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Andrew Wiggins is beginning what should be his most impressive season yet, on the verge of leading the Minnesota Timberwolves to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. Obviously, you don't want to miss this one, so you hop in your teleportation device and travel to the Land of 10,000 Lakes in an instant.
You need to witness Wiggins knocking in four-point jumpers from just beyond the newly installed arc. Sit back and order a drink just by thinking of it. Ugh, the red Target logo still doesn't work with these Minnesota blue jerseys.
By the start of the 2020-21 campaign, Wiggins has become one of the best wings in the NBA. But we're not convinced he's the absolute best, alongside established studs such as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James. And my, how high Klay Thompson's sharpshooting ability took him.
But we've always been able to see into the future, as Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore and I did some four years ago, when we perfectly projected the best guards, wings and bigs in the year 2020. We analyzed current levels of production, the amount of untapped potential left in the tank and everything else that could help a contributor succeed four years from now.
And we nailed it.
We divided it up into guards, wings and big men. Wings, defined as off-ball shooting guards and forwards who spend most of their time at the 3, came second.
—October 30, 2020
20. Miles BridgesMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
Last summer, LeBron James hopped into a scrimmage with high school players at the Nike Skills Academy in Santa Monica, California. One guy looked like he belonged on the court with James...
Miles Bridges, similar to James at the same age, looks like a grown man at 18. Only Bridges is thicker. At 6'6", he's a freight train with the ball in his hands and looks like he's going to tear down the rim every time he gets close to the basket.
"He has a special explosive athleticism," said Jerry Meyer, director of scouting at 247Sports. "He's so strong, and that's going to serve him well in the NBA. He's just going to have to refine his outside shooting and find his spot on the wing, but man, he defends, rebounds, plays physical."
Bridges, who will play at Michigan State this year, is the perfect modern wing because he has the quickness, size and strength to guard nearly every position. He'll be able to slide to the small-ball 4 spot without a problem.
Also fun: He's a lefty, and while his shooting could get better, he's capable of knocking down threes.
Mike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report 19. Norman Powell
19. Norman Powell
"He understands what he is and what we need," Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey told Doug Smith of the >Toronto Star. He continued:
He can’t lose sight of 'Let's play defence first and not jacking up threes. We’ll take what the defence gives us,' and fortunately for him, because there's so much attention on other guys, in pick and roll situations the ball is finding him and he's knocking them down. But his first job is not shooting threes, his first job is defence.
Norman Powell not only understood his role, but he excelled at it. Late in his rookie season, he became a more consistent offensive contributor, but he still never veered from that point-preventing tilt, even as he drilled triples and was trusted to handle the ball more.
Though he waited to hear his name called during the 2015 NBA draft, lasting until the 46th overall pick, Powell has already emerged as a gem. Few young players offer this type of two-way upside as well as a convincing blend of athleticism and skill.
18. Jae CrowderMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
The Boston Celtics knew what they were doing, first trading for Jae Crowder and then signing him to a five-year deal worth only $35 million last summer. We're not looking at the value of contracts here, or else a bargain this substantial would push Crowder well up the rankings.
According to NBA Math's TPA metric, plenty of players were more valuable on the defensive end in 2015-16. The same was true on offense.
But the combination of skills? That's what makes Crowder stand out:Adam Fromal/Bleacher Report
His relative ineffectiveness after suffering a significant ankle injury may have left a sour taste toward the end of the regular season and during Boston's first-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks, but don't let that cancel out his immense production prior to the malady.
Crowder is the prototypical player who may not excel in any one area but thrives because he also doesn't have any glaring weaknesses.
17. Kentavious Caldwell-PopeMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
This ranking is predicated upon the assumption that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will develop into a dangerous marksman by 2020. He'll only have celebrated his 27th birthday, so there's plenty of time to live up to the hype and promise he showed while serving as a one-man offense for the Georgia Bulldogs.
During his sophomore season in Athens, he drained 37.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc while taking 7.0 per game. That number might not sound inordinately impressive, but it's important to remember he was often shooting over double-teams and constantly attempting to shoulder the entire scoring load.
"A more relaxed shooter in his second year, fully utilizing his foundation for better balance to spring into the shot," Adam Ganeles wrote about Caldwell-Pope for NBADraft.net while the 2-guard was still in college. "Solid elevation and consistent point of release. The trey is his layup. One-man show at Georgia—any possession where he found space to fire was a good possession."
The Detroit Piston is already a capable defender who's shown no difficulty handling heavy minutes in a thin Motown rotation. If he can add that shot back into his arsenal, he'll have sky-high upside.
