It’s great that the city of Cleveland has finally won a championship, if only so they stop whining. Here’s hoping Detroit or Chicago is next, but that’s not going to be happening, at least not in the NBA with Kevin Durant going to the Warriors.
Despite what could be the biggest super team in NBA history dominating the headlines, let’s not forget there are a couple of other teams out there too. There are the aforementioned Cavs, the team with the spinny logo, and that one in Disneyland or something, right? All of these teams have top tier basketball talent, but only a few of them will have what it takes to stand out above the rest, both for better and for worse.
Let’s take a look at who some of those guys might be next year. I wanted to focus on younger guys for who’ll have a great season, because anyone could say Kevin Durant or LeBron James will do great next year. As for those who’ll do poorly, we’ll instead focus on household names like Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard.
Maybe the young guys finally have the experience they need to step up to the next level, maybe some of the older guys have a bit too much tread on the tiers. Whatever the case may be, here’s our list of 10 NBA Stars That Will Shine And 10 That Won’t in the coming years.
20 Shabazz Muhammad
Shabazz Muhammad made a name for himself in high school and at UCLA. But before he could dominate the court at UCLA before quickly heading to the NBA, there was a problem. Just before the start his freshman season (literally only hours), the NCAA ruled Muhammad was ineligible and he missed three games. This put a damper on Muhammad’s future.
This is what largely led to Muhammad falling all the way to the 14th overall pick in 2013.
He struggled his rookie season, mostly sitting on the bench. In his second season, he jumped from just 3.9 PPG, to 13.5. By his third year, he played a full slate of 82 games coming off the bench in key situations. At the rate he’s growing, it won’t be long until he’s a full time starter, if not in Minnesota, somewhere else. He’s got the talent, size, and ability to have a big impact almost anywhere and it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a true star.
19 Steven Adams
Steven Adams came out of nowhere this previous year for the Thunder. He turned out to be one of the better young players on the Thunder’s roster, starting 80 games, netting 8 PPG and playing terrific defense. He might not put on a show like Shabazz Muhammed or anyone else coming up on this list, but he has the potential to be one of the better defensive centers in the league.
But now that Kevin Durant has left Oklahoma City, Adams is going to need to step it up sooner rather than later. The development has to come to an end, and he’s going to have to step into DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond territory to make up for the loss.
He’s still young, and losing Durant is definitely going to hurt the team in general. If Adams can step up his game, which he very well could do, it should soften the blow, at least a little. Maybe this could be a turning point for the Thunder away from spray and pray and to a more defensive mindset.
18 Nerlens Noel
Nerlens Noel had a rough time coming out of college. He injured his ACL in college, but declared for the NBA draft anyway, where he fell to #6 for the 76ers.
But last season the rust was gone and he put up considerably improved numbers. He’s a fantastic defender, with the speed and height to put on more than a fine show on that side of the ball. In his first season, he was the only player to rank in the top ten in both blocks and steals. His offense isn’t great, but it has improved by an average of 2 PPG from his first season to his second. But as long as he continues to focus on defense, he should be all right.
If there are concerns regarding Noel, it is those injuries. He hasn’t played a full slate of 82 games yet, missing several games over the last two season with knee and wrist injuries. If this continues, it could put a massive hamper on his promising career.
17 Karl-Anthony Towns
Entering his second year, Karl-Anthony Towns still has a lot to prove. As with any rookie, he relied more on skill than fundamentals in his rookie campaign, but it was enough to earn him ROY honors last season. He indeed had an impressive rookie outing. He started all 82 games, put up 18.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, and even 2 AST. Imagine how good he can be with a few years of coaching under his belt with Tom Thibodeau.
The ceiling is high for Towns, especially as he and the Wolves continue to mature. Having a rising Shabazz Muhammad and Andrew Wiggins at his side will only help, too. Plus he has all that off the court, good guy stuff that everyone loves. He hasn’t had any disciplinary problems, he continued to take online courses after leaving Kentucky after one year, and he even wants to be a doctor one day.
But he is just entering his second season. We’ve seen guys play lights out in theor rookie season only to turn all of the lights on the following year, and you never know who it could happen to next.
