Projecting Ceilings for Every 2014 NBA Rising Stars Game Player

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2014

Projecting Ceilings for Every 2014 NBA Rising Stars Game Player

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Optimism abounds when watching the young players who will take the stage during the Rising Stars Challenge. 

    None of them have reached their ceilings, though some of those upper limits are loftier than others. One player even claims he doesn't have a ceiling, and he may actually be correct. 

    The competition is made up solely of first- and second-year players, and they've all made various levels of impact during their time in the NBA. That's not what we're concerned with here, though. Ceilings are the only things that matter. 

    Running through the rosters in alphabetical order, we'll be breaking down a couple of things in this article: the status a player can reach at the peak of his career and the per-game stats he'll achieve during his best season. Remember, though, that these are intentionally optimistic. 

    As we've found out countless times throughout NBA history, ceilings aren't often reached. Just because a player can get to a certain level doesn't mean he will

    If you're a fan of a team with a representative in this contest, you better hope your guy proves to be the exception. 


    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and are current as of Feb. 13. 

Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Year: Rookie

    Age: 20

    Position: C

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 3.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, 11.9 PER


    Steven Adams has always been viewed as a project player, and the 2013-14 season hasn't done much to shake that reputation. Though he's had one stellar outing and performed adequately when Scott Brooks decides to play him over Kendrick Perkins, he hasn't shown signs of stardom. 

    Still, the New Zealander is only 20 years old, and he has the physical tools to make a name for himself in the Association. 

    Cutting back on fouls will allow him to stay on the court, though his tough-guy reputation is already starting to spread beyond the confines of Oklahoma City. 

    Even at his peak, Adams is never going to be much of an offensive powerhouse. He'll be a force on the glass and a defensive stopper, and that's still quite valuable when it comes in a chiseled 7'0" frame. 


    Projected Ceiling: Solid Starter

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 12.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.6 blocks

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Rookie

    Age: 19

    Position: SF

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 10.6 PER


    Remember, this is the ceiling.

    It doesn't mean that Giannis Antetokounmpo is guaranteed to reach it, just that there's a chance he blossoms into such a stellar player. 

    The Greek Freak, as he's become known thanks to his lanky arms and ridiculously huge hands, is clearly ahead of the developmental curve that so many expected when he was still in the pool of undrafted players. Rather than taking years to look like even a decent player in the Association, the Milwaukee Bucks rookie has already shown flashes of greatness. 

    Given that he's already holding his own some nights and was expected to make a minimal impact years from now, the Greek Freak is already proving the Bucks front office to be a rather prescient collection of individuals. Sometimes, at least. 

    Antetokounmpo has the talent to make a sizable impact in every facet of the game. He could very well develop into the next all-around stud, a player capable of single-handedly winning contests while routinely blowing away fans with his highlight-reel showings.


    Projected Ceiling: All-Star Starter

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists 

Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Year: Sophomore

    Age: 21

    Position: SF

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 10.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 10.5 PER


    With the exception of a dozen games in the 2013 postseason, Harrison Barnes' NBA career has been rather disappointing. 

    Once heralded as the next superstar while he was preparing for his freshman season at North Carolina, Barnes' stock has plunged as his weaknesses become increasingly apparent. He doesn't create looks for his teammates, and he's too reliant on them to open things up for his shooting stroke. 

    That said, the former Tar Heel is starting to put things together, and he's currently in the midst of a rather nice stretch. It offers hope that he shouldn't be given up on, especially because he's only 21 years old and is seeing his development hindered by a lackluster second unit. 

    Barnes is never going to be a superstar, but his pedigree, shooting stroke and athleticism at least point toward him continuing to rise up the ranks until he reaches what could be a stellar prime.


    Projected Ceiling: Fringe All-Star Candidate

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Sophomore 

    Age: 20

    Position: SG

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.4 PER


    If only Bradley Beal could excel in an area that didn't involve him lofting up shots from beyond the arc. 

    He's incredible from downtown; there's no doubt about that. 

    During his sophomore season, Beal enters the All-Star break taking 4.8 three-pointers per game. Amazingly enough, he's hit 43 percent of them, which leaves him squarely in the midst of any conversation about the best sharpshooters in the Association. 

    However, the rest of Beal's game hasn't progressed along with his shooting stroke. He struggles immensely as soon as he steps inside the three-point arc, and while his passing has improved, the impact has been mitigated by increased turnovers. 

    Still, Beal is an athletic specimen with an outside stroke, and he plays at a position devoid of much established talent. That alone offers hope of an All-Star appearance at some point in his career, especially because the talented 20-year-old is bound to figure out some of his struggles around the basket. 


