Predicting 10 NBA Stars-in-Waiting Who Will Become Household Names

Bryant KnoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2014

Predicting 10 NBA Stars-in-Waiting Who Will Become Household Names

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    DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe are stars in the making at the NBA level.
    DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe are stars in the making at the NBA level.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    The NBA is driven by superstars, and that's not going to change anytime soon. We all know who is dominating the league as it stands today (see: Kevin Durant and LeBron James), but the question is: Who is on the verge of becoming a star in the not-so-distant future?

    When defining what makes someone a household name, we're not necessarily talking the next Durant or James. Those two guys are on a different planet, and holding anybody to those standards would be unfair.

    We are, however, looking at who could become perennial All-Stars and who has the ability to become the next big thing for some lucky franchise. 

    For the purpose of this analysis, players such as Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard aren't included. It's safe to say that those guys have already made it, and there are a handful of other players we can assume fall into the same category.

    But for those who aren't yet ready to assume the role of superstar, we prepare for their arrivals. There are numerous players who have the potential for stardom, but only so many can meet those goals in such a star-driven league.

DeMarcus Cousins

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    Don Ryan/Associated Press

    2013-14 Stats: 22.7 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 49.6 FG%, 26.18 PER

    Age: 23

     

    DeMarcus Cousins is as close as anybody on this list to already being a star. His numbers speak for themselves, but unfortunately, they don't speak for everything.

    As NBA.com's John Schumann stated following Day 1 of USA Basketball's camp in Las Vegas, "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."

    Conversely, Schumann followed by saying:

    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.

    This, along with a lack of team success, is what is keeping him from being an All-Star in a league where statistically he is already one of the best at his position. Cousins has time to grow, as he's just 23 years old, but becoming a leader—and a calm, cool, collected one at that—will be what gets him to that level.

Greg Monroe

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    2013-14 Stats: 15.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 0.6 BPG, 18.16 PER

    Age: 24

     

    Greg Monroe is a future All-Star. His defensive ceiling is questionable at best, but his offensive game is diverse, and whether it's fair or not to the defensive-minded borderline stars, offensive production and All-Star appearances are what makes someone a household name in today's NBA.

    In a recent write-up by B/R's Grant Hughes, the question was brought up: Who has the brighter future? Monroe or Eric Bledsoe?

    The two wouldn't be worth comparing if it weren't for their current free-agent statuses, but as both seek max contracts, both deal with the reality that they may not be worth max money at this point in their careers.

    As Hughes stated:

    Most observers probably assume Bledsoe is the guy with the brighter future. Maybe that's true. Maybe he really is a borderline superstar who'll only get better and healthier as his career progresses.

    Monroe, though, has been the more effective, more proven NBA player to this point. And given his age and the way he's excelled in less-than-ideal situations, he could eventually put more distance between himself and Bledsoe.

    Regardless of who has the brighter future, we should all agree that both are bound to make names for themselves in the immediate future. Choose whomever you want at this point in the process; both are stars in the making.

Klay Thompson

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    2013-14 Stats: 18.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 41.7 3PT%, 14.32 PER

    Age: 24

     

    When looking at potential superstars, it's tough not to include Klay Thompson. Not only are the Golden State Warriors hesitant to send him away in a trade for Kevin Love, but CBS Sports' Matt Moore puts things in perspective when it comes to recent free-agent occurrences. 

    "Thompson is an elite shooter and projects as an above-average defender in time," Moore stated recently. "If Gordon Hayward is worth the max, it's pretty easy to make the argument Thompson is."

    But it's not just analysts' opinions that matter here. How about Steph Curry? Think his words mean anything at this juncture?

    "It's huge," Curry told Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle when asked about keeping Thompson. "He makes me better, and I try to make him better. How much better he's gotten since Day 1 is kind of scary."

    To the fan who doesn't watch the Golden State Warriors, Thompson may seem like a role player. He's not the playmaker Curry is, and he's not even the name that Andre Iguodala, David Lee or Andrew Bogut is, but he's vital to the team's success.

    Thompson is the perfect player in Golden State's system, and he's one who is nearly irreplaceable at this point in the process. The Warriors are competing for a spot atop the Western Conference, and barring a massive change in personnel, the former Washington State product will be there in the backcourt to see it all through.

Bradley Beal

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    2013-14 Stats: 17.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.3 APG, 40.2 3PT%, 14.32 PER

    Age: 21

     

    Entering the 2014-15 campaign, it's not unreasonable to think Bradley Beal could be an All-Star in just his third season. Despite being a fresh 21 years old, he's proven he can be counted upon to produce, and that fact was never more evident than during his performance in the 2014 playoffs.

    When it comes to his overall game, Beal knows he has room to improve. According to The Washington Post's Brandon Parker, the shooting guard stated after this past season:

    Nothing in my game is perfect. I’ve made some improvement this year definitely in terms of just handling the ball. I think it can get increased. I can get better in different areas passing, rebounding, stealing, playing better defense and everything like that.

    If Beal can, in fact, improve those areas of his game, he'll truly begin to establish himself as one of the league's best 2-guards. He's a dynamic shooter with obvious potential to become a 20-points-per-game player, and chances are he and John Wall will inch closer to becoming the league's best backcourt sooner rather than later.

Andre Drummond

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    2013-14 Stats: 13.5 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 62.3 FG%, 22.65 PER

    Age: 20

     

    Before Andre Drummond ever played a game in the NBA, I had a chance to talk with him about his then-upcoming rookie season. He was the focus of scrutiny regarding his motor and shot selection, and his words spoke volumes to how he was able to look past such criticism.

