NBA 2020: Predicting the League's Top 20 Stars in 2020
The NBA is easily the most consistent and predictable league from year to year, but it is hardly immune to dramatic change over longer periods of time.
Just think about what the league looked like five years ago. LeBron James and Kevin Durant were at the top of their games, but so were Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose. Bryant was coming off back-to-back titles, Howard was a year removed from a Finals appearance in Orlando, and Rose was a season shy of becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history.
What's more, stars such as Steve Nash, Brandon Roy, Amar'e Stoudemire and Deron Williams were still featured prominently on the NBA's second and third teams.
Where are those latter names now? Not among the league's elite, that's for sure.
The same will probably be said for many of today's top players in five years' time. Come 2020, those who kept the Association afloat after Michael Jordan called it quits (e.g. Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett) will all be enjoying retirement. Those who ruled the roost after them (e.g. James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Carmelo Anthony) will be into their mid-30s, the end of their playing days on the horizon.
That doesn't mean the league will be in dire straights a half-decade from now. On the contrary, there's more young, superstar-caliber talent currently plying its trade in the NBA than at any point in recent memory. In five years, that next generation will be busy winning championships, hoisting MVP trophies and hogging All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defensive honors.
The question is, who, exactly, will be collecting those accolades when the year 2020 rolls around? To get a glimpse into the NBA's future, Bleacher Report consulted a handful of scouts and front-office personnel before predicting who the top 20 players in the league will be in 2020, based on present ability, the sustainability of their current exploits and their potential for future improvement. Read on to find out who made—or, rather, will make—the cut.
Note: All ages listed represent how old the player will be on Jan. 1, 2020.
20. Jaylen Brown, SF, Wheeler High School (Georgia)
Age in 2020: 23
When it comes to prep players, Brown is currently the cream of the crop. DraftExpress already has him listed as the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA draft—and not without reason.
If not for Ben Simmons, the Australian prospect who's bound for LSU this fall, Brown would probably be the consensus top high school player in America right now. Brown's high school squad actually handed Simmons' its first loss of the season back in December.
Rankings aside, the Georgia native has all the tools to be a tremendous pro. He's built like an NBA wing (6'7", 221 lbs) and can create offense off the dribble. His jumper could use some work, but, then again, whose couldn't at the age of 18?
Scout's Take: "He’s a big kid who takes the ball to the rack and can dribble. He’s got a good handle. I don’t think his outside shot is that great. But at the same time, he’s not sitting out there shooting it because he can just go to the hole. He’s definitely someone who, at this age, he’s possible [to be elite in 2020]."
Best-Case Prediction: Brown dominates the college ranks as a freshman, goes No. 1 in the 2016 NBA draft and promptly develops into an All-Star, with the potential to supplant the likes of Kevin Durant, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the league's preeminent wing.
19. Dragan Bender, PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel)
Age in 2020: 22
There's only one player on this list who's younger than Brown—17-year-old Dragan Bender.
The natural nickname (The Dragonbender) is nice, but it's Bender's game that truly stands out. The Croatian teenager has the tools to be a fantastic all-around player: a 6'11" build, a solid jump shot, a strong feel for the game, good footwork in the low post and a preternatural ability to deliver pinpoint passes.
What Bender needs, more than anything, is time—time to add to his portfolio of skills and polish those already present, time to work his way onto the senior squad at Maccabi Tel Aviv, time to mature physically and fill out his thin frame.
Give him that time, though, and Bender could be what's next in basketball.
Scout's Take: "He’s going to be a future star. He’s going to be one of those guys. He’ll be the No. 1 pick. He’s that good. He’s a talent. He can do it all. He can post up, he can play three-ball, he can drive, he can kick, he can rebound. He’s just skilled. He understands how to play the game. He’s perfect."
Best-Case Prediction: Bender arrives stateside as a top-five pick in the 2016 NBA draft and develops, in time, into the NBA's next great European import.
18. Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
Age in 2020: 24
It's not all that far-fetched to suggest Okafor is already the NBA's most deft low-post scorer...even though he's still in college. His use of footwork and fakes to get to the basket, and his ability to finish from nearly every conceivable vantage point, belie his age.
Okafor's physical gifts are nothing to sneeze at, either. He's not a particularly impressive athlete, but his size (6'11", 270 lbs) and 7'5" wingspan make for more than solid starting material.
Okafor has all the makings of a 20-point scorer, perhaps even from the get-go as a pro. And if he improves his conditioning and improves defensively, he'll be an elite big man for years to come.
Scout's Take: "His ability to play around the basket and be a beast down low, and his ability to be such a wide body [make him special]. He’s going to be tough to defend. Right now, we’ve got a lot of thin 5s, and I just see that making a change."
Best-Case Prediction: Okafor is the first player taken in the 2015 NBA draft. The team that selects him is able to tailor its style of play (i.e. methodical, half-court basketball) and its roster (i.e. good shooters, smart passers, rim protectors at other positions) to suit Okafor's strengths and mask his weaknesses. Okafor, in turn, becomes an All-Star and a reliable 20-10 guy at center.
17. DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers
Age in 2020: 31
The mere idea of putting Jordan on the same page—much less in the same sentence—as Wilt Chamberlain seems preposterous. Jordan is the third banana on a team that's yet to reach the conference finals, while Chamberlain is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.
In many ways, though, the two aren't so different. Like Chamberlain in his day, Jordan is arguably the best athlete at his position. Heck, you'd be fortunate to find any player at any position who combines size (6'11, 250 lbs), speed, strength, leaping ability and strong hands quite like D.J. does.
While there's really no comparison between Jordan and the Big Dipper, statistically speaking, the two share surprisingly close company. For one, Jordan will finish as just the second player in NBA history to convert better than 70 percent of his shot attempts while qualifying for the field-goal percentage crown; Chamberlain pulled that trick with the Lakers in 1972-73.
If that weren't enough, Jordan now stands as the first player since Chamberlain to lead the league in rebounding and field-goal percentage in consecutive seasons.
Maybe putting the two together isn't such a preposterous idea after all.
Scout's Take: "He’s not going to be an offensive guy. I think the game has swung already. Compared to 10 or 15 years ago, you’re really looking for rim protection and a defensive-minded center. You’re not looking for scoring out of your center other than dunks."
Best-Case Scenario: Jordan re-signs with the Clippers this summer and continues to refine his defensive fundamentals while doing what he does best: clean the glass, intimidate in the paint and throw down lobs. Eventually, Jordan establishes himself as the league's preeminent stopper at center and is recognized as the Defensive Player of the Year. On the other end, Jordan does enough to sharpen his free-throw shooting so as to not be a liability on offense.
16. John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards
Age in 2020: 29
Speed and athleticism have been Wall's calling cards since well before the Wizards made him the No. 1 pick in 2010. At times, Wall's impressive physical abilities were as much the drivers of his triumphs as they were the root causes of his failures.
To Wall's credit, he appears to be well on his way to mastering the art of changing speeds. "He's a totally different player than the one that came here," Miles Rawls, a longtime D.C. hoops maven, told ESPN's Mike Wise. "At first he was like a crash dummy, goin' 100 miles an hour, runnin' into whoever was under the basket. Now we got somethin' special."
Special enough for second in the league in assists (at 10.0 per game) while upping his field-goal percentage to a career-best 44.8 percent and transforming Washington from NBA laughingstock to Eastern Conference threat. So long as Wall keeps honing his skills, he should be able to withstand whatever decline in quickness will inevitably come with age.
Scout's Take: "Being able to help his team win games—that’s the sign. It’s like Magic Johnson. He was a great passer, but what he did was he made that team win. If you’re a point guard, that’s what you have to do. You can get assists, you can do a lot of great things, but W’s mean the difference between a good player and a great player. If he can get his team into the 50s and 60s every year, that’s the biggest thing, getting his team to win games, then he’ll be there. He’s fast as s--t, but you have to play under control and make others better."
