Becoming a successful NBA player is difficult. First and foremost, it takes God-given abilities just to make it to the NBA. But once you're there, it takes focus, dedication, discipline and emotional maturity to become an All-Star.
Some players have all of the talent in the world, but they're lacking the attributes listed above to get to that next level. For some, it's about not having the discipline and emotional maturity on and off the court to keep themselves in line. For others, it's about not putting in the necessary dedication to their games in order to improve enough to take that next step. For others still, it's simply about not staying focused when on the court and doing things with purpose.
Nobody is questioning the abilities of these seven players. For them, it's about growing up enough to have everything come together.
(All stats listed are current through games played on Dec. 22)
When John Wall was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, many thought he would become a transcendent point guard, similar to a Chris Paul or a Derrick Rose. Those premonitions seemed to be validated when Wall was voted to the NBA All-Rookie Team following his rookie campaign.
But Wall failed to build on his accomplishments in his second season. At best he was the same player, but an argument could be made that he actually regressed. His scoring was essentially the same (16.4 points per game as a rookie, 16.3 in his second year) and his assists dipped a bit from 8.3 per game as a rookie to 8.0 as a sophomore.
Wall's shooting, however, really took a step backward last season. Even though his shooting percentage rose from 40.9 percent as a rookie to 42.3 percent as a sophomore, his outside shot dipped dramatically. His .296 three-point percentage as a rookie was already below average and in dire need of improvement heading into his second year. Instead, it regressed to .071 during his second season.
Wall also wasn't able to cut down on his turnovers from his rookie year to his sophomore year, another indication that he's not improving like he should. His turnover percentage of 18.6 as a rookie elevated to 19.2 percent as a sophomore.
Given Wall's talent and his still young age of 22 years old, there's still plenty of time for him to put it all together. In order to do so, he needs more dedication to his craft. His regressing outside shot shows he's not putting in enough time as he should, and until he improves it, he'll never become the elite-level point guard many envisioned when he was drafted.
With Micheal Beasley, the ship has likely already sailed as far as him ever becoming an NBA All-Star. But let's not forget how promising his career looked just a short time ago.
After being drafted No. 2 overall in the 2008 draft, Beasley was making some real strides in his game. In his third season, at 22 years old, Beasley averaged 19.2 points per game for the Minnesota Timberwolves, considerably up from the 14.3 he averaged during his first two years in the league.
Beasley's talent on the court has never been questioned; it's his ability to avoid trouble off of it that's concerning. He was fined $50,000 for transgressions at the NBA's Rookie Transition Program in September of 2008, according to ESPN.
In August of 2009, Beasley was admitted into a rehab center, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
In June of 2011, Beasley was pulled over in Minneapolis for speeding. Upon approaching the car, the police officer smelled marijuana. In a subsequent search, the officer found 16.2 grams of marijuana in Beasley's possession, for which he was fined and ticketed, according to NBA.com.
A little over a month later, in August of 2011, Beasley got into an altercation with a heckler during an exhibition game as part of Kevin Durant's tour of the New York City streetball scene, according to ESPN.
Beasley's still young enough (24) to turn his career and life around, but he needs to take responsibility if he's going to do it. The talent that got him drafted with the No. 2 pick is seemingly still intact. He just needs to get out of his own way and stay focused to utilize it.
Elite centers seem to be a dying breed in today's NBA. When he's right, JaVale McGee has the potential to be elite, he just needs to find a way to stay focused. Unlike Michael Beasley, McGee's transgressions haven't gotten him into much trouble with the law or the NBA; rather, they're just of an immature nature.
One example of this was his triple-double against the Chicago Bulls on March 15, 2011. In the game, a 98-79 loss for the Wizards, McGee scored 11 points, hauled in 12 rebounds and blocked 12 shots. Following the game, then-commentator Kevin McHale remarked that it was "a bad triple-double," seemingly because McGee forced six shot attempts during the fourth quarter to get enough points to put him in double figures.
McGee responded by saying, "I got a triple-double. Who can say they got a triple-double? I’m not really worried about it," according to The New York Times.
McGee was also fined $10,000, along with three other teammates, for making light of the infamous Gilbert Arenas gun incident, according to ESPN.
Now a member of the Denver Nuggets, McGee's still got a very bright future. In only 19 minutes of action per game, McGee is averaging 11 points, five rebounds, two blocks and a field-goal percentage of .553. Those numbers by themselves are pretty impressive, but imagine if McGee could get a more substantial role. His averages per 36 minutes—20.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.8 blocks—are in line with the top centers in the league.
He just needs to put it all together, and at 25 years old, he's still got time. His play on the court will be better for it, and he's likely to be rewarded with increased playing time and production if that happens.
Klay Thompson's inclusion on this list isn't a slight on his character, it's actually more like an endorsement of his talent, of which there's plenty. When Thompson was drafted 11th overall in the 2011 draft, I thought it was a reach by the Warriors. He's not only proven to be worthy of the selection but also a potential All-Star.
Here's what NBA expert Ric Bucher said in a recent chat when asked about Thompson's potential to become an All-Star:
Depends on him. Has to continue to improve defensively, has to keep driving but do so with purpose. Sometimes he attacks the paint without really knowing what he's going to do. He has some nice rudiments but there's still a lot of work to be done to become an All-Star.
As Bucher pointed out, Thompson has the talent to become an All-Star, now he just needs to refine his game. While not yet at an All-Star level, his defense is coming along. After posting a defensive rating of 111 in his rookie year, he's improved it to 107 this year. He's also holding opposing shooting guards to a PER of 13.2, according to 82games.com.
