Building the 22-and-Under NBA All-Star Team

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIOctober 4, 2012

Building the 22-and-Under NBA All-Star Team

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    Although the NBA is still loaded with veteran talents bound for the Hall of Fame, the league’s young stars point to a promising future.

    Young superstars like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose don’t make the cut when we look at a 22-and-under age threshold, but there are still plenty of NBA players just starting their careers who would make a formidable All-Star team if they played on the same roster.

    Some players 22-and-under are already stars in this league and others are packed with potential and poised to improve.

    So who would make the 15-man 22-and-under NBA All-Star team roster?

15. Bismack Biyombo

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    Career NBA Stats: 5.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game

    As the youngest player on this list with NBA experience, Bismack Biyombo is a bit of a one-trick pony at this stage of his career. His 1.8 blocks per game a season ago was the eighth best average among all NBA players, but he’s still a very raw basketball talent.

    The 20-year-old youngster shot 46.4 percent from the field during his rookie year and struggled mightily at the free-throw line, shooting just 48.3 percent.

    His best performance during his rookie year came in a win against the Orlando Magic. Biyombo scored 10 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and added seven blocked shots (see video). Not to mention he played gritty defense against Dwight Howard, arguably the league's best center.

    Defensively, Biyombo has loads of potential as an intimidating shot blocker. His offensive game needs a lot of work, but if he continues to work on his game, he could carve a niche in this league as one of the NBA’s best low post defenders.

14. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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    Career NBA Stats: N/A

    Known as a tremendous perimeter defender, this year’s second overall pick, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, silenced some critics with his lone Summer League game performance.

    MKG scored 18 points on 58.3 percent shooting and added eight rebounds, five assists and four steals.

    Not only did Kidd-Gilchrist play stellar defense, but he raised some eyebrows with his play on the offensive end of the court.

    He still has a lot to prove as a rookie on a terrible Charlotte Bobcats team, but his potential and work ethic solidify his spot on this list over other candidates.

    Even if MKG struggles early in his career on offense, his ability to wreak havoc on the defensive end of the court make him a legitimate NBA talent.

13. Jonas Valanciunas

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    Career NBA Stats: N/A

    Jonas Valanciunas was drafted fifth overall a year ago by the Toronto Raptors. Now, after a year of patience, Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors’ organization will get to see what their prized draft pick has to offer the franchise.

    Valanciunas has been accompanied by a fair amount of hype leading up to this season. Some pundits speculated that the 20-year-old Lithuanian would have been the second overall pick in this year’s draft had he not been taken a year ago.

    The Raptors, at least on paper, are vastly improved from a year ago with Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, Landry Fields and Valanciunas added to the roster. However, if Toronto has aspirations of making the postseason, they’ll need to get plenty of production from Valanciunas moving forward.

    He may not be a superstar right away, but if he gets the minutes, he has a chance to be one of the NBA’s biggest difference makers under the age of 23.

12. Derrick Favors

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    Career NBA Stats: 7.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game

    Although Derrick Favors hasn't exactly been a stat machine throughout his first three NBA seasons, he's still an up-and-comer with loads of potential.

    The 21-year-old forward had his fair share of breakout performances for the Utah Jazz a season ago. Despite playing behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Favors had a 20-point, 11-rebound performance early in the year against the Philadelphia 76ers and a 23-point, 17-rebound game against the Golden State Warriors.

    Both Jefferson and Millsap are entering contract years this season, and the chances that both players are brought back in the future seem slim given Utah's frontcourt depth.

    Favors could be poised for a breakout year this season as he continues to mature.

11. Gordon Hayward

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    Career NBA Stats: 8.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game

    Gordon Hayward saw a significant jump in minutes during his sophomore year compared to his rookie year and ran with the opportunity.

    The former Butler star played in all 66 regular season games (58 starts) and averaged 11.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He was a big reason why the Jazz were able to make the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

    As an underrated defender and solid offensive option, Hayward can continue to improve on both ends of the court. If he can do so, he may make a few All-Star teams in his career.

