NBA Players Who Should Be Stars by Now but Aren't

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2020

NBA Players Who Should Be Stars by Now but Aren't

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    While a wealth of young talent helped breathe new life into the NBA All-Star Game, fans got a firsthand glimpse of what happens when players develop into their best-case-scenario versions.

    It's breathtaking to behold, in large part because it's such a rare outcome. Too often, players arrive in the Association packed with potential but never transform it into superstar stature or statistics.

    The following five players are, unfortunately, prime examples.

    These aren't hanging-by-a-thread busts by any means, as they are recognized by common fans and highly regarded by their hometown faithful. But they aren't quite what everyone hoped they would become.

    Stardom seemed within arm's reach, but it has proved frustratingly elusive for one reason or another.


    Michael Lee from The Athletic returns for the 3rd Annual "The Full 48" All-Star Weekend Wrap-Up to break down the weekend festivities including the dunk contest and judging, the new All-Star Game format, and the incredible tributes to Kobe Bryant. They also discuss late Commissioner David Stern and the conspicuous absence of Michael Jordan.

Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    It feels cruel throwing any critiques at Aaron Gordon right now as he's coming off a controversial loss that gives him the saddest legacy in All-Star Saturday history. But for a No. 4 pick in his sixth NBA season, shouldn't he be known for something more substantial than a couple of silver-medal finishes in the dunk contest?

    He's overloaded with physical tools, but those have yet to translate in a meaningful way on the NBA hardwood. He should be a devastating, multi-positional defender; defensive box plus/minus grades him a hair above average. He could be a potent offensive costar who creates for others and feasts on point-blank scoring chances; he's actually a 44.7/31.9/70.2 career shooter who averages 2.3 assists per game.

    This isn't all his fault. He fits the small-ball big man blueprint almost perfectly, yet the Orlando Magic keep overcrowding the frontcourt and forcing him out to the wing.

    "The best version of Gordon on a good team is something like his take on Draymond Green: screening and rolling as a power forward, spraying passes ... defending like all hell across every position," ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote. "The Magic have never put Gordon in optimal position to find that role."

    But Gordon hasn't helped himself, either. He sometimes fancies himself a ball-dominant scorer, even though there's zero evidence suggesting he's built for the role. In fact, he was just a 36th percentile isolation scorer last season and is down to the 20th percentile this time around.

    As Gordon is done waiting for his dunk contest trophy, maybe the rest of us should be done waiting for his transformation into a two-way terror.

Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bulls carried playoff expectations into this campaign. They'll stumble into the stretch run with a sub-.350 winning percentage.

    Picking their most egregious failure should be tricky. It isn't. Lauri Markkanen's backtracking stains this entire organization and threatens to spoil any future postseason plans. What should have been his All-Star leap has instead been such a frustrating decline that it's worth wondering if he'll even approach the sky-high ceiling so many had initially set.

    On paper, he's a 7-foot mismatch. He has shooting range, enough handles to slip past defenders and comfort with his back to the basket. But in reality, player efficiency rating says he's barely above average (15.8 for his career), and offensive box plus/minus has yet to give him a positive evaluation.

    His field-goal and three-point percentages are down for the second straight season. His scoring (15.0, down from 18.7) and rebounding (6.5, from 9.0) have both suffered precipitous falls. The Bulls have a big hand in these failures, as they've taken one of their premier offensive talents and largely relegated him to spot-up duty. Markkanen averages just 1.83 seconds per touch, the same as Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams.

    "I think I can do a lot of good things besides just shoot threes," Markkanen said in January, per NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson. "Haven't really been able to do that lately."

    But Markkanen isn't doing himself any favors by failing to finish the chances he gets. It's tough to paint him as an offensive savior when he's shooting just 42.4 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from range. With a right pelvis injury sidelining him for the foreseeable future, it's hard to say when (or if) the 22-year-old will get himself back on track.

Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Two casual fans could have opposite opinions of Jamal Murray depending on when they watch him.

    Catch him on a good night, and you'd swear you're seeing the Association's next great scoring guard. He can free himself off the dribble and open three-point rain clouds at any moment. He'll look unguardable at times, like the 20 outings in which he scored 30-plus points since the start of his sophomore season (29th-most over that stretch).

    Catch him on an off night, though, and you'd wonder how he ever received a green light from Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone. Murray's cold spells can be frigid, and since he's supposed to be Nikola Jokic's co-star, the Nuggets have little choice beyond hoping Murray shoots his way out of it. During the same two-plus-season stretch, he has 13 games with double-digit shot attempts and single-digit points (tied for 36th-most).

    Maybe that should be expected of a 22-year-old, but Denver necessitated his leap to stardom by granting him a five-year, $170 million max extension last summer. At that pay rate, there's no more room for growing pains. Nitpicking becomes a must, especially for a player with this many warts (relatively speaking, of course).

    He's a maxed-out point guard who has yet to average five assists. He's a shoot-first scoring guard with below-average shooting efficiency (career 54.9 true shooting percentage, league average is 56.2). His next positive DBPM will be his first. The Nuggets need him to be great, but he may not rise above pretty good.

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Think about what you want from a modern big man: spacing, shot-blocking and enough agility to handle perimeter switches, right? Myles Turner is on a short list of centers who can scratch all three itches.

    So, why does it so often feel like he leaves you wanting more?

    His defense is mostly tremendous (he deserves All-Defensive recognition by now), though he could stand to be a more reliable rebounder. But the offensive developments we've all been waiting to see still haven't materialized.

    In 2016, Lowe dubbed Turner as one of the league's most intriguing players and highlighted his "versatility on offense to be an All-Star." Turner sort of broke out with 14.5 points that season, but he hasn't topped (or even repeated) that number since. This year, he's down to a forgettable 11.9 points a night while shooting a career-worst 45.1 percent from the field. His 14.6 PER is his first venture below the league-average mark of 15.0.

    For everything he's providing defensively, there just isn't enough the other way for him to approach stardom. Granted, he spends some of his floor time in an imperfect, oversized setup with Domantas Sabonis, but that only excuses so much. The Indiana Pacers are still 6.3 points better per 100 possessions with Sabonis than without; with Turner, his floor presence sparks a 3.4-point swing in the wrong direction.

    Save for blocks, there isn't a spot on Turner's stat sheet hinting at special ability. There's nothing wrong with being a defense-first support player, but the way his tools fit in today's game, you'd think he could've found his way to a higher level by now.

Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Andrew Wiggins looks like he was built in a hoops factory. His 7'0" wingspan juts perfectly out from his 6'7" frame, and his 194-pound body is supercharged by a 44-inch vertical.

    Scouts saw him and felt things they hadn't experienced since LeBron James was skyrocketing through the ranks. Comparisons were everywhere. ESPN's David Thorpe suggested Wiggins "may be a better pure athlete than LeBron." B/R's Jonathan Wasserman compared Wiggins' bounce to "a young Tracy McGrady in his prime."

    Wiggins' natural gifts appeared a surefire ticket to superstardom, but in his sixth NBA season, 2014's top pick hasn't so much as sniffed an All-Star selection. His career 14.8 PER actually falls short of league average. Box plus/minus has always put him in the red. He has proved capable of providing high volume scoring (career 19.7 points per game), but that's often the extent of his contributions.

    With his length and springs, he should be a factor on the glass; he's averaged 4.3 boards for his career. He looks like a lockdown defender, but ESPN's real plus minus places him outside this season's top 400 stoppers (404th out of 490). He has improved his shot selection (fewer mid-range attempts, more triples), and his true shooting percentage is still below league average (54.3).

    A move away from the Minnesota Timberwolves and to the Golden State Warriors should put Wiggins in his best position for success to date. But even then, expectations are tempered. The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor broke down a best-case scenario for Wiggins in the Bay and it's "essentially Andre Iguodala's old role."

    The hope is Wiggins becoming a $28 million glue guy. The worry is he'll continue suffering from a lack of development and loom as one of the league's worst contracts. That's not exactly what was expected of someone with so much physical promise.

                     

    All stats, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference and accurate through games played Feb. 17.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.