16. Khris MiddletonMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
During the 2014-15 campaign, Khris Middleton was a major reason for the Milwaukee Bucks' drastic improvement. Blending potent perimeter defense with the sniping ability that made him such a valuable offensive contributor, he ranked No. 10 in ESPN.com's real plus-minus, directly behind DeMarcus Cousins and Draymond Green.
Declining effort on defense hurt him in 2015-16, but he still fared rather well in RPM. This time, he checked in at No. 20, falling right after Jimmy Butler and Manu Ginobili.
Middleton should strike a healthy balance moving forward, especially because the Bucks showed signs of rebounding to their old (better) form late in 2015-16. When he's surrounded by stronger defenders, it allows him to ply his trade without worrying about covering up for too many of his comrades' mistakes.
Plus, he'll only be nearing the twilight of his athletic prime when 2020 rolls around. We shouldn't see any major signs of decline between now and then.
15. Justise WinslowMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
It's not easy to play above-average defense during your rookie season in the NBA, but that's exactly what Justise Winslow did for the Miami Heat. Though the defensive portion of NBA Math's TPA metric shows he saved more points with his stopping ability than all but 36 players, it was his standing among first-year contributors that truly stood out:
- Nikola Jokic: 76.01 defensive points saved
- Justise Winslow: 69.63
- Karl-Anthony Towns: 62.5
- Willie Cauley-Stein: 44.13
- Myles Turner: 38.51
Even if this Duke product stagnates on the point-preventing end, he'll remain one of the league's more valuable defenders. And that's saying nothing of his offensive acumen; he clearly showed he can serve as a dynamic scorer during his time under Mike Krzyzewski, though not yet in the NBA.
14. Brandon IngramMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
Brandon Ingram is not Kevin Durant. But basketball people get in a rush to find the "next Michael" or "next LeBron" or "next Durant," and Ingram is as close as we've seen to a Durant clone.
Ingram is a few inches shorter at 6'9"—the height Durant is listed at (he is clearly taller). And while he's a rock-solid shooter, he's not at KD's level.
Like Durant, though, he does a little bit of everything and has long, skinny limbs that go on forever. At Duke, he played all over the floor, even inheriting some point guard duties.
"Similar to [Jayson] Tatum, they're just forwards because their skill level is so dynamic," an NBA scout said. "They have an ability to impact the game in many different ways."
Ingram can certainly fill up a stat sheet. He averaged 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.4 blocks during his one year at Duke.
13. Michael Kidd-GilchristMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
Don't be fooled by the Charlotte Hornets' success without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, even if they managed to advance to the Eastern Conference playoffs while he played only seven games, plagued by two major shoulder injuries.
During the 2015-16 season, the Hornets outscored their opponents by 2.2 points per 100 possessions when Kidd-Gilchrist was on the bench or rehabbing. Small-sample-size warnings abound, but that net rating jumped all the way to a gaudy 15.7 during the 205 minutes he did play.
Based on his exploits in 2014-15, this was no fluke: That year, the Hornets posted a minus-8.3 net rating when Kidd-Gilchrist wasn't playing as opposed to the 3.9 net rating when he was. His defensive skills are just that valuable, to the point that he should be considered a bona fide Defensive Player of the Year candidate when he's healthy.
Oh, and he was still only 22 years old when his most recent campaign came to a close.
12. Jayson TatumMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
Basketball mixtapes these days are typically set to the tune of rap music, but the soundtrack for Jayson Tatum's highlights should always be jazz.
The Duke-bound small forward is smooth, a throwback scorer who will demand a nickname to match his game from another generation—something akin to George "The Iceman" Gervin.
Mike Krzyzewski has had success with skilled wings—Jabari Parker, Justise Winslow and Brandon Ingram are the last three through the pipeline—and the 6'8" Tatum could be the best scorer of the bunch.
"The Spurs are showing there's still value in the mid-range game, and he's going to be the best mid-range scorer to come in the league in a long time," an NBA scout said. "He'll be able to get you a shot every possession, and there's really good value in that."
Tatum is 6'8" and already has a pro's body. He'll be ready to contribute from day one in the league with a well-rounded game that has only one noticeable weakness: He could stand to shore up his outside jumper. It's plausible he'll one day be competing for scoring titles.
11. Josh JacksonMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
It's sometimes hard to predict whether a high prospect is a guy with the drive and competitive fire to be a superstar. Most phenoms are so much better than their peers at the high school level that it's difficult to get a read on what kind of competitors they are.
That doesn't seem to be the case with Josh Jackson. Every single scout we spoke with seems convinced he's on another level when it comes to the mental/competitive side of the game.
"He understands the level of commitment and mind frame you need to bring to compete at this level," an NBA scout said.
Jackson has the game to match. Meyer said Jackson is the best shooting guard prospect he's ever scouted.
