Predicting Every Team's Best Player 3 Years from Today

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 29, 2020

Predicting Every Team's Best Player 3 Years from Today

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    Three years is an eternity in the NBA.

    Travel back three years and you'll find DeMar DeRozan being voted an All-Star starter. The Los Angeles Lakers were in the heart of a youth movement. The Cleveland Cavaliers thought Isaiah Thomas could be a Kyrie Irving replacement. Nick Nurse wasn't a head coach; Fred Hoiberg and Jeff Hornacek were.

    A lot can happen in three years, which got us thinking: What will the league look like three years from now?

    By utilizing everything from traditional and advanced stats to the always trusty eye test, this piece will pinpoint the best player from every team in 2023. To simplify the process, we're only including current players on the roster, so ours is a world in which free agency isn't happening and incoming rookies aren't assuming pole position on bottom-feeders.

    Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes joins “The Full 48 with Howard Beck” to discuss the resumption of the NBA season and how he’d like to see it happen, the campus/bubble scenario, coronavirus health concerns, the Sacramento Kings season, Marvin Bagley’s injury status, and Kobe Bryant. He also weighs in on a possible NBA schedule shift, mid-game trades, and playing in empty arenas.

Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Trae Young is 21 years old and already engineering a campaign for the ages.

    He's splashing 3.4 triples per night, a rate Stephen Curry didn't clear until his fourth go-round in the big leagues. Young already has a fast-pass to the free-throw line, too, averaging more makes there than anyone not named James Harden. His 9.3 assists per game trail only LeBron James, and it's not like Atlanta's 25th-ranked offense is overflowing with other scoring options.

    Young is just the fifth player ever to average 29 points and nine dimes.

    He'll probably always be a liability on defense, but the same is true of Curry and was true of Steve Nash—Young's most common comparisons and both two-time MVPs.

    There's no telling how high Young can climb, other than acknowledging he has a skyscraper's ceiling. Give him and his teammates three more years of developmental time and he could be in the MVP running while his team is at least a playoff regular—if not a championship contender.

Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum

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    Kemba Walker's skills should age gracefully, and Jaylen Brown probably has some All-Star trips in his future, but Jayson Tatum is the clear choice for the Shamrocks.

    He essentially broke out twice this season. First, he took the jump from intriguing youngster to first-time All-Star. Then, he emerged as a soul-snatching superstar over the final two months before the shutdown, climbing all the way to 18th in ESPN's real plus-minus.

    If that late run was a transformation—as opposed to a hot streak—then good luck to all hoop heads who don't regularly use the word wicked. This was man-on-a-mission-type brilliance: 27.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game on 48.8/45.5/75.2 shooting over 23 outings.

    As LeBron James wrote on Instagram after his Los Angeles Lakers were on the wrong end of Tatum's 41-point outburst in February, 2017's third overall pick is "an ABSOLUTE PROBLEM!!"

Brooklyn Nets: Kyrie Irving

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    Betting against Kevin Durant is rarely advisable, and maybe it isn't in this case, either. If anyone has a chance to test Father Time's unblemished record, it might be an uber-skilled player with enough length for the frontcourt and the handles and outside stroke of a backcourt star.

    But he's already 31 years old and coming off a ruptured Achilles. Those are red flags for anyone in an exercise like this, especially on a roster that also features a fireballer like Kyrie Irving, who recently celebrated his 28th birthday and hasn't suffered such a serious injury.

    We can't guarantee Irving will age in true Uncle Drew fashion, but he should still be breaking ankles and getting buckets three years from now. As tricky as it's been to gauge his comfort level the past few seasons, this is his average nightly output since 2016-17: 24.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals on 48.2/40.2/89.4 shooting.

    Peering into the future, opposing defenses might still be dealing with Durant and having to cover for either better versions of Brooklyn's youngsters or whichever star the front office can turn them into. If Irving loses volume or efficiency by then—not a given in either case—he could compensate by increasing the other.

