Which Rising NBA Stars Will Fill Void Left by Derrick Rose?
Instead of watching him produce crunch-time buckets, remarkable feats of athleticism and circus shots around the hoop, we're instead left with a void now that the Chicago Bulls point guard is out for the season while his surgically repaired meniscus recovers.
But that void can be filled.
The Association is brimming over with entertaining basketball players, and there are a handful of rising stars ready to make up for the entertainment you've lost due to Rose's absence.
They're the ones who become League Pass specials. They're the players you want highlights from every morning on SportsCenter. They're the ones who have that "it factor" that can help capture the imagination of this generation of fans.
But before moving on, it's important to note exactly what is meant by "rising star."
In order to qualify, a player must be 25 years old or younger, and he can't have made the All-Star team yet. If he's played during that midseason contest, he's already risen, regardless of whether or not he may be rising even higher.
Don't worry, though. There are plenty more viable candidates.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are current as of Thursday, Dec. 5, and come via Basketball-Reference.
Eric Bledsoe: Mini LeBron
Team: Phoenix Suns
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 21.5 PER
All Eric Bledsoe needed was a chance, and he got one during the offseason after a trade sent him from the Los Angeles Clippers bench to the starting lineup of the Phoenix Suns. Instead of dazzling fans in sparse time on the court as he backed up Chris Paul, Bledsoe now gets to wow crowds as a starter in the desert.
And that's exactly what he's done.
This 23-year-old guard has earned the "Mini LeBron" moniker for good reason. While he may not make nearly as many positive contributions as the league's reigning MVP (who does?), he stuffs stat sheets and routinely puts together feats of athleticism that create those vaunted jaw-to-floor connections for fans.
Bledsoe is an explosive scorer, but the most impressive aspect of his game has been his presence in the fourth quarter.
Regardless of how he's played during the first 36 minutes of the contest, this first-year starter knows that he must disregard the past. He displays unreserved confidence, loves taking the big shot and tends to make it more often than not for a Phoenix team that has won a surprising number of close games.
Stephen Curry: Catch-Fire Ability
Team: Golden State Warriors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.3 blocks, 24.2 PER
Are the Golden State Warriors really ever out of a game when Stephen Curry is on the court?
Probably not, since the baby-faced assassin can put up three-pointers as quick as anyone in NBA history. If you had to pick one person who could match Tracy McGrady's infamous 13 points in 35 seconds, it would probably be Curry due to his historically great shooting from the perimeter.
When I say historically great, I mean to say that no one has ever been better.
Last year, Curry did more than set the all-time record for three-pointers made in a season; he became the first player in NBA history to attempt at least seven triples per game while still shooting at least 45 percent from downtown. That's an unmatched combination of volume and efficiency, and he's showing signs of getting even better in 2013-14.
The Davidson product has become must-watch television, especially when he starts to heat up. Announcers get excited. The crowd starts buzzing. The other team does everything in its power to keep him cool.
And it just doesn't matter.
Anthony Davis: Boundless Ceiling
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 3.6 blocks, 28.3 PER
It's such a shame that a fractured hand has knocked Anthony Davis out of the New Orleans Pelicans lineup for at least a month, as he was trending toward the very top of the league. It's a trend he'll resume as soon as he's healthy.
The Unibrow is leading the NBA in blocks per game, only LeBron James boasts a higher PER and Davis is putting together ridiculous statistical contributions. Per Basketball-Reference, his win shares based on those similar per-game stats are only matched or exceeded by Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. Of the seven seasons they produced that meet the criteria, none of them came while the player in question was any younger than 24.
Davis is doing this at 20.
But his spot in this article is due to more than the numbers he produces. It's about the method in which he arrives at them and the potential he has to rise so much higher.
During his second professional season, Davis is displaying all sorts of versatility that he lacked as a rookie. He handles the ball on the perimeter and routinely utilizes his mid-range jumper. He posts up. He has the ability to switch on every screen.
Positions just don't matter with Davis, and that's what makes him so fun to watch. He's a new breed, one who could help usher in more of a positionless scheme to the overall NBA landscape.
And we have no clue just how good he could get while doing so. If you had to start a franchise from scratch right now, the Unibrow would be a reasonable top-five choice to build around.
DeMar DeRozan: Quick Improvements
Team: Toronto Raptors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks, 17.5 PER
DeMar DeRozan has made all sorts of progress this year.
He was often criticized in the past for putting up lots of empty points, as his low shooting percentages mitigated the impact of his gaudy scoring totals. But that's no longer the case, even though his field-goal percentage is down to 43.9 percent.
That would be because of his three-point shooting, which has boosted his more important stats like effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage.
En route to averaging a career high in points per game, DeRozan has hit 39.1 percent of his three-point attempts, despite taking more than he ever has in the past. In fact, take a gander at how his downtown game has progressed during his career:
|Year||Three-Point Attempts Per Game||3P%|
That's a huge turnaround, and DeRozan has actually become a quality marksman. He's showing off his new and improved form on a nightly basis, and the numbers he's producing don't feel the least bit fluky.
On top of that, the uber-athletic shooting guard earns a featured spot because he can explode for a massive dunk at any moment and gets in these entertaining rhythms where he can pull up from any spot on the court, use his high-arcing shot and inevitably find the bottom of the net.
In just one season, he's gone from frustrating to watch to being a must-watch player.
Andre Drummond: Untapped Potential
Team: Detroit Pistons
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 12.8 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.3 blocks, 23.9 PER
It's time for a quick trivia question.
How many of you can name all six players who have posted a higher PER than their age during the early portion of the 2013-14 season? We're rounding down, so a 23-year-old would need to post at least a 24.0 PER to qualify, and a 23.9 mark wouldn't allow him to qualify.
Obviously, Drummond is one.
I've already profiled the Detroit Pistons big man as a future superstar, and he reinforces that view each and every time he steps onto the court.
An athletic specimen, Drummond is one of the league's best rebounders. He's also developing quickly on offense and remains a premier finisher of alley-oop lobs. But it's defense that makes him so special, as he displays the unique combination of instincts and all-around athleticism that allows him to wreak havoc on all areas of the court.
How many centers jump passing lanes this well? How many can swipe the ball away from guards?
The answer is not many, and the number dwindles to just two when talking about NBA players who can't legally drink: Anthony Davis and Drummond. Both of these second-year big men are present for the same reason.
While they're already dominant forces, they're nowhere near their ceilings. And quite frankly, we don't know how much further they have to go, even if we almost universally accept that it's a long way.
Damian Lillard: Eventual Challenger to the Point Guard Throne
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 18.5 PER
Is it that hard to see Damian Lillard eventually challenging the rest of the field for the elusive title of best point guard in basketball? That's been Chris Paul's crown for a while now, and it will likely continue to be so well into the future, but eventually...
Lillard is only in his second professional season, and he's already emerged as a bona fide stud.
After winning Rookie of the Year in unanimous fashion, the former Weber State standout has improved quite a bit this season. He's shooting the ball extremely well from the perimeter, minimizing his turnovers and starting to play much better defense.
Oh, and he's winning games.
It's not easy to be the starting point guard on a 16-3 team, especially when you touch the ball a lot. According to NBA.com's SportVU data, only Kemba Walker, John Wall, CP3, Michael Carter-Williams, Kevin Love and Mike Conley are recording more touches per game.
Lillard isn't quite elite yet (assuming that we can use "elite" and "top five" interchangeably), but he's not far off the designation and could very well get there by the end of the year. We'll all be watching to see it happen.
Or at least we should.