10. Jrue Holiday

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    Career NBA Stats: 11.9 points, five assists and 3.3 rebounds per game

    Jrue Holiday is one of the NBA's promising young point guards. As is the case with many UCLA Bruins, Holiday is a great defender. His offense isn't what you'd call bad, but you'd be lying if you said Holiday wasn't inconsistent.

    On a game-to-game basis, whether Holiday will shoot 27 percent from the floor or 60 percent from the floor is a total crap shoot.

    In addition, Holiday's 4.5 assists per game last season out of the point guard spot left a lot to be desired. Plenty of other floor generals around the league had more production with less of a supporting cast.

    Also, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports via Twitter, Holiday wants a max contract extension from the Philadelphia 76ers. While that may seem high for a guy who hasn't produced at an elite level, Holiday is still one of the league's best young talents.

9. Avery Bradley

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    Career NBA Stats: 5.6 points, 1.4 rebounds and 37.3 percent three-point shooting

    Avery Bradley had a breakout year for the Boston Celtics last season. His defensive tenacity and grit fit in perfectly with Doc Rivers' game plan. His ability to lock down opposing players proved invaluable for the veteran Celtics in need of some talented youth.

    Unfortunately, Bradley's career has been hindered by shoulder injuries that are likely to keep him out for the start of the 2012-13 season.

    Nevertheless, when Bradley is out on the hardwood, he's one of the most consistent players who will give a team hustle on every possession.

    You can't go wrong with a guy like Bradley in your backcourt.

8. John Wall

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    Career NBA Stats: 16.3 points, 8.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game

    As a former No. 1 overall draft pick, John Wall hasn't exactly lived up to the hype. This is especially true when you compare him to Derrick Rose or even Kyrie Irving.

    Nevertheless, Wall has put up acceptable stats in two NBA seasons with a less than stellar supporting cast. Even so, Irving put up better stats during his rookie year with arguably a worse supporting group than Wall.

    Regardless of whether you highlight Wall's positives (8.2 assists per game in a two-year career) or the negatives (3.8 turnovers per game), he deserves to be on the all 22-and-under All-Star team.

    Wall can't be labeled a bust because he's put up respectable stats on a team struggling to win games; however, if he aspires to live up to the hype of being a No. 1 overall pick, this should be the year where he matures enough to show his true talents.

7. Anthony Davis

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    Career NBA Stats: N/A

    Even this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, National Player of the Year award winner, NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist has his fair share of doubters.

    Critics are already saying that Anthony Davis won’t live up to the hype, that he’s too skinny to perform at the NBA level and that his defensive game is overrated.

    As far as I’m concerned, Davis won’t be an NBA bust. He’s too talented and well prepared from his time spent with the 2012 Olympic team not to perform well. The New Orleans Hornets may not see much improvement as a team, but Davis should be able to put up respectable stats. He’s the front-runner to win Rookie of the Year until proven otherwise.

    Ironically, Davis may have the most impressive athletic resume of any player on this list.

    Although his offensive prowess is a bit of a question mark, his shot-blocking ability should easily place him in the top 10 among NBA players this season, if not in the top five.

6. Ricky Rubio

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    Career NBA Stats: 10.6 points, 8.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game

    Minnesota Timberwolves fans (and fans around the league for that matter) will say that if Ricky Rubio didn't sustain a season-ending injury last season, he would have helped lead the T-Wolves to the playoffs.

    There's certainly no way to prove that in a definitive fashion, but Rubio certainly left his mark on the NBA during his rookie year. Through his ridiculous play-making abilities, he was the only other rookie in the league challenging Kyrie Irving for Rookie of the Year honors.

    However, as is the case with all players in this age group, Rubio still had some glaring weaknesses.

    For example, Rubio shot a horrendous 35.7 percent from the field last season. He was far more effective setting up teammates for scores than he was with his own scoring ability.

    The young Spaniard still has plenty of time to improve. Who knows, perhaps he and Kevin Love will lead the Timberwolves to a playoff berth this season.

5. Starting Center: Greg Monroe

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    Career NBA Stats: 12.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game

    The Detroit Pistons' 22-year-old center improved from a statistical standpoint nearly across the board last season. His 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game were both career highs as Greg Monroe got more playing time to improve his game.

