The 15 Best NBA Players In 5 Years

Five years may not seem like a long time (considering LeBron is in his 11th season already), but little known rookies can turn into household superstars in that small time frame. Just consider that five years ago players like Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Roy Hibbert and Eric Gordon were young rookies looking for their place in the NBA. Five years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder were in their inaugural season under the direction of ROY, Kevin Durant. Look how much has changed in five years.

Five years from now, players that are making names for themselves in the collegiate ranks will have multiple years of NBA experience under their belt. Every player mentioned has become a major force in the NBA, making me wonder: Who will be the kings of the NBA in the next five years? Well, let me get out my crystal ball and tell you what I see…

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Coming off knee surgery, Westbrook has never looked more human. That’s saying something, considering he’s still averaging 20.6 points and 1.9 steals. Without him in the playoffs last year, OKC needed superhuman efforts from Kevin Durant just to stay competitive. Remember all that past talk about how Russ West hurt the team down the stretch when he’d put his blinders on and forget about his teammates? No one is saying that anymore after watching the Thunder struggle to score without their point guard.

As athletic as he is, Westbrook’s best trait, the one that separates him from everyone else, is his competitiveness. Nasty. Aggressive. Loud. If Jeff Green had this cat’s fuel, he’d be an All-Star. In five years, Westbrook will be turning 30 years old, and more than likely just fading from his athletic prime. But compare that to some of the other names we thought about putting here. DeMarcus Cousins? You can’t trust him, let alone expect him to develop into one of the best players in the world. John Wall? He relies on his athleticism even more than Westbrook and still can’t shoot at all. Derrick Rose? I’d rather not mention his name right now. It hurts too much. An up-and-comer? No names jump out. Perhaps the best competition here is Stephen Curry, although his ankle issues are a major red flag for someone so young. If Curry can stay healthy, I’d expect him to be better than Westbrook in 2018. But if I’m banking on either Curry’s health or Westbrook’s competitiveness, I’ll take the latter. No matter what happens before then, that certainly won’t deteriorate.

Coming out of mid-major Weber State (I still don’t know where this school is located), little was known about Damian Lillard. He was one of those names that you don’t hear about until the week before the draft and find them going in the lottery. Lillard was selected No. 6 by the Portland Trail Blazers and the rest is history. The Blazers may have missed out on Kevin Durant back in ’08, but Damian Lillard has the Blazers looking like a team with intentions of taking down Kevin Durant and the rest of the Western Conference this season.

Five years from now, Lillard could be poised to be one of the best players in the NBA. His rookie season last year saw Lillard average 19.0 PPG and 6.5 APG as he ran away with Rookie of the Year honors. Lillard was the first unanimous selection as Rookie of the Year (receiving all 121 first-place votes) since Blake Griffin in 2010-2011. Everyone likes to talk about Steph Curry when it comes to sweet shooting, but let me remind you that Lillard actually broke Curry’s record of three-point field goals made in a rookie season with 185 (outpacing Curry’s 166 in ’09-10).

This season has been anything but a sophomore slump for Lillard. He’s averaging 20.6 PPG and 5.7 APG, but more importantly, the Blazers have only lost three games this season. The Blazers are in first place in the Western Conference and are ahead of teams like the Thunder, Clippers, Spurs and the Houston Rockets.

The future is bright for Damian Lillard and with the way things are going, he might even have a ring in five years. I know it’s crazy to think about that, but Chris Paul will be on a decline in five years and Lillard will be one of the best players in the NBA, perhaps the best point guard. It might even take less than five years.

What a smart decision Marcus made by coming back for another year at Oklahoma State (Eds. note: if you’re not concerned with money). Undoubtedly he would have been a top pick in last summer’s draft, but his production so far at Oklahoma State has jaws dropping across the country. Smart is averaging 20.5 points, 3.6 assists, 5.0 boards and 3.0 steals this season for the Cowboys. The 2012 McDonald’s All-American’s 3.0 steals are ranked seventh nationally and third in his conference. He’s had two 30-point performances already this season, including 39 points on 11-for-21 shooting in a 101-80 defeat of Memphis. Marcus Smart gets buckets.

But, where will Marcus Smart be in five years, in a league dominated by backcourt players? He figures to be one of the best players in the NBA for a couple reasons. One thing that I love about him is his ambition and desire to be great, which can’t be taught. Before this season, Smart was heavily criticized on his poor shooting. This season, he responded to the critics in a big way. Smart is taking about six three-pointers per game and has four games this season where he’s shot 40 percent or better from deep. It’s almost like Smart heard the criticism and said “Oh, I can’t shoot? Watch this.”

