Predicting NBA All-Stars 5 Years from Now

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 6, 2021

Predicting NBA All-Stars 5 Years from Now

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The NBA All-Star Game is often an amalgamation of elite hoopers past, present and future.

    Sure, they're all technically present stars. But some are still ascending, some are elegantly declining and others are at their apexes.

    That's why it's fun to break out the crystal ball, peer into the future and see which stars will be standing, rising and falling five years from now.

    While the Association prepares for the 2021 All-Star Game on Sunday at State Farm Arena, we're busy looking ahead at the 2026 edition. We'll do our best to fill that roster with up-and-comers, gracefully aging vets and a pair of hoopers who don't call the NBA home just yet.       

Bam Adebayo, C/F, Miami Heat

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 19.2 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 5.4 APG, 22.0 PER

    2026 Age: 28

    The future of basketball looks like an awful lot like Bam Adebayo.

    He's big. He's skilled. He's athletic. He's a 6'9", 255-pounder who's just as comfortable banging with bigs and punishing the rim as he is staying in front of speedy guards and orchestrating offense from the elbow (and, increasingly, further out). OK, maybe there will never be a bunch of Bams running around, but his combination of size, skill and versatility is what every modern NBA club wants.

    Give his game another five years to grow, and Adebayo might be a full-fledged point-center with a reliable three-ball. Oh, and he could be a multi-time Defensive Player of the Year by then too.    

Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 29.0 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 5.9 APG, 29.0 PER

    2026 Age: 31

    Consensus is rarely (if ever) found in the comments section, but even trolls would have a hard time second-guessing this selection.

    The last two MVP trophies are in Giannis Antetokounmpo's possession. He's such a megastar that the numbers above might qualify as a slight disappointment by his standards. That's a mind-boggler in itself, but it gets even more absurd when you consider that only three other players have ever approached this stat line (Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Russell Westbrook).

    Antetokounmpo's trajectory is an arrow pointing up. It's not a question of whether he'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, it's whether he'll walk away from this game with a spot saved for him on Mt. Rushmore.   

Deandre Ayton, C, Phoenix Suns

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 14.5 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 18.9 PER

    2026 Age: 27

    Having trouble being blown away by Deandre Ayton's 2020-21 production? Don't worry; those aren't blow-you-away numbers. Instead, they're the result of the big fella buying into more of a support role for All-Stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker and, in turn, helping Phoenix—which hasn't been to the postseason since Amar'e Stoudemire led it in scoring in 2009-10—climb all the way to second in the West.

    But you don't need a time machine to find All-Star-caliber statistical indicators in Ayton's past.

    After being drafted first overall in 2018, he became just the third rookie of the 2000s to average 16 points and 10 rebounds per game. Blake Griffin and Karl-Anthony Towns, who have eight All-Star selections between them, were the others. One year later, Ayton became just the seventh sophomore to ever average 18 points, 11 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per contest. The other six are all roommates at the Hall of Fame.

    Ayton could be special, particularly if he can stretch his shooting range past the perimeter. Five years should be enough time to do it.       

LaMelo Ball, PG, Charlotte Hornets

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 15.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 6.0 RPG, 18.8 PER

    2026 Age: 24

    All of the praise ever attached to LaMelo Ball makes sense now. Even the most hyperbolic orators got it right; the 19-year-old is the real deal.

    He is 35 games into his NBA career, and he has already brought the buzz back to Buzz City. He was the third overall pick in 2020 and looms as the one who got away for the two teams that drafted ahead of Charlotte (Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors). He has the hoops world's attention and even found a way to impress the GOAT.

    "I think Melo has adjusted to the NBA game better than any of us ever thought this early in his career," Hornets governor Michael Jordan told Steve Reed of the Associated Press. "He has exceeded our expectations so far this season."

    The slick handles and savant passing have been as potent as expected. His shooting (37.8 percent from three), scoring (20.7 points per game as a starter) and willingness to defend have erased predraft concerns.

