10. John Wall, Washington Wizards – Wall went from future superstar to people openly questioning what he’d become. He has above average court vision and incredible speed, but his game doesn’t appear to have developed at all from a shooting or finishing standpoint and what looked to be the perfect marriage of Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo will have to step it up to avoid falling off this list when Patrick Patterson and Ed Davis get more playing time.
9. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz – Hayward is finally getting minutes for the Jazz and in addition to double digit scoring, he’s getting 3 rebounds and assists a game. He doesn’t look like a star, but a valuable shooter at the 2 who can contribute in other ways. At 6’8, he’s a lockdown defender waiting to happen, as well. The Jazz are loaded with young talent.
8. Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers – Evan Turner seems unlikely to be the scorer is, but he’s likewise huge for a 2, and a far better defender, creator, and rebounder. He seems like he’s really coming into his own as part of the best bench unit in the game with Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young; Turner is a big part of why I think the 76ers take the Atlantic Division.
7. Demarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings – He’d be #2 if he weren’t such a handful, as he’s already got 1 coach fired. He’s impossible to keep off the backboard and impossible to stop in the post. If he’d learn to pass and play real defense, he’s a franchise talent. Unfortunately the Kings are all isolation scorers, but ideally he learns from Chuck Hayes how to work and defend in the NBA and can become a superstar regardless of circumstance.
6. Omer Asik, Chicago Bulls – The one guy on this list who may never start, it doesn’t matter, as he’s the ultimate game changer off the bench. No, he hasn’t learned to score, but he’s absolutely a lockdown defender, brilliant at moving his feet and contesting shots. I still contend if he were healthy the Bulls would have beat the Heat last year. He’s healthy this year and every bit the destructive defensive force he was last.
5. Paul George, Indiana Pacers – George is very similar to Turner and Hayward in his second year, except he’s got slightly better numbers since he’s playing more minutes, and he’s spending all night covering the opponents top wing scorer already. Oh, and he’s super athletic, 6’10, and has star potential. I won’t be surprised to see him as, at worst, the next Andre Igoudala.
4. Gary Neal, San Antonio Spurs – The Spurs haven’t missed a beat with Manu Ginobli, a top ten player in the NBA, out. Gary Neal, his excellent defense, top notch scoring, and underrated defense all have been huge factors in helping the Spurs stay near the elite without their best player. He and Asik are likely the only ones on the list that can make a difference for a championship contender this year, with apologies to #1 on the list.
3. Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz – The extremely young Favors continues to grow into his considerable potential. He’s bulked up, more athletic than ever and is learning how to be an effective defensive presence. His athleticism and motor keep him relevant on offense. He’s, at worst, a defensively game changing starter who can cover for guys like #2 on the list or, on his own team, Al Jefferson, and he could be among the best defensive bigs in the NBA by season’s end.
2. Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons – Monroe is the kind of player winning teams need. He’s a great post player, a good defender, he can pass, and he can even effectively pick and pop a bit. Monroe won’t be on many All Star Teams and isn’t a star, but he’s a very good double-double machine who will help the Pistons back to respectability and is ready right now.
1. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers – He’s already a superstar with his athleticism, motor, and the way he scores and rebounds, but to really become the MVP candidate everyone is looking for, he’ll have to start trying on defense soon. He’s essentially young Amare Stoudemire right now, but he can be the best player in the league if he decides to combine that with young Dwight Howard. Thus far, he has not.