Another season of NBA basketball has begun, and it's once again time to watch as the league's elite battle it out for yet another year. The NBA definitely has a lot of stars, from the young rookies to the veterans in their late 30s.
But forget this season for a second, and let's jump ahead a few seasons. By the time we reach the 2017-2018 season, which is five years from now, in what ways will the NBA change? Will a fresh face take over as the league's most dominating force? And which players will have faded from relevance as their age wears them down?
The only way to really find out would be to wait five years, but there's always room for speculation. These are the NBA's top 20 players, five long years from now.
Note: College prospects without any NBA experience, such as Shabazz Muhammad and Cody Zeller, are excluded from this list.
2011-2012 Stats: 15.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.3 SPG
Age in 2017: 27
Who knows if Monroe will play out most of his career at power forward or center, but the NBA lacks many dominant big men, and Monroe could emerge into a star in the near future.
The 6'11" Monroe has a large variety of skills. He's a versatile and efficient scorer who can either post up or take the jump shot, and his 74 percent shooting from the free-throw line last year is great for a center. He's also able to rebound well and has a good passing game for a big man.
Monroe lacks a real defensive game, but if Andre Drummond emerges as the Pistons' starting 5 in the near future, then it may not be quite as necessary for him to become a force on both ends of the floor.
Overall, Monroe is dominant offensively. He'll easily score and rebound against his opponents, but his lack of great defense may keep him from being a true superstar. However, he is only 22 years old, and there will be plenty of time for improvement in the next five years. Perhaps he can even exceed expectation and become the NBA's next great center.
2011-2012 Stats: 19.1 PPG, 5.5 APG, 1.6 SPG
Age in 2017: 28
People have said over and over again that Jennings will finally break out, and thus far, he hasn't lived up to expectations. But we need to give him one more chance.
If you look at the stats, you'll see that Jennings did improve last year. His points and steals totals were both career highs, and despite still shooting a fairly poor 42 percent from the field, you could tell he was more disciplined on the court and taking fewer awful shots.
This really should be the year Jennings breaks out. He is a restricted free agent after this season, and he's going to be playing for a big paycheck. If he can have a breakout season and get some momentum going, Jennings will rise to become one of the better point guards in the game by 2017. He'll be right in his prime too.
2011-2012 Stats: 18.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.9 BPG
Age in 2017: 30
If Andrew Bynum didn't have such a horrible injury history, he would likely be one of the top players on this list. Bynum played 60 out of the 66 games last season, but that is a rare occasion for him. He has now missed at least 15 games in five out of his seven NBA seasons.
Bynum really did have a good season last year, averaging 15-plus points and 10-plus rebounds for the first time in his career. But it appears he has been victimized by coming straight to the NBA after high school.
In 2017, he will be 30 years old. Perhaps he'll string together a few dominant seasons now, but just imagine the state of his health in five years.
Right now, everyone is complaining about Amar'e Stoudemire not living up to his max contract. Well, Bynum may very well have the knees of a 50-year-old in a few years, and he looks like he might be the next player to be mistakenly given a max contract.
2011-2012 Stats: 21.7 PPG, 8 RPG, 0.8 BPG
Age in 2017: 32
Aldridge is one of the most underrated players in the league, and he deserves a lot more recognition than he gets. His offensive stats may not be eye-popping, but Aldridge can play both ends of the floor equally, and that is what makes him such a great player.
At the start of the 2017-2018 season, Aldridge will be 32, and he should still be a good player even if he drops off a little.
Last year on offense, he averaged 21 points and eight rebounds a game while shooting 51 percent from the field. He is also a good free-throw shooter. He is a pretty great post player, but he is an even better pick-and-pop player and can be played in a few different ways on offense.
As for his defense, he is much better than some other young power forwards today. The 6'11" forward can defend other dominant power forwards and is strong enough to stop centers in the post. At the same time, he is an amazing pick-and-roll defender.
Aldridge really is a Jack of all trades. He isn't particularly dominant in any one category, but he does everything well. Rather than some guys who just score, or some who just rebound, he not only fills the stat sheet but forces misses on the defensive end.
As for growth, Aldridge has pretty much hit his ceiling at this point. You can expect him to put up the same consistent numbers over the next several seasons.
2011-2012 Stats: 22.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.1 SPG
Age in 2017: 33
Ever since Carmelo Anthony joined New York, he has been a pretty inconsistent player. Sometimes the team is winning and the fans love him, and other times, they want him traded for not sharing the ball. It's been an up-and-down couple of years.
And although 'Melo will have the occasional stretch of games where he doesn't even look like a top-50 player, he can still maintain superstar status.