16 Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker has been the driving force behind the Bobcats/Hornets rise for the last few years. Just this last season, he finally cracked the 20 PPG threshold and fully took over leadership duties for the young team. Now with five years of experience, a still weak Eastern Conference, a deep roster, and a good coach, Walker is ready to take his place on the national stage.
Walker already deserves a lot of the credit for the Hornets rise from mediocrity in the last two or three years. Despite his incredible numbers and his years in college, Walker has yet to even make an All-Star team. All of that is going to change soon though. Last year, the Hornets made the playoffs and Walker scored a career playoff high 34 points in a game against the Heat, then 37 two games later. The Hornets might have lost that series, but it wasn’t because of Kemba Walker. If he can play up to that level in those two games this coming season, he could be on his way to being an MVP candidate.
15 Eric Bledsoe
The Suns’ rebuilding effort should, and so far does, center entirely around Eric Bledsoe. He’s been a bit of a late bloomer, entering his seventh NBA season, but he’s still only 26. In his first three years with the Clippers, he was mediocre coming off the bench. But after he was traded to the Suns for basically nothing, his career took off.
Over the last three season, he’s averaged more than 17 PPG and has become the star player for a once great team. He was injured and missed most of last season, playing only 31 games. With him, the Suns were 12-21, which isn’t great, but without him they fell to 11-38. Ouch.
The injury is definitely a concern. It's a torn meniscus in his knee, and you never know just how serious a knee injury can be until about a year or so after the player comes back. If anything can stop Bledsoe’s growth, it’s his knee.
14 Andre Drummond
Looking at the stat line, you may be tempted to think Andre Drummond is another late bloomer in the NBA. He started 10 games his rookie season and averaged 7.9 PPG, and his defensive stats weren’t and continue to not be great for a center. But the truth is, that’s the point.
Over the years, Drummond has become more of the clichéd “team player” type of guy, as Piston coach Stan Van Gundy has looked to make him more of a “facilitator.”
Said Van Gundy: “We can use him more and I think he would actually enjoy it. I think we can use him more as a trigger guy. I think he can pass out of the post.”
It seems like a bit of a waste for such a talented player, but some guys fill a certain role really well. Dwight Howard made a name for himself in Orlando playing a similar role. He didn’t put up big numbers, but he was key for that team, much like Drummond will be going forward.
If only he could learn to shoot free-throws.
13 Andrew Wiggins
It may be too early to call, at least for some, but the duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins could be the next Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. If my crazy theory of Shabazz Muhammed works out, the Timberwolves could be the fastest rising team in the West by a long shot.
Anyway, Wiggins looked like an NBA player since his time at Kansas. He’s a great shooter from range and wants the ball in his hands. If he continues to work on his 3 pointer and gets more aggressive, he could easily fill the Westbrook role.
Wiggins and Towns’ growth are tied to one another (and Muhammad), just like Durant and Russell and just like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Two young superstars is the new normal in the NBA and these two are showing it can work. They play great together, as their player efficiency (if you’re in to that sort of thing) were both over 15 together.
12 Damian Lillard
It’s seems like we’ve been hearing about how Damian Lillard will be The Next Big Thing since he got into the league four years ago, but it’s never really happened. He’s been good, but he’s never been able to get the Blazer’s over the hump. Who knows if that’ll finally happen this year (spoiler alert, it probably won’t with the Warriors signing KD) but that shouldn’t stop Lillard’s rise.
In each of his four season, his PPG went up, and up until last year, his number of turnovers and missed free-throws have gone down. Lillard has become a well-rounded player and last season he was showing this off. If anyone on this list is ready to become a true superstar, a household name with playoff success, Damian Lillard is that man.
11 Kevin Durant
Yeah, yeah, I know. I said I wouldn’t list Kevin Durant since he’s already super successful and everything. But come on. He fits so perfectly with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green it’s scary, like he was born to play with these guys.
Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: his numbers are going to go down and there’s a good chance the Warriors will struggle at first, much the same way the Heat did in ’10 when LeBron and Bosh first got there. Don’t hot take it up and declare the move a failure because of that.
