In the NBA there are many solid players, but only a select few are good enough to reach All-Star status. Players may come into the league and look good, but many fail to improve on their early career success. However, after their first few seasons in the league, some of these players continue to improve, breaking through into the upper echelon of NBA stars. Below, are seven young players who are ready to make that tough jump and earn their first All-Star selection this season.
While much of Ball’s early NBA career has been overshadowed by the antics of his father and the escapades of his younger brothers, Lonzo is ready to step into the spotlight this year. After two seasons where Ball was riddled with injuries and forced to play in a dysfunctional Lakers organization, it’s easy to forget how special he looked when he first came onto the professional scene.
After being drafted second overall, Ball immediately showed he belonged in the big leagues, winning MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League before becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double during his second month in the league. Unfortunately, Ball suffered a series of injuries during the second-half of his rookie campaign and during his sophomore season, playing in just over half his team’s games in both years.
This year, Ball is destined for a breakout season after being traded to New Orleans in exchange for Anthony Davis. After having to shape his game to suit LeBron’s style in LA, Lonzo will feel much more at home in the up-tempo offense of Alvin Gentry.
When using his full skillset, Ball can look like Magic Johnson, a tall, driving point guard who can guard multiple positions on defense while dishing out to open teammates on offense. With plenty of energetic teammates in Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and JJ Redick, Ball, a pass-first point guard, should excel in his new home.
Tatum, the third pick of the 2017 Draft behind Ball, turned heads during the end of his rookie season. Throughout the course of his first season in the league, Tatum played well, earning All-Rookie First Team honors, but he truly emerged on the national scene during the playoffs.
With team leaders Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward on the sidelines, Tatum led an underdog Celtics team to the Eastern Conference Finals, averaging almost 20 points per contest over the 19 game postseason. After taking a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavaliers, the Celtics lost two straight to end their season, but the future looked bright for Boston and Tatum.
Unfortunately, dysfunction seemed to follow the Celtics all throughout last season, as the team struggled on the court and Irving’s behavior off of the court always loomed large. While Tatum actually bettered his average in points, rebounds, and assists from his rookie year, he was lost among the chaos of the organization, and he failed to substantially build on the success of his first-year campaign.
Now, with Irving gone, Tatum seems primed to co-star with new point guard Kemba Walker. Over the offseason, Tatum has committed to focusing on limiting midrange shots while improving his three point efficiency, a necessity in today’s game. With an effective long range jumper to go along with Tatum’s athletic ability, it’s going to be hard to stop the powerful Celtic in his third season.
While Gordon may be an NBA veteran after playing five seasons in the league, the athletic small forward is still only 23 years old, and his game still has plenty of room for improvement. Throughout the first few seasons in the league, Gordon played for a lackluster Magic team, only gaining national attention for his performance in the 2016 Dunk Contest against Zach LaVine.
After the Magic made the playoffs last season, Gordon should be on everyone’s radar. The fourth overall pick in 2014 is ready to show that he can be a main option for at least an above average team.
Last season, the Magic were able to sneak into the playoffs on the shoulders of center Nikola Vucevic, but if they want to progress, they need a second star to step up, and Gordon seems fit for the role.
During the beginning of his career, Gordon was known for being a flashy slasher who would disappear for long stretches while on the court, but last season he showed signs of becoming a more complete and mature player. While his numbers didn’t jump of the chart, Gordon averaged a career high in assists and 3-point percentage, showing versatility in addition to his traditional athletic skillset.
This year, Gordon will step up to the plate, putting his lockdown defense, world-class athleticism, and new skills on display in order to lead the Magic back to the postseason and prove he was worth the 4 year/$84 million extension he received last summer
While Nikola Jokic may have stolen all the headlines in Denver last season, the Nuggets also needed a career year from point guard Jamal Murray to secure the second seed in the Western Conference. Murray was drafted seventh overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, but he remained a relative unknown playing in the mountains during his first two seasons, even while putting up respectable numbers.
As a rookie, Murray earned second team All-Rookie honors, but he failed to gain attention due to averaging less than 10 points per game for a team that missed the playoffs. Even after a sophomore season that saw him average over 16 points per game, Murray was still unable to show out on the national stage after the Nuggets missed the playoffs once again.
