There was hardly a more productive two-way player in the league for the first month of last season.

Unfortunately, viral meningitis ruined the magic feeling in Sactown and led to another disappointing season for the Kings. If Cousins co-exists with George Karl, though, he can be an MVP contender within the next few seasons.

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5

Kyrie Irving #5 Mar. 23, 1992

Irving heralded a new era of Duke basketball by becoming a high-profile one-and-done for Coach K -- Irving wasn't even so much of a one-and-done as a weeks-and-peace, given his injury issues in Durham. Nonetheless, Irving has been an excellent scorer at the pro level, and while his defense leaves plenty to be desired, he became a better passer working with LeBron James and Kevin Love last season. Expect a multi-year tutorship under LeBron to pay huge dividends for Irving.

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6

Paul George #6 May 2, 1990

George is another elite two-way wing like Leonard, only a bit more traditional in style. He's a solo artist who uses his athleticism to penetrate and a refined stroke to keep defenses honest, and he defends using his agile body and brain. We'll see how he's recovered from his horrific broken leg suffered a year ago, and we'll see how Indiana's new small-ball style serves his game. Chances are he'll be just fine and return to the All-Star Game a few more times.

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7

Damian Lillard #7 July 15, 1990

It's a bit stunning that Lillard is just 25, given that he spent four years at Weber State and it feels like he's been in the NBA longer than the three years he's starred in Portland. Perhaps it's because he came in blazing: he averaged 19 and six as a rookie, and has continued to impress since. Things will be a bit different this season after he lost his co-star LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. Given that the Blazers' roster is full of young talent not known for scoring, expect Lillard to increase his already impressive points-per-game average and perhaps even challenge for the scoring crown.

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8

Draymond Green #8 Mar. 4, 1990

Green really burst onto the scene last season under Steve Kerr; he supplanted an injured David Lee in the starting five and damn near won Defensive Player of the Year. Like Leonard, the youngster who beat him out, Green has yet to be an All-Star. That is likely to change in 2016. Everyone now recognizes the full impact Day-Day makes on both ends. He's a supplemental creator who can find open shooters and is one of the most relentless and versatile defenders in the league.

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9

Gordon Hayward #9 Mar. 23, 1990

Hayward has consistently improved with the Utah Jazz, and this could be the year the rest of the world notices ... if Utah is as good as many of us think it will be. A versatile small forward who could end up averaging 20-5-5, Hayward could stand to shoot more reliably from distance. In 2013, he shot 41 percent from long range on about three attempts per game; since then, he's shot 34 percent on about four attempts per contest. Losing Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap has a lot to do with that drop. Perhaps Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors (two other '90s babies) can allow Hayward some breathing room.

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10

Klay Thompson #10 Feb. 8, 1990

Thompson is perhaps the second-best shooter in the NBA today, behind his teammate Stephen Curry. (Who was born in early 1988, if you're concerned about his absence on this list.) Thompson is capable of incredible scoring feats (ask the Kings) and is also a good defender. We could look up in a few years and find him as a top-10 player in the entire league, and it would surprise precisely no one.

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11

Andre Drummond #11 Aug. 10, 1993

The young planet at the center of the Detroit Pistons isn't exactly well-rounded: he's a brilliant rebounder, shotblocker and dunker, but his range is the length of his arm. (His arm length is considerable.) He's a famously poor free throw shooter, and his defense needs work. But look at his per-36 numbers (13-13-2 last season) and his physical profile, and you can imagine great things.

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12

Giannis Antetokounmpo #12 Dec. 6, 1994

The Greek Freak is the third-youngest player on our list and was the 10th-youngest player to log a minute last season (despite being a second-year player). He was also mentioned in All-Star roster debates. Yeah, he's bloody promising. The question at this point is how to mold all that crazy potential into a player. It's easy to see a versatile, elite defender thanks to the rare combination of length and agility. Is there more than that in store?

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13

Rudy Gobert #13 June 26, 1992

Gobert is a half-season wonder at this point, but what a half-season it was. Once Utah exiled Enes Kanter, Gobert ascended and the Jazz became one of the better teams in the West. Utah's hole was too big to climb out of in a tough, deep conference, but Gobert's top-flight defense in the middle -- seriously, he ruins so many seemingly easy buckets -- should have the Jazz poised to compete from Day 1 in 2015-16. His offense needs lots of work, not unlike a long line of long French big men.

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14

Andrew Wiggins #14 Feb. 23, 1995

The reigning Rookie of the Year won't turn 21 until around the All-Star break, and he has a long way to go to reach his potential. He's not much of a shooter or passer yet, and the next player on this list is a more talented scorer. But Wiggins' physical profile is incredible, and he can already defend better than any other Minnesota Timberwolves player, which is something. He has a great chance of becoming a two-way star in the next three years.

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15

Jabari Parker #15 Mar. 15, 1995

Parker looked like a top ROY contender before tearing his ACL in December. He's expected to make a full recovery, and the Milwaukee Bucks will be pleased to add a strong scorer back into the mix given the team's shooting woes at several positions. That said, Parker didn't show a consistent deep stroke in his few months of play last season, so the jury is out on his immediate offensive impact. Based on his college, Team USA play and physical attributes, the future looks quite bright.

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16

Derrick Favors #16 July 15, 1991

Favors came into the league with Wall and Cousins, but is just finding his place thanks to lots of roster unrest over the years. After struggling to grab a large role behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in his early days and then working as an awkward fit with Kanter, Favors looked so much better teamed up with Gobert, whose limited offensive role gave Favors room to shine. Favors averaged a career-best 16 points on 52.5-percent shooting last season while maintaining the strong defense that helped make him the No. 3 pick in 2010. Favors is a great lesson on why it's worth betting big on young players with raw tools and a strong work ethic. If you give it time, it tends to work out pretty well.

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17

Victor Oladipo #17 May 4, 1992

Oladipo, like many others in this range, is an unformed entity. He's a superstar athlete and has the wherewithal to become an elite backcourt defender. The question is whether he'll become a big-time scorer (which would necessitate a refined jumper), a stronger passer (which requires better court vision) or a little of both, like a latter-day Joe Johnson. I'm betting on that scenario, and it's a good place for Oladipo to be entering his mid 20s.

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18

Bradley Beal #18 June 28, 1993

Beal is one of the best young shooters in the game, hitting 40 percent of his threes in each of the past two seasons while taking about four per game. Unlike players like Thompson, though, he's not much of a volume scorer: he's been between 16 and 18 points per 36 minutes through his nascent career. Will that change as veterans move on from the Wizards? That seems likely. Wall and Beal look to lead one of the East's most promising and productive backcourts for the next half-decade (if Washington keeps them together).

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19

Nerlens Noel #19 April 10, 1994

The Rookie of the Year runner-up reminded us why he was long considered a potential No. 1 overall with his defense. He blocked five percent of opponent shots while on the floor (a rate that landed him in the top 10 in the NBA) and displayed a crazy high steal rate, too (2.9 percent, No. 6 in the NBA). Block-steal combos are deadly, and Noel is a decent rebounder, too. If he can find ways to score at the NBA level -- even as a finisher a la Tyson Chandler or DeAndre Jordan -- he could become a top-10 NBA center in time.

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Honorable Mentions(in no particular order)

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Mirotic, Nikola Vucevic, Greg Monroe, Jrue Holiday, Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Knight, Tristan Thompson, Harrison Barnes, D'Angelo Russell, Ben Simmons, Enes Kanter, Emmanuel Mudiay.

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