The San Antonio Spurs just won the last NBA title with a roster that included older stars like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, but the Spurs winning the title did little to hide the fact that there are so many new stars in the league.
There are really only a handful of superstars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan currently playing in the NBA. That doesn't mean there are no stars in the league, but superstardom must come with either a championship title, multiple all-star appearances or even scoring or rebounding titles thrown into the mix. Players like Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and even Dwayne Wade have all pretty much attained this level of success.
For most of the new crop of NBA stars, superstardom is close at hand. Russell Westbrook will have to step out of Kevin Durant's shadow, James Harden has to prove he can win the big games and Blake Griffin has to prove he can be tough when the game is on the line. They are just a few of the following list of 20 players who are poised to take that next step to become the next superstars of the NBA.
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20 Goran Dragic, G - Phoenix Suns
Goran Dragic was the NBA's Most Improved Player last season after posting the highest scoring average and field goal percentage of his six year career. He has always been known for having a good outside shot, but he played with more intensity last season and it showed on both ends of the court. Dragic's pesky defense and athleticism in the open court surprised many of his followers. He split time between the point and shooting guard positions along with Eric Bledsoe, giving the Suns a formidable guard tandem and two new stars.
Dragic averaged 20.3 points, 5.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game last season in his second season since coming back to the Suns. He also earned All-NBA third team honors for his surge in productivity, shot over 50% from the field (50.5%) and made 40.8% of his threes.
19 Chandler Parsons, F - Dallas Mavericks
The move to Dallas came unexpectedly for Chandler Parsons as the Rockets failed to match a Mavericks contract offer. Parson's now has even more to prove after getting the star treatment from Dallas and getting slighted by their in-state rival, the Houston Rockets. The talented and athletic small forward is coming off a breakout season where he set an NBA record for making 10 three point shots in one half of play. Parsons is a complete player who prefers to drive to the basket in order to dunk or dish, but can hit the outside jump shot when he is given enough free space. He is a capable defender who can rebound and get out on the fast break.
Parsons averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game, while shooting 47.2% from the floor and 74.2% from the free throw line. He is a good passer who can run an offense in a half court set or get to the rim on a fast break.
18 Lance Stephenson, G - Charlotte Bobcats
Lance Stephenson can do so much more than leave us with the memory of being the player who once tried to distract LeBron James by blowing in his ear. Stephenson plays like a powder keg ready to explode and it is this intensity that also might be what is holding him back from realizing his potential. Stephenson plays the game hard and has the defensive skills to match his ability to get up and down the court. He can shoot the occasional three, drive through the paint and is one of the best rebounders at his position, but more maturity and improvement with his outside shot must come next.
Stephenson is coming off his most productive season in the NBA, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and .7 steals per game. He also shot 49.1% from the field and even managed to make 34.4% of his threes. As the focal point of the Bobcats offensive along with Al Jefferson, the sky is the limit for Stephenson.
17 Ty Lawson, G - Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets appear to have struck gold in their selection of Kenneth Faried, but Ty Lawson is still the leader of their team. Lawson is quick and explosive with the ability to do lots of damage in the open court. A terrific shooter, Lawson has the combination of skills that make him one of the NBA's elite point guards. Last season was the most productive season of Lawson's career, giving him career bests in just about every statistical category. Despite his efforts, it wasn't enough to get the Nuggets back into the playoffs in the competitive Western Conference.
Last season, Lawson averaged 17.6 points, 8.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. During his 5-year NBA career, he has shot 47.4% from the field, 37.5% from the three point line and 78.2% from the charity stripe. Lawson was more aggressive last season, averaging 6.5 free throw attempts per game.
16 DeMar DeRozan, G/F - Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry might be the player who makes the Toronto Raptors tick, but the team's future depends on the ability of DeMar Derozan to become the next big star. Derozan had his best season to date last year, earning him a trip to the NBA All-Star game. Despite some struggles with his outside shot, Derozan managed to create enough scoring opportunities by driving through the lane and even getting to the free throw line. The athletic shooting guard can throw down highlight reel dunks on the fast break, but needs to continue to improve his outside shot to give the Raptors a more legitimate title shot.
Derozan averaged 22.7 points, 4.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game last season, his fifth and most productive year in the NBA. He is exciting, young, talented and just the type of player the Raptors need to keep their fan base coming to see their games.
15 Eric Bledsoe, G - Phoenix Suns
Eric Bledsoe is a combo-guard who is capable of producing at either guard spot on the two point guard Phoenix Suns team. Bledsoe got a fresh start last season with the Suns after spending most of his time on the Los Angeles Clippers playing behind Chris Paul. Given his chance to start and show what he can do, Bledsoe responded with a banner year last season. The super quick guard who can be difficult to defend on the fast break, is a capable defender and even one of the better rebounders at his position.
Last season, Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. His stats were all significant improvements from the numbers he had in his previous season with the Clippers. Bledsoe has tremendous potential and should keep improving now that he has the opportunity to be a starter on the Suns.
