The Next 10 Who Will Shape The Future Generation Of Basketball

In the new issue of Dime Magazine, we took a look at the best – and worst – the game has offered since the turn of the century. From the players to jerseys to sneakers to teams to even trends, you can relive the past 12 years by scooping up the new issue currently on newsstands nationwide. In those pages, you’ll find the following feature…

*** *** ***

The future. That’s what it’s about these days. And with the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs all on the prowl, most teams are building for a superstar conglomerate era. There are many great players across the league, some with the misfortune of languishing in mediocrity or small markets. But the recent NBA trend is a youth movement, with younger players taking over the spotlight and earning superstar status.

The league isn’t just about the young guys taking over the game though. It’s also about the administrative powers. Here are the next 10 who will change and shape the future of our game.

*** *** ***

One and done is the name of the game. Damian Lillard didn’t play that game. He spent four full years at Weber State, a small college that fit his needs. He tore it up there, averaging 24.5 points per game last season, good for second in all of Division I. In summer league, Lillard didn’t stop. All the talk about the weak competition he faced in college dissipated as he absolutely destroyed his NBA opponents, dropping 23 points and seven assists in his debut, followed by 31 and seven, 27 and three, and 25 and four.

But Lillard’s place on this list isn’t so much about his basketball potential as it is his path to the NBA. It’s been a while since a truly small school produced such a high-caliber player, and nowadays it’s rare to see top players stay in school for more than two seasons. If Lillard does succeed in the league, he may give confidence and assurance to prospects considering smaller schools outside of the Big Six conferences, and let them know that staying for a few years of college doesn’t hurt either.

He’s already the most talented player in the class of 2014, and easily one of the top high school players in the country. Wiggins still has a ways to go before college rolls around (unless he reclassifies to 2013), but there’s no doubt we’ll be hearing his name called in the NBA Draft real soon. If you really needed proof that Andrew Wiggins is legit, look no further than his performance against Julius Randle, the No. 2-ranked prospect in the class of 2013, at Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina. Wiggins dropped 28 points and grabbed 13 boards, and also demanded to guard Randle. He shut down the highly touted recruit, using his supreme athleticism to turn Randle into a run-of-the-mill forward. Thus far in his career, Wiggins has never met a challenge he could not overcome, let alone dominate.

Parker gets the nod over Wiggins if only because he’s a class older. Sports Illustrated called him the best high school player since LeBron James, and that title earned him the cover. Although we don’t know where he’ll be playing college ball next year, Parker’s story is remarkable because of his rejection of the limelight. Unlike LeBron, who soaked it in and ate it up, Parker dips into the deepest recesses of privacy, rarely letting us in. Maybe that’s what lets his legend grow.

But Parker’s not-so-quick recruitment is turning heads even more, and it may signal a changing of the guard for how top recruits do business. Parker has his choice of the litter at this point. Any school in the country would love to have him. But Parker isn’t taking this choice lightly, at least in that get-college-over-with kind of way. The NBA is a near certainty for his future, but you have to appreciate the way he’s handling fame as a young teenager.

Did you watch him tear up Team USA in a pre-Olympics scrimmage? Did you see those handles? He’s 20 years old. Arguably a top-10 NBA point guard already, Irving had huge shoes to fill after LeBron left Cleveland for Miami. But more than anything, Irving plays with heart. He’s not particularly fast, or quick, or a great jump shooter. But he has that extra something, and it’s not the “it” factor – you see it in how he dictates the pace of the game.

Cleveland had a rough year last season, only winning 21 games. Blame it on the roster; blame it on a tough Central Division. Still, Irving came to play every night and shut up every doubter who thought Derrick Williams deserved to be the No. 1 pick. We haven’t seen a point guard excel this rapidly since Chris Paul.

Maybe David Stern hasn’t officially chosen the next commissioner, but we’re willing to bet deputy commissioner Adam Silver will take over the reins when Stern steps aside in a few years. It will be a monumental moment, as the Stern era will end after 30-plus years ruling the league. He ushered us through Magic and Bird, Jordan, Shaq and Kobe, the San Antonio Spurs and now Miami, Oklahoma City and the Lakers once more. The NBA thrived under him, financially and otherwise, and his expertise will be missed.

But the type of commissioner Silver will be could change the face of the league. As Stern got older, his dictatorial hand became mightier – more fines, shorter leashes for players and coaches berating refs, plus the dismissal of intimidation or excessive physicality from basketball. We all yearn for those years when anyone who went in the paint received a forearm shiver from Kevin McHale, Bill Laimbeer or Charles Oakley. How Silver controls the direction of the game will be interesting.

