The All-NBA Up-and-Coming Team
Who is on the All-NBA up-and-coming team? Before answering that we first have to address what is meant by "up-and-coming." There are three things to take into consideration.
First, there must be an "up." In other words, the player must have already attained a certain level of performance on the NBA level. So for instance, players like Anthony Davis, who are loaded with potential and "coming," are not "up."
The second part is the "coming." Coming excludes having arrived. Players like Derrick Rose, who already has an MVP, or Kevin Durant, who has three scoring titles, are clearly "here." To make delineation simple, I considered any player who had made an All-Star game as having arrived and therefore not "up-and-coming."
Finally, up-and-coming implies a certain level of youth. Players who will be 26 before the conclusion of the next season were considered too old to be up-and-coming.
With that in mind, here is a complete 12-man roster for the NBA "Up-and-Coming" team.
12th Man: Brandon Jennings
Brandon Jennings is the first player to make the list, and he is the 12th man on the team. As 12th men go, he's not too bad.
The 22-year-old point guard is a formidable scorer who averaged 19.1 points per game last season while dishing 5.5 assists.
Jennings is a little too eager to shoot at times but brings instant offense off the bench if the team is struggling to score. His uptempo style and ability to get to the rim make him a great defense-buster.
11th Man: Brook Lopez
Next up is our fifth big, and Brook Lopez makes for a perfect option.
Lopez is an outstanding post-up scorer, especially in the range from three to nine feet. According to Hoopdata, he led the NBA in scoring from that range in 2010-2011 (we're using those numbers because of his injury last year).
He also has holes in his game. He's an awful rebounder. Only five seven-footers in the history of the game have had a worse defensive rebound percentage than his 2011 "effort," according to Basketball-Reference.
Another search on Basketball-Reference reveals an intriguing detail about Lopez's ability to offer scoring and only scoring. There are only eight players in the history of the game who average more points, while also offering a lower rebound percentage and assist percentage. Of them, Lopez has the best field-goal percentage.
So you could actually make an argument that Lopez is the most one-dimensional player ever. He's on our team because of that dimension.
Backup Point Guard: Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry can't seem to stay healthy, but if he could, he would without question be one of the rising stars in the NBA. Health is really the only thing between him and stardom.
For example, compare his rookie year with Kyrie Irving's.
Granted, Curry did have a significant edge in minutes, but the stats are startlingly similar, even on the shooting percentages. You really have to wonder where Curry would be at today if he weren't getting injured all the time.
He's an outstanding shooter. His career true shooting percentage is .584, and he had a career high of .605 in the games he was able to play in 2011-12.
Backup Small Forward: Gordon Hayward
Skipping past the backup shooting guard for now because he's also the sixth man, Gordon Hayward is the backup small forward.
Hayward has been rising through the NBA ranks without much fanfare. That doesn't make his rise any less meaningful though. After the All-Star game last season, he averaged 14.1 points with 4.2 boards and 3.1 assists while playing 33 minutes per game.
Particularly dramatic was his jump in three-point percentage. Before the break, he shot only .246 from deep, but after it he shot .422. Hayward had an impressive effective field-goal percentage the second half of the season.
As he finally got a chance to prove himself in the offense and was given a chance to become a major part of it, he proved himself worthy and was given even more chances. The last month of the season, he averaged 16.1 points per game.
Hayward is an excellent candidate for a massive breakout next year and is one of the true up-and-coming stars, even if he isn't one of the more heralded ones.
Backup Power Forward: Kenneth Faried
Another star who played huge in the second half of the season was the "Manimal," Kenneth Faried.
Faried told the Denver Post how he got his nickname, and it happens to be the perfect description of why he belongs on our all up-and-coming team as well:
Pretty much, I was in workouts, and then when I went to the combine, everybody kept saying, "He's an animal, he's a man, he's a beast." So one of the guys from my agency came up with the name "Manimal" because I play hard, I'm fearless, I don't care who the person is who I'm facing and I am going to challenge him. I am going to box out, I'm going to rebound hard and be physical. We just ran with the name, and I like it because it's half man, half animal and I have the features to go with it...then there is my hair.
Faried brings huge energy to the bench. He brings a toughness and attitude that fans love. There's little wonder that he's quickly becoming one of the most beloved players in Denver.
Backup Center: Greg Monroe
The toughest decision to make was the starting center. I'm not going to give any spoilers, but for now suffice to say that if someone were to argue it should be reversed, I'm not going to offer a huge number of arguments.
Last year Monroe was one of the few bright spots on what was, for the most part, a horrible Detroit Pistons team.
They make engines up in Motown, and he was a veritable double-double machine, notching 30 of them. He had the third-most offensive rebounds in the league with 239, and his field-goal percentage was sixth.
While Monroe's offense is highly efficient, his defense lags behind. With Andre Drummond paired beside him next year, that deficiency could be masked. The Pistons will have an impressive tandem in the middle and are only a year or two away from building themselves back up to respectability.
Backup Shooting Guard and Sixth Man: Eric Gordon
Our backup shooting guard and sixth man is Eric Gordon, who is one of the best pure shooters in the game. Over the last two seasons, no guard under 25 has at least 15 points per game and a better effective field-goal percentage.
