5 Young NBA Players with Shots at Stardom During 2014-15 Season
Year after year, the leaves change, the seasons turn...and new names approach the star-studded stratosphere atop the NBA.
Last season saw a slew of precocious youngsters take that all-important next step. John Wall, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry all made their respective All-Star debuts in the same game that saw Kyrie Irving walk away as the MVP. Lillard and Curry played well enough over the duration of the 2013-14 campaign to earn All-NBA nods at its conclusion.
The pipeline that carried these and other standouts into the limelight figures to flow just as fast and furiously into and through the 2014-15 season as well. It's already lifted many of them to Las Vegas for Team USA's training camp in Las Vegas, either as hopefuls to join the seniors at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain or as practice participants on the Select squad.
Both of those outfits are currently littered with guys who've yet to garner All-Star or All-NBA consideration, though these five stars on the rise figure to find themselves in those conversations once summer gives way to fall, winter and spring.
I'm not even sure it's fair to include DeMarcus Cousins on this list—for him or for the others on it.
In many ways, Boogie already ranks among the NBA's elite. Last season, Cousins finished ninth in scoring (22.7 points), fifth in rebounding (11.7), fifth in Player Efficiency Rating (26.18) and third in double-doubles (53).
Despite his tremendous productivity, though, Cousins has yet to so much as sniff an All-Star selection, much less a spot on an All-NBA team. This is due, in part, to the lack of success he's enjoyed with the Sacramento Kings. In Boogie's four years in California's capital, the Kings have won just 32.7 percent of their games.
That's not all Cousins' fault. The lack of organizational stability that's surrounded him, particularly prior to the Maloofs' sale of the team to Vivek Ranadive, had plenty to do with the team's futility.
But Cousins' hotheadedness and lack of commitment on the defensive end haven't helped his team's results or his own profile, for that matter. A strong turn with Team USA this summer could do wonders for Cousins' reputation. As NBA.com's John Schuhmann wrote in his notes from Day 1 of USA Basketball's training camp in Las Vegas:
It’s weird to imagine Cousins representing the U.S. in a hostile, international environment, but seeing him in this environment, you can see how he could make an impact.
He’s a beast, and there aren’t many players in the world that can match up with him, especially if he just plays off others as a roll man and finisher in the paint.
Defensively, with FIBA rules, Cousins can hang close to the basket and defend the rim. In the few minutes we saw him on Monday, he blocked or altered at least three shots.
Still, there will remain a fear that Cousins will lose his cool with international officiating or decide, in a big moment, to dribble the ball up the floor himself. If he wants to make the team, he has to prove that he can stay disciplined in more ways than one.
The same goes for Cousins in Sacramento. A greater measure of maturity on his part could push the Kings even closer to postseason competition and, in turn, offer Cousins an opportunity to shine therein.
Cousins isn't the only young big who's bound to benefit from the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love bowing out of USA Basketball's bid at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Andre Drummond, too, should find himself a shoo-in for the squad Team USA will send to Spain.
Especially if he keeps coming up with plays like the one in the video above.
Whether or not Drummond makes it out of camp, he'll still have a prominent role to play with the Detroit Pistons this coming season. "Stan [Van Gundy] is going to put the ball in my hands this upcoming season," Drummond recently told SLAM's Abe Schwadron. "So I have to really work hard on being comfortable with it, and I feel like I’ve done a good job of that this year, staying well-conditioned and becoming a lot more comfortable with the ball in my hands, making the right decisions."
Even without those skills and that role, Drummond had himself an impressive sophomore season in the Motor City. He averaged 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.2 steals while shooting 62.3 percent from the floor in 32.3 minutes per game.
If Drummond could put up numbers like those on a bad team with an unsettled coaching staff and an imploding front office, just imagine what he might do under the auspices of Van Gundy, who, once upon a time, turned another young, physically gifted center (Dwight Howard) into a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
While Cousins and Drummond continue to push both for spots on Team USA and their first postseason appearances, Bradley Beal can already reflect fondly on the latter of those two while looking ahead to even more good times with the Washington Wizards.
