Ranking the Star Potential of Every Player in the 2020 Rising Stars Challenge

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterFebruary 13, 2020

Ranking the Star Potential of Every Player in the 2020 Rising Stars Challenge

0 of 20

    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    The 2020 Rising Stars Challenge will feature 21 of the NBA's brightest young prospects, split up into teams of USA and the World. 

    We could look back in a few years and realize that this particular exhibition included multiple MVP candidates.

    The players' ages range from 19 to 24, so some are closer to their ceiling than others. Not every participant will develop into a star.

    Based on the starts to their careers and the time/room they have to improve, we've projected and ranked each player's star potential.


    Five-time NBA Champion with Los Angeles Lakers and head coach of the LA Sparks, Derek Fisher, joins "The Full 48 with Howard Beck" to pay tribute to his Lakers brother, Kobe Bryant, and share thoughts on their special bond and friendship, Kobe's leadership style, his post-NBA career, and what the media got wrong about the basketball legend during his life.

20. Josh Okogie, Minnesota Timberwolves

1 of 20

    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    Ceiling: Role player

    Age: 21

    Josh Okogie immediately earned a role in Minnesota thanks to his energy and defense. The Timberwolves needed it in a lineup with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and they'll continue to value it with D'Angelo Russell.

    He's had success attacking closeouts and cutting, tapping into his athleticism and aggression off actions toward the basket. And he figures to hold an NBA role by defending and hustling in a specialty role.

    But it's difficult to see any star potential based on his offensive limitations. Okogie is averaging only 12.7 points per 36 minutes while shooting 24.8 shooting from three as a second-year player. He's also only 6-of-26 on half-court pull-ups.

19. Svi Mykhailiuk, Detroit Pistons

2 of 20

    Chris Schwegler/Getty Images

    Ceiling: Role player

    Age: 22

    Despite playing four years at Kansas, 39 games for the Los Angeles Lakers as a rookie and 47 games this season for the Detroit Pistons, Svi Mykhailiuk is still only 22 years old. He's also been one of the league's most accurate shooters.

    Mykhailiuk is making 2.0 threes in 22.1 minutes at a 42.2 percent clip. He grades in the 97th percentile on half-court jump shots, shooting 43.2 percent off the catch, 39.6 percent on pull-ups and 39.5 percent off screens. 

    Limited skills and explosion for creating, separating and scoring inside the arc may keep Mykhailiuk from ever surpassing role-player status. But he figures to stick around the NBA and emerge as a valued rotational wing because of his lethal shotmaking.

18. Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors

3 of 20

    /Getty Images

    Ceiling: Role player

    Age: 23

    A 2019 second-round pick, Eric Paschall is fourth among qualified rookies in scoring. Injuries to veterans opened a door, and he's capitalized on his 26.7 minutes per game, averaging 13.2 points on 48.2 percent shooting.

    However it's reasonable to question the 23-year-old's room/time to improve from here. How close is he to his ceiling already? 

    Regardless, Paschall currently looks like a serviceable role player thanks to his scoring versatility and effectiveness around the basket. Making 77.4 percent of his free throws and 48.1 percent of his medium-range jumpers, Paschall also has shooting touch that can help him raise his 28.2 percent three-point mark. 

17. Moritz Wagner, Washington Wizards

4 of 20

    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Ceiling: Quality starter

    Age: 22

    Getting involved in the Los Angeles Lakers trade and pursuit for Anthony Davis is paying off for the Washington Wizards. They suddenly have one of the league's most efficient scorers in Moritz Wagner, an overlooked throw-in to Washington that helped make the Davis megadeal work. 

    Wagner is playing only 20.3 minutes per game, but he's averaging 20.2 points and 10.2 rebounds on a per-36-minute basis. He's also shooting 59.1 percent overall, 36.5 percent from three and 78.6 percent from the free-throw line.

    At 6'11" and 245 pounds, Wagner has established himself as a legitimate stretch 5 with 23 threes in 26 games, and he also has the ability to attack closeouts. Wagner is a perfect 9-of-9 when putting the ball down from a spot-up and driving into either a runner, layup or dunk. But he's also highly effective finishing around the basket (67.6 percent shooting) despite lacking standout athletic ability.

    Defensive limitations will weigh down Wagner's value and star potential. But his scoring versatility in today's NBA could lead to quality-starter money one day.

16. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans Pelicans

5 of 20

    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Ceiling: Quality starter

    Age: 21

    Nickeil Alexander-Walker's star potential appeared more believable during summer league and preseason. He's had a tougher time during the regular season, and his margin for error is minimal in a New Orleans Pelicans backcourt that includes Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, JJ Redick and Frank Jackson. 

    Signs are now pointing to Holiday sticking around after New Orleans kept him at the trade deadline. That suggests Alexander-Walker may need a change of scenery to blow up. 

    Opportunity aside, he has stood out from a scouting perspective over the past year because of his size for a ball-handler, passing skills and shot-making versatility. He's skilled and crafty off the dribble with a promising jumper out to the arc. 

    But he isn't an explosive athlete, either blowing by or finishing at the rim. And contact bothers his skinny frame. 

    Will he be able to easily separate and make contested shots once he adds more muscle? And will he receive enough minutes on his rookie contract if Ball and Holiday stick around? There are a lot of questions and variables in the equation for determining Alexander-Walker's upside. 

    But in a vacuum, he's skilled and fluid enough to reach starter status as a combo guard. He can bring a balanced mix of on and off-ball scoring, plus secondary playmaking. 

15. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

6 of 20

    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Ceiling: Quality starter

    Age: 24

    Whether Kendrick Nunn was a late bloomer or the NBA was just late to catch on, he's now playing a key role for the 35-19 Miami Heat. 

    Undrafted in 2018 despite leaving Oakland as the nation's No. 2 scorer (behind Trae Young), Nunn is averaging 15.3 points as a rookie. He's also the Rising Stars Challenge's second-oldest participant, so it's tougher to see All-Star upside without the traditional timetable of years to improve before his prime. 

    But his start in Miami looks legitimate. He's given the Heat another weapon with the ball, shooting 42.2 percent on pull-ups and generating 1.32 points per possession as a pick-and-roll passer (95th percentile). And he's making 1.9 three-pointers per game with the shot-making versatility to hit 47.3 percent of his jumpers off screens.

    Averaging 3.5 assists, Nunn has emerged as a versatile combo guard. However, it's fair to wonder whether he's already near his ceiling at 24 years old.

14. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

7 of 20

    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Ceiling: Quality starter or Sixth Man of the Year

    Age: 21

    While questions swirl about Collin Sexton's style, impact and fit alongside Darius Garland in Cleveland, he keeps scoring. It's been his signature dating back to AAU, and it carried over to Alabama and now the Cavaliers. 

    Trae Young and Luka Doncic are the only players from the 2018 draft class averaging more than Sexton's 19.8 points per game. One of the league's better isolation players (1.02 points per possession, 82nd percentile), he puts heavy pressure on defenses with his aggressive attacking game. He's also developed a useful runner in the lane (46.9 percent) to complement the hard drives to the rim.

    He's still struggling while shooting off the dribble, but he has had success spotting up alongside Garland, making 42.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot chances. 

    The problem when projecting Sexton's ceiling stems from his middling 14.1 assist percentage and lack of size (6'1", 190 pounds) for guarding 2-guards. Sexon's lack of feel for running an offense and setting up teammates has followed him to the pros. 

    It doesn't seem like he can be a lead decision-maker. Sexton's best shot at maximizing his potential and value may require a change of scenery and role similar to the one Lou Williams plays for the Los Angeles Clippers.

13. Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets

8 of 20

    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Ceiling: Quality starter

    Age: 21

    Explosive leaping has always been Miles Bridges' signature strength. Heading into the 2018 NBA draft, scouts had to decide whether his shooting consistency, off-the-dribble game and general shot creation could catch his athleticism.  

    Up to 1.6 threes per game on 34.1 percent, he's making strides with his distance shooting. And he's starting to show signs of sharper scoring execution off his own skills and moves, ranking in the 77th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and 99th percentile on post-ups. 

    Bridges still has a lot of work to do on his in-between game, as he's just 14-of-41 on half-court pull-ups and 11-of-34 on runners. And despite special athletic ability, he's only shooting 50.0 percent at the rim. 

    It would take years of gradually improving each aspect of his offense to reach star potential. But enough versatility at both ends, plus special bounce for easy baskets and good competitiveness, should lead to Bridges developing into a quality, interchangeable starting forward.

12. Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards

9 of 20

    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Ceiling: Quality starter 

    Age: 22

    Injuries have limited Rui Hachimura to only 30 games, but he's looked comfortable offensively as a rookie, averaging 13.9 points on 48.7 percent shooting.