The key for 'Melo is simply to share the ball. If the team spreads the ball around and Anthony isn't running constant isolation plays and taking bad shots, he'll do fine and the team will be winning. And putting in more effort on defense can do wonders, which is exactly what 'Melo has been doing for the now 4-0 Knicks.
I still believe that it's possible to build a championship team around Carmelo Anthony. As long as he is taking good shots and playing defense, there is no reason why he won't still be a star five years from now, even if he will be 33.
2011-2012 Stats: 21.0 PPG, 8.7 APG, 1.2 SPG
Age in 2017: 33
Deron Williams is still considered one of the league's best point guards, but if he continues to decline like he did last season, then he might have completely faded by the time he's 33 in 2017.
Last season, D-Will scored a new career high in points per game, but became much more inefficient. His field-goal percentage was just 41 percent, a new career low, and he also put up just 8.7 assists a game despite turning the ball over four times a night.
In terms of advanced statistics, his PER was the lowest it's been since the '06-07 season, his true shooting percentage was the worst since his rookie year and his win shares went down from 7.3 in the previous season to 4.1.
Despite the fact that he's only 28, we may be witnessing the start of Williams' decline. He is still one of the better point guards in the league without a doubt, but it looks like he may be aging a little faster than the rest of the NBA's elite.
2011-2012 Stats: 16.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.7 APG
Age in 2017: 28
It's not time to proclaim James Harden a superstar just yet, but all signs are certainly pointing to him being one. Harden has been absolutely amazing in Houston this year and is within the top three leaders of points per game with 26.5.
If he can continue to develop, he may be the NBA's next great shooting guard. By 2017, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant will most likely have ceased to be dominant, and Harden has a good opportunity to become the face of the position.
It still has only been a few games, so it's impossible to tell how the reigning Sixth Man of the Year will adapt to a starting rotation and being a go-to guy.
But if Harden can keep up the pace he's going at right now, in five years he'll be nearly impossible to stop.
2011-2012 Stats (From Kentucky): 14.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 4.7 BPG
Age in 2017: 24
Davis is only a few games into his NBA career, and anything could still happen—but he could definitely become a dominant big a few years down the road.
Defensively, Davis will be able to use his length and quickness to become one of the best shot-blockers and rebounders in the league. And offensively, he can be just as amazing. His ability to run the floor will help him against the slower defenders, and his length and finishing ability will help him just as much against smaller and quicker matchups.
We have yet to see how Davis makes the transition from college to the NBA, but he should have no problem doing so. While other rookies were playing in the summer league over the offseason, Davis was already in London playing with the league's elite, which is a pretty good prep course for the NBA.
Five years from now, it's likely that he will also be considered elite, and any team would be lucky to build a franchise around him.
2011-2012 Stats: 11.9 PPG, 11.7 APG, 1.8 SPG
Age in 2017: 31
Rajon Rondo is often underrated because of the belief that he's incapable of being a scorer. But over the past season, Rondo has shown a lot of maturation both on and off the court that could prove him to be one of the best players in the NBA.
It's known that Rondo uses his quickness to drive to the basket, but he showed in the postseason last year that he also had a bit of range. Throughout the entire postseason, Rondo went 35-of-79 on mid-range shots, shooting 44 percent from that area. During the series against the Heat, he shot 52 percent on mid-range shots, going 17-of-33.
Though Rondo still struggled from behind the arc, he was able to consistently make his jump shot and rely on it as another method of scoring. And so far, it's carried over to this season.
Of course, this doesn't make Rondo an elite player and possible MVP candidate—his amazing passing ability and commitment to defense does.
But as he continues to improve his offensive game, his stock will rise. By 2017, he will still be one of the best in the game despite being on the wrong side of 30.
2011-2012 Stats (At Weber St.): 24.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.0 APG
Age in 2017: 27
Anthony Davis better watch out. Maybe it's only been a few games, but pretty soon, Damian Lillard will be the front-runner for Rookie of the Year.
Simply put, Lillard is the real deal. With four years of college behind him, he has had plenty of time to work on his game, and now it's paying off. So far this season, he is averaging 18.8 points and seven assists a game. In fact, Chris Paul has even complimented Lillard on his game already.
Lillard looks like the next in line of great young point guards. He's an amazing scorer and has the ability to either drive to the basket or hit the outside shot, and he's also been a surprisingly good facilitator so far this season, especially for someone who averaged just four assists in college last year.
Overall, Lillard is a name for Portland fans to get excited about. In a few years, Lillard, Aldridge and Nicolas Batum could be part of a nice core that could definitely make some playoff runs together.
