The Whiteboard: Next young star, Luka overrated?, and In-Season Tournament prediction

Today on The Whiteboard, we're talking about who is the next young star, if Luka Doncic is overrated, and who will win the In-Season Tournament final.

Utah Jazz v Dallas Mavericks
Utah Jazz v Dallas Mavericks / Sam Hodde/GettyImages

Ed. Note — N.B. Lindberg is guesting on The Whiteboard today. You can read more of his work at FanSided and follow him on Twitter.

If the Philadelphia 76ers rebuild of the early 2010s, known as “the process,” has taught us anything, it is that all it takes is one transcendent player to make years of losing worth it. Even with massive whiffs in the draft, the Sixers landing Joel Embiid has made them a title contender for the past half-decade. NBA teams, much like solar systems, are aimless without a star. 

Who is the NBA's next young star?

Last week, I wrote an article ranking the NBA's best young cores and tabbed the Magic, Pistons, Trail Blazers, and Wizards as teams missing a current foundational young star to build around. Between Cade Cunningham, Paolo Banchero, Scoot Henderson, and Bilal Coulibaly, this is who I think will break out next. While their fans would argue that Cunningham of the Pistons, Banchero (or even Franz Wagner) of the Magic, Henderson of the Blazers, and Coulibaly of the Wizards are young stars, I would counter, “Not yet.”

Out of that group, the player with the best chance to become a true All-NBA quality player is Paolo Banchero.

Banchero has a few things going for him that the others don’t. First, he was just a regular bad NBA player in his rookie season, which is fantastic for such a young player. Second, he is trending to be an All-Star, or borderline All-Star, in his second or third season. And third, he possesses obvious physical advantages that allow him to create space on offense. 

While my confidence level that Banchero will become an All-NBA quality player is high, I don’t think his ceiling is quite as lofty as Scoot Henderson’s. However, the best predictor of future success is current success, and Banchero is currently the best player of the bunch. 

Predicting player growth is difficult, but with star-level players, it’s quite easy. They usually hold their own as rookies, become above average by their second year, and are in the All-Star or All-NBA picture by year three. Some players deviate from this trajectory, but if your favorite young player is in year three and they’re not really in the All-Star convo, it might be time to find a new favorite player.

The 2022-23 All-NBA teams illustrate this point very well. A box plus/minus (BPM) of 2.0 is a good starter, a BPM of 4.0 is in the All-Star conversation, and a BPM of 6.0 is an All-NBA season, according to the developer of the metric. If a player hasn’t been a legitimately good starter by year three, they’re only making All-NBA teams if they’re overrated (Jaylen Brown) or play in New York and never take a game off (Julius Randle). 

Magic fans, however, can celebrate Banchero like the future star he likely is. As a rookie he posted a negative-1.5 BPM and negative-0.7 offensive BPM with a massive usage rate, and, after a slow start to year two, he’s at a 1.6 BPM and 1.2 OBPM. That’s a star trajectory, he just needs to finish the season strong to confirm it.  

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Luka Doncic is the most overrated player in the league?

Twitter/X has a habit of attracting people who believe they know things you don’t. Sometimes they’re conspiracy theorist, other times they’re grifters, but when it comes to sports, they’re often people who just have a feeling about a team or player they cannot shake. Which brings us to Luka Doncic.

A thread claiming Luka Doncic is the “most overrated player in the NBA” went semi-viral, and it touches on the biggest issue in sports discourse — wins. The 20-post thread essentially boils down to this: Luka’s stats are amazing, but they don’t help the Mavericks win games. 

These types of assertions that a player’s quality can be measured by team success are all too common and almost always lack nuance. It is true that for a player of Doncic’s quality, his on-court net rating and on-off net rating are surprisingly low (they’re still positive), but that isn’t an indictment on him as much as the organization, and it also conveniently ignores that he has actually won a bunch of games. 

The season before the Mavericks drafted Doncic, they went 24-58, a 29.2 win percentage. From 2018-19, his rookie season, to 2021-22, the Mavericks posted a higher win percentage each season than they did the one before, culminating in a 52 win season and a 63.4 win percentage in 2021-22. While 2022-23 was a reversal of that trend as the Mavericks slumped to 38-44, it is the outlier in the sample, and this season they're 12-8.

There’s also the issue that the Mavericks haven’t exactly surrounded him with the most imposing talent. The best players Doncic has played with are Kyrie Irving, Kristaps Porzingis, and Jalen Brunson. Irving hasn’t even hit 40 games in a Mavericks uniform, Porzingis was either hurt or returning from injury over his tenure, and Brunson didn’t pop until his final season in Dallas when they won 52 games.

Doncic is a textbook example of what happens when a team has a transcendent talent but is buttressed by less than exemplary support. With no one to lessen their offensive burden, they shoulder a massive usage and post monster stats, but they’re unable to win at the highest level because the overall team isn’t great. Thus, they’re labeled stat padders and overrated, when really they're carrying the team.

The entire thread calling Doncic the most overrated player in the league could have been done about Michael Jordan in 1989. Sometimes, great players put up monster stats on bad teams, and while they’re able to drag them above mediocrity, they can’t lift them to greatness all on their own because no one can. Basketball is a team sport. 

Who will win the NBA In-Season Tournament?

The NBA’s In-Season Tournament (IST) Final between the Indiana Pacers and the Los Angeles Lakers is set for Saturday, December 9th. The Pacers, led by the offensive wizardry of Tyrese Haliburton, had to beat the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks to book their ticket to the final, while the Lakers bested the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans. 

Prior to Thursday night’s games, the Pacers sported a plus-3.0 net rating and the best offensive efficiency in the league (123.3) compared to the Lakers’ negative-0.7 net rating and 24th-ranked offense (111.0). However, the Lakers have the eighth-best defensive rating in the league at 111.7, and the Pacers are 28th at 120.3. The Lakers beat the Pelicans 133-89, which will boost their underlying metrics. Adding to the perfect opposite’s narrative, the Lakers are one of the oldest teams in the league, while the Pacers are one of the youngest. 

The breakout star of the IST has undoubtedly been Haliburton. Against the Celtics and Bucks, he averaged 26.5 points, 14 assists, and zero turnovers while leading the Pacers to 122 and 128 points. His incredible combination of efficient scoring and pristine passing has been the driving force for the greatest offense in NBA history by offensive rating. A win in the first IST would put him on the fast track to stardom, something his on-court performance warrants.  

Haliburton’s ascent into the national consciousness has been a sight to behold, but a familiar face awaits him in the final. LeBron James continues to give the double-bird to father time. In 40:10 minutes against the Suns, he scored 31 points, dished 11 assists, and grabbed eight rebounds to help the Lakers eke out a three-point victory. While the Lakers didn’t need every last ounce of LeBron’s greatness to beat the Pelicans, his 30 points, eight assists, and five rebounds in 23 minutes didn’t hurt. 

So who will win the NBA’s first-ever IST and etch their name in history? The numbers say the Pacers, but the Lakers have the experience. Haliburton is a rising star, but LeBron is the ultimate elder statesman. The smart money is on the Pacers. The Lakers are 7-1 in games where they hold opponents to 25 assists and under, and the Pacers have only failed to reach 25 assists twice this season. In the year 2023, historic offense beats good defense -- Pacers in one

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