    Annual All-Star appearances should be coming in the near future for Ball.    

Devin Booker, SG, Phoenix Suns

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 24.9 PPG, 4.4 APG, 49.6 FG%, 18.6 PER

    2026 Age: 29

    At some point, the basketball world will realize Devin Booker shouldn't need another player to get injured to open up his All-Star spot.

    He makes the short list of the league's most fiery offensive weapons. He entered this season having scored the fifth-most career points ever prior to his 24th birthday. He has since boosted his field-goal percentage to a personal best and trimmed his turnover percentage (13.7) to its lowest since the 2016-17 campaign. He's one of only five players to average 24 points and four assists each season since 2017-18.  

    Tack on the lessons he's learning from Chris Paul, and Booker might be practically unguardable by 2026.

Jaylen Brown, G/F, Boston Celtics

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 24.7 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.3 3PG, 21.0 PER

    2026 Age: 29

    Remember when Jaylen Brown used to tantalize with three-and-D potential? Those were a fun few seasons.

    But his march to stardom began in earnest during the 2019-20 campaign, when he increased his offensive responsibilities (and efficiency) to help offset the departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. With Gordon Hayward now gone and Kemba Walker still getting his legs back, Brown has accelerated his ascension by becoming a top-tier shot-creator almost overnight.

    Everything from his handles to his vision has improved, and when he's taking such massive leaps ahead of his 25th birthday, what could the next five years bring his way? A handful of All-Star selections seem all but certain.       

Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State

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    Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 19.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 21.6 PER

    2026 Age: 24

    Is it presumptuous to predict an All-Star birth from someone who's not even in the Association yet? I mean, maybe? But if you've ever watched Cade Cunningham in action, then you get it.

    "Understand, no one is saying Cade Cunningham is the next Magic Johnson, but his profound impact on a game is undeniable," ESPN's Joe Lunardi wrote. "... Cade might not be Magic, but he's at least Ben Simmons with a jump shot."

    Give Simmons a jumper, and he'd be a generational great. That same sphere of potential is there for Cunningham.

    At 6'8", he can double as both a go-to scorer and a primary playmaker. He's not a big wing who can create shots, he's just a jumbo-sized point guard at 6'8". Add shot-making, finishing and defensive versatility to the equation, and Cunningham's All-Star upside is crystal-clear.   

Anthony Davis, PF/C, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 22.5 PPG, 3.0 APG, 1.8 BPG, 24.7 PER

    2026 Age: 32

    Davis doesn't have the cleanest bill of health, which is always a worry with a 30-something big man. But as long as the basketball gods do their job and keep the injury bug away from the Brow, he'll always have a seat at the All-Star table.

    The above stat line is one of the least impressive he's ever produced. It's also a line only five other players have produced since 2000. And you can thin that group even further once adding on his 8.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.7 triples.

    Three players have a career PER north of 27. Davis is one. LeBron James and Michael Jordan are the others.

Luka Doncic, G, Dallas Mavericks

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 28.6 PPG, 9.0 APG, 8.4 RPG, 26.2 PER

    2026 Age: 27

    At what point do we get to say someone is having a career for the ages? If we're talking Doncic, maybe halfway through his rookie season?

    Seriously, this is like basketball on a different plane. He debuted with rookie averages of 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists. His only statistical company at that point was Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.

    Doncic has continued to align himself with all-time greats ever since. He's just the 15th player ever to tally 4,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds within his first three seasons. Sounds impressive, right? It gets better. Three seasons could be as many as 246 games. Doncic has played just 165. The next fewest appearances within that 15-player club were Jerry West's 209.

Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 30.2 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 41.6 3P%, 31.3 PER

    2026 Age: 31

    Trust us, Philly fans, we're crossing our fingers and knocking on wood just like you in hopes of keeping Embiid as healthy as possible. Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but if you've seen his modern take on a Hakeem Olajuwon reboot, then you understand our reasons for optimism.