    Projected Ceiling: All-Star Reserve

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists

Trey Burke, Utah Jazz

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Rookie

    Age: 21

    Position: PG 

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 12.6 PER


    Even during his rookie season, Trey Burke has had an immense impact on the Utah Jazz. 

    With him in the lineup, the Western Conference bottom-feeders have gone 18-22, pulling them out of the basement in the tougher portion of the Association.'s statistical databases show that while he has a lot of work to do defensively, Burke has helped the Jazz score an additional 6.7 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court. 

    The Michigan product is a precocious player, one imbued with far too much confidence for a 21-year-old with no NBA experience. And that's a positive, because it's allowed him to maintain his play into the late stages of close contests. 

    Burke is going to figure out how to score in this league, though he's never going to be the NBA's best point guard. He's just too small, and he doesn't possess any truly elite skills. His passing, shooting and athleticism are all great, but they don't quite pass muster when stacked up against the elites. 


    Projected Ceiling: All-Star Reserve

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 20.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 7.1 assists 

Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Rookie

    Age: 22

    Position: PG

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.7 blocks, 16.1 PER


    Is Michael Carter-Williams going to be an MVP candidate? Probably not.

    Is he going to have a chance at starting for an All-Star team, especially because he plays in the weak Eastern Conference? Probably.  

    MCW deserves to be the prohibitive Rookie of the Year favorite during this lackluster season for first-year ballers, but there are still too many glaring flaws in his game to project MVP candidacy. For all of his heroic exploits at the beginning of the season, he's falling back to earth rather quickly. 

    The 22-year-old point guard is shooting only 39.6 percent from the field going into the All-Star break, and it's hard to think too highly of his offense in this efficiency-loving age of NBA analysis. A broken shooting stroke was the biggest knock on Carter-Williams coming into the league, and he hasn't done anything to shed that label. 

    Then again, his head coach, Brett Brown, told Sporting News' Sean Deveney, "A shot like Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook when those two first came into the league, potential for tremendous growth. Go from there."

    I might not go that far, because both of those floor generals possess boundless reserves of athleticism, but still, it's exciting to think about just how good he'll be with experience and a stronger supporting cast. 


    Projected Ceiling: All-Star Starter

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 21.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 8.2 assists 

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Year: New Orleans Pelicans

    Age: 20

    Position: PF/C 

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 3.1 blocks, 26.4 PER


    How can you project Anthony Davis' ceiling when he doesn't seem to have one? Even The Unibrow himself said so, telling The Jim Rome Show, "The ceiling has no limits for me. I’ve just got to keep working hard, keep playing hard, and keep competing and who knows what’s more to come."

    The second-year big man is already playing like the top power forward in the game, and that's exactly what Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley claims he is at this early stage of his promising career: 

    That title belongs to Davis, the 20-year-old phenom who didn't even grow up playing the post.

    With a developing skill set that already puts him among the elites, he's capable of carrying a franchise at both ends of the floor. He's a No. 1 scorer who can defend No. 1 scorers—nearly regardless of position.

    What can't this guy do? 

    He's scoring a hyperefficient 20 points per game while showcasing a developing arsenal of offensive moves. He's playing terrific defense—his hard hedges against screens are terrifying—and leading the league in blocks per game. 

    And he's only 20 years old with all of the physical tools in the world. 


    Projected Ceiling: MVP Favorite

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats:  26.6 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 4.0 blocks

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Detroit Pistons

    Age: 20

    Position: C

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.1 points, 13.0 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.9 blocks, 22.4 PER


    Offensively, Andre Drummond hasn't shown any signs that he's going to develop into anything more than a rich man's version of Tyson Chandler

    He's already an elite finisher around the basket, though his opportunities come almost exclusively in transition, off of alley-oop feeds and after corralling an offensive rebound. His post moves are still quite limited, and let's forget about even discussing his jumper. 

    But on defense, well, that's just a different story. 

    Not only is Drummond great at ending possessions with a defensive board, but he's also an adept shot-blocker who's gradually learning how to rotate positively and make proper use of his immense athletic tools. There's always a steep learning curve for young bigs on the less-glamorous end of the court, but Drummond is ahead of the pace. 

    It's tough to project Drummond ever truly competing for an MVP award or something of that nature, simply because he's going to have limitations. But he's also going to have quite a few ridiculously strong aspects to his game. 


    Projected Ceiling: Fringe MVP Candidate

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 3.5 blocks

Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Rookie

    Age: 21

    Position: SG/SF

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.2 points, 1.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 13.8 PER


    Tim Hardaway Jr. has been one of the pleasant surprises from this lackluster rookie class. 

    A great athlete with confidence from the outside, the son of the "UTEP 2-Step" inventor has worked his way into Mike Woodson's rotation by drilling shot after shot from the perimeter. He's shooting 38.5 percent from downtown while taking 3.8 attempts per game, and that's only going to improve as he continues adjusting to pro ball. 