Best-Case Prediction: Wall leads the Wizards to their longest and most fruitful period of sustained success since the 1970s. Along the way, he establishes himself as a perennial All-Star starter, takes home an MVP and leads Washington to a title, with a helping hand from a major free-agent acquisition in the summer of 2016.
15. Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards
Age in 2020: 26
If Beal can stay healthy, he has everything he needs be an All-Star in the years to come. His three-point shooting has improved every year, to 41.6 percent this season, as have his playmaking abilities.
Granted, Beal doesn't have to do much with the ball other than shoot it, thanks in no small part to John Wall, who's created more points by assist per game this season than anyone other than Rajon Rondo in Boston and Chris Paul (per NBA.com).
But that's the point: Beal's effectiveness is and will be tightly intertwined with playing alongside Wall. And since they'll both still be in their 20s come 2020, Beal, in particular, should be enjoying the fruits of Wall's labor when the next decade begins.
Scout's Take: "I think Bradley Beal is a guy that has a chance there, too, if he gets healthy, the way he can stroke it. You look at, he’s not playing right now, Washington’s getting beat. When he’s on the floor, he’s such a dominant factor. He’s pretty special."
Best-Case Prediction: Beal stays healthy long enough to grow into an All-Star. His shooting stroke—one of the prettiest and most lethal in the league—earns him all manner of accolades, but it's his surprisingly effective all-around game that thrusts him into the discussion of the game's best 2-guards, right alongside Klay Thompson, James Harden and Andrew Wiggins.
14. Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons
Age in 2020: 26
Drummond is already enjoying the benefits of playing for a competent coach on a quality Pistons club, albeit one whose record remains skewed by a 5-23 start. Stan Van Gundy's decision to cut ties with Josh Smith earlier this season opened up more space for Drummond to operate, now and going forward.
Not that Drummond yet has the low-post skills to reliably make use of that space as anything other than a lob-catcher and board-crasher. According to NBA.com, Drummond has scored a subpar 0.68 points per possession in the post—a mark that leaves him just shy of the 22nd percentile in that regard.
Fortunately for Detroit, Drummond is young and is already plenty productive (13.7 points, 13.5 rebounds, 1.9 blocks), despite relying so heavily on his impressive physical gifts.
Then again, Drummond's likely to cut just as imposing a figure five years from now as he does today, with a more refined skill set to boot.
Scout's Take: "He is still learning the game, and his confidence is at a high pace. The future success of this team will help catapult his game to the next level."
Best-Case Prediction: Drummond becomes a passable free-throw shooter and an effective low-post operator to complement his prodigious abilities as a rebounder and pick-and-roll finisher. His near-20-10 production and penchant for spectacular plays earn him All-Star and All-NBA status. His work as the leader of a basketball renaissance in Detroit, though, is what gets people whispering about Drummond for MVP.
13. Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky
Age in 2020: 24
Towns isn't quite the diametric opposite of Okafor in next year's likely rookie class, but he's darn close. Where Okafor excels as a below-the-rim offensive fulcrum, Towns butters his bread with strength and athleticism on the defensive end.
Just don't mistake that for an inability to score on Towns' part. He's got all the makings of a superb pick-and-roll big, and has flashed a jumper that figures to be a real asset for his game going forward.
The biggest question for Towns is one of effort and commitment. Those who've tracked him since before his arrival at Kentucky marvel at a kid whose in-born gifts outstrip the vast majority of his peers but whose work ethic leaves much to be desired.
Whoever winds up with Towns in this year's draft can only hope a move to the NBA, wherein basketball is a 24/7 job, will be motivation enough to jump-start the Dominican native's motor.
Scout's Take: "He’s going to be pretty special in our league. He’s pretty mobile, he can catch, he can do a lot of good things. He’s a big, strong body who can play in the post."
