NBA Youngsters Under Pressure to Save Their Franchise

Haddon AndersonAnalyst IAugust 30, 2013

NBA Youngsters Under Pressure to Save Their Franchise

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    The 2013-14 NBA season will feature numerous players under a great deal of pressure. Some of these individuals are youngsters who will carry the weight of saving their franchise.

    Who are these figures that are being pegged as potential "franchise saviors"? Furthermore, can they fulfill such heavy expectations?

    Certain budding stars or assemblages of talent have the capability of becoming dynamic forces. This could be the year that they point their squads in a promising direction, potentially situating them as a legitimate contender in the years to come.

    Kevin Durant has accomplished this with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Derrick Rose has done the same with the Chicago Bulls. Who will follow in such footsteps and take the league by storm? 

    The following analysis highlights young players who are compelled to provide hope for franchises that desperately need it. 

Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Trey Burke

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    We begin with a trio from the Utah Jazz that is loaded with upside. Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and rookie Trey Burke should make it easy for Jazz fans to move on from Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who both departed in the offseason.

    Favors will enter his fourth season, but he is still just 22 years old. Kanter will begin his third campaign, and he remains only 21 years old.

    Thus far, they don't appear very accomplished because they've been behind Jefferson and Millsap. They haven't had the spotlight to regularly showcase their abilities. 

    However, this doesn't mean they're unproven. Consider their per-36 numbers from 2012-13, per Basketball-Reference:

    NameFG %FT %RPGBPGPPG
    Derrick Favors48.268.811.02.614.9
    Enes Kanter54.479.510.21.116.9


    These digits unveil that Favors and Kanter should sufficiently fill the void left by their predecessors. In fact, they'll actually bring a more effective presence on the defensive end.

    In 2012-13, Jefferson possessed a lofty defensive rating of 1.11, according to 82games.com. This partly explains why he was last on the team in plus/minus (minus-159). Kanter, on the other hand, boasted a much better defensive rating (1.03) and was second on the team in plus/minus (plus-114).

    Favors and Millsap were nearly the same in each category.

    This magnifies that Utah does not merely have suitable replacements for Jefferson and Millsap. They have two young studs who could soon form one of the best frontcourts in the league. Favors and Kanter should keep blossoming offensively, and they're already stellar contributors on defense. 

    And, they now have a skilled rookie point guard in Trey Burke. This gives Utah an adept floor general, something they've lacked since Deron Williams was traded. 

    Burke should find himself in the running for Rookie of the Year, especially if he shoulders the majority of the ball-handling duties from the outset. A stat line of 15 points per game, six assists per outing and a steal per game is not outside the realm of reason.

    Burke will turn 21 years old in early November, so it's decidedly evident that the Jazz have a bright future with their young crop of talent. It's scary to think about where this team could be in four or five years, assuming they all stay in Utah.

    In 2013-14, the focus should be on revealing their chemistry with one another while raising eyebrows about their promise.

    Even if they come up short of the playoffs, they can still proclaim themselves a soon-to-be threat in the Western Conference. This would mean they're handling the pressure of saving their franchise with initial success.

Kyrie Irving

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    Kyrie Irving has already revealed his savvy skill set at the point guard spot, but entering his third year, there needs to be a more distinct display of "franchise-saving" abilities.

    Irving has frequently struggled with injuries in his two-year NBA tenure. What's more, the Cleveland Cavaliers weren't near making the playoffs in either season.

    These trends must change, and the addition of coach Mike Brown as well as big man Andrew Bynum, assuming he's active for a good chunk of the year (this is a risky assumption), could help Cleveland navigate to the playoffs. 

    If Irving desires to make the Cavaliers respectable in the Eastern Conference, he first must stay injury-free, but he also must polish aspects of his game, particularly on the defensive end.

    While Irving's offensive arsenal is unquestionably solid, he remains a second-tier point guard because of his limited defensive exploits. Examine his Opponent Counterpart's 48-minute production from 2012-13, per 82games.com:

    Assists Per GamePoints Per GamePER
    9.521.418.1

    He may not be getting completely owned by opponents, but he is by no means shutting down, or even adequately containing, his counterparts. His Opponent Counterpart PER is especially high when comparing it to other marquee point guards, such as Chris Paul (15.6), Tony Parker (13.1) and Mike Conley (14.7).

    If Irving aspires to save the franchise, then improvement in this arena is imperative.

    If he becomes more well-rounded defensively and adds even further efficiency to his offensive game, then he'll not only have the Cavaliers poised for the playoffs, but he'll also likely find himself in contention for Most Valuable Player.

