Predicting the Next Generation of NBA Breakout Stars
Some of the next generation's NBA stars are still in training, while others are learning on the job.
Just to clarify, guys like Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry have already introduced themselves. We're talking about players who just got here, some who haven't and a few on the verge of busting out of their shells.
These players have flashed NBA star potential in their brief basketball careers.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
You don't have to be Miss Cleo to predict that Damian Lillard will be a star.
Lillard is an excellent ball-handler who can break down a defense as a facilitator or attack it as a scorer. He's lights-out from anywhere out to 27 feet from the rim, with a natural shooting stroke he brought from college.
Mentally, he is a high-character kid who possesses the leadership qualities of a true floor general. He oozes confidence and isn't afraid to take the big shot. Lillard already nailed a game-winning buzzer-beater earlier this year.
Blessed with the talent of a scorer and the mindset of an orchestrator, Lillard will follow Kyrie Irving as the next great point guard.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Paul George is about to blow up.
George may not be a volume scorer, but the third-year pro is becoming one of the more complete two-way wings in the league.
He averaged 14 and 17 points, respectively, in his two years at Fresno State and was cited for his upside as an NBA prospect. Although Danny Granger was occupying the wing, the Pacers drafted George anyway, passing on needs after recognizing talent.
George is a devastating athlete with ideal size for a wing. His explosiveness makes him a highlight waiting to happen, but his game isn't all flash. He's capable of creating his shot on the perimeter or spotting up off the ball.
With the No. 1 defense in the NBA, George could be the new face of one of the brightest young teams in the league.
Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
If there's any star power at all in the 2013 NBA draft, most of it will come from UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad.
He's one of the few prospects in the country with an All-Star ceiling because of the offensive repertoire he brings to the table.
Muhammad has a deep arsenal of tricks—he can pull up off the dribble, spot up from downtown, slash off the ball and score in the post. With explosive athleticism and a strong 6'6'' frame, it all comes easy.
His instincts and feel for the game are going to make him a star. He can put up a shot without seeing the rim until the instant he lets it go. Muhammad is one of the few players around with a built-in navigation system, and he can score 20 points a game even on the worst of days.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets
You might have heard it repeated a couple of thousand times, but it was only a few years ago that Anthony Davis was a 6'3'' guard.
Having spent so much of his life playing on the perimeter, Davis can approach the game from a unique angle. He's got the size of a center and the instincts of a guard.
At Kentucky, he wowed the nation with his record-breaking ability to protect the rim, but rarely did anyone talk about his offensive game.
We just haven't seen this combination of length, mobility and coordination. When he's around the rim, loose balls aren't that loose.
He's got a sound mid-range jumper to complement his off-the-ball prowess and offers the ultimate two-way package as a scorer and defender.
Davis has allowed the people of New Orleans to smile despite losing Chris Paul for unequal value.
Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Clippers
If it weren't for Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe might be the guy doing those State Farm commercials.
He averages around 19 minutes a night, but he makes them count and you know when he's out there.
Most 6'1'' guards are undersized, but not Bledsoe. He's an insane athlete. With the build of a power forward and the hops of a wing, Bledsoe is like a guard playing in an Iron Man suit for basketball.
Combine that with speed, ball-handling skills and a jumper, and you've got yourself a serious offensive weapon.
As a young player waiting his turn, Bledsoe has the opportunity to have Chris Paul in one ear and Chauncey Billups in the other. Not to mention the fact that he played college basketball for John Calipari, a guy with a pretty good track record producing NBA stars.
Bledsoe is on the verge of exploding as soon as he lands a role that offers regular minutes.
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
It feels like Ricky Rubio has been around forever when he hasn't even played a full season.
But in his limited time in the league, it has become rather evident that his skill set directly translates to NBA play.
With combo guards taking over the world, it's rare to find a point guard as pure as Rubio. He plays like he's got three arms, and eyes on his elbows. With extraordinary vision and a wild imagination, Rubio can make plays that you just can't see coming.
Hopefully, last year's ACL tear will become a thing of the past, because Rubio at full speed is one of the great entertainers to watch. At only 22 years old, he's just a few muscles away from breaking out as a star.
Ben McLemore, Kansas
Though it could be a few years, Ben McLemore certainly looks the part of an NBA star.
He's one of the smoothest athletes you'll see and was given a perfect basketball body.
Most of the athletic scoring guards who come into the league have to develop a jumper on the job. But McLemore is a natural. He's got one of the purest strokes you'll see to complement fluidity as a slasher.
McLemore's ability to play above the rim makes his style of play awfully easy on the eyes.
Coach Bill Self called him one of the most talented players he's ever coached. McLemore has the chance to be something special and should be considered a potential target for teams drafting with the first five picks.