Charlotte Hornets: P.J. Washington

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    Theoretically, the safe selection in Buzz City is either Devonte' Graham or Terry Rozier. They're sharing the scoring load now, and since the 26-year-old Rozier is the senior member of the backcourt, they could still be in their primes in 2023.

    But the undersized scoring guards are both sub-40 percent shooters for their careers. Graham isn't hitting 40 percent of his two-pointers, and Rozier's 43.6 percent mark is both 238th overall and his personal best. In other words, they could easily be point-producing placeholders until someone more interesting comes along.

    P.J. Washington has a chance to be that someone. The 21-year-old is already a glue guy in training with enviable versatility at both ends of the floor. Assuming his shooting holds up—he's hitting 37.4 percent of his threes but only 64.7 percent of his free throws—he could become a jack of all trades and master of several.

    That's an optimistic outlook, sure, but the Hornets didn't exactly lay the most inspiring foundation for the post-Kemba Walker era. Without an obvious home run on the roster, we'll instead bet on Washington to leg out a bloop double.

Chicago Bulls: Lauri Markkanen

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    This might get a groan from the Windy City since Lauri Markkanen has made the season's short list of biggest disappointments. What should have been a leap year in his third NBA go-round has instead devolved into a back-tracking campaign undone by losses in volume, efficiency and assertiveness.

    Maybe time will prove me foolish for believing, but I still see the most upside in him.

    If he nears his ceiling, he'll be a mismatch 7-footer. He can light the lamp from the paint to the perimeter, meaning he can clown interior defenders and punish smaller ones on switches. He needs to improve as a defender, but that's true of essentially all the Bulls' best players.

    The only other options here are Coby White and Zach LaVine. Both are score-first combo guards, which might be the league's most replaceable skill set. White looked outmatched for much of his rookie season, and while he pieced together a strong nine-game stretch before the shutdown, it takes more than nine games to change a trajectory. LaVine puts up numbers, but he's yet to play on even a 35-game winner.

    Consider this, then, half an endorsement of Markkanen and half a question mark about the players around him.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Porter Jr.

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    Collin Sexton's statistical argument for this designation is ironclad, but it's tough to tell whether he can impact winning. He's a 6'1" scoring guard who doesn't distinguish himself as a defender or a distributor. Even if he's flashing a scoring-shooting efficiency blend few players his age have, he isn't moving Cleveland's bottom line and might not have the skill set to ever do so.

    Kevin Porter Jr. is different.

    He's not as productive, obviously, but he's also not as lost as Darius Garland. Porter's shot-creation moves are already advanced, and he'll give glimpses of high-level defending and secondary passing. If he rockets toward his full potential over the next three years, he could be well on the way to stardom.

    "Porter's ceiling is sky high,"'s Chris Fedor wrote. "He has the length, athleticism, scoring arsenal, handle, vision and underrated passing to become an elite two-way wing. Perhaps it's because he's a lefty, but most point to Houston's James Harden when it comes to Porter's comp. I can't come up with a better one."

Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic

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    Luka Doncic is already a card-carrying member of the NBA's elite as a 21-year-old sophomore. The only question for his future is how much better he can realistically get.

    He's just the fifth player ever to tally 3,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 800 assists through his first two seasons. He shares the distinction with Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, LeBron James and Grant Hill. All four played at least 150 games; Doncic went into the shutdown with just 126 career appearances.

    "Everyone wishes they had a 20-year-old who plays like him, and he hasn't even scratched the surface," Hall of Famer Jerry West told Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News. "It's fun to watch genius."

    Doncic's combination of floor and ceiling is so absurd there's no consideration here for Kristaps Porzingis, a 7'3" 24-year-old who has done things the league had never seen. But if the choice here was anyone other than Doncic, I would revoke my own writing privileges.

Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic

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    Is three years enough time for Michael Porter Jr. to get fully healthy and finally handle a featured role? Let's hope so. Could Jamal Murray be a more consistent fireballer by then and not the streak scorer who topped 45 points twice last season and followed those outbursts with a combined 23 points on 33 shots? It's possible.

