The gauntlet has been thrown down to rank all of the Rising Stars players in terms of who I would want to have on a team moving forward.
I have interpreted this to not include salary or current team considerations to level those parts of the playing field. Everything else (age, talent, versatility, attitude, potential) is on the table.
#18: Tyler Zeller- Not too much necessary to say here. Just the weakest link in the chain.
#17: Brandon Knight- A solid enough player but one who seems like a better fit coming off the bench than as a starter. It’s also a major problem to not look like a great fit running a team’s offense when you are PG-sized. He has the talent and youth to overcome those problems though.
#16: Dion Waiters- Just not a huge fan of what he does out there. While there are certainly things that Waiters does well, his combination of frustrating shot selection and (comparatively) lack of good creation for others for how much he has the ball makes him a challenging player to like at this stage.
#15: Alexey Shved- A player who I like very much but suffers from already being 24 years old and being somewhat of a tweener with the two guard positions. This stands out as the first point on the list where the choices get legitimately difficult.
#14: Nikola Vucevic- Nikola has really impressed this year on the boards while getting the chance to play more meaningful minutes for the Orlando Magic. Among qualified players, Vucevic is tied for seventh in overall Rebounding Rate (meaning the proportion of available rebounds he gets on both ends) while also being top-10 for Defensive Rebounding Rate. Getting more effecting in terms of both post scoring and defense would propel him up the list even more than his play this season already has.
#13: Kemba Walker- A nice player and a good teammate that still has a long way to go in order to become a true starting lead guard in the league. That process could be helped dramatically by his team getting some more players who can actually score (thus taking the load off Walker in terms of putting the ball in the hoop) but Walker has plenty of development of his own to do.
#12: Chandler Parsons- Like the aforementioned Shved, Parsons has impressed quite a bit with his game but suffers on the potential grounds because of his age. Being 24 already means that Parsons should be further along his development curve than some other players. Parsons’ defensive potential, three point shooting, and underrated passing ability make him the type of player that teams will be falling all over themselves to have for the next decade.
#11: Kenneth Faried- Kenneth had one of the most eye-popping rookie years I can ever remember. He truly earned his Manimal nickname by seemingly being everywhere on the court at once and being an important part on that Denver team. He ends up a little lower on this because he primarily plays Power Forward (a less valuable position) and has cooled off some since his frantically great season in 2011-2012.
#10: Bradley Beal- As someone who has covered the Wizards a few times over the past few weeks, one thing that has really stuck with me about Beal is that these last few weeks with John Wall are the first time he has played with a legitimate PG in either college or the pros. He has a nice shooting stroke and enough athleticism to make teams sweat in transition both going to the bucket and to the corner. Bradley being a little undersized and possibly not a true No. 1 scorer keeps him down on this ranking for now.
#9: Tristan Thompson- Thompson has really turned it on since Anderson Varejao got hurt and has been making a strong case to move up the board here. Playing with Kyrie Irving definitely helps but the rest of the team being so insanely young must make it hard on everyone especially since Cleveland’s talent level sags somewhat behind most of the league. Having the size to play center regularly and/or a little more production on the boards would kick Thompson’s stock up another few notches.
#8: Damian Lillard- Definitely the most entertaining guard prospect out of this rookie class, Lillard may be lower than expected here because of his putrid defense and being pretty old for a rookie at 22 (turning 23 around Draft time). Damian has been a gigantic part of Portland’s surprising run thus far and will only get better as he puts the pieces together on D and becomes a better distributor.
#7: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist- Kidd-Gilchrist proves to be one of the hardest to peg on this entire list. He brings some undeniably great tools to the table: energy, defensive talent, athleticism, youth, and a team-first attitude that every franchise needs to have. The big question with him that pervades and projections of Kidd-Gilchrist has to be whether he can develop a jumper good enough to make teams respect him when the Bobcats are on offense. While various players (Michael Redd, Jason Kidd, etc) have done so, it remains one of the harder achievable developments to make mid-stream in an NBA career.
#6: Harrison Barnes- While watching the Warriors this year, Ethan Sherwood Strauss and I have tried to put a finger on why it is that Barnes makes comparatively few plays but the ones he makes are insanely explosive (I call this the “Gerald Green Factor”). What makes Harrison so compelling is that he combines strong athleticism for his position with a more lax game suiting a more plodding player. If Barnes can channel his inner Faried more frequently, he can become a more regularly dominant player on a team that could use that on both ends of the floor.
#5: Klay Thompson- Speaking of the Warriors, one of the hardest nuts to crack when making this list was deciding between Klay and Harrison. Thompson won out because he has a picturesque shooting stroke that cannot be developed easily while still possessing the skill and size to defend either swingman position (albeit not in any dominant way). Thompson’s combination of skills should make him a long-time starter in the league even while his shot selection still needs a ton of work. The last few games without Stephen Curry have shown some of Thompson’s offensive potential and his D continues to improve when he puts the time and effort in.
#4: Kawhi Leonard- In many ways, I think of Kawhi as the model of what MKG could be if he develops a jumper. While there could certainly be arguments for others, I see Leonard as the best defensive perimeter player in this game and he couples that with shooting 40.2% from three thus far in 2012-13. Kawhi has the ability to guard other team’s best swingman while also providing value on the offensive end and taking very little off the table on either side. On top of it all, Leonard is 21 years old and still has plenty of room to grow as a player. Scary stuff.
#3: Andre Drummond- Straight up, it would not surprise me in the least if Andre Drummond ended up being the best player to play in the Rising Stars game this year. He combines elite rebounding (#5 in overall Rebounding Rate and #3 in Offensive RR) with elite shot-blocking and shot changing for a player any age. On top of that, Drummond has not played with a PG before this week that can properly use his athletic gifts- look at what CP3 and time has done to help DeAndre Jordan’s development as an offensive player. What keeps Drummond at third instead of first is that it simply will take a lot of things going well for Drummond to leapfrog the other two guys and the fact that he cannot make free throws makes him a liability late in games unless/until he improves. It’s legitimately scary to think of what Drummond could be doing five years from now but we will have to wait and see if he delivers.
#2: Kyrie Irving- If the challenge here was to rank the players on who stands as the best player right now, Irving would be number one with a bullet. Irving should be the only player in this game that warrants MVP votes at the end of the season (down ballot, of course) because of the incredible role he has played on the Cavs thus far. He has been dynamite incarnate on the offensive end despite being the only perimeter player on Cleveland that opponents need to pay attention to. If Deputy Commissioner Gilbert can increase the talent level around Irving and he works to improve his defense and distributing, we could be talking about the most successful of the next generation of PG’s in the league.
#1: Anthony Davis- When you look at the annals of NBA history, the single greatest predictor of championship teams is whether or not a team has a transcendent center. While Anthony Davis could not have been that player in most other eras due to his slight frame, his combination of physical attributes and effort make him a hybrid big that can excel in the current NBA. By having a Power Forward’s skillset and the body to guard the new breed of “center” in the league, Davis has the potential to forge his own niche as a top-notch big man. If he can develop a stronger shooting stroke and add a little meat to his bones while maintaining his athleticism, you could end up seeing the rare big man that can guard either PF or C while operating in whatever offensive role the team needs at that time: the perfect elixir at the most opportune time. While a strong argument can be made for any of the final three to sit atop this list, a team built around Davis would have the best shot at a title or a dynasty so he claims the mountaintop.