    A healthy Embiid is an MVP candidate—if not the MVP front-runner. Remember when defenses used to want him to shoot? Well, he's a hot streak at the charity stripe away from earning 50/40/90 enshrinement. Basketball-Reference tracks shooting data across five different zones. Embiid is having his best shooting season ever in four of those zones and his second-best in the other.

    There's a universe in which he exits the 2020-21 season as the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player. That won't happen, but he'll be in the running for the first two and has a sneaky-good argument for some votes in the third.

De'Aaron Fox, PG, Sacramento Kings

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 23.0 PPG, 7.6 APG, 1.8 3PG, 18.8 PER

    2026 Age: 28

    You know how teams will play certain sound effects when they splash a triple or hit a free throw at their home games? If I was running game operations for the Kings, I'd drop a groaning noise every time Fox finds his mark from long range.

    That's the sound 29 other coaching staffs make when they see it. The guy is already a nightmare cover because of his blink-and-you'll-miss-him burst and ability to finish drives around the basket. If he becomes a plus three-point threat—he has never averaged more makes and only once shot a higher percentage (34.2)—then it might be game over.

    Considering he was in the All-Star running without a deadly shot from distance, he could be making regular appearances in the world's greatest pickup game with five more years of shot development.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 23.2 PPG, 6.2 APG, 62.7 TS%, 22.0 PER

    2026 Age: 27

    How many better under-25 building blocks are there than SGA? Five? Fewer? Whatever the number is, it's tiny.

    Gilgeous-Alexander has something for everyone. His smooth, slippery play style is easy on the eyes. His traditional numbers speak for themselves. His advanced analytics are eye-openers.

    In other words, his stardom can appeal to casuals, highlight-hungry fans, stat-obsessed number-crunchers and everyone in between. He's also equally appealing to NBA franchises since he works on or off the ball, plays and defends multiple positions and works as anything from a win-now asset to a long-term centerpiece.

Brandon Ingram, SF/PF, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 23.9 PPG, 4.8 APG, 37.9 3P%, 20.4 PER

    2026 Age: 28

    The old comparisons to Kevin Durant might have been a step too far, but you can see why they were made.

    Physically, Ingram has a KD 2.0 kind of wiry build. There's some KD-Lite in Ingram's skill profile, too, particularly since he managed to sustain last season's shooting improvements. Durant is on a different level as a scorer—from Ingram and 99-plus percent of players who've ever seen NBA action—but Ingram is growing in that area every season, and he got a head start on playmaking.

    So long as Ingram remains an above-average shooter from distance and at the stripe, he should have several more All-Star appearances in his future. It's possible to not be the next Kevin Durant and still be a great player, as Ingram has arguably already shown.

Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 27.1 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 8.6 APG, 31.5 PER

    2026 Age: 31

    Do I need to explain this one?

    Let's see: best passing big man in NBA history, nightly triple-double threat with elite efficiency, still some unrealized scoring potential—Jokic only started approaching the game like a No. 1 option this season (he averaged two more shots than Will Barton in 2019-20, seriously)—and a skill-based profile that could function as an anti-aging tool.

    Yeah, that probably covers it.

Kawhi Leonard, SF, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 26.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.5 SPG

    2026 Age: 34

    Maintaining All-Star status into your mid-30s isn't easy. But who's ready to bet against Leonard?

    He wasn't supposed to be a star. Coming out of San Diego State, he looked like he could top out as a three-and-D wing—and that was only if his three ball came around.

    Now look at him: five-time All-Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Finals MVP, 2020's All-Star Game MVP. He's the highest scorer on his team, sits within striking distance of a 50/40/90 shooting slash and could fit the Grand Canyon between his assist percentage (23.6) and turnover percentage (8.2).