Forget the NCAA Championship, AP Player of the Year, Olympic Gold Medal and No. 1 overall draft pick. That’s a lot to accomplish in six months, and unprecedented as well. But Anthony Davis represents way more than the next great NBA big man, if only because of the way he does it. Is he a great scorer? No. Does he have supreme offensive moves? No. Players like this are a dime a dozen in today’s NBA, bangers who can grab some boards and block some shots. But how many guys parlay that into comparisons to Bill Russell? Not many.

If Davis does reach his potential, we’ll be looking at the NBA in a totally different way. We saw how much trouble LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had with Roy Hibbert clogging the lane in the playoffs. If Davis becomes one of those guys, the anti-LeBron, the inside presence NBA referees are slowly taking away, we could see a shift in the race for championships. The athletic slasher could give way to the post-up big man, or set play execution could rein supreme over free-flowing offense. How many players could single-handedly change the style of play in the NBA?

We all know Hennigan is from the Sam Presti executive tree, which ultimately traces back to San Antonio’s R.C. Buford. When Hennigan turned down multiple offers to stockpile draft picks and young players in the Dwight Howard trade, many critics called it a complete disaster for Orlando. Whether or not that’s true, we’ll see. But what will come out of this deal is the validation of the Presti way: the NBA Draft.

A lot of people chalk up OKC’s success to luck – they lucked into the second pick, which meant Kevin Durant and not Greg Oden, and they lucked into Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka. More likely, it was just good scouting. But the direction the Orlando Magic take, which will mimic Oklahoma City, could change how front offices operate. The new trendy fashion is the superstar aggregate, trading and signing players until your team has its own set of superstars. Well, if we see Orlando eventually rise up once more through the draft like OKC and become legitimate contenders in the East with their own homegrown players, expect more teams to follow in their footsteps.

Bynum isn’t that young in experience, but he’s still a 24-year-old kid ready to unleash his full arsenal of offensive and defensive dominance on the NBA. More importantly, he’s the only classic low post big man left in the Eastern Conference. He’s the last of a dying breed, and his success or failure could signal a complete changing of the guard in the NBA.

Athletic wing players are already starting to take over, with the Miami Heat going small to counteract OKC and Boston, and then ultimately winning the NBA title. But if Bynum proves big men can still lead franchises, we’ll see some teams look harder for players who care about the block, and care about developing a drop step or a hook shot or an up-and-under. These are seemingly lost moves in the NBA, and Andrew Bynum is their last pioneer.

He already won the MVP. He’s already left his mark on the league, leading Chicago to multiple No. 1 playoff seeds and turning the supremely athletic combo guard into a legitimate point guard option. But Derrick Rose is one of the Eastern Conference’s last hopes, and the health of his knee and growth of his career could ultimately decide whether Miami makes a run at six straight NBA Finals. Boston’s reign will be over in two years, and Indiana hardly seems up to the challenge. The rest of the East is pretty weak in comparison, no match for Miami’s trio of stars.

That leaves Derrick Rose, and whatever legacy he can forge. Chicago may add a piece or two in the coming years when they’re less constrained by cap concerns, but ultimately this is Derrick Rose’s team. He’s their offense. He’s their emotional leader. Without him, the No. 1 seed lost to the No. 8 seed in last season’s playoffs, even after he gave them a one game advantage. It’s a lot of weight to carry for such a young player, but he’s already shown he can handle it.

Wait, what? Who is this guy, anyway? You know how Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant and A-Rod have all flown to Germany to receive some sketchy knee treatment? Yep, that’s Dr. Wehling. Kobe Bryant’s knees are basically bone on bone, but he came back last season better than ever (health-wise, at least). Andrew Bynum is having the same procedure done, and hopefully his knee ills can be remedied as well.

But the bigger picture is this: with breakthrough treatments for injuries and medical issues that used to ruin careers, we’re looking at a widening age range for the primes of players’ careers. Knee injuries used to be completely debilitating and possibly career-ending. Now, players are recovering from torn ACLs in 8-12 months. Kobe Bryant has played 16 NBA seasons; Steve Nash was one of the most coveted point guards at 38 years old; Dirk Nowitzki is just as dominant as ever despite being 34. Older isn’t worse anymore. So while this may be a tip of the cap to Dr. Wehling, it’s also about the sports medicine community as a whole. Because of their work, we could potentially see extended primes for some of our favorite players. And that’s what it’s all about, right?

What names will shape the future generation of basketball?

Follow Dylan on Twitter at @DylanTMurphy.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.