    Monroe should be a marquee candidate to make big strides this year as he'll have a partner in the post now that the Pistons added Andre Drummond via the 2012 NBA draft.

    Monroe is a promising young NBA big man without question. However, in his two-year NBA career, he's only notched 0.6 blocks per game. This is alarmingly low for a guy his size. To put that 0.6 blocks per game number in perspective, that's the same average Gordon Hayward had last season primarily playing guard.

    The former Georgetown standout should continue to improve moving forward, but an area of emphasis should be his defense.

4. Starting Power Forward: DeMarcus Cousins

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    Career NBA Stats: 15.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game

    Let's take a look at two groups of stats from a season ago:

    Player A: 18.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game

    Player B: 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game

    The stats of Player A are those of Sacramento Kings power forward/center DeMarcus Cousins. Player B is Amar'e Stoudemire from the New York Knicks.

    Stoudemire raked in more than $18.2 million last season, while Cousins made a little more than $3.6 million (cut to Knicks fans shaking their heads glumly).

    If you can overlook Cousins' numerous attitude and maturity issues, he's one of the best post players in the NBA today. I can only imagine what Cousins' athletic ceiling would be if he put aside all the antics and purely focused on basketball.

    Cousins is a stat machine and an absolute monster in the post. If the Kings can find the right group of players to place around Cousins, they could form a very solid team in the west.

    For now though, Cousins is relegated to the 22-and-under All-Star team as he awaits free agency and a big payday.

3. Starting Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard

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    Career NBA Stats: 7.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game

    Not much was expected from Kawhi Leonard coming out of San Diego State. In fact, his Draft Express profile highlighted the fact that Leonard would be drafted more for his physical attributes, not statistical prowess, and he was labeled a poor three-point shooter.

    Well, as is usually the case, the San Antonio Spurs struck gold by drafting Leonard. In spite of his Draft Express profile stating that he was an inconsistent three-point shooter, Leonard shot 37.6 percent from beyond the arc during the regular season and only upped that performance in the playoffs where he shot an astounding 45 percent from down town.

    For a guy who dropped in the draft because he supposedly couldn't shoot, he had a darn good year shooting the basketball.

    Leonard quickly gained respect from head coach Gregg Popovich, who played him consistently because of his stellar defense.

    On both sides of the court, Leonard is a difference maker and a hard worker. He's a humble, unassuming kid whose presence would be valued on any NBA team.

2. Starting Shooting Guard: Paul George

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    Career NBA Stats: 10 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game

    Paul George is another player who improved dramatically in his sophomore year compared to his rookie year.

    Last season with the underdog Indiana Pacers, George averaged 12.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game (all big improvements from his rookie season).

    Unfortunately for Pacers fans, George collapsed statistically in the playoffs, shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 26.8 percent from beyond the arc.

    George needs to improve his performance on the highest stage if Indiana is going to have a shot at making it deep in the playoffs, but for the moment he's a solid young player with big upside.

    Unfortunately for George's fantasy basketball owners, Danny Granger is the alpha dog on the Pacers who is leaned on for the bulk of the team's scoring. Unless Granger embraces a role where he shares more of the scoring load with George, the 22-year-old shooting guard may not see another huge leap in production.

    Even so, George is a confident young NBA player loaded with potential. As Pacers fans look to the future, George is a big part of their outlook.

1. Starting Point Guard: Kyrie Irving

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    Career NBA Stats: 18.5 points, 5.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game

    Kyrie Irving won last season's Rookie of the Year award by a landslide. Despite being just 20 years old, Irving averaged 18.5 points, shot 46.9 percent from the field and 39.9 percent from three-point range.

    He scored the ball efficiently and immediately asserted himself as one of the Cleveland Cavaliers' leaders.

    The Cavs are still a long way from being considered a championship contender, but with Irving as the team's franchise centerpiece, they have to feel confident about the team's direction.

    In an age group loaded with talented point guards, Irving may be a step above the rest if only for his masterful performance as a 20-year-old rookie (who spent most of his final collegiate season sidelined due to injury).

    Irving will act as the 22-and-under All-Stars' floor general. He'd run the offense and be able to distribute to competent teammates, unlike his current digs in Cleveland.