10 NBA Players Who Can Crack the Top 10 within the Next 5 Years

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst ISeptember 15, 2011

10 NBA Players Who Can Crack the Top 10 within the Next 5 Years

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    This isn't your average NBA anymore.

    Rather than the league being overrun with All-Stars that are usually 30 years old, the latest generation of NBA talent has actually begun to take the initiative of leading their teams and making it onto the All-Star teams that the veterans couldn't make it on because of the exciting young talent that's emerged as of late. The NBA has turned into a young man's game with a 22-year-old recently taking home the MVP award.

    The new generation of players isn't just developing for a few years first and then becoming quality players as they are now thrown into the fire in most franchises and are expected to lead the team back to the postseason if they're in the middle of a down period. A lot is expected out of these young players as a number of franchises will allow their franchises to come down to the exploits of a player who's barely 21.

    In fact, the 10 people on this list are all young NBA talent that are attempting to currently lead their team either just to the postseason or even the Finals. Most of them haven't been around for more than four seasons and they're already being regarded as possible top-20 talent. For this article, we'll focus on those young players that are either on the borderline or are possible in the future of cracking the top 10 players in the league.

    With players like Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki set to see their careers decline over that time, room will open up on that prestigious list. Some of these players might not have to wait to replace the veterans as they might just push veterans out of the top 10 because of how quickly they have progressed in their careers.

    Rather than taking another look at the top 10 players in the league, let's look at 10 players that we could very well be talking about as the best within the next five seasons that don't currently have a spot locked up in the top 10.

Tyreke Evans

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    It only took one season for Tyreke Evans to prove to the NBA world that he's capable of becoming one of the league's top 1-guards after becoming only the fourth rookie in NBA history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in their first season.

    The other three players? Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Maybe you've heard of them before?

    Aside from already making history at the age of 20, Evans is a potential superstar in the making and could also become the savior of basketball in Sacramento. He's a Magic Johnson type of 1-guard as he utilizes his 6'6" frame as one of his biggest advantages when running the floor. Evans utilizes that height advantage by being able to see the floor better than the average 1-guard, while also containing the ability to shoot over just about any 1-guard that attempts to defend him.

    Don't think that his 6'6", 220 pound frame slows him down either. Evans is lightning quick, possesses a sick crossover that makes him capable of eluding any defender, and also contains the ability to explode at any moment when given the open lane.

    He's a rare type of 1-guard that you only see among the league's elite as he can basically do everything on the court thanks to that height advantage and athleticism. As you can clearly tell from the stats he posted in his rookie season—20 points, six assists and five boards officially—Evans is the perfect blend when it comes to a floor general and an overall team leader.

    Unfortunately for Evans, he suffered from injuries for the majority of last season and wasn't given too much of a chance to improve from his rookie year. If he can get back on the track he was riding in his rookie season, then there should be little doubt that Evans could lead the Kings back from obscurity while also possibly securing a spot in the top 10 players in the future.

Kevin Love

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    The Memphis Grizzlies may be kicking themselves after witnessing the amount of windex Kevin Love put on the boards last year.

    O.J. Mayo certainly isn't posting up 20 points and 15 boards per, so I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the Minnesota Timberwolves actually got the better end of a deal for once.

    After two productive seasons with the Timberwolves where Love posted up as many as 14 points and 11 boards per in his sophomore season, he went bonkers when it came to just about every aspect of the game as he went on to average a team high 20 points per game to go along with a league leading 15 rebounds per contest. The 15 rebounds per was the highest any player has averaged since Ben Wallace did so during the 2002-'03 campaign.

    It's not as if the Wolves were lacking in the rebounding department either as they still possessed 7' Darko Milicic at the 5 and athletic freak Michael Beasley at the 3. It's Love's ability to time rebounds while also knowing how to throw his body around that nets him all these caroms. Rebounding is a science where big men need to know how the ball bounces when shot from a specific area, the timing of when to jump, and the ability to throw your body around to shove opposing rebounders without fouling.

    Aside from Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut, you're not going to find many big men that can consistently rebound at a rate as impressive as Love. He prides himself on going up for loose balls and it's also how he makes his living when it comes to scoring the majority of his points. He managed to lead the Wolves in scoring and wasn't even the No. 1 option, he only led because of the nearly five offensive rebounds per that turned into tip-in's.

