Posted January 29, 2013

Finding the next All-Star from 2011 class

Ben Golliver, Cleveland Cavaliers, Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Faried, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving

Kenneth Faried (left) is averaging 11.8 points and 9.7 rebounds in 29 minutes. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Ben Golliver

Looking back at the 2011 NBA draft order order brings to mind Larry Bird’s famous locker room quip before he dominated the 1986 three-point shootout: “All right, who’s playing for second place?”

Kyrie Irving’s selection to the 2013 All-Star Game at age 20, and his likely move into the Eastern Conference starting lineup after Rajon Rondo’s season-ending knee injury, amounts to a lapping of the 2011 field. He joins Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Isiah Thomas as the only players named to an All-Star Game before turning 21, and he looks poised for a decade-plus of NBA dominance.

It’s not often that young stars separate themselves from the rest of their class this quickly. When Derrick Rose became the youngest MVP at age 22 in 2011, the 2008 draft already had two other established All-Stars, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. Most of the NBA’s biggest stars have had top competition within their draft years: Chris Paul came into the league with Deron Williams in 2005; LeBron James entered with Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony in 2003; Kobe Bryant’s loaded 1996 class generated Hall of Fame talents Allen Iverson, Ray Allen and Steve Nash; and even Michael Jordan had to contend with Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley in 1984.

[Photo Gallery: The NBA's best draft classes]

The best comparisons over the last decade for Irving’s class superiority are Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard. Durant’s 2007 class has produced multiple All-Stars — Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol — but none have approximated the impact of the Thunder forward, who already has three scoring titles, four All-Star selections and three All-NBA first-team nods. Howard looms over the 2004 class: His seven All-Star Game selections are more than the rest of the class combined (Devin Harris, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala and Jameer Nelson have five combined, with Deng the only repeat All-Star).

It’s important to note that history suggests it’s a matter of when, not if,  another player from the 2011 class joins Irving at the NBA’a annual midseason celebration. Every draft from 1993 to 2009 has produced multiple All-Stars, even the bust-ridden abomination of 2000, whose All-Stars were Kenyon Martin, Michael Redd and Jamaal Magloire.

[MAHONEY: The biggest snub from the 2013 All-Star Game]

So who is most likely to join Irving, and when? Here’s a list of the top candidates.

Kenneth Faried, Nuggets (No. 22 pick in 2011): Denver’s dreadlocked ball of fury (No. 48) joins Irving (No. 11) and Kemba Walker (No. 36) as the only players from the 2011 draft to crack the top 50 in Player Efficiency Rating this season. Yes, there are holes in the 6-foot-8 Faried’s game: A full 90 percent of his shot attempts come inside the paint, his lack of height catches up with him in individual defensive matchups, he fouls a lot and he’s not a good free-throw shooter. His strengths — effort level, leaping ability, elite offensive rebounding, taking and making high-percentage shots — overcome those limitations and regularly overwhelm defenses.

At 23, Faried is averaging 11.8 points and 9.7 rebounds in 29 minutes per game for a team that is poised to make the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season. His path to an All-Star selection isn’t particularly easy: The Nuggets’ balanced approach makes individual stardom more difficult, Faried is competing in a crowded Western Conference frontcourt field and his playing time, while ramped up from 22.5 minutes as a rookie, isn’t yet in line with what we expect from All-Star power forwards. But when the Tim Duncans, Dirk Nowitzkis and Zach Randolphs of the world hit the retirement castle, Faried will be well-positioned, especially if Denver’s promising young core continues to crank out solid win totals year after year.

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs (No. 15): Leonard showed a rare commitment to defense as a rookie that suggested big things were to come this season. His raw statistics — 9.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists — haven’t been jaw-dropping, in part because of injuries, but there’s no question his individual numbers would be significantly larger if he played on a team that relied on him more. Instead, he’s fitting snugly into his “three-and-D” role, hitting 46 percent of his corner threes and ranking among the team leaders in defensive rating. San Antonio has improved from No. 11 in defensive efficiency last season to No. 4 this season, and Leonard’s play and instincts on the wing deserve a slice of the credit.

