He Got Game: The NBA’s Next Rising Stars

                As we near the end of future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Kobe Bryant’s careers, we look at the next generation of NBA stars. During the reign of many great players, fans are always left to wonder “whose next?” When everyone said their goodbyes to the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabar, they welcomed Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Once those illustrious careers came to a close, everyone said hello to Shaquille O’neal & Kobe Bryant who eventually made room for Dwight Howard and LeBron James.

 

While James and Howard continue their dominance, players like Chris Paul and Kevin Durant are not too far behind them. Along for youthful rise to stardom are Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and John Wall. These young guns are players that have completed three full seasons or less in their professional careers and are subsequently in charge of leading the next generation of NBA Greats.

 

Derrick Rose 6’3 190lbs, PG University of Memphis

Drafted: 2008 1st Overall, Chicago Bulls 4th Year

Career Averages: 21.1 ppg 6.8 ast 3.9 reb .9 stl .4 blk

Achievements: 2011 NBA MVP, 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year, 2011 All NBA 1st Team, 2009 NBA All Rookie 1st Team, Two-Time NBA All Star

 

At just 23 years of age, Derrick Rose has already found his way into the record books. The star point guard became the youngest player in NBA history to be named league MVP. The man known as D-Rose has led a storied Chicago franchise back to prominence. In 2011, the Bulls dominated with a league best 62-20 record, led by the reigning MVP. The year also marked the first time Chicago had an NBA All-Star Starter named to the team. Rose also carried his hometown squad to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were defeated by the Miami Heat in five games.

 

Despite a recent groin injury, 2012 has been no different for the NBA Superstar. Earning his second consecutive All-Star starting nod, Rose has the Bulls again sitting atop the NBA standings as they gear up for another playoff run. While he won’t win a second straight MVP trophy, the Chicago native has maintained consistency averaging 23 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds and 1 steal on the year.

 

With his combination of speed, strength and athleticism, D-Rose has become one of the premiere players in the NBA. The Chicago native has managed to bring excitement back to the Bulls franchise, while simultaneously restoring the team’s winning tradition. Although his team fell short in 2011, the Bulls are on pace to secure home-court advantage in the eastern conference for the second straight season. Locking up home-court ensures the road to the 2012 NBA Finals must go through the Windy City and the home of the reigning MVP.

 

Blake Griffin 6’10 251lbs, PF University of Oklahoma

Drafted: 2009 1st Overall, Los Angeles Clippers 2nd Year

Career Averages: 21.9 pts 11.6 reb 3.5 ast .8 stl .6 blk

Achievements: 2011 NBA Rookie of the Year, 2011 NBA All Rookie 1st Team, 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Champion, Two-Time NBA All-Star

 

  Of all the young stars in the NBA, this is one that needs no introduction. Blake Griffin has become the second coming of “The Human Highlight Reel.” The nickname was given to Atlanta Hawks great Dominique Wilkins for his flare to do the unthinkable above the rim. Although Griffin was drafted in 2009, a knee injury forced him to miss the entire season and allowed him to maintain his rookie status in 2010. The former Oklahoma Sooner made waves immediately and earned himself a bid on the All-Star team. As a mainstay on ESPN’s Top Plays, Griffin brought excitement to a Clippers team that hasn’t known the meaning of the word outside of the NBA Draft Lottery.

 

The 2011 Slam Dunk Champ has been paired with an elite point guard in Chris Paul, and has the Clippers poised to make their first playoff run since 1997. Along with enough highlights to last an entire month, Blake has averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block in 2012. Known around the league as “The Man-child,” he has come under a bit of fire for his “gloating” according to his cross-town rival Pau Gasol. The Lakers power forward has a slightly biased opinion on Blake, after becoming the latest addition to Griffin’s highlight reel twice in the same game.

 

Besides a typical stare down, the All-Star forward is relatively mild mannered. Luckily for the Clippers, Blake’s personality doesn’t translate on the court. Armed with a freakishly athletic frontline, and an elite floor general, the Clippers are now a team to be reckoned with. Currently seeded fourth in the western conference, “Lob City” could very well find itself in a battle for Los Angeles in this year’s playoffs. An inner city contest with the Lakers would be great for the league, but a second run-in with the Man-child may not be something Pau Gasol is looking forward to at all.

