Players Who Are Clearly the Future of the NBA
While superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are at the forefront of the present, they'll also be a large part of the NBA's future. They'll just be joined by a number of players who haven't quite risen to their level yet.
The 15 players you'll see here are the future of the NBA.
To qualify, a player must be 23 years old or younger, and they can't have already been named to an All-Star squad or an All-NBA team. That automatically disqualifies young studs like Kyrie Irving and James Harden, among others, even though they're clearly going to play a major part in the future of this league.
These 15 young men aren't all in the NBA yet. Some of them have made it to the Association, where they've spent varying amounts of times, but others are still in college. Two haven't even graduated from high school yet.
So, let's find out who you'll be talking about a few years down the road.
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.2 blocks, 0.8 steals
Even though he's only a freshman, Anthony Bennett is already ready to take on the NBA. It's impossible to watch him lead UNLV and believe otherwise.
The 19-year-old is ahead of his time both in terms of skills and physical development. His combination of athleticism and size makes him an unfair matchup for most collegiate defenders, and he's taken advantage of that with a highly developed offensive game.
Whether you ask him to knock down a three-pointer or finish at the rim, he's going to do so.
Bennett should declare for the 2013 NBA Draft after his freshman season for the Runnin' Rebels, and you'll hear his name called rather early on in the proceedings. Then you'll keep hearing it over and over as he makes a name for himself at the sport's highest level.
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.6 steals
Even with all the early season hype swirling around "Mini LeBron," I wasn't completely convinced that Eric Bledsoe was going to be a superstar.
Then I saw him in person, and he lit up Philips Arena a few times with a devastating fast-break block and another put-back dunk that shouldn't have even been humanly possible. Couple that unreal athleticism with some serious skills, and you've got a star.
Bledsoe has started nine games for the Los Angeles Clippers while Chris Paul has sat out with a knee injury, and the results have been mixed. In that role, he's averaged 11.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists, but he's shooting only 35.9 percent from the field.
Once the former Kentucky Wildcat is actually handed the reins and the show is run around him, this floor general is going to prove that he's worth the hype.
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.4 steals
Trey Burke is the best point guard in college basketball, and I can't help but see a little bit of Chris Paul in him whenever I tune in to a Michigan game. He has such fantastic control over the proceedings of the action that it sometimes seems like he plays in slow motion.
Although Burke does tend to shoot a lot, he's still a floor general who looks to pass, and he always takes his shots within the flow of the offense unless the Wolverines need him to carry them for a spell.
According to Sports-Reference.com's college basketball pages, the sophomore has a 30.7 PER through the first 22 games of his Final Four pursuit.
Don't expect a mark that high once he enters the ranks of the Association, but Burke will become a plus-20 guy rather early on in his professional career.
Team: Sacramento Kings
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.5 steals
As frustrating as DeMarcus Cousins can be to watch on his off nights, he's one heck of a talent for the Sacramento Kings. I have to assume that having a vested interest in Boogie's success is like a magnified version of what I feel when hoping Josh Smith decides to play intelligently.
Cousins is a physical specimen, a behemoth in the paint capable of clearing out an entire team with his backside and then pulling down the rebound. He's going to be one of the top glass-cleaners in the league well into the future.
The big man was on the verge of becoming an All-Star during his third season since going one-and-done at Kentucky, and I'd be utterly shocked if he wasn't partying it up on Bourbon Street during the 2014 festivities.
Team: New Orleans Hornets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.8 blocks, 1.2 steals
Anthony Davis is already far more polished on the offensive end of the court than anyone expected during his rookie season. He has a solid jumper from mid-range, and he's far better with the ball than any 19-year-old big man should ever be.
However, even when you consider his future defensive impact when he morphs into more than just a shot-blocking monster, he'll never make any All-Star or All-NBA teams for the New Orleans Hornets.
Now if you want to talk about the New Orleans Pelicans, then it's going to be a different story. The Unibrow will be a mainstay on those teams once he changes jerseys but not franchises.