In his third season, Murray showed even more improvement, averaging career highs in both points and assists, teaming up with Jokic to lead the Nuggets to one of the best records in the league. However, Murray saved his best performance for the playoffs, utilizing his driving ability, midrange jumper, and 3-point shot to put up over 21 points per game.
With Jokic likely being double teamed by more teams this season, Murray should be able to use his versatility on offense to excel in his fourth season. His ability to score from anywhere on the floor along with his superb pick-and-roll combination with Jokic will allow Murray to show off his full skillset this season.
After a spectacular rookie campaign, it should be no surprise that Doncic is expected to make his first All-Star team this season. After dominating the European basketball scene, Doncic was seen as arguably the most NBA-ready prospect of last year’s draft class, and he certainly didn’t disappoint during his rookie campaign.
In his first season with the Mavericks, Doncic averaged over 21 points per game, recording eight triple-doubles along the way. A clear frontrunner from the beginning, Doncic easily won the Rookie of the Year award, receiving 98 out of a possible 100 first place votes.
This season, expect another jump in performance from the young Slovenian as he continues to adjust to the rigorous NBA style of play. At times last season, Doncic looked tired after coming off of a long European campaign, but he should be able to perform at 100% after coming off of a full offseason this summer.
In addition, Doncic will benefit from playing with All-Star Kristaps Porzingis when he comes back from his torn ACL. The 6’7” and 218 pound Doncic and the 7’3” Porzingis will be one of the biggest pick-and-roll combinations the league has ever seen, and it won’t be easy for teams to handle the size and skill of the duo. With his athleticism, size, ability to guard multiple positions, and his improving 3-point shot, it’s hard to find a weakness in Doncic’s game as he enters his sophomore season.
Playing in Phoenix isn’t easy. However, even while playing for one of the worst teams in the league, Booker has still managed to impress NBA fans from coast to coast. Drafted 13th overall by the Suns in 2015, Booker has stood out in the desert, but he has received almost no help from his teammates. Even with Booker’s tremendous scoring ability, his squad has failed to reach 25 wins in each of the last four seasons.
However, while his team has been in the cellar, Booker has made a name for himself as one of the best scorers in the league. In just his second season, Booker became the youngest player in NBA history to score 70 points in a game, crushing the Suns franchise record for most points in a game along the way.
More impressively, that game has proven to not be a major outlier, as Booker routinely puts up unworldly scoring numbers. Last season, Booker also became the youngest player to have consecutive 50 point games, part of his 2018-19 campaign that saw him average a career high 26.6 points per game.
This season, Booker will have the most impressive supporting cast of his time in the NBA, something that should make it easy for the dynamic guard to rewrite his previous career highs. In particular, former number one pick Deandre Ayton should improve in his second season, drawing double teams and opening up space for Booker, while the addition of pass-first point guard Ricky Rubio should open up even more opportunity for Booker to impress in his fifth season.
While Mitchell may have not won the Rookie of the Year Award in his first season in the league, he seems destined to finally earn a major NBA accolade this year in the form of an All-Star selection. After being selected in the late lottery in the 2017 NBA Draft, Mitchell had a spectacular rookie campaign, leading the Jazz to the second round of the playoffs while leading the team in scoring.
In his second season in the league, Mitchell managed to improve on his stellar rookie campaign, improving his three point shooting, and becoming a more complete player on both ends of the floor. In addition, Mitchell averaged almost 24 points per game, one of the top 15 marks in the entire league.
Unfortunately, the Jazz had a disappointing postseason, losing their first series in only five games after a 50 win regular season. Mitchell didn’t play well during the season, and he will be eager to impress this year after last year’s disappointing playoff campaign.
Given all of the close misses Mitchell has faced throughout his short NBA career, including his controversial loss to second-year player Ben Simmons for Rookie of the Year and his All-Star snub last season, Mitchell is finally ready to make the jump to becoming a superstar this upcoming season. Backed by dominating center Rudy Gobert, Mitchell is finally ready to achieve individual accolades by leading the Jazz, a dark horse Finals contender, to a highly successful campaign.