Paul George has exposed himself as an NBA superstar in the making.
The NBA is a star-driven league, and when you take a step back and observe, it’s easy to see that there are a number of 25-and-unders with incredibly high ceilings.
No disrespect to those who have already made a name for themselves, but the game is constantly evolving. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all deserve praise, but the Paul Georges, Jrue Holidays and Damian Lillards of the league are clearly the next in line.
With the offseason in full swing and the draft behind us, it’s time to look into the future. We may not know which players become full-fledged stars, but we do know who has the potential to get there.
The nice thing about projecting ceilings is that we don’t need to know who will actually hit that mark.
When it comes to DeMarcus Cousins, he’s a perfect example of simply not knowing what to expect. We’ve seen both the good and the bad since 2010, and if the positive sentiments ever outweigh the negative, he’s going to be a star in this league.
From a physical standpoint, this guy should be a top-five center. He has the body to dominate smaller opponents, but he also has the footwork to beat players his own size.
If it were just about playing basketball, we’d be looking at a superstar in 2013-14. That, however, is not the narrative that has been written thus far, and it’s tough to predict which Cousins we’ll see.
Conditioning has been an issue throughout his three years in the Association, but more concerning is just how big of a head case he’s proven to be. Ill-advised shots and passes are a problem, but a hot-headed nature both on and off the floor has been known to impact his play.
Cousins has one of the highest ceilings in the game when it comes to today’s bigs, but the question is whether or not he’ll let himself reach it.
Andre Drummond entered the 2012-13 season with more question marks than most rookies. He had all-world talent and athleticism, but his questionable motor and lack of a low-post game left teams worried about how good he could actually be.
Now, one year into his professional career, it’s safe to say he has a future as a dominant big man.
Despite playing just 20 minutes per game, Drummond posted 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. His PER was a 21.69, and he showed a willingness to attack the basket and avoid the mid-range jumper that plagued him in college.
The center came off the bench behind Greg Monroe, but with the team still in the rebuilding phase, it might be time to see what the two big men can do side by side.
Drummond missed a significant amount of time during the 2012-13 season due to a back injury. However, if that time on the bench did anything, it proved how important he is to the Pistons organization.
With Drummond lost to injury, Detroit went just 6-16. The youngster can impact the game when given the chance, and if his minutes increase in 2013-14, he’ll be set up for a big-time leap in his sophomore season.
If offensive limitations kept players off this list, Kenneth Faried would have no business being named at this point.
That said, when you’re as good as this guy is on the glass, room to grow simply equates to a higher ceiling.
Faried doesn’t have many plays called for him in Denver. However, he was tied for eighth in the league in offensive rebounds per game, and he converted better than 58 percent of his attempts right at the rim, per NBA.com.
The 23-year-old exerts a high level of energy on both sides of the floor, which is a positive sign for his growth on defense. It’s true that he fouls as a result of being undersized, but he also records one block per game in the process.
Only time will tell if Faried ever reaches his ceiling, but with room to improve, his incredible work ethic and top-tier athleticism should propel him to greater success as his playing days continue.
In one of the more surprising moves of the 2013 draft, the Philadelphia 76ers sent All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nerlens Noel. The Sixers are clearly focusing on the 2014 draft, which means their loss swiftly became the Pelicans’ gain.
At 23 years old, Holiday is coming off of what was easily his breakout season. He averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 assists and 4.2 rebounds, all while shooting nearly 37 percent from long range.
The one knock on Holiday at this point is that he was playing with a crew that had virtually nobody else who could put the ball in the basket. Philadelphia was an atrocious offensive squad most of the year, and now in New Orleans, you have to wonder if his numbers will be as impressive.
But with Holiday, you can’t just look at the numbers. On a team with limited offensive weapons, he set up his teammates, and he was the one who kept the Sixers from becoming completely irrelevant for most of the year.
As a part of the Pelicans, Holiday may see his numbers dive slightly. However, that doesn’t mean he’s taking a step backward, so long as he continues making plays for those around him.
Speaking of the New Orleans Pelicans, we’d be remiss not to mention Anthony Davis on this list.
Davis, the first-overall pick from 2012, was sidelined by injuries for much of his inaugural campaign. As a sophomore, he’ll look to play a healthy season, but more specifically, he’ll look to show why he was the consensus choice the year before.
What makes Davis special is his defense. In just 28.8 minutes per game, the 6’10” forward with the inconceivable wingspan averaged 1.8 blocks per game.
He can block shots at the rim like all great big men, but the more noteworthy aspect of his game is that he can defend the mid-range and the perimeter—a necessary skill in today’s day and age of the stretch 4.
As great as Davis can be as a shot-blocker, what really adds to his ceiling is the fact that he is a competent player on the offensive side of the floor. One of the reasons Nerlens Noel dropped in the 2013 draft—aside from his ACL rehab—is the fact that he can’t score on any play other than an open dunk.