    Either scenario potentially threatens Nikola Jokic's reign over the Rocky Mountains, but the Joker isn't relinquishing his throne.

    He already looks like the best passing big man in NBA history. Among 7-footers with 100-plus appearances, he leads the way with a 30.2 assist percentage; no one else has cleared 20. He's also a walking double-double (19.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game since 2017-18), and he might have the touch to push for a 50/40/90 campaign (he had a 49.9/39.6/85.0 slash two seasons back).

    His skill-based game should age as gracefully as any current All-Star's.

Detroit Pistons: Christian Wood

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    If Christian Wood weren't on this roster (and he may not be after free agency), I would have either flipped some coins to find a name or just gone with the classic shrug emoji.

    That's not to suggest Wood is any sure thing, by the way. The 24-year-old, who went undrafted in 2015, entered this season with 51 appearances and two NBA starts. He was an offseason waiver claim by the Pistons, and his roster spot wasn't secured until he beat out Joe Johnson in training camp.

    But Wood spent the season's last month loudly suggesting that all he'd been missing was an opportunity.

    As soon as Detroit cleared a starting spot for him with the Andre Drummond deadline deal, he was shot out of a cannon. Over the final 13 games, he averaged 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 threes and 1.0 blocks while compiling a 56.2/40.0/75.7 slash line.

    Again, it's only 13 games, but the Pistons are so early into their demolition that his baker's dozen is more interesting than anything else they have. No one should place any long-term wagers on Blake Griffin or Derrick Rose, and none of Detroit's youth qualifies as anything close to a sure thing.

Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry

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    As a 32-year-old with a detailed injury history, Stephen Curry isn't the safest stock on the market. But when so little of his game revolves around athleticism, he might have the play style to fend off Father Time longer than most.

    "He'll always be vital for the ability to shoot and space the floor," assistant coach Bruce Fraser told ESPN's Baxter Holmes.

    Granted, Klay Thompson is younger and almost equally accurate as a shooter, but Curry's handles, off-the-dribble shooting and passing separate him from his sibling-in-splash. That could keep giving Curry the upper hand in the future.

    His path to longevity was perhaps paved by two-time MVP Steve Nash, who's now a player development consultant with the Dubs. Nash was another point guard who used skill, savvy and shooting efficiency to compensate for a lack of explosiveness. He made two All-Star trips and won two assist titles at or over the age of 35.

    Considering Curry packs a heavier scoring punch, he might carry even more elite credentials through his career's final stretch.

Houston Rockets: James Harden

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    At some point, Houston will have to be careful about not burning up too much of James Harden's rocket fuel. If not for the season's suspension, this would have been (and could still be) his sixth straight campaign with at least 2,500 minutes played and a 30-plus usage percentage. Only eight players have had at least six such seasons in their entire careers.

    But the Beard hasn't waved any cautionary fatigue flags yet. He's on course to capture his third straight scoring title, and his 61.6 true shooting percentage is tied for the fourth-highest he's ever posted.

    "You could argue for him as the best offensive player of all time," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told ESPN's Tim MacMahon in January 2019. "To be able to say that with a straight face, and not have it be GM speak or coachspeak, is pretty amazing."

    As Harden moves into his mid-30s, he might not have as quick a first step or as powerful finishes at the basket. But his shooting touch, vision, handles and footwork should all be around for the long haul.

Indiana Pacers: Domantas Sabonis

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    Domantas Sabonis isn't the easiest player to build around as a modern big man who neither spaces the floor nor protects the paint. But the Pacers have created conditions favorable enough for him to emerge as an All-Star and lead them to the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

    Why would that change when he's presumably even deeper into his prime?

    Sure, other Circle City residents have an argument. Victor Oladipo is the most obvious as a two-time All-Star, but Myles Turner has the unicorn combo of shooting and shot-blocking, and Aaron Holiday might be a dangerous offensive weapon with more seasoning and an expanded role.

