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Young Stars Most Likely to Yield LeBron-Like Greatness

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 20, 2012

Young Stars Most Likely to Yield LeBron-Like Greatness

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    LeBron James is doing things on the basketball court that no other player ever has.

    He's the best player on the planet and looks nowhere near ready to relinquish that title.

    But there are some players entering the league with their targets set on the Heat star.

    And some of them are already showing LeBron-like production:

    With 25pts & 12reb @mikegillie14 joins @kingjames as only 2 players in #NBA history to do it twice before their 20th bday. #CatsSuns #NBA

    — Charlotte Bobcats (@bobcats) December 20, 2012

    James blends such a unique combination of size, skill and athleticism that anyone would struggle to enter his atmosphere.

    But that won't stop these players from trying.

Iman Shumpert (NYK)

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    Good size for his position? Check (6'5", 220 pounds).

    Relentless, physical defense? Check.

    Gifted athlete? Check.

    Unique fashion sense? Check, check.

    Iman Shumpert's only played 59 games in the NBA thanks to a torn ACL in April 2012.

    But that hasn't kept his buzz from growing.

    Like James, it's still unclear exactly what position he'll play. And like a young James, his jump shot is still a work in progress.

    But he's a playmaker on offense, capable of beating his defender and finishing plays himself or finding open teammates.

    Defensively, he's a pest. He's got the size to defend either guard position and the lateral quickness to stay in front of smaller, quicker wings.

Kawhi Leonard (SAS)

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    Scouts weren't sure what to make of the San Jose State product when he entered the 2011 draft.

    He was successful at the college level, but he didn't exactly display a refined game.

    But the Spurs liked what they saw: a basketball player.

    San Antonio sacrificed supersub George Hill to acquire Kawhi Leonard (the 15th pick).

    Leonard projected as a plus-defender at the NBA level. With length (6'7", 225 pounds) and athleticism on the wing, he figured to collect his paychecks at the defensive end.

    But he's already displayed a versatile offensive repertoire in his season-plus pro career. He's shot 49.3 percent from the field in each of his two seasons, and his range has extended beyond the three-point line (37.0 percent).

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (CHA)

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    The second pick of the 2012 draft, the 19-year-old Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, has shown the anticipated ups and downs in his first 24 games.

    While the Charlotte Bobcats have struggled (they're currently stuck in a 12-game losing streak), MKG has provided some relief for this success-starved fanbase.

    Scouts questioned his ability to score at the NBA level, and while he's only averaging 10.4 points per game, he's shot 48.5 percent from the field.

    He's excelled in the open floor, both with the ball in his hands and as a ready recipient on the back end of alley-oops.

    Defensively, he's used his athleticism to compensate for his lack of experience. With his length (6'7") and hops, he's capable of recovering from poor defensive reads.

Paul George (IND)

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    The Indiana Pacers have been waiting for Paul George to occupy the leadership role vacated by the injured Danny Granger (knee).

    He hasn't yet sniffed out superstar numbers (16.4 points in 35.9 minutes per game), but he's shown enough flashes for the Pacers to hold on to that hope for the third-year pro.

    He's already a better three-point threat than James (39.7 percent in 2012-13). With his size (6'8", 210 pounds) and handles, he's a matchup nightmare for any defense.

    And he's blossoming as a creator for his teammates. His 3.7 assists per game has him on pace to shatter his previous career high, more impressive considering he's been without the prolific Granger for the entire season.

    Defensively, he's shown signs of the instincts shared by only elite defenders. He reads offenses, anticipates plays and has the requisite athletic ability to complete those defensive efforts.

Evan Turner (PHI)

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    Evan Turner doesn't have the defensive acumen of James, but he's the best distributor of the group.

    At 6'7", 205 pounds, he gives Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins some intriguing options to initiate his offense.

    With Jrue Holiday playing at an All-Star level (18.4 points and 8.9 assists per game), defenses are tempted to build their game plans around stopping him.

    But Turner is such a visionary passer (4.2 assists per game) that he's more than capable of serving as the offense's focal point. He's got a quick first step and the dribble moves to exploit it.

    He joined the 76ers with an NBA-ready mid-range jumper but struggled to extend that range to the perimeter for his first two seasons. In 2012-13, though, he's connected on 46.8 percent of his three-point attempts.

    Defensively, he's a bit hindered by a lack of strength against bigger wings. But he approaches that end of the floor with the same cerebral approach that continues to evolve his offensive game.

Nicolas Batum (POR)

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    With four years of NBA service already under his belt, Nicolas Batum is the most experienced of these players.

    But he's still only 24 years old.

    And he's continued to show signs of improvement to his already well-rounded game.

    He's increased his scoring (15.8 points per game in 2012-13) and rebounds (5.6) for the fifth straight season. And he's averaging at least one block and one steal per game for the second consecutive year.

    He has a wiry frame (6'8", 200 pounds) and could stand to add more muscle.

    But he's an otherworldly athlete, something he displays nightly on both ends of the floor.

    He may not have the commanding personality to fully realize his superstar potential. And he's frustrated Portland fans with his inconsistent effort as often as he's dazzled them with a highlight finish.

    But he may be the most naturally gifted of any player on this list. He's certainly got enough time to further his development.

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