Updated Maturity Rankings for NBA's Stars-in-the-Making
When I was in elementary school, you got two grades in each category: A-F for performance, 1-5 for citizenship (1 being the best).
Since I was smart as a whip, but could never sit still or stop making jokes, I would consistently get A-5s, frustrating the bejeezus out of both my teachers and parents.
That means I won't judge the bad citizens of the NBA; after all, I can empathize with them.
I'll just evaluate them honestly. 1 through 5 just like when I was a young'un. They're evaluated both on maturity of attitude and maturity of play for their years of NBA service.
In a probably futile effort to quell the inevitable "where's my future star?" comments:
- I can't in good conscience include folks like Kyrie Irving, Greg Monroe and James Harden because they're already stars;
- Players need to have at least come close to meeting expectations to make this list. This means, for example, John Wall, despite his recent success, does not appear, nor does Thomas Robinson, who has the ability to be a star but simply hasn't played enough;
- I tried to pick only one future star from each team, so I had to choose between Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, between Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard, between DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas…you get the picture.
Finally, defining a star-in-the-making is purely subjective, so if you don't like who I picked, blame one of my five senses.
Damian Lillard, Portland
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Maturity ranking: 1
One would think the preemptive favorite for Rookie Of The Year would score high in maturity.
With Lillard, one would not be wrong.
Even with Anthony Davis coming on, I give the award to Lillard 10 times out of 10, for coming out of the gate as if this were his fifth season in the league. At the most difficult position in basketball, Lillard has shown poise, vision, creativity, speed, dependability and quiet confidence.
As for emotional maturity, Lillard definitely has an attitude—a great one. He believes in himself fully and completely, without being cocky about it. There are times he puts the game on his shoulders. He's successful more times than not, but just to do that as a rookie shows phenomenal assurance.
This is another guy the NBA can be proud to market as one of their future faces.
Kenneth Faried, Denver
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Maturity ranking: 1
If you think the stigma against gay athletes is in the past, you're kidding yourself. So for Faried to become an Athlete Ally and support inclusion for gay and lesbian athletes in sports is not just mature. He's groundbreaking.
Faried is the only NBA athlete who's a member.
Faried has two mothers, which has seemed to make him not only open-minded, but progressive in wanting a non-judgmental future. I cannot say enough about the bravery required to take this stand at such a young age. For Faried, though, it seemed as natural as putting on his high-tops.
That's true maturity—as was his grace under fire while withstanding Metta World Peace's flagrant-2 assault on him. Faried shook off the blow and came out in the fourth quarter playing full out, as usual.
As for his play, that's both the magic and the misgivings about Manimal: he plays, as Spinal Tap would say, at 11. When he learns to pick and choose where to use his torrential energy, he'll be deadly.
The emotional maturity pushes this grade all the way to the top. We need more athletes like Faried.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State
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Maturity ranking: 2
Harrison Barnes does not play on your father's Golden State team. And I'm not talking about their impending move across the Bay.
Not only are his Warriors having a terrific season, but in Barnes they've also got a future star to groom. When's the last time you can say that? From Chris Webber to Gilbert Arenas, the Warriors have sent their young guns packing, only to watch them shine elsewhere.
Not this time. Barnes is staying in Golden State. And his future looks golden.
Here's what I like: Barnes had some impressive early games, and of course started the rave machine, but when he tapered off and the media was less glowing, he never seemed to let it affect him.
Also, he's a starter on a team almost certain to make the playoffs, and he hasn't let that pressure rattle him. Nor have the Warriors' recent struggles seemed to get him down.
His play is still a touch tentative, but sometimes spectacular. By next season, he'll be trusting his instincts even more about when to pass, when to drive and when to shoot.
Expect next year's Warriors team to go on a Barnes-storming tour.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans
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Maturity ranking: 2
Since mid-February, Davis' play has been impressive.
His attitude was impressive from the get-go.
Being a first overall pick can create heavy pressure and/or a swelled head. Davis has neither.
On the weight of expectations: “I don’t feel any pressure. I just go out there and play ball. I just try to have fun and help my team win.”
On ego: “The more arrogant you are, the faster everything will be taken away from you. I just try to stay humble, and I came from a household where my family made sure I stayed humble and live by those principles.”
His play over the season brings the score down from a 1. I expected him to take more charge than he did, especially on a floundering team like the New Orleans Hornets. But he's as quick as advertised and seemingly getting stronger by the game.
Some say he'll challenge for Rookie Of The Year now that his game has come on. I say it hasn't come on enough. But next year might well be the year Anthony Davis grabs the NBA by the throat and doesn't let go.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte
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Maturity ranking: 2
I'm biased when it comes to this Kidd. Along with the aforementioned Kyrie Irving, I just get this sense I got with Michael Jordan: I believe he is one of the future faces of the league.
Lots of fans will agree with me about Irving. Few outside of awe-inspiring dunk devotees will take my side about MKG.
His moving story about his late father and uncle, and his hell-for-leather effort even on a horrendous team, show me a player who's grown up before his time.
His willingness to work on his jumper shows me a healthy lack of ego. And his ability to keep his head high when he struggles, and keep fighting, shows me perseverance.
His play...well, the jumper showed some signs of life earlier in March, but more recently it's giving him trouble again. Because of his attitudes' maturity, however, I'd bet on MKG to put in whatever work is required to be the best.
Because of his play, Gillie the Kidd probably should get a 3, but what can I say: as far as I'm concerned, he's a teacher's pet.