Durant will still put up great numbers, and he’ll still be in the discussion for MVP. If anything, he’ll be able to get some rest, and not have to worry about someone trying to hog the ball or take over the team.
10 Tony Parker
Last season, Tony Parker played in and started more games than he had in five years. Despite that, his numbers were down and he looked slower and older than ever. Now that San Antonio’s big three is officially over with the retirement of Tim Duncan, it won’t be long until the rest of the group falls apart, starting with Parker.
It’s nothing against him as a player, as he’s had a fantastic career. He’s 34 years old and the NBA really is a young man’s game. Not only that, but his play time has reduced drastically over the years. He played only 72 games last season, failing to get out of the 60s in the previous four seasons. A lot of that has to do with Greg Popovich sitting the older players, but that’s just it. How much longer is Parker going to have to sit on the bench in the next few seasons?
With the acquisition of Dejounte Murray in this year’s draft, it looks like Parker’s days as a starter at least are drawing to a close.
9 Chris Bosh
It’s always uncomfortable having to deal with a topic such as this, but it needs to be said in the context of NBA players. Bosh has been dealing with a blood clot for some time now. He had to miss the playoffs last season, and most of the season before that, due to the medical issue. It’s serious enough to put his career in jeopardy.
Beyond that, there’s not much left on the Heat’s roster to deal with. Since signing with Miami in 2010 as part of the LeBron James super team, Bosh was always a third wheel. Now that James and Dwyane Wade are gone though, he’ll have to be the star player at the age of 32. His stats increased with the departure of James, but the combination of age and health have made him unreliable.
It’s not even certain that Bosh can come back, or if he does, whether or not the blood clots will come back again.
8 Dirk Nowitzki
It becomes obvious at a certain point when an aged player can no longer play. Guys like Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, and Jason Terry have been on a decline for quite some time. Others tend to play well up to a certain point before just falling apart, see Peyton Manning in the NFL. I’m not saying Dirk Nowitzki is going to be one of those guys, but if any old player in the NBA right now will be, he’s a good candidate.
For almost his entire career, Nowitzki has had to put the Mavs on his back and carry them to the playoffs on his own. But how much longer can the now 38 year old keep it up? He’s still putting up damn good stats and his fall might not come next season, but it will happen. That is, if he doesn’t retire first in the next year or two, which doesn’t sound like it’ll be the case.
7 Pau Gasol
The Spurs rarely go out of their way to sign a big name free agent, but that’s exactly what they did this offseason (and last season with LaMarcus Aldridge). They must have been feeling desperate though with the sudden retirement of Tim Duncan though, because they guy they got to replace him just celebrated his 36th birthday.
That’s not really fair though. Gasol isn’t going to fill Duncan’s shoes. That role will be going to LaMarcus Aldridge or even Kawhi Leonard. They must realize Gasol is reaching the twilight of his career and will play him sparingly. Which is why he’s on this list. He’s not going to suddenly drop off a cliff, but his age and likely reduced playing time will see him gracefully into retirement.
That is, unless the injury bug bites him again. His last two years in Chicago he stayed remarkably healthy, but throughout his time in Memphis and Los Angeles he missed 20 and sometimes 40 games a season repeatedly.
6 Zach Randolph
Zach Randolph is the same story as pretty much anyone else on this side of the list. He’s old (for an NBA player anyway) at 35 and he’s dealt with injuries lately, particularly last season. Randolph’s injury was a sore knee that sidelined him 14 games last season and saw him start only 53 games.
An old big-man like Randolph dealing with knee injuries is hardly news, but it is a sign of things to come. Randolph’s strength came as a fast, big defender. While he’s obviously still got his height advantage, he’s slower getting up the court than he used to be and those sore knees have clearly cut down his jump and quick cut ability. With the advent of teams shooting threes from a distance as if their lives depended on it, Randolph has naturally found his role as an in the paint defender diminished.
Add to that the fact that the rest of the team around him has also steadily declined and it becomes apparent that Randolph simply can’t play up to his old levels anymore.
