One of the most exciting times of the NBA season is All-Star Weekend—from the Slam Dunk Contest to the game itself.
Say what you want about the NBA All-Star Game being a glorified pickup game, for this year's festivities are going to usher in the new generation of talent.
Some of the younger players in the NBA haven't been in the league for long, but their talents are unquestionable. They continue to improve year in and year out, and for those who are still just making their mark in the league, they too are destined to get better and better.
The 2013 All-Star season is bound to be different from the others.
While the elder statesmen will surely be represented, the upcoming season's All-Star festivities will feature a fresh and younger generation of stars.
Starting this season, these select players will be the beginning of that trend.
At 6'3", 190 pounds, Goran Dragic doesn't look like much of an athlete—but having played in his native Slovenia and in Spain for five seasons before making his NBA debut, he brings a unique style of play to the table.
Despite his lean build, Dragic is actually a phenomenal shooter with great speed that aids him in driving to the basket. He also has great footwork, which helps him play some incredibly pesky defense.
That said, just how will he make his first All-Star appearance in 2013?
Well, as a scoring point guard, Dragic is bound to do well in a fast-paced offensive system that gives him freedom with the ball and just lets him play his game. Not only is he about to succeed Steve Nash as the Phoenix Suns' starting point guard, but head coach Alvin Gentry runs an offense similar to most that are used in Europe—Dragic should feel right at home.
Throw in some fine go-to guys in pure scorer Michael Beasley and ex-Houston Rockets teammate/defense machine Luis Scola, and the All-Star potential for Dragic is endless.
Despite appearing in just 11 games at Duke, Irving was drafted first overall by the Cavaliers in 2011. In terms of a rookie season, one could not have asked for anything better.
Though injuries limited him to 51 games, Irving averaged 18.5 points and 5.4 assists per game while shooting an unbelievable 40 percent from long range. While that seems impressive, it can be argued that Irving's numbers are cause for concern.
Sure, the scoring is there, but what about the passing?
This season, expect Irving's assist total to rise. Not only is teammate Tristan Thompson expected to do better in his second season, but Irving also has a reliable big man in the making in rookie Tyler Zeller.
In short, Irving's sophomore success depends a lot on the development of young teammates. Irving is bound to improve this season, even if his Cavaliers don't look much better than they did in 2012.
His positive attitude and willingness to learn and get better will only help him. If he can push himself hard enough, he'll definitely hear his name called out as an All-Star.
Michael Beasley is a pure scorer who can put up great numbers and be a force from behind the three-point line when given significant minutes.
The former Kansas State Wildcat proved this two years ago in his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging a career-best 19.2 points per game while shooting 37 percent from long range in 32.3 minutes per contest.
That said, Beasley must have felt like a kid on Christmas morning when he signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Phoenix Suns. Playing for head coach Alvin Gentry, he will be allowed to do what he does best and just shoot the lights out. Having a fine point man like the aforementioned Dragic getting him the ball won't hurt either, as the 23-year-old only just starts to build his legacy.
As Phoenix's starting small forward and most reliable and experienced scorer, Beasley is bound to have a career season. He will be dominant from three-point land and probably score in double figures night after night.
Naturally, this will help him punch a ticket to his first All-Star Game.
In looking at Al Jefferson's stats from the past two seasons, it's kind of surprising that he has yet to make an All-Star team. Over that stretch, the 6'10" center has averaged 18.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.
However, it won't just be the need to put up respectable numbers that earns Jefferson an All-Star berth this season.
Jefferson becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, and given how well he has played the past few seasons, it's a safe bet that he'll be fully locked in for all of 2012-2013. Sure, great overall stats will help him land a multi-year deal worth quite a bit of money, but just imagine how much more he could earn if he could add the title of "All-Star" to his resume.
No matter how you look at it, making the All-Star team isn't just a goal for Jefferson next year—it's an absolute must.
Though his attitude issues are well-documented, Cousins is bound to improve after his career sophomore campaign. Last year, the 6'11" former Kentucky Wildcat averaged 18.1 points and 11 rebounds per game to go with 1.2 blocks and 1.5 steals. He was one of the best players on an overall bad team, and his talents as a big man are unquestionable.
Seeing as how the Kings seemed to respond positively to Keith Smart after he replaced Paul Westphal as coach last year, Cousins is sure to continue dominating on the inside and becoming more of an interior player. Sacramento may not fare much better record-wise, but their talented young center will stand out and give the fans something for which to hope.
If he can actually make an All-Star team, perhaps it will energize Sacramento's fanbase and put to rest the rumors that the team will move away in the near future.
Taken first overall in the 2010 draft, there is no doubt that John Wall has the talent to become a great NBA point guard. He is a great passer who plays incredible defense, and his scoring game is slowly improving.
This year is bound to be Wall's breakout season.
He has a great supporting cast that includes veteran big men Nene and Emeka Okafor, not to mention the ever-pesky Trevor Ariza and rookie guard Bradley Beal. Unlike the Wizards teams of the past few years, some of these men have plenty of experience to share, and all have a common goal: win games.
Most important of all, however, is how determined Wall is for next year to be a success in every way possible. Not only does he want his team to make the playoffs, but he has his sights set on the All-Star Game.
With that attitude, and assuming his new teammates gel well with him, how can he not earn a spot on the Eastern Conference roster?
With Carmelo Anthony now on the New York Knicks, last year was Lawson's time to shine. Sure enough, the former North Carolina Tar Heel answered the bell and averaged 16.4 points, 6.6 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting an incredible 49 percent from the field. That's not at all bad for someone just 5'11", 195 pounds.
Given the events of this summer, the upcoming season is going to be an even better one for Lawson.
Though the Nuggets lost Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington to the Orlando Magic in the blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, they gained a fine player in Andre Iguodala, who will provide a nice scoring touch as well as some incredible defense. Throw in some support from Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee and second-year man Kenneth Faried, and Lawson's passing numbers could potentially go through the roof.
On top of that, Lawson has already shown that he can be a valuable offensive contributor. If any of his teammates are having a bad night on offense, he is more than capable of taking over and putting a great number of points on the board. In one game against the Phoenix Suns last season, Lawson scored a season-high 29 points while dishing out 10 assists and shooting a perfect 5-of-5 from long range.
This man has multiple All-Star berths written all over him, and starting this season he's going to establish himself as one of the best point guards in the game—all the way to his first trip to All-Star Weekend.