    Still, Sabonis is the choice for his scoring, rebounding and unique passing ability for a 6'11" combo big. He can function as an offensive fulcrum, and few glass-cleaners are more effective (12.4 rebounds per game). The more he learns about NBA defenses, the better he'll be at tearing them to shreds.

Los Angeles Clippers: Kawhi Leonard

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    It's possible 28-year-old Kawhi Leonard will start showing his age by 2023, but his gradual ascension—he didn't average more than 17 points until his fifth season—and ongoing load management could be his keys to longevity.

    If he's anything like the player he is now, he'll have few rivals around the league, let alone on the Clippers' roster.

    Equal parts go-to scorer and defensive silencer, he sits fourth overall in RPM. He's never been a better passer (career-high 5.0 assists per game), and he continues to wow with volume (26.9 points per game) and efficiency (46.9/36.6/88.9 slash line).

    "He's playing as well as anyone in the league right now, and he's doing it all around; it's not just scoring," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said, per Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times. "He's doing it with his defense, with his passing. The best part of it, it's coming in the flow. ... You're looking at a box score like, 'Wow, he had 30.' That's a great sign."

    Apologies to every fanbase other than this, but Leonard could still be the same unstoppable two-way force in three years' time.

Los Angeles Lakers: Anthony Davis

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    For sharing a locker room with LeBron James and a home arena with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Anthony Davis has a stronger-than-you-think claim for best player in his city. The title isn't his yet, but for this exercise, it might be.

    He never needed a transition period to his new team. In his Lakers debut, he totaled 25 points, nine boards and five dimes. His fourth time out, he had 40 points and 20 rebounds in under 31 minutes. Through 55 games, he's basically still producing like he did as the Big Easy's solo star (26.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.4 blocks per game).

    "It's everything I expected and more," James told ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "Obviously, that's why I wanted him here. When you get a generational talent like that and you got an opportunity to get him, you just try to do whatever you can to get him."

    Davis is filling the co-star role right now and still ranks 12th in RPM and third in player efficiency rating. Give him the full Hollywood spotlight and he might make good on Kevin Durant's old "next in line" prophecy.

Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant

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    When the Grizzlies completed their split from the grit-and-grind era with last summer's Mike Conley deal, they figured to be years away from forming a new identity and even further from a playoff push.

    Then, Ja Morant happened. More specifically, the electric freshman floor general brought bounce to Bluff City, and the young Grizzlies followed his lead to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference standings.

    Even as a 20-year-old rookie, he has proved to be a transformational talent. He's just the ninth rookie ever to average 17 points and six assists. He and Magic Johnson are the only members of that group to shoot better than 48 percent from the field (Morant is at 49.1).

    I'm as fascinated as anyone by the future possibilities for Jaren Jackson Jr., but Morant might already be on a different plane of existence.

Miami Heat: Bam Adebayo

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    Only 32 players have ever tallied 600 rebounds, 300 assists, 75 blocks and 75 steals in the same season. Bam Adebayo just became one of them—as a first-time starter in a season that has only spanned 65 games.

    Before the big man's 50th outing as a full-time starter, Jared Dubin argued Adebayo's statistical case as "The Perfect Center for the Modern NBA" for FiveThirtyEight. Miami team president Pat Riley has likened Adebayo to Dwyane Wade. Adebayo only cracked 100 career starts shortly before the shutdown.

    But his skill set looks arguably as complete as any 22-year-old's can. Sure, he could grow as a shooter and shot-creator, but how many third-year players are controlling the glass, defending all five positions and effectively operating as a 6'9", 255-pound point guard?

    If he bumps his individual output (he's already at 16.2 points per game on 56.7 percent shooting) and expands his range, he has a legitimate shot at two-way superstardom. That's enough to get him the nod here over Tyler Herro, who could be a devastatingly effective off-the-dribble scorer by 2023.

Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo

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    The only question is whether Giannis Antetokounmpo will still call Milwaukee home. But since this article assumes he will, what else needs to be said?