Beal made the most of his first foray into the playoffs this past spring. He averaged 19.2 points, five rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 41.5 percent from three during Washington's 11-game run, including four performances of 20 points or more.
Moreover, Beal used the spotlight to show that he's much more than just a shooting specialist. Here's how Grantland's Zach Lowe put it:
He has emerged as a capable secondary ball handler, flashing a collection of wily moves on all sorts of pick-and-rolls. He has often supplanted Wall as the team’s top clutch option, jacking more crunch-time shots than Wall in the playoffs after attempting about the same number during the regular season on a per-minute basis. He made massive plays down the stretch in Game 1 against Indy, and in Games 2 and 3 in Washington’s grinding five-game win over the Bulls.
This doesn't mean Beal will be taking over the Wizards offense next season. The ball will still go through John Wall's hands in Washington more often than not.
But if Beal can sprinkle in some playmaking and off-dribble attacking with his impressive shooting ability, he'll make himself that much more of an all-around threat, perhaps even one of an All-Star caliber, for a Wizards squad that could be among the East's best next season now that Paul Pierce is in tow.
The battle for the title of "NBA's Best Backcourt" figures to be fought between Beal's Wizards and Klay Thompson's Golden State Warriors for some time—assuming the Dubs don't end up shipping Thompson to Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Love—and is already being waged to some degree at Team USA's training camp.
Thompson has steadily improved since leaving Washington State to pursue his NBA dreams back in 2011. This past season, Thompson posted career-highs in points (18.4), field-goal percentage (.444) and three-point percentage (.417) while cutting his turnover rate down to 9.2 percent.
As a shooter, Thompson is at once one of the best there is and frustratingly streaky at times. He failed to score in double figures twice during Golden State's seven-game loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round and shot just 40.8 percent from the field (36.4 percent from three) in that series.
To be sure, there's more to Thompson's game than just his pretty jumper. He's developed a nifty back-to-the-basket repertoire, with a turnaround jumper as the piece de resistance, and has emerged as one of the league's better wing defenders, particularly under the age of 25.
There's no telling what effect Mark Jackson's ouster and Steve Kerr's subsequent hiring will have on Thompson's career. However, given Jackson's preference for old-school matchup exploitation (and the grinding effect that had on Golden State's offense) and Kerr's history with the Steve Nash-era Phoenix Suns, it's reasonable to suggest Thompson will thrive in a more wide-open offense and continue his climb up the league-wide ladder.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Not all of the NBA's young stars-in-the-making are competing for spots at the FIBA World Cup in Spain, though. Some, like Tim Hardaway Jr., are serving on USA Basketball's Select Squad, against which the senior team is sharpening up ahead of its upcoming world tour.
Of course, Hardaway's gaining plenty from the experience, as well. "For me, just having the opportunity to play against the highest-caliber players in the league is the best way to improve my game," Hardaway wrote in his "Vegas Diary" for The New York Post. "You’re going against the best so I’ve got to take advantage of that."
The New York Knicks can only hope that he'll take what he's learned from this experience and parlay it into a strong sophomore season. Carmelo Anthony's return ensures that the Knicks will have a superstar around whom to organize their efforts, but Anthony will need all of the help he can get to nudge New York back into the playoffs.
A hunk of that help should come from Hardaway. He averaged 10.2 points per game last season, earning first-team All-Rookie honors in the process.
His role remains a bit murky at the moment, though. He played great for the Knicks' Summer League squad, operating as the sort of athletic, versatile 2-guard that tends to thrive in Phil Jackson's triangle offense.
But, once training camp starts, Hardaway will probably have to compete for playing time with Iman Shumpert. Then again, given Shumpert's penchant for injury and declining performance since his debut in 2011, it's possible Hardaway will find himself flush with minutes and shots—and the chance to shine that comes with them.
Which other NBA youngsters are bound for stardom this season? Tweet me your thoughts!