    This is the road Irving must take in restoring the Cavaliers. The pressure is on him, and his first couple seasons have already dispensed hope. It's time for his ascent to reach a whole new level, where his franchise-savior status is warranted and so is his place on the All-NBA first team.

Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio

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    Kevin Love labored through an injury-plagued 2012-13, but his output from 2011-12 magnifies his top-notch abilities: 26.0 PPG and 13.3 rebounds per game while also cashing in on nearly two treys per outing.

    One thing is for sure: Love is a fantasy basketball dream when he's healthy. Is he a franchise savior, though?

    The same question is viable when it comes to Rubio. There's no doubt about his Pistol Pete-like ball-handling and passing, but in a league laden with superstar-caliber point guards, is Rubio really capable of redeeming an organization? 

    This is a debatable topic regarding both Love and Rubio, for numerous reasons.

    First of all, the Western Conference is only getting deeper with the rising Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers. Throw in the stalwarts of the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies, and you easily begin to wonder if there's any room for a hopeful team like the T'Wolves. 

    The targeted question should be: Are Love and Rubio good enough to make Minnesota contenders? It's doubtful that Love and Rubio will ever be capable of embracing such pressure in such a clogged conference.

    Secondly, there are legit concerns surrounding Love and Rubio.

    In Love's case, the main worry is health. He has only played in 73 total games the past two seasons. It's hard to forecast him as the savior of the T'Wolves when this issue is pressing.

    Rubio sparks even greater hesitation. While he is a superb thief (2.4 steals per game in 2012-13), he is actually a subpar defender. In 2012-13, when checking a point guard, his opponent counterpart's PER was 18.6, according to 82games.com. His own PER as a floor general was only 16.3.

    Therefore, he's typically being outplayed by his opposite. This doesn't sound like the kind of guy who should wear the franchise savior label.

    Together, they should elevate Minnesota as a ball club and perhaps even govern them to the playoffs, but expecting more is a stretch. This is especially problematic because there is some urgency here. Love is entering his sixth season, and his contract contains an early-termination option after 2014-15. If they don't make some major strides in the near future, Love could soon bolt.

    Quite frankly, he's likely a better fit elsewhere, where he could be a significant piece to the championship puzzle while avoiding the burden of carrying a team on his back.

Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday

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    The New Orleans Pelicans suddenly have an exciting outlook with the recent additions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Holiday, specifically, had a breakout 2012-13 by averaging 17.7 PPG, 8.0 APG and 1.6 SPG.

    He remains just 23 years old and is now paired with an emerging star in 20-year-old Anthony Davis. Can this combination vault the Pelicans towards contention in the coming years?

    The answer to that is almost surely yes, but it will take time. Thankfully, they can be patient due to their youth. Even their supporting contributors, such as Evans (23), Eric Gordon (24) and Ryan Anderson (25), still have plenty of quality years ahead of them.  

    Davis' game requires a hefty dose of maturity. While he has always been known as prime shot-blocker, he is rather undisciplined in his approach. His opponent counterpart PER (21.1), according to 82games.com, is ample proof of this.

    If he grows in basketball intellect, which should occur in time, then he'll be on the path towards becoming one of the Association's best defenders. But he has a long way to go. 

    He also must add a steady jump shot. This shot chart (via NBA.com) amplifies how his jumper is lacking from mid-range.

    Davis simply needs to insert layers to his attack on both ends of the floor. If this happens, then he's worthy of being the franchise centerpiece.

    Holiday is already an All-Star, receiving his first selection last season while a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. The question is, what is his ceiling?

    Precisely, Holiday must prove his value against the upper-echelon floor generals, particularly those in the Western Conference (Paul, Parker, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Conley). If he exclaims that he's in the same mold of such figures, then deeming him a "franchise savior" is indeed fitting.

    When it comes to the Pelicans, their improvements may not occur on the fast track, but they should transpire over the next few years as they jell and increase in age. If this core remains intact for the long-term, then challenging for a championship should materialize at some point.

    Davis and Holiday are capable of leading the charge in this, and they could soon constitute one of the NBA's best big and little duos. 

Damian Lillard

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    Damian Lillard stirred intrigue for the Portland Trail Blazers in becoming the Rookie of the Year. Can he now undertake the task of saving the franchise?

    Leading the Blazers towards relevance is going to be a major uphill climb. If this is going to unfold, he will need substantial help.

    A trio of Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum is not suited for a run at the NBA pinnacle. They only won 33 games last season. If they are to shock the NBA spectrum and make a playoff push in 2013-14, it will require a notable progression from Lillard and needed services from other figures.

    Lillard poured in an impressive 19.0 PPG and 6.5 APG in 2012-13. He should already be perceived as the face of the franchise in the sense that he has garnered attention and given Blazers fans reasons to be optimistic. 

    But how much further will his career ascend?

    He was an old rookie (23 years old now), and he could quickly reach his peak in the league. He should remain a stalwart in Portland's rotation for years, but can he really rescue Portland from mediocrity? Fixed in the deep Western Conference, this will be a daunting challenge. 

    It may take revamping Portland's roster before they can really compete. This lineup reconstruction could perhaps even launch by trading Aldridge for younger pieces. This could be the best way to maximize what they can accomplish with Lillard. 

    The way in which Lillard guides the Blazers amidst this will declare the difference between him merely generating some hype in Portland and actually earning the badge of franchise restorer. 

    Lillard has created a buzz, but the next couple years will signal if he's truly franchise savior material. The likelihood is that some serious upgrades around Lillard need to be made before we can analyze his standing any further.

Andre Drummond

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    The Detroit Pistons are in dire need of a structured plan.

    A slew of suspect signings in years past (i.e., Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva) have stuck them in a rut. They're hoping that recent additions Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings can dig them out of this. 

    It's questionable if Smith and Jennings can achieve this. It could actually be their 20-year-old center, Andre Drummond, who provides more solidified direction.

    Check out Drummond's per-36 numbers, via Basketball-Reference, as a rookie in 2012-13:

    FG %FT %RPGBPGPPG
    60.837.113.22.813.8

    Let's get the ugly part out of the way first. The free-throw percentage...well, yikes. Enough said.

    But this should definitely not overshadow the numerous positives here.

    First of all, Drummond is a monster near the rim, compiling boards and blocks at a swift rate. He is a clear rim protector, who also positions his body effectively in snagging rebounds. 

    Furthermore, his offensive output is noteworthy. With a knack for accumulating offensive rebounds (4.9 per-36 minutes), he can produce buckets by merely placing his 6'10'', 270-pound frame in the lane. 

    Going forward, consider if Drummond raises his free-throw percentage above 55-percent, while also instilling new maneuvers in his offensive repertoire. If such progressions are made, a reasonable stat line is as follows: 18 PPG, 13 RPG and 3 BPG. 

    Such production would provide Detroit with a distinguished asset for the foreseeable future. He would stamp his name as being more than just a facet of their rebuilding plan; he would be the developing franchise savior.

    Drummond is likely the most raw individual listed in this slideshow, but his potential is through the roof. The Pistons should view him in a dignified manner. 

John Wall

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    John Wall appears dominant in stretches. When he gets a seam in transition, there's no stopping him on his way towards a layup or a snazzy dish to an open teammate. 

    He has the style points, and he also recently nabbed a contract extension that clearly shows that the Washington Wizards see him as their future. 

    Therefore, as he soon starts his fourth season, the pressure has never been higher. He should be their driving force that steers them to the playoffs. Anything less than this will be a disappointment.

    Wall's numbers from 2012-13 were decent (18.5 PPG, 7.6 APG and 1.3 SPG), but there are vivid holes in his game. 

    First of all, his inaccurate shooting is a quandary. It is not catastrophic because there are other point guards who have lacking long-range jumpers but are still efficient players, like Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo.

    However, even figures such as Parker and Rondo connect on considerably more shots than Wall. They can at least nail mid-range attempts at a better clip. The following table details how Wall even struggles in this area (stats were located via NBA.com/Stats).

    Player10-14 Feet15-19 Feet20-24 Feet
    Rajon Rondo33.346.149.3
    Tony Parker40.448.443.5
    John Wall36.137.040.3

    This chart conveys how wanting Wall is from mid-range. Even point guards who are not known for their shooting are better than him, particularly in the 15-24 foot range.

    This is troubling for the Wizards, especially in an Eastern Conference that is rich with defensive-minded teams. You can count on foes like the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers forcing Wall to hoist his jumper frequently. Until he tacks on that dimension, he may be flashy, but he's nowhere near complete.

    Unfortunately, his shooting is not even the most concerning element to his game. It's his defense. His opponent counterpart per-48 minute production, per 82games.com, featured these numbers in 2012-13: 24.4 PPG, 9.5 APG and 19.3 PER.

    He has a steep climb before earning a reputation for his defensive efforts.

    With this in view, Wall may actually not be anywhere near ready for a franchise savior identity. There are arguably other floor generals who are much less-profiled (and less riveting to watch) but are actually as, if not more, productive than Wall. Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry and Ty Lawson are such names.

    Overall, Wall is remarkably gifted, but there are components to his game that need to be ironed out. Until this happens, the pressure of saving the Wizards is likely too weighty.