Ranking the Star Potential of Every Player in the 2019 Rising Stars Challenge

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterFebruary 15, 2019

Ranking the Star Potential of Every Player in the 2019 Rising Stars Challenge

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    The NBA's Rising Stars Challenge features the league's most promising young rookies and sophomores.

    There is a ton of upside in this game, which should include future MVP candidates, All-Stars and high-end starters.

    We ranked them all based on their long-term potential, which is subjectively determined by taking into account tools and athleticism, skill levels, early production and room for improvement. 

    If we were starting franchises from scratch, this is the order we're taking these players.

Quality NBA Starters

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    20. Cedi Osman, Cleveland Cavaliers, age 23

    With LeBron James leaving Cleveland and Kevin Love injured early, Osman has started 51 games in Cleveland. He's quickly developed into a versatile forward, able to score as a 3 or 4 by slashing, pulling up or shooting threes.

    And there remains some untapped playmaking and defensive potential for the Cavaliers coaching staff to unlock. Consistency could wind up determining Osman's value, but there is enough evidence to suggest that Osman can be a quality NBA starter for years to come.


    19. Josh Okogie, Minnesota Timberwolves, age 20

    Okogie landed in the right spot where his athleticism and motor have been valued. He's carved out an energizer role with his ability to put pressure on the rim and opposing scorers defensively around the perimeter.

    He's only shooting 36.4 percent and 26.0 percent from three, but Okogie won't need his offense to catch up to stick in Minnesota. He's creating an identity of effort and toughness.


    18. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings, age 26

    The oldest rising star, having spent two years overseas after the 2014 draft, Bogdanovic is suddenly an important player in the Western Conference, averaging 14.8 points and 4.0 assists for the 30-27 Kings.

    Loaded with confidence that fuels tough shot-making, Bogdanovic can be a microwave scorer with secondary playmaking ability. It's uncertain how much higher the 26-year-old's ceiling extends from here. But even if this is it for Bogdanovic, he should be expecting a raise after next season. 


    17. Rodions Kurucs, Brooklyn Nets, age 21

    A second-round steal, Kurucs looks like a key building block for the Nets. Despite having played sparingly over the past two years in Spain, he's caught on quickly in Brooklyn, impressing with his mix of 6'9" size and fluidity, slashing, shooting potential and defensive versatility. 

    Though not a skilled a scorer or reliable shooter (yet), his game appears headed toward the jack-of-all-trades path, which could point to high-end role-player potential. 


    16. OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors, age 21

    Sophomore regression suggests maybe Anunoby's ceiling is lower than it appeared during his rookie year. Still, few can match his physical, defensive tools to guard quick wings and strong forwards. 

    Unlikely to suddenly evolve into a shot-creator, Anunoby will continue to rely on his athleticism and length for two-point baskets. Finding his shooting range will be the key to unlocking the valuable three-and-D potential that Toronto will need in the playoffs.


    15. Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets, age 20

    With a monster wingspan (7'5¼", per a 2017 DraftExpress article), Allen has made a habit out of denying ambitious finishers at the rim. The Nets have found their defensive anchor who also moonlights as a tremendous finishing target.

    His scoring potential appears limited without a handle, post game or shooting range. But there should still be significant value tied to Allen's defensive impact and offensive efficiency. He projects as a long-term starter for a Nets team that could be playoff regulars, starting this season.  

14. Kevin Knox, New York Knicks

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Age: 19

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve

    A teenager until July, Kevin Knox has unsurprisingly been up and down as a rookie without any supporting talent in New York. But the flashes still point to star potential, which is fueled by 6'9" size, athleticism, shooting and driving ability.

    He's already making 1.7 threes per game while also showing fluidity on his high-arching pull-up and floater. Ideally, Knox will play power forward and cause problems with his face-up game, whether he's working one-on-one or off a screen.

    He'll need to improve his awareness in terms of knowing what shot to finish with at the rim, when to stop before traffic and how to draw fouls. But for a 19-year-old with mismatch positional tools, his scoring versatility could eventually carry him to 20-point-per-game seasons.

13. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

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    Jasear Thompson/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve

    Averaging 19.4 points and 9.7 rebounds on 57.8 percent shooting, John Collins' productivity and efficiency carried right over from Wake Forest in 2016-17, when he led the country in PER, per RealGM.