14 Gordon Hayward, F - Utah Jazz
After four seasons with Utah, Gordon Hayward is no longer sneaking up on anyone in the NBA. Already with one of the highlight reel dunks of the 2014 NBA preseason, Hayward has surprised many onlookers throughout his career with his athleticism and productivity. He is a winner who came within a half court shot of leading the Butler Bulldogs to an upset victory over Duke in the 2010 NCAA National Championship game. He can shoot the ball from just about anywhere on the floor and has been getting better at creating his own shot. He will keep improving as his confidence continues to grow.
Last season Hayward averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He had trouble hitting threes and struggled a little with his shooting percentage (41.3% from the field) but did establish most of his career highs in a season where he averaged 36.4 minutes per game.
13 Mike Conley, G - Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies have become the team nobody really wants to meet in the Western Conference playoffs, and for good reason too. The team's toughness and defensive intensity starts with their scrappy point guard, Mike Conley. Conley has become the perfect compliment to the Grizzlies big bruisers in the paint and is now one of the team's major stars. Conley has the ability to take over games with his quick first step and fearless drives through the paint, but what really makes him a factor on the Grizzlies is his improving outside shot.
Conley averaged 17.2 points, 6.0 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. In addition to his solid offensive production, Conley leads the Grizzlies with his pesky defensive play that sets the tone for the big guys in the paint. Conley keeps improving his shot selection, leading to a better field goal percentage and more balance for the tough Memphis squad.
12 John Wall, G - Washington Wizards
John Wall established himself as one of the premier point guards in the league with his consistent play last season. He helped lead the Washington Wizards to the playoffs, where they won their first playoff series since 2005. Wall's play at the point has been instrumental in the surprising turnaround of the Wizards franchise. He is an extremely athletic point guard known for his straight-line speed and explosiveness and is quite adept at both passing the ball and finishing at the rim. Wall has worked hard on his outside shot and has extended his range to include shots from behind the three point line.
Wall averaged 19.3 points, 8.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game last season, shooting 43.3% from the field. He must improve his accuracy and continue to work on his outside shot to elevate his game to the next level. Since Wall is only 24 years old, there is plenty of time to refine his shot and improve his game.
11 Damian Lillard, G - Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard has become one of the league's top scoring threats at the point guard position. A superb outside shooter, Lillard has great quickness to create more space for his shot or drive to the rim if a defender plays too close. Although he can pass the ball, Lillard is more of a threat to score than make a pass once he gets into the paint. He is tough enough to take contact in the paint and get to the free throw line and scrappy enough to play solid defense on the other end of the court.
Lillard was named the unanimous NBA Rookie of the Year for his performance in the 2012-2013 season and followed that up with a solid season last year. He averaged 20.7 points, 5.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 0.8 steals per game while helping the Portland Trail Blazers advance past the Houston Rockets in the first round of the NBA playoffs. He averaged 22.9 points per game in the playoffs.
10 Kawhi Leonard, G/F - San Antonio Spurs
When the San Antonio Spurs needed Kawhi Leonard to step up, he responded and was a big reason the Spurs won the most recent world championship. Leonard has the skills to take over games and carry his team, as he's a terrific defender who can rebound, make outside shots and take it to the rim. His game has very few flaws and his unselfishness that fits the Spurs team, is his only obstacle to becoming a superstar.
Leonard averaged just 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game but he quietly shot 52.2% from the field and 80.2% from the line while deferring to his veteran teammates. Playing with the likes of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, Leonard's opportunities are not always there, but he does make the most of them when asked to be just a little more selfish.
9 Serge Ibaka, F/C - Oklahoma City Thunder
The importance of Serge Ibaka to the Oklahoma Thunder was never more evident than last season in the playoffs when Ibaka's effectiveness was limited due to a calf injury. On the Thunder, Ibaka is a role player who has the ability to take over a game with his defense while beating opposing big men up and down the court. Ibaka has the shot blocking skills of Dikembe Mutombo, but has more athleticism, post moves and an outside shot. He has great work ethic and has been developing his shot to help elevate his game.
Ibaka averaged 15.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game last year, while also shooting 53.6% from the field and 78.4% from the free throw line. He is asked to be the third scoring option on the Thunder, but it is his defense and how his offensive output can affect a game that makes him a rising star.
8 DeMarcus Cousins, F/C - Sacramento Kings
Demarcus Cousins might be struggling to get the media attention that his solid play deserves, but his production puts him near the top of the league's big men. Cousins only spent one year at the University of Kentucky and came into the NBA ready to play, earning NBA All-Rookie First Team honors after his first season with the Kings. An athletic big man who can get up and down the court, Cousins has plenty of talent to go along with his mobility and great length. Cousins just needs to make sure he keeps his emotions in check on the court in order for him to develop into a superstar.
Cousins averaged 22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 blocked shots per game last season to establish himself as one of the league's most dynamic young players. He improved his game by shooting just under 50% from the field and powering his way to the free throw line, averaging 8.4 attempts per game from the charity stripe.
