NBA 2010: Charting the rise of future stars
All this week, ESPN.com will be looking ahead a few years in an attempt to see what the NBA will look like in the year 2010.
Mon., 9/18: Which current cellar dweller could turn into a champ?
Tues., 9/19: Which current elite team could find itself in the lottery?
Wed., 9/20: Who will supplant Dirk as the NBA's best international player?
Thurs., 9/21: Which player will rise from mediocrity a la Boris Diaw?
Fri., 9/22: A time line on the rise of the NBA's next young superstars
We asked some of the top NBA writers from around the country to weigh in with their thoughts.
Here's today's roundup:
Pick a potential rising star and chart his course in the NBA.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN Insider: I'll take Adam Morrison. His development timeline will include finding a way to bring the intensity and competitiveness he brought to Gonzaga with him to the NBA, especially in the early going when the house will be empty (the Bobcats don't draw well) and the losses might come in bunches.
This is a guy who spent the past two seasons being a nightly threat to drop 30, and he's as confident as they come. But his greatness will be defined by his ability, if he has it in him, to be that same kind of nightly threat over an 82-game season while trying to help a nothing franchise become something. With Morrison's combination of talent, smarts and charisma, his chances of being an impact player are strong.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA and international basketball for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
John Denton, Florida Today: I had the pleasure of covering the Orlando Summer League back in July, and of all the rookies there, Morrison was far and away the most impressive. It left me wondering just what the Portland Trail Blazers -- a team desperately in need of a box-office draw and a scoring machine -- were thinking.
None other than Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird, Morrison's boyhood hero, left the Orlando summer camp shaking his head at just how skilled Charlotte's floppy-haired rookie is. And Bird had this prediction: "He'll probably win Rookie of the Year with the talent that he has.''
What is most impressive with Morrison is the complexity of his offensive arsenal. He's so much more than just a standstill shooter. He can score off the dribble, he knows how to change speeds to set up defenders, and even when defenders try to mug him he responds with a fiery disposition.
So where will Morrison's game be in a few years? Because he's going to get plenty of shots and because he can fill it up in a variety of ways, my prediction is that he'll someday lead the NBA in scoring. Even in sleepy Charlotte, he'll become a star and a national pitchman.
And the Trail Blazers will be kicking themselves for passing on this can't-miss kid.
John Denton covers the Orlando Magic for Florida Today.
Marc J. Spears, The Denver Post: Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden is the NBA prospect to keep an eye on for the future. Expect him to be the next David Robinson.
The Indianapolis native has impressed me since his junior year in high school when I saw him run the floor like a deer, block shots like Manute Bol, play the point on the press and display talent well beyond his years. USA Basketball thought so much about him that he was the only college player invited to its training camp in Las Vegas this summer, but a wrist injury kept him from participating.
Oden also has many impressive and rare qualities: his humbleness, a quest to improve his game daily and a willingness to be coached. The 7-foot, 255-pounder is a more intimidating man on the court than off of it and will only get tougher.
The stellar student doesn't seem pressed to go to the NBA. But he will be eligible in 2007 and the allure of being the top pick in the draft will be too much to turn down. While Oden will become an instant NBA star and potential All-Star, he will have to wait for team success since he will likely be drafted by a rebuilding franchise.
Marc J. Spears, who covers the NBA for The Denver Post, is a contributor to ESPN.com.
David Thorpe, Pro Training Center: Joakim Noah is, simply put, one of the most unique players in NCAA history and could very well carry that status over to the NBA whenever he decides to enter the league. NBA executives love to compare draftable players to current NBA players, but when special talents like Magic Johnson or Larry Bird hit the scene, they have no one to make a fair comparison with because of their unique talent level. Noah fits that description.
Ironically, Magic Johnson is the guy Noah reminds me of most (though his passing skills as a 7-footer rival Bill Walton's and his feel is similar to Bird's). Not because their games are so similar as much as their mannerisms and results are. Both won state championships as seniors in high school and again as sophs in college. Both had awkward shooting strokes, but still managed to shoot effectively from the perimeter, and score in a variety of ways. Both affected the game on many levels, and played with an infectious zeal, lighting up the courts they controlled.
But most importantly, Magic and Joakim exemplified the idea of "making teammates better" moreso than any two players I have ever seen. Not just by their actions, but also their words in articles and press conferences. Noah gushes about his teammates the way a proud father talks about his children, then inspires them with his play on the court. Magic and Bird won eight NBA championships between them. If Noah can handle his meteoric rise with grace and maintain his drive to improve, he has multiple rings in his future.
Brian Windhorst, Akron Beacon Journal: Without any sure-fire stars, June's draft was really all about big guys with potential. Which is why Andrea Bargnani, Tyrus Thomas and LaMarcus Aldridge went so high. Adam Morrison doesn't have those qualities, but he does have well-developed skill and experience. It should allow him to immediately make an impact.
Just what kind of pro Morrison will be is yet to be seen, but if you watched him play in college you know that he knows how to score and he wants the ball in the clutch. He's 6-foot, 8 inches tall and can make shots and score from different dimensions and that will make him hard to guard at the next level. For example, at Gonzaga he showed the ability to catch the ball with his back to the hoop and then turn and consistently make the mid-range jumper falling away a la Dirk Nowitzki.
He is going to be challenged at the defensive end, no doubt. He's going to have to go through some growing pains while he tries to earn respect and learns the ropes. His greatest improvement probably will come when he acquires some veteran savvy. Whether he can become an All-Star is unclear, but he has the charisma and the character to help make the Bobcats relevant in the near future.
Brian Windhorst covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal.
Ian Whittell, The (London) Times: By now you'll have noticed a certain British/European bias creeping into my answers, but bear with me on this as I throw the name Joel Freeland at you.
The 19-year-old, 6-10 forward shocked a lot of people when he became the first Brit ever taken in the first round of the draft by the Blazers this summer. Nobody was more shocked than Freeland himself, not least because he had never even touched a basketball until he was 16.
One NBA scout told me pre-draft he could see him developing into a Nowitzki-style player with his inside-out game and, having just spent a month covering him on international duty with the Great Britain team in their European Championship qualifying program, I can see what the fuss is about.
The kid has great mobility, foot speed, a nice touch, and is supremely coachable. Yes, he needs to hit the weight room (225 lbs) and he struggles to finish plays against older, bigger opponents. But he has two major things going for him: He is in a great system with Spanish team Gran Canaria and his attitude is phenomenal.
Gran Canaria did not want to release Freeland for GB duty this month and he quite simply could have stayed on the beach in the Canary Islands and worked out with his team. Instead, he risked an argument with his club and hauled himself around such European bright spots as Spisska Nova Ves in eastern Slovakia and Durres in Albania because he wanted to play for his country.
That attitude is just what the Blazers ordered. They have told him they will buy him out of his three-year Gran Canaria contract in two years and just watch how the youngster develops after that. Ten years from now he'll be 29, at his peak, and -- who knows? -- maybe Portland will be competing for the title. OK, maybe I pushed it a bit far with that last prediction!
Ian Whittell covers the NBA for The (London) Times and BSkyB.
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