    He might have the strongest claim to the best-player-on-the-planet title. He should be closing on his second consecutive MVP award, which would put him alongside LeBron James and Stephen Curry as the only back-to-back winners of the 2010s. Oh, and Antetokounmpo might take Defensive Player of the Year, too. If he wins both, he'll stand alongside Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only ones to achieve that.

    This will sound terrifying to every opposing defensive coach, but three years could easily be enough time for Antetokounmpo to add an outside shot. This is his second straight season with a career high in three-pointers (83 in 57 games), and he's a 72.4 percent career free-throw shooter.

    He already might be the most versatile player in basketball, having spent at least 7 percent of his career minutes at all five positions. But if he starts shooting outside jumpers while still punishing defenders in the paint like a prime Shaquille O'Neal, Antetokounmpo can probably name the number of championships he wants.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns

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    The Timberwolves might have trouble maintaining their balance after taking an extreme one-way approach with their roster. By joining Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, Minnesota effectively signaled its plan to consistently win high-scoring contests.

    That could (see: almost certainly will) prove calamitous for the club overall, but it should nudge Towns even closer to the unguardable ranks.

    That's assuming, of course, he isn't already there. When a 6'11" center shoots like a Splash Brother (3.3 triples per game at a 41.2 percent clip), overpowers defenders in the post and spreads the wealth among his supporting cast (4.4 assists per game), there aren't many comfortable options for opposing defenses to explore.

    His individual outlook might be the same in three years—barring defensive improvements that don't seem particularly likely—but the Wolves can brighten it with their roster construction. If another offensive weapon joins the fold this summer (LaMelo Ball? Anthony Edwards?) and more develop from within (Malik Beasley? Jarrett Culver?), Towns will be able to better pick his spots against defenses that can't give him as much attention.

New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson

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    Zion Williamson is changing what we think is possible on the basketball court.

    Before he and his moon boots came along, did any of us think a 285-pounder could have anti-gravity bounce? Before he opened his one month-plus surge with an unforgettable 22-points-on-11-shots debut, did anyone know that 19 games were enough to enter the Rookie of the Year race?

    He defies logic every time he makes it inside the lines. He might already have the NBA's best second jump, and his end-to-end speed feels impossible. His vertical explosiveness might be the result of the basketball gods having input a cheat code. And if all that isn't unfair enough, he processes the game at a rapid rate already.

    As he continues improving that awareness and maybe sharpens his outside shot, tightens his handle and revs up his defensive motor, he could be making a serious climb toward all-time greatness in three years.

New York Knicks: Mitchell Robinson

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    The safer (and maybe smarter) play here is RJ Barrett, who has more pedigree and already packs a mightier scoring punch. Give him more time to develop and he should be functioning as a solid scorer, decent defender and secondary playmaker while perhaps becoming much more if his three-ball falls with regularity.

    Mitchell Robinson might be too much of a specialist to be the best of the 'Bockers, but elite rim-runners can elevate entire organizations (see: Gobert, Rudy).

    Robinson could be in that category. Granted, he needs to cut down his fouling (career 5.3 per 36 minutes), and he'll have to rely on others to help maximize his impact. But if he's utilized properly, he could be a game-changer as a bouncy 7-footer with the foot speed to defend on the perimeter and the length to protect the paint.

    "It's all on him to keep developing because he's got everything athletically and physically," a scout told The Athletic's Mike Vorkunov. "... He could be an anchor."

Oklahoma City Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander spent last season proving a quick study at the point guard spot. This year, he's getting a masterclass in all things floor generalship from the Point God himself, Chris Paul.

    "He helps me through every day, whether it be manipulating a play or a pick-and-roll in the game or showing me things outside of the game that help you in life," Gilgeous-Alexander told CBS Sports' Colin Ward-Henninger.

    Because Gilgeous-Alexander is playing alongside Paul while learning from him, the 21-year-old is acclimating to multiple positions and roles at once. After spending 50 percent of his minutes at the 1 last season, Gilgeous-Alexander is only getting 3 percent of his floor time there and most often lining up at the 2 (79 percent) or even the 3 (18).

