• Kaunda Chama

The league's future is in good hands

When one looks five years into the future, it might be a little dampening to think that a number of players that have become the faces of the league will probably not be playing anymore. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony – All these stars will either be vets or retired.

In any sport, the changing of the guard is inevitable and for fans sometimes it comes with a sense of disbelief as their favourite players bow down to “Father Time” and fall back from leader to role players or simply call it a career.

Luckily for NBA fans, we can confidently say that the future of the league looks like it is in very good hands. Recent draft classes have brought some talented youngsters that are sure to raise the profile of the top basketball league even higher.

Their raw talent and work ethic are already good indicators of who will continue to carry the mantle for the next era of NBA superstars.

We take a quick look at six rising stars in the league who look to be the next crop of franchise faces that will be the household names for basketball fans worldwide.

Zion Williamson – New Orleans Pelicans

The number one pick in the 2019 draft has lived up to all the hype, despite the injuries, and has positioned himself as the player that the franchise can build a solid team around.

The 20-year-old high-flying Pelican was the frontrunner to be the rookie of the year in his class, but his hopes were marred by injury. He however has averaged a team-leading 27 points per game, he is third in rebounding with 7.7, and was dishing out an average of 3.7 assists per outing.

Ja Morant – Memphis Grizzlies

Another 2019 draft alumni, Morant has added great value to the hard grinding Grizzlies. His standout performances even saw him lift the rookie of the year accolade in his first year in the league and he has not rested on his laurels.

The high-performing guard from the Tennessee franchise has the look of a young Paul George, with the motor of a young Russell Westbrook and the combination works well on the hardwood.

The 2020/2021 season saw him lead his team to a Payoffs appearance, but had an early exit at the hands of the Utah Jazz in the first round. He averaged a team-leading 30.2 points and 8.2 assists per game solidifying his position as the team’s young leader.

Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks

He was a Euro League champion and MVP at a young age and he continued with that trajectory when he came into the NBA. Doncic has already proven to be one of the great NBA guards and a key piece for the Mavericks.

Doncic averaged 27.7 points, eight rebounds, and 8.6 assists and lead Dallas to a postseason appearance, but they did not make it past the first round and were sent home by the Los Angeles Clippers. He has been given many nicknames including “Baby Bird” - an ode to the great Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics fame. His career looks bright.

Devin Booker – Phoenix Suns

It’s amazing to note that Devin Booker has been in the NBA for five years and this year has seen him play a key role in helping the Phoenix franchise finish as the second seed in the west and make it to the playoffs and the conference finals for the first time in eleven years.

He has quickly developed into one of the league’s elite shooters and his impressive work ethic looks to be rubbing off on the young Sun’s squad, which is leading the favoured Los Angeles Clippers 2-1 in the conference finals at the time of publishing this article.

He has had an impressive regular season and lead his team with a 27.2 points per game, 6.9 rebounds and 5.3 rebounds and has been equally impressive in the postseason. He still has the chance to help the Suns take the west.

Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks

The fifth pick in the 2018 draft has proven that he truly deserved to be in the top five of his draft class after helping the Hawks finish as the fifth seed, and also defeat the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers on the way to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.

Young is one of the league’s top ball handlers and mid-range shooters, and can take the ball to the hoop with ease even against defenders who are more than a foot taller than him. His season averages included 30.5 points, three rebounds and 10.5 assists per game.

Donovan Mitchell – Utah Jazz

Donovan “Spider” Mitchell has been key to the Utah Jazz’s resurgence in recent years and is undeniably one of the top young guards in the NBA.

The third-year guard averaged 26.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game in the regular season and also helped lead the Jazz to the second round of the playoffs. Even in the early years in the NBA, he has already proven that he will be one of the guards to watch for many seasons to come.

With these being only six of the top young players in the NBA at the moment, it is clear to see that, even after the current stars retire, the league is indeed in good hands and its future will remain bright.

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