7 NBA Stars We're Still Waiting on to Blossom

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 21, 2012

7 NBA Stars We're Still Waiting on to Blossom

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    NBA stars don't just waltz into the league, despite what the over-analyzing experts might say when the draft rolls around each summer.

    Some classes produce multiple All-Stars or even multiple Hall of Famers. Some simply mark the arrival of another crop of productive, but limited, reserves and fringe starters.

    Evaluating young talent in the league is often as difficult as projecting the career trajectory of teens and early 20-somethings gracing basketball's biggest stage.

    There's a far greater sample size to digest, of course, but those samples generally offer little more than a glimpse of what these players could become.

    These players all have superstar talent, but haven't yet built resumes to match those skills.

    So fans and experts alike are left waiting for the sustained successes that they can achieve. Whether or not they'll ever attain that level remains to be seen.

    It's a trying, frustrating exercise that may test the resolve of anxious front offices and glass-overflowing fanbases.

    But it's fascinating drama. And just another reason why the NBA remains near the apex of the professional sports world.

    *All statistics used in this article accurate as of 12/19/2012.

7. Klay Thompson (GSW)

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    The sweet-shooting Thompson is the NBA's best threat to break the single-game record for made threes (12, shared by Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall).

    His mechanics are fine-tuned and replicated every time he spots up from beyond the arc (39.6 career three-point percentage). And his light is permanently green in coach Mark Jackson's offense.

    Thompson plays the game with a passion that most coaches only hope for. 

    But his emotional connection to his play has left him far too predictable based on his early-game success.

    He can't get shots up quick enough when he's on, and that eagerness only increases when he's not. He'll shoot the ball regardless (he's attempting seven threes per game in 2012-13), something that most shooting coaches would welcome.

    His problem, though, is that he becomes so fixated on solving his shot that he neglects the other areas of his game. He shies away from dribble drives (despite impressing off the bounce when he attacks the rim) and too often neglects the defensive end of the floor.

    His shooting ability and basketball intelligence got him to the league, but they alone won't help him realize the superstar potential that kept his name buzzing at Team USA vs. USA Select Team scrimmages over the summer (via sfgate.com).

6. Derrick Favors (UTA)

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    There's so much to like about what Favors brings to the basketball court.

    He's 6'10" and nearly 250 pounds with the kind of athleticism to shut down Twitter.

    Offensively, he may be the most ferocious finisher in the game today—he doesn't posterize defenders, he demoralizes them.

    Defensively, he's one of the league's best shot erasers. He's ninth in the NBA with 3.93 blocks per 48 minutes.

    But there's one thing about him that leaves fans grimacing—his opportunity.

    Since being traded to the Utah Jazz midway during his rookie season of 2010-11, he's been glued to the bench behind Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. He's increased his minutes per game in each of his three seasons, but still sees the floor for just 22.2 minutes per contest.

    With Jefferson and Millsap set to become free agents at season's end, Favors' time could be coming.

5. JaVale McGee (DEN)

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    McGee may be the most unique talent in the NBA today.

    He's a legit 7'0" tall with a 30-plus-inch vertical and a wingspan greater than 7.5 feet.

    The athletic gods didn't simply do him some favors in his creation, he may have been their masterpiece. He's a gazelle in the open floor, outrunning both guards and bigs alike.

    McGee has also amassed an impressive highlight reel on both ends of the court. He can block shots with his elbow or, like he showed Zach Randolph, simply snatch shots out of the air. His dunks aren't meant for posters, they need to be framed. 

    His potential is salivation-worthy. 

    But it has been for each of his four-plus seasons, and he's still yet to average better than 28 minutes per game.

    He's approaching his 25th birthday, yet still learning the intricacies of the sport.

    If he can ever get out of his own way, he'll be the superstar that the Nuggets have sought since Carmelo Anthony's departure during the 2010-11 season.