5 Dwight Howard
Everyone loves to rag on Dwight Howard, calling him a coach killer, questioning his effort, and saying he’s more interested in the spotlight than playing basketball. I can’t say how much of that is true, but sometimes perception is reality. His numbers have dropped since he left Orlando and he’s shown a real lack of effort at times in Houston.
He’s demanded trades, his former teammate James Hardin wanted him gone, he illegally used Stickum to give himself an advantage, and has been accused of not caring about winning or losing by his former coach. Some of it’s just gossip, sure, but at lot of that has to do with Howard’s attitude, which has reflected on the court.
Now Howard is going to the Hawks and while at first glance you may think it’s a good fit for his skills, you have to ask yourself one question: what are Dwight Howard’s skills? He’s a good defender, absolutely, but he doesn’t want to be a good defender, he wants to be a prolific scorer, always wanting the ball in his hands. That kind of ball hawk could wreck the system focused type of play the Hawks are known for.
4 Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler’s numbers have been decreasing for several years now. With the exception of a couple of years ago with the Mavs, Chandler has seen his number of games played, rebounds, assists, and points drop. He’ll be 34 come the start of next season for the Suns.
Behind him, former Suns fifth round draft pick Alex Len has been getting better each season. He’s still not ready to become a starter and Chandler is the better player of the two right now. But it won’t be long before Len is ready to take over or Chandler’s steady decline forces him to the bench and eventual retirement. The Suns aren’t a team that can compete now, so having him absorb all those minutes Len could be getting is only hurting his development too.
On top of that, Chandler is making an insane $13 million. It’s not that high considering the cap just rose substantially, but most of that money is coming more so because of his experience, not what he can currently bring to the table. There’s a good chance the Suns will decide to save the money long before he stops being an effective player.
3 Josh Smith
Josh Smith has always been one of those players who should have had a better career than they had. Alas, whatever chance Smith had to turn things around is long gone as he limps to what will likely be his final year in the NBA.
At just 30 years old, Smith is currently a free agent after starting seven games last season for two teams and just 35 games the previous year. After spending most of his career with the under-performing Hawks, he went to Detroit in a massive $54 million contract but played poorly and didn’t fit the team. He bounced around Houston and the Clippers for a couple years, but by then it was clear his career was over.
It’s hard to say why exactly Smith’s career is ending the way it is, on the street. He’s always been careless on the court, but he’s been a solid player, until he wasn’t. He hasn’t had any huge injuries and he hasn’t played for the worst teams in the world. It seems he’s just one of those guys who woke up one day and suddenly couldn't play anymore.
2 Derrick Rose
It’s sad to see a great player succumb to injuries, but it happens and it’s happened to Derrick Rose twice. He suffered a torn ACL in 2011 and missed a year, then tore his meniscus the following season. Since those two injuries, he hasn’t looked like the same Rose that won an MVP in 2010-2011.
Besides that, Rose is now moving to a new team, the Knicks. The Knicks are a disaster and have been for a long time. They’ve got legendary coach Phil Jackson acting as a GM who’s seemingly way out of his league, hiring rookie coaches with no experience and forcing them to run his outdated triangle offense. Now the Knicks have another new coach, but one big flaw remains.
Carmello Anthony is a ball hog and anyone playing with him won’t get to do much other than feed him the ball. Even if Rose can stay healthy, return to his former level of play, overcome any coaching woes, and Anthony, he still has contend with the fact there’s almost no talent around him.
1 Dwyane Wade
Every generation, there’s at least one player who spend almost their whole career in one place, just to go play somewhere else for a year or two just to spite their former club. This time around that “honor” goes to Dwyane Wade.
The 34 year old star hasn’t shown any sign of a decline in his ability, but he’s had to deal with multiple injuries over the years. He’s missed 20 games a year or more every season for the last five years except last season, when he had to make up for the Heat losing Bosh to his own health problems.
And it’s become clear he left Miami just to spite Pat Riley, going to a far inferior team in the Bulls. Chicago has gone out of their way to sign old or over-the-hill players this offseason by signing Rajon Rondo and trading for Robin Lopez. Once again Wade is going to find himself having to carry the load as perhaps the only young star on the team, Jimmy Butler, continues to grow.
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