    The mid-range isn't dead for the 2019 No. 9 overall pick, who's shooting 51.3 percent from 17 feet to the arc. He excels from the elbows and scores in different ways on post-ups. And he's used teammates' misses as opportunities, having recorded 17 putbacks on the year. 

    The 6'8", 230-pound Hachimura is already a difficult cover inside the arc, where he can rise and fire, face up and attack, play with his back to the basket, crash the glass and finish at tougher angles. 

    Whether he blows up into a star will come down to his longer-range shooting, as he's 13-of-55 from three after being mostly reluctant to launch from deep throughout his time at Gonzaga. 

    He'll also need his offense to carry him. Ranked 89th out of 93 power forwards in real defensive plus-minus, Hachimura does not project as a plus defender given his lack of great reaction speed and instincts.

11. PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets

10 of 20

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Ceiling: Quality starter 

    Age: 21

    PJ Washington plugs a hole in the Charlotte Hornets' frontcourt that had been there for years. The franchise finally has a new big-man prospect to confidently build with, even if his game doesn't scream future All-Star.

    Shooting 37.6 percent from three, Washington entered the league with a jump shot and a skill set to score and pass from the post. He's improved his body and mobility over the years as well, turning himself into a more nimble face-up and transition player.

    A mix of limited creation ability off the dribble and trouble defending around the perimeter are weaknesses that point to lower upside compared to the top 10 performers in the Rising Stars Challenge. But Washington's floor already appears to be quality starting power forward for Charlotte.

10. RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

11 of 20

    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Ceiling: Quality starter

    Age: 19

    The New York Knicks created a difficult environment for RJ Barrett to be efficient. It remains unclear whether he can make specific improvements and adjustments on a team without strong point guard play, talent or stability in general. 

    The 19-year-old averaging 13.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 30.5 minutes per game, which is solid production for a rookie. His scoring improvisation continues to pop as the distinguishable feature that separates him. Although he isn't finishing any particular shot or play at a good rate yet, he earns himself buckets in transition and off drives using counter footwork, angles, deceleration and strength.

    It seems safe to assume that as he ages into his 20s, his execution in the paint will improve. But what about his jump shot? 

    He's making 1.1 threes per game at a 31.8 percent clip while shooting 25.7 percent on pull-ups, 24.0 percent on two-point jumpers and 61.1 percent at the free-throw line. Shooting has never been a strength, and limited improvement over the past few years does raise concerns about how much better he'll get from here. 

    Barrett does figure to improve upon his playmaking. Assist numbers aside, he's flashed encouraging glimpses of passing and setup skills. His stats would look better if teammates were shooting higher than 30.0 percent on his pick-and-roll passes to spot-up shooters.

    Overall, Barrett's struggles around the basket and perimeter are problematic when projecting his upside. But between his age, physical profile, playmaking potential and signature knack for putting the ball in the hoop in various ways, he has a good chance to be a quality starting wing.

9. Devonte' Graham, Charlotte Hornets

12 of 20

    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve 

    Age: 24

    Devonte' Graham was on the verge of putting together a Most Improved Player of the Year campaign, until he hit a sophomore slump. But at his best, we've seen what Graham is capable of offensively.

    After a 40-point outburst against the Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 11, Graham was averaging 20.0 points on 41.5 percent shooting and 42.9 percent from three through 27 games. Over Charlotte's last 27 games, he's shooting 34.2 percent and 32.5 percent from three.

    Will he ever be able to maintain efficiency for an entire season? He'll make a case for All-Star consideration if he can, especially since his playmaking (7.8 assists per game) has been a constant. 

    When he's on, Graham buries defenses with shot-making versatility and range. Even with the slump, he's making 3.5 threes per game on 37.4 percent shooting and ranks in the 86th percentile on points per possession on pull-up jumpers. He's also become a dangerous, dual-threat pick-and-roll ball-handler with his off-the-dribble jumper and passing. 

    Graham's biggest hurdle to staying efficient is being able to finish without much length or explosion. And it's reasonable to question what degree he can improve upon his 41.1 percent mark at the rim. He also turns 25 on February 22.

    If Graham has peaked, he's still a valuable starting guard. But it wouldn't surprising if he makes a few more jumps from age 25-27.

8. Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies

13 of 20

    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve

    Age: 23

    Athleticism, instincts and short-range touch fuel Brandon Clarke's potential. He's already a high-end role player, registering per-36-minute averages of 20.4 points on 62.3 percent shooting and 9.5 rebounds.

