The NBA is reaching new levels of popularity that it has not seen before. Players are getting paid some of the highest contracts of all time just because teams are making so much money. Now while some of those players deserved every penny they got (KD, Westbook, Kyrie, etc.) and some, well, reaping the benefits of playing in the most successful professional sports league in the country (the Lakers entire crop of free agents), there are some players that could be breaking records for a long time, both salary related and basketball related. The NBA’s talent pool may be the best it’s ever been, especially considering the young superstars joining the league every year. Lets look at the young talent who have the potential to take over the league and make it theirs.
Point Guard: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
This should be an easy pick. Although Giannis isn’t your prototypical point guard by any stretch of the imagination, that is entirely the reason he could be one of the greats to play the position. At 6 foot 11 inches and 222 pounds, the young wing from Greece was already a match up nightmare for opposing small forwards and power forwards. Factor in his impressive feel for the game and ball handling ability for a player standing as tall or taller than NBA bigs, and you know why he is known so widely as “The Greek Freak.” And the way the Bucks make it work should not only be impressive, but scary to teams around the league and in the Eastern Conference for years to come. According to NBA.com, the Bucks +/- rating with Antetokounmpo running the point is vastly better than their other options, whether that be a true point guard or not.(via NBA.com, http://www.nba.com/article/2016/10/14/one-team-one-stat-milwaukee-bucks-giannis-antetokounmpo-point-guard)
With 1 or 2 point guards on the floor with Giannis, the Bucks scored 163 less points than their opponents. When rolling with just Giannis, that mark lowers staggeringly lower to -6, while also holding a positive net rating when it comes to offensive and defensive ratings.
When the Bucks traded Michael Carter-Williams for Tony Snell, they sealed the deal for Giannis to run the show. During his best stretch last year, Antetokounmpo had 5 triple doubles in 6 weeks (!!) and became the third player since 1983 to record 3 triple doubles before turning 22. Factor in a full year running the offense AND a full year of healthy Jabari Parker, and this could be a magical season for the Bucks, and a full jump from relevance to NBA superstardom for the Greek Freak.
Shooting Guard: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
“He’s out there getting better, and he’s one of the future [top] two-guards in this league.”
That is future NBA Hall Of Famer Dwyane Wade talking about the Suns young two-guard after Booker dropped 34 points on him. That is high, HIGH praise from someone who knows a thing or two about being a top two in the NBA. Booker is another John Calipari, Kentucky product who is reaping the benefits in his professional career. However, this may be the best example of how great Coach Cal really is at developing NBA talent. Booker was seen as a catch and shoot threat at best coming into the league, which is why he fell to 13 in the draft last season. But after averaging 13.8 PPG and 2.6 APG, marks that ranked him 4th and 6th among rookies respectively, and you’ll see why the hype behind Booker is building.
Booker’s impressive rookie campaign brought him into the spotlight, but it will be his success in his own market that may make him a Superstar in Phoenix. The Suns have been combo-guard heavy for the last few years, boasting rosters with Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, all very similar players with similar play styles. Their offense continually struggled not because of a lack of talent, but a lack of compliment. All three of those guards prefer to make plays with the ball in their hands rather than off the ball. This is where Booker comes in. Now the Suns can hand the reigns of their offense to either Bledsoe or Knight, knowing that they have a more than reliable scorer at the two that can compliment the ball handler much better. Whoever they go with in that starting role, he will have a very dependable backcourt teammate for years to come.
Small Forward: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Andrew Wiggins watched the team that originally drafted him win the NBA Championship without him last season.It is hard to remember that Wiggins was originally a Cavalier, even if it was just a logistical move in order to land Kevin Love. And while the former #1 pick doesn’t have the ring he would’ve had if the Cavs had kept him, he actually could be in the perfect situation to win not just one, but multiple titles, and on his terms.
You shouldn’t need stats to see why Wiggins has the potential to take over the NBA, but if you do: in 2015-16, his second year in the NBA, Wiggins averaged 20.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, and 2.0 APG (his rebounding took a hit from year 1 to year 2, but we will get to that). His scoring total put him in the top 20 in the NBA, which is more than respectable. But what really puts Wiggins in another league is his freakish length and athleticism, which makes him a lethal defender. In his first two years he has averaged 1.o steals a game and 0.6 blocks a game, remarkably consistent and productive for his first two years in the NBA.
