At the start of every NBA season, we are treated to an array of rookies and second-year players poised for a breakout season. The same holds true in soccer, where youth players are a hot commodity for any team, from both tactical and marketing perspectives.
In both sports, the best youth players hold tremendous value, as that they add value to the current team while also ensuring future club success. As the season kicks off, we take a look at a few of the best youngsters to watch in both sports and why they should light up the headlines this year and beyond.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers, NBA: At the age of 23, Embiid is a youngster in the sense that he is playing in just his second NBA season. Due to several injuries, Embiid has yet to play even half a season’s worth of games, but what he has done in his limited game time is remarkable.
In 35 career games, Embiid averages 20.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. Joel Embiid is hardly a surprising young player to watch given his NBA exposure over two seasons; the question that surrounds him, however, is his health.
The center from Philly may be able do everything on the basketball court at a very high level, but his injury record will be the determining factor for this season — and his career.
Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA: This player should come as no surprise with all the fanfare and media attention surrounding him. As much as Lavar Ball dominates headlines with his praise and confidence in his son, Lonzo is an incredibly gifted player.
He affects the game at such a high level that his scoring is simply a nice bonus. He runs the Lakers’ offense at just 19, shouldering immense pressure and dealing with it in a way that makes him look mature beyond his years.
Though questions will continue to surround his consistency and unwillingness to commit to scoring more, he has had a riveting start to his career. Notching a triple-double in only his second game, Lonzo is now making headlines for the right reasons.
While the Lakers still look far from even a borderline playoff team, Ball has given the silver screen city reason to start believing in a very bright future.
Marcus Rashford, Manchester United, EPL: The 19-year-old who calls Old Trafford his home has shown flashes of being a talismanic player, scoring seven goals and recording five assists in 15 matches this season.
With great pace about him, Rashford is always involved in the United attack. Even in games where the attack leaves much to be desired, the young Englishman always pushes forward and tries to create space on the wing or in the center forward position.
Though his execution may sometimes fall short of his intent, he is one of the most level-headed players in the Premier League. As United pushes for a title challenge — it currently sits second in the table — look for Rashford to keep lighting things up.
Kylian Mbappé, Paris Saint-Germain, Ligue 1: More than any other youngster on this list, Mbappé has succeeded and surpassed all expectations.
At 18 years old, Mbappé is an integral part of a dominant team. He has scored four goals and recorded four assists in 11 matches this season, but his poise and attacking know-how are what really set him apart.
Not only does Mbappé have the versatility to play on both wings as well as in center forward, he has the pace and ball control to facilitate for PSG’s other attackers, namely Edinson Cavani and Neymar. Mbappé offers all the versatility a top player needs while also bringing a consistency that is far beyond his years.
In fact, just last season, Mbappé was one of the goal scoring engines of the Ligue 1 champions, AS Monaco. While these other youngsters have yet to know true success, Mbappé has already been a key piece of a title-winning side. Expectations loom large — about as large as they can for a soccer player — for Mbappé, but his constant improvement shows no signs of slowing down.
These four players, of course, are not the only young stars in their sports but are some of the most notable, taking charge of their own destinies and becoming focal points of their respective teams.
With so much of both basketball and soccer season left, there is certainly a bright future of entertainment ahead for all.
Vanessa Craige and Paolo Santamaria are seniors in the School of Foreign Service and the College, respectively. NOTHING BUT NET appears every Friday.