2014-15 NBA Rookies with All-Star Potential

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2014

2014-15 NBA Rookies with All-Star Potential

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    The 2014-15 NBA rookie class is littered with high-upside picks, so there are a slew of prospects who could potentially become All-Stars.

    Not all of them will reach their ceilings, but several will blossom into household names.

    Outside of the usual suspects like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, this year's crop offers a handful of talented prodigies who have a decent shot at scaling the All-Star hurdle.

    Based on their collegiate/international production and transferable NBA skills, who exactly has the potential to reach this lofty status?

     

    *Statistics gathered from NBA.com. Player order based on probability of making at least one All-Star team.

Outside Chance or Long-Term Potential

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    DAVID BECKER/Associated Press

    Not all these ballers will reach the All-Star plateau. But they all have a chance, and a handful will make the possibility a reality.

     

    Bruno Caboclo, Toronto Raptors F: The Raps rolled the dice on this obscure Brazilian because his ceiling is extremely intriguing. He's 6'9" and rangy, and he's got inside-out potential as a shooter and slasher. If his offensive game expands over the next couple years, he will be considered more of a draft steal rather than a reach.

     

    Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic PG: It's much too early to call him an All-Star lock or even a probable All-Star, especially considering how loaded the NBA's backcourts are these days. And Payton isn't a proven outside shooter. However, his electrifying playmaking and defensive talent make him a dark-horse candidate.

     

    T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns F: He won't be an annual fixture at All-Star games, but ESPN.com's David Thorpe (subscription required) compared the summer league standout to an NBA vet with multiple ASG's under his belt: "On offense, (Warren) resembled a better scoring version of Luol Deng."

     

    Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets SG: Harris will be a rock-solid performer on both ends, and he has a chance to be a top-tier shooting guard. If All-Star 2-guard spots weren't frequently usurped by point guards and combo guards, Harris would have much better odds of earning a nod.

     

    Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings SG: If the comparisons to Klay Thompson prove to be reasonably accurate, Stauskas could land on an All-Star team or two. With his elite three-point shooting and ability to handle the ball, he could put up some nice numbers for Sac-Town within the next few years.

     

    Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves G: Everyone has already seen the youngster's explosiveness and marveled at his acrobatics. The raw material is certainly there. He just has to learn more about shot selection, facilitation and perimeter defense.

     

    Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls PF: David Nurse of HoopsHype says, "From studying in-depth film, speaking with my connections in European basketball, and reading scouting reports of NBA executives that I have a great deal of respect for, all arrows point towards Mirotic becoming a legitimate star in the NBA and possibly truly being the Next Great European." Good luck to the Eastern Conference if that happens.

     

    Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls SF: He still seems like more of an ultra-critical role player than a star. However, if he becomes a rich man's Wally Szczerbiak and is a key pillar of Bulls title contenders, then he's got a chance.

     

    Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic PF: Gordon is the highest-drafted prospect in this group, but the question is whether he'll be productive enough offensively to earn All-Star buzz.

8. Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets PF

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Chance of Becoming All-Star: 35 percent

    Noah Vonleh has a lot on his to-do list before he becomes a star: add more strength, polish ball skills, learn defensive positioning, become a better passer, etc. The youngster shot 28 percent from the field and committed 5.6 fouls per game in summer league, so he's obviously still in the "figuring things out" stage.

    However, he's a physical specimen who owns a promising foundation of skills, and the Charlotte Hornets couldn't ignore him. Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer explains:

    On draft night, when the Indiana forward fell through the top eight picks, the Hornets felt they couldn’t afford to pass on Vonleh’s potential. Between the arm length (a 7'4" wingspan), footwork and skills, he has long-term potential to be a cornerstone player for Charlotte. But note the phrase “long term.” He’s still 18 years old, having turned pro after a single season of college basketball.

    As he gains a better feel for how to attack defenders, he'll be able to utilize his lefty and righty hook shots more effectively. Vonleh will also develop a better face-up game and become more assertive defensively.
    If he pairs these upgrades with his already formidable rebounding talent, we're looking at an exciting double-double candidate and potent stretch 4.

7. Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

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    Chance of Becoming All-Star: 40 percent

    No matter where he's played—high school, Oklahoma State, USA Select Team, Boston Celtics summer league—Marcus Smart has left an impression as a special player.

    I've got a feeling the same thing will happen in the NBA.

    He will have to iron out some deficiencies, and coach Brad Stevens will have to identify how to maximize him within the team's system. But the young combo guard's tenacity and playmaking ability will expedite the process.

    Once the dust settles from Boston's rebuilding phase, Smart should have a prominent role and put up sizable statistics. We don't know whether he'll be good enough to edge out other would-be All-Star guards, but he'll certainly be in the conversation.

    "Smart should be a mainstay in Boston as it moves ahead in its reconstruction process," said NBA.com's Fran Blinebury. "Smart’s offense is streaky, and he’ll have to learn discipline with his shots. But he’s a defensive bulldog who loves the challenge and is also a willing pupil."

    Grabbing an All-Star spot among today's point guards and combo guards is a tall order. But Beantown's rookie isn't the type to back down from talented peers.

6. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers PF/C

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Chance of Becoming All-Star: 40 percent

    You don't have to be a scoring juggernaut to earn All-Star recognition. Just ask guys like Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah. They landed on their conference squads by outworking opponents, especially defensively and on the glass.

    That's the kind of path Nerlens Noel can take for the Philadelphia 76ers.

    He's not going to wow anyone with fluid offensive creativity, but he'll make a couple All-Star trips because he deserves it with his all-around contributions.

