The Top New Sports Stars of 2015

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2015

The Top New Sports Stars of 2015

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    There's a lot to like about sports each and every year, but one of my favorite things is the introduction of new athletes who become fan favorites—and 2015 was no different.

    In fact, with the success of some athletes, one can make a serious argument that it has been one of the better years for new names in a long time, with a new wave of players breaking onto the scene for all of us to watch.

    Since so many have infiltrated the sports scene this year, here are some of the top new sports stars who, hopefully, will stick around for a while.

Grayson Allen

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Remember how Grayson Allen pulverized the Wisconsin Badgers in last season's national title game, dropping 16 points on them and reminding everyone that he, too, was a pretty good freshman alongside his better-known teammates? The dude has kept it going into this new season, too.

    Allen, who was talked about as, possibly, the next Christian Laettner, has led the Dukies in scoring at a ridiculous clip so far this year, proving that he's a star in the making.

    Gritty, talented and just annoying enough to be disliked by opposing fans, Allen encompasses all the attributes of the all-time great Blue Devils from the past—and I have nothing but respect for him.

Nolan Arenado

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Sure, you know about Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, but unless you're a diehard Colorado Rockies fan, you probably don't know much about Nolan Arenado—but you should, because he's already a superstar.

    Just 24 years old, Arenado just completed his third season in the big leagues and proved that he is a force to be reckoned with, belting 42 homers—which tied Harper for tops in the NL—and driving in an MLB-leading 130 runs while batting .287.

    After bolstering his offensive game in 2015, Arenado is the biggest bat in the middle of a pretty solid Rockies lineup, where he joined Carlos Gonzalez as the bash brothers in the thin air of Denver.

    Arenado doesn't get the pub that some of his peers get because his team hasn't done well, but baseball people know about this kid—and he's someone I'd pay good money to see, because he's a bona fide star.

Karl-Anthony Towns

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Although 2015 No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns didn't put up gaudy numbers while playing at Kentucky as a freshman last season, that doesn't mean he wasn't as talented as anyone in the country.

    After buying into the whole "team-first" concept that coach John Calipari has implemented with so many All-Americans, Towns is finally showing his true self as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves—and it's becoming loud and clear that he is pretty good at basketball.

    Though it's early, KAT is a leading candidate for the league's Rookie of the Year Award—which his teammate Andrew Wiggins won last year—putting him a class above everyone other rookie in the league.

    Getting the chance to be tutored by childhood hero Kevin Garnett, Towns is blossoming into a big man who plays a similar game as a younger KG once did.

Baker Mayfield

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    If you're a sports fan, you have to love a story like that of Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield, who rose from former walk-on to a stud for a national title contender.

    Mayfield, who could become a consensus All-American, has guided OU to an 11-1 record in 2015 and a spot in the College Football Playoff, playing superbly and with a toughness and swagger that quarterbacks often don't possess.

    Seemingly always right in the middle of big plays, Mayfield plays with an enthusiasm that's a joy to watch, so he's easy to root for—even if you're not a Sooners fan.

Breanna Stewart

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    Jessica Hill/Associated Press

    Playing for a dominant women's hoops program like the UConn Huskies comes with a lot of responsibility, as the school has won the last three national titles and routinely sends top talent to the WNBA.

    Lucky for Breanna Stewart, she has some serious skills.

    In fact, her head coach—the legendary Geno Auriemma—has actually said that the forward is the most naturally talented player to ever come through the program. That's some serious praise considering the Huskies' success over the years.

    With two straight Player of the Year awards and comparisons to Kevin Durant, Stewart is a superstar who can transform the women's game.

Todd Gurley

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    When the St. Louis Rams made Todd Gurley the first running back taken in the first round of the NFL draft in three years, many were probably a little surprised. That's not because the kid didn't have talent, but it's because he was just five months removed from a brutal ACL injury that ended his college career.

    To his credit, though, Gurley rehabbed his tail off and got back to the gridiron, playing in all but two games this year and putting up stats that have people around the league believing he's the next great superstar at the position.

    Idolizing Adrian Peterson—who some compare Gurley to—the St. Louis Rams' runner paid dividends for those who patiently waited on him in fantasy football. He has rewarded his real team for taking the risk to draft him in the top 10 with a bruising running style that's exciting to watch.

Ben Simmons

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    Associated Press

    Sure, as the nation's most hyped college hoops player, everyone knows about Ben Simmons, but he's proving he is worth the attention thanks to his play so far during his freshman campaign for the LSU Tigers.

    Expected to resurrect the Tigers' men's basketball program, Simmons has done his job in bringing attention to Baton Rouge, drawing rave reviews and insane comparisons to people like LeBron James thanks to his versatility and skills.

    Projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Simmons' college career is likely one-and-done, but his actual career in the spotlight hasn't even started yet.

Amari Cooper

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    Associated Press

    There's never a sure thing in any sport, but Amari Cooper being selected No. 4 overall in the 2015 NFL draft was believed to be the closest thing to a safe bet as any in the first round.

    That's because Cooper had shown at Alabama that he was a playmaker who could stretch the field, make the underneath grabs and make defensive backs lose serious sleep the night before going up against him because of his rare combo of speed, strength and catching ability.

    With the Raiders' surprising season and the growth of quarterback Derek Carr, one only has to look to his favorite receiver as to why the silver and black are suddenly a team on the rise. Cooper should be rewarded for that with the Offensive Player of the Year Award.

Jake Arrieta

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    It was a year that Chicago Cubs' ace Jake Arrieta will never forget, as he led the NL in wins with 22 and was runner-up in ERA to take home the league's Cy Young Award—which no one would have ever expected.

    Carrying a career record of 34-32 and a 4.48 ERA heading into 2015, Arrieta had a turnaround that has become one of the best in sports over the past few decades, which is a credit to his work ethic and competitiveness.

    With the Cubs in full win-now mode, they have faith and trust in their ace to take the bump every fifth day and be nasty to opposing batters, so it'll be interesting to see if he can carry that same success into 2016.

Dallas Keuchel

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Much like his Cy Young Award-winning counterpart Jake Arrieta, Houston Astors lefty hurler Dallas Keuchel had a breakthrough 2015 that shocked the baseball world and put him in elite company.

    A 20-game winner during the regular season, Keuchel was so good that he almost single-handedly carried the overachieving Astros to the postseason, pitching out of his mind in August and September by going 9-3 with a 2.78 ERA.

    Similar to Arrieta in that he struggled during his first few years in the majors, Keuchel emerged as the best pitcher in the American League in 2015—and it has made him a bona fide star.

Carli Lloyd

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Her soon-to-be retired U.S. national team teammate Abby Wambach might get the most pub because of how great she has been over the long haul, but Carli Lloyd showed in this past summer's Women's World Cup why she's the heir apparent to Wambach.

    Scoring six total goals in the biggest women's soccer tourney on the planet while helping the USA win the whole thing, Lloyd became a national sensation and has continued her dominance in international play following the title.

    Some may have known Lloyd's name prior to last summer, but everyone knows it now after a championship-game performance that is one of the best ever in American sporting history.

Kristaps Porzingis

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    Despite being booed by pretty much every single New York Knicks fan on draft day after the team selected him No. 4 overall, Kristaps Porzingis has become an absolute sensation in the Big Apple, giving the Madison Square Garden crowd something to cheer about now.

    Many people didn't know much about Porzingis prior to the draft—hence the negative reaction—but thanks to his play and star appeal, everyone seems to have a fever, and the only cure is more Kristaps.

    Following a ballyhooed matchup with fellow European big man Dirk Nowitzki last week, the 7-footer showed why he's aiming to take the thrown from Dirk as the next great shooter from across the seas.

Christian McCaffrey

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    There's good reason why many sports fans didn't know the name Christian McCaffrey prior to this year's football season. After he became the Heisman Trophy runner-up, though, there aren't many places the sophomore can go without being recognized now.

    A do-it-all running back for the Stanford Cardinal, McCaffrey rushed for more than 1,800 yards and scored a total of 15 touchdowns while breaking the single-season mark for all-purpose yards, which had been held by NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.

    McCaffrey is as talented as anyone in the country, so expect this kid to be on the top of everyone's Heisman's list heading into 2016 after the year he just had.

Kris Bryant

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    DAVID BANKS/Associated Press

    After being called up by the Chicago Cubs early in the 2015 season, Kris Bryant didn't just become a stud for the team that reached the National League Championship Series—he instantly showed why so many considered him to be one of the top prospects in the game.

    Unanimously winning the NL's Rookie of the Year Award, Bryant blasted 26 homers and drove in 99 runs for the Cubbies, giving the team a young star who is eerily similar to a Bryce Harper or Mike Trout—who, by the way, have both won league MVPs in the past couple of seasons.

    Playing for one of the most historic teams in sports, Bryant has a bright future that few can match.

Connor McDavid

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    When you're considered to be the top prospect in a sport in the past decade-plus, that usually means that expectations are high—and for Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid, that's exactly what has happened to him over the past few years.

    With teams fighting, or losing, to snag the No. 1 pick to land this kid, the Oilers were the big "winners," getting a franchise superstar who's still only 18 years old.

    Sure, everyone and their grandmother knew about McDavid prior to this year, but after breaking his collarbone in just his eighth career game, fans are left waiting to see just how sick he can be—but, don't fret, early indications show he's up to the challenge of becoming great.

Andrew Wiggins

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Much like the aforementioned Ben Simmons and his Minnesota Timberwolves teammate Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins has been known for a couple of years now.

    However, after completing his rookie season last year and taking home the league's Rookie of the Year Award, the Canadian-born, former Kansas Jayhawk has elevated his game to a new level as an encore, bringing excitement to Minny.

    With Towns, Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine, the T-Wolves have a nice young core and a superstar in the making in Wiggins, who isn't afraid to take the last shot and put the burden on his shoulders to become great.

    To think that this kid is still just 20 years old is scary for every opposing team in the NBA, because he has proved to be great and will only gets even better—or so his teammates believe.

Holly Holm

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    Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Move on over, Ronda Rousey, because there's a new baddest girl in town. Her name is Holly Holm, who, after pulling off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, has won fans over with her personality in numerous interviews since.

    Holm, who is primarily known for her boxing in the Octagon, is now the UFC women's bantamweight champion and might be the most humble belt holder ever—especially considering Rousey was a little more polarizing.

    With a rematch in the works against Rousey, Holm will remain in the spotlight after a 2015 that was life-changing—and, should she defeat Rowdy again, she would keep that same momentum in 2016.

Jordan Spieth

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    While some of these athletes had an incredible 2015, none of them had a bigger year than Jordan Spieth, who, at just 22 years old, became a two-time major champion and enjoyed one of the most successful PGA Tour seasons ever.

    As humble as he is great, Spieth has the competitiveness of a Tiger Woods and the charm of an Arnold Palmer, instantly winning over golf fans with his mature demeanor and ridiculous skills.

    Golf has seen an influx of new, younger (dare I say), hipper players in the past few years, and Spieth is the brightest of them all, capable of becoming an all-timer after showing the goods in 2015.

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