    And while athleticism enhances what he does, that's not what makes him great. Competitiveness, physicality and a perpetually expanding skill set will be what continues setting him apart from his peers into the future.

Donovan Mitchell, SG, Utah Jazz

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 24.7 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.3 3PG, 19.0 PER

    2026 Age: 29

    The Jazz may no longer rank as NBA elites in five years, but Mitchell has a chance to save his spot.

    He's a fan favorite for everything from his gaudy point totals to his highlight hammers, and his skills are clearly sharpening. He entered the league as a questionable shooter. Now, he's splashing 3.3 triples per outing at a 38.2 percent clip. His assist percentage has climbed each of his four NBA seasons, starting at 19.4 and jumping all the way to 26.0 this year.

    The name recognition will keep him relevant, but his ongoing maturation is the biggest reason to buy him as a future star.

Evan Mobley, PF/C, USC

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 16.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 28.6 PER

    2026 Age: 24

    If you haven't heard, the 2021 draft class could be stacked at the top. It was harder leaving out some of the top members in this class—nodding in the direction of Jalen Suggs, Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga—than it was justifying putting a pair of pro prospects on this roster.

    Mobley doesn't have the loudest game in his draft class, but you may not find a more perfect fit for the modern game. He's the kind of do-it-all center who proves size still matters in this league, so long as it's accompanied by the requisite skill. For the young 7-footer, it absolutely is.

    "It's not that being smaller is an advantage—it's that smaller teams tend to be faster and more skilled. Mobley offers those benefits without sacrificing any size," The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks wrote. "He's the best of both worlds. He can do all the same things as big wings and small-ball big men, except he's seven feet tall."

    Mobley is a shot-eraser and a shot-creator, which probably should be the new definition for an NBA unicorn. If he keeps expanding his shooting range (his mechanics are easy to buy), he'll become the kind of modernized star center every team wants.

Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 19.8 PPG, 7.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 19.2 PER

    2026 Age: 26

    Between Memphis' starting and stopping, and his own bout with the injury bug, Morant hasn't always looked like himself this season. That he's still one of just a dozen sophomores to average 19 points and seven dimes says everything you need to know about his skyscraper ceiling.

    He's a full-fledged floor general who just so happens to also be comfortable as an alpha scorer. That can render defenses helpless against him. Just ask his last two opponents, who watched him erupt for 70 points and 15 assists combined.

    His game is easy on the eyes, and the fearlessness with which he attacks is something fans, coaches and media can appreciate. All arrows are pointing up in Memphis, and by 2026, Morant and the Grizz could be regulars in the All-Star Game and postseason, respectively.

Michael Porter Jr., SF, Denver Nuggets

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 14.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 17.8 PER

    2026 Age: 27

    This feels strangely inevitable considering Porter hasn't played 100 games or averaged 30 minutes yet. But he's been flashing elite potential ever since he climbed atop his draft class, only to have a back injury nearly knock him out of the 2018 draft lottery.

    The Nuggets have celebrated their good fortune ever since.

    Porter is an effortless scorer with a three-level arsenal 6'10" players shouldn't be allowed to possess. He's learning the NBA game and already clowning NBA defenders. So far, he has paired 19.5 points per 36 minutes with a wildly efficient 50.6/41.9/80.3 shooting slash.

    Bake in this time for him to round out the rest of his game, and he might be locked into the starting lineup when the rosters are actually assembled.

Ben Simmons, G, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 16.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 7.6 APG, 19.9 PER

    2026 Age: 29

    Is there a less interesting conversation in basketball than the development (or lack thereof) in Simmons' perimeter offense? I mean, sure, he'd be even harder to handle if he added an outside shot, but if that's where your focus lies, than you're missing the bigger picture.

    And it's a freaking masterpiece.

    Get Simmons in the open court, and he's a 6'11", 240-pound freight train with about as much horsepower as a young LeBron James. Simmons can make any pass in the book, and at the defensive end, he might be the very best this league has to offer.