Intangible aspects like this one are a huge reason why I figure Marcus Smart needs to be on this list. He already can get to the basket willingly, but as his jump shot develops and becomes a threat, it’s going to become a terror for opponents. Think of Smart like Russell Westbrook right now. Before Westbrook developed his jumper, he was still a threat, but not as much. Teams would back off of Westbrook and dare him to shoot, something we are seeing with Smart early on this season. But when Westbrook developed his jumper, things got a lot more dangerous. I expect the same thing to happen with Smart and for his jump shot to be lethal in five years, which is why he will be one of the best players in the NBA.

Julius Randle is a beast, enough said. In eight games with Kentucky, Randle has averaged 18.1 points and 12.5 rebounds in 30.1 minutes. His 6-9, 250-pound frame makes him a scary matchup for anyone in the post. His angry mentality on the court makes him draw comparisons to the likes of NBA greats like Chris Webber and Kevin Garnett. Randle has also shown promise with his midrange jump shot, a component he will need to develop to become a great player in the NBA. Already this season, Randle has amassed a double-double in every game, besides his opening game where he fell short by two rebounds. His talent level is clear and when he gets to the NBA, opponents will fear him.

In five years, any problems with Randle should be turned into strengths that make him one of the best big men in the game. I’ve already seen him take triple teams on in the post and still have the ability to fight through and finish at the rim. He figures to be one of the most well-rounded big men in the game. Just think of DeMarcus Cousins without the attitude problem. Don’t be surprised if Julius Randle has taken over the NBA five years from now.

Andre Drummond is a special player. In only his second season, it’s obvious that he’s still as raw as a plate of sushi. But, it’s rare the league sees a player this raw, with so much skill. This guy is an absolute terror in the paint, I can’t even imagine how good he will be in five years. He still has a long way to go, but five years is a long time and he will be a force by then. Drummond is averaging 12.9 points and 12.5 boards in his second season. He’s having some major issues shooting free throws (32 percent this season), but we can only hope that will improve in the coming years. His coming out party against the Sixers on December 1 solidified the fact that Drummond will be a problem in this league. Drummond scored 31 points, grabbed 19 boards and amassed six steals, along with two blocks. This stat line was just a glimpse of how good Drummond can be — imagine if that’s his normal production in five years?

Drummond will only be 25 by 2018. He may not even be in his prime by then — that’s a bone-chilling thought. By then, some of that raw talent will be translated to skill. He’s already averaging a double-double, but if he can improve his offensive game, than 20 and 10 isn’t illogical. You have to watch this man play to understand how dominant he can be in the future. Drummond is already making a name for himself in the NBA, but in five years it could be ‘Dre Day err day.

Turns out that Blake Griffin is more than just an athletic freak that can dunk over cars, huh? While those freakish dunks still make me scream like a schoolgirl, Griffin has proved to the doubters there’s more to his game in Los Angeles than the “Lob City” moniker. This season, Griffin is shooting 40 percent from midrange and he’s made three out of six three-point attempts. I’m not saying he can stroke it like Kevin Love, but his jump shot is a part of his game that opponents have to respect now. This wasn’t the case when he first came into the league, but Griffin has put the work in to become a better all-around player.

This is important, because Griffin can and will take his game to another level in five years. He’s starting to develop a reliable post game also, which will become scary if that can develop along with the jump shot. For some reason, there’s a lot of hate for Griffin in the journalism world, but 20 and 10 is hard to produce night in and night out. That’s exactly what Griffin is producing as a career average — I’m sure those aren’t all dunks, right? He’s doing it again this season, averaging 21.2 points and 11.1 boards. Numbers don’t lie.

As the seasons continue to pass, there will be less and less to write off about Griffin’s game. Wake up — he’s improving every minute, every game, every season. He’s a legitimate power forward and a force in this league. In five years, he will be one of the best players in the NBA.