Davis needs to work on his low-post game, but with the ability to handle the ball, face the basket and face up against opponents, he has the making of an All-Star who will enamor fans for years to come.
The case of Eric Gordon is a mysterious one. Nobody knows if he’s going to stay healthy, nobody knows if he’s going to be happy, and nobody truly knows how good he’s going to be.
All that said, the kid has potential, and we’ve seen it off and on during his time in the NBA.
Gordon has already been in the league four years, but he’s still just 24 years old. He’s yet to show he can avoid injuries, but he’s proven he can be a deadly scorer.
An 18-points-per-game career scorer, Gordon can be dangerous both at the rim and behind the arc. His shot from deep range has been a bit inconsistent, but he has a knack for getting to the rim that compensates for missed jumpers.
Size is going to be a problem for Gordon throughout his career. At just 6’3”, he’s small for a 2-guard, yet he’s much more effective off the ball.
Gordon has the talent to excel at the professional level, and if he can stay on the floor in 2013-14, we might get to finally see it.
The Portland Trail Blazers selected Damian Lillard with the No. 6 pick knowing that he was going to be their starting point guard.
What they didn’t know was just how good he would be right out of the gate.
From day one, Lillard looked like a superstar. Questions about how well he’d adjust to the NBA were quickly eliminated, and worries about his abilities as a facilitator became a nonissue.
It’s true that he needs to get better at handling double-teams, but once the team acquired Eric Maynor at the trade deadline, we saw that he was willing to defer in times of need.
In 2013-14, he’ll have rookie C.J. McCollum on his side, which will help detract defenses in similar situations.
The question with Lillard has to be whether or not he’s already peaked. He played the most minutes per game in the entire league as a rookie, and it’s easy to assume his numbers were inflated.
But what you’re ignoring if you look at that statistic alone is that he is a money shooter who can score both inside and out. His work ethic shouldn’t let him cap out after one season, and it’s going to be fun to see how far he can take his skill set in a well-established point guard’s league.
If there’s any player who epitomizes today’s NBA point guard, it might be John Wall.
At 6’4”, 195 pounds, the three-year player has the size to compete with the ever-improving athleticism at the 1-spot. He has incredible speed in fast-break situations, which is fitting, as he loves to push the tempo.
The problem is that he’s more of a second-tier guard, as few will claim him to be on the same level as the Derrick Roses and Russell Westbrooks of the league.
Call me crazy, but I think he can get to that level.
Wall needs to work on two main aspects of his game to get to the top tier. First, he needs to reach his potential on defense. He has good lateral movement, but he is still learning how to stay in front of his man on a more regular basis.
The other area where he must improve is his jump shot. He is a career 24.3 percent shooter from long range—including one year where he shot just 7.1 percent—and his mid-range game doesn’t exactly make up the difference, as evidenced by his shot chart, via NBA.com, from 2012-13.
Wall is a fantastic finisher at the rim, which is something you can’t take away from him. If he can stay healthy and start nailing that jumper, he’s going to reach his ceiling sooner rather than later.
Paul George’s performance in the playoffs convinced a number of people that he’s already a superstar. That notion is easy to argue after the progression he made in 2013, but the scary part is that he’s yet to hit his true ceiling.
George has seen his numbers rise every year since being in the league. In 2012-13, he boosted his averages to 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
He also recorded 1.8 steals per game, showing that he can do it on both ends of the floor.
For George to improve, one area where he must get better is hanging on to the ball. With Danny Granger out, George became the primary focus of the offense much of the year, and while he’s an extremely reliable option, he’s also extremely turnover prone.
He gave the ball away 2.9 times per game in 2012-13, and that number rose to 3.9 during the postseason—the fifth-worst number among qualifying players.
If George can tighten up his game, the sky is the limit. Indiana will look different with Granger back in the lineup, but nobody should expect George to take a backseat to anyone any longer.
Kyrie Irving is the one exception to the “no superstars on this list” rule. At just 21 years old, he is an undisputed star at the point guard position, but the truth is that he’s continuing to get better as his career progresses.
In just his second season, Irving averaged 22.5 points per game with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He also posted numbers of 5.9 assists and 3.7 rebounds per contest, all while shooting nearly 40 percent from deep and claiming a PER of 21.51.
The nice part about Irving is that he’s a score-first point guard who is proving to be an incredible facilitator. He’s good with both hands, he can take defenses off the dribble, and being so young, it’s hard to believe he’s maxed out at this point.
The one area for true improvement is defense. He has to get better on that side of the floor, but if that happens, he’s going to come closer to the Chris Paul comparisons we heard as he entered the league.
Irving may already be a superstar, but he should continue to grow as the Cavs rebuild. Better talent on the floor will create more wins, and as the team improves, Irving will be the one leading it back toward the postseason.