 

Kevin Love 6’10 260lbs, PF UCLA

Drafted: 2008 5th Overall, Memphis Grizzlies (acquired by Minnesota Timberwolves via trade) 4th Year

Career Averages: 17.3 pts 12.1 reb 1.9 ast .6 stl .5 blk

Achievements: 2011 NBA Most Improved Player, 2008 NBA All Rookie 2nd Team, 2012 NBA Three Point Champion, Two-Time NBA All-Star

 

  While Blake Griffin may be the power forward with the most jaw dropping plays, Kevin Love has been the one with the most eye-popping statistics. The Minnesota big man is currently averaging 27 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block in 2012. Love began the season exactly where he finished 2011, with 15 straight double-doubles. While the two-time NBA All-star has been the model of consistency, his team remains on the rise. With a record of 25-33 and 12th place in the western conference, the Timberwolves are again headed for the NBA lottery with hopes of adding another piece to the puzzle.

 

Love has raised his level of play in each season of his professional career. After a run of 38 consecutive double-doubles, the former UCLA Bruin earned NBA’s Most Improved Player honors and his first All-Star bid. As Minnesota saw its star big man develop into one of the league’s premier athletes, it also saw the team improving behind the play of rookie point guard Ricky Rubio. Unfortunately, Rubio’s season was cut short due to injury which in turn halted the Timberwolves’ playoff hopes.

 

With Love serving as the centerpiece, Rubio running the show, and rookie sensation Derrick Williams patrolling the wing, sky is the limit for the T-Wolves. If everyone can remain healthy for a full season and K-Love can continue to be a double-double machine, Minnesota will surely make a run at playoff contention in the near future.

 

Russell Westbrook 6’3 187lbs, PG UCLA

Drafted: 2008 4th Overall, Seattle Supersonics (Team relocated/renamed to Oklahoma City Thunder) 4th Year

Career Averages: 19 pts 6.8 ast 4.7 reb 1.6 stl .3 blk

Achievements: 2009 All NBA 2nd Team, 2009 NBA All Rookie 1st Team, Two-Time NBA All-Star

 

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has quickly become one of the league’s most explosive players. At 6’3 187lbs, the California native has played like a 6’7 small forward with several posterizing dunks and acrobatic plays throughout his young career. As a former teammate of Kevin Love, Russell was the backup point guard for his UCLA Bruins team. Entering the game as a sixth man and off-guard at times, Westbrook had to learn to play point guard in the NBA. The man known as “Sub Zero” proved to be a fast learner, as he was named to the NBA All-Star team in 2011 after averaging 22 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.

 

As the 23 year old point guard improved, so did the Thunder. OKC entered the playoffs as the fourth seeded team and found themselves on the brink of an NBA Finals berth. Despite falling short to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder solidified themselves as a team to watch in 2012. With the NBA finals in their sights, the Westbrook led franchise currently sits at the top of their conference. If the All-Star guard can put last year’s playoff shortcomings behind him, teams will have a tough time getting through Oklahoma City en route to an NBA Championship.

 

John Wall 6’4 195lbs, PG Kentucky

Drafted: 2010 1st Overall, Washington Wizards 2nd Year

Career Averages: 16.5 pts 8.1 ast 4.6 reb 1.5 stl .7 blk

Achievements: 2011 NBA All Rookie 1st Team

 

If not for Blake Griffin being named the 2011 Rookie of the Year, John Wall would have had the honor of hoisting the trophy at season’s end. The charismatic and incredibly talented point guard was immediately seen as the savior to a dismal Wizards franchise. After only spending one season in Kentucky, the North Carolina native came into the league with a tremendous amount of hype, as well as a dance to go with it. The John Wall phenomenon spread throughout the country and made the then 18 year old point guard, a national star.

 

Luckily for Washington, the star’s illumination continued in the National Basketball Association. Wall became the leader of a struggling Wizards team, pacing them with 17 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block in his rookie campaign. Known amongst his peers as Johnny Wall, he led the team to the best of his ability. Unfortunately, his efforts didn’t translate to a playoff berth for the D.C. franchise. However, as the team continues to build around its star point guard, there is no doubt that they’ll be in contention for a playoff spot in a few years.

 

Also notable players to watch: James Harden (SG, Oklahoma City Thunder), DeMarcus Cousins (PF/C Sacramento Kings), Ricky Rubio (PG, Minnesota Timberwolves), Kyrie Irving (PG, Cleveland Cavaliers), Brandon Jennings (PG, Milwaukee Bucks), Eric Gordon (SG, New Orleans Hornets), Jrue Holliday (PG, Philadelphia 76ers) Tyreke Evans (PG/SG Sacramento Kings) and Derrick Favors (PF, Utah Jazz)

 

Which NBA Star would you build your Franchise around?

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