Andre Drummond, Detroit
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Maturity ranking: 2
Drummond was so spectacular to watch, he avoided the grade he probably deserved, which was an incomplete. The stress fracture in his back, combined with the Detroit Pistons' disintegrating season, might result in Drummond not getting back on the court in 2013.
What we watched was raw but tremendous. The 19-year-old Drummond is a defensive demon. He makes blocking shots and gobbling up rebounds look astonishingly effortless.
He authors dunks that can make you fall in love with basketball all over again. I say within two years—especially if he refines his offensive game—he, not Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum, will be the dominant center in this league.
As for his off-court maturity, I simply say this: He deserved to play more earlier in the season. Fans were calling for it, media were calling for it, even as coach Lawrence Frank kept his minutes limited.
Yet Drummond uttered not one complaint. He just waited for his opportunity and went to work.
Had he completed an entire season at the level he was playing when he went down, his ranking would have been a 1.
Dion Waiters, Cleveland
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Maturity ranking: 3
Waiters' play has been inconsistent this season. His outside shot has been hot and cold, and though he drives well to the basket, his style is so elusive that he isn't as skilled as he needs to be at drawing fouls.
But the talent is there. He can explode off the dribble, he can amaze with his ball-handling, and he generally manages to get his points, which is essential in a shooting guard.
He also fought through a benching earlier this year without complaining. That doesn't surprise, because Waiters worked through his cockiness issues while in college, so it's less likely they'll strike again now that he's a pro.
Waiters also has the drive and determination to be the best. It can't hurt to have the stunning-to-watch Irving beside him, who will soon likely be the best.
The growth still needed in Waiters' play brings his score down, but he's a 3 with a bullet.
Bradley Beal, Washington
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Maturity ranking: 3
Beal had an uneven start to the season. When he finally came on, he hurt his wrist, came back strong from that, and got injured again.
When he plays, it's with ever-increasing confidence and efficiency. Beal is what I call court-smart. He can also put on quite a show with his spectacular finishes.
I just get a funny feeling about the kid. Maybe it's the two injuries, maybe it's the fact that he plays near Wall, or maybe it's the fact that he plays for the generally snakebit Washington Wizards.
Whatever it is, Beal's just one of those guys for whom I hold my breath when he goes airborne.
I've always been of the mind that in any sport, some folks have the durability to last at the professional level and some don't. I include that in this ranking because to me, it's physical maturity.
You can't count out anyone who won a Rookie Of The Month, which Beal deservedly did. And to his credit, Beal has come back from his injuries without showing any signs of hesitation.
I rank him high on the excitement meter for his age and experience. I rank him high for a professional attitude. But based on his medical history, I worry about whether his body will mature strongly enough to hold up long-term.
If he does, and Wall stays healthy, Washington will finally have a chance to get back to relevance.
Derrick Favors, Utah
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Maturity ranking: 4
I used to be a big Deron Williams fan, so I wasn't sure about this trade. But now I think the Utah Jazz are gonna cash in on their move.
Let's face it, though: this is Favors' third season in the league, and by now I expected more from him, even as he was stuck behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
The word is next year is Favors' year. But Utah didn't do him any favors by making him wait this long.
When he gets his opportunities, Favors generally makes the most of them. But personally, I think he should be more of a consistent rebounding force. His offensive game has improved, but there's still plenty of room.
To emotional maturity: Favors was always confident and played with intensity. For a guy like this, coming into the league with so much anticipation, to have to wait his turn must have been tough. He's handled it with dignity and aplomb; I've never heard a complaint from him yet.
That means he's earned his turn as a starter. We'll see if he gets it next season.
His attitude is good; it's his game at this stage of his career that hurt his score.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto
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Maturity ranking: 4
Don't lose heart at the ranking, Toronto fans. Remember the name of the article.
Valanciunas went fifth overall in 2011. So as far as maturity of play, I simply expected more by this time.
Over the past six games, Jonas is finally delivering. His efficiency is skyrocketing, and he's not afraid to mix it up or throw it down. I can't say that about Andrea Bargnani, so maybe Valanciunas is the universe's way of sending an apology to long-suffering Toronto fans.
The lovable Lithuanian plays with passion, abandon and joy. And don't take my word for it: take the word of one of my favorite big men of all time—and a guy who'd be a top-10 center had the former Soviet Union not blocked him from playing in America during his prime years—fellow Lithuanian Arvydas Sabonis, who told Sports Illustrated:
"Valanciunas is the future of our country. We don't have another big man like him."
As for emotional maturity, Jonas comes from a country where life is not as easy as it is in North America, and he is far away from his family, which will make someone grow up very quickly.
Yet he plays with energy, enthusiasm and hustle. Sometimes his verve causes miscues, which again are a sign of a game that still needs refinement. But when he's on, this guy is someone not just Toronto, but the league, can get excited about.
Let's hope Valanciunas continues to progress. There's no reason to believe he won't.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento
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Maturity Rating: 5
Elbows to the head. Punches to the Netherlands. Confrontations. Arguments. Tantrums.
If this were a Three Stooges short, it'd be funny. But it's an abbreviated list of DeMarcus Cousins' NBA infractions, and it's anything but a laughing matter.
Cousins can score, pass and rebound like a human video-game character. He's the real deal, physically and athletically.
Factor in his attitude, though, and the only thing that kept him in Sacramento was the pending sale of the team. Otherwise, he'd have been dealt by the trade deadline.
Cousins apparently talks often about the great Kings teams of the past. If he truly knows his history, he need only look up Chris Washburn, Joe Barry Carroll, Benoit Benjamin and Bison Dele to realize how quickly stars in the making can become cautionary tales of the past.