After spending the last several weeks focusing on the tops at each position during the past three decades, I’d like to continue my rampage of creating lists during this lovely NBA lockout by forgetting the past and focusing on the future. This week we put on our Zoltar turban and throw down some names of young guns (four or less seasons of NBA experience) in the backcourt that have the best chance of being one of the greatest ever. Feel free to comment on the players or order itself.
Let’s do this!
10. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors (2009-Present)
159 G; 13.0 PPG; 3.4 RPG; 1.3 APG; 0.1 3PTM; 47.7 FG%; 79.7 FT%; 0.8 SPG; 0.3 BPG; PER: 14.4
DeRozan improved in every major statistical category, other than field goal percentage, from his rookie to sophomore season and there is still room to grow. He’s already one of the NBA’s better dunkers, but has improved his jumper. During DeRozan’s rookie season, he shot 31.0 percent from 10-15 feet and last season, he improved significantly to 46.6 percent. From 16-23 feet, he improved from 38 to 40 percent shooting, but showed more confidence in this shot as he went from 2.3 attempts to 5.1. Continued improvement from the perimeter will serve DeRozan well. (Shot location percentages via Hoopdata.)
DeRozan seems like a worker and will put forth the effort to get better. After going from 8.6 PPG his rookie year to 17.2 PPG last season, how big of a jump can he make? Starting 82 games in 2010-11 gives DeRozan solid experience and confidence. He should continue to be the team’s second option behind Andrea Bargnani, but will take over some nights as the main gunner. DeRozan will get a lot of opportunities to do it big and I’m betting he’ll seize them and shine.
9. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder (2009-Present)
158 G; 11.1 PPG; 3.2 RPG; 2.0 APG; 1.3 3PTM; 42.1 FG%; 82.8 FT%; 1.1 SPG; 0.3 BPG; PER: 15.3
Harden has primarily been coming off the pine during his brief career, but make no mistake that he’s starter material. In fact, expect the move to play alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook from the get-go to happen as soon as the new season begins. Harden has shown the ability to both score and pass, while also having the ability to be a game-changer. He’s able to handle the pill and bring the ball up, which complements Westbrook. Harden’s 19.1 PER speaks to his ability to handle playoff pressure. In some ways, he reminds me of Manu Ginobili, which is high praise.
Harden was a second team All-Rookie two seasons ago and has shown a proficiency in growing a beard, which really says nothing about his ability, but I thought I should mention it. Harden is already one of the more-loved Thunder players and has displayed a playful demeanor with Durant, as displayed here during The Broingtons days. He’ll need to work on hitting from 3-9 and 10-15 feet away as his shooting percentage declined from his rookie to sophomore seasons (36.8 to 24.3 percent and 42.9 to 37.5 percent, respectively). The low field-goal percentage seems the only thing that would hold him back, especially when his shot attempts are limited relative to Westbrook and Durant. I have faith in the beard.
8. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets (2009-Present)
145 G; 10.2 PPG; 2.3 RPG; 4.0 APG; 0.7 3PTM; 50.7 FG%; 76.2 FT%; 0.9 SPG; 0.0 BPG; PER: 17.4
Lawson simply needs to be set free and he’ll produce. He was drafted as one of the four point guards by the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 2009 NBA Draft, but was mercifully traded away to the Nuggets. Lawson had a season and a half to watch and learn from one of the better point guards in the league in Chauncey Billups, and he obviously paid attention as Lawson can both score and pass at a significant clip utilizing his quickness and court vision. Oh, and let’s not forget the athleticism. As a starter (39 games total in two seasons), Lawson has put up 15.1 points, 6.5 assists, 2.0 turnovers, 1.2 three-pointers, shooting 52.1 percent from the field and 83.0 percent from the line, all in 32.0 minutes per game.
Even with the shipping off of Billups, Lawson still had to contend with Raymond Felton for PT. However, Lawson is the future of the franchise at the point guard position. His rookie PER (17.2) and improved second-year PER (18.9) show, numbers-wise, that Lawson has all the makings of doing well when he finally gets a shot at significant starter minutes. Denver has shown to be smart lately and I bet it continues when it comes to Lawson.
7. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks (2009-Present)
145 G; 15.8 PPG; 3.6 RPG; 5.3 APG; 1.7 3PTM; 37.9 FG%; 81.3 FT%; 1.4 SPG; 0.3 BPG; PER: 15.0
Jennings is a success story. He graduated high school and decided to play in Italy rather than go to college. It was a gamble that paid off for both him and the Bucks. Thanks to Twitter and Jennings’ street cred (being from Compton and things like this), his popularity is growing. However, it’s all warranted as he’s a young productive player with upside, and if he can ever hit his jumper on the regular, he’ll be a star.
At this point, Jennings is a chucker, shooting 37.1 percent from the field his rookie season and 39 percent his second season. There’s some hope, however, as he’s improved his shot between his two seasons at the rim (42.7 to 51.4 percent), 10-15 feet (29.9 to 37.6 percent) and 16-23 feet (34 to 35 percent). Unfortunately, when you only improve from worse to bad, it still stinks.
I believe he’ll get better because it seems like a natural progression and Jennings doesn’t lack in confidence. He’s been looking good during the lockout at Pro-Ams, which aren’t close to NBA level play, but the fact that he’s ballin’ instead of doing nothing speaks highly of his love of the game. That makes a difference between failure and success. Jennings is a success story.
6. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings (2009-Present)
129 G; 19.1 PPG; 5.1 RPG; 5.7 APG; 0.6 3PTM; 43.6 FG%; 75.6 FT%; 1.5 SPG; 0.4 BPG; PER: 16.5
Evans came out of the box blazing, averaging a legendary 20/5/5 his rookie season, something that hadn’t been done since LeBron James’ rookie season. Others to do it? Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson. Nice company. He was hampered by injury his second season, but should be fine going into his third, especially since he’s training hard to be better for the 2011-12 season. The decline in most categories in his second season is worrisome, but with his dedication and talent, Reke should be back on point.
Speaking of point, Evans’ ability to set up his teammates should allow him to get enough burn to produce big numbers, even with the presence of Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton. The Kings are Reke’s team, and when the young talent gets more experience and chemistry, the Kings will get better, which in turn should make Evans better as well.
5. John Wall, Washington Wizards (2010-Present)
69 G; 16.4 PPG; 4.6 RPG; 8.3 APG; 0.5 3PTM; 40.9 FG%; 76.6 FT%; 1.8 SPG; 0.5 BPG; PER: 15.8
Wall was all the rage coming into the 2010 NBA Draft and many anticipated an exciting and entertaining rookie campaign from the Kentucky product. He delivered. The only problem is that Blake Griffin delivered too, in a bigger way, which took away a lot of Wall’s shine. However, he proved that he belonged in the league and has all the tools to succeed. He was a first team All-Rookie member, finished tenth overall in total assists (574) and seventh in assist per game average (8.3).
Thanks to his quickness and athleticism, Wall can get to the basket almost at will, and when he gets there, he converts (59.9 percent). However, like most young point guards whose game is mostly predicated on physical ability, Wall was horrendous from the perimeter: 30.5 percent from 3-9 feet, 28.0 percent from 10-15 feet, 30 percent from 16-23 feet and 29.6 percent from beyond the three-point line. What gives me hope that Wall will improve is his obvious enjoyment of playing, his reputation for a good attitude and willingness to work hard. Plus, we’ve seen players like Wall improve from the perimeter before, the player at the top of this list being a perfect example. So take heart Wall fans and dance!
4. Eric Gordon, Los Angeles Clippers (2008-Present)
196 G; 18.1 PPG; 2.7 RPG; 3.3 APG; 1.8 3PTM; 45.2 FG%; 81.0 FT%; 1.1 SPG; 0.3 BPG; PER: 15.7
Gordon proved last season that he can score in a big way, averaging 22.3 points and 1.8 three-pointers per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 82.5 percent from the free throw line. While Gordon did get to the rim relatively often last season (5.1 attempts), he mostly does his work from the perimeter (11.6 attempts). Since there’s that Blake Griffin guy there, Gordon forms part of an excellent inside-out duo in Los Angeles, assuming Gordon stays with the Clippers past his rookie contract.