"I would fully expect him by 2020 to be one of the top players at his position in the league," Meyer said. "Great competitiveness. Top-of-the-line competitor. Great rebounder for his position, defender, passer, ball-handler. He can play some point guard. He's known as a scorer, and that might be the least of his attributes."
10. Gordon HaywardMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
Though Gordon Hayward regressed slightly during his age-25 season, that's not going to become a trend. He's still too young and talented for his prime to be ending—that shouldn't even be happening by the time we hit 2020.
This year, the Utah Jazz small forward averaged 19.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.3 blocks while shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. Though he'd been more efficient in previous seasons, he still produced a combination of per-game marks matched or exceeded by only five qualified players.
What do those players—Jimmy Butler, James Harden, LeBron James, Paul George and Russell Westbrook—have in common? Every one of them made the All-Star squad, something Hayward wasn't able to do while the Jazz were in the midst of a disappointing season.
He'll get there, even if he hasn't yet.
. Rodney HoodMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
As KSL.com's Andy Larsen explained after Rodney Hood's sophomore year had ended, there are two paths forward to stardom:
If Hood can take strides in getting to the hoop and getting fouled, he can move from "weapon" to "offensive centerpiece." That's a gigantic leap, and not one many players have made.
If that proves difficult, Hood's other path forward isn't as a star, per se, but in improving himself as an outside shooter and defender, becoming a fantastic 3-and-D guy with additional versatility. Guys like Wesley Matthews and Khris Middleton have shown that 3-and-D is no longer an unappreciated role, having signed max or near-max contracts with their respective teams.
Why not both? Hood didn't get to the line with much more frequency than he did as a rookie, but he converted at a much higher percentage once there. He also showed a willingness to attack in crunch-time situations, which could very well translate to a more aggressive mentality early in contests once he matures more.
He also became a bit more valuable on defense as a sophomore, and he certainly has the physical tools necessary to fit into the three-and-D mold.
8. Jimmy ButlerMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
We jump up a tier here, as Jimmy Butler will likely be significantly better than Hood in 2020, even at 31 years old.
His two-way talent is immense, making it much more feasible that he'll still be racking up All-Star berths while competing for other individual accolades. While Hood should be in the mix to represent the Western Conference during the midseason festivities, Butler will be fighting to earn a coveted All-NBA honor.
Though the former Marquette standout hasn't become a true superstar, it's worth remembering how much he's already improved. It's disappointing that his shot hasn't grown more consistent or that his defense has declined in conjunction with shouldering a heavier offensive burden, but he's still excellent on both ends of the court.
Here's that chart we showed for Jae Crowder one more time. But this time, Butler is also featured:Adam Fromal/Bleacher Report
Remember, that impressive finish came during a down season in which every member of the Bulls was adjusting to the drastically different coaching style of Fred Hoiberg.
7. Klay ThompsonMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
Throughout the 2016 playoffs, Klay Thompson showed what he can do when asked to serve as the alpha dog. While helping lead the Golden State Warriors past both the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers, he averaged 27.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists, shooting 47.4 percent from the floor and 47.5 percent from downtown.
Thompson primarily remains an off-ball shooter who can create for himself and others in short bursts, but calling him a sniper would be selling him short. Even though he's arguably the second-best shooter in the league, he brings plenty of other positives—his knack for catching fire and carrying an offense, his overall defensive presence and his willingness to take on the toughest assignments.
In the opening round, it was Thompson who shifted over and worked against James Harden. In the second, he often matched up against Damian Lillard in an attempt to corral the Rip City attack.
Thompson could be a Batman. But he's willing to serve as Stephen Curry's Robin, which both makes him more valuable to the Dubs and lessens overall perception of his remarkable game.
6. LeBron JamesMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
Throughout league history, the list of players who have made an All-NBA squad while at least 35 years old is rather small:
A grand total of 12 men have made any of the three after celebrating their 35th birthdays—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, John Havlicek, Karl Malone, Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Nash, Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Robert Parish, David Robinson and John Stockton. Good luck finding non-Hall of Famers.
By placing James at No. 6, we're assuming he's a strong contender to join that ultraexclusive club in 2020. And that's a huge compliment, especially given the type of players who populate the above list: nine true big men, one wing (Havlicek) and two pass-first point guards who could knock down perimeter jumpers.
There's no telling what type of player James will be when he's 35. Will his athleticism have died down to the extent that he'll be Magic Johnson 2.0, picking apart defenses with his stunning court vision and height? Will he remain a physical force capable of throwing down in transition? Will he shift to power forward and hone his back-to-the-basket game?
No matter what he does, he'll be good at it.
5. Paul GeorgeMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
So much for any ill effects from the broken leg.