2011-2012 Stats: 18.1 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Age in 2017: 27
Cousins is lot like Greg Monroe, and those two will probably become sick of being compared to the other throughout their careers, if they aren't already. But in addition to just being part of the same draft class, Cousins possesses some of the same skills.
Cousins has the potential to become an offensive juggernaut. He can easily finish inside and has the ability to step out and occasionally knock down a mid-range shot. Cousins also has great passing ability for a center. But a couple things could get in his way from being the best center in the league.
The first is defense.
Cousins may indeed be one of the most dangerous offensive players in a few years, but that's only one-half of the game. If he really ever wants to be considered better than Dwight Howard, his defense has to improve.
The second thing is his attitude.
Cousins has a huge ego and needs to mature. Although he can still technically be the best player out there on the court, he won't be taken seriously or be respected by anyone until the temper tantrums stop.
2011-2012 Stats: 20.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 3.2 APG
Age in 2017: 28
A lot of people don't like Blake Griffin, but you can't deny that he is one of the best basketball players in the NBA.
Though some of his dunks can be overrated, Griffin has an amazing leaping ability and is one of the most athletic players in the league. With a great passing point guard like Chris Paul by his side, nothing can go wrong.
He is simply a monster offensively. He makes a couple great dunks every night, and he was one of just two players (Kevin Love) last season to average more than both 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. He also shoots 53 percent from the field.
As for all the writers (including myself) who have written about how he has a poor jump shot, wake up. Griffin shot 36 percent from mid-range last season. And guess what? That's just one percent lower than 2012 three-point contest winner Kevin Love.
The only question is, can he develop to become a better defensive player? He is not nearly a dominant defensive player right now, and although DeAndre Jordan handles the defense down low for the Clippers, if Griffin can polish off his defense, he could definitely be higher on this list in 2017.
For now, try not to get too worked up about his dunks on SportsCenter. He is just a fun player to watch, and there is no doubt in my mind that he'll be one of the league's best in 2017.
2011-2012 Stats: 21.8 PPG, 7.9 APG, 0.9 SPG
Age in 2017: 29
Rose could be so much higher on this list, but with his recent injury history, there's no telling how good he will be in the future. He could be a top-five player, or if the injury really affects him, he might not even be a top-20 player at all.
But assuming that the injury has a minimal effect on Rose, he will still be an amazing player. He will only be 29 in 2017, and he should be one of the top point guards the league has to offer.
He has improved a huge amount since originally being drafted. Rose now has a pretty good jumper and is one of the best in the league at finishing at the rim. His pass accuracy and assist-to-turnover ratio have also jumped much higher since being a rookie. And that's not to mention that he is probably the fastest player in the league.
If he heals well, Rose will continue to be one of the top threats of this decade. He is expected to lead the Bulls to an NBA championship, and he has a pretty good chance at eventually accomplishing this goal. On his way, maybe he can even rack up another MVP award or two.
2011-2012 Stats: 23.6 PPG, 5.5 APG, 1.7 SPG
Age in 2017: 28
Whether he is able to co-exist with Kevin Durant or not, Westbrook will be a star wherever he goes. He had another great season last year with a new career high in scoring and field-goal percentage. His assist totals took a huge step back, though, dropping from 8.2 to 5.5 assists a game.
Westbrook is often criticized for being a ball hog, and I'm not entirely sure he will stay a point guard his entire career. He's a natural-born scorer who may be better suited at the shooting guard position.
But no matter what position he plays, Westbrook will remain a lightning-quick and explosive player. He can get to the rim with ease and put up new career-high scoring numbers on any night, and he uses his quickness to get steals on the defensive end of the ball.
If Durant and Westbrook both remain in OKC for years to come, it will be frightening.
As they continue to develop together, they should be able to dominate all other competition and win a few championships together—with or without James Harden.
2011-2012 Stats: 18.5 PPG, 5.4 APG, 1.1 SPG
Age in 2017: 25
There are so many good point guards, but I'm expecting Irving to be dominating the league by 2017. Irving had a better rookie season than players such as Westbrook or Rose, and he's only going to get better.
Last season, Irving proved to be a good shooter, connecting on 47 percent of his field-goal attempts and shooting 40 percent from behind the arc. He struggled a little with the turnovers, but still showed a nice passing ability and was able to take the Cavs further than anyone expected.
Irving is a great piece to build around, and he could end up bringing the Cavs to the playoffs again. Within a couple years, Irving will be a superstar—and with just a couple of decent pieces around him, he could make some deep playoffs runs in Cleveland.
2011-2012 Stats: 19.8 PPG, 9.1 APG, 2.5 SPG
Age in 2017: 32
By 2017, Chris Paul might be getting up there in age, but that shouldn't stop him from being the best PG in the NBA. He's been given a very good opportunity in Los Angeles. He has another rising star in Blake Griffin, and the Clippers are also a deep team with a lot of veteran talent.
