Five NBA players who are ready to become stars
Five NBA players who are ready to become stars
BOSTON – The weekend debut of the rap group NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” movie was a hit on so many levels, forcing many of us to relive those dark days when jheri curls were the rage (and apparently still is for at least one former NBA player).
Reasons for the movie’s box office success vary, but most agree NWA more than anything else, changed the rap/hip-hop game in unprecedented fashion.
The NBA doesn’t have an Ice Cube or Dr. Dre equivalent.
But league’s history has shown us time and time again how great players with unique talents can do more than just succeed in the NBA – they can thrive.
From Bill Russell to Bill Bradley, from Nate “Tiny” Archibald to Nate Robinson, difference-makers have come in all sizes, shapes and colors.
And as one generation of NBA greats gradually fade into the sunset, a new crop of talent is waiting on the horizon, eager for their opportunity to shine brightly.
Here we take a look at five players – all with three years or less NBA experience – who will shape the way the NBA is seen and played by the masses for many, many years to come.
5. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
The 7-foot-2 Frenchman emerged this past season as a defensive force for the on-the-rise Utah Jazz. He averaged 2.3 blocks per game which ranked 3rd in the NBA and finished among the top-five vote-getters for both Defensive Player of the Year (fifth) and the league’s Most Improved Award (third).
In addition, Gobert had the highest point total among NBA players not selected to the league’s all-Defensive First or Second team and his 21.60 PER (player efficiency rating) ranked sixth among NBA centers .
The next step for Gobert in his development is becoming more of a factor offensively. He’s not going to be counted on to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, but Gobert being a double-double scorer/rebounder isn’t that big a stretch. He wasn’t that far off this past season when he averaged 8.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. But numbers alone aren’t what makes Gobert a player to watch. His size and ridiculously long wing span along with an affable demeanor, makes him a likeable personality as well as a good player. And the dude has a laundry list of nicknames – “Gobzilla,” “The French Rejection” and “The Stifle Tower" to name a few – which is a definite indicator to many that this guy is going to be a big deal in this league.
4. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
The impact of Green on the NBA was felt not only this spring as helped lead the Warriors to their first NBA title in 40 years, but also on draft night as team after team hoped they could unearth the next Draymond Green. He is a hybrid talent in every sense of the word.
At 6-foot-7, he has small forward size and the foot speed to defend that position. But he’s also strong enough to defend traditional power forwards and centers, too. And being a good rebounder who can also handle the ball some, Green can initiate fast break opportunities quickly which often puts defenses on their heels.
His 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game don’t scream, “You get a max contract!”
But the eye-ball test – and the Warriors’ win total – leave no doubt about the impact Green has on what ultimately matters in the NBA which is winning games.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Of the players on this list, none have as seemingly limitless upside as Antetokounmpo. At 6-foot-11 (and counting), he has the kind of size to play multiple frontcourt positions. Because of his ridiculous length and an improving ball-handling skill set, Antetokounmpo has the ability to start fast breaks and finish them off which is something the Bucks will surely try to tap into as much as possible this season.
His perimeter game shooting (he shot 15 percent on 3s last year) leaves a lot to be desired, but here’s what you have to keep in mind.
He just finished his second full NBA season and Antetokounmpo is “light years” ahead of where they expected him to be at this point in his pro career. Players improve with time and good coaching. But there are things that Antetokounmpo does that have nothing to do with experience or who is coaching, but instead are purely off-the-charts athletic moves that have no counter. A healthy Jabari Parker gives Milwaukee a big-time scorer and the addition of Greg Monroe bolsters their interior presence. But if the Bucks are to break through and be one of the elite teams not just in the East but also the NBA, Antetokounmpo will be the man near the front helping lead the charge.
2. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota
If a poll were taken as to who is most likely to unseat LeBron James as the best player in the NBA, you can bet that Wiggins would get his share of votes. The former No. 1 pick in 2014 had a strong rookie season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, good enough to earn the league’s rookie of the year award. He won the award in large part because he put up big scoring numbers (16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game).
But near the end of his rookie season, Wiggins began to show the first signs of having the kind of killer instinct the great ones have. It didn’t bolster Minnesota’s win total dramatically, but it has set the stage for what has been a summer of intense workouts for Wiggins with the goal being for him to return ready to lead Minnesota from the outset – something he was not charged with doing in his lone season at Kansas.
It’s too soon to say how this will all pan out for Wiggins. But there is little doubt that the 6-foot-8 wing is going to be among the game’s elite players soon – very soon!
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Davis is the lone all-star on this group, and for good reason. He’s that good despite his lack of NBA experience. In so many ways, the 22-year-old is the kind of player that every team in searching for in a leader. He has talent, versatility and desire to not just be good – but be the best the game has to offer. What he did in leading the Pelicans to the playoffs was nothing short of a miracle in what’s an always-stacked Western Conference. And he did so on the final night of the season for New Orleans in leading them to a 108-103 win over San Antonio which played its starters their usual minutes. Davis had 31 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocked shots. For Davis, there’s little left to prove in his game. He’s legit. But now comes to daunting task of convincing others to join forces with him in New Orleans in order to make last season’s foray into the postseason something they can build on in the coming years. It’s easier said than done, regardless of how talented Davis has proven himself to be so quickly. But for that competitive drive to stay alive, it has to happen.
In recent years, we have seen more and more young players in their prime team up with other upper echelon players with winning an NBA title as the objective. Davis has made it known to all that holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy is a goal. But it’s a process, one that Davis is only three years into. That’s why you won’t hear or see him panicking … yet. Because for now, he’s still working at refining his skills not only as a great player, but also a great leader. As those qualities become more solidified, it will become a matter of when – not if – Davis leaves little to no doubt as to why he is the best player in the NBA.