    However, there's not much else he brings to the table. 

    Let's have Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman take it away: 

    Hardaway's core offensive weakness centers around his inability to create off the dribble. One-on-one just isn't his forte—his handle in traffic is suspect, which keeps him from blowing by defenders and getting to the rim in the half court. He only averaged 2.9 free-throw attempts a game in 2012-13, an awfully low number for a 6'6'' athletic scorer.

    Now this should get better as his career progresses, but it's still a glaring weakness. And it always has been. 

    Hardaway looks like he'll settle in as a "three-and-D" player, which isn't bad for a guy who went in the waning portion of the first round in a weak draft class. 


    Projected Ceiling: Standout Role Player

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats:  13.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists

Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Sophomore

    Age: 22

    Position: PF

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.4 blocks, 18.1 PER


    Terrence Jones has successfully plugged in the hole at power forward for the Houston Rockets, to the extent that they no longer have to look for an adequate 4 during the time leading up to the Feb. 20 trade deadline. It's a nice development for the Rockets, and it's an even nicer one for Jones. 

    The former Kentucky standout has started 43 games, and he's received so many opportunities to shine because he's able to stretch out the court. 

    According to Basketball-Reference, he excels from 10 to 16 feet. 

    The three-point shooting and deep two-pointers might come later in his carer, but Houston has to be satisfied that he's knocking down 42.9 percent of his limited attempts from the mid-range zone in question and forcing defenses to at least cover him. 

    An athletic and skilled power forward, Jones is starting to shed any semblance of a 'tweener label, but it's still hard to see him improving exponentially as he moves into his third season and the rest of his career. 


    Projected Ceiling: Solid Starter

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Sophomore

    Age: 23

    Position: PG 

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks, 18.9 PER 


    Damian Lillard, much like Anthony Davis, is an interesting case because he's already a star player. 

    The Portland Trail Blazers point guard has helped spark one of the Western Conference's top teams thanks to his offensive excellence. In particular, his pull-up shooting is absolutely phenomenal. I broke it down in detail here, so I'd encourage you to check that out. 

    He's an All-Star, but how much better can he get? 

    With a four-year college career (one of which was medically redshirted), Lillard is already turning 24 this summer, so he's further along in his development than most. It's part of the reason he's reached such a high level already, but it also indicates that his ceiling isn't that much higher than his current level of play. 

    Realistically, Lillard can improve his finishing around the basket, as's SportVU data shows he's converting on only 35.9 percent of his drives. Among the 49 players driving at least five times per game, Russell Westbrook (small sample size), Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay and Brandon Jennings are the only guys less effective. 

    If he improves both that and his defensive presence, he has the ability to move into the Tony Parker realm—a fringe MVP candidate who isn't quite able to ascend to the very top of his positional rankings. 


    Projected Ceiling: Fringe MVP Candidate

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats:  26.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.4 assists

Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Rookie

    Age: 21

    Position: PG/SG

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks, 13.6 PER


    Victor Oladipo's worst-case scenario as a rookie involved completely flopping on the offensive end and still making an impact defensively. 

    That apparently wasn't correct. shows that the former Indiana standout has allowed opposing point guards and shooting guards to post respective PERs of 15.5 and 15.0, indicating that he's been solid—but not quite special—when trying to shut down the opposition. He'll grow on that end of the court, almost without question. 

    Offense is a bit more confusing, though. 

    His jumper is almost completely broken, but he's made up for that with passing skills that are far more advanced than most expected to see from a first-year shooting guard being converted into a combo backcourt player. The versatility is definitely there. 

    But will the jumper ever come around? 

    That's the No. 1 question for Oladipo, and his projected ceiling would certainly rise if he started showing signs of improvement. 


    Projected Ceiling: All-Star Reserve

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats:  17.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.2 steals

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Rookie

    Age: 22

    Position: PF/C

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 12.7 PER


    Offense. Offense. Offense. 

    That's just about all Kelly Olynyk has brought to the table during his rookie season, as the finesse big man has struggled to slow down NBA players who are usually both quicker and stronger than him. And even the offense has been problematic, as the 22-year-old 7-footer is shooting only 43 percent from the field. 

    Unfortunately for the Boston Celtics, a Summer League and preseason slate that left "Rookie of the Year" ringing through the air in Beantown hasn't manifested itself in Olynyk's play. He's struggled, though there have been brief moments of offensive greatness. 

    Though those moments have been occurring with more frequency as the Celtics move into the All-Star break, it's still clear the NBA is abundantly different than the WAC. 

    The adjustment period will be a long one, and Olynyk's ceiling just isn't as high as Boston expected when drafting him. 


