The next wave of basketball superstars are on the brink of making an impact. The game is in good hands with LeBron James and Kevin Durant running the show at the moment. But who are the guys that could breakout and become stars in the future? Back in 2011, we devoted a whole issue of the magazine to breakout players–such as Paul George, John Wall and James Harden. Now it’s time for a new list.
A player can breakout at any given moment. Paul George is the perfect example, evolving into a superstar in last year’s playoffs. This season, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Damian Lillard, Arron Affalo and Eric Bledsoe have all taken a step. Then we have the guys in college and high school that are ready to breakout.
We put together a list of the top 25 basketball players you need to be watching in 2014. No NBA All-Star Game appearances allowed.
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25. Isaiah Briscoe â€“ High School Junior â€“ Roselle Catholic
Isaiah Briscoe is one of the best point guards in the 2015 class. He is built in the same mold as Kyrie Irving and the comparison goes further since he is from New Jersey. He is a big, stocky guard that has a lot of skills and will be one of the coveted recruits over the next year.
24. Luke Kennard â€“ High School Junior â€“ Franklin High School
Most people possibly have not heard about Luke Kennard, but during his junior season this year at Franklin High School in Ohio, he has been putting up huge numbers. John Calipari and the Kentucky staff have been regulars at his games, along with some visits from Coach K as well. A 6-5 swingman, Kennard is crafty and scores a lot of points and is a great rebounder at his size. He has a few 50-point games already this season and is averaging 40 points per game. By this time next year, I expect Kennard to be a top ten player in his class. His college list stands at Duke, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Ohio State. Kennard is also a top recruit on the football field as a quarterback, so it will be interesting to see which sport he decides to focus on.
23. Kawhi Leonard â€“ San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker is getting older and the two are most likely out in a couple years. With Kawhi Leonard being only 22, the Spurs might just skip the rebuilding process. He has not been that healthy this season and is currently battling a hand injury but it will be exciting to see if he can recapture his playoff magic from last year. If Ray Allen did not hit that shot in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Leonard might have been the Finals MVP. He is very silent and does everything you want a player to do for your team–whether it is defending the best player and playing hard, or grabbing rebounds.
22. Stanley Johnson â€“ High School Senior â€“ Mater Dei High School
Looking at Johnson’s physique of 6-6 and 225 pounds, he already has a pro body. He has been abusing players in high school for Mater Dei in California. He is one of the most versatile players in the country and is currently averaging 24.9 points per-game. This year he has been asked upon to play point guard for the Monarchs and has shown he can handle the position if needed. The Arizona Wildcats are going to continue to get better as one of the most talented teams when Johnson arrives next fall.
21. The Utah Jazz Core
The Utah Jazz core of Trey Burke, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks are all players that deserve to be on this list. Trey Burke was one of the main pieces the Jazz needed to take the step moving forward for the future. After a full season with Trey Burke at the one and another great draft selection this year, the Jazz will be ready to compete by next year as one of the rising teams in the Western Conference.
20. Terrence Ross â€“ Toronto Raptors
The past few weeks, Terrence Ross has been one of the most popular names in the NBA. The small forward put up a surprising 51-point effort last week against the Los Angeles Clippers and threw down one of the best dunks of the season on Kenneth Faried. Ross has been getting ready for his second dunk contest during All-Star Weekend and I expect him to put on a show that will solidify he is one of the rising names in the NBA. It is going to be fun and exciting to see this Raptors team compete in the playoffs with their other breakout players in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
19. Myles Turner â€“ High School Senior â€“ Trinity High School
The past few years we have seen an abundance of top big men recruits who built their name off their defense in college. Guys like Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid all have the makings of defensive anchors and Myles Turner is next in the line. A late bloomer who rose towards the end of his junior season last year, Turner is the highest ranked undeclared recruit and schools such as Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Texas are in his final seven. He is one of the best offensively skilled big men in the country as well and has showed early signs he can be a dominate force on both ends. I will not be surprised if he is the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
18. Marcus Smart â€“ Oklahoma State
Before the season, Marcus Smart received huge backlash for going back to school to improve his game. He definitely would have been a top pick last year and not has much changed. Smart is one of the best combo guards in the nation and has shown tremendous leadership for the Cowboys this season. Smart has the tenacious and competitive spirit that GMs crave. He has struggled a bit since conference play started and his shooting numbers are a bit down from last season but I expect him to be a dominate force towards March Madness. If he finds the right team and system in the NBA next year, he is going to cause havoc on both sides of the ball.