Best-Case Prediction: Towns is the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. His skills, perfectly suited to pick-and-roll basketball, allow him to have an immediate impact within the context of the league's overarching style of play. He becomes no worse than the third-best big to come out of Kentucky under John Calipari, with some wondering if he might move up a rung in the years to come.
12. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors
Age in 2020: 29
No 2-guard elicited quite as much excitement from scouts as did Thompson—and for good reason. Stephen Curry's Golden State sidekick has proved to be much more than that this season, with career highs across the board and the All-Star credentials to match.
The Washington State product has done well to build out and on his game since turning pro in 2011. Defensively, Thompson has emerged as one of the stingiest wings in the league, holding his foes to 41.7 percent shooting, per NBA.com. Offensively, he's become a proficient post-up scorer (0.88 points per possession on post-ups, good enough for the 60th percentile, per NBA.com) and has only begun to try his hand at attacking off the dribble.
When it comes to brass tacks, though, Thompson's viability as a star, both now and later, comes down to his world-class shooting ability. As it happens, his jumper has only sharpened over time, with a personal-best 43.5 percent of his three-point tries connecting so far through 2014-15.
Scout's Take: "Klay Thompson, to me, at that shooting guard is the cream of the crop. He works hard and his confidence level is sky high. His shot, that’s stuff a coach can’t teach. He just has the ability to do it."
Best-Case Prediction: Thompson challenges his teammate, Stephen Curry, for the unofficial title of "NBA's best shooting guard" and James Harden and Andrew Wiggins for the top spot at his position. He and Curry guide Golden State to a title, with the potential for a dynastic run to open up the Warriors' new arena in San Francisco.
11. Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks
Age in 2020: 25
Each Milwaukee Bucks game is another chance to see something new, something that Antetokounmpo has never done before, if only because there are so many things that he's never done before.
Like driving from the three-point arc to the hoop in two steps, without the aide of a dribble. Like Eurostepping into a dunk. Like making every Bucks opponent on the fast break quiver with fear when going in for the finish.
These are mere glimpses of basketball's future, albeit ones tantalizing enough to peg him as what's next at a position (small forward) that could thin considerably by 2020, with LeBron James due to be in his mid-30s.
If the Greek Freak is already this good, with so little experience and an embryonic outside shot, just imagine how much better he'll be in the years to come, with Jason Kidd guiding his development.
Scout's Take: "The Greek Freak? Definitely. That is a star, star, star. He’s only getting better. Definitely...His feel of the game, his length you can’t teach. His ability to play multiple positions. He’s a defender without even trying. He’s just a star. He’s got a feel. He’s growing. He’s 6’11" now. He’s a point guard at 6’11"."
Best-Case Prediction: Antetokounmpo becomes the bedrock of a Bucks squad that competes for the Eastern Conference crown year in and year out. Likewise, his two-way excellence and physical prowess put him in position to be a perennial selection to All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defensive teams.
10. James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets
Age in 2020: 30
Harden's jump from Sixth Man of the Year in Oklahoma City to All-Star in Houston was somewhat predictable. But his quantum leap from All-Star to MVP front-runner this season is a whole different deal, one that speaks to how seamlessly he's grown into his game on a Rockets squad whose strengths—three-point shooting, getting to the rim, drawing fouls—mirror his own.
Despite shouldering a bigger load than ever, with Dwight Howard playing in just 40 games thus far, Harden's minutes have actually slipped slightly. That hasn't stopped him from putting together his most productive campaign yet, with career highs in rebounds (5.6), assists (6.9) and steals (1.9) to complement his 27.5 points, behind only Russell Westbrook.
Harden would seem hard-pressed to keep leading the NBA in free-throw attempts and absorbing the pounding therein as he approaches his 30s. Then again, he's never been one to rely on quickness or athleticism. If Matthew McConaughey is any guide, Harden's acting skills should only improve with age.
