Budding NBA Stars Guaranteed to Have a Full-Fledged Breakout in 2013-14 Season
The NBA can't survive as a marketable superstars' league without having young players who are ready to fill in for aging talent.
Despite an underwhelming rookie class, the 2013-14 season promises to deliver elite-level talent by the bunches.
From a business standpoint, those arrivals couldn't come a moment too soon.
Father Time extinguished four all-time great careers this summer: Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson. He'll undoubtedly do more damage in the coming years as players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki approach the big 4-0.
But those future basketball casualties will have their deserved days of mourning another time.
Right now, it's all about celebrating the budding ballers on their way toward breakout campaigns next season.
Eric Bledsoe, PG, Phoenix Suns
NBA Seasons: 3
2012-13 Notable Numbers: 8.5 PPG, 3.1 APG, 3.0 RPG, 17.5 PER
Eric Bledsoe has had his patience tested in his young NBA career, but it's hard to imagine that he has too many complaints now.
How much would someone be charged for a three-year point guard camp that included teachers like Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis and longtime NBA point man and current Los Angeles Clippers assistant, Robert Pack?
Not only did Bledsoe get this once-in-a-lifetime experience free of charge, he actually collected a seven-figure salary for his schooling. He also picked up 38 NBA starts and 17 games of postseason experience along the way.
Now he's off to showcase what he's learned in a leading role for the Phoenix Suns. Free from any playoff aspirations, he'll have a longer leash and a number of opportunities to capitalize on his physical gifts.
In 12 games as a starter last season for the Clippers, he averaged 14.2 points, 5.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks, via NBA.com.
That kind of across-the-board production hints at Bledsoe's All-Star potential.
Jimmy Butler, SG, Chicago Bulls
NBA Seasons: 2
2012-13 Notable Numbers: 8.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 15.2 PER
Jimmy Butler's not going to be sneaking up on anyone next season.
Between his head-to-head battle with LeBron James in the Eastern Conference semis, the addition of a silky three-point stroke (38.1 percent in the regular season, 40.5 in the playoffs) and, of course, his glowing highlight reel, the bar is incredibly high for season number three.
But it might not be high enough.
He has superstar ability and a scrapper's mentality packed inside his chiseled 6'7", 220-pound frame. He excels in Tom Thibodeau's defensive scheme—opposing shooting guards were held to a paltry 7.0 PER last season, via 82games.com—and he could dominate on an offensive-minded roster just the same.
Rose immediately thrusts the Bulls back into the championship picture. A glue guy like Butler will help keep them there throughout the season.
Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
NBA Seasons: 1
2012-13 Notable Numbers: 13.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 21.7 PER
Anthony Davis wasted no time establishing himself as a potent, two-way contributor.
His 21.7 PER ranked 14th in the NBA and outpaced the rookie efforts of LeBron James (18.3), Kevin Love (18.3) and Kevin Garnett (15.8). Yet Davis couldn't elicit a single first-place vote in the Rookie of the Year award race.
So what gives?
Blame the kid gloves with which the New Orleans Pelicans handled him. He was held out of 18 games for various ailments and saw less than 29 minutes of action when he managed to see the floor.
The incentive for New Orleans to give him serious playing time just wasn't there. Postseason hopes were nonexistent. His slight frame was far from ready for life in the NBA post.
Well, things have changed. Quickly.
After trading for All-Star Jrue Holiday and former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, optimism is at an all-time high for the post-Chris Paul era in the Bayou. And, per the Associated Press' Guerry Smith, Davis is working feverishly to improve his strength.
That means plenty of long nights are on the horizon for opposing post players. Davis' superstar climb is officially off and running.
Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons
NBA Seasons: 1
2012-13 Notable Numbers: 7.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 21.6 PER
Like Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond appears to be headed for a monstrous sophomore season.
A physical specimen at 6'10", 270 pounds, he plays like he's making up time for his lone, uninspiring season at the University of Connecticut.
Despite being hampered by a shorter leash than Davis (20.7 minutes per game), Drummond spent his rookie campaign masquerading as a seasoned NBA vet. From scoring efficiently (60.8 field-goal percentage), to defending without fouling (2.8 blocks, 4.2 fouls per 36 minutes) and maximizing his athleticism (1.6 blocks and 1.0 steals)—if I can borrow a line from Monta Ellis—Andre Drummond "have it all."
OK, maybe he doesn't have everything. While he rolled through his rookie season and steamrolled past the summer league field (15.5 points and 14.8 rebounds in 29.5 minutes per game), he did so without reliable post moves or even a serviceable free-throw shot (37.1 percent).
Both areas can be improved with time and effort. The impact of first-year assistant coach Rasheed Wallace could be felt more by Drummond than anyone else on the roster.
He could have an All-Star campaign on the strength of his athleticism alone. But if he can complement those natural gifts with a structurally sound base, he has All-NBA potential.
Maurice Harkless, SF, Orlando Magic
NBA Seasons: 1
2012-13 Notable Numbers: 8.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 12.5 PER
Maurice Harkless was regarded as an incredibly raw, but supremely gifted prospect after spending one season at St. John's University.
One year later, not much has changed.
He had moments of brilliance during his rookie season (13 games with 15-plus points), but was forced to play catch-up throughout the year. One of the youngest players in his class, Harkless missed out on both summer league and training camp seasoning while dealing with a sports hernia.
Now that he'll enjoy the benefits of both leading up to the 2013-14 season, his potential is about to start transforming into production.
The budding Swiss Army knife has the requisite size (6'8") and athleticism to silence opposing scorers. According to HoopsWorld.com's Steve Kyler, he's also added smoother shooting mechanics and found confidence with the shot this summer.
Expect coach Jacque Vaughn to move Harkless around the perimeter. And expect the talented 20-year-old to shine wherever he lands.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors
NBA Seasons: 1
2012-13 Notable Numbers: 8.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 15.6 PER
Toronto Raptors fans had to wait a year for Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas, the No. 5 pick in 2011, but he's already proven to be well worth their patience.
Although he lost a chunk of December and all of January to a hand injury, he recovered in time to tally the third-most double-doubles of his rookie class.
As his health returned, his numbers started to spike. Over his final 19 games, he averaged 13.9 points (on a scorching 63.4 field-goal percentage), 6.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 30.2 minutes.
With hopes set presumably at their highest, Valanciunas then upped the ante with his MVP performance at the Las Vegas Summer League. There, he bullied his way to 18.8 points and 10.0 boards in four games.
With former draft-night flop Andrea Bargnani sent packing this summer, Valanciunas will battle Rudy Gay for top-dog status.
Both had identical 15.6 PERs last season. One is 21 years old with limitless potential; the other is newly 27 and coming off the worst shooting season of his career (41.6 percent from the field). Who do you think wins that competition?
Low-post scorers are said to be a dying breed in today's NBA. Valanciunas will remind everyone why they used to be seen as such valuable commodities.