    Offensive rebounds. Key assists. Game-changing blocks. Emphatic putbacks. He'll do all that dirty work. If there's any doubt he embraces the blue-collar, lunch-pail style of play, he recently donned a Moses Malone jersey.

    As long as the statistical production is there and he's lifting the Sixers, he should get a nod or two to join the league's most exclusive club.

5. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers PF

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Chance of Becoming All-Star: 50 percent

    Los Angeles Lakers rookie Julius Randle didn't dominate the glass (4.3 rebounds per game) or score in droves (12.5 points) in Las Vegas, but we can tell he'll do more than hold his own in the big leagues.

    His driving skills are impressive, and he even showed some improvement with his right hand during summer league. Randle has the ability to blow by opponents with speed and also bull his way past the second line of defense.

    More importantly, his summer league stints revealed solid defense and effective passing, two very encouraging signs for Lakers fans.

    When coach Byron Scott officially took the helm, he didn't waste any time emphasizing Randle's talent level, as he told reporters, via a tweet by Serena Winters: "To get him at (No.) 7 was a steal. The kid was probably top-three."

    He's the type of competitor who will get the most out of his tools, so as the tools get upgraded, he'll become exponentially more fearsome. Don't be shocked if he averages a double-double during his prime.

4. Dante Exum, Utah Jazz

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Chance of Becoming All-Star: 55 percent

    When the Utah Jazz figure out how to optimally implement Australian newcomer Dante Exum, he's going to be a must-watch playmaker and a good bet to earn All-Star status.

    That's easier said than done because the club must figure out how to use Exum and second-year point guard Trey Burke throughout the course of a game. Burke is the more traditionally equipped point guard, but Exum is clearly more comfortable and dangerous as a primary ball-handler rather than an off-guard.

    When the ball is in his hands, there's no limit to what could happen. He can slice to the basket from any angle, and the 6'6" prodigy can also create passing plays most guards can only hope to pull off.

    "You know the way Usain Bolt makes other sprinters look? That's how Exum often looks next to other basketball players," said B/R Utah Jazz guru Andy Bailey. "Effortless speed."

    Exum must hold up his end of the bargain in order to reach his potential, though. He needs to continue streamlining and refining his outside jumper so he'll be a truly versatile weapon.

    His summer ended with averages of 7.2 points and 2.8 assists per night. We'll probably look back on that and chuckle when he climbs the hierarchy of richly talented NBA guards.

3. Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers SG/SF

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    David Dow/Getty Images

    Chance of Becoming All-Star: 70 percent

    The fact that Cleveland paused for a couple weeks before offering Andrew Wiggins in the Kevin Love trade speaks volumes.

    In most cases, the Cavaliers wouldn't even blink before shipping away an unproven prospect in exchange for a superstar of Love's caliber. But Wiggins is not a typical up-and-comer.

    Sure, he's largely unproven, and he's not even a lock to become an All-Star. But if he works hard and continues to polish his ball skills, he will be much more than an All-Star. He will be a cream-of-the-crop two-way weapon.

    Let's remember his potential is based off more than just his freakish athleticism. The Canadian youngster has promising slashing skills and terrific body control, and his outside jumper will be tough to stop. Moreover, he's an awesome defensive prospect whose quickness and length will corral fellow swingmen.

    "Wiggins carries unprecedented star power, even for a No. 1 pick," said Seerat Sohi of ESPN.com.

    It will probably take at least two or three years before we really see what his prime looks like. Once he gets into peak form, however, we could be in for a decade of starry feats.

2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers C

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Chance of Becoming All-Star: 75 percent

    Provided he stays healthy enough to play several full NBA seasons, Philadelphia 76ers newcomer Joel Embiid should quickly develop into an imposing presence.

    The NBA is thirsting for All-Star-caliber centers, and you only need to look at the 2014 All-Star rosters to realize the shortage. No true center started for either conference, and there were a total of three true centers between the two rosters (Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert).

    If Embiid remains durable, he will bring both substance and flash to the Sixers frontcourt. With smooth scoring touch and agility superior to most 7-footers, the youngster could be a two-way menace.

    "This kid's ceiling. Nobody knows how high it can be, because Joel Embiid has played basketball for just a few years," said Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports. "He improves not by the year but by the practice. He's a sponge and a prodigy, and if someday he redefines the center position, well, it's just not that hard to imagine."

    Given the trajectory of his skill development and feel for the sport, he will be a game-changing anchor. Embiid will put a lid on the rim with his shot-blocking skills, and his diverse offensive repertoire will make the whole squad better. 

1. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks F

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    Chance of Becoming All-Star: 75 percent

    No one in the 2014-15 rookie class has more tangible All-Star potential than Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker.

    Although he didn't blow us away in Las Vegas, we saw plenty of his versatile scoring arsenal. With better shot selection and improved conditioning, he will be an upper-echelon forward.

    As Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune noted during summer league, Parker is so multidimensional that he's practically interchangeable at three different positions:

    He’s initiated offense. He’s posted up deep in the paint, and he’s faced up and gotten to the basket off the dribble. It’s part of the versatile player that Milwaukee wants him to become. So this week, he’s often played at three positions. What he and fellow forward Giannis Antetokounmpo have shown this week should scare the rest of the league.

    It might take two or three years for him to put up the kind of production necessary to join the league's group of elite forwards. Patience is required, even for a prospect as polished as Parker.

    When he hits his prime, though, he could notch 20-plus points per night and frighten every defense in the Association.

     

    Dan O'Brien covers the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.

    Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR