Lebron James might be the the best player in the NBA right now, but who will follow in his footsteps and become the next face of the NBA? Horsepower ranks the 10 best rising stars under the age of 24 and when they will make their biggest impact.
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10. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Antetokounmpo is one of the NBA’s biggest unknown rising stars. The 6-foot-9 shooting guard from Greece is known for his incredibly large hands, athleticism and surprisingly good ball handling skills.
At 19 years old, Antetokounmpo was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks as a long-term project. So far this season, he is averaging seven points per game and slightly more than four rebounds per game.
He is a few years away from becoming one of the game’s best, but with his incredible skill set and physical characteristics, it will not be long before everyone knows how to pronounce his last name.
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9. Michael Carter-Williams
Carter-Williams made a name for himself last year when he led the Syracuse Orange to the Final Four.
The 6-foot-6 point guard is very similar to Antetokounmpo in that he is very big for his position. Carter-Williams possesses great vision on the court and has been helped by being given ample playing time from the Philadelphia 76ers.
Carter-Williams is averaging 17 points per game, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. He still needs to figure out his three-point jump shot as he is shooting under 30 percent from downtown.
The 76ers are one of the worst teams in the NBA and are looking to grow through young talent. Carter-Williams will be working with more college stars over the next couple years and his game will truly blossom.
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8. Kawhi Leonard
Just like the entire San Antonio Spurs organization, Leonard’s success often goes completely unnoticed.
The 6-foot-7 small forward out of San Diego State University has become one of the league’s best young defenders. Leonard showed how talented he is during the 2013 NBA Finals when he primarily guarded superstar Lebron James.
He is only 22-years-old and has shown some offensive prowess, but still has work to do on that side of the ball. This season he is averaging 11 points and six rebounds per game.
If Leonard can continue to improve his offensive game and become more than just a spot up shooter, he will be one of the best all-around players in the game.
With the Spurs’ big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili slowly coming to an end, Leonard will need to start progressing his game sooner rather than later.
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7. DeMarcus Cousins
This Kentucky product, who was drafted back in 2010, has received a lot of media coverage for his antics off the court. Cousins has been suspended several times during his career, but still holds a remarkable amount of upside.
Cousins is having the best year of his career, averaging more than five points higher than his career average of 17 points per game.
Today’s NBA lacks the quality of talent at the center position that it once did, but Cousins is a traditional center, and if he can keep his emotions in check, he will soon be a top three center in the league.
The Kings are currently at the bottom of the standings in the Western Conference and have continually disappointed the city of Sacramento, even after they have made a few moves to improve themselves.
Cousins is the primary building block for the Kings, and if he continues to mature, could lead the Kings to the playoffs next season.
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6. Kyrie Irving
Irving has already become one of the best point guards in the NBA, but has spent a lot of time on the sidelines due to injuries.
He has never played in more than 60 games, although he is on pace to get past that mark this season. He is a great ball handler and shooter, but has struggled to fit in at Cleveland and reportedly wants out.
Irving was drafted No. 1 overall in 2011 and is only 21-years-old. If he can stay healthy and find a city that suits him, he will easily be a top five point guard in the league.
If he truly is fed up with Cleveland, look for him to be a hot name on the rumor mill this offseason.
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5. Andre Drummond
Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond took the early spotlight of the NBA All-Star weekend when he won the Rising Stars MVP award.
Drummond scored 30 points and grabbed 25 rebounds in the game, helping Team Hill win 142-136 over Team Webber.
The big man is in his second year in the NBA and is quickly becoming known as one of the brightest young stars in the game. He is a rebounding stud who constantly finds a way to produce points through putbacks. Assistant coach Rasheed Wallace still has a lot of work to do to help Drummond become more efficient on offense. But as soon as that happens, Drummond will be a top 10 player in the league.
Do not be surprised if he reaches league supremacy by 2016.
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4. Damian Lillard
Lillard provides one of the best personal stories in the NBA. This 23-year-old point guard out of Weber State gives hope to all talented ball players who do not attend a major conference university.
In his second year in the league, he is putting doubters he has to rest. He is leading the Portland Trail Blazers to a remarkable season and could help them get their first playoff berth since 2010-2011.
Lillard also set an NBA record this season for being the first player to ever participate in the All-Star weekend Dunk Contest, Skills Competition, Rising Stars Game, Three-Point Shootout, and the actual All-Star Game all in the same season.
The Trail Blazers finally have a reason to forget about their drafting of Greg Oden over Kevin Durant, as Lillard and the Trail Blazers look to be relevant in the Western Conference for many years to come.
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3. Anthony Davis
Davis is the second Kentucky product to make this list. Known for his unibrow, Davis brings more to the court than a questionable personal style.
He is averaging a double-double this season and adding on three blocks per game. He manages to get close to 36 minutes per game and is just a pure joy to watch.
Like Drummond, Davis still has a lot of work to do on the offensive side of the ball, but just gets it on defense. What makes Davis’ star shine a little brighter than Drummond’s is the fact he averages seven more points per game.
Davis and his New Orleans Pelicans have struggled to live up to expectations this season, but he will only improve and the Pelicans should be in the playoffs within the next two seasons.
Drummond, Cousins and Davis will be the top three big men in the NBA within the next five years and will hopefully start to make the center position relevant again.
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2. John Wall
Wall was drafted out of Kentucky No. 1 overall back in 2010 to the Washington Wizards. He was the most hyped prospect since Lebron James and up until recently, has failed to live up to those expectations.
The guard is just 23-years-old and is having the best season of his career. He is averaging close to 20 points, nine assists and four rebounds per game.
Wall has never played more than 70 games in a season, but he is on pace to play in all 81 this year. It is no coincidence that with Wall being 100 percent, the Wizards are in playoff contention and one game over .500.
The point guard is one of the best ball handlers in the league with great court vision and athleticism. He still needs to improve his shooting percentage, but he still has plenty of time to improve his game.
Wall is slowly but surely making progress in becoming one of the best point guards in the league. Within three years Wall will be a top five point guard and has the potential to be one of the top three.
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1. Paul George
George has steadily improved over the three-and-half seasons he has spent in the Association.
He made a name for himself last season when he led the Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals where they would lose to the Miami Heat in seven games.
This season, George is averaging 23 points per game, six rebounds and three assists. Those numbers might not seem overly impressive, but a Pacers record of 43-13 would say otherwise.
George is unarguably the best player on the Pacers and the driving force to their championship hopes.
He is a great defensive player with great athleticism and a terrific shooter. George knows how to do every little thing that helps a team win a basketball game and does all of those things well above average.
George is having the best individual season out of any of these 10 players, and his teams’ success is better than any of the other nine players.
George is a legit MVP candidate and the Pacers are a real threat to end the Heat’s championship run. He also is a few years away from his prime which is just scary to think about. His numbers will improve as he gets more mature and he will become one of the best five players in the entire NBA.
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Which player under 24-years-old do you think has the brightest future in the NBA? Would your list look different? Put your top-ten list in the comments.
Cameron Billes is the host of Horsepower for Impact Sports.