Fully healthy and raring to go, Paul George dominated on both ends for the Indiana Pacers during 2015-16. Though he wasn't able to maintain an early-season pace that initially had him in the MVP conversation, he still submitted a stellar all-around campaign and carried his squad into the postseason. Whether he was playing small forward or lining up at the 4 in a small-ball lineup, he got the best of the opposition.
By the time he's 30, George should be spending even more time at power forward. He's developing the post-up skills necessary to remain a consistent offensive threat, and his ability to shoot both in spot-up situations and off the bounce would make him an imposing stretch 4. Plus, doing so will keep him fresher than chasing younger wings around the perimeter.
But even if George remains at his natural position, he'll be just fine in four years. Though calling him a legitimate MVP candidate—a designation reserved for the remaining four players in this countdown—is a bit of a stretch, a matchup with him should still inspire terror.
4. Andrew WigginsMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
While it's not hard to see the potential oozing out of Andrew Wiggins, it hasn't resulted in valuable production quite yet.
He may have averaged 20.7 points during his sophomore season, but he did so while shooting only 45.9 percent from the field and 30.0 percent from beyond the arc. Given that low level of efficiency, he was actually providing negative value to the Minnesota Timberwolves when he turned into a volume shooter.
Couple that with a lack of off-ball discipline, an inability to record more assists than turnovers and a lack of impact on the glass, and Wiggins was closer to being an LVP than an MVP in 2015-16.
But four years is a long time, and he didn't turn 21 years old until the end of February. He's been attempting to bite off far more than he can chew by serving as Minnesota's top option at this undeveloped stage, which should pay dividends in the future.
Wiggins wasn't efficient but still averaged over 20 points. That takes legitimate scoring talent, and fresh blood at head coach will only help him grow once he's allowed to fire away more frequently from beyond the arc. He wasn't disciplined on defense, yet he showed the athletic tools necessary to serve as a top-notch stopper every once in a while.
Unlocking the Kansas product's potential is key, and that could take a few more years. But once it happens...
3. Giannis AntetokounmpoMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
"We're going to go forward with him handling the ball," Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd said about his burgeoning star's role for 2016-17, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Charles F. Gardner. "You can call him point guard, point forward, point center, however you want to look at it. With him having the ball and the pressure he puts on the defense and his ability to find guys, it has been a plus for us."
Rarely has a personnel decision been this easy.
When Giannis Antetokounmpo serves as the primary ball-handler and is allowed to initiate offense in the half-court set, it reveals the full excellence of the Milwaukee offense. He's able to punish the defense when left one-on-one against a smaller defender and has the passing chops necessary to find the open man if a second foe comes rushing at him.
From February 22 through the end of the season, Antetokounmpo averaged 18.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.6 steals while shooting 51.6 percent from the field. Even without the benefit of a consistent three-point stroke, he asserted himself as one of the league's most valuable players.
Now just imagine how good he could be after four years of experience running the show. In 2020, the aptly named Greek Freak will somehow still be just 25.
2. Kevin DurantMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
What part of Kevin Durant's game won't age well?
Even at 32, he'll use his lanky frame to shoot over the top of overmatched defenders, and it's terrifying to think about how much offensive skill he might have at his disposal by then. He's already started to show off a Dirk Nowitzki-esque one-legged fadeaway jumper, which is an unblockable shot when he lofts it up at the basket.
Durant is a scoring machine capable of throwing up 30 points during an off night. He can torture defenses in transition, serve as a go-to option in the half-court set and work off the ball to create easy catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Plus, he's a strong distributor and a solid defender who knows how to use his long arms.
By 2020, Durant will be a lock to make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. And it's not like he'll be done racking up individual honors or keeping his team in the championship mix.
1. Kawhi LeonardMike Hendrickson/Bleacher Report
Kawhi Leonard is now a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and he also has a Finals MVP on his resume. He trailed only Stephen Curry on this year's MVP ballot after helping lead the San Antonio Spurs to 67 wins and a top-heavy Western Conference's No. 2 seed.
And if that's not enough, he spent the 2015-16 season proving that his biggest predraft weakness—shooting—has now turned into one of his greatest strengths. While averaging a career-best 21.2 points, he knocked down 50.6 percent of his field-goal attempts, 44.3 percent of his three-point tries and 87.4 percent of his looks from the charity stripe, putting him tantalizingly close to joining the 50/40/90 club.
Oh, and he did all of this while still 24 years old.
Durant and James were worthy adversaries this year. You could rank those two and Leonard in any order for 2015-16, and it would be justifiable.
But in 2020? It's Leonard at No. 1, and it won't be close.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @fromal09.
C.J. Moore covers NCAA basketball for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR
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