In the NBA, we are witnessing a clear shift of dominant powers. Atlanta and Milwaukee, which used to be easy targets for teams like the Celtics or the Lakers, have shifted to the front of the pack, with Atlanta now leading the league and the Lakers hunting for a .300 record. This is a natural part of the franchise cycle, as teams build up and breakdown; times have changed.
As the dynamics shift, different players assume new roles as the best players in the league. When names such as Curry and Harden begin to take center stage, it allows fans not only to witness the transition between generations of basketball, but also gives them the opportunity to look at who might be next.
If you have watched years of basketball, it is even more apparent when a young player has the talent to affect games in a way others cannot. Let me break down a few of the young players that I believe have the potential to be truly great:
First, Atlanta’s backup point guard, Dennis Schroder.
He brings a quickness similar to that of Darren Collison or Jrue Holiday, but with an incredible ability to drive to the basket and keep his head up. His court-awareness is far ahead of his mere 21 years of age, always seeming to know where a teammate is and when to kick it out to him.
Yet, he still has room to grow: his shooting skills can be developed, but with a an already consistent mid-range jumper and a strong layup, the potential is clearly there. He actually reminds me of a young Jason Kidd, a true point-guard, constantly distributing the ball. In time, he will grow into his role of floor general, and in just a few years time, I believe Shroder will be a top point guard in the league.
Next we’ll head to Chicago to take a look at Nikola Mirotic, the big-bearded Montenegrin
power forward. At the moment, Mirotic is one of my absolute favorite young players in the league.
When I say he can score from anywhere on the court, I mean it: a three-point gunner who can also commandingly body his way into the paint is a rare find. Almost more impressive than his natural shooting prowess is his natural ball handling abilities. He can dribble the length of the floor with guard-like control. The only other big man who brings the ball up is DeMarcus Cousins, but Mirotic has even better control than Boogie.
The league has finally begun to officially recognize his potential, naming him the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December. This past weekend, he posted a career-high 29 points, scoring all of the Bulls’ points in the fourth quarter. That’s right: in a tight game against the Clippers, the ball was not in the hands of Jimmy Butler or Pau Gasol, but rookie Nikola Mirotic. I can confidently and sincerely say that this is only the beginning of a player who could be one of the premier players in the NBA.
Lastly, we have Rudy Gobert, the now starting center of the Utah Jazz. I have always credited Tayshaun Prince as the NBA player with the longest arms—at least relative to his body—but Gobert takes the cake. His seven-foot, eight-and-a-half inch wingspan and whopping nine-foot-seven vertical standing reach automatically classify Gobert as a defensive machine.
Since Enes Kanter was recently traded away to Oklahoma City, Gobert has had the opportunity to exhibit his true potential. This weekend, he helped Utah defeat a much stronger Memphis team, with 15 points and a career high 24 boards—just three rebounds short of tying the franchise record. The point is, Gobert is a player: he has the powerful defensive and rebounding ability desirable for any center, and learning to utilize his size on the offensive side of the ball will come in time.
So, while players such as Westbrook and Anthony Davis currently hold the spotlight, keep an eye out for the impact of players coming off the bench. What we can take away from this brief glimpse into the young talent of the NBA is that we will have thrilling basketball for years to come.
Eber is a member of the class of 2017.