Team: Detroit Pistons
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 7.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.6 blocks, 0.9 steals
Remember when we all thought that Andre Drummond was some raw prospect just waiting to make a negative impact at the next level? He wasn't polished whatsoever, and he was drawing comparisons to massive busts like Kwame Brown.
Yeah, about that.
Drummond hasn't exactly struggled during his rookie season with the Detroit Pistons. In fact, it's been the exact opposite.
The former Connecticut Husky is shooting over 60 percent from the field, and he's posted a jaw-dropping 22.78 PER through the first half of his rookie campaign. If he keeps this up and Lawrence Frank begins to use him more and more, there's an outside shot that Drummond could become the newest Rookie of the Year.
If you don't like Drummond's potential at this point, you must have something against 6'10" big men with ridiculous leaping ability and a knack for running up and down the court like a 6'0" guard.
Team: Utah Jazz
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.4 blocks, 0.9 steals
Derrick Favors has continued to improve each and every season he's spent in the NBA, and his immense potential is still quite tantalizing.
I wasn't all that impressed with the big man back when he was at Georgia Tech, but my opinion of his long-term ability to succeed at the sport's highest level has steadily climbed over the last few years. Now that he's averaging 9.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game for the Utah Jazz in just over 20 minutes per contest, I fully believe that he's ready to become a household name.
Favors is going to get his opportunity before too long. Right now he's struggling for minutes behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, but the two established big men are both set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2012-13 season.
Once the 6'10" power forward earns a role as a full-time starter and isn't blocked by two All-Star-caliber players, he won't relinquish that job for a long time.
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.0 steals
Damian Lillard was my preseason choice for Player of the Year, and that opinion hasn't changed one bit based on the early returns the No. 6 pick has given the Portland Trail Blazers.
I'm not as sold on the Weber State product's long-term potential as I am on Anthony Davis' or Andre Drummond's, but that doesn't mean he's not going to be a future stud. Lillard will never be an MVP candidate. He'll just be an All-Star a few times in his career.
You know, because that's something to be embarrassed about.
So, why am I not quite as high on Lillard?
The point guard entered the league with quite a bit more experience under his belt than a number of other rookies. At 22 years old, he'd played out his career at Weber State and became more of a polished offensive product. That's part of the reason for his impressive performance on that end of the court as a first-year player.
He'll get better, but it's hard to imagine him elevating that part of his game too much more.
Defense is where Lillard will improve most as he gets more accustomed to the NBA style of play, learns to focus more on that end and becomes more adept at navigating on-ball screens in the innumerable pick-and-roll sets run in the Association.
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.1 steals
If I were an NBA general manager—and if any executives out there are looking for one, feel free to hit me up in my inbox—I'd be taking Ben McLemore at No. 1 in the 2013 NBA draft. Of course, that's assuming he declares after his freshman season for the Kansas Jayhawks and that my team would be in need of some help at shooting guard.
Many analysts compared Bradley Beal to Ray Allen during the months leading up to the 2012 NBA draft, but that comparison was rather last and isn't going to prove to hold much water.
This year, McLemore should actually remind NBA fans of a younger, more athletic version of the league's all-time leading three-point marksman.
He has picturesque form on his jumper, navigates screens quite well—although this is where the comparison falls flat because even the Connecticut version of Allen was far better than McLemore will ever be in this respect—and isn't afraid of the big moment.
Add to that some of the best athleticism in the nation and the potential to become a lockdown perimeter defender and you have a player ready to become a future star in the big leagues. If any pure shooting guard is going to end the position's drought at No. 1 in the NBA draft, it's McLemore.
Team: Detroit Pistons
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.3 steals
Watching the Detroit Pistons isn't as painful now as it has been in the past, so I'd highly recommend turning on a game and enjoying the spectacle that is Greg Monroe whenever you get the chance.
