The NBA is a star-driven league. The more stars it has, the more fans want to tune in and games people want to attend. The premiere stars are, of course, players such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook — the last five winners of the regular season MVP. While each of these players is still considered one of the best handful of players in the world, the problem is that their average age is nearing 31.
Sure, players like Anthony Davis, 25; Giannis Antetokounmpo, 23; Kawhi Leonard, 27; Joel Embiid and Karl Anthony-Towns, 22, are also still approaching their primes, but it will take a lot more than their continued success for the NBA to maintain its current popularity, especially since the league could be bigger in the near future.
For the past few years, several NBA analysts have been speculating on if the NBA will expand to 32 teams, and then last summer NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that it’s not a question of if, but when.
“I don’t want to put a precise timeline on it, but It’s inevitable,” Silver said in an interview with C.J. McCollum in a video from The Players’ Tribune. “At some point we’ll start looking at the growth of franchises. That’s always been the case in this league, and Seattle will no be doubt on a short list of cities we look at.”
While it’s true that cities like Seattle, Vancouver, and maybe even Louisville should be considered for an NBA expansion franchise, it doesn’t mean that the league will continue to the have talent necessary to adequately add two more teams — unless it’s ok with adding two teams that play unwatchable basketball.
In order for the overall talent level in the NBA to remain the same or continue to grow, young players need to become All NBA-caliber players as LeBron, Steph and Durant age out of superstardom.
The group of players that has the best chance of produce this talent are the current rookies and sophomores, especially since the 2019 draft class is expected to be abnormally weak. We saw flashes of brilliance from players such as Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell, while others such as Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Kyle Kuzma and Lauri Markkanen showed promise. Several rookies could also be excellent. But if these players don’t pan out the way they expect them to, the future of the NBA might not be quite as bright, and an expansion could cripple the overall quality of the league.
This season will find out if NBA sophomores can make the leap from high-ceiling rookies to all-stars and see how much potential Luka Doncic, Deandre Ayton and Jaren Jackson and other rookies actually have.
After averaging 15.8 points on 54.5 field goal percentage (his effective field goal percentage was the same as he never made a 3-pointer), 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists as a rookie, many were appalled when he didn’t make the All-Star team, including Simmons himself.
While he may already be good enough to be an All-Star, Simmons still has a ways to go before he is the next face of the NBA. There’s some debate on whether or not he needs to add a 3-point shot, but he does need to make sure there are no more one-point playoff games in his future because the greats don’t let “overthinking” get in their way of championships.
The Celtic’s rookie increased the lore surrounding Danny Angie’s decision making after the franchise traded down from the number one overall pick to draft him, picking up an extra draft pick in the process.
The Basketball-Reference 2018-19 projection for Tatum doesn’t have his overall scoring, assist or rebounding numbers improving much per 36 minutes, but that’s likely because the Celtics will be adding Gordon Hayward back into the mix.
As long as Tatum can increase his overall efficiency a little, while also not becoming less productive (avoiding the rookie wall in his sophomore season should do the trick), he could very well be considered an All-Star next year. Or, at the very least, a consistent player the Celtics know they count on at the end of games. If he does that, he will still be on pace to reach the potential he exhibited last year.
I’ll let this dunk, not my words, do the talking.
Laugh all you want, but LaVar Ball could be right about one thing in regards to his oldest son: how great he is or, at the very least, could be.
Ball is going to continue to get a significant amount of playing time this season, even with Rajon Rondo on the Lakes. Throughout the years, young players have gotten playing time — even on good teams — because they can do one or two things really well. In Lonzo’s case, he can do at least three things well, if not more: pass, rebound for a guard, and play team defense. Those three things will keep him on the court. That way, if he struggles shooting the ball early on, he should be able to keep contributing alongside LeBron.
But, in the long run, learning to score is imperative to Lonzo becoming a Hall-of-Fame player. In order for this to happen, he should probably shoot better than the Basketball-Reference project 32.2 percent from the 3-point line and 38.3 percent from the field. But if he can get to 35 percent from the 3-point line and 42 percent overall, he should be well on his way to be an incredibly effective player, especially since he does so many other things well.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
After one year at Michigan State, Jaren Jackson Jr. is primed to make an impact on the Memphis Grizzlies this season. He’s already shown in preseason that he can contribute to a team with veteran leadership. Given his ability to space the floor, block shots and post guys up, he should be able to compliment Mike Conley and Marc Gasol in whatever way his coach decides to use him.
Thus far in the preseason, he’s averaged 13 points and just under five rebounds in about 20 minutes, but that’s with shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc — a ratio that will probably not last.
If Jackson is able to average more than 10 points and seven rebounds in what will likely be a reserve role, then the entire NBA will have to watch out for his sophomore campaign in 2019-20, which is also when Marc Gasol’s contract is up. This means that Jackson could be in a position to take over the role as the Grizzlies by 2020-21, and no one should be surprised if that happens.
There’s no need to waste time arguing for why the sky is the limit for Doncic. That case has pretty much already been made here.
DeAndre Ayton has the size, strength, speed, skills and agility to be one of the NBA’s all-time great big men.
He’s 7-feet tall and about 260 pounds of mostly muscle. At Arizona, he used his nimble feet to spin around defenders and go up for lobs, or he stepped out to the perimeter and shot 3-pointers, which he made at a clip of 34 percent.
It’s been highly publicized that his defense is a concern. Given his natural abilities and size, he should have been a nightmare for opposing big men to score on in college, but he was close to a defensive liability. That will have to change in the NBA if he wants to be the player the Phoenix Suns hope he can be.
In addition to these players who seem destined for superstardom, players like Josh Jackson, Kyle Kuzma, Lauri Markkanen, Marvin Bagley III, Trae Young and Wendall Carter Jr. all look like they could be multiple All-Stars at some point.
While this may seem like a high number of talented players, from the 2008 and 2009 NBA Draft classes combined, there have been a total of 13 All-Stars and four MVP winners in Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry and James Harden. Those classes have helped sustain and grow the NBA for a decade, and it looks like the class of 2017 and 2018 could do the same.