May 18, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) reacts against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter in game six of the second round of the 2024 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Luka Doncic is widely regarded as a top-five player in the NBA, regardless of age.

So it was certainly curious that when The Ringer released its ranking of players under 25 on Wednesday, the Dallas Mavericks superstar only came in at No. 4.

While the list was touted as The Ringer’s ranking of “the 25 best players in the NBA age 25 and under,” the website also adjusted to criteria to account for future projections. As a result, Doncic found himself trailing Victor Wembanyama, Anthony Edwards and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — despite the five-time All-Star ranking second overall behind only Nikola Jokic in The Ringer’s NBA 100 list, which was last updated on April 10.

Doncic’s ranking doesn’t appear to be a slight to him, but rather praise for Wembanyama, Edwards and Gilgeous-Alexander. Still, it’s hard to comprehend how The Ringer could rank a player second overall in one list, but fourth in his age range, even with the adjusted criteria for the latter.

Consider the criteria used for the under 25 list.

  • Current performance: Doncic would seemingly rank first for players under the age of 25 and no lower than second behind Gilgeous-Alexander, who finished one spot ahead of him in MVP voting this past season. Still, if longevity matters at all, Doncic should get the nod.
  • Future performance: Doncic was likely docked here, although I’m not sure why. Wemby might be an unprecedented prospect and Edwards has been positioned as the future face of the league in recent weeks, but is there any reason to think Doncic won’t continue to be one of the league’s best players for the next decade? If anything, his future performance seems more certain than anyone else’s on this list.
  • Gets the people going: The Ringer defined this as “Charisma and marketability. Is this player appointment viewing? Would your niece or nephew want to buy their shoes?” To that end, Doncic has had his own Jordan Brand signature for the past two years. Wemby and Edwards might have the higher upsides, but Doncic has already reached a certain level of star power on and off the court that neither has yet to be achieve.
  • Intangibles: Defined as “All of the qualities a team executive looks for in a player: leadership, injury risk/history, reliability. Does this player get it?” This is likely where Doncic got his biggest ding and considering the questions about his conditioning and history of excessively arguing with officials, it’s actually understandable. Still, that could also be because he’s been in the spotlight for so long and we’ve gotten to used to picking apart his flaws, whereas Wemby, Edwards and Gilgeous-Alexander are relatively new stars.
  • Foundational qualities: Using The Ringers definition of “can you build a franchise around the player’s game? How adaptable is it?” it would be hard to argue another player on this list being more of a sure thing than Doncic, who has led the Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals in two of the last three seasons.

Understandably, The Ringer’s ranking received no shortage of backlash from readers, including the outlet’s former director of video strategy, Jason Gallagher.

While some have accused The Ringer — and specifically founder/CEO Bill Simmons — of being anti-Doncic, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I think The Ringer Staff (whose byline is on the list) just got too carried away with projecting Wembanyama and Edwards’ considerable upsides and overlooked that Doncic still has plenty of potential to fulfill despite having already been one of the league’s best players for the past five seasons.

Ultimately, there’s no justification for Doncic to be considered just the fourth-best player under the age of 25 by an outlet that also currently ranks him second in the league overall. Even if you’re taking into account future projections, there’s plenty of reasons to believe Doncic will continue on — or even exceed — his current trajectory. Just look at his 15-point fourth-quarter performance in the Mavericks’ win over Edwards’ Timberwolves in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday night.

[The Ringer]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.