Jeremy Lin and 5 Others on the Verge of NBA Superstardom
In the course of a week, Jeremy Lin has gone from little used role player to NBA phenomenon. He's done for the New York Knicks what Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire could not: energize a stagnant offense and give the fans something to get excited about.
When your name is used to coin a new phrase—"Linsanity"—you know you've struck a chord with people.
Most importantly, he's helping them win games. The Knicks are riding a four-game win streak since Lin was inserted into the starting lineup.
The legend of this Ivy League product grows with each unlikely start. His performance against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers—38 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals—was nothing short of amazing.
Lin's story is an inspiration to all. If he keeps playing at this level, he will undoubtedly become an NBA star on par with teammates Anthony and Stoudemire.
Being in New York definitely helps his chances of achieving such status. He plays in the hub of the nation and the biggest market the NBA has. Every great performance will be magnified and spotlighted on all major media outlets. The downside is, if his performance starts to slip, his mistakes will be spotlighted, too.
Lin has an edge that very few NBA stars have. He's of Asian descent, which makes him a potential mega star not only in the melting pot that is New York City, but world wide. He has the potential to become an international superstar like Yao Ming—except Lin plays in a market that matters.
I'm sure that David Stern is sitting alone in a dark room laughing maniacally thinking of all the possibilities.
The hype machine is roaring full steam ahead, but everyone should remember that Lin has only provided a small sample. NBA stardom isn't measured in four games. It's measured over several seasons of play at an elite level.
Is Lin simply the product of Mike D'Antoni's system, or is he a legitimate out-of-nowhere superstar? Those questions can only be answered with time. For now, he appears to be well on his way.
He might be the most surprising new star of this shortened NBA season, but Jeremy Lin isn't the only young player on the verge of superstardom. Here are five others that, in my opinion, have the best chance at achieving the highest level of success.
5. Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol is in his fourth year with Memphis and was just selected to his first All-Star game. The seven-foot Spaniard is having his best season so far and is coming into his prime at just the right time.
In the Western Conference, the center position is getting old. Perennial All-Star Tim Duncan is on the downside of his career. Pair that with a dearth of marquee names at the position and you have the perfect opportunity for a versatile big man to make a name for himself.
Gasol, who's averaging a double double, could very well be that guy.
Andrew Bynum is probably considered the best, and the most recognized, center in the West. He's a household name because he plays for the Lakers. He's also very talented but has a well documented history of injuries as well. Who knows what his career will amount to or how long it will last.
All of this opens the door for this to be the first of many All-Star game appearances by Gasol. With that will come the recognition of being one of the best centers in the league. With his European looks—picture a bigger, hairier version of his brother Pau—and style of play, he could become quite a unique NBA superstar.
4. Brandon Jennings
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Brandon Jennings is no unknown commodity, but he's no superstar, either. He's a promising young point guard who's gotten better each year in the league.
The third year point guard was initially thought of as a flashy scorer. This year he's developed into a complete player. He's improved his offense to match the NBA game and developed into a strong defender as well.
He deserved an All-Star selection over Deron Williams this season.
Unfortunately, Jennings plays for the Milwaukee Bucks. As a result, he gets as much national air time as Jay Pharoah on Saturday Night Live. Both have more talent than they're given credit for and the country needs to see it.
If Jennings played in a bigger market today, I believe he would already be well on his way to superstar status and probably would be playing in Orlando on February 24th. Unfortunately, as long as he's in Milwaukee, he will only be a borderline NBA star.
For Jennings, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. He's a free agent in 2014 and recently told ESPN's Chris Broussard he would keep his options open regarding big market teams. Every free agent in the history of free agency has said the same thing, so no one should be shocked.
I would be shocked if he re-signed with Milwaukee. His dynamic style of play screams for more publicity, and only a bigger market can deliver that. If Jennings were to sign with a team like the Lakers, who are in dire need of a point guard now, his career would skyrocket.
3. Ricky Rubio
Ricky Rubio was arguably the biggest story of the year, until that Lin character exploded onto the scene. That doesn't change the fact that Rubio is having an excellent rookie year.
The Spanish basketball prodigy has taken the NBA by storm. Along the way he's doing what many thought was impossible: He's making the Minnesota Timberwolves exciting to watch. Like Magic Johnson or Pete Maravich, Rubio has a flair for the dramatic and makes fast breaks an edge-of-your-seat affair.
His highlights have made him a fixture on Sportscenter and Youtube.
Rubio has many factors working in his favor that will help his ascension into stardom. First, he's young, good looking and—most importantly—really good.
Second, he will likely win the Rookie of the Year Award. His main competition, Kyrie Irving, suffered a concussion and has missed three straight games. Due to the nature of the injury, it's unclear when he will return.
Unless Detroit's Brandon Knight starts playing out of his mind, the award is Rubio's to lose.
Third, like others on this list, he has the ability to bring millions of fans from all over the world to the NBA. He's already a star in his native Spain, where he first competed as a professional at age 14. He then made his Euroleague debut at age 16. He's only 21 now and will continue to get better as he matures and adjusts to NBA level competition.
If he can dominate the NBA like he did in his homeland, he'll be a superstar for sure.
2. Greg Monroe
The Detroit Pistons' most valuable player is Monroe. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who's only in his second year in the NBA and is playing out of position. He's a better fit at power forward than center.
It doesn't matter, Monroe has shown maturity and development beyond his years and is putting together a special season.
Unfortunately, his talents are going unnoticed because, like Jennings, he plays in a smaller market. The Pistons are also in the midst of rebuilding, so their season has been dismal.
Just another reason no one is paying attention to Monroe's performance.
It's unfortunate because he is one of the more versatile big men in the NBA. He's got the inside game of a center with the hands and passing skills of a guard.
By the numbers, Monroe is the second best center in the East. He trails only Dwight Howard in points (16.5) and rebounds (10) per game. He also makes significant contributions in assists, steals and blocks. He's also more important to his team than any of the big men selected to the All-Star game ahead of him—Roy Hibbert and Chris Bosh.
The only thing those two have over Monroe is that they're on winning teams.
It's another case of the NBA not giving great players on losing teams the respect they deserve when it comes to All-Star consideration.
Monroe will get there eventually. The Pistons have a great tradition and several key pieces already in place. With Joe Dumars at the helm, they will return to relevance. Monroe will be the biggest part of that turn around, and then he will get the attention he deserves.
He might even make an All-Star game or two.
1. Lamarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge was just selected to his first All-Star game. The Portland Trailblazers alpha dog should have made the team last year, but you won't hear him complaining. He's too busy trying to be the physical down-low presence that Portland asked him to be.
As this article explains, Aldridge has been forced to alter his game from a perimeter big man to a post up player. The on-going injury saga of Greg Oden made this move a necessity. In addition, the injuries and subsequent retirement of Brandon Roy left Portland without a leader.
Aldridge was more than happy to accept both assignments, and he's done a spectacular job averaging 23 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.
Although he's been compared to Tim Duncan—but with better range—no one's saying there isn't room for improvement. The sixth year pro is still getting used to the pressures that come with being "The Man" in Portland. Once he settles into that role, his game will flourish even more.
With this All-Star game invite, Aldridge has taken the next step in NBA stardom. He's just hitting the prime of his career and he's versatile enough to take his game even further and truly dominate. If he's able to become an annual fixture in the All-Star game and make some noise in the playoffs with his Trailblazer buddies, then the sky's the limit for him.