NBA execs poll: Luka Doncic top player to build around; Evan Mobley voted ahead of Zion Williamson

NBA execs poll: Luka Doncic top player to build around; Evan Mobley voted ahead of Zion Williamson

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NBA execs poll: Luka Doncic top player to build around; Evan Mobley voted ahead of Zion Williamson

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In September of 2020, HoopsHype polled 15 NBA talent evaluators and asked them to rank their top five Under 25 players to build around. We have repeated the exercise with 17 NBA executives this time. There was no change at No. 1, but quite a few after that.

Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic remains the first choice, though he’s no longer the consensus pick after a somewhat disappointing first half of the season in which he’s still playing himself into shape.

Boston’s Jayson Tatum barely retains No. 2 with half the share of the vote of last season while Ja Morant moves up to No. 3.

LaMelo Ball and Trae Young went from no votes to cracking the top five.

In our scoring system, the top player received 10 points, the second received seven points, the third received five points, the fourth received three points, and the fifth player received one point for each ballot.

The results of the poll are listed below.

1. Luka Doncic (Dallas)

Share of the vote: 98.2 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 1

“Luka is clearly No. 1 by a large margin,” one NBA general manager told HoopsHype.

Doncic was a nearly unanimous selection as the top player to build a franchise around, earning the first-place vote on 16 of 17 ballots.

How vital is Doncic to the Mavericks? He leads the team in points (24.8), rebounds (8.2), assists (9.0), and steals (1.2) per game.

2. Jayson Tatum (Boston)

Share of the vote: 35.9 percent of maximum amount possible

Previus ranking: No. 2

While Tatum has become a better rounder (8.4 per game), his shooting efficiency has regressed this season. Tatum’s shooting a career-low from the field (.418) and three-point line (.334).

There’s been some question whether Tatum and Jaylen Brown can co-exist long-term, as Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer discussed on the HoopsHype podcast. Ultimately, Tatum must continue to grow as a leader off the court for Boston to have any chance of contending for the Eastern Conference title within the next few years.

3. Ja Morant (Memphis)

Share of the vote: 30.6 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 4

In late September, Morant called himself a “top-five” point guard in an interview with HoopsHype. He’s lived up to that proclamation.

Morant, who is poised to earn his first All-Star selection this season, significantly increased his share of the vote in our executives poll. In this one, Morant had the highest number of third-place votes of any player (4).

Morant has improved exponentially from his rookie season in nearly every statistical category across the board and has helped the Grizzlies elevate as a franchise from a fringe playoff contender to the fourth seed in the West (28-14), with the team projected for more wins for a third straight year with Morant on the team.

4. LaMelo Ball (Charlotte)

Share of the vote: 20.6 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

Somewhat surprisingly, Ball was the only other player besides Doncic to receive a first-place vote on an executive’s ballot for the top player to build around. For context, Ball led all players with five fourth-place votes in the balloting process.

In only his second season, Ball leads the league in pace (103.89) and has become a more consistent three-point shooter (.381), which has led to a noticeable increase in his scoring (19.3 from 15.7). The other noticeable improvement from Ball has been at the foul line, where he went from a 75.8 percent shooter to an astounding 86.9 percent shooter.

Ball, 20, has become the leader of the Hornets, and he has the city of Charlotte buzzing on a nightly basis with his passing and deep three-pointers. While Gordon Hayward is the veteran of the team, it’s Ball who is the team’s go-to player and has helped his close friend Miles Bridges take a major step in his development this season.

5. Trae Young (Atlanta)

Share of the vote: 20.0 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

Before last season, several executives around the league viewed Young as a player who could put up gaudy stats on a bad team and questioned whether he could impact winning at a high level.

“After what he did in the playoffs, he showed he can win as a focal point,” one NBA executive explained.

While the Hawks have underwhelmed mightily this season, Young isn’t to blame as he ranks second in total points (981) behind MVP candidate Kevin Durant.

Young and Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley each received four fifth-place votes, the most in the balloting process. 

6. Evan Mobley (Cleveland)

Share of the vote: 12.9 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

Evan Mobley is the best two-way player from last year’s draft,” one NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He has a maturity about him.” 

Including Sunday’s loss to the Warriors, the Cavaliers have a 19-13 record when Mobley starts for the team. 

