10 NBA Players with Untapped Star Potential Entering 2013-14 Training Camp

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2013

10 NBA Players with Untapped Star Potential Entering 2013-14 Training Camp

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    Despite what Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant would have you believe, it's pretty difficult to stay on top of the NBA pyramid forever. New stars are born all the time, and there's a particularly bright bunch looking to make an ascent this season.

    All of these young up-and-comers have shown flashes at some point, but many of them have been held back by a lack of playing time. Others have just taken a bit longer to find the right opportunity.

    And in the case of a couple of second-year big men, overly cautious organizations deliberately limited their exposure in hopes that the learning curve wouldn't be too steep.

    With depth charts cleared and the training wheels off, these players with star potential are ready to rise into the league's upper echelon.

     

Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks

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    It might seem like Larry Sanders burst onto the scene last year. After all, his 9.6 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game were all career highs by a significant margin.

    But that performance is just a taste of what the 24-year-old center can do.

    You'd better believe the Milwaukee Bucks agree, as their four-year, $44 million commitment to Sanders over the summer clearly indicated.

    The case for Sanders blowing up next year is pretty simple. For starters, he accumulated his excellent numbers in just 27.3 minutes per game. An uptick in playing time and a couple of perimeter defenders who'll actually do their jobs (Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are gone) should result in better counting statistics across the board.

    More importantly, as Sanders matures, his tendency toward technical-inducing outbursts should subside. 

Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz

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    One thing we know for sure about Derrick Favors is that he's patient. Stuck behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap for more than two full seasons, the former No. 3 overall pick has been chomping at the bit for more minutes since 2010.

    He'll get his chance to start for the Utah Jazz this season, and as a major cornerstone in the team's rebuilding process, Favors will have every opportunity to prove his worth. Based on his numbers and obvious physical skills, the 6'10" big man is going to make a huge impact.

    Last season, Favors ranked just outside the top 10 in rebounds per minute, per ESPN. Assuming he logs at least 30 minutes per game, we're looking at a guy who could easily post a double-double with at least two blocks per game thrown in as a bonus.

    Finally, apologies are owed to Enes Kanter, who's in the same boat as Favors and should enjoy a similar breakout. Sorry, big guy; including two Jazz players on one list seemed excessive.

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

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    The parade of big men with star potential continues. If this list is any indication, we're in for a season full of breakout performances from forwards and centers.

    Andre Drummond played just 20.7 minutes per game last year, largely because he was extremely raw (most 19-year-old rookies are). Despite such a limited role, the big man showed he was ready to put up some cartoonish numbers if given the chance.

    The young center will have to improve his understanding of team defense and get his atrocious free-throw percentage up near 50 percent, but if he can do those things, he'll be an absolute force for the Detroit Pistons. 

Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns

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    As exciting as those lobs from Chris Paul to Blake Griffin were last year, some of the most jaw-dropping moments from the Los Angeles Clippers' 2012-13 season involved reserve guard Eric Bledsoe. The Kentucky product's raw energy and defensive dynamism made for some of the season's most chaotic (and entertaining) sequences.

    Bledsoe is a backup no more, slated to start in the Phoenix Suns backcourt and play as many minutes as his frenetic style will allow.

    Get ready for one-man full-court presses and more than a few highlight-reel dunks. Assuming the improved accuracy on his jumper was real last season, Bledsoe is going to develop into a fan favorite throughout the league in 2013-14.

    More importantly for the Suns, he could become the cornerstone they desperately need.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

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    There hasn't really been room for a new star on the San Antonio Spurs in the past 10 years. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have pretty much kept a stranglehold on the team's top spots.

    But Kawhi Leonard proved during his second year that he's much more than a role player.

    It's not always easy to retain high levels of production in an expanded role, but Leonard logged about seven more minutes per game in 2012-13 than he did as a rookie, and his efficiency didn't dip at all. That's the sign of a player who's ready to take yet another step forward this season.

    Ginobili showed signs of decline last year, and Duncan won't remain an elite two-way player forever. Leonard is primed to assume more responsibility in 2013-14, and the Spurs will become his team sooner than later. 

Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors

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    It's not always wise to put stock in the "this guy showed up to summer league in the best shape of his life" talk. But in the case of Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, all that talk about his rebuilt body came along with a vastly improved game.

    The second-year big man was named MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League after averaging 18.8 points and 10 rebounds per game. The July performance was really just a natural extension of his solid improvement during the second half of the 2012-13 season.

    Valanciunas averaged 11.1 points and 6.9 rebounds on 59 percent shooting after the All-Star break, per ESPN.

    With excellent touch around the basket and a suddenly much bulkier frame, Valanciunas is going to break out in a big way this year.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

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    Derrick Rose's return is the source of most of the enthusiasm in Chicago, but third-year swingman Jimmy Butler's ascent to stardom should be getting some headlines of its own.

    At 6'7" and 220 pounds, Butler is enormous for a shooting guard. He uses that size advantage to shut down players at both wing positions on defense, and also has little trouble shooting over the top of smaller matchups from long range. He shot 38 percent from beyond the arc last season.

    Because there are higher-profile offensive options on the Chicago Bulls' roster, Butler might not get the touches his high-efficiency game deserves. But that's fine; he doesn't need to generate gaudy offensive numbers to be a star.

    His work on defense and his all-around game will be more than enough to earn him that designation. 

Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    Thanks to the acquisition of Andre Igoudala, Harrison Barnes' star potential may remain untapped for another year or two. But make no mistake; it's in there.

    Barnes showed flashes of offensive dominance during his rookie season, and when he slid to the power forward spot in the Golden State Warriors' playoff run, he unveiled a whole new dimension to his game.

    With seemingly unlimited athleticism and plenty of polish, it's really just a matter of time until Barnes matures into one of the game's most well-rounded scorers. He proved he could shoot a solid percentage from the perimeter, hitting 36 percent of his threes on the year.

    And everyone knows about his ability to finish at the rim.

    Once Barnes learns to avoid settling for mid-range pull-ups—a nasty habit he struggled to kick as a rookie—he'll be extremely difficult to guard.

    Most likely, Barnes will have to remain patient this year as Iguodala and Klay Thompson eat up most of the minutes on the wing. But if he proves ready to handle bigger minutes at the 4, Barnes might log enough playing time to develop into a star sooner than expected.

JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

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    Even if JaVale McGee doesn't find a way to channel his immense physical gifts, it'll sure be fun to watch him try.

    The Denver Nuggets traded Kosta Koufos away this past offseason, clearing the way for McGee to log major minutes at the 5. Whether or not he uses his newfound opportunity to become a star will have much more to do with his brain than his body.

    McGee is prone to head-scratching mental lapses on both ends of the court. And while his occasional neural misfires are entertaining for fans, the Nuggets hope he moves past them as he matures. Already 25, the big man will head into training camp trying to prove that he's not done developing.

    If McGee gets his mind right, he could easily post a highlight-laden double-double every night while also defending the rim at an elite level. It's far from guaranteed that he'll ever get a firm grip on the more cerebral aspects of the game.

    But if he does, Denver could have a star on its hands.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

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    There are a few qualifiers associated with the star potential of most of the preceding players on this list.

    There are none for New Orleans Pelicans phenom Anthony Davis.

    The No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft posted a PER of 21.80 in his rookie season, good enough to rank 15th in the league, per ESPN. Because Davis played for the ho-hum Hornets and missed more than 20 percent of the season due to injury, his vast potential didn't get the credit it was owed.

    It'll take more bulk to transform Davis into an elite one-on-one defender, but his instincts, shot-blocking ability and nose for the ball already make him a major asset in team defensive schemes. On the other end, he's remarkably smooth and has the range on his jumper to eventually profile as a devastating inside-outside threat.

    Davis is going to be an absolute monster; there are no two ways about it.

    Let's all just get ready to enjoy what should be a stunning breakout season.