For Thompson, the biggest strides need to be made on the offensive end. His PER of 12.7 is below league average, and it's below the 14.9 he posted as a rookie, mainly due to a decrease in field-goal percentage from 44.3 percent last season to 40 percent this season.
He also needs to drive with purpose, as Bucher pointed out. This is apparent in his free-throw rate (0.12), which hasn't improved from his 0.13 last season.
The tools are there for Thompson to take that next step; it "depends on him" to get there.
The Indiana Pacers are a team with a lot of solid but not spectacular players. They win by playing team basketball. But Paul George was thought to be the exception to the rule. So far, he still hasn't made the strides many have expected.
Heading into the season, Paul George was getting plenty of Scottie Pippen comparisons, and it was easy to see why: They have similar body types, they're both incredibly versatile players and they play excellent defense.
In fact, George is so stifling on defense that he leads the NBA in defensive win shares through the early part of the season. That's very difficult to do if you're not an interior defender. His defensive rating has also dropped every season—it was 104 as a rookie, fell to 100 last year and this year is all the way down to 96.
It's on the offensive end where George still needs to make some strides if he wants to fully meet the Scottie Pippen comparisons. His field-goal percentage has dropped every year he's been in the NBA; he doesn't get to the the free-throw line with any more consistency than when he entered the league; and his turnover percentage has risen every single season.
He shows flashes of putting it all together on offense, like his 34-point effort against the Chicago Bulls (an elite defensive team) on Dec. 4 that also saw him shoot 14-of-25 from the field. But the game before that he had a dud against the Golden State Warriors, going 0-of-7 from the field and was held scoreless in 29:09 of action.
It's still too soon to give up on Derrick Williams; however, it's also fair to say he hasn't nearly lived up to the expectations put on him as the No. 2 pick in the draft.
Williams hasn't made the necessary strides in his game, and it's costing him precious minutes. In fact, after averaging 21.5 minutes per game last season, Williams has seen his playing time decrease to 17.8 minutes per game this season. That's not a good sign for a player drafted so high.
His rebound rate has improved marginally this season to 13.9 percent, up from 12.2 percent last year. He's also made improvements on the defensive end, as his defensive rating has progressed to 102, which is down from the 106 he posted last season. He's also holding opposing power forwards to an 8.7 PER and opposing small forwards to a PER of zero, according to 82games.com.
It's on offense where Williams needs to make the most improvements to tap into his All-Star potential. His offensive rating of 99 is unacceptably bad and is below the 100 he posted in a lackluster rookie year. His 32.4 percent three-point percentage needs to improve considering his three-point shooting was one of his real strengths in college, with Williams posting an other-worldly 56.8 percent three-point percentage during his sophomore year at Arizona.
Granted, the three-point line is shorter in college, and to expect Williams to recreate his three-point efficiency in the NBA is unrealistic. So consider that on shots of 16 to 23 feet, which more closely resembles the three-point arc in college, Williams is only shooting 41 percent, according to Hoopdata.
It's imperative that Williams finds a consistent shooting stroke if he ever wants to tap into the potential that got him drafted No. 2 overall. It also may be that he needs a change of scenery, because he's clearly not getting enough minutes to develop his game in Minnesota. The problem is the Timberwolves just used the No. 2 pick on him, so they likely don't want to admit the mistake so early in his career.
DeMarcus Cousins may be the most frustrating of all the players on this list. For one, it's not like Cousins has the potential to play at an All-Star level; we've already seen him do it over the course of a season. The 18.1 points, 11 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks he posted as a 21-year-old last season were All-Star worthy.
Still only 22 years old, the sky is seemingly the limit for Cousins, with himself being the only form of gravity that can keep him from soaring to those heights. Come to think of it, maybe that's a bad analogy for Cousins, because he's been anything but grounded during his short career in the NBA.
He had constant run-ins with head coach Paul Westphal as a rookie. Last season, Cousins' second in the NBA, began with more clashes with Westphal. Instead of endorsing the coach, the Kings sided with Cousins and fired Westphal. Interim head coach Keith Smart took over and seemed to have a good rapport with Cousins. His behavior improved to the point where it looked like maybe his troubles were behind him.
But good old Cousins has been back with a vengeance this season. First, it was a postgame altercation with Sean Elliott following a Kings-Spurs game that earned Cousins a two-game suspension. Next, DeMarcus was ejected from a game against the Utah Jazz for arguing with officials. Then, earlier this month, he was suspended again, this time for striking O.J. Mayo in the groin.
His most recent incident occurred during halftime of a game against the Clippers. Cousins and Smart, who he seemingly had such a good relationship with last season, got into an argument, with DMC escalating it to a level that was inappropriate. Cousins was told to stay in the locker room for the second half, and the Kings announced on Dec. 22 that he would be suspended indefinitely, according to The Sacramento Bee.
It's difficult to know what to do with DeMarcus once he returns from his suspension. Do you trade him? If so, it would be difficult to get equal value given his contract, youth and profile. Do you keep him and hope he figures it out? He's only 22 years old so it's realistic to expect him to still be a bit immature. At the same time, he hasn't made any strides yet, so it also may not be realistic for him to start now.
As long as his talent's intact, he'll always have someone willing to give him a chance. However, as long as he doesn't improve his behavior, he'll never become the All-Star he's capable of being.
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