    His explosiveness routinely translates to easy baskets off rolls, cuts, transition and putback chances. But his skill set has evolved as well in the post and around the perimeter, where he's suddenly a three-point threat (36 makes, 36.6 percent) in his second year.

    He's ranked No. 90 out of 91 power forwards in defensive real plus-minus, however. Collins' defense could bring down his value as an NBA big, but his scoring potential remains high enough to eventually result in All-Star votes down the road.

12. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve

    The No. 27 pick in 2017, Kyle Kuzma has emerged as the Los Angeles Lakers' most productive recent draft pick over Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. 

    He appears one year and step away from being a 20-point-per-game scorer, coming a long way as a shot-maker since college, when he only made 51 threes at a 30.2 percent clip through 96 career games.

    The 6'9" forward is now hitting 2.0 threes per game while also showing significant improvement as a shot-creator off drives, pull-ups and post-ups. 

    Kuzma's limited rebounding, playmaking and defensive potential represent hurdles on his path toward an All-Star Game. But his scoring potential is strong enough to eventually get him there.

11. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Age: 20

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve 

    Shooting 46.8 percent, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hasn't needed the exciting speed, explosiveness or shooting range that traditionally hints at upside. Those missing ingredients could make it tougher to crack an All-Star roster, but Gilgeous-Alexander's skill, basketball IQ and defensive versatility already yield starter value.

    With 6'6" size and long arms, he'll be a tough cover at point guard for years to come, particularly given his ball-handling, changing speeds, body control as a finisher, mid-range game and passing.

    His ability to play and defend either backcourt position, however, should also make it easier for the Clippers to continue building around him in the backcourt. 

10. Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Age: 19

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve

    An early-season injury led to a delayed introduction for Marvin Bagley III, who's now gone for 24 points and 32 points this month.

    His bounce and quick jumps are as effective as any NBA big's, leading to routine easy baskets around the rim. 

    And though it's only come in flashes, Bagley has ball-handling and shooting skill, as he's able to knock down open threes or attack closeouts and score off one foot.

    Whether he can improve defensively—a concern out of Duke—will be a question and challenge for Bagley to eventually answer. He ranks dead last (No. 91) in defensive real plus-minus among NBA power forwards, per ESPN.

    But for a 6'11", 19-year-old super-athlete, Bagley has the scoring versatility to be a star in Sacramento.

9. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve

    Polarizing out of college, Trae Young still has convincing to do. But he's off to the right start, looking like he belongs as an NBA starter, which is a challenge for any rookie point guard. 

    He's even helped lead a young Atlanta Hawks team to a handful of solid wins, mostly recently going for 22 points, 14 assists and six rebounds over the Los Angels Lakers.

    While skeptics have always pointed to his limited burst and explosion, he's tied for third with Russell Westbrook in drives per game, and he converting them at a 50.7 percent clip, higher than Westbrook's, Donovan Mitchell's and Kemba Walker's percentages.

    Young is averaging 16.9 points, and that's in spite of a 31.4 percent mark from three. That number is bound to rise over the years, given his shot-making ability and range.

    And if 7.6 assists represent his floor number, Young's playmaking ceiling could take him toward the top of the leaderboard. 

    Tightening his shot selection and defense will be the priorities over the next few years.

8. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve 

    The All-Star break is interrupting an awesome stretch for Lauri Markkanen, who's averaging 25.3 points and 12.5 rebounds in February. 

    In his rookie year, he became the third 7-footer to make at least two three-pointers per game. A special shooter for his size, Markkanen also continues to show expanding shot creativity with his mid-range game and drives.

    He won't offer much in the passing or rim-protection departments. Markkanen's value will always be driven by his offense.

    He's a three-level scorer at 240 pounds, able to stretch the floor or work off the dribble.

7. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve

    After overpowering college bigs for a year at Arizona, Deandre Ayton has looked equally imposing physically against NBA centers.

    Averaging 16.5 points and 10.5 rebounds on 58.8 percent shooting, he's a 20-year-old force around the rim finishing dump downs, lobs and rolls. 

    Still, it's the flashes of skill that led the Phoenix Suns to draft him No. 1 overall. A difficult back-to-the-basket scorer (52.2 FG percentage on post-ups), he's also making 40.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot chances, showing confidence on elbow and short-corner jumpers that are released high and tough to contest. 

    Improving his defensive awareness and effort have been on his to-do list since high school. They are question marks that could push a narrative suggesting Ayton is more of a stats-over-impact type of player.

    Based on his tools, scoring skill set and start in Phoenix, he also appears to have a chance at blossoming into one of the league's top offensive 5s.

6. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

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    Chris Nicoll/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    Ceiling: All-Star starter

    Donovan Mitchell's scoring potential is as high as any player's in the Rising Stars Challenge. 

    He's averaging 22.4 points while only shooting 32.2 percent from three. How many will he average once his shooting consistency improves?

    Mitchell's shot-making ability suggests he's capable of sinking more than 2.2 threes per game. His shot-creation also helps set him apart and get him a look whenever he wants. 

    It's also led to 19.6 field-goal attempts per game, many of which can be high on the difficulty scale. Being a volume shot-taker, Mitchell needs to be more efficient. But it wouldn't surprise anybody if he's scoring more than 25 points per game year after year during his prime.

5. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    Ceiling: All-Star starter

    The eye test on Jayson Tatum is more convincing than his production playing on a loaded, veteran Boston Celtics team.

    He's already one of the league's more advanced shot-creators with special footwork and ball-handling moves. Meanwhile, his shot-making versatility is as extensive as anyone's, with pull-ups, step-backs and fallaways in his bag.

    He has also shot the three well since day one in Boston.

    Shooting 45.3 percent, down from 47.5 percent as a rookie, Tatum hasn't made his jumper at the same rate as last year. He's also taking and missing more mid-range shots (3.6 attempts, 37.4 percent), a tendency coaches may want to push him away from.

    But his scoring output is inevitably going to climb above 20 points per game, particularly given his success before turning 21 years old. It could happen as soon as next season if Kyrie Irving leaves in free agency or Tatum gets traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in a deal for Anthony Davis.

4. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    Ceiling: All-Star starter

    The game has slowed down this year for one of the league's fastest players.

    De'Aaron Fox has taken a big leap forward while leading the Sacramento Kings into playoff contention. Averaging 17.2 points and 7.2 assists, he's also shooting 46.1 percent, having made impressive improvements to a jump shot that had always been the concern for scouts.

    Fox has already drilled more threes (60) this season than he hit all last year (47). He's also shown a stronger feel for how to convert his elusiveness off the dribble into playmaking for teammates.

    He's a problem at 21 years old in the West, and there is still plenty of room for Fox's skills and IQ to catch his explosive burst. He'd receive serious conversation as the No. 1 overall pick of a 2017 re-draft.

3. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Age: 19

    Ceiling: All-Star starter 

    Jaren Jackson Jr. falls under the unicorn umbrella with the NBA's young players who've developed unique skill sets relative to their physical profiles. 

    Only Joel Embiid finished his rookie season averaging as many threes (0.9), blocks (1.4) and steals (0.9) per game as Jackson is right now (minimum of three games).

    A three-and-D rim protector, Jackson also continues to evolve offensively with his shot creativity out of the post and spot-ups. In doses, he's even flashed pull-up and step-back shooting, rare scoring moves for a 6'11" big man.

    He's still closer to the raw side, averaging 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes. But that only highlights the ridiculous amount of room Jackson still has left to improve.

2. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Age: 22

    Ceiling: MVP

    If a 2019 Rising Star ever enters an MVP race, Ben Simmons will likely be first. 

    Few players can control a game with his command handling the ball. And now he's running a loaded Sixers team capable of rising atop the East.

    As a rookie, Simmons was able to join Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson as the only NBA players to average at least 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. 

    On top of all the production this year, he's shooting 56.9 percent.

    A non-jumper will always limit Simmons' scoring upside. And at this stage, when it's a big deal that he just attempts a three, Simmons' repertoire doesn't appear close to expanding. He won't need it to, however, to make an impact that leads to All-Star appearances and trips to the Finals.

1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Age: 19

    Ceiling: MVP 

    With the first pick of the under-23 re-draft, the lottery winner is taking Luka Doncic.

    Simmons wouldn't be a wrong answer, but Doncic, who's more than two years younger, is already further ahead as a scorer with enough makes-teammates-better magic passing and playmaking. 

    In his first season, he's in the top 20 in Kevin Pelton's Wins Above Replacement metric (right next to Simmons), leading the Dallas Mavericks to more wins by the All-Star break than they had all last season. 

    He's on track to join Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, LeBron James and Tyreke Evans as the only rookies to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists.    


    Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com and accurate through Wednesday's games.