If the Clippers were smart (uh oh), they will make sure that Gordon stays, as he’s improved from season-to-season since his rookie year. He’s young, athletic, possesses good court vision for a two-guard and is a very good shooter that complements Griffin very well. I’m really high on the Griffin/Gordon combo, which plays a factor in ranking Gordon here because they’ll feed each other’s production. Sure Griffin has better highlights, but Gordon’s aren’t bad either.
3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (2009-Present)
154 G; 18.0 PPG; 4.2 RPG; 5.9 APG; 2.1 3PTM; 47.0 FG%; 91.1 FT%; 1.7 SPG; 0.3 BPG; PER: 17.7
Curry is an excellent shooter and efficient scorer that reminds me of Ray Allen. Coming out of Davidson, many knew he could shoot, but the question was would he be able to transition to the lead guard position at the next level as his size necessitated? Well, yes. Who can forget this? He’s a second generation NBA player, puts in the work, has a great shooting stroke, adjusts his game for the team and has a great shooting stroke. Not sure if I mentioned that.
Curry was a first team All-Rookie, finished in the top 10 in each of his seasons in three-point field goals, three-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage. In fact, last season, he led the NBA in hitting shots from the charity stripe (93.4 percent). During his rookie season, he finished second in total steals (152) and third in steals per game average (1.9). Curry produces a good mix of statistics and still has the potential to be greater than he is. That’s scary. Almost as scary as this picture. Almost.
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (2008-Present)
246 G; 17.8 PPG; 4.8 RPG; 7.1 APG; 0.4 3PTM; 42.1 FG%; 81.6 FT%; 1.5 SPG; 0.3 BPG; PER: 18.9
Westbrook gets a lot of grief for taking shots away from Kevin Durant, but other than Durantula and James Harden, who else deserves to take first looks at the basket? Westbrook has the ability to get to the basket (an impressive 6.8 attempts and 60.4 percent success rate at the rim last season) and if he gets hot from the outside, there’s no stopping him. However, that’s where the problem may lie. Westbrook is consistently pretty bad from the perimeter, shooting in the mid-30s. Ouch.
Should the Thunder trade Westbrook for a more pass-first point guard? I don’t think so, because other than a handful (Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams), how many lead guards are there that produce big, not only in assists, but in other facets of the game? Plus, Westbrook is new to the position and has done well in improving his passing game, having dropped 5.3 dimes his rookie season and 8.0 and 8.2 his subsequent two seasons. Does he like to shoot the rock? Sure, and it’s been a big part of the Thunder’s success. Besides, Westbrook is too damn good at a young age to give up on.
1. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (2008-Present)
240 G; 20.9 PPG; 3.9 RPG; 6.7 APG; 0.7 3PTM; 46.8 FG%; 81.5 FT%; 0.9 SPG; 0.4 BPG; PER: 19.4
Become the youngest MVP in NBA history and win a Rookie of the Year award in the span of three seasons and it’s easy to lock down the number one position here. Plus, he led the Bulls to an NBA-best 62 wins last season. Chicago failed to get past the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoffs series, but if you add another player that can create his own shot, the Bulls will be fine moving forward. They’ve got Derrick Rose.
If Rose can lead the Bulls to an NBA title, especially if it goes through defeating the Heat, Rose’s popularity and credentials will skyrocket. Well, even higher than normal. How much more can Rose improve? Despite all the compliments towards his perimeter game, Rose actually regressed in his shooting success from the previous season: 57.5 to 39.7 percent from 3-9 feet; 50 to 42 percent from 10-15 feet; and 44 to 38 percent from 16-23 feet. So, there is still room to improve for Rose, which I wouldn’t bet against.
Next week, we take on the front court’s future best of the best. However, feel free to leave comments or hit me on Twitter about this list.