Which NBA Star-in-Waiting Will Blossom into the Next James Harden?
James Harden was a victim of circumstance with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Was he a star? Of course, the full extent of his potential wasn't yet realized until the shackles of coming off the bench were removed and he was unleashed at the hands of the Houston Rockets.
Since being unchained, Harden has proved to be a top 10-caliber talent, someone who can carry a team on his back and be a championship-worthy cornerstone for the future.
As amazing as it sounds, Harden is not alone. Or rather, the Harden of last season is not alone.
Throughout the NBA there are a handful of young guns who are currently playing a smaller part than their talents ultimately suggest. They're stars in the making who will one day head a title-worthy cause.
Will any of them have to spurn their current team in favor of greener pastures to actualize such potential?
We don't yet know.
But we do know that, in the not-so-distant future, they're bound to explode onto the scene the same way Harden has this season.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of December 27, 2012.
5. Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 10.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.3 steals and 0.3 blocks on 49.5 percent shooting.
Believe it or not, neither Tim Duncan nor Tony Parker are going to be around forever. Crazy, right?
At some point, both players are going to have to hand the reins of the San Antonio Spurs over to someone. And that someone is going to be Kawhi Leonard.
As is the case with seemingly all of San Antonio's players, Leonard remains vastly underrated.
He's a terrific defender who's great at fighting over screens and forcing opponents into weak-side corners, and his ability to clog the passing lane isn't matched by many.
What is most impressive about Leonard is how much he has improved on the offensive end. He has become more aggressive in looking for his shot and can succeed playing both on or off the ball.
Sure, it's become rather difficult for Leonard to distinguish himself on a team with so many moving pieces, but he's been able to make a name for himself all the same.
In fact, his current pace has made it clear he'll be able to carry a championship-caliber cause soon.
Like just in time for Duncan and/or Parker's retirement soon.
4. Derrick Favors, PF, Utah Jazz
2012-13 Per Game: 9.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.6 blocks on 44.7 percent shooting
Derrick Favors is going to explode. Whether it be with the Utah Jazz or another team remains to be seen, but we know it's going to happen.
Though the forward has been used sparingly throughout his first two-plus NBA seasons, that hasn't stopped him from showcasing his incredibly athletic talents.
Not only is favors a dominant rebounder and superior shot-blocker, but he's developed both his touch around the rim and his baby jump shot.
Is his potential as a franchise backbone stifled on a roster that consists of three other star-caliber big men in Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter?
Absolutely, but one—or both—of Millsap and Jefferson are likely headed elsewhere before next season. And yet, even if they don't he'll eventually find stardom somewhere.
Given his two-way prowess and willingness to evolve, drawing any other conclusion would be more criminal than the mere 22 minutes of burn he is receiving this season.
3. Tyreke Evans, PG, Sacramento Kings
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 15.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.6 blocks on 45.3 percent shooting
Mark my words, Tyreke Evans is going to be a star—just not with the Sacramento Kings.
While some on this list may have the opportunity to play the part of savior on their current teams at some point, Evans is not one of them.
Though I understand that a murky health bill has marred what should have been an instantaneously star-studed career, I fully believe he is simply being misused by Sacramento.
Despite standing at 6'6", Evans is an essential point guard. Can he play the 2 or 3? Yes, but he excels on the ball, not unlike James Harden. He's a superb scorer—though his jump shot needs some work—an above-average facilitator and even an understated defender.
Chastise his statistical decline if you must, but I'm inclined to think that Evans is destined to exploded.
Just as soon as he can chew his leg out of the bear trap that has become playing for the Sacramento Kings.
2. Evan Turner, SG, Philadelphia 76ers
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.3 assist, 0.8 steals and 0.3 blocks on 44.3 percent shooting.
Even with Andrew Bynum watching from the sidelines, Evan Turner somehow gets lost in the shuffle.
I, for one, shudder to think how much he'll go overlooked upon the big man's return. That said, this kid is only going to fly under the radar for so much longer.
This season, Turner has proven himself to be one of the most versatile youngsters in the league. He's one of the best rebounding guards the NBA has to offer, can score from anywhere on the floor and has already established himself as one of the Association's better perimeter defenders.
Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young are great, and Bynum's return should be great for the Philadelphia 76ers as well—but only if Turner is afforded the prominent role he deserves.
As a future star and title-worthy cornerstone, he deserves that much.
1. Paul George
2012-13 Per Game Stats: 16.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.9 blocks on 42.7 percent shooting
Paul George is a stud—and future superstar.
Danny Granger's absence has provided George with an opportunity to showcase his diverse skill set even further, and he has taken advantage of it.
That said, upon Granger's return, his role will diminish a bit. The offense will run through Granger and David West or Roy Hibbert could be considered an option before him.
But even the reality of playing second or third fiddle won't be able to stifle George's potential. He's a stout defender who can guard a wide array of positions and he's one of the most deadly shooters in the league.
What's more is he has already had an ample impact on the reeling Indiana Pacers. Their offense is 5.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court and they allow fewer points per 100 possessions with him in the fold as well.
At just 22, George's potential is endless, rendering his eventual claim to superstardom and subsequent dominance inevitable.