As is typical for Georgetown big men, Monroe is a fantastic passer, capable of making plenty of plays for his teammates whenever the ball ends up in his hands. Of course, that's not all he has to offer.
Monroe was another player who surely received some consideration for an All-Star spot in the Eastern Conference, and he's eventually going to start making those squads. There's just too much talent in his athletically limited body for anything else to happen.
Between Monroe and Andre Drummond, there's a bright light at the end of the tunnel for Detroit fans.
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.6 steals
It's not possible to be named Shabazz and fail to become a star basketball player. At least that's what Shabazz Muhammad is hoping when he makes the inevitable transition to the NBA after dominating collegiate basketball for a year at UCLA.
After gaining eligibility for Ben Howland's squad, the lefty swingman has proved that he was worth all the hype. If the 19-year-old doesn't go No. 1 in the 2013 NBA draft, he won't have to wait too long to hear his name called.
Between his sweet shooting stroke and his precocious use of his athleticism to embarrass the opposition, Muhammad has every tool you could ask for in a future go-to scorer at the professional level.
He's not completely a can't-miss prospect due to his lack of any one overwhelming skill, but the total package is just so impressive.
High School: Simeon High School (Committed to Duke)
I'm not listing high-school statistics for Jabari Parker because they won't really mean anything. It's not like anyone at his current level has any chance of slowing down the 17-year-old in any facet of the game.
Parker still needs to grow into his body and turn some of that baby fat into muscle, but it's already clear that he's going to be a standout at Duke before making the transition to the NBA. In as few as three years, we could be talking about whether or not Parker is a star in the Association.
He's a tremendously well-rounded player on both ends of the court—even if he doesn't always focus on defense—and his combination of sweet shooting ability and athleticism is a potent one.
It should say a lot about his skill and potential that he's already in the same class as these other future stars.
Team: Orlando Magic
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks, 0.7 steals
Nikola Vucevic sure is making the Dwight Howard trade look a lot less lopsided.
The big man has thrived as a starter for the Orlando Magic, averaging 12.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks and 0.7 steals per game on 52.8 percent shooting from the field. And he's doing all that while playing 32.4 minutes per contest and earning a PER of 18.02.
Even though he's only in his second professional season, Vucevic has already established himself as one of the better rebounders in the league. His 7'0" frame might help a little with that, but Vucevic clearly has some impressive instincts on the boards.
The USC standout's 19.9 total rebounding percentage places him sixth in the league, trailing only J.J. Hickson, Andre Drummond, Omer Asik, Anderson Varejao and Reggie Evans, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Team: Charlotte Bobcats
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.9 steals
Kemba Walker looks much more confident during his second season than he did during his rookie year, and that confidence has manifested itself in some pretty impressive play for the Charlotte Bobcats.
He's one of the best players in the league at finishing after contact, and his scoring prowess is steadily increasing as he becomes better and better at finishing plays around the rim. The 22-year-old has a 19.34 PER and is quickly climbing up the ranks of point guards in the league.
Plus, I've learned one lesson about Walker during my time following him. Never bet against him.
I made that mistake before both the Big East Conference Tournament and the NCAA Tournament during his final season at Connecticut, and it didn't turn out so well. I won't make it again, and neither should you.
High School: Huntington Prep School (Uncommited)
Andrew Wiggins stood out during his nationally televised showdown against Noah Vonleh, recording a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds while the other prized recruit dealt with foul trouble. He was able to get to any spot he desired and thoroughly controlled the game.
The 17-year-old will have to alter his shooting mechanics in order to develop a more consistent jumper, but his athleticism is just off the charts, and he's another well-roudned, can't-miss prospect.
There's explosiveness, and then there's whatever Wiggins has.
Plus, he might end up being even better on defense than he is on offense.
Wiggins is going to be a stud, even if it takes him a few years to get there. We don't even know where he's going to college yet, but he won't be there long before he's putting the NBA on notice.