The rookie big man is tied for sixth in blocks per game (1.8) and helped Cleveland hold opponents to the league’s lowest field goal percentage inside five feet (57.3 percent) with his length and recovery ability defending rolls to the basket.  

MORE: What’s next for Collin Sexton, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and other Cavaliers?

7. Zion Williamson (New Orleans)

Share of the vote: 10.0 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 7

Williamson’s injury made ranking him a conundrum, according to the executives. When healthy, Williamson is easily one of the top players to build around. However, his injury history has given executives severe concerns about his dependability.

“I don’t know what to do with Zion,” one NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He’d be in the top three if I had any idea what to do with his health.”

“Primarily, his injury history scared me off, or he would have been on my (top five) list,” another executive said.

Some rival executives are skeptical whether Williamson will return to action this season.

In 85 games played through three seasons, Williamson has averaged 25.7 points on 60.4 percent shooting.

8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City)

Share of the vote: 9.4 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

Oklahoma City is banking on Gilgeous-Alexander being the franchise cornerstone after giving him a max contract, which begins next season.

“He’s a two-way player who can play as a playmaker or shot creator,” one NBA executive explained.

After shooting career-highs from the field (.508) and three-point range (.418) last season, Gilgeous-Alexander has regressed to a career-low from the field (.415) and beyond the arc (.281), with defenses focusing solely on him as one of only two players on the team averaging over 16 points along with Luguentz Dort.

9. Anthony Edwards (Minnesota)

Share of the vote: 5.9 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

“Anthony’s ability to make perimeter jumpers will lead to more downhill opportunities for him,” one executive who voted him second overall said.

Edwards, a highlight dunking reel and hilarious quote on a nightly basis, could move up next season in this poll if he continues to help put Minnesota in a position to secure a playoff spot.

9. Bam Adebayo (Miami)

Share of the vote: 5.9 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 5

Before thumb surgery, Adebayo tied career-highs in scoring (18.2) and rebounding (10.2) through 18 games played.

“I think he’s the best big in the league behind Nikola Jokic because of his athletic versatility, his passing, he can play big or small, and guard on the perimeter,” one NBA general manager told HoopsHype. “I’m thinking about the playoffs, not the regular season. He can beat Rudy Gobert down the floor and guard Joel Embiid. He can match up with Giannis Antetokounmpo if the Bucks go small. He’s good at preventing guys from getting to their spots and taking comfortable shots. I don’t know what else you want from your five?”

11. Brandon Ingram (New Orleans)

Share of the vote: 4.7 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 9

Ingram has been tasked with being the primary playmaker for himself and his teammates with Zion Williamson out. The 24-year-old forward leads the team in scoring (22.6) and assists (5.0).

12. Jamal Murray (Denver)

Share of the vote: 2.9 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: No. 7

“Jamal Murray is tricky because he’s been around longer and is already into a max deal and coming off an injury,” one NBA executive opined.

Murray’s ability to shine bright during the 2020 playoffs, where he averaged 26.5 points on 50.5 percent shooting and 45.3 percent from three-point range with 6.6 assists, was why one executive voted him third overall on his ballot.

13. Cade Cunningham (Detroit)

Share of the vote: 1.8 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

Cunningham’s shooting numbers from the field (.381) and three-point range (.310) leave more to be desired through the start of his rookie season, but the three executives who voted him fifth overall on their ballots are looking at his long-term upside.

“I still think he has a chance to be really good,” as one NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He is playing with nobody there, and before he got COVID, he was starting to figure it out. I think we’re all forgetting about him.”

14. Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)

Share of the vote: 0.6 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

Ayton has picked up where he left off during the playoffs last season statistically and has helped the Suns tie for the league’s best record (30-9).

14. Michael Porter Jr. (Denver)

Share of the vote: 0.6 percent of maximum amount possible

Previous ranking: N/R

Last season, Porter Jr. showed glimpses of All-Star potential when healthy, averaging 19 points on 54.2 percent shooting overall and 44.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Following back surgery, he’s expected to miss the rest of the season. However, it didn’t stop one executive from giving Porter a vote on his ballot.

“It’s a big asterisk, but when he’s healthy, he can do everything as a five-tool player,” one NBA general manager told HoopsHype. “He can switch three positions defensively. There’s nothing more you want from MPJ than health.”

You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto

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