7 NBA Players Who Will Explode into Stardom Next Season
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It happens in every sport in every season. An aging star begins to fade and a new one goes from "he looks like he might be pretty good" to " this guy is going to be an All-Star for a long time."
This past season Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Russell Westbrook were all men poised for stardom when the season began. Two of them improved on already impressive resumes and Rubio had what could only be described as a smashing debut in the NBA.
Who's next? Who will shed the label of "potential" and become a star? Who will go from regional popularity to national or international acclaim?
Here are seven players to keep a close eye on next season.
Nicolas Batum: Portland Trail Blazers
Batum will soar to new heights next season.
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Nicolas Batum: Age 23
The Portland Trail Blazers are coming off a thoroughly forgetful 2011-2012 season. The team's veteran leader Brandon Roy was forced to retire before the lockout-shortened season even began. Head coach Nate McMillan was a disaster and was fired in midseason.
Raymond Felton, signed as a free agent, was a bust and LaMarcus Aldridge, the team's best consistent offensive threat, was lost for the final weeks of the season to injury.
The one bright spot?
Nicolas Batum, selected 25th overall by the Houston Rockets in the 2008 NBA draft. Batum was sent that same night to Portland as part of a three-team deal between the Rockets, Grizzlies and Blazers.
Batum has showed steady and gradual improvement every season since arriving in the league, but with Roy gone and the team committed to rebuilding, Batum promises to be a much larger part of the Blazers' offense in the 2012-2013 season.
Batum is a lanky, versatile athlete who can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim or pull up and drop in a nice jump shot.
By the end of this past season it seemed like all Batum really needed was a chance to shine. Next season he's going to get it.
Expect big things.
Marcin Gortat: Phoenix Suns
Marcin Gortat was quietly one of the NBA's best centers this past season.
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Marcin Gortat: Age 28
Here's a fun trivia question.
Who averaged the most rebounds per game this past season?
1. Tim Duncan
2. Marcin Gortat
3. Greg Monroe
4. Al Jefferson
5. Joakim Noah
Answer: Gortat. In his first season as the regular starting center in Phoenix, Gortat scored 15.4 points and grabbed 10.0 rebounds per game.
The Suns will probably want to see if Gortat has reached his developmental ceiling or not. The best way to do that is to increase his opportunities to score. Look for Gortat to put up even more impressive numbers next year.
JaVale McGee: Denver Nuggets
JaVale McGee gave the Nation a glimpse of his talent in the opening round of the playoffs.
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JaVale McGee: Age 24
May 4, 2012. It was Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs. The matchup was supposed to be fairly uneventful. The heavily favored and star-studded Los Angeles Lakers would use their superior interior skill, anchored by twin towers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, to control the boards and thus the pace of the series against the Denver Nuggets.
Until Game 3 things had gone according to plan. The Lakers had won the first two contests at home and now were looking to put Denver in a nearly impossible 3-0 hole.
JaVale McGee was having none of it.
McGee was dominant and as the game wore on McGee asserted himself with increasing impact. By the end of the 99-84 Denver victory McGee had amassed 16 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots. His presence on the floor was disruptive and the Lakers had no answer for his combination of size, length, quickness and leaping ability.
When the Nuggets won Game 5 McGee struck for 21 points and 14 boards.
The Lakers would go on to win the series, but the player who exceeded expectations throughout the seven-game tilt was none other than JaVale McGee. The same JaVale McGee who had become infamous for a number of well-documented YouTube clips, none of which were complimentary to McGee's basketball skills.
McGee looks poised to become one of the NBA's best big men. He's only 24 years old; the immaturity he had become famous for may be on it's way out, replaced by a mature and very gifted, athletic big man.
John Wall: Washington Wizards
Ready to blow up? Wizards fans hope next season will be the one.
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John Wall: Age 21
John Wall has already been pretty darn good in his two year NBA career. He has career averages of 16.3 points and 8.2 assists per game. More than respectable numbers for a 21-year-old point guard who played just one season of college ball.
The problem is that Wall is going to be measured in comparison with his fellow point guards and in a league that currently features the likes of Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, among others.
The competition is more than just good—it's the best it's ever been.
That's why Wall still needs to get better to be considered among the league's elite and he's got the skills to do that.
Next season is his third in the league. The Wizards will add another top draft pick to the team to give Wall another option on offense. On defense Wall is beginning to get a feel for when to be aggressive and when to lay off.
Wall, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, has always been ticketed for greatness. Next season his ticket may finally get punched.
Kevin Seraphin: Washington Wizards
Kevin Seraphin was a lone bright spot for Washington as the past season concluded.
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Kevin Seraphin: Age 22
Kevin Seraphin was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bulls in the 2010 NBA draft. He was immediately shipped off to Washington in a draft night trade for Vladimir Veremeenko.
No news on Veremeenko's whereabouts, but Seraphin is busy making a name for himself in Washington D.C.
When the Wizards shipped both JaVale McGee and Nick Young out of town at the trade deadline last March, one of the immediate beneficiaries of newly available minutes was Seraphin. An athletically gifted, hard-working 6'9", 275-pound forward.
Let's just say he took advantage of the opportunity. Seraphin averaged just 3.8 points and 15.8 minutes per game in February, but by the time April rolled around things had changed.
In April Seraphin was given an average of 32.7 minutes per game. How did he thank the Wizards' coaching staff? Quite well. Seraphin averaged 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game in April.
Not too shabby for a guy born in Africa and with no college experience playing in only his second NBA season.
The Wizards are aware they may have found a diamond in the rough, so don't expect them to not try and showcase that from the moment next season starts.
Goran Dragic: Houston Rockets
Goran Dragic shined as a fill-in starter last season.
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Goran Dragic: Age 26
First Goran Dragic was a backup to Steve Nash in Phoenix. As you might imagine, playing time was limited. Then he was shipped to the Houston Rockets just in time for Kyle Lowry to blossom into a skilled starting point guard. Lowry's emergence once again left Dragic on the bench doing far more watching than playing.
That all changed this past season when Lowry was sidelined with a nasty virus. Dragic stepped into the starting point guard role, and to say he "flourished" would be a bit of an understatement.
Dragic started 28 games for the Rockets and averaged 18 points, 8.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Impressive numbers even in a league well-stocked with impressive point guards.
Dragic may or may not be on Houston next season, but he's very likely to be a starting point guard regardless of what uniform he's wearing. And if he puts up those types of numbers over an 82-game season he'll receive ample recognition.
Klay Thompson: Golden State Warriors
A good impression. Klay Thompson was starting by the end of the season.
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Klay Thompson: Age 22
The Golden State Warriors spent much of last season in a state of flux.
They started the season with a new head coach, Mark Jackson, the former point guard and NBA television analyst. Then in midseason they shipped shooting guard Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh, who was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, to Milwaukee for a package that included former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut.
That deal paved the way for increased minutes for the Warriors' No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Klay Thompson a silky-smooth 6'7" shooting guard/small forward out of Washington State University.
Thompson had no problem taking advantage of the minutes he was afforded as a result of the trade. He ended up starting in 29 games, and in those games Thompson averaged 18.1 points per game while shooting an impressive 90.6 percent from the charity stripe.
Next season could be a breakout one for Thompson. The Warriors are hoping to have both Bogut and Stephen Curry healthy. Either way, they know they've got a future star at shooting guard in Klay Thompson.