4. Eric Gordon (NOH)

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    There may be no greater compliment to Gordon's skills than his inclusion as the centerpiece in the Clippers package that netted them perennial All-Star Chris Paul.

    Since his arrival in 2008, Gordon has outkicked his draft coverage—a note-worthy accomplishment given that he was the seventh overall choice.

    When he's on the floor, he's a blend of prolific shooter (career 37.0 percent three-point shooter) and explosive finisher.

    Before Paul made the Clippers Lob City, Gordon had them looking like the Home of the Hops.

    And he's more than just a gifted scorer.

    He's crafty with the basketball and more than a capable creator (4.4 assists per game in 2010-11).

    He's also a pesky defender, using his smarts to outwit his opponent and his quicks to capitalize on those instinctive reads.

    The problem, though, is that Gordon can't seem to find his way back to the floor.

    He's played just nine games as a member of the Hornets and has yet to make his 2012-13 debut thanks to a lingering knee injury.

3. Paul George (IND)

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    George just looked like a superstar during his two seasons at Fresno State.

    Well, at least for anyone lucky enough to catch the rare televised Bulldogs game.

    He plays with such an effortless grace that he nearly appears hurting for hoops passion.

    But that's just how easy his versatile skill set makes the game of basketball.

    At 6'8", he can shoot over the top of whatever defender opposing teams throw his way. And as a career 36.5 percent three-point shooter, that's a troubling truth for opposing coaches.

    But defenses can't just hound him on the perimeter. He has the handles to free himself from tight coverage and the athleticism to finish any dunk he can think of.

    Throw in the fact that he's an imposing defender in his own right, and it's little surprise that the Pacers have planned their future around the 22-year-old.

    But his superstar abilities have been just that—fuel for his potential fire.

    Despite Danny Granger being sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury, George has yet to cash in on his tantalizing talents (16.5 points on 43.2 percent shooting in 2012-13).

2. Danilo Gallinari (DEN)

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    Gallinari's superstar window may be closing.

    After four seasons in the NBA, he looks a lot like the player he was as a sophomore in 2009-10.

    He scored 15.1 points per game that season. In 2012-13, that number has only increased to 16.1.

    But his size (6'10") and shooting ability (36.1 career three-point percentage) has kept the window of opportunity open. 

    Current Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni once called Gallinari "the best shooter [he'd] ever seen" (via nydailynews.com). It was quite the level of praise considering D'Antoni had guided some of the most prolific perimeter-shooting teams in NBA history during his tenure as coach of the Phoenix Suns.

    What makes Gallinari so intriguing, though, is his ability to complement that shooting stroke with a well-rounded game.

    He's comfortable with the ball in his hands, creating for himself and for his teammates. And he's a better athlete than most give him credit for.

    But he hasn't put forth a sustained dominant stretch in his career. He's got the tools to make it happen, but the Nuggets need to see it sooner rather than later.

1. DeMarcus Cousins

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    Let me guess: you saw Cousins' picture and started shaking your head.

    That's how frustrating the first two-plus seasons have been for the former Kentucky Wildcat.

    He's supremely talented and wasted little time displaying his abilities in the NBA.

    During his sophomore season in 2011-12, Cousins averaged 18.1 points, 11 rebounds and better than one steal and one block per game.

    He's got the size (6'11", 270 pounds) to live in the NBA paint and the ability to find success away from it.

    Cousins is one of the few bigs in the league capable of cleaning the glass and running the fast-break. He also has smooth handles and the kind of control of the basketball that even a few wings are lacking.

    But he's got to find another kind of control to fully realize his potential—the control of his emotions.

    He entered the league with a myriad of red flags surrounding his maturity and short-temper.

    And he's only added to that collection since.

    Cousins has already been suspended twice in the 2012-13 season, first for confronting San Antonio Spurs announcer Sean Elliot and then for delivering a shot below the belt to Dallas' O.J. Mayo.

    The Kings' power forward could be a perennial All-Star or something even greater, if he allows himself to.