    This will make him a more complete player in the long run, and OKC should be seeing those results in three years or less. He's already a potent scorer (19.3 points per game on 47.3/35.1/80.1 shooting) and versatile stopper, and his game has no major holes. He could be special.

Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac

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    Two factors are at play here.

    The first is a lack of legitimate candidates for Orlando.

    Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier are good scorers, but they're by no means great ones. Aaron Gordon is theoretically interesting, but he's six years into his career and almost perfectly average by PER's standards (career 15.2). Markelle Fultz finally answered some questions this season, but it's still unclear if he can shoot, and the Magic have been almost the exact same team with and without him.

    So, Jonathan Isaac sort of wins this honor by default, though that isn't meant to diminish his potential. He could be a wrecking ball on defense, and he might eventually offer a little of everything on offense.

    By 2023, he could be in the middle of a multi-year Defensive Player of the Year run, and maybe he's a nightly 20-point scorer to boot. He has work to get there, obviously, but his upside is infinitely more interesting than anyone else's in the Magic Kingdom.

Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid

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    While this has to be a Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons debate, this is not an anti-Simmons stance. Even if he's not shooting threes in the future, he'll still be taking annual All-Star excursions for his five-tool defense, elite playmaking and unstoppable transition attacks.

    All of that said, Embiid is a different kind of nice.

    He's the modern reincarnation of Hakeem Olajuwon, a 7-footer who can clown dudes in the post, drill long-range shots and take opponents off the dribble. A healthy Embiid is among the most powerful forces in today's game. Last season, when he played a career-high 64 games, he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal as the only players to average 27 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and a block.

    Embiid is a tier-one scorer and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. That combo is rare enough on its own, but it's almost superhuman coming from a 7'0", 250-pounder.

Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker

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    Deandre Ayton's two-way development makes this a closer call than if this article had been written in October, but Devin Booker still has the brightest future on the Suns.

    He needed all of one season (if that) to dispel the notion he might be a shooting specialist. He's been adding elements to his game ever since, to the point that he's now a good-to-great player by scoring volume (26.1 points per game), shooting efficiency (48.7/36.0/91.6 slash) and whatever is between primary and secondary playmaking (6.6 assists per game).

    He's still exploitable on defense. But even at that end, he's gone from being a major liability to a player who can hold his own when fully engaged.

    He looks like a true team leader and not the provider of empty calories—good but hollow stats on a bad team—some claimed he was during his first few seasons.

Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard

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    Damian Lillard's hold on the Pacific Northwest won't be the same in three years.

    He turns 30 in July, and while his game doesn't entirely revolve around athleticism, he won't quite be the same without his explosive first step and above-the-rim hops. He could also get an internal push from one or more teammates, whether that's CJ McCollum finding an extra gear (or stalling his decline better than Lillard) or one of the youths—Anfernee Simons, Zach Collins, Nassir Little—skyrocketing up the ladder.

    But doubting Dame seems dumb, right?

    Based on all the evidence to date, Lillard should age like the finest wine.

    Only once in his eight NBA seasons has he posted a lower PER than the year before. That happened last season, and he's responded with personal bests in points, assists and field-goal and three-point shooting. He has a big enough lead on his peers that he could suffer some decline and still retain his post atop the pecking order.

Sacramento Kings: De'Aaron Fox

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    De'Aaron Fox is one of the safest selections in this entire exercise. That doesn't say the nicest things about his teammates (I'd like to believe in Marvin Bagley III, but good luck finding evidence of a future franchise face), but it has more to do with Fox's future.

    He is already by far the brightest spot on an organization that needs as many positives as it can get.

    If he hadn't been slowed by an ankle injury in November and December, he might have crafted a compelling All-Star case. He's one of only 13 players averaging 20 points, six assists and four rebounds, and his 47.5 field-goal percentage is fifth-best among that star-studded group.

    He's the best player on the Kings right now, and he can widen that gap going forward by improving as a shooter and table-setter.