    He's also a surprisingly excellent threat from the perimeter as evidenced by last season. After shooting 11 percent and 33 percent respectively in his first two years, Love managed to connect on 42 percent of his three-point attempts last season. It makes life a lot easier for your team when you have a big man that can rebound at a prolific rate and can score from the inside and out.

    Love is already regarded as one of the top players in the league, but he hasn't exactly cracked the top 10. He's going to need to continue this pace, drastically improve his defense, and lead the Timberwolves to the postseason one of these days.

Blake Griffin

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    Here I was thinking that Tyreke Evans had a productive rookie season. Blake Griffin didn't exactly make any history with his statistical totals, but he did set the hypothetical record of most rim rattling highlight reel worthy dunks for a rookie season.

    You can check out all 214 of them in one clip right here since words just don't do justice of how electric this kid is. His athleticism is on par with the best of the best in the NBA and it makes it even more impossible to stop him once you realize that he's a hulking mass listed at 6'10" and weighing in at 251 pounds. He's basically a smaller Dwight Howard with just as much hops and just as much will to get to the rim and score.

    The only negative to his offensive game is that's all he basically can do. He's a terrific athlete and possesses an array of post moves, but he's a dismal jump shooter and it greatly limits his game outside of the painted area. If Griffin doesn't want to hit his peak by the age of 25, he'll need to develop a mid-range game that can be consistent from at least 15 feet out. It would add a completely new dimension to his game while also allowing him to drive at an even greater rate considering that he would be able to attract attention with his shot from the mid-range.

    Not to mention that teams will adjust to this. If you pack the paint, Griffin is basically useless on offense.

    As of now, Griffin is basically a super-athlete that sees his offensive, 23 points per, and rebounding, 12 points per, skills come on athleticism alone. It would greatly assist his overall game if he could develop that shot and some defensive prowess as well, but for the next five years he could strictly rely on athleticism and still produce at a consistent rate as long as teams don't begin adjusting just for Griffin.

    He took home a deserved Rookie of the Year last season after averaging 23 points, 12 rebounds and an impressive four assists per game while also leading the Los Angeles Clippers to their best record since 2007.

John Wall

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    Four turnovers per game is a bit much even for a rookie, but we'll give John Wall a pass this time because of just how prolific of a player he was when doing just about anything else.

    The runner up for Rookie of the Year this past season, Wall averaged a solid 16 points, eight assists, a little under five assists per and an impressive two steals per game while leading an athletic, young Washington Wizards squad. The team only won 23 games, but Wall and the rest of the team showed promise for the future and they could be a playoff contender extremely soon with experience and the right leader.

    Leave the leadership position for Wall to handle. His unmatched speed and astounding athleticism allows Wall to be the perfect facilitator for a team like the Wizards that possesses a number of key players that also rely on speed and athleticism as their strong suits. He has an understanding of where his teammates like to be on offense and their strengths when it comes to producing at a consistent rate.

    Like any rookie though, Wall still has some flaws to perfect with his turnovers easily being the most eye catching stat. At four per game, Wall was seventh in the league in overall turnovers with many of them coming unforced by way of the rookie seeing something that wasn't there to begin with or just being too quick for his teammates to react in time. He'll require a better understanding and awareness of the game if he wants to be considered an elite guard and he's going have to start by playing smarter basketball.

    Aside from turnovers and his shot selection at times, Wall easily has the potential and capability to be a top-10 player and top-five guard within the next five seasons. His speeds allows him to beat defenders off the dribble as well as also being too quick for a front court to react in time as to how Wall is going to score when around the rim.

    That speed also allows him to play solid defense as well since he can use his quick hands to pick opposing players pockets at will.

    With teammates like Nick Young and JaVale McGee improving with experience, Wall cold turn the Wizards into a playoff team sooner than we expect if he can limit his turnovers and continue to evolve into a 20 point, five rebound and five assist type of player.

Monta Ellis

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    Monta Ellis isn't the type of person to let a little incident with a mo-ped impede his progression as one of the NBA's elite. He's been playing the best basketball of his career since being limited to only playing in 25 games in the 2008-09 season.

    Already considered one of the league's greatest draft steals after being taken 40th overall in the 2005 draft out of Lanier High School, Ellis has quickly emerged as the scoring leader for the Golden State Warriors as well as one of the top scorers in the league overall which pretty much goes hand in hand when you play for the Warriors.

    You could argue that the Warriors offense allows Ellis to average the amount of points per game that he has been posting up since 2008 until you realize that it's actually his talent that's led him to become the top scorer and not the Warriors offense. He's an underrated slasher and is elite when it comes to finishing around the rim. At 6'3", 175 pounds, Ellis is able to score prolifically around the rim because of his overall quickness and agility when driving and finishing.

