In July USA Basketball held a minicamp in Las Vegas in order to get a feel for the next generation of American players coming through in the NBA. What was on show was some of the finest young talent in the league, some already recognized stars, others waiting to have that breakout season.
And while the league’s established superstars are widely celebrated, some of the younger players that are yet to fully blossom fly under the radar.
In that spirit here’s a breakdown of the best young players (23 and under) by position that are yet to make an appearance at the All-Star game.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons, 20:
Andre Drummond is raw talent. Detroit fans should be downright gleeful that they have a young baller with so much potential on their roster.
Drummond had a fantastic rookie season last year, finishing 4th in the voting for Rookie of the Year. Anyone who watched him play last year can see that Drummond has big things ahead of him. If you didn’t though, the stats don’t tell too bad a story either. For all centers in the league that played more than 15 minutes per game, Drummond finished in the top 10 for blocks and steals per game and had the 4th highest PER. To top it off Drummond finished 3rd in the entire league for field goal percentage.
As he sees more minutes for the Pistons, Drummond will want to improve on his fundamental skills in order to reach his true potential. His free throw shooting in particular needs some serious attention; no one in the NBA should be shooting 37% from the charity stripe.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors, 21:
Like Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas looked like a man among boys at this year’s NBA Summer League. While Drummond may have more long term upside than Valanciunas by virtue of his athletic ability, Valanciunas is currently the possessor of a more polished all round game.
Valanciunas’ real selling point is his offensive skill set. An array of silky post moves, a strong offensive rebounding capability and a mid-range jumper make Valanciunas a real weapon. And at only 21 Valanciunas has plenty of time to improve on these skills and develop on the defensive side of the ball.
Valanciunas will also see plenty of minutes this season in Toronto as he’s a lock to start at center for the Raptors and he promises to deliver some exciting moments from north of the border.
Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons, 23:
One should be so lucky as to be a Pistons fan. Having two of the league’s most promising young big men in Detroit shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Last season Greg Monroe posted career high per game totals in points, assists, steals and blocks; a promising return for the Pistons from the 7th pick of the 2010 Draft in his 3rd year in the league. Monroe already possesses a very well rounded game with his passing ability standing out. Monroe only trails Marc Gasol and Joakim Noah in assists per game among centers with 3.4.
However, with free agent Josh Smith arriving in Detroit this summer the Pistons have an interesting problem on their hands. While a combination of Monroe, Drummond and Smith will be a defensive nightmare for opposing teams looking to enter the paint, offensive chemistry seems to be an issue for the trio. A line up of Drummond at the 5, Monroe at the 4 and Smith at 3 leaves Detroit with two shaky jump shooters at their forward positions and will likely create floor spacing issues. Instead expect to see Monroe switch between the power forward and center spot, something that may effect his production this year.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic, 22:
Averaging a double-double for the year is no mean feat. To do so in only the second season of one’s NBA career is even more impressive. But that’s what Nikola Vucevic does; he’s a production machine.
The Montenegrin seven-footer has a serious instinct for grabbing rebounds and his 11.9 boards per game was good enough for fourth in the league. Vucevic also has the potential to become a menace in the defensive paint as well. After averaging 1.0 block per game last year, Vucevic could develop into a premier shot stopper over time.
While Vucevic ticks all the boxes as a conventional big man, he also has fantastic shooting range. His ability to stretch the floor with his mid-range jumper will be a valuable asset for the Orlando Magic this year.
If Vucevic could add a few more post moves to his game the Magic could have a franchise center on their hands. While the worst-case scenario is that he simply remains a nightly double-double threat. Things are looking good for Nikola Vucevic.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings, 23:
DeMarcus is a seriously talented guy. Of the five centers on this list he is probably the closest to being recognized as an All-Star. The Sacramento Kings just acknowledged this talent by giving Cousins a $62 million dollar contract and they’ll expect results from the tempestuous 23-year old, something that will require Cousins to leave his combative attitude behind him.
Last year Cousins received more technical fouls than any other player in the NBA and saw himself ejected on four separate occasions. This will have to stop if Cousins hopes to reach his true potential and become the franchise center he’s capable of being.
The possessor of a solid post-game, Cousins needs to utilise his skills down low more often while laying off some of the mid-range jumpers that he’s been a little too fond of so far in his career. However, if Cousins can improve on his jump shot he would become an even more of a threat.
Cousins has the ability to average 20-10 this season if he can keep himself in check and with NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal in town as his mentor, this is a distinct possibility.
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