17. Karl Towns Jr. â€“ High School Senior â€“ St. Joseph High School
When Karl Towns Jr. arrives in Lexington next fall, he is going to be a tremendous player for John Calipari and the Wildcats. At 7-feet and rising, with also being 245 pounds, he can really shoot the ball and run the court great for a guy his size. He has a lot of experience already playing against pros with John Calipari during time for the Dominican Republic National Team during the summer of 2012.
16. Seventh Woods â€“ High School Sophomore â€“ Hammond School
If you have not yet heard of the legend of Seventh Woods and his legendary YouTube highlight tapes–which secured over 10 million views–you need to watch the video below and stop reading this for a minute. Woods, from South Carolina, is athletically gifted despite only standing at 6-2. He plays like a high school version of Russell Westbrook. Early this season, Woods put on a show as his team was losing and hit seven three-pointers in the fourth quarter to finish the game with 42 points. You have to wonder what they’re putting in the water in the Carolinas with so many gifted athletes arising. It sucks we have to wait two years to see him step foot on a college court.
15. Ben McLemore â€“ Sacramento Kings
McLemore season has been up and down but the young Kings guard has shown brief stints of what he can be in the future. He has tremendous athletic ability and can stroke the ball from deep. He just needs to remain confident in his abilities. If he finds more meaningful minutes further into this season he is going to improve and by next year will be a great player for the Kings along with DeMarcus Cousins.
14. Harrison Barnes â€“ Golden State Warriors
After a strong playoff surge last year, I expected Harrison Barnes to be one of the best upcoming stars this season. But this season he is very much in the same stage he was last season as a player that lacks a killer instinct to takeover games. I am guessing the Warriors management noticed the issue during the offseason to bring in Andre Iguodola, which sent Harrison Barnes to the bench this season. While I got all of the negatives out of the way, Barnes still has a lot of upside to be a great player down the road, and as the Warriors continue to make a strong playoff push, they are going to need Barnes to step up and play with the same confidence he played with last postseason. Harrison Barnes has too much talent to be a bench player down the road and his time will come.
13. Tyus Jones (Apple Valley High School) and Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young High School) â€“ High School Seniors
You mean to tell me Duke landed the No. 1 center in the country along with the No. 1 point guard in the country and they both just so happen to be best friends? The pairing of Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor next season in Durham is going to be special. The two have amazing chemistry together already and with a great recruiting class coming in, the Blue Devils are going to be the favorites to win the title next year. Okafor has all the skills to be successful at the next level. He has amazing hands and is the most skillful high school big man in the country. Tyus Jones is as pure of a point guard prospect as they come and makes great decisions on the floor. Next year the pick-n-roll situation with Okafor and Jones is going to be a match made in Heaven for Coach K.
12. Tyler Ennis â€“ Syracuse University
You have to be really good if Jim Boeheim decides to start you during your freshman year. Even Michael Carter-Williams waited a whole year before having a chance to start. Boeheim gave the keys to Ennis from day one and he has been magnificent. This college basketball season, Ennis has been one of the best freshmen in the country, if not the most valuable. As a floor general, he has been a great maestro getting his team in the right spots and shown an incredible amount of basketball IQ in crunch time. Syracuse is currently undefeated and a huge part of that is because of Ennis’s stellar play. Before the season, Tyler Ennis was not as mentioned as much in the heralded class with Wiggins, Parker and Randle but after a strong outing in the Maui invitational people started to take notice. During March, Ennis is going to be a huge factor if Syracuse goes all the way.
11. Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson â€“ Oklahoma City Thunder
Come playoff time, I expect big things from both Lamb and Jackson. Lamb is one of the players I feel is going to breakout during this year’s playoffs. Over the season he has been getting more meaningful minutes on the floor and if he shows if he can constantly knock down shots while defenses pay attention to Durant and Westbrook, he is going to make the Thunder scary.
Jackson has done an incredible job filling in for Westbrook while he has been hurt. Jackson is sort of in the same position Eric Bledsoe was in Los Angeles playing behind Chris Paul. He has been playing some solid ball lately, averaging 14.2 points per game while shooting close to 40 percent and also dishing 5.2 assists in the last ten games.
10. Aaron Gordon â€“ University of Arizona
Aaron Gordon is one of the hardest working players in college basketball. His workouts are legendary and he has been one of the main reasons why the Arizona Wildcats are title contenders this season. His scoring numbers are not going to wow you because he does not have to score for a team with so much talent, but he does everything you want a player to do: play defense, grab rebounds, and play relentlessly throughout the whole game. The Blake Griffin comparisons are definitely evident with athleticism and the looks. If he is committed to being a small forward instead of a power forward, he is going to have to work on his ballhandling and shooting. If he decides to come out this year, he is going to be a solid lottery pick for some team.
