10 Rising NBA Stars Who Will Emerge in 2013-14
10 Rising NBA Stars
I cannot remember who said it, but I once heard someone in the sports world say, “By their third season you should know if they are your franchise player or not.” If my memory serves me right, it was a discussion regarding NFL quarterbacks, but the same thing can be said of basketball players.
When you look at the NBA landscape, you can see that the game is slowly becoming a young man's sport. As each year goes by, the superstars of yesteryear are beginning to fade from relevance. There will always be the Kobe Bryants of the world who are still relevant despite their age, but there will also be guys like Juan Howard who provide nothing to their current team.
That’s why the NBA Draft has become so valuable. Over the past few years, franchise players have begun to emerge during their four-year rookie contracts, turning their performances into max contracts. Guys like Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Kevin Durant have all become franchise players after being drafted in the top-10.
But what about those players who have only been in the league for a couple seasons or are entering that sacred third season? Who among them are ready to emerge as the next NBA superstar or franchise player?
Here are 10 guys ready to break from the rookie mold and cross into superstardom this season.
10. Tobias Harris
Here’s a player who was stuck on the bench in Milwaukee with no playing time in sight before the Orlando Magic pulled him to the Sunshine state in the trade for J.J. Redick. Harris was considered a potential guy before the draft; someone who could become a solid pro if he just worked on the intangibles. Well once he was traded to Orlando and given a chance to start, those predictions were proven true. Harris started in 20 out of the 27 games he played with Orlando and scored less than double-digits in only three of those contests. He will have some scoring competition with rookie Victor Oladipo next season, but fans should still see an improvement in his game and a rise in star status.
9. Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler is no longer a hidden gem in Chicago. After last season’s performance, Butler propelled himself into the Bulls’ starting lineup during all 12 playoffs games after only starting 20 games during the regular season. Butler’s defense is his greatest asset, something that will carry him this season as he emerges as the next star in Chicago, which is really unfair since they already have Derrick Rose. He averaged 8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists during the regular season, but those numbers shot up during the postseason along with his playing time. By adding 15 additional minutes per game during the playoffs, Butler was able to contribute 13.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and with 1.3 steals, helping the Bulls upset the Brooklyn Nets in Round 1. Butler may not be the Bulls' next franchise player, but it appears he will be their next star.
8. Larry Sanders
Some may question my choice of Larry Sanders considering he was recently paid like a franchise player by the Milwaukee Bucks in the offseason, but I think he still has a lot to prove before you can say he actually earned his extension. For the first two years of his NBA career, Sanders hardly played and didn’t light up the box scores. That all changed last season as the beast inside of him awoke, causing havoc around the rim on every play. Whether he was scoring, rebounding, or blocking, Sanders was finally playing up to his first-round stature. 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game later, he was awarded a four-year, $44 million extension. With Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings gone, Sanders is now the man in Milwaukee, but he will need to eclipse last year’s performance to enter the NBA star realm.
7. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
No, I am not throwing darts at pictures at random and choosing them for this article. When it comes to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, I think everyone sees that he has the ability to take his game to the next level in the NBA. It doesn’t help that he plays for the Charlotte Bobcats, but if he can’t emerge this year as their franchise player, then he will be passed up by rookie Cody Zeller. Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 9.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game last season, not bad for a rookie season that was plagued with inconsistency and a one-on-one loss to his boss. But, those numbers need to climb. He needs to raise his 46 percent field goal shooting and play like the second overall pick he is. Everyone saw his potential at Kentucky -- he just needs to find it again this season.
6. Kenneth Faried
The self proclaimed “Manimal” has tore up opponents during his first two NBA seasons. Kenneth Faried blew up during the 2011 NCAA season when he led Morehead State to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship, broke Tim Duncan’s NCAA Division-I career rebounding record and helped upset the No. 4 ranked Louisville Cardinals in round one of the NCAA Tournament. Faried had a terrific NBA rookie season -- 10.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG and 1.0 BPG -- which he followed up with an even better sophomore performance at 11.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 1.0 BPG. The Denver Nuggets lack a true franchise player, but it’s a safe bet that Manimal will take that title with another stellar season this year.
5. Greg Monroe
If you stare at Greg Monroe’s headshot long enough on ESPN.com, you can start to see a resemblance to Greg Oden. But then you look at his stats, and that’s where any form of resemblance ends. Monroe is what the Portland Trail Blazers were hoping Oden would become when they drafted him No. 1 in 2007. In his third season, Monroe averaged 16.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists, easily becoming the Detroit Pistons' go-to player. But that’s changed with the additions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings during the offseason. While many may look to Smith as being the franchise player in Detroit, it would be wiser to put all your eggs in Monroe’s basket given he is younger and more consistent. If Monroe can continue to post similar stats despite the new additions, then it would be tough for anyone to say he isn’t the star in Detroit.
4. Iman Shumpert
Iman Shumpert is entering his third NBA season and although he has only played in 104 out of 164 games during his first two years, he has shown glimpses of stardom. He is the Knicks' best defender, though he will be challenged by Metta World Peace this year. As well, his other intangibles should improve if he can stay healthy for the entire season. After averaging 6.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists during the regular season, Shumpert showed what he could do when healthy during the Knicks' postseason as he averaged 9.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists. The Knicks need a backup plan in case Carmelo Anthony leaves in the offseason, and Shumpert should emerge as that plan.
3. Anthony Davis
Who would you say is the franchise player in New Orleans: Eric Gordon or Anthony Davis? I would lean towards Gordon simply because he was paid to be their leader despite being injury prone, while Davis was only a rookie last year, albeit a good one. Davis finished his rookie campaign by winning Rookie of the Year honors after averaging 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. I don't think it’s a giant leap to believe Davis was drafted not only for his phenomenal talent, but to one day be the franchise’s main guy. He’s started down the right path and another big season, if he can remain healthy, will push him past Gordon as the Pelicans’ star.
2. Damian Lillard
The runner-up to Anthony Davis for Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard was perhaps the biggest surprise coming out of the 2013 NBA Draft. He played big in college, although at a small school, but he was widely coveted by teams in the Top 10. Lillard landed with the Portland Trail Blazers and quickly became the face of their franchise, at least to those outside of Portland. With rumors swirling that LaMarcus Aldridge wants out of town, Lillard’s status as the franchise player -- as well as superstar -- could change overnight this season. It will be tough for him to best his stats from last season -- 19.0 points, 6.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds -- but if he can, then he will immediately lump himself with the Kyrie Irvings and Rajon Rondos of the NBA.
1. Kawhi Leonard
In a trade that benefited both teams, the Indiana Pacers sent newly-drafted Kawhi Leonard to the San Antonio Spurs for George Hill. The verdict is still out on which team got the better of the deal, but if last season was any indicator, then the Spurs made out like bandits. Leonard started 57 out of the 58 regular season games he appeared in, averaging 11.9 points, 1.6 assists and 6.0 rebounds. Those numbers rose during the playoffs where Leonard’s rising star status became a nationwide watch. In 21 postseason games, Leonard averaged 13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.8 steals. San Antonio’s Big Three are nearing the end of their career, which means the Spurs need to find their future stars, and Leonard is on pace to become that next season.