The Future of the NBA

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Issue 10, Volume 113

By Vedant Kothari, William Tse 

The NBA 2022-2023 season has so far exceeded its expectations. From physical altercations resulting in multiple suspensions to buzzer beaters to win the game, this season has provided no shortage of entertainment for fans. However, among the overlooked factors generating this excitement is the rise of young talent this season. Many teams are prioritizing their future and focusing on building and strengthening their young core, which has been evident with the numerous teams tanking for forward Victor Wembanyama. The talent on display this year has been extraordinary, but there have been particular players whose standout seasons have been incredibly encouraging for not only the future of their respective teams but the future of the NBA as well.

#1: Evan Mobley

With the arrival of Donovan Mitchell in the offseason, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been among the most exciting teams to watch this season. With one of the youngest squads in the league, the Cavaliers are doing exceptionally well this season and seem to have taken the next step in their aspirations of contending. The Cavaliers’ dominant backcourt is undoubtedly deserving of the praise they receive, but their frontcourt of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, who have been just as crucial to their team’s success, is often overlooked.

Since the Cavs drafted Mobley as the third overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft, he has been extremely effective in all areas of the court. In his rookie year, he was averaging 15.1 points over a field goal percentage of 52.7 percent, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game––impressive statistics, but not groundbreaking like some had expected. This season, Mobley has seen his numbers skyrocket and is now averaging 9.0 rebounds per game while boasting a field goal percentage of 55.2 percent. He is an outstanding defender in the paint as well, especially for a sophomore, as he has averaged 1.4 blocks per game.

As far as talent goes, Mobley is nothing short of generational. For someone of his height, he is extremely athletic, allowing him to dominate in the paint. He is a clutch performer, as evidenced by his midrange game-winner against the Phoenix Suns earlier this season. Centers have consistently been breaking away from the traditional build-and-play style, providing Mobley with an ideal environment to showcase his unique and dynamic skill set.

Though both Darius Garland and Mitchell deserve tremendous amounts of respect, the presence of Mobley should not be neglected. In only his second year, he is playing a substantial amount of basketball and contributing on both the offensive and defensive sides of the court at a level above and beyond what the Cavaliers had hoped. Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and the rest of the Cavaliers organization have to be pleased not only with his incredible talent and skill set but also with his continued growth. They have uncovered a gem in Mobley, and if he continues his upward trajectory, the sky’s the limit for him and the Cavaliers.

#2: Anthony Edwards

Before this season, Anthony Edwards was already a household name for Minnesota Timberwolves fans, having been with the organization for three years already. Having been the first overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft ahead of James Wiseman and the talented LaMelo Ball, the expectations for Edwards were already set high. At only 21 years of age, Edwards has three years of league experience under his belt and his offensive effectiveness at such a young age points towards him being a large part of the Timberwolves’ success in the future.

In his rookie season, Edwards immediately walked into the Timberwolves lineup, and the decision paid off: he averaged 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 32.1 minutes––dominant numbers for a rookie, and even more impressive considering he was only 18. His second season saw marginal increases across the board as he grew more comfortable with the league and his team, but this season has been his true breakout. The shooting guard has seen an impressive hike across his stat line, averaging 24.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists in almost 37 minutes per game. His rise has been exponential, and if it can be sustained, the Timberwolves are destined for success at the hands of Edwards.

Additionally, Edwards’s positional versatility has been key to increasing his effectiveness each year. He is comfortable shooting from anywhere on the court which, when combined with his raw talent and athleticism, makes him one of the most unique players in the league. His playstyle is very similar to that of Dwayne Wade, and while he’s not Wade quite yet, Timberwolves fans have to be excited at the prospect of a core headlined by Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell, and Edwards who can bring an NBA championship to Target Center soon.

#3 Tyrese Haliburton

For the past three years, Tyrese Haliburton was one of the most underappreciated guards in the league. His playmaking abilities were shadowed by the points he averaged and the emergence of flashy guards like Ball. Now in his fourth season, Haliburton is tearing up the league and finally getting the recognition he deserves. At 6’5”, he has the height and athleticism to be a generational point guard, but the Pacers have a responsibility to allow him to reach that potential.

In his rookie year, Haliburton displayed his playmaking skills and consistent three-point shooting ability while collecting 13 points, 5.3 assists, and three rebounds a game. In his sophomore year, Haliburton’s game took a step forward, and he was rewarded with a starting point guard role. His playmaking improved, as he averaged 7.4 assists, but his field goal percentage was slightly lower. However, Haliburton’s improvement is most prominently seen in his increase from a -1.75 RPM to a 2.70 RPM, a statistic that effectively measures a player’s contribution to his team.

After Haliburton got traded to the Indiana Pacers, his third year saw his game continue to improve, as he averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists. Unfortunately, his growth stalled because of injuries that took him out for all but 26 games.

This year, he has shined with the Pacers, the spotlight on him and the ball in his hands. Haliburton has more than 20 points per game and boasts a league-leading 10.2 assists per game. He is on his way to becoming a top point guard in the league, with his RPM currently sitting at 5.78. His craftiness is similar to John Stockon and he has a unique ability to get to the basket. As long as Haliburton stays healthy, his enormous potential and talent will cause major problems for opposing teams.

#4 Lauri Markkanen

Among the older emerging stars is power forward Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen was a talented offensive big man that could shoot the three––a rare find in today’s game. Markkanen spent his first four years at Chicago but wasn’t able to find a fit. He averaged about 15 points throughout his four years at Chicago, but his field goals percentage, touted as his specialty, was subpar. However, he occasionally showed signs of a dominant big man with a three-point ability and an elite court vision.

Markkanen’s time with the Cavaliers was similarly unsuccessful, with his stat line remaining largely unchanged. Markkanen needed to find a team where he could play with the ball in his hands, which was never an option when he was flanked by Zach LaVine or Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. His opportunity emerged when he was traded to the Utah Jazz.

When Mitchell got traded to the Cavaliers and Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves, it gave Markkanen the chance to show his potential. The Jazz were expected to tank for Wembanyama, but Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson changed the Jazz’s season outlook. This season, Markkanen is averaging 25 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the field and an absurd 43 percent from the three-point line—finally realizing his potential as a dynamic scorer. He is comfortable shooting off the dribble and athletic enough to get to the rim, and his RPM has shot up by six from his years at the Cavaliers and Jazz. Markkanen is showing that he is a force to be reckoned with, and once his defense improves, he could be one of the best two-way ball players in the league.