San Antonio Spurs: Dejounte Murray

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    It feels like forever ago that Dejounte Murray was making history as the league's youngest-ever All-Defensive selection. That's because in a basketball sense, it kind of was.

    Murray earned the second-team honor in 2017-18, but it's been a series of rough patches since. He tore his ACL in October 2018 and missed the entire 2018-19 campaign. He's been around this season, but he's only logging 24.9 minutes per night, and San Antonio has been abysmal with him on the floor (6.9 points worse per 100 possessions with him than without him).

    For some, the last two seasons might be reason enough to sell Murray stocks. But I'm still buying.

    He's a disruptive, versatile stopper, and his offense has looked better than ever this season. The volume might not have overwhelmed, but he has still compiled a 47.5/37.8/79.8 slash line and doubled his turnovers (1.9) with assists (4.1) for the first time.

    Plus, if Murray isn't the pick, who is?

    DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay could (should) be long gone by then. Derrick White is an option, and maybe Lonnie Walker IV should be, too. But Murray bests the former in ceiling and the latter in floor.

Toronto Raptors: Pascal Siakam

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    If roster imports were being considered, this could be an interesting conversation. Since they aren't, Pascal Siakam is basically running unopposed.

    Three years could be enough to age out the Kyle Lowry-Marc Gasol-Serge Ibaka trio. Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby should be closer to or in their heart of their respective peaks, but neither has Siakam's all-around game.

    He's the reigning Most Improved Player, and he actually has an argument to be considered again. That shouldn't be possible, but then again, this is someone who averaged 7.3 points in 20.7 minutes per game two years back; he has launched those numbers to 23.6 and 35.5, respectively, since. He was basically all hustle back then, and now he's creating his own opportunities and dribbling into pull-up triples.

    His ceiling remains absurdly high for a 26-year-old. He's growing at such an astronomic rate in terms of production, play style and responsibility that it's tough to tell where he's even headed anymore, other than likely superstardom.

Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell

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    Remember when we all tried to split up Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert—the former reportedly frustrated with the latter for his careless behavior before his coronavirus diagnosis—and the Jazz shot down that idea?

    That's the smart move to make. Don't choose between an All-Star shot-creator and the Association's top paint protector if you don't have to, right?

    Well, that option isn't available here. So, give me the younger, more explosive Mitchell, even if the stat sheet views Gobert as more impactful at the moment.

    Gobert will be in his age-30 season and perhaps won't have the same mobility to be such an imposing defensive presence. Considering he's five years into his full-time starting role, his offensive identity almost assuredly isn't changing. Other than a few offensive rebounds, he'll be relying on others to generate his own scoring chances.

    Mitchell, meanwhile, might be living his best NBA life in his age-26 campaign. By then, he could have the perfect marriage of experience and athleticism, both knowing how defenders will play him and having enough juice to exploit that.

    If only one of these two is an All-Star by then, the smart money is on Mitchell.

Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal

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    The history books will have a hard time remembering why Bradley Beal's two-year All-Star streak was snapped this season. Even with Washington's record not being great (24-40 so far) and its defense being historically disastrous, Beal's stat line certainly looks All-Star-quality: 30.5 points, 6.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 3.0 three-pointers and 1.2 steals per game.

    This isn't to rehash any debates about his snub, but merely to point out the type of talent he has. There aren't many players around the league who can match that line, and none of them live in the District.

    John Wall could have a tough time on this side of a ruptured Achilles, and in this scenario, he could also be fighting Father Time as an athleticism-dependent 32-year-old. But is anyone else on the roster even worth mentioning?

    Rui Hachimura has nice numbers for a rookie (13.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game), but who's getting excited about a non-shooter with defensive limitations? Davis Bertans can shoot it, but that's about it.

    Beal could be entering or even into his decline for his age-29 season, but his shooting, scoring instincts and refined playmaking could all help him battle back against the aging curve. If he's not the best player on the roster, it's either related to an injury or the result of Washington adding a superstar via trade or free agency.


    All stats courtesy of and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

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