    Projected Ceiling: Mid-Level Starter

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists

Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Rookie

    Age: 23

    Position: PF/C

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, 18.1 PER


    Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix gave the Brooklyn Nets a "B-" in the 2013 NBA draft, writing the following about the Duke big man's ascent into the ranks of professional basketball: 

    The Nets badly wanted Gorgui Dieng, only to grimace as the Wolves traded down and snapped him up a pick before them. They settled for Plumlee, a more athletic center who should be able to give them some backup minutes at both power spots.

    So far, that's exactly what he's done. 

    Mason Plumlee is an athletic marvel who plays with his motor turned all the way up. He constantly seeks out dunking opportunities, and he hasn't brought all that much more to the table during his rookie season. His rebounding numbers are average, after all. 

    The most encouraging sign of all, though, should be what his brother is doing with the Phoenix Suns. 

    If Miles Plumlee is looking like a quality starting center, so too can Mason. After all, the 23-year-old rookie has better post moves and a bit more athleticism. 


    Projected Ceiling: Solid Starter

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 15.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

Miles Plumlee, Phoenix Suns

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Year: Sophomore

    Age: 25

    Position: C

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.4 blocks, 15.0 PER


    Wait, didn't we just project Plumlee's ceiling?

    Oh yeah, there are two of them, and it's Miles Plumlee who is having a better season. Then again, he's also two years older, has a full campaign of extra NBA experience under his belt and is granted the luxury of playing 27 minutes per game for the Phoenix Suns. 

    As explained on the previous slide, Miles doesn't have quite the same potential as his younger brother. He's a better rebounder, but his offensive game isn't nearly as good, and his free-throw shooting is regressing. That said, he's already a big, competent body.

    He's going to stick around in this league for a long time, simply because he's a 6'10" big man who can jump out of the gym. Even more importantly, he knows his limits and plays within himself. 

    The ceiling isn't very high for this Plumlee, but the floor is also higher than most. 


    Projected Ceiling: Mid-Level Starter

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks

Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Year: Sophomore

    Age: 21

    Position: PF

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 17.1 PER


    During late November and most of December, Jared Sullinger put together a rather impressive 12-game run. Over that stretch, he averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 48.2 percent from the field. 

    Then he disappeared, sprinkling in the occasional stellar performance, like his 25-point, 20-rebound outing against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 15. 

    During late January and early February, Sullinger produced another remarkable stretch. This time, he averaged 19.8 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists over a six-game span. 

    We're seeing brief spurts of greatness from the 21-year-old power forward, but he's still playing like a young man. It's easy to throw him off his game, and inconsistency is still far too prevalent. 

    Time will solve that, and the Boston Celtics should be quite pleased with the development he's shown during his second year out of Ohio State.


    Projected Ceiling: Upper-Level Starter

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats:  18.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists

Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Sophomore

    Age: 21

    Position: C

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 10.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.9 blocks, 14.7 PER


    Sometimes it's difficult to remember that Jonas Valanciunas won't even be turning 22 until the end of the 2013-14 campaign. 

    This big man has a lot of growing to do, especially because international prospects typically take longer to adjust to the NBA than the young men with college experience under their belts. Valanciunas may be struggling a bit during his sophomore go-round, but that doesn't diminish the lofty nature of his ceiling. 

    He's already showing off some excellent footwork and rebounding skills that go beyond what many scouts expected heading into his NBA career. The help defense is there, and the post-stopping skills will come with time. 

    Valanciunas has struggled enough that it's difficult to project superstardom two seasons into his tenure in the Association, but he's also played well enough that it's not hard to see the development accelerating. If any player is going to break out during his third season—which seems to be the magical campaign for so many young players—it's this member of the Toronto Raptors. 


    Projected Ceiling: All-Star Starter

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks 

Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Year: Sophomore

    Age: 22

    Position: SG

    2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 12.6 PER


    Dion Waiters is the most mercurial player in the Rising Stars Challenge. 

    If he remains on the Cleveland Cavaliers, it seems unlikely that he'll reach his full potential. There have been too many negative stories during his season-and-a-half playing alongside Kyrie Irving, and he's largely failed to make good use of his immense offensive talent. 

    If Waiters gets traded, though, he's free to explode. 

    When he's confident, Waiters has a tremendous sense for attacking the basket. He has all of the tools you could ask for from a 2-guard, and he often plays in a way eerily reminiscent of a young Dwyane Wade

    So, which will happen? 

    Cleveland doesn't seem likely to trade him now, as the franchise is trying to make the playoffs, but that doesn't prevent him from reaching his ceiling later on in his career. I remain confident in Waiters' long-term potential, even if I'm rather bullish on the futility of his present situation and the inadequacy of his early career. 


    Projected Ceiling: Fringe All-Star Candidate

    Projected Peak Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists