Ranking the Best Young Franchise Building Blocks Entering 2013-14 NBA Season
Sometimes you forget just how young some of these guys really are.
It seems like every year a new player emerges as an NBA star. And they're doing it before their 24th birthdays.
The following young stars are either 23 years old or younger, and each represents a building block for his franchise.
10. Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic, Age 21
The Milwaukee Bucks have to be kicking themselves for letting this kid go so easily.
Those who weren't following the Magic late last year might have missed the rampage that Tobias Harris went on.
Harris averaged 19.8 points and 9.8 boards in April and 16 and eight in March. He's an extremely tough matchup with power forward size and a small forward skill set. At around 6'9'', Harris has a strong upper body with rock-solid shoulders. He actually resembles Carmelo Anthony from a physical standpoint.
Offensively, he's a truck that can bang down low for points or face the rim from the perimeter.
With the Bucks, Harris only made 13 threes in 70 games played. He's knocked down 27 of them in 27 games with Orlando so far. Recognizing his potential, the Magic have cut Harris loose, and it's allowing him to grow.
An excellent rebounder and heads-up passer, Harris has a complete game that he continues to refine.
Now as a go-to guy in Orlando after spending a year-and-a-half on the bench, Harris appears poised for a giant breakout year.
9. Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans, Age 23
Though he's already got four seasons under his belt, Jrue Holiday is still only 23 years old.
After a bizarre third year where he regressed as a facilitator, Holiday blew up in 2013 to average eight dimes a game.
He's got great size and quickness to match his ball-on-a-string handle, making him a tough cover for any point guard. Holiday has also remained a consistent outside threat—he's shot at least 36 percent from downtown in every year as a pro.
Holiday was given a much greener light in 2013, and he managed to take advantage by averaging 17 points a game.
Now in New Orleans, he'll have a whole closet of new toys to play with, which should only enhance his development at this stage in his career.
Tightening his shot selection and limiting his turnovers will be his focus moving forward, but again—23 years old.
8. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers, Age 23
Talk about NBA-ready. Damian Lillard went from dominating the Big Sky Conference to slicing through NBA defenses. And he did so quickly and seamlessly.
Lillard burned opposing teams with a lightning-quick first step and a deadly long-range jumper. He finished seventh in the NBA in three-pointers made as a rookie and No. 2 among all point guards behind Stephen Curry.
And point guards who can shoot with range can be dangerous offensive weapons.
Lillard also shows tremendous maturity and poise. You just get the feeling he's got control out there.
He'll have to work on improving his 6.5-3 assist-to-turnover ratio, but Lillard clearly has the makings of a promising franchise cornerstone.
7. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs, Age 22
You knew he was going to be good from the moment the Spurs traded for him.
In just his second year in the league, Kawhi Leonard has already had an NBA Finals to remember. At least I did.
At 22 years old, Leonard averaged a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double through seven hard-fought finals games—while guarding LeBron James.
Leonard is built for locking down scorers, with his great strength and size, along with a massive wingspan and monstrous hands.
Offensively, he's a highly efficient complementary scorer. Leonard finishes at the rim, converts in the mid-range and knocks down threes with comfort and consistency.
With a live motor and nose for the ball, he's also one of the better rebounding wings in the game today.
Leonard may not project as a go-to weapon, but that shouldn't be a requirement for every franchise building block. The Spurs will lean heavily on Leonard as they move forward into a new era.
6. John Wall, Washington Wizards, Age 23
Because the wins haven't been there early on, John Wall hasn't gotten the same respect as some of the other premier NBA building blocks.
So I'd like to give him some myself.
Wall is out-of-control gifted, standing 6'4'' with blurry speed and quickness. With the ball in his hands, there may not be a faster end-to-end guard who plays above the rim.
He's also averaged eight assists a game through his first three seasons, playing without many reliable targets around him. Wall's breakdown ability sets up easy scoring opportunities for teammates who aren't capable of creating them for themselves.
The only obvious blemish is his jumper. Wall hasn't shown much range, which limits the threat he poses to defenses.
But the mechanics are there, and his mid-range game is improving.
If Wall becomes a better shooter, which he's certainly capable of doing, we could be talking about one of the most lethal point guards in the game by the time he enters his prime.
5. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings, Age 23
Even though he's prone to a meltdown, you just have to remind yourself he's 23 years old.
DeMarcus Cousins is already up there with some of the most talented big men in the game. And he's still a few years away from entering his prime.
Cousins right now is the ultimate post player in an era where post play has faded.
At 6'11'', he can play with his back to the rim or facing it, which is all set up by a money mid-range jumper. And with nimble feet and shaky shoulders, Cousins is slippery when attacking his man one-on-one.
The only thing holding Cousins back is his immaturity and instability. You typically want your franchise building blocks to be the strongest leaders.
But in terms of young talent, there aren't too many better than Cousins.
4. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons, Age 20
Andre Drummond was an absolute beast as an NBA rookie and looked like a monster in July during summer ball.
At 6'10'', 270 pounds, Drummond is stronger and more athletic than just about every big man in the league. And at 20 years old, that muscle is only going to strengthen.
With incredible hand-eye coordination and mobility, he finishes everything around the rim—lobs, catch-and-dunks, tip-ins, you name it. Drummond is a guy defenders just get out of the way for to save themselves the embarrassment.
He's also a terrific rebounder with a nonstop motor; 50-50 balls aren't 50-50 balls when Drummond is in the area.
His activity level is off the charts for a young, raw big man. Drummond pulled in 7.6 boards and blocked 1.6 shots in only 20 minutes a night, contributing to his staggering 21.69 PER.
He might have a ways to go as a scorer, but there's just so much room to grow. He's an impact player even without the refined skill set.
Just imagine what he'll look like when it develops.
3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans, Age 20
What can't this kid do?
In one season, Anthony Davis has already established himself as one of the most versatile players in the league.
His player description sounds ludicrous—Davis is essentially a 6'10'' guard who plays inside or out and protects the rim defensively.
Offensively, he's shown everything from scoring in the post and knocking down mid-range jumpers to attacking off the dribble and flying coast-to-coast for a bucket.
Without the ball, he's a constant threat to tap in a miss or sneak backdoor for a lob.
Davis is also an outstanding rebounder who can go up and get it.
It's tough to quantify the value of a guy who contributes in every facet of the game. And with the ability to play and guard multiple positions, he offers tremendous lineup flexibility.
He's visibly stronger and more polished than he was as a freshman at Kentucky, when he swept up nearly every award and won a national title.
It's hard to even imagine what he'll look like in five years down the road.
2. Paul George, Indiana Pacers, Age 23
Don't let the subtle name fool you. Paul George is a bad man, something a number of NBA superstars found out during the 2013 playoffs.
George averaged 19 points, 7.4 boards and 5.1 assists during last year's postseason. Compound his offensive numbers with his defensive impact, and George has proven to be a one-man game-changer.
Just an incredibly fluid athlete with textbook size for today's NBA wing, George is actually a mismatch on both sides of the ball.
He's a suffocating defender and smooth offensive operator, with the length and shot-making ability to score from anywhere on the floor.
As a shooter, he's quickly extended his range to make him a threat from 27 feet. George made 41 threes as a rookie and 90 as a sophomore before exploding last season for 170 makes.
With Danny Granger on the shelf, George has developed into a legitimate go-to scorer.
I've learned to never bet against guys who show consistent gradual improvement. And George just keeps getting better and better.
1. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers, Age 21
Forget about the talent, just for a second. What stands out abut Kyrie Irving is his drive and killer instinct. This dude is cold-blooded.
Irving plays with fire—that fire that every coach wants to see in crunch time from his franchise centerpiece.
And boy is he good.
Irving might have the slickest handle in the game. He can knock defenders off balance without even making contact with them.
Offensively, he combines that potent balance of scoring and playmaking—the same balance that's made Chris Paul the force he's become today.
A strong, composed leader who's just oozing with confidence, Irving is everything you want and more in a young franchise building block.
If he can stay healthy, it won't be long before we're debating whether Irving is the best point guard in the game.
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