We all thought Jabari Parker would be good, but no one knew that he would be THIS good. In nine games with Duke, Parker is averaging 22.1 points and 7.8 rebounds on 54.8 percent shooting (46.7 from deep). He’s third in the national rankings in points scored (199) and first in his conference. It’s funny to talk about a breakout season coming from one of the highest-ranked prospects in the country, but Parker was receiving less and less recognition as names like Wiggins and Randle started to garner more attention. That has changed and some scouts are even touting Parker as a better NBA prospect than Wiggins and Randle. At 6-8 with a 7-0 wingspan, Parker has the ability to create his shot from the perimeter and in the post over anyone, something we see from Kevin Durant every game. Parker can be dominate in the post, with his jumper, in transition and even as a decoy to draw attention from other teammates. Early on, the kid looks unstoppable at the college level

In five years, Parker might be the best player to come out of the class of 2014. He reminds me of a mix of Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce. He seems to catch fire quicker than Jamal Crawford and has excelled at finishing in transition with some highlight reel finishes. ‘Melo and Pierce will be afterthoughts in five seasons (Pierce probably won’t even be in the league anymore), while Parker will be reigning as one of the best players in the NBA.

The “Beard” will still be feared five years from now. Harden has taken a lot of heat this season for his lack of defense, but there’s no denying that he still remains one of the best players in the league. I can’t remember Carmelo ever playing defense and that never stopped him from being in the discussion, so it shouldn’t stop Harden either. Harden will only be 29 in five years and should be well into his prime. I know it’s hard to imagine Harden improving much after his explosion of 25.9 PPG, 5.8 APG and 4.9 RPG last season, but it will happen.

Harden is already considered the best shooting guard in the league and by some, the fourth-best player. In five years, he’ll be 29 and right in his prime. While Harden being the fourth-best player in the league is still arguable now, this won’t be the case in five years.

In five years, Love will be in his 10th season, which should be right in his prime. This season, the “White Mamba” seems to finally be healthy after playing in just 73 games the past two seasons. Averaging 23.7 points and 13.6 boards, Love is proving his stature as the NBA’s best power forward.

With his unique ability to shoot lights out from all around the perimeter and still have the ability to grab double-digit rebounds every night, Love is a player that comes around once in a blue moon. This unique blend of talent will become even more prominent as the league continues to evolve around explosive guards. Expect his defense to improve and when it does, things will be as cold as a Minnesota winter for the rest of the league. Love will be in a league of his own in five years. He’ll be Michael Jordan in Space Jam and everyone else will be a bunch of Looney Tunes. He’s already a dark-horse candidate for MVP this season; in five years he might have one of those under his belt.

“He’s raw, but his ceiling is high. He can be like a Hall of Famer, All-Star, for sure. He’s good.” Kevin Durant said that after watching Wiggins defeat Jabari Parker’s Blue Devils. That quote should justify how special Wiggins is.

His numbers don’t jump out at anyone from his first few games with Kansas, but his talent is undeniable. Wiggins is averaging 14.3 points and 5.6 boards in seven games so far this season on 49 percent shooting from the field. Wiggins has been considered the No. 1 draft pick in next year’s draft for some time. However, his skill-set is still very raw, which has been obvious during his first seven games with Kansas. Looking at him now, Wiggins is probably just a shell of the player he will become. It’s funny. Everyone said that before he came to college. Now everyone’s caught up in the Parker/Randle hype and they’re calling the Canadian overrated. Huh? Most insiders expected Wiggins to start slow. Talk to us in March. Hell, talk to us in a few years.

Being called a future Hall of Famer before completing a semester in college is serious. Believe the hype about Wiggins, it’s all true.

It feels undeniable that Wiggins will be one of the best players in the NBA in five years. His length and athleticism aren’t seen often, making him a once-in-a-generation player.

For a player who only played in 11 games at Duke, Kyrie Irving has established quite the reputation in his third NBA season. Famous for tucking Brandon Knight to bed on the cold hardwood during the Rising Stars Challenge last season, Irving’s insane handles are something that can’t even be recreated on the streets of Rucker Park. But, Uncle Drew’s game isn’t all about being flashy, he knows what it takes to get the job done. Irving is averaging 20.6 points and 5.9 assists this season with the fourth-highest usage rate at 31.5 percent. Even more impressive, Irving is second in the league in “clutch” points, which come during the last five minutes of the game. Irving has scored 44 clutch points this season, pacing superstars like James Harden and Kevin Durant.

The Cavs will continue to build talent around Irving in the coming years, which will only propel Kyrie Irving’s talent to another level. In a league filled with great point guards, Irving’s name is never forgotten, even at such a young juncture in his career. Imagine what it will be like in five years. Kyrie should have a stranglehold on the top point guard position in the NBA, if he can avoid the crazy injury bug. Five years from now, perhaps no one in Cleveland will be lobbying to bring LeBron back because Kyrie Irving will have Cleveland worshipping a new “King.”

The NBA’s Most Improved Player from last season might just mess around and be the MVP this season. LeBron James’ throne has been under the watchful eyes of George since his explosion in the playoffs last season. But, with the way George is playing, the crown might be in Indiana in no time.