    Ellis' offense is easily the strongest part of his game and it has shown over the past two seasons with the future All-Star averaging 26 and 24 points per respectively. He's easily capable of averaging as much as 30 per, but has the unfortunate circumstance of being on a team with other pure scorers in Dorell Wright and Stephen Curry.

    Not only can he score from just about anywhere from within the perimeter, he's also developing a consistent three-point shot that he's been working on for the past two seasons. After averaging 34 percent from beyond the arc in 2010, he recently averaged 36 percent on nearly five three-point attempts per game. Already considered one of the top pure scorers in the game, Ellis is only improving with his range and defense and will only be 26 years old at the start of next season.

Russell Westbrook

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    Russell Westbrook has the talent to crack the top 10 within the next few seasons, the only problem is if he can co-exist with Kevin Durant when attempting to do so. The 2011 postseason for the Oklahoma City Thunder featured a number of occasions where Westbrook attempted to usurp the role of team leader by taking the shots that Durant should have been attempting.

    It's no doubt that Westbrook is completely capable of leading more than half of the teams in the NBA today, but that spot in Oklahoma City has already been taken and the franchise couldn't be happier which is why a pass first type of 1-guard may be the better choice in the long run.

    Without getting on Westbrook's case anymore than analysts and critics already have, let's speak of why he's actually considered one of the best 1-guards as well as possibly being one of the best players in the future.

    Since being taken as the fourth pick in the 2008 draft, Westbrook immediately made his impression felt with his athleticism and court awareness on a young Thunder team chock full of young athletes. After averaging a modest 15 points, five assists and five boards per, Westbrook broke through in his sophomore season by playing the role of facilitator with eight assists per.

    It was no coincidence either that the Thunder improved their win output by 27 games once Westbrook began efficiently dictating the offense.

    This past year was easily Westbrook's best as he averaged a career high 22 points and eight assists per while also shooting 44 percent from the field, another career high after shooting below 42 percent in his first two seasons. He's a terrific multi-dimensional threat that could lead an offense from a scoring stand point and a facilitator stand point as well which is a perfect mixture for a young Thunder team that could use guidance.

    It'll be interesting to see how the relationship between Westbrook and Durant does work out considering that it will impact what quality of a player Russell will become. Unless he becomes a pass first type of guard that becomes accustomed to allowing Durant to lead the way during pressure situations, his time with the Thunder could be limited.

Eric Gordon

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    Hey casual NBA fans! Have you realized yet that the Los Angeles Clippers consists of more than just Blake Griffin and a 1-guard throwing him the ball?

    In fact, there's a player just as good as Griffin if not better in shooting guard Eric Gordon. Despite having a career season and nearly leading the team in scoring, Gordon went unheralded due to the hype surrounding Griffin's rookie season. Griffin's taking up so much of the attention that he's even taken up a majority of this slide dedicated to another future superstar.

    After two productive seasons where he basically went unnoticed on a depleted Clippers team, Gordon broke though by averaging career highs in points, assists and steals with 22, four and two respectively. He and Griffin assumed the roles of scoring leaders on the Clippers with Gordon asserting his authority when it came to producing on offense. He attempted two more shots per than the previous two seasons while connecting on 45 percent of his shots overall and 36 percent from deep.

    When watching Gordon play, he tends to remind me of a young Dwyane Wade except with added range from beyond the arc. I say this because he's an undersized 2-guard at 6'3". Wade's only 6'4", but is supported greatly by his 222 pounds that he utilizes to out-muscle defenders. Gordon's quick off the dribble and is capable of surprising frontcourts with just how quick he rises as well, which is another attribute of Wade's.

    Not to mention, he's a terrific finesse player as well as a power player. It's the perfect blend you want from your 2-guard. He can drop in an easy lay in while also possessing the ability to slam over a taller defender to build some momentum in your team's favor.

    He'll only be 23 years old at the start of the 2011-'12 campaign and will be assisting a strong Clippers team in a possible quest for their first postseason appearance since 2006. Gordon will also receive some more attention at the national level after proving himself with his productive 2010-'11 season.

DeMar DeRozan

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    Having drawn comparisons to Kobe Bryant before even reaching the NBA level, DeMar DeRozan hasn't exactly posted up Kobe Bryant like numbers, but we can see why he's drawing comparisons to the five time champions.

