Today, the NBA is alive and well because of its superstars. And it takes but a cursory glance at the Association's surplus of young talent to see that the league will be in good hands come tomorrow, as well.
Fans are captivated by the likes of explosive talents of Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Paul, but we often forget that there are plenty of neophytes poised to follow in their footsteps.
We're talking about athletes who are prepared to make the jump from promising talent to perennial superstar.
We're talking about those exuberant young guns are who are beginning to master their craft and broach the ceiling of their professional potential.
We're talking about the athletic dignitaries of tomorrow who we can watch break through the barrier that stands between them and perpetual stardom today.
*Only players 24 and under were considered for this list.
**All stats accurate as of December 20, 2012.
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 15.0 points, 3.7 assists, 6.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.1 blocks on 44.8 percent shooting.
Chandler Parsons' rookie campaign was alright, but his sophomore crusade has been great.
The small forward has definitely benefited from the presence of James Harden, whose defense-grabbing tactics allow Parsons more freedom to roam about the perimeter.
That said, don't think for a minute that his success is purely situational. He's third amongst all sophomores in scoring and has proved to be a formidable staple on the glass.
Though Parsons must continue to improve his defense, he has done a much better job of breaking up passes and keeping opponents out of the paint. He's also proved he can defend up to four positions as well.
Is there room for improvement?
Of course, but it's that room for growth that's so scary.
As his offensive game evolves and he continues to rack up prolific point totals, look for him to develop into the other star the Houston Rockets so desperately crave right now.
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 15.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks on 39.9 percent shooting.
Listen, I get it. Klay Thompson's field-goal percentage is a red flag, but there's no denying this kid has potential.
Not only is the shooting guard second in scoring out of all sophomores, but he's managing to connect on 36.8 percent of his three-point attempts despite hoisting up seven per game.
Thompson's defense continues to improve as well. He won't force a lot of steals or block many shots, but he's done a great job of not getting passed. He's also currently holding opposing shooting guards and small forwards to a combined PER of 12.1 per 48 minutes.
Yes, at 6'7", you would like to see Thompson hit the glass harder and yes, his shot selection does need to improve, but this is only his second year and he's managed to remain effective nonetheless.
The Golden State Warriors are rolling and Thompson has played a major role in helping put playoff contention in reach.
And doing so has also helped remind how special of player he is ultimately going to be.
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 15.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.3 blocks on 44.1 percent shooting.
Some people don't like Evan Turner and I, for the life of me, cannot figure out why.
The third-year guard has taken the Philadelphia 76ers by storm this season. He's played the part of facilitator when called upon, but mostly, he's scored. And he's scored a lot.
Not only is Turner averaging a career-high 15.4 points per contest, but he has improved his three-point shooting (45.8 percent) a great deal. These adjustments on the perimeter have rendered him a more versatile threat on the offensive end. Toss in his superior court vision and he's near impossible to guard.
Turner is no one-trick pony, though. He does need to elevate his defensive awareness slightly, but he's currently holding opposing shooting guards and small forwards to a combined PER of 13.5.
At 6'7", he's also shown a willingness crash the glass hard; his 6.9 boards per night are the most of any guard in the league.
It's all about versatility with Turner. He can both play and defend up to three positions, and his court vision has been a given from day one.
If he can keep up his torrid point-totaling pace, then there's nothing preventing him from becoming one of the brightest stars of tomorrow.
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 14.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.9 blocks on 50.4 percent shooting.
We haven't seen much of Anthony Davis this season, but what we have witnessed has told us plenty.
I myself never fully understood the comparisons Davis draws to Marcus Camby. The latter does a little bit of everything, but Davis does a whole lot of everything.
Though the rookie has already missed 13 games this season, he's proven to be an absolute difference maker on the court. He's grabbed rebounds and blocked shots in excess, remained committed to running the floor and has even honed some of his raw offensive touch.
As a big man, Davis does need to bulk up bit. He has the quick and lanky arms necessary to contest shots, but outside of that, he lacks the strength it takes to body up against beefier post players.
Still, there's no denying we're in the presence of a sophisticated talent.
One that's going to become a much bigger star than Camby ever was.
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 18.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.2 blocks on 42.3 percent shooting
Damian Lillard is a rookie, yet he's already playing like a seasoned All-Star.
Coming into the season, everyone knew Lillard could score. What they didn't know is how he would make the transition to becoming a legitimate point guard in the NBA.
Lillard has stifled such doubt in very little time. He has continued his high-scoring ways, yet has become a bona fide distributor in the process.