7 Kyrie Irving, G - Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving was named the 2014 NBA All-Star game MVP despite being only 22 years old. What a future he has ahead of him. especially considering he will be playing alongside LeBron James. Irving has arrived and his incredible talent says a lot about LeBron's decision to come back to Cleveland. What sets Irving apart from many young point guards, is his deadly outside shot. Irving has all the other skills that a point guard needs to have and can drive, pass the ball and play sound defense. Improving his average for assists needs to be more of a priority now that there are more scoring options on his team.
Last season, Irving had a breakout season, including his performance at the inaugural all-star game. He averaged 20.8 points, 6.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He also had his first career triple double with a 21 point, 12 assist and 10 rebound effort against the Utah Jazz and had a career high 44 points against the Charlotte Bobcats.
6 Paul George, G/F - Indiana Pacers
Despite his setback with a major injury suffered during a U.S. National team scrimmage, Paul George is still a budding star. He might miss this whole season, but there is no denying his meteoric rise to stardom. George has raw talent, athleticism and determination to shut down opponents on the defensive end and a slashing style of play offensively that together are reminiscent of Scottie Pippen. If George continues to develop his shot and is able to fully recover from his broken leg, he has the ability to be one of the next big superstars in the NBA.
Last season, George averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game. He was more aggressive on the offensive end, averaging 5.8 free throws per game while shooting a career best 86.4% from the charity stripe. His scoring average has improved by over 4 points per game each season he has been in the league.
5 LaMarcus Aldridge, F/C - Portland Trail Blazers
Lamarcus Aldridge really elevated his game last year, putting up the highest scoring average of his career. He has extended the range of his jump shot, while maintaining the power and strength to rebound and make his presence felt in the low post. Aldridge is not the type of player who can get all the other players involved on his team, but he can score from just about anywhere on the court and has no problem taking his team's last second shot. Aldridge is a solid defender who can be quite versatile with his strength, length and relatively lean frame.
Aldridge averaged 23.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists last season and even managed to make 82.2% of his free throws. He also made his third straight All-Star appearance after registering his career best scoring, rebounding, and assist averages. He is about as close to being a superstar as you can get.
4 Blake Griffin, F/C - Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin seems to improve each and every year while also getting tougher skin as he continues to develop his game. Known earlier in his career for doing all of his damage within a few feet of the basket or on the break, Griffin has extended his range and added more wrinkles to his game. Although Griffin is becoming a more complete player, he still needs to be able to take control of games more. Most of his dunks and drives to the basket still come off the break or away from the ball. Griffin needs to take defenders off the dribble more or get better position in the post. The better his shot gets, the more he seems to settle for it. He needs to play fierce.
Griffin did average 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game last season, having the best scoring average in his brief four year career. He is a terrific athlete who keeps adding facets to his offensive repertoire, but he also needs to be more dominant on the defensive end.
3 James Harden, G/F - Houston Rockets
James Harden has all the tools necessary to become one of the next superstars of the NBA. Unfortunately, his reputation for not using one of them, defense, is one of the major reasons he is not yet in this category. Harden can be one of the top scorers on an all-star team and score on just about any defender in the league, but his lackluster play on the other end of the court needs to be improved if he wants to be mentioned in the same breath as Kobe or LeBron. Harden is a good passer, can rebound and even shoot the three but his tendency to miss big shots or settle for shots beyond the arc is also something he has to overcome.
Harden averaged 25.4 points, 6.1 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game last year. What makes Harden special is his ability to drive and get to the free throw line. When he does, he can be lethal and has made 84.9% of his shots from the charity stripe.
2 Russell Westbrook, G - Oklahoma City Thunder
With Kevin Durant set to miss at least the first month of the NBA season, Russell Westbrook will get his chance to emerge from Durant's shadow and be the primary scoring option on the Thunder. How Westbrook handles the situation will be the determining factor for the type of season he ends up having. He will get the chance to shoot at will, but needs to use this time to get teammates involved and put an end to his tendency of taking so many annoying shots early in the shot clock. He will be pressed to be more of a leader and be more of a true point guard. If he succeeds, the Thunder will be a force when Durant returns.
Westbrook averaged 21.8 points, 6.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game last season. He is a star who can become a superstar when he learns that a major part of being a good point guard is passing the ball, running the offense and deferring to teammates who have open shots.
1 Anthony Davis, F/C - New Orleans Pelicans
Many people believe that the center position has become less important in the NBA, however, if Anthony Davis is considered to be a center, the position still has a bright future in the NBA. Davis is the new breed of center in the NBA. A superb defender, shot blocker and rebounder, Davis can also score from the field or free throw line. What makes Davis special is his incredible athleticism for a player who prefers to do most of his damage in the paint. He is entering his third season in the NBA and is currently one of the league's brightest stars. If he keeps improving, it will be hard to not consider him a superstar.
Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.8 blocked shots and 1.3 steals last season, while shooting 51.9% from the field and 79.1% from the line. It would not be a stretch to see Davis average 25 points, 12 rebounds and over 3 blocked shots per game. He is a more athletic version of Alonzo Mourning with a better offensive game that keeps improving.
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