10 Almost-Franchise NBA Players

By: 05.05.10  •  51 Comments

O.J. Mayo, Dime #52

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing a lot about players who are, or could be, considered “The Future” or “The Franchise” of their respective teams — from Andrew Bynum in L.A. to Rodney Stuckey in Detroit to George Hill in San Antonio.

Whether it’s a Lottery pick with high expectations (e.g. Bynum) or a little-known draftee who surprisingly shines on a big stage (e.g. Hill), a skilled 7-footer or a defensive-minded point guard, their backgrounds and profiles are diverse, but just about every NBA team has one or two young candidates who fit the bill. While some are thrust into a position to carry their squads right away — think Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant — others are still waiting in the wings to be handed the keys to the Beamer. And in those cases, usually it’s because the star-in-training is lacking in one or two crucial areas of his game.

Here are 10 almost-franchise players looking to break through the glass ceiling:

1. Andrew Bynum (22 years old, Center, L.A. Lakers)
Expected Time of Takeover: Whenever Kobe retires.
Biggest Obstacle: Staying healthy. Bynum has missed significant portions of the last three seasons due to knee and Achilles injuries. He was almost a non-factor in L.A.’s postseason run to the title in ’09, and is already playing hurt in this year’s playoffs.

2. Rajon Rondo (24, PG, Celtics)
Expected Time of Takeover: Rondo is already the most consistent and arguably the best player on the Celtics, but Paul Pierce is still the face of the franchise. And given The Truth’s old-man game, he’s got at least a few years left.
Biggest Obstacle: His jumper. From mid-range or beyond the arc, Rondo’s broken J is about as glaring a hole as any legit NBA All-Star has in his game today. If he gets that thing somewhat together, he’s a top-three PG in the League without question. After LeBron, Rondo is the next odds-on favorite to someday average a triple-double for an entire season.

3. Rodney Stuckey (24, PG, Pistons)
Expected Time of Takeover: Going into Year Four, this is “deuce or get off the pot” time for Stuck if he’s going to earn his spot as Detroit’s franchise. He might have to steal it outright from Rip Hamilton.
Biggest Obstacle: Playmaking ability. Stuckey is really a combo guard, so ideally he’d pattern his game after Brandon Roy and D-Wade and be a beast that way. But even Roy and Wade are better passers/playmakers than Stuckey, and they’re not even playing the point. His outside jumper also needs work.

4. Roy Hibbert (23, C, Pacers)
Expected Time of Takeover: It looks like Indiana will give Hibbert every possible opportunity to live up to his potential, but it probably won’t happen as long as Jim O’Brien is the coach. Get somebody in there who will slow down the running game and put an emphasis on feeding the post, and Hibbert could shine.
Biggest Obstacle: Foul trouble. Hibbert can score in the post and could be a great inside compliment to Danny Granger outside — kind of a poor man’s T-Mac and Yao — but he needs to stay on the court long enough to be effective.

Blake Griffin, Dime #51

5. Blake Griffin (21, PF, Clippers)
Expected Time of Takeover: Assuming the Clips don’t pull a shocker and sign LeBron, Wade or Chris Bosh this summer, and all due respect to Baron Davis, but this is Blake’s team whenever he wants it.
Biggest Obstacle: Not sure yet. I don’t think Griffin’s knee will be a long-term problem, so it’s not like he’s “injury-prone” yet. But we still haven’t seen him play an official NBA game that counts.

6. O.J. Mayo (22, SG, Grizzlies)
Expected Time of Takeover: If Rudy Gay leaves in free agency, O.J. is The Man next season.
Biggest Obstacle: Time and experience. Because he isn’t the most explosive athlete and he’s short for a two-guard (6-4), O.J. will have to develop a Kobe-like set of skills and footwork to be as good as he can be. That’s not going to happen over one summer.

7. Michael Beasley (21, PF, Heat)
Expected Time of Takeover: Still a good two or three years away. Even if Miami loses D-Wade this offseason, they have enough money and appeal to sign another superstar. And depending on who that is, Beasley might not be around to get a crack at being Miami’s franchise guy.
Biggest Obstacle: Whatever is going on between his ears. Nobody can deny Beasley is wildly talented, and even when he was generally terrible in this year’s playoffs, he showed flashes of dominance. But he might have a bad case of JaMarcus Russell‘s Disease.

8. Andray Blatche (23, PF, Wizards)
Expected Time of Takeover: Already held the top dog position for the latter part of this season following the trade deadline, but that was probably just temporary until Gilbert Arenas comes back.
Biggest Obstacle: Maturity. Again, he has the skills, but it takes more than that to be a franchise superstar. Who would feel comfortable with Blatche as the locker room leader of a team? Might be destined to be a big-numbers, bad-team guy.

9. Andrea Bargnani (25, C/PF, Raptors)
Expected Time of Takeover: If Chris Bosh leaves, Bargnani gets the gig.
Biggest Obstacle: Defense and rebounding. Bargs is often called the junior version of Dirk Nowitzki, but even Dirk will grab you 9-10 boards a night.

10. LaMarcus Aldridge (24, PF, Trail Blazers)
Expected Time of Takeover: He should already be 1B to Brandon Roy’s 1A, but isn’t quite there yet.
Biggest Obstacle: Rebounding. If Amar’e Stoudemire wasn’t already the NBA’s token “Why don’t you get more rebounds?!?” poster child, LaMarcus would get a lot more criticism. At 6-11 with superb athleticism, there’s no way he should be pulling down 6.0 boards per game in a playoff series, but that’s what happened this year against Phoenix. (Amar’e had 5.5 rpg.) Aldridge has almost everything you want offensively, but if he took the same attitude toward rebounding and defense as somebody like KG, he’d be a certified problem for the rest of the League.

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