6 NBA Players Who Will Become Fan Favorites in 2013

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2013

6 NBA Players Who Will Become Fan Favorites in 2013

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    A youth movement is set to take over the NBA as a new generation of explosive guards and versatile big men begins to turn teams that were formerly considered pretenders into contenders.

    Several of these players have yet to burst onto the national scene, but it's only a matter of time before they start to grab headlines and dominate highlight reels.

    For now, let's forget household names and direct our attention toward some of the NBA's rising stars.

    Note: All stats accurate as of Wednesday, January 2.

Kemba Walker

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    You'll have a hard time convincing a casual NBA fan to sit down and watch the Charlotte Bobcats on a regular basis in 2013, but despite all of their losing, there's a pretty good reason to tune in.

    That reason is Kemba Walker, the second-year man out of the University of Connecticut who's leading the Bobcats to the tune of 18.1 points, six assists and 1.9 steals per game.

    Walker's filthy crossover step-back combination is rounding into peak form, and although the Bobcats sit at a lowly 8-23, they're proving to be an interesting case study of a young team that's on the rise.

Jrue Holiday

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    Ever since the departure of Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday has made it known that the Philadelphia 76ers are his team to be reckoned with.

    Holiday entered his fourth NBA season at the ripe age of 22 knowing that he would need to carry a more significant offensive load, and he's delivered, scoring 18.9 points and dishing out 8.9 assists per game. 

    Holiday's growth as a passer has been particularly notable, as he currently ranks third in the NBA in dimes.

    Should Andrew Bynum return to action this year, Holiday's numbers could spike even more. Given Holiday's improvement in the shooting department (45.4 percent from the field), we could be looking at a future star at the point guard position.

J.R. Smith

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    Last year, the New York Knicks sharpshooter du jour was Steve Novak. 2013 is going to be J.R. Smith's time to shine.

    Smith provided some late-game heroics towards the end of 2012, knocking down fall-away jumpers to sink Charlotte and Phoenix at the buzzer.

    Although Smith is known as an erratic shooter with very little conscience, he's scoring a career-high 16.5 points per game, good for second on a Knicks team that's second in the NBA in offensive rating, scoring 111.7 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference.

    In fact, Smith has scored 25 points or more in four straight games and five of his past six.

    The possibility that Smith's gunning mentality results in moments of hilarity is reason enough to hop aboard the bandwagon, but his evolving clutch gene is the real reason fans should be drawn to him in the new year.

Eric Bledsoe

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    It's a shame that Eric Bledsoe finds himself on the Los Angeles Clippers, because they're just about the only team on which a player of his caliber would find himself sitting for more minutes than he plays.

    As the backup to Chris Paul, Bledsoe is averaging 8.7 points in a meager 17.9 minutes per game and sits at 25th in the NBA in steals, one spot ahead of Kobe Bryant.

    Despite not getting major exposure in Vinny Del Negro's rotation, Bledsoe has been able to showcase his explosiveness, most notably on the defensive end.

    Bledsoe's aggressive approach on defense will pay dividends during the Clippers' run toward an NBA title, where Del Negro would be wise to task his young guard with locking down some of the league's quicker, savvier ball handlers.

Andre Drummond

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    The Detroit Pistons haven't been associated with excitement since the days of Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace, but they may be on the brink of reemerging now that they have a frontcourt pairing consisting of Greg Monroe and rookie Andre Drummond.

    Although he's only seeing 19.5 minutes of action per night, Drummond has maximized his time on the floor, posting averages of seven points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.

    Drummond was, and still is, considered a raw prospect at 19 years old, but his growth in his first few months has provided a glimpse of how special he can be if he's provided with regular minutes.

    The Pistons' leader in PER (21.8), Drummond is also tied for the league lead in offensive rebounding percentage at 16.8, per Basketball-Reference.

Damian Lillard

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    We would be remiss if we didn't recognize Damian Lillard as a player who will emerge as a fan favorite in 2013.

    Lillard is making the Portland Trail Blazers an intriguing League Pass watch with his elite speed and seemingly infinite range, both of which have been better than advertised.

    Once thought to be a contender for the league's Rookie of the Year award, Lillard now looks like the undisputed front-runner, playing 37.9 minutes per night, the most of any first-year player.

    Lillard still has room to grow as a passer (6.3 assists and 2.9 turnovers per game), but his 18.4 points per night output leads all rookies and ranks second on an improving Blazer team.