    It doesn't mean you should expect the Toronto Raptors to start winning anything soon, but they will improve with DeRozan leading the way.

    After a trial rookie season where the Raptors only gave the 2-guard 22 minutes of playing time a night, the organization decided to give the future of Raptors basketball a legitimate chance by giving him the reins to the offense alongside Andrea Bargnani. With a starting position in tact and playing upwards of 35 minutes per, DeRozan took advantage by averaging 17 points per on 47 percent from the field with the majority of those makes coming from within the perimeter.

    When it comes to comparing DeRozan to Bryant, the USC product isn't supporting that claim when it comes to his jump shot. He's still greatly limited from the perimeter and isn't too stellar of a shooter from outside of 20 feet which basically limits him to driving and finishing around the rim until he does develop a consistent mid-range and perimeter game.

    At 21 years old, we'll allow him to get away with this since a player that young can survive on athleticism alone until either that runs thin or teams begin adjusting strictly to weaken that player's strengths. It would be difficult to believe that DeRozan won't develop a consistent jump shot over the next five years since it's obvious that he wants to improve and help lead this Toronto Raptors team back to the postseason without having to desert them as previous All-Stars have done before.

    With athleticism out of this world and the quickness to utilize that athleticism to its fullest potential, DeRozan could very well be a top 10 player if he develops a consistent jumper and assumes full control of his team rather than sharing those duties with Bargnani.

Derrick Williams

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    It seems as if the 2011 NBA draft brought up memories of the 2008 draft with the way the first two picks were chosen.

    As the Chicago Bulls did in 2008 by selecting 1-guard Derrick Rose over super athlete Michael Beasley, the Cleveland Cavaliers did the equivalent this year by selecting Kyrie Irving over Arizona's own athlete in power forward Derrick Williams.

    Let's just hope that Williams sticks with the Wolves unlike Beasley who was traded by the Miami Heat after two seasons. Even though the Wolves are currently stacked in the frontcourt with Kevin Love starting at the 4, Michael Beasley running at the 3, and the 5 probably being a little too much to ask for from someone who is listed at 6'8".

    The Wolves are going to have some significant choices to make over the next few seasons on what exactly they should do with the most talented and athletic player in the recent draft. Williams could play at the 3 and 4 with a huge advantage at both spots considering that he's fast enough to beat power forwards off the dribble while also possessing the strength to out-muscle small forwards.

    It's the best of both worlds from a player who is NBA ready and could probably post up 20 points and 10 rebounds per as soon as his rookie year.

    Aside from being an athlete that could do whatever he pleases in the post, he's not too bad of a jump shooter either with range going out to beyond the three-point line. On the two three-point attempts he took in his final season at Arizona, Williams converted on 57 percent of them. It's just another added bonus from the No. 2 pick as the Wolves possess not only an athlete that can score around the rim, but a solid shooter as well.

    If given the opportunity, Williams could easily be the player that Michael Beasley was supposed to become (not saying that he still can be). Like I said though, this all depends on how the Timberwolves organization handles him and judging by their history it probably won't go well.

Jrue Holiday

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    With the Philadelphia 76ers' future still up for grabs since the organization still hasn't made a decision on what to do with small forward Andre Iguodala, it might be that time where we actually focus on someone who at least deserves the attention and a part of the spotlight.

    Already one of the league's most underrated players, Sixers 1-guard Jrue Holiday has quietly emerged as one of the most volatile floor generals in the league over his first two years at the NBA level. Holiday was given significant playing time for the first time last year and he played well to the tune of posting up 14 points, seven assists and four rebounds per.

    At 6'3", 180 pounds, Holiday is obviously quick and knows how to take advantage of that agility by keeping defenders on their heels while also possessing the court awareness to know how to complete a play. He's very wise when it comes to involving his teammates and he already has a solid team chemistry despite only playing with the majority of his team for two years.

    Aside from being an excellent offensive facilitator despite barely being 21 years old, he's also a solid threat when it comes to scoring as well. Holiday is crafty with the ball when driving and he's extremely lethal when shooting from the mid-range and from the perimeter. He nailed nearly 37 percent of his three-point attempts last season while also connecting on 52 percent of his three-pointers in his first post season appearance.

    It'll be a stretch for Holiday to become a top-10 caliber player, but it is possible considering how mature he plays at such a young age. The Sixers should continue to develop Holiday by allowing him to lead the team at all junctures so that he may become a legitimate threat to lead the team into deeper postseason runs in the future.

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