    "He plays 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. He's played every position on the floor," Sixers coach Doc Rivers said, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "When he's played those positions, he's been able to come up with stops. There are very few players in the NBA that can do the things that Ben does defensively."

    Let's travel five years into the future. Maybe Simmons has an outside shot. Maybe he doesn't. It doesn't change this discussion. He could be the NBA's premier stopper, a top-five passer and maybe a top-30ish scorer (20.5 points 63.9 percent shooting his last 13 outings). On what planet would that not be an All-Star?

Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 24.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.5 APG, 19.7 PER

    2026 Age: 28

    Catch Tatum on the right night (which is most nights), and you'll swear he has solved NBA defenses. Then your brain will back up, realize what it thought and remember it's applying that to a 23-year-old who hasn't completed his fourth NBA season.

    Scary stuff, folks. Well, for everyone outside of the New England area, at least.

    Tatum is an impossibly smooth one-on-one shot-creator, and when extra defensive attention comes his way, he can either make multiple defenders look foolish or move the basketball to an open teammate. His playmaking is trending up. His defense has trended up. His perimeter shot has exceeded expectations (career 39.5 percent).

    He's an offensive superstar and a strong two-way player. That's an incredible combination for a 23-year-old, and it could be an overpowering blend in the heart of his prime.

Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 22.0 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, 22.7 PER

    2026 Age: 30

    Let's start this off by checking in with KAT, shall we?

    "We ain't executing, and I'm tired of looking at the box score and looking at all the numbers and s--t and talking about the same thing, how we haven't won or oh, we've got to do this and do that," Towns said, per The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski. "Obviously, what we said hasn't worked."

    Oof. On second thought, let's just make Towns' argument for him.

    Offensively, he's no worse than the third-best center in basketball, and even that might be selling him short. He's top 15 all-time in career effective field-goal percentage (57.6, 12th), true shooting percentage (62.1, sixth) and offensive rating (119.37, 11th). Last season, while navigating around a month-plus absence with a knee sprain, he posted first-of-its-kind production.

    It's been a dismal season for the Timberwolves and a tragedy-filled year for Towns, so in case anyone is out-of-sight, out-of-mind forgetting how good he is, let's remember how ridiculously dominant he can be.

Zion Williamson, F, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 25.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, 26.8 PER

    2026 Age: 25

    There are better questions to ask than whether Williamson will be an All-Star in 2026.

    Like, how many statues will the city of New Orleans have constructed in his honor by then? Will we all have discovered the basketball gods are totally real and designed Williamson themselves?

    I don't know, just spit-balling here, but as you can see it's easy to get carried away when discussing a transcendent 20-year-old. I mean, he's a 6'7", 284-pound dunk machine who's dabbling as a secondary playmaker and looks like he'll have a reliable three-ball in his arsenal at some point. A season-plus into Williamson's career, it's still hard wrapping your head around what we're all witnessing.

    So, yeah, Williamson will be an All-Star in five seasons. The more interesting conversation is how much else he'll be by then.

Trae Young, G, Atlanta Hawks

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    2020-21 Notable Numbers: 26.4 PPG, 9.4 APG, 2.5 3PG, 22.9 PER

    2026 Age: 27

    Young didn't crack the official 2021 All-Star ballot, but he had my vote. (Surely that's a massive consolation prize.) I just have this funny rule about voting for players who average better than 26 points and nine helpers a night.

    Maybe he's to blame for his own snub. He sort of numbed the rest of us to absurd statistical success. He was a history-maker in college and almost one of a kind by his sophomore NBA season.

    He could be a more efficient shooter (especially inside the arc), and Atlanta could strengthen his credentials by securing a postseason spot for the first time since 2017. He and the team has enough time to make the changes needed for him to become a perennial All-Star.


    All stats current through games played on March 4 and are courtesy of and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

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