There's a lot to like about Gordon, but the thing that's most attractive about him is his clutch-time play. During the 2011 season his stats were absolutely bloated when the game was late and close.
His effective field-goal percentage rose from 50.6 percent to a ridiculous 64.4 percent. His true shooting percentage was an insane 73.9 percent. His scoring went from 21.3 points per 48 minutes to 28.9 on 1.1 fewer field-goal attempts.
He averaged 1.2 more boards and 1.2 more assists per 48 minutes when the game was on the line as well.
Is it really that big a shock that in his very first game with the New Orleans Hornets he hit a game-winning shot?
There's a word for players like Gordon in the NBA: "killer." Gordon is a killer, and that's why he's our sixth man.
Starting Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving did something this year that no one thought was possible. He helped Cavaliers fans heal, and more than that, he helped them hope.
If you measure success by Player Efficiency Rating, according to Basketball-Reference's play index, Irving's rookie year was the second-best ever by a point guard, surpassed only by Chris Paul's magical rookie year.
The Cavaliers are surrounding Irving with something LeBron James never had—talent.
Not only will the Cavaliers be able to keep Irving for a minimum of six more years, there's a chance that the talent they are surrounding him with will have him actually wanting to stay when he doesn't have to anymore.
It's not impossible that four or five years from now, once "He Who Shall Not Be Named" and his two friends are past their prime, the Cavs could actually be contending for a title if they keep building the way they are.
Starting Shooting Guard: James Harden
It was a close call between James Harden and Eric Gordon, and I'd be lying if I said that the beard didn't factor into it at all. You've gotta love the beard.
The beard isn't the only reason though. Harden is an absolutely lethal shooter. His .660 true shooting percentage was the second-best in the league last season.
The other thing that is nice about Harden is that he stretches a court all by himself. He made 150 field goals at the rim last year and added 114 threes.
Harden's ability to either kill you from deep or drive to the rim and finish is why he is going to command enormous attention on the free-agent market if the Thunder don't sign him, and it's beginning to look like they won't, according to Chris Broussard.
Despite what KPerk says OKC & JHarden not close to deal. Sides are talking. JH wants to stay but wants max. Let's see if OKC blinks b4 10/31— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) September 13, 2012
Starting Small Forward: Nicolas Batum
Nicolas Batum doesn't exactly meet the European stereotype on the subject of flopping. Just ask Juan Carlos Navarro.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports writes about why, recounting Batum's Olympic experience:
France's Nicolas Batum had watched these Spanish players tumbling over the most incidental of contact, arms and legs flailing, crashing to the court in mock agony. This bothered Batum a great deal, and it wouldn't be long until he had lost his mind in the Olympic Games. When Batum could've stopped the clock with a slap on the arm, he punched Spain's Juan Carlos Navarro in the groin.
"I wanted to make sure he had good reason to flop," Batum said.
Asked if he believed he had accomplished his goal, Batum told Yahoo! Sports with a smile, "I hope so."
Batum's numbers aren't really any better than Hayward's. In fact, Hayward had 4.9 win shares to Batum's 4.8 last year. Batum gets the nod over Hayward because he brings a little bit of steel to the starters.
Starting Power Forward: Ryan Anderson
Ryan Anderson is heading for new digs in New Orleans, and we'll get to find out whether he's really a star player or if he's the product of Stan Van Gundy's system, as some suggest.
Some are a little too quick and easy to dismiss the success he's had in Orlando, though. Consider that he finished first in three-pointers made this year and sixth in offensive rebounds. That's a particular combination that's tough to be successful in since they are mutually exclusive.
Obviously, to make three-point shots you have to be behind the three-point line. On the other hand, to get offensive rebounds you have to be fighting for position to get under the net. Not only that, in Anderson's case he was competing for boards with the likes of Dwight Howard.
In spite of that fact, he became the only player ever to finish with more than three offensive rebounds per game and at least two three-pointers made per game.
Anderson also won the Most Improved Player award and was fourth in offensive rating, sixth in offensive win shares, ninth in win shares overall and seventh in free-throw percentage.
Anderson has a chance to prove he's an All-Star-caliber player in his own right. Look for him to do so.
Starting Center: DeMarcus Cousins
Finally, our starting center on our all-up-and-coming team is DeMarcus Cousins.
After a rough start to the season in which Cousins initially looked like the bad guy, he ended up redeeming himself.
After a conflict with Paul Westphal, his head coach, Cousins looked like he might be on his way out of town, but then it turned out that Westphal was the one packing his bags.
Free of the turmoil, Cousins turned in an impressive performance on the season, including 36 double-doubles.
Cousins showed consistent growth through the year. In December he averaged 13.0 points. In January he averaged 15.5. In February he averaged 19.0. In both March and April he averaged 19.8.
He also improved his passing through the season. Before the All-Star break he only averaged one assist per game. After the break he averaged 2.2.
Cousins was among the league leaders in rebounding, finishing fifth in total rebounds, as well as pulling down the most offensive boards. He had an impressive PER of 21.7.
On the downside, he led the league in fouls for the second year in a row, but that's something that he can work on. Cousins is beginning to emerge as the next great big man in the game, and this year could be the first All-Star season of his young career.