I don’t know what took Paul George so long to breakout, but there’s no doubt he has arrived. He’s already averaging 24.9 PPG this season and just had an absurd 43-point performance (53.3 percent shooting) in a crazy 106-102 loss to Damian Lillard and company the other night. That Game 7 Eastern Conference Finals loss to LeBron James has ignited a fire in George that won’t be turned down. But, what will he look like in five years? Even better.

George’s scoring average has increased substantially since his rookie year in the league. From 7.8 to 12.1 to 17.4 and now he stands at 24.9; his scoring increased four points from his rookie to sophomore seasons, five points from his second to third year and now an astronomical 7.5 points from last year to this season. Talk about improvement. It’s terrifying to think that in five years, George will only be 28, the same age LeBron is right now. George has a cold-blooded killer instinct that can’t be taught, as well as his length, athleticism, shooting, defense and every other category in the book. It’s honestly hard to pick a flaw in his game. Seriously, think about it. Personally, I think he’s the closest thing this era will see to LeBron James.

Is it crazy to think Paul George could have a ring and an MVP in five years? Nope, not at all. He’s been playing at such a high level since the playoffs last season and continued it into this season. Paul George has officially arrived and he will continue to get better. He’s already a superstar and by the end of this season, we could be talking about one of the league’s five or six best players.

Forget about the hand fracture that will keep Davis sidelined for a few weeks — that injury will be forgotten in five years. Before the devastating injury, Davis was having an insane start to the season. He’s leading the league in blocks per game with 3.6 and has already denied 58 shots this season. He’s the best rim protector in the NBA and his ability to affect a game by just standing near the rim is remarkable. He’s one of the few players in the league that can affect the outcome of an NBA basketball game without having to score a point.

The thing about it is that he gets buckets, too. A lot of them. He was averaging 18.8 points per game before his injury. He’s a defensive player by nature, but his offensive game is something that is developing and will continue to improve. Davis is shooting 35 percent from midrange this season, showing that he’s already improving his game to become a force on both ends of the court.

This injury will be a setback for Anthony Davis, but in five years, he will be a major force in this league… he already is. The sky is literally the limit for this 20-year-old.

LeBron James is, without question, the best player in the NBA right now. That’s something that was still debatable a few season ago, but the King is sitting comfortably on his throne. In five years, I’m not so certain this will still ring true, but it’s hard to deny that James won’t still be one of the best players in the league.

Right now, James is third in the league in scoring at 26.0 points per game (only .3 points behind ‘Melo for second), with an insane true shooting percentage of 69.0 percent. Besides the points, The King is the most efficient player in the league this season, with an efficiency rating of 64.3 percent and a PIE (player impact estimate) of 21.2 percent. LeBron is one of the only players in the league that can dominate every aspect of the game, every night. But I don’t need to tell you this. You already know.

Five years from now, LeBron James will probably have a couple more rings and a couple more MVPs under his belt. He will be 33 in five years, so he will most likely be past his prime. His high IQ, along with his insane array of skills, will allow him to still excel in the league once Father Time starts to take over. LBJ is one of those players that will adjust his game according to his skill level, so we can expect him to still be a great player in five years.

The Durantula is without a doubt one of the best players in the NBA right now. In five years, he will be the best player in the NBA. Durant celebrated the beginning of December by posting a stat line that hasn’t been seen since Michael Jordan in 1988. On December 1, Durant scored 32 points, and went for 10 rebounds, 10 assists, four blocks and four steals on 66.7 percent shooting (75 percent from deep). Seriously, Durant has scored 30-plus points in seven out of 15 games this season. And he’s not even shooting well this season! Just think about that.

For his career, Durant is shooting 47 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 88 percent from the line. Kevin Durant is already scary good with his combination of length and athleticism, something that’s never been seen before in the NBA. He’s getting better every season and when he enters his 12th season in five years, he will have a ring. I’d be willing to bet on that.

The production will continue to rise and the three-time scoring champion will be the best player in the league. It’s almost hard to imagine how much better Durant can be, especially in five years. He seems to have career-year after career-year every season. Yet, he keeps coming back in the offseason and fine-tuning his game.

Durant is one of the only players in the league that has actually figured out how to score in bunches without throwing up an insane amount of shots (COUGH Rudy Gay). His efficiency is a key facet of his game and it will make the Durantula the best player in the NBA in five years.

Who do you think will be the NBA’s best players in five years?

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