NBA Breakout Performers: 10 Players Ready to Become All-Stars
Today's NBA is absolutely full of exceptional talent. For lovers of the game, the past few years have been an absolute joy, particularly considering the rather dark period of bad basketball that preceded this new era.
For the last few seasons, we've seen young players from Kevin Durant to Derrick Rose break out and create All-Star résumés early in their careers.
So after another influx of quality talent over the past few drafts, who will be the next crop of players to take their games to the next level and become All-Stars?
Ahead are the 10 likeliest candidates to make their first All-Star team within the next three seasons.
Consider me a believer.
As one of those who doubted if Anthony Davis could translate his success to the next level, it's time for me to admit I was wrong. Even in a small sample size, Davis has shown the skill and overall presence that made him a standout at Kentucky.
The No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft has proven not only that his game translates but that he can perform in ways we didn't even know about.
In the absence of star guard Eric Gordon, Davis has taken on a more assertive role offensively, and the rookie power forward has flourished in that role.
Even more importantly, Davis has shown the ability to affect games on the defensive end in much the same way he did in college.
At fifth in the league in blocks per game, Davis has been able to send back shot after shot while altering countless others. Given the relatively small number of minutes Davis has played, the rookie is rebounding at an impressive clip as well.
Anthony Davis has already put the league on notice, and an All-Star appearance is just a matter of time.
Speaking of Hornets, Anthony Davis' running mate in New Orleans is ready to be an All-Star just as soon as health allows.
Following his involvement in the blockbuster trade that sent Chris Paul to Los Angeles, Eric Gordon has struggled to see the floor thanks to a nagging knee injury that has cost him significant portions of the past two seasons.
Couple Gordon's health concerns with a well-documented desire to depart from New Orleans, and it's easy to see why the young shooting guard is being forgotten.
Don't make this mistake.
Gordon is still a special offensive talent, and he has all of the tools to be a defensive stopper when he's engaged. In a league that doesn't feature many elite shooting guards, Eric Gordon appears to have multiple All-Star appearances in his future.
The only other rookie to join Anthony Davis on the list is Portland point guard Damian Lillard.
Coming into his rookie season, Lillard was highly regarded by general managers across the league, and it's easy to see why. The Weber State product has been red-hot to start the season, excelling in just about every facet of the game.
While Lillard's 19.3 points and 6.4 assists per game are impressive, even more so is how adept the young point guard has been at keeping his teammates happy.
Lillard has been superb at providing Portland's other weapons with opportunities to make plays.
His ability to run the show while still finding his own opportunities to attack is why Damian Lillard has All-Star written all over him.
Joining Lillard from a Blazers team stacked with young talent is small forward Nicolas Batum.
Batum has been on fire to start this season, showing doubters everywhere why Portland was willing to ink the 23-year-old swingman to a four-year deal worth more than $44 million.
Over his last five games, Batum has averaged an absolutely astounding 25.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.6 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. A stat-sheet-stuffer to be sure.
While Batum may not maintain those numbers on a nightly basis, his ability to affect the game in such a variety of ways is an invaluable asset to a young Portland team playing in the always tough Western Conference.
Look for Batum to make at least one All-Star game in the near future as an Andrei Kirilenko "jack of all trades" type.
Watch Detroit big man Greg Monroe over the course of an entire game, and you won't once marvel at his athleticism, "ooh" and "aah" over a huge dunk or ask yourself how he did that.
What you will do is watch one of the most fundamentally sound big men in the league today.
A force on both sides of the floor, the former Hoya has garnered a steady following thanks to a great work ethic and a wonderful basketball IQ.
Monroe's knowledge of the game makes the near seven-footer a defensive force, as he's rarely found out of position on a rotation, and he's always in the right spot to come down with a big rebound.
Now if the woeful Pistons could just make somebody miss.
Still, Monroe's start to the season shouldn't be overlooked simply because he plays for a bad club. Averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 boards per contest in the NBA is a difficult feat regardless of whom you play for.