Scout's Take: "He’ll be up there because he’s a hard-nosed player and he knows how to play. He’s a gamer. Over the next five years, his style is going to wear on him because he takes so much contact. Eventually that adds up. He gets to the line so much and draws fouls. If you’re playing at that level and you’re playing into the playoffs and you’re playing more games, it wears on you. But I don’t see any reason why he won’t still be elite five years from now."
Best-Case Prediction: Harden takes home 2015 MVP honors, kicking off a stretch in which he's a top contender for the league's most prestigious individual award nearly every year. At least one of those runs results in a championship for Harden, Howard and the Rockets, who haven't lifted the Larry O'Brien trophy in 20 years.
9. Paul George, SF, Indiana Pacers
Age in 2020: 29
Prior to last year's Team USA training camp, George would've been a shoo-in for this list. He was fresh off his second season as an All-NBA, All-Defensive and All-Star performer, with a bigger role on the wing for the Indiana Pacers and a fat, new contract extension in his immediate future.
Then, George suffered a compound fracture in his leg, and everything changed.
Well, maybe not everything. He's still regarded by many as one of the league's great young players if his recovery from injury proceeds smoothly.
Scout's Take: "I like Paul George because I really like his work ethic. Just the intensity he plays the game with. Obviously, we’ll see what the explosiveness is. He’s trying to come back this year. The guy likes basketball. Just from watching him for a long time, he’s a hard worker, good work ethic. His first four years in the league, every year he was getting better."
Best-Case Prediction: George returns from his horrific injury to lead the Pacers back to the playoffs this season, looks more like his old self in 2015-16 and re-emerges as one of the league's elite players thereafter, with a jump shot and a handle further refined during his time away from the game. Furthermore, a healthy George puts Indy into the East's upper echelon once again.
8. Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
Age in 2020: 31
Curry's already arguably the best of the best among NBA point guards and has the skill set to hang on to that throne for a while. He's been one of the league's foremost three-point shooters (44.2 percent from three as a pro) for years and isn't likely to slow down any time soon. His lightning-quick release and dead-eye accuracy aren't likely to leave him as he ages.
Neither should anyone expect Curry to lose control of his world-class handles. The fact that he relies not on strength and speed but rather creativity with the dribble and super court vision to bend defenses to his will should suit him well down the line.
Scout's Take: "[He will be there] if he holds up, if he can handle the grind. He’s such a high-volume, high-touch, high-impact guy, but yes, certainly. He’s awesome. He’s an assassin. He’s got no fear."
Best-Case Prediction: Curry's ankles stand the test of time, allowing him to lead the league in scoring, three-point shooting and assists. Curry carries the Warriors to a title and earns MVP honors in the process.
7. Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
Age in 2020: 30
Griffin won't be able to leap over and bowl through his foes forever. He seems to recognize as much, as the addition of a reliable mid-range jumper to his game suggests.
Griffin's game has long been about much more than putting people on posters. He averaged 3.8 assists as a rookie, and his 5.3 helpers per game this season are the second most among bigs, behind only LeBron James.
Griffin's gradual shift from high-flying finisher to bona fide point forward bodes well for his longevity. The more he can do to build his perimeter skills, the less he'll have to subject himself to the usual punishment on the interior.
And contrary to popular belief, Griffin is plenty capable of absorbing said punishment. Before his recent absence on account of a staph infection, Griffin hadn't missed significant time since sitting out what would've been his rookie season with a busted kneecap.
Scout's Take: "He’s gotten a lot better. He’s improved his game a lot to more than just being a dunker. He’s improved his shooting and his ball-handling, being able to score off the dribble. If he has the passion, yeah, he could still be really good five years from now. He’s going to lose that explosiveness at some point, but it may not happen until later. It’s like Vince Carter. I don’t know when he started [losing it]. He still has it, but he doesn’t play that way as often. At some point, he’s going to slow down."
Best-Case Prediction: Griffin continues to sharpen his skills and establishes himself as a top-tier point forward, capable of running an offense and reliably nailing jumpers out to three-point territory. He leads the Clippers to their first championship and becomes the first MVP in the team's sordid history.
6. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
Age in 2020: 27
When healthy, Irving has few peers when it comes to his combination of ball-handling, shooting and finishing around the rim. Among guards who attempt at least four shots in the restricted area per game, Irving ranks in the top 15 in field-goal percentage from every region on the floor, per NBA.com.
With Irving's smooth shot and tricky handles, it should come as little surprise that he grades out as the league's most efficient high-volume isolation scorer. According to NBA.com, Irving's 1.09 points per possession on isos are the most among all players who've logged at least 100 such possessions this season.
At 23, Irving still has quite a bit to learn about how to lead a successful NBA team. Fortunately for him and the Cavs, he has LeBron James around to show him the ropes.
Scout's Take: "I think he’s unstoppable. You saw what he did on the USA team this summer. As long as he’s healthy, I don’t think he can be stopped. I think Kyrie’s going to be just a special player down the road. Plus, once you start winning, if they win anything in Cleveland with LeBron, I think it just goes to another level with Kyrie."
Best-Case Prediction: Irving learns the art of leadership from LeBron James. His period of study includes at least one title for Cleveland. Eventually, James cedes the Cavs' reins to Irving, just as Dwyane Wade did with LeBron in Miami, and the team continues to compete at an elite level with Kyrie at the controls.
5. Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Age in 2020: 31
Can an overwhelming athlete such as Westbrook continue to dominate toward the end of, or even after, his prime?
Ask Dwyane Wade, who's shown more than just flashes of his old self when healthy this season. Or Kobe Bryant, who averaged 27 points per game and led the Los Angeles Lakers to their second consecutive title at the age of 31. Or Michael Jordan, who made his triumphant return from baseball at 31.
This isn't to suggest Westbrook is or will be on par with those guys, legends and (future) Hall of Famers all. As far as sheer explosiveness and physicality are concerned, though, Westbrook can do more than hold a candle to his spectacular peers, past and present.
And so long as he's still splitting responsibilities with Kevin Durant down the line—as Wade did with LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Bryant did with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, and Jordan did with Scottie Pippen—Westbrook should have more than enough gas left in the proverbial tank to keep throttling opponents even after the big 3-0 has come and gone.
Scout's Take: "I think Westbrook is just the freak of them all. To me, he’s super special. He’s got a bulldog mentality. I’ve been around him a lot. He just wants to beat your ass every time."
Best-Case Prediction: Westbrook earns an MVP of his own. In turn, he and Durant become the first to win MVPs as contiguous teammates since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson with the Showtime Lakers. Like those two, Westbrook and Durant add at least one championship to their shared resume.
4. Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
Age in 2020: 31
Durant's foot problems this season have begun to cast some doubt on whether he can dominate the league for the foreseeable future. Foot injuries and NBA players don't mix, especially when those suffering are close to (or above) 7'0". Just ask Bill Walton, Yao Ming and Brook Lopez, to name a few.
If Durant's feet are fine, though, there's no reason to believe he won't be one of the NBA's very best heading into the next decade. His slim build, while subject to punishment from brawnier opponents, is sturdier than it seems, and it allows him to glide effortlessly up and down the floor.
Skill-wise, there's no debating Durant's long-term viability. Height and shooting ability, both of which Durant has plenty, don't decline with age. Dirk Nowitzki's ongoing prominence, at the tender age of 36, is a testament to as much.
And with studs such as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka by his side, Durant won't have to wear himself down under the weight of his team's needs and expectations—assuming he stays in OKC come 2016.
Scout's Take: "He’ll still be able to get his shot. He’s such a pure scorer. I don’t think his game will diminish, kind of like how Kobe’s didn’t diminish. He’s such a skilled offensive player. He’s going to be able to score somewhat in his 30s."
Best-Case Prediction: Durant shakes off his recent foot problems and returns to dominating the NBA in short order. He adds a championship and another MVP to his list of achievements and remains lethal into his 30s, thanks to his size and historic shooting ability.
3. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Sacramento Kings
Age in 2020: 29
We may never see another Shaquille O'Neal, but if we do, he'll probably look a lot like Cousins. Boogie's not as big as O'Neal, but in today's spread-out NBA, he's nearly as effective and sports the sort of skill to fit into that overarching style.
With any luck—and with proper care of his body—Boogie should be able to dominate the NBA through his 20s and, perhaps, well into his 30s. That's the benefit of being a big, strong dude who can bully his way to buckets and boards one moment and step back for mid-range jumpers and high-post passes the next.
One can only hope Cousins will have the opportunity to shine on a winning team one of these days. Perhaps George Karl will be the one to usher in a more prosperous era for Cousins and the Kings. You can bet Karl won't still have a job in Sacramento by 2020 if he doesn't.
Scout's Take: "It’s on him. He’s got the tools. It’s like Zach Randolph. He got better every year. Cousins has more potential. He’s bigger."
Best-Case Prediction: With Karl's guidance, Cousins matures into a consistently dominant force who keeps his cool and carries the Kings back to respectability. He dominates the low post with skill, attitude and sheer physical fury like no one has since O'Neal. Boogie's singular excellence within Sacramento's renaissance makes him a perennial MVP contender.
2. Andrew Wiggins, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Age in 2020: 24
Wiggins is well on his way to becoming the NBA's third unanimous Rookie of the Year choice since 2011, and not just because the rest of his class has collapsed—though that certainly helps his case.
Last year's No. 1 pick has proved to be a quick study since suffering through an inconsistent start to his inaugural season. Over his last 20 games, Wiggins has averaged 19.7 points on 43.0 percent shooting, with 5.3 rebounds and 8.3 free-throw attempts to boot.
The Minnesota Timberwolves' spate of injuries over the first half of the season afforded Wiggins ample opportunity to spread his wings and tumble out of the nest. His production hasn't slipped one bit since Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic came back into the fold.
Nor should it have. After all, the better the talent around Wiggins, the more room he'll have to roam, without fear of an entire defense collapsing in on him.
Scout's Take: "His biggest thing was his motor and how bad he wanted it, but I feel that he’ll start to explode in the next year or two, because he’s already starting to put up numbers now, so I see him as a guy that’s just going to take off and explode."
Best-Case Prediction: Wiggins becomes the fifth unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year and the league's third in the last five campaigns. He follows that up by beginning an extended string of All-Star appearances while spearheading the rebirth of playoff basketball in Minnesota.
1. Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
Age in 2020: 26
Truth be told, you don't have to wait for a glimpse of basketball's future. Just tune in to one of Davis' games with the Pelicans, and you'll see it unfolding right before your eyes.
Davis is as uniquely destructive an all-court force as the NBA has seen in some time. His face-up game is among the most lethal in the league, courtesy of a quick first step, residual ball skills from his past as a guard and a combination of length and athleticism that allows him to finish from all distances and angles.
But Davis doesn't need the ball in his hands to have a massive offensive impact. A jab step here, an offensive rebound there and voila! The kid's probably got another 20-10 working.
As great as Davis already is offensively, he's even better defensively. He can defend all over the floor but does his best work protecting the rim, where he's on track to pace his peers in blocks per game for the second season running.
If The Brow continues to extend his shooting range and bulk up his body while avoiding injury, he won't just reach his ceiling; he'll shatter the notion of ceilings altogether.
Scout's Take: "It’s a one-man list at the top [of who’s going to be dominating the league five years from now]. He’s the equivalent of Kentucky in basketball this year, unless I’m not thinking of somebody. Just looking at it, he’s head and shoulders [above the rest]."
Best-Case Prediction: Davis complements his face-of-the-game-type talent with the on-court results to match. He turns the Pelicans into a perennial playoff powerhouse and, in the process, stakes his claim to default MVP consideration.
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.