    Clarke consistently earns himself high-percentage shots off rolls, rhythm jumpers and space from spot-up position, where he's converted a tremendous 22-of-31 drives resulting in runners, layups or dunks. He isn't creative off the dribble, but he's become a bigger offensive threat to attack, maintain body control and finish on the move.

    He's even made 21-of-50 three-point attempts after leaving Gonzaga viewed as a non-shooter.

    His defensive activity and anticipation are also a plus. Good timing and bounce allow Clarke to make highlight plays on the ball, sometimes from out of position. 

    Clarke is more likely to peak as a star role player than an actual Western Conference All-Star, but he's still on track to become a valuable long-term cornerstone for the rising Grizzlies. 

7. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

14 of 20

    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve 

    Age: 21

    The trade that sent Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers helped expedite Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's path toward stardom. 

    Averaging 19.5 points on 46.6 percent shooting, he's suddenly a featured scorer with the Oklahoma City Thunder. And the 21-year-old combo guard still has plenty of room to raise his 1.2 threes and 3.1 assists per game. 

    Right now, he's causing problems for defenses with his ball skills, crafty maneuvering, pull-up game and touch in the paint. But he's also thriving playing off Chris Paul from spot-up position, where he's making 44.4 percent of his non-dribble jumpers and 60.4 percent of his takes to the basket. 

    It's worth questioning how high Gilgeous-Alexander's playmaking upside is without extra blow-by speed for breaking down defenses. Being a low-assist guard will reduce his overall value. But he can bring it back up with defense, unlike Luka Doncic or Trae Young. SGA has unique length, strong instincts and the tools to guard multiple positions.

6. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

15 of 20

    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Ceiling: All-Star reserve

    Age: 21

    Averaging 18.7 points and 12.0 rebounds, Deandre Ayton is already one of the league's most productive centers in the paint. He's among the top 12 in field goals made per game inside five feet, scoring mostly by leaning on his physical tools to finish through contact and above the rim off rolls, offensive rebounds and cuts.

    Pinpointing his ceiling means asking how much he'll expand his skill set and versatility. Ayton can create playing back-to-the-basket or rise and fire from the elbows. But he has yet to make a three-pointer as a pro, hasn't recorded an isolation basket as a sophomore and is shooting 29.1 percent on total jump shots.

    If 18.7 points per game is Ayton's new floor, an improved jumper and post game could elevate his scoring average into the low-to-mid-20s. 

    Otherwise, his encouraging defensive progress is a huge plus for his outlook. He took heat in college for his low shot-blocking rate and motor. But he's done a fine job this year of holding opposing centers in check, showing more focus and better anticipation to match his impressive foot speed and length.

    Averaging a 20-point double-double while anchoring the Phoenix Suns' defense as an impact rim protector should eventually lead to Ayton getting All-Star votes.

5. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

16 of 20

    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Ceiling: All-Star starter

    Age: 20

    There haven't been many bigs like Jaren Jackson Jr.

    He's on pace to join Kevin Durant as the only players ever to average at least 2.5 threes and 1.5 blocks per game. Durant did it during his age-29 season, while Jackson is doing it at the age of 20. He's also scoring 17.1 points per game on 46.8 percent shooting for a young team in the Western Conference playoff picture. 

    Even if his development stalls, Jackson will still add unique value with his rare blend of abilities to stretch the floor and protect the rim. 

    But he also has plenty of room for improvement, plus an enormous window of time, with regard to his two-point scoring and defensive discipline. His post game and shot creation could be sharper, and he continues to foul at a high rate of 5.2 times per 36 minutes.

    The potential is there—Jackson has a back-to-the-basket game, the skill and body control to attack closeouts and enough foot speed and length to guard inside and out. Even coming close to maximizing those areas could lead to Jackson cracking an All-Star Game's starting lineup in his mid-20s.

4. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

17 of 20

    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Ceiling: All-Star starter 

    Age: 20

    It seemed reasonable to think Ja Morant would need time to acclimate to the jump in competition between the Ohio Valley Conference and the NBA. Instead, he has led the Memphis Grizzlies into the Western Conference playoff picture while averaging 17.6 points on 49.3 percent shooting and 7.1 assists as a rookie.

    Morant's speed and explosiveness are suited for the NBA's faster pace and space. He's an immediate problem for defenses off the dribble, with quickness and nifty handles to create scoring chances and open looks for teammates.

    His runner in the lane has been a special weapon (54.1 percent on 133 attempts). And he's a skilled passer on the move with vision in every direction. As the Grizzlies roster improves, Morant's assist rate will continue to climb.

    He's already producing starter-caliber numbers on sharper efficiency than most at his position, and that's without needing a high-usage jump shot. He's making enough of the ones he is taking, shooting 35.8 percent on 2.2 three-point attempts, 35.8 percent on pull-ups and 37.8 percent off the catch. 

    If this is his floor, more confidence and improvement to his perimeter game could carry Morant to the starting lineup for the Western Conference All-Stars in his mid-20s. 

3. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

18 of 20

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Ceiling: MVP

    Age: 21

    Four NBA players have ever averaged 29 points and nine assists in a single season: Oscar Robertson, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Tiny Archibald. At 21 years old, Trae Young is on pace to become the fifth in only his NBA second season. 

    He's generating offense at a historic rate, and he's doing it with relative efficiency, sporting a 59.9 true shooting percentage, which would be the second-highest among any 29-and-nine year recorded. 

    No defensive game plan can completely prepare for Young's mix of deep shooting range and elusiveness off the dribble. He's already one of the league's top pull-up threats. And pressuring him just opens the door for Young to escape into space inside the arc, where he has exceptional passing skills, floater touch and unpredictable maneuvers for finishing and drawing fouls. 

    Young could eventually become the NBA's most potent offensive player in terms of scoring and playmaking. It's scary to think about where his game can go from here as his body and supporting cast get stronger. 

    Defensive limitations keep Young from cracking the first two here. But if the Hawks' other young players continue to develop and the front office can use the draft, free agency and trade market to build a more competitive roster, Young should be good enough to enter an MVP race at some point of his career. 

2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

19 of 20

    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Ceiling: MVP

    Age: 20

    The Dallas Mavericks are 33-22 despite Kristaps Porzingis missing 13 games and shooting only 41.6 percent. Luka Doncic isn't just putting up ridiculous numbers—28.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 8.7 assists—he's impacting winning, too. 

    Once Porzingis is fully back and the Mavericks plug some roster holes, Doncic could be an MVP candidate at least for the next decade. 

    For a 6'7", 230-pound player, his ball skills, shot-making and basketball instincts are unmatched. He went from playing 8.0 percent of his possessions at point guard last year to 79.0 percent this season. He ranks in the 92nd percentile in scoring efficiency as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, as he manipulates defenses with his change of speed before executing as a driver into layups and runners or setting up teammates with clever passes.

    And despite the predraft questions about his athletic limitations and whether he'd be able to separate, he grades in the 84th percentile as an isolation scorer. He compensates for a lack of burst with advanced handles and unpredictable maneuvers before rising into a step-back or shielding his man from a body-controlled finish (he's shooting 71.0 percent from within five feet). 

    He's making 2.9 threes per game and still has plenty of time and room to improve his 32.3 percent mark. 

    Lower defensive upside holds him back in the discussion with Zion Williamson. Doncic's minus-1.63 real defensive plus-minus ranks 440th out of No. 490 NBA players. 

    But few players in the league can control a game like Doncic, who's quickly taken Dallas from the lottery to the Western Conference playoff picture. 

1. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

20 of 20

    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    Ceiling: MVP

    Age: 19

    Zion Williamson missed the first half of his rookie season to recover from knee surgery, but he hasn't missed a beat since making his debut in late January. The time off didn't lead to rust. Stronger and longer NBA bigs look just as helpless as the ones in college did. 

    Williamson could one day become the best player in the NBA. 

    No player has ever operated with as much force, quickness and explosiveness as Williamson. Power forwards and centers can't contain his first step. They can't reach as high above the rim to contest his finishes. And below the rim, he moves through them with his massive 284-pound frame. 

    Giannis Antetokounmpo didn't average at least 20 points until his fourth season. Williamson is averaging 21.0 points in 27.0 minutes (nine games) at 19 years old, without needing many offensive skills. He just went for a career-high 31 points against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night by leaning exclusively on his physical tools and athleticism for lobs, face-up moves, second jumps and putbacks. 

    What happens if he learns how to shoot? The potential is there, as he showed when he hit four three-pointers during his regular-season debut. 

    Williamson can also pass, which is just an added bonus to his repertoire. 

    Defense has been his biggest challenge early on, but he has monster defensive upside thanks to his mobility, strength and ability to react at the highest speed. While Luka Doncic and Trae Young hope to become at least average at this end of the floor, Williamson will be able to impact games with his defensive pressure and playmaking. 

    All statistics via Basketball Reference, NBA.com or Synergy Sports