The Timberwolves have a scary young and talented core of players, and Wiggins could be the key cog to their next jump to legitimate contenders. We haven’t seen a blend of talents like his come into the league since, well, the King himself. Not saying he is the next LeBron, but it’s hard to argue his ceiling isn’t that high. And it’s much easier to create your own legacy than live in the shadow of someone else’s. A Wiggins might be thanking the Cavs for years to come if things work out in Minnesota.
Power Forward: Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
If you were one of the many Knicks fans that booed the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis, you probably felt pretty foolish once you saw him on the court. To be fair, you weren’t alone if you thought Phil Jackson and the New York Basketball squad made a disastrous choice. New York was in need of a new star, something to reignite the hope of a fan base that has seen some of the worst basketball the NBA has had to offer the past few years, and drafting a foreign player as high as 4th overall in the 2015 draft seemed likely to be a bust of Darko Milicic levels of disaster. Then he took the court.
Standing at 7’3″, he already towers over any player that will be unfortunate enough to draw him as their match up. Add in his ridiculous athleticism and mobility, and he would be one of the scariest match ups for opposing big men for years to come. And we still haven’t even covered his most intriguing and deadly part of his game; his shooting from long-range. He shot 33% from long range his rookie year. As a power forward. Standing 7’3″. With the league transition to volume 3-point shooting, and bigs being expected to have touch around the arc to space the floor, Porzingis looks as if you molded the perfect stretch 4 to add to any NBA team. Add in 7.3 rebounds per game and 1.9 blocks per game as a rookie, and you’ll see why Porzingis is the talk of the NBA landscape and why the Knicks are so interesting this year.
Center: Karl Anthony-Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Now do you see why Minnesota has the hype they do? They boast two of the top young players in the entire league, each of which could be the best at their position for years to come. Karl Anthony-Towns could be the model for efficiency and the paradigm for how young big men will shape their game.
Point Guard: D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers
D’Angelo went through his ups and downs in his rookie year, that was well documented. But if the Lakers really believe the former Buckeye is the true successor to the Black Mamba, things will need to get better in that LA locker room. That being said, D’Angelo Russell has all the talent to be just that. Couple that with his already documented “Kobe like” work-ethic, and the Lakers may have struck gold with this one.
Shooting Guard: Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz
Rodney Hood may feel the effects on his stardom that others who have played in Utah have felt (Hayward, Favors, etc.), but his talent is not a discussion. Standing 6’7″ gives him the length to get his deadly jump shot over the majority of other two-guards in the league, which he did effectively last season. If Utah runs its offense with Hood in mind, the third year Duke product will see his name among the NBA’s elite scorers
Small Forward: Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons
While Stanley Johnson’s rookie numbers aren’t all that impressive, his impact on the Pistons was felt throughout his first year in the league. He does not look like a 19-year-old by any means, drawing comparisons to Ray Lewis while at Arizona. And it’s not just his size that impresses you about the young wing. His confidence level is extremely high for someone who came into the league at 19. This was heavily on display in the 1st round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, where he consistently took on LeBron James in straight up match ups and was clearly unfazed. Look for a significant jump in usage and production for the Pistons 2nd year forward.
Power Forward: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Huh? If he’s on the list, why is he not first team? Well, that comes down to how much he will truly grow. He already is a top 10 player in the NBA and arguably the best power forward in the league. Having him on this list shows how high his ceiling truly is. Numbers like his last year (provided he stays healthy) would put him in MVP conversations. If he actually gets better after surgery last season, we could be seeing a truly freakish talent this league has yet to see.
Center: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
After two years of waiting, the 76ers will see their #3 pick in action for his rookie season. The coaching staff has been talking up his return for a while, and we are all interested to see if he truly has the potential to grow into one of the league’s top big men. Remember, he had top NBA scouts calling for him to be drafted before his fellow Jayhawk teammate, Andrew Wiggins. Philly is in his hands, lets see if he is worth it, or a bigger flop then their last few seasons.
Kris Dunn, PG Minnesota Timberwolves
Justice Winslow, SF Miami Heat
Josh Richardson, SG Miami Heat
Ben Simmons, SF Philadelphia 76ers
Julius Randle, PF Los Angeles Lakers
Brandon Ingram, SF Los Angeles Lakers
Myles Turner, C Indiana Pacers
Cameron Payne, PG Oklahoma City Thunder
Emmanuel Mudiay, PG Denver Nuggets
Zach Lavine, PG-SG Minnesota Timberwolves