    People will talk about you until the day you die, really. Everybody’s not gonna have good things to say about you. Everything that comes with good, there’s always bad behind it as well, so that’s just how I look at it. People say things, ‘Oh, he doesn’t have a good motor,’ or, ‘He doesn’t play hard,’ but I just, I know what it is and what I do, and if my coaching staff didn’t believe in me they wouldn’t have me on the team as well, so everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. As long as I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and my coaching staff believes in me, all that stuff goes over my head.

    As it turns out, Drummond has spent the early part of his career staying true to those words. Just as important, he's proven doubters wrong, shooting a high percentage and working hard game in and game out.

    The craziest part? Drummond is just 20 years old. There are plenty of All-Star appearances in his future, and chances are a few Defensive Player of the Year awards as well.

Eric Bledsoe

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    2013-14 Stats: 17.7 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.7 RPG, 35.7 3PT%, 19.62 PER

    Age: 24

     

    The 2013-14 campaign was supposed to be Eric Bledsoe's breakout season, and in some ways it was. It was his first year as a consistent starter, and as a result, he saw his numbers boost accordingly.

    The problem is that he was limited to just 43 games because of injuries, and once again, we were left wondering how good he can be when given the opportunity.

    When it comes to the 24-year-old, there are two trains of thought. Thought A is that he's yet to live up to his potential. Thought B is that he's barely scraped the surface of his ceiling.

    The two may sound interchangeable at first, but there's a big difference. One points to disappointment and cynicism, while the other points to belief that he can live up to the mini-LeBron James moniker he was given by Goran Dragic.

    In the coming years, we should see that the latter is more accurate than the former, and that he becomes an All-Star despite playing in such a point guard-heavy league. His player efficiency rating of 19.62 sandwiched him between Mike Conley and John Wall this past season among floor generals, and it's a sign that he's already making strides toward becoming a well-recognized figure in such a star-driven NBA. 

Andrew Wiggins

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    2013-14 Stats: N/A

    Age: 19

     

    Now begins the part of the program where we focus on the 2014 draft class. 

    Andrew Wiggins' NBA story has begun in unconventional fashion. Despite going No. 1 overall and being one of the most hyped prospects in recent history, he has no idea which team he'll be playing for in 2014-15, as the Cleveland Cavaliers have been the focus of rumors involving sought-after big man Kevin Love.

    "I just want to play for a team that wants me," Wiggins stated, per ESPN.com. "So whichever team wants me I'll play for."

    Whichever team the 19-year-old ends up playing for, that organization will be getting a player who has superstar potential. If he stays with Cleveland, he'll learn about the NBA game under the guidance of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. If he's traded, he'll be given the reins as the newest franchise player of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    As B/R's Brian Mazique put it, "Andrew Wiggins is the type of prospect who is destined for a great career in the NBA. The team he plays for first will partially define the beginning of his NBA journey, but it won't change the bottom line."

Joel Embiid

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    2013-14 Stats: N/A

    Age: 20

     

    B/R's Jonathan Wasserman has set the bar high for Joel Embiid with his comparison to Hakeem Olajuwon, as stated in the video above. "At 7-foot with a 7'5" wingspan, he's got ideal measurements for that center position," Wasserman stated. "He can score in a variety of different ways in the post…also has tremendous defensive potential."

    Although Embiid has the potential to be one of the prizes of the 2014 draft, fans will have to wait to see him play. As reported by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski back in June, his timetable for return is four to six months. 

    That timeline has him potentially returning around the New Year, but as we've seen from Philly the past two seasons, they're in no rush to start winning games.

    As B/R's Jim Cavan put it, "For Philly, drafting Embiid comes down to a simple utilitarian analysis: Do the potential rewards of him developing into an all-world talent outweigh the loss of production and PR flak of an injury-hastened bust?"

    At this point, the move looks like a risk, but one worth taking. Sam Hinkie and crew clearly thought so, too, and the hope is that the risk pays dividends entering 2015-16.

Dante Exum

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    2013-14 Stats: N/A

    Age: 19

     

    "Because of his 6'6" size, [Dante Exum's] got the potential to be a huge mismatch at the point guard position—a position he's determined to play at the NBA level. If he's able to make that transition, we should be talking about a star in the pros."

    That quote comes courtesy of B/R's Jonathan Wasserman in the video above, and it points to just how good the No. 5 pick can be for the Utah Jazz.

    The question here is how Exum will blend with Trey Burke from the start of the season. Will Utah have an open competition at point guard from day one, or will it use the rookie's size and scoring abilities at the 2?

    However Exum is used, the Jazz have someone on their roster with the potential to be the face of the franchise. This organization has been rebuilding for a while now, and while it's still a ways away from returning to prominence, Exum is going to be a huge addition for a team that has had difficulty procuring free-agent talent throughout the years.

Jabari Parker

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    2013-14 Stats: N/A

    Age: 19

     

    Jabari Parker is arguably the most NBA-ready rookie entering the 2014-15 season, but don't think for second that he's already reached his ceiling.

    As B/R's Jonathan Wasserman points out in the video above, lofty comparisons are the norm when it comes to this prospect. Wasserman compares Parker's ceiling to Carmelo Anthony, stating:

    His defensive potential is a bit limited; he doesn't have the foot speed to keep up laterally with quicker wings on the perimeter. However, his offensive skills are too polished, too refined; he's too good with the ball in his hands. You won't find many prospects this polished as Jabari Parker.

    If Parker can come anywhere close to Anthony's offensive production, he'll be an All-Star out East for the majority of his career. He's the kind of player the Milwaukee Bucks need to help escape the basement of the NBA—and subsequently escape mediocrity—and he'll be a household name for years to come even in a small-market organization.

     

    PER stats courtesy of ESPN.