Kyrie Irving and 5 Young NBA Players Ready to Blossom into Stars
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Kyrie Irving is on the verge of superstardom.
Irving won the 2011-12 Rookie of the Year award, and has a bright future to be sure. But beyond Irving, which other young guns have the makings of a franchise player?
I've keyed in on five young talents in the NBA who are showcasing their skills early this season and had the beginnings of career breakouts last season. All of these guys are near-locks to be All-Stars down the road, if not in the 2012-13 season.
Can Irving erase the disappointment of LeBron?
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Kyrie Irving had the gall to challenge Kobe Bryant one-on-one. He has dressed up like an old man and dominated unsuspecting street ballers. And, last but not least, he is one of the best young stars in the NBA.
Irving ranked high in my power rankings of isolation scorers, coming in fourth. He ranked second in the league in single covered isolation plays last year, as he scored 1.07 points per play. As a rookie, he also averaged 18.5 points per game while dishing out 5.4 assists per night.
And all indications are that he has gotten even better this year.
Through four games, Irving is averaging 24.6 points and 6.2 assists per game on 46 percent shooting from the floor. With those numbers, he's on the verge of entering the elite class of point guards in the league, if he hasn't already.
George is hauling in almost 10 rebounds per game this year.
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Paul George, selected 10th overall in 2010, is looking like one of the major steals of that draft. His offensive numbers are humble, but his impact defensively and on the boards has been great for a swingman, albeit one who stands 6'9".
Through five games this season, George has nearly doubled last year's rebounding numbers, averaging 9.8 boards per game this season. He's also making a heady impact on defense, averaging 1.6 steals per game and 1.6 blocks per game.
George's early season production may be a bit inflated, but it's clear he's going to be a game-changer on the defensive end. His scoring average of 13.8 points per game should also continue to increase, especially with Danny Granger sidelined.
The Pacers put a good scare into the 2012 champion Miami Heat last year in the playoffs, taking a 2-1 lead before dropping the series' final three games. With George's emergence, this team should make another run at the Eastern Conference crown.
Can Lin, Harden and company sneak into the playoffs?
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For all the criticism and doubt Jeremy Lin has encountered after his mini-breakout season for the Knicks, he still has to be considered one of the emerging stars in the NBA.
Lin averaged 18.5 points, 7.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and two steals per game over 26 games last year in what was essentially his rookie season. Only 24 players in NBA history have been able to match those numbers for that duration.
Is he going to be one of the very best point guards in the NBA? No, and few are saying so.
But while Lin may be overhyped, he has all the talent and makings of a star. Plus, he's going to find life a lot easier with James Harden on board.
While his scoring and assist numbers have been modest so far, Lin is doing a great job contributing in all facets of the game. At the end of the day, 13.0 points, 7.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals is pretty darn good for a 24-year-old.
Fear the Deer.
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Between his poor decision-making and questionable shot selection, there was a time when I felt Brandon Jennings would just never get it as an NBA point guard.
But time would heal those deficiencies in his game. Now Jennings is on the verge of breaking through on a Milwaukee Bucks team that has surprised the NBA so far, going 2-1 with an inspired 99-88 victory over the Celtics on November 2.
Jennings has adjusted his role with the addition of Monta Ellis. He is looking to distribute more now, and as a result has averaged over 10 assists per game over the Bucks' first three contests.
If Jennings continues to refine his understanding of the point guard position and work heavily on being a pass-first floor general (with Ellis taking on more perimeter scoring duties), he could take the next step and become an NBA All-Star.
Fear the Beard, America.
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James Harden was living in the shadow of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but no longer. Since his trade to Houston, Harden has exploded, averaging 30.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.
As it turns out, Harden had alpha dog potential this entire time. When the Rockets acquired him, most of us realized he was in for big things, but few of us expected this kind of output.
Harden came back to earth last night against the Denver Nuggets, shooting just 5-for-15 from the floor and managing 15 points in a 93-87 loss.
Of course, Harden's stats will level out over time. He's not going to put up 30 a game for an entire season, but is 25 points per game a reasonable projection?
I think so.