Considering Paul was able to lead the league in assists with a weak supporting cast in New Orleans, he should have no problem finding success with the Clippers. He'll continue to be one of the league's best passers and will probably lead the league in steals a few more times.
If the team does really well, it wouldn't be surprising to see Paul win an MVP award sometime in the next few seasons. There are plenty of young rising point guards, but Chris Paul will not be dethroned anytime soon.
2011-2012 Stats: 26.0 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 0.9 SPG
Age in 2017: 29
Love is just 24 right now and will be entering his prime in a few seasons. Last year, after averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds a game, Love was just one of the few good things that happened to Minnesota. And despite Ricky Rubio being injured, the T-Wolves were still in the playoff hunt in what was a pretty great turnaround of a season.
Love is an absolute stud offensively. The winner of the 2012 Three-Point Shootout shoots 37 percent from downtown throughout his career and hit almost two a game last year. He isn't a post-up player and is really pretty much exclusively a high-post and pick-and-pop offensive player, but it works for him, as he is one of the top scorers in the league.
The only problem is defense. Although Love is one of the most efficient rebounders in the league, rebounding doesn't actually stop opponents from making shots. Love is fantasy gold, but in terms of stopping guys in the post, he is actually pretty terrible.
It is OK, though. He is young and still has time to learn. Because defense is about his only weakness, I trust that he'll spend time working on it.
If he does become a good defensive player, watch out, because he could be bringing Minnesota deep into the playoffs and possibly take a few MVP awards. A team with Love and Rubio would be so much fun to watch.
2011-2012 Stats: 20.6 PPG, 14.5 RPG, 2.1 BPG
Age in 2017: 31
Center is by far the NBA's weakest position, and there won't be a big man better than Howard within the next five years. He is great offensively and will probably win at least a couple more Defensive Player of the Year awards by 2017.
Howard has been an amazing player his whole career. So far, he has made a legend out of himself in the NBA. He has career averages of 18.4 points and 13 rebounds a game, plus he's averaged over two blocks a game for six consecutive seasons now with a career 58-percent shooting percentage.
Here are some more scary stats about Howard: Despite the fact that he is just 26, he is already 42nd on the all-time blocks list. If he continues his same pace, he could be about 15th in five years. He is also No. 12 all-time in rebounds per game and is first among active players.
Howard will still be an unstoppable player in five years. He's not only the best big man currently, but by the time he calls it a career, he might go down as one of the best centers of all time.
2011-2012 Stats: 27.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.9 SPG
Age in 2017: 32
The "King" will start the 2015-2016 season as a 32-year-old, and although he is still clearly the best player right now, it seems unlikely that he will still be on top in five years.
If you examine LeBron, there are really almost no weaknesses with him. We know he has had struggles with being able to capitalize in the clutch. However, he is a great passer and rebounder for his position, a great scorer, is developing more of a post game and is a very good defender and one of the greatest players in the league in transition.
LeBron's ability to dominate so many aspects of the game makes him an extremely efficient player. He is the most complete player in the league, and last season, he scored and was also able to get assists, rebounds, steals and blocks. He also set new career highs in field-goal and three-point percentage.
LeBron is so scary because he is only getting better. But in five years, there will likely be a slight decrease in performance. He will still be great, but he will be past his prime and will have been dethroned by the next king of basketball.
In the next few years, though, LeBron could still win the MVP award a couple times, and he'll likely win a few more rings.
2011-2012 Stats: 28.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Age in 2017: 29
Kevin Durant may not be the all-around player that LeBron is, but the three-time scoring champion will be dominating the league as the best player in five years.
Durant will be 29 and in his prime entering the season, and he has a lot of time to work on his game. Durant may never be quite as good on defense as LeBron or Howard are, but he will be simply phenomenal on offense.
Over the next few years, as Durant improves his handle, develops a better post game and learns to pick the right shots, he'll become the most efficient and unstoppable offensive player in the league.
He may not get the assists LeBron does, but his job as one of the greatest shooters in the league isn't to create shots for his team. The Thunder are doing absolutely fine without Durant being a playmaker.
Over the next several years, the Thunder will be one of the most dominant teams in the league. Durant will lead them to the NBA Finals multiple times and might be able to steal some MVP awards from LeBron by averaging 30 or 35 PPG in OKC.
Durant vs. LeBron will be the conversation of the next several years, and Durant is waiting for the next time the two meet in the finals. He's hungry, and as he continues to develop over time, Durant will become the defining player of the decade.