It’s difficult but not impossible for perimeter players primarily known as defenders to receive All-Star recognition. Iguodala found his way to Orlando in 2012, the Pacers’ Paul George was selected this season and Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum should be a candidate in coming years. George and Batum took big steps forward on offense this season, something that can be expected from Leonard once Manu Ginobili and Duncan hang it up or play even less. Assuming he can pair with Tony Parker to continue San Antonio’s tradition of winning, there’s every reason to believe Leonard will get his due, even if his game lacks the flash and pop of other small forwards. Coach Gregg Popovich’s ability to construct a winning system around his top players should pay huge dividends once Leonard grows into bigger shoes.

Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson (right) is the Warriors’ third-leading scorer at 16.1 points. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Klay Thompson, Warriors (No. 11): Thompson entered the NBA gunning and he hasn’t stopped since. His 40.7 shooting percentage this season leaves much to be desired, but his smooth stroke, deep range (38.1 percent on 7.1 three-point attempts) and comfort level with all types of shots suggest the potential to become a 20-point scorer, and volume scoring can be one of the surest paths to All-Star status. That he’s already an every-night starter putting up numbers — 16.1 points, four rebounds and 2.5 assists — for a playoff-bound team sets him apart from most of the rest of this class, Irving included.

Golden State’s pecking order could be a limiting factor for Thompson in the short term. The Warriors’ two All-Star candidates this year — David Lee and Stephen Curry — both take at least 15 shots per game and are signed long term, and while coach Mark Jackson has done a masterful job of keeping everyone happy and productive, Thompson’s shooting appetite has been satiated in part because of the absences of Andrew Bogut and Brandon Rush. It’s not unthinkable that a team trades for Thompson in a few years with the idea of utilizing him as a No. 1 option, much like the Rockets did with James Harden this season. Harden, of course, wasted no time in making his first All-Star team.

Honorable Mention

Kemba Walker, Bobcats (No. 9): Running the terrible Bobcats is no walk in the park, but Walker has progressed this season, averaging 17.9 points, 5.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals. His 19.5 PER trails only Irving in this class, and it’s much improved from his shakier rookie season. The 22-year-old faces an uphill climb toward All-Star recognition thanks to a long list of talented point guards in the East that includes Rose, Irving, Williams, Rondo, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Jennings and John Wall. Pistons point guard Brandon Knight (No. 8 pick in 2011), a full year younger than Walker, faces the same problems and he’ll need to improve his 42 percent shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio before he enters the conversation.

Nikola Vucevic, Magic (No. 16): Hats off to Vucevic, who is averaging 11.9 points and 11.2 rebounds as Howard’s replacement in Orlando. He’s secured 16 or more rebounds six times, including a ridiculous 29-rebound effort against the Heat on New Year’s Eve. Those stats and his workmanlike, goof-free approach play better among Internet stat heads than in the All-Star selection process, unfortunately, and Orlando’s long-term rebuilding project doesn’t do his candidacy any favors.

Enes Kanter, Jazz (No. 3): Kanter is the sleeping giant of the 2011 class, stuck playing fewer than 15 minutes a game behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. His per-36 numbers — 15.7 points and 10.2 rebounds — are outstanding, as is his physicality. Hopefully he gets real court time, every night, sooner rather than later.

Chandler Parsons, Rockets (No. 38): The top second-round steal has taken full advantage of a big opportunity on a young Houston team, earning praise from Bryant and affecting the game on both ends of the court. He might be headed more toward “indispensable complementary starter” than All-Star selection, but who is complaining?

Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors (No. 5): Big men are the hardest to project and the body of work to analyze is limited by the fact that Valanciunas delayed his NBA arrival by a year and has missed significant time this season with a finger injury. Nevertheless, his feel for the game and the upside that comes with it remain.

Dishonorable Mention

Derrick Williams, Timberwolves (No. 2): Currently in a “Was he a worse pick than Wesley Johnson?” debate, which is never, ever a good place to be.

Jan Vesely, Wizards (No. 6): Only career highlight remains the draft night kiss from his girlfriend.

Nolan Smith, Trail Blazers (No. 21): Selected one spot ahead of Faried, Smith’s 3.1 PER ranks No. 432 out of 448 players in an database; the Blazers didn’t bother to pick up his third-year rookie option.


I have to agree with some others, and just say that I find it amazing that Irving's teammate, Tristan Thompson, doesn't warrant a mention. 


He averages 11.1 PPG and 9.3 RPG. He has really started to come on strong when Varejao got hurt. In his last 7 games he is averaging 16 PPG, 9.4 RPG, is shooting over 50%, has 14 assists, 6 steals, and 8 blocks. That's pretty impressive on a team not exactly loaded with experienced talent. 


Valanciunas averages 7.4 PPG and 5 RPG, and he gets a mention. By comparison, the Cavaliers late 1st round pick from this year, Tyler Zeller, puts up 8.1 PPG and pulls down 6.1 RPG, and he's probably going to lose his starting spot to the newly acquired Marreese Speights. 


Kanter? 6.1 PPG and 4.0 RPG? Really? All Star?  


I also have to say that I hate it when people take a player's actual numbers are project them out further as proof that a guy is something. It doesn't always work that way, as a backup gets extended minutes by becoming a starter, and starts playing against starters as a result.  (at least at a 36 MPG pace) He just might not get that same lofty production as extended minutes projections might imply. 




Interesting opinions in this thread. And for once, a quality article from SI.  I love Faried, and I loved him before the draft. I remember one scout saying of everyone at the combine, Faried was quickest. You dont often here that about a power forward. The only disagreement i might have is klay thompson. He can shoot....but he avoids contact like the plague. I dont want to say soft, because I think as he fills out this is going to improve. But right now its a bit of a flaw in an otherwise impressive skill set. Valanciunas is a stud. In two years he's going to be dominant. Whoever said he had a bad feel for the game is flat out wrong. Quite the opposite in fact. Iman SHumpert deserves mention. His game still has flaws....but his defense is outstanding. Kemba would be more highly thought of if he played for someone else.  Vucevic is not getting the credit he deserves.......a case could be made for him being an all star already. Do you want brook lopez or Vucevic? Think about it. I take Nik. Honestly.......and as for Kanter.....god, how i wish he wasnt stuck with ty corbin for a coach. And as a final note..........I agree about Jimmer still having upside....he does. He is stuck in the most dysfunctional organization in all of pro sports (as for T Robb). One wonders, too, what vesely would be if he wasnt stuck in purgatory at washington. Look at blatche and Javale once they left.


No mention for  the best perimeter defender and athlete in that draft? Iman Shumpert?





M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

I was really worried about the Nuggets losing Al Harrington and Aaron Afflalo in the Iguodala trade, but Faried has stepped up big-time. I knew he was an energetic hedgehog, but he's really developed quickly and is a huge part of Denver's transition offense and defense. Great Pick!


"You clearly forgot to put me in your list of talented point guards in the East. No biggy. Just replace this Derrick Rose figure with my name. Thanks, Ben!" -Mario Chalmers


The guy that stands out to me is Klay. Aside from his elite shooting, he can get to the basket at a respectable level, has a high IQ and has size


Call me crazy but I think Jimmer has one of the highest upsides in the draft. This guy's shooting and shot creating ability is elite, he's an underrated athlete and has a good frame. He's also putting up 19.6 pts per 36 minutes this year so it's not like he isn't producing


PS Valanciunas has a bad feel for the game, he often look stiff, unnatural and had some of the worst defensive awareness in the league before he went down, worse than Andrea Bargnani's


No Tristan Thompson? He's developed at an incredible rate in the last six weeks. Possibly the best pick from the draft after KI.


 @ASFW_jrodger  Valanciunas has a bad feel for the game? Please. Talk to me in five years. Val is and will continue to be one of the most underrated players out of this draft, but not for long.

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy


 A lot of people get TT and the Cavs a lot of guff. But his game is improving rapidly and the Cavs have a great young inside-outside core.


I was one of those that thought Cleveland should have picked Derrick Williams instead of an injury prone Irving and was shocked at TT being #4. Who looks stupid now?


 @M as in Mancy  @ChrisWoolford 


Trust me, I wanted the Cavaliers to take Williams at #1 as well ..... and I am so very happy that I was wrong. 


I wouldn't take Williams over Thompson at this point, let alone Irving. Good thing that Cavaliers knew better than me.