The point guard currently leads all rookies in points scored and dimes dropped per game by far—a balance that, again, few thought he would achieve so quickly. And that's been huge both for his reputation and the Portland Trail Blazers overall.
While the point guard does need to take better care of the ball—he's coughing the ball up three times per game—his lightning quick first step coupled his with his superb composure have allowed him to become the league's top rookie.
Ensuring us that he'll be one of the Association's brightest stars of tomorrow.
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 12.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks on 53.1 percent shooting.
There's fierce, there's obnoxiously ferocious and then there's Kenneth Faried.
Though the power forward embodies hustle, he's no stranger to execution either. His field-goal percentage is through the roof and he's already established himself as a top-10 rebounding talent in just two years of play.
Personally, I would like to see Faried become more of a defensive force. His aggression on the boards is admirable, but challenging more shots and becoming less susceptible to getting beat off the dribble would go a long away. Developing more of a mid-range game would only help his stock as well.
For now, though, I'm willing to overlook his solvable shortcomings in favor of his commitment to everything else. He's sixth in the league in offensive boards per game and has the physical tools necessary to evolve in just about every area of the game possible.
And improve he will.
Because future stars always do.
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 16.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.9 blocks on 43.2 percent shooting.
I shudder to think where the Indiana Pacers would be without Paul George.
Danny Granger is still nowhere to be found and the Pacers have showed signs of imploding, but George has helped keep them afloat.
Not only is he dropping 16.5 per game, but he's shooting a lights-out 40 percent from behind the arc despite jacking up 5.4 deep balls a night.
Most notably, though, Indiana's 28th-ranked offense scores at a rate of 102.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, a number that falls to 96.5 when he steps off.
Throw in his 6'8" frame that allows him to grab a bounty of rebounds and his general dexterity on the defensive end, and you have one of the most promising youngsters the league has to offer.
One that's destined for superstardom very soon.
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 18.4 points, 8.9 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.4 blocks on 45.1 percent shooting.
Andrew Bynum who?
Jrue Holiday has stepped up his production in every facet of the game and has rapidly become the Sixers' franchise player in the wake of Bynum's prolonged absence.
Not only is the point guard third in the league with his 8.9 assists per game, but he's one of only two players to be averaging at least 18 points and eight assists per game. The other, you ask? Russell Westbrook.
How's that for good company?
But his transformation doesn't stop there. His footwork and overall coordination on the defensive end is visibly better than it has ever been. He's reacting quicker and he's even become a strong weak-side defender as well.
Almost needless to say, I'm impressed. And you should be to.
Because Holiday's a heartbeat away from superstardom.
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 19.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.1 blocks on 42.4 percent shooting.
All I can say is, "It's about damn time."
Stephen Curry has been toiling with our appetite for stardom for over three years. After a slew of ankle injuries and a bevy of ambiguity, though, it seems he's finally poised to satisfy our craving.
Though the sharp-shooting guard has always possessed star-like qualities, he's never been the consistent performer we had hoped him to be.
But that's all changed. He's led the Warriors into the realm of playoff contention and has done so while shooting a ridiculous 42.9 percent from behind the rainbow.
As an aside, he also improves Golden States offense by nearly eight points per 100 possessions while he's on the floor and is one of only two players to be averaging at least 19 points, six assists and 1.5 steals per game.
The other? Again, Russell Westbrook makes an appearance.
I don't have to tell you how incredible a season Curry is having, but I do feel compelled to tell you that we have a current stud and future All-Star on our hands.
Fragile ankle and all.
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 23.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.3 blocks on 47.8 percent shooting.
Injuries have hit Kyrie Irving hard this season, but he hasn't let them slow him down.
The reigning Rookie of the Year has picked up right where he left off, torching opposing defenses to the tune of 23.6 points and 5.5 assists per game. He's also posting a PER of 21.2, fifth-highest amongst all point guards.
Though the Cavaliers are not what you would call a strong offensive team, they score at a rate of 106.4 points per possessions with Irving on the floor, a far cry from the 96.8 they average without him.
What I've been most impressed with, however, is Irving's improvement on the defensive end. We would never go as far as to call him a porous defender, but he had a knack for taking too many risks and also struggled to fight over screens.
This season Irving has reversed said narrative. He's more calculated in his defensive approach and has done a better job rolling over screens.
And with his offense as potent as ever, there's seemingly no way to prevent Irving from putting up demonstrative numbers on a daily basis.
Like he-could-be-an-All-Star-this-season numbers.