Simply put, Greg Monroe is Detroit's lone bright spot and an All-Star just waiting to happen.
Serge Ibaka is Oklahoma City's third option and an All-Star in the making.
The Congolese power forward has shown an affinity for blocking shots since he arrived in the NBA, but it wasn't until last season that he began to show flashes of being a well-rounded NBA star.
The runner-up in last season's Defensive Player of the Year voting showed the ability to knock down mid-range jumpers and the beginnings of a post-up game during Oklahoma City's playoff push a season ago.
If Ibaka can continue his progression on offense and improve his dismal rebounding numbers (just 6.5 per game so far this season), he can be a force inside for a Thunder team that desperately needs balance.
Following the James Harden trade, there is plenty of pressure on Ibaka to develop into an All-Star-caliber option for the reigning kings of the West. He will soon prove that he's ready to do just that.
I'm just not ready to give up on John Wall. Coming out of Kentucky, Wall was next in a long line of explosive point guards ready to make an impact early in their careers.
From day one, Wall has shown the flashes of brilliance that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2010.
However, sometimes shoddy decision-making and Wall's inability to develop anything resembling an outside shot has held back the talented guard in his first two seasons for a hapless Wizards team.
Now facing rehab for a stress fracture in his knee, Wall is once again facing major adversity in the nation's capital.
Still, let's not forget what this man is capable of. John Wall is as physically talented as just about anyone in the league. He has a unique combination of size and speed that makes him a nightmare for defenses who simply can't keep Wall away from the rim.
The former Wildcat will put the pieces together, and when he does, the results will be scary.
Jrue Holiday is enjoying a career year in his fourth season in the City of Brotherly Love.
Averaging 19.1 points, 8.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game, Holiday has stepped up his production in just about every category this season. Even better, the fourth-year guard is upping his production while still shooting right around 45 percent from the field and from long range.
While many wondered how the Sixers would fare with the departure of Andre Iguodala and the absence of new big man Andrew Bynum, Holiday has taken the reins and shown he is fully capable of leading a team in his own right.
Still, it would have been unfeasible to think of Jrue Holiday as an All-Star as recently as a season ago. In a conference stacked with quality point guards, there was simply no room for the 22-year-old Holiday on the ballot.
But combine a great start from Holiday with the new All-Star format that sees guard and forward as the only options on the ballot, and suddenly Holiday has a real chance to make the team this year.
Look for Jrue Holiday to continue his high level of play, and look for him in Houston midseason.
These last two are obvious, but it doesn't make them any less true.
Kyrie Irving, also known as Uncle Drew, is already one of the 10 best talents in all of the NBA.
The second-year guard out of Duke posted a fantastic rookie campaign and has picked up just where he left off to start this season.
At fifth in the league in scoring, Irving is putting up big numbers on a nightly basis, and he's doing so in a variety of ways. Irving combines his knack for scoring with supreme ball-handling ability and great court vision on offense, while remaining a capable defender on the other end.
At only 20 years of age, Irving has nowhere to go but up as the Cavs stockpile assets to complement their young star as he continues to hone his craft under head coach Byron Scott.
Look forward to marveling at what Irving is capable of with quality teammates at this year's All-Star game in Houston.
What's not to love about James Harden? The 23-year-old Arizona State product has been a fan favorite since entering the league in 2009 thanks to a video-game-style of play and a beard that would make Santa jealous.
As a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden was willing to sacrifice where most would not by coming off the bench despite being one of the three best players on his team night in and night out.
Now with a Rockets squad to call his own, Harden is breaking out in a big way. Already one of the best passing guards in the game, Harden is currently second in the league in scoring and working to solidify his place as one of the best in the business.
An all-around playmaker, Harden will be a joy to watch in this year's All-Star game in front of his new home crowd.
And did I mention his beard?
That's it—the 10 players most likely to see their first All-Star game within the next three years. Who did I miss? Which of the guys on my list can't hack it? Holler at me in the comments section and let me know what I got right and what I got wrong.
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