Players Who Represent the New Guard of the NBA

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterJanuary 29, 2013

Players Who Represent the New Guard of the NBA

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    Every draft is thought to be a "weak draft" until a few years later.

    In the case of 2012, the class is already paying dividends.

    Two of our up-and-coming players hail from the most recent draft, and really, we could have stretched it to three. This is a strong rookie year, and it will be a disappointment if we don't see multiple eventual All-Stars come from the 2012 draft.

    Beyond that, the NBA is going through a talent dearth at the wing spots. The positions that yielded LeBron James, Kevin Durant and James Harden look to be a little thin going forward. The new talent is at the biggest and smallest spots.

Center: Andre Drummond

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    He's only a rookie, and he can't shoot a free throw. He's only 19 years old and averages 20 minutes per evening. 

    No matter—Andre Drummond belongs on this list. He's second among centers in PER, and PER can't speak to his defensive impact. The kid can block shots with the best of them and also shut down the likes of Dwyane Wade on the perimeter.

    The kid is an ideal type of player for a game that's predicated on spread pick-and-rolls. He'll never be a refined post threat, but he'll never need to be. The guy is an alley-oop machine.

    It's good enough that Andre Drummond sucks defenses in as a vertical threat. Surround him with shooters, and Detroit might have something special.

Power Forward: Anthony Davis

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    Some consider Anthony Davis to be a center, but he possesses the shot and ball skills of a power forward. He also happens to be playing alongside center Robin Lopez. 

    It's exciting that Anthony Davis is averaging better than a 20 PER already. The kid has a smooth handle and touch around the rim. His jumper already looks better than it did at Kentucky.

    Best of all, Davis is a defensive savant. In an era of stretch-4s, the Brow might be the counterpoint. If he learns how to manage screens, he could be the rare frontcourt player who regularly blocks three-point shots.

    It's a thrilling possibility for Hornets fans and basketball geeks.

Small Forward: Paul George

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    Welcome to stardom, Paul George. The smooth Indiana wing has already made the All-Star team, right after many (including myself) questioned whether he would ever take that leap forward.

    The 22-year-old is as tall as most power forwards and dribbles like a point guard. He also shoots a beautiful long-range jumper.

    The knock on Paul George is that he coasts and doesn't optimize his talent properly. That knock is vanishing, as George has stepped up in Danny Granger's absence.

    In January, Paul is averaging better than 20 points and nine rebounds per game.

    The future is bright. 

Gordon Hayward

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    Free Gordon Hayward.

    The tall shooting guard should be getting more than 26.6 minutes per night, considering how he's improved. Randy Foye and Marvin Williams should not be taking playing time from this guy.

    Hayward is an athletic slasher with a great feel for the game. He's hitting on better than 39 percent on three-pointers while getting to the rim at a good clip.

    If you haven't heard of him, blame the market and blame the playing time. At an over-16 PER, Gordon Hayward should be getting more attention. He's the most exciting player Utah has, amid a few young, intriguing prospects.

Point Guard: Kyrie Irving

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    This one was tough.

    It's so tempting to choose Damian Lillard here, as he's having one of the best rookie point-guard seasons ever. Lillard has the best step-back jumper we've seen in some time, and will only improve.

    Damian Lillard isn't Kyrie Irving, though, and Irving is younger. Kyrie has the best dribbling skills in the league and a shot that's on that level, too. 

    Though Irving takes nearly five three-pointers a game, he shoots better than 40 percent on those tries. It's pretty impressive, considering how many of those come off the dribble and are contested.

    Of all the players on this list, Irving is the most likely to be a superstar. He's already the best (active) point guard in his conference.