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo â€“ Milwaukee Bucks
In a couple years after looking back at the 2013 NBA Draft, Antetokounmpo (still having a hard time pronouncing his name) might be the best player to come out of the draft. The “Greek Freak” is the youngest player in the NBA at 19 years old and presents an incredible amount of upside with his length and athleticism. With the Bucks being the worst team in the NBA so far, Antetokoummpo has shown that there is hope in the future for the team. Off the court, he has become a fan favorite with his charming personality. Five years from now NBA teams that passed up on him are going to be scratching their heads.
8. Victor Oladipo â€“ Orlando Magic
Before the season, Oladipo was dubbed by scouts as the most ready prospect in the draft and, along with Michael Carter-Williams, he has just been that. He is currently averaging 13.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game and is a major factor in Orlando’s long-term success. After a couple years, Oladipo is going to be one of the premier defenders in the league for a long time. You are not going to see a player that loves playing defense as much as he does.
7. Julius Randle â€“ University of Kentucky
A man among boys–that is the only way I could describe Randle and his college counterparts. He has been the best player on the Wildcats this season, averaging close to a double-double with 16.0 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Julius Randle is Zach Randolph with athleticism, which is pretty scary. If Kentucky is planning on going far in March, Randle must continue being a force in the lineup every night. One NBA team is going to be lucky next year.
6. Michael Carter-Williams â€“ Philadelphia 76ers
The leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams is, without a doubt, a star in the making. He is currently averaging 17.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists a game, along with shooting 40 percent from the field. Carter-Williams exploded out of the gate on opening night with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds, and nine steals in his NBA debut against the Miami Heat. No one thought before the season that Carter-Williams would be this good. He is the face of the 76ers organization, along with Nerlens Noel, and if management keeps building pieces around him, he is going to be very successful. Next year I believe he is going to take his game to the next level and follow in the same path as Damian Lillard and become an All-Star in his sophomore season.
5. Dante Exum â€“ Australian Institute of Sport
Once American basketball fans learn more about Exum and his incredible potential, he is going to become a favorite. The Australian native, Exum recently just declared for the draft and hired Kobe Bryant‘s agent Rob Pelinka to get a chance to learn from the best. Exum presents so much upside, standing 6-6 with a 7-foot wingspan and with the skills to be a point guard. He has the potential to be a lethal scorer in the NBA and can get to the basket with ease. Around this time next year, Exum is going to be a household name in the NBA. Just watch.
4. Bradley Beal â€“ Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal has the potential to be an All-Star by next year. He is the next great pure shooter and has shown some athleticism throughout his two-year career. He is only 20 years old and plays great on both sides of the ball. This season, he is averaging 16.7 points per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 41 percent from three. If he remains healthy, Beal and John Wall are going to be a great backcourt for a very long time in Washington.
3. Jabari Parker â€“ Duke University
By looking at every Duke game this season, you can tell Jabari Parker is a special scorer. He has a lot of Carmelo Anthony in him in the way he can score the ball–it just looks effortless. He is averaging around 19 points per game and just over eight rebounds per game. He has already set the record for most 20-point games by a freshman at Duke. He also leads the Blue Devils in rebounding and in blocked shots. He is going to make a quick transition to the NBA because of his intangibles and the things he can do on the court… things not many other prospects can do.
2. Andrew Wiggins â€“ University of Kansas
Perhaps the most hyped recruit since the days of LeBron James, Wiggins, at 6-8, 200 pounds, is a freak athlete and has the chance to be a really great player in the NBA one day. This season at Kansas, Wiggins has not even been the best player on his team but we have seen the potential of what he can do on the court. He is putting up solid numbers with 16 points per game–shooting 44 percent–with six rebounds per contest. He has a second bounce that many players lack and in the open court is nearly impossible to stop. Defensively, his long arms create problems for many players. The question yet to be known is whether Wiggins is a franchise changer or the next Rudy Gay. A strong tournament is needed from Wiggins for him to possibly have the chance to still be the No. 1 pick in June.
1. Joel Embiid â€“ University of Kansas
Despite only starting to play basketball in 2011, Embiid is one of the most advanced post players I have seen in a long time. With all of the attention on Wiggins before the season, no one expected the impact Embiid would be having. According to scouts, he is the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Embiid possesses a great ability on the offensive side and has shown he has a soft touch in the paint. As a former volleyball player standing at 7-feet tall, you can understand the nightmares offensive players have driving to the hoop on him. Embiid and Anthony